View Full Version : (Story) Hechler's war
09-24-2006, 11:13 AM
Some of you may have read my patrol reports in U-24, and how my character was promoted to staff duties. I started a new career the other day, and here's the first part of his patrol.
I appreciate any comment and criticisms, as I know I'm nowhere near the standard of Laughing Swordfish and Miss Behavin'.
The sea rose and dipped in an endless, formidable swell. There were no foaming white crests, so typical of the Atlantic at this time of the year, but the deep troughs gleamed slightly in the early dawn light. A mist had gathered, but was already being scattered and dispersed by the undulating water. It was mid January, and the crisp Atlantic wind cut through the air like a knife. Gulls and other sea-birds lifted on the successive swell, seemingly immune to the mind-numbing coldness of the water. They scarcely noticed the steep swells, obviously used to the Atlantic’s harsh climate.
It was 1940, and war had started to encompass the world, and soon no region would be left at rest. The Atlantic was the prime battleground, the Wermacht had yet to be unleashed on continental Europe, and Germany’s U-boats were alone in carrying the battle to the Allies. The gulls which floated silently were, as usual, the first to sense something different in their domain. They were not alone. The remnants of the mist let not a sound through, yet the birds noticed the slight tremor through the water, a tremor that caused a mass exodus to the relative safety of the sky.
Had there been an onlooker he would have been surprised at the suddenness of the shape. First a shadow, then, breaking from the mist and damp, dawn twilight, a silhouette, the unmistakable, harsh lines of an ocean-going U-boat appeared, cleaving through the swell with a sharp white wake foaming from her fore plates. She crept on at reduced speed with a presence so unique, and such a bone-chilling viciousness that she really did embody a wolf of the ocean. One of Germany’s Grey Wolves, the hunters, striking suddenly, without warning as their torpedoes wreaked havoc with Britain’s merchant navy.
No figures explored her heaving deck, and the only movement was the steady, careful sweep of the horizon as the bridge lookouts performed their thankless task of searching sky and sea for enemies. The weathered plating of the conning tower rose with them, only the number, U-32, broke the monotonous grey plating. It was the only identifying mark that set them apart from so many. Each watch member was fully aware of the cost of carelessness. In these harsh waters there was scarcely a second chance, and many of their compatriots had been dispatched to a cold, unmarked grave in the depths of the North Atlantic.
Below the bridge, 51 officers and men were scattered through the hull, some on duties, others sleeping in cramp, damp bunks resting before they themselves would go on duty and their bunks taken by the watch going of duty. Oberleutnant zur See Dieter Hechler lay alone in his curtained off bunk, savouring the precious few minutes of solitude. He was outwardly relaxed from long practice, yet his mind was active, noting the rise and fall of the boat, the noises and mutterings from the watch in the control room next to his small refuge.
He had held this command for only 12 days, and this was his first patrol. This was not to say he was without experience, for he had been serving in U-boats since the start of the war, and Hechler had been second-in-command on Schultze’s boat, and experience that had taught him a lot, and not just in naval warfare. Hechler had prospered under Schultze’s wing on U-48, and had soon been earmarked for promotion, eventually being given U-32 from the luckless Paul Büchel.
He wore an old, worn fisherman’s sweater, and flannel trousers. His jacket hung on a hook next to his bunk, along with the white cap. They would show his authority and skill at a glance, yet in this branch of the Kriegsmarine, authority and respect were earned, never given as granted, and he still needed to win over his new crew. Hechler was 25 and one of the youngest U-boat Commanders in the war so far. His dark, ruffled hair was at odds with his rank, and frequent comments from superiors had done little to limit its unruliness. His blue-grey eyes were the key to his character however, and his feelings clearly shone out through them. His doubts, joys and mirth were clearly visible, even when the rest of his face was a careful mask of self-control.
A hatch banged, loud and sharp, clearly heard throughout the ship. Hechler made himself relax muscle by muscle, postponing the inevitable. A slight movement outside the green curtains, and a hand dragged them slowly back. Hechler saw Heinz Rehburg, one of the control room watch crew looking at him. A young man from Bonn, Rehburg had proved himself to be a reliable seaman, and was destined for promotion if he had enough luck to survive for a few more weeks.
Rehburg nervously opened his mouth, “Leutnant Rahn requests your presence on the bridge, Herr Kaleun.”
“Very well, Rehburg, I’ll be up in a minute.”
He watched as the curtain was drawn back across before reaching for his cap and binoculars. He grimaced in the mirror. He examined his appearance as a subordinate. He looked presentable enough; the Captain, calm, unflappable. With a last glace around his cabin, he drew back the curtain and walked the scant feet into the control room. The crew would greet him with varied feelings. He was replacing their old Commander, this was Büchel’s crew, and many hadn’t transferred their feeling across to him. They would greet him with relief, doubt, dislike even, but he would be accepted as Commander. His cap did that, showing his authority at a glance.
Hechler nodded to the crew in the control room before briefly glancing at the chart and walking across to the ladder leading up through the conning tower to the bridge. As his head rose through the hatch, he could see the watch crew stiffen, and before he had fully climbed onto the bridge, Rahn was turning to greet him.
Dietrich Rahn was the First Watch Officer, the second-in-command, and Hechler liked him. A confident man of 22, Rahn had managed to prove his worth under Büchel, and had risen to 1WO after Büchel and his XO were dismissed from the ship. Hechler had heard it was shattered nerves that had sealed Büchel’s fate. Hechler dismissed the thought as the turned to Rahn.
“Convoy, Herr Kaleun! On the port beam. Looks large, fast as well sir. We haven’t managed to get an accurate course for them yet, but we’ll have that soon.”
Hechler raised his binoculars to his face and peered over towards the east. Surely enough there were countless thick black smoke columns rising above the horizon. Rahn had said they were fast. A fast convoy heading south – this was a valuable convoy. Most likely tankers and maybe even a heavily armed surface escort Hechler thought. The Graf Spee was a costly reminder to the Brits, and Hechler doubted that they’d let their valuable escorts sail without heavy escort from now on. The convoy stretched across half the horizon. Rahn was right – it was a big convoy.
“I want revolutions for 15 knots, set a course directly for the convoy until we can work out the course.” Hechler remained looking at the convoy.
“Jahwohl, Herr Kaleun!”
Hechler felt the lurch as U-32’s diesels jumped to the faster speed and the deck plates started to vibrate under his feet. He could guess at the activity going on below decks. When living in such close proximity to one another, new traveled fast, and the pounding diesels would have alerted the whole crew that something was up. Hechler heard whispered comments being passed down the ladder. Hechler remained impassive, motionless, watching the smoke columns without the aid of the binoculars now. Slowly, the sky was brightening, and more detail could be learnt of the convoy. Her course was clear now, the convoy was traveling a straight course, with only very slight zigzags to try and throw his aim off. Hechler turned to Rahn and gave his orders, “Alter course, steer one-eight-zero, increase speed to 17 knots!”
Hechler turned and climbed briskly down the ladder into the control room once more. He looked around him at the many faces crowding the compartment. He stared impassively at them, his features betraying nothing, before smiling and announcing, “Battle-stations men! We’ve a convoy to hunt!” turning around once more he headed towards the bow.
“Hartmann!” Hechler cried, as the Radioman darted from his little hut and stood to attention in front of him. “Prepare this message to BdU: Contact Report. Convoy sighted grid square BE36, Large, speed 12 knots, general course 205 degrees. Suspected tankers and possible heavy surface escort. Am setting up attack, and will remain in trail. UH. Is that clear?”
“Jawohl, Herr Kaleun!” The radioman headed back to his hut, and presently Hechler heard the tap of the Morse key. He turned and walked back to the control room. The room was emptier now, with most of the crew holed up in battle-stations. Hechler spotted the Chief, Leonhard Krystoflak standing next to the helmsmen, watching the progress as U-32 thundered along parallel with the convoy, rushing to move into an attack position. Krystoflak turned and looked at Hechler, one eyebrow raised. He was a veteran of eight patrols already, and had been decorated several times. He knew U-32 like the back of his own hand, and his confidence in the ship was unbreakable. As Hechler saw the Chief’s expression, he motioned him over.
“We’re attacking a convoy, Leonhard. It’s big and fast, probably with plenty of escorts. I want you to be ready for a submerged attack and then be ready to shut off for depth-charging. Things may get a little hot around here soon.” Hechler watched as Krystoflak nodded and turned to go back to dials. A strange one, Hechler thought. He had been least responsive to Hechler’s authority, and whilst he obeyed every order, Hechler could feel the dislike Krystoflak harboured towards him. He shook his head. You couldn’t win them all over, he thought. Hechler turned and headed for the ladder, remembering that Krystoflak had been very close to Büchel, which probably explained his animosity towards his new commander. Hechler shook the thought from his head as he climbed up onto the bridge once more.
The change in light was amazing, Hechler thought. He had been below for a scarce ten minutes, yet already light was starting to spill over the horizon to the east. At least they would be attacking from the dark side of the convoy. He turned to Rahn.
“How goes it, Dietrich?”
The First Watch Officer grinned back at him as the U-boat rose on the waves then fell into the troughs with an almighty crash, sending spray hurtling across the bridge. The ride was exhilarating, Hechler thought. It was no wonder the bridge crew were mimicking Rahn’s jubilant expression. Rahn opened his mouth to reply before quickly ducking as a massive burst of spray crashed over the tower, soaking Hechler through.
“We’re ahead of the convoy now sir and they’re remaining on the same course. We’ve been able to observe the individual ships as well now sir. There are 5 columns, each 10 ships long, as well as some ships clustered at the back of the convoy, but these are mainly stragglers – small merchants mostly. The centre column is made up of large tankers and a Southampton-class Light Cruiser. The other two inner columns have some smaller tankers and large merchants as well. We can only see one escort – a destroyer on this side of the convoy. It looks good, Herr Kaleun! It’ll work for sure!”
“Good work, Dietrich, I agree. We’ll alter course in five minutes and run in on the convoy. I want to slip inside the outer columns and launch attacks at the cruiser and the tankers. BdU will probably want us to remain in trail as they guide other boats in. I don’t see how they’ll catch this one though, it’s going pretty fast.”
Hechler rested his hands on the bridge as the submarine pounded through the waves, watching as they altered course and the convoy came ever nearer. The could make out the ships without binoculars now, and Hechler saw that Rahn’s analysis had been correct. The convoy was lined on the outside by medium sized merchants, with plenty of smaller one to the back. Couldn’t keep to the pace, Hechler smiled to himself.
Anton Stein, one of the portside lookouts saw his captain smile and was amazed. He was a cool one, he thought. Going into battle with a heavily escorted convoy and he was smiling. Amazing. Nonetheless it was with a lighter state of mind that Anton Stein headed into combat. If Hechler was smiling it would be alright, he thought. Hechler’s harsh voice crashed into his daydream, “Seaman Stein! If a destroyer runs us down from port, you may be certain that I will personally fire you out of the torpedo tube! That thick skull of yours is bound to sink a tin can like that!” Stein hastily put his binoculars back up to his eyes and scanned the horizon. He grinned to the other lookout. Hechler never missed a trick, but they all knew that his harsh words were merely covering his own feelings about the attack.
Hechler took one last glance around him before ordering the boat down to periscope depth. Despite the darkness on this side of the convoy, they would be spotted before long, and Hechler didn’t relish the thought of a gun battle with a light cruiser. Of course, this wasn’t a proper cruiser, like the Admiral Hipper or the Prinz Eugen, but those guns would still make mincemeat out of a U-boat. He climbed down into the conning tower, shutting the hatch tightly behind him. As U-32 slipped below the waves, he raised the attack periscope clear of the waves. The convoy was clearly in his view, and Hechler immediately picked out the cruiser in the middle column.
Proceeding at slow speed, they had crept past the outer column without any trouble at all, and Hechler lined the cruiser up in his sights. She was about 10,000 tons, he thought, and even at 12 knots she looked formidable and foreboding as she sliced through the waves with a fine moustache of foam sliding aft from her curved bow. Hechler looked away from the scope and turned to Rahn, who crouched in the small tower compartment next to him, ready to alter the setting in the Torpedo computer.
“I want two torpedoes, both set at 3 metres depth, impact pistol. Better make them fast running too. Cruiser is just over 1000 metres away, speed 12 knots. I’m aiming both shots along the hull. Ready?” Hechler was answered by a nod of the head. He looked back into the scope again, judging the speed of the large merchant in the next column, waiting until the torpedoes would definitely clear it. He kept looking through the scope. “Flood tubes one to four, open all bow caps.” Hechler waited as the orders were passed, and finally, “Tube 1, Fire! Tube 2, Fire” Hechler watched as the torpedoes streaked away from the U-boat, then moved his periscope down to the next ship in the column, a large tanker.
“10 degrees left rudder! Rudder amidships! Rahn, tube 3 and 4 5 metres, impact pistols, fast running. Prepare for a stern shot as well.” Hechler waited until the computer was set, then ordered tubes 3 and 4 to fire at the tanker. He quickly moved the periscope back to focus on the cruiser. He could identify her as HMS Glasgow now, and as the stopwatch clicked down, he saw her suddenly increase speed and try to alter course.
Hechler watched as the first torpedo slammed into the hull aft and the Glasgow seemed to stagger sharply before resuming her course. Her speed seemed to be coming back down, and even as Hechler watched the bow wave start to decrease the second torpedo also slammed into the hull. There was a bright flash under he funnels and a massive welter of water was thrown into the air above the ship and she was momentarily hidden to Hechler. He heard some other explosions, but it was far too early for the tanker to be hit, and Hechler was puzzled for a moment until the spray died down and all became clear. His torpedo had hit something vital on the Glasgow and there were many fires and explosions rippling along her hull. He could see seaman jumping off the ship to escape the lethal firestorm and the Glasgow was already very low in the water.
Hechler heard another explosion, and quickly shifted his view back to the tanker. There was some spray falling back to the sea, and Hechler could see that the tanker was slowing. After another 5 minutes he knew that the other torpedo had either missed or had misfired. A massive explosion rent the air, and shock waves were felt throughout the hull. Hechler transferred his gaze rapidly to the position of the Glasgow - a massive explosion had ripped her in half, and she was already plunging rapidly to the bottom with an indescribable roar of rent steel, smashing bulkheads, explosions and the sea rushing in to fill the void. Hechler saw the stern cant upward, the cruiser’s four screws pointing to the sky as Glasgow began her last plunge to the bottom of the Atlantic, already becoming a vast ship graveyard.
Hechler could see the tanker slowly approaching the Glasgow’s last position, moving but damaged, and he ordered a quick reversal in course, keeping the periscope trained on the tanker. “Quickly, Rahn! Set up tube five as we did for the other four! Tell me when you’re ready!”
A few seconds passed before Rahn replied, and Hechler quickly ordered the last torpedo fired at the tanker. As the boat shuddered with the release of another torpedo, Hechler spun the periscope around quickly, trying to see if they were discovered. He looked in horror as he saw a Destroyer bearing down rapidly at them from port, the lookout in the crow’s-nest pointing straight at Hechler. Hechler instantaneously slammed the periscope down and dropped down the ladder, as a shocked Rahn followed. As he landed in the control room, Hechler shouted out brief orders:
“ALARM!! Quickly Chief, all ahead flank, take her down to 100 metres, make a hard turn to port and shut-off for depth-charging!” Hechler saw the jubilant faces rapidly changing to disbelief and shock, and then just as rapidly to fear as the sound of racing screws echoed through the hull. Sub-consciously Hechler grabbed hold of some piping and saw Rahn do the same. The soundman poked his head around the corner as he yelled, “Depth-charges in the water sir!” Hechler saw the crew grab hold of anything built into the boat as he shouted “Hang on, men! This one’s going to be close!” The Navigator, Striezel already had his chalk board out ready to note the number of depth-charges.
The hull was violently rocked one way and then the other as U-32 was straddled by two very close depth charge bombs. The huge roaring of noise, shattered glass and the lights cutting out caused mass panic to the crew. Terrified faces greeted Hechler’s gaze as he ordered damage reports from all sections. Hearing the destroyer moving away, Hechler rapidly ordered quiet in the hull, and the boat shut down for silent running. Terrified as they are, the crew manage to keep quiet as the shockwaves from the depth charges die down. The lights are eventually restored.
The soundman turns back to us once again. “Destroyer, bearing 020 degrees, closing fast!” Hechler heard the report and realised that the destroyer had turned and was heading in to attack once again. “Hold on, men! Here she comes again!” As the screws became louder and louder, and the destroyer came closer and closer, Hechler saw his crews faces screwed up in total fear. As the noise reached its climax and appeared just overhead, the boat filled with nothing but the high pitched whirring of propellers, and Hechler could hear nothing else but one small voice sobbing out “Oh God, oh God!” The navigator looked across the compartment with a grave face and announced, “Six depth charges in the water, sir”.
There's the first part - I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Anyone guess where the name comes from ;)
09-24-2006, 01:23 PM
09-24-2006, 02:38 PM
09-24-2006, 07:07 PM
Terriffic!!!! Bring on the next installment!!!:up:
09-25-2006, 09:39 AM
AWESOME!!!:rock: :rock: :rock:
09-25-2006, 09:44 AM
:up: Great Read there Matey , that took some time away while at work
09-25-2006, 09:59 AM
Good writing, some words not opening for me. But Im not englishmen.
Waiting the next chapter...
09-25-2006, 12:20 PM
Wow!! Thanks for all the support, your comments are much appreciated!
Hopefully I'll have the second part of the convoy attack up by the end of the evening, and with any luck there won't be so many typos in the next bit :D
09-25-2006, 05:40 PM
Well, here we are with chapter two. I hope it measures up to your expectations!
As the noise reached its climax and appeared just overhead, the boat filled with nothing but the high pitched whirring of propellers, and Hechler could hear nothing else but one small voice sobbing out “Oh God, oh God!” The navigator looked across the compartment with a grave face and announced, “Six depth charges in the water, sir”.
Amidst the massive detonations echoing through the hull, a rushing whirlpool of water struck the submarine and U-32 was rolled sharply over on her port beam, even as the lights went out in a splintering crash of broken glass. Pipes ruptured and the control room was bathed in an eerie blue glow as powerful jets of water burst into the control room from the piping. A blast hit Hechler right in the face, and he could barely see or hear for a moment before he managed to move out of the painful spray. There was open sobbing coming from one corner of the control room, but Hechler ignored it whilst he tried to sort out his crippled boat.
“Ahead flank, take her down 20 metres and full right rudder!” Hechler shouted out, “Damage control team to the control room, shut off those leaks!” Hechler quickly ordered the change in course whilst the destroyer was directly overhead. The sharp turn to the right would also take the U-boat in amongst the main convoy, and Hechler hoped that the destroyer would lose them amongst the maelstrom of water churned up by multiple propellers. Already the leaks were under control as Krystoflak deployed his team efficiently around the compartment.
The high speed noises from the destroyer were fading, and soon they picked up the unmistakable sounds of large merchant vessels directly overhead. Hechler ordered them to follow the convoy slowly, as they listened out for more signs that they had been detected. As his crew got their breath back, Hechler looked around the control room, his eyes moving to compassion as he saw a young sailor sobbing on the floor in a corner. It was his first patrol, and Hechler understood the reaction to a first depth charge attack. Rahn was sitting in the corner, looking over towards Hechler, and noticing this, Hechler gave a small nod. The sound of depth charges echoed through the hull once more, but there were no violent movements or broken glass this time.
Rahn stood up, “A long way off, Herr Kaleun! It looks like you fooled them that time.”
“Yes, Dietrich, they must have lost us in that last attack. Certainly not an experienced Royal Navy escort yet. Take us up to 100 metres and let us slowly run out of the convoy to the west. We’ll circle round and see if that tanker is still there.” Hechler stood up and walked forward to the Soundroom. “Kreffter, monitor that destroyer for me, I want to know where he is at all times – keep me updated.” He walked back into the control room, pulling his cap off and moving a hand through his hair. He put his cap back on and walked over to his bunk and sat down. Depth charges echoed through the cold water once more, but they were even further away.
“Take it easy, men. They’ve lost us this time.”
Hechler saw relief showing on the faces of his crew. This boat had rarely come into port damaged, except for the previous patrol, and Hechler had heard rumours that Büchel’s breakdown was the result of a particularly savage attack by a pair of destroyers. To all accounts that was the only attack the boat had come under, and would explain the jubilant cheers that echoed through the hull as the Glasgow had broken her back in that final explosion. It was the first victory for U-32, and a cruiser at that, and Hechler was particularly pleased with the crews’ approach to the attack. Even if Büchel had been broken, it seemed the crew was made of sterner stuff. The sound of the convoy was no longer audible through the hull, and Hechler moved forward again before crouching next to Kreffter. The soundman had his eyes shut, and was pouring all his concentration into the headphone he wore around his head. The wheel in front of the dial moved slowly back and forth between 90 degrees and 120 degrees. Another low shudder rang through the hull – more depth charges, far away. Kreffter opened his eyes as he became aware of Hechler crouching next to him.
“Where are they, Kreffter?”
“The depth charges confirm it, Herr Kaleun. The convoy is moving off on 90 degrees, and the destroyer seems to be depth charging the area off to 120 degrees. They’re moving away, but I can’t tell the distance from here.”
“Good work, Kreffter.” Hechler clapped him on the shoulder before standing and looking back at the control room. Faces were peering around the side of the circular hatch, all interested in the dialogue going on between Captain and soundman. He stepped through the hatch and moved over towards the chart table. Taking a quick glance at the plot, he looked over to Rahn, “Take her up to periscope depth, and we can secure from silent running now. Tell the lads forward to get the tubes loaded again.”
“Jawohl, Herr Kaleun!”
Rahn skillfully moved the boat upwards through the dark depths of the Atlantic before the submarine began to rock gently as the surface swell caught her. The control room was a mass of activity now as the watch crew made preparations for surfacing if Hechler ordered it, and other sailors ran up and down the hull as the torpedoes were quickly loaded into the tubes again. Hechler nodded to Rahn as periscope depth was announced and climbed into the tower again. He grabbed hold of the periscope handles as Rahn joined him in the tower. He looked across; “Be ready for a crash dive, but also let me know as soon as the fish are loaded” Hechler looked back into the periscope, sensing rather than seeing Rahn nod back at him.
Hechler slowly moved the periscope up until the head just breached the waves. He looked closer through the lens as it cleared and was fully focused. Lying almost directly in front of his eyes about 800 metres away the tanker they had hit early was dead in the water and listing. Her name, S.S. Deer Lodge was blackened and scorched near the stern, and Hechler presume their torpedo had also started a small fire. There was no activity on her decks, and she appeared to be completely deserted. A small oil slick trailed from her starboard quarter and spray burst over the listed side in irregular bursts.
He moved the periscope round to the right, and saw the convoy just merging into the dawn darkness. It was much brighter than earlier, but there was still a dark gloom hanging over the sea to the west. The time was 8 am, and Hechler was surprised that they had been under depth charge attack for over an hour. Looking round again, he saw the distinct shape of a Tribal class destroyer hurrying after the convoy. The convoy only had another destroyer and a small Flower class corvette making up the escort, and they would undoubtedly want to keep the rest of the escorts close together after Glasgow was sunk and the Deer Lodge had dropped out of the line, crippled. After a last check round, Hechler pulled the periscope down and dropped down into the control room. Rahn was already there, apparently having climbed down to check on the readiness of the torpedoes. “Tubes one and two are loaded sir, and tube three is about half done.”
“Thank you Dietrich. Surface the boat. Prepare for a surface torpedo attack on the tanker we hit.” Rahn quickly turned and issued commands to the crew. Whispers soon passed along the boat, and soon every crewman was excited to have another ship to their name.
As the sharply curving bow rose slowly out of the water, Hechler climbed up out of the tower onto the bridge, clad in his oilskins and binoculars to protect him from the swell which still remained. The watch crew climbed up after him, and soon the bridge sight was carried up as well. Hechler bent over the sight and carefully lined the crosshairs up with the tanker. He was aiming well aft, as this was obviously a crude carrier, and he wanted an quick explosion, not a burning wreck to act as a beacon to the rest of the Royal Navy. His orders were relayed down the tower and into the control room as he systematically set the boat up for attack.
“Flood tubes one and two. Open bow caps. Range…750 metres, depth 3 metres, impact pistol. Better make them fast running and get the job done.”
“Jawohl, Herr Kaleun!”
“Set up for surface torpedo attack, Herr Kaleun. Depth 3 metres, range 750, impact pistol, fast. Tube one and two ready sir!” Stein relayed the orders back to Hechler.
Hechler put his eyes back down to the sight before centering it on a spot just forward of the superstructure. Without looking up, he ordered, “Tube one, Fire!” Quickly moving the crosshairs along the hull, he focused on the forward superstructure and announced. “Tube two, Fire!” Taking his eyes away from the sight he quickly detached it and passed it back along the chain until it could be stored back in the control room. He looked back at the tanker. The torpedoes should reach it any second now, he thought.
Two quick detonations rumpled across the water as a sheet of flame roared upwards from the stricken hull. The rapidly building inferno had set the crude alight and was already moving rapidly along the hull. A gathering roar filled the ears of the deck crew as hold after hold exploded in a maelstrom of flames and smoke, wrenching the hull plates apart and allowing the sea to greedily explore the inside of her hull as the deck grew closer and closer to the water. The ship seemed to be breaking up even as they watched, and the typical screaming of bulkheads wasn’t heard because they had literally been blown apart. The smell of burning metal and gasoline fumes drifted across the water towards them, masking the convoy away to the south. The smoke made Hechler’s eyes smart, but he remained motionless watching the death of a once proud ship, now breaking up before his eyes. The largest piece of hull was only about 50 feet long, and within minutes the tanker had completely disappeared beneath the waves. A small amount of burning wreckage was still visible, but that was all. So, it was gasoline rather than crude oil, Hechler thought to himself. There was no other explanation for such a rapid sinking.
Looking back at the watch crew he quickly ordered a change in course, “All ahead flank, come right heading two-two-zero! We’ll run after the convoy and overhaul them before they get too far.” Hechler had a last look round before climbing down the ladder and leaving the watch in the capable hands of Dietrich Rahn, First Watch Officer.
As he entered the control room, there were still jubilant shouts and friendly insults hurling back and forth. There were big grins on the faces of the watch crew as they went about their duties. The only dampening on the happy scene was the grim face of Leonhard Krystoflak, Chief of the Boat. Hechler motioned to him, and with a little grumbling, Krystoflak edged closer.
“I want all the tubes reloaded Chief, even if that means pulling one out of the external storage. Get some good men to help you, and for God’s sake look happier man, we’ve just sunk over 20000 tons of shipping!”
Krystoflak grumbled away as Hechler moved forward to send off a radio message to BdU. He still didn’t know why Hechler had been put in charge. True, Büchel wasn’t the most aggressive of U-boat commanders, but he’d never got them caught up in an attack like that one. He’d been as frightened as the next man during the depth charge attacks, and as much as he’d loathed the sight of the young sailor, Vogel, sobbing on the floor, he had felt much the same way. Now Hechler was planning to reload and go after the convoy again – sheer madness! He had his victories, didn’t he? Why should he risk all their lives for the sake a few more ships. He still wore a rim expression on his face as detailed a work party to bring one of the externally loaded torpedoes inside the hull.
Hechler watched him go with a wary expression on his face. Krystoflak troubled him, and he could see the same signs he saw in Büchel before he left on his last patrol, and that worried him. It was no time for the Chief’s nerve to break, especially as they we’re about to head in for another convoy attack and were out in the mid-Atlantic in January. He would give him one last chance in the next attack before deciding to ask BdU for a replacement when they next docked.
He had already sent a message off to BdU, relating their attack briefly, the sinking of the Glasgow then the hour long depth charge attack and the sinking of the crippled Deer Lodge before reporting that they were motoring to overhaul the convoy and launch another attack at dusk. The convoy was very fast, Hechler thought, at least 12 knots and he wasn’t sure exactly how far away the convoy was before they set off in chase, but the gathering light would help him out, and he was quite sure that at flank speed, a full 17 knots, they could easily overhaul the convoy before nightfall. He turned around and headed to his bunk. After pulling the green curtain across he hung up his cap and lay back before filling in his personal log.
Hechler’s father had been an infantryman in the Great War, and he had been badly injured in one assault. After recovering from his wounds, he had remained detached and mentally scarred. In moments of clear thought he would chill the family with his tales from the trenches; the machine guns, the mustard gas, and the mud. It had shocked a young Hechler, and he had chosen the Navy for no bad reason. His first cruise had been around the world in the cruise Emden, a typical entry to the Navy. He had been drafted into U-boats in 1938, and promoted to First Watch Officer in Schultze’s boat a few months before the war began.
The whole hull was leaping and bounding now as the submarine crashed over the waves. The torpedoes were steadily being loaded into the tubes, and it wouldn’t be long before they were overhauling the convoy. Reports said that the convoy was in sight on the horizon to port, and they were steadily overhauling them. Krystoflak was still looking nervous, but Hechler put the thought aside. They would attack this evening if nothing went wrong.
Hechler was just nodding off when the curtain was pulled back. Instantly jolted into wakefulness, he looked across and saw the grave face of Leonhard Krystoflak peering at him.
“We’ve got to reduce speed, Herr Kaleun! The fuel is getting to a critical level. The port propeller bearing is running hot too. We can’t carry on at this pace, I’m sorry Herr Kaleun, but we’ll have to let that convoy go.”
Hechler looked sharply at Krystoflak, a frown settling over his features. His eyes frostily looked over the Chief of the boat, and Hechler noted that Krystoflak had the good grace to look apologetic. Hechler was highly suspicious now, and as he climbed out of his bunk, he saw some crewmen with open disgust on their faces. A sham after all then, Hechler thought. Walking quickly across the compartment, Hechler climbed up the narrow ladder to the bridge, spotting Rahn still on watch. He moved over to him.
“Chief says we’re low on fuel, and need to slow down.” Hechler saw a frown immediately appear on Rahn’s face.
“So you don’t believe it either then? We have to accept his word for it, so where’s the convoy?” Hechler noted that it was 11 am, so they’d had a good three hours of pursuit.
“We’re ahead of the convoy again, sir. I suppose if we cut back to 10 knots and cut in now, we’d have a good chance of making the intercept, and I know we’re fully loaded up on torpedoes. We’ll have to watch him, Herr Kaleun, he and Büchel were thick as thieves most of the time sir. We never went into combat until those destroyers surprised us on the last patrol. At the time, we were all scared ****less, but now, hearing what the Chief’s pulling, I’m starting to wonder sir.”
“Exactly my thoughts, Dietrich. I’ll go down and plot an intercept, but we WILL attack that convoy again, and you’ll have to stand by to take control in case he trys anything funny on us.”
Hechler climbed below and walked over to the chart table. “Striezel!” he yelled, as the Navigator emerged quickly into the control room. “I need you to plot an intercept course for the convoy at 10 knots, the Chief informs me we’re low on fuel.” Another frown of the eyebrows, and Hechler noticed Krystoflak cringing out of the corner of his eye. “Can we make it?”
“Jawohl, Herr Kaleun! We can make it. Expect an intercept in 15 minutes.”
“Very well, thank you Striezel, that was very prompt.” Hechler looked around and ordered the change in course and speed. As he moved across the control room he passed Krystoflak, still standing motionless in the middle of the compartment, next to the periscope tube. “Well, Chief, I hope those orders will alleviate our fuel situation. Send the crew to Battle-stations if you please!” On that note Hechler donned his cap and jacket before swiftly climbing the ladder back up to the bridge. Rahn was already turning towards him, a questioning look on his face. Hechler moved over to him and spoke in his ear.
“We’re closed up at battle-stations. The Navigator doesn’t agree with the Chief’s fuel outlook either. We’re going to be attacking the convoy in broad daylight, and I’m almost certain that we’ll be discovered at some point, so be prepared to take care of the Chief if we get a bad time of it.”
“Will do, sir. It’ll only be another 10 minutes before we’re in visual range. We can already make out the individual ships in the convoy.”
“Excellent Dietrich. Stand by to dive, we’ll attack the centre column as before and try to get another tanker.”
“Jawohl, Herr Kaleun!”
A few minutes later the bridge cleared and the submarine disappeared beneath the waves, leaving a foaming white wake on the surface, the only mark of where she had been. Hechler was in the command room, with most of the crew not needed elsewhere, and Hechler grinned round at the gathered faces. “We’ll finish what we started, eh?” Grins answered him back as he turned and climbed up into the tower. Rahn soon followed, and Hechler turned to speak with him about the attack.
“I want you to set the computer up now. We won’t have much time, so I’ll target a four fish salvo at two large tankers and a stern shot at one of the cargos on the outer screen. Set all the torpedoes to 3 metres, impact firing and fast speed. They’ll be able to see the trails clearly with this light and it won’t take a genius to work out where we are. Fire and dive deep. How’s that sound?”
“Excellent, Herr Kaleun. Setting up now.”
Hechler slowly raised the attack periscope above the waves, and once it was focused, the view took his breath away. Under a gently undulating sea, row upon row of merchantmen greeted his eye. All were keeping the same rigid formation, thick black smoke rising into the air. Each had a large bow wave foaming from the stem and now he could see the convoy clearly, it really astounded him. He had never seen an attack through the periscope prior to earlier that morning, as Schultze had always attacked submerged. Most of the ships had been grey, amorphous shapes in the dawn twilight, but they were clearly visible now as U-32 crept through the outer column, barely a couple of inches of periscope showing above the waves.
They quickly slipped inside the second column, still undetected, and Hechler quickly snapped a large tanker into the crosshairs. “Flood tube one to five an open bow caps!”
A moment later Rahn replied, “Tubes one to five flooded and open. Ready to fire on your order.”
Making a last check on the tanker, now steaming 500 metres away, Hechler ordered U-32 to attack. “Tubes one and two, FIRE!” He quickly spun the periscope around and targeted the stern tube onto a medium sized cargo ship in the second column. “Tube five, FIRE!” He spun the periscope back round towards the tanker, and as it rotated on it’s mount, he spotted a destroyer charging down the column towards him, much further way than earlier that morning, but still a sight that mad his blood chill. Reacting quickly, Hechler spun the periscope back towards the row of tankers in the middle of the convoy. Quickly selecting the large tanker behind the one he had already aimed at, he quickly shouted “Tubes three and four, FIRE!”
Before even waiting to see the results of his handiwork, Hechler dropped down the ladder and shouted out “ALARM! Take her down to 100 metres, Chief, quickly! All ahead flank and bring her round to port!”
As the U-boat plunged into the dark depths of the Atlantic, aimed at the next column of merchantmen, the hull echoed to the sound of high speed propellers racing towards them. Yet again, the crews’ faces showed fear, terror even as there was little they could do to stop the impending doom. Just before the noise reached a crescendo, Hechler ordered the sub to make a sharp turn to starboard, and drop down even deeper to 130 metres. The roaring of depth charges going off close to the submarine rocked the hull as the lights smashed yet again. Pipes burst and water was sprayed around the control room.
“Quickly, up to 90 metres, slow ahead!” Hechler looked around at his crew. Rahn was holding up well, a grim expression was on his face, but he was determined and trusted the skill of his new commander. Hechler noted the terror on Krystoflak’s face, and instantly knew that he would have to be dismissed once they reached Wilhelmshaven again. The sailors standing near the Chief were all noting his reaction, and it was doing little to help theirs’.
“Easy men, there’s been nothing yet. They only got us that time because they could see out wake. Keep calm”
Suddenly more explosions echoed through the hull, different, high pitched explosions accompanied by an endless screaming, tearing and roaring of water as bulkheads collapsed and the torpedoes slammed into the ships Hechler had targeted. He looked over to Rahn, “Two I reckon. That last shot on the tanker was poorly aimed, but I think we got the other one and the car..”
Hechler was cut off mid sentence as the soundman, Kreffter announced that there were more fast propeller noises closing. Two escorts. The stakes had just been raised. The newcomer closed quickly, and despite Hechler’s quick alteration of course, another depth charge attack rocked the boat hard. The Chief, Krystoflak was visibly shaking now, and Hechler spared a glance of utter contempt towards him before turning his attention back towards Kreffter. At his glance, Kreffter replied.
“That destroyer is moving away slowly, it’s turned and the first one is coming back fast.”
It was clear in Hechler’s mind. One destroyer was monitoring them on ASDIC whilst the other made their attack run. Already the sounds of the convoy were receding, leaving them even more exposed and at a disadvantage. As the first destroyer came barreling in again, another load of depth charges were fired at them, but these were slightly further away. They still violently rocked the hull, but had been set at the wrong depth. Hechler took U-32 deeper again as they all heard the other destroyer closing in at high speed. Hechler turned his back on the control room and peered at the chart Striezel was plotting. There definitely seemed a gap where one destroyer couldn’t monitor them, and the other was too committed to the attack to change course. There was definitely room to escape their aggressors if only they could exploit it. Hechler stiffened as a voice called out.
“Kaleun, I order you to surface the boat, IMMEDIATELY! We cannot escape two, it just isn’t possible. We’ve got to surface now to have any chance of living! NOW, Herr Kaleun!”
Hechler had identified the voice. It was Krystoflak; there was little doubt of that. Hechler was filled with anger as he turned and shouted rapidly at the broken Chief,
“Chief, shut up this insta..” Hechler rapidly stopped talking after he turned and saw a Luger pistol cradled in the hand to Leonhard Krystoflak. His face was bright red, and tears were streaked across his face. He was visibly shaking, yet the pistol in his hand was rock steady. And it was pointing straight at Hechler’s chest.
“Come on, Herr Kaleun. Surface the boat. We’ll all die if you don’t”
“Krystoflak, shut up. We’re much safer down here than on the surface, and there’re only two of them. They’re losing accuracy too. Put the pistol down and then we can evade the destroyers. Do not think for a moment I want to die either. Now put the pistol down.”
The tension in the control room was so thick you could cut it. Crewmen looked on in disbelief, there own fear forgotten as the Commander stood at one end of the control room, the Chief the other. Krystoflak was struggling to come to a decision. His hand was shaking as well, and the pistol moved across his chest in a jagged figure of eight. Water dripped off piping in the blue light, further adding to the tense atmosphere. The sound of fast moving propellers echoed through the hull again and they drew ever closer. The sound seemed to galvanise Krystoflak into action as his hand steadied, aimed over Hechler’s heart and the sound of a hammer being drawn back was clearly audible. Krystoflak shut his eyes shuddered and then suddenly pitched forward on his face, revealing Rehburg standing behind him with a large crowbar hefted in his hands. Relief was short lived, however, as another depth charge attack rocked the boat. This time, it was just as close as the first drop, and lights shattered and pipes burst before Hechler could get U-32 back onto an even keel and in control once again. As she slipped deeper into the Atalntic, Hechler thought rapidly about how they could escape the clutches of the destroyers.
The next 5 hours were nerve wracking for all the men and Hechler had do delve deep into all his vestiges of skill and self-control as he guided his crew through the harrowing depth charge attacks. By the time U-32 finally rose to the surface, battered and bruised it was late afternoon, and the light was already dying as the sun sank to the west, throwing an orange glow over the sea. Krystoflak had been tied down on his bunk in the sick bay, and was still alive but had not yet regained consciousness. Hechler ordered a message sent to BdU, and U-32 turned north again, heading back to Wilhelmshaven. With only two torpedoes left, Hechler didn’t want to risk another convoy attack, but he hoped they might pick up a few ships sailing alone on the way back.
He was impressed with how the rest of the crew had held up. The Krystoflak incident had strengthened their nerve, and their final escape had definitely increased their faith in Hechler. Already they had seen more action in 12 days with Hechler than the last 6 months with Büchel. Hechler looked around the control room once more, smiling reassuringly at the crew members that met his glance before he headed off to his bunk, and lay back with a sigh. The attack had tired him more than he thought, and already he could feel sleep claiming him. They had managed to sink the large tanker, S.S Bennestvet and the cargo ship S.S Stirlingshire. That brought the total ships up to four, and BdU were already sending more U-boats in on the convoy. Hechler for once didn’t care, and as his eyes closed, he sunk into a deep dreamless sleep as U-32 headed north at half speed, heading for home.
Another update completed. This isn't the end of Hechler though, so stay tune for another update soon :D
09-25-2006, 07:00 PM
The Laughing Swordfish may soon have some company...
Keep up the good work:up:
So many talented authors here? I love it! :cool: So will Krystoflak be sent to the harbour guide boats? Lucky for him Germany is not yet at war with Russia. :lol:
09-26-2006, 05:09 AM
I want to see how the poor bastard gets in court martial and gets against wall.
If someone lift a gun against captain on board it is bad bad bad...
09-26-2006, 05:52 AM
Fantastic writing, loving the story keep it up.:rock: :rock: :rock:
09-26-2006, 07:26 AM
Thriler under see. I must say, if you guys steped together, you could put a compilation of fictional U-boat stories in a book. A sure best seller :cool:
Keep up the good work!
BTW, is the sub a type VII? I really didn't catch it anywhere and got the picture from the 5 torpedo tubes.
Forgot to add before. It's ART!!!
09-26-2006, 09:56 AM
Cheers for the comments guys, I really appreciate them!!
As for the U-boat, I never did fully explain the background or exact specification, but U-32 is a Type VIIB sub of the 2nd Flottila. I looked on U-boat.net, and U-32 was a VIIA sub from the same flottila, and Buchel actually did command her until Feb 1940. U-32 also has the distinction of sinking the largest ship in the U-baot war, a 42,000 ton liner, Empress of Britain. Unfortunately, U-32 was sunk two days after this. (we'll not be trying to recreate that!)
I'm currently writing the next installment, and we'll hear the aftermath of 'Krystogate'
I was writing the last bit of the previous installment late at night, and I've noticed there are more typos there, so hopefully the next one will be a little more coherent. What can I say, I get so caught up in the action my fingers can't stop rushing over the keyboard! :D
Anyway, thanks again for all your comments, and I may be able to get the next one up tonight, but I make no promises (probably depends on the Chelsea game :D)
09-26-2006, 01:44 PM
This is really rivetting stuff :rock:
09-26-2006, 03:11 PM
Well, here's the next installment. I'm afraid it's slightly shorter than usual, but I wanted to bring Hechler's patrol to some sort of closure before starting off on another direction. Enjoy!
It was just after 9 am on the cold morning of January 21st when U-32 finally edged against the wharf in Wilhelmshaven harbour, her large mooring warps thrown to the waiting shore-party. Oberleutnant zur See Dieter Hechler stood motionless in the fore part of her conning tower as the heavy lines were secured around bollards and the metal deck beneath his feet shuddered uneasily as his command settled against the dock side. The blackened and warped plates told their own story in the harsh winter light, the sun’s fresh rays reaching out and bathing the submarine in a dull, orange glow.
They had waited outside the harbour approaches until the familiar shape of a German destroyer materialized out of the fog, ready to escort them back into the naval base. Hechler turned and watched as the men lined up on the foredeck waved at the gathering crowd as locals came down to the harbour to watch the victorious return of U-32. Five triangular banners rippled in the morning light as they identified the shipping Hechler had sent to the bottom. A military band was playing a jaunty tune as the lines were finally secured and a metal walkway extended from the dockside, reaching down to the U-boat’s deck. Hechler could see a couple of military policemen, and the distinctive black uniform of an SS officer waiting at the top of the walkway, ready to immediately cart Krystoflak off to some place or another. Hechler could not help but feel sorry for the man.
“It’s not your fault, sir. You shouldn’t blame yourself.”
He turned and met the gaze of Dietrich Rahn, the First Watch Officer. He looked strange in his uniform jacket and best cap, but his eyes were full of understanding. Hechler had immediately felt a strong rapport with the young officer, and Rahn had been exactly what Hechler needed in a strange boat. Hechler had been glad of his support throughout the patrol, and his second-in-command seemed to fully understand exactly when Hechler needed his support to win over the crew. The crew was behind him now as well. The incident in the control room was still weighing heavily on Hechler’s mind though.
“I saw all the signs, Dietrich. I could have talked to him, and stopped such an event from ever occurring. Everyone was frightened, man! If I could have talked to him, he could have controlled his fear!”
Rahn looked sympathetically at his Commander, “Sir, some people just aren’t cut out for the war in the Atlantic. Krystoflak certainly wasn’t. He and Büchel combined kept the boat well clear of action. He only made Chief because of his service before the war. It wasn’t your fault, sir. You’ve got to see that.” Rahn looked around to check on the proceedings. Seeing they still had a few more moments before Hechler would be needed for ceremonial duties, Rahn carried on, “You’ve given this crew life, sir. Forgive me for speaking so bluntly, but patrols were a complete farce under Büchel. This patrol has completely changed the feeling in the boat. You’ve done that sir, and you need to see that men like Krystoflak can’t be changed. With luck you can be an excellent commander, sir. You just need to forget all about him!”
Hechler turned and glared at Rahn. “Have you quite finished Leutnant Rahn! You have gone much too far! Kindly see to organizing the men’s leave whilst I deal with Krystoflak.”
Rahn turned away, smiling as he saw the change in Hechler’s mood. His words had done the trick, and from the last couple of months he had spent with Hechler, and the last 20 odd days at sea, he knew that Hechler didn’t really mean the sharp words. He turned away, heading for the ladder to retrieve the ship’s books, needed to detail crewmen off for leave. Just as he reached the ladder, Hechler’s voice stopped him.
“I was a little sharp with you back then, Dietrich; I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that.”
Rahn smiled back at him as he headed down the ladder; it was as near to an apology he would get from Hechler. He remember seeing Hechler on the bridge that day, as the boat pounded through the waves after the convoy, the deck rising and falling in bursts of spray, yet Hechler was standing there, feet anchored to the deck, his face impassive as the U-boat hammered on. He had given them all confidence that day. And then, another time, sharing a word with the young sailor who had broken in the first depth charge attack, but Hechler had spoken to him, calmed him and helped the novice find his feet. Another side to the captain. Then just now, feeling compassion for the man that had pulled his own pistol on him. Rahn felt as if he would never understand Hechler, but he was certainly pleased to be serving under him. Shaking his head to clear the thoughts from his mind, he went forward to gather the books, humming as he did so.
Hechler climbed down from the bridge onto the deck plates to welcome the SS officer on board as he came to collect Krystoflak. Krystoflak was handcuffed, and looked a miserable sight. All the bravado and righteous anger he had displayed since being secured after the depth charging had evaporated when he saw the SS officer approaching. In a surprising lack of ceremony, Krystoflak was grabbed and bundled off the boat before the SS officer gave a stiff Nazi salute, forcing Hechler to do the same. The SS man wheeled and walked briskly off the U-boat, heading for a military truck on the dockside. Hechler looked up on the dockside and saw Korvettenkapitän Werner Hartmann, 2nd Flotilla Commander waiting for him with his staff. He was smiling, and Hechler hoped to expect a warm welcome.
Hechler turned as Rahn came back on deck. “Dismiss all hands, Dietrich. Organise the leave for me, it seems the Flotilla Commander wishes to see me. I’ll see you later perhaps.”
Hechler offered a naval salute to Rahn as the hands turned and disappeared through the main hatch as they headed back into the hull. Hechler walked up the walkway onto the dockside, feeling dirty and unkempt despite the clean shirt, best uniform jacket and pristine white cap that covered his unruly hair. It was a common feeling for U-boat men. Hechler would relish the first bath he could get.
Hartmann greeted Hechler warmly, saluting then pulling him close and clapping him on the back. “Welcome Hechler! It’s good to see you! We have not met, I think, but your patrol has set tongues a wagging! Come with me, we’ll talk more in my office. Your second-in-command can see to moving the boat through to the dry-dock.” Hartmann walked briskly off towards the buildings, and Hechler followed him.
Oberleutnant zur See Dieter Hechler gazed out of the window of the sedan as it motored along the main road into Kiel. He had brought his U-boat into Wilhelmshaven harbour the day before, and had also reported to Korvettenkapitän Werner Hartmann, the Flotilla Commander, and his patrol had been one of the most successful so far in the war. Hechler had sunk 42,061 tons on his first patrol, a feat that had given him the reward of a 3 hour car journey to Kiel, the U-boat Headquarters, and a meeting with Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz, commander of the U-boat division. Hartmann had been very impressed with his account of the convoy battle, and Hechler related the events after leaving the convoy after the second attack. Hechler had taken the U-32 west around Ireland at half-speed to get back to Wilhelmshaven as soon as possible, mainly because Hechler didn’t feel comfortable in the North Atlantic without a Chief of the Boat. About halfway up the Irish coast, about level with the Shannon estuary, they had spotted a freighter heading east. They had managed to sneak up on the freighter in the low visibility and launch their bow torpedo. It had hit the main fuel tank and the ship had exploded in a mass of flame and smoke, breaking in half before she went down to the bottom.
Following the attack they had gone deep for a few hours to make sure they were not detected. The worst part had been passing between the Orkneys and the Shetlands. Hechler had kept the boat at battle-stations for the overnight passage, worried about air attacks but none had materialised. The night had been dark, windy and extremely cold, and Hechler had thought the bridge crew had done admirably, never complaining once throughout the passage. He didn’t realise that the lack of complaint was mainly due to his constant presence on the bridge.
Hechler had also heard what had happened to Krystoflak. The trial had been quickly organized and the decision passed. Krystoflak had been found guilty of cowardice in the face of the enemy but not mutiny. His punishment was not as harsh as Hechler had thought it would be, but nevertheless a severe one for a proud man such as Krystoflak. He was to spend the rest of the war teaching Home Economics at a ConventSchool in Heidelberg.
Hechler considered the crew, his crew. They had seemed to take to him much better once krystoflak had been removed, but he was closest to Rahn, his second-in-command. It would do no harm for the morale in the boat, he thought. Rahn was a good officer, and what he lacked in experience he made up for in intelligence and confidence. It would be a good time, Hechler thought.
The car was pulling in to the outskirts of Kiel now. The large town was bustling with people out shopping, and there were few signs that there was a war on, save for the large red Nazi flags hanging from buildings. The car pulled up at the Navy Headquarters, and a footman ushered him in. Here, a young Leutnant escorted him through into the inner sanctum. Hechler stood in front of the doors to the Office of Karl Donitz before the young escort allowed him to go through. The doors opened, and Hechler heard a voice call out, “Oberleutnant zur See Dieter Hechler, sir”. Hechler walked through into the office and gazed at the legendary figure behind the desk.
“Ah, Hechler, I have heard much about you…”
09-26-2006, 03:48 PM
good story so far. Nice bit of characterization. How is Chelsea doing? You get **** football channels here in the states, so how's the Champions League coming along(haven't checked my gmail page for updates today, and i'm going off to work in a bit.
09-27-2006, 08:16 AM
He was to spend the rest of the war teaching Home Economics at a ConventSchool in Heidelberg.
Hmmm, this verdict sounds awfully familiar...inspired by Blackadder Goes Forth? It reminds me of "We'll be teaching German schoolgirls how to boil eggs for the rest of the war", or words to that effect, by Cpt. Edmund Blackadder!:know:
P.S.: more of a PSV Eindhoven man myself.:rock:
09-28-2006, 04:58 PM
Well, I warn you - this is quite a large jump from the last installment. Hopefully it's not too confusing, but it was necessary for where I want the story to go.
He leaned back in the comfortable, high-backed chair. The office was larger, and the decorations plusher, more luxurious. It was hard to think they were at war, cocooned away in this office, the Inner Sanctum, where the decisions were made. The man opposite him had changed little, Hechler thought. He looked much the same as he had when Hechler had met him for the first time, in Kiel after his first, tremendously successful patrol. During that meeting he had received both Iron crosses. Not unheard of, but quite rare, and Donitz had obviously seen the talent lurking beneath.
Following that meeting, Hechler had returned to Wilhelmshaven and helped Rahn prepare the U-boat for war once again. Their next patrol had also been fruitful, and Hechler had sunk 6 ships for a total of 35,000 tons. This patrol was made famous throughout the Reich for his convoy attack. The papers called it daring, exceptional, a credit to the Reich, but Hechler baulked at the superlatives. It had earned him a promotion to Kapitänleutnant, but Hechler didn’t feel he had deserved it, but Donitz had disagreed and been quite harsh when Hechler had continued to protest.
There had been heavy fog that morning, another cold one, in the middle of February off the Irish coast. U-32 had been moving slowly, quietly through the fog in case they collided with a ship or flotsam. It had happened so suddenly. Out of the fog came shadows, Hechler couldn’t tell how many, but the hull echoed to the thrum of numerous engines, and the shadows had been a scarce 500 metres away. It had been pure luck that they had met the convoy, and the following action was lucky as well. Hechler had immediately fired two torpedoes at the large freighter passing across their bow, and then rapidly turned and slip along the line, firing 3 more torpedoes at the next two freighters. Unbelievably, all the torpedoes had exploded, sinking all three freighters, including the 10,000 ton tanker S.S. Arabia, as Hechler had disappeared into the dense fog leaving the convoy behind. They had neither seen nor heard any escorts during the brief ten minute engagement, although on diving had heard depth charges going off a few miles away.
Following this attack, they had sunk a further three unescorted merchants, and sailed back into Wilhelmshaven proud and undamaged, the crew’s morale at an all time high. His promotion had a lot to do with the fact that he had already been a Oberleutnant for nearly a year as XO on Schultze’s boat. Following this second patrol, he was soon back out in the Atlantic, and over the next 16 months he perfected the art of sinking ships in convoys. Whilst Kretschmer may have had the phrase ‘one torpedo for one ship’, Hechler had perfected the art of getting close in undetected, and quickly emptying his tubes on two or three large ships and quickly making his escape. If he had time to reload, then it was worse luck for the Tommies. Over those 16 months he made 7 patrols, and by the end of the last patrol, he had sunk a total of over 170,000 tons of shipping. It was the 7th patrol where his career took a turn for the worse.
Returning from his 9th patrol, in April 1941, U-32 had been on the surface in the Bay of Biscay, heading for Brest, when they were surprised by a Sunderland flying boat. Although they didn’t dive, Hechler, now a Korvettenkapitän completing his last active patrol in the war, feared the foaming wake would be easily picked up in the moonlight, they fought the plane off with the flak guns, and incurred only minor damage to the hull. Hechler, however, had been grazed by a bullet along the side of his torso. In considerable pain, Hechler turned command over to Rahn, his second-in-command as they entered Brest the next morning. Hechler had been rushed to hospital, but the wound had become infected, and Hechler had spent the next three months slowly recovering. Despite being near to death in the early days of his illness, after a month he had improved, and was mentally fully fit again, and it was only the wound slowing him down. Hechler had languished in a hospital outside Kiel, and there were precious few events to take away the boredom of his rehabilitation. The most memorable had been learning the news that Dietrich Rahn had been promoted, and given command of U-32. Hechler had been delighted by the news, exceptionally pleased that the boat, his boat, would keep the main body of officers and men – essential to remain a crack fighting unit.
The other time had been when Karl Donitz himself had come to visit him, on his way to see the Führer. Donitz had laughed at Hechler’s astonished expression, and had proceeded to spend the next hour and a half with Hechler, sharing Hechler’s worries for the future, talking about the war in the Atlantic, and reassuring Hechler that he would be needed once well again. Hechler had busied the dull moment by reading everything he could – indeed, he if the newspapers had reported victories accurately, it could have been quite possible for Hechler to be one of the most informed people on how the war was progressing. Hechler had learnt of the Battle of Denmark Straight, where Prinz Eugen and the Bismarck had fought a great battle with the Hood andechHechler the Prince Of Wales, destroying the Hood with a shot to the magazine. Hechler had then heard of the Bismarck being fought to a standstill and scuttled. Although a U-boat man, Hechler still remembered his early days in the Kriegsmarine, serving on the cruiser Karlsruhe. He had enjoyed serving on the proud cruiser, built to the specifications set down by the Treaty of Versailles. Hechler could imagine himself at the battle, watching the engagement between the one of the greatest battleships ever built and the newest battleship in the Royal Navy.
By August, Hechler was back on active duty, and had talked with Donitz regarding his future. U-boat losses were mounting, and the news earlier in the year that Kretchmer, Prien and Schepcke had all been killed or captured in the same convoy battle had hit Donitz hard. Donitz had been adamant that Hechler would no longer be part of the active U-boat service. Already 32, Hechler was put in command of 2nd Flotilla, and immersed himself in the running of the Flotilla for the next year, balancing the paperwork with a close personal relationship with all his commanders. In May he was promoted to Fregattenkapitän. He had personally congratulated Donitz when ‘Onkel Karl’ had been promoted to Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine, Commander in Chief of the entire German Navy. In July 1943, Hechler was transferred into Operations, and worked closely on the tactical side of the U-boat war, although he also looked at the surface situation as well.
By this time in the war, the tide had turned. In September, there was the news that Tirpitz, the greatest warship ever built, had been attacked in her Norwegian lair had rocked the Kriegsmarine, and the Third Reich looked rattled at sea; few major battle capable warships, and green U-boat commanders being sent straight out to battle experienced escort commanders. There was defeat in Africa as well, and the USA had entered the war against Germany too. The sinking of the Scharnhorst at Christmas was another blow to the Navy. Indeed, there were precious few ships left. The Admiral Scheer was attacking Soviet troops as they advanced towards the Reich, hardly a distinguished end for Germany’s most successful surface raider. Now, in February, Hechler sat in Donitz’s office again, staring over the desk at the Admiral, waiting for him to begin.
Donitz looked up over his paperwork, and stared long and hard at Hechler. Donitz had always got along well with Hechler, and the Fregattenkapitän held his mentor in the highest regard. Donitz rubbed his eyes and looked away at the large map hanging from the wall, red pinheads marking units all over Europe and the Atlantic.
“Dieter, how times have changed! I can still remember our first meeting, four years ago when you were in here after your first patrol. You got both the crosses then, and repaid my faith by becoming one of the best U-boat Commanders I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, and more importantly, a firm friend too.”
Hechler waited patiently in his chair, accustomed to senior officers taking a roundabout way to the matter at hand. Although Hechler enjoyed excellent relations with Donitz, it didn’t mean ‘Onkel Karl’ was immune to the roundabout method.
Donitz continued, “It is quite clear to me that the Allies are preparing a plan to invade Europe, either through Norway, or France I don’t know. We cannot carry on if they are allowed all the supplies and reinforcements necessary to fight a moving battle. The Tirpitz will not be operational again until April at the earliest, and even then the Führer isn’t happy to send his last battleship into the Atlantic. And they don’t work! What do you think I put my faith in, eh?”
“Naturally, the U-boats Admiral”
“Damn right, Dieter, but they are no match for the experienced escort commanders with their excellent equipment. We tried attacking in numbers, the wolfpacks, but they just added more escorts. There is no way in hell our U-boats are going to be able to catch the fast troop or oil convoys carrying equipment to England. Our large warships will be outgunned by the Royal Navy’s battleships, and will be unable to touch the convoy in any case with the massed escort screens.
“What we need, Dieter, is a combined surface and U-boat operation. That would be fine if we could pull it off, but our U-boat commanders understand little about surface warfare, and our few remaining cruiser captains are either too wary, have too many shattered nerves or just don’t understand the underwater war at all! It would be a disaster! And the Reich would be left with the Allies from one way and the Russians from the other. I’m telling you now, Dieter, there will be an Allied invasion of Europe.”
“Sir, I agree with you, but how can we stop the supplies? Our U-boats are pushed too far, the Tirpitz is too damaged, and our cruisers don’t have the range! It’s impossible!”
Donitz suddenly smiled, and his eyes glittered with mirth as he began once more. “The Führer wants us to stop those supplies. I have told him that the U-boats cannot go unsupported and home to come away from the convoy unharmed, and I would not order them to attack so hopelessly like that. I have formed a plan, long in the making, however, and it cannot fail as long as the right people are involved.”
He reached under the desk suddenly, and fumbled about in one of the drawers as his grin became wider. Hechler sat back, completely confused at the Admiral’s behaviour. He hadn’t seen Donitz this jubilant since the Happy Times. Donitz suddenly straightened up, something concealed in his hands.
“Dieter, we’ve known each other a long time, eh? Now the Führer has agreed to the plan. It needs a cooperative operation between U-boats and a heavy cruiser, and the Captain on the cruiser must have knowledge of U-boat operations. I considered sending you to advise the Captain, Dieter, but that would have failed dramatically.”
He held out his hand, shoulder boards displaying the rank of Kapitän zur See lay in his palm. “I’m giving you the Prinz Luitpold, Dieter. Her last Captain broke down when they last engaged in combat. Her second-in-command is too inexperienced to command her. You will be the youngest captain ever to command a ship like her. You’re what, 34 now?”
“Yes sir, 34 just in January.”
“Thought so. The Führer seemed against your promotion so far outside the band, but I wouldn’t want any other man in control of this operation. You have 2 days until I need you in Kiel to assume command. Any questions?” Hechler shook his head. “Then expect orders at your barracks tomorrow then!”
Donitz stood up and walked around the desk as Hechler stood to leave. As he pulled Hechler close, he murmured, “Don’t let me down, Dieter. I had to fight for you in Berlin. Do me proud!”
I wanted to make the story more original, a what-if scenario if you like. Next installment coming soon.
09-28-2006, 06:51 PM
Make sure he goes dwon with guns blaze'n...
No Iron coffin for this submariner:up:
09-29-2006, 04:56 AM
Sure hope he's a good swimmer...:hmm:
09-29-2006, 01:12 PM
Well, here's the next installment, and the next few are planned and almost ready to go.
There was little moving in the harbour this early in the morning. All that disturbed the still water was the turbulent wake diverging from a small fishing dory as it motored out of the harbour in the pre-dawn darkness. The boat wasn’t large, small even for these enclosed waters, and the only modern equipment was the twin navigation lights by the side of the wheelhouse. The darkness served one purpose, the sole occupant grinned to himself; at least it hid the peeling paintwork and rotten wood.
The sound from the small engine soon faded once the breakwater shielded the sound from the docks. A guard boat showed little interest as the vessel drew near and passed beyond them and out to sea. If anyone had been watching, they would have seen the dory motor on offshore and soon fade into the darkness. The dory continued eastwards as dawn grew closer and abruptly switched off the engine and drifted. The fisherman moved around the boat casting out lines and nets in preparation for the morning’s catch. There was mist covering the water, fading here and there into small clearings where 200 metres away it hung close to the water again, heavy and foreboding.
In a few days it would be July, but in the Baltic the air was cold, even though it was approaching summer. In winter it would be far worse, ice extending southwards, the frosty Russian winter extending its arms from the Gulf of Finland and freezing the still, enclosed waters.
The fisherman shivered slightly, and rubbed his hands together as he stamped his feet on the wooden decks, careful to avoid the rotting ones. This was his livelihood, and little mattered to him outside of the small hull. His wife had died a few years back, an accident on an iced over lake. She had fallen through the ice, and although she had been rescued within minutes, it was already too late. His sons were fighting for the Motherland, the Rodina, but that was all the man knew. He didn’t care about the outcome of the war, he would remain doing what he had always done, fishing in the Gulf of Finland by summer, and then struggling through the winter.
The boat rocked violently as a larger than normal wave hit the boat, and the fisherman had to grab hold of the wheelhouse. This caused him to look out over the starboard quarter, mist rising and twirling in wraith-like tendrils adding an eerie feel to the cold morning. Seagulls were wheeling, and suddenly a great shape appeared in the mist, a high, raked bow swept through the vapour, cleaving aside the swell with a contemptuous thrust. Although the three propellers were running at reduced speed she moved quickly past the fishing dory, a fine foaming trail leaving her stem as spray kicked up against the camouflaged paintwork. As she thrust across the grey water her size and strength were revealed, and her four twin turrets and towering bridge did little to spoil her graceful lines. She was a heavy cruiser, one of the most powerful afloat, yet she retained the dash and grace of a destroyer.
As she crossed the clearing, sunlight shone down on her upper works, making them gleam like molten glass, her flag rippling aft from the mast gave to only spot of colour to her grey bulk. The solitary patch of scarlet with its black cross and swastika betrayed her identity to all. Before the mist closed in again, her secondary armament suddenly came to life, the slender muzzles in separate mounting leaped as they trained and lifted to search out an enemy. For most of the night they had been closed up at action stations as the cruiser had closed inshore, all 950 or so officers and men were scattered through her armoured hull, all awaiting the clamour of battle.
At the rear of the open bridge, in the small sea cabin, Kapitän zur See Dieter Hechler spent a few more moments alone. This was a palace compared to the cabin he had held in his last command, the Type VIIB U-boat U-32. There his cabin had been little more than a bunk and a curtain, but it was the only area with any privacy in the submarine at all. Hechler smiled as he remembered his reaction on entering his other cabin, the spacious quarters down below that he now only used in harbour. He felt they were too far from the bridge, and he was accustomed to being on the bridge almost immediately after some emergency was declared. Hechler had been in command of the ship for five months, and had been honoured to be given the command, one of the remaining crack cruisers of the Kriegsmarine.
In a few moments, the red handset above his bunk would ring loudly as Viktor Suhren, his second-in-command, called him to the bridge. He sat back in the chair by his desk, staring unseeingly at the chart in front of him as he contemplated the day’s events. When he walked onto the bridge he would need to know everything, and be ready to answer any question, even the most stupid one, for Hechler knew that a man rebuked for asking a question he should know the answer to would be afraid to ask one when it was needed most.
His jacket hung on a hook near his bunk, with his cap perched above it. He wore his old fisherman’s sweater over the top of his shirt, and an extra pair of flannel trousers under his uniform ones. The sweater brought his mind back to the U-boat days, the days when Hechler had commanded a crack German U-boat in the Atlantic. He still wore it now, for it kept him warm in the harsh northern climate, Prinz Luitpold’s home for the last few years.
It had been a shock for Hechler when he had been given command of the Prinz Luitpold. He had been working for Admiral Donitz on the BdU staff before Donitz himself had given him this appointment. Hechler had been even more awed when he had assumed command. The ship was nothing like the warm intimacy of a U-boat. She was a large, powerful vessel, with a large crew of just under a thousand men, and Hechler had once again needed his self control not to betray himself through his facial expression.
Last month he had assembled the whole crew aft beneath the muzzles of the twin 8 inch guns of Turret Dora and told them news of the Allied invasion of Normandy. Most of Prinz Luitpold’s company had become detached from the other theatres of war, and their war was here, in the Baltic or Arctic. Normandy had changed that, it all became real to them. Normandy may be a long way from Berlin, but it was still a stab in the back for some of them. Official news broadcasts had been optimistic, saying that the Allies would soon be crushed and pushed back to the sea, Dunkirk all over again, but Hechler wasn’t fooled. He thought of his U-boat comrades evacuating the Biscay harbours and moving operations to Norway.
The deck shuddered and Hechler was brought out of his thoughts, suddenly alert. He looked down at the familiar coastline on the chart. So much ahd changed over the last few months. Safe anchorages had been lost, and lay in enemy hands as the Russian army kept up the pressure as an entire German army was in danger of being cut off from retreat. Hechler smiled as he thought of the official term, Strategic withdrawal. He ran his eyes along the coastline. It was always a risk, and had been since the Napoleonic days. Ships sited against shore batteries were always dangerous, and those ashore always saw the overall strategy, and scarcely thought of the risk to the ships tasked with attacking the batteries. Hechler thought they would have learned from the Blücher’s loss against Norwegian shore instalments, but they didn’t show any inclination to. It was a task which Prinz Luitpold had carried out many times in the last few months. Shelling the enemy to make up for a general’s tactical errors. Hardly the sort of thing she had been designed for, Hechler though wryly.
Hechler looked up at the shivering photograph of the ship. It seemed to come alive in its frame as the vibrations amplified through the ship. Prinz Luitpold was a lucky ship, and always had been. Bombardments, fierce air attacks or fighting gun-for-gun with the British cruisers off North Cape she had never been damaged severly, and had only lost a few men killed. Prinz Luitpold was a Hipper class cruiser, and she was the sister ship to the Prinz Eugen, Admiral Hipper and the Blücher, being launched shortly after Blücher’s end. She was powerful, fourteen thousand tons with the firepower to pound ships that were faster or equal size into submission with her 8 8-inch guns, the three Arado float-planes to act as Hechler’s eyes beyond the range of the powerful, state-of-the-art radar that was mounted above the Fire Control station near the top of the superstructure.
The red handset buzzed above his bed. Hechler smiled and lifted it. It was Suhren, as Hechler knew it would be. A dependable man, he had been with the ship since she was commissioned in Hamburg, he had served under the one other captain before Hechler.
“Five minutes until change of course, sir.”
Hechler replied, “Very well, Viktor. I’ll be up in a minute.”
Hechler stood and slipped into his jacket before placing his cap over his unruly, dark hair. On his way out of the cabin he picked up the heavy binoculars before walking out of the cabin and up the ladder to the bridge, pausing in the shadows to become accustomed to the light.
Fregattenkapitän Viktor Suhren, the Prinz Luitpold’s second-in-command stood on the forepart of the bridge, his feet wide apart so as to feel the ship’s motion as she climbed and fell beneath him. The deck had been scrubbed, and glistened in the morning light as spray occasionally lifted over the glass screen. He analysed the captain’s voice on the phone. Calm, assured. Nothing like the previous captain who had cracked up when the ship had been under continuous air attack for three whole days. Suhren had taken command and got the ship back to Kiel. He felt the old hurt like a physical pain. He had dared to hope that he would be promoted, and given Prinz Luitpold. He knew he deserved it, yet instead, Hechler had stepped aboard to the trill of pipes and proud salutes. He was a hero of the Reich, they said, and he had proved his worth countless times after that, yet he was still several years Suhren’s junior.
Suhren thought of his fellow officers, holed away in the armoured superstructure above the bridge, in the conning tower and fire-control stations, all were waiting for the calm to shatter. He looked over to the youngest officer on the bridge, Leutnant zur See Ulrich Heyse. A fresh faced youngster of nineteen, he would be perfect ona recruiting poster. He had a pleasant manner and the confidence of one used to authority. His father must have had influence, Suhren thought, or Heyse would have been a junior officer in a U-boat instead of serving in this thoroughbred.
He heard the steel gate at the rear of the bridge open and noted the way the captain came onto the bridge and casually touched his cap to the bridge party at large. Suhren faced him and suddenly remembered how he had resented and hated this man.
Heyse watched from beside the compass platform as the two senior officers as stood together. A complete contrast. The captain, tall, powerful yet with a calm unruffled tone. Suhren, stocky with short fair hair and a vicious temper if anything slipped below his high standards. He decided that he much preferred the captain. He would write home and tell him after the engagement today.
Hechler could feel the younger officer’s scrutiny, but ignored it and looked at the chart underneath the canvas hood, put in place to shield the light from enemy eyes. The pencil marks were all up to date, he thought. Suhren joined him by the chart and remarked, “The shore batteries are there sir. Our main armament is alerted and ready.”
Hechler paused as the noise of scraping steel told the officers that the catapult was being readied to launch one of the Arados off the ship. Each had a crew of two, and besides the normal cannon and machine guns, today they would carry two heavy bombs.
“They must be at the railway station. We are ordered to destroy it before Ivan can bring his supplies through there.” He walked to the front of the bridge and imagined his men scattered through the hull, sitting or crouching as some would be able to see the sea, whilst others would be shut away in turrets waiting to feed the big 8-inch guns, or shut away in the noisy engine room, carefully watching the dials. Suhren appeared beside him. “Time, sir” he said quietly. Hechler nodded, and turned back to the bridge party. “Alter course. Full ahead all engines.” His controlled expression fell away for a moment as he added softly, “Another time, Viktor, but the same enemy.” Fifteen minutes later the ship surged away from the dying mist and greeted the first weak rays of sunlight like an enraged tiger. The four main turrets swung soundlessly onto the prescribed bearing as all eight guns opened fire.
09-29-2006, 04:04 PM
There is nothing much to say, but WOW!!!
Well I must say what already said before. Write a book man! I'm sure that if every single U-boat story writer on this Forums came together and write, it would make a best-seller (at least among the sub community) :up:
10-01-2006, 10:27 AM
Here we go. Next installment finished :D
“Alter course, steer two-three-zero.” Hechler stood impassive as he felt the ship respond instantly, the deck leaning over as the ship turned gracefully, allowing the rear guns to engage. The front two turrets were shifting across now, moving slightly to compensate for the cruiser’s turn. As Hechler watched, they erupted with large gouts of flame and the warm, dry air of the recoil washed across the bridge as if they themselves had been hit. Hechler raised his binoculars once more as he gazed at the shore, seeing the smoke rising from the railway station, and, even as he watched the flashes and bursts of smoke as the latest shells impacted on the town, exploding in a lethal firestorm of small metal splinters. Hechler noted the sharp flashes of tracer fire as the infantry pressed forward to take advantage of the Prinz Luitpold’s heavy bombardment.
Shell bursts marked the sky where the ship’s three Arado floatplanes were waving and diving over the station, waiting for an opening to unleash their bombs on the station. One thing was for certain, they were having a hard time of it up there. Useful for the Prinz Luitpold to scout out the enemy, they were by no means good ground attack aircraft, and it showed, one Arado busting into a large explosion even as it released its bombs over the station. Two large explosions threw up rubble and dust as the plane wreckage added to the carnage.
Hechler looked across at Josef Clausen, the navigation officer, his massive bulk encased in a large oilskin. He was closely marking positions on the chart, and Hechler knew his figures could be trusted absolutely, and his knowledge of the weather and dislike for modern navigation equipment legendary through the ship. He had been a merchant seaman before the war, serving in the timber ships that plied the Baltic regularly. He knew these waters better than anybody, and was carefully watching the progress of the bombardment from the rear of the bridge. His hidden talent was sketching, and his clear, delicate marks on the chart were reflected in his drawing style. He was well liked on board, and his dry wit a necessity to guard against the depression of war.
Hechler felt the ship shudder as all four turrets fired as one, a massive gout of flame erupting over the station a few seconds later. Suhren, who had a headset jammed under his cap, shouted suddenly, “The railway station sir! It’s destroyed!” Hechler nodded as two seamen exchanged grins, relieved or jubilant Hechler couldn’t tell. Hechler thought of Kroll, the gunnery officer and was pleased of his ruthless quest for efficiency now. He was lean, hard mouthed, and frequently shouted at his officers and men when they didn’t perform as he wanted them to. His frequent and intensive gun practices bore fruit now, as the guns fired quickly and accurately towards the shore, making the ship a legendary example to others.
“Aircraft sir! Bearing red one-one-zero! Angle of sight thirty degrees.”
Hechler watched the secondary armament swing round and the muzzles rise into the air before they fired rapidly at the two small specks in the sky approaching the ship. The anti-aircraft guns and then the lighter automatic weapons crackled into life as the planes flew closer, sunlight reflecting sharply on their metal fuselages and glass cockpits. Dark shell bursts pockmarked the sky around them, and it was hard to believe that anything could survive in the lethal barrage. Hechler heard the main armament fire again towards the shore; he had lost count of the number of times they had fired this morning. One of the escorting destroyers was turning in a sharp welter of foam as she closed protectively on the cruiser, her own guns rapidly joining the din.
“Alter course. Steer due west.” Hechler let his glasses drop to his chest as Clausen passed his orders on through the voicepipes at the rear of the bridge.
“Two-seven-zero, sir.” The rest of his words were drowned out by the throaty roar of aero engines, and the increasing bang and clatter of gunfire as the enemy planes flashed over the water. Hechler did not see what happened, but the next moment there was a massive flash and explosive roar just aft of the funnel on the nearest destroyer. Massive gouts of flame spread along her decks as she wheeled about in a sharp turn, fragments bursting into the air as she broke up. Distance hid the sound of her destruction yet the destruction was clear for anybody to see. Hechler watched grimly as another large explosion echoed over the water as she started to break up.
Clausen muttered thickly, “God, she’s going!” The two halves of the ship slowly sunk beneath the waves even as more Russian aircraft tore up the water with cannon and machine gun fire, killing the few survivors as the lay floundering in the water. The aircraft were weaving away trailing smoke as the air around them filled with smoke and shell bursts.
“Signal from escort, sir! Request permission to pick up survivors.” Hechler looked at Heyse, seeing the young officer’s eyes wide in pain as he thought of the men out there, floundering in the icy seas. The destroyer captain was an experienced man, Hechler thought. He should know better, even if the other captain had been his best friend. Hechler knew that it could just have easily been his ship, feeling her shudder once more as the twin after turrets fired at the shore again. Hechler felt the pain just as much as young Heyse, but his self control meant that he could hide his feelings, and detach himself from the pain of battle. He heard himself reply flatly, “Denied. Discontinue action.”
Hechler felt the deck heel over once again as Prinz Luitpold swung round to her new course away from the shore. He walked out across the bridge, cartridge shells from the machine guns crunching under his feet as he moved over the heavy steel plating. Hechler raised his glasses towards the shore once again, seeing the smoke and flames from the station area. He hoped that their limited bombardment had given the army the breathing space it needed to successfully advance, retake the ground they had lost. Hechler didn’t want to contemplate what news of another retreat would do to the blood pressure in Berlin. He looked again; the shore was already much further away as the cruiser strove to distance herself from shore, and the vulnerability that came with it.
They had lost one Arado. Two absent faces from the mess tables, telegrams sent to waiting families, and Hechler would also send letters to the families, once the Prinz Luitpold was safely in harbour once again. Hechler found that he was dismayed to realize that he couldn’t remember the names of the dead airmen; so different from the intimate lifestyle on board a U-boat. Two enemy planes shot down or damaged – a fine price to pay for a destroyer, Hechler thought bitterly, longing for the open Atlantic again. He turned and rested his hands on the rail, feeling the ship tremble beneath him, like some great beast waiting to be unleashed again. So many shells had been fired to little effect, but no man had been killed onboard Prinz Luitpold, save for the two airman when their Arado had been destroyed. They would pick the other two planes up when it was safe to stop again.
A messenger scrambled onto the bridge, wide-eyed and anxious at being outside the armoured shell where he had stayed whilst the ship was in action. Suhren took the signal-pad from him and after a quick glance turned to look at Hechler. “Priority Two, sir. Make for Vejle, to await new orders.” Hechler nodded, then removed his cap, and ran one hand through his hair. Hechler turned, suddenly frustrated and bitter about the way they were fighting. Ineffectual attacks against the shore, acting like some clumsy executioner, not fighting in the Atlantic as her sister ships had once done. He wanted to smile, grin even, but knew that once he started he would never stop. A helpless madness that always followed after a risk. He realized that Suhren was still looking at him, his features impassive.
The signal was brief, but it was all Hechler had been waiting for. Had Donitz managed to convince the Führer to finally allow the operation to go ahead?
“Perhaps we shall be given bigger game to hunt, Viktor.” He looked searchingly at him, and saw the man flinch slightly at the scrutiny. “Unless some politician has thought of some other wild escapade for us.”
Suhren dropped his voice, “I am a sailor, not a man of politics, sir.”
Hechler touched his arm as he saw Heyse relax as he watched them. “Sometimes we must be both!” He smiled, his teeth bright against the dark surroundings, feeling reckless after the battle. “This ship is a legend; she cannot remain one while she sniffs after fragment left by the army.”
“Normandy, do you think, sir?”
Hechler walked briskly to the railings again, watching as the remaining destroyer zigzagged rapidly in front of them, sniffing for a Russian U-boat lurking in the cold waters. He pictured Suhren’s question as he thought of the Prinz Luitpold charging through the invasion fleets, guns firing at the supply vessels and landing craft. A proud but short lived gesture, he thought. Hechler nodded as he watched the forward guns being trained forward once again. Nobody would forget his Prinz Luitpold.
Hechler sat by the desk in his large day-cabin. The room was huge by Hechler’s standards, and as he sat looking through intelligence reports, he thought back to his U-boat days, where a cabin such as this was an impossible dream, the privacy each man craved after a month on patrol.
The ship was at peace now, anchored in Vejle harbour, in Denmark. The fjord wasn’t as spectacular as those in Norway, but still had a certain, unique charm, just like the small town across the water from where Prinz Luitpold was anchored. Hechler found it hard to believe that the ship had seen action just two days ago, and two of their own had died, vaporized as their Arado float-plane had exploded around them. All the signs of battle were gone now; the ship cleaned up by numerous workparties as they prepared for the new arrival.
He heard a tap on the door as Viktor Suhren entered the cabin. Hechler looked across to his Petty officer clerk, currently finishing off the letters Hechler would send to the families of the dead airmen. He wondered if they ever helped, but pushing the thought away, said, “That will do, Merkel. Finish them off then pass them along for signing.” As the seaman left the room, Hechler looked across at Suhren. The second-in-command removed his cap as he entered the cabin.
“Take a seat, Viktor. The admiral won’t be arriving for some time yet.”
“The upper decks have all been washed down, sir, and the boats are being repainted. The admiral won’t find fault in the ship’s appearance sir.”
So that was it. The defensive, bitter reply as if the ship was Suhren’s sole responsibility. Hechler stood up and passed the signal pad to Suhren. “Read those, you may find them interesting.”
As Hechler turned away to put his best uniform coat on, he watched as Suhren read the reports. There seemed to be a news blanket on Normandy, with no real news being delivered. The only thing they could be positive about was that the Allies hadn’t been pushed into the sea. The war was going badly on all fronts now, with little sign of change.
“Will there be any leave, sir?” Suhren asked suddenly. “Not for me, you understand, but for the ship’s company.”
“We all need a break, Viktor. I’d imagine there will be leave, but we won’t know for sure until the admiral steps onboard.
Hechler thought of the admiral. A round face with cheerful eyes, he was one of Hitler’s shining lights. He had served with Hechler in a cruiser as cadets before the war, a year or two older than Hechler, yet he was already a rear-admiral. He wondered how that would have changed him.
Later on, Hechler left the cabin and walked along the upper deck, his eyes on the turbulent water, but missing nothing as his men moved around him. They respected him, he had brought them back safely, and that was enough. A gleaming launch with a rear-admiral’s pendant moved swiftly off from the shore, watching as his men formed into lines next to the accommodation ladder, smart in the blue uniforms with Suhren grim and unsmiling at their head. Hechler stood at the top of the ladder, his sword feeling uncomfortable; he was unused to its weight. Hechler saw the launch disappear underneath the rail, and then saw the top of the ladder move as the launch stopped alongside. The trembling continued as the admiral climbed up the ladder, and then the squeal of pipes as he stepped onto the deck as Hechler moved over to greet him.
Konteradmiral Andreas Leitner sat back in his chair with a grin as he regarded the glass in his hand. It was expensive French champagne, one from numerous cases that the admiral had brought aboard with him. “Good, eh? I find it hard to believe that the French are the only people who can make this stuff!”
Hechler tried to relax. Leitner was exactly as he remembered him, youthful, confident and so buoyant Hechler doubted the Prinz Luitpold could be sunk with him on board. He had come aboard jauntily and offered a stiff Nazi salute to the assembled company. It had seemed an act, theatrical, but Hechler knew that Leitner was a strong party member. He hadn’t mentioned their orders yet, he was taking his time, and in that respect he hadn’t changed a bit. As Pirk, Hechler’s personal steward moved away after pouring the wine, Lietner remarked, “You have a fine ship, Dieter. I am quite jealous the way you are spoken of in the High Command!” he regarded Hechler carefully, “I shall hoist my flag aboard soon, a private ship no longer, how does that strike you, my friend?”
“I am honoured, sir.”
“You are not! I’ve known you long enough to accept that. It does not matter though, you are the right captain. We shall do well together.”
“Are we going back into the Gulf, sir, more attacks against the Russians?”
Leitner became serious. “I cannot discuss it yet. You and your ship have performed wonders, given us something to cheer about amidst the defeats, given pride where it was lacking.” He wagged the empty glass at him, and added “I have often thought of the old days, Dieter. Those young and carefree days before the war.” He suddenly changed direction, “Your parents, are they well?
Hechler replied, “They are managing.”
Leitner stood up, “I must take my leave, Dieter. I will return to my headquarters in the town. Tomorrow we must fly down to Kiel to speak with Admiral Willentrop, whom Donitz has placed in charge of our mission.” He grinned, seeing the interest in Hechler’s eyes. “You will know all about our mission tomorrow, Dieter. For now see that everything is ready. The hands may be given 7 days leave. But you must be ready to sail after that.”
As he moved towards the door, he suddenly turned, and remarked, “I was sorry to hear about your marriage, Dieter.”
It was as if Leitner had been reading his thoughts. Like a single bullet. “It was a mistake.”
“I can tell by your tone that you blame yourself. I doubt that you have cause to, Dieter. An idealist, yes. A bad husband, I think not.” He paused again. “My gear will be sent aboard this afternoon, I know you have quarters for flag officers, so see that they are prepared for me.”
Leitner walked briskly from the cabin, and Hechler frowned after realizing he had consumed several glasses of champagne in the 2 hours he and Leitner had talked. It was hard not to when Leitner got into his swing, he thought. Hechler decided to take a walk around the upper deck, his thoughts consumed by what the morning would bring.
The building at Kiel was exactly as he had remembered it. The flight down with Leitner had been a drag, and Hechler was glad it was over. Nobody should be allowed to be that chipper early in the morning, flag officer or not.
The drive from the aerodrome had been in silence, however, as both officers had watched the bomb damage and destruction passing the windows. Leitner would be going straight in to talk with Willentrop, but Hechler was first to see the U-boat commander who would be running the underwater side of things. Hechler wondered who it would be. Leitner paused by the large doors.
“Here I leave you Dieter. Speak with the U-boat commander inside, and when the admiral and I are finished, you will both be told the whole extent of our plans. Go on Dieter!” He said with a wicked grin on his face, “I’m sure you have much to talk about.”
Hechler, bemused pulled open the doors to reveal a small room with a couple of soft chairs and a fireplace. There was no fire in it today. The walls were richly decorated in red hangings, and there was no sign of any Nazi propaganda. The room could have been from the Kaiser’s Navy. But Hechler saw none of this. He only saw the officer staring back at him with the biggest grin Hechler had ever seen. Korvettenkapitän Dietrich Rahn.
Hope it's still as good as the previous installments.
10-01-2006, 11:54 AM
Hope it's still as good as the previous installments.
It sure is...no doubt about that my friend :rock:
10-01-2006, 03:30 PM
Hope it's still as good as the previous installments.
It sure is...no doubt about that my friend :rock:
There is apsolutely no doupt that you are getting better.
When I read that the admiralhad a big smile, I thought it's either Donitz (not very likely) or his ex first oficer inside. And was was right!
Man, I wish I could write like you do! I never seem to get the finer details in my story writting. I have the idea, but writing and thinking are two completely different things!
Well, enought with my problems!
Cheers mate, excellent job and keep it up!
:rock::rock::rock: :arrgh!::arrgh!::arrgh!: :sunny::sunny::sunny:
Damn, you have a gift. Keep it up! We're all eagerly awaiting the next installment.
PS: How old is Hechler really? Because in the first chapter (1940) you says he's 25, but then in 1943 you say he's 34... How can that be? Which one is correct?
10-02-2006, 10:11 AM
Yeah, that was one mistake I knew about :oops:
I was wondering if anyone would pick it up. Anyway, Dieter Hechler is 34 in 1944, born in 1910, as stated in the later chapter, not the earlier chapter. This makes him a bit old as a U-boat commander, but makes it more realistic for being Captain of a Hipper class cruiser, (although 34 is still pretty young to be commanding a ship like that).
Glad to here that you're liking the story, the next installment is being written, and will hopefully be uploaded soon :D thanks so much for your comments, I really appreciate them (at least I know I'm not making a tit of myself :p)
Okay, it all makes sense now, thanks. :up:
10-02-2006, 02:54 PM
The walls were richly decorated in red hangings, and there was no sign of any Nazi propaganda. The room could have been from the Kaiser’s Navy. But Hechler saw none of this. He only saw the officer staring back at him with the biggest grin Hechler had ever seen. Korvettenkapitän Dietrich Rahn.
Hechler stared at the younger officer for a moment before moving quickly across the room and resting his hands on Rahn’s shoulders.
“Dietrich, it’s so good to see you again! How have you been, my friend?”
“Good, sir. I’m sti..” He paused as Hechler interrupted him.
“We’re men in here, Dietrich. Friends. Forget the rank for the moment, eh?” Hechler smiled at Rahn, and the younger man smiled back as they sat down in the soft chairs. A young sailor brought some drinks in, and just as quickly left again. Once the man left, Hechler motioned for him to continue.
“I’m still in command of an operational boat, still U-32 as a matter of fact, Dieter. She’s changed so much since you were in command – completely new fittings, sonar, radar, so much different to when you were in command. New faces as well. Not many from 1940 now, Dieter.”
“She’s in good hands, anyway, Dietrich. I know that the U-boat war is completely different to when I was in command, the losses tell their own story.”
“Exactly, Dieter. We’re lucky if we can sink a couple of scows now on each patrol. The Allies are no fools. Every time we set out it’s harder and harder to get back, and tougher and tougher to evade once we get caught. The wolfpacks aren’t working anymore, Dieter. They can leave a couple of escorts to kill the U-boat whilst the rest of the convoy is still well protected. It’s getting suicidal to attack the more valuable convoys now.”
“Hmm, I know what you mean, Dietrich. Stay safe, eh? Even if it’s just for Eva’s sake. You wouldn’t want her to grow up without a husband.”
“No Dieter. Eva’s pregnant now as well. a little girl we think.”
The broad grin across Rahn’s face told its own story, and Hechler couldn’t help but grin as well.
“Congratulations Dietrich! That’s wonderful news, my friend!”
“Yes, Dieter, I’m so pleased. I’ve never seen Eva this happy. I can’t wait for her to be born either.”
They were silent for a moment, both thinking about Eva. Then Rahn looked up at Hechler.
“I was sorry to hear about your marriage, Dieter” he said softly.
Hechler looked away, “It was a mistake, Dietrich. When I look back now, I believe I ever thought it would work.”
“You are blaming yourself, Dieter. You are a good man, definitely not a bad husband. Inger...” He paused, suddenly unsure to go on. He looked down at his glass for a moment before beginning again. “Inger was not the woman for you, Dieter. She had us all fooled, I can tell you. She was at many parties in France, each time with a different escort.”
Hechler grunted in response then looked away. He remembered back to the time he had first seen her when she had taken his heart. She was from one of the old families; the sort senior naval officers looked to marry into in Nazi Germany. He thought back to when he had been recovering at home, after his injury, and she had come home in the arms of an Artillery Major, and another man with a girl almost passed out from drink. He couldn’t remember how they had made up, but looking back now, he must have been mad. She was very involved with party activities, and had constantly urged Hechler to support the party more. Hechler hadn’t the heart to tell her that he wanted as little to do with the Party as possible. The meetings always seemed to leave an unpleasant taste in his mouth. He pushed the bitter thoughts away and looked back at Rahn.
“Thank you for telling me, Dietrich. Let’s talk about something else, eh?”
He had just started to ask Rahn about his thoughts for the coming operation when an orderly opened the door and announced that the Admiral would see them now. Hechler and Rahn both stood, walking briskly along the corridor before entering a room with a large desk to one side. The walls were covered with huge map boards covering all the European theatres of the war and the Atlantic. Red pin marks dotted the map, showing where the major units were stationed. Hechler swallowed when he saw the name Prinz Luitpold on one of them. The he frowned slightly as he looked at where the red flags denoted the various army units.
“You have seen something, Captain?”
Hechler hesitated. “The Twenty-First Division, sir. It is still shown on the Baltic coast.”
“Well?” Not a flicker of emotion, although Hechler could feel Leitner’s irritation and Rahn’s curiosity behind his back.
“It no longer exists. It was decimated a few days ago.” The admiral’s silence was like an unspoken doubt and Hechler added, “I was there, sir.”
Leitner said, “I expect it has regrouped…”
The admiral clasped his hands behind his back. “I am glad you show interest as well as intelligence, Captain.”
Admiral Manfred Willentrop was an impressive figure. He was a large man, at least 6ft 2, and years of office duty had increased his bulk as well, yet he stood straight-backed in the middle of the map room. His heavy jowled face was trimmed with a thin white beard and moustache, and he wore his full uniform coat, having just arrived from a meeting with Donitz. He was a man of aristocratic background, something normally frowned upon in Hitler’s new Germany, but Willentrop had prospered thanks to his grasp of strategy and naval operations which were second to none. He had climbed the naval ladder over the years, and his position was now second only to Donitz. He spoke in slow, thick tones, and had an unruffled manner.
Willentrop walked round behind the desk and sank gratefully into the large chair. He began again, “The Allies are pouring everything into Normandy, even as we speak, there are convoys carrying more men and equipment across from England. We have no way of stopping this continual convoy. The Channel is defended far too well for U-boat attacks, and the RAF has control of the air, despite of what the esteemed Goering tells us. There are not everlasting supplies of men or equipment in Britain, and over the next few months there will be several vital convoys passing from the Australia, New Zealand and India with men, and also across from America. These will all require heavy escorts. Our Intelligence reports are excellent. The British intend to do something they have never attempted before and have two convoys in Northern waters at the same time. A loaded convoy routed for the Russians at Murmansk, and an empty one on the reverse route to Iceland. The Normandy campaign has made the Royal Navy very short of escorts, and this is the only reason.”
Hechler could see it in his mind. The convoys drawing ever further north towards Bear Island to avoid attack from the air and the U-boats in the endless daylight. It had been a murderous battleground for both sides. This was where the Scharnhorst had been lost. It was all Hechler could have expected. An attack on the two convoys whilst the Allies were deployed in strength on the South coast. If they destroyed one or both of the convoys it might give the army the breathing space they needed. Even as he considered it, Hechler felt a lingering doubt. The probing red arrows in Normandy showing the British and American advance made such an operation an attempt only to prolong the inevitable.
Willentrop said softly, “You look troubled, Captain.”
Hechler faced him. “I think it can be done, sir. My ship…”
“Your ship, Captain, is possibly the most powerful of her kind afloat, and one of only half a dozen major units left in the fleet.” He glanced at the map. “Others are supporting our troops in the Baltic, as you will know better than most, and others are marooned on the Biscay coast whilst more still are badly damaged by air attacks. You will have 7 days leave for your crew in Vejle, and then sail without delay for Bodǿ where you will remain in the fjord there in company with another cruiser. At the right moment you will leave Bodǿ and seek out one of the convoys as directed by OKM.” His eyes never left Hechlers. “And then, Captain, you will take full advantage of the disruption caused and take your ship into the Atlantic.”
For an instant Hechler thought he had misheard or the admiral was about to add something.
“Once there, you will work in co-operation with a U-boat wolfpack commanded byKorvettenkapitän Dietrich Rahn. You will attack convoys as directed by OKM, where you will seek to destroy the anti-submarine escorts first so as to allow the U-boats to attack unopposed. We must stop these vital supplies, and this is the only way.”
The Atlantic. A ship like the Prinz Luitpold could wreak havoc in the sea-lanes before being run to ground. A final, brave gesture as the war reached its culmination.
Willentrop said, “You do not question it?” he nodded slowly, his moustache quivering. “That is good. I would not like to give the ship another captain at this stage.”
Leitner exclaimed, “It is a perfect plan, Dieter!” he could hardly contain his excitement. “A tiger at large, with all the chain of supplies to make it possible!”
Willentrop frowned deeply, his face crinkling in displeasure. “Later.” He looked at Hechler. “Surprise will be total. It will show the world what we can do.” He gripped Hechler’s hand suddenly, his palms tight about Hechler’s. “You will do it for Germany!”
A door opened behind them and Hechler knew that the interview was at an end. The news was so swift, so impossible that Hechler could barely think of it as a feasible plan, but at the same time it was a blessing, a final release from the endless bombardment on the Baltic coast, the lack of sea-room, the air attacks. Hechler was delighted by then news, it was all he had been hoping for, yet at the same time it was such a shock that he was a little dazed and overwhelmed.
Willentrop folded his arms sharply. “Nothing will be said beyond these walls. Only Donitz and the Führer know, and they will let nothing stand in your way.”
Outside the room, Leitner pulled Hechler aside. “Return to your ship. I will fly up to Bodǿ and join you in ten days.” He shrugged. “After that, who knows?”
As he walked off, Hechler shared a grin with Rahn. Action at last. They were driven to the airfield together, both in a comfortable silence as each man contemplated the task ahead of him. Rahn would be flying immediately up to Bergen to set sail with the wolfpack, whilst Hechler would endure the short flight back to Vejle where he would allow some of the hands to go on leave and prepare the ship for war.
Hechler leaned back and though of the mission again. The Atlantic. The vast Western Ocean. The killing ground, where every ship would be an enemy. Leitner’s words stuck in his mind. A tiger at large. He touched the peak of his cap to a saluting sentry and walked out to the smoke-shrouded runway.
The waiting was over.
On returning to the ship, Hechler had informed the hands of the seven days leave. It was greeted with mixed feelings. Only married men were allowed home, and the rest of the ship’s company were restricted to local leave in Denmark, with no sleeping out passes below the rank of Petty Officer. The lucky ones returning home would have their precious time pared away by the time necessary to reach home on the bomb damaged and delayed German railways. The men had lined up in the bright sunlight, several grinning at each other as Viktor Suhren had informed them of the dangers of careless talk and the damage it would do to morale.
Suhren had left the ship himself once the men had departed. His home was close to Denmark, in northern Germany, so he only had a short distance to travel. He sat in the crowded compartment, almost totally filled with servicemen, as the train rocked over the tracks. The train crossed the frontier at a leisurely pace, and Suhren was able to watch as the green countryside with its lakes and small villages pass by the window. It was a beautiful part of the country; at least it should have been to Suhren.
He thought of the house on the town’s outskirts, the perfect retreat for a naval officer returning on leave. He shared the house with his wife, Britta. She was Danish and marriages across the border had been very common before the war. He was well known there, respected even, especially since his appointment to the Prinz Luitpold.
When the German army had invaded her country, Britta had tried to discover what had happened to her parents. They lived in Esbjerg, and managed a local newspaper. It had begun with letters and telephone calls, none of which had been returned. In despair, Britta had asked Suhren to make enquiries but he had been met by a stone wall of silence from the security forces. Eventually, a policeman had turned up on the doorstep. He was fairly senior, and was eager to be friendly and understanding. “Your wife probably does not understand the need for security in these matters…” When Suhren had persisted, the policeman had said, “You are a well-respected officer, a fine career ahead of you. Why spoil things, eh?”
When he had talked to Britta, tried to explain that her father may have been involved in some political trouble, and was being held for a while until things had settle down. It had been the first time he could remember her turning on him. She had shouted, “Settle down! Is that what you would call it if the Tommies came here and started locking people up, for wanting their freedom, their own country back?” That leave had ended badly, and Suhren had returned to the ship before the action that would see the captain crack under the strain. By all rights he should have been promoted and given command. If not the Prinz Luitpold then another ship of similar size. Instead, Hechler came.
Then Suhren had received a message from a friend. He had sounded frightened, and Suhren had quickly returned home to find that Britta had gone to her parents’ home alone, despite the strict travel restrictions. She had managed to reach the port of Esbjerg. When Suhren had finally confronted her she had been close to breakdown, angry and weeping in alternate bursts. Suhren had been shocked by her appearance, the bruises where the military police had dragged her from the house where she had been born. When he had tried to reason with her, she had shouted shrilly, “Don’t you see? They’ve killed my mum and dad! Don’t you care what those bastards have done?!”
The doctor, an old friend had arrived and given her something, and Suhren had joined him over a strong drink once she had gone to sleep. She had let herself go after that. Suhren had always regretted not having children, but the last time he had spoken to Britta about it, she had replied, “A baby? What would you do, give it a black uniform and rubber truncheon to play with?” That leave had also ended badly, and Suhren had been shocked with how much she had changed.
He was walking though the town again, the familiar sights greeting him after the train journey. He nodded at a few passers by, wondering what they were thinking. The navy officer, home again. He was sure that this leave would end up alright. He needed it to, what with the admiral arriving onboard. It meant the ship would be singled out for some mission or other, a chance for Suhren to finally show his mettle, and enjoy some success for a change. He thought of the food lying in the heavy case he was carrying by his side, it would put a smile on Britta’s face. He had written several letters since the last leave, although Britta had only replied to one of them, he wasn’t concerned; Britta had never been much of a letter writer. He walked further down the road and was soon outside his home. He noted that the garden had fallen into neglect, with dry, dead flowers fallen over the drive. That as not like Britta, he thought. As he fumbled for his keys, he thought about the leave. They would have there or four days together before Suhren would have to return to the ship. He expected the door to be pulled open any minute, to see Britta standing there with her flaxen hair, her house dress, but Suhren would only see her as he had when they had met.
He turned the key and stepped inside. The house was quiet, so quiet that Suhren instantly knew it was deserted. A pile of letters lay on the side table, unopened. He moved closer. The official stamp and his handwriting told their own story. She hadn’t even read them. He moved around the house, hoping to see her somewhere, but instead seeing only neglect. He tried to examine how he was feeling. Angry, cheated, worried? All and none of them. There was no point ringing the police or hospital. He would have been told if anything had happened to her. Maybe she had gone away? Where? The sick feeling hit him. No, she had left him.
He picked his heavy case up again and locked the door before walking around to the doctor’s house across the road. He listened to Suhren’s story impassively before saying, “You must face up to it, Viktor, she has left you.” He had continued as Suhren had tried to protest. “She will be in touch, be certain of that, but she must sort things out in her own way. Women are like that.” Before leaving, Suhren left the case of food with the doctor, and waved away his gratitude. He walked slowly back towards the station. She had left him, and he had not even been given a chance to make things right.
Thinking again, he realized how much unlike Britta it had been. She would never have left him. Denmark then? He suddenly felt very sick. Because of Britta’s anguish over her parents, his own advancement and career had been permanently scarred. He had lost the Prinz because of it, because of her. He boarded a train. There was nowhere else he wanted to go now.
Hechler stood in the back of the launch, suddenly glad to be out her, on the dark water as the looming shadow of his own ship drew closer. The proud talk, dinners parties, all the uniforms and gaiety had sickened him over the last few days. Only here was reality. His ship, the Prinz Luitpold. The sentry onboard called out a challenge, and the coxswain on the launch shuttered a small lamp. The launch was turning towards the accommodation ladder now. Hechler ran lightly up the ladder and folded back his greatcoat to reveal the black cross around his neck. He felt as if he’d never left her.
Well, it gets more action from hereon in, as this is the last major, character setting type installment. Hope you enjoy it:D
That was great. Damn, Rahn's a grandpa now? And poor Suhren :cry:.
10-03-2006, 04:34 AM
Absolutely fantastic!...you certainly have a talent for writing Dan...keep it up :up: :rock:
10-03-2006, 11:44 AM
That was great. Damn, Rahn's a grandpa now? And poor Suhren :cry:.
Na, he's only 26! Eva is his wife, and he's gonna be a father. And yeah, the Suhren thing will develop too. Cheers for the comments :D
10-03-2006, 02:07 PM
Great job, jolly good lad :D
Go nothing else to add!
That was great. Damn, Rahn's a grandpa now? And poor Suhren :cry:.
Na, he's only 26! Eva is his wife, and he's gonna be a father. And yeah, the Suhren thing will develop too. Cheers for the comments :D
:rotfl: My God, I'm thick... I must've mis-read it. I KNEW he was way too young.
10-04-2006, 01:13 AM
Very well done indeed. Look forward to your next installment. Thank you for some good reading....
10-05-2006, 04:37 PM
Sorry for the delay guy, the delights of A level essay writing kept me away. Anyway, here is the next installment.
Hechler sat at the desk in his large day-cabin, watching the light flicker outside the scuttle. Suhren would soon be reporting, and later this evening the ship would weigh anchor and sail for Norway, and the safety of the fjords. He sighed as he looked back at the photos and intelligence reports lying scattered on his desk. Hechler had been reading the reports since they had arrived onboard that morning, and his mind swam with information regarding the war. Faint smoke could be seen flowing out through the scuttle. That would be fro Clausen – he had seen all his heads of department over the course of the day, and Clausen had been remarking on how many charts had come aboard.
There was a faint knock on the door, and Viktor Suhren walked into the room, cap beneath his arm. This was the first time Hechler had seen him since he had returned from leave, and he looked paler than usual, thin-lipped and a grim expression on his face. Hechler thought of the other men from his crew returning from leave. There might be rules stopping people from spreading despondent news or gloomy talk, but there was no way that they could be enforced, and the atmosphere throughout the ship was totally different now. The war was coming much closer to home. Several men had asked for extra leave because of relatives killed or injured in the air raids.
He waited for Suhren to sit down in front of him, and Pirk, the steward to serve the piping hot coffee before starting.
Suhren said, “Everybody is aboard, sir, save for a couple of men, but I’ve posted them as deserters. The escorts have anchored already, and we’ll be ready to sail this evening as ordered.”
Hechler looked at him casually. Suhren had sounded disinterested which was so unlike him with his constant quest for efficiency. “Is everything well, Viktor?”
He seemed to snap out of the mood instantly, but there was a guard dropping in front of his eyes. “Yes, of course, sir!”
“I was just thinking, how did your leave go?”
“The usual. You know how it is.” He dropped his gaze. “A house always needs things.”
Hechler glanced at the papers on his desk, the reason suddenly clear. An upset with his wife. “Anything I can do?”
Suhren replied, almost with defiance. “Nothing sir.”
“Hmm, if you say so, Viktor. My door is always open.” He paused as he felt the deck trembled into life. It was a good feeling, the beast stirring after her rest. He looked at Suhren. “It is Norway, Viktor. At least for the moment. We shall weigh at dusk and pass through the Skagerrak before daylight so as to stand the best chance against the Allied air patrols.” He studied Suhren’s reactions. “I want to be off Bergen in thirty hours. From then we will keep close inshore and enter our selected fjord until intelligence reports are more accurate.”
Suhren grimaced. “It will be difficult for the escorts to keep up, sir. Another fjord though.” He sounded doubtful, and Hechler guessed that he was thinking of the great battleship Tirpitz which was lying hidden in a fjord many miles from the sea, yet the British had still found her and crippled her in a daring attack with midget submarines.
Suhren was speaking again. “I had expected to see and admiral’s flag at the masthead when I returned, sir.”
Hechler smiled. “The Admiral intends to keep us guessing, Viktor.” Hechler though of Leitner, and his aide who had brought several large boxes onboard, and important documents locked into secure folders as well. They had been carried below, and all the keys to the compartment into which they had been locked had been removed from the ship’s office, and only Leitner and Hechler had the keys, Hechler’s locked into his cabin safe. He was determined to get the truth out of Leitner.
Suhren watched him from across the table, half his mind carefully tracking the progress of the preparations to get the ship ready to sail once more. But Hechler fascinated him more. Was he really as composed as he made out? Untroubled by the weight of responsibility? He should feel closer to Hechler now. His wife had left him, although no-one had ever discovered the whole truth. Did he fret about it and secretly want her back again?
“We are going to fight again, Viktor. No more gestures, no more bombardments with barely enough sea-room to avoid being straddled.” He thought of other men in similar situations. “Have you ever heard of Nelson?” He saw the surprise on Suhren’s face at the sudden change of conversation.
“No, sir.” He made it seem as if the very thought was showing disloyalty.
“You should, a fine officer.” A grin spread across Hechler’s face. “Misunderstood by his superiors, naturally. Nothing changes in that respect.”
“What about him, sir?”
“He said that the boldest measures are always safest. I believe it, never more than now.” He eyed Suhren calmly. “We’ll lose this war if we’re not careful, Viktor.”
Suhren stared at him, stunned. “Impossible! We can’t be beaten now sir!”
“Hmm, I suppose not. But we can still lose.”
Hechler did not elaborate, but thought of the passage to Norway, and then the prospects for the Atlantic after that. The ship had been installed with brand new detection gear. As good as anything Britain or her allies had yet produced, and Kroll, the gunnery officer had shown rare excitement and glee. It was described as the unseen eye. The Scharnhorst had been tracked and destroyed with it in a snowstorm, and Prinz Luitpold’s was supposed to be twice as accurate, and was the first ship to have it fitted.
Hechler thought also of the new surgeon that had arrived on board. His name was Stroheim; he was highly qualified and much better than most naval doctors – the best were usually in the army for all too obvious reasons. He had arrived with a pink sheet attached to his form. Hechler hated the political interference. He only cared about the men themselves, not their political views. Hechler could not ignore it, though. The image of Oberleutnant Bauer, the signals and W/T officer sprung into his mind. Bauer was also the ship’s political officer, a role which even Hechler couldn’t investigate, even though he hated the small, curt man. It would be a long cruise with him and Leitner on board, Hechler thought with a sigh.
The Prinz Luitpold’s passage from Baltic waters to Norway passed much quieter than expected. They had logged a steady twenty knots the whole way, and had arrived off Bergen within minutes of Clausen’s calculations. After that, Hechler had kept the ship closed up at action stations as they passed the dangerous stretch when they were within 200 miles from the Orkneys and then later on the Shetlands. Despite warnings of heavy Allied air activity, they had seen no aircraft, and had made the passage in solitude. The escorts that were due to sail with them couldn’t be seen because of the thick fog that hung over the sea. Hechler was amazed by the radar, which had allowed him to track the movements and tactics of their escorts despite never catching sight of them once during the voyage.
From Bergen, they headed north and then north-east as the heavy cruiser moved swiftly up the coast. They passed the fortress-like fjord of Trondheim abeam and then further north and across the Arctic Circle. Shortly after that both radar and lookouts reported the Lofoten Islands on the port bow. Off to starboard, the town of Bodǿ was hidden behind the massive landmass. Just over an hour later, the cable was rattling out as the Prinz Luitpold anchored in the fjord. The sides were shrouded in mist and a steady drizzle fell over the water, displaying a miserable side of Norway. Unlike the Tirpitz, they were not alone. Another cruiser, smaller than the Prinz Luitpold, lay anchored over near to the misty walls of the fjord. She was the Lübeck, and there were also some large destroyers and storeships anchored as well.
Hechler felt much happier now that the ship was safely anchored behind protective nets and booms, safe from any marauding submarines. He could consider the anchorage now, and Bodǿ was a good choice, and had a large military airfield. The passage north had affected Hechler in other ways. Some of the tension he had been storing from the endless political dinners and speeches in Denmark had steadily drained away as the ship had moved north, and Hechler was glad to be finally doing something. After the ship had been fuelled from the lighters, things settled down to the normal routine, and they sat back and waited. Leitner would be flying up in a day or two, and the new Arado was due to join them soon as well. Then it would be a matter of attacking the convoy at the opportune moment.
The submarine was on the surface, moving through the slight swell at ten knots. Hechler was on the bridge, staring through the heavy binoculars for any sign of movement in the thick, low clouds. The bridge crew was equally alert, very aware that this part of the ocean, the Bay of Biscay, was a nightmare for U-boat crews. The RAF seemed to love the area. Suddenly a wild shout and Hechler tore his gaze away to where the roaring engine noise was coming from. Out of the clouds a large Sunderland flying boat was diving straight towards the bridge. Even as Hechler watched, the forward turret erupted in bright lights as tracer fire swept across the bridge. Hechler was only aware of sudden, blinding agony, the sky suddenly turning into grey bridge plating as he was carried below, the engine noise rising to a whining climax, and the shrill, terrifying ring of alarm bells echoing around his head, clamouring and persistent.
Dieter Hechler opened his eyes with a start, realising his face was pressed into his forearm, the dream extremely vivid in his head. One other fact stood out. The clamouring alarm bells hadn’t stopped when he had woken up. He jumped to his feet, knocking his chair over in the process. He was in the large day cabin, and if he had been in his small sea cabin he would have been on the bridge already. The telephone added its ring to the noise of the main bells and watertight doors slamming.
It was Suhren. “Red Alert, sir. An air attack.”
With a haste that brought him back to his U-boat days, Hechler slammed down the phone and snatched his jacket and cap as he exited the cabin heading for the bridge. On deck the ship seemed strangely deserted, only the scattered buckets and mops marking the suddenness of the alarm. He climbed to the bridge, watching as the anti-aircraft guns traversed towards the land, and his men donning steel helmets and dragging belts of ammunition to the short range weapons. He was barely aware of the other officers reporting around him, but looked around the ship.
It was a bright afternoon with only a few clouds marking the sky, and Hechler saw the camouflage netting that hung from the main armament in an attempt to break up the ship’s outline. He looked at the other cruiser, her guns at full elevation as he imagined the other captain comparing the time their respective ships took to clear for action. Hechler looked across the starboard screen. The airfield was invisible from here, but there ought to have been some fighters scrambling by now, Göring’s much vaunted fighter pilots. He hated being at anchor, lying in a trap. The bait. The ship had been at short notice for steam since his return from Kiel, but it would still take at least an hour to slip and work out to some sea-room.
“Come on, get those bloody planes airborne!” That was Suhren, it a very irritated mood after been given steamed up binoculars and having to get the ship to action stations with no warning at all. Too many German warships had been caught in enclosed fjords and damaged beyond repair by daring hit-and-run attacks. The world’s greatest battleship for starters.
The inland battery had opened fire and every man on the bridge scanned the sky with the glasses as the shells left dirty brown stains in the sky.
Suhren exclaimed, “I can’t see a bloody thing!”
Leutnant Ulrich Heyse called suddenly, “I see it! One aircraft, sir, at red four-five!” Hechler sensed Suhren’s annoyance, but concentrated on the bearing and was rewarded with a flash of sunlight off the cockpit cover. Another voice hissed, “Nowhere near the thing!” Hechler watched as the shell bursts gathered in untidy clusters while some earlier ones broke up and drifted downwind. He had to agree with the unknown sailor. The shooting was so poor that the tiny dot in the sky didn’t even alter course. It wasn’t a bomber, and seemed to be totally alone.
This was a safe anchorage and better protected than most. It was likely that enemy agents would know of Prinz Luitpold’s presence here, just as her departure from Vejle must have been known and plotted in London. But there was no need to let some reckless reconnaissance plane to confirm everything.
Suhren spoke between his teeth, “Our Arado replacement is expected, sir.” He sounded anxious. “I hope to hell that headquarters have ordered it to stand away.” Hechler looked over the screen and past the nearest gun-crews as they tried to track the aircraft, their anti-flash hoods making them look like they were from some strange religious order. The aircraft derrick was already swung out, the tackle prepared to hoist the new Arado inboard as soon as it landed in the fjord.
“Gunnery Officer requests permission to use the main armament, sir.”
“Denied.” Hechler knew that Kroll would shoot at anything just for a chance to exercise his men. It was a waste of ammunition as the solitary aircraft was already heading away, flitting between the clouds, the shell-bursts too far away to catch it.
Suhren exclaimed angrily, “Here they are! At last. Late as bloody usual!”
Two fighters screamed towards them from the land, the throaty roar of their engines echoing around the walls of the fjord as they streaked away out to sea, the sun flashing brightly on the large black crosses on their sides. Hechler lowered his binoculars and glanced at Suhren and the others. Suhren was furious, ad probably too angry to notice the coincidence. The anti-aircraft battery had been inaccurate, just as the fighter cover had been too late to do anything. It was as if they had been ordered to hold back, and if that was true, then it could only mean that Headquarters wanted the enemy to know they were there. It was like being in the dark, and Hechler didn’t like being told only a part of Willentrop’s strategy.
“Aircraft at green one-one-oh, angle of sight one-oh!”
The gunnery speaker crashed to life. “Disregard! Aircraft friendly!”
Some of the seamen grinned with nervous relief, but Hechler crossed the bridge to watch the floatplane as it left the land’s protection and followed its own reflection across the flat water. He snapped, “I want to see that pilot as soon as he comes aboard! We may be short of a plane and the man to fly it, but by God I’ll send him back unless he can explain himself!”
All the smiles were gone now. Even young Heyse had enough experience to realise the cause of the captain’s cool anger. If there had been a proper air attack, especially by carrier borne torpedo bombers, the Arado replacement would have been right in the middle of it, and they would have had to hold their fire or shoot it down with the attackers.
“Fall out action stations.” Hechler was making an attempt to control his anger. Moments later the guardrails were thick with men as they gathered to watch as the floatplane make a perfect landing then taxi to the anchored cruiser.
Suhren dropped his glasses. “Extra passenger, sir.” He bit his lip. “It looks like the admiral.”
Even as the plane glided to the ship’s side Hechler saw Leitner take off his flying helmet so that he could don his oak-leaved cap. He said, “I don’t care if it’s the bloody Führer! That was a damn stupid thing to do!” He was as much concerned with his own anger as the admiral’s unorthodox arrival onboard. Was it because there were so many questions unanswered? If they engaged the British convoy, for instance. Would the Lübeck be able to withdraw safely?
Followed by Suhren he hurried from the bridge and down to the catapult, where a side-party had hastily assembled. Leitner pulled himself up from the Arado without waiting for it to be hoisted it aboard. He was flushed and excited, and could barely stop from laughing aloud at Hechler’s grave expression. Together they watched the plane being hoisted up the side, water spilling from the floats as men with guy ropes swung it round. The Arado was brand new and bore no camouflage paint. As it came to rest on the catapult Hechler saw the bright red stripe on its side, as if it were something from the Great War. Leitner stood with his arms folded, still dressed in the white flying suit with his cap at a rakish angle as he had appeared many times in the newspapers.
Hechler watched the pilot and observer climb down to the deck and then said, “I’ll see you later. You might have got your arse shot off!” The pilot turned and stared at him and then pulled off the black helmet and goggles. Hechler stared as a mass of auburn hair tumbled over the pilot’s shoulders. The admiral made one last attempt to contain his amusement and said, “Captain, may I introduce Erika Franke. One of the finest pilots in the Third Reich, I believe!”
She eyed him without curiosity, her lips slightly parted as she shook out her hair from her flying suit. “Quite a welcome, Captain.” She did not offer her hand. Hechler could feel the side party’s astonishment giving way to broad grins, and Suhren’s pink faced disbelief that this had happened.
Hechler looked at the admiral. “What I say still goes, sir.” She was watching him, amused or merely bored he could not tell. Erika Franke, of course, he thought. Her father had been an ace pilot who had died attempting a lone flight across a desert in Africa. She had one several prizes within a year of obtaining her license. And she had even made her name in the war when she had flown into an encircled army in Italy to rescue one of the Führer’s top advisers before the whole place had been taken by the allies.
Hechler made another attempt. “I am not used to…” It sounded defensive, foolish. She turned away to watch as the two fighters came roaring back across the water. “Evidently, Captain. We must try to change that, eh?” Leitner clapped him on the shoulder. “It will be a different war, Dieter. For all of us, yes?”
The girl turned and looked at the calmly. “I’d like to change and have a shower, if I may.” One corner of her mouth curled up and she touched her upper lip with her tongue. “Even at the risk of getting my, er, arse shot off, eh?”
10-05-2006, 09:00 PM
good job dan, do you have a site or someplace where we can read them in chronological order?
Every chapter is here on this thread and in chronological order. Just start from post #1.
10-06-2006, 06:40 AM
WOOHOO!...crumpet for dinner Mr Hechler :rock: :rock: :rock:
10-08-2006, 05:40 PM
Sorry for the delay in posting - it was quite a large update, and I had some lovely coursework essays to do as well. Enjoy!
Kapitän Dieter Hechler rested his hands on the rail as he gazed out across the water. The black outline of the fjord sides where clearly visible against the starlit sky, and the night air was crisp and quite cool, and Hechler relished the refreshing soft breeze. His breath was visible in front of his face, and his jacket did just enough to keep the cold out. The water in front of him shone like molten glass as the lights from the wardroom lit up the surroundings. He could hear the pleasant sound of numerous voices rising from the open door, and noticed another launch hooking on at the base of the accommodation ladder and two women in colourful gowns stepped onboard in the company of some officers from the airfield. Korvettenkapitän Froebe greeted them at the top of the ladder before pointing them towards the wardroom.
Hechler, like most of the ship’s company, had expected things to move quickly once the admiral had hoisted his flag above the cruiser. Instead, they had remained in the fjord and tonight a party was being held onboard. Leitner must have a powerful influence, Hechler thought. There were many women onboard, and most of them German apart from the wives of some local officials. It was amazing that they had travelled all this way for a party, he mused. They had all come aboard with excitement, some even in awe as they stepped aboard the Prinz. She was a legend, and Hechler hated the waiting, and longed for the open ocean, away from the vulnerability of the enclosed fjord.
He glanced back at the water as the launch cast of and moved away towards the shore again, her foaming wake gleaming in the moonlight. He looked towards the sky again, imagining the same stars being observed by others. Rahn would be down near the Azores by now, he thought. Rahn, in command of U-32, also commanded the 9 boat strong wolfpack. They had been ordered to remain undetected until offensive operations would commence with the Prinz Luitpold. Hechler had at least been told that the air attack had been planned, and headquarters wanted the Allies to know that the heavy cruiser was at Bodǿ, and apparently a couple of the storeships would be anchored in such a way to fool the allies into thinking the Luitpold was still anchored in the fjord once she had broken into the Atlantic.
He turned as a step grated on the steel plating behind him. It was Stoecker, a Petty Officer. Hechler smiled at the young man, “What is it, Stoecker?” The man looked nervous, and hesitated before replying. “The admiral, he requests your presence in the wardroom, sir.”
“Very well, Stoecker. Tell him I’ll be down in a minute.” As the Petty Officer disappeared, Hechler grimaced. He was half-dreading the party, and Leitner’s exuberance, his overwhelming optimism for the war effort. As he moved quickly down a ladder, he spotted the patrol led by Leutnant zur See Ulrich Heyse. With so many visitors onboard, Hechler had ordered regular patrols of the ship to check that nothing had been tampered with, or sabotaged. He heard the one striper call his men to attention. “Hard luck, Heyse. Rank has its privileges, you see.” The man grinned at him. Hechler moved on towards the wardroom, Heyse’s patrol already fading into the darkness. Suhren was waiting to greet him outside the wardroom, “All going well?”
“Yes, sir. Like old times.”
Hechler stepped past him into the wardroom, thronged with figures, some in uniform, others in gowns. He sensed the occasional glances and even some bold stares from some of the women. He saw Leitner near the centre of the room, speaking loudly as several men and women looked on, his arms waving about as he talked excitedly about something or other, Hechler couldn’t tell, nor did he particularly want to know. He heard a woman laugh and saw the auburn hair glinting under the decklight. He made his way over towards her. Erika Franke wore a long dove-grey gown, its hue setting off her hair and skin. He was still uncertain about her. Leitner had said that her orders came from Willentrop, and higher. She was here to stay, and incredibly there was also a camera team as well.
She called, “Why, Captain! You have come amongst us after all!” He faced her surprised and angry at the way she managed to get beneath his skin, make him feel clumsy and defensive. He faced her, “I hope you are being looked after?” She had long lashes and eyes that seemed to change colour under the light. Hazel and then tawny. “You are staring, Captain.” She smiled at him as he looked away, sipping from the champagne glass which had been thrust into his hand.
“Yes, I am sorry.” He looked at her again. “And I also apologise for the way I greeted you onboard yesterday. I was still angry about the air attack.”
She smiled at him again, her tongue touching her upper lip again as she had done when she climbed off the catapult the other morning. “That must had have cost you a lot, I expect you are not used to bending your knee – especially to a mere woman!”
Hechler looked away, trying to suppress his anger. She was taunting him again, throwing his apology back in his face. He noticed Leitner walking across the room towards them. He stood next to Hechler and clapped an arm over his shoulder. “A good party, eh! It will make everyone believe we are part of a local squadron. Here to stay. How wrong they all are!” he beamed at them, showing his perfect teeth, his tan contrasting with the brilliant white grin. Hechler looked away, annoyed at the admiral’s constant strutting. He saw Suhren by the door, rapidly making signals at him. He turned as Leitner remarked, “A night full of surprises, as it should be.”
When Hechler looked back at the door, his insides turned to ice, desperately trying not to believe what his eyes were showing. Her hair was short, the blonde curls cascading over her head showing her ears with the perfect pendant earings gleaming in the light. Several officers had stopped talking to stare at her, questions clear on their faces. It was common knowledge that Hechler’s wife had left him, and he couldn’t believe that she had turned up here. Hechler put down his glass. Inger had always commanded a lot of attention – it was how Hechler had first seen her. She had an escort, a young political officer, yet evidently quite senior. That was typical, he thought bitterly. She had always hung around the politicos, craved the attention she demanded as a daughter from one of the old aristocratic families. Hechler would have laughed at the hypocrisy of the Party if he hadn’t felt so lost, so trapped.
Leitner was saying something to him, one eyebrow cocked as Hechler brought his mind back to the present. “She asked to come, Dieter. What could I do?”
“Your wife, Captain?”
Hechler looked at the flyer, her hair rippling in the light as she turned towards him. “Yes.”
“She is very beautiful.” She was watching him, suddenly interested. “You seem surprised?”
Leitner smiled. “It is only right, Dieter.”
She wore a red silk gown, cut very low at the back and front. Hechler guessed that she wore very little beneath it. That would have been enough to render him helpless. Once. Now he could hardly contain his disgust, the sheer nerve at turning up here of all places. She presented her hand for him to kiss, and again it was perfectly done, and Hechler could smell the perfume on her skin. The one she had always worn. He realised Suhren and some of the others were watching him, learning something new about their captain.
She was looking at him, amusement in her expression. “You are looking tired, Dieter. Doing too much again. A pity it is not reflected in your party work.” She looked towards the girl. “And who is this?”
Erika Franke met her gaze, unconcerned by Inger’s imperious, casual tone. “I work here. I shall go and enjoy myself.” She smiled at Hechler before moving off into the throng of people nearby. Inger looked at Hechler, “I thought I knew her. The flier, am I right? She has been in some bother I believe.”
Hechler felt the old anger again. Her casual dismissal of others, as if everyone was beneath her. How could he have ever seen anything in her? Hechler didn’t want to discuss it. “What are you doing here, Inger? It is over.”
“You think so?” Her hand rested on the four golden stripes on the sleeve of his jacket. “You will always need me. Nothing has changed, Dieter. They talk of you a lot in Berlin; some say you are a hero. A pity you do not share the views of the Party, though. You political views are also well known, Dieter, which is why you need me, marriage into an aristocratic family, enough to overlook your political inadequacies. You have needed me to get to where you are, and you will need me again to have any hope of further promotion.” Her eyes shone in amusement as she glanced at her escort talking with Leitner. “Andreas invited me. A fine officer, you would do well to follow his views.”
“My political views have nothing to do with it, Inger.” He looked away as her amusement grew. He had been glad that they had been separated for the better part of the last year, free of her endless talk of politics, the almost daily parties full of the transparent political drivel. He had never known her to turn down an invitation. “What do you want, Inger? You didn’t come here to laugh at me, to taunt me.”
She was looking at him, her eyes steady, her lips shining and slightly parted. “I need you to love me.”
He looked away as Suhren appeared next to him. “What is it, Viktor?” Suhren was staring at Inger, but seemed to snap out of his trance when Hechler addressed him. He tilted his head and spoke in hushed tones into Hechler’s ear. One of the guests had injured themselves. It was someone important, and Suhren thought Hechler should know.
Hechler looked up, and spoke quickly. “Get the senior medical officer, Viktor.” He hadn’t met the new surgeon yet, and he could barely remember the man’s name as he watched the thrust of her breasts. “Stroheim.”
As Suhren moved away, he looked back at Inger. Her mood had completely changed, she was staring at him in complete disbelief. “What name?”
He said, “Karl-Heinz Stroheim. He’s new onboard. Do you know him?”
“Don’t you dare question me! I’m not one of your sailors!” Her eyes were hot, and she glared at him before turning away. “I must leave.” Hechler watched as her escort moved over to claim her, heard her mentioning something about a headache, then both of them walking briskly out of the wardroom. Leitner moved over as they headed for the door. “Not going with her, Dieter. I am surprised.”
Hechler turned his back on the others and faced Leitner, his voice dangerously calm. “You knew, did it deliberately, sir. For a moment…” He was cut off as the admiral said loudly, “I shall set an example and retire, Dieter.” He looked at Hechler for a moment before saying, “First degree readiness.” He shook his head as Hechler made to speak. “Not yet. Our guests are watching. We shall weigh tomorrow evening, and as soon as these people have gone, you can tell the other officers.” Hechler watched as he left the room, and other guests following soon after. He didn’t know what Leitner had been planning with Inger, but it was definitely uncharacteristic. Why would she suddenly throw herself at him now, after nearly a year of ignoring his existence? He shook his head as he left the wardroom, craving the crisp, cold night air. He would have to see Stroheim soon, ask him about Inger.
He spent the next few hours walking the upper deck, his feet noiselessly pacing the deck. The squadron would weigh tomorrow evening, Leitner had said. Hechler imagined the squadron slipping out of the fjord under cover of darkness, the two cruisers at the centre. He wondered what the other officers would say if they knew the Prinz Luitpold’s true mission. He was still thinking when he entered his cabin four hours later, noting the small light and thermos full of coffee by his bunk.
When Pirk, his steward entered silently to switch off the light he found the captain fast asleep, still fully dressed. He sighed and swung Hechler’s legs onto the bunk. He smiled with satisfaction as he turned out the light. The captain would see them through all right. He always had.
Hechler sat in the steel deck chair, watching as the long bow rose and fell regularly in the swell. They had put to sea over 48 hours ago, and sailed west arounf the Lofoten islands and then north, towards the British convoys. He glanced at the armoured conning tower and fire-control box above him, and then slid from the chair to walk out onto the port wing and stare aft, looking at Lübeck following half a mile astern. He stamped on the gratings to restore his circulation, watching as the watchkeepers’ backs straightened as they covered their allotted bearings.
He looked across at the destroyers, following their stations exactly, but having a rougher time of it than the larger, more seaworthy cruisers. Every now and then their bows would dip and massive welters of foam break over their forecastles before cascading off through the guardrails. The Prinz Luitpold had a new bow built on in her last major refit, the High Command learning from the Admiral Hipper’s raiding, and realising that the straight bow made for a very wet and unpleasant ride in rough seas, which was why Prinz Luitpold had a larger, curved bow, termed an ‘Atlantic bow’. It was slicing through the waves like a knife through warm butter right now, and Hechler thought it was a great improvement from the previous bow. The motion was so different from a U-boat, he thought. He had been in command for nearly a year now, and he still found the motion surprising. In a U-boat, they would be rising and falling over the waves, like a seagull floating on the water, whereas in the Prinz Luitpold, they sliced through the waves, cleaving them aside in large streaks of foam.
Hechler heard a loud droning and spotted the large ****e Wulf Condor through a gap in the overcast as it made another pass over the squadron. The Condors were their eyes today, searching out the British convoys whilst keeping a protective overview of the small squadron. Hechler still found it amazing that they were actually in the air; he had seen precious few of them over the Atlantic, where they were meant to search out convoys for the U-boats. Hechler thought again of Rahn and his wolfpack, now waiting near to the Canary Islands, waiting for the cruiser to join them and wreak havoc against the D-Day re-supply convoys. Apparently, there was another wolfpack gathering around the British convoy. Intelligence reports stated that they had torpedoed the escort carrier, although two U-boats had been lost, it did at least mean there wouldn’t be torpedo bombers to worry about.
He thought of yesterday morning, as they had cleared the fjord. Leitner had been ready to make a speech to the company, but Hechler had bluntly asked to speak to his men in his own way. He thought of the silence when he had said over the loudspeaker, “We are going into the Atlantic…” There should have been cheering and rousing music, but Hechler felt the silence meant so much more to him, the close comradeship he shared with his men. He thought of the camera team, which had been on the deck for most of the morning, taking advantage of the beautiful salmon-pink skies that had greeted them that morning. ‘Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning’, Hechler thought to himself. A warning to the convoy, maybe, but the Prinz Luitpold would be one of the most powerful ships near the convoy, as reports had stated that a covering force of a battleship and two heavy cruisers were stationed well to the north in an attempt to protect the eastbound convoy. They would take advantage of this and attack the westbound convoy. Not filled with supplies, but an important convoy nonetheless.
Oberleutnant Ahlmann was the officer of the watch this morning, and he stood legs braced apart gazing through the glasses towards the horizon. A handset buzzed loudly, the sudden noise causing some of the lookouts to jump. Hechler moved across the bridge as he saw Ahlmann pick the handset up, then turn to Hechler. “The lady flier wishes to come up to the bridge, sir.”
Hechler looked away. He had not seen her since they had left Bodǿ, and he could picture her amused expression at the party, before Inger had arrived. The thought of Inger still left a bitter taste in his mouth, and he hadn’t had a chance to speak with the medical officer yet, and questions were racing around his head. According to Leitner, the flier and the two girls on the camera team would be transferred to a supply sub before the Prinz Luitpold ventured far into the Atlantic. His endless enthusiasm was irritating, and Hechler wondered whether Leitner would use Willentrop as an excuse for everything. He said, “Very well.” He heard he voice at the bottom of the ladder, and turned away, towards the sea again.
As she was ushered onto the bridge, he turned to face her, and he took her appearance in. She was wearning a leather jacket, much like what the fighter pilots wore. Her hair was messed about and her cheeks red from the wind and Hechler guessed that she had been exploring the upper deck. “A wonderful view, Captain!” She looked across at him, her eyes dancing. “I should love to fly right now!”
She sat in his steel bridge chair, and Hechler walked away, out onto the port wing again as he observed the Lübeck, her funnel vapour streaming off abeam as her bow rose and fell against the sea. They carried on like this for a while, Hechler deliberately ignoring her, lest she make fun of him again, whilst she sat in the chair, observing the watchkeepers go about their work with interest, or watching Hechler with amusement.
One of the sailors at the back of the bridge listening to a voicepipe announced suddenly, “Radar reports strong echo to starboard sir, fifteen miles.”
Hechler turned on hearing the announcement and walked briskly to the chart, passing the chair in the process. He could see Franke’s interest out of the corner of his eye, and he gave her a brief smile as he passed. Ducking under the canvas cover, he scrutinised the chart. It was probably only a fishing boat, he thought. Nothing to worry about. He walked back to the centre of the bridge, aware that the girl was looking at him. “Direct Hans Armin to investigate. Then tell the admiral.” He looked over to Ahlmann. “Alter course to port. Steer zero-two-two. Set revolutions for 20 knots.” He moved back over to the port wing, standing close to the chair.
Ahlmann looked up from a voicepipe and reported. “Steady on zero-two-two, sir. Revolutions one-one-zero.”
He turned and saw her watching him. She shrugged. “It’s so different.” She gestured towards the long bow, rising in the swell. “So huge. You feel as if nothing would stop her, as if she could run away.”
Hechler nodded at her. “When I was a young watchkeeper, much like Ahlmann over there, I often thought that. Especially at night, the captain asleep, nobody to turn to, alone except for the seagulls and the stars. I used to…”
“Gunnery officer requests permission to train Anton and Bruno turrets at the echo, sir.”
Hechler replied, “Yes, ten minutes though.”
“It never stops for you, does it?”
He looked at her. “I hadn’t thought about it. I don’t suppose you do either, when you’re flying, checking all your instruments. This is much the same, just larger and with more people to watch out for.” He saw her nod in reply, satisfied with his explanation. They turned and watched as the two forward turrets swung out to starboard, their muzzles rising in the air as Kroll set a solution for the echo. It was useful practise, but Hechler had set a time limit as he knew that Kroll would exercise his crews whenever he could. A practise Hechler agreed with normally, but he didn’t want his crew confused by drills when they could be attacked in a real alarm at any moment.
She said, “Seeing these great guns makes me realise what your war is all about.”
“Are you afraid?”
She seemed to consider it before answering. “I don’t think so. I’ve never seen a naval engagement, but it’s like flying. There are only so many things you can do when the plane goes out of control.” She shrugged again. “Here, I don’t have control of anything, or understand much of what is going on.” Then she laughed and one of the lookouts turned from the binoculars to look at her. “I Know what you are going to ask me, Captain, but I’m under orders as well. I am here because Admiral Willentrop ordered it so. I am a civilian but I fly for the Luftwaffe.”
“I heard what you did. The Italian mission.” He looked across at her again. “I wouldn’t do it myself, up there, so vulnerable. Give me a solid deck, ship or submarine and I’ll be happy.”
She looked at him, a frown on her face. “I definitely couldn’t do that. I don’t care at all for submarines. I had to travel on one in Italy once, and I hated it. Trapped, underwater, you can’t see anything either.” The frown left her face as she looked at him, an amused expression on her face. “I heard about your exploits as well, Captain. Weren’t you the submarine commander they used to call Dieter ‘Blindman’ Hechler because you had to get so close to ships before firing?”
Hechler laughed, a wry smile on his face, “I only went in close so they didn’t have a chance to get away from the torpedoes!” He looked away, over the bridge railing once more. “I hated it as well, like shooting fish in a barrel. It hardly seemed fair at all, especially early in the war. At least here,” he gestured to the bow, “you can see your enemy. Those brave lads had no chance.”
He stopped as she said suddenly. “You should do that more often, Captain.”
“Smile. You don’t have to...” She stopped as Suhren appeared on the bridge and saluted, although his eyes were on the girl.
“The admiral sends his complements, sir, and would you see him on his bridge.”
“Yes.” Hechler was annoyed at the interruption. He had been glad to have a conversation with someone who wasn’t connected with the ship, the trade. Leitner had probably seen them chatting, and called him away, although it could hardly have been from jealousy. He turned to watch as the turrets moved back to point fore and aft again. He looked at the girl again, “If there is anything I can do while you are aboard…” Suhren stepped forward so that he seemed to loom in between them. She watched him, her eyes tawny in the strange light. “Attend to your ship, Captain. Her needs are greater than mine.” Hechler turned away. The brief contact was broken, and why not? His own self-pity was poor enough bridge to begin with.
He found Leitner on his armoured bridge, his jacket hanging over a chair as he peered over a large chart, carefully plotting convoy routes. He looked up as Hechler entered. “Intelligence reports state that the escort carrier has been destroyed in a U-boat attack, as you know. We will meet with the westbound convoy tomorrow. The British will be protecting the eastbound convoy with the supplies for Ivan. There are six U-boats in the area, not counting the two that were lost, and there are constant air patrols as well. We cannot fail!” Hechler thought of the pages of orders, rendevous and alternative fueling arrangements. It would be so much different from the early raiding sorties, when their sister ship Admiral Hipper broke into the Atlantic, and the Admiral Scheer as well. It could just as easily go terribly wrong, like the Graf Spee and Bismarck.
Hechler looked up as Leitner spun around and fixed Hechler in his gaze. “Your second-in-command. I’ve had a signal about him.”
“Yes. It’s his wife. She has been caught, how shall we say, causing trouble. She was taken away by the Gestapo; she had been travelling without warrants, investigating the disappearance of her parents, and spouting nonsense about the Nazi party. Thugs and barbarians we all are, apparently.”
Hechler privately agreed with her, but this was not the moment to say so. He recalled Suhren’s face, the way he had parried questions about his leave.
He returned to the bridge, strangely disappointed that the girl had left. He climbed into the chair again, glad that Suhren had disappeared as well. He listened to the deep throb of the engines, the bow rising and falling above the waves, and he could also feel the constant tremor through the chair. The beast was prowling again. Right now the convoy was being attacked by the U-boats. The submarines were like sheepdogs, driving the convoy onto a converging course towards the small squadron. Tomorrow they would engage the convoy, no more fixed targets, stations or houses on shore, but moving targets, some that would fire back. The Prinz would fight in the open again. Hechler found himself relishing it, even if it was just to shake off the mood that had gripped him for the last few months. The tiger, unleashed once more.
“Ship is at action-stations, sir!”
Hechler returned Korvettenkapitän Froebe’s salute and watched as the bridge crew went about their business. He pictured his men throughout his command, some in the engine room, others holed up behind inches of steel armour. He could also see Suhren deep down inside the hull in the damage-control party. As far away from the bridge as possible. Did he ever secretly hope that a shell would hit the open bridge, so that he could gain the command he so craved? Hechler shook of the mood as Leitner strode onto the bridge.
He was wearing a white silk scarf around his neck, and his cap was set at a rakish angle. It was as if he were about to appear in the newspapers again. Hechler stiffened as the admiral turned towards him. “The stage is set, eh? I presume the engine room is warned for full revolutions?”
“Yes, sir. Everything is set.”
Apparently happy with the answer, Leitner moved away and grasped the rail with his hands. Hechler looked out towards the destroyer screen, and said, “Signal the first subdivision to take station ahead.” He glanced at Leitner, apparently not paying attention, still looking over the rail, but Hechler knew different. He saw the camera team climbing onto the bridge, setting their equipment up in a corner. The two women looked ill at ease in their steel helmets. Hechler asked sharply, “What are those people doing here?”
Leitner turned around and smiled at him. “My orders, Captain. A record, we must take all risks in war.” Hechler heard the camera whirr into action as the day’s event s were recorded.
The first subdivision of destroyers was tearing ahead as they took station well ahead of their larger consorts, forming into a line abreast. The others were on either beam, plunging along with the cruisers. Froebe, the executive officer now stood in Clausen’s place, as Clausen was up in the armoured conning tower waiting to plot every manoeuvre and to take command if the bridge was destroyed. Ahlmann was in charge of bridge communication, and he came up to Hechler now, handing him a telephone. “Gunnery Officer, sir.”
“Enemy in radar contact, sir. Bearing green one-oh. Range 21,000 metres.”
Leitner touched his sleeve. “I am going up to my bridge now. This is a great day!”
Hechler watched him go, relieved that he had left the bridge at last. He thought of the convoy. Intelligence reported that it was at least 30 ships strong, and with all the heavy surface escorts centred on the other convoy. The forward guns shifted slightly, their muzzles pointed high in the air and over the starboard bow. Astern Lübeck crews would be doing the same, but they would have to wait a little longer to engage. A dull explosion echoed over the horizon. A torpedo hit, another ship gone to the bottom. Leitner did not seem to care about the U-boat losses. Hechler, because of his background felt it much more, and hoped that they could give the U-boat enough time to get away safely.
Ahlmann asked, “Permission to open fire, sir?”
“Denied.” He pictured the convoy again. They were fast, Liberty ships probably, and would scatter if they fired too soon.
“Aircraft, sir!” Several of the men gasped aloud. “Red one-five! Angel of sight one-oh!”
Froebe hissed between his teeth, “Torpedo bombers, for Christ’s sake!”
Orders rattled around the bridge as the secondary armament swung round to engage the plane. Hechler held his binoculars to his face. They were Beaufighters, flown from the Orkneys or Shetlands. They must be at the very limit of their range, he thought. He was surprised that he felt so calm, so detached. He tightened his jaw. “Short range weapons stand by. Secondary armament open fire!” The destroyers were already firing, marking the sky with black pockmarks. Hechler could see the two lone bombers in his glasses, and then turned away as Ahlmann passed him a phone. “The admiral, sir.”
“The convoy may scatter. Increase speed. Signal the group to engage the enemy as ordered.”
Hechler looked around the bridge. “Full ahead. Prepare to take avoiding action.” He felt the power surge through the bridge as the ship trembled. He had to shout above the noise of the secondary armament. “Main armament. Open fire!”
He barely had time to put his ear plugs in before the two forward turrets erupted in long sheets of flame as they fired at the convoy still below the horizon. He looked over to the Beaufighters, seeing them weaving through the shell bursts as bright tracer lifted from the destroyers. One of them was trailing smoke as they flew through the murderous barrage, the single torpedo gleaming under each fuselage. One thing was obvious. Prinz Luitpold was their target.
I'll try and get the next bit uploaded asap. The Atlantic beckons...
10-09-2006, 09:32 AM
Damn man. You just don't give us enought time. With all the school work, I bererly have time to sleep, yet alone read your WONDERFULL stories.
I won't even bother.
From the few sentaces I read, yet again great job!
And od slow down, will ya :shifty:
10-09-2006, 10:09 AM
I seriously hope you are considering publishing your stories as they are fantastic dude.
10-09-2006, 12:43 PM
What coursework essays are you referring to? 'The Battle of the Atlantic' I hope...if not, that's what you should be doing (at the highest level) :know: .
This story is absolutely fantastic...desperate for the next installment :up: :rock:
Once again, amazing work. I can see some chemistry brewing between Hechler and Franke ;).
10-10-2006, 05:12 PM
Neither of the Beaufighters had any chance of survival. Despite their high speed and manoeuvrability, each pilot must have known that they couldn’t live through the murderous barrage of shells and cannon-fire. They were screaming past the outer destroyer pickets now, engines howling as they levelled out of their dive low against the water. One of them seemed to stagger as smoke poured from the left engine as cannon-fire ripped through the fuselage. Hechler started at the weaving silhouette as pieces flew from the plane and splashed into the surging swell. Seconds later it exploded in a vivid fireball which slowly tumbled into the sea before cart-wheeling across the surface. But the other plane was dodging the flak, and even as Hechler watched the gleaming torpedo dropped from the rack under the fuselage, and dropped into the sea with a fine feather of spray jumping up as it moved below the surface.
The plane continued towards them as everything the ships had poured into it. Perhaps the pilot and crew were already dead, Hechler thought to himself. The Beaufighter suddenly rolled over and dived into the sea with a dull explosion.
“Torpedo running to port!”
At thirty knots the cruiser seemed to lean right over on her beam as men who weren’t quick enough to grab a handhold tumbled down the deck. Hechler shouted above the din, “Steady. Hold her!” He could see the Lübeck behind them surging ahead to take the lead, and Hechler could imagine the other captain laughing at the Prinz Luitpold’s undignified lurching from the line. Looking ahead, Hechler thought he could see the long finger of foam as the torpedo streaked towards the port bow. He had never expected to be in this position. Normally he was at the other end, fixing the ships in his crosshairs. Suddenly his mind jumped back to his first patrol, when he had hit the HMS Glasgow. He wondered if this was the last thing her captain had seen as his torpedo had slammed into the armoured hull.
The ship was steadying up after her mad turn, and Froebe croaked from his position near the compass repeater, “Steady on two-eight-zero, sir!” Hechler saw the torpedo moving further down the hull, suddenly relieved that the torpedo would miss. He watched as the white streak passed down the starboard side of the hull, before disappearing behind them. Safe.
He said, “Bring her back on course.” From the corner of his eye he could see the Lübeck’s guns suddenly open fire, and moments later the flash-flash on the horizon that marked the fall of the shot. Clausen’s voice echoed over the intercom as he plotted their course from the conning-tower. “On course, sir. Zero-two-two.” He sounded calm, even disinterested, even though Hechler knew his heart must be breaking to see the merchantmen destroyed in such a clinical way.
Hechler snatched up the gunnery handset. “This is the Captain. I’m about to turn to starboard. Bring the after turrets to bear on the enemy!” They would have a better chance with all four turrets in action. He looked across the bridge. “Alter course! Steer zero-seven-zero.”
He raised the glasses and looked across the sea, the ships in the convoy suddenly clear to see. They were much closer now, and Hechler winced as the great guns fired once more. Kroll was firing each turret one after the other, so the ship seemed to be constantly firing, the din never-ending.
Heyse gasped suddenly, “The Admiral, sir!”
Leitner strode across the bridge, his silk scarf no longer white, but a murky grey. He snapped, “Can’t see a damned thing from up there. Too much bloody smoke!” He gritted his teeth as the two after turrets fired again, the shell screaming off towards the smoke stacks on the horizon.
Hechler looked across to Leitner and asked, “Can I signal Lübeck to take station astern again?” He grimaced as the guns thundered out again, but Hechler was glad for Kroll’s efficient training now.
The intercom burst into life, “Straddling! Two hits!”
Leitner looked across at him. “No, Dieter, let him have his fun. We will keep the flagship astern so as to better direct the battle.”
He looked nervous, and Hechler could hardly believe his ears. “But sir, we are the stronger ship, we must take the lead to protect Lübeck from heavy surface escorts!” A cold feeling settled in his stomach as realisation hit him. For all his strutting and enthusiastic rhetoric, he was afraid of battle. Hechler turned away as Leitner’s voice broke over him.
“Captain! Obey your orders.”
Hechler turned away, still angry with Leinter. He looked across the horizon towards the convoy. Flash-flash. Flash-flash. There was a blink of gunfire, masked by the mist near the surface, and a few moments later the shells burst in waterspouts around the Lübeck.
Leitner called gleefully, “Not even a straddle!”
“Gunnery officer, sir.” Ahlmann was holding a telephone towards Hechler, and he turned away from the rail and held it to his ear.
Kroll said between explosions, “We’ve sunk a wing escort and have hit two merchantmen as well. One ship is leaving the convoy, range closing. By her size and speed she must be a cruiser.”
Hechler turned and stared at the Lübeck, stern on to them, her turrets all trained round to bear on the enemy. Where his own ship should be. The bridge quivered under his feet as the guns fired another salvo.
“Enemy in sight, sir! Bearing Red four-five!” Hechler lifted his glasses again and saw the dull silhouette as she broke from the mist, and was then wreathed in smoke as she fired again. Hechler did not lower the glasses, but said, “Tell the Gunnery Officer to concentrate on the enemy cruiser.” The turrets fired instantly, but it was too soon to see the result. He heard the gunnery intercom mutter, “Short.” Then Kroll’s voice. “Four hundred metre bracket!” A pause. “Fire!”
Leitner had clasped his hands together, an excited expression on his face. “Signal Lübeck to go for the convoy. We’ll take care of the cruiser!”
“Two hits!” The rest was drowned out by a violent explosion and Hechler quickly spun round to look at the Lübeck. Smoke and flame was pouring upwards from under the bridge where the shell had hit, but the Lübeck was already changing course, her forward guns firing on the convoy. Hechler looked at the British cruiser. She had been hit hard as well, and Hechler could see smoke and flames on her decks, but there was no let up in her rate of fire or accuracy.
The next salvo straddled the Lübeck and a boatswain’s mate watched in disbelief as her bow wave dwindled as another two shells exploded on top of her turrets.
Kroll announced, “Cruiser is disengaging, sir. The convoy is scattering too.”
Hechler looked again, and the enemy cruiser was bearing away as two destroyers came to escort her away from the battle. She had been outgunned from the start, but it only took a lucky shell, and she could have easily saved the convoy had circumstances been different.
“Shift target! Open fire!”
One by one the Prinz Luitpold picked off the merchantmen – they had no chance of survival. Only when smoke stretched across the horizon like a thick blanket did Hechler speak again. “Cease firing.” He glanced at the conning-tower, knowing Clausen would be feeling the loss of the merchantmen, the disgust at how easy it had been. There would be others in his crew feeling the same way, angry at the jubilant cries of their comrades. Hechler turned as Clausen, the Navigation Officer, emerged at the bridge after climbing down from the conning-tower. He waited patiently for Hechler to see him.
Froebe called suddenly, “Signal from Lübeck. Unable to make more than four knots. Request assistance.”
Hechler watched his admiral. That must have cost the cruiser’s captain a lot, he thought. Leitner swung round, looking directly at Hechler. “Signal the senior officer of the destroyers to escort Lübeck back to Norway.” He watched the lamp blinking away as the signalman passed the message across, his face white in the aftermath of the battle.
Hechler walked quickly across the bridge to Leitner, and spoke in hushed tones. “Sir, it is my opinion that we should escort Lübeck back to base. The British will be out for blood…”
“From Lübeck, sir. I require a tow.”
Hechler continued. “You see, sir. Even if the destroyers can tow her back, they cannot escape the British forces.”
Leitner turned away impatiently. “Has the destroyer leader acknowledged?”
He turned back towards Hechler. “Very well. Discontinue the action, Captain. Phase Two now!”
He clapped his arms behind his back and walked away to the rail, staring impassively across the sea.
“Fall out action stations.” Hechler picked up the handset. “Viktor? This is the Captain. We have disengaged, so come up to the bridge, will you?”
Clausen was already muttering orders at the back of the bridge, and Hechler watched as the long bow swung round, heading south west into the Norwegian Sea.
Clausen spoke, his voice carrying from the back of the bridge. “On new course, sir. Revolutions set for twenty knots.”
Hechler nodded at him, and then said. “In ten minutes I’ll join you in the chart room.”
Clausen nodded, his beard heavy in his chest. He knew what Hechler had meant. In ten minutes, Lübeck and the others would be too far astern to matter. Discarded and left to the gathering wolves. He watched Hechler’s grave expression and din’t know whether to pity him or thank God he was in command. He had seen one of the merchantmen die, a large one, high out of the water. In ballast. That wonderful feeling. Going home. Clausen decided to make a sketch of the unknown victim. For the first time in his life he was suddenly afraid as the full realisation of what they were about to do hit him.
By the time evening closed in, the visibility had dropped right down, and a low mist clung to the water as a fine drizzle covered the decks, making them gleam and shimmer like glass. Every turn of the large triple screws carried them further from land, from safety. All the signs of the brief convoy battle had been cleared away; the Prinz Luitpold had not been hit in the short engagement, but ammunition racks needed to be restocked, magazines refilled from the stores in the very depths of the ship. Hechler contemplated that this job would have been easier for his men had Leitner not insisted on keeping his cases of documents and boxes in one of the secure storage compartments that would normally store ammunition where it could be easily reached.
There were other matters to take care of as well. The ship had been making thirty knots when the Beaufighter had dropped the torpedo, and the Prinz Luitpold had made the hard turn. The turn had caused numerous injuries amongst the crew. Two men in the boiler room had been scalded as they were thrown from their feet. Several others had been thrown from ladders or across compartments. Erika Franke had been one of the latter, and sustained a bad strain to her wrist. The doctor, Stroheim had not reported to Hechler in person, as was the custom, but instead submitted a report, and Hechler still had to make up his mind whether it was merely arrogance, or that the matter had something to do with Inger.
Hechler now stood on the bridge, feet spaced wide apart as he felt the steady vibration, the confident power of the great engines. They had been travelling at thirty knot when they had made the turn, and they could reach a maximum speed of thirty five knots, enough to outpace even a destroyer, yet even at the sedate speed of twenty knots, the deck quivered and vibrated as if the cruiser was alive. Every radio message and intercepted signal was being recorded by Clausen’s team high in the conning-tower, and the radar constantly searched the waters around them. It had proven its worth in the convoy battle, and in addition to their attack, and pack of U-boats had forced home an attack on the eastbound convoy, and kept the heavy surface escorts otherwise engaged. In addition to Willentrop’s cunning deception with the storeships in the fjord, there was a high chance that the Prinz could break into the Atlantic before the Brits discovers their error.
Thinking of the convoy attack brought Hechler’s thoughts back to the Lübeck, and Hechler thought she stood little chance of reaching Norway where she could carry out repairs. Maybe she had already been caught by the vengeful patrols? He had made a further point to the admiral about leaving the Lübeck, but there was no point in pressing the argument. It was rumoured that an open row between the captain of the Bismarck and his admiral had sealed their fate just as much as enemy gunnery. He was pleased of the radar presence. It meant he could keep the crew on a normal watch so that they could at least get four hours of interrupted sleep. To lie down, even for a few moments made all the difference.
Suhren was standing across the bridge, and Hechler made his way over towards him, then stood next to him as they watched the undulating swell occasionally break over the forecastle. “We seem to be clear, Viktor.” He looked at the admiral’s flag curling at the masthead. “We will stand to action-stations through the night. I don’t want to be surprised tonight.”
“Do you still intend to pass south of Iceland, sir?”
“Yes. There is little point in passing through the Denmark Strait unless we’re challenged – there is far too much daylight at this time of the year, and much more air patrols. By passing between Iceland and the Faeroes, we’ll have 150 miles on either beam to play with.”
Suhren seemed to accept it. It was right for him to question it, Hechler thought. If anything happened to him, then Suhren would be expected to immediately assume command. With all luck they would pass through into the Atlantic with no trouble, and once at large, they would rendezvous with Rahn to brief him further, then head for the other rendezvous with a Milch-cow supply sub. These were submarines specially manufactured to spend weeks at sea, carrying nothing but stores, fuel and torpedoes to restock their smaller front line consorts. It meant that the U-boats could spend much longer on patrol. Nobody commented on what this did to the U-boat crews’ morale. Now the Prinz Luitpold would restock from her own dedicated supply subs, as would Rahn’s wolfpack. It was a daring scheme, like nothing ever undertaken, and Hechler smiled to himself. It was exactly the kind of thing Nelson would have done. The thin balance ever present, just like the Beaufighter pilots. Death or glory.
Hechler said suddenly, “I was sorry to hear about your wife, Viktor.”
Suhren faced him, his voice lowered. “The admiral?”
Hechler nodded. “He had to tell me, Viktor. Even if he had not been aboard, I would have been told. Don’t let it weigh too heavily on your mind, eh. We will need all of our strengths now.”
Suhren’s face paled. “It makes no difference to my ability! None whatsoever. I would be…”
Hechler interrupted him with a clap on the arm. “I’m going to the sickbay whilst it is quiet. Shake the load off your back, Viktor. I’m concerned for you, not your bloody ability!”
Suhren was still staring at him as he climbed down the ladder at the back of the bridge.
It felt strange to Hechler, being off the bridge whilst the ship was at sea. Normally he’d be on the bridge all the time except for when he was sleeping in the small sea-cabin behind the bridge. Even in U-boats he had been only a few seconds from the ladder up to the bridge. It felt very strange, down here, unable to see the sea, sounds muted by inches of armour plating and thick steel bracing. The only indication of movement was the steady vibration through the steel floor plates.
He walked into the sickbay, the bright white walls contrasting from the grey skies he had left on the bridge. There were two medical attendants passing between the injured, and one was placing some bottles back on a shelf. There was a bucket of broken glass in the corner as well, and Hechler noticed that the violent turn had even left its mark here. Most of the men were dozing in their cots, but one tried to sit to attention when he saw the captain enter, straining to get his bandaged arm into a salute. Hechler removed his cap and made a grin. “Easy there, rest while you can, eh?”
Then he turned, and spotted the doctor staring at him from his office. Hechler smiled and walked over. Karl-Heinz Stroheim was not what he expected. He was a large man, and his gold rimmed spectacles looked small on his chubby face. He watched Hechler warily as the captain entered his small office and closed the door.
“I have dealt with the casualties, Captain.”
“Hmm. Thought we should meet,” he grinned again, “So, Mohammed and the Mountain, you see?”
“I’m honoured, sir.”
“Yes, but don’t make a habit of it. I expect a report in person next time.” He changed tack suddenly. “A different appointment to your last, isn’t it?”
The man nodded, his chins quivering. “Yes, the barracks at Wilhelmshaven. Before that, well, you know about that.”
“You were in trouble.”
Stroheim grimaced, and then looked away. “Yes, but I was too valuable to be thrown out. They put me in uniform. I’m just grateful it was blue rather than field grey.”
“No shame in that.” He asked casually, “Abortions, was it?”
Stroheim’s jaw dropped and his eyes went wide. “How did you know!”
“I didn’t. A lucky guess.” He smiled gravely. “I’m told you know my wife.”
“No matter, we’ll talk again, I’m sure.” He stood up, glancing around the small office, noticing the gramophone and records, the pictures and homely items. “Don’t make this place too much like home. Mix with the others – it’s not good to be cut off.”
“Like you, do you mean, Captain?”
Hechler walked out the door. “I don’t need a consultation right now, thank you!”
He paused by the door. “Take good care of my men, Stroheim.”
He turned and stepped away quickly, stopping rapidly as he almost walked into Erika Franke. Her left arm was bandaged in a sling, and she smiled at him. “Tell me next time you change direction, Captain. That way I can keep well clear.”
He looked at her in concern. “I was sorry to hear of your injury. May I escort you to your quarters?”
It was the first time he had really seen her laugh, and then she made a mock scowl. “So correct, so proper, Captain!” Then she relented at the expression on Hechler’s face. “I should like the company. I find the ladders difficult at the moment.”
Hechler looked down at her. She only just reached his shoulders, but he hadn’t noticed before. He had hoped to see her; the doctor had been an excuse. They walked along the passageway, some parts in deep shadow.
“I should like to visit the bridge again. I need the air, the view. I hate being trapped below here.”
“Any time.” He watched her out of the corner of his eye as their feet made sharp noises on the deck plating. “It is good to see a pretty face amongst all us ugly men.”
He stopped as a messenger ran up to them and skidded to a halt. “There is a message from the bridge for you, sir.”
Hechler walked briskly over to a handset mounted on the wall as the girl followed him over. The messenger had already disappeared, almost as fast as he had arrived. He heard Suhren’s voice in hushed tones, and the muted sound of the sea and wind beyond him. “The Admiral has had a signal, sir. Lübeck was sunk.”
Hechler replaced the handset very slowly, his eyes suddenly grave.
She was watching him, her eyes concerned. “May I ask, Captain?”
He looked at her, his eyes empty, his expression betraying nothing. “Lübeck’s gone. She was sunk a few minutes ago.” He could see it as if it had happened right here. The ship, alone, limping back towards Norway. The flashes on the horizon and then the final, devastating salvos that landed around her.
She said softly, “You didn’t want to leave her, did you?” She continued as she saw the question in his bright eyes. “I was told. Everybody knew. They’re very fond of their young captain.”
He turned away, speaking softly now. “Yes. I wanted to stay with her. Now she’s gone.” He thought of the burning convoy, the Brits out for blood. “It must not have been in vain.” He walked briskly down the passageway, not seeing the girl watching him walk away, nor the expression on her face.
It must not have been in vain.
Enjoy! Next time Hechler will probably meet some old friends :p
10-21-2006, 07:29 PM
Hechler shifted on the steel chair and pushed his back further into the seatback. If he sat up, he could see all the way along the foredeck, wet and glistening in the damp air as if the ship had been hit by a rainsquall, but every now and then the high bows dipped into the seas and massive welters of spray crashed over the long forecastle. It was afternoon, and the sky was covered by long, dark clouds. He heard Clausen’s deep tones behind him as he passed more helm orders forward, checking and rechecking the course for the rendezvous.
The ship’s motion was uncomfortable as she was throttled down in the large seas, and Hechler noticed a young sailor looking distinctly green. It reminded him of his U-boat days, and the wild motion the submarines took up when in heavy seas. The Prinz Luitpold was moving slowly through the seas, in mid-Atlantic, waiting for Rahn’s U-32 to appear and join with the cruiser. Leitner was to brief the two commanding officers on the tactics required for the daring convoy attacks. U-32 would dive and disappear below the waves whilst Rahn was aboard, and search around its larger consort to act as a further warning against detection. Hechler shrugged his shoulders deeper into his thick watchcoat to keep the damp air away.
At the moment, he didn’t look like a typical captain, his old fisherman’s sweater showing beneath his uniform jacket, and the jacket itself was an older one, frayed at the edges. It was a drawback to his U-boat days, but Hechler preferred it that way, and enjoyed the warm comfort his old sweater gave him. It also had another, not totally unwanted effect of irritating Leitner, who always seemed to be impeccably dressed; his cap at a rakish angle on his head.
Hechler looked up over the screen as he saw the admiral appear from behind Turret Anton, head high despite the spray, his face flushed and youthful. It was no surprise to Hechler to see Leitner walking next to Oberletnant Bauer, the signals and communications officer. He was also the political officer and had taken numerous walks with the youthful admiral, and Hechler wondered what they discussed. He was willing to wager a large amount of money that Suhren and the Prinz’s captain were probably one of the more frequent topics of discussion. Hechler was surprised to find that he didn’t care.
Clausen called, “New course, sir. Two-one-five.”
Hechler looked across the bridge as the heavy cruiser slowly turned he bows across the seas, nosing into the waves now, and he grinned as he saw the two figures on the foredeck move swiftly out of the way of a wave that had broken over the foredeck. If they saw anything now, they would have to forego the rendezvous, and proceed towards the next one. Hechler wasn’t too concerned, for there were frequent meetings planned with the Milch Cows. Leitner intended to keep the Prinz Luitpold’s tanks topped up as much as possible.
It had been four days since the cruiser had faded into the mist after leaving the Lübeck to her fate, and Hechler had seen the girl a few times since then, but she had kept below decks for the most part, and Hechler wondered if the heavy seas had made her uncomfortable moving around with her injured wrist. The Prinz Luitpold had covered almost two thousand miles in that time, and was now about a thousand miles north of the Azores. The rest of the wolfpack were gathered further south, somewhere between the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde islands.
He heard Suhren’s footsteps on the gratings and shifted around to look at him.
“All well, Viktor?” Things were still strained between them, and had been since Hechler had talked to Suhren about his wife. Suhren was almost never seen now without a surly, moody expression on his face, and Hechler guessed that he had been brooding a lot. Not the best mindset when they were about to head into battle. Hechler thought about the impending rendezvous, and thought again of how different Suhren was from Rahn, the only two officers who had served as his second-in-command. Hechler felt he had grown to know Suhren, but that had all changed since his leave. Suhren was much more withdrawn now, although it had done little to reduce his biting comments, and his endless search for efficiency.
Apart from a grunted ‘yes’, Suhren remained silent on the bridge. Hechler glanced at his watch. The rendezvous was any minute now, and he looked out to port at the waves. They were not too large, but would make it difficult for Rahn to climb aboard. The camera team were already assembling on the side, ready to shoot some footage of the U-boat meeting with the powerful cruiser in the middle of the Atlantic.
“U-boat on the port beam, sir!”
The lookout had spotted her first, and Hechler held the heavy glasses to his eyes as he saw the dull, battered conning-tower emerging from the sea, water streaming off her deck as she headed closer to the larger warship. Hechler could see the large white numbers, ‘32’ on the side of the tower, and then his eyes widened as he saw the emblem on the side of the tower. It was a U-boat commander, looking exactly like Hechler, with a telescope held to his eye facing directly away from a large merchant that was steaming behind him. The officer had a speech bubble from his mouth, and as the submarine drew closer and her motion eased as she passed under the lee of the cruiser, Hechler could read the words, and couldn’t suppress a chuckle. Hechler’s image on the conning tower was saying, ‘I see no ships!’
Hechler swiftly moved off the bridge and down onto the upper deck as he moved aft towards the accommodation ladder, already being lowered for Rahn to climb aboard. In the lee of the cruiser, the seas were much calmer, and the U-boat was moving easily towards the ladder. Hechler grinned as he thought of Rahn’s tribute to U-32’s last commander, his reputation as Dieter ‘Blindman’ Hechler and the famous words of his idol, Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson. A side party of seamen were already assembling, young Heyse drilling them into line as Hechler stood in front of them, ready to welcome his friend aboard. Leitner was already hurrying forward, Bauer at his heels as they waited for the young U-boat officer. Out of the corner of his eye, Hechler spotted Erika Franke standing on the deck above, looking down at the welcome party from over the rail.
Hechler turned and smiled at her before stepping forward as he saw the ladder jerk as the U-boat latched on. The ladder trembled as Rahn started climbing up, still unseen. The peals and trills of the side-party began as his white cap emerged level with the deck. He stepped aboard and saluted crisply as Leitner stepped forward. The admiral returned the salute before shaking Rahn’s hand. Hechler stood just behind the Leitner, and as Leitner moved away, they saluted each other, their faces a mask of formality, before Hechler grinned and embraced him.
“It’s good to have you with us, Dietrich,” He murmured as he stepped away. “And the new tower emblem, absolutely brilliant Dietrich! It was Rehburg, right?”
Rahn grinned at him and nodded, before turning and watching his command slip below the waves. The Prinz Luitpold would be travelling too fast for the submarine to keep pace on the surface, so U-32 under the capable hands of Rahn’s second-in-command would take the sub to the next rendezvous in five hours time.
As Hechler turned around, he noticed the side party moving away as the deck trembled afresh as Clausen and Suhren got her under way again. Leitner had disappeared, but Hechler knew that he had only gone to prepare his briefing for the two commanding officers. He looked up and noticed she was still standing next to the rail, a curious expression on her face. Hechler smiled at her before he clapped Rahn on the shoulder as they headed for the admiral’s large cabin.
“Please be seated, gentlemen.” Leitner beamed at them from behind the large desk in his spacious quarters. Hechler sat in the comfortable chair, aware of Rahn doing the same to the left of him. “Korvettenkapitän Rahn, it is a pleasure to have you with us.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Leitner sat back in the heavy chair before reaching under his desk to reveal a large chart of the Atlantic. It was covered with pencil marks, arrows and scribbled notes in the margins. Hechler leaned forward a little, his interest peaked.
Leitner was speaking again. “It has been confirmed that the major convoy of enemy troops is going ahead.” He pointed out the position on the chart. “All the way around Good Hope and then up the Atlantic to Gibraltar, where they will be met by heavy air cover.” He paused again, his eyes gleaming. Hechler reflected that he had always been like this, gleeful at knowing something others didn’t. “However, as well as an expansive ASW escort cover, there are a few large surface escorts sailing with the convoy. Latest intelligence reports that there is at least one battleship, and several cruisers. Odds far to steep, even for a ship as powerful as this.”
Hechler imagined it in his mind, the strong, fast convoy with packed troopships and merchants full with tanks and other military equipment, then the heavy surface escort. Even the Prinz Luitpold couldn’t take on a battleship. He thought again of the Tirpitz, holed up in a Norwegian fjord whilst her fuel had been earmarked for tanks on the Russian front. If she had been here with the Prinz, they could have taken any convoy, no matter what the odds. He was drawn from his thoughts as Leitner began to speak again.
“It never ceases to amaze me – if the British have one weakness it is their overriding interest in protecting men rather than materials. They never seem to realize that without materials of war, men will be killed more surely than in a convoy battle. We will prove how futile their sense of honour is.” He pointed to the Indian Ocean. “Three days ago, one of our long-range U-boats enroute for Japan spotted a fast convoy of tankers with a heavy ASW escort heading for the Cape of Good Hope. We all know where it is headed, eh?” He looked across at both of them, his expression suddenly sorrowful. “Unfortunately, the intelligence report the U-boat commander sent cost him dearly. He managed to get a signal off estimating at least 20 large tankers, but he must have been discovered, and there has been no further contact with the U-boat.”
His eyes were gleaming again, his features excited, as he stood and leaned forward. “Except for any unforeseen factor there would be little chance of surprise. As we speak, a careful campaign is ahead to leak radio reports to the effect that The Prinz Luitpold is headed for the Caribbean. It is hoped that this will allow us a better chance against the convoy. Even the Allies seemed to grasp the fact that this convoy is absolutely vital, yet seem to place their trust in speed rather than brute force. My information…” He let his gaze rest briefly on Hecher, “is that the enemy has no idea where we are at present, nor how we aim to access fuel. They definitely have no idea that we are working in conjunction with our brave wolfpack.” He nodded slowly. “Planning, gentlemen. It far outpaces sentiment and outdated strategy.” He picked up a long wooden pointer and rested it on a dot in the middle of the Atlantic. “Ascension Island, gentlemen. One of the Allies’ strongholds in this region.” He looked up at them as the pointer slowly moved south. “We shall travel a further two thousand miles south, out of the range of most Allied aircraft. We will fuel at a couple of rendezvous on the way, and the wolfpack will also fuel at the pre-arranged points. We will alter out final rendezvous once greater intelligence tells us the course of the convoy. It is highly possible that the convoy will pick up a heavy surface escort at Cape Town, but they will be surprised, eh?”
Leitner straightened up and walked across the cabin, pacing steadily over the plush carpet. He turned and faced them, his face subdued, his voice calm and quiet again. “Then there is the other matter of our mission, one that only the Führer and Willentrop know of. Gentlemen, it is with a heavy heart that I have to break this news to you. The Reich is fighting for its life. We are hard pressed on two fronts, the very thing we strove to avoid. Our U-boats are suffering catastrophic losses, and our other Naval vessels scared of their own shadows. This ship, the Prinz Luitpold, is the only remaining major unit in the Kriegsmarine capable of inflicting damage on the enemy, yet even we cannot hope to change the course of the battle.”
Rahn looked across at Hechler, noting that his friend was outwardly calm, his features composed, yet his eyes told a different story. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what his expression was. There certainly wasn’t any sorrow for the Fatherland, he thought. Rahn felt like a traitor as he silently thanked God that the Allies would reach Eva before the Russians. He dragged his attention back to Leitner as the admiral began to speak again.
“We are entrusted with a vital mission.” He walked briskly over to the map again. The pointer was resting on the River Plate. “After the convoy battle, you are to take your ship to Buenos Aires where we will meet with the German consulate to arrange the extradition of senior Party officials from Germany. They will arrive by submarine, but we are to set up procedures and facilities in Argentina to quickly change the identities of our politicians.” He looked at them. “That is all gentlemen.”
Hechler followed Rahn out of the cabin, his thoughts unraveling before him. He heard Rahn mention something about taking a walk around the upper deck, and made a brief reply before walking briskly down the passageway, his feet pounding rapidly over the steel plates. So, not a brave end for the Prinz Luitpold, but yet another bolt-hole, he thought. He swore savagely, wondering how the German High Command could be so willing to discard the heavy cruiser to the same fate as the Graf Spee. He was so consumed by his thoughts that he never saw the girl staring at him as he walked briskly past her, her eyes wide in concern.
Rahn walked slowly around the upper deck, savouring the exercise denied him in the submarine. He thought again of Hechler, worried for his friend. If the attack on the tanker convoy worked, the British would be out for their blood. The Prinz Luitpold would be hunted down, and Rahn couldn’t imagine Hechler running for a bolt-hole. What was the phrase he always quoted from Nelson? “The boldest measures are always the safest” or something like that. He shook his head and grinned. Imagine if the High Command found out that Hechler’s idol was a British Admiral.
Rahn thought of his role in the ‘grand mission’ as he had come to call it. The plan was certainly daring, and Rahn was sure that his U-boats could rout the convoy if the cruiser could take out the destroyers. The boats had plenty of fuel, although Rahn’s U-32 would be hard pushed to make the rendezvous on time, he was sure they would make it. He looked up as someone touched his arm. It was the flier, he struggled for her name. Erika Franke, wasn’t it?
She spoke in a quiet tone. “May I walk with you?”
Rahn looked down at her, containing his sudden surprise. “Certainly. I would enjoy the company.”
The walked in comfortable silence before Rahn looked over at her. “How are you finding the navy? I have heard of your exploits in the air, but I didn’t realise you were serving on one of our warships.”
She laughed then, and a nearby sailor stared at them as they walked by. “Willentrop’s orders. You are just like the Captain! He asked me almost the exact same thing only a few days ago.” She looked across at him, her eyes inquisitive. “You are very close to him, aren’t you?”
“Yes. I was his second-in-command in U-32 for just over a year, and we grew very close.” Rahn watched her carefully out of the corner of his eye.
“I saw how he greeted you as you came aboard. He doesn’t tend to show too much emotion.” She looked at him directly. “He is different to what I expected.”
Rahn noted her expression. So that was it. He thought of Hechler as he remembered him most, on the open bridge of U-32, his hair blowing wildly and his tall, powerful frame ignoring the frequent bursts of spray that had crashed over the tower. Then his compassion towards every last member of his crew, a kind word here and there, a reassuring glance. No wonder she was so interested. He thought of a suitable reply. “An enigma perhaps?”
She smiled at him. “You are leading me.” She added, “He seems to care so much about people. How can he do his work?”
Rahn nodded slowly, his expression controlled. “Yes, in that way he is unlike any man I have ever known. Even in the midst of a depthcharge attack, he would ask a sailor how his family were doing, if his son was in school yet. He was even compassionate towards our old Chief Engineer who had pulled a gun on Hechler when we were being depthcharged. He had cracked under the pressure, and almost killed Hechler, yet he was still cut up when the SS took Krystoflak away. It never ceases to amaze me.”
She smiled again. “When I first came aboard I thought he was so dull, uptight. Another political creature. I never knew how carefully he kept his guard up.”
Rahn nodded again. “He wasn’t always like that. He was hurt badly when Inger left him.”
“I met her. She is very beautiful. Are they still married or anything?”
He warmed to her. “Anything would be closer, I believe. He wouldn’t take her back now, after all she has done.”
She nodded, then said quietly, “I’ll bid you farewell, Commander. Thank you for telling me about him.” She slipped away as the U-boat surfaced next to the Prinz, and Rahn was still thinking about their brief conversation as Hechler had seen him over the side. He hoped Hechler would realise it himself, but Rahn was fully prepared to give him a nudge in the right direction if his friend showed any signs of stubborn-ness. It was a troubled U-boat Commander that conned the submarine beneath the waves, and as the fast screws of the heavy cruiser faded away, Rahn lay in his bunk, thinking of the battles ahead.
Hope you like it!
10-22-2006, 10:48 AM
Oh yes siree....I certainly like :up: :rock:
Oh god, 2 chapters... I have some catching up to do.
10-22-2006, 07:17 PM
It was worth the wait!!!
Bring on the next installment!!:up::up:
10-25-2006, 05:01 PM
Here we go - more characters :D
The Naval Base of Freetown was packed with ships of all design. Warships of every class and size, then the merchantmen, the newer, grey plating of the Victory and Liberty ships contrasting against the rusty, buckled plating on the older tramp steamers. The warships added colour to the scene, mostly the darker hues and garish dazzle paint of the Atlantic vessels at odds with the paler hulls of ships from the Indian Ocean and beyond, having made the long voyage up from the Cape.
There were stubby little Canadian corvettes that had fought their charges all the way from Newfoundland, and then the large, powerful cruisers with the range and armament to cover vast areas of ocean well beyond the Cape of Good Hope or Gibraltar. Freighters, tankers, ammunition ships and troopships – there was even a hospital ship, its dazzling white paintwork and vibrant red crosses shimmering in the harsh sunlight.
The largest warship in Freetown was the HMS Renown, the leading battlecruiser of the Renown-class. He only sister ship, the HMS Repulse, had been sunk back in 1941 by Japanese bombers. The big 30,000 ton vessel dominated the harbour, and even the large County-class heavy cruisers looked small next to her. She was heavily armed with six 15-inch guns mounted in three twin-turrets, as well as fifteen 4-inch guns as her secondary armament. She could make 30 knots when hard pushed – well she had used to be able to make 30 knots, Captain Roger Pembroke, Royal Navy, DSO mused to himself. There was a good reason why the two battlecruisers had been nicknamed ‘HMS Repair’ and ‘HMS Refit’.
Pembroke sat in his cabin; the scuttles wide open in an attempt to suck even the faintest breeze into sweltering cabin. He sat beneath the deckhead fan, a pink gin in his hand as he surveyed the signal that had just been handed. The ship was deserted apart from the necessary hands needed for the harbour duty. The rest of the ships officers were out playing golf or cricket. The reason was obvious. The Renown had broken down. Again. Pembroke sighed to himself as he removed the cap from his head and ran a sweaty hand through his greying hair. He was a tall man, and the white shirt and Bermuda shorts made him look ungainly. There were damp patches under his armpits as he looked savagely at the deckhead fan. It had stopped moving, yet another broken item to be fixed, he thought. At least they would be able to move tomorrow – well they would if the repairs were finished on time.
He was in his late forties, and had served in the Navy all his life. He sat looking back on his career and wondered where it had gone wrong. True, he was the Captain of one of the more powerful ships in Her Majesty’s navy, but in truth the Renown was clapped out, a relic from the Great War. He had only managed to get this command because of his influence. Without his connections, and had there not been a war on, he would have been thrown out of the navy when his last ship had sunk underneath him on that fateful dawn morning.
He could remember it as if it was yesterday, the dawn just beginning to lift, the hazy outlines of the freighters around him growing harder, sharper in the rising light. Then, the sudden explosion, the fires around the deck as he had stumbled from the bridge in a daze, one glance telling him all he needed to know. She was going down. He remembered little else except for another explosion, then finding himself in the water, watching the stern of his ship rising up out of the sea, her three screws gleaming. Then she slipped below the surface, seeming to quiver as she went on her way. His ship, HMS Glasgow, gone.
Then he remembered being picked up, one of the few survivors. The sudden agony as he had been pulled aboard the boat. Unconsciously his hand moved to his lower arm, rubbing the disfigured skin. The burns had never fully healed. His convalescence at Haslar Naval Hospital had been brief, but he had managed to find the name of the German who had brought his career crashing down around him.
He started as there was a knock at the door and his second-in-command, Commander Bruce Manning entered the room. He looked at him as Manning said, “I hear we have some news, sir.”
Pembroke smiled, “Yes, Bruce.” His eyes grew distant. “Have a drink while you’re here.”
He stared out of the scuttle as a small dinghy pulled away from the side of the ship, the seamen grinning to each other. When he looked back at Manning, he found the officer sitting in a chair opposite him, sipping a gin slowly.
Pembroke cleared his throat. Damn the heat, he thought. “The Jerries have put one of their big cruisers to sea. They think it may be the Prinz Luitpold.” His eyes hardened. “I hope to God it is!”
The Commander sipped his gin and looked steadily at his superior. “She won’t get this far south, not at this stage in the war, sir.” He nodded emphatically. “I mean, it’s just not on, sir!”
Pembroke sighed to himself. Manning had no balls whatsoever, he thought to himself. He knew that the war would end soon, and Pembroke also knew that once it was over he would be thrown onto the beach like so many others. Discarded. They even had some phrase about it. ‘God and the Navy we adore, when danger threatens and not before!’ He looked at the signal, from today, he was promoted to Acting-Commodore of a small squadron consisting of two other ships; the County-class cruiser moored next to them and the HMNZS Christchurch, a Leander-class light cruiser. She looked like a destroyer next to the Renown, but Pembroke knew her crew were trained well.
He thought about the German raider. As Manning had said, it was unlikely that the Prinz Luitpold would reach the South Atlantic, but it was his last chance. The only chance he had to make that last-step to flag rank. Harwood, the commander of the squadron that had run the Graf Spee to ground, had made flag rank immediately afterwards. But that wasn’t the only reason he wanted to get the raider.
Manning said carefully, “I’d forgotten, sir. You’ve already crossed swords with the Prinz Luitpold before. North Cape, wasn’t it?”
“I don’t forget! But that’s not the reason I want to battle with her.” He gazed savagely at the bulkhead. “She’s got a new captain now. Dieter Hechler.” He spat the name out. “He took the Glasgow from me, the bastard. We’ll see how he likes it now.” He looked at Manning, noting the man flinch from his angry gaze. “He can’t hide under the ****ing water this time!” His voice had risen to a shout, and Pembroke was suddenly aware that his glass was empty, and the young sailor outside the scuttle frozen in place.
With an effort he lowered his voice. “We’re to take the Christchurch and the Devonshire, Bruce, and reinforce a convoy. Apparently there’s only one in the area with no escort. A couple of destroyers, but nothing to fend off the likes of the Prinz Luitpold.” He clapped his hands together. “Recall all the officers, Bruce, and send a signal to Devonshire and the Kiwi. I want their commanding officers on board, chop bloody chop!”
As Manning hurried from his cabin, Pembroke poured a large measure of gin into his glass. He wondered if Hechler knew that the *Lübeck had scuttled herself. Somehow he doubted it. The signal had completely changed his mood. He nodded to himself. There was no way that Hechler was getting away from him this time.
The old captain stood on the port bridge wing, staring over the horizon. It was one of those rare days in the Atlantic where the sea was flat calm, the sky blending with the water in a haze on the horizon. They were the last ship on the far port column of the convoy. If he had glanced forward and across to starboard he would have seen the other twenty ships they were steaming with. A destroyer raced up the line, investigating a contact no doubt. He shivered to himself. He dreaded the U-boats, the unseen killers. He hoped to God the destroyer would keep her at arms length.
They had passed the Cape Verde islands to starboard in the night, and in a few hours the covering squadron from Freetown was due to meet up with them. It was rumoured the Repulse would be leading the squadron. His ship was the S.S. Keverne, an 8000 ton tramp steamer. He rubbed his bristled chin – it was a custom of his never to shave until he crossed the Liverpool bar. Safety.
He thought of the reports. A German raider? They must have got it wrong. Either she had already returned to Norway or had run into one of the pickets up north. He looked across the bridge as a young sailor called out to him. “Look, there’s a plane, sir!”
The captain looked across at him in disgust. “Can’t you bloody well report it properly! Where away? What bearing?”
He held the binoculars to his eyes and saw the tiny silver flash in the sky. It wasn’t a Sunderland that was for sure. He said flatly. “It’s a Jerry.” He looked out over the port beam, into the haze. Suddenly, there was a series of flashes. Eight of them. He counted the seconds, hardly believing his eyes, until there was a wild shrieking as the shells came screaming down around him. He felt the hull lurch as one exploded low on the port beam. The motion instantly changed, the ship was slowing down. He didn’t need to pull the old steamer out of line; there was nothing behind him.
Gradually they fell astern, seemingly forgotten as he watched the convoy in front of him being torn to shreds. The shells never seemed to stop, just sent salvo after salvo into the merchantmen. He cringed as an ammunition ship blew up in a mighty gout of flame. He looked across at the horizon again as he saw the silhouette. He saw the guns pointed high in the sky, the ripple of flashes along her length as the guns fired again. The shell splashes landed amongst the few remaining ships as the captain shook his head in dismay; seemingly oblivious to the list his own ship was taking.
Cheers for reading this far - I know the posts can be quite long. I have to say I'm really enjoying writing them though :p
10-26-2006, 06:02 AM
Words escape me :rock: :rock: :rock:
10-26-2006, 11:40 AM
Tres Bien Mon Kapitan!:up:
10-27-2006, 05:41 AM
Cheers for reading this far - I know the posts can be quite long. I have to say I'm really enjoying writing them though :p
As I enjoy reading them. Well done....Waiting anxiously for the rest
10-28-2006, 03:49 PM
Here we go, next installment to be posted soon!
“Stop engines.” Pembroke’s voice was harsh to disguise his inner feelings as he gazed across the macabre scene. “Lower the boats.”
Acting-Commodore Roger Pembroke was appalled at the scene. They had met with the convoy, as per their orders, only to find that the convoy now consisted of two ships, and even they were barely able to move. He looked down to the water, seeing the Renown’s high stem parting the endless litter of bodies, wreckage and human remains as the way came off the ship. Half a mile astern of them the heavy cruiser Devonshire and the New Zealand cruiser Christchurch followed slowly after them, their signal lamps flashing at them.
The convoy must have scattered at the last minute, a futile attempt to pull away from the raider’s guns. He lowered his binoculars and looked across the sea, watching as a destroyer lashed herself to a listing freighter and helped douse flames that were dancing over the decks. There was burnt and scorched paintwork and a heavy slick of oil across the sea. There were a few men floating in the water, alive; their bodies shining in oil as they coughed pitifully awaiting rescue from the battlecruiser’s boats. There were more corpses than living, but it was worth a try.
“Signal Christchurch to cover us, Bruce.”
The lamp clattered again, and a distant voice called, “Lower away!” They were launching one of the old whalers. He snorted; what wasn’t old in this ship? The motorboat had already left the side with the surgeon aboard as it slowly picked its way through the carnage. A long black line lifted and dipped above the water like a crippled submarine, and Pembroke was shocked to realise it was the keel of an escorting destroyer. There was no trace of the other escort, a corvette.
The other surviving ship was a large tanker, its deck almost awash. There were fires raging across the deck, and also in the sea where some oil had spilled. Pembroke swallowed slowly as the painful cries of men came from the fires floating on the water. The men had tried to swim away from the ship, to safety. Instead, they had only hastened their death.
Pembroke said savagely, “A whole convoy wiped out but for these pathetic remains! He attacked four hours ago. Four hours!” Pembroke glared around at the bridge crew. “All they needed was another day – we would have been escorting the convoy by then, and the escort group on their way from Gib. Such bloody luck!”
The Admiralty had confirmed that the raider was the Prinz Luitpold, and there were fresh details coming out every hour. Now the German could be anywhere. He thought of the signals, and the information from the listing freighter, Keverne which had been left almost untouched. Somebody aboard that poor freighter had kept his head, and reported seeing the cruiser’s faint silhouette as she had headed away at full speed to the south-west. Manning had asked, “Give chase, sir?”
Pembroke had studied his charts and convoy lists with little luck. The raider had steamed away without sinking the Keverne. There had to be a reason. Now as he watched the oil-streaked boats picking their way amongst the human remains, he went over it again for the hundredth time.
Give chase. To where? To the coastline of Brazil, or back along the same course? It had certainly caused high blood pressure in London, he thought. Every British warship was already under orders. A nightmare for the Allied Command. There could be no let-up in the lines of supply to France. The Channel was filled with vessels of every kind, carrying fuel and ammunition. Acording to latest intelligence, there were at least seventeen major convoys at sea, all well escorted for the most part, but to repel U-boat and bombing attacks, not a bloody great cruiser like the Prinz Luitpold.
Pembroke still couldn’t work out how it had happened. The RAF recce boys had reported that after the battle near Bear Island, Prinz Luitpold had been seen and photographed back in her Norwegian lair. It didn’t make any sense. Somebody’s head would be on the block because of it, but it still didn’t offer any satisfaction to repel the horror of the destroyed convoy.
He glanced across the open bridge, the intent figures and anxious faces. A midshipman was retching into his handkerchief as he stared at the gruesome, bobbing remains.
Pembroke rasped, “Get off my bridge, damn you, until you can act like a man!”
It was cruel and unfair, and Pembroke knew it but didn’t care. He thought of Manning’s words, and his own replies. “Give chase? I don’t think so, Bruce. He had a reason for letting the Keverne stay afloat. He wanted her to see him steam away, and report his course.” It felt easier now that he had decided. “No, I reckon he changed direction as soon as he was clear of all this. Get the convoy lists, and we’ll study the chart. He used to be a ****ing U-boat Commander – they’re all devious bastards, the lot of ‘em!”
A messenger hurried onto the bridge, and handed a piece of paper to Pembroke. “Signal from the Admiralty, sir.” Pembroke nodded to the man and studied the message.
To HMS Renown, Commodore’s eyes only.
In the last two hours, a U-boat was captured in position N30’15 E59’12. Said U-boat of large ‘Milch Cow’ supply submarine type. Courageous action on part of crew of HMS Pansy allowed capture of certain documents. Enigma machine and codebooks not, repeat not, captured but documents refer to rendezvous with Hipper-class cruiser Prinz Luitpold. Submarine loaded with fuel and 8-inch ammunition. Rendezvous position indicates raider is heading for Caribbean.
You are hereby requested and required to take squadron P (HMS Renown, HMS Devonshire, HMNZS Christchurch) to rendezvous to close down raider and destroy her without delay. Current intelligence indicates raider will commence attacks against shipping in Caribbean.
Pembroke read through the message once more, carefully making sure it said what it did. His hunch had been right – the cruiser had changed course once clear of the convoy. He wrinkled his nose. “Signal a recall to the boats and we’ll get underway. The destroyer can stand by the survivors until the escort group turns up.”
“Change course, head north-west. Full speed ahead.”
Pembroke looked down at the survivors being led away below decks, huddled in blankets. There did not seem to be many of them, he thought. For Pembroke, the war had suddenly become a personal one.
Hechler stamped his feet on the deck to restore his circulation and looked around the damp decks. The visibility had lifted, but the sky was still dark and overcast. They had steered south-west from the convoy, and Leitner had only once questioned his judgement.
Hechler had answered, “The British will look for clues. By heading south-west in view of the freighter, they will think it was a ruse, and expect us to alter course immediately to throw them off the scent. I would.”
Leitner had seemed to consider it, his eyes unreadable. “But if not, Dieter? Suppose the British admiral thinks as you do?” Then he had nodded and smiled. “But then they will think we are after the troop convoy. The other ruse has worked as well. BdU have had no further communication with the supply submarine that was to be captured by the British with our fake orders.”
Heavy units of the Home Fleet were already rushing to reinforce the troop convoy and swell its defences. Suicide for any attacking surface raider, but with such high stakes, the end might justify the means. Because of that risk no admiral would dare leave the convoy unguarded. It was one of the biggest of its kind, too large to turn back, too vital to stop.
So the Prinz Luitpold had continued as before. They had been forced to miss their first rendezvous with the Milch Cow in order to intercept the convoy, but they were now a few hundred miles off the coast of Brazil, heading for another rendezvous.
Hechler had thought about the attack on the convoy a lot since they had fled the scene. It had been so easy, and he had found no satisfaction from it. It had been slaughter, the careering merchantmen and their escorts falling to their massive bombardment like targets in a fairground. It was their war. What they had been trained for. What they must do.
Hechler glanced at his watch. The rendezvous would be in twenty minutes time. There was a coughing roar from amidships and Hechler shifted uneasily in his chair. He wanted to walk aft and watch the brightly painted Arado as it was tested on the catapult. Leitner had told him that it would be launched without further delay. The camera team would be down there too, waiting to record their audacity as they flew off the new aircraft, indifferent to the enemy and what they could do.
Hechler had seen the girl when he had left the bridge to visit the various action stations as the ship had steamed away from the convoy. She had been in the hangar, where her new Arado had been housed throughout the bombardment, its wings detached and stowed separately rather than folded. They had faced each other awkwardly, like strangers.
Hechler had heard himself enquiring how she had taken the din of the salvos and the vicious shaking of the hull that had accompanied the smoke and din from each crash of gunfire.
She had watched him as if to see her own answers without asking the questions. Now she was down there with the aircraft-handling party. Ready to fly off, so that some lunatic’s desire for patriotic realism could be filmed.
Suhren was standing next to him. “I think it is madness to put that plane in the air. Suppose…” He looked around quickly, then whispered, “He’s coming up, sir.”
Leitner strode onto the bridge, his familiar silk scarf flapping in the keen air, but otherwise unprotected by a heavier coat. He smiled at the bridge party and returned Hechler’s salute.
“According to my watch…” He frowned as Clausen called, “Permission to alter course for take-off, sir?”
Hechler nodded. “Warn the engine room.”
Leitner’s good humour returned. “See, the sky is brightening. It will do our people at home a lot of good to see these films.” He glared as his aide appeared on the bridge. “Well?”
The flag-lieutenant eyed him worriedly. “The camera team would like you to join them, sir.” He glanced shyly at Hechler. “I have a list of questions you will be asked.”
Leitner clapped one hand on his chest and gave an elaborate sigh. “What we must do in the name of duty!”
Clausen lifted his face from the voicepipe as the helmsman acknowledged the change of course. He watched as Leitner marched to the aft-ladder and then looked over at Heyse, who shared the watch with Froebe.
He said softly, “Does he fill you with pride, young Ulrich? Make you want to spill your guts for your country?” He grimaced. “Sometimes I despair.”
Hechler heard him, but let it pass. Clausen was releasing the tension in his usual way.
“Ready to fly off aircraft, sir!”
“Slow ahead all engines.”
Hechler walked from his chair and leaned over the screen, the damp wind pressing into his face. He saw the camera team down aft, some sailors freshly changed into their best uniforms, outwardly chatting to their admiral. Hechler looked at the vibrating Arado on the catapult, trained outward ready to be flown off.
He saw the girl’s helmeted head lowered to speak with one of the deck crew before she closed the cockpit cover and waved a gloved hand. He felt his stomach contract and was stunned by the sudden concern. There was nothing that they could do or share. What was the matter with him? Was it Inger’s fury or his own loneliness? He tensed as the shining Arado roared from the catapult and without hesitation climbed up and away from the slow moving cruiser.
“Five minutes, sir!”
Clausen’s voice made him pull his thoughts together. It was more like a shoal of than a surfacing submarine, Hechler thought. Long flurries of spray and frothing bubbles, so that when the hull eventually appeared half a mile away it rose with a kind of tired majesty.
Heyse exclaimed, “God she’s big!”
The huge submarine surfaced and lay on the heaving water like a gigantic whale. Unlike a combat U-boat she lacked both menace and dignity. Even as they watched, men were swarming from her squat conning-tower, while from her casing, untidy-looking derricks and hoses were already rising from hidden compartments.
The tannoy blared below the bridge, and men ran to the prepared tackles and winches, ready to haul the fuel lines to the bunkers. Hechler saw men waving to each other across the water. It must be a heartening sight to such a large warship at large in enemy waters, he thought.
A telephone buzzed and Heyse called, “Chief Engineer reports hoses connected, sir.”
“Very good. Warn the wheelhouse to hold her steady.” Hechler watched the hoses jerking as the fuel was pumped across the gap of heaving water. What a strange war it was becoming.
Erika Franke adjusted the clips of her safety harness and peered to starboard as she eased the Arado into a shallow dive. She had flown several of these float planes when she had been a delivery pilot, before she had been requested to fly for Luftwaffe special section. She watched the grey wastes of the Atlantic tilt to one side as if it was part of a vast sloping desert, an occasional white horse where the wind had broken the swell into crests.
The cruiser had already fallen far astern, and it was hard to picture her as she had first seen the ship. Huge, invulnerable and somehow frightening. But once aboard it had seemed so much smaller, the great hull broken into small intimate worlds. She watched the ship in the distance, her outline strangely broken and unreal in its striped dazzle paint. Beyond her was the shape of the supply submarine.
She saw the Perspex screen mist over very slightly and adjusted her compass accordingly. They were too high for spray. The looming clouds said rain. She bit her lip. If the visibility fell away she must return to the ship immediately. She touched the microphone across her mouth. “Rain soon.” She heard the observer, Westphal. Acknowledge her comment with a grunt. A thickset, bovine man, he obviously resented being in the hands of a woman. She ignored him. It was nothing new in her life.
She deliberately altered course away from the ship. If only she could fly and fly, leave it all behind until… she checked herself as Hechler’s grave features intruded into her thoughts.
A withdrawn man, he must have been badly hurt and not just by war. She remembered his voice, his steady blue eyes when he had visited her after the encounter with the enemy convoy. His presence had calmed her, like that moment when you fly out of a storm into sunlight.
During the bombardment, she had felt utterly helpless. The ship, powerful though she was, had shaken like a mad thing, with every plate and rivet threatening to tear apart, or so it had seemed. Then Hechler, his voice and his quiet confidence had covered like a blanket.
The Arado swayed jerkily and she quickly increased the throttle until the misty propeller settled again. She remembered young Heyse, he was a nice young man, she thought, and she had seen him looking at her when she had joined the others in the wardroom for meals. It made her smile within the confines of her helmet. She was twenty-eight, but far older in other ways than Heyse would every dream. Why did they have to be so predictable? Those who saw her only as an easy victory, a romp in bed.
She came back with a start as Westphal’s surly voice intruded into her memories.
“Time to turn. Visibility;s down.”
They would fly back now, she thought, and the camera crew would film her landing near the ship, and again as she stepped aboard to be greeted by Andreas Leitner. Strange how people of his kind always professed to be such men of the world, with ah eye for every pretty girl.
She had met plenty like Leitner. It was surprising that the war machine attracted so many who might have been happier as women. She considered Hechler again. Dominated by his wife? Hardly. What was it then with women like Inger Hechler? She had seen her occasionally at those staid parties in Berlin which so often had changed into something wild, repellent.
She moved the controls sharply so that the plane tilted over to port. She could feel the pull of her harness, the pain as the Arado went over even further until it appeared as if the wingtip was cutting the water like a fin. The changing light, the endless procession of unbroken waves, or was it a shadow?
“Dead ahead!” She eased the throttle with great care. “Do you see it?”
Westphal had been deep in thought, watching her hair beneath the leather helmet, imagining how she would fight him, claw at him, when he took her.
He exclaimed, startled, “What? Where?”
She found that she could watch the submarine quite calmly, for that was what it was. It looked dark, blue-grey, like a shark, with a lot of froth streaming from aft, and a faint plume of vapour above the conning-tower.
Westphal recovered himself, his voice sharp as he snapped, “Enemy boat! Charging batteries!” He reached forward to prod her shoulder. “Back to the ship, fast!”
The girl eased the controls over to port. Westphal had seen what he had expected to see, but had missed something vital. The submarine was trimmed too high. It must be damaged, unable to dive. Thoughts raced through her mind, and in her imagination she could hear Hechler’s voice, then see the cruiser and the supply submarine lying somewhere back there, totally unaware of this unexpected threat. Dmaged she might be, but her commander wouldn’t hesitate when Prinz Luitpold’s silhouette swam in front of his sights.
Erika Franke had learnt quite a lot about the navy, and one of the things which stood out in her mind was something which Kroll the gunnery officer had said about his new radar. That a submarine on the surface nearby could interfere with accuracy, and that was exactly what was happening now.
She thrust the controls forward and tilted the Arado into a steep dive. She felt the plane quivering, the rush of wind rising above the roar of the BMW engine.
Westphal shouted wildly, “What the hell are you doing? They’ll see us!”
Sure enough there were tiny ant-like figures on the submarine’s deck. They might have picked up the supply boat’s engines on their sonar, or even the heavier revolutions of the Prinz Luitpold., but the sight of a brightly painted engine must have caught them on the hop.
She laughed. “Scared, are you?” The Arado’s shadow swept over the water like an uneven crucifix, and then tumbled away as she brought the nose up to the clouds. It was responding well; she could even smell the newness in the fuselage and fittings.
She shouted, “By the time we make contact with the ship it would all be over!”
She winced as several balls of livid green tracer floated past the port wing, and the plane danced wildly to shell-bursts. The clouds enfolded the aircraft and she peered at the compass, her brain working coolly but urgently as she pictured the other vessels, the enemy submarine’s bearing and line of approach. She was probably American, one of their big ocean-going boats, which she had studied in the recognition books. She held her breath and pushed the stick forward, and felt the floats quiver as they burst out of the clouds into a great span of watery sunlight.
Just right for the camera team, she thought vaguely. Then more shell-bursts erupted on either side, and lazy balls of tracer fanned beneath her, so that she instinctively drew her legs together. The plane jerked, and she heard metal rip past her body. But the engine was behaving well. It was time to turn back. They must have heard the shooting. There was still time.
She twisted round in her seat to yell at Westphal, but choked on a scream as she saw his bared teeth, his fist bunched in agony at the moment of impact. His goggles were completely filled with blood, like a creature from a nightmare. The plane rocked again, and she almost lost control as more bursts exploded nearby. She felt as if all the breath had been knocked from her body, and when she looked down she saw the tendril of blood seeping through the flying suit and over her belt.
Then the pain hit her like a hot iron, and she heard herself whimpering and calling whilst she tried to find the compass and bring the plane on to the right bearing. She felt the pain searing her body, so that her eyes misted over. She dared not turn her head where her hideous companion peered at her, his teeth set in a terrible grin. Nor could she call up the ship. Dared not. The submarine would know instantly what he probably only suspected.
“Oh dear God!” The words were torn from her. “Help me!”
But the engine’s roar drowned her cries and every vibration made her swoon in agony. There were no more explosions, and for a brief moment she imagined she had lost consciousness, was dying. Clouds leapt towards her and then writhed aside again to bathe the cockpit in bright sunlight. She cried out, then thrust one hand against her side as blood ran over her thigh and down into her flying boot.
There was the ship, the supply submarine almost alongside, with tiny line and pipes linking them like a delicate web. She saw the ship begin to turn anti-clockwise across the windshield, revolving faster and faster, blotting out everything until it seemed as if she were plunging straight for the bridge.
Her mind recorded several things at the same time. The lines between the two vessels were being cast off, and a great frothing wash was surging from beneath Prinz Luitpold’s bows as she increased to maximum speed.
The girl fought to control the spin, to bring the aircraft’s nose up and level off. All she could think of was that she had warned him. She would never know if she was in time.
Hope you enjoyed it, and I really appreciate your comments and replies. Thanks a lot!
10-29-2006, 06:04 AM
Poor Erika...no happy homecoming there then :cry:
You keep writing and I'm sure all your avid readers will just keep on posting :rock:
Oh Lord, I'm falling behind :cry:. Four chapters to read...
10-29-2006, 01:37 PM
Poor Erika...no happy homecoming there then :cry:
Don't be so sure :p - did I ever say she was dead...
Cheers for the comments by the way :D
10-30-2006, 02:13 PM
Poor Erika...no happy homecoming there then :cry:
Don't be so sure :p - did I ever say she was dead...
Cheers for the comments by the way :D
Oops! :oops: ...trust me to be presumptuous :damn: :up:
10-30-2006, 08:20 PM
I like how you named the flower class escort HMS Pansy!:lol: It was one of two name that were never used for the flower class escorts, the other was dandelion.
Could you imagine a U-boat crew's shock at being sunk by a pansy!!:lol:
10-31-2006, 09:47 AM
I like how you named the flower class escort HMS Pansy!:lol: It was one of two name that were never used for the flower class escorts, the other was dandelion.
Could you imagine a U-boat crew's shock at being sunk by a pansy!!:lol:
Heh-heh - yeah I couldn't help it :D I had to use that name at least once in the story.
11-02-2006, 04:36 PM
Well, quite a long installment this time. You get to find out about Erika, and some more background to Roger Pembroke. Enjoy!
Hechler walked out onto the port-side bridge wing and looked down on the big supply submarine as Josef Clausen, the big Navigating Officer joined him by the railings. It was going well, but any sudden crosswind might bring the unmatched vessels too close together.
“Alter course to two-two-zero degrees. Signal the submarine’s commander yourself.” He touched Clausen’s arm. “We don’t want oil spilled all over the ocean, eh?”
His ship was the best in her class for performance, and with the additional bunkers that had been installed a year ago she could cruise for almost 7000 miles without running out of fuel. With Willentrop’s bold strategy, it was unlikely the Prinz Luitpold would have to travel anywhere near that distance before meeting another supply submarine.
He thought of the girl in her brightly painted plane. It worried him more than he would have expected to have her onboard, and he still hadn’t worked out if she had an important role to play, or was merely another cog in Leitner’s vast public relations machine. At the same time he knew that he would miss her when she left the ship.
Clausen moved closer and lowered his glasses. He spoke softly to Hechler, his voice only just loud enough for Hechler to hear. “The Arado’s a long time, sir.” He eyed him worriedly. “Completely lost sight of it.”
Hechler peered over the railings to the rear of the bridge wing. One of the regular float planes was already on the catapult ready to launch, the handling party lounging around with nothing to do.
He started as Leitner strode onto the bridge, his mouth set into a thin line. “Where the bloody hell is that woman?” He moved about almost blindly as the watch crew jumped out of his path.
Clausen suggested, “Perhaps we should send up another aircraft, sir?”
Leitner stared at him. “Don’t be such a bloody idiot!”
Hechler saw the seamen nearby exchanging glances. Some looked worried, others pleased that a senior officer was getting a choking off for a change.
Hechler said, “I agree with him, sir.”
His eyes met with Leitner’s. He felt calm and relaxed even though he wanted to shout at Leitner. Go on; tell me I’m a bloody idiot!
Leitner recovered his composure somewhat. “It’s taking too long,” he said mildly.
Hechler looked at Clausen and winked. The admiral had climbed down for the moment. He moved back across the bridge to look at the fuelling operation. In the Great War, the raiders had been tied down to the coaling stations, built up in readiness for such a dangerous form of sea piracy. He smiled in spite of his anxiety for the girl. Piracy. Is that what we have come to?
And yet, in spite of the quiet discipline, or perhaps because of it, there was something not quite right. Like a fault in a painting. He knew it was not Leitner’s outburst, or Clausen’s embarrassed confusion at being reprimanded like a first-year midshipman in front of the watch. No, it was a feeling of uneasiness.
He made up his mind. “Warn the Milch Cow, and then sound off action stations.”
Leitner heard him and glared from the other side of the bridge. “It’ll make them jumpy!”
Hechler grinned. “I am jumpy, sir.” He heard the clamour of bells, muffled and far away beyond the thick plating.
Leitner climbed onto the bridge chair and tugged his cap down over his eyes. When one of the camera team requested permission to come to the bridge, Leitner snapped, “When I’m ready, damn him!”
Hechler lowered his voice. “Pass the word to the catapult, Josef. Prepare to launch aircraft.” A telephone buzzed and seconds later the Arado’s engine spluttered, then bellowed into life.
Leitner swung round. “Of all the bloody useless things to do…”
He got no further as the gunnery intercom filled the bridge. “Gunfire to the north-west!”
Hechler moved like lightening to the compass platform. “Discontinue fuelling!” He snatched up the bright red handset and waited, silently cursing the seconds it took to connect. Then he heard the voice of the Chief Engineer, Stück, from the depths of the engine-room, muffled behind the clamour of the machinery in the background.
Stück began, “I’m sorry about the delay, Captain, but we’re almost topped up…”
Hechler said, “Stop immediately, Chief. Maximum revolutions when I give the word.” He slammed down the handset. There was nothing to add. Stück was an experienced officer, and knew better than most the narrowness of their margin.
He waved an arm over the railings. “Cast off! Take in those wires!”
Leitner was behind him, standing by the chair, peering at him wildly. “What the hell’s going on?”
“Gunfire means an enemy, sir.”
He swung round as a lookout yelled, “Aircraft, Red four-five, angle of sight four-oh!”
“Stand by, secondary armament!” Without looking, Hechler could imagine the twin turrets along the port side already lifting and training in the cold air. But for what? Hechler moved briskly to the front of the bridge again and peered through the heavy glasses.
He found the Arado almost immediately, watching as it rolled sluggishly from side to side, but apparently intact. He felt his heart throbbing as he followed every painful movement.
Clausen had leaned over the rail, and was bellowing at the seamen below. “Clear that breast-rope, damn it!”
Hechler tore his gaze away from the stricken aircraft and looked alongside, seeing the remaining wire dragging the heavy, ungainly submarine dangerously close to the cruiser’s hull.
“Cut that line! Now!”
He turned back to the plane urgently, but it had already disappeared into some low clouds.
The gunnery intercom suddenly blared into life, startling the bridge crew. “Submarine on the surface, bearing Red two-oh. Range four thousand!”
Leitner suddenly erupted into life, almost beside himself in rage. “How can that be?” He peered over the salt-stained screen. “Oh, for Christ’s sake!”
Hechler called, “All ahead flank!” He felt the ship respond instantly, the deck plates beneath his feet trembling vigorously as the powerful engines churned the water into a foaming maelstrom behind the ship. It was now or never. If the wire refused to break then they would take the Milch Cow with them.
The port lookout was leaning against the screen, holding the glasses with both hands to steady them. “Aircraft in sight again, sir. Closing. Shift bearing to Red six-oh!”
Hechler gripped the rail tightly; his mouth set in a thin line as he grimly watched the long bow rise and then surge forward in front of him.
“Line’s parted, sir!”
The three turrets along the portside opened fire instantly, their sharp explosions making men grasp quickly for earplugs, others to crouch down away from the savage back-blast as the long tongues of fire seemed to reach out to the submarine.
Clausen called, “Supply boat’s diving, sir!” He sounded breathless, not surprising considering his massive bulk.
Great fountains of spray jumped from the Milch Cow’s saddle tanks as the green water thundered into them, her wash indicating the increase in speed. Hechler could see himself in the same position, surprised on the surface like that fateful morning in the Bay of Biscay as Rahn had dived the boat as fast as possible whilst Hechler hung in-between consciousness, the biting pain numbing his senses. He shuddered despite himself and tore his gaze back to the Arado.
He saw it reel over the ship and appear to level off as if on an invisible wire. Despite its fast pass overhead, Hechler had managed to see the black, star-like holes peppered across the fuselage, some of which seemed to cross the cockpit itself.
“Port twenty!” He wrapped his arms around the voicepipes with such a force that the pain helped to bring his mind back to an even keel after the numbing ache that the last sight had given him. She had drawn enemy fire. There was no other possible reason except to warn the ship.
He felt the deck going over like a destroyer. “Steady! Hold her!”
A messenger burst onto the bridge, skidding to a halt in front of Hechler, his expression wild as he stared with wide eyes as the scene of confusion in front of him. “The enemy submarine has sent a signal, sir! In the clear, not encoded – Have found German raider. Am engaging!”
Voices yelled on every side as the secondary armament recoiled on the mountings once more, the shells flinging up thin waterspouts against the horizon where the enemy lay hidden in the swell. Hechler could see it all in his mind – he had been in the other position himself.
He looked back, but the messenger had already disappeared. From the other side of the bridge there was a wild yell. “Torpedoes running to port!”
Clausen jumped to the voice-pipe but Hechler had seen the angle, and snapped, “Steady as she goes!”
He looked quickly at the supply-boat. Her bows were already under water, her conning tower following as fast as possible as she prepared to run deep and head away. Much slower than a Type-7 sub, Hechler thought distractedly. She would not even be a spectator, let alone stay around to pick up survivors.
Hechler looked quickly at the aircraft again, watching in horror as the nose pointed up and swung round anti-clockwise, moving around faster and faster as the Arado dropped quickly towards the sea in a flat spin. He silently prayed as he watched, and just before the plane hit the water, she levelled off and stopped spinning before dropping into the water, and bobbing up and down in the swell.
Hechler’s attention was torn away from the plane as a massive explosion rent the air, the concussion momentarily deafening him as he saw the dense black smoke billowing across the water, thick tendrils weaving through the tall masts. Throughout it all the intercom kept up a running commentary.
“Short!” Then, “A straddle! Got the bastards!”
Hechler staggered to the front of the bridge, almost falling over a young signalman. He could barely remember the boy’s name as he was their newest crew member. Logged as seventeen years old, Hechler guessed he was much younger.
He dragged him upright by his tunic and shouted, “Hold on, Heimrath!” he could hear the young man retching and gasping in the dense smoke. “It’s not us this time!”
The torpedoes must have hit the big submarine just as she had made to dive. Hechler knew that there would be nothing left, packed as she was with fuel, ammunition and spare torpedoes. It would all have been thrown into the air and scatter over the ocean for over half a mile, and some had even clattered across the Prinz Luitpold’s forecastle and maindeck.
“Target is diving, sir.”
Diving or sinking, it made little difference now. The last salvo would have put her out of the fight, and Hechler suspected it had split her pressure hull like an egg. He could already picture her falling slowly into the depths, blacker than any death pall as cold seawater thundered into the submarine, drowning her brave crew before the depths crushed them into a pulp.
“Slow ahead.” Hechler dabbed his mouth with his sleeve, already controlling his expression as he steadied himself after the wild confusion. He saw men peering at one another, dazed with wild eyes as they sought out their friends.
Hechler gripped the rail tightly with both hands. “Tell the accident boat to stand by.” He saw Clausen nod. “Lower to the waterline. Now!” Almost reluctantly, training and discipline reasserted themselves as seamen went about their tasks.
Leitner strode across the bridge, glaring at Hechler. “Another minute and we’d have shared the same end, Dieter. If I didn’t know any better…” He trailed off as Hechler walked past him and trained his glasses on the Arado rolling on the swells.
He said. “Stop engines. Slip the boat!”
He raised the glasses once more, searching the plane as he prepared himself for what he might find there.
A voice murmured over the intercom, “Sounds of ship breaking up, sir.”
It must be the enemy submarine. There would be little enough left of the Milch Cow to disturb the sonar.
He flinched as he saw the horrific face in the rear cockpit. Eyes of blood in the goggles as his fists were clenched behind the stiff figure slumped over the controls.
“Get the doctor on deck!” There was a new harshness in his voice as he swallowed painfully, his eyes never leaving the slumped figure.
Heyse looked up from the voice-pipes. “He’s already there, sir.”
The motorboat ploughed into view across the lens, familiar faces he knew and respected leaping past his vision.
A voice said, “The boat will tow it to the hoisting gear, sir.”
Leitner seemed to speak from miles away. “It’s afloat anyway. Good thing.”
Was that all Leitner cared? Was it perhaps unimportant to him when so many men had died horribly just moments ago? He gripped the binoculars harder as the motorboat’s bowman clambered onto one of the plane’s floats and hauled himself onto the fuselage. He wrenched open the cockpit and faltered. It must be a hundred times worse close to, Hechler thought despairingly. The he saw the man turn and signal. One dead. She was alive. Alive.
He lowered the glasses to his chest and made himself walk slowly to the chart table. Around him, the smoke-grimed and dazed watchkeepers watching him dully. Hechler said, “As soon as the boat is hoisted inboard, get underway and alter course as prearranged.” He saw Clausen nod. “I want a full inspection of hull and upper deck. We could have sustained some minor damage.” He touched the rail again. Even as he said it, he suspected that the Prinz would be unscathed.
He looked back at Clausen. “Take over.” He half-turned to the rear-admiral. “With your permission of course, sir?”
Leitner looked away. “Granted.”
Bells jangled and the ship gathered way again. Hechler hesitated at the top of the ladder to watch as the Arado was swung over the guardrails on its special derrick. The doctor and his assistant were there, and some men with stretchers. He hesitated again and looked into the bridge. His world. Now he was sharing it. Hopeless? Perhaps it was. But she was alive. Because of what she had done, they had all survived. He glanced at the admiral’s stiff shoulders. He had made an enemy there, but it no longer mattered.
He nodded to Clausen and then hurried down the ladder. This world could wait.
Acting-Commodore Roger Pembroke sat in the soft high-backed chair in his cabin, his hand clasped around a large gin. Dusk was closing in, and the soft lighting gave the spacious cabin a welcoming, homely feel. He sighed as he thought about the last few days. HMS Renown had steamed at her best speed towards the fuelling rendezvous, her escorts easily keeping up. Pembroke wondered if his ship would ever reach her designed top speed of 32 knots ever again. He doubted it.
The evening was warm, and they were quite close to the equator, although Pembroke knew that the Caribbean weather would be hell in this ship. He looked critically at the glass in his hand. He couldn’t remember how many he’d had this evening, but it didn’t seem to matter. He knew he’d get to grips with Hechler soon.
He looked up as someone knocked on the door. Manning walked in, a couple of signal sheets clasped under his arm. He looked directly at Pembroke, a strange expression in his eyes.
Pembroke rasped savagely at him, “Get on with it man!”
Manning handed the signals over then looked at Pembroke, trying to gauge his reaction. Pembroke took one glance at the sheets before looking up again. “I assume you’ve seen these?” Manning nodded. “Very well. Alter course and inform the squadron.”
As Manning waked out of the cabin, Pembroke shouted loudly for his steward.
The man entered the room. “Can I do anything, Captain?”
Pembroke lifted his eyes momentarily, and stared unseeingly at the man’s face. “Yes.” He said slowly. “Get me a bottle of whisky.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea...”
Pembroke raged at him, his expression vivid. “Just get me the bloody bottle, man!”
He grinned in satisfaction as the man fled the cabin. He barely noticed him enter again with the bottle and glass. He thought of the signal. The Admiralty had received a report from a damaged American submarine. Apparently her Commander had sent a signal saying he had found the raider and was engaging. There had been no further communication with the sub, and when a British destroyer had reached the scene, they had found nothing for a full day, except for a for a two-mile oil slick, and some cork chippings of the kind used in a submarine’s internal paintwork to reduce condensation. The later, only a few hours ago, they had apparently found some human remains. To all accounts there had been little enough to discover in the grisly fragments, except that they were German.
The Admiralty had arrived at the conclusion that the raider had been destroyed, but it had cost the US submarine to destroy her. Pembroke had been ordered to take his small squadron to Cape Town and await further orders. Pembroke was no fool. It was the end for him. Surprisingly, he felt no satisfaction that Hechler was dead, only rage. He had wanted to beat him in combat himself. It was so unfair. He let out a guttural scream of frustration and threw the empty gin glass at the wall before stumbling over to the table and slopping some whisky into the glass.
As he looked up, his eyes rested on her photograph. He stood staring at her, his breath rasping in his throat. The same white, insincere smile, the bright, mocking eyes. How could he have been so blind?
He grasped the glass, nearly full with whisky, his eyes still on her face. Then he raised it to her, and said aloud, “To you, Mrs Pembroke. You bloody bitch!”
The spirit burned his throat like fire, and as it flowed fiercely through him, he realised just how much he needed it. He down three full glasses in quick succession, and then leaned back in the chair, breathing deeply. With unsteady fingers he unbuttoned his jacket, allowing the slight movement of air to caress his heaving chest.
Perhaps it might have turned out differently if he had done as she wanted. Left the navy, and settled down in one of her father’s paint factories. He laughed mirthlessly and touched his vivid scars. Of course it wouldn’t. No-one would have wanted him after he got these.
He had never given up hope and never lost the nagging feeling of desire whenever he was near her, and he had wanted to surprise her by flying home from Gibraltar after being given the Renown. He had surprised her well enough. He trembled, and the throbbing grew louder in his skull. If he lived forever, he would never forget, or clean from his mind, the picture of her sitting up naked in bed, her lips parted with terror and hate. The man had been whimpering about ‘not making a scene’ and about all their reputations. He had still been whimpering when Pembroke had beaten him senselessly to the floor. He had run blindly from the flat. He was still running.
He drank deeply, feeling the cloak of dizziness closing round him. He stared dully at the photograph, hearing her screaming after him, using words of such undreamed of baseness, that he had never been able to think of her without remembering her cruel and frightened insults.
He closed his eyes, raising the glass to his lips. He had never suspected, never imagined such a thing possible of her. He knew how bad he looked after losing the Glasgow, but her thought what they had went deeper than that. He swore loudly, but with a slow, clear intonation, as if repeating a religious script. What a fool I am, he thought weakly. He stood up suddenly, swaying against the table.
“Dear Sylvia,” he mumbled. “Dear, sweet, lovely Sylvia!” He retched, and felt the sweat cold on his chest. Then, taking the picture in his free hand, he studied her face, as if for the first time. That damned smile, and those little, exciting gestures. She was always conscious of every swing and movement of her tantalising body. And yet, he groped wildly for a sign, she must have loved him once. The he shook his head painfully. He knew he was only fooling himself, as he always had, where she was concerned. He smiled crookedly.
“A thoroughly delectable tart! That’s what you are, Mrs Pembroke!” He chuckled stupidly, and as he raised his glass, he saw her face framed in the amber liquid which helped him to fight her memory and the harsh fact that Hechler was now with his crew, sailing on their eternal voyage. “And damn that bloody Yankee to hell! He was mine!”
A sudden drunken realisation flooded over him, “You’ve caused all this!” His powerful voice rose to a frenzied shout. “You bloody bitch! You’ve got your divorce now. I hope you’re bloody well happy,” he fumbled with the words, “with your newest ‘interesting’ person!” He reeled across the cabin, cannoning into his bunk, collapsing onto it heedless of the whisky that spilled from the glass.
“You bloody bitch!” His head swam, and he felt he wanted to have her there in the cabin with him, so that he could tell it to her face, and then beat her to death. With a savage thrust, he hurled the picture against the cabin wall, hearing is smash with a smug satisfaction.
With a moan he picked the bottle up, and tilted it to his mouth, some of the spirit running over his chin and neck, the rest choking him, and making him fight for breath. He slumped back heavily, his arm, as it hung over the side of the bunk, still gripping the empty bottle.
A few hours later, his steward re-entered the cabin, shaking his head in disgust at the sight in front of him. He swept up the glass fragments, removed the bottle from Pembroke’s grip, and finally rolled the large captain over onto his front. At least he won’t suffocate from his own vomit now the man thought to himself. He switched the lights off before exiting the cabin and leaving the captain to his memories.
Hope you enjoyed that, and the next installment will be coming soon :D
11-02-2006, 05:08 PM
The good Commodore need's to attend an AA meeting and an anger management class!:hmm:
11-03-2006, 10:56 AM
Sooooooooo.....Erika lives!....But with how many holes ?(bullet of course) :lol:
11-05-2006, 12:44 PM
Dieter Hechler tapped softly on the door before easing it open and stepping into the cabin. They were his quarters below that he scarcely used when at sea, and he saw one of Stroheim’s assistants move past him as he walked through to the sleeping cabin. It had been four days since they had been attacked by the American submarine. They had steamed at an economical fifteen knots since then, and were now near the mid-Atlantic ridge, in between St. Helena and Ascension Island. They were throttled down at the moment, as Stück wanted to examine one of the propeller shafts which was making an irregular knocking noise.
She lay as she had when he had visited her after the fuelling. Propped up on pillows, her face was very pale in the bunk light. She looked very vulnerable, but unlike before, she was awake this time. He remembered standing beside the bunk, not moving and scarcely able to breathe as he had looked down on her. She had seemed so much younger, and her eyes had been shut tight, beads of perspiration on her upper lip and forehead. A splinter had hit her in the side, just above the hip, and she had lost a lot of blood and a bone chipped. Her skin had felt very hot when he had touched her, like a fever. Other than the red blotches on her bandages, or the bruising where the harness had dug into her, she was unmarked. A miracle, Stroheim had said.
After a moment’s hesitation, Hechler sat down on the side of the bunk, realising they were alone.
She watched him and said, “You look tired.”
He saw that she had placed her hands under the sheet. In case he might touch one, he thought.
“How are you feeling?”
She smiled at him. “The motion is awful. I was nearly sick.” She saw his concern and added, “I’m feeling better. Really.”
Hechler heard the dull clatter of equipment, the buzz of a telephone somewhere. Perhaps for him. No, the red handset by the bunk was silent. Mocking him.
He explained to her how the ship was moving slowly because of a problem with one of the shafts. Then he wet on to explain that in the next twelve hours they would be intercepting a major Allied convoy.
She listened in silence, her eyes never leaving his face.
“Don’t you get tired of it?” She reached out from beneath the sheet and gripped his hand. “It never ends for you, does it?”
He looked at her hand. Small but strong. He found that he was squeezing it in his own.
She seemed to sense he was about to withdraw his hand and said, “No. Stay like this, please.”
Hechler grimaced. “I am behaving like an idiot again.”
She returned his grip and smiled at him. “A nice idiot.”
Hechler smiled, and then said. “I want you to be well again very soon.” He studied her face, feature by feature. “My little bird belongs up there, where she is free.” He added, “I wish…”
She saw his hesitation and asked softly, “You wish I was not here, is that it? You are going to fight with the British warships, sooner or later, and you are afraid for me?” She tried to raise herself but fell back again. “Do you think I cannot tell what is going on in that head of yours? I have watched you, listened to what your men say, I gather fragments about you, because it is all I have!” She shook her head against the pillow. “Don’t you see, you stupid man, I want you to like me!” She was sobbing now, the tears cutting down her cheeks and onto the pillow. “And I look a mess. How could you feel more than you do?”
Hechler placed his hand under her head and turned it towards him. Her hair felt damp, and he saw a pulse jumping in her throat, so that he wanted to press her tightly against her and forget the hopelessness of it, the drag of the ship around them. He dabbed her face with a corner of the sheet and murmured, “I dare not use my filthy handkerchief!” He saw her staring up at him, her lips parted as he continued quickly, “You do not look a mess. You couldn’t, even if you wanted to.” He touched her face and pushed some hair from her eyes. “And I do like you, more than I should. What chance…”
She touched his mouth with her fingers. “Don’t say it. Not now. The world is falling down about us. Let us hold on to what we have.” She pulled herself closer to him until her hair was against his face.
“You came for me. I shall never forget. I wanted you to know.”
It was more than enough for her, and he could feel the drowsiness coming over her again as if it was his own.
He lowered her to the pillow and adjusted the sheets under her chin. In the adjoining cabin he heard the assistant humming loudly, a warning perhaps that the doctor was on his rounds. Then he bent over and kissed her lightly on the mouth.
A telephone buzzed in the other cabin and he turned to face the door as the white-coated assistant peered in at him.
“The Admiral, sir.”
Hechler nodded and glanced down at her face. She was asleep, a small smile hovering at the corners of her mouth.
Hold on to what we have.
He found he could accept it, when moments earlier he had believed that he had nothing left to hold on to.
Clausen crouched over the chart-table and rubbed his eyes to clear away the weariness. It was two in the morning, but he could not sleep, and wanted to make sure he had forgotten nothing. He read slowly through his neatly written notes and paused again and again to check the calculations against his two charts. The ship was quivering violently beneath him, but he had grown used to that. She was steaming at twenty-eight knots, south-east, over an unbroken sea.
On deck it was easier to understand with a ceiling of bright stars from horizon to horizon. Here in the chart-room, it was all on paper. Noon sights, careful estimations of tide, speed and weather. It was vaguely unnerving, with only the chart lights for company, but for a while longer he needed to be alone.
He heard feet scrape against steel and guessed the watch was changing its lookouts yet again. An empty ocean outside, and yet in here you could see the inevitability of the embrace, the savagery of the approaching battle.
It would have to be a salt-water shower. He grinned into his beard. He must be getting soft as well as old. In the merchant service, where owners counted and begrudged every mark spent, you got used to faulty fans, bad food, and machinery that went wrong at the worst moment. It had taken him a long while to the navy, its extravagance at the taxpayers’ expense.
The door slid open and he turned with an angry challenge on his lips. Instead he said, “I’ve been over it all again, sir.” He watched Hechler by the table, his body shining in an oilskin. So he could not sleep either. If I were Captain… he stopped it there. Clausen would not have taken command of a warship if she were ballasted with gold brocks.
Hechler compared the charts. “At this rate, five hours.” He pictured the ocean, their solitary ship heading swiftly on a convergence course. There had been no signals from the Operations Division, and silence in this case meant that the convoy was still on course, heading north-west past Ascension Island. Five hours was too long. He peered closer at the pencilled lines and crosses. To increase speed would dig deeply into their fuel supply. To risk a late confrontation might invite disaster. He said, “Thirty knots.”
Clausen eyed him gravely. The cruiser could go faster, but she was not on sea trials, nor was she within reach of help if something failed.
Hechler smiled. “I have just spoken to the Chief.” He saw him in his mind, cautious as ever, but quite confident. “He agrees.”
Clausen watched him, feeling his disquiet. “And then another rendezvous, sir?”
Hechler glanced at him and smiled. “No, our esteemed Admiral prefers to restock in Buenos Aires, so I’d like you to lay a course for the River Plate, Josef.”
Clausen eyed him in shock. “The last thing the enemy would expect.”
“What you really mean is, another Graf Spee, eh?”
Clausen showed his teeth. “Something like that, sir.” He looked down at the chart and picked up the parallel rulers. “I’ll work on it for a while. An alternative may come in handy.”
Hechler nodded. “We shall be increasing speed in two hours when the watch changes. Let me know what you find.” He paused, one hand on the door clip. “But get some sleep. I depend on you. You know that.”
The door slid shut and Clausen stared at it with quiet astonishment. He both liked and respected the captain, but he had never thought that his feelings were returned. He grinned and looked back at his charts.
A few hours later, in the engine-room and adjoining boiler-rooms the men on watch in their blue or white overalls shouted to each other or sang their bawdy songs, all unheard in the roar of machinery. The senior duty engineer officer stood on his shining catwalk beside the little desk with its telephone and log-book. Old Stück would be down again soon. He had led all of them from the moment the first machine parts had been installed in this great hull. And yet he trusted nobody completely when important things had to be executed.
The officer, whose name was Kessler, could feel his shoulders ache as he gripped the rail with his gloved fingers. He felt the ship, too, thundering around and beneath his feet. She was the finest he had known. He grimaced. Down here anyway. What he had heard about their gallant admiral hardly inspired anyone.
The telephone made a puny rattle above the chorus of engines and fans. He pictured Hechler up there in the open bridge, the air and ocean which seemed endless.
He said, “Ready, sir.”
Over his shoulder he heard Stück’s voice and turned to see his figure framed against the bright pipes and dials, almost shining in a fresh suit of overalls.
“The Old Man?”
Kessler glanced at the shivering clock. “Yes, Chief.” Stück was even earlier than usual. But Kessler was glad without knowing why.
Stück leaned against a rail and folded his arms. He could see through the haze of steam and moisture, and his keen ears told him more than any log book.
His eyes came up to the dials above the deck as a bell rattled again, and the three speed and revolution counters swung round with expected urgency. Stück grinned and pretended to spit on his hands. His lips said, “Come on Heinz, feed the beast, eh?” Seconds later, the three great shafts gathered speed, so that even the men on watch had to make certain of a ready handhold.
Stück watched the mounting revolutions. A thoroughbred. Here we go again.
No prizes for guessing what's coming next :p
So.... far..... behind..... I want to read these stories :cry:. It's the damned school work! At least I'll have something to look forward to.
11-10-2006, 04:53 PM
Well this time it's a large update, as it took a long time to write the major convoy battle. Hope you enjoy this one!
Drip…drip...drip. Dietrich Rahn sighed and rolled over in his narrow bunk. The green curtain moved as he shifted position again. U-32 was the leading element in the nine boat strong wolfpack, and Rahn was playing the careful waiting game, imagining the other commanders doing the same thing. The Type 7 U-boat was moving in a slow race-track pattern, waiting in the prime position to attack the convoy.
One of the U-boats was trailing the convoy covertly, and had been kept to extreme range by the strong ASW escort. It confirmed several things to Rahn; this was the fast tanker convoy from the Persian Gulf that the Prinz Luitpold and the wolfpack had been chasing, and Willentrop had been correct in his assessment that wolfpacks would need surface assistance to attack valuable convoys at this stage in the war.
He tried to imagine his friend and mentor in the powerful cruiser. Hechler would be on the bridge now, he thought, the cruiser at full speed as they came out of the darkness and attacked the convoy like hammers from hell. He shivered despite himself. The estimated rendezvous with the convoy was in less than an hour. He frowned to himself; they should have picked the ships up on the hydrophone by now, the conditions were perfect.
Suddenly reaching a decision, he twisted on the bunk, pulling the curtain aside as his legs dropped to the floor. Standing quickly, he donned his jacket and cap and walked briskly across the steel gratings into the control room. At least I look the part, he thought. He nodded to the men on watch before moving over to the narrow chart table. To anyone but the elite group of officers, the chart would look a maze of scribbles, dashed notes and hurriedly jotted calculations. As he cast his eyes over the chart, Rahn noticed the navigator standing beside him.
“Should have heard them by now” he murmured, pulling absently at his beard.
He barely heard the man’s acknowledgement as he moved quickly across the small compartment, his feet rapping sharply on the steel deck plates in the silent U-boat.
“Alter course, steer east. Increase speed to four knots.”
Rahn leaned against the ladder as he heard the electric motors increase in speed. The change of course would bring them closer to the convoy, as any error in their navigation or dead reckoning would have placed them to the west of their projected track. He hoped.
After twenty minutes running, they picked up the distinctive noise of the convoy, and Rahn knew he had been correct to alter position. Unfortunately, they now only had forty minutes to move into position. As they U-boat moved in on a convergence course, he slowly ascended U-32 up through the cold water until they were at Periscope depth. It would reduce hydrophone efficiency, but the convoy was now so close it didn’t make a difference. As time ticked by, they picked up a new sound contact from a completely different direction. Rahn himself had listened to the hydrophone and had heard for himself the distinctive engine noise of a Hipper-class cruiser running at flank speed. Their mis-calculation of position meant they were now on the side of the convoy nearest the Prinz Luitpold.
He climbed into the conning tower and slowly raised the small attack scope up through its housing. There was a strong escort this time, and thoughts of Eva and his little girl made sure he would keep the periscope as close to the waves as possible, and for as short a time as possible. He peered through the viewfinder and slowly moved the handle upwards. Almost as soon as the periscope broke the waves the radar warning receiver lit off, and Rahn knew he would have a very short time to get a surface picture. He quickly scanned the horizon, and five seconds later lowered the periscope back below the waves. Not bad, he thought. The convoy was exactly where he had expected it to be, and he had been surprised that they were within the outer destroyer screen.
Minutes ticked by, and Rahn looked at the clock again. The Prinz Luitpold must be in radar range by now, he thought to himself. Almost as soon as he had said it, there was a dull boom, followed almost instantaneously by a higher pitched explosion. The first explosion had been the unmistakable sound of a torpedo detonation. Quickly raising the periscope again, he took another quick scan. The convoy was much closer now, and he saw the escorts rushing off to the other side of the convoy. As he moved the scope further across the horizon, he saw four double flashes on the horizon, and moments later the shriek of shells and the accompanying explosions. Turning back to the convoy, he should have been stunned by the sight of a tanker exploding close in, but this was not what had grabbed his attention.
The scope revealed a new shape diverging from the lines towards the German cruiser, a sharp white finger of spray flying from under her bow plates. A moment later, there was no doubt in his mind. HMS Valiant, a Queen-Elizabeth class battleship was running fast towards the cruiser, and Rahn knew instantaneously that despite her age, the Valiant’s 15-inch guns would easily overpower the Prinz Luitpold.
He also realised that the periscope had been above the waves for far too long, and a further scan showed a destroyer rushing towards their position. He shouted down the ladder, “Quick, all ahead flank! Alter course, steer three-two-zero degrees. Configure tubes for a four torpedo spread, impact pistols at 5 metres!”
As the submarine lurched with the increase in speed, he heard further dull explosions behind him. The rest of the wolfpack was engaging, but the scope also revealed the massive guns on the British battleship firing their first salvo at the Prinz Luitpold. Rahn’s change in course would enable them to cut off the battleship.
Moments later, Rahn gave the order to fire and the boat shuddered as the torpedoes launched from the tubes. He quickly scanned around again, and saw a destroyer rushing straight towards their position. Quickly ordering a crash dive, Rahn dropped down into the control room, giving a reassuring glance at his crew. Despite his fast dive, they all heard the splash of depth charges dropping close above them, and then a thunderous explosion that hurled the submarine aside. Rahn had grabbed hold of a pipe as he heard the smash of glass, and the terrifying sound of water rushing into the stricken submarine. He ordered the tanks to be blown. He felt a glimmer of hope as the downward motion ease before increasing dramatically. The last thing he remembered was a wall of water rushing towards him and the screaming of crewmen falling silent as the cold sea engulfed them.
Hechler came out of the dream like a drowning man fighting up for a gasp of air. Even as he propped himself on one elbow and jammed the telephone to his ear he knew what it was. The only surprise was that had been able to sleep at all in the brief one hour rest he had given himself.
It was Froebe. “One hour until the rendezvous, sir.” He sounded cheerful.
Hechler stared around his tiny sea-cabin, his things ready to snatch up, the place in total disorder. “Thank you. You know what to do.” He thought of the wild dream which had been driven away by the telephone’s shrill call. Her nakedness, her desire, the way she had writhed beneath him as if to postpone the conquest.
He said, “I’ll be up shortly.” He hung the phone on its cradle above the bunk and wondering what she was doing now. Just hours ago he had slipped back into the cabin. He could still see it in his mind, just as he had seen it in is dreams. Was she regretting it now? He slid from the bunk and suddenly craved a shower. Even that was too late.
Hechler deliberately stripped to the waist. The narrow door opened slightly and he saw the faithful Pirk peering at him with a steaming bowl of water for his shave. He had understood, but then, Pirk always had. Ice, sunshine, bombardments or dodging enemy aircraft, Pirk’s world ran on quite different lines.
The telephone rang and Pirk handed it to him.
Hechler said, “Captain here.”
This time it was Suhren. “Exercise action stations, sir?” He was still resentful.
“Not yet.” He thought surprisingly of Nelson. “Let them finish their meal. It may be their last for some time.”
Suhren grunted. “Dawn attack, then?”
“Yes. As planned, Viktor. Let me know when the admiral is on his bridge.”
He turned to the mirror and touched his face. As she had done. “It’s going to be a long few hours, my friend.” But Pirk had left. He lathered his cheeks with care and thought of each last detail. The Arados would be prepared, the nine U-boats had reported in, and were on position. Every station and gun-mounting had been checked and visited by a senior officer. The last meal for some time. Forever, if things went badly wrong, but he shook the thought off. There were no heavy escorts with this convoy. He grimaced at his image in the mirror. Like shooting ducks in a barrel.
Moments later Hechler made his way onto the bridge. That last cat-nap had driven the tiredness away. Or was it the prospect of action?
In the predawn darkness figures moved towards him, or held motionless at their positions. As if they had never shifted. It was a beautiful night, bright stars, only just beginning to fade as the first rays of light appeared over the deep, unbroken swell. Clausen had already reported that there may be rain with a south-westerly wind. He never sounded as if he trusted the signalled broadcasts as much as his own intuition.
Hechler said, “Action stations in ten minutes.” He felt in his pockets in case he had forgotten anything. He remembered as he had left the sea-cabin how he had seen Inger’s familiar picture in the drawer. He had looked at it for the first time without feeling, even bitterness.
“Tell the supply officer to keep the galley on stand-by. I ant soup and coffee sent around every section until the last moment.”
A winch clattered loudly and he knew that the first Arado was preparing for launching. If the launch misfired, the plane would be left to fend for itself. He thought of Erika’s aircraft, dismantled and folded into its nest. A last display for the cameras? Or did Leitner have some other scheme in mind?
Clausen stood beside his chair. “Time to increase to full speed, sir.” He sounded calm enough.
“Good.” Hechler peered at his Doxa watch. “Sound off.”
The alarm bells clamoured throughout the ship, followed by a few thuds as the last of the heavy doors were clipped home. Voice-pipes and handsets muttered around the bridge, an unseen army.
“Anton, Bruno, Caesar and Dora turrets closed up, sir!”
“Secondary and anti-aircraft armament closed up, sir!”
From every gun, torpedo and magazine the reports came in. Hechler pictured his men within the armoured hull. Down in the sickbay, Stroheim and his assistants would be waiting, their glittering instruments laid out, waiting for the pain and the pleading.
As it must have been at Coronel and Falklands, at Dogger Bank and Jutland. Hechler jammed his old pipe between his teeth. Trafalgar too probably.
He heard himself ask, “What about Damage Control?”
Froebe replied, “Closed up, sir. Some delay over a lighting fault.”
Suhren was there entrusted with saving the ship if the worst happened. Or taking command if the bridge was wiped out.
“The admiral, sir.”
Leitner’s pale outline glided through the watchkeepers, and Hechler could smell his cologne as he groped his way to the forward part of the bridge. Despite being dressed in his best uniform and a clean shirt, Hechler felt like a stoker standing next to Leitner.
“A good beginning,” Leitner said calmly. “They’ll not forget this day. I want another flag hoisted today. See to it, eh?”
He meant another rear-admiral’s flag. Hechler said, “Ship at action stations, sir.”
“Good. I’m going up to my bridge.”
Hechler watched Leitner walk away, his step jaunty. Hechler looked towards the rising sun, still invisible below the horizon. The stars were much fainter now, the horizon much brighter.
A voice said, “First-degree readiness, sir.”
The galley was shut; the cook and his assistants would be heading away to the damage-control and stretcher stations. Hechler gripped the rail and stared into the darkness. They should hold the advantage with the convoy framed against the dawn. The escort had not been identified, which meant that it was nothing important.
“Port fifteen!” Hechler heard his order repeated, almost a whisper, lost in the clamour of fans, the great writhing bank of foam which surged down either side.
“Steady! Steer zero-four-zero!”
The bows plunged into a deeper trough than normal and the sea boiled up and over the forecastle as if a broadside had fallen silently alongside. As the ship turned, the two big turrets below the bridge trained across the starboard bow. Without turning Hechler knew that the two after ones, Caesar and Dora, were also swinging round in unison, until all eight guns were pointing on the same bearing, the long muzzles like wet glass as they steadied over the side and the great surge of spray.
The sea was still in darkness, so that the leaping crests looked like birds, swooping and falling to appear elsewhere in another guise.
“Admiral’s on his bridge, sir.”
“Very well.” Hechler tightened the towel around his neck as more heavy spray burst over the screen and pattered against their oilskins. He thought of the girl. She had shown no fear, but being sealed below behind the massive watertight doors would test anybody. Somebody whispered and was instantly rebuked by a petty officer.
Hechler kept his binoculars sheltered beneath the oilskin until the last moment to keep them dry. But he had seen what the lookout had whispered to a companion.
They all tensed.
Then the speaker continued, “Target in sight. Bearing Green four-five. Range twelve thousand!”
Hechler tugged his cap more firmly across his forehead. The peak was wet and like ice. He stood up and let the spray dash over him as he peered towards the starboard bow. The had found them. Now it was up to Kroll.
The paired explosions from the after turrets were deafening, and with the wind thrusting across the starboard quarter, the down-draft of acrid smoke made several of the men duck their heads to contain their coughing fits.
They all heard a dull explosion on the horizon, much deeper than a shell shot, and Hechler knew that the U-boats had also started their attack. He thought of Rahn, and hoped he would be careful. Hechler kept the binoculars on the bearing and watched the tiny pale feathers of spray as the shells fell on the horizon. Harmless, without menace, although he knew that each waterspout would reach masthead level. The explosions sighed through the water and faded again.
The speaker continued, “Estimate twenty two ships in convoy, with eight escorts.”
Froebe called from his bank of handsets, “W/T office reports signals from the enemy, sir.”
“Shoot!” Kroll sounded quite different over the speaker, his words drowned by the immediate response from all four turrets. Hechler imagined the signals beaming away to the enemy’s supporting squadrons and to London. He tensed; a bright flash lit up the horizon and he saw several of the ships for the first time. They looked low and black, but from the spreading glow of fire he could tell their course and speed.
The speaker intoned, “One escort hit. Sinking.”
Hechler could picture the gunnery team’s concentration on the radar-screens. One tiny droplet of light falling out of station. Dropping further astern of the fast tankers. It would vanish from their screens altogether.
The guns roared out again. Surely the tankers would scatter soon? He held his breath as a straddle of shells fell across one of the ships below the horizon. She was instantly ablaze, but it was made more terrible by distance as the fire seemed to spread down from the horizon, like blood running over a dam.
Hechler waited and winced as the eight big guns thundered out.
“Slow ahead!” He crossed the bridge and saw a signalman watching him, a handlamp at the ready.
“Now!” The first Arado lifted from the shadows and quickly circled around and above the mastheads.
The whole bridge structure shook violently and Hechler had to repeat his order to the engine room to resume full speed. He would launch the second plane if there was time.
Someone was yelling, “Another hit! God, two of them are on fire!”
Dull explosions mixed with the sharper shellbursts and Hechler knew that the U-boats were attacking, wreaking havoc around the convoy.
Hechler moved across the bridge, half listening to the static as the Arado pilot reported back to the ship.
It was a sea of fire. The great shells and torpedoes must have come ripping from the darkness without the slightest warning. He saw a lazy burst of tracer rising from the sea and guessed the Arado pilot was near the convoy. He hoped the pilot had his wits about him.
“Convoy breaking up, sir!” Kroll’s voice cut through the murmur of orders and instructions behind him. He added, “Two lines diverging, sir.”
Hechler lowered his glasses and wiped them with fresh tissue.
“Acknowledge.” He pictured the convoy; they would need no encourage to break away from the murderous barrage. We must close the range.
“Cease firing!” It was Kroll but he sounded confused.
Hechler picked up the fire-control handset. “Captain. What is it?”
Kroll must have been leaning away to study his radar; when he spoke he seemed angry, as if he no longer trusted what he saw.
“A ship turned end on, sir. Rear of second line.”
“Wait!” Hechler pushed his way aft and into the tiny steel shack which housed the radar repeater alongside the sonar. He bent over the screen and as his eyes accustomed themselves to the flickering symbols he saw the complete picture as seen by Prinz Luitpold’s invisible eye. The diverging ranks of ships, and then as the scanner swept over them, the motionless blobs of light, ships burning and dying in the spreading flames. Then he saw the isolated echo. A large one which until now had been mistaken for one of the tankers. But it was much bigger and was not standing away, but coming straight for the Prinz. Hechler had to force himself to walk back to the bridge.
“Can you identify it?”
Kroll sounded very wary. “There are no major warships listed with the convoy.”
Hechler turned away. “Carry on. Tell the conning tower to alter course. Steer zero-six-zero!”
The bridge quaked again as the after guns bellowed out, their bright tongues lighting up the now rain-soaked superstructure and funnel. A figure stood out in the flashes and Hechler heard Heyse call, “Captain, sir! Message from Arado pilot! The ship is a battleship!” He hesitated. “HMS Valiant!”
A figure in shining oilskins brushed Heyse aside and Clausen exclaimed, “Steady on new course, sir. Zero-six-zero.” He clung to the safety rail, his body heaving from exertion.
Hechler looked at the large battleship through his glasses. One of the Queen-Elizabeth class. Old battleships from the Great War, they were nevertheless formidable, mounting eight 15-inch guns compared the Prinz Luitpold’s eight 8-inchers. They also had much heavier armour plating and could make 24 knots when pushed. Flashes rippled along the horizon as she fired, and moments later massive waterspouts landed alongside.
Hechler snatched up the handset. “Gunnery Officer! Shift target to the battleship!”
The sky seemed to be brightening, although with all the smoky rain it seemed to have taken them by surprise. Hechler watched the exploding shells, the ice-bright columns of water. Then he focussed on the oncoming ship. In her grey paint she looked huge, her elegant lines appreciated by Hechler despite the dangerous situation. She turned to steer towards the heavy cruiser. The next salvo fell right across her path, and Hechler thought she had been hit.
Hechler stared at her dull shadow as he wiped the glass again. They were on a converging course, approaching each other at a combined speed of about sixty miles per hour. Old she might be, but she could still batter the Prinz into smithereens. Spectators would remember this day if they were fortunate to survive.
A straddle. The battleship was hidden by falling spray, and at least one shell had smashed into her lightly armoured secondary armament ammunition belts. It was like a glowing red eye on her side.
it was a controlled broadside from all four turrets, the heavy shells straddling the massive hull, and blasting one of the tall masts away into the sea, like paper in the wind.
Hechler stood impassively as a great scream of shellfire streaked over the bridge and exploded in the sea, far abeam. Speed was useless now. With her larger armament, the British battleship could hit them form much further range. They had to close the range. The Valiant’s armament was divided as she was pointed straight at the German cruiser, and only her forward turrets could fire. It was all they needed. He bit his lip as Kroll’s next salvo exploded on her waterlight. Smoke erupted, but it was hard to tell it they had penetrated her massive armoured sides. Probably not, he thought.
“Turn to port. We must get all guns engaging!”
A messenger handed him a telephone, his face ashen as a shell screamed past the bridge.
It was Leitner. “What is the matter with you gun crews!” He was almost screaming, and Hechler held the phone further away from his ear. “Kill the battleship! She’s much older than us!”
Hechler ignored him and handed the phone back to a seaman and washed a ripple of flashes reach out from below the battleship’s bridge. They were exposing their entire beam to the battleship now, but Hechler knew that their only chance was to engage with all eight guns. Hechler found himself on the deck as the massive thundering roar of the shell-burst hit below the bridge, and another close in the water alongside the aft part of the hull. A man was screaming, his face cut to ribbons, and Hechler felt dazed, his hearing muffled. Most of the glass screen was in fragments. There was a lot of smoke and he could smell the stench of burning paintwork and cordite, as well as the repulsive smell of burnt flesh.
“Steady on zero-six-zero, sir!” The voice-pipe from the wheelhouse was unattended and Hechler saw a petty officer lying dead against the flag officers. There was not a mark on him, but his contorted face told its own story. Hechler thrust a man in his place.
He slipped on blood as he trained the binoculars on the other ship. He saw a destroyer rushing up to a point alongside the battleship, a thousand yards abeam. What was she doing? Hechler thought madly. Surely she wasn’t about to enter the fight. He watched her drop ten depth charges over the side and all became clear. There was a massive welter of spray, but not white as normal, but a large, dark, oil-laden waterspout that told its own story. A direct hit.
His attention was drawn the battleship as a staggered burst of four explosions engulfed the battleship. In moments she was listing badly, flames bursting from below decks and spreading over the water. The submarine had sacrificed herself to save the Prinz Luitpold. They had been losing the battle, for despite hitting the British warship more, they had barely penetrated her amour. The next salvo had completely wiped out the destroyer, so at least the U-boat had been avenged.
“Gunnery Officer! Switch target to the tankers!”
He heard the acknowledgement as the powerful cruiser headed after the convoy at full speed, the dull explosions on the horizon showing that at least the U-boats were doing some damage whilst the Prinz had been fighting the battleship.
“Engine-room requests permission to reduce speed, Captain!”
“What is it, Chief?” Hechler pressed the phone under his cap.
Stück’s voice was very steady. “The last shells exploded close to the propeller shafts. Nothing we can’t fix, but I need to…”
Hechler didn’t wait for the rest. “Half-speed, all engines.” A massive explosion rolled over the water, and Hechler turned to see fragments of steel and timber raining down over the sea as the ammunition bunkers in the Valiant exploded. Hechler wondered if this was the same end the Barham suffered.
A man cried, “She’s going!”
As the cruiser reduced speed, the convoy drew ahead, and Hechler realised that they couldn’t catch up now. They would have to leave it to the U-boats.
“Secure from action-stations.” He looked up, surprised to sea the sun high in the sky. Had it really been that long? “Give the men a hot meal.” He looked forward, seeing flames still licking below the bridge. That shell-burst had caused a lot of damage.
The smoke had thinned now and Hechler guessed that the fire-fighting parties had doused most of the flames between decks. Voice-pipes chattered incessantly until Froebe shouted, “Damage-control, sir!”
Hechler jammed the telephone to his ear while he watched the dead petty officer being dragged away. The man with the glass-flayed face had already gone; only his blood remained, spreading and thinning in the steady rain.
Suhren said, “A fluke shell, sir.” Someone was screaming in the background. “A shot in a million.”
Hechler watched the smoke spiralling above the broken screen.
Suhren explained in his flat, impersonal tone. One of the battleship’s last shells had plummeted down to pierce the battery deck between the bridge and Turret Bruno. As Suhren said, it was a shot in a million. It had stuck the air shaft of a mushroom ventilator and had been deflected through the armoured deck before exploding against a magazine shaft. Twenty men from the damage-control party there had been killed. In such a confined space it was not surprising. But it was a double disaster. The explosion had severely damaged the training mechanism of Turret Bruno. Until the damage could be put right, the whole turret was immobile. It could not even be trained by manual power.
Hechler considered the facts as Suhren described them. The engine-room should have the shafts running at full speed again in the next few hours. Casualties elsewhere were confined to the bridge, and two seamen who had been putting a fire out behind the funnel. They must have been blasted over the side without anyone seeing them go.
“Report to me when you have completed your inspection.”
He swung around as he heard her voice below the ladder. She was escorted to the chair by a seaman, and Hechler rushed over, grasping her hand in his.
“The doctor said it was safe, Dieter. I couldn’t stay below, not after…”
He nodded as she trailed off, understanding her fear, not being able to see anything as the crashing broadsides had thundered out, and then the explosions as the battleship’s shells had hit them.
Froebe whispered, “The admiral, sir.”
Leitner seemed to materialise on the bridge like a white spectre as Hechler stepped away from Erika.
“What the hell is happening?” He glared through the trapped smoke, his shoulders dark with rain. “I am not a bloody mind reader!”
Hechler looked at him coldly. “B Turret is out of commission, sir. We’ve lost thirty-two men killed, and five injured.” He glanced at the blood, aware of her watching him behind him. The blood had almost being washed away. “One man was blinded.”
“I do not hear you! What are you saying?” Leitner strode from one side to the other, his shows crunching over broken glass. “We have lost the convoy – don’t yo understand anything?”
Hechler looked up as Froebe called, “New course is two-three-zero, sir.”
Hechler said, “We have to turn, sir. Radar reports five escorts sunk, and eight tankers. The U-boat’s are still attacking, and more will be drawn in now.”
“I don’t care!” Leitner was beside himself with rage, and did not even notice the astonished watchkeepers around him. “Eight tankers! A pin*****! We should have taken the whole convoy.”
Froebe waited for Leitner to rush to the opposite side of the bridge before saying, “Steady on two-three-zero, sir. All engines half-speed ahead.”
Leitner was suddenly facing him, his face streaming with rain. “What was that? Am I to be told nothing by these idiots?”
Hechler kept his voice even as he replied, “The information will doubtless have been sent to your bridge, sir.” He tried to keep his patience, when all he really wanted to do was discover how badly the Prinz was damaged and reassure Erika.
Leitner thrust his face so close he could smell the brandy. “I don’t want your snivelling excuses! We have been defeated!”
Hechler stood back, sickened. “It was a risk. We knew it. It might have been worse.”
“Worse? Worse?” Leitner waved his arm at the bridge. “I don’t see that! A relic of a battleship stood against the Prinz Luitpold, with half her armament unable to bear, and because of someone’s incompetence we had to withdraw! By God, Hechler, I’ll not be a laughing stock because of it! Do you know what I call it?”
Hechler pressed his hands to his sides. He wanted to hit Leitner, to keep on hitting him. A laughing stock, was that all he saw in it? Men killed, and his fine ship isolated and at bay because of his haphazard orders.
“I call it cowardice! In the face of the enemy – what do you thick of that?”
“I can only disagree.”
“Can you indeed.” He stared around the bridge. “There are some who will live long enough to regret this day!” He stormed off the bridge and Froebe hissed, “I’m no coward, damn him!”
Hechler ignored him. He gave the orders, his voice strained with rage. “Recall the Arado. Tell W/T to monitor every signal. We have raised a hornet’s nest.” He looked around, surprised, as sunlight broke through the dull clouds and Erika’s concerned gaze. “And I want the navigating officer here at once.”
Leitner was unstable in his unstable mood. All he could think of was their failure to destroy the whole convoy, the effect it might have on his own reputation. He had made it quite clear that all the blame would rest elsewhere. On the Captain’s shoulders, no doubt. Hechler was quietly surprised that the realisation did not touch him.
Clausen emerged on the bridge, and Hechler turned towards him. “The River Plate, Josef. See to it, eh?”
Hechler turned rapidly as a messenger appeared on the bridge, his eyes wild. “Signal from the U-boats, sir. They report ten tankers sunk and six escorts for two U-boats.” He hesitated. “They sunk U-1046 and U-32, sir.”
Hechler turned away abruptly, his ears roaring a cold feeling settling into his stomach. He walked out onto the port bridge wing, resting his hands on the rail. He knew that it had been Rahn that destroyed the Valiant; it couldn’t have been anybody else. Poor old Rahn, faithful to his mentor till the day he died. Hechler spared a thought for his wife and child in Holland. He would have to try and contact them if he reached Germany again. He barely noticed his knuckles turning white, or the pain lancing through his arms as he gripped the rail tightly.
He looked down as he felt a hand grasp hold of his wrist. “I am sorry, Dieter. I know you were very close to him.” She hesitated, and then continued. “I met him when he came aboard the ship. He was a fine man.”
Hechler took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He looked at her, and then smiled weakly. “Thank you. Yes, he was a fine man. He will be greatly missed.” He squeezed her hands once before walking back across the bridge to the chart table. He would have time to grieve later, the Prinz needed him now.
He would go around the ship as soon as the Arado had been hoisted inboard. With more and more enemy ships being directed towards either the broken convoy, or their estimated position, they would need all their eyes to avoid discovery. He felt utterly drained. Yet he must inspect the immobilised turret, see his heads of department, and bury their dead. He knew his men would and could fight again. He pictured Leitner’s insane fury and felt a sudden anxiety.
The legend and the luck were no longer enough.
I'm currently working on a single mission for that battle, and you are in Rahn's position, trying to save the Prinz. I'll post the link up here when it's done.
11-11-2006, 09:41 AM
will we be able to put Leitner in a tube and launch him at the Valiant? :arrgh!:
11-11-2006, 01:59 PM
Unfortunately, no, because he's on the Prinz Luitpold rather than Rahn's U-32. However much I would like to condemn him to a watery grave, it just isn't possible.
I suppose you could imagine that he's in the Arado search plane, surface and shoot him down, but I suppose it would be a questionable idea to surface in front of a pissed off battleship, but by all means try :D
Cheers for reading guys, and the mission is coming along well.
11-12-2006, 05:35 PM
As long as the aircraft is hostile, I'll finish it off when I've sunk the convoy!
11-26-2006, 04:51 PM
Sorry for the long delay this time, but it was my 18th last weekend and I let the schoolwork pile up. Unfortunately I can't seem to get the single mission to work, but maybe someone else can make one if they like. Here's the next installment with more action but of a different kind! Enjoy :D
Leitner looked up from his littered desk and eyed Hechler for several seconds.
“You wish to see me?”
Hechler nodded. He wondered how Leitner could leave the upper bridge to spend time in his spacious quarters. The cabin was unusually chaotic, with clothes strewn about, and a lifejacket hung on the door. He said, “We have just buried the men who were killed, sir.”
Leitner pouted, “Yes. I felt the ship slow down.” Some of the old edge returned to his tone. “Not that she’s exactly a greyhound of the ocean at the moment!”
“The engine-room expects the pumps will be back at full pressure soon, and we should be able to make full speed shortly after that.” They had said that yesterday, but this time Stück seemed quite confident. “It’s Bruno turret that worries me.”
“You? Worry?” Leitner put down his pen and regarded him calmly. “After their performance with the convoy I’d have thought the whole gunnery team should be worried!”
It was pointless to argue, to explain that not only had the Prinz matched guns with a battleship, but the last shell had been a fluke, and the damage to the engine-room was only to be expected in a fierce battle. Anyway, Leitner seemed so preoccupied that he would only have challenged that too.
“Now, Dieter, let us go over the plans for Argentina.” He dragged a chart from below a piece of paper.
Hechler bent over the desk. Why go over it again? All he could see were the lines of flag-covered bodies, the rain sheeting down while he had read the burial service. Then the signal to the bridge to reduce speed, the last volley of shots, and the seamen rolling up the empty flags for the next time. Faces and groups lingered in his mind, like little cameos of war itself. A young seaman wiping his eyes with his sleeve and trying not to show his grief at the loss of a friend. The camera team filming the funeral, a petty officer staring at them, his eyes filled with hatred and disgust. Leitner should have been there too. It was the least he could do. And he had seen the girl too, her coat collar turned up as she had gripped a stanchion below two manned anti-aircraft guns and watched him, listening to his words as he had saluted, and the pathetic bundles had splashed over the side.
Hechler had been kept busy with hardly a break. Now, in the sealed cabin it was like a blanket. He was dog-tired at a time when he needed to be at full alert. Somewhere overhead an Arado was testing its engine. They were off the shipping lanes, and as far as Bauer’s telegraphers had been able to determine, all enemy forces had been directed to the convoy or further north. OKM Operations Division had been silent, as if the Prinz Luitpold had already been written off as a casualty, left to her own resources.
Leitner did not look up from the chart, and some of his sleek hair fell forward like a loose quill. It was so unlike him that Hechler wondered if the last engagement had broken his faith. He was suddenly sickened by the man in front of him. Hechler stood upright again and said, “I must attend to my ship, sir.”
Hechler walked out onto the open deck. He despised the admiral and his inconsistent behaviour, his malice and instability. But more by Leitner’s uncertainty, as if he had been given a weapon he suspects is faulty. Maybe it was just as well they were heading for Argentina, and not attempting to fight their way back to Germany.
“You walk alone, Dieter?”
She stepped from behind the same gun-mounting, her cheeks glowing from both wind and rain. Her injury seemed to have completely healed, and Hechler could scarcely believe it was only a week ago that she had been hit.
He faced her and wanted to fold her in his arms, forget everything but this moment. “I need to talk, Erika.” He knew that some of the seamen were watching him. Alone within a crowd.
“I know.” She gripped his arm. “I was afraid.” She shook her head so that her damp hair bounced on the fur collar. “No, not of war, or the fighting and dying. But afterwards. I thought you might think it was a momentary lapse, a need that we both shared, but only for a moment.” She gripped him more tightly. “I want you for myself.”
He smiled down at her, the other faces and figures fading into distance. “I shall never give you up.” He turned as a messenger bustled up to them and saluted. “From the bridge, sir. The engine-room can give full speed now.” His eyes flickered between them.
“Tell the bridge to wait. I am coming up.” He looked at the girl’s eyes, hung on to what he saw, needing her to believe him, to trust him, no matter what happened.
He said, “I love you, Erika.” The he stepped back and saw the way she lifted her chin. It was as if they had both found a strength they had not previously recognised. As he vanished up the ladder to the bridge she whispered aloud, “And I you, dearest of men.”
The deck began to tremble and she watched the wash rise up alongside as once again the bows smashed into the sea as if they despised it. She walked slowly below the high bridge structure as saw the black hole where the shell had plunged through to explode between decks. It was all so unreal to see and feel the enemy right here amongst them. She thought of Hechler’s features as he had read the burial service, his strong voice raised above the laboured roar of fans, and the hiss of rain across the armour plating. She smiled sadly. The iron pirate. She could not see more than a day ahead, and she guessed that most of her companions felt the same way. But after this precious moment she knew she would find him again, and that she could love nobody else.
Acting-Commodore Pembroke walked further out on the starboard side of Renown’s bridge and fastened his duffle coat more tightly around him. The rain was getting heavier, and the seas had picked up again as they had travelled further south. They could do without it, he thought.
He looked through one of the clearview screens and watched the long arrowhead of the battle-cruiser’s forecastle begin to shine through the darkness. It would be dawn soon, Pembroke thought as he slowly rubbed his hands together to restore circulation. Since receiving the signal to proceed to Cape Town the aged battle-cruiser had broken down yet again, and three harrowing days were spent motionless on the sea whilst their escorts circled to prevent U-boat attack. Instead of reassuring the Renown’s company, their circling consorts had only served to remind them that the fatal salvo of torpedoes could arrive at any minute, with no warning.
Then, two days later, as they had been steadily steaming towards the South African naval port, another signal had arrived. The Prinz Luitpold was attacking the big tanker convoy, and Pembroke had listened to the reports as they had come in, scarcely believing it when news of HMS Valiant’s sinking reached him. Lots of signal traffic had arrived then. There had been reports of sunk tankers and U-boat sinkings as well as lots of signals from London.
Pembroke’s small squadron was the only available unit to track down the powerful German raider, and with ‘Force M’ covering to the north, it was unlikely the Prinz Luitpold would escape to the north. ‘Force M’ consisted of a big carrier and a couple of battleships with all the escorts and support they needed.
Now, three days after the convoy battle, Pembroke was leading his ships at a steady speed to cut off the cruiser’s most likely route. Pembroke had spent many hours in the chartroom with his officers, and the general consensus had been that the only route open to the Prinz was to sail for the River Plate. It would be the Graf Spee all over again, he thought.
Since being assigned their new orders, Pembroke’s small squadron had remained closed up at action stations. Exciting, exhilarating, it was much more than either, he thought. Gone was the boredom and the nagging suspicion that the German raider was still alive. For two days they had pounded through the heavy ocean swell, gun crews exercising without the usual moans. This time it was in earnest.
Pembroke could picture his ships clearly despite the darkness. The Devonshire was half a mile astern, while the light cruiser Christchurch was way ahead in the van. If the German’s radar was as good as the experts implied, it was better to have the smallest ship in the lead. The Prinz Luitpold was a powerful and formidable opponent, but they would dart in to close the range, singly, while the others maintained covering fire to halve the enemy’s resources. Pembroke thought of the German’s radar, and how he wished the Renown had similar equipment. He thought of their old Walrus flying boat, the Shagbat as it was affectionately known in the navy. One engine, a pusher at that, with a ridiculous maximum speed of 130 odd miles per hour. But it only needed one sighting report, and the ancient Walrus could do that just as well as any first rate bomber.
Pembroke glanced at the bridge staff. The first lieutenant and officer-of-the-watch, the navigating officer, two junior subbies, and the handful of experts, signalmen and the like. As good a ships company as you could find anywhere, he decided. He walked over to the steel bridge chair and sat down, watching as the dawn light slowly explored the battle-cruiser’s superstructure. Yes, he decided. They would be ready when they brought the Prinz Luitpold to action. Nothing could take it away from him now.
Hechler stood by the port bridge rail, his oilskin wrapped tightly around him. The sea was heavier now, the tops of the swell lined with foam, and every other wave the Prinz Luitpold’s long bow would bury into the wave, sending spray over the bridge. The wind had been steadily increasing for the last few hours, and the weather was rapidly changing from the pleasantly warm and benign conditions they had been experiencing. It would soon be dusk as well, and Hechler was worried by the rapid change in weather.
It had been four days since the fight with the Valiant, and for the last two the engines had been working at full speed, driving the heavy cruiser southwest towards the River Plate estuary and safety. They had received only one further signal from OKM Operations. Apparently, there was a small British squadron to the north of them acting as the main search party. Leitner had told him that it consisted of the old battle-cruiser, Renown, and a couple of cruisers. Hechler believed that they would reach Buenos Aires before them, even if his heart was telling him to fight.
Leitner had been another worry. Apart from the meeting to discuss the signal, he had remained in his cabin, and Pirk had reported that the Admiral was taking more drink as well. Hechler’s mouth drew into a thin line. If that was true, then they were all in for squalls, he thought.
He looked around the bridge, ducking as another bout of spray burst over the rail. The watch-keepers were all busy, and Hechler could see the grim expression of Clausen in the small chart-room as he tapped a barometer and made notations on the chart. Suhren stood moodily over the other side of the bridge. Sitting in the steel bridge-chair was Erika Franke, wrapped up in another large oilskin. Her auburn hair was blowing in the wind, and she smiled under his scrutiny.
Hechler turned away as Clausen moved over to him, his face set in a frown.
“I don’t like it, sir. That warm period we had before, and now this steady increase in windspeed – they show all the signs of a cyclone. The barometer’s dropped 10 millibars in the last two hours.”
Hechler looked out to the horizon in front of the ship. There were large, deep black clouds, and it did look a lot like a cyclonic depression. From the rate at which the barometer was falling, this could turn out to be a violent storm. He walked briskly over to the rack of telephone on the aft wall of the bridge.
“Chief? Captain. Reduce speed, please. Set revolutions for 15 knots, and tell your men to hold on. It looks like we’re in for a blow, and we don’t want any injuries, eh?”
He put the phone down carefully and turned back to face the sea again. The waves were already larger, and a steady drizzle had started. The signs looked ominous.
He walked over to the spot where Suhren was standing and spoke quietly. “Viktor, it looks as if we’re in for a heavy blow. Take some men and take a look around the ship for me. Especially the anchors.”
Suhren nodded and walked away, motioning for a couple of seamen to follow him. The rain was starting to fall in larger drops, and Hechler could see the waves were almost all covered by white spray as they crested. The wind howled around the open bridge, and the motion had picked up further. He moved over to the girl and grasped her hand.
“It’s going to get quite rough and wet up here before long, Erika. Are you sure you want to stay up here?”
She nodded, her eyes moving away to glance at the heaving sea. At the reduced speed, the Prinz was taking less water onboard, but the motion was much greater, each wave creating a long rolling motion in addition to the pitching of the bow as the rollers came across their quarter.
Leitner emerged onto the bridge, his expression grave. “Why have we reduced speed?” His voice was icy.
Hechler stepped towards him. “We’re headed straight for a storm, sir. At the present rate, we looked to be heading straight for the centre, and I reduced speed for better control. I’d also like to request that we alter course away to the north to try and bypass it.”
“No, I don’t think that wise.” Leitner had turned away, his voice calm and even. “There’s a pursuing British squadron to the north, and you are ordered to sail this ship to Buenos Aires. Increase to full speed again.”
“Sir, I must prot…”
“At once, Captain!”
Hechler turned away and nodded at Froebe to see to it. Leitner moved across to the back of the bridge, glancing at the chart as he clung to a pipe to keep balance. His face was impassive once again, and Hechler could scarcely believe only moments before he had been shouting.
A few minutes later Suhren climbed back onto the bridge, his oilskins running with water and his face red from the wind and spray. He clung to a stanchion as he reported, ignoring Leitner’s snort at the back of the bridge. Hechler had ordered a change of hands, and now the whole ship was closed up for the storm and the best hands on the vital stations. Hechler had ordered a Chief Petty Officer onto the wheel, unseen below, yet the intercom relayed his messages. In the short time Suhren had been away, the weather had deteriorated rapidly and the seas picked up further, Clausen had reported that the barometer was now ready 962 millibars, and still falling rapidly. Windspeed was estimated at well above 60 knots now, and the average wave height was over 10 metres.
Outside the bridge it was almost completely dark, and only the careering wave crests marked any division between sea and cloud. The rain was sheeting down now. Hechler clung to the side of the bridge chair and watched as the forecastle disappeared under a thunderous cascade of water, and felt the deck sliding away beneath him, the screen misting over in a distorted mirage of grey and white. He could feel the bruise on his hip where the pressure of the unyielding steel had grated against him as time after time the cruiser had slid almost beam on into a steep trough, only to emerge shaking and corkscrewing for the next onslaught.
He had lost all sense of time, his attention gripped by his efforts to keep the ship under control and on course. The men around him were mere shadows now, with the occasional face picked out by a compass light or the radar repeater. He turned towards the vague shadow of the admiral.
“Sir, I must request that we alter course at least thirty degrees to starboard to keep the ship under control. If we don’t we could broach to in these seas.”
After a pause, Leitner’s voice came back. “Very well, but only until the storm abates.”
Hechler turned back with relief and watched as the bow clawed round in the heaving water until they were taking the seas at an angle of around twenty degrees. There was still a corkscrewing motion, but no longer were they lying exposed in a trough, beam on to a large wave. Every member of the bridge crew was clipped into place by a lifeline, and the whole structure was repeatedly doused with water. He looked at the girl, and noticed that she seemed to be taking it well. He squeezed her hand reassuringly and grinned as she looked at him.
“A thoroughbred! She can take this easily.” He turned away and almost fell as the deck swooped and the staggered from under him.
He heard the helmsman shouting, “She’s paying off, sir! Three-two-zero; Three-three-zero; Three-four-zero!” His voice was strained with terror, and Hechler could imagine his fear inside the heavy steel wheelhouse.
Hechler turned his head towards the compass gyro. “Half astern starboard engine!” He used both arms to hold on as the deck leaned over still further and men fell headlong across the bridge in a confused, shouting tangle where their lifelines had gone slack.
“Starboard engine half-astern, sir!”
It seemed suddenly quiet beyond the steel sides of the bridge, and Hechler realised with sick horror that the ship, his ship, was lying in the confines of a deep trough, being pushed along and over by the force of one great, towering roller. Fascinated he watched the roller’s crest start to crumple, heard Froebe gasp behind him as with the force of an avalanche the great mass of water crashed down on the ship’s exposed side
The helmsman yelled again, “I can’t hold her, sir! She won’t answer!”
“Put the starboard engine to full astern! Emergency!” Hechler’s voice sounded unnaturally loud in the imprisoned stillness of the trough.
The hull shook savagely as the screws fought against sea and rudder to bring the stem around.
A seaman sobbed, “She’s goin’! Oh Jesus, she’s goin’ right under!”
No-one answered, but as one more great wave battered against the listing hull the helmsman croaked, “She’s coming, sir!” The gyro ticked round. “Three-three-five; Three-three-zero.”
“Get ready!” Hechler laid his hand on that of the mesmerised seaman at the telegraph. “Now! Full ahead starboard!”
As the bows slewed sluggishly above the creaming wall of water the noise and violence came back as savagely as ever. Hechler’s voice seemed to calm everybody as he spoke evenly, “Steer Three-zero-zero directly at the waves. That should give better steerage way for a bit.”
Clausen clawed his way round the bridge and shouted above the wind, “The bottom had dropped out of the glass. We’re heading almost straight to the storm centre, for God’s sake! It’s reading 952 millibars now!”
Hechler griped the rack of telephones as the bow climbed steeply up another unbroken roller. Up, up, until the long stem seemed to be pointing at the skudding clouds like a shining black arrowhead. Then as the roller broke and roared down either beam he felt the forepart of the ship drop sickeningly into the waiting trough, and pitied the men crammed in the dripping messdecks as they were plummeted some forty feet before smashing into the solid force of water below.
One of the telephones buzzed and a rating called, “Engine-room for you, sir.” He handed it to Hechler and used both hand to hold himself to a fire extinguisher as the bow lifted towards the next leaping wave crest.
“Captain.” Hechler held on tightly with one hand as the other kept the telephone to his ear. He listened as Stück’s voice filled his ear.
“Captain, it’s the starboard shaft, the one that was damaged by the shell-burst. There’s a bearing running hot in the starboard shaft, in the after gland space!”
“Can you keep it running at full speed? We need everything we’ve got to climb these waves and the Admiral won’t alter course in case we meet the British squadron. What can you give me, Chief?”
Stück’s voice rose as he replied quickly. “It’s the after bearing, don’t you understand? It might be a blocked oil-pipe, and if I can’t fix it the whole shaft will seize up solid as a bloody rock!”
“Hell. Very well, Chief. Stand-by. I’ll reduce speed once we’ve turned.”
Hechler turned back towards Leitner, placing the handset back down on the handle. “Sir, we must alter course immediately.”
“What the hell are you talking about? The motion is much easier like this, isn’t it?” His face was red with anger. “Out of the question!”
“Sir, there’s a bearing running hot in the starboard shaft. If we don’t alter course and reduce speed, it could seize up solid. We need full speed to take these waves head on. Our only choice is to head north and reduce speed.”
“Like hell we do, Hechler! There’s a British squadron to the north, and they’ll sink us if we meet them.”
“Sir, we’re heading into the centre of the storm. If we don’t alter course we’ll be far deeper far quicker than any warship could sink us. We must alter course!” Hechler was suddenly aware of the silence on the bridge despite the roaring of the sea. Almost everyone on the bridge was watching the confrontation and Hechler could see Erika looking on with wide eyes.
Leitner was screaming now. “I don’t care! May I remind you, Captain, that your duty is to follow my orders! Kindly do as I say!”
Hechler turned around, his voice icy. “My duty, Admiral, is the safety of my crew and my ship, and only after that am I at liberty to follow your wise orders. I will be turning this ship out of the path of the storm with or without your consent!”
As Hechler moved awkwardly across the deck and watched as Froebe swallowed hard as the ship plunged forwards and down, his eyes fixed on the incoming sea as it rushed aft along the forecastle and leapt high over the gun mounting. Hechler saw his lips moving, as if he were counting seconds, willing the bows to reappear. It seemed to take a long time, as though the starboard shaft was already labouring, the ship starting her plunge to the bottom.
He turned and peered through the screen as a dull boom echoed dismally above the hiss of bursting spray. The bows lifted, staggered, then plunged headlong through another breaking roller and the same sound repeated itself. It was like a giant oildrum being beaten with a bar of iron. It must be the anchor, Hechler thought, despite Suhren’s crew securing them.
He looked about the bridge. “Werner, the anchor’s coming loose. Take Heyse and some men and secure it before it stoves the plates in.” As Froebe made to move he added quickly, “Don’t move until I’ve turned the ship. That way you’ll be afforded some shelter.”
He saw Froebe nod and head below to gather a party of men together, and turned back to the bridge.
“We’ll let the sea do the work for us. I shall turn to starboard. Be ready to go half astern on the starboard engine.” He heard the orders repeated through a handset.
Boom. The sound jarred the strained minds of everyone on the bridge.
Hechler said. “Starboard fifteen. Starboard engine half astern.”
The ship had barely started to turn before she reeled wildly across an advancing wall of water and began to topple drunkenly on to her beam. Pieces of gear tore loose and clattered through the bridge, and somewhere below a man cried out in sudden terror.
Hechler clenched his teeth. “Increase to twenty. Starboard engine full astern!”
The next careering wave hit the exposed bow and thrust the ship hard over, the deck angling so steeply that from his position jammed against the starboard scuttles Hechler found he was staring straight down into the frothing water alongside. Another few degrees and the hull would capsize completely. He found that he could accept it. Was even able to breathe. Then through the leaping spray he saw a piece of broken guardrail and knew the ship was coming upright again. He felt the fierce pressure against his chest and thighs easing and barked, “Half ahead both engines. Wheel amidships!” He rubbed the screen with his sleeve. “Steady now! Steady!”
The helmsman, Zimmer, said, “Steady, sir. Course zero-two-zero.” He cursed softly to meet a sudden challenge from the sea, and added grimly, “She’s holding it, sir.”
Froebe walked off the bridge and stumbled across a seaman trying to blow up a lifejacket. He was not alone. There seemed to be dozens of dark shapes jammed everywhere, their orange lifejackets giving them a strange anonymity. He thrust his way between them, saying nothing. It was useless to tell sailors it was pointless to climb to the highest point in a ship when they were terrified beyond reason. It had been bad enough on the bridge, but to the men off watch and imprisoned with a reeling, creaking hull it must have been a living hell.
He found Heyse and the men huddled together below the bridge, their faces showing occasionally as a torch flashed amongst them. Beyond the watertight door he could hear the sea sluicing along the deck, the boom of the anchor like a curfew bell.
Heyse looked at him and said, “Thanks for coming down.” He sounded as if he was shivering.
Another voice spoke beside him. “I’ve got a new slip fixed up and ready, sir.” It was Petty Officer Lehman, the chief bosun’s mate. He seemed unperturbed. “And I’ve got two good leading hands below ready to break the cable.”
Froebe nodded. Lehman needed no telling. It was useless to try and secure the anchor. The great weight of water must have moved something just enough to allow the anchor to slip clear of the hawse pipe. Now, suspended on its shackle it was swinging against the plating each time the ship plunged. If it stove the bows in the sea would do the rest, bulkheads or no bulkheads.
Heyse said, “It’ll have to be fast.” He cleared his throat. “I…I’ll go first.”
Lehman chuckled. “We’ll both go, sir.” He jabbed the two seamen behind him. “Jurgen and Hans, take the wire strops. Rehman, hold onto the lifeline. When I rap the deck with my hammer, the lads below will break the joining shackle and we’ll do the rest, right?”
They nodded. One of the seamen asked thickly, “What if we get caught by one of those big waves, Jens?”
Lehman grinned. “Don’t you worry, Hans. Your old woman will get her pension a bit earlier, that’s all!” Then sharply he added, “Right lads. Let’s get that bloody door open!”
Now that the ship had turned her stern towards the great following sea it was surprisingly sheltered below the bridge. Cautiously, feeling their way along a lifeline the men groped towards the gun mountings and around it where they paused beneath the great muzzles of Turret Anton.
Froebe pulled himself to the front of the crouching figures and peered towards the stem. The ship seemed to be making hardly any headway at all, but that was merely because her speed was almost matched by that of the pursuing waves. The deck was still vibrating fiercely, and he knew Zimmer would be watching and feeling his wheel, ready to warn Hechler the instant he lost steerage way. It that happened the ship could broach to, or be pooped and driven under before Hechler could get more speed.
The bows dipped slowly and he saw the spray feathering back through the bullring and spurting over the crumpled guardrail.
He said, “Now!”
While the bows lifted wearily again they dashed forward along the slippery deck, clinging to the single wire stay which spelt life or death for all of them.
Lehman threw himself astride the port cable shouting, “This one never was any bloody good!” He laughed into the spray as he held up a piece of metal. “Sheered off like a carrot!”
The deck canted again and more water swept over them choking their cries and curses, blinding them until the bows fought free once more. All the time Lehman was busy with his slip and his strops whilst Rehman controlled his movements with the rest of the lifeline.
Lehman rapped his hammer on the deck and shouted; “Now we’ll see!”
The cable groaned and stiffened as the steel slip took the strain. He banged twice on the deck, and from below they heard the sudden rasp of metal and then an answering signal. Lehman yelled, “Thank God that worked!”
Froebe jerked the wire stay. “Get back, the rest of you! Lehman will knock off the slip!” He saw Heyse’s face close by his arm, pale and staring. “Got to judge the right moment!”
He made himself wait, knowing that Lehman was having difficulty in holding on. But knock off the slip too soon and the anchor would smash through the hull long before it could drop clear.
The bows started to dip and he yelled, “Slip!”
Lehman leapt clear and swung his hammer, ducking into Froebe’s arms as with a growling roar the short length of cable trundled along the deck and then vanished through the hawse pipe.
Lehman clung to the two officers, his face split into a huge grin. “That’ll give some poor fish a headache!”
They struggled aft along the wire towards the gun mounting, half blinded, and almost deafened by the wind in their faces.
Heyse yelled, “Never thought it had taken so long.” He was half laughing, half sobbing. “Be daylight soon!”
Froebe peered past him and then froze. The pale line etched against the cloud was not the dawn. It was the thin crest of the greatest wave he had ever seen. It stretched away on either quarter until it was lost from view and seemed higher than the masthead.
He shouted, “Run for the guns! Quick!”
The wave came on, lifting the stern higher and higher until it was tearing forward and down like a surfboard. Had it broken it would have smashed the ship apart, but as it reached the bridge it seemed to stagger and break into several gigantic waves of equal size and ferocity.
Froebe saw the nearest one lifting above the port rail, so tall that it was like something solid. He watched it curve inboard and felt the ship slew heavily to one side as the full force of it exploded against the foot of the bridge before thundering forwards towards the bows.
His breath was being pushed from his lungs. It was like being buried alive, and in the blind maelstrom of sea and noise he could hear himself shouting, his words choked by salt water as it swept over him, dragging at his sodden body, tearing at his fingers as he fought to hold on. Then it was past, and as he struggled painfully against the gun mounting he realised that he was alone.
He reeled round the streaming steel and saw a crumpled figure poised right on the edge of the deck, draped around a buckled stanchion like a discarded puppet. He reached it and dragged desperately at the man’s coat. It was Heyse, and as he hauled him back over the side he heard him gasp, “Lehman! He’s here!”
Froebe saw two seamen dashing from below the bridge to seize Heyse’s body, and as he lowered himself to the side again he found Lehman directly below him, his hands locked into a drooping piece of guardrail like two pale claws. Froebe felt someone holding his legs, and reached down to seize the petty officer’s wrists with all his strength.
Lehman croaked, “Bloody fine thing! My leg’s busted!”
Froebe adjusted his grip and called back to them men behind him, “Pull us inboard, lads!” It was then that he saw the next wave coming down the side of the hull towards him. This time he heard nothing at all, but was conscious of the overwhelming, choking water, and the fact that Lehman’s wrists were slipping through his fingers. He knew he was trying to shout to him even though his lungs seemed full of water. Knew too that Lehman was staring up at him, watching him, knowing that he was going to die. He thought he too was dying, for even as the two cold hands slipped away so did his senses. Then there was nothing.
When he opened his eyes it took him several minutes to grasp what had happened. There was a light burning on the opposite bulkhead, and everything was white. He moved his cracked lips and tried to laugh. He saw Hechler looking down at him, and Stroheim next to him.
“Take it easy, Werner. You had a rough time of it.”
It was coming back now. Fast and terrible. He asked quietly, “Lehman?”
Hechler looked down at him under the light, his expression sad. “You did your best. Couldn’t be helped.”
Froebe closed his eyes. They seemed to be *****ing him. He noticed that the motion around him was easier, and through the hull he could hear the sea pounding more evenly. He gripped the sheet tightly. It sounded pleased with itself.
He asked, “How long have I been out?”
Stroheim replied as Hechler had already left to go back to the bridge. “Five hours. I had to do it. You were trying to get back on deck.”
Froebe looked at him emptily. “I don’t remember anything about it.”
“Just shock, Werner.” Stroheim studied him carefully. “Quite normal.”
“Not for Lehman it wasn’t.” He wanted Stroheim to follow Hechler and leave him in peace to readjust his mind.
“I know. However, but for you, young Heyse would be gone too.”
Froebe turned his face away. He could feel the sleep returning, and when he closed his eyes he could picture it quite clearly. Like smoke advancing across the sea’s face.
Stroheim watched him until he fell asleep and then left him in peace, unconsciously listening to Froebe’s wishes.
As for the rest of the story, there'll only be a couple more installments at most, so stay tuned for the next update. Thanks for reading this far!
11-26-2006, 06:32 PM
Excellent work; very enjoyable! I'm going to have to cut and paste it all into a document so I can print it off for reading. It puts my patrol blog to shame, haha! Keep up the good work.
11-27-2006, 05:35 AM
The level of excellence goes from one height to the next with each instalment :rock:
11-27-2006, 10:01 PM
Top quality writing, Dan!
My own reports from U-46 are full of typos, inaccuracies and inconsistencies too. I think it goes with getting the urge to write in the middle of the night!
A lot of people have suggested it, and I think Neal Stevens was doing something similar (?) at one point, but collaboration on publishing a book could be fun.
I'm printing off your work to keep (blimey, it's nearly 50 pages!), anyway keep up the good work, it's a great read, and be sure to poke your head into the Chat Noir if ever U-66 makes it's way up the St Nazaire estuary.
(Raoul de Bunsen)
11-27-2006, 10:17 PM
Keep up the good work!
11-28-2006, 03:29 PM
Wow! Thanks for the comments! I ended up writing like a madman last night and so here is the final installment ( a long one) of the story. I've really enjoyed writing it, and I hope you've enjoyed reading it :D
The pilot of the Renown’s twin-winged Walrus was a young Wavy Navy lieutenant. Despite what other Fleet Air Arm officers said about his antiquated flying-boat he had grown extremely fond of it.
He was singing silently, his voice lost in the throaty roar of the Pegasus radial engine which hung above the cockpit like some ungainly cradle, and watching patches of blue cutting through the cloud layer, like a sea on a beach.
The three other members of his crew were peering down at the ocean, where occasionally their inelegant shadow preceded them as they tacked back and forth over a forty mile line.
Rumours had spawned in the battle-cruiser’s wardroom at a mounting rate. Ever since it was announced that they were pursuing the Prinz Luitpold a new buzz had spread through the ship. Some believed that she had gone to the bottom in the last storm, but the officer dismissed this with a snort. Her captain had successfully fought a bloody battleship, so it was unlikely he’d let a storm outwit him.
How vast the ocean looked from up here, he thought. The remnants of the storm were still visible, but only the occasional white breaker was highlighted against the deep blue. There was nothing, not even a hint of land – it was a vast, grey-blue desert.
A great ocean, with nothing ahead but the winding coastline of South America. He chuckled. And that was 500 miles away. Pembroke would have to give in soon, he thought. In a few more days the powerful German cruiser would be safely moored in the River Plate, tucked away in Argentinean waters. His observer and navigator climbed up beside him and switched on the intercom.
“Time to turn in five minutes, Bob. Then one more sweep to the south and back to Father.” He peered at the endless terrain of water.
“The Old Man’s not going to like it.”
The pilot eased the controls and glanced quickly at the compass. The news from Europe was amazing, advances everywhere. Only the coming of winter would slow things down now. He had been in school when the war had started, and the navy, temporary or not, was all he knew. It would probably carry on in Japan afterwards, he thought.
It was strange, but he had never dropped a bomb or fired one of their elderly Vickers machine guns in anger. Just up and down the lines of convoyed ships, or scouting like this ahead of the battle-cruiser.
It would have been a nice thing to remember. “What do you reckon, Tim?”
His companion grinned. “No chance. The Old Man’s dropped a right clanger this time!”
They both laughed into their mouthpieces and then the pilot looked again and gasped, “Christ, Tim! It’s her!”
The old Walrus leaned over, the engine protesting shakily as he thrust the stick hard against his knee. It was not a silhouette like the ones in their charts and manuals. It was a flaw in the sea’s face, a hint of a shadow, solid and somehow frightening.
“Quick! Back to Father!” They clung on as the Walrus rolled into a low cloudbank with as much dignity as it could muster. There was so much the pilot wanted to know and recognise. He could have risked flak and worse by heading closer, but he knew what Pembroke would say if he disobeyed orders.
He felt his friend punching his shoulder and stared at him, his eyes suddenly bright with understanding pride as he shouted, “Never mind the bloody fleet, Bob! Just remember this day! We found the bastard!”
Had the Germans seen them? It no longer mattered. They had indeed done what everyone else had failed to do. In all this ocean, it was a bloody miracle!
They both fell about laughing when they realised that neither of the other crew members as yet knew what had happened.
Aboard their ship Pembroke sad nodding in the noon sunlight, his cap tilted over his reddened face.
The Chief Yeoman of signals steadied his telescope and said, “Signal from Christchurch, sir. In contact with your Walrus. Message reads.” The Yeoman licked his dried lips. “Enemy in sight!”
Pembroke slid from the chair, feeling their eyes on him. As if he had just parted the Red Sea.
“Make to squadron, Yeo. Increase to full speed.” The Renown was an old ship and Pembroke doubted she would take full speed for long but he wouldn’t let that bloody German escape him yet again. He saw the yeoman watching him too, his eyes asking a question. They had been together a long time and Pembroke did not disappoint him.
“Hoist battle ensigns!”
Hechler stood on the bridge wing and watched as the cruiser laboured over the steady swell. They still hadn’t been able to repair the starboard shaft enough to take full speed, but at fifteen knots the engines were running easily, even if it meant the motion was worse.
He thought of Leitner. Since their confrontation during the storm, the admiral had moved his boxes from the hold into his cabin, and had guarded them zealously. Rumours were strife throughout the ship as to their contents, but from Leitner’s actions, Hechler suspected they were either incredibly valuable or of disputable origin. More likely both.
He saw the twin guns in Turret Bruno lifting a few degrees and then the whole turret training out to starboard and then swiftly back to port, the muzzles painting a figure of eight in the air. Kroll had worked every artificer from his department hard to clear the training mechanism, but it seemed to have worked.
Hechler tried not to think of the girl, how she had looked when he had blurted out his true feelings for her. He knew he would never forget. He had to see her again. She had stayed away from the bridge after the storm. Was it so hopeless that it must remain just an incident, like so many thousands in wartime?
And what of Suhren? Fretting, hating, nursing his despair, which was as deep as any wound. Which would last? His love for the ship, or the inner madness that would in time destroy him?
“Radar – bridge!” The speaker made some younger seamen jump with alarm.
Hechler seized the handset. “Captain speaking.”
“Aircraft at Green one-five-oh! Moving left to right, extreme range.”
A dozen pairs of powerful glasses swivelled round and a man exclaimed, “I saw a flash, sir!”
Froebe said, “It’s gone into some clouds, sir.” He sounded interested but nothing more. “Dead astern now. Target moving very slowly.” He swore silently. “Lost it again.”
The speaker intoned, “Secondary armament stand-by!”
Hechler wanted to turn, but snapped, “Cancel that order!”
Clausen joined him and together they stared at the sky astern. He said, “Maybe it didn’t see us, sir?” He sounded doubtful.
Hechler considered it. A small aircraft, over 500 miles from land – it had to be hostile. Everyone had reported it as being very slow. He felt the dampness of sweat beneath his cap. Had it been from a carrier, it would have been swift, and soon to be joined by others.
He replied, “It saw us all right. Might be a neutral.” He shook his head, dismissing his own assessment. “My guess is that it’s a float-plane of some sort.” He felt Clausen sigh and added, “I intend to assume it’s from a warship, but not a carrier.”
Clausen gave a chuckle. “That’s something, Is suppose.”
The admiral’s flag lieutenant appeared on the bridge companion ladder. “I have been sent to enquire about…”
Hechler said bluntly, “An aircraft, presumed hostile. If the Admiral wishes to know why I ordered the gun crews to stand down, please tell him that I would prefer the enemy thinks we did not see him.”
Hechler was picturing the immediate chart in his mind. “Warn the first Arado to prepare for launching.” He waited for the big navigator to pass the order. “My guess is that the enemy squadron is close by. I’d say 100 miles maximum. That plane will be going to its superior officer with the haste of hell. No radio, in case we pick him up – he’ll be depending on surprise.”
Clausen murmured, “You saw all this in a few seconds, sir. I admire that very much. Gunnery patrol would have had every weapon with that range banging away in one more moment!”
Hechler smiled. “You used to carry timber as you have often told me. I have always done this, since I was a boy. It is my life.”
“Arado ready, sir.”
Hechler said, “See the pilot and give him a course. I want him to find the enemy and report back to me.”
Clausen watched his profile. It would be a suicide mission. He was glad he did not have to make such decisions.
Hechler turned his attention astern. At best, the other ship would be in sight before sunset. If the enemy stood off to await reinforcements to ensure their kill, it might offer time enough to alter course, lose them in the darkness. With their far-reaching radar they had an edge on the enemy. But for it, he would never have known about that speck in the clouds, the slow-moving aircraft.
One thing was certain, there was a British squadron reported in this area, and they had been driven towards it by the storm. Their limited intelligence seemed to suggest that the battle-cruiser HMS Renown was there, but of the other vessels, Hechler had no idea. The battleships were all to the north, employed with the convoys or protecting the supply lines as more and more of their troops flooded across the English Channel and into France. He bit his lip. Into Germany.
Once their intentions were known, the British in particular would pull out all the stops. He remembered when the battleship Bismarck, the greatest warship ever built except for the trapped Tirpitz, had gone down with all guns firing. But it had taken all of the Home Fleet to find and destroy her. Revenge gave an edge to every commander, he thought. Their own sister-ship Prinz Eugen had slipped through the blockade; so could they if they had been given the chance!
He heard men stand to attention and Froebe’s whispered warning. Leitner moved through the bridge, his uniform bright and crisp. Some of the one-stripers ducked as the Arado roared from the catapult and lifted above the bridge like a huge eagle on floats.
Hechler glanced quickly at the admiral. He had expected another outburst as to why the plane had been launched without his first being told.
Leitner merely grunted. “Taking a look, eh?”
“It seems likely we’ll have to increase to full speed, sir.” Hechler watched him in brief snatches while he never lost his hold over the ship. “As soon as it’s dark I shall…”
Leitner shrugged. “The Führer will be watching us. We must not break his faith.”
He moved away and moments later, left the bridge.
Clausen past him on the ladder, but knew the admiral had not even seen him. He whispered to Froebe, “What did you make of that?”
Froebe spread his big hands. “He knows we shall fight, Josef. He feels sick about it, and so would I in his shoes.”
Clausen eyed the captain’s intent shoulders. Thank God he was in command, he thought fervently. There had to be a way out. They had done the impossible, sunk, burned and destroyed to the letter of their orders. What was there left?
Hechler loosened his collar. The rain, thank God, was moving away.
“Full revolutions.” He stared astern, his hand to the peak of his cap as if in salute. The clouds were much thinner now. Fine for the flak crews, not so good for the Arado, wherever it was. He felt the ship trembling more urgently and pictured the engine room dials misting over to the thrust of the three great screws. The wake was rolling away on either quarter, stiff and almost silver against the shark-coloured sea. Then it died away again.
He took a telephone from one of the boatswain’s mates. “Captain.”
It was Stück, the Chief Engineer. “It’s the starboard shaft, sir. It can’t take the strain. The best we can make is half speed.” He paused. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“Thank you. I’ll see to it.”
He heard someone say, “There goes the admiral’s crawler.”
He did not have to look to know it was Bauer, the communications officer. No one seemed to like him, and his closeness with the admiral had only served to widen the gulf.
Hechler beckoned to Clausen. “Call communications and try to discover what has happened to our aircraft.” He saw Froebe watching him, gauging his own fate perhaps.
Hechler moved restlessly around the bridge. Horizon to horizon, shining and empty. It made him feel vulnerable, as if he was suddenly stripped naked.
“The admiral, sir.”
He took the handset and placed it on intercom. “Sir?”
“I have had an important signal, Dieter.” He sounded emotional. “Direct from our Führer. Germany is expecting great things from us –“ He broke off with a curse as the intercom cur through.
“Aircraft, bearing Green four-five!” A pause, then, “Disregard, friendly!”
Someone muttered hoarsely, “About time too!”
Hechler held up his hand. “Silence on the bridge!” Apart from the wind through the halliards and superstructure it was suddenly still.
Clausen whispered, “Gunfire.”
Every glass was raised yet again, and even men on the gun sponsons crowded to the rails to stare at the empty sky. Then they saw the long trail of smoke before they could identify the Arado. The smoke lifted and dipped behind the plane like a brown tail, and Hechler saw the drifting tracks of shellfire which told their own story. The pilot must have dared too much and gone too close to the other ship, or had been trapped by her main armament.
“Stand by on deck to retrieve aircraft!”
Hechler tried not to lick his lips as he watched the Arado’s desperate progress. Lower and lower, until he imagined he could see its blurred reflection on the sea’s face.
He said, “Tell damage-control what is happening. I want a side-party with scrambling nets immediately!”
It would mean reducing speed, stopping even, but he could not just leave these men to drown after what they had done. Someone was using a hand-lamp. So they had been badly mauled, hit with enough flak to knock out their radio.
The senior signalman opened his mouth but Clausen said, “Signal reads, enemy in sight to north-east.” They were all watching him. “One destroyer.” He winced as the plane dived and almost hit the water before rising again like a dying bird. “One battle-cruiser and a supporting cruiser!”
Froebe said tersely, “Damage control, sir.”
Hechler dropped his binoculars to his chest as the Arado lifted towards the sky, staggered and then exploded in a livid, orange ball of fire.
“Tell them to dismiss the side-party.”
Heyse offered the telephone, his face ashen.
Hechler watched the smoke as it clung to the heaving water, and pictured the fragments drifting to the ocean’s floor like ashes.
He had to hold the telephone away from his ear as Leitner yelled, “A battle-cruiser and two other supporting ships! So much for your reckoning, damn you!”
Hechler said sharply, “There are people here, sir. We just lost some brave men!”
“Don’t you dare interrupt me! The Führer entrusted me with a mission!” He slammed down the handset, and Hechler looked at Clausen with a wry smile. “Not pleased.”
Minutes later Suhren appeared on the bridge and stared wildly, as if he could barely speak.
Hechler faced him, his patience almost gone. “This had better be urgent!”
Suhren swallowed hard. “Is it true, sir? I have just been ordered to load those boxes aboard the new Arado!”
Hechler grappled with his words, his mind still lingering on that last hopeless message. Three ships, but one only a destroyer. There was still a chance.
He said, “Tell me!”
Suhren recovered with considerable effort. “The admiral’s aide told me personally.”
It was all suddenly so clear and simple that Hechler was surprised he could accept it so calmly.
“Then do it, Viktor.” He lifted the telephone from its special rack, half-expecting there to be no reply.
Leitner said, “Under the circumstances I have no choice. Neither have you. My instructions are to fly immediately to the mainland. The fight goes on.”
Hechler saw the others staring at him, officers, seamen, young and not so young. All seemed to have the same stunned expression. Disbelief. Astonishment. Shame.
“And my orders, sir?”
Leitner shouted, “You will take immediate steps to prevent this ship from falling into enemy hands! Close the shore and scuttle her!”
Clausen muttered, “Dear Christ!”
Hechler put down the telephone and looked at Suhren. “Load the aircraft and prepare for launching.” His voice was toneless. “Then report to me.”
Suhren stared at him despairingly. “Not you too? You of all people!”
Hechler regarded him gravely. “We do not have much time left.”
As Suhren turned in a daze he added softly, “No, Viktor. Not me!”
He was not sure if Suhren heard him. He was not certain of anything any more. He crossed to the bridge wing and watched the crane dipping over the catapult, the brightly painted Arado suddenly perched there, as if this moment was a part of destiny.
He heard her voice on the ladder and said, “No visitors!” But she knocked Heyse’s arm aside and ran towards him. “I won’t go! Do you hear? I won’t run away because of that coward!”
He caught her and held her, his eyes looking beyond her as he said, “Slow ahead all engines.”
Then he said, “I am ordering you to leave.” His voice was hoarse. He tried again. “I should have guessed, Erika. A hero’s return, or a hiding place in Argentina. You will take him.” He pressed her against his body. “I have to know that you at least are safe.”
She sobbed into his coat, her face hidden. “No! Don’t force me!”
Hechler said, “I need my remaining Arado. Please go now, my dearest Erika. Please, my men are looking to me.”
She stood back, her face very controlled despite the unheeded tears on her cheeks. Then she said quietly, “You’ll not scuttle, Dieter? That’s what you are saying?”
He did not directly reply. “I shall never forget.”
Then he turned away. “Escort her to the plane.”
He did not look again until she had left the bridge and heard the Arado’s engine roar into life.
“Radar – bridge!” The merest pause. “Enemy in sight!”
Hechler barely heard the babble of instructions to the main armament as the Prinz Luitpold ran away from the enemy ships. He strode to the wing and saw Suhren by the catapult and watched as Leitner climbed into the rear seat. Hechler stared at the brightly coloured plane, then very slowly lifted his cap high above his head.
With a coughing growl the Arado bounced from the catapult and lifted away from the ship, its wings glinting in the glare.
“Full ahead all engines! Turn she ship towards the enemy! Bring the admiral’s flag down. Hoist battle ensigns!”
Hechler watched the Arado until it turned away and headed towards the western horizon.
“Starboard twenty!” Hechler removed his oilskin and threw it behind a flag locker.
When he looked again the tiny plane had vanished. And yet he could still feel her pressed against him, feel her anguish like his own when they had parted.
He said, “We shall share our victory, but I’ll never share his dishonour!”
Clausen regarded him soberly. His one regret was that he had not yet begin the painting. Now he never would.
Hechler levelled his glasses with difficulty as the bridge shook to the vibration.
“Steady on zero-five-zero, sir.”
Hechler took the engine-room handset. “Chief? Captain here. I need everything you can give me, and to hell with the starboard shaft.”
“Can I ask?” Stück sounded far away as if he was studying his dials.
“We are about to engage. Three ships. Do your best.” He hesitated, knowing that Stück wanted to go to his men. “If I give the word…”
Stück’s voice was near again. “I know, sir. I’ll get my boys on deck, double-quick.”
Hechler turned away and plucked at the grey fisherman’s jersey. It was quite absurd but he wished he had changed into a clean shirt and his best uniform. The others nearby saw him grin and were reassured. But Hechler was thinking of the little admiral. What Nelson would have done.
The speaker intoned, “Range fourteen thousand. Bearing steady.”
The two cruisers in line abreast to offer their maximum firepower. Hechler could see them as if they were right here. The destroyer was slightly ahead; they would sight her first.
He heard Kroll’s clipped tone, caught in the intercom to give another small picture of their world high above the bridge.
“Anton, Bruno, Caesar and Dora turrets closed up and will concentrate on the battle-cruiser. Warn flak control to expect enemy aircraft, spotters, anything.”
Hechler glanced around the open bridge. He might be forced to go up to the armoured conning-tower, but he would hold out as long as possible. He had been brought up on open bridges, where he could see everything. When their lives were in the balance it was even more important that his men should see him.
Kroll again. “Battle-cruiser at Green one-oh.” A brief pause. “She’s opened fire.”
Hechler found that he could watch like any spectator as the enemy salvo exploded in the sea far off the starboard bow. A leaping wall of water which seemed slow to fall. The wind was whipping it towards them, and he could imagine that he tasted cordite. Death.
“Second ship’s fired.”
Someone laughed in the background, a nervous, unstable sound, and Kroll’s deputy silenced the man with a sharp obscenity.
“Main armament ready, sir!”
Hechler watched the two forward turrets swing across the side. Aft, the other turrets were already lining up on Kroll’s directions and bearings. Hechler jabbed the button below the screen and seconds later the eight big guns lurched back on their springs, the roar and ear-splitting crashes punching at the bridge plating like giant battering rams.
More enemy salvos fell and churned the sea into a maelstrom of leaping waterspouts and falling spray. More seconds as the layers and trainers made their last adjustments.
The deck jumped beneath the bridge and a huge column of smoke burst over the side while patterns of falling debris were lost in seconds in their rising bow-wave.
The voice-pipes settled down into a staccato chorus, reporting, asking, pleading.
Hechler heard the taut replies from his bridge team. More like robots than men.
“Send stretcher bearers. Fore party to torpedo TS. Report damage and casualties.”
Froebe shouted, “One hit, sir. Under control.” He ducked as another salvo screamed over the bridge and exploded far abeam.
“Port fifteen!” At this speed the ship seemed to tilt right over before Hechler’s calm voice brought them on course again. The din continued without a break, giant waterspouts rising and fading astern as the Prinz Luitpold tore towards the enemy, her own guns firing more slowly than the enemy’s. Hechler knew that Kroll was marking every fall of shot, making certain that his crews concentrated on their markers and did not allow them to fall into the trap of a pell-mell battle.
“Direct hit on the battle-cruiser!” Someone cheered. “Still firing!”
A great explosion thundered alongside so that for a few moments Hechler did not know if they had received a direct hit in return. As the smoke filtered downwind he felt rain on his face, and was grateful that the clouds had returned. If they could keep up a running fight until dusk… He winced as two shells exploded inboard and a huge fragment of steel whirled over the bridge to plough down amongst some men at a Vierling gun. He stood back from the screen, tasting bile in his throat as he saw a seaman hacked neatly into halves before pitching down amongst the bloody remnants of his companions.
“Another hit!” The speaker sounded exciter. “Battle-cruiser is losing steerage way!”
Hechler wiped his face. “Tell them to concentrate on the other cruiser to the right!” Kroll needed no telling, and the next salvo thundered out towards the cruiser.
Hechler ducked as steel splinters shrieked and clattered around the bridge. Another hit. He tried to listen to the garbled reports, picture his men at their stations in the magazines and turrets; tending the boilers or just clinging to life. Suddenly he shouted to the sky, “You’re a bloody traitor, Andreas Leitner!”
“Captain!” Heyse was holding out a telephone, his face white as a thin scarlet thread ran down from his hairline.
Hechler snatched the phone. It was Clausen.
“We should alter course now, sir.”
“Very well.” Hechler slammed it down. “Hard-a-port. Steer…” He ran to the compass repeater and wiped dust and chippings away with his sleeve. “Steer Zero-one-zero.” It would leave the badly damaged battle-cruiser where she couldn’t interfere and allow Kroll to concentrate on the enemy’s heavy cruiser. “Steady as you go!” He saw a great column of water shoot up by the port quarter and felt the bridge jerk savagely as another shell slammed down near the quarterdeck. As if by magic, black, jagged holes appeared in the funnel, while severed rigging and radio wires trailed above the bridge like creepers.
“Request permission to flood Section Seven, sir?”
Hechler could imagine Suhren down there with his team, watching the control panel, the blinking pattern of lights as one section after another was hit or needed help.
The main armament was trained almost directly abeam, their target hidden in smoke and distance. Hechler dragged himself to a safety rail and squinted to clear his vision. Small, sharp thoughts jerked through him. She would be on her way to safety. Five hundred miles was nothing to her. He wanted to shout her name. So that she would hear him. Like a last cry.
The hull shivered and flames seared out of the deck below the secondary armament. Men ran from their stations, some with extinguishers, others in panic, and one screaming with his body on fire.
“A straddle!” The voice almost broke. “Two hits!”
Hechler clambered above the rail and waited for the smoke to funnel past him. He had to hold his breath to stop himself from choking, but he must see, must know.
Then he caught sight of a misty picture in the badly distorted binoculars, like a bad film.
The big heavy cruiser, so high out of the water, was ablaze from stem to bridge, and both her forward turrets were knocked out, the guns either smashed or pointing impotently at the clouds.
A voice yelled, “The pumps are holding the intake aft, sir!”
“Casualties removed and taken below!” He pictured Stroheim with bloodied fingers, his gold-rimmed glasses misting over in that crowded, pain-racked place.
A shell ploughed below the bridge and more splinters smashed through the thinner plating by the gate. Two signalmen were cut down without a sound, and Froebe clung to the gyro compass, his eyes bulging in agony as he gasped for air. There was a wound like a red star punched in his chest. Hechler reached for him, but he was dead before he hit the gratings.
Hechler yelled, “Take his place, Heyse!” He shook the youth’s arm. “Move yourself! We’ll beat the Tommies yet!”
He saw the incredulous stare on Heyse’s face, and guessed he looked more like a maniac than a stable captain at present. But it worked, and he heard Heyse’s voice as he passed another helm order, quite calm, like a complete stranger’s.
Kroll’s intercom croaked through the explosions. “Both cruisers have lost way, sir. Shall I engage the destroyer? She now bears Red four-five!”
Hechler wiped his streaming face. Exertion or rain he neither knew nor cared. The destroyer would stand by her consorts; she was no longer any danger. By nightfall…he swung round as men ducked again and the air was torn apart by the banshee scream of falling shells.
For a split second Hechler imagined that another cruiser had got within range undetected. He knew that was impossible. Then the salvo fell across the ship in a tight straddle, the shells exploding between decks, whilst others brought down rangefinders and the mainmast in a web of steel and flailing stays.
Hechler expected to feel pain as he struggled to the opposite side. Even as he levelled the glasses again he knew the answer. The flaw in the picture, which even Kroll’s instruments had overlooked.
The destroyer had zigzagged through a smoke-screen, although there was already smoke enough from gunfire and burning ships, and had fired a full broadside into the Prinz. Hechler coughed painfully. Except that she was no destroyer. She was a light cruiser, which nonetheless had the fire-power to do real damage if only she could get close enough. Her two heavier consorts had seen to that.
Another scream of falling shells and this time the full salvo struck them from funnel to quarterdeck. Hechler gripped the rail, could feel the power fading from the engines as Stück fought to keep the revolutions steady and the starboard shaft turning. Clausen had appeared on the bridge and was shouting, “Engine-room wants to reduce speed, sir!”
“Half ahead!” Hechler watched the two forward turrets swing round, hesitate and then fire, the shockwave ripping overhead like an express train. There was no response from the after turrets. The last enemy salvo had crippled them.
The light cruiser was zigzagging back into her own smokescreen, one yellow tongue licking around her bridge like an evil spirit. “Tell the gunnery officer…” Hechler wiped his eyes and stared up at the control position. It was crushed, like a beer can, riddled with holes despite the thick armour.
“Transfer fire control…” He watched sickened, as dark stains ran down Kroll’s armoured cupola, as if the whole control position was bleeding. Which indeed it was.
Throughout the ship, men groped in the darkness as lights were extinguished or passageways filled with choking smoke. Others clung together behind watertight doors which would now remain closed forever.
In his sick-bay Stroheim put down a telephone and shouted, “Start getting these men on deck!” The smoke had penetrated down here, and spurted through doors and frames like a terrible threat.
Deeper in the hull Stück clung to his catwalk and watched his men stooping and running through the oily steam, like figures in hell. The three massive shafts were still spinning but he would have to slow them still further. Was it to be now? Like this, he wondered? He felt the hull lurch as more shells exploded close by. His instinct told them they came from a different bearing, and he guessed that one of the damaged cruisers was rejoining the battle.
The two forward turrets were still firing, but more slowly under the local control of their quarters’ officer. There were fires everywhere, and not enough men to carry away the wounded, let alone the dead.
There were more corpses than living men on the forebridge and Hechler stared down at himself as if expecting to see blood. He was untouched, perhaps so that he could suffer the most.
Clausen arose, shaking himself from a collapsed bank of voice-pipes, dust and paint flakes clinging to his beard as he stared around like a trapped bear. Hechler heard Suhren on the handset. “Come up, Viktor. Tell your assistant to take over.”
A voice suddenly shouted, “Torpedoes to port!”
The explosions were merged into one gigantic eruption, so that it seemed to go on and on forever. Hechler was vaguely aware of objects crashing past him, the sounds of heavy equipment tearing adrift and thundering through the hull between decks. His mind was cringing but all his skill and training tried to hold on, just long enough.
The light cruiser must have darted in to launch her torpedoes while her battered consorts had kept up a raged covering fire. He knew without hearing a single report that it was a mortal blow. Corpses were moving again, returning to life perhaps as the deck titled over.
Clausen hopped and limped towards him, his eyes blazing as he exclaimed, “Thought you were done for!”
Hechler hung onto the massive shoulder. How long had he been unconscious? He could recall nothing beyond the great gout of fire as the torpedoes had exploded alongside.
“The enemy’s ceased fire, sir.” That was Heyse, a bloody handkerchief pressed to his forehead.
Hechler heard the distant shouts of men on the deck below and Clausen said, “When I thought you were…”
Hechler held his arm. “You ordered them to clear the lower deck?” He nodded painfully. “Thank you, Josef. So much.”
Would I have done that, he wondered? Might more of my men have been made to die?
Now he would never know.
The deck gave a terrible lurch and the chart table shattered into fragments.
Clausen said, “I’ll pass the word, sir.”
Hechler shook his head. “No. Let me. I must do it.”
He clung to the screen and saw the nearest enemy cruiser for the first time. Her fires were out, and her turrets were trained on the Prinz as she began to heel over very, very slowly.
Hechler raised his hand to the men nearest him. “Abandon ship!” The words to wish them well choked in his emotion and he heard Clausen mutter, “Come on, sir. We’ll still need you.”
Hechler tried to stand, but when he gripped the rail he found he was staring not at the enemy but straight down at the littered water. Floats, broken boats, corpses, and swimmers, some of whom trod water to watch as the heavy cruiser began to roll over.
Hechler knew he had hit the sea, and that hit lungs were on fire when hands seized him and dragged him into a crowded float. Someone cried, “Here’s the Captain!”
Hechler hooked his arm round Clausen’s shoulder and heard him murmur, “Come on, old girl, get it over with, eh?”
It was like a great bellow of pain, an indescribable roar, as with sudden urgency the Prinz Luitpold lifted her motionless screws from the sea and dived. Hechler struggled upright on the float and watched the maelstrom of flotsam, the tell-tale spread of oil.
They were still a long way from home. But those who survived would speak for many years of the Prinz.
He stared up at the first, pale stars.
The Iron Pirate. The legend.
The train was moving very slowly as if weighed down by the packed humanity which crammed every seat and compartment. Hechler was glad he had been able to find a place by a window, although it was so gloomy beyond the misty glass he could see very little.
It was hard to believe that the journey was nearly over, that the long train was already clanking through the outskirts of Hamburg.
Prinz Luitpold had begun her life in this port. It all seemed so long ago. He glanced at his companions, mostly in army grey, like the rest of the train, creased, worn-out, huddled together for warmth and comfort.
It was about noon, but it could have been evening, he thought. Winter was already taking grip over the countryside. He stirred uneasily as his mind explored the past like a raw wound. A year since that day in the South Atlantic when the Prinz had lifted her stern and dived. So many familiar faces had gone down with her; too many.
The survivors had been picked up by the British ships, and Hechler had found himself aboard the light cruiser Christchurch, the one which fired the fatal salvo of torpedoes.
It was strange, but he had sensed no elation amongst the victors. It had been a relief as much as anything. He had learned snatches of the final action, of the British Commodore being killed by the Prinz’s first straddle, and the New Zealander’s initiative in pressing home the attack despite overwhelming odds.
Hechler had been separated from his men, then from most of his officers. Some he knew had died in the cruiser’s final moments. Kroll directing his guns, the taciturn Stück, dying as he had lived with his engines roaring around him when the torpedoes had burst in on him and his men.
Hechler had managed to stay with Clausen, even after they were transferred to a fast troopship with an armed escort, to be landed eventually in the port of Liverpool. He had seen young Heyse for a while, but once in England Heyse had been sent to an officers’ prison camp in the south.
Clausen had told him of Suhren’s last appearance, all that anyone had seen of him. As the ship had taken on her final list, with men pouring up from the smoke and fires below, several survivors had seen Suhren returning below, as if going to his quarters. Hechler had asked if he had seemed in a hurry? Perhaps he had been trying to retrieve some small item of value from his cabin before he abandoned ship with all the others.
Clausen had shaken his head. “They said he was just walking. As if he had all the time in the world.”
A way out. Remain with the ship he loved, which was finally being taken from him. Now they would never know the truth.
Hechler thought of his months as a prisoner-of-war. He gave a faint, wry smile. In the bag, as his British captors termed it. The camp had been in Scotland, a bleak lonely place, shared mostly with embittered U-boat Commanders.
Hechler had been interrogated several times, on arrival, and later on during his stay. After that, nobody took much interest in him. Clausen was good company, and when they were not walking around the wire fences and looking at the varying colours of the heather, Clausen would be busy with his paints and sketches. He obtained all the materials he needed by offering to do portraits of the guards. It was an amicable arrangement.
Then one day Clausen was ordered to leave for another camp in the south. It had been a sad if unemotional farewell. They had survived too much for anything more. He had asked Clausen what he would do after the war.
The big man had plucked at his beard. “Back to the sea. It’s all I know.”
Before he had left he handed Hechler a small roll of canvas.
“For her,” he said awkwardly. “You’ll meet her again, don’t you fret.”
Then he had marched away with some others, and Hechler had saluted without knowing why.
After that it was a matter of waiting and enduring. Christmas, with local children gathering outside the wire to sing carols. One of the U-boat officers had killed himself shortly afterwards. Hechler had withdrawn even further from his companions. They seemed alien; he had started the war as a submariner, but had not shared their war in the closing stages, and he wished that Clausen was still here with him.
He often thought of the others, men like Stroheim who had last been seen tying his lifejacket around a wounded man. The quiet hero. Then he thought too of Rahn, his ultimate sacrifice as the battleship had charged towards them. Then the time when the guards had fired their guns into the air, and all the lights had been switched on.
Hechler had accepted the end to Europe’s war with mixed feelings. The time seemed to drag, and yet he almost dreaded his release. He had written to Erika Franke several times at the two addresses left for him, but had received no reply.
His head lolled to the monotonous clank-clank-clank of the wheels and he stared through the window at some great white humps of land. He saw the Khaki uniforms of British NCO’s who were directing some tractors and a great army of German workers. He realised with a chill that the humps were all that was left of the buildings, wholes streets, now mercifully covered with the first snow of this bitter winter.
Someone said, “Nearly there! Home sweet home!” Nobody else spoke. One man, an infantry captain, was dabbing his eyes with a soiled handkerchief, another was trying to pull his threadbare coat into position. Home? There was not much of it left.
Hechler thrust his fingers into his pocket as if to reassure himself that his pipe was still there. In his other hand he held the parcel which contained Clausen’s gift. It was a small portrait of himself, not aboard ship, but with some Scottish heather as a background. So typical of Clausen, he thought.
He felt his stomach contract as he realised that the train was suddenly running into the station. Again there seemed to be wreckage everywhere, the platform roof blasted open like bare ribs against the dull sky.
He sensed a new tension all around him. Most of the soldiers had only just been released; many had come from the Russian Front, gaunt, despairing figures who rarely even spoke to each other. The train stopped with a final jerk and slowly at first, then with something like panic, the passengers spilled out on to the platform.
Here and there were signs of occupation. Station direction boards in English with regimental crests on them. The bright red caps of the military police, khaki and air force blue, voice and accents Hechler had taught himself to know while he was in the bag.
He stared at the barrier beyond the mass of returning German troops. Police, service and military, a British provost marshal smoking a pipe and chatting with a friend. Further still, an unbroken wall of faces.
He came to a halt, his heart pounding. Was this freedom? Where was his courage now?
A solitary German sailor, the two ribbons whipping out from his cap in the chill breeze, dropped a package and Hechler picked it up.
The sailor spun around and snapped to attention.
Hechler handed him the parcel, and they both stared at one another like strangers. Then the man gave a slow grin, and reached out to shake his hand.
Saluting, like the war, was finally over for both of them.
Erika Franke stood by one of the massive girders which supported the remains of the station roof and watched the train sigh to a halt. It was the third one she had met this day, and her hands and feet were icy cold. Or was it the awful uncertainty? Not knowing? AS each train had trundled into the station to offload its cargo of desperate, anxious servicemen she had seen the reactions of the crowd, mostly women, who waited there with her. Like her. She looked at the notice boards which had once recorded the most punctual trains in the Reich. Now they were covered from top to bottom with photographs, some large, others no bigger than passport pictures. Addresses and names scrawled under each one. It was like a graveyard.
Now as the first hurrying figures approached the platform gates and the line of military policemen, she saw many of the same women surge forward, their pitiful pictures held out to each man in uniform.
“My son, have you seen him?! To another. He was in your regiment! You must have known my man!”
She wiped her eyes, afraid she might miss something.
A young British naval lieutenant with wavy stripes on his sleeve asked, “You all right, Fräulein? I’ve got a car outside if..”
She shook her head and replied politely, “No, thank you.”
A woman in a shabby coat with two photographs held up in front of her pushed past a red-capped policeman and asked that same question. The soldier brushed her away; he did not even look at her. He seemed embarrassed, afraid that he might recognise someone he had left in the mud with a million others.
The girl watched the other wave of figures coming through the gates. Not many sailors, this time. She would come back tomorrow.
She remembered his letters, bundled together, when she had arrived home at last. It was all like a dream now, and the last flight to Argentina, an impossibility.
The woman with the two photographs pressed forward. “Please, sir! Tell me, please! Have you seen my boys?”
The man stopped and took the photographs.
Erika felt her heart stop beating. It was Hechler. For a long moment she stared at him without moving, taking in every precious detail. The lines were deeper on either side of his mouth, and there were touches of grey beneath his cap. He was wearing that same old fisherman’s jersey under his jacket. He seemed oblivious to the cold.
Hechler said quietly, “I am sorry, my dear, I have not seen them. But do not lose hope…” He looked up and saw her and the next instant she was wrapped in his arms. He did not even see the woman staring after him, as if he had just performed a miracle.
How long they clung together, neither of them knew.
She whispered, “It had to be the right train!” She ran her hand over him as if to reassure herself he was real. She was the loose threads on his right breast where the Nazi eagle had once been, and looked up to see a new brightness in his eyes.
He said, “I knew I’d find you, Erika. Somehow…”
Some British sailors were waving and cheering as some of their companions boarded another train.
Hechler put his arm around her shoulders and they walked out into the drifting snow. Once he glanced back at the station and the jubilant British sailors.
Then he squeezed her shoulders and said softly, “Like us, they’re going home.”
11-28-2006, 07:59 PM
Are you planning anymore stories???
11-28-2006, 08:01 PM
Great stuff! Almost a shame to see it finally end. I hope you are planning to do some more.
11-29-2006, 01:25 AM
Excellent stuff...surely there are plans for another great story :D
You sir, have my earnest admiration...what a fantastic talent :yep: :up:
11-30-2006, 06:11 AM
Very good indeed. Almost hated reading the end of it. That means no more. Looked forward to each installment. Thank you for the great read!
11-30-2006, 12:56 PM
Thanks for all your comments, I'm glad everyone seemed to enjoy it!
I won't be writing for a while, as I want to play SH3 some more, but there are definitely plans for more writing, either much shorter patrol logs or another story but submarine based rather than set on a whopping great cruiser.
Now I'm looking forward to the release of GWX and a revitalised U-boat career.
12-01-2006, 01:48 PM
Thanks for all your comments, I'm glad everyone seemed to enjoy it!
I won't be writing for a while, as I want to play SH3 some more, but there are definitely plans for more writing, either much shorter patrol logs or another story but submarine based rather than set on a whopping great cruiser.
Now I'm looking forward to the release of GWX and a revitalised U-boat career.
Sure hope you like GWX :cool: In fact I'm extremely confident you will :up:
How about your next story being based around your GWX experience ? :rock: :arrgh!:
12-01-2006, 02:06 PM
Sure hope you like GWX :cool: In fact I'm extremely confident you will :up:
How about your next story being based around your GWX experience ? :rock: :arrgh!:
It probably will be, and definitely set in submarines rather than surface ships. I'm looking forward to it :D
BUMP for those who arrived in the past year and never got to read this amazing story. :rock:
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