Letterstime - Ein
Geleitzug: Homeward Bound? Part XVII
July 5, 1915
---- U-43, surfaced,
speed steerage way
"Captain! Smoke, bearing 210."
"Very well," replied
the young CO as he turned to face down the announced bearing. The others topside did the same, with the
exception of those lookouts who were assigned other bearing arcs. Even they, however, could not resist sneaking
a brief glance or two. The tendency was
a known one and, after a moment, a glower from the lookout chief set them all
back on their assigned arcs.
The location was
about right, as was the time. Still,
they watched the approaching column of smoke with a healthy skepticism.
"Chief, we'll be
going to periscope depth in about 15 minutes.
Engineering, are we at full charge?"
The plume grew as the
minutes passed until the source could only be the one for which they'd been
waiting. Even at less than maximum
speed, the plume became an impressive sight and that was the basic problem.
"Right on time,
Skipper," observed the younger-still XO.
"Yes, it's been a
Actually, the wait
had not been that long. Not in the
absolute sense, but it had seemed like ages since they sunk the Britisher that
dawn, instead of just a few hours.
"Send the message,"
the CO ordered. He took another look
around, drew in a last lungful of fresh air.
"Take us down."
And there they
waited. The CO gave as many as he could
the opportunity to catch a look as the spectacle steamed by some dozen thousand
course something east of north, speed not fast enough
And spectacle it was,
though Hadi Pasha (NOT Sultan!) little appreciated it. The fresh fruit had long ago been consumed
and the compotes seemed to have lost their zest. Indeed, he had almost declined a third portion
of breakfast breads this morning until one shrewd and scandalized servant had
reminded him that there was still ample maple syrup. A frown still lingered near as his servants
settled him in his well-padded deck lounger.
One massive and swarthy figure stood nervously near at hand bearing an
impressive load of blankets, as the mornings had chilled considerably these
last few days.
Part of the Mighty
One's anger stemmed from the fact that another vessel sometimes dared to
deposit its soot upon his person. He had
had to pretend to tolerate that sort of thing when he'd won the great battle
for the Germans while aboard one of their dreadnoughts, but he had become quite
accustomed to being on the lead ship during the previous transit. The owner of this ship had apologized and
attempted to explain it but Hadi, smiling broadly and politely, had let it pass
by his ears without notice.
Admiral Hanzik had
studied the fuel economies revealed in the west-bound transit data generated by
Kommodore von Hoban and Kapitan Siegmund aboard Strassburg. (NOTE 1)
He had been so impressed that he'd written a commendation into the
record for Strassburg's CO. And so it
was that Kronprinz Wilhelm led the way east, with Imperator and Vaterland
efficiently but uncomfortably close aboard each of her after quarters, both
their bows actually ahead of the other's stern.
Together, the trio broke down the waves and greatly eased the passage of
those directly astern. One theory was
that they were creating, however shallow and short-lived, a distinct current
along their combined course for the benefit of those in their massive combined
wake. The other two liners - Kaiser
Wilhelm II and Kronprinzessin Cecilie - steamed just outboard and astern of
their larger cousins, widening the zone.
This novel formation had not been arrived at by chance, but was the
result of calculation tuned by iteration.
Acting in concert together this way had proven to reduce fuel
consumption considerably for those in choice spots in their combined wake. Thus, just astern and inboard of Imperator
and Vaterland steamed the two battlecruisers, with the four light cruisers
tucked into various other slots to their best advantage.
The main disadvantage
from the perspective of the KM officers was the change in their
perspective. That is, their location
internal to the formation also placed their lookouts inside that shell of
civilian vessels. By way of mitigation,
Ballin had a great many lookouts posted and their vantage points up in the
lofty superstructures of the great liners placed them much higher than was
possible on the warships and the lookouts aboard Kronprinz Wilhelm in the van
were KM anyway, even if they were not in uniform.
The CO of U-43 waited
until well after the seagoing circus parade had disappeared to return to the
surface. They spent the next hour or so
scanning for other plumes. Then, once
the plume had all but dissipated on the horizon to the north-northeast, he
turned his - relatively - tiny vessel to follow the showy ships that had trundled
Their Lordships had
left De Robeck to the business of commanding the Grand Fleet, or so it seemed
to the admiral and his beleaguered staff.
The cynics privately held that other disasters had simply taken preeminence
aided, no doubt, by the happy fact that the Royal Navy had lost no ships in the
last engagement. The decision to return
to Rosyth - rather than Scapa Flow - had been an easy one. De Robeck had grave concerns about retracing
routes in a sea known to be home to German u-boats and minelayers. Rosyth also had the advantage of placing the
fleet nearer the recent German sortie route.
"Sir, Admiral Gaunt
"Show him in,"
replied De Robeck, and he rose to greet his visitor in all courtesy. The request for a private meeting had come as
a bit of a surprise. Gaunt's division
had performed no better or worse than the others. (NOTE 2)
"Good morning, sir,"
began the Australian flag officer. The
other's demeanor puzzled De Robeck, who grew evermore certain that the matter
on the other's mind troubled him most strangely. The Commander - Grand Fleet patiently worked
through the ritual preliminaries, but his curiosity grew apace. Much reposed on both their plates, and Gaunt
certainly knew that as well as did De Robeck.
"Sir," the tone of
Gaunt's voice revealed that the matter of the moment was upon them. "I have this morning received a packet from
"I see," De Robeck
temporized. Of course, fast steamers of
convenient flag oft carried such, things too bulky or perhaps too sensitive for
the cable. The reason for his
subordinate's misgivings was also revealed.
Captain Guy Gaunt was a Naval Attaché, reporting to Admiral Sir Reginald
"Blinker" Hall, the head of British Naval Intelligence. (NOTE 3) That Gaunt the Younger had private
correspondence with his brother should have come as no surprise - though
somehow it did - but the fact that the Elder had obviously decided that
something needed to be shared ....
"On June 28," Gaunt
continued, "the Americans met Admiral Burney's force 45 miles out to sea off
Boston with a fleet including nine dreadnoughts, Admiral Stennis commanding."
"Indeed." De Robeck's own last sortie strength had been
dreadnoughts nine. The plight of His
Majesty's Royal Navy - and thus the Empire itself - could hardly have been
dramatized more clearly. He cleared his
throat as he considered the implications.
Among them was the realization that any single mistake on his part could
topple the RN from being the world's strongest to being not the second, but the
"Stennis was most
polite, Admiral Burney reported, but remarkably forward. Blunt, even."
De Robeck recollected
that Admiral Stennis - Commander-Atlantic Fleet - was the closest thing to his opposite number
that the Americans had.
De Robeck murmured. "That's all they
have, is it not?"
"Yes, sir. Ten would be all of them. Though they've launched four others that I
know of." (NOTE 4)
"Just so." At peace, prosperous peace, and flush with
revenues from Entente purchases, the Americans could build any and every ship
they might desire. None would be at risk
from German mischief, whether it be from torpedoes like Aboukir and her
sisters, mines like poor Audacious, or shellfire like Lion, Dreadnought, and
all the so many others this year.
" '45 miles'? 'Blunt'?"
How had things come to such a pass?
---- U-41, surfaced,
The 105 mm deck gun
lofted a shell across the merchant's bows.
"There go her colors!"
"Boarders away." The XO and a band of grinning enlisted pushed
The CO waited
anxiously, his glasses sweeping the horizon.
Meanwhile, the deck chief kept a steady stream of orders going.
there!" "Richter, I want it trained right
on her bridge."
Before they left,
there had been reports of merchantmen striking their colors and then attempting
to ram. The chief wanted the merchies to
be aware that he was ready to register his disapproval instantly and quite personally.
lowering their boats!"
"Very well. Ah, chief, there's the XO's signal. Put her down."
waterline. Start just ahead of the
mast. Two shells. Then shift'er aft."
"Aye, aye, chief."
"XO, any problems?"
"No, sir. A couple wanted to resist, I think, but their
captain kept them under control."
The CO paid only
little attention as his men reboarded and the deck gun crew did their
work. The horizon remained blessedly
"There she goes!"
"Very well. Well done, chief, XO. All Ahead Full, steer 045."
As his vessel got
back underway, the CO looked astern. Was
that a trace of a smudge? Probably not,
he decided, with a bit of relief.
"Sir, answering Ahead
"Very well. Make turns for 16 knots."
---- RN AMC Crystal
Palace, course 315, speed 12 knots
They were early, so
the silver-haired CO knew he had no basis for anxiety. Not really.
Nonetheless, a feeling of disquiet grew within him as the minutes passed
and the horizon remained clear.
there?" The captain's question was
directed at the XO. "Soammes?"
He had his most
trusted man up there. The CO lowered his
glasses and rubbed his eyes. He had long
ago formed a clear and definite opinion of Captain Hawkins of Rollonot. Thus, he had confidently expected to find him
here, at the southeastern edge of his assigned area, the spot, in fact, closest
But he was not here
and their instructions were to be chary of the wireless.
"Bring us to 17
knots. XO, if we don't catch sight of
her in an hour, alter course to 330."
That would shape them towards the neck of the strait. "Watch end, we'll use the wireless."
---- U-44, surfaced,
The XO tried to calm
himself. The merchanters had shown
little fear of him. Well a couple had,
but that was because he had just waved his Luger almost literally under their
noses as his men smashed the wireless.
One crystalline piece rolled across the bridge at him, and he could not
resist crushing it under his foot. It
did not make him feel any better.
Alle! Verstanden? Schnell!
The old man was not
going to like this. Why did it have to
happen to him?
"Black flag. Wave it!
2) Admiral Sir Ernest
Frederick Augustus Gaunt, KCB KBE CMG, historically served as aide-de-camp to
King George V before commanding the GF division, flying his flag in HMS
Colossus where he was at Jutland. In
Letterstime, I have perhaps shifted him a few months "early" and placed
Colossus just astern of his LT flagship, HMS Marlborough. Admiral Gaunt joined the RN in 1878 at the
age of 13 and retired (and was knighted) in 1925. His last post in World War I was
Commander-in-Chief, East Indies.
3) The Brothers Gaunt
(too bad not a "double t"!) constitute a remarkable example of the British
tradition of the Royal Navy. The older
brother (Ernest, above, born 1865) was soon followed by the younger (Sir Guy Reginald
Archer Gaunt, KCMG CB, born 1869, some sources say 1870) who was (and remains)
still a captain in July 1915. Note the
wonderful snippet below from the April 17, 1891 Argus:
In a somewhat bizarre
coincidence, he would historically command in convoy service the ACR HMS
Leviathan in 1918. Leviathan was also
the name given by the US (after her historical seizure) to Vaterland, which is
"LT now" enjoying a very different sort of convoy experience! Captain Gaunt was instrumental in
implementing a low key, counter-punch intelligence approach, reasoning that it
would be the strategy that would work best in America. That is, he concentrated on exposing German
activities and blunders rather than embarking on any overt pro-Entente
propaganda campaigns. The Germans, of
course, cooperated beautifully historically.
4) South Carolina
(BB-26) was absent. The ones then under
construction with launch dates: Nevada
(BB-36), July 11, 1914; Oklahoma (BB-37), March 23, 1914; Pennsylvania (BB-38),
March 16, 1915; Arizona (BB-39), June 19, 1915.