June 18, 1915 - Meeting Engagements
- Part V
(Was Decisions, Pt. 5)
1) I am thinking of changing the title of this chapters set to "Meeting
2) This piece may not entirely meet "The TLC Standard," but
I have gotten a partial dispensation.
Now, hope you enjoy ....
Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - Decisions, Part V
---- 11:15 PM, just off the coast of New Jersey
For LT Jenkins, the prospect of a nail-biting sprint up to Manhatten
had not been a welcome one. In his view, the aide's job included introducing
options to his principal that the graying, senior salt might not recognize
existed. He had no doubt that Vice-Admiral Stennis was a great man and
a warrior, but he was an OLD warrior. The young lieutenant felt that Stennis
was more comfortable with topsails than wireless sets and just did not
understand the implications of modern technology.
Actually, any inclination Jenkins might have had of remaining silent
and letting things proceed "naturally" had been ended by the
gusto with which CDR Atanacio received the Admiral's announcement of the
need for speed. The weather-browned Commander had grinned, in Jenkins'
opinion, all too broadly as he began barking commands, his even white
teeth a frighteningly feral contrast with his tanned features.
"Sir," he had begun quietly, as Commander Atanacio was off
gleefully working his Destroyer up to Flank. "Why wait until Mina
He had asked it almost rhetorically, delicately hinting that another
option existed. Stennis had jumped on it with a quickness Jenkins had
not expected from a man of such advanced age.
Now, he had to hope - pray, actually - that this worked!
----11:15 PM, marina
Lannon smacked his lips appreciatively.
"Miz Beulah, as always, your fried chicken was well worth coming
At the clubhouse, Lannon had finished his call earlier, gotten a shower,
and gone looking for a bite to eat. Luck had been with him, as it had
been all day. It might have seemed odd to some people that a marina would
serve much in the way of non-seafood items, but those would be folk who
had not tasted Miz Beulah's chicken. It also had the merit of keeping
well, and management wisely let her cook all she wanted. Tonight, she
had used her batter that left the pieces crisply crusted with tiny flakes
of peanuts, and he had gotten the last of what had been a formidable batch.
"You's welcome, Mr. Lannon," answered the dark complexioned,
strongly built cook. "Sorry no biscuits left for you."
"There're all gone before eight," he replied, with a broad
smile. "Always are!"
Indeed, thought Lannon, if the folk here ever got to eat their fill of
Miz Beulah's biscuits, half the boats would sink at their moorings. Little
slivers of nut meats were all that now remained of the plate of cold chicken.
There had been several pieces, since Miz Beulah had expected Nik as well,
but Lannon had managed them quite fine without him. Indeed, he felt it
only fair. After all, he had had to bring back the Princess alone, and
face Auntie Terror alone - it was only proper and fitting that he had
gotten to face the rest of the fried chicken the same way! He nodded to
himself that there was still some justice in the world as he used his
moistened fingertips to get the last of the toasted nuts. He slipped a
dollar bill into the tip box, drained the last of his iced tea, and waddled
out the door.
He was most of the way back when he first heard it. He stopped a few
steps out on the planking that ran from the shore out to the Princess.
It was a boat and he did not recognize the engine. He walked the rest
of the way out to the end. There. A bright light was playing around in
the chop as this very late arrival inched past the last breakwater. As
he watched, it found the end of the pier just one over from where he stood
and stayed on it, guiding the approach.
It wasn't until the boat got close enough to catch some of its own reflected
beam that he saw that it was a USN launch of some sort. It eased up on
the far side of the next pier and sailors leapt off nimbly to tie up.
But what was a Navy boat doing here? He looked out to sea. There might
be something right ....
"Sir, can you tell me where the nearest phone is?" Lannon recognized
the man as a petty officer first class.
"Sure, right up that path, just inside the clubhouse on the right."
The man thanked him, spoke to a sailor beside him, and then turned his
back to Lannon to address the boat. The younger man went quickly up the
path where Lannon had pointed.
"Admiral," the PO1 began, but Lannon missed the rest. He had
pivoted sharply for his boat as he suddenly realized that he was just
a very few words away from missing very many hours sleep. It was not until
he had boarded the Princess that he looked back, and even then he did
so from a sheltered vantage. He heard as much as saw the tall figure of
a senior officer, presumably the admiral, tromping his way up the other
pier, escorted by two shorter officers. Their shoes began an irregular
staccato on the boards that quickly transformed into a metronome as, out
of long habit, they fell into step. Lannon smiled at the change, then
yawned hugely as his innards reacted happily to Miz Beulah's largesse.
He stretched contentedly and made for his bunk.
---- 11:30 PM, marina clubhouse
Jenkins had not relaxed until he heard Stennis talking to Admiral Benson.
Of course, there were marinas located near the channel mouth. Of course,
the upscale ones would have lights and phones. Of course, a wireless could
alert Washington and arrange a telephone call. Of course, it was lots
faster than riding that 1000 ton bronco all the way up that crowded channel
with that Cowboy Commander whooping in the saddle!
But, until the call went through ... !
Now, wallowing in an overstuffed chair, he felt weak-kneed and almost
stupefied in reaction. What if there'd been no phone? Or it'd been broken?
When was he going to learn to keep his mouth shut? He sighed. Something
smelled good, he realized after a few moments. He flared open his nostrils
to better draw in the scent. So good that he found himself salivating.
He was looking around surreptitiously for the source of the aroma when
his attention was snapped back to the phone conversation at the use of
a new title.
"Yes, Mr. Secretary," Stennis had said.
Oh, hellfire and damnation, thought Jenkins. Didn't Daniels have a home
to go to?
Commander Trimm was licking his lips as he sat by the Vice-Admiral. Partly,
it was nervousness - he had hardly expected this day to end with him eavesdropping
on a conversation between the Commander Atlantic Fleet, the Chief of Naval
Operations, and the Secretary of the Navy! - but mostly it was the same
cause as was affecting the young lieutenant across the room. He swallowed
and tried to keep his attention on the phone dialogue, but he was tired
and a bit distracted. And so, he nearly jumped out of his skin when Stennis
"Commander Trimm agrees with you, Mr. Secretary. And he's got some
evidence. No matter what their admiral said, they're riding a bit high.
"Yes, exactly. That's precisely what I mean. The problem, Mr. Secretary,
is, well, he served me Gunpowder Tea. Fortnum's, in fact. Yes, Fortnum's.
Now, there's only one way .... Yes, Admiral, that was my take as well.
"Mr. Secretary," Stennis was clearly trying to be patient.
Jenkins winced at the tone, drawing a raised eyebrow from Trimm, who did
not really know the vice-admiral. "He was sending me a signal - clear
as day. There may be more of them, further out - no way to know, but those
other three went somewhere. But what he was telling me, Mr. Secretary,
is this. They've taken prizes, probably got coal from them, and they can
take as many more as they need - there's no one to stop them as long as
they stay outside the Three Mile Limit.
"No, sir. That's a negative. Not us."
Stennis audibly drew in a breath. Both of the officer spectators winced
"I don't believe you can declare war on Germany, Mr. Secretary.
No, I am not being impertinent. I went out and met them, at your orders,
sir, and good ones they were, I admit that to you here and now. But I
tell you, there's no bluffing this man, this Admiral Hanzik. We're either
going to have to comply with The Hague, that Roosevelt signed and Congress
ratified, renounce it entirely, or just declare war and be done with it.
I will carry out your orders, Mr. Secretary, fully and faithfully, and
those of Admiral Benson; but just don't go thinking bluffing will get
us anywhere, because it won't. You can take my word for it. I can sink
him, but I can't bluff him.
"The British? Maybe the Brits CAN send over a fleet - no, of course
they can - but they've got all the rest of the Germans right on their
doorstep and, well, you've seen the Pratt Report. In any case, whatever
they finally scrape up is probably something like a week away from here."
---- 11:30 PM, flagbridge of New York, stopped
"Admiral," reported Alton's aide, "Wyoming reports that
all are aboard."
"Very well. Go check on the Germans, would you?"
"Aye, aye, sir."
After a few minutes, another report came in.
"Sir, from Captain West. All wounded secured. The doc's making rounds,
and so are his mates."
"Very well. Have the Germans recovered all their small boats?"
"All except Moltke's, sir. We saw one go up her starboard winch,
but we can't see what's going on to port. According to Chief Larson, the
far side's been out of sight for some time."
What Larson had actually said was that by now the Germans could be hiding
a herd of talking cows over there, but the aide chose not to report that.
"Inform Captain West that I intend to get underway at midnight ...."
---- 11:45 PM, marina clubhouse
Admiral Stennis had listened for a while, presumably to conversation
taking place on the other end between Benson and Daniels. And whoever
else might be there.
"Yes, sir," Stennis said, obviously in answer to a specific
question. "The Germans tried to float the number 1000 past me, but
Commander Trimm estimated no more than 800. They're short on water, though.
Hanzik claimed they'd gone on water rationing.
"No, Mr. Secretary. I don't know what we can do with that. It's
just something we need to consider.
"Sir, their prisoners are out on Moltke's main deck. If the Germans
start to run out of water, who do you think will go without first? Yes,
sir. It could be 1000. Even more, if the other ships are holding others.
"Oh, yes, they were turning to us about 50 of the most seriously
wounded when I left and, as I said earlier, maybe a dozen of their own.
"No, sir. I don't know what we're supposed to do with them. The
Hague is silent on this point, best I can recall. I recommend State take
a look at it but, Mr. Secretary, I could hardly refuse them, now, could
I? And, sir, the first real problem, actually that's problemS with an
S', are those two British AMCs than fled from the battle and into
"Yes, sir. The ones that Admiral Martin reported moored at the Naval
Station this afternoon. The problem? The problem is that The Hague is
QUITE clear on them. And the British are not going to like it. Not one
Stennis sighed lightly, or perhaps suppressed a yawn. He shifted the
phone to his right ear then, with a frown, quickly shifted it back. Trimm
recalled then the words Stennis had spoken to the young Ensign. Jones,
that was his name. The Commander wondered how the lad was doing.
---- 11:50 PM, New York, stopped
"More water?" The fresh pitcher in the sailor's hands was the
sixth, if Jones had it right. Where were they were putting it, he wondered?
"Ja, er, yes, thank you," Lionel answered.
Thankfully, it had not been necessary to use the wardroom, since Wyoming
had taken more than half of the British. Lionel did not care, as they
were in some sort of berthing area near the sick bay and it was more than
adequate. It did not appear to have been in use, and he wondered if the
Americans were having trouble manning their warships. Yet, he considered,
as he poured another glass for one of his feverish mates, this was their
flagship. Would they not crew it first?
"Were you at the battle?" Jones asked, hesitantly. "I
mean, that big one that I read about earlier this month."
"Yes. Yes, I was there. My ship was Seydlitz. In stern turrets,
was my station."
"What did you do?"
"Mostly I checked that a hatch was shut."
Jones wrinkled his brow. That was obviously some sort of error in translation.
He tried again.
"I mean, did you see any action? Your ship?"
"Ah, action,' I did not see much but we fired our guns all
day and were fired at, also, all the hours. We shooted most of our shells
that day. We had about one in three left, I think."
"Only a third of your ammo left?!"
"That was more than the previous battle. All were used in that one."
"Omigod! Were you hit? Your ship, I mean?"
"One, 10.5 centimeter, I think. It was worse in the January battle.
But I was not assigned to her then - many of us came aboard her afterwards.
Replacements, you see. All at my station had perished."
Jones flinched at that and decided to shift the subject slightly.
" Seydlitz,' she's a battlecruiser, isn't she? Like Moltke
and von der Tann over there?"
" Schlachtkreuzer.' Yes, the British called them that, when
they had them."
Jones shook his head. This translation duty was hard.
---- 11:50 PM, marina clubhouse
"Mr. Secretary, we've got a day. No more. The papers are sure to
get wind of this sometime tomorrow. It might be the 20th, if we're lucky,
but I wouldn't count on it. More likely there'll be something about it
in the afternoon editions tomorrow.
"No, there's no avoiding it. Those two shell-holed Brits steamed
right into New York harbor this afternoon, for Chrissake! The reporters
won't have known what to make of them at first - and Admiral Martin will
have held them off - but we can't expect that to buy more than a day.
The papers were full of the sea battle expected tonight, around now, in
fact. That was back when everyone thought Strassburg was going to slip
out at dusk and make a run for it. They'll know by now when she really
left and they'll be looking for the story, sure as hell. It'll probably
take them all day tomorrow, but they'll get it. Somehow. It's just too
Stennis listened some more. Fought off another yawn.
"Wait one, Admiral," Stennis said, after a couple minutes.
He cupped the phone. "Either of you know the name of this place?"
Trimm did and volunteered it to Stennis, who spoke it into the phone.
"Thank you, Admiral. I've still got Mina standing by, but I'll consider
it. Good night."
Stennis hung up the phone, rubbed his face, and suddenly looked like
an old man. Then he looked up, and was an admiral again.
"It seems that Admiral Benson has a nephew with a boat at a marina
around here, and it might be this one. If so, and if he's here, and if
he has his car with him, I could probably commandeer it. That's too many
if's for me. It's been a long day, gentlemen. Let us be on our way."
---- 11:59 PM (5:59 AM local), London
The long day was just ending for the Americans. A longer day was just
beginning for the British. This was the first meeting, not counting those
of the various duty sections during the pre-dawn hours, and would not
be the last.
"Grand Fleet?" The quiet question was put to the last of the
exiting aides at the coffee urn as the principals finished finding their
"I left word, sir, and spoke with his Flag Lieutenant. An hour,
I'd hazard, but no more."
The questioner nodded, and aide closed the door behind him.
The whole matter was being treated like it was right out of the Official
Secrets Act. (NOTE) Attendance had been rigidly restricted and even the
subject was not mentioned before the great men had seen the door shut
fully behind them. Nonetheless, the aides who were now approaching the
hard oak benches outside the room in which the ministers and admirals
were closeting themselves were discussing it all quite openly even before
they sat. After all, who did their lordships think they were going to
keep it secret from, the Germans?
"Maybe Patey got away, but his wireless got hit."
One minister was voicing those exact same words on the other side of
"That'd do for Sydney," another replied, "but what bout
Melbourne, Berwick, and the others? D'ya think they all lost their wireless
at the same time?"
"Yeah, like a bloody plague, or something," another jeered,
though he had little heart for it. It was a plague they were facing: a
plague of Germans.
The answer had been more decorous within.
"Maybe one or more got away," said another aide, after a moment,
"but not Sir George."
"Not on your life! He'd not have left the others, those converted
liners, to face Hun battlecruisers alone. He just wouldn't."
"Right enough, that." "Yes." "That's Patey,
Those inside took longer to reach a similar conclusion. In particular,
the fact that two AMCs were known to have gotten to safety, made the fate
of the other five or six all the more certain. The report from the embassy
in America was that staff had left to attempt to contact those on the
ships but there'd been no further report yet.
First among those within, Edward Carson, First Lord of the Admiralty,
grimaced to himself first at the thought of having to tell Prime Minister
Balfour that the navy had met failure, again, so soon after he had taken
the office. The trip to 10 Downing that he would need to make after this
would not be a pleasant one. A deeper concern, though, was the thought
of having to inform His Majesty of this fresh reversal. One of the last
things Sir Winston had related to Carson was how terrible his own meeting
with the Crown had been, and how sensitive His Majesty had been to the
loss of life, and flag officers. Churchill had called it the absolute
nadir of his career and had nearly wept at the memory of it. Now, unless
this was some kind of bloody balls-up mistake, he facing having to tell
His Majesty that Vice-Admiral Patey was lost, and another 3,000 men with
him. He was not sure he could face him. How had Churchill found the srtrength?
"Sir, there's no mention of Imperator, or the other liner ...."
"Kaiser Wilhelm II," inserted another, nodding his head in
agreement. "And nothing about Strassburg, if that's who she was -
the reports are just not conclusive."
"So?" Carson put in, snapping out of it.
"Sir, I think we must presume that the Americans were competent
enough to identify all the German ships they could see."
"Ah, they've gone then? But where? Can we really be certain that
the Americans got them all? Or that Bermuda got all of the message?"
Carson reacted to that. He could hardly take "probably" to
"Milord, it does fit with what the embassy reported. Precisely,
That was true, but Carson wanted more. He would greatly prefer to be
quite sure before he went calling on Lord Balfour to report that, once
"Milord, it's just midnight there now. It could be half the day
before there's more."
That much they could all agree with, inside the room and out.
The Official Secrets Act of 1911 was drafted as a post-colonial response
to the growing power of Germany and the fear that the country was being
flooded by foreign agents. Its central tenets of lifetime loyalty to the
British state and the protection of official secrets regardless of their
nature, remained largely unquestioned during two world wars and much of
the cold war that followed. (Excerpt from a recent story in the Guardian.)
Edited by: jim 1 at: 8/22/02 10:17:12 am