The Old Girl's New Tricks, Part VI

Even more booms. Hey, it's a battleship; it's made to take a lot of booms! < ![CDATA[

Chapter 26

Lt. Tripp went to
the intercom to speak to Damage Control Central. “Damage
Control, this is Lt. Tripp. Report on the last hits, please.”

voice snarled back at him. “Tripp? Where the hell is Rose?”

Tripp allowed his
voice to sound more confident than he really was. “Captain
Blythe has ordered me to take over Mr. Rose’s duties in this area so
he can focus more attention on fighting the ship.”

all right, then. Anyway, those last three hits didn’t cause any real
problems. One hit on the main deck, by Turret Five, and ripped up the
decking a bit, but no real damage. One hit the main belt amidships,
again no real damage. And the third went through the stack without

“Thank you. Keep me posted.” Tripp
put down the intercom and addressed Blythe. “No damage, sir.”

Mr. Tripp. Keep up the good work.” With that, Blythe turned his
attention back to the battle. “Mr. Foster, I believe that Able
and Baker are now within range of the secondary guns?” Foster
checked, and confirmed it. “Then I believe it’s about time they
got in on the action. Have them open up on Baker; she’s the closest
to our beam.”

moment later, the 5 5″ guns of the
broadside barked their fury, and 250 pounds of steel and explosive
started their trip towards the hapless Japanese cruiser designated

And fell short. It
would take a few rounds to find the range, even with the assistance
of Director Two.

In the meantime,
though, Captain Blythe had yet more concerns. “Mr. Tripp, how
goes the watering efforts on Turret Two?”

Tripp went to
the front of the bridge, where he had a literal birds-eye view of the
efforts. “The team is up on top of Turret One, and they’re
starting to run the hose down the barrel. Why don’t they just start
spraying from the broken end?”

“Steam, Mr. Tripp.”
Foster answered him. He’d spent his time in engine rooms, and he had
a healthy respect for the power of steam. “It’s hot as hell in
that barrel. If they just shoved the hose in the end and started
pumping, the water would probably flash to steam almost immediately,
and scald the hell out of the men holding the hose. If they feed it
down a ways, they’ll be more likely to get the water where it can do
some good.”

“Well put,
Mr. Foster.” Blythe noted. “With luck, they’ll put out any
embers and cool things down before the round or powder can cook off,
and we can get Turret One back in the fight. Order the crew back into
the turret, but tell them to stand by. Keep all shells and powder
secured until further orders. Speaking of which, how are the enemy
ships faring?”

Foster checked with the lookouts and
directors. “The five-inchers have found the range, and Baker’s
getting stung a bit. She’s got a small fire on the bow. Amidships,
there’s a lot of smoke, but no visible fire — we might have wrecked
one of her stacks. Her aft superstructure is wrecked, but again no

Blythe frowned. “She’d had a pretty good fire
going amidships earlier. Looks like they got that under

“Apparently, sir. Able is still undamaged,
and lookouts say she’s turning away — we might have scared her

Blythe snapped straight in his seat. “Which
way is she turning?”

“To her port, our starboard.”

“She’s not
retreating, she’s unmasking her starboard torpedo tubes! Helm, stand
by for left full rudder on my command. Lookouts, watch very carefully
for any sign she’s launched. Mr. Tripp!”

was startled to hear his name. “Yes, sir?”

our expert on Takaos.
What kind of training limits do those torpedo tubes have?”

I don’t know, sir!”

“Best guess, then, Mr. Tripp!”

Tripp closed his
eyes and visualized the line drawings he had seen — but not studied
as closely as he wished he had. “I’d say he’d have to have us at
least 30 degrees of his bow.”

“Good enough,
Mr. Tripp. Mr. Foster, Alert me when she reaches that angle. Mr.
Rose, order the main guns to secure from firing, and have Director
One take control of Turrets Three through Six. I want them dialed in
on Able, but they are not to fire until I give the order.”

The moments
dragged by slowly, punctuated only by the barks of the 5″ guns.
Tripp was staring out the bridge when Commander Rose gently tapped
him on the shoulder, then pointed to the buzzing handset from Damage
Control Central. “I think that’s for you.”

Tripp picked up the handset. “Bridge, Lieutenant Tripp

“Tripp, the flooding from that torpedo
hit’s getting worse. We’ve compensated for it so far by shifting
around fuel and water tanks, but we won’t be able to keep her upright
much longer. Tell the skipper he’s got to get her down to 12 knots or
slower very soon, or we’ll start taking on a port list.”

Keep up the good work.” Tripp replaced the handset. “Captain,
Damage Control reports the flooding is getting worse, and recommend
we reduce speed to 12 knots.”

Blythe scowled. The timing
could not have been worse. With Able getting ready to fire torpedoes,
he needed all the speed he could scrape up. Instead, he was going to
have to slow.

And then Foster
made things even more complicated. “Sir, Able has us ten degrees
off her bow!”

Chapter 27

“Mr. Tripp,
order the damage control team working on Turret Two to withdraw to
the starboard side of the ship, if they can’t make it back inside.
But leave the hose in place — we’ll keep pouring water down the tube
and hope that does some good.”

Tripp moved to relay the
order. “Aye-aye, sir.”

“Mr. Foster, keep me
posted on Able’s slightest move. This could be the most dangerous
moment of the entire battle.”

“Aye-aye, sir.”

“Mr. Rose,
get all guns ready to fire on my command. I want this to go

“Aye-aye, sir. We have eight green

“Confirm that, Mr. Rose.”

“Yes, sir.”
Rose then paused. “Sir, we have ten green lights! Turret One
reports ready to fire!”

Blythe swore under
his breath. He’d been considering authorizing Turret One to rejoin
the fight, but had decided to hold off a bit longer. And here was the
crew, knowing full well there was a bomb literally over their heads,
and still willing to defy orders to do their duty and protect their
shipmates, even at the risk of their own lives. Wasn’t there anyone
in the gun crews who knew how to obey orders?

For the first
time, Blythe chose to open his eyes. With the fight down to just two
enemies, and one of them as battered as Baker was, he wanted to see
for himself what was happening.

“Able now at 15 degrees
and continuing to turn. He’s also checked fire, and all guns are
training on us. Looks like he wants a full broadside on us —
probably to obscure the torpedo firing.”

“That sounds
like we both had the same idea, Mr. Foster. I was planning on hitting
right rudder and coming around right after our broadside.”

Foster grinned at
his captain. “Still seems like a splendid idea, sir.”

Blythe returned
the smile, then frowned in concentration. “Mr. Tripp, how
confident are you in that 30 degrees angle business?”

sure, sir, but not 100% confident.”

“Then you
wouldn’t be offended if I didn’t act based on it being

“Sir, I’d be most appreciative if you

“Very well, then. Keep up with the damage
control, Mr. Tripp. You’re doing a fine job. Mr. Foster, I believe
you’re about to tell me that Able is passing the 20-degree

“Yes, sir.”

Blythe settled back
in his chair. “Excellent.” He sat still for a long second.


Rose jumped at the
sudden shout, but pressed the firing button. Ten guns roared, and
8,700 pounds of high-explosive shells leaped out across the waves,
seeking out the Japanese cruiser designated “Able.”

second after the
fired, Able’s five guns also erupted in billows of flame and smoke,
sending almost 2,800 pounds of armor-piercing shells right back.

was an explosion in midair, about two-thirds of the way to the
cruiser, and a second later Blythe counted five distinct explosions
aboard Able, well spread out along her hull, both in length and
height. A moment later, he heard and felt several distinct impacts on
as Able attempted to score her revenge.

“Mr. Tripp,
get on the horn. I want details on those hits we just took.”

“Aye-aye, sir.”

“Mr. Foster,
likewise on the hits we just scored on Able.”


“Mr. Rose, right full rudder. Straighten us
out once we’ve turned 150 degrees to starboard.”


didn’t like using right full rudder while he had a torpedo hole in
his port side — the ship would heel over and shift the water the
had already taken aboard, as well as act like a giant scoop in the
sea. But he didn’t have any choice — he had to do what he could to
spoil the aim of Able’s torpedomen. He could feel his ship shuddering
as she leaned out of the turn.

was the first to speak up. “Sir, we have fires and secondary
explosions on Able, bow and amidships. She’s in real trouble

“Excellent. Mr. Tripp?”

moment, sir.” Tripp didn’t like delivering bad news, and there
was plenty. “Five hits. Three not serious, but two of them bad.
One hit the deck near the barbette of Turret Two, and the splinters
got the Damage Control team that had been working on the damaged gun
— two dead, six wounded. The last one destroyed Director Three.
There were no survivors.”

“Damn,” Blythe swore.
Objectively speaking, the Arkansas
been incredibly lucky in the fight. But even these relatively light
casualties wounded him deeply. “All guns…”

there’s more.” Tripp forced himself to continue. “Commander
O’Leary reports the flooding is getting worse. He might have to
evacuate a boiler room, and we can expect to take on at least a three
degree list. He could counterflood, but he doesn’t recommend it. He
suggests we tolerate the list, and keep the counterflooding as an
option in case it gets worse.”

Blythe continued his
order. “All guns, prepare to fire again. Mr. Tripp, tell O’Leary
to use his best judgment — that’s why he’s chief engineer. Mr.
Foster, damage report on Able?”

“We hurt her bad,
sir. Slowing down, lots of smoke, several fires, and she might even
be listing — I think we might’ve put at least one shell into her
waterline, right into an engine room. Oh, she’s firing again — only
three turrets this time. Yeah, we took a big chunk out of her hide.”

“Excellent. Mr. Rose, order guns to keep firing until
further notice. Mr. Tripp, inform Mr. O’Leary that we will accept the
listing, but would appreciate it if he would minimize it. Mr. Foster,
get me statuses on Able and Baker, and see if the Hamm
has an update for us.”

the three men accepted their orders, the
a slight shudder as a single hit struck. Blythe noted it casually.
“Only one hit this time, and from six guns. Looks like Able’s in
serious trouble. Mr. Tripp, find out where it hit and what it

At that moment, the Arkansas
gave a mighty shudder, and a column of water erupted on her starboard
quarter. Blythe had no need to ask Mr. Tripp what had happened; a
second Japanese torpedo had found the old girl.

Chapter 28

virtually the same instant as the torpedo struck, the
guns roared once again firing another ten-gun salvo at the cruiser
designated “Able.” But no one on the bridge was overly
concerned about that at the moment.

“Mr Tripp!
Report!” Captain Blythe barked.

impossible! That Jap just got the angle on us! There’s no way they
could have hit us with that torp!”

captain shouted. “Tend to your duties! I want a report on that
torpedo hit, and I want it now!”

Tripp, abashed,
rushed to the handset to get hold of Damage Control Central.

leaned in to speak softly to the captain. “He’s right, you know.
That was an impossible shot.”

Blythe replied equally
softly. “There are still other cruisers out there, Mr. Rose.
Baker and Dog are battered, but still in the fight. My hunch is that
Dog fired both torpedoes that hit us.”

Should we shift fire to Dog, then?”

“Why bother?
Revenge? She’s always presented her starboard side to us, and she’s
fired two salvoes. She’s out of torpedoes. Baker’s the bigger
threat.” He turned to Commander Foster. “Mr. Foster, report
on Able.”

Foster put down his handset. “Sir, I think
the boys in Director One got cute and aimed low. six hits, all on the
hull, down close to the waterline. She’s slowing down and taking on a
definite list — I’m confident in saying she’s out of the fight — if
she’s not done for.”

“Excellent. I believe the
officer in Director One is a Mr. Owens?” Foster nodded. “Tell
him well done, but don’t get cocky. And shift the guns to Director
Two — I want to give Baker a bit more chewing.”

Tripp put down the receiver. “Sir, Commander O’Leary reports the
torpedo hit around Frame 440, starboard side.” Blythe
immediately started worrying — that was dead even with Turret Five.
He started worrying about the magazine. “The bulge absorbed most
of the impact, and reports minor flooding. He says it should take
care of the list, but he’s worried we’re riding too low in the

Blythe turned
to Commander Rose. “Rose, what’s our current draft?”

checked. “About 32 feet, sir. We’ve lost almost four feet of

Blythe knew that was not good. With that much
water aboard and two big holes blown in the bulges, he’d have to take
it gentle on the rudder, and perhaps slow down even more. Worse, if
they had to flood the aft magazine, it would make things even worse.
“Mr. Tripp, what does Mr. O’Leary say should be our best speed?”

He checked.
“Twelve knots should be safe for now, especially if it helps us
avoid more torpedoes. He does not recommend we take any more.”

“No promises,
Mr. Tripp, but duly noted. Rudder amidships. Status report on enemy,
Mr. Foster?”

The exec couldn’t keep the satisfaction out
of his voice. “Able’s guns are silent, and her list is getting
worse — I think she’s going to capsize to starboard. Baker’s
starting to turn to port — I think she’s unmasking her starboard
tubes. And Dog’s slowing and starting to turn in towards us — I
think she’s steering with her engines now.”

main guns to Director Two and are to open fire on Baker as soon as
possible. I do NOT want her to get those fish off. Director One is to
copy Two’s solution and be ready to take over firing at any moment.
Secondaries, keep firing on Baker.”

Foster then chimed
in. “Sir, I’ve got word from the Hamm.
Current total is four transports dead in the water, eight more
withdrawing — five damaged, three afire.”

“I think
Captain Aspin has won the battle. Order him to head back this way and
pick up survivors from the Fleming
and offer any assistance to the
pilots on Guadalcanal should be able to finish off those transports
he left helpless.”

“Sir, we’re
about to open fire on Baker.”

“Thanks for
the warning, Mr. Foster.” With that, the guns roared and hurled
another ten shells towards the already-battered cruiser.

Chapter 29

misses, sir!” Foster sang out. “Ten splashes, all

Blythe knew it was inevitable. The gunners’
accuracy was starting to fade. The barrels were heating up and
starting to sag, fatigue was setting in, and the constant vibrations
and shocks of combat — especially the numerous hits she’s suffered.
He only hoped it was wearing even more on the enemy.

it was, as he saw several splashes from the Japanese guns — short
and off to the port. But Baker’s bow was swinging away, bringing
those torpedo tubes closer to being brought to bear. He was surprised
— but proud — that the
had handled two hits from the far-more-capable-than-advertised Jap
fish as well as she had, but she was still in trouble. And while she
had made a good accounting of herself — One cruiser sunk, one
sinking, and two badly mauled — the two survivors were still in the

was now a matter of revenge. The Americans had already won the fight;
Arkansas had
fought the cruisers, a lone destroyer had sneaked past them and
savaged the real prize, the Japanese convoy. Even if the Japanese
sank the
Alfonso Hamm,
still have lost because the convoy — and, more importantly, its
precious cargo of troops and munitions — had been kept away from

And as battered as
the battleship and cruisers were, retreat wasn’t a viable option for
either. None of them could escape without the assent of the other
side, and neither side was in a forgiving mood. This fight was going
to end only when one side or the other was sent to the bottom.

“Mr. Rose,
remind the gunners to compensate for hot barrels. We need to put
Baker out of commission before she fires her fish — I don’t think we
can stand a third.”

“Sir, they have been, but I
don’t think we’ve ever fired this many rounds this quickly. They’re
already aiming a little bit higher.”

Blythe should have
known. He’d drilled his gunners relentlessly; his reminder would be
seen as reproach and an insult to their skills. “Good point, Mr.
Rose. Belay that, then. Mr. Foster, keep a good eye on Dog — I don’t
like her recovering any steering while we’re fixated on

Foster nodded. “Aye-aye, sir. I think
they’re counting on that — she’s ceased firing, but she’s still
swinging in towards us.”

getting crafty. Well, let’s indulge them for now. If they want to be
harmless for now, we’ll treat them that way. Let’s keep pounding away
at Baker.”

splashes surrounded the
— but the ship shuddered again. More hits. “Mr. Tripp, find out
where those shells landed.”

Tripp immediately
got on the handset to Commander O’Leary. A moment later, he had the
answer. “One amidships, on the belt, no damage. One in the bow,
in officer’s country — crews are responding.”

looked out over the bow. He could see smoke coming from over the edge
of the deck. He thought he saw a few licks of flame. “Looks like
that one started a fire, too. That’ll help the Japs home in on us.
Keep me appraised of the fire, Mr. Tripp.”

The guns roared
once more, and this time there were fewer splashes. “At least
one hit, sir! Lookouts say at least one shell amidships on Baker,
with smoke.”

Fire for effect. I think we’re just in her torpedo arc, but I hope
that rattled them a bit. Mr. Tripp, ask Commander O’Leary how much
right rudder we can take.”

Tripp passed on the question,
then held the handset away from his ear. Even above the din of
battle, the entire bridge could hear the strings of shouted
profanities from the temperamental chief engineer. When it died down,
Tripp put his ear back, then reported to the captain. “Mr.
O’Leary respectfully recommends no more than ten degrees of rudder,
preferably less, as long as we’re above ten knots.”

Blythe nodded.
“Ten degrees right rudder, then. I’d like to throw off his aim a
bit, while getting more of our broadside towards Dog. Straighten us
out when we get another twenty degrees to starboard.”

Arkansas and
the Japanese cruiser designated Baker continued to trade shots for
several minutes. The
two more hits of no consequence, while Baker took one on her bow and
a second through her stack. All the while, Dog continued to force her
bow around, trying desperately to bring her port torpedo tubes to

Foster spoke up. “Sir, report from the Hamm.
deploying boats to pick up survivors from the
rigging to take the
under tow. Turns out the
have been busy, picking up men from the
reports say at least 40 killed on
least 200 lost on

bad as it was, it could have been worse. Far, far worse. Blythe was
glad the
was still undamaged and available for rescue efforts. He now just
wished they could finish off Baker before she got off her

Too late.

“Captain! Lookouts report
incoming torpedoes!”

Chapter 30

Captain Blythe
clenched the arms of his seat with a deathgrip. It was the only sign
of the tension he felt.

had acquitted herself quite handily — as had he personally. One
Japanese cruiser sunk, one sinking, and two mauled, along with four
destroyers sunk and the critical convoy shattered, at the price of
two destroyers and a moderately-damaged battleship. As he had noted
before, the battle was won as soon as the destroyer
savaged the convoy — everything else was pretty much irrelevant.
Blythe and his entire force were, to be harsh, expendable — even
more so than the Japanese escorts. But the transports and their
precious cargo — those were irreplaceable in the struggle for
Guadalcanal. The Japanese had lost this effort to win the fight for
the island, but they could still make the victory even more expensive
for the Americans. And bagging a battleship — even one as old and
obsolete as the
— would be a great propaganda victory, to counter the two
ships the US Navy had sunk in Iron Bottom Sound.

Unwilling to show
his anxiety, Captain Blythe waited for the inevitable shudder to
shake his ship, and the plume of water along her port side indicating
yet another massive hole being blown in her hull. The two prior
torpedo strikes had wounded her seriously, costing her speed,
maneuverability, and forcing her deeper in the water, and he knew
that a third hit — anywhere — would be a fatal blow, barring a
miracle. But there was nothing he could do but wait and hope and

And so he did.
Long seconds passed.

Too many long
seconds passed.

Rose shouted, unable to keep the glee from his
voice. “Four clean misses forward, one hit on the bow — and it
was a dud!”

Blythe let out the
breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “I suspect the Japs
didn’t think we’d slowed down that much, plus the rattling we gave
their cages with our main guns, threw their aim off. Well done, men.
Keep pounding away on Baker. Mr. Foster, status on Dog?”

Foster paused to
check. “Still slowly swinging around. He hasn’t even got us 45
degrees off his starboard bow yet. We’ve got time before he can
unmask his port torpedo mounts.”

“Keep me posted.”
Just then, the bridge shook fiercely. “That one felt like it hit
pretty close to here. Mr. Tripp, get a report from Damage Control on
that last shot. Mr. Rose, keep firing on Baker until further notice,
but have Director Two keep that solution on Dog.”

passed along the report. “Hit to the superstructure, sir. We
lost the bakery. Several casualties and fire.”

recalled the baker with the beautiful backhand from the Line Crossing
ceremony. He had a brief image of the man standing, stunned, while
covered head to toe in flour, like something from a Three Stooges
short. But he quickly dismissed the vision — flour was quite
flammable. Blythe had even heard of some silos of flour exploding
from a careless spark. “Keep me posted, Mr. Tripp. Mr. Foster,
how’s Baker doing?”

“Not good, sir. Several fires,
she’s slowing, and major structural damage — her forward stack’s
pretty much gone. She’s down to just her aft turrets firing. I think
she’s pretty much out of the fight.”

“Dog’s getting
towards bow-on with us. I think he needs a bit more working over.
Have Director Two take over the turrets after two more salvoes — I’d
like him at least silenced, if not sinking.”

sir. Two more salvoes, then shift aim. But we have a pretty tight
angle on Dog — some of the aft turrets are pretty close to being
masked by our superstructure.”

Blythe nodded. “Tripp,
see what Commander O’Leary thinks of coming twenty degrees to port,
rudder at his discretion.”

Tripp spoke into the handset,
then relayed the message. “Chief Engineer says a little less
than standard rudder should be OK, but he stopped making promises on
anything ten minutes ago.”

“Understood. Make it so.”

interrupted. “Sir, I don’t think that last salvo will be

Blythe looked out the windows, then stepped
on to the port wing and borrowed a pair of binoculars. (Well,
commandeered — no one was about to say no to the captain.)

The devastation of
Baker stunned him. The forward guns were wrecked. Turret one was
aiming in two directions, and turret two had partially fallen on
turret three — apparently at least one hit had torn away a hefty
chunk of two’s supporting barbette. The bridge was a mass of flame.
Stack one was half-gone, and stack two had its top half flopped over
towards the stern. The center of the ship was a twisted mess, with at
least two major uncontrolled fires going. The aft guns were still,
and he could see smoke pouring out of the roof and one barrel of the
last one.

panned back to the bow, focusing lower. Several large holes showed
where the
shells had tore through the cruiser’s thin skin, and he could see
flames flickering inside several. When he got to the bow, he saw the
jagged stem where one shell had apparently clipped the ship without
detonating. And a careful look at the waterline showed she was making
hardly any wake.

“She’s done
for, gentlemen. Cease fire on Baker, focus all guns on Dog. We’ve won
this fight, but that last cruiser can still keep us from enjoying


Do I sense a correlation here?
'Hope 'n' Change' Reality Check