From: Oregon, USA
April 8, 1945
Attached to: TF 21
Mission: Surface combat
System Damage: 0
Float Damage: 0
Orders: Engage the enemy; failing contact, attempt to escape
“Anything, Takahashi?” comes Captain Ishii’s voice, inquiring for the fifth time. Taiki restrains his impatience. He is more eager than most right now to come to grips with the enemy.
“Nothing, sir,” he says into the speaking tube with commendable professional detachment. He returns to gazing at the small rectangular radar screen, which continues to show that nothing at all is out there.
The scene is repeated throughout the Japanese flotilla, a task force consisting of four heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and fourteen destroyers. Yesterday the enemy fleet was poised a mere 70 miles west of Inch’on. Tonight they have gone.
The Americans have foxed them. They have anticipated the attack and sidestepped, and in the morning their scout planes will locate them in Tsingtao. Rear Admiral Yamamoto realizes this but gives the only order he can; break off the search and proceed across the Yellow Sea. The next move belongs to the Americans.
Salvation comes to the Japanese from an unlikely source. The mechanism that turns certain doom into the most unlikely Japanese victory of the war can only be described as improbable. But war is a complex endeavor. God, as Napoleon observed, may be on the side of the big battalions, but Chance sometimes seems to be pulling just as many strings.
The Ki-30 and Ki-32 light bombers, known respectively to the Allies as Ann and Mary, were obsolete even as the war began. With their fixed landing gear and low top speed they proved easy prey for any enemy fighter and were quickly relegated to sitting out the war in China, doing reconnaissance and training work and scouting for the occasional submarine. Now, however, their pilots are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for the Emperor. Before dawn some fifty of them, unescorted, take off from airfields around Tsingtao on a one-way journey. They find the enemy fleet a mere sixty miles south of their location on the previous day.
No one on the Japanese side ever learns what goes wrong for the Americans that morning. All they know is that the bombers encounter only a few of the deadly Hellcats. These are enough to splash over half of the bombers but the remainder lumber placidly through the flak and home in on their targets. Both Lexington and Saratoga are hit multiple times and turned into infernos. Even mighty Iowa, hit four times, has to battle serious fires.
The crews of the two carriers fight for their ships with skill and valor and against the odds succeed in saving them. But both ships are out of the war. The American task force is forced to retire.
Aboard Hibiki the news is greeted with joy and disbelief. Offerings pile up around Benzaiten’s box. The python accepts them all with sleepy indifference – a few rats found their way aboard ship at Inch’on and she has dined well.
Rear Admiral Yamamoto does not propose to sit around Tsingtao waiting for more carriers to come seeking revenge. He orders his task force to immediately move further up the Yellow Sea, all the way to Tientsin. While the enemy carriers are still fighting for their lives the Japanese ships slip away, vanishing for the moment from their enemy’s seeking gaze.