August 2, Channel Fleet Headquarters, 1000 Hours
“Gentlemen, we must get started. Have there been any new developments in the Channel?”
“M’Lord there have been two more ships sunk in the Seine roadstead – a collier and a French armed trawler.”
“Yes, M’Lord, the French have improvised up some twenty-seven patrol boats by lashing up some sort of gun onto fishing vessels. They put a naval officer and any sort of gun crew they can find and send them out to patrol.
“Despite all the patrols, the Germans managed to board and scuttle the collier, then torpedo the trawler as it came to assist.”
“We have not sent any patrol boat over there yet, have we?”
“No, M’Lord we have not. The French sensitivities were offended and they got cracking on some patrols, so we have not yet. We have - at your order - made up lists of patrol boats we could use to augment the French patrols, but so far no action of this sort has been taken.”
“The good news, sir is that the attack I just described has been the only one since we last met. The French report having fired on and attempted to ram a couple of submarines. At least they are making these brazen attacks a bit more dicey.”
“One thing. Near Cherbourg a French destroyer saw a submarine and attempted to ram, but with no luck. Action near Cherbourg indicates they may be extending their range.”
“Back to the Seine for a moment. How many ships are anchored there?”
“Eighty-two as of this morning, sir. We may be at the peak, however. So far we have sent six ships carrying supplies for the BEF to Calais and Boulougne, and look to continue this. We have also been re-routing ships leaving British ports to Brest and La Rochelle. Particularly the colliers are going this way. I suspect the French railroad people won’t like it but the alternative is not palatable. The problem is that a lot of ships are coming straight in from the United States and do not have wirelesses and simply present themselves to the harbormaster at Le Havre. Thus far, he has no other option but to anchor them in the roadstead.”
“We did hear some good news. The salvor has repaired his vessel and equipment and will begin working on the second of three pieces of the original wreck tomorrow. We have no schedule on the completion of work, however.”
“The upstream wreck has been cleared, but there is a new development. The French have found yet another mine field.”
“Is this a third mine field?”
“Yes, M’Lord. About halfway down the river from the upriver wreck. The French made an attempt to sweep it from the river bank but only succeeded in killing a team of mules. They tell us that when the salvor can get the second piece of the wreck removed, they will be able to squeeze smaller minesweepers past the wreck and they can go upriver and start clearing the intermediate field.”
“Have we continued the aerial surveillance of Zeebrugge?”
“Well, sir we have continued indirectly.”
“At an earlier meeting you had mentioned that further bombardment of Zeebrugge was postponed, so we stopped asking the Royal Flying Corps for aerial photographs, but we did hear someone in the Admiralty was worried about a buildup for a land attack in that sector. We have been able to cadge some copies.”
“Anything of interest?”
“Indeed so, M’Lord. The Germans are building some railroad spurs in the Zeebrugge area. We are told that the Germans do not have many railroad building troops on the western Front. The Eastern Front is being conducted in a railroad wilderness and the Germans need all they have to keep going in the East. It seems they may have the entirety of their rail repair and construction troops in the West concentrated near Zeebrugge. Also, sir, the coastal defense guns they had there seem to have disappeared. Add to that the fact we have seen additional submarine traffic through the port, we think there is an opportunity to do the enemy some damage with little risk to ourselves.”
“Well gentlemen, it seems that the Admiralty has seen the wisdom of your idea of bombarding Zeebrugge. In a couple of days the old Revenge (See Note 1) will be ready to sortie from Portsmouth. We are to have Captain Reeves and the Attentive and her flotilla there to escort her to Zeebrugge. The Admiralty has given her an allotment of eighty 12” HE shells for the job. I hope that is enough.”
“Issue orders to Captain Reeves to be in Portsmouth with Attentive and whatever is left of her flotilla. The Admiralty will detail a flag officer to command the mission although the Channel Fleet is to be the overall command. Any questions? … If not, dismissed.”
August 2, Flandernflotille Headquarters Bunker, 1430 hours
Another busy day for Bartenbach. This morning two more minelayer boats arrived unannounced. Bartenbach had just finished interviewing their Kommandants and giving them port orders when his yeoman announced that the courier from the Admiral had arrived. Bartenbach took receipt of the written orders. The courier was just that – a courier – and knew nothing of the orders, so Bartenbach endorsed the paperwork and sent the man on his way.
Bartenbach read the orders and called for his signalmen.
A few hours later Bartenbach inspected the work of the railroad repair companies. The switchwork was done and they were rapidly laying sections off to each gun position. Their kapitän indicated they would be done in a day or two and would have to depart immediately for Brussels. The gun base crews would be in almost immediately.
August 2, UB-13, Course 160 Speed 4 knots, Surfaced 2201 hours
Five kilometers SW of Le Havre breakwater
Becker had charged batteries and was going to make one more attempt to find a suitable victim. This patrol was cursed by hordes of very vigilant armed trawlers patrolling about. The funkenpuster called him below for an urgent message.
“Ja, what is it?”
The funkenpuster handed him a note.
From Flandernflottile HQ
Return to base immediately.”
Well, that was the end of this patrol. Becker had been completely stymied by the thick patrols. Becker ordered the funkenpuster to acknowledge and changed the course to due north to clear this area.” Becker assumed that targets of opportunity are approved.
The funkenpuster acknowledged the order, but wondered why Zeebrugge had used the old code.
August 3, U-32 Course 140, Speed 5 knots 0005 hours
15 kilometers WNW of the North Cape
Von Spiegel, in compliance with his orders to use the wireless to an absolute minimum did not transmit a midnight report. Every other midnight he was to make a short transmission to assure everyone he was still in action but unless he had something of interest (in which case he would use a one-time code to make it) he would keep the signaling to a minimum. He had made a short report the midnight before so tonight, he would remain silent.
August 3, U-24, Course 085, Speed four knots 0115 hours
145 kilometers SW of Bergen
Like the U-32, Vidmar had seen absolutely nothing and made no report.
August 3, Room 40 0600 hours
Included in morning wireless intercept report:
“…U-boat base at Zeebrugge sent out a recall message. One boat, believed to be UB-13 acknowledged. Both messages used a code not used for two weeks.”
August 3, Flandernflotille Headquarters Bunker, 1840 hours
Another eventful day. The railroad men finished up and pulled out around 1500 hours. The Löwe sent a telegram telling Bartenbach to expect a crew to come in on a train tomorrow to start constructing bases for the coastal guns.
Two patrol boats – UB-9 (KL Keerle) and UB-11 (KL Rahn) pulled in this morning. Even though all the boats were not in yet, the Admiral’s next offensive began tomorrow.
Bartenbach had ordered the cooks to double the ham ration and everyone got peach cobbler.