From: Lone Star Nation
Here 'tis at last.
Dusk, February 3, 1943
320 Nautical Miles NW of Exmouth, Australia
The massive Kawanishi H8K float plane lumbered in for a water landing near Carrier Akagi as the sun disappeared into the Pacific. A motor launch from the big Japanese flat top was already lowered and moving out to collect a small group of passengers.
"Who do you suppose that is?" said Lt. Commander Daigo Yoshino. The answer from Commander Genda Minoru caused his jaw to drop: "It's Yammamoto."
Despite the shock, Daigo managed a reply after missing a few beats. "Admiral Nagumo won't be happy about this."
Nagumo, already nervous about the upcoming battle with the Americans, had a somewhat testy relationship with the Commanding Admiral of Combined Fleet. The last thing he needed right now was to have his boss looking over his shoulder.
One hour later, the brain trust of the First Air Fleet met with the brocade-covered command staffs assembled around a huge map of the area on the Flag Bridge.
"Commander Genda, please review the plans for Operation Katana," rumbled a visibly uncomfortable Vice Admiral Nagumo.
"Thank you, Admiral," replied Genda. "Gentlemen, as you know, the enemy has initiated an invasion of Japanese-occupied Australia at the port of Broome. The enemy is estimated to have employed most of his remaining carrier strength and significant surface assets to cover this attack. The intention of Operation Katana is to surround these naval forces on three sides, trapping them against the Coast of northern Australia. Combined Fleet and strong elements of Indes Fleet will then destroy them with a series of air and surface attacks."
"The main concern is that the enemy carriers will withdraw at high speed past the 'corner' of the sub-continent, escaping to open waters to the West and eventually back to their main base at Perth. To counter this, Captain Yamazumi's surface group of four heavy cruisers and eight destroyers has already departed at flank speed to arrive at a point about 40 nautical miles northwest of the small town of Exmouth, right at the corner of Australia. Their mission is to engage the enemy and delay his retreat long enough for the sun to rise and for our carrier aircraft to finish the job. Various smaller forces will watch other possible avenues of escape, and our land-based bombers will be unleashed against Broome, but that is the essence of the plan. Questions?"
Yammamoto considered the map before pointing out the models representing a strong force of cruisers that was shadowing and protecting the American carrier task force. "Why won't the enemy sacrifice these ships to block Yamazumi, allowing his carriers to slip past to safety?"
Genda replied, "The Admiral's question points out a valid concern. Our force was originally intended to cover the landings in India, and is not optimized for this mission. It will be up to our cruisers to outwit and outfight the enemy in that respect."
February 4, 1943
0815 Hours, approximately 40 miles NW of Exmouth
Captain Yamazumi Teijiro looked out as the early morning light revealed a choppy sea. Weather conditions were not ideal for flight operations. His task force, powerful though it was, might be the only thing between the vital enemy carriers and freedom. Cruisers Myoko, Ashigara, Haguro and Nachi cut graceful but small wakes as they loitered after a harrowing speed run the night before. Yamazumi said nothing, but he harbored secret fears that the Americans had already passed the intercept point.
This negative reverie was suddenly broken by multiple calls from lookouts. Two groups of ships, separated by several miles, had been sighted hugging the coast.
"Just as Nagumo's Staff predicted," the Captain muttered under his breath.
With more authority in his voice, he issued a pre-arranged command that sent the entire task force into action. Their target was the trailing group, which even at this range obviously contained two large enemy fleet carriers.
Flag Bridge of Carrier Akagi
Junior staff officers swarmed around the battle map like ants, but so far there was little to do. Daigo and Genda exchanged a worried look. "The sun's been up for some time," commented Daigo. "True, but the search planes should only just now be reaching the limit of their patrol routes," said Genda, his tone indicating far less confidence than his words.
The only stillness in the room was Admiral Yammamoto himself, who sat in a chair with a warm cup of tea at his side. His already stony face was impassive, waiting...
Suddenly the speakers in the room crackled to life. Daigo jumped involuntarily, Genda dropped a sheaf of reports, then bumped heads with a young ensign as both leaned to pick them up at once. Yammamoto put down his tea.
Message in clear from Captain Yamazumi: "Heaven sent opportunity to engage enemy carriers Hornet and Wasp on surface. Will press home attack with full dispatch. Long Live the Emperor!"
The room erupted as further, coded reports arrived detailing the enemy force's location, course, size and speed. It soon became clear that the Americans would not escape without a fight. The following hour was a blur.
"Range 7,000 yards...
Hit reported on enemy Cruiser Chester...
Heavy fire incoming...
Carrier Wasp hit by Myoko!
Torpedo hit reported on Carrier Hornet!
Hornet is firing over open sights on our attacking destroyers...
Torpedo hit reported on Carrier Wasp!
Wasp hit by salvo from Nachi and burning!"
And then, the day crashed from triumph to disaster in the space of a few minutes. The Japanese carrier fleet encountered a strong storm - flight operations were postponed until further notice. In the meantime, the enemy cruiser task force, racing to protect their carriers, came into range and began to inflict damage on Yamazumi's ships. Ashigara and several destroyers tried to hold them off, but the modern American warships were very strong and well-handled. Japanese losses began to mount, and the American carrier force limped out of range.
Nagumo ceased pacing to give a humane order. "Tell our cruisers to disengage, they have done all they can, indeed more than we could hope for." It was true. The USN carriers, already hopelessly outnumbered, had suffered enough damage that the Wasp would not be able to launch or recover aircraft. In addition, many of their escorts were hit hard enough that flak would be weak - if the Japanese planes could only launch. "Set course directly for the enemy and ring up flank speed," Nagumo continued, "we must clear this damn storm."
The minutes dragged on. Three Japanese destroyers were sunk by enemy gunfire. The sound of rain drummed on the outer wall of the Akagi, clearly audible to all within.
Some good news arrived in late morning, as land-based torpedo bombers ripped into the enemy invasion task forces unloading at Broome. Surprisingly, no enemy fighters rose to resist, allowing the Japanese to claim 10 ships sunk (8 transports and 2 small escorts), many with troops still on board.
The news that the weather was clearing caused the room to erupt in cheers, but within minutes of the announcement, Japanese ready fighters were scrambled to deal with a small incoming strike launched from Carrier Hornet. Over 140 Zero-sen soon destroyed all but eight SBD Dauntless dive bombers, and those planes released their bombs harmlessly in the waters around Carrier Zuikaku. But another 50 minutes of daylight were lost. Would the weather snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?
At 1530 hours, the Japanese carriers finally swung into the wind and launched everything that could fly. Daigo Yoshino said a silent prayer to his ancestors that they would arrive in time.
Bridge of Cruiser Ashigara
Captain Yamazumi struggled to control his burning ship and his decimated task force. Where were the Japanese planes!? His men had fought on against odds for hours, then tried to escape when it was clear no more damage could be done to the burning but still operational Allied carriers.
Suddenly a shell from one of the enemy cruisers impacted just below the bridge, while the rest of the salvo penetrated Ashigara's belt armor, dealing mortal wounds to her vitals.
Yamazumi was astonished to find himself whole. Gazing to the horizon, he was pleased to see the rest of his valiant ships escaping destruction. It was time to go.
He turned to one of the few surviving bridge officers and issued a painful order. "Secure the Emperor's portrait and order all hands to abandon ship. Signal Hibiki to take on survivors if she is able."
The young lieutenant hesitated, but then relayed the orders. An unspoken question hung between the men.
Yamazumi answered it forcefully. "In case you're wondering, I've always believed that only defeated Captains should go down with the ship. The Emperor still has need of the victors."
"What do you mean, victors, sir?" stammered the Lieutenant. Clearly eight inch shells deteriorated naval proprieties somewhat.
In answer, Yamazumi simply pointed toward the northern horizon, where over 300 Japanese carrier aircraft had appeared like a cloud in the late afternoon sky, making straight for the American carriers.
Flag Bridge of Carrier Akagi
The attack went in almost unopposed. Japanese dive bombers and torpedo planes swarmed into range and began to deliver ordinance with uncanny accuracy. Fuchida's excited voice poured excellent news over the speakers, and one by one the model ships representing the US fleet were removed from the map. Finally, an amazing exchange took place.
"Junyo's torpedo wing requesting target vector..."
"Wasp and Hornet are both sinking... Avoid them and target escort ships. Repeat, target the escorts."
"Look at Hornet - there she goes! She's capsized!"
Once again the bridge buzzed with activity. Then someone cleared their throat. It was Admiral Yammamoto, standing calmly near his chair. The Admiral spoke in crisp tones, extending his arms as if to embrace the battle map.
"Enough. The reports can wait for this evening. For now, gentlemen, I give you... Victory. Admiral Nagumo, I would cordially suggest that you inform Imperial General Headquarters and the Imperial Palace. I would further suggest that you mention the brave actions of Captain Yamazumi in your dispatches. In addition, if I could trouble your radio staff to send a further message or two, we have much to do tomorrow."
The world's largest battleships, accompanied by numerous destroyers and an escort carrier, waited near Bali for word the enemy air threat had been neutralized. Across the water the barrels of flagship Yamato's 18 inch guns glinted in the setting sun. Then brighter flashes of her signal lights passed a message that spread through the ship like wildfire. The American carrier task force had been destroyed. Two fleet carriers, 2 modern light cruisers, an anti-aircraft cruiser, and at least six destroyers, all sunk. Only two vessels, a crippled heavy cruiser and an equally damaged destroyer, were not yet confirmed lost. A glorious victory.
The path to dozens of enemy ships still trapped at Broome was now clear. The twin monsters, engines thrumming, turned to the Southeast...
< Message edited by Cribtop -- 1/14/2013 2:56:55 AM >