Letterstime - Ein
Geleitzug - TIOWF, Part II
The Taking of St.
---- Dawn + 90 minutes, Savoyard Cove
Commander Bavaria considered the unhappy
animals. Now that they had been led up and
the waterline, they did seem to be calming to some degree. Actually,
the Austrian nobleman did not blame
them a bit. From the equines’ point of
view, they’d been taken from their familiar stables and open pastures,
transported by rail or truck to a port, loaded into cramped stalls in a
stuffy hold, then given every opportunity to be seasick until today,
Germans had lifted them back out onto still another strange place. Still, it was land, it was not urban, there
was no loud machinery, and there was considerable grassy vegetation in
that had to help. The salient question,
however, was if they’d recover enough and soon enough to meet his
They’d been taken off and led ashore with their
loosely girthed with the rest of each’s tack tucked in the saddlebags
ropes for control. The men working with
them were talking to them as they brushed and prepared them, all the
keeping the naturally herd-forming animals grouped enough to help raise
comfort level. Bavaria
idly wondered what the American horses, bought for and being
transported by the
French, were making of the Deutsch that was being murmured to them. There was a lot of snorting and bobbing of
long maned necks, but little rearing and no whinnying at all. The shows of spirit encouraged him. Worse by far were those that were simply
standing split-legged and trembling; they would be of no use for
they got over it and that could be hours or even days.
Together, the two cranes with slings had
been managing to
offload a bit over one horse per minute. The
pace had started slower but had increased as the men
experience. Now, it was slowing again,
as the men tired and the remaining horses gained more room to move
about. Also, the somewhat canted deck and
their peers being lofted out of the hold in slings were making them
anxious. The sweating sailors had begun
to blindfold some of the horses and stay with them, speaking soothingly
brushing their coats, and that appeared to help in at least some cases.
Bavaria counted 58 horses, but judged
eight or ten to be
in too much of a funk to be useful. He
looked at his watch and then up at the ridgeline being held so
resolutely by LT
Bornholdt. He had little time but, as
long as there was no signal from up there, he had not yet run out of it.
“The Frenchies want to speak to you. I
think they want to look at their boat.”
Bavaria looked where Kessock pointed. Both
fishing boats had been in the path of
the Sainte-Julie. The pier and the
smaller one seemed to have disappeared. The
larger one, however, appeared to have been pushed up
onto the beach by
the cargo ship’s bow wave. He nodded and
Kessock brought over two leather-faced, middle-aged men.
The men were angry and aggrieved, but the
presence of so
many Germans, armed Germans at that, restrained them in their vitriol.
“No,” he announced. They
drew breath in fury though, truth be known, they had
“Not now,” he continued. The men blinked. “Not now,” he
repeated. “In an hour, maybe yes.”
The men licked their lips, wondering if
correctly, or if it was just another Boche trick. It
would be just like a Hun, to promise
something for later just to have a promise to break.
“I regret the damage,” Bavaria continued,
pausing as two
more horses were led past, very slowly. Someone
had jury-rigged blinders that limited their vision
field. Neither of this pair seemed
and one even whickered at the sight of the group ahead.
“Our nations are at war,” he resumed,
“but I do not make
war on fishermen.” He stressed the
pronoun because he had long ago learned at court the power of the
the general. These Frenchmen would never
be persuaded that Germans could be anything other than what they
to be. Instead, one had to make such
folk see you as a sincere individual, completely separate from the
group. In truth, the sight of the family
vessels sitting unavoidably where they would be destroyed by Bavaria’s
had offended his sensibilities, but there had just been no time to
“I will give those orders - you have my
word on it - but
just now too much remains to be done. Also,
M’sieurs, consider that our stay will be short, but
Bavaria gestured at the Sainte-Julie, “will remain here ... on your
The Frenchmen had NOT considered that
fact; it was clear
in their eyes as they switched their attention to what would become
own salvage smorgasbord.
“And, now, if you would excuse me.” They nodded and were escorted back to their
families. He had convinced them of
nothing, but he had forced them into contemplation. One man glanced back at the freighter, but
the other kept scanning the scrubby slopes between the maisons and the
crest. “For what?” Bavaria
wondered. “Or for whom?” He looked at his watch again - he was about
out of time - and headed over to the where many men could be seen
the growing remuda. Several men were
trying to finish getting the tack on, while others were slowly leading
horses around in broad circles.
“LCDR Gommel? Report.”
“Yes, sir. I
it 65 horses so far, 40 ready to go. In
another ten minutes, we should have 50 or more.”
Forty were not enough. They both knew that.
“Very well, carry on.” It was time to go and they could not wait, and they both
knew that, too.
Stolidly, Bavaria turned and watched as
most of the rest
of his men struggled to offload the remaining horses and more of the
that they would soon need, such as fodder. Game
theory did not yet include the term, “zero-sum game”,
and leaders were far from ignorant of the principle. Salvage would slow to a trickle as soon as he
ordered the operation onto the next phase, and the Sainte-Julie’s
far from guaranteed, no matter what the French fishermen might hope.
His remaining men were posted, guarding
setting up stock points, filling saddlebags, and putting rifles in
scabbards. It all needed to be done and
he had fewer than twelve score to do it. He
managed not to look at his watch, but he knew time was
---- Dawn + 120 minutes, Savoyard Cove
LT Bornholdt had watched over the crest
earlier as small
craft rowed or sculled out from St. Pierre to the twenty-three
in the roadstead. (NOTE 1) Now, the fishing fleet could be seen to be
beginning to cast off or up anchor. They
were not doing it all together, but as individuals or, in some cases,
in pairs or trios. However they were
doing it, the daily diaspora had begun.
He looked back down towards the cove;
supposed to have his force up here now. Nothing.
Next, he glanced at his prisoners. His eyes narrowed and the younger captive
“eeked” and stopped her stealthy attempts to loosen her gag. In contrast, the older one had gone almost
catatonic in her silence, her eyes like dark saucers.
Vibrations on the roadway brought his
eyes back towards
the cove. A mass of men and horses had
finally detached themselves from the beehive below and were making
their way up
towards him. He watched impassively as
they approached, strung out in a long line with some still appearing to
joining at the end. No formation
precision was in evidence. In fact,
there was no semblance of formation at all. Though
many were on horseback, some led riderless ones,
and others just
---- Dawn + 120 minutes, I’ile aux Chiens
They were all uncomfortable.
LT Heinrich von Larg feared something
might still go
wrong, and shifted from one foot to the other, then back again. He was standing at the rear corner of one
maison up on a little knoll. There with
him were nearly all of the island community, sitting awkwardly on the
irregular rocks that comprised much of the landscape of the island. Von Larg had chosen the spot because the
knoll made the area behind the house what land warriors would have
“dead zone.” That is, it was not visible
to the roadstead below. Still, complete
absence of any signs of life might have excited suspicion. So, several of his men, garbed in “borrowed” jackets were moving about at the boat houses near the waterline, and a
more were standing near the doorways of the maisons further up the
The men who would have been out there sat
under the leveled Mauser barrels of nervous sailors. Going aboard a surrendered merchant entailed
getting a dozen or two grown men to cooperate in a very structured
setting. The German sailors had never
done anything like this before and many hated the fact that there were
children in front of the rifles that they knew they were so clumsy with. Anxiety of that sort was like a communicable
disease and they all were suffering from it, captives and captors alike. The sailors were nervous, the mothers were
wringing their hands with it, and the kids were tearful and whimpering. Von Larg felt soiled by their fear.
The young leutnant knew that the party
he’d sent over the
path had met with success there, but there’d been insufficient time to
those civilians back here. He didn’t
think they’d missed anyone, but there’d been no time to confirm it. Everything had gone almost exactly as
planned, he told himself yet again. He
just had to keep things under control until the Erzherzog and the
made their appearances. After that, he
could ease up, pull the guards back and sky the guns. He looked at his watch again; the Erzherzog
was late. What had gone wrong over
---- Dawn + 150 minutes, above Savoyard
Bavaria had convened a veritable
officers’ call at the
crest. For the last several minutes,
they’d been passing around the Erzherzog’s “Binoctar” set. (NOTE 2)
“Herr Gommel commands Bruno,” Bavaria was
saying. He had gone over this with the
before but, as his grandfather had always said, instructions should
repeated immediately before execution since it reduced executions later. Here, the closing up of the laggards provided
just that opportunity. Also, many of the
petty officers might not have heard it before, and they might well find
themselves separated from the rest and need to exercise initiative.
“Bruno’s primary objective is the
Gendarmerie. Look at the church, the
yellow. The Gendarmie is the large
it. See the roof? It
is very near the waterfront.” Heads had to
crane to look over the crest, as Bavaria
off the ridge itself. (NOTE 3)
“LT Siegfried commands Caesar. Your objective is to secure the Place de la
Roncière, and the buildings on it. (NOTE
4) You can see it there ....” Just about all the governmental offices were
about the open square there. The Place
itself was one of the two gathering points for the population (with the
being directly in front of the church) and Bavaria planned to use it as
“LT Kessock commands Dora.” This group was by far the largest but, except
for the officer, was on foot. Dora was
to proceed to the Place de la Roncière to support matters there.
“I will join you there as soon as I am
able. Until then, Herr Gommel is in
command and you
are to support him as he requires. Understood?”
There was a chorus of affirmatives from
the officers and,
to Bavaria’s relief, several head nods from the petty officers. Gommel and Siegfried each had 28 mounted
men. If Gommel ended up in a gun battle,
he’d need help quickly or this whole expedition would get very bloody.
“LT Bornholdt, you’re with me.” Bavaria’s Anton force had just eight mounts,
as numbers meant little to his task but speed meant everything. “The streets look to be much narrower than I
expected,” Bavaria commented as the younger officer drew near. (NOTE 5) “We are likely
separated. You’ve seen the sketch,
“Jawohl, Herr Korvettenkapitän.” Their objective was a distinctive four-story
building that would be easy to spot. They
could even just see it from their current vantage,
but Bavaria knew
that they would surely lose sight of it once they were within the
winding warren below.
“It’s at the junction of Rue Docteur
Dunan and Rue Paul
Lebailly,” added Bavaria, “just in case there are signs. I would prefer no loss of life,
Leutnant. There may well even be
Amerikaners there, but,” Bavaria let the pause grow for a significant
second, “the mission comes first. Verstehen
“Jawohl, Herr Korvettenkapitän!”
with the leutnant. You three follow
me.” A few moments passed as groups
formed up behind their officers.
Bavaria nodded approvingly as the other
commanders took the opportunity to address the petty officers near them.
Once the affirmatives were gathered, he
nodded again and
led them over the ridge.
---- Dawn + 160 minutes, Savoyard Cove
The Frenchmen looked up from their survey
of their little
fishing schooner. They had found a few
planks crushed or stove in, but the keel was still sound. Planks they might be able to repair and
caulk; a broken keel would have been beyond their abilities to remedy. For now, they needed to get canvas over the
damage, as the craft was right at the edge of the tidemark.
One of the men jumped off the low side of
the canted hull
and ran to meet two small figures heading down the path from the crest. A woman broke from the group before the
Maison and intercepted them first. The
missing children - that no one had been willing to admit were even gone
The other fisherman’s brow furrowed in
suspicion when a
German petty officer came near.
“Your vessel,” began the Boche, “it you
He shrugged. They
could find wood, probably. If needful,
they would cannibalize from a house. Shelter
was important, but the boat was
life. Nails, though, nails were probably
going to be tough.
the right word?” It wasn’t, but the
German pointed to one and repeated the word.
nails?” He tried to hide a scowl. How had the German known?
“On ship, many horses. Horse shoes. Nails, many
nails.” The fisherman could not help
glancing at the wreck that had been the Sainte-Julie.
Then a distant rumble drew the eyes of
all. Even the Germans still offloading
paused. There, at the top of the
roadway, the gathered Germans were disappearing over the crest, the
product of just over a quarter-thousand of those aforementioned equine
fisherman asked, baffled. The Boche on
the ridge were obviously off to attack St. Pierre on the other side. They might even already be murdering and
perpetrating unspeakable atrocities on his neighbors over there, though
had done nothing of the sort here. At
least not yet, he qualified from a lifetime of distrust. This apparent offer was - what? - a bribe?
here because we have need, not to war on fishermen. Korvettenkapitän Bavaria ordered us to help
as we could. Ships need nails. That ship was French. The
nails were French.” The petty officer
shrugged in almost a Gaulic
way. “They can be French again.”
These Boche were behaving very strangely,
thought. But he definitely needed
nails. He licked his lips nervously as
he looked for the trap. There had to be
one. Had to be!
---- Dawn plus 165 minutes, on the road
to St. Pierre
As the forces diverged, Commander Bavaria
tried to put
the others out of his mind. A very great
many things could go wrong and he expected at least some of them would. This entire affair could fail in any number
of ways, but he had reserved for himself the one task whose failure he
would doom it, and do so in less than one minute. His
objective: Western Union. (NOTE
For the first few minutes, all went well. There were few people out and about in the
rim of the town up on the slope. The few
that showed their faces out doorways stared with mouths open in
held the horses to a fast walk. It
appeared less threatening and the road was as much a bed of loose
anything else. He nodded lordly to the
townsfolk, nearly all women and children, of course.
After that, things began to unravel.
The first problem was the one he had
anticipating it had not solved anything.
It was a wagon, stacked high with cod,
pulled by bored
oxen, and it filled the street. Completely. The tiny
held crates on both sides.
that way!” Bornholdt wheeled his horse
and went right. Bavaria took his trio
left. As though the Deutsch had opened a
floodgate, the screams began.
Bavaria turned the corner and headed down
street. Anxious townsfolk came out onto
the sidewalks, to be nearly run down. Two
blocks later, when he had just begun to out-distance
another wagon barred the way. Gut
Gott! No, wait! The
sidewalk on the right looked clear.
“Follow me!” Bavaria
ordered to his men, and they did. Squeezing
by slowed them such that those
nearby had the chance to study them, and the screams began again. In the lull before it, however, he thought to
detect similar noise ahead and to his right, perhaps marking the
A block later, a cart was unloading
barrels. Bavaria had taken fences much
but not on this horse. And his men were
passing minor miracles just staying seated as it was. Damn-damn-damn!
“This way!” He
went right, and turned back down the next street. Where
in the name of all the saints was
it? He couldn’t see it! It HAD to be near. Had to be! Gott! ANOTHER
As he wheeled his horse, he saw it! But he had just turned the WRONG direction!
“Back! Back!” He pointed at the building whose upper floors
and roof showed about two more blocks away, more or less on a diagonal. One of his men almost fell off, but managed
to stay aboard. The horses were tiring
and that actually helped the enlisted man, though he failed to
appreciate it just
then, having jammed his crotch most painfully into something on the
side of the
saddle. Bavaria, oblivious to the man’s
struggle not to vomit, considered then rejected an “overland” route. Even from where he sat, he could see the tall
and solid wooden fence around the objective. (NOTE 7)
---- Dawn plus 170 minutes, somewhere in
upper St. Pierre
As LT Bornholdt turned that first corner
after the split,
he realized that he could just make out one corner of the Western Union
Building in the distance below. He was
offset by exactly one street. Thus, when
he saw a team of oxen coming up the road at him two blocks later, he
which way to divert. There! The way ahead was clear.
“Stay with me!” Bornholdt
roared out, as he put his horse into a solid
canter. Behind him, his men found that
given no choice in the matter, as their horses suddenly and
decided to stay with the officer’s mount.
The gate was open. Passer-byes
froze at the sight of the man on horseback
and into the yard. Some yards behind,
the mounted-sailors drew their attention next. The
oldest of the sailors was cursing mostly under his
breath. He had joined the Kaiserliche
Marine as a
seaman, not a hussar! He cursed again
when he almost had his leg smashed against the right post. Ahead, Bornholdt leaped gracefully off his
horse and bounded up the steps, drawing his pistol as he went. It took a couple moments for the enlisted men
to get off their own mounts, draw their Mausers out of the scabbards,
stagger in their officer’s wake.
Detecting his route was easy: they simply
shots and the screams.
Bornholdt had slammed the door open and
put two rounds
into the plaster ceiling even as he screamed. His
French was better than his English, but he was a man
of few words in
situations like this.
“Down! On the floor!”
By the time the first seaman entered, the
floor of the
two rooms off the entryway were piled with shrieking women and their
had his sword at a man’s throat. He sure
had a way with people, thought the sailor, as the civilian rolled up
“Through there!” Bornholdt
barked, pointing into the room on the right.
“You, keep these on the floor!
You, with me!”
Bornholdt charged through the corridor
into the frame
building attached to the masonry one.
---- Dawn plus 180 minutes
Bavaria scowled at the sound of shots as
he reined up
outside the Western Union Building, but he had mostly expected it once
realized that the junior officer had gotten ahead of him. The little courtyard inside the fence was
empty except for four horses, two of which had already begun to explore
flowering bushes along the interior fenceline.
“Main level secure, Herr
Korvettenkapitän,” announced the
Leutnant, as Bavaria entered. Sobbing
mounds of womenfolk carpeted the floor. Shrieks
from upstairs and the clumping of feet on stairs
other’s distinction obvious.
“Good work, Leutnant.” All the equipment would be on this floor. “Petty Officer, take two men and bring them
down here. Stay together.”
He cared not if some were escaping out
“This woman, and these here, perhaps. The man seemed to be in command.”
The Erzherzog considered the matter. The man opened his eyes and looked up at
him. Curiously, Bavaria noted white dust
was falling on the shocked civilian. He
looked up and sighed slightly at the two holes in the plaster ceiling. He absolutely had to get over to Gommel. He dared not leave here, however, until he
came to a decision. What tack to take?
It took a full second for Bavaria to
realize the word had
been in English.
“I am an American! These
are American offices, employees ....”
“Are you in charge, sir?” Bavaria interrupted the other smoothly. One course of action hinged on something like this.
“Um, yes. I
am.” The American identified himself,
and Bavaria introduced himself, as well. He
even presented Bornholdt, to the American’s obvious
discomfort. After all, how do you greet
just pressed cold steel to your throat? Further
discomfiting him, a string of semi-hysterical
women began to
stumble down the stairs ahead of dour-faced men with rifles.
“Now the basement,” Bavaria ordered, as
surveyed the recumbent women.
“This one, is she an operator? French?” The
woman was young, pretty, and quietly sobbing.
“Yes, but don’t you dare ....”
said, cold steel of his own in his tone. “We
wish harm to no one here, not even French people. There
is a problem, though,” he added. “Have her
take her position.”
He turned to Bornholdt and added in
French. “No signal.”
He waited as the officer manager helped
gain her feet and sit at her console. The
woman settled in, the familiar calming her somewhat,
but a glance at
Bornholdt made her shiver.
the problem. There is a fire.” He was not lying; there had to be one
somewhere. He hadn’t said anything about
size; for that matter, there was one in the hurricane oil lantern in
“A fire?!” The
was slow. Bavaria
had said it in French, though, and it produced several fresh whimpers
those still a-floor. “Feu!?” (NOTE 8)
“Yes, have her send that.”
“But, but ....”
Bornholdt strode over to the lantern and
mahogany staircase speculatively.
“No, no! Wait.”
not even glance at Bornholdt. It was so
good working with a professional.
“Claire, send that, to Duxbury.”
“Send, s-s-send what?”
and it was relayed to the operator.
“ ‘Fire reported here, manager
“That’s all?” She
gulped, and wiped her face. The gulped
This was the work of just a few seconds,
but it had to be
done now, right now, with cordite and plaster in the air, before anyone
enough time to become inspired or heroic.
“Now, mademoiselle, ease your chair away
yes. And you, sir, if you would come
with me. Please, I’m just going to show
you something, here at the door. Leutnant,
if you would stand there with, er, Claire.”
The manager swallowed hard, but stepped
over the moaning
piles of his employees to join the older German officer.
“Now, sir, further. Good. Now, look out here. There,
see the side of your fine
building? Look back at the
leutnant. Do you see the fire?” Knowingly or not, Bornholdt cooperated with a
fine and quite predatory smile.
The man’s fear, for himself and his
people, made him
encouraged. “Everybody get out.”
“Fire,” the American agreed, belatedly
nodded, and pushed him gently but firmly back through the door.
“Fire, Feu! Up! Up!”
The moans became screams, but they got up
and rushed the
moment! One more message!”
looked hard at the American.
“It’s okay, Claire. We
have time,” the manager chimed in. “We
really do.” He hated
but these crazy Germans really WOULD burn this place down ....
“Send this,” Bavaria
ordered: “ ‘Building on fire. Evacuating.’ Then we
can ALL get
Moments later, it was done.
As he stepped outside, Bavaria
eyed the folk corralled within the fence. Any
thoughts he might have had about relaxing, though,
with the sound of distant gunshots. Many
1) The number of
schooners based in St.
Pierre declined perhaps even faster than the
population after the turn of the century. Here
are the numbers:
- 1902 - 208
- 1903 - 183
- 1904 - 151
- 1905 - 101
- 1912 – 40
- 1913 – 33
- 1914 – 24
- 1919 –- 2
The schooners had already begun to be
challenged by steam
trawlers just before the start of the Great War. In
1900, was the first and by 1908, there were
eleven. Trawling resumed after the war
and soon 30 - 40 operated out of St. Pierre. The trawlers eventually got so large that
they no longer based themselves in St. Pierre, but that occurred right
when US Prohibition offered the islands a new source of revenue: booze
2) The Erzherzog’s
was not limited
to gustatory matters! Zeiss introduced
the 7 x 50mm “Binoctar” binoculars in
1914. Zeiss’ first 7 x 50mm binoculars
were produced in 1910, but the “Binoctar” set refined the concept and
standard for fine optics, especially under low-light conditions. See: http://www.company7.com/zeiss/history.html
3) The church
replaced a much earlier one
(1852) that had
burned down in 1902. It was completed in
1907 with an Italian-like yellow-tinted exterior of cement and stucco. The color bleached out in the weather over
the decades that followed, but would have still been easily discernable
4) It would later be
renamed Place du
Gènèral de Gaulle.
sidewalks in St.
Pierre are 36 inches wide and the streets are
narrow. For example, present day Rue
Maréchal Foch is 8.5 meters wide in the vicinity of Rue Jacques
Cartier. An 1864 map puts the building
distance across streets at about 12 meters, including sidewalks.
6) The trans-Atlantic
cables in St.
Pierre numbered four in 1915. The first set dated back to 1869 and the
Société du Câble Transatlantique Français
(SCTF) and went from Brest
to St. Pierre and on to Duxbury,
Massachusetts and was
headquartered in the
stucco and stone framed building described in the text. In 1872, the New York
- Newfoundland - London
Company joined the SCTF in an adjacent and linked framed building. Another organization joined in with British
funds behind it under the name of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company. In 1911, Western Union
would enter into a 99 year lease of the Anglo-American cables and the
became known as the Western Union
7) The fence is
historical. Estimating from period photos,
it may have
been six feet tall.
inhabitants of St. Pierre
lived in constant and terrible fear of fire. From its very beginnings,
the town was comprised of a
urban core with narrow streets and buildings made almost exclusively of
a primarily cold area. Not unexpectedly,
the town has always been at constant risk from fires, and suffered
in 1844, 1865, 1867, 1892, 1895, 1902, 1939, 1972, and 1992. The 1867
one destroyed over 200
buildings. Remarkably, none of the fires
resulted in loss of life!