Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part XIV
---- 10:30 AM, Strassburg, stopped (Roughly 40 miles East of Delaware
"Sir, the Justine has gotten underway."
The officers were bending over the charting table, as the bosun updated
the plots for their two current contacts. The one originally sighted bearing
210 forty minutes ago was outbound and would pass to their south, with
a closest approach of 8,000 yards, in about twenty-five minutes. The one
spotted at the same time on bearing 035 would pass just 3,000 yards to
their north in about thirty-five minutes. Captain Siegmund had swung Strassburg
to present their bow to the outbound ship. The inbound ship had a bit
of a better look at her profile, but not by very much.
In any case, it was a clear statement by the Strassburg CO that his primary
interest was in hulls that were outbound.
"Very well," Siegmund replied. That was good, as it might delay
questions arising in the minds of their present quarries and each minute
brought both vessels conveniently nearer to the hunter. His brow furrowed
as he regarded the tracks, and the possible near-term sequences of events
"The lookouts know to report any flag sighting," Gommel supplied,
before he could be asked.
If the outbound ship was flying a Neutral flag, Siegmund's focus would
shift instantly to the other. Later it might be different, but not this
morning. Admiral Hanzik had been quite clear on that point.
"Thank you, XO."
---- 10:50 AM, Bermuda
The commander noted that the admiral was over at the chart on his wall,
staring hard. Looking for warships, maybe?
"Just in from Philadelphia. You had it exactly! Both Imperator and
Kaiser Wilhelm II docked there this morning."
The admiral just nodded. It was clear the other still had something else
"But there's more, sir. Another Hun liner!"
"No, sir. That is, Vaterland is still there, just as you said, but
another liner came in with the ones out of New York."
"A fourth liner?" Another German ship? Was there no end to
---- 11:10 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic
"Admiral Alton, sir."
"Very well, thank you." Stennis got up and went to the door
"Come on in, Admiral. Coffee? Yeoman, would you pass the word for
my steward please?"
Alton looked tired and Stennis knew full well that he was probably hiding
most of it.
"A good transit, Dave. Secretary Daniels and Admiral Benson were
on the phone with me when your '30 minutes out' message came in. That
was just in time for Daniels to use it with the British ambassador and
take with him to his meeting with the President."
"The President? Wilson?"
"The same," Stennis replied lightly, but it was his turn to
conceal inner feelings. He was shocked at Alton's weary puzzlement. Had
the other not slept at all? Had his fast run up channel sapped him so
The arrival of the steward bearing fresh hot coffee was welcomed by both
"Anything new to report?" Stennis asked, as he lifted his cup.
"I lost two more this morning before we turned them over to the
Ah, thought Stennis. So that's it.
"Dave, you saved a lot of British lives yesterday, and every Tar
you got ashore this morning now has a decent chance. A hell of a lot better
chance than they would've had outside on Moltke's deck."
Alton nodded, sipping the hot brew.
"But we need to move on, Admiral." Stennis was glad to see
the other getting a bit of color back and that he straightened at the
sound of his title. He wished he could give Alton a few more minutes,
but he dared not.
"Have you seen this morning's Times? No? Well, here's one - I seem
to have a few to spare," Stennis added dryly. "You'd better
take a few minutes right now and do that. I expect Daniels to call any
minute and he'll want to hear your version."
Alton glanced down at the headlines, and the photos.
"Yeoman? Is my steward still out there? We seem to have had a coffee
---- 11:15 AM, Bermuda
The admiral suddenly turned away from his splendid view to face the man
who was probably his acting-deputy.
"Fireship? Bloody hell! What if they use her as a fireship?"
He looked out the window again.
"Commander, what would be the result if the Huns steamed the SS
Justine into the harbour, right there," he added, pointing, "and
then set her on fire?"
The other officer blanched. A million-plus pounds of explosives - if
they went off where the elderly admiral was aiming his right index finger,
it'd scour the beaches and hillside clear of every building in sight.
Including the one he was standing it, he realized, numbly. He stood there,
trying to come up with a reason why it could not happen. They had nothing
that really could stop them, certainly not if the Huns came in backed
up by those damn battlecruisers. Nothing, nothing at all. He felt his
pulse lurch - but wait ....
"Why here, though, sir?"
"What I mean, sir, is that there's nothing here, or at least not
very much," he added hastily, hearing how that sounded.
"If the Huns were going to try something like that," he continued,
"wouldn't it make more sense to do it at Halifax? They could even
ram one prize with another and make it look like an accident." (NOTE)
---- 11:30 AM, Base hospital at the New York Naval Station
The two stood in the hospital vestibule amidst near-chaos. Many others
about them clamored for information, and no one seemed to have any to
give. The older one, a lady, looked up into the eyes of the young man
who had just emerged from the press of the crowd to rejoin her.
"Any word as to which room your Cousin Raymond is in now?"
"I'm afraid not, Auntie," the young man replied. "Everybody's
got the same problem. They had to move almost every patient in the entire
hospital this morning and I don't think they know themselves who's where.
It'll be hours ...."
"Good heavens!" The plump but pert lady exclaimed. "Why
in the world would they do that?"
"It seems there's been a sea battle, Auntie. A real one! Just outside
"Good heavens," she repeated. "That doesn't make any sense,
Arthur. We're not at war with anyone!"
"That's what they're saying though, Aunt Angela. They had to empty
out three wards just so that they'd have a place to put them all."
"Well, if that is indeed the case, Dear, then the Germans must have
beaten the British, and quite badly at that."
"Auntie! That, that is EXACTLY what they...," his voice trailed
off in exasperation. He took a breath. "But how'd YOU know that?"
Angela Seasbury, the author of a very great many popular fictional stories
of naval battles, squared her feminine shoulders.
"It's really quite simple, Dear," she began. "If the British
had won, they'd've taken their wounded and their prisoners away with them.
If they had lost but had gotten mostly away, there'd not be any number
as would fill three wards."
The young man just shook his head.
"Only if the Germans had won a decisive victory would there be so
many wounded here," she continued. "After all, nephew, they've
no place to take them."
"Well, however you did it, that seems to be just what they're saying
"It's not really that hard, dear. Events cast shadows, one merely
has to look for them."
"_Cannons in the Caribbean_!" Arthur moaned out loud.
"Did I do it again?" Seasbury frowned, embarrassed.
"Yes, you did," he lamented. "That's just what your Irish
pirate said when ...."
"Oh, I guess you're right."
"I've always thought that he was one of your stranger ones, Auntie.
An Irish pirate! 'Errol' Something-or-Other. Who could believe anyone
with a name like that could be a swashbuckler?"
"Well, it sold well enough. Arthur, I've no intention of waiting
all day. The soldiers all went that way, so let us go THIS way."
---- 11:45 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic
"Sir, Secretary Daniels, on Line 1."
"Thank you." Stennis looked over at Alton, and got a nod in
return. The two flag officers had both the Times and the Philadelphia
Inquirer open on the table, copies of the latter having arrived a few
"Good morning again, Mr. Secretary. And good morning to you, too,
admiral! I have Admiral Alton here with me and, with your permission,
I'll have him pick up on an extension here. Ah, thank you."
Why was Fiske there, Stennis wondered. And where was Admiral Benson?
"Go ahead, Dave," he told Alton, with a hand over the mouthpiece.
"Admiral Fiske's on, too."
"The latest news here," Stennis began, in answer to Daniels'
first question, "is that the British and German wounded are at the
base hospital, British consulate officers are there already and I expect
I'll be hearing from the Germans any minute. The Brits have also gotten
some of their consulate folk aboard those two armed merchant cruisers
of theirs we escorted in yesterday.
"And there's been a couple developments offshore that you need to
know about, also. Yes, out where the German battlecruisers are - the first
"Messages from the Destroyer Aylwin. As you'll recall, I left her
out there to keep an eye on them. Her captain, Commander Leverett, has
reported that the Germans have been stopping some of the merchant traffic
"Yes, sir. Not all, just some of them.
"As of his last message, they'd stopped and apparently seized three
inbound but let another one pass right by them. They'd also let two others
go by outbound.
"No, sir. We don't. Leverett wasn't close enough, but we DO know
who the three they let by were. That's correct. American. Two of them,
anyway. The third was an Italian.
"Yes, sir. That's a good bet, or they could've been French, or even
The two admirals sipped at their coffee. By now, they had completely
lost track of how many cups they had had.
"Reinforcements? Mid-afternoon, sir. That's my best estimate. Boston
reported that Admiral McDonald cast off from the pier at 0550. He's got
with him Texas, Florida, and a section of Destroyers.
"Yes, sir, I did say 'a couple.' We've picked up some distress calls
on the wireless this morning. One identified herself as the SS Justine,
British registry. She reported that she was being taken by a German warship
"No, sir. This looks to be a different ship.
"The position, Mr. Secretary. She reported a latitude and longitude
that puts her 50 miles dead east of Philadelphia.
"Yes, Mr. Secretary. A mistake is always possible, but that's not
quite all we have on her. We've been able to confirm that she put out
from Philadelphia late yesterday afternoon.
"Yes, sir. That's straight from the Port Authority there. So what
we're left with is ...
"Yes, sir. More Germans. It could be Strassburg, she certainly could've
gotten there easily enough, but maybe it's not. If it IS Strassburg, what
in the hell happened to those two liners that commodore was so damn -
excuse my French - anxious to escort back to Germany?"
---- 11:50 AM, marina, New Jersey coast near channel entrance towards
"Here's my son coming back now," she said into the phone.
"Well? Did you find Mr. Lannon? Is he coming?"
She frowned. Lannon had been in the clubhouse just a few minutes ago.
She was sure of it.
"Did you check his boat? The Chocorua Princess?"
"I looked there, too, Momma, but I ... didn't see him there."
She regarded her imp of a boy with suspicion. He'd chosen his words carefully.
Too carefully. Like he'd rehearsed them. He also had something in his
little right clenched fist, which he now thrust guiltily behind him.
"I'm sorry, sir," she said reluctantly. She turned away from
her son to conceal her expression. It wouldn't do to encourage him. "I
guess you'll have to tell that admiral that he's nowhere to be found here."
---- 11:55 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic
" 'What do they really want?' Obviously, I can't be sure, Mr. Secretary,
but their admiral claimed that all he wanted was to replenish and go back
where he came from. He was adamant, though, that they weren't going anywhere
until we either kicked the two Brits back out or interred them like the
The two admirals listened to a distant dialogue. It was at times like
this that Stennis still had a hard time believing in Bell's new-fangled
invention. This was like eavesdropping at a fantastical distance. Yet,
how had they ever managed without it?
"Yes, Mr. Secretary. I do agree with Admiral Fiske. They can sit
out there as long as they want and we can't do a damn thing about it.
They've already grabbed enough ships to keep them in food and coal for
weeks. Water, though. Water could be a problem for them, but keep in mind
that they've got something like 1,000 prisoners sitting on Moltke's deck
who'll go thirsty first."
Alton grimaced at that, but Stennis just shrugged at him as they listened
to the word from Washington.
"If we stall? The papers have all this, I'm sure of it. If they
don't yet, they will. The whole East Coast is going to start shutting
down, export-wise, and the Germans will short stop a lot of the imports
until the Brits choke it off. They'll send a fleet, but by then the Germans
will probably have had to disperse just to keep themselves in coal. They'll
be months running them all down - if they ever do - and each battle off
our coast could turn into another press fiasco."
---- 11:55 AM, Base hospital at the New York Naval Station
Ms. Seasbury and her nephew had managed to find their relative with only
minor difficulty. The bedlam associated with the arrival of the wounded
had the hospital staff thoroughly confused and not disposed to question
anyone who acted like they belonged there. Arthur's Aunt Angela, of course,
had mastered that technique before Arthur had himself mastered breeches.
All that had remained was to grandly traverse a ward or three until they
caught sight of him. He'd been directed to commandeer a wheelchair, they'd
popped Raymond into it, and off they went.
The three of them were now out on a side veranda. The breeze there was
hardly fresh, tinged as it was with coal smoke, but the air was far better
than what they'd had to breathe back in the crowded ward. Raymond - who'd
never been stout and now looked as though a good wind would carry him
off - had begun to wolfe down what his aunt had produced from her capacious
purse. Her other nephew was staring at all the warships, their iron sides
gleaming in the noon sun.
"I know what a Shore Patrol is, dear," she said, "but
I still don't understand how your injuries occurred."
"I was chasing a guy on AWOL, Auntie."
"Yes, you said that."
"Well, I'd chased him all the way down Della Street. It was getting
dark and he put on a cloak, with cowl. Pulled it over his head and shoulders
like a monk."
"Imitating a man of the cloth! Sacrilegious! Then what?"
"Yeah, Ray, how did that let him almost give you the slip?"
"I was chasing him, like I said," the other continued, giving
his cousin a black look. "That was right when he cut across the park.
He got a good head start on me, Arthur, upfield before I spotted him again.
That's when he tried to go up and over a wall. A high wall. Using a rose
trellis. He almost made it, but the trellis couldn't take it."
"Ah, so then the cad fell down right on top of you, Raymond, burrs,
masonry, and all."
"Aunt Angela, it didn't fail in your _The Cutlass Cavalier_ ..."
"Dear, that trellis was iron stapled in brick. The one that landed
on you was wood. Be glad of the difference."
---- Noon, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic
"Very well, Mr. Secretary, Admiral Fiske," answered Vice-Admiral
Stennis. "With your permission, I'll have Admiral Alton lead the
delegation, personally." Stennis did not miss Alton's nod. "He
saved their lives, each and every one of them, on both ships. If they're
going to protest the internment, let them try to tell him that face-to-face."
The two listened for a few moments.
"Mr. Secretary, one more thing, if you will. If you'd have someone
down there look into that request I just got over the phone from the Greeks,
I'd appreciate it. Unless I am otherwise directed, however, I plan to
give them the escort they've asked for." Stennis had opined that
if the USN refused them and something happened, the consequences could
be drastic. Daniels had not resisted, but the Greek official had said
that it'd be a day or two before Salamis was ready to get back underway.
They hung up the phone and stared at each other for a moment. Stennis
got up and stuck his head out the door.
"Call down to the Master At Arms," he ordered. "I want
a two full detachments up here, under officers and ready to go, in 30
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Dave, let's take a minute to go over what we just heard. Let me
jot down some notes."
"Of course, sir. Could you explain Daniels' 'two column inches below
the fold' comment?"
"Yes. He's a newspaper man. Whatever havoc the Germans may have
caused, they damn near drove Roosevelt, rally and all, right off the front
AUTHOR's NOTE: To understand the characters' reactions,
consider the following url: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/kylet1/halifax.htm