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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - Meeting Engagements, Part XXXIV

(Morning, June 24, 1915)

---- Boston Globe

"Bands Serenade Harbor"

"Reprise Planned Tonight"

"An appreciative crowd of several thousand was treated to an evening of music yesterday as the bands of the five German liners joined in an unprecedented serenade of Boston harbor. In some pieces, the bands seemed determined to outdo one another, to the delight of spectators, whose applause ....

"... To the surprise of many there, Mr. Ballin appeared to apologize for what he called "harmonic weaknesses" in some of the pieces, and attributed it to the lack of joint rehearsals. He noted that yesterday was "the first time the five liners had shared a port since the start of the unfortunate European war." Ballin promised that his musicians would be practicing much of the day and vowed that tonight's affair would show improvement and offer additional variety ...."

---- Flag Bridge, USS North Dakota (BB-29), ahead slow, Portsmouth, Rhode Island

"Sir, Michigan [BB-27] is clear and free of her tugs."

"Very well," Admiral Simon J. Higgins replied, keeping his voice clear of any emotion.

It was always a relief to COs and admirals to be free of the need for tugs, whether it be from getting securely tied up to the pier, or back in open water. This time was no different and, actually, things were a bit tenser today, as there was some urgency associated with this sortie. For Higgins, though, the casting off of the last tug had always been symbolic; it meant that his command had freed itself from the shore and become part of the sea.

Higgins looked about, noting that Delaware (BB-28) was already falling in astern, and was pleased with the progress of his force as it began to organize and pick its way out of the Naval Station environs. About a mile off his bow, North Carolina (ACR-12) kicked up some froth at her stern, as she began her move out to what would soon be his van. With her was a pair of Destroyers, shifting easily to conform to her movements. Another four Destroyers were forming up in a rough line ahead on his port beam.

Getting underway again, for whatever reason, gladdened him immensely. Sorties yielded great training, though this one had not been budgeted. There might be a price to pay there later, but for now the skies were clear and he commanded a powerful force with a trio of dreadnoughts at its core, a fine armored cruiser to anchor the van, and a half-dozen modern Destroyers, all with experienced crews. His subordinate COs were solid, capable professionals who worked well together. Higgins had made a career-long study of the chemistry of large forces. Like a tenured professor at a world-famous university, he had learned to recognize the wrong or missing ingredients in a command by exhibited performance flaws. He had seen none yet.

He felt the deck shift slightly under his feet as the first ocean swells patted the hull, greeting his return to sea. Life was good.

---- Washington Post

"Senators Call for Investigation"

"Fear Neutrality At Risk"

"... led by Senator Robert La Follette (R-Wisconsin) called for a 'most thorough, complete, and comprehensive investigation' into the recently revealed sales by Bethlehem Steel of battleship guns, armor, and other warship components to Great Britain. (NOTE 1)

" 'We cannot stand by,' Senator La Follette thundered on the floor of the Senate, 'idly, impotently. We cannot condone deeds such as this, brokered in some smoke-filled room by some multi-millionaire industrialist for his personal gain but at the expense of our nation's neutrality - just three months after President Wilson proclaimed our neutrality to the world and had it resoundingly endorsed by this body. And look where Mr. Schwab's greed to pile up yet another million in his already bulging coffers has left us! Greece, a long-valued ally and the birthplace of Western thought, philosophy, and culture, has come to our shores asking only ...

" 'We cannot tolerate the betrayal of our Nation's honor by such flagrant acts of greed. Morality must know no holiday, no exception. Integrity is not some sort of cheap suit, to be taken off and packed away when there's a profit to be made!

" 'We cannot ever, ever relax our vigilance in protecting our nation's honor, or we will have none, none at all, as this sordid and probably criminal affair well proves. So, I put it to you, my Honored Colleagues, that it is up to us now. Did the Executive Branch prevent this, this national disgrace?

" 'No! No, it did not. Nor did the Judicial Branch and the laws they oversee. And, to be fair, perhaps they COULD not.

" 'Well, my Honored Colleagues, let us let the world know that we, the Congress of these United States, and in particular we the Senate - WE stand ready to execute the duties and responsibilities specified by the Founding Fathers, the leadership role discharged so faithfully by those who have come before us here, in this hallowed chamber.

" 'We. We must seize this opportunity and make an example ....' "

---- New York, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet

Vice-Admiral Stennis was staring at the map of the New England coastline on a wall in his office, when the knock came at his open door.

"Enter," he called, turning. "Good morning, Jeff. Coffee?"

"Yes, sir. Please."

Stennis nodded to his yeoman, and the two admirals sat down at a side table.

"I've always found waiting to be the hardest part of command," he confided, casually.

Admiral Martin recognized that remark to be as close to criticism as he was likely to hear. Stennis had announced his intent to dispatch one or both of the dreadnought squadrons early yesterday, only to be over-ruled later by Washington. Secretary Daniels had agreed that both admirals' forces be sent up to Boston, but had required they be sent together and that no break occur in the coverage off New York. Thus, they had had to wait for Montana's return before the dreadnought squadrons could proceed. Without that delay, Admirals Alton and McDonald would already be approaching Boston. As it was, it would be several more hours before they could expect to get word, and it would probably be the Portsmouth group that got there first.

"Arkansas and Utah will both be ready to sail at dawn," Martin reported. They're reloading Arkansas's magazines right now -- I'd rather not hurry that! -- with coaling to finish tonight. "Utah's Marines are due back late this afternoon. If we do end up needing to sortie something today, I've got Maine, Nebraska, Kearsarge and Kentucky all on two-hour." (NOTE 2)

The CO - Atlantic Fleet nodded at each of his deputy's statements, but with some special warmth at hearing of the imminent return of Utah's marines. They represented much of the recent combat experience of the USN, and their performance had proved their worth at Vera Cruz. He hoped not to have the occasion to use them, but .... (NOTE 3)

His steward, bearing a pair of steaming coffee mugs, interrupted matters for a minute. Both flag officers thanked the steward, who then withdrew.

"We're running low on front line units, though," Martin observed, when talk resumed.

Stennis acknowledged, aware that he had essentially emptied the base of ready Destroyers in filling out the commands of Alton and Peace. Martin went on to report that two would be ready by noon. Their maintenance jobs were complete and it was a matter of testing and coaling. Another might be ready next morning, if all went well today. The vice-admiral nodded again, clearly thinking about the delay in learning what was going on off Boston.

"Sir, Secretary Daniels may have had a point yesterday."

Stennis broke from his reverie and indicated that Martin should continue.

"I've been thinking. It was Augsburg's departure that got me started. The Germans have been playing us like a violin."

He had his boss' attention now, no doubt about it.

"Each time, they went and established a clear pattern, kept to it like clockwork, and then did the unexpected when they were ready. Then what did they do? They established another pattern and repeated the process, over and over again.

"They show up, blow the Brits out of the water, then hand over their prisoners in penny packets every time we meet 'em or a ship of theirs comes in and docks. Then they just dumped the rest on Chuck with no warning and vanished.

"They sent in one ship at a time over and over, then pulled up stakes and left with two ships still to go.

"Each ship they sent in had that tough-talking commodore of theirs aboard - who by the way I'm positive knew a whole hell of a lot more English than he tried to let on - and got us all used to him, until Augsburg shows up without him. Every one of their ships stayed right up to the very last second, until Augsburg suddenly cast off two hours early, just before we might have wanted to hold her and ask her CO some tough questions."

"Alright, Jeff. I hate it, but I can't deny it. But what's that got to do with Daniels?"

"It's another pattern. They came here for one liner, went down to Philly for another. Now the liners show up in Boston where there's a third. But are the German warships there? All of them? Or is THIS when they're breaking THAT pattern?"

"Doubling back here? Some of them? Damn, it's possible. Okay, having Peace's command out there in case they ARE pulling a fast one like that might make sense, at that."

Stennis considered what his deputy had said. It had the ring of truth, especially given what Colonel Anton had reported to him last night, a bit shame-facedly.

"So. Maybe they think they've got us all figured out," he mused. His hand massaged his jaw. "Maybe it's time we threw them a curve ball."


"Columbia," Stennis said, with a bit of satisfaction. "Yes, that's it. Add her to the sortie group for tomorrow." His weathered face eased into a bit of a smile.

"Aye, aye, sir," Martin acknowledged. Columbia, going on 20 years old, had begun her career four years before HMCS Niobe, which had been so casually destroyed off New York a few days ago. This represented a dramatic departure from their previous strategy to put their best foot forward by sending out only their latest, most powerful ships, but he puzzled it out after a minute.

"Fully coaled?" Martin asked, with an answering grin. (NOTE 4)


---- Philadelphia Inquirer

"No Guns For Salamis"

"Greece Files Formal Protest"

"...Schwab apparently closed the deal last November, during a visit to London, perhaps a trip made just for that expressed purpose. The eight massive 14" naval cannons began their trip on railcars that slipped secretly across the border into Canada, presumably to avoid tipping off the various federal authorities, including naval inspectors. The need for such clandestine tactics rested on the fact that each gun barrel was over fifty feet long and weighed over one hundred and forty thousand pounds ...

"The British Royal Navy was reportedly delighted to obtain the cannons, so much so that they quickly designed and built from scratch an entire new class of Monitors just to profitably use the powerful guns. Speaking of profit ..."

---- New York, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet

"Sir?" Admiral Martin had been surprised at the summons, but tried not to show it. The expression on the face of CO - Atlantic Fleet signaled a problem of some sort.

"Sorry to have pulled you away from it, Jeff. Better come in and sit down."

Stennis despised being yanked around, but he hated even more when he found himself forced to do it to others.

"Just got off the phone with Admiral Benson and Secretary Daniels. Seems like all hell's broken loose down there over Salamis and her missing guns. Anyway, I'll be taking the sortie tomorrow, not you as we'd planned. Daniels has convinced himself that this whole business is going to come to a head off Boston sometime over the next few days, and I'm to be there, in person, with as much of the Atlantic Fleet as I can scrape up on short notice."

So, instead of flying his flag from a sortieing dreadnought squadron, Jeff realized that he'd get to remain at his desk. He kept a poker face with some effort.

"But you're not staying here, either," Stennis announced, practically reading his deputy's mind.

"I'll be taking Peace north with me, so you're to sortie right in my wake and take the off shore station. See what you can put together. Start with at least a pair of battleships, Kearsarge and Kentucky need the sea time, but use your judgement."

"Aye, aye, sir!"

"Oh, and one other thing, concerning a former shipmate of ours. Daniels told me that the Brits were sending Captain Smith back to us, Bradford Smith."

"Did he come down with something, sir?"

"No, the word is that he ruffled some feathers one too many times."

"Sounds like Brad, alright."

"Well, the Secretary really wasn't all that clear on the matter. But, in any case, he's definitely gotten himself banned or something.

"The Secretary brought it up because down in Washington they've been quite impressed with Captain Eberle, and he's got a new billet in mind for him once all this dies down. (NOTE 5) He asked me to find Brad a spot up here on my staff, maybe as his replacement, once he gets back and settled. Since Brad was aboard Iron Duke during that battle last month, they may keep him down there for a while, which will leave us short ...."

"Yes, sir." Martin was noncommittal, already thinking about his sortie, and all the preparations that had to be redone.

---- Point Pleasant Beacon

"Jersey Devils In Packs?"

" ' doubt in my mind,' answered Sheriff Wilkinson, edgily. 'I haven't seen them myself, but I've heard them plain enough. Right around sundown, last night and the night before, both. Like I said, whatever they are, there sure was a bunch of them in there howling up a storm. As y'all know, the Barrens gets right inhospitable some places, and I wasn't about to take my men in there around dark just on account of some strange noises, even noises like that.'

"Residents have also reported that at dawn each of the last several days, there has been an eerie chorus of howls that lasted for several minutes to almost an hour. "They're not wolves," declared Deputy Sheriff Mike Turner. 'I've heard wolves out West aplenty and they sounded different.' When pressed, the deputy remained firm that he could not be mistaken. 'Look, I'm not saying that I know what these critters are, 'cause I don't. All I'm saying is that, whatever they are, they're not wolves. And they're not coyotes, either. Now, isn't that clear enough?' "

---- Letterschloss, Germany

"Wake up, dear," urged Lady Christine.

"Mein Gott!"

"All is well, my love. You're home, in your own bed. I'm right here with you. You were having some kind of a nightmare, that's all."

"Ach, ja. A nightmare. Thank The Almighty that it was only that!"

"Would it help to talk about it?"

"Perhaps. Perhaps it would." The Baron got up, poured water into a mug from a covered carafe on a bedside table, and gulped it greedily. He realized suddenly that he was drenched with perspiration.

"It was about the war."

"Ahh," she murmured into the pause. There had been others, and they had all been about the war. About the ships and the loved ones aboard them. Ones lost. Ones still to be lost. She hated this war, its costs in lives, and its toll on the living.

"No, this one was different. The war was just starting, all over again. But, this time, all of First Scouting was gone, off in some distant sea, trapped there and unable to return."

He swallowed more water, and almost shuddered at the recollection. It had been horrible.

"The British. We could not catch their dreadnoughts; we could not even find them. Their battlecruisers ravaged our scouting forces, leaving us completely blind. And then, when we tried to return home, there was their entire fleet, drawn up in battle formation, across our path."

Thank heavens that it had been only a dream. He went and poured himself another glass of water. If he'd been alone, he knew that he'd've poured himself something a lot stronger. A few more like that, and even he might be tempted to go on a bender.

---- Hopewell Herald

"Jersey Devil Stalks Again"

"Menace? Or Opportunity?"

".... though none of the descriptions have perhaps been more bizarre than 'homicidal green boys' from a Mrs. Wijn and 'flying vampire monkeys' from a Miss Dorothy Garland who reported that they had scared her little dog, too.

"Local citizens are reported to be fleeing or forting up, yet hotels are apparently seeing a surge in out-of-towners intent on trying to see for themselves ...."

---- Bermuda

The elderly admiral watched the palm fronds dip and curl in the breeze coming in off the ocean. Beyond them, the waves threw up large whitecaps even before they began their final approach to the beachline. The scene was tranquil, serene, but he was not deceived, as he well knew that whitecaps like those sprung from the fury of a powerful storm somewhere over the horizon.

From his current vantage, the entire world might be at peace. The sun beamed warmly on the empty sea below it. This, too, was a deception. Yes, the day had dawned without the appearance of German warships. Nor had any been sighted off Halifax. Other than the liners in distant Boston harbor, the ocean might have swallowed up the German battlecruiser squadron. There had been that one distress call off Boston two days ago and, then, nothing but silence.

But the admiral knew that the German warships were out there, somewhere over the horizon, just like that storm. And, like the storm, would likely cast waves and flotsam far and wide.

---- New York Times

"Wilson Faces New Test"

"Greeks Reported Furious"

"...coming as it does hard on the heels of the so-called 'British Blockade' and 'The Battle Off New York' ....

"... almost lost in the background is the silence on the city's waterfront. The number of empty slips is the highest its been since last September. Nor is that the whole of it, as the British and French merchants that were already here remain tied up, their masters refusing to sail in the face of what some are now beginning to call "The German Blockade.' American and Neutral ship activity is up about ten per cent, but total merchant traffic has been cut in half or more.

"German spokesmen claimed that their forces have strictly complied with all the treaty provisions of "The Hague 1907," and challenged anyone to identify a single provision that they have violated. Officials at the German Chancellery downtown hotly denied that their ships were conducting a blockade, and pointed to the fact that their ships had a treaty limited maximum stay time of 24 hours at a US pier, but that their merchant ships required more time to unload and reload passengers and cargo. In the meanwhile, Chancellery officials claimed, their warships have conducted no patrols and have done nothing but wait just outside the ports in International Waters to accompany German merchantmen as escorts against the British Blockade ....

"British Blockade or German Blockade, merchants fear that the waterfront is fast becoming an economic ghost town."

---- Wilhelmshaven

Vice-Admiral von Rudberg examined the scenario with discomfort. He commanded ten dreadnoughts screened by four half-flotillas, each led by a light cruiser. He could have hoped for more, but this had been about the standard OOB for most of the previous scenarios. No, that was not the problem; it was the battlecruiser force. Or, rather, the absence of a battlecruiser force. Any battlecruiser force.

"For today's scenarios, we are to assume that First Scouting has been detached. The objective is ...."

Rudberg knew what the objective was, and accepted it. He just didn't like the conditions and it took no more than a single glance to see that he was far from alone in this opinion. They were near the edge of the scenario sortie envelope and the RN dreadnoughts could sustain one or two knots higher speed than his could. It was like the last hours of Die Kaiserschlacht, when the Baron and First Scouting had left him alone with the Grand Fleet Main Body, but worse - far worse. Then, the day had been fading and the Britishers intent on escape. Here, conditions were bright noon and the Grand Fleet would be intent on revenge.

If this were reality, the Grand Fleet might not even be at sea today but, in this exercise, they most certainly would make an appearance. He would be outnumbered again. The High Seas Fleet always was.

Beside him, Admiral Necki muttered what was obviously some sort of sour remark. Necki had missed most of the earlier scenarios and so may have been less used to this sort of thing. No one knew exactly where he'd gone, or what he'd been doing. Well, the Baron surely knew, but he may have been the only one.

"It could be worse," Rudburg noted. "The British could still have their battlecruisers."

Necki blanched at that image. "That would be a raging nightmare!"

"Indeed it would," agreed the Baron from behind them. "Indeed it would."

Author's NOTEs:

1) Senator Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin was a fiery, reform-minded, progressive Republican who served three turns in the US House of Representatives, was then elected three times to the Governorship of Wisconsin, and then served four terms in the US Senate. He is one of the great men in public office in the US during the period of Letterstime. He had been a US Senator since 1906 and, upon his re-election in 1911, was considered the undisputed leader of the Progressives in the Senate. Throughout his long career in public office, he would rail against bribes, kickbacks, backroom deals, and all other forms of corruption, and he would relentlessly press for reforms to prevent such abuses. For example, he led the effort to change the method for choosing Senators to one of direct election, vice the former appointment methods that had routinely been exploited for personal gain. La Follette had begun to challenge Taft in the Republican Presidential primaries when Theodore Roosevelt returned, upsetting the political process and leading to Wilson's election. Interestingly enough, La Follette then ended up supporting Wilson, in preference to both Taft and Roosevelt, and would continue to support President Wilson as long as he remained a clear isolationist. La Follette feared that war would prevent progressive domestic reforms and that any great industrial expansion to support the military would benefit only the great industrialists and their investors. The clandestine sales by Schwab were precisely the kind of deeds that La Follette so tirelessly and publicly decried -- one early Senate floor speech went three full days. The sinking of Lusitania and USW increasingly marginalized La Follette, though he would still rise to lead a successful filibuster in 1917 opposing the arming of US merchants. In Letterstime, neither of the events that historically reduced La Follette's stature have occurred, and any public backlash from the revelation of Schwab's peccadillos should only increase his influence.


La Follette and His Legacy, by Alice Van Deburg, 1984, and republished by the University of Wisconsin System 1995. Excerpts from this book can be found on the web at:

2) Historically:

- Arkansas completed repairs in New York and left for Newport, Rhode Island on June 25, 1915,

- Kearsarge and Kentucky both recommissioned on June 23, 1915, and

- USS Columbia (C-12) recommissioned on June 22, 1915.

3) Utah's US Marine battalion won seven Medals of Honor at Vera Cruz (April 21, 1914), after having been towed in under fire. See the following remarkable photograph:

The Vera Cruz operation may have been the first time the US Marines experienced house-to-house urban combat, with some startling similarities to the Iraq conflict at Fallujah. The ~1,000 man ad hoc unit that first deployed was formed from the contingents of several USN ships, including battleships Florida, Michigan, and Utah. Utah may have contributed the most of a single ship: 17 officers and 367 men. See:

One more note, the commissioning CO of USS Utah (BB-31) in 1911 was Captain William Shepherd Benson, the first and "current" CNO in June 1915.

4) A mysterious tip of the ball cap to Flag Captain Theodor. ;-)

5) Eberle historically went from the staff of CO - Atlantic Fleet to Superintendent, US Naval Academy at Annapolis, taking that billet on September 20, 1915. He still gets that in Letterstime. For more details, see Footnote #1 at:


by Jim

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