Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part XIII
---- 9:25 AM, Bermuda
The Acting-Commander of the Station turned from the window, where he'd
staring out at .... What? What HAD he been staring at? No matter.
"Yes, Commander? Come in. You, too, Yeoman. Do you have news?"
"Yes, sir. We do, and I'm afraid it's not glad tidings we bring.
The Germans have taken the SS Justine off Philadelphia."
"Go on." The admiral moved toward them and stood at his desk.
One hand went to the surface, its solidity welcome.
"As you will recall, sir, she had reported that she was being pursued
by a large German warship. Well, we got a few more particulars - the description
matches Strassburg - then they were stopped and boarded. She went silent
a few minutes later."
"What was Justine carrying?"
"I'm afraid, sir, that that's the worst part by far. She was carrying
---- 9:25 AM, bridge of SS Justine, stopped (near Strassburg)
"... cannon shells, sir."
LT Bornholdt turned to face the petty officer.
"All holds, sir. Must be over 1,000 tons of shells, all sizes. From
105 mm to 200 mm, and there's some areas we've not gotten into yet."
Not surprisingly, the sailors' exploratory pace had instantly slowed,
even as - two decks above their heads - the lieutenant had been firing
blindly through bulkheads.
The petty officer rigorously concealed a smirk as the all-too-well armed
officer sat down somewhat abruptly and devoted his attention studiously
to the book that was open before him, his fingers tracing the lines of
numbers in the manifest entries. The meaning of the headings, which were
in numbers of either inches or pounds, was now quite clear.
---- 9:30 AM, Bermuda
The admiral's seat had hit his chair just as Bornholdt's had, about 650
nautical miles to the northwest. He had just begun to think he was immune
from additional reactions to disaster. After all, it had been fewer than
24 hours since his commanding officer had apparently led virtually the
entire combat power of the Station briskly into the seabed off New York
"Things can always get worse," he realized.
The admiral thought for a moment that he had spoken aloud, but decided
that the Commander must simply be reacting to his body language. He drew
in a measured breath, exhaled, and then drew in another before he spoke.
"Lords George and Kitchener will be most upset, I expect,"
the admiral began. "Yes, I fear so. This one will be felt on the
fields of France, Commander. How many Tommies' lives have we cost this
day, I wonder?" He realized suddenly that he really did not want
to know the answer to his question.
"Could they have known, sir? I mean," the Commander continued
as the senior officer looked a question, "could this whole affair,
battlecruisers and all, have been just for that? To cut off shells to
the BEF? After all, the 'Shell Crisis' would hardly've been any secret
to the Huns. It was in all the papers, and they've got spies everywhere."
"I suppose it's possible," the admiral conceded, guiltily glad
for the shift, "but they could hardly hope to interdict them for
any length of time, now, could they?"
"Sir, suppose the merchants demand the Admiralty escort them? Until
every one of these Huns is accounted for, one way or another ...."
"Yes, I see your point now, I believe. With bloody battlecruisers
on the loose, we've no suitable escort force in the entire Hemisphere."
The Commander nodded. Even if a properly escorted convoy left Plymouth
next dawn, it'd be weeks, perhaps a month, before those same warships
could accompany an outbound convoy. But, the admiral wondered, would even
a full month's break in the flow of shell cargos make any real difference?
The specter of silent guns and dead Tommies seemed to edge near again.
The Western Front broken here, further west than anyone could ever have
imagined. Or could they? He swallowed.
"Have you any reply from Philadelphia?"
"Draft a cable for the Admiralty. Include the names of all ships
known to have been taken and their cargos - those we know, at any rate.
Within the hour."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Alone again in his office, the admiral fought a desperate battle with
his growing despair. He was responsible now for a vast area teeming with
British and allies' merchant ships and he had no way to protect them,
to be a good shepherd to such a wide-flung flock. This was supposed to
be a quiet station - nearly a sinecure! - whose wartime duties were mostly
limited to dealing with unarmed blockade runners, and the occasional ill-armed
raider. It had been so, just so, until last week. He rubbed his face tiredly.
All those last months of 1914 had been busy but business-like. They had
also been fruitful, as all the Germans had pretty much been hunted down
or driven into Neutral ports, to languish there forever. Even this year,
the month of April had been beautiful and May had been simply glorious
- but that was all meaningless now. Yes, all those days before last week
had been of a simpler age, part of a distant, irrelevant past - happy
golden days of yore.
Battlecruisers! He looked over at the sideboard, at the decanter, shook
his head, and sighed.
---- 9:30 AM, marina, New Jersey coast near channel entrance towards New
Several sat at the tables with fragrant plates before them. Others were
in a knot or two on the little deck patio just beyond the side door. There
was a distinct buzz of conversation. The few regulars, those who basically
lived aboard, normally began to become augmented by the seasonal sailors
starting in mid-June. The clubhouse always became crowded the weekend
before July 4th every year, and pretty much stayed that way through early
September. Lannon's fear had been that he'd be too late for griddle cakes.
Miz Beulah would leave muffins and such for the late-comers, but she closed
down once the morning group had been fed, whenever that happened. He grinned
when he entered and saw her, and knew that his luck had continued to hold.
"Good morning to you, Miz Beulah."
"G'morning, Mister Lannon. What you be having this mornin'?"
Breakfast and lunch were very informal at the clubhouse. Members and
their guests would come to the counter and place their order, then take
their food to the tables of their choice, inside or out.
"Whatever's on the griddle," Lannon replied. Mindful of his
lunch plans, he didn't want eggs or sausage. Miz Beulah's breakfast breads
were not, however, to be missed.
"This morning, I'se got bacon-pancakes. Turkey-bacon, that is, fresh
up from Carolina. Swab on de butter, add a bit of maple syrup, and there's
"Turkey bacon? Well, serve 'em up. Anything coming off your griddle
has to be good."
"You go on now!" The was a broad smile in those words, and
Lannon soon had his heaped-high plate in hand as he sought a seat.
---- 9:35 AM, Moltke, stopped (Roughly 40 miles SE Coney Island)
The two Australian officers looked up from where they sat on the deck
on Moltke's broad fantail. A small group of German naval personnel had
entered their canvas covered area, headed by the boss Hun himself.
"Good morning, Captain," began Rear-Admiral Hanzik, nodding
to Theargus then turning to repeat his nod to Dedmundee, "Captain."
"Morning it is," acknowledged Theargus, "but I don't know
as I'd agree on the 'good' part. Now, if it was you sitting prisoner on
MY deck ...."
Dedmundee noted that only one of the Germans bristled at his mate's sally.
Presumably, the others did not understand English. Had that been Theargus'
intent? To learn which could and which could not? Hard to tell. He shook
his head, inadvertently rejuvenating the headache he had been trying to
get rid of.
"A politeness," Hanzik responded evenly, "nothing more,
but I quite understand."
"Well then, sir," Dedmundee inserted, before Theargus could
improvise a fresh rejoinder, "to what do we owe the honor of your
"I have a request to make."
Both Aussies were nonplused at that. They hardly saw themselves in any
position to ....
"Of the prisoners, you are most senior. Difficulty we have had making
a list. Checked it twice, I have. But it is not satisfactory."
"Another bloody Red Cross List," Theargus muttered.
"Admiral," said Dedmundee, with a sharp look at his friend,
"what is the nature of this, er, 'difficulty'?"
"Your men, many do not cooperate. They give false names and ranks.
Many claim to be admirals or barons or dukes. Five said they were Kaiser
Wilhelm himself! Others pretend to have been on ships that were not there
"Naughty, naughty lads," Theargus commented dryly. Inwardly,
he was boundlessly heartened and strove not to show it. This was the first
sign of recovery from the shock and despair he'd seen so pervasive amongst
the men yesterday. They were fighting back! Albeit the only way they could.
"Ja," Hanzik agreed, adding a pointed glance of his own at
the Aussie captain. "Their families, do they not wish it known to
them that alive they are? You are their commanding officers. Is it not
your own duty to make this so? Yes?"
"Aye," Dedmundee admitted. After a moment, Theargus nodded
in reluctant agreement.
"Aye, sir," he repeated tiredly, "it is at that."
"You will help, then? Gut. I will send men to escort you. I expect
the Americans to return in force before the sun again sets. Nice would
it be to give them the list at that time."
---- 9:35 AM, marina, New Jersey coast near channel entrance towards New
The flavors blended magnificently! And, somehow, the turkey bacon remained
crisp inside each pancake. Lannon was most thoroughly enjoying gathering
evidence on this mystery when another club member walked over.
"Hey, Lannon. You seen the paper?"
He had not and said so, between data points. His fork nabbed another
"A regular sea battle! You've gotta' ..."
"Hey, Lannon's here!"
There was a bit of a rumble as several chairs got pushed back and their
fellows got up and came over. He sat straighter and looked around, puzzled
but continued his chewing.
"The paper says you were right in the MIDDLE of it ...."
"... pulled seven Brits out of the water ..."
"Guys," Lannon protested after a swallow, "we were out
there, but I haven't seen any paper."
That didn't even slow them. Instead, more came in and crowded about,
chattering like chimps. He tried to hide his irritation. A bit of "fame"
was fine, but not at the expense of Miz Beulah's griddle cakes!
---- 9:40 AM, Moltke, stopped (Roughly 40 miles SE Coney Island)
"Admiral," began Stang, "did you meet with success?"
"Yes, they agreed to help," answered Hanzik. "The appeal
to their duty was sufficient."
The men stood there, pensively scanning the horizon all about.
"The American-flagged cargo-liner draws near," Stang observed,
in a neutral tone.
Hanzik understood the other's unstated question.
"We will let her pass without challenge, Captain."
"Aye, aye, sir." Stang felt that the British were quite capable
of trying to brazen it out under false colors. His skepticism crept slightly
into his inflection.
Hanzik turned to face the other.
"Not this first one nor, perhaps, the second. Maybe even not the
third. Others, though, later - especially if there is some basis for suspicion
"I understand, sir."
Stang added a nod of acceptance this time. He recognized now that the
Admiral had weighed heavily the fact that their American chaperon would
witness this playing out so peacefully, and report it thus. Moltke's CO
looked eastward towards Leverett's Aylwin as he considered the matter.
His attention was drawn to the horizon, where towering clouds were shaping
"Very dark clouds," he noted aloud. "Possible storm later,
admiral, or so it would seem."
The loss of visibility would hinder their blockade effects, and the storm
swells would cause their own problems. The rain, though! The rain would
very much be welcome.
"Indeed," Hanzik agreed, then turned to scan out to sea.
"But for now, at least," Hanzik added, after a moment as he
resumed his scanning out to sea, "all is calm, all is bright."
---- 9:45 AM, passenger terminal, south of Philadelphia
The two reporters began to walk down the pier, to wait for the cars that
they'd been told were enroute. All about was the seeming-chaos of cargo
offload, stores onload, passenger movement, baggage transfer, and all
the other activities associated with the fresh arrival of not one, but
three, large liners. Even the band was marching past in step to the beat
of one large drum. Their buses waited for them near the shore end of the
"I wouldn't look back, if I were you," Browning counseled Blue.
"I was just going to wave a last good-bye to Holly," Fox protested.
"Uh-huh. If you don't watch it, that young ..."
They both nimbly moved out of the way of the first of another line of
"... Miss'll tow ..."
"Look out there!" Pallets were already high in the air coming
and going from the ships alongside the pier.
"... you right back and wrap you up tight!"
"Aw," protested Fox, "it's not like that at all."
"Maybe, but I'll tell you this: I sure never heard of anyone getting
asked to autograph a newspaper before."
Fox realized he was blushing.
---- 9:45 AM, marina, New Jersey coast near channel entrance towards New
Lannon tried to tell as little of the story as he could. Otherwise, his
pancakes would get cold. Unfortunately, too many had seen him come ashore
last evening. For that, he had Claire's Auntie Terror to thank.
"Who was that guy who fell off the pier yesterday? Was that the
That was a good question, because he needed only to nod.
"Well, here's the paper. The front page, anyway."
Some others also must not have read it yet, as several crowded around
to read over his shoulder. The pictures produced instant reactions.
"Whoa!" "Look at that!"
Lannon read avidly, eating all the while. He got a really nice write-up,
he thought. Yes, Freddie whatever-his-name-was ... Burke, that was it,
"Those dudes in Washington'll go plumb loco when they see this!"
Lannon's jaw froze in mid-chew.
---- 9:45 AM, base hospital at the New York Naval Station
"Herr Schmidt?" Lionel asked. It had taken him over 30 minutes
to convince those who answered the phone at the consulate that he really
might be a serving German naval officer.
"Ja," the speaker then asked his identity.
"Leutnant Lionel. I am presently assigned Admiral Hanzik aboard
the battlecruiser Moltke."
That got a reaction more along the lines that Lionel had expected. After
the consulate officer finished, the young officer realized he would have
to speak carefully. The American, Jones, was nearby and spoke more than
a little Deutsch.
"Sir, I am at the naval hospital at the American base here, uh,
in New York. The Americans agreed to take a dozen of our wounded. My instructions
were to see that they got medical care and to turn them over to you, the
consulate, that is."
Ensign Jones was indeed not distant. While he'd been given no instructions
on the matter, he'd decided that his superiors would welcome any information
he might glean. With that rationale to excuse his curiosity, he strained
to eavesdrop as unobtrusively as he could. Some revelation of German plans
or perhaps other ships concealed offshore would bring a smile even to
old Stennis' face!
He was disappointed, however, because the German lieutenant said nothing
new or surprising. All he did was briefly recount how the German and British
wounded had gotten here to the American hospital and that, sadly, one
of his men had died before they could get here.
--- 9:50 AM, Bermuda
The admiral was reviewing the draft cable to the Admiralty.
"Munitions in one, horses and cavalry supplies in another,"
read the Station Acting-Commander, with fresh dismay. "The French
will raise bloody hell."
That their Continental European ally would be angry was his first thought.
The French had been relying on the RN to safeguard their shipping over
here. Frankly, the Admiralty had discouraged the deployment of French
warships anywhere in the New World since long before the Entente Cordiale.
There would be a great outcry from their civilians. The admiral was under
no illusions that he knew all of the ships that had been or would be taken.
Paris might feel they had to react, dispatching warships of their own.
God help the Frogs if they actually did meet up with this pair of Hun
His next thought concerned what the ships had been carrying. Was this
just a coincidence? Two different ships with vital cargos of artillery
ammunition? He still thought that it was. After all, Philadelphia was
a major port for the export of munitions, but he felt less sure than he'd
been when he'd responded to the other officer earlier. There was an increasingly-uneasy
feeling that - as bad as things were - they still would get worse.
---- 9:50 AM, Strassburg, stopped (Roughly 40 miles East of Delaware Bay
It had been very quiet for the last hour or so. Captain Siegmund and
LCDR Gommel were on the bridge, waiting for the last of what was now going
to be their three launch complement to be winched aboard. A voice called
out somewhere in the superstructure behind the bridge. Siegmund could
not make out the words, but the tone was quite suggestive.
"Do you hear what I hear?" Siegmund asked. Gommel nodded.
"Sir, lookouts report smoke, bearing 210."
Siegmund and Gommel swung their glasses onto the bearing.
"XO, how long before that third one is secure?"
"Not sure, sir," Gommel replied. "Bosun said they'd have
to rig a cradle. It's a bit larger than any of ours. Perhaps 10 minutes,
no more. With your permission, I'll lay aft and see if matters can be
"Sir, lookouts report more smoke, bearing 035."
The glasses swung again.
"Yes, do that, XO. Things may be about to get a bit busy."
---- 9:55 AM, shore end of the passenger terminal, south of Philadelphia
The two reporters had found that walking on pavement took some getting
used to again. The landscape seemed to keep shifting under their feet.
They hadn't really noticed it on their way down the pier, since it itself
had been shaking some from the many trucks, cranes, steam whistles, and
all other sources of vibration.
The reporters were landsmen, not sailors. If they'd ever doubted that,
they did so no longer. Their time aboard Imperator had been an adventure,
but they were immensely glad to be back on city sidewalks.
Busy sidewalks, they realized, and the roads were busier still. The work
day was in full swing, with countless freight trucks jockeying for entrance
and egress all up and down the shoreline road. The whistle of numerous
rail locomotives sounded in eerie echo to those of the liners at the pier:
dialogues in steam among industry cousins.
"There! There they are."
A battered-looking automobile squealed into the curb, then a second one
pulled in right behind it. Many men jumped out, more than seemed reasonable,
much like a clown act in a circus.
"Blue! Man, have YOU kicked over an anthill!" The greeting,
like those from the others, was in piquant counterpoint to a delighted
grin. An Extra was great stuff! A marvelous lark of a break from the routine.
The reporters jabbered shop happily, oblivious to the honks in protest
from inconvenienced vehicles.
"You know about Imperator, right? And the one that left New York
He got all nods.
"Well, there's another! She was out there with the rest of the German
"You're kidding! From Germany? But why didn't she come in with Imperator?"
"No clue," Blue answered, "and she's got cargo, too. Some
really neat stuff! They're gonna' hold another auction - just like they
did in New York! - right here on the pier. Tomorrow, or maybe the day
after. Maybe she's not as fast, and had to stay with the others, but that's
just a guess. But, Boys, that means we got four - count 'em, four! - liners
right here in Philly that the Germans say they're gonna' sail back with,
British or no British. American passengers and all!"
Four ocean liners full of stories! The passengers and crew of two - No!
Three! - had been witnesses to the battle off New York. What was the cargo?
Where were the passengers from? Where were they going? And why? How many
had come across from Germany? What was going on here?! The answers to
those and other questions they hadn't thought of yet were just a few dozen
Fox and Browning got into different cars - Browning to Broad Street Station
(NOTE 2) and Fox to the Inquirer. As for the others,
they headed down the pier without a single backwards glance.
---- 10:00 AM, Moltke, stopped (Roughly 40 miles SE Coney Island)
The two Aussie captains had different things on their minds.
Theargus was a great, red-bristled bear of a man, and one unaccustomed
to inactivity. His collarbone throbbed and every movement sent burning
twinges up and down his arm. He knew full well that moving about as he
had promised to do would only increase his discomfort, especially as the
temperature rose. It was a dilemma of sorts: immobility lessened the pain,
but it greatly increased psychic distress. Similarly, getting a better
names list smacked of assisting the enemy, but providing names was generally
acceptable and - damn it! - families and loved ones DID deserve to know
their men were alive. None of this did he mention, but the inner tension
added to his scowl as a German officer with a clipboard, trailed by a
brace of rifle toting sailors, advanced on them at a zealous pace. Little
men, filled with the fervor only victory could bring. God, but he hated
this. And them.
As for Dedmundee, he was exhausted after his night of little sleep, and
his headache had continued to grow with the glare of the rising sun. To
make matters worse, hammering had just begun somewhere above them in the
superstructure. He looked up, but could not spot its origin. Nonetheless,
the beat seemed to echo inside his skull, then a second, and a third hammer
joined the first.
"Damn," Dedmundee began, putting his hands flat to the sides
of his head, "if this keeps up, no matter how tired I am, I STILL
"Tiny sots, their eyes all aglow," Theargus growled, elbowing
"... will find it hard to sleep tonight .... Ouch! Dammit, Shane,"
Dedmundee protested, "that hurt." But he broke off his complaint
when he saw the delegation approaching.
The senior officers composed themselves, carefully blanking their faces,
forcing their pain and weariness into locked cupboards proof against enemy
eyes. They can sink some of our ships, thought Dedmundee, kill some of
our men, but they can never defeat us. Never.
If the men can tell armed Huns they're bloody Kaiser Wilhelm, smoldered
Theargus, then I can bloody well act like a captain in His Majesty's Navy
Let nothing you dismay. They turned to squarely face the foe.
---- 10:10 AM, New York Times
"Gentlemen! Your attention, please."
They all looked towards the speaker, though probably none among them
considered himself a gentleman. The woman who had half-shouted the demand
was the Iron Maiden, but it was not so much her or her sound as it was
the timing. The timing was very "interesting." It suggested
a great multi-faceted story. Had someone among the mighty died? A destructive
nearby earthquake? A great fire? It was a famous curse to live in "interesting
times," that is, unless you were a reporter.
"What's this 'gentlemen' noise?" That was from one of the women.
The Iron Maiden just shrugged her shoulders, and then the Chief walked
"Max Browning called in a few minutes ago ..."
There was an immediate buzz at that. Browning was somewhere out in the
Atlantic, enroute to Germany or something. Or so they'd thought.
"... and I've spoken with his editor out in Sacramento."
The editor cleared his throat, and looked around the room. The room stilled
quickly under his gaze.
"He's got with him over fifty pages of notes and fourteen rolls
of exposed film ..."
The noise restarted.
"... and he's due in at Grand Central at ...."
"C'mon, boss! Drop the other shoe!"
"The editor smiled and nodded.
"I've just spoken with the Publisher ..."
"... and he's authorized an Extra."
The near-bedlam made the earlier noise seem like whispers.
"Boss," said one of the reporters a moment later, coming up
to the editor, "I just had a call from one of my tipsters. I think
it fits with this. Guy says we got between fifty and a hunnert' wounded
- mostly British - down at the base hospital right this minute."
"Browning didn't say anything about that," he mused. There'd
certainly been a battle, and that meant wounded. But how'd they end up
in New York this morning? "Who's your source?"
"Just a guy. I think his name's Befana, but he goes by 'Black Pete.'
I've dealt with him a few times before. Doesn't take money, but asks for
inside dope sometimes. Won't even tell me where he's from; once he said
the 'Back Lands.' "
"Well, did he say how this 'hundred wounded' got here?"
"Uh-huh, said they hitched rides in on our own battleships."
"Okay, should be pretty easy to check it out. Go ahead. If it pans
"Got it. If I strike gold, yell like a forty-niner."
---- 10:25 AM, Philadelphia Inquirer
Blue had been welcomed much like a conquering hero. Within ten minutes,
however, it was pretty much back to business as usual. Well, almost. Extra
editions were far from routine and their production farther from quiet.
Already there was a dull background roar as printing crews, typesetters,
etc. began to filter into the building. The editor was already handing
out pieces of Fox's drafts to various text editors, giving them only the
briefest of looks. Nonetheless, one heading in particular caught his eye.
"Hey, Blue," he called across the room. "Christmas trees?
Is this some kind of a joke?!"
"Not a bit, Chief," he replied cheerily and tried not to laugh
right out loud. He'd told Browning that this one would get his editor's
"You mean to tell me that in the middle of a war they really hauled
tons - TONS! - of, of GOOSE feathers all the way across the Atlantic?!"
"I didn't believe it at first myself," Blue said. "But
they were on the phone to Woolworth's before I got off the phone with
"Unbelievable! You're really sure about this?" The editor most
definitely had no desire to make the Inquirer a laughingstock. News folk
had been gulled before, and one of his jobs was debunking hoaxes of this
and similar sorts.
"I saw the crates and manifest, boss, and some of the ornaments.
And Woolworth's said they'd have the trucks down there and loaded before
dark. The Germans said those guys were absolutely delighted. We should
even be able to get pix, I'd think." (NOTE 3)
NOTE 1 - This chapter was written and posted during
the Christmas holiday season.
NOTE 2 - See: www.chesco.com/~apu/prr/prr_30.html
(A tip of a vice-admiral's cover to Flag Captain Theodor!)
NOTE 3 - The Christmas tree tradition began long
before WWI in Germany. It had been popularized in Great Britain and the
US by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. Germany made the only commercially
available artificial trees before WWI. They were made of feathers and
wire frames ("Goose Feather Trees") and were in some demand.
Germany was also the only major manufacturer of glass ornaments (most
were made in Lauscha, in the Thuringian Mountains). Both artificial trees
and glass ornaments were popular in the US pre-WWI and were sold mostly
by Woolworths, who had contracts with key German companies. As far as
the author can determine, those contracts had been met in 1914, but would
not be met in 1915 and thereafter. Thus, Letterstime has changed history
once again by providing Americans with the artificial Christmas trees
and hand-blown glass ornaments that they were deprived of historically
by the British blockade. See: http://www.christmas?tree.com/where.html