Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part XXXII
(Dawn, June 23, 1915)
---- Parker (Destroyer No. 48), course 180, steerage way, 34 miles SE
of Long Island
LCDR Allen Barton and all those topside stared anxiously into the lifting
gloom. He couldn't see much of anything yet. He certainly couldn't see
any ships. Even gawdam big battlecruisers.
"Lookout section, report any contacts."
Dawn is a touchy time for warships at sea in time of war, particularly
when moonlight had been lacking as it had last night. Could an enemy be
in range, maybe even point blank range? In such cases, there were only
the quick and the sunk. Visibility extended second by second, while mists
on the water often made visibility greater in one direction than another.
The United States was not at war, but others were, and mistakes knew no
national boundaries, allegiance, or treaty.
"None, sir. Not at this time."
Damn! Where were they? They had to be out here somewhere. Well, Barton
considered, Parker had been somewhat closer in-shore, so maybe different
currents had carried them apart. But where? It was already getting brighter.
"Chief, visibility estimate?"
"I make it 10,000, sir. Maybe twelve."
Minutes passed. Still no Germans. Might Moltke - and maybe von der Tann,
too - be closing on the Three Mile Limit right this moment? It was still
darker to the west. Maybe even already lurking just off Texas' beam?!
Admiral McDonald would be most surprised, and not pleasantly. Not with
one dreadnought and suddenly finding himself face-to-face with two unpredictable
dreadnought battlecruisers. Barton swallowed. But there was just no way
he could have stopped the Germans from sneaking past in the dead of night.
Was there? Would the admiral see it that way? He swallowed again.
"Comm Officer: to the Flagship, 'no ships in sight.' Hold it, though.
Just let me know when you're ready to transmit."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Left standard rudder, Ahead Full. Make turns for 18 knots. Engineering,
standby for Flank bell."
Just a couple days ago, it had been damned crowded out here. Now the
sea was empty.
Where were they? Just over the horizon? Had they shifted to the South?
Gone back home?
---- Augsburg, HAPAG Terminal Pier, New York
Captain Speck stood on the bridge, watching the American dreadnoughts
ease majestically out into the harbor proper. The workmen had finished
coaling two hours ago and he had toyed with the notion of leaving right
at daybreak, but the obvious sortie preparations in the American base
had quickly dissuaded him. He might not know the best time to cast off,
but he had recognized that the worst one would be while the touchy Americans
were themselves forming up to head out to sea.
Actually, Speck felt pretty good, like he'd had almost a full night's
sleep. He hadn't, of course, but he did feel better than he had since
perhaps Griceland, and maybe even since leaving Wilhelmshaven itself.
Fresh leafy vegetables, ripe fruits, hot showers, and what the American/German
doctor - Koller - called nitroglycerin all seemed to have done wonders
for him. (NOTE 1) Full coal bunkers and the four
hours he'd actually slept had given him a sense of renewal. Optimism had
replaced the fatalism of yesterday and the days before. He stretched unobtrusively,
enjoying the splendidly laundered uniform and how its starched collar
scratched the skin of his neck.
He even smiled as he recognized the trucks from Mittermann and Sons as
they began to make their way down the pier towards his ship. Bread still
warm from the oven, quaintly seasoned sausages, eggs just hours from the
hen, butter with no rancid or coal dust taste ....
By Gott! He was going to have a fine and mighty breakfast this morning,
Americans or not!
---- About fourteen miles south of Toms River, New Jersey
The boy was sitting bent over, favoring his arm.
"It was the Devil, I tell you!" The mother's voice was shrill
She didn't mean Satan. Not really. What she meant was "The Jersey
Devil." Six full years had gone by since the last time, but it was
back. Really back. The first sightings had started pouring in only yesterday,
but already they'd begun to rival the numbers at the height of the furor
of 1909. (NOTE 2) Back then, it'd taken two or three
days for the sightings to peak. If that held true this time, they'd have
thousands and tens of thousands of sightings before the outbreak ran its
And not just visual accounts. The city desks had easily shrugged off
those with placating words and secret cynical smiles. No, there were many
with much more than sightings. Staring at the lad's bandaged arm, Rick
Wahzoh wanted to scratch his head, but dared not.
Rick was a reporter from the Philadelphia Press and a large man, standing
three inches over six feet in his socks. Though it might have come as
a surprise to some, his dimensions generally hindered him in his profession.
Tough guys tended to take his size as a challenge, while kids and little
old ladies were often intimidated. He had trained himself to watch for
signs, and schooled himself to speak softly, trying to let his voice soothe
his subject. The scared boy hunkered down half into a ball before him
was small for his ten years, and Rick's hands, like the rest of him, were
outsized with thick fingers that oft betrayed him on the typewriter. He
needed to coax a first-hand account out of the kid and his mother's near-hysterics
were definitely not helping. Raising his hand now, even just to scratch
The boy was still not ready to talk, he judged, so he turned to face
"Yes, ma'am. Could you tell me again what the doctor said?"
This was the key piece, Rick had decided, and was why he'd picked this
one to follow up first. Lurid accounts of burning eyes, fang-filled mouths,
and the like were all well and good and even made for diverting copy,
but this here promised to be more than that.
"He said he'd never EVER seen a bite like that; that's what he said."
Yes, that's what she'd said the first time. If accurate, this was not
a trivial statement. Those words had come from an old time country doctor,
one of the ones who were still making their rounds in a horse and buggy.
No stranger to bites, this man. Bites of all kinds: rats, cats, dogs,
weasels, you name it.
"Mmm-hmmm," Wahzoh murmured in encouragement, his hands still
out of sight.
"He said whatever it was had canines and funny scissors."
Scissors? He was going to have to track down this man.
---- USS Texas (BB-35), just inside Three Mile Limit off channel to New
Admiral McDonald scowled as he read the message from Parker again. No
Germans in sight and the Destroyer's CO was taking her further out to
investigate. He nodded slightly in approval, and then looked up and scanned
the horizon. No Germans here, either, and the absence of reports from
the lookouts with better vantages and lenses testified the same.
Still, Parker might have been 40 miles away when dawn had first broken.
During the night, the Germans could have shifted a few miles south and
be even right this instant between the picket and his force, but he didn't
believe it. No, it was clear enough now. That admiral of theirs had come
all the way in to the Three Mile Limit yesterday to get rid of his prisoners
because he was leaving, getting the hell out of Dodge, maybe even high
tailing it back to Germany. Maybe. The sound of approaching, purposeful
steps drew his eyes from the empty horizon.
"Admiral, from Admiral Stennis."
McDonald took the proffered paper. The dour flag officer almost broke
into a smile; Admiral Alton had cast off with New York, Wyoming, and Florida
at practically the crack of dawn. Excellent. In just a few hours the United
States Navy would have four dreadnoughts on station and ready to deal
with whatever the Germans thought they were up to.
Unless, unless he had it wrong, and the Germans showed up here first.
He looked up and scanned the eastern horizon again.
---- Philadelphia Inquirer
Freddie Burke, "Ace Reporter," was admiring his Salamis story
on the front page. Actually, he'd been doing that for some time now. Nice
to see his byline there. Again. Above the fold. Again. His chest swelled
as much as his slight frame would allow. They hadn't gone with his headline,
but that was chump change. One of his photos was even there, right next
to his name, right on Page One. Other shots of his were inside. The other
rags had stories, all right, but no pix of the ceremony stuff. Not a one!
Their guys hadn't gotten there until that stuff was all over. Hah! You
can't cash in a trifecta if you can't even make it to the betting window
before post time!
Yes, he thought, leaning back, propping his feet up on the desk, ignoring
the staccato of typewriters and the jangling of telephones all around
him. Page Ones, above the fold. This was the big time.
"Burke!" Freddie started, chair almost falling over. "It's
"Got it." Freddie frowned as he reached for the battered device
on his scarred desk. The guy really should've said "Mr. Burke."
"This is Burke," he said into the mouthpiece.
"Is this Mr. Burke?"
The Ace Reporter caught himself an instant before he snarled back that
he'd just said that. The voice was cultured, genteel-like, with just a
trace of accent. Unconsciously, his nostrils flared, much like the thoroughbreds
he lost money on so consistently.
"Yes," he said, "this is Burke. What can I do for you?"
"Ah, yes. Thank you and good morning, Mr. Burke. I spoke with you
yesterday. Down on the pier with our Salamis and, this morning, I read
your most excellent story ...."
Freddie smiled with pleasure, even as his eyes narrowed with suspicion.
This was one of those Greek panjandrums he'd interviewed yesterday. Did
the guy feel that he'd been misquoted and now wanted a retraction? Whatever
it was, he wanted something. The distant speaker droned on in what even
Freddie realized was probably empty praise for a bit before shifting to
whatever specifics had generated this telephone call. Detecting the transition,
Burke dug under the spread out pages of newsprint for his notepad.
"Schwab?" Freddie asked, reaching for a pencil. "You mean
President of Bethlehem Steel Schwab? Well, maybe he's out of town? Oh,
The Greek was sure. Positive, in fact. Freddie blinked. This made no
sense. There had to be tons of greenbacks in it for Bethlehem Steel in
fixing up that whatever-it-was battleship. Tons!
"I don't understand," Burke protested. "Does it HAVE to
be Bethlehem Steel? Why can't you just go somewhere else? Oh. The guns?
"!!! You think what?! But where could ...?"
---- Washington, DC, Office of the Secretary of State
Although he craved the public stage, the man behind the great and storied
desk did not like to be disturbed in his office, even though he acceded
to the need for that at times. The woman's duty often required her to
do just that, but she always peeked in first. If he was obliviously intent,
she would wait a bit and then look in again. This time he was standing,
hands clasped behind his back, staring out a window. He'd been doing that
a lot this last week.
"Sir, I am so sorry to interrupt you."
The woman hesitated. She'd done this countless times before, but the
ritual remained in place.
"No, no," responded The Honorable William Jennings Bryan, most
politely, even genially, as he turned to face her. "Do come in, Sarah.
What seems to be the matter?"
"It's the Greek ambassador, Mr. Secretary. He wants to meet with
you at your very earliest opportunity."
Secretary Bryan's majestic eyebrows lifted at that. "Very earliest"?
"He says it's urgent. Extremely urgent."
She hesitated, licking her lips nervously as she considered how to continue.
"And he was most upset, sir."
---- Several miles south of Toms River, New Jersey
Rick Wahzoh was not the only Philadelphia reporter out in the field -
in this case, the pine barrens - trying to pick up the story that had
broken in the local New Jersey papers yesterday. Another was Riccardo
Uccello of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, who would not have been there
at all, except that one of the most aggrieved men now watching for his
reaction was his editor's brother-in-law. "Damn fool of a brother-in-law,"
his editor had said, "but sure as hell SOMEthing's got him all riled
up, so I want you to get your butt out there and see what it's all about."
Just then, the only reaction they were seeing was a big man - Uccello
was about the same size as Wahzoh - scratching his head in puzzlement,
exactly as Rick wished he could be doing, about five miles away.
Uccello had not for a moment believed the locals' ghastly tales of a
hairy band of Devils wreaking havoc as they punctuated the night with
cries of demonic glee. Now, as he stood in the backyard of the brother-in-law,
he felt his insouciance sag just a bit. What had been a stout feed storage
shed was now a litter of lumber scraps. Nor was that all of it, he realized,
noting the white-knuckled grips on pitchforks and shotguns around him.
No feral pig or stray dog had done this. Yes, claws and teeth'd been used,
but the nails were popped right out of some of the scattered boards. The
shed literally had been ripped apart and what in the hell could have done
such a thing?! The men around him were rustics, certainly, but the evidence
was clear to them, just the same. In fact, they had come to much the same
conclusion, including the "what in the hell" part. Even now,
in the full light of morning, they were looking this way and that, in
dire trepidation, eyes so wide that white showed all the way around their
"Ah-hmm," Riccardo cleared his throat, gently, softly, before
speaking. One of the men still visibly jumped anyway. Ricardo blanched,
since that man was one of the ones with a shotgun.
"Back in '09, none of the sightings - not one - ever spoke of seeing
more than one of the, er, them."
"Mister, now look here, you can see for yourself ...!"
"No, no! Don't get me wrong! I'm agreeing with you! What I'm saying
is that whatever did this, there was more than one of them - I'd guess
four or five but, hell, maybe a dozen. What I'm saying is that this here
is different than anything that got reported back in '09. In fact, I swear
nothing like this has ever been reported. Nothing!"
One or two nodded, mollified, with just a bit of perverse pride in their
demeanor, or maybe satisfaction. The big city dude wasn't gonna' go back
and call them all ignorant and superstitious yokels. They started to relax,
just a trifle, until one of their number voiced a new concern.
"What if'n six years is just how long it takes for their litters
Well! THAT was a nasty thought! Uccello felt the tension ratchet right
back up again.
---- New York, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet
Vice-Admiral Stennis was once again on the phone with Admiral Benson
and Secretary Daniels.
"That's correct, Mr. Secretary. Admiral McDonald has already scouted
well out to sea. Wherever the Germans may be, they're not off New York
like they've been for the last week."
"Montana," reminded Admiral Martin, in a low voice. Stennis
"Also, Mr. Secretary, let me add they don't look to be off Philadelphia,
either. That's right, Admiral. Captain Peace has Montana and two Destroyers
with him off the entrance to the Delaware and he's not made any sightings,
either. As we're speaking, I have his force scouting his way back up the
"I agree with Admiral Benson, Mr. Secretary. Boston.
"That's where the last sighting was. That's where their liners are.
I think it's our best bet. After all, they've been claiming all along
that they're just a liner escort force."
Stennis mostly listened for the next several minutes, sipping water,
having already downed at least four and maybe six cups of coffee. His
practice had become to shift to water once he realized he'd lost track.
He agreed that the scouting off New York was not yet comprehensive, and
that he was not prepared to rule out that the Germans could be in the
near area. Inferences, but no evidence. He'd already made his recommendation
and presented his reasoning.
Martin got up at a tap at the door, accepted the slip handed through the
opening, and read it.
"I agree with Admiral Benson, Mr. Secretary. Yes, they could be
off to Bermuda or the Bahamas, but I really doubt it. Coal, sir. I know
they were seen shipping coal, but I can't believe they could shift enough
at sea. Those battlecruisers burn tons by the thousands, and I doubt they
could've managed more than a few hundred or so."
"McDonald," said Martin. "Alton in sight."
"Gentlemen, I've just got word from Admiral McDonald that he's sighted
Admiral Alton's force coming down the channel. Unless there are objections,
I intend to order Alton up to Boston. As you'll recall, I put Portsmouth
on 24 hours notice last evening. As soon as we conclude here, I'll have
Admiral Higgins commence sortie preparations for first light tomorrow."
As Stennis had spoken, Admiral Martin had suddenly frowned and written
something on a sheet of white paper. Once Stennis had finished, he eased
it in front of the CO - Atlantic Fleet. Stennis glanced at it and did
a slight double take, then nodded at the door.
Martin quickly stood up and opened the door to leave. The paper slipped
off the table in the resulting breeze and floated down to the floor where
it lay just beyond Stennis' grasp, though he could still see the word
that Martin had printed and underlined: "Augsburg??"
---- Augsburg, HAPAG Terminal Pier, New York
The single whistle blast came as a surprise to many, coming as it did
well before the Treaty 24-hour deadline. Colonel Anton, however, was not
surprised at all, as the Germans' preparations had been impossible to
disguise from his vantage point. Indeed, it did not appear that they had
made any overt attempt at concealment.
Commander Leverett, not far off in the inner harbor, had been only mildly
surprised. His lookouts had reported a jump in activity, including getting
up steam, a bit ahead of the scheduled departure. He simply ordered up
the anchor and passed the word down to Engineering to standby to answer
bells on the main engine.
Rear-Admiral Martin, standing at an upper floor window, WAS surprised,
but realized that he should not have been. Each of the previous German
cruiser captains had carefully used almost every single minute of their
allowed 24 hours. Each had maximized their access to unlimited potable
water, fresh food, etc. most meticulously. Each and every one, until now.
There was a lesson here, and he pondered it on his way back to the office
of his superior officer.
Colonel Anton watched carefully as the grocer's trucks stopped at the
first post. As far as he could tell, Franz Mittermann may have been the
most surprised man around when he realized that he was about to deliver
three trucks of fresh and highly perishable food to an empty pier.
"Well, Gunny?" Anton asked.
"Colonel, if he's acting, he outta' be on stage."
"Yes, I see it that way, too," Anton agreed.
"Maybe I'm reading it wrong, though, sir. I mean, maybe it's that
the next German's running real late, and they're supposed to be here already."
"Hmm. Gunny, maybe you've got something there." Anton thought
on that during the minutes the two of them watched their Marines process
through Mittermann's little cavalcade. Ah, thought the colonel with a
savage grin, that was the key: " 'little' cavalcade."
"Gunny, I don't think that's it. The ship's they've had in here
so far have been just little scout cruisers - maybe 300 men. The only
ones the Germans still have out there are those two battlecruisers. They're
big, as big as our biggest dreadnoughts. If their crews run less than
a full thousand, I'd be real surprised."
"Not enough trucks," Fideles agreed, nodding his head.
"Right. So, maybe Mittermann really was expecting to feed 300 again.
Maybe, maybe not. But one thing's for sure, and that's that he was not
expecting to feed anything like 1000 keen on eating their first fill of
"Major," Anton called. "Take over here. I need to report
The point was that Augsburg had probably left ahead of schedule, but
sure as hell no battlecruiser was going to be showing up here anytime
---- Philadelphia Inquirer
The Ace Reporter paused at the doorway into his editor's office. Far
from alone, the cigar-chomping manager was one of six men poring over
a map spread wide on the table there.
"Toms River? So what if it was one of the first ones; that's all
the way out on the coast. Makes no sense at all."
"... and another one there, chief." The speaker was pointing
at a spot near what Freddie now recognized as the New Jersey Atlantic
"That one IS in the Barrens."
"Yeah, barely. But that's what? Only the third?"
"I don't get it," said the editor, around his cigar. "None
from Woodbury or anywhere in the Valley. Not a one. Back in '09, ... there
must've been hundreds."
"Chief, people are going crazy over there."
"Well, it's driving me crazy, too. What is it Burke? You got more?"
"It's the Greeks, Chief ...."
"The Greeks?! Them, too? Where? Here, mark it down on the map."
The Ace Reporter looked down at the table in bewilderment. Adding to his
confusion was the fact that the State of New Jersey was virtually flat,
but this map of the state exhibited several apparent mountains and valleys
due to the irregular piles of papers beneath it.
"It's about Salamis, Chief."
"What about Salamis?"
"Bethlehem Steel's giving them the cold shoulder. Won't meet, won't
"They lied and told the Greeks that Schwab wasn't in town, but he
is. I checked."
At those last two words, the editor finally stood up and looked away
from the map and at the Ace Reporter. His eyes narrowed and he shifted
his cigar stub from one side of his mouth to the other.
"Go on," the editor said.
"They got to some men working there ..." Burke waved his hand.
The editor nodded. That would be easy enough; anyone Greek or married
to a Greek would be an easy mark.
"... and the guns - the big ones for Salamis - they're gone."
The editor's jaw dropped, making him almost lose his stogie.
---- New Jersey coast, about ten miles below Toms River
Risty Ean cocked his head. "Say again?"
"It was," retorted the lanky, grizzled man in the soiled canvas
pants, as though he had been called a liar. Again. "I swear it."
Ean opened his mouth, about to ask, "It was what?" After all
this time, after all his years with the Bulletin, he'd started to think
he'd heard just about everything, but he'd not heard anything like this
before. Surely the old man hadn't said ....
"Look, Mister Big Shot Reporter, there I was, sun-up yesterday,
surf fishing, minding my own business, me and ol' Betsy, when they come
boiling out of the waves not fifty feet north of me. A big hairy bunch
of 'em, let me tell you!"
Ean blinked, mouth still ajar. A bunch of what? And who was Old Betsy?
Where was she? Maybe she could shed some light on this oldster's rambling.
"Heard them first, I did. Rather, Betsy did."
"You heard me!"
"No! No, I mean I didn't. Really. I didn't hear what you said. 'The
sea was' what?"
"The sea was full of angry monkeys."
Damn! That was what he THOUGHT he'd heard.
"Where was this Miss Betsy?"
"She was sitting right there with me."
Okay, she was sounding better and better. Need to get her last name,
Ean thought, making a note to that effect on his pad.
"She went over to check it out, the noise and all. She's always
doing that, curious as all heck, my Betsy."
His wife? Daughter? Granddaughter?
"Well, they went right after her and she ran like lightning. Didn't
blame her a bit; I was right behind her."
"She okay? Where's she now?"
"She's right back there, probably still under the bed. Wouldn't
come out at all last night." The man sounded puzzled. "You want
to go see?"
Uh, under the bed? All night? He followed the man as his thoughts tried
to catch up.
"Bets, come on out now, girl." A face looked out, instantly
withdrawn upon sighting the stranger.
Most profoundly embarrassed, Ean squeezed his eyes shut, as though in
great pain. Betsy was the man's dog! A smallish collie-mix. Omigod, if
this ever got back, he'd never ...
"You okay, mister?"
"Ye-yes, I'm just glad she's okay. I was, um, concerned that maybe
she'd gotten bitten, or something, but she looks okay to me."
"That's right nice of you, mister." Maybe he'd been mistaken
about this city dude, him going to the trouble of checking on his Betsy
" 'Monkeys.' " Ean let the word kind of hang in the air between
them for a moment. "Just where do suppose monkeys could've come from?"
"How in the hell would I know, mister?!" This man was making
him out a liar and a fool again! "Maybe the coastal monkey factory
blew up or something! If you're so smart, YOU figure it out!"
1) Nitroglycerin was first synthesized in 1846-7
by an Italian. It would take until about 1864 for a Swede to figure out
how to mix it with diatomaceous earth to reduce its shock sensitivity.
By 1867, at least one British doctor was testing it to treat angina. In
fact, on January 18,1879, the British medical publication _Lancet_ published
an article entitled, "Nitroglycerin as a remedy for angina pectoris,"
that described its therapeutic properties. By 1915, nitroglycerin was
already well known in medical circles as an effective palliative for angina
2) The history of "The Jersey Devil" begins
well before World War I. In fact, the greatest quantity of reported sightings
appears to have been in 1909. A great number of magazine articles and
books have been published on this seemingly very unlikely creature. Below
is an excerpt from just one of the many sites about it on the Web:
"The most incredible flurry activity regarding the Devil did not
happen until 1909 when literally thousands of encounters with the beast
were reported. Articles printed in the now defunct Philadelphia Record
chronicled the Devil's exploits. During the week of January 16th to the
23rd, the Jersey Devil reached a crescendo of popularity while managing
to terrorize the entire population of the Delaware Valley. So immense
was the attention paid to the creature, it received national news coverage."