June 18, 1915 - Surprises
- Part VI
---- 8:30 AM, New York, shore end of HAPAG Terminal
"Colonel, the grocer looks to be packing up."
Anton raised his binoculars to better see what was happening about 100
yards down the pier. Yes, several men had begun reloading the trucks.
The man he'd spoken with, one of the Mittermanns, was deep in conversation
with two others just outside the warehouse door nearest the trucks.
As he watched, one of the two men caught sight of the attention they
had garnered. He turned and said something to the one beside him. Both
quickly shook hands with the grocer, and edged back into the doorway.
Anton caught a glimpse of motion, perhaps a gesture of some sort, from
within and then the door closed. Mittermann climbed into the cab of the
lead truck and the trio of trucks began to make their way back towards
The sound of the trucks turned several of his men's heads. Anton frowned
as he watched their attention swing away from their assigned vectors.
He'd have to speak to the Gunny about that. Meanwhile, his men readied
to flag down the trucks.
---- 8:30 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 285, speed 22 knots
"Smoke! Bearing 270."
The sun had risen behind them enough to end the gloomy aspect of the
western horizon. Visibility had increased to 20,000 yards or so, Captain
Westfeldt guessed. But it was only a guess.
"A single plume," Westfeldt said, glasses pressed hard against
his brow, disappointment in his voice. "Richtig?"
It could be simply a merchant.
---- 8:35 AM, bridge of Aylwin, course (changing), speed 10 knots
"Sir, lookouts report the contacts to the SW are New York
and Wyoming. Range 20,000 yards."
"Very well," replied CDR Leverett.
He looked back at the trio of German ships that, so far, had contented
themselves with following in his wake.
"XO, where do you put the 3-Mile Limit?"
"Sir, looks to me like Admiral Alton is sitting right on it."
"Sir, new contact. Looks like the Montana and maybe an escort
are approaching the battleships, sir."
No British. But he knew they were out there. Presumably, the Germans
knew it, too. He wondered what Admiral Alton was going to do.
---- 8:35 AM, bridge of New York, course 030, speed 6 knots
"What the hell am I going to do?" Admiral Alton muttered mostly
to himself. His flag lieutenant heard him, but knew well enough to remain
"Admiral, we have confirmation," came the report. "The
ships coming out of the harbor to the NNW are Aylwin leading Strassburg
and the two German liners."
"Very well." But it most definitely was not.
Part of him expected the Germans to turn right around again and return
to their pier in New York, having made their point about the British blockade.
Stennis would then have to consult with Washington as to what to do with
Strassburg at 0600 tomorrow. It would be a major embarrassment,
but Alton figured the internment would blow over. Perhaps Strassburg
would exchange a few salvos, but Alton didn't think the Germans would
"What other outcome could there be?" Alton said to himself.
Even if this Strassburg was a picked crew, it was 4-to-1, or worse.
"Signals, to CINCLANT, tell them the Germans are in sight. And so
are the British. Give their positions."
Maybe Vice-Admiral Stennis would have an idea. Sure as hell, Alton thought,
he did not.
---- 8:35 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 300, speed 18 knots
Still no "Execute" from Patey, but Captain Moore consoled himself
with the fact that at last he could see Sydney well enough to react
directly to her flag dip. He was studying her halyards carefully. All
the British ships, excepting Patia, were within visual; the signal
should be any moment.
"That's a lot of smoke, sir."
Moore grudgingly turned away from his Vice-Admiral's flagship to give
the latest contact another look. He was fairly confident that the plume
belonged to the laggard Patia, despite his XO's opinion to the
"Damme," he said, without thinking. "That IS a lot of
Was Patia on fire, or something?
---- 8:35 AM, Kolberg
Dahm found himself on the deck, not so much from the hit they'd obviously
just taken, but by the abrupt motion of the ship just afterwards. He went
to get up, but the deck remained canted. After a moment, he managed it.
He took one step, then another.
Then he realized it was not a list, but a steady rudder angle. At 20-whatever
There would be no launching a torpedo like this, was his first thought.
His next thought was to wonder why the helmsman had not put the rudder
amidships. He was supposed to be at the torpedo ... but ....
What should he do?
---- 8:40 AM, New York Naval Yard, Office of the Commanding Officer
"Sir, our plot puts them alongside Admiral Alton right about 0900."
"Thank you. Anything on the wireless?"
"Not from Admiral Alton, sir. There was something coming in from
Aylwin, though, when I left."
"I left Ensign Hall there with instructions to bring it right along
as soon as they got it down."
The sound of approaching steps drew their eyes to the doorway just as
a red-haired young officer strode through bearing a single sheet of paper.
"From Aylwin, sir."
Stennis looked at the young man as he handed over the slip to his Flagcaptain.
The ensign's short curly hair was so fine that it looked like a faint
red mist attempting to descend down onto his forehead.
"Commander Leverett simply reports underway at 10 knots with the
Germans still in tow. I'd have to look at the position again to be absolutely
sure but, Admiral, it still looks like they'll be coming up on Admiral
Alton in the next 20 to 30 minutes."
"Thank you," replied Stennis, nodding to the ensign.
What's next? Stennis wondered for the dozenth time or so. What have I
Sure, the Germans could reverse course and simply string this whole farce
out some more, but the vice-admiral had had a couple chances to size up
the German commodore. Stennis did not think the tough-talking Hun had
that in mind. Neither did Fiske, and Stennis gave that opinion great weight.
Fiske thought the Germans would fight, and that they fully expected to
Stennis could hardly accept that the Germans really and truly thought
that they could duke it out with the forces the RN would have out there
and win. Let alone then make the 4,000-odd mile transit back to wherever
they came from. Rather, he expected some sort of a running gun battle
would take place with thousands of spectators there to witness the reality
that British warships were indeed clotting the sea off their nation's
shore. Then, hurt and with many casualties, Strassburg would seek
asylum dripping bloody proof that the USN could not safeguard the right
of passage for non-Entente merchants.
That would begin a fresh set of disasters, he considered. Now, he realized
why the Germans had scooted so fast. Strassburg's deadline was
not until the next morning. They'd have most of a day for diplomatic protests
and Red Cross visits and photographs of men being taken off to hospitals
in stretchers. There'd be no delaying - Washington had been adamant that
no warship would get more than 24 hours. None! That had been picked up
by the papers, and they were full of it this morning. Then, when armed
US Marines and Coast Guard went to do their duty tomorrow morning, more
Germans would be photographed being led off on crutches, bloody bandages
and all. He was sure of it.
Then, in the days to follow, another procession of funerals and speeches
on church steps.
In the long term, this might well get the USN more ships. In the long
meanwhile, however, they'd all be horses' asses.
---- 8:40 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 300, speed 18 knots
Moore had stopped looking at Sydney, his attention on the new
"That's a lot of smoke," he said, "or my name's not Nell."
There were a few discreet grimaces about him, but no other reaction.
The last several minutes had made it unlikely that the smoke really was
Patia. There was no bearing shift, but its growth on the horizon
hinted at pace. Patia afire would not be making such speed. Bad
coal, maybe, but likely not. 'Sblood, but he'd seen smoke like this just
a week ago. He swallowed.
"Lookouts, report!" Moore called out, anxiously. They were
higher up there than he was, and with better glass.
There was no reason for concern, he told himself. If they were another
German liner - light cruiser pair, they'd get a warm reception this time!
He was sure of it, but swallowed again, nonetheless.
---- 8:40 AM, Kolberg, course (changing), speed 20-ish knots
Dahm had made it almost back to the bridge, when the rudder was finally
put amidships. He overbalanced partway up the ladder, rotated hard about
one handrail, and pounded into a bulkhead. He lost his grip and fell back
onto the deck six feet below.
Crack - crack, crack!
He gasped for air. Dimly, he realized that their guns had gone silent,
but that they had just resumed fire a few moments after the ship was back
on some course. The sounds seemed wrong, rather, the wrong guns seemed
to be shooting. They were on the wrong side and back aft.
He forced himself back up the ladder and found an all-too-familiar scene.
It was Pillau, all over again. There was death all about him. Glistening,
stinking, splattered death.
"Sir, Captain's dead. Your orders?"
The enemy was off their port after quarter, seemingly in flames. Kolberg
was opening the range, fast. Just how badly either ship was hurt was hard
His duty, however, was back that way.
"Left rudder," Dahm gasped. Speaking hurt his right side. "Take
us back." He knew the rating was not one who had been on the bridge
when Dahm had left it, but could not recall where his duty post had been.
He did not care, just then.
"Jawohl, my rudder is coming left, coming to course 350, make that
"Very well." What had happened up here? The ship swung about
and, a moment late, he reached for a stanchion. A sharp thrust of pain
stabbed into his right side, as he staggered with the deck cant. His ship's
guns went silent again, almost instantly. The turn rate exceeded their
train rate, and then they lost line of sight, with others gaining it.
---- 8:45 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 300, speed 18 knots
"A lot of smoke," Moore repeated himself. "Too much smoke.
Too much by far, or my name's not ...."
He paused, cast one more, almost longing look towards Sydney,
now perhaps 15,000 yards to the NNE.
"Helm, come right, come to course 080." His voice sounded firm
to his ears. He took a split-second of pride in that.
"Sir, my rudder is right 5 degrees, coming right to course 080."
"Very well, Helm. Signals, to Sydney: 'contact bearing 090'
and give our new course."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The big AMC began to make its way into the better than right-angle turn.
Moore stared at what he no longer hoped to be Patia. His XO caught
something about the expression on his captain's face.
"Action Stations, if you please, Number One."
---- 8:45 AM, bridge of Kolberg, course (changing), speed 20-ish
"Sir, on course 340."
"Very well," Dahm got out. He tried not to cough. Tried very
hard not to cough.
The bridge was not damaged all that much, in a structural sense, Dahm
was realizing. It had been shrapnel that had done this, and it had flayed
all within. Tearing and rending. The smell was .... He cleared his throat
carefully. Very carefully. No intact glass face was visible, and things
everywhere had been ripped apart as though a hurricane had blasted through.
Of course, one had.
Dahm had felt his cruiser as she went into the turn. She still felt nimble
and quick, her vitals apparently unaffected by whatever had happened topside.
He also was beginning to adjust, cracked ribs or not, he decided. After
all, hadn't he done this before?
Crack - crackcrack.
Kolberg's gunners resumed fire within seconds of steadying up
on the new course. The bow guns were remaining silent, Dahm realized,
somewhat tardily. He looked over the bridge lip and saw the barrel of
the starboard gun pointing up and off bearing. The shield was smashed,
crushed where the Britisher's shell had made a direct hit on the mount.
Pieces of the mechanism and the crew were scattered about. That was where
the shell must have hit, he thought. Or, one of them. Some of the port
gun crew were also down, but the gun seemed more or less intact. Survivors
were struggling with something in the gun's workings, but seemed not to
be having much success.
A bloom of a small explosion drew his attention back to their target
ahead. She appeared to be stopped, so they were closing her quickly now,
but she was still several thousand yards off. The sound reached him a
He considered the matter, trying to keep one arm tightly about his ribs.
His thoughts wanted to wander. Each wave was a new jab as adrenaline began
to flush out. The other ship looked almost engulfed in fire. He had decided
that he was pretty sure that her guns had been silent all the time he'd
been topside. He could recall only hearing their own. Belatedly, he looked
around for binoculars.
There, on the deck. One lens was shattered but one side remained. He
held it to his face and squinted. Another flash of explosion expanded
before his right eye. As he watched, their target, already listing to
port, began to roll. He had a glimpse of her flag still bravely flying
and then she was on her side. She'd been British, after all.
"Cease fire," Dahm ordered, but the guns went silent before
it could be passed.
"All slow," Dahm said next.
As that order was carried out, a steam explosion burst the wreck asunder.
The concussion shook free glass shards from somewhere behind him. Dahm
did not even bother to turn to look.
More footsteps. He looked up to see who they belonged to.
"LT Diele," Dahm said. The First Lieutenant was a welcome sight.
Diele looked about wildly. He had ample reason, Dahm knew, since the
bridge looked like Vikings had had at the entire bridge crew with axes.
"LT Diele!" Dahm said, more forcefully. Damn that hurt, he
thought, but the pain focused him.
"Sir?" Diele met his eyes, whites showing.
"Small boats," began the new Kolberg commanding officer,
staring the junior officer full in the face. "Prepare to lower small
boats. Look for survivors. Hell, Lieutenant, some of our own probably
went over in that turn."
"Jawohl," the reddish haired Diele replied, the mists clearing
before his eyes with the clear order. He took another glance about Kolberg's
gruesome bridge, nodded soberly, and headed off to follow his new captain's
Leaving me with this charnel house, thought Dahm. What ship
had she been? Dahm wondered idly, hugging himself against the pain.
We had her "auf dem falschen Fuß erwischt" (ambushed,
literally, "on the wrong foot"), and she hit us back hard almost
"Damn Britishers," Dahm muttered, with utmost respect.