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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 18, 1915 - Dilemmas - Part V

---- Noon, bridge of von der Tann, speed 6 knots, course 045

Captain Dirk was glad to be leaving the Americans - dreadnoughts and sailboats both - astern.

"Captain," commented CDR Bavaria, "Rostock has turned to follow."

"Gut," Dirk replied. He switched his glasses away from the Dreadnoughts to the West. Their turrets, like his own, remained trained fore-and-aft. Yes, he thought as he studied Rostock, whatever the problem had been, Westfeldt had finally gotten his smallboat secured. Both ships were heading for Strassburg, as she and their prize made their own slow, deliberate way out to sea.

"Sir, lookouts report that Imperator and Kaiser Wilhelm II have left American waters."

"Very well," Dirk acknowledged, but kept his attention on the former-AMC just off the beam of Strassburg. She was underway, but how badly damaged was she? She had taken one or two 280 mm hits, and he didn't know how many 150 mm shells the Kommodore had landed.

Bavaria's attention, however, went instantly to the many approaching dining salons.

---- Noon, Imperator, speed (increasing), course (changing)

"Herren," began the steward, using polite German forms, "here are two cameras for you. I hope they will be serviceable. If not, there are some others, though they are of the same model."

"Danke," replied both American reporters.

"And film?" Fox asked, also in polite Deutsch. "How much film is there for the cameras?"

"There are, I believe, 20 cameras, with 10 rolls of film for each."

"Two hundred rolls of film?!" Browning was astonished.

"They are very popular with our passengers," the steward explained. "That is, before the war. We normally carried more, many more. This trip, however, we have fewer aboard than then."

"This is American," Fox said, and felt his forehead crease in suspicion.

"Yes," the German replied, head nodding unashamedly. "Film is perishable. We replace completely all perishables prior to departure."

---- 12:15 PM, United States Naval Yard, New York

It was bright outside, and already getting hot.

Vice-Admiral Stennis stood at the open window of his inner office, glaring out into the harbor. Outside, the white-washed walls glared back. A trace of breeze moved the flags behind him restlessly. He ignored it, just as he ignored the bead of moisture working down his neck and into his collar.

Battlecruisers, he thought. Like Captain Peace on Montana, Stennis fully expected that the Germans would not have sent just one heavy along. But, he wondered, and not for the first time in the last half-hour, could they have sent dreadnought-battleships, as well? What force was out there, staying oh-so-carefully just out of sight of Alton's command? With the British Royal Navy, he knew where he stood. The Americans knew them - some might have little love for them - but they knew them.

The Germans, however, were a complete unknown. What had apparently just happened out there was a catastrophe for the RN. What was that, the third this year? German warships, in unknown force, lay just off his coast. Had chased off or sunk the Royal Navy, seeped in centuries of might. Was the world order changing? Had it already? Last month, perhaps, with the Brits trying not to let on?

Battlecruisers. He had nothing that could both catch and fight battlecruisers. Nothing. Nothing at all.

The windowsill creaked. Stennis looked down and saw his fists clenched hard about the wood. Convulsively, he jerked his hands away and clasped them in the small of his back, where they'd been so many thousands of times before, in "parade rest."

Did Alton have ANY idea of what he'd gotten them all into? Stennis knew HE didn't.

What he did know, however, was that for the United States Navy, the world had just gotten a lot more complicated. The sounds of men marching in the near distance only underscored that thought. He half-listened to the barked orders of their non-coms, forming the unseen men up to board the trucks. For now, he was only sending them off to guard a pier. Would he soon be sending them off to war? To another continent, in another Hemisphere?

They weren't ready for this. Not the Navy, not the Army, and certainly not the country itself.

Smoke wisps rose from Arkansas, but he wasn't fooled. She wasn't ready either. She was still almost a week away. Sure, he could expedite her, but only by a couple days. Utah was closer - he could probably get her out in 48 hours. He briefly considered issuing the orders to both, but put the notion aside. If this proved to be some long, drawn-out affair, he'd need a relief force for Alton, and he'd absolutely need it to be as strong as the one now out there. Anything else would surely be taken as a sign of weakness by that tough-talking German commodore, let alone the as-yet-unidentified flag officer offshore.

What if it went longer still; what would he have? Texas and Florida were both somewhere up off Boston, engaged in a training exercise. Should he be thinking about getting Benson to go along with a recall? And screen units - should he be staging Destroyer sections up from ...?

"Admiral? Sorry to disturb you, sir. It's Admiral Benson."

"Very well, thank you, Meyers."

----12:30 PM, bridge of Strassburg, course 120, speed 8 knots

"What?" Kommodore von Hoban could not believe his ears. He interrupted his study of the overtaking liners astern, lowered his binoculars, and turned to face the man squarely.

The signalsman repeated it.

"Very well," von Hoban replied, embarrassed at his previous show.

"Signals Officer, hoist "5 knots."

"Kommodore," asked Captain Siegmund in a low voice, "is this expected?"

"Nein," von Hoban replied. "We were to rendezvous beyond visibility of the Americans, if that were possible. After that, it would be up to the Admiral."

Siegmund frowned. It did not augur well. What had happened out there?

Von Hoban managed not to shrug.

"Sir, Nottingham Star has acknowledged."

Very well, "execute."

---- 12:30 PM, United States Naval Yard, New York

Yeoman Meyers and LT Jenkins heard Stennis put down the phone. They backed away silently from the doorway.

"Meyers? Is Jenkins out there?"

"Sir," said Jenkins as he began to step into the office. He practically had to jump aside, as the Admiral was coming out.

"What have you got?" The admiral turned his head. "Meyers, my driver?"

"Standing by, sir." Stennis nodded and looked back at his flaglieutenant.

"So far, I've got three, sir. I'm holding one of Arkansas' launches at the quay. Tonopah came in overnight and was to leave tomorrow morning. She could cast off in an hour." (Note 1)

Stennis just shook his head.

"And, sir, the Newport was going out at noon. She was already singled when I reached her captain." (Note 2)

"Yes! She will do. Good work. Where is she now?"

"Just coming out, sir. She should be mid-channel within the quarter-hour."

---- 12:45 PM, bridge of Destroyer Mina, course (changing), speed 8 knots

Commander Atanacio gritted his teeth.

The British had been in shock, but that had begun to wear off once it became clear that the Germans had backed off. They had not answered his first hails, offering assistance. Atanacio had accepted that, initially, since they were fighting fires and, presumably, dealing with casualties. He had placed his half-section in a diamond around the AMCs and drifted Mina in close aboard one of them.

Then, with Destroyers encircling them and Battleships just a few miles distant, he'd offered them the choice. They could follow him, or they could leave US waters.

It took several minutes, but they had elected follow him.

Now they were turning into hazards to navigation. Civilian craft were showing up in schools to gape openly at the smoking torn-up ships. Merchants coming down the channel were altering their tracks to edge in for a better view. The AMCs were barely making 6 knots; Atanacio was sweeping slowly back and forth across their after quarter. The pace let many of the pleasure boats stay with them. Several seemed to be trying to take photographs.

He had deployed three of his Destroyers in a wedge, reminiscent of his football days. It might have brought a smile to his face under other conditions. But not today.

"Helm, left 10 degrees rudder. Bosun," Atanacio pointed at the sailboat trying to sneak in astern of the "wedge."

"Sir!" The large, leather-lunged chief gestured to his mates, as he reached for his megaphone. They formed up with their unloaded rifles clearly visible in some modest semblance of port arms. It was purely for show, but it seemed to work. That was good enough for Mina's CO. Aboard Mina, what had become known as "Atanacio's First Rule" was: "Make it work."

He glanced to starboard. Another pair of civvies looked to be slipping in behind him. For that matter, he had two steam yachts almost directly astern.

"Captain! CINCLANT!"

"What is it, Mister?" Slow down, calm down, he wanted to tell the young Academy grad. The fresh-faced youngster was still under the two year point, so he was not yet an Ensign. What did CINCLANT want him to do? Admiral Alton had been pretty clear ....

"He's coming, sir. Here."

"Go on."

"The message is that Vice-Admiral Stennis will join Mina, to prepare to receive him. He's coming aboard, sir."

"Very well," Atanacio replied, dismissing him.

He looked about in dismay.

He was going to have to receive aboard and entertain a three-star admiral? Whilst responsible for this cockeyed caravan?!

"Sometimes," he muttered, "I wonder why I ever left Williamsville."

Note 1: Tonopah (BM-8) was laid down as USS Connecticut (1899), commissioned as USS Nevada (1902), and renamed Tonopah (1909). She was a post Civil War design monitor who operated along the US East Coast during this period (until 1918) as a submarine tender. Hardly a dozen years old in Letterstime, her operating alongside the USS New York illustrates the changes underway in the USN just pre-WWI.

Note 2: Newport (PG-12) led a very interesting life! Commissioned in 1897, she was credited with capturing or assisting in the capturing of nine (!) Spanish vessels in the Spanish-American War. She was decommissioned in 1898, and recommissioned in 1900 and was used by the Naval Academy as a training ship. Decommissioned in 1902, recommissioned in 1903, decommissioned in 1906. She was loaned to the Massachusetts Naval Militia in 1907, was assigned to the New York Public Marine School on October 27, 1907, and served as a training ship for the 3rd Naval District until June 1918, when she was returned to the Navy for wartime service.

by Jim

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