Not Everyone Is Cheering, Letters...

27 January 1915. 7:30 AM Berlin

It was an early winter morning when the military train arrived from Königsberg carrying with it the great general. The young lieutenant saw his passenger step out and stepped forward.

"General Hindenburg, this way please."

The lieutenant walked ahead and opened the car door for the general who entered and sat down without saying anything.

"The War department and hurry," the lieutenant told the driver.

"No rush," growled Hindenburg. "If the minister of war was in a hurry to see me he would have made special arrangements."

Despite this, the large car rushed through the streets of Berlin at an alarming speed. At the War Department, Hindenburg was rushed through the long corridors, past officers and civilians awed to meet the great victor of Tannenberg in person, to the minister of war's office. The aide went in to announce him immediately.

"Minister, General Paul von Hindenburg has arrived."

The aide turned and said, "Field Marshal Falkenhayn will see you now."

Falkenhayn rose to greet his commander in the east.

"Please be seated general."

"Thank you, what was so important I had to come to Berlin while my command is engaged in east Prussia?" General Hindenburg asked, somewhat annoyed.

"I believe you have heard of Admiral Letters and the action at Dogger Bank?" asked Falkenhayn.

"It would have been hard not to," replied Hindenburg somewhat amused. "From the size of the headlines, one would think that Letters had won the war for us."

"Well it was a magnificent victory, I would expect nothing less from a German officer in that situation. And it might even prevent the dammed Italians from entering the war on the side of the Entente," stated Falkenhayn without any trace of amusement.

A silence hang over the desk between them for several moments before Falkenhayn continued.

"The problem is that this victory has the potential to seriously disrupt our priorities in the conduct of the war. His majesty has insisted on increased resources to the navy without any regard for the dangerous situation on both the western and the eastern fronts. You need those resources to keep the Russians out of Germany and Hungary, and I need them to win in the west." Falkenhayn glanced at a wallmap at that last statement.

"You will not defeat France simply by taking Verdun," remarked Hindenburg when he recognized the map.

"I have something else in mind," Falkenhayn replied absently. "But none of that will come pass if we don't stop this insane 'defeat England on the sea policy' that is perilously close to being pushed through ... no, forced on the general staff," he stated with heat.

Hindenburg realized why he had been summoned from the desperate fighting in the east. Falkenhayn needed the prestige of the Tannenberg victory to curb the worst consequences of the emperor's sudden aggressive naval strategy.

"It gets even worse," Falkenhayn continued. "The fleet was always intended as leverage to force England to make peace after France was defeated. If Letters and Scheer get crushed by the Royal navy the British will have no motivation to end the war even if France has fallen. We could defeat both France and Russia and stand staring stupidly at the English Channel while they continue their blockade for years."

"Is Ingenohl not in command of the fleet?" Hindenburg asked, obviously surprised.

"No. Now that his Majesty wants to fight, he has appointed Scheer to command the High Seas Fleet, and it seems likely that he will appoint Letters to command the first scouting group," replied Falkenhayn.

"If they win the war will be over in a day," observed Hindenburg.

"Yes! But the risk of that solution is far greater than defeating France. We need to stabilize the situation this year and win the war in 1916, but I need your support to do this," said Falkenhayn.

Hindenburg did not answer directly and Falkenhayn was just about to continue arguing in favor of his position when Hindenburg continued.

"I will never go against his Majesty's wishes, field marshal," Hindenburg stated gravely. "Beyond that, I agree with you. We must try to block the new naval strategy."

"Thank you!" Falkenhayn exclaimed with obvious relief. "There will be a party at the imperial palace tonight and a large staff conference in the morning. Can you remain in Berlin for a few days?"

"I will have to, for the sake of the Fatherland," answered Hindenburg.

"Yes, for the Fatherland," whispered Falkenhayn with a triumphant grin, when Hindenburg left his office. "The Fatherland and Falkenhayn."

by CJR


The British Press

February 7, 1915, Wilhelmshaven

The first British papers Baron A.S. Letters read would have been quite humorous, if battle and war were not so deadly serious. It would seem almost immoral, the baron thought, to laugh at any description of a battle in which so many brave men had died for their country. Nor were the British the only ones to suffer great loss of life.

The problem was that the baron was quite well aware of what had happened that day, and the British press seemed to be reporting on a far different battle!

The British had sunk two German BCs, and severely damaged two more. The baron, OTOH, had walked the decks of all four large cruisers that very morning at the yard! Nor could the baron fathom how he had managed to lose three CLs, since only two had even been damaged and, of those, only one had suffered more than 50 casualties. The six torpedo boats he'd "lost" were more understandable, since he had indeed lost three and another four had taken substantial damage.

The British had quite, he noted with grim satisfaction, been unable to hide their own losses. There was no faking that five BCs were gone and the loss of one torpedo boat was also admitted.

Of the 5,800 men that the baron's force had put into the cold, cold waters on that January day, only 2,400 had been taken aboard the RN light ships and 400 of them had not survived. Counting the dead on the damaged light ships, the RN had lost just over 3,000 men and many survivors would never fight again due to their wounds.

As great a victory as it had been, the baron's force had had 650 casualties. The Seydlitz had lost 200 before the baron had made that fateful turn and another 450 afterwards. Of those, 500 had died and fewer than 100 would ever be able to return to duty.

There was a curious symmetry, the baron could not help but notice. The CO of the German force had died and so had the RN CO, an Admiral Beatty. Hipper had been killed by a shell splinter, while Beatty had survived the loss of Lion only to die from the combination of wounds, exposure, and (thought the baron) despair.

The first papers were ambivalent on Beatty. After all, even to the last he had been trying to get Lion back into the battle for the third time, even though seriously wounded. It was the 60 minutes or so in the water before he got picked up by a torpedo boat that probably was the death of him. Certainly, he seemed to die shortly after getting on board. Even as he lay dying, he was trying to order an attack, or at least that was this paper's account.

The later papers turned on Beatty, bravely dead or not.

It was more symmetry, the baron thought, because it was the admiral second in command that apparently told more of how the battle had gone. This officer, Admiral Moore, had also been wounded, but had survived. The story he told of how Beatty had let the pursuit separate Moore's two BCs from the battle had begun the opinion shift. That seemed more than a trifle unfair, thought the baron, because the absence of the two I class BCs had still left Beatty with three BCs to the three of Hipper, and with Seydlitz already seriously damaged, at that.

The press needed a goat, presumably, and Beatty was dead and not gloriously dead. Even Commodore Goodenough was somewhat tainted as well, for not trying hard enough to finish off the battered German force. As the papers got more recent, however, it appeared that the commodore escaped most of the blame. He had, after all, had 2,400 wet and freezing men in need of medical care crammed with little shelter aboard his light ships and had attacked with fair results in spite of it. Indeed, the closest thing to RN success had been the late knife-fighting between the light forces where the HSF losses were clearly more than had been suffered by the British. The Germans, however, had been backed up by numerous 5.9", 8.2", 11", and 12" guns, so lack of greater success seemed not so unacceptable. The imminent arrival of fresh forces down the Bight had added more good reason to withdraw.

Nonetheless, thought the baron, Goodenough would always be tainted by his presence at the "Greatest Naval Disaster Ever." The baron also doubted that Admiral Moore, no matter what he said, would ever fly his flag again over anything larger than a tug flotilla. It only remained to be seen, reflected the baron as he methodically refolded the newspapers, if the HSF could give the British Press reason to re-assign the pretentious title they had fashioned for the Battle of Dogger Bank.

by Jim


Hero of the Falklands Takes Command

... read Baron Letters, though he thought little heroism had been involved in slaughtering two ACs with two BCs.

The baron had called a "Council of Captains" on the brisk mid-March afternoon. While he waited for the BC CO's to arrive, he read the news, seated at the large hewn table, with its gleaming, freshly-oiled surface showing the natural grain like waves in the Bight. Admiral Moore, who'd survived Dogger Bank, was stated to have been posted to the Canary Islands. The baron noted with some relief that Commodore Goodenough, whose light ships had harried the baron's battered ships all-too-effectively for the baron's comfort, had been relegated to the group called the Harwich Force.

"Ah, gentlemen, please sit down," said the baron as the aides showed in the captains.

"It looks," started the baron, "like Sturdee has been promoted to vice-admiral and given the RN BC force."

There were mutters and nods from the others as they were brought coffee from the sidebar by the stewards, who then withdrew. Every officer and sailor of the HSF would give almost anything to be looking down a naval cannon at the one who'd butchered von Spee and his men.

"Well," continued the baron, "I can understand that. Anyone remotely resembling a successful leader gains in the aftermath of someone else's defeat. With Dogger Bank the worst RN disaster in over a century, who else could they find who'd won anything with BCs?"

There were smiles at that, but all had rings under their eyes from long nights with their commands trying to get battle ready. All, that is, except Captain Dirk of the von der Tann, who was still smarting from having been in the yard during Dogger Bank.

"Sir," Dirk asked, "what forces will Sturdee have?"

"I think the British Admiralty will recall all the other BCs from their remote posts, if they haven't already. We must assume that the QM will be flagship leading two Indefatigables and two Invincibles."

"What," asked Captain Nik, with the braid still bright from his promotion, "of all those reports of new construction ships?"

Those ships were getting a lot of press, with conflicting accounts as to their speed, but all seemed to agree that they had guns of a size not seen in a dreadnought: 15". Captain Nik's Seydlitz had suffered from 13.5" hits and the image of dueling ships with even larger guns was not a pleasant one.

"I think such ships would have be slower than a BC," answered the baron. "It is not the job of the scouting forces, even those with BCs, to fight the GF main body. If we see a division of them, we lead them back to our own LOB. Let the Konigs handle them. Those heavier guns surely were traded for thinner armor, especially if they're any faster than a normal dreadnought."

"Speaking of speed, however," said the baron, "one clear lesson from our battle, is that ships that cannot keep up with the BCs must be given other assignments."

At that point, Captain von Hoban's face grew grim. It had been his Blucher that had slowed the force that had then been Hipper's and, in doing so, had allowed Beatty to bring them to battle.

"Blucher," continued the baron, nodding to the disappointed von Hoban, "will be joining the forces of the Main Body under Vice-Admiral Scheer. That, however, is NOT the only lesson to be drawn from the battle. The RN light forces were no match for Blucher's guns backing up our own out-numbered light ships.

"Indeed, the roles of the scouting forces are several, and sheltering damaged dreadnoughts is no small one."

The role reversal that had Blucher helping to stand off the RN torpedo attacks was quite fresh in everyone's mind. It was possible that those on Blucher STILL had not had to buy their own beer even now, seven weeks later.

"Yet, there is another task for which Blucher seems the ideal design. The BCs must range well ahead of the main body, but there is a need for a closer set of eyes, and ones that would keep RN ACs and CLs far enough away to deny them intelligence on the course and disposition of the main body."

"In fact," added the baron ringing a small bronze handbell, "Vice-Admiral Scheer was enthusiastic over the concept of stronger light forces that remained at his immediate fore, but which could retire upon him in the face of superior force."

A commander on the baron's staff came in at the summons, carrying a small box with golden ties.

"Commodore von Hoban," began the baron, "stand up, bitte. I am disappointed to find you out of uniform! Here, captains, help the Acting-Commodore fix his uniform!"

Captains Theodor and Nik, great grins on their faces, got up and took out the contents of the box, which included new epaulettes. Caaptain MU Stang just shook his head with a smile.

"Bob," he said, "you have the Devil's own luck, getting shot to pieces and getting promoted for it!"

"You did not think I'd send you off to Scheer w/o something, did you?" The baron chuckled at von Hoban's expression.

"I'll be keeping my flag on Derfflinger," said the baron as they all sat back down. "I'm hoping Lutzow will join us early but, if she does, she'll take the second spot. We may be getting another two CLs and a third flotilla, but I'm not counting on that either. I expect to get us all out to sea in a month, and we'll train hard in the Bight until the admiral takes out the HSF.

"I hope that comes quickly. We need to end this war and a fleet victory might be the crucial blow to the Allied cause.

In fact, I'm meeting with the Vice-Admiral this evening and hope to convince him that it is a battle that, with planning and decent luck, we can win!"

Captain Theodor had the last word, "Beware, Sturdee, of the Ides of March!"

by Jim

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