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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

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 his shoes.

"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.

"Rudder amidships."

---- 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 shippers."

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.

"LT Lionel?"

"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 Option 12."

"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."

---- Bermuda

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, too.

"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. "Exactly?"

"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 Philadelphia

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, you know."

"The surprises will start soon enough, I'd wager," Browning answered.

And so they did, beginning with their new course not fifteen minutes later.

---- Strassburg, roughly 15 miles East of Delaware Bay entrance towards Philadelphia

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 come abeam."

"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? Riders?"

"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', would it?"

"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."

---- Imperator

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 for ....

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 gender.

"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 them.

"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 demise.

"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 of it."

"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!"

by Jim

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