Technically this one isn't due for publishing until Monday, but all the days run together anyway. Hope this helps your lockdown blues.
Off Memel, Prussia
Granger studied the shore as Valiant moved forward under reefed topsails only.He had cleared the ship for action at dawn but had allowed the men who weren’t essential to remain below and had kept the guns run in and the ports closed to shield them from the cold.Granger began to long for the warmth of the sauna in Arensburg, then he began to long for von Beckendorf, a train of thought which frustrated him because it aroused him.Granger was conscious that it would look horrible if he were to sport an erection as they sailed into probable battle.
They’d spent three days in Arensburg, then it had taken them three days to get to Memel.Granger had left Treadway and most of the marines behind to maintain control of the fort, and he’d made it clear that the Union Flag was to fly over the port, and that any Russian official who fell into their grasp was to be captured and held until he got back.
There was a narrow gap between the land on the port side and a long island on the starboard.Granger would have been quite nervous about traversing an opening so narrow without a pilot, but Osbourne and Schein assured him that they knew these waters well, and that in any event, the channel here was relatively straight and was frequently dredged.It was the primary trading port for Britain in the Baltic, but that didn’t change Granger’s need to extract stores from them.“They don’t appear to notice us, my lord,” Weston said conversationally, breaking into his thoughts.
“Oh they’ve noticed us,” Osbourne said.Granger had brought him along and was glad he had.Between his knowledge and that of Schein, he almost felt as if he had pilots guiding him into this harbor.Granger found him coarse but charming and was happy to have meals with him and then leave him to find other company in the wardroom.“They’ve got a blockhouse on the island.”
Granger followed his gesture to the strange spit of land the Germans called the Nehrung.It was a long, narrow, low-lying island that was no more than a glorified sand bar, albeit one that was densely forested, stretching along the German coast as far as he could see.It created a lagoon behind it the Germans called the Haff, although Granger thought that calling it a lagoon was a bit odd since he always visualized a lagoon being in a tropical location.He shivered underneath his garments, as if to emphasize that this was the exact opposite of balmy.The lagoon was like a private lake which German merchants could use to safely ply from port to port, while the Prussian forts and artillery would make sure they came to no harm.“It seems we could wreak considerable havoc if we were to sail into the Haff,” Granger noted.
“Aye my lord,” Osbourne said, “but they have a boom stretched across the harbor past Memel, and even a line-of-battleship under full sail wouldn’t be able to break through it.In addition, it is shallow in many places and would be difficult to navigate.”
“Well in any event, that’s not on my agenda,” Granger said.They passed through the narrow entrance and now the town of Memel came clearly into view.It was a large city with its distinctive Germanic architecture, dominated by a large fortress that extended in front of it as if to fully shield the populace from his wrath.The fortress itself was made of gray stone with red pointed roofs and upper works.If properly fitted and armed, that fort would be a formidable obstacle, and Granger certainly wouldn’t risk taking Valiant under its guns.He directed his telescope beyond it to the entrance to the Haff, where he saw hundreds of merchant vessels, most of which appeared to be British, tightly moored.Between Valiant and those vessels he finally discerned the boom Osbourne was talking about, spotting the heavy cables where they came ashore, then saw the same cables further out in the Haff as they were held up by logs.
“What is your plan, my lord?” Weston asked.Granger once again felt guilty for not more fully familiarizing Weston with his schemes, and once again resolved to do better in the future.
“I plan to sail into the harbor, aim our batteries at the town, and demand three ships full of grain, meat, and vegetables,” Granger said, as if that were no mean feat.
“I was under the impression that Memel was friendly towards England, sir,” Kingsdale said.
“They are, yet they have captured some 300 of our ships, and impounded their cargo, so we are going to offer them a way to atone for their sins,” Granger said, getting a chuckle from the others.
They were distracted as a shot rang out from the fortress, with the ball passing well in front of Valiant.“I thought you said that fortress was dilapidated?” Weston challenged Osbourne.
“It was last time I was there,” Osbourne said defensively.
“What size gun was that?” Granger asked, ignoring their conversation.
“I’d say it was a six pounder, or maybe a four pounder, my lord,” Grenfells said.
“And if you gentlemen will notice, the position of the gun that fired on us was not on the ramparts, but much lower,” Granger observed.“Further, the shot was fired as a warning, not as an act of hostility.”
“Sir?” Genarro asked, totally confused.He had a hard time even saying that one word without revealing that his teeth were chattering.
“They are warning us, and trying to scare us off,” Granger concluded.“If they had the firepower to dissuade us, they would have showed their teeth.There are no guns showing from that fortress.”
“I see, my lord,” Genarro said.
“It is also possible they are unwilling to risk shedding blood, lest we become enraged, in which case they will have no way to respond,” Granger continued.
They were distracted yet again by the sound of trumpets, one that directed their attention to the plain just northeast of Memel, one that was about half a mile ahead of their current position.There, deploying on open ground, was a Prussian artillery battery.They had pre-positioned parapets for their guns made from fascines, and while those shields would probably protect them from the 8 pounder guns of a privateer, they wouldn’t withstand Valiant’s broadsides.“Surely they’re not going to engage us with their army, my lord?” Weston asked, amazed.
Granger shook his head briefly at the arrogance and idiocy of those Prussian military commanders, who clearly had no idea the firepower of a modern warship like Valiant.“Let us see,” Granger said.“Mr. Weston, lay us closer to that shore.Mr. Grenfells, I think we will shortly be close enough that grape may have an impact.”
Weston went to guide the ship closer to land, with Osbourne and Schein cautioning him about the sandbars, while Grenfells stayed to flesh out his orders.“My lord, if it meets with your approval, I’ll load the carronades with round shot and have them target the batteries, and the main guns with grape and target the soldiers.”
“That sounds like a good plan,” Granger agreed, and dismissed him to get his guns ready.The Prussians had deployed their battery in a very organized way, with 16 guns spread out evenly along the shore in a line.Artillery men anxiously prepared them for action, while bodies of troops stood in the background to defend the guns from a potential amphibious attack by Valiant’s crew.
“My lord, there’s a shoal just beyond that last gun,” Osbourne said.
“Ah, so they are hoping they will lure me in, we’ll run aground, then they can pound away at us with their six pounders?” Granger asked, even as the thought was laughable.Those guns would barely dent Valiant’s tough sides.
“So it would seem, my lord,” Weston said.
“Mr. Weston, prepare to let go the rear anchor.After that’s deployed we’ll rig a spring,” Granger ordered gruffly.He was angry with himself for not seeing this as a possibility, and for not anticipating the need to have an anchor ready.That was especially important in the Baltic, where running aground was more likely than not, and in that case, it would require that they kedge off, probably under fire.
“Aye aye, my lord,” he said, and called men away from other duties to hurriedly do as Granger instructed.
“Mr. Kingsdale, get in all but the main topsail,” Granger ordered, hoping that would slow Valiant enough to give them time to get their anchor ready.
“Aye aye, sir,” Kingsdale said, then proceeded to execute his orders.Granger watched him from the corner of his eye, impressed with how well his young lieutenant handled the ship.
“I don’t know if I could trust one of my mates with my ship this close to the shore, my lord,” Osbourne said conversationally.
“I suggest that you try it,” Granger observed, and gestured toward Kingsdale.“It builds confidence and skills, as is evidenced by how well Mr. Kingsdale sails this vessel.”
Osbourne looked at him quizzically, then nodded.“I will ponder your words, my lord.”
“Ready, my lord,” Weston called.
“Let go!” Granger ordered.The anchor splashed into the water and nothing happened until it grabbed the bottom, then Valiant came to a shuddering stop nearly opposite the Prussian battery.“Run out the guns.”
The acknowledgement to that order was drowned out by the rumbling of Valiant’s main battery as the men forced their guns through the ports, and by the creaking sounds of the carronades on their slides.“My lord,” Travers called.“There are guns on that island!”
All their eyes turned to the Nehrung, where several field pieces seemed to stick their noses out of the forest.“They mean to catch us in a crossfire, my lord,” Osbourne said, with not a little fear in his voice.
Granger ignored him.“Mr. Grenfells, we’ll have targets to the starboard as well.Mr. Weston, dismiss the men to the guns as soon as the spring is rigged.”There was no need to worry about maintaining men aloft to man the sails, and Valiant was already short-handed with the absence of most of her marines.
“Spring is rigged, my lord,” Weston said, as he climbed back up to the quarterdeck.“What do we do now?” Weston was sometimes a bit impetuous, and in this situation, patience was key.Granger pondered that while Weston would make a good captain as he was, when he learned to curb his impulses, then he would truly be an excellent commander of men.
“We will wait,” Granger said calmly.He had arrived at this Prussian bastion, forced his way into the outer harbor, and was facing a force of Prussian artillery that would be hard pressed to cause him harm.
“What if they use shells, my lord?” Osbourne asked.
“We are too far from those guns for them to effectively use shells, but even if they do, we will silence those batteries shortly after they open fire,” Granger said confidently.
“Boat’s putting off from the shore, my lord,” called Travers.His eyes were evidently keen today.They watched as a boat left the town wearing a white flag over Prussian colors.
“Mr. Weston, please hoist a parley flag, and you may tell the men they may rest at their guns,” Granger said.
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston chimed, and Valiant’s Union Flag came down only to be run up again with a white flag above it.They studied the boat, which contained an older major and an even older man who must be a local official, until they arrived alongside the ship.
They came aboard to the honors due a major, which seemed to annoy the civilian.“Welcome aboard His Britannic Majesty’s Ship Valiant,” Granger said with a courtly bow.“I am Captain Viscount Granger.”
“I am Friedrich von Amst, adjutant mayor, and this is Major Yorck,” he said stiffly.
“What a pleasure to see you again, Major,” Grenfells said, surprising all of them.
“It is my pleasure, lieutenant, and I am glad to see you healthy,” Yorck replied in a formal way that managed to sound slightly friendly.
“Major Yorck and I met at Cape Town, my lord,” Grenfells added.
“It is always nice to see one’s acquaintances again,” Granger observed obliquely.
“We are most surprised to find you here in Memel, uninivited, my lord,” von Amst said in what was either a rude or an arrogant tone.
“And I am surprised to find that Your Excellency has seized some 300 British vessels and impounded their crews,” Granger said acidly.“I have come here to demand three ships full of grain and other foodstuffs to allow you to atone for what is a virtual act of piracy.”
“You are in a position to demand nothing,” von Amst almost shouted.“Soon you will find yourself in a deadly crossfire from our batteries, and if you manage to escape that barrage, the guns of the fortress will turn this ship into a floating wreck.” It was interesting that Yorck looked visibly uncomfortable with these assertions.
“That is merely a bluff on your part,” Granger said.“I can destroy these batteries within a quarter of an hour, and we both know that your fortress is so dilapidated that my artillery will likely turn it into rubble in no time at all.”
“So that is your demand?Three ships full of stores, or you will attempt to destroy our batteries and our fortress?Ha!” von Amst said.
“Not entirely,” Granger said.“I have seen through my glass what a lovely city you have here, and although it will pain me to do so, I will feel compelled to bombard it until my demands are met.”
“That is preposterous!” von Amst spluttered. A brief exchange between von Amst and Yorck in German followed, none of which Granger understood.
“It would be most unfortunate if I were forced to annihilate such well-turned out soldiers and ravage a beautiful city, but if that is what is required for you to understand the situation you are in, I will accommodate you,” Granger said.Before von Amst could begin speaking, Granger continued.“It is now nine o’clock in the morning.I will hold my fire until 10:30. That will give you time to consult with your superiors.”
“Then there is a cease-fire in place until 10:30 my lord?” Yorck asked for clarification.
“As long as you gentlemen will agree to that, a cease-fire is in place until 10:30,” Granger confirmed.
Von Amst glared at him, then headed over the side.Yorck took the time to politely take his leave, then the boat cast off and headed back to the town.“Not the most diplomatic of chaps, my lord,” Weston noted, referring to von Amst.
“He was not,” Granger said with a smile.“The men may skylark at their guns while we see what our German friends decide.Mr. Grenfells, how do you know Major Yorck?”
“He was fighting with the Dutch forces in the Cape, my lord.I met him after those forces had capitulated, at a joint reception.It is rumored that he has never once laughed, that is how rigid he is,” Grenfells said with a chuckle.
“Then I will not plan on amusing conversation next time we meet,” Granger noted with a laugh.
“My lord, Major Yorck told von Amst that this ship was quite capable of doing what you said it could do, but he disagreed,” Schein said.
“We will have to hope that the civilian leaders listen to their military colleagues,” Granger said.Since his cabin was now occupied by gun crews, Granger opted to spend the next 90 minutes touring the ship to make sure they were ready to battle the Prussians, and spending some time talking to his crew.It was pleasant to see them in such good spirits.He had been able to give a small group shore leave in Arensburg, and based on the rumors he’d heard, there would probably end up being some half-British children born in the next year.The townspeople had been only too willing to accommodate British sailors with lots of money to spend.He would try to indulge the others when they returned.
“My lord, it is almost 10:30,” Winkler said, interrupting him.He handed Granger a mug with warm tea in it, and followed his captain back up to the quarterdeck.Granger studied the Prussian positions, wondering what the next five minutes would bring.He estimated that there must be some 30 guns aimed at them, which constituted some four foot batteries, which would probably have a total of 300-400 men.The battery on the Nehrung was positioned slightly in front of them, so to fire on both batteries Valiant would have to turn away from the Prussians on the port side.He opted not to do that, judging that the impact on land would be more useful in convincing stubborn civilians than the destruction of the guns partially hidden by the forest.As such, only the foremost starboard guns would bear on those guns on the Nehrung.
Granger stood with Weston and Kingsdale, waiting to see what would happen, when the ship’s bell chimed, startling most of them.
“My lord, they’re lowering their flag,” Travers called from the bow.
“So they’ve agreed, my lord?” Genarro asked.
“I do not think so,” Granger said, then shouted.“Stand to your guns!”
His eyes were focused on the flagpole, and in no time at all, the Prussian flag was re-raised without a parley flag.That would seem to have been their cue for hostilities to begin, for as soon as the Prussian flag reached the peak of the flagpole, the Prussian guns opened fire.“Commence firing!” Granger shouted.There was a furious noise as German cannon balls seemed to be flying everywhere.Most of the shots flew over them, with a few parting the lines in the rigging, while the rest hit Valiant’s tough oak sides with a jarring thud.“Mr. Travers, lower our parley flag!”
Granger heard the awesome sound of Valiant’s guns firing almost in unison.That deafening noise was followed by the billowing smoke from the powder.Granger heard the frantic sound of his gunners reloading, and heard Prussian cannon firing from the starboard, while he waited for the light breeze, to clear enough of the smoke for him to see the results.Just as he’d warned von Amst, the results had been devastating.Of the sixteen guns arrayed against Valiant on her port side, half of them were blown out of action, and the men who were left standing stared at Valiant in stunned horror.Valiant fired again and again, until after five broadsides Granger stopped them so the gunpowder smoke could dissipate.Granger was so confident that he had silenced the port battery, he prepared to engage the battery on the starboard.“Mr. Weston, a turn on the spring.Let us align ourselves to fire at the Nehrung.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston chimed and began to attend to that, while Granger focused on the port side.The smoke cleared to reveal the total destruction of the battery, with all but one of the guns upended, and the soldiers who hadn’t been slaughtered were either fleeing, or trying to help their wounded comrades.The one upright gun, standing alone and un-manned, was a forlorn memorial to the brave Prussians who had faced such a cataclysmic fire. Valiant slowly turned until her guns were now aimed at the other battery.
“Fire!” Granger ordered, and Valiant’s starboard broadside roared out for the first time.The wind was blowing toward them this time, driving the smoke past the ship, so it was much easier to observe the fall of the shot.He watched as the balls sliced into the guns, and the men, while most hit trees, sending splinters flying in all directions.Two more broadsides served to put that battery out of service as well.
“You warned them, my lord,” Weston said, shaking his head at the idiots who condemned those men to die.
“Raise the anchor and square away for Memel,” Granger ordered.His sympathies had hardened, and now he was determined to extract the stores he wanted, even if he had to pound this ancient German city into the ground.All was quiet except the moans that came across the water, and the grunts of the men raising the anchor.In half an hour, Valiant was comfortably under way, heading toward the town and the dilapidated fortress.
“I suspect that now the King of Prussia will be mad at you as well, my lord,” Weston joked.
“We are certainly not making many friends on this voyage,” Granger agreed, chuckling.“I hope to change that.”
“My lord?” Weston asked.Before Granger could answer, he was interrupted by a hail from the lookout.
“Boat’s heading toward us, parley flag over Prussian colors!”
Granger raised an eyebrow, then took his glass and studied the approaching boat.There were two men in this boat as well, but they were not von Amst and Yorck.“Raise the parley flag,” Granger ordered.
“One of the men appears to be older, my lord,” Weston observed.Indeed, one of the men was probably in his 50s or 60s, while the other appeared to be much younger.
“Rig the bosun’s chair,” Granger ordered.
“My lord, I think the older man is the Governor of East Prussia,” Schein said, as the boat grew even nearer.He would be a person of some stature, the rough equivalent of a Lord Lieutenant in Britain.
Granger pondered this latest dilemma.“Mr. Weston, we’ll need a 17-gun salute and 8 sideboys and bosun’s mates.I’ll also need my cabin restored to its normal state.”That would reduce the number of guns available to fire on the Prussians by a small number, but Granger had seen nothing of the defenses to warrant caution in that regard.
“Aye aye, my lord,” the redoubtable Weston replied, and hurried to get those assembled.
It took some time for the boat to arrive, time that was valuably used by Winkler and his staff as they put his cabin back together.The boat pulled up and hooked onto Valiant, and evidently the governor waived off the bosun’s chair because there was no activity.This was confirmed when the older man hoisted himself through Valiant’s entry port, in concert with the shrilling of pipes and the discharge of the first gun.He was dressed in what looked to be civilian clothes crafted into a sort of uniform, which was probably to be expected in as militaristic a country as Prussia.His uniform, such as it was, was bedazzled by various decorations.The young man who was with him was probably in his late teens or early twenties, and wore a military uniform that suggested he was equivalent in rank to a midshipman.He had a small mouth, high cheekbones, and brown hair with matching brown eyes.As soon as the salute ended, Granger stepped forward and bowed in his courtly way.“I am privileged to welcome Your Excellency on board His Britannic Majesty’s Ship Valiant.I am Captain Viscount Granger.”
“I thank you for your warm welcome,” the Prussian said with a smile as he returned Granger’s bow.“I am Friedrich von Schrotter, Governor of East Prussia, and this is my aide, Fahnenjunker Carl von Clausewitz.”
“Welcome to you as well,” Granger said politely to Clausewitz.
Clausewitz looked down, but a grunt from von Schrotter sparked a response from him.“Thank you, my lord.”
“I appreciate the offer of a chair, and had I realized how tall your ship was, I may have used it.I am not used to boarding such large vessels,” von Schrotter said.He was clearly a man who was used to conversing in the higher echelons of society.
“Won’t you come aft to my cabin for some refreshments, Your Excellency?” Granger offered.He led them into his warm cabin.
“How wonderfully warm!” von Schrotter exclaimed.
“I fear I am not acclimated to your winters, so I appreciate it that much more,” Granger said.He gave them a brief tour of his cabin, and saw Clausewitz’s eyes widen at the paintings of Granger’s illustrious family members.They chatted about the various artefacts in Granger’s cabin, along with their various travels and careers. Von Schrotter made a point of emphasizing how his dedication to free trade had largely helped make Memel into the British merchant haven it was.Granger found his conversation refreshing, as it reminded him of being at Court, and even more it reminded him of Daventry and how much he missed his company. He guided them to his table where Winkler had made sure to have some food put out, then poured them all a glass of wine.
“Will you gentlemen do me the honor of joining me for dinner?” Granger asked, since it was already a bit past time for that meal.
“We would be honored,” von Schrotter said.
“Then please pardon me for a moment,” Granger said.He stepped over to Winkler and gave him orders to prepare his dinner, and then summoned Weston and ordered him to heave Valiant to and feed the crew.“I thought since I was going to dine myself, it was important to make sure my crew was being fed,” Granger said affably as he returned to the table.
“One of the marks of a good commander, my lord,” Clausewitz said awkwardly.He reminded Granger a bit of Hornblower, although Clausewitz was more refined and if his bright eyes were any indication, even smarter than the young British lieutenant.
“I am sorry I was not here when you first arrived, otherwise these unpleasantries would not have happened,” von Schrotter said with a growl.
“It saddens me that we were forced to return the fire of your noble soldiers, who withstood the barrage of our broadsides with such courage that I made note of it in my report,” Granger said, reminding himself to do that when he actually did write his report.
“I was under the impression that you fired first,” von Schrotter stated, although it was more of a question.
“I can assure you that was not the case,” Granger asserted strongly.Clausewitz looked at von Schrotter questioningly, as if wondering if he would take Granger’s word for it.
“When a British peer pledges with his word something is true, it is true,” von Schrotter pronounced, conveniently forcing Granger to attest to his statement with his honor.
“It is true, and I thank you for your statement,” Granger said politely.
“I would be most interested to hear about the engagement from your point of view, my lord,” Clausewitz said.That topic had seemingly energized him.
“Clausewitz is studying at our military college, and is a student of strategy,” von Schrotter supplemented.
“I would be happy to do so,” Granger said.He was interrupted by the arrival of Winkler and his stewards with dinner.Once everyone had a full plate, Granger replayed the morning encounter, from his conversations with von Amst and Yorck to the deployment and destruction of the Prussian batteries, and made sure to emphasize how truly defenseless Memel was to his demands.
“It is unfortunate that those gentlemen did not understand the firepower and skill of the opponent they were facing, my lord,” Clausewitz said.“I would have thought that your reputation would have preceded you such that they would be more wary.”
“I did not realize I was that renowned in this part of the world,” Granger said.
“If you were not renowned before, you would be after your capture of two Russian frigates,” von Schrotter said.
“We caused some havoc in St. Petersburg since then,” Granger said with a grin, and told them of the sinking of the Boleslav.Granger hated this kind of conversation, because it seemed as if he were boasting of his achievements, but he wanted these Prussians to understand that he had dealt a serious blow to a much stronger enemy than Memel.
“I must say that I have not dined so well for some time.If I did not know better, I would have thought I was eating at Versailles,” von Schrotter said.
“I must give credit to my chef, who is one of the most skilled in his field,” Granger said.He regaled them with the story of how he’d first met LeFavre, and how he’d since had to keep his chef out of the hands of other men who appreciated his skill.It proved to be a lengthy dinner, but when it was over, and they were drinking a glass of port, von Schrotter finally got down to business.
“So we are at this point where you have requested three ships loaded with grain and other foodstuffs,” von Schrotter said.“If these are not delivered to you, you will level our fair town.”
Granger raised an eyebrow at the wily governor, who had used such complimentary words before but was now accusing him of blackmail.“I had originally planned to demand the release and return of the 300 British merchant ships that are being held here,” Granger said.“Three ships with provisions seemed to be easier, but I am more than willing to accept the release of the impounded British ships instead.”
The governor hid his annoyance at having his blackmail accusation foisted by Granger’s ultimatum.“We are both of us caught between the high politics of our region,” von Schrotter said, probably in a bid to stall for time.
“Perhaps, and I think no good would come of our attempting to defend the actions of my government in the seizure of the Freya and her convoy, or your government’s invasion of Hanover,” Granger noted.
“Yet one event precipitated the other,” von Schrotter asserted.
“Or perhaps the first was used as a pretext to justify the latter,” Granger responded.It was almost comical to watch a wide-eyed Clausewitz watch the bantering between these two powerful men.
“Perhaps,” von Schrotter said, not in agreement, but to end the topic.“I have a slight modification to your request.”
“I am always willing to listen to Your Excellency’s suggestions,” Granger replied.
“We will deliver to you the three ships of food and we will do it within three days.In exchange, we will ask that you cease any hostile actions against His Prussian Majesty and his subjects, and, although it pains me to add, that you will avoid entering into His Prussian Majesty’s waters for the next six months unless it is to obtain or give emergency aid.”
“I can agree to those terms,” Granger said.
“Will you want me to write up an agreement, my lord, Your Excellency?” Clausewitz asked, in what seemed to be his desire to be useful in this situation.
“I think Lord Granger and I understand each other,” von Schrotter said.
“I agree, and if a government official of such esteem and renown as Governor von Schrotter pledges his word, that is more than enough for me,” Granger said, neatly forcing von Schrotter to pledge his own honor.
“To our future friendship and amity,” von Schrotter said, lifting his glass up to toast their agreement.They all drank, sealing the arrangement.