by Tom B
Calais 0020 hrs Tuesday, October 27 1914
A second star shell illuminated the sky with its preternatural brilliance. Three small coasters carrying urgently needed supplies were trying to reach the harbor at Calais now that the moon had set. Escorting them were eight elderly destroyers of the Dover Patrol. They had failed to sneak into harbor undetected and were now engaged in a fierce battle with the German shore batteries, which were positioned along the cliffs north and south of Calais and had been equipped with searchlights. The British destroyers with their 12 pounders had bravely moved in close to the shore hoping to knock out the searchlights.
One of the supply ships had a small fire in its bow. The searchlights now favored two of the destroyers—the Osprey and the Greyhound. Both of them were burning, which was giving off additional illumination.
A decision was soon reached to abort the mission. The coasters turned back towards England. The destroyers continued their shelling to cover the withdrawal. Perhaps they lingered more than was needed. The fires on both Osprey and Greyhound worsened. When the order was given for the destroyers to retire as well these two limped away into the darkness. Osprey managed to extinguish it fires, but they steadily worsened on Greyhound. Attempts by the other destroyers to render assistance proved ineffective. Its crew was forced to abandon her soon after dawn and she sank off the Varne Shoal before noon.
Meanwhile in Calais fierce house to house fighting raged on. The previous night had been downright quiet—a combination of foul weather and exhausted troops had dissuaded General von Hugel from attacking. Under renewed pressure from von Moltke to complete his mission he made up for it tonight. The 2nd London Brigade started the night with only three working Maxims left. Before the night was over the Germans captured one of those and another jammed.
Ostend Belgium 0810 hrs
"To be blunt, Lord Kitchener, the Belgian Army is disintegrating," declared a haggard looking Sir Henry Rawlinson, commander of the British IV Army Corps.
Churchill shook his head and removed the half consumed cigar from his mouth. The HMS Lurcher had ferried Lord Kitchener, Col. Hankey and himself from Harwich to Ostend so that they could observe the Belgian situation first hand. At midday they would meet with King Albert, but before that they wanted Rawlinson’s frank opinions without any Belgians—or Frenchmen for that matter—within earshot.
The good news of the last two days was that the Russians were on the offensive in Poland and the Boer revolt appeared to be floundering. The bad news included the old cruiser, Sirius being sunk by a U-Boat off Dunkirk yesterday morning. This event provoked an avalanche of anxious messages within the Admiralty. The recurring theme was that all the areas around the Straits of Dover had become too dangerous for battleships. Churchill was dissatisfied with this opinion. He agreed to not using battleships off Calais or Belgium but insisted that the planned bombardment south of Etaples go ahead as scheduled. Prince Louis disliked this decision but there were other things on the First Sea Lord’s mind. In the afternoon he presented Churchill with his letter of resignation, stating that his persecution in the press had become intolerable. Churchill asked that the Prince do nothing until he returned from Belgium. He thought a lot about Prince Louis on the voyage to Ostend. He genuinely liked the man and felt deeply sorry for his predicament.
"Is the situation really that bad, General Rawlinson? The German attacks at Zeebrugge over the last two days were repulsed. Surely that is sufficient cause for some optimism"
"It was the French 42nd Division that did most of the fighting there. Without them the Germans would have captured Zeebrugge and would now be marching towards Ostend."
"But the fact is that French are here and that seems to have stabilized the situation," replied Churchill tartly.
Rawlinson sighed and pointed with a stick to a map on the wall, "The arrival of the French 42nd only remedied only one of our problems. Look here at the map. This area on our right flank extending to the sea is the responsibility of the Belgian 3rd Division. The Germans moved 1st Guard Division to this sector where they established a bridgehead over the Yser Sunday night. Yesterday resistance by the Belgians there just plain collapsed. Our aviators reported seeing a line of Belgian prisoners, which numbered in the hundreds, maybe a thousand. I was forced to send 3rd Cavalry Division to stiffen the Belgian defenses. I am still fighting three other German infantry divisions! If the Germans break though along the coast and seize Ostend from the west, it would be catastrophic."
"Heaven forbid!" exclaimed an agitated Churchill, "Ostend is your life line. If it falls you are effectively trapped."
"Joffre is sending another division today," remarked Kitchener with little sign of emotion.
"Yes, sir, I have been informed. Am I correct that it is the 89th Territorial Division" replied Rawlinson with a contemptuous emphasis on "Territorial".
"Yes, Henry, that is correct."
"Will they have any Maxims? How about artillery? And if they do are they the 75mm field guns or the older less effective guns?"
Lord Kitchener made no response. Churchill jumped in, "We are well aware, general, that the French Territorial Divisions are something less than elite units. Nonetheless they are significant reinforcements. Furthermore you should be pleased to learn that yesterday His Majesty personally interceded with Poincare to send at least one more division as soon as possible."
"All that will do is delay the inevitable—and not by much."
"Just what are you suggesting, Henry?" asked Kitchener.
"Evacuation, Lord Kitchener."
From his conversations with Kitchener on the trip over, Churchill had half expected Rawlinson would say that. Nonetheless he cringed when he heard the dreaded word "Please General, there must be other options! There must! Lord Kitchener we can no longer afford to pursue this policy of yours of deploying the Territorial Force in dribs and drabs." This was a topic he had discussed at some length with Kitchener aboard the Lurcher. A single battalion of Royal Scots plus another RGA battery and a small replacement levy had been the only British reinforcements sent to Belgium in the last three days.
Rawlinson shook his heard, "Begging your pardon, First Lord, but I’m afraid it’s too late for that. The more men we land now just means more that we shall soon need to evacuate—and the more men, equipment and supplies we will end up losing because there are going to be serious losses in the evacuation."
Off Lough Swilly Ireland 0855 hrs
The mighty superdreadnought, HMS Audacious was conducting gunnery exercises. In the past two months Admiral Jellicoe had come to the conclusion that Scapa Flow was too vulnerable to infiltration by German submarines. While measures were being implemented to protect Scapa Flow from this threat, Jellicoe had moved the fleet first to Loch Ewe in the Hebrides and then to Lough Swilly in Country Donegal, Ireland. He thought that was sufficiently remote from German bases for the Grand Fleet to be safe.
The crew aboard the Audacious suddenly heard a loud thump.
South of Etaples 0910 hrs
"They are still just sitting out there, Major and we are now confident that they are within range. Should we commence firing?"
Late yesterday two motorized batteries of 21cm Morsers had arrived at Etalpes. During the night they had taken up positions along the coast. In addition to the usual shrapnel and HE they had been supplied with some AP shells.
The artillery looked again with his binoculars at the two British battleships off the coast. They had not been there yesterday. When the morning mist cleared there they were anchored off the coast. His best guess was that they were waiting for a preset time to arrive to start their bombardment. He saw not reason to wait now that the visibility had improved to a decent level. It would merely give enemy airmen more time to sight his howitzers despite their camouflage.
"Yes, commence firing," he ordered.
The night before the Formidable and Queen escorted by 4 destroyers had sailed from Sheerness. When they reached their destination, they anchored and deployed their antitorpedo nets. At 1100 hrs they were to bombard the German positions. This would be followed by another attack by the British 2nd Division. Yesterday the BEF’s III Army Corps and Indian Corps had attacked in Crecy Forest in an attempt to draw German forces away from the coastal sector. French and Haig did not expect this assault to achieve the clean breakthrough that would let them deploy the cavalry divisions. But they did hope that they could capture Etaples.
The howitzers began their shelling with one battery targeting Queen and the other Formidable. The first German salvoes were long. There was no immediate return fire form the battleships. Very after a hit was scored on Queen she began shelling the general vicinity of the German artillery. Formidable soon did likewise. The balloon that intended to spot for them was not yet deployed. Damage accumulated on both ships. A fire started in the secondary battery of Formidable. One shell coming in at a steep trajectory easily penetrated Queen’s upper deck armor and holed the lower armor deck with some shrapnel causing damage to the engineroom below. Soon afterwards the two battleships reluctantly raised retracted their nets, raised anchor and took up new positions beyond the range of the Morsers.
Wilhemshaven 1030 hrs
"So what is this latest plan of yours, Admiral von Hipper?" inquired Admiral von Pohl is a testy voice, "and since I do not have time to waste this morning, I must insist on brevity." He turned his head briefly to glare daggers at Grand Admiral Tirpitz, who had demanded this meeting of the Admiralstab. Luckily Admiral Muller was unable to attend this time. A stenographer was present to comply with the Grand Admiral’s request for a formal record. Pohl ignored Admiral von Ingenohl who was also present.
Hipper nodded. He glanced briefly at Tirpitz then started his presentation, "Admiral von Pohl, members of the Admiralstab, what I propose is that we immediately move two of the old Kaiser Friiedrich III class battleships from the Fifth Squadron to Emden."
Admiral Pohl’s hard frown was replaced by a puzzled look. Hipper thought he was going to say something but he did not.
"Accompanied by a light cruiser carrying mines and a half flotilla these two battleships will leave the Ems soon after last light. They will head for the Hoofden and should arrive off Zeebrugge before noon. If they encounter only light forces they will attack. If they encounter no enemy warships or if the enemy is able to escape then they will bombard Ostend and lay a minefield."
"And if they should encounter one or more London class battleships?"
"In that case they will withdraw to the north. High Seas Fleet with First Scouting Group in its van will be positioned off Terschelling. If the British take the bait and send a portion of Channel Fleet to pursue, we can trap and destroy them in the Broad Fourteens. Likewise if the British battle cruisers make an appearance there is a good chance we can trap them against the Dutch coast."
Nostrils flaring Pohl turned to Ingenohl, "I assume operation this meets with your approval, Admiral von Ingenohl?"
Ingenohl gulped and hesitated slightly, "Er, yes, admiral, it does."
"You don’t sound very enthusiastic, Frederich."
"It is a good plan, a sound plan," replied Ingenohl trying unsuccessfully to sound convincing, "You had said that the previous plan devised by Franz was excessively risky and therefore violated the Kaiser’s policy. This plan is less risky—except for the two marginally useful old battleships, that is. Since First Scouting Group will not be going as far from home as it did in the prior plan—"
"Enough!" bellowed Pohl as he slammed first on the desk. His eyes blazing, he turned towards Tirpitz and pointed a finger, "You! You are behind this nonsense! Oh, the details might come from Hipper who it now seems must have sustained a head injury at Heligoland Bight. But you--you are the incubus that seduces them against my will. Against the Kaiser’s will! Deny it Alfred, go ahead I dare you!"
Tirpitz shook his bald head, "You are becoming hysterical, Hugo. Try to act like an officer in the Kaiserlich Marine! Franz, here has come up with a very sound plan and all you do is hurl insults and wild accusations."
SS Olympic off Lough Swilly 2057 hrs
The moon was up by clouds made it a dark night. Despite that some of the passengers continued to look in the direction of disabled British battleship. Earlier in the day the Olympic had been diverted to assist the troubled vessel. Some passengers saw some measure of irony in this as the Olympic was the sister ship of the ill fated Titanic. At one point the Olympic tried to take the battleship into tow but the rough seas caused the towing line to part. There were other unsuccessful attempts by a British cruiser and a collier to tow the stricken vessel
"It’s good to see us rendering assistance," remarked Paul Ruschmann of Fort Lee, New Jersey to his two friends as they looked over the rail.
"How can you possible say that, Charlie?" countered Otto Bauer of Philadelphia, "If you haven’t noticed it’s a British battleship out there. The same British Empire, which is trying to destroy our Fatherland. I hope the damn thing sinks! Just what sort of German are you anyway?"
"I, sir, am an American. And so are you, Otto--don’t you forget that! You may think of yourself as a German-American if you wish. Unlike our former President I do not feel ashamed of what he derisively he labels as ‘hyphenated Americans.’ Just as long you place the emphasis on American."
"I am not the biggest fan of the British and their filthy Empire either, " spoke up Ian Sullivan from the Bronx, "but I can’t seem to get myself all worked up about this fuckin’ war if you pardon my language, gents, even though what happened to the poor Belgies just wasn’t right. But something you too be might considering Paul is your own neck."
"What! Are you threatening us you drunken Mick?" snarled Paul.
"I am not drunk! hic. And you misunderstand what I’m trying to say. Have anyone of you considered for a moment just why this blasted Brit piece of shit steel ain’t doin’ so good?"
British seamen from the battleship had been brought over in waves to the Olympic during the afternoon. A great many seamen. There was some speculation amongst the passengers that with the last wave the Audacious had been completely abandoned. The seamen and passengers had mixed a little in the beginning but in the last few hours there were signs that the liner’s crew were trying to keep them apart as much as possible.
"I have heard talk -- some say it was a mine but others think it was a torpedo," said Ian.
"Yes, yes, I’ve heard that too, so?"
"Well you see Otto, hic, mines are like grapes—they tend to come in bunches."
Paul and Otto exchanged glances wherein they admitted without saying a word that even a drunken Irish nitwit could be right on occasion.
"Ahem, well then I guess there is some case for concern, though I did hear that this ship’s structure—something about compartments that I only partially understand—make her very difficult to sink," said Paul. The moment he said it, he knew what Ian’s retort would be.
"Aye, and didn’t they also say not even God could sink her sister ship?’
Otto nodded grimly, "Well then maybe we better hope it was a torpedo from one of the Kaiser’s magnificent submarines. The Germans would never torpedo an ocean liner."
Suddenly there was a loud explosion. For a second the three Americans worried that a mine or a torpedo had struck Olympic. Very quickly they realized that the explosion had come from what had once been a battleship.
HMS Lurcher docked at Ostend 2305 hrs
Churchill emptied his flask and tried to recall if he ever had a worse day. The meeting with King Albert had been so distasteful Winston had come close to vomiting afterwards. The steady stream of dismal developments had not broken King Albert’s heroic will but it had taken a visible toll on the man. He pleaded with them for further reinforcements and increased use of naval gunfire. Kitchener had made only vague commitments to send "all that he could." The Field Marshal had uttered wretched drivel with a perfect poker face. It shamed Churchill to the core that he had behaved just as badly, muttering equivocations about the danger posed by the German subs. Still worse than what they said was what none of them dared to say—that in brave Belgium’s darkest hour they were seriously considering abandoning her. They were all no better than the husband who kisses his wife in the morning then skips town with a floozy.
Oh but the worst of it all was that the king knew! Maybe Kitchener had fooled him but Winston was sure King Albert could see the awful truth in his own eyes. Churchill felt he had permanently lost honor he could never recover. The horror, the shame. It was clear now that Calais was going to fall soon—if not during the night then sometime tomorrow. Add to that Audacious and yes Prince Louis as well. Winston struggled to find some glimmer of hope. The latest news Kitchener had shared with was that the 2nd Division had been stopped in its attempt to reach Etaples. Was there any good news? Well, the damage to Queen and Formidable had been light—the most serious being a pair of Formidable’s 6" guns had been destroyed. Was the day so dark that this fact constituted a ray of light?
He thought with profound loathing about the General Rawlinson. How should history record his expedition to Belgium? He came, he saw, he capitulated. That sardonic witticism almost brought a badly needed smile to poor Winston’s face. Almost.
Then he wondered with unspeakable dread what else could possibly go wrong.
Black Sea 2310 hrs
The Ottoman Fleet now led by Rear Admiral Souchon had put out to sea in the afternoon. Supposedly their mission was to conduct "exercises". They were heading north.
Calais 0100 Thursday, October 29, 1914
Another brief exchange of gunfire could be heard in the city. The Germans so far had not attacked in force this night. Instead they mounted small sporadic raids. The Germans and British were both exhausted from the fighting. These brief firefights were intended to keep the 2nd London Brigade from getting any continuous sleep. Meanwhile snipers tried to ply their trade when the moon broke through the clouds or the roaming German searchlights highlighted a choice target.
Yesterday at 1500 hrs the remaining French defenders of Calais had surrendered. Their commander had originally wanted to surrender at noon. He had tried to persuade the British to surrender as well but they stubbornly refused. The French therefore postponed their surrender for three hours trying in vain to persuade the British would come to their senses.
It had been three days since the last shipment of supplies had reached Calais. The men were hungry and nearly out of ammunition. In those three days they had not been able to evacuate their wounded back to England—and they now had over a thousand seriously wounded soldiers who were receiving little more than rudimentary first aid. Medical supplies had run out as well. During the night some of the wounded had died and more would perish before dawn.
The soldiers were part of the Territorial Force—often called the Saturday Night Soldiers. In theory they were not supposed to be deployed overseas in case of a war. But the battalions could volunteer for overseas deployment and many had. Many senior officers in the Army thought the Territorial Force units were not ready to be employed I combat without several months of additional training. Only with great reluctance had the recent desperate circumstances caused Army General Staff to commit what the regarded as the more fit Territorial Force battalions to be committed to the front.
Despite being dog tired some of the men conversed intensely. A few joked that Calais should not count as overseas—that a soldier could walk the distance to Kent in a single day if he had a good road. The problem was that the Straits of Dover were not a very good road. Opinions varied wildly on this topic Some of the men felt as though they were almost in England--that defending Calais was in fact defending England itself from the horror of invasion. Still others though felt as if they had been stranded on a far distant continent.
The soldiers were also deeply ambivalent about the day that lay ahead. It was expected that the German attacks would be much more serious come morning. Their artillery and the dreaded minenwerfers would resume their shelling. Then would come more house to house fighting—a brutal form of combat that neither the British nor the Germans had trained for. But there was still hope—hope that the BEF had finally won the long expected victory at the Battle of the Somme allowing Allenby’s cavalry to ride to their rescue. Or that the world’s most powerful navy would appear in full strength off the coast to blast away the German menace and land a strong relief force.
The relative silence of this night was shattered by an explosion. The British clung to their hopes but just to be safe their sappers were wrecking the cranes.
Wilhelmshaven 0905 hrs
The door was closed. Inside the room there was Kaiser Wilhelm II and four admirals—von Tirpitz, von Muller, von Ingenohl and von Pohl. It was to the last of those, the head of the Admiralstab, to whom the Kaiser was now speaking.
"Admiral von Pohl, it is best if I proceed directly to the point of this meeting. As you are most certainly aware our magnificent Army in early September was forced to revise its strategy. Unable to capture Paris it seeks to gain a powerful strategic advantage by capturing the Channel Ports. It was anticipated that possession of these ports would give to you gentlemen in the Navy, bases well situated for raiding Britain’s line of communication.
For more than a week now I have been receiving numerous complaints from the Army General Staff about the disruption of their operations being caused by the British Navy. These complaints note that the enemy is not using his newest and most powerful warships to cause this interference. No, our foe uses old even obsolete ships to thwart us. With them he mercilessly shells our poor soldiers and casually sends reinforcements and supplies to Belgium. And what the generals keep asking me in the name of their long suffering troops is why has our own navy done nothing—absolutely nothing, to stop this—even after they secured for you an important new base at Dunkirk?"
The Kaiser paused. He briefly looked at the other four admirals. Tirpitz suppressed a smirk.
"Kaiser, please let me explain," answered a nervous looking Pohl, "The generals are not aware of certain facts. We have indeed responded to these activities of the Royal Navy. We have sent submarines to those areas."
"Hmph, which so far have sunk merely one obsolete British cruiser."
"Unfortunately that is true, Your Majesty. You see getting a submarine properly positioned to torpedo a warship is not as easy as we once—"
"--Excuses, pitiful lame excuses, Admiral! Tell me please, does our fleet consist of nothing but submarines?"
"Of course, not, Your Majesty but since we are so much weaker than the Royal Navy only our submarines can be employed without undue risk in those waters."
There was an uneasy minute of silence as the Kaiser glowered at Admiral Pohl, then he replied, "So for all that the Reich has spent on warships, there is nothing the Navy can do to interfere with the operation of the Royal Navy off Flanders but to send a few submarines--because anything else would entail ‘undue risk’."
Pohl answered uneasily, "Kaiser, I have merely implemented the policy you have so wisely proscribed."
"So I am to blame for the Army’s difficulties?"
Pohl hesitated warily before responding, "Oh, no, Your Majesty, of course not, it is the circumstances we find ourselves in that we find ourselves in that are—"
"—So is that to be my official excuse? The reason why antique British warships parade as they please up and down the Flemish coast mercilessly shelling our brave soldiers. Calais has not yet fallen and we are behind schedule in Belgium. We do not have time to waste with these objectives! You may not be aware of this in the Admiralstab but the Russian hordes have somehow managed to mass once again and this time they threaten Silesia. A quick resolution of the situations at Calais and Belgium in imperative so General von Moltke can send badly needed reinforcements to General Hindenburg, especially since our Austrian allies have proven less than reliable."
Kaiser Wilhelm paused to breathe then concluded, "So when the Russians pillage our industrial centers in Silesia, I can tell the violated German populace that it was due to ‘circumstances’?"
Pohl didn’t know how to respond to this and remained silent.
"Admiral Pohl, I have been informed by Admiral von Muller that you have disapproved not one but two plans submitted by Admiral von Hipper with the concurrence of Admiral von Ingenohl for countering the activities of the Royal Navy."
Pohl nodded grimly, "Yes, Your Majesty, that is correct. Those plans were in clear violation of the policy you have decreed."
"Because they entailed ‘undue risk’?"
"Yes, Your Majesty, most grave risk to major units of the High Seas Fleet."
"I see. Now in these proposed operations was First Scouting Group going to be at undue risk?"
"Yes, Kaiser, it most certainly would."
"But since Admiral Hipper would be leading First Scouting Group, he was therefore proposing to expose himself to this very same excessive risk."
"Kaiser, Admiral von Hipper is undeniably a brave man, but a brave man can still be lacking in judgment—"
"Lacking in judgment! Was Admiral von Hipper lacking in judgment when he thrashed the British at Heligoland Bight? Was he lacking in judgment at Texel Island?"
Yes. yes, YES he was lacking at judgment at Texel Island! But Pohl did not dare to utter those thoughts aloud.
"Admiral Pohl, please do trouble yourself to answer my question. I already know the answer! If anyone is lacking in judgment it is most certainly not the heroic Admiral von Hipper but yourself! You Admiral von Pohl are the one bereft of sound judgment!"
The Kaiser turned away from the crestfallen Pohl to look at Muller and Tirpitz, "Admirals of my Navy, I am sorely disappointed. I have enumerated the most painstakingly clear policy about how the High Seas Fleet is to be used, yet incredibly there is still some confusion. See to it that the new head of the Admiralstab is clear in his understanding."
After the Kaiser had departed, Muller talked privately with Tirpitz. "Well Alfred you have your victory. Whom do you suggest to be the new head the Admiralstab?"
"I regard Bachmann as the obvious choice."
"Hmm, yes, your choice does not surprise me. Well then, I shall go along with Gustav—but there is something you should know, Alfred. Hugo was too cautious with the fleet. I feel no trace of human sympathy what has just happened. But now I worry that you may go too far in the opposite direction. Is there some operation—one of Hipper’s plans-- that you would like to implement very soon—or has the events of the last week been nothing more than posturing?"
Tirpitz chafed at Muller’s last comment but nodded and replied in a civil tone, "Yes, Georg there is. This is not a time for dawdling."
"Then go fetch Frederich and Franz as well if he is available. We shall discuss these proposed operations together."
10 Downing Street, London 1040 hrs
"Some of you know this already but some of you do not. We are going to be evacuating our forces from Belgium." announced Prime Minister Asquith.
Even Churchill knew that the Prime Minister was going to say that he cringed anyway. He was still opposed to the evacuation but General French eventually gave it a strong recommendation. Kitchener decided to approve the evacuation last night and Asquith had gone along. Churchill’s argument that a portion of the still forming 8th Division be sent immediately was rejected. Furthermore Sturdee and Burney remained strongly opposed to using predreadnoughts to shell German positions along the Belgian coast.
"How soon will the evacuation be starting?" asked the Lord Richard Haldane, the Lord Chancellor.
"Hmm, my understanding is that our transports have already left to withdraw some line of communications troops. Am I correct, Winston?"
For once in his life, Churchill wanted to say as little as possible at a meeting so great was his disgust and shame. With great effort he answered in a weak voice, "You are correct, Prime Minster, the first group of transports left Folkestone at 7:30 am. Another group will depart from Ramsgate within the hour." That is more precisely, you are absolutely correct about the bloody schedule but completely wrong about the decision to evacuate, you miserable spineless wanker, Herbert.
"Will the French be evacuating their units as well?" asked Lloyd-George.
"We, ah, presume so," answered Asquith.
"Begging your pardon, Prime Minister, but did you just say ‘presume’?"
"Well, uh, a cable was sent to Jeffre less than an hour ago. We have not yet received a response."
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Grey now asked anxiously, "And what has been King Albert’s reaction to all this?"
Churchill cringed still more.
"Uh, we shall be notifying him anon."
Le Havre Harbor 1215 hrs
The men, equipment and draught animals of the French 38th Division were methodically loading aboard the transports. Suddenly messengers arrived at the docks. The procession up the gangplanks halted. Soon afterwards the men, equipment and draught animals of the French 38th Division began a procession off the ships.
Calais 1400 hrs
"It’s time," said the acting company commanders to their surviving men, some of them with tears in their eyes. Some of their soldiers looked over their shoulders towards the sea hoping against hope for a sign that the Royal Navy had come to rescue them. They were disappointed for the final time. A few waved white flags and the rest slowly emerged with their hands up from behind the barricades. The Battle of Calais was over.
OHL Valenciennes 2100 hrs
"There is a rumor going around that there has been some abrupt high level changes in our Navy, " commented von Falkenhayn, "What have you heard, Helmuth? You usually seem to know more about what’s going on in the Navy than I do."
"Hmm, I too have heard a rumor that von Pohl no longer heads the Admiralstab," cautiously answered von Moltke. Falkenhayn’s attitude was noticeably less belligerent than usual.
"Yes that is the most common rumor, though I also heard the von Ingenohl was replaced as commander of the High Seas Fleet. So you have not heard anything more definitive?"
"No I have not," answered Moltke less than truthfully. Falkenhayn was obviously fishing. In the early afternoon Moltke had received the following telegram from Tirpitz:
IMPORTANT CHANGES IN PERSONNEL AND POLICY UNDERWAY AT THE ADMIRALSTAB. LETTER WITH DETAILS SHOULD ARRIVE TOMORROW. ANY FUTHER GRIEVANCES ARE TO BE COMMUNICATED TO THIS OFFICE NOT THE KAISER.
He did not want to share that with his rival. Trying to segue into a different topic Molte said, "Hopefully we will receive better support from the Navy. Yes, Calais had finally fallen but it took longer much longer than anticipated. So far our Navy has been unable to prevent the French and British from shelling our coastal position and reinforcing Belgium. An additional French division entered the battle against us there yesterday."
"Yes, I saw the reports. One of their usually ineffective Territorial Divisions. It attempted a counterattack and suffered heavy casualties."
"That is correct. Nevertheless they will still impede von Beseler’s progress. I removed II Army Corps from First Army as further reinforcements for Tenth Army. It began to entrain at Laon a few hours ago. "
"That corps has some of the finest regiments in the entire army. And Linsingen is a very capable and aggressive commander. I imagine that von Kluck complained mightily."
"But of course, even though Second Army took over nearly 10 kilometers of his line. He has enough forces to defend but he will not be able to make those reckless attacks he is so fond of."
"I agree with this redeployment but you should reinforce First Army with another Landwehr brigade. On another topic, about three hours ago I had a telephone conversation with Ludendorff. He has suggested that Hindenburg be appointed Supreme Commander of all German forces on the Eastern Front."
"Hmmm, well I am disinclined to take that step at this time."
"On the contrary, I regard the idea as having considerable merit. Why are you so opposed, Helmuth?"
"I have become increasingly dubious of Ludendorff’s alleged brilliance as a strategist. For one thing, he seems to rely overmuch on that drunkard Hoffman for his ideas. This recent offensive in Poland is an embarrassment. Furthermore, I have in the last two weeks studied the details of what transpired at Tannenberg. I am now convinced that we would not have done anywhere as near as well if General von François had obeyed every order. As a result Ludendorff and Hindenburg treat François shabbily though not in a way as to make their disdain obvious. We should consider moving François to another front."
"Hmm, I will review the matter when I have time, " answered Falkenhayn without even attempting to fake enthusiasm. It seems more was going on with Tirpitz than I had realized. But Moltke is clearly making a serious mistake now with Hindenburg. "Are you still determined to send further reinforcements to the East? I hear you gave the Kaiser a very ominous picture of the Russian threat to Silesia yesterday morning. It disturbed him greatly."
"It was ominous because it was accurate! Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes did not ruin the Russians as completely as Hindenburg tells everyone. The Austrians are falling apart. The Russians are advancing towards both Silesia and Cracow. It is imperative we send reinforcements immediately but with the Belgian campaign progressing slower than expected, all I have ordered so far is 6th Cavalry Division which entrains at Lille tomorrow morning."
"I am not going to argue with you about a single depleted cavalry division. But I am most strongly opposed to sending anything further. The situation is not as grim in the East as you told the Kaiser. The Russians did not succeed in encircling XXIV Reserve Corps as we had feared. Furthermore, as Ninth Army retires it is tearing up the railroads, destroying the bridges and burning the crops. These measures will slow the Russian advance. Meanwhile Conrad can shift forces out of the Carpathians to save Cracow—"
"If he does that the Russians will be able to encircle Przemsyl again! They may even be able to take the key mountain passes and threaten Budapest."
"You are once again becoming alarmist about the East Front, Helmuth. I see no possibility of the Russian capturing the key mountain passes. Mountain warfare is something we could actually learn a lesson or two from our ally. I will concede however that there is a good chance the Russians might encircle Przemsyl again. But even if they do, that well provisioned fortress should be able to hold out for several months. That gives us ample time to achieve the decisive results we need on the Western Front."
GERMANS CAPTURE ZEEPBRUGGE AND CALAIS
The German Army captured the important Belgian port city of Zeebrugge yesterday morning after very heavy fighting. The situation of the combined Belgian, French and British forces in Belgium remains a serious concern to the Entente leaders, even though continue to deny rumors that an evacuation is being planned. American military experts believe however that even if substantially reinforced the cramped Entente position in Belgium will be difficult to hold indefinitely.
The British government acknowledged yesterday that the Germans had captured the crucial seaport of Calais. This is another ominous development for the Entente for it gives Germany the perfect base from which to harass Britain’s communications with France. It will also allow long range German artillery to fire shells clear across the Straits of Dover and strike English coastal towns.
The French still apparently control Boulogne, another key Channel port, which is also isolated by the German position in France. With Calais now secured it is expected that the Germans will soon turn their attention to Boulogne.
--New York Times Saturday 31 October, 1914
Ostend 0120 hrs
King Albert sat alone his desk. He did not think he would get much sleep that night. He considered the possibility of getting at least partially drunk. He rejected that. He opened his Bible for some spiritual sustenance. Turning to the Gospel of Matthew he read:
"The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, ‘This man calls for Elias’. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, ‘Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him’. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost."
Somehow that failed to cheer him up. He had been debating since Thursday with the notion of ending it all and surrendering the entire Belgian Army. The British and French were increasingly afraid that he would do that. Without the Belgian Army to hold the perimeter they would not be able to evacuate their own forces. They also did not want Belgium to formally surrender but to carry on the fight from overseas.
King Albert had thought about surrendering. An hour did not go by when he did not think about it. Antwerp had surrendered. Maybe it was time for Belgium to surrender. Despite these thoughts he told the British and the French that Belgium would fight on. However he disagreed with them about the schedule. It was unacceptable to him that the Belgian army would only start to be evacuated once the last of the British and French troops had left. There was some frantic negotiation but just before noon yesterday an agreement had been hammered out. The first wave of the combat units to be evacuated would consist of the British 7th Division, the French 42nd Division and the Belgian 5th Division. These units were expected to be completely loaded and on their way by late evening tomorrow. After that the Belgian 1st Division would come next and then the rest of the forces would evacuate on a schedule that was still being worked out.
Albert sorely doubted that the evacuation of those remaining forces would ever come up. This was because he was more pessimistic than Kitchener and Joffre about how much time they had. The German pressure was relentless. General Rawlinson had some appreciation of this as well but Kitchener regarded the commander of IV Army Corps as overly pessimistic. Rawlinson agreed with King Albert that they had only two more days before utter bedlam would erupt. There was scarcely an hour they could afford to waste.
Off the Dutch Coast 30 nm north of Zeebrugge 0915 hrs
The morning mist had been relatively light for a change and visibility was good. A division of 4 ‘I" class destroyers from the 1st Destroyer Flotilla of Harwich Force was patrolling the southern portion of the sea off the Dutch Coast commonly referred to as the "Broad Fourteens". Lookouts were now starting to report large ships to the northeast heading south.
Sheerness Naval Base 0935 hrs
"Three armored cruisers, you say? Are they sure, Reginald?" asked Admiral Cecil Burney, Commander of the Channel Fleet, speaking over the telephone to Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt, commander of Harwich Force.
"I have no reason to question the reliability of the report, Admiral. Visibility is pretty good for a change. But I admit I am finding it strange as well. Our usual worry has been a hit and run raid by a fast torpedo flotilla."
"Do you think the Germans might know about the evacuation?"
"Hmm, it’s a definite possibility. Though maybe they think we are still sending reinforcements and that is what they are trying to disrupt."
"Hmm. Or perhaps their real mission is to lure Channel Fleet into a concentration of waiting submarines or a minefield."
"Yes, I talked to Oliver before I called you and he expressed very similar concerns. But there are ships are sea carrying our boys home. There are also other transports loading at Ostend. Hood has 2 light cruisers and 11 destroyers covering Ostend. If I let him use my 4 destroyers as well they might be able to defeat them. Or at the very least least stall them until I can arrive with the rest of Harwich Force."
"What will be your strength leaving Harwich?"
"I shall have Aurora as my flag and 19 destroyers. Keyes will leave with Firedrake and three submarines "
"Good. Once this call is over I shall immediately order Fifth Battle Squadron to raise steam. Admiral Fisher can decide if he wants to commit them as well."
Ostend 0945 hrs
The ships had been loading two battalions of the British 7th Infantry Division, three battalions of the Belgian 5th Division and two of the French 42nd Division. The loading ceased and soon the soldiers were being ordered off the boats.
HMS Foresight off Ostend 1005 hrs
Admiral Hood stoically read the latest wireless message.
DETECTED TWO GERMAN BATTLESHIPS EITHER WITTELSBACH OR KAISER FREDERICH CLASS 8 NM NNE OF ARMOURED CRUISERS ON SAME HEADING. MAKING 16 KNOTS
The admiral had been concerned. Now he was worried. Hood’s own force covering the evacuation consisted of the 4" gunned light cruisers Foresight and Attentive, 7 British and 4 French destroyers plus 2 sloops and an old submarine, the B.10. Of his 7 RN destroyers only 3 were ‘F’ class, the other 4 belonged to the earlier and much smaller ‘B’ class. Docked in Ostend there were 2 more old submarines and 4 torpedo boats. The 4 destroyers from Harwich Force would be available as well. His previous plan had been to make a stand near Ostend, where he thought he had a good chance to sink at least two of the armored cruisers with torpedoes.
Now there was a bigger threat. Under these circumstances it was better to intercept the Germans as early as possible and fight a delaying action His hope would be to prevent the Germans from reaching Ostend until Tyrwhitt arrived with Harwich Force. Nearly 5,000 Entente soldiers were aboard ships recently departed from Ostend heading back to England. The German warships could overtake them before they reached safety—unless their advance was serious delayed.
SMS Roon 1015 hrs
Rear Admiral Rebeur-Paschwitz, commander of Third Scouting Group, was also worried. He had hoped not to be discovered by the British until he was within 20 km of Ostend. Hipper had aborted his raid earlier in the month after encountering the RN off Texel Island. After the RN destroyers had showed up today, Rebeur-Paschwitz had radioed Admiral von Ingenohl and inquired if he should continue. There had been some delay in receiving a response but ultimately his reply had been affirmative.
Rebeur-Paschwitz had an uncomfortable intuition that his task force was merely bait for some elaborate trap—the details of which were not being fully shared with him. In addition to Roon, the Third Scouting Group currently consisted of Yorck and Prinz Heinrich. For this hastily assembled mission he had been reinforced with Kaiser Frederich IIII and Kaiser Barbarossa—which had been suddenly moved to Emden Thursday night. He also had the old light cruiser Arcona well stocked with mines, a half flotilla of 4 modern destroyers and another 4 small obsolescent destroyers belonging to Ems Patrol.
His mission was to destroy enemy light forces and transports in the vicinity of Ostend. If he encountered battleships or battle cruisers he was to retire immediately to the north, where the High Seas Fleet would be waiting off Terschelling. He thought it more than coincidence that this strange mission had been approved so soon after Admiral von Pohl had been dismissed as head of the Admiralstab.
He looked through binoculars at the four British destroyers way off to the west. He felt like a worm on a hook.
HMS Foresight 1150 hrs
A 24cm shell struck forward. It penetrated the starboard side above the waterline and continued to descend passing through the fire room and exiting out the port side below the waterline without exploding. Sea water poured in and soon the boiler fires were extinguished.
There some preliminary feints, which resulted in some relatively light damage to HMS Attentive, and some splinter damage to one of the destroyers. It was only then that Hood had learned that the Germans also had a small flotilla with them. Admiral Hood now thought he had his best opportunity to catch the German predreadnoughts in a torpedo crossfire. Dover Patrol’s 11 destroyers were now steaming towards the battleships, while the four ‘I’ class destroyers circled around.
The 4 French destroyers were in the van of Dover patrol. They were followed by the 3 ‘F’ class destroyers, and then in the rear the old ‘B’ class destroyers. The German predreadnoughts had a powerful secondary battery and along with the armored cruisers they were taking a toll. In particular, the lead destroyer, FS Intrepide had come under heavy fire and was now down by the bow and burning badly. It took another 15cm shell amidships and very soon afterwards hauled out of line. Suddenly there was a series of explosions aboard the Intrepide and it broke apart. The other French destroyers hastily fired their torpedoes and turned away except for one, which approached the wreckage of Intrepide to look for survivors.
Admiral Hood swore. The French destroyers had fired their fish too early. Furthermore they had a fairly strong gun armament, which he needed to batter the German screening flotilla, which was now rapidly closing on the destroyers.
"We need to find out who is now the acting commander of the French destroyers and get them back into the action," he yelled to his staff.
SMS Roon north of Zeebrugee 1240 hrs
"Admiral, another periscope has been sighted!"
Admiral Rebeur-Paschwitz replied with a terse, "Acknowledged."
The admiral considered his tactical situation. While the enemy’s plan of attack—a torpedo crossfire—had been sound, they appeared to have some problems optimally coordinating their ships. The German Navy had felt the performance of its battleship’s secondary batteries against enemy destroyers at Heligoland Bight was less than it should’ve been and had insisted on rigorous training including drills afterwards. Today this added training had proven itself to be well spent. The enemy torpedo attack had failed though Roon herself had just narrowly evaded one torpedo. In return they had sunk 4 enemy destroyers during the attack itself and afterwards had finished off 2 disabled destroyers and a badly slowed light cruiser. The remaining enemy warships retired towards Ostend.
He had not pursued them. The destroyer V.151 had been crippled by a 4" shell rupturing its main steam pipe. Arcona was now towing the destroyer to German controlled Zeebrugge. He felt with increasing intensity that the Admiralstab was using him for shark bait. He decided that the latest periscope sighting was his excuse to withdraw.
HMS Aurora north of Ostend 1435 hrs
The lead destroyers of 1st Destroyer Flotilla had rendezvoused with the remnants of Dover Patrol in the last few minutes. Commodore Tyrwhitt was saddened to learn of the likely death of the courageous Admiral Hood aboard the Foresight. He was also saddened—and angered-- to learn that two of Harwich Force’s destroyers had been lost in the attack. It was less than three weeks since he had lost Undaunted and 3 destroyers off Texel Island. He wanted very much to get some retribution.
Channel Fleet was still nearly two hours away. Despite having hurt Dover Patrol badly the German warships had not proceeded to attack Ostend. Now he had intelligence from an air patrol in Belgium that the German warships were heading north.
Commodore Tyrwhitt turned to staff, "The enemy is retreating. Admiral Hood’s brave attack may have weakened the Germans more than we thought. We will make a night torpedo attack on them in the Broad Fourteens. Yes, I know that it looks to be a very bright night with the moon nearly full and only a few thin clouds. On the other hand the Dutch coast will restrict our enemy’s ability to maneuver We will most likely suffer some loss tonight but I feel we can punish the Germans enough that never again will they dare to show themselves in these waters."
HMS Aurora Broad Fourteens 1905 hrs
A German 21cm shell exploded in the cruiser’s superstructure. Commodore Tyrwhitt was impressed with the German gunnery under moonlight. He decided it was time for some caution. He turned to the ship’s captain, "Turn her around then slow to 20 knots." The captain immediately a 16 point turn to starboard.
Ahead the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla had suffered serious damage –including one sunk, two more dead in the water and another ablaze--but nonetheless had managed to overwhelm and penetrate the German screen. They began to launch their 21" torpedoes. The nearby Dutch coast restricted the battleships room to maneuver.
There was an explosion amidships on one of the German battleships. It’s guns continued to fire for a few minutes while it’s list steadily worsened until it finally capsized. Two minutes after turning turtle there was one loud explosion soon followed by another much larger one.
Commodore Tyrwhitt had ordered his flagship turned 8 points to port after the torpedo had struck. He had watched the German catastophe with mixed emotions. Part of him felt some measure of pity for the large loss of life, which had just occurred. They were the enemy but there they were also fellow seamen. But a larger part of him was satisfied--very satisfied. If anything he was more than a little disappointed that the other battleship had not yet been hit. But he expected that with 1st Destroyer Flotilla now making its torpedo run there would soon be more German ships sinking.
"Commodore, lookouts report cruisers and destroyers approaching rapidly from WNW!"
SMS Stralsund Broad Fourteens 1930 hrs
In the bright moonlight the lookouts could see the torpedo approaching. The cruiser’s turn was too late and the crew flinched as they saw the wake reach their hull—and then seconds later continue on the other side.
On the bridge of the cruiser Admiral Maas, the commander of Second Scouting Group, stoically watched this. He had been badly wounded at Heligoland Bight. As he was recovering from his wounds, Grand Admiral von Tripitz had visited him. Tirpitz started the conversation by repeating what Maas already knew—that his tactics at Heligoland Bight were being roundly criticized at high levels in the Navy, especially Admiral von Pohl. There was talk that when he recovered he would not be reinstated as commander of Second Scouting Group.
When Tirpitz had gone on to say "I fully agree with those who think you were imprudent to commit your cruisers piecemeal," Maas’ heart sank. He was sure his career was over. Then the Grand Admiral smiled and poked his arm, "Ah, why the sad look, Leberecht? We all make mistakes. Are you worried that we might reassign you to some paper pushing position? Well don’t be. The Kaiserliche Marine desperately needs officers such as yourself—flag officers who are not cowed by the British and are willing to fight tenaciously. And don’t worry about Hugo—I’ve made sure that the Kaiser thinks you are a hero."
When Tirpitz had said that Maas shed two or three tears. He vowed then and there that he would not the let the Grand Admiral down. Here he was with all the available ships of Second Scouting Group—Stralsund, Strassburg and Graudenz—full concentrated. Accompanying Second Scouting Group was two flotillas with 17 destroyers lead by the light cruiser, Rostock. And close behind them was First Scouting Group. Nobody was going to criticize him this time for committing his forces piecemeal. Not far off one British destroyer down by the stern was being abandoned. Another was burning brightly. Maas recalled his naval history and yelled to the men on the bridge.
"Damn the torpedoes—full speed ahead."
SMS Frederich der Grosse off Terchelling 2020 hrs
"Admiral von Igenohl, Admiral Hipper has reported that Moltke has been torpedoed!" cried out the wireless operator.
The quick destruction of the Kaiser Barbarossa had shaken Admiral von Ingenohl. Now the Moltke had been torpedoed as well. Perhaps its torpedo bulkheads will limit the damage. Helgoland had been torpedoed at Heligoland Bight and had suffered a loss of merely 2 knots of speed. But the possibility that Moltke could end up like Kaiser Barbarossa was too much for Ingenohl.
"Send immediate wireless message—do not take time to encode—to Admirals Hipper and Maas that they are both to disengage immediately."
sickbay HMS Aurora 2040 hrs
Commodore Tyrwhitt was bleeding. A German 11" shell had killed half his bridge staff and wounded the rest in varying degrees.
"You are going to live, commodore," announced the physician tending him.
The commodore glumly shook his head.
"No?" said the doctor, "Are you doubting my professional judgment? I tell you with complete candor that your wounds are not life threatening."
"Thank you, doctor" replied the commodore in a stiff tone and a weak voice. I shake my head because I think none of us is going to survive the next half hour, doctor--that includes yourself. Then again he no longer heard the sound of shells exploding all around the cruiser. Was there some reason to hope?
These hopes were briefly raised further then the acting captain of the Aurora came over to him, "Commodore, it appears that the Germans have disengaged."
"Is it because Moltke is sinking from the torpedo hit, James?"
"Not that we can see, sir. She is listing but not that badly. The Germans are withdrawing to the north. Maybe the torpedo hit has something to do with but then again maybe not."
"Well, it looks like there is some hope for us after—" Tyrwhitt paused as he saw the lieutenant shaking his head, "what is it James?"
"She’s going down Commodore, there is just too much flooding. And we’ve had problems with some of the pumps breaking down. She’s a new ship a brand new ship as you are well aware. We have some time but we need to abandon ship. You will need to transfer your flag, sir."
HMS Iron Duke off the Hebrides 2055 hrs
Admiral Jellicoe pondered the information available. He knew that a German predreadnought had been sunk and that First and Second Scouting Groups had attacked the rear of Harwich Force. Beatty had left Cormarty Firth with the battle cruisers The Grand Fleet though was traveling all the way from Lough Swilly in Ireland. The German sortie using armored cruisers and two obsolete battleships initially struck him as bizarre. But after further consideration he thought he smelled a fiendishly clever trap. Adding to that impression, a wireless message had arrived from Naval Intelligence Division in the last half hour indicating that it was probable but not certain that the High Seas Fleet had left Jade Bay.
He was very worried about his battle cruisers. The recent loss of the Audacious weighed down upon his soul and his instinctively cautious nature was even more apprehensive than usual. He decided now to send a message. Beatty was not take his battle cruisers south of 54°N nor east of 3°E. If attacked during the night he was to disengage.
HMS Prince of Wales off Ostend 2120 hrs
The Fifth Battle squadron with 7 predreadnoughts was anchored with torpedo nets deployed off the Belgian coast. Admiral Burney read the latest message from the Admiralty.
EVACUATION BEHIND SCHEDULE. MILITARY SITUATION IN BELGIUM DETERIORATING RAPIDLY. DOVER PATROL AND HARWICH FORCE ARE TOO WEAKENED TO COVER ADEQUATELY. IMPERATIVE THAT YOU REMAIN OFF BELGIUM FOR TWO DAYS. REMAIN ANCHORED WITH TORPEDO NETS DEPLOYED DURING DAYLIGHT HOURS. BE READY TO ENGAGE IN SHORE BOMBARDMENT ON SHORT NOTICE.