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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - TIOWF, Part VI

Securing St. Pierre & MiquelonJune 25, 1915 - evening

---- Office of the “Burgermeister”

“He’s not here, sir.”

Korvettenkapitän Bavaria did a bit of a double-take at the sailor’s answer.  Truth be told, Bavaria had been less than eager to meet with Kommodore von Hoban because he had less than complete success to report.  Nonetheless, he had readied himself as best he could, but now he was left unable to make the report and having to do it later.

The “Burgermeister” and, the duo accompanying him, had gone into the cordoned-off blocks from whence the sniper had attempted to kill von Hoban.  The German officer had remained in cover whilst the men sought to contact the shooter and obtain his surrender.  The location was almost 50 meters from the prominent pockmark on the wall that marked the attempt.  Von Hoban had not been ascending the lane but had been crossing it, the line of sight.  Either the sniper had been a bad shot or, and this was Bavaria’s guess, the Kommodore’s uniform had made him an irresistible target despite its difficulty.

The trio had taken most of an hour and had emerged without anyone else.  They did, however, have a rifle, carefully displayed above their heads in reversed fashion by the barrel.  They denied finding anyone but that the gun had been abandoned in place, propped up beside a window, a spent shell casing on the floor beside it.

It was possible that they were telling the truth, but Bavaria doubted it.  He’d then sent men in to search, but they also found no one.  The shooter had fled but apparently had left the gun behind.  So, had the “Burgermeister” met with him and worked out this strange attempt at a compromise?  Certainly, there might be ways out that the Germans missed.  Or had the sniper taken his shot and made the instant and reasonable decision that his chances of escape were much improved with empty hands?

The “Burgermeister” had been emphatic in his recounting, but neither of the others seemed quite able to meet Bavaria’s eyes.  Was that because he was their gaoler?  Or had they met with the sniper and, unlike the older “Burgermeister”, were unable to bluff it out?

In any event, what would be the Kommodore’s reaction?

“Ah, I see,” replied Bavaria, who actually did not.  “Do you know where he is?”

“Yes, sir.  He’s ....”

---- Approaching Sally IV, anchored, off St. Pierre

“A solid enough looking craft,” offered von Hoban.  The American looked at him and judged him to be serious.  “I’m not sure of the English word.  Perhaps, ‘sound’ is a better one?  She appears both comfortable and able to stay at sea, even in foul weather.”

“That’s an American flag she’s flying, Commodore,” Dave Bender replied.

“Oh, I do not plan to take her from you.”  Though, once the words were uttered, von Hoban realized that the craft would indeed fit comfortably on a battlecruiser or liner.  Her green trim gave her an elegant accent.

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“What I meant,” von Hoban resumed, “was that she looked well, both in appearance and seaworthiness.  Where did you get her?  And when?”

“Just had her a month now.  This is her maiden voyage, of any length, that is.  I’ve had her out local a few times.”

Von Hoban nodded him to continue.

“She’s that famous Alden design.  John Q. Alden?  No?  I commissioned her almost straight from his piece in Yachting Magazine, January 1913.  She handles like a dream and we’ve already ridden out one decent gale.”  (NOTE 1)

The kommodore nodded again, remembering the rainstorm off New York a few days earlier.  The launch was pulling up alongside when von Hoban noted the name.

“You’ve had four such vessels?”

“No, it’s a ....”

“No matter.  If you’ll wait here.”  The officer gestured to the waiting petty officer, who nimbly jumped the gap onto the ketch.

“What!?  She’s MY boat!”

“This is France, Mr. Bender, and we’re at war.  Simply a routine precaution.”

“There is no one aboard, sir,” reported the petty officer, a minute later.  “But, Herr Kommodore, you were right.  There is a wireless set.”

“What?”  Bender asked.  “What is he saying?”

“What he’s saying, Mr. Bender, is that you’re not going to be going aboard your vessel for a while.”  If ever, he did not quite add.  “Keep him here,” he ordered his men.  “Restrain him, if necessary.”  Then, in English, “I’ll be just a few minutes.”

Bender had several comments he wished to make but, wisely, made none of them.

Von Hoban made the jump without further ado, trying not to think about another ship-to-ship transfer he’d made.  (NOTE 2)

Actually, he had no good reason to board this American toy, and he admitted as much to himself.  This was just a minor detour.  He was glad for the wireless as a ready excuse but he had, of course, never intended to let the American back aboard.  An empty boat flying a Neutral’s flag and a man ashore claiming to be a Neutral citizen were minor potential nuisances.  A Neutral-flagged vessel captained by a Neutral owner was a potential diplomatic incident.  He was supposedly looking for the Americans’ passports as he ran one hand along the unblemished trim, appreciating the glossy woods and the, well, peaceful look of her.  Gott but he hated this war!

“The wireless,” he said to the petty officer, perhaps more harshly than he intended, “open it.  Disable it - remove several parts.  Put them in a canvas sack and present them to the Erzherzog, along with my compliments.”

The man would probably damage the set, but he couldn’t leave discovery a simple swim away.

“Commodore,” asked Bender, eyeing the German’s empty hands upon his return, “didn’t you find them?”

“No,” von Hoban admitted in complete honesty.

“But ....”

“Another time,” von Hoban said, and turned away.  He’d wasted enough time on this.

“Kolberg,” he directed the coxswain.  He had a signal to send.

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

“Captain, that’s the last of them.”

“Very well,” answered LT Lionel, who did not smile this time, though he was far from tiring of the honorific.  He was distracted, intent.  What had he missed?  He had ordered his men to fix bayonets and to parade the prisoners past several of the Maschinengewehr.  What else should he do?

“Any problems?”

“No, sir.  They seem, well, numb or stunned.”

That could change, though, once they stayed in any one place for a while, and got time to think and act, instead of cope and react.

“What’s the count?”

The bosun looked at his sheet.  He hadn’t added the last ones yet.

“My tally sheet has it at 348, sir.”

He had 39 men: almost 10-to-1.  Still, there were few young adults, who might be quick to act rashly, thinking they were immortal.  Many of the men seemed to have their own sons aboard to think about.  He hoped that would make them even more loathe to start something that might lead to shooting.

“When will the lock-down be done?”

“They’re mostly still in the messdecks, sir.  We’ve been escorting them down to “B” Deck in pairs.”

Before the war, the Star class had shipped passengers in forty above deck staterooms, two decks, and steerage for a total of well over a thousand paying customers, though not all of them in great comfort.  (NOTE 3)  The RN modifications, however, had reduced the number of separate cabins on “A” deck and eliminated steerage entirely.  Among the modifications the Germans had accomplished off New York, first and foremost had been the installation of bar brackets on doors and hatches, just in case the Germans had become swamped by prisoners.  Lionel had expected them to be mostly British merchantmen, though, not French fishermen and landsmen.  At the time, he’d thought it odd that so many cabins had received the exit bars.  Now, he wondered if this had been planned all along.

The bosun looked up into the overhead, considering.

“I’d guess maybe 150 been locked down so far, sir.  Should be another hour, no more.”

“Very well.”

He loved commanding a ship.  But he hated this job.  Nonetheless, when he saw Kapitäleutnant Dahm staring up in his direction from the much lower bridge of Kolberg, he smiled and waved.  Dahm, acknowledged much more decorously, almost gingerly.

“Sir,” both young officers heard the calls from their separate lookouts, “Kommodore von Hoban, approaching.”

---- Place de la Roncière

Several of the officers were at table just outside one of the cafés when LT Kessock strode up.

“Sieg,” Kessock’s voice registered jovial astonishment, “you’re off von der Tann - what’s this about you playing Seydlitz?!”  (NOTE 4)

The others noted the blush blooming on LT Siegfried’s cheeks.

“Leutnant,” chided Kapitäleutnant Gommel, leisurely waving a buttered roll, “have you been holding out on us?”

“No, sir,” Siegfried replied, after a hasty swallow.  “I mean, I don’t think so, sir.”

“Well, then, Herr Kessock, tell on!”

“Wolfgang, what in the devil are you talking about?”

“It’s no use, Sieg,” Kessock continued.  “The men are all talking about it.”

This was the literal truth.  While organizing the detentions on the Place and the pier, Kessock had overheard several of the sailors recounting it to Petty Officer Stumpfhühn.

“It seems, Herren,” Kessock added, turning to his “audience”, “that our young Leutnant Siegfried led a bit of a cavalry charge right across the Place here.”

“Do tell!”

Even Bornholdt, who had done a bit of a charge of his own over at Western Union, turned at that, putting down his mug.  Actually, that tale had also been told within Kessock’s hearing that afternoon, complete with mounds of terrified women, but one did not tease LT Bornholdt.

“Well, you recall that pair of gendarmes that surrendered to him?”

Siegfried’s gaze narrowed as he realized where Kessock was going.  He’d hoped to dismiss it from the minds of all, especially his own.  The sequence had left him very ill at ease, somewhere between sweating and shiverish, as though he’d been under fire and unable to reply, but - if anything - the reverse had been true!

He’d spotted the two gendarmes as they rose from their table in reaction to the distant sound of the slamming Gendarmerie doors, his eyes drawn to the motion.  Their uniforms had marked them, as had the batons in their hands.  Siegfried had dragged his horse away from harvesting flower boxes and over to confront the two policemen.  Then, facing his gun and those of the men with him who had moved to surround and cut them off, they had surrendered.  And, as they had no guns, they had done so fairly meekly, at that.

At least, that was how Siegfried mostly remembered it, or was trying to have it remembered.  Certainly, that was how Gommel had heard it, from one LT Siegfried.

“Sieg, the gendarmes, they were ... right over there, richtig?”

The German officers looked where Kessock pointed.

“Yes, that’s right,” Siegfried acknowledged, guardedly.

Gommel saw it now and chimed in.

“You came onto the Place over … there, didn’t you?”

There were two lines of benches plus a small but long and sturdy flower trough along the most direct path between the two points.

Siegfried blinked.  He did not recall them.  No, that was not possible.

“They weren’t there then.”  His voice betrayed uncertainty.  The benches were fully occupied now by women and children and a few oldsters.  “At least, I don’t remember them being there.”

“Nothing’s been moved,” Gommel said, with Kessock nodding in agreement.  “Well, all those chairs have been brought out from the cafés, but not those benches.”

“And look, Sieg,” added Kessock.  “That flower holder, no one could have moved it, not without horses, or a yoke of oxen.”

“But, my men ....”  His voice trailed off at a fresh recollection.  His men had moved to cut off the Frenchmen.  They had not followed him.  At the time, he’d attributed it to initiative, or simply tactical teamwork.

“They couldn’t,” Kessock continued with a bit of gusto.  “They went the long way.  Oh, one tried, well, he was willing but his horse wasn’t.  I talked with him.  Luckily, no bones broken, he’s just bruised up some.

“But you, our dear cavalry hero, went the direct route, three jumps worth!”

“Gut Gott!”

“Wait,” said Gommel, brow furrowing.  “There was a shot.  You fired a warning shot, you told me.  I’d heard it and asked you about it when you briefed me.”

Siegfried licked his lips.  Yes, he had done that.  Initially, the gendarmes had frozen in place as he’d come at them, his men not far behind.  But, then, they’d tensed, as though ready to take flight.  Not a dozen steps and they could duck into the café to go out the back and lose themselves in the warren of streets and by-ways that they knew so well and that had already gotten Siegfried lost once this day.  The young leutnant had grasped that instantly and, when he’d seen one gendarme flick his glance towards the dark safety of the café entrance, Siegfried had acted, triggering a shot into the cobblestones barely one meter away along their route to safety.

“At a gallop, over benches?”  Gommel sounded thunderstruck.  “On a horse you’d never ridden before today?!”

“Yes, I suppose so.”  Though the shot had been after the jumps, he was sure of it.

But!  And this was where the part he wanted to forget began.  He could not remember drawing his Luger!

What he did recall was that everything had seemed to slow to a frozen snail’s pace.  The gendarme’s eyes had rotated millimeter-by-millimeter and, rising up in the stirrups, feeling the flow of the gait, he had known exactly where his bullet would go - the precise fist-sized stone it would hit! - and with an icy clarity that chilled him now in hindsight.

Bornholdt nodded to him then.  Seriously.  Respectfully.  And that chilled him even more.

Author’s NOTEs:

1) The article and design identified in the text are historical and a relevant book excerpt can be found here: 4378152 6886367?%5Fencoding=UTF8&p=S00N&j=1&ns=1#reader page

Perhaps the very first design Alden did was in 1905 at the age of 21.  At that time he was still employed at B. B. Crowninshield in East Boothbay, Maine.  That very first design is a slightly smaller version of the above craft and is still sailing today.  For readers who wish to eat their hearts out, another book excerpt can be found here: 6111783 9545768?%5Fencoding=UTF8&p=S00P&j=1&ns=1#reader page

2) On May 31, 1915, at about 8:00 PM:

3) As mentioned in early chapters, the Star class is a gestalt of RN AMCs.  For a total list, see:

The Nottingham Star (or her sister “currently” interned in New York harbor) is roughly analogous to a slower Teutonic, which was launched in 1889, displaced about 10,000 tons, and also served as an AMC for the RN in WWI.  Her listed passenger capacity was 1,490!  Main dining rooms would typically sit 300 - 450 in liners of this size.  See:

4) Kessock is making word play, referencing battlecruisers whilst really referring to Freiherr von Seydlitz, for whom the battlecruiser was named.  See:

by Jim

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