Keynes' Cruisers Volume 2

Story 2180
  • Genoa, Italy August 11, 1943

    HMS Welshman turned hard to port. Her engines roared as 75,000 horses raced down her shafts. The mine holds were empty and she began a race back to Corsica before the Luftwaffe or the Regia Aeronautica could catch her once the sun rose.
     
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    Story 2182
  • Camp Pendleton, California August 12, 1943

    Over 20,000 boots hit the ground in almost perfect timing. One private from an artillery battery was still half a second off and his sergeant mused about the ways to run that boy ragged in the afternoon. With that single exception, the newly formed 4th Marine Division was a single body with a singular purpose. The colors had been passed during the parade and now the commanding general was preparing a few remarks for his command. The last attachment had only arrived from the East Coast four days ago. They had bedded down and then unloaded two companies of factory fresh medium tanks from the trains the next morning once they had arrived. Now they would not ignore company and battalion maneuvers as those were keys to all successes, but the division would be ready to embark on forty five days of regimental and divisional level maneuvers, first against air and then against opposition.
     
    Story 2183
  • Naval Station Great Lakes, August 12, 1943

    Leonard Eberhardt was now a sailor. He had a four day pass and twenty seven dollars in his pocket. Ohio was too far away. He could arrive at midnight, eat breakfast with his father and then get on the noontime train. If there were no delays near Toledo, he would be able to hurry with just enough time to report to his next training school where he would be learning how to repair radars. That would not be worth it. He and half a dozen of his mates were heading to Chicago to find steak, beer and broads. He adjusted his hat and checked his uniform. The chief would not say a word about his presentation. Four hundred and twenty seven push-ups had insured that lesson stuck. One more school and then the fleet would call for him at Christmas.
     
    Story 2184
  • Southeast of Leningrad, August 13, 1943

    The spotter adjusted her weight on her hips. A root had been digging into her left thigh for the past forty five minutes. The soon to be crepuscular light had begun to cast shadows on her and her partner. They would be able to move out soon.

    Tatianna made one more scan of the environment. This was their third patrol against the fascist lines. Infantry companies had also been patrolling aggressively. Those hundred man columns were looking for fights, they were looking to force the pigs' artillery to fire, they were looking to force reinforcements to respond. And as she and her partner hid for a day and a night seven hundred meters from the front lines, those patrols were often quite successful in drawing a reaction. A few had been slaughered, more had been bloodied as what started as company battles became battalion and regimental fights. During all of this chaos, Tatianna and other snipers watched. They took notes and then brought back what they had seen. Now, the distant scouting part of the battle was ending.

    She could now take a shot. Her spotter had seen an experienced sergeant in the German position. He ducked, he wove, he seldom appeared above the ground line. It was obvious that he was the backbone of that company hard point. The captain was an overeager twenty three year old; a combat veteran, but still young. The platoon leaders were even younger and more naive. That Germany company was held together by the sergeants and corporals. He was a worthy target. She waited, as a seven hundred meter shot in poor light was a difficult shot that needed deliberation and discipline.

    Suddenly, she saw movement. Officers, an orders group given how they moved. She adjusted her rifle and saw that some of the men were swaying back and forth while a few were too concentrated on the map in front of them. She checked for wind, she checked for distance and then once she settled herself, her rifle barked. Before her finger relaxed off the trigger, she was already moving towards new cover. Eight hundred and forty seven meters away, a battalion commander was on the ground with a ruined shoulder.
     
    Story 2185
  • Alexandria, Egypt August 14, 1943

    Josh looked over the side of the USS Wasp. The carrier and her escorts were heading back to Norfolk. A short overnight refueling opportunity was scheduled for Gibraltar and then a high speed run across the Atlantic. The surviving Marine pilots would fly back to Corpus Christi to rebuild the squadron and integrate eighteen new nuggets. They had fought hard and they had inflicted far more losses than they had taken, but eleven Marines weren't coming back to the States. Four had been killed in landing accidents, five had died due to German and Italian defenses and two were known to be prisoners. Half a dozen men were still on light duty, including Josh as they recovered from injuries. He could fly and had spent a few glorious hours over the Sinai desert earlier in the week for his first stick time since he had been shot down. Two men would never fly solo again and a third would be relegated to instructor duty.

    As the carrier left the pilot boat behind, her engines pushed her forward and she soon took station alongside USS Ranger. Two cruisers and eight destroyers were also on their way back to the states. Josh looked to the north and saw a cruiser being towed back to port. Some big bomb launched from a German medium bomber ripped through the ship just yards in front of the forward most turret. The explosion ripped off the bow of HMS Manchester. The shipfitters and engineers at the British naval base that they had just departed would be busy as they assessed whether the ship was worth saving.
     
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    Story 2186
  • Rzhev, Russia August 15, 1943

    The division commander smiled as he sipped his tea. He dunked his bread into the warm, dark water and allowed the flavors to mix for a moment like they had when he was a young boy. The German attack had never come. It had been stopped cold well short of the rail yards that his exhausted division had dug in to defend. Now his troops were labor units clearing tracks and repairing sabotage to the switching gear and repair shops. One of the trains that had left the yard this morning carried eight hundred new draftees from the district to training camps near Moscow. The new draftees were hungry and tired men as the Germans had worked them hard and barely fed them as their fields were frequently also critical defensive positions and training areas for the front line German infantry divisions that had to retreat during the summer offensive. It would not matter, they would be back at the front soon enough. Five hundred fresh replacements had arrived last night. Soon the division would be ready enough for offensive actions. Next week they would be back in the field for company and battalion training instead of labor duties. The rumors from on-high had another push scheduled before the fall rains. Every division would be needed, so he needed to give his boys as many chances to succeed first and then survive second.
     
    Story 2187
  • East of Pella, Greece August 15, 1943

    The anti-tank rifle section of two gunners and two assistants worked together as a team. Both gunners fired their heavy, strong slugs at the locomotive that was pulling a train carrying enough ammunition, food and fuel to keep a Panzergrenedier division on the defensive for three days. One shot missed and slammed into a thousand year old tree. The other punched through the piston head. The damage was not enough to stop the engine, but the back log of repairs to keep the northern Greek rail network mostly functional for the German occupiers just got a little longer.

    The four men paid no attention to the statistics of war. Instead they had already run ten yards up the hill before the first machine gun from the German security detail spat a string of bullets in their general direction. They could only pay attention to their steps and to the little bits of cover that the hill offered them.
     
    Story 2186
  • Central Greece, August 16, 1943

    A company of Sherman tanks advanced. Their crews had become quite alert or quite dead. Eyes scanned the ground in front of the steel beasts looking for any oddities and discontinuities that could be a minefield or an anti-tank gun that was not perfectly hidden. Behind and between the tanks two battalions of Greek infantrymen were advancing. One tank stopped, and then another. Their turrets rotated a few degrees to the right and each fired a few rounds from the main gun at an abandoned shed several hundred yards away. The machine guns on the tanks joined in the cacophony as soon as the main guns ceased firing. A company commander walked to the back of the tank and picked up the intercom phone.

    Soon his company was advancing slowly and warily. The British tank platoon was supporting them. Nothing had rung out, no more shots had been fired, and no German artillery was raining down on them yet. The tanks found cover and were hull down to the suspicious shed. Two tanks focused on the objective while the rest of the platoon stayed in overwatch. The advanced platoon of infantrymen soon arrived. Soon after they checked the outside of the building for wires, mines and booby traps, a satchel charge and grenades were thrown into the structure. A small detonation happened as expected. Seconds later, a much larger one scythed the curious infantry with several hundred pounds of steel shrapnel flung about at supersonic speeds. The detonation was the cue for a German 105 millimeter battery to open fire on the exposed attackers.

    By nightfall, the attack had stalled a few hundred yards short of the battle's initiation point.
     
    Story 2187
  • Olongapo, Luzon , August 17, 1943

    "Want more Sarge?"

    "Always"

    The cook ladled a thick beef stew into Patrick's aluminum plate. A biscuit was then quickly placed atop the brown beef, chopped potatoes and rice dish. Someone had "liberated" some peppers from a Philipino Scout unit and the heat actually made the dish interesting to most of the men. He dipped his cup into the barrel of potable water and headed to some shade where he sat with the rest of the company's leaders. They had been off the line for thirty six hours now, ever since they had managed to get down to the docks and clear the last Japanese hold-outs. Somehow the fighting over the past two weeks had never wounded him. Half the platoon was either buried or on sick call. A few replacements were due to come up in the afternoon and then the hospital truck would drop off another half dozen men tomorrow morning.

    The leaders ate in companionable silence for a few minutes. Three were sergeants, and another two were not in their positions at the start of the battle. Only the company commander and the 1st Lieutenant who ran 3rd Platoon had stayed in place. And even then, the Old Man of twenty seven had his arm wrapped up tight. Off in the bay, a quartet of Navy minesweepers were slowly proofing a channel past Fort Wint. Engineers had already started to dynamite the sabotage and wrecking near the wreck of the old armored cruiser Rochester. Inland, the divisions' guns started to fire again as a battalion from Illinois waited to advance up a hill.

    Eight minutes later, he could hear small arms fire peppering the air as the planning meeting began. They would be back on the line in another twenty four hours.
     
    Story 2188
  • Keelung, Formosa August 18, 1943

    The last bomber turned away. Twelve B-24 of the 380th Bombardment Group had departed from Palawan early in the morning, barely clearing the trees after a long, extended take-off run. They had droned on through the morning over the seas, occassionally making navigational checks on the reefs and rocks of the South China Sea. The bombers each carried eight five hundred pounders and more fuel than it was wise to carry. They had flown high at their most efficienct altitude until they were 100 miles from the target and then the big bombers descended to their attack height of under 500 feet. Intelligence and submarines had said that a big troop convoy was being held in the northern Formosan port.

    The first two bombers dropped their bomb load without opposition. The first anti-aircraft guns started to bang away and disturb the aim of the third and fourth bomber before a shell exploded a few dozen feet in front of the cockpit of the fifth bomber. Its nose hit the sea at full speed, crushing every man inside like they were anchovy paste. The other bombers were able to turn away, two trailed smoke. Behind them three ships were on fire and another had turned turtle. Now the survivors just needed to either make it back to Palawan or find a friendly submarine to ditch near by.
     
    Story 2189
  • Balikpapan, Borneo August 18, 1943

    Three squadrons of medium bombers began their initial run in. Two batteries of medium anti-aircraft guns were flinging shells at the formation. The first bursts were off to the side and low but soon corrections were scoring the aluminum sides of the North American products. Two squadrons of Republic built fighters criss-crossed the air over the bombers looking for a fight that was not being presented to them. The bombardier lined up on his target as the lead bomber flew past the refinery that was barely operational as almost no oil was heading north back to Japan any more. Instead, they were seeking the airfields that housed the occupied port's defenders. Hundreds of bombs began to rain down as the five Dutch squadrons escaped with light losses on another combat mission that was becoming a routine milk run.
     
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    Story 2189
  • Bremerton, Washington August 19, 1943

    The sea touched the hull of USS Lexington for the first time in over six months. The mighty drydock was slowly being flooded and the water began to hold the revitalized carrier's weight. She was no longer the barely functional hull that had come back to the shipyard after the victory at Makassar. Now she was big, and broad as always, but her flight deck had been cleared of extraneous equipment, her damage control systems greatly improved, and the anti-aircraft batteries almost doubled. Everywhere a 1.1 inch mount had been, there was now a cluster of Bofors' 40 millimeter guns. The 5 inch 25 caliber guns that had been left aboard as part of the anti-aircraft fit during the last pre-war overhaul were replaced with factory fresh 5"38 dual purpose guns for a uniform heavy anti-aircraft battery. There were no more authorized .50 caliber mounts; instead 20 millimeter cannons were occupying any stretch of flat space on the side of the flight deck or off the side of the hanger deck. Four new diesel generators had been installed along with gigantic fans to ventilate the hanger deck. Partitions had been repaired so now damage could be more readily isolated. She was not due to enter the Sound and the sea for trials until tomorrow but today half her crew would have their ship float for the first time ever.
     
    Story 2190
  • Straits of Juan De Fuca August 20, 1943

    USS Enterprise's foghorn blared every thirty seconds. The radar plot was overcrowded. The damaged carrier was following a minesweeper that has clearing the way through the clutter of commerce. Most ships stayed clear. However a steel hulled subchaser, whose skipper had claimed three submarine kills but the little ship was only the scourge of orcas, meandered across the carrier's path. The carrier's bow sliced through the subchaser. The minesweeper stopped and rescued half the crew including the least senior officer aboard and then began to recover bodies. USS Enterprise's engineer merely sighed as the damage was minimal when the ship the scheduled 118 days in drydock would start in only another sixty five hours.
     
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    Story 2190
  • Karachi, India August 21, 1943

    Three battalions from the Punjab Regiment clambered aboard a pair of small liners. They were heading to the front.
     
    Story 2191
  • Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts August 22, 1943

    USS Lafayette left the embarkation port with most of the 101st Infantry Division aboard.
     
    Story 2193
  • Near Frankfurt, Germany August 23, 1943

    The rookie on his third mission was in trouble. He had become fixated on the quartet of FW-190's that were trying to break through the squadron's formation. The attention cost him as an experten claimed his hundred and eleventh kill twenty two seconds later with a low angle shot from the rear. The factory fresh Mustang burst into flames and the 23 year old struggled to get out as the aircraft plunged first past 20,000 feet and then 15,000 feet. Gravity pushed against him as flames began to lick his legs. Finally, he struggled to pull the stick up and slowed the descent of his mount before he scrambled out of the cockpit and jumped into the sky.

    As he descended, chaos was all around him. Three battered bomber boxes were fighting off dozens of single engine fighters while a Mustang group was tangling with an almost equal number of -190s. Miles above and in front of him, he saw a massive explosion as high explosive shells ripped open a Tokyo tanked wing and an incendiary round lit up the remaining vapors. No chutes were visible. As he tried to ignore the pain in his burnt legs, he saw another pilot leaving his ruined steed and trusted that his silk would bring him safely to the ground. That man would be up again tomorrow or next week while he only had a stalag to look forward to. He drifted below the clouds and lost sight of the running battle above him.

    Two hundred bombers were returning from their raid against a 109 factory. Three hundred fighters had been committed to giving them as much protection as possible. Half were Mustangs that could fly almost all the way to the target and back with their new drop tanks. The rest were a mix of Lightning and Thunderbolts. They had flown shuttle missions and provided swathes of increased protection before either running out of ammo or gas.

    Eleven miles further west, a major waggled his wings and held up three fingers as the rest of the squadron of Mustangs re-assembled on him. The other section leaders called him, two aircraft were missing from the furball, one in a head on pass with an ME-110 and the other no one saw what had happened to the replacement pilot. They were excited, their claims were higher than typical, twenty three in total, for only two losses and half a dozen damaged escorts. The attacking Focke Wulfs had been turned away, their ammunition exhausted and fuel reserves run down. The Mustang squadron had given the bombers more time to escape.

    The major's eyes squinted. Low and fast were dozens of dots on the horizon. Big fighters were on the way. He knew that most of his best pilots only had seconds of ammunition left, but twenty one fighters making a head on pass could buy the bombers time. He was getting ready to give the order to attack when the targets became friendlies. Thunderbolts were arriving to shepherd the bombers home. The Mustang squadron could now break off and head home independently as they were almost combat ineffective.
     
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    Story 2194
  • Gronnehave, Denmark August 24, 1943

    The small fishing boat pulled away from the wharf. Tonight the skipper and his crew, all trusted family members, were on a smuggling run. However it was not their typical smuggling run of bringing in tobacco and food from Sweden. That paid well enough and as long as a quarter of the haul was given to the right Germans, very few people officially noticed the boats leaving at odd hours to fish in the strangest locations. Those runs usually had the boat leave light and return heavy.

    Tonight there were eight families clustered together. They had fled the capital three days ago and made their way to the fishing village. They had arrived in the middle of the night last night and slept in a dairy barn for the day. They only carried a single bag a piece, but that was more than many of their coreligionists would ever get. A child was trying to lean over the short extension of the hull to see what was going on. She was curious. This was a grand adventure like the one she had a vague memory of when her family took her to the beach when she was four, before the war. Since then, they had stayed in the city and she could not play with her friends or learn her letters at school. She saw the hustle and bustle for three seconds before her mother pushed her head down.

    Three hours later, the little girl was being fed pancakes as her parents sipped hot tea. She saw something odd on her mother's face; relaxation and a smile. She thought nothing of this as there was a ball being kicked around by her cousins and as soon as she was done eating, she needed to show them how to play right.
     
    Story 2195
  • South China Sea, August 25, 1943

    Thirty seven transports and cargo ships were in four rows of nine with a single transport leading the second row from port by herself. Three minesweepers led the other columns. Four destroyers and an equal number of destroyer escorts surrounded the ships. An old light cruiser was the close escort command vessel. Men were scanning the sea for periscopes creating feathers in the waves. Soldiers had already identified at least a dozen suspected submarines that led to ships changing course and escorts mobbing the suspected contact. Nothing had been found yet.

    Overhead a pair of Wildcats and a single Avenger from USS Chenango prowled around the edges of the convoy looking for submarines. The Avengers were being lightly used during the day. A pair were scheduled to be aloft at all times at night where their radar could do the most good. Suddenly, the sea erupted as machine guns chattered and heavy slugs emerged from the wings of a diving bomber. A depth charge entered the water. And then another. Round circles of gray and white foam erupted. A destroyer was already breaking from formation with the general quarter bell sounding. Her forward most gun had been manned and now a fifth of her firepower was tracking the datum that was attracting aircraft and attention like a spilled Coke attracted bees and ants. The ship sped up to close the range and then minutes later slowed to give the sonar operators a chance to hear anything as the great big active set began to ping. Contact was established off to port by a few degrees. Another destroyer detached herself from formation. Now they would sit on the submarine until it died.

    The convoy continued through the South China Sea as a another division was heading to Bataan.
     
    Story 2196
  • Over Bosnia Herzogovina, August 26, 1943

    The watched ticked past midnight. The transport plane slowed. The nine men who had barely said a word to the crew besides "good evening" as they boarded hitched up their parachutes and checked the supply crates one last time.

    Seven minutes later, a priest, a boxer, a gambler, a homosexual, a womanizer, a college proffessor of the classics, a thief, a mechanic, a card shark, an Olympic runner and a poet were floating through the air as they descended towards the landing zone set up by the Yugoslav partisans.
     
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