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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 18, 1915 - Surprises - Part IV

---- 7:15 AM, bridge of Augsburg, course 285, speed 22 knots

Captain Martin Speck took his eyes off the western horizon just long enough to check their spacing from Moltke, 400 yards ahead and to port. Highly focused, he paid little attention to the beauty astern, where the rising sun was daubing the high cirrus clouds with light crimson strokes. He had had a warrior's disappointment at missing the Dogger Bank victory and Die Kaiserschacht, but he expected his crew's wait for battle experience would soon end. Eager as he was, he had a hundred reasons to be wary, though the pair of powerful battlecruisers to port provided solid reassurance.

Speck's family raised fine Arabians, so it came as no surprise to him that he placed this morning's events in an equestrian context. In a magnificent twist of fate, he found himself partaking in a splendid pale-red dawn cavalry charge of great, grey steeds, a tale he hoped to relate to his daughter someday, should he survive it.

But where were those they thought they were charging?

---- 7:15 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 285, speed 22 knots

Captain Westfeldt, on the south edge of the "charge" found himself again missing the presence of Kommodore von Hoban. The unshakeable senior officer had shifted onto Strassburg ten days ago and had taken with him Westfeldt's channel for inside information. He had no first hand knowledge of Admiral Hanzik, aboard Moltke, three ships to starboard. There was no telling how things might soon go. The very absence of RN ships where they'd been reported to be late yesterday afternoon suggested the RN had concentrated, and might be waiting for them in force. They were certain to be outnumbered. Again.

He looked towards von der Tann, about 400 yards off his starboard bow, and Moltke just beyond her. This time, at least, his Rostock would not be leading the charge as the largest ship. He'd been lucky that day, so very lucky.

Westfeldt still got chills when he thought of that crazy reciprocal track they had taken, those last dark hours of Die Kaiserschlacht, as Rostock headed a half-flotilla of torpedo boats into the attack against six or eight times their number. Yes, he knew how cool or even imperturbable the Kommodore would be when a fight turned desperate. All he knew about Hanzik was that the admiral had managed to lose about half his ships that day, even though his battle squadron had been at the tail of the Line all battle long.

Yes, he expected to be greatly outnumbered again, but the sea was empty.

Where were the British?

---- 7:15 AM, bridge of New York

Admiral Alton had a surfeit of British. Per his lookouts and the eminently reliable Captain Peace, the count of British combatants nearby was nine. Besides Sydney, Melbourne, and Niobe, there were six AMCs beating up and down this section of coastline. Nor was Alton sure that the British didn't have another few patrolling further out. In fact, he would bet that they did, including at least one fast warship.

"Admiral, confirmation from Montana. Admiral Patey has signaled a general recall to the flagship."

"Very well, thank you," replied Alton, not lowering his own glasses. "Confirm that CINCLANT got it."

He went over yet again his orders from Vice-Admiral Stennis and the conversations with Vice-Admiral Patey. They didn't help. He lowered his glasses and rubbed his forehead. He was perhaps two hours away from a naval disaster far beyond any precedent in US history. I have Germans outbound from New York harbor, he considered again. They are heading for our position: a warship escorting two unarmed liners carrying hundreds of Americans, even women and children. And I have British warships waiting for them, one of which had fired upon and hit one liner last week. British warships. Lots of warships.

It would take far more, he knew, than his tough words to Patey to secure their free passage.

US waters, along with their Neutral Power duties, and rights, ended at the three mile limit. Right here, in fact, directly under the keel of this dreadnought. Vice-Admiral Stennis had been most clear on that point, presumably under instructions from Washington. And there were even additional disasters possible. Captain Snepp, in command of the half-division with Montana, enjoyed a reputation as something of a hot head. Snepp was cholerically anti-British, so much so that even Stennis apparently knew of it. And Snepp, though nominally reporting to Peace at the moment, held the same rank as the more dependable Montana CO. Liners with American women and children. What might Snepp do if ....

God, his stomach hurt.

"Signals Officer, to Montana: 'Recall, expedite.' "


"And, Commander, I want visual confirmation that those ships are inbound."

"Aye, aye, sir."

When the other left, Alton raised his binoculars and resumed his study of the crowded waters. Damn, it was crowded out here!

---- 7:20 AM, bridge of Aylwin, course 070, speed 7 knots

Ah, thought Commander Leverett, as more flags went up on the halyards of the determinedly taciturn Strassburg.

"Sir, they're requesting permission to come alongside."

"Very well," answered Leverett, "hoist: 'affirmative.' "

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Helm, come right to course 110. Slow to 5 knots. I expect to be slowing to steerage way shortly."

"Captain," asked the XO, "what do you think they intend?"

"It looks to me like they want to parley."

---- 7:25 AM, bridge of Strassburg, course 110, speed 8 knots

"Gut," said von Hoban as they interpreted the signals from the American light cruiser. "Captain, ease up along side her."

"Signals Officer, ask if they're willing to receive me on board."


"Ready the gig," Siegmund ordered, in between commands to the helm. "Do you plan then to go aboard the American yourself, Kommodore?"

"Yes," von Hoban answered, as he turned to check the liners astern. "Signal Herr Ballin to slow and, once the Americans agree, inform him that we will be sending a boat over to Aylwin."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Oh," added the Kommodore, "and pass the word for LT Lionel."

---- 7:25 AM, New York, shore end of HAPAG Terminal

"Colonel, we've got trucks inbound," the marine private reported. "Looks like three of 'em, sir."

Colonel Anton turned to look at the outermost road block.

"Sir," asked the lieutenant, "coming to pick up those men, do you suppose?"

"No," answered Anton. "They're definitely not buses or transports. In fact, I think one of those was here earlier. Yes, it looks like the grocer's back."

The "grocer?" The lieutenant wondered.

Sergeant Fideles came over after a few minutes, with a civilian in tow. The man had taken off his hat, kneading it a bit nervously with thickly calloused hands. His hair was black, but his moustache showed salt-and-pepper.

"Yes, Sergeant?"

"Sir, this is Franz Mitterman."

"Good morning, Mr. Mittermann, how can I be of service to you?"

"Good morn, Colonel. Be asking you to pass us. Here coming we are with breakfast for Mr. Rigos and his men."

" 'Mr. Rigos?' " The lieutenant's almost involuntary question drew a sharp glance from Anton. The younger officer closed his mouth, with an almost audible clack, and nodded to his superior officer.

"And where would you be going, Mr. Mittermann? The warehouse there, perhaps?"

"Yes, sir. That be where Mr. Ballin said to come. That one right there," he added pointing.

"Well," said Colonel Anton, smiling easily, "I see no problem with that, as soon as my men are done with inspecting your trucks, that is."

"Sir," the grocer nodded.

"By the way, Mr. Mittermann," added Anton, "how many men will you be feeding?"

"All I be knowing, Colonel, is that Mr. Ballin paid for me to bring enough to serve 250."

"Very good, thank you." Anton gestured back to where the trucks had begun to roll forward. "I see that my men ...."

"Ah, thank you, sir. An hour we will be, perhaps a bit more." He didn't put his hat back on until he boarded the lead vehicle.

"In the warehouse," said the lieutenant, after the trucks had headed down the pier, "so there must be doors pier-side."

"Correct, lieutenant. Fideles knew that, even if the sentry didn't. There's no way a warehouse wouldn't have freight doors facing a pier."

Yes, thought Anton, the question had never been where they'd gone but, rather, where they were going. Well, and just who they were, of course, he amended to himself.

---- 7:30 AM, Imperator

"They DO have blueberry muffins!" Fox exclaimed, as he and Browning sat down.

"Yes, good guess, that," commented Browning. "Thanks for backing my play." He extracted one muffin and passed the rest to Fox.

"'Twas my privilege," said Fox, as he accepted the warm, cloth-topped basket. As he reached in for one, he continued. "I have a question, though. Have you seen Ballin this morning? He promised to ... ah, here he comes now."

"Good morning, gentlemen."

"Good morning, Herr Ballin," answered Fox. Browning, his mouth full, nodded politely.

"I trust you found your stateroom satisfactory? Good, I see you made use of the kits that were provided. In case you are concerned about not having luggage aboard, we do have suitable attire available and free of charge, of course. And tailors to make any, er, adjustments. Is that the right word?"

"You mean 'alterations'?"

"Yes, alterations, thank you."

"That's all fine," said Browning, "and I'm sure we will make do." This time it was Fox who nodded. "But, Herr Ballin, what about film? And how we will we get our stories back?"

"And ourselves, for that matter," added Fox.

"We have film, I assure you. If not for your cameras, then for ones we will loan you. As for your stories, you have my word on it, as I told you last night. And you will be offered your choice as to how to return, at my expense, that I promise, as well."

"Okay, but why the continued secrecy? I mean, it's not like we can jump off and swim back, or anything."

"And just what IS the story?" Browning added.

"There are reasons. I beg you to be patient a bit longer. As for the story, it will be a surprise, several surprises." Even for me, Ballin carefully did not add.

---- 7:35 AM, bridge of Montana, course 280, speed 16 knots (increasing)

Peace had a glut of ships in general. A few days ago, civilian pleasure craft and other less certain vessels had begun day-sailing out to stare at all the divers men-of-war. Brightly painted ketches, sloops, schooners, and even a brig or two had been plaguing the COs and OODs watch after watch. The numbers of both types of vessels had grown with each passing day and so, of course, had the risks. Collisions had been only narrowly averted several times. Stern blasts from warship whistles had oft solicited no more than nonchalant waves from men in white duck trousers and jauntier ones from women in bright scarves. Discipline was threatening to go to hell.

"Sir, all ships on 280."

"Very well," answered Captain Peace. He studied the British ships carefully, trying to divine their intentions. For the moment, they were shaping for Sydney, Patey's flagship. However, Sydney had altered course and appeared to be coming onto a westerly heading. What was Patey up to?

"Sir," said CDR Alexander, "we may have to dogleg a bit to the north. We have two steam yachts ...."

"Damn," said Peace in a voice too low to be heard, even by his XO a few feet away. And it was early; it would get a lot worse, he knew. Already, he could see a couple distant sails to the SW.

---- 7:40 AM, bridge of Aylwin, course 110, steerage way

"Sir, confirmed, on the small boat, that's Hoban's pennant, sure enough."

"Very well," said Leverett. "Standby to receive Kommodore von Hoban. XO, you said Seaman First Henkle spoke some German?"

"Some, per the First Lieutenant."

"Good enough. I want him there, right there, but on the sly. A side boy, or something. I'm damn sick and tired of ...."

"Sir, lookouts report that the liners appear to be holding station, about 1000 yards astern of Strassburg."

"Your cabin, sir?"

"I think not, XO. I don't want to draw this out any more than I have to. We'll do the whole thing right there on the quarterdeck. You go ahead, I'll join you shortly."

The bosun whistle signaled the arrival of the Germans. Leverett lingered another few moments for a last scan about the channel, suddenly a bit crowded with large ships.

"Officer of the Deck, I'll be down on the quarterdeck."

---- 7:45 AM, bridge of Berwick, course 230, speed 20 knots

"Sir, contact bearing, 245. Looks like a merchant, sir. Or a merchant cruiser."

"She's on a northwesterly course, sir," added another voice.

"On that course, likely she's one of Patey's merchant cruisers."

"Yes, looks like Val's Tract, or I miss my guess."

The CO looked back at Otway, some 3,000 yards off their port stern quarter. The big AMC had been dropping back slowly, limited by their 18 knot maximum speed. The slower Patia would be further back still.

"Any word from Patia?"

"Yes, sir. Just got her latest. She's at flank on course 230. The fog must be beginning to lift where she's at; she reported visibility at 4,000 yards and improving. The plot on her is a bit sketchier than I'd like," the navigator continued, "but I make her about 25,000 yards to the NNE, but that's a bit chancy."

The CO looked to the north, binoculars raised. They never had gotten a visual on her that morning, what with Patey's "immediate expedite," so there was considerable margin for error.

"More than 'a bit,' I'd say," the CO commented. He saw no evidence of a fogbank on his navigator's bearing. "Her best is about 16 knots, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir," answered the navigator. "A couple tenths under, I believe."

"Sir, lookouts confirm contact to be Val's Tract."

"Very well. That should put Sydney a bit more to the north, eh-what?"

Patey, decided the CO, had almost certainly begun the process of edging inshore, in towards the harbor outfall, even as he began to gather his forces.

"Yes, sir. Recommend coming a few points to starboard. We should catch sight of them shortly."

"Helm, come to course 270."

Otway did the same within moments.

---- 7:45 AM, quarterdeck of Aylwin

LT Lionel had hoped he was done with this sort of thing. The Americans had been polite, but quite crisp.

"... and the Kommodore says that we will be proceeding per your Admiral Stennis' orders, and in compliance with The Hague."

"Your commodore is within his rights to leave when you did," Leverett stated. "There's no question there. And, lieutenant, I am beyond caring why you did not wait, and leave at dusk."


"Lieutenant, I just want to know his current intentions. And I want specifics."

"The Kommodore says his intention is to proceed to international waters."

"That's all very well, lieutenant, commodore, but you know damn well that the British, your enemies in your all's war, have got a whole flotilla of ships just waiting for you. What are you going to do when they form up just outside our waters, waiting for you?"

"Leere Hände locken keine Falken," commented von Hoban in a low voice, as he considered his response.

Leverett looked at Henkle, and got a tiny nod back.

"We will see then, the Kommodore says."

"Lieutenant, that's just not good enough. You tell your commodore that. Do you expect the United States Navy to fight the British for you? If you do, you're sadly mistaken." Even as he said it, however, Leverett thought of the passengers on the liners. Why in hell were the Germans doing this in broad daylight?!

"Captain," answered Lionel to Commander Leverett, "Kommodore von Hoban says that the liners are innocent civilian ships. It is his, our, duty to escort them. To fight for them. And, if we must, to die for them. To use the words of your Indians, 'It is a good day to die.' We know our duty. Yours is your affair."

"Commodore, I can respect that. I really can. But my duty ends at the Three Mile Limit, and you've got American women and children on those liners. They have no 'duty' - what of them?"

Lionel caught von Hoban's eye. There were several of the American Marines at the edge of the quarterdeck. They all were armed.

"Captain, Kommodore von Hoban promises that no harm will come to your women and children. Herr Ballin's orders are clear on that. Unless, of course, the British violate your Three Mile Limit. As to what precisely we will do, we will not know that until the time comes."

Leverett pressed, but got no more. As the Germans were whistled off, he turned to Henkle.

"Did you get anything out of that?"

"Most of it, sir. There weren't much discussion."

"You mean, like they had it all rehearsed, or something."

"Yes, sir. Something like that. Exceptin' for that one thing the commodore said."

"Yes, did you get that?"

"Yessir. It's a saying. One of my Gramma's favorites. It means, 'Empty hands "gather" no hawks.' "

by Jim

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