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The Old Girl's New Tricks, Part I

A while ago, I mentioned that I was working on another historical fiction story, and it was being a hell of a distraction -- but a hell of a lot of fun. That was about two months ago.

Last night, I finally finished it off. 37 chapters and an epilogue, and over 32,000 words.  And it was quite well received at the message board where I was posting it, a chapter at a time.

So once again I'm going to publish it here, too. And like my other stories from World War II ("The Adventures Of The USS Flyswatter" and "The Further Adventures Of The USS Flyswatter"), I'm going to publish it five chapters a day until it's finished -- then put up the whole thing as a PDF, if I can.

If you're not interested, feel free to skip it. And there is not a single trace of politics in the whole thing -- which was a tremendously refreshing change.

One disclaimer: this was not written for the general public, but a group of naval devotees and fans of naval fiction. So it is written for an audience that doesn't need a lot of technical explanations, as a certain level of knowledge is presumed. I think most of it ends up being self-explanatory, but I make no promises.

Hope you enjoy it half as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The Old Girl's New Tricks


Author's note: the sole purpose of this story is to explore a naval battle scenario that got stuck in my head months ago. However, the odds of it actually happening are so improbable as to be almost impossible. To give this the thinnest veneer of plausibility, however, I am going to spend several chapters showing how, step by step, the appropriate vessels could end up in the right place at the right time.


Those chapters will be nothing short of thoroughly-shameless hand-waving and flouting of historical facts, logic, common sense, and reality. To help cover that up, I will be attempting to camouflage the hand-waving with a steady stream of red herrings, meta references, Easter eggs, and characters endlessly mocking my plot machinations within the context of the story itself. My goal is to keep the readers entertained enough (or, at least, distracted enough) to not bother engaging in further denigration of the absolute absurdity of the basic premise.


Chapter 1


Summer, 1942

New York City


Captain William Blythe Jr. strode into the admiral's office, cap tucked firmly under his arm. "Reporting as ordered, sir."


Admiral Hilary gestured to a chair. "Have a seat, Will. How was England? Was this your second trip?"


"Third, sir, and as boring as the last two trips, sir. Herd the flock over there, refuel and reprovision while they unload, then herd them back."


Hilary smiled. "Then I just might have some good news for you. How do you like California?"


Blythe paused before answering. "Just fine, sir. I served there for a few years, about ten years ago, and didn't really mind it much."


"Well, you're heading back there. Here are your orders; report to the CO of the San Francisco Navy Yard in three weeks."


"Three weeks, sir? Should I take a train, or see the Army about getting a flight?"


"You'd have a bit of trouble getting all your baggage aboard either - you're taking your ship with you. The Arkansas is getting temporarily reassigned to the Pacific."


Blythe was now thoroughly confused. "Sir? You're lending us to Pacific Command?"


Hilary nodded. "By special order of Admiral King himself."


"What's going on, sir?"


Hilary picked up a folder from his desk. "Intelligence has word that the Japanese and the Germans have been comparing notes, and the Krauts have convinced the Japs that commerce raiding is key to victory. So we've got word that the Japanese are going to detach some of their major combatants from their fleets and send them out to intercept our freighters, tankers, transports, and whatnot between the West Coast and Hawaii, and Hawaii and the South Pacific. So I've been ordered to dispatch one of my battlewagons - one with experience in convoy escort - to the Pacific to train up their ships and crews for the job."


"Sir, with all due respect, that's ridiculous! We have air cover for most of the ocean between those two points, the area being discussed is far huger than the comparable parts of the Atlantic, the Japanese ships simply don't have the legs to reach such points and carry out such missions, and most importantly it totally flies in the face of everything we know about the Japanese way of thinking!"


Hilary nodded. "All true, Bill, but orders are orders. I was told to give up one of my battleships for this fool's errand, so I'm doing it. And I hope you understand there's nothing personal here, but if I have to give up one of my wagons, it's going to be yours. You and your crew are among the best I have, but..."



Blythe sighed. "Yeah, I know." The Arkansas was, to be blunt, the white elephant of the Navy. She was the oldest and slowest battleship in the navy, the only one still using 12" guns. And ever since her sister, the Wyoming, was relegated to training duties, she was unique in active service. He couldn't blame Hilary for foisting her off on the Pacific, given a chance. "So, when do we leave?"

Hilary was relieved that Blythe didn't try to put up more of a fight. He genuinely liked and respected and appreciated Blythe and his men, but that didn't change the fact that they had a ship that was over 30 years old and should have been sent to the breakers years ago. "It'll take about a week to refit and restock the old girl, so give your crew some liberty. Then you'll leave with three cans and head south. You'll meet up with the freighter 'Diamond Huckster' off Norfolk, then escort her through the Canal and report to San Francisco."

"The 'Diamond Huckster?' What's she carrying that's so important?" "I'm not at liberty to say, Will, but I can tell you that it's critical to your mission's success."

Will sighed and stood up. "If that's all, sir, I'll get back to the Arky and start getting things ready."


Hilary stood up. "Dismissed, Will. And good luck."


Chapter 2


Author's Note: More whimsy and deliberate errors. The destroyers named here are entirely fictional, and only after I had picked the names did I discover that two of them shared their names with real-life DE's launched in 1943. No insult is intended whatsoever.


Captain Blythe looked out his bridge. The Arkansas was dead in the water, and that never made him comfortable. True, he was off the coast of Norfolk, and his own escorting destroyers were supplemented by aircraft and ships in keeping any possible U-boats at bay, but nonetheless it troubled him. He just hoped the boat carrying his orders got here soon, so he could get underway again.


His destroyer escorts. The Fleming, the Bates, and the Alfonso Hamm. He'd already heard some of his crew refer to them as the Lemming, the Bait, and the Guinea Pig.

The messenger arrived on the bridge, saluted, and presented Blythe's orders. It was pretty much what he expected; he and his ship were formally reassigned to the Pacific Fleet, escort the "Diamond Huckster" to San Francisco via the Panama Canal, then collect his new orders. The messenger had also brought along some briefing material on the Japanese Navy: intelligence on ships, reports on their tactics, recent movements, theories on their strengths and weaknesses, and whatnot. The most significant detail was that the Japs apparently had a "super-torpedo," with unprecedented range and a very potent warhead.


Blythe was pretty confident in his ship's capabilities - years ago, she had been fitted with very hefty bulges. They'd added over 12 feet to her beam, making the upcoming Canal transit a wee bit tricker (she'd have only about 2 feet of clearance on each side), but that should help should the Arky catch one of those "Long Lances."


The messenger had one last word of advice, though - one he had been ordered to not commit to paper.


Blythe was intrigued. "Go ahead, son. What's the word?" "Sir, I have been told that you may pick up some radio signals that purport to come from an American warship in the Atlantic - a ship that was scrapped 20 years ago. If you do pick up those signals, you are advised to not only disregard the signals, but to not even bother logging them." Blythe raised an eyebrow at that most unusual advice. "Commander, that's a very unusual recommendation - and very disturbingly specific. If the Admiral had sent a lesser officer, I'd consider it a prank."


"Sir, I am under specific orders not to elaborate, but I can assure you it is no joke." "So, we have a 'ghost ship' out there?" "I am not allowed to say any more, sir."


"Very well. Thank you, Commander, you may return to your boat. Give the admiral our regards." The Commander saluted and left the bridge. "Helm, once the Commander's boat is clear, weigh anchor. What's the Huckster's cruising speed?"


"She reports 12 knots, sir."


"Very well. Order the Huckster to maintain position 3,000 yards on our starboard beam - I want to keep her inshore of us. And have the cans take up their escort positions. Once everything is clear, lay in a course for the Canal and proceed at 12 knots."


Chapter 3


Captain Blythe strode firmly into the Admiral's office. (He was getting good at this.) "Reporting as ordered, sir!"


Admiral Kelley stood and offered his hand. "Welcome to the Pacific, Captain. I trust you had an uneventful trip here?"

At Kelley's gesture, Blythe sat down. "Well, the old girl's a bit wider than she was in her youth - ain't we all? - so we did a little scraping coming through the Canal, but other than that, no problems." He paused for a moment, then figured what the hell. "Not even a hint of any ghost ships."


Kelley grimaced. "Oh, you heard about that?" "Actually, that's all I know." Kelley sighed. "A couple of years ago a cruiser was coming around South America when she claims she picked up a call from one of our old predreadnoughts, going up against the Graf Spee. Nothing ever came of it, but you know the sea stories..."

Blythe frowned. "Should have known it was a prank. But if it was a predread, sir, then it wouldn't have been facing the pocket battleship, but the original Admiral Graf Spee - the man, not the ship."


"Since when do sea stories have to make sense?" Blythe nodded at that. "Anyway, Captain, how much have you been told about your assignment?"


"Just that we think the Japs are going to go into commerce raiding, and you want us to teach your guys what we've learned about convoy escort."


"Well, that's a part of it. While your ship's getting patched up and refueled, you're going to be talking to a group of officers about your experiences. Then, once you're all set, you're going to give them a practical demonstration."


Blythe was thoroughly confused. "A demonstration? We're going to have an actual convoy to escort somewhere?"

Kelley smiled proudly. "My own idea. We have a few freighters heading out to Pearl, so we've shanghaied them into an impromptu convoy. But we also have several cruisers, destroyers, and subs heading that way, too, so they're all going to travel together. All told, we have 30 ships for you to herd down there." He shoved a list of the ships involved across the desk.

"But sir, that's not a very realistic convoy. Five civilians, and 25 escorts?"

"26, actually, counting the Arkansas. But it won't seem that way. Each day of the trip, some of the escorts will take on the role of a merchant, while the rest will be the escorting force under your command. By the time you get to Pearl, each ship - except yours, of course - will have spent time both as escort and as escortee."


Blythe nodded. It seemed like a pretty good idea for a training exercise. "One other question, sir. I see the Diamond Huckster is coming along?" Kelley nodded. "Of course she is." "Sir, if it's permitted, can I ask what she's carrying?" Kelley began to smile. "Hilary didn't tell you what her cargo was?" Blythe shook his head. "No, sir, he just said that it was critical to our mission."


Kelley's smile turned into a full chuckle. "Ammunition, son. Specifically, a whole hold of 12" naval shells and powder for you. Oh, and a few spare barrels and liners. It turns out that since the Arkansas is the only ship we have with 12" guns, all the ammo, powder bags, and whatnot for her were on the East Coast. Hilary didn't know how long you'd be here, or how much shooting you'd do, so he sent along all you'd need for an extended deployment." He noticed Blythe's surprised look. "I take it Hilary didn't tell you that?"


Blythe began to ruefully chuckle. "No, sir. It seems that the admiral has more of a sense of humor than I gave him credit for."


"He can be a sly one. Anyway, Captain, your first class starts tomorrow at 0800 - see my aide outside for the details. Do you have any more questions?" "No, sir." "Dismissed."


Chapter 4


Captain Blythe surveyed his "students." There were about 30 there, all ranks from lieutenant through captain, and most of them had combat experience against the Japs. He, on the other hand, had yet to see his first enemy. If anything, he ought to be learning from them.


But that wasn't an option, and he had practiced and trained for a very specific role. And that was not a role these men had never even considered. He had to tread very, very carefully so as to not insult their pride.


"Gentlemen, I am Captain Bill Blythe, commanding officer, USS Arkansas. For the past few months, we've been escorting merchant convoys back and forth across the Atlantic, working to keep them safe from Nazi subs, aircraft, and surface raiders. Now we're hearing rumors that the Japs are looking into trying that for themselves."


He looked up from his notes. "Now, most of you have faced the Japs in combat, and you don't need me to tell you how they fight. But commerce raiding is a whole different game. And I'm here to give you some perspective on how that might change how they fight."


The "class" nodded. It looked like Blythe had managed to avoid alienating or insulting them. "I've done some studies of the Germans and the Japanese, and I think I've gotten a good hold of their mindsets. Both of them have a sense of racial superiority, and believe that that entitles them to rule the world. They see most of the rest of the world as their inferiors. The Japanese see us Americans as barbarians, while the Germans see us as mongrels - different approaches, but similar results."

They continued nodding. A few were even taking notes.


"But when it comes to our particular concern - commerce raiding - they will have very, very different approaches. And that is where their innate psychologies will apply. In this field, the key to understanding - and defeating - them will be in their archetypes." Whoops. He was losing them. Time to pull back on the five-dollar words. "To beat the enemy, you have to get inside their heads. You have to understand how they think - and how they see themselves. Once you know that, you can get a pretty good idea of what they will do, how they will react in certain circumstances.


"The Germans see themselves as predators. They are hunters. They are wolves. They see the merchies as sheep, and just want to get to the flock. We are the shepherds, the sheepdogs. They aren't looking to get into it with us; they want to get past us. They'll take us on if we have to, but they know that the real targets are the sheep. They'll make us work to keep the merchants safe.


"On the other hand, the Japanese are warriors. They need to seek ways to prove their worth, their strength, their valor, and especially their honor. They will see commerce raiding as the actions of a bandit, and beneath their honor. If they do come across an escorted convoy, they will be strongly inclined to ignore the merchants and take on the escort vessels. This could make it possible for you to draw them away from the convoy.


"Conversely, if they are doing the escorting, then they will be inclined to abandon the merchants and challenge the attackers. In that case, they could be lured away by part of the attacking force, leaving the merchants vulnerable to attack by the rest."


* * * * *


The rest of the session went quite well. Once Blythe was done talking, he started listening, and the "lecture" quickly became more of a symposium. He learned at least as much as he taught, and had an even better idea of what fighting the Japanese might be like. Further, it seemed that Kelley had "stacked the deck" - all of them were assigned to ships going on his convoy training class to Hawaii. It was rare that practice would so quickly follow theory.


Blythe's crew had reacted ecstatically when they were told they were heading to Hawaii; now it seemed that the journey might just be as interesting as the destination.


Chapter 5


"...and drop anchor." Captain Blythe gave the order. It had been an... interesting trip from San Diego. The first two days had been slightly organized chaos, as each ship took its turn playing escort and escorted. Then, in the morning of the third day, the USS Goldfish - a submarine - had reported an engineering failure and was dead in the water. Blythe had ordered a cruiser, theUSS Manchester, to stand by the sub to offer any assistance she might need, protection, and - if necessary - a tow.

The cruiser had rejoined the convoy shortly after midnight - and announced her presence with a volley of star shells fired from 6,000 yards off the starboard quarter. Blythe immediately ordered the convoy to react as if she was an enemy surface raider. That resulted in all the "escorts" and half the "merchantmen" rushing the cruiser, while the other half of the "merchants" - those who had not forgotten their current role - fleeing due north.

...where they were surprised by more star shells and flares from the Goldfish, less than 3,000 yards ahead of them. As soon as the convoy got over the horizon, the two ships had immediately made full-speed runs to get on the convoy's flanks. The Manchester, with her superior speed, had taken the longer, southern course, while the Goldfish had angled for the northern flank. The Manchester had made the first attack, and the Goldfish had used the diversion to get even closer.

All in accordance with Blythe's orders, of course, hand-delivered to the Goldfish and Manchester CO's before they had set sail. It helped that both their captains had been in his "training class," and were willing to go along with the unannounced exercise.

There had been a few mishaps during the impromptu exercise, of course. The captains had reported four near-collisions, and Blythe was certain that at least that many more had gone unreported. A couple of ships had fired live rounds at the Manchester, but no hits were reported. And Blythe studiously resolved to not look too carefully at any laundry reports from any other ships any time soon.

In the aftermath, Blythe spelled out some of the lessons from the exercise: the importance of keeping good watches, the importance of remembering one's assigned position and role, the importance of not getting fixated on an enemy to the point where another can sneak up on you, and the importance of merchants actually scattering upon a threat instead of all high-tailing it off in the same general direction.  He also learned a few things, too - mainly that sailors were endlessly inventive. Prior to this, Blythe would have sworn that there were certain words, phrases, and concepts that simply did not lend themselves to expression by signal flags and lamps.

After securing his ship, Blythe headed off for his gig. Another port of call, another Admiral to report to...


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Comments (20)

Intriguing. Can't wait for... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

Intriguing. Can't wait for more.

You ought to format it and ... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

You ought to format it and post for the Kindle, or as a mobi. You would probably reach a much wider audience. PDFs are a pain.

Jay, can you make the book ... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Jay, can you make the book available as an epub format?

Basically every ereader/tablet/phone and handle epub. It's the pdf of the book world.

If you go to wikipedia they have a list of epub editing software.

BTW I have not looked in awhile, if you need a Linux box, I'll convert it for you.

thanks
Paul

heh - Jeff and I are on the... (Below threshold)
Paul:

heh - Jeff and I are on the same page, he just beat me to it.

Somewhat to mys surprise, t... (Below threshold)
michael reynolds:

Somewhat to mys surprise, that's competently written.

Try to make more of this active. I'm not going to try and tie you to "show don't tell," but nevertheless there's too much telling.

Most importantly, all fiction is about character. Your characters are identified only by function or rank, not by background, opinions, beliefs, actions, and so on.

The best historical fiction probably ever written was Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series. Its success rested on character, on relationships, and secondarily on staggering amounts of research. Read the first few of those -- it's an education in historical fiction.

Jay, love the storyw... (Below threshold)
rain of lead:

Jay, love the story
when you posted this and I saw there was a 2nd story I HAD to read it first.

please post more soon
love your WW II fiction

btw what happned with the transformer plotline?
that looked like it was gonna be fun

michael, I'm going to take ... (Below threshold)

michael, I'm going to take your comments in the spirit they are intended -- and acknowledge that you are a successful author.

I agree with you, generally, about character and whatnot being essential. But this story was originally written for a very specific audience; they aren't that interested in such matters, but historical and technical accuracy and, to be blunt, "WHANGS." (That's the generic term for the sound of naval warfare, not an Anthony Weiner reference.) They could care less about my captain's deepest fears and desires, but boy did they let me have it when I gave my ship the wrong number of 5" guns at that point in time. And one guy TWICE caught me mixing up port and starboard.

As the story develops, I think I do balance the character stuff vs. the technical, but I had to keep in mind the first rule -- one that transcends even your observations: "know your audience."

As for the others... I hadn't even thought of trying other formats, but I think I'll look into it, now that it's been suggested. Right now it's an OpenOffice DOC file, but I would have no objections to tossing it out in other formats. EPUB? Sure, I'll see what I can do.

J.

They could care... (Below threshold)
They could care less about my captain's deepest fears and desires
Character depth isn't the same as going full emo, but you already know that.

I don't think anyone will blame you if you do a little back-editing to widen the potential audience for this. Just a thought.

Well done, Jay!... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Well done, Jay!

I quickly converted this in... (Below threshold)

I quickly converted this installment over to epub format with Calibre (formatting came out pretty well but isn't perfect) and have it someplace handy for Jay to pick up if he emails me for the URL. I won't post the URL here because it's his story; he has the right to say what happens to it.

Congratulations on finishin... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

Congratulations on finishing it BTW, and shipping it. Many people never finish what they start or, when they do finish, they are afraid to ship, as Seth Godin says. Good job.

Mr. Tea,The storyl... (Below threshold)
Brucepall:

Mr. Tea,

The storyline is interesting, has dynamics for later development, and... intrigue.

Constructive criticism: Agree with Michael, in that their is room to develop more character interest and strength... one tool you might use is perhaps some thoughts or reflections of the good Captain which proceed a chapter (or chapters) as a preamble at the beginning of a chapter or sub-book chapters (if you desire to break it down that way)... perhaps some kinda relationship metaphor that will reveal itself later (...tactics?). Initial thoughts... it appears to me that your story (as written) reads more like a movie script... than a novel.

On editing: Ch 4, Par 7, which starts, "The Germans see..." 2nd to last sentence, "They'll take us on if we have to, but they know..." change the word "we" to "they"... so it reads, "They'll take us on if they have to, but they know..."

Overall, you go me interested enough to want to read more... thus, you have a crackling fast paced good story. Respectfully Submitted,

Semper Fidelis-
Brucepall

The first law of fiction is... (Below threshold)
michael reynolds:

The first law of fiction is not 'know your audience,' it's 'tell a story.'

Insofar as one aims at an audience the rule of thumb I try to follow is to aim a little over their heads. Not every writer would agree with that, and some who disagree sell a hell of a lot of books.

But in this case the reason to do all that emo stuff is that readers won't track characters by name and rank alone. If you end up in a scene where there are 6 or 8 characters involved -- likely under the circumstances -- readers will quickly lose track of who's who unless they've made some kind of emotional connection and see the character as more than a label.

A final point: don't assume everyone who says they like something actually likes it. If you're writing fiction you have to have an ear for the work. You have to hear that it's wrong, even if 10 of your closest friends tell you it's good.

Its good enough to have me ... (Below threshold)
Don Wagner:

Its good enough to have me impatient for more. Good work!!!

Mr. Tea,From my st... (Below threshold)
Brucepall:

Mr. Tea,

From my studies earlier in life... American Lend-Lease was legislation written when America was still neutral. Thus, any belligerent could partake, as long as they used their hulls to come to America and load up. Thus, Italy and Germany were excluded (as the reality was the Allies - i.e.- the UK controlled the shipping lanes among the belligerents in the Atlantic). Roosevelt of course favored the Brits; we even gave them 50 four-stacker DD cans through lend-lease in their greatest time of need -1940 (and yes, the Brits had to come and get them), and the Marines occupied Iceland while we were still neutral, to help keep it out of Axis hands.

Anyways Brit convoys came to New York and loaded up for the long journey to England. Eventually, as the Battle of the Atlantic heated up in 1941, the USA took over the escort duties of the Brit convoys for the 1st half of their journey; at the mid atlantic they met Brit escorts, where the handover took place (between USA and Brit escorts, the Brits went with their convoy to England and the Americans went home). This way England's Atlantic escort duties were not stretched so thin (and yes, in 1941 the USA and Germany were in an unofficial U-Boat/DD shooting war smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic - as the Greenland/Iceland/UK gap was where the Battle of the Atlantic was the most contested that year ((41)).

Interestingly, the US did not have a convoy or escort system (or even a plan) for her own merchant marine (for a partial excuse/reason - see the DD lend-lease above). When Germany declared war on the USA (9 Dec 41), she sent every available XIX U-Boat to our shores (They were getting killed in the European Approaches - especially in the Bay of Biscay - as the Brits had found their measure the year before).

Thus the Germans experienced their second "Happy Time" during their U-Boat campaign (their first was 1939/1940). The Brits, having broken the German Enigma Naval code, warned America the Germans were coming... as they watched the grid position reports come in as the U-Boats marched across the Atlantic... but Roosevelt ignored their repeated and urgent warnings. The impact on the US merchant fleet was catastrophic. German U-boats picked off scores of individual unescorted merchant ships silhouetted against the blacked-out coast line running the gauntlet as close in shore as possible. It was total devastation, especially along the Virginia bulge. Only then, did the USA adopt Brit convoy and escort tactics for her own merchant marine; and only then (even with its attendant convoy massing shipping delays- the other big excuse/reason for non-emplementation) did our merchant marine losses became bearable.

Thus, having examined the history as best I can recall... it would have been insane to anchor a BB in the Rhodes off of Norfolk, Virginia (even with DD cans lurking about) just to await a gig launch with orders...as that place (especially the Virginia bulge around Norfolk) was the prime U-Boat hunting ground in the summer of 1942.

Long explanation I think to get to the point... that it would more realistic (historically) to say briefly in your story that the BB entered into the shelter of the Naval port at Norfolk in the Summer of 1942 to provision (especially to top off her escorting DDs and the merchant) and to receive new written (and interesting verbal) orders than to anchor (a like a sitting duck) in the Rhodes.

From one ancient history buff to another, FWIW.

Semper Fidelis-
Brucepall

Jay, have you considered a ... (Below threshold)
iwogisdead:

Jay, have you considered a more non-linear approach to the story line? Much of the background in the first four chapters could be placed in the narrative after the story has developed a little more, it seems to me. Not that I know what I'm talking about.

Iwog, I was writing and pub... (Below threshold)

Iwog, I was writing and publishing this a chapter at a time -- I HAD to keep it linear, or I'd go nuts keeping track of things.

Bruce, I'm taking notes on your comments and those of others. If/when I do a major revision, I'll be making some changes -- but right now, I'm publishing it as it appeared over on that other site.

And I just found a way to convert my file for free online -- it's an EPUB now, and I'll post that at the end of the story.

The most surprising result so far is my occasional sparring partner michael's reaction -- actually respectful and constructive. To be blunt, I didn't think he had it in him, and I'm glad I was wrong.

J.

hey man can I be rude and a... (Below threshold)
Paul:

hey man can I be rude and ask you to email me the epub? I CAN NOT read off the screen more than about 5 minutes. (see also Is Google Making Us Stupid?)

If not I'll wait... I just got a new ereader and I want to put you at the head of the line of things to be read.

thanks P

FWIW, Michael's critique re... (Below threshold)

FWIW, Michael's critique re characters rings especially true for me because I can't even keep track of my own characters unless I have some deeper grasp of who they are.

I'm that way in real life too -- my wife has been working in the same place, with most of the same people, for 12 years, and I've met most of them. But there's only maybe one or two I'd know if I ran into them on the street. They're the ones she complains to me about.

Mr. Tea,Earlier in... (Below threshold)
Brucepall:

Mr. Tea,

Earlier in my life... I use to study this era's history with a passion... even talked at length to surviving combatants from both sides (alas, they are mostly gone now) ... and back in the day, I'd war-game the WWII conflict with like minded military friends, over and over, hundreds of times (both global, theater, and tactical).

Having said that, given the orders of battle and relative industrial capacity, I found the Japanese approach to warfare to have been completely insufficient to obtain their stated or desired war objectives. No just strategically, but across the spectrum - down to tactical level - as well. The Japanese had awesome human intelligence prior to Dec 1941. I've read declassified Japanese spy reports (released within the last decade) that we're scary accurate from our West coast ports and Hawaii (they knew our carriers left Pearl regularly on the weekends, and that their practice/training cycle area was approximately 50 miles SE of Oahu {they could hear the ordnance explosions, even at that distance, and so noted and recorded them over time}- which is exactly where our carriers and their escorts were on the morning of 7 Dec 1941). Thank God, their actionable military command structure was so disconnected from their imperial intelligence apparatus. We of course had Magic (first revealed publicly in the 1970s) - and read their radio communications throughout the entire war - which is a big reason why their imperial empire turned to complete ashes in their mouths in a relatively short 36 months.

Anyways, I find it fascinating that as any conflict progresses, dictatorships find it harder and harder to recover from set-backs, and thus tend to make more and more and larger and larger mistakes. For example, Hitler was to suffer a million troop casualties in a desperate last ditch gamble to take Moscow (starting with the onset of Winter in Nov 41) - before Japan or America had even entered the war. Think about the magnitude of what such a loss meant at the time - a million casualties represented 1% of Germany's entire population (of 100 mil), and we're not even taking into account the amount of treasure (socks, tanks, aircraft, ammo, artillery, etc.) that was lost to them. And when that wasn't working out for Hitler, he decided to then declare war on the largest industrial power in the world - America!... duh. Then, 6 months after that he was throwing away another million German soldier's lives, with this level of casualties accelerating at an exponential rate every couple of months after that, over a shorter and shorter time frame. Just wow.

That might not have happened to Germany, if say a Hindenburg was running the place. But when it comes to military skill sets and diplomatic knowledge - its so true even today - that even though you might get a peek at your enemies order of battle and/or intent - that doesn't mean you know what to do about it. Thank the stars, Hitler was a certified despotic nut-case.

As with any war, the longer it continues, the pressure on a country's leadership just relentlessly jacks up, and becomes tremendous. Democracies fight long wars differently. There are less ass-kissing yes men to advise them, and tell them exactly the spin they want to hear. It help greatly too, if for example, one's Commander-in-Chief has some strength of character and backbone, and will listens to his advisors and allies while conducting coalition warfare (which is why presidential elections are so important in America). But I'm digressing.

Returning to the Imperial Japanese; their tactics sucked. They didn't have a clue how to fight a war economically... either on the offensive or defensive. After Pearl Harbor they sent their fast carrier fleet to the Indian Ocean??? (where the Brit fleet promptly withdrew to Madagascar to survive in being). Then they concocted an elaborate Aleutian Island campaign as a distraction, to draw our fleet out from Pearl and smash it with an invasion of Midway Island???... Duh. Battle after battle, they dissipated their strength with elaborate strategies... although they almost pulled it off in the Layette Gulf - in 1944 - after two years of practice (but even then, they pulled back on the cusp of smashing our supporting Philippine invasion merchant shipping - suffering catastrophic Naval and Air casualties for the attempt).

Anyways, I learned to toss such strategic and tactical BS aside while war-gaming the Japanese side during WWII. Yes, that was totally outside of their imperial war-fighting character of the time. But, a clear and focused coherent strategy worked for me every time (even if my coalition axis partners on the other side of the world couldn't execute worth a damn sometimes)... as the Japanese did have the tools and capacity to be extremely lethal to the rest of the free world during WWII if only their leadership had the wherewithal to be bold, resolute, and clear minded as to what was really being put at risk from the outset.

Jay, I don't want to take anything away from your literary efforts... or steal any of your thunder. You have the makings of a great story going here... and I applaud you for your efforts. So if in the future, if you'd like to discuss imperial Japanese tactics which might have worked better than the historical record, perhaps we could knock it around off-line someday. Respectfully Submitted,

Semper Fidelis-
Brucepall




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