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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - The British Wait

June 27, 1915

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

The Commodore was pretty much looking over the shoulder of his chief of staff as that worthy marked up the ship list based on the first of the morning wireless reports.  His lookout section had sixty-four merchantmen in sight and several of those still beyond visibility were even then being chivvied back into the fold.  In fact, as the commander’s black marker made checkmark after checkmark, it seemed that all may ....  No, wait.

“What about that one?”

“The Waterford Park, sir?  Still unaccounted for, I’m afraid.”

“Hmmm.”  The Commodore noted that her entry, like most of the others, had next to her name a “W” with an “X” marked through it.  This indicated that the Waterford Park was NOT equipped with a wireless set of her own.  “Her cargo?”

“One moment, sir.  Her manifest is ... Lieutenant, that clipboard, if you would?  Thank you.  Let me see, Waterford ...  Ah!  Here it is, sir.  Glassware or objects.  Pottery.  More crystal or glass, still more ....  much of it seems to be very expensive glass ....”

The Commodore winced at that last, as he and his wife had long collected art glass.  He half-opened his mouth to inquire after it, but closed it again.  At this point, the ship’s chances of being still safely afloat but not found were already beginning to look remote.  Her glass cargo could simply have been modern, expensive tableware, or it could have included antique bohemian objects, or it could have had historical stained glass window elements, or it could even have been British Museum items enroute to on-loan exhibits in the United States.  He decided that he did not really want to know, lest his sleep be filled with nightmares of the 1845 destruction of the Portland Vase being re-enacted on a ship-wide scale.  (NOTE 1)

“... furniture.  Linens ....”  The commander broke off as the Signals Officer came onto the bridge with a message slip in his hand and a grim look on his face.

“Sir, wireless from the Admiralty.”

Upon reading the text, the Commodore could well appreciate the other’s concern.  He handed it to his chief of staff.

“It appears,” he announced, “that the Germans gave the Yanks the slip night before last.”

“Thirty-six bloody hours, sir,” noted the commander, doing the math.  “They could be anywhere by now.”

More than a few on the bridge reflexively glanced out at the tossing sea, as though half-fearing that the Huns might even then be cresting the horizon.  Admiral Seavey, about 35,000 yards to the northwest of the Commodore had already reached a similar conclusion, as he stood on the bridge of HMS King Edward VII staring at the lines and circles his own staff had made on the charts.

“The Americans never caught sight of those Hun light cruisers again, commander - three out of four, anyway.  They and upward of two score prizes went off the board days ago.”

And where had they all gotten to?  The Commodore’s brow creased as he considered it.

---- London

As the distant Commodore contemplated his self-posed question, the Admiral of Patrols, Rear-Admiral Ballard (NOTE 2), got one that was almost its twin.  Ballard, however, was forced to vocalize a response, since the query had been voiced to him by the First Sea Lord.  But what more could he do?  Virtually all his ships were at sea and had been for several days, though none of his Armed Merchant Cruisers could hope to survive an engagement with even one of the three gone missing German light cruisers.  That the enemy forces missing now included two battlecruisers and a fourth light cruiser, presumably also on their way back, only dramatized the hopelessness of his command’s plight.  The situation had been crushingly demonstrated off New York a week ago when those same Germans had effortlessly sunk or crippled no fewer than eight of his precious AMCs even as they did in Vice-Admiral Patey and his four cruisers without loss to themselves.

No, in the face of real warships, his old converted merchants were just fire bells: they could not put out flames, just alert others.  Those forty-odd prizes, however, were a far different matter.  Wherever they were, they had to be out there somewhere, slowly and ponderously making their way across the Atlantic in one or forty bids to breach the RN blockade - the blockade that was not really a blockade (NOTE 3).  Several ministers had expressed the hope that many of the prizes might yet be retaken and make it to their rightful owners.

Were they heading back all together, perhaps even now being overtaken by their cover force of German battlecruisers?  If so, it would take major elements of the Grand Fleet to crack that nut - a task the RN would only be too happy to undertake, no doubt.  But what mischief would that Letters do in the meantime?

Maybe they had split into two groups.  The report of the Geman inquiry to the Americans into the use of the Panama Canal seemed to lend a bit of support to that one.  It would, for example, seem to explain the German’s choice not to coal their battlecruisers yet.  Even the prospect as remote as that of a battlecruiser force loose in the Pacific had half of Whitehall in a lather, with more than a few seeing behind it all a threat to the “Jewel in the Crown” of the British Empire.

Or, perhaps they’d broken up into four or forty separate efforts.  That way, with the connivance of bad weather or “good” luck, would seem to guarantee a few “leakers.”   Against it, though, was that it would offer the best chance for most of the merchants to be intercepted and recovered.

There were vocal proponents of those and other positions, and their holders advanced them all vigorously.  In any case, the Patrols AMCs were all at sea, stoically beating about on their assigned posts.  Waiting.

---- Philadelphia Inquirer

“Devils Make Monkey Out of Jersey!”

“... baboons that were on the ... enroute to the Philadelphia Zoo.  The rest of the two dozen remain at large.  Zoo officials expressed concern for the health of citizens that might try to befriend the primates.  They cautioned that the animals were naturally aggressive and ....

---- New York Times

“Monkey Business in Jersey”

“... were merely baboons originally destined for the Philadelphia Zoo.

“... though many expressed skepticism that the great number and variety of reports could have originated from the exploits of just a couple dozen baboons.  In fact, the mayor of ....

“The swampy woods around the clearing where the dead animal was found were so dark that it seemed to be dusk instead of noon ...  At one point, Professor Nevels called for silence and then stated that he could hear, at that very moment, the call of the baboons to the southwest.  Others thought that the sounds were coming from the northwest, while some thought to hear answering calls from many directions.

“Nevels then admitted that there could be more than one source of the eerie hooting noises in the distance.  It was so hot and the vegetation was so heavy that visibility was no more than a few yards in any direction.  In fact, the the scene could have been in the interior of some remote tropical island, rather than within a few miles of the New Jersey coast.  The few places where the sun did succeed in breaking through were so small that the light looked like thin shafts probing the gloom, lending an eerie faerie glow to the scene.

“One fey ray caught Lourene Nevels’ bright blonde tresses as she stood next to her husband and helped him answer questions.  When asked if the dead baboon was the biggest, she stated - to the unconcealed dismay of all the local residents - that the tracks made it quite clear that there was at least one more still out there that was much larger ....”  (NOTE 4)

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

“The current plan puts us alongside the pier in Halifax two hours after dawn.”  Captain Herrick made a quick swipe across his brow with his handkerchief before he continued.  “The Canadians will send out what they have before first light and ....”  Herrick saw that he was hardly the only one dripping with perspiration.  The heat and bright sun had everyone’s face slick and uniforms dark with moisture.

Admiral Burney’s intent all along had been to be approaching the Germans’ last sighted position - at the moment, about 50 miles generally ENE of Boston - shortly after dawn broke on June 28.  One of the Admiralty’s leading theories was that the Germans had simply edged another few dozen miles out into the Atlantic and continued their coaling efforts undisturbed by the American navy.  Burney meant to test that one first, especially as it offered what many considered to be a fair chance of running down battlecruisers with dreadnoughts by catching them hove-to with the American landmass blocking their escape.  Indeed, some had thought this may have been the real reason behind the Germans’ failure to coal the two battlecruisers in any Yank port.  That is, von der Tann and Moltke could still retreat legally into any port in the United States and resume their posturing on the steps of churches as they lamented the RN blockade.

Well, the HMG consensus was that immuring those battlecruisers and forcing their internment would be well worth a great many very public Hun crocodile tears just now.  The Hun light cruisers were simply an expensive nuisance by comparison.  They had run them down before - at Falklands - and they could most definitely do it again.

“All preparations to speed coaling,” Herrick continued, “are to be complete prior to our entering harbor ....”  The admiral had made it abundantly clear that they would sortie on time to meet the hoped-for rendezvous irrespective of coaling completion.

---- King Edward VII, course 225, speed 8 knots

Admiral Seavey knew full well that his force might have nothing more ahead of it than a slow Atlantic transit to be followed by another just like it on the return trip, each time just covering three or four score merchantmen.  Seavey, though, distrusted coincidence and the disappearance of the fast and powerful German force - from where it had lingered for the last week or so off the United States coast - precisely when word could have reached them that this convoy had departed Britain was, well, just the sort of thing he questioned.  At the moment, it was the members of his staff that were having to bear the weight of his concerns.

“And if they split up?”  Seavey put the question to them.

“Come from two directions, sir?”

“Yes,” Seavey thought that would be most likely.  “Or even more than two,” he expanded.

He was cheered by the nodding of heads, a sober expression on each visage.

“Like a wolf pack, rounding a herd, looking for victims to cut out.  The weak, the unwary, the ones slow to respond.”  Seavey warmed to the task.  “It will be absolutely essential to identify quickly the battlecruisers and respond proportionally.  The orders address this.  What remains is to drill and drill some more until we are properly prepared, and we shall begin next watch.  See to it.”

Seavey’s instructions had laid out three main sequences.  First, the Germans might try a coup de main, perhaps testing or just unaware of  the strength of the cover force.  Second, the Germans might try a split attack, with a battlecruiser coring each thrust.  Third, the Germans might send in only their light cruisers, with each ready to retire upon the safety of the battlecruisers, if challenged and pursued.  His orders addressed each of those, requiring the King Edwards to operate together for the first, split into two ship sections for the second, and to support the armoured cruisers for the third.  The key would be to recognize just what it was that the Huns were attempting.  Even then, the prospect of trying to defend 70-odd panicking merchantmen spread out over many square miles of ocean would be a nearly impossible task.

The admiral repressed a sigh.  If the Huns even showed up at all, he added to himself.

Author’s NOTEs:

1) The Portland Vase - also known as the Barbini Vase, depending on the date - dates back 2,000 years of so, made during the reign of Augustus Caesar.  For a description of the object and its history, including the 1845 event referenced in the text, see:

For a picture of the vase, see:

2) See footnotes #1 and #3 at:‑jun18‑decisions‑6.html

3) Prior to March 1915, the British blockade of Germany and Europe was never called a “blockade” because it would have been a violation of both The Hague 1907 and the London Declaration of 1909, with which Britain claimed to be in compliance.  The March 1915 Order of Council declaration was made possible by Germany’s own declaration of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, etc.  For a quick recap of where things stand in Letterstime, see (especially the last three paragraphs):‑jun18‑finances‑of‑empire.html

For more on the blockade, see also:‑blockade.html

4) While composing this chapter, the author sadly noted the passing of a certain heroine of the silver screen best known for her role in one particular film classic that portrayed a well-known monarch.

by Jim

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