Fortress Rabaul. The lion’s den. A hub of merchant shipping that was the lifeblood of an empire that controlled one-tenth of the world. Home of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Eighth Fleet.
Located on the northeastern tip of New Britain, the town had been built in a sunken caldera along the natural anchorage of Simpson Harbor. Forested mountains loomed beyond the town. Vulcan Volcano smoked in the western jungle.
Before the Japanese came, the island had been an Australian territory. Australian units had been sent to fight in North Africa, leaving the garrison depleted. The Japanese landed in January 1942, swept aside the defenders, and hunted them down in the jungle. Then they turned the town into an impregnable land, air, and naval base ringed by artillery and anti-aircraft guns.
The captain studied the harbor defenses through the periscope and whistled at the view. His officers eyed him anxiously.
“All ahead one-third,” he said. “Steady as she goes.”
The S-55 crept as close to the mouth of Simpson Harbor as Kane dared take her.
“I see a lot of ships tied up,” he observed. “What do you think, Reynolds? They’re all lined up in a row, like sitting ducks. Maybe we should go in there and take them out.”
“I was thinking, we could skirt around—”
“I was joking, Reynolds.”
Entering the harbor would be suicide. Assuming the S-55 could navigate the minefields without being blown out of the water, she’d have to stay out of contact of roaming patrol boats. Then she’d be in shallow waters—clearly visible and with nowhere to dive deep to escape.
They’d just have to wait until some ships came out.
The problem was they only had enough fuel and provisions for four days before they had to turn back for Brisbane. They had no idea when a ship might emerge from the harbor mouth. It might be hours, it might be days, maybe even weeks.
“It’s too bad,” Kane said. “I can see the meatballs on their sides.” Japanese naval insignia, a blood-red sun on a white field. “Makes a nice target.”
Sound waves thudded against the hull. Distant booms.
The men glanced at each other.
“MacArthur’s bombers,” the captain said. “It’s raining hell up there. The B-17s are stirring up the hornets’ nest. I see Zeros flying everywhere. Down scope. Helm, right full rudder.”
“Right full rudder,” answered the helmsman. He turned the wheel.
“I wonder how they like having bombs dropped on their heads,” Rusty said.
“Come to east,” Kane ordered. “Maintain speed. All compartments, stand by to dive.”
He was turning the boat around. The S-55 was visible from the air, and although the Zeros were preoccupied with the bombers overhead, Kane was wisely avoiding any risk of detection. He didn’t want the Japanese to know he was there until his first torpedo hit.
More than that, he wanted to get as far away from the bombing as possible. The B-17 “flying fortresses” weren’t precision weapons; they dropped big sledgehammers from eighteen thousand feet. It would be in keeping with Frankie’s luck to have come all this way to the lion’s den only to be sunk by an errant five-hundred-pound bomb made in the U.S.A.
“Dive. Eighty feet. Battery, how much juice do we have in the can?”
The hull vibrated with booms thudding in rapid succession.
The telephone talker relayed the battery room’s answer. The captain nodded, satisfied.
“All ahead flank.”
The submarine glided across Blanche Bay to safer waters.
The captain clapped Charlie on the shoulder. “Wait and hurry up, Harrison.”
“Yes, sir,” Charlie said with a smile.
He felt the same excitement that infected the rest of the crew, who imagined returning to base with a broom tied to the shears and several meatballs painted on the hull.
The broom signified a “clean sweep,” a patrol in which all torpedoes were fired. The meatball insignia were brags of ships sunk.
He didn’t think they’d have to wait much longer. The bombing was likely to get the Japanese thinking about accelerating departure schedules. Ships might be on the move soon.
The S-55 would reach Duke of York Island by nightfall. There, her engines would recharge the battery. Then the old sea wolf would become a hunter. And return to Simpson Harbor …
Want to read more? Get CRASH DIVE for Kindle here.