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Leyte - New Jersey

(USS New Jersey — heading north in heavy seas to intercept Ozawa’s fleet – Leyte; September 1944)


Surigao Strait

“Well. Here we are.”

Admiral Jesse Oldendorf, on the bridge of the heavy cruiser USS Louisville had spoken half to himself. His battle-line, first of cruisers, then with the old battleships behind him, and with his remaining destroyers in front, formed a layered defense-in-depth to the southern entrance of Leyte Gulf.

“Sir?”, replied Oldendorf’s aide.

“Nothing.” Oldendorf paused for a moment, then said, “Do you remember the story of Gordon, at Khartoum?”

Oldendorf’s aide paused. “Can’t say that I do, Admiral.”

“British general. He’d been sent to defend the city of Khartoum against an Arab fanatic. He’d put together a defense based on the Nile – literally dug a large moat – but when the Nile dropped, his defenses were open, and he had to defend the city being outnumbered over ten to one. Day of the battle – or so some of the survivors told it – rather than give a great speech, he said, ‘Well – here we are.’”

“Well – here we are.”, replied his aide.

“INCOMING AIRCRAFT!!”, shouted one of the lookouts.

This had become harrowing, and routine. “Battle stations!!” shouted Louisville’s captain. Klaxons hooted, and the thud of antiaircraft fire erupted, unbidden, from the rest of the fleet.


I-58

A hollow boom echoed through I-58, as Captain Hashimoto watched his own boat reach periscope depth. “One of our brothers has found a mark!”, he said. Suzuki grinned. It felt good, hunting rather than performing picket duty or something similar. The submarine force had been wasted for far too long. Tanaka’s replacement of Kurita had changed all that.

“Sonar – where’s the American?”, said Suzuki.

“He did a 90-bender to port. He’s trying to run.”

“We’re better underwater than he is, although he’s more maneuverable.”, Suzuki said to himself. “Do you have a course and speed, Sonar?”

“340 degrees; twelve knots. About 150 feet.”

Hashimoto said, “We’re going to try something here.” Into the squawk, he said, “Torpedo room! Open outer doors on one through six! Prepare to fire!” Switching to fire-control, he said, “Set torpedoes one and two to 150 feet. Bearing 340 relative. Set three and four to 220 feet. Set five and six to fifteen feet. Five degree angle on all.”

“Hai, Captain!” A moment later, “Fire control – torpedoes ready to fire, sir!”

“One through four – fire!”

I-58 lurched as four torpedoes left their tubes. “Five degree down-bubble. Compensate forward trim.”, said Suzuki. The loss of so much weight in the bow meant that action had to be taken immediately to prevent the bow from ‘porpoising’ to the surface.

Suzuki stood by with his stopwatch. “Captain – you know you don’t have a chance of hitting the American with sonar only!”

“Yes, Suzuki – but once again, imagination’s the key here. He’ll do one of two things – he’ll either go deep – in which case we can try it again – or he’ll pop to the surface and try to make a run on top. I’m betting he’ll try to run, rather than let us shoot at him again. That’s what the last two are for.”

“Sonar – what do you have?”

“Our screws in the water – hard to pick him out – HE’S GOING SHALLOW, SIR!”

Hashimoto hit the squawk-switch again “Torpedo room – ready five and six!”

Down the hallway to the sonarman, he shouted, “Course and speed, sonar?”

“355 degrees; twelve knots”

“Helm! Come starboard to 355 degrees!”, said Hashimoto. “Now, Suzuki, we’re going to earn out pay.”

Hitting the squawk again, he said, “Torpedo room! Fire five and six!”

Two more torpedoes left their tubes. “Now – they have to get there before the American can get off his message. If he pulls the plug again, we can try this one more time.”


Darter

Commander Claggett said, “Radio! Stand by to send that message as soon as we surface!”

Darter’s sonarman shouted, “HIGH SPEED SCREWS IN THE WATER! THESE ARE NEW, CAPTAIN!”

Claggett, nearly to the surface, said, “Distance from us, Sonar?”

“Three hundred yards, Captain!”

He thought for a moment. “Let the air out of this thing!”, he shouted to his exec. “Take us to 300 feet!” The message would have to wait.


Yamato

Tanaka received Nishimura’s communication with a broad grin. “Toyama! Nishimura is almost to Surigao. He’ll be engaging the Americans within four hours. Our aircraft have pounded the Americans – I’ve issued strict orders that Fukudome’s aircraft are to attack the destroyers – we’ll leave the cruisers and battleships to Nishimura.”

Motioning Morishita and Toyama to the plot-table, he said, “We are here.”, he placed his pointer just to the south and east of the northern point of Dinagat Island. “The invasion fleet arrived last night. They have every reason to believe that they are protected by the American battleships. Our air-cover will be thin from now on – but we’ve almost achieved our surprise.”

“So, the entire plan was to ‘pincer’, but using Dinagat as a shield?”, said Morishita.

“Yes, Morishita,” said Tanaka. “Islands are useful in many ways, aren’t they? Arriving at night, we prevented locals from informing the Americans. After dawn, there won’t be any need to worry about them. We’ll be there – right behind them, where we want to be.”


I-53

Tomayasu turned to his exec. “I wanted that damn destroyer.”

“But we were ordered to follow and harass the Americans.”, said Tomayasu’s executive officer.

“I know that. Still, I wonder where it went. First, depth charges – then they disappeared. Where is the rest of the American fleet? They couldn’t have just – vanished!”

Tomayasu had received the cryptic message that evening when he surfaced. The American destroyer had, after dropping its last depth-charges, simply turned and left. The rest of the American fleet, save for three small carriers to shepherd the invasion transports, had vanished.

Tomayasu couldn’t believe his luck. Apparently, neither could the others. Low on torpedoes by this time, they wasted no time torpedoing two of the remaining three small carriers. Tomayasu had been maneuvering for a shot at the last one when two torpedoes from I-68 slammed into it.

“We’ll be in sight of shore soon, Captain.”, said Tomayasu’s exec. “We should submerge for the rest of the run.”

“We have five ‘fish’ left. Let’s feed ‘em to the Americans for breakfast!”, said Tomayasu.

The remaining submarine commanders had much the same idea. One by one, armed support and supply ships began exploding and sinking. Two troop-transports were torpedoed as well; the men on board trying to get into the water by any means possible, if that included jumping from the decks.


New Jersey

“Admiral, is this wise?”, said Halsey’s aide.

“Goddammit, yes!”, replied Admiral Halsey. “The Nips are gonna run head-on into Oldendorf’s destroyers. They’ll wish they’d never been born when that happens. Meantime, I’m going to sink every carrier I find!”

Like Ahab on the deck of his whaling-ship, Halsey paced the bridge of New Jersey. The only thing that man lacks,” thought his aide, “is a wooden leg, and a gold-piece for the mainmast.”


Tacloban

Sakai was exhausted.

He’d slept four hours in the past twenty four, and was preparing to go out again. Putting tobacco in the corners of his eyes to make them water and keep him awake with the stinging, he climbed the wing-ladder to his Raiden. “Dawn. Destroyer time,” he thought. We’ve lost so many. He looked down the fuselage of his Raiden, with its bullet-holes and shrapnel hits “And they’ve taken a piece of me, too.”

Sliding his canopy shut, he pressed the starter-switch. As the engine coughed to life, he said, “If I survive this – I’m never going to kill another thing again. Not even a mosquito.”


I-58

Hashimoto had played cat-and-mouse with the American for over two hours. It was time to get the destroyers up to finish this one. He brought I-58 to periscope depth, then radioed for destroyer assistance. Fifteen minutes later, he didn’t need the help of his sonar-crew to hear the propellers of Yukikaze, closing on the American’s position.

“Poor devils,” he thought. “This is no way to die. Hounded for hours, driven, then finally killed almost for sport.” Hashimoto knew, though, that this wasn’t sport.

It was called war.

The sonarman interrupted his reverie.

“Conn! Sonar! Yukikaze has broken off its attack. Multiple screws; destroyers ahead; they’re Americans!”

Hashimoto hit the squawk. “Battle stations, torpedo!”

Less than two minutes later, Suzuki said, “All stations manned and ready, sir. All tubes loaded and ready.”

“Open outer doors and raise the ‘scope. Let’s have a look.”

One look through the scope, and he knew why Yukikaze had broken off the attack. There was a destroyer screen about 1,000 yards ahead – the American submarine had been ‘running home to Mama.’

No help now. Hashimoto began lining up his shot; a six-torpedo pattern, just as he’d discussed the tactic during his briefing with Admiral Tanaka.

After course, speed, and bearings were fed, Hashimoto gave the order to fire.

Almost immediately, there was a torpedo hit on one of the American destroyers. Excellent!”, thought Hashimoto. The rest are attacking as well. Now — ”

His thought was rocked by an earsplitting explosion close-aboard. The concussion shook the teeth in his head – Hashimoto looked around to see if they’d been hit, then hit the squawk “Damage control – report!”

“No damage, sir! It was – one of our submarines.”

“Conn! Sonar! High speed screws in the water!”

The American destroyers had wasted no time in getting their own ‘fish’ in the water. One had already claimed a Japanese submarine.

Giving the order to take I-58 to 100 feet, he pressed the squawk-button and said, “Torpedo room! Half a degree angle – depth twenty feet. Open outer doors. Fire when you’re open!”

The sonarman confirmed that the other submarines in the screen were doing the same. There would be nearly one hundred torpedoes in the water within the next few moments.

American and Japanese torpedoes passed each other. Hatsushimo and Kasumi, two destroyers in the forward-screen, were hit and out of action. The heavy cruiser Mogami exploded, her light armor-belt proving inadequate for the American torpedoes. Nishimura stayed his course.

In the meantime, the invasion-fleet had arrived off Leyte.


Louisville

Admiral Oldendorf’s aide rushed to the Admiral’s side with a dispatch. “Multiple torpedoes in the water, Admiral! The Japanese have launched a massive torpedo attack!”

Oldendorf replied, “We can’t move the battleships! Run the destroyers in a screen. God help me, but we’re going to have to take as many hits as we can to save those battlewagons!”

Over half of the Japanese torpedoes passed harmlessly between ships. Thirty five of them, however, did not. When the attack was over, fifteen American destroyers had taken at least two torpedoes. The rest made a run at the Japanese submarines, taking the battle to them. What their own torpedoes didn’t do, they were going to do with depth-charges.

While the battlewagons fought it out on the surface, the American destroyers in the middle were going to be hunting submarines.


Sakai

Saburo Sakai saw the beginnings of the battle from his cockpit at 15,000 feet. “Keep it tight, men! Don’t tangle with any American aircraft. Destroyers are your targets today!”

He chose a destroyer which had just completed the broad-arc of a torpedo run. He put the Raiden over in a steep dive; thumbed the switch to his 20MM cannon, and opened up at 3,000 feet, at the same time he pulled the lever to release his 500KG bomb.

Two of his flight exploded in midair, the result of the well-trained anti-aircraft crews on the American destroyers. Sakai felt the concussion of the 20MM’s recoiling in the wings; actually slowing his dive. He waited until the last moment, then pushed his throttle to the firewall and pulled his stick up, letting up on the firing-switch at the same time.

The huge radial engine in front of him howled like something from another world, and he was over the destroyer as the secondary concussion of the explosions rocked his plane. He didn’t dare circle back – no doubt the other destroyers had his range.

Looking to the left, he saw the line of battleships. Tempting as they were, shooting 20MM at a battleship was like using a peashooter.

Sakai climbed back to 12,000 feet, and headed back to Tacloban.

Where is the American air cover?”, he thought. There are no aircraft opposing us!”


Yamato

Toyama handed a heavy sheaf of dispatches to Admiral Tanaka. “Toyama! I don’t have time for all this! What do they say?”

Toyama had a hard time concealing his enthusiasm. “Better than we had dreamed. Halsey took the bait. He’s headed north to take on Ozawa’s ‘fleet’. Our submarine force with the tactics you mandated have destroyed the Americans screen, plus the carriers which were guarding the invasion fleet.”

He continued,“Nishimura has taken some losses; four submarines, mainly due to American destroyers. Four of his destroyers and one heavy cruiser are either sunk or out of action.”

“Better than we had dreamed.”, said Tanaka.


Zuikaku

Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, on the bridge of His Imperial Majesty’s carrier Zuikaku, was, if anything, fatalistic. He’d written his will, sent a lock of his hair to his family and to the shrine at Yasukune, and was in every respect a samurai awaiting his fate.

Still, he was determined to take as many Americans with him as he could. If he could do so, and delay the return of the main American fleet to Leyte, this was his job. He would do it as well as he could.

He turned to his aide, and said, “Do you wonder about the afterlife?”

“Yes, Admiral. Much; lately.”

“Let us delay it a little longer!” He offered his hand to his aide; in a society of superiors and inferiors, this was an uncommon gesture. They shook hands. Ozawa continued. “I was just informed that the Americans are about fifty miles out, and running at flank speed. With nothing but observation aircraft, we can’t do much but track their movements. We’re running as fast as we can in the opposite direction of Leyte. I’d like to think the Americans are smarter than this, but Tanaka will not radio me, and we’re under radio-silence ourselves.”

Ozawa’s aide said, “You are right, Admiral. Let us delay it a little longer!”


New Jersey

“Admiral, sir?”

“What is it?”, said Halsey.

“Recon-patrol just back. Enterprise reports the Japanese fleet less than fifty miles away. They don’t even have a combat-air-patrol up.”

“Very well. Order all aircraft readied for launch. Incredible. No CAP! They’re literally sitting ducks. Right where we want them. Launch as soon as they’re ready!”

Halsey’s aide ducked out of the wardroom and down the hall. Right where we want them.”, he thought. It can’t be this easy….”


Yamashiro

Vice-Admiral Nishimura, on the bridge of his flagship, Yamashiro, was taking his battle-line right to the Americans, who were in line ahead, across his ‘T’.

Since before Nelson, this was the worst possible place to be. It would be a matter of minutes before the Americans opened fire – and with their radar-controlled guns, it would be an uneven fight, indeed.

Nelson.

Nishimura ran to his plot-table, and motioned Yamashiro’s captain to his side.

“Kogure, remember the academy, and how we all thought ‘how brilliant!’ at Nelson’s maneuver at Trafalgar?”

Captain Kogure’s eyes widened. Nishimura finished, “We haven’t much to lose at this point. Let’s split the line – here!” Nishimura pointed to the center of the line, where the battleship Fuso was stationed. “Split the line, and bring the two lines abreast of each other. If we make it – we can attempt to crash the American line.”

Kogure said, “Admiral, there isn’t a hope. The Americans –”

“Do you have a better idea, Kogure? If you do, I want to hear it now.”

Kogure thought a moment, and said, “No, Admiral. I don’t.”

Nishimura gave the orders. Yamashiro and her group cut speed and dropped to starboard as Fuso’s group crowded on steam to come abreast. If by some miracle they survived the remaining American destroyers, they could make an effort to break the American line in two places.

Almost on cue, the USS West Virginia opened up with a broadside. Her twelve 16” guns stabbed huge orange flames into the sky; moments later the sound overhead of Yamashiro’s bridge was like the very air itself was being rent apart.

Great gouts of water shot several stories into the air as the West Virginia’s shells landed around Yamashiro and her escort-ships. Nishimura responded by calling for flank speed.

“Give me every pound of steam you’ve got!”, he shouted into Yamashiro’s voicepipe. With that, it may well not be enough.

The American line erupted into flame; all six battleships opened up with broadsides against the Japanese. Two salvos from the American guns at 30,000 yards, and they began to find targets.

Fuso was the first to feel the wrath of Pennsylvania. Her magazine detonated with a huge explosion, sending ragged pieces of her deck and superstructure into the clear air along with an orange fireball.

Mogami and Ashigara, the two heavy cruisers in Nishimura’s fleet, were the next to be hit. Ashigara was the victim of a near-miss, which sprung her plates and flooded her engine room. She lost headway and came to a dead stop, smoke pouring from every open port.

Mogami took two direct hits from the Maryland. When the smoke and flame cleared, Mogami wasn’t there; having been shredded by nearly 4,000 pounds of explosive.


Yamato

Admiral Tanaka heard the explosion of Fuso. “Nishimura is taking a pounding. Helm – when do we round the point?” Tanaka was now champing at the bit. He could see the last of the air raids against the American transport-fleet, which had taken a mauling at their hands; soon, the remnants would attack the American battle-line which was busy with Nishimura.

“Order our submarine screen to torpedo as many of those battleships as they can. Order a destroyer-torpedo run, also. As many of them as we can take out. All of them if it’s possible.”

Toyama said, “Admiral? The transports?”

“We will take care of the transports, Toyama.”

Turning to Morishita, Tanaka said, “Morishita. It’s time.”

Admiral Morishita turned to his executive officer. “Signal the fleet – all guns; load and prepare to fire.”

On Yamato and Musashi – – together, over 140,000 tons of fighting-power – as well as the other ships of Tanaka’s fleet, crews sprang to life. Shells were placed on hoists and lifted from magazines; powder-bags were readied by crews wearing static-resistant clothing; the huge 18” guns of Yamato and Musashi, along with the secondary batteries of rapid-fire 6” guns in twin turrets – were loaded, and readied for battle.

This was the task for which the large surface-ships of Japan’s navy had been built.


This was their destiny.


(Next – Leyte Gulf)


Leyte - USS Darter

USS Darter – SS-227



Surigao

Dawn lifted roseate fingers to the sky. Sakai noted the impending sunrise over his left shoulder, thinking, “This would be a beautiful day on any other occasion. A good day for fishing.” He’d kept his small group of Raidens down to the treetop-level – better to avoid detection by enemy aircraft or naval-spotters out in Leyte Gulf. He then radioed the other pilots in his squadron. “Men – remember; don’t engage any American aircraft. Our recon-aircraft have reported a large fleet of battleships and small carriers approaching Leyte Gulf. This is an excellent craft for its purpose – but it doesn’t handle like the Zero. You cannot outmaneuver a Grumman with this plane – you don’t have the turning radius; high-speed turns are difficult, and your visibility is poor, except for forward.”

After receiving acknowledgement from the other four, Sakai advanced his throttle and began the climb to 12,000 feet.

Down, and to his left, he saw their target, right where the reconnaissance pilots had told him it was – a quickly-constructed and hidden base, where some 30-odd American PT boats could easily take cover.

Oil drums had been hastily-stacked on a rough wooden dock; two of the Americans’ odd-shaped half-circle metal buildings were on raw ground; a bulldozer was back in the trees. Everything was there to complete the base – save for the PT’s themselves.

Sakai opened his radio circuit. “It looks like the locals have informed the Americans we were coming. Save your ammunition. Bombs only on that base facility.”

One by one, the Raidens banked and followed Sakai. In their turn, the Quonset huts, fuel storage, and dock disappeared in flame and explosion.

Pulling out at 2,000 feet, Sakai noticed several PT’s around the point. He knew further radio contact was unnecessary. Banking right, he nosed down to attack the first of ten PT’s in a column.

50 caliber tracers arced up to greet him, forcing him to ‘juke’ in a slalom-pattern to throw off the aim of the PT’s machine-gunners. Thumbing the switch to his 20MM cannon, he fired two bursts at the lead PT, two at the second, and two at the third.

One by one, each PT boat, made of light-plywood and offering little protection to their gasoline tanks, exploded. The others in his flight made short work of the rest.

They’ll regret not having found a river or even a beach,” thought Sakai, as he roared back over Panaon Island again, headed for Leyte and Tacloban. Noticing smoke to the east, he thought, “The others have begun their raids, too. Good.” What he hadn’t told his men was that the raid on which they had embarked was part of Combined Fleet’s plan to put-paid to the American fleet at the entrance to Leyte. Many good men would die that day; the Zero was little better in the hands of an inexperienced pilot – and that was all Japan had left. With luck, they’d do the damage they’d set out to do.


I-53

Tomayasu had kept I-53 at ‘decks-awash’; this limited the range of its radar somewhat, but also limited its radar ‘signature’ in return. The twenty-five submarines in the ‘screen’ to the east of Leyte Gulf had detected the main invasion fleet, as well as Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s main carrier force.

The other submarines in the screen, hearing I-53’s message, ‘pulled the plug’ and went to battle stations. Soon, they’d be converging on I-53’s location. Their time on picket-duty was over; now, they became hunters.

I-68 was the first to draw blood, firing a spread of six torpedoes at the ‘target-rich’ environment. The rest of them fired spreads at the same time, working their torpedo-crews to reload the six forward tubes as fast as possible. One hundred and fifty oxygen-powered Type 95 torpedoes were on their way to the American fleet.



Yamato


“Excellent!” said Tanaka, after reading the last of the radio messages.

“Sir?” said Toyama.

“Admiral Fukudome’s land-based air arm has destroyed a PT-boat base. Most of the PT’s escaped, but they now have no fuel with which to attack Nishimura. The Americans have managed to slip a battleship fleet into the south end of Leyte Gulf, though.” Tanaka motioned Toyama and Morishita to the bridge-plot table and pointed to the confined area at the southern end of Leyte Gulf, with Dinagat Island forming the eastern barrier. “The Americans have taken position just beyond the northern cape of this island,” he said, pointing to Dinagat, then scribing a circle in the blue area to the west of it. “This is where the Fukudome’s men jumped the American carriers this morning just after dawn. Unfortunately, we lost about 150 aircraft, but the Americans lost seven of their small-carriers which were supporting the fleet, as well as eight destroyers. Quite evidently, those small carriers are very vulnerable to large bombs on their decks.” Tanaka smiled at this; he remembered all too well what dive-bombing could do to carriers from the Midway disaster.

“Do the Americans know that Nishimura is coming?” said Morishita.

“Probably. Their aircraft-reconnaissance is quite good. No matter. Look.” Tanaka scribed another arc on the map, out to sea from the south, then back again. “During the night, when we split off from Nishimura’s group, we headed this direction. We’ll be back on the far side of Dinagat Island by early tomorrow morning. Everything now depends upon surprise.”

Morishita was the first to speak.

“Nishimura, too, is bait.” His flat statement was part admiration, part incredulity, and part indictment.

“Yes, Morishita. Nishimura is bait. So far, the Americans have acted as I thought they would.”

Tanaka continued. “You see, Morishita – the Americans believe they can beat us. In using this against them, we’re seeing to it that the bulk of their fleet will be occupied by the time we arrive. When the landing is ready to commence – we’ll be there.” Tanaka stared out the forward bridge-windows of Yamato. To himself, he thought, “What did the Englishman, Shakespeare, say about revenge?



I-58

“Your problem, Suzuki, is that you lack imagination.” Commander Hashimoto turned to face him. “We can launch a torpedo attack from twice the distance the Americans expect. The Type 95 torpedo allows this. A half-degree spread allows us to fire torpedoes at a target, setting varying depths. If only one of these monsters is a hit – the enemy ship is out of action.”

“Conn! Sonar!”

Hashimoto ducked to yell into the passageway through a watertight-doorway. “Where away, sailor?”

“Over 15,000 yards, Captain!” replied the sonarman.

Hitting the switch on the squawkbox, Hashimoto yelled, “All hands! All hands! Battle stations, torpedo!”

Pressing another switch, he shouted, “Radio!”

Hai, Captain?”

“Get this off to Yamato – ‘have contacted American submarine picket. Am closing for attack.’ ”

Hai!”, replied the radioman. The speaker went dead before Hashimoto could kill the switch. Hashimoto half-smiled; knowing his crew, the radioman was signaling Yamato before he’d finished talking.



New Jersey

“Goddammit!”

Admiral William Halsey, commander of the U.S. Third Fleet, shouted at no one in particular. “How the hell did the god-damned Nips get past my destroyers!”

“Sir – they fired from over six miles away. By the time we heard the high-speed screws — ” Halsey cut off his aide. “I know; the only thing we could do was sacrifice the destroyers to save the invasion fleet. God-Damn-It!”, Halsey finished, as he’d begun the conversation.

“Twelve destroyers out of action. One hit each on Wasp and Hornet, and two transports dead in the water. Two destroyers left to go chase God-Damn-It-All-Knows how many Nip subs, and we’re sitting here at ten knots like overfed GEESE!”

“Sir – we’ve got plenty of air cover. The cruisers can support the landing, and we can chase the real problem.”, said Halsey’s aide, who handed the admiral a dispatch.

As Halsey read, his aide continued. “They’ve found the main Japanese carrier fleet. They’re steaming to the north of us. We’ve caught them napping, sir!”

Halsey pondered this for a moment. “Get Wasp and Hornet to the rear. Have the ASW teams from the small-carrier groups go subchasing.” Halsey emphasized his next point by pounding his right fist into the dispatch, which was in his left-hand. “We’re going to destroy the Japanese fleet.”



I-53

“Four hundred feet, Captain.” Tomayasu’s dive-control officer quietly announced the depth. Above them, they could hear depth-charges exploding. “Come starboard; 180,” said Tomayasu, equally as quiet. “We’ll dust off his keel and keep going. If we’re lucky, we can pop to periscope depth and get off another salvo at that fleet.”

Tomayasu’s exec said, “Captain, shouldn’t we make a run for it? I mean, we heard four other submarines breaking up from their depth-charge attack. The Americans are good at this game.”

Tomayasu replied, “No. There’s a huge fleet up there – with a very few destroyers to run screen for them.” Turning to the plot table, he asked the assistant sonarman, “How many so far?” The assistant sonarman had a small chalkboard on which he was tallying depth-charges. “Twelve, sir.”

Tomayasu thought for a moment. There wasn’t an accurate count of how many the American destroyers carried –and in any event they had no idea which class of destroyer was up there, pounding away. The American had to be running low.

“Prepare to come to periscope depth.”, said Tomayasu.



Tacloban

Sakai settled to a quick breakfast/lunch of miso, rice, and fish. Tea was also abundant here, which was a good thing.

He’d lost two of his Raidens; one to PT-boat fire; the other to an American patrol over Leyte. I told them to drop low and run”, he thought to himself. Saichi decided to try to fight it out with two Grummans. He’d paid the price, too, within two minutes.

Finishing his lunch, Sakai dashed out of the ready-room and back to his Raiden. No rest today,” he thought. His craft had been readied with another 500KG bomb and topped off with fuel and ammunition. Now, to see if we can make these tactics work on destroyers —



Yamato

Tanaka watched as the sun went down. “Tonight”, he told Morishita, “The older fleet under Nishimura arrives at Surigao Strait. He’ll be preceded by a submarine screen, and by destroyers. The American torpedo-boats have been scattered by our aircraft, and their battle-line has been pounded three times today from the air, as well. Initial reports are that their destroyer-screen has been seriously reduced by air attack. Nishimura will have to go toe-to-toe with the Americans tomorrow morning.”

Morishita whispered a prayer under his breath.

“Say one for us all, Morishita.”, said Tanaka. “We’re going to need it. Tomorrow, after the Americans begin their landing, we arrive at Leyte.”



Darter

“Conn! Sonar!”

“What’ve you got, Sonar?” Commander Bladen “B.D.” Claggett shouted down the hallway to the sonar room. “Contact – bearing 185 relative! Looks like a submarine!”

Commander Claggett hit the switch for the squawkbox. “Radio – this is the Captain.”

“Radio room here, Captain!”

“Get this off to Halsey. Give our position, and say, ‘sonar contact with possible Japanese submarine.’ Let me know when that’s –” Claggett was interrupted by a shout from the sonarman down the hall.

“CAPTAIN! HIGH SPEED SCREWS IN THE WATER!”

Commander Claggett instinctively hit the dive alarm. Any thought of sending a message was now out of the question.



Surigao

Nightfall.

Silent and stentorian, the first of the Imperial Navy’s submarine screen entered Surigao Strait. Some miles behind them followed fifteen of the Imperial Navy’s remaining destroyers. Behind them were two of Japan’s oldest and most-venerable battleships, along with the remainder of Nishimura’s fleet.

On the bridge of one of those battleships, IJN Yamashiro, Admiral Nichimura reviewed the day’s dispatches by the low-red ‘blackout’ light. They said that the U.S. Navy was waiting for him, and that while their destroyers had been pounded and over half of their small carriers were out of commission or sunk, there remained a formidable fleet of battleships.

They were waiting for him. It was now his duty to break through and assist Tanaka.

Where is Tanaka?”, thought Nishimura.


(Next – Surigao Strait)


Leyte - Raiden at Tacloban
(Mitsubishi J2M5 ‘Raiden’ at Tacloban Airfield)


“And Amaterasu, the sun-goddess, left her cave each morning, having been teased from it by promises of a celebration. Thus, she brings light to the world….”
— Japanese mythology



Tacloban

“Sakai-san!”

Flight-Lieutenant Yamashita ran to Ensign Sakai to introduce himself. Sakai saluted, then shook the younger man’s hand. “I had heard you were coming!”, said Yamashita. “It’s an honor to meet you!”

Saburo Sakai was a living-legend among pilots from every country, Allied or Axis. Nearly blind in one eye after being wounded in 1942, Sakai had convinced his superiors to let him fly again after a stint training pilots.

“Thank you,” said Sakai, smiling. “I don’t know what a one-eyed pilot can do, but I’ll do my best, sir.”

“It is I who should salute you, Sakai-san,” said Yamashita. Sakai waved off the demonstration from Yamashita. “You outrank me, sir. I observe formalities” he said. “Meantime – what do you think of her?”, he said, patting the side of the Raiden he’d flown in three ‘hops’ from Yokosuka.

“She’s” – Yamashita searched for the word – “HUGE!” The Japanese military had never commissioned nor produced a fighter this large and powerful before. Powered by a massive 14 cylinder radial engine and carrying four 20MM cannon in twin wing-mounts, the plane was a stubby and somewhat-ungainly looking-thing; clearly designed to climb, dive, and hit hard.

“They sacrificed maneuverability for speed and hitting-power, sir,” said Sakai. “She’s far different than the Zero. She has the new 20MM cannon – they’re a little slower-firing, but the punch they carry is the best anywhere. What they’ve asked me to do is to take five of your better pilots, and give them a quick course in shipbusting tactics.”

“I don’t follow, Sakai — ” Yamashita let his words trail off, hoping for an explanation.

“I’m being asked to set up a squadron which will attack American ships exclusively. Four more of these should arrive by nightfall.” Sakai handed his operational orders to Yamashita, then waited at attention.

“I see,” said Yamashita, reading Sakai’s orders. “Who came up with this idea?”, said Yamashita.

“It was Admiral Tanaka’s idea,” said Sakai. “Evidently he got the idea from the Americans. Ironic, don’t you think?” Sakai grinned again. His confidence was infectious.

Yamashita grinned in turn. “I have just the men. How long do we have?”

“Between these air-raids? Maybe a few days; no more than that. The Americans are going to hit this island hard. The air-raids prove it. Let’s get this girl undercover.”, he finished, patting the side of his Raiden again.

Yamashita motioned four of his ground-crew; they quickly took positions at wingtips and tail, wheeling the Raiden into a camouflaged revetment. Sakai and Yamashita walked back to the ready-area, where Sakai would meet his new pilots and begin his training. They didn’t have time to waste.

Tacloban airfield was a well-developed field for fighters, but couldn’t handle anything more than a medium-range aircraft, and bombers were out of the question. There were four other airfields in the Dulag valley, and Sakai recommended to Yamashita that he relocate the incoming fighters there.

“I’ve already had the Marines building revetments for them,” said Yamashita. “By the end of the week ,we should have nearly 1,000 aircraft here – just as long as we can keep the Americans from destroying them.” He added, grinning, “Having the name ‘Yamashita’ has its advantages.”

Sakai chuckled. “I imagine having the same last name as the overall field-commander in this district could only help.”

Sakai’s face clouded again, as he thought of something else. “Something we tried in Rabaul was dummy-aircraft”, said Sakai. “They kept the Allied pilots busy shooting up the dummies while our real aircraft were camouflaged. I’m betting we could build some more right here. The Americans could shoot them up just as they did at Rabaul. That’ll save quite a few of our real aircraft.”

“I’ll get my men on it. We’ve got building materials lying about, and one thing we do have is plenty of paint.”

As the week wore on, the Japanese ferried aircraft to the outlying airfields. Revetted away under camouflage, American carrier-pilots contented themselves with shooting up the mock-Zeroes; occasionally, the Americans would catch some aircraft after having just landed – but by week’s end, minus those destroyed in the air-raids, the Japanese had 800 aircraft under cover on Leyte Island.


I-53

Lieutenant-Commander Seihachi Toyomasu was in his cabin when the squawk box startled him out of a nap.

“Captain! Contact – bearing 5 degrees port relative!”

Toyomasu was off his bunk and out the door before the sound faded. “Make way!”, he shouted as he ducked and wove his way through the compartments and bulkhead-doorways toward the conning-tower.

Arriving at his command-station, he saw his radarman and executive-officer staring intently at the screen. “What do you have, sailor?”, said Toyomasu. “Looks like two – no, make that three – no; FIVE ships – all headed west!”,said the radarman.

Toyomasu’s exec said, “Captain, do we go to battle stations?”

“Not just yet,” said Toyomasu. “Kill the radar. Get this message off to Combined Fleet. Ensure you observe Admiral Tanaka’s code.” Toyomasu had been writing on a message-pad the entire time he’d been speaking. It was a verbal-code instituted by Admiral Tanaka prior to the fleet weighing-anchor from Brunei, and was intended to prevent the Americans from determining the fleet’s actions.

Higashi no kaze ame”, read the message. “East wind; rain”. This was the signal that the American invasion fleet was on its way. “Get this out immediately along with our position. Don’t lose a moment.”

“Now,” said Toyomasu. “You may go to battle stations; torpedo.”


Yamato

Tanaka was on the bridge. A petty-officer brought him a message from the radio room, and stood by for a response.

Tanaka slapped the paper and shouted, “Excellent!”

Admiral Morishita, also on Yamato’s bridge, said “What, Admiral? News?”

“News, all right! One of our submarine-screen has spotted the Americans.”

Turning, he continued, “Petty officer! Have the radio room send this message to Admiral Ozawa, immediately – ‘Climb Fujiyama’.”

“Now,” thought Tanaka, “Let’s see if our submarine-screen can prove their worth ahead of time. A bloody nose might shake the Americans’ resolve a bit.” Turning to Morishita, he said, “What news of Nishimura and the other fleet?”

“They split off three days ago, as you know. They’ll be arriving off Dinagat Island in Surigao Strait in 24 hours.”

Tanaka thought for a moment. “Radio Combined Fleet. Request aerial reconnaissance of Surigao. If there’s anything the naval air-arm can do from Leyte, tell them to do it.”

Tanaka stood by one of the bridge-observation windows and pulled his binoculars to his eyes out of habit. “If the Americans take the bait — ”


Tacloban

“Men,” said Saburo Sakai, “I can’t tell you any more. We’ve trained hard for four days. We’re not getting any more training – today, we go on a mission.” Sakai held up the wireless message. “We’re going on a raid today. Drop tanks are not necessary; we’ve got more than enough fuel to fly there and back.”

Sakai continued. “At the south end of Surigao Strait, naval reconnaissance aircraft have reported a large American patrol-torpedo boat installation. They’ve got upwards of forty of those devils under netting there, and if we don’t take them out, they can be used to ambush our fleet. I can’t tell you the details, but it’s absolutely necessary for us to take them out.”

One of Sakai’s pilots raised his hand.

“Yes, Saichi?”

“If we see other targets, what are your orders?”

“Report them immediately, and return to base. Your job is to destroy those PT’s and get back here in one piece.”

“Remember,” he added, “You have 800 rounds total – that’s 200 per cannon. Make every round count. Dismissed; and to your planes!”

Each of the Raidens coughed and sprang to life as the pilots pressed the start-switch; advancing the throttles, the aircraft left their revetment-areas and reached the airstrip. Advancing his throttle to the firewall, Sakai listened to his craft; she was heavy from the 500KG bomb which had been installed in place of the usual long-range drop-tank.

Climbing, he circled to pick up each of his squadron-mates; on a mission for the first time since 1942, he felt strangely peaceful.


(Next – Surigao)


Leyte - I-58

(Japanese submarine I-58; at Brunei, preparing to weigh anchor for the Philippines)


“Musashi plunged his spear into the ocean bed. Pulling it up, sand and earth dripped from its point. This became the Home Islands.”

Japanese creation myth




Northward


Yamato

IJN Yamato plowed easily through the small swells, making a firm 15 knots as she and her ‘core’ force of four additional battleships (including Yamato’s sister-ship, Musashi), ten heavy cruisers and two light cruisers steamed north toward the Philippines. Ahead of and beside the core were fifteen destroyers in a screen-formation. Ahead of the destroyers and unseen over the horizon were ten submarines, acting as screen-and-picket for the fleet.

Admiral Tanaka raised his right index finger, catching the eye of the yeoman in the wardroom.

Yeoman Hishida trotted to face the admiral, and stood to attention.

Ocha”, said Tanaka. Hai!”, responded Hishida, and trotted to the door.

He returned in a minute with a tea service, pouring Tanaka and Admiral Morishita a cup each, returning to his station by the door.

“To victory, Morishita.”, said Tanaka, holding his ceramic cup in front of him. Morishita returned the gesture, and they drank.

“Morishita, do you know why I’ve asked to see you?”, said Tanaka, standing in front of the map-board with his pointer.

“I imagine it’s to ensure I’m on board, as they say.” said Morishita.

“It’s more than that, Morishita. Look here.” Tanaka nodded to the map of the United States which he’d has the yeoman put on the map board a few minutes before. Tanaka used his pointer to touch a spot in the north-central part of the country.

“Can you read that name, Morishita?”

“Man-ee-tow-wock”, said Morishita, doing his best to pronounce the unfamiliar word.

“Manitowoc.”, corrected Tanaka, still looking at the map. “And, do you know what they make there?”

“I haven’t a clue, Admiral.”, said Morishita.

“Submarines. They manufacture submarines in the north-central part of the United States.” Morishita’s eyes grew wide.

“I processed intelligence reports for over a year while I was commanding a desk in Burma,” continued Tanaka, “and I learned a lot about the Americans. They build submarines in Manitowoc; a city in their state of Wis-kahn-sinn.”, Tanaka said, working his Japanese tongue around another unfamiliar Native American word.

He then scribed his pointer in a broad arc across the map. “They then sail them through these lakes and through the seaway here to the Atlantic. Let that soak in for a moment. The Americans have the resources to build submarines in the center of their country, and send them over 1,500 miles to the sea.”

Morishita looked sober. Tanaka continued. “Morishita, we have no hope of beating these people if this war continues. This is the last battle. Do you understand?”

“I think so,” replied Morishita. “Although, it is wise not to say these things too loudly.”, he added.

Tanaka quickly turned to face Morishita. “Was that a threat, Admiral? Because if you don’t agree with me, you can tell me now.”

Morishita paused. He knew that to state any disagreement with Tanaka now would result in his immediate dismissal and confinement to quarters. He said, “No, admiral – I’m simply stating a fact. Better me than someone else.”

Tanaka grinned. “Sorry, Morishita. My apologies. My mouth has gotten me into trouble since the beginning of my career, and I’m not likely to change. However, I need to know that you are in this with me, completely. I’ve made a lot of changes which I know are unpopular with Admiral Toyoda, but which are necessary for victory. I will need your help to run the coming battle from Yamato.”

Morishita said, “You mean — ” He cut himself off, knowing the obvious answer.

“Yes, Morishita. I’ve been given complete command of this operation, effective today.” Tanaka showed Morishita the communication. “Let me show you what I’ve done.”

Tanaka turned to the wardroom-table, where the map of the Philippines and the operational movements and order-of-battle for Operation Sho-Go 1 was still laid out. “This operation was conceived during the first part of the war. It had a number of flaws which we did not anticipate.”

Using his pointer, he touched Leyte Island. “We have 400 aircraft ratholed in and about Tacloban, including some of the later-model J2M Raiden interceptors. The Americans, however, have been raiding the airfield for the past few days.”

He continued, “I’ve requested 100,000 Marines to be landed here,” he pointed to the northern part of the island, “but Combined Fleet headquarters can only promise me half that number. We’ll have to use them to keep that airfield. The Americans never attack something they don’t want to capture – -and that field will either be ours for combat air patrol over the fleet, or it’ll be a sanctuary for them.”

“This,” Tanaka pointed to the eastern part of the island, “is the only place the Americans can land in force. This is where we will drop our bombardment anchors, and sink anything we see.”

Morishita said, “Will the Americans have disembarked by then? No sense in sinking empty transports.”

Tanaka continued, “Admiral Toyoda wanted me to wait a month to attack. A MONTH! The Americans would have been ASHORE by that time, Morishita! They’ve assembled one of the biggest invasion fleets in history, and they wanted me to WAIT!”

Tanaka took a deep breath. “Apologies. However, you see what I mean.”
“What of the other two groups?” said Morishita.

“Ozawa has broadcast a LOT of clear-traffic, along with coded material, to see that Halsey gets it. To our knowledge, the Americans still don’t have our code, but I’ve been suspicious for several months. Regardless, Ozawa should be enough ‘bait’ to draw Halsey away.”

Tanaka continued, “Admiral Nishimura is under my direct command, with the second force here,” he pointed in an arc from Brunei to the eastern Philippines. “They are steaming at flank speed to get here, as the other ‘arm’ of the pincer. We’re bringing additional aircraft to outlying bases on Luzon to support our fleet.”

“You see,” he continued, “we are going to have to deal the Americans an overwhelming blow – something which will force their people to demand peace.”

“Is that possible?” said Morishita.

“Yes,” said Tanaka. “It is possible. You see, the Americans have two things which are their greatest strengths, and also their greatest weaknesses. It is their unbridled freedom, combined with their belief in themselves.”

Tanaka continued, “Morishita, after the Philippine Sea engagement, the Americans believe that they’ve won the war. They believe they’ll be largely unopposed from here on. They believe we’re beaten. Did you know, however, that one of their newspaper publishers, a man named Hearst, has been calling for an end to this war for nearly a year now? I’ve seen his writing. The Americans permit this. You see, the American people actually elect the government there. That’s hard for us to understand, but they do everything that way. They even choose their own marriage partners.”

Morishita shook his head. “Strange.”, he replied.
Tanaka finished, “If we can deal them a blow which their newspapermen and radio will report widely, we have a chance to force them to seek peace. Otherwise, the war is lost.”

Morishita said, “Why is the war lost?”

Tanaka pointed to the outer ring of islands north of the Philippines. “Because the Americans will take these next, and then bring their heavy bombers to airfields within striking distance of Japan. With the Philippines gone, the Americans will have a perfect staging-ground to launch attacks against the Home Islands.”

“Their navy is a sledgehammer, Morishita,” said Tanaka. “They will use it again and again to beat the door open. When they are done, it is their air force which will do the real work. No, Morishita – the real threat is from the air. That’s why we have to win. Even if it costs us everything.”

Morishita nodded, understanding the enormity. “You have my support, Admiral.” said Morishita, offering his hand. Tanaka shook it enthusiastically.

“Now, go get some sleep,” said Tanaka, “because you’re going to need it.”


I-58

Lieutenant-Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto was on the squawk-box with his engineering officer. “Yoshida! What’s the engine-status?” Hashimoto didn’t like yelling, but it was necessary to be heard over the deafening roar in the engine room. He was also worried about the engines – I-58 had been launched not two months earlier, and the engines hadn’t been properly run-in yet.

“We’re fine, Commander! Thank you!” replied Ensign Yoshida. “Fifteen knots are a bit high as a cruising speed, but the engines are holding up well!”

Hashimoto killed the squawk and turned to his executive officer. “So, the men are disgruntled?”

Lieutenant Suzuki, Hashimoto’s executive officer aboard I-58, replied, “They’re wondering why we put to sea with torpedoes in the tubes, especially when we’ve trained them that it’s dangerous to do so. They also wonder why we’ve stacked torpedoes two-deep on the floor of the torpedo room as well as the torpedo-racks. They’re wondering why we’re pushing the engines. What do I tell them, sir?”

Hashimoto smiled. “Yoshida, you may tell them through their petty-officers that, offhand, we imagine Combined Fleet expects us to fire them all at the enemy, and to get there as soon as possible to do so.”

Yoshida smiled in return. “I see your point, Captain. Regardless, removing our float-plane from the deck-hangar and loading that with torpedoes also is a serious risk. What if one is dislodged? How will we even use them?”

“Yoshida, first, there’s something you know well. Orders come from above, not below. Secondly, I imagine they’ll want us to surface, use the floatplane-crane, and load the spares through the torpedo-hatch. This, of course assumes we can surface and do so without risk of aircraft attack.”

Hashimoto continued. “Tanaka, the new fleet-admiral, came up with a plan. I might as well tell you now, as we’re at sea.” Yoshida leaned forward over the cutaway-plan of their submarine, I-58.

“This boat is new. We put to sea early, and that was because Combined Fleet needed every ship it could muster for this operation. You see, we’re going to do something other than what we were designed to do. We’re not carrying kaiten on this mission, you know that. We’re carrying torpedoes – and we’re going to fire massive spreads of them. Tanaka has a theory that if we act as a ‘torpedo shotgun’, we can cover the fleet BEFORE they engage the enemy. We’ll be doing this just as a destroyer would do – fire, turn, and run. Prior to that, we’ll be lining up targets and firing just as we would normally – but we’re going to be a picket-screen for the fleet, rather than hunting independently.”

Yoshida’s eyes widened. “I see. And, due to the narrow passages in which we’ll be operating in the Philippines, the enemy will not be able to fan-out as he would normally.”

“Exactly, Yoshida. Normally, a confined area is a disadvantage to an attacker. Tanaka is turning the tables on the Americans, just as he did at Tassafaronga. We’re under orders to get there first, and sink anything we can see. That’s why we and the other boats in our class are up front – – we’ve got radar, and we can ‘see’ for the fleet before they reach the horizon.”

Yoshida said, “Thank you, Captain! How much of this may I tell the men?”

Hashimoto smiled. “Just that first part. About firing our torpedoes at the enemy and getting there first.” he said.

Hashimoto turned to the conning-tower ladder and undogged the hatch. He wanted some fresh air – and he liked the camaraderie of the lookouts. Their raunchy jokes aside, salt air, spray, and the sun on the sea would do him good.


“A raunchy joke or two wouldn’t hurt, either.” he thought, as he climbed the ladder….


(Next — Tacloban)



Yamato

(IJN Yamato – departing Brunei; September, 1944)

(Knight’s gambit – a chess-opening, sacrificing a pawn in order to open a larger area of operation and enable a quick checkmate solution.)


A Change of Command

Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka was lost in thought.

It had been almost a year since Tanaka had been ignominiously sent to Burma – ‘shore duty’ was what the fools in Tokyo called it, but Tanaka’s transfer was a clear message that he’d been ‘scapegoated’ for the failed strategy at Guadalcanal.

His mind drifted, as he re-read the letter from Tokyo – back to the night of last November, off Tassafaronga Point. He’d used the flames in the water from one of his own sinking destroyers to screen his attack, after the Americans had ambushed him and used their radar to launch torpedoes. One by one, with his flagship Naganami in the lead, he launched over twenty torpedoes at the main line of American cruisers.

For the loss of one of his destroyers and damage to a second, he’d put-paid to four heavy cruisers – one, the Northampton, sank from its damage; the others were now just returning to duty, having been so severely damaged that getting them to drydock had been a dicey affair, if Japanese intelligence was right.


“Admiral?”

“Hai!”, replied Tanaka; almost a reflex; pulled from his reverie, he was ready for the task at hand – even if it might be the analysis of more nearly-useless information.

“I was wondering – if you don’t mind – the personal message from Tokyo…” Captain Yasumi Toyama allowed his question to trail off, allowing Tanaka some space to either respond or dismiss his question entirely. Personal business was personal – but the captain had some right to know if a transfer was impending.

Captain Toyama had been Tanaka’s chief-of-staff since their service on the light-cruiser Jintsu at Midway. Toyama had followed him ever since, even to exile in Burma.

“Ah! Toyama! Thank you for interrupting me. I was reliving the past. Not a healthy thing to do. We’re leaving Burma.” Tanaka lifted the letter, then dropped it on his desk. “Pack. We leave tonight.”

Toyama’s eyes got wider. “Where are we going, sir?”

“Tokyo. Then, to Brunei – – you, however, don’t know any of that.”

“Yes, sir!”, replied Toyama. Mentally, he began making a list.

“May I ask if this is permanent?”

“Yes, Toyama. It is. They’ve decided to close this operation and send me back to duty.”

Toyama thanked his personal gods for this. Action again, at last – and with the most aggressive commander in the navy, now that Yamamoto was gone….


Tokyo

Leaving Combined Fleet headquarters, Tanaka stood in the crisp fall air and collected his thoughts. Toyama was stunned.

Tanaka, as was his place, spoke first.

“Kurita is an old and tired man. He’s not well. They were right to pass him over for command of the center force – but me? Most of my career has been spent in light cruisers and destroyers.”

“Your tactics at Tassafaronga, Admiral – that’s what they said. Time for fresh thinking and aggressive tactics, if we’re to win.”, said Toyama.

Tanaka found it hard to hide his exhilaration. “How am I going to DO this, Toyama? I leave tonight. Brunei is a long way.”

“Then I’d best be getting everything together.”, replied Toyama. He hailed a taxi which was passing. “By the way – congratulations!”, added Toyama. Tanaka had just been promoted two grades to full admiral.


Brunei

The wardroom of His Imperial Majesty’s Ship Yamato was larger than the conference room at Combined Fleet headquarters. Tanaka felt like he was swimming in it. Yamato’s captain, Rear Admiral Morishita, was a bit rankled. Five days before, Tanaka’s official post was as a glorified messenger boy in Burma with the same rank. Regardless, this operation was important, Morishita decided, and Combined Fleet made the decisions. “I’ll go along,” thought Morishita. “I’ll go along to win.

Tanaka opened the meeting. “Many of you do not know me. A couple served with me in the Guadalcanal campaign. I want to put some things to rest. Combined Fleet picked me for my unorthodox tactics. These won’t change. I intend to win this one, and I expect everyone to work with me to do so.” He let those words sink in for a moment.

Nodding to the two yeomen, he watched as they unrolled the plan-map for Operation Sho-Go 1 – the defense of the Philippines.

“We know the Americans are planning an invasion of the Philippines here,” Tanaka said, placing his pointer on Leyte Island, and the gulf which bore the same name. “The islands will offer natural courses through which an enemy will have to maneuver. Combined Fleet has decided to send three separate fleets to the Philippines in order to destroy the American invasion fleet.”

While the other officers were studying the complex map of the Philippine archipelago, Tanaka continued. “I’ve suggested some strategic and tactical changes to the campaign, which Tokyo and Combined Fleet headquarters have accepted.”

“First, we are going to make aggressive use of our submarine fleet, which has not been done to date. We are going to use submarines both as a screen and as separate attack squadrons.”

Morishita spoke up. “Kaitens?

Tanaka continued. “Good point. We won’t be using them. They hamper maneuverability, and they’re a waste.” Some of the officers appeared shocked. Criticism of Combined Fleet’s strategies regarding the kaiten mini-submarine suicide-corps were known, but not voiced. “Small wonder he wound up in Burma, as blunt as he is.”, thought Morishita. “I see.”, said Morishita, aloud.

Tanaka smiled. He continued. “Ozawa’s force will be stripped of its aircraft. I had to argue this one, but we need the Navy aircraft on the ground at Tacloban. The Zero is aging, and no longer the equal of much – the American Grummans had them for breakfast at the Philippine Sea engagement; we can’t afford to sacrifice them, also.”

“So, Ozawa is a – sacrifice?”, said one officer.

“Yes, said Tanaka. “Here,” he pointed, showing the relative position of Ozawa’s force, comprising the carriers Zuikaku, Chitose, Chiyoda, and Zuiho. “Ozawa is bait, pure and simple. Combined Fleet believes, and I agree, that Halsey will be far too aggressive and foolhardy to refuse – he’ll take the main American carrier fleet north and east and destroy Ozawa.”

The size of the sacrifice began to dawn on the officers at the table. Ozawa descended from a long line of samurai. He would earn that title by this action – along with a place at Yasukuni. “Once Halsey’s carriers are attempting a repeat of the Philippine Sea action – what they laughingly call the “Turkey Shoot” – we will be here.”, Tanaka said, his pointer at Samar Island.

“We will round the point,” he explained, “and catch the American landing force from behind.”

Several officers coughed. One said, “Sir – the American aircraft. How do we deal with them?” Uncomfortable silence followed.

“Admiral Nishimura and his battleship fleet will be here,” continued Tanaka, placing his pointer on Surigao Strait as if nothing had been said. “He will occupy any Americans here. Prior to that, we’ll sweep the area with aircraft raids and submarines, making long-distance torpedo attacks. We have the best torpedo in service. We’re going to use it.”

No one needed to remind the men present about the legendary attack of the I-19; six torpedoes fired from a distance of over three miles – one carrier, and a battleship (the North Carolina), plus a destroyer so severely damaged that they were effectively out of the war. The Long-Lance torpedo was wakeless, with no telltale bubble-stream to give it away – and it was the largest and fastest torpedo in any navy. Perhaps Tanaka was right here. Submarines might just be the key…

Tanaka continued. “That’s the plan. Three prongs of attack. One is bait – Ozawa’s carriers will lure Halsey’s fleet north and east. Nishimura will be preceded by three squadrons of submarines into Surigao – and we’ll use our own two squadrons to screen our movements and take out opposition before we reach Samar, round the point, and destroy the American landing.”

Finishing, Tanaka said, “We’ve ordered every available aircraft not defending positions in the homeland to the Philippines. Ozawa’s aircraft are here – the only thing he can do is send up observation aircraft. Tacloban airfield has 400 planes; our other Philippine fields have the balance of nearly 600. Some are Kamikaze. We even have a few of the new Raidens – they’re not tasked with fighter duty, as they’re interceptors – but we’ve fitted them with 500kg bombs to interdict the American fleet. Their new 20MM cannon should prove useful, also, especially against the American destroyers.”

As an afterthought, Tanaka said, “Remember – this force is the backbone of the fleet. We’re to intercept and destroy the American landing force. That is our job. Questions?”

The stunned officers looked at each other for reassurance. This was outside the dictum of the Japanese navy – aggressive tactics like this had never been used since Tsushima in 1905. Was Tanaka another Togo?


That decision would be made in the tropical waters off Samar Island.


(Next – Northward)


sanger-bomber-launch-2
1964 – and beyond


President Kennedy, in his second term, sent a perfunctory congratulatory note to an aging Adolf Hitler. “You have your system of government, and we have ours – but we can agree to celebrate the achievement of German science.” It was an empty gesture. The nation’s economy was three-quarters of its former size, and any hope the United States had of becoming a world power again had been crushed in March of 1944.

In the Pacific, the Japanese had consolidated their gains in Hawai’I and Alaska – while Hawai’i became a Japanese prefecture in 1948, Alaska became a state in 1961 – but the Aleutian chain was not on the U.S. map – it belonged to Japan; their air and naval bases there constantly patrolled the west coast of the U.S., assisting their German allies with the task of assuring a ‘peaceful America’.

_________________________________


(ME-262 “Sturmvogel” – the world’s first production jet fighter)

___________________________________

Hitler’s decision to leave North America alone after the war was based on two realities – first, he hadn’t the personnel to occupy the region; second, the advice of Goering and Goebbels proved true – render the Americans impotent, and the problem of a resurgent America is solved – in Goebbels’ words, “They were content to let us take Europe while they sat behind their borders – what else will change, really?” In the end, history has proven him correct.

The occasional refugee which manages to leave Europe and come to North America through the neutral nations in Africa and South America have told chilling stories — almost-unbelieveable tales of population resettlement, largely along ethnic lines — however, these stories have never been substantiated, and are largely dismissed.

What is really happening in Europe today is the subject of modest speculation on an intellectual level – but the U.S. can take no concrete action, even if there were sufficient interest.

_____________________________________

(Artist’s Rendering – Messerschmitt ME-P1112 – specifications and testing showed this fighter/interceptor capable of speeds in excess of 1,000KPH)

___________________________________

The cost of isolationism – with its resulting loss of trade — was high. Food shortages, unemployment and crime were chronic in America. The population had actually decreased to 1880’s levels, and some diseases which were on the brink of being eradicated in America in the 1930’s had made a resurgence.

The United States military was a fraction of even its 1940 size. U.S. naval bases were restricted to home-waters; since the war, U.S. shipyards had produced nothing larger than a destroyer. The U.S. Navy, in spite of repeated requests by the Navy Department to upgrade the fleet, still has several aging battleships in its inventory, although the oldest of them, the USS Arizona, had been retired in 1955. Today, it sits, along with many other ships, in the mothball fleet in Bremerton, Washington.

____________________________________

The Players – And Reality:

Eugen Sanger (1905-1964) was a driven man whose thesis in college on the theories of space flight were determined to be too fanciful. He caught the eye of the Reich Aviation Ministry, which requested his assistance in the creation of a bomber which could reach America. Sanger’s work on the project, actually conducted in Trauen, was instrumental in creating technologies and physical theories which later found their way into the X-15 and the Space Shuttle. His discoveries regarding the twin concepts of ‘body lift’ (using the entire body of an aircraft to create lift), and ‘compression lift’ (using the shockwave of a supersonic flight to literally ‘carry’ a craft in the stratosphere) were instrumental in the construction of the Concorde, the XB-70 “Valkyrie”, and several other aircraft.

In reality, Sanger’s work was cancelled, having been deemed too expensive to pursue after the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. He worked on other projects, but never pursued the “Silverbird” beyond that point.

The theory of a suborbital bomber like the ‘Silverbird’ was sound. Although the artists’ renderings were of a design which would not have worked (I mentioned the wings and tail-section in my counterfactual), these were well within the scope and technology of the time to find and ‘fix’. In the counterfactual, I did so, even though the renderings show a twin-tailed aircraft with fixed wings.

(Anecdotally, the segment regarding a ‘confetti bomb’ has basis in fact. We tested the new Norden bombsight over Germany not by dropping confetti-bombs, but by dropping leaflet-bombs and looking for postings in German newspapers about the leaflets, knowing that the German propaganda machine would be too efficient for its own good. We obtained a wealth of knowledge regarding the accuracy of the sight in this manner – simply by making the other side do our work for us! What I did in my counterfactual was to simply reverse the sides.)

Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) was a physicist and protégé of Niels Bohr and Otto Hahn. He was rapidly promoted within the structure of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute from 1934 on, mainly due to the ‘brain drain’ experienced by Germany after their persecution of Jewish people, of which many were scientists, including Albert Einstein. While he discovered the theory and could have likely done so, the reasons why Heisenberg did not actually build an atomic weapon for Germany remains an unresolved mystery.

Heisenberg’s participation in the German atomic-bomb project has been the subject of much speculation. It has been alternately proposed that Heisenberg either delayed his own work out of moral considerations, or did so from a lack of focus. In my counterfactual, I provided Heisenberg with the ‘ultimate manager’ – Eugen Sanger, to whom I gave total control over the bomb-project and the suborbital bomber.

Dr. Hellmuth Walter (1900-1980) was a German physicist who applied his knowledge of liquids and gases to the construction of propulsion systems. Not stopping there, he also designed the series of what are known as “Walter boats” – the Type XXI, XXIII, and XXVI U-boats. Designed for primary operations underwater, they presaged both the Albacore and Nautilus designs post-WWII.

The Type XXI was produced as stated in my counterfactual; segments were constructed and assembled in prefab-stations at shipyards at Kiel and Hamburg. There were, indeed, plans to launch V-1 ‘buzz bombs’ from the deck of the Type XXI when it went into production – creating, in effect, the first sea-launched cruise-missile (this was actually done by the U.S. Navy in 1946, under the “Loon” program).

Walter’s propulsion system, which used a pure form of hydrogen peroxide as a catalyst to produce steam, was prone to spontaneous explosion if not constructed to some exacting specifications – which meant that it was never produced by Germany during wartime, although tests showed it to be as efficient as early submarine-based nuclear systems. He eventually emigrated to the United States and worked for an engineering firm before retiring.

Adolf Galland (1912-1996) was perhaps Germany’s best-known and most-talented fighter pilot. He served in the Spanish Civil War prior to WWII; his trademark cigar and “Mickey Mouse” cartoon on his aircraft became well-known throughout Germany. Increasingly critical of the war effort and of Hitler, he was arrested in January of 1945 and put under house-arrest until March of 1945, when he was recalled to duty and put in command of an ME-262 (jet) fighter squadron, where he achieved a good measure of success, although too late to be of value to the Reich.

Postwar, he was held as a prisoner for a time, then lectured on tactics and ran his own aviation consulting company until his death in 1996.

Trauen is the current home of a branch office of the German space program. Sanger’s research was also conducted there (see above). I created the complex there in my counterfactual for some pretty good reasons – it’s remote; it’s sparsely-populated, and the counterpoint to the beauty of the region made for some good writing!

Messerschmitt was a real aviation company in Germany, and was one of the most prolific designers of aircraft during World War II. Their sometimes-futuristic designs led to the production of the world’s-first jet fighter, the ME-262. While the 262 did not see actual production due to National Socialist party interference until late 1944, its brief impact was so significant that Allied bombing raids were tasked with destroying all factories and airfields building and supporting them.

The Messerchmitt ME-1112 – the fastest design of those created by the company – could have achieved speeds of 1,000KPH – if produced when designed in 1938, it could have altered the course of the war.

(The other characters are a matter of public record. Lindbergh’s anti-Semitism, isolationism, and America First membership are also a matter of record, and are well defined in his wartime journals).

References:

Third Reich Victorious (Tsouras; Greenhill Books – 2002)

Secrets of WWII (Dunnigan; Harper-Row; 1996)

Luft46 (Website) – Note: Artist’s renderings and artwork of German aircraft, including ‘Silbervogel’, are courtesy of this fine website, which was developed as a repository for information on German aviation research from the years 1932-1945.

Luftwaffe Project Aircraft (Johnson and Sabatini; Johnson Press; 2002)

We Now Know – Rethinking Cold War History (Gaddis; Council on Foreign Relations – 1998)

Target America (Duffy; Praeger Publishers – 2004)

Sanger: Germany’s Orbital Rocket Bomber (Myhra; Schiffer Publishers – 2002)

Wartime Journals of Charles Lindbergh (Lindbergh; Harcourt; Brace – 1970)


silbervogel-over-new-york


(‘Silbervogel’ – Over New York)

In June of 1943, National Socialist Germany, along with the Empire of Japan, began what became known as World War II, or the Nine-Month War.

Having annexed Austria in late 1942, Germany already had additional bases from which to flank the Czechs. Poland and Czechoslovakia immediately joined the ‘Greater German Reich’, allowing German troops to cross their borders unhindered as half a million German troops crossed into Russia.

Six weeks after entering Russia, Moscow fell to overwhelming German military superiority. Stalin, attempting to flee, was dragged from his private train car and lynched along with Beria, Molotov, and several other party apparatchiks.

Russia out of the war, Hitler turned to France and England. His lightning attacks through the Netherlands and through the Maginot Line in early August of 1943 destroyed the French army in days.

Simultaneously attacking the British naval base at Scapa Flow and savaging most British airbases with carrier-borne ME-262 jets, the British had little in the way of airpower or naval power by the end of the first week. Lindbergh, in his second term, could do little to help the British.

The Kriegsmarine’s Type XXI submarines strangled British trade. With over sixty dedicated to the British Isles alone, no merchant shipping left or arrived in British ports for four long months. While the Kriegsmarine lost just two Type XXI’s, the actual tonnage of lost British shipping may never be known. Deprived of supplies, Great Britain could only wait for the inevitable invasion.

By November, German paratroops had secured southern England and parts of Scotland. Having savaged the landing beaches by seaborne V-1’s, the Germans met little opposition. By January of 1944, with two German army groups converging on London from the north and south, Great Britain, after evacuating the royal family to Canada via Wales, surrendered.

The Japanese victories and subsequent occupations at Pearl Harbor in Hawai’i and Dutch Harbor in the Territory of Alaska gave the Japanese bases from which to attack the west coast of the United States with relative ease. A minor American naval victory (which cost the Japanese three carriers out of twelve) off San Diego in January, 1944 did little to stop their advance.

Securing and consolidating their holdings in the Philippines, Malaya, Indonesia, and the Solomons, the Japanese next turned their attentions to Australia and New Zealand. With no help from the Americans or their Commonwealth ‘mother country’, both nations rapidly signed peace accords with the Empire of Japan in early 1944.

Trauen

Herr Oberst?

Ja.” Oberst Adolf Galland was in the ready room at Trauen, smoking a cigar. The Trauen plant was now under Luftwaffe control, and was now called an “Atomic Weapons Branch” base. He was getting himself mentally ready to fly the Silbervogel again – this time on a real mission.

“I must brief you, Herr Oberst.”, said the young Leutnant, a man named Werner.

“Well, Leutnant. Let’s have it.”

“Your coordinates for course-correction are being entered into the analog calculator. They will automatically fly the plane until you get to the drop point. You will have to visually determine whether or not you can drop your weapon on New York; if there is a storm of any kind, we’re concerned about the bomb drifting off its course once the parachute is activated at 1,500 meters.”

“So, I’m along for the ride until we reach New York. If I can’t drop there, what do I do?”

“Simply press the button labeled “Secondary Target” on the analog device. You’ll be directed to the second target. You’ll need to execute an engine-burn until you reach an altitude of 180 kilometers. You’ll proceed to the second target; the analog device will do the navigation until you arrive.”

“And what is this secondary-target, Leutnant?”

“It is the American city of Seattle, Washington. The Americans have a large aircraft factory there. They are beginning to build bombers there; it is also one of their largest port cities.”

Leutnant, I did finish gymnasium, you know.” Galland was impatient. Having to tell a Leutnant that he’d finished the German equivalent of high-school was the best way to get him to move along.

“My apologies, Herr Oberst. The calculations are entered; the drop-points for the two targets are now automatic. The only thing you have to do is get the craft to those points, and return.”

Galland glared at the young Leutnant. He might as well have told Galland that he was a passenger, instead of a pilot.

“They’re expecting me, Leutnant.” Galland stood to leave.

“Good luck, sir!”, said Leutnant Werner.

As with the first test, and two subsequent ones, Galland was helped into the cockpit, strapped in, systems tested, hoses and lines disconnected, and the craft made ready for launch. The bleachers, however, were gone – this was a military site now, not a research facility – it was the first launch-platform for an atomic weapons system.

Waiting for the countdown to commence, Galland thought, “It’s a good thing we were able to stop the English bombers cold. The new jets from Messerschmitt saw to that – especially those ME-1112’s, with the V-tail. Testing those wasn’t just a challenge – it was fun. Eleven hundred kilometers an hour! Galland cracked a smile through his pencil-moustache. He thought, “Germany is the greatest nation on earth.”

Herr Oberst? Countdown commences now.” The voice through the helmet-headset sounded metallic. Still, it electrified him. Part of being a combat-pilot; he lived for the adrenalin and the excitement.

Soon, the booster-engine slammed him into his seat. Within seconds, he was vertical. Seconds later, the booster shut down and was jettisoned. Like clockwork, the main engine fired, stabbing yellow-orange flame for a hundred feet beneath him; within a few minutes, he nosed the plane over, and began his run.

Berlin

“I am sick of the Americans, Goering. Our Japanese allies are clamoring for us to do something. It’s time to end this.”

“We have not declared war on them, Mein Fuhrer. This will not go well.”

“We let the Japanese do that, Goering.”, said Hitler. “We’re just honoring a treaty with them. Besides – after today, we will get to write the rules. All of them.” Hitler smiled at his own statement.

New York City – 10:52AM; March 4th, 1944

— “Whaddya want? Ya readin’ or buyin’? I PAY for those magazines, ya know? Kids!” The news vendor on Broadway was busy, but there were always people who’d read and not buy. Chasing them out was a daily chore….

— “That’ll be a buck twenty-five, most likely, depending on traffic across the Washington. You in? Hustle up!” The cabbie woke up every morning knowing that dinner depended on a delicate mix of aggressive and friendly….

— “Twenty bid! Twenty bid! No higher!” The trader, on the main floor of the Stock Exchange, was trying to buy Packard and sell GM – there were rumors of war, and Packard was better-suited to build engines….

— “I love you, Elaine. Will you marry me?” The young man at the top of the Empire State Building was on one knee in front of a pretty blonde; everyone standing around the two beamed….

Below them, horses clopped through Central Park; sausage-vendors plied their trade in Little Italy; people in the Hamptons were likely just finishing breakfast; the privilege of money….

None of them noticed the parachute. None of them noticed the device at 1,000 feet over the Hudson. Then, there was only light and heat.

In the center, there was no sound.

______________________________

12 May; 1964

Adolf Galland stood in the control center at the German space complex at Trauen. He was watching the telemonitors as Sanger’s latest creation, the German MoonShip (a cooperative venture between Messerschmitt, Blohm and Voss, and a dozen other contractors) began its descent.

Germany was now the master of half the world. Russia was now providing cheap labor and raw materials for the Reich. Europe was German. So was most of northern Africa, and east through Palestine and Persia. Italy was an ally; albeit somewhat reluctantly.

America had capitulated two days after the bomb fell on New York. Constant overflights by German spyplanes and satellites saw to it that any ill-advised attempt by the U.S. to rearm would be brought immediately to the Reichschancellor’s attention….

___________________________________

Down fifty meters; forward ten – I have a ground-contact light. Shutting down engines.” Major Wilhelm Heermann and Oberleutnant Walter Hewel – son of an early National Socialist diplomat – were the pilot and co-pilot of the first attempt to land on the moon. Aptly, they had named their craft the “Eagle”.

There was a pause. Transmissions had to come from a staggering distance. Even Galland held his breath.

The silence was cut by a carrier wave, and then Heermann’s voice. Tranquility Base here; the ‘Eagle’ has landed!”

A spontaneous cheer erupted. Germany had now conquered the moon itself.

Two hours later, as Galland, VonBraun – now the head of the Reich’s Rocket and Space Agency – and the others in the Trauen control center watched the telemonitors, Heermann opened the ‘Eagle’s hatch, stepped on to a deployed-ladder, and took five steps downward, finishing by placing one foot on the lunar surface. “We come in Aryan brotherhood!”, he said, to more cheers from the assembled team.

Galland grinned, ear to ear. The ‘Eagle’”, he thought. Not my ‘Eagle’ – but an Eagle, nonetheless.” Werner VonBraun slapped Galland on the back. “We wouldn’t be here without you, Herr Generalfeldmarschall”, said VonBraun, addressing Galland by his title. Galland had headed the German Luftwaffe since shortly after the end of the war; an iconic figure in the tradition of VonRichtofen.

That much was true. Galland had championed the use of his pilots; seconded to the new Reich Rocket Space Agency. As to the ‘Silbervogel’, it was retired – now a museum-piece and taking on an iconic aura of its own; an inspiration for the craft – now two generations removed – which now sat on the moon.

Almost unnoticed in the gallery was Werner Heisenberg. His mentor and friend, Eugen Sanger, had died three months before.

Not given to emotion, he didn’t cheer. He smiled instead.

You would be proud, Herr Doktor.”, he thought. I am.”

(Next – Epilogue)


silbervogel-landing-at-trauen

(‘Silbervogel’ – Landing at Trauen Airfield Complex)

Obersaltzburg

“Kommen!”

Goering entered Hitler’s study in the Kehlsteinhaus, or Eagle’s Nest – it had been presented to Hitler on his 50th birthday the year before in 1939; a present from the Party, instigated by Martin Bormann. Hitler didn’t use the place much, but when he did, it made the perfect retreat.

Goering could never figure out what Bormann did, outside of look important. But, he was one of the oldest Party members, and hence the person Hitler could point to and say, “Stick with me; I’ll stick with you!” It was the only reason. Unless, of course, Bormann had photos of the Fuhrer in compromising positions –

Hitler broke Goering’s reverie with some impatience. “Goering! Did you see this?” Hitler was beaming; holding up a copy of the Zeitung and tapping the third page with a forefinger.

The article was a small and rather obtuse feature; in it, there was news of a bright-red finned cylinder which had dropped from a plane by parachute, and popped confetti over the Manhattan Island shoreline. Local officials were trying to find out who had dropped it and what they were promoting, as there had been no permit issued, there hadn’t been a plane in the area and it wasn’t a holiday.

“Sanger was right, Goering! Drop confetti on the Americans and they’ll think it’s a prank! Meanwhile, we proved that we can drop a bomb on an American city with enough accuracy! Now, all we need is the BOMB!”

Goering smiled, uncomfortably. The study was a small room, and he never did well in confined spaces. So that was Sanger’s secret?, Goering thought. He actually tested the guidance system as well? Good! Good!

“Goering, I want some answers.”

“Yes, Mein Fuhrer. What may I do for you?”

“I want to know when we are to see the weapon we’ve been promised from the Trauen project. I want to know when Raeder is going to have enough submarines to blockade America and England. I want to know when Messerschmitt is going to be done with this new engine and the new aircraft. I want to know when Porsche is going to have these new tanks – what does he call them? Cats, I think – “Panthers and Tigers”; yes – I want to know when he’ll have them finished. And what of the new rifles? We’ve been promised a fully-automatic rifle from Mauser for over a year now.”

Such a list, thought Goering. Such a list.

Trauen

“The extraction process is complete, Herr Doktor. Between Hahn’s team and mine, we have completed the process of refining the denser explosive-metal – as you know, we are calling it ‘Plutonium’ – from the spent Uranium in the powerplant reactors. We now have enough for four weapons.”

Heisenberg continued his presentation to Sanger, Himmler, and Goering. “We will need to test two of the four in order to ensure that we can replicate the reaction. Then, we’ll take what we’ve learned and create the next two within the 3,600 kilogram payload specifications outlined in the Silbervogel project.”

Goering spoke first. “When will you be ready to test?”

“In about three months, Herr Reichsmarschall. June 15th, 1940 is our target.”

“Excellent!” Himmler, in his squeaky voice, chimed in. “Excellent! The Fuhrer will be pleased!” Himmler reminded Heisenberg of nothing so much as a weasel. Although weasels had a use in nature. Heisenberg was not so sure about Himmler.

Heisenberg continued. “There will be a need for absolute secrecy. We must test in international territory, somewhere so remote that there will be no knowledge of our presence. We’ve come up with three possible sites.”

Moving to the map-board, he continued. “Northern Greenland isn’t international, but it is accessible by U-Boat and no one would be the wiser. The Arctic is largely international, and is also accessible by submarine that time of year. The third possibility is to transport the weapon by submarine to China, and test it under Japanese auspices.”

“Number three is out, Herr Heisenberg.”, said Goering. “We will not share this technology with the Japanese.”

“We were already preparing feasibilities for Greenland. The northeastern peninsula of Christiaanland is unpopulated; no one would ever know we were there.”, said Heisenberg.

(‘Silbervogel’ — over Illinois; Great Lakes in background – after test-run to New York)
_____________________________

Goering spoke with finality. “Get what you need from Raeder; tell him it’s from me. You will have your U-Boat, your crew, and anything else you need to haul this thing to Greenland and set it off. The Fuhrer is waiting.” Standing, Goering signaled an end to the meeting.

Afterward, Sanger said, “That went well, Heisenberg. Now – can you do all this?”

“Yes, Herr Doktor. I can honestly say that without your focus and drive, I might not have done so.” Heisenberg was proud, as a boy would be after having proven he could multiply and divide. Sanger was happy; he’d been right, after all.

Heisenberg had just needed a nudge.

Kiel

“Final specifications?”

Herr Grosadmiral, the specifications are as follows.” The representative from Blohm and Voss Shipyards was clearly nervous; this project had been in the works since its initial design in 1937, and it was, again, Goering who’d championed it. They were all justifiably proud of the result – giving the design to the Japanese had proven a master-stroke.

“We have improved significantly on the original design with the help of the Japanese.”, he began. “The Japanese have experimented with alloys which, while expensive, will enable us to dive the submarine – designated Type XXI — to over 450 meters. Top speed submerged is a little over 22 knots in standard measure, with a top surface speed of a little under 18 knots.”

“Phenomenal!”, said Raeder. “Continue, please!”

“It is fitted with both radar and underwater-detection equipment. Passive weaponry include an array of noisemakers which may be jettisoned into the water to confuse surface ships, plus preloaded decoy materials – another idea of the Japanese – to make a surface-ship think they’ve sunk the submarine.”

Raeder smiled. The best solutions were the simplest.”, he thought. The speaker continued. “The Type XXI is fitted with six torpedo tubes and 24 torpedoes. We have modified our tubes to handle the Japanese ‘Long Lance’ wakeless torpedo.”

“When may we expect the first ones?”, Raeder said.

“In early 1942, Herr Grosadmiral.”

“Excellent! How many are on order?”

“One hundred and twenty five. We are building them pre-fabricated, in plants all over Germany. The components will be brought to our yards here in Kiel and in Hamburg, and assembled, tested, painted, fitted, and launched. The order should be filled completely by the end of 1942.”

“Again; excellent! Now, I have something to review with you.” Raeder rolled out one set of plans with another still in a storage-tube. “I need one of our large Type IX submarines re-fitted with this cylinder, like so.”, he pointed to a large cylindrical shape on the deck of plan-elevation. “The specifications are on the subsequent pages. I need this done by the end of May.”

The Blohm and Voss representative wondered why the navy’s highest-ranking officer was dispatched from Berlin to perform a task that a junior engineer would have assigned to a courier – but strange things were happening nowadays; there was talk over at the aviation wing of new engines, and planes that didn’t need propellers….

“And this – which is of greater importance.” Raeder had already given the first set of plans to the rep, and rolled out the second. “There will be a representative from the Special Branch of the Todt Organisation here next week. He will be giving you the actuals on this. However, they are designing a new powerplant for your new submarine. Diesels and batteries will be replaced by this powerplant.”

“Ah! The Walter plant?”, said the representative.

“No. Walter’s powerplant can provide excellent speed, but it is too dangerous. This one will allow you to drive your submarine to even higher speeds – and it won’t require refueling for over 100,000 nautical miles.”

The rep’s eyes widened. Raeder continued. “The Fiesler people also want a mount built here.” – Raeder pointed to the rear deck – “in place of the deck gun. It is to be built as shown; it will mount flush-to-the-deck and then may be raised and locked in place at any angle. Again, the elevations are shown in the drawings; the details are below.”

“Fiesler! Do they want to launch V-1’s from the deck?” The Blohm and Voss rep’s mouth was now open.

Raeder smiled, and addressed him as he would an errant schoolboy. “It is best not to ask too many questions. Just get these to your superiors. Have them call me directly with any questions of their own.” He all but patted the young man on his head. “Thank you for your time. Now, I must go.”

Raeder turned, and left a very puzzled but motivated man behind.

Trauen

Summer was nearly upon them. Again, the maples and birches were in full leaf; the field-grasses in the distance were turning brown; if it were a hayfield, the farmers would be thinking already about the harvest.

Instead, Heisenberg was thinking about the test.

The math was right. They’d solved the main problem – how to create a reaction – and again, the simplest ideas were the best. It just required timing.

They’d created a small analog device to trigger high-explosives in a precise order. These explosives were placed around the inside of the front-dome of the bomb. In front of the explosives was the plutonium core.

If what they’d created really worked – and they’d tested it on a non-reactive target – the resulting shockwave would be ‘focused’ on the plutonium core, causing neutrons to spin off their nuclear ‘orbit’, and collide with other nuclei.

The result would be the spontaneous release of the energy within matter itself – a ‘chained-reaction’ as he called it – which would, within a fraction of a second, release all the energy within the plutonium at once.

The resulting explosion and destructive force would be staggering. They’d estimated it around ten thousand metric tons of conventional explosive.

He could only guess at the damage something like that could do. Level a city? Part of a city? Destroy a whole army? Without one German life lost? It was worth it.

“Herr Heisenberg?”

“Ja.” Heisenberg didn’t even look up. He was involved in more administrative work; things were so secret that a lot of the product ordering – especially for the bomb – was left to the physicists themselves, and this was no exception.

“The Blohm and Voss people are here for you.” Heisenberg’s aide was quiet and intense; respectful and invisible, at least most of the time.

“Ah! Send them in!” Seated; Heisenberg got to the point – something he was learning from Sanger. “What brings you here?”

“We have the design-specifications for the cylinder which was requested through Admiral Raeder’s office.”, said one of the engineers. “We’d like to review it with you.”

A half-hour went by; excruciating details, but they boiled down to this: The cylinder would work; it would store the bomb; it would be waterproof; it would resist pressures up to 1,000 meters if necessary, and it was lead-lined against any escaping radiation. That was all he wanted to know.

That, and the fact that it was ready. It was time to go to Greenland.

Christiaanland

The temperature was anything but warm. Plus it was nearly midnight, and although low on the horizon, the sun was still up – something he’d’ve thought impossible otherwise, even in early June. While everyone was pleased that they’d beaten their test-date by two weeks, the seasickness Heisenberg endured on the way up to Greenland was torture, as well as the conditions. How on earth the submariners tolerated sleeping with each other’s presence so close-by was beyond him. It was like being a caged animal.

The deck was welcome relief from the stifling confines, even if the temperature was still hovering around four degrees.

The inflatable floatation-system created a ‘raft’ around the cylinder – a crane which had been shipped flat on the U-124 had been erected; the captain, a man named Mohr, had done his best to accommodate an unusual but critical assignment.

“I don’t know what you’re up to – but Admiral Raeder himself told me that this was of the utmost importance. Skipping Admiral Doenitz was a breach of protocol – but I suppose rank has its privileges, eh?” Kapitanleutnant Johann Mohr was on the bridge with Heisenberg. Heisenberg vaguely heard the jovial and high-energy Mohr speaking. He was watching the progress.

He’d brought several technicians with him; there was no need to go ashore, and he hadn’t planned on it.

The cylinder slid off the deck in its inflated collar with a resounding splash. Sailors in inflatable dinghies lashed onto the collar and started small outboard motors. Pulling the cylinder, even in sheltered seas, would have been problematic, but in the stiff breeze there was a worry that it might just sink.

After ten excruciating minutes, they had the raft on the sand. Hitting the quick-release valves on the collar, they guaranteed that the cylinder – along with its cargo – would go nowhere again. Heisenberg’s technicians fitted the receiver and antenna to the cylinder, and then headed back to U-124.

All men safely aboard and with U-124 standing out to sea, Heisenberg thought that the cylinder looked like nothing so much as an egg-in-a-nest.

An eagle’s nest.”, he said to himself.

Wass?”, Mohr said.

“Oh, nothing.”, said Heisenberg. “Just passing time.”

At a distance of 18 kilometers, Mohr ordered U-124 to kill her engines and come to a dead-stop. “All right, Herr Doktor; it’s all yours.”, Mohr said. “I’m going below.”

Heisenberg asked for the detonation switch. The switch was connected to an FM transmitter which would send a signal to the cylinder. The second officer, who remained on the bridge, said, “Now, remember – the moment I say ‘go’, you get down that hatch. I’m right after you.”

Heisenberg pointed to the man’s sunglasses in his watch-coat pocket. The second officer of U-124 donned his sunglasses along with Heisenberg.

Heisenberg then flipped a switch to activate the circuit, lifted a switch-cover, and pressed the button under it.

A moment later, the horizon began growing brighter in the twilight. This continued until a large ball of light illuminated the submarine; the ocean – everything around them.

It was as if the sun had risen out of the ground. Heisenberg was mesmerized.

The second-officer had better training. He leaned over the round hatch opening and screamed, “ALARM!”

Klaxons hooted. Heisenberg could hear the air rushing out of vents under the deck; he felt the electric motors start. His reverie broken, he dropped through the hatch, followed quickly by the second-officer.

Pushed rather rudely aside by a passing sailor, Heisenberg remained there in the conning tower. A moment later, he was shoved aside again, this time by the shock wave traveling through the water. This was why the captain insisted on diving as soon as the device was detonated.

The prevailing winds were north and east. U-124 traveled south for half a day, then surfaced. Heisenberg handed the radio operator a message.

“Exactly as it is written. Send nothing else.”, Heisenberg said.

Puzzled, the radio operator tapped out the message in Morse:

“German explorer has reached the New World.”


(Next — Aquila in Mare Tranquillitatis)


sanger-bomber-during-launch

(‘Silbervogel’ – at launch)

Trauen

“It was a good idea to locate here, Herr Doktor. There are never any tourists in Trauen.” Heisenberg reveled in the late-summer/early-fall weather; the peaceful sound of a light breeze in the trees – he’s managed to tune-out the sound of the cranes and other equipment during the ramp’s construction – so when the ramp was completed and the painters came to do their work, the silence was deafening at first.

Then, the engine-testing began. Several of them exploded – until they realized that regulating the combustion-chamber pressure was a necessity; it took VonBraun to figure that out, and when he did, the engines exceeded their thrust-goals.

The large building which housed the Bird itself was guarded day and night – as were every road for ten miles around. Buying out the local farmers had cost a fortune – but the Party had done so, to guarantee absolute secrecy. While engine tests were still being performed, what had really made it possible to get this far, this fast, was the fact that the nation was not at war.

He’d heard that Herr Hitler had contemplated invading France and Poland by late 1939 – and that he’d been talked out of it by Goering and others until the new generation of weapons were ready. He didn’t know much about such things, and like VonBraun, didn’t really want to know.

He was happy to have produced the powerplants which saw to it that the nation never paid a power-bill. He was still working on the bomb – and with Hahn at his side, it was closer to completion than he’d dreamed.

Yes, the Fatherland would be safe once he was done –

Interrupting his thoughts, Sanger said, “I’ll need your progress report by Tuesday, Heisenberg. The Fuhrer is insisting that we all stay on task.”

Ja, Herr Doktor.”, replied Heisenberg. “I will have it for you. Hahn and I have determined that it will take only this much” – he held two palms together, in a shape that roughly equated to a mango – “to make a bomb.”

“Good. Very good.”, replied Sanger. “I don’t know about these things. You do. My job is to manage both projects, as well as to provide my design and input on the Bird. How is the separation process coming?”

“We have determined that the best way is to collect Plutonium chemically from the graphite control rods of the powerplant reactors, Herr Doktor. As only small amounts are created, we have teams harvesting the powerplants on a weekly basis.”

“Security?”

“The plant workers have been told we are simply changing the rods. Some have grumbled that we’re overmaintaining them, but that’s a minor thing. We just tell them to mind their own business.”

“Excellent!”, said Sanger, with a rare laugh. “Now – I want you to see something.”

They had been walking toward one of the buses which shuttled personnel to various parts of the by-now-huge Trauen complex. Heisenberg noticed that there were several important looking people on the bus. Boarding, he and Sanger were introduced by one of their innumerable aides, and given a seat.

They traveled the stretch between the research and administration facilities and the beginning of the rail-complex without words. When they reached the rail complex, Heisenberg noted that there was already a crowd gathered in the reviewing area about a half-kilometer away.

On the rail, steam coming from the supercooled fuel in the booster and the plane, sat the Silbervogel.

__________________________________________

Washington

“I don’t like it, Mr. President – not one damn bit!” Admiral King and Secretary of War Knox were in the Oval Office with Cordell Hull and President Lindbergh. They were poring over a map, drawn from memory, from a defected junior German SS officer.

“This fellow says that the Germans have built this contraption – it looks like a rollercoaster-to-nowhere – and the only thing he was able to learn about the project was one word – ‘Adler’- that’s German, for “Eagle”.

Hull continued. “This fellow is convinced that Hitler is going to start a damn war. He’s seen with his own eyes airplanes with no propellers that fly at incredible speeds. No, Mr. President, I don’t like it – not one little damn bit.”

Lindbergh sat behind his desk with fingers tented in front of him. After a moment, he spoke.

“Secretary Hull – how do you know this fellow didn’t concoct this story to get a free trip to America?”

Hull sighed. “Well, I don’t, Mr. President. But why would he say this if it weren’t true?”

“To get his name in the papers.”, Lindbergh said. “Until I have more proof, I’m not doing anything. Look,” he said, pointing to the front page of the Washington Post, which he held up for all to see. “Economists Fear Recession”, read the headlines. Lindbergh flipped to page five. “Germany Launches Von Richtofen – Largest Carrier Afloat” – in 16pt. type on page five, it didn’t appear ominous at all.

“If the Post isn’t worried, I’m not. I think they’ve got their priorities straight.”, Lindbergh said, putting the paper down.

“I’ve seen that ship on Swedish newsreels at their embassy here, Mr. President.”, said Secertary Knox. “Did you know that it’s built on the Japanese Shinano-class hull? The Nips and the Krauts have been trading plans for nearly ten years. It was the Krauts who convinced the Nips to drop their plans to build battleships. They converted this hull shape to a carrier. They’ve got six building in Kure and Sasebo now, and the Krauts have four more building in Hamburg and Kiel. And, if they get some of these — ‘propellerless aircraft’ on them, who knows what they could do!”

“And what do you propose we do about it, when the average American doesn’t care what happens in Japan or Germany – and is more concerned about next week’s rent?”

“Pray.”, said Knox. “It’s almost too late to do anything else.”

Admiral King’s face grew red. He knew this better than anyone. The Essex class aircraft carriers wouldn’t be ready for anything other than testing until perhaps 1943 or ’44 – and the new aircraft from Grumman and Lockheed, while good designs, weren’t the class of aircraft the Germans had designed. The main battle-line of the American navy was based on second-generation dreadnaughts – huge battleships with cage-tower masts and guns which could fire a shell twenty miles.

One of these aircraft had a range of five hundred miles – and who knew if the Leutnant from Trauen, Germany was telling the truth – and what this contraption was for.

____________________________________

Trauen

Sanger and Heisenberg walked to the podium together, as the two heads of the respective projects. Sanger was the speechmaker; he spoke briefly about serving the Fatherland; a new era; the usual. They walked to their places, and sat.

Walking to the Silverbird from the ready-shack was a man whose photo had appeared in many magazines and newspapers; Hauptmann Adolf Galland, hero of the Spanish Civil War and a bit of a rogue. Heisenberg thought him a show-off; Sanger thought he was perfect.

Waving to the crowd, Galland climbed the ladder to the cockpit; was helped into the single seat and strapped in. Sanger turned to Heisenberg, and said “We had the devil’s own time producing a pressure-suit. It was necessary in the event the cabin-pressure failed. I’m hoping that Hauptmann Galland doesn’t find it too uncomfortable. I borrowed a page from your ‘book’, Heisenberg – there’s a recirculating pump in the cockpit that’s hooked up to the suit – he should stay nice and cool.”

Heisenberg nodded. He was anxious to see the Bird fly.

So was everyone. Tests, retests, checks, rechecks – then the technicians began walking away. A klaxon sounded. Sanger nudged Heisenberg; they both put on sunglasses.

A loudspeaker droned a sonorous countdown – “…drei; zwei; ein….”

A brilliant flash – and the massed-thunder of the six engines in the booster split the very sky in front of them in a shock wave which was felt through the feet of every spectator. Involuntarily, Heisenberg put his hands over his ears, as the sound got louder, seeming to shake the very ground under them.

Restraints fell away from the rail, and the Silbervogel began to move – slowly at first, then exponentially faster. Suddenly, it was out of immediate sight, moving down the rail at a frightening rate of speed.

Galland, in the cockpit, used his radiomicrophone to read the gauges. “250; 300; 400” – he read the speed in kilometers per hour – “I’m off! Airborne!” The audience saw the Bird, now almost vertical, being chased by six yellow-orange flames and a massive shockwave.

Then, it appeared that the craft exploded. The crowd gasped – then realized that the craft hadn’t exploded – it has simply created a massive shockwave due to its speed.

The audience had witnessed the crossing of the sound barrier.

In unimpeded vertical flight, the Silbervogel attained an altitude of a little under eight kilometers, at which point the booster flamed out and was automatically jettisoned. The Silbervogel’s main engines automatically engaged, driving the craft higher.

At this point, its velocity was enough to take it to the stratosphere.

The main engines were disengaged at twenty kilometers, just as Galland nosed the Bird over. His speed could only be estimated at this point; there were ships in the Atlantic which were listening for his radio-beacon overhead; the data collected could be analyzed later for speed.

Silence. Above him, Galland saw blackness. Below, he saw the curvature of the earth. The feeling was much like falling; perpetually – in retrospect, Galland was glad he’d only had coffee to drink that morning. “Surfing” the shockwave created by such speed was still unreal – he had taken a pencil from his flight-suit and let it drop; watching it drift slowly down meant that the craft was nearly weightless due to the combination of speed, forward motion, and gravity.

Just think; if we get those in perfect balance, we can stay up here indefinitely. But how would one get back down again?”, Galland thought to himself. He checked his instruments again; simple and elegant, there was an analog calculation device which gave him longitude and latitude – something which couldn’t be done in a conventional aircraft due to cloud-cover. This gave him all the information he’d need, along with the two chronometers, to perform the second part of his mission.

He’d been watching the “is/was” (as he called it), plus the two chronometers on his panel; soon, he’d have to nose the craft downward over the western Atlantic, and begin his mock ‘run’.

The test which Sanger had devised was simple. Strange; almost laughable, but simple.

Both the primary chronometer and the analog calculator reached the predetermined points at the same time – this meant that the engine thrust-yield was spot-on; another confirmation which he could give Herr Sanger.

Galland nosed the Silbervogel over into a shallow dive. Denser air stabilized the craft, and made the second phase of his mission easier.

He pressed a button on the panel, and heard the motors behind him whine as the bay-doors opened inward (at that speed, anything which opened outward would have been immediately torn away). He checked the secondary chronometer, which gave him the exact drop-point. He watched intently as the two instruments, chronometer and calculator, reached the same point – the drop was automatic at that point; the only thing he had to do was maintain the proper altitude.

About 50 kilometers off the American coast, a bomb-shaped canister dropped from the weapons-bay of the Silbervogel. This triggered an autoswitch which immediately closed the bay doors.

Galland nosed the craft up, and fired the engines.

The impact slammed him into his seat, and took him skyward again to complete the rest of his journey. “What do the Americans say?”, he thought. “Piece of cake? Ja. Piece of cake.” He settled in for the journey home – which wouldn’t take long.

__________________________________

(Silbervogel – after booster jettison)

__________________________________

Sanger turned to Heisenberg. “Now, we wait.”

“How long, Herr Doktor?”, said Heisenberg.

“A little over an hour and a half.”, said Sanger. The crowd was already getting leaving the bleachers; there was a tour of the facility planned while the test-flight was in process.

Heisenberg was bored during the tour – there were people from the Luftwaffe and the Todt Organisation taking alternate turns telling those-present how this was a great day for the Fatherland; a great victory for German technology. While Heisenberg had not expected Chancellor Hitler to attend, in retrospect, he understood why Hitler would not have missed this one for anything.

An hour come-and-gone, they assembled back at a different set of bleachers, a couple of kilometers away. Nervously, a lot of the assembled multitude smoked cigarettes and gossiped among themselves. Suddenly, several ‘clicks’ on the ever-present loudspeakers, and the voice of Adolf Galland was clearly heard, along with two of the control-room personnel.

Silbervogel, preparing to land. I have visual.”, said Galland, although his voice sounded like it was squeezed through the ether, much like listening to a shortwave radio.

“We have you on radar, Silbervogel.” Some additional directions were stated in the form of mathematics – Heisenberg understood the principles of navigation, but not the language – and then, just as suddenly, he noticed a small silver speck, impossibly high; if it were a normal aircraft, it would be below any possible horizon.

Gradually, the speck grew larger; took on form and detail; moved a bit in the air; changed attitude, and began a descent-in-earnest.

The field in front of them was newly-paved concrete; clearly demarked and now lighted, even though it was not 2:00PM. Its wings and tail extended, the Silbervogel now nosed up; then deployed its landing-gear.

Touching down on the field, the bird streaked down the runway, its national markings on tail and wings now clearly visible. It stopped right in front of the bleachers.

Trucks and technicians sprang seemingly from nowhere; producing a ladder and opening the cockpit door, the techs helped a slightly-stiff Hauptmann Galland from his seat to the tumultuous cheers of the spectators, including Chancellor Hitler and his entourage.

Adolf Galland had circumnavigated the earth in less than two hours.
“Now, it is up to me.”, said Heisenberg, under his breath.

“What was that, Heisenberg?”, said Sanger.

“Oh, nothing, Herr Doktor. I have much to do.”

Much to do indeed, thought Heisenberg.



(Next – Eagle’s Nest – Part V)


sanger-rail-detail11

(Silbervogel plan and elevation detail – rail assembly with booster)

Trauen

“Dr. Sanger?”

Ja,” replied Sanger, suddenly distracted from a mountain of material on his too-small desk.

“I am the man you sent for.”

“Ah! VonBraun! Thank you for coming!” Sanger stood up, almost explosively – he’d always been accused of doing everything full-out, and greeting a collegue was never an exception. “Sit! Sit! How was your journey?”

“The SS insisted on the uniform–” – he held both hands out at his sides as if to show off – “and the rank is permanent, believe it or not, as I’m assigned to Himmler’s own project. I traveled via a private train here to Trauen. I didn’t even think they had rail service here.”

“They didn’t. Not until a year ago,” said Sanger. Kaffe?”

Ja, Herr Doktor.” Sanger summoned an aide and requested a coffee-service.

“Now – to the point.” Sanger stood, and walked to the big board where the plans for his Silverbird were on the wall. “You’ll notice that what we’re doing requires a rocket-booster, plus a massive engine inside the craft itself. The booster will drop away once the plane reaches 8 kilometers at 1,800 kilometers per hour. At this point, the main engines will fire, pushing the plane into the upper stratosphere at around 13,000 kilometers per hour.”

VonBraun looked astounded. “How do you propose to keep the fuel from boiling in the wings?”

“We don’t,” replied Sanger. “We will store the fuel in the body of the aircraft. The wings will be for secondary lift only. One of my associates – you’ve met Heisenberg; he’s not even in aeronautics; he’s a physicist, but he came up with this – suggested that we use the fuel as a coolant. Circulated in the top and sides, at the altitude we’ll eventually reach – about 250 kilometers – we’ll cool the fuel and use it to cool the engine.”

“Brilliant. And simple. Go back to that comment ‘secondary lift’. Do you mean to tell me that the wings don’t lift the plane?”

“Exactly. Note the design of the body itself. The plane’s body will create its own lift. It can’t fly to the altitude we’ll need under it’s own power; hence the booster. As to the wings, they’re used in the descent phase, to provide additional lift at slower speed. I’d originally designed the craft experimenting with swept-wings and straight-wings, but neither will stand up to the speeds we’ll need. I’ve developed a collapsing wing–” he pointed to the drawing – “the wing is a simple delta-wing, which will collapse in upon itself. This will be the launch position. On descent, the wings will be extended, helping slow the plane and allow for a gradual descent.”

Sanger continued, “It’s the same for the tail section. Here, it’s retracted for launch, providing minimal control. On descent, it can be telescopically extended, enabling full rudder control for landing.”

“Under power?”, said VonBraun. His interest was clearly piqued.

“No, there’ll be no need. We might need to fire the engines once or twice during the descent, but there’ll be plenty of fuel if my calculations are correct. No, the Silverbird will land, quiet as a ghost.”

“What about distance?”, said VonBraun.

“This plane will fly around the earth.”, replied Sanger, matter-of-factly. “Using the principle of ‘compression-lift’ – that is to say, surfing our own shock-wave at speed, and using the body of the aircraft to create it – we can literally ‘skip’ the upper atmosphere, deliver a 3,600 kilogram payload anywhere on earth, and gradually descend back to the launch point.”

“Incredible!”, said VonBraun. “You know, my whole life I’ve dreamed of helping create something like this.”

“That’s why I sent for you. Here, you’ll have a friendly sponsor – Herr Goering loves aircraft.”

“Right now,” said VonBraun, “I’m struggling for funding. Herr Hitler believes, but Herr Himmler does not. What about funding?”

“You are to the point!”, laughed Sanger. “We have all the funding we need. I had a personal audience with both Herr Hitler and Herr Goering; they’ve pledged me whatever I need to complete this project. Did you notice the construction crews out there?”

Ja, Herr Doktor, I did”, said VonBraun. He’d ignored, or failed to mention, the men in the striped-suits; prison labor from the camps which people discussed in hushed voices. “What is that you’re building?”

“This,” said Sanger, pushing the mounted drawing on its track to reveal the elevation-drawing of the rail-system. “This is how we’re going to launch the Silverbird We finished the retrieval airstrip first.”

VonBraun took a deep breath. “Brilliant, again, Herr Doktor. But how will you hide all this?”

We won’t.”, said Sanger. “If I’m right, we won’t ever have to.”

_________________________________________

Berlin

Fall had given way to winter – while construction was dormant, Sanger and the team had worked insane hours to perfect the design of the Silverbird. The math was sound; final wind tunnel tests had been completed, and full-scale construction of the booster and main engines had proceeded.

Winter gave way to spring, and the construction crews resumed digging, mixing, and pouring concrete. The construction of the large pylons and supports were daunting tasks – custom made cranes on large coffers were constructed, used, disassembled, and moved. Day by day, the project inched along – with the goal of late-summer always in mind.

“And how are our Eagles, Goering?” Hitler had taken to referring to Sanger’s team as ‘the Eagles’, and the name had stuck; it was the codename that the SS, the Gestapo, and the upper levels of government all used for the project in Trauen.

“The Eagles are on task and on schedule, Mein Fuhrer.”, said Goering. “They will finish the ramp by fall; the engines are being built now. They’ve requested a custom alloy for the frame and body of the craft which will be expensive to make, but we have the electricity to do so, and the raw materials. Sanger’s request for VonBraun and several of his team was a masterstroke, Mein Fuhrer – the engines are well ahead of schedule.”

“Good. Very good.”, replied Hitler. “That is an excellent team they’ve assembled. When will we be able to witness a test?”

“They are testing the engines early next year.”

“That long?”, Hitler replied, suddenly frosty. “It’s already 1939. The expansion of Greater Germany will not wait!” – his voice suddenly rising. “Raeder was in here yesterday! He was asking for more of those Japanese torpedoes, and more money for a project by some fellow named Walter. Goering, is all of this really necessary?”

Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering’s face grew red. “I am convinced that if we do not possess overwhelming force, with weapons that are well-ahead of those of the western democracies, we will ultimately fail. Besides –” – he paused for effect – “Walter’s people licensed the design to the Japanese two years ago. They’ve tested it, found the flaws, and improved on things as we knew they would. We can begin production of an entire new class of U-Boat in less than six months.”

There was a long and dread silence in the room. Hitler had been convinced of all this back in ’36, which was why he’d agreed not to press either the Czech or Polish question, and to leave the question of Aryanizing Europe off the table – his generals wouldn’t permit it, and he could see their point. It was frustrating in the extreme—

“Yes.”, said Hitler, tersely. “I’ve heard it before. Meantime, National Socialism advances slowly.”

“Yes.”, replied Goering. “But inexorably, and without defeat.”

__________________________________

Washington

Cordell Hull looked exhausted. The fall of 1939 had revealed that the Japanese were not only in Manchuria to stay, but their I-class submarines had been disappearing from ports, being replaced by two license-built designs from Germany. In Japanese, they were called “Sen Taka” – or fast-attack submarines. In English, they’d not been named – but they were causing havoc amongst America’s allies.

“I’m told, Mr. President, that our own destroyers can’t find these boats.”

“And how in hell do you know that, Cordell?” Lindbergh was equally tired of late, but his exhaustion was based on a fragile economy which was a full ten years in recovery from the worst economic catastrophe since 1879.

Hull, his Secretary of State, continued. “Because the British can’t find them, and their detection-gear is better than ours.”

More fond of aviation – his opponent in the ’36 election, Roosevelt, was more comfortable on water – he still supported the construction of aircraft carriers over submarines. “Hull, I really don’t care. Submarines won’t decide any war – if we have one – carriers will.”

“We have six, Mr. President, and they’re expensive to build and maintain.”

“Yes – I know–”, Lindbergh said, trailing off the last word and settling back in his chair.

Charles Lindbergh, the Republican nominee for President, had the looks, charm, and voice to convince the American people that Roosevelt had seen his day. Two terms were enough, he’d said – “It’s time to take America to new heights!” Invoking his legendary aviator past wasn’t hard – -the country still loved Lucky Lindy.

His victory, albeit by a hairline majority, had stunned nearly everyone. In fact, he hadn’t pulled even in the polls until October, and it was a stroke of genius – a self-promoted, self-piloted whistle-stop campaign to every major American city in thirty days in his Lockheed Electra, “America”, which had convinced enough of the American public to vote Republican in the ’36 election.

That was three years and a lifetime ago. He was under some pressure, to be sure, from ‘hawks’ in the Congress and Senate to rearm – but the funding simply wasn’t there. He couldn’t economically disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Americans by putting the nation in debt to buy aircraft carriers.

Besides, he believed Herr Hitler.

His last meeting with the National Socialist leader in Berlin had convinced him that Hitler was not only the soul of charm and grace, but vision. Hitler had shown him the plans he’d made for the new capitol, Germania – a celebration, Hitler had told him, of their common Aryan heritage. Hitler’s Germany was thriving. In fact, Lindbergh came away nothing if not a little jealous.

Time Magazine had named Hitler “Man of the Year” in 1938. He’d built the world’s most modern highway; had electrified every region of Germany, no matter how remote, with electricity which was too cheap to meter – so it was given away on a Party subsidy.

Unemployment in Germany was an enviable 3%. The currency was stable. They had a social-welfare system which was better than that of the United States.

It almost made Lindbergh wish there wasn’t a Constitution.

Hull broke his reverie. “Mr. President – Knox has suggested that we purchase the new British detection gear and refit our destroyers.”

“Knox would say that.”, said Lindbergh. “Any other requests? I’ll just go outside and plant money trees in the rose garden.”

Hull laughed. “No, Mr. President – but half of our fighters are still biplanes. There’s word from the British that both the Japanese and Germans are working on new aircraft-propulsion systems.”

“Where do they get this stuff?”, said Lindbergh, growing impatient. “I’m not interested in Herr Hitler’s military. He’s assured me, and I believe him, that he means us no harm.”

“Mr. President, I have no idea about Herr Hitler. I can only speak for my meetings with his Foreign Minister, Herr Ribbentrop – and he’s a snake in the grass.” Hull continued, “And I’ve got it on good authority from the Swedes that Hitler’s police are sweeping up every dissenter in Germany and sending them to labor camps.”

“Enough!”, said Lindbergh. “I’m not concerned about a few malcontents several thousand miles away. I’m concerned about this nation’s economy, and our ability to continue the recovery. We’re safe behind our borders. That’s good enough for me.”

Lindbergh stood. As with his counterpart an ocean away, this was a signal – a clear one – that the meeting was over.


(Next — Flight of the Eagle)