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Thursday, October 17th 2019, 4:08am

Unternehmen Mondscheinsonate

Light Cruiser Nürnberg, The North Atlantic, Saturday, 25 June 1949

Kapitän zur See Wilhelm Rollman checked the charts, which put them at 47° north, 45° west, some three hundred fifty nautical miles east of the destination, St. Johan in Vinland.

“Slow to ten knots. We do not wish to run into any fishing vessels. Signal the Leipzig to conform.”

The two German cruisers had reached the rich fishing grounds known as Flemish Cap – the outrider of the Grand Banks of Vinland. Here would be trawlers, seiners, drifters, and whalers from many nations – not only Nordmark but from America, Canada, Britain, Iberia, Atlantia, France, and even Germany. Rollman ordered the dradis watches to be maintained and posted extra lookouts, for experience showed that small fishing craft sometimes disappeared the horizon of electronic detection gear.

“Herr Kapitän, the latest weather report from Roter Löwe.” The yeoman handed off the message.

The inspection ship Roter Löwe was on station in these waters, monitoring the weather, providing general assistance to the array of fishing vessels in the area, and, most importantly, tracking the movements of icebergs.

At their current speed Rollman expected to reach their destination in about thirty-six hours; a message the previous day had advised the consulate in St. Johan of their needs and he hoped that the Etappendienst had made suitable arrangements.


Friday, October 18th 2019, 6:20pm

St. Johan, Vinland, Monday, 27 June 1949

The Nürnberg and Leipzig had made port late that morning, the last hours of their voyage made under the watchful eyes of maritime reconnaissance aircraft of the Royal Canadian Air Force – something to be expected. Some fifty nautical miles east of Vinland they had been met by a guard-boat of the Royal Nordish Navy which escorted them into the harbour. Once anchored Rollman and Neuss paid the obligatory calls on the captain of the port and other Nordish officials and were officially welcomed. Having followed the custom of navies for generation, the cruisers could now be re-provisioned, taking on fresh water and food to top off their store-rooms – the supplies arranged through the Etappendienst and the local consulate. Refuelling would wait until the morrow.

The crew would have the opportunity for liberty ashore – though summer the regular rains and fogs of Vinland would limit what acceptable diversions would be available. Football, at least, would give the men a chance to pit themselves against the crews of the Nordish navy vessels assigned to St. Jan’s, or against their shipmates. Their mission left their stay in St. Johan to their discretion – though it was very unlikely that the Admiralstab would countenance a stay until the Royal Regatta scheduled for August.


Friday, October 18th 2019, 6:35pm

Was meaning to note earlier - I think the Nords actually call the town St. Johan, not St. Jan. That's always been the name I use, fwiw.


Friday, October 18th 2019, 8:26pm

Was meaning to note earlier - I think the Nords actually call the town St. Johan, not St. Jan. That's always been the name I use, fwiw.

The Big Ass Map is silent, so I will trust to your memory. I can fix this.


Saturday, October 26th 2019, 7:20pm

St. Johan, Vinland, Thursday, 30 June 1949

The Nürnberg and Leipzig departed St. Johan’s following an abbreviated stay – a signal from the Admiralstab ‘suggesting’ that the cruisers visit New York City in time for the celebrations there of American independence. Any disappointment was tempered with word that they would be joined at a future date by several other vessels, in anticipation of which Kapitän Rollmann, as the senior officer, would be frocked as Kommodore of the soon to be enlarged squadron. Rollmann’s elation was tempered by knowledge that the promotion was temporary, but when the cruisers stood out into the Atlantic a fresh broad pendant streamed proudly from Nürnberg’s masthead.


Saturday, November 2nd 2019, 9:30pm

Above the North Sea, Friday, 1 July 1949

The Fokker T.X-M of the Dutch Marine Luchtvaart Dienst jockeyed for position with its Belgian counterpart as the two aircraft sought to track the three German vessels as they crossed the Broad Fourteens on a west-southwesterly course.

The big fat tanker was unmistakable, its escorts less so. Eventually the Belgian aircraft took the bull by the horns and made a low-level pass to obtain a good oblique view that confirmed the smaller vessels as a pair of Amazone-class antisubmarine corvettes.

“I wonder where they are going?”

German vessels heading out into the Atlantic usually took the northern route, entering between Scotland, the Faeroe Islands, and Norway; but little more than a week before a pair of big light cruisers had taken this same course. News reports had indicated these vessels had crossed the ocean to Vinland.

“Our job is just to track them and not upset the Royal Air Force by straying into air space they consider their own.”

Below the aircraft the corvettes Thetis and Medusa shepherded the tanker Altmark as the trio plodded along at a steady fifteen knots. Aboard them lookouts practiced keeping watch on the aircraft, slightly amused by the ‘air show’ being put on for their benefit. Bets were being laid on when British aircraft might join, or, alternatively, which of the competing Fokkers would depart first. The weather was clear, the seas relatively calm, and all hands had been brief on their mission – supporting the Detachierte Division in North American waters.


Saturday, November 9th 2019, 6:29pm

Light Cruiser Nürnberg, The New York Bight, Sunday, 3 July 1949

The Nürnberg and Leipzig had cruised south from St. Johan at a safe and leisurely pace; the amount of coastal ship traffic demanded care and constant vigilance. A hundred miles east of Cape Cod the German vessels had been met by the United States Coast Guard cutter Duane, their appointed escort. Her presence was valuable, if only to maintain a semblance of control over the many sight-seeing aircraft that overflew the ships as they rounded Nantucket Island and the summer vacation resort of Martha’s Vineyard. Off Montauk Island the Duane had been relieved by the cutter Spencer, which expended considerable effort in chivvying the many pleasure boats whose passengers gawked at the European visitors.

As the cruisers with their escort approached the Outer Narrows they did so under the watchful camera eye of a Goodyear blimp, the newsreel footage of their arrival soon to be splashed over cinema screens across the United States. Kommodore Rollmann ordered the cruisers to heave to while awaiting a change of the tide and the arrival of pilots to guide the ships to their final anchorage; their pause concluded, they exchanged salutes with Fort Hamilton to starboard and with Fort Wadsworth to port as they entered Gravesend Bay, where they dropped anchor.

While Rollman and his officers prepared for the inevitable round of courtesy calls on both naval and civil authorities, their crews were looking forward to the delights of the great city.


Tuesday, November 12th 2019, 6:06pm

The Tanker Altmark, The North Atlantic, Tuesday, 5 July 1949

Four days ago the Altmark and her escorts had passed the Straits of Dover; the aerial circus provided by the Rosbifs and their French allies had continued the entire time they traversed the narrow seas, and as they had passed Land's End a British sloop had joined them, keeping a polite distance, until they had sailed well west of Ireland. For the moment though, the flotilla was alone, engaged in refueling.

They motored at a leisurely twelve knots, the Medusa off the Altmark’s starboard beam, the Thetis to port, lines stretching from the tanker to the corvettes while fuel was pumped to the small craft. For all it was good practice – even if the Atlantic swells kept the hands alert for the possibility of mishap. In a few days they would reach the American port of Norfolk, in Virginia, where they anticipated rendezvousing with the cruisers Nürnberg and Leipzig.


Friday, November 15th 2019, 6:46pm

Light Cruiser Nürnberg, The Narrows, Saturday, 9 July 1949

Kommodore Rollman reluctantly departed New York City to lead his cruisers towards their next destination. They had enjoyed the hospitality of the city, its large and vibrant German-American community, and added their own small contribution to the celebration of American independence. They had entertained a number of American naval and military officers, as well as civic dignitaries, aboard the Nürnberg and the Leipzig, and receiving from Mayor William O'Dwyer the ceremonial keys to the city.

Once clear of the main shipping channels that led into the busy port, Rollman ordered a course change to the south-southeast, standing out away from the coast. He had been ordered to rendezvous with the tanker Altmark and her consorts, which were to be attached to his command for the duration of their stay in the western hemisphere.

A day’s easy steaming brought the cruisers to the appointed area, approximately a hundred miles east of Cape May, where they met their compatriots – the tanker and her escorting corvettes Thetis and Medusa. Together they now sailed southwest back towards the American coast and their next port of call.


Wednesday, November 20th 2019, 7:35pm

The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk), Wednesday, 13 July 1949

The visit of the German Navy’s Detached Division to our waters is considered by many to be the highlight of this summer season. At the invitation of Commodore Wilhelm Rollmann the ships have been open to the public for tours and exhibitions, which have been well attended not only by personnel from the naval station but by our local citizens as well. The warships, two cruisers and two small escort vessels, are among the newest additions to the German Navy, and make an excellent showing against our Navy’s counterparts.

Commodore Rollmann is no stranger to our waters; he was among the crew of the cruiser Kiel when it visited in the autumn of 1940. A surface warfare officer of wide experience, Commodore Rollmann previously served as executive officer on the battleship Bismarck before taking command of the Nuremburg upon its completion early this year. The cruiser Leipzig is under the command of Captain Helmut Neuss, another experienced officer, formerly in command of the destroyer Detmold.

It is expected that following the departure of the German squadron on Friday it will cruise the Caribbean on an extended good-will cruise.


Thursday, November 28th 2019, 7:45pm

Bahía de Guantánamo, Cuba, Thursday, 21 July 1949

Rollmann’s flotilla had departed Norfolk five days before, sailing south off the coast of North America and passing east of the Turks and Caicos Islands before turning east towards their next destination. They had reached the Windward Passage the previous day and now anchored in the Bahía de Guantánamo. The anchorage was excellent, and even though the Iberians had not developed a significant naval presence in the area a small Iberian guarda-costa was anchored nearby, a reminder of their host’s solicitous care.

Here, under the tropical sun, the crews of his ships could enjoy liberty ashore without many of the distractions that too often led sailors into trouble. Hicacal and Conde Beaches offered space for swimming, games, and simple lounging in the sun. The sleepy town of Caimanera offered small cantinas and churrascarias where one might buy an inexpensive meal to vary the monotony of shipboard rations. Since the ship was commissioned more than six months before it was the first opportunity for his men to relax.


Thursday, December 5th 2019, 7:13pm

Light Cruiser Nürnberg, The Caribbean Sea, Thursday, 28 July 1949

The Detached Division had made the most of a week’s visit to salubrious Guantanamo Bay. The men were rested, refreshed by excursions and amusements ashore, and maintenance aboard the ships carried out with lighter hearts. The squadron now sailed into the Caribbean proper, their course set for the French bastion of Martinique.

Kommodore Rollmann was in his day cabin when a knock at the door announced the arrival of two junior officers summoned for a special purpose. Oberleutnant zur See Uwe Ronneburger and Leutnant zur See Hans-Dieter Brunowsky had been detailed to Rollmann’’s staff to coordinate the gathering of information during the course of the squadron’s cruise. Having completed their visit to Cuba, it was time for these two to get down to work.

“Gentlemen, I want you to prepare an assessment of the value of Bahía de Guantánamo as a forward naval operating base, it advantages and its disadvantages.”

Both nodded and acknowledged the order. Brunowsky did have a question, “Do we presume that the natives are friendly?”

Rollmann frowned. He was disappointed by Brunowsky’s reference to the Iberians as ‘natives’. “Confine your considerations to the facts, rather than opinions. This is to be a Winterübung to test your abilities to prepare studies worthy of consideration by the Admiralstab. Dismiss.”


Wednesday, December 11th 2019, 4:17pm

Light Cruiser Nürnberg, The Caribbean Sea, Saturday, 30 July 1949

Navassa Island, at 18 degrees, 25 minutes North, 75 degrees, 2 minutes West, was a historical anomaly. Claimed by the United States under its Guano Islands Act in the mid-Nineteenth Century it had been uninhabited for more than fifty years. The guano deposits had been mined by workers driven to mutiny until abandoned at the outbreak of the Iberian-American War, and save for the passing fisherman, had seen no visitors since.

Rollmann had taken the opportunity to send a small party ashore to make a quick survey to confirm or update the information that could be gleaned from the record. The former settlement of Lulu Town had decayed to a nearly unrecognizable collection of debris. The island itself was an undulating coral and limestone plateau, ringed by vertical white cliffs some nine to fifteen metres high. The exposed rocks were pock-marked by numerous sinkholes, but there was sufficient grassland to support herds of feral goats – survivors of animals brought to feed the miners decades ago, and dense stands of fig trees – another reminder of former human occupation.

The small size of the island, its exposed position, and lack of any safe anchorage precluded any consideration of it as a potential operating base. Rollmann directed Ronneburger and Brunowsky to merely footnote it in their study.


Saturday, December 21st 2019, 7:08pm

Charlotte Amalie, The Danish Antilles, Wednesday, 3 August 1949

Rollmann’s orders had given him discretion regarding ports of call, and he had chosen to visit the Danish possession of St. Thomas before continuing their formal itinerary. A part of the Detached Division’s mission was to show the German flag in these waters, a reminder that Germany had interests in the region that it would defend, and allies that it would and could support. Yet anchored in the quiet Danish harbour the four German warships lazed under awnings while tropical breezes offered shelter from the sun to those of their crews not afforded liberty ashore. The tanker Altmark had been detached, sailing to the Atlantean island of Aruba to take on a load of fuel oil from the refineries there.

St. Thomas struck Rollmann, and many of his crew, as a bit of Europe in the tropics. The architecture reminded one of the Danish homeland or the northern parts of Germany from whence many of the crew came. Even the language was familiar enough – and thanks to the long acquaintance of the islanders with visiting German merchantmen, passable German was spoken in those venues where it was required. This same knowledge of the islands, the harbour, and the resources made the task of Ronneburger and Brunowsky rather easy; here they could take their leisure and not need to study industriously.

For himself, Rollmann rather wistfully thought of the alternative opportunities that might have opened had the great Bismarck taken the Danish offer of its Caribbean colony rather than prising Schleswig from them after the Deutsch-Dänischer Krieg. A foothold in the Americas at the foundation of the old Empire might have totally changed history.


Wednesday, January 1st 2020, 6:23pm

Light Cruiser Nürnberg, Martinique, Saturday, 6 August 1949

The ships of the Detached Division lay anchored under the guns of Fort Saint Louis, their presence duly welcomed by their allies. Rollmann was fully aware that here his real task would begin – to exercise with units of the French and Atlantean navies in these warm tropical waters. For the moment though his ships were taking advantage of a stay in a proper naval port to make good minor deficiencies, carry out repairs, and reprovision. The tanker Altmark was due to arrive from Aruba in the next day or two, at which time they would get down to real business.


Wednesday, January 22nd 2020, 6:23pm

French Cruiser Duguay-Trouin, The North Atlantic, Wednesday, 10 August 1949

The prospect of continuing operational training in the warm waters of the Caribbean, opposed to those of the North Atlantic, carried with it certain attractions. This, Capitaine de vaisseau Hugo Saint-Amant could not deny. The Duguay-Trouin had left the shipyards not many months before, and her crew still needed knitting together, and so Saint-Amant had welcomed the orders that sent him, together with the cruiser Amiral Charner, to the West Indies to a series of exercises to be held with ships of the Grand Alliance – not only Atlantean and Colombian vessels, but elements of the German Kriegsmarine and the Armada de Chile. On their present course and speed they would reach Martinique in less than ten days easy sailing.

Light Cruiser Nürnberg, Martinique, Saturday, 13 August 1949

The ships of the Detachierte Division had spent the last week engaged in local exercises with the resident French forces - the Thetis accompanying the French frigate Sans Peur on her patrols northward, visiting the islands of Saint Barthélemy and Guadeloupe. Cables from the Admiralstab had apprised Rollmann that two French heavy cruisers were on their way to join him, and that the combined squadron would then proceed to the Gulf of Paria for a series of exercises with the Atlantean and other allied navies. This prospect he found most challenging. He ordered all ships to make preparations and to identify and repair any shortcomings that might adversely affect performance in the forthcoming maneuvers.


Tuesday, January 28th 2020, 3:37am

Light Cruiser Nürnberg, Martinique, Thursday, 18 August 1949

Kommodore Rollmann was not unduly surprised when his hosts advised him that a small British flotilla was due to call at Martinique for a courtesy visit. That the sloops Ben Vorlich and Ben Macdhui, normally stationed at Barbados, might stop at the French naval base before sailing onward to Dominica, Antigua, and the other British possessions in the Leeward Islands was entirely plausible and – most likely – in no way untoward. Doubtless the British were interested enough in his ships' presence in this part of the world, but Rollmann doubted that the visit presaged any significant action on the part of the British Admiralty. Upon their arrival all traditional salutes and courtesies were exchanged, with visits from the German cruisers and the French authorities ashore to the British sloops made in good humour. The visiting flotilla was expected to depart Friday afternoon; this pleased Rollmann, as the French cruisers Duguay-Trouin and Amiral Charner were anticipated to arrive the following day.


Sunday, February 2nd 2020, 9:52pm

H.M. Consulate Fort-de-France, Martinique, Sunday, 21 August 1949

The honourable Malcolm James Scott, His Britannic Majesty’s consul-general in Martinique, was noted for his imperturbability in the face of the unexpected. He had taken the arrival of the German naval task force at face value, it being highly unlikely that the two cruisers and their consorts were up to anything more than showing the flag. The arrival of two French cruisers the previous afternoon though stretched his sangfroid to the limit.

He exercised his local contacts to the limit, and according to their reports, the Franco-German force was due to engage in a series of exercises with the Atlantean allies – one even suggested the Gulf of Paria as the likely area where these evolutions would occur. This intelligence eased him mind somewhat; it was plausible enough, and would take the cruisers far off the shipping lanes normally taken by vessels linking the islands with the home country. As he composed a cable to the Foreign Office in London he strove to keep his comments factual and his speculations to a minimum.


Monday, February 3rd 2020, 12:39am

One even suggested the Gulf of Paria as the likely area where these evolutions would occur.

A very reasonable assertion, since FAR naval vessels have been using the Gulf of Paria for exercises for close on twelve years, now. A year ago, they even hosted a large contingent of the Russian Northern Fleet. :)


Tuesday, February 4th 2020, 9:55am

I don't think the Brits would be too upset about these exercises, they might keep a distant watch though.