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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 18, 1915 - Dilemmas - an Interlude on Kolberg

10:00am, Bridge of Kolberg, Course 245

Lieutenant Commander Dahm leaned against the rail of Kolberg’s bridge and tried not to breathe deeply. The cracked and broken ribs sent sharp pains through his middle with every breath, although that was nothing compared to the effort it took not to let the men, his men, see it. Behind and beside him, they were carrying off the last of the body parts from those who were on the bridge when the shell hit.

“I am really getting tired of this,” he thought, remembering the first time, when that captain ran his ship aground, and the second time on a different ship, and the third time not 20 days ago. That one had been another shell, with similar results. At least now he had a good idea what his orders were and there was only one vessel to worry about instead of five galloping battlecruisers and a mad admiral changing course at whim.

From behind, the battered CPO he brought over from Pillau reported that Salamis was maintaining station, as he had every five minutes. Schmitz had been with him for that wild ride and seemed to know what reports were vital. Perhaps the threat to keelhaul Salamis’ Captain and helmsman if they changed course without warning had been overdoing it, but it was having a salutary effect.

Below, the wreckage of two 4.1” mounts was being cleared. The human detritus had already been hauled below to sickbay, bagged, or washed overboard. “Whanngs” sounded sporadically as the damage control crews wielded hammers in the struggle to return the mounts to service. In his judgement, only one had a chance and its crew would be horribly exposed if another AMC appeared.

Perhaps something better could be done. At Dogger Bank, the light had taken casualties covering the Baron up the Bight. At Die Kaiserschlacht, more vessels had died and they did not prevent the RN from damaging the battlecruisers and battleships. Perhaps the answer was to group the guns into small turrets. His family made turbines for the HSF, and expansion engines for decades before that, but even he could see that ten guns able to fire on a broadside would be better than five.

A speck of smoke on the horizon ahead marked the end of the reverie as he turned to check if the lookouts were alert.

10:22 AM, bridge of Kolberg, course 260, speed 16 knots (From Mainline Story)

{LCDR Dahm had altered course shortly after the hour. Salamis, 3,000 yards astern, had promptly done the same. He'd been confident then and had even less doubt now.

"Trust the Kommodore," Dahm thought, "and Hanzik, to post signs for us."

"Signals, inform the Admiral that we have them in sight. Give our course and speed. Rendezvous estimate - 90 minutes."

Dahm could not see what was at the bases of the tall black towers now dead ahead on the horizon. Whatever they were, he hoped they weren't German. He knew he was assuming that Hanzik's force, some of them, at least, had remained near the plumes. It seemed safe enough.

"Ah, First Lieutenant Diele," Dahm said, as the other officer stepped near. The very young Acting-CO was gratified to see that the even-younger LT appeared much steadier in this, his second visit to the bridge. Most of the "evidence" had been removed in the last hour, but much remained.

Gut, he thought. He would have called him to the bridge in another few minutes anyway. There was no one else too near, and there were issues to be faced.

"Acting-XO, I should've said," Dahm corrected himself, looking for a reaction. The other just nodded; good, he thought, again. Dahm had joined Kolberg the day before they had left port. He didn't know much about this young man beyond his name and rank - LT Peter David Diele. There simply hadn't been time. Neither, of course, did Diele know him, Dahm. The captain that the crew had known - and possibly lionized - had died where they both now stood, Diele ramrod straight and Dahm hunched over, one arm wrapped around his ribcage. Well, "died" was also a bit of a euphemism, Dahm recognized, considering what had greeted their eyes here. Nonetheless, Dahm, a stranger, had become the new "father figure" for the tight little family of the light cruiser.

"It will be my duty to report to the Kommodore, or possibly the Admiral. In 90 minutes. A full report will be required, and I'll want to transfer our prisoners at that time. XO," Dahm paused, unable to word the next part well, "ladders are a bit of a problem for me, just now, so I leave it to you to assemble the information that I will need. Besides our damage, fuel, and ammo, the Kommodore will certainly ask if this ship needs any replacements. Including officers."

He'd been in command for less than two hours. An hour since he'd ordered them back underway, possibly, just possibly, leaving men in the water.

"So, Mr. Diele, if you, or the crew, have any opinion as to how I should answer the Kommodore .... Well, if so, it's best I hear them before I go to report."

"No, sir." Diele was startled into staring afresh at the slender officer, whose posture made no attempt to conceal his infirmity. If he had gotten that right, he'd just been asked if the crew would accept him as CO and if Diele was ready to continue as XO. Ach du lieber Himmel!

Diele opened his mouth to say more, and hesitated, mouth still partly agape. He realized then that Dahm did not know how others, including the crew, saw him. That his nonchalant demeanor bespoke of steadiness, of adaptability, of readiness to deal with whatever Fate or the British sent him. How could he tell him that?!
"Sir," is what he finally got out, "with your permission, I'd like to have the pharmacist's mate report to the bridge. A tight wrap would provide a lot of support."

"Thank you, XO."

Dahm closed his eyes as the other officer left. Yes, he thought, a wrap might help, but Diele had already provided the support he'd needed most.}

1:30pm, Kolberg

The climb back to the bridge was excruciating, as he had feared since climbing down. While having the corridors cleared made it easier, impeding Kolberg’s operations wasn’t worth it. A word with Lt. Diele would see to that, since the blanching of the crewman’s face when he saw who he had almost knocked over told of where it came from and what sort of grisly threats may have accompanied it. At least the entrance to New York was long, giving plenty of time before he had to come back down.

The Admiral had been received his report politely, if a bit reserved. The two men aboard Salamis had been a total shock, but their behavior toward Moltke’s senior officers was only to be expected. As he recalled, they had tried the same tactic against Uncle Peter when a turbine for Kaiser was slightly out of balance after installation. Peter had just supervised the crew with his usual impurtability, merely repeating “Ja, ja” whenever they switched speakers.

His orders were now revised, sending Kolberg to screen the great wounded ship. Admiral Hanzik had even confirmed his command, “for now”. The remark about the difficulty in finding another expendable captain was spoken in an undertone, after all. Surely those rumors couldn’t have reached that high this quickly.

The events in New York and over the last few hours outside the Sound were similar to the outline from the confidential mission briefing, although the magnitude of the RN response was unexpected, as was the torpedo damage to Moltke. It sounds like they scraped up every ship available and the RN admiral had the fortune to be in the right place, or the wrong place, depending on your point of view.

“We really need to rearrange the guns on these ships. I’ll ask around when we get back,” were his last thoughts as he leaned against the bulkhead just before attempting the last flight of stairs leading to the bridge and the demands awaiting him there.

by Karl Dahm

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