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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

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 Fleet

"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. Range?"

"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. Kessock?"

"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 approaching merchant.

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 asked.

"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 the Admiral."

--- 8:10 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet

"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."

"But, but!"

"Exactly! Can you imagine Daniels trying to explain THAT to the President?"


"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

"Yes, Commander?"

"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."

"Ah, verstehe."

---- 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' heads around.

"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 question it.

"Of course!"

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 guess."


"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 Fleet

"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 a refill.

"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 soil.

"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 or notes.

"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.

"Aye, sir?"

"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 Yankees."

"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 Americans.

"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."

by Jim

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