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Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14
Part 15
Part 16
Part 17
Part 18
Part 19
Part 20
Part 21
Part 22
Part 23
Part 24
Part 25
Part 26
Part 27
Part 28
Part 29
Part 30
Part 31
Part 32
Part 33
Part 34
Part 35
Part 36
Part 37
Part 38
Part 39
Part 40
Part 41
Part 42
Part 43
Part 44
Part 45
Part 46
Part 47
Part 48
Part 49
Part 50
Part 51
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Part 53
Part 54
Part 55
Part 56
Part 57
Part 58
Part 59
Part 60
Part 61
Part 62
Part 63
Part 64
Part 65
Part 66
Part 67
Part 68
Part 69
Part 70
Part 71
Part 72
Part 73
Part 74
Part 75
Part 76
Part 77
Part 78
Part 79
Part 80
Part 81
Part 82
Part 83
Part 84
Part 85
Part 86
Part 87
Part 88
Part 89
Part 90
Part 91
Part 92
Part 93
Part 94
Part 95
Part 96
Part 97
Part 98
Part 99
Part 100
Part 101
Part 102
Part 103
Part 104
Part 105
Part 106
Part 107
Part 108
Part 109
Part 110
Part 111
Part 112
Part 113
Part 114
Part 115
Part 116
Part 117
Part 118
Part 119
Part 120
Part 121
Part 122
Part 123
Part 124
Part 125
Part 126
Part 127
Part 128
Part 129
Part 130
Part 131
Part 132
Part 133
Part 134
Part 135
Part 136
Part 137
Part 138
Part 139
Part 140
Part 141
Part 142
Part 143
Part 144
Part 145
Part 146
Part 147
Part 148
Part 149
Part 150
Part 151
PART 10: June 10, 1915  

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 himself.

"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 (increasing)

"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 at?"

"Maybe 16 knots, certainly no more."

"Very well. Officer of the Deck, make turns for 16 knots, if you please."

"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 remained indistinct.

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.

"275, sir."

"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.

"Acknowledged, sir."

"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 Wilhelm.

"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 well astern.

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."

"Very well."

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 merchant cruiser!"

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 course.

"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.

by Jim

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