29th December, 1944
Captain Ugaki sits at the back of the small room, glad to be out of the weather.
He is not glad about very much else.
An hour ago, a signal from Combined Fleet no less.
"IJNS Chiburi assigned to Task force 446, LCDR Iokibe commanding"
Convoy duty, Shikuka to Ominato run, tankers.
The second most deadly run after the straights south of Tiawan..........there must be literally a hundred Japanese ships on the bottom of these waters from this run.
And also, a bloody engine down.
As the briefing begins however, one bright thought, no questions on his movements these last weeks...........
He turns his attention towards this new man in his life, Cmdr Iokibe, the other Captains about him.
Middle aged, face craggy, worn, tired. A face that has seen too many cold rough dawns, too many frozen corpses. A face replicated by all about him, in fact.
This is no easy run, this.
And the war has been going a long, long time now, has it not, yes?
A long time.
A lot of dawns, a lot of dead men.
"Another run,", Iokibe begins " with only one difference,we welcome Chiburi to our little team"
Faces turn to him, he smiles almost nervously, judgement will come quickly, no doubt
Iokibe hands Ugaki a sheaf of papers."formations, standard responses to threats, submarine attacks, doctrine.....Ugaki, we have but one rule really, any SS is to be attacked by all escorts, our tactics and attack formation are all in there, please read before we sail"
"Are there any questions?"
Iokibe smiles, but there is no warmth in it........"Good, we sail at dawn, as usual, lets get some sleep "
The room empties, leaving Ugaki to study the documents
TF 446, it seems, is an old unit, formed almost since the war's beginnings.
Two old, old DDs, Niokaze, Namikaze, far too small for these waters really........
A sister to Chiburi, the Mikura.
Patrol boats No 2, No 8, and DMS W-23
All for two charges, the survivors of all these years no doubt, small tankers Setsuzan Maru, Rizan Maru.
Chiburi, it seems, will fill a gap at the rear of the formation.
And it strikes him then.
Chiburi is no longer free, the war has reached out and grasped her with its impacable grip.
Real war, deadly war.
And Chiburi is not ready for it.