The battle stations alarm bonged throughout the boat.
“Battle stations, torpedo,” the quartermaster announced over the loudspeakers.
Around the S-55, all hands scrambled to man their stations for the attack.
In the control room, Reynolds would act as assistant approach officer and Rusty as assistant diving officer. Charlie remained on station as plotting officer.
The submarine started an attack approach, cruising toward the enemy ships at a new submerged depth of seventy feet. Going in slow and deep while raising the periscope as little as possible because it could be spotted and derail their surprise attack.
“All compartments report battle stations manned,” the telephone talker reported.
Charlie felt his first pangs of fear. He’d served on a destroyer. He knew how good they were at fighting submarines. In fact, the destroyer was the submarine’s natural enemy. Fast and nimble. Bristling with sonar, big guns, and depth charges.
The S-55 taking on these powerful ships was David and Goliath all over again. Though, in this case, David carried a pretty big stone.
The soundman called out a new bearing. Charlie forgot his fear as he marked it on the plotting paper. He had a job to do. Lives depended on him right now, just as they depended on every other man on the boat.
Five minutes passed. Five more. Wait and hurry up. In the dim red light of the control room, the dots and lines on the paper showed the Japanese ships and the S-55 slowly converging.
“They’re zigging,” the soundman reported.
To avoid a surprise submarine attack, destroyers often zigzagged, but they commonly did so based on a pattern. Charlie marked the new bearing and used his ruler to draw a straight line between the last two dots. After a few plots, the pattern would emerge. Then Frankie could get into a final position to take a shot at them.
“Steady as she goes,” Kane said. The cat and mouse game was on in earnest now.
The captain studied the plot Charlie was building mark by mark. The approach was an exercise in geometry. Kane had to maneuver his moving object to be at the precise place to shoot at objects that were themselves moving.
Right now, Frankie’s luck was holding. The Japanese ships were coming on as neatly as if she’d laid a trap. After turning the boat to starboard on a new northerly course of 10º True, Captain Kane’s subsequent orders to the helmsman continually nudged her into a firing position.
Rusty had been right; the man’s hands didn’t shake in combat. A cool customer.
The young officer tracking a target while Kane, hands on his hips, stood over him; it was like doing a classroom problem at Submarine School. Fear of failure, not of dying.
The captain tapped the paper with his finger. There. That’s where we’ll take a shot at the bastards. Charlie envisioned the attack. The enemy ships would present their broadsides as they passed at between a thousand and fifteen hundred yards. Frankie would be on course to lead her target by twenty-nine degrees—speed plus three—for a straight bow shot at them. Beautiful.
The captain brought the boat to forty-five feet. “Up scope.”
He whistled again as he scanned the darkness. “I can see them clearly now in the moonlight. Three Fubuki-class destroyers. And what looks like a heavy cruiser. I think it’s the Furutaka. A Furutaka-class cruiser, just like the Kako, which the 44 sank around these parts back in August.”
The men in the control room glanced at each other and grinned.
The captain said, “Nine thousand tons. That’s the ship we’re going to sink.”
He spoke with a light tone that betrayed nothing of the mounting pressure he must have felt. In fact, he sounded positively delighted at the prospect of taking a shot at the giant.
Then he brought the boat down to seventy feet, staying hidden.
“Rig for depth charge,” he said.
Around the boat, men prepared the boat to take a beating. All unnecessary lights were extinguished and emergency lighting turned on. Watertight doors were sealed.
Rigging for depth charge before an attack was atypical. With three destroyers up top, the captain was expecting swift and severe retaliation after Frankie sent the Furutaka to the bottom.
“All compartments report rigged for depth charge,” the telephone talker said.
Rusty murmured to Charlie, “Having fun?”
Charlie wasn’t sure how a professional should answer that one. He decided to be honest. “Hell, yeah.”
“This part always is.”
“Helm, steer 005º True,” the captain said, nudging their course. He brought the boat back up for forty-five feet again. “Up scope. We’re getting close.”
The excitement in the room was almost palpable now.
Charlie spared a moment of reflection for their strangely methodical and deadly work. The men turned wheels, pushed buttons, pulled levers, studied instrumentation. At the end of this highly technical process, a hole would be blown in a big ship, and she would sink into the sound.
Possibly hundreds of men would be killed.
He wondered about those men out there. The Japanese were an alien race to him, but they weren’t evil or inhuman. They loved their children. They toiled on the same types of ships. They laughed. They dreamed. They suffered, and they died, just like any man.
In the end, none of it mattered. The Japanese slaughtered thousands at Pearl. More than a thousand at Cavite. While the individual Japanese wasn’t so different from Charlie, he served a brutal regime that was enslaving millions and threatening America.
Rusty was fighting for his wife and son. Charlie fought for Evie, but more than Evie, he was fighting for his country. The people in it and, just as important, the very idea of it.
The captain read the periscope’s stadimeter. “Range, fifteen hundred yards. It’s showtime. Torpedo room, make ready the tubes. Order of tubes is one, two, three, four. Set depth at four feet.”
In the torpedo compartment, the sailors loaded the torpedoes. The tubes flooded. The outer doors opened.
“All four tubes ready, Captain,” Reynolds confirmed.
“Torpedo room, stand by.”
The seconds ticked by. Charlie gaped at the captain, pencil clenched in his hand. Kane stared into the scope for another minute while water splashed on his bare shoulders.
“She’s coming on. Easy does it. Fire one!”
“Firing one,” Reynolds said and punched the firing button. Frankie shuddered as the torpedo ejected from its tube, a ton of metal and explosives suddenly exiting the boat.
Reynolds counted eight seconds on his stopwatch and pressed the plunger for the second tube. “Firing two!”
Another eight seconds: “Firing three!”
Then: “Firing four! Secure all tubes.”
Four torpedoes in a longitudinal spread. Kane wasn’t taking any chances. If all went according to plan, the first torpedo would hit the cruiser close to the bow. The ship’s momentum would carry it forward, allowing the other fish to nail her both amidships and near the stern. As the cruiser was nearly six football fields in length, the odds looked good.
The torpedoes streamed in a single line toward the cruiser. At this range, nearly two minutes would pass before the contact-exploders struck the hull and detonated.
This was it …
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