Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug: Homeward Bound? Part XXVI

(Confusion Ashore)


July 7, 1915



---- EXTRA!  Philadelphia Inquirer


Germans Converted Liner to Floating Prison


Prisoners At Supper (caption to photograph)


“ ... Next the German invaders discovered that they were running out of food ashore.  French officials informed their captors that available stores had been exhausted.


“ ‘But of course there is no bread.  One cannot bake when penned up like animals outside in the Place,’ explained Mayor ....


“The Germans responded by evacuating St. Pierre completely, transporting the French onto the liner Kronprinzessin Cecilie.  The Germans, according to the officer in charge, Admiral Hanzik, chose the Kronprinzessin Cecilie because she had the fewest passengers due, in part, to the many repairs made to her during her stay in Boston in the days just before her departure on June 25.  This reporter observed that many of the staterooms had deadbolts on the outside of their doors and that several passageways had metal doors at both ends.  When asked if those items were original construction or if they had been added later, perhaps even while in Boston, Mr. Ballin declined comment.  In any case, engineers familiar with passenger ship design were unanimous in declaring that no such locks or doors ....”



---- Room 40


“And their fleet?  Still no report on the High Seas Fleet?”  How could the Germans have a dozen or so dreadnought fleet out in the North Sea and not have been sighted yet, or so the tone of the titled speaker’s question implied.


Ignoring the efforts in the center of the room by others to reply, Sartore rubbed his face hard in an effort to hold his exhaustion at bay.


“They said five turrets?  There at the end?”  He was referring to the latest and northernmost reported attack.


Jan nodded.  “They were getting shot to pieces, though.  First attacker was apparently a light cruiser.  That was clear enough.  In the last messages, the wireless operator was making keying errors and even missing letters.”  He grimaced at the inadvertent pun.


“Seydlitz,” Sartore said, pausing as he failed to suppress a yawn.  Derfflinger, Lutzow, and von der Tann had only four main turrets.  “Goeben’s in the Black Sea or the Med, and Moltke’s on the other side of the Atlantic or maybe the Caribbean by now.”  He yawned again, this time behind one hand.  “Hell, by now maybe the Pacific, like the Japs are saying.”

One of the theories that had gained ground in recent days was that the errant force’s goal all along had been to replace von Spee’s with one that could run rampant in the Pacific and shut down the Indian Ocean.  This dramatically ambitious possibility had been voiced first by Japanese officials, shortly after word had gotten out that the Admiralty might be casting hungry eyes at the IJN Kongos.  With memories still fresh of SMS Emden and Coronel, the Japanese hypothesis could not be dismissed out of hand.


“Coal,” Jan replied.  One of the greatest obstacles to any German Pacific adventure was that the battlecruisers had a remarkably massive appetite for coal and it had been that same hunger that had doomed von Spee at Falklands.  The force of that German Admiral Hanzik needed much more coal than even von Spee’s had.


“The liners,” Sartore answered.  The answer that had evolved was that the passengers reportedly boarding the liners had been an elaborate misdirection, with the relatively few that might actually have been aboard at the last to be put off elsewhere later with some coin for their trouble.  The liners themselves had been turned into massive colliers and supply ships and ones uniquely able to keep up with warships.


They’d all been over and over this ground so many times these last many days and nights that the tired officers could reargue the matter with a single word or two.  This had become particularly useful as their debates had to be covert and, now, between yawns.


“Occam’s Razor,” Sartore added. (NOTE 1)  Seydlitz was already known to be somewhere up there.


“Cuts both ways,” Jan countered.  Moltke was known to have left Miquelon a week ago.


“Mmph,” Sartore acknowledged, amidst another yawn.



---- Wilhelmshaven


Kapitan Jeff Lantz had come in before dawn, having heroically risen from a sound sleep in the still-dark and then bidden his wife with her blonde and ever-so-fetchingly tousled hair good-bye.  The first hour had been a review of the traffic over-night.  Save for a flurry following a brief and chance encounter between scouts, the messages had otherwise followed routine.  Dawn had opened floodgates in the ether and the intercepts were still piling up on his desk far faster than he or anyone else could possibly read them, let alone make sense of it all.


Jeff had sorted them into separate stacks.  The one on the far left had the overnights.  Over on the right side of his desk were three smallish sets that all had the same characteristics.  In each case, some transmitter, most likely a ship, had reported something within the first hour of decent light.  The first report had been promptly acknowledged by what presumably was one British Admiralty station or another.  The initial transmitter then sent in several follow-up wireless messages, sometimes even before the Admiralty had acknowledged the previous one.  Then, just as the Admiralty messages began to get longer, the initial source stopped sending messages.  The Admiralty source would repeat their signals, then send shorter ones, presumably trying to regain contact, before going quiet also.  Lastly, a group of messages would go out and be acknowledged by multiple parties.


The obvious conclusion was that British units had sighted German ones and had reported the sighting until forced to stop.  The sources could have been merchants who happened to have wireless sets, but Lantz doubted they would use the frequency of the RN.  Still, this could not be ruled out entirely.  Jeff judged it much more likely, however, that the reports had been from patrol craft, possibly submarines.  Then, the reporting vessel was rendered unable to continue to transmit, either by being sunk or captured, or perhaps just by submerging.  After that, the RN would send out summary messages to other commands.


Those were the ones he thought he understood.


The formidable pile directly in front of him was from something much different and it seemed without precedent.  It had taken him the better part of an hour to spot what might be the critical element, but it still did not explain matters.  At least, not well.   He frowned and absently ran a fingertip back and forth across one of the eight points of the “Blue Max” ViceAdmiral Letters had insisted he wear always within the walls of headquarters.  (NOTE 2)




“Sir!”  Lantz jumped to attention as best he could with his cast.  GrossAdmiral Tirpitz!


“At ease, Kapitan.  Please,” he added insistently, even waving him back into his chair.  The Pour le Mérite was no small thing to even the highest of the high, and Tirpitz knew quite well how this one had been earned.  (NOTE 3)  “I understand there is an anomaly?”


How in the hell had he ...?


“Yes, sir.”  Lantz gave a brief overview before he offered more.  ”The difference, sir, was that  this one seems to have been the originating wireless message.  Then this one, and this.”


An observant outsider might have noticed that the GrossAdmiral frowned and fingered his beard much as Lantz had his medal.


“I’m not sure who they are or even where they are, sir.  But what I DO know, sir, is that they’re not ships, sir.  None of them.”


Tirpitz blinked but said nothing.


“The first ship-originated wireless that seems to be related to it is this one, and it looks to be a simple acknowledgement in response to this one here.”


“Who is that?”  Tirpitz’ head gesture was directed at the ship-based wireless.


“I cannot be certain, sir.”  Lantz’ intonation suggested that he had more to offer.


“Your guess, then?”


“Commodore Tyrwhitt, sir.  Harwich Force.  The same originator next sent out two other messages, presumably to subordinates of his own.  While I cannot be sure, of course, the recipients look to be flotillas.”


“Very well.  But, Kapitan, if all is as you suggest, what is the underlying cause?”


“I don’t know, sir.  I just don’t.  I have gone back and re-read the sortie orders and there is nothing in them that could cause this.”


“Whose orders took them closest to the British shore?”


“Oh!  Ah, that would be Commander Borys, sir.  He was to lay a minefield offshore somewhere between here and ....  It could be, sir!  Perhaps some mines came ashore, or a ship struck one and those ashore reported it first.  Or, the initial report was on some civilian frequency and then the Britishers relayed ....  No.”




“Too many reports, sir.  Mines would have come ashore before and any mine-loss would have been treated in a more straight-forward manner.  This seems ... just ... different.  I get the sense that the Britishers are making up whatever they’re doing as they go along.”


“Very well.”


The two German officers stared at the messages, one fingering his beard, the other his medal.



---- EXTRA!  New York Times


French Gendarme Tried to Fight Off Invasion


Corporal Pierre Soissons (caption to photograph)


“ ... Armed resistance was limited to the efforts of Corporal Pierre Soissons who had been alerted moments before the attack to the possibility of invaders by a group of young boys (See “Paladins of St. Pierre, page A-12).  Soissons heroically exchanged fire with the assaulting Germans before being overwhelmed.  For a photographic essay depicting the attack on the Gendarmerie, see Section B, pages B-5-8.  Fortunately, Corporal Soissons’ wounds were not serious and he was expected to make a full recovery.


More seriously injured was Private Grisbrun Terriun, who somehow fell down two flights of stairs within the Gendarmerie before the Germans had even gained entry.  The full extent of Terriun’s injuries were not known, but his right leg was confirmed to have been broken in two places.  There were also plenteous coccyx contusions ....”



---- Room 40


A very odd map had been put up on one wall.  Actually, the map was normal enough; it was the area covered that was so unusual.  Instead of the North Sea, it portrayed the port of Withernsea and its land environs.  On it were several markers.


“At least the number is now coming down,” Jan remarked to a fading Sartore.  Just an hour ago there’d been fully twice as many on the map.

“I think they’re long gone, if they were ever there to begin with,” Sartore muttered.  “No, no,” he added, forestalling Jan’s next comment.  “Germans of some sort or another were probably there around dawn, I admit it.”  After all SOMEone had attacked the redoubtable Constable Hawthorne.  “Wherever they came from, though, I think they were long gone by the time we even learned they’d been there.”


“... two more sighted ....”


Jan sighed as another marker went up.  Sartore emitted a tired groan.  It was a shambles.  All they’d managed so far was to pounce on poachers, tackle townsmen, and spook sheep uncounted.  In two separate instances, obviously fit young men had succeeded in giving their pursuers the slip, likely returning from lifting slips of an entirely different sort themselves.  The markers from those two escapes were among those still up there and Rich wondered just how many faces would be red over them before the day was done.  What they had NOT discovered were any Germans but, until this was settled, hastily set up machine gun emplacements manned by men with white hair and even whiter knuckles remained on three bridges and two rail crossings around Withernsea.  What made it worse was that Members and Mayors from surrounding districts and towns were on the phone with HMG screaming for the army and the navy.  The number of these Worthies kept growing as the word kept spreading.


The papers were simply going to have a bloody field day unless they did something.  Already, there was talk of invoking the Official Secrets Act, but no one had yet figured out a proper pretext.  Jan turned to Sartore to ask if he’d come up with any ideas on the matter only to see that the other had apparently nodded off again.


Jan shrugged, and decided to leave him to his nap.  Best he could tell, it was the most useful activity in progress just then.



Author’s NOTEs:


1) Actually, the 14th Century Franciscan friar who became known as William of Occam (or Ochham) did not invent this logical device.  In fact, the term itself was invented by another to describe William’s argument approach, probably because William of Occam used it so often.  What is commonly called Occam’s Razor in the current day is actually a stronger form of the law of simplicity than William himself used.  See:





2) See:





3) See: