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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug: Homeward Bound? Part XII

July 3, 1915


---- Grosser Kurfurst, course 260, speed 18 knots


Admiral Letters and Kapitan Schnell stood together out on the port wingbridge.  They had their binoculars up, sweeping wide arcs ahead.  They did not look astern, where the other seven dreadnoughts followed obediently in their wake.  Nor did they look out on either beam, where Stuttgart to the north and Berlin to the south coursed along on their flanks with four torpedoboats each.  Plying the waters ahead were Acting-Commodore Ehrhart's half-flotillas, headed by Frauenlob, Undine, and Lübeck, but the eyes of the senior German officers were focused on the distant horizon, over which lay the British fleet.  Somewhere.


The British knew where the Germans were.  Of that, Letters had no doubt, as the RN cruisers were still bobbing in and out of the horizon on bearings between 280 and 330.  He had not the force to make them to flee.  This was far different from the Britishers who had instantly driven off the two tiny scout groups he had placed in his distant van.  The only ship that had managed a few glimpses of the British main body had gone ominously silent.  The intelligence advantage he had courted so assiduously before was not his this time, but in the hands of the British commander.  Indeed, the ships he so badly missed in his van were those of Necki's command, the very ones he was out here risking literally everything to try to save.


Were the British in a position to cut off Necki?  The Baron did not have to glance at the chart to see the danger; he had been living with it since before Necki had sortied.  The returning battlecruiser force had the coast on one flank and the Harwich Force almost certainly pursuing in force astern.  Should the British admiral manage to throw a dreadnought force across the bows and northern flank of Necki, anything might happen.  Necki might be forced to choose between a gunnery gauntlet or fighting back through the Harwich Force flotillas.



---- Großes Torpedoboot S.177, course 040, speed 29.5 knots


Oberleutnant Hackaufsohn had a splendid vantage from which to survey the damage aloft wreaked from one of that damn Britisher's shells.  He was flat on his back.


He blinked as things eased in and out of focus.


"Captain?!  Gut Gott!  Captain's down!  Horst!  Give me a hand here.  Lars, get the ...."


"Wait!  His arm's in the spokes.  Okay.  Get the wheel ...."


He was inside the bridge.  Why was he down here, and why could he see the sky?  Ah, yes, a new skylight.  A Brit field modification of sorts ....


Uh, "in the spokes"?  Arms were raising him.


"I've got her."  Um, "her"?  The petty officer was speaking of the wheel, hence control of the ship, or "her" - but Hackaufsohn wasn't able to work that out.


"Careful there."


"Most of this isn't his, it's ...."


Oh!  That hurt.


"His back.  Oh, [expletive]!  Careful there on his left."


His ship!


"Status?  Report!"  At least, that was he tried to say.  Getting into an upright sitting position had launched waves of dizziness.


"Easy, sir."


"Report!"  It came out better that time.


"The Britishers've ceased fire; lost the range."  Relief texturized the man's voice; the captain was coming out of it.  "Fire's out, mostly."


Hackaufsohn went to rub his eyes, but stopped at the sight of the blood on his hand and dripping down the sleeve of his blouse.  He looked around, then.  Damn!  There'd been four on the bridge with him.


They'd been hit.  Yes, it was starting to come back.  He'd felt the hit, the concussion in the air and the shock on his soles, more than he'd heard it, but it had been the swerve of the ship that had commanded his attention.  The ship's wheel, its spokes rotating, stood at the center of the bridge but the helmsman had not been in sight.


"Orders, sir?"


He held up his right hand in a "wait" gesture and tried to blink his eyes into better focus.


Somehow he'd gotten to the wheel and settled it.  He'd looked about for men, but there'd been none.  Where had they gone?


He again went to rub his eyes, and again halted at the sight of the blood.  The shock cleared his mind some more.  There must have been another hit ....


"Course and speed?"


"Running full out, sir, on ... looks to be 040."


"What time is it?"


"It's ... ship clock's gone, sir."



"Aye, sir."  (NOTE)


"The Fleet!  Did our wireless report go out?"


He saw one man hasten out to check.  I couldn't have been out for more than a few moments, he thought.  Couldn't have been.


"The Britisher cruisers are breaking off, sir."


He was going to have to get up in a moment.  He gathered his feel under him.  The bright late afternoon sun seemed to fade towards grey.


"Sir, the signal was sent - twice.  No acknowledgment ... yet, sir."


He hadn't even seen the man return.


"I must get onto my feet."  Arms helped take some of his weight.  Of course there'd been no acknowledgment.  Here he was in possession of the most important piece of intelligence of his life and ....


"Look up th... uhh."


Since he was bracing himself with his right hand, he'd tried to point with his left.  The motion had fired a bolt of pain into his back.


"Look aloft," he managed after a long pause, his forehead moist.  "Antenna's gone.  All of it."


He took a deep breath.  Another.  It didn't hurt to breathe.  That seemed a good omen.


"Need to rig something.  Where's the chief?"


They didn't know.  His absence was surely an involuntary one.


"H-helm?"  Who's on the helm?  Good.  "Bring us over to 090."


The Fleet had to be somewhere in that direction.  The Britisher dreadnoughts had been something like 20,000 yards just south of west from S.177 had been when ....


"090, aye, aye, sir."


His command had been 10 miles closer to the Baron and was about 10 knots faster than the enemy.  Would that be enough? 


"Find the senior signalist.  Tell him about the antenna.  It must be fixed."  This was the wrong audience.  "Pass the word for the XO."


"Aye, aye, sir."


---- Frauenlob, course 260, speed 18 knots


"Kommodore!  New contact!  Bearing 240."


Ehrhart had been staring at their RN shadows nearly five points more to the north.


"Single patrol ... it's one of ours, sir.  Torpedoboat."


Korvettenkapitän Borys had reported detaching two.  It seemed that one of his little lost sheep had just found his way back to the flock.


"Flags, sir!"


Indeed there were.



Author's NOTE:


Actually, S.177's bridge clock would never be entirely gone.  Hackaufsohn's wounds turned out mostly to have come from shrapnel from the chronometer, not all of which could be removed.  The largest piece turned out to be the clock's long hand, found embedded like a miniature javelin in his left shoulder blade.  Hackaufsohn would survive the Great War, but would forever have to endure word play concerning his wounds.  One anecdote from later in his life suggests that he became reconciled to it and had even taken to using it himself.  As the story goes, on one post-war endeavor of his he was told that time was not on his side.  His reply was something like he didn't need it to be on his side, he already had it in his back.

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