Letterstime - Ein
Geleitzug - TIOWF, Part IX
St. Pierre & Miquelon
fatal coincidence that had doomed Max [von Spee on December 8, 1914]
known to all of us, of course. Thus, it
was a great shock to discover just how close I had come, despite all my
precautions, to duplicating that event.”
Hanzik, to Karl Kisteschleppen in _Aus Frau Zu Fest_, Kaiser Imperial
St. Pierre, Place de la Roncière
about an hour before noon, Max Browning and “Blue” Fox had finally
sufficiently bored with the ongoing ant nests that the decks of the two
battlecruisers had become, about two hundred meters from Imperator, so
seek entertainment elsewhere. By then,
each had filled a couple pages with notes and shot a full roll of film
had become obvious to be a very repetitive activity.
At that point, they had left their Promenade
Deck rail positions and wandered down to the area just outside the
doors to the
Grand Dining Salon, wherein shortly lunch would be served.
They were standing there, loitering, and
reviewing the just-posted menu when Ballin, perhaps a bit too casually,
strolled up and offered them tickets to a rollercoaster that dwarfed
Island’s mighty “Giant Racer”. (NOTE
1) Indeed, to the two young American
reporters, the thrill ride dwarfed any that would ever get built
what’s the catch?” Blue had asked, when first tendered the offer. He had managed a poker face, despite having
real difficulty getting the words out past the pulse hammering in his
agree,” Max had chimed in, swallowing.
“Something smells fishy to me.”
The mounds of aromatically drying cod nearby had made the
particularly easy one to disgorge.
is no, um,” Ballin paused, his English not up to the task of making
wording work. “Excuse me,” he said. “I know not the proper idiom.
I will say it simply. The
offer is an honest one. Admiral Hanzik
extends his assurances that
your material will be respected.”
does THAT mean?” Blue demanded.
it means,” Ballin answered, “is that your notes and your exposed film
remain your property. There will be no,
um, censoring - is that the word? - of your work.”
reporters had flinched at the word “film”, almost as though their
editors had pricked them with hot needles.
the word we’re looking for,” confirmed Max, and Blue nodded in
agreement. “And you’re sure of that? No censoring?”
cannot control others,” Ballin remarked, ruefully, “especially not
with guns. But has not all gone as
promised thus far?”
both Americans agreed, mouth corners turning up at Ballin’s imagery,
to stare at each other. They had just
been offered an exclusive. Now, it
should be noted that there are “exclusives” and there are “EXCLUSIVES.” The one Herr Ballin had just tendered had
most definitely been of the all-capital, bold faced, 54-point variety.
they were being offered was no less than the chance to cover a
genuine, guaranteed-authentic invasion!
Battles they had already covered complete with smoking and
ships, survivors, prisoners, and all the rest.
But, an invasion? And not
any invasion, but one that was taking place just off the American coast!
in!” Blue announced, seeing the answer
in Max’s eyes.
me?” Ballin said.
accept,” Max clarified. “When can we
we can eat later,” Blue said.
- eat hell! - there’re only about - what? - 9 hours of decent light
had rushed back to their stateroom to fill their pockets with rolls of
and then rushed back to board the launch.
Now, just over an hour later, their launch was drawing
within reach of
the little pier. They watched as the
sailor in the bow threw a rope to another standing between posts up
above. In just moments, they would clamber
the wooden structure.
into “occupied” France.
Von der Tann, anchored and moored to SS Eyewhon
zur See Dirk stared down at the ongoing coaling with his hands clasped
his back. He resisted the urge to lean
against the railing, feeling that, if his men had to work like that, he
at least stand up straight. Coaling was
a dirty, back-breaking task under the best of circumstances, and the
was hardly that. He was terribly
short-handed, as many of his men were ashore playing soldier or gaoler;
donor ship was not designed as a “collier”; and the “collier” had no
of her own to contribute.
eyes blinked tiredly in the flickering light off the waves, emphasizing
dark shadows beneath them. Still, he
would be among the first to agree that these were far from the worst of
circumstances for taking on coal. No, he
had most likely already faced those. In
fact, compared with their earlier attempts at open water coaling amidst
frigid, foamy waves off New York and Boston, the present arrangement
impatience, and anxiety were just some of the many emotions that beset
exhausted CO of von der Tann. His ship
far outmatched any ship the enemy had in the entire Western Hemisphere,
only if she had coal. Von der Tann’s
bunkerage had stood at just 20% when he’d dropped anchor here this
morning. (NOTE 2)
His hands twitched at the slowness of the coaling pace, as
wanted to be down there plying a shovel, which was why he had them
of sight behind his back.
his situation seemed far better than that which Kapitan zur See Martel
Stang was dealing with over on the other side of Eyewhon.
At that thought, he turned to look over the
intervening hull at the goings on over there.
Moltke, anchored and moored to Eyewhon
would long ago have extracted every follicle of hair from his head if
had had the time to do so. In truth, he
did not. Coaling had come first, for
several reasons. For one thing, he had
tied up alongside Eyewhon before the Kronprinz Wilhelm and
Cecilie had been secured. No matter
what, however, the low bunkerage level would have made coaling the
highest priority, as Moltke’s coal state had been no better than von
Tann’s, and probably even slightly worse.
The latest risk to his close-cropped locks came from the
order he now
had to give.
reported the lookout section chief, “Imperator’s launch is at the pier. The Americans have disembarked.”
well,” Stang acknowledged. He paused
then and sucked in a deep breath, only to exhale it in a long,
taking on coal,” he ordered, trying not to grimace at his nautical
sacrilege. Imagine! Here
he was, desperately low on coal,
thousands of miles from Wilhelmshaven, with the entire Grand Fleet
and home (NOTE 3), with thousands of tons of high grade steam coal
alongside and his for the taking, and he was ordering his men to stop.
he consoled himself, a fair amount had already been struck below and
remained substantial piles on Moltke’s deck.
He probably had enough now for even a very high speed run
Boston, though how welcome they’d be there when this all came out
be seen. Meanwhile, at least the coal
piles already aboard could be struck down into bunkers.
reports that Kronprinzessin Cecilie is ready.”
well,” Stang replied, and turned to the gray-haired civilian standing
him. “You may proceed.”
Stang could not order the other to hurry not
only because the man was a civilian, but also because attempts at haste
these next steps would really be most unwise.
he would be unable to bring more coal aboard until the other completed
phase. Repeat: there was coal right
alongside, he needed it desperately, and he was going to have to stand
simply stare at it until ....
um,” Stang found himself compelled to say on, “I request that you
much as possible.”
Herr Kapitan,” replied Jakob Glock, “but, Kapitan, your men will have
blinked at the look on Stang’s face, mirrored on the faces of the other
this is not a simple thing we are to do.”
Did any of these silly suits have the faintest clue as to
how hard this
was? How dangerous?
is not Vulcan. Your ship, it is not
moored to a pier. Kronprinz Wilhelm is
not a dockyard, nor is she moored to one.
Not a dock also is Kronprinzessin Cecilie, nor is she
had just enough caution not to shake his head, which was why it was he
here and not Coblentz, who was over on Kronprinzessin Cecilie,
lifts. Far better for Glock to have been
aboard Kronprinz Wilhelm, where he would have been able to see the
operator and both decks. Instead, he’d
had to trust Jager there. And, here, the
kapitan STILL did not look properly chastened!
is not coal we are about to bring aboard,” he continued, and readied
Glock,” came a voice from above, “Jager is signaling the ready.” Jager was beside the crane operator on
Glock said politely, “if you would excuse me.”
With that statement and a distinct nod, the senior man
walked over to the ladder and began to make his way down to the main
oversee the landings. Stang and his
officers tensed their lips and carefully avoided looking at each other. Admiral Hanzik would have well understood
St. Pierre, Pier
two reporters’ heads swiveled this way and that, with each snapping a
do you think?” Blue asked Browning. The scene seemed artificially calm. Many men were in sight. The
ones with guns were obviously all
Germans. Similarly, the ones seated in
groups of about a dozen, were presumably French, and generally a couple
or more older than their captors. Many
pairs of eyes had shifted to study the Americans, but no one moved to
a word with you, please.”
turned to see the German admiral approaching.
Damn, thought both Americans, they were about to learn
what the catch
was after all.
you speak French?”
they might have expected to hear
from the German officer, it was not that.
then, it is good that I have translator available.”
Max began, “that won’t work, your putting soldiers with us, I mean.”
right,” Blue agreed. “Now, don’t take it
wrong. You’re the one with the guns,” he
continued, borrowing from Ballin, “we understand that, but you can’t
me,” interjected Max. “Admiral, if your
position is that we can only be here if your armed men stay with us,
have a problem. If nothing else, we’ll
have to tell that part, just like all the rest.
Heck, Admiral, the people here probably won’t even talk to
us.” Surely, he thought, many of the
be able to speak at least some English?
No matter how limited, it would still be far better than
believe there is indeed a misunderstanding here,” said Hanzik. “I have no intention of making you do your
work in close company with my men. No
intention, at all.”
but, you said ....”
I said was that I have a translator.
He’s an American, just as you are.
Out of caution, I dare not to let any Frenchmen free
passage here, but
an American I can accept. He is the head
of the Western Union office here, and he is quite, um, fluent in
apologies, admiral, we
misunderstood!” Max was quick to try to
is no problem then? Good.
A couple more items must we now discuss.”
Americans, who had just begun to relax, tightened again.
Uh-oh, here it comes, Blue thought.
Hanzik continued, “there are two others here who claim to be Americans,
they did not have any documents, er, on their persons.
They claim their passports are on their boat
out in the harbor, there, but Kommodore von Hoban did not find them
looked down at some papers.
say their names are David Bender and Timothy Mixer.
We have them in that building over ...
there. They both appear to speak some
French, especially Herr Bender, if that really IS his name. You may speak to them - no one will stop you
- but I can not allow them to leave that building and, so, they cannot
you as translators.”
me, sir,” said Blue. “But, I mean, do
you think they’re lying, about being Americans?”
answered Hanzik. “That is to say, I
don’t know. Britons, Canadians, many
subjects of the British Crown speak the same language as you and rarely
tell you all apart. Still, they may
truly be as they claim. For that matter,
the Kommodore has said that his search of their boat was not a thorough
there was not time. So, their documents
may indeed be aboard their boat. The
matter will be resolved when I more time have.
But, this day, in that building must they remain. Any other questions on this?”
were none. The admiral had his mind made
up, that much was clear.
the other matter.” Hanzik paused, eyes
narrowing slightly. “Know this: The
Hague does not address the specific situation that we have here, you
and I - -
that is, you being neutral Americans and I the Belligerent occupier of
place, this land of my enemy, who is another Belligerent.
Do you accept what I just said?”
don’t know much about that Hague thing, other than it being a treaty of
sort,” said Browning. “Blue?”
know a little,” Blue admitted, “but if it covers this, well, I couldn’t
you one way or another.”
does not,” said Hanzik, heavily. “I have
copies of it. Each of my ship captains
has one, as well, and you may look for yourselves.
Well, you can if you can read Deutsch.”
Hanzik knew they could speak it, but not if
they could read it.
American said anything.
will continue. It is to my benefit,
German benefit, for you to speak to my prisoners and look about this
even to take many pictures. In a very
real way, I am taking advantage of you, and I admit it.
You see, I am being frank with you.”
said Blue, “I’ll bite. You’ve invaded
here, right off our coast and our telling about it will help you? Is that what you are saying?”
Blue could not keep an incredulous note out
of his voice. Did the Germans think this
would intimidate America?!
Germans have invaded here could never a
secret be kept, at least not for long. I
just want you to tell the truth of it. I
don’t want the British turning this into another Bryce Report litany of
claiming the Bryce Report was nothing but lies?!” Max
was not ready to believe that.
was not there,” Hanzik stated flatly.
“Neither were you. Consider
facts: it was commissioned by the British Crown, conducted by one of
nobility, and Britain is at war with Germany.
Is it any surprise that Viscount Bryce should condemn
because he’s your enemy,” Blue retorted, “does not mean he was not
some of those things he wrote did happen,” Hanzik replied.
“War is a terrible thing, after all. But
do you really think we turned Belgian
dead into cakes of soap? But this is the
as I said, I was not in Belgium, nor were you.”
Hanzik let a pause seep in. “But you ARE here.”
thought, his mind stunned into turmoil,
and glanced at Browning. Omigod, Max was
thinking, whatinthehell have I gotten myself into now?!
see you understand.” Hanzik’s voice held
real satisfaction. “But know that you
are not the first Americans that I have asked for such a service.” He saw that he had their attention back and
continued. “Some days ago, two British
civilians died in a gun battle after surrendering and, at my request,
provided a team who investigated and confirmed that we were telling the
of the matter. Their names were,” Hanzik
consulted his notes again, “LCDR Kyle Holgate, Executive Officer of the
Parker (Destroyer No. 48), acting pursuant to the orders of Admiral
accompanied by a petty officer named Mayweather and another named Sturz. Their report went directly to their Admiral
and your government surely has it by now.
tell you this to prove to you that The Hague allows Neutrals - such as
yourselves - to act as true Neutral parties in situations like that. And like this. And
that you are not the first to do it.
you are free to go, to wander where you wish.
Talk to whom you wish. Take
pictures of whatever you wish. The
Western Union official is over there.
Use him or not, again, as you wish.
Be back here at 7:00 PM, so that I can get you back to
your ship in the
I must impose one limitation. LT
Kessock, join us bitte.”
two Americans,” Hanzik began in Deutsch, “are to have free access to
people on this island. Is that
Herr Admiral.” Kessock did not know why
Hanzik was telling HIM this, but he recognized his cue easily enough. He remained impassive as the admiral turned
to the Americans.
Gentlemen, this leutnant knows French but does not speak English. I stated to you that you would have freedom
to go where you wished and to speak to any people you wished. Correct?
Admiral Hanzik,” agreed Browning for the two.
as you just heard, those are precisely the orders that I just gave. However, I am also responsible under The
Hague for YOUR safety. That is, I
represent the Occupying Power, and you are Neutrals, here with my
permission. I tell you this so that you
will understand that I must take actions to ensure your safety - there
already been one sniper attack here, though there was no wounding. That means escorts, but I will order that the
escorts remain at some distance, out of hearing. I
must insist, however, that you allow them
to keep you in sight. You must give me
your word on this point. Can you accept
and Blue conferred, and declared that they could and would abide with
terms. The sniper part had been a sobering
Kessock, I want you to assign a reliable
man to each one, a senior petty officer, if possible.”
Herr Admiral. I have two suitable men
right here on the Place: Petty Officer Sumpfhühn and Petty Officer
admiral left and Kessock asked the reporters, in Deutsch, to go with
him to get
their escorts. Sumpfhühn was just a
steps away, and Kessock began to describe the situation to him as they
walked around the perimeter rope to where Felsarzt’s post was.
raised an eyebrow as they approached the other petty officer. The man had a frown on his face as he stared
at a fist-sized stone that he was holding.
At his feet were several others of various sizes. He hastily dropped it and stood up straight
as the German officer addressed him and gave him his orders.
Kessock had finished and walked away, in simple Deutsch the young
took a few minutes to introduce themselves to their escorts, who were
same age. Successful reporters know to
cultivate sources, and also when to work to gain favor.
Both knew that they would likely encounter
many doors this day and that escorts could be keys or they could be
stone,” began Max. “Why did you look at
it as you did?”
blushed, but finally answered.
seems to me that it should not be here, that stone.
That is, it is here, but I do not know how it
came to be here. An ice river? Maybe ballast in a ship?”
Americans were puzzled. “This whole
island is rocks, of one sort or another.
you have the right of it. The island is
small, but,” the German gestured to the little pile at his feet, “the
[lithology] here must be very complicated.”
Stang felt himself relax as the second pallet of pressurized bottles of
very volatile gas finished settling gently onto Moltke’s deck. Beside it, Glock’s shirt showed dark
half-moons of moisture under his arms as the Vulcanite gestured with
this way and that. Twelve large pallets
had already been brought aboard, mostly weld rods, equipment, and stock. The most challenging lifts remained, but
Stang’s senior-most chief had told him that Glock had sequenced it with
least fragile or dangerous transfers first.
The stocky chief had turned out to get along quite well
with Glock, so
Stang had started working through him, which was what Glock had wanted
along and was glad that the suits had finally wised up.
Glock’s experience, there were trade-offs between gaining experience
growing exhaustion. Here, he’d judged
the variables to be so uncertain as to make it best for the hardest
to come late. They had indeed learned,
but Glock could feel that fatigue was beginning to sap them all. Too many days at sea, he thought.
He looked up, trying to gauge the hours of
light he had left. Damn, too many hours
had sped by completely unnoticed.
Nonetheless, he deemed he had no choice in the matter.
the pumps ready? Hoses?
We rest now,” Glock called out to his Vulcan teams. “Fifteen minutes. Drink
water, all of you. Sit.
he continued, addressing Moltke’s most senior enlisted man as he
canteen. “The cofferdam is next.”
that, Molltke’s chief nodded his understanding of Glock’s pause.
thought is not to bring over the plates unless it holds,” Glock
between swallows. “Many were done in
port, but the last welds could not be done until this morning. I won’t know anything until it is pumped
but the drag,” Glock shrugged expressively.
thought the chief, raising coal consumption, reducing range, and
thinks we could just reinforce the patch and avoid cement, but the
be much the same.” Glock twisted his
head back and forth, then glanced at his pocket watch.
right, back on your feet,” he called out, twisting the cap back on the
and putting it down. He strode to the
deck edge and raised both hands and gave them a twist.
Flags high up on Kronprinz Wilhelm flickered
in reply. “Here we go,” he muttered to
St. Pierre, Place de la Roncière, Office of the “Burgermeister”
reported LT Kessock, “I don’t know what they discussed, but they have
Place and gone into the city now. To
take pictures, I would guess.”
was an obvious conclusion, since all the population was in three places
Place, the pier, and Nottingham Star - with none of the three being
Americans were heading.
well,” replied Admiral Hanzik without lowering his binoculars. He and Kommodore von Hoban were standing in
at the highest window looking up into the channel.
From there, they could just make out the tops
of the Kronprinz Wilhelm’s cranes where they crested the intervening
silhouettes of the larger liners.
“Continue to monitor them, but at a discreet distance. Try not to be seen, or at least sighted
would prefer that they did not go over to Savoyard Cove,” von Hoban
agreed Hanzik, “Leutnant, in that case, send a messenger here, but they
to be stopped. Carry on.”
Kessock had left, the admiral turned to his second in command.
is LT Bornholdt?”
sent him over to the Grande Miquellon, to patrol for hiders.”
nodded, not bothering to conceal his relief.
Now, he thought, if only those cranes would stop. Only then could they go on to the next phase. They’d just stopped for a few minutes,
raising his hopes, but were now moving again.
interjected a signalist from the doorway, “Kolberg reports complete.”
well, signal Herr Dahm that he is to commence his stand down.”
two senior officers exchanged glances.
Captain Westfeldt and Rostock had commenced their stand
down just after
first meal. Strassburg was guard ship,
but Siegmund and his crew had had the most time in New York, by far.
got a later start,” von Hoban observed.
“And Herr Speck is a properly cautious captain. Two more hours, is my guess.”
agreed. Both knew that von der Tann
would still be coaling at dusk, and Moltke would be lucky to finish by
was so much to do. But, would the
British allow them enough time?
There have been previous NOTEs on Coney Island.
The roller coaster phenomenon might be hard to understand
today, but in
1915, it was huge. See:
the above sites, Coney Island boasted one of the earliest loop-the-loop
coasters, with either France or Britain having had the first one years
albeit on a much smaller scale.
Dirk was mistaken in his view, being mercifully unaware at the time of
close a call Hanzik’s force had just had with the Admiral Burney’s
force. In one of the great ironies of The
HMS Benbow and HMS Hercules were coaling in Halifax at the same time
Von der Tann and SMS Moltke were coaling in St. Pierre about 335
to the east-northeast. Burney’s force
had been about 30 miles off Halifax at dawn on June 27, 1915, while
had been about 20 miles off St. Pierre.
general consensus of historians has been that the closest the two
came to each other was about 130 nautical miles, and that this happened
dusk on June 26, 1915. Hanzik, who one
biographer claimed to have suffered angina pains when shown the
charts after the war, had, in fact, taken adequate precautions. The Baron had not expected the British
Admiralty to be able to get a dreadnought force into the Western
until a day or two later than turned out to be the case.
Nonetheless, Hanzik had been ordered to take
all precautions possible and responded by arranging matters so that his
would cross the RN track into Halifax in the very middle of the eight
period of darkness, with sunset being at 1950 local time and sunrise at
0416. Per Benbow’s log, maintained by
the famous navigator, Captain Lord Herrick himself, the British crossed
would become Hanzik’s track into St. Pierre around noon on June 26, or
12 hours before the Germans got there.
This also marked their closest approach to St. Pierre:
just over 100
As discussed in NOTE #2, Stang was incorrect.
That is, two of the Grand Fleet dreadnoughts were NOT
position and Wilhelmshaven. Also as
noted above, this fact would not likely have improved his morale.
The entire Bryce Report can be found here:
A discussion of the lithology can be found here: