Seven Days in June Part 3 - A Dress Sword?  

From his earliest youth, my great-grandfather loved ships. It was not only the great warships that excited him, but also the magnificent liners that plied the oceans with such speed and grace. In his youth, he had even put a stint in as a cabin boy on one of them. Later, yachting and sculling remained among his favorite pastimes. The Baron relished talking with designers and watching ships being built, witnessing how the concepts were transformed from paper into steel. As to why he took a career in the Kaiserliche Marine, he was Junkers, the heir to a title with opportunities available to few, and he felt the weight of his duty to the state. Yet, as much as he cared for the ships of the HSF, and he did so very deeply, the Baron's attitude differed profoundly from that of Grand-Admiral Tirpitz. The Grand-Admiral was not Junkers and had advanced strictly on merit, outside the umbrella of nobility. For long decades, Tirpitz had seized relentlessly every device or stratagem to increase the Kaiserliche Marine, maneuvering with the Kaiser and constantly contesting with the authorizing bodies for funds to add to its numbers and might. The Baron loved the HSF, but Tirpitz identified with it. For Letters, the HSF was a valued asset and tool of the state; for Tirpitz, it was his beloved son.

------------------ Lady Christine Letters, ibid, Appendix E

---- 5:45 PM, Wilhelmshaven, on the dock, near the gangway to Derfflinger's quarterdeck

"Grand-Admiral," began Vice-Admiral Baron Letters.

"Admiral," Tirpitz interrupted, "congratulations on a great victory." Despite the words, his voice held no warmth. Indeed, there was a sudden chill in the June air on the pier around them. Workers, officers, and men flowed around them to and from Derfflinger. Aides for both men acted like a breakwater, keeping the waves of humanity at a distance. The fork-bearded admiral swept his glance around the harbor, filled with smoke-blackened, listing, crippled ships. Letters waited.

"A 'glorious victory,' " Tirpitz continued, obviously using the words of another. The other could have been only the Kaiser. "But one with such a great cost," Tirpitz finished, clearly holding himself in check, but a bit of bitterness seeped out nonetheless.

"The last report I had, sir, was that none of our dreadnoughts had been lost," Letters commented evenly. "We destroyed many British, 4 or 5 battlecruisers and 9 or more dreadnoughts."

"Yes, Admiral my lord Baron Letters, a 'glorious victory.' Pyrrhus, after his victory over the Romans, near the river Siris, would have recognized instantly how 'glorious' a victory it truly is." Tirpitz frowned slightly, drew a deep breath, and continued. Letters felt his hands begin to form fists, and opened them again at his side.

"My lord baron, I fear the British can replace their losses far more easily than we can repair our own. I've the benefit of reports from the Fleet this afternoon. We would be hard put to send a single dreadnought division to sea tomorrow, let alone a battle squadron, much less the High Seas Fleet. We will be months here, and by then any numbers advantage you might have gained will be gone. Wiped away.

"Scheer's orders were to engage a division or two, trap them, whittle down their numbers advantage for a decisive battle."

"Vice-Admiral Scheer was sick, the command came to me, and I saw the chance to engage with advantage. Grand-Admiral, there might never be as good an opportunity as was there then."

"Yes, pity about Scheer. You know, Letters, it sure has been bad luck to be your commanding officer."

Letters could feel the fury swell within him. He clenched his jaw shut so hard that he could feel his facial muscles threaten to spasm. His teeth hurt. One of his aides, out of earshot, winced and unconsciously stepped back a pace.

"The Kaiser thought it was luck, as well," Tirpitz added. "He told me so, here on these docks, this morning."

"The Kaiser?" Letters managed to get the words out. There was a roaring in his ears.

"Yes. He spoke at some length with Admiral Rudburg - he was quite impressed, by the way. The Kaiser left some time ago, though. He was all night on the train here, once word of your 'glorious victory' came through. No sleep, he said. He left a couple hours ago, but wants to be briefed in the morning. Perhaps the sight of such a 'glorious victory' was more than he expected."

"So, Grand-Admiral," Letters could contain himself no longer, "are we just a dress sword, then?"

Tirpitz blinked.

"Are we to stay close to port, safe in our scabbard? Taken out on ceremonial occasions to cut air, never to test our edge against the enemy?

"Why did you build us these great ships if not to use them? And they ARE great, sir, and all the world will soon know it. Sir, the British right now are grieving over losses such as they have never had since they began to send men down to the sea. Your designs came back, holes and all, bringing their crews back with them. Half of those who engaged our fleet will not be there for roll call when they reach port. Sir, we took as many British out of the water as we took casualties in our main body. Their total losses must have been eight or ten times ours."

"You speak well," Tirpitz admitted. "Others today have said as much, though perhaps not as well. But look, admiral," Tirpitz said, gesturing at the tumult around the harbor, "what threat do we pose now? The British have bought all the time they need, whatever the price. I tell you, my lord, that this war will make this very difficult." The tone was as close to conciliatory as Tirpitz would ever get.

"Grand-Admiral," said Letters with a smile. "Give me until tomorrow's briefing. I have a plan."

Tirpitz raised both eyebrows, then nodded. Both men then went their separate ways.

jim (Letterstime)

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