Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part VII
---- 5:15 AM, Strassburg, course 080, speed 7.5 knots
Captain Siegmund had his binoculars tight to his brow as he studied the
form off their bow in the fading gloom.
"Sir, estimated range to contact is 4,000 yards and closing slowly."
"Very well. We'll know soon enough."
They had first sighted the east-northeast-bound ship over an hour earlier.
Siegmund had spent the time since then conning his cruiser into a position
somewhat north of dead astern. What wind there was had been coming from
the southeast. Like a carnivore, he had sought a downwind position but
here it had been less to avoid scent warning (though coal smoke might
be relevant) and more to better sight the flag of his prey at the crack
of dawn. The little gusts they were getting now were from south enough
to give them a good look, once a little more light was shed on their subject.
They now were on a gradually converging course with perhaps a knot or
so advantage and the visibility was extending every moment with the dawn.
"Hopefully, our luck will be better today, sir." The speaker,
LCDR Gommel, was Siegmund's XO. New York had been a trial for Gommel,
and he had left ship only when he had been required to attend one funeral
- the one for the Greek, whose name he could not now recall. No, wait,
it had been Constantine Something, er, Kallikantzari. Yes, that was it!
Funny names, those Greeks had. The funeral, now, that had not been funny
at all. Watching Niobe sink, though, had lifted his and all their spirits
"Jah, richtig," Siegmund murmured. They had indeed lost too
much precious time last evening, he thought. With their three charges
3,000 yards directly astern, they had barged right into a west-bound British
merchant just a few hours away from Hanzik and he had had no real alternative
but to take her. The saddest part had been that her cargo was useless,
having been nothing but furniture, pottery, glassware, and some hard-to-translate
textile products. She had even been low on coal, so they had taken her
crew aboard and scuttled her as quickly as possible.
Still, the encounter could have gone worse. The merchant had not had
a wireless and she did have one useful contribution to make. She had had
one good powered launch and it now graced Strassburg's deck amidships
- oblivious to its change of allegiance. The addition brought the German
cruiser's complement of such craft up to four. Siegmund would have preferred
six or even eight, and he still harbored hopes of getting them. Today.
"British flag! She IS British, sir!"
"Very well," Siegmund responded. "Ahead Full. Make turns
for 18 knots. Officer of the Deck, bring us up along her port side. Guns,
standby, prepare for warning shot."
For a few moments, he looked over his imminent acquisition quite possessively.
She must have left some American port yesterday, perhaps a half-dozen
hours or less after Strassburg had. The Brits were slow to spot them on
their stern quarter. Ah, there, at last, some sign of alarm.
"Herr Gommel," Siegmund made a tiny gesture towards the small
"On my way, sir," Gommel replied.
----- 5:20 AM, New York and Philadelphia
The trucks had already rolled out to make their deliveries. There were
schedules to meet and those included getting the product to customers
with the dawn. The merchandise was perishable, perhaps the most perishable
of all products: news. For the moment, there was a bit of a lull on the
truck loading docks. Another edition, or even an extra, could always be
called, but nothing was going to come out for loading for the rest of
the hour. The men still had work to do, of course, such as sweeping up
the shreds of newsprint that seemed to end up everywhere every morning.
Nonetheless, they usually took a break at around 5:30 for coffee and,
sometimes, doughnuts and they were doing that now.
They sat on handy packing crates, massive newsprint rolls, and other
customary benches, sipping coffee and reading what had just gone out.
It was a bit of a "job perk." Besides those in the printing
run, they were the very first in the entire city to be able to read the
morning edition that was even now making its way to so many homes and
newsstands and shouting paperboys on still-dark street corners. It gave
them a feeling of power, knowing it before everyone else. Often the news
seemed bland and so they discussed sports, especially baseball. Sometimes
the news was of significance, but involved events in distant parts of
the world. The war, for example, was something remote that was being fought
thousands of miles away by one bunch of foreigners against another and
had been in and out of the papers for almost a year now. Sometimes, if
the news was slow, and especially if no game had been played by their
baseball team the day before, some would nod off, their heads cushioned
by fashioned pads.
This morning, no one was dozing.
"Holy hell! 'Sea Battle Off New York!' "
" 'Battle for New York!' "
"What the hell?! They've been blockading us? Who the hell do they
think they are?!"
Meanwhile, the trucks rolled on.
---- 5:30 AM, Imperator
"Clouds Over Snow," Fox commented.
"Blue" Fox stood at the rail with Max Browning. It was about
time for breakfast, but neither had ever seen a sunrise at sea. They had
had no sleep - none whatsoever - so they had decided they might as well
go on deck and watch this one. All night had been spent drafting and revising
their material. They realized that their earlier stuff had probably gotten
to their editors, but they had recreated it anyway, just in case. That,
however, had come only after writing up the new stories resulting from
their approach to the earlier battle scene, where the bows of at least
two British warships had stubbornly still poked out of the Atlantic. Tall
plumes of smoke had still lingered over debris fields bobbing about in
They realized instantly that the tents on the largest of the German ships
could only be there to house what had to have been many 100s of British
prisoners. Browning had tried to count them, but had gave it up somewhere
around 250 after it had become plain that most were out of his view. None
of the Germans on Imperator seemed to know just what ships had been sunk.
In fact, they professed a level of ignorance that was astonishing, suspicious,
and downright frustrating. Fox had then recalled the scene on the church
steps after the funeral. An extraordinarily charismatic, titled lady had
given a public speech, one that had even contained American Revolution
references. It had gotten great play and tremendous reader response. More
importantly, it had suggested to the young reporters that she might have
inside information or better sources. They had seen that lady, "The
Countess Marina," gracing and enlivening the Captain's Table last
night. They had sought her out for an interview, and they had not been
disappointed. Not in the slightest!
What she had told them was that the British had had three modern light
cruisers out there, under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir George Patey.
Try as they might, they were unable to discover just how the vivacious,
red-headed Lady had obtained these facts. The fate of the cruisers was
clear, but not that of the luckless admiral. Was he among those held prisoner
on the German Moltke? Sadly, not even the Countess appeared to know that
Initially, they had tried to press her for more. However, they did not
want to jeopardize a source and she was clearly a sophisticate anyway,
unlikely to reveal anything she did not intend. Their efforts were hampered
by the fact that she tended to charm both young men nearly speechless.
There was also a sizeable deterrent named Gavilan at her side. His muscles
strained his gray shirt, making it ripple with each breath like the hide
of a great beast, and it was plain that he saw the pair as potential threats
to his Countess. Even his nostrils dilated as though he scented danger
from them. They decided quickly that it behooved them not to do anything
that might stir up trouble, so they thanked her and went off to compose
Now, they watched the sun rise and glint off the layers of white on the
horizon ahead. Their stories were written, including the sinking of the
old British steamer - whose name they had never learned - that had blundered
into Strassburg in the ebbing light. Their material had cost them "only"
the full night of sleep. Now, all that remained was to get them delivered.
Browning eventually turned to Blue questioningly. "And what does
'Clouds Over Snow' mean?"
"Look there," pointed Blue. "The morning fog coming out
of the channel mouth is stuck right on the surface of the water."
"Yes," Browning agreed. "A low fog. It'll probably burn
off in an hour, maybe less."
"True, but look at the cloud bank above, the way both catch the
"Okay, it's pretty enough, I guess." Max was tired, and couldn't
see any point.
"The way the sun catches the clouds and the fog, together like that
in layers, the fog looks like snow on the ground. Like there's no water
there, just snow mounds."
Browning still did not get it, and said so.
"It's the name of a painting," Blue explained, "by Murasaki,
if I remember correctly, and it looks a lot like it."
Max gave his new friend a curious, skeptical look.
"Don't look at me like that," Blue protested, weakly. "It's
part of the Potter Collection. You know, the Winter's Exhibit, in the
Webb Museum ...."
Fox's voice trailed off as Max just shook his head tiredly and sighed.
Reporters in art museums! What was the world coming to?!
---- 5:45 AM, Steamship Erik Boyle, stopped
LT Heinrich von Larg ignored the sullen group of merchies and their obviously
depressed captain, though his armed sailors did not. He was reading the
manifest, glad that he read English somewhat better than he spoke it.
The cargo seemed mostly to be flour, which was good but not great. There
were two items he could not understand. Obviously, he was having translation
problems. One was written down as being hidden and the other as clothed
cow meat. If one were concealing part of one's cargo, why would one write
that down in the manifest? The other was no clearer; why would one put
garments - let alone the gowns of women! - on the carcasses of cattle?
"Captain, your attention, bitte."
"Explain, bitte," said von Larg pointing to the first entry,
"what materials are these? Where are they hidden?"
"They're not 'hidden,' ya' bloody Hun. They're hides, leather, skins
of bloody cows."
The armed German sentry could not understand Britisher's words, but he
scowled and raised his rifle at their unmistakable tone. Von Larg calmed
him with an easy gesture.
"Fell? Ah, Kuhhaut, Leder. (NOTE 1) Gut. And this," he asked,
pointing to the other entry. "This 'dressed beef'?"
Von Larg ignored the captain's second set of frivolous, nearly-hysterical
remarks. Flour, leather, and beef. He jotted down the basics and handed
it to the leading seaman of the boat crew.
"Sir, flag from Strassburg. 'Expedite.' "
"Very well. Take those four," von Larg pointed, selecting the
most likely troublemakers, "and shove off immediately. Bosun, set
---- 5:45 AM, New York (similarly in Philadeplhia)
The delivery truck had dropped off the normal number of bales of the
morning Times a few minutes earlier. Several had already been broken down,
their twine cut, and organized into several smaller stacks. Five boys,
ages 11 through 14, were tucking their shares into cloth shoulder bags.
Two others had come earlier and had left moments before, and four more
were walking up, arguing about the Yankee's new rookie, Dazzy Vance. (NOTE
"Won't amount to much, is what I say," went one. "He war'
right rotten. And he's ancient! He's what, 25?"
"24," corrected another.
"He can hit, though. Clean swing. Got a double," added a third.
"Maybe he oughtta' ...." He stopped as the last of them elbowed
him in the ribs.
The fourth boy had noted that not one but three of the those who had
been tucking papers into their sacks had held one last copy out and had
paused to read more than just the headlines before hurrying off.
"Hey, Rube," the elbower called out. (NOTE 3) "Whatcha'
got? Another robbin' in Brooklyn?"
The answer surprised and excited them. And there were pictures! Part
of their animation came from the stories themselves. Some came from the
dazzling photographs. Another small part was the thrill of advance knowledge.
Mostly, though, it was that they knew they had a REAL story with REAL
headlines. Ones they could shout out, and proudly. One that would yank
in the customers.
They all eyed the stacks, and each other. Every copy, every single one,
would sell. They knew it as sure as they knew the name of every man who'd
gone to the plate in pin stripes the day before. They were looking at
money in the bank or, at least, in their pockets. Suddenly, it became
---- 5:55 AM, Strassburg, stopped
Siegmund had his attention on the horizons, all of them. In the last
15 minutes, smoke threads had been sighted on four separate bearings:
010, 090, 175, and 270. He felt like his head was a child's top.
"Sir, new contact. Smoke, bearing 235."
Siegmund turned again and raised his glasses. This was sighting number
five. No courses had been worked out yet for any of them in the early
"Sir," Gommel reported, "launch secured."
"Very well." Siegmund hesitated only an instant. He might never
learn what prizes had awaited him on the other three horizons. "Ahead
Flank. Make turns for 22 knots. Come to course 250."
This would allow him direct chances at two. Also, those to the East,
if they were in-bound, just might still fall into his lap. And there should
be plenty more. Plenty.
---- 6:00 AM, New York (BB-34), course 000, speed 5 knots
Captain West looked at the ship's clock and then at Admiral Alton, drawing
the expected nod.
"Signals Officer," Said West, "hoist 330, 12 knots."
"Officer of the Deck," said West, "set the special sea
and anchor detail."
"Sir, all ships have acknowledged."
"Very well, execute."
The sounds of the OOD giving orders, their formal acknowledgment, and
the Engine Order Telegraph all merged into background noise for the senior
officers as they went to raise their binoculars. Captain West put his
pair back down again, however, when he observed a junior officer approaching
with a very troubled expression. Alton noticed the New York CO's action
and lowered his own, as well.
"Mister Jones?" West asked.
"Sir, report from sick bay. Doc says that two of the wounded died,
just a few minutes ago. One of the British and one of the German."
"Damn!" Both senior officers muttered in perfect chorus. Alton
closed his eyes, as though in pain himself.
"Sirs," Jones went on, doggedly, "Doc said to tell you
we may lose a couple more." He swallowed. "He requests we expedite
as much as possible."
West knew his chief medical officer better than that. What the doc had
probably said was something like, "You tell them that if they don't
want sick bay full of corpses, they'd better get this hunk of scrap iron
moving." He looked Jones in the eye and the younger man's expression
faltered, confirming West's guess.
Alton shook his head, trying to clear his mind. What was he going to
do with dead British sailors? Dead Germans?
"Sir, flag signal from Wyoming. Two dead ...."
"Reed," Alton began quietly, after this second depressing report,
"15 knots?" The admiral was inquiring as to the BB CO's comfort
level re channel transit speed with his command.
Captain West frowned and looked at the channel entrance.
"Sir, flags going up on Montana ...."
"20," answered West, firmly. "15 once we're well past
Dix. 2/3 once into the outer harbor."
The Admiral gave a grateful nod.
"Signals Officer," Alton began, in a ringing voice, making
it clear for the record whose decision this was, and whose responsibility,
"hoist 20 knots."
---- 6:00 AM, Aylwin, stopped
"Good morning, Captain."
"And to you, XO," CDR Leverett responded. "Officer of
the Deck, anything to report?"
"No, sir. No new contacts in sight. They worked through the night,
'next door,' though." The thudding and clanking 1500 yards off their
beam continued as he spoke.
"I expected no less," Leverett commented, even as he panned
the horizons with his binoculars. "XO?"
"Not much. Engineer says #2 feedpump may be acting up again. There
is some vibration, alright, but it's not a lot. Yet, anyway. Chief thinks
it just doesn't like low flow conditions. Whatever it is, it's not bad
"Hmm, any bearing temperature rise."
"Maybe but, if so, it's under 5 degrees."
"Good," said Leverett. "Quiet, uneventful." He had
had his fill of events yesterday!
"Unexciting," he continued. "Just the way I like it."
---- 6:05 AM, Wyoming (BB-32), course 330, speed 10 knots (increasing)
"Sir, New York has hoisted '20 knots.' "
A tremor was felt on the bridge, and not from the waves. The OOD gulped
"Acknowledge!" Captain Griff barked into what seemed to be
a stunned silence. "Engineering, standby for Ahead Flank!"
He was in a choleric mood this morning. He'd watched hundreds of British
die yesterday. Losing two more right here aboard his own ship during the
night had been, if anything, even worse.
"Officer of the Deck," he growled, detecting a handful of yards
increase in separation, "keep us on station, if you please."
"Aye, aye, sir. Engineering, answer the ordered bell."
---- 6:10 AM, Montana (ACR-13), course 330, speed 12 knots
"There," said Captain Peace, "Officer of the Deck, Ahead
Flank, 20 knots."
"Skipper," CDR Campbell began, very quietly, "20 knots?
Two dreadnoughts, five destroyers, and us? Right up the channel to New
Peace nodded, almost serenely, as the vibrations increased to meet the
"We lost one of our 'guests' last night," Peace reminded him.
"Wyoming reported another two, and the flagship took aboard as many
wounded as Wyo did. Admiral's got good reason to hurry up, I'd say."
"Sir, answering Ahead Flank."
"Very well. I have the con."
If they and two battleships were going up channel to New York at Flank,
Peace wanted the con himself!
"Captain has the con," acknowledged the OOD. He was embarrassed
at his feeling of relief.
There were a few minutes of silence, marked only by the increases in
sounds of the wind rising with their speed. Suddenly, Campbell grinned.
Peace looked at him in inquiry.
"Skipper, it was exactly a week ago today that you said that we
might be about to stretch our lady's legs a bit more than you'd planned.
I'd wager that this was not quite what you had in mind!"
---- 6:20 AM, Strassburg, course 250, speed 22 knots
"Sir, lookouts report the contact on 205 is also French!"
"Very well," Siegmund replied.
"Sir, the one on 295 has put her rudder over!"
"Just under 10,000 yards, sir."
Both were doing under 7 knots, with the nearer one a few tenths faster
than the one now almost due south.
"12,000, maybe a bit more."
Gommel looked at his captain.
"I'll hold this course for another couple minutes or so," Siegmund
explained. "Or less, if the other changes course sooner. With those
bearings, they're over 15,000 yards apart. She probably can't even see
the other, just their smoke, let alone that they've changed course."
"They can see us, though," Gommel noted.
"Stimmt zwar (NOTE 4), but right now we could be British and heading
to join the rest of them. Once we alter course to intercept the other,
though, then they'll have reason to be suspicious."
"Join them? On 250?"
"Hell, XO. No French merchantman would have any idea where the British
might be or what they might be doing.
"Ah, she's got her stern to us, steadying up on something like 300."
"If they've got wireless ...."
"Richtig," agreed Siegmund. "Right 2 degrees rudder. Come
to course 300. XO, better lay aft to the boats. Get two boats and crews
ready. I want no wasted time. None! Minutes are diamonds. A rain squall
and we'll lose the other." The Strassburg CO smiled as his cruiser
nimbly came onto 300. "It's time Lieutenants Wilhelm and Siegfried
earned their fare."
--- 6:30 AM, New York Naval Station, Officer of the Commander
It was not a hesitant, ghostly touching of knuckles to wood. Nor was
it the firm, measured, respectful rapping of one accustomed to the deed.
No, this was the knock equivalent of in extremis pulls on the whistle
Vice-Admiral Stennis and Rear-Admiral Martin had been behind the closed
door for about 10 minutes. There was much to go over, much to plan. Both
turned in surprise, after only the briefest exchange of glances to assure
each that the other had not been expecting any interruption, let alone
the overtones pouring through the oaken membrane from without.
Colonel Anton, sitting in the waiting area just outside, was stunned.
The young naval lieutenant he recognized as being an aide of the Commander
- Atlantic Fleet, but he would never have expected even a flaglieutenant
to intrude as his principal met with another flag officer.
The senior enlisted man behind the desk was absolutely flabbergasted,
his slackened jaw attested to the breadth of his bogglement.
Anton noted the open evidence provided by the yeoman. What was it, he
wondered, as the lieutenant opened the door and went in. The only thing
he'd had with him was a newspaper.
NOTE 1 - "Skin? Ah, cowhide, leather."
NOTE 2 - See http://www.baseball?almanac.com/players/player.php?p=vanceda01
Sadly, Dazzy Vance would never win a game with the Yankees. He went 0
- 3 in 1915, his only year with any decisions while wearing the pinstripes.
His time with the Yankees was short, though. He would spend most of his
career with the Brooklyn Robins (who, while he was still there, would
become the Dodgers in 1932). He would go on to win 197 games and record
over 2,000 strikeouts, topped by a 28 - 6 record in 1924 with 262 KOs
and an ERA of 2.16.
NOTE 3 - "Rube" was a common insult of the times. "Reuben"
- shortened to "Reub" and then to "Rube" - goes back
to at least 1896. It had already made it into the print medium in 1899
in _Tramping with Tramps_ by J. Flynt printed in that year. Originally,
it may have been a colloquialism based on "Reuben" being a common
name among farmers (hence country bumpkins). It became a cry by show folk
that an altercation had broken out between one of their own and a local
(hence bumpkin). By 1915, it had already gotten into slang.
NOTE 4 - "Stimmt zwar, aber ...." - roughly, "Agreed,