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The Further Adventures Of The USS Flyswatter, Parts VI-X

OK, here are the next five parts of my story about the USS Manchester. Tomorrow at this time, I'll post the thrilling conclusion.

Well, the conclusion, anyway. I shouldn't promise too much.

Part VI

Captain Joe Tormolen gazed at the stern of the South Dakota, a thousand yards dead ahead, and grimaced. There, seemingly mocking him, sat the "hip pocket" mounts common to all the fast battleships - "bathtubs" of steel containing a quad mount of 40 mm cannon. It was those mounts that had inspired him to push for the fantail battery of the Manchester - which he had called the "Stinger" but the Manchester's crew called the "Flaming @$$hole."

The battleships had catapults and a crane on their fantail, but the Manchester had no such structures - nor did it have a hangar belowdecks, as it carried no aircraft. So Tormolen had commandeered all that free space to put five mounts along the stern, with one on each corner, one on each side just forward of the corner mounts, and one dead center of the squared-off stern. Then, to maximize the field of fire, he'd put those corner mounts up on six-foot-high pedestals so they could shoot over the other mounts if necessary.

He hadn't thought it through fully, though.

Those high mounts tended to eject their empty shell casings right on top of the sailors manning the lower mounts. The gunners had riveted some sheet metal to deflect the casings off their buddies, and that had been a help.

The other problem wasn't one so easily resolved, though.

The South Dakota displaced 35,000 tons. That was a lot of mass to move around, and it made the ship, overall, a lot more stable of a gun platform. The Manchester had only 10,000 tons to soak up the motion of the sea, the vibrations of her engines, and all the other little factors that added up to bounce a ship around. No wonder the Manchester's captain had ordered those mounts abandoned when the ship was at speed or in rough seas - all they could achieve was to waste valuable ammunition.

Admiral Lee's reaction to being assigned the Manchester had been tough to read. Tormolen had never had any dealings with him before, and couldn't tell if he was pleased or disappointed to have the ship. He'd already set up his formation - the four destroyers out in front, his Washington next, and the South Dakota in the rear. He'd put the Manchester where she would cause the least disruption - behind the South Dakota. Tormolen wasn't quite certain whether she'd actually do any good, should they run into the Japanese, but he knew they'd be ready.

He'd already outlined his plans to his crew. Once the enemy was sighted, the main guns would all focus on a single enemy ship. They'd ignore any battleships, but any cruisers or destroyers would be attacked, going after the nearest first and staying on that target until it was out of action. The 40mm guns would seek out enemy destroyers on their own and make their lives difficult. And the 20mm guns would be left unmanned - the gunnery crews had been assigned to lookout and damage control duties.

And those lookouts would be spending most of their time watching for torpedoes. As they had learned from the scuttlebutt, the Japanese torpedoes were fast and had long legs - and the sailors who fired them were very, very good at night fighting. Tormolen could only hope that the task force would sight the Japanese and keep them at enough distance to ward off any torpedo attacks.

Night was falling, and the task force had many miles to go before they would reach the waters of what many were calling "Ironbottom Sound" in bitter memory of all the ships that had already been sunk there.

After tonight, he mused, how many more would join them?


Part VII

Tormolen forced himself to stay where he was. Every instinct in him pulled at him, drawing him to go out on the bridge wings himself and join the numerous lookouts all trying to spy the enemy through the dark. But his training told him that his place was here, on the bridge. He ought to be near the radar set that could see through the night far better than any human eyes. Near the radio, which would bring word from the other ships, ahead of the Manchester. And at the place where the reports of all those lookouts dotting the superstructure of the Manchester, many younger and keener eyes all just as keen to spot the enemy as Tormolen himself was.

But it all came down to a matter of trust. Tormolen had to trust his radar set - and its operator. He had to trust the other ships, their radio sets and operators, and his radio set and operator. He had to trust his lookouts, and the system set up to get their reports to him accurately and quickly.

Further, he had to trust that Admiral Lee knew what he was doing, and was as well served by his little fleet as Joe hoped.

Something in him rebelled against all that trust. He wanted to put all his faith in his own eyes, his own ears, his own judgment.

But against that were his years of training and discipline and experience. It had been drilled into his head time and time and time again that the Navy was a team, that it took a whole crew to fight a ship. A commanding officer had the duty to trust his crew, to rely on them, or he was doomed.

And all the while telling him to trust all these people, the Navy also kept pounding into him that the captain had absolute authority and absolute responsibility for his ship. It was a dichotomy that Tormolen had never really fully appreciated.

The quarter moon gleamed off the relatively smooth sea. Off to the right, he could see the hulking shadow of Savo Island, a darker black against the black of night. He could barely make out the massive South Dakota almost dead ahead. Objectively, there was no way he could know if the Japanese were out there. But his gut said they were, and that they would find them.

Or, worse, be found by them.

"Sir, flash from the Washington! Enemy ships to starboard!"

Tormolen snapped out of his reverie. "Radar, focus to starboard! Starboard lookouts, find those ships! Portside lookouts, keep sharp - we don't want to get in a crossfire like Callaghan did. And all lookouts, watch out for torpedoes!"

Part IX

More flashes of light, this time coming from ahead. Then, later, the rumbling of explosions. Two of them, and somehow Tormolen knew this was different.

The radio operator was quick to fill in the details. "Flash from the Washington, sir! Two of our 'cans in the lead have just been torpedoed!"

It was on. The nameless dread Tormolen had been feeling, the fear and anticipation that had been omnipresent ever since Admiral Halsey had granted his request to join this group, all vanished in an instant. This was real. The enemy was there, and the fight was on.

"Radar, find us some targets!" Tormolen demanded.

"Sir, I'm picking up what appears to be several ships to starboard!"

"Good work, mister! Now get us a range and bearing!"

"Working on it sir... got it! Bearing 020 relative, range 18,000 yards!"

Tormolen slammed his fist on the rail. "That's too far! There's almost no chance they could have been the ones to torpedo the destroyers. There's another group out there, and we've got to find them before they find us!"

KER-WHAM!!!!!

The entire ship shuddered slightly and was lit up for an instant. Tormolen's eyes were drawn dead ahead.

18,000 yards was out of range of the Manchester's main guns, but not the South Dakota's. And even though the Manchester was astern the big battleship when she fired her forward guns, the blast of the mighty 16" rifles was enough to notice.

"OK, that simplifies matters. We'll leave that distant group for the big boys. Radar, find us some closer targets."
The South Dakota fired off several salvoes, then went silent. Apparently they had lost their targets - either sunk or faded from the radar.

The darkness and silence descended once more. Tormolen found himself hating the situation. Instead of honest, man-to-man, ship-to-ship combat, this was like swatting at ghosts. Friend and foe kept fading in and out, firing off a few shots before disappearing back into the night.

Even worse, the Japanese were winning.

More than anything, he wanted to go over to the young lieutenant on the radar scope - Tormolen couldn't even remember his name - and shove him aside, then find out the damned elusive foes. But he knew that the lieutenant - Dobson, that was the man's name - was not only doing the best he can, but was doing a better job than Tormolen could hope to do. After all, he'd been trained extensively on the complicated device; Tormolen had been given only the most cursory briefing.

"Sir, we've lost the South Dakota!"

"What the hell? How do you lose a 35,000-ton battleship!"

"She's gone completely dark, sir!"

Tormolen tried to conceive of what could cause the mighty ship to go completely dark without a sound or light, but nothing came to mind.

"Got her, sir! I caught a glimpse of moonlight off her. She's still dead ahead, but there's not a hint of light coming off her anywhere!"

That was damned troubling. Had the Japanese developed some kind of secret weapon that could silently kill a battleship? If they had, they were damned fools for using it here. They were already winning the fight. It must have been something else, he realized. Something that somehow robbed the South Dakota of virtually all power at this critical time, right in the middle of battle...

With the Manchester dead astern and plowing on at a blissful 18 knots.

"Helm, come right 30 degrees! Engines, set turns for 25 knots!"

Tormolen cursed himself. He had gotten so wrapped up with whatever had afflicted the South Dakota, he let his attention wander from the fact that he was dead astern of her. If the power loss had also affected her engines, he would end up ramming her - a bad move under any circumstance, but quite possibly the worst thing to do in the middle of battle.

Dobson suddenly shouted again. "Contacts, sir! Ships 40 degrees off the starboard bow, range six thousand yards!"

"Confirm that they're not ours!"

"Confirmed, sir! Five vessels, cruisers or destroyers, in formation. We don't have that many ships - they've gotta be Japs!"

"All guns, aim and fire!"

Tormolen remembered his first experience with the Manchester's full broadside firing at once. That time,he'd been out on the bridge wing, and the combined blast effects - fortified by the odd characteristics of the superstructure focusing and amplifying the concussion - had knocked him ass over teakettle. Here, inside on the bridge, it was still an intimidating effect.

"Sir, lookouts report multiple hits!"

"All guns maintain fire! Keep pouring it on until... now."

Tormolen watched in amazement as a massive fireball erupted off towards Savo Island. The ship they'd been firing on had apparently just exploded. For a brief moment, he dwelled on the fact that he had just most likely seen several hundred men die.

But there wasn't time for that. Dobson had said there were five ships out there. That blast meant that there were still four ships full of Japanese out to kill him.

"All guns, shift aim to the next ship! Keep firing! Lookouts, keep an eye on the South Dakota - we don't want to ram her in this dark!"

The guns continued firing, pouring shells out into the dark. Tormolen could barely make out tiny sparks off in the distance as some of them found their targets in the Japanese ships, tearing holes in the thin-skinned warships.

"Thin-skinned." Tormolen was one to talk. The Manchester had barely more steel protecting her than did the Japanese destroyers. She had a mighty punch, though - she was tossing almost a ton of steel and explosives every three seconds. He found himself remembering the battle cruisers designed by Lord Jackie Fisher, and Winston Churchill's memorable phrase: "eggshells armed with sledgehammers."

Dammit, he had to keep his mind on the battle! The second ship erupted into flames, running nearly the length of the hull. Time to shift targets again. "Guns, change to third ship!"

KER-WHAM!
The Manchester shuddered again, considerably more strongly than when the South Dakota had opened fire. Tormolen knew instantly what that meant: the Japanese had started shooting back - and scored a solid hit.

Part VIII

Tormolen could feel his frustration mount. He could see the battleships firing their secondary batteries, their muzzle flashes like lightning. His lookouts were straining their eyes, trying to see any signs of hits. And his gunners were ready to open fire as soon as they were given a target.

But the Japanese were not cooperating with the Americans. There were no flashes of lights, no bursts of flame out in the darkness that Tormolen's fire control could lock in on. That meant the 18 5" guns that the Manchester could bring to bear to her starboard were utterly useless.

Then, as quickly as they started, the battleships' guns went silent. Apparently they had lost their targets. Indeed, Tormolen was not entirely convinced they'd ever had targets. It wouldn't have been the first time he'd heard of such a thing; as a boy, he'd heard a tale out of the Revolutionary War.

It seemed that the Americans in Burlington, Vermont had been exceptionally nervous about a British attack. One night, a lookout had sounded the alarm about a British ship just offshore. The cannons mounted on the shore had opened up, and fired all through the night at the Redcoats, but the ship stubbornly refused to sink. Then, as dawn broke, it was revealed that they had been attempting to sink an island.

Tormolen had never been able to verify the story, but he found it plausible. And in the near pitch black of this November night, he found it downright persuasive.

The night had returned. The darkness and silence descended as if they had never been disturbed. But the men aboard the seven US Navy warships knew differently. If the enemy was indeed out there, the Americans had just revealed their presence.

Part IX

More flashes of light, this time coming from ahead. Then, later, the rumbling of explosions. Two of them, and somehow Tormolen knew this was different.

The radio operator was quick to fill in the details. "Flash from the Washington, sir! Two of our 'cans in the lead have just been torpedoed!"

It was on. The nameless dread Tormolen had been feeling, the fear and anticipation that had been omnipresent ever since Admiral Halsey had granted his request to join this group, all vanished in an instant. This was real. The enemy was there, and the fight was on.

"Radar, find us some targets!" Tormolen demanded.

"Sir, I'm picking up what appears to be several ships to starboard!"

"Good work, mister! Now get us a range and bearing!"

"Working on it sir... got it! Bearing 020 relative, range 18,000 yards!"

Tormolen slammed his fist on the rail. "That's too far! There's almost no chance they could have been the ones to torpedo the destroyers. There's another group out there, and we've got to find them before they find us!"

KER-WHAM!!!!!

The entire ship shuddered slightly and was lit up for an instant. Tormolen's eyes were drawn dead ahead.

18,000 yards was out of range of the Manchester's main guns, but not the South Dakota's. And even though the Manchester was astern the big battleship when she fired her forward guns, the blast of the mighty 16" rifles was enough to notice.

"OK, that simplifies matters. We'll leave that distant group for the big boys. Radar, find us some closer targets."
The South Dakota fired off several salvoes, then went silent. Apparently they had lost their targets - either sunk or faded from the radar.

The darkness and silence descended once more. Tormolen found himself hating the situation. Instead of honest, man-to-man, ship-to-ship combat, this was like swatting at ghosts. Friend and foe kept fading in and out, firing off a few shots before disappearing back into the night.

Even worse, the Japanese were winning.

More than anything, he wanted to go over to the young lieutenant on the radar scope - Tormolen couldn't even remember his name - and shove him aside, then find out the damned elusive foes. But he knew that the lieutenant - Dobson, that was the man's name - was not only doing the best he can, but was doing a better job than Tormolen could hope to do. After all, he'd been trained extensively on the complicated device; Tormolen had been given only the most cursory briefing.

"Sir, we've lost the South Dakota!"

"What the hell? How do you lose a 35,000-ton battleship!"

"She's gone completely dark, sir!"

Tormolen tried to conceive of what could cause the mighty ship to go completely dark without a sound or light, but nothing came to mind.

"Got her, sir! I caught a glimpse of moonlight off her. She's still dead ahead, but there's not a hint of light coming off her anywhere!"

That was damned troubling. Had the Japanese developed some kind of secret weapon that could silently kill a battleship? If they had, they were damned fools for using it here. They were already winning the fight. It must have been something else, he realized. Something that somehow robbed the South Dakota of virtually all power at this critical time, right in the middle of battle...

With the Manchester dead astern and plowing on at a blissful 18 knots.

"Helm, come right 30 degrees! Engines, set turns for 25 knots!"

Tormolen cursed himself. He had gotten so wrapped up with whatever had afflicted the South Dakota, he let his attention wander from the fact that he was dead astern of her. If the power loss had also affected her engines, he would end up ramming her - a bad move under any circumstance, but quite possibly the worst thing to do in the middle of battle.

Dobson suddenly shouted again. "Contacts, sir! Ships 40 degrees off the starboard bow, range six thousand yards!"

"Confirm that they're not ours!"

"Confirmed, sir! Five vessels, cruisers or destroyers, in formation. We don't have that many ships - they've gotta be Japs!"

"All guns, aim and fire!"

Tormolen remembered his first experience with the Manchester's full broadside firing at once. That time,he'd been out on the bridge wing, and the combined blast effects - fortified by the odd characteristics of the superstructure focusing and amplifying the concussion - had knocked him ass over teakettle. Here, inside on the bridge, it was still an intimidating effect.

"Sir, lookouts report multiple hits!"

"All guns maintain fire! Keep pouring it on until... now."

Tormolen watched in amazement as a massive fireball erupted off towards Savo Island. The ship they'd been firing on had apparently just exploded. For a brief moment, he dwelled on the fact that he had just most likely seen several hundred men die.

But there wasn't time for that. Dobson had said there were five ships out there. That blast meant that there were still four ships full of Japanese out to kill him.

"All guns, shift aim to the next ship! Keep firing! Lookouts, keep an eye on the South Dakota - we don't want to ram her in this dark!"

The guns continued firing, pouring shells out into the dark. Tormolen could barely make out tiny sparks off in the distance as some of them found their targets in the Japanese ships, tearing holes in the thin-skinned warships.

"Thin-skinned." Tormolen was one to talk. The Manchester had barely more steel protecting her than did the Japanese destroyers. She had a mighty punch, though - she was tossing almost a ton of steel and explosives every three seconds. He found himself remembering the battle cruisers designed by Lord Jackie Fisher, and Winston Churchill's memorable phrase: "eggshells armed with sledgehammers."

Dammit, he had to keep his mind on the battle! The second ship erupted into flames, running nearly the length of the hull. Time to shift targets again. "Guns, change to third ship!"

KER-WHAM!
The Manchester shuddered again, considerably more strongly than when the South Dakota had opened fire. Tormolen knew instantly what that meant: the Japanese had started shooting back - and scored a solid hit.


Part X

"Damage control, report!" Tormolen barked.

Hit to the stern, sir! Still getting details, but engines, main battery, and fire control unaffected!"

"Keep on firing, then. The Manchester's tough. She can take it."

The guns had barely paused when the Manchester had taken her first battle damage. A brief stutter, that's all, then they resumed pouring steel out at the Japanese.

"Sir, damage control reports we took a round right on the fantail, just above the deck. It blew three of the 40-mm mounts clean off the ship, along with their crews."

Dammit. Tormolen had meant to order those mounts abandoned once the ship got up to speed, but had forgotten. Now he had just killed two dozen of his own men.

He brutally shoved the thought to the back of his mind. There'd be plenty of time for guilt and recriminations later. "Keep firing! Lookouts to port - what's going on with the South Dakota?"

"She's still dark, but she's starting to take some hits. Looks like the enemy's found her."

"Helm, keep us between her and the Japanese. Our job's to protect her, and by god we're going to do just that."

KER-WHAM!

The Manchester shuddered again, and this time Tormolen heard the unmistakable sound of an explosion coming from the stern.

"Sir, we just took another hit! Mount ten is out of action! Looks like a big shell went right through the turret!"

Mount ten... Tormolen found himself quickly counting. That was the highest of the stern mounts. "Stand by to flood aft magazine!"

"Standing by, sir!"

"Damage Control, do we have any signs of fire yet?"

"No, sir! Looks like a clean hit. The mount's destroyed, though."

"Casualties?"

"It'd be a miracle if anyone survived, sir. It was a direct hit, by at least an 8" shell. The turret looks like Swiss cheese."

More blood on his hands. More men whose lives had been entrusted to Tormolen had paid the price. He once again shoved the thought to the back of his mind.

"All remaining guns, keep firing."

By this time, the third ship in line had begun to take some hits. And the guns of the Manchester had slowed their fire, as the ready-use ammunition was used up and the crews had to manhandle the 55-pound shells from the magazines.

KER-WHAM!

Another hit. This time, Tormolen didn't have to ask for details. He'd seen the bow of the Manchester jerk as an enemy shell went right through, carrying away one of the anchors. Luckily, it appeared to be well above the waterline. Even more fortunately, Tormolen didn't think that any crew were likely to be in that area when the ship was at general quarters.

KER-WHAM! KER-WHAM!

Two more shells hit the Manchester. One of them passed clean through her forward stack without detonating, showering the decks with shards of metal. The other - apparently a small-caliber round from a Japanese destroyer - hit the ship's thin armored belt amidships. Somehow, the 2" of steel had held, and the shell burst without penetrating.

The Manchester was being incredibly lucky, Tormolen noted. Five hits so far, and three of them essentially trivial. In return, she'd blown up one Japanese ship, pretty much destroyed a second, and was tearing apart a third piece by piece. Admittedly, the Washington and the surviving destroyers might also be taking part, but until the after-action reports were all compiled and collated, Tormolen was quite pleased to take all the credit.

But he knew their luck wouldn't hold. It couldn't.

And it didn't.

"Torpedoes!"


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Comments (1)

I'm kinda hoping there's a ... (Below threshold)
epador:

I'm kinda hoping there's a "Godzilla-protocol" and the Flyswatter hikes up to Tokyo Bay breathing fire...




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