OK, here’s the end of the story. I dunno if or when I get the urge to write more fiction like this, but if I do, I’ll be glad to share it here as well as over on the Naval Fiction board.
Thanks to everyone who commented — even the detractors.
Tormolen raced to the window, shouting. “I need more info than that, dammit! How many, range, and bearing!”
“Three of them, coming in from starboard!”
Tormolen yanked the binoculars away from the young seaman and looked for himself. Yes, three wakes were boiling through the sea, towards the Manchester. He lowered the binoculars and did some rough calculations.
The rightmost one would pass astern, with no problem. A clean miss. The middle one would be close – it might miss, it might clip the stern. A slight increase in speed should guarantee the ship’s safety. And the third one would be a tight squeeze, but if the Manchester turned into the torpedoes just a little, it would pass by the bow.
“Helm, increase speed to 30 knots and come right 20 degrees!”
He felt the ship’s turbines spool up under the increased load. He was amazed he could feel such a subtle thing while the guns continued their firing, but he could. He’d heard that the best captains were so in tune with their ships that they could pick up on such subtle things, but he’d never believed it before. Now he felt a tiny thrill of pride.
And then a horrifying thought struck him. He looked again at the leftmost torpedo, carefully measuring its course. Then he turned and projected it in his mind, past the Manchester’s bow. As he had figured, it would miss his ship.
And catch the South Dakota – still helpless and dark – smack dab amidships.
There was no hesitation in his next order. “Helm, belay that steering order! Come five degrees to port. And warn all hands to stand by for a torpedo from starboard.”
Off in the distance, Tormolen could see see a third Japanese ship explode. Someone – he hoped it was the Manchester – had just gotten lucky again.
He heard the Manchester’s guns continue to bark, pouring sixteen shells every few seconds off into the night to wreak havoc upon the Japanese. He drew his eyes back to that third torpedo as it bore down on his ship.
He thought about turning into the fish, trying to catch it as far forward as he could, to maximize the Manchester’s chances of surviving. But he remembered Captain Stark trying a similar maneuver at Midway to save the Yorktown. Somehow the torpedo had gone beneath the ship’s bow and gone on to fatally wound the carrier.
No, he wouldn’t take that chance. There was no way the South Dakota could dodge or stop the torpedo, so it was up to the Manchester to save the big battleship she had been charged to protect.
His own words came back to echo through his mind. “You have to eat the fish.”
The torpedo streaked in, closer and closer. It looked like it was going to catch the Manchester right under the middle forward mount. He leaned out to see the torpedo as long as he could.
“Sir, get down!” Dobson, the radar operator, had left his scope. He grabbed Tormolen and dragged him down to the deck just before the torpedo hit.EPILOGUE
SECOND NAVAL BATTLE OF GUADALCANAL
NOVEMBER 15, 1942
Details of loss:
During the battle, it appears that the USS Manchester deliberately imposed herself between her assigned charge, the USS South Dakota, and at least one Japanese torpedo. At the time, the South Dakota was utterly crippled from an electrical system failure.
According to eyewitness accounts, the Manchester deliberately moved into the torpedo’s path. Had she not done so, the torpedo would most likely inflicted severe damage to the battleship.
The torpedo apparently struck the Manchester in very close proximity to the forward 5″ magazine, triggering an explosion that virtually destroyed the front half of the ship. All of the survivors had been located in the aft half of the ship when she was struck, mostly from the stern and abovedecks stations.
The Manchester was designed as a test-bed ship, a platform on which to evaluate several new weapons and concepts. She was the first warship designed exclusively as a defensive weapon against aircraft. She helped prove the efficacy of three different guns in their anti-aircraft role: the 5″/38 twin mount, the 40mm Bofors quad mount, and the 20mm Oerlikon single mount cannon.
All three can be considered unqualified successes. Both on the Manchester and on other ships, all three guns have shown to be highly effective against enemy aircraft, especially when coupled to modern fire-control systems.
As to the ship itself: it is the opinion of this board that the design had many strengths, but ultimately must be considered a failure as a surface combatant, both in general design and in detail.
The fantail 40mm mountings were, in retrospect, a poor idea. While the position is stable enough for accurate fire on a 35,000 ton battleship, a 10,000-ton cruiser’s stern is simply too subject to roll, pitch, and engine vibration to serve as a stable enough platform for five mounts. They were also placed too close together for maximum field of fire. Finally, it has been noted that enemy aircraft rarely attack from the stern angles – they prefer to come in from the beams or off the bow. The stern angles offer the drawbacks of a narrow target, an extended approach period, and a very predictable attack vector, with minimal deflection shooting required by the defending gunners.
The absence of substantial side armor, a torpedo bulkhead, a torpedo bulge, or other accommodations for possible surface combat also proved ill-advised. She was never intended to fight in the type of situation she found herself in, but that is no excuse: any United States warship should be prepared to face the enemy at any time, in any seas, in any circumstances. The Manchester design fails this test.
In the evaluation of the general design, it must be noted that the resources invested in the U.S.S. Manchester would provide roughly four of the new “Gearing”-class destroyers now under construction. While it is indisputable that the Manchester was superior to the destroyer, the overall value to the fleet of four Gearings would be considerably greater.
In summary: the Manchester did all she was designed to, and more. She helped prove the value of numerous weapons and doctrines, and the lessons learned will go a great deal towards winning this war. But when she was put into a position she was never intended to face, her crew gave their all.
The men of the Manchester did not fail. The Manchester herself did not fail. In the end, she did precisely as she was intended – she defended the South Dakota, saving her from likely great damage from that torpedo.
The failure in this case lies with those of us who put those men and that ship into a situation they were not equipped to deal with. But that is the nature of war. One fights with the weapons at hand.
It is the finding of this board that the loss of the USS Manchester was in the line of duty, and unavoidable given the circumstances. Further, Captain Tormolen and the crew acted in the finest traditions of the United States Navy. Captain Tormolen is recommended for the Navy Cross (posthumous) for sacrificing his ship to save the USS South Dakota.
It is the recommendation of this board that no further ships be built to the Manchester design.
It is also the recommendation that a new ship be commissioned with the name “U.S.S. Manchester” as soon as possible, to commemorate the gallant service and sacrifice of that ship and her crew.
October 29, 1946
Mrs. Susan Tormolen, widowed nearly four years now, forced herself to smile bravely and swing the bottle. It shattered perfectly, the champagne bathing the fierce, sharp prow of the new USS Manchester, and (thanks to the miracle of concealed machinery and superb timing) the impact of the bottle seemed to shove the 10,000 tons of steel down the ways into the waiting sea.
Beside her stood Captain John Stark. He’d never held another command, after the Manchester went down while he was recovering from his appendectomy. He’d spent some time on Admiral Halsey’s staff, taking the place of Joe Tormolen, but he hadn’t lasted. That hadn’t worked, though, so he’d bounced from desk job to desk job, never quite working out at any of them. He looked around at the Fore River Shipyard. More than once, someone had suggested he look into working at one of these places, and he’d always demurred. Now, though, as more and more doors closed on him, he might just give it a second thought. He’d never thought highly of Massachusetts, but up on the Maine-New Hampshire border they were building subs at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. He’d always felt drawn to the Granite State, and his family had come from there originally.
This new Manchester had little in common with her immediate predecessor, lost off Guadalcanal with most of her crew, but Susan hoped that in some way her husband’s spirit would find solace in knowing that he, his men, and his ship would not be forgotten. Their legacy would live on in this proud ship, bearer of an honored name.
As the new ship hit the water, Susan saw the bow dip deep, then rise proudly out of the foam stirred by her launching. The bright white “83” gleamed and shone in the bright morning sunlight, drops of seawater glistening on her hull.
It was no substitute for her lost husband, or the hundreds of men who died alongside him. But she knew it was the best the Navy could do in his memory.
It would suffice.
It would have to.
She smiled bravely for the cameras, and forced back her tears.