From: Oregon, USA
April 7, 1945
Attached to: None
Mission: Disbanded in port
System Damage: 0
Float Damage: 0
Orders: See below
The enemy does not know for sure the Japanese fleet is at Inch’on. Despite the fact that the fighting in the Ryukyus continues to be heavy the chance to catch the remains of the Japanese fleet is too good to pass up. Accordingly two carriers are dispatched to check it out; the new Essex-class Lexington, named for one of the carriers lost off Gardner Island, and Saratoga, nearly sunk off Timor but now back in the war.
As day breaks the two carriers and their escorts, which include two Iowa-class battleships along with a powerful cruiser force, are in position. The harbor is reported to be crowded with enemy warships and so a strike is launched. It contains barely four dozen bombers but without a single Japanese fighter to contest the skies over the harbor they have free reign.
The attack ends. In the radar room Taiki watches the enemy planes recede, then waits with frantic impatience for his relief to arrive. When it finally does he scrambles up on deck.
One look confirms his worst fears. The attack has fallen most heavily on Mutsu, the only battleship present. The sturdy old ship seems in no danger of sinking but columns of black smoke boil upward, mostly obscuring the big ship’s superstructure. Here and there around the harbor other ships have also been hit, and fires burn along the waterfront as well.
Hibiki is untouched. A short distance stands Ensign Konada, ramrod straight and with his shoes polished, as always, to a mirror shine. Taiki hurries over to him and salutes.
“Takahashi,” Konada acknowledges, inclining his head slightly.
“Sir,” says Taiki, “permission to go ashore.” Konada shakes his head.
“We are no longer at combat stations but still on alert,” he says. “It is not possible.” Taiki sags slightly. Suddenly he is aware that Chief Shun is at his shoulder.
“Sir, may I speak?’ he says in his gruff voice. Konada grants his permission. One lesson he has learned well while aboard is to listen to his petty officers when they have an opinion.
“Takahashi’s brother is aboard Mutsu,” he says, indicating the damaged battleship with his chin. “And he will make it back aboard whatever happens. He once found his way to us from Tokyo to New Caledonia.”
“Your brother, hm?” says Konada. He seems about to refuse again but then relents. “Well, I can give you one hour, Takahashi. No more.”
“Thank you, sir,” says Taiki gratefully. He salutes again. Konada gravely returns the gesture. Taiki gives Shun a nod of thanks and then starts down the gangway. He stops suddenly as he realizes he has a problem. He cannot get there and back in under an hour without a vehicle, and use of vehicles is severely restricted. In the aftermath of the attack obtaining one will be even harder.
“Takahashi!” calls a voice. Taiki turns to see Riku gesturing urgently to him from the top of the gangway. Several long strides take him up the gangway to his friend.
Riku hands him a piece of paper. It is a vehicle requisition form, duly signed by the harbormaster and Captain Ishii. “I thought you might need this,” Riku says. “The truck is in that warehouse over there.” He points to a wooden building nearby that is mercifully still intact.
“Thank you!” says Taiki. He stares at the form. “This is dated today. How did you…?”
“Stop asking foolish questions, Petty Officer, and go,” says Riku. “Word is that we are heading out.” Taiki hesitates, then nods and goes.
A wide area just off the pier where Mutsu is berthed has been turned into a triage area for the battleship’s casualties. There are a lot of them. Firefighting continues, although much more smoke than flame is visible. Pumps are working, pulling filthy water from the bowels of the ship and sending it gushing back into the harbor.
Taiki coughs as an errant breeze swirls acrid smoke around him for a moment, then hurries over to an officer. He salutes and asks after Ensign Takahashi.
“Takahashi, eh?” says the officer. He looks grim and points over to the rows and rows of casualties, all too many of whom are covered. The wooden planks of the pier behind him are slippery with blood.
Taiki hurries over. “Noboro!” he calls, looking frantically around. “Noboro-san!” A few corpsmen look up at him briefly, then go back to their work.
Taiki continues to call, moving with increasing speed among the rows of dead and injured. Wounded men stir, their moans audible even over the background din, but none of them are his brother.
Until one of them tries to rise up as he passes. Taiki recognizes Noboro, who is having a hard time trying to prop himself up. It takes a moment for Taiki’s worry-befuddled brain to realize why; his brother’s right arm is missing at the elbow.
Taiki kneels to assist him. “They just whacked it off and tied up the stump,” says his brother with a ghastly smile. “It’s over there, I think.” He looks over at a pile of limbs and other body parts lying off to one side.
“Oh Noboro,” says Taiki softly. “What have they done to you?” His brother tries to smile. His face is very drawn and even his old burn scars are too pale.
“I think I tried to stop a piece of shrapnel about the size of a dustbin lid,” he says, and coughs. “It didn’t work out too well. What the hell are you doing here, Petty Officer?”
“Noboro,” says Taiki, “sir, I came looking for you..”
“I know you did, bakayaro,” Noboro says. “Now get…get back to your ship. I need you to go out there and give those bastards hell for me, okay? You are the last Takahashi left in the war. Go fight it.”
Taiki still cradles his brother, looking at him for maybe the last time. Then he nods and gently lowers him back down before standing. He salutes.
“Yes sir,” he says. His brother automatically tries to salute back but only flails the tightly bandaged stump of his right arm. He grimaces and salutes with the left hand instead.
“See you later, Noboro,” says Taiki.
“See you, little brother,” says Noboro. Taiki turns and strides away. As he walks spray from the jets of salt water still being played over the ship blows into his face. There it mingles with the tears rolling slowly down his cheeks.
“We’re bottled in here like rats in a trap,” Ishii tells his officers. “There are two or more carriers out there, several battleships, and a dozen or more heavy cruisers. And their escorting destroyers, of course.” His officers look at him expectantly. Sakati is impassive, Kuwaki looks grim, and a light of anticipation gleams in Sugiyura’s eyes. Lieutenant Miharu’s index finger traces slow circles on the table top in front of him.
“There is only one thing to do,” says Ishii. “Every warship here that can still make decent speed is going to head out to engage the enemy. Rear Admiral Kamenosuke Yamamoto, aboard Tone, will be in command.
“We leave as soon as night falls.”