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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - TIOWF, Part VII

Securing St. Pierre & Miquelon

June 26, 1915 - late morning

---- Grande Miquelon LT Lionel had spent most of the morning ensuring that the civilians had all been embarked.  Once that had been completed, he had accompanied his team up to check the locations identified by his scouts.  There was not much in the way of true mountains here, but the grade had left him breathless nonetheless. “This one will do,” he declared, after one sweep with the tripod-mounted lenses.  There was something of a fogbank directly north, but all the other bearings looked clear enough.  “Where did you say LT Diele was going to place his post?” “That one, sir, I believe.”  The signalist pointed to another raised spot towards Langlade. “Ah, yes,” Lionel said, peering again through the oculars.  “They are already set up.”  He frowned a bit at that, even though he’d had more Frenchies to get evacuated and more ground to cover. “Should I get started on laying the wire, sir?” “Um, yes, do that.  Ah!  There they are!”


The young officer apparently did not hear, so the senior enlisted man just shrugged to the others and they got on with what had to be done.  At least the leutnant was smiling again, at something he had in the scope.  Whatever it was that had drawn his attention, it was in the direction of St. Pierre.

---- Rostock

Westfeldt did not like his cargo.  He commanded a warship, not a passenger liner.  Worse, they were Frenchmen, all of them.  Well, French people, would be more correct, as they were not all men, not even most of them.  In fact, the men were turning out to be the least of his problems.  Several small children were crying, and that was getting on his nerves.  Worst of all, though, were three of the middle-aged women.  Who would have expected the wives of fishermen to get seasick?  And what in the name of Gott had they been eating?! They had been nauseous when they had arrived, escorted in the boats by the armed sailors of LT Lionel and LT Diele.  Maybe it wasn’t just seasickness; maybe it was more simple and stark fear, fear of the dreaded Boche.  Whatever the cause, his men had already had to slosh the results off his deck three times and Westfeldt doubted anything they had aboard would kill the smell.  He wanted to pinch his nose, but that would not be officer-like.  Covertly, he began to breathe through his mouth, noting as he did that his were not the only lips so parted. As he entered the channel, he saw it had become a lot more crowded in here. “Drop three turns,” he ordered.  “And come left 15 degrees.” The other hulls made this a bit tricky, though not terribly so.  It would only get worse, he thought, beginning to grin to himself.
---- St. Pierre - I’ile aux Chiens channel mouth, ocean side LT Wilhelm had, most nervously, waited out the events of yesterday a dozen miles out to sea from this bit of France.  His nervousness had eased considerably upon receipt of Kommodore von Hoban’s wireless and had eased even more once his two charges had come into visual range of Strassburg, edged into the channel and dropped anchor.  The ships’ masters made sure that they’d stopped and anchored well before the water shallowed enough to make them too anxious.  As fretful as he had been, Wilhelm would have been far, far more exercised if the deck that he stood on had been, or had even been near, that of his former command, the SS Française Justinia.  (NOTE 1) The reason that Wilhelm and the others had been and were continuing to be fastidiously careful was that an awful lot was riding on the safe arrival of the two merchantmen.  A very great deal indeed. In the case of the SS Maid of Malay, a grounding could have become a massive tragedy and so the man at the con had taken special care, keeping the lead working constantly and dropping the speed over ground all the way down nearly to just steerage way.  The master of the other - the SS Eyewhon - had exhibited even more caution, letting the Maid precede him and thus take what risks remained.  Both merchantmen drew about the same, though Eyewhon was slightly the larger ship, displacing 5,400 tons to the Maid’s 5,100.  Both ships owed their presence here to the fact that they boasted a maximum sustainable speed of just over than 7.5 knots. In almost any open market, the Maid’s cargo would have been deemed far more valuable than that of the Eyewhon, whose cargo was particularly common in her present general geographical locale, while the Maid’s had grown even more exotic.  Certainly, the Maid’s would have fetched a far greater sum than that of the Eyewhon in any of the nearby ports. Despite those physical and mercantile factors, LT Wilhelm had been quite content to let the Maid - upon whose deck he stood - take the risks, partly because he was a German while the Eyewhon’s master was an American.  Oh, the Maid’s just-previous master would have been very chary indeed, but all had changed on June 19.  That particular gentleman, whose comfortable residence lay within a stone’s throw of the Raffles Hotel (NOTE 2) in Singapore, had had no say in the matter because he was currently beached in New York City, one of several hundred Entente ship masters, mates and seamen there now without ships. In fact, the Maid had gained some cargo during the nearly 36 hours she was hove to off Long Island.  Some quite valuable, in fact.  None of it was set down in her official manifest, her present owners being disinclined towards tidy record-keeping just now.  She was low on coal, having nearly completed her Atlantic crossing before being cheerily greeted by LT von Larg, so the nearly eighty tons of SS Lochard’s tin ingots (NOTE 3) that had been added as ballast - all that could be shifted before Group Dora departed - did not disturb her in the least.  What remaining ingots that could be made to fit now graced the odd-spots in the magazines of the two battlecruisers, generally in place of expended shells.  (NOTE 4)  Other undocumented additions to the Maid’s manifest included leather and dressed beef (NOTE 5). The real reason the Maid was there was that her own main cargo included no fewer than 880 tons of natural rubber.  She also carried logs of teak and mahogany, crates of coffee and tapioca, and sealed containers of pepper, ginger, and tea.  It had been the rubber, though, that had driven Admiral Hanzik to this extreme, that and the possibility of saving the tin he could not stow aboard Moltke and von der Tann. Nonetheless, LT Wilhelm agreed most heartily that if there were any uncharted rocks in this channel, it should be the Maid that “discovered” them.  The loss of the Maid would indeed be an enormous tragedy, even if some of her cargo could be salvaged before she sank.  For, in the Germans’ minds, the other ship was far, far more valuable.
---- Strassburg, steerage way Captain Siegmund shared Wilhelm’s value judgement and had had eyes only for Eyewhon as the merchant pair slowly made progress up channel.  Now, as his command approached the American, he could not avoid letting a broad smile surface on his countenance.  Kommodore von Hoban, who had a few minutes ago gotten into one of his boats, was now going up onto the merchantman’s deck and all looked well. “All stop,” Siegmund ordered.  His cruiser gradually lost way in perfect tempo with the dropping gap.  His men were readying for contact, so he saw no reason to give further voice. Instead, he looked at the American ship with possessive fondness.
---- St. Pierre, pier-side The “Burgermeister” was complaining to Bavaria, so the Erzherzog had remained unaware of the merchants’ movement up the channel.  The French official had contained himself until he confirmed the departure of the Kommodore. “They will be damaged!”  He was speaking of the fishing schooners. “It was either this or sink them,” replied Bavaria smoothly.  “Would you have preferred the latter?  It can still be arranged; in fact, it was the Kommodore’s preference, I believe.” “No!  No, of course not!” The schooners were tied up, with cables interlaced amongst the hulls.  They appeared a solid mass of wood, like the product of a demented whittler. “You said you did this each winter.” “Yes, but your men have not done the coffle correctly.  The waves!  A single storm could destroy them all!” “Ah, I might be willing to let you make changes.” “Yes?”  The Frenchman suddenly sounded wary. “Yes, Herr Gommel!” “Sir?” “Hold the boats for now.”  There were still several groups of older but wiry men sitting on the pier.  One group was standing, ready to board a waiting launch.  Gommel gestured and they sat back down.  They all looked up suspiciously.  “The Frenchman here would like to redo the coffle.  Otherwise, he says, the fishing boats won’t weather a storm.  They would be damaged unnecessarily.” Gommel nodded. “Sir,” Bavaria said, turning the “Burgermeister”, the man was gesturing, perhaps soothingly, at the other Frenchmen.  “How many would you need?  I will order them released to you, but I want your word and their parole.” The Germans would also keep Mausers trained on them, and warships remained at both ends of the channel, but neither needed to be said.  The French knew that full well. 
---- Kolberg, anchored Dahm only realized that he had been holding his breath when he began a long exhale of relief. He was out on the open air off his cruiser’s bridge, his binoculars clamped to his face as he stared across the shallows of the channel.  He’d had his eyes on Eyewhon’s bow.   What he’d been watching for had just happened.  He’d expected to see motion, but had not.  Instead, he’d spotted the splash. The American had dropped anchor.
---- Nottingham Star, anchored LT Lionel did NOT notice the arrival of the two merchants. He was down below decks dealing with what now was clearly an oversight in their planning.  The problem was that there were no holes in the stateroom doors. He now had 452 male prisoners aboard and he had to feed them all.  However, the Germans had to open doors, one at a time, to get food in and then again to get stuff out.  They had known of the need to deal with head or latrine issues, but the former liner was not too badly designed in that respect.  The liner designers had always assumed, though, that the passengers would congregate and eat in the large rooms, and not in their cabins.

So, how does one safely feed so many with so few?  One door at a time?  They’d be at it all day and all night!  Or, in larger lots in large rooms?  How many at a time, and how could he guard them safely?

LT Lionel was ready to tear his hair out, and it would almost certainly get worse, as more prisoners would surely be sent out to him.  Here he was, the commanding officer of the first British warship anyone could recall Germans capturing in the entire history of his nation, and what was he doing?  Spending all his time dealing with French tummies and turds!  War was hell, he decided.

---- SS Eyewhon

“And you, sir,” began the blocky, bearded American captain, as he watched the nearing German warship with a bit of a jaundiced eye.  “Are you ‘Mr. Hoban’, sir?” “Ja, Kommodore von Hoban, at your service.”  They had met before, but von Hoban did not let that anger him.  The American had more than ample reason to be stressed into absent-mindedness.  In any case, the man had chosen his name to voice from the several specified on the paper, so it was likely just some American mercantile contract formality. “Do you have the papers?” “Yes,” the German answered patiently.  He had the force of arms and maybe even the force of law on his side, but he was determined to play this out in a most gentlemanly manner.  (NOTE 6)  He glanced about as the other compared the documents.  The machinery looked well maintained, and that soothed him even more. “All appears to be in order, sir,” the American pronounced, as he extracted a large, ink fountain pen from one pocket.  “Mr. Hoban, for my records, is this the delivery destination?” “Yes, that is correct.” “Well, sir, this is a sight further from Philly than I’d ever’ve expected, but you paid for it and now we’re here.” Ballin’s company had begun negotiating the contract through intermediaries soon after his arrival, with the money changing hands on June 16.  Eyewhon had then loaded and sailed from Philadelphia mid-morning on June 18, when the British were most certain to have other things on their minds.  She had rendezvoused with the Germans off New York late the next afternoon, when the British had no more armed minds afloat nearby. “If I can get your signature here, then?” Von Hoban bent over the papers. "The contract had not specified a delivery destination, but had left it open to the declaration of the purchaser.  This had come at a frightening premium, should the Germans have cared.  Instead, the contract had a “no later than” delivery date of two weeks from sailing, or July 2, 1915.

“Thank you, Mr. Hoban.  I am at your service.  Per the contract, you have five days, until, let’s call it noon, First of July.”

“Very good,” replied von Hoban.  They both knew that German guns could dictate any contractual addenda the Germans might desire, but that was the future.  “You will start with Strassburg, here.”  Von Hoban gestured to the nearing cruiser, where Siegmund stood smiling out on one bridge wing, just managing not to rub his hands together. Eyewhon’s cargo included 100 tons of diesel, 600 tons of fuel oil, and nearly 7,000 tons of prime Pennsylvania steam coal, and Siegmund wanted 600 of the last.  (NOTE 7) AUTHOR’s NOTEs 1) Française Justinia’s cargo had included something on the order of one million pounds of munitions.  See:‑jun18‑decisions‑9.html 2) Group Dora exited the waters well east of Coney Island on the evening of June 20, 1915, as reported by LCDR Barton of the Destroyer USS Parker (Destroyer No. 48 or DD-48).  See:‑jun18‑decisions‑24.html‑jun18‑decisions‑25.html 2) Founded in 1887, the author admits to have enjoyed his visits there - including a “few” Singapore Slings - and is delighted to have found a way to give both the hotel and the drink a plug!  In fact, the Singapore Sling was likely invented by Ngiam Tong Boon in the Long Bar right around this date in Letterstime!   See:‑sling‑fling.html 3) SS Lochard, Leeds United Shipping Co., Ltd., was seized by LT Kessock off Korvettenkapitän Speck’s Augsburg on June 19, 1915, ~50 miles ESE of Coney Island, NY.   Her cargo included 150 tons of tin (Zinn).   See this chapter (which also featured the LT entry of the redoubtable LT Bornholdt):‑jun18‑decisions‑11.html

4) The transfers to the warships were the beginning of the “special measures” (Admiral Hanzik’s words and orders) spotted by LCDR Barton aboard Parker (Destroyer No. 47).  The bulk of the merchant-to-merchant transfers had already taken place further out to sea during the day.  See the 5:45 PM entry here:‑jun18‑decisions‑21.html

The donor ship was even lower on coal and had a maximum speed of barely six knots.  Thus, she was unsuitable for Group Dora.

5) Beef and leather from SS Erik Boyle, captured by LT Heinrich von Larg.  See:‑jun18‑decisions‑7.html
6) The Hague 1907 is absolutely silent on this situation!  That is, the status of an un-crewed vessel with a Neutral flag on its hoist that is found in occupied enemy territory was fairly simple.  The status of a Neutral-flagged vessel found in conquered Belligerent waters was less clear.  The status of a Neutral vessel that was found voluntarily entering Belligerent waters AFTER the conquering may be completely indecipherable.  The author is not aware that this particular situation has ever been addressed anywhere.

7) The Germans had developed several coal contingency plans to fuel their return.  They had German merchants overtly and covertly readying to load coal and depart Boston and New York.  (British agents are watching them, even “now.”)  The battlecruisers could make last-minute US port calls to coal.  If all else failed, the waters just to the north of St. Pierre - Miquelon were home to all the coal traffic associated with Cape Breton, one of the world’s greatest and most active coal fields of the day, but that had always been regarded as the contingency of dead-last resort.  Cape Breton was the source of much of the coal mined in Canada in the years before the Great War, with the Cape Breton based Dominion Iron & Steel Company Ltd. accounting for 40% of Canada’s production in 1912.  The Sydney Field alone produced 5.75 million tons in 1913.  See: Taking collier prizes from Canadian waters, though, would mark the German force’s approximate location nearly as well Miss Liberty marked New York harbor.  The time between seizure and coaling completion would be a horrible period of vulnerability.  Nonetheless, this fall back was considered to be one of the critical positives of the St. Pierre - Miquelon seizure.  In short, no matter what, the Germans knew they could find and take coal nearby.  They’d just have had to manage the military reactions and responses, which would interject time pressures of several sorts even if they had previously managed TIOWF without a cable SOS.

by Jim

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