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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - Meeting Engagements, Part XVII

(evening, June 19, 1915)

---- Moltke, stopped, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island

A survey of their prizes? An itemization of their goods and cargoes? Did he look like an accountant? A supply officer?! Only Bavaria's experience at court enabled him to keep his expression clear and tranquil. He'd been suspicious when the flags had gone up on the flagship for him to report aboard. But this!

"Do you have any questions, Commander?"

Hanzik had many tasks that needed doing, and he'd decided that the portly prince now standing before him was the logical candidate for this one. Moltke's crew had far greater demands upon them, including the thousand or so extra bodies, mostly prisoners who required constant guard and oversight. The light cruisers were operating out in screen and simply had too few men anyway. Von der Tann represented the only large manpower pool for him to tap. No matter what, however, a certification confirming their prizes' nationalities would appear to be a virtual necessity, and his force's options would clearly depend on what their overall inventory of goods and materials was.

Bavaria had many, a very great number of questions, in fact, but dared offer only one comment.

"I will need more boats, sir, and more men. Especially if I am to meet your schedule."

"There should be ample small craft now," Hanzik stated. "You will have to draw mostly upon your crew, though. The ledgers and other proof should be straightforward, I would think. However, I agree that recognizing suitable or adaptable items might prove difficult."

Hanzik gestured and two other men drew near. Not in uniform, Bavaria realized, numbly.

"This is Herr Glocke, and Herr Coblentz ...."

Bavaria eyed the pair with obvious and instinctive misgivings. Hanzik did not bother to hide his smile. For the first time, he fully appreciated the expression he had witnessed yesterday on the face of Captain Liapis, the CO of Salamis.

---- Admiral's barge, enroute Moltke, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island

Once again, Vice-Admiral Stennis found himself approaching the grim flagship of the alien force. As he had last time, he made a point of trying to learn something about the stranger JO who would be at his side during the doubtlessly delicate discourse just ahead. They would be several minutes crossing the gap between USS Texas (BB-35) and the German battlecruiser.

"So, Mr. Robinson," he began, perhaps a bit tersely. "Tell me something about yourself." The junior officer did not immediately respond. "Any German in your ancestry?"

"No, sir. None. None at all," Robinson almost blurted. "English on my father's side, Irish on my mother's - McCaffery."

"Go on." Stennis realized that he should have expected no less, given McDonald's well known leanings. If anything, though, young Robinson sounded more anti-German than even his admiral. In fact, the tone of his response suggested he'd like to tar and tree Stennis for his intimation. Would this become a problem?

"Well, sir," Robinson paused. It was hard to keep focus. Why was he doing this? Here they were, fast approaching a major foreign warship, and Commander - Atlantic Fleet kept quizzing him about his personal life. "Not much more to add. Born and raised in California. Went to the State Normal School in Los Angeles before ...." (NOTE 1)

---- Moltke, stopped, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island

Hanzik and Hoban stared at the approaching American launch. Stang had left a few moments before, announcing his intent to inspect the area where the American delegation would be coming aboard. Lookouts had reported the change in admiral flags up on Texas even before the big dreadnought had begun to ease over to the German force, hoisting parley flags as the range dropped. The dreadnought had stopped off their beam and lowered the small boat. Now, Commodore Hoban focused on the men in the small boat at the side of the tall admiral. The more junior one was a stranger to him, but he recognized the other.

"Admiral, that's the same translator that the American vice-admiral had in his office on the base. 'Hausmann,' or something like that. Very fluent. The other one, I don't recognize."

Hanzik acknowledged, but he was concentrating hard on trying to gauge the demeanor of the American flag officer himself, hoping to glean some semblance of a clue. The rain shower may have eased his most immediate urgency, but there was an imminence in the air. He could almost feel the bow waves an ocean away veeing from the prows of the Grand Fleet detachment as they exited Scapa Flow enroute to the Americas. And him.

Intellectually, he knew better, of course. Certainly, the British would dispatch a force with enough combat power to deal confidently with him. They might indeed be just getting underway as his intuition suggested, but they could just as likely be leaving in the morning, or they might already have left hours ago. They would be coming, though, and that was the only true certainty. Critical questions, remained, weighing heavily upon him. How much time did he have? How much would he need? Questions such as those were behind the intensity of the gaze he now directed at the approaching American admiral. Stennis might have those answers with him even now. Had his government made a decision? If so, what was it? What had the British told them? Did Stennis know if the British had sortied? If so, when? And with what?

Hanzik eyes watered as he squinted through his binoculars for any sign, but had to shake his head in defeat. The tall American obviously had recognized he was under such close observation and was pretending to be guilelessly conversing with the young anonymous lieutenant at his side.

---- Steamship Sainte-Julie, course 035, speed 5 knots, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island

"All stop," LT Siegfried ordered, judging they were in their assigned position. He glanced over at Justinia, five hundred yards off his port aft quarter. The bit of white at her bow was dropping off. Not surprisingly, LT Wilhelm had taken his engines off line at the same time Siegfried had.

"Have you got a count yet, Chief?"

"I make it 20, sir. Thought it was 21, and was going to report it so, but that last one is still underway on 265. American, most likely."

"A Neutral, at any rate," agreed Wilhelm.

"Sir, lookouts report that the American dreadnought furthest north is not the one that was here yesterday."

"What?! Are they sure?"

"Yes, sir. The one yesterday, the ... the one with the unpronounceable name. Well, it had six turrets."

"Yes? And this one does not?"

"This one has five turrets, sir. Two forward, just like the ... other one, but only three aft of the second tower. The other one had four aft."

"Very, well," nodded Siegfried. That certainly seemed conclusive enough. "What about the other dreadnought? The one near Moltke?"

"We're not sure, sir. She may be the same one. She's certainly the same class, anyway."

They had no recognition books aboard the prize. The young German officer shrugged.

"Very well," Siegfried repeated. If these two Americans were, in fact, different than yesterday's, then it answered the question of why the pre-dreadnought was absent. That is, she had not been detached, rather, the entire formation had gone elsewhere. But where had they gone? And where had these ones come from?

---- Moltke, stopped, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island

"Welcome back aboard, Vice-Admiral Stennis," Rear-Admiral Hanzik began, once the Americans had gotten on deck.

The ballet of introductions and ritualized pleasantries ensued for the next several minutes, under the curious gazes of a very considerable number of men aboard the score-plus ships then within easy sight of Moltke's open deck. Eyes of several shades and nationalities watched intently through lenses by Leica, Zeiss, and others set in binoculars and folding telescopes. After a few minutes, however, behind his own raised binoculars on the flagbridge of Texas (BB-35), the scowl on Admiral McDonald's face deepened even further, just as Admiral Alton's had yesterday, when the Germans led the visiting American delegation through a hatchway and out of the sight of all.

---- SS Lochard, stopped, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island

LT Kessock had hardly glanced at the launch when it had first put out from von der Tann, trying instead to see which of his brother JOs had prizes of their own. The comings and goings of such craft held little interest for him. He'd given this one a second look, though, once it seemed to be on its way towards his own "command." Now, he was staring at it quite narrowly and with no little puzzlement, and had even "borrowed" the merchant CO's scope following the lookouts' latest report.

"Sir, lookouts report that two other launches have just left von der Tann."

There'd been a number of previous small boat reports. Now, he wished he'd paid more attention them. Maybe then, he thought, he'd have some idea why a launch with von der Tann's XO and three civilians were drawing up alongside

---- Moltke, stopped, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island

The small talk had ended, and CDR Houseman was translating for Stennis. Hanzik's English was good, but Stang's was not and von Hoban's - though adequate - had never been disclosed.

"You have taken a large number of prizes, it would seem," Stennis had begun. "This is already a matter of concern to my government."

"How can that be?" Hanzik strove to keep his tone one of simple curiosity. "In war, in International Waters, when one encounters ships of one's enemies ..." He began to wave dismissively, then stopped his hand in mid-motion.

"Do you doubt the nationality of the ships here?" Hanzik's tone had sharpened. "Is that it? Do you think my ships may have taken one of your own merchants?"

The two admirals knew full well what each other's opening moves would be, much like two expert chess players.

"What I might think is not the issue," Stennis replied. Houseman began to show some strain from the complexity of the constructions. "Mistakes can be made, though, and my government is most concerned about that. I would like to be able to report that none have been made. Yet."

The last word had been delivered quite firmly, and in a somewhat louder tone. As in chess, it would be the variations each introduced that would decide the encounter. Here, Stennis knew Hanzik spoke English.

"I see," Hanzik replied. He was not ready to vary from the book line just yet. "Is there any doubt in your government that my ships have remained outside your waters? Only in International Waters? After all, has not your Aylwin kept us in sight all day?"

"My government fully understands where you have been today," Stennis acknowledged. He wondered if Houseman was getting across his nuances. From the moisture on the Commander's brow, he was working hard at it.

"Gut," said Hanzik. "Hard would it be to prove that without your own eyes always upon us. The other, that I am willing to work to settle. What proof would you need? Ships' logs? Manifests?"

"Hmmm," Stennis murmured, as though considering what might be needed to satisfy "his government." They both knew that what "his government" REALLY wanted was for the Germans to get the hell out of Dodge. Meanwhile, he tried to see what might be behind the German's apparent capitulation. He had some more cards to play, but ...

"Would boarding them all yourself be necessary?" Hanzik, too, seemed to be trying to divine what to suggest. Stennis distrusted this immensely and did not immediately respond.

"Ah! I know just the thing," Hanzik announced, not at all to Stennis' surprise. "I can turn over their crews to you. Oh, I may have to retain a few to help man their ships - there are so many already, after all - but I can be sure to give you an, er, contingent from each vessel. You can interview them yourself once we transfer them to your dreadnought."

Robinson gulped. Aboard Texas? How many ...?

"There are," continued Hanzik happily, "about 300 so far ...."

Old McDonald was going to have a cow, Houseman realized, trying not to grin.

---- Steamship Sainte-Julie, course 035, stopped, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island

LT Heinrich von Larg regarded the von der Tann's Assistant Gunnery Officer with some misgivings as he came aboard. The three civilians with him looked about with open curiosity.

"Guten Abend, Herr Leutnant," began the other officer. "I need to see the cargo manifests, bitte. These gentlemen are from Vulcan. If you would detail men to show them about?"

"Certainly," von Larg replied, and gave the orders.

"And, Lieutenant, decide which of the crew you can do without."


"We're going to turn them over to the Americans. As many as possible. Have your chief muster them for transfer. Another launch will be alongside in the next few minutes."

---- Moltke, stopped, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island

"I wanted no confusion or mistakes today," Hanzik stated. He gestured to another of his men, who nodded and went off.

"And so my orders," he continued, "were to stop only ships flying an enemy's flag. The British, however, are famous for flying whatever flag they wish. I have sworn to comply with The Hague, and so I will. But The Hague is quite clear, and it specifically allows warships to stop merchants no matter what flag they happen to be displaying at the time. If they are found to be Neutrals, as their flag proclaims, they must be allowed to proceed. If they are found to be flying false colors, however ...."

The man returned, with two others, and stood at the entrance. They carried trays. Hanzik waved them to enter.

"Tomorrow, or perhaps the next day, I will have to amend my orders. All ships will be stopped, just as The Hague permits. Those who are truly American will, of course, be allowed to proceed, and with our sincere apologies for the inconvenience. Those at war with my country, who tried to hide behind your Stars and Stripes will, of course, be taken."

Implicit in that last statement, Stennis recognized, was that the changed orders would apply for however long the Germans remained on station out here off New York harbor and, presumably, now off Philadelphia, as well. But how long could they sustain themselves out here? They could get coal from the prizes, but ....

"Would you care for some tea, Admiral? I have suspended water rations. The rain today was most welcome."

---- Base hospital at the New York Naval Station

LT Lionel had just about finished debriefing with Herr Schmidt and two others from the German Consulate. They were sitting in an unused corner of the ward which housed the German wounded. Thankfully, the eleven who had made it ashore alive remained so, though the doctors remained quite concerned over one. They had had to amputate that one's right leg just two hours ago and he was either unconscious or comatose. Lionel did not know the difference.

They spoke in low voices, partly in deference to the wounded, and partly to avoid being overheard. Ensign Jones had departed hours ago, but another young bi-lingual officer had replaced him. The new American was off getting supper, but the Germans were taking no chances on being overheard.

"Our transit," said Lionel, "that I cannot talk about. The fighting, or most else, Admiral Hanzik said could be discussed."

"Good," said one of the Consulate men. "Then you would have no objection if Herr Schmidt proceeds? It has no chance if you are less than active in your participation."

"I will do my best," answered Lionel. "That is all I can do."

---- Moltke, stopped, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island

"Your country has interned them? Both of them?"

This was good news, and quickly done. In fact, if true, the Americans had acted with far greater speed and decisiveness than any of the Germans had expected. Far, far greater. In its own way, this was very troubling, dismaying, in fact. Involuntarily, Hanzik glanced at von Hoban, and the Commodore lifted an eyebrow over his teacup in return. Stang leaned over, using the action of pouring himself more tea to conceal any facial reaction.

"The Hague," said Stennis, "as you gentlemen well know, limits such warships to 24 hours grace, except under certain circumstances, none of which applied to them." Why were the Germans acting funny? Did they not believe the US would honor the treaty when push came to shove? What was going on here?

"Well, then," Hanzik began, after a moment, "The Hague would also allow me to send my ships in to recoal and replenish. Would that be a problem? My Strassburg had some difficulties, as you'll recall." Surely the British had demanded more time, he kept thinking. Who had made the decision to intern? Was Stennis more powerful than the Germans knew?

"No," Stennis answered. "Strassburg did sail and, with your ships out here, all Entente departures have been erased from the board."

"Hmmm," Hanzik temporized, deep in thought. "You did intern them? BOTH ships?"

Was that it? Stennis wondered. Are the stakes so high for them that they're afraid to believe me? He turned to Houseman and retrieved his briefcase.

"I had a hunch this might come in handy," he commented, as he reached inside the leather case. "Here. You CAN read English, can't you?" Stennis realized that he had made that assumption only as he laid out one of his very many copies of the New York Times (EXTRA Edition).

If the American vice-admiral had been puzzled at their reaction before, he was stupefied now. He had finally succeeded in cracking their shell, but had no clue as to what he was now able to see within. The doughty German admiral swallowed heavily, eyes wide as saucers. Speaking of saucers, the clatter from Moltke's CO suggested that he'd almost dropped his. The feisty Commodore, the man who in Stennis' own office had practically spit nails in the American's face, had his mouth hanging wide open.

Hanzik was oblivious to it all. For him, this was a transcendent moment. Everything that the Baron had said. Everything. The headlines trumpeted it all. He felt a rush of shame, for he'd not believed it. Not really.

Von Hoban was first to recover. He'd been in New York aboard Strassburg.

"The Hague still has limits, Admiral," the commodore observed, after a long pause. "We can send in no more than three at a time, in any event."

"That's true enough, Commodore," Stennis said slowly, still groping with the Germans' reaction.

"I will send in one cruiser at dawn," Hanzik decided. "I would not object to an escort. It is your decision, of course, but my people are already familiar with Aylwin and her captain."

"I can do that," Stennis replied. He'd been planning on something like that anyway.

"Good, Commodore, would you recall Rostock?" Von Hoban acknowledged, and they all stood up. "If you have no objection, Admiral," Hanzik continued, once the commodore left, "I'd like to transfer more of my prisoners into your care."

"Besides the merchant crews?" Stennis asked, as they made their way back to his gig.

"Yes, these man also are wounded, but less seriously than those of yesterday. Still, better to get them ashore. I'll send them in aboard Rostock, under Kommodore von Hoban. I will speak with my medical staff; perhaps the second cruiser will have others."

---- Grand Ballroom, Vaterland, moored at passenger terminal, south of Philadelphia

Claire had gotten her steak and gone off to sit down and eat with Maggie, and Nik seemed to have disappeared. Nathaniel Lannon, however, remained at the serving table. Ever the keen tactician, Hadi Pasha had intercepted him, flowing smoothly into the path that Lannon would've taken to follow his girl. Broad smiles had bloomed on his swarthy minions' faces, in blatant and sycophantic imitation of their master. The effect was a bit daunting, as the displayed dentition prominently featured many gaps and glittering gold replacements.

Truth be told, however, Lannon was enjoying the conversation. He'd expected to hear ways to prepare goat, but what he got was something else entirely! Stuffing eggplant with mincemeat and cooking it with cinnamon was extraordinary! However, the sauce sure sounded funny, but that was probably a translation thing, he decided. (NOTE 2) Meanwhile, the potentate had come to a stop and had begun to regard him with what seemed to be an air of expectancy. Apparently, it was his turn again.

"Well, another famous specialty of Miz Beulah, Nate began, dutifully, "is 'Peanut Chicken.' In fact, I had it just last night."

" 'Peanut Chicken'?" Hadi turned to his cutthroats, who instantly groveled in helpless ignorance.

"Yes, as Miz Beulah prepares it, each piece of chicken has a coating of toasted ...."

Hadi swallowed his surging salivation. Magnificent! Letting the nut flavor penetrate into the fowl even as it provided a crisp shell! He swallowed again and again, as Lannon fulsomely expounded.

["We must learn more of this," said one senior servant to another, eyeing the Great One's obvious rapture.]

["But how?" Frowned one, fingering a dagger within his garments. Being in a room with so many with faces the color of skinned rabbits always discomfited him.]

["I do not trust this," another muttered, quite skeptical, almost scandalized in tone. "How could someone named 'Mezbalah' be fit to prepare for the Master?"] (NOTE 3)

["Yes! Ill omened!" A third agreed. A fourth bobbed his head sagely.]

["Fools!" The senior one declared. "The infidel said 'Hezb-Allah.' I am sure of it! There must be many cooks - working together - to create such heavenly fare!"] (NOTE 4)


["Of course!]

NOTE 1: The Los Angeles branch of the State Normal School opened on August 29, 1882 on a site that had previously been an orange grove. By the time Robinson got there, the student body was already well beyond the capacity of the original Victorian building and enrollment continued to increase each year. This was not surprising since Los Angeles then had a population of around 350,000 and was growing fast. A few years after Robinson left there for the US Naval Academy, the school would be relocated (in 1914) to a ranch in Hollywood along a dirt road that would later become Vermont Avenue and renamed "Southern Branch" of the University of California. The original site is now home to the Central Los Angeles Public Library. It would outgrow both its second site and its second name in just thirteen years. It's third site was a 400-odd acre site in the barren chaparral-covered hills west of Los Angeles. It's still there and it still goes by its third name: UCLA.

NOTE 2: The dish described by Hadi is "Madfuna." It is comprised of eggplants stuffed with finely minced meat previously cooked in coriander and cinnamon with chick-peas, and then simmered in a sauce of onions, broth, and saffron sprinkled with rose water.

NOTE 3: Arabic and English do not parallel perfectly, as each language has sounds and characters not in the other. Rendered into English, the Arabic word "Mezbalah" means "large trash can," or "rubbish bin," or even perhaps "landfill."

NOTE 4: In 1915, the expression "Hezb-Allah" meant something like "Group for God," or "Guild for God," and is now "Party of God." Hadi's servant's vision is something like an academy or guild organization devoutly striving to create cuisine fit for the paradise described in the Koran which, among other gustatory elements, features rivers of purified honey. (Sura 47:16 ff)

by Jim

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