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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 18, 1915 - Dilemmas - Part VIII

---- 3:00 PM, Imperator, course 120, speed 15 knots

A ship was approaching the outbound formation, and was being welcomed by their many steam whistles. The Germans knew why, but some of the others did not. In fact, the newcomer was a complete surprise to them.

"Blue," exclaimed Browning, "what do you make of THAT?"

"Lord if I know! It looks like a battleship, but where're the cannons? The turrets?"

"German, you think?"

"No, the one it's flying certainly isn't the same as those." Fox waved at the many German flags along the lines of the liner.

"I don't get it," said Browning. "Why would they take the guns and turrets off her?"

"Converted to a fast freighter?" Fox offered.

"An awfully expensive freighter. Even at 25,000 tons, she couldn't carry that much."

A dozen yards aft of the Americans, Hadi had looked ahead only briefly. He had been mollified somewhat by the increase in speed 20 minutes earlier. At the moment, his attention was focused on two other approaching vessels.

---- 3:00 PM, bridge of von der Tann, course 120, speed 15 knots

"Wunderbar," commented Captain Dirk. "They should make harbor well before dusk."

"Yes," agreed Bavaria. His reply had a distracted sound. His glasses were on Imperator, right alongside. Something white in motion had drawn his eye to a spot on one of her upper decks. It appeared to be a jacketed steward, pushing a cart with two glinting, silver-topped covers of some sort on it. The kind that customarily were placed over plates. He licked his lips. "Yes, wonderful."

"The Britishers can no longer interfere," Dirk said with great satisfaction.

"Jah," agreed Bavaria, with great salivation.

The two officers watched the vessels through their glasses for a minute.

"Sir, lookouts report Moltke and Kronprinz Wilhelm are now in sight. Bearing 120."

"Gut. And the others?"

"Not yet, sir."

---- 3:15 PM, Bermuda

"Come in."

"Admiral," reported the commander, somewhat tentatively, "there's been no reply from the Vice-Admiral. No response from Melbourne, Berwick, or Niobe. They're down there trying the other armed merchant cruisers now."

"We've not gotten much more from Patuca. There's a lot of interference, sir. We're losing groups and needs must fill in as best we can." He hesitated.

"Well, out with it, man!"

"Sir, the position she gave puts her in New York harbor."

"Bloody hell!"

---- 3:15 PM, Imperator, course 120, speed 15 knots

"Herr Heinlich," said Fox, "neither of us have ever heard of this Salamis."

The two Americans had spotted the senior HAPAG official and sought an explanation. Later, they might decide that it had likely been more than chance that he'd been so readily accessible. However, they'd never be completely certain.

"You're German," added Browning. "If she's really Greek, why are you so sure she's heading for New York?"

"I am German," Heinlich admitted smoothly, "but Salamis was being built at Vulcan, in Hamburg, when the war started. She's now a Greek ship with a Greek crew, but she's incomplete, as you can see. There are still some German shipyard workers aboard her, but they are aboard her under contract just to assure that she could complete the crossing safely in her current condition."

Actually, there were far fewer Germans aboard Salamis than Heinlich thought.

"And, it was well that there were," Heinlich continued. "Salamis developed engine trouble and had to slow. Imperator and Strassburg went ahead because Herr Ballin had a schedule to meet and a highly perishable cargo to deliver."

The liner was old news and their battle story was in route to their editors. Salamis, though, was new. And there was something else, both Americans could tell. There was a story here, but what it might be, they had no idea.

"I don't get it, Herr Heinlich," said Fox. "Why not finish Salamis before sailing across the Atlantic?"

"And," inserted Browning, "why send her here at all? Why not to Greece, if she's Greek?"

Heinlich had, of course, been waiting for precisely those questions.

---- 3:30 bridge of Mina, course 135, speed 18 knots

"Admiral," said Commander Atanacio, "we're clear enough now. With your permission?"

"By all means, Commander. By all means."

"Ahead flank," ordered Mina's captain. "Make turns for 25 knots."

"Engineering acknowledges, sir."

"Very well. Inform the Engineer that I will be going to 30 knots, presently."

"30 knots, aye, aye, sir."

Actually, Atanacio had discussed this with his Engineer long before the Vice-Admiral had come aboard.

Stennis waited patiently. Time was of the essence, but he knew well that the sea was a demanding mistress. Constricted, busy waterways demanded vigilance, especially at any speed above slow. Only the absence of Entente shipping had made this run possible so far. He had exchanged the formalities of boarding a warship that was under his command, shifted responsibility for escorting the RN AMCs to another, and ordered Atanacio to set course for the USS New York and to "expedite, if you please." There were several things he wanted to discuss with the still strongly-built commander, but he knew that they must wait.

"I need to get out here more," the admiral thought to himself. "I have to keep from letting myself get walled up ashore." His brief trip on Newport, and now this heady sprint were doing him a world of good, he'd already concluded.

He covertly studied the Destroyer's young CO, and liked what he saw. The other's short, dark hair flickered in the wind as he looked ahead for ships that might impede their passage. When he lowered his glasses, the sun almost glowed off his bronzed visage. He had not lost the athleticism that the older officer had admired years before and, from his call for 30 knots, he had not lost his determination, either.

The commander seemed to have true style and presence, and those who served under him showed enthusiasm. This was far more valuable input than praising but dry text of any fitness report, and Stennis could not help thinking of what should be next for Atanacio. An XO tour on one of the more modern dreadnought battleships? Possible. The normal course of affairs, though, would more probably call for a staff billet after this one.

Stennis was confident, however, that Atanacio would hardly welcome a desk but would see many anyway in his career and, if he were offered his pick of the Atlantic Fleet, his first name would be Mina. Now, here, with 25 knots of Atlantic air across the bridge, Stennis felt much the same.

"Sir, lookouts report New York ...."

The two officers raised their binoculars to study the cagemasts looming ahead.

If they ended up in the European war, the admiral reflected, there was no telling what might happen. That was the future. For now, he'd let "The Hammer" enjoy his fast ship, the admiral decided. Stennis had had his and, at that moment, would have traded his stars to have another.

---- 3:45 PM, Bermuda

The RN admiral was pale, the commander noticed as entered in response to the summons. Whether it was shock, or rage, or something else entirely, the commander was unwilling to speculate.

"There have been enquiries from our people in Washington," the older officer said. "Whatever this is all about, they are getting wind of something. Something that happened just off the coast of New York. Quite possibly a battle, from the sounds of it."

That, of course, was precisely where Vice-Admiral Patey had been, as he awaited Strassburg and the two supposed liners. The two men stared at each other as they considered that unspoken fact. Also remaining unspoken was the word "battlecruiser." Out the windows, the distant cracks of thunder heralded the imminent arrival of the storm that had been visibly approaching them since noon.

"There was no mention of sightings in New York harbor. How sure are we of that bit?"

"They sent it twice," the commander replied miserably. "It's the last thing we got before we lost her altogether. She said she was in company with Manchester Star. There were two of the Stars off New York, sir, she and Nottingham. And neither of them has acknowledged any of our transmissions."

"C. O. Wardin, you're quite sure of him?"

"Yes, sir. He's real enough."

---- 4:00 PM, Imperator railing just aft of the bridge, course 120, speed 15 knots

"Countess," said Gavilan, his grey shirt showing a few spots of perspiration, "my guess is a torpedo."

"Yes," Marina replied, as the two of them stared through their binoculars. "That would explain it. And the others?"

"They both show damage, too. But not from torpedoes. No lists. Shell fire. Look at Kolberg. She's got a bow chaser destroyed."

"The British must have had more out here than the Baron had expected. Can you tell what they lost?"

"Not for certain, MiLady. But that, over there, is probably what's left of a Chatham. Melbourne, perhaps. That, there, off to port, that's not a warship. Probably what's left of an armed merchant cruiser. Over there, that looks a lot like a Townie's bow. There was no mention of a Townie in these waters. Nothing at all. And, from the debris fields, there must have been others. But there're pretty scattered by now, Countess. All this happened hours ago."

As Marina twined one stray crimson lock, the two Americans were busy with their cameras, exclaiming to each other what to remember to write.

---- 4:15 PM, shore end of HAPAG pier

"There they go again, sir."

Colonel Anton acknowledged the young officer's remark somewhat tersely.

"Walk with me, lieutenant," he said, after a moment. They headed towards the barricades on the road entrance. "You have good reason, if you're feeling a bit edgy," he remarked, once they were clear of ears. "Not showing it, or not letting it show too much, is part of the job."

"Gunny," Anton greeted, as they neared Fideles. "Sounds like the Dodgers scored again."

"Yes, sir. It do at that." There were small grins and even a solid laugh or two among the sentries.

"Good to hear them cheering."

"Yes sir, it is at that. On a hot one like this, cheering'll give a man a real thirst. They'll not budge from the beer, Roosevelt or no Roosevelt. They'll stay right there ‘till it runs out."

"And," commented the captain who had come with the trucks a couple hours ago, "if they start moving, we'll know long before's they get here. How far off to you make it, Gunny?"

"Two and a quarter, sir. Nigh on two an a half." The certainty in the senior enlisted man's voice made it clear that he had paced it himself, probably last night.

"Almost an hour's walk, then," said the lieutenant, who was immediately embarrassed by the trace of relief in his voice.

by Jim

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