Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part XXVIII
(Afternoon, June 21, 1915)
---- Bridge of Aylwin, approaching Three Mile Limit off channel entrance
to New York
"This is far enough," murmured Commander Leverret.
"Ahead Standard. Make turns for 15 knots."
"Sir, Engineering answers Ahead Standard."
The helmsman's voice was not quite noncommital. Perhaps, he had actually
enjoyed this afternoon's little thrill ride, mused the young American
officer. He himself had sure as hell not!
"Very well." He scanned the horizon. The blips to the south
would be Admiral McDonald's force. He eyeballed the bearing, feeling the
speed bleed off with the easing of the vibrations through the soles of
"Right three degrees rudder." He'd send off his wireless reports
as soon as he steadied up on course. Meanwhile, he watched Rostock's fast-diminishing
form through his binoculars, casually pivoting in time with the turn.
"Lookouts report she's not slowing, sir. Not a bit." The grizzled
watch chief's last words placed him squarely in his captain's camp.
Rostock had pushed it with - in Leverret's view - astounding aggressiveness
just as soon as they'd cleared Fort Dix. Commander Atanacio may well have
reveled in such transits aboard Mina, but not Leverret. No, if he had
his way, he'd ban them entirely. Only Leverret's determination not to
let the German cruiser leave him behind had allowed him to drive Aylwin
like he had just done in such narrow waters. And he'd gotten away with
it, he exhaled thankfully. This time.
He looked east again. The German was already almost hull down.
---- West Sayville, Long Island, New York
"Here's another one for Mr. Ballin," said the clerk. "Just
came in. More contract stuff, looks like. The Philly number, you think?"
"No, I was on with him just before lunch," replied the senior
clerk. "He said he was leaving right then. Said I'd caught him by
just a whisker."
"So, what do we do with it now? Tell Nauen it can't be delivered?"
"Look at the sheet! But I can tell you what it'll say. It'll say
use the wireless, since he's back at sea - they can't have gotten far!
- and call their main office down in New York, besides." And so it
did. The senior clerk basked in the other's admiration, neglecting to
add that Ballin had just emphatically reminded him of those facts in that
same last phone conversation.
"Um, okay. But ... why call New York if he's already on the way
back? I mean, what good'll that do?"
"I asked him pretty much the same thing. He said he'd be back and
the information from Germany could even help on buying cargo for his next
trip - having it delivered to his warehouses and ready to load right as
he tied up - and also for some contracts he hoped to get with American
The questioner nodded, mostly satisfied. The liners that had made the
crossing had turned around and left again so quickly that it was a wonder
they'd gotten any cargo loaded at all. Clearly they'd had no time to waste
waiting for any deliveries.
---- Kolberg, HAPAG Terminal, New York
"Captain Dahm," began von Hoban, giving the LCDR the courtesy
title aboard his command.
"Jawohl, Herr Kommodore?" The young German officer was instantly
wary, and justifiably so, as it would soon turn out.
"Correct me if I misstate, but your ship is being properly serviced,
your crew has their assignments, and your chief engineer is still aboard."
Dahm tentatively agreed that it was so. His acting XO - LT Diele - was
off somewhere commanding one of their very many prizes. This had thrown
most of the XO duties back on Dahm and the engineer.
"Good. It is also my understanding that two of Kolberg's crew are
among those currently at the American hospital on the base here."
Dahm nodded and had to repress a frown, really not liking where this
conversation appeared to be heading.
"Very well. I think it would be most appropriate for you to pay
your men a visit there, at the hospital, this afternoon."
"Now?" Dahm could not keep the protest out of his voice. Here
he was, in temporary command, his ship damaged, docked in a foreign country,
with less than 24 hours to ...
"Yes. Now. Immediately, in fact."
Dahm licked his lips, but kept his posture carefully erect. He'd rather
launch an unsupported attack on a line of dreadnoughts than venture in
his current condition out into the wilds of this vast, unfriendly land.
One in which only the language of the enemy was spoken. Leave his ship?
Just wander off and leave it tied up at a foreign dock? With her having
to leave in hardly a score of hours?
"I am sure the Americans will be glad to conduct you there."
Dahm shifted to fully face the other, his breath very slightly ragged,
and looked the Kommodore straight in the eye. Surely, there had to be
something he could say to get the Salamander to relent. This was madness!
"LT Lionel will accompany you."
Dahm blinked. Von Hoban's voice had gone as hard and level as a stack
of steel ingots.
"Jawohl, Herr Kommodore?"
"Speak to the Americans. Arrange for a car. There should be no trouble,
but if they do resist, the consulate will provide. You know Herr Schmidt;
I'm sure he's out there somewhere," von Hoban added, dryly. "If
you can, ask where many can hear. Two of the wounded are LCDR Dahm's.
He is checking on them as their commanding officer."
"I understand, sir," LT Lionel answered, and exited at a nod
from the Kommodore. He carefully did not attempt to meet Dahm's eyes.
"Captain," von Hoban said, once Lionel had stepped away, "the
doctors who are caring for our men speak Deutsch and are not unsympathetic.
Neither the Admiral nor I are blind. Do I need to give you further orders?
Very specific orders?"
"No, sir," replied Dahm to his commanding officer. He turned
and looked out upon the vast alien metropolis and winced, and not just
from the pain in his side.
---- Moltke, stopped, roughly 42 miles SE of Coney Island
"Captain Westfeldt, reporting, Admiral."
"Gut, send him in. Find Captain Stang. Inform him that I request
his presence, at his earliest convenience."
"Jawohl, Herr Admiral."
"Good afternoon, sir," Westfeldt began. "I have much to
report, but Kommodore von Hoban ordered me to tell you - immediately -
that Herr Ballin received a wireless from Nauen telling him to exercise
"Die zwölfte Wahl?" Hanzik repeated. "Today? He was
certain of this?" The admiral seemed to pale.
"Yes, sir. Just before noon." Westfeldt tried his best to hide
his startlement at Hanzik's reaction. The man who had steamed into battle
totally blind a few days ago seemed almost to slump within his uniform.
There was a knock at the hatch, and Captain Stang entered the compartment.
"Captain, if you would, signal for Captain Dirk and Commander Bavaria
to come aboard. The decision has been made and we must act."
The admiral seemed taller today, more forceful, thought the commander.
It was as though the old man was growing into his uniform and billet both.
"... and they are both to be underway before dusk, or I'll know
the reason why not," the acting Station Commander concluded, and
put down the phone. The commander straightened up as the white-haired
admiral turned to regard him.
"It's been confirmed, sir," the commander reported. "Twenty
ships or more. Gone, including Nottingham Star."
"And the Yanks don't know when?"
"No, sir. Just that they were there at dusk but not at dawn."
The admiral flicked an involuntary glance at the horizon to the northwest.
The commander did not have to be a mind reader to divine the senior officer's
thoughts. London was worrying about prizes slipping past Patrols, and
mischief of that sort. That, however, was perhaps the furthest thing from
the admiral's mind.
No, it was distance, well, and transit time. It was about 650 miles to
where those ships had gone missing. Nottingham Star might sustain 15 knots
- potentially putting her off the harbor here tomorrow eve earliest -
but the munitions ships that had the admiral so concerned could not possibly
make 10 knots, and would be lucky indeed to keep nine. That translated
to dawn the day after tomorrow, at the earliest. On the other hand, the
timing was just about perfect for exactly that: a dawn attack designed
to destroy the naval facilities here, and more. The Germans could easily
detach one or more warships later and easily sprint to catch up with the
much slower fireship(s).
They would be thinking much the same at Halifax just now. In fact, they
had been ordered to do just that by the admiral himself yesterday. The
distance to there from New York was less, about 500 miles or so. The harbor
defenses there were better, and the naval facilities harder to get at,
layout-wise. Nonetheless, their exposure would commence all the sooner.
Niobe's loss had shaken them, but there was talk of getting a submarine
ready soon. The Germans couldn't know when it'd be operational, could
they? Still, the Canadians had time to augment their defenses, including
minefields. Here, Bermuda being an island complicated matters considerably,
including laying proper minefields. Not that mine fields were enough.
They needed rigorous small boat patrolling and big guns on overwatch.
Patrols were not the problem. They were routine, in any event, and since
June 18 they had been stepped up considerably, and now would doubtless
be enlarged even further. No, the problem was the 11-inch artillery on
the battlecruisers. Sturdee had had Canopus at Falklands. Here, they had
nothing of the sort, and would not for another week, and maybe not for
even a month. But the Germans couldn't know that? Or, could they?!
---- Parker (Destroyer No. 48), 36 miles SE of Long Island
LCDR Allen Barton and everyone else with some sort of glass was topside
watching what appeared to be the second prize ship diaspora.
"Chief, I need as good a count as possible. Names, too."
"Aye, aye, sir. But, we're not gonna' be able to get 'em all, sir.
Be lucky to get half."
"Understood. The best we can, chief. The very best."
"Aye, aye, sir," the chief repeated. He knew just as well as
his captain that Admirals McDonald and Stennis - and a whole stampede
of stuffed shirts in Washington - would be bellowing for every detail,
possible and impossible, both.
Truth be told, they had both immediately recognized that the Germans
were doing them a big favor. There were still many hours of good light,
unlike yesterday when the Germans must have done this the first time.
Hmmm, wondered Barton for an instant, why WERE the Germans doing it today
in broad daylight? And if the Germans really WERE sending these off in
a group, wouldn't they'd need an escort? And with the captured AMC already
sent off with the first batch, the only warship the Germans had around
right now that had full bunkers was ....
"Sir, lookouts report that Rostock's underway again."
Barton nodded in satisfaction as he stared into the east, even though
he could not see anything from the bridge through his binoculars. His
best-eyed lookout was part way up the mast on a sling with a decent telescope.
The light cruiser had joined the other one - the Augsburg - on station,
stopping apparently right alongside her. Barton had wondered about that,
"Report? What's her heading?"
Easterly was all the lookout could manage. Gone ahead to sweep before
her charges? He shook his head and looked back at the battlecruisers,
wondering how much coal they'd managed to shift before the rising waves
had forced them to halt their efforts last hour. He wished once again
that his XO, Kyle Holgate, were still aboard. Unfortunately, he and the
pair who'd gone with him over to do that investigation were back in New
York. Probably enjoying grilled steak ....
---- New York Naval Station, Conference Room, Office of the Commander
- Atlantic Fleet
Actually, Holgate was the one getting grilled, and he was not enjoying
it one bit.
"... what word did he use?" Commander Houseman was very insistent.
"I'm not sure, sir," LCDR Holgate admitted, for about the twelfth
time. This was turning out to be an unexpected ordeal. Houseman had insisted
that the precise choice of words by the Germans could be vital to identifying
what had really been behind their request for an investigation. And Kyle
could not recall!
"Think, Commander! Think!"
Kyle struggled, but it had been the physical evidence and not the German
vocabulary that had commanded his attention.
"Well, then," Houseman said, "what English words did that
sword-swinging leutnant use first?"
He struggled some more, sweat beading his brow. This was like being at
the stake! But it was to little avail.
"Commander, I'm sorry, but I just do not remember. Even though that
lieutenant spoke some English and I spoke some German, we had a devil
of a time. Their accent was different from what I grew up hearing and
they used a bunch of words and expressions that I'd never heard before.
Anyway, I wasn't there to believe what they told me! It was the scene
that I was going to go by, not anything the Germans were ...."
"What expressions?" Houseman pounced.
Holgate wished he were back aboard Parker, in a raging storm, with lightning
and booming thunder, so that he could loudly curse this full commander
without being overheard.
---- New York base hospital
The new "wounded" had swamped the hospital like a tsunami wave.
Captain Theargus had thought the comparison apt from the start, nor was
he the only one arriving at that image as a basis for comparison. It had,
after all, been an event of seismic proportions just offshore that had
caused this. In fact, quite similar descriptions were being hammered out
on battered typewriters in three different newsrooms at that very instant.
"Captain, Doctor O'Brien requests you to come to the ...."
The Aussie captain turned to the orderly, reluctant to leave the newly
arrived petty officer's bedside. He had just begun to make some real progress
on figuring out how many were left on Moltke.
"Sir, the ambulances are coming back up the driveway right now."
Theargus sighed, a rasping, deep-throated exhalation.
The Yanks had sworn they'd sent along every suitable vehicle they'd had
by when the German had shown up, but they'd not been nearly enough. The
German's list had the number that they'd handed over as 144, but there'd
been room only for 104. So, the Yanks had had to leave the remaining two
score behind to twiddle their collective thumbs. The reporters were busily
typing that point up too. At least they'd gotten them all off the German
ship and well away from her. Meanwhile, though access here had been granted
to yesterday's arrivals, the British authorities had again been told that
the 24 hour semi-quarantine would be repeated for those coming off Kolberg
today. And those, of course, would be the ones with the most recent information
as to what the hell the Huns were up to out there. No non-Yank was to
be allowed access.
With one exception: the senior officer present, Captain Theargus, RAN,
at your bloody service.
"Aye, then. I'll be back, mate."
---- Moltke, stopped, roughly 42 miles SE of Coney Island
Captain Dirk cut short his greetings at the stony look in Hanzik's face.
He felt his XO stiffen at his side. Uh-oh, he thought, knowing Bavaria's
antennae to be more acute than his own in such situations.
The admiral's words were polite and quite correct, but his tone was almost
curt, perhaps reflecting his own tension, and his phrasing implied that
time was limited. Indeed, Hanzik had hoped for more time, but the Americans
were acting more quickly and more decisively than he had expected. And
that terrible message from Nauen! Contingency plans he had hoped not to
invoke were looming off his bow, including this next one.
"Commander Bavaria, if I am not mistaken, you know your way around
a horse, richtig?"
"Ah, yes, sir," Bavaria admitted. Warily. He simply could not
imagine a more unlikely question. What possible ...?
"Gut, your new command includes the cavalry detachment. Who would
you suggest as your deputy?"
---- Strassburg, roughly 15 miles East of Delaware Bay entrance towards
They'd been steering for the large plume for the last half-hour.
"Sir, lookouts report two large contacts."
Captain Siegmund frowned. That'd've been a most welcome sighting report
yesterday. But not today. There'd better be more than two!
A couple anxious minutes passed. LCDR Gommel joined him at the bridge
rail, glasses raised.
"Sir, three contacts. Four! All large."
Siegmund and his XO traded smiles.
"Engineering, expect Ahead Flank in," Siegmund paused, gauging
their contacts' progress, "thirty minutes."
---- Imperator, crossing the Three Mile Limit
The reporters both flinched as the great steam whistle sounded above
them. Seconds later, the others made a mighty chorus of it.
"Well," said Browning, reaching for his camera, "there's
our escort, and right on time at that."
The pair studied the nearing German warship, but did so in between changing
rolls of film. Taking no chances, they'd both brought along multiple cameras
this time and lots of film for each.
"No surprise there, I'd say," Fox responded after a minute,
with a gesture at the towering smoke. "We're kind of hard to miss,
"The surprises will start soon enough, I'd wager," Browning
And so they did, beginning with their new course not fifteen minutes
---- Strassburg, roughly 15 miles East of Delaware Bay entrance towards
The smiles grew broad at the liners' greetings.
"I think they're glad to see us," Gommel commented.
"I'm damn glad to see them, too, XO," Siegmund replied. "Damn
glad! Signals, let us not be rude. Answer them!"
"Jawohl, Herr Kapitan!"
"They're magnificent!" Gommel exclaimed, as the liners' profiles
caught the afternoon sun. Burnished brass sparkled and fresh paint shone.
Color, pace, and power in hulls that dwarfed the light cruiser.
"Yes," Siegmund agreed. "But immured in port forever without
the likes of little us. Signals Officer, get us a few pictures when they
"Aye, aye, sir." The other got the camera out of its drawer.
They'd hoped to get shots of British merchants flying false colors - particularly
American ones - but that had not happened. Yet.
"Ahead flank. Make turns for 22 knots."
Gommel lingered at the rail, admiring the great Ladies of the Sea. The
day was warm and the war seemed quite pleasantly remote for the moment.
He had learned to seize such moments without restraint, as there was no
telling what the future might saddle him with.
---- Moltke, stopped, roughly 42 miles SE of Coney Island
"Sir," Bavaria replied, after a long moment, "many of
the more junior officers are equestrians but, among the more senior officers,
I would judge Kapitänleutnant Gommel to be the most suitable. That
is, if he were available."
"That will do on for your initial planning," Hanzik said. "Determine
what size force can be supported."
Bavaria blinked, again slow to respond, struggling as he was with the
notion of "Hanzik's Hussars."
"Determine what limits us," Hanzik impatiently added, mistaking
the Erzherzog's demeanor for misunderstanding. "Horses? Saddles?
"Aye, aye, sir," Bavaria acknowledged. He paused another instant
at the incongruity of his naval response to an order concerning cavalry.
---- USS Montana, course 120, speed 8 knots
Fort Dix was about 5 miles astern. The two Destroyers detached by Admiral
McDonald had arrived and taken up station as ordered by Captain Peace,
who had now resumed his study of the enigmatic Greek vessel. He doubted
that he'd be able to puzzle it out, but had not yet given up hope that
some clue would reveal itself during their passage today. He half-listened
to his XO attempt to explain the situation to a pair of questioning officers.
"So, there really may be a need for us to escort Salamis,"
CDR Campbell was concluding. "The Hague is unclear here. The British,
they'd probably, PROBABLY let her be, especially since we've vetted her
bona fides. The French, though, they don't recognize any re-flagging from
a enemy Belligerent to Neutral in time of war; the British do, or say
they do, anyway."
"But, sir," began LT Green, "The Germans built Salamis,
but she probably never was flagged by them. So, this wouldn't BE "reflagging',
"Maybe, maybe not," Campbell replied. Peace, tapping out the
bowl of his pipe nearby could not restrain a small smile, as this point
was one they, too, had wrestled with last night.
"One thing seems certain in war, though," Montana's XO continued,
"and that's that Belligerents tend to do whatever they think can
get away with and then try to justify it later. All we need right now
is for some Frenchie to claim they found Salamis outside our Three Mile
Limit - whether she was or not - and sink her."
"Especially," chimed in the Navigator, "AFTER the Greeks
asked us for an escort and we told them 'no'."
"So, here we are," said Campbell nodding in agreement. "Come
first light, our orders are to stand out to sea past the Limit and look
around, leaving one Destroyer to see her up channel. The liners were to
leave right when we did, so they'll be long gone, and Strasburg with'em,
but no telling."
The swarthy faces just outside the door into the Grand Ballroom had raised
Browning's eyebrows. The scowls on those scarred visages as the two reporters
eased past them and into the dining area only added to his reaction. It
can't be! Browning thought to himself, as he scanned the tables looking
Even though he was looking for it, now even expecting it, the presence
of the familiar, massive figure at the head table still shocked the reporter
from the Sacramento Times-Union.
"Hadi Pasha! Here!?" Browning realized after an instant that
maybe he shouldn't be so surprised. The Ottoman dignitary had, after all,
made it quite clear that he would not be reboarding in New York, but had
then gone and done precisely that anyway. So, why had he believed it when
the burly potentate had sworn the exact same thing as they'd approached
Philadelphia? Oh, well, he thought, shaking his head ruefully. They soon
spotted the table with their placards. They could see that two others
on the snowy white linen tablecloth there had a pink ribbon, indicating
"Sorry, Max, I meant to tell you," Fox confessed, as they neared
their table. "I'd spotted a couple of those cut-throats of his myself
skulking about and asked Ballin when I interviewed him. Best I could tell,
he was just as surprised as you were."
"I don't get it. I just don't get it. After all he said ...."
Fox tried his best to relate that part of his talk with Ballin, as they
stood at their chairs at the third table, awaiting the ladies to join
"I was aboard Vaterland with her captain when he must have returned,"
Ballin had said. "My senior concierge told me of it as I returned
aboard. It was around 11 PM. He said almost nothing. I'd kept his rooms
- of course! - and he went directly there. He did not even demand anything
from the kitchen! His ... men ... were also very reserved. I don't think
they've threatened more than three people ever since they came back.
"And, Herr Fox, he took his breakfast in his suites! And there was
no demand for third servings! And first meal had included blueberry muffins!"
Ballin had been stunned, as was Fox and, now, Browning. Both young reporters
had previously witnessed the man personally execute a dozen or more such
muffins. They'd lost track of the exact number, due to the speed of their
"And, Max, whatever it was, those goons of his have been staring
at me and damn near snarling ever since we came in here."
"I thought it was me they were glaring at."
"No, they may be giving you some of it, but I'm positive it's me
they've been at the most. I'm sure of it."
"No, really. For example, when we went around that table over there,
you went port I went starboard, right?"
"Yeah, so what?"
"Well, I watched. Their eyes stayed on me. The whole time. I'm sure
"Why though?" At the other's certainty, Browning could not
help but be somewhat persuaded.
"I tell you, I don't know! I don't!"