Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part X
Note - in an earlier chapter ("Meeting
Engagements, Part II" at 8:00 AM), I had a yeoman overhear Admiral
Benson address Rear-Admiral J. Paul Martin by "Jeff," in an
attempt at familiarity. The yeoman realized that the DC guy had screwed
up because Martin's friends called him "Paul." I got that bass-ackwards
(there is a commentary available there of sorts, I suppose! ;-) ) Anyway,
I intend to entreat the Site Goddess to make the switch in the earlier
chapter. Thus, Benson will say "Paul" and the yeoman will think
"Jeff." Thus, in THIS chapter, when Stennis calls Martin "Jeff,"
it is supposed to contrast with Benson having tried it with "Paul."
There! Confused yet?! ;-) In short, Benson is NOT friends with Martin,
but tried to sound like it, but Stennis really DOES have a good rapport
with his deputy.
Note from the Site Yeoman: Changes all made, so now the gentle
reader may be doubly-confused! :-) The British
Blockade article is also up.
--- 8:05 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic
"Yes, Mr. Secretary," agreed Stennis, "I agree that State
needs to .... Sir! Let me finish! But the ones to make the call on ship
type, seaworthiness, and source of damage must be the United States Navy
and the Coast Guard.
"Sir, we've already got pictures in the morning Times, and you say
the Philadelphia Inquirer has them, too. What about the afternoon papers?
You'd know better than I, of course, but I'd wager they'll not be outdone
There was a pause as conversation continued at the Washington end. Rear-Admiral
Martin acted the aide and poured Stennis a glass of water. The senior
admiral nodded his thanks.
"Yes, Mr. Secretary, I agree with Admiral Benson. Calling them merchants
just won't work. Those two Brits sailed - smoking and listing like crazy
- right into New York harbor. There're sure to be lots more pictures of
them in all the afternoon papers and, like the Admiral said, 'guns and
shell holes and all.' And the other morning papers here, well, they got
scooped this morning something terrible and they'll be mad as hornets.
They'll be all over this ....
"There'll be no doubt left in anybody's mind, Mr. Secretary. Everybody,
from the coaster riders out on Coney Island to the officials in ALL the
consulates downtown here, are going to think nothing other than that those
birds are warships, that they were steaming up and down off our coast,
and that they took on some Huns and got beat, and beat bad."
There was another pause, and Stennis sipped the water and then covered
the mouthpiece to speak to Martin.
"Jeff, they just got some Inquirers in hot off the train. We're
gonna' need some, too. Also, looks like Daniels is due at the White House
at 9:30 and he just heard from State that the British ambassador is on
the way over to his office."
---- 8:10 AM, bridge of Strassburg, course 275, speed 21 knots (increasing)
"Sir, lookouts report she's flying a British flag."
"Very well," replied Siegmund. Very well, indeed, he thought,
grinning like a shark. "Who's next, XO?"
"Well, she's British," Gommel replied, "so that would
make it LT Bornholdt."
"Pass the word for Mr. Bornholdt," ordered Siegmund to the
bosun. "He's to lay to the small boats area.
"And, XO, this Britisher was too quick for my liking. He's to stop
their wireless first thing, of course, but I want you to re-emphasize
to him the need to be very cautious. As for the wireless, yes, it is a
bit like covering the well after the drowning, but he is still to do it."
"Aye, aye, sir."
---- 8:10 AM, bridge of Augsburg, stopped
Captain Speck and his XO studied the approaching merchant.
"Bringing us dead on before she could sight us was well done, XO.
"Lookouts put her at 15,000 yards, sir."
"We should be able to see ...."
"Sir, lookouts report she's flying a British flag."
"Good, excellent," Speck commented. "They should spot
us any moment, if they haven't already. Helm, Ahead Slow."
"Answering Ahead Slow, sir."
"Very well," Speck said, not lowering his glasses. "Mr.
"He's back there now, standing by with his boat crew."
"Good, excellent," Speck repeated, and they continued to watch
their imminent quarry draw slowly nearer.
---- 8:10 AM, bridge of Kolberg, stopped
"American?" Dahm asked, sharply. "Are they certain?"
"Aye, sir. 'Least, that's the flag she's showing."
"Damn!" Dahm said, then winced from his energetic reaction.
After a few breaths, he got the glasses back up and looked again at the
A few moments later, Diele came onto the tiny bridge. If anything, the
Lieutenant was more disappointed than his CO had been.
"I could board her anyway," the Acting-XO offered, "just
to make sure."
"Those are not our orders, I'm afraid," Dahm replied. "Lookouts,
any antennas, wireless antennas?"
"Do you suspect she's putting out wireless reports?" Diele
"Ja, and if she IS British and had already got wind of us ...."
"Ah! False colors! Shouldn't we ...?"
"Nein, our orders are clear. Explicit, in fact. We pass it on to
--- 8:10 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic
"Yes, Mr. Secretary, I'm still here." Then, to Martin. "They're
looking over the papers, and there're photos, alright - all over the front
page. How'd they do that, anyway? Any idea?"
Martin shook his head. "Dave might, though," Martin commented
quietly. "We can ask him."
"Mr. Secretary? Might I suggest something? For when you meet with
the British ambassador? They ran into our arms begging for us to save
them from the Germans' guns and we did just that. Sir - make no mistake
about it! - I steamed right alongside both of them yesterday, and they
were goners. They were lucky to make it to a pier. Admiral Alton saved
the lives of each and every one of those British Jack Tars.
"And you can tell the Ambassador that, as long as their credentials
are in order, I'll have those consulate officials of his that are at the
gate here over to the hospital within the hour - after that it'll be between
them and the doctors. As for their ships, I will instruct the MPs to escort
them aboard both ships immediately.
"One last thing, sir, is that The Hague ...."
Martin watched in increasing astonishment as Stennis' normally poker-faced
visage went through a remarkable series of expressions. The vice-admiral
was red with repressed mirth when he hung up the phone a minute later.
"Benson started having a fit!" Stennis told his deputy. "Remember
that clown who sailed his spit-kit right into the middle of that mess
yesterday? Well, he got interviewed in the Inquirer. And, and," Stennis
nearly choked, "it turns out he's, he's Benson's nephew!
"Cough-cough!" Stennis struggled with the memory and reached
for the water. "I thought he was going to DIE!"
"Benson's nephew?!" Martin exclaimed, in disbelief.
"Yes, I think he was starting to throw things, cough-cough."
"Exactly! Can you imagine Daniels trying to explain THAT to the
"If this doesn't drive him to drink, nothing will!"
"But, sir. Benson - 'throw things' - they're in Daniels' office!"
"Oh! Oh, that's right ...!"
CDR Trimm and the others exchanged startled looks as very unlikely sounds
came from the office of Commander - Atlantic Fleet.
---- 8:15 AM, Bermuda
"Sir, we've received a distress signal from a French merchant ship
named," he looked at his notes, "the Française Justinia."
"Well, go on. Is she foundering?" Even as he said it, he realized
what the other officer was about to report.
"No sir. The message was that she and another Frenchman - the Sainte-Julie
- had both been stopped by a large German warship."
"Damnation! Two of them! And? Did they give their position? A name?"
"No, sir. That was all of it. So far, anyway."
"Damn-damn-damn! 'Large.' That has to be Strassburg, but I'm not
making any assumptions at this point at all."
"Sir!? ANOTHER Hun?"
"Hell, Commander! For all we know, she could be the Seydlitz or
the Derfflinger, or the bloody both of them!"
Meanwhile, on the floor below, Yeoman Butler wanted to crumple the message
in his hand. He looked about the Commander's office, almost as though
the officer might be hiding behind a shrubbery. He looked at the message
in his hand, and grimaced. It would be the stairs again, and his legs
were still sore from yesterday.
---- 8:15 AM, Imperator, tugs alongside, nearing pier
The two young reporters were at the rail, their talk reflected how eager
they were to confirm that their stuff had made it to their papers, and
if any of it had gotten into print.
"What about you, Max?" "Blue" Fox asked after a bit.
"What are your plans?"
"Well, first I'll call in to the Union. Not sure who I'll get. It'll
be six their time, but I need to let them know where I've been and what
I've been up to. See if anyone's interested in what I still have. If there
IS interest, work out with my editor and the Times just how to get my
stories and film to them. After that, well," Browning paused for
a cavernous yawn, "I'm not thinking past that point right now."
"Fair enough," Fox replied, helplessly yawning back. "There's
Ballin. Wonder what line he's feeding the 'Great Turk' now?"
".... and, of course," Ballin was saying, "you would do
us great honor by your presence. It is my humble pleasure to extend the
invitation to you personally."
"Most gracious, Herr Ballin," Hadi replied, bobbing unctuously,
but promising nothing. "Aboard Vaterland?"
"Tell me, Herr Ballin. Will there be 'filet of mignon' at this,
this, 'Grand Buffet'?"
"I will make sure of it, sir. Personally!"
---- 8:20 AM, bridge of Augsburg, course 035, speed 4 knots
"Range 10,000 yards."
"Sir, Kolberg has hoisted 'Contact' but we cannot make out the bearing.
Speck couldn't make out any other contacts, but it didn't seem likely
that Kolberg was reporting the one now off his own bow. The other German
cruiser had altered her heading, just as his own XO had.
"What bearing is Kolberg on?"
"Due east, or nearly so, sir."
Another ship, then. Good.
"They're still coming on," said the XO in surprise. "Haven't
they spotted us?"
"Well, XO," replied Speck, "they're barely making six
knots. If they sailed from, say, London, they probably cast off their
lines before Die Kaiserschlacht."
---- 8:20 AM, New York (BB-34), moored
It had been a nail-biter transit for many of the senior offices, but
almost a lark for others, mainly the younger personnel - that is, those
who didn't know better. The near-absence of larger ships coming down channel
had been key.
If Rear-Admiral Alton felt vindicated, he did not show it as he gazed
astern. There, just a few yards off New York's fantail, Wyoming (BB-32)
was completing her final tug-assisted approach to the pier. Montana (ACR-13)
had her first lines around the bollards one pier over. Ambulances were
assembled and waiting at the shore-side flanks of both dreadnought-battleships.
Others were driving up abreast Montana's mooring spot.
Captains West, Griff, and Peace had their own stretcher bearers bringing
the wounded up on deck for transfer. Just what was to be done with the
deceased foreign nationals was less clear. In any case, Admiral Alton
had instructed the dreadnought skippers to be ready at any time after
72 hours from noon to cast off to sortie back out to relieve Admiral McDonald
on station. The big armored cruiser had originally been scheduled elsewhere,
and Alton had informed Peace only that he would bring up the matter with
Stennis at his earliest opportunity.
Deep within West's command, LT Lionel was in the midst of the transfer
of the last of the German wounded topside. Lionel had not known if he
should accompany the first stretcher group, the last, or one in the middle.
In the end, he had gone with the first group of three, then returned to
make the trip again. He had let the third group go without him, not wanting
the last ones to be alone in this huge foreign warship. As he rejoined
his men in the open air, he found one in disjointed conversation with
ENS Jones. Best Lionel could tell, the young German sailor had gone to
school with some lad named "Bodensteiner" - the name of Jones'
mother - and was trying to see if the American was a relative. Jones didn't
think so, but was not ruling it out.
---- 8:20 AM, Bermuda
"Sir!" Yeoman Butler's voice at the door drew both senior officers'
"Another distress signal! From the British steamer 'Justine.' She's
being chased by an unidentified German warship."
"Damn!" The officers exclaimed in unwitting chorus.
"Position? Did she give her position?"
"Yes, Admiral. I haven't checked to be certain, but it looks to
be about 50 miles off Philadelphia."
That can't be right! The commander shook his head and drew breath to
The admiral's words closed the commander's mouth before he could get
a single word out.
"She's gone to sweep the waters clear for Vaterland, or I miss my
"Yes, Commander. Have you forgotten?! That's where she was going
when Val's Tract intercepted her last week. Philadelphia, where Imperator's
sister has been keeping her boilers warm for the last 10 days."
The admiral paced to the great wall map and studied it, hands clasped
to the small of his back.
"Which raises the question, of just where the bloody hell has Imperator
gotten herself to? As well as that other liner," he glanced back
at the others. "What was her name?"
"Kaiser Wilhelm II, sir."
"Yes. They're not with that bunch off New York," he mused,
staring again at the map, "unless the Yanks are bloody blind. So,
unless they're off to try it alone .... Yes, by God! Get on the horn,
Commander. I'll wager you five pounds sterling the both of them are in
Philadelphia harbour this very instant."
---- 8:25 AM, bridge of Strassburg, course 275, speed 22 knots
Their quarry was now just 3000 yards ahead and to port.
"Guns!" Siegmund shouted.
The shell splashed a few hundred yards ahead and off the beam of the
fleeing British merchant.
"Another, closer!" Siegmund ordered, when their quarry showed
no immediate signs of stopping.
Siegmund frowned and gave rudder orders to keep them 1500 yards off
the other's beam as they began to come up alongside. Why wasn't she stopping?
Was it a trap?! Was she a Q-Ship? The prospect was so alarming that he
discarded his previous plan for another.
"Guns, standby to engage to starboard. I intend to alter course
across her wake and fire into her stern."
The port mounts moved to line up on the stubborn Brit, even as the men
trained the starboard ones forward in readiness.
"Ahead Standard - 15 knots. Lookouts stay alert!"
Still no reaction, Siegmund noted, as he waited for his cruiser to slow.
He stared anxiously through his binoculars, scanning her topsides. There
seemed to be no particularly suspicious boxes or large crates on her deck.
"Left 3 degrees rudder."
"Sir, my rudder is left three degrees." The helmsman's response
was uninflected, unlike those uttered by both LCDR Gommel and LT Bornholdt
back amidships as they grabbed at stanchions.
"Very well, steady up on 230."
Strassburg bounced a bit as she crossed the outer "V" astern
of the other ship.
"Sir, steady on course 230."
"Very well. Gunnery Officer ..."
"Sir! She's striking! She's losing way."
"Very well. Ahead Slow."
"Sir? Was ist los?"
It was Gommel, who had nearly sprinted back up from the boats area.
"I don't like it, XO," answered Siegmund, oblivious to the
other's darting looks and heaving chest. "They're acting damned peculiar.
They were seconds away from our shells. I intend to stay a full thousand
yards off her port after-quarter, guns loaded and trained."
Gommel's nod was also lost on his captain, who had never lowered his
binoculars. After a few seconds to normalize his breathing, Gommel raised
his own to his face.
"All Stop. Helm, let her drift up on her a bit.
"XO," began Siegmund, looking at the waves, "additional
armed sailors for Mr. Bornholdt's boarding party?"
"How about sending over both boats?"
"We'd have to hold here until at least one gets back." Siegmund
frowned as he considered, but only for a moment. "Jawohl, gut. Do
that - both boats."
"Aye, aye, sir."
--- 8:25 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic
"Admiral? Colonel Anton on line one."
"Thank you. Admiral Stennis, speaking."
The Admiral stretched across the desk to retrieve his glass.
"Very good, Colonel. I'm glad to hear that. Twelve, you say? Can
you support twelve? Good."
Stennis sipped at the water, but waved off Martin's gesture if he wanted
"Now, Colonel, they have permission to go and meet privately with
their nationals at the hospital and aboard the ships, but you are to keep
them under escort at all times. With that said, make it clear to those
gentlemen that the doctors' word there is law. I'll notify the hospital
commander that you're on your way and that your instructions are just
as I stated.
"Colonel, this is particularly important right now because there
are several dozen more British wounded enroute from the piers to the hospital
at this very moment. Not only that, but I expect there are German wounded
coming in with them and the safety of all of them - British and German
both - is our responsibility. We're neutral in this damn war of theirs,
and you are to ensure that there is no trouble or unpleasantness on our
"As for the ships, I'll leave it to you to deal with the MPs there.
They can go aboard, of course, but they are to remove nothing, nothing
at all. Not so much as a single nut or bolt and MOST definitely no papers
"Oh, and you can inform them that their ambassador is expected at
Secretary Daniels' shortly."
---- 8:25 AM, bridge of Kolberg, stopped
The supposed-American merchant had been above the horizon for some time
now. On her present course, she would pass down their side a bit under
1500 yards to the south in about 10 minutes.
"XO," called Dahm.
"Bring everyone out on deck who's awake and can be spared from their
posts for a few minutes. Starboard side."
Diele was puzzled, and showed it.
"XO, our orders are to make it clear that we are not a threat. That's
what we will do. The men are to wave. Look friendly. Smile for the nice
"Ah!" Diele replied. "Too bad the Baron did not send with
each of us a band."
That last was delivered with more than a trace of bitterness. Diele's
best friend had been disemboweled all over the bridge just yesterday by
the Patia, and today he was being ordered to smile prettily for the English-speaking
"Now-now, XO. Far better to smile and have them smile back, than
to shoot and have their big brothers come out and shoot back."
This was his new CO's second ship to take such casualties, so Diele found
himself willing to accept it coming from him. Nor had he forgotten the
big dreadnoughts with the funny towers.
"Aye, aye, sir," Diele sighed, with resignation - not sullenness.
"One side-lining of happy-faced Germans, coming right up."