On the far horizon, the lamp flashes.
“Good luck, good hunting, we will wait for you”
Takeji reads the flashing lamp from the retiring tankers.
Thankyou, faithful friends, you are brave beyond words.
He sighs, girds himself, and re enters the bridge.
A dozen eyes turn to him, waiting, as they ever do, for their captain.
“Are we ready gentlemen?”
They nod, one by one. Fellow warriors, fellow Japanese. . But more than that, now, Trusted friends.
They tell him they are ready, then, of course, they are. There is no doubt.
“Well then, get your tin hats men, I think, that we will soon need them”
They salute, and confident in themselves, their captain, their ship, move from the bridge to their stations through out Zuiho.
Takeji barely has time to settle, and the signal man calls
“Taiho signalling sir…….new course, 100 dgrees, speed 15 knots. Prepare for battle”
The fuelling hoses are stowed
Her tanks are full.
Once again, oh once again, the old man stalks Zuihos passageways, machinery spaces.
Charge’s eye roves, seeking anything, anything, that may effect the battle to come. He knows, knows this. A tangled fire hose, a portable pump with out fuel, a valve jammed from non use or neglet.
For want of a nail………..
As he roves, he talks, shares smokes, pats.
He has done this before, many times now. They expect it now.
But he does it for another reason. He does it for himself. There is comfort in this routine. Comfort in talking to his men, to feel their confidence. Comfort in visiting his machinery, to hear it, feel it beat on, carrying them to whatever the gods decree.
He finishes his rounds in the commanding engineroom, his second home, port engineroom. It is nearly 2 am, dawn action in 2 hours.
He takes out a spanner. That bloody governor needs a twiddle, pointless going to bed……….
Okano too checks his equipment. Smoke masts, respirators, crowbars, extinguishers, the 100 and 1 things in the fwd damage control locker.
Fate decrees, come dawn, he will be hear for dawn action stations. He suspects that this is where he will remain for tomorrow.
He finishes, looks about. Dawn is soon. He sits, pulls out a battered paperback. Tries to read, but the words will not flow.
A garage, a small home, family…………..they are too far away
Hirate turns the small valve, adjusting the gland steam controller. Strides back to the engineroom steaming platform, taps the vacuum guage (even though he knows he really shouldn’t).
His eyes rove around the engineroom, seeking something, anything, to keep his mind occupied.
The bells ring, a revolution increase, zuiho heels slightly………..changing course.
Dawn soon. Come on then, lets get this over with………….
Lurch peers into the furnace, grimaces. Moves to the blower throttle, gives her another 100 rpm.
Battle tomorrow……….good. Ships steam hard in battle,, and steaming hard is something he loves to do.
An easy thing to do, even before battle, when you truly no longer give a damn
Diogawa, Ogowa, Hidaka sleep too, sprawling about the ready room, faces unshaven, flight suits sweat stained, tattered.
Diogawa snores, a loud, wheezing rattle.
Uto sits opposite them, and wonders.
He wonders where such men come from
He wonders where else such courage, faith in each other comes from.
He wonders how he could be so lucky to meet , and serve with such as these.
And he wonders, how his father could waste men such as these in a senseless war
The fleet steams for a point 120 miles due east of Koepang
100 miles north of Darwin, the main enemy body
In Darwin itself, 180 plus ships reported, in port, or in task forces.
Further east, near babo island, vast numbers of more ships
Lautern, 20 bombers reported, 80 fighters
Darwin, 60 bombers, 40 fighters………
There are obviously more than that.
Tomorrow, every last japanes e plane available will attack. Combined fleet will advance
Time to see if cantona still fears Combined fleet, or not………….