June 18, 1915 - Surprises
- Part V
---- 7:50 AM, Val's Tract, course 300, speed 16 knots (increasing)
"Sir, lookouts report contact, bearing 040."
Yes, thought Captain Moore, there was indeed a tall plume of smoke on
just about that bearing on the horizon. Perhaps 20,000 yards, maybe less,
maybe a bit more. Hard to tell, really. He turned away after a moment,
returning his attention to the ships in the distance on his bow. All the
others seemed already to be within flag signals distance of Sydney.
He studied those other halyards carefully. If Vice-Admiral Patey were
to use flags to further signal his command, those ships would be hoisting
signals in repeat.
"Sir, second contact, bearing 045."
The second report snapped him back to 040. Yes, there were two distinct
smoke threads. A bit more than just a dot was visible beneath one. At
this distance, that would suggest a sizeable vessel.
He looked back along 300, then returned to 040. Yes, the bearing had
not changed in the last few minutes. That suggested that, whoever these
new ships were, they were heading for Sydney just as he was. Probably
Berwick, he thought, and an AMC. Odd, though, he reflected, didn't
she have two AMCs?
---- 7:55 AM, small boat, enroute Strassburg
"Bosun," said Kommodore von Hoban, "easy as she goes."
"Easy as she goes. Aye, aye, sir." The senior enlisted man
eased the pace of the gig without any indication of surprise.
LT Lionel, however, could not avoid glancing at the senior officer.
"Lieutenant," von Hoban remarked in a neutral tone, "you
heard Aylwin's captain. The British are gathering offshore to confront
us. The last to defeat us was Napoleon. You would do well to study him.
Perhaps my favorite quotation of his is, 'Never interrupt your enemy when
he is making a mistake.' "
"Yes, sir," acknowledged Lionel. He began to turn his head
back towards the small American light cruiser. 'Destroyer,' he corrected
"Eyes forward, Lieutenant," ordered von Hoban, but softly enough
to keep it between the two officers.
"Aye, aye, sir. Sorry, sir."
"The Americans have so very little by which to judge us Germans,"
von Hoban commented. "They've been observing the Royal Navy, in both
war and peace, for well over a century. Yet I am almost certainly the
first officer flying the broad pennant on a warship that they've seen
first hand since this war started. And you, you're just about the only
junior officer of any sort that they've seen. You've done well, very well,
and I'll note that to Admiral Hanzik. But, Lieutenant, at this moment
there're probably a dozen glasses on us. To look back now might be taken
as a sign of weakness, and this is no time to appear timid. We must be
resolute (Entschlossenheit) in every aspect of our demeanor."
"Aye, aye, sir. And thank you, sir."
---- 8:00 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 300, speed 17 knots
"Sir, lookouts report the second contact seems to be Otway.
The first appears to be a light cruiser, possibly Berwick."
"Very well," said Moore, mostly without inflection. Inside,
however, he seethed: "appears," "seems," possibly."
None of his crew was sure of anything, not even what they had had for
breakfast! Not a damn thing he could do about it; he knew that full well.
"Sir, flags going up on ..."
Moore instantly abandoned his own study of the distant incoming vessels.
Whatever signals were going up on those RN ships ahead had been hoisted
several minutes previously on Sydney. He frowned as he tried to
make them out at this distance. No matter what the signals were, his command
would again be the last to execute. He just knew it.
Another minute passed with no report from his reservists.
What, Moore agonized, was Patey ordering now?
---- 8:00 AM, bridge of Kolberg, course 290, speed 15 knots
"Sir," reported LCDR Dahm, "she appears to be closing
up, just a bit."
"Ah, a bit of good news, XO," replied the captain, turning
and training his binoculars on Salamis. "What do you put her
"Maybe 16 knots, certainly no more."
"Very well. Officer of the Deck, make turns for 16 knots, if you
"Sir, engineering acknowledges 16 knots."
"Very well. XO, we'll see how that works."
"Sir! Contact, starboard beam...
Many heads pivoted abruptly.
... bearing 000 ..."
"Mein Gott! Who in the devil can THAT be?"
The morning fog was lifting minute-by-minute, but remnants were still
obscuring things quite a bit.
"... range estimate is 8,000 yards ..."
"Sir, she's almost broadside on." Of course the contact being
on their beam meant that Kolberg was broadside on for the other,
just as well.
"... course appears to be WSW."
"Looks like a merchant," offered Dahm, though the silhouette
The captain looked back at his charge, struggling about 2,500 yards in
their wake. His agile light cruiser might, just might, be able to slip
away undetected, but there was no hiding that lumbering dreadnought-sized
hull astern. Her smoke alone would be visible any minute. Should he open
the range? String this out as long as possible? Timing could be crucial.
How far ahead was Hanzik? Had they opened fire yet? They'd heard nothing
but, with a difference of something like six knots for eight hours, the
battle could be raging this very moment 50,000 yards away and he'd likely
not know it.
"Right 5 degrees rudder," ordered the captain, coming to a
momentously distasteful decision. This most definitely was NOT the way
this day was supposed to begin. "Come to course 355." Damn,
damn, damn. This was not according to plan at all!
On the other hand, he knew it was precisely for this sort of thing that
they had been detached. Yet, there'd been no wireless from the admiral.
"Sir, my rudder is right 5 degrees ...."
"Make turns for 20 knots.
A premature enemy wireless alert, now ....
---- 8:05 AM, bridge of Montana, course 305, speed 20 knots
Captain Peace studied the pair of unpredictable interlopers as they passed
to port. Good, they were clear. Both of his cruiser and their escorts.
A pair of thrill seekers with more money than he'd ever see. One man was
not even looking this way, his hand only loosely on the wheel as he chatted
up not one, but a pair of feminine companions. Another couple minutes
insurance seemed best.
"Bearing to the New York?" Peace asked, his eyes turning
astern towards the British, who were already busily maneuvering into some
formation. Just what that pattern would be was still unclear. Valuable
intelligence, though, watching the RN prepare for battle, he knew.
"Very well. Signals, hoist 275."
As he waited for his escorts to acknowledge, Peace continued to watch
Patey's ships. The British vice-admiral still had ample time before any
German ship could come onto the scene, no matter how many knots they bent
on coming out of harbor. Alton would be interested in the Brit dispositions,
but it would be more professional curiosity than anything else.
Hmm, Sydney, already some distance to the east, seemed to have
turned towards the coast. Almost as though the Brit intended to follow
Peace's force in.
"Very well," said Peace. He gave the two yachts another glance.
Good enough. "Execute."
---- 8:10 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 285, speed 22 knots
"Flags going up on Moltke, sir."
Captain Dirk and Commander Bavaria looked over at big battlecruiser on
their starboard beam. They were looking almost across the bows of Kronprinz
"The admiral has apparently concluded there will not be a dawn,
low visibility surprise after all," the XO said, absently patting
his comfortable paunch.
"Not today," agreed Dirk, not entirely correctly. "Ah,
we are to drop back a few meters."
"There's the 'execute,' " mumured Bavaria.
"Yes, Helm, make turns for 20 knots."
---- 8:10 AM, bridges of Augsburg, Rostock and KW,
course 285, speed 22 knots
Captains Speck and Westfeldt gave their respective helmsmen orders to
edge closer to the liner. The two COs watched carefully as the battlecruiser
on each's beam dropped slowly back.
In a few minutes, the two light cruisers were steaming in the near van
of the two larger warships. At that time, Moltke and von der
Tann went back to 22 knots.
The new formation looked a lot like the side of a die on a roll of "5."
In the middle of it all, was the former (and possibly future) raider Kronprinz
Wilhelm. Captain von Stampt had never imagined he'd be in such a situation.
Here he was, on an unarmed liner, sprinting towards the great harbor of
New York, as he'd done several times before. Before August 1914, that
is. However, this time he was surrounded by KM warships, with a fleet
of enemy warships somewhere ahead, barring the way. Perhaps, if Captain
Thierfelder were back in command, he'd be missing the brace of 88 mm guns
that had briefly graced these decks. Then again, perhaps not - Von Stampt
made no pretense that he understood KM captains. The arrival of Captain
Thierfelder and the guns from Karslruhe had been a black day, in von Stampt's
book. He, at least, was not going to ram anyone today. He hoped.
---- 8:15 AM, bridge of Strassburg, stopped
"Kommodore," said Siegmund, "the American has gotten underway."
"Ja, maneuver to keep station."
As Siegmund gave the necessary orders, von Hoban instructed the Signals
Officer to hoist similar instructions to the liners astern. Afterwards,
as he watched his escort, the kommodore realized that Aylwin seemed
already to be above 8 knots, at perhaps 10. He frowned, but said nothing.
Nexi were approaching, his options dwindling.
LT Lionel was left without duties. He raised his binoculars to look ahead
of Aylwin who was already some distance on their bow. The channel
was soon going to widen, he saw. Not far beyond that turn and they would
debouch into the coastal waters.
Not far at all beyond that, he and everyone else knew, would be the British.
---- 8:15 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 300, speed 18 knots
The cruiser WAS Berwick, of course, thought Moore. She really
had a bone in her teeth, he thought. Must be making 25 knots. God, he
wished he had a command like that. A real warship. She'd left her consort
He looked back at the ship trailing Berwick, various thoughts
running through his head. Otway, too, had had her identity finally
confirmed. She was a considerably larger ship than Val's Tract
and really should have been identified sooner. The plot put her at a bit
better than their 18 knots. Her bearing had begun to change, now at 030,
indicating that she had probably altered course slightly. Moore gritted
his teeth; even Otway would get to Patey before them.
---- 8:15 AM, bridge of Kolberg, course 350, speed 19 knots (increasing)
"Sir, range to contact estimated 7,000 yards."
The contact had been a bit further off and going faster than they'd
first thought, doing half that again their first 10 knot estimate. It
was, in fact, suspiciously fast for a merchant. Kolberg's captain
had already made one small course change to keep her on their bow. The
other ship seemed to be pushing hard and the wind from the NW was bringing
the other's smoke in their general direction. It had probably helped spot
her, but now it further degraded the visibility for both ships, though
the smaller and lower cruiser remained the harder to see, especially after
their turn towards the merchant.
"A gun! Lookouts report a gun ahead of her foc'sle, and maybe another
on her stern."
"A gun?! She's no merchant, then. She must be some sort of armed
Damn! They were still out of effective torpedo range, especially with
that course, speed, and aspect. What guns did she have? Was that really
a gun his men had seen? Should he open fire? Was he sure she was British?
REALLY sure? Two weeks ago, he remembered being somewhat displeased at
the youth of his new XO, but now he realized that the young man's battle
experience was gold.
"XO, get down to the torpedoes. I want your hand on the firing mechanism.
YOUR hand! If she's American, or any neutral, I want no mistakes. If she's
British, or French, I want no delays."
"Sir!" Dahm threw a salute and was gone.
---- 8:20 AM, bridge of Montana, course 275, speed 20 knots
Captain Peace had his glasses focused on the dreadnoughts he was fast
approaching. The New York had reversed course about 10 minutes
earlier, along with the Wyoming and escorts. Admiral Alton was
apparently in some patrol cycle and had reacted to reaching the southernmost
point of his "beat." His ACR and escorts would need to adjust
"Signals, hoist 300," he ordered, after gauging the situation
with a seaman's eye.
He turned to look again at the British astern. Another warship seemed
to be on a fast approach to Sydney. Patey's AMCs seemed to coming
in, as well. Well, he thought, the steam yachts both seemed to have turned
to follow Montana. Perhaps they had finally realized that being
separated from the USN ships, and between the Germans and British, was
not such a good idea after all. Now if they'd just get well inshore, things
might get a bit simpler.
"Sir, lookouts report several sails to the SSW."
Or maybe not.
---- 8:20 AM, Kolberg
LCDR Dahm was enroute. Per his captain's order.
"Crack - crack - crackcrackcrack!"
Dahm hesitated a second in his passage. Despite the training since his
transfer from Pillau, he was startled by the difference in the
sounds of the guns. His old ship had the 15 cm guns, while his present
ship had the 10.5 cm ones. He resumed his progress after a moment. His
next thought was that his captain must have decided the other was an enemy,
probably having spotted a flag or jack.
As he went through a hatch, he saw a small burst of flame from a hit.
Their target was more than half-again their size. She might be able to
absorb a lot of 17 kilogram shells.
---- 8:20 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 300, speed 18 knots
Moore could now see his admiral's flagship, but just barely. Berwick,
the Atlantic waves breaking off her prow like the beating wings of a gull,
had flown across their bows a minute or so ago. Otway was almost
due north of them, putting her closer to Patey and better able to see
and repeat flag signals. The other AMC was a bigger and, more importantly,
a taller ship, as well.
She was also going a full knot faster.
"Sir, flags going up on Otway."
These Moore could easily read. He mentally tuned out the reports, except
to note how long his reservists took. Actually, he conceded, they did
not take but a couple minutes. He quickly ordered the same flags to be
hoisted in acknowledgment. Patey, he noted, had ordered the other cruisers
to form Line from Sydney. That would give him Sydney, Melbourne,
Berwick, and old Niobe with which to meet the German Strassburg
whenever the Yanks finally gave her the boot.
The AMCs, however, were ordered to split into two groups flanking the
Line and a bit more distant from where the Germans should appear. That
would place four of them to the North and four to the South of the expected
point of egress from the US waters. Val's Tract's number put her
in the Southern Force.
That made sense to Moore. On the chart, this area resembled a blunt funnel,
opening to the ESE with the, er, New Jersey coast the southern side and
that long island the northern one. Patey intended the stopper to be the
cruisers, with the slower AMCs prepositioned ahead of the liners on both
coastal escape routes.
---- 8:25 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 285, speed 22 knots
Captain Westfeldt had also just glanced at the chart. If they had it
right, they should be something like, what, 20 miles off the coast? Less,
probably. More like 15, would be his guess.
He looked at the smoke from the many stacks of Hanzik's ships. The wind
appeared to be from the NW, putting his ship in the clear, though Speck's
Augsburg was perhaps in a slightly better position. Westfeldt,
however, was senior and Hanzik had watched his light cruiser charge into
superior numbers once before.
For the moment, however, he still had nothing to do.
Where were the British?
---- 8:25 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 300, speed 18 knots
As he awaited Patey's "Execute," Moore had noted with some
pleasure that his command was already lined up with their directed position.
Though Val's Tract was still the furthest east, the other two AMCs
in the Southern Force were somewhat to the north. He might be the first
to arrive on station. He waited to see how fast the other pair proceeded.
"Sir, new contact, bearing 090."
Moore interrupted his study of his peers and turned to look along the
directed bearing. Yes, there was indeed a plume on the horizon there.
"Could that be Patia?" Moore asked.
The navigator looked at the plot.
"I don't see how, sir. She was with Berwick and Otway,
and they came in from the ENE. I think Patia might even have had
the northern leg of their picket, overnight."
"She got separated? They came in without her."
"Aye, sir." But his tone was not one of complete agreement.
Both men kept their glasses on the new contact, though Moore glanced repeatedly
at Otway's halyards.