June 18, 1915 - Surprises
- Part IX
Map of New York and Surrounding Waters
One can compare the above map with:
---- 9:11 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 285, speed 22 knots
Val's Tract scored the opening hit with the fourth round from
her stern gun.
"Damn!" Captain Dirk cursed, wiping at his eyes. "Who
in hell is shooting at us?!"
The hit had been on the roof of the bow turret and the 6" HE round
had done no visible damage. He had a moment then, amidst the choking smoke,
to reflect on the ironies of war. His ship had been shot at all day at
Die Kaiserschlacht and never really hit, and today they'd been
hit almost immediately, and by a shell not even aimed at them!
The next shot splashed off the starboard side and they saw no others
as the gunners corrected their aim as best they could with their older
Mark II. All the gunners knew was that their shells must have been long,
lost in the smoke.
Dirk was relieved when he noted that bow turret pivot a few degrees back
and forth. There was a visible black mark on the armored top where the
round had hit.
"Captain," reported CDR Bavaria, "no damage to the turret.
"Almost certainly a 6-incher," commented Bavaria. "And
only one gun." The rounds from Val's Tract's bow gun were landing
out of sight to the north. "An armed merchant cruiser - I'd wager
a cold lager on it." The XO licked his lips, wishing he had one at
hand. Though, he admitted silently to himself, he'd take a great quaff
before placing that bet.
---- 9:11 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 285, speed 22 knots
Westfeldt's eyes narrowed as he tried vainly to make sense of what was
happening inshore of the AMC. The smoke trail astern of her was only now
beginning to dissipate. It would be another few minutes, or more. What
awaited them to the west? There had been three warships reported there
last evening, presumably two light cruisers and Niobe, and a handful
of AMCs. However, his force was a few minutes over two hours late this
morning. Had Strassburg been forced to run for it? If so, The British
admiral would have certainly given chase with his fastest ships, leaving
behind only an AMC or two, and perhaps the old, slow Niobe.
Westfeldt had heard the Baron declare that he wanted to knock at the
door (an die Tür klopfen) of America. He figured that made him the
Baron's fingertip (Fingerspitze) for these last 20 minutes. The Baron,
however, was 6,000 km astern. Hanzik, who'd probably dreamed up this oddball
approach, was 5,999.5 km closer but was of no more help right now than
the Baron. Nor was von Hoban at his elbow, as he had been during the last
hours of Die Kaiserschlacht.
No, it was up to him to time it, to balance the risks of damage against
the possible escape of any still-unseen fast enemy warships.
He just did not know, and this damn AMC picket was beginning to get the
--- 9:12 AM, bridge of Augsberg, course 285, speed 22 knots
Speck estimated that the range was crossing 8,000. He really wanted to
open fire, and his knotted jaw muscles paid tribute to his inner strain.
"Scheiss!" Speck ignored the OOD's inadvertent comment as a
sudden spout of water just off their starboard side threw spray across
the bridge. In other engagements, they'd always been returning fire. He'd
never realized how much the simple act of firing back reduced the stress.
The next splash was 300 yards to port and further aft. They'd been straddled,
in a manner of speaking. Attaining any accuracy with just a bow and stern
gun, both under local control, would always be tough. Add to that the
high, rapidly dropping range, the small target size, and the fact that
both shooter and target were at high speed with constant bearing changes,
and he knew that his command's risks would remain low for a few more minutes.
That was an intellectual conclusion only, of course, and did not soothe
Speck shook his head at the clear request from his XO.
"Nein. Not until ..."
"Crack. Crack-crack-crackcrackcrack ...." Rostock had
---- 9:12 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 285, speed 22 knots
There had been a quick intake of breaths on the bridge, as Val's Tract's
bow gun had sent three "longs" into the sea close aboard. Then,
again, when the bright flash to port was instantly followed by the sound
of the hit on von der Tann. They were in range of some enemy, but
who or how many remained a mystery. No mystery to Westfeldt, they knew,
but certainly one to them. At least the other battlecruiser looked undamaged
as she continued to power ahead beside them in the choking smoke.
Captain Stang did not actually look at Admiral Hanzik, though others
on the bridge did. Instead, Stang, like his stoic helmsman, continued
to try to peer through the smoke ahead.
"Sir, Rostock ... and Augsberg have opened fire."
"Very well." The muzzle flashes were bright spots in the smoke.
Whatever they were shooting at must have drawn within 10,000 yards. But
why hadn't Westfeldt ...?
---- 9:13 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 020, speed 17 knots
They weren't doing much better than 3 or 4 rounds per minute, Moore realized,
to his disgust. Nor had they hit .... What!? What was THAT?
"Sir! A hit! In the smoke - the liner!"
The flash had disappeared instantly. Moore studied the spot, as best
he could on the pitching deck. There was no sign of a fire. A hit and
detonation but no fire? It made no sense.
Val's Tract, at 9,800 tons and with a high freeboard and an even
higher superstructure, was a much better target than the small, low-slung
cruisers, each firing about half-a-dozen guns to his two.
"Right 10 degrees rudder!"
"Whang!" Damn! That one had been in the superstructure below
the bridge, close enough for him to feel the shock right through the soles
of his shoes.
"Sir, my rudder's ...."
The hits stopped, but so did his guns.
"Rudder amidships." They were now on something like 040.
He waited for the damage reports. Even as he watched, the splashes marched
rapidly back towards him. His own guns were slower to respond. He cast
a quick glance back towards Patey.
---- 9:14 AM, bridge of Sydney, course 120, speed 20 knots (increasing)
"Sir, hits on Val's Tract!" Captain Dedmundee's lookouts
Vice-Admiral Patey had had his glasses on the growing plume of smoke,
now about 20,000 yards dead ahead. Moore's AMC was clearly shooting at
whatever was at the base of that smoke, and being fired back at, in return.
He could not see the enemy's muzzle flashes, as their hulls were still
below his horizon.
At the report, he looked at Val's Tract, on some northerly course
off his port bow. Yes, he thought, there were several small fires already
visible on her. Another burst of flame bloomed high in her superstructure
even as he watched. Light caliber, he recognized, 8.8 cm or 10.5 cm. Smoke
had begun to roil in her path, evidence of other hits on her exposed side,
hidden from the admiral's view. With shells that small, most or nearly
all of the hits would be superficial, fires or not. The Huns had two light
cruisers this time, but he had Melbourne and even Berwick
- it was going to be Emden, all over again, but even better.1
Otway's bulk and plume came between them, and he turned to check
the disposition of the rest of his force.
Melbourne had turned crisply and was in her proper station. They
had just passed Berwick, to starboard, who had been on a nearly
reciprocal course at the end of her run in to "Form Line on Sydney."
Patey's response to the "enemy in sight report" had forced the
other cruiser to put her helm over hard, thread between Melbourne
and Niobe, and make a 180 degree turn. Berwick looked to
be forming up smartly, and would be tucked in astern of the Australians
in another minute or two.
Dedmundee kept his eyes on Otway. She had had to reverse course
and, quite sensibly, her captain had used right rudder so as not to cross
the bows of his Vice-Admiral. The Germans, whoever they were, were still
some miles distant. The 12,000 ton Otway was but a few thousand
yards just off his port bow and still in the midst of her turn. He had
complete confidence in his brother cruiser COs astern, but he remained
a bit uneasy as to just what the captain of the ungainly AMC would essay
with shells flying, given Patey's "Form on Sydney - Immediate"
and three light cruisers sprinting by close aboard.
---- 9:14 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 285, speed 22 knots
The range to their adversary had dropped to about 6,000 yards.
"Hit! Another!" A pair of orange bursts showed near the waterline
It had never really been possible to tell the cruisers' hits apart. A
dozen or more guns were hammering at her, at the equivalent of about one
per second. Every third or fifth shot was landing, somewhere. She seemed
already well involved in flame on her near side, her stern gun had gone
silent, but her bow gun continued to reply.
"Sir, lookouts report that the second contact is a merchant, probably
an armed merchant cruiser."
"Very well," Westfeldt replied. "I want to know the instant
a gun is sighted, or flag."
This still-distant newcomer was almost certainly an AMC. No honest merchant
would turn towards a naval gun battle.
What, Westfeldt agonized, did this disposition of British forces mean?
The group they'd planned to surprise at dawn had disappeared. The deployment
here, close to shore, of low value picket units was suspicious. Were the
British expecting them? Was this a trap? Could it be? Were there dreadnoughts
ahead, waiting? Ready to pounce? They were all low on fuel, even the battlecruisers.
Their options were ebbing as fast as their bunker levels.
---- 9:14 AM, bridge of Augsberg, course 285, speed 22 knots
"Hit! Hit again!"
"Damn! Damage report!" Speck ordered. It had been somewhere
starboard amidships. At least, he sensed no change in the vibration from
the propulsion machinery.
"Target is turning away!"
Speck nodded as the stubborn AMC turned hard to port. It was her only
chance; her own smoke would hinder the Germans' aim.
---- 9:14 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course (changing), speed 14
We've marked the bloody bastards, Moore exulted for an instant.
"Sir, my rudder is left full."
"Status of the after gun!" Moore commanded, hanging on a stanchion
as Val's Tract strained into the hard left turn.
"Sir, Engineer reports that the fire ... WHANNG ... engineroom is
out of control."
That one had been just behind them, barely one bulkhead aft.
"Damn the bloody engineroom! The stern gun, I said!" Moore
was all too aware that his ship was coming apart. Lord Almighty, but her
role was to stop unarmed merchants, not to take on two cruisers! He saw
the bow gun crew slewing their piece about, readying it to bear to port.
The men there would get a brief lull as the ship's own superstructure
shielded them from shellfire. For about one more minute. We did mark them
"Sir! Lookouts sighted another ship in the smokescreen!"
Damn, where the hell was Patey?!
"What? The liner?" Of course the liner was still there, in
the middle of that damn smoke screen.
There was no point looking that direction now. It was essentially opaque
astern from their own fires.
"Damn those Huns to hell!" Moore snarled out loud.
"No, sir, I don't think so, sir."
"What?! Don't THINK so'?!"
---- 9:14 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 285, speed 22 knots
"Admiral?" Captain Stang asked. "Permission to ..."
"No! Hold your fire!" Hanzik ordered, his glasses intent on
the burning AMC, already turning away. Her fires showed through her pall
A minute ago, the Britisher had begun to edge into view, north of the
smokescreen coming from the pair of CLs on their bows. Stang had tried
to better hide, edging Moltke slightly deeper into the smokescreen, but
not with complete success. They still could glimpse the other through
the eddies of the smoke and, thus, certainly could be seen in return.
Stang wanted to argue. At this range, smoke or no smoke, his guns could
end this in one salvo, he was positive.
"Sir, Augsberg's been hit!"
The flicker of flames on the injured light cruiser shown through the
murk. Stang looked again at Hanzik. Valuable 10.5 cm shells and even more
valuable German lives were being expended. Perhaps to no gain. The admiral
just shook his head.
---- 9:15 AM, bridge of New York, course 030, speed 6 knots
Strassburg and her charges were about 5,000 yards to the NW, but
far fewer American eyes were upon her than had been five minutes ago.
The British flagship had, a few minutes ago, suddenly hoisted all sorts
of flags, spewed out great clouds of coal smoke, turned hard, and sped
off to the SE, with Melbourne and Berwick laboring to keep
station in her wake. Already, they were about 20,000 yards distant.
Admiral Alton had his glasses on the distant horizon to the east. There
was nothing out there that he could see. Nothing. Nothing at all.
"Are they running away?" One of the junior officers nearby
put the question to another quietly, but the bridge was so still that
it carried. A stern look from a more senior officer silenced him.
Not a chance, thought Alton to himself, keeping his attention on the
imaginary spot on the horizon that would mark the destination of the British
cruisers. For one thing, Patey had left Niobe and the bulk of the AMCs
behind. Furthermore, Patey had been eager to meet the Germans. Quite eager.
There was little chance for advancement on this side of the Atlantic.
That is, until Strasburg had come along.
No, Alton decided, if Patey's gone charging off, he was charging TOWARDS
something, not away from it.
But towards what? What in the world could be more important to Vice-Admiral
Patey, Commander of Patrols, North Atlantic - West Indies Station, than
Strassburg and two liners about to make a break for the open sea?
---- 9:15 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 270, speed 12 knots
Moore had his eyes on the men at the bow gun. The deck had tilted during
the turn, and there was still a noticeable angle. The conclusion was inescapable:
they were already listing. Hardly surprising, said a cool inner voice
that Moore had never known he'd had.
"They said they saw a twin turret, sir. On er stern. Least
Moore rushed to the bridge port rail to look for himself, but their smoke
was too much to make anything out at all. A "turret"? Had it
been some kind of oddly shaped crate on the liner? Or was she an AMC?
"... what it sounded like to me ear. I asked for a repeat, and now
they don't answer, sir!"
A "twin" turret? On a liner? Surely, no AMC would have a "twin"
"Try them again - KEEP trying!"
"... aye, sir."
The bow gun fired back at the Germans - a bit of cheer, but only a bit.
He looked East. Otway was about 10,000 yards off - it'd be her
turn next, Moore thought grimly. Patey's cruisers were probably a few
thousand yards further inshore and, if he knew Patey, they'd be coming
at speed. So, in moments those damn Germans would have something else
to occupy them. Something a bit more substantial than his old liner with
a brace of antique guns. However, he doubted he'd have a ship left by
then. What the HELL were two more German cruisers doing here?!
---- 9:16 AM, bridge of Otway, course 130, speed 17 knots (increasing)
The CO's mouth felt dry. He felt that his head was on some kind of swivel.
Patey's Sydney was coming up fast on his starboard after quarter,
Val's Tract was getting pounded to pieces just 6,000 yards off
his port bow, and the damnable Huns were a bit over twice that almost
dead ahead. They'd be in range any minute.
"Gunner, open fire at 11,000 yards."
Perhaps he should wait until his admiral fired but, no, no captain would
ever be criticized for firing upon the enemy.
"Aye, aye, sir," the other Regular officer replied, and nodded
his complete understanding. The CO would have other things to worry about,
and quite shortly.
They'd gotten as near Patey's track as he deemed appropriate.
"Helm, come to course 120."
The CO winced as another hit on the burning AMC ahead scattered the crew
of her remaining gun. He looked back again at Sydney. At about
1,500 yards, he was able easily to pick out Patey, the admiral's glasses
were studying the oncoming Germans.
---- 9:16 AM, bridge of Sydney, course 120, speed 21 knots (increasing)
"Range, 15,000 yards."
"Admiral?" Captain Dedmundee asked, he carefully kept Otway
in field of vision. His Mark XIs were harder than the earlier ones to
train manually, but just now he was thankful for their greater range and
wanted to use it. Now.
Patey nodded. It might be better to wait, to draw the Huns in a bit further,
just in case they had not seen his cruisers coming to intercept. However,
he was pretty certain he had them now, and, in any event, he could not
simply stand by silently and let ...
... Moore get slaughtered without reply.
The reports from the bow and the forward starboard mounts were almost
immediate. Dedmundee noted with considerable relief that Otway
had turned to parallel them even before the first splashes from his shells
appeared in the distance.
---- 9:16 AM, bridge of Augsberg, course 285, speed 22 knots
"Sir! The enemy cruisers have opened fire!"
The first splashes appeared 200 yards off their port beam, almost halfway
between them and Rostock. The next were 200 yards astern. None
were near the other light cruiser.
The new RN ships were still well out of range for his 10.5 cm guns.
"Stay on target," Speck ordered, wishing he had shields for
6" shells. The one they'd already taken had killed 10 or more, and
one starboard gun might not fire again. The AMC had gotten the worst of
it, though. She was burning well and her guns had gone silent, but she
still had way on and showed no immediate sign of sinking.
---- 9:16 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 285, speed 22 knots
Westfeldt watched the oncoming British warships anxiously. He'd expected
two, but there looked to be three or more. They were keeping such tight
station astern of their leader, who had just opened fire on Augsberg,
that he couldn't be sure of their number. Their bows showed a lot of white
- they had to be above 20 knots. Had Niobe's engineer somehow managed
to find half a dozen knots? Or had the RN gotten more ships here? How
many? What were they?
He cast a quick glance at Augsberg. No new hits yet. At least
it looked like the RN cruiser could only bring two guns to bear. Westfeldt
scanned the horizon again.
They HAD to get closer. He had to KNOW all the Brits were in sight before
"Sir, Augsberg's been straddled!"
---- 9:17 AM, bridge of Otway, course 120, speed 17.5 knots (increasing)
"Sir, Sydney's opened fire."
The CO hesitated, but only for a moment.
He fully expected they were still somewhat out of range, but they'd need
luck to hit in any event. At least the smoke from Val's Tract was
just enough off their line of sight so as to give them some chances.
Otway's bow gun joined the fray. The CO looked alongside. Sydney's
bow had almost drawn even with Otways' prop wash. They were about
1,000 yards north of Patey's track.
However, the enemy cruisers were not his responsibility. Of that, he
was certain. He did not claim to be able to read the mind of Vice-Admiral
Patey, but his AMC's inclusion in the admiral's flags realistically could
have been for only one reason.
"Ensign," he called up to the lookouts. "Keep a sharp
eye out for that liner. She's ours."
"Aye, aye, sir."
---- 9:17 AM, bridge of Augsberg, course 285, speed 22 knots
"Right rudder!" Speck shouted, as the water spout alongside
their port fore quarter sprayed across the bridge. The deck canted as,
at 22 knots, the rudder bit hard into the Atlantic. Hanzik might not like
it, but he had not specifically ordered against minor adjustments. This
was hardly dressage, after all.
More splashes showed to port, perhaps where they would have been. His
own guns paused as the bearing shifted to Val's Tract.
"Cease fire! Shift targets!" The first armed merchant cruiser
was clearly going dead in the water, and was likely in a sinking condition.
The splashes from the Brit cruisers crept back. Is this what her captain
had thought, he wondered, taking one last look at their former target.
"New target," Speck called out. "AMC bearing 300."
She was still a bit closer than the others, a far better target, and
one their shells might actually hurt. She was still out of range. Even
as that thought came to mind, he saw her bow gun open fire. At him, of
course. The damn Britishers today were ALL firing at him.
"Left rudder," Speck ordered, and the deck canted the other
way. He waited a moment, until they neared their original track.
"Come to course 285."
The deck went the first way again.
---- 9:17 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 285, speed 22 knots
The splashes were tracking Augsberg relentlessly. The range looked
to be nearing 10,000 yards. Westfeldt still wasn't sure just what the
damn Royal Navy had in front of them. This was a commodore's job, not
his, von Hoban would be in his element. I can't wait any longer,
Westfeldt decided, I just can't.
"Signals Officer," shouted Westfeldt, "Three longs. NOW!"
"Hit on Augsberg!"
Damn, he thought, I may have waited too long.
---- 9:18 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 285, speed 22 knots
"Admiral, Augsberg's been hit!"
"What's Westfeldt waiting for?" Stang thought, eyeing the desperate
snake-track of Augsberg's wake.
"Sir, Rostock's whistle! One."
"Admiral?" Stang drew a nod from Hanzik.
"Helm," ordered Stang, "standby, on my order."
He unconsciously drew a deep breath, only to cough hard in the smoke.
---- 9:18 AM, bridge of Augsberg, course 285, speed 22 knots
"Stop making smoke," Speck ordered.
"Right 10 degrees rudder," the relief in his voice was unmistakable.
The deck tilted abruptly from the helmsman's own enthusiasm. Speck sized
up the onrushing AMC even as he held on for dear life. A bit over 9,000
yards - close enough.
"Steady on 330. Open fire!"
---- 9:18 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 285 speed 22 knots
"Helm, wait, wait," said Dirk, "when we clear the smoke..."
"... now! Left rudder! Stay outside Rostock's wake."
"Guns! On the leader, open fire!"
" 'Überraschung ist ein Ereignis, welches im Kopf eines gegnerischen
Befehlshabers stattfindet'," CDR Bavaria quoted.2
Dirk glanced at his XO.
"Oberst Johann Christian Falkenberg," Bavaria explained. "A
---- 9:19 AM, bridge of Sydney, course 120, speed 23 knots (increasing)
"Poor Nell," said Vice-Admiral Patey, looking at Val's Tract.
"Hit! Sir, the Germans are ... SIR!!"
The tone of voice snapped Patey's head forward. The lines on the seamed
face stretched as the admiral's countenance assumed an unaccustomed, unfamiliar
expression. His jaw hung open as, out of the smoke, poured not one, but
Moltke was already turning onto a NW track, von der Tann
onto a SW one. Fire erupted along the flanks of both.
1) November 9, 1914, off Cocos Island.
2) "Surprise is an event in the mind of the
opposing commander." - Colonel John Christian Falkenberg.