Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14
Part 15
Part 16
Part 17
Part 18
Part 19
Part 20
Part 21
Part 22
Part 23
Part 24
Part 25
Part 26
Part 27
Part 28
Part 29
Part 30
Part 31
Part 32
Part 33
Part 34
Part 35
Part 36
Part 37
Part 38
Part 39
Part 40
Part 41
Part 42
Part 43
Part 44
Part 45
Part 46
Part 47
Part 48
Part 49
Part 50
Part 51
Part 52
Part 53
Part 54
Part 55
Part 56
Part 57
Part 58
Part 59
Part 60
Part 61
Part 62
Part 63
Part 64
Part 65
Part 66
Part 67
Part 68
Part 69
Part 70
Part 71
Part 72
Part 73
Part 74
Part 75
Part 76
Part 77
Part 78
Part 79
Part 80
Part 81
Part 82
Part 83
Part 84
Part 85
Part 86
Part 87
Part 88
Part 89
Part 90
Part 91
Part 92
Part 93
Part 94
Part 95
Part 96
Part 97
Part 98
Part 99
Part 100
Part 101
Part 102
Part 103
Part 104
Part 105
Part 106
Part 107
Part 108
Part 109
Part 110
Part 111
Part 112
Part 113
Part 114
Part 115
Part 116
Part 117
Part 118
Part 119
Part 120
Part 121
Part 122
Part 123
Part 124
Part 125
Part 126
Part 127
Part 128
Part 129
Part 130
Part 131
Part 132
Part 133
Part 134
Part 135
Part 136
Part 137
Part 138
Part 139
Part 140
Part 141
Part 142
Part 143
Part 144
Part 145
Part 146
Part 147
Part 148
Part 149
Part 150
Part 151
PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - Flag Fears

June 29, 1915

---- Benbow, course 175 speed 16 knots

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 quite clear last night, so Captain Herrick was fairly confident as to precisely where they 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 coastline, 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 German 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 were, it 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 lurk off the American coast?  Could they - even then - be slipping into the Caribbean, perhaps with the intent to sever those vital shipping links, poising them to continue south and 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?

---- Bermuda

The Acting-Station Commander stood at one window, looking out the harbor entrance wearing the same expression that Burney was evincing almost 600 miles away and, in fact, sharing the same worry: what news might another brace of hours bring?  If today were the day the Huns had chosen for their mischief, two hours - three at the 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 predictable.

Modern technology had shrunk the globe.  Now, word of a dawn attack - almost anywhere in the British Empire - was only a couple hours away.

It was waiting out those fateful hours that had become the real trial.

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 desperately avoid anything that might produce a Falklands repeat.

No, he no longer feared a German attack, just news of one.

---- Washington, 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 did 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 as it 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 dead end?

With Secretary Josephus Daniels above, Admirals Fiske and Stennis below, and the Brits and Huns and Japanese circling like hungry sharks, 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 discovering any satisfactory conclusion.  (NOTE 2)

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 as he 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 background, the salty Atlantic air still blowing across his bridge and, most of all, the 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 Navy had 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 as he feared now that his destiny would be never to command a fleet and face a foe  He might make full admiral - hell, he might even rise to the dizzying heights of an ambassadorship! - but what 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 steel under his own.  He could not help it; he truly envied Stennis his fleet, unaware of the irony.  (NOTE 4)

---- London

“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 prominences, though still where he could be summoned to his principal’s side by look or 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 still, as well.

“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 control of the high seas even as the two battlecruisers that the Germans have detached 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 effectively.”

“Hmmm.”  The hum came and went again, but its tone was less certain.

“Could they even now already be on their way back?”

“They could.  I doubt they 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 two score 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 just 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 it in 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 long as they played their little games on the far side of the Atlantic.

“Hmmm.”  Hereford 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, confirming it 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 last four damaged dreadnoughts will return to me and two new ones will be added as well.  Whatever window the Germans may have managed to achieve a month ago is fast closing - if they achieved any at all - and in sixty days, ninety at the outside, it will have closed entirely.”

These were welcome words, and warmly received.  Hereford, though, saw some quietly frown a bit, as they realized that De Robeck had just as much as admitted that the Royal Navy remained at some real risk for the next thirty to sixty days.

---- Wilhelmshaven

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 it.

“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 shot.

“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 could have 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 look up at them.

“The six half-flotillas will do,” the Baron declared, “and 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 to, lest even more ill-fated decisions get made, and not by him.

“Turrets.  We failed 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 Die 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, as they 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 problem. 

Naval officers were not trained to understand the intricacies of national industries, but Letters did not excuse himself on this point, as he’d never had the luxury of considering himself “just” a naval 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 slightly 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 keenness of the other’s insight back on June 1 when he, Letters, had been so sure, so confident in victory and the path forward.  Tirpitz, however, had known what a terrible blow would be struck in 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 so 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 resources that would have gone to others.  The effects long term were unknowable.

The  immediate problem, however, was Markgraf.  Actually, “problem” was itself a terrible understatement - perhaps “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 bulkheads 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 render Caesar 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 find a way.”

Baron Vice-Admiral Letters looked up from the dismal papers and smiled.


“Good work.  It is time to get authorization.  Let us go.”

They 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.

Author’s NOTEs:


1) Admiral William Shepherd Benson was born on September 25, 1855.  His early sea duties included a circumnavigation of the globe on the 1,486 ton USS Dolphin (one of the first ships of the “New Navy”) in the 1880s.  His later assignments included surveys, several senior staff billets, Annapolis instructor, CO of the cruiser USS Albany (CL-22), CO of the battleship Missouri (BB-11), plank-owner CO of USS Utah (BB-31), and Commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard.  For a view of him at the desk, go to the fifth photo at:‑us/uspers‑b/w‑bensn.htm

2) See the 10:00 AM entry at:‑jun16‑NY3.html

3) (The author admits ignorance whether Benson actually ever paused as described, or felt any of the ambivalence described in the text.)

4) Vice-Admiral Stennis felt similarly!  See the entry at time 3:30 PM at:‑jun18‑D‑8.html

Historically, it seems that Benson never did command a fleet at sea

by Jim

Home | Gaming Model | Dogger Bank | Intermission Stories | Jutland | After Jutland | Side Stories | Ein Geleitzug | The Humor of jj | NEW!

Content Copyright 2010 Lettertime. All Rights Reserved.
Web Design 2009-2010 Kathryn Wanschura
Contact Letterstime