Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug: Homeward Bound? Part XXVIII
July 6, 1915
---- Bremen, course 035 (changing), speed 19 knots (decreasing in turn)
Korvettenkapitän Nugal Conda's face had grown gaunt with strain over the last five hours, his eyes almost feverish in their intensity. He'd blundered into a surprise meeting engagement in the dark, then had apparently failed to disengage, and had been running for his life for the last two hours and more. Conda had delayed his turn until he was certain the enemy had spotted the advancing German forces. The sight of signal flags going up on the junior Brit cruiser - a couple hundred yards closer to the oncoming Germans - had been the obvious indicator. Why else would a subordinate suddenly start sending up signal flags in the middle of a gun battle except to report the sighting of new enemies?
Crack-crack-CRACK-crack! The bow 15-cm was easy to distinguish from the 10.5-cm pieces. The exhausted stern gun crew had yet to get back on target.
CRACK-crack-crack! The bow gun crew was fresh and quite eager, having had to endure being unable to shoot at all during their flight. It had not been that they were out of range. No, their captain had refused to alter course enough to get the rest of their ship out of the damn line of fire! Until this moment, Conda had been adamantly against altering course enough to bring the bow gun to bear, as it would have meant allowing the Britishers close the range more quickly. They had been closing relentlessly enough already; so much so that it had been a very near thing as it was.
"Sir, steady on course 055."
"Very well." He spared a glance at his trio of TBs. They had swung wide but were conforming.
Crack-CRACK-crack! The gunners fired just seconds after Bremen's rudder reached midships. Splashes spotted the waves not very near the enemy. Crack-crack-CRACK! More fruitless splashes. For all their eagerness, the bow gunners hadn't hit anything yet.
Whanng! Damn! The lead Brit had gotten back on target more quickly. He heard cries of woe, and then shouts and orders. At least the second shooter remained masked. For the moment.
"Sir, target is turning to follow!"
If he'd had time to reflect upon it, Conda would have admitted to mixed feelings here. If the Brits continued on course, they would have fallen into a trap. The problem, of course, was that Bremen would have been in the pit with them. Wait! They're "turning to follow"?! No, the Britisher captain was keeping his rudder over. And over hard, as a matter of fact, the quick cant of the other's hull plainly showed, guns gone blessedly silent for the nonce. Indeed, the Brit would be lucky not to have broken bones or even missing among the crew.
"Sir, target is ...!" Conda did not acknowledge the obvious report as he shifted his focus over to the other Britisher cruiser. What would SHE do? And how quickly?
One of his 10.5-cm guns had scored. Conda paid it little attention, having learned as so many did at Falklands that the big Town cruisers simply shrugged off 16 kg shells.
"The second enemy is turning ...." Yes, yes, Conda could see that and kept his attention focused on her. What her captain did would dictate what he, Conda, would have to do in response. He watched the Britisher's bow swing towards him. A pure "reverse course" order would have allowed a turn with the opposite rudder, thus averting any risk of collision with the lead cruiser, hardly negligible given the risks of a felled helmsman or failed steering engine under fire. The other captain had chosen to turn in the same direction as his leader, however, perhaps not knowing his senior's intended final course.
It also unmasked his batteries, and the Brit's muzzles flashed even with rudder on; they were that eager.
Where the shells went Conda had no idea, other than not near Bremen. Would the second cruiser turn wide enough to mask the first? Splashes jumped up short, perhaps by three hundred yards. Conda looked back at the leader. He seemed to have steadied his ship up on something a bit north of west. There! The second was turning tight enough not to mask his leader, whose shells had just splashed again nearby, closer.
"Left rudder! Gunnery Officer! Shift targets! Trail ship."
---- Frauenlob, course 290, speed 22.3 knots
"Sir, Bremen is altering course north. North-northeast, sir."
"Sir, the enemy is turning away!" Then after a pause, "Both ships, sir."
Acting-Kommodore Ehrhart was studying the lead enemy cruiser. She showed evidence of Bremen's attention, as did Bremen show that of her British pursuers. The critical question: had the Brit been lamed?
"Range to the enemy?"
"17,000 yards, sir. Dropping."
That wouldn't last, the "dropping" part. Not unless Bremen had managed to hurt one of their larger pursuers. Given their apparent speed of pursuit, it didn't seem at all possible.
"16,500 yards, sir."
"No, sir. Lookouts thinks it's steady. Maybe increasing, now."
"Ehrhart acknowledged. If Frauenlob - or Stuttgart alongside - had gotten the 15-cm gun refit, he might have managed the range. But perhaps not.
He was not tempted to order the flotilla to attack and was glad that Conda had seemed to have withheld his trio. Sinking a Town might or might not be possible, but the Germans had too few torpedo craft here this day, and they might well need them all soon. And more.
---- Bremen, course 345 (changing), speed 17 knots (decreasing in turn)
Crack-crack-crack! CRACK! Crack!
Korvettenkapitän Conda's gaunt face was a skull-mask, lips drawn back in a feral snarl as his guns opened fire again - turn or no turn - and began to splash a trail towards the turning trail Brit. If the Brit truly intended to match his leader's course, then he had further to swing than Bremen did, even though he'd started before Conda had. That his slowing speed was allowing his gunners to find the range was just bonus.
The 10.5-cm shell had no visible effect, save the tiny red fleck of impact. He could not see where either of the 15-cm shells had landed. Meanwhile, the senior Britisher had resumed fire and the splashes were uncomfortably close for opening shots. It was enough to change Conda's intended course entirely.
"Gunnery Officer! Unmasking to starboard!"
He just might get his target to foul the leader's all-too-accurate line of fire. Right about ... now!
"Sir, my rudder is amidships. Steering course 245."
Crack-crack-CRACK-crack. And then CRACK! - the stern gun rejoined the fight. The trail Brit was STILL turning! The splashes marched towards her.
---- Stuttgart, 200 yards south of Frauenlob
"Sir, Bremen is turning to follow. She's opened fire again, sir!"
Kapitan Odalb stared bemusedly at the diorama being enacted to the west. He had not relished the prospect of taking on two Town cruisers with Frauenlob, torpedoboats or not, but they would have done so nonetheless if Bremen had been slowed. If nothing else, the odds would have been better than the last time Odalb had been thrown into a fight. (NOTE 1)
A sharp positive noise up in Stuttgart's spare superstructure roughly coincided with a distant smokeburst on the trail Britisher.
"Sir, Bremen's scored ...."
It didn't fit, his little semi-smile, but he couldn't help it. The strange expression on Odalb's face stemmed from a pre-war memory. A recollection from his childhood, in fact. Back in the summer of his tenth year, a friend's collie - a good thirty kilos! - had chased a large Tom around a fenced lot. A full circuit counter-clockwise and maybe two. Suddenly, the cat had decided he'd had quite enough of that and halted with raised back, loud hiss, bared teeth, and ready claws. The collie, quite nonplused by spectacle, had come full stop, as well. Then, to the amazement of all present, the Tom had proceeded to chase the five-times-larger collie back around one or two clockwise circuits before abandoning the amusement by jumping up onto the fence. (NOTE 2)
Bremen, at 3,400 tons, turning to chase the two 6,000 ton Towns was eerily the same!
---- Room 40
"From Birmingham, >Multiple dreadnoughts in sight ....' "
Commander Jan jerked upright at the news, as did everyone else. Even Sartore, who had been emitting muffled snores in the next room, was suddenly there, wide-eyed. A considerable number of braided eyes watched as the yeoman moved to mark the sighting.
"At least six, eh?" There had been eight on the 3rd. "That's the High Seas Fleet, sure enough." Birmingham's lookouts would not have been able to see them all from twenty-plus thousand yards away, even if they'd NOT been under fire at the time..
"Damn!" Sartore muttered. Many others did much the same. The mark placed the German dreadnoughts perhaps a hundred miles southeast of De Robeck's position, where he'd been heading a few degrees east of south at 20 knots for the last two hours.
"He was right to come about," Jan commented in a low tone. How had he known? Only last night, the concern had been over a threat to Aberdeen. As a result of his ... prescience? ... he was five hours steaming away from opening fire if the Germans would stand for it, half that if the Germans could be persuaded to keep steaming northwest.
"Nott again," Sartore commented.
" >Not again', what?" Jan asked. "You mean the Germans will get away, having done their mischief?"
"No, the Commodore. Commodore Nott."
"What about him?"
1) At Die Kaiserschlacht, of course. Odalb would not count what almost happened on July 3, but what really DID happen to him on May 31
2) Historical. I kid you not(t)! Though it was 1960 in Alexandria, VA by the author. When it was over, the collie looked about apparently embarrassed as the Siamese Tom contemptuously licked one paw up on the fence and the two of us rolled about on the grass in hysterics.