Letterstime - Ein
Geleitzug - TIOWF, Part X
Securing St. Pierre & Miquelon
June 27, 1915 - late afternoon and evening
---- St. Pierre, town proper
“This is beginning to spook me,” Blue commented.
“Yeah,” Max agreed. “Me, too. It’s like a Wild West ghost town.”
“No, that’s not it. It’s the – look, I swear! - I keep seeing faces in the windows but, when I look, there’s nothing there!”
“Hmmpf. Trick of the light? That’s my guess because ... what?! Damn! Did you see that?”
“No,” said Blue. “See what? Where’re you going?” That last was addressed to Browning’s back, as the other half-ran to the front door of one “maison” along the street.
Max did not immediately answer, pulling open the door and stepping half into the small house. Blue took a step after him, then glanced back over his shoulder and halted, remaining outside in full view of their escorts.
“What do we do?” Petty Officer Sumpfhühn nervously asked Felsarzt. They were supposed to keep the Amerikaners in view, but one had just gone into that house and out of view.
“Right now, that’s YOUR problem,” Felsarzt replied, as “his” Amerikaner was the one still outside where he could see him.
“There WAS someone in that window,” said Max, emerging back out onto the street. He sighed heavily. Some yards away, Sumpfhühn sighed even more heavily.
“That’s what I’ve been telling you!”
After looking around for a moment, the two reporters shrugged and continued up the Rue.
“Holy cow!” Browning exclaimed a minute later, coming to an abrupt stop. “Have you ever ...?”
They had just come out into the open area in front of the Gendarmerie, which showed the expected and obvious signs of a frontal assault. Well, “expected” by knowledgeable military folk would be more correct. The reporters were not such folk and the sight of the pock marks scattered all over the face of the building, and the shattered windows had stunned them. At least two windows at ground level were completely gone, even the wood crosstrees holding the panes were absent. The front door was open, with a couple Germans with rifles standing loosely at attention.
“Nu-uh, didn’t the Germans claim that they hadn’t killed anyone?” Blue wondered aloud. “No one dead? With THAT many shots fired?” Both men shrugged and lifted their cameras to get pictures.
“What REALLY happened here?” Max asked, and realized that the question did not need to be left rhetorical.
“Uh, what do we do?” Felsarzt asked. The two Amerikaners were beckoning them closer. “We’re supposed to remain at some distance.” Gut Gott... The orders had come right out of the Admiral’s own mouth, for Gott’s sake...
“Can you tell me what happened here?” Blue had impatiently walked back to where the two German petty officers stood, frozen in indecision.
“Yes,” admitted Sumpfhühn, “but not so well.”
The German sailor saw the Americans’ gazes harden. At a noise from Felsarzt, the Americans turned towards the other German petty officer.
“Both of us were not here,” Felsarzt said. “But, there I see stands Petty Officer Felder. He would know everything; he led one of the assault squads.”
“Great!” The two Yanks turned and began walking that way.
“But, wait!” Sumpfhühn called. The reporters stopped, and turned in suspicion.
“It will go better if you let us speak with them first,” Sumpfhühn explained. Felsarzt nodded in agreement and added, “Felder and the others have no knowledge of the Admiral’s orders. That is, that you are to be given access to anyplace, and to anyone.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Sumpfhühn said. “I only hope we do not have to call for an officer.”
What was so secret? Blue traded glances with Browning.
“You see,” Sumpfhühn continued, unaware of the byplay, “that is the Gendarmerie. The police station. All the French guns are in there.”
“Oh!” Blue said. That would explain the posted guards, alright.
“Makes sense,” Max agreed. “Still, we’d greatly like to hear, uh, Petty Officer Felder’s story, and get closer pictures.”
In many circumstances, the colorful hand ballet down on the deck might have produced smiles. Today was not one of those cases.
Glock had wrapped cloth about his hands. It almost looked like he wore elongated mittens but, if that were the case, they were a most mismatched pair as one was fire engine red and the other a vivid green. He would have been among the first to agree that it was likely an unnecessary precaution, but Glock felt that bad luck visited more often the less cautious. He wanted Jager and the crane operator up on Kronprinz Wilhelm left with no uncertainty as to what he, Glock, wanted.
Time was not on his side, Glock knew full well. At any moment wind or wave could bring this over-ambitious endeavor to a very sorry conclusion. He had done his best, placing the high-sided liners as wind breaks. It was all he could do, but that would be cold comfort if....
There... He gave the “halt” signal, shamelessly overacting the gesture. This was not Vulcan, though Jager over on Kronprinz Wilhelm would have his binoculars glued to his face. Leutnants von Larg and Wilhelm held their breaths as they shamelessly spectatored on distant hilltops through telescopes. LT Diele did not have line of sight and could only guess at what he was missing. The quite uncomfortably large, five-sided box eased to a stop and spectacularly hung there, with eight thick, braided, grease-blackened lines dangling free from their rungs along the bottom. Good...
“Chief...” Glock called. This was a task best left to sailors.
“Boom off those lines...” Moltke’s chief bosun needed no urging. “Smartly, now...”
Spars with hooks, looking much like out-sized knitting needles, reached out and brought the ropes aboard.
“Careful there... Drop even one of those and the Kapitan will have your hide off before I can even reach you... Belay those forward, those aft. Lay out the slack and tie them off.”
It was a filthy task, even for coal-darkened sailors, as the heavy, grease-saturated lines had wills of their own. They writhed and coiled in their hands like massive muddy snakes.
“Herr Glock? Is that enough?”
“Yes, but, Chief,” Glock wet his lips, “best to keep the slack area absolutely clear and,” he coughed, “I recommend a good man with an axe at each tie off point.”
The chief visibly paled. Damn... He realized then just how tired he was.
“Ja, I should have thought of that.”
It was another lost minute or three, but Glock struggled not to reveal his anxiety, using the time to look over the artifact they had fashioned. The open face was not entirely “missing” as the design included a wide “lip” with several layers of leather facing. Moltke’s hull had never been perfectly flat and, in fact, was likely not even as it had been when she’d left Wilhelmshaven, thanks to the Britishers’ torpedo. Had he allowed enough...?
“Ready, Herr Glock.”
The man from Vulcan moved back into position, and returned to the theatrical performance of his life.
---- St. Pierre, Place de la Roncière, Office of the “Burgermeister”
“Sir?” It was the signalist again. “Augsburg reports complete.”
“Very well,” replied Admiral Hanzik, with a little relief creeping into his voice. “Signal Kapitan Speck that he is to commence his stand down.
“Also, signal Kapitan Siegmund that, in one hour’s time, he can reduce readiness one level.”
It was another piece falling into place - another brick added to their wall. He looked at the sun’s height in the sky. The afternoon was flying by and he found himself quite ambivalent over that mundane fact. The day was by far the period of the greatest danger of discovery, yet dusk and darkness hampered and slowed what had to be done. And his latest exit moment was far, far beyond his power to change. When that moment came, even if the British had not, they would have to leave, regardless of what remained to be done.
As the cofferdam began to slip into the water alongside the battlecruiser, Glock almost wanted to relax. He fought it. Fought it hard.
Up on Moltke’s bridge, Stang did feel his muscles untense. Failure was still very possible, but the most catastrophic outcomes had been avoided. With a few meters of “keel” down in the water, the wind could no longer intervene and bring the structure crashing down upon his command. Success was only slightly more probable, but the worst scenarios had been avoided. Down below, Glock continued his “hand puppeteering” until the top of the cofferdam was just a couple meters above the level of Moltke’s own main deck, looking almost as if a wall had just appeared alongside. At that point, he again signaled “Stop.”
“Chief,” called Glock again. Rigging was almost always best left to shipboard sailors. “First, the leaders need to be brought aboard and aligned.”
These lines were much smaller than the previous ones and also lacked the others’ noxious coating. They trailed down from the top of the cofferdam and each had a two-foot wide wooden disk at the knotted end to facilitate capture. Glock watched as Moltke’s deck crew went about their tasks. Stang, up on the wingbridge, thinned his lips as they ties the ropes off to the eight new stanchions spaced along the deck. He heartily hated that “field modification” but Glock had finally convinced him that there was no other way to hold the cofferdam.
“Herr Glock,” the chief said, reporting completion. He had needed no prompting this time to station sailors with axes at the stanchions.
“Chief, this is most important,” Glock licked his lips. “This must be done in pairs, symmetrical pairs, innermost first.”
That seemed reasonable to the chief bosun. It was the obvious course to minimize lift variances and loading asymmetry. It was, in fact, normal practice. As the chief nodded, Glock surprised him by speaking up again.
“And, Chief, as close to in unison as possible, if you please.”
The chief bosun blinked at that, then noted the sheen of moisture on the Vulcanite’s upper lip.
“Sweet heaven,” the chief bosun croaked, and startled his men by dashing over to supervise the two hoist teams personally.
The two 20-man teams seemed incongruously large as they pulled the comparatively slender line. That all changed when the thick chains came off the cofferdam and fell free. They fell off, rattling with a startlingly deep and resonant tone, but for that critical instant the chief’s baying voice just feet from their ears overrode it.
“Whanng!” The impact of the two chain segments on the armored deck was a hammer strike on the soles of their feet. The value of the previous alignment showed now, as the heavy links lay just a few feet away from their assigned stanchions. Sailors manhandled the chains onto their stanchions, revealing bright marks on the deck from the impact.
“Herr Glock, first pair secure.”
“Sehr gut. Chief, next pair, again the innermost.”
The teams shifted to the designated lines and waited for the chief bosun’s orders. There was more distance between the teams, so the chief chose his position with great care, knowing as he did that the distance would get greater with each pair. “Steady ... ready ... PULL!”
Again the chains landed almost simultaneously, again smacking their feet, and the sailors labored to get them onto the waiting stanchions.
When all eight chains had been similarly secured, Glock signaled to resume the lowering. The chains moved restlessly as they began to take up load. Stang winced as through his binoculars he saw the links mash down odd bits of fittings and farings along the deck edge. Patiently, Glock kept the pace very slow and even, watching as he did the crane line. Soon it began to angle slightly, as the cofferdam began to close the one meter gap to Moltke’s hull. The impact, when it came, was almost inaudible which, in Glock’s view, was just as it should have been.
---- St. Pierre, Place de la Roncière
“Hey, Torp! Wake up,” called Bender.
“The sauerkraut suckers are coming back, and this time it looks like they’ve got someone else with them. A couple of them, and they’re not in uniform.”
“Who are they?” Mixer straightened in his seat and went to shade his eyes from the glare outside. The counterman winced as his action overturned a glass on the table. It was empty, as were the others littering the table top.
“Dunno. No one I’ve ever seen before.”
That effectively ruled out them being French, as the Yanks had met most of the locals and few-to-none of them were men in their mid-20s anyway.
The group stopped outside the door, which stood well ajar in the warm afternoon, and exchanged words. In Deutsch.
“More Germans,” said Mixer, blinking. “That’s my guess.”
“Hey,” said Blue as the pair entered. “Are you guys claiming to be Americans they’ve been telling us about?”
“We’re Americans, alright,” retorted Bender. “Who the hell are you?”
“Sorry,” answered Blue. “Benjamin Fox, Philadelphia Inquirer.”
“Maxwell Browning, Sacramento Times-Union.”
“Reporters?” Bender made no effort to hide his surprise. “You’re both reporters?!”
“Guilty as charged,” Blue replied with a smile, and extended his hand.
After a momentary pause, Bender and Mixer stood up and hands were shaken all around.
“Look,” Bender said. “Our story’s simple, we took my new boat out for a sail, pulled in here, and then the Huns showed up. She’s out there and we’re stuck in here.”
“That’s us,” said Mixer. “What about you? Why are you with the Germans?”
“It’s a really long story,” Blue began.
“Hell,” Bender retorted, “we got time.”
“You do,” said Max, “but we don’t. We’ve gotta’ be back on the pier at seven or that German Admiral’ll turn us both into pumpkins.”
“Yeah,” Blue agreed, “and we still gotta’ get some first person Frenchie stuff. Women and children, there’s a human interest feast waiting out there and we’re running out of time here. So, what’s this about your boat ....”
Glock’s raised hands were still as he studied the cables. Yes, the slackness was beginning. He gestured and then stopped it again. The length of slack varied slightly as the two ships retained a little variance with the residual waves in the channel. Several centimeters, actually. He waited to let the chains work it out amongst themselves how to distribute the load. Had there been that relative motion all along? He swallowed at the thought.
It was the chief bosun. He had been on Moltke’s far side.
“The fothering is done and but the lines aren’t snugged up yet.”
“Gut. That can’t be done until this is done and we begin the pumpout. Chief, this looks well. Stable. Would you please examine it before I order the disengage?”
“Yes, sir.” The chief bosun hesitated, but he knew enough about human nature to recognize that it was now or never. “You overloaded the crane, ja?”
“There was no other way,” Glock replied, almost serene with the sudden release of fatigue toxins. He had never intended to reveal this, but the chief bosun was no suit and they’d just passed a more than minor miracle together.
“Uh, by how much?”
Glock shrugged, already regretting his admission. Suit or not, the man was Kaiserliche Marine all the way down to his keel.
“Chief, next is to list the ship. Once the last lifts are complete,” he amended.
“How much list?” He didn’t pursue the other, essentially conceding that the moment had passed.
“Six degrees, but ten would be better.”
“Kapitan Stang won’t like that much, I be thinking,” the chief bosun’s reply was a remark and not a protest, and Glock took it as such. After all, it was why he’d passed it on to the chief bosun to begin with. “How about coal?” At Glock’s raised eyebrow, he continued. “We’ll end up flooding some no matter what, but how about using coal to start with?”
Glock considered. There was no need to induce the list quickly or, more importantly, any need to change the list back at any speed.
“Ja, that would be present no problem for me.”
“The Kapitan will like that part,” the chief bosun said. And he found that he was quite correct when he put it to Stang about thirty minutes later. (NOTE)
---- Nottingham Star
Lionel suppressed a frown. More men, more prisoners. These, however, exhibited quite a chastened demeanor.
“Kapitan,” the young leutnant’s eyes were flat, unreadable.
“Guten Tag, Herr Bornholdt,” Lionel answered. “Where did you find them?”
“They were hiding on the larger island, or trying to. They were not very good at it.”
A strange thing for a naval officer to say, thought Lionel.
“Can I get you and your men some food while you’re aboard?”
Bornholdt’s face relaxed, tiredness showing through for an instant.
“Yes, that would be very good. We packed one meal, but that was at first meal. How are matters here?”
“It was a mad house at first,” Lionel admitted. “But Herr Ballin sent over several score to help with food and the like. Logistics was a nightmare. I don’t know how I could have managed without them. When this is over, I should write a book.”
Bornholdt’s face betrayed his sudden interest, even as he followed Lionel’s careful gesture and the two went to rejoin his men.
“I have 553 men aboard, prisoners,” Lionel was saying. “ Well, now 576 with the ones you captured. Just keeping them fed has been almost too much for us. Cooking, even just moving the food ....” Bornholdt nodded, absolutely intent.
---- St. Pierre, Place de la Roncière, Office of the “Burgermeister”
“Admiral, Kapitan Stang reports that all the ‘special’ transfers are complete.”
That was great news.
“They are on the way in, Admiral.”
Hanzik looked out the window. Yes, there they were, in full flotilla strength. They would begin to arrive at the pier in a few hands of minutes.
He turned to Bavaria. “It is time to break the news to the ‘Burgermeister’.”
For a good image of what Glock and company are doing, see:
(A cookie and my thanx to Roller007 for the link!)
The cofferdam here in Letterstime is considerably smaller and less massive than the one in that story and imagery.