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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 18, 1915 - Dilemmas - Part IX

---- 4:15 PM, atop New York's forward cage mast, course 030, speed 6 knots

They were mortified. Utterly, profoundly, mortified.

For the second time today, they found themselves staring at an impossible inbound contact. Neither the officer nor the chief had any idea what she might be (let alone who), and the recognition books now scattered about had not yielded the slightest clue. So, once again, they had had to make a humiliating report. And the admiral! Oh, God, anguished the officer, what if HE figures her out - again - before they did?! The Captain would ....

"Chief, talk to me," he pleaded, sensing the imminence of a remote weather station posting.

"Sir, I got's nothing to say." The bile rose sour in the senior enlisted man's throat, as though he'd just bitten into a rancid pot pie. He was on the same mental track as his officer. It would be cold at that weather station, he just knew it.

" ‘Unidentified ship,' indeed!" Alton, many decks below, heard himself mutter. The ship was just 15,000 yards off, and still no one had hazarded even a guess as to her identity. She had the size of a dreadnought and some her lines were right but, whatever she might be, a dreadnought she was not. Her upperworks had a raw or skeletal appearance. Where there might be casemates, there was instead plating. And, most of all, there was the minor matter of turrets - there were none. There did not, in fact, appear to be a single gun anywhere in sight. Was she some sort of Q-ship?

"Sir! She's flying the flag of Greece."


"Sir, lookouts report Mina is approaching, bearing 250, range 20,000 yards. Sir, she's at flank, and should be close aboard in about 20 minutes."

The Vice-Admiral was obviously wasting no time.

"Very well. Inform me when CINCLANT's pennant is confirmed."


"Aye, aye, sir."

High above in the hot armored box, the officer suppressed a shiver.

---- 4:15 PM, Chocorua Princess

"Nate, most of them are just banged up and water-logged, but we've got one that needs a doctor, and soon. There's nothing more I can do." Nik looked at his hands helplessly.

"Right," replied Lannon. "I don't see any others," he added as he scanned around. After a moment, he glanced up fondly at the very feminine form in the stirrup perch on the mast. "Claire? Can you see any more in the water? No? Okay."

Lannon looked to the south, where the Coast Guard ship now lay alongside a pair of hove-to civilian craft. He had worked the Princess on a north-easterly heading. The Onoddaga was several miles distant. He'd hoped the Coastie would be closer by now, but she wasn't. It was time to consider other options. He looked around some more.

"What do you think?" Lannon asked, pointing to the north. "Should I head for that Destroyer?"

Nik squinted, having left his binoculars aft.

"She's, what, four miles off?"

"About that. She also just came about." Unfortunately, that put Aylwin's stern towards the American civilians and she was already beginning to open the range. The wind was out of the north, making that course an even less attractive one, he could have added.

Commander Leverett, not similarly restrained by wind direction, was responding to a lookout report of a possible sighting of survivors on wreckage near Niobe's bow. The Strassburg had been there earlier, of course. While he doubted that the Germans had missed anyone, he could not dismiss the possibility. There was the distinct chance that RN survivors had hid from their enemies, especially with the Americans so close. So he had Aylwin enroute to glean where Strassburg had harvested.

Lannon looked next towards the cagemasts to the west. They, too, were several miles off, perhaps 9,000 yards. Big ships, however, would be more likely to have medical staff able to help. Probably, he should head west, he thought.

"What about her?" Nik asked, pointing. "And she's coming right this way."

---- 4:30 PM, Bermuda

"Commander," said the admiral, "I have just been informed that the Americans have dispatched Vice-Admiral Stennis to investigate the results of the reported ‘battle.' "

" ‘Dispatched,' " murmured the commander, struggling for an instant with the image of someone "dispatching" a vice-admiral, casting him out of his office as though he were a messenger boy. (See Note 1) "But, sir, Admiral Patey's report last eve! The Yanks already have an admiral on the scene, along with two of their dreadnoughts."

"Indeed," agreed the admiral, but continued, "and to ‘expedite' his report, no less."

It was becoming increasing apparent that the Americans were holding to the view that something of significance had transpired in the waters just off New York.

"Sir?" The inquiry came from the doorway. The two officers turned.

"Yes, Butler?"

"This," he half-gasped as he tendered another message slip, having just completed his second dashing ascension of those damnable stairs this day, "just in from the Embassy, sir."

There were not very many words to the text.

"Damn!" The admiral sat down heavily, the paper still in his hands as they hit the desk. Yeoman Butler, completely forgotten by the pair of officers, left and made his way wearily back down the staircase, ruefully contemplating the near-certainty that he would shortly be scaling them again.


The senior officer extended the slip, then turned to his sideboard and an amber-filled cut glass decanter. His hands shook slightly as he went to pour but steadied so quickly that the golden stream gave no hint of internal discord.

The commander read with some trepidation, deservedly so, as he quickly discovered. Two RN ships had been sighted: Patia or Paduca, and Nottingham Star or Manchester Star. The uncertainty had been laid to topside damage and distance. Both were being escorted by USN warships. Both were entering New York harbor.

The commander read it, and read it again. He swallowed heavily, as did the admiral.

"Draft a cable, commander. To Halifax, and on to the Admiralty." (See Note 2) The admiral cast a quick glimpse at the clock. There was a six hours difference in time zones.

---- 4:30 PM, New York, course 030, speed 6 knots

"Greece? Chief," began the increasingly-desperate officer in the top, "could that be Mississippi or Idaho - I don't have any idea what they renamed them - and they've taken the cagemasts back off?" (See Note 3)

"As well as the turrets, you mean, sir?"

"Yes, yes, who knows if the Greeks have the cranes to lift them off? D‘you have any other idea?"

"No, sir, I sure don't. But I served on Idaho, and that's not her, cagemasts or no cagemasts. That there's a bigger ship - maybe half again her size."

---- 4:45 PM, small boats areas of von der Tann, Strassburg, and Rostock, stopped

The flags on Moltke had requested the presence of Kommodore von Hoban and the ships' commanding officers.

"This could go on for hours, XO," said Captain Dirk. "I really don't expect any more Britishers to show up but there will be no relaxing aboard this command until we're back in Wilhelmshaven."

"Aye, aye, sir," Bavaria replied.

"I know," Dirk continued, "you want to be there ...."

Actually, Bavaria could think of a couple other ships nearby that he'd far prefer to spend the next several hours aboard, making Moltke a distant third choice. He nodded gravely, however, and tried to keep such notions concealed.

"This should not last long," Kommodore von Hoban was saying to Captain Siegmund. "At least for you, that is. Ensure Strassburg remains ready."

"Aye, aye, sir," Siegmund replied.

"I know," von Hoban continued, "you would want to remain ...."

Actually, Siegmund yearned to be away from this place. He had a full load of good fuel - richly black, high-energy coal such as he'd not seen since before the war began. He wanted to be off, away from the pennants and presence of Kommodores and Admirals. It was searoom that he wanted. There was vanishing little chance of the British having anything within two thousand miles that could threaten him. However, he nodded just as gravely as Bavaria was then doing two hundred yards off his beam. And just as insincerely.

"I have no idea whatsoever how long I'll be, XO," Captain Westfeldt was commenting aboard Rostock. "Keep the men busy, though."

"Aye, aye, sir," his XO answered.

"I want the shell stocks redistributed to ...."

The XO nodded, with the same serious demeanor as the other XOs, and just as artificially. Low on fuel, their options were precious few. No amount of to-and-fro of 105 mm shells could change that.

---- 5:00 PM, quarterdeck of New York, stopped

"Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet, arriving."

The bosun's pipes, sideboys, and all the rest of it were done properly but, unlike aboard Newport, Vice-Admiral Stennis took no interest in it. There were few enough hours of daylight left, and he needed to make use of all of them.

"Welcome aboard, sir," greeted Rear-Admiral Alton, with the dreadnought's CO at his side.

Courtesies take a few minutes, and there was no war on, yet, as far as the US Navy was concerned. Stennis knew that history books, however, might well contend that Alton had fired his nation's opening shots today.

"Admiral, if I might have a few words with you," Stennis said, after the briefest possible interval.

"Certainly, sir," answered Alton, and led the way.

Stennis, however, did not wait, and began the discussion as soon as they were clear of obvious ears.

"I've heard it from Atanacio," he began, "and I passed the two beat-up Brits on the way out here."

Stennis paused, stopping in the momentarily-empty passageway, and stared right into Alton's face.

"I don't know what I'd've done, Dave, in your place. I sent you out here to preserve American lives, and to toe the line with Patey and the British. (See Note 4) But I sure as hell didn't send you out here to get us into a shooting war with the Kaiser."

Alton said nothing, now comfortably waiting out his superior officer. For him, the other's use of his first name presaged what would follow.

"But I'm backing you all the way on this, dammit. Already have, in fact. Had both Benson and Daniels in my ear on that damn-fangled abomination of Bell's all morning. Now tell me the rest of it," Stennis concluded, relieved to have gotten that off his chest early, and they turned to resume their course.


Both admirals looked back. It was Alton's Chief of Staff. It was not clear just which "sir" the other had in mind.

"Sir," the other continued, glad of the ambiguity, "the Greek ship has stopped alongside that civilian yacht. There's some kind of personnel transfer going on."

What the devil? Stennis thought. What "Greek ship"?

"Sir," said Alton, turning to the Vice-Admiral, "I recommend we continue this on the flag bridge."

"Very well, Admiral," Stennis acceded formally, with other ears now present.


Note 1: A relatively well-known British moving picture comedy (silent, of course) of the day was "The Messenger Boy" - circa 1911. See British Film Institute - the archives entry for this piece will help the reader understand the officer's reaction. Go to the British Film Institute site, go to Catalogues and Archives, select British Silent Comedy, select the decade 1910 - 1919, and look for The Messenger Boy entry.

Note 2: The trans-Atlantic cable available in 1915 to the RN in Bermuda, ran from Bermuda to a junction in Halifax. It was, in fact, known as the "Halifax-Bermuda Cable." The first messages were on July 12, 1890, when the Governor of Bermuda sent formal telegraph messages to Queen Victoria, the Governor-General of Canada, and the President of the United States, presumably also in that precise order!

Excerpt from

"The Halifax Bermuda Submarine Cable Link of 1890 made a decisive impact on Bermuda's tourism and commerce. For the first time in its history, via this feeder line, Bermuda was no longer dependent on slow ships to carry messages. The island could communicate almost instantaneously by cable and telegraph with the rest of the world's major cities hooked up to Trans-Atlantic and over-land cable systems."

Note 3: Pre-dreadnoughts Mississippi (BB 23) and Idaho (BB 24) were sold to Greece during the summer of 1914 and renamed "Lemnos" and "Kilkis," respectively. A photo of Mississippi sans cagemast can be viewed at the warships1 home website. A look at that picture will help the reader understand the character's concerns.

Note 4: Vice-Admiral Stennis is making a fairly apt comparison of The London Prize Ring Rules (1838 and 1853) with The Hague 1907. Those boxing rules required each fighter to square off and face his foe by each advancing his lead toe to a line in the middle of the ring (called "scratch"). A fighter who failed to do so was declared no longer worthy to continue the contest. BTW, a knocked-down fighter was allotted 30 seconds to recover but had to return to "scratch" before 8 additional seconds had passed. The Queensbury Rules put forward by Sir John Douglass in 1867 (drafted earlier by a former boxer John Chambers) invented boxing "rounds," but these rules really took time to take over. For example, John Sullivan won under the old rules in 1889 and lost under the Queensbury ones in 1892. Stennis and Alton grew up when the London rules more held sway. Stennis is likening the 3-Mile Limit to "scratch," in that if the USN had not advanced to square off with the RN across the Line that marked the edge of US sovereign territorial waters, the RN would have regarded the USN as an unworthy force. It is no coincidence that those are the LONDON Prize Ring Rules.

by Jim

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