the last comment, of course, relates to the Commander of the Massachutes, not Cantona!
Kurita glances skyward. The full moon shines banefully down, they are bathed in light.
Impossible that they will achieve surprise.
Then, if they cannot, they must do what must be done. Get in, launch the fish.
There cannot be a chance of getting out.
Then he must do his duty. “Suriho, we will get as close as we can. I do not intend to turn away”
Suriho, face pale in the light, nods. Salutes. “Give me a fat barsted sir, just give me something worth killing”
Yes, I will do that. Goodbye Mother, goodbye father. “Battleship man “ Kurita goes to battle.
He barks orders. “revolutions for 26 knots!, order line abreast! A thousand yen for who ever spots the Buka’s first!”
Calm waters. Full moon. Brilliant visibility. It does not take long.
“Ships dead ahead sir!, A battle ship, No two!, range 7000 yards!”
I will do my duty. We will all do our duty. There is nothing else we can do. Fear grips me like a vice. But duty will get me through…………
‘Full ahead Flank!, standby for torpedo attack!”
Silence grips the bridge, the wind whips past, the fans below scream, the sea hisses past.
At 36 knots they race in.
And the enemy guns remain silent
And the enemy guns remain silent
4000 yards, and this cannot be, must not be right. They should be, must be dead by now!
The enemy battle wagons loom ever larger, ever more massive, guns seeking……….
And the thought, the mad thought, crashes through.
Exultation rips free!’ They are seeking enemy battle wagons!, they think we are leading battle ships!
:Open fire!, all guns, aim for the bridge!. All ships, hard to starboard!, line ahead!. Suriho!, stand by!, standby!”
Ayanami leans, leans, slews through the water, and the four Japanese destroyers literally race across the allied lines bow, the night split by flashing tracer, the chatter of guns, the bark of the 5 inch of the allies, the smashing KAWTHAK of something slamming into the bridre behind him, the incredible sight of the Massachusetts looming over them, her bridge area a sparkling fire works display of shells bouncing from her armour………..and over all of it, the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the fish streaking free.
Three of them slew across the bows, place there arses in the allied faces, and streak for safety, Ushio does not, split in two in flame and water……….
It is all too busy, helm orders, more helm orders, the screaming whistle of shells cratering the air about him, screams of the wounded, …………………..and the enemy line curving away from them…….guns STILL seeking the enemy battle wagons that were never there.
And silence falls.
Three Japanese destroyers flee north. Somehow, to his eternal shame, not one of Suriho’s fish have found a mark.
It does not matter.
On Massachusetis, blood flows on her bridge. And the unthinkable happens.
“Retire. We must retire. Set course for Noumea”
They do not get far. Dawn, 80 miles south of Lunga I-27, I-153 wait for what cripples will emerge.
I-27’s torpedo hits Massachusetts fair in her arse, a fitting place, tearing two props clean off, bending shafts, twisting rudders.
Her damage is critical. Her captain forever condemned.
Nashville is not nearly so lucky. 3 torpedos from I-153 spark an ammunition explosion, she is gone before her crew know they are dead.
Four destroyers. The enemy surface force has retired. The invasion force is out in the open.
The covering CVE TF sits alone.
The first wave comes, 18 zeros, 9 betty bombers. Nearly a dozen wildcats streak in, and the brawl begins. The betties attack, the allies fling a hail of black at them. Men die. Planes explode.
Fish drop, ships manoeuvre frantically
The next wave finds the convoy. The escorting zeros have nothing to do, the bombers almost leisurely attack.
Three cargo ships will go down
And now the attacks come, and come, almost with out pause,
How many men involved today. Thousands. How many versions of this day. Equally, thousands.All will see it differently.
But all will tell you this. The column of fire from CVE Chenango when her forward magazine exploded was easily a thousand feet high. The wild cat fighter flung by it, 1500 feet.
All, to a man, remember that spinning, twisting, wildcat, going UP.
CV Wasp, escapes. Her luck, it appears, holds. The CV Victorious too, escapes the streaking wakes of fish, the white mountains of foam from the bombs.
The cost has been high. Japan loses 40 fighters this day. The allies nearly 50.
Japan can bring in more. And bomber losses are light
But can the allies remain, with just 2 decks free?
Quiet falls by 3 PM, here at Lunga at least. But the battle continues.