Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part XXV
(Morning - June 21, 1915)
---- 7:30 AM, Church of St. Jean de Baptiste
The church presented a glorious visual experience and the formal service
was moving, but Kommodore von Hoban found that he still detested funerals.
The church's version of "Saint John the Baptist" was French
and the pastor's last name (Gaudet) also was French, so von Hoban was
surprised that this had been permitted, let alone on such short notice,
since his own country was at war with France. On the other hand, the pastor's
first name (Fernando) sounded Spanish, and Spain was a Neutral Power.
As for the church itself, the design was clearly Italian, and Italy also
was Neutral. This jig-saw puzzle of a country threatened to drive him
crazy. In fact, only the Latin was familiar.
Well, not exactly.
"Herr Ryan," whispered Herr Schmidt at his side, with a subtle
nod towards a pew well off to one side. There, the distinguished man with
his spouse at his side, could be seen praying along with the rest of the
congregation, rosary beads glinting in the candlelight in the hands of
both. The couple did not appear to notice the attention. (NOTE 1)
Captain Westfeldt was enjoying the moment - a strange enough thing at
a funeral. Still, he had been over two weeks at sea, fought a battle,
and would cast off again in less than a hand of hours for an even more
uncertain future. For now, he was comparing the bright, new church to
the larger, historic basilica in Rostock. That church of his childhood,
St. Marien, dwarfed this one, and Westfeldt was guessing that this entire
structure could fit inside St. Marien's nave. Looking around, he thought
that this one seemed to have been built to emulate certain Old World cathedrals,
blending more than imitating. (NOTE 2) There was devotion here, and energy.
Knowledge to be gleaned, and shared. Even the cornerstone and the dedication
plaques had stories to tell to those who knew how to read them.
"Kommodore," Westfeldt whispered discreetly.
"This reminds me some of ... but ...."
Von Hoban cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Sir, St.-Marien-Kirche was built before this entire continent was
discovered. It took generations and in places the stones are worn smooth.
(NOTE 3) This is smaller, yes, but they built it in less than two years!"
--- 8:00 AM, West Sayville, Long Island, New York
The wireless station was busy with the coming of the new day. Messages
had to be gathered, sorted, and sent off to their addressees. Workers
were arriving and soon the sounds of hammers and saws would fill the air
as they resumed putting down the flooring for the new equipment. The Atlantic
Communications Company installation was the only American station able
to reach all the way across the Atlantic and into Europe. Traffic with
their sister station in Nauen, Germany was always heavy and their president
- Herr Herman Metz - expected soon to add distant Cartagena, Columbia
to their call list. (NOTE 5)
"Another one for Herr Ballin," said the clerk, leafing through
the overnights. The prominent German businessman had been getting or sending
several a day since he had reported his safe arrival here to his home
office. The auction results had been a particularly long one, the clerk
recalled. "He sailed off with Imperator, didn't he? With those other
two? It was in all the papers." This seemed a problem. Should they
notify the Telefunken station in Nauen? Or try to reach Imperator at sea?
"They ported again down in Philly. Next day. Check the sheet. No,
the other one. There should be a telephone number there."
"Is this it? HAPAG Terminal, Philadelphia?"
"Yep. That's the one."
There were other numbers on the sheet, as well. But, having found the
one he needed, the clerk paid them no attention. He had many calls to
make and the workers' growing din would soon make conversations much more
---- 8:15 AM, Bridge of Destroyer Parker, 38.3 miles SE of Long Island
"Sir, a lot of ships are missing."
LCDR Barton had thought there looked to be fewer shortly after they'd
gotten back on station just after dawn, but had hoped that it was just
the visibility. The last of the low fog had finally burned off, however,
dispelling as it did his hopes that simpler explanation.
"Officer of the Deck, I need a count. An estimate. And I want word
immediately when that other light cruiser's spotted."
The two battlecruisers had been easy to spot, looming out of the low
fog. Kolberg they'd passed earlier as Parker made her way out to return
to station. She'd presumably been on her way in to the Three Mile Limit,
consistent with the Germans' announced ETA for her there of 0945. Augsburg
they had not yet sighted but the light cruisers were of relatively low
profile, so Barton was not ready to draw any conclusions just yet.
"Aye, aye, sir."
Barton repressed a frown as he swept the horizon to the east. Had the
other cruiser left? Gone along with the merchants as escort? With what
coal? He could not help but wish Holgate, his XO, was there to talk it
over with. Admiral McDonald, however, had required Holgate and the two
enlisted who'd gone over to the Justine to remain aboard Texas. Already,
there was the mystery of absent merchants, and the day was young.
"Sir, lookouts report, well, you might want to take a look ...."
Barton did, and did a doubletake. "You have the deck," he called
out to the OOD, and went aloft to join the lookout section. Once there,
he traded his binoculars for one of the two telescopes, bracing himself
carefully as he strove to bring the scene into better focus.
"They have GOT to be kidding," he murmured. "Or maybe
---- 8:15 AM, Bridge of Moltke, stopped, roughly 42 miles SE of Coney
Desperate was closer. Desperate for options would have been closer still.
Coaling was a nasty, brutish business, even with cranes at a dock. Tossing
about in the Atlantic swells - even ones as gentle as they'd had this
morning, it was a monstrous undertaking. Fifty kilogram canvas bags of
coal were tiny things for even the small merchant cranes, but were lethal
threats overhead. They'd tried lowering pallets but the rafts - as large
and sturdy as they seemed - threatened to tip over with each wave if the
load was not almost exactly centered.
"Fünfzig," commented one watch officer.
"Ja," Captain Stang curtly acknowledged. Yes, 50 bags of coal
for, so far, five serious injuries and three near-drownings. He sure hoped
the men would get better at it, and quickly at that. At the current rate,
they would run out of healthy men long before they ran out of empty bunkers.
"Take a boat," Stang ordered the unfortunate watch officer,
"and go over to von der Tann. Perhaps they are doing better. They
signaled the prizes for additional small craft. Why? Tell them of our
efforts, learn what you can, return, and report."
"Aye, aye, sir."
---- 8:15 AM, Bridge of von der Tann, stopped, roughly 42 miles SE of
It looked like a geyser. Captain Dirk would have been amused under most
conditions, but not these.
Somehow, one coal bag on the merchant's winch had come loose some 10
meters above the raft. The result had been an instant hole right through
the raft and a salt water geyser with every wave thereafter. They'd been
lucky no one had been killed. As it was, each man was getting soaked to
the skin and the water was bitterly cold. Later in the day that might
not be such a problem, but so far he'd had to rotate men every 30 minutes
or risk hypothermia - in late June!
It had been his XO who had introduced this successful innovation. Commander
Bavaria had proposed lowering a small boat down to the edge of the raft,
holding it there on its ropes, filling it as it remained suspended, and
then winching it back up to be unloaded on deck. The heavy raft bobbed
up and down with the waves, of course, banging it into the bottom of the
boat fairly often. They had destroyed two boats that way so far, but that
was no problem at all, Bavaria had convinced him. After all, they had
so many prizes sitting around that the number of such boats was practically
The portly XO already had another idea under development - something
using lines to slide the bags across without either rafts or boats entirely.
It would be slower, but might be better if the waves got higher. Bavaria
was turning into something of a genius when it came to fueling, Dirk observed.
In fact, Dirk would not have been surprised if Bavaria next found a way
to steal a collier. For the moment, though, they were getting more coal
aboard than he, Dirk, had ever expected from this eccentric approach.
Still, it was hardly pretty, he thought, and winced as the geyser jetted
still another man overboard from the raft, coal bag and all. He hoped
he could swim.
---- 8:20 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic
Vice-Admiral Stennis was on the phone, again. With Secretary Daniels.
Again. In truth, Stennis had to struggle to recall those halcyon days
before he had had to deal with the man twice or more a day, every day.
Back when he was left to run the Atlantic Fleet without having Washington
looking over his shoulder every other damn hour.
Back before these thrice bedamned Germans had showed up!
"Yes, Mr. Secretary, the Times' list is probably accurate. At least,"
Stennis amended, "as far as we here can tell. Copies were put on
the train to .... No, sir, I don't know what to say to the ambassadors,
but you KNOW we can't control the papers."
Rear Admiral Martin snorted softly as Stennis dropped him a sly and surreptitious
wink at his last remark. Daniels, an ardent newspaperman himself, was
hardly in a position to advocate censorship! The phrase "British
Blockade" of the US East Coast kept getting into editorial pages,
front page stories, and even the headlines, much to the dismay of the
Wilson Administration. Denying it was tough since a battle or two had
just been fought in full view of the Long Island and New Jersey shores.
This morning it had become tougher still, as The New York Times had printed
three full pages listing the names and ranks of prisoners of war captured.
And the Germans kept parading their POWS past reporters' cameras a score
at a time.
In distant Washington, Secretary Daniels rubbed at tired eyes and went
on to the next item on his list, the one about the Spanish.
"Yes, sir," Stennis answered. "The Times does have that
part right, best I can tell. The officer in command of the pier detachment,
Colonel Anton, reported that there'd been such a visit - by Captain de
Navio Santiago Unday - in his report last night. Can't say I'm too surprised;
it's not like they love us, you know, and this whole thing ....
"No, sir. I have no knowledge of why, or what was said. My guess?
Well, he was aboard for over three hours. That's time enough for a decent
tour and a few war stories. You know, talking up their victories, that
sort of thing. Sir? Oh, it's what I'd've done in their place. They've
got a real good story to tell just now and Spain's a Neutral. And the
last time they fought was against us.
"Sir, around noon, the Rostock is due to cast off, to be replaced
shortly by their cruiser Kolberg. She's pretty much a sister ship - a
couple years older, a few hundred tons smaller - but that's about it.
"Yes, sir. If all goes as the Germans have said, she'll have more
British POWs aboard. I don't have the number. She'll stay overnight, recoal,
and their last light cruiser will probably pull in tomorrow and repeat
"No, sir. No word on those battlecruisers, but there is one other
thing." Stennis took a deep breath. "The Germans requested a
third party investigation into their capture of one of those British merchants,
the SS Justine, Aberdeen Shipping. Seems they killed two of her crew taking
her. We're a Neutral on station, so Admiral McDonald agreed. The only
details I have at this time are that the investigators don't seem to be
faulting the Germans. Yes, sir. That's all I know at this time. Admiral
McDonald reported that he'd send them in aboard whatever Destroyer he
sent along to escort the Kolberg, so that puts them at the pier here sometime
---- 8:20 AM, steps of St. Jean de Baptiste
The service was over and the small crowd was talking in low tones amongst
themselves as they filed out of the new church. At the top of the wide
stairs at the entrance, von Hoban could see that Ryan and his wife had
paused. There, the priest in his dark vestments was nodding attentively
at whatever the American magnate might be saying.
"You should tell them something," Herr Schmidt said in almost
a hiss, as he gestured slightly at the half-dozen or so reporters waiting
on the sidewalk below. The official knew that they would have no interest
in him, a civilian functionary. The well bemedaled von Hoban, however,
doubtless looked worth some lines of text.
The German commodore tried not to frown. Not for the first time, he missed
the fiery Countess Marina. She would know what to do with such an audience.
In fact, if she'd been here to speak, he had not the slightest doubt that
the number of reporters and bystanders would be triple or more from what
was here now. He realized that once again he would have to face a dangerous
situation with the forces at hand rather than what he would have preferred
to have. Hmm, he thought, looking at it that way actually gave him an
"Captain Westfeldt," he called, much as he had three weeks
before. "Leutnant Lionel." The first named officer was looking
up in honest admiration at the stained glass windows, but turned and came
down to join the other two. He hid his reluctance fairly well, but von
Hoban was not deceived as this, too, was no different than before. Lionel
was trying his English out answering questions from two cassocked altar
boys. He nodded to the commodore, shrugged his shoulders at the lads who
both grinned and shrugged back in perfect imitation, and then came on
"Captain, you've been here less than a day and must leave at noon.
You like this church - speak of those and any other positive things you
wish. To them. Leutnant? Take over."
It worked, just as it had before. Westfeldt spoke of his beloved St. Marien,
and that this one - though smaller - did not otherwise suffer in the comparison.
To von Hoban's and Schmidt's surprise, the captain proceeded to speak
up about Miss Liberty, and how she stood so proud and so tall in the harbor.
Taller than some lighthouse in his home town, or something.
"Is the captain aware of the fact that Miss Liberty was a gift from
France? And that she and France are both very dear to New Yorkers?"
"The captain says that he admires many things from France. Especially
There was a brief laugh.
"As for the great statue, Captain Westfeldt says that she is an
The reporters scribbled eagerly away on their pads, broad smiles on the
faces of all. Schmidt, who had stiffened in consternation at the question,
relaxed progressively at the replies.
"Leutnant," von Hoban inserted, before the reporters could
make another run at Westfeldt. "Remind them that Rostock is to leave
at noon, in accordance with The Hague 1907 treaty, so we must return now
to the pier. Tell them also that Kolberg should be in sight then, and
ready to dock."
"Salamis," Schmidt whispered. Thankfully, the reporters' heads
were still bent over their pencils.
"Tell them also," von Hoban added, with little change in tempo,
"that the Greek vessel Salamis is to leave at the same time and that
Rostock might be escorting her, to make sure she arrives safely in Philadelphia.
Tell them that we're concerned that more Britisher warships may arrive
to resume their blockade of this neutral coast that they've maintained
for almost a full year now.
"We think that the American navy has agreed to provide their escort,
but we won't be sure until it is time for her to leave.
"If they don't," von Hoban concluded, "we will. We did
not escort Salamis all the way across the ocean just to have her be taken
here before she can be finished and able to defend herself."
The reporters continued to scribble away with great energy. There, thought
the commodore wryly, maybe this'll sell some papers for the Baron.
---- 8:25 AM, New York base hospital
It was bedlam. Or, at least, it had been.
The Allied wounded were in several wards, having been split up along
triage lines. Most of the Canadian, Aussie, and British in this ward had
been wounded only superficially, if at all. Indeed, lots of water, good
food, and a full night's sleep had most of them already going stir crazy.
Perhaps if they'd been placed with their officers, complete decorum would
have been the norm. However, the Germans had handed over very few officers
and senior enlisted, holding to the reasonable view that those were the
most valuable of their captives. The ones they did transfer all had serious
wounds and were receiving care at other locations within the facility.
So, there were no officers or seniors in the ward.
Perhaps many would in time sink into silent depression. For now, they'd
suffered through shell and shrapnel, fire and smoke, near-drowning and
captivity - and now they were free. Upon awakening, it had finally penetrated
into their psyches that they would not die, but live. And that they were
not in a crude tent on a Hun's deck, torrid during the day and chill at
night, soaked and salt encrusted, thirsting and exhausted. Instead, they
had water aplenty and beds they were supposed to stay in, quietly.
And they were manic.
Breakfast had included ewers of fresh milk, and they'd had tapped them
dry with gusto. They'd had eggs and toast, and had dispatched them with
dispatch. The bacon and sausages had gone even quicker. The juice, however,
remained largely untouched. They hooted at it, teasing the couple of young
volunteers within who tried to get them to drink it. Not surprising, actually,
as there may be few indeed who savor prune juice. It had escalated from
Captain Theargus heard them from down the hall and gritted his teeth
as he endeavored to speed his way there to set it aright. He found that
he was stiff and sore, slow to get up and about. As he neared the door,
the racket ended. Abruptly. As if cut off by a mad clansman swinging a
He opened the door, and went slack-jawed.
" ...the very iDEa ...!"
His men, British Lions all, were cowed and back in their beds, almost
cringing. There, dominating the floor, a large figure bellowed like a
bull elephant, one hand sweeping about and pointing accusingly, threateningly,
the other drawn into a heavy fist held hard against a mighty hip.
"... should be aSHAMEd ...!"
The actual words were lost on him. He was back in primary again. Caught
in the act. The scent of rulers, canes, and even birches was in the air.
In reflex, he very nearly closed the door in a bid to escape.
"... not one more ...!"
He squared his shoulders, straightened his back, drew a deep breath,
and went in.
"Yes, mum," said one group meekly under her fierce glare.
"Yes, mum," chorused others as she swung about on them.
"Ah-hmm," Captain Theargus began. "Yes, well, thank you,
"And just who might YOU be?" Exacting eyes pinned him unforgivingly.
"Uh." Belatedly, Theargus realized that he was not in uniform,
but in a hospital robe. He tucked it about him defensively as he struggled
to find his voice. Her badge revealed only her first name, and they were
hardly on a first name basis!
"I'm their commanding officer, actually. Captain Shane Theargrus
at you service, mum. Sorry about the robe, but yesterday pretty much did
in my uniform ...."
"Hmmph," the other replied, accusingly, skeptically.
Theargus persevered as best he could and, in the end, convinced her to
retire from the field and release them all from thrall. Quite an awe-inspiring
individual, he adjudged, once the door finally closed behind her. In the
literal meaning of the phrase. More like a royal than any ward volunteer!
A very formidable woman indeed, this Terrilyn.
1) St. Jean de Baptiste - Lexington Avenue at 76th Street, New York City
- came to be built due to Thomas Fortune Ryan. The pastor's name is historical,
as is the nationality of the design. The following is an excerpt from
the church website:
THE "NEW SAINT JEAN'S"
A momentous decision was the result of a very simple conversation between
Fr. Letellier and a prominent financier, Mr. Thomas Fortune Ryan. ...
Mr. Ryan soon became a frequent visitor at Saint Jean's, preferring the
humble church to the more imposing edifices closer to his Fifth Avenue
mansion. Going to High Mass at Saint Jean's as he frequently did, it appears
that one Sunday he arrived a bit late and had to remain standing during
the entire Mass in the over-crowed church. During the announcements, Fr.
Littler asked the prayers of the faithful for the erection of a new church.
After Mass, Mr. Ryan who had always been deeply impressed by the priests
and brothers kneeling in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament,
went to the rectory, and greeted Fr. Letellier with this question: "How
much would it cost to build a new church?" Fr. Letellier was not
a man to fumble and stumble. "At least $300,000," he replied
at once. "Very well," came from Mr. Ryan. "Have your plans
made and I will pay for the church."
Cost over-runs would lead to Ryan actually paying $600,000 - and remember
this is all in pre-WWI dollars! Ryan also would try to keep his name out
of it as the benefactor for as long as he could.
A quick virtual tour of the building with two smallish pix and a drawing
of the outside:
A huge (2.67 meg!) pdf file that Wicks, the organ manufacturer, has
on the web begins with two truly spectacular photographs of the interior
of the church. The first photo is from the altar looking back at the entrance
(with one organ in a loft above it) - note the pillars! The second is
from the other organ in another loft (the one on the far left in the first
photo) looking towards the main altar.
2) The marble for the main altar came from Italy, the interior limestone
from Indiana, and the stained glass windows from France. The sanctuary
stalls are particularly notable and are Belgian. As for St.-Marien-Kirche
in Rostock, a photo can be found at:
3) St. Marien Kirche began its existence in the 1200s, was enlarged into
its cruciform shape in 1398, and generally was finished around 1472, complete
with astronomical clock. Westfeldt is unaware of Leif Ericson and also
is overlooking the fact St. Marien's "present" tower was added
in the late 1700s. The author recommends forgiveness.
4) After some months of site preparation, the cornerstone laid on April
28, 1912. The lower church opened on February 24, 1913. The upper church
was opened on January 6, 1914.
5) A trans-Atlantic wireless station in Sayville, New York had been built,
licensed, and operated by the Atlantic Communication Co., an American
subsidiary of the German Telefunken Co., well before World War I. In fact,
it had been in routine and regular contact with a sister station in Nauen
ever since 1912. The station was taken over by the US on July 11, 1915
and operated thereafter by the USN until its seizure when the US declared
war in 1917. Incoming messages from Germany remained largely unaffected
and most outgoing messages also were undisturbed. The stated reason for
the take over was the station's "non-neutral" outgoing messages
that were suspected of being in code to waiting u-boats - see The Hague
1907. In LT, w/o USW, there would probably have been far less such abuse,
if there were any at all, since no U-Boats have preyed on shipping off
the coast of the US as of June 21, 1915. Perhaps, its July takeover would
not have occurred or, at least, may have been delayed. Note, the code
being used was suspected to be such that controlling the "hand"
that sent outgoing messages would largely solve the problem. Some sources:
(A tip of the author's hat to TomB who sparked this idea! ;-) )
6) At two serious injuries per ton, Stang has good reason for concern.