After the errant

Returning to Berlin and giving his report to the Kaiserliches Flottenkommando, Kapitän von Kober was informed of the great interest his actions had attracted from certain circles in the British Empire. The bravery of his men and him had been noted and he had personally been suggested for a decoration by Captain Taylor of the Royal Army. This, coupled with the fact that no loss of life had occured in the course of his mission, let to a commendation by the Flottenkommando and the Iron Cross (Second Class) being awarded to Matrose Zimmermann and Fähnrich Gustavson, who was also promoted to Leutnant.
 
They might have wished to pause long enough to celebrate their success, eat, drink, be merry, and revel in the good news. This, however, was not to be possible.. Due to rising tentions in Africa it was decided to post the Württemberg to the newly finished Zeppelin base at Mount Kilimanjaro.

A fast craft like the Württemberg would be a signficant strategic asset in case an emergency occured, moreover Kapitän von Kober's excellent reputation within the British armed forces made him and his men the first choice in this matter.

Kapitän von Kober was delighted, if a little uneasy, since there was obviously some kind of trouble on the horizon.

Mt. Kilimanjaro


 



The fourth voyage of LZ-X1 Württemberg

From Mount Kilimanjaro onward

From the Diary of Kapitän Albrecht von Kober, commanding officer LZ-X1 Württemberg:

September 12th

We are preparing to leave for Africa and are also receiving supplies to be delivered to Stützpunkt Südwacht. If all goes well, we shall be on our way to Africa in three days. I shall now also have some time to write a few letters.



September 13th

We left for Africa in the early morning mist. We have set a course which will lead us over the Alps, Italy, the Mediterranian, Egypt, Abyssinia, and Kenya. Our engines are all in perfect working order, the Württemberg is in excellent condition, I am not expecting any difficulties, so we should arrive at Stützpunkt Südwacht in about three days.
I am a little uneasy about this mission. In the past, we have faced marauders, raiders and bandits, but if the Flottenkommando is right, trouble is brewing in Africa and the British are involved, too. I hope this does not develop into some sort of Napoleonic War played out in Africa, long years of war with ever changing coalitions.
But I shall not be a prophet of bad times, so far, no big crisis has developed, so it may actually be quite a pleasant and exotic post to occupy on the slopes of Africa's highest mountain.


September 14th

We are cruising along the western coast of Italy, the weather is very fine with a light breeze coming from southwest. As far as I have heard, Italy only recently built a number of airships and I hope we should see some of them. It would be nice to get a closer look. So far I have only seen those of the US, British and French airfleets. Maybe one will be patroling the Strait of Messina which we shall cross towards the evening.


September 15th

We had a most splendid look at Mt. Etna, flying real low across the perfectly still surface of the Strait of Messina. Unfortunately, not a single Itallian airship was to be seen. Soon we shall cross onto Africa. The crew is just as excited to see the Dark Continent as I am, although I served here once as a young Leutnant.

Mt Etna, Seen from Zeppelin LZ X1 Württemberg




September 16th

Our journey has been delayed. Apparently, the situation is already quite volatile. Approaching the Egyptian coast we received morse signals from an English cruiser.


British Cruiser near Alexandria

They instructed us to touch down on a landing patch near Alexandria, where we are now.
The British consul Sir Baring has sent a note apologizing for this delay, he mentioned something regarding trouble in the Sudan and his desire for a joint German-English expedition. It appears his ressources are stretched and he is rather happy to have us here. Let us see what becomes of it. He is due to meet with me and some of my officers tomorrow in Alexandria. An automobile is already on its way to pick us up.

Meanwhile, we do what we can to pass the time. After our previous adventure in India, my men have seen a lot, but they are just concerned as I am. It is one thing to be pitted against savages but a different thing to face another European whom you may have called friend the year before.



September 18th

This whole affair seems to be more complicated than I thought and rather odd. I may not say anything specific but it seems like someone who is not connected to a European power is stiring up trouble in the Sudan.
The British officials in the Sudan only found out after more or less accidentaly capturing a French patrol investigating the matter. Apparently, the French have been aware of someone operating in Africa for some time and were out to get him or them.
It is not clear for what purpose this person is in Africa, other than causing trouble. There have been cases of native tribes being incited against each other and on other occasions, European citizens, both civilians and members of the local adminsitrations were attacked.
Now the race is on. I guess everyone wants to get their hands on this malefactor first. Both to expose others or, in case it happens to be a countryman, to hush this up.
Of course, we shall help in this search or hunt. I hope this person is no subject of the Kaiser.



September 19th

It is rather rude of me to say this, but Alexandria is a city you can smell. Perhaps it is partly due to the heat and the intense overcowding but the city creates a miasmic cloud which in my oppinion is worse than London or Essen.
I sincerely hope we can leave this place rather sooner than later. Everyone is anxiously eying the æthergraph, urging it to start typing a message.



September 20th

Finally! We can leave this nauseous place and head up the Nile Valley. We shall rendevouz with LZ-39 Rostock and HMD Agamemnon and HMD Xerxes along the way.
I wonder if this is going to be a race against the French or whether we are going to meet up with them later on, too. So far, it looks more like a race against them.



September 21st

The vistas from the gallery and cockpit window of the Württemberg are almost worth all the trouble we have thus far encountered on our voyages. And the African heat is very tolerable close to the surface of the majestic Nile River.

Nile River Valley



September 22nd

Orders changed again. Rostock is flying directly to Mt. Kilimanjaro, Agamemnon and Xerxes are heading there, too. We are currently flying over Abyssinia. To my knowledge, it is the only African state, and a very old one at that, which is not under the influence of a European power.



September 23rd

We just moored at Stützpunkt Südwacht, Rostock and the British airships should be here wihin a day or so. The heat is not as bad as I had feared, though wearing the standard officer's boots in this weather is quite uncomfortable. Luckily we hav been issued special equipment for our stay in Africa.

13:34

I have just spoken to the commander of the base, Hauptmann Lenker. He does not have any more information than me. So all we know is still only vague rumors and few facts about someone running loose in Africa and causing trouble.
I hope the British can tell us a little bit more.



September 24th

The British airships should arrive within the next few hours, Rostock arrived during the night. I am really itching to go on this mission, now. Although we do not know who our opponent is, at least I find solace in the fact that he hails from civilized parts of the world.
Last night my dreams were again haunted by the nightmarish images from the Indian swamps which I still carry around inside my head.  The dreams are returning more rarely, so eventually, they might go away.

I hope Gwendolen has a pleasant stay in Switzerland and is well on her way to recovery. I would enjoy this beautiful landscape a lot more with her by my side, now I can only marvel at the brilliant nightsky and wish to see her again soon.



September 25th

We are on our way, if I only knew where to. Our small flotilla of four airships is heading west towards the Belgian Kongo. Intelligence reports have come in that someone has recently incited the natives there. But really it is like trying to find a needle in a haystick at night and the haystick is being piled upon all the time. It is a whole continent and we have only so few airships to spare. Our only hope lies in the fact that this person seems to be moving rather fast. He must have some advanced means of thransportation. Since there are very few railways and all of them are being patrolled right now, it is almost certainly an airship. With any luck, we encounter it.



September 26th

Just received new orders. Every few days orders change. This is all too unorganised in my oppinion. Neither our Flottenkommando nor the British Admirality seem to be sure what to do. Right now it appears our main purpose is to simply be around. We are heading towards Kamerun now, where we will rendevouz with two American airships.
What do the Americans have to do with it all? Apart from Liberia they have no stake in Africa at all. What is going on? If the Russians should suddenly turn up as well, I shall be really concerned.
In the meantime, I calm my thoughts enjoying the vistas. If only Gwendolen was here with me.

Kongo River as seen from LZ-X1 Württemberg



September 27th

What in God's name is happening? In the early hours of the morning, our flotilla spotted two small and rather rag-tag airships, HMD Xerxes spotted them, to be exact. I am sure they were the very same airships we saw on our way to India and, now that I think of it, they could also be the same we encountered over the Indian Ocean.
Is someone following me? Or this Zeppelin? Gruson has voiced similar suspicions to me, Hartmann agrees, too. This time the airships did not approach but fled on a north-easterly course.
Obviously, four military craft, each one much larger than they, would have been too much of a challenge. If someone is following us, how can they find us? How do they know where we are? Is someone sending signals from my Zepplin or are they just following likely routes and are intercepting our æthergraph signals?
The messages to the Flottenhauptquartier are coded, so we should be save there, I should try a trick though, when the opportunity presents itself.


Mystery-Airship


 



September 28th

So now we are moored at Batua Airfield in Kamerun waiting for the Americans to arrive. I was much delighted when I received the names of the airships we are expecting. The USS Yellowstone and the USS San Andreas, so hopefully I will have the opportunity to exchange a few words with Captain Peabody, I wonder if anything exciting has happened to him since our adventure in the ruins of Ur in April.
I wish I knew what the secret of those two tiny airships is. Next time we encounter them, we shall not let them get away.

To pass the time I went to the commander of the airfield, a Hauptmann Kress, and instructed him to relay a message to Geneva, I would have used our æthergraph but I do not know if the mystery airships are somehow able to intercept the messages. It could be one way of tracking us after all.


September 29th

Heavy rain has set in. Hauptmann Kress told me, we were lucky yesterday when we arrived to have fine weather. Apparently, September and October are the rainy season here and the rain may continue for a week. Well, at least it is still warm. The rain makes the temperatures quite bearable. Also there are far less flies around, although our quarters still have a rather amazing assortment of various interesting insects. I guess my cousin Lothar would find these quite interesting.
I do not mind the insects, I can alyways just remove them and if they become too numerous, we can all always go back to the Württemberg. My mind still dwells on the two airships. If I only knew...
Oh well, by this time tomorrow the American aiships will be here and than, all we need is new orders. I find it rather unnerving that neither I, nor Kapitän Reuter of LZ-39 Rostock nor the British have received new orders thus far. We are just sitting here waiting.


September 30th

Very well and good. I am not only in the company of friends again, Captain Peabody arrived late at night yesterday but we also have some rather precise orders which I thus far cannot mention in this diary. We have set course back east across the continent, this is quite a cruise already.
The rain also keeps pounding us. It is a shame the LZ-X1 Württemberg is the only one equipped to cruise above the cloud ceiling. The gondolas of the others are not equipped for maneuvering in such altitudes. On the other hand, the constant rain makes for quite a soothing rhythm.


October 1st

Around 10 o'clock this morning we spotted and in turn were spotted by a pair of presumably French airships while flying over the Belgian Congo towards Kenya. We are pressing on. We do not know wheather or not there are more French airships around and although our six vessel strong flotilla is quite a force, we would much rather avoid a confrontation. Besides, as it is, we do not know if the French are potential allies in this situation or not.
I am also convinced that it is only the close familiar connection between Kaiser Friedrich III and Queen Victoria which makes the cooperation between us and the British Navy possible.
Tomorrow by the latest we shall reach British territory and than we shall also have time to make definite plans on how to tackle this situation.


October 2nd

We are about to moor at Nairobi airfield. Later we shall all meet in the officer's club, a really splendid habit of the British is their building of officer's clubs wherever they have major installations. Hopefully there will be some time for cigars, too.
Captain Wallace of HMD Xerxes also informed me that we are to expect a high ranking officer. The British will also send another Airship. All well and good. They have the largest area of the continent claimed for their Empire, it is only well and good that they should provide the largest number of vessels for this operation.



October 3rd

Nairobi airfield is maybe the strangest military installation I have so far seen. A vast airfield, basically just a patch of flat land marked by stakes and barrels by day and signal fires by night. But on the edge of this patch stands a mansion build from wood and stone the size of which would put some patrician houses in Berlin to shame. The mansion in turn is sourounded by a fortified military camp not unlike in structure to the one we saw in India recently, only more expansive.
This mansion is obviously the Nairobi Officer's club and prides itself to be the finest example of British culture and civilization between Cairo and Cape Town.
The founder of the Club, Lord Wolseley, had it built at great personal expense. I think it was a very good investment. We had an excellent dinner and some very fine cigars and brandy last night. I was also able to chat a little with the other captains. The Americans are, as far as they told me, only observers but will lend a hand if things get rough. Since they are also on good terms with every power in Europe at the moment, their presence might just deter the French from taking rash actions against a British airship or especially a German Zeppelin. I guess Napoleon III is still holding the grude from the Battle of Sedan.
The British, just like my men and me, are itching for action. Everybody wants to find out what is afoot here.
Yesterday afternoon I also had a closer look at the British craft. From what I can tell, they are able to transport quite a number of troops, maybe 20 to 30 each. Rostock only carries 15 infantry, my own Zeppelin just eight. However, the Württemberg is the fastest ship of the flotilla by quite a margin, so if the one we seek has an airship and gives chase, it will be the duty of my men and me to pursue and disable him. I am eager to test my Zeppelin in actual combat and so are my men. Furchtlos und Trew!
On a completely different note:
I have noticed that a small town has sprung up nearby. Soon, there will also be a railway comming from what the British officers told me yesterday. With both the railway and the airfield, this small town may soon grow to become a city. 
Also, within the next day or two, HMD Ajax will arrive and with her Admiral Grant.



October 4th

The watch officer has just confirmed the approach of HMD Ajax. I am eager to meet the admiral.

21:15
So now we have a plan and a strategy. There have been rumors of strange things going on along the banks of the Congo River. Apparently a missionary and some daredevil big game hunter and his retainers have witnessed something that could mean the construction of some sort of base in the Heart of Africa. We have to presume that those accounts are true, it is the only thing we have right now. The British have invested some energy already in verifying those rumors but the scouting parties they have sent have failed to report back and are presumed missing.
Tomorrow at dawn we shall fire up our engines and take our flotilla to the Congo.



October 5th

04:13
My sleep has once again been disiturbed by nightmares from India. They have become less frequent but on nights like this I still wake up screaming and drenched in sweat. It is no use going back to sleep now. This operation is going to commence in a little more than an hour anyway. I guess I shall write a letter to Gwendolen and ask someone at the officer's club to see it delivered with the next supply airship that arrives from Europe. A letter is sometimes preferable to an æthergram.

14:30
The mood onboard has changed. This is no longer a patrol. We all know that soon real fighting may take place. Gods, I hope we are up against a wildcard, a lunatic or some sort of malefactor who is no credit to his country but also not sponsered by one. If it turns out that this person or persons are hired by some government, the fragile peace in Europe is in danger. Every nation would feel betrayed if one neighbour or ally would turn out to be low enough to take meassures like employing those anarchist mercenaries or whatever they are.
The watch officer just called, I must go.


14:55
We have spotted the small airships again and thanks to our superior equipment, we spotted them before they spotted us. This time I am giving chase. I want to find out what is behind it all. USS San Andreas, the second fastest craft in our flotilla, is following us to provide backup while the others are continuing on their course. Since we are very fast, we shall be able to catch up with the flotilla.


16:05

This is going to be interesting. We have managed to disable both airships, they have both landed, well, one crashed, on a patch of savanna. One actually fired an explosive rocket in our direction which went wide, even before we came in range. In contrast, our Zeiss guns proved to be very accurate.
We are preparing to deploy our infantry on the ground to investigate. There is no movement there but we shall be cautious. I will personally lead our detachment.


17:30

Automatons! Both airships were crewed by automatons! I was not aware that any nation was able to field such advanced automatons, capable of flying an airship.
They were all smashed, being rather fragile constructions. We have salvaged what we could, taking care not to set up any booby traps. We now carry the remnants of four automatons, and a number of other devices we found, between us. Gruson has run a sniffer over them, there does not seem to be explosives in any of them. We have also found a number of pretty impressive rocktes, very likely of the kind that was fired at us. I was tempted to take some of those, too. Caution got the better of me, though. They may well explode after a set time or we may trigger them by accident.
Some of the loot will be transfered to the English airships. I have already informed them. Coded communiqués have also been sent to Stützpunkt Südwacht and Berlin. We may very well face a completely different kind of adversary than previously thought.
We have also destroyed the wrecked airships from the air.


October 6th

We have caught up with the rest of the flotilla. With the recent developments we are proceeding on high alert and with extreme caution. None of us has faced automatons before, they simply are not advanced enough, from what we know, to be used in combat. Judging from the performance so far, the automatons might not be a significant threat but they will also not fear. Then again, this may have been a feint to lure us into a false sense of security. But why have they been comming after me before? Did they just put themselves on my trail after they encountered the Württemberg for the first time? And if so, are they unrelated to what is going on here now? Before we can come to any conclusion we have to find the site the English have heard about and investigate. We should reach the River Congo later today and than we shall begin our search in earnest.


October 7th

11:30
We have reached the approximate area the big game hunter gave as the location where he reported to have spotted something strange. Of course, we cannot be too certain about this but it is the only information we have so far. We have decided to split in two groups. The Württemberg, LZ-39 Rostock, HMD Xerxes and USS Yellowstone will search downstream while the other British airships and USS San Andreas will commence searching upstream. In any case we should find something, soon. Even when flying slowly, we cover more ground in two hours than people on the ground would cover in a day.

13:40
HMD Xerxes just reported spotting something. We are moving in to investigate.

14:00
There it is, a rather odd assortment of buildings in the middle of the jungle, near the banks of the Congo River. We have informed the other group, they should be here within the hour. We are getting ready to put infantry on the ground.

15:20
Everything is ready. The scouting party has just landed near the buildings.

16:00
The scouting party has encountered resistance. We are sending reinforcements down. I will lead the German detachment.



October 8th

This site was defended by half a dozen automatons and a handful of men. They were highly trained and took their toll on our men. We have lost three dead and nine wounded, one of them is not expected to live.
To my regret I have to report that Matrose Sachs gave his life in the line of duty.
We are not finished here, yet. In one of the buildings, the second largest, we discovered a rather large metal trapdoor in the center of the floor.
We are preparing to demolish the building and bring the Württemberg in position to fire at the trap door. My Zeppelin has the most precise guns of all the craft in the flotilla.
The trapdoor will be blasted open with explosives and if there is no need for our Zeiss guns or if they have done their work, a detachment of British infantry will go and investigate.

We are also keeping a lookout for other airships and movement on the ground. So far, nothing has been spotted.


October 9th

We burried our dead last night, I have written a report for the Flottenkommando and a letter for Sachs' family.
Also, we have blasted the door open, it revealed a tunnel or long ramp leading down. The floor of the tunnel is made of steel, the walls are concrete. What is going on? Admiral Grant has sent five men down the tunnel to investigate. They reported another door, a blast door, about 150 paces down the tunnel. Given the angle of the ramp, this means the blast door is about 30 meters underground. What have we found here?


October 10th

Gruson, Dusterman and engineers from the other airships have gone down to assess the situation at the blast door. They think we cannot force this door open with regular explosives, the tunnel may well colapse. They are now working at a special shaped charge to punch a hole into the blast door. It is difficult to tell, how thick this door is, Dustermann reckon it may well be 40 cm of solid steel.
So far, we have not detected anything suspicious around us. No movement on the ground or on the river, nothing in the air. Has this base, or whatever it is, been abandoned?


October 11th

The first charge did not penetrate the door but made a substantial dent and there is some thermal deformation but we will have to use another charge.


October 12th

We have found a massive underground workshop beyond the door. A factory. However, it seems incomplete. Not evacuated but incomplete. Someone was building a base here. The aperatures we found are very advanced. There is a European, maybe an American at work here. Whoever it is, he has quite a bit of ressources at his disposal. We have reported our findings to our respective headquarters.
The patroling Zeppelins and airships have reported nothing suspicious so far. Maybe we can find some clues here. Maybe the salvaged automatons reveal something.

October 13th
Dustermann is working to get the ætherbrain of the automaton working again. He is not sure it is going to work and he would rather have a proper workshop at his disposal. Gruson and the English engineers are still investigating the underground factory.

16:13
The foreward observation post has reported the sighting of three French airships. I hope the situation does not become volatile.


October 13th
The French did not come to investigate after all. We are continuing searching the factory below and Dustermann is certain he will get the ætherbrain working within the next few days.

October 14th
A French flotilla is approaching. Six airships. We are getting ready.


October 15th
Well, we are heading back to Südwacht, at least for now. The French Flotilla also contained a Belgian airship. Since we were on foreign territory, we were of course obliged to leave. There will also be official protests via the diplomatic channels, I presume.
Still, the Belgian officers thanked us for finding this secret factory. They will now continue with the investigation.
They did not enquire about automatons, though, we still have ours, I guess the British have at least one, too.


October 16th
We are back at Südwacht. The automaton is being send on to Berlin, Rostock is taking it. To my surprise and delight I found a letter from Gwendolen waiting for me.

A letter from Gwendolen

How I wish to be with her. Alas, my duty keeps me here. Soon I will be in Africa a month. This whole affair lays heavy on my mind. What is going on? Are the Belgians hiding something? What do the French know?


October 14th
Compared to the tension of the previous weeks, today was almost boring. The crew has made some minor repairs and maintenance, Dustermann and Gruson are working on the salvaged automatons. We are also awaiting further instructions from Berlin.


October 15th
New orders have come in. I am to deliver the automatons personally. The Württemberg is ready. We will take off as soon as the sun is down and head to Berlin under cover of night. With any luck, we will reach Berlin before anyone learns of our departure.
I am pretty certain, the English have sent one of their airships back home, too.


October 16th

We are steaming towards the Mediterranean Sea, going full speed. So far, no watch officer has reported anything unusual.


October 17th

I was right. We overtook HMD Xerxes just a few miles off the Egyptian coast. They morsed "Good Luck", a wish we happily returned.
It is good to know that even in the present situation, there is this kind of comradery between the airforces of different nations. Then again, Friedrich III and Queen Victoria are family, so I guess, our nations are related as well.



October 18th

We crossed the Alps during the night and are due to touch down in Friedrichshafen within the hour.
I thought we would be flying to Berlin, but new orders came in at 4:23 this morning. Well, it is good to be home again.


The story continues in the next chapter: The Trail of the Automatons




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The First Expediton of LZ-X1 Württemberg

The Second Expedition of LZ-X1 Württemberg