Distant Thunders: Destroyermen | Chapter 17 of 37 - Part: 1 of 2

Author: Taylor Anderson | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 3002 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER 6

July 1943

 


 


 


 


 


 


 


Two weeks after Saan-Kakja and Tamatsu Shinya took their leave of Baalkpan in company with (now Lieutenant) Laumer’s small squadron, another, considerably larger force prepared to sail. Saan-Kakja departed amid sincere, exuberant fanfare, but though the turnout of well-wishers was even bigger this time, the mood was more somber. The Second Allied Expeditionary Force was not encumbered by any lumbering Homes—those would come later, when they were fully prepared and sent for—but the fleet was still impressive. Donaghey was Matt’s flagship, back under the command of a much recovered Commander Garrett. Tolson’s refit was considered sufficient to allow her participation as well. The first two new steam frigates, with their fewer but more powerful thirty-two-pounder smoothbores, were fresh from the new fitting-out docks. A lot depended on them even though this was essentially their maiden voyage and shakedown cruise combined. Jarrik-Fas commanded USS Nakja-Mur , and Captain Jim Ellis commanded USS Dowden. Ellis would serve as second in command and commodore of the steam element of the fleet if it was detached for independent operations. Additionally, there were now seven former Grik Indiamen that had been razed and rerigged into single-deck corvettes. Observers found it difficult to believe that the far lighter, sleeker-looking ships, glistening with fresh black and white paint, had been reworked from ships originally belonging to their hated foe. The final consensus concerning designations—regardless how they were rated—was that since none of the ships were big enough to be considered “cruisers,” all were still destroyers, in a sense. The only difference it made was to morale.

It was an impressive force, considering all were heavily armed, crowded with Marines, and covered with stacked landing craft. Four relatively unaltered Grik ships (except for color) carried Lord Rolak’s 2nd Aryaal, Safir Maraan’s “Six Hundred” as well as extra field artillery, draft beasts, and other baggage. Ten large feluccas would serve as the eyes of the fleet and dispatch vessels. Achilles was also making final preparations for getting under way, her black coal smoke coiling lazily into the light morning air contrasting with the gray smoke of the Allied steamer’s oil-fired boilers. The reason for the more somber mood was that this force, at some point, would certainly make contact with the enemy for the first time since the Battle of Baalkpan. There was a sense of confidence that the fleet could handle itself, but no one knew what they would find. Had the enemy withdrawn, or been reinforced? Had the Grik also made unforeseen improvements? They already had crude cannon when they attacked the city. What other surprises might they have introduced since their last meeting? No one knew, and it was frustrating.

They’d grown accustomed to having reports of enemy dispositions from the flying boat, but they were still a week or more away from discovering whether their “new” aircraft would even fly. They were moving forward with the conviction that it would; many more airframes and engines based on the prototype were already being built, but it would take time before Big Sal’s conversion was complete, and they still had to train a lot of pilots. Flight training was already under way, in an ingenious simulator that mimicked flight controls, but it remained firmly on the ground when students climbed aboard. What would happen when/if they actually flew?

In many ways, perhaps the greatest test of the Alliance would be faced in the coming days and weeks, and the thought no one was willing to voice was that, for the first time, Captain Matthew Reddy didn’t have Walker beneath his feet. He wouldn’t even be here when they learned, once and for all, whether he ever would again. That simple fact was the source of tremendous unease. In the past, the mere existence of the old destroyer had been a source of considerable comfort and security. They’d fought without her before, but she’d always been there, somewhere, somehow always ready to come to their aid just in the nick of time. This was the first time the Alliance had engaged in any major military undertaking without Walker to back them up.

Nakja-Mur and Dowden were tied to the dock, but Donaghey was moored beyond them. Scott’s launch was waiting to take Matt over after he said his good-byes. Adar, Keje, Spanky, Sandison, Brister, and Letts were all there, but the only one Matt really had eyes for was Sandra Tucker. She and Princess Rebecca had joined them mere moments before, almost out of breath. Sandra had obviously come straight from the hospital, where she’d been working either quite late or very early. Even after all these months, many of those wounded in the battle to save the city required ongoing operations. Her long, sandy brown hair was swept back in a girlish ponytail that accented her pretty face and slender neck.

Everyone knew Captain Reddy and Sandra Tucker were nuts about each other, even though they’d once tried to hide their feelings out of respect for Walker’s crew. Of course, the crew probably knew how they felt before they did, and their poignant sacrifice was the source of much sympathy—and respect. Only after the Battle of Baalkpan, when it was clear that everyone knew and further denial was pointless, did Captain Reddy and Lieutenant Tucker show any open affection. Even then, public displays were limited to holding hands, an occasional embrace . . . and spending as much time together as they possibly could. It was obvious their love continued to grow and each was a reservoir for the other’s strength, but still they didn’t marry or “shack up,” as Silva and Cross had apparently done. They did nothing, in fact, that all the surviving destroyermen from Walker and Mahan couldn’t do. The men rolled their eyes in exasperation, called them dopes . . . and loved them for it.

Alan Letts liked and admired Sandra, as did everyone, but she always made him feel a little guilty. He loved Karen very much, but they’d convinced the captain to marry them when they’d all fully expected to die. Now things had changed, sort of, but his happiness was undiminished. He was guardedly ecstatic that he’d soon be a father. But his very happiness inspired much of his guilt. He couldn’t help thinking it wasn’t fair for him to be happy when so many of the men were still miserable. And not all those who were miserable were men.

Alan was amazed by Matt and Sandra’s self-sacrificing willpower. Again, he compared their situation to two star-crossed lovers from a John Ford western trapped in a Cecil B. DeMille epic, complete with a cast of thousands, monsters, and freak weather events. He noticed, with a surge of relief—for both of them—that as soon as Sandra arrived, she’d unobtrusively inserted her hand into the captain’s, and he’d reached to caress her face.

“Do you guys realize yesterday was the sixteen-month anniversary? A year and a third to the very day since we arrived . . . wherever we are?” Letts interjected into the awkward silence that ensued.

Matt nodded. “Sixteen months since the Squall. Since we escaped the Japs—and watched them sink Exeter and Electra and Pope . . . since we nearly got sunk ourselves.” He shook his head. “We lost a lot of good destroyermen that day. I didn’t forget.”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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