Letterstime - Ein
Geleitzug - TIOWF, Part XII
A Salient Withdrawal
July 2, 1915 - late afternoon
---- Ashore, Grande Miquelon
Erzherzog Bavaria conceded the importance of his task and the need for one of real rank and standing to be seen to be doing it but, still, he would have scowled at the sheer repetitive and mundane nature of it if he had not had an audience. Indeed, the facts that he’d already been two hours at it and that his feet ached would have been more than ample grounds for frowns anyway. Stoically, he maintained an emotionless exterior, though he did shift his feet in small movements in mostly fruitless attempts to ease his arches.
As he came onto the pier from his small boat, LT Siegfried handed a waxed envelope to LT von Larg, who stood there with Bavaria and three armed sailors. Beside them, though an ordered step to the rear, stood three Frenchmen - two unarmed gendarmes and an official. Von Larg extracted two copies of a list from the envelope and, once the boat had been unloaded onto the pier, called out the names and checked them off both sheets. Next, the leutnant handed one copy to the official and one gendarme led the party up to the fast-filling town square. The French official placed the sheet in a note case of his own, joining the thickening sheaf already there, and they readied to repeat the drill still again as LT Wilhelm’s small craft replaced Siegfried’s at the dock. The two junior officers traded tiny and subtle waves at the same moment.
“Blue” Fox and Maxwell Browning were snapping photographs of the growing crowd, the vast majority of whom were women and children. A couple dozen old men, a half-score of gendarmes, and a few officials completed the group. Some were returning home and their maisons were just meters away, but the number ashore already greatly exceeded the total population of the small town. As Kapitäleutnant Gommel checked the spacing of his sentries, he surveyed milling mass distrustfully. The civilians seemed to be chaotic but mostly calm, with many happy to be back “home.” Petty Officers Felzart and Sumpfhühn were supervising small groups of sailors setting up stacks of crated food. A few barrels of water were already there.
“Admiral,” reported LT Kessock, “the last group of launches from Kronprinzessin Cecilie are approaching the pier.”
“Sehr gut, danke, Leutnant,” Hanzik replied, then turned to the American reporters. “Gentlemen, I am about to inform the ‘Burgermeister’ of my intentions. You are welcome to attend. Your choice.”
The Yank duo trailed along, once again feeling manipulated even as they recognized the story draw of the invitation. After all, how many times had reporters been present at meetings between officials of invaders and “invadees”? Still, they had gone aboard the Kronprinzessin Cecilie - been given almost complete freedom there - and fully documented the quite comfortable quarters and better than adequate fare of those aboard. They had also gone aboard the Nottingham Star and scrutinized matters there, where the men and older boys were being kept under considerably more heightened security, though they’d found little vile in the durance there either. Of course conditions were good, that’s why they were being shown them so blatantly. Still, the French were prisoners in their own harbor, light hand or not.
“Herr ‘Burgermeister’,” intoned Hanzik, ignoring the somewhat-muffled snort of derision from the mayor. “I stated that I would inform you of my intentions when the time came. Well, that moment is now.
“Your women and children are all here; the last of them are on the water and are just minutes out. As you see, Herr Bavaria is still down there on the pier, along with your deputy, and they have been checking off their names as they arrive. We are somewhat behind schedule, though, because several of your boy children apparently tried to become stowaways. Well, doubtless Herr Ballin could use the cabin boys, but I doubt their parents would have approved.”
Not knowing French, the reporters missed out on the other’s response. Hanzik had spoken in English, but the ‘Burgermeister’ had not. The flushed face of the latter more than hinted at the nature of his rejoinder.
“As for your menfolk,” Hanzik continued, brushing aside the other’s comment, whatever it had been, “they will be coming ashore next, once Kronprinzessin Cecilie is unloaded.”
Jakob Glock watched warily, his feet wide apart on Motlke’s nearly level main deck, his hands frozen chest-high in their colorful mitts, as the massive chains stirred on their stanchions.
Up on the bridge, Kapitan Stang waited for a Vulcanite signal for what he hoped was the very last time. Damn, but he wished they would hurry, he thought, as he clenched and unclenched his fists out of sight below the bridge rail. Time was inordinately precious this day.
It was not enough, Jakob decided, at last. Leaving one hand openly extended, he angled the other and rotated it, exaggerating the slow motion. The creaking of the lines began again and the chains shifted a bit more. There! His arms both went wide, signaling to Jager and Coblentz over on Kronprinz Wilhelm to stop the crane.
“Chief, loose the fothering lines ... NOW!”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Glock decried “suits” mightily, but so intent was he that he did not register the sudden and quite inadvertent bestowment of rank by the nervous chief. He did, however, note the “chunk”s of axes - swung by the beefiest sailors the chief had been able to find - biting through the cables and into the wood blocks set beneath each line.
Glock heard the announcement, but the chains told him more clearly than the other’s shout. The cofferdam was free below.
“Chief, the chains ... NOW!” It was best left to sailors, Glock knew, and the chief swept his pre-set teams into the task. They’d rehearsed it thrice, and the disconnects yielded smoothly enough. Things could always go wrong, but they did so less frequently when one practiced before the time of need.
Glock spun on his heels - the crane was irrelevant now and Laban would know what to do - and waved up at the bridge. He tripped over the temporary steam lines - now cold, of course - that had run down into the cofferdam, heating the water all these last hours, and nearly fell flat on his face.
Stang barked commands, caring not a whit about Glock’s gracefulness (or lack thereof), and the outboard props turned slowly in opposite directions. The battlecruiser ponderously pivoted away from the great metal box suspended alongside. Stang did not even look back as the cofferdam was slowly lowered onto the bottom to be released and disappear below the small wavelets in the channel (NOTE 1). He had eyes only for Eyewhon. The Admiral’s ordered departure time was still nearly three hours away, and Stang fully intended to get every last ounce of coal that remained aboard the American ship, even if it over-filled his bunkers and littered his deck in mounds.
---- Von der Tann, Anse de Miquellon, just SE of Pointe a la Loutre
Kapitan Dirk was little more happy with his “new gig” than were his “new passengers.” Dirk’s command of English was nearly nil, which was probably just as well, given the wording of the complaints being voiced by those same “passengers.”
“Give it a rest, Torp,” Bender finally commented, glancing at their silent guards. He had been hot many hours ago, just as rabid as his friend, actually, but it had done no good. None whatsoever. Now, he seemed to be settling into a sort of shock or apathy. “Yes, they’re making off with the Sal, but they seem to be taking us along, too.”
“And why in the [censored] is that good news?” Mixer retorted. “The [deleted] [bovine digestion product] are kidnaping us back to HunLand. Hell, we’ll probably get blown to smithereens by the Brits before we’re halfway there. And the food [unlikely biological activity vaguely associated with mammalian reproduction].”
“Well, that’s certainly true,” nodded Bender in agreement, “but the Sal’s okay and so are we so far.”
“Huh! Yeah, ‘so far’. And there’s no booze!”
“That’s also true,” agreed Bender, but his eyes remained on the Sal, perched up high in her makeshift cradle.
Dirk ignored the griping Americans, his attention on the nearby procession of boats from Kronprinzessin Cecilie. His lookouts were scanning the horizon, though one sat behind a tripod telescope and kept his attention focused on a small but distant hilltop (Cap-Blanc) where a thoroughly miserable LT Diele and his squad manned the last observer post left ashore.
Perhaps 30 minutes hard run distant from the now-busy pier in Grande Miquellon, Diele was all-too-well aware that the appearance in force of the RN at this juncture might doom him and his men to spending the rest of the war as POWs. It would be a race that he and his men might or might not win, but one they could not even begin until they were given permission to start. Thus, it was with no little trepidation that they strained with their glasses to scan the horizon, one that seemed to be growing murkier as the sun edged lower in the west, though Diele was not willing to rule out the cause to be simple eye strain.
---- Between island of Grand Colombier and Les Grandes Pointes (Langlade)
Speck, aboard Augsburg , and Siegmund, aboard Strassburg, flanked the other great liners as they bobbed about in the waters near the channel between Langlade and St. Pierre . Kommodore von Hoban paced the bridge of Strassburg from side to side, keeping personal tabs on the the liners, so awkward in these waters.
They had “sortied” at the appointed time, only to be told to wait an hour. The liners had been able to drop anchor, but the currents here were shifting them about. The two cruisers had not even tried their anchors, preferring to back and fill at low bell, though it took a toll on the nerves of the German commanders.
“Kommodore, Rostock is rounding the point.”
Stang had, of course, welcomed the delay but even he must now be finally getting underway, realized von Hoban. The Kommodore drew this inference from the fact that Stang had obviously released Westfeldt, whose Rostock had been keeping station guarding the entrance of the channel between St. Pierre and I’ile aux Chiens. Sure enough, sightings of Kronprinz Wilhelm and Eyewhon rounding the point came just a few minutes later.
Von Hoban could not resist a chuckle when, at last, Moltke rounded Grand Colombier.
“Sir?” Siegmund had almost jumped at the noise, so wound was he.
“Moltke,” von Hoban explained. “Take a look.”
“Oh.” Siegmund made a polite noise, but found little amusement in the black heaps that currently anointed Moltke’s decks. If anything, he envied Stang those extra scores of tons of fuel. Von Hoban, who clearly remembered one starchy admiral’s white-glove inspection of all that tediously holystoned teak, chuckled still again.
---- Nottingham Star
LT Lionel had taken all the precautions he thought possible. His men were prominently placed, with Mausers in plain view, as the French were directed down into the boats. Each craft had a trio of armed German sailors in the stern. Among the little fleet, LT Bornholdt stood tall in a powered launch filled with Germans, rifles at the ready. Dahm’s Kolberg lay just yards off the path to the pier, cannons clearly manned.
More importantly, the French had been told that they were being released because the Germans were readying to depart. Their imprisonment was ending, but the Germans were absolutely demanding that all the French first be put ashore in good order and be accounted for. There was no reason to it. Why go through the farce of some sort of census if one is going to release everyone immediately afterwards?! It was madness, but precisely the sort of insanity that Germans were always exhibiting. Or, as some of the younger men whispered, was there a darker purpose? Getting all of them in one small place only to ....
The daily visits by their mayor and the steady rotation of gendarmes between Nottingham Star and Kronprinzessin Cecilie had done much to settle the rumors. Their families were known to be safe and unmolested, treated and fed very well, in fact. The opinions of the older men came to be accepted. They held that the Germans had let them know of their families for a purpose. The implication was heavy that they were available as hostages to ensure good behavior by the menfolk. The fishermen had lost critical days of the season, but their boats had been left intact. Some of their catch might have spoiled, but most likely remained still salvageable in their piles drying untainted on the stones. Yes, this whole affair was a very bad thing, an insult, a terrible affront. But it was not a tragedy, not yet, and perhaps need not become one.
The French of St. Pierre/Miquellon heartily hated the Huns, but it had devolved into a cold and sullen hatred rather than the white-hot anger that so readily sparked the flames of riot.
---- Ashore, Grande Miquellon
The fishermen were coming ashore. Glowering glances ended with each reunion, as the Germans made no attempt to keep the returning men apart from their families. The French, who had been mostly mute as a group save for some infants’ squalling, began to buzz with noise, as men asked questions of their family, then men-less families asked about their own loved ones not yet ashore. Each of the first several boat loads of men produced a wave of sound like surf on the shore. That was the backdrop of noise as Hanzik met with the French ‘Burgermeister’ for what would be the last time.
“When you agree that all have been accounted for, that is when we will leave,” said Hanzik in English, making sure that the reporters could hear and understand. “Perhaps another twenty minutes,” the German admiral said, gauging the boats queuing at the pier.
“Is that all?” The French official’s tone was one of disbelief. It couldn’t be that simple, not with Germans it couldn’t. He was quite right, of course, and he awaited the rest of it with growing anxiety.
“All have had a full second meal and I am leaving you stores - food and water - for about two days,” Hanzik continued.
The Frenchman looked at the stacked crates in puzzlement, then pivoted sharply to look up and down the beachline.
“Bateaux!” An avalanche of expressive French followed.
“All your fishing vessels are safe,” stated Hanzik. “They are still in the, er, coffle at St. Pierre .”
“Ah!” The Frenchman was relieved, then frowned as he regarded anew the crates. He went to open his mouth, then closed it again. He shot a quick look at Hanzik’s face and frowned some more, but quietly as he considered the situation. The two enemies stood there, each in a different sort of silence until the Americans could stand it no longer.
“Admiral?” Blue was first to speak.
“You know what’s going on, and it seems he does, too. But we don’t. We’re not going to be able to write anything unless we know what the devil the two of you are up to.”
“Aber ja. The ‘Burgermeister’ is coming to grips with the fact that all his people are safe, but that they’re all here, on this island - Grande Miquellon. You see, all their boats are tied up in the harbor over on St. Pierre .” (NOTE 2)
The Frenchman said a few words, perhaps a question.
“No, I will not leave you a boat. Not even one small rowboat. I need the time, m’sieur. We may have missed one but, if so, you will have to search for it yourself.”
“Admiral,” it was Max this time. “Do you expect them to swim that?” The channel was something like three miles of very cold water. Browning was not sure it was possible, except perhaps for selected athletes. He had not seen any that might answer to such a description.
“No, I expect them to build a boat, or a raft, or something. For that matter, they really don’t have to do anything. You see, we captured the packet boat around noon , so it’ll be missed in a couple days - three at most. I’m leaving them two days food and they’ve got their own resources here, including water.
“No, they’ll be fine. I just really need those two days. What is the phrase ... for putting one racer ahead of the other at the start of the race?”
“A ‘head start’?”
“Yes, that’s it.” Hanzik turned back to the ‘Burgermeister.’
“M’sieur, there is more.”
The other canted his head in unsurprised inquiry. Of course there would be more. These were Huns, after all.
“Be very careful in the channel there. I am formally advising you to take extreme caution. It would be best if you obtained these charts before you attempted to use any of your schooners.”
The Frenchman’s eyes narrowed at the sheets in Hanzik’s grasp, as though the German held a fistful of venomous vipers. “I have left you identical, clearly marked copies of these charts, in a cupboard in one of the maisons on I’ile aux Chiens.”
“I’ile aux Chiens!” The Frenchman sputtered. Whatever those charts displayed, they were yet another island away, in an unspecified cupboard in one of a several dozen houses.
“Ja.” Hanzik managed not to smile. It would have been unattractively feral and spoiled the scene for the Yanks.
“Qu'est-ce que ça?”
“These? These are the maps of the minefields we laid.”
1) The cofferdam settled onto the bottom of the cove in just a few meters of water and evolved into a favorite dive destination in the years after the Great War. It disappeared in 1933, most likely due to one of the many storms that winter, though there have been many other theories, some quite fanciful.
2) One need only consult a map to see the French situation. Here are a few, and you need not enlarge them to understand. Be advised that, while the first one is beautiful and detailed, it is a large pdf file.
Basically, the French are being left about 50 kilometers from their boats, including a turbulent 5 kilometer channel between the islands.
3) The positions of The Hague 1907 on naval mines are still cited as current, in principle, in the current day. That is, mines have changed in terms of technology, but the rules do not seem to have been formally and internationally updated since 1907! For those rules, see:
The more recent “San Remo Manual” (circa 1994) does not seem to have been arrived at by a consensus-reaching conference of formally accredited Great Power plenipotentiaries as was The Hague 1907. Thus, it is not surprising to the author that it adopts the 1907 language with modest updates for things like aircraft. See the below url, especially the Sections 80 - 92:
Essentially, Hanzik here is making formal compliance with the relevant Articles of The Hague 1907 (Section VIII), Articles 2, 3, and 5. He has declared that the mines were laid as a defensive minefield, and not with the aim of intercepting commercial shipping. Furthermore, as the Germans are about to abandon their surveillance and oversight, he has declared their presence the instant that military exigencies permitted and described the danger zones to the local cognizant Government. It should be noted that the responsibility to notify the exact presence of mines lies with the Power that set the mines, but that (explicitly per The Hague 1907, VIII, Art. 5) the responsibility for removing those same mines is the responsibility of the Power in whose waters they rest.