Chapter 17 – A Row, A Show, and a Blow
July 20th, 0100. HMT J-531, heading 355, at 3 knots
Lieutenant Kenneth “Butcher” Johns, RNVR(T), looked aft yet again. Still no sign of that bastard submarine, thank God.
Like he’d done at least a dozen times an hour since leaving Vardo, Johns scanned the horizon aft, and then rubbed his neck where it was chaffed raw by his collar. A small price to pay, he was damned if he’d let that Hun surprise him again.
“Bridge. Lookout. Smoke plume fine on the port bow.”
Johns whipped around. Where? Ah, whatever it is, it’s making a lot of smoke – no submarine! And there, a second smaller plume. Had his luck finally turned?
His orders from Northern Patrols, relayed by cable via the Norwegians, were clear: depart Vardo and head north-northwest for 40 nautical miles, then intercept two Russia-bound steamers. These were the last, the rest had either been recalled by wireless, intercepted by 10th Cruiser Squadron, or prevented from sailing. Once he had Elizabeth and Carmanian under escort, he was to “endeavor to carry them to Archangel, or failing that, another suitable Russian port.”
Johns squinted. That was a lot of smoke.
July 20th, 0200. Admiralty Building, London
The Duty Captain looked up at the firm knock on the door frame. “Yes?”
“Sir, this just in. A cable from the Russians, relaying a wireless call from a merchant.”
THIS IS STEAMSHIP PARISIANA
WARNING. WARNING. GERMAN WARSHIP 6808N 4004E. REPEAT GERMAN WARSHIP 6808N 4004E. WARNING WARNING.
“68 North? Forward this to Northern Patrols, Most Urgent.”
July 20th, 0415 SMS Berlin, heading 095, at 8 knots
Leutnant Max Scholz could just make out the two contacts almost due west. Tiny black dots on the horizon under light smoke plumes.
“Bridge. Lookout. The lead contact is a merchant steamer.”
Gut. Not likely that an enemy looking to fight would be following a merchant.
“Bridge, Lookout. Both ships are flying the kriegsflagge.”
“Signals, to the nearer ship “QUERY SHIP AND CO’S NAME” and to the farther ship “QUERY SHIP AND HOMEPORT”
“Messenger, my compliments to the Kapitän, and the two steamships in sight to the west are flying the kriegsflagge, I intend to query them to verify the prize crews.”
Two minutes later von Buelow came on deck. He stared at the steamships for a moment.
“Kapitän, the first ship has been identified as Ross. I’m unable to see the name on the second one yet.”
Von Buelow turned to the Deck Officer.
“Leutnant Scholz, order both steamships stopped and call away our One and Two boarding teams. If they are really prizes of Undine or the U-boot, then there is no harm, and I trust no one. Good exercise for our boat crews as well.”
Scholz began sweating. Again.
July 20th, 0700. Brownwaters on the Reindeer’s Hoof.
The People’s summer camp practically swallowed the unPeople camp. Hundreds of chums surrounded it on three sides, packed masses of reindeer held farther back (Note 1). The People would have completely surrounded the camp, but for the Brownwaters on its far side.
The unPeople had been firm about stopping any People from coming near where they had dug into the ground. There were angry looks and words. Who were these not-true-men to claim the very ground for their own? Ground that the People and their herds had been using for longer than any memory?
The unPeople headman had stilled the angry words. He spoke with the elders and tabidya in the trading language, and a great cry spread out as his words were repeated.
The Great Father comes! He comes to visit the People!
Tyko and two other boys used the long pit that stank of urine to sneak into the unPeople camp and then hide in one of the small square chums that the unPeople used. This one had four strange suspended beds, each with only a thin cloth blanket. How could one stay warm in winter with that? His friends started rummaging through the unPeople things when Tyko softly called out.
(Quick! Something is happening.)
Three faces stared out of the chum, into the camp.
(Why is that one waving a bright colored cloth?)
(Shhhhhhhhh! Not so loud. Do you want them to find us?)
Tyko and the boys, like all of the People, dropped to the ground covering their ears as thunder burst over the camp. The herds broke and ran.
(Death is coming for us all!)
(Stop, please stop, please stop, please, please!)
(Bomga, shut up!)
Tyko, the first to recover, peeked out of the chum and saw that none of the unPeople were cringing. This is their doing then.
Most of the People were still hugging the ground, their children, or their ears. The braver men dashed off to rein in the reindeer (Note 2). Dogs howled in warning of they knew not what.
Nine times the thunder sounded. A lucky number!
(The Great Father’s hard-boat is on fire!)
(No it’s not Bomga. The smoke is over the water. See, the wind blows the smoke away and the Great Father’s hard-boat is unhurt.)
(Look! What’s that?)
Tyko stared in amazement as a smaller hard-boat came out from behind the largest hard-boat, dirty brown smoke pouring out of it’s top. Despite the brisk wind pushing the smoke to the right, this new apparition came straight on toward the narrow mud beach, faster than a man could easily walk. Magic!
(Look at how the unPeople are standing in two lines. What does this mean?)
(How should I know? Are they making a path for the Great Father to walk up to the elders?)
Just then a group of unPeople began banging and blowing on objects, making a horrible racket. (Note 3)
The small hard-boat grounded on the shore and two-hands of the biggest men Tyko had ever seen got out. Easily a full head taller than the unPeople already in the camp.
The unPeople in camp wore loose-fitting dirty white leggings and loose blue tops. These new men wore tight fitting blue leggings and a short and tight blue coat with many shiny buttons on the arms and front. Instead of a sensible parka hood the tops had a small flat piece laying on the shoulders, and a queer round hat. How would that keep their heads warm in the winter?
The new men – they must be the Great Father’s fell warriors, his bondsmen – formed into two rows and turned to face toward each other. The right hand of each of the bondsmen shot up to their heads. One brought a piece of shiny metal to his lips and blew.
Tyko and the other boys covered their ears in pain as the metal made a horrible rising and falling skreeeeeeling sound. Surely this must be to warn the spirits of the dead to stay away while the Great Father was here!
Everything amazing that Tyko had seen so far seemed to pale to insignificance when the Great Father got out of his hard-boat. He was truly a giant, towering over even his big bondsmen. He wore a long blue coat with a broad white belt, and a long hat of blue and gold that jutted out in front and behind. A long black stick – taller than Tyko himself! – with a golden handle hung from the belt.
A soft swish sound. The People in their hundreds sat or kneeled in deference.
Tyko was surprised that the Great Father did not look very old. Tyko had thought that he would be an ancient, with long white hair and an even longer white beard. After a moment Tyko realized that the Great Father could probably look any age that he wanted, even if he was as old as the hills like the memory songs said of him.
Behind the Great Father walked a normal-sized man, dressed much as the Great Father. Perhaps he was the Great Father’s son – if so, another honor to the People!
The Great Father walked with long majestic strides between the lines of his bondsmen, Tyko could see a smile on his lips as he took in the elders and Tabidya waiting in the middle of the unPeople camp.
As the Great Father reached the last bondsman, they all turned as one to follow him. The last one nearest the boys turned his head and looked right at the boys hiding in the chum!
Tyko’s heart seemed to stop and his breath froze. The bondsman’s unworldly green eyes seemed to glow with malevolence, even his big ears seemed to strain forward like an alerted wolf. He cast magic words at them, it sounded like “vasisdas”, then he grinned and winked at the boys.
Bomga squawked and fell back into the chum, knocking over one of the suspended beds in a clatter.
The Great Father’s son turned at the commotion and stared at the boys, his head tilted to the side. Like the bondsman he had uncanny eyes, but of blue like the sky on a clear day.
The Great Father’s son extended a long hand toward the boys – Bomga whimpered in fear – then waved the boys over to him.
Tyko shook his head hard enough to hurt.
Oh no! The Great Father had stopped and turned back as well. Even the elders had noticed! Now all of the People and all of the unPeople were waiting on Tyko and his friends.
The Great Father’s son waved him over again, smiling with encouragement. Seeing no way out, Tyko cautiously stepped out of the chum. His heart was hammering in his chest; his breath came short.
Slowly Tyko joined the Great Father’s son, his friends behind him. Up close, Tyko could see that the son was a hard man, in spite of the friendly smile. He said something in his odd language, then put his hand behind Tyko’s back and gently pushed the boys forward.
Tyko walked as if in a dream. So long as he looked down, and not up at the Great Father, he could keep going. He stopped when he saw the enormous shiny black boots, the bottom of the long hoodless blue coat, and the black and gold stick. Tyko looked up, feeling his lower lip begin to tremble.
The Great Father reached down and put his hand on Tyko’s head, then turned and began walking up toward the elders and the Tabidya, the boys at his sides.
There was silence for a moment, then as one the People jumped up and began wildly cheering at the great and unexpected honor being shown them.
July 20th, 1145. SMS Undine, heading 100 at 9 knots
Oberfähnrich Hans Mayer saluted the Deck Officer.
“Sir! Here is the 1200 Navigation Report.”
“Very well. Did you verify the position?”
“Ja, Herr Dieffenbach. Personally. Sir.”
“Gut. When you are taking reports to the Kapitän, “conscientious” is the watchword, eh? This Navigation Report is particularly important as we are once again sailing around the northern edge of Meteor’s minefields.
“Now, recite the report you will make.”
“Jawohl.” Mayer again came to attention.
“Herr Kapitän, the Deck Officer sends his respects and reports the approaching hour of 1200, all chronometers have been wound and compared. The Navigator reports…”
Gut, Dieffenbach thought, Herr Mayer is coming along nicely.
Across the bridge, the Erster watched the exchange and nodded. Herr Dieffenbach is coming along nicely.
July 20th, 1200. Hille Island Norway
As the cove leading to Haugenbruk came into sight, Per Haugen felt the same sour guilt that he always felt when coming ‘home’.
A more dutiful son would have stayed on Hille with his parents, despite the crushing isolation. A more successful one would be able to provide for them to live with him on the mainland.
That his parents never blamed him, and didn’t seem to mind living here alone, only made it worse.
Pa’s small boat was pulled up onto the shingle. Per was glad to see that the tackle was neatly coiled and stowed. He wouldn’t have to get after Pa about that again. Huh, the cracked gunwale had even been repaired.
He shifted the pack of supplies on his shoulders and started up the vale. It was a fine day and his dark mood lifted with each step.
As the bruk came into view he stopped in alarm. Something wasn’t right. No, everything was too right! Fences repaired, the paddock tidy, even the thatch on the house was recently repaired. What’s going on here?
(Hei der! Ma? Pa?)
Per stepped back and dropped his pack in alarm as a shaggy head popped around the corner of the sheep shed. A young man in an odd faded shirt followed the head.
Per pulled out his fishing knife.
(Who are you, and what have you done to my parents?)
The young man stepped back and held up both dirty hands in front of him. Scared. He looked around for something.
“Hold there! Please, put down the knife. Sean!!! Ole!? Missus Haugen!?”
The farmhouse door opened. Another stranger, a big one, unfolded as he came out of the low doorway.
Behind him, someone else…
(Per! Welcome home son!!)
July 20th, 1300. SMS Roon. Anchored, Antonhaven
“Bridge, Lookout. It’s a U-boot…one of ours!”
“Messenger, my compliments to the Kommodore, and U-19 is in sight to seaward, bearing 065 at 10hm.”
July 20th, 1300. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo, Norway
Erik Christie, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, looked down from the seated German Ambassador and opened the carefully folded and wax-sealed missive.
Christie admired the large red seal embossing the top of the letter. Very fine engraving, someone spent many marks on that.
As he had expected, it was a démarche – well, technically a note verbale (Note 4)
Christie looked up at the German Ambassador and made a quick decision.
“Herr von Roedern, on behalf of the Minister, I assure you that the Kingdom of Norway also seeks to maintain an amicable and trusting relationship with the German Empire. I am, therefore, pleased to report that yesterday morning the British ship in question was expelled from Vardo. This problem no longer exists!”
The German steepled his beefy hands and stared hard at Christie for several seconds before uttering a clipped reply, “I see. Then I’ll be on my way.”
Christie started to protest, but von Roedern held up a hand as he got up. “Herr Christie, in our profession, candor and honesty are rarely allowed, much less appreciated. I was a fool to hope for such from you. The ‘problem that no longer exists’ was never the damn Britischer ship, it was the way you are treating Germany!” He turned to leave.
“Mr. Ambassador, my kingdom is a new country, small and not very powerful…”
With a deep sigh the German turned back around.
“Thank you for that, Erik. Survival bids you do what you must, but if you continue this duplicity with the British, when the war is over you may not find Germany’s hand open in friendship. Wähle das kleinere von zwei Übeln.” (Note 5)
July 20th, 1500. SMS Roon. Anchored, Antonhaven
“Will you need to…what is it called when you cut a hole in the skull?”
“Trepanning, Kommodore. And no, that should not be necessary.
“There is a very small section of Herr Kolbe’s skull, a bone fragment less than half the width and length of your little finger, that has been depressed into the dura mater. That worthy organ surrounds the brain and carries the blood from and to the heart.”
“The bone fragment was interrupting that blood flow, causing it to build up into a hematoma – a lump – that was pressing against the brain itself. It was thus the cause of his hallucinations and cognitive impairment.”
Kommodore Ziethen squirmed in his leather chair.
“As you have perceived, it is a delicate condition. I was, nonetheless, able to lift the fragment back up into position in his skull. Quite successfully.”
Roon’s doctor sat back in obvious self-satisfaction.
“So what are you telling me, Herr Doktor? That Kapitänleutnant Kolbe is in no danger?”
“Nein, Herr Kommodore. His condition is indeed poor – the injury could still prove mortal. However, based upon numerous well-documented cases of subacute subdural hematoma in the literature, I believe that his prognosis, given rest and no further trauma, is quite good.”
A knock at the door.
“Kommodore, the Deck Officer sends his respects and reports that all stations are manned and ready to get underway from anchorage.”
“Very well. Inform the Deck Officer that I will be there shortly.
“Herr Doktor, duty calls. Thank you, and keep me informed of Herr Kolbe’s condition. He has done us great service and deserves the very best care.”
July 20th, 1630. SMS Arcona, heading 320, stopped.
“Double up lines Two and Three!”
Kapitän von Hippel nodded in satisfaction as Leutnant Schnell finished tying up Arcona’s port bow to the starboard quarter of the anchored Cymru Glory.
He turned from the Erster and Engineer to look up.
“Signals! Flags to Kohlenshiffe21: COME ALONGSIDE MY STBD.”
“Quite an unorthodox arrangement, Kapitän, but it should work.”
Arcona’s Engineer shook his head.
“Kapitän, I admit that the value of this seamanship eludes me.”
“Cranes and men, Adalbert, cranes and men.”
Von Hippel and Vogt shared a smile.
“You see Adalbert, moving coal between five ships is a matter of cranes and men. Cranes to lift between ships, and the strong backs of men to fill coal bags and move it about the ship. Roon and Arcona are to load high quality coal from Cyrmu Glory, now between us, and offload poorer coal to the two kohlenshiffen, one each outboard us.”
“The duration of this coaling will be determined by the efficiency of the cranes and the men. If we had the services of a purpose-built collier, we could have lined up all five ships abeam; however, the cranes and deck space of Cymru Glory are designed for loading to and from a pier, not other ships. There would have been much confusion and inefficiency, so we have offset things. Arcona’s port bow is moored to Cymru Glory’s starboard quarter, and Roon’s starboard quarter is moored to Cymru Glory’s port bow.”
Vogt chimed in, “This will keep our men, and the volunteer neutrals, out of each other’s way. This also aligns the deck heights better, with our raised forecastle and Roon’s lower quarterdeck matching Cymru Glory.”
“How many neutrals did we end up getting, Kapitän?”
Von Hippel’s face split in a wide grin. “All of them.”
“Wirklich?” (Note 6)
Vogt laughed at the Engineer’s surprise.
“Ja, wirklich. We offered premium rates and all 217 jumped at the chance to get paid. Most of the Britischer crew of Cymru Glory too. We hinted that she would be scuttled when we were done, and they realized that they would otherwise never get paid. We’ll keep a close eye on that bunch, just the same.”
The Deck Officer stepped up to the bridge hatch. “Kapitän, all lines to Cymru Glory are doubled up, and the brow is going over. Linehandling stations to starboard manned and ready, and Kohlenshiffe21 is raising her anchor.”
“Gut. Engineer, I suggest that you and your party get over the brow before we tie up the kohlenshiffe. Once the coaling starts it will be difficult for you to move between ships.”
“Bridge, signals! Heliograph from the southern relay station. “FROM BERLIN. TWO PRIZES CLEARED INBOUND.”
“Well, what do we have now?”
“I guess we’ll find out Wilmot. All the same, with both Arcona and Roon literally tied up, and Albatross unfit for action, I feel better having the relay chain set up to the north coast. If the enemy does show up and get past Berlin, three to four hours warning could make all the difference.
July 20th, 2030. HMS Calgarian AMC, heading 115, at 3 knots. HMT J-531 alongside
Butcher Johns had felt his shoulders slump in relief when HMS Calgarian steamed over the horizon leading Carmanian (Note 7). At last the minesweeper flotilla would get the needed tender support, and additional protection from the big liner’s guns.
That relief disappeared shortly after meeting Calgarian‘s geriatric Captain.
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant, but you seem to be under the misapprehension that I’m here to join your little mine clearance force. On the contrary, I was dispatched from my patrol to rescue you from embarrassing internment by the Norwegians. Couldn’t have that, now could we?”
Johns stared in disbelief. “You’re not here to support the sweeping…sir?”
“Did I not just say that? Look, if it’s any consolation, word around the waterfront was that Intrepid and more trawlers were to be sent up here, but the latest rumour is that all that’s been cancelled, and I have it on good authority that 3rd Battle Squadron is being sent instead. Won’t that be a sight!
“I’ll speak plain. Once it became clear that the Norwegians were of no mind to actually intern you, my orders were changed to gather up the last two north-bound merchants and turn them over to you for the final leg of their voyage. Apparently, they were judged too far north to warrant turning them back. I caught up with this one” – he pointed over at Carmanian, laying to half a mile to port – “a few hours ago. Never saw the second one, Elizabeth by name.” (Note 8)
“But what of the submarine? Or the warship that attacked Iphigenia?”
“Good Lord boy, don’t throw a wobbly! How many submarines do you think are up here? You know where he was, off Vardo, just go around him.” He waved vaguely to the northeast.
“I’m sure as well that Kemp on Iphigenia took care of the Albatross cruiser, likely as not she’s either sunk or off licking her wounds, hors de combat and therefore no threat to you, eh?”
Johns knew when to cut his losses. He thanked Calgarian’s Captain and was about to depart when a messenger arrived.
“Sir, a Most Urgent message from Northern Patrols.”
Calgarian’s Captain held up a hand to forestall Johns from leaving, then blanched as he read the message.
“Yes, well, Lieutenant Johns, read this.”
Johns’ eyes dashed over the Parisiana warning. He felt a great calm descend over him.
“Sir, this attack took place at the western entrance to the cleared route through the minefields. I can’t take these two ships to Archangel.”
“Well, I certainly have no authorization to take them back south.”
“Indeed sir, well, I’d best be on my way then. I thank you for your hospitality.”
The wind had picked up while he was talking with the old toff. Johns and his men were thoroughly soaked by spray rowing back to J-531.
July 20th, 2130. SMS Roon, Anchored Antonhaven
“…and then their head shaman – I don’t even know if he has a name – says “Of course you can, you’re the Great Father!” Hahaha.”
Findert, Second Officer Jens Trapp, and Third Officer Sven Harksen laughed as well. It had been a very good day and the Kommodore’s expansive mood was quite catching.
“Well Kommodore, I think that tops von Hippel’s pushing those boys forward.”
“You may think so, but I don’t Andreas. That was pure genius on his part. After that, I could have asked for just about anything and they’d have tumbled over themselves to say yes.”
“I think you underrate your appearance Kommodore. Don’t forget they were already on their knees to you before that. Tsars are hard to say no to.”
“True, true. But enough of that; we have business.
“Erster, you’re to stay aboard; you’ve earned a few nights on Roon.”
“Danke Kommodore, although, the coaling will make it anything but restful.”
“Rest? Ersters need no rest until they die, not so?”
“Just so Kommodore.”
“Have the Supply Officer take charge at the Festung.”
“He is to scale back the defenses. It should be more of a trading post than a fortress. Tomorrow they should finish unloading the tents and blankets from Agost, bayonets from Svein Jarl, and grain from Ellesmere. I don't really care how much reindeer meat he gets in return, the key is to keep them friendly so they warn us of approaching Russians. Any questions?”
Ziethen took in his tall, blond Second Officer. “Herr Trapp, you’re to commission Centurion. Choose a suitable name for her. She’s big, relatively fast, and has a wireless. I’ve tasked Kapitän West with providing two gun-crews to go with two of Albatross’s 8.8s.”
“Newer guns! Danke Kommodore.” (Note 9)
“You and the Erster fill out the rest of your crew from Roon, starting with the boarding teams. Your mission: patrol the Murman coast between the end of Meteor’s minefield and Kola Bay, where U-19’s patrol area starts. You’re to sail on the 24th in company with U-19, and you’re to back her and the other U-booten farther west, as a tripwire for when the Britischers send reinforcements. Of course, take any merchant steamers that get past the U-booten.”
The Kommodore turned to his Third Officer.
“Now, as for you Herr Harksen, gather your effects and repair aboard Ellesmere with your Schleswigers. I’ll provide written orders once she is provisioned and the 8.8’s fitted. Sorry, you get Roon’s older guns, but I don’t anticipate you’ll need them for your mission. I want you to sail no later than the day after tomorrow.
“Alba Mare Nostrum beckons.”
Note 1. The Nenets chum, like the Finnish Sami Lavvu, is a conical construct of poles, covered in hides or birch bark that looks like and serves the same purpose as the North American tipi/teepee.
Note 2. The ‘rein’ in ‘reindeer’ has nothing to do with ‘reins’ the leather bridle straps used to guide an animal. The English word reindeer comes from the old Norse ‘hreinn’ which means “a horned animal”. Rein is from the old French rene and probably before that the Latin retinere “to hold back”
Note 3. Roon’s band performing Der Königgrätzer Marsch:
Note 4. The note verbale is a highly formal form of diplomatic correspondence, intended to be delivered in person (hence ‘verbale’).
Note 5. Wähle das kleinere von zwei Übeln = Choose the lesser of two evils.
Note 6. Wirklich = Really/Truly
Note 7. HMS Calgarian was a near-sister to HMS Alsatian, 10th Cruiser and Northern Patrols flagship. At 17,500t and 20+ knots she was one of the larger and faster AMCs.
Note 8. Steamship Elizabeth, 4444ts and carrying coal from Penarth, was sunk by Valentiner’s U-38 three and a half hours earlier, well to the west. the-wolves-move-north-episode-three-t37570.html
Note 9. Albatross carried 8.8 SK L/35 guns. Roon’s tertiary guns were the older and weaker 8.8 SK L/30s.