18 October 1907, Warsaw “I am as frustrated as you are, marshal, believe me.” General Mackensen sighed walrus-like under his moustache. “But I could have told you in advance that Berlin would deny any requests for additional troops. The fighting in the Baltics has drawn everything they have. This year, it could be St Petersburg.” “Which won't do anything.” Pilsudski morosely stirred his tea. “The Czar is in Moscow. The Russians have had enough time to build defensive lines so that even if you get there, the city will be empty - probably burning. And it won't happen this year.” Mackensen grunted assent. Tempting though the thought was, there were still undefeated Russian troops in the path, and the mud season was coming on fast. Of course they could try a winter offensive, fight a battle on the ice of Lake Peipus. This time, it might even work. But that kind of thing still favoured the Russians, and supplying an advancing army was hard enough in good weather. “Still, the northern arc offensive is on. You'll have to make do with what we have.” The field marshal nodded pensively. “I'm guessing we can, when it comes to that.” he said. “The National Army's been out of action for too long.” Mackensen looked up, his hussar's cap shifting precariously. “Feeling your oats?” he asked pointedly. “Half your units are still no better than armed rabble and Landsturm, and you want to march on Moscow?” “Not Moscow.” Pilsudski pointed out the obvious. “But you've seen the reports from the front. The opposition is weak. The Russians are barely holding on to their strongpoints. Poor quality troops, and spread thin. With the troops we have here...“ “...you can really land us in the pickle.” the German completed the sentence. “I'm not saying it's impossible, but one thing goes wrong and you're hanging out to dry. And the general who starts screaming for reinforcements when they're needed on the Narva isn't doing his career prospects any favours.” Pilsudski sighed. “At least admit you're interested, too. You've made your name defying the odds.” “Of course I'm interested.” Mackensen admitted. “Even tempted. Don't think I haven't done the maths. But we can't dare it this autumn. It's too late for large-scale operations, and the Russians have too many reserves down south. Next spring, though...” “If the war lasts that long.” “Oh?!” A wicked grin spread over the general's face. “That's what's ailing you, is it? Grab more Russian land while the grabbing is good?” Pilsudski bristled. “Polish land, general.” he said, perhaps too sharply. He might technically outrank his visitor, but in the real world a German general of cavalry beat a Polish field marshal any day. Not to mention everybody in Warsaw deferred to Mackensen. Even the Generaloberst basically took his suggestions as orders. He softened his tone. “The lands east of the Bug are historically Polish. I would be remiss in my patriotism if I didn't think of them as such.” Mackensen chuckled. “Touchy, marshal...” he said. “Don't worry. I don't begrudge you whatever pieces of hide you can get from the bear. But I can't risk exposing my troops to the risk of going off too early, or poorly prepared. We don't have the strategic depth. Now, I happen to have heard that the Austrians are planning a surprise for our Russian friends in early spring.” Pilsudski perked up. “An offensive? How early?” “Freezing early.” Mackensen said flatly. “They have no intention of being caught on the back foot again. Berlin is too afraid of being Napoleoned. Conrad feels it can be done as long as he keeps his rear areas safely under control, and I think he's right. Cavalry is underrated these days. Now, when the Austrian army is going full tilt for Kiev, the Russians will be busy enough. A forceful attack will punch right through.” “If the war isn't over by then.” Pilsudski interjected. “That's the risk you run in this business. But if you think we're supporting you going off half-cocked in mid-winter, forget about it.” 19 October 1907 Kilimatinde Hot, dry wind rustled in the trees, rubbing parched leaves together. The railway station looked even more pathetic now that the impedimenta of war had disappeared and the ponderous machinery of government had decamped for the coast again. Governor Solf was seated behind a folding desk under an improvised awning, surrounded – at a respectful distance – by a crowd of locals come to see what the great man wanted. Occasionally sipping iced lemonade, he was methodically working through report after report by district assessors, tax officials and village headmen, despair registering ever more clearly on his drawn, deeply lined face. He had not expected things to be this bad so far inland. Villages burned and looted – that, sadly, was to be expected. Askari were bad enough, rugaruga were a plague on the land. The governor's objections had barely registered with the military command, and of course it was him, not Ludendorff, who had to pick up the pieces now. Police units were still busy hunting down the odd band of warriors who refused to go home. Meanwhile, headmen claimed tax and labour relief for the families of men who had been drafted as porters never to return. Others, warriors who had returned, had bought off the tax liabilities of decades in lump sum payments. It was the same story in town after town: aging headmen, tax collectors and imams found themselves unable to control the homecoming fighting men. Flush with cash, they bought up land, lent at interest, bought off taxes and generally threw their weight around. What even a few hundred shillings could do to the precariously balanced barter economy of a native village could be frightening. And of course, the men who had brought the cash as often as not also still owned their military rifles. That was not as big a problem for the colonial authorities as he had originally feared. Most rugaruga owed their new status to the government and anyway, they had seen what modern weapons and disciplined troops could do. But it posed a very large one for men whose traditional authority rested on the assembled villagers and their spears and clubs. A neighbour who could not be economically disciplined, who refused to be intimidated and rejected social convention – it would be bad enough in the leafy suburbs of Bremen. In the backwoods of Ostafrika, it was a recipe for societal collapse. Once again, the tale was the same: A veteran Askari, in this case, had ended up owning a third of the land in his village. It was one of those the government had freed from the beer tax as a reward for service in the war, and getting others drunk was his main source of revenue. People were in debt to him for tchombe beer and food, mortgaging their land and children. Meanwhile, the man acquired cattle and wives, laughed at the imam and had ejected the protesting headman from his home with a kick to the rear. The worst part was that they could not support the organs of government. There was no money. Tax revenues had deteriorated badly, and the government, desperate to withdraw cash from circulation to head off inflation, had allowed individuals and villages to buy off future payments years in advance. No funds were forthcoming from Germany, of course. They would need to pay off and disband another regiment of Askari at this rate, injecting yet more wealthy and footloose veterans into the ferment. Solf sighed and rubbed his temples, motioning the petitioner to leave. “There is nothing I can do as long as no laws are broken. Consider a suit for assault in the district court.” he said. Of course, in the long run there could be a silver lining to all of this. After all, even the most steel-livered veteran would tire of spending his days getting drunk and servicing his newly acquired wives. Cash reserves would not last forever, and it wasn't like a shilling reached as far as it used to even now. The men who were the biggest headache now had been in contact with civilised customs in the coastal provinces. Many would go into some kind of business to sustain their newly prosperous lifestyles. It was not how they had planned it, but if even a small part of them managed to remain wealthy, it could do wonders for the economy of a colony ravaged by rebellion, war and misgovernment. It would not be the same colony he had come to know and love – too much damage had been done to the social fabric. But it would be something. Except that future generations would harvest the fruit of those efforts. Solf would keep making bricks without straw until someone in Berlin got around to recalling him. He had no doubts that they would do that just as soon as they had their heads free to deal with the colonies again. After all, German arms had won a glorious victory, and everything that went wrong now had to be the fault of the civil administration. The petitioner bowed and left, radiating disappointment. Another old man humiliated. This new Africa the war had made was a young man's world. 19 October 1907, New York “A corner in copper?” J.P. Morgan scratched his chin. “I suppose a man could make a killing these days. But he really tried that? I figured that would be out of his league.” “He did.” Elbert Gary shook his head as though despairing of the antics of an unruly child. “Heinze was trying for a takeover of Amalgamated Copper. It looks like that backfired on him.” “It does indeed.” Morgan absently rubbed his famous nose. “And how bad is this liable to get?” “Bad.” Gary locked eyes with the great banker and gave him a long, grave look. “Very bad.” Morgan began to speak, then paused. Investors were distinctly panicky. There had been tumultuous scenes this afternoon at the Mercantile National Bank, and stocks in a lot of companies were dropping. Someone had put about the rumour that several trusts would be forced to sell holdings to pay depositors. As far as he could see, there was no earthly reason why they should, but Morgan knew very well that once enough people heard the story, it would become true. Gary continued, his voice brittle. “It looks like Heinze overleveraged. He felt sure he would realise enormous sums, so he secured loans and capital under false pretenses. Several trusts and banks could be affected. New Amsterdam and Knickerbocker might fail in a matter of days.” A groan escaped Morgan's lips and he fumbled for a cigar, trying to assemble his thoughts. If it was that bad, the rot already went to the heart of the stock market. It could send banks tumbling left and right, destroy capital markets, burn up profits for years to come. And once the contagion spread, American bankers would not be welcome abroad, either. Something needed to be done., “I'll call Schiff, Hill, Warburg and Carnegie. And – no, I'll invite everyone.” Morgan rose to his feet, giving the appearance of an unstoppable force. “We need to stop this. I should be grateful to you if you would stay, Mr Gary. We need to make plans.” 17 October 1907, Paris A good reporter knew how to flatter his sources, how to make them comfortable and squeeze them for information. And he knew how to massage their ego by playing the ignorant, thirsting for the gift of their wisdom. Jean Bayrou understood his craft. The poor foreign office clerk stood little chance. “I was just wondering,” the journalist said, raising a glass of red wine over the cafe table, “if you could explain the Gruson issue to me. It is still rather confusing, The Russian government insists that the company must not receive payments?” Victor Repin, a very junior clerk flattered by the attention and already considerably relaxed, smiled and adjusted his spectacles before launching into his lecture: “It is, in fact, a matter of recognition of legal entities. The patent law question is very straightforward. You are aware that the Polish rebels have declared their country independent, of course. And that they are still fighting at the side of the Boche. Now,” He set down his glass and raised his finger to accentuate the explanation. “The Poles are producing weapons in factories in Warsaw and Lodz. German rifles, mostly, and Krupp machine guns. But they are also making field guns. German style ones, 77mm caliber. But...” “But?” Bayrou sounded convincingly vapid. This was not new to him, but it was still good to have it confirmed. “It is hard to see how this is a political problem.” “Oh, wait. We're getting to that. See, the German field gun uses a recoil recovery mechanism based on purely mechanical properties. Basically, a spring. Without this, the gun is almost useless on a modern battlefield, and that is the problem for the Poles. You see, they have all the tools to machine guns as finely as you could want, but they cannot make that kind of steel.” “It is difficult?” Bayrou asked, gesturing invitingly for the bottle. Repin picked up the glass again, inviting a refill. “Very. Not many foundries can make steel that good reliably. Krupp will not spare any – they need to for suspension springs in their armoured locomobiles and on warships. So instead … ” he sipped. “Good wine indeed, Monsieur Bayrou. Anyways, instead, they machine a hydraulic cylinder that serves much the same purpose. Much like the one we use, though I suppose theirs won't be as good.“ “Ah.” The journalist smiled, faking dawning comprehension. “And the Russians wish us to forbid that.” “Not quite.” Repin explained, smiling generously, “The patent is held by the firm of Gruson. The Polish army actually contacted them on their own initiative and offered to pay royalties. Which is rather decent when you think of it. Don't want to give us any excuse to take offense, you see?” another sip of wine. “Anyhow, the Russian embassy gets wind of this, and their resident is over at the Quai d'Orsay to complain. He said that since Poland did not exist, no French company would be allowed to accept payments that were taken from funds stolen from the Russian government by bandits. Insisted that we put a stop to it. Gave us a bit of a headache, that one.” Bayrou nodded. “Complicated, isn't it?” he asked, sounding duly awed. “Complicated enough. But we've had instruction from the Prime Minister that French companies may accept payment from the Polish National Army Council. Looks like Clemenceau has had it with their squealing.” “I see.” Bayrou's pencil flitted across the notepad. “They've been causing problems?” “They're pushing us to go to war against Germany.” Repin smiled broadly. “That's not going to happen. Just isn't. Not under Clemenceau. And … “ he looked around conspiratorially, “...I shouldn't tell you this, but an attack on Germany will mean war with England. That's why. But mostly, I think, because the Russians have annoyed the great old man too much.” “Fascinating”, Bayrou muttered half to himself. “Won't they be causing us trouble in retaliation?” “Oh, they can't. All bluster and posturing. Russia depends on France.” Repin smiled knowingly. “We're paying their war at six-and-a-half per cent. And they daren't stop selling their bonds. You should get in on it.” Bayrou considered the advice. “What if they default?” “They can't.- That's the best part. They depend on us completely. Jewish bankers in England and America won't touch their bonds. Paris is the only liquid market.” The clerk drained his glass triumphantly. “Better interest than you'll get anywhere else as safe. Good long-term money, too. Russia's got railways, timber, coal, metals. I've invested.” “Good luck with that.” Bayrou said absently. His mind was already racing. If the government was willing to insult the Russia government to that degree... Clemenceau needed to be seen to support industry. And he had given up on Russia. That was good news. Bayrou had always felt queasy about that alliance. It left the question who would be with them against England now. Italy? That was hardly a fair swap. And he did not feel entirely sanguine about the prospects of Russian debt, either. You didn't need to be a genius to see that the country would have financial problems galore. 21 October 1907, Upper Yenissei Spray and splash could hurt on exposed skin and the wind already had an edge like a knife. The bargemen handling the transport up the river were as slipshod as Ondrei Vokasec had expected. He cursed himself for picking a spot on the deck where he could see things. They were travelling with the Russian army, and the only thing you wanted to see if you had your wits around you was hot food and a dry bed. Neither could be taken for granted. “Right glorious view, though, isn't it?” Private Ripka needled him. He just couldn't keep his mouth shut. “Well, if you like big rivers... “ “I'd much prefer the Vltava, thank you very much.” he said, sighing. “Well, we are headed west again.” Vokasec gestured vaguely upriver, toward the railhead in Kransnoyarsk. “Begs the question what the point of that exercise was. Taking us all the way out here only to send us back.” “Someone's got to watch Prince Mikhail, no?” Ripka suggested sourly. “He's going back home. Maybe the work here's done after all.” Vokasec snorted. “If you think a single one of the guys we ferried downriver is going to see Peking, you're a bigger fool that even you could be. No, Vaclav. They're sending home Mikhail because they know they're losing the war here. No member of the Czar's family can be seen to suffer such a glorious defeat.” “Lose?” Ripka asked. “Come on. What have you heard?” Vokasec always knew the latest scuttlebutt. He talked to people. After clearing his throat and spitting over the railing, he crept closer to his comrade and said in a low voice: “The cossack force in Kobdo was completely destroyed. A few stragglers made it back over the passes. Looks like the Chinese are learning from their mistakes.” “Well, that makes one.” Ripka commented drily. “Yeah. It's testimony to the Russian genius, though. I mean, anyone can lose a war against the Germans. That's easy. But losing a war against the chinks, that's taking defeat to a fine art!” The corporal shook his head and surreptitiously looked around to see if anyone was listening. The other men on the deck – Siberians, mostly, Kalmyks and Uzbeks and whatever else you called them – were unmoved. They wouldn't understands Czech, anyway. “I don't envy the poor sods left to stop them. From what you hear, the Chinese aren't big on mercy.” Both men looked out over the river again, relieved that their own path took them westward. Sure enough, if they ended up on the front fighting the Austrians and if they were taken prisoner, their fate wouldn't be much better. They were still traitors. That the Czech Legion technically owed allegiance to a Czech state proclaimed in the name of Nicholas II would not impress a k.u.k. military judge. But that was a lot of if. “So, where do you suppose we're going?” Ripka asked. Vokasec shrugged. There couldn't be anyone on the barge who didn't ask themselves the same question. The answer was, of course, the same as always: they'd know when they got there. They hadn't been issued tropical uniforms or snow shoes, so that limited things a bit. Somewhere between Persia, Wolhynia, the White Sea and Lake Baikal, as far as they could ascertain. “What do you think?” Ripka returned the shrug. “I've heard things are pretty hairy in the Caucasus. Maybe they can use some white troops down there.” The corporal nodded. He recalled the tense hours spent standing guard over disembarking troops, bayonets fixed. Even back then, he had wondered just how much the Russians thought they could rely on these men. If looks could kill, every last man in the Czech Legion would have dropped onto the Yenissei bank there and then. And they had pretty big knives. Rumour had it a fair few of them had used them on soldiers they met alone. As far as he was concerned, they were welcome to their savage mountains and all the goats in them, but the Czar had different ideas. “Well, fuck.” 23 October 1907, Constantinople The new coat fitted wonderfully, Clavus thought. With its tall sheepskin collar and deep, capacious pockets, it seemed perfect for winter travel. Of course you would expect the people of the Caucasus to have mastered the art of making suitable clothing to their harsh climate. Gently slipping the last button through its loop – easy and smooth – he turned to say his farewells. „I wish you good luck, Mr Clavus.“ Friedrich Schrader said, placing a heavy hand on his shoulder. „Godspeed, and may heaven watch your steps.“ “Thank you, Doctor.“ the agent said, an edge of sourness to his voice. He had hoped that Schrader would accompany him to the last, but in the end, he had refused. “May I hope to see you again come springtime – perhaps in Tblisi or Baku?“ Schrader sighed. “That is out of my hands, I regret. You know that I cannot simply go where I please. I have my studies and my editorial duties.... and at any rate, I'm not much of a warrior. No, you shall go and set the place aflame. From what we hear, you're being quite successful, anyways.“ “Oh, indeed.“ Clavus confirmed, flattered by the remark., “Indeed. If the war lasts until next spring, we shall make Nikolai howl yet. My biggest regret is, doctor, that we really could use your expertise. We have almost nobody and nothing in Transcaspia. Precious little, I regret to say, even in the Muslim parts of the mountains. Georgians, Armenians and Azeris, mostly. We could really use someone who speaks their languages and knows how to grease the right palms.“ “That time may come.“ he promised, his licking his lips nervously, “If the Porte joins the war, the chances are they will send more aid and support than we can ever hope to their Muslim brethren.“ Clavus shrugged. How likely was that? Now that the Ottomans had Austria and Germany cleaning up their northern flank for free and England guarding its coasts against French interference of necessity, the last thing they would want was a costly and risky war. “I shall pray for that, then.“ he said. “As should Berlin. Such things are often just a matter of incentives.“ Schrader cleaned out his pipe, carelessly dropping ash on the rain-slick cobbles. Much as his patriotic sentiment desired it, he was sure that an Ottoman declaration of war would bring disaster. He had come to know and despise Clavus for a cold-hearted bastard and was sure he would drop any ally as soon as he had outlived his usefulness with no more regrets than one might throw away a soiled handkerchief. Arming Azeris, Armenians and Georgians, Dagestanis and Chechens – what did he expect would happen? The moment the last Russian soldier had turned tail – or likely considerably before that time – all those hairy gentlemen out of foreign parts would be dyeing the rivers red with each other's blood. And it wasn't even that he had not explained the situation. The man simply did not care. As far as he was concerned, he was buying dead Russians at a much more favourable exchange rate than Krupp got on the Narva front. His only hope remained that the Porte managed their conquests well, and quickly sat on any petty tribal ambitions. He would have to stress that aspect in his report to Talat Pasha. 24 October 1907, Hertonäs near Helsingfors Captain Doorn ducked out of the tiny hut he had made his quarters in, absently swatting at the daily diminishing cloud of mosquitoes that tried to bleed him as he passed. Major van Hoel was waiting by the tent they were using as a mess hall, now thoroughly filled with the smoke of pipes and cigarettes to keep away the plague of stinging insects that infested every square metre of this country. As far as Doorn was concerned, the Russians were welcome to it. “Anything new?” he asked in passing. Van Hoel grinned. “You could say that. Looks like we're going on a cruise.” “What did you hear?” “Van Heutsz is coming to take command.“ the Major explained. “The two divisions of our infantry in Schleswig-Holstein are already entrained for Danzig and Stettin. Looks like the Germans are getting serious about getting another lick in this year.” The captain sucked his teeth. Dutch infantry was good – in a pinch, it helped if the men you fought with understood you. On the other hand, they had had the same training as the German Seebattaillone which was practically none by the standards of the Mariniers. They'd be lucky if they wouldn't need to shepherd the poor kids. “Not Viborg, though?” he asked anxiously. Ever since the Swedes ran the show in Finland, they had insisted on a land-based strategy. Every now and then, they used to let their shiny navy steam up the shore to lob a few shells at Russian positions, but they'd stopped doing that after a near miss with a drifting sea mine. Going into the Gulf of Finland would be no fun at all, given what quantities of explosive the enemy had dumped all over it. “Nah, not Viborg.” Van Hoel paused, his grin widening. “What?” “St Petersburg!” Doorn stood thunderstruck. “Well, fuck me.,” he muttered. “Thanks, but no thanks.” The major chuckled. “Scuttlebutt has it that Prince Albert threw a brass ash tray at the admiral who told him it couldn't be done. Of course I don't know anything official, but the Kiel squadron is in the Gulf of Riga and the Swedish navy in the Alands. They brought every minesweeper they could find. If they're here for the fresh air, I'll eat my hat.” That made sense. Overwhelming superiority and a screen of sweepers would be the only way they could hope to pull that off. A cruiser or torpedo boat on the loose could go through a convoy of troopships like a hot knife through butter, and they wouldn't have the time to properly scout and blockade. Not if they wanted to make it ahead of the ice. “They'll be cutting it damned fine.” he remarked. “Damned fine indeed.” van Hoel agreed. “But I suppose that's their job. Navy guys, you know. Now I'm curious to know if they'll be landing us right outside the Neva bridges or if we'll have to walk.” Doorn shook his head irritably. “Oh, come off it. There's no way we can get past Kronstadt. They'll land us on the other side of the Narva so that we can spook the Russians and then the Germans break through.” The major scratched his nose. “You know, that's what I thought, too. And then I remembered the Germans have poison gas. If it works half as well as the papers say, they can simply blanket the fortress and we can put into port and pay our respects to the demoiselles at the Smolny Institute.” “Mh-hm.” Doorn agreed,. “And if it doesn't, we'll be getting a 28-cm welcome. No, thanks.” “Don't be a killjoy.” the major chided. “It's not like we get to decide that anyway. Come on, let's grab something to drink and get away from these mosquitoes.” 26 October 1907, Berlin The 'Berlin pace' had taken over the corridors of the Stadtpalast with a vengeance. No matter how thoroughly the staff might wax the floors and how assiduously they insisted on the proper speed of opening doors, they achieved little more than a few bruised bottoms (on the part of ministerial officials and staff officers) and bloodied noses (on the lackeys unfortunate enough to be holding a door that someone important intended to pass through). The emperor might still be left unable to work long hours, but he insisted on working fast ones. Chairs around the heavy desk in the first-floor office were packed with important people smoking and interrupting one another. It was a protocol nightmare, but more often than not, it got results. Of sorts. “I still don't see why we can't just clean up the borders.” Wilhelm said, rolling his eye. “This sounds like a nightmare to administer. We'd needs hundreds of consular staff.” Prince Albert cleared his throat. “I'm a bit surprised to find you advocate a simple solution over a clever one, but I'm afraid in this case complicated and clever is what we'll need. Russia is not like Alsace. The peoples of the empire are dotted all over the place – much more like Austria. After the last war, we ended up with just a small piece of French-speaking territory. Here, you'd have whole countries like that.” The emperor envisioned the idea and shuddered. “Well, all right. What I mean is, why not create real borders? Move the Poles to Poland, the Balts to Lithuania, the Jews to – I don't know, Jewland...” he trailed off. “They would hate you for all eternity.” Professor Naumann said, encouraged by the informality of the gathering to drop the formal title. “If that kind of policy were adopted, it would also need to extends to the German populations, and the Jews. Everything else would be blatantly unfair and deeply resented.” “We can't do that.” Foreign Minister von Bülow pointed out unnecessarily. “Anyway, we're getting to a good compromise with the Poles in Baden-Baden. There's no reason to think we can't extend it to other countries.” “They're agreeing?” Albert asked. “Well, in principle. The Polish state will include protections for minorities – their own schools and universities, official language status, established churches, that kind of thing. The Jews even insist on their own military units, so we'll probably give them that, too.” “Is that a good idea?” Wilhelm asked dubiously. “Not good for the Polish army.” Albert answered. “But for us, probably. They'll make good auxiliaries, and that way, the risk of the Poles ever attacking us is smaller yet.” “I admit I still don't like the whole clientage idea.” Naumann said. “Everybody will be looking for a protector. Germany will look after the German speakers, and presumably the Jews, too, they have nobody else. The Swedes will look after the Finns and the Finns will look after the Estonians and the Austrians after the Ruthenians, and in the end, politics are going to be a matter of negotiations between protecting powers. It'll be like Bethlehem all over again.” Bülow sighed. “Yes, we may have to do something about that. I suppose we should simply go the whole way and make Germany guaranteeing power for all those arrangements. It'll mean a lot of work, though. Hundreds of staff would only be the beginning.” “Still, it's probably the best you can do.” Naumann pointed out. “The new states of Central Europe are going to be weak institutionally and militarily. Supporting them is going to be in our interest. And this way, we can defuse the potential for conflict early.” Albert nodded pensively. “The economics are worth it, I suppose.” he said. “Absolutely.” Naumann asserted. “The customs union alone will ensure a market for German industry worth as much as the Dominions are to Britain.” Wilhelm shrugged. “All right, I'm convinced. Pity, though. At least we can get rid of the Russians.” Everyone around the table nodded at that. One of the most important topics at Baden-Baden was the eastern border of the new Polish state, and the delegation had pretty wild ideas. Nobody was going to do anything to protect the Russians living in these parts. Certainly not the German government. Marshal von der Goltz had serenely pointed out that the more territory the new states took, the more the Czar would want revenge and the more they would need German protection in the future. Nobody had disagreed, so the plan was to take what they could get away with. The way the Russians were crumbling, it looked increasingly as though that would be a lot. Bülow turned the pages in his folder and looked up. “Well, Your Majesty, if we have settled this, there is one more thing.” “Yes?” “The matter of citizenship. These Germans living in Russia and the Baltics...” the foreign minister looked rather sheepish. “What about them?” Wilhelm asked. “Well, it's not entirely clear whether they can be considered citizens.” he said. “That is a question we will have to address.” Prince Albert chuckled. “You want us to write a new citizenship law in the middle of the war?” he asked. “Actually,” the emperor interrupted, “that might not be the worst idea. Let's discuss it – day after tomorrow. Unless something else happens.” 27 October 1907, Batavia Our correspondent reports the departure from the naval port of HNLMS Konigin Wilhelmina, HNMLS Sumatra, HNLMS Groningen (formerly Pallada), HNLMS Drenthe (formerly Bogatyr), HNMLS Limburg (formerly Askold) and HNLMS Overijssel (formerly Novik) bound for Tsingtao. The vessels have been refitted and revictualled in Batavia after their surrender to the Dutch navy off the coast of German East Africa and will now meet up with the German China squadron consisting of SMS Sperber, SMS Habicht and the heavy cruiser SMS Dessauer. The Dutch admiralty has issued the following proclamation: Notice to Shipping Owing to the current state of war existing between the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Her Majesty's Government hereby declares the ports of the Russian Far East Province subject to blockade in accordance with the laws and usages of war at sea. Any neutral vessels attempting to enter the ports of Vladivostok or Nikolaevsk will be forced to turn back. Any Russian vessels found at sea will be engaged and captured or sunk. The intended close blockade would appear both feasible with the vessels thus available to the belligerent powers and potentially highly injurious to Russian trade. As of this date, no reaction has been had from the Japanese or Korean governments, nor from that of the United States of America, a power with a history of strong investment in open sea lanes in the Pacific Ocean. It would seem reasonable, however, to suppose that the specific nature of the proclamation, declaring a blockade of two named ports, is designed to mollify any concerns that President Roosevelt may have over the matter. With Russian naval strength in the Pacific reduced to torpedo boats and light cruisers, there is not to be expected a close contest of the seas in question. It is, however, telling of the mixed fortunes of the alliance today locked in battle with Russia that the prizes added to the Dutch fleet are becoming available for this duty towards the very end of the navigation season in northern waters. (Daily Telegraph) 27 October 1907, Dorpat To know a German is to sing with him. This is as true in the United States, where singing clubs have sprung up in towns from the Erie to the Columbia wherever men of the Teuton race settled, as it is in the country of their origin, and it is found to be true among the armed men today administering the Kaiser's overdue chastisement on Russia. Though it may seem strange to the reader that this would be a subject worthy of a column telegraphed at considerable expense across the Atlantic, it must be noted that it represents one of the more notable differences between taking the field with the United States Army and doing so with that of Germany. Americans, any observer will note in a matter of mere minutes, are great talkers and given to impromptu oratory on whatever subject the occasion may demand. The German, on the other hand, is prone to express his feelings in song much more than speech. Having, over the course of an eventful life, shared many a campfire with a great variety of men from all races and callings, your correspondent can testify that the German soldier is capable of great harmony and artistic expression. His songs, though often less melodically elaborated than those of the Latin nations, are full of soul and deeply felt emotion. Some, it must be admitted, are maudlin or childish, and seem little suited to the grim reality of the battlefront, but a man may well need to remind himself of the tender moments in a safe, homely and less heroic life he has left behind as he steels himself to meet the foe, rifle in hand. Picture, then, a battalion in occupation of a village, advancing into Russian land. It is a sad sight to a civilian, about as far removed of the popular imagination of triumphant soldiery as is possible. The men are tired to the bone, weary of long marches and the constant fear of enemy action, their uniforms begrimed with mud and worn through on the knees and elbows, often patched and barely reminiscent of their original blue-grey colour. Subsisting on rations of black bread, bacon and pease soup, generous helpings of coffee and precious, jealously guarded tobacco, often fed late or not at all when the wagons are delayed by accident or stopped by an enemy – that happens, too, even far into German–held lands – they crowd into the pitiful shelter that the retreating Russians have left behind. Churches, barns and huts were burned or dynamited to deny them succour, and often they lay themselves to rest amid the blackened rubble of half-standing walls or under the sagging roofs of barns with their front blown off by artillery shells. If they are lucky, a hot meal of thick, hearty soup may be served from one of the mobile kitchens that travel with the troops, but if, for any reason, this is held up, a collection of small kettles hung over a smouldering fire made in a ditch may provide all the sustenance they receive. Thankfully, this far from the battlefront the danger of being seen is not as great, and the terror of the hidden sniper is lifted from everyone's shoulders. Often at night, though, the flash and rumble of artillery on the eastern horizon witnesses the proximity of the greater horror unfolding around them. The men now sitting around a low campfire, having made their beds on heaps of straw and leaves under what shelter from the cold and rain they may obtain among the general ruination, will share cups of hot coffee and – whenever it can be procured – of liquor, for the German soldier is partial to this and not as given as the American to raucous overindulgence. Many of them will have carried a musical instrument in addition to the heavy load they are burdened with – a knapsack holding their spare clothes and boots, a cooking pot and canteen, blanket and tent half, rifle and bayonet, additional bullets, often well over two hundred per man, and the cumbersome hand grenades that the German army issues. More often than not, in these days of modern war, also a short spade, sometimes of an ingenious folding design, additional magazines for the company Madsen guns, or a respirator mask to protect from the effect of toxic gases. And yet they will take on the added load not only of a Jew's harp or a flute, but of a fiddle, an accordion, or a guitar, an instrument today enjoying great popularity in their country. For many hours of dusk and darkness – for night falls early in these latitudes – they cluster together and sing, earnestly and intently, not in the spirit of celebration or as a passive entertainment, but to while away the time and keep their skills and voices in training. Few are the men who have not received practice in civilian life, for singing is a common pastime in Germany's schools and clubs, and I have heard voices around the watchfires under Russian skies that would have done honour to many a provincial opera house in the Western states. The government and its agents have, of course, realised the import of this passion and are eager to foster it. In many regiments, men who carry the music are excused from the distribution of additional loads, and there are publishers who produce, in cheap paperback, songbooks in patriotic modes to keep up the men's morale. Neither has it been unknown for officers lacking the common touch to order of their men renditions of fiery tunes, and it must be said the strains of the Watch on the Rhine sound out of place in the silent birch copses of the Narva valley. The wide expanse of the country renders the Ruf wie Donnerhall a small and entirely human thing, and most men understand instinctively the kind of music suited to this world. Their mood is little given to braggart chauvinism, at any rate. The morale is not poor, though many have become tired of fighting and cynical of their chances to come out of it alive, but what prevails is a quiet determination to see through the fight to its inevitable end rather than the officially requested victory crow, and many take unkindly to those who presume upon their dedication for their own ends. 28 October 1907, Baden-Baden “How about Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern?” Adenauer quipped. “We were lucky with his father in Spain, after all.” “You're not helping!” exclaimed Minister von Bülow and collapsed into a chaiselongue. “It's not even funny.” He sipped his brandy. “All, right, maybe a little. But the last thing we need is another candidate.” The young secretary gestured at the wall covered with notes and sketches. “Who'd have thought finding a king would be so hard? I didn't figure anyone would want the job.” There they were, lined up in an orderly fashion: The Radziwill and Italian Poniatovski, the French and German Czartorysky, the Welf and Wettin and Wittelsbach and Sigmaringen – someone had thought of them, after all – and the junior Habsburgs. “It's not like we can just give the crown to anyone. Poland is one of the oldest monarchies in Europe, not some imaginary state like Romania or Greece.” Bülow explained redundantly. It was in fact even harder than that because the Poles had made it clear they were in no mood to accept whatever candidate the Germans gave them to boot. That had disappointed a number of German houses. The Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen were still in the running, though it was unlikely they would be accepted. The Italian Sobiesky could hardly be taken seriously, for all their claims to ancient royal blood, but they had let it be known they were interested. The Poles all but insisted on a Polish house, which had given them hope. The French Czartorysky had been vetoed by Bülow and the German ones by Pilsudski. Truth be told, Adam Czartorysky, for all his merits, seemed a better fit for the throne in Moscow than in Warsaw going by his political views, but he seemed to have friends in Poland itself. “What of Karl Stephan, then?” Adenauer asked. “The Austrians would love it. But we can't just give Poland to the Habsburgs after we've paid such a price for it. And he has been saying stupid things about governing Cisleithania as king.” The minister shrugged. “We'll have to keep him in mind. As to the rest – I suppose time must tell. First, let's have a state.” “You'd leave the government in the hands of some – regency council?” Adenauer asked. Bülow shrugged. “Worked for us.” 28 October 1907, Kronstadt Lieutenant Commander Alexei Mihailovich Shastny had learned hard lessons in suffering fools. His expertise had taken him to where he was now – commanding the minelaying flotilla that had been kept busy over the past few days rendering the approaches to the Gulf of Finland as inhospitable as possible to all enemy shipping. Mine warfare was not an exciting or romantic subject, but it required experience and technical skill, which explained why, with the surfeit of senior officers now assembled in Kronstadt lacking ships or fleets, a man of his seniority and connections would still command anything. The price was hardship of the kind that the officers of battleships or cruisers never knew, the hard, unceasing toil on tiny vessels, tossed by wind and wave, fingers stiff and frozen in the icy water and fierce gale, crowded in fetid decks and surrounded by loads of high explosive one error away from blowing you and everyone else on board to atoms. He loved it. But the long hours of the past week had shortened his fuse, or else he would not have criticised the Admiralty's orders as loudly as he had, or stormed out of the briefing as hurriedly to instruct his men. Lieutenants and ensigns, warrant and petty officers crowded around to hear the word from on high. Everybody was nervous, many terrified. The German navy had come to their shore, accompanied by their Swedish allies. Observers near Baltischport reported that SMS Heimdall and Odin were steaming in the second line, well away from the main body, no doubt carrying poison and death in their magazines as their sister ship had at Riga. For the last few days, nobody had slept more than three hours a night, working from well before dawn to long past dusk to prepare their feeble defenses. Wherever the blow would fall, the enemy could not ignore Kronstadt. “Orders!” he announced, more harshly than intended. His voice was quivering with barely suppressed rage. “The Admiralty of the Baltic Fleet has decided that the entire battlefleet is to prepare to sortie tomorrow. All ships to make full steam and meet the enemy with the aim to inflict maximal damage as early as possible. His Majesty is especially adamant all efforts be made to sink or destroy the Swedish vessel Rättvisan.” A murmur rose from the assembled men. Shock and anguish registered on many faces. “All vessels in the minelaying flotilla that can maintain a constant speed of twelve knots or above are to join the sortie. Transfer all remaining munitions onto those.” “Sir!” Lieutenant Shenyev objected. “We have all but expended our stock mining the approaches. And I don't think we can trust even the charts we made. A lot of the mines were set adrift as per orders. We would be the murderers of our own comrades!” “Shenyev, orders are orders.” Shastny interrupted. “Don't you think the admiral knows?” He had certainly pointed it out loudly enough. “The fleet is to blunt the enemy's thrust at sea. Prepare yourselves, and your vessels. Chaplain, if any men intend to receive last rites, please see to it.” He turned on his heel. This was insanity. He could not leave the men alone with these news. Any good officer knew that orders like these needed translating, the sailors shepherding into acceptance. But he could see no way to translate them. They would be sacrificed. Even if they managed to guide the battlefleet – or what remained of it, battlefleet was saying too much – through the poorly charted fields and swarms of drift mines they had laboured to lay for days on end, what would await them other than a holocaust at the hands of enemy gunners? As an officer, he could carry out his orders even if it meant death, even pointless death. But he found he did not have the heart to talk anyone into doing the same. He knew the risk – many sailors were unhappy, fearful of engaging the Germans again and angry with their commanders for leading their proud fleet to destruction. Morale was low, even among the officer corps. Many had resigned themselves to sitting out the war in port, expecting a peace to be signed almost daily, whatever the Russkaya Pravda might say. The commander knew he would need to cajole and plead with them, but he was tired. Tomorrow, he would go to die, but today, he could no longer be asked to lie. The door to the dockyard's office shut harshly behind him, separating him from the noisy throng outside. 28 October 1907, Kassel The rain at this time of the year was nasty, a mockery of the soft spring showers you welcomed in April. Thin, almost mistlike sheets sank down from the leaden grey skies, coating faces with a chill wetness that cut to the bone and ineluctably soaking through every layer of clothing, creeping up sleeves and trouser legs, seeping down collars. Wachtmeister Becker would have preferred to sit out the weather in the comfortable fug of a neighbourhood pub, the kind of place where the clientele was friendly and policemen drank free, even if you couldn't get decent coffee or proper beer any more. But these days, you had to be out in the streets. There weren't a lot of officers to go around any longer. Even men like him, well into his fifties, with aching knees and thinning hair, were on patrol in the rougher parts of town again. Which had left him out in the evening twilight, bearing down on a crowd of people engaged in theft, assisted by a loyal throng of three policemen. “Stop!” Becker shouted, doing his best to recall his drill sergeant voice. “Stop immediately!” Some of the figures crowding around the railcar looked up and turned around. Others kept at it, shovelling coal into buckets and baskets to carry away. One of them – a middle-aged woman from the looks of it – flashed an obscene gesture his way before resuming er looting with a will. “Stop and disperse, in the name of the king!” No reaction. Becker straightened himself, rain now running down his face no longer protected by the brim of his helmet. “Sabres out!”, he ordered. The blades flashed dully. Several of the looters now stopped, staring at the policemen. This was not how it was supposed to go. Most of them were women and children, ragged, disreputable-looking creatures from the tenements and cellars around the railyard. They usually avoided the police as assiduously as they did soap. “You are ordered to disperse in the name of...” A lump of coal struck Becker's sabre, raised in a gesture of command, and knocked the wind out of him. “We're freezing!” one of the women shouted. “Bugger off and leave us alone!” Becker shook his head to clear his thought. This was resisting state authorities, article 113. He'd have to arrest them over it. Or arrest some of them. Certainly arrest someone. Cursing under his breath, he fumbled for his handcuffs when a second missile landed in front of his feet. “Coal for the people, not for the capitalists!” a boy was yelling. Had he thrown the lump? Becker wasn't sure, but he knew his men would back him up if he said so, and that was close to treason! He rushed forward. “Leave off!” a woman shouted. The boy darted back into the crowd, and a volley of coal and stones met the advancing policemen. Becker shielded his face and flinched. To his left, Kollath gave a pained shout, holding a hand to his face. “Coal for the people!” another shout went up, and more lumps rained down on them. Becker felt a sharp blow to his helmet. The strap gave way, and it clattered to the cobbles. As he turned to retrieve it, a sharp impact caught him in the hip. He looked up in shock. Kollath was bleeding, Mohlendorp shielding his head with his hands, all falling back. He tried one more time: “In the name of the king!” More coal rained down around them, another heavy lump spanging off his weapon's hilt. He could see people leaning out of windows, cheering and taking up the shout: “Coal for the people! Coal!” A girl ducked out of an alleyway carrying an empty bucket. “Get away!” He ordered his men, breaking into an undignified run. “To the station!” Defiant shouts and laughter rang behind them. 29 October 1907, Gulf of Finland Bridge of SMS Karl der Große The signals that flashed through the morning mist failed to reassure Captain Souchon. “Waters in depth 5 miles cleared out to ten miles.”, the ensign read out from the code book. Things were going according to plan, so far. They had cheered when a hastily built mortar emplacement on the southern shore had gone up in the pre-dawn light. A raiding party of Swedish sailors, faces blackened and oars muffled, came rowing back to their squadron an hour later, worthy heirs to their Viking forefathers. In front of the main battlefleet, small ships were dancing the intricate ballet of minesweeping, trawlers in long rows pulling the heavy cables that cut anchors, requisitioned tugboats dragging the massive ploughs that – everyone hoped – would cut through the electric wires of passive charges. On board Bayern, Mecklenburg and Rättvisan, balloons had gone up in the hope of spotting drifting mines before they became a danger to the fleet. Observers in the freezing wind pressed spyglasses to their eyes trying to distinguish bits of driftwood and choppy whitecaps from lurking death., It was not a job he would want. “Flagship signals: Advance as ordered.” the lookout reported. Souchon grunted. “One quarter speed ahead!” he ordered. Ponderously, the battleship began moving. To the north, two more lines of warships resumed their advance, followed by a long tail of transports and support vessels. The captain waited tensely. Any minute now, he expected an explosion to tear through the deck, ripping his vessel in half. At this speed – and they could not dare go faster – they would take two days to reach Kronstadt, and many hours under its guns to close to a range from which they could hope to lay down accurate counterbattery fire. Even if Russian gunnery had not improved since the Battle of Rügen, this would be a costly proposition. If he was the Russian admiral, he'd anchor the battleships in the shadow of the island and plaster anything coming their way until the tubes wore out. Kronstadt dockyard The noise was still overwhelming. The energy latent in a tightly packed mass of people was enormous, far greater than they had thought possible. Kronstadt was boiling over like a kettle of milk unattended by a careless housewife. Chief Petty Officer Novikov was still in shock at how quickly the contagion had spread. By midnight, every man in the fleet had heard the orders to go to sea. At two in the morning, the stokers on several ships had put out the fires, locking themselves in the engine rooms to prevent anyone from raising steam. Some idiot ensign on Knyaz Suvorov had gone in shooting, and that had ended badly for him. The momentum of history had been pulling them along ever since. Sunrise found the naval fortress teeming with armed men, sailors and workers who Novikov and his comrades had let in to bolster the Party presence. At some level, they had expected something like this to happen – somewhere, eventually. That it was happening here and now still stunned them. “Where's the admiral?” Good question. Novikov shrugged, not sure who among the crowd of armed men had asked it. “We have to find him.” He had thought this would be easier. But at least there were party cadres here now, people who had some idea of what they were doing. “Find the admiral!” Novikov shouted at the top of his lungs. “Take all officers to the cathedral!” Others took up the call. Most of the mutineers were still running around aimlessly, gawking at the quarters that had been off limits, guzzling vodka or filling their pockets with the personal effects of the ruling class. But some were responsive. They were used to taking orders. He knew how it went: If you were confused and uncertain what to do with yourself, someone giving orders was a godsend. That was what vanguard party meant. “We have to hang them.” That was Trotsky. He had walked in with the first group of dockworkers, a revolver stuck in his pocket and a notebook in his hands. Novikov had never figured out how he had known. “Without a trial?” “Most of the men are soft.”, he said grimly. “We have to make sure they can't go back on today.” Novikov nodded. That made sense. “Find the officers!” he shouted again. “Take them to the cathedral!” A sailor came running down the dockyard road, hoping against hope to find someone to report to. He stopped in front of Novikov and Trotsky, assuming them to be some sort of authority. “Comrades!” he shouted. He must have picked it up from the party men. “What is it?” “The German fleet is coming.” Right. There was that. Novikov tilted his head nervously, trying to shake loose some clear thoughts. “Thank you. Come along, comrade. We need a steam launch.” he said. “And someone who speaks German.” “I do.” The young man beamed eagerly. “You do?” “I'm from Courland.” he reported. “I can translate for you.” Well, that settled that. Now he'd only have to figure out what he wanted to say and everything would be fine. Bridge of SMS Sachsen Admiral Ingenohl felt his whole body tense up with every metre the ship moved forward. Ahead, the boats of the mine clearing squadron carried out their intricate dance, at insane risk. They had lost nine boats in the course of the morning, blown to bits by unmoored mines, swamped, one pulled under by a stricken comrade. Every new blast struck him like a blow. The sea was roiling with the shockwaves of what had to have been hundreds of explosions, and even if the mines had originally been moored safely, this had to have dislodged some. Or some more. The first time you noticed these was when they opened up your hull like a sardine tin. Ahead, he could see the tiny figure of a navy sailor standing in the fantail of a tugboat, aiming his rifle at a bobbing shape in the water. Another column of white water rose to the sky. At this rate, they'd take till Christmas to clear their way to Kronstadt. “Explosion! Explosion in the north column!” The lookout sang out the next piece of bad news. Ingenohl rushed over to the port window, pressing the glass too his eyes. There it was, smoke and white foam still hanging over the low silhouette of a warship in the Swedish column. The hull settled heavily in the bubbling waters. Damn it! “Signal from Rättvisan: Manligheten is damaged, making water. Engines are out, Requests tug.”, the signaller read the rapid morse code flashing across. That made three. He hadn't lost three battleships in a day at Bornholm. Not at Heligoland. And now, the waters of the Gulf took them from his fleet almost contemptuously, striking at a defenseless prey. Kronstadt still lay ahead out of range. Not a single gun had been fired, but Bayern was limping home, listing, Heinrich I was under tow, no longer answering rudder, and now the Swedes had lost one of their coastal monitors. And the transports …. God, the transports! “If this goes on, we may have to reconsider our plans.” he said, desperately trying to sound calm. He flinched painfully as another cleared mine went up, tossing one of the tugboats around like a toy. After a few seconds, she righted herself and began turning to port. “Looks like the cable's parted, Sir.” Lieutenant Rader explained, needlessly. The boat was heading for the next buoy on the line. That would take more precious minutes. “All engines stop!”, the admiral ordered. Christ, what would be next? On board SS Roodborst “All right, let's go over this again.” Major van Hoel said. The assembled junior officers nodded obediently. “We're going ashore at Oranienbaum. Primary objective is securing the port facilities to unload more troops. Secondary is the railway line and any troop concentrations you may encounter.” He drew an imaginary line on the map. “Take out the cadet school – there shouldn't be many left in there, anyway. Then secure the town.” More nods. The ship swayed as the engine cut out again,. What were the Germans waiting for? This crawl was infuriating! “Remember, you have nobody coming after you. You can't leave the cleanup to the next guy along. Everybody unloading behind you is already headed for Peterhof and Gatchina. So make sure your men carry enough ammunition and grenades!” Captain Doorn caught his eye. “Sir?” he asked, “What about the German firethrowers?” “Anyone willing to carry one is welcome to them.” Van Hoel assured him. “But either way, make sure some of your men carry gasoline canisters. No shirking on those! Any house you get shot at from, throw one in the front door and a grenade after.” Doorn sucked his teeth. Carrying five litres of gasoline in an environment where bullets were flying was right below strapping himself to a pressurised cylinder of the stuff on the list of things he'd rather not do. He felt sure his men shared the sentiment. “Right, sir.” he said. “Everybody's going to be carrying a fair load, then.” “Can't be helped.” the major assured him. “I'd rather be tired and have a machine gun than be rested and need one I left behind, anyways.” That was a fair point. “And the second wave gets bicycles.” St Petersburg, Baltic Shore The sky was streaked with dark smudges across the red glow of the sunset. Colonel Victor Govoruchin stood looking out across the glittering sea, unable to tear his eyes away from the horror. Standing out black against the red sky, there lay Kronstadt, the mutinous fortress sheltering its traitor fleet at anchor. People were still passing back and forth, though they were doing their best to stop the traffic. Some officers of the Patriotic Union and the police had passed over and come back to report, and their stories were chilling. Chaos reigned still, the men disunited and uncertain what to do next, factions fighting over control, but all jittery and terrified, manning landward guns and looking for the Okhrana under every bed. The Reds had had their way, over some vocal protest, and hanged the admiral and all captains, though they had been forced to spare junior officers. Stories circulated of loyal sailors throwing themselves at the hangman, crying, threatening violence, in one case bodily absconding with a prisoner. There would be a bloody reckoning for this. Govoruchin remembered the gallows of 1906. They would seem like the milk of kindness compared to what was coming. Behind the island, still too far out to see in any detail, columns of black smoke betrayed the presence of the German fleet. They had crept up the Gulf slowly, but inexorably, losing ships, but never turning back. Now, they lay within range of Kronstadt, hove to and at anchor, behind a barrier of drift nets. They had spared the fortress, using their guns only shortly to plaster the beaches at Oranienbaum, where they had landed an advance party. No doubt these troops would be moving east along the coast tomorrow. The orange glow of fires raging through the coastal town showed that their handiwork was done for the day. Clattering through the streets, men of the Union's 1st 'Bogatyr' Brigade were bringing up field guns to position along the embankment. Volunteers had broken up the pavement to dig gun pits, slit trenches and ammunition dumps. Telegrams had assured them that the heavy guns of Schlüsselburg were on their way. Mortars, half finished, from the Putilov works joined them, dragged into place on rollers. If they were to lose the city, they would. But the enemy would not have it cheaply. On Board T 21 Karl Frohme felt nauseous and terrified. Hustled out of his hotel room by a naval lieutenant by turns overbearing and deferential, he had spent the day rushed away from a tedious round of mediating wage negotiations onto a waiting express train that had taken him and his companion through the war-torn hellscapes of Königsberg and Insterburg, past guarded railyards and delayed supply trains to Memel, where he had been driven through the ruined city, horses in full career, to step aboard a torpedo boat All the while, Lieutenant Gebhart had tried his level best to fill him in, but it was only the hectically handwritten report and telegraphed dossiers he had been given on the ship that apprised him of the full gravity of the situation. The Russian Baltic fleet was in revolt! Squeezed into a tiny cabin opposite Gebhart, afraid to stand or shift for fear of being tossed about by the wildly pitching hull and unnerved by the thudding beat of the screw at full speed and the howl of the turbine – a terrifying noise even to experienced sailors unused to it – he tried to order his thoughts. “The man who contacted us is known to our intelligence services.” he said. “Alexander Novikov. A Bolshevik.” The deputy adjusted his glasses and looked up at the lieutenant. “From what I read here, this mutiny seems to be led by Bolsheviks. Are you sure you have the right man to negotiate with them?” Gebhart looked confused. “I'm sorry, Sir. I was given orders to … you were the nearest Socialist available of any political seniority. And they are Socialists so the admiralty thought.,..” “Well, lieutenant, I cannot promise you much here. You see, bolsheviks, that is, Lenininsts....” Frohme sighed heavily. What was the point in burdening this kid with the intricacies of party politics. “Let's just say we don't agree. I'll try my best to handle them, to be sure. Just don't expect any miracles.” “I don't, Sir.“ Gebhart seemed intimidated by the amount of jargon. In his world, a Socialist was something lurking in dark alleyways of port cities, and a Leninist might as well inhabit a distant island eating shipwrecked sailors. “But we need to start the talks immediately. You have a generous remit.” Frohme scanned the page of instructions wired from Berlin. Negotiating a surrender with military honours – they wouldn't – safe conduct, retaining guns, these people were thinking in military terms. The sailors at Kronstadt would not accept any of that. Novikov had written some half-baked stuff about neutralisation of a the free sailors' and workers' council as a revolutionary republic. In plain terms, he didn't want to be shot at, but how could you make a Berlin diplomat understand the situation on terms he was familiar with? Negotiate some kind of latter-day Tauroggen convention. Except with angry sailors instead of Prussian guards officers. But that, at least, he had some experience with. He swallowed hard, teeth clicking as the ship slammed into a particularly tall wave. Bridge of SMS Sachsen Night watch was tense, even behind the protective barriers of torpedo netting and outpost boats they had thrown up around the fleet. With so many civilian ships involved, there was no way they could forgo position lights. The sea was dotted with twinkling lanterns, some bobbing, some swaying majestically. Occasionally, morse code flickered between the vessels: requests to confirm orders, questions about things that had gone out days before. Merchanters … What could you do? Commander Back shrugged and turned away when he caught the flash in the corner of his eye. Seconds later, the rumble of the blast reached the bridge and sirens began blaring. Seachlights flashed on, sailors scrambling for battle stations, and a signaller shouted reports down, barely audible over the din: “SS Minnesota reports that SS Galveston has drifted into a mine. They say the screen is leaking!” Leaking? Well, fuck, that was no fun at all. “Request outpost boats to clarify!” Back ordered. “Lieutenant Schrader, prepare to man steam launches. It looks like we'll have to go looking for drift mines again.” He hoped that covered all angles. The admiral would be up in no time at all. The din of sirens and whistles subsided, and he felt half sure he could see the muzzle flashes of rifles on the northern line of merchanters. Shooting at imaginary mines, no doubt, and with debris and probably survivors in the water! “Signal to command north. … scratch that, all points! Cease fire immediately!” He would have to put men into that madness, and he'd much rather not lose them to the bullets of nervous merchant seamen or seasick footsoldiers. The signaller's mate stuck his head back through the hatch. “SS Minnesota reports mines spotted. The captain says he's taking evasive action!” WHAT?! Back felt sure he had screamed it. “Signal, now! All ships to hold position, no maneuvering, repeat, no maneuvering!” For God's sake, they were going to kill each other. He could see the order flashing out, a reply, or just chatter flitting back and forth. It was almost as though you could taste the fear spreading through the line of merchanters, screws churning reflecting white wakes as they made for a turn to port. Ingenohl reached the bridge. “Report!” “A transport caught a drift mine, Sir. One convoy captain claims our screen is not effective. I've sent request for clarification. No report from the sweepers yet. SS Galveston looks lost, I'm despatching boats to pick up survivors. SS Minnesota has signalled they are trying to evade mines, I've ordered them to cease fire and stop engines.” Back swallowed hard. “They're not obeying.” “Signal again!” Ingenohl ordered, straining to see anything. His eyes were still adjusting to the darkness, and the searchlights were spoiling everybody's night vision. “Tell them their cruiser escort are to fire on any ship that is still making way!” A steam whistle was blaring out a collision alert, some merchanter noticing – something – ahead in the night. The seas were so crowded with hulls you might as well be navigating the port of Hamburg in the middle of the night. Wakes were becoming distinguishable now, turning north and west. They had to get tangled with the torpedo netting soon. Another report from signals: “Sweeper group north reports two nets detached from buoys. No mines spotted. SS Katharina Laeisz has signalled claiming they saw a Russian minelayer inside the cordon and is requesting assistance. Signals from SS Minnesota – I think they are trying to assemble their section into marching order. TBZ 3 is trying to intercept. They....” The next explosion cut him short. Two columns of white water reflecting the searchlights were horribly visible to everyone. Some unlucky ship had found another mine. Ingenohl muttered a vile curse. “This has got to stop, now.” he said. “Order to all escorting ships,. Any transport making way will be boarded. Failing that, fired upon.” A third explosion from outside the cordon, where several merchanters were now running. Back thought he could see the stabbing flash of machine gun fire. They had put those on some of the transports to repel small craft and support landing operations. The crew must have figured they'd do against mines. Ingenohl squeezed the railing, knuckles white, his face bloodlessly pale. In the short intervals of silence when no sirens or whistles sounded, rifle shots and screams were drifting across the dark water. Oranienbaum, beachmaster's encampment Major van Hoel dropped heavily into a liberated armchair and looked out over the water. Mariniers and sailors were still bringing in men and equipment over the jetties now shrouded almost completely in darkness, barely illuminated by the ships' lights. Boats disgorged infantry along the beach, manhandling heavy packs and bicycles. This was more than a little dangerous – they might lose more men now than the Russian defenders had killed if just a few of those boats capsized or ran into each other. So far, things were going as planned. The din in the German fleet to the north-west had stopped, too. Whatever had happened there had been resolved without the big guns, so it couldn't have been the Russian fleet changing its mind. “How's it going?” Lieutenant Commander Meulenwart stepped up, a tattered sheaf of papers in his hands. Van Hoel shot him a lopsided grin. “We secured the cadet institute. Not much left of it, I regret to say.” He rubbed ineffectually at sootstains on his uniform. “Left a guardpost there and came back for resupply. The second wave is inland now, and....” He paused. On the horizon to the south, a green rocket went up, followed immediately by a second green, then red. The major smiled grimly. “Right, that's the railway line cut. The Germans are going to have fun on the Narva front about now, I'd guess.” 30 October 1907, Gulf of Finland Wardroom of SMS Sachsen The admiral looked terrible, pale, sleep-deprived and shaken. Of course, Representative Frohme was not sure he looked any better himself after his night ride to Kronstadt. But he had come back with something tangible. That journey had been memorable in its own way, the steam launch picking its way between debris and the floating corpses of horses and – he thought – men littering the waters. Something very bad had happened at night, he was told. The sailors wouldn't say more. “Neutralisation?” Ingenohl asked when presented with the draft agreement, scribbled on the back of a Russian propaganda poster. “What does that even mean?” “I'm not entirely sure myself, legally speaking.” Frohme replied, “But basically, that the garrison and fleet at Kronstadt agree not to take any kind of action against us or interfere with our operations in any way.” He cleared his throat. “They are not going to ally themselves with Germany. And they are not willing to surrender. But this is as far as they are willing to go.” The admiral shook his head. What was the point of that? What good was a navy if it could choose to neutralise itself at the onset of danger? He wondered under what circumstances his own men might be willing to do the same. It was hard to see. “All right. How do we know if they change their mind?” Frohme nodded. He had considered the same. “They agreed to a two-day notice period if either party wishes to end this agreement. But more to the point, we will be able to anchor Heimdall and Odin in the roadstead. The presence of their guns should ensure compliance.” That was good. Ingenohl was still wary, but with that kind of leverage, he would consider treating the fortress as a neutral player. “Is there any way we can ensure no preparations are made for an attack?” he asked. Frohme pondered that. “The sailors' council had no objections to the presence of German sailors ashore, within measure.” he pointed out. “But I would advise against it.” “You think they would be in danger?” The representative thought back to his visit. Danger was probably not the correct term. Confusion, disorientation, maybe even demoralisation, perhaps. But misunderstandings could escalate in an atmosphere as fraught as the one prevailing in Kronstadt. Best not to stir the pot. “Possibly. They would certainly pose a problem, unless they spoke good Russian.” The admiral nodded. “Good, then. Thank you, Mr Frohme. I will trust the agreement you made and refrain from reducing the fortress. Let us put this fleet into the lion's den.” St Petersburg, railway line from Schlüsselburg The flask of tea was almost torn from Ensign Stoyanov's hand as the train slowed brutally. Cursing, he clung to the window handle and staggered, struggling to remain standing. What on earth was the engineer thinking? They had to get the guns to the city! Cursing as vitriolically as his youthful innocence permitted, the ensign made his way forward. The whistle shrilled, echoing from the buildings on both sides of the canal. Steam billowed from the locomotive, shrouding the throng of people coming towards them. Stoyanov bit his lip, but forced himself to go forward, climbing up the service ladder to get past the tender to the engineer's compartment. “Why have you stopped?” he shouted. “We must keep going!” The engineer shrugged and pointed forward. People were streaming past them now, pouring across the railway bridge ahead. Men, women and children carrying bundles or suitcases, some dragging handcarts, others pushing perambulators piled with boxes and sacks. They were already shouting and jostling as they struggled to cross. Someone fell over the side and disappeared into the cold water with a very final-sounding splash. They had met evacuees farther up the road already, but nothing like this. Stoyanov climbed off the locomotive and walked forward, revolver drawn, addressing the crowd. “Clear the bridge!” he ordered. “Clear the bridge for a military transport! We are bringing guns to defend the city!” Nobody reacted. People close to him seemed to purposely avoid his gaze, keeping their eyes focused on the ground, shuffling forward at a deliberate pace hoping somehow not to stand out, not to draw attention. Uncertain what to do, the ensign turned back to the train, barking orders. Six artillerymen disembarked and formed a chain across the rails, moving forward slowly, rifles held in front of them. Stoyanov walked alongside, ordering again “Clear the bridge! Clear the bridge!” For a moment, it seemed to work. People moved aside, stumbling down the sides of the embankment. The rumble of artillery from the shore already filled the air here, and every time another salvo thundered, the crowd's pace increased briefly. Behind them, the train advanced at walking speed. Slowly, the distance to the bridge closed. Then, a noise like tearing canvas filled the air. The impact was almost visceral, shredding nerves, an immediacy of terror the ensign had never expected to feel. Over the roofs of the houses ahead, a column of fire rose into the sky. The detonation arrived moments later, shattering windowpanes and eardrums. Screams rose, inaudible to the deafened soldier, as the crowd surged forward, abandoning any semblance of order. So this, Stoyanov thought with an odd detachment, was what 30-cm shells sounded like. The Germans had to be shooting well inside their maximum range if they were going for the field guns emplaced along the shore. He noticed that he was kneeling and found it nearly impossible to lever himself back to his feet, the knees refusing to obey his will. His men had taken cover, instinctively, with the certainty honed by service in the trenches of East Prussia, at the first sound of incoming fire. The ensign shook his head and walked into the stream of people, firing his revolver into the air. “In the name of the Czar, clear the bridge!” he yelled. An elderly man grabbed his arm, pulling down the gun, and shouted back. He could hardly make out the words: “Run, you idiot! The Germans are coming!” The second time the sky fell, a house near the canal opened up like a red flower, blown to pieces in a direct hit that came in through the roof. Stoyanov staggered back to the locomotive and gestured for the engineer to drive forward. The compartment was empty. Carefully, the young officer holstered his revolver and worked the steam whistle, warning the crowd ahead of his intentions. The guns had to come through! Heavy fortress artillery, useless now at Schlüsselburg, but it could still turn the tide of battle here. A wall of fire would prevent the German fleet from approaching the shore. There was no reaction. People were still pushing and jostling across, abandoning luggage and - bundles. He told himself they had to be bundles. He'd be driving over them. Which was the lever to engage the pistons? The first attempt got a response from the engine, and the slow advance resumed. He sounded his whistle again. Then, to drive home the point, he leaned out of the door, once more firing his pistol. “Clear the damned bridge!” he yelled. “Anyone blocking the bridge is a traitor to Russia!” People moved aside, pushing and shoving, jostling for space. Some fell, or jumped, into the canal. The locomotive shuddered as it crushed the flotsam of evacuation under its wheels. The steady stream from the other side of the bridge did not stop or even slow. Stoyanov was horrified. What were these people doing? Did they have no sense of self-preservation? With a sudden jolt, the engine stopped, steam blowing off in a giant plume. The engineer was back, working the emergency brake and shouting incoherently. Stoyanov grabbed his arm, trying to stop him. “Traitor!” he yelled, “Coward! The guns must get through!” He was not sure whether it was the artless, desperate swing the engineer aimed at his head that laid him low of the blast from the next impact. Sitting up outside the engine, its boiler bleeding steam and water, his tunic spattered with the man's blood and brains, Ensign Stoyanov stared helplessly at the unforgiving October sky. He was crying. People still ran past silently on all sides, stumbling over him. Her felt his hands shaking as he tried to unfold a handkerchief and clean himself up. Ahead, the German fleet continued its merciless bombardment. No guns would be reaching the defenders on this line.