Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 13

Chapter Five

No, I have no right to rank with the great captains, for I have never commanded a retreat.

–Moltke the Elder.

Over and on the Mar Furioso, North of Santa Josefina

At about fifty miles out, the package split into three, two of six Finches, each, and one, much more spread out, consisting of the six Gabriels.  One package of Finches circled out to sea, enveloping the Zhong destroyers.  The other did the same thing, but veered toward the land.  The Gabriels just spread out and, like the others, kept their height over the water to about twenty to twenty-five feet.  The solitary command bird, Number 72, began circling higher and then a bit higher, until he had not only a clear view of the Zhong, but could see perhaps twelve miles past them.  He was well out of range of anything expected to be on the old Federated States giveaways. 

The legate in charge, Cortez, gave the command, “Finches, start bobbing.”

Those aircraft duly began raising themselves off the clutter of the ocean surface, enough to give the Zhong both radar and visual acquisition.  They’d raise and then dive, raise and dive.  In his very large spotting scope, Cortez could actually see the Zhong rapidly traversing their twin five inch mounts, as well as the lighter forty and twenty millimeter air defense guns.  The ships, themselves, also began to maneuver, or at least to zig-zag.  Cortez understood that this was mostly to avoid being an easy target.

This is beginning to feel like killing puppies, Cortez thought.  Oh well, mine not to reason why…

Beepbeepbeep… “Gabriel Six, Strike Six,” Cortez sent over the radio.”

Beepbeepbeep.  “Gabriel.”

Beepbeepbeep, “You are cleared to have one of your planes launch one sea skimming missile, azimuth zero-one-seven.”

Beepbeepbeep, “Roger, one Shiva, zero-one-seven.”

Beepbeepbeep, “You are cleared to have a second of your planes launch one sea skimming missile, approximate azimuth zero-one-four.”

Beepbeepbeep, “Roger, one Shiva, zero-one-four.”

“Finches, begin to close in from the sides.  Don’t be an easy target but keep their eyes on you.”

There was a brief chorus of “rogers.” 

As the Finches began to veer in, Cortez saw first one, then another, Gabriel rise to launch and release a streak of flame from under its belly.

Yeah, drowning puppies.

Zhong Destroyer Changsha

The guns had long since been cleared to fire.  The ship rattled and roared, spitting out defiance.  It was a waste of ammunition, especially since the enemy aircraft were still out of range of the forties and twenties, but, What the hell, it’s not like we’re going to have any use for ammunition in a short time.

Only the five inch guns in the three twin mounts could even range, and they were too slow to react to the attackers’ flickering in and out of view.

CIC, Liu thought, was completely confused, watching brief targets appear and then disappear only to reappear somewhere else all too quickly.

“Let’s make this easy,” Liu said.  “Baby steps now; how many are there?”

“We don’t know, sir,” answered CIC.  “More than a dozen.  And…oh, shit!”

“What?” Liu demanded.

“We’ve got two somethings coming in low.  Too fast, oh, way too fast to be one of those converted crop dusters…speed says…Shiva Class anti-shipping missile.  The southern one is a good deal closer than the northern.”

Liu felt his heart begin to pound and his blood pressure to rise.

“Shiva…Shiva?” he asked aloud of no one in particular.  “I wonder what guidance package they have, radar or image contrast or infrared or what?   Sea skimmer, though, which is some ways simplifies our problem.”

We might be able to take them down if we mass the air defense.

“Bring her to heading three-five-five.  Signal to Chengdu, cease fire, line astern, follow us, all guns that can bear to face west, oriented to engage the southern one.  Fire at my command.”

They didn’t have long to wait.  Looking through his binoculars, Liu caught sight of the first missile, heading unerringly for Chengdu, trailing behind.  He gave orders, and both ships spat out the combined fire of twelve five-inch guns, twenty forty millimeter guns, and a good sixteen twenty millimeters light cannon.

Whatever the failings of the old destroyers, the crews were about as well trained as could be expected.  In front of that missile all that firepower was concentrated.  Most was, of course, wasted.  Indeed, almost all of it was wasted.

Yet, still, the magic BB worked.  At a height of perhaps ten feet, the missile flew into either a shell or a large fragment from the explosion of a shell.  Whatever it was, it ripped the guts out of the guidance package even as it set off the fuse which, in turn, detonated the missile amidst a great flash, a tremendous roar, and a large and growing cloud of black smoke.

The crews of both vessels cheered lustily, barring only one twenty millimeter crew that, sprayed by the fragments of the missile, screamed and bled.

And then the second missile came into view, too close and too fast for the air defense to reorient.  Liu started to give an order to do just that, but then realized that, in the first place, they were no dummies and were already trying, while, in the second, they were not going to succeed.  The few shells gotten off by the defenders didn’t change this.

His own ship shuddered as the missile hit and penetrated the nearly unarmored hull, about two thirds of the way back from bow to stern, right under the Number Three mount.  There was a time interval between that penetration and detonation, an interval measurable only by those to whom time is about to have little or no meaning.  And then the ship was gutted from the inside. 

The ready ammunition for Number Three went up with the missile.  Between the two, they were enough to launch the torn mount, along with a goodly chunk of the deck and a badly deformed portion of the crew, upward over one hundred feet.  Still others of the crew had legs and ankles broken by the sudden thrust upward of whichever deck they stood upon.  Some had feet too badly smashed to walk upon, which left them crawling, and that far too slowly to escape the almost inevitable fire.  At the same time, the blast of just slightly under five hundred pounds of high explosive, shattered the bulkheads and made tears in the hull of that section, next to the welding of the seams of the hull.  In some places the old welding, itself, was brittle and gave way.  It was close enough to the fuel tanks to tear those, releasing flammables.  Most of this was not readily set off by the explosion, being a lot closer to tar than oil.  However, the explosion was enough to set off all the ammunition, that hadn’t gone skyward with the five inch mount, plus the not especially modest amount of gasoline carried for things like the ship’s boats.  And then there was the so far unexpended fuel of the Shiva.

Water poured in through rips in the welding of the hull.  Of itself, at this point, it wasn’t enough to sink the ship any time soon. It did, however, have the effect of lifting the bunker fuel into the ship’s insulation, which had further effect of turning the insulation into a very large wick.

When bunker oil, again, not so easy to torch off on its own, gets wicked up by insulation, and then a gasoline or other fuel fire touches it….phoomph!

Fortunately the screaming didn’t last long.