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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - Hoists, Cables, and Petards

June 30, 1915

---- Benbow, course 195 speed 16 knots

As noon approached, so did the waters off Charleston, a port on the southern part of the eastern coast of the United States, now some 50-plus miles to the west.  Herrick had noted that Admiral Burney appeared to have begun to relax a bit, just as he had yesterday, and at about the same time.  Even as Benbow’s CO covertly watched the admiral, the flag officer rubbed at his face with one nut-brown and well calloused hand.  Perhaps he felt the glance, for he turned to face him.

“Captain, you may proceed.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Herrick responded, crisply enough.  Nonetheless, as the signal flags ascended the hoist, he remained uncertain as to the wisdom of the orders he was sending up.  Could the Germans really have split up?  Was Burney implementing orders he had brought with him all along, from the Admiralty, perhaps?

“All ships have acknowledged, sir.”

“Very well.  Execute.”

Aye, aye, sir.  Helm, come to course 088, speed 18 knots.”

Burney wanted to be arriving off Bermuda - some 700 miles distant - at dawn two days hence and had timed this accordingly.

Not all of his command would be arriving there, Herrick reminded himself, as he watched two of the ships begin to diverge from Benbow’s course.  Duke of Edinburgh and Black Prince were on their way to Kingston and that was what bothered him most.  True, it would be a master stroke if the Huns had peeled off a cruiser or two themselves, a la Emden, but what if what they found was a battlecruiser?  Would the pair of them suffice?  On the other hand, they might constitute just enough of a risk that the Germans would seek elsewhere for victims.

Of course, if the Germans had remained concentrated and stayed out of the Caribbean, then no harm would come from it and perhaps some good.  Certainly, the big armoured cruisers would well soothe a lot of merchanter fears.  Restoration of trans-Atlantic traffic had been deemed absolutely vital and the Admiralty’s view was that the presence of large, friendly warships had always been the best and surest way to get merchants back out into the sea lanes.

Still, Herrick would have preferred to wait until word of the Germans had been received.

“Sir, steady on course 088, speed is 18 knots.”

“Very well.”

---- Bermuda

The acting station chief considered the map again.  According to the latest wireless report, Admiral Burney was about 40 hours east and on course for Bermuda.   Admiral Seavey had reached the mid-point of his transit, putting him about 10 days away by convoy speed or a bit over three, if he detached and proceeded independently at best speed.

The only reason for Seavey to leave his three score and ten charges, however, would be if all the Germans were found somewhere else.  Nor was that all of it, reflected the white-haired flag officer.  If all of the Germans were spotted trying to break back into the North Sea, for example, doubtless Seavey’s orders would turn him around right in mid-ocean.

Until now, that is, thought the admiral.  Noon had Seavey closer to Bermuda than Britain, with the difference growing larger hour-by-hour.  Shortly, it would become impracticable for Seavey to reverse course for a flying passage back, making stopping and coaling in Bermuda essentially inevitable, no matter where the Huns should turn up.

He looked up and out into the empty harbor.  In just a few days, it was going to get crowded out there and he, for one, looked forward to it.

---- London, Offices of the Admiralty

The admirals and ministers were again facing the fact that another dawn had come and gone in the Americas without a sea battle or even a simple sighting of the enemy.  The Germans, who had strutted and preened themselves so publicly off the major cities of the United States, seemed now to have just evaporated.  Indeed, practically as Admiral Burney caught his first glimpse of the New World, the Huns had decamped to ... somewhere.  But where?  And ....

“How could they have known?  So precisely, I mean.”

The minister’s remark hinted delicately at German espionage.  The admirals’ countenances remained still, as this field of battle was Carson’s, unless the query was put to one of them directly.

“Simple math would seem more likely - that’s my guess,” Carson shrugged. “They would have expected a quick riposte and just added a transit time.”  He then gestured upward as he continued, “and then there was that business with the zeppelins, as well.”

There were grimaces at that.  Zeppelins as a fleet reconnaissance tool!  There was no telling what the Germans had been able to see and report, though the Germans had hardly emerged unscathed from THAT adventure and had not attempted to repeat it.  Yet.

“We’ve kept it close,” commented Lord Lansdowne, Secretary for the Colonies and Dominions.  “Closer than I’d have wagered.  Longer, too.  The cable.”

Heads nodded.  Severing the German trans-Atlantic cable on August 5, 1914, hours after Britain’s entry into the war, had left the Entente in sole possession of world-spanning instant communications.  (NOTE 1)  German efforts to nullify this advantage had been many, including cutting British cables when possible.  (NOTE 2)  Advancements in wireless technology, however, constituted a far greater menace in the minds of some.  For example, trans-Atlantic German wireless stations such as the one in the United States, threatened to erode the strategically important global information monopoly, but diplomatic efforts to close them bore promise. (NOTE 3)

“Burney put in to Halifax on the 27th; the papers there had it the next day, of course,” Lansdown continued.  “By then the admiral’s squadron was already off Boston.  Yesterday saw the first mention in the larger dailies but still nothing in the United States, though we can’t expect that to last more than another day or so.”

“I agree,” said Carson.  “Their admiral would have reported it, and Washington leaks like a sieve.”  The Yanks were still profoundly somnolent in their languid peace.  No semblance of wartime security there, at all.

“And their crews should already be coming ashore,” added Admiral Callaghan.  No matter what Washington did, sailors would talk.  Rumors would grow.  There’d be no clear evidence as to which British ships were involved, of course, but word of a strong RN force would be up and down the US coast in another day or two.  The element of surprise would be lost - if it’d ever been there to begin with - but at least it should boost confidence such that Admiral Seavey would have no trouble putting together the desperately-needed return convoy.

---- Wilhelmshaven

At last dismissed, the three admirals walked out of the waxed-wood chamber with its marble columns and the massive doors that shut almost subsonically behind them.  Nothing was said as they paced down the halls and they silently acknowledged the crisp military courtesies extended by the sentries who opened the doors of the building.  Once outside, background noises began to grow but it was still quiet enough to hear the granite steps whisper back the treading of the men and the junior officers who followed in their wake.  The scents from the flower beds gave way to coal smoke while the cheery martial tunes of military bands were drowned out by the industrial cacophonies of modern military machinery.  As they approached the waiting automobile, the junior officers there found little to read in their principals’ expressions.

From Vice-Admiral Rudburg’s point of view, the meeting had not gone all that badly, especially the addition of a Baltic flotilla.  He did not offer that observation, however.  The Baron’s countenance exuded a pleasant, confident, and professional demeanor, but Rudburg knew better than to troll those deceptively still waters.  He had seen that look before, most recently when Letters had had to strike Markgraf from the sortie OOB.  Rear-Admiral Necki was also being quite careful with his countenance.  For him, this latest meeting constituted a most stunning conclusion to a dramatically enervating month.  It was not consternation, however, that threatened to break out on his face and just now that would not be a good thing.

Author’s NOTEs:

1) The information war may be hard to appreciate practically a century after the Great War.  Today, there are a great number and variety of information sources and methods, all the way from ham radio, to satellite, to fiber-optic cable, to the internet.  The first trans-Atlantic cable was completed - after many heartbreaks and scornful posturings - in August 1858.  Thus, real-time, trans-Atlantic information flow had existed for over half a century when the Great War began.  A wonderful site with lots of related information - including global cable maps! - is this one:


Britain would decisively win the information war component of the Great War, but Germany first faced the problem during The Boer War in 1899, when Britain stopped allowing other nations to encode cable transmissions.  Germany then established a separate network of cables, with the first completed in 1900 (Emden to New York, via the Azores), the completion of which led President McKinley to send a personal congratulatory cablegram to Kaiser Wilhelm II.  In World War I, of course, British naval dominance allowed them to sever the German cables while protecting those of the Entente.  This, then, could well suggest another reason for any Great Power wanting a powerful, deep-water navy.  The consequences of winning or losing the information war were not limited to the obvious ones of intelligence and espionage.  In fact, one might well argue that spy matters were the least of the effects.  On the strategic scale, ownership of the only operable cables allowed the Entente to decide what information crossed the oceans of the world.  This was mentioned first in Letterstime during the discussion of the British Blockade and the British seizure of the American food ship “Wilhelmina.”  See:‑blockade.html

On a larger scale, control of cables assured that Germany would always lose the propaganda war which, with the existence of significant Neutral Powers, was a serious and eventually fatal matter.  One post-war calculation estimated that, during the first year of The Great War, the sources of the front page war news in the New York Times were 4% from Germany versus 70% from the Entente.  Among the sites that contain discussions of these issues, I recommend:


2) Some have wondered if cutting the trans-Atlantic cable might have been a worthy mission in the Great War for an expedition such as portrayed in Ein Geleitzug.  It should be noted that von Spee’s forces did that twice, but to no lasting effect.  A shore party from Nurnberg and Leipzig landed on Fanning in the Pacific and cut the two Entente cables at that location on September 7, 1914.  In the case of Fanning, a Mr. Hugh Greig - “the labour superintendent” - was able to dive and reconnect the severed ends himself, restoring service “within two weeks.”

Emden would land a shore party on the Cocos Islands to do the same there.  That, in fact, was the mission that led to Emden’s loss, as HMAS Sydney showed up at just that time.  Emden was destroyed/beached, though the raiding party escaped.  One might then well argue that the British cable dominance (and the desire to cut it) had caused the loss of Emden.

3) See the chapter cited below, especially Footnote 5:‑jun18‑decisions‑25.html

by Jim

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