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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 18, 1915 - Surprises - Part VI

---- 8:30 AM, New York, shore end of HAPAG Terminal

"Colonel, the grocer looks to be packing up."

Anton raised his binoculars to better see what was happening about 100 yards down the pier. Yes, several men had begun reloading the trucks. The man he'd spoken with, one of the Mittermanns, was deep in conversation with two others just outside the warehouse door nearest the trucks.

As he watched, one of the two men caught sight of the attention they had garnered. He turned and said something to the one beside him. Both quickly shook hands with the grocer, and edged back into the doorway. Anton caught a glimpse of motion, perhaps a gesture of some sort, from within and then the door closed. Mittermann climbed into the cab of the lead truck and the trio of trucks began to make their way back towards the Marines.

The sound of the trucks turned several of his men's heads. Anton frowned as he watched their attention swing away from their assigned vectors. He'd have to speak to the Gunny about that. Meanwhile, his men readied to flag down the trucks.

---- 8:30 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 285, speed 22 knots

"Smoke! Bearing 270."

The sun had risen behind them enough to end the gloomy aspect of the western horizon. Visibility had increased to 20,000 yards or so, Captain Westfeldt guessed. But it was only a guess.

"A single plume," Westfeldt said, glasses pressed hard against his brow, disappointment in his voice. "Richtig?"

It could be simply a merchant.

---- 8:35 AM, bridge of Aylwin, course (changing), speed 10 knots

"Sir, lookouts report the contacts to the SW are New York and Wyoming. Range 20,000 yards."

"Very well," replied CDR Leverett.

He looked back at the trio of German ships that, so far, had contented themselves with following in his wake.

"XO, where do you put the 3-Mile Limit?"

"Sir, looks to me like Admiral Alton is sitting right on it."

"Sir, new contact. Looks like the Montana and maybe an escort are approaching the battleships, sir."

"Very well."

No British. But he knew they were out there. Presumably, the Germans knew it, too. He wondered what Admiral Alton was going to do.

---- 8:35 AM, bridge of New York, course 030, speed 6 knots

"What the hell am I going to do?" Admiral Alton muttered mostly to himself. His flag lieutenant heard him, but knew well enough to remain silent.

"Admiral, we have confirmation," came the report. "The ships coming out of the harbor to the NNW are Aylwin leading Strassburg and the two German liners."

"Very well." But it most definitely was not.

Part of him expected the Germans to turn right around again and return to their pier in New York, having made their point about the British blockade. Stennis would then have to consult with Washington as to what to do with Strassburg at 0600 tomorrow. It would be a major embarrassment, but Alton figured the internment would blow over. Perhaps Strassburg would exchange a few salvos, but Alton didn't think the Germans would commit suicide.

"What other outcome could there be?" Alton said to himself. Even if this Strassburg was a picked crew, it was 4-to-1, or worse.

"Signals, to CINCLANT, tell them the Germans are in sight. And so are the British. Give their positions."

Maybe Vice-Admiral Stennis would have an idea. Sure as hell, Alton thought, he did not.

---- 8:35 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 300, speed 18 knots

Still no "Execute" from Patey, but Captain Moore consoled himself with the fact that at last he could see Sydney well enough to react directly to her flag dip. He was studying her halyards carefully. All the British ships, excepting Patia, were within visual; the signal should be any moment.



"That's a lot of smoke, sir."

Moore grudgingly turned away from his Vice-Admiral's flagship to give the latest contact another look. He was fairly confident that the plume belonged to the laggard Patia, despite his XO's opinion to the contrary.

"Damme," he said, without thinking. "That IS a lot of smoke."

Was Patia on fire, or something?

---- 8:35 AM, Kolberg


Dahm found himself on the deck, not so much from the hit they'd obviously just taken, but by the abrupt motion of the ship just afterwards. He went to get up, but the deck remained canted. After a moment, he managed it. He took one step, then another.

Then he realized it was not a list, but a steady rudder angle. At 20-whatever knots.

There would be no launching a torpedo like this, was his first thought. His next thought was to wonder why the helmsman had not put the rudder amidships. He was supposed to be at the torpedo ... but ....

What should he do?

---- 8:40 AM, New York Naval Yard, Office of the Commanding Officer

"Sir, our plot puts them alongside Admiral Alton right about 0900."

"Thank you. Anything on the wireless?"

"Not from Admiral Alton, sir. There was something coming in from Aylwin, though, when I left."


"I left Ensign Hall there with instructions to bring it right along as soon as they got it down."

The sound of approaching steps drew their eyes to the doorway just as a red-haired young officer strode through bearing a single sheet of paper.

"From Aylwin, sir."

Stennis looked at the young man as he handed over the slip to his Flagcaptain. The ensign's short curly hair was so fine that it looked like a faint red mist attempting to descend down onto his forehead.

"Commander Leverett simply reports underway at 10 knots with the Germans still in tow. I'd have to look at the position again to be absolutely sure but, Admiral, it still looks like they'll be coming up on Admiral Alton in the next 20 to 30 minutes."

"Thank you," replied Stennis, nodding to the ensign.

What's next? Stennis wondered for the dozenth time or so. What have I missed?

Sure, the Germans could reverse course and simply string this whole farce out some more, but the vice-admiral had had a couple chances to size up the German commodore. Stennis did not think the tough-talking Hun had that in mind. Neither did Fiske, and Stennis gave that opinion great weight. Fiske thought the Germans would fight, and that they fully expected to win.

Stennis could hardly accept that the Germans really and truly thought that they could duke it out with the forces the RN would have out there and win. Let alone then make the 4,000-odd mile transit back to wherever they came from. Rather, he expected some sort of a running gun battle would take place with thousands of spectators there to witness the reality that British warships were indeed clotting the sea off their nation's shore. Then, hurt and with many casualties, Strassburg would seek asylum dripping bloody proof that the USN could not safeguard the right of passage for non-Entente merchants.

That would begin a fresh set of disasters, he considered. Now, he realized why the Germans had scooted so fast. Strassburg's deadline was not until the next morning. They'd have most of a day for diplomatic protests and Red Cross visits and photographs of men being taken off to hospitals in stretchers. There'd be no delaying - Washington had been adamant that no warship would get more than 24 hours. None! That had been picked up by the papers, and they were full of it this morning. Then, when armed US Marines and Coast Guard went to do their duty tomorrow morning, more Germans would be photographed being led off on crutches, bloody bandages and all. He was sure of it.

Then, in the days to follow, another procession of funerals and speeches on church steps.

In the long term, this might well get the USN more ships. In the long meanwhile, however, they'd all be horses' asses.

---- 8:40 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 300, speed 18 knots

Moore had stopped looking at Sydney, his attention on the new contact.

"That's a lot of smoke," he said, "or my name's not Nell."

There were a few discreet grimaces about him, but no other reaction.

The last several minutes had made it unlikely that the smoke really was Patia. There was no bearing shift, but its growth on the horizon hinted at pace. Patia afire would not be making such speed. Bad coal, maybe, but likely not. 'Sblood, but he'd seen smoke like this just a week ago. He swallowed.

"Lookouts, report!" Moore called out, anxiously. They were higher up there than he was, and with better glass.

There was no reason for concern, he told himself. If they were another German liner - light cruiser pair, they'd get a warm reception this time!

He was sure of it, but swallowed again, nonetheless.

---- 8:40 AM, Kolberg, course (changing), speed 20-ish knots

Dahm had made it almost back to the bridge, when the rudder was finally put amidships. He overbalanced partway up the ladder, rotated hard about one handrail, and pounded into a bulkhead. He lost his grip and fell back onto the deck six feet below.

Crack - crack, crack!

He gasped for air. Dimly, he realized that their guns had gone silent, but that they had just resumed fire a few moments after the ship was back on some course. The sounds seemed wrong, rather, the wrong guns seemed to be shooting. They were on the wrong side and back aft.

He forced himself back up the ladder and found an all-too-familiar scene. It was Pillau, all over again. There was death all about him. Glistening, stinking, splattered death.

"Sir, Captain's dead. Your orders?"

The enemy was off their port after quarter, seemingly in flames. Kolberg was opening the range, fast. Just how badly either ship was hurt was hard to tell.

His duty, however, was back that way.

"Left rudder," Dahm gasped. Speaking hurt his right side. "Take us back." He knew the rating was not one who had been on the bridge when Dahm had left it, but could not recall where his duty post had been. He did not care, just then.

"Jawohl, my rudder is coming left, coming to course 350, make that 340, sir."

"Very well." What had happened up here? The ship swung about and, a moment late, he reached for a stanchion. A sharp thrust of pain stabbed into his right side, as he staggered with the deck cant. His ship's guns went silent again, almost instantly. The turn rate exceeded their train rate, and then they lost line of sight, with others gaining it.

---- 8:45 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 300, speed 18 knots

"A lot of smoke," Moore repeated himself. "Too much smoke. Too much by far, or my name's not ...."

He paused, cast one more, almost longing look towards Sydney, now perhaps 15,000 yards to the NNE.

"Helm, come right, come to course 080." His voice sounded firm to his ears. He took a split-second of pride in that.

"Sir, my rudder is right 5 degrees, coming right to course 080."

"Very well, Helm. Signals, to Sydney: 'contact bearing 090' and give our new course."

"Aye, aye, sir."

The big AMC began to make its way into the better than right-angle turn. Moore stared at what he no longer hoped to be Patia. His XO caught something about the expression on his captain's face.


"Action Stations, if you please, Number One."

---- 8:45 AM, bridge of Kolberg, course (changing), speed 20-ish knots

"Sir, on course 340."

"Very well," Dahm got out. He tried not to cough. Tried very hard not to cough.

The bridge was not damaged all that much, in a structural sense, Dahm was realizing. It had been shrapnel that had done this, and it had flayed all within. Tearing and rending. The smell was .... He cleared his throat carefully. Very carefully. No intact glass face was visible, and things everywhere had been ripped apart as though a hurricane had blasted through. Of course, one had.

Dahm had felt his cruiser as she went into the turn. She still felt nimble and quick, her vitals apparently unaffected by whatever had happened topside. He also was beginning to adjust, cracked ribs or not, he decided. After all, hadn't he done this before?

Crack - crackcrack.

Kolberg's gunners resumed fire within seconds of steadying up on the new course. The bow guns were remaining silent, Dahm realized, somewhat tardily. He looked over the bridge lip and saw the barrel of the starboard gun pointing up and off bearing. The shield was smashed, crushed where the Britisher's shell had made a direct hit on the mount. Pieces of the mechanism and the crew were scattered about. That was where the shell must have hit, he thought. Or, one of them. Some of the port gun crew were also down, but the gun seemed more or less intact. Survivors were struggling with something in the gun's workings, but seemed not to be having much success.

A bloom of a small explosion drew his attention back to their target ahead. She appeared to be stopped, so they were closing her quickly now, but she was still several thousand yards off. The sound reached him a moment later.

He considered the matter, trying to keep one arm tightly about his ribs. His thoughts wanted to wander. Each wave was a new jab as adrenaline began to flush out. The other ship looked almost engulfed in fire. He had decided that he was pretty sure that her guns had been silent all the time he'd been topside. He could recall only hearing their own. Belatedly, he looked around for binoculars.

There, on the deck. One lens was shattered but one side remained. He held it to his face and squinted. Another flash of explosion expanded before his right eye. As he watched, their target, already listing to port, began to roll. He had a glimpse of her flag still bravely flying and then she was on her side. She'd been British, after all.

"Cease fire," Dahm ordered, but the guns went silent before it could be passed.

"All slow," Dahm said next.

As that order was carried out, a steam explosion burst the wreck asunder. The concussion shook free glass shards from somewhere behind him. Dahm did not even bother to turn to look.

More footsteps. He looked up to see who they belonged to.

"LT Diele," Dahm said. The First Lieutenant was a welcome sight.

Diele looked about wildly. He had ample reason, Dahm knew, since the bridge looked like Vikings had had at the entire bridge crew with axes.

"LT Diele!" Dahm said, more forcefully. Damn that hurt, he thought, but the pain focused him.

"Sir?" Diele met his eyes, whites showing.

"Small boats," began the new Kolberg commanding officer, staring the junior officer full in the face. "Prepare to lower small boats. Look for survivors. Hell, Lieutenant, some of our own probably went over in that turn."

"Jawohl," the reddish haired Diele replied, the mists clearing before his eyes with the clear order. He took another glance about Kolberg's gruesome bridge, nodded soberly, and headed off to follow his new captain's orders.

Leaving me with this charnel house, thought Dahm. What ship had she been? Dahm wondered idly, hugging himself against the pain. We had her "auf dem falschen Fuß erwischt" (ambushed, literally, "on the wrong foot"), and she hit us back hard almost instantly.

"Damn Britishers," Dahm muttered, with utmost respect.

by Jim

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