Part 1 Der Auftrag2
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
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
When they were seated, Strasser began, "Kapitän Ehrhart is
" a little pause, "
a high authority.
He has an important mission for you, requiring the greatest secrecy in
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
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
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
----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
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
----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
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
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 Captains 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.
TO: COMMANDER, SMS FRANKFURT
ZEPPELIN L9 BADLY DAMAGED DURING RECONNAISSANCE OF SCAPA FLOW. RETURNING
TO NORDHOLZ VIA MOST DIRECT COURSE. ALARM UNIT ORDERED TO SAIL IMMEDIATELY.
INTERCEPT, ASSIST, RECOVER PERSONNEL IF NECESSARY. INTELLIGENCE MATERIAL
FROM THIS FLIGHT OF COMMAND HIGH IMPORTANCE. RECOVER AT ALL COSTS.
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
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
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
"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."
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
"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
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
the German military word for a mission with little/no chance of return.
|2. Der Auftrag
|3. DEUTSCHE SEEGEBIET
||German Sea Area