June 18, 1915 - Surprises
- Part I
---- 6:30 AM, Imperator
Hadi had jerked upright in his bed even as the echoes of the blast of
Imperator's great steam whistle were still reverberating about
New York's harbor. Casting covers then servants then passengers aside
in a frantic bow wave, the Ottoman captain and self-confessed plenipotentiary
had virtually launched himself out of his suites. Now, he stood quietly
at his favored location on the promenade deck, his hands threatening the
structural integrity of the dark, polished rail. His entourage huddled
as far away from the great man as they could discreetly manage. More than
one face among them displayed the puissance of their master's wrath. Two
others had literally been trampled by him as he'd rampaged down the passageways.
The gap between ship and pier grew steadily as he stared aft. The city
itself soon began to get smaller as the liner moved out into the outer
harbor. An entire metropolis of buffet tables was receding in their wake.
Hadi's breath rasped deep in his formidable gut as he thought of the seven
dinner invitations that he had already accepted for the next three evenings.
The miserable group a few feet distant shuddered at the sound.
---- 6:35 AM, USN Shipyard, New York
Vice-Admiral Stennis lowered the telescope as he lost line of sight to
the last German ship. He had not even reached his office when Imperator
had blown over this political house of cards with one blast of her whistle.
A deep scowl on his face overlaid a myriad of tumultuous thoughts. At
the core of them all was surprise at the Germans' actions. And there was
a thread of fear, no, more like concern. This was most definitely NOT
what Washington had predicted that the Germans would do. Expected them
to do. Was depending on them to do. Stennis abhorred surprises, but Washington
esteemed them far, far less.
Some there might suggest that Stennis had perhaps been less than explicit
as to what the Germans' options were, per the position of the host Neutral
Power. Even as they politely ventured those words, however, those same
men would surely be harboring suspicions that he had indeed been quite
clear and explicit, but had taken advantage of the situation and had not
followed orders. They might even be silently theorizing that he had taken
a leaf out of Admiral Mayo's book at Veracruz, or even from Ambassador
Henry Lane Wilson's tome on dealing with foreign leaders. Suspicions of
that sort, once spoken, or even clearly hinted, would have dire consequences
for all, including their authors. Thus, nothing of the sort would be said,
but the ether would be thick with unvoiced skepticism.
Stennis kept his frown firmly emplaced as he mentally reviewed the dialogue
from his last meeting with the German commodore and the text of the message
he had delivered. His conscience was clear, and he thought his words had
been, as well. He hoped the record would be equally clear, but he accepted
that this sort of thing came with that third star. As did, he sighed to
himself, having to depend upon others, on men far junior to himself who
were "in the trenches" - just as Washington had had to rely
on him. If anything, the scowl deepened.
The admiral handed the brass tube to an aide and turned to head on into
the building. It was up to Alton, now. Him and young Leverret.
"Any report from Aylwin?" Stennis asked the duty officer,
as they reached his outer office suite.
"Very well," he answered calmly, but the scowl remained.
---- 6:40 AM, bridge of Aylwin, 5 degrees right rudder, Ahead Slow
"Well," said Commander Leverett, his eyes on Strassburg,
"they're sure taking their sweet time answering us." At his
side, the XO nodded in silent agreement. Leverett looked briefly at the
two liners with their attending tugs, but his gaze soon returned to the
empty halyards of the German warship. He'd sent a short message to the
HQ of Vice-Admiral Stennis, simply notifying them of the Germans' actions
and his own getting underway, but he knew he'd need to send many more
messages, and soon.
"Signals, to Wyoming and Montana: Strassburg,
Imperator, and Kaiser Wilhelm II underway, time 0610. Will
"Aye, aye, sir. Copy to CINCLANT?"
"Yes, rudder amidships," ordered Leverett. He took another
couple "look-arounds" to check his passage clear, but he kept
coming back to Strassburg.
"Dammit," he muttered, "talk to me, commodore!"
"Officer Of the Deck, sound our own whistle, one long, please."
---- 6:45 AM, bridge of Strassburg, [3 degrees left rudder], Ahead
"Commodore," commented Captain Siegmund, "the American
light cruiser has raised anchor and is underway." There was a note
of grudging respect in his voice. He'd stared at the bit of white showing
at Aylwin's stern for a long minute before his comment.
"Alert, these Americans," ventured Strassburg's XO, who'd been
among the group who had received the reciprocal "tour" of Destroyer
"Yes," agreed von Hoban. Then, as the fourth whistle of the
morning was heard in the harbor, he added, "And impatient, as well."
He actually had hoped not to surprise, let alone startle, the American
CO, and had more or less counted on Aylwin's captain having his
vessel at a high state of readiness. Now, he nodded in appreciation as
the trim USN craft changed in aspect to point down harbor, presumably
to prepare to pace the German warship.
"Send the agreed signal," he ordered.
---- 6:50 AM, bridge of Aylwin
Still nothing, thought Leverret.
"Bosun, he called, "load blank rounds and make ready the saluting
"Aye, aye, sir."
That would end any fiction of not noticing Aylwin's signals, he
knew. Discharging cannons deep in New York harbor was, however, quite
akin to shouting out vulgarities in church. He grimaced at the comparison,
then had a sudden chilling image.
"Blanks, bosun. Make damn sure they're blanks!"
"Blanks. Aye, aye, sir," the senior enlisted man replied, barely
keeping the "of course, sir" tone out of his voice. "Ready,
sir, standing by."
"Very well. Bosun ...."
"Sir! Flags going up on the Strassburg."
"Very well." Finally! Leverett thought, as he raised his binoculars
---- 6:55 AM, bridge of Berwick, ~22 miles off NY, course 270,
speed 6 knots
The cruiser captain wasted little time. The signal from Vice-Admiral
Patey was terse and clear.
"Ahead Full. Navigator, bearing to Sydney?"
"Sir, plot shows her laying on 230, distance about 28 miles."
"Very well. Helm, come to course 230."
"Sir, engineering acknowledges Ahead Full. My rudder is coming left,
coming to course 230."
"Signals, confirm receipt by Otway and Patia."
Those were the two armed merchant cruisers operating with the RN cruiser
in the "distant blockade" force. Otway had been sighted
just as the pre-dawn gloom first began to lift about 30 minutes earlier
when an early shaft of light had caught the top of her yards. She was
a bit over 10,000 yards to the south. Patia was likely not much
more distant, but to the north. The practice had developed that they would
spread out and steam slowly east during the day, and then close up somewhat
and steam west during the night.
"Sir, lookouts report Otway is altering course."
"Very well." The much smaller Patia was still beyond
visibility. She might not be far, though, as the early morning mist seemed
to be heavier to the north and east.
The plan had been the same as yesterday's. That is, they would re-establish
visual contact with both AMCs, place them at the very edge of visibility
- Otway to the SSW and Patia to the NNE - and to sweep East
at 6 knots. He had, in fact, expected to hoist 090 shortly after 0700.
"Sir, steady on course 230."
"Very well." While he waited, the captain began to wonder why
Patey had called them in. The obvious reason would seem to be that the
Huns were coming out, ahead of schedule, counter to the expectations of
"Sir, Otway and Patia have acknowledged receipt and
report they have altered course and gone to Full."
Almost in reflex, he raised his glasses and swept the northern arc again.
Patia was still not visible. Marvelous gadget, that wireless, he
thought, for something like the 10,000th time.
---- 7:00 AM, bridge of Strassburg, course 110, speed 8 knots
"Yah," agreed von Hoban at Siegmund's low-voiced vulgarity.
"The young American captain grows petulant." The commodore switched
his glasses from Aylwin to Imperator to Kaiser Wilhelm
II and back to Aylwin.
Their earlier flags signal to Aylwin had merely been their course
and speed. He had known full well that that was not what the other had
wanted re their "Interrogative." Minutes were diamonds just
now, or should be, and he would be expected to draw this out. This was
choreography, and all parties must know it. He repressed his chuckle,
but a smile still showed below the lenses of his large black binoculars.
said von Hoban dryly, as he watched the smoke rings float out from Aylwin.
He could see Imperator fairly well, but the other liner was harder
to make out.
"Has Kaiser Wilhelm left her tugs yet?"
"Very well. Send the second signal."
1. Ungeduldig - impatiently.
2. Ungeduldigste - most impatient one.