Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part XII
"... HMS Laurel also had the dubious distinction of having suffered
the smallest shell-size casualty of that ill-fated day. At approximately
5:40 PM, during one of the many brief, point-blank smokescreen encounters
that took place during the battle, Seaman George R. Jones was struck in
the upper torso and seriously wounded by a 9 mm bullet. Long thought to
have been a shell splinter or shrapnel, the true nature of the wound was
not revealed until years later during a post-war x-ray. Unlike many other
legends or hoaxes stemming from the battle, however, the provenance of
this one is uniquely beyond dispute, for Mr. Jones retains the evidence,
precisely where some unknown German originally placed it!"
---- Jonathan Farie, Torpedoes at Twilight, page 178 (Footnote
4), MacMillian, London
---- 8:50 AM, base hospital at the New York Naval Station
LT Lionel had been prepared for anything, or so he'd thought. Die Kaiserschlacht
had challenged the hospitals of Wilhelmshaven, but his country was at
war and the reports from the battle had allowed time for many medical
personnel to gather. The United States of America was at peace and the
battle had been fought between others. He had expected chaos and confusion,
and the need to translate between medical personnel and his dozen, now
sadly just eleven, charges.
The wiry, middle-aged man who approached him as they entered was clearly
a respected physician. The postures of the small phalanx of others just
behind him indicated deference to the man, whose receding hairline was
offset somewhat by his full and bushy mustache, but more by the broad
smile beneath it. The most wonderful part of all, however, was what came
out of the keen-eyed doctor's mouth: Deutsch!
"Koller, Carl Koller. Sind Sie Leutnant Lionel? Gut! If no one's
told you yet, welcome to the United States. Now, let's see what we have
Dr. Koller gestured to one staff member or another as they proceeded,
giving instructions in English while keeping up a running dialogue with
Lionel and his men in Deutsch. As they proceeded, Lionel learned the good
doctor had been born in Susice, trained in Vienna, and had been in the
US since 1890. All in all, Lionel was profoundly impressed and felt himself
begin to relax just a bit. His men seemed in good hands and they, too,
seemed to be losing the hunted look they had had on the docks. (NOTE
"Bernard, could you take a look at this?" As one of the younger
doctors came over, Koller gave a quick aside to Lionel and the wounded
man. "Doctors Eliasberg and Elsberg work with me at Mt. Sinai Hospital,
as do many of these others."
"Lieutenant?" It was the young American officer, Kevin Jones.
"Yes, Herr Jones?"
"It looks like you and your men are set. The front desk told me
that you'll have one ward all to yourselves."
"That seems well," Lionel replied, when Jones paused. Lionel
himself had hesitated, momentarily astounded by the image of talking furniture.
"Well, you're going to want to call your embassy, and I need to
call in myself."
Lionel tried not to frown at that last bit of construction. It had to
be an idiom of some sort. Instead, he nodded and waited for the other
to continue. Gott he hated this translation duty! How had his brother
retained his sanity?
"So," Jones continued, "I'm going to find out where's
there a phone we can use. I'll make my call and then come back."
"Very well," said Lionel.
"Herr Lionel ...."
"Jawohl, Herr Doktor?"
---- 8:55 AM, bridge of USS Aylwin, stopped (Roughly 40 miles SE of Coney
"Captain," the bosun reported, "we've identified the ship
to the southeast. She's the Carolina, American. Usually runs passengers
and sugar up from Puerto Rico."
"Very good," Leverett acknowledged. "Anything on the one
to the northeast?"
"Not yet, sir. Lookouts just reported that there seems to be a bit
more smoke, though."
"So, she might be getting underway?"
"Aye, sir. Be a bit, though, 'fore we can see what flag she's flying."
Left unsaid was the fact that if she were seen to be flying a German
flag, it was almost certainly NOT the one she had made the crossing under.
---- 8:55 AM, bridge of SS Justine, stopped (near Strassburg)
Bornholdt glanced at the youth, still seated awkwardly on the deck. The
youth had stared at him accusingly when he'd stepped back onto the bridge,
with his Luger still drawn at the ready. The shots would have echoed loudly
down the passageway and onto the bridge. Now, as bits of anguish could
be heard every dozen seconds or so, the lad's eyes had begun to dart from
him to the passageway and back. He licked his lips over and over, swallowing
as he did so. Bornholdt recognized the signs.
"Tie his hands," he ordered the armed seaman. "Secure
"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant." The Brit was just a boy, but the sailor
never considered voicing that observation to the grim-eyed officer.
Bornholdt stood over him, hand on the butt of his pistol, as that was
being accomplished. He'd not found the manifest on the bridge, and suspected
that it had been deliberately removed, probably to the wireless room.
He'd not seen it there, but he certainly had not been looking for documents
then. He'd have to go back.
"Sir?" It was his senior-most petty officer. "Ah, there
you are. The ship is secure. We've not been through all the holds yet,
of course, but there's no sign of sabotage in engineering, or, uh, other
The senior enlisted man's oblique reference to the action in the wireless
room did not escape Bornholdt.
"No resistance? Or just no 'organized' resistance?"
"Nothing of significance, sir."
The man met the officer's cold eye with some difficulty, but he did not
add to his statement. There'd been a couple of minor tussles but no real
injuries, and he didn't want any shot merchanters on his conscience.
"Very well," nodded Bornholdt, after a long moment. "Hoist
the signal. I saw two launches. Are they functional?"
"Ah," the petty officer winced, "that I don't know, sir.
I'll have them checked immediately."
"Ja, do that. I'll be in the wireless compartment."
---- 8:55 AM, pier, beside Imperator (moored south of Philadelphia)
The entry room in the passenger terminal offices was sumptuous. Clearly,
the German company wanted passengers and prospective passengers to feel
they were obtaining luxury with their hard-earned dollars. The woods were
dark, glistening with wax, and the walls were covered with paintings and
photographs of majestic passenger liners. The chairs were tooled leather,
with brass studs winking in the morning sun through the windows. As the
door shut behind them, the sounds of the band eased considerably.
"Good morning," Browning began. He had considered momentarily
saying instead, "Guten Morgen," but had decided that the receptionist
would certainly speak English. If she were American, she might not speak
"Good morning, sir." Her professionally-warm welcome was punctuated
by a fresh round of steam whistles from the three arrivals down the pier.
"We just came in on Imperator," he continued, gesturing towards
Fox. "Herr Ballin said there would be a telephone in here that we
"Certainly. If you'd follow me?"
Fox looked down at his shoes, when he felt them sink into the deep pile
of the carpets. Not surprisingly, they reminded him of the ones on Imperator.
Their guide opened a door and gestured them in ahead of her. A long conference
table dominated the room, but the lady pointed to a smaller, leather-topped
one with a telephone on it. Beside it were sheets of paper and a pen set.
It also faced the liners, both reporters realized, as they swung their
heads at Vaterland's answering blast. The upper transoms of the dock-side
windows were open. The ongoing steam whistle serenade was going to make
any attempts at telephone conversation very difficult, Fox thought, so
he turned to ask if they could close the windows.
The request died in his throat. The business-like demeanor on the woman's
face was gone, replaced by one of delighted animation. She had advanced
into the room, and stood now with her hands on the window sill. Her eyes
"It is sooo good to hear them sing again," she breathed.
---- 9:00 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic
"Admiral, Colonel Anton on Line Two."
"Thank you. Stennis," he said, and listened for a few moments.
"Very good, Colonel. And the others? Understood, stay with them for
now, if you would."
He put down the phone and turned to Rear-Admiral Martin.
"Colonel Anton reports that he and eight of the Brits made it to
the hospital. He reports there's a bit of a problem. Seems they didn't
know more of their wounded were coming in this morning."
"Yes, and it gets worse. The stretchers were coming out of the ambulances
as he drove up with them."
"They are not going to be happy about that," said Martin, "and
I can understand that. But I hadn't expected Alton until mid-morning.
I did get the medical staff augmented and had them standing by, just in
case. Their folk - and the Germans, as well - should be getting the very
best we have to offer."
"Oh, they're not happy, all right," Stennis agreed, "Anton
was quite clear on that point. But whether they're grinning or not, they're
still gonna' have to bear it. Way I see it, it's still 50 more of their
sailors who are NOT in German hands.
"Jeff," continued Stennis, shifting topics. "We were
already getting stretched a bit thin and now we're going to need more
men over at the hospital. Marines, MPs, and Masters-at-Arms are going
to be a problem. I want you to take a look at what we've got, what we're
using, and where we can get more. I don't know how long this is going
to last. Hell, I thought we were out of the woods once Strassburg cast
off! Now we need doctors, nurses, and still more guards.
"I've got a bad feeling about this. That there's still more to come.
Things I haven't even thought of yet."
As though on cue, the yeoman showed his head at the door just as Rear-Admiral
Martin stood up.
"Admiral, I have a Mr. Myron Kostas on Line One. He says he's from
the Greek Embassy. He is insisting that he needs to speak directly with
the Commander - Atlantic Fleet."
---- 9:00 AM, Bermuda
"We've definitely lost her, sir."
The Commander was disappointed, but not surprised.
"So," he began, "the Germans finally got to the wireless,
or the antenna. Justine, out of Philadelphia, the German's description
matches Strassburg: four stacks and seven 6-inch guns."
"What was she carrying?"
"Don't know yet, sir. I sent Ellis to look it up. Should have it
in a few minutes."
---- 9:00 AM, marina, New Jersey coast near channel entrance towards New
Lannon yawned hugely as he wriggled into a seated position on the edge
of his bunk on Chocorua Princess. He stretched languidly, but carefully,
in the somewhat constricted quarters. He frowned slightly at the noises
that had awakened him, but he knew that he'd already slept in longer than
he had any right to expect. The late hour, the events of the day, and
the chicken of Miz Beulah had combined in a sleep-extending synergy.
The chime drew his attention. He relaxed again; there was still two-and-a-half
hours before his first clients. They had wanted scenic seafood, so he'd
made lunch reservations at the nearby up channel resort. The day would
get busier after that, though just how busy would depend somewhat on whether
Nik brought potential clients with him when he came on down. Still, it'd
be a late lunch so, if he wanted to break his fast - and his stomach growled
its own position on that subject - he had to get up now.
"No rest for the righteous," he proclaimed to the image in
the tiny mirror above the small washstand. The stubbled reflection nodded
in sardonic agreement. It was not until he'd lathered up and nicked a
spot on his jaw, that he realized that there were no clean towels aboard.
Those few that remained were already stained with blood - British blood.
---- 9:05 AM, passenger terminal offices, dockside, south of Philadelphia
Fox went first, seeing as they were practically on his paper's doorstep.
That left nothing for Browning to do, so he stared at the paintings in
the room for a few moments, then looked out the door. Fox seemed to be
having some trouble reaching whoever he was asking for.
"Do you happen to have an Inquirer? The stand outside was fresh
"Well! I'm not surprised!" The receptionist's eyebrows lifted
at what she clearly considered an ingenuous observation on the part of
the reporter. Browning felt his own forehead furrow in confusion. Did
this mean ...?
"Well, do you? Have a copy?"
"Yes," she replied, guardedly. "You can look at it. But
I'll want it back."
"Sure, sure," Browning promised, quite bemusedly. "My
word on it."
He felt his pulse quicken as she reached behind her desk and withdrew
an Inquirer from a drawer. She handed it to him gingerly, as though it
were a fragile piece of art glass by Tiffany. The look of concern in his
eyes baffled him.
... he looked down ...
... at the front page.
"Sir! I must ask you to keep a civil tongue in your head!"
"I'm sorry ... but ..."
"Honestly! Do you eat with that mouth?!"
"I said I was sorry! I am, really!"
Omigod! She was going to take the paper back!
"It's just that, um, that's 'Blue Fox!' Right in there! You know,
the reporter who wrote this!"
"Oh! Really?!" Browning could hear the stars in her eyes. His
remained affixed to the headlines as though they were riveted to the bold
"Yes! And he's not even seen this! In fact, he's trying to call
in to the Inquirer right now. Er, maybe you'd like to be the one to show
It turned out she would. Oh, yes. She most definitely would!
---- 9:05 AM, wireless compartment of SS Justine, stopped (near Strassburg)
It was about as he'd left it, including the bodies.
There was more blood on the deck and the stink of death filled the compartment.
Bornholdt evinced no reaction, being no stranger to either. Instead, from
just inside the doorway he scanned the space for something like a journal
or a ledger. He did not see what he was looking for, and there were a
number of places even in just this one space where such a book could be
The German officer was standing inadvertently exactly where he had when
he had entered the first time. The man he'd shot first lay pretty much
just where he'd fallen, gasping in distress. His head was on a make-shift
pillow, and his ankles were tied. A brimmed hat beside him suggested that
he might have been the master of this vessel.
"Are you the captain?" Bornholdt asked, stepping nearer.
The man's eyes said "yes."
"The manifest. Vhere?"
The man did not respond. Bornholdt looked away, at the others. They were
tied up, including one whose arm was splinted and wrapped. The cloth showed
red along half its length.
"The manifest," he repeated to them. "Vhere is it?"
"Bloody Huns," muttered another. Bornholdt remembered his face.
It had been the one behind the crow bar.
"You surrendered this vessel. Vhere is the manifest?" His right
hand drifted to the pommel of his sword.
Bornholdt turned back. It had come from the presumed captain. He followed
the eyes to the indicated spot.
---- 9:10 AM, passenger terminal offices, dockside, south of Philadelphia
"... you know, the one south of Philly," Fox was saying excitedly.
He turned to face the door as Browning and the receptionist entered.
"Max!" Fox started. "They say they went Front Page ...
Oh! You found one .... Omigod!"
Blue devoured the print, aching to open the paper.
"Omigod," Blue repeated. "And the pictures! They're not
bad. Not bad at all!"
"What about my stuff?" Browning interrupted. "Any word
Fox nodded, and held up an index finger.
"Just a minute, Chief. I've got Maxwell Browning here with me. From
the Sacramento-Times Union ..."
"... His stuff's been running in the New York Times. He sent his
stuff back to them, same as me. No, never mind how. Any word on if his
got ...? It did? Great! Wait a sec."
Fox put his hand over the phone piece.
"Max, it's all over the Times, just like the Inquirer! My editor
doesn't know anything about the Times-Union."
Browning missed the next several sentences. The receptionist fidgeted
on her feet as though she were trying to dance with Fox. The band clamorously
resumed their play just outside.
"Sorry, Chief! The liners are just outside the window. There's a
band, too. Oh, you can hear them too?
"Max, they'd wanted to do an Extra, but didn't think they had enough.
Now, though! He's rounding up bodies to get down here right away. He said
I'm to get my, er," he glanced at the vibrating receptionist, "self
up there right away."
"Did you tell him about the film?"
"Oh! Chief? Max has to use the phone to call in. But one more thing,
I've got more film. Yes, film. Twelve rolls, German warships. Captured
Brits. Smoke and battle damage, Boss!"
Grinning with manic glee, Fox held the ear piece away from the side of
"He's interested," he confided to Browning.
---- 9:10 AM, wireless compartment of SS Justine, stopped (near Strassburg)
Bornholdt had found the manifest where the former captain had indicated.
He righted one chair and sat down to try to puzzle it out. He ignored
the looks on the faces of the Britishers, including the one of surprise
still on the one stretched out behind the tipped-over table.
"You'll get yours soon enough."
It didn't help that the penmanship leaned to one side.
"... be along any minute."
The German looked up at that. Could it be?
"Ist that why, why you did this ... stupidness?"
The bound Brits just stared at him with hatred. Silently.
"You fools! Did you think we had run? With your navy just behind?
We did not leave Germany alone. Every one of your warships was sunken
off New York yesterday."
Shock and disbelief washed across their faces.
"There is no one, no warship to save you," he ground it in
pitilessly. "You have no warship within three thousand kilometers."
---- 9:15 AM (12:15 PM Local), Sacramento Union-Times
"Chief, collect call from ..."
The editor frowned. He did not accept collect calls. Except under the
most extraordinary conditions. His staff knew that!
"... it's from Max Browning, Chief!"
"Well! I'll be ...!" He lunged for the phone.
"Yes, yes, Operator! I accept already! Max, where the HELL are you!"
Two reporters edged into his doorway. Expansively, he waved them in.
"Philadelphia! How in the HELL did you end up in Philadelphia?!
You were on your way to GERMANY, for God's sake. Wait a second. STENO!
George, get a steno on that extension! Gertrude, if she's out there."
"Go ahead, Max, my boy! We led with your story, and so did the New
York Times, their editor told me. Enough ink to float a battleship! Well?
"No, wait. STENO! Where the HELL is ...? Oh, she is? Excuse me!
Sorry about that! Well, go ahead, Max! Don't keep us all waiting? Do you
have any i-DEE-a what this call is costing me?!"
---- 9:15 AM, Strassburg, stopped (Roughly 40 miles East of Delaware Bay
Siegmund had begun moving his cruiser in closer to his most recent prize
once the boarding party had signaled that they had succeeded in taking
full control of the ship. The absence of sabotage and the report of additional
launches had both been welcome. Still, it seemed to be going a bit slower
than he had expected. He turned to his XO.
"They've been aboard her for, what? Thirty minutes?"
"Thirty-five, by both my watch and the bridge chronometer,"
LCDR Gommel answered quickly. He was getting concerned, too.
"Sir, if I might be so bold to ask, but is there anything more about
"XO, I doubt I know any more than you. He was on a torpedo boat
- one of Wiesbaden's - that got sunk at Die Kaiserschlacht. Armoured cruiser
shell, I think. Got picked up hours later by one of Regensburg's. That's
about all I know, other than he was commended for his actions."
"Yes, that's all his file says, too. Commended, no ship, and speaks
some English - an obvious candidate."
---- 9:15 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic
" 'An escort'?" Stennis asked, quite startled. "You mean
a warship? 'Warships'?! United States Navy warships? Why on earth do you
Admiral Martin and CDR Trimm had been dispatched on various missions,
but Stennis' aide had returned. He listened shamelessly just outside the
Stennis had half-expected a call from Daniels or Benson, or perhaps another
DC denizen. He would not have been too terribly surprised by a call from
one British official or another. The Greeks, however, had no reason to
be asking for anything. Or, at least none that he had known about.
"Sir," Stennis began, "first of all, would you please
explain why you think your ship - Salamis - might NEED an escort?"
The American vice-admiral rubbed his face. God, he needed a cup of coffee!
"Yeoman?" Stennis asked, hopefully, cupping his hand over the
His aide peeked in.
"Ah, Lieutenant, coffee - black and hot!"
"Yes, sir," Stennis said, resignedly into the phone. "What
was that again about the Kronprinzessen Cecilie?" (NOTE
---- 9:15 AM, wireless compartment of SS Justine, stopped (near Strassburg)
Bornholdt was staring at what appeared to list the cargo. The problem
now was that the answer seemed to be in tables of small distance numbers,
and that made no sense whatsoever.
"Sir, both launches are functional."
"Aye, sir. They're in the water now."
"Very well," he replied, and stood up, holding the manifest.
"Son." It sounded like the start of a request.
Bornholdt looked down at the former captain, then squatted next to him.
"Damn." The voice was weaker.
"Say it. You have little time," the German officer told him,
matter of fact. "You'd have none, but it was not my master hand."
At just two meters, he would've taken the head shot.
"Son," the man repeated.
Bornholdt canted his head to one side, a raptor studying its prey.
"The boy on the bridge?"
The eyes said "yes."
"He ist not hurt. I will send him."
Bornholdt stood up and gave this most brave fool a last look.
"Sie were wise," he told the dying father. "Most wise."
---- 9:20 AM, Strassburg, stopped (Roughly 40 miles East of Delaware Bay
Siegmund scanned the horizon. No new smoke plumes had been spotted, but
that could change any second. He was increasingly anxious to recover his
boats and men. The first had returned a few minutes ago.
"Sir," said Gommel, "Leading Seaman Kobetz with a report."
"Go ahead," ordered Siegmund.
"Sir, uh, sirs, the Britishers tried to resist. They forted up -
eight of them, including the captain - in the wireless compartment."
"After they'd surrendered?" Gommel was appalled.
"Aye, sir. Mr. Bornholdt, well he ordered me to follow him in ...."
Kobetz went on to describe the brief action in the Justine's wireless
"They were in armed resistance?" Siegmund wanted that part
clear, seeing as he now had dead civilians on his hands.
"Aye, sir. The captain had a pistol, one of the mates was behind
a table with a shotgun, and the others had axes, crowbars, and such."
Gommel looked at Siegmund, and his CO nodded back, satisfied.
Kobetz seemed to have more that he wanted to say. The burly sailor had
been with them since before the war had begun. He was steady. Unimaginative,
but a rock of strength in battle. The two officers exchanged glances.
There was no one else on the bridge quite in ear shot.
"Anything else, Kobetz?"
"Mr. Bornholdt, sir. It was like he'd done it before. So, I asked
him. If he'd shot a man before - with his Luger, I mean."
"He just looked at me, cold-like, and said 'Maybe.' "
NOTE 1 - Dr. Carl Koller is historical and as described.
Susice is now in the Czech Republic. The other named doctors were indeed
his co-workers. One source of biographical information is at:
A 1910 photo of Dr. Koller can be viewed at: http://www.aeiou.at/aeiou.encyclop.k/k561735.htm
NOTE 2 - Kronprinzessen Cecilie was escorted from
Bar Harbor to Boston under the escort of two USN Destroyers in November
1914. The USN was protecting her from RN warships. See the following url
under Kronprinzessen Cecilie: http://www.concentric.net/~Mimayer/Liner.html