Ferdinand Heinrich Grautoff.

Banzai! by Parabellum online

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our journey around South America. Had not the experience at Trinidad,
where a wireless message intercepted by an English steamer had warned
the coal-boats that our fleet would arrive a day sooner, taught us a
lesson? And had not the way in which the Japanese steamer, also provided
with a wireless apparatus, stuck to us so persistently between
Valparaiso and Callao shown us plainly that every new technical
discovery has its shady side?

No, we had learned nothing. In Washington they insisted on sending all
orders from the Navy Department to the different harbors and naval
stations by wireless, yet each of the stations along the whole distance
from east to west provided possibilities of indiscretion and treachery
and of unofficial interception. Why had we not made wireless telegraphy
a government monopoly, instead of giving each inhabitant of the United
States the right to erect an apparatus of his own if he so wished? Did
it never occur to anybody in Washington that long before the orders of
the Navy Department had reached Mare Island, Puget Sound and San Diego
they had been read with the greatest ease by hundreds of strangers? It
required the success of the enemy to make all this clear to us, when we
might just as well have listened to those who drew conclusions from
obvious facts and recommended caution.

In spite of all this, the press on Tuesday morning still adhered to the
hope that Admiral Perry would attack the enemy from the rear with his
twelve battleships of the Pacific squadron, and that, meeting the
Japanese at their base of operations, he would cut off all threads of
communication between San Francisco and Tokio. It was no longer possible
to warn Perry of his danger, since the wireless stations beyond the
Rockies were already in the enemy's hands. The American people could
therefore only trust to luck; but blind chance has never yet saved a
country in its hour of direst need. It can only be saved by the energy,
the steady eye and the strong hand of men. All hope centered in Admiral
Perry, in his energy and his courage, but the people became uneasy when
no answer was received to the oft-repeated question: "Where is the
Pacific fleet?" Yes, where was Admiral Perry?

_Chapter X_


The wireless apparatus on board Admiral Perry's flag-ship, the
_Connecticut_, rattled and crackled and on the strip of white paper
slowly ejected by the Morse machine appeared the words: "Magdalen Bay to
Commander-in-chief of Squadron, May 7, 8h. 25. A cruiser and two
torpedo-boats sighted four miles N.W. with course set towards Magdalen
Bay; uncertain whether friend or foe. Captain Pancoast."

The man at the instrument tore off the duplicate of the strip and pasted
it on the bulletin, touched the button of an electric bell and handed
the message to the signalman who answered the ring. The telephone bell
rang directly afterwards and from the bridge came the order: "Magdalen
Bay to establish immediate connection by wireless with cruiser and
torpedoes; ascertain whether they belong to blue or yellow party."

The officer ticked off the message at great speed.

"This looks like bad weather," he said to himself, while waiting for the
answer. The increased rocking of the ship showed that the sea was
getting rougher. A black pencil, which had been lying in the corner
between the wall and the edge of the table, suddenly came to life and
began rolling aimlessly about. The officer picked it up and drew a map
of the location of Magdalen Bay as far as he could remember it. "Four
miles," he murmured, "they ought to be able to identify the ships at
that distance with the aid of a glass."

Suddenly the instrument began to buzz and rattle and amidst a discharge
of little electric sparks the strip of white paper began to move out
slowly from beneath the letter roller.

"Magdalen Bay to Commander-in-chief of Squadron, May 7, 8 h. 53:
Approaching cruiser, probably yellow armored cruiser _New York_; does
not answer call. Captain Pancoast."

The officer hadn't had time to get the message ready for the bridge,
when the instrument again began to rattle madly:

"Take care of Kxj31mpTwB8d - 951SR7 - J," warned the strip in its mute
language; then nothing further; complete silence reigned. "What does
this mean?" said the officer, "this can't be all."

He knocked on the coherer, then put in a new one: not a sign. He took a
third, a fourth, he knocked and shook the instrument, but it remained
dumb. With his Morse-key he asked back:

"Magdalen Bay, repeat message!"

No answer.

Then he asked: "Did you understand question?"

No answer.

The signalman was standing beside him, and he handed him the message
with the order to take it at once to the bridge; then he went to the
telephone and took off the receiver. "This is Sergeant Medlow. I've just
received from Magdalen Bay the message now on the way to the bridge:
'Take care of - ' then the connection was cut off.... All right, sir."

Two minutes later an excited lieutenant rushed in crying: "What's the
matter with the apparatus?"

"It won't work, sir; it stopped in the middle of a sentence."

"Take a new coherer!"

"I've tried four."

They both tapped the coherer, but nothing happened. All questions
remained unanswered, and they seemed to be telegraphing into space.

"Probably a breakdown," said the lieutenant naïvely.

"Yes, sir, probably a breakdown," repeated Medlow; and then he was alone
once more.

* * * * *

The officer on duty on the bridge of the _Connecticut_ had informed
Captain Farlow, commander of the ship, of the latest messages from
Magdalen Bay, and when he now appeared on the bridge in company with
Admiral Perry, the officer held out the two bulletins. The admiral
studied them thoughtfully and murmured: "_New York_, it's true she
belongs to the yellow fleet, but what brings her to Magdalen Bay?
Admiral Crane cannot possibly be so far to the southeast with his
squadron, for the latest news from our outposts led us to believe that
he intended to attack us from the west."

"But he may be going to surprise Magdalen Bay, Admiral," said Captain

"Perhaps," replied the Admiral, rather sharply, "but will you tell me
what for? There are only two torpedo-boats at Magdalen Bay, and to
destroy a wireless station from which there are no messages to be sent
would be a rather silly thing for an overzealous commander of the yellow
fleet to do. And besides we have special orders from Washington to draw
Magdalen Bay as little as possible into the maneuvers, so as to avoid
all unpleasantness with Mexico and not to attract the attention of
foreigners to the importance which the bay would assume in case of war."

A lieutenant stepped up to Captain Farlow and reported, saluting: "All
attempts to establish connection with Magdalen Bay have failed."

"Well, let it go," grumbled Admiral Perry, "Crane seems to have deprived
us of Magdalen Bay, but the commander of the _New York_ will reap a fine
reprimand from Washington for this."

With these words Admiral Perry left the bridge, steadying himself by
holding on to the railing on both sides of the steps, as the sea was
becoming rougher every minute.

The increasing northeast wind tore through the rigging, whistled in the
wires, howled through all the openings, screamed its bad temper down the
companionways, pulled savagely at the gun-covers and caused the long
copper-wires belonging to the wireless apparatus to snap like huge
whips. The bluish-gray waves broke with a hollow sound against the sides
of the six battleships of the _Connecticut_ class, which were running
abreast in a northwesterly direction through the dreary watery wastes of
the Pacific at the rate of ten knots an hour.

There was a high sea on. A barometric depression that was quite unusual
in these sunny latitudes at that particular time of year had brought
nasty weather in its train. During the night violent rain-storms had
flooded the decks. Now the wind freshened and swept low-hanging clouds
before it. The sharp white bow of the _Connecticut_ with the pressure of
16,000 tons of steel behind it plowed its way through the water,
throwing up a hissing foaming wave on each side. The wind lashed the
waves on the starboard-side so that they splashed over the forepart of
the cruiser like a shower of rain, enveloping it in a gray mist. The
thick, black smoke pouring out of the three long funnels was blown
obliquely down to the edge of the water and hung there like a thick
cloud which shut off the western horizon and made the passage of the
squadron visible a long distance off. The small openings in the
casemates of the armored guns had been closed up long before, because
the waves had begun to wash over them, and even the turrets on the upper
deck had received a few heavy showers which had flooded their interiors.
It was indeed nasty weather.

Captain Farlow had taken up his stand on the upper conning-tower of the
_Connecticut_ the better to examine the horizon with his glass, but a
thick curtain of rain rendered it almost invisible.

"Nothing to be seen of our cruisers," he said to the navigating officer
of the squadron, "this is disgusting weather for maneuvers."

Then he gave the command to telephone across to the two leading cruisers
_California_ and _Colorado_ and ask if, on account of the thick weather,
they required the assistance of two small cruisers in order to be
sufficiently protected against the yellow fleet?

The commander of the _California_ answered in the affirmative and asked
that the three destroyers in the van, which had all they could do to
maintain their course in such a heavy sea, and were therefore of little
use in their present position, be recalled and replaced by two cruisers.

The admiral recalled the three destroyers by a wireless signal and
ordered them to take up their position in the rear beside the other
three destroyers and to assist in protecting the rear of the squadron.
At the same time he strengthened his front line by sending the cruisers
_Galveston_ and _Chattanooga_, which had formed the port and starboard
flank, respectively, to the van. His advance, consisting now of the two
last-named cruisers and the two armored cruisers, proceeded in a flat
wedge formation, while the cruiser _Denver_ to starboard and the
_Cleveland_ to port, at a distance of three knots from the squadron,
established the connection between the van and the rather dubious
rear-guard of destroyers, which could scarcely do much in such weather.

The _Galveston_ and _Chattanooga_, both pouring forth clouds of smoke,
quickly assumed their positions at the head of the line.

Captain Farlow paced restlessly up and down the bridge in his oilskins.
"I suppose this is the last remnant of the spring storms," he said to
his navigating officer, "but it's a good-sized one. If we didn't have a
fairly good formation the yellow fleet could play us a nasty trick by
taking us by surprise in such weather."

"A wireless message from the cruiser _California_," said a lieutenant,
handing it to the captain, who read:

"_Chattanooga_ and _Galveston_ stationed on right and left flanks of
advance guard; _Denver_ and _Cleveland_ establish connection between
latter and squadron. No sign of yellow fleet."

Just then an orderly appeared and requested Captain Farlow to report to
Admiral Perry.

The squadron continued on its way. The northeast wind increased, driving
black scurrying clouds before it which swept across the foaming waves
and suddenly enveloped everything in glimmering darkness. The rain
poured down on the decks in sheets and everything was swimming in a
splashing flood. What with the downpour of the rain and the splashing of
the waves, it was often impossible for the lookouts to see a yard ahead.
Added to all this was a disagreeable sticky, humid heat. It was surely
more comfortable below deck.

* * * * *

"What do you think of this Magdalen Bay affair?" asked the admiral of
the captain as the latter entered the admiral's cabin; "it is worrying
me considerably."

"In my opinion," was the answer, "it's a piece of crass stupidity on
the part of the commander of the _New York_. It is all nonsense to play
such tricks with a country where we are not particularly welcome guests
at any time, in spite of all the diplomatic courtesies of Porfirio Díaz.
The gentlemen over in Tokio have every movement of ours in the bay
watched by their many spies, and their diplomatic protests are always

"Certainly," said the admiral, "certainly, but our maneuvers are
supposed to reflect actual war, and - between ourselves - there's no doubt
but that we should treat Magdalen Bay in time of war just as though it
were American soil."

"In time of war, yes," answered the captain eagerly, "but it's foolish
to show our hand in a maneuver, in time of peace. Even if we do act as
though Magdalen Bay belonged to us, whereas in reality we have only been
permitted to use it as a coaling-station and had no right to erect a
wireless station as we did, it is nevertheless inexcusable to use that
particular spot for maneuver operations. If it once becomes known in
Mexico, the diplomats there, who are always dying of ennui, will make
trouble at once, and as we don't suffer from a surplus of good friends
at any time, we ought to avoid every opportunity of giving them a
diplomatic lever through maneuver blunders."

"Then the best plan," said the admiral in a thoughtful tone, "would be
to report the circumstances to Washington at once, and suggest to them
that it would be advisable to represent the attack on Magdalen Bay as
the result of too much zeal on the part of a poorly posted commander and
to apologize to Mexico for the mistake."

"That would certainly be the correct thing to do," answered Farlow,
adding, "for when we do have our reckoning with the yellow...."

Here the telephone bell in the cabin rang madly and Captain Farlow
jumped up to answer it; but in his excitement he had forgotten all about
the rolling of the ship, and consequently stumbled and slipped along the
floor to the telephone. The admiral could not help smiling, but at once
transformed the smile into a frown when the door opened to admit an
orderly, who was thus also a witness of Captain Farlow's sliding party.
The latter picked himself up with a muttered oath and went to the

"What," he shouted, "what's that, Higgins? You must be crazy, man!
Admiral Crane's fleet, the yellow fleet? It's impossible, we've got our
scouts out on all sides!"

Then he turned halfway round to the admiral, saying: "The navigator is
seeing ghosts, sir; he reports that Admiral Crane with the yellow fleet
has been sighted to windward three knots off!" He hurried towards the
door and there ran plumb against the orderly, whom he asked sharply:
"What are you doing here?"

"The navigator, Lieutenant Higgins, reports that several ships have been
sighted to starboard three miles ahead. Lieutenant Higgins thinks...."

"Lieutenant Higgins thinks, of course, that it is Admiral Crane's yellow
fleet," snarled Farlow.

"Yes, sir," answered the orderly, "the yellow fleet," and stared in
astonishment at the commander of the _Connecticut_, who, followed by
Admiral Perry, rushed up the stairs.

"Oh, my oilskins!..." With this exclamation the commander reached the
top of the staircase leading to the bridge deck, where a violent rush of
greenish-gray water from a particularly enormous wave drenched him from
head to foot.

"Now, then, Mr. Higgins," he called, wiping the water from his eyes and
mustache, "where is the yellow fleet?"

The navigator was staring out to sea through his glass trying to
penetrate the thick veil of rain. The storm howled and showers of foam
burst over the decks of the _Connecticut_, the water washing over
everything with a dull roar.

Captain Farlow had no need to inquire further. That was Admiral Crane
and his yellow fleet sure enough!

The silhouettes of six large battleships looking like phantom-ships
rising from the depths of the boiling ocean could be plainly seen
through the rain and waves about six thousand yards to starboard of the

"Clear ships for action!" commanded the captain. The navigator and
another lieutenant hurried to the telephones and transmitted the order.
The flag lieutenant of the squadron rushed to the telephone leading to
the wireless room, and ordered a message forwarded to all of the ships
of the squadron to proceed at full speed. For safety's sake the order
was repeated by means of flag signals.

While from the bridge the officers were watching the gray phantoms of
the strange armored fleet, it continued calmly on its course. The
leading ship threw up great masses of foam like huge exploding
fountains, which covered the bow with showers of gray water.

In a few minutes things began to get lively within the steel body of the
_Connecticut_. The sounds of shrill bugle-calls, of the loud ringing of
bells, of excited calls and a hurried running to and fro, came up from

In the midst of the water pouring over the deck appeared the sailors in
their white uniforms. They at once removed the gun-coverings, while
peculiarly shrill commands resounded above the roar of the wind and the

Great quantities of thick, black smoke poured from the yellowish brown
funnels, to be immediately seized and broken up by the wind. The reserve
signalmen for duty on the bridge as well as the fire-control detail took
up their positions.

One lieutenant climbed hastily up into the military top of the foremast.
Two other officers and a few midshipmen followed him as far as the
platform above the conning-tower, where the instruments connected with
the fire-control were kept. Orderlies came and went with messages. All
this was the work of a few minutes. Captain Farlow was inwardly
delighted that everything should have gone off so well before the
admiral. Now the other ships reported that they were clear for action.
Just as the bright ensigns were being run to the mastheads, the sun
broke through the black clouds for a moment. The six monster ships
continued on their way in the sunlight like sliding masses of white
iron, with their long yellowish brown funnels emitting clouds of smoke
and their rigid masts pointing upward into the angry sky. The sunshine
made the deck structures sparkle with thousands of glistening drops for
a brief moment; then the sun disappeared and the majestic picture was
swallowed up once more by the gray clouds.

"Shall we go up to the conning-tower?" inquired the flag lieutenant of
the admiral.

"Oh, no, we'll stay here," said the latter, carefully examining the
yellow fleet through his glass. "Can you make out which ship the first
one is?" he asked.

"I think it's the _Iowa_," said the commander, who was standing near
him. But the wind tore the words from his lips.

"What did you say?" screamed back the admiral.

"_Iowa_," repeated Farlow.

"No such thing, the _Iowa_ is much smaller and has only one mast. The
ship over there also has an additional turret in the center."

"No, it's not the _Iowa_," corroborated the captain, "but two funnels
... what ship can it be...?"

"Those ships are painted gray, too, not white like ours. It's not the
yellow fleet at all," interrupted the admiral, "it's, it's - my God, what
is it?"

He examined the ships again and saw numerous little flags running up the
mast of the leading ship, undoubtedly a signal, then the forward turret
with its two enormously long gun-barrels swung slowly over to starboard,
the other turrets turned at the same time, and then a tongue of flame
shot out of the mouths of both barrels in the forward turret; the wind
quickly dispersed the cloud of smoke, and three seconds later a shell
burst with a fearful noise on the deck of the _Connecticut_ between the
base of the bridge and the first gun-turret, throwing the splinters
right on the bridge and tearing off the head of the lieutenant who was
doing duty at the signal apparatus. The second shell hit the armored
plate right above the openings for the two 12-inch guns in the
fore-turret, leaving behind a great hole with jagged edges out of which
burst sheets of flame and clouds of smoke, which were blown away in long
strips by the wind. A heartrending scream from within followed this
explosion of the cartridges lying in readiness beside the guns. The
forward turret had been put out of action.

For several seconds everyone on the bridge seemed dazed, while thoughts
raced through their heads with lightning-like rapidity.

Could it be chance...? Impossible, for in the same moment that the two
shots were fired by the leading ship, the whole fleet opened fire on
Admiral Perry's squadron with shells of all calibers. The admiral
seized Farlow's arm and shook it to and fro in a blind rage.

"Those," he cried, "those ... why, man, those are the Japanese! That's
the enemy and he has surprised us right in the midst of peace! Now God
give me a clear head, and let us never forget that we are American men!"
He scarcely heard the words of the flag lieutenant who called out to
him: "That's the Japanese _Satsuma_, Togo's _Satsuma_!"

The admiral reached the telephone-board in one bound and yelled down the
artillery connection: "Hostile attack!... Japanese. We've been

And it was indeed high time, for scarcely had the admiral reached the
conning-tower, stumbling over the dead body of a signalman on the way,
when a hail-storm of bullets swept the bridge, killing all who were on

As there was no other officer near, Captain Farlow went to the signaling
instrument himself to send the admiral's orders to those below deck.

The _Connecticut_, which had been without a helmsman for a moment
because the man at the helm had been killed by a bursting shell that had
literally forced his body between the spokes of the wheel, was swaying
about like a drunken person owing to the heavy blows of the enemy's
shells. Now she recovered her course and the commander issued his orders
from the bridge in a calm and decisive voice.

We have seen what a paralyzing effect the opening of fire from the
Japanese ships had had on the commander and officers of the
_Connecticut_ on the bridge, and the reader can imagine the effect it
must have had on the crew - they were dumfounded with terror. The
crashing of the heavy steel projectiles above deck, the explosion in the
foreward gun-turret, and several shots which had passed through the
unarmored starboard side of the forepart of the ship in rapid
succession - they were explosive shells which created fearful havoc and
filled all the rooms with the poisonous gases of the Shimose-powder - all
this, added to the continual ring of the alarm-signals, had completely
robbed the crew below deck of their senses and of all deliberation.

At first it was thought to be an accident, and without waiting for
orders from above, the fire-extinguishing apparatus was got ready. But
the bells continued to ring on all sides, and the crashing blows that
shook the ship continually became worse and worse. On top of this came
the perfectly incomprehensible news that, unprepared as they were, they
were confronted by the enemy, by a Japanese fleet.

All this happened with lightning-like rapidity - so quickly, indeed, that
it was more than human nerves could grasp and at the same time remain
calm and collected. The reverberations of the bursting shells and the
dull rumbling crashes against the armored sides of the casemates and
turrets produced an infernal noise which completely drowned the human
voice. Frightful horror was depicted on all faces. It took some time to
rally from the oppressive, heartrending sensation caused by the
knowledge that a peaceful maneuver voyage had suddenly been transformed
into the bloody seriousness of war. It is easy enough to turn a machine
from right to left in a few seconds with the aid of a lever, but not so
a human being.

The men, to be sure, heard the commands and after a few moments'
reflection, grasped the terrible truth, but their limbs failed them. It
had all come about too quickly, and it was simply impossible to get
control of the situation and translate commands into deeds as quickly as
the hostile shots demolished things above deck. Many of the crew stood
around as though they were rooted to the spot, staring straight in front
of them. Some laughed or cried, others did absolutely senseless things,
such as turning the valves of the hot-air pipes or carrying useless

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Online LibraryFerdinand Heinrich GrautoffBanzai! by Parabellum → online text (page 11 of 23)