The first six chapters of “The Traitor” are available to read on-line. Copies of the book can be purchased from : ISBN  978 1 4092 9076 6 Based on “Superior Force” the acclaimed study of the escape of Goeben and Breslau
Please feel free to read this novel but note that all rights are reserved and that no part of this publication may be further reproduced by any means without the prior permission of the author, Geoffrey Miller, who has asserted his right in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
"The terrible ‘ifs’ accumulate" The Traitor A novel by Geoffrey Miller The Balkans, 1914 Home Synopsis Balkans My Books Contact Order
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The Traitor Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 3 Chapter 2 Chapter 1 Purchase a copy of The Traitor
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Chapter 2 Rusa Bay
The stain of smoke which appeared casually on the horizon could have meant destruction or salvation. There was no immediate way of knowing which. Lieutenant Karl Dönitz, a convinced fatalist, stared aimlessly as the smoke rose in a lazy spiral, the colour changing from dark brown to chestnut until it eventually merged into the bleached sky. Yet, paradoxically, the blurred outlines of the approaching intruder resolutely refused to come into focus. Finally, as his lookout party on the summit began to wonder if the Lieutenant had decided to keep the information to himself, Dönitz quietly gave the necessary order to alert the Admiral. But all that Leading Seaman Steiner could do was to flash a message by signalling lamp that a ship, identity unknown, had been spotted. It was not up to Dönitz to guess at the intruder’s identity; nor was it his responsibility to decide what to do next. That was what Captains and Admirals were for. Captain Ackermann, having been informed of the message, cast a worried glance at the Admiral. To be caught now, when they were so close to completing their escape; to be caught now, anchored helplessly, with insufficient coal to feed the voracious boilers. The men would fight, but they would die. Worse, they would die without inflicting any appreciable damage upon their enemy. The Admiral acknowledged his Captain’s concern but said nothing; there was nothing to say. Dönitz, too, remained consumed by his own thoughts, while the column of smoke remained wispy and ill-defined. If it had been a battle cruiser, he reasoned, surely there would have been more smoke and the ship would have covered a greater distance in the minutes he had been observing it? Time slowed; its passage was now marked, on the island by the rhythmic puffs of smoke emanating from the mystery ship and by the somnolent hum of the cicadas, and on the ships by the studied motion of the bridge clock. The shimmering heat haze continued to disguise the features of what may have been their nemesis. Lieutenant Dönitz now believed, however, that she had but one funnel and, if so, could not be a large British warship. Even so, he was not about to share that information with his fellow officers until absolutely sure. They would have to endure the anxious period of waiting as he was doing, made more fraught by the knowledge of their own powerlessness. Far below, in the sheltered bay, the crews, not wanting to think of what might be approaching unseen behind the red cliffs, silently manned their action stations. There was no conversation. Below, what remained of the coal was hurriedly being retrieved from the forward bunkers and positioned, in readiness, in front of the twenty-one boilers still working. The body of Ordinary Seaman Nowak, scalded to death when the tubes in boiler number eight burst, still lay in the sick bay awaiting burial. His journey to death had been a short one: a recent recruit, only taken on board at Pola late the previous month as part of the intake to bring the ship up to its wartime complement. And now he lay, skin bubbled off, cooked alive. The old hands, who knew about these things, had long suspected boiler number eight, which was notoriously troublesome. But it was not guilt which caused the furtive, anxious glances to be exchanged. It was the realization of their complete and utter powerlessness; their fate was out of their hands. Had they been on deck, even though the intruder could still not be seen, the fear of the unknown would not have been as pronounced. Locked away in their steel sarcophagus, each man’s mind imagined the worst. At last, the strange vessel began to turn, presenting her starboard profile. Dönitz checked once more; there was no doubt about it. It was Bogados. From his hiding place in the hold of the collier, Major Lionel Samson was at once aware of a sudden disturbance in the normally ordered shipboard routine. After two days in his cramped, filthy space, during which the only activity had been the occasional perambulation of a crewman on the deck above and the only sound the constant throb of the weary engine, the commotion was a welcome, if sinister, change. Covered in coal dust and stained by his own vomit, Samson longed to be able to go on deck, even at the risk of capture. He could endure no longer the lurching, heaving motion, the dirt, the smell. Samson climbed the internal rail to the starboard hatch-cover, raised it slightly, and chanced a quick glance. Peering out from under the cover, he had just enough time to notice that the ship was slowing before a seaman rushing by caused him hurriedly to close the hatch and, as an added precaution, descend once more into the dark recess of the hold. After waiting a few moments he slowly ascended the ladder again. His legs were cramping severely and he wanted nothing more than to sit back and massage some feeling into them. Then he bitterly recalled the want of nerve on Friday morning which had placed him in this situation and he knew he had to try to gain some clue as to the location. He cautiously raised the hatch cover again; all activity now seemed to be centred on the port side. The collier had just rounded a steep promontory and was about to drop anchor in a small secluded bay. The russet cliffs rose straight up from the sea; if there was a quay or landing place Samson could not spot it. The anchor chain rasped down through the hawse-hole; and, as it did so, the commotion on board subsided somewhat, to be replaced by a more orthodox routine. Samson realized that the main hold covers would soon have to be removed to allow access to the piled sacks of coal. His brain raced: why had they anchored in this deserted cove? This was the second time since Friday morning that the ship had stopped — yesterday, was it Saturday? — there had been a similar commotion, but whatever it was had taken place too quickly, and there were too many men milling around for Samson to have been able to see. He thought, but was not sure, that another ship had then been somehow involved. The Major carefully scanned the summit of the cliff, but could see no sign of habitation. While he wrestled with the problem, the humble collier began to swing reproachfully at her anchor. As she did so, the rest of the bay was revealed. Slowly coming into view, stern first off the collier’s starboard bow, was the unmistakable outline of a capital ship. Its foreboding grey bulk seemed out of place in the placid water. The thought suddenly occurred to him that Beaumont had been right — the Turkish crews must have seized Sultan Osman and sailed her out from the Tyne. But this did not make sense; he would have heard of such a move from Rendel. It was, after all, to prevent the Greeks sinking the ship that he had himself been ordered to return to Athens. Samson was transfixed as more and more of the mystery ship revealed itself. By the time her bridge had hove into view he was no longer in any doubt. It was not Sultan Osman; instead, there, before him, was the ship that the British Mediterranean Squadron had spent the past few days trying to destroy: the German battle cruiser, Goeben. And, through the tangle of masts, funnels and rigging, the upperworks of a second, smaller, ship could be discerned. Samson knew that early on Friday morning, when he had secreted himself aboard the collier, Admiral Milne’s forces were preparing to gather in Malta before setting off in pursuit of Goeben and her accompanying light cruiser, the faithful consort Breslau. The last report received in Athens from the Admiralty indicated that Wilhelm Souchon, the German Admiral, had been forced out of Messina by his erstwhile ally, Italy, who had declared neutrality. Evidently, in the intervening two-and-a-half days, Milne must have lost contact as Souchon would never have risked arranging a coaling rendezvous otherwise. If caught like this by the British his ships would be sitting targets. Samson, who had tried as best he could to follow the collier’s course (which had been south during Friday, then more or less east throughout Saturday), assumed they were now on the leeward side of one of the islands in the Cyclades. But how was Milne to know which one? There would be scores of such secluded bays to search, while the coaling operation would at best take the rest of that day and night. Samson checked his watch: it was 3.45 p.m. How could he possibly alert Milne now? If he could gain access to the collier’s radio he could send a message certainly, but what good would a message be without the location. ‘I must find out the location,’ he though to himself; ‘but how?’ Then it occurred to him: let Milne himself find the location! If Samson could send any message alerting the British Squadron to the fact that Goeben was coaling, and was therefore helpless, it would only need a couple of ships to pick up the signal and so provide a rough fix. It was better than nothing.  The collier had now swung back so that her port side was facing the German ships and all activity remained confined to that side. Samson knew that capture would follow immediately upon removal of the main hold cover. He therefore had no choice. His grimy appearance might just prove sufficient disguise in the turmoil as all attention was resolutely focused on the preparations being made to transship the coal. And it was, after all, only a short distance to the bridge and, hopefully, the radio room. It was a desperate gamble but the only one that Samson could think of. He had sent Morse before, during the siege of Adrianople, but that was on a Marconi apparatus. He assumed that, being a German collier, Bogados would have a Telefunken set. But there shouldn’t be much difference between the two. Samson tried to massage some feeling back into his legs as he waited for an opportune moment. While he waited, he considered the possibility that Hoffmann had remained on board. Perversely, he almost hoped that he had — almost. Then, seizing his chance, he slipped out from under the cover and on to the deck. His legs buckled under him. Half walking and half dragging himself, Samson headed for the small shack immediately abaft the bridge. He pressed himself to the woodwork, waited a few seconds, then flung the door open. The cabin was deserted: a bunk, a chair, a small table, some books on the wall; but no radio. Only now did Samson look up, at the mast. There was no antenna. There was no radio. He tried frantically to think. What were his options? He could not return to his hiding place, but perhaps there was some other place where he could remain unnoticed and accompany the collier to her final destination, whatever that may be. Or … Impulsively, Samson dashed into the cabin, searching for evidence of a destination. Rifling through some charts on the table he soon discovered one of the Aegean with the course from the Piraeus clearly marked in thick pencil. The line had been drawn south of the Greek port, with a cross and Saturday’s date marking the spot at which the course had abruptly changed to east. Next to the cross was the name “Breslau”. That explained the brief stop the previous day — a rendezvous; clearly, without radio, the collier had needed guiding to the spot chosen for coaling. After the course had changed the line proceeded, to their current position, Rusa Bay on the island of Denusa. And after that? A dotted line extended north-east from Rusa Bay to Chios, where it split, with one branch going directly on towards the Dardanelles, while the other proceeded first to Smyrna before then rejoining the other line on the course to Constantinople. Turkey — so that was it! He now realized that he had known all along and, in that instant, it all became clear to Major Samson. The excuses, the dubious actions, the vacillation, the lies. It was treason. Samson replaced the charts as he had found them and was about to leave when he saw the name Polymitis on a bill of lading pinned to the top of a pile of papers. Having heard that name on Friday morning, he quickly rifled through the papers: it was a complete set of false documents showing the destination to be Cape Town. Should she be stopped, Bogados would appear to be a Greek steamer making for a British port. Time would have been required to fabricate such an elaborate cover. The conspiracy, for that was what it was, must have taken shape by the previous Wednesday at the latest, and that meant … His thoughts were interrupted by sounds from the far side of the bridge. He had to make a decision now. Was he to stay on the collier and hope to make good his escape in Constantinople when it would be too late, or make one final attempt to warn Milne? The all-too-likely prospect of internment and capture — or worse — rendered the decision a simple one. Crossing to the edge of the deck, Samson climbed over, lowered himself on the rails until he dangled some twenty feet above the water, and let go. Although it was the Aegean in August, entering the water in such a fashion was still a shock. Samson let out a surprised gasp and swallowed a gulp of seawater for his pains. He hoped the crew would be too busy to have heard the sound of the splash; just in case he waited by the fouled hull of the collier where he believed he was less likely to be noticed. The water cleansed him while he waited. Having satisfied himself that his presence had not been detected, Samson struck out for the shore. He had never been a strong swimmer and, weighed down by his clothes, it was an effort to reach the base of the cliffs. When within sight of his objective a series of waves piling up against the base of the cliff, and in the process breaking over his head, induced a momentary sense of panic and Samson wondered if it would all end there. Weeks might pass before a passing caique fished his corpse out of the water. The mystery of his body being recovered in such a location would be a subject of much speculation amongst the Legation staff in Athens. The Major suddenly realized that he was wholly absorbed in the reactions of Erskine and Rendel and not concentrating. With one final effort he lunged forward, grabbed a handhold on the steeply shelving shore and dragged himself out of the water on to a small flat rock at the base of the cliff. He lay there exhausted, allowing the sun to warm him. His spur of the moment action had now left him stranded and, with nothing better to do, he re-lived the previous seventy-two hours. Why had he bothered to slip aboard Bogados at the Piraeus on Friday? He had convinced himself that only thus could he uncover irrefutable proof to solve the mystery of Souchon’s destination; but he was forced to admit now that he had known all along and that all his actions had achieved was to ensure that he had spent the next two days concealed in the ship’s hold. He had accomplished nothing and now, while the German ships calmly coaled before his eyes, there was no way to alert Milne. When the previous three days would allow of no further reinterpretation, Samson turned instead to contemplation of his blundering tenure in Athens: from the time of his secondment to the Foreign Office he had been a pawn in the game. Whenever he imagined himself getting close to the truth, some other piece on the board had been moved and the game had changed again. He had failed comprehensively and that thought upset him as much as the betrayal; he could do little other than review the course of events, to see if there was any action, any move he could have made to have prevented what was now happening. As he continued to rebuke himself with the thoughts of what might been, he peered upwards to the summit and a perilous scheme to make amends began to take hold. A fire at night from that height would be visible for miles. It might bring someone to investigate, and that might be enough. Samson realized that he would have at best an hour in which the fire could be lighted before sailors detached from the ships could reach the summit. He dare not commence his climb now, while there was still daylight, but soon the sun would sink below the summit and the cliffs would be in shadow. Then he could make a start. His stomach complained angrily. From Thursday evening until the previous night he had had nothing to eat; for water he had been forced to lick the rusty, sweating metal hull. His misery had increased until, as Saturday became Sunday, he had emerged from the hold and made his way silently to the lifeboat, there to consume the emergency rations. Samson checked his watch for the first time since emerging from the water; it had stopped at five o’clock. The shadows were already lengthening; he knew the sun would set just after seven o’clock. If he didn’t go now he would face the last part of the ascent in darkness. He could still clearly see men moving all over the ships; he could only hope that they were too occupied with the filthy business of coaling. He lifted himself up, torn between the physical exhaustion he felt and the resolution to try to salvage something from his bungled mission. His ankles, both broken during the South African War, already ached ominously.  Fortunately, the climb was somewhat easier than it had looked; however, before he had covered thirty feet, an eerie noise caused Samson to freeze. The regular put-putting reminded him of a tin steam boat he had had as a child, but what was the other noise? Straining to turn his head as far over his left shoulder as possible, he caught sight of a steam pinnace from one of the warships beginning a sweep of the bay. The regular beat of the piston reverberated off the very cliff he was clinging to, but there was another sound — the sound of laughter echoing around the giant amphitheatre of the bay. The crew of the pinnace were in high spirits. The small bow wave sent out a succession of diminishing waves — liquid arrow heads pointing, or so Samson thought, directly at him. The delicate puffs of smoke traced an arc in the darkening sky behind the pinnace as it crept ever closer to his position. Surely they must see him now? Samson dared not move; his hands ached; though the evening was now cool, he dripped sweat. He stared so hard at the rock in front of his face that his eyes strenuously refused to focus, and he was forced to shut them. Almost imperceptibly he began to notice that the pitch of the engine had changed. He risked turning again, this time to his right, to see the wake of the pinnace: a signalling lamp from Goeben was punctuating the gloom. The boat was being recalled. Were they preparing to sail or had the onset of dusk removed the necessity of conducting sweeps of the bay? Samson’s knowledge of battle cruisers was limited but he knew that, in the time that had passed since the collier had dropped anchor, only a small amount of coal could have been transshipped. To have risked stopping to coal at all with most of the British Mediterranean Squadron on his heels, the German Admiral must have required a large amount. There was no other indication of imminent departure.  Samson resumed his climb. The delay meant that the remainder of the climb took place in darkness. Breathless, Samson paused on a ledge just beneath the summit to regain his strength. Below him, lights blazed on the three ships. The impression of power was overwhelming. How could he hope, single-handedly, to prevent the ships from reaching what he now knew to be their destination? Samson wearily got to his feet, ready for the last part of the climb. As he did so, more voices could be heard. Was it an acoustical trick? The Major decided to continue; it was only a short distance now. Then the voices came again, louder now. What sort of echo was this? It was now right above him. He looked up, seeing nothing in the semi-darkness, but sensing a presence. As he did so, a small fall of earth and pebbles caught him in the face and it was all he could do to avoid betraying his position immediately below the interlopers. Someone was standing on the edge of the precipice, directly above where Samson now perched. The voices were unmistakably German. German had been one of the weakest of his languages, but he had had enough time in the past year to acquire a good working knowledge, which was sufficient for him to realize that the person was querying how long the coaling operation would continue for, and whether the lookout party would be stuck on shore all night. Lieutenant Dönitz snapped back that he was not in the Admiral’s confidence and the seaman kicked at the ground again. All officers were the same, he thought. One may occasionally appear to be more considerate, but it was always an illusion; they were all the same. When the conversation had ended, Samson heard the sound of feet scraping the ground; the voices began to recede.  The Major should have realized that Souchon would have placed lookouts on the highest point, even at night. A flaming funnel from a speeding enemy vessel would be visible for miles — enough time, perhaps, to have allowed Souchon to break off coaling and get under way, even if this meant deserting the lookouts. There was nothing more he could do. With a German patrol on the cliff top, Samson would never be able to light a signal fire. “Metriticicas” had triumphed after all. In the failing light he unbuttoned his top pocket and, for no apparent reason, withdrew the small signalling mirror he habitually carried. Perhaps, the next day, he might be able to attract the attention of a passing ship? But it was a forlorn hope; and then Samson caught sight of his reflection in the mirror. The Major dropped back down to the ledge and sat, crumpled and deflated. Gazing out at the illuminated warships below he stroked the ground with his hand, picked up a few loose stones and threw them into the sea, as if this was all he could do now. The coaling continued feverishly, under the watchful eye of Wilhelm Souchon. It was, the Admiral reluctantly conceded, taking far too long, and they would almost certainly have to break off at dawn and set course for the Dardanelles, leaving part of the precious cargo still aboard the collier. For the time being, however, he consoled himself with the knowledge that they were safe from prying eyes. Staring at the lights below him induced a curious hypnotic effect and the Major felt himself drifting. Why had Admiral Kerr been so evasive on the day before he had left Athens? What had brought about the change in Rendel’s demeanour? Had Erskine been genuinely duped by Venizelos? Perhaps he should have guessed the identity of Metriticicas. He should certainly have declined the mission. He should have returned to Constantinople after the siege of Adrianople and sought Edith once more. He should never have begun to investigate the assassination. Yes, that was when it had begun: the assassination — March 1913. If only the King had not stayed in Salonica; if only Geroulanos had not expressed a facile wish; if only … but the “if onlys” could go on forever. He was right, though: it had all started with the assassination.
Chapter 2