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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - Meeting Engagements, Part XI

"Anger not the scholars, lest they leave their books and slay us all."

- Things My Great-Grandfather Really Said, by Lady Christine Letters of Alsace
(page 83, Kaiser Imperial Press, Berlin, copyright 1969)

---- 8:30 AM, Strassburg, stopped (Roughly 40 miles East of Delaware Bay entrance)

As LCDR Gommel gave Bornholdt his final instructions, the younger officer's right hand checked the flap of his holster shut. The leather holding the naval Pistolen-08 (Luger) was not pristine, but worn from use. (NOTE 1) The white grip of his sword also showed unmistakable signs that it was no stranger to the LT's hand. (NOTE 2) Despite the ungainliness of taking both along on a small-boat boarding party, the officer clearly intended to do just that.

The tableau brought home to Gommel again that the XO did not know so many assigned to his ship, including this man. Like many others, officers and enlisted both, the LT had been added to Strassburg basically as supercargo in hopes of just this situation. They also had many more bi-lingual crewmen than might be expected. In fact, they were currently limited more by the number of small boats than by the manning of prize crews, thanks to having had to yield several boats to the others of Hanzik's force, who had had many of their own rendered into kindling by British shells.

Yes, many aboard were still somewhat strangers to him. This man, though, this LT Bornholdt, was more of an enigma to Strassburg's XO than any of the others. It was not his size - which was average. He seemed to be a loner, but many assigned to a ship for temporary duty never fully became "family." He had been given charge of the two port mounts, and had performed well enough, though what firing they'd done had been largely with the forward and starboard guns. No, it was none of those things. Instead, the problem was one of discordance, Gommel had decided. Bornholdt had the look of a scholar, until one saw the thickness of his wrists and the muscularity of his forearms. He had appeared awkward, until the XO had realized that the LT never seemed to be off balance in the Atlantic swells. Even his baggage had eccentricities, as his personal weapons were of high quality, but the holster and scabbard both showed considerable wear. He had only one dress uniform, but had two whetstones and his own gun cleaning kit.

"Aye, aye, sir," the Enigma replied, and began to descend to his boat.

---- 8:30 AM, bridge of USS Aylwin, stopped (Roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island)

"Sir, the shot was from the cruiser to the northeast, er ..."

"Augsburg," Leverett supplied.

"Yessir. Lookouts report that the smoke is definitely dropping off there, and it don't seem to be wind. Can't make out small boats at this distance, but chances are they've stopped her and are boarding her right now."

"Very well," Leverett replied. "What about the one to the southeast?"

"No change there, best we can tell, sir. Plume's steady. They must be almost alongside each other now, but it looks like the inbound vessel hasn't slowed or changed course."

So, the German cruisers had stopped one ship and were apparently letting another one steam past them without delay.

"Odd," commented Leverett. "Most odd," he added, unknowingly duplicating the exact words then being muttered by Captain Barbour of the steamship Carolina with a cargo of sugar, as he stared at the unexpected apparition off his starboard side. (NOTE 3) Many of Barbour's crew and every single one of his 220 passengers were also staring at the waving Germans, and some were even waving back.

---- 8:35 AM, Lochard (Leeds United Shipping Co., Ltd.), stopped (~50 miles ESE Coney Island)

LT Kessock found himself the master of a vessel filled with men stunned into incomprehensibility. Like LT von Larg to the south off Philadelphia, Kessock could read English better than he could speak it. Unlike the belligerence that von Larg had faced, however, the master of this vessel remained simply unable to achieve coherence. For the first few minutes after he'd boarded, the man had denounced the "delay" as a "bloody prank." Unfortunately, "prank" was not in Kessock's somewhat-limited spoken English vocabulary, so confusion had instantly set in on both sides.

"Preposterous, I say! Outrageous!"

The ruddy-faced man was somewhere between denial and apoplexy, Kessock sighed to himself. He'd give him a few more minutes. In the meanwhile, he just ignored him as he worked at deciphering the inked, long-hand script of the entries in the manifest. Also different from the situation faced that had been by von Larg, was that there was no need for haste. Augsburg bobbed patiently a few hundred yards abeam, with no intention of going anywhere.


Kessock looked up. "Yes, Britz?"

"Engineering secured, sir. No sign of sabotage or mischief of any kind."

"Good. Cox'n, while you were below, Schmidt confirmed that they've no wireless. The men are to continue the weapons search, but don't you go far. I'll want to signal as soon as I've worked this out."

"Aye, aye, sir."

He didn't know what some of the smaller lots were, but the biggest entries in terms of stowage looked pretty clear. The master also seemed to be coming out of his fit.

"These items, here," Kessock pointed. "The ones called 'wool' and 'woolen cloth,' are they "Wolle' and 'Wollstoff'?"

" 'Vole stuff'?" The man's eyes threatened to glaze.

"What one obtains from, um, the barber of sheep," Kessock said.

"Yes, yes, that's it." Denying it would not help, the Britisher realized, since the Germans would just bash open some crates and see for themselves. They were probably down there doing that right now anyway. Smashing anything that drew their eye. Barbarians, loose in his ship. His ship!

"Thank you," Kessock answered. The other item in some quantity was a word that he knew and had recently re-familiarized himself with. Yes, he thought, 150 tons of Zinn. Still, confirmation was good. "And this 'tin' is metal in ingots, yes?"

The captain nodded glumly even as Kessock nodded in satisfaction. Yes, wool and tin were both very good, if only they could get them back home. He wrote down the basics on a sheet of paper. The lesser lots could wait.

"Britz," he called, "hoist the 'all is well' and send the boat back. This," he added, handing over his notes, "is to go to the captain or the XO. Let me know when you're ready to get this tub back underway."

The cox'n smiled.

"Aye, aye, uh, Captain!"

Kessock could not help but smile in return. The Britisher just numbly studied a coffee stain on what had been - just minutes before - his deck.

---- 8:35 AM, pier at the New York Naval Station

LT Lionel was not smiling, not at all. He had hoped to get ashore in America, but not this way. His surroundings were not loud anarchy, but bore many similarities to it. If he closed his eyes and ears to language, it was eerily reminiscent of the pier at Wilhelmshaven when they had returned with the Baron on the first of June, eighteen days and an ocean away. Those of his charges who were conscious showed signs of distress, which surprised him not one pfennig. After all, they did not know English, and they were literally physically helpless. All about them were non-Germans with guns, calling out in the language of the enemy.

"LT Lionel," shouted ENS Jones. "These two are for us."

The young American officer was pointing to a pair of medical vehicles rolling to a stop just as the last of the stretchers came off the gangway. The "us" made him relax a bit, since that made it clear that they would retain their American guide. The German made a hand gesture of acceptance and turned to those on the lined up stretchers.

"There are two medical wagons," Lionel half-shouted to his men amidst the din. "I will be in the leader. They are going to take us to their hospital and no where else. Their admiral has given his word that it will be so, and his aide remains with us. I will communicate with our embassy once we reach the hospital."

He hoped what he'd said was the case. This country was at peace, separated from the battlefields of Europe by the vast reaches of the Atlantic. So, why were so many soldiers and sailors publicly toting about firearms?

---- 8:40 AM, Justine (Aberdeen Shipping Co., Ltd.), stopped (1000 yards from Strassburg)

The ship's master was not there to meet them, to formalize the surrender. By "The Book," he should have been, and LT Bornholdt put great store in "The Book" - great store, indeed. In fact, all he'd ever really wanted was to be left to his books, to become a scholar, a professor of history. The military had held no allure for him, but he'd not been given any choice in the matter. Not really.

"Was?" Bornholdt barked at the sullen pair that were there as they came over the gunnel. "Was ist das? What means this?! Das Versteckspiel?!" (Hide-and-seek)

His English was better than that, he knew, but the red rush of blood that suffused his features was but a pale indication of what was going on within. This was a blatant violation of the Rules and an insult! To him! Personally! The tendons stood out starkly on the back of his left hand, struggling to keep the lion whose head formed the sword's pommel within its scabbard cage. The unarmed British sailors flinched at the threat of his obvious fury.

Fate had been cruel to the young German, taking from him those who should have sheltered him, guided him, leaving him the responsibility but not the means to safeguard who and what remained. His grandfather had gone first, taking with him their modest claim to nobility, as the senior line took the minor title and the lion's share - that is to say, all - of the real assets. His father, estranged from those kin, weakened steadily those next few years and the accident that crippled Bornholdt's promising older brother broke what was left of what had been within their sire. The teenaged, would-be-professor found that what he had inherited were an aging mother, two unwed sisters, a crippled bother, and unpaid debts. He had sold everything, even his books, and gone begging in the cold to his colder kin. They had gloated, but had disgorged the charity necessary to avoid familial taint.

It was an angry young man who had then reported to the naval school at Flensburg-Mürwik. (NOTE 4) Indeed, honor and anger were all that he had left. Countless hours on the range and at "Die Selohaar Fechtschule" (The Fencing School") in Hansa had failed to quell it, and the blood shed in duels there had failed to slake it. He had, however, gained a measure of control over it, but control was not mastery.

"You!" Bornholdt's voice was brusque and hard. "Take five men each. The engineroom, the holds, the crew quarters. Safeties off! You five, with me. I'll be on the bridge."

He had pointed with his right hand, but had kept his left hard upon his sword's hilt, as though the blade might leap forth if he released it.

---- 8:45 AM, pier, beside Imperator

It had been quite festive there on the pier this last half-hour. And loud. All four of the liners had powerful steam whistles, and they had been blasting in chorus. The two young reporters winced as they passed Vaterland. Browning wondered if they had worked on her whistle to increase its decibel level. The whistles were contesting for sonic space with the brass and the drums of the band along part of the pier's length.

"That's odd," Fox said. The two had just reached the base of the pier.

"What?" Browning asked or, rather, half-shouted. "You mean the band?"

"No, not that. How'd they get a band here without the Inquirer getting wind of it?"

"Good question!"

"Hey, look! No Inquirers."

The make-shift stand on the street corner just off the pier was deserted. The youth or wizened pensioner gone. The spot that would normally have contained a stack of morning papers, held down by a brick or stone, was empty.

---- 8:45 AM, Moltke, stopped (Roughly 40 miles SE Coney Island)

The night had gotten almost chilly, and the air was still cool. The cloud bank coming up from the southwest suggested that there might be shade, and even rain, later. For the moment, though, the sun shone brightly above the horizon, just south of east.

"Wasser, wasser."

"Bob," said Theargus, "sit up. The waterboy's here."

"It's about bloody time," groused Dedmundee. "Between my head and the racket the damn Huns were making, I don't think I got a wink of sleep last night. Busy little bees, they were. Then the sun comes up and THEN they stop. What are they, vampires or something?"

"No telling, mate," said Theargus, "no telling." He scratched at his unshaven bristles. "You know, we've both been on water rations before, but it's been years since I wasn't the one giving the order."

And it was depressingly likely, he thought sourly, that he'd never be in a position to give that - or much of any order - ever again. In the bag or on the beach, either way his command days were surely done. The Navy was full of men who had not managed to lose their ships.

"Wasser, wasser."

The pair paused in their rancor and introspection to queue up for water.

---- 8:45 AM, Justine (Aberdeen Shipping Co., Ltd.), stopped (1000 yards from Strassburg)

There was only one person on the bridge: a stripling perhaps not even halfway through his teens. The ship's wheel was roped, the engine order telegraph at "Stop."

"Vhere ist your captain?" Bornholdt shouted. He had drawn his Luger on his way to the bridge. He did not point it at the youth, but neither did he holster it.

The boy did not answer. Instead, he sat down on the deck and crossed his arms.


No answer, though he appeared to be trembling.

Anger, honor, and respect skirmished briefly within the German officer.

"Remain here," Bornholdt ordered one of his men. "The rest of you, follow me."

He exited the back of the bridge, Luger at the ready, and went aft along the short passageway. The door on the right was ajar; the one on the left was not. A quick glance showed it empty. The one on the left was shut, and it was marked as the wireless compartment. He put an ear to the side of the bulkhead a foot to one side of the door. There were the sounds of clicking, a scrape, and perhaps a muttered phrase.

He stepped back, staying out of line with the door. Sizing up the four armed sailors, he pointed to the two largest.

"Put your rifles on the deck. There."

The men did not question the officer. The leading seaman, who had his own Luger drawn, opened his mouth, but Bornholdt turned to him before he had time to form a comment.

"You are to follow me in, quickly - but do not bump me! - hold your fire on my order. "

"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant."

Bornholdt turned back to the two men now without their rifles.

"I will count to three. On 'drei' you are to run into the door, knock it down or open. Verstanden Sie?"

"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant."

"When the door is open, do not try to remain on your feet. Go down on the deck instantly. Instantly! Verstanden!?"

They did, but the leading seaman found his voice at that.

"Sir, aren't you going to give them the chance to surrender?"

"They already did." Bornholdt shifted his Luger to his left hand. The door's hinges were on the right side, he noted.

"But ...."

"No more questions." The metallic hiss of his sword coming out of its scabbard emphasized the stark nature of his reply. "If I go down, shoot them all. Verstanden?"

"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant!" Though the man swallowed convulsively afterwards.

Bornholdt nodded at the two now-unarmed men who had stoically watched the exchange. The men crouched at the ready, right shoulders hunched, about 2 meters from the door.

"Eins-POW! -- zwei-POW! -- drei-POW!"

He punctuated each count with a shot from the Luger - the first through the bulkhead about one meter to the left of the door edge, the second through the door itself, the third one meter to the right - all sternum high.

The battering ram duo hit the door and took it down, scattering chairs and whatever else had been placed there to prop it shut. Bornholdt was right behind the men, who sprawled quite nicely, either through obedience or momentum. Time slowed as adrenaline geysered within him. The air palpably thickened and his sailors seemed to fall at quarter speed.

He was though the doorway. A man standing two meters to the left had something small in his hand, so Bornholdt shot him even as he backhand-hacked the exposed forearm of the man on the right, the one with the upraised fire axe.

He bounded another step forward, retaining motion and the initiative, clearing his men, and creating space. Motion behind an overturned table to his left triggered a shot through it, then another. Mouths were opening, the man on the right with a crowbar dropped it as Bornholdt's sword pointed in his direction. Hands were going up, palms flat.

It was over.

"Down! On zee deck! Schnell!"

The leading seaman stared bug-eyed at the blood, winced at the laments.

"Tie them up," the blood-spattered Enigma ordered, as he wiped his blade. "Then do what you can for them."

The sailor was in near shock.


"Ja-jawohl, Herr Leutnant."

The lieutenant took one last look around. As he did so, he ejected the clip from his pistol, and replaced it with one from a uniform pocket. The used clip went into another.

"I'll be on the bridge."

"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant," the leading seaman repeated, numbly, and swallowed again.


NOTE 1: The "Luger" began as a 7.63 mm pistol designed by Hugo Borchardt and manufactured by Ludwig Loewe , Berlin. Georg Luger modified the design (including rechambering it to a 7.65 mm Parabellum cartridge. It was redesigned again to reflect lessons learned in offering it to the US Army and having it rejected due to reliability concerns. The Kaiserlich Marine adopted one model of the Luger pistol as a regulation side?arm in 1904. The model adopted was 9 mm, had a 150 mm barrel, and an adjustable two position rear sight. For a picture of the naval model, see:

(Ironically, Borchardt was a naturalized American citizen who began his arms patents history in Connecticut. Though he returned to Germany to live out his life, it appears that he never gave up his American citizenship!)

NOTE 2: The Imperial German Navy Sword was introduced in 1890. It was the pattern dress sword for Germany's Naval Officers during WW I and WW II and is still in use today. The design includes a beautifully ribbed white grip with a full faced lion's head back strap that gives the sword a Napoleonic look. Its smooth high carbon steel blade was particularly well crafted and the scabbard was a two ringed brass and leather design. Several examples can be seen at the Johnson Reference Books site ( - go to "Our Catalogue" then "Edged Weapons" then "Imperial German edged weapons" then "Imperial Navy Swords."

The complete url:

NOTE 3: The Carolina and her captain are historical. She was formerly the "City of Savannah" and the "La Grande Duchesse." See:

NOTE 4: The German naval training complex at Flensburg?Mürwik celebrated its centennial in 2002. In 2003, the plan was to move the operations in the last of the complex to an even older location in Bremerhaven. See:

by Jim

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