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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - A Potpourri Interlude

June 26, 1915

---- Flag Bridges, USS North Dakota (BB-29), Texas (BB-35), and New York (BB-34)

The Germans had left during the night, or so it seemed.

Their movement further out to sea had been noted and reported but, other than some limited repositionings by one Destroyer pair, the Americans had not tried to maintain visual contact with the Germans, let alone pursue them.  Any actions along those lines would have been far, far beyond the scope of their orders.  Perhaps Vice-Admiral Stennis, Commander - Atlantic Fleet, might have considered it, but those on the scene did not.  There were a great many things that could happen when unfamiliar ships tried to remain in visual contact during periods of darkness, and the admirals all knew that most of them were bad.  The Germans could probably do it safely enough, but only because they’d be using visuals of the largest liners to maintain spacings within pre-established formation rules.  The Americans would not know those rules and, thus, would have zero knowledge of where the German warships would be except by sighting them directly each and every time.  The failure to locate more than one of the German light cruisers had hardly proved that the others were not nearby or would not join up overnight, so there might well be as many as four smaller warships to avoid.  As far as the on-scene admirals were concerned, the chances and consequences of a collision well out in International Waters because an American warship intruded into a German formation rendered pursuit contraindicated.

No, if the Germans were indeed going, good riddance to them.  However, the Americans had initiated a broad sweep at dawn.  All seven dreadnoughts and a few escorts remained clustered in sight of each others’ halyards, but the rest of the light ships radiated out like wheel spokes from the dreadnought hub.

Time passed and no sighting reports were reported.  Each admiral had his own interpretation of the events.  Alton was concerned that the Germans might be doubling back, perhaps even heading for Baltimore.  If so, then the Germans might be in for a rude shock, as the next sighting might well be made by Stennis’ force sweeping very wide of Cape Cod.  McDonald was of the view that the Germans had concluded that they had finally worn out whatever American welcome there’d been, and thus were on their way back to Germany.  The coal status of the battlecruisers seemed like a possible problem, but the Germans would not need speed until near Britain and perhaps their coaling had gone better than everyone had presumed.  Higgins reaction had been that the Germans had simply implemented their plan’s next step - or perhaps a contingency one - but what such might be he could only speculate.  Bermuda?  Kingston?

---- Washington Post

“Senate to Investigate Bethlehem Steel”

“La Follette to Head Panel”

“... reportedly, the Pennsylvania delegation was unable to head off the inquiry.

“Bethlehem Steel President Charles M. Schwab declined to comment.  When asked his reaction to Senator La Follette’s stated intent to subpoena him to testify before his committee, Mr. Schwab again declined to comment for the record.

“... noted that refusal to appear ....  Contempt of Congress punishable by ....”   (NOTE 1)

---- HMS Crescent, course 225, speed 6 knots

The white-haired Commodore gloomily surveyed the scene as the storied old cruiser shouldered stolidly through the Atlantic swells.  The rain squall was easing, but the waves still sported angry white crests and the ships whose responsibility was his literally littered the seascape.  The merchants had not managed very much in the way of formation keeping and this pre-dawn merely moderate storm had ended any pretext along those lines these last few hours.  His title was Convoy Commander but the evidence in sight right then was at best marginal that any such thing even existed.

“Fourteen vessels in sight, sir.”  All merchantmen, of course.  What he had that passed for escorts were off rounding up strays, like border collies, with the merchantmen as sea-going sheep but precious all the same, just as the four legged ones were.

“Very well,” he replied.  After a few moments, he turned away from the front of the bridge and stepped back to the chart tables.  His chief of staff looked up from the lines and blots, dark circles showing under his eyes.  “Sir,” he began, “King Edward’s got six.  That leaves ....”

The Commodore listened stoically.  Actually, things were not nearly as bad as he’d feared.  The magic of the wireless served him so well here.  Without it, he’d’ve had literally no idea where the rest of his ships were.  Though their exact locations were still a bit sketchy, the wireless already had let him confidently add forty-eight to the fourteen merchants he himself had in sight, leaving only eight still unaccounted for. (NOTE 2)

Actually, he’d been quite lucky, and he knew it.  They were just four days into the nominal three week transit to Bermuda.  The faster ships who’d left late had joined yesterday and his shorter-ranged escorts were still with them and would remain so until dusk, busily playing collie dogs all the while.  Even his cover force, Admiral Seavey aboard HMS King Edward VII with Hibernia, Commonwealth, Africa, and two cruisers, had been near enough to lend a hand.  Under similar circumstances, even just a single year earlier, the Commodore would’ve been humiliated for a senior officer of Seavey’s stature to witness his command in such disarray.  However, this was war, and he had discovered that he felt no shame at the poor seakeeping abilities of merchantmen, even ones under his charge.

For that matter, no one had done any studies or trials previously on civilian convoys of this size and nature, perhaps since the days of sail. (NOTE 3)

So, the Commodore just acknowledged the report and went back to look out over the still-substantial waves.  His concern was not what he saw, or what the wireless was telling him.  What bothered him was the loss of the trawler HMS Jasper while still practically within sight of the coast.  (NOTE 4)

His concern was not so much for the loss of the vessel or the loss of life, though he regretted both keenly, as it was for the likely proof that the Germans knew well that his gathering of targets was at sea and at a predictably slow speed bound for the Americas.  It could have been a mine.  He knew that full well, but it could also have been a u-boat’s torpedo that had put down Jasper so suddenly.  Certainly, there had been quite a number of periscope sightings afterwards and even a few torpedo tracks had been reported, though such came as no surprise to anyone, once Jasper had gone up so publicly.  Nonetheless, three more days had passed without any additional losses and the German raider force remained well over 2,000 miles away.

The Commodore had frankly not expected to get to sea again, certainly not in any position of command, but the war had proved full of surprises - none as welcome as this one.  He would try to relax as best any officer could for now.  For now, with Admiral Seavey near, there were no raiders to fear and he was confident that they’d left the u-boat threat behind.


Time enough to worry, he told himself severely, should the two distant German battlecruisers slip their leash.  Or another powerful raider force escape.  Or larger storms, tomorrow, perhaps.  He gritted his teeth; or any number of things, he admitted.

But not today, he thought again.  Not just now.  Ah, the rain seemed to have stopped.  Maybe the sun might break through?  One could hope.  It was all he could do just then.

---- Philadelphia Inquirer

“Salamis Captain Appeals for Guns”

“Safety of Med at Stake”

“..., said Captain Liapis.  Reportedly, efforts are in high gear in Washington to resolve what some are beginning to call a “diplomatic crisis.”  Others, including Senator La Follette, have deemed the whole affair to be ‘a disgrace and national scandal.’ ... of Pennsylvania, has called it ‘an unfortunate misunderstanding,’ but other members of the Pennsylvania delegation have declined to comment for the record.”

---- Arkansas (BB-33)

The mid-afternoon sun reflected mercilessly off the gray metal deck as the side boys lined up and the bosun piped the admirals aboard.  The canvas awning rigged over the teak decking cast a bit of cooling shade as Stennis greeted the others.  They came aboard in order of seniority or precedence, but Stennis waited for them all before retiring within.

“... out to 100 miles in all directions,” Higgins was reporting, “and I’ve still got the North Carolina and two Destroyers picketed almost that far out to the northeast.”  Higgins nodded to McDonald, who reported that he had a Destroyer pair patrolling well out on east-north-east and due east bearings.  Alton had pairs out to sea along east-south-east and southeast headings.  Stennis, who had come up generally from the south, had posted Peace’s Montana force well out on his flank.

“Well, gentlemen,” said Commander - Atlantic Fleet, “I’ve informed Washington and ordered Admiral Martin to head down and stand off Philly once Admiral Reader (NOTE 5) is on station off New York with Maine and Nebraska.  So, for now, we wait.  Before I left New York myself, Secretary Daniels expressed the opinion that we might have to remain here for several days.

“Well, gentlemen,” Stennis repeated, “that may be so, but I have no intention of lying out here hove to while politicians ....”  He stopped himself with an effort, clearing his throat harshly.

“Nine dreadnoughts, complete with screens and escorts!  Quite unexpected and I intend to take full advantage.  This afternoon - commencing at 1600 - we’ll do with a couple hours of high speed formation changes.  I’ll leave North Carolina out there, but I’ll slot in Montana to give us ten to work with.  Starting tomorrow, once we’ve cleared the area, we’ll do tacticals.  Admiral Higgins, you develop the first one.  Three to four hours each, 0800 to noon, two hour stand down for lunch and relief.  Admiral McDonald, you take 1400 to 1800.  Admiral Alton, you’ll have the next morning’s, and we’ll keep it up as long as the Germans and Daniels allow.

“Questions?  Good, dismissed.”  The admirals stood and Stennis accompanied them out.  “1600, gentlemen.”  Stennis did not bother to keep the eagerness out of his voice.

---- HMS Benbow, course 270, speed 16 knots

Captain Herrick’s crew were well trained, and so he got the word even as the wireless message was being presented elsewhere to Admiral Burney.

“They’re gone?”  Herrick said.  “The both of them?  Are you - they - quite sure?”

“Yes, sir.  The message was plain enough.  Overnight.”

“Overnight,” Herrick repeated, thoughtfully.  “Boston, wasn’t it?  Where they were seen last?”

“Yes, sir.  ‘Were Boston, right enough.”

It had been inevitable, Herrick had finally agreed.  He felt shackled.  He’d wanted to leave hours earlier than dusk, doubting the value of attempting to keep the Germans ignorant of their departure and, with it, the weakening of the Grand Fleet.  They had left at dusk anyway, of course, because Admiral Burney was ADMIRAL Burney.  He’d wanted to keep 20 knots, as well, to reduce the time the Germans had to disperse.  There had been no hope of catching the battlecruisers loitering off America, Burney had pronounced, and so they’d stayed at a fuel-thriftier 16 knots so as to leave more of a reserve near Halifax.

Yes, he’d agreed with Burney, but he still felt shackled.  Trussed up by the delay and then tortured by the slower bell.

“That’s about 350 miles from Halifax,” Herrick reflected.

“Yes, sir.  And that were 20 hours or more ago.  They could be there already, easy.  Waiting for us.”

Herrick glanced at his XO and then around at the others who had eased closer, some more surreptitiously than others, but all within earshot, nonetheless.  He gestured out at the waves where HMS Hercules and the four armored cruisers steamed in formation with them.

“I hope they are,” Herrick declared.  “If only they would make it that easy.”

He looked in to the growing gloom ahead with set jaw.  The last time he’d seen the Germans, he’d been steaming into the gloom AWAY from them.

“If only they would make it that easy,” he repeated.

Author’s NOTEs:

1) One should not lose sight of the politics here.  Senator La Follette was a Progressive Republican, while Schwab was himself a great contributor to the Republican Party and would, historically, donate $100,000 (1916 dollars!) to the Presidential campaign of Charles E. Hughes in 1916 in his bid to prevent the re-election of Woodrow Wilson.  The Washington Post owner in 1915 was John R. McLean, an ardent Democrat, who would have dearly loved this story and played it to the hilt.

2) 70 ships is not an atypical convoy size once convoys became employed.

3) Historically, there was a considerable “learning curve” associated with the smooth conduct of convoy operations.  Here, in Letterstime, the Royal Navy is learning that fact and gaining the valuable related experience earlier than historical.  Should, for example, USW take place (just simply later than historical), then this may become of considerable value.

4)HMS Jasper was an Admiralty Trawler that was historically lost on August 26 in the North Sea.  She or another much like her would have been among the many escorts for such a convoy as it slowly sortied out of port, formed up, and began the transit.

5) Admiral Reader is avid.

by Jim

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