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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - TIOWF, Part IV

Securing St. Pierre & Miquelon

June 25, 1915 - early afternoon

---- Strassburg, at anchor, mainland-side of channel between St. Pierre and I’ile aux Chiens

"Sir, Kommodore von Hoban has reached the pier.  No signals.”

The flag officer had waited for the “mission accomplished” signal from

Rostock on the other side of the channel before heading ashore.  Kolberg remained further out, just as Nottingham Star did on this side.  The shallows created by the underwater shelf between the two shores divided the German forces just as effectively as any isthmus could have.  As it was, Strassburg’s keel had only a couple meters of water beneath it.  Fortunately, it was quite apparent to the French fishermen that their guns could reach across from both sides.  The KM gunners had the pieces manned and the barrels were pointed at the schooners.  Nottingham Star remained back down the channel in deeper waters, but her single 6-incher and even her very large bow would suffice against any of the sailboats or the one or two powered vessels in the harbor.

“Very well,” Captain Siegmund acknowledged, but he kept his attention on his small boats as they finished shepherding the last of the fishing schooners towards the quay.  “Keep a glass on the pier.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

There had been no disasters, or so it seemed.  As best they could tell, no fishing boat had escaped.  Neither had they needed to sink any or even shoot anyone.  This was hardly surprising, as naval cannons were quite intimidating to little unarmed sailing vessels.  But, what had happened ashore?  Had the landing force really managed it?  Siegmund had frankly not expected them to meet success, but it seemed that they had. So why were his guts still in such a roil?

“Sir, flags going up on

Rostock.  She’s turning away.  ‘Proceeding as ordered,’ sir.”

“Yes, very well.  Signals Officer, acknowledge and make the same.  Bosun, weigh anchor.  Helm: Engineering, standby for bells on the main engine.”

---- Pier, St. Pierre

“Guten Tag, Herr Kommodore,” Kapitäleutnant Gommel intoned, as von Hoban climbed up onto the weathered wooden boards.  “Commander Bavaria is at the government offices.  With your permission, I will lead you there.”  Gommel gestured towards the Place a few blocks away and made as if to start. “The cable?”  Von Hoban did not shift so much as a single shoe, but asked the question as his eyes swept the rows of still-stunned fishermen seated in rows on the masonry quay just off the piers.  Sailors with Mausers watched stolidly, several of them on horseback.

“No transmission, sir.  None.”

Von Hoban stared directly into Gommel’s eyes for a long and skeptical moment, but the other held the gaze with confidence.


“None we’ve found so far, sir.  No antennae anywhere - all building searches are negative so far.”

Then, and only then, did von Hoban nod to Gommel to lead the way.

“LT Kessock,” called Gommel, “carry on here.”  The last of the schooner crews were still being escorted off their boats to the shore.

“Jawohl, Herr Kapitäleutnant.”  Supervising men pointing guns at civilian youths and aged fishermen was hardly heroic, but Kessock’s bruises and chaffings had slaked his thirst for adventure for the moment.  He would be quite content for a while to be allowed to stand on his own two feet and in one place.

---- St. Pierre shoreline

LT Siegfried was also content to be doing what he was about: sightseeing on horseback. The junior officer commanded a unit of 10 who were picking their way clockwise around the island. 

Bavaria had ordered him to sweep the shoreline for small boats, presumably in dread of a French Odysseus overnight.  Siegfried was beginning to think this was a fantasy fear because they hadn’t found ....

“Sir! Up here,” called Petty Officer Felsarzt.

Well, until now they hadn’t, he sighed ruefully.  Siegfried had to dismount to clamber up to the overlook get a decent angle down into draw.  He was shocked to find his legs shaking at the tiny ascent.  He massaged his thighs as he looked over the rim.  There was no denying it: the object under the tarpaulin was a rowboat.  A large rowboat.  There were even oars, he saw, as one of his men peeled back the covers.  For some unknown reason, the French had dragged it well away from the water and then up this crease in the landscape.  The fact that it had been covered suggested it was intact.  (NOTE 1)

He stood there, kneading muscles that threatened to spasm or cramp and thinking he’d not been atop a horse for obviously too many months.  He toyed with the thought of just taking the oars.  Surely, the absence of oars would daunt even a Grecian hero.  No, he dared not.  The Erzherzog would have his hide for sure and he might even have the right of it, as there could well be a mountain of oars scattered about on this desolate fishing island.

Nuts.  He hated destroying boats.  After all, he’d started this day off by doing just that on a much larger scale and ....

Wait! Unless he mistook his bearings, the wreck of the Sainte Julie might be just around the point there.

He limped back to his horse, who had already found something to nibble on – the pig!  Once he got back in the saddle, he guided the gelding up the shoulder and - damn! - there she was.  His breath caught in his throat.  Damndamndamn! - but the sight of her hurt.  From this side, she looked undamaged and merely resting on the rocky shore.  Nonetheless, it settled the matter for him.

“Get a line on it and drag it down to the water.”  They had rope and horses, so that was no problem.  From there, it was a simple matter to tell off a pair to row it the few hundred yards around the point and into Savoyard Cove.  It took a bit longer than normal, as he was not the only one fighting off leg cramps.

---- Place de la Roncière

Quite a crowd had been assembled in the wide square, Von Hoban observed, as he walked along one side.  There were many family groups, but he was not at all surprised that few included men of conscription age.  Of the men present, nearly all were elderly with several staring sullenly at the German flag now flying from the square’s flagpole.  Hardly surprising, thought the commodore; some of them might well have been prisoners before, back in 1870.

One of the petty officers approached the two officers.  It was obvious that the enlisted man wanted to bring something to Gommel’s attention, and so he turned apologetically to von Hoban.

“Sir, Korvettenkapitän Bavaria is in that building, if you would excuse me?”

“Certainly, Kapitäleutnant.”

He walked up the small but wide staircase fronting the main government building, paused there, and looked back.  From even that small height gain, he could see that the crowd was substantially fewer than he’d first thought.  No more than a thousand people were within the cordon of armed sailors.  Even adding the rows of fishermen he’d seen back on the quay, a great many remained unaccounted for and the day was more than half-gone.  He opened the door and entered.

Bavaria was poring over a map when von Hoban found him and the two senior officers exchanged greetings.  The commodore was congratulatory.  All seemed to have gone very well: a tribute to the Erzherzog’s planning and personal leadership.  Nonetheless, there were many specifics that needed to be pursued.

“The cables?”  Von Hoban had accepted the earlier report but wanted to hear the underlying bases for Gommel's confidence.  If they had been compromised, the earlier he discovered it, the better for them all.

“Secured without incident, Herr Kommodore,” summarized

Bavaria.  He then related the sequence of events at Western Union, including the successful transmission of the cover story.

“Sehr gut,” said the commodore.  “That was inspired, Commander.  Good man, Bornholdt.”

“Yes, I have him and Leutnant Siegfried sweeping the shoreline.”

Bornholdt’s group had been dispatched counter-clockwise.  Like Siegfried, his men had so far come across a single rowboat drawn up away from the shore.  Unlike Siegfried, he had instantly ordered its bottom stove in to prevent its use.  Petty Officer Stumpfhühn did not, of course, question that decision.  First, a lot of shoreline remained to be covered and delaying matters for a single rowboat was likely inappropriate.  Second, military discipline meant that one seldom questioned officers.  Third, Stumpfhühn had quickly decided that “seldom” was probably too often with this leutnant.


“None found so far, sir.  I directed all officers to look for antennae and none have been seen.  Additionally, all the government buildings have been searched at least once.”

“Fair enough, commander.  Did all go so well?”

“No casualties to report.  One gendarme wounded - not serious - and another with what appears to be a broken leg.”  At von Hoban’s expression, Bavaria shrugged.  “According to Kapitäleutnant Gommel, he fell down a staircase.”

Von Hoban just shook his head.  He’d have to hear the rest, but later.

“The Sainte Julie beached on schedule and we were able to get sufficient horses off in time for both phases of the operation.  I still have a working party over there salvaging what is possible, especially feed grain.”

Von Hoban nodded; keeping the horses fed could become a problem, especially if their stay got extended.

Bavaria continued with brief descriptions of the rest of the actions to date, including securing the buildings on the Place and posting Kessock at the quay to take the returning fishermen into custody.

“Kommodore, have there been any reports from the other detachments?”

“Yes, from I’ile aux Chiens.  Black and green.”

“Excellent!”  Black and green meant success with zero or minimal casualties.

That left LT Lionel (at Grande Miquelon) and LT Diele at Langlade (or Petite Miquelon) unaccounted for, but those were thought to be sites of lesser risk.  The populations there were much smaller and there were few boats.  As long as the men got ashore before the fishermen cast off, there should have been no problem.  It had been a very narrow thing at Grande Miquelon, but neither senior officer knew that.  Nonetheless, Lionel (and Diele) had pushed out small detachments to begin the sweep around the much larger island.  There were a few tiny communities – oft just a family or two – in the small coves around the island.  Some were just farms with a way down to the water, but a couple were expected to include fishermen.  As long as the Germans kept the waters under observation and seized the places before dusk, all was thought to be safe.  (NOTE 2)

“Also, once the schooners were taken, I detached Rostock and Strassburg with orders to confirm success on Miquelon and land reinforcements.”  The u-boats remained further offshore to catch any “leakers”, but von Hoban was not going to vocalize that in an unfamiliar building. 

Bavaria nodded, understanding the unspoken addendum.  Westfeldt and Siegmund had been less than thrilled with the orders, however expected they had been.  All three light cruisers were already nearly down to skeleton crews, having had many of their own crewmen on the dawn assault teams along with all their battlecruiser “guests.”  Nonetheless, the coastlines needed to be swept as well as possible before nightfall and it was already into the afternoon.

“The mayor or burgermeister or whatever he is has been demanding to talk with the commanding ....”

“He can wait,” von Hoban grunted.  “What else?”

“The Gendarmerie is secure, including its armory.”

That was good news.  Doubtless there were some guns spread about, but they had decided that the police armory would be the repository for any remaining military-grade arms and ammunition once the local reserve units had embarked for France.

“I have not ordered troops up into the city.”  That was per the plan, which had given priority to the island perimeter.  “Also, a considerable number of islanders seem to have taken refuge in the church.  I’ve posted a squad, but left them alone.”

“Hmm, ‘a considerable number’?”

“None of my men saw them all enter and I ordered them to stand clear, but to remain in sight.  A hundred?  Two hundred?  I think the church could hold five.  Maybe more.” (NOTE 3)

“That will do for now.”  The plan had estimated about 3,000 on St. Pierre.  If so, half remained unaccounted for but, for now, that was acceptable.  “Foreigners? Amerikaners?  There is a vessel at anchor that is no fishing schooner; it has the look of a rich man’s sport fishing toy.  There was an Amerikaner flag at the stern.”

“There were some at Western Union.  There may be others, of course, but perhaps it belongs to the Western Union manager.”

“Ah, Western Union, did you find cable?”

“Yes!  Miles of it, different gauges, all on spools.”

“Excellent.  Still, all must be secure before we proceed.”

The clock in the hall began to toll the hour.  Von Hoban checked it against his pocket watch.  He had exactly three hours before he had to make his decision.  He was going to need all of it.

“Carry on,” said von Hoban.  “I intend to get aboard that vessel, Amerikaner or not.”

---- I’ile aux Chiens

LT Heinrich von Larg had thought his troubles were over once he had captured the place without casualties and saw the warships show up.  This had turned out to be, most definitely, NOT the case.
Instead, the hours had birthed a series of unanticipated trials.

Few of the French had eaten breakfast when he had invaded.  Trivial, his superiors might have thought.  Hah! What do you do when you are thirty, they are three hundred, and all their kids are hungry?

What one does is get the kids fed, and that is what LT Larg had done.  Even that had been far from easy, since no one or two houses could possibly feed them all.  Finally, he had simply let the women go off to fetch food.  He had been about to have them escorted, but mutters and body language from the men – over a hundred of them! – had deterred that.  In the end, he had simply let the women go off by themselves in small, counted groups, posted a few sentries high, and posted another trio down where they could see the tied up schooners, but posted them all where he and all the Frenchmen could see them.  Partly, it was to keep their Mausers able to bear on the fishermen, but mostly it was to keep them where the fishermen could see that their women remained safe.

But none of this was in any manual!

He had finally gotten all the civilians fed for the second time, when Kolberg drifted closer in.  Her guns were a welcome sight, though they looked menacing enough to the French, small murmurs indicated that clearly enough.  After a few minutes, flags ran up her hoists.  Von Larg read them and turned to the seated prisoners.

“See those signals?  My commander has just ordered all to be transported immediately over to

St. Pierre.  Aboard that warship.  Her launch can fit twenty.”

It could actually fit more, but he was allowing for guards.

“We have little time and all of you have things you will wish to take with you – food, jackets – you know better than I.  You should be gone only a day or two, but it could be a week.  You, where is your Maison?  Good.  I will let you take your family there – under guard.  You will have five minutes inside.  My men will remain outside of your Maison as long as you come out when they order.  I need others to make up the rest of the first twenty.  If there is cooperation, all will get five minutes at their Maisons.  Otherwise ….”

---- Place de la Roncière

Von Hoban spotted Gommel and went down and over to meet him.  The officer was speaking with a petty officer, though not the one the same one as before.  The enlisted man saluted and left as he approached.

“Herr Gommel, any non-natives caught in our net here?  I am particularly looking for Amerikaners.” “Jawohl, Herr Kommodore.  Two men claiming to be Amerikaners are over in that café, there.  There are several others who may be visitors, but I think they are all from the French-speaking mainland.” The two armed sailors who stood outside the doorway saluted as he approached.

“As you were,” he said, as he entered.  A thin, bearded man behind the counter scowled at his uniform, but said nothing.  The only others within the front room were half-sprawled back on the padded benches at the window table.  They had to be Americans.  They looked far too relaxed to be at war.

“Your names?”  Von Hoban said it in English.

“And just who might you be?”

The German officer gritted his teeth as he weighed the words for accent.  A lot of nations spoke English.  The Admiral would be better at this than he.

“Let me introduce myself, then.  I am Kommodore von Hoban of His Majesty’s Kaiserlicht Marine.  I am in command of the German forces here.  And who might the two of you be?”

“I’m Dave Bender, and this is my friend, Timothy Mixer.  Americans, both of us.  Out of Boston.  Can we go now?  We’re Neutrals and we got nothing to do with this war of yours.”

“I see.  First, I must make sure.  Can you prove that you are Americans?”

“Of course we can!”

“Your papers?  Passports?”

“I don’t have them with me.  Tim?”

“No, of course not.  They’re back on the Sally, just like yours.”

“Nuts.  Sorry, Admiral.  We don’t have them on us.  You’ll have to let us go out to our boat if you want to see them.”

“Ah, your boat.  Is it out in the harbor?  I saw one with an American flag anchored out there.”

“Forty-footer with green trim?  Yes, she’s mine,” said Bender.

“American flag and all,” added Mixer, suspiciously.  Bender’s eyes widened as he caught his friend’s drift.

“She appears to be a fine craft,” the German officer observed.

“She’ll do,” admitted Bender, his brow now creasing with concern.  “But, as I said, we’re American and SHE’s American.”

“Well, that remains to be proved but,” von Hoban held up a hand to forestall protest, “you will be given the opportunity to prove it.  That I promise you.  But, consider this gentlemen, American or not, this is France.  These waters are French waters.  That harbor your boat is anchored in is a French harbor.

“This is not your United States. You’re in France, and France is at war with my country.”   (NOTE 4)

Author’s NOTEs:
1) In several places, the topography of the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon put a farmhouse or other residence quite a distance by road from what passed for population centers, but still close to the shore.  In such cases, the "beach" would be only just a few dozen yards over a lip and down a slope or ravine - thus a small boat.  One of the period pix of Langlade shows this quite clearly, and another of the Ollivier farmstead is similar.  The premise here is that the shoreline sweep squads might not see the residence over the lip of the little “bluff” and several dozen yards away inland.

2) Two such tiny communities are Ravenal and Philibert.

3) The church size is historical and could probably have held more folk than stated by the character in the text.  Author’s estimate is based on period photographs.

4) The Hague 1907 and other treaties leave potentially gray areas, one of which is demonstrated here.  That is, the status of a Neutral's person in a Belligerent's land versus the property of that Neutral within a Belligerent's borders versus portable property within a Belligerent's borders may have been well understood back then by those of the day.  However, unraveling such subtle skeins has been impossible for me to achieve with any certitude.  There are, however, certain demonstrated principles and related positions from which one can draw reasonable-seeming conclusions.

First of all, a Neutral in a declared war zone accepted all risks simply by being there.  Belligerents accepted no burden for inadvertent Neutral casualties in such areas, nor did any treaty ever try to ascribe one to Belligerents.  Next, any Neutral within the borders of a Belligerent but within reach of another Belligerent’s military might accepted a similar risk by being there.  Any Neutral anywhere within a Belligerent’s territory was considered to have made personal decisions and trade-offs.  The primary exceptions were embassies and chancellories, who were required to fly their flag, etc.

Nonetheless, any innocent Neutral person swept up in an operation with a Belligerent's borders was subject to care-and-feeding sort of responsibilities of the Belligerents, presuming the Neutral had competent identification.  An American found serving in the French army would have no rights here to be treated purely as a Neutral (rather, a Mercenary).  However, an American priest in a rectory might be immune to incarceration.  Further, that mercenary's gun, even if he owned it personally, would not be treated in any way differently than other seized weapons.  The priest's bible in the example above would always remain his.  Even a priest or nun of another Belligerent would get deferential treatment, though there were limits, as Ms. Edith Cavell would tragically demonstrate (in October 1915).

So, what about an American's truck swept up in a German advance towards Paris?  If the truck had held munitions, no recourse would be imaginable, but what if it had held food?  What if it had held bibles?  I suspect that any such large objects would not be immune to take-over unless they were so absolutely pristine as to be truly rare.  The American ambassador’s personal auto would definitely qualify.  An American Red Cross ambulance would likely qualify.  A truck with American church markings holding bibles might.  A private car seized in a town likely would NOT.

That brings us back to the boat in the story.  It flies a US flag, but it is within the borders of France.  My guess is that (ultimately) it would not be seized, as boats/ships seemed to have received special treatment in treaties of the day.  The boat is at a port on the edge of International Waters, vice a lake, or even a river well inland.  However, the Yanks might not know that and lots of stalling would be possible and justified, just as long as the eventual outcome was not averse.

by Jim

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