Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part IX
---- 7:35 AM, bridge of Aylwin (USN Destroyer No. 47), stopped
CDR Leverett was trying to look in three directions at once, as he tried
to keep track of the slow but definitely ongoing German diaspora that
apparently had begun just before dawn.
The Hun heavies still lay just 2,000 yards off his starboard beam. They
were exotic foreign designs, bristling with guns, but that was the one
direction he was NOT looking. The more prosaic light cruisers that had
been with them were a different story, and they were the ones that were
in the midst of dispersing. Last dusk, the waters just around Aylwin had
been crowded with dreadnoughts, battlecruisers, light cruisers, and destroyers.
Those same waters now held "only" the battlecruisers, Aylwin,
and the captured AMC. Leverett had been nervous last eve, with all that
firepower so densely packed into so little searoom. Now he found himself
wishing that the unpredictable Germans would simply stay put in one place
neatly off his beam.
"Sir, lookouts report that the cruiser bearing 120 is altering course.
She looks to be coming onto a northerly heading."
Leverett swung back from staring west and looked along the reported bearing.
"About 15,000 yards, sir."
"Very well, Leverett replied. "Any word on ...."
"Sir, cruiser on 060 has also altered course north."
Ah, thought Leverett, that explains it. Well almost.
"Anything on the third one?"
Aylwin's CO scratched his head as he considered it. On the face of it,
the Germans had simply extended their light units into a screen. All was
quiet, like a lull before a storm. It was then that he realized that the
clanking and hammering noises from Moltke that had assaulted their ears
all night long had stopped. Were they done with their repairs? He shrugged
and looked again at the cruiser still easing down to the southwest.
---- 7:40 AM, bridge of Augsburg, course (changing), speed 7 knots
"Sir, steady on 010."
"Very well," Captain Speck replied. He and all the others on
the bridge were scanning the horizon to the East. The sun was still low
enough to make that a bit tough on the eyes.
"All Stop," Speck ordered after a couple minutes.
"XO," Speck said after a few minutes more, "I'll be in
my sea cabin."
"Aye, aye, sir.
The XO and LT Kessock looked at each other but said nothing. The captain
had been spending a lot of time in his sea cabin ever since returning
from Moltke after yesterday's battle.
---- 7:40 AM, bridge of Kolberg, course (changing), speed 7 knots
Acting-CO Dahm also was scanning the horizon to the East, or trying to.
The problem was that he had discovered earlier that it was quite painful
to sweep bearing arcs through his binoculars. The movement of his torso
as he held the binoculars up to his face had produced excruciating discomfort,
wrap or no wrap. Experimentation on his part had led him to develop a
technique of shifting his feet instead of pivoting at the waist, and that
had eased it somewhat. Now, he had just learned that trying to remain
focused on one bearing while the ship changed course produced the same
stabbing pains in his ribcage as before. Panting slightly, he lowered
his glasses, resigned to waiting for his command to steady up on her new
"We're on course 010, sir," reported acting-XO Diele.
"Very well," Dahm replied, as evenly as he could. "All
Gingerly, he again raised his binoculars.
---- 7:40 AM, bridge of Strassburg, stopped, 1000 yards off Française
Captain Siegmund was not scanning all of the horizon at that moment.
Instead, his attention was confined along a bearing arc of about 10 degrees
centered on 270. That line of sight let him keep in view both bridge of
the stopped French merchant and the thickening plume from the unknown
ship coming up on her coastal side.
"Sir, the contact on 275 has crested the horizon. We've got a course
for her now. Plot has her on something like 065, range 22,000 yards."
"Very well," Siegmund answered. "Speed?"
"Between 7 and 8 knots, sir. It'll be several more minutes before
I can narrow it any further."
Siegmund acknowledged and checked the chronometer again. LT Wilhelm and
his boarding party had been aboard the Frenchman for about five minutes.
---- 7:40 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 225, speed 6 knots
Captain Westfeldt stared astern at the battlecruisers. The distance was
sufficient, he decided.
He'd rather have been one of the ones on the East edge of the screen,
but he was quite well aware that his light cruiser was also the one lowest
"Today should be a quieter one, ja?" LT Heinrich von Larg commented.
"Hopefully," Westfeldt answered, thinking about his coal and
ammunition levels. "The boat winch?"
"Repairs were completed last night, sir."
Westfeldt was not satisfied by that, even though they had managed to
get their launch over to Moltke just in time to help transfer the wounded.
"Once we lose all way, I want to practice putting our boat in the
water, and recovering it. The full drill. Three times, maybe more."
"Aye, aye, sir."
---- 7:45 AM, bridge of Strassburg, stopped, 1000 yards off Française
"Sir, the contact on 275 may be altering course."
"Wireless?" Gommel suggested.
"That's one explanation, alright," Siegmund answered, bitterly.
He had expected more time, a lot more. Privately, he'd not thought they'd
have the entire day, but he'd hoped it'd be noon or later before the word
"Ahead Slow, right full rudder. Helm, line us up on her. Engineering,
standby for Ahead Flank."
Hurry it up, Lieutenant, urged Siegmund silently.
"Perhaps the other just got the wireless up on the bridge, plotted
that the ship making the report was not very distant, and then saw that
this ship coming up on their bow was stopped."
"Reasonable," nodded Siegmund, staring hard at the bridge of
their latest prize. Hurry it up Lieutenant, he commanded again, helplessly.
---- 7:45 AM, bridge of Française Justinia, stopped
LT Wilhelm was shaken. The Frenchman's preemptive surrender turned out
to have been very, very easily understandable. Of course, they had not
wanted even a warning shot fired in their direction. Her cargo was munitions
- projectiles, land mines, and related materials. He was not sure of the
total tonnage of high explosives, but it was comfortably over one million
pounds. Well, "comfortably" was certainly NOT the word the perspiring
young officer would have used.
What was making it even worse, though, was that the ship had a wireless
and the operator had been busily sending distress signals right up to
the moment that Wilhelm's leading seaman had put an abrupt end to it.
The rest of the crew showed no signs of resistance. They seemed, in fact,
quite timid in demeanor. Perhaps a better word might be "fatalistic,"
Wilhelm reflected as he watched his signalist report the essentials. Basically,
the ship had surrendered, remained under control, her cargo was munitions,
she had a wireless, and had been sending out distress signals as fast
her weaselly little operator could flick his now possibly-broken wrist.
"Sir, Strassburg has acknowledged."
"Very well," Wilhelm acknowledged. He raised his glasses to
read the response. It could not come too quickly for him. He wanted to
pull the cork this very instant and scuttle. Not for an moment did he
consider how brief that would make his first instance of independent command.
Indeed, he had very nearly given the order himself, anticipating Captain
Hmmm, Wilhelm thought, sometime in the last 10 minutes or so, Strassburg's
aspect had become bows-on. Drift? He'd had other matters to deal with
these last few minutes. He blinked as she belched smoke and began to get
underway. He frowned slightly, unsure just why anyone - let alone Captain
Siegmund - would chose to get closer to this floating ammo dump.
----7:45 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic
Secretary Daniels did not have a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer before
him when he placed his call to Vice-Admiral Stennis. Instead, he had just
gotten off the telephone with some in the City of Brotherly Love who did,
and had a secretary transcribe some of it. There had been some mention
in those calls of photographs, but Daniels had flatly discounted that
as impossible, reasoning instead that the Inquirer had used stock photos.
Even if someone HAD taken such pictures, there had been no physically
possible way - Daniels had pronounced to his phone callers - that photographic
negatives could have made the trip from miles off the New York coast to
the Philadelphia Inquirer building in time to make the morning deadline.
Moments ago, he had practically exploded at the revelation that the New
York Times had the same or similar stories and actual photographs, to
Stennis could not help it. A tiny smirk formed on his weathered visage,
Admiral Martin noted, as it became clear that the thing that was angering
Daniels the most was that he was going to have to eat crow the next time
he spoke with those same prominent Philadelphians. And not just a small
amount, but a massive turgid pile of black-as-coal avians. Martin, hand
over his own mouthpiece, rolled his eyes ever so slightly in return. It
was shaping up to be another very long day, but it was already having
"Whoa," winced Stennis, at a novel epithet. "Not heard
that one in years."
A very hesitant knock on the door interrupted the little scene. The two
admirals turned as the door eased open to see who it was. It was Stennis'
aide, with Martin's just behind him. Stennis looked at Martin and tilted
his head at the two junior officers. The rear-admiral nodded and went
to see what it was, this time.
As Martin started to close the door gently behind him, he heard Stennis
clear his throat. He paused, knowing his boss quite well. Daniels would
want heads to roll, with the grey-haired one atop the vice-admiral's shoulders
probably first in his chopping block queue. But would that chasten the
Commander - Atlantic Fleet? Martin thought not, with a sigh.
"Er, Mr. Secretary," began Stennis. His dead-pan innocence
was belied by the twinkle in his eye. "Did I mention that the Times
reporter was actually from the Sacramento Union?"
---- 7:50 AM, bridge of Française Justinia, stopped
LT Wilhelm, the new - and now continuing - captain of a one-million pound
floating bomb, watched in dismay as Strassburg surged by on her way towards
another prize. He felt his shoulders begin to slump, but caught himself.
That would be the worst sort of fatalism, he realized, understanding suddenly
the demeanor of the French crew.
"Bring our boat, aboard," he ordered.
The petty officer who was the senior enlisted man in the boarding party
nodded his head and headed aft. He went himself because the boat crew
was not going to like it. Strassburg, however, was clearly not staying
around to recover it - and them.
Wilhelm continued to stare after the cruiser for a minute. He ought to
be doing something, but his mind kept returning to what lay just meters
below the soles of his feet. "Fatalism, fatalism," he thought
"Bring the Frenchmen out on deck," he ordered, finally. "Start
thinking about how to tie them up."
"Tie them up, sir?" The man had heard the lieutenant, of course,
but the junior officer was not so threatening an individual that the sailor
could not ask "why" under the guise of seeking clarification.
"Ja," Wilhelm answered. "It looks like we may be stuck
aboard for a while. The last thing I want is some Frenchie deciding to
martyr himself, and take us with him."
"Du lieber Himmel!" The seaman exclaimed, wishing perhaps he
had not asked. "Aye, aye, sir!"
The German helmsman swallowed as the other bolted off the bridge. "They'd
see us in Wilhemshaven," he exaggerated, somewhat.
"They might at that," agreed Wilhelm, casting another longing
look after the diminishing cruiser.
----7:50 AM, New York Naval Station, just outside the Office of the Commander
- Atlantic Fleet
"Sir, I apologize for the interruption," the aide began.
"Not a problem, Mister," Rear-Admiral Martin replied. "Whatcha'
"British consulate officers, sir. Two carloads of them. They're at
the main gate and want in. They're demanding access to both the AMCs and
to their men in the hospital. The sentries are requesting instructions."
"Ah, right, right. Well, let me see. Okay. Colonel Anton?"
"Would you be so kind as to gather up a few of your men and head
over there? Take your time, and check out their credentials. Thoroughly,"
Martin added, meaning "slowly."
Anton acknowledged, both the order and the message.
"Then call back here for instructions.
"Anything else?" Martin asked, extending his hand back towards
the door knob.
The yeoman nodded and extended a sheaf of notes. The admiral glanced
through them. The first two were relatively routine, but he raised his
eyebrows at the third.
"Is this time correct?"
"Yes, sir. Confirmed it myself."
Stennis looked up as Martin came back in.
"Excuse me a moment, Mr. Secretary," he said, then covered
"We've got British at the gates. From their consulate. I sent Colonel
Anton over. He's to take his time going over their credentials and call
back for instructions."
Stennis nodded at his deputy.
"Alton is giving his ETA as 0815." Stennis' eyebrows shot up
in perfect imitation of Martin's a minute earlier. "The base hospital
is responding down to the pier now."
"Mr. Secretary, Admiral Benson? Another element just got added.
Keep in mind the times printed in the Inquirer and New York Times. Well,
I've got the British at the gates here, and Admiral Alton should be tying
up with more of their wounded - and some Germans to boot - in about 30
---- 7:55 AM, bridge of Strassburg, course 275, speed 16 knots (increasing)
Siegmund cast only a cursory glance at the Française Justinia
receding in his wake. Ahead was what he hoped would be his next prize.
"Sir, she's on course 270, speed 8 knots, maybe a few tenths more."
Siegmund did the math. Assuming Strassburg got to 22 knots shortly, it'd
be another 30 minutes before they could fire a warning shot.
"Sir, we've got smoke on 345 and 170. They're hull down, both of
Damn! Whoever this guy on their bow was, he was costing them time, when
Siegmund could least afford it. Too much time.
He centered his glasses on their quarry, considering again that perhaps
he should break off, look for other prey.
"Two boats," Gommel offered from alongside.
"Ja, but she's the biggest so far. Looks newer, too. And she's already
over 8 knots."
"I wonder what her cargo is?"
"I don't know, sir. But her captain sure doesn't seem to want us
to get it."
"Yes, that's why I'm not letting her get away."
---- 7:55 AM, bridge of Aylwin (USN Destroyer No. 47), stopped
"Sir, lookouts have confirmed that none of the three of the German
light cruisers are under way."
Leverett stooped over the chart table with his XO and Navigator. The
bosun was pointing to a cluster of dots in the middle of the map.
"This here's us and the Huns we got us alongside," the enlisted
chief began. The other three marks showed that the German cruisers were
arrayed in almost an arc to the east and south.
"This is Augsburg," the bosun continued, "out to the northeast.
Kolberg to the southeast. And Rostock over here to the southwest."
"So," suggested the XO, "the screen is open to the west.
They're not expecting any threats from us, or coming out from the coast."
"I'm not sure it's threats they have in mind, XO," Leverett
commented, studying the map. "This could be a problem. Signals Officer
---- 7:55 AM, bridge of Augsburg, stopped
"Sir, smoke on bearing 035."
"She's still hull down," observed Kessock.
"Yes," said the XO. They stood there for a full minute gauging
the smoke. "No bearing drift, though. Signals, hoist 'contact, bearing
"Captain to the bridge.
"And you, Mr. Kessock, back to the small boat area."
---- 8:00 AM, bridge of Kolberg, stopped
"Sir, flags going up on Augsburg."
The glasses swept onto 350. The other cruiser was something like 20,000
yards to the north-northwest, so there was exactly zero chance that those
on the bridge would make out her signal. The lookout about 25 feet above
their heads with the telescope might, but not them. That did not, however,
keep them from looking anyway.
Except for Dahm, that is, who carefully made no motion whatsoever in
"Sir, lookouts report it's a contact signal, but they can't make
out the bearing."
Dahm smiled at the expression on his Acting-XO's face.
"The day is young, XO. It is entirely possible that ...."
"Sir, smoke! Bearing 080."
"Do you think," began Diele.
"On that bearing?" Dahm replied, raising his binoculars warily.
"No, I think she's ours. Yours, actually. Perhaps now would be a
good time for you to get back and check on the launch and the boat crew."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"Helm, Ahead Slow. Just kick us around; put our bow on 080. Then
back to All Stop.
"Engineering, get started warming up another boiler. Expect Ahead
Standard in about, oh, 30 minutes.
"Signals, hoist 'contact, 080.' "