Letterstime - Ein
Geleitzug - TIOWF, Part 1
First Ninety Minutes
---- Dawn, Savoyard Cove
Wolfgang Kessock had already gained considerable small boat handling
before the squadron had left Wilhelmshaven. In
fact, it was just that sort of experience that the
Baron’s men had
been selecting for, with another being multilingualism.
Kessock’s confidence in Petty Officer Britz
and Seaman Schmidt had only grown since their rescue efforts last week
hours after the battle off New York. Numerous
times since and under a variety of conditions,
had they taken
to small boats to capture merchantmen, ferry prisoners, and the like. For all the officers and men involved, those
tasks had served to brush up their skills and improve teamwork, all the
under the eyes of senior officers. Erzherzog
Bavaria had told Wolfgang to his face that his
was the most
important assignment this fateful day and it had gone to him because he
Bavaria - had judged he and his crew the best suited.
but feeling keenly the pressure of those words, Kessock was immensely
for his top-notch boat crew, for he was doing something that he
without precedent in the entire history of the Kaiserliche Marine. (NOTE 1)
His heart hammered in his chest and the knowledge that
others would soon
duplicate his first deed calmed him not a whit as he stared into the
dimness. The pre-dawn half-light had
gradually begun to yield to the light of the true dawn these last
minutes. There were a dozen other boats
out here with
him, two of them almost directly astern, following his lead. He had to get this right.
So much could go so very wrong, so simply, so
quickly. A slight twitch drew his eye to
the men hunched over and clasping the two shielded lanterns tightly
ahead to starboard,” called Schmidt, quietly from the bow, dragging
eyes back ahead. Wolfgang could hear the
sibilant susurrations of water across rocks, but could see nothing
older seaman must half see in the dark. The
only things he could see were the oars - as they
dipped and pulled
and raised and dipped - and the man casting the lead, its small
sounding much like any jumping fish, he fervently hoped.
it half-a-point to port.”
to port, aye, aye, sir.” Britz’ tone was
solid and unperturbed. Kessock drew a
measure of calm just from the sound of it. The
oars moved and the lead splashed some more.
in sight, sir.” There was some enthusiasm
in the lookout’s voice. “Another
half-point to port will put us dead on.”
young officer strained, trying not to make the mistake of looking
where he thought to spot his target. He
could not ... wait! Yes! A
lightness became a whiteness became a
wavering white line became a beach.
do you see anyone? Any movement?”
sir. Looks quiet.”
stretch of what looked like sand drew closer and closer.
Visibility was still poor-ish and Wolfgang guessed
that it was probably mostly gravel. This
was a granite peak, after all. They
closed the gap.
light, sir!” Schmidt’s voice was a
hoarse whisper. “Off to port.
Looks like a building, from a window.”
see it.” Damn! Why
couldn’t they have all stayed snugly abed
for just another 15 minutes? He didn’t
see any figures and Schmidt didn’t call out any more sightings. Still, sure as hell, they did not have indoor
plumbing. That meant that someone might
emerge any second to ....
beach was there. The angry rasping
noises beneath his seat shocked him back to the tasks at hand. His first thought as he jumped out was that
the sounds beneath the little keel seemed to confirm his prediction as
shoreline texture here. The bitter
coldness of the knee-deep water was a second jolt.
third was greater still and it came as he strode out of the waves, and
his hand on his holster in sheer reaction to it ....
had just begun “The Invasion of Western France”!
Dawn + 20 minutes, pier at Savoyard Cove
they’d spotted the little jetty, LT Bornholdt had given the order to
from Kessock’s course and head for it. The
lead casting continued on his craft, as well.
he stepped out of the boat and onto the pier, if Bornholdt felt any of
historical thrill that had so stunned Kessock some eighty paces away,
no evidence of it. Coldly and curtly, he
gave orders telling off trios towards the summer fishing houses, or
that were in sight. He directed the trio
under his steadiest petty officer towards the cottage showing the light. Like Kessock, he expected someone to make an
appearance there any moment. The lead
caster he directed to join Kessock.
gave a “follow me” gesture towards the pair remaining and began what he
was an easy jog away from the pier and up the roadway.
(NOTE 2) It
was not certain that there were no houses up near what
passed for a
ridgeline, and there was no knowledge at all as to whether any
just over the crest. Within a few dozen
paces, his breath began to burn in his throat. Well
before he reached the top, he was forced to ease the
cursing his loss of conditioning.
had deliberately chosen the most slender, rangy, and fit-looking men to
accompany him. Nonetheless, the enlisted
pair had faded even more quickly than their officer, their nine pound
gaining weight with every stride. Their
jog - at a semblance of port arms - quickly degenerated into little
more than a
fast walk, and so they lost ground to the young officer.
was increasing rapidly, but Bornholdt’s respiration would have let them
unerringly trail him in absolute darkness. The
officer had made it forcibly clear that it was
to secure this side at the earliest possible moment.
The sounds coming from the officer offered
grim confirmation of the other’s sincerity, so they strove their
and joined him just two minutes after he had come to a stop two paces
top. They both wondered why he had
stopped there but, of course, said nothing. The
officer gestured for them to sit, and they did so, a
at the consideration. If they resented
that he made them sit on the moist and brushy pitch rather than the dry
roadway, they gave no sign. After a
couple more moments, the officer also sat down, but about two yards
the sailors, and also off the road surface.
had been no houses near the ridge, on either side.
The closest was completely dark and
sufficiently distant down the far side that Bornholdt had judged no
action to be the best course. With the
road secure at the military crest, the young officer assigned each man
specific arc to watch. That done, he
peeked over the crest periodically, but he mostly watched as events
to unfold below.
Dawn + 25 minutes, Savoyard Cove
Bavaria had been leading all the other boats in Kessock’s wake. Today promised nothing but a succession of
strange, dangerous, and damnably undignified trials.
How had he had come to this? Even
success would be exhausting! Just three
weeks ago, the future seemed full
of fetes, with maybe even a vindicating reception in Vienna. Instead, he was ... here, commanding a
flotilla of leaky and dirty rowboats.
Bornholdt diverged, Bavaria put his own craft onto a course about
between the two. All the others followed
his, saving the one whose original orders had been to diverge to the
side of Kessock than the one the commander would choose.
Looking about for unwelcome surprises as they
approached the shore, Bavaria was not particularly comforted to find
none. He hated being here, but this was
dining rooms. He was positive that his
proper place was just out to sea, but Kommodore von Hoban had decreed
otherwise. With visibility still low, he
allowed himself a petulant scowl as he climbed out onto France. The sudden ice water in his boots did not
soften his expression.
officers had taken charge and the boats were being dragged well out of
water. Many would doubtless be destroyed
anyway, but certain contingencies went better if some effort was made
preserve them. Bornholdt had
disappeared, presumably up the hill after acting to secure the locals. The locals, too, were of minor import but in
some cases their actions could make a difference, and for a variety of
not the least because of what would soon happen here.
He advanced on the caucus Kessock was
conducting up beach. A decision was needed
but, as he approached, the meeting seemed to adjourn.
like right at the pier,” Kessock pointed. “It
shoals too far out where I came in, and there’re bad
a good guess, sir. If the tide were well
full, maybe it’d be okay, but ....” Kessock
shrugged in the still-dim light.
both turned to look at the little pier. There
were two fishing boats tied up there, atop the
larger a tall mast
waved warily in the chop, as well it might. Visitors
might have called them quaint. That would
surprising that the pier’s the spot.”
agreed Kessock. “The water stays deeper
closer. I feel it’s the best chance.”
well, carry on."
Dawn + 25 minutes, Sainte Julie, speed 6 knots
Siegfried realized that what he was about to do was probably not a
that helped not a bit. His assignment
might seem easy enough on its face, however much ship masters tried
utmost best all their lives NOT to do it.
he was to lose his ship. Deliberately.
His first command!
her aground - no soft sandy shoreline here! - fatally holing her hull . She might last only a few hands of minutes,
or several hours, or maybe even some changes of the tide, but he was
life as surely as setting off a magazine explosion.
No longer a ship, an entity, she would be
only a mass of fast-rusting wreckage - at best a home for crabs and
Gommel stood beside him, where the dampened Bavaria felt was more
place. Kommodore von Hoban, however, had
been unwilling to hazard Bavaria there. Von
Hoban had told Bavaria that the operation might still
salvaged should the wreck go wrong, and that Bavaria had the
confidence at improvising under those conditions. Was
that a compliment? An insult?
Or just politics? Von Hoban
been immune to all reasoned counter-proposals, leading Bavaria to
Admiral Hanzik was behind it, or maybe even the Baron.
Damn, but he hated this war!
of course, could not see the distant Austrian scowl, though he was
that general direction. He was intent on
the waters ahead, as were all on the bridge, though their attention was
on the two men at the bow than at the waves. Tension
abraded them all like metal rasps.
they all jerked as though poked, “the work teams are all tied off.”
well,” Siegfried and Gommel replied in unison, each flinching again at
sound of the other’s voice.
on the bow!” One hooded light - not two
- swung back and forth.
left 10 degrees,” ordered Siegfried.
15 degrees off the port bow!”
you slow a knot,” offered Gommel. “No
more just now."
nodded and gave the order. He might need
to go astern, but he’d need steerage way right up to the last moments.
Dawn + 35 minutes, Savoyard Cove
the sight of the Sainte-Julie’s bows, Petty Officer Britz began what he
was a dignified retreat, swinging his lantern in slow, wide passes as
went. Well up the beach, LT Kessock was
practically wringing his hands in anxiety. He
was sure that if this failed, it’d be his fault and
they’d be in even
more of a mess than they surely were already.
- pier in sight - felt quite the same, but that it’d be all HIS fault. “Nein-nein!” Siegfried
thought in a sudden and strange non-sequitor, as
that he was being conned straight into a pier and two fishing boats. There had, of course, been no time to move
the vessels, even if the Germans had had the time and the men to
shift the unfamiliar and unpowered craft in the dark.
“Ach, du lieber Himmel! Why
who was coaching the young officer, was more cerebral about it,
a regrettable development only.
the families turned out of bed in shock and terror mere minutes before,
the greatest of tragedies. Herded
together by armed men to a spot just outside the largest of the
stood shivering in nightclothes and blankets. Now,
right before their eyes, their very livelihood was
about to be
rendered into kindling. The men spotted
it first and cried out in fresh disbelief, their French a mixture of
prayers. The others were numb or
the men up near the crest, it promised simply to be high entertainment. Dutifully, they scanned their arcs, but they
both kept stealing glances down at the light now moving off the pier. They knew what that meant.
At the low-voiced comment, Bornholdt swung
back from another glance over the crest.
two dozen yards below, a figure had just emerged from the scrub and
roadway. A second, slightly smaller one
joined it. After a brief pause, the two
hunched over and began to run towards the crest.
Bornholdt hissed quietly. The
two Frenchmen did not appear to hear him
and continued their approach, stumbling as they kept casting anxious
behind them. How had the landing party
men looked to him. He could not tell for
sure, but the Frenchmen did not seem dangerously large and they were
gestured for his men to put down their Mausers. He
doubted the French were armed, and a shot now was
anyway. His men obeyed, stoically,
though they may well have decried lugging the damnably heavy things all
up there if they were not to be permitted to use them.
After another moment, Bornholdt holstered his
Pistolen-08 as he pointed out assignments. If
this went badly, he still had his sword.
began well enough, and they sprung out of the brush in fine, fierce
tackles. Bornholdt went with them, ready
to help with fist or blade.
a short but memorable struggle, the Germans found that they had
sisters, aged 12 and 10. The Kaiserliche
Marine’s victory was not bloodless, however. The
younger one bit.
Dawn + 40 minutes, Langlade (also named Petite Miquelon)
LT Diele, it all went completely without event. Well,
His two boats had landed
on a deserted shoreline. The toughest part
was that the many of the houses were up
scrambles across talus. Catching the men
still in their nightshirts had apparently curbed any inclinations
martial ardor, especially in the presence of their women and children
ALSO in their nightclothes.
had three men with ankle sprains, two crying kids, and one woman who
would not stop screaming.
Dawn + 45 minutes, Savoyard Cove
was only after tying – and gagging – his redoubtable prisoners that
finally discovered that the Sainte-Julie had made “landfall” during
later be called, though only quite far behind his back: “The Battle of
Cove.” Already, men were clustering
along the shore side, readying to bring off her cargo.
He glanced again over the crest; all remained
on what was left of the Sainte-Julie, LT Siegfried gave a desultory
as he exited her bridge for the last time. Up
until a few minutes ago, the entire mission seemed to
depend on his
every utterance. Now, there seemed to be
no more orders to give. What does one do
after one destroys one’s own ship? He
shook his head at the strange empty feeling and headed out onto the
decks of what
had once been his to command. What had
been his ship was now no more than a large, metallic piece of driftwood.
teams of men were pulling at ropes, maneuvering cranes, hoisting slings
pallets aloft and over the side. There
were several groups in view down along the side. Petty
officers and leading seaman seemed to
have everything well in hand, calling out their orders in terse tones. He just stood there.
Leutnant!” Siegfried turned.
It was Gommel. The older
officer had departed the bridge at
a near run even before Siegfried had sent the All Stop on the Engine
Telegraph. “There seems to be some
trouble,” he stated, pointing down along the side.
Some of the “cargo” were making matters
aye, sir,” Siegfried acknowledged, and clambered over the side and down
heavy cargo netting. He was a junior
officer again, and JOs always had plenty of things to do.
Dawn + 50 minutes, 400 yards off the beach of I’ile aux Chiens (NOTE 3)
three large rowboats approached the shore separately, each with
assigned missions. Their tow had already
gone about and eased back out to sea.
near the stern of the center one, LT Heinrich von Larg was nervous as
as he stared through the fast-brightening fog. He
was late and he could no longer see the other boats.
He did not even bother to look astern, as the
u-boat they’d all cast off from had been lost in the fog 20 or more
ago. Over the low murmurs of the stroke
cadence, he could hear the waves washing the stony beach and
guessed that it could be no more than one or two hundred yards ahead. A hundred yards went by, then another. The sounds grew, but still he could not see
pier in sight,” came the call from the bow. “Two
points to starboard.”
head for it,” Kessock ordered, in an exhalation of relief.
He’d expected it to be to port, but so be
it. Or were there two piers?
He frowned. The briefing had
said there was only one, but maybe
another had been
built? Or, perhaps the currents? Maybe, though, they had just gotten a bit off
course. The other boats had been
supposed to diverge to port and starboard and they had done that. Well, the shoreline here was 1,000 meters
long and as long as they got there, this should go well enough. At least, that was what the Erzherog Bavaria
had assured him. “Just get your force
ashore,” Bavaria had said, “and keep them in good order.
You have 30 men; there are probably under 400
there, many of them women and children. Yours
are armed; there may be only a hand of firearms on
island ... perhaps none at all, but don’t assume any such thing, of
course. Even if there are dozens, those
you encounter should be unarmed if you have surprise.
That is what you must judge: have you
achieved surprise? If you must shoot,
try to minimize the discharges. Sound
was no idle concern. The largest and
most challenging objective by far lay just across the roads, in plain
a clear day. It was not clear,
though. Not yet. But
it would be, in an hour, two at the
most. That’s about how long he had to
get his objective largely secured. Visibility
was still not great, but there was no doubt
that they were
downwind of a fishing village. The
massive stink of exposed fish was a hammer blow to his nasal cavities!
the boat to port, the petty officer in charge had pushed the pace some
already had the islet in sight. He’d
seen many a fishing village and what he saw ahead was much smaller and
developed than any that he could recall. This
was late June, he thought, so where were the flowers?
The splotches of color that he did see looked
isolated and half-hearted compared with the broad swaths of bright hues
he’d grown up enjoying. There was even
more gray than green. Actually, the area
beyond the tide marks looked white, like fine sand, but that seemed
impossible. And it looked lumpy. Well, he had no more time now for
up there,” he called. “Georg, take your
three upshore to port ....” The briefing
said there was a path there that went up and over a rise and possibly
another launch point. Their task was to
secure the folk there, and especially to immobilize any boats.
the boat to von Larg’s starboard, the petty officer saw he that could
at the end of the line of structures. He
would be forced to divide his men from the very start, and he hated
that. He knew that appearance was
situations like this. A group of ten men
with rifles was an organized force, but pairs with guns could look like
leading irascible fishermen to make a fatal mistake.
and good planning pay off, LT von Larg concluded, thirty minutes later. At least it had this time.
The folk had been initially disbelieving,
perhaps thinking it all an elaborate prank. Only
now, with just about everyone accounted for, had they
realized what was happening. Other than
the “white sand,” there had been no surprises. It
had turned out to be a plain of cod, laid out on rocks
to dry. (NOTE 4) Best of all, no shots had been fired.
Dawn + 70 minutes, 80 yards off the beach of Grande Miquelon
LT Lionel exhorted, hoarsely. “Pull!”
were going to arrive exhausted, but the young officer felt he had no
von Larg to the south, he was leading three boats in.
Heinrich had been twenty minutes late; Lionel
was twice that in arrears. Either the
currents or simple misjudgment had resulted in the u-boat casting off
hundreds of yards off target. He only
hoped he survived to experience the recriminations.
There were cannons in several places on the
islands. Commander Bavaria had expressed
confidence that they were all muzzle-loading antiques from the days of
but the portly Austrian nobleman was not in a rowboat in what was fast
had already made the command decision NOT to split up his boats. They would arrive tired and, if they met
resistance at the waterline, he wanted all his men together. Though best by far to be avoided, gun shots
did not matter as much here.
Gott! There were already men coming down
onto the beach! He counted eight then
stopped, as several paused to stare at the approaching apparitions. One turned to another, as though to offer an
opinion. This could come apart in an
instant. What should he...?
Lionel was stunned to see the petty officer in the boat to port wave
a moment, two men waved back. Others
joined them, and several discussions seemed to begin amongst them -
with fluttering hands and Gaulic shrugs - and they all started to pick
way down to the waterline. They were
guessing which ship had gone down offshore, for they had concluded that
three were lifeboats. The chance for
salvage or valuable flotsam occupied their talk. Lionel
knew none of that, of course, but at
least the men were unarmed and coming to him - and that seemed a
enough development at the moment.
small boats themselves were not German in origin, of course, but
coxswain eased down one Mauser barrel that was poking up just above the
gunwhale. At the sight of the petty
officer’s act, the young officer hastily put his hands over the holster
Pistolen-08. He gave fervent thanks
that, unlike Bornholdt, he had declined to wear a sword.
He had feared it pulling him down in the
water, so this was serendipity not foresight, but he’d take it
the petty officers in the boats closest to the Frenchmen eased the
stroke. It allowed the men to begin to
breath, even as it let the more distant one land and get those men out.
Lionel realized that all his sailors were, after all, in uniform. The fishermen halted and began to stare at
the men dragging the boat up from the waterline.
mes Amies,” Lionel tried, in a bid to divert their attention, or simply
this another moment or two. “Minutes are
diamonds,” he heard in his head. He
understood that now with a frightening clarity.
didn’t gain minutes, just a few seconds. French heads swivelled back. Mouths opened.
it was enough. Lionel had gathered
himself, and now leaped out.
froze at the sight of the Luger. Then,
when the Mausers came out, their hands went up.
minutes later, Grande Miquelon was his.
that remained was St. Pierre, home to three-quarters of the population,
that was Bavaria’s nut to crack.
LT Kessock was mistaken but, as the previous instances were in the
those with von Spee, he had a good excuse.
Perhaps to avert problems from idleness during postings to the tiny
colony, the crews of the French frigates Iphigénie and
Cléopâtre were assigned
the task of constructing a road between Savoyard Cove and St. Pierre. Upon completion, an obelisk was commissioned
from Boston and erected there in 1856 as a sign of official gratitude. It can still be found across from Maison
Ozon. The road allowed the catch brought
in to Savoyard Cove to be brought across the island and back down into
Name changed to the present one of Ile aux Marins on May 2,1931, as a
a petition started by the island priest, Reverend Lavolé. At its peak in the early 1890s, nearly 700
lived there, but the decline of the “catch” led to an even more
population decline. By 1911, it was
already down to 363 and many would leave for war in 1914-15. Only 80 families were there in the summer of
1926. With the departure of most young
men to the trenches of France, the June 1915 population was probably
with very few of those remaining being young adult males.
The way cod was prepared for shipping is actually an important factoid
story. First, the fish were cleaned and
then rinsed extensively. Next, the
fillets were placed on rocks and allowed to dry in direct sunlight over
period of days, being turned over each day or even half-day. There were even terms to define how many
“turns” each fillet had had (like the many words in Inuit for snow, or
Arabic for sand?!). When it rained, the
fish were covered with canvas. The
insight here is that the heart of the fishing season, say, mid-June
mid-August, was consistently both clear enough and warm enough to dry
tons of cod that were brought in every day. Typically,
each day the fisherman would leave a couple
hours after dawn,
fish for three or four hours, and return around noon to begin the fish
processing. Thus, the rocky stretches
(the French word for what was oft a fenced in area between each
and boathouse was “Grave”) above the
waterline were turned into a fish processing “conveyer belt.” Each day, the fish ready for containers would
be replaced by the new, cleaned catch, while all the rest out on the
would be turned over again.
For a look from space, 85 years and a day after the events above:
a more generic view:
This French community with a 1915 population of perhaps 3,600 would
500 young men to fight in France and have 100 or more die there. The web has an incredible amount of detail on
these facts, including the name of each man who served and the
provided to his family concerning his death. St.
Pierre still has a memorial with their 65 names. Indeed,
there is a massive amount of
information wealth on the web, including the names of the entire
demographics, period photographs of the houses and other structures,
detailed discussions of life and customs. Perhaps
the best information source in English is, of all
University of Mary Washington website. The
author leaves that exercise to the determined reader,
as many of the
relevant details remain ahead in the story.
It might come as a surprise to some - it certainly did to the author! -
Baron Letters was not the first to draw up plans for the operations
in this story. It was apparently
seriously considered by Spain - one war earlier! - as a base for
against the northern US East Coast ports, including Boston and New York. Reportedly, Admiral
considered making this St. Pierre
his destination, instead of the one in Martinique.
Second St. Pierre,” article by Patrick Thomas McGrath in the New England
Magazine, May, Volume 28, pages 285-298. Sir McGrath (knighted in 1918) was a
journalist, editor, and public noted public servant who wrote extensively on
French-related topics associated with Newfoundland and the general area.
For more on him, see: