Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part XXVI
(Late morning of June 21, 1915)
---- Philadelphia Inquirer Newspaper
"... to witness the noon departure of Vaterland, Imperator, Kaiser
Wilhelm II, and Kronprinz Wilhelm. Festivities are to include ...."
---- HAPAG Terminal, south of Philadelphia (NOTE 1)
From the shore, it could have been a dance hall, or even a carnival.
It had been a nervous night and now, all along the long pier, not one,
but four huge passenger liners were readying for departure. Shouting porters,
grinding gears, and steam horn hooters were already contending for primacy
when the band began to play. Men were doffing their hats in waves of motion
like wind in the wheat, marking the passage of well-dressed ladies sporting
prismatic parasols. One was swept away for a moment by chance, but was
quickly restored to its owner by one of the many eager gentlemen. Reporters
and photographers struggled to make the most of last minute opportunities
and a veritable fleet of tugs whistled their approach, to begin their
courtship dance with their mighty partners, when the band began to play.
A far different spectacle, however, was playing out on the dock alongside
Kronprinz Wilhelm. There'd been several delays, but once they'd finally
gotten started, the Germans had never paused pouring coal aboard the somewhat-modified
liner. Yesterday, sundown had brought electric lights, not rest, and the
teams had put in a hard day's night. Now, in the humid and steadily warming
air, sweat poured off the workers like waves on the ocean as they continued
their massive ballet of coaling. Twirling trucks on one side, bustling
barges on the other, pallets pirouetting from cranes, and everywhere frantic
men with shovels and bags were already bowing and prancing and stepping,
when the band began to play.
"Herr Ballin will be here in just a minute; please hold the line,"
the receptionist half-shouted into the mouthpiece, waving a hand at one
of the office boys who nodded his head and bolted out the door. Ballin
had been quite specific on this point, and had even stated that he would
not stray more than 50 meters from the outer door. If the receptionist
had been surprised that the owner would commit to staying off all of the
four liners, she'd made no mention of it. She stood at the windowsill
holding on tight, windows wide open, though the noise threatened to shake
the paint off the walls, when the band began to play.
The lad did not see him at first. Where was he? He promised he'd stay
in plain view but .... He jumped over some hoses and cables as he walked,
pivoting this way and that. Ah! There he was, in deep conversation with
some uniformed official. The boy's line of sight had been blocked by the
translators and reporters clustered about the pair. He ran to deliver
the message, dodging carts piled high with fresh fruit and vegetables
as he went.
"... then Vaterland and then Kronprinz Wilhelm," Ballin was
saying, as the youngster drew near. "Her general cargo is already
aboard, but she will continue to load coal right up until Vaterland casts
"Mr. Ballin, and just how much coal do you intend to put aboard?"
"No more than she carried in peace. There is just no time now to
put it all in her normal bunkers. No time at all. I must sail ... now.
Warships of my navy must I have to guard me, and their commander has said
to be gone from here at noon."
The official was not impressed by the German's words, but was acutely
aware of the waiting reporters. The clamor reverberated in his ears and
the pier vibrated under his feet as he licked his lips nervously and considered
his next question. The pause, small as it was, provided all the opening
the boy needed.
"Herr Ballin!" The youngster was an American, but everyone
had called the bossman, "Herr Ballin," so the boy did so, as
well. "Telephone call. The one you've been waitin' fer!"
"Danke. Sir, I must go. Kronprinz Wilhelm is a merchant ship, and
that is all. Your inspectors have watched alles. Ask them if the amount
is excessive for her own use, not that it should matter - I could certainly
sell it. But ask them! They will tell you all is normal, but I have no
time. Do you hear that?" Ballin asked, demandingly, gesturing towards
the tubas and drums. "It means it is time for the final boarding
call. Perhaps if your country did not allow the British to blockade your
coast, perhaps then there would be no need for warships. Then I would
have more time to speak with you. Please, sir, I intend no offense, but
my embassy has ordered me to notify them instantly if I am stopped from
sailing. Am I?"
The reporters could not help it. Just as though they had rehearsed it
together, they leaned forward as one, pencils posed over pads, when the
band began to play.
Silently, the official pursed his lips hard together, but shook his head
in negation. The normal peacetime duration for liner coaling had been
something like three days or more and, in truth, his men had opined that
Kronprinz Wilhelm might not get aboard enough to fill her bunkers for
several more hours, if even then.
Ballin held his gaze hard on the official for another long moment, silently.
There was no use talking, there was nothing to say when the band began
"Then, sir, I bid you good day."
Down the pier, the coaling teams danced and danced and danced.
---- Kolberg, Three Mile Limit, stopped
LCDR Dahm watched carefully as the boats were lowered, though it was
not the boats that commanded his attention. Instead, it was the larger
tableaux that he found very uncomfortable. Here he was, hove to and out
of sight of any other KM ship, putting over a hundred British merchant
seamen into the water, nearly surrounded by the war fleet of another nation.
Indeed, a very great many eyes watched his command, wondering just what
in the hell the unpredictable Germans were up to now.
No, he could well trust his men to lower the boats. Instead, his eyes
were on the American dreadnoughts and, in particular, on the one flying
the admiral's pennant less than 2,000 yards off his port beam. Those he
trusted not one bit. The Hague was quite clear that merchant sailors could
be put off in small boats, as long as they were in navigable reach of
land. Here, a Neutral shore not only was in plain sight, but they were
also nearly alongside of ships of the Neutral itself. Of course, the Neutral's
commander now had the problem of what to do with 128 more merchant seamen
Though Dahm had no way to know, his concern was not entirely groundless,
as Admiral McDonald's ongoing choice of words and expressions was threatening
to peel the paint right off Texas' flagbridge bulkheads.
---- Bridge of Destroyer Parker, 38.3 miles SE of Long Island
"Skipper, we can't be sure, but it looks like 20 ships are gone
- and maybe a couple more. We got the names of 18 for sure that we had
plotted yesterday but who are nowhere in sight now. There were two we
couldn't narrow down and a couple more may have showed up late. That last's
hard to tell. They could have been new arrivals, but may just have been
shifting position from further off. Anyway, we're calling it 20."
LCDR Barton considered that for a moment as he looked down the list of
18 names. Two others were listed only by description. One, though, caught
his eye, particularly considering the fact that the light cruiser Augsburg
had been sighted well to the East.
"The Nottingham Star!"
"Yes, sir. Not in sight - no missing 'er, either." The AMC
was a converted liner with a silhouette completely unlike any other out
Now why would the Germans send off 20-odd captured merchants along with
a captured AMC? Several possibilities suggested themselves, and Barton
liked none of them.
"Prepare a signal. Include the known names of those missing."
---- Bridge of Kolberg, New York outer harbor, Ahead Slow
"Steady as she goes."
LCDR Dahm would have had much the same reaction to Miss Liberty as had
his brother officers before him, if only he'd had the time. Though it
had been worse before putting off the merchant sailors, his ship remained
horribly crowded and it was not from crew. Between British shells and
British prizes, he was well below complement, including his CO and his
acting-XO, LT Diele, having lost the first to the former and the second
to the latter. Yet, despite being short in crew, he was very, very long
in total men aboard, including more than a score with rifles.
He himself had strapped on his Pistolen-08. He expected no trouble,
but believed that trouble sought out most often those who neglected to
prepare for it. Actually, that had been perhaps his father's favorite
saying, but it had taken the Baron's flagless turns at Die Kaiserschlacht
to really bring it home. Yes, dodging battlecruiser prows in the dusk
while under fire rammed home stern lessons, one way or another.
The Amerikaner pilot gestured carefully toward another buoy line, drawing
Dahm's attention to that bearing. The man had said little, but had been
carefully polite in demeanor. His bosun had attributed it to the exposed
rifles, but Dahm was not so sure.
"Helm, come left 20 degrees."
---- New York Times Newspaper
"... and the Pride of Peoria. Nonetheless, the port remains generally
idle, due to the absence of recent arrivals or departures of British and
French flagged vessels. Additionally, the masters of those already in
port have declared their refusal to sail until the Germans have been confirmed
"I can wait," said Captain Smythe (SS Ben Crandall). "His
Majesty's Navy will be along shortly to chase those blackguards back where
they came from, or sink 'em, like as not. Until then ...."
"Among ships non-merchant in nature, the German cruiser Rostock
is scheduled to depart at noon from .... Admiral Martin also reported
that other German warships are expected to dock and depart around noon
over the next several days ...."
"Also scheduled for a noon departure is the Greek vessel Salamis,
which reportedly will soon be completed and commissioned into the Hellenic
Navy as a dreadnought battleship second to none in armor and firepower.
Salamis was under construction at AG Vulcan at Bremen, Germany at the
outbreak of European hostilities and was delivered by the Germans ...."
---- Bridge of Aylwin, New York inner harbor, anchored
CDR Leverret had been watching the USS Montana (ACR-13) cast off and
begin to make her way into the harbor proper. Now, he turned and found
himself suddenly staring at the incoming German cruiser with open disbelief.
"How the hell many do they have aboard her?"
His command lay at anchor awaiting Rostock, whose coaling had apparently
been completed almost an hour earlier. Aylwin rocked slightly in the chop,
but not enough to disturb the focus at even long range. The incoming Kolberg's
decks were crowded with men sitting in groups of a dozen or so, presumably
tied that way. He counted eight such groups, but realized that only one
side was clearly in his view.
Leverret shook his head and returned his attention to the light cruiser
still at the pier. At the moment, crewmen with hoses were washing down
the German's decks. Many others were walking briskly over to the warehouses,
perhaps for a last shower and change of clothes. At least, that would
be what Leverret would be having HIS men do if the positions were reversed.
A truck was making their way down the pier to the cruiser. The timing
suggested it to be perishables.
---- HAPAG Terminal Pier, New York
Aylwin's CO had it right. Even as Leverret turned away from the pier
to resume his study of the approaching Kolberg, Colonel Anton's detachment
had just passed through the rest of the mini-convoy from Mittermann and
Sons. As for the Marines, they had put away their bayonets, but their
CO was already bitterly regretting that decision. Philadelphia may have
been enjoying something like a carnival but, here in New York, Anton was
facing something more like a deranged circus and enjoying it not one bit.
Reporters ranged impatiently along his barricades, amidst a large and
sweating crowd of tax-paying curiosity seekers. A few more enterprising
newsmen had obviously somehow gotten aboard Salamis - had their cameras
been in crates for Salamis? - and were casually snapping shot after shot
of all the goings on. Small shouting boys probed relentlessly for perimeter
flaws. At the insistence of Greek consular officers, Anton had begun the
process of passing through five buses of exuberant Greeks, all of whom
he was sure had hit the ouzo early. Some kind of a horn was making strident
honks from within two of the buses, and each blast set off waves and cheers
from the riders and many of the onlookers, as well. That German leech
Schmidt was working his way through his junior lieutenant, so he'd have
him to deal with in a minute. And there, approaching along the access
road, was a long line of ambulances. Of course, the next German would
have another bunch of wounded for the cameras. He raised his binoculars
and blanched when he caught his first good look at Kolberg's "deck
Cheering Greeks, jostling New Yorkers, smirking Huns, sullen prisoners,
outraged Brits, querulous admirals, and predatory reporters, Anton longed
for a quiet little posting in the Phillippines, where his only worry would
be the barong, kampilan, and kris wielded by crazed Moros.
While readers may not give a hoot, the author wishes to note by way of
apology that he lived in Philadelphia for many years, including 1985,
precisely 70 years after June 21, 1915.