Single Status Update
So I started working on a alt history piece a few weeks ago. Although it was deemed too unrealistic to be called Alt history, I'm going forward with it cuz it's all I have inspiration for. Here's ch1 if anyone's interested.
Ernst Lindemann, fighting down exhaustion, wiped sea spray from his eyes. Peering out from the salt-coated windows of his latest command, the stormy North Sea brought back memories of his first sortie into these waters at the helm of Germany’s then-finest battleship. Five years ago, Lindemann had shepherded Bismarck through these waters, in company with Prinz Eugen. At the time, Bismarck had been the pride of the Kriegsmarine. Strong though she was, Bismarck’s capabilities began to lag behind those of the newer battleships which had joined the British and American navies as early as 1942. Knowing this would be the case, Admiral Donitz ordered six new battleships to be constructed.
Lindemann remembered one of the many meetings he had attended. Dontiz requested his presence because he was one of the few surviving officers in the German Navy who actually grappled with the cream of the Royal Navy. After many more meetings, years of waitings and skirmishes, and wearing out the four capital ships Germany retained, four of the planned six ships had finally been commissioned by Hitler himself. Three of these ships fell under Lindemann’s command now. He sailed at the head of a three-ship diamond in new leviathan Großer Kurfürst. Enrich Bey’s Friedrich Der Große plunged through the waters off Kurfürst’s port beam. Off the starboard side sailed Lindemann’s former superior, Gunther Lutjens, in Bayden.
Removing his cap and attempting to smooth out his wild hair, the 53-year old veteran took in the view of the fleet around his ship. It was a spectacular scene to see so much German steel cutting through the water; three battleships, accompanied by half a dozen of the Navy’s newest cruisers. Roon, Edmen, and Konigsberg steamed directly ahead, ninety degrees off the port beam, and directly astern respectively, forming the left half of a protective screen. Hindenburg, Berlin, and Munich mirrored the first trio on the starboard side. Twelve destroyers of the new Type 1944 and 1945 classes were interspersed about the fleet to protect it from rogue Allied submarines.
Lindemann smiled. Five years after he won his first victories, the German Navy was on the attack, taking the fight to the British. This time, however, the target was not merchant shipping, but the cream of the Royal Navy-the new battleship Vanguard as well as the four ships of the Lion-class. It felt good to be hunting the British Royal Navy again, it felt good to be the pursuer, it felt good to be at sea with a justifiable confidence in victory.
Despite being at a disadvantage in terms of numbers, Lindemann had confidence in his crews and ships. Yet he also knew that all the newest ships and most well-trained crews in the world were useless without an enemy to fight, and the terrific storm that had been raging for the past two days was taking its toll on crew's’ morale. Donitz, knowing Lindemann’s capability and reputation, had given him the freedom to make decisions on his own. Turning back inside, a sudden lurch caused Lindemann to stumble. Catching himself, the admiral turned and scanned the fleet as best he could. While nothing seemed out of the ordinary, the now-hellish storm made observing anything better than dull outlines of ships heaving in the sea imposible. Even as he watched the horizon ahead, which despite the storm had always been discernible, now turned black. 33 years at sea told him what he was looking at without having to think. Throwing himself back inside the bridge, he grabbed the ship’s intercom.
“Brace for wave!” Lindemann put the microphone down, and he gripped the handrails surrounding the Großer Kurfürst’s bridge windows. He quickly observed the rest of the bridge crew doing the same the instant they heard Lindemann’s warning. Across the fleet, similar warnings throughout the twenty ships fleet as their crews braced for the wrath of the weather and the unforgiving cold waters beneath them..
Lindemann scanned the bridge as the Kurfürst began to climb the wall of water. Despite her immense bulk, the ship rocked and shook down to her core. Like a matchstick on an angry lake, Kurfürst was tossed to and fro at nature’s whim. Despite having many veterans on the staff, the rapid expansion of the Kriegsmarine meant that even the flagship had been staffed with rookie cadets fresh from training and on their first deployment at sea. Initial training had been rough, but both Lindemann and Otto von Schrader, Kurfürst’s captain, had quickly whipped them into shape. No amount of training, however, could prepare a rookie for the horrors of the North Sea storms.
The wave now bearing down on the fleet had come too quickly for the ships to turn to face the waves on the ideal heading. Caught showing a bit too much side to the punishing water, Kurfürst shuddered and rolled hard onto her port side. A near-solid sheet of ice-cold North Sea water slammed against the ship’s superstructure and sprayed throughout the bridge. The lights flickered and the hull groaned. Some of the new radio operators and codebreakers been constantly pale since the storm first hit two days ago. Now several looked like they wanted to throw up. As the ship slip-slid down the reverse side of the first wave, Captain Schrader wrestled with the helm to bring Kurfürst’s bow around to the 45-degree angle he wanted. As they slammed into the trough of the waves, the bow vanished and the pounding water broke around the base of Turret Bruno.
Schrader growled. “Won’t be able to even find those British battleships in this weather much less shoot at them. We’ll have come all this way with all these heavy ships and achieved nothing except incur water and electrical damage.”
“Patience, Kapitän. This storm will pass. That’s only one wave now. Remember yesterday? Three in as many minutes.” Lindemann’s calm voice carried above the roar of the wind and waves and the groaning of the ship and crew. Slowly making his way across the bridge lit only by a few battle lanterns, Lindemann found the meteorologist and asked about the forecast.
“I’m optimistic, Generaladmiral. The ferocity of the storm is diminishing. The wind had died back. I think that by this time tomorrow we should be though the worst of it,” Friedl, the nineteen year-old rating, had pulled several late nights in an effort to keep track of the storm.
A slight smile cracked on Lindemann’s worn face. “Good work.” He turned to Captain Schrader and spoke softly. “I want us up to twenty knots. The seas are not as bad, and we need to make up time. Address the engine room.”
Schrader nodded. Neither Lindemann nor himself were fans on following stricter military protocol unless absolutely necessary, preferring to focus on fighting the ships rather than time-wasting regulations, hence the relaxed ways in which the two interacted.
As Schrader addressed the engine room, Lindemann turned his attention to the entire crew. Addressing them all, Lindemann did his best to keep their spirits up. “Crew of Großer Kurfürst. The hour is near when your mettle and the mettle of these ships will be tested in actual combat. Do not be afraid. Remember your training. Have confidence in this ship. Do this and we will emerge victorious. Sieg Heil!”
As the night wore on, Friedl’s prediction started to become reality. The wind and waves, which had until then prevented anyone from walking about on the deck, had begun to subside, and the rolls of the ship became less harsh, and less frequent. Finally, around 0800 the following morning, the first rays of sunlight the weary crews of weatherbeaten ships had seen in four days peeked through still-dark skies. A cheer rose up across the ship when the heaving died away. Signals from Friedrich Der Große and Bayden indicated they were still at full fighting capacity with the exception of moderate damage to lighter anti-aircraft mounts. Reports from the cruiser screen were also good, although Roon had reported minor steering difficulties she was in the process of repairing. Lindemann was worried about the destroyers most of all. If those waves had shaken a behemoth like Großer Kurfürst as hard as they had, he could only imagine the damage the destroyers had suffered. By some miracle, however, the destroyers had weathered the storm nearly unscathed. Z-55 had suffered damage to her forward main turrets and Z-52 had reported four men swept overboard. In the seas rescue had been impossible. Lindemann was saddened by the loss of the four men, but he didn’t have time to dwell on it.
By the end of the day, the fleet had worked up to twenty-five knots, and was following the coast of Norway. After another two days, the fleet would then swing ninety degrees to the west, and head towards the Royal Navy’s gunnery range southeast of the Iceland coast. At around the same time, Lindemann understood, Vanguard and her slightly smaller Lion-class compatriots would be slated to return to Scapa Flow. Their crews would be tired, diminishing their awareness and making for easy pickings. Lindemann smiled at the prospect of pumping dozens of German 16” armor-piercing shells into the British ships’ hulls and watching them go under. He always thought about shelling and sinking the ships, rather than the men inside them. It had helped him cope after watching Hood blow up, and seeing Nelson and Ark Royal succumb to Bismarck and Gneisenau’s combined firepower. Yet now the memories came back, very vivid.
June 2, 1941
Lindemann cursed. These British battleships were nothing if not persistent. Despite the loss of King George V, and damage to the other battleship and aircraft carrier, the air attacks kept coming. How many aircraft did Ark Royal have left? While he had been slightly worried about the oil situation on Bismarck after the hit from Prince of Wales, as he made for the coast, once Graf Zeppelin’s aircraft had arrived on the scene their fate was sealed. Lindemann was quite happy that Donitz had been able to lobby enough to have at least Graf Zeppelin finished. Once Lindemann and Bismarck, Scharnhorst, and Gneisenau returned to France, he know Donitz would return to Hitler and make the case for the building of more aircraft carriers.
As Lindemann and Lutjens watched, a flight of BF-109’s dove into the flight of six Swordfish still trying to make a run against Scharnhorst. First Scharnhorst’s AA took the lower left wing off the leading aircraft. Then a second spun in. the surviving four dumped their fish and tried to break away. Without any fighter support, however, the Swordfish were living on borrowed time. The ship shook as Bismarck’s Aton, Bruno, and Dora answered Nelson’s salvo. While the British battleship had initially scored some success, knocking out Bismarck’s forward fire-control systems while King George V had disabled Ceaser turret, Bismarck had given a good account of herself. While Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had together humiliated King George, sinking her in less than an hour, Bismarck had squared off against Nelson. The Brit had done well, but she was now caught in a crossfire from the three German battleships. Despite being boxed in on three sides, the British battleship proved her durability and showed why Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had been ordered to avoid Nelson-class battleships.
In a superhuman feat, Nelson kept her B turret trained on Bismarck, while her A and C turrets locked onto Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, respectively. Lutjens and Lindemann watched in amazement as the British ship, almost certainly firing in local control, simultaneously engaged all three German ships at the same time. Swinging to starboard, Bismarck avoided two of the three shells fired her way. The third struck Dora directly on the turret face. Despite theoretically being armored against Nelson’s firepower, the shell punched through the armor plate and detonated. Bismarck heaved and two jets of black smoke blew out of the gun barrels. Although the turret contained the rest of the force of the blast, Bismarck was in serious trouble. She’d lost half her firepower, and what firepower she did have was unable to be directed. Lindemann, however, couldn’t help but admire the dedication and skill of the British crew.
No amount of skill, however, could save Nelson and her brave crew now, and the sheer amount of fire began to tell. As fires broke out across the battleship’s superstructure, the whole ship appeared to shake slightly. A peek through his binoculars revealed another geyser of water raining down onto Nelson’s heaving foredeck. Turning to Lutjens, Lindemann remarked, “I guess they wanted to make sure she went down.”
“Yes, it appears that was Gneisenau’s intention.” Lutjens hadn’t even been one for much dialogue. He said no more for a time, only ordering the assembled warships to head for France.
Shaking his head to clear away the memories, Lindemann turned to managing his fleet. He ordered for the crews to be released from combat stations to allow time for much-needed rest, before the expected action the following morning. A glance at his pocket watch showed 2250. Schrader noticed his admiral eye his watch. “Admiral, I suggest you get some rest. It would not do anyone any good if you were exhausted during combat.”
The worn admiral hesitated for a moment. Despite contact not being expected for at least another 18 hours, Lindemann has reservations about leaving the flag bridge. A sharp glance from his old friend, however, gave Lindemann the final nudge. “Very well. I shall return to my cabin for a few hours to rest. Send for me at once if anything is found.” As he walked past the captain’s chair on his way, Schrader clapped him on the shoulder. Lindemann found himself cracking a rare smile as he headed to catch a few hours rest.
Still at his station on Kurfürst’s bridge, Captain Schrader couldn’t help but grin slightly at the prospect of facing the cream of the Royal Navy in actual battle. Simulations, while good for practice, lacked the adrenaline and sense of unknown that combat proper possesed. Always having a slightly rebellious nature as a young boy, Schrader had loved hearing stories from the first war, and as soon as he was able, he joined the newly-reformed Kriegsmarine. Initially posted to the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper as a gunnery officer, the younger Schrader knew after returning home from his first deployment that the Kriegsmarine would be his life career. After serving well in combat in Norway and the North Atlantic, the young Schrader rose through the ranks of the rapidly expanding German Navy and at only 39, was a Fregattenkapitän, and second in command of Admiral Hipper’s sister ship Prinz Eugen. When Großer Kurfürst, the lead ship in her class, was commissioned, Schrader was selected to undergo more training before taking Kurfürst’s helm.
The seas had calmed and Schrader had to fight off boredom as the monotony of the early morning set in. A tinge of sadness entered his thoughts as memories of what had happened when he returned home surfaced.
A month prior
Upon getting off the train in Bremen that chilly December evening, Schrader remember his conversation with the stationmaster all too well. Carl Sprecher was an old family friend, and he knew Schrader’s family well. As the recently-promoted Kapitän-Zur-See collected his luggage, Sprecher approached him, and set a hand on his shoulder. The officer, looking forward to seeing his wife Petra, and daughter Mathilde, for the first time in months, initially greeted his friend with a light laugh. A tear slid down his cheek now as Schrader remember the grave look on the other man’s face.
“Otto, there’s something you need to know before you head for home,” Carl said softly. Standing up with his suitcase, Schrader’s face fell. He’d known Carl for years before the war, and known the man to always be upbeat and cheerful. Yet now the gloominess of the December day, and chill of the air seemed to permeate the station’s walls. Schrader knew Kiel was a prime target for Allied night bombing raids, and a sinking feeling clawed at the pit of his stomach.
“W-what’s going on, Carl? Is everything alright?” Schrader allowed the smaller man to guide him over to a bench and sit him down. Neither spoke for a moment, before Schrader voiced his deepest fears. “They’re alive right? They must be!”
Carl set a weathered hand on his friend’s pressed and collared shoulder. “While the air force is doing a splendid job of protecting our skies, the night raids do occasionally sneak though. A few planes snuck through last weekend, and one of them walked a whole stick of bombs right down Eisenblut Road.”
Schrader needed to hear no more. A few simple questions revealed that no one had been able to contact him the week prior due to his new training schedule. In keeping with protocol, both Petra and Mathilde had been buried as soon as they were found, in simple graves overlooking the harbor.
The Kapitan was pulled from his heart-wrenching memories by a prod on the arm from the officer of the watch, who was gesturing to something on the distant horizon. Shaking his head and rubbing his eyes, Schrader grabbed the binoculars from the table and asked for a report.
While he could discern nothing more than half a dozen fuzzy blobs, the radar operator had done his work. “Someone wake up Lindemann. We’ve got something big out there.”
Still rubbing sleep from his own eyes, Lindemann hurried onto the bridge a few moments later and called for a report. “Contacts bearing 350 relative. Six unknown heavy units accompanied by undetermined number of smaller ships. Speed 18. Distance 16. No signs of hostility.”
His calm and business-like manner taking over, Lindemann ordered the fleet to combat formation and sounded the general quarters bells. If he strained his ears, he could detect the faint alarms aboard Bayden and Friedrich Der Große as well. As the bells continued to sound, and the ship seemed to hum with the rattle of thousands of feet running to their varied stations across the ship. The hum was soon drowned out by the deep bass rumble of Großer Kurfürst’s turbines as she and her sisters ponderously worked up to 25 knots, the cruiser and destroyer screen keeping pace. As one, the fleet turned to bring their main battery to bear on the unsuspecting British ships, most of their crews still asleep, blissfully unaware of the over one million pounds of steel rapidly being brought to bear against them.
All four turrets reported locked onto the leading British battleship, assumed to be HMS Vanguard. Lindemann had worked and served all his life, waiting and dreaming about this moment, and a sense of pride and satisfaction at bringing the new battleships together with modern escorts and taking the fight to the Royal Navy. Bey and Lutjens reported their ships ready. The cruisers had swiftly switched from circle formation to line ahead, and drawn beads on the escorts.
The first fringes of daylight broke over the North Sea, and the black sky became a lighter grey. Still the British ships paid no attention. Lindemann had to wonder if the British radar operators were asleep or something. The admiral looked around his fleet one more time, and a sense of relaxation came over him. He was simply doing a job, one fleet of ships against another, may the best win. Lindemann locked eyes with Kapitan Schrader, and nodded once. Schrader returned it.
“It’s time, Ernst.”
“That it is.”
At 0637 on January 28, 1946, Grossadmiral Ernst Lindemann took a last deep breath, and ordered Großer Kurfürst’s eight 406 mm guns into action.