0821, June 1st 1915, SMS Hamburg, Wilhelmshaven
Oberleutenant zur See Hammerle chafed in his dress uniform. The rough
wool and tight collar were unfamiliar to him. Nor was he used to the clean,
breathable air. Finally, the compartment he waited in was much more spacious
than the ones he usually occupied. He was unable to stifle his nervousness:
he pulled at the closed collar with a thin, bony finger. Why am I here?
What am I waiting for?
The Oberleutnant's wait was shortly ended. A short man in the dress uniform
of the Kriegsmarine beckoned to him. Hammerle noticed that he did not
have to duck as he passed through the hatch. He was not pleasantly surprised
to see his commanding officer seated behind a desk. What am I in trouble
for now? What did my men do this time? His men were some of Wilhelmshaven's
least disciplined sailors. Perhaps most disciplined? We have all had
our share of unpleasant meetings with senior officers.
The commodore rose as Hammerle entered. That surprised him.
"Oberleutnant zur See Hammerle reporting as ordered sir." Hammerle clicked
the heels of his very recently polished shoes together as he braced to
"Good morning, Oberleutnant. Please be seated." Hammerle was even more
confused. Usually, officers prefer I be standing while they yell at
me. Commodore Bauer definitely prefers that. Unless he considers it THAT
serious? Years of discipline and tongue lashings from senior officers
had given Hammerle the ability to hide his emotions behind a mask of perfect
rectitude. Now would be a good time to don that mask.
"I have just received this report from Vice-Admiral Letters." Bauer placed
a large folder filled with several pages in front of Hammerle. "It is
of the utmost seriousness." Hammerle nearly jumped out of his chair. Court-martial?
I'm to be court-martialed? Over a small bar fight? Hammerle gulped.
"Sir, I can explain . . ." Hammerle's voice quickly broke. No I can't.
He's not going to understand.
Bauer's eyebrow's rose. "Are you a psychic Oberleutnant?"
"Than how can you explain your mission when I haven't briefed you?" Bauer's
voice was cold and humorless.
"Mission?" I thought this was about that young prick of a Leutenant
zur See from Helgoland who walked into MY bar.
"Your new mission, Oberleutnant. I assume you still command U-14
and do not spend all your days assaulting officers of the Kaiser's navy?"
Me and my big mouth. Perhaps this would go better if I just kept quiet?
"Good. Now be quiet and let me finish. Vice-Admiral Letters engaged the
British yesterday evening. He sank several dreadnoughts. However, he was
not able to get them all. Many of the enemy's damaged ships were able
to get away. These ships will need to be repaired." Bauer rose and walked
to the large map of the North Sea that graced the bulkhead. "You will
take the U-14 north and patrol off this point. Your orders are
to intercept and sink the warships the British move south for repairs."
The commodore's hand pointed to the town of Peterhead at the opening to
Hammerle rose "Yes sir." A crack at dreadnoughts! That is much better
than a court-martial.
"One more thing, Oberleutnant. You will refrain from injuring any of His
Imperial Majesty's officers for the duration of your career. I am certain
that after the example you made of Leutnant zur See Schultz, non-submariners
will refrain from entering that particular establishment."
"Yes Sir!" Hammerle managed to slam his mask in place before the grin
escaped. He does understand!
1421, June 5th 1915, SMS U-14, Off Peterhead, Scotland
U-14 was lying submerged at periscope depth. The defenses of
Cromarty, the patrolling destroyers and trawlers, were too strong to risk
being on the surface. Hammerle tried to grab a quick nap in his bunk.
If we are to get inside Cromarty tonight, I'm gonna need my rest.
He was back in his element. The underseeboot. The confined space and the
strange mixture of paraffin, sweat, food and urine no longer bothered
him. This was the true navy. The tap on the bulkhead interrupted his ruminations.
"Sir." It was Leutnant zur See Heinz Plank, his XO. "Hans has something
on the hydrophones."
"Very well" So much for the nap
Hammerle and Plank quickly reached the hydrophones. "Report, Hans"
"Ja, sir. I was listening to the hydrophones when I heard a sound similar
to the E-string of my violin back home." Hans had been an aspiring musician
in the small Pomeranian town where he grew up. He and his violin served
as U-14's band when they were in port. "That was an hour ago, sir."
"Why did you not report it?" Hammerle's voice held curiosity, not malice.
Hans was the best man on the hydrophones. It came from a lifetime of musical
education that the rest of the men lacked.
"I waited for it to develop, sir. The sound was constant and got louder,
going from a whistle to a roar like a train. It is turbines, sir."
Turbines? A smile crossed Hammerle's face. Perhaps some prey
has crossed our path. Hammerle quickly walked back to the control
room. "Up scope!"
The periscope quickly rose and Hammerle could see the ocean above. He
quickly spun the periscope and scanned the sea. To the south, he could
see a break in the cliffs, with a small smudge on the horizon. He continued
to move clockwise. The cliffs quickly receded and were replaced by the
opening to Cromarty Firth. Yet the true bounty was to come.
Through his scope, Hammerle saw a prize beyond his wildest imaginations.
Four dreadnoughts steamed toward the opening to Cromarty. They were screened
by most of a flotilla of destroyers. Hammerle licked his lips. Time
to go fishing!
Disappointment bloomed as quickly as joy in Hammerle. The dreadnoughts
were too far away and were moving too fast. Try as he might, Hammerle
knew his boat would never catch up. He snarled with frustration. Verdammit!
A beautiful target. Just perfect. Just outside of range! Hammerle
punched the bulkhead as nearly a third of the Grand Fleet's strength steamed
out of view.
by Rob Herrick
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