June 18, 1915 - Dilemmas -
---- 2:00 PM, Bermuda
The commander was watching the winds toss and twist the nearby palm fronds.
Various documents awaited his attention about six feet behind him on his
desk and on his sideboard, but their vigil would have to continue. An
hour of fruitless staring at the blasted pages had sufficed to prove to
him that, until word came from Vice-Admiral Patey, he would get precious
little done here. Nor was he alone, in this respect. While pride had kept
him from lingering unnecessarily about the wireless room, it had not checked
others. He had scattered the lot he'd found there an hour gone, loitering
like a gaggle of geese!
This window of his office was catching a nice bit of breeze, he realized.
It provided some welcome easing of the heat of early summer. The branches
continued to twitch and luff. He wondered if the banked clouds on the
horizon were harbingers of a coming storm.
His thoughts soon returned to the waters off New York. And Sydney's
sailing of a few days' before.
She had been the opportunity of a lifetime, and he had had to watch her
sail away without him. Damn that Dedmundee! The commander had had his
own superior well in hand, and he was confident that Patey would not have
objected. Dedmundee had observed, however, and in the hearing of both
admirals, that he had quite enough supercargo underfoot as it was. Patey
would have wanted a good reason to overrule Sydney's captain, and
the commander had not had one ready.
And so he had been left behind, to miss what would certainly be the last
battle over here, if Strassburg even came out at all. His career,
and the rest of his life, would forever be affected by his not being there.
He just knew it.
---- 2:00 PM, bridge of Mina, course (changing), speed 8 knots
"Sir, lookouts have sighted Newport. She's just come around
the bend. Range 15,000 yards."
"Very well," replied Captain Atanacio. He turned to look ahead,
raising his glasses as he did.
Negotiating the channel had become a bit easier in the last hour. The
larger boats that had initially dogged their path had mostly dropped back.
Other than a few exceptions, the smaller craft in the channel seemed more
willing to keep their distance, but there were more of them. Atanacio
had concluded that the exceptions were being emboldened by their ignorance.
"Yes, I see her," he commented to the OOD. "What ship
is that ahead of her? Can you make her out?"
It was the bosun who replied.
"I know her, cap'n. She's either the Yvonne or the Damita.
Private charter boats - both of them. Belong to a little line that runs
tours and such. Used to have some kind of contract with Luna Park, until
Thompson went bankrupt, a few years back."
"Are they sisters?" Atanacio asked idly, as he tried to work
out her spacing ahead of Newport.
"Not identical, cap'n. Yvonne's a few years older, and Damita's
lines are a bit fuller. I can't tell which one she is yet, with all that
fluff-and-puff they've got on her."
---- 2:10 PM, bridge of Newport, course (changing), speed 12 knots
"They've made better progress than I expected," commented Vice-Admiral
Stennis, with easy informality, to the ship's CO at his side. The two
officers knew each other fairly well, their paths having crossed many
times over the years, and the captain's command had done him a favor this
day by her presence and readiness.
Ten minutes ago, the lookouts had reported sighting the first of the
USN Destroyers and their two charges, though the latter remained unidentified
as to their specifics. The two RN AMCs were smoking from more than their
stacks, so there'd never been any doubt of their identity. Now, as the
range dropped steadily at a combined closing speed of over 15 knots, more
details began to reveal themselves. Stennis ignored the traces of gasps
as the young crew of the old training ship got their first glimpses of
war, ageless war.
"They're both listing, admiral," observed Newport's
CO. The holed topsides and burn marks had held his attention only briefly.
Ships sank by letting in water, not air, and these two big ships were
in the middle of perhaps his nation's busiest channel.
"Yes," agreed Stennis. "Five degrees, would you say, for
the first one?"
He acknowledged the other's point, but the ships were underway and making
good headway. He was not initially that concerned. If one or both did
sink, though ....
"Yes, sir, maybe even six. The second one's worse. I'd hazard seven
or eight for her."
Stennis quickly switched his glasses to the other AMC. His frown was
only partially hidden behind the binoculars.
---- 2:15 PM, Bermuda
The commander was standing in the office of his boss, the admiral. When
he'd responded to the senior officer's note, he'd thought that the admiral
had somehow managed to get word ahead of him. Now, five minutes gone,
he'd about decided that the old boy hadn't been able face the Admiralty's
paper either, and had summoned him in search of a respite. But, maybe
he did know something, the commander reflected, but awaited a direct question.
"I wonder," the commander said aloud, at last, "when the
next news will come from off New York."
As it so happened, the next news from off New York was just then flying
up the staircase, borne by Yeoman Butler, whose shoes were hardly touching
the steps during his ascent.
---- 2:15 PM, Imperator, Promenade, course (Hadi neither knows
nor cares), speed (too slow)
The Great Man's servants were almost panicky. Their Master had been getting
more and more irritable these last two hours. They were accustomed to
a period of munificence, or at least a lull, after the noon meal. Instead,
he had begun to growl and snap at them a mere handful of minutes after
they had rejoined Strassburg and the other two German warships.
To their boundless bewilderment, he had twice even forsaken his pillowed
seat and paced the deck! A full score of paces, maybe more! Twice! There
was simply no telling what He might do next!
Fortunately, they had their ways to palliate such rare situations. The
one they had employed this afternoon had been successful in getting him
back into his deck chair. Now, they just had to keep him there.
The problem was that Hadi, whatever his limitations might be concerning
military tactics, had a superlatively keen nose for intrigue. In Istanbul,
it was a imperative survival trait. Now, he had become convinced that
he scented duplicity or misdirection, or maybe even a plot. He did not
know what was going on, but the air reeked of far more than gunpowder
and coal smoke.
"We should be gone from this place. Gone!" Hadi rapped the
empty plate in front of him with his fork in emphasis. The china chimed
"Why does the Kommodore delay?" Hadi threw his eyes about,
as though he might rise again.
"Master," interceded one brave servant, making a complicated
but urbane gesture towards the little table they had drawn up before their
Hadi eyed the man narrowly for an instant, then looked down at the plates.
One had a bluish stain on its surface, the other red. He considered the
matter gravely. The blueberry had been better, but the strawberry was
"Yes," he said grandly, "more American pie, another one
of each." He settled back in anticipation.
The servant bobbed his head happily, and they all smiled.
---- 2:20 PM, bridge of Moltke
"Admiral, Captain Stang reports the transfers are complete. Captain
Liapis requests permission to proceed."
Hanzik had been studying the fuel reports of his force, guessing what
those of von der Tann and Rostock would be, and trying to
find options beyond the obvious ones.
"Stores and all?" Hanzik asked, looking up.
He had requested that Salamis offload also what food, water, and
coal that should be surplus to her transit into port. The quantities involved
were not particularly great, but they were worth the effort.
"Very well, I'll come."
He wanted to send Salamis off with a better message than a simple
granting of permission.
"Have the others been sighted yet?"
---- 2:20 PM, Newport, course (changing) speed 12 knots
Both British vessels had not seemed to slow or list further in the last
few minutes, which took some of the edge of the sudden concerns of the
two USN officers. The frown on the admiral's face had eased as the minutes
passed and the white at the bows of the two ships could be more plainly
"What in heavens?" Newport's master exclaimed. Cheers
had erupted and horns blared from the Damita just ahead. "Mister
McLean, Mister Dean, can you make that out?"
The sightseers must have just caught sight of the flags and ensigns on
the RN AMCs approaching them, Stennis had decided, but forbore to comment.
In a matter of seconds, the levity ran dry and the music died, reinforcing
his opinion. Yes, he thought, they would be able to make out clearly the
marks, the holes, and the stains without binoculars now, from their vantage
ahead of Newport. Stennis had known what they would see, but the
charter boat folk had not had any idea. A dreadful shock, indeed. Yes,
those would-be merry-makers would remember this day, when the music died.
"Sir, lookouts report Mina's in sight just astern of the
second British vessel."
"Very well. Well, admiral, I had hoped to enjoy your company a bit
longer than this. Young Atanacio seems to have passed a miracle."
Civilian craft were pressing all about the group.
"The pleasure's been all mine, Captain," Stennis replied. Indeed,
Newport's presence and this man's flexibility had served him well
this day. It was good also for him to get back out on vessels like this,
a proud ship with a proud history. He looked up into the rope rigging
fondly. It was so different from the stark cables in modern cagemasts.
"It does appear that The Hammer' has struck again, doesn't
"And I missed that game, admiral, I'm sorry to say. 1900, right?"
He got an assenting nod from the admiral. "11 to 7, and me stuck
in New Orleans."
"He didn't score but, let me tell you, he punished them every time
he bucked the line. Made up for that dreadful 99. By the way, did
I tell ever tell you that I almost ended up as the admiral's second, back
in 93?" (See Note)
The youngsters did not know what to make of it, as the two crusty curmudgeons
smiled openly at each other out in the afternoon sun.
---- 2:25 PM, Bermuda
"This is preposterous! LT Wardin' ? Who the devil is that? Have
you confirmed him? Commander?"
The admiral was aghast, and with great reason. The message had not been
from Vice-Admiral Patey aboard Melbourne. It had been from the AMC Patuca,
and not her CO, Captain Holley. And its tale one of catastrophe, with
even more unsaid and implied.
"There IS a LT Wardin on the Patuca, I'm afraid, sir. Charles
O. Wardin. Her gunnery officer, I believe. Reported aboard in March."
An ardent rider, the commander recalled, with a Polo handicap of three
that he himself had learned of ten pounds sterling too late.
"Damn," said the admiral, and not for the first time. He looked
again at the message slip.
" German battlecruiser, believed to be von der Tann',"
he muttered, shaking his head in disbelief, and one light cruiser,
Karlsruhe class.' "
"But sir," the commander said. "How could they have gotten
past the admiral?"
Was this a hoax? Or could Patey have gone off haring after some other
ship, with whoever poor LT Wardin's assailants really were slipping through
the opening Patey's departure had provided?
"Sir," offered Yeoman Butler, who'd used the last few minutes
to catch his breath, "the signal strength was below standard. They
went off entirely, twice, they did."
Consistent, then, with wireless damage. Or some malevolent German trick.
"Thank you, Yeoman. Commander, get on down there, if you please.
Take charge there, personally. I certainly can't message the Crown with
anything like this! It's fragmentary; could be some jester at work. Or
anything, anything at all."
"Aye, aye, sir." It was a thorny question, no doubt about it.
"Did they try Captain Richardson," the commander asked Butler
as they went down the stairs, "on Niobe?"
"Yes, sir. The first time Patuca went off the air. No reply,
at least not when I'd left."
Note - The history of the football games between the
United States' military academies at Annapolis and West Point has a (now)
little known twist. One outcome caused the President of the United States
to convene his Cabinet! See www.usna.edu
- select "library" - select "virtual exhibits" - select
"Archival Images: Army-Navy Football" - select the entry "1894/98"
Excerpt from that site:
"A reputed incident between a Rear Admiral and a Brigadier General,
which nearly led to a duel after the 1893 Navy victory, caused President
Cleveland to call a Cabinet meeting in late February 1894. When the meeting
ended, Secretary of the Navy Hillary A. Herbert, and Secretary of War,
Daniel S. Lamont, issued general orders to their respective Academies
stating that teams would be allowed to visit Annapolis and West Point
to conduct football games, but the Army and Navy football teams were prohibited
in engaging in games elsewhere.' The result was that the Army/Navy game
was suspended for the next five years. The annual series would not resume
until 1899, when it was played in a neutral locale, Franklin Field in