The Secret Mission
New - 21 April 2006
Paint Out the Numbers
The Secret Mission
“Gildafish arriving; Gildafish arriving.”
I was in the wardroom with the Assistant Engineer when I heard the Captain's arrival announced. With a moment's respite between projects, I had turned to lounging around on the cushions in order to watch Bill hard at work on his qualifications notebook. He was surrounded by books and notes and seemed to be furiously putting down everything he could. But now he had just read the next question about the submarine on which he would have to write a short essay; for a moment, he looked as if he couldn't believe it.
I couldn't help but smile at his dilemma, but then I heard the Captain coming and sat up. He charged past the wardroom doorway like a king in a little bit of a hurry. Behind him the Executive Officer strolled along, his hands in his pocket and looking completely bored.
Hal followed, but then stepped into the wardroom from the after doorway. He had a very thoughtful and serious expression on his face; one that didn't seem angry or his usual disgusted mood after being with the Captain. Instead Hal seemed ready to work.
"Sam, we've got a lot of planning ahead of us. I'll need a few of your publications. And, by the way, is Chief Brown aboard?”
"Yeah, he's in the Chiefs' quarters."
"Good, I'll need him to break out a few charts.”
"Mr. Communicator." I jumped at the Captain's voice as he continued. "I need a Top Secret pub out of your safe.”
"Yes sir. On my way.”
He told me what he wanted and I went to get it. I noticed that Chief Brown was now gone; he had probably suspected the worse. The Captain was in the wardroom when I got back with the publication he wanted. Setting it in front of him, I placed a receipt for it next to the book and reached for my pen.
It may seem a little ridiculous that I would require the Commanding Officer to sign for a publication, but those were the rules. Besides I didn't really trust him enough to let him have it without something to clear me. I had more love for my own skin than that. Of course he had to make a big deal about it.
“What's this? Oh yes, sign for the pub. Tell me Hal, does Mr. Marks make you sign for all your pubs?"
“Yes sir. He does.”
“Well, I'm glad to hear it. We have to be very, very careful, don't we, Mr. Marks?"
His little sarcasm did little for me other than riling me. I think he knew it. It wasn't his kidding me, it was the asinine way he tried to make himself look good in front of everyone at someone else's expense. He always had to play it cool, and show how he was superior. I wasn't real sure I'd say the right thing, so I tried to ignore him instead.
Finally he signed the receipt and gave it to me. Then he turned to Hal, "We'll be getting underway on the morning of the 20th of May, Hal."
“The morning, sir? I thought the Flotilla had said the afternoon."
"They recommended the afternoon, but I told the Commodore that I wanted the morning departure time as a little slack. What I didn't tell him was that in the morning we'll be in better shape with the crew aboard. Wait until the afternoon, and we could waste hours rounding up the crew. Incidentally, I want everyone aboard by midnight before we sail.”
"Aye, aye, sir.”
With a parting all knowing smile, the Commanding Officer rose and left the room. I moved to a cushion and sat down, watching Hal. He wasn't smiling. Bill, having followed the entire conversation asked, "Why does he want everybody back aboard so early?"
"Didn't anybody ever tell you that Ensigns are to be seen and not heard?"
Bill ducked his head down, avoiding Hal's frigid stare, while I laughed at his exasperation. I could see that Hal was building up his gripes again. He had gotten the habit of taking everything the Captain said wrong, but would hardly ever let on. He'd just get a little madder until he blew it all on some subordinate. I took special pains to avoid being that underling, even though his blasts were never very painful.
“How about briefing me. Hal? As the ranking communicator that you are.”
He turned to me, maintaining a frown. Then dropping to his seat, he began. “First of all, the classification of this mission is SECRET. Hear that, Ensign? Secret. That means we don't tell anybody.” Bill said nothing, and Hal turned back to me. "The reason I know it's secret is that they didn't tell me anything else. I did get a few points of interest in communications, such as the proper key lists to use, etc., but not much more. I do know that we're to plant some special electronics or sonar surveillance equipment somewhere. Again don't ask where. I don't know. I'm only the Navigator. I think the Captain knows where, but he's not talking. Anyway we get underway on the 20th, the morning of the 20th I might add, and set an initial course south. Then once we're out of sight of land, we double back and head north, always keeping Japan at a respectful distance to the west.”
“This plant we're making... Do you have any idea what it's all about?”
“I understand it's designed to relay all activity such as ships, submarines, and so forth, from near the Russian coast to our intelligence sensors. But it's all very hush-hush and what I'm telling you is mostly guesswork from the Flotilla's Communicator. And I wouldn't guarantee any of his ideas. But from the excitement up at the Flotilla, I suspect that this will be quite an intelligence coup, if it comes off."
“Do we drop it out of a torpedo tube or what?"
"No, it's to be fitted to the bow with a release mechanism in the Forward Torpedo Room. It'll be covered until we get to sea. Once out of sight of land, we'll just take off the canvas and submerge. They're going to try to make it sound like we've installed a new little gadget for some destroyers to exercise on while we're on route south."
"What about tubes forward? Do we lose the use of any of them?"
"We'll have no torpedo tubes forward until the plant is unloaded. Then we'll be able to use the four lower tubes, but one and two will still have the release mechanism in it, and they'll remain inoperational for the duration of the mission. They're going to start working on the bow tomorrow."
"Sounds like the best part is where those damn Tin Can Sailors go out and twiddle their thumbs for two weeks looking for us when we're in a totally different area."
"Does seem a waste, but I understand there is also to be a diversionary move on the day of the plant. The idea will be to draw the attention away from us, so we won't be hampered. If we're spotted and the enemy suspects what we're up to, the whole thing will go up in smoke."
"A diversion, huh? Man, they're going to a lot of trouble, aren't they? They must really be counting this as an important mission."
“I'm sure of it. And Flotilla seems to think that the diversion is very important. They didn't go into what it would consist of, but it apparently is quite a big operation. They're obviously really going out of their way to help us out. And it's worth noting that this is really a feather in the Captain's hat. If the mission is as successful as it should be, they'll probably promote him to Commander on the spot."
"There's not much danger of it not being successful, is there?"
"Hard to say, unless I know where we're going, which I don't. If we're going to make the plant in Red Square, it could be quite difficult indeed."
“Mr. Communicator!” Hal ducked out one door as the Captain stuck his head in the other. “Is the LORAN working properly yet?”
"No sir. We're still having problems with it.”
“Well get hot on it! We've got to have every navigational aid we can get our hands on. We've got to know where we are on this mission, not the Navigator's customary twenty mile error.”
“Yes sir. I'll go up to the Flotilla and get some technical help."
“Like hell you will! The Flotilla doesn't know it's out of commission. And I don't intend to clue them in on the fact. I don't want them canceling the mission now. The Gildafish has got a big chance to make a mark on its record, and I'll be damned if I'll allow a piece of gear to jeopardize that chance.”
“Yes sir. I realize how the LORAN being on the blink might hurt our chances, but I'm not sure my people have the technical know how."
“What your people need is a little industry. And some leadership. Now get them hot on it. I don't want to see an Electronics Technician ashore until it's fixed.”
"But sir. Some of the men haven't even been off the boat since we arrived.”
“I don't give a damn. No ET goes ashore. They'll get it fixed when they realize that it's cutting into their liberty time.” Finished, the Captain turned on his heels and left.
The Captain's abrupt departure was fortunate inasmuch as I was about to let my mouth outrun my brain. What made me the maddest was that I'd have to relay the order to my men, and then act as if it was my own idea. That's what they call "loyalty up". I was never very good at it. If I disagreed with his asinine little orders, I wasn't about to put my reputation on the line by relaying his idiotic orders, instead of letting the Captain do his own dirty work.
Hell, I knew the LORAN was important for Navigation, but this was ridiculous. The LORAN (Long Range Aid to Navigation) was theoretically a highly sophisticated piece of electronics that could provide excellent navigational fixes while outside the sight of land, and in all kinds of weather. In reality it was only reasonably accurate and commonly not as useful as a careful record of courses and speeds. Consequently, it was seldom used for a primary navigational fix; a LORAN fix was good if it agreed with where the Navigator thought the submarine was. Otherwise they called an Electronics Technician to fix it.
Most of the excitement about the fact that the LORAN was not currently operational was based on the fact that it is a naval tradition that all equipment of a naval ship be at 100% efficiency at all times. The fact that much of the electronics aboard the Gildafish was 10-15 years old and maintained by technicians with minimal experience was almost always discounted. The only factor of importance was that everything be operating at peak performance. No excuses!
The correct thing to do for the LORAN at this point would have been to make a Casualty Report on the gear. Then get some expert help and get it fixed. I certainly didn't have the talent aboard. My entire electronics division consisted of a third class Electronics Technician with less than two years experience as my leading petty officer. He was backed up by another third class and two strikers. I was also the Sonar Officer, and there I had a third class Submarine Sonarman and a striker. But while the third class was good at operating the sonar stack (and thus contributing quite a bit to our battle exercises), his ability to maintain his own gear was practically nil. So it fell to the ETs.
In short, I spent much of my time in finding help from the squadron or Flotilla and in keeping the paperwork from interfering with the ET's constant struggle to keep the gear repaired.
As it was, Electronics was only just one more collateral duty for me - my primary job was Communcations. But there I had a sharp Master Chief Radioman and could afford to let him pretty well run the show. I had even had him help out the ETs on some of their gear. But he'd had no more training on the LORAN than any of the ETs and could not do much more than they could: Check every circuit, every resistor, everything, replacing it as you went, and hope that you didn't bust something else on your way.
With an expert on the job, the trouble could be more easily found simply by its symptoms. Only now the Commanding Officer wouldn't even hint to the Flotilla that anything was wrong for fear of losing this opportunity to pick up an extra stripe. And the ETs would have to stay aboard until it was fixed.
I stood up and slammed my palm against the bulkhead. Hal looked up from his desk in the three man stateroom. He frowned but indicated he understood. Shaking his head, he turned back to his work.
Not trusting myself to wait and possibly forget about the order, I went to tell my leading ET about their liberty. I think I hated the Captain at that point more than at any other time.
Chapter Three -- Underway
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