"WE'LL smash ’em.” “We’ll smash ’em all right. Our time’s-----”
A gout of brine had spurted over the weather screen of the bucketting bridge, and deluged the commanding officer’s face. Spitting out a mouthful of salt water he moved closer to his subordinate.
“We’ll smash ’em,” he again croaked triumphantly. “The Flying Squadron is driving them down on our guns. We’ll clear this side .of the Atlantic of ’em. Rather !”
Without a light showing the destroyer was storming through the gusty night. Fier officers and men on the brine-lashed deck, though alert on lookout, knew well what the wireless cabin below was saving them from. Not human eyes now, and human ears, but the electric spark crackling betwixt the antennae of the transmitter, sought for further news of the enemy’s approach.
At last the long-threatened war had broken out.
In a whirlwind of blood and devastation Germany was essaying to crush the British Empire. While the enemy’s High Sea’s Fleet was seeking to wrest the command of the sea from the British Atlantic and Home Fleet, their Raiding Squadron had been sweeping British commerce off the West Atlantic till a Flying Squadron co-operating with the Canadian naval force, was at last bringing them to book for their wanton destruction.
At Halifax, Rear-Admiral Dickeson with the Canadian Squadron was now hurriedly re-coaling. His cruisers and
a few intermediate craft he had flung out in a fan-shaped disposition, covering forty miles, from the northeast to east by south, against the enemy’s sudden descent.
The northerly wind was blowing hard and raising a heavy sea, that hammered over the weather bow of the destroyer, and enveloped her fore parts in incessant spray and 'broken water.
From her three funnels, the belching smoke caught in the eddies of the squealing wind, swirled down, enveloping bridge and lookouts in its stifling, hot, filthy murk.
Coughing and cursing, the commanding officer leaped a few feet to starboard to evade a downward rush of fine, hot scoriae and small clinker aimed at his face, and stared, night binoculars up at his eyes, into the wavering darkness filling the northwest. But just then the junior officer had jammed the whistle back into the mouth of the wireless cabin voicetube.
“C. I. C. in communication, sir,” he reported. “News apparently cornin’ in to him.”
As the lieutenant made his way aft to the chart table, to slip his head and shoulders under the weather screen and peruse the decoded message in the light of the shaded glow-lamp, the faint thunder of guns took his ear.
“Yes! We’re at it, we’re at it,” he rasped to one of die men holding aside the chart-table flap.
“Topaz and Bellona report in touch with the enemy. Are falling back, much damaged. Units eastward to
cover them till ordered rejoin fast wing now moving out to reinforce.”
These were the orders wirelessed by the Commander-in-chief’s flagship, now enegetically slipping moorings to proceed to sea with her squadron.
The next minute the Reindeer had swung to eastward to aid in succoring her hard-pressed unarmoured consorts. At top notch of her speed, she hurried forward, strained in every inch of her taut steel hull. A mountainous sea careened her almost to the coamings of her after hatches. The following instant she was hove up, stern in the air and all screws racing madly.
Intently her bridge listened to the rapidly nearing guns, their deep rolling reports greatening on the ear.
“They are cornin’ down ahead,” the sub-lieutenant jerked out, his lips close to the commanding officer’s ear.
“Yes! Coming down ahead, and smartly. Our vessel’s way to their starboard, somewhere. Being overhauled, too.”
The lieutenant brushed the water out of his eyes, and again levelled his binoculars ahead. The hail rang from forward lookouts.
“Two steamers ahead.”
He strained his sight. Excitement thrilled him in every nerve and fibre. It came to him he had rather the strangers were the enemy. The fighting instinct of the Anglo-Saxon had mastered him. His blood thrilled to heroic traditions.
The night was thick with small rain and spindrift driving before the squally wind. The destroyer rode low and obscure.
Her’s it was to engage.
“Yes! . . . them . . .,” the commanding officer jerked out incisively, as he threw off his oilers. “Two cruisers in line ahead . . . Our two right-way off their starboard bow. There, they’re answering,” as specks of fire gleamed momentary in the darkness far off the destroyer’s port bow, and the thudding of 4-inch quick firers rang out faint, but emphatic.
“Something of a running fight for
us,” he added, “if we can make it. . . By heaven, though, I don’t like boxing myself up in the conning tower.”
Rapidly the warships coming down ahead loomed into the obscure silhouettes of Kaiserin Augusta and the Prinz Heinrich. With their port batteries gouting fire and destruction, they seemed as if heading for the Canadian’s port bow.
As the lieutenant entered the conning tower the leading enemy flashed out her fore bridge searchlights and revealed the destroyer, and instantly the thundering of her starboard battery rolled through the night. Shell and projectile screamed about the Reindeer. There came fiery streaks, ear-splitting reports, as the Prinz Heinrich also opened her cannonade. But the enemy’s elevation being yet too high, the British destroyer escaped destruction, having only her pole mast and wireless gaff shattered, and the top of her after funnel blown away.
The lieutenant was peering out at the sight slit, between the top and upper edges of the conning tower, at the swiftly nearing cruisers. Unconsciously he bit his lower lip in thestress of his sensations.
A shot from the Kaiserin Augusta smashed the base of his forward funnel, and the smoke and flame of hardpressed furnaces, licking the deck, trailed in ruddy clouds to leeward. Two men crouching by the torpedo tube amidships dropped, hashed and tattered by slivers of bursting shell, and others, suffiocated by the shattered funnel’s gassy fumes, slid overboard to the heaving of the hull beneath them. One unit of No. 2 after tube had been almost cut in two by a small shell. As a man jumped into his place, a shot wrecked the quickfirer near by, and the wreck of it crushed him under.
The commanding officer shuddered. He gripped the smooth small wheel the tighter. Twisting and turning, the destroyer uselessly tried to escape the relentless searchlights, as she tore forward to the real encounter.
Below her ruptured deck her sweating stokers toiled before the furnace
fires—never questioning — never faltering. Louder than the hissing and the rumbling of their red-hot boilers sounded the rattle and thud of the guns. Again and again the destroyer lurched on, projectiles holing her. Bilge and circulating pumps and ejectors were already working full strength in a useless endeavor to keep the water under.
A splinter of steel had pierced the lieutenant’s left shoulder, sticking like an arrow in the oozing wound. But in his tense state he was unawares. He only knew of the leading enemy, her great stem almost abeam of him. He jammed his wheel hard over even as he rang his port engines full speed astern, and then he closed the circuit, firing his amidship torpedo tube.
A little puff of smoke burst out on the destroyer’s port beam, and with a glint of silver the torpedo shot into the swirling waters.
There came a stunning crash—it seemed just on his forehead. He found himself to be severely cut on his hands and face, his uniform ripped into rags, with the fragments of redhot metal, which had bespattered him on a projectile demolishing the cap of the conning tower. It was with a supreme effort of will he kept conscious.
As he brought the destroyer on her course again, he wiped his blood-filled eyes and stared furiously at the Kaiserin Augusta.
With a huge gap in her unarmoured side, where hit by the 18-inch torpedo, forward a little of her port shoulder and beneath her protection belt, the cruiser was rapidly taking a heavy list. Her head was falling to port, lower and lower, amongst the seas. She was a doomed vessel
But along the Reindeer’s deck everything but the conning tower had been shot away and wrecked. It stood entire, but dinted and cracked by the impact of shot and shell. From the guns, light and heavy, of the Prinz Heinrich, was hiccoughed destruction. Again projectiles smashed into the destroyer, for every second the enemy
was getting back his nerve and securing alignment on the target.
Time was telling in his favor.
The British torpedo craft gave a downward lurch, but, recovering herself like a live thing unwilling to die just yet, she staggered onward. Her speed was falling. Death was coming to her in seconds. Her commanding officer moaned. He trembled a little, but was not aware of his recalcitrant body. Not his mind, not his heart, but his physical being rebelled against the pain—the anguish. The Real Man of him knew only of Duty. The Sire was living in his son, even as on Quiberon Night and Trafalgar Day.
Then the enemy cheered like maniacs when steam shot up from the ruptured stokehold of the destroyer. But her officer had shoved his rudder hard over, and slowly his sinking craft swung athwart the armoured cruiser. She was within torpedo range at last.
A broadside of shot and shell from her literally stopped the Reindeer. Under the weight of projectiles poured in upon her, she went apart, falling in pieces like something of brown paper and cotton wool.
Yet even as the missiles tore her asunder the lieutenant fired his two after tubes. And of the weapons, one went wide of the cruiser’s bows by about four feet. But the other ruptured her amidships, and under her 4inch armour. In her very vitals she was struck.
As the waters poured in an irresistible flood into her crowded stokeholds, the hubbub of hell raged on board her. With an awful outcry from her 879 souls, she went down—her bilges burst by the exploding boilers.
Next morning only fifteen survivors, including the sub-lieutenant of the Reindeer were picked up 'by the American schooner, Boston Ann, clinging to a quarter-deck grating and other pieces of wreckage.
But it was through the Reindeer that the two crippled cruisers of the North American Squadron made Bermuda in safety. In her sacrifice she had them succored.
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