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Part 131
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Part 133
Part 134
Part 135
Part 136
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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 - TIOWF, Part 1

The First Ninety Minutes

June 25, 1915

---- Dawn, Savoyard Cove

LT Wolfgang Kessock had already gained considerable small boat handling experience 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 in the 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 while 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.

Flattered but feeling keenly the pressure of those words, Kessock was immensely grateful for his top-notch boat crew, for he was doing something that he suspected was 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 easing 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 atop the thwarts.

“Breakers ahead to starboard,” called Schmidt, quietly from the bow, dragging Kessock’s eyes back ahead.  Wolfgang could hear the sibilant susurrations of water across rocks, but could see nothing ahead; the 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 splashes sounding much like any jumping fish, he fervently hoped.

“Ease it half-a-point to port.”

“Half-a-point 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.

“Beach in sight, sir.”  There was some enthusiasm in the lookout’s voice.  “Another half-point to port will  put us dead on.”


“Aye, sir.”

The young officer strained, trying not to make the mistake of looking directly 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.

“Schmidt, do you see anyone?  Any movement?”

“No, sir.  Looks quiet.”

The 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.

“A light, sir!”  Schmidt’s voice was a hoarse whisper.  “Off to port.  Looks like a building, from a window.”

“I 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 ....

The 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 to the shoreline texture here.  The bitter coldness of the knee-deep water was a second jolt.

The third was greater still and it came as he strode out of the waves, and he put his hand on his holster in sheer reaction to it ....

He had just begun “The Invasion of Western France”!

---- Dawn + 20 minutes, pier at Savoyard Cove

Once they’d spotted the little jetty, LT Bornholdt had given the order to diverge from Kessock’s course and head for it.  The lead casting continued on his craft, as well.

As he stepped out of the boat and onto the pier, if Bornholdt felt any of the historical thrill that had so stunned Kessock some eighty paces away, he gave no evidence of it.  Coldly and curtly, he gave orders telling off trios towards the summer fishing houses, or “Maisons,” 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.

Bornholdt gave a “follow me” gesture towards the pair remaining and began what he thought 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 structures were 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 pace, silently cursing his loss of conditioning.

He 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 Mausers 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.

Visibility 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 absolutely imperative 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 weakening best and joined him just two minutes after he had come to a stop two paces before the 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 bit surprised 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 uphill from the sailors, and also off the road surface.

There 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 further action to be the best course.  With the road secure at the military crest, the young officer assigned each man a specific arc to watch.  That done, he peeked over the crest periodically, but he mostly watched as events continued to unfold below.

---- Dawn + 25 minutes, Savoyard Cove

CDR 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.

As Bornholdt diverged, Bavaria put his own craft onto a course about midway between the two.  All the others followed his, saving the one whose original orders had been to diverge to the opposite 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 not about 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. Petty officers had taken charge and the boats were being dragged well out of the water.  Many would doubtless be destroyed anyway, but certain contingencies went better if some effort was made to 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 reasons, 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.

“Looks like right at the pier,” Kessock pointed.  “It shoals too far out where I came in, and there’re bad shallows up further.”

“Submerged reef?”

“It’s a good guess, sir.  If the tide were well full, maybe it’d be okay, but ....”  Kessock shrugged in the still-dim light.

They 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 soon change.

“Not surprising that the pier’s the spot.”

“Jawohl,” agreed Kessock.  “The water stays deeper closer.  I feel it’s the best chance.”

“Very well, carry on."

---- Dawn + 25 minutes, Sainte Julie, speed 6 knots

LT Siegfried realized that what he was about to do was probably not a first, but that helped not a bit.  His assignment might seem easy enough on its face, however much ship masters tried their utmost best all their lives NOT to do it.

Simply, he was to lose his ship.  Deliberately.

Destroy her...  carefully.  His first command!

Run 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 taking her 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 eels.

LCDR Gommel stood beside him, where the dampened Bavaria felt was more properly HIS place.  Kommodore von Hoban, however, had been unwilling to hazard Bavaria there.  Von Hoban had told Bavaria that the operation might still possibly be salvaged should the wreck go wrong, and that Bavaria had the commodore’s full confidence at improvising under those conditions.  Was that a compliment?  An insult?  Or just politics?  Von Hoban had been immune to all reasoned counter-proposals, leading Bavaria to suspect that Admiral Hanzik was behind it, or maybe even the Baron.  Damn, but he hated this war!

Gommel, of course, could not see the distant Austrian scowl, though he was looking in that general direction.  He was intent on the waters ahead, as were all on the bridge, though their attention was as much on the two men at the bow than at the waves.  Tension abraded them all like metal rasps.

“Sir,” they all jerked as though poked, “the work teams are all tied off.”

“Very well,” Siegfried and Gommel replied in unison, each flinching again at the sound of the other’s voice.

“Sir, on the bow!”  One hooded light - not two - swung back and forth.

“Come left 10 degrees,” ordered Siegfried.

“Sir, 15 degrees off the port bow!”

“Recommend you slow a knot,” offered Gommel.  “No more just now."

Siegfried 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

At the sight of the Sainte-Julie’s bows, Petty Officer Britz began what he hoped was a dignified retreat, swinging his lantern in slow, wide passes as he 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.

Siegfried - 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 he discovered 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 attempt to shift the unfamiliar and unpowered craft in the dark.  “Ach, du lieber Himmel!  Why me?!”

Gommel, who was coaching the young officer, was more cerebral about it, considering it a regrettable development only.

For the families turned out of bed in shock and terror mere minutes before, it was the greatest of tragedies.  Herded together by armed men to a spot just outside the largest of the Maisons, they 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 curses and prayers.  The others were numb or whimpering.

For 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.

“Was?”  At the low-voiced comment, Bornholdt swung back from another glance over the crest.

Maybe two dozen yards below, a figure had just emerged from the scrub and onto the roadway.  A second, slightly smaller one joined it.  After a brief pause, the two hunched over and began to run towards the crest.

“Still!”  Bornholdt hissed quietly.  The two Frenchmen did not appear to hear him and continued their approach, stumbling as they kept casting anxious glances behind them.  How had the landing party missed them?

His men looked to him.  He could not tell for sure, but the Frenchmen did not seem dangerously large and they were three to their two.

Bornholdt gestured for his men to put down their Mausers.  He doubted the French were armed, and a shot now was failure anyway.  His men obeyed, stoically, though they may well have decried lugging the damnably heavy things all the way 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.

All 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.

After a short but memorable struggle, the Germans found that they had heroically captured 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)

For LT Diele, it all went completely without event.  Well, almost.

His two boats had landed on a deserted shoreline.  The toughest part was that the many of the houses were up steep scrambles across talus.  Catching the men still in their nightshirts had apparently curbed any inclinations towards martial ardor, especially in the presence of their women and children who were ALSO in their nightclothes.

He had three men with ankle sprains, two crying kids, and one woman who simply would not stop screaming.

This was war?

---- Dawn + 45 minutes, Savoyard Cove

It was only after tying – and gagging – his redoubtable prisoners that Bornholdt finally discovered that the Sainte-Julie had made “landfall” during what would later be called, though only quite far behind his back: “The Battle of Savoyard Cove.”  Already, men were clustering along the shore side, readying to bring off her cargo.  He glanced again over the crest; all remained still.

Down on what was left of the Sainte-Julie, LT Siegfried gave a desultory look back 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.

Sweating teams of men were pulling at ropes, maneuvering cranes, hoisting slings and 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.

“Ah, 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 Order Telegraph.  “There seems to be some trouble,” he stated, pointing down along the side.  Some of the “cargo” were making matters difficult.

“Aye, aye, sir,” Siegfried acknowledged, and clambered over the side and down the 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)

The three large rowboats approached the shore separately, each with different assigned missions.  Their tow had already gone about and eased back out to sea.

Sitting near the stern of the center one, LT Heinrich von Larg was nervous as all hell 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 minutes ago.  Over the low murmurs of the stroke cadence, he could hear the waves washing the stony beach and incorrectly 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 the shore.

“Sir, pier in sight,” came the call from the bow.  “Two points to starboard.”

“Cox’sn, 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 the entire 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 carries.”

This was no idle concern.  The largest and most challenging objective by far lay just across the roads, in plain sight on 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!

In the boat to port, the petty officer in charge had pushed the pace some and already had the islet in sight.  He’d seen many a fishing village and what he saw ahead was much smaller and less 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 that 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 speculation.

“Ready 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 down to another launch point.  Their task was to secure the folk there, and especially to immobilize any boats.

In the boat to von Larg’s starboard, the petty officer saw he that could not beach 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 everything in situations like this.  A group of ten men with rifles was an organized force, but pairs with guns could look like robbers leading irascible fishermen to make a fatal mistake.

Surprise 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 fully 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

“Pull!”  LT Lionel exhorted, hoarsely.  “Pull!”

They were going to arrive exhausted, but the young officer felt he had no choice.

Like 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 the tow 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 sail, but the portly Austrian nobleman was not in a rowboat in what was fast becoming broad daylight!

Lionel 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.

Gut 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...?

Then, Lionel was stunned to see the petty officer in the boat to port wave jauntily.

After a moment, two men waved back.  Others joined them, and several discussions seemed to begin amongst them - complete with fluttering hands and Gaulic shrugs - and they all started to pick their way down to the waterline.  They were guessing which ship had gone down offshore, for they had concluded that the 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 favorable enough development at the moment.

The small boats themselves were not German in origin, of course, but Lionel’s 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 for his 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 nonetheless!

Slyly, the petty officers in the boats closest to the Frenchmen eased the stroke.  It allowed the men to begin to catch their breath, even as it let the more distant one land and get those men out.

Belatedly, 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.

“Bonjour, mes Amies,” Lionel tried, in a bid to divert their attention, or simply prolong this another moment or two.  “Minutes are diamonds,” he heard in his head.  He understood that now with a frightening clarity.

He didn’t gain minutes, just a few seconds. French heads swivelled back.  Mouths opened.

But it was enough.  Lionel had gathered himself, and now leaped out.


They froze at the sight of the Luger.  Then, when the Mausers came out, their hands went up.

Twenty minutes later, Grande Miquelon was his.

All that remained was St. Pierre, home to three-quarters of the population, but that was Bavaria’s nut to crack.

Author’s NOTEs:

1) LT Kessock was mistaken but, as the previous instances were in the Pacific by those with von Spee, he had a good excuse.

2) Perhaps to avert problems from idleness during postings to the tiny French 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 St. Pierre.

3) Name changed to the present one of Ile aux Marins on May 2,1931, as a result of 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 pronounced 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 under 300, with very few of those remaining being young adult males.

4) The way cod was prepared for shipping is actually an important factoid for the 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 a 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 in 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 through mid-August, was consistently both clear enough and warm enough to dry the many 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 “Maison” 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 rocks would be turned over again.

General NOTEs:

A) For a look from space, 85 years and a day after the events above:‑geographie/2004‑satellite/galerie/pages/june‑24‑2000.htm

For a more generic view:‑geographie/2004‑satellite/index.html

B) This French community with a 1915 population of perhaps 3,600 would send over 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 information 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 population, demographics, period photographs of the houses and other structures, and detailed discussions of life and customs.  Perhaps the best information source in English is, of all sources, the 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.

C) It might come as a surprise to some - it certainly did to the author! - but Baron Letters was not the first to draw up plans for the operations described in this story.  It was apparently seriously considered by Spain - one war earlier! - as a base for operations against the northern US East Coast ports, including Boston and New York.  Reportedly, Admiral

Cervera considered making this St. Pierre his destination, instead of the one in Martinique.  Source:

“The 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:

by Jim

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