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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - TIOWF, Part VIII

June 27, 1915 -  morning

---- Grande Miquelon

A ship had come into view. LT Lionel was behind the oculars again. He was smiling.  If anything, the grin on his face was even broader than it had been almost exactly 24 hours previously, when he had sighted SS Eyewhon and SS Maid of Malay.  After a minute, though, the corners of his mouth flattened back out.  Well, he had in view something he’d certainly hoped to see.  But ... he pivoted about to scan more fully the arc where the ship was ... nothing.  Where were ...?

He swivelled to look towards LT Diele’s post.  As best he could tell, they were gazing in a somewhat different direction, well, at least the tripod mount was aimed that way.  The man there stood up and made some sort of gesture.  A man in an officer’s uniform - LT Diele, presumably - came into the field of vision and took over the tripod.  Others stepped into view, pointing and raising binoculars.

Lionel estimated the bearing and aimed the scope on something like Diele’s bearing.  There was nothing ....  No!  Wait!  Yes!  Yes, indeed!

“Petty officer!”

---- Strassburg, steerage way

Captain Siegmund made a rigorous effort to hide his own feelings.  So many things could still go wrong, but so much had come to pass thus far that he could almost be persuaded that the rest could follow.  Nonetheless, he’d’ve felt far, far better if he knew just where the Britishers were.  He knew they were around somewhere.  His skin itched at the back of his neck, but no amount of scratching could ease it.

“Left full rudder,” he ordered, conning his cruiser out of the path of the newcomers.

“Rudder amidships.”  His post was guard ship for the next day or more.

“Steady as she goes.”  He had always been a fanatic on conserving coal.  Indeed, the brief splurge off New York and Philadelphia, however justified and even needful it had been at the time, embarrassed him now in hindsight.  (NOTE)

“Chief?”  Siegmund’s inquiry was directed to a stocky man hunched over a mounted scope.  He was staring at figures on the roof of a building ashore, then at others on a different building on a different shore.

“Not yet, sir.”  The reply was muffled due to the other’s stance.  “Almost, though, sir.  Another fifty meters, maybe a bit less.  We’ve not cleared the... there!  Got ‘em, sir.”

“All stop,” ordered Siegmund.  “Bosun, prepare to drop anchor.”

He wanted to take all but one boiler off line but could not.  Not yet.  His hands clenched on the bridge rail.  The impatience and anxiety unique to ship captains who did not know where they would next get coal once more threatened to show on his face.

No, he had to wait for Dahm and Speck to do their job.  Siegmund just wished they’d hurry it up but, even in the midst of his own ardor for haste, he respected full well the others’ need for extreme deliberateness as they set about their current task.  

---- St. Pierre, Place de la Roncière

The Frenchmen had remained mostly silent ever since first meal, though they cast frequent and numerous reproachful looks in Bavaria’s direction.  A few minutes ago, the report of incoming messages had prompted Kommodore von Hoban’s quick-stepping departure up the stairs and into the office building.  The closure of the door behind the kommodore had apparently served as a signal for action as, within moments, several of the Frenchmen had bustled over to the single strand rope border and begun to spout streams of entreaties and grievances.  Bavaria went over to listen, nodding gravely.

Since the Germans were currently outnumbered in this part of France by something approaching ten-to-one, listening and even placating them had seemed the wisest course by far.  A riot could result in many casualties, not the least of which would be Germany’s sympathies in the United States since Duxbury, Massachusetts was at the nearer end of Western Union’s cables here.

“But, m’sieur, you ... you ....”

The “Burgermeister” was livid, having quickly worked himself up into a seeming lather.  He punctuated his speech with gestures that verged on being brusque.  Bavaria tried not to take offense even as he tried not to smile.  He was finding the latter more difficult than the former because the Frenchman kept stealing glances at the distant door to reassure himself that Kommodore von Hoban was still inside and safely out of earshot.

“... said, and most clearly.  ‘This is the last night,’ that is what you said.”  The men with him bobbed their heads in firm agreement.  “The food, it is almost gone.  Yes, there is bread ....”

The bakers were among the men that the Germans had retained ashore.  The others included the gendarmes and about half of those that the Germans had decided to be “officials.”  Separate the leaders from the mob, that was the idea.  Here, it had the added advantage of helping to preserve order within the larger mass of women and children, who themselves drew comfort from their familiar presence.

“... but little else, and even the bread, it runs short of need.”

Bavaria was confident that considerably more flour remained than was being claimed.  The bakers were baking, alright, but they were not getting paid for either their time or their wares.  It would not have taken them long to have grasped that most fundamental point.

“You have over two thousand of us here, most of them women and children.  You are responsible for feeding them.  What are ....”

Actually, Bavaria thought the figure to be higher, as the Germans had generally completed their admittedly-leisurely sweep of the town.  The large front door of the government building opened then, the motion catching Bavaria’s eye.  Kommodore von Hoban emerged, looked about and raised his chin up when he saw that he had Bavaria’s attention.

“If you would excuse me, m’sieur?  The kommodore ....”

The French voices had already tailed off at the sight of von Hoban.

“Certainment,” the “Burgermeister” muttered, in a semblance of propriety.

LT Kessock had, for reasons of shelter and sanitation, included several of the buildings bordering the Place within the rope perimeter.  The young officer had not seen the kommodore because he was watching several small boys race out of the tallest of the perimeter buildings and over to an older gendarme whose bandaged foot was propped up on a stool.  The stool had not been there earlier, but none of the Germans seemed to have witnessed its appearance.  Kessock’s guess was that those same lads had spirited it out of one of the shops while no one was looking.  In any case, the boys were literally jumping up and down, pointing down channel.

Within minutes, the crowd on the Place had turned to face that same direction and then began to drift to better vantage points.

---- Imperator, slowing to a stop

“What’ll I ever do for an encore?”

Maxwell Browning of the Sacramento Union-Times and, more recently, The New York Times had had several days to reflect on the very odd turns his life had so recently taken.  His question was posed to his fellow reporter, Benjamin “Blue” Fox of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who merely raised one eyebrow in reply.  Both men stood at one rail on the Promenade Deck, regarding the bits of land that Herr Ballin had explained to be part of France.

“I mean, I only came East for a birthday party, for Chrissake!  My 24th.  What am I going to do for my 25th?”

“Well, I’m wondering what Holly’s doing,” Blue retorted, with a trace of bitterness.  “What’s she thinking.  Who’s she seeing.”

“Well, yes, there’s that,” Browning conceded, with a sigh.  “I miss my Colleen, too.  And, you know, I miss Mt. Rainier, too.  I really do.  All my life it’s been right there on the horizon, snow-capped, unclimbable, and just awesome as all hell.  I could never live on the East Coast where the only things tall are buildings, glorified ant nests, all of them.  How do you stand it?”

“Never thought about it,” admitted Blue.  “If you think New York’s bad, though, how’d you like to live here?  After all, there’s not a single tall building in sight.  Oh, and by the way, I think that smell’s fish.”

“It’s fish alright,” agreed Max, his nose wrinkling. “ What do people DO here, I wonder, I mean, when they’re not fishing?”

“Well,” began Blue, looking through binoculars, “right now what they all seem to be doing is staring at US!”

---- Moltke and von der Tann, anchored, moored to Eyewhon, one on each beam

Imperator and Vaterland were indeed a most remarkable sight.  They loomed out of the water like great white icebergs, dwarfing the other three liners behind them.

Captains Dirk and Stang were not watching any of the liners, their attention fixed instead on the black flow of life onto their decks, and its being struck down into their bunkers.  The backbreaking and dangerous labors off New York and Boston had been enough to get them here with enough margin to allow them to abort and return to the northernmost American port cities, but just barely so.  Even at that, though, Dirk’s calculations had suggested that 20 knots would have been von der Tann’s maximum for the return on a late abort, and Stang’s math had Moltke’s fuel reserves tighter still.  Now, their options were growing in precise proportion to the heights of the mounds of coal on their decks.  Dirk would fill his bunkers to the brim and beyond, but Stang could not do the same for Moltke.  At least, not yet.

Stang walked across Moltke’s bridge to watch the approach of Kronprinz Wilhelm.  Captain von Stampt called out “All stop” and “Prepare to drop anchor.”  There was essentially no breeze, but it was cool enough that that was not the reason why his shirt was soaked from his armpits down with sweat.  The two German ship masters traded brief, anxious glances.

This was not without risks, though more to von Stampt’s vessel than Stang’s.  What they needed were tugs, but all they had were masses of baled rope fenders.  They would suffice, just as long as he made no mistake, or a sudden gust of wind, or an unexpected current, or damn near anything at all.

“Drop anchor.”  They had drawn near enough to allow use of the anchor chains to slow and swing the ship.

Stang nodded with appreciation at the seamanship of the other as the ships glided together ever so slowly.  He could see von Stampt’s shoulders sag with relief as line after line snugged the ships together.

Both captains paused to share a brief look, bridge to bridge, and then turned as one to regard the Kronprinzessen Cecilie, who had begun inching forward to duplicate von Stampt’s maneuver on the outboard side of Kronprinz Wilhelm.

---- Kolberg and Augsburg, steerage way

Dahm and Speck were at different ends of the channel, well outside the channel mouth.  Both vessels and crews were doing the same thing.

Carefully.  Very, very carefully.

Dahm’s crew was well ahead of Speck’s, for a couple reasons.  First, Dahm had had his men preparing for the task for over a day, including sketching detailed maps.  Second, Kolberg’s was the channel side where the newcomers had NOT entered, thus letting him get somewhat of a head start.

“Number thirty-two set and secure, sir.”

“Very well,” Dahm replied, mopping the sweat from his brow quite unashamedly.  “Bosun, I want no relaxing here.  None!  All bearing lines double and triple checked.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”  The senior enlisted man agreed most whole-heartedly.  His captain, acting CO or not, had said the same or nearly the same thing twice before and the bosun’s sincerity was in no way diminishing.  These damn-fangled things scared the crap out of him.

Speck was older than Dahm, by two decades or more, but he duplicated the other’s anxiety.  If anything, his concerns exceeded those of the younger man, as he not only knew what could go wrong, he’d already seen it twice in his career.  The pressure he felt now in his chest, an insidious hug from an unseen adversary, was partly from his fear that any minute he would see it a third time.

But only partly.

“It’s set, sir.”

“Is it secure?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Are you absolutely certain?”

“Um, I think…, yes, sir.”

“Mark it down.  Chief, I want the bearing lines exact.  There cannot be any doubt here.  None!  Prepare number two, but I want Number One watched – like a hawk, now!”

“Aye, aye, sir!”

Admiral Hanzik had entrusted the older, more senior Speck with the more critical end of the channel – the one that the Germans themselves would need to exit – and Speck knew it.  It was that fact that gave the wrestler at his chest its strength, not fear for his own life.  No, a mistake here could betray them all.

“The map, bosun, let me see that sketch again.”

Speck looked at the bearings, for perhaps the third time.

“Status of Number One?”

“Still secure, sir.  No motion.”

“Very well,” Speck acknowledged.  “Proceed with Number Two.”

Author’s NOTE:

Siegmund’s reactions to being freshly coaled and released to conduct independent cruiser operations begin here: jun18 D 9.html

by Jim

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