Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part XXXI
(Noon, June 22, 1915)
Mr. Frederick Burke of the Philadelphia Inquirer had quite the smug look
plastered across his face as he most thoroughly enjoyed the scene before
and around him. Amidst bright bunting and Greek flags, braying bands and
speechifying officials were getting lots of clapping and cheering from
the boisterous crowd. Yes, the films should come out quite nice and it
made for great copy. What made it even better was that so many of his
long-time fellows had been caught flat-footed by Salamis' passing up the
HAPAG Terminal to the south of town, but not "Fast Freddie."
Nosiree! Not Missus Burke's boy. Nuh-uh! He'd stayed with his car, well
out on the access road, just in case the Greeks pulled a fast one. Freddie
had also been nursing a ripping hang-over headache and had been nauseously
reluctant to walk anywhere, let alone way out on some damn pier, unless
or until he absolutely had to. As his headache had faded, so had his memory,
becoming progressively replaced with self-congratulation on his shrewdness.
Oh, there were other reporters here, of course, but many of his arch-nemeses
were doubtless still strung out on roads to the south, cursing their luck
as they helplessly pounded on their steering wheels. The grin on the face
of Freddie, who had pummeled many a steering wheel himself over the years,
stretched a bit wider at that thought, as he snapped picture after picture
of the gesturing notables and the clamoring crowd. He winced, though,
at a particularly piercing horn honk, threatening as it did to bring back
the headache and all those other unpleasant symptoms he was well along
to happily forgetting.
Herr Jager noted the pained expression on the face of the slight reporter
as he ambled past him with his crew, all of them following the pair from
the Chancellery. They remained embedded in the merriment and the random
comings-and-goings within the enthusiastic crowd, the Germans did, as
they eased their way towards the fringe of the throng and then down the
pier. Jager wondered at it, as Burke's seemed the only non-ecstatic face
in sight. Well, other than the stolid expressions on his and those of
his men. Like the others from Vulcan, he'd hoped for a week's vacation
in America but would now gladly settle for getting safely back home. Still,
they all felt the satisfaction of a tough job done, and done well, and
the trip to the city called "Boston" promised to be a restful
change from the enginerooms of the Salamis. At least if train's steam
engine broke down, they'd not get another midnight call to come fix it!
Freddie paid them no attention, of course, intent as he was on the ceremonies
in progress up on Salamis' quarterdeck. Just then, for example, Captain
Liapis was leaning over to better allow a florid-faced dignitary to drape
about his torso a broad, emblazoned sash.
---- HAPAG Terminal Pier, New York
The German light cruiser Kolberg had cast off without event just before
noon, taking with her that commodore of theirs and LT Lionel. Standing
next to Colonel Anton, both with glasses raised, Ensign Jones was not
fooled that his task was done. He could see all-too-plainly the next German
cruiser already in her final approach. What was her name? Augs-something,
Jones seemed to recall, then he shifted his attention back to departing
"Sir," he commented aloud, "Kolberg's stopped."
"Yes," Anton agreed. "There goes their small boat."
"Their commodore's in the stern," Jones noted. He didn't spot
the bi-lingual lieutenant, but he was there, Jones didn't doubt it for
a moment. Three more ships to go: another light cruiser, then a battlecruiser,
then another battlecruiser. By then, with his luck, even more Germans
would come out of the woodwork - a whole damn fleet! - and he'd NEVER
get to go on leave.
---- Augsburg, stopped, New York inner harbor
"Welcome aboard, Herr Kommodore," Speck greeted.
"Thank you, Kapitan. There is much to tell you, but I have no time.
None, whatsoever. There should be no problems docking. Tie up exactly
where Kolberg was moored. With your bow right there at that black and
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Herr Schmidt is there from the embassy. You are to follow his instructions.
The Americans have an armed soldier perimeter at the base of the pier.
They have inspected all vehicles and packages, but there have been no
"The embassy has contracted for food and other provisions to be
delivered alongside, Mittermann and Sons. The food has been fresh, and
of very good quality. Water is available on the pier, quantity unlimited.
Flush and refill everything."
"Yes, the warehouse, that one there," von Hoban pointed, "has
been converted into a barracks. Unlimited water, including hot water for
Speck smiled at that.
"One caution," Speck's smile disappeared at von Hoban's sharp
and serious tone. "Be very courteous and correct to the Americans."
Speck nodded, again. "But you are not to let them aboard to search
your vessel unless Schmidt - or another from the embassy - agrees. If
the Americans ask, refer them to Herr Schmidt himself. This is most important,
"Jawohl, Herr Kommodore! What about a request just to come aboard,
for a courtesy visit? If Herr Schmidt is not there?"
"A topside tour, if you think you must. You will have to use your
Speck nodded again, chest tightening at that last word. Admiral Hanzik
had said used exactly the same word.
---- HAPAG Terminal Pier, New York
Admiral Martin sourly noted that that Mr. Schmidt for the German embassy
was already there, where the German Augsburg had just singled up. There'd
been no way to avoid this, he now realized, since Schmidt could not have
been had prevented from being there when Kolberg cast off less than an
"Damn," said Colonel Anton at the sight, mostly under his breath.
The Germans had snookered him yet again. "Damn, damn, damn."
"Infiltration tactics, sir." It was Fideles, who'd come up
at his elbow. The Navy Ensign had edged out of their post, as he scanned
Augsburg's topsides for his German opposite number. "The men in the
warehouse, them using Salamis, even getting the reporters past us yesterday
"Yes, Gunny, and I am commencing to get very tired of it."
"Sir." Fideles said a ton with that word.
"They scouted us, Gunny. Without tipping us off, figured us out,
and played me for a fool." Anton swallowed. "I've gone soft,
"Sir, they're fighting a war and we're not. They took this real
serious for some reason. Why, I dunno. Now, if'n we'd been real serious
about it, we'd've been changing dispositions every watch or so, and let
next to nobody through no matter what. 'Sartanly none of d'em reporters,
yesterday. The pier'd've been off limits and that'd've been that. We'd've
just let the Greeks howl."
"You're absolutely right, Gunny, but consider: they took it serious
yet managed to keep us from realizing it until now."
Fideles did not like that, his slow and grudging nod said. He half-turned
as he spoke, already sizing up his posts, and thinking how to alter them.
"We know it now, sir. They won't slip another one past me like this
"Carry on, Master Sergeant."
Fideles was dead on, Anton decided. As always, he admitted, ruefully.
The Germans HAD taken this all very, very serious. Why? What had they
Herr Schmidt had already exchanged a few words with Captain Speck before
the American Admiral and his party had neared his ship. Just a very few,
and just to identify himself, no more. To do more would be patently unwise.
Admiral Martin, through his interpreter, Commander Houseman, went through
the same ritual with Augsburg's captain as he had with Speck's predecessors.
The American flag officer found his eyes wandering over the other Germans
"Is not Commodore von Hoban aboard?" Martin finally asked.
"Nein, Herr Admiral," Speck answered.
"He boarded your vessel, Captain, did he not?"
"Yes, but he returned aboard Kolberg." At a subtle head gesture
from the Embassy official, Speck added, "Kommodore von Hoban came
aboard to inform me that Herr Schmidt - from our Embassy - was on the
pier and would be available if any problems should there be."
Admiral Martin looked over at Schmidt, who bowed suavely.
"And the young interpreter, Lieutenant Lionel?"
"He also remained aboard Kolberg, Herr Admiral. I was told that
Herr Schmidt and the Embassy would provide translators, as necessary."
Within a few more minutes, the formalities had been completed, leaving
the Germans with their tasks and deadline, and the Americans with still
And Ensign Kevin Jones, USN, with his leave.
---- USS Texas (BB-35), just inside Three Mile Limit off channel to New
Alerted by LCDR Barton aboard Parker (Destroyer No. 48), they had not
been surprised by Moltke's appearance cresting the horizon. The big German
battlecruiser had maintained a steady and sedate 12 knots. Predictably,
right as the range report dropped to just over 12,000 yards, a series
of flags had been reported going up the halyards of the foreign warship.
The Germans would want to signal the American task force, especially since
Texas flew the three-star flag of the Neutral Power task force commander.
If the German Admiral Hanzik were still aboard Moltke, some deliberate
formality might seem important. In any case, 10,000 meters was a safely
standard signaling distance.
Now, thought Admiral McDonald, just what would they have to say? Simple
pleasantries, perhaps in passing on the way into port? Some specific information
to impart? A request of some sort? If Hanzik had indeed remained aboard,
he might even ....
"Sir, the German admiral is requesting permission to come aboard."
"Very well," McDonald answered. "Granted."
It would not have been his first wager, though neither was it a total
surprise. He gave no further orders; he would not insult New York's CO
so. Besides, scuffling feet and the like made it plain that preparations
had already begun.
Now, what could this dour Hanzik fellow have on his mind?
---- Boston, pier-side
The last of the liners had finally docked and the two reporters were
exhausted. The pageantry of bands and crowds and the cavalcades of trucks
and carts had become quite familiar to them by now. They knew what their
editors had printed, and they had generally replicated what had worked
best before. There were some twists, of course, and those were important
to keep the story fresh, and not let it go stale. They had gone from one
liner to five, and their arrival here seemed to have come as a surprise
to just about everyone. They had many rolls of exposed film and pages
of scribbled pages but, until their fellows showed up, they would have
to stick to it. Blue, in particular, was trying to make up for a bit of
lost time, though "lost" was not the word he would have used.
Both of the young reporters were sitting on a convenient ledge - an untended
luggage cart had been Blue's guess when he'd spotted it earlier - at about
mid-pier. Their vantage let them survey matters even as they created the
annotation lists for their earlier camera shots, an essential step for
later film interpretation when dealing with multiple rolls. Browning nudged
Fox at the approach of one group.
"Holly!" There were several women, but Blue had eyes only for
one. She had a small bag in one hand, and several porters trailed in their
wake. "You're going back? Now?"
"Yes, I'm afraid I must. We all are. I don't know about anyone else,
but I know that my mother will be throwing a fit as it is." Any fear
or trepidation was belied by a wondrously soft smile.
"Oh, yes," exclaimed another, tossing long mahogany ringlets
in vigorous agreement. "Mine'll give me the devil, I just know it."
Max, whose Colleen wore her hair just the same, smiled genuinely at the
sight. The young lady brightened at that and looked demurely away. He
was so tall and fit looking. A third lass giggled at the by-play, looking
forward to the teasing to come.
"If you gentlemen will excuse us, we do have a train to catch."
This comment was delivered firmly by a serious-faced matron of some size.
Another nodded on her flank, though not unkindly, and neither moved to
end the exchange.
"What about you?" Holly tried for a casual tone, and almost
managed it. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know," Blue confessed. "There're others coming
up from the Inquirer. Until they get here, I dare not even leave the pier
here." In other words, he was not going to come to the train station
to see her off. "After that, I'm not sure. It's up to my editor."
"I, I understand." All too well, maybe.
"Ballin wouldn't - or couldn't - say how long they'd be here. A
day, maybe two, maybe even a week. So, I really won't know WHAT my editor
will say until I talk to him tonight."
Holly blinked, and swallowed. She'd been a fool ....
"But, Miss Greenwood? Holly?"
"Yes, Mr. Fox?" His tone sounded different. Promising?
"Nothing will keep me away from Philadelphia." He paused and
looked her right in the eye. "Not now."
Oh, yes! Holly's eyes softened.
"Not even if the whole world goes to war.
"And when I do get back, Miss Greenwood, may I have your permission
to call upon you?"
The giggler sighed behind her.
"Yes, Mr. Fox. You do." Holly swallowed, again, this time for
a very different reason than before. "And, Blue, I will pray to speed
---- USS Texas (BB-35), just inside Three Mile Limit off channel to New
Time had seemed to pass particularly slowly while the German battlecruiser
made her deliberate, almost mincing, approach. Growled commands had not
stopped the gawking, not entirely, but his flagship did present a sober
and shipshape image that he could well be proud of - and he was. He was.
Moltke, on the other hand, plainly bore the scars of battle, but battles
she had won. McDonald knew quite well that she'd been in two earlier major
fleet actions, ones worthy of legend, if they'd gone anything like the
reports claimed. Then she'd crossed the Atlantic and destroyed just about
all the combat power the Entente had had on this side of the ocean. She'd
done all this while his own flagship had passed the time anchored or cruising
off Mexico and the East Coast.
His crew had chipped and repainted rust, while hers had smoothed out
shell hits. Some of the imperfections revealed by the bright mid-afternoon
sun in his big binoculars could only have come from major caliber guns.
Like those the British had had on their own battlecruisers. All of which
were sunk now. Some by this big German now easing up alongside.
She had blackened spots on her hull, where painters would be hard-put
to reach at sea. His Texas sported a pristine bow-to-stern coat of paint
not a week old. He knew his ships' ropes and canvas were bright, tight,
and squared away. Moltke's were in fast-tattering awnings. But shading
their prisoners. They were both warships, but Moltke had seen much of
war, victoriously, while his ....
The order on the bridge brought him back and he thought to look landward.
Yes, just as he'd feared, the arrival of this "exotic" newcomer
had not gone unnoticed. Many sails and powered pleasure boats appeared
to have assumed courses that shortly would bring them all right into his
lap. Whatever the Germans were about, they'd have quite an audience on
hand for it.
Wonderful. Just wonderful.
"Kapitan Lantz," the crisp-tunic'ed leutnant greeted. "If
you would come with me, bitte?"
Jeff felt himself relaxing, and realized that he'd been more than a little
worried at his reception here within these somewhat forbidding halls.
His fears had just been allayed, as his escort bore the insignia of the
staff of Commander - High Seas Fleet which, as of the beginning of June,
had become officially Vice-Admiral Letters. Lantz' experiences here had
included both indifference and opposition, even as he successfully advanced
in rank. No one, however, was likely to give him any trouble while his
escort was obviously an aide to Baron Letters, the architect of "The
Instead of antagonism, Lantz found himself returning smiles and greetings
from officers of whom he had no recollection whatsoever. He decided that
Letters' star must have ascended even further these last three weeks while
Jeff was "busy" lying flat in a hospital bed. It was not that
surprising, actually, he decided, as the Baron's "obviously inflated"
battle reports had kept getting triumphantly confirmed, one after another.
Jeff failed to consider that he himself might be a known man in his own
right. There were no other officers walking the halls with an arm in a
cast, let alone wearing the Pour le Merite and how it had been earned.
The aide surreptitiously studied the hero at his side. The stature of
the RN light had begun to approach mythology. They had set up the Heligoland
Bight disaster. Despite terrible odds, they had almost reversed the outcome
at Dogger Bank, even after rescuing thousands of wounded they had pulled
from the freezing water. In a succession of charges and smokescreens,
they had almost saved Sturdee despite himself. At what promised to become
the moment of triumph, they had instead put multiple torpedoes into the
Baron's force, including one into his very flagship, and harried him and
all of First Scouting clear away from The Kaiser's Battle. Then they had
somehow mounted a cohesive, multi-flotilla attack in almost total darkness
and driven off the entire pursuing Main Body, sending them back to port.
In fact, the Kaiserliche Marine had gotten the better of the Royal Navy
light only once.
And Jeff wore that one time on his tunic.
---- USS Texas (BB-35), just inside Three Mile Limit off channel to New
Admiral McDonald simply stared at Admiral Hanzik. He had thought he was
ready for anything, but that now seemed not to have been the case. Hanzik
had declared that he was NOT just then taking Moltke up the channel to
New York - all right, well and good. But then he had gone on to ask McDonald
"All of them?"
"Yes. I do not have the precise number at my hand, somewhat over
McDonald blinked, trying to think it through, unwilling to commit to anything
until he'd done so.
Hanzik appeared to mistake the other's pause.
"I have given copies of the list to you, sir, and to others already.
If you doubt my troth, you can certainly check the names off yourself."
"I am suggesting nothing, Admiral," McDonald replied evenly.
"This is unexpected, that is all."
"I understand," Hanzik temporized.
"I'm quite sure that you do, Admiral. Quite sure. I can't help but
point out that you have carefully established a clear pattern of transporting
Commonwealth prisoners aboard your ships and turning them over as each
Poker chips, and reminding the British you held more of them out here.
A lot more, and well beyond reach of them and us alike, he did not add,
but wanted to.
"That would have had them all out of your hands in another couple
days anyway. Why the change?"
"Water, mostly," Hanzik lied smoothly. Patterns, especially
"clear" ones were dangerous traps, he did not add. Did not the
Americans realize this most basic fact? Clearly they had not warred with
a major power in a very long time. Had the Baron misjudged them after
"It is summer, and the heat makes water needs very greater than
normal," the German continued, stolidly keeping to his story line.
"We had not expected prisoners, at least not such numbers. I have
not adequate facilities for their care." He waved at the flapping
tenting draped about his flagship's topsides.
"I see," McDonald commented, remaining closed about his feelings.
There was no way he could fit over 600 more men - possibly wounded men
- aboard a Destroyer or two. He realized he was being maneuvered into
conceding a dreadnought, at least one. However, he knew full well Stennis'
will on this matter; there was simply no way he could reject the German's
offer. Damn! What was really going on here?
"Very well," the American said. "I'll accept them. I will
order Florida close aboard you, the other dreadnought battleship I have
here right now. I'll call away the launches from both of my dreadnoughts,
and you can transfer them to me that way. Onto Florida. Is that satisfactory?"
"Yes, and thank you, Herr Admiral." It was a quick decision.
Hanzik did not think his surprise reached his face. This was something
for which the American could not possibly have had detailed instructions
regarding. Something that might touch on state policy. Yet, he'd perceived
no impulsiveness in the decision. Either this McDonald was empowered far
beyond Hanzik's estimates, or else McDonald had a profound understanding
of his leaders' will. Or, could the Americans HAVE seen ahead to this?
He liked none of those, but the last was almost frightening.
"You are very welcome, Admiral Hanzik."
The two flag officers smiled and worked through the polite forms, all
the while trying to divine what was really going on in the other's head.
---- New York, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet
The meeting had gone on for only 30 minutes, but it was already ending.
"Gentlemen," concluded Vice-Admiral Stennis, "I don't
know what they're up to, but I've about had enough.
"Florida is on her way in with 600-odd POWs, leaving Admiral McDonald
out there with two German battlecruisers and just Texas. Montana is somewhere
off the Jersey coast looking for a German cruiser that's almost certainly
cruising around off Boston right now." Laughing at us, was the unspoken
"Dave, I don't know what game they think they're playing, but I
want you back out there. Immediately. So, Admiral Alton, you are to get
underway at first light. Take your squadron out to join Admiral McDonald.
Be advised that I may be detaching you, sending you on up to Boston; I
just haven't decided yet."
"Aye, aye, sir," Alton replied.
"Captain Eberle, when Florida ties up, you are to take any and all
measures necessary to safely but expeditiously get those men off her and
over to the hospital. I've informed Dr. O'Brien that another 700 patients
will be arriving there tonight. You should be aware that he lodged formal
protest. Nonetheless, his orders are to do anything and everything necessary.
Call in staff, double shift, triple shift, but to do whatever he had to
to be able to receive them. Tonight. Your job, Captain, is to get them
off Florida and over to the hospital. Tonight. Understood?"
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Admiral Alton, unless some problem shows up," and Stennis'
tone suggested none had better, "Florida will be accompanying you
back out in the morning to rejoin Admiral McDonald."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Admiral Martin, I want you personally to see about expediting Arkansas
and Utah. I may want to make the Germans a show of force, and we could
have half the Grand Fleet in our lap in the next few days. I have been
informed that President Wilson is of the view that the United States and
the United States Navy does not seem to have anyone's respect right now.
"Gentlemen, if I have to sortie the entire Atlantic Fleet to get
that respect, then that's preCISEly what I am going to do. Is that understood?"
"Aye, aye, sir." This was a flag officer chorus.
"General, we don't know when either or both of those battlecruisers
are going to show up here. But when they do, I want a lot more security
than we have there now. I repeat: a lot more. Now, I am not criticizing
Colonel Anton's efforts to date - not at all - but I want to be prepared
for anything. Anything at all, and that includes another rally mob like
we had the other day. We got lucky, and I have no intention of going down
that route again. You think about it and bring me a plan. Keep in mind
that you may get as little as four hours warning."
"And now, unless any of you gentlemen have anything to add, dismissed."
---- New York
Lannon and Nik were "dining in" at their place not far from
the business district downtown. The four floor brownstone townhouses on
the block all doubled as both business addresses and in-town lodgings
for relatively well-heeled businessmen. Entrepreneurs and operators of
small businesses such as theirs spent most of their time elsewhere, but
a presence in this district for mailings, office space, and entertaining
remained an absolute necessity. A great many things were sold, prices
set, and contracts finalized by the shaking of right hands with after-dinner
cigars in the left.
Tonight's affair was not unlike many others the two men had held over
the last year or two: a baker's dozen guests, seven courses, and a string
quartet in the background. The main entree was a steamship round of beef.
The featured guest was a locally-known pianist who had done some touring
in Europe last winter and who was looking to try out a few new pieces
for which he'd declared Lannon's baby grande adequate to the task.
Tonight was indeed part of a contract of sorts, but not a business one.
It was the men's quid-pro-quo in the deal that had included the fateful
day sail four days earlier. Instead of notables and prospective clients,
the guest list included Claire and Maggie, and nearly a dozen members
of their families. Including Claire's maternal Aunt Terrilyn.
Lannon had dreaded this evening, fearing Auntie T's vitriol stemming
from that confrontation on the dock. To his surprise and relief, there
had yet been no mention of it, at least not directly.
Auntie T, it seemed, had been kept busy.
"... and they were laughing at my girls - even taunting them! -
but I set them straight, let me tell you ..."
I bet you did, nodded Nate, hiding his smile. Poor Brits! From German
bombards to American bombast. A pointed glance from Claire hinted he'd
better hide it a bit better.
"... in no uncertain terms. The very idea!" Her meaty fist
glinted fiercely with rings worth half-a-dozen of the boats that Lannon
and Nik sold.
There was a brief pause following Auntie T's resonant sniff as she took
another solid sip of her Cabernet Sauvignon.
"Nathaniel," quickly interjected another aunt of Claire's.
This one was paternal side and was short and plump and oozed unctuously.
"I saw the write up in the Philadelphia paper, the Inquirer, about
how you had rescued all those poor British sailors."
"All four of us were there. It was just my boat. The British were
running away from the Germans and just sank right alongside us. The closest
thing to heroic was what Nik did. He went in alone with them on the Salamis
just to make sure the Germans they had aboard didn't try anything. Just
to keep them honest, Nik said."
Lannon glanced over at the other table, but Nik was nowhere in sight.
"Oooh, I hadn't heard that! There was nothing about THAT in the
"Well, it's not that surprising," replied Nate. "There's
not that much of a story there. Not really. We picked up seven. They've
got how many in the hospital down there now? How many would you say, Aunt
Ter ... rilyn? Three hundred?"
Lannon blinked in studied innocence at Claire's flashing eyes.
"Oh, at least!" Terrilyn exclaimed, instantly, obviously eager
to leap back onto the stage. "And a rough and rowdy lot, at that,
let me tell you! ...."
Claire was not fooled, that much was obvious. Still, Terrilyn baiting
was about all the entertainment he could expect this evening. Lannon found
himself wondering at Claire's relations. The women on her father's side
ran short and round, overly so, while the maternal side representative
- Auntie T - was more a gladiator, as Rubens himself might have painted.
Claire herself resembled neither aunt, trim and athletic, a pleasure to
partner on the tennis court and the ballroom dance floor, both.
"... their commander, though, he's a bit of a sweetie ..."
"Aunt Terrilyn!" Claire sounded scandalized. Lannon had to
fight down another grin.
"... he's a great big Teddy Bear of a man, all ruddy and bristle-bearded
Nate turned his eyes on Terrilyn's husband. The poor guy, a financier
probably no taller than five-foot-eight, with thinning hair and none of
it red, gazed back and just rolled his eyes without any other outward
expression. No doubt about it, thought Lannon, looking away and hastily
shielding his mouth, the man had hidden depths.
Lannon thus noted that his butler was poised at the room's edge, who
then nodded for Nate's attention. Excusing himself, Nate headed over to
see what he wanted.
"There's a telephone call, sir, for one of your guests."
What in the world?
"Indeed. Thank you, George. Which one?"
"Miss Claire's Aunt Terrilyn, sir."