They had been out of sight of land for about
36 hours and
their course had taken them through areas with significant ocean
currents. Nonetheless, the sky had been
last night, so Captain Herrick was fairly confident as to precisely
were: 60 miles off Cape May, New
Jersey and the Delaware Bay outfall. That was precisely where
Admiral Burney had specified for their second dawn off the American
but Herrick was less confident if this was where they really SHOULD be.
They had swept past the waters off New
York before dusk last, but had encountered no
vessels. With the sun now well above the
horizon, it was becoming increasingly clear that the waters off Philadelphia
were as devoid of the foe as those off Boston
and New York had proved. Where in the devil had the Huns gotten
themselves to? Well, thought Benbow’s CO
as he swept the horizon through his binoculars, wherever the Germans
was not here - at least not this morning.
The admiral stared stonily at the barren,
heaving vista, his
demeanor not inviting approach.
What, wondered Herrick, was he thinking? Did he feel that the Germans must be
tantalizingly nearby, just over the horizon, perhaps? That maybe he needed only to chose a
different distance from the shore to discover where they had chosen to
the American coast? Could they - even
then - be slipping into the Caribbean, perhaps
intent to sever those vital shipping links, poising them to continue
effectively halt the rest of the Trans-Atlantic traffic with Britain? Or did he fear that the Germans were long
gone, leaving him holding an empty sack on the wrong side of the Atlantic?
The Acting-Station Commander stood at one
out the harbor entrance wearing the same expression that Burney was
almost 600 miles away and, in fact, sharing the same worry: what news
another brace of hours bring? If today
were the day the Huns had chosen for their mischief, two hours - three
most - would bring them word, wherever the deeds had been done. Wireless or, in the case of Bermuda,
the cable had made the timing of the arrival of bad news all too
Modern technology had shrunk the globe. Now, word of a dawn attack - almost anywhere
in the British Empire - was only a couple hours
It was waiting out those fateful hours that
had become the
Well, unless it happened at one’s own
location, but the old
admiral no longer feared that the Germans would make a play for Bermuda. No, the Huns had missed their chance. Oh, they could still do damage, right enough,
but the freshly extended minefields might give them a rude surprise. Nor was that all, as Admiral Burney was
hardly a day away. The Germans would
know that the RN had a powerful force around and he’d wager they’d
avoid anything that might produce a Falklands
No, he no longer feared a German attack,
just news of one.
Office of the Chief of Naval Operations
Admiral Benson paused a moment at the
threshold of his
office and looked at the large, solid desk that dominated the space; he
this nearly every morning when he first arrived. With
his 60th birthday nearly in
sight, his had already been a long career, literally spanning the globe
did the years. (NOTE 1) He had studied and learned his craft,
watching carefully those senior to him as they performed the duties
that he hoped
soon to take on himself. That course had
not been available to him this time; he was the first.
He might also be the last.
Perhaps, though, the desk would see many a man take his
turn at sitting
behind it, men who would become of near-legendary stature.
That, however, was the future, and one that
would require him making the job into something worth its continued
existence. It was a daunting notion that
perhaps some future folk would study HIM. But
would it be as the plank owner of a great tradition?
Or would it be as a case study of a promising
With Secretary Josephus Daniels above,
Admirals Fiske and
Stennis below, and the Brits and Huns and Japanese circling like hungry
was it any wonder he had doubts? What
exactly WAS his job? What SHOULD its
roles and responsibilities be? Benson
had discussed the matter with Rear-Admiral Fiske but without
satisfactory conclusion. (NOTE
After that long introspective moment, he
stepped inside the
room and turned halfway to place his cover on the rack beside the jamb. (NOTE 3)
The box on his credenza was jammed with
incoming paper, many
topped with notes bearing Daniels’ distinctive scrawl.
He sighed, then, and rubbed his fast-receding
white hair. It seemed particularly
trying this morning. Yesterday,
Vice-Admiral Stennis had had an entire battle fleet under his command
faced down a crack squadron from the mighty British Royal Navy itself. Looking again at his possibly-historic
furniture, he frankly envied Stennis: his height, his aristocratic
the salty Atlantic air still blowing across his bridge and, most of
command of no fewer than nine dreadnoughts as he challenged the
admirals of the
world’s two greatest navies and made them take heed.
Daniels had been shaken by the recent turns
of events, and
even President Wilson had expressed his satisfaction with the way the
seen off the European interlopers. It
had ended up a valuable counterpoint to the burgeoning Salamis - Bethlehem Steel debacle. Benson
recognized the growing opportunity for himself and for the Navy, even
feared now that his destiny would be never to command a fleet and face
foe He might make full admiral - hell,
he might even rise to the dizzying heights of an ambassadorship! - but
he’d never get to do was to strive with shot and shell with an enemy.
He grimaced slightly at the feel of the
desk’s glossy wood
under his palm as he sat down; Stennis doubtless had roughened armor
under his own. He could not help it; he
truly envied Stennis his fleet, unaware of the irony.
“And what of last night’s reports that the
Huns were making
sortie preps?” A bit of a hum came and
went, as others murmured their concordance with the questioner.
LT Hereford was seated well away from the
though still where he could be summoned to his principal’s side by look
gesture. Another flaglieutenant seated
just to his right shifted uneasily in his chair at the question, but Hereford was so intent on De Robeck’s expressionless face that his own remained
“I do not discount them, My Lord,” replied
the Commander -
Grand Fleet, evenly. The question had
hardly been an unexpected one, after all. “They’ve
had a month to make repairs. We have made
good use of the time; I should expect they
have done the
same. The Grand Fleet stands ready.”
“Admiral Burney has yet to return, nor has
he managed to
bring the America Affair to a conclusion.”
“Admiral Burney continues to patrol those
waters, my lords,
showing the Americans and all the rest that the Royal Navy remains in
of the high seas even as the two battlecruisers that the Germans have
from their own fleet are off skulking somewhere. I
have full confidence in Admiral Burney and,
when the Germans’ come out of hiding, that he will deal with them most
“Hmmm.” The hum
and went again, but its tone was less certain.
“Could they even now already be on their way
“They could. I
have coal for a flying passage of any sort and our patrols are alerted. I gravely doubt that two battlecruisers, four
cruisers, five passenger liners, and merchants will go unnoticed.”
“They have so far, have they not?” The hum was a bit harsher this time.
“Quite correct, my lord.
The last sighting was four days ago - dusk on the 25th
off the American port of Boston - about 3,000 miles away from here, further
still from Germany,
especially with the Channel closed to them. The
liners could do it in six - alone. The
warships, if they had a mountain of coal, might manage
eight. The merchants - a month.”
The implication was that the ocean was vast
and broad, such
that the Germans could engage in hide-and-seek for some time, just as
they played their little games on the far side of the Atlantic.
could not interpret the tone this time.
“For now, my lords, Halifax and Bermuda
both remain quite secure and Kingston is making ready. The Americans have seen
our fleet and seen off the Germans. Admiral
Burney is sweeping along the American coastline,
clear. Admiral Seavey is enroute,
escorting all merchantmen that were ready to sail. Once he completes the transit, full commerce
should resume without interruption.”
“And those Hun sortie preparations?”
“We are ready, my lords.
I’d prefer more time, of course, because time remains on
our side. Inside another two months, the
damaged dreadnoughts will return to me and two new ones will be added
well. Whatever window the Germans may
have managed to achieve a month ago is fast closing - if they achieved
all - and in sixty days, ninety at the outside, it will have closed
These were welcome words, and warmly
though, saw some quietly frown a bit, as they realized that De Robeck
as much as admitted that the Royal Navy remained at some real risk for
thirty to sixty days.
Vice-Admiral Letters looked over the sheets
and lists. Vice-Admiral Rudberg and
Admiral Necki knew
what he was seeing, but not what he was thinking. From
the grim expression on the face of the
HSF Commander, they had concluded that he did not like what he saw.
They were correct.
“I need ten dreadnoughts,” he was thinking. “I’ve staked almost everything on it, gamed
with ten, and even delayed Hanzik perhaps a terribly fateful week for
“And I don’t have them.
And I WON’T have them.”
“And time’s run out.”
The missing hull rattled around in his head
like a round
“Not enough torpedo boats, either, but
there’s never been
enough. Not really.”
The absence of Blucher to anchor the screen
in the face of
the superior RN light forces truly hurt. The
task and the asset had proved to be a perfect match in
battle at two
critical junctures, and none of the other ACs were suitable for the
task. Perhaps, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau
been refitted to be useful by now, if they’d made it back.
But Spee had not, nor had his irreplaceable
light cruisers. “This is not getting me
closer,” Letters chided himself.
The others could not hear the dialogue
inside the Baron’s
head, but they saw him put aside the proposed screen dispositions and
“The six half-flotillas will do,” the Baron
having a light cruiser for each will be a help.”
They nodded back, but he was already head
down over the
original sheets, back in his internal debate. “Can
I make my case?” He had
lest even more ill-fated decisions get made, and not by him.
to consider how many we might need. I
have robbed Peter to pay Paul, but I saw no other way. None.”
Konig had lost two turrets to the British at
Kaiserschlacht. Kapitan zur See Mueller
had lost two more to the Germans at Wilhelmshaven. Still, Frederick Der Grosse and Kaiserin both
now had five operable turrets. The
readily available spares had gone to Prinz Luitpold and Ostfriesland,
had been the ones first ready to receive them. He
hoped more replacements could be fabricated in time.
For next time? Steel
had unexpectedly become a major
Naval officers were not trained to
intricacies of national industries, but Letters did not excuse himself
point, as he’d never had the luxury of considering himself “just” a
officer. In his mind, one had no
business playing at strategy if one had not mastered the strategic. And it seemed that he had done precisely
that. He’d seriously overestimated the
industrial power available to repair the High Seas Fleet, and the
underestimated damage had served to compound the problem by raising
expectations further. The Grand-Admiral
had been right down on the docks, and Letters now understood the
the other’s insight back on June 1 when he, Letters, had been so sure,
confident in victory and the path forward. Tirpitz,
however, had known what a terrible blow would be
trying to make good the damage he’d seen that day.
Letters’ vision had been that the HSF had to
act or yield
its claim on resources to the Army. He’d
brought others to his view, including Rudberg and perhaps Necki, but in
acting he had increased the KM’s demands on the State many-fold. They had consumed all local assets, utilized
all excess capacity, drawn down stores, and soaked up a great deal of
that would have gone to others. The
effects long term were unknowable.
problem, however, was Markgraf. Actually,
“problem” was itself a terrible understatement -
“tragedy” was more apt. It had just
become clear that she would not be ready for another two weeks, or
longer. She’d taken ten hits at the battle. The fires had weakened more structural steel
than had been initially surveyed and her flooding had damaged more
and fittings. It had been Letters’
decision on how to proceed, and he’d gambled. He
could have limited repairs and had her ready but
fragile. One alternative had been to
turret “en flute” and accept engine degrading vibrations above 15 knots. Letters had not done that, choosing instead
to wager she’d be repaired in time.
A wager he’d lost.
“Dare I make another? Actually,
I dare not draw back now. I must make it
work. I must
Baron Vice-Admiral Letters looked up from the dismal papers
“Good work. It
time to get authorization. Let us go.”
smiled back, but he had not fooled either of them.
This was deja vu for them both, though it was
stronger for Rudberg.
It was Montrose Toast all over again.
1) Admiral William
Shepherd Benson was born on September
25, 1855. His early sea duties
circumnavigation of the globe on the 1,486 ton USS Dolphin (one of the
ships of the “New Navy”) in the 1880s. His
later assignments included surveys, several senior staff billets,
instructor, CO of the cruiser USS Albany (CL-22), CO of the battleship
(BB-11), plank-owner CO of USS Utah (BB-31), and Commandant of the
Navy Yard. For a view of him at the
desk, go to the fifth photo at: