Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14
Part 15
Part 16
Part 17
Part 18
Part 19
Part 20
Part 21
Part 22
Part 23
Part 24
Part 25
Part 26
Part 27
Part 28
Part 29
Part 30
Part 31
Part 32
Part 33
Part 34
Part 35
Part 36
Part 37
Part 38
Part 39
Part 40
Part 41
Part 42
Part 43
Part 44
Part 45
Part 46
Part 47
Part 48
Part 49
Part 50
Part 51
Part 52
Part 53
Part 54
Part 55
Part 56
Part 57
Part 58
Part 59
Part 60
Part 61
Part 62
Part 63
Part 64
Part 65
Part 66
Part 67
Part 68
Part 69
Part 70
Part 71
Part 72
Part 73
Part 74
Part 75
Part 76
Part 77
Part 78
Part 79
Part 80
Part 81
Part 82
Part 83
Part 84
Part 85
Part 86
Part 87
Part 88
Part 89
Part 90
Part 91
Part 92
Part 93
Part 94
Part 95
Part 96
Part 97
Part 98
Part 99
Part 100
Part 101
Part 102
Part 103
Part 104
Part 105
Part 106
Part 107
Part 108
Part 109
Part 110
Part 111
Part 112
Part 113
Part 114
Part 115
Part 116
Part 117
Part 118
Part 119
Part 120
Part 121
Part 122
Part 123
Part 124
Part 125
Part 126
Part 127
Part 128
Part 129
Part 130
Part 131
Part 132
Part 133
Part 134
Part 135
Part 136
Part 137
Part 138
Part 139
Part 140
Part 141
Part 142
Part 143
Part 144
Part 145
Part 146
Part 147
Part 148
Part 149
Part 150
Part 151
PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Eine Himmelfahrt1

Part 1 – “Der Auftrag”2 17 June 1915 0715 Nordholz Zeppelin base

The huge walls of the Zeppelin sheds echoed back the sound of his boots as he walked through the early morning chill. The guard at the entrance to the administration block snapped to parade ground attention and gave a salute, which he returned absently. His mind continued to worry at the question of what this sudden summons was about, while his body operated on autopilot.

The petty officer at the reception desk recognized him immediately, and without waiting for any inquiry gave the required directions, "Herr Kapitänleutnant, if you will wait in the briefing room, I will tell them you are here."

"Them?" he wondered to himself, "Them who?" Well, he would know soon enough. He took a seat at the front of the room, and looked at the "DEUTSCHE SEEGEBIET3" map that covered the front wall of the room. Perhaps it would tell him something. He had only a moment to follow this mental track, when the door opened again and admitted three men. Two were naval officers, one a Korvettenkapitän and the other a Kapitän zur See. The Korvettenkapitän was well known to him. Peter Strasser was the commander of the Naval Airship Division, as charismatic and admired among the Navy's Zeppelin crews as Letters was in the surface fleet. The Kapitän zur See, on the other hand, was a stranger to him. The third man, as out of place here as an ape at a tea party, was an officer in the uniform of an Army Oberleutnant of cavalry, breeches, jackboots and all.

He stood and saluted, "Kapitänleutnant Reichert reporting!"

The others returned his salute. Strasser made introductions. "Reichert, this is Kapitän zur See Ehrhart." They shook hands. "And Oberleutnant von Scharf-Hohenstein." A stiff little bow from that one. "Take a seat," Strasser suggested, pulling up chairs for himself and the strange Kapitän. The Army officer elected to remain standing.

When they were seated, Strasser began, "Kapitän Ehrhart is here representing…" a little pause, "… a high authority. He has an important mission for you, requiring the greatest secrecy in its execution."

With that, Ehrhart began to speak, "Admiral Letters has asked me to represent him in arranging this matter. As I am sure you are aware, our victory at the recent Kaiserschlacht involved heavy losses to the Britishers, both in terms of ships sunk, and of ships damaged. As the Baron plans for operations in the near future, it would be most useful to him to know which of the enemy's ships are still gone to repair yards, and which have already rejoined the Grand Fleet at Scapa. Also, he would like to know what ships have been recalled from other places to make good the Grand Fleet's losses. This is your mission, Herr Kapitanleutnant. You will take a Zeppelin to Scapa Flow, observe and photograph the Grand Fleet there, and bring back that intelligence."

Ehrhart paused, perhaps halted by the thunderstruck expression on Reichert's face. Strasser took the opportunity to interject, "You will have L9, our newest and largest operational airship. She is being readied now. Oberleutnant zur See Lindner will be your second. He is overseeing her preparation."

His mind reeled for a moment, and then he blurted out the first question that came to mind. "When?"

Strasser and Ehrhart exchanged weighted glances. He could tell that in some way they did not agree on this subject, but after a moment Ehrhart answered firmly, "Today. As soon as the airship is ready."

"Today?" Dismayed, he looked to Strasser for confirmation. Strasser shrugged. "Of course you must plan your flight for the weather and light, and time your departure accordingly. You must be over Scapa during full light conditions for the photography." More exchanged glances, and some shifting in chairs. "But, yes, today."

He leaned back in the chair in shock, and his eye fell on the Army officer, who was watching with a remote detached expression. "What is his role in this?"

Ehrhart answered, "Oberleutnant von Scharf-Hohenstein has been loaned to us by the Army. He is their expert on aerial photography. He and his equipment will be going with you."

"Equipment? How much equipment?" Weight mattered on a Zeppelin, every single kilo.

Von Scharf-Hohenstein spoke up for the first time, "With two cameras, film, lenses, mount, protective cases, and so forth, about 40 kilograms."

40 kilos, well, that was not too bad. There would be no bombs on this run, so that would offset the passenger and his gear. He looked back at the Army man and wondered. It would not have been easy to get him for a Navy mission. There was bitter rivalry between the Army's airship operations and the Navy's. Who did that mean Strasser's "a high authority" was? And although the Zeppelins had the range for it, this would be the longest range mission into the enemy's territory the Zeppelin force had ever attempted, fraught with danger of every kind from both nature and the ever alert enemy. What "future operations" could be so urgent? The realization sunk in - there was no point in protesting. Short notice or not, for whatever reason, this mission was going to happen. He took a deep breath, and steadied himself. "Very well. I had best start my planning."

Both Ehrhart and Strasser looked relieved and satisfied, and Strasser said, "I will have charts and navigational tools brought. The door will be guarded until you leave. No one, except we four, is to know anything until you are airborne."

"Of course." He glanced over at von Scharf-Hohenstein. "See Oberleutnant Lindner about getting your equipment stowed. Better wear something warm. Even in June it will be cold in the Zeppelin at night."

The cavalryman clicked his heels, gave his stiff little bow and left. Ehrhart stuck his hand out to shake his again, "I'm on my way back to Wilhelmshafen. Good luck."

"You'll need it" was not said, but it hung in the air.

Part 2 - “Voyage To The Setting Sun”

----17 June 1915 1405hrs Nordholz Zeppelin base

The moment when the great airship came gliding out of its shed never failed to stir Reichert's emotions. Its sheer size and technological wizardry awed him. Its silent grace struck him as beautiful, and he felt a profound surge of patriotism at the power of his country to create this thing. And not least, he felt the pride of being entrusted with its command. Because of this, it was his custom to watch the procedure from the ground, boarding only after the Zeppelin was clear.

The ground crews, like ants beneath the aerial leviathan, guided the huge shape slowly forward, moving out and clear of the shed at a slow walking pace. For an airship more than 150 meters long, this took some time, but finally the mighty dirigible was in its starting position. He picked up his map case and slung its strap over his shoulder. It contained the charts and notes he had made in preparation for the mission, as well as his own navigational instruments and a pair of big Zeiss naval binoculars. He walked briskly over to the control gondola. As he approached, his Army passenger was converging on the same spot. They exchanged salutes as they reached the gondola together. "Is your equipment stowed already?"

"Yes, Herr Kapitänleutnant. Leutnant Lindner was most helpful."

Reichert took a moment to look von Scharf-Hohenstein over more carefully. He was tall and slender, with an angular face masked by the aloof reserve one often associated with a Prussian aristocrat. He had apparently obeyed Reichert's admonition to dress warmly by wearing his long leather greatcoat. Inside its open front, the young Prussian's tunic bore the Iron Cross First and Second Class, and the Pilot's Badge. Not a bad collection, for a young officer with the war not yet a year old. "Well, let's go aboard then. Your first flight in a Zeppelin?"

"Yes, Herr Kapitänleutnant."

"You'll enjoy it! Much better than one of those clattering aeroplanes!" Reichert assured him. The flyer did not look too convinced. As he mounted the boarding ladder, Reichert noticed a freshly painted submarine silhouette on the gondola's side. L9 had sunk one of the Englander's submarines off Terschelling just the month before, the first victory of its kind. The crew was justifiably proud.

Once inside, von Scharf-Hohenstein followed him up into the forward part of the gondola where Lindner was waiting.

"Ready for departure, Herr Kapitänleutnant," Lindner reported.

"Very well. Cast off mooring lines. Ascend to 1,000 meters and set course 330."

Lindner repeated his orders into the intercom, and after a moment the ground began slowly to fall away.

----Control Cabin, Zeppelin L9 1740hrs 17 June 1915

Once they were well underway, with the Zeppelin trimmed and running at the ordered cruising altitude, Reichert gathered Lindner and von Scharf-Hohenstein around the chart table and gave them the details of his plan. He first told Lindner the mission, which of course von Scharf-Hohenstein already knew. The dapper young officer stroked his neatly trimmed, pointed beard as he absorbed the idea.

He then gave his intended flight plan. "We will fly NNW parallel to, but out of sight of, the Danish coast to avoid British patrols. Off southwestern Norway, we will turn almost due west just before nightfall so as to approach Scapa about an hour after dawn tomorrow. With the rising sun at our backs, we will be hard to see until we are right over them. We will make our photographic run from east to west across Scapa Flow. Altitude will depend on cloud coverage. If there is none, then we will fly at our maximum ceiling. If there are clouds, we will maneuver to get under or around them. Once clear, I intend to swing to the north, away from Scapa and the Scottish mainland, before turning to run straight for home. At our Zeppelin's top speed of about 80 km/hr, this makes the outbound route about 14 hours, and the home trip probably 12 hours."

"A good plan, Herr Kapitän," Lindner said.

Von Scharf-Hohenstein nodded slowly. "I would like to take my photographs from one side or the other. I have a clamp and bracket mount for the camera that can be put in a door or window. Can you make your pass offset so that the whole anchorage is to one side?"

Reichert nodded, "Certainly. We will pass along the north side. You can set your bracket in the port machinegun hatch, behind the radio room. I suggest you test the arrangement before dark tonight."

Control Cabin, Zeppelin L9 2145hrs 17 June 1915

"Helm, come to course 290 degrees."

"290 degrees, Herr Kapitän," repeated the helmsman as he turned the wheel, setting the massive control fins in motion. With the grace of a great whale swimming through the deeps, the Zeppelin swung in a wide arc. As the ship steadied on its new westerly course, nature put on a spectacular show. Ahead, the sun began its nightly dip into the horizon, spreading layers of gorgeous color across the sky. Behind, darkness pursued them with inexorable deliberation, bringing on the short summer night. The drone of the engines gave a monotonous reassurance. In moments like this, Reichert felt closer to God than war.

"Herr Kapitän, you should get some sleep. You will need to be fresh in the morning."

Reichert looked over at Lindner, and considered for a moment. "Yes, I suppose you are right. Wake me at 0100. You will need sleep, too."

"Jawohl, Herr Kapitän."

Part 3 – “Breakfast with the Grand Fleet”

----0315hrs 18 June 1915 Control Cabin, Zeppelin L9

The weather had worsened after dark last night. As they moved west, the cloud cover had gradually increased. Now, a blanket of low-lying cloud covered the ground at about 2000 meters. In places, it was raining. They had climbed to 2,600 meters to stay clear during their transit, but they could not stay here forever.

According to Reichert's navigational calculations, they should be directly to the east and about 30 kilometers from Scapa. There was only one way to find out. "Descend to 1500 meters. We must try to get below the cloud layer." He hesitated a moment. "And clear for action. We are over enemy territory now. We must be ready."

The helmsman obediently nosed the great dirigible downwards, diving at a shallow angle into the layer of clouds. The sky had begun to lighten with the first glow of morning twilight, but inside the clouds, it was again black. After a few nerve wracking moments, they emerged from the cloud base. The altimeter now read 1700 meters. Reichert and Lindner both swept the gradually lightening horizon with their binoculars. There was land to the west, but it did not seem to be the islands of Scapa. A feeling of unease set in, and they huddled over the chart table, going back and forth between chart and binoculars, as the land steadily approached. Finally, "It's the Scottish mainland. We are too far south."

Lindner nodded agreement as Reichert gave the helmsman a new heading. "Turn to 350 degrees."

They began to roughly parallel the coast, crossing rocky, windswept promontories, surf pounded cliffs, and turbulent inlets as they moved north. Occasional rain showers lowered visibility. It was one of these that almost was their undoing. As they emerged from it, over a protruding headland, they were shocked to find a British torpedo boat anchored in the semi-sheltered bay below. It was only a couple of thousand meters away and almost right in their path, just off to starboard. It could no more miss seeing them than they could miss seeing it. Through the binoculars Reichert could see upturned faces, crewmen starting to run towards weapons. As they came into range, he shouted, "Machineguns, FIRE!" Streams of orange tracer arced down from the starboard hatchways, churning the water at first, then marching aboard the Britisher. He saw figures falling or running for cover, then they were past, hearts pounding, eyes wide.

Von Scharf-Hohenstein came in. "What was that?" he demanded.

Instead of answering, Reichert said, "Get your cameras mounted. We are perhaps 30 to 40 minutes from Scapa."

The cavalryman's mouth opened, as if he would say something, then it snapped shut. He gave a jerky nod and disappeared into the back of the gondola.

----0429hrs 18 June 1915 Control Cabin, Zeppelin L9

Reckoning that John O' Groats would be not far ahead, Reichert had the Zeppelin climb above the cloud layer again. They motored north for perhaps a half an hour, as the day steadily brightened, and then dove again through the clouds. The islands that surrounded Scapa appeared immediately a few kilometers off their starboard bow.

----0453hrs 18 June 1915 Forward Gondola, Zeppelin L9

Leaving Lindner to con the airship towards the anchorage, Reichert went back to von Scharf-Hohenstein. He already had his camera mounted on a thing like a machinegun swivel mount (which considering its heritage in the back seat of a biplane was probably quite close to the mark), screw clamped to the frame of one of the gondola's side windows. There was a pretty good wind coming through the open hatch and the Army officer had his greatcoat tightly buckled.

"Are you ready?" he shouted into the wind.


"Since I know ships, I will stay here with you to point out things that need to be photographed." The Army man nodded and gripped his camera.

They came in the exact opposite of what he had intended, crossing eastwards over the southern end of Hoy and skirting Scapa's anchorage to the south. Immediately, the vast panoply of the Grand Fleet began to be revealed, and Reichert busied himself sweeping the area with his binoculars, pointing out targets for the camera. Von Scharf-Hohenstein worked rapidly and smoothly, taking pictures and changing film with a ferociously concentrated intensity.

It was soon clear that that wretched British torpedo boat had given the alarm. Scapa Flow was some 24 kilometers wide and at the L9's best speed, that meant some 18-20 minutes of exposure. Almost immediately, there was a tremendous amount of fire directed at them by weapons of all calibers. Fortunately, very little of it was accurate. It seemed the British did not have a good fire control solution for a target moving at nearly 45 knots at a high elevation, and with the Zeppelin's speed through the area, it seemed that they were carried out of range of some ships before they could learn better. Reichert was looking through his binoculars at one Queen Elizabeth class battleship moored across the anchorage when he was utterly astonished to see it fire its main battery broadside at him. He jerked his head up from the binoculars, to see the big shells pass below and behind his Zeppelin. The gunnery officer on that ship must be a lunatic! What was he thinking?

Nonetheless, they took hits. Shells of various calibers passed through the Zeppelin, although none hit anything substantial enough to set off its fuse. Naval fuses were never envisioned for use against a target as frail as a Zeppelin, and in a curious way, L9's very frailty shielded her. Some of the Britishers were firing some kind of time fuse, but they could not seem to get the range just right, and the most that they did was pepper the ship with shrapnel and make her lurch under the blast. Still, damage mounted.

They were a good half way across the anchorage before one of the time-fused shells got lucky. It went off perhaps 25 meters below and to port of the control gondola, spraying it with fragments and shaking it like a child's toy. When he picked himself up off the deck, Reichert could feel the change in L9's motion, and abruptly there was a change in the running note of one of the engines. Von Scharf-Hohenstein was in worse shape. Blood streamed from shrapnel wounds on his forehead and arm, but he picked himself up and returned to his camera. It was wrecked. Swiftly, he extracted the film from the body, dismounted it, and replaced it with the spare. They continued to take pictures.

Suddenly, Lindner appeared at his elbow. "Herr Kapitän, she can't take much more of this. We must climb away!"

Reichert considered. They were perhaps two thirds of the way across the anchorage, but he had pointed out to von Scharf-Hohenstein every ship his binoculars could find. Time to go, if the precious intelligence were to be of any use. "Yes, climb, get above the clouds!"

Slowly L9 hauled away from the inferno. She had lost a lot of hydrogen and struggled to make it above the cloud layer.

Once Reichert was in the control room again, he ordered Lindner, "Dump all extra weight. With the loss of hydrogen, we must lighten the ship if we are to make it home. Start with the machineguns and ammunition. And get some crews patching holes in the gas cells."

Reichert gave the helmsman a course for home and began to take stock of his command. One of her 3 Maybach engines, the one in the back of the control gondola, was clearly damaged and running rough. Of her 18 gas cells 2 had significant holes, and several others had small shrapnel holes. Lindner already had the crew patching those that could be reached and a steady stream of fittings was going out the hatches. One thing that operated to their advantage was the sun. The longer they were above the clouds, the more the warming rays of the summer sun heated the gas in the cells, helping to maintain their lift.

Worst of all, there were three dead.

He composed a report, gave it to the radio operator in the little radio room behind the bridge. No point in radio silence now.

----0617hrs 18 June 1915 Forward Gondola, Zeppelin L9

Lindner joined him in the control room. His report was not encouraging. They had lightened ship and repaired what they could, but there were still gas leaks that could not be found or reached. The loss of buoyancy would make it a race between their sagging lift and the distance home.

" What about the bodies of Wagner, Sachs and Heilmann?" Lindner asked.

Reichert paused, torn between military duty and human feeling, but there really was no choice. "On a seaman's grave, there bloom no roses," he quoted the traditional sailor's dirge.

Lindner nodded sadly, but before he could say anything further von Scharf-Hohenburg came in and went to the side window. His wounds had been dressed by one of the crew, but there were still bloodstains on his uniform. He pointed off to starboard. "Herr Kapitän, what are those ships?

Reichert and Lindner joined him at the window, binoculars to eyes. The cloud cover had cleared as they moved east. Now visible in an angled line in the distance, the nearest a distinct shape, the farthest a mere dot, were four ships, steering to intercept.

Reichert's heart sagged. "Cruisers, Leutnant. They are British cruisers."

Part 4 – “The Hunters and the Hunted”

---- 09:26AM 18 June 1915 Captain’s Cabin, S.M.S Frankfurt

"My beloved Viktoria.

Today is my first chance to write to you since arriving here in Wilhelmshafen. It has been very busy. I have met Admiral Letters again and there are great things coming. I know you will be proud of your man when you learn what we will do. For now, however, things are rather boring. My ship had only just arrived here when we were assigned as part of the Alarm unit, which remains in the Outer Jade, ready for any sudden emergency. This is not quite action and not quite resting…

"Herr Kapitän!" Vogel looked up, startled, from his absorption with his letter. It was Leutnant Berghaun, the Frankfurt's signal officer. "This just came in."

He took the proffered message form.



He looked up at the signals officer, "Order the engineer to get up full steam, and pass the word to Stralsund and the torpedo boats."

"Already done, Herr Kapitän. I sent the runner from the radio shack."

Vogel hesitated. Such commands were not properly the signal officer's prerogative, but only a fool would not value the minutes such initiative won. "Good thinking, Friedrich. We'll make a line officer of you yet." The signaler grinned and disappeared as Vogel put away the letter and began to pull on his jacket.

By the time he made it to the bridge, the anchor chain was beginning to rattle and clatter its way up the hawsepipe. Smoke poured from the funnels, and a quick sweep of his binoculars showed that Stralsund and the torpedo boats were in much the same condition.

The XO reported, "We have enough steam to start down the channel, Herr Kapitän. By the time we are in open water, we will have full speed available. Where are we going?"

With a grin, Vogel answered, "Fishing, Hans. We're going fishing."

The XO looked dubious, and followed Vogel as he went back to the chart room at the back of the bridge. Vogel gave him the message, and he read it as Vogel started to work with ruler, compasses and protractor, estimating the Zeppelin's return course and plotting their own intercept.

In minutes he had the course worked out. "Watch officer! Once we are out of the channel, steer 330 degrees, make turns for 25 knots. Pass that on to the rest of the squadron."

He returned to the chart, running over the possibilities in his mind, before adding with quiet intensity, "Yes, Hans, fishing… and hunting, too."

1141hrs 18 June 1915 On board L9, altitude 1240 meters

The British cruisers had not quite managed to intercept them, despite some anxious moments. The closest one had come close enough to try his luck with a few shots from his main battery, but they were short, splashing into the water below. Still, the Britishers curved in behind L9, bent on pursuit. If the Zeppelin faltered, they would be there.

"The damaged engine has failed, Herr Kapitän," Lindner reported.

"I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did, given the noise it was making. What is our speed now?"

"A little over 50 kilometers per hour. Not much faster than the British cruisers. And worse, that is the engine that supplies electrical power to the radio. Now we cannot communicate."

Reichert nodded. "We are on our own then. Dump the radio and vent the third engine's fuel overboard. Now, while we have time, destroy the codes and classified materials."

"We already dumped the camera equipment," Lindner added. "The Oberleutnant has all the film in one of his protective boxes, and we wrapped it in an oilskin and attached it to a life jacket, just in case we go in the water."

"Good thinking."

They struggled on, still slowly losing gas, slowed, deaf and mute to their base, wondering if they would make it.

1225hrs 18 June 1915 S.M.S. Frankfurt

Once clear of the channel, they spread out into a formation that allowed fast sailing and tactical flexibility. The IIIrd Torpedo Boat Half-flotilla spread out in a rough arc ahead with B97, G101, G102 and B112. Vogel's Frankfurt followed about 2000 meters behind, with Stralsund 1000 meters behind her. The XIIth Torpedo Boat Half-flotilla followed in their wake with G37, G38, S50 and V69. There was only a gentle swell under fair skies, so they made good time. About 3 hours out, the squadron intercepted what Vogel reckoned was L9's most likely track. They turned to run along it towards the crippled airship. Without knowing how fast L9 was moving, there was no way to estimate their point of intercept, nor could there be any certainty that she was keeping perfectly to the straight track. Accordingly, once the squadron began to follow that path, Vogel ordered the two Torpedo Boat Half-flotillas to spread out ahead in a wedge some 12,000 meters wide. He followed the XII HF to starboard, with Stralsund abeam about 4000 meters to port. Lookouts scanned sea and sky for any trace of the Zeppelin, or of British forces that might also be looking for it.

1453hrs 18 June 1915 Aboard Zeppelin L9 Altitude 515 meters

"Herr Kapitan, we are down almost to 500 meters. At this rate of fall, we will go into the water within an hour." Lindner's words only told Reichert what he had already figured out for himself. They were almost 300 kilometers from the German coast, and there was no hope of making it before the Zeppelin sagged into the chilly waters of the North Sea below. He turned the situation over and over in his mind, looking for some way out, but no combination of the facts and the assets available to him produced any other result. His mind was still doing this pointless circle when the starboard lookout suddenly announced, "Ship to starboard!"

Immediately, he and Lindner went to the starboard cabin window. A few minutes search of the horizon showed not one ship, but four. More cruisers, called up for a hunt that the Britishers were pursuing beyond his worst expectations. This time though, given his reduced speed and their position, he would not be able to evade them. He consoled himself with the thought that though his mission was now a failure, at least his men would not drown. He would put the Zeppelin down in the water and the British would surely pick them up.

The helmsman called out, "Herr Kapitän, more ships ahead."

Verdammt! Where did the cursed Britishers get all these cruisers?

1455hrs 18 June 1915 Bridge of S.M.S. Frankfurt

The western most torpedo boat, B97, reported smoke to the west. Just minutes later, a lookout on B112 reported sighting the Zeppelin. It was a race now, and it was going to be a close one.

1503hrs 18 June 1915 Aboard Zeppelin L9 Altitude 270 meters

Reichert watched the two groups of ships converge on him. The group ahead was a little closer, and he watched them closely, trying to best gauge when he should put the Zeppelin down. Suddenly, he shifted his binoculars and stepped forward, as if the two paces to the front of the gondola might bring the ships meaningfully nearer. Hope began to fill him, washing away the thoughts of failure and a war spent in prison camps. A few more moments and he was sure. The ships ahead were not British cruisers. The broad wedge of ships in the lead were the "black gazelles", German torpedo boats, and behind them, the long lean silhouettes of a pair of German light cruisers.

"They are ours, Lindner! Ours! Helm, steer for the left hand cruiser! We will abandon ship as soon as we reach her."

1509hrs 18 June 1915 Bridge of S.M.S. Frankfurt

The tactical situation became dicier as the three tracks converged. The four British cruisers were coming on in line abreast, angled to the Zeppelin's track, with perhaps 10,000 meters between ships. At least two of the four Britishers were too far to the northwest to be on the scene in time to interfere. The nearest to him was going to be a nuisance, Vogel reckoned.

"Signals, to Stralsund and to both torpedo boat half-flotillas: Attack the nearest British cruiser."

The southern-most Britisher seemed to be curving around to the south, trying to cut off their line of retreat. They were still operating under the assumption that the Germans would try to run when confronted by the RN. Well, Vogel had a surprise for them. Predatory lust and tactical opportunity combined to fan the flames of his aggression. With a little luck, he saw that he might repeat Letter's victory at Dogger Bank, with his force rolling up the British cruisers before they could concentrate; but first, his assigned mission - the Zeppelin's crew and its cargo of intelligence. "Helm, steer for the Zeppelin!"

1516hrs 18 June 1915 Aboard Zeppelin L9 Altitude 160 meters

As the crew of the L9 watched, the German squadron split. One of the light cruisers and all the torpedo boats curved toward the nearest British cruiser. The remaining cruiser headed right for them. Reichert conned the Zeppelin down towards her, giving up the last of his precious altitude.

"All hands to the forward gondola! Prepare to abandon ship! All hands to the forward gondola!"

The cruiser came on fast, wake churning with the force of her propellers and prow throwing a fine curving wave, until Reichert feared she would overrun them. At the last minute, she went full astern and shuddered to a halt with her bow underneath L9's forward gondola. It was as neat a piece of ship handling as he had seen in many a year, and Reichert took a moment to be impressed. Once the cruiser was in position, mooring lines were dropped and the Zeppelin's bow pulled down. L9's stern was dragging in the water now. Reichert turned to von Scharf-Hohenstein. "You and your box first. Quick!" Crewmen tied the box to a mooring line, and down it went. The army officer went next, shimmying down the rope to the deck below, followed by the eleven other surviving members of L9's crew. Finally, only Lindner and Reichert were left. They looked at each other for a moment, and around at the lost airship. With her tail dragging in the water, she was no longer a creature of the air. Her whole movement, her whole "feel" was different. Still, no time for sentiment. Lindner gave him a last salute, and waited for his return before taking to the rope. After a last look around, Reichert followed him.

Virtually the moment his feet touched the deck, he felt the ship go astern, pulling out from under the shadow of the Zeppelin. A Leutnant he did not know saluted, "Herr Kapitänleutnant, Kapitän Vogel would like to see you on the bridge." He looked around. The cruiser's crewmen were already taking his men aft. He caught Lindner's eye. "Go with the men." Then he gathered up von Scharf-Hohenstein, "You come with me," and followed the Leutnant.

1531hrs 18 June 1915 Bridge of S.M.S. Frankfurt

Once he saw the last of the Zeppelin's crew aboard, Vogel immediately ordered Frankfurt astern, anxious to get clear of the dying giant before it fouled his masts or aerials. As soon as they were safely clear, "Both engines maximum! Helm, follow Stralsund!"

Stralsund and the nearest Britisher were already trading shots at extreme range. If his plan were to succeed, Frankfurt must close the range so that her 15cm guns could weigh in with Stralsund's 10.5's. They would smash their first opponent together, then work their way northwards up the line, using the cruiser's guns and the torpedo boat's torpedoes to kill the next two before they could concentrate, before finally turning on that one trying to come up behind. Vogel could taste the glory of the victory.

There was the sound of men coming up the ladder and the Zeppelin's captain came onto the bridge, followed by an Army officer. Vogel did something of a double take. What in the world was he doing here? His attention returned to the Zeppelin's captain when that one came forward and introduced himself.

"Kapitänleutnant Reichert, of the Zeppelin L9," he said, offering his hand. "Thanks for rescuing us. Things weren't looking too good there for a moment."

They shook hands. "My pleasure. Wilhelmshafen thought you might need some help, so they sent us out here. I would like very much to hear the tale of your voyage, but circumstances press at the moment. You're welcome to stay on the bridge and watch us take care of your former pursuers though." He outlined his plan briefly.

Reichert listened in growing horror. "But Herr Kapitän, with respect, you cannot do this!" The cruiser captain looked stubborn and angry. He plainly wanted to fight, and had no liking for being crossed on his own bridge in the middle of a battle. The crack of Stralsund's guns already came across the water. Reichert went on desperately, "You cannot take a chance with our mission. We must get that back safely." He pointed at the box, sitting on the deck at von Scharf-Hohenstein's feet. "A lucky shell, enemy reinforcements, whatever chance of battle might cause its loss - we cannot risk it." In desperation, he played his trump card. "Admiral Letters sent us for this information. We must get it back to him."

Letters' name triggered a flash of recollection in Vogel - those calm, assessing eyes watching him over the map of the American coast, the little ship models far from their accustomed place. He knew already what value Letters put on accurate intelligence, and what was at stake. He would get curt thanks from Letters, no matter how many British cruisers he sank, if that box were lost. His hand went almost unconsciously, to the message still in his pocket - INTELLIGENCE MATERIAL FROM THIS FLIGHT OF COMMAND HIGH IMPORTANCE. RECOVER AT ALL COSTS.

"Verdammt! Signals, recall Stralsund. Order the torpedo boats to make smoke and break contact. Helm, come to course 150 degrees. Artillery officer, prepare to engage the southernmost Britisher as soon as you have a good fire control solution."

They heeled hard into the turn, coming around and heading back past the floating wreck of L9. "Artillery, destroy the Zeppelin." No point in leaving anything for the enemy. There was a pause, then a minute later the aft port 15cm gun fired. With the Zeppelin stationary at close range, the gunnery officer had no problem setting a range to a time fused round. The result was dramatic beyond anyone's expectations. The Zeppelin blew up with a huge "BOOM" and a wash of light and heat that could be felt even on Frankfurt. There was a moment of stunned silence.

"Gott im Himmel," someone breathed, and then they all jumped as Frankfurt's main guns began to fire. Vogel recovered his wits and turned his binoculars on the Britisher. She seemed to be of the "Arethusa" class, with a mixed armament of 6" and 4" guns. The Britisher had been closing on Frankfurt's port bow, but she soon turned to expose her broadside. Now the two ships were running on reciprocal courses, on tracks perhaps 6,000 meters apart, and Frankfurt was clearly having the best of the resulting artillery duel. The Arethusa seemed slow to get on range, and her first salvos were off astern as well. Frankfurt, on the other hand, hit her hard. At the end of five minutes Frankfurt had hit the Britisher eight or nine times. Her aft funnel was down, the forward 6" pointed crazily at the sky and she had a small fire going amidships. Worse, her track was also carrying her towards the returning Stralsund. Another hit from Frankfurt made her start to slow noticeably, and then the first smaller shell splashes showed Stralsund's 10.5's joining in. A shell from the Britisher's surviving 6" finally hit Frankfurt aft of the third funnel, starting a small fire, then one of her 4" hit well forward, near the chain locker, but that was her swan song. The weight of the German's combined fire was smothering her quickly. By the time the torpedo boats came up, she was on fire heavily and had only a couple of guns still firing, not enough to slow down the torpedo boat's attack. In quick succession two tall columns of water went up, one from the starboard side aft, the other port amidships. The doomed Britisher went dead in the water and began to settle rapidly by the stern. Reichert and Vogel stood side by side on Frankfurt's bridge wing, watching through binoculars as the surviving Britishers abandoned ship. Within minutes, she foundered and disappeared.

1605hrs 18 June 1915 Bridge of S.M.S. Frankfurt

The torpedo boats laid more smoke to help them break contact with the surviving Britishers, and the squadron re-formed. Stralsund had taken two hits from the first British cruiser she had engaged, and reported having landed two or three hits in return. The torpedo boats were untouched. An hour later, a Zeppelin escort joined and began screening their westward flank. A little after 1800, more smoke on the horizon proved to be four more German light cruisers under Kapitän zur See Ehrhart, providing them with an escort all the way home.

Part 5 "Aftermath"

"The High Command of the German Armed Forces makes known:

A Zeppelin of the Naval Airship Division conducted a daring raid yesterday on the British fleet's main anchorage at Scapa Flow. Although their airship was damaged by intense enemy fire, the crew accomplished their assigned mission.

In a related action, scouting forces of the Hochseeflotte inflicted a sharp defeat on a British cruiser squadron, sinking one enemy cruiser and heavily damaging another without loss to themselves.

In recognition of their valor, His Majesty the Kaiser has graciously awarded to the commander of the Zeppelin, Kapitänleutnant Reichert, and the commander of the victorious scouting unit, Korvettenkapitän Vogel, the Knights Cross with Swords of the Hohenzollern House Order."

by Richard Byrd

1. Ein Himmelfahrt Ascension Day. This also has a double-meaning, since Himmelfahrtskommando is
the German military word for a mission with little/no chance of return.
2. Der Auftrag the mission/task/assignment
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