Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug: Homeward Bound? Part XXXIV

July 7, 1915



---- Rostock, course 135, 20 knots

Once the Necki Force had been sighted, the more southern and eastern von der Tann Force had slowed slightly and begun gradually converging on the Moltke Force.  Their relative positioning had led to their being the ones to make contact first, and their admiral’s subsequent changes in track had had the effect of putting them somewhat in the van.

As Necki’s battlecruisers flashed by on their starboard side, von Hoban could not escape a feeling of déjà vu.  He glanced over to Kapitan Westfeldt as the first of the bow waves rocked the light cruiser.

“You feel it too?”

“Jawohl, Herr Kommodore.  But it was later, darker, and people were shooting at us.” (NOTE 1)

Von Hoban nodded.  And there had been 22 of them that day, not just two, but he kept that part to himself, so glad was he to see these two.

---- Moltke, course 125, speed 22.5 knots

Watching the fast-approaching German warships, Admiral Hanzik affected not to notice the exclamations and "buzz" that some might have called a breakdown in discipline.  No sooner had new-built Frankfurt’s identity been confirmed, did the hulls of Derfflinger and Seydlitz appear on the horizon.  With a combined closing speed of nearly 50 knots, it took a startlingly short time for the battlecruisers to go from tiny blips on the horizon to full size warships.  It was as though Vulcan and Poseidon had teamed to conjure thousands of tons of steel right out of the wave crests.

Vice-Admiral Letters’ elevation to HSF Commander had taken place in the days just before they had left Wilhelmshaven.  Nonetheless, up until just a few minutes ago, Hanzik realized that he had been expecting the Baron and not some other.  And so, with no little curiosity and some internal misgivings, he studied Derfflinger, and her surprisingly sparsely populated flag hoists.

For an admiral making what many would consider a dramatic rendezvous, Necki apparently had very little to say.

---- Imperator, course 130, speed 24.5 knots

Deutsch exclamations echoed down the passageways and commands rang from the bulkheads as the oncoming stoker shifts found that they were relieving strangers.  And not just any strangers, but passengers!  Amerikaner passengers!
“That’s great!”


“Blue, how about one of the five of us lined up like this, coal ready to toss.  Joe, get some there in your shovel.  You, too, Bill.  Hans, hier?  Ein minuten?”

“Yes! Let me move ... good.  Yes, here I can get the fire reflecting off you.”

Blue Fox had tarried to get additional pictures.  The tired but triumphant engineer-stokers hammed shamelessly, especially since he had joined them at the shovels.

”Mr. Fox?”

“Yes?”  Blue replied, turning, and did a double-take.

“Gavilan!  Sorry, I didn’t recognize you.” Without the shirt, he did not add. “You’ve got soot or something all over your ... chest.” The man’s pectorals!  Was he a weightlifter?

“Ha!  Have you taken a look at yourself recently?  I finished same time as you; I just didn’t linger to take photographs.  Anyway, the Countess - she was at the hatch onto the main deck.  She asked me to come back down here and look for you.”

“The Countess Marina?”  Blue felt chagrin the moment the words jumped out.  Idiot!  There was only one countess aboard, and with hair redder than the light coming off the grates here.

“Yes, she said to tell you that you might want to come topside.  Now.  And with all your photographic paraphernalia.”

“Right!  On my way.  OK, boys.  This’ll have to be the last one.  On the end, tilt your shovel a little more.  Ah, great!”


---- Grosser Kurfurst, course 250, speed 20 knots

“Nottingham?”  Schnell’s voice betrayed his surprise at the report identifying the sunk British cruiser.  “She’s not with Harwich Force.  Admiral, she’s in one of the Grand Fleet scouting formations.  Or was,” he corrected himself.

The Baron nodded his head, but made no reply.  Clearly, the engagement had ended.  Letters realized it was time to acknowledge that fact.  The second Britisher had successfully disengaged.

“Kapitan Schnell, return the Battle Squadrons to 12 knots.”

That was the easy part.  Now he had to divine just how he might splice all this into the plan.

Perhaps he could proceed as though it were Die Kaiserschlacht again, albeit writ very small.  He had hurt the British at considerable cost and the British had used their superior speed to get away, leaving the Germans to the task of getting their cripples home.  Could it be that simple?  He raised his binoculars and did another sweep.  The horizon told him nothing.

“Signals Officer,” Letters called out, turning to face aft. 


“For Kommodore Ehrhart: ‘Query prisoners’.”

“Sir, all have acknowledged 12 knots.”

“Very well,” Schnell replied. “Execute.”

Letters completed his turn and suddenly walked the few paces to the back of the bridge whereupon he halted and stared down onto the spread out chart.  Brows deeply creased in concentration, he did not even notice the seamen, petty officers, and the young leutnant scattering from his path.

The Navigator eased one precise step away from the table – out of any line of sight but still close enough to be able to respond to an unraised voice.  The chief bosun hid his sigh of relief; he had just updated the positions and marked the time in clear view.

Tyrwhitt, Letters thought, focusing.  Where in the devil was he?  Why hadn’t he already made his appearance?  When the day started, Letters would have happily wagered many a mark - and at long odds at that - on Ehrhart having had to spar with Harwich Force, starting around noon, if not earlier.  But, here it was, sun just a few hours above the horizon and the only Britishers he’d seen all day had been a single section of Town class cruisers not even in the Harwich Force OOB.  Even if Tyrwhitt had started cold iron in port, he should have been in contact by now.

There was some piece missing.  Maybe more than one.  Beatty and J[ellic]oe he had made careful studies of, but not DeRobeck.  He knew that he could not predict precisely what the current Commander - Grand Fleet might do if the situation provided clear alternatives.  He didn’t think that had happened yet.  No matter what minefield or sighting reports the British Admiralty may have gotten or be getting, the main body of the High Seas Fleet had been sighted many hours ago and on a course they simply could not ignore.  But could he still be so certain now?  The stakes here were far more than marks.

J[ellic]oe would have offered a meeting engagement, but Letters was confident that he would not have attempted to get between him and Wilhelmshaven.  The fleets had become too equal, with too many chances for Empire-threatening disaster from mines or sub traps or even just plain bad luck.  From DeRobeck’s approach a few days ago, he judged the man to also be no wild gambler with the dreadnought core of the Grand Fleet.  The associated flotillas, however, were a different matter entirely.  Those could be risked without fear of strategic consequence.

That meant the Harwich Force.  Commodore Tyrwhitt.

His gut was telling him that Tyrwhitt was somewhere over the horizon to the west or west southwest on an intercept course.  But, what if he were wrong?  What if DeRobeck had ordered Tyrwhitt to circle all the way around the German fleet?  To lay in wait until they began to retire and then in the dusk or dark to launch another multiple-flotilla torpedo attack?

“Sir, from Kommodore Ehrhart, 83 prisoners.”  Originally, there had been 86.  Three of those had died, despite the best efforts of Korvettenkapitan - and doctor of medicine - Edmund Constans.  He would lose another before the hour was gone.

“Very well,” Letters replied.  Town class carried about 500.  “So few?”  This to Kapitan Schnell.

“Lookouts reported she turned turtle.”  Few more than one deck below escaped in such cases.

“Unfortunate.”  Letters rubbed his face and scowled at the chart.  He needed to draw the British to him, but only on terms of his own choosing.  With the main British formations so long unsighted, he could not rule out that someone else might be doing the choosing.

“Signals Officer, for Korvettenkapitan Borys: ‘interrogative best speed’.  For Kommodore Ehrhart, ‘new axis 080, immediate execute'.

“Kapitan Schnell, slow the fleet to 10 knots.  Hoist 080.”

“Sir, from Korvettenkapitan Borys: ‘16 knots’.”

“Very well.  Signals Officer, for Korvettenkapitan Borys: ‘join fleet flag’.”

“Sir, all acknowledge 080.”

“Very well, Execute.  Herr Kapitan, when Borys is within 10,000 yards, go to 15 knots.”

---- Southampton, course 125, speed 25.3 knots

The plume on the horizon dead ahead continued to change.  As large as it was, it seemed nonetheless to be broadening still more.  A formation change?  Now?  After remaining basically on the same course all day?

Nervously, Nott licked his lips again as - 28,000 yards away - Fox snapped picture after picture of the spectacle whipping by at a mile-a-minute, a speed that even a crack steam train would be proud to sustain. (NOTE 2)  Seated in his well-pillowed chair three paces down the rail from Blue, Hadi Pasha laced his hands on his great girth and smiled benignly at the German admiral’s proper manners in taking his martial menagerie down Hadi’s lee side.

Nott realized that he had crossed his legs due to building bladder pressure.  He struggled to ignore it.  What were the Huns doing?

Then his bowels began to cramp.  That decided him.

“Commander, bring us right three points.”

“Sir?”  Dedmon was startled.  That would take them something like 35 degrees off their pursuit course.  “Three points, aye aye, sir. Helm ….”
Dedmon turned back as soon as his ship had settled onto the new course.  Was the Commodore abandoning the chase?  Why, he wanted to ask.  Nott was not there, however, having gone out onto one wing.  Dedmon frowned anew.  That was where the Commodore always stood during battle, out where all his officers and men could see him publicly daring shot and shell.

But there was no battle going on!  Yet there he was, leaning onto the rail, with one hand on his abdomen, apparently checking the lower buttons on his uniform blouse.

“Commander,” shouted Nott over the wind.  “Three more points, if you please.”

This would put them at nearly right angles to their quarry.  Dedmon gave the order and then stepped out the bridge hatch in alarm.  The ship shook as they crossed the grain of the waves and one rogue wave had cast a sheet of cold foam right across the wingbridge, dousing Nott most thoroughly.  Dedmon noted that the Commodore remained quite undaunted, relieved even, and waved him back onto the bridge almost cheerily.

“Sir!  New contact!  Multiple contacts!”

---- Derfflinger, course 310, speed 25 knots

Admiral Necki hid his disappointment.  This was another trap that he had assessed as having good chances of at least some success.  He had even adjusted course to remain in line with the plume from the liners.  How could he have managed it better?  He forced the question aside for another day; he had matters enough still to command his full attention.

“Sir, they’ve turned away,” Kapitan Theodore reported somewhat unnecessarily.  Clearly, the British had somehow recognized the need to change course early enough not to lose way and drop into gun range.

Necki acknowledged but continued to sweep his binoculars across the northern horizon.

“Just the two, sir,” Theodor prompted.  The Town class group they had encountered on the last sortie had been four, as had the ones at Die Kaiserschlacht, but no others had been sighted.  Meanwhile, the gap between them and Hanzik and the liners was growing at something like

50 knots.

“Yes,” Necki said finally.  He lowered the glasses and looked up into the sky.  The sun was getting lower and the clouds looked like they would begin to help drive down visibility over the next several hours.  He knew where Hanzik and the liners were going and could cut the corner, while the British could only guess, and at great risk at that.  Still, Theodor had a point, even unspoken, and he was not too proud to admit it.

“Herr Kapitan, you are quite correct.  Bring us about and onto 135.”

“The flotillas, also?”

“Yes, but only after we’ve been on our new course for ten minutes.”

---- Room 40

“From Commodore Nott ...”

Author’s NOTEs:



1) See below, time 8:44 PM:




As for the time of day, see:





2) See: