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America Fallen!/Chapter 5

 
 

V


THE GERMAN FLEET SETS SAIL


On March 15th, there was published in the leading Berlin papers, and repeated throughout the world, the following official announcement: "The restoration of peace, the return of our valiant army, and the fact that our navy has emerged from the war with its strength unimpaired, will be celebrated by a grand review of the whole German fleet which will be held in the Bight of Heligoland, in the presence of the Kaiser. At the conclusion of the review, in order to afford the fleet an opportunity, on an extended scale, for those exercises on the high seas which have been denied to it because of the overwhelming strength of the enemy, it will set sail for a series of grand maneuvers.

"The operations will be based upon the theory that a powerful enemy's fleet is approaching the coast of Europe from the westward for the purpose of finding, and, if possible, destroying the German fleet. Early information of this movement having reached the Admiralty, our fleet has been dispatched to seek out and, if possible, destroy the enemy (which has been reported as somewhere in the mid-Atlantic), before he shall have reached European waters. Our forces will be about equally divided into the attacking, or Red fleet, and the defending, or Blue fleet. Immediately after the review, the Red fleet will steam to the westward, and when it has reached a designated position, will commence its approach. Thirty-six hours later the defending, or Blue fleet will be dispatched to meet the enemy."

The morning of March 18th revealed, drawn up under the lee of Heligoland, the greatest naval force that had ever assembled under the German flag. Anchored in five long parallel lines, it covered many square miles of the calm waters of the Bight; and the ships, glistening in a new coat of paint, showed up, under the brilliant sun of that bright spring morning, with all the picturesqueness and air of gaiety befitting a great national pageant.

The first line, six miles in length, was made up of dreadnoughts and battle-cruisers, the second line of pre-dreadnought battleships, the third of armored cruisers and light cruisers, the fourth of destroyers and seagoing submarines, and the fifth of the auxiliaries.

Promptly at the hour of twelve, the Kaiser, from the bridge of the Hohenzollern, opened the review, and as he made his way up and down those far-flung lines, ship after ship thundered forth its volleys in honor of the man to whom, despite the recent reverses of Germany, the hearts of his people turned with faith unshaken.

After the Hohenzollern had made the circuit of the fleet, she steamed a couple of miles to the westward, and anchored. Then the ships of the Red fleet, composed of the eight dreadnoughts of the Thuringen and Nassau classes, the battle-cruisers, twelve light cruisers, and thirty seagoing destroyers, weighed anchor and saluted the Kaiser, as they steamed into the North Sea on their way to the English Channel.

When the flagship had passed the Hohenzollern, the admiral in command of the fleet opened his sealed orders, which read as follows: "As soon as it is clear of the English Channel, the Red fleet, avoiding the customary steamship routes, will proceed at slow speed to the Caribbean, reaching a position 50 miles to the south of the island of Hayti by April 5th. Here the Red fleet will await further orders, which will reach it in due course by wireless from the Commander-in-Chief of the Blue fleet."

Thirty-six hours after the sailing of the Red fleet the Blue fleet set sail. It consisted of the nine dreadnoughts of the Koenig and Kaiser classes, the armored cruisers, twelve light cruisers of 23 to 27 knots' speed, forty destroyers, and the whole of the thirty seagoing submarines. The sealed orders of the admiral read as follows: "After clearing the English Channel, the Blue fleet will proceed on a course midway between the frequented lines of steamship travel, until it reaches the thirty-fifth parallel. It will then proceed due west until it reaches a point of rendezvous 250 miles from the coast of the United States. Here it will meet a fleet of transports carrying 20,000 troops. At the point of rendezvous the six groups of submarines will replenish their fuel tanks, and proceed to the respective points of attack assigned to them at such speeds as to bring them off the various harbors at sundown on the night of March 31st. During the night they will enter, assume favorable positions for attack, and, where conditions allow, will go to sleep on the bottom until the dawn of April 1st.

"The transports will proceed in scattered formation from the rendezvous to the various points of landing, steaming at such a speed that they will be off the coast and within two hours' steaming of the landing places at sundown on March 31st.

"The battleship divisions will reach the entrance to the harbors of the cities which they are to lay under tribute at dawn on April 1st. They will remain outside the extreme range of the coast fortifications' guns, and at a signal that our landing forces have possession of the forts, they will enter and take position for bombardment of the cities."

And so, on March 20, 1916, in the dark of a moonless night, the last ship of the greatest naval raid ever planned in the history of the world headed silently from the Bight of Heligoland for the North Sea and the coast of North America!