Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part XXX
---- Moltke, stopped, roughly 42 miles SE of Coney Island
"Old friend," began Admiral Hanzik to Captain Speck, as Augsburg's
CO readied to leave. The two were as private as was possible on the crowded
flagship. "I know this is not without risk, but I see no other way.
And, truly, there has been no trouble so far. The Americans have been
schooled and have behaved well, so I think matters will go as planned.
Still, this part risks your command, and I regret it is so."
"I understand, Herr Admiral," answered Speck, as the flag officer
"Martin, I just wanted you to know that I do not deny that risk,
or even belittle it. I do not do this lightly. As for the prisoners, I
see only slight risk there. It has been made clear to them that they are
being handed over to the Americans, and I have made sure that the Americans
watch where they can be seen to be watching. So, as I said, I expect no
trouble there but, of course, their numbers mean you must remain vigilant,
Speck's voice was flat, even. Hanzik considered it, sighted along it,
and was satisfied.
"And, Captain, use the time. All you can. Just as the others. And
visit the hospital. Martin, at times, your health concerns me. Captain
Westfeldt reported that the doctor caring for our men there is from Schüttenhofen
(NOTE). In fact, I'd order you to see him, but you must have full discretion.
---- Bridge of ACR Montana, course 180, speed 6 knots
"Sir, Salamis has begun her course change."
"Very well," Captain Peace replied. "Helm, left standard
rudder, bring us onto 090. Ahead Standard - make turns for 10 knots."
Dawn had come and gone without event, at least as far as the Americans
could tell. There'd been no RN warship or AMC to make mischief, not that
Captain Peace had seriously expected such. Nonetheless, a sense of imminence
remained and so he'd resolved to wait until Salamis had progressed far
enough into the channel that she'd begin her turn northerly to follow
the destroyer that Peace had detached as her guide. Soon after that, both
would be lost from view as they made their way up towards Philadelphia
and only then would he feel ready to commence the likely wild goose chase
after the cruiser Strassburg.
"Sir, steady on course 090. Engineering answers Ahead Standard."
Very well, Peace repeated to himself. Alright, so, say that it hadn't
been that the dawn position was important in of itself. What else might
it be? He pondered the matter as he watched his other destroyer maneuver
to take position in his van. Well, he thought. Another possibility was
the arrival time this spot allowed. That was easy enough to explore.
"Navigator, what docking time does the plot show for Salamis?"
"Plot has her tying up around 1000 hours, maybe a bit after."
"Tying up where?" Peace asked.
"The HAPAG Terminal." The other officer's tone did not include
the "of course" tone that he might have unconsciously started
with. That was because he realized the fallacy even as the words came
out of his mouth.
"She's not HAPAG, Navigator, and the Germans have gone to a lot
of trouble - a LOT of trouble - to tell the world she's not German. Now
that they've made it over here, I greatly doubt she'll dock there."
Peace approached the plotting table and watched as the Navigator put
his calipers back onto the map, flipping them again and again to follow
the likely track up the channel. After a few moments, the officer looked
at his captain and nodded.
Salamis might tie up at any of several locations, but a sufficiently
determined captain could put her alongside a pier right in the middle
of downtown Philly at noon.
Peace nodded back. High noon. Maybe that was it. Whatever "it"
was. He stepped out onto the bridge wing, joining CDR Campbell where he
watched Salamis laboring to steady up on her new heading.
It took a moment to bring Salamis into focus. He'd studied her, Peace
had, and at considerable length as they'd made their way down from New
York. Below the big binoculars, his lips worked in both sympathy and suspicion.
There was no denying it: that ship was incomplete, more a yard project
than a warship. Personally, he'd not have trusted her beyond the mole
on a simple day outing. In his opinion, her crew had as much dragged her
as sailed her down here. And they'd crossed the Atlantic? A tale for the
ages! Even as he wanted to shake his head, a tiny fleck of white blossomed
in her wake, hinting at a steely resolve. He licked his lips.
"How's your Greek history, XO?"
"Sir? Battle of Salamis, Marathon, Thermopylae?"
"Well, maybe mythology. Homer, The Illiad."
"Had it in school, Skipper, like everyone else, I guess. Helen -
the face that launched a thousand ships, Achilles, the Trojan Horse ...."
"The Trojan Horse. Remember the warning?"
"Um, 'Beware of Greeks bearing gifts' - wasn't that it?"
"Pretty much. But I've always thought the Trojans got set up there."
"Well, it wasn't the Greeks who were bearing the Horse that they
should have been told to 'beware of'. No, it was the ones INSIDE the Horse."
"What Laocoon SHOULD have warned," Peace concluded, as he lowered
his binoculars with Salamis' disappearance behind the headland, "was
'Beware of gifts bearing Greeks.' "
---- Parker (Destroyer No. 48), course 030, speed 6 knots, 36 miles SE
of Long Island
Already, it was apparent that more merchants had disappeared in the night,
but how many?
"Sir, lookouts have spotted one more - that makes four currently
in sight. Well, six if you count the two they've let by. And, sir, the
German light cruiser seems to have gotten underway, west by southwest."
"Very well," acknowledged LCDR Allen Barton, his own binoculars
also trained on the distant Germans.
"That leaves seven unaccounted for," the OOD observed.
"At least seven," Barton corrected. "We don't know what
happened after dusk." Only in full daylight could they make out what
the German light cruiser pickets to the east were doing. "Of course,
the German may simply have moved them further out. No telling, actually."
"Sir, two of the merchants are right next to the battlecruisers.
They look to be shifting coal again."
"Yes," Barton wished them luck. "Officer of the Deck,
bring us about. Navigator, get a plot running on that inbound cruiser.
I want to be about 5,000 yards north of her as she goes by on her way
Of course, thought the Navigator, to see if they're bringing in a deck
full of prisoners like Kolberg. The brass would most definitely want a
heads up on that.
Life is about choices. Reporters learn that early. No matter what street
one chose to go down, pen and pad in hand, the man could always bite the
dog one street away. For every interview that Blue could have conducted
last night, there would always been another hundred that he would have
missed merely because he had a finite number of hours in which to do them.
Reporters may even face this dilemma more often than any other in their
day-to-day work. Which leads to follow? What angles to pursue? Every story
written always meant ten others missed, maybe ten thousand. So, the quandary
he'd faced last night had hardly been unique.
The choice he'd made, however, was. And he did not regret it.
Certainly, there was no room for regrets - at least not within his right
arm. As he leaned gently against the side rail, watching the blue, white-edged
waves rush past, that volume of space was far better occupied. No interviews
- none at all - that had been his decision. Instead, the evening had passed
most agreeably: sitting, talking, walking, dancing, and just plain listening
to the singers, the orchestras, and the wind and the water coursing past
the hull in the silvery moonlight.
Forty feet away, but still decorously proximate, Countess Marina did
not trouble to conceal her rueful smile. They were unlikely to notice
- an understatement! - having eyes only for each other. Of all the duties
that could have come her way as part of the cause, this one might have
seemed the most improbable: chaperone. But when her so very generous host
had made the request, however, she could only assent. Holly's head relaxed
upon the other's shoulder, and Marina sighed as well.
In truth, the scene was not without its rewards for her, displaying as
it did that, for some, the world remained a very simple place. Despite
her Ireland's thrall and Europe's war, flowers grew, children played,
and lovers wooed. The young still reveled in the sun, oblivious of clouds
to come. Sighs to share, soft kisses steal, knowing not the nearing wheel.
But for these few gentle hours, Marina would let herself relax, put aside
her Sisyphusian burden. Such interludes centered and renewed her, appreciating
the simple did, the natural. Savoring bursting-ripe strawberries cloaked
in thick cream. Warding lovers discovering love. Unlike the doves two
score feet distant, however, she knew full well that her own wheel, the
mighty boulder of a free Ireland, would be hard against her shoulder again
all too soon. But, for now, she just eased closed her eyes, and let the
impish breeze romp in her rich, red tresses.
---- Augsburg, course 245, speed 15 knots
"Range: 8,000 yards."
Captain Speck had many reasons to be nervous, hundreds of them were sitting
on his decks. Each empty coal bunker added another. He most certainly
did not need this latest development. He stood out on the starboard wing
of his bridge, ignoring the armed sailors on the decks below, trying to
fathom what had happened. Had something changed? His binoculars refused
to focus at first, anxiety robbing his fingers of dexterity.
Why are the Americans closing on us? Speck most definitely did not like
the sight of the Destroyer's bow pointed ahead of him like that. He was
already out of sight of Moltke and von der Tann. Had the Americans intentionally
waited until Augsburg was beyond support range?
"Plot has them at 10 knots, sir."
Speck acknowledged. That seemed encouraging; the speed seemed low for
the commencing of an attack. Still ....
"Sir, their bow gun does not appear manned for action. One crewman
only is standing by it, and there is no sign of ready ammunition."
Better, thought Speck, the tightness in his chest easing a bit. Still,
the Americans had not done this when Rostock and Kolberg had gone in.
Why were they doing this NOW? To HIM?
"Lookouts are to report any changes, instantly," ordered Speck.
"Aye, aye, sir."
---- Parker (Destroyer No. 48), course 200, speed 10 knots, 39 miles SE
of Long Island
Barton nervously shifted his gaze from the German light cruiser now passing
by just over 5,000 yards to their south and the spot on the horizon where
the battlecruisers' mast-tops had dipped out of view about 45 minutes
ago. He did not in any way think they'd sneak away or anything. After
all, they'd been playing at coaling again last they'd seen. Still, he'd
feel a lot better once he had them back in sight again. A whole lot better.
"Captain, that's an affirmative on prisoners. She looks just like
Kolberg did yesterday. Lookouts can get any good number, but it's gotta'
be well over a hundred. Maybe two hundred. Maybe even three."
"Understood," Barton answered. "Pass the word for the
Communications Officer." While hardly unexpected, Admirals McDonald
and Stennis would very much want this information. Which was, of course,
why he'd done this.
"Helm, left five degrees rudder. Come to course 030."
---- Augsburg, course 245, speed 15 knots
Speck watched the American Destroyer dwindle back into the ENE horizon.
They had never manned their guns, but every step of an American crewman
near that bow gun had been painfully scrutinized. He had refused even
to consider having men approach his own, for fear of giving provocation.
The very thought that one of his men might slip or make some mistake had
been enough to give him near-fatal heartburn.
Then, very nearly in torpedo range, the inscrutable Americans had just
turned around and gone back where they'd come from.
He sighed, long and deep. He hated this, this tip-toeing around.
His breath evened out and the image steadied in the glasses. On the other
hand, he reflected, he'd already been shot at during several battles in
this damn war and that was worse. In fact, he thought, as the American
slipped below the horizon, tip-toeing was a lot better. A LOT better,
he told himself again, starting to relax.
"Sir! Lookouts report mastheads. Dreadnoughts, bearing ...."
---- Moltke, stopped, roughly 42 miles SE of Coney Island
"Admiral, the Americans have returned to their position."
"Danke. Is it certain that she is the same ship? Not another of
the same class?"
"Her bow bears the same number: 48."
Captain Stang had expressed suspicion when the Americans had suddenly
bustled off on a course to intercept Augsberg beyond their visibility.
Hanzik had been curious, but not greatly concerned. Whatever the Americans
were going to do, they would not do anything in International Waters;
that much he was sure of. The Americans loved the highly profitable high
ground of Neutrality, and no Destroyer captain would ever be authorized
to jeopardize it.
No, for some reason known only to himself, that distant CO must have
decided that he wanted to take a closer look at Augsburg and just went
and did it - without caring one pfennig how it might appear to the Germans.
It might, in fact, never have even entered the CO's mind at all.
"Captain," offered Hanzik, "I think I may understand."
Stang turned to his CO.
"Two decades of peace in a Hemisphere all to themselves, and four
decades more before that. They're so mesmerized in peace that they do
not trouble themselves to consider how others might interpret their actions."
Stang nodded. It had the ring of truth, but it bespoke of a world so
alien to his own experience that he knew he'd never truly understand it.
His entire career had been spent operating in a crowded environment with
larger, more storied navies as potential foes. To have grown up the master
of one's entire hemisphere ....
"Are we just interlopers to them, then?" Stang asked, after
a moment, brow furrowed.
"Exactly," agreed Hanzik, pleased to see that Stang had followed
the reasoning to the next logical step. "They are very protective
of their dominance here. That attitude has been the cornerstone of their
naval policy now for over a century.
"It is why we must be 'proper guests' and obey all the rules of 'hospitality.'
It is the Baron's hope that by doing so in a very public manner, that
these Americans will hold all others to the same standard. They have not
done so, thus far."
"Admiral, wireless from Augsburg. Dreadnought force on station."
"Very well," Hanzik replied. "Has the American Destroyer
stopped, or slowed to steerage way?"
"Yes, sir. The time logged was 8 minutes ago."
"Very well." Hanzik gave it some thought as he regarded the
distant American. Unlike the Americans, the Germans - doubtless the British
were the same - had learned to be very sensitive to sending signals, overt
"Captain, in thirty minutes time, then you may begin."
---- Parker (Destroyer No. 48), course 030, speed 4 knots, 36 miles SE
of Long Island
"Sir, lookouts report more smoke coming out of the larger German
Now what? The simplest explanation was that they had elected to clear
their stacks. Ships that had long periods of low smoke tended to soot
up. Flushing with steam was the best way to avert fires in the build up.
Nonetheless, Barton went out to add his eyes to the many other already
staring at unpredictable Germans.
"Sir, they're definitely getting underway."
This was not what Admiral McDonald had been expecting, not as far as
Barton knew. The Germans had been very deliberately trickling one ship
a day into New York. He did not like this, not one little bit. Word was
that this Moltke ship could do 28 knots and was immune to torpedoes. Nothing
should be that big and fast. Certainly nothing sporting five turrets of
"Sir, looks WSW."
Same as Augsburg. Coincidence? Not likely, Barton thought. He looked
at the other battlecruiser, but she seemed unchanged.
"What about the other one?"
For a brief moment, he could not recall the name. "The von der Tann?"
"She's still hove to, sir. Still shifting coal, looks like."
"Very well. Communications Officer to the bridge."
---- Kolberg, HAPAG Terminal, New York harbor
Kapitäleutnant Dahm came upon von Hoban apparently staring at one
of the lifeboats. The ropes looked correct, and the canvas also.
"Kommodore?" Dahm asked. "Is there something the matter?"
"Nein, nothing." Actually, there had been movement of a sort
on the deck beneath the lifeboat. Von Hoban was sure of it. But there
was clearly nothing there now, and he had no intention of announcing that
he had begun seeing things. A trick of the light, perhaps, he told himself.
"The Americans have passed Herr Schmidt's automobile."
"Ah, gut. Your stores?" The coaling had finished during the
"All that we have received has been stowed. We are to get one more
delivery - within the hour, if Herr Mittermann meets the schedule he promised
"He has done well with so far, with Strassburg and Rostock,"
von Hoban replied absently. "I must go down onto the pier to meet
with Herr Schmidt." Out in full view of the Americans. "Then,
I shall check on matters at the HAPAG office."
As he stepped away, von Hoban cast a quick furtive glance towards the
"Herr Schmidt," greeted von Hoban, a few minutes later, as
the other emerged from the auto..
"Guten Tag, Kommodore. All is well?"
The two men formally shook hands, standing where both could be seen from
the distant guard posts. Through his binoculars, Ensign Jones could see
clearly the face of the commodore but not the diplomat, as Schmidt's back
was mostly to him. He wondered if that had been deliberate.
"No problems, at least ones of which I am aware. There was some
difficulty with one fresh water tank, but that has been resolved and the
tank filled. The mid-watch is still in the warehouse barracks and one
more delivery of perishables remains. Should there be the need, however,
we could cast off in a single hand of minutes."
"No requests for inspections?"
"None," replied von Hoban, patiently. His instructions had
been to call the Chancellory of any demand that the Americans might make
along those lines. He had made no such call. Schmidt relaxed, visibly,
a set of issues avoided.
"Augsburg has been sighted in the channel," reported the senior
consular officer, after a moment. "She's being led by the same American
Destroyer as before."
"The Aylwin? Number 47?" Von Hoban's tone was one of relief.
That was a good sign. Her captain was the one they had knowledge of.
---- New York, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet
Once again, Vice-Admiral Stennis was on the telephone with Vice-Admiral
Benson. His only consolation was that Secretary Daniels was absent.
"... both Commander Trimm and Lieutenant-Commander Holgate should
be there by mid-afternoon, reports in hand. I'm reluctant to send Captain
Eberle down, because I really need him here. The British have been seriously
chafing over delays at the hospital and he's developed a good rapport
with the senior Entente officer there.
"The Augsburg is on her way in, right on schedule, and her decks
are as full of prisoners as Kolberg's were yesterday.
"Peace has signaled that Salamis is on her way up towards Philly."
"That's about it for ... uh, just a minute, Admiral."
Admiral Martin, Stennis' deputy, was one of the very few who would open
the door into the Office of Commander - Atlantic Fleet with only a single
knock and without waiting for reply. He did so very rarely, but he had
just done so again.
"Excuse me, sir," Martin began. He had just minutes before
left this same office for the docks where he was to meet the incoming
German cruiser. "Two reports I thought you should get immediately."
Stennis knew that Martin meant that they were items that Stennis would
want Washington to know as soon as he did.
"Moltke has gotten underway. She's inbound, speed 12 knots. Got
underway about 1100."
Stennis gritted his teeth and relayed that to Benson at the other end.
"And the other, sir, is the German liners. They've been sighted
"Sir, we've picked up another distress wireless: SS Kirkdale. She's
in the Registry: 4,732 tons, out of Glasgow. I don't have her cargo yet."
The tone in the officer's voice clearly suggested that there was something
new about this one, something different. The admiral just raised his eyebrows
for the other to continue.
"We're not entirely sure - we only got it the one time - but the
position she gave was 42:30 North by 70 West."
Neither officer had to look at a map to realize what that meant.
---- New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer newsrooms
About 80 land miles apart, the two day-shift news editors were finishing
up assigning the imminent noon coverage down at the docks. New York had
one German cruiser leaving and another scheduled to arrive, and the betting
line was that she'd have still more Entente prisoners to hand over. Philadelphia
expected the enigmatic Salamis to dock; certainly the Greeks were giving
every indication of enthusiastically readying for her. Word was that crowds
were already growing at both locations.
Unexpectedly, both heard their names shouted out from across the room:
phone call. The reporters, copy writers, and hangers on who had all begun
to disperse paused in their tracks. The tone of voice of the shout was
not one of personal emergency, or notable calamity, but more one of delight
and vast surprise. Whatever this was, their antennae froze their feet
in place and they turned to face their editor as each, scowling, picked
up the phone. Their tasks would wait another minute and this could hardly
fail to be interesting, one way or another.
"Browning?" said the Times editor, incredulously.
"Blue?" exclaimed the Inquirer editor.
"Where in the HELL are you?!" Both shouted.
Spectacular. That was what it was, literally: a spectacle. Mouths were
a-gape all along the docks and water's edge.
Four massive, brightly caparisoned passenger liners, steaming right into
the center of the harbor. It was a sight that would have naturally drawn
the eyes of any who just happened to be in a position to see. The number
who were in such a position was substantial to start, but grew minute
by minute as the vessels made their way to the docks. No coincidence that,
as the liners' great steam whistles announced their arrival to any with
ears, echoing and reverberating their message deep into the heart of the
city. Five whistles, actually, as the Kronprinzessin Cecilie quickly joined
Folk began to drift towards the docks, including several from the newspapers,
including the Boston Globe.
Blue Fox and Maxwell Browning were already off the phone, having shifted
onto a fast launch secured by Ballin to meet the ships, just as he had
done off New York. The two reporters were setting up camera tripods even
as their distant editors were dispatching couriers for their materials,
and reporters for coverage. Both editors were grinning like sharks at
the thought of scooping the Globe on a story taking place in Boston itself.
- Today, the German city known in 1915 as Schüttenhofen is within
the borders of the Czech Republic, and is named Susice. Dr. Koller historically
was from there, and dialogue in 1915 would have used the earlier name.
See the following earlier chapter, including the first NOTE:
It would appear that the source document in the original NOTE of that
chapter contains a small error. Specifically, the town identified as "Schützenhofen"
should have been "Schüttenhofen," at least per: