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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - TIOWF, Part II
The Taking of St. Pierre Begins

June 25, 1915

---- Dawn + 90 minutes, Savoyard Cove

Commander Bavaria considered the unhappy animals. Now that they had been led up and away from the waterline, they did seem to be calming to some degree. Actually, the Austrian nobleman did not blame them a bit.  From the equines’ point of view, they’d been taken from their familiar stables and open pastures, transported by rail or truck to a port, loaded into cramped stalls in a ship’s stuffy hold, then given every opportunity to be seasick until today, when the Germans had lifted them back out onto still another strange place.  Still, it was land, it was not urban, there was no loud machinery, and there was considerable grassy vegetation in view - that had to help.  The salient question, however, was if they’d recover enough and soon enough to meet his thankfully-limited needs.

They’d been taken off and led ashore with their saddles loosely girthed with the rest of each’s tack tucked in the saddlebags and lead ropes for control.  The men working with them were talking to them as they brushed and prepared them, all the while keeping the naturally herd-forming animals grouped enough to help raise their comfort level.  Bavaria idly wondered what the American horses, bought for and being transported by the French, were making of the Deutsch that was being murmured to them.  There was a lot of snorting and bobbing of long maned necks, but little rearing and no whinnying at all.  The shows of spirit encouraged him.  Worse by far were those that were simply standing split-legged and trembling; they would be of no use for anything until they got over it and that could be hours or even days.

Together, the two cranes with slings had been managing to offload a bit over one horse per minute.  The pace had started slower but had increased as the men gained experience.  Now, it was slowing again, as the men tired and the remaining horses gained more room to move about.  Also, the somewhat canted deck and sight of their peers being lofted out of the hold in slings were making them anxious.  The sweating sailors had begun to blindfold some of the horses and stay with them, speaking soothingly and brushing their coats, and that appeared to help in at least some cases. 

Bavaria counted 58 horses, but judged eight or ten to be in too much of a funk to be useful.  He looked at his watch and then up at the ridgeline being held so resolutely by LT Bornholdt.  He had little time but, as long as there was no signal from up there, he had not yet run out of it.

“Sir?”  It was LT Kessock.


“The Frenchies want to speak to you.  I think they want to look at their boat.”

Bavaria looked where Kessock pointed.  Both fishing boats had been in the path of the Sainte-Julie.  The pier and the smaller one seemed to have disappeared.  The larger one, however, appeared to have been pushed up onto the beach by the cargo ship’s bow wave.  He nodded and Kessock brought over two leather-faced, middle-aged men.

The men were angry and aggrieved, but the presence of so many Germans, armed Germans at that, restrained them in their vitriol.

“No,” he announced.  They drew breath in fury though, truth be known, they had expected no other answer.

“Not now,” he continued.  The men blinked.  “Not now,” he repeated.  “In an hour, maybe yes.”

The men licked their lips, wondering if they heard correctly, or if it was just another Boche trick.  It would be just like a Hun, to promise something for later just to have a promise to break.

“I regret the damage,” Bavaria continued, pausing as two more horses were led past, very slowly.  Someone had jury-rigged blinders that limited their vision field.  Neither of this pair seemed particularly upset and one even whickered at the sight of the group ahead.

“Our nations are at war,” he resumed, “but I do not make war on fishermen.”  He stressed the pronoun because he had long ago learned at court the power of the personal over the general.  These Frenchmen would never be persuaded that Germans could be anything other than what they presumed them to be.  Instead, one had to make such folk see you as a sincere individual, completely separate from the stereotyped group.  In truth, the sight of the family vessels sitting unavoidably where they would be destroyed by Bavaria’s actions had offended his sensibilities, but there had just been no time to avert it.

“I will give those orders - you have my word on it - but just now too much remains to be done.  Also, M’sieurs, consider that our stay will be short, but ... this,” Bavaria gestured at the Sainte-Julie, “will remain here ... on your beach.”

The Frenchmen had NOT considered that fact; it was clear in their eyes as they switched their attention to what would become their very own salvage smorgasbord.

“And, now, if you would excuse me.”  They nodded and were escorted back to their families.  He had convinced them of nothing, but he had forced them into contemplation.  One man glanced back at the freighter, but the other kept scanning the scrubby slopes between the maisons and the crest.  “For what?”  Bavaria wondered.  “Or for whom?”  He looked at his watch again - he was about out of time - and headed over to the where many men could be seen working with the growing remuda.  Several men were trying to finish getting the tack on, while others were slowly leading other horses around in broad circles.

“LCDR Gommel?  Report.”

“Yes, sir.  I make it 65 horses so far, 40 ready to go.  In another ten minutes, we should have 50 or more.”

Forty were not enough.  They both knew that.

“Very well, carry on.”  It was time to go and they could not wait, and they both knew that, too.

Stolidly, Bavaria turned and watched as most of the rest of his men struggled to offload the remaining horses and more of the materials that they would soon need, such as fodder.  Game theory did not yet include the term, “zero-sum game”, but managers and leaders were far from ignorant of the principle.  Salvage would slow to a trickle as soon as he ordered the operation onto the next phase, and the Sainte-Julie’s stability was far from guaranteed, no matter what the French fishermen might hope.

His remaining men were posted, guarding the French, setting up stock points, filling saddlebags, and putting rifles in scabbards.  It all needed to be done and he had fewer than twelve score to do it.  He managed not to look at his watch, but he knew time was flying past anyway.

---- Dawn + 120 minutes, Savoyard Cove

LT Bornholdt had watched over the crest earlier as small craft rowed or sculled out from St. Pierre to the twenty-three two-masted ships in the roadstead.  (NOTE 1)  Now, the fishing fleet could be seen to be beginning to cast off or up anchor.  They were not doing it all together, but as individuals or, in some cases, seemingly in pairs or trios.  However they were doing it, the daily diaspora had begun.

He looked back down towards the cove; Bavaria was supposed to have his force up here now.  Nothing.

Next, he glanced at his prisoners.  His eyes narrowed and the younger captive “eeked” and stopped her stealthy attempts to loosen her gag.  In contrast, the older one had gone almost catatonic in her silence, her eyes like dark saucers.

Vibrations on the roadway brought his eyes back towards the cove.  A mass of men and horses had finally detached themselves from the beehive below and were making their way up towards him.  He watched impassively as they approached, strung out in a long line with some still appearing to be joining at the end.  No formation precision was in evidence.  In fact, there was no semblance of formation at all.  Though many were on horseback, some led riderless ones, and others just walked.

---- Dawn + 120 minutes, I’ile aux Chiens

They were all uncomfortable.

LT Heinrich von Larg feared something might still go wrong, and shifted from one foot to the other, then back again.  He was standing at the rear corner of one maison up on a little knoll.  There with him were nearly all of the island community, sitting awkwardly on the many irregular rocks that comprised much of the landscape of the island.  Von Larg had chosen the spot because the knoll made the area behind the house what land warriors would have called a “dead zone.”  That is, it was not visible to the roadstead below.  Still, complete absence of any signs of life might have excited suspicion.  So, several of his men, garbed in “borrowed” jackets were moving about at the boat houses near the waterline, and a couple more were standing near the doorways of the maisons further up the slope.

The men who would have been out there sat before him, under the leveled Mauser barrels of nervous sailors.  Going aboard a surrendered merchant entailed getting a dozen or two grown men to cooperate in a very structured setting.  The German sailors had never done anything like this before and many hated the fact that there were so many children in front of the rifles that they knew they were so clumsy with.  Anxiety of that sort was like a communicable disease and they all were suffering from it, captives and captors alike.  The sailors were nervous, the mothers were wringing their hands with it, and the kids were tearful and whimpering.  Von Larg felt soiled by their fear.

The young leutnant knew that the party he’d sent over the path had met with success there, but there’d been insufficient time to get those civilians back here.  He didn’t think they’d missed anyone, but there’d been no time to confirm it.  Everything had gone almost exactly as planned, he told himself yet again.  He just had to keep things under control until the Erzherzog and the Kommodore made their appearances.  After that, he could ease up, pull the guards back and sky the guns.  He looked at his watch again; the Erzherzog was late.  What had gone wrong over there?

---- Dawn + 150 minutes, above Savoyard Cove

Bavaria had convened a veritable officers’ call at the crest.  For the last several minutes, they’d been passing around the Erzherzog’s “Binoctar” set.  (NOTE 2

“Herr Gommel commands Bruno,” Bavaria was saying.  He had gone over this with the officers before but, as his grandfather had always said, instructions should always be repeated immediately before execution since it reduced executions later.  Here, the closing up of the laggards provided just that opportunity.  Also, many of the petty officers might not have heard it before, and they might well find themselves separated from the rest and need to exercise initiative.

“Bruno’s primary objective is the Gendarmerie.  Look at the church, the yellow.  The Gendarmie is the large structure beyond it.  See the roof?  It is very near the waterfront.”  Heads had to crane to look over the crest, as Bavaria was still keeping them off the ridge itself.   (NOTE 3)

“LT Siegfried commands Caesar.  Your objective is to secure the Place de la Roncière, and the buildings on it.  (NOTE 4)  You can see it there ....”  Just about all the governmental offices were about the open square there.  The Place itself was one of the two gathering points for the population (with the other being directly in front of the church) and Bavaria planned to use it as such.

“LT Kessock commands Dora.”  This group was by far the largest but, except for the officer, was on foot.  Dora was to proceed to the Place de la Roncière to support matters there.

“I will join you there as soon as I am able.  Until then, Herr Gommel is in command and you are to support him as he requires.  Understood?”

There was a chorus of affirmatives from the officers and, to Bavaria’s relief, several head nods from the petty officers.  Gommel and Siegfried each had 28 mounted men.  If Gommel ended up in a gun battle, he’d need help quickly or this whole expedition would get very bloody.

“LT Bornholdt, you’re with me.”  Bavaria’s Anton force had just eight mounts, as numbers meant little to his task but speed meant everything.  “The streets look to be much narrower than I expected,” Bavaria commented as the younger officer drew near.  (NOTE 5) “We are likely to become separated.  You’ve seen the sketch, richtig?”

“Jawohl, Herr Korvettenkapitän.”  Their objective was a distinctive four-story building that would be easy to spot.  They could even just see it from their current vantage, but Bavaria knew that they would surely lose sight of it once they were within the narrow and winding warren below.

“It’s at the junction of Rue Docteur Dunan and Rue Paul Lebailly,” added Bavaria, “just in case there are signs.  I would prefer no loss of life, Leutnant.  There may well even be Amerikaners there, but,” Bavaria let the pause grow for a significant extra second, “the mission comes first.  Verstehen Sie?”

“Jawohl, Herr Korvettenkapitän!”

“Gut.  You three with the leutnant.  You three follow me.”  A few moments passed as groups formed up behind their officers.

Bavaria nodded approvingly as the other three force commanders took the opportunity to address the petty officers near them.

“Herren?”  Bavaria announced.

Once the affirmatives were gathered, he nodded again and led them over the ridge.

---- Dawn + 160 minutes, Savoyard Cove

The Frenchmen looked up from their survey of their little fishing schooner.  They had found a few planks crushed or stove in, but the keel was still sound.  Planks they might be able to repair and caulk; a broken keel would have been beyond their abilities to remedy.  For now, they needed to get canvas over the damage, as the craft was right at the edge of the tidemark.

One of the men jumped off the low side of the canted hull and ran to meet two small figures heading down the path from the crest.  A woman broke from the group before the Maison and intercepted them first.  The missing children - that no one had been willing to admit were even gone - were safe.

The other fisherman’s brow furrowed in suspicion when a German petty officer came near.

“Your vessel,” began the Boche, “it you can heal?”

He shrugged.  They could find wood, probably.  If needful, they would cannibalize from a house.  Shelter was important, but the boat was life.  Nails, though, nails were probably going to be tough.

“Nails?  Is that the right word?”  It wasn’t, but the German pointed to one and repeated the word.

“Nails.  What about nails?”  He tried to hide a scowl.  How had the German known?

“On ship, many horses.  Horse shoes.  Nails, many nails.”  The fisherman could not help glancing at the wreck that had been the Sainte-Julie.

Then a distant rumble drew the eyes of all.  Even the Germans still offloading materials paused.  There, at the top of the roadway, the gathered Germans were disappearing over the crest, the noise the product of just over a quarter-thousand of those aforementioned equine footwear.

“Why?”  The fisherman asked, baffled.  The Boche on the ridge were obviously off to attack St. Pierre on the other side.  They might even already be murdering and perpetrating unspeakable atrocities on his neighbors over there, though they had done nothing of the sort here.  At least not yet, he qualified from a lifetime of distrust.  This apparent offer was - what? - a bribe?

“Orders.  We are here because we have need, not to war on fishermen.  Korvettenkapitän Bavaria ordered us to help as we could.  Ships need nails.  That ship was French.  The nails were French.”  The petty officer shrugged in almost a Gaulic way.  “They can be French again.”

These Boche were behaving very strangely, he thought.  But he definitely needed nails.  He licked his lips nervously as he looked for the trap.  There had to be one.  Had to be!

---- Dawn plus 165 minutes, on the road to St. Pierre

As the forces diverged, Commander Bavaria tried to put the others out of his mind.  A very great many things could go wrong and he expected at least some of them would.  This entire affair could fail in any number of ways, but he had reserved for himself the one task whose failure he KNEW would doom it, and do so in less than one minute.  His objective: Western Union.  (NOTE 6)

For the first few minutes, all went well.  There were few people out and about in the rim of the town up on the slope.  The few that showed their faces out doorways stared with mouths open in disbelief.  Bavaria held the horses to a fast walk.  It appeared less threatening and the road was as much a bed of loose stones as anything else.  He nodded lordly to the townsfolk, nearly all women and children, of course.

After that, things began to unravel.

The first problem was the one he had foreseen, but anticipating it had not solved anything.


It was a wagon, stacked high with cod, pulled by bored oxen, and it filled the street.  Completely.  The tiny sidewalks held crates on both sides.

“Leutnant!  You go that way!”  Bornholdt wheeled his horse and went right.  Bavaria took his trio left.  As though the Deutsch had opened a floodgate, the screams began.

Bavaria turned the corner and headed down another street.  Anxious townsfolk came out onto the sidewalks, to be nearly run down.  Two blocks later, when he had just begun to out-distance the bedlam, another wagon barred the way.  Gut Gott!  No, wait!  The sidewalk on the right looked clear.

“Follow me!”  Bavaria ordered to his men, and they did.  Squeezing by slowed them such that those nearby had the chance to study them, and the screams began again.  In the lull before it, however, he thought to detect similar noise ahead and to his right, perhaps marking the leutnant’s progress.

A block later, a cart was unloading barrels.  Bavaria had taken fences much more challenging, but not on this horse.  And his men were passing minor miracles just staying seated as it was.  Damn-damn-damn!

“This way!”  He went right, and turned back down the next street.  Where in the name of all the saints was it?  He couldn’t see it!  It HAD to be near.  Had to be!  Gott!  ANOTHER wagon!

As he wheeled his horse, he saw it!  But he had just turned the WRONG direction!

“Back!  Back!”  He pointed at the building whose upper floors and roof showed about two more blocks away, more or less on a diagonal.  One of his men almost fell off, but managed to stay aboard.  The horses were tiring and that actually helped the enlisted man, though he failed to appreciate it just then, having jammed his crotch most painfully into something on the side of the saddle.  Bavaria, oblivious to the man’s struggle not to vomit, considered then rejected an “overland” route.  Even from where he sat, he could see the tall and solid wooden fence around the objective.  (NOTE 7)

---- Dawn plus 170 minutes, somewhere in upper St. Pierre

As LT Bornholdt turned that first corner after the split, he realized that he could just make out one corner of the Western Union Building in the distance below.  He was offset by exactly one street.  Thus, when he saw a team of oxen coming up the road at him two blocks later, he knew just which way to divert.  There!  The way ahead was clear.

“Stay with me!”  Bornholdt roared out, as he put his horse into a solid canter.  Behind him, his men found that they were given no choice in the matter, as their horses suddenly and collectively decided to stay with the officer’s mount.

The gate was open.  Passer-byes froze at the sight of the man on horseback riding through and into the yard.  Some yards behind, the mounted-sailors drew their attention next.  The oldest of the sailors was cursing mostly under his breath.  He had joined the Kaiserliche Marine as a seaman, not a hussar!  He cursed again when he almost had his leg smashed against the right post.  Ahead, Bornholdt leaped gracefully off his horse and bounded up the steps, drawing his pistol as he went.  It took a couple moments for the enlisted men to get off their own mounts, draw their Mausers out of the scabbards, and stagger in their officer’s wake.

Detecting his route was easy: they simply followed the shots and the screams.

Bornholdt had slammed the door open and put two rounds into the plaster ceiling even as he screamed.  His French was better than his English, but he was a man of few words in situations like this.

“Down! On the floor!”

By the time the first seaman entered, the floor of the two rooms off the entryway were piled with shrieking women and their officer had his sword at a man’s throat.  He sure had a way with people, thought the sailor, as the civilian rolled up his eyes and collapsed.

“Through there!”  Bornholdt barked, pointing into the room on the right.

“You, keep these on the floor!

You, with me!”

Bornholdt charged through the corridor into the frame building attached to the masonry one.

---- Dawn plus 180 minutes

Bavaria scowled at the sound of shots as he reined up outside the Western Union Building, but he had mostly expected it once he realized that the junior officer had gotten ahead of him.  The little courtyard inside the fence was empty except for four horses, two of which had already begun to explore the flowering bushes along the interior fenceline.

“Main level secure, Herr Korvettenkapitän,” announced the Leutnant, as Bavaria entered.  Sobbing mounds of womenfolk carpeted the floor.  Shrieks from upstairs and the clumping of feet on stairs made the other’s distinction obvious.

“Good work, Leutnant.”  All the equipment would be on this floor.  “Petty Officer, take two men and bring them down here.  Stay together.”

He cared not if some were escaping out other exits.

“The operators?”

“This woman, and these here, perhaps.  The man seemed to be in command.”

The Erzherzog considered the matter.  The man opened his eyes and looked up at him.  Curiously, Bavaria noted white dust was falling on the shocked civilian.  He looked up and sighed slightly at the two holes in the plaster ceiling.  He absolutely had to get over to Gommel.  He dared not leave here, however, until he came to a decision.  What tack to take?


It took a full second for Bavaria to realize the word had been in English.

“I am an American!  These are American offices, employees ....”

“Are you in charge, sir?”  Bavaria interrupted the other smoothly.  One course of action hinged on something like this.

“Um, yes.  I am.”  The American identified himself, and Bavaria introduced himself, as well.  He even presented Bornholdt, to the American’s obvious discomfort.  After all, how do you greet someone who’d just pressed cold steel to your throat?  Further discomfiting him, a string of semi-hysterical women began to stumble down the stairs ahead of dour-faced men with rifles.

“Now the basement,” Bavaria ordered, as he carefully surveyed the recumbent women.

“This one, is she an operator?  French?”  The woman was young, pretty, and quietly sobbing.

“Yes, but don’t you dare ....”

“Please!”  Bavaria said, cold steel of his own in his tone.  “We wish harm to no one here, not even French people.  There is a problem, though,” he added.  “Have her take her position.”

He turned to Bornholdt and added in French.  “No signal.”

He waited as the officer manager helped the mademoiselle gain her feet and sit at her console.  The woman settled in, the familiar calming her somewhat, but a glance at Bornholdt made her shiver.

“Good.  Now, sir, the problem.  There is a fire.”  He was not lying; there had to be one somewhere.  He hadn’t said anything about size; for that matter, there was one in the hurricane oil lantern in the far corner.

“A fire?!”  The man was slow.  Bavaria had said it in French, though, and it produced several fresh whimpers form those still a-floor.  “Feu!?”  (NOTE 8)

“Yes, have her send that.”

“But, but ....”


Bornholdt strode over to the lantern and eyed the mahogany staircase speculatively.

“No, no!  Wait.”

Bavaria did not even glance at Bornholdt.  It was so good working with a professional.

“Claire, send that, to Duxbury.”

“Send, s-s-send what?”

Bavaria answered, and it was relayed to the operator.

“ ‘Fire reported here, manager investigating.’ “

“That’s all?”  She gulped, and wiped her face.  The gulped again.


This was the work of just a few seconds, but it had to be done now, right now, with cordite and plaster in the air, before anyone had enough time to become inspired or heroic.

“Now, mademoiselle, ease your chair away from ... yes.  And you, sir, if you would come with me.  Please, I’m just going to show you something, here at the door.  Leutnant, if you would stand there with, er, Claire.”

The manager swallowed hard, but stepped over the moaning piles of his employees to join the older German officer.

“Now, sir, further.  Good.  Now, look out here.  There, see the side of your fine building?  Look back at the leutnant.  Do you see the fire?”  Knowingly or not, Bornholdt cooperated with a fine and quite predatory smile.

The man’s fear, for himself and his people, made him slow.

“Fire,” Bavaria encouraged.  “Everybody get out.”

“Fire,” the American agreed, belatedly recognizing his choices.  Bavaria nodded, and pushed him gently but firmly back through the door.

“Fire, Feu!  Up!  Up!”

The moans became screams, but they got up and rushed the door.

“Claire!  One moment!  One more message!”


“Short,” Bavaria looked hard at the American.

“It’s okay, Claire.  We have time,” the manager chimed in.  “We really do.”  He hated this, but these crazy Germans really WOULD burn this place down .... 

“Send this,” Bavaria ordered: “ ‘Building on fire.  Evacuating.’   Then we can ALL get out.“

Moments later, it was done. 

As he stepped outside, Bavaria eyed the folk corralled within the fence.  Any thoughts he might have had about relaxing, though, were evaporated with the sound of distant gunshots.  Many gunshots.

Author’s NOTEs:

1) The number of schooners based in St. Pierre declined perhaps even faster than the population after the turn of the century.  Here are the numbers:

- 1902 - 208

- 1903 - 183

- 1904 - 151

- 1905 - 101

- 1912 – 40

- 1913 – 33

- 1914 – 24

- 1919 –- 2

The schooners had already begun to be challenged by steam trawlers just before the start of the Great War.  In 1900, was the first and by 1908, there were eleven.  Trawling resumed after the war and soon 30 - 40 operated out of St. Pierre.  The trawlers eventually got so large that they no longer based themselves in St. Pierre, but that occurred right about when US Prohibition offered the islands a new source of revenue: booze smuggling.

2) The Erzherzog’s discriminating taste was not limited to gustatory matters!  Zeiss introduced the 7 x 50mm  “Binoctar” binoculars in 1914.  Zeiss’ first 7 x 50mm binoculars were produced in 1910, but the “Binoctar” set refined the concept and set the standard for fine optics, especially under low-light conditions.  See:

3) The church replaced a much earlier one (1852) that had burned down in 1902.  It was completed in 1907 with an Italian-like yellow-tinted exterior of cement and stucco.  The color bleached out in the weather over the decades that followed, but would have still been easily discernable in 1915.

4) It would later be renamed Place du Gènèral de Gaulle.

5) Typically, sidewalks in St. Pierre are 36 inches wide and the streets are narrow.  For example, present day Rue Maréchal Foch is 8.5 meters wide in the vicinity of Rue Jacques Cartier.  An 1864 map puts the building front-to-front distance across streets at about 12 meters, including sidewalks.

6) The trans-Atlantic cables in St. Pierre numbered four in 1915.  The first set dated back to 1869 and the Société du Câble Transatlantique Français (SCTF) and went from Brest to St. Pierre and on to Duxbury, Massachusetts and was headquartered in the stucco and stone framed building described in the text.  In 1872, the New York - Newfoundland - London Telegraph Company joined the SCTF in an adjacent and linked framed building.  Another organization joined in with British funds behind it under the name of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company.  In 1911, Western Union would enter into a 99 year lease of the Anglo-American cables and the building became known as the Western Union Building.

7) The fence is historical.  Estimating from period photos, it may have been six feet tall.

8) The inhabitants of St. Pierre lived in constant and terrible fear of fire. From its very beginnings, the town was comprised of a densely settled urban core with narrow streets and buildings made almost exclusively of wood in a primarily cold area. Not unexpectedly, the town has always been at constant risk from fires, and suffered major ones in 1844, 1865, 1867, 1892, 1895, 1902, 1939, 1972, and 1992. The 1867 one destroyed over 200 buildings. Remarkably, none of the fires resulted in loss of life!

by Jim

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