The Old Girl's New Tricks, Part IV

OK, now we get to the action!
]]>< ![CDATA[

Chapter 16

As
the freighters unloaded, Blythe strode to the portside gangway. There
was a small boat speeding up to the
Arkansas,
presumably with Halsey’s message, and Blythe was not going to wait to
find out what that message was — and who was delivering it.

He was slightly
disappointed to see the first — and only — man to bound up the
ladder was a young lieutenant, a duffel over his shoulder and an
attache case in his other hand. At the top, he smartly saluted the
ensign on the stern, and then snapped another to Blythe. “Lt.
Tripp reporting, sir, on behalf of Admiral Halsey. Permission to come
aboard, sir?”

Blythe returned
the salute. “Permission granted. I presume you have our
orders?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Come with me,
Lieutenant. I presume you’re going with us?”

“Yes,
sir, if that’s all right with you.”

“I think you’ll
like your accomodations. We had no idea who we were receiving, so we
prepared the Admiral’s quarters. Enjoy them, but don’t get too used
to them.”

After
Tripp dropped his duffel off in his cabin, they walked to the ward
room. There, he handed Blythe a sealed envelope and stepped back.
“Admiral Halsey ordered me to answer any more questions you
might have, but he was very detailed.”

Blythe opened the
note.


Will,
we have reports from several coast watchers that the Japs are sending
their own convoy to Guadalcanal to reinforce their forces on the
island. It’s skipping the slot, running along the northern edge of
the Solomons. You and your destroyers are to proceed due north,
passing between Savo and Florida Islands, then cruise along the
northern shore of Santa Isabel Island. You should intercept the
convoy by 1800 hours. If you haven’t made contact by 2100 hours,
withdraw due east at flank speed until sunrise, then circle back to
Noumea to avoid Jap subs and aircraft.

The escorting force is believed to
consist of at least four destroyers and three cruisers, covering at
least eight transports and freighters. If that force gets through, at
best it would prolong the battle for months. At worst, it could cost
us the island. Those ships must be sunk or turned back at all costs.

I wish I could give you more
support, but word came through too late to get any other ships up
there. You’re all that stands between victory and defeat on
Guadalcanal. I know you’ll do me proud and give ’em Hell, Will.

Bill Halsey

Captain Blythe
finished reading the note aloud to his stunned officers. “Lieutenant,
I trust those coast watcher reports were verified?”

“As
best we could, sir. There were at least three reports, timed to be
consistent with a convoy moving at 12 knots along the course
described.”

“And the escorts — any details about
them?”

“One report said they looked like heavy
cruisers, and the Jap cruisers are damned good — in a lot of ways,
better than ours. For one, they carry torpedoes. For another, they
work. They work very well indeed.”

“And
we’re looking to meet them around dusk, aboard a battleship with no
radar.”

“To make it even worse, the Japs are
probably the best in the world at night fighting. The other night was
the first time they didn’t seriously kick our ass — but they still
took out a light cruiser and three cans, and worked over one other
destroyer and shot up the
South Dakota.
The
Washington was
damned good, but also damned lucky when she put that
Kongo
on
the bottom.”

“What about
submarines and aircraft? How much do we have to worry about them?”

“Admiral
Halsey’s ordered all US subs to stay out of that area, so any subs we
sight will be hostile. He’s also ordered some long-range fighter
patrols to try to keep the Japs away. But it looks like the Japs are
trying to pull this on the QT, so they won’t be diverting any
covering forces out of concern they’d be drawing attention to the
convoy. If we find them, they’ll probably yell for help, but we’ll
have at least some time before they can get there.”

Blythe
sighed. “No radar, no aircraft, just visual sighting and surface
ships against surface ships. We’ve gone back to the Great War.”
Then he chuckled wryly. “Which is oddly appropriate, considering
we’re on a ship built before the War.”

Foster spoke up.
“Sir, we have the destroyers, and they have radar…”

“True enough. Not as good as ours was, because at least
ours was mounted considerably higher up, but it should be good for
something. Put the Bates
off
our port bow, the
Fleming
on the starboard bow, and the
Hamm
to our stern — that’ll give us good all-around radar coverage.”

His officers
nodded.

“All right,
everyone report to your duty stations. We have a convoy to raid.
Let’s show the Japs how it’s done, shall we?”

Chapter 17

The
bows of the
Arkansas
and her consorts cleaved the waters of Iron Bottom Sound. In the
battleship’s ward room, the usual suspects were joined by Lt. Tripp
and Commanders Aspin, Cohen, and Perry — the captains of the three
destroyers. Captain Blythe knew that time was of the essence, but
decided that getting the three men aboard the flagship — and back to
their own commands — to plan out the upcoming battle was worth the
delay. Besides, his crew hadn’t had a chance to play with the bosun’s
chairs in some time.

“All
right, gentlemen. Jap heavy cruisers. What do we know about
them?”

Almost as one, they all turned expectantly to Lt.
Tripp. Blythe smiled. “It appears you have the floor, Mr. Tripp.
You’re the only one here actually assigned to the Pacific, plus
you’re assigned to Admiral Halsey’s staff — and I personally knows
what he demands of his men. Tell us all you know about what we are
going up against.”

Tripp stood, the
sweat already beading on his brow. “Well, sirs, we don’t know
which cruisers they’re sending…”

“True enough.
But give us the broad strokes.”

“Yes, sir.
The Japs haven’t built any new heavy cruisers in almost a decade, but
the ones they have are pretty damned good. They’re fast and very well
armed. They can all go faster than 33 knots, so we can’t outrun
them.”

Blythe wryly
interrupted. “Just as well, Mr. Tripp, as I have no intention of
running away. But that also means that they can run away from us, and
we can’t catch them.”

“Yes,
sir. They can do almost double our speed. And they’re very well
armed. The Jap 8-inch gun is roughly equal to ours. It’s got a range
of about 30,000 yards, and each ship carries between six and ten
guns, depending on the class.”

Blythe turned to Mr. Rose.
“You’re our gunnery expert. How much can those guns hurt
us?”

Rose considered the question. “Not much. Most
of our armor can shrug it off. The belt, main turrets, magazines,
machinery, conning tower, and deck should be safe. They can cause us
problems on the ends, mess up the superstructure, and take out our
secondaries if they get lucky, but for the most part they’re not much
of a danger.”

Blythe nodded.
“Good to know. Go on, Mr. Tripp.”

“Well, sirs,
they also carry torpedoes. Eight to sixteen tubes, split evenly port
and starboard. We hear they might even carry reloads. And…” he
paused.

Blythe could tell
Tripp was uncomfortable. “Sounds like you want to say something
that’s off the record, son. Go ahead, out with it.”

Tripp swallowed.
“Well, sir, the official position is that the Jap torpedoes are
pretty much like ours — maybe a little more reliable, as ours seem
to have some problems, but nothing special.”

“You say that
like you don’t agree with that assessment, son.”

“Well, there
are rumors and completely unconfirmed reports that their torpedoes —
at least the ones on their cruisers and destroyers — have a
“super-torpedo” that can travel over 30,000 yards and has
almost half a ton of warhead. We’ve been in a few fights where our
ships got torpedoed while the Japs were theoretically out of range.
The official story is that subs got in close during the fight, fired
the torps, and then disappeared without ever being seen, but some
folks are thinking that a super-torpedo makes more sense than subs
that appear just long enough to sink our ships, then disappear
again.”

Blythe considered
the matter for a moment. “No matter what he hear or believe or
think, we won’t be backing down from this fight, so you aren’t
scaring us off, Mr. Tripp. And ‘be careful and keep an eye out’ is
good general advice, so make a note to watch for torpedoes — or Japs
looking like they’re firing torpedoes — from the instant we first
see ’em.” He paused to look around the room balefully. “And
I trust no one here will make official note of Mr. Tripp being the
source of our caution — which he gave under extreme duress.”

Tripp couldn’t
help himself; he let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, sir.”
Then, after drawing a deep breath, he continued.

“The Japs are
also the masters of night fighting. They train like hell for it, and
they are pretty much the best in the world.”
“So those are
their strengths. How about their weaknesses, Mr. Tripp?”

“They’re well
armored, but not against 12″ guns. Your shells should go right
through them without any problems. I’d recommend using your high
explosive rounds, and hold back on the armor-piercing. They’ve also
had weight problems — too heavy in general, and too top-heavy in
particular. That can affect their maneuverability a bit.”

Blythe took it all
in. “So, that’s what they can do. With all that, what might they
do?”

Tripp again spoke
up. “Sir, I read your reports on convoy escorts. I think you
nailed it — they’re warriors, not hunters. I think it’s a pretty
safe bet that as soon as we show up, they’ll forget all about the
transports and charge right at us. And they’ll want to get close
enough for torpedoes — they’ll know their guns won’t be enough.”

“Thanks for
the vote of confidence, Mr. Tripp. And if they do that, we should
keep in mind that our mission is not to take out the warships, but
sink or drive off those transports. To that end, if we cripple one of
theirs, then it’s off the board enough — we don’t need to return to
Noumea with a broom tied to our mast.” The men chuckled at the
thought. It was a submarine tradition — the broom indicating that
the vessel had “swept the seas” — and wasn’t the sort of
thing a battleship did.”

“Here’s
my plan, gentlemen: we’ll run up the coast of Santa Isabel, about ten
miles offshore. The Arkansas’ radar is down, so we go in with the
Fleming and
the
Bates
about 2,000 yards ahead of us, 4,000 yards apart. The
Hamm
will be about 4,000 yards to our stern, keeping any surprises off our
back door. The instant Fleming or
Hamm
pick up the Japs on radar, you send out notice.”

“At
that point, you two will go charging in for a torpedo attack. If it’s
getting towards dark, fire off some star shells to put them on the
spot. The
Arkansas
will swing to port, getting some sea room and unmasking our aft
battery. Between us opening fire at max range and you two charging
in, that ought to get their attention. That will leave the Hamm to go
to flank speed, skim in close to the shoreline, and charge up on
their flank — hopefully, losing themselves in the island and
confusion.”

“From
what I’ve read about the Japs, they’ll detach their destroyers to
confront the

Fleming a
nd
Bates
,
and their cruisers to go after the
Arkansas.
They just might not see the
Hamm
until she’s close enough to ruin their whole day with torps or
gunfire.” He paused to feign tipping his hat to Commander Aspin.
“Captain’s discretion, of course. Hell, you might even get to
take on the transports without any cover.”

“The
Arkansas
will engage any cruisers at maximum range, using the new high
explosive rounds we took aboard from the
Diamond
Huckster
.
Once the cruisers are accounted for, or we run out, will we switch to
any of the old Common rounds we still might have aboard.”

Foster spoke up.
“I’d also recommend we put up extra lookouts. It will be
risky to them, but they might give us extra warning about incoming
torpedoes. That’s the real threat.”

“Risky indeed,
Mr. Foster. They’ll be wide open to Jap guns.” He paused. “All
right, but volunteers only. A lookout who’s only there because he’s
been ordered, with incoming shells, will be more interested in
finding cover than in looking out for torpedo wakes. They’ll most
likely end up on the lee side, keeping our backs safe from the threat
from the front.” Foster jotted down the answer. “Anything
else?”

Rose spoke up.
“What about sending up the float planes for recon and spotting?”

Lt. Dwire, the
head of the ship’s aviation detachment, reluctantly spoke up. “That
could be a problem. Both my planes are down with mechanical problems.
One of ’em blew an oil seal and seized the entire engine. The other
has cracked the attachment for the main float. We could probably swap
the engine off the second bird into the first one, but that’s a full
day’s job.”

Captain Blythe
immediately headed off any potential criticism of Dwire. “I’ve
already expressed my displeasure to Mr. Dwire, and he has convinced
me that there was little to foresee either problem. But it is still
damned inconvenient. Anything else, gentlemen?”

There was
silence.
“Very well.
Captains, thank you for coming aboard. Mr. Rose, inform the
destroyers that they can begin coming alongside to collect their
skippers. Everyone else, get rady for battle. We’ll go to General
Quarters once we’re north of Santa Isabel, and maintain it until
further notice.” He then paused to catch each man’s eyes
briefly. “And let’s never forget that there are many thousand
Marines on Guadalcanal right now depending on us to stop those
transports. If those Japs get through, it’s going to be very, very
bad for them. They don’t even know it, but they’re depending on us to
stop those Japs. And this group will not let them down — no matter
what the price.”

Blythe had been
considering whether to spell out just what that price could be. He
finally decided to put it as bluntly as possible. “In fact,
every single one of our ships is considered expendable tonight. If we
all go down with all hands, but we stop the Japs from getting
through, we will have won.”

There was no
mistaking that. And every single man got even more somber.

Blythe realized he
needed to break the mood a little. “But I have a better idea,
gentlemen — let’s put them on the bottom instead.”

Chapter 18

It
was getting on in the afternoon. The sun was approaching the top of
Santa Isabel, and the
Arkansas
was casting a lengthening shadow across the waters stretching west.
Since she was surrounded by destroyers with radar, Captain Blythe had
let his lookouts relax a bit — he knew he was taking a risk on
trusting the destroyers so much, but he calculated that once the
battle started, he’d need his lookouts at their best.

According to his
orders, he shouldn’t intercept the Jap convoy for at least another
two hours. But those reports had been sketchy at best, and he didn’t
put his full faith in them. They could meet the Japs any minute — or
not at all.

Either
way, he’d be ready. And so would his ship. The
Arkansas
might
be well past her retirement date, but she still had plenty of fight
left in her. And her crew was downright spoiling for a chance to show
what she — and they — could do.

“Captain!
Signal from the
Bates!”
Many
ships, consistent with a Jap convoy, heading right this way!”

The moment had
arrived — presuming it wasn’t a radar glitch. They’d lost their own
radar to just such a problem, and it wouldn’t surprise Blythe if
something similar was happening to the destroyers. But Blythe not
only couldn’t take the chance, but his ship could always stand a bit
of practice. “Signal for confirmation. Sound general quarters,
all hands to battle stations. Stand by for surface engagement.”

There
was a long wait. Several minutes passed, and the tension mounted.

“Sir, signal from the Fleming!
They
confirm the contact! Estimate four destroyers, four cruisers, and ten
transports dead ahead, range 22,000 yards from their position, speed
12 knots!”

Blythe felt an
eerie calm settle upon him, the type he’d only felt in the most
realistic exercises and drills before. “Sparks, order the task
force to carry out Plan Ozarks. And alert the crew — this is no
drill.”

Ahead,
the destroyers surged to flank speed, like hunting hounds freed from
the leash. Behind, the
Alfonso
Hamm

also firewalled its throttles — but also doused her running lights
and turned to port. It wasn’t night yet, but she still might lose
herself in the shadows of Santa Isabel. And it was time for the
Arkansas to
play her role in the fight.

Blythe settled
back in his chair and closed his eyes. This had disoriented his
bridge crew at first — it seemed odd that their skipper would try to
take a nap during combat — but they soon learned that he had a
plotting table in his head that was far more accurate than any they
could lay out for him. Time and time again they had seen him pull off
the most sophisticated maneuvers and tactics without once opening his
eyes, just sitting there demanding information and barking orders.

“Current
course and speed?”

“Bearing 297
degrees, speed fifteen knots.”

“Excellent. Engine
room, make turns for seventeen knots. Notify me the instant we have
visuals on the enemy cruisers.”

The old girl groaned and
strained as her screws bit harder into the waters of the Pacific.
Designed for 21 knots originally, now she could barely reach 19. Long
moments passed as the destroyers grew smaller in the distance.

“Sir,
lookouts report four Jap cruisers on the horizon!”

“Excellent,
Mr. Rose. Designate them from our port to starboard as Able, Baker,
Charlie, and Dog. And let me know when we have ideas on their
courses, bearings, and speed.”

It
took a couple more minutes until that could be clearer. The cruisers
were ignoring the American destroyers, leaving them up to their own
tin cans, and focusing on the
Arkansas.
Baker
and Charlie were coming straight for her, while Able and Dog were
swinging wide.

Blythe could see several advantages for that
tactic. Fortunately, he had anticipated it. “Helm, bring us
about to course 330, right standard rudder. Fire control, have each
director start working on solutions as soon as they have visuals on
the cruisers. Director One will target Dog, Director Two Charlie, and
Director Three Baker. Have a couple of lookouts keep an eye on Able
for now.”

As the Arkansas
swung
starboard, she listed slightly to port. “Sir, the
Fleming
has more information. They report the cruisers are four
Takao-class
heavies, and confirm they’re coming after us. They also say they’re
engaging four Jap destroyers.”

Blythe
nodded. “Mr. Tripp,
Takao-class.
Give me details.”

Tripp stepped up. This was familiar
territory for him, and he’d refined the art of presenting critical
information in clear and concise form. “About ten years old. Ten
ten-inch guns, twin mounts, laid out like a Brooklyn’s
main battery. Sixteen torpedo tubes, two quad mounts on each beam.
Speed just over 30 knots. Insufficient armor to resist our main guns.
Main guns can mess us up a bit, but not likely to be a major problem.
Biggest threat are the torpedoes.”

Blythe nodded.
“Duly noted, Mr. Tripp. Mr. Rose, what’s the word on our firing
solutions?

Rose spoke up. “Director One has a solution on
Dog. Director Two is working it, and Director Three just got unmasked
and now has clear sight.”

That made sense. One and Two
were on the fore part of the ship, while Three was aft. “Have
all guns slaved to Director Two. Charlie will be our first target. As
soon as all guns are ready and have a solution, they are to open
fire.”

Lt. Tripp couldn’t
contain himself. So far, Captain Blythe had done nothing that he’d
expected. “Sir, may I ask a few questions?”

Blythe
kept his eyes closed. “I estimate we have at least one minute
before we can open fire, Mr. Tripp. Make it quick.”

“Sir,
why aren’t we going at flank speed and and using full rudder? Isn’t
that standard procedure in combat?”

“Several
reasons. First, it’s still early in the fight — I want to keep
something in reserve. Second, the old girl is tired and wearing out.
If we push her too hard, we could strip a gear or jam the
rudder.”

“I see. And why are we targeting Charlie
first? Isn’t Dog the more immediate danger, from torpedoes?”

“Most
likely. But Charlie’s coming right at us, with Baker alongside. Any
misses on Charlie might hit Baker. Plus, she’s closer — I want the
best odds for our first war shots.”

Rose interrupted
the brief lesson. “Sir, Director Two says it has the solution on
Charlie, and five mounts report ready.”

“Five
mounts?”

“Turret Five reports mechanical trouble,
and needs another minute to be ready.”

“We can’t
wait. Ten guns will have to do. Fire!”

And
for the first time in her long career, the
Arkansas
fired her main guns in anger, at an enemy ship.

Chapter 19

“Clean miss,
sir! Spotters report 10 splashes!”

Captain Blythe
nodded slowly. “As expected. I know our gunners are good, but a
first-salvo hit would be nothing short of miraculous. Continue
firing.”

“Sir, spotters report the Japs are firing!”

“I need more
than that, Mr. Rose. Which ships?”

There was a brief
pause. “Baker and Charlie, sir!”

Blythe nodded
again. “As expected. Anything on Able or Dog?”

Rose
checked. “No, sir, continuing as before.”

“So
we have eight guns between the two ships, firing 8″ shells,
while we’re tossing back 10 — soon 12 — 12″ shells back. I
rather like those odds.”

The
Arkansas shuddered
again as the main guns fired their second salvo. “That felt
slightly more substantive, Mr. Foster. I presume Turret Five is back
online?”

“Yes, sir.
The gun captain sends his apologies.”

“No need; it
probably saved us a couple of shells. But make note of what wrong;
I’d rather it not happen again.”

Just
then large spouts of water erupted well ahead of the
Arkansas.
“Sir, the Japs first salvo just fell well short — at least a
couple of thousand yards.”

“Good, Mr.
Rose. And our second salvo should be arriving at any moment.”

Rose couldn’t
contain himself. “Sir, spotters report at least two hits on
Charlie! They counted nine splashes and two direct hits! We got the
range!”

“Excellent,
Mr. Rose. Continue firing.”

Just then the Arkansas
was
soaked by a large splash. “Sir, the Japs have found the range!
Four rounds, closest barely a hundred yards to port!”

“Calm down,
Mr. Rose. Even if they find the range, their guns can’t do much to
this old girl. And you say four rounds? I suspect we rattled Charlie
even more than we hoped.”

The
Arkansas shuddered
as she hurled her third salvo at the enemy. Over 10,000 pounds of
steel and explosives flung themselves through the evening sky. Far
below, Captain Blythe thought he heard the faint crash of shattering
dishware. Apparently not everything was battened down as well as it
should have been.

Commander Rose
tried to contain himself. “At least three more hits on Charlie,
sir. We’ve definitely got the range. She’s seems to be slowing
slightly and… oh my God!”

Blythe
let a bit of iron and fire put a razor edge in his voice. This was
the voice, the
tone he’d spent years developing that cut through all distractions
and diversions and put the fear of God into the target. “
Report,
Mr. Rose.”

It had its
hoped-for effect. He shook his head briefly. “Sir, Charlie is
gone. A massive explosion. We must have caught her in a magazine or
torpedo mount.”

Blythe allowed a
slight smile to turn up the edges of his mouth. “Excellent.
Order Director Three to take over the main guns and open fire on
Baker. Director Two is to copy the solution and take over firing as
soon as it is confirmed. Once Director Two has the guns, Director
Three will switch to Able. Director One, keep lock on Dog; we’ll get
to him soon enough.”

It was a complicated shuffle, but
Blythe had his reasons. Once the directors settled on their targets,
each would be matched up with the enemy cruiser that corresponded
with its location.

Blythe, though,
had already moved past the cruisers for a moment. “Mr. Foster,
what’s the word from the destroyers?”

“One
moment, sir.” He spoke into a headset, then relayed the answer.
“Sir, not good. The
Bates
reports that the
Fleming
took at least one torpedo and exploded, and the
Bates
has had her stern blown off. They report, though, that one Jap can is
sinking, another is dead in the water, and a third is on fire — but
it and number four are charging in for a torpedo attack on us.”

Well,
that wasn’t excellent. The destroyers had been outnumbered, but they
had more than held their weight. Blythe had whittled down the odds
from four cruisers to three, but now two destroyers had stepped in to
take its place. He really didn’t like those odds — especially since
the Navy, in its infinite wisdom, had deigned to land most of
Arkansas’
secondary guns. They’d have come in quite handy against destroyers,
and all he had were three five-inch guns on each beam, along with
several smaller guns intended to take on aircraft. “Keep me
posted on those destroyers, Mr. Foster. Mr. Rose, what’s the status
from Director Three?”

“Sir, they report a good
solution on Baker, and all guns report ready. Just waiting for your
order to fire.

The damned fools!
The middle of combat was no time to stick to proper protocol. The men
in the Director should have fired the instant they had the solution
and control of the guns. Blythe bit back a curse and opened his mouth
to give the order to fire when

KER-WHANG!!!!!

Chapter 20

The echoes of the
impact were still resounding through the bridge when Blythe shouted
out. “Give me status of all main guns!”

Rose shook his
head to clear the cobwebs, then confirmed the signals. “Turret
three is unresponsive, all others report still ready.”

Blythe
swore. Turret three was paired with four, positioned forward and
above the silent mount. “Order turret four to stand down.
Turrets one, two, five, and six fire!” He couldn’t take the
chance that whatever had silenced turret three might be made worse —
possibly catastrophically worse — by turret four firing.

The eight guns
roared, and almost 7,000 pounds of steel hurtled out towards the Jap
cruiser designated “Baker.” Blythe then turned his
attention to his own ship. “Damage report!”

Foster had been
busy. “Two hits, sir. One hit high on the armored belt, no real
damage. The other landed on the top of turret three. The catapult’s
wrecked and we have some splinter damage to the stack, but the turret
reports they’re ready for action — but their ears are ringing like
hell.”

Blythe was
relieved that was all it was. The turret could withstand the shell,
but the crew inside must have felt like they were in a giant bell. No
wonder they took a moment to recover.

Rose then spoke
up. “Clean miss on all eight shots, sir. Director Three says the
hits threw off their solution, but they’ve corrected for it.”

“Excellent. Resume firing with all guns at their
discretion. Mr. Rose, make sure that they understand they are not to
wait for orders.”

“Aye-aye, sir.”

The
Arkansas
shuddered as all twelve of her main guns roared, and another 10,440
pounds of full broadside went hurling off towards the enemy. In his
mind, Blythe could almost see the cruiser’s Rising Sun silhouetted
against the setting sun, and gave himself a brief moment to
appreciate the symbolism. He then added tears and tatters to the
proud Imperial Japanese Navy banner he’d constructed, and smiled.

Back
to business. The
Arkansas
was clearly ahead on points in this fight, having sunk one cruiser at
the cost of two almost meaningless hits, but there were still three
heavy cruisers and two destroyers charging at them. Not good odds at
all. “Mr. Foster, status update on all enemy ships.”

“Sir, Able is
swinging in slightly, closing the range. Baker’s still charging in
almost head-on. Dog’s also tightening in their arc. And the
destroyers — I’ve designated them Easy and Fox — are cutting in
between Able and Baker.”

That was helpful,
but didn’t give him the details he needed. “Give me range,
heading, bearing, and speed on each of them, Mr. Foster.” It
took a moment, but Blythe was able to fill in the plotting board
inside his mind. The destroyers were behind the cruisers, but
closing. In the meantime, two more salvoes went arcing out towards
Baker.

Time
to shake things up, Blythe decided. The
Arkansas
had been holding a nice, steady course since the beginning of the
battle. The Japs had had more than enough time to come up with
gunnery and torpedo solutions, so why not throw them a curveball?

“Helm,
confirm our current heading is 025 degrees and speed 17 knots.”

“Confirmed,
sir.”

“Let’s screw with the Japs a bit. Engines to
flank speed, right full rudder. Bring us about to 270 degrees.”

Rose was thrown
off at the 245-degree turn. “Right rudder, sir? That’s the long
way around to that course.”

“Are you in
any great rush to get closer to the enemy, Mr. Rose? I’m not. I’d
like to keep them as far back as possible.”

“Sorry,
sir. Aye-aye. Flank speed, right full rudder.”

Foster then
shouted from his station. “Sir, lookouts report Dog is opening
fire, and at least two more solid hits on Baker!”

And
just then the
Arkansas
shuddered from at least three more hits. On paper, she was immune to
any real harm from the Japanese 8″ shells. But the men who had
drawn up those papers were nowhere to be found today, and Blythe had
heard stories about the impossible happening several times in this
war. The
Hood
being sunk by a single shell from the
Bismarck.
A single bomb going down the stack of the
Arizona
and utterly destroying her in a massive explosion. He couldn’t
prevent that entirely, but he could do all he could to minimize it.

Author’s note: yes, I know no bomb
went down the Arizona’s stack at Pearl Harbor. But that particular
myth wasn’t debunked until after the war, so Blythe is simply echoing
the conventional wisdom of the time.

"Wingnut Debt Ceiling Demands"
Texas - We Need a Motto