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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - Meeting Engagements, Part XVIII

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - Meeting Engagements, Part XVIII

(Dawn - June 20, 1915)

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

The pre-dawn light was extending visibility second-by-second.

"Sir, lookouts report that the American dreadnought is approaching on bearing 280, range 8,000 yards. Estimated speed is 8 knots."

Rear-Admiral Hanzik was sweeping the horizons with his glasses. He had no real expectation of spotting anything that the lookouts had missed, but wanted to place the orientation of all the ships again in his mind with the coming of the new day.

"Very well," he acknowledged. "Report when you've fully updated the plot."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Admiral," began Captain Stang, "the dreadnought no longer flies their vice-admiral's flag."

"Gut," said Hanzik, "then the Americans are proceeding as he said."

The "he" was, of course, Stennis, who'd said that he would return to New York to put into action the agreement they'd reached.

"At least so far, sir," Stang qualified.

"Yes, a good point that," Hanzik nodded. "And that's why Rostock. Speaking of which, it is time. Send her the agreed signal."

---- bridge of Rostock, Stopped, 2000 yards east of Moltke

"That's our signal, Captain," said Kommodore von Hoban. "You may proceed."

"Aye, aye, sir," Westfeldt replied. "Ahead Slow. Right 10 degrees rudder."

As they eased in close to the flagship, he thanked heaven that they'd finally worked out the problems with the boat hoist. At least, he hoped they had. With so many eyes upon them now - Hanzik's and the Americans, both - this would be a really, really bad time for them to foul again.

---- Aylwin, stopped, roughly 35 miles SE Coney Island

"Signals going up on Moltke, Captain. Looks like Rostock's number."

"Very well," CDR Leverett acknowledged. He turn to see if the light cruiser would respond and, if so, how long she took.

"Sir, the Texas, bearing 320, range 7,000 yards. She's on course for the German flagship. Speed 10 knots."

By the time Leverett was able to turn back to face east Rostock had already acknowledged and was underway. He frowned slightly, wishing he'd timed it. It hadn't been long, though, he decided. A sharp bunch.

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

"The Yanks again," said Captain Theargus. "I guess the Huns really meant it."

"I guess so," said Captain Dedmundee, skeptically. "But, Shane, it just means they're playing some deeper game."

"Aye, Mate. That I can agree with."

The Aussie officers watched as the tall cagemasted-dreadnought steamed ever nearer.

"I'd've like to've had a dreadnought," commented Dedmundee, wistfully. He knew well just how little chance he had of that, having managed to lose a cruiser. "Even one with towers as quaint as those. Though, truth be known, I'd prefer the other one they had out here yesterday." He had lately had his fill of hosting admirals.

"She's probably still there, Bob," Theargus said, dryly. "So, you've not lost your chance."

The New York practically glowed in the dawn's early light. Even as prisoners, on the deck of an enemy, they were not immune to the power and beauty she radiated.

"Kapitain zur See, eet is time."

The Aussies turned. One of the German JOs had approached, behind him was a pair of guards. Overhead, the wind flapped the broad canvas covers.

The men exchanged brief, stilted good-byes. It was an uncomfortable parting and both were quite aware of the Huns standing by, impassively and incuriously. Implacable as lizards, thought Theargus, as he was led to the waiting launches.

---- USS Texas (BB-35), speed 10 knots, roughly 40 miles SE Coney Island

Admiral McDonald had withdrawn Texas back to the rest of his force after Stennis had returned from the German warship last evening. He'd wanted to drop back even further, to within the Three-Mile Limit. Nothing good could come of such close proximity to the German force, he'd argued, though any number of things could go wrong. Commander - Atlantic Fleet had not entirely disagreed, but had ordered him to remain on station out here until completion of this current errand. In that vein, he'd begun their approach on the Germans at the first sign of light.

"Admiral, small boats in the water between Moltke and the light cruiser."

"Very well. Captain, slow our approach, if you please."

"Aye, aye, sir. Officer of the Deck, I have the con."

"Captain has the con," acknowledged the OOD, promptly.

"Ahead one-third," ordered New York's CO. "Officer of the Deck, prepare for small boat operations." He wanted everything ship-shape. All had gone well yesterday, but today was another day.

"Flags going up on Moltke, sir," came the call in from the wingbridge. There was a rustle of khaki cloth as, in unison, several officers raised their glasses to study the bright, fluttering squares rising on the battlecruiser off their beam.

A dozen-and-a-half thousand yards eastward, Captain Robert Dedmon, the master of Florida (BB-32), could make out only that colored dots had appeared on Moltke's distant yards, as the flags caught the first morning rays of the rising sun. At their current range, even with telescopes, the two battlecruisers looked more like tiny - but meticulously crafted - scale models than full-sized, and quite menacing, ships of war. It might be interesting, he thought idly, to try to make such objects. He adjusted his 'scope's focus. Yes, properly crafted, they would display handsomely on shelves, or desktops ....

---- 7:30 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet

"Good morning, Mr. Secretary," Stennis began. "Last night, you asked me to call you as soon as I got word from Admiral McDonald." The vice-admiral took advantage of the lull afforded by Daniels' response by sipping from his second cup of coffee.

Across from Stennis, Admiral Martin blew cautiously on the steaming black fluid in his own mug. How Stennis could tolerate it that hot, he had no clue.

"Yes, sir," Stennis responded, to some question or direction. "He now has on board 288 merchant sailors, mostly British, but some French and maybe some others. Rostock started on her way in at ... Yes, sir. Aylwin is escorting her. Anyway, I expect her to enter US waters a little before 1000, and tie up sometime just after noon, or so.

"The merchantmen? The Coast Guard, sir. I've arranged for them to rendezvous with Admiral McDonald, once he ....

"Yes, sir. As for the papers, so far I've seen only the Times, but there's not much new this morning. They've fleshed out some of the pieces in yesterday's EXTRA and some more pictures, but that's about it. The Germans are still the big news, though, and the other papers here are still playing catch up ...."

"The hospital? Yes, sir. I have informed them to expect more wounded this morning. The German admiral said he'd send them in aboard their cruiser, Rostock. No, he didn't say how many but, if I had to guess, I'd put it somewhere between 20 and 50. Fewer and he would have just transferred them last night. More, and it'd be tough getting that many wounded in on that light cruiser.

"One other thing, though. Hanzik asked if I would inform the German consulate that Rostock would be arriving and when so, if you have no objection .... Good. And you might want to pass that on to the German ambassador down there, too, then."

---- 9:00 AM, USS Texas, course 270, speed 15 knots, roughly 25 miles SE Coney Island

Admiral McDonald was not at all sad to see the German ships drop below the horizon.

"So, Mr. Robinson," he began, "any more thoughts or observations now that you've had a night to sleep on it?"

"Yes, sir. That is, I do have a few."

McDonald motioned for him to continue.

"There were a few oddities. One was that there were open pots stashed in a few places on deck. In corners, and other out of the way spots."

" ' Pots'?"

"Yes, sir. I snuck a look into one. It looked about half-full of water. Potable water or sea water, there was no way for me to tell."

"Just how many of these 'pots' did you see?" The admiral was skeptical.

"I counted eight, and they were different sizes. I didn't get a look into any of the others, though."

"Hmmm, what else?"

"Things were different, even when they were almost the same. Admiral, that was the first foreign warship I've been on. The nets were rigged different - in some spots the knots were different. The bolts seemed to be about the same size, similar, but another design. I looked at the cable attachments. The spring style ...."

McDonald listened, evaluated.

---- 9:30 AM, Aylwin, speed 15 knots, Three-Mile Limit, off Channel entrance to NY City

"Chief, is she across the Line yet?"

"No, sir. Not yet. Plot has her just under a thousand yards from it, though, no more."

Leverett nodded. "Inform me when, in your judgement, she crosses. Log it."

"Aye, aye, sir. More of that treaty stuff, Captain?"

"That's correct, Chief. The Hague limit is 24 hours, and sometimes it can start from the instant the ship crosses the Line. That's not our call, though. We just need to log it."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Leverett gauged their heading was still about right. He looked up the entrance, trying to spot any vessels that might be coming down channel.

---- 9:40 AM, bridge of Rostock, Speed 15 knots, 2000 yards west of Aylwin

In several ways, this was an uncanny reprise of his role of two days ago, Westfeldt had decided. Once again, his Rostock was advancing into unknown waters, completely unsure as to what he would be facing. Once again, he was the Baron's fingertip (Fingerspitz) in his effort to knock on the door of America (an die Tür klopfen). The differences were many, however, and not least among them was the now-welcome presence of the Kommodore on his bridge. The most important difference, though, was that today no one was shooting at him. Yet.

"Sir, according to the plot, we are crossing the Three Mile Limit at this time."

"Very well," Westfeldt acknowledged. There was no comment from the Kommodore. He looked over at von Hoban and saw that he was staring up channel, but at nothing that Westfeldt could discern. Well, thought Wesfeldt, the Kommodore had already done this aboard Strassburg a few days ago. That must be it.

He was close. Von Hoban was indeed thinking about Strassburg. After a day with the rest of the Hanzik Force, the narrowing channel felt like a noose tightening about his neck. This was his duty, though, and he knew it. So, he had managed to stop just short of wishing he were aboard Strassburg out in the open Atlantic. Also, at least he was dry; it might be rainy and miserable out there. He wiped the first beads of sweat off his brow and wondered how she really was faring.

---- 9:40 AM, bridge of Strassburg, stopped, (Roughly 50 miles East of Delaware Bay entrance)

Actually, Captain Siegmund and LCDR Gommel were faring pretty well. It was warm, not hot, with a truly pleasant breeze. The sky was clear of all but innocently fluffy clouds, the sort that schoolboys, lazing in the early summer grass, might conjure into fanciful forms. At that moment, they were proudly watching their latest acquisition and waiting for signals from their prize crew who had just gone aboard her. No other contacts were in sight, but there were a couple of promising spots on the eastern horizon that might just be smoke.

"Gut," said Siegmund, as the German flag went up. So far, there had been no repeat of the resistance showed by the crew of the SS Justine. The one difference was that the only Entente-flagged ships they were sighting now were those that were west-bound. This strongly suggested that they had succeeded in shutting down the ports around Philadelphia for Entente shipping, though some of the more daring could be making wide detours around them to the south. There was nought they could do about that latter tactic, at least, not at the moment.

"No wireless," said Gommel, looking at the flag signals.

"Not surprising," Siegmund commented. The word was out. Any Entente merchants with wireless would have diverted by now, to head for Bermuda, or Baltimore, or some other port more to the south.

---- 10:00 AM, Moltke, stopped, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island

Earlier, Hanzik had watched as the American dreadnought force had steamed off to the east, leaving only a single Destroyer behind. Now, he sat with several other officers who possessed at least some skill at reading English. Most of them were from the prize crews and they silently chafed at being absent from their "commands," currently bobbing in loose ranks between the battlecruisers. Scattered about on the table before them were the copies of the American newspapers that Stennis had left.

Initially, some of the men had wondered why the American regime had allowed such things to be published, as many of the pieces had seemed unflattering or even critical of their navy and even, in some cases, the government itself. A few had even made less-than-praising comments about the American President. They could not imagine such things being published in, say, Hamburg about the Kaiser.

They were past that now. Currently, they were trying to glean some understanding of other articles, those not about Germans. A few were clear, like the one about a fire, and another about a drowning. Others, like the "Victory Tour" refund dispute just plain baffled them. Some, though, were very troubling, and in completely unexpected ways.

"This one about the murder," said LT Kessock, in an almost plaintive tone. "Was it a robbery? How could that be? Why would they stab him so many times?"

"A crime of anger?" LT von Larg suggested.

"It must be so, but still, why jab 383 times?" LT Wilhelm asked. "Would not his arm tire?!" LT Siegfried nodded in agreement, and they both turned as one to look at LT Bornholdt.

"Ja," Bornholdt admitted, "a long afternoon at the Fechtschule."

"More to the point," LT Peter Diel countered, "just who would count them afterwards?"

"A violent people," observed Stang. "Is it because of their primitives? Do any of the murders speak of 'scalpings'?"

None had spotted any yet, but they were still reading.

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

"Mr. Secretary, the German cruiser, the Rostock, entered American waters at 9:40 AM. Wireless from Aylwin. That should put her at the HAPAG terminal around noon.

"Yes, sir.

"The Greek ambassador? Yes," Stennis half-sighed, "I'm afraid that I do have some idea why he wants to speak to the President.

"It's about their Salamis, sir. They want the Navy to escort her down to Philadelphia."

"Yes, sir. You did hear that right." Stennis sighed again. "I'm afraid it's a long story ...."

---- 10:15 AM, bridge of Rostock, Speed 15 knots, 1500 yards astern and NE of Aylwin

Westfeldt had taken one look at the forts along the New Jersey coast and had maneuvered to give them as wide a berth as he could manage. Von Hoban had not objected, especially while the New York side remained free of military emplacements. He had looked and looked again, but there continued to be no forts or guns or anything at all threatening on the New York side of the waterway. (NOTE 1)

"Captain," protested the pilot, pointing at the buoys passing by close to starboard, "you are at the very edge of the channel."

Westfeldt, once he understood, just shrugged.

"The channel narrows ahead," the pilot continued. "The ship must come more to the center."

And closer to the forts to the southwest.

"Nein," said the JO, laboring in the role of interpreter. "Mein kaptain says 'til den vee vill hold dis course."

"Ugh," said von Hoban. "What's that terrible odor?"

They looked to starboard. Some manufacturing plants were coming into view. Their tall stacks were clearly spewing out whatever it was that they were smelling.

"Perhaps," said von Hoban, glancing at the pilot, "that is the true reason he wanted to be on the other side."

"Was ist das?" Westfeldt asked the pilot, speaking slowly - as if that might make the other better understand Deutsch - and pointing at the stacks.

Perhaps it worked, or maybe the pilot understood German. At this point, von Hoban did not care.

"Glue factories," the pilot said curtly. After a few tries, the German officers worked it out. (NOTE 2)

The pilot then pointed just ahead to where the buoys began to curve to port. After another few moments, Westfeldt gave the necessary helm orders. Though he had to wrinkle his nose from what was to starboard, he continued to stay as far from the forts to port as he could.

---- 11:00 AM, Moltke, stopped, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island

"Herren," Hanzik said, gesturing at the newspapers. "You are missing some of the most important things there. Look at the first page, in the upper corner. There."

The men looked.

"Each paper is sold, at that price. Thousands of them. Many thousands. Those that print the papers make more money if more are sold."

Hanzik paused, as the men tried to convert cents to pfennigs. He struggled to try to tell it as the Baron had explained it to him nearly three weeks ago.

"The Baron told me that he had seen ... this .... before, during his time in the United States. That was when the Americans fought their little war with Spain.

" 'The Americans are a democracy,' the Baron said. He told me not ever to lose sight of that fact. Their leaders get chosen by the common people every two years or so. That meant that 'public opinion' dictated policy, and that 'The Power of the Press' decided public opinion.

"These papers," Hanzik said, pointing again. "That's 'The Press' the Baron was talking about.

"He told me the following: 'Admiral, if we are to make a true Neutral out of the United States, we must first make Neutrals of their Press. And, to do that, we must help them sell their newspapers.' "

As his listeners struggled to digest that, Hanzik just shook his head, much as Captain Schnell had done in Geneva ten days earlier. The bold print. The huge headlines. The EXTRA and all it implied. The Baron had done it again.

Author's NOTEs:

NOTE 1 - see the following url. In particular, note the dates of construction.

NOTE 2 - see the following url. In particular, note the third and fourth picture.

by Jim

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