July 6th Wilhelmshaven - 4:45 AM
Korvettenkapitan Borys made his way to the wharf where the GTBs lay. He yawned and stretched, memories of the uncomfortable night deep in his back. (NOTE I) His stomach rumbled - too early for anything to be open, he'll have to make do with whatever will be available on the S31. The bundle under his arm was source of both joy and discontent. On one hand the black-white-red pennant was a symbol of achievement, of being given a group of vessels as an independent command. But it was flown by those not normally given such assignments. It was proof that Erhart HAD read his papers (NOTE II) - and decided that the triangular white pennant still was too good for him. Until the evening, until his improvised half-flotilla separated, he will be nothing more than supercargo.
He gave all three boats a look-over. All had had the front single torpedo tubes removed, with half a dozen mines gracing each flank around the bridge structure. But they lay deep in the water nonetheless. A wet trip - but that was just something TB crews just lived with - he shrugged. Good to be back on a TB nonetheless.
North Sea - between leaving the Jade and Sunset
The Korvettenkapitan was bored. The trip up the North Sea was uneventful. Practically all the last year was uneventful. The missions apart, that is. Since the outbreak of war and the shelving of his dishonorable discharge (God praise Prince Heinrich) nothing exciting had happened. Sorties were too rare to provide him with the adrenaline rush he needed. After the initial elation from being saved from disgrace and ruin had passed, behaving well was boring. And so far this sortie had given him no kicks, although rummaging through the map collection when planning the details was nice. He loved maps. They always had a story to tell. And sometimes they brought back memories.
... quite a force. Larger than in the previous sortie. What was it this time? 4 cruisers and some TBs in the van, then 2 battlecruisers, then on one flank Conda and half dozen TBs (Korvettenkapitan Borys' included), and on the other flank the motely collection of cruisers which were new when he was a kadet. Were the losses THAT bad?
... 36 mines. His force was to lay 36 mines. What good were 36 mines? What was supposed to be the purpose of his mission? What the #@% were 36 mines good for? (NOTE III) A proper barrage should have at least five times as many! Or at least that's what they said at the mining course. Ha, in the Baltic minefields were counted in the hundreds, not dozens ...
While Korvettenkapitan Borys was fighting his inner daemons, he was being studied by Oberluetnant Hans Schinkenbrot, the S31's kommander. Borys' promotion to Korvettenkapitan and to command of the cruiser and thus the whole force a mere one month ago had come as a minor surprise. Korvettenkapitan Borys made his reappearance in the Baltic Fleet at the start of the war after several years in the Far East, and there were few officers who remembered him from his previous service on Baltic TBs. Even though the three GTBs had been assigned to the SMS Lubeck upon completion of trials and thus already had several months of service together, Borys was not a well known quality to neither Hans, nor the rest of the 17th halflotilla. The first mate of the flotilla leader was not an outgoing personality. He kept to himself, either staying in his cabin or disappearing somewhere ashore - almost as if avoiding his brother officers. He insisted in taking his meals in the seamen's mess, for instance. After promotion he ordered other officers to do so. This made everybody unhappy - the officers were furious, the crew uneasy, with so much braid around, and the cooks nervous. It did improve the quality of cooking, however.
Schinkenbrot privately also suspected Borys of having been one of the oldest KapitanLeutnants in the fleet, which - in a rapidly expanding force, could point to something being wrong with him. But what exactly could it be he did not know, as the fat officer seemed fairly competent as the Lubeck's second in command. Together with the cruiser Korvettenkapitan Borys had inherited the nascent half-flotilla and - by rank, custom and situation - should be flying the small white pennant. During the passage from the Baltic (immediately after taking over the Lubeck) Hans had explained the tri-colored flag to himself by some papers not making their way through yet, thus a temporary measure. But now, for the third time? Strange ...
Nevertheless, his rants and foul language (in an accent often found among lower class natives of West Prussia) were well known, as well as deck stomping and bulkhead kicking for emphasis, while the story of his flying kick of the navigation table overboard a favorite in bars, with men from other units listening eagerly and with disbelief.
After learning that Foul Lard was to be on his boat throughout the mission, Schinkenbrot almost groaned out loud. Still, even though crowding the bridge with his presence (but he seemed to make an effort to make himself as unobtrusive as possible), so far he had behaved like an exemplary superior.
July 6th - South of Doggers Bank - 10 PM, course 150, 15 knots
The sun had dived below the horizon over an hour before. That had been a signal to Force Conda to do a u-turn and steam SE. Dusk was catching up with them fast. Flags went up on the SMS Bremen.
Korvettenkapitan Borys grunted - "Acknowledge. And hoist my flag too". Such as it is, he added sourly to himself.
He turned to the S31 kommander - Oberleutnant zur See Schinkenbrot nodded. As agreed the three GTBs turned at right angles to the rest of the force and made way - line abeam - at 18 knots to the SW. Borys watched without expression as Conda's command quickly left his sight.
July 7th - off Holderness - 3AM
The east was red. Or - to be more precise, reddish. Soon it would be possible to make out what's land and what's sea in the darkness to the west.
On the map it looked so very much like home. Like the Putziker Wiek - sea, sand pit, sea. And the towns on the ruler straight coast (NOTE IV) were the same sort of vacation centers like Zoppot. Even with this place having tides Korvettenkapitan Borys felt homesick again and - as always when such mood befell him - wondered what his uncle "Zak" was doing - if not pushing up daisies, that is.
The Sun was to his disadvantage, the dawn making their silhouettes clear to any early or late drunk on the Yorkshire beach. The current had pushed them southwards of the planned landfall point and they had the spectacle which was so common to the south Baltic - water, sandpit, water .... (NOTE V)
Even with the dark sky the white lighthouse of Withernsea loomed above the coast, guiding them quickly to their destination.
After reaching position off Withernsea he ordered his half-flotilla to keep speed to a minimum - this was good both for laying mines and for smaller plumes. It was a Good Thing that this was the first class of KM ships to burn oil only - even if by accident, not by design. Or so did the blokes from Schichau Elbing said. (NOTE VI) Was the oil burning yet another factor behind Letters apparently choosing him and his GTBs for this mission, alongside their experience from the Baltic with such things?
The horizon was clear. No plumes of any sort. The tide was running in, but that was soon to end - or so the S31's kommander had said (after 20 years in the Navy tides continued to be one of God's Mysteries for Borys). The mines were to be laid in three rows perpendicular to the coast - hopefully in the path of the coastal traffic from London to Newcastle. The first to embark on the mine laying run was the S31. But what would such a small minefield achieve? Maybe he should make the Britischers interested in this piece of their coast? Did not his orders - "After laying mines head NE and wait for FURTHER orders" - instead of heading "home", imply he was a diversion? Hmmm ...
Why 36 mines? Borys asked himself again. He did not trouble himself to look at the papers. Ehrhart's orders were no help. He drummed his fingers on the bridge rail. What had the Admiral said, there in the cabin aboard the flagship? Suddenly, he heard the words in his ear again. Letters had said: "You are to use your judgement." Then he had added that he was sending fast ships so that they could abort and get away if they were detected, as poor Thiele's had been. Borys' mission WAS a diversion!
The nearby shore was tempting .. diversion ... memories ... no, he shouldn't ... he finally made up his mind. Fate was not to be denied, certainly not when it spoke so clearly. So, Letters wanted a diversion, did he?! Well! Borys would give him exactly that!
Yes, Letters would get his diversion, or Borys would get his court martial. Hell, both might happen!
This was more than somewhat "irregular", so it was time to call upon the Navy's tradition of Kadavergehorsam. (NOTE VII) He cleared his throat and said: "Kommander - signal to the other boats to continue laying as planned, and then to keep station offshore. After laying the last bring S31 inshore - steer at those two towers. Summon Deck-offizier Torpeder Tysenhaus to the bridge. I will need a boat and some volunteers. Is any crew member a hornist or pauker [drummer]?"
The brisk walk up Pier Street first made Borys puff. Than it made him huff. And finally wheeze. The younger and more lithe Matrossen did not exhibit such symptoms. Instead, the sailors - volunteers or not - were nervous and jittery. To steady them and reassure himself he rasped - "Not far now, boys".
"Are you sure, sir?" The enlisted men were clearly growing increasingly nervous the further they got from the water's edge.
"Absolutely." Borys answered, as heartily as he could between puffs.
"How do officers know these things?" asked one of his men to another. Borys elected not to respond to that. He just smiled - an ugly smile ....
Torpeder Tysenhaus and his group of four fleet-footed seaman had a longer way to go. And more to carry. Both groups were to turn right into Queens Road at the RR station, but his group was to pass the Police Station on the first corner on the left, and turn into the second street to the left - Hull Road - and to continue up to the lighthouse. After blowing it up, they were to make their way straight to the beach, by way of Seaside Road and the Promenade, without backtracking. Tysenhaus was asking himself Universal Question Number One - Why? Why me? Why did that loon take him off the Lubeck for this "simple mine laying sortie", to "show'em how it's done in the Baltic."
Constable George Hawthorne thought he had gone insane. First, the station door was kicked in, which was an unheard of event. That was followed by a bunch of rifle toting German sailors barging in. And finally a fat, red faced, huffing and puffing leader waded in. On seeing him the officer's face inexplicably lighted up. He stomped up to him, punched him in the face and rasped in atrocious English (that's true what they say - the wogs start at Dover - passed George's mind) - "who now hit WHEEZE, you bottom feeding scum sucking algae eater, WHEEZE happy not with stick I hit!" Then the Huns had rummaged through the station as if they owned the place. With his minions busy in the building, the fat bastard leered at him, asked him questions about the state of track to "Hooll", the condition of the roads, were there any army troops in the area, had it rained lately, what was the food supply like.
The interrogation was liberally spiced with pokes in the ribs with his own baton, chuckles about (as far as he could guess through his accent) "payback time", and threats of "maybe I shoot you, you lying schweinbrust, or not". Then there was a loud boom and crashing noise from the west (Oh my God, they didn't ...) . There was some shouting back and fro between the Huns, the fat one yelling the most and loudest *, and he saw that the thinner ones were splashing some nasty smelling liquids on the walls, curtains ... "Hey, now what do you think ... ," he instinctively began. Then came a blow at the side of the knee which left him immobile on the floor. Almost blinded by pain he felt and heard a "cling" on his body - "ze keez I leave". Through the pain he could smell the fumes and hear the drunks howling with fright, promising never to have a drop again, and begging to be saved from the flames. "Maybe you mercy on them have, for I have not." The fat German raised his head and ordered his men - "RAUS! ALLE!"
* The relevant conversation:
- What about the drunks?
- It's their own fault. Had they not drunk, they'd be elsewhere, safe. Burn the station as ordered. SCHNELL!"
At the lighthouse Torpeder Tysenhaus had his own set of worries. To his surprise, his unit had reached the building unchallenged and unmolested. They forced their way into the lowest level making as least noise as possible.
- Pass me the explosives - Tysenhaus ordered, and the Matrossen with relief passed him their loads. He started examining the room looking for the best place to place the TNT. He was on his own, as none of his manuals had covered lighthouses' demolition. Suddenly, he noticed that only one sailor remained with him. He shoved the TNT into his hands - "hold it!" and rushed out, close to panic. The rest of his escort was wandering around in growing arcs from the door, examining the residential&lodger neighborhood with a tourist's "where do you want to go today" look on their faces. The Torpeder now was even closer to panic. But a sign on the other side of the street caught his eye and he gave the strangest order in his life:
- "Break into the Post Office and see if there is anything interesting inside!"
If sunrise door slamming and yelling at the station was not particularly unusual in the tourist season, then loud explosions around the town were. The more inquisitive amongst the souls roused by the noise which decided to crawl out from bed and walk up to the window and investigate uttered gasps - although the reasons for this among east and west window lookers were different. The observant west windowers looked where the lighthouse used to be - and the more they looked, the more it was not there. Only a pillar of dust. The more perceptive east windowers squinted against the low sun and saw three warships. The most perceptive noticed that crosses on the flags were black, not red.
But the sleepy eyed neighbors of the Police station did not have to be particularly observant to see that something unusual was going on. First, there were unusually loud screams
("Bobbies must've picked up a well and right rowdy bunch.") coming out of the Police Station.
Second, there were half a dozen men in unfamilar uniforms in the middle of the street, with rifles and bulging knapsacks. ("No luv, they do not look like Terriers. John's boy's cousin's friend does not 'ave an uniform like that. Maybe they's the Naval Reserve.") Third, this group unfurled a flag which - whatever it was - was not the Union Jack nor White Ensign ("Never seen one like before. As we is so far north, with all them white and black stripes, they could be Newcastle United fans."). Fourth, after some barks, the group arranged themselves with the fat one in front, and thinner ones in single rank behind them, the flag in the middle ("'Ow cute, a parade!"). Five, one of the thin ones starting playing the bugle ("My, 'ow ungodly at this time of the day!") and the whole grouped marched ("They don't seems to be very good at marching in step, don't they, luv?") down Queens Street towards the rail station. Seeing faces in windows, the fat one bellowed "Gott Strafe Eng-e-land!" and started firing his pistol at the houses ("Eeeeeeeeee!").
A minute or two later the bravest souls peeking over windowsills and between the petunias saw the whole bunch - flag and bugle and all - turn left, towards the Two Towers ... .
The bell of Saint Nicholas Church started tolling.
Oberleutnant Schinkenbrot was greying quickly. And sweating even faster. After receiving the set of incredible orders from Korvettenkapitan Borys - he was relieved that he had asked for it in writing (and surprisingly Borys did not seem to be offended nor have a fit, but just smiled broadly) - he was reduced to a bystander. He watched the invasion's force rowboat make landfall next to the pier, the two landing parties jointly making their way up the steps onto the Promenade, and then up the street leading from those silly towers to the rail station. The boat and its crew remained at the beach. All the while he was casting nervous glances up and down the coast, half expecting a British flotilla from either direction. He could only wait ...
After some time he started to cast anxious glances at the beach. Then angry glances. Then hateful glances. First one of the rowers darted to the seawall, took a peek above it, and made his way back. Then another. And then there was much commotion and arm waving in the boat.
His mind snapped back to an exchange with the Korvettenkapitan:
- "Will not the rowers be tempted to do something untoward? Loot a seafront pub, for instance? Maybe place an Unterofizier with them?"
- "No, need. You have yet much to learn, my young collegue. Never underestimate the dark side of human nature. Fear and anger and hate are powerful forces. At first the rowers will be scared - they are alone on a beach in a hostile land. If nothing will happen for some time, their fear will abate. The boldest will peek over the seawall. Then they will start building courage among themselves, cajoling and jeering one another. Trying to use their worst to bring out their best. But they will fail. They will not find courage. They will find anger - anger at having been afraid. And then - Borys brought his face close to Hans' and his voice lower, almost to a whisper - they will find hate. They will hate and seek to destroy whatever they think had made them afraid. They will seek to destroy it - be it sentient creature, beast or inanimate object. Only then will they do something ... untoward."
- "What action do you recommend then, Sir?"
- "You have the force. Use the 88s."
He sincerely loathed the rowers for making him do this. He called out - "Bow gun crew, attention. Shift target. Seawall, 100 meters north of our boat. Standby. On my mark ... "
- "Zum befehl, herr kommandant!"
Schinkenbrot raised his hand ...
Finally! The explosion which marked the end of the most prominent local landmark. The rowers who were just about to charge across the Promenade at the nearest pub scurried back to the boat like cockroaches when the light goes up.
At least THIS problem was over ...
His ordeal should end soon. He stood like a statue taking in all onshore developments, only his eyes darting about. He saw windows flashing in the morning sun as they were opened and closed. Then the sound of the bugle - faint at this distance. He winced - he DID do it. Then pistol shots. The tension was almost beyond him, he felt almost physical pain. Finally, he saw the Korvettenkapitan Borys' group march (!) around the corner and head for the pier. The sight of the flag in the breeze made him straighten his back and swallow. With his arm still up, he saluted and brought his arm down.
They were to fire at the Railroad Station until it was destroyed. A silly thought passed his mind - should he do the town a favor and give a coupe de grace to its queer 15 meter pier too? And those awful towers? NOTE VIII
- "STOP! Switch target! The Railroad Station! Fire!"
CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!
He saw some more movement in the streets - and this time it was not all beach bound. He spied the group led by Tysenhaus (who woed his escorts out of the Post Office by telling them he did not know which way the lighthouse will collapse) scrambling towards the Promenade - the Torpeder had preferred speed over a marching formation but, having a longer way, he arrived at the boat at more or less the same moment as the Korvettenkapitan. The pillar of dust where the lighthouse used to be had dispersed, but two pillars of smoke were now growing over the town - with one almost at the same place where the lighthouse used to be. A siren joined the bells' toll.
Why were the sailors in the boat so shifty eyed and shaken? Their nervous glances at the ship he could understand, it was their only way back to the Fatherland. Did the nerves get so much to them and they were so anxious to get back?.
- "It is all right, boys. Calm down. We are going back now."
Borys smiled in what he assumed to be a reassuring manner at the rowing crew and pretended not to notice that their sacks were not empty.
The portrait of King George, Kitchener's poster, station ledger and all the other declared souvenirs made a colorful pile at the front of the boat. The S31 was close to shore, almost making scrapping noises against the bottom. With the tide running out it was a short trip from shore to ship.
The Korvettenkapitan bellowed from the boat coming alongside - "This is fun! Put on all flags! Blow horn! Signal other ships - form on me, 8 knots, course 350, full flag regalia!"
- "Oberluetnant, let us make this day something for this thieving little shithole of a town to remember. To make them dread the coming of the day! To make them fear the Hun in the Sun!"
- wordlessly, Shinkenbrot pointed to the Two Towers. Korvettenkapitan Borys approvingly banged a policeman's baton on the railing - "Excellent idea! Blast that festering beetroot puke colored @#%$! Signal the other ships! Whole force to fire at the Pier and the Two Towers."
10 minutes later - course 35, speed 12 knots, accelerating
Fanning himself with his cap, Korvettenkapitan Borys felt his shirt and jacket dry slowly in the breeze. He'd prefer to rip off his jacket and shirt and cool himself down with a bucket of seawater or two, but he had to behave like an officer, to set an example to the lower orders.
He was happy. He was NOT bored.
And he had his revenge for that night in June 1906 which, drunk and beaten for assault on that change stealing ticket seller (NOTE IX), he had spent at the corner of Queens' Street and Railroad Crescent. (NOTE X) Idly, Borys wondered with a grin if just maybe the ticket cheater had been at the RR Station this dawn.
He smiled approvingly at the also perspiration covered Schinkenbrot ("was his ‘flag officer’ ill?") - "Your men performed admirably, kommander. Prepare a list of those who who went with me and Tysenhaus. I will reward them personally. Also - do you think a snack and coffee could be arranged? Some ham sandwiches, perhaps? And by the way - why did you fire at the seawall before I and Tysenhaus had reached the pier?"
"Ranging shot, sir."
"Ranging shot? - a knowing smile - "... good ... good .... ."
And they sailed into the sunrise ...
"Have you ever seen Swan Lake"?
Unnumbered NOTE: Borys graduated from the Academy in 1895. And was promoted to Korvetten Kapitan in 1915. There are officers graduating in 1900 who have been Korvetten Kapitans since 1912. As - like most people - most of the time Borys is oblivious of his faults, this makes him bitter.
See Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug: Homeward Bound. Part XX
In August 1914 Korvettenkapitan Borys underwent court martial proceedings for "conduct not befitting a Navy Officer". The outbreak of war saved him from discharge, with Prince Heinrich conditionally suspending execution of the sentence.
Actually, 36 mines could be worth a lot. Read about the Dardaneles Campaign
The waves are from the north-north-east, eroding the coast and smoothening out "wrinkles". Every wave shifts part of the beach material southwards.
Holderness, with the sand pit at the mouth of the Humber and the lake at Hornsea, looks uncannily like parts of the Baltic coast, particularly the Hela Peninsula.
The GTB1913 originally were to be partly coal fired, but the hull was too cramped for passageways for bringing coal to the boilers, so it ended up being the first KM vessel with oil only power
"Dead man's obedience" - German equivalent of "blind obedience"
Picture of the Pier Towers:
More pics of the town:
History of the pier:
Withernsea has a wide promenade which reaches north and south from Pier Towers, the historic entrance to a rather unlucky 364 metre (nearly 1200 feet) long pier, built in 1877 at a cost of GBP 12,000. The pier was gradually reduced in length through consecutive impacts by local seacraft, starting with the Saffron in 1880 before being collided into by an unnamed ship in 1888, again by a Grimsby fishing boat and again by the Henry Parr in 1903, leaving the once grand pier with a mere 15 metres (about 50 feet) of unattractive wood and steel.
When sober, Borys was aware that British currency divided by 1=20=240. Drunk, he felt cheated out of 88 Pence after handing over 3 shillings, and getting 4 pence change for a ticket costing 2 shillings and 8 pence.
Link to pic of mine of type laid by Halbflotile 17. Officer on right believed to be Borys (Kapitanleutnant at that time), at mining course at Marvik in 1908.
Another pic. of Korvetten kapitan Borys, just before WWI