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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 18, 1915 - Surprises - Part VII

---- 8:50 AM, New York, shore end of HAPAG Terminal

"Good morning, again, Mr. Mittermann," said Colonel Anton. "You wanted to speak with me? Is there a problem."

"Ja, Herr, er, Colonel. No, I mean, I have not a problem."

The man appeared uncomfortable, but obviously wanted something, so Anton tried to draw him out a bit.

"The food, the breakfasts - they went well?" Anton decided to fish a bit. "There was enough food?"

His men had reported the trucks to be completely emptied of food, and that they were not transporting out anything that they'd not brought in. A few condiments, that was about all that was left of the three full truckloads of food that had gone into the warehouse.

"Yes, the food was satisfactory, they said. A little more might have been better, I am thinking."

Anton nodded. Mittermann was convincingly devoid of artifice. That suggested that there really were 250 men in there. But for what? And who were they, anyway? However, none of that was visible on his face as the Marine officer nodded, and waited.

"We will here commen, again, in three hours time. Will that a problem be?"

"Not a problem for me, for us. We'll be here all day, until about 6:00 PM, I'd guess. Maybe later. I'll have to inspect your trucks, just like this morning, but you should be able to pass with no delays." I may, however, have some questions for those diners of yours, Anton added silently to himself. First, though, he needed to check with the brass.

"Good. Thank you. At 11 hours and thirty will we come again."

With that, Mr. Mittermann took his leave, and the three trucks drove off into the city.

---- 8:50 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 285, speed 22 knots

"Sir, the contact appears to have altered course. She was going NNE, and now looks to be coming almost due east."

"Very well," said Captain Westfeldt. "Can we make her out? Is it a warship?"

Who else but a warship would suddenly make a right angle turn away from a nearby friendly coast and head directly at a new contact?

"Not a warship, sir. We got a quick profile as she came about. Looks to be a merchant of some sort. Could be an armed merchant cruiser, of course."

"Ja, they're sure to be plenty of them about. Very well. Signals Officer, 'Execute.' Then hoist the second signal."

---- 8:50 AM, bridge of Augsburg, course 285, speed 22 knots

"Sir, she appears to be on an intercept course."

Captain Speck nodded.

"Sir! Rostock! The 'Execute.' "

Speck turned to look at Rostock, which was about 700 yards almost due south. Already the change in her plume was visible.

"Yes, make smoke!"

The wind appeared still to be coming out of the NNW. Speck turned his attention to the big ship about 500 yards astern. He shifted to course 290 for a minute or so to better position their smoke, then returned to 285.

---- 8:50 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 285, speed 22 knots

"Admiral," began Captain Stang, "there goes the 'Execute.' "

"Ja," answered Hanzik. He lowered his glasses from his study of the distant thread of smoke to the west. "Captain Westfeldt must have seen that she is a Britisher."

Within seconds, the smoke from the cruiser 500 yards ahead began to obstruct their vision.

"Soon," Stang stopped and coughed as the thickening smoke first reached the bridge, "we will see what our net has caught."

The view past Rostock's starboard side remained clear.

"Sir, I'd like to edge us south a bit," Stang said, pointing. "Maybe 100 yards."

Hanzik nodded. It was the other's ship to fight.

---- 8:50 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 285, speed 22 knots

Commander Bavaria frowned as the increased smoke began to billow forth from the light cruiser 500 yards in their van. Already, he had had to shield his cup from the soot. This had begun when first Augsberg had gone to their fore, but now the effect was much greater.

"He's the admiral," commented Captain Dirk.

"And it's a good plan, I'm sure," began the Erzherzog. "But it does appear a bit complicated. Or overly complex. We are here - they are there. We have battlecruisers - they do not. They are in a funnel - we are the lid."

With that last, he glanced hurriedly at the top of his cup.

---- 8:55 AM, Chocorua Princess

"Man, this is great! Warships all over the place. Look at them! I love battleships!"

The yachtsman had his powerful binoculars focused on the New York. Truth be known, he did not really need them. His boat was just 2,200 yards seaward of the dreadnought. The person standing at his shoulder was less interested.

"Dear," asked his feminine companion uncertainly, "don't you think we're getting a little close?"

"Nonsense," the battleship lover replied as he swung his glasses onto the Wyoming, "safe as houses. Hey, Nick," he called, "you coming up, or not? They're drawing abeam right now."

Another man emerged from the cabin amidships, ducking his head carefully. He held the door to the cabin as his own feminine companion stepped out and began to make her way up the few steps. Then he closed it carefully, checking that the latch had fully engaged. The two women edged aft, sat down, and began a low-voiced conversation.

"We were just checking the hatches closed," the second man explained.

"Sure you were."

Nick shrugged, not bothering to hide a grin.

"Well, at any rate, this sure beats sailing on Winnipesaukee, doesn't it?"

---- 8:55 AM, bridge of Strassburg, course 120, speed 10 knots

The splendid spectacle of two dreadnoughts, flanked by an oversized armored cruiser and several other warships, was about 12,000 yards off the starboard bow of the German cruiser. The looming size of the hulls and the towering cage masts were worthy of all the attention that the yachtsmen were according them. But Kommodore von Hoban and Captain Siegmund, and almost everyone else aboard the German light cruiser, were paying those great grey ships no attention whatsoever. They were staring hard right past the bows of the Americans and out to sea. Their lookouts up in the superstructure had a slightly better vantage, and those on the tall liners astern could see better still. So far, there'd been no sightings.

The first report came, not unexpectedly, from astern.

"Sir, from Imperator, 'Red 0, White 4, Blue 6.' "

"Very well, acknowledge."

"So, no dreadnoughts," said Siegmund, with some relief. "The British were lying after all."

"No battlecruisers, either," von Hoban commented dryly.

The tension was so great that the kommodore's comment drew not a single smile, nor did von Hoban notice the absence. The Americans were in sight and so, it seemed, were the British. Where, however, was Hanzik?

---- 8:55 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 285, speed 22 knots

"Captain, lookouts have spotted a gun on her bow. She's British, an armed merchant cruiser."

"Very well," said Westfeldt. "Identification?"

"Not yet, sir. We're looking in the books. She could be any of four or five possibles. We're putting her at about 10,000 tons."

That made her twice their size. The Brit AMCs varied greatly in armament, the briefings had said. Ones that size, though, generally had a pair or more of 6" guns, while their own dozen were 10.5 cm. Range would be about the same, depending upon which Mark of gun the Britisher had. There was no way for him to know any of that. He realized, though, that he was moments away from learning it. What he did know, however, was that the nearest friendly shipyard was over 6,000 km astern.


"19,000 yards - dropping fast."

---- 8:55 AM, bridge of Augsberg, course 285, speed 22 knots

"Sir, lookouts are reporting more smoke. Probably several sources. They're all at least 10,000 yards north and west of the contact."

"Very well," Speck replied. "Hoist it!"

"The British?"

"I hope so, XO. We are, though, supposed to be approaching New York harbor." If all our navigators have it right, he did not add. There had been many star shots, by many good men, but there was no real way to know until one sighted a known landmark on the shore or an island.

"Merchants? You think they are only merchants?"

"We'll know soon enough," Speck replied, not willing to horse around with guesses. "Prepare to open fire." The AMC was still on her near-reciprocal course, apparently undaunted by them.

Speck waited, alternating glances at the onrushing AMC and at Rostock. At this range, he could see Westfeldt studying this stouthearted challenger, whoever she was.

---- 8:55 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 080, speed 16.5 knots (increasing)

"Sir, lookouts report that the smoke appears to be increasing."

More of that "appears" nonsense, Moore thought. Yes, it was increasing. It was obvious. Was something there on fire after all?

"Very well."

"Sir! Multiple ships, sir! Three ships! The middle ship appears to be a liner, sir. But the smoke is interfering with identification."

Damn! More Germans! They had to be! And coming right at them. At him. Moore stared at the onrushing ships for an instant longer, then turned to give his orders, only to be interrupted before he could begin.

"Warships, sir! Confirmed! The unknown liner is flanked by light cruisers, two of them, sir."

"Very well," Moore answered, reflexively. Yes, perhaps the Germans never got the word that their predecessor group had ended up not in Philadelphia, but in New York. Instead of the Royal Navy sitting off Philadelphia and giving this lot a free run into harbor, they were about to find Patey's fast cruisers in their van eager to intercept them. To give battle.

That would not help Val's Tract, he realized bleakly, as he gave his orders.

---- 9:00 AM, bridge of Strassburg, course 120, speed 10 knots

There was no sign of Hanzik. At least not yet, von Hoban said to himself stubbornly.

"Your orders, Kommodore?" Siegmund asked.

"The American admiral will want to avoid bloodshed. Of that I am confident," von Hoban declared, with considerably less conviction than he let on. In truth, he did not know this American at all. Vice-Admiral Stennis, he strongly suspected, would have shed not a single tear over their immediate and quite public demise. What orders would Stennis have given this admiral, the one whose flag flew from the lead dreadnought just over 10,000 yards dead ahead?

Surely, the Americans would want to talk. Wouldn't they? He swept the eastern horizon again. Where was Hanzik?!

"Signals Officer, prepare the following: 'Request permission to come aboard.' "

"Aye, aye, sir."

Captain Siegmund lifted an eyebrow at his Kommodore.

"What is left to be said?" Strassburg's captain asked. "Admiral Hanzik must have been delayed, a great storm, perhaps. Or encountered some British force that the Baron did not foresee. It is time for backup plans."

"He is only two hours late, Captain. I am unwilling to abandon this yet."

"Very well, sir. But, I ask again, what is there to say? Will not the Americans see this for what it is - a trivial delaying tactic?"

"Maybe they will, but maybe not. First, I intend to demand that they drive off the British. After that, well, it will depend."

"Ha! I might almost wish to be there myself! But no!" That last was added when von Hoban seemed to be considering Siegmund's last comment.

"Well," Siegmund admitted, "that should add an hour or two, that is, if the Americans do not simply shoot you."

"Kommodore, ready on that signal," reported the Signals Officer.

"Very well, I intend to wait until we are within 5,000 yards. Another 10 minutes, perhaps 15."

---- 9:00 AM, bridge of Sydney, course 345, speed 12 knots

"Only their latitude? What are you saying, Lieutenant?" Admiral Patey asked harshly. He had no time for nonsense.

He had German liners with American passengers coming into sight, led by a German cruiser, apparently about to challenge his command, with most of the American fleet standing by under the command of some unpredictable Yank determined to cause trouble, and any number of wealthy, politically connected yachtsmen bent on getting in the way. Nor was that the all of it. They had not yet spotted the German cruiser, who now had full bunkers of good American coal and a rested crew, and who might already have abandoned her showy charges and begun a sprint along one shore or the other in her bid for a raider cruise.

And now the wireless officer couldn't get a simple position report from Patia?

"Sir, that's all they've sent. I had enquired their position, per your order, Admiral. That was just after 0800. They acknowledged right away, sir. Then, at 0830, they sent their latitude. Just that, sir. Just their latitude. I sent a repeat request, but they have not acknowledged."

Patey frowned. Had not acknowledged? Had their wireless broke down? Lost an antenna? That damned German cruiser still was not in sight. That American course reversal a bit ago was probably just that they had reached the southern end of one leg. Probably.

A distant "boom" echoed across the waves, jerking all heads to seaward, onto their starboard after quarter.

"Val's Tract, sir! 'Enemy in sight.' "

by Jim

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