Keynes' Cruisers Volume 2

Story 2044

  • Southeast of Leningrad, May 14, 1943

    Hundreds of shells were overhead, thousands more would soon follow. Death and destruction was measured in tons and slivers.

    Machine guns were hammering away at a strong point. Submachine gunners were crawling forward on their bellies to storm an outpost. Pioneers were a few meters behind the spearpoint, each man carried the tools needed to penetrate a minefield and pierce a wire.

    Four hundred meters behind the assault force, Tatianna maintained her watch. Today, she was acting as a sharpshooter instead of being an independent hunter. Her rifle dealt death one bullet at a time, a few grams of steel and lead and copper and powder per life. She had fired seven times already, her targets were officers and sergeants first and then machine gunners and mortar crews. Riflemen were too common for her efforts. She fired once again. The rifle kicked against her shoulder and she cleared the bolt. Her spotter marked the impact, four inches low and two inches wide of the optimal point, but a wounding was almost better than a kill right now. That veteran would need his squad to care for him while demoralizing the men who had looked up to him. Her spotter nudged her in the ribs. It was time to switch. She would spot and her partner would shoot.

    Four hours later, the pair relaxed. The regiment had met up with a tank battalion that was attacking into Leningrad even as they were attacking out. Rumors had it that they would be loaded into trucks to help reinforce another part of the general offensive, but for now, they had bread, they had water, and they even had good Turkish cigarettes.
    Story 2045

  • Fort Sills, Oklahoma, May 15, 1943

    Three trucks drove away. The private on gate guard duty closed the wooden gate. He shifted his feet as the work gangs moved the food and supplies for the six hundred and fifty people imprisoned in the camp to the storage tents. He adjusted his cap against the sun and resumed his post.
    Story 2046

  • Near Gela, Sicily May 15, 1943

    The Sherman tank paused. It fired. A high explosive shell exploded near the base of an olive tree. The light machine gun which had been chattering ceased to fire.

    American infantrymen advanced slowly. Will Jarosheck now was carrying the squad BAR. His rifle had been handed off to the previous BAR carrier who had joined the walking wounded the night before. His eyes scanned back and forth across the landscape. Over there was an unnatural clump. The heavy rifle spat out three, four, five rounds quickly. A few bullets were left in the magazine. Even as he emptied the rest of the magazine in the general direction of the German positions anchored on a burned out hulk of a tank with an iron cross on its turret, the Shermans supporting the advanced fired again and then again.

    Mortars began to lay down a smoke screen even as the 105 millimeter divisional guns went to rapid fire. Eight minutes later, Will’s squad was advancing. Eight men stood up to a quarter crouch and began to move and advance. He fired the BAR from his hip, hoping the noise would scare the defenders from aiming at him. German riflemen fired blindly into the smoke. Artillery began to lash the invisible zone. Thousands of shards of steel shredded the air. A few shredded men.

    Two hours later, Will rested against a bridge. Four dozen paratroopers had been relieved.
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    Story 2047
  • Orange, Texas May 15, 1943

    Another war time expedient escort left the tiny harbor. Another score of her sisters were still being assembled. After those warships were handed over to the fleet, those work gangs were scheduled to switch over to building coastal landing craft.

    An old lieutenant glanced over his shoulder as USS Pillsbury began a gentle turn to the south on her way to Galveston's tanker docks
    Story 2048

  • Lorient, France May 16, 1943

    The U-boat barely sulked home. Two tug boats had guided her down the well swept channel. Lines were tight and kept the damaged ship afloat. Her captain was atop the sail, surveying the passage and shouting orders. Another two hours and she would be tied up, another two days and she would be in dry dock. This was her seventh dry patrol. Four days from port, a Coastal Command bomber caught her on the surface half an hour before dawn. They had swept in fast and low out of the western darkness before dropping depth charges that broke open welds and popped rivets. Good German workers would have kept thousands of gallons of water outside the hull but the French dock workers were amazingly competent in their incompetence.

    Two more hours and the pig boat would be in her sty, far safer than being at sea.
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    Story 2049

  • Vienna, May 16, 1943

    The engines were being refueled and rewatered. Young women brought sandwiches and snacks down the aisles. Every few seats, a young tank driver slapped and or pinched a bottom. Sometimes that produced a squeal, sometimes that produced a smile, and once it produced a slap.

    The division was moving out of reserve. It had been withdrawn from Russia last November and it had been scheduled to move back to Russia in June. Then the Allies began to make moves towards the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Now the 11th Panzer Division was heading to Rome. Wine and women instead of borsht and partisans, that was a good trade, at least it would be until the American and British bombers took notice of the movement.
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    Story 2050

  • Singapore, May 17, 1943

    USS Chicago limped down the channel. The dry dock was not ready for the torpedoed heavy cruiser. Her crew and the men from a destroyer tender would spend the next week removing explosives, draining flooded compartments and shoring up bulkheads. They would work themselves raw even as the rest of the Pacific fleet worked the entrepreneurs of the waterfront raw. The heavy cruiser was the worse damaged ship; a single submarine torpedo ripped open her bow while a single dive bomber managed to place a five hundred and fifty pound bomb down her stacks. A pair of destroyers had been damaged in air raids while a quartet of transports and assault ships would need time in the yards. Palawan was not secured, but the beachhead was broader than any gun the Japanese could bring to bear, and over one hundred fighters were operating from a pair of pre-war airstrips even as three more airfields would soon become operational.
    Story 2051

  • Crete, May 17, 1943

    Two more bomb groups slowly descended. A dozen bombers were trailing smoke and even more had scars and slashes in their skin. The four engined beasts lined up on the eight thousand foot runways that had been opening up like hot dog stands on Coney Island.

    Even as the bombers started to land, eight Spitfires accelerated as radar picked up a small inbound raid. The German fighter bombers were no more than 1,000 feet over the sea. A single squadron near Athens had started to run intruder missions to hit the bombers on the ground instead of in the air with some success. It was always a game of action, counter-action and new re-action. Gun crews ran to their Bofors and heavy machine guns as they waited.

    Half an hour later, the bombers were almost all down on the ground and wounded men were in ambulances headed to hospitals as the all clear came in. The Spitfires scored no kills, but drove the Jabos away.
    Story 2052 Operation Chastise

  • RAF Scampton, May 17, 1943

    The bomber station was busy. Ambulances had ferried men from seven aircraft to a variety of surgeries. Fire trucks and crash carts were dealing with a bad landing. Only four of the Lancasters had returned with all crew members unharmed.

    Hours later, a cheer went up after a phone call had been made to the squadron commander. The Ruhr Valley was a swamp.
    Story 2053

  • Palawan, May 18, 1943

    A dozen 155 millimeter guns started to fire. The bombardment plan was simple. The battalion attached to the corps would fire for twelve minutes, and each gun was allocated sixteen heavy shells fused for instant detonation. The lighter guns attached to the 7th Infantry Division would be firing far more rapidly. The 105 millimeter battalions were firing a mix of slightly delayed fuse and contact fused high explosives as well as plentiful smoke. As the gunners humped shells into the breach, a company of Shermans along with a regiment of riflemen would begin attacking up the hill that was the linchpin of the Japanese position on the northwestern coast of the long island. Take the hill, and the Japanese would either have to retreat or die ineffectively and in place.

    Moments after the corps artillery ceased, half a dozen A-20 Havocs screeched low over the supply road that connected the front to the ever growing supply stockpile to the rear. The light bombers came back over the guns minutes later, lighter and faster now. On the sun baked ground, gunners were clearing the barrels and preparing for another fire mission. They were now on call for the infantry. Slowly they were advancing north, and slowly they were winning.

    Fifteen miles to the rear, the engineering and construction battalion which had built a fighter strip at Rizal was ambling out of trucks. They had a big, long, flat piece of land with decent drainage. Within a month, medium bombers would be flying missions and within two months, heavy four engine beasts would be willingly landing on the field that was overflowing with grass.
    Story 2054

  • Thessaloniki, Greece, May 18, 1943

    It would have been easy to shoot the German. The sentry was tired, he was hot, and he was bored. Very little had happened in the northern Greek port. Partisans and commando groups flown in from Crete had been setting the countryside on fire over the past two weeks. Stand-up battles between German, Italian and Bulgarian infantry companies and once a battalion were now an almost daily occurrence. Prisoners were seldom taken and if they were, neither side tried to keep them seldom alive for long. Yet the fighting had not touched the northern port city. This was the cushiest garrison in all of Greece. As long as the ships were loaded and unloaded at the piers and the channels were swept daily for mines, life continued as it had for the past two years. The private guarding the dockyard entrance knew he had it good.

    Eighty yards away, a man who had been trained as a sniper smiled. It was a smile of a predator and in no way was it gentle or warm or inviting. It was a smile of anticipation, it was a smile of the hunt. He could have taken down the German sentries in a few seconds if he had a well calibrated rifle, but that was not his mission, at least it was not his mission today. Instead, he continued to count and he continued to watch. Soon, his patience would be rewarded, but until then, hsi fingers did their job and made another tally mark in the left hand column.
    Story 2055

  • Chapel Hill, North Carolina May 19, 1943

    “Crack” the bat battered the ball. The Marine aviation cadet took two steps out of the batter’s box before he dropped the bat. The centerfielder had started to move even before contact, he saw the pitch was hanging high and the opponent’s left fielder loved the power alleys in the park a few blocks away from the college campus that had been transformed into a preliminary flight training center for the East Coast. The right fielder only started moving when the strong shoulder muscles uncoiled. He too knew that his only chance to get to the soon to be perfectly hit line drive was anticipation.

    They ran, and they failed. The ball screamed over the head of the second baseman and found a hole in the outfield’s defense. The batter was approaching second as the ball landed in the ankle high grass. It skipped like a perfectly thrown stone across a still pond on a lazy August day before rattling around to the back of the ballpark and hard against the wooden slat fence. Two runners had already made it home as the batter pulled up at third. He knew the centerfield had an arm made for throwing grenades or eliminating over-confident runners.

    The next man up was inferior to the clean-up hitter; he had only made it Triple-A before being called to the colors. He was caught on high inside heat, but could salvage enough of the contact to get the ball high and deep enough to right field to score the runner. The game continued as the want to be pilots enjoyed their structured and strongly encouraged recreational time before they headed to Franklin Street to talk about pitchers and maneuvers with their hands.
    Story 2056

  • Marivales, Bataan, May 20, 1943

    The lieutenant from Boston cut the engine. The blockade runner had made a day light run into Bataan carrying thirty five tons of food and ten tons of field artillery shells. Air attacks were not a concern as the Japanese airfields north of Manila was almost empty of workable aircraft. Squadrons had been committed to stopping the invasion of Palawan and once they entered the fleet’s radar networks or the ever expanding and increasingly capable army radar and fighter direction network, squadrons had become flights and flights had become sections over the past two weeks. Continual combat flying had run those pilots into the ground almost as fast as their machines. Mechanics were waiting for spare parts to arrive from Formosa and the Home Islands even as gasoline drums were being tipped over one more time for the last few pints of high octane fuel.

    Eighteen miles north of the port, a battery of seventy five millimeter guns began to fire. The four guns each had two dozen shells available for today’s fire missions. This was more shells than the gunners had fired for weeks at a time during the siege. Now the gunners waited a moment as a correction was called in. They were two hundred yards short and one hundred yards to the right of the target. A minute later, the first of six shells per tube were on the way to help a patrolling company break contact.
    Story 2057

  • Bangkok, Thailand May 20, 1943

    The surgeon shook his head. More boys were incapable of fighting today than during the heaviest fighting in Malaya. The 8th Australian Division was a shell of its former self. Victory flushed men with money and needs in a friendly enough city were just as dangerous to health and well being as shells and punji stakes. He would have to go talk to the other medical officers in the division about certain public health and prevention campaigns that would need to be kept quiet from the ears of the soldiers’ mothers and lovers back home.
    Story 2058

  • Norwegian Sea, May 21, 1943

    Gunners secured their stations aboard the old battleship. Shell casings were cleared and soon barrels were being cleaned and prepared for another action. HMS Royal Sovereign was making her last journey as a British ship; she was part of the close escort of a convoy of forty three ships. An escort carrier was providing local fighter cover and anti-submarine patrols while a cruiser force was providing distant support as well as being ready to transition to take home the return convoy that was just leaving the northern Russian ports.

    The old battleship had just come out of the yards from a long maintenance period. She would never have the lustre of her youth, but her limp was gone and her eyesight was the best it ever had been. Soon she would be the flagship of the Soviet Northern Fleet. It was a prestigious post in a safe area as the German surface threat was minimal, a few cruisers whose guns could barely dent her belt but it was a better posting than her sisters; one was already in ordinary, another would enter ordinary as soon as a troop convoy from Brazil arrived at Gibraltar. Her last surviving sister had been reduced to being a glorified monitor and bomb magnet. At least she still could fly a flag even if it was not her own as a warship expected to do her duty and her job fighting other ships.

    The convoy and the battleship continued to head northeast at ten knots.
    Story 2059
  • Alexandria Harbor, May 22, 1943

    Five aircraft carriers, three battleships, and a dozen cruisers swung at anchor. A pair of light cruisers were in the floating dry docks having bomb damage repaired. One, HMS Neptune, would be available in weeks while HMS Argonaut had weeks worth of work to get her healthy enough to limp to Durban and then months more time in a deep rear area yard.

    The American task force was here for fuel, booze and a few days ashore. Replacement pilots and replacement aircraft had been sent around the Cape to rebuild the squadrons aboard USS Independence and USS Princeton. Their fighter pilots were now blooded, two had already claimed ace status and they could now teach the green butterbars how to fight and survive in their big Grummans. There were two days of exercises scheduled ashore and then Task Force 36 was due to head east to Singapore to reinforce the American 3rd Fleet which had retired from operations near Palawan.
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    Story 2060

  • Recife, Brazil May 22, 1943

    The Navy Commander saluted. His counterpart returned the honor and then shook hands. The American patrol training squadron was standing down. Its aircraft and the base were now officially Brazilian. This did not mean that no more Americans would be flying long, low level patrols over the South Atlantic as many of the aircraft scheduled for tomorrow would have at least a pair of Americans still aboard as pilots or instructors, but it did mean that their authority was now more limited as their trainees were now expected to be able to operate on their own.
    Story 2061

  • Peoria, Illinois May 23, 1943

    Dozens of polished steel vats, fermenters and sills filled the former warehouse. Women in hair nets and masks cleaned the floor and every surface on the hour. They chatted as they went through the rigorous and monotonous routine as men and women drained flasks and swirled mixtures around. Outside of the warehouse, trucks came and went, many dropping off corn steep that was no longer needed to make corn starch, and others placing crates of sterile equipment on the loading dock.

    Hundreds of men and women were straining every part of their being for life. It was for life of little mold colonies. It was for life of the sick. It was for life of the wounded. It was for the hope of their brothers. It was for hope of their sons. They continued to work.
    Story 2062

  • 40 miles east of Tokyo, May 24, 1943

    The submarine USS Grampus shook again. Another pattern of depth charges were heard entering the water just moments after the concussive shock of these near misses stopped rattling the boat. Her skipper looked at the battery gauge. He could buy one more evasive sprint and then they could only hope for darkness.

    Seven knots for seven minutes. It was not much, but it was the best that the battered boat could do. Now the batteries were draining slowly at only minimum hotel load and bare steerage. The past two patterns had missed by at least a quarter of mile. The rumbles had shaken the boat and sloshed sea water in the half flooded forward torpedo compartment. Those torpedoes would be useless until the tender crews could examine and refurbish them.

    Then there was five minutes of silence, five minutes of hope. The escorts of the convoy were still milling about on the surface. One was tracking down the minuscule oil slick, holding back her pings until the trail became clearer. Suddenly, the sound waves bounced off the submarine and depth charges followed moments later. Seven feet from the engine room, a depth charge exploded. The sub nosed down and within a minute, the crushing pressure of the sea broke open the hull before the remains settled on the sea floor thousands of feet beneath the waves.
    Story 2063

  • Salvina, Sicily, May 25, 1943

    Corporal Jaroschek gripped his rifle tightly. He glanced right. He glanced left. His half of the squad was with him. The BAR was set up and the ammo carriers had dumped the extra magazines next to the assistant gunner. They were in a good position, on a little roll of the earth overlooking the Italian defensive positions. As long as he could shoot straight, he could hit somewhere along the trenches. Those were formidable positions, taking them would ruin the squad again, but thankfully, that was not the mission for the morning.

    A minute later and the entire front exploded. The early morning bombardment of every gun in the division along with a good chunk of the corps commanders’ personal firepower was now firing. Shells were landing close, but far enough way to not cause too much concern. They began to eat up the earth, throwing rocks and bodies skyward, raining down sharp pebbles and broken limbs indiscriminately.

    Ten minutes later, the heavy guns ceased firing. The lighter guns had switched to smoke a minute ago. Several squadrons of medium bombers descended from a holding pattern they had been in over the sea to drop their loads. Strings of five hundred pounders pox scarred the evolving battlefield. The corporal could feel his bones shake repeatedly for the next ten minutes. As the last planes left, the artillery started up again. The riflemen and machine gunners began to fire. They had a simple job, demonstrate a threat without exposing themselves too much. This beat attacking head on into defensive positions.

    He started to fire a few shots here then shifting a few yards to the right. An Italian sniper probably would not be able to see his rifle flash through the smoke and even if he could see the flash, it was one of hundreds, but the risk was not worth it. He muttered a few words of encouragement and coaching to the other riflemen as the BAR burped out a few more rounds. If he had a moment to look to the west, he would have seen two battalions of infantry from one of the other regiments of the division motor along in their landing craft just at the horizon. By lunchtime, they would be landing on the far side of the provincial capital, outflanking the defenses and creating quandaries where American firepower and deep digging could work in conjunction with each other.