Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part XXVII
(Noon - June 21, 1915)
---- New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet
"Admiral Benson?" Stennis inquired. "Ah, good day, sir.
I've just received several reports that I felt you should be made aware
"No, sir. By all reports, the funeral went without a hitch. There
were a dozen or more reporters there, so it'll be sure to be all over
the papers, but there was no helping that. The Germans all got back aboard
their cruiser without any incident and they oughta' be casting off any
minute now. No, what I called to pass along just came in over the wireless."
Stennis gave the phone a puzzled look. Unbeknownst to him, the distant
vice-admiral down in Washington had tiredly gone to shift the phone's
ear piece to better rub his face and had almost dropped it.
"Yes, sir. Parker is reporting that approximately 20 of the captured
merchants disappeared overnight, along with the AMC the Germans captured
on the 19th.
"Yes, sir. Most of them. They never got the names off two of them.
"Parker also reports that the Germans are attempting to shift coal
off two of their prizes and onto the battlecruisers.
"No, sir. No word on how much success they're having. It sounds
pretty chancy to me. I've already sent back orders for Parker to monitor
and report on their progress - if any.
"The other is from Admiral McDonald 'board Texas. His group's still
holding at the Three Mile Limit off the channel mouth here. He took aboard
128 merchant seaman, some French, but mostly British. Yes, sir - 128.
On the way in, the German cruiser Kolberg - that's the one that's just
about to dock here - put them off earlier this morning in small boats
right under his nose. I've dispatched the Coast Guard to take them off
"No, sir. I can't be sure, but I'm being told that visuals of Kolberg
have her with another 100 or so RN prisoners out on her deck. Presumably,
they'll be handing them over to us when she docks. So, it could've been
a crowding issue, I suppose. It also might be some kind of ploy to distract
us, maybe force McDonald to send Texas or Florida back in. But if that's
their game, sir, then I'm having none of it. Still, given the numbers
of merchant seamen and prisoners of war that I'm getting in here off Kolberg,
... well, with your permission, I think it's best if I got in touch with
the consulates here. You might consider passing the word in DC, as well.
Given what's happened here these last few days, I have every expectation
that the papers will be full of this too. I know for a fact that there
are a great many reporters down there right now, right where the prisoners
will probably be marched down the gangplank.
"Yes, sir. Admiral Martin is down there, and they will be at the
top of his list. I've sent him all the ambulance transport I could scrape
up on such short notice, so there should be no delays on that score."
---- HAPAG Terminal, New York
Ensign Kevin Jones would have admitted to mixed feelings as he watched
LT Lionel board Rostock. He'd never expected his somewhat-limited Deutsch
to come in handy, but it had. The young German officer had been quite
a shock. He'd been at that battle everyone was talking about, right in
the middle of it! The fact that the poor guy had had no clue what had
been going on was something that Jones had never envisioned.
The run in with the wounded had been another eye-opener. Battles were
won, and maybe lost, but always gloriously and bloodlessly. The broken
bodies and hospital time had been quite educational in a very troubling
way. He would shrug most of it off. In time.
The thing uppermost on his mind just now, however, was liberty. Two full
days of it! That's what he'd been promised, just as soon as this German
Lieutenant he'd been babysitting had taken himself back out into the Atlantic.
There, Lionel had disappeared from view, so Jones headed back to the Marine
post to await Rostock's departure.
---- HAPAG office, at HAPAG Terminal, south of Philadelphia
Kaiser Wilhelm II's whistle as she came off the pier cut across all the
other sounds. Though it galvanized many to feats of haste, Ballin only
pushed his hand harder against his left ear as he listened to the words
coming out of the phone's ear piece into his right ear. He felt a sense
of urgency, but made no effort to cut it short. Unlike every single other
person on the pier, Ballin knew full well that his ship was NOT going
to cast off without him.
Blue Fox and Maxwell Browning, however, had no such guarantees.
Thirteen men, four women, and two small boys were in the office vestibule
when the two reporters burst through the outer door looking for Ballin.
Several of the men glanced their way, mostly just registering that the
noise had increased until the door went shut again, and not slowing in
the slightest their meaty gestures with clip boards. Two junior HAPAG
officials were nodding back at them, but shrugging their shoulders helplessly
as they did so. Two of the women were complaining to the third, who was
nodding back sympathetically. One woman had her son firmly in hand, as
he stared enviously at the young runner perched up on a superb leather-topped
table, swinging his feet with consummate insouciance.
"I don't see him," Max said, tightly, looking over the scene.
"Could he have boarded after all?"
"Not on your life," Blue answered, with complete confidence.
"Fast Freddie saw him come in to take a phone call, and he's not
come back out yet. Look, there's Holly, we can ask her."
Holly heard the voice and her name, turned away from the open window,
and began to walk their way. Blue saw her smile all the way across the
crowded room. Felt its palpable impact. And swallowed.
He realized suddenly that he'd have felt her coming from a mile a way.
He hardly heard the cheers outside. Didn't see the waves. Even the music
seemed to fade.
"Blue! Browning! There you are!" Blue turned. It was Fast Freddie.
"Been looking all over for you two. Well, Browning, actually. 'Was
afraid you might've already boarded."
"Well, you found us, and me," said Browning. "What's the
"No problem, it's just that Jake's got someone on the 2:00 train
to Penn Station. Interested?"
"Blazes, yes!" Browning answered. "But, wait, how good
... can I trust him?"
"Her. It's his aunt. Yeah, I think so, but that's up to you."
"Look, he brought her along to see them sail. She's down near the
end of the pier, waiting."
"Max, Freddie here's taking my stuff in for me. He can call your
newsroom for you," Fox offered. "Have her met coming off the
"Gosh, yes, be glad to." Freddie was feeling flush. His byline
had been all over every edition since the Germans had showed up and he'd
even hit Page 1 two of the last three days. Almost a trifecta!
"Well, okay then, if you'd introduce me ...."
The trio of newsmen headed out the door, sheaves of scrawled text and
notes in hand, talking shop as they went. Blue hesitated at the jamb.
For a moment, the room seemed to be spinning. Under the whistles, the
trucks, and the shouts, he could almost hear her whisper his name. He
did not dare to look back and seemed to feel eyes on his back even after
the door had closed behind them.
---- Bridge of Rostock, New York inner harbor
There was no band here, of course, and the nature of the crowd was very
different than the one in Philadelphia. Nonetheless, there WAS a great
throng there and that was enough for Kommodore von Hoban to remain well
"You may cast off when ready, Commander."
"Jawohl, Herr Kommodore," Westfeldt replied, and called out
the necessary orders. "Signals, one long," he added and Rostock's
whistle announced their departure.
Westfeldt felt alert but exhausted. Like all of the crew, he had indulged
himself in several scandalously long showers, hot enough to scald, long
enough to wrinkle. Also, like the others, he had gorged on sweet and juicy
fruit, crisp greens, soft breads, and spiced meats. However, unlike all
the others (with the exception perhaps of his own XO), he had not gotten
much sleep. He and his XO had strictly enforced his decree that all were
to get off the ship and stay off it for 8 - 12 hours. Most had passed
the time in satiated sleep in the warehouse bunk areas.
He would pay for it, he knew, but his command had had only 24 hours and
he'd been determined not to miss any opportunities. Tanks had not simply
been refilled, but cleaned and thoroughly flushed. He had managed to fill
Rostock's bunkers completely with new shiny black coal, surreptitiously
jettisoning overnight the last of the dark brown stuff they'd steamed
over on. Several minor repairs that required motionless conditions not
found at sea had been accomplished. They'd even managed to chip and repaint
around a few hull marks added earlier by the RN.
It had been time mostly well spent, but it'd left Westfeldt mostly spent
as well. It was a trade any CO would've accepted most eagerly.
"Ahead Slow. Sir, we are clear and underway."
"Very well. Signal Kolberg. When you've recovered your gig, report
to the Admiral."
---- Bridge of Aylwin, New York inner harbor
Commander Leverret felt like a school recess monitor. Two outbound American-flagged
merchants were ponderously churning by 1200 yards out in the harbor, with
a third working up channel. Two ferries and several other coaster-types
were operating in the area. A considerable number of sail craft were also
plying the waters of New York harbor on this warm summer noon. All this,
of course, was just background to Rostock coming off the pier, Kolberg
killing way, and Montana passing 400 yards abeam.
"Sir, Deck reports anchor secure, ready to get underway. Engineering
standing by ready to answer bells on the main engine."
"Sir, lookouts report Salamis is pulling in her gangways."
"Very well." He looked over at the Greek. There seemed to be
motion on the pier, perhaps line tenders. The vessel was likely to cast
off any moment. A fresh flurry of motion on the pier caught his eye, but
a look through his binoculars showed it to be well-wishers waving bright
kerchiefs on the dock. At least, they looked like kerchiefs from here.
"Sir, Rostock is underway and coming about. Estimate is 4 knots
"Very well. Helm, Ahead Slow. Left full rudder."
"Sir, Engineering answers Ahead Slow. My rudder is coming left."
"Sir, flags going up on Rostock."
"Signals, what are they sending?"
"Can't tell, sir. It doesn't appear to be .... Sir, Kolberg is hoisting
Leverret frowned. Now what? The Germans were up to something. Again.
"Sir, Rostock appears to be slowing."
Leverret turned to look. What ...?
"Sir, she may be heaving to."
A long whistle swung him back around to the Greek. Cheers came clearly
across the water, punctuated with blasts of some sort of really annoying
horn. Lots more kerchiefs or bandannas or whatever were definitely getting
waved about now.
"Salamis is casting off, sir."
"Very well." Damn, it was getting crowded out here!
"Sir, Rostock is lowering a small boat."
Oh, joy, the young American commander wanted to snarl.
---- Bridge of Kolberg, New York inner harbor
"Welcome aboard, Kommodore," Kapitäleutnant Dahm greeted.
"Danke," von Hoban replied. "I have many questions and
many things to tell you, but we must waste not a single minute, Kapitäleutnant.
As soon as Rostock's gig is clear, proceed to the pier. Place Kolberg
in the same berth that Rostock just quit."
"Jawohl, Herr Kommodore!" Dahm glanced into the water alongside.
"Ahead Slow, 10 degrees left rudder."
The young German CO paced very deliberately over to the side of the bridge
to gauge their clearance. Von Hoban lifted one eyebrow at the other's
careful stride, but offered no comment.
"I note many there on the pier at that berth," Dahm said, after
a minute. "None of those near the bollards are in uniform. Line handlers?
"Yes, those standing by are in our pay, HAPAG staff. We will have
to deal with American officers and officials once we tie up, but we appear
to have reached an understanding with them."
"Thank you, sir," Dahm was relieved. The Kommodore's presence
was a most welcome one. "Messenger, pass that on to the bosun."
Just as long as there was no fleet of Britishers around for him to throw
them into. "Signals, one short. Helm, Dead Slow on the starboard
shaft." The "Salamander's" reputation had carried wide.
"Stop on the port shaft."
---- HAPAG Terminal Pier, New York
"Good day, Colonel," Admiral Martin greeted, as salutes were
rendered. "At ease. This is Commander Houseman. The commander speaks
"Thank you, sir," Anton answered. "And good day to you,
and to you, Commander."
Houseman returned the greeting and, reading his superior well, moved
off a few paces.
"More Germans, Colonel." Martin raised his binoculars briefly
to check on Kolberg's progress.
"Yes, sir," Anton agreed, wondering where the admiral was going
with this. "More Germans."
"More British wounded, too, or at least more for us to deal with,
wounded or not."
"Yes, sir. A lot more than yesterday, it would appear."
"Yes. Our daily delivery of British wounded, like the milkman, or
"And again tomorrow, you think, sir? I understand there're three
more German ships out there. Three more days here like this?"
" 'Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace.'
" Admiral Martin saw recognition in Anton's eyes and so continued.
"MacBeth would have understood, Colonel. I'm sure of it."
"Perhaps so, sir. This is definitely a stage of sorts, but who is
the fool here? And this, does it all signify nothing?"
"Good questions, Colonel. Both of them. No answers here, though.
Well, I see Kolberg's about ready to receive lines. Time for this player
to go back on stage again. If you would, Colonel?"
"Yes, sir. Sergeant Fideles? Your men? Good. Admiral, anytime you're
"Thank you, Colonel. Master Sergeant, shall we?"
"Sir!" (NOTE 1)
---- HAPAG office, at HAPAG Terminal, south of Philadelphia
Ballin emerged from the inner offices just in time to observe the news
trio make their exit.
"Herr Ballin! These invoices ...." "And mine, here!"
"Sir, these ladies ..."
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, I do not have time to deal with you now.
Wait, wait!" Ballin waved his hands at their instant protests. "I
posted bond first thing this morning sufficient to cover all outstanding
accounts. ALLES. You may present your invoices to the consular officer
- Herr Braun - who will be remaining after our departure. He is fully
authorized to disburse those funds. At this moment, he is back with Kronprinz
Wilhelm." Making sure the American official did not try to change
his mind, but Ballin did not add that bit of explanation.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I must see to these ladies.
"Now, I regret that I have almost no time, but how can I be of service?
"Herr Ballin, they ...."
Their problems were the typical last minute ones that always happened
at departures: forgotten staterooms, lost tickets, lost luggage. He could
handle them with only a small part of his attention, and did. His approach,
basically, was offer to return their money or take them aboard with details
to be handled later, satisfaction guaranteed. As the scenes quickly played
out, he could not help but notice the sagging of a certain set of very
"Miss Greenwood, is there something the matter?"
Her eyes were brimming, but Holly shook her head in abject negation.
"Miss Greenwood, HAPAG and especially myself are deeply in your
debt for your service. If I might be so bold, I would like to make you
an offer ...."
---- Kolberg quarterdeck, HAPAG Terminal, about to receive lines
The crowd still pressed against the outside of the Marine cordon. The
five busloads who had come to see Salamis off were still there, as were
the reporters. And they were inside the Marine perimeter, to Colonel Anton's
loud and growing dismay. Herr Schmidt hid his smile well, but it was a
"There are a great many people there." Dahm's voice showed
his concern. He and his men were nervous. Very nervous.
"!!!" The bright blink from a photographer's camera looked
for an instant like a muzzle flash.
"Stand easy there," von Hoban ordered loudly. He recognized
Rear-Admiral Martin, who was followed by Commander Houseman and a squad
of Marines, as they made their approach and pointed them out.
"An admiral? And why the soldiers? Kommodore, we are at peace with
"Yes, you are, of course, quite correct," soothed von Hoban.
"This is why I shifted my flag to you. We've reached an accommodation
of sorts with the Americans."
"Yes, the Americans have almost no experience with us and their
British roots cast a mighty shadow over all we say and do. And we appear
to be making some progress."
Dahm looked at his commodore, who almost smiled.
"Those soldiers? They were there yesterday, but yesterday they had
bayonets. Now, it is time for us to go down and meet with them."
If the absence of bayonets was progress, then why are we here? Dahm wanted
to ask that question, standing as they did precisely where his captain
and bridge crew had been so recently most messily dismembered. He gave
the orders to secure the main engines and began to slowly head down to
Still, he thought, if this really COULD get the Americans to resume trade
with Germany as the words of The Hague promised ....
"Commodore von Hoban," came the voice in English from the pier,
"this is an unexpected pleasure."
"Herr Kommodore, Admiral Martin greets you and expresses surprise
at finding you aboard Kolberg."
"Tell Admiral Martin that I return his greetings." Von Hoban
gestured for others to join him at the rail. "It is always good to
return to your great nation, no matter how long or how short my time away
Houseman's expression tightened visibly even before he began the translation
"Son of a ...!" Martin's voice was too low to be caught, or
so he might have thought.
"Admiral Martin," von Hoban resumed, "may I present Kapitäleutnant
Dahm. He is the commanding officer of Kolberg. And perhaps you remember
Leutnant Lionel, who I have retained with me to help avoid misunderstandings."
The naval officers all nodded and pronounced the prescribed pleasantries
dictated by convention. Ensign Jones, gazing through binoculars back with
Colonel Anton was inspired to make several pronouncements that none would
have called pleasantries. A stocky corporal nearby with hash-marks well
up his sleeve half-nodded in appreciation; the young officer showed promise,
but needed more experience. The Bird Colonel did not even notice, as he
was barking orders pulling a full platoon out of their carefully calculated
positions and detailing them to set up a new internal perimeter to cope
with the buses and reporters where Salamis had just left.
"Admiral Martin welcomes Kolberg, but requests you state your intentions
and the authority ...."
Von Hoban tried hard to keep separate the two slightly different versions
coming from the pier. Dahm, unable to follow the English sotto voce ashore,
could only wonder at the tension in the flag officer beside him. After
his first exclamation, however, Martin was very careful. Von Hoban's anxiety
did not, however, abate. He tried not to show any reaction to all the
additional soldiers suddenly moving about on the pier.
"Kolberg is here to make a port call, per The Hague, to which the
United States is a signatory. Our intent is to recoal and reprovision.
We will depart in 24 hours, as The Hague allows, just as Rostock did,
and Strassburg before her."
"Do you swear, then, to comply with all the provisions of The Hague?"
"Yes, and I ask if you are willing to take custody of the British
prisoners that we have brought in with us. Most, if not all, are wounded,
at least superficially. Admiral Hanzik is growing concerned that the low
water conditions of his command may have be worsening the condition of
all our prisoners."
"Admiral Martin appreciates your concern and prays that all nations
will soon once again be at peace. The ambulances now coming onto the pier
are to convey your prisoners to our hospital."
Lionel mis-heard "convey" as "convoy," but Houseman
was the one speaking and he got it right.
---- Imperator, steerage way, just off HAPAG Terminal, South of Philadelphia
The fourth long whistle signaled the last of the departures.
"Kronprinz Wilhelm's cast off," said Fox to Browning, as they
stood at the rail. The band could still be heard and the crowd still waved.
It was hard not to wave back, but both men's arms were tired and now they
had new stories on their mind.
"I sure hope she gets my stuff there no problem," Browning
remarked, with his already written stories also on his mind.
"Yeah," Fox agreed, understanding completely. "Me, too.
At least yours is with Jake's aunt. I'm stuck depending on Fast Freddie
Browning looked at him questioningly.
"You just saw him sober," Fox explained. "His problem's
whiskey, and the ponies. Slow ones. The only thing fast about him is his
"Okay, she's off the tugs. High seas, here we come! I want a shot
at Ballin, before he gets settled; what about you?"
"No, I'm gonna' look for a family. Get their reactions."
And, to a chorus of steam whistles, the four great liners headed down
the channel towards the Atlantic Ocean. Their members distracted by the
spectacle, the band fell out of tune, then stilled. They all stood, cradling
their instruments and craning their necks to catch one last glimpse. The
entire harbor seemed to pause. And then they were gone.
MacBeth, Act V:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,