Letterstime - Ein
Geleitzug - Homeward Bound? Part V
July 3, 1915
“At dawn, Admiral Hanzik faced a sending from Fortuna, the god of chance.”
----------------------------- Lady Christine Letters, ibid, page 831
---- Moltke, course 075, speed 10 knots
“Sir, sighting report, Imperator! Bearing ... 135. Sir, sighting flags also going up on Vaterland.”
On one hand, Admiral Hanzik would have preferred to have increased speed at night, when the massive smoke plume his force generated at high speed would have been mostly lost in the darkness. However, he did not have the coal for it. On the other hand, he also would have preferred to have slowed at night, or even partially retraced his path, so that there could be no dawn surprises ... such as the one he was apparently about to face. Of course, he could implement neither of those strategies, for between coal and schedule, his options had dwindled to nearly nil.
He clenched his hands hard on the bridge rail; had they just dropped all the way to zero?
“Very well,” he replied evenly. He couldn’t see anything along that bearing, which suggested the unknown ship was at some distance. His mind raced, but there was nothing to do until he had more information. He only darted a glance at Rostock, to the south, as Westfeldt’s command was the obvious choice should he order the contact investigated.
Moltke was close astern of Imperator, just as von der Tann ghosted along in the wake of Vaterland. Each of the light cruisers also very closely trailed a liner, with Rostock trailing the captured AMC, herself an ex-liner. Von Hoban’s report on the fuel savings on this configuration had been enough for Hanzik, eager as he was for any such measure. (NOTE 1)
“Sir, it looks like both liners are reporting the same ship. They’re both calling it a merchantman. Imperator has the range at 24,000 yards. Vaterland’s agrees.”
“Very well.” The vessel had slipped past their screen ahead in the night.
“Kapitan Stang, your thoughts, bitte.”
“Sir, she’s a singleton, so I’d think the odds favor her being a Neutral, an Amerikaner, perhaps.”
“Sir, the Britishers have been flying the Amerikaners’ flag, so the only way to know would be to board her.”
“Wireless,” said Stang, with an almost fatalistic shrug.
“Yes,” sighed Hanzik. “If she has a wireless, any boarding will be reported. And reported precisely.”
“Sir, from Imperator, contact is on course 230, estimated speed is 8 knots.”
If the contact were an enemy, it would be a nice addition to their tally. If it were a Neutral, there’d be no harm done, except the cost in coal to divert to board her and then catch up to the rest of the force. If she had a wireless, she might already be reporting her sighting and certainly would before being boarded. If she had somehow not sighted them .... Hanzik wanted to massage his brow.
Hanzik turned to Stang. “I will take no action. It is too late to undo what may already have been done. And, whoever she is, she’s two, three, maybe even four days from port on that heading.” ([Foot]NOTE 2 and [Toe]NOTE 2')
---- Warspite, course 180, speed 20 knots
Admiral DeRobeck had retired to his flag quarters. The Grand Fleet was still hours away from any likely encounter. Even Nott, far in the van, was well over an hour from the area. LT Hereford thought the action to be well-advised, as the admiral had had little sleep and next to no nourishment since so abruptly taking his leave from the ill-timed affair last evening.
“May I get you something, sir?” Hereford prompted De Robeck gently, when the admiral sat and did nothing for a full minute, neither summoning food, nor closing his eyes.
“No, I’m fine,” began the admiral, who then paused, staring past Hereford’s right shoulder. “Well, actually, a spot of tea would be splendid.” His steward, who obviously was of the same mind as his aide, had come to stand in plain view behind the young officer.
Hereford followed the admiral’s eyes just in time to see the steward nod and exit, and turned back to De Robeck.
“Actually, Michael, I was just thinking that I really must learn to take greater care of exactly what I wish for.”
“Sir?” The admiral had actually chuckled.
“I was enduring ‘Farmer Dunn’ when you and The Earl rescued me - well done on that, by the way ...”
“Thank you, sir!”
“The Earl and I go way back, you see; he’d warned me earlier. If the man got too nasty, he’d see him off, but that it’d be best if I simply did not tarry, Dunn can go on for hours. The man’s common but has come up in the world since last August because, of all things, the size of his crops. Something about his quantity of fertilizer. He spouts it, it seems. He’d offered a substantial donation to the relief fund, so the Earl could hardly’ve deny him, it being an open affair and all that. (NOTE 3)
“Ah, thank you,” he said, nodding to the steward presenting him a steaming cup.
“Anyway, there I was, with that odious man in my face, raving vulgarities of one sort or another, and I found myself thinking that if the Germans had sortied, I wouldn’t have to be there.”
He chuckled again.
---- Regensburg, course 040, speed 20 knots
“Ahead Flank, 25 knots,” Wolferein ordered, having waited to see just what the Britishers would decide to do. The answer was not long in coming, as they had taken hardly a hand of minutes to turn to pursue. They must have been caught at a low bell, Wolferein surmised, as only now had they begun to close the range.
“Sir, B.110 in sight, bearing 300.”
Good, he thought, relaxing a bit. He’d just begun to get a bit anxious, having expected the torpedo boat to rejoin several minutes ago. In any case, Oberleutnant Kelly had plainly had the good sense not to point his bow where Regensburg had been, but where Wolferein would be taking her after making contact. Yes, Kelly was closing briskly. It was time to make for Necki.
“Sir, answering Ahead Flank, 25 knots indicated.”
“Very well, gently now,” - one didn’t play with rudder angles at 25 knots, certainly not with Britishers breathing down one’s sternpost - “bring her right, onto course 070.” Also, the slower the turn, the less opportunity there was for pursuers to “cut the corner” and gain that way.
---- Derfflinger, course 080, speed 10 knots
Admiral Necki had gone to 10 knots upon receipt of Regensburg’s sighting report. If they’d been closer to Wilhelmshaven or a dreadnought cover force, he would instead be running down that sighting track. As it was, the Harwich Force - and Necki was under no illusions that it could be anyone else who was chasing Kapitan Wolferin - was nothing to trifle with.
“Sir, contact ... contacts bearing 275. Looks to be Frankfurt, sir. Range 22,000 yards and closing fast.”
Several minutes passed, with no more reports.
“Sir, flags going up on Frankfurt. ‘Regensburg in sight ....”
“Sir, lookouts have sighted Regensburg, bearing 230.”
Good, they were in support range.
“Captain, bring us to 20 knots, if you would, and hoist 25. Signals Officer, inform Graudenz and Stralsund.”
---- Graudenz, course 080, speed 15 knots
Kapitan Niemczyk had reversed course upon receipt of Necki’s own turnabout. His earlier course had placed him ahead on the northern flank, so he’d gone to a higher bell to begin the process of regaining his assigned position. He was studying the plot, confirming the dead reckoning estimates that had them back in place, when the message came in.
“Sir, from Derfflinger, 20 knots, 25 hoisted.”
“Very well, Ahead Full, make turns for 20 knots.” He made no flag signal, trusting his trailing half-flotilla to conform. Even if nothing else came of this little excursion, he judged, the time spent working out with the reconstituted flotillas had been quite useful. Niemczyk’s thoughts reflected the fact that he had very modest expectations concerning the planned shelling by Frankfurt or the sweeps by Frankfurt and Regensburg. He knew only that he’d had no sightings and, as far as he was concerned, that was good. Reaction by the Harwich Force had always been expected and might, depending on the specifics at the time, provide opportunity.
“Answering 20 knots, sir.”
“Very well,” replied Niemczyk, looking astern and confirming with a quick glance that the torpedo boats were where they were supposed to be. No, he thought, as the minutes and the waves passed by, if there were to be trouble, it would probably have to come from ....
“Sir, contact! Bearing 020. Estimated range 22,000 yards.”
Damn! But what ship would be ...?
“Sir, lookout section reports possibly more than one plume.”
“Helm, 25 knots.”
---- Southampton, course 180, speed 25 knots
“Sir, sighting report! Contact bearing 200, range 23,000 yards.”
“Very well,” replied Commodore Nott as he marched across the bridge and out onto the starboard wing. “Well, well,” he muttered unconsciously, “what do we have here?”
Nothing, actually, thought Dedmon, who nonetheless wisely refrained from comment. At least HE couldn’t see anything yet, and he had good binoculars. Another minute passed before a smudge marked the spot on the southern horizon.
“Sir, contact is on a westerly course, speed estimate is 20 knots.”
“Commodore,” began Dedmon, knowing that Nott was particularly fond of that form of address, “she seems a bit north to be the one that attacked Southwold.”
“Perhaps,” pronounced Nott loftily, “but perhaps not.“
“Sir, contact confirmed to be cruiser class. Lookouts report smaller ships astern, probably torpedo boats.”
“Signals Officer,” barked Nott, “for Warspite ....”
Hardly coincidentally, Niemczyk was just then sending a wireless of his own to Necki, copying Wilhelmshaven ... and the Baron.
1) Von Hoban’s report contained data, observations, and conclusions drawn from his transit to the US East Coast, arriving on June 12, 1915. See the 3:15 PM entry here:
2) A slim majority of historians have concluded that the merchant ship in question was the SS Evelyn, a US-flagged freighter owned and operated by AH Bull & Co. The remaining historians are widely divided as to their opinions on the identity of the ship Hanzik’s ships reported to have sighted at dawn on July 3, 1915, with a few even opining that lookouts on both liners had been mistaken. The Evelyn was known not to have been originally equipped with a wireless, but did receive one sometime before May 1917, but records are unclear as to just when this occurred. Historians do agree on two points: one, the simple passage of time muddled the matter, as it would be many years after The Great War before the matter became of interest to researchers; and, two, it remains to this day both a fascinating and serious question, well worth additional grants and fellowships for serious scholarly investigators. In any case, if those aboard Evelyn sighted the German ships, no record of it has yet been found.
2') SS Evelyn, Jean Class freighter, was built at Newport News June 11, 1912 as hull # 156, for AH Bull & Co., scrapped 1946, 3,140 tons.
The Evelyn, and her sister ship Carolyn, would be taken over in WWII by the USN and secretly converted to Q-Ships as USS Asterion and Atik, AP-101 and -100, respectively. Atik would lose a battle with U-123 two days into her shakedown cruise, while Evelyn would survive to be scrapped chiefly because she never encountered a sub despite six cruises spent looking for one. See:
In 1915, in both universes, SS Evelyn was still an innocent merchantman with AH Bull & Co.
3) The greatest increase in US exports from May 31, 1914 to May 31, 1915 was not in munitions, but in foodstuffs. See background piece on this, including tables (especially “Group 6"), here: