June 18, 1915 - Dilemmas -
Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - Dilemmas, Part III
---- An Excerpt from Decent Interval by Frank Snepp (Captain,
USN - Retired), Chance Publishing, NY, NY
The crisis that began with the June 12, 1915 arrival of SMS Strassburg
and the HAPAG liner Imperator would pass through many stages, each
with its own embarrassing moments for the decision makers in the US Navy,
the Congress, and the White House. There was the initial shock of the
damaged liner, then the funerals and a multitude of troubling human interest
stories. Those in power took great pains not to acknowledge German allegations
of a British Royal Navy blockade of the US East Coast. US reporters' questions
on the matter were never answered. The furor was expected to die almost
as quickly as the Germans.
Perhaps the first sign for US policy makers that the situation might
unravel was the unprecedented public auction on June 14. It drew a great
and enthusiastic crowd and enjoyed significant, largely positive, newspaper
coverage. Nonetheless, the US fully expected SMS Strassburg to
slip away before the RN could prevent it. Imperator would require
four days to fully recoal, and Strassburg would be allowed only
a single day's stay. Once out to sea, she could await Imperator
at her peril, or flee into oblivion - the US could hardly care less which
course she chose. It would be the British who would refuse to let the
matter drop so simply. They knew that, should Imperator not be
ready, Kaiser Wilhelm II, docked at the same pier, most certainly
was. Ready, too, were Vaterland near Philadelphia and Kronprincessen
Cecile in Boston, which provided several other attractive options
to the recoaled light cruiser. The British sortied a steady stream of
merchants from New York harbor, cited The Hague 1907, and prevented Strassburg
from leaving until Vice-Admiral Patey had arrived off New York with what
he and the Royal Navy were confident was an overwhelming force.
The US Navy and government were then forced to consider the effects of
the inevitable slaughter that would follow, in sight of the US mainland,
of the German warship, the liners, and their American passengers. The
RN blockade would be proven as fact, making it impossible for them to
continue to ignore it. The US Navy would be publicly humiliated; careers
tainted, maybe even ended. Thousands of American families would be militantly
aroused, and the press might dun them all for the rest of their few political
days. Confidential meeting notes, memos, and internal letters all lamented
the outcome's anticipated impacts, but mostly only on themselves.
The "master-stroke" was hatched in the Oval Office around noon,
on June 17, 1915. All those in that meeting were quite willing to "write
off" the Americans on the liners. Indeed, likely they all had already
done so in their minds. American lives and American honor apparently meant
little or nothing to them. The British blockade had long been quietly
accepted, but all in that meeting knew that the voting public would be
far less tolerant. It was necessary, then, for events to be arranged such
that the Germans and American passengers would meet their fate well out
of sight of the American shore, and the American voting public. The Germans
would be invited to steal away at night. After a carefully measured escalation
in military force, the massed American firepower would assure a safe exit
and extend the peace long enough for the American public to disconnect
the pull out from the events thereafter.
Those in the Oval Office that day did not demand an honorable solution.
What they wanted was a decent interval.
They didn't get it.
---- Foreword, pages 3 - 4.
---- 11:00 AM, Chocorua Princess, hove to
"Nate!" Claire called down from Nik's former perch. "Three
more, off to the left!"
"To port," Lannon corrected silently, but only nodded his head
as he strained to pull a dazed seaman aboard.
"Thanks, mate," the man gasped, after a moment. "Th-thought
I was a goner, I did."
"Oh, Nikkie," exclaimed another feminine voice from out of
sight aft. "He's bleeding."
"Maggie," Lannon called, "bandages are in the locker,
below, next to the head." He turned to the man he'd just settled.
"Can you help, she means well, but ...."
"A-aye, sir," the seaman replied, still shivering, "and
"Nate, that's the last of them."
"Okay, Nik, I mean, Nikkieee,' " Lannon called back.
Maggie was safely out of earshot. "Claire, how far? Can you tell?"
As he loosed the rope from the wheel, he scanned about. Several other
sails and two steam yachts were joining the effort.
---- 11:00, bridge of Nottingham Star, stopped
"Sir, we've got the fire mostly out. She's taking water, but the
pumps look to be keeping pace for now. No sign of scuttling. They had
to abandon the engineroom before they could do mishief."
"Good," answered LT Lionel. "Prisoners?"
"Twelve able-bodied, sir, and another eight hurt. Three have bad
steam burns - they'll not live, I'm thinking."
"Yes, sir. Both gun crews were hit, and a shell fragment from von
der Tann opened a steam line in the engineroom. Those that couldn't
get out died."
"And that brings me to the next problem, sir."
"No steam. Until we can patch that line and relight, we're dead
in the water, unless we can get a tow."
"Very well. I don't think the commodore is going to tow us anywhere.
"I've got three on the patch job now, and the metal is still warm.
An hour? Maybe less."
No wonder they surrendered, Lionel thought. No officers, no guns, no
steam, and no way out.
"Very well. We don't seem to be drifting inshore. If that changes,
I'll try the anchor."
"Aye, aye, sir."
---- 11:00 AM, bridge of Aylwin, stopped
CDR Leverett had his boats in the water, but his eyes were on Strassburg.
She had left her prize and had proceeded to where Niobe's bow still
poked out of the water. Her stern might be touching bottom, he realized.
If so, she might remain like that for hours.
He'd left the Germans to their own efforts and had moved his Destroyer
to stand off the smoldering wreck of one of the AMCs. He'd thought he
understood the Germans; he knew now he'd been mistaken. It was as though
he had tried to befriend a wild animal and, lulled into thinking it tame
by its peaceful demeanor, had been shocked when it attacked its natural
He had actually put that analogy to good use. For now, he was treating
Strassburg like a bear, and her prize like her cub. Thus he had
stayed well clear the German's prize, and had taken great care not to
come between it and Strassburg. He was improvising. They didn't
teach protocols for this kind of situation at the Academy, he reflected.
---- 11:00 AM, bridge of Rostock, stopped
The men at the bow mounts had been given little time to rest, Westfeldt
noted, approvingly. The Gunnery Officer had made good use of the time
to have additional shells brought forward, to replenish the ready stocks.
His XO had gone aft to supervise the torturous manual lowering of the
one small boat that had been aboard when they had sprinted to follow von
der Tann. Actually, they were lucky to have even the one. It had been
retained inadvertently, fouled in the winches or pulleys. Von der Tann
- currently ghosting near - had none; all hers were either back with Hanzik
or in splinters.
Actually, Westfeldt thought, Rostock's small boat constituted
a stroke of good fortune for the Britishers in two respects. Without that
delay, if that boat had been in the water, he was certain that they would
have dispatched their second AMC target well before the Americans would
have been able to intervene. As it was, they had a boat to get their victims
out of the cold Atlantic, mid-June, or not.
---- 11:15 AM, bridge of von der Tann, steerage way
"There's little for us here," groused Captain Dirk.
He was more than a bit nervous. He had faced Sturdee's battlecruisers
without a qualm. Charging across the vans at Die Kaiserschlacht had been
a trial, but at least he'd been firing back at his tormentors. Not so
today, with the two American dreadnoughts. The orders could not have been
The damned American admiral, whoever he was, obviously considered this
pestilent swarm of pleasure boats to be inviolate. The civilians, Dirk
decided, displayed the thrill-seeking boredom and innocent arrogance of
a full and placid peace. Their jaunty sailboats and painted steam yachts
were determined to intermingle with those busy about the stark business
Woe betide him, though, should one of these Trottel blunder across his
To Dirk, it was if a vast Frau Burgermeister was looking on fondly as
her lapful of slobbering schnauzers bounded about him, yipping and nipping,
with him trying to remain polite and resist the urge to punt them across
---- 11:15 AM, United States Naval Yard, New York
"Sir, from Admiral Alton."
"Thank you, Meyers," Vice-Admiral Stennis replied, with the
slightest of frowns. The senior yeoman had extended the message almost
gingerly. This did not bode well. He looked past the man and out into
the sitting area. The face of his young flag-lieutenant standing out in
the entry area bore a strained expression.
Almost in reflex, he put down his coffee mug before beginning to read.
It was well that he did.
He read the message several times. It remained the same each time.
"Meyers, I need to speak with Admiral Benson. He should be in his
Of course, Benson would be waiting. He'd told him as much already this
morning. Stennis wouldn't even be surprised if Daniels were there with
him, or in earshot.
"This one," Stennis muttered to his empty office, "might
even drive Daniels to drink!"
---- 11:20 AM, United States Naval Yard, New York
"Good morning, admiral," began Stennis. The call had gone through
LT Jenkins and Meyers were, unbeknownst to Stennis, listening at the
door. They, of course, could only hear Stennis' side of the conversation.
"I've just heard from Admiral Alton. New and unexpected developments,
sir. It was an ambush, alright. A German ambush!
"Yes, sir. That's what I said. More German warships showed up just
as Patey was forming up to meet Strassburg. They must have been
"Alton doesn't know. Some of them have stayed out. He .... Yes.
Battlecruisers. Alton's got one in sight and .... Yes, sir."
Stennis went silent. The two men outside the door looked at each other
as the pause stretched to nearly a minute.
"Good morning, Mr. Secretary. As I was telling Admiral Benson, the
Germans showed up with more warships, including at least one battlecruiser.
They must have had them waiting offshore. They hit the British just as
Strassburg and the liners were coming out.
"I don't know how long, sir.
"Best Admiral Alton can tell, every one of their warships.
"Yes, sir. There's no sign of Patey. None whatsoever, sir. But two
of their Armed Merchant Cruisers are still afloat. They fled into US waters.
They're both damaged, but underway. That's correct, sir. They're being
escorted by .... Here, sir. To here. The admiral really had no choice,
Mr. Secretary. No, sir. Technically, they're warships - both of them -
and they ran into our waters for us to keep the Germans from sinking them.
"That's correct, sir. Yes, sir. I'll leave that to Admiral Benson
and you, sir. And there's one other thing ...."
There was more, but footsteps coming down the corridor drove the two
listeners back to their assigned posts.
"Good morning, major, lieutenant," said LT Jenkins. "The
admiral is on the ...."
"Meyers," called Stennis from within his office. "Is Jenkins
"Good, oh, Major. Be with you in a moment. Jenkins, find out who's
got steam up."
The flag lieutenant did not have a poker face. Stennis had sent off "everything
that can get steam up" late yesterday.
"It may be nothing," Stennis added, reading the young officer's
"I understand that. Just find out. Also, I want to know the instant
---- 11:20 AM, Nottingham Star, stopped
"Sir, we've got steam. Ready for bells on the main, but I recommend
keeping the pressure low."
"Excellent," said LT Lionel. "Bosun, one long."
The bosun went over and pulled on the rope lanyard. No sound emerged.
Lionel looked wanly at the first petty officer, who grimaced, profoundly
"Forgot to cut that in, sir. Be a moment, no more."
---- 11:25 AM, Imperator, stopped
Fox and Browning sat on the edge of their deck chairs as they pounded
on the keyboards of the typewriters that Ballin had had rolled up on their
own little tables.
Both American reporters had sealed their envelopes several minutes ago.
Now they were adding feverishly to what the launch men would report by
Imperator's whistle sounded.
"Gentlemen," Ballin said, "it is time."
The reporters pulled out the paper from their typewriters, and added
it to each's leather case.
" Kay, gents. I calls these two numbers, asks for the gents
you've put here, and tells them the gig."
"They're not expecting you, Mike, so ...."
"Yeah, yeah, I got that part. That's why this stuff. Anyways, there's
no chance of them not paying. Is there?"
"Not a chance!" Fox assured him. Browning nodded vigorously
in agreement. "Not with what you'll be delivering. And there's an
extra fifty in it for you if you get it there by deadline. That's what
the notes say, the same in each case. Our editors'll pay, alright, just
as long as the seals aren't broken."
"HAPAG will stand good for it," added Ballin. "You have
my word on it. Obey their instructions, and you will get the money."
"I'll get it there, don't you worry," said the man named Mike,
with $100 already nestling crisply in his pockets. "This ain't the
first special like this.
"Mr. Ballin, sir?" Mike asked at the top of the ladder leading
down to his courier boat. "Will, this'n be all for today?"
"Perhaps not. I would appreciate it if you would have someone standing
by, just in case."
The man nodded and began down the ladder.
"What else, Mr. Ballin?" Browning asked as they watched Mike
get back onto his craft. Both reporters gasped as the man nearly fell
when the small boat sank abruptly away from his foot with the passage
of a swell. Both had a sudden vision of their front-pagers disappearing
into the waves. The man seemed quite unperturbed and stepped into his
craft when the next surge brought it back within reach.
"I cannot say, but it seemed best to have them be ready."
The Americans nodded, and they watched the small boat cast off and pivot
sharply. It threw up a quick rooster tail as the prop bit hard at the
waters. They stood there silently and watched their stories' progress
towards the shore long Ballin had returned to Imperator's bridge.
---- 11:30 AM, bridge of New York, course 150, speed 6 knots
Rear-Admiral Alton had slowed his force and now watched suspiciously
as the small boat that had briefly tied up at Imperator flitted
back across the water, heading for the coast. He frowned, but there was
nothing he could do about it. There were at least 20 assorted civilian
craft out here; several out there had gotten men out of the water.
"Admiral, the Germans are getting under way."
"And the one they captured?"
"That one also, sir. We got her name now. She's the Nottingham
"Or was," he added. After all, the Germans could damn well
name her anything they pleased now.
"Sir, lookouts report that the Cost Guard Cutter Onoddaga
is in sight, bearing 225, range 19,000 yards."
---- 11:30 AM, New York, shore end of HAPAG Terminal
"Sir, the grocer's back."
Colonel Anton turned away from his study of the pier and looked back
at the first roadblock. Yes, he thought, there were again three trucks.
They looked like the same ones that had been here in the morning.
Yes, that was definitely Mr. Mitterman, or his twin brother. The salt-and-pepper
hair was clearly visible in the hot noon sun. The grocer was again kneading
his hat nervously in his work-hardened hands.
Anton had hoped to hear from his chain of command before this, but there'd
been no word. Apparently, they must have something more important on their
minds than 200 - 250 unannounced and possibly armed Germans lurking in
a warehouse. A warehouse on a pier that just happened to be where a fractious
mob was likely to migrate to in a couple or three hours. A mob who'd've
gotten their full of warm beer and hot rhetoric. It was already getting
hot, and there was none who could make it any hotter than ex-President
The Marine officer sure hoped the-powers-that-be would get off their
butts soon. He could already hear murmurings of crowd noise off in the
direction of the rally.
---- 11:45 AM, bridge of Kolberg, course 260, speed 16 knots
Dahm was studying the smoking forms of Moltke and Augsberg.
He'd missed a battle, it seemed, though he'd had his own. Canvas awnings
had been rigged over the battlecruiser's stern, creating shaded enclosures.
Sentries with rifles stood at various locations about the tents. Apparently,
he was not the only one to have prisoners to deal with.
"Sir, Moltke's hoisted come alongside' with both our
number and Salamis'."
"Very well," replied Dahm. "Acknowledge."
Moments later, he saw Salamis acknowledge, as well.
More flags went up on Moltke.
"Sir, commanding officers report.' And, sir, I don't think
I understand the others. They're for Salamis, though."
"It appears," offered LT Diele who had joined them on the bridge,
"to order LC' and JG' to come with the Salamis
"Do you know who they are?" Dahm heard himself ask. This is
silly, he thought; I'm stalling.
"Very well. XO, take us in close aboard." Dahm hid his sigh
as he turned away. "I'm on my way down to the boats."
"Aye, aye, sir," Diele replied to Dahm's back.
Dahm was tacitly admitting that he would need several minutes to negotiate
the ladders. As he turned away, Diele shot a hard glance at a burly seaman
out on the wing. The enlisted man nodded and darted down the other ladder.
The lieutenant had detailed him to get ahead of their new Captain to make
sure nothing was ever in his way. Diele had lost one commanding officer
today, and had no intention of losing another.
---- 11:45 AM, aft of the quarterdeck of Augsberg, stopped
"Are you okay, Captain?"
The boat was down and the crew was nearly finished going aboard.
"Jawohl," answered Speck, standing back up. "I just needed
to sit for a moment."
In truth, Speck only felt tired and a bit out of breath. It was no wonder,
though, he thought defensively. They'd been shot at all morning - and
hit - by just about every Britisher who'd had guns, as he frantically
shell-chased and played hide-and-seek in the smoke from Val's Tract.
Then, afterwards, he'd climbed to the lookout's top to take his own look
about the battlefield. Unwisely, it now seemed. His heart hammered in
his chest from his exertions, and his limbs felt heavy and numb.
Except for his left arm, he realized, clenching and unclenching his left
fist. It tingled, and he liked that least of all. He would rest on the
way to Moltke. It would be alright.