July 25, Flandernflotille Headquarters Bunker 0920 hours
Technical details. Bartenbach had ordered the improvised deck guns removed from the UB-2 and the UB-6. The constant drag of the guns was causing leakage into the pressure hulls. Yesterday, Bartenbach had telegraphed a short report and sent a long report out by courier to the Admiral. This morning, he had received approval but orders to not remove the guns until an inspection showed leakage.
The U-boat Kommandants were of a mixed mind. The guns threw the boats out of balance and made them miserable pigs to handle. On the other hand his UB-I men had become accustomed to guerre de course, particularly the sitting ducks in the Mouth of the Seine. Without a deck gun, taking on merchant ships under the cruiser rules became very dicey. Generally, the sight of a gun made merchantmen want to get out of the way; but even though a torpedo was far more deadly, the merchant sailors viewed the demands of a gunless submarine to be a bluff.
So for now the UB-2 and UB-6 were relegated to local defensive patrols. For the short term, this was a necessity. The siege gun battery (“Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves”) had departed yesterday and (since Bartenbach was now on to them and posted men to keep an eye on them) didn’t seem to have gotten away with anything major. The Löwe had telegraphed Bartenbach that his first proper coastal battery – four 28 cm guns – would arrive on the 28th and would probably need four or five days to properly emplace and range in. Two more batteries were due in within the month. So until those guns were operational, Zeebrugge was naked to Englisch ideas about bombarding the base. The two defensive boats were all he had.
The Löwe had also sent word that a tug had left Wilhelmshaven bringing a barge full of proper mine-handling equipment. The mine-handler crews were coming in by rail. Bartenbach had to find billeting for twenty-nine more men and two officers.
In addition there was an operational consideration. Three more coastal minelayers were en route to Zeebrugge. For this mission Zeebrugge would just be a fuel station as the minelayers would return to Wilhelmshaven after this mission. The Admiral stated that a courier would be bringing orders for these boats.
With all this activity, Zeebrugge was becoming a bigger base. It was getting to need more than just a korvettenkapitan. Bartenbach might get a promotion or another superior.
One last little morning mystery. Some staff officer from Kiel telegraphed asking if there were a seaplane ramp at Zeebrugge. That was easy to get rid of. Of course there was no seaplane ramp at Zeebrugge.
July 25, UB-12, Course 280 Speed Four knots, 1240 hours
West end of Wilhelmshaven Mine Fields
Kapitanleutnant Wilhelm Kiel was finally in his first command. Too bad poor Nieland had been killed. The crew was still a bit spooked. Bah! The best cure was to get to sea.
The UB-12 was on its way back to Zeebrugge to get fuel and orders. Repairs had been effected. The deck gun had been permanently removed and Kiel was told to not take her below thirty-five meters.
The escort boat was turning back. He is on his own. Time to dive. Don’t want some lurking Englisch submarine to see him or worse, yet – torpedo him.
July 25, Admiralty Headquarters 1400 hours
The Third Sea Lord called the meeting to order.
“Gentlemen, please attend me. We need to address the French disaster at the Mouth of the Seine.”
“The Channel Fleet tells me the Germans have damaged the last salvage vessel that normally operates in those waters. As such, Rouen remains blocked. The nearest salvage vessel is in La Rochelle. The damaged vessel will require two weeks to repair its own damage and get the rest of the wreck removed. Even if he can work a miracle (snorts about the room) the port cannot be opened before the second week of August.”
“Gentlemen, can we give the French any aid? The blockage of Rouen will increasingly constrict the war effort. Not only are supplies to our army and the French curtailed but there is a growing shortage of coal for the French railroads and what is left of their industry.” (See Note 1)
“M’Lord, we can double check, but I think all of our salvage vessels have been commandeered to help repair damages to the Grand Fleet. I may be mistaken but the earliest we can shake one loose would be around the first of September. For lack of a salvage ship, that collier that was run aground off Harwich will have to sit there for now. I fear she will break up before we can re-float her.”
“Sir Robert, how many ships are anchored in the roadstead?”
“M’Lord, there are forty-two British ships and by our estimation fourteen French ships awaiting unloading. Of those eight British and three French ships are actually routed to Le Havre, not Rouen.”
“Indeed. The Channel Fleet had a man in Le Havre and he reports the roadstead is so full that French shore batteries routinely hit our shipping while trying to sink German submarines.”
“Hitting our own ships?”
“The French do not have any mobile coastal defense batteries. Their batteries at Brest and Cherbourg are modern with good crews – we are told – but they have nothing mobile. A sea attack of Le Havre is something they never thought of. What they have sent is a battery of field guns. Six 75s. From what we can find out, their battery crew is not trained for shooting at ships and worse yet, is exhausted from a long pull in the trenches.”
“Could we send any of our mobile coastal batteries?”
“We might, M’Lord, but with this Letters probing our shores, I fear the press and politicians will not tolerate moving our guns to France.”
“Can we send any of these ships elsewhere?”
“We might force maybe one more ship a week into Le Havre but their rail line is already over capacity. Likewise, Cherbourg is operating at full capacity. We can run some of the BEF supplies into Calais and Boulogne. They are not terribly busy right now but they are of limited capacity and they simply do not have enough rail service to carry coal off into the French interior. Dunkerque (See Note 2) and Nieuwport are at capacity keeping the Belgians operating. Another thing – none of these ports has much of a roadstead. We can only move ships in as others move out.”
“Where would we take these ships?”
“M’Lord at this time we can only speak for the British-flagged ships but we could probably tie them up in the Southampton-Portsmouth roads and in the roadstead off Liverpool. From there, we’d have to run convoys of three to six ships as the Channel Ports opened up.”
“Convoys? In the Channel? Has it come to that?”
“I’m afraid so, M’Lord. The German has been adhering to the cruiser rules and seems to be doing quite nicely with them. We may snicker at the French seeing two ships taken in accordance with the cruiser rules just off one of their major ports but this submarine thing is such that it could just as easily happen to us. The sticking point is that escorting convoys releases them from the cruiser rules altogether. They might attack our convoys as they attacked those old cruisers on the Broad Fourteens – without warning.”
“Is this Letters really probing for a weak spot to invade?”
“Could be M’Lord. Or it could be a
demonstration. If it is a demonstration it is a really good one. So
far it seems to be just submarines. His capital ships remain, best
we can tell, in Wilhelmshaven or Kiel."
“Yes, M’Lord. We feel many of these raids are coming out of Zeebrugge. Right now it is mostly a refueling base. Aerial reconnaissance rarely ever shows anything in there but we do occasionally see a U-boat at the pier. It might be worth sending old Revenge out for a bombardment run. You wouldn’t put here up against dreadnoughts. Her turret roofs have been removed. All she is good for is bombardment of shore facilities. In light of the problems these submarines are causing, a rethinking of the wisdom of suppressing this port may be in order.”
“I’ll speak to the First Lord and First Sea Lord. Anything else? If not, dismissed.”
July 25, Flandernflotille Headquarters Bunker 1750 hours
Another busy day in the Kaiser’s service. Things are getting busy again. Two UB-I boats came in as reinforcements. Bartenbach had refueled them, given them a case of peaches each and put them on defensive patrols for now.
One disquieting occurrence. For the third day in a row an airplane flew in from the northwest and circled around for a few minutes then left to the northwest. Undoubtedly Englisch snoopers. If they have eyes at all they’d see he now has no coastal defense at all.
As Bartenbach left to see Rikarda, he had a kilo of flour and two cans of the peaches. Let’s see what an expert cook can do.
July 25, UB-17, Course 080 Speed five knots 2315 hours
12 kilometers NW of Calais
The chief was having a conniption. Low on fuel. After having crept up, it was now time to surface and dash across this Englisch obstruction. One cannot waste time here. The patrols are vigorous. Get across and submerge. But he only had a vague idea of where the obstruction really is so the UB-17 has to run fairly fast (a relative term when talking about UB-I boats) for a couple of hours to get clear.
1.The German advance of 1914 left them occupying about two thirds of France’s industrial heartland and in a position to interdict even more. What industry France had left was heavily dependent on coal brought in through Rouen.
2.In 1915, Dunkerque had only a short breakwater and one pier and had no rail service to the southwest. By 1940 the port had been considerably more developed.