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America Fallen!/Chapter 9

 
 

IX


INDEMNITY OR BOMBARDMENT


With the coming of the dawn of April 1st, the mantle of clouds which had helped to obscure the fateful events of the night broke and scattered before a fresh wind out of the northwest. Over sea and land and city the sun shone brilliantly in that crystal-clear atmosphere, which is the sure accompaniment of a northwest breeze.

And as the sun came up, there lifted over the eastern horizon the van of a stately column of warships—the dreadnought fleet of the Imperial German Navy. Into the Ambrose Channel they headed, led by the Koenig, flagship of Admiral Buchner, commander-in-chief of the German expeditionary fleet. Well off shore, the Admiral had waited through the night for the wireless message, telling him that the capture of the defences of New York had opened a safe passage for his fleet into the upper bay. The message came, as he knew it must, in due course; and immediately signal was made for the fleet to steam at full speed for the harbor entrance.

Following the flagship, in single column, were the dreadnoughts of the Koenig and Kaiser classes, making, with the Koenig, nine in all; a division of armored cruisers, headed by the Roon; and a division of light cruisers.

Thrown out fanwise in the van of the fleet and flanking it on each side in two parallel columns were the destroyer flotillas.

When that stately line had swept through the Narrows, signal was made for half speed; and after hugging the easterly side of the Channel, the flagship of each division of dreadnoughts turned eight points to port and the fleet anchored. They lay bow and stern, in two parallel columns, 2,000 yards apart, with the starboard batteries bearing on the city of New York.

Every ship was cleared for action; and on each the battle-flags were flying.

Meanwhile on shore the engineer companies of the German troops in Forts Hancock, Hamilton, and Wadsworth, after selecting the points of vantage for defence of the landward approaches, had staked out the trenches, and the Germans were feverishly digging and fortifying against attack. The 3-inch rapid-fire guns for protecting the mine fields were unbolted from their concrete foundations, and remounted in selected positions on hastily-improvised platforms. Also, the 3-inch landing guns of the fleet were brought ashore in the ships' boats and wheeled into position. The garrisons were strengthened by a force of 2,000 marines, landed from the fleet.

In short, within a few hours of occupation, the enemy had provided our coast fortifications with those organized defences, on the land side, which, had Congress given heed to the recommendations of its military advisers, would have long ago been completed and would have served to hold the enemy at bay until reenforcements could have been brought up in sufficient strength to drive him back to the sea.

Scarcely had the flagship of Admiral Buchner dropped her anchor, than a launch, flying a white flag, left the ship, steamed up the harbor, and landed at the Battery. Captain Dornfeld of the Admiral's staff stepped ashore, strode through the Park to a waiting automobile, and with a slight nod of recognition to the chauffeur, took his seat, and was driven swiftly to the City Hall. It was early for an official call (9 A.M.), but the emissary guessed rightly that the Mayor would be in his office. His name and mission gained him instant audience.

Five minutes later a call went out from the Mayor's office, requesting the instant attendance of the heads of New York's great banking houses and financial institutions.

When that distinguished company had gathered the Mayor said: "Gentlemen, it is my painful duty to announce to you—if indeed you are not aware of it already—that the fortifications protecting the approaches to New York are in the hands of a German expeditionary force, which, by a surprise attack (following a declaration of war by Germany, that reached the Secretary of State, at Washington, early this morning), has obtained full possession. A fleet of the enemy's dreadnoughts, nine in number, has entered and is now covering the city with its guns.

"I hold in my hands an ultimatum from the Commander-in-Chief of the fleet, which I will read to you:


Imperial German Expeditionary Fleet,
Upper Bay, New York Harbor,
April 1, 1916.

To His Honor the Mayor of New York.

Sir:—I have the honor to inform you that the German Government having declared war on the United States, a force was landed and, early this morning, captured all the fortifications covering the approaches to New York.

The fleet under my command, consisting of nine of the latest and most powerful dreadnoughts of the German Imperial Navy, is now anchored in the upper bay. The heavy guns of the fleet, ninety in all, with an extreme range of fifteen miles, command practically the whole of Greater New York.

I am instructed by my Government to demand of you a ransom of five billion dollars, the bond for which, together with a first payment of five hundred million dollars in gold, must be delivered on board the flagship, twenty-four hours after the delivery of this ultimatum, that is to say, by 9 A.M. on April 2d. Failing the receipt of this at or before the hour named I shall open fire on your city.

If, during the twenty-four hours covered by the truce, any movement of troops, either of the regular army or of the National Guard, takes place, I shall immediately commence bombardment.

I have the honor to be
Buchner,
Commander-in-Chief.

 

At the request of the Mayor, Captain Dornfeld, bearer of the ultimatum, withdrew to the anteroom.

The first to speak was the Comptroller, who said: "Obviously the thing to be done is to ascertain what are the facts of the military and naval situation. We should send a request to Governor's Island for the immediate attendance here of the Commander of the Department of the East."

"That I have already done," said the Mayor. "He was to return to-day from a tour of inspection, and my secretary has by this time, doubtless, met him. He should be with us in a few minutes. Meanwhile, gentlemen, what are you prepared to do in this emergency?"

"I am satisfied," said one of the Mayor's invited guests, who was famous alike as a pacificist and philanthropist, "that this whole thing is a colossal April fool's joke. It is so preposterous, in fact, that it appeals to my Scotch sense of the humorous—or the canny—I scarce know which. Five bil—— Why, that is just five times as much as my late friend Bismarck demanded of the whole French nation, to liquidate the cost of the war of 1870.

"Five billions, and immediate payment in gold of five hundred millions! I cannot believe, gentlemen, that this outrageous descent upon the shores of a friendly nation is made with the consent of the great German people, or by command of my friend the Kaiser. Why, I well remember that in the course of an intimate talk with him at Pots——"

But this interesting personal reminiscence was interrupted by the entrance of Major-General Adams, to whom the Mayor handed the ultimatum, without a word.

After he had read the fateful document the Mayor said: "General, we have asked you to come here to tell us what are the military and naval conditions, and what the city can do to escape this dilemma?"

"Mr. Mayor, the conditions are exactly as stated in this paper, and New York City can do—nothing! The country is confronted with a catastrophe for which the indifference and neglect of the people and its Congress are entirely to blame. That the naval and military defences of the United States were totally inadequate has been known to naval and military men for a generation past. Year after year the General Staff and the General Board of the Navy have warned the nation that its unpreparedness was such that this very disaster, which has now fallen upon us like a thunderbolt, might come at any hour.

"Briefly, let me tell you the conditions: Your land defences are in the hands of the enemy, our battleships are at Vera Cruz, and the lesser units of the Navy, and particularly the destroyers and submarines, were sunk in our navy yards at daybreak. The German fleet, freed from any menace from forts, submarines, destroyers, or our own battleship fleet, is in a position absolutely to destroy New York and take its own time to do it. Our few scattered regulars in the vicinity are concentrating and the National Guard is assembling at its armories. They might in time recapture the forts—though even this is doubtful; for I learn that fresh transports are arriving every hour and the landing of reënforcements is proceeding. Moreover, according to this ultimatum, any further concentration of our troops will bring on the bombardment.

"Mr. Mayor, if you wish to save the city, whose total value, I believe, Mr. Comptroller, is twenty billion dollars, there is but one possible way to do it, and that is for you gentlemen to devise at once the ways and means for a cash payment in gold of five hundred million dollars and a guarantee of the balance of the five billion dollars demanded."

The General left the room. With his departure the spirit of optimism began to prevail and ultimately a committee was appointed which decided to make a counter proposal of one billion, with a cash payment of fifty millions in gold. Meanwhile the Federal Government gave orders that no military demonstration should be made for the next twenty-four hours.

This proposal was handed to Captain Dornfeld, who promptly returned to the flagship.

The afternoon and evening wore away; but no answer came from the German Admiral. "He is communicating with Berlin," said the committee; "we shall hear in the morning."

And they did—from the throats of a hundred guns!