Letterstime - Ein
Geleitzug - The British Wait
June 27, 1915
---- HMS Crescent, course 225,
speed 6 knots
The Commodore was pretty much
looking over the
shoulder of his chief of staff as that worthy marked up the ship list
the first of the morning wireless reports.
His lookout section had sixty-four merchantmen in sight
and several of
those still beyond visibility were even then being chivvied back into
fold. In fact, as the commander’s black
marker made checkmark after checkmark, it seemed that all may .... No, wait.
“What about that one?”
“The Waterford Park, sir? Still unaccounted for, I’m afraid.”
Commodore noted that her entry, like most of the others, had next to
her name a
“W” with an “X” marked through it. This
indicated that the Waterford Park was NOT equipped with a wireless set
own. “Her cargo?”
“One moment, sir.
Her manifest is ... Lieutenant, that clipboard, if you
would? Thank you.
Let me see, Waterford ...
Ah! Here it is, sir. Glassware or objects. Pottery.
More crystal or glass, still more ....
much of it seems to be very expensive glass ....”
The Commodore winced at that
last, as he and his wife
had long collected art glass. He
half-opened his mouth to inquire after it, but closed it again. At this point, the ship’s chances of being
still safely afloat but not found were already beginning to look remote. Her glass cargo could simply have been
modern, expensive tableware, or it could have included antique bohemian
objects, or it could have had historical stained glass window elements,
could even have been British Museum items enroute to on-loan exhibits
United States. He decided that he did
not really want to know, lest his sleep be filled with nightmares of
destruction of the Portland Vase being re-enacted on a ship-wide scale. (NOTE 1)
Linens ....” The commander
off as the Signals Officer came onto the bridge with a message slip in
and a grim look on his face.
“Sir, wireless from the
Upon reading the text, the
Commodore could well
appreciate the other’s concern. He
handed it to his chief of staff.
“It appears,” he announced,
“that the Germans gave
the Yanks the slip night before last.”
“Thirty-six bloody hours, sir,”
noted the commander,
doing the math. “They could be anywhere
More than a few on the bridge
reflexively glanced out
at the tossing sea, as though half-fearing that the Huns might even
cresting the horizon. Admiral Seavey,
about 35,000 yards to the northwest of the Commodore had already
similar conclusion, as he stood on the bridge of HMS King Edward VII
the lines and circles his own staff had made on the charts.
“The Americans never caught
sight of those Hun light
cruisers again, commander - three out of four, anyway.
They and upward of two score prizes went off
the board days ago.”
And where had they all gotten
to? The Commodore’s brow creased as he
As the distant Commodore
contemplated his self-posed
question, the Admiral of Patrols, Rear-Admiral Ballard (NOTE
2), got one that
was almost its twin. Ballard, however,
was forced to vocalize a response, since the query had been voiced to
the First Sea Lord. But what more could
he do? Virtually all his ships were at
sea and had been for several days, though none of his Armed Merchant
could hope to survive an engagement with even one of the three gone
German light cruisers. That the enemy
forces missing now included two battlecruisers and a fourth light
presumably also on their way back, only dramatized the hopelessness of
command’s plight. The situation had been
crushingly demonstrated off New York a week ago when those same Germans
effortlessly sunk or crippled no fewer than eight of his precious AMCs
they did in Vice-Admiral Patey and his four cruisers without loss to
No, in the face of real
warships, his old converted
merchants were just fire bells: they could not put out flames, just
others. Those forty-odd prizes, however,
were a far different matter. Wherever
they were, they had to be out there somewhere, slowly and ponderously
their way across the Atlantic in one or forty bids to breach the RN
the blockade that was not really a blockade (NOTE 3). Several ministers had expressed the hope that
many of the prizes might yet be retaken and make it to their rightful
Were they heading back all
together, perhaps even now
being overtaken by their cover force of German battlecruisers? If so, it would take major elements of the
Grand Fleet to crack that nut - a task the RN would only be too happy
undertake, no doubt. But what mischief
would that Letters do in the meantime?
Maybe they had split into two
groups. The report of the Geman inquiry to
Americans into the use of the Panama Canal seemed to lend a bit of
that one. It would, for example, seem to
explain the German’s choice not to coal their battlecruisers yet. Even the prospect as remote as that of a
battlecruiser force loose in the Pacific had half of Whitehall in a
with more than a few seeing behind it all a threat to the “Jewel in the
of the British Empire.
Or, perhaps they’d broken up
into four or forty
separate efforts. That way, with the
connivance of bad weather or “good” luck, would seem to guarantee a few
“leakers.” Against it, though, was
it would offer the best chance for most of the merchants to be
There were vocal proponents of
those and other
positions, and their holders advanced them all vigorously.
In any case, the Patrols AMCs were all at
sea, stoically beating about on their assigned posts.
---- Philadelphia Inquirer
“Devils Make Monkey Out of
“... baboons that were on the
... enroute to the Philadelphia
Zoo. The rest of the two dozen remain at
large. Zoo officials expressed concern
for the health of citizens that might try to befriend the primates. They cautioned that the animals were
naturally aggressive and ....
---- New York Times
“Monkey Business in Jersey”
“... were merely baboons
originally destined for the
“... though many expressed
skepticism that the great
number and variety of reports could have originated from the exploits
of just a
couple dozen baboons. In fact, the mayor
“The swampy woods around the
clearing where the dead
animal was found were so dark that it seemed to be dusk instead of noon
... At one point, Professor Nevels
called for silence and then stated that he could hear, at that very
call of the baboons to the southwest.
Others thought that the sounds were coming from the
some thought to hear answering calls from many directions.
“Nevels then admitted that
there could be more than
one source of the eerie hooting noises in the distance.
It was so hot and the vegetation was so heavy
that visibility was no more than a few yards in any direction. In fact, the the scene could have been in the
interior of some remote tropical island, rather than within a few miles
New Jersey coast. The few places where
the sun did succeed in breaking through were so small that the light
like thin shafts probing the gloom, lending an eerie faerie glow to the
“One fey ray caught Lourene
Nevels’ bright blonde
tresses as she stood next to her husband and helped him answer
questions. When asked if the dead baboon
biggest, she stated - to the unconcealed dismay of all the local
that the tracks made it quite clear that there was at least one more
there that was much larger ....” (NOTE
---- HMS Benbow, course 270,
speed 16 knots
“The current plan puts us
alongside the pier in
Halifax two hours after dawn.” Captain
Herrick made a quick swipe across his brow with his handkerchief before
continued. “The Canadians will send out
what they have before first light and ....”
Herrick saw that he was hardly the only one dripping with
perspiration. The heat and bright sun had
slick and uniforms dark with moisture.
Admiral Burney’s intent all
along had been to be
approaching the Germans’ last sighted position - at the moment, about
generally ENE of Boston - shortly after dawn broke on June 28. One of the Admiralty’s leading theories was
that the Germans had simply edged another few dozen miles out into the
and continued their coaling efforts undisturbed by the American navy. Burney meant to test that one first,
especially as it offered what many considered to be a fair chance of
down battlecruisers with dreadnoughts by catching them hove-to with the
American landmass blocking their escape.
Indeed, some had thought this may have been the real
reason behind the
Germans’ failure to coal the two battlecruisers in any Yank port. That is, von der Tann and Moltke could still
retreat legally into any port in the United States and resume their
on the steps of churches as they lamented the RN blockade.
Well, the HMG consensus was
that immuring those
battlecruisers and forcing their internment would be well worth a great
very public Hun crocodile tears just now.
The Hun light cruisers were simply an expensive nuisance
comparison. They had run them down
before - at Falklands - and they could most definitely do it again.
“All preparations to speed
continued, “are to be complete prior to our entering harbor ....” The admiral had made it abundantly clear that
they would sortie on time to meet the hoped-for rendezvous irrespective
---- King Edward VII, course
225, speed 8 knots
Admiral Seavey knew full well
that his force might
have nothing more ahead of it than a slow Atlantic transit to be
another just like it on the return trip, each time just covering three
score merchantmen. Seavey, though,
distrusted coincidence and the disappearance of the fast and powerful
force - from where it had lingered for the last week or so off the
States coast - precisely when word could have reached them that this
departed Britain was, well, just the sort of thing he questioned. At the moment, it was the members of his
staff that were having to bear the weight of his concerns.
“And if they split up?” Seavey put the question to them.
“Come from two directions, sir?”
“Yes,” Seavey thought that
would be most likely. “Or even more than
two,” he expanded.
He was cheered by the nodding
of heads, a sober
expression on each visage.
“Like a wolf pack, rounding a
herd, looking for
victims to cut out. The weak, the
unwary, the ones slow to respond.” Seavey
warmed to the task. “It will be
absolutely essential to identify quickly the battlecruisers and respond
proportionally. The orders address this. What remains is to drill and drill some more
until we are properly prepared, and we shall begin next watch. See to it.”
Seavey’s instructions had laid
out three main
sequences. First, the Germans might try
a coup de main, perhaps testing or just unaware of
the strength of the cover force. Second,
the Germans might try a split attack,
with a battlecruiser coring each thrust.
Third, the Germans might send in only their light
cruisers, with each
ready to retire upon the safety of the battlecruisers, if challenged
pursued. His orders addressed each of
those, requiring the King Edwards to operate together for the first,
two ship sections for the second, and to support the armoured cruisers
third. The key would be to recognize
just what it was that the Huns were attempting.
Even then, the prospect of trying to defend 70-odd
spread out over many square miles of ocean would be a nearly impossible
The admiral repressed a sigh.
If the Huns even showed up at all, he added
1) The Portland Vase -
also known as the Barbini
Vase, depending on the date - dates back 2,000 years of so, made during
reign of Augustus Caesar. For a
description of the object and its history, including the 1845 event
in the text, see:
For a picture of the vase, see:
2) See footnotes #1 and
3) Prior to March 1915,
the British blockade of
Germany and Europe was never called a “blockade” because it would have
violation of both The Hague 1907 and the London Declaration of 1909,
Britain claimed to be in compliance. The
March 1915 Order of Council declaration was made possible by Germany’s
declaration of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, etc.
For a quick recap of where things stand in
Letterstime, see (especially the last three paragraphs):
For more on the blockade, see also:
4) While composing
this chapter, the author sadly
noted the passing of a certain heroine of the silver screen best known
role in one particular film classic that portrayed a well-known monarch.