Keynes' Cruisers Volume 2

Story 1642 November 4 1942
  • 11 miles south of Dili, November 4, 1942

    Pork, that was all that he could smell. If he ignored the reality, he could almost remember his childhood fascination with the smoke houses that lined the tobacco fields of his coastal Carolina home. The infantryman walked carefully forward, past the bodies of a trio combat engineers who had failed in the first attempt to break this complex. The satchel charge they were carrying was lying a few feet away from the left leg of the last man.

    Flame throwers, 155 millimeter artillery and a platoon of tanks supported the second attack of the day and the thirteenth attack of the campaign against this complex. It was the last attack. Liquid fire poured into the holes created by corps level artillery firing over open sights between the attacking platoons. First one, and then another strong point went silent as the screamers faded to silence or were shredded by grenades or shot by assault sections. As the interlocking defensive positions fell, the National Guardsmen advance quickened. Half of the assault force was still walking once the ridge line was secured. They immediately started to dig in as the almost inevitable counter-attack never came.

    Down in the valley, a steady stream of tanks and trucks carrying a new battalion of American infantry slowly moved forward even as dozens of ambulances were dangerously overloaded as they headed to the rear.
     
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    Story 1643

  • North of Scapa Flow, November 5, 1942


    Cold spray broke over the battleship’s bow. Behind USS North Carolina, USS Wasp followed, her flight deck wet and slippery. She had landed both of her dive bomber squadrons. Instead, she had raided the fighter complement of an American escort carrier to add an extra eight Wildcats to her air group. She would support only Grummans on this trip as the surface threat was minimal and the Luftwaffe had been seen to shift most of the anti-shipping units to Sicily. A little more than two thirds of an air group would be sufficient for her last trip into the Norwegian Sea before she would be recalled to Norfolk. All the planes were already tied down in the hanger.

    Three hundred miles to the north of the departing covering force, PQ-23 was fighting through waves. Forty five merchant ships were being covered by a destroyer squadron and a cruiser division. A trio of tugs as well as an anti-aircraft vessel completed the close escort. The forty five ships were in nine columns of five.

    As they steamed into the edge of the storm, SS Ohio fell out of line. A man fell overboard. The American tanker made bare steerage for half an hour before her skipper ordered full speed to rejoin the convoy. In good weather at this time of year, a man might last twenty minutes in the sea. He would have had a chance to survive 10 minutes in the twenty five foot rollers.
     
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    Story 1644

  • Northern France November 5, 1942



    She ate a lump of cheese. Her valise was tucked underneath her seat. In her left hand was the next ticket. Nine more miles and she would transfer to another train. The ticket said it would leave in two hours. She did not believe that after spending eighteen months collecting repair and delay reports from the entire network. If the next train was at the station when she arrived, she would be happily surprised; if they left on time, she would be shocked. An evening journey was what she anticipated, anyways that would be safer as the American and English fighter sweeps never came around at night anyways.


    A few miles away a quartet of Belgian flown Hawker Typhoons were running fast and low. They had already soured the milk of a dairy herd but their search and destroy mission this afternoon had mainly been a search mission. A sharp eyed wingman saw the trail of black smoke that the engine generated as it burned the cheap, low quality coal that had been allocated to this tertiary passenger run. The fighter bombers wiggled their wings and changed course. Eyes searched the sky for FW-190s preparing for a bounce but their deadliest threat was nowhere to be found. Two planes went in hot and fast, the dozen machine guns spitting lead for a twelve second burst. Most of the bullets dug into the soft ground ahead and before the engine but enough punched through the boiler, steam flaying the engineer and his assistant even as the train came to a stop.


    Anna Marie was on the floor of the compartment looking for cover. The two petty bureaucrats who had been sitting across from her were slower than the spry young woman. One was still sitting up while the other accidently provided her with another shield as he landed atop her. In a few moments after the second pair of fighters strafed the train, the passengers started to stream out of the compartments. A few were showing bloody wounds but most of the strafing had gone either short or too far ahead of the train. Anna Marie finished her lunch and adjusted her skirt before she started walking to the next town where she could proceed on her journey home.
     
    Story 1645
  • Yokosuka Naval Arsensl, November 7, 1942

    Emptiness greeted the ecstatic engineers. One of the largest construction slips in the Empire was finally empty. The half completed battleship had been launched the previous evening. Another two years worth of work was scheduled to make the massive ship ready to destroy the gaijin. Even as other crews completed Shinano, the engineers would soon oversee the laying down of a fleet carrier that would be ready to fight in 1945.
     
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    Story 1646
  • Kuantan, Malaya November 8, 1942

    USS Argonaut left the harbor. The submarine tender Holland had done her regular bang up job of keeping the large submarine mostly functional. Below her decks she carried enough food to feed the entire Bataan garrison for a day and enough ammunition to keep them fighting for a week. She also carried critical reinforcements impressed from Royal Navy ships. Rats had started to proliferate in the granaries in Bataan and they needed reinforcements.

    Four dozen ships' cats were aboard the submarine. A burly seaman who still needed time to qualify for his dolphins had been assigned to keep those cats happy and clean. The captain expected to be able to deliver at least forty four of them but if these English tabbies were anything like his daughter's Maine Coon, he knew that his boat would be picking up at least one permanent crew member who would come and go as she pleased.

    Two hours later, she cleared the defensive mine fields and began her journey to the northeast.
     
    Story 1647
  • Cape Bon, November 8, 1942

    PT-109 had a new skipper. The old skipper was recovering in a hospital near Bone from an appendectomy. The new LT was tall, lanky and confident as could be despite only arriving in theatre two days ago. Eight boats from the squadron were trawling the waters off of Cape Bon. Fires ashore had been lit by bombers and the combined Army Group artillery groups where the 1st and 8th Army had started to pound German and Italian hard points. Tunis was still a shambles with most of an Italian infantry division dug into the colonial port and refugees streaming out of the city to Allied lines. Most of the remaining Axis army however was on Cape Bon.

    The wooden slasher slowly moved through the water at eleven knots. The other three boats in the division were spread in a line two miles long and they continued their patrol heading north and then east again. A sharp eyed look-out pushed his elbow into his new skipper’s ribs --

    “Bumps, Bearing 340”

    Five sets of eyes strained. Glasses were raised and heads slightly turned. Soon, two bumps became three. A light flashed off the stern of the torpedo boat and the rest of the division began to assemble on PT-109. The twin fifties and the sole twenty millimeter gun were manned, ammunition made ready as the four boats accelerated. The other division of the squadron had begun to sweep wide.

    Eleven knots became eighteen knots. Soon three bumps became six. Two of those bumps came into focus as Italian torpedo boats, actually very light destroyers, came out to meet the American attackers. Star shells illuminated the four attacking coastal torpedo boats. By now, there was no need for radio silence and calls were being made to British and American destroyer divisions to cut off the convoy’s retreat. The four small merchant ships increased speed and their guns also began to fire star shells, quickly illuminating the flanking division.

    Water spouts erupted around PT-109 as the engines whined and the screws dug into the water, pushing the boat forward at thirty eight knots. She began to wiggle, she skidded and tightly cornered into and out of turns, chasing splashing while still trying to close the range. Her four torpedo tubes were ready but they were far out of effective range. Steel splinters embedded themselves into the hull after a near miss. One of her companions started to make smoke to hide behind and the LT drove his boat into the enveloping smoke screen before emerging out of the far side on a straight course in.

    By now the Italian escorts were split. One was fighting the diversion division while the other’s four inch gun was banging away at the flanker force. PT-109 still had not fired yet, the Oerlikon was theoretically within range while the Brownings were still out of range but the odds of hitting anything besides the blue sea were only slightly better than winning a hand with an eight high. They pressed in even as the escort’s anti-aircraft guns began to fire, sending bright tracers plunging into the sea. Less than 1,000 yards from the escort, PT-109 and PT-162 started their torpedo runs. The heavy Brownings began to chatter even as twenty millimeter shells walked from the sea into the hull. Leaks were not slowing the attack down. The Italian escort had started to turn away, attempting to open the range while decreasing the weight of fire heading towards her attackers.

    Six hundred yards away, a few strings of bullets had hit the Italian escort before the replacement Skipper ordered the torpedoes to fire. In seconds, the gyros were stabilizing and then the black powder charges kicked the four torpedoes into the water. The second tube on the starboard side had a grease fire that one of the machine gunners needed to abandon his gun in order to extinguish. Even as the torpedoes began their run, the boat turned and every single horsepower available in the three engines went into the screws. The smoke generator started to pour smoke behind the fleeing boat as shells were still boiling the water around her. PT-162 joined her compatriot in the middle of a smoke screen.

    Suddenly a tremendous noise was heard, a torpedo had struck home and exploded. The gunfire from the Italian escort had stopped and when it resumed, it was only from a few anti-aircraft mounts and not the heavy four inch gun. The other two boats of the division pressed in on their torpedo runs. Even as they were breaking through the smoke screen, all the crew members aboard PT-109 checked in; five were wounded, none too bad. Four had various splinters from the damaged hull in their arms and legs while the fifth, a gunner’s mate lost a chunk of his thigh to shell fragment. A tourniquet had stopped the bleeding and morphine had quieted his moans as the patrol boat began the second phase of the action, a hunt for the convoy’s merchant ships.
     
    Story 1648
  • Department of the Navy, Washington DC, November 8, 1942


    “Goddamn it; we’re giving you a blooming battleship for Home Fleet with almost no questions asked. You’ve had at least two of our big ships for almost the entire year.”

    “You’re asking for something we can't give you”

    “We’ll pay cash, or lend lease or whatever you want for them and provide our own crews”

    An exasperated sigh filled the room. This was a conversation that had been going on for two weeks as the reports from Bataan after an inventory of supplies had shown that the effective food stockpile was far smaller than originally believed due to typhoon damage and rats. The Japanese blockade needed to be run if the garrison was not to starve to death. Forty five tons a day was the minimum requirement for food alone much less ammunition, fuel and everything else an army needed. A large effort was slowly coming together but interim efforts beyond the steady stream of submarines were needed.

    A staff officer, a former yacht designer had come up with a solution. The British motor torpedo boat design was very flexible. Ripping out some of the guns and running a short crew, the basic design could run all the way to Bataan to deliver forty tons of cargo before needing to refuel. The US Navy just needed the Royal Navy to hand over anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen boats after they spent a month in a shipyard for a quick conversion.

    And that was the sticking point, those boats were too goddamn useful for the Royal Navy right now.

    So another hand landed on the table and the argument started again.
     
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    Story 1649

  • South of Cambodia Point November 8, 1942


    HMS Ashanti, Eskimo, Tartar, and Nubian advanced slowly in the night. Low clouds hindered visual searches but the rotating radar antennas probed the seas with their electronic shouts. As they reached the northwestern edge of the patrol box, they turned to the northeast, given wide berth to a recently reseeded minefield. Look-outs strained their eyes looking for mines and looking for targets.

    Aboard the divisional flagship, a short conference was held by the force commander and his trusted flag captain. They had been together for almost a year now and their successes had built upon each other’s trusted competence. A radar operator swore he had good contacts off in the distance 27,000 yards away through the murky night. Soon, the light shutters clanged open and shut as the destroyers increased speed, cleared the decks and changed course slightly.

    Eleven minutes later, three out of the four large destroyers had firm radar contacts at 17,000 yards. A modest coastal convoy of three or four merchant ships and a pair of destroyers were showing up on the scope. Soon, the four large destroyers accelerated to combat speeds. They were arrayed in a single line and had cut across the convoy’s path as the range fell to under 8,000 yards. Every gun was tracking on a target. Each destroyer picked its own target, the flagship and her first consort were focused on the Japanese destroyers while the last two ships were already getting ready to slash into the merchantmen.

    Sixteen torpedoes entered the water. By now, the radars were honing on their targets and the gun mounts made the slightest adjustments as the line of destroyers had begun to curl around the port flank of the convoy. The range continued to close as the torpedoes spread out through the water. Finally as the four destroyers were closing to within 6,000 yards of the lead escort, surprise was lost as a searchlight snapped open and a white beam poked at the sea in the general area of Nubian.

    Before the light could provide a target for the two Japanese escorts, the Royal Navy announced themselves as twenty four guns started to fire. The first minute of rapid fire produced no devastating hits although the gunnery was good as near misses and straddles sent shrapnel up and down the decks of the Japanese ships whose crews were scrambling for action stations. Eskimo then scored a trio of hits whose value was rendered worthless when her target’s back broke from a torpedo detonating yards from her forward magazine. She shifted fire to the sole surviving escort and soon, Yudachi was being smothered by a squall of shells. First her forward twin turret went silent after shells from Nubian demolished the gun house and then her bridge was set afire. Her aft turret scored a few hits against Tartar with little effect.

    Ashanti twisted and turned in the water to dodge a wave of torpedoes fired in her general direction even as her guns set first one and then a second coaster on fire. An hour later, the convoy had been destroyed and the four destroyers turned south and headed for air cover at twenty eight knots.
     
    Story 1650

  • Sittang River, Burma, 10 minutes before dawn November 9, 1942



    He caught his breath. He unscrewed his canteen and had a sip of water before offering to share it with the rifleman who was in the same combat scrape as him. The Yorkshireman shook his head as he did not want more water before he had a chance to piss. Their bodies were pressed flat against the ground a few inches below the crest of a body height rise in the flood plain. Other men of the assault company were clustered near them but right now the world that the nineteen year old could touch was the only world that mattered to him. The assault boat was brushing up against his ankle and he knew that he would be one of the first men in the water and one of the first men paddling across the river.


    Even as the young man shifted his weight from one hip to the other and enjoying the relief of his heavy pack digging into his other shoulder, the entire universe erupted. This was not a bombardment that a veteran of the Somme, including the regimental sergeant major, would recognize, but it was a bombardment that veterans of the 100 Days such as the Brigade commander would know intimately. Very little had changed except the size of the guns and their range. Thousands of gunners were feeding the hungry maws of hundreds of guns as quickly as they could. Some regiments were firing mainly high explosive to destroy forward positions while other regiments were walking shrapnel rounds to keep Japanese reserves in place. Even more regiments, mainly the older 18 pounder regiments were pouring smoke across the assault zones. Japanese machine guns and mortars took a few minutes to respond but they began to blindly fire into the smoke screens.


    Spotters on the west bank noted where the Japanese were firing from. Reserve batteries were soon being directed to smother those positions.


    As dawn broke, whistles up and down the line were blown. Officers with Webley pistols began to scramble over the top of the limited cover near the river bank. Behind them, thousands of nineteen and twenty year old riflemen with a smattering of older men with experience and some wisdom carried the assault boats. The nineteen year whose world had collapsed to only that which he could touch was lucky, he was in the boat and paddling within minutes even as mortar shells shredded the men and the rubber boat next to him.


    Six battalions were in the first wave. Three landing zones would be targeted and then the pioneers would rig ferries at the most successful landings to bring over the tank brigade to push forward.
     
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    Story 1651
  • Portland, Maine November 10, 1942

    USS Alabama pulled into the port. A dozen merchant ships were in various states of completion in the shipyard near the naval pier. Overhead, barrage balloons and a single Navy blimp defended the northernmost useful port on the eastern seaboard. Any further north, and Canadian facilities would be more relevant.

    The battleship was in town for four days. Liberty was promised for the sailors aboard even as the shipyard engineers, naval inspectors, officers and chiefs went through the last of the gripe list. By now, the ship was working right except for #8 5 inch turret and the hot water valve in the captain’s shower. She just needed more time for the crew to come together as a cohesive whole instead of a disparate mass. Another week of seakeeping and gunnery drills in Casco Bay were scheduled before she was needed in the Pacific Fleet.
     
    Story 1652
  • Bombay, November 10, 1942

    “Dismissed”

    Over twelve thousand veteran boots slammed into the ground in one last organized action of the 5th Indian Division as it was currently constituted. Liners had brought the tired, veteran and victorious division to Bombay from Batavia over the course of the week. The battalions and regiments that had defeated the Italians and Germans in Africa and then the Japanese first in Malaya and now on Java had been sent to a large set of camps outside the city after they had marched in impromptu celebratory parades. Now they were assembled as a holistic unit for the last time as decorations were handed out in addition to the fourteen Victoria’s Crosses already presented to the division’s soldiers. Dozens of promotions were dated for today as successful battalion commanders would soon be taking on brigades while the division commander had sixty days to himself before he was due in London to command a corps.

    Each of the three brigades would become a new division. The 5th’s history would live on in the division anchored by 10th Indian Brigade but the other two brigades would be the bedrock upon which two newly raised divisions would be created. Once all was said and done, the core of the veteran brigade would be spread thinly as the wisdom, experience and caution that the men on the parade ground would stiffen the new volunteers from the villages of the Deccan and the draftees of the Durham Light Infantry, the Black Watch, the Loyal Lancashire and Essex regiments. Yet before they formed the new divisions, each man had at least thirty days of leave. The camps would be open for the soldiers who could not go home and who did not want to spend their money for hotels and whores in the city while the rest were given unlimited rail passes and well wishes.
     
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    Story 1653
  • Philadelphia, November 11, 1942

    Three fast, powerful front-loaded monsters rested as they were slowly departing from the crowded waterfront. Richelieu flew the admiral’s flag while Strasbourg and Dunkerque were refreshed. New paint, a scraped hull and dozens of changes ranging from more diesel powered fire fighting pumps to new light anti-aircraft guns along with factory fresh radars tied to brand new gun directors.

    A fourth great ship remained tied up along the Delaware. Jean Bart had been almost completed, missing a turret and some secondary guns when she had arrived in Philadelphia from Martinique. Now, she was a cannibalized hulk. She still looked like a Picasso painting of a warship as workmen had moved sections and parts had been removed to keep the rest of the French fleet operating. Alongside her was a light cruiser that had also been sacrificed to bring the rest of the cruiser component of the Force du Raid to full readiness.

    The French fleet was escorted by American built destroyers flying the tricolor ensign headed down the river. In a few hours, they were clear of the crowded waters and began their journey to Mers El Kebir where they would take the war to the enemy they were built to defeat.
     
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    Story 1654
  • Bandar Abbas, Persia November 12, 1942

    Another freshly built engine began to chug forward. Half a dozen box cars moved down the tracks where another work gang connected those cars to another string of tanker cars. A whistle blew and the men who had been working since before dawn took a break of fresh figs and rose flavored tea. Other crews had started to sit as well as the dozen ships in the harbor waited to be emptied.


    Soon, the work gangs rose again. They began the process of unloading thousands of crates. Others were untying the nets that were bringing one of the first factory fresh M-4 Sherman tanks before they were driven up ramps to flat bed trucks. A piercing train whistle sounded like a call to prayers as it began to chug northward to the Soviet border.
     
    Story 1655
  • Grozny November 12, 1942

    Men hurried back under cover. They had lit the smoke pots which were spitting out a thick, dense, noxious diesel smoke. Other men were running to their anti-aircraft positions. Steel barrels poked out of the sandbagged positions near the marshalling yard. Sharp eyed look-outs were cued to look to the northeast by one of the few radars that the anti-aircraft regiment possessed. Soon, one man with good binoculars saw the black spots in the sky. The gunners shifted their barrels up and slightly to the left even as ammunition was being passed forward and the ready rounds entered the breech.

    Soon a regiment of fresh Migs slashed into the German fighter escorts. Several raw Russian pilots died, but they were accompanied by a trio of German pilots even as another regiment of Lend Lease AeroCobras slashed into the twin engine bombers. The heavy, centrally mounted cannon was able to rip into engines and cockpits, ripping wing tips from spars and throwing tail fins to the ground. Anti-aircraft guns began to fire as the German air raid crossed over the still incomplete defensive positions to the east of the city. The heavy guns around the marshalling yard made final corrections before they started to throw shells skyward too.

    The Junkers and Heinkels were buffeted by the metal storm around them. Bomb bay doors opened up and soon buildings were being destroyed and bodies were being torn open. Most of the bombs ended wide of the actual target. An American built engine was lacerated by a very near miss, a fuel tanker full of 100 Octane aviation gasoline was burning ferociously and a trio of Valentine tanks were scarred by shrapnel that scoured their optical sights and drivers’ glass blocks.

    Soon, fire crews were busy at work, spraying water and throwing sand on the fires in the marshalling yard. They allowed the residential blocks to burn as the priority was bringing the weapons the Red Army needed to the front. Hours later, a few houses were saved as the rest of the apartment blocks were burned out.
     
    Story 1656
  • Kra Isthmus November 13, 1942

    Diggers were slowly advancing. Bayonets were fixed and backs hunched over as helmeted heads advanced. Japanese machine guns were starting to chatter although the volume of fire was less than many of the men had feared. Artillery was slamming into the ground just a few hundred yards ahead of the advance.

    The I Australian Corps was not aiming for the coast even as Royal Navy gunboats and torpedo boats backed by older destroyers were shooting up anything that was not in the defended harbors of Pattani or Singora. Instead, they were quickly going through their share of the multi-million shell stockpile as five brigades were pushing forward to bite strategic positions that anchored the outer Japanese lines. The goal was to have diggers on those hills by nightfall so that the two Japanese divisions holding the eastern portion of their line would have to counter-attack into the face of well sited artillery and dug-in veteran infantry.

    The diggers of 6th Australian Infantry division’s northernmost brigade had almost cleared the first thin line of defenses when two squadrons of RAF Battles flew overhead. The light bombers continued north as they were covered by another squadron of Hurricanes. The Australians were not getting any of the air support that the Indian Corps or the English Corps on the west coast had been promised. Those corps were the main effort. Those corps were the decisive actors. The Australians who were advancing, killing and dying were merely supporting actors on the play’s previews.
     
    Story 1657
  • Norfolk, Virginia November 14,1942


    USS Essex
    was leaving her berthing place.

    Outside of the roads, she was joined by a trio of fresh destroyers and they soon headed south to open water. Four hours later, an incomplete air group was aboard and the small task force began their journey to the Caribbean for nine weeks to work up. After that and any final repairs, the force, along with a pair of new light cruisers, would be earmarked for the Pacific.
     
    Story 1658
  • Cam Ranh Bay, November 14, 1942
    Four heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and eleven destroyers departed the anchorage. They were tasked to sweep ahead of a convoy that was now passing the Mekong Delta. It was heavily escorted as supplies were urgently needed in Bangkok and beyond. The army in Burma was reeling under the blows that the British 14th Army was delivering while the Thai force was being pressured aggressively. If the fleet did not need to worry about fuel, the cruisers and destroyers would have made a smart twenty four knots to the south. Instead, they would make an efficient run to a cove near Bac Lieu where they would hide during daylight before getting in front of the convoy as it was turning into the Gulf of Thailand the next day. Fighter cover was being arranged for both the convoy and the covering force.
     
    Story 1659
  • East bank of the Don, November 15, 1942

    The veterans shushed the replacements. They were making too much noise as they were marching to the front. Across them were the Romanians who were the flank guards of the Germans who had been stopped on the Volga and had besieged the city like they had done so to Sevastapol and Leningrad. The Romanians were not as skilled nor as fierce as the fascists but a bullet hitting your skull did not care that it was fired from a lackadaisical private or a motivated man.

    The veterans' concerns were irrelevant though. Three tank brigades were moving up behind the infantry of the assault wave. The roughly tuned diesel engines precluded any belief that a jangling piece of metal on a cold private's belt would give away the position. Artillery and marching bands playing near forward positions were attempts to cover the creaking sounds of T-34s and M-3s getting into position.

    Across the river, Romanian scouts heard the tanks and as darkness fell, reports were being sent back, first to battalion commanders and then regimental commanders. By breakfast, the army commander was being briefed that tanks were assembling all along his front.
     
    Story 1660
  • Khota Baru, November 16, 1942


    Men with lit wands waved down the Albacores. The biplane torpedo bomber squadron had departed after midnight to attack a convoy that was coming around the southern tip of French Indochina and entering the Gulf of Thailand. Ten aircraft went up, each lugging a single torpedo and a radar set. The naval aviators who had come east aboard HMS Ark Royal and they had been involved in collecting Charon’s toll for Japanese shipments into Bangkok since their airfield had been put into the body and fender shop.


    Since then, there were only three pilots and five crew members who were aloft tonight that had flown their first land based mission. Replacements for those who needed rest and recovery and replacements for those who never came back filled the ranks. New aircraft had replaced those shot down and those that were pranged.


    Ten aircraft had gone out, and as dawn was breaking, eight aircraft under cover at the advanced airfield at the southern edge of the Gulf. A teletype message from an emergency field in the rear of the Australian Corps arrived at noontime; another Albacore had a hard landing and her crew would need a day or two in the hospital for recovery. A sergeant made notes to send a truck full of snacks and good rye to ransom the lost boys.


    Two aircraft that would never fly again and four dead men. These were a heavy price paid for the success; a pair of ships torpedoed, one hit at least twice and the other suffered from at least one definite hit. The merchant ships’ frames were warped and battered, allowing the tropical sea into the hull and holds. The larger ship stayed afloat long enough for the crew to leave in a somewhat organized fashion while the smaller ship with the two strikes saw her crew either stuck below decks or madly scrambling for safety.
     
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    Story 1661
  • Khota Baru, November 16, 1942

    Another flight of medium bombers took off. The Indians needed support and the bombers would be hitting a set of crossroads ten miles behind the front. As they were forming up, they flew over the retreating ships of the Combined Striking Force. Three heavy cruisers and three light cruisers all showed signs of battle damage. HMAS Perth's superstructure was scorched black from a raging fire that had just come under control hours ago. HMS Exeter limped along backwards as a heavy torpedo ripped off her bow. HMS Leander had survived the battle but had been scuttled after an air attack had maneuvered around the fighter screen covering the retreating cruisers. Two torpedoes broke her back.

    Five cruisers of the Combined Striking Force had managed to ambush the Japanese convoy covering force while two other cruisers slipped behind the distant escort and ripped past the light, anti-submarine escort covering the merchant ships. Three merchant ships were sunk as well as a pair of escorting Japanese cruisers. The big torpedoes that the Japanese favored packed a wallop but past several thousand yards, they were too easy too dodge in open waters. A pair of nearly suicidal Japanese destroyers raced to a launch point of no more than 2,400 from Exeter and in their mortal spasm, they damaged the small heavy cruiser. Japanese and Royal Navy skippers saw their dopplegangers across the water as both sides raced with fury and wolverine like aggression as the Stygian darkness turned towards dawn. Knifes were almost as useful as heavy guns as the range closed. One destroyer raked another with anti-aircraft cannons to great effect.

    Somehow HMS Mauritius had escaped from the open sea brawl with no damage, but every other ship in the striking force would need at least a week or two in the yard to come back to full efficiency.
     
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