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The Old Girl's New Tricks, Part VI

Even more booms. Hey, it's a battleship; it's made to take a lot of booms!

Chapter 26


Lt. Tripp went to the intercom to speak to Damage Control Central. "Damage Control, this is Lt. Tripp. Report on the last hits, please."

The voice snarled back at him. "Tripp? Where the hell is Rose?"

Tripp allowed his voice to sound more confident than he really was. "Captain Blythe has ordered me to take over Mr. Rose's duties in this area so he can focus more attention on fighting the ship."

"Oh, all right, then. Anyway, those last three hits didn't cause any real problems. One hit on the main deck, by Turret Five, and ripped up the decking a bit, but no real damage. One hit the main belt amidships, again no real damage. And the third went through the stack without detonating."

"Thank you. Keep me posted." Tripp put down the intercom and addressed Blythe. "No damage, sir."



"Excellent, Mr. Tripp. Keep up the good work." With that, Blythe turned his attention back to the battle. "Mr. Foster, I believe that Able and Baker are now within range of the secondary guns?" Foster checked, and confirmed it. "Then I believe it's about time they got in on the action. Have them open up on Baker; she's the closest to our beam."

A moment later, the 5 5" guns of the Arkansas' starboard broadside barked their fury, and 250 pounds of steel and explosive started their trip towards the hapless Japanese cruiser designated "Baker."

And fell short. It would take a few rounds to find the range, even with the assistance of Director Two.

In the meantime, though, Captain Blythe had yet more concerns. "Mr. Tripp, how goes the watering efforts on Turret Two?"

Tripp went to the front of the bridge, where he had a literal birds-eye view of the efforts. "The team is up on top of Turret One, and they're starting to run the hose down the barrel. Why don't they just start spraying from the broken end?"

"Steam, Mr. Tripp." Foster answered him. He'd spent his time in engine rooms, and he had a healthy respect for the power of steam. "It's hot as hell in that barrel. If they just shoved the hose in the end and started pumping, the water would probably flash to steam almost immediately, and scald the hell out of the men holding the hose. If they feed it down a ways, they'll be more likely to get the water where it can do some good."

"Well put, Mr. Foster." Blythe noted. "With luck, they'll put out any embers and cool things down before the round or powder can cook off, and we can get Turret One back in the fight. Order the crew back into the turret, but tell them to stand by. Keep all shells and powder secured until further orders. Speaking of which, how are the enemy ships faring?"

Foster checked with the lookouts and directors. "The five-inchers have found the range, and Baker's getting stung a bit. She's got a small fire on the bow. Amidships, there's a lot of smoke, but no visible fire -- we might have wrecked one of her stacks. Her aft superstructure is wrecked, but again no fire."

Blythe frowned. "She'd had a pretty good fire going amidships earlier. Looks like they got that under control."

"Apparently, sir. Able is still undamaged, and lookouts say she's turning away -- we might have scared her off."

Blythe snapped straight in his seat. "Which way is she turning?"

"To her port, our starboard."

"She's not retreating, she's unmasking her starboard torpedo tubes! Helm, stand by for left full rudder on my command. Lookouts, watch very carefully for any sign she's launched. Mr. Tripp!"

Tripp was startled to hear his name. "Yes, sir?"

"You're our expert on
Takaos. What kind of training limits do those torpedo tubes have?"

"Um... I don't know, sir!"

"Best guess, then, Mr. Tripp!"

Tripp closed his eyes and visualized the line drawings he had seen -- but not studied as closely as he wished he had. "I'd say he'd have to have us at least 30 degrees of his bow."

"Good enough, Mr. Tripp. Mr. Foster, Alert me when she reaches that angle. Mr. Rose, order the main guns to secure from firing, and have Director One take control of Turrets Three through Six. I want them dialed in on Able, but they are not to fire until I give the order."

The moments dragged by slowly, punctuated only by the barks of the 5" guns. Tripp was staring out the bridge when Commander Rose gently tapped him on the shoulder, then pointed to the buzzing handset from Damage Control Central. "I think that's for you."

Abashed, Tripp picked up the handset. "Bridge, Lieutenant Tripp speaking."

"Tripp, the flooding from that torpedo hit's getting worse. We've compensated for it so far by shifting around fuel and water tanks, but we won't be able to keep her upright much longer. Tell the skipper he's got to get her down to 12 knots or slower very soon, or we'll start taking on a port list."

"Acknowledged. Keep up the good work." Tripp replaced the handset. "Captain, Damage Control reports the flooding is getting worse, and recommend we reduce speed to 12 knots."

Blythe scowled. The timing could not have been worse. With Able getting ready to fire torpedoes, he needed all the speed he could scrape up. Instead, he was going to have to slow.

And then Foster made things even more complicated. "Sir, Able has us ten degrees off her bow!"



Chapter 27

"Mr. Tripp, order the damage control team working on Turret Two to withdraw to the starboard side of the ship, if they can't make it back inside. But leave the hose in place -- we'll keep pouring water down the tube and hope that does some good."

Tripp moved to relay the order. "Aye-aye, sir."

"Mr. Foster, keep me posted on Able's slightest move. This could be the most dangerous moment of the entire battle."

"Aye-aye, sir."

"Mr. Rose, get all guns ready to fire on my command. I want this to go perfectly."

"Aye-aye, sir. We have eight green lights."

"Confirm that, Mr. Rose."

"Yes, sir." Rose then paused. "Sir, we have ten green lights! Turret One reports ready to fire!"

Blythe swore under his breath. He'd been considering authorizing Turret One to rejoin the fight, but had decided to hold off a bit longer. And here was the crew, knowing full well there was a bomb literally over their heads, and still willing to defy orders to do their duty and protect their shipmates, even at the risk of their own lives. Wasn't there anyone in the gun crews who knew how to obey orders?

For the first time, Blythe chose to open his eyes. With the fight down to just two enemies, and one of them as battered as Baker was, he wanted to see for himself what was happening.

"Able now at 15 degrees and continuing to turn. He's also checked fire, and all guns are training on us. Looks like he wants a full broadside on us -- probably to obscure the torpedo firing."


"That sounds like we both had the same idea, Mr. Foster. I was planning on hitting right rudder and coming around right after our broadside."

Foster grinned at his captain. "Still seems like a splendid idea, sir."

Blythe returned the smile, then frowned in concentration. "Mr. Tripp, how confident are you in that 30 degrees angle business?"

"Reasonably sure, sir, but not 100% confident."

"Then you wouldn't be offended if I didn't act based on it being Gospel?"

"Sir, I'd be most appreciative if you didn't."

"Very well, then. Keep up with the damage control, Mr. Tripp. You're doing a fine job. Mr. Foster, I believe you're about to tell me that Able is passing the 20-degree mark?"

"Yes, sir."

Blythe settled back in his chair. "Excellent." He sat still for a long second.

"FIRE!"

Rose jumped at the sudden shout, but pressed the firing button. Ten guns roared, and 8,700 pounds of high-explosive shells leaped out across the waves, seeking out the Japanese cruiser designated "Able."

A second after the Arkansas fired, Able's five guns also erupted in billows of flame and smoke, sending almost 2,800 pounds of armor-piercing shells right back.

There was an explosion in midair, about two-thirds of the way to the cruiser, and a second later Blythe counted five distinct explosions aboard Able, well spread out along her hull, both in length and height. A moment later, he heard and felt several distinct impacts on the Arkansas as Able attempted to score her revenge.

"Mr. Tripp, get on the horn. I want details on those hits we just took."

"Aye-aye, sir."

"Mr. Foster, likewise on the hits we just scored on Able."

"Aye-aye, sir."

"Mr. Rose, right full rudder. Straighten us out once we've turned 150 degrees to starboard."

"Aye-aye, sir."

Blythe didn't like using right full rudder while he had a torpedo hole in his port side -- the ship would heel over and shift the water the Arkansas had already taken aboard, as well as act like a giant scoop in the sea. But he didn't have any choice -- he had to do what he could to spoil the aim of Able's torpedomen. He could feel his ship shuddering as she leaned out of the turn.

Foster was the first to speak up. "Sir, we have fires and secondary explosions on Able, bow and amidships. She's in real trouble now."

"Excellent. Mr. Tripp?"

"One moment, sir." Tripp didn't like delivering bad news, and there was plenty. "Five hits. Three not serious, but two of them bad. One hit the deck near the barbette of Turret Two, and the splinters got the Damage Control team that had been working on the damaged gun -- two dead, six wounded. The last one destroyed Director Three. There were no survivors."

"Damn," Blythe swore. Objectively speaking, the
Arkansas had been incredibly lucky in the fight. But even these relatively light casualties wounded him deeply. "All guns..."

"Sir, there's more." Tripp forced himself to continue. "Commander O'Leary reports the flooding is getting worse. He might have to evacuate a boiler room, and we can expect to take on at least a three degree list. He could counterflood, but he doesn't recommend it. He suggests we tolerate the list, and keep the counterflooding as an option in case it gets worse."

Blythe continued his order. "All guns, prepare to fire again. Mr. Tripp, tell O'Leary to use his best judgment -- that's why he's chief engineer. Mr. Foster, damage report on Able?"

"We hurt her bad, sir. Slowing down, lots of smoke, several fires, and she might even be listing -- I think we might've put at least one shell into her waterline, right into an engine room. Oh, she's firing again -- only three turrets this time. Yeah, we took a big chunk out of her hide."

"Excellent. Mr. Rose, order guns to keep firing until further notice. Mr. Tripp, inform Mr. O'Leary that we will accept the listing, but would appreciate it if he would minimize it. Mr. Foster, get me statuses on Able and Baker, and see if the
Hamm has an update for us."

As the three men accepted their orders, the Arkansas gave a slight shudder as a single hit struck. Blythe noted it casually. "Only one hit this time, and from six guns. Looks like Able's in serious trouble. Mr. Tripp, find out where it hit and what it did."

At that moment, the
Arkansas gave a mighty shudder, and a column of water erupted on her starboard quarter. Blythe had no need to ask Mr. Tripp what had happened; a second Japanese torpedo had found the old girl.


Chapter 28


At virtually the same instant as the torpedo struck, the Arkansas' main guns roared once again firing another ten-gun salvo at the cruiser designated "Able." But no one on the bridge was overly concerned about that at the moment.

"Mr Tripp! Report!" Captain Blythe barked.

"That's impossible! That Jap just got the angle on us! There's no way they could have hit us with that torp!"

"MR. TRIPP!" the captain shouted. "Tend to your duties! I want a report on that torpedo hit, and I want it now!"

Tripp, abashed, rushed to the handset to get hold of Damage Control Central.

Rose leaned in to speak softly to the captain. "He's right, you know. That was an impossible shot."

Blythe replied equally softly. "There are still other cruisers out there, Mr. Rose. Baker and Dog are battered, but still in the fight. My hunch is that Dog fired both torpedoes that hit us."

"Dammit. Should we shift fire to Dog, then?"

"Why bother? Revenge? She's always presented her starboard side to us, and she's fired two salvoes. She's out of torpedoes. Baker's the bigger threat." He turned to Commander Foster. "Mr. Foster, report on Able."

Foster put down his handset. "Sir, I think the boys in Director One got cute and aimed low. six hits, all on the hull, down close to the waterline. She's slowing down and taking on a definite list -- I'm confident in saying she's out of the fight -- if she's not done for."

"Excellent. I believe the officer in Director One is a Mr. Owens?" Foster nodded. "Tell him well done, but don't get cocky. And shift the guns to Director Two -- I want to give Baker a bit more chewing."

Lieutenant Tripp put down the receiver. "Sir, Commander O'Leary reports the torpedo hit around Frame 440, starboard side." Blythe immediately started worrying -- that was dead even with Turret Five. He started worrying about the magazine. "The bulge absorbed most of the impact, and reports minor flooding. He says it should take care of the list, but he's worried we're riding too low in the water."

Blythe turned to Commander Rose. "Rose, what's our current draft?"

Rose checked. "About 32 feet, sir. We've lost almost four feet of freeboard."

Blythe knew that was not good. With that much water aboard and two big holes blown in the bulges, he'd have to take it gentle on the rudder, and perhaps slow down even more. Worse, if they had to flood the aft magazine, it would make things even worse. "Mr. Tripp, what does Mr. O'Leary say should be our best speed?"

He checked. "Twelve knots should be safe for now, especially if it helps us avoid more torpedoes. He does not recommend we take any more."

"No promises, Mr. Tripp, but duly noted. Rudder amidships. Status report on enemy, Mr. Foster?"

The exec couldn't keep the satisfaction out of his voice. "Able's guns are silent, and her list is getting worse -- I think she's going to capsize to starboard. Baker's starting to turn to port -- I think she's unmasking her starboard tubes. And Dog's slowing and starting to turn in towards us -- I think she's steering with her engines now."

"All main guns to Director Two and are to open fire on Baker as soon as possible. I do NOT want her to get those fish off. Director One is to copy Two's solution and be ready to take over firing at any moment. Secondaries, keep firing on Baker."

Foster then chimed in. "Sir, I've got word from the
Hamm. Current total is four transports dead in the water, eight more withdrawing -- five damaged, three afire."

"I think Captain Aspin has won the battle. Order him to head back this way and pick up survivors from the
Fleming and offer any assistance to the Bates. The pilots on Guadalcanal should be able to finish off those transports he left helpless."

"Sir, we're about to open fire on Baker."

"Thanks for the warning, Mr. Foster." With that, the guns roared and hurled another ten shells towards the already-battered cruiser.


Chapter 29


"Clean misses, sir!" Foster sang out. "Ten splashes, all short."

Blythe knew it was inevitable. The gunners' accuracy was starting to fade. The barrels were heating up and starting to sag, fatigue was setting in, and the constant vibrations and shocks of combat -- especially the numerous hits she's suffered. He only hoped it was wearing even more on the enemy.

Apparently, it was, as he saw several splashes from the Japanese guns -- short and off to the port. But Baker's bow was swinging away, bringing those torpedo tubes closer to being brought to bear. He was surprised -- but proud -- that the Arkansas had handled two hits from the far-more-capable-than-advertised Jap fish as well as she had, but she was still in trouble. And while she had made a good accounting of herself -- One cruiser sunk, one sinking, and two badly mauled -- the two survivors were still in the fight.

It was now a matter of revenge. The Americans had already won the fight; while Arkansas had fought the cruisers, a lone destroyer had sneaked past them and savaged the real prize, the Japanese convoy. Even if the Japanese sank the Arkansas and the Alfonso Hamm, they'd still have lost because the convoy -- and, more importantly, its precious cargo of troops and munitions -- had been kept away from Guadalcanal.

And as battered as the battleship and cruisers were, retreat wasn't a viable option for either. None of them could escape without the assent of the other side, and neither side was in a forgiving mood. This fight was going to end only when one side or the other was sent to the bottom.

"Mr. Rose, remind the gunners to compensate for hot barrels. We need to put Baker out of commission before she fires her fish -- I don't think we can stand a third."

"Sir, they have been, but I don't think we've ever fired this many rounds this quickly. They're already aiming a little bit higher."

Blythe should have known. He'd drilled his gunners relentlessly; his reminder would be seen as reproach and an insult to their skills. "Good point, Mr. Rose. Belay that, then. Mr. Foster, keep a good eye on Dog -- I don't like her recovering any steering while we're fixated on Baker."

Foster nodded. "Aye-aye, sir. I think they're counting on that -- she's ceased firing, but she's still swinging in towards us."

"She's getting crafty. Well, let's indulge them for now. If they want to be harmless for now, we'll treat them that way. Let's keep pounding away at Baker."

More splashes surrounded the Arkansas -- but the ship shuddered again. More hits. "Mr. Tripp, find out where those shells landed."

Tripp immediately got on the handset to Commander O'Leary. A moment later, he had the answer. "One amidships, on the belt, no damage. One in the bow, in officer's country -- crews are responding."

Blythe looked out over the bow. He could see smoke coming from over the edge of the deck. He thought he saw a few licks of flame. "Looks like that one started a fire, too. That'll help the Japs home in on us. Keep me appraised of the fire, Mr. Tripp."

The guns roared once more, and this time there were fewer splashes. "At least one hit, sir! Lookouts say at least one shell amidships on Baker, with smoke."

"Excellent. Fire for effect. I think we're just in her torpedo arc, but I hope that rattled them a bit. Mr. Tripp, ask Commander O'Leary how much right rudder we can take."

Tripp passed on the question, then held the handset away from his ear. Even above the din of battle, the entire bridge could hear the strings of shouted profanities from the temperamental chief engineer. When it died down, Tripp put his ear back, then reported to the captain. "Mr. O'Leary respectfully recommends no more than ten degrees of rudder, preferably less, as long as we're above ten knots."

Blythe nodded. "Ten degrees right rudder, then. I'd like to throw off his aim a bit, while getting more of our broadside towards Dog. Straighten us out when we get another twenty degrees to starboard."

The Arkansas and the Japanese cruiser designated Baker continued to trade shots for several minutes. The Arkansas took two more hits of no consequence, while Baker took one on her bow and a second through her stack. All the while, Dog continued to force her bow around, trying desperately to bring her port torpedo tubes to bear.

Foster spoke up. "Sir, report from the
Hamm. She's deploying boats to pick up survivors from the Fleming, and rigging to take the Bates under tow. Turns out the Bates' boats have been busy, picking up men from the Fleming. Preliminary reports say at least 40 killed on Bates, at least 200 lost on Fleming."

As bad as it was, it could have been worse. Far, far worse. Blythe was glad the Hamm was still undamaged and available for rescue efforts. He now just wished they could finish off Baker before she got off her torpedoes.

Too late.

"Captain! Lookouts report incoming torpedoes!"



Chapter 30

Captain Blythe clenched the arms of his seat with a deathgrip. It was the only sign of the tension he felt.


The Arkansas had acquitted herself quite handily -- as had he personally. One Japanese cruiser sunk, one sinking, and two mauled, along with four destroyers sunk and the critical convoy shattered, at the price of two destroyers and a moderately-damaged battleship. As he had noted before, the battle was won as soon as the destroyer Hamm had savaged the convoy -- everything else was pretty much irrelevant. Blythe and his entire force were, to be harsh, expendable -- even more so than the Japanese escorts. But the transports and their precious cargo -- those were irreplaceable in the struggle for Guadalcanal. The Japanese had lost this effort to win the fight for the island, but they could still make the victory even more expensive for the Americans. And bagging a battleship -- even one as old and obsolete as the Arkansas -- would be a great propaganda victory, to counter the two Kongo-class ships the US Navy had sunk in Iron Bottom Sound.

Unwilling to show his anxiety, Captain Blythe waited for the inevitable shudder to shake his ship, and the plume of water along her port side indicating yet another massive hole being blown in her hull. The two prior torpedo strikes had wounded her seriously, costing her speed, maneuverability, and forcing her deeper in the water, and he knew that a third hit -- anywhere -- would be a fatal blow, barring a miracle. But there was nothing he could do but wait and hope and pray.

And so he did. Long seconds passed.

Too many long seconds passed.

Rose shouted, unable to keep the glee from his voice. "Four clean misses forward, one hit on the bow -- and it was a dud!"

Blythe let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "I suspect the Japs didn't think we'd slowed down that much, plus the rattling we gave their cages with our main guns, threw their aim off. Well done, men. Keep pounding away on Baker. Mr. Foster, status on Dog?"

Foster paused to check. "Still slowly swinging around. He hasn't even got us 45 degrees off his starboard bow yet. We've got time before he can unmask his port torpedo mounts."

"Keep me posted." Just then, the bridge shook fiercely. "That one felt like it hit pretty close to here. Mr. Tripp, get a report from Damage Control on that last shot. Mr. Rose, keep firing on Baker until further notice, but have Director Two keep that solution on Dog."

Tripp passed along the report. "Hit to the superstructure, sir. We lost the bakery. Several casualties and fire."

Blythe recalled the baker with the beautiful backhand from the Line Crossing ceremony. He had a brief image of the man standing, stunned, while covered head to toe in flour, like something from a Three Stooges short. But he quickly dismissed the vision -- flour was quite flammable. Blythe had even heard of some silos of flour exploding from a careless spark. "Keep me posted, Mr. Tripp. Mr. Foster, how's Baker doing?"

"Not good, sir. Several fires, she's slowing, and major structural damage -- her forward stack's pretty much gone. She's down to just her aft turrets firing. I think she's pretty much out of the fight."

"Dog's getting towards bow-on with us. I think he needs a bit more working over. Have Director Two take over the turrets after two more salvoes -- I'd like him at least silenced, if not sinking."

"Aye-aye, sir. Two more salvoes, then shift aim. But we have a pretty tight angle on Dog -- some of the aft turrets are pretty close to being masked by our superstructure."

Blythe nodded. "Tripp, see what Commander O'Leary thinks of coming twenty degrees to port, rudder at his discretion."

Tripp spoke into the handset, then relayed the message. "Chief Engineer says a little less than standard rudder should be OK, but he stopped making promises on anything ten minutes ago."

"Understood. Make it so."


Foster interrupted. "Sir, I don't think that last salvo will be necessary."

Blythe looked out the windows, then stepped on to the port wing and borrowed a pair of binoculars. (Well, commandeered -- no one was about to say no to the captain.)

The devastation of Baker stunned him. The forward guns were wrecked. Turret one was aiming in two directions, and turret two had partially fallen on turret three -- apparently at least one hit had torn away a hefty chunk of two's supporting barbette. The bridge was a mass of flame. Stack one was half-gone, and stack two had its top half flopped over towards the stern. The center of the ship was a twisted mess, with at least two major uncontrolled fires going. The aft guns were still, and he could see smoke pouring out of the roof and one barrel of the last one.

Blythe panned back to the bow, focusing lower. Several large holes showed where the Arkansas' 12" shells had tore through the cruiser's thin skin, and he could see flames flickering inside several. When he got to the bow, he saw the jagged stem where one shell had apparently clipped the ship without detonating. And a careful look at the waterline showed she was making hardly any wake.

"She's done for, gentlemen. Cease fire on Baker, focus all guns on Dog. We've won this fight, but that last cruiser can still keep us from enjoying it."


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Comments (3)

Great story, Jay, but if yo... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Great story, Jay, but if you keep having him say "Excellent" that many times, I'm going to rename your Captain "Montgomery Burns".

Mr. Tea,The long l... (Below threshold)
Brucepall:

Mr. Tea,

The long lance torpedo was deadly. The US got its first look at one (the shipboard version), that had run up out of the ocean and 20 yards onto the beach into the Marine's parameter - during the USS Washington's night engagement off of Guadalcanal in 1942.

Since this torpedo's contact warhead didn't strike anything, it didn't detonate; thus, its compound propellers continued to run until it ran out of LOX fuel... But it did put quite a scare into the Marine OP right next to where it came to rest though.

It was a monster six ton weapon, 2 feet in diameter and almost 30 feet in length. After OD deactivated the 1,100 lb. war head, it was shipped back to the states by the US Navy for closer analysis and testing. Turns out these torpedoes had a range of 25 miles if their variable speed setting was dialed to the lower 38 knots. They left no wake.

Given the Aoaba class Japanese cruiser carried 16 of these weapons (in banks of 8, port & starboard)... and given the plots attributed to the warships in your story, I consider Captain Blythe and the Arkansas to have been very lucky to have survived the daylight encounter you wrote about... very lucky indeed.

But as in real life, for any tale to be believable, one always needs luck to survive such an encounter...how else could such a a crackling good story be told?

Semper Fidelis-
Brucepall

Mr. Tea,Upon revie... (Below threshold)
Brucepall:

Mr. Tea,

Upon review of what I wrote, I meant to write the long lance was 3 ton torpedo (i.e. +6,000 lbs). Regret the typo.

SF - Brucepall




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