The Woes of June


A Moment's Respite

Wilhelmshaven, June 9th 1915

Kapitan Zur See Joachim Von Wolferein sat, pulling gently on the black-stemmed pipe between his lips. From time to time he quaffed at the large flagon of ale upon the scarred wooden table before him, but rarely did his eyes leave the just-modestly-enough dressed barmaid as she made her way amongst the inn's customers.

Again, she caught him looking at her and sighed. It really was not fair, she thought, sweeping her long wavy blond hair from out of her eyes. It was not as if he were her father or anything, not even her brother - just a cousin. What business did he have in playing the concerned chaperone ?

Wolferein caught the annoyance in her blazing blue eyes and slowly nodded to himself. Teresa was young, and inexperienced in the ways of the city. Hearing of the great victory of the fleet at The Skaggerak she had shocked her mother (his father's youngest sister) and left the family home near Flensburg for Wilhelmshaven. Flushed with victory and with the dockyards swarming with construction workers and sailors, the inns and taverns of the great imperial port were doing a roaring trade, expanding despite the worst of Britain's efforts in the continuing Blockade. With more and more men being called up by both Army and Navy, and previously granted exemptions being anulled, there was work for everyone - especially pretty young women.

A hasty telegramme from his aunt Luise had informed him of Teresa's decision and he had interceded on her behalf with The Oak Leaves, one of his favourite taverns, and before the war more of an army officers' hang-out than a navy pub - but that had all changed with the army all now away on the fronts. Teresa had board in the attic, and employment in one of the city's least unsavoury hostelries. She ought to have been grateful, he thought ; perhaps she was, but she was far from happy with his constant supervision. So be it, he thought shrugging his shoulders.

A small group of officers shouldered their way through the doors and stumbled into the inn, already half-drunk from elsewhere. For a moment the gas lamps flickered in the breeze of the cool night air, then the heavy wooden door swung shut again and the warmth of an early Summer's evening indoors returned. Wolferein watched the men - navy officers for sure, perhaps of lieutenant grade, but of what ship he could not tell. They wore only parts of their uniform, the cap with their vessel's name on it being one of the items omitted. He wondered at their lack of respect for proper dress but refrained from rising to question them on it. They were not his men, nor those of any ship in his squadron and it was not wise to tread on the toes of a fellow commander, especially not now with the Baron's instructions that every ship and crew be ready to leave at 24 hours notice.

One of the men, evidently more the worse for wear than his fellows, collapsed onto the wooden bench not far from the Kapitan and gave a quizical glance at the calm and immobile warrior of the seas. Wolferein nodded pleasantly, briefly, then returned his attention to Teresa who was busy filling flagons for the newcomers. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that the drunken man had seen the switch of his attention, and the quizical look had been replaced with a knowing leer. Wolferein resolved to hit the man if he made any move on his cousin; if she was going to fraternise with the customers it would not be with someone as displeasing as this specimen he swore.

"Deep in thought ?"

Wolferein almost jumped - almost, but not quite. The Battle of The Skaggerak, the Kaiserschlacht as the newspapers insisted on calling it, had taught him more about self control than he ever thought he would need to know. He turned slowly to face to his right. Lieutenant Von Holst of the armoured cruiser Blucher had used the special access priveleges of an injured man to come in through the rear entrance. The bearded officer grinned, resting one arm on the heavy upright beam, the other clutching the crutch that he used to propel himself around after the severe injury to his left leg received on the deck of the now stricken vessel.
"Come, sit down" Wolferein moved along the bench, allowing his friend and former classmate at the academy to perch on the end, "I had not excpected to see you about so soon ?"

Von Holst coughed, rummaging around in the pockets of his heavy coat for his pipe. Though it was Summer he felt the cold now the more after the operation on his leg. Still weak, he had been determined not to vegetate in the hospital and insisted on being discharged.

"I find inaction strangely unsettling" he wheezed, flicking a match against the flint and lighting the pipe with a hand that still shook from the weakness the wound to his body had caused.

"I know what you mean" Wolferein assured him, "Especially with the atmosphere that now pervades the fleet."

"Prinz Heinrich was here this morning, I hear ?"

Von Holst had not been able to attend the special review put on for the Admiral of the Baltic Fleet by his colleague in the North Sea, but he had heard about it from friends and visitors. It sounded as if Baron Letters was drawing on all of his family ties to promote his own position within the navy hierarchy.

"The Baron allowed him to inspect the officers and crew of the Konig Albert and then to personally deliver the honours to some of the wounded from the Stutgart, men who had been too ill when the Kaiser came."

"I heard it was quite a show ?"

"Indeed" replied the Kapitan, not considering a more detailed answer necessary.
Von Holst frowned at his friend's lack of further explanation, then saw that the

Wolferein's eyes were once more upon the barmaid.

"I heard that your cousin was in town." he commented wrily.

"Teresa was ever a one to make trouble for herself" Wolferein replied with dry humour, "I would keep her out of it as long as is possible."

"Which will be just as long until the Baron orders you out to sea once more" Von Holst pointed out, no fool to the ways of the world.

"Perhaps..." Wolferein frowned as a young sailor cracked a joke that verged on the smutty, bringing forth a sharp laugh from the girl, "Should I knock that young seawolf to the floor ?" he asked his friend.

"Seawolf ?" Von Holst frowned in his turn, "I hear that is what they are calling our submariners now."

"Uboat men" Wolferein sighed, "You can smell them even after they have had bathed !"

"The reports from the Dardanelles tell of much success"

"There, yes perhaps, but what have they achieved in the North ? What contribution are the much-vaunted submarines making to our cause ?"

Von Holst looked around, then leant in closer to the Kapitan, "I overheard the Commodore ; he was talking to one of the flag officers about a submarine being present at The Kaiserschlacht."

"That is a fact ?" Wolferein turned to look at the other man, "I mean - it is known for sure ?"

"Commodore Von Hoban sounded definite in the telling."

"Well, that IS interesting..."

Wolferein settled back against the rear board of the bench, and blew a large smoke ring in the air. If submarines could operate in concert with the fleet . . . ? He had not thought it feasible before, but maybe there was something there. He was in no position to raise it with the Baron, but his creative mind began working over the details. For the moment Teresa was forgotten, and the complexities of the calculations even drove poor Steffi from his mind for a while, the young widow in Schleswig-Holstein he had been hoping to visit until the Baron had ordered them back into action so unexpectedly soon. Now, allowing for the speed differential between submarines and surface vessels. . . maybe it would be a matter of choosing the battleground ?

Von Holst watched his friend sink deeply into thought and smiled to himself. He knew how agitated the Kapitan had been at having his planned-for leave cancelled, and had thought this might provide a happy diversion for the Regensburg's commander. He puffed contentedly upon his pipe and looked across to Teresa. He wondered what Wolferein would say if he knew the contents of the thoughts that began to cross his mind . . .

By Jon' N. Davies

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