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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 18, 1915 - Surprises - Part VIII


Map of New York and Surrounding Waters

One can compare the above map with:


(Aylwin has just emerged from approximately the middle of the east side of the white rectangle on the map listed above.)

---- 9:05 AM, bridge of Kronprinz Wilhelm, course 285, speed 18 knots (slowing)

Captain von Stampt had ordered the speed reduction with Rostock's ‘Execute." Now, he watched as the light cruisers drew ahead. He looked over at the big battlecruiser on his starboard side as she came abreast. In seconds, the smoke had become so bad that they lost their line of sight to the armed merchant cruiser who had turned to bar their way. Lost it also to those other, more ominous, threads to the WNW.

Fits of coughing broke out all over the bridge.

Ahead, there was nothing now to be seen but the curtain of heavy, soot-thick, smoke. He was driving blind and unarmed into a battle. Those 88 mm guns might have been nice to have after all, he thought, in between coughs.

---- 9:05 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 285, speed 22 knots

"Admiral?" Captain Stang said, in between coughs. "With your permission?"

"Jah," Hanzik said, curtly. Like the others, he was striving to see through the opaque mass billowing out of the CLs on their bow. It'd seemed like such a good idea, back when he'd laid it out. Now, though, he was no longer quite so sure. He felt powerless, having yielded the moment of decision to Captain Westfeldt. He told himself again that Rostock's CO, veteran of both Dogger Bank and Die Kaiserschlacht, was fully capable to judge the timing. His eyes were tearing; he wiped his face and noted the soot was heavy on the cloth.

"Helm," Stang ordered, "edge us in ahead of Kronprinz Wilhelm. Gently!"

"Aye, aye, sir," the helmsman responded stolidly. After 12 days, he'd gotten used to such a crowded bridge, but this business was sheer torture. It was like an acrid choking fog, hiding damn near everything over 200 yards ahead. No helmsman alive may ever have done this: going 22 knots, blind, an ocean away from known waters. He coughed, and coughed again. Damn this smoke, he thought. He just hoped they'd be bigger than whatever they ran into.

---- 9:05 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 285, speed 22 knots

"Sir, enemy has turned onto a northerly course."

Of course, thought Westfeldt, she's crossing our "T." He stopped his first impulse to smile at the notion - his light cruiser might well have a bit of a gauntlet to run.

"Very well. Range?"

The Britisher's funnel smoke ....

"13,000 yards - permission to open fire?"

Damn! Westfeldt was losing sight of the more distant British ships. They were more than 10,000 yards inshore of this entirely-too-clever AMC, much more. Just how much more, though, or what they might be doing, he could no longer tell.

"No," he said curtly, as the other began to repeat the question. "We must get closer. This game is too small for the snare."

---- 9:05 AM, bridge of Augsberg, course 285, speed 22 knots

"The Britisher has turned to cross our ‘T', sir." The OOD sounded practically jovial, as though he had to suppress a bit of laughter.

"Yes," replied Speck, almost morosely.

The last time he had charged into action, it'd been at Dogger Bank. There, they had fled for hours, and finally gotten clear, only to be thrown back into it by the then-unknown Baron Letters. Speck could remember still the great course reversal at 25 knots and passing by Blucher to interpose themselves against thrice or more their number of British light. He'd lost two of his torpedo boats and more of his men than he'd ever wanted to recall. Only the big guns of Blucher and the three battlecruisers had gotten the rest of them out - that and the approach of fresh friendly forces.

Today, there was no Blucher, no flotillas, no Baron, no reinforcements coming down the Bight, and only the two smallest battlecruisers.

They had surprise, though, he told himself, trying to rein in his thoughts. He looked back. The wind must be beginning to stir up, for he could glimpse Moltke's outline intermittently through gaps in the dark grey smoke. This charade would soon unravel, just as the smoke threatened to, no matter what the poor Brit off their bows did.

---- 9:05 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course (changing), speed ~16 knots

"Sir, my rudder is left 10 degrees ..."

"Very well," Captain Moore half-muttered as he stared into the onrushing column of smoke. Were the forms shifting within the heavy haze?

"... coming to course 030."

"Sir, we appear to have lost sight of the liner ...."

"Of course," this time more aloud. "She's dropped back to let her escorts deal with us. But there'll be more surprises this day," he added, with more clairvoyance than he knew.

Moore turned to look back at the rest of Patey's command. Did he have the line correct? Yes, good. Now, if Otway would just ....

"Ah," he said aloud, as he watched Otway hoisting the relay of his signal for his Vice-Admiral. Okay, he could relax, just a trifle. His first obligation was done. Patey, he was confident, would be along shortly - though perhaps not shortly enough.

"Gunner, you may fire when they get in range."

That, all knew, would be at about 10,000 yards, which was the most they could expect from their 6"/40 QF Mark IIIs.

"Why haven't they opened fire?" Moore mused aloud. "They're in range, or my name's not ...."

---- 9:05 AM, bridge of Sydney, course (changing), speed (increasing)

Patey could no longer read the flags on Val's Tract. Their practically opposite courses had opened the range past 18,000 yards. He had no idea what Captain Moore thought he'd spotted. It seemed impossible that Strassburg, if indeed that was the real name of the German ship that had fled into New York harbor almost a week ago, could have gotten past them all and that far out to sea. That firing of a gun, however, was a very serious and vastly sincere act, all the more so with the Americans where they were and in such force. The bottom line was that he had no choice - he had to respect that signal and turn to investigate. If the "Strassburg" really had remained with the two liners still just inside the edge of the outer harbor, as he fully expected, she'd bloody well keep.

But what was this all about, then?

"Admiral, Otway is signaling!" Captain Dedmundee reported.

Patey nodded and raised his glasses.

---- 9:10 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 020, speed 16.5 knots (increasing)

Captain Moore was casting a look to the west. There, the smoke from Patey's cruisers already showed signs of change. He went to raise his glasses.

"!0,000 yards, sir."

"Fire," Moore ordered, even as he was turning back to face the still-silent Germans. Were they hoping simply to brush past him, cloaked in their smoke? If so ....

The bow gun fired first, followed by the one on their stern a moment later.

Anxiously, he awaited the fall of shot, though he had little hope of hitting their target. He needed only to buy time - to lure the German light cruiser duo and that supposed liner into Patey's lap.

---- 9:10 AM, bridge of Aylwin, course 140 speed 10 knots

"Captain, Strassburg appears to be dropping back a bit."

Commander Leverett looked astern. Yes, what had been about 500 yards now looked to be nearing 700. Her bow still showed her coming on, however, and there were no new flag signals up on her hoists. So, they hadn't stopped, but they might be beginning a stall.

"Good eye. Pass that up to the lookouts."

He looked ahead at the nearing battleships, now about 7,000 yards to the SE. In particular, his eyes were on the New York, the one flying the broad pennant. Thankfully, this had all now become Admiral Alton's problem.

---- 9:10 AM, bridge of New York, course 030, speed 6 knots

"Admiral, the British are up to something."

Rear-Admiral Alton lifted his eyes from the trim 38-footer sliding by to starboard. Mahogany, it seemed. Several aboard her were staring at the great hulls passing by. This would be a nice day to be aboard her, with no responsibilities for whatever disaster was minutes away. One of the women aboard her waved. He tightened his lips in disapproval - hopefully no one on one of his ships would be foolish enough to wave back. Of course, the Brits were "up to something," and likely the Germans were too. But what?


"Sir, the cruisers have gone over onto some SE course and, if their smoke is any indication, they gone to a Full bell, or better."

"And the Germans?" Alton asked, focusing his binoculars on the British force.

"No change, sir. They're still in line astern of Aylwin; they passed Dix Island about 10 minutes ago. They should be close aboard in another 15 - 20 minutes."

"Very well."

It was a conundrum, one with no solution in sight. Maybe this was one of those puzzles that HAD no solution. Yet, perhaps nothing at all would happen. Perhaps, he would have to dictate some resolution to both parties, but what could it be? Two points remained central: neither side would want to antagonize the United States and, thanks to Vice-Admiral Stennis, he commanded unique and overwhelming force - a Solomon's sword, of sorts. After all, the USN had the only dreadnoughts in the entire Western Hemisphere.

---- 9:10 AM, New York Naval Yard, Office of the Commanding Officer

"Admiral? I have Colonel Anton on the line."

Vice-Admiral Stennis felt his forehead crease as he reached to pick up the phone. It was at this time yesterday, almost to the very minute, in fact, that he'd gotten another unexpected call. That one had been from Rear-Admiral Fiske ....

"Good morning, Colonel Anton. My Chief of Staff said you wanted to speak with me?"

He listened. Anton started with the fact and time that Strassburg and the two liners had left.

"Yes, Colonel." Stennis was neutral, but patient. This decorated senior Marine officer would not have insisted on speaking with him personally simply to tell him things that the Commanding Admiral was sure already to know.

Anton went on to mention that the upcoming Roosevelt-Ford anti-German rally was just a few hours and yards away, and that his unit still manned the barricades set up overnight to keep the peace.

The admiral resisted asking if this Colonel Anton was building up to asking to secure his post. No, the Marine's voice and delivery suggested some new element - one that he apparently felt needed to be brought directly to his attention. Stennis shifted the phone to raise his coffee mug.


"HOW many? Two HUNDRED?!"

The yeoman on the far side of the foyer jerked his head up from the papers on his desk at admiral's raised voice. He made another note to get that glass pane set in more firmly. Stennis' aide was not in sight this time. He hissed at a striker.

"Go find the Lieutenant," the senior enlisted man said in a muffled voice.

Stennis put the mug back down, and wiped at a small brown stain.

"And they were actually seen by your sentry? Two of them?"

"Uh-hmm. Any evidence they're armed?"

There was none, but Anton noted that the men had obviously come off one or more of the German ships and they'd had free run of the HAPAG warehouses ever since. There was no telling, not really, of what might have been offloaded secretly from the warships or even trucked in before the Strassburg had arrived.

"Meyers?" Stennis called out to his yeoman, as he hung up the phone. "Would you please send someone to get ...."

"Sir?" Jenkins said, from the door.

"Ah, good. Get a hold of ...."

--- 9:10 AM, bridge of Sydney, course 120, speed (increasing)

Vice-Admiral Patey had read the flags up on Otway with some disbelief.

"Two enemy light cruisers! And another liner?" Was this some sort of colossal mistake? Val's Tract had broken off and gone onto a northerly course, per her smoke. There! Just ahead of the other's bow, there was a distant plume rising on the horizon. But what was it? It had to be pretty big at this range, he realized. As he tried to better his focus, the AMC went across his line of sight, blocking it.

"Sir, Val's Tract has opened fire." Dedmundee's voice was flat.

Mistake it might be, but dammittohell if the somewhat-eccentric Captain Moore wasn't acting quite sure of himself. Very well. He forced himself to take a deep breath. If he'd truly seen two cruisers, it obviously was not an escaped Strassburg. This was some new force. And Moore had opened fire on it. How it got here, and now, he put aside for the moment. His marathon run up from Jamaica and his recall of Berwick down from Halifax had suddenly been proven to be quite prudent indeed.

"Signals Officer: Niobe - ‘remain on station,' armed merchant cruisers - ‘form on Niobe.' "

As the order was repeated back, Patey recalled that Moore had reported a liner with the newcomers. "To Otway", he added. " ‘Form on Sydney.' Immediate execute, the lot of it."

Melbourne and Berwick would continue their previous ‘Form on flagship' orders.

"Admiral?" Dedmundee prodded his admiral carefully.

"Yes, Captain. Action Stations, if you please."

by Jim

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