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Monday, June 6th 2011, 1:55am

Lütjens and Langsdorff watched with some surprise as one of the French cruisers detached herself from the task force and began to move in their direction.

“She is working up speed Herr Admiral,” Langsdorff noted, keeping his glasses glued upon the approaching vessel. It was one of the smaller French scout cruisers – Volta class by the look of her – two turrets forward and two aft. Her bow cleaved the waters and threw back white spume.

“Yes Langsdorff, a fine vessel.”

The Frenchman fairly flew past the German squadron and then turned nimbly to starboard on a course parallel with the Derfflinger and the remainder of the squadron. She dipped her ensigns as she came abreast of Altmark and then did the same to Seydlitz.

“Signal from the French vessel,” said the signals officer. “ADMIRAL TESSIER'S COMPLIMENTS; PLEASE AWAIT MY BOAT”.

“Most unusual,” remarked Langsdorff.

“We live in unusual times Langsdorff,” replied Lütjens. “Please acknowledge the message and order the squadron to heave to.”


Monday, June 6th 2011, 2:42am

French Cruiser Volta
"She's stopping, capitaine."

"All stop," Montrelay ordered. "Launch the gig. Ah, Jacques - you have the delivery?"

"Yes sir," the steward said. "I have stowed it in the gig, sir. And here's your best dress jacket, sir."

"Thank you, Jacques. Lieutenant de Jerric, you have command until I return." Montrelay changed into his best dress uniform jacket and left the bridge. From the gig, Montrelay looked up at the silhouette of the Derfflinger, and was surprised a bit at her good material condition. They have maintained her in excellent condition for a round-the-world cruise. Sure, the trained eye can see she's been out for a bit, but very well done all the same.

The gig came up to the Derfflinger's starboard ladder, and Montrelay stepped out, climbed the steps, and saluted the officer at the top. Montrelay switched to German - broken, but he knew enough to not completely embarrass himself - "I am Capitaine Montrelay of the Volta; permission to come aboard?"

"Permission granted, Kapitan," the officer said. Montrelay determined that it was Captain Langsdorff, the Derfflinger's commander.

"Thank you. I trouble you to ask to speak with your Admiral Lutjens? I have a message for him, and a delivery."

"Certainly. Follow me, please."

Montrelay and Langsdorff found Lutjens on the flag bridge; after a crisp exchange of salutes, Montrelay addressed the German squadron commander. "Sir; Admiral Tessier offers his apologies for being unable to make a personal call, as the fleet is underway to Cam Ranh Bay. He wishes to offer, on the behalf of himself and the entire Force de Raid, his compliments on your squadron's cruise. He has instructed me to deliver his note to you, sir. In addition, I am instructed to present you, and the officers of your squadron, with a case of Chinon wine from Admiral Tessier's brother's vineyard."


Monday, June 6th 2011, 3:31am

Lütjens was surprised and deeply touched by the French admiral’s gesture.

“Monsieur Capitaine, please convey my thanks to Admiral Tessier for his generosity. His gift will certainly brighten our homeward voyage. I regret that we have small means to match the magnificence of his gesture, but please allow me the opportunity to do what is in my power…”

Lütjens summoned his steward and had a whispered word.

“Capitaine Montrelay, while my steward sees to the stowage of the Admiral’s generous gift and what small effort I can make in return, would you join me in my day cabin for a few moments?”

“Certainly Admiral, I would be honoured.”

It was but a short walk from the flag bridge to the Lütjens’ cabin. Upon entering Montrelay found that a bottle and several small glasses had been set upon a side table.

“I regret we have no cognac,” Lütjens apologized, “but our British hosts in Aden were generous to us. Glenlivet, one of Scotland’s finest single-malt whiskies. The German admiral poured three glasses and offered one to Montrelay and to Langsdorff.

“To the amity of nations,” Lütjens toasted. “A safe journey to you Capitaine and to all who sail in your company.”

Montrelay acknowledged the sentiment, “And you Admiral, a swift and happy voyage home.”

Langsdorff then escorted Montrelay to the sally port where the side party met them and the Frenchman made his official departure. When he reached his gig he found that the case of Chinon he had brought had been replaced by two cases of Löwenbräu Pilsener.

The gig cast off and Montrelay made his way back aboard the Volta with little further ado. By the time he returned to her bridge the gig had been stowed and the cruiser ready to steam. She dipped her ensign in salute and her screws began to churn the waters again.

Back on the flag bridge of the Derfflinger Lütjens watched the Volta gather way and turn to resume her original course and catch up with the rest of the French Force de Raid. “Yes,” he thought, “unusual times.”

Once the Volta had reversed her course the German squadron resumed is northward voyage at a steady fifteen knots, their next scheduled stop the Port Tewfik, Suez – gateway to the Canal.


Thursday, June 9th 2011, 10:53pm

Operation Herbstreise - Part Thirty-One

Sunday, 20 October 1940

The ships of the Fourth Cruiser Squadron had arrived at Port Tewfik late the previous evening, and had taken their place in the queue of ships waiting passage northward through the Canal. It was nearly nine o’clock in the morning when the Canal pilots came aboard and the Derfflinger, Seydlitz and Altmark were able to get underway and resume their northward journey.

To an observer on either side of the canal it must had seemed an amazing sight – a pair of battlecruisers seemingly moving through the desert – though of course it was merely a trick of perspective. The ships moved slowly to avoid damaging the canal with their wake, yet even so the wash of the ships rolled upon either shore, churning up small whitecaps in the breeze. A short idle marked their arrival in the Bitter Lake, while the southbound traffic cleared; and then their progress resumed. It was nearly midnight when the lights of Port Said came into view out of the desert night, and the great ships completed their transit. Free of their pilots the ships of the Fourth Cruiser Squadron hastened out into the welcoming Mediterranean, past the lights of dozens of ships gathered to await their eastward passage.

“The air is different Langsdorff,” said Admiral Lütjens, standing on the flag bridge of the Derfflinger.

“We have caught up with the seasons Herr Admiral,” replied Kapitän Hans Langsdorff. “While still warmer than Wilhelmshaven we are once again in time with the calendar.”

“It will be good to return home; we have accomplished much.”

“Yes Herr Admiral, far more than I expected when we departed. The crew will have much to tell their sweethearts when they go ashore.”

“But we are not yet home Langsdorff,” cautioned the admiral. “We must remain alert. As our encounter in the Bab-el-Mandeb proved many nations are reacting to the crisis in the East and Fleet Command may change our orders.”

“True Herr Admiral,” Langsdorff admitted. “All too true.”

“However, until then, we proceed. Alter course to port, heading 270. Please pass the order to there rest of the squadron.”

Langsdorff nodded and hastened to execute the order. Moments later the bow of the Derfflinger swung westward again as she led the Fourth Cruiser Squadron across the eastern Mediterranean.

Tuesday, 22 October 1940

“Air contact Herr Kapitän!” came the cry from the Seetakt operator on the bridge of the battlecruiser Seydlitz. “Bearing 070 relative, height 4,000 metres, distance 60 kilometers. Bearing is constant; the unknown is heading directly for us.”

“Notify the Derfflinger,” order Ernst Lindemann, commander of the Seydlitz. He frowned; the squadron was southwest of Crete, and the approach bearing of the unknown suggested that it might be a Greek patrol aircraft. Not that he thought that the Greeks were in any way hostile, but he hoped that the Foreign Ministry in Berlin had apprised the Greeks of their presence in these waters.

The Sunderland was on the first leg of its patrol and was due to turn westward when Ensign Loukas Papaloukas, the observer, called to the pilot.

“I see ships ahead,” he shouted. “Three ships – warships by the look of them. Dead ahead of us.”

“I see them Loukas,” replied Lieutenant Markos Drakos, his hands on the Sunderland’s controls. I’m going to go down for a closer look.”

“Contact is descending,” announced the Seydlitz’s Seetakt operator. “Bearing remains 070 relative, distance 45 kilometers.”

“Look at them,” said Papaloukas over the telecom. “Two big cruisers and a tanker, heading west.”

“Check your recognition books! Are they Italians or British?” Drakos’ voice was filled with irritation. Papaloukas was still fresh from flight school.

In the nose of the Sunderland Papaloukas rapidly thumbed through the well-worn book bearing the silhouettes of the ships of Greece’s neighbors. He checked the British first – the ships seemed to have come from the direction of Egypt – but they did not seem to match anything in the pictures. He then flipped to the tab for the Italian navy – he had studied that one well – and rapidly determined that these ships were not Italian either.

“They’re not British and they’re not Italian,” he advised his pilot. “Or at least they’re not in The Book”.

Drakos turned to his navigator, Notaras. “I suppose we are going to have to go down and look for ourselves.” He ordered the wireless operator to send an initial contact report back to Souda Bay announcing that they had sighted three unknown warships southwest of Crete, course 270, speed 15 knots.

The aircraft was now in visual range. Lindemann could see that is was a Sunderland flying boat, but her colour did not match the camouflage of the Royal Air Force – that he was quite familiar with by now. The blue and white roundels on her wings proclaimed her to be Greek.

“I wonder that they are making of our presence,” he asked himself.

Wednesday, 23 October 1940

The Greek Sunderland had maintained contact for several hours until at last it had circled the squadron and headed off to the northeast. Other than that there had been no other incidents of note in the squadron’s westward progress. Malta lay some sixty miles to the northeast, and the squadron now began a complex series of maneuvers to keep position in international waters. To the west were the islands of Pantelleria, Linosa, and Lampedusa, Italian possessions and the shore of Tunisia itself. There were shallows and shoals to be avoided, not to mention the rocks of international diplomacy.

This post has been edited 1 times, last edit by "BruceDuncan" (Jun 10th 2011, 4:32am)


Wednesday, June 15th 2011, 8:16pm

Friday, 25 October 1940

Cap Farina lay well behind the squadron now as it hastened westward; their passage through the Strait of Sicily had not been without incident – it was a busy shipping lane, filled with much local traffic, and the number of air contacts – mostly French – kept the Seetakt operators on all the ships alert. Yet they had avoided collision and not provoked undue concern, and their course was now set for Gibraltar, gateway to the Atlantic.

“Admiral,” announced Captain Langsdorff, “at this speed we should make Gibraltar late in the evening of Sunday, the twenty-seventh.”

Admiral Lütjens nodded. “Please calculate a course and speed revision; I would prefer that we arrive the following morning.”

Langsdorff surmised what lay behind the Admiral’s order. By arriving in daylight they could avoid delays in the official port calls and begin their refueling so much the sooner. Despite achieving something few other ships in the Kriegsmarine had accomplished obviously Lütjens wished to return to Wilhelmshaven as soon as possible. Langsdorff frowned inwardly; Lütjens would probably gain a promotion and a new assignment; so might he himself – but that would take him away from the ship he loved.

Saturday, 26 October 1940

The squadron was passing south of the Balearic Islands when the Seetakt operator aboard Derfflinger announced a contact to the north. Sharp-eyed lookouts scanned the late afternoon skies and soon saw the glint of sunlight on metal.

“An Iberian scouting aircraft Herr Admiral,” Langsdorff advised Lütjens. “It seems to be beginning to circle at approximately three kilometers distance”

“No doubt they are enjoying the exercise of tracking a live target,” Lütjens replied. “Keep me informed if the situation should change.”

Sunday, 27 October 1940

As the squadron neared Gibraltar both the number of air and surface contacts increased. Much of the world’s shipping passed though the Strait of Gibraltar and the lookouts were constantly identifying British, French, Iberian, Nordish and German merchant vessels; indeed, there were even the occasional American or Greek freighter. Above the squadron they seemed to have a constant air umbrella as French, Iberian and now British patrol aircraft kept them under observation. All in all however it was kept in a friendly manner.

Monday, 28 October 1940

Derfflinger, followed by Seydlitz and Altmark, had slowed to eight knots as they nosed their way westward. The sun began to peek above the horizon and prick the top of the mountain namesake of the Arab invader who had swept away the ancient Visigothic kingdom.

“Gibraltar in sight Herr Admiral,” Langsdorff advised.

“Good, very good. Slow to five knots and make ready to heave to if required; signal for a pilot.”


Wednesday, June 15th 2011, 8:25pm

Nicely written.


Wednesday, June 15th 2011, 8:31pm


Getting near the finish now.


Saturday, June 18th 2011, 12:21pm

Sir Clive Gerard Liddell, the Governor of Gibraltar was on the balcony of his offical residence with Admiral Sir Harold Martin Burrough, Flag Officer Gibraltar, having an early breakfast. As the German ships approached, Sir Clive raised the binoculars on the table to his eyes. "There they are Harold, bang on schedule. Not bad for a non-stop voyage from Suez. You've go to admit they are fine seamen." "Certainly, its a feat for any ship's crew to undertake such a voyage. It's hard on the ships and the men. Lütjens is a fine commander and he has a fine cadre of officers behind him." "Ah well we'd better finish up and get ready to greet our vistors. We wouldn't want to be late!" "It'll take the pilot some time to get all the ships safely anchored, we've made some space in the western end of the anchorage for them."


Thursday, June 23rd 2011, 7:47pm

Operation Herbstreise - Part Thirty-Two

Monday, 28 October 1940

The harbour pilots guided the Derfflinger and her consorts to their assigned places in the western portion of the anchorage. Despite the delay in threading through the busy harbour this assignment pleased Captain Langsdorff – it would make their departure the next day so much easier.

Preparations for official calls had almost become routine for Admiral Lütjens and his officers – in the last four months they had made so many that the boat crew of the Altmark’s motor launch had tacked up a small plaque in the sternsheets – “The Admiral’s Taxi-cab” it proclaimed. Lütjens smiled at the jest, for it confirmed that the men of the Fourth Cruiser Squadron were still in good spirits after their prolonged absence from home. Looking out across the bay he could see that here too Britain gathered her naval might – an aircraft carrier, several cruisers and numerous small craft dotted the anchorage. Still, the presence of the Derfflinger and Seydlitz here in the shadow of Gibraltar sent a message of its own.

The launch neared the steps of the landing stage were the reception party of British officials had gathered – naval officers and ratings in white, bandsmen in blue and soldiers in khaki. A rating jumped from the launch to the landing stage to secure the mooring lines, followed by Admiral Lütjens and Captains Langsdorff, Lindemann and Drau. The wail of boatswain’s pipes announced the arrival of the official party. As he reached the top of the stairs Lütjens saluted, first to the colours and then his hosts, the Governor, Sir Clive Liddell and the senior naval officer, Admiral Burrough. With salutes returned Sir Clive extended his hand,

“Welcome to Gibraltar,” he began.


Saturday, June 25th 2011, 7:22pm

While Admiral Lütjens and the senior officers of the squadron attended to their official duties ashore the supply officers aboard the battlecruisers and the Altmark were busy overseeing the refueling of the squadron and taking aboard fresh water and provisions. As black oil was pumped from Altmark into the battlecruisers so barges of the Royal Dutch Shell company emptied their cargos into Altmark’s waiting tanks; with an uncertain situation in the South China Sea the squadron was under orders to maintain constant readiness – it was not impossible that circumstances might send them back the way they had come. Other lighters disgorged fresh provisions that were stowed by gangs of sailors in storerooms and refrigerated holds. In the ships’ galleys the cooks and messmen were kept busy serving meals to the hundreds of men making the ships ready for the final leg of their homeward voyage.

Perhaps it was the presence of the Governor, or perhaps it was the fact that the assembled officers were back in Europe and not on some eastern station, but the atmosphere between the Germans and their British hosts was far less tense than had been many of the calls in the months past. The verandah of the Governor’s residence was swept by a cool breeze that swept down from The Rock, and, with luncheon consumed, the officers had adjourned there for informal conversation.

“What I fail to understand,” said Sir Clive “is why your Government sent you on this mission in the first place. Certainly it has been a tour de force of the first rank, but it seems rather unexpected.”

Lütjens smiled. “Your Excellency, it will sound rather simple. It was intended as a Freedom of Navigation exercise; to show the Filipinos that their erstwhile claim to extended territorial waters could not be used to close international waters. That it grew into such a diplomatic success is as much a surprise to me as to you. Fleet Command has not shared with me many of the details of the discussions behind these changes.”

“Freedom of Navigation?” said Burrough. “An, yes, the Sibutu Passage – the chaps at the FO were busy on that one weren’t they?”

“Yes,” Sir Clive acknowledged. “The initial Filipino statements were confusing on that point; at least they have cleared it up.”

“Perhaps,” replied Lütjens “but my Government still does not accept their unilateral action; of course, now that war has broken out the matter is somewhat moot.”

“True,” added Burrough. “The French seem to have made quite a move eastward from all accounts.”

“Indeed,” said Lindemann, captain of the Seydlitz, “we were transiting the Bab-el-Mandeb when they sortied from Djibouti – the entire Force de Raid plus their amphibious ships. It was quite a sight.”

Liddell nodded. “I imagine it might. The French have their own interests in the Spratleys – though why anyone would want such sandbanks is beyond me.”

“I quite agree Your Excellency,” said Lütjens. “Even the largest is barely above water. Of course, a determined foe could wreak havoc on commerce passing through the South China Sea.”

The conversation passed on to other topics – Sir Clive expressed interest in the German’s reception in Thailand, while Burrough listened professionally to Langsdorff’s impromptu report on the Danish base at Berbera. He made a note to pass the comments along to the Admiralty – while they certainly had their own eyes in the Horn of Africa, it never hurt to provide corroboration.

Fueling and reprovisioning of the squadron finished in the late afternoon, and the sailors of the Fourth Cruiser Squadron were allowed an evening’s rest aboard ship; their schedule allowed them no time for liberty ashore.


Tuesday, June 28th 2011, 3:29pm

Operation Herbstreise - Part Thirty-Three

Tuesday, 29 October 1940

Bugles sounded cleanly over the waters of the harbour of Gibraltar, calling the crews of the German vessels to their stations as the great ships made ready for sea.

“The squadron is ready for departure Herr Admiral,” Langsdorff advised.

“Good, very good,” replied Lütjens. “Signal the squadron to get under way.”

The now-routine tasks of departure were again played out. Signal guns proclaimed salutes and ensigns dipped. Derfflinger took her accustomed place at the head of the formation and led the German squadron seaward.

Kapitän Lindemann of the Seydlitz stood on her starboard bridge wing with an amused smile on his face. Gibraltar now lay some six hours behind them, and the squadron had stood out into the open Atlantic; what caught his attention was the aerial circus that the German ships had attracted.

The Sunderlands of the Royal Air Force were quite familiar to him, and one of these was orbiting off the squadron’s starboard beam, matching the squadron’s pace. The large white-hulled Latécoère 611 bearing a French tricolor was unmistakable – one of these orbited off the squadron’s port beam. The three smaller float planes that now approached he suspected as being Iberian. Here in the approaches to Gibraltar were the conflicting interests of three great imperial powers; Lindemann hoped that the aircraft could avoid collision with one another. “That,” he reflected, “would be unfortunate”.

Wednesday, 30 October 1940

In the early hours of the morning Lütjens paced the bridge of the Derfflinger; Cape Saint Vincent lay far to the east.

“Herr Admiral,” Langsdorff reported, “Seetakt reports no ships in the vicinity.”

“Good! Signal the squadron to change course to 003; it is time for us to go home!”

Lütjens had ordered the precaution of making a sweep with the ship’s Seetakt electronic warning device to assure that there were no stray merchantmen in the vicinity; to have come safely this far and suffer an incident in the last days of the operation was not to be considered.

Derfflinger heeled as she changed her course – he bow now pointed northward – towards home.


Tuesday, June 28th 2011, 10:03pm

Well done.

The French probably won't feel the need to keep constant aerial surveillance on the German squadron; if a patrol plane spots them, they'll probably identify and track for a bit, but since the embassy has informed the French government of their general course, there's no terrified panic in the French Admiralty to keep track of them...


Friday, July 1st 2011, 9:07pm

Operation Herbstreise - Part Thirty-Four

Saturday, 2 November 1940

It was early afternoon when the lookouts above announced that Ushant was bearing off the starboard bow of Derfflinger.

“We are nearly home Langsdorff,” said Lütjens with a smile. “We will hold this course for an additional fifteen minutes and then change course to east-northeast.”

“Yes Herr Admiral,” Langsdorff replied. “We should weather Ushant easily.”

“Seetakt contact to starboard Herr Kapitän,” came a cry from the operator. “Small craft, bearing 050 relative, distance approximately six kilometers.”

Langsdorff stepped to the starboard bridge wing and swept the area indicated with his glasses. “A French patrol craft by the look of her lines,” Langsdorff reported. “She is probably on a routine patrol.”

“Good,” said Lütjens. “Double the lookouts if you please Langsdorff. We want no incidents to mar what we have achieved so far.”

“Yes Herr Admiral.”

Monday, 4 November 1940

The autumn winds snapped at Seydlitz’s heels as the Fourth Cruiser Squadron as it churned up-Channel; Cap Griz Nes lay off the starboard beam, marking its narrowest point. Captain Ernst Lindemann sat in his day cabin being his personal log up to date. He reflected on its many entries and he also took care to note those of his officers who deserved special commendation for their efforts during the squadron’s cruise. In the short history of the Kriegsmarine, and even in the history of old Imperial Navy, few vessels had achieved what the Fourth Cruiser Squadron had done in the last four months – a circumnavigation of the world, a unprecedented multi-national exercise with two ancient rivals, and the showing of Germany’s flag in places not seen in generations.

He paused. From all he had read in the wireless traffic from Fleet Command, and the discussions with the Admiral, Lindemann thought that such cruises would become more frequent in the years to come. For too long Germany had confined its horizons to the Baltic and the North Sea, and allowed itself to be chained by memories of the Great War. With the new vessels building in Germany’s shipyards there would be opportunities for promotion; and participation in this operation would be a feather in any officer’s cap.

Tuesday, 5 November 1940

The air escort from the Marineflieger had arrived over the ships of the Fourth Cruiser Squadron an hour ago; not so much to protect them from a non-existent enemy but to welcome home the world-travelers. On the bridge of Derfflinger Konteradmiral Günther Lütjens and Kapitän zur See Hans Langsdorff stood expectantly in their dress uniforms. All over the ship seamen rushed to their stations as the island of Wangerooge came into view.

Ahead of the Derfflinger lay a line of ships, marking the channel into Wilhelmshaven – destroyers were anchored to seaward, and beyond them could be seen the bulk of cruisers. Passing Wangerooge Derfflinger altered course to starboard and entered the channel, and Seydlitz and Altmark followed in her wake. Now could be seen the upper works of battleships and the high decks of aircraft carriers nearer to Wilhelmshaven.

“BOOM” came a signal gun from the first of the destroyers that lined one side of the channel, and the huzzahs of the assembled sailors on her deck could be heard across the water. In succession guns boomed from each of the anchored vessels to welcome the Fourth Cruiser Squadron home from its journey.

“This is a great day Langsdorff,” said Lütjens, the satisfaction plain in his voice. “All Germany is here to greet us.”

Aboard Derfflinger, as on her consorts, sailors manned the rails and returned the salutes of the assembled fleet. They were proud to have been a part of the squadron’s triumphant cruise; they were happy to be home, for each man of the crew was due a thirty-day liberty.

The exchange of salutes seemed to go on for hours. At last the ships found their anchorages and the rattle of anchor chain announced the finality of their arrival. The throb of engines ceased and a final hiss of steam escaped.

“We are home Langsdorff,” announced Lütjens. “My compliments to you and to the officers and men of the Derfflinger.”

“Thank you Herr Admiral,” replied Langsdorff, and he saluted.


Friday, July 1st 2011, 9:18pm

The French Navy offers their congratulations to the Kriegsmarine for their accomplishment and their excellent performance in the doing of it.


Friday, July 1st 2011, 9:20pm

Merci beau-coup!


Friday, July 1st 2011, 11:43pm

Messages from the Iberian and Danish Naval attaches in their respective embassies,
are hand delivered to the German Naval Headquarters espressing the congratulations of their Admiralties,
on an exceptional display of seamanship.

Well written Sir!!

This post has been edited 1 times, last edit by "Commodore Green" (Jul 1st 2011, 11:44pm)


Friday, July 1st 2011, 11:50pm

Thank you.

And I should also thank all those other players who contributed to the overall progress of the story line - either directly or indirectly. It would not have been as good without their input.


Saturday, July 2nd 2011, 2:06am

Congratulations on your journey from the Royal Hellenic Navy.

Very nicely done. Good show.


Saturday, July 2nd 2011, 10:55am

Well done Bruce, this has been a cracking read from start to finish and probably has done more good for international relations than any other event in WW for the last 20 years.