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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - TIOWF, Part V

Securing St. Pierre & Miquelon

June 25, 1915 - late afternoon

---- Gendarmerie

Kapitäleutnant Gommel was debriefing to Kommodore von Hoban.  He had just given a brief summary of his approach down into the town and his order to dismount one block away.

“Once I saw the door shut by an armed gendarme,” stated Gommel, “I gave the order for two volleys to cover the attack, targeting the windows.”

Von Hoban nodded, suppressing a snort at the pockmarks scattered all over the face of the building.  The men had all had rifles and the range had been no more twenty-five meters. Australian Light Horse his sailors were not.  (NOTE 1)

“ ... then Petty Officers Schmidt and Felder led their squads through those windows.” (NOTE 2)

On a whim, von Hoban ignored the open door and entered instead through the gaping hole on the right where the window there had been.  Once inside, the trail of glass and dirt was easy enough to follow.  He passed through the long room, its furniture flung towards the side walls, and into the long central corridor.  If the sentry there was surprised by the sudden appearance of the commodore, he did not show it.


“Carry on,” said von Hoban, eyeing a small field dressing on the side of the man’s neck.  There had been no report of wounds.

“Herr Kommodore,” began Gommel, as he joined the others, “this is Seaman Schneider.  He is one of the ones who exchanged fire with the gendarmes.”

Von Hoban wanted to hear it, and said so.  The enlisted man was visibly uncomfortable, and not from the bandage.

<>“Not much to tell, sir,” Schneider said.  “The one with the pistol was looking the other way, maybe at noise from Schmidt’s - um, Petty Officer Schmidt’s - group down the hall there.  Well, when he turned and went to raise his gun, we fired.  He went down and we kept going.”


Schneider’s face screwed up as he tried to tell it.  It had all happened so fast.  Their legs had almost failed to bear their weight when they had finally been allowed to get down off those verdammt horses.  Only the Kapitäleutnant’s brilliant decision to let them walk it off for a full block before ordering the attack had let them manage it.  The Frenchmen had been shouting as they ran down the staircase.  The pistol muzzle had stared right at him like a skull’s eye socket.

<>“Are you wounded?"

“Nichts, Herr Kommodore.  Just splinters.  His shot hit the door jamb beside me.”

“And the gendarme?”

“His wound was slight, sir.”

This part was embarrassing.  Schneider did not know where his bullet had gone.  How the Frenchman had gotten his foot wound was another mystery, but it had ended the gunfight and that was all that had mattered to Schneider.  (NOTE 3) Thankfully, the Kommodore did not press the matter.

“The others?”

Schneider did his best to relate the events.  One gendarme had been prostrate, screaming, at the foot of the stairs.  Later, it was determined that, in his haste to run down the steps, he had slipped, tumbled, and broken his leg.  All the others but one had not reached the main floor and would eventually surrender quietly, once it became clear that the Germans held the building.  The last Frenchman had had his hands on the gun rack when Schneider had pointed his rifle at him and ordered him down on the floor.  The words had been in Deutsch, but clear enough, nonetheless.

The most remarkable part was what had happened next, but the Kommodore did not ask about that.  The wounded gendarme was gasping on the floor, his nose bleeding and his breath knocked out from falling on his face.  The German sailors were shouting as they went through the rooms on the main floor, Mauser muzzles rounded frantically at any real or perceived movement, and there was one or two inadvertent discharges.

“Garçon,” the gendarme said, waving one hand at Schneider, who was guarding him.

“Was?”  The building main floor was secure.  The Petty Officer Schmidt was calling out the “all clear” to the Kapitäleutnant. 

“Garçon,” he repeated, then screwed up his face in concentration.  “Kinden, Junge, Jungen.  Oui, Jungen.  Sex, er, sechts Jahre Jungen.”  The Frenchman pointed at the down staircase.  What could he be trying to say?  Oh!

“Ah, versteh!  Petty Officer!  Petty Officer Felder!  There may be children hiding down in the basement!”

And so they’d stayed out of the basement until, eventually, Gommel had let the gendarme coax them out.

---- Western Union Building

Von Hoban had been greatly relieved to find that matters were well in hand at the cable offices.  A full squad watched over the equipment.  The staff remained under separate guard within the fenced enclosure.  As he stepped back outside, he noted that the women were seated on chairs, presumably brought out from the offices themselves.

“Sir!  Are you the officer in charge?”

It was the American manager.  Korvettenkapitän Bavaria had mentioned him as he’d related the earlier sequence of events here.  He had been quite protective of both his facilities and his people.  Bavaria had used that to advantage.

“Yes.  Kommodore von Hoban, at your service, sir.”

The man identified himself and launched into a series of complaints and entreaties.  He wanted the Germans out of his building and his folk back in.

“You must be reasonable, sir.  I can in no way allow cable traffic while we are here.”

“Well, then, at least you can let my people return to their homes.  They’re no threat to you or your men.”

“Perhaps later.”  The American’s request was so nonsensical that von Hoban suspected duplicity.  At this moment, the Germans had in one clear and guarded place all - or nearly all - the personnel who were trained and experienced in sending cables.  Let them disperse to the very winds?!

“All I can promise you is this.  As long as there is no trouble, I will not order this French building destroyed and no one will be harmed.”

“This is an American building!  It’s Western Union!”

“You are mistaken, sir.  This is not America.  This is France, and France declared war on Germany last year and our nations have been at war ever since.”

With that, von Hoban swung back up into the saddle and headed back out the gate.  It was so much easier dealing with Americans when he was not on their soil and under their guns.  Still, he added to himself, with a glance out the harbor’s mouth, there were a lot of American dreadnoughts out there.  Somewhere.  These next few days would be very tense.  He clucked at his horse and proceeded out the gate.  Let’s see, he thought, the church was supposed to be up ... ah, there it is.

“Whack!”  Something slammed into the wall beside him.  For a half-instant, he was confused, until he realized that there’d been the sound of a shot, a demi-instant afterwards.

The commodore dug his heels hard into his mount’s flanks, wishing for spurs as he did so.  The horse nearly bolted in startlement.  Apparently not everyone had surrendered, but he didn’t stop to consider the matter further until he’d gotten a Maison between him and the likely source of the bullet.

---- Place de la Roncière

It was thirty minutes later before von Hoban dismounted in front of the government offices.  At this point, he was one enraged commodore.  No one had EVER shot at him before.  Well, at least not personally, he amended to himself.

“LT Kessock.”


“I understand that you’ve got the burgermeister somewhere in there and that he wants to meet with me.”

“Yes, sir.  He’s the one ....”

“Fine, well, tell him that his wish has been granted.  Then take him aside, a couple others, too, if he wants.  Then search him.”

“Um, yes, sir.”  Kessock was puzzled.  The man was only, well, how many Maschinengewehr could he have in those shirt pockets?  “ ‘Search him,’ sir?”

“Yes, leutnant.”  Von Hoban’s voice was stony and flat.  “Search him well.  Vigorously.  He and anyone he says he wants to bring along.”

“Yes, sir!  Vigorously.  I understand, sir.”

“Tell him you’re bringing him to me, but then take your time about it.  Search him twice, in fact.  They are to be escorted by two, no, three sailors.  I want Mausers at their backs.  Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Very well, then.  Carry on.”

---- Office of the “Burgermeister” (NOTE 5)

“SHOT at you?!”  Bavaria was aghast, and for more than one reason.  If von Hoban were killed or incapacitated, it’d be he, Bavaria, that’d have to make all this work.

“Yes, any signals?  Status?”  Von Hoban opened his case and extracted a book.

“None, sir.  Status, yes.  LT von Larg reported I’ile aux Chiens provisionally clear and should be conducting his final sweep over there now.  The boats have been running out to the Nottingham Star for over an hour now and Kolberg’s has just dropped anchor.  (NOTE 6)  Once LT Dahm’s offloaded, he should be able to take the rest of them out to her in one trip.”

Von Hoban apparently found what he was looking for and ran his right index finger along the lines of print.

There was a knock at the door.

“That’ll be the Burgermeister, I expect,” said von Hoban, looking up and closing the book.  “Enter,” he called.  “Oh, you’re shocked, Commander, shocked, but more willing to be temperate in reaction.”

Bavaria puzzled over that remark as the three somewhat rumpled Frenchmen were escorted in.  Their expressions bore such a mixture of anger, worry, and sheer surprise that Bavaria, in other circumstances, might well have laughed aloud.  The lead one glanced at the Mausers and back at von Hoban.

“Is that really necessary?”

“That’s my decision, isn’t it?”  Von Hoban retorted, coldly.

The Frenchman shrugged.  No one can shrug like a Frenchman, thought Bavaria.

“One or more of your people have already shot at me this afternoon.  I do not intend to take any more chances.”

This was news to the Frenchmen.  They were both surprised and pleased at the idea that at least one of theirs was in armed resistance.  After a moment, though, the “Burgermeister” realized there might be negative implications from this.

“You invaded us; what do you expect?  We, on the other hand, are your prisoners.  And what are you doing with our fishermen you have on the pier?  And what about the women and children?  They are your responsibility now, under the Articles of War.  All three thousand of them.”

“Ah, yes, ‘ The Hague.’  Thank you for reminding me, sir, of my duties.  We’ve gone to a great deal of trouble to make this bloodless.  I could have simply arrived at dawn and shelled your towns flat, but I didn’t.  The only ones who’ve been injured today either fired at Germans or fell down stairs.  And that brings me to my next point.

“Gentlemen, we’ve determined the block of houses where this sniper, or snipers, is forted up.  I am NOT going to risk a single German life by assaulting it.  I’ve had it surrounded.  I think all the buildings nearby are empty.  That may or may not be the case, but I have made an effort despite the fact that you’ve got at least one madman running around out there.”

“Sir, I must protest!”  The man’s face flushed bright red at the characterization of a man resisting the Boche.

“Oh, I’m just getting started,” interrupted von Hoban.  “As I said, I am not going to order an assault.  What I AM going to order is for that ship,” he pointed out the window at Kolberg, where Dahm was even then watching dispirited fishermen being herded aboard, “to destroy that entire block.”

“Mon Dieu!”  All three Frenchmen went white and gobbled at him.

“I’m sure he’ll do his best, but ....”

“This is an outrage!  Criminal ....”

“NO!  The Articles of War, monsieurs.  I have removed all non-combatants, to the best of my knowledge, and there is armed resistance.  The Hague 1907 is absolutely clear on this: Section IX, Chapter 1, Articles 2 and 3.  (NOTE 7)  I have a copy here.  Do any of you read Deutsch?”

They did not, but Bavaria realized that a look from von Hoban was his cue.

“Kommodore,” began Bavaria, trying to make his voice sound one of reason, “if I remember correctly, we must first deliver a summons to the authorities.”

“Yes, yes, and here they are.  That’s you, monsieurs.  Consider yourselves notified.  I intend to bombard St. Pierre.”

Eyes wide, faces white, the Frenchmen looked at Bavaria.

“And the ‘reasonable time of waiting’, the treaty stipulates?”

“Why should I wait?  Why would any delay be ‘reasonable’?  There’s a madman in there shooting at us even though we have a thousand soldiers and four warships and the rest of the island prisoner.”

“Perhaps he would surrender?”

“Very well,” said von Hoban, controlling himself with what Bavaria thought was a tad too much theatre.  “Very well, he has not hurt anyone yet.  Monsieurs, I’ll have you escorted to the area.  I’ll give you an hour.

“After that ....”  The commodore shrugged, very much like a Frenchman, realized Bavaria.

Author’s NOTEs:

1) The Australian Light Horse were mounted infantry, able to ride and maneuver, then dismount and act as elite light infantry.  They had already been deployed in the Boer War in 1900.  See the “Light Horse” entry here:

Despite the above, their most famous achievement was when they acted as cavalry at Beersheba on October 31, 1917.  See:

It should be noted that one of the changes in Letterstime - the early abandonment of the Gallipoli Campaign - means that the terrible losses suffered there by the Australian Light Horse (especially in August 1915) will not happen.  Of course, the Ottomans they killed also remain.

2) The ground floor windows on the front of the Gendarmerie were full length, per period photographs.

3) Schneider never would learn where his bullet went.  Over the years, re-enactors would conclude that it must have passed between the gendarme’s right arm and his side, but that later replastering had concealed its entry.  Two others behind Schneider had also fired.  It was one of those bullets that had hit the policeman’s shoe buckle and taken his left leg out from under him, leaving him with a minor fracture and a graze furrow on the outside of his ankle; his facial injuries were from his fall.  The bullet that was likely Schneider’s was found by Professor Gerald Pocius, Memorial University, in 1988, with a metal detector during one of his field studies.  The third bullet remains undiscovered as of this writing.

4) The Maschinengewehr 08 was a German variant of Hiram S. Maxim’s 1884 machine gun.  It weighed about 100 lb. and took two or three men to transport on a cart or sledge.  See:

5) At various times between 1854 and 1954, the islands were under a Governor, then an Administrator, then a Council President.  As far as the Germans are concerned, “Burgermeister” will do.

6) The waters around the piers at St. Pierre were too shallow to allow even a CL to tie up there.  Thus, Kolberg is dropping anchor in preparation to shuttle in her “passengers” via launch.

7) The Hague 1907 addresses bombardment of towns quite specifically.  Von Hoban is citing the following (excerpt):

Art. 2.

Military works, military or naval establishments, depots of arms or war materiel, workshops or plant which could be utilized for the needs of the hostile fleet or army, and the ships of war in the harbour, are not, however, included in this prohibition. The commander of a naval force may destroy them with artillery, after a summons followed by a reasonable time of waiting, if all other means are impossible, and when the local authorities have not themselves destroyed them within the time fixed.

He incurs no responsibility for any unavoidable damage which may be caused by a bombardment under such circumstances.

If for military reasons immediate action is necessary, and no delay can be allowed the enemy, it is understood that the prohibition to bombard the undefended town holds good, as in the case given in paragraph 1, and that the commander shall take all due measures in order that the town may suffer as little harm as possible.

Art. 3.

After due notice has been given, the bombardment of undefended ports, towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings may be commenced, if the local authorities, after a formal summons has been made to them, decline to comply with requisitions for provisions or supplies necessary for the immediate use of the naval force before the place in question.

The entire Section can be found here:

by Jim

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