THE SENTRY at the Devonport Naval Base could not be blamed for the quizzical look he gave the stranger at the gates. "Horace Smith reporting for commission," the visitor said.
To the sentry he looked as plain as anyone named Horace Smith could look, commission, the sentry was not quite sure. T figured him in his early thirties and a clerk worker of some kind just as sure as the come in a few minutes.
Well, he mused, as hec immediate superior, this was war and anythin happen. Mr. Horace Smith’s immediately satisfied the chief petty officer who examined them, The iron gates swung open, clanged shut. It was a more congenial welcome down at the staff offices. “We had a signal that you’d arrive tonight,” said the rather elderly Commander on duty. “Glad to see you. Knew your father. Stout fellow. Put on a fine show in the last scrap. Good destroyer man.” Horace winced just a trifle. “Thank you, sir.”
“Yes, it 11 be nice to see a Horace Smith in uniform again. Too bad your father can’t be in. Shipping Ministry man now, isn’t he?”
“Yes, sir. Decided we should suspend the firm for the duration.”
“Good stuff. Heard just the other day that he’d arranged for you to come in as Paymaster-Lieutenant.” said the Commander. “Very glad. Too bad you’re not a destroyer man though. Great man your father. Great destroyer captain !”
“Yes, sir.” Horace replied politely.
The Navy sighed when Horace Smith came aboard — but that was before Horace showed the Navy how a pen-pusher fights at sea
Destroyer man! Always a destroyer man. The pater undoubtedly was a good destroyer man. It seemed unanimous right along the line from the doctor up at the Admiralty in London to the tailor who fitted him, and even here in the executive office at Devonport.
Not that Captain Horace Smith. D.S.O., R.N. Retired, had ever made any such claims. The only times he ever liad talked destroyers, his son now recalled, was on the rare occasions when he intimated his disappointment that Horace Jr., had not been sent to Dartmouth as a cadet.
Of course Horace himself hadn’t been to blame. When the war was over—the last Great War—and the captain returned ashore to his frail wife, it was too late, he had claimed, to untie the apron strings that fettered the lad. Horace Jr. was too old, by a slim margin, for entrance and then again he wasn’t so robust. There had been some consolation for his father in the fact that he had entered shipping even as a clerk, and as years passed, had shown much aptitude.
“Well, there’s other places in the Navy than destroyers, eh?” continued the Commander.
“I beg your—Oh, yes. sir, I mean, er—quite.” Horace stumbled out of his reverie.
“You have your uniform and gear, 1 understand.”
“Fine. Actually you're running things quite close. You’ve had supper, have you?”
“Well, er—yes, sir. I stopped fora bite in Plymouth after I left the train.”
“Good. Then you’ll be able to go right on board. Not much time actually.”
“On board, sir?” Horace almost stared. Now what? At fust he’d thought he’d be at the Admiralty. Then came the notice to report at Devonport. Not that it mattered much. There was just father, and what feminine friends he liad were—well, just friends.
“Yes. On board,” said the Commander. “Hadn’t I told you? Terribly busy of course. Had a signal after you left London. You’re off to Bermuda. Lucky chap.”
“Bermuda? Er—but, er—why—?”
“Yes, Bermuda. Tonight, too. Running it quite close. You sail on the Innisfail. I’ll give you your papers as soon as you’re attested.”
“Innisfail?” Horace tried a quick mental review of Lloyd’s Shipping Register. “What line, sir? I mean Fve never heard of her.”
“No. No. Of course not,” said the Commander. “She’s a fine ship. Just going out to the West Indies station. Fine skipper, Captain Jackson. And absolutely the latest destroyer, too.”
“Destroyer?” Horace could almost have guessed it. “Yes. A fine ship. Your father would love her.”
Horace not only winced but wilted.
“Well, there’s no time to lose,” concluded the Commander. “We’ll arrange to attest you now and then you’ll have a chance to shift into uniform. Probably like to send these clothes back up to London, eh?”
A half hour later Horace Smith, Lieut. (Pay), Royal Naval Reserve, trudged dockward, feeling almost as weary as the rating who came along with his gear.
HORACE walked up the officers’ gangplank, faced aft and saluted the quarter-deck. He might not be a destroyer man, but you can't belong to a Navy family without knowing the traditions.
Without delay he was taken below to the wardroom where the executive officer, or No. 1, was enjoying a demitasse with his fellow officers while stewards cleared the dining table.
“Paymaster-Lieutenant Smith reporting, sir,” announced the quartermaster as he stood in the door, cap in hand.
“Smith? Oh, yes,” said a cheery-looking officer, rising. “Carry on. quartermaster. Come in, Smith. Glad you’re here. Shaving it close, eh?”
“Thank you, sir,” replied Horace. “I didn’t get my assignment until an hour ago.”
“Sometimes it happens that way. I’m Farrell. George Farrell.” Other officers in the wardroom were standing now. “This is Commander Thompson, engineer, you know.” Lieut.-Commander Farrell started a round of introductions. “Commander Thompson will be engineer officer destroyers, when we join the rest of the ships.” They were a very decent sort, Horace thought, as the introductions proceeded. Thompson, bluff and well built; Lieutenant Fred Lewis, navigator, with a wiry and grinlined face, features in which smiles seemed to have etched wrinkles; Lieutenant Evan Williams; gunnery, they said, was his specialty; Lieutenant Bob Black, the M.O. who could hardly have left an interneship more than a few months, for the wavy gold bands with the scarlet between them indicated he was a reserve man; Lieutenant (Engineer) Ian McIntosh, almost a dwarf of a man with huge hands, also a reservist; the two sublieutenants. Jack Harrison and Bert Johnson, and lastly Mr. Daniels, Harry Daniels, commissioned gunner who, Lieut.-Commander Farrell observed, personally polished the war heads of every torpedo in the eight tubes.
Yes. They looked like a good bunch of shipmates. What did they think about him?
Horace didn’t know. He hoped they were thinking that, at first glance, he’d do. Not that anything showed in their manner. “It never does in the Royal Navy,” Horace reminded himself.
And then, he was new to the service; just a merchant marine office executive; might make a good paymaster so far as his ability went, but that didn’t make him a good naval officer. Of course they would know about his father, and perhaps much about himself. Sometimes news can travel faster and be more complete than a sheaf of Admiralty signals.
“I think we’d better see the captain,” said Farrell. “Your gear will be stowed in one of the cabins on the fiat just for’ard of the canopy here.”
They went up the hatch and down the other side of the bulkhead into the captain’s flat, and Horace formally reported.
“Glad you’re with us, Smith,” said Captain Jackson. “Know your father. Hope you left him well?”
“Very well, sir, thank you,” replied Horace.
“Good. Fine destroyer man.” Horace was used to it by “I understand you’re new to the service.”
“Yes, sir.” Horace admitted.
“Actually you were born in it though,” said Captain Jackson. “Well, you’ll enjoy a shore berth in Bermuda. Fine chaps there. We’ll be moving in an hour. You’re only in transit, you might say, but you’ll be acting as captain’s secretary. No. 1 here will give you more information about that. You’ll take all watches with me and be. with me if action stations sounds. Now I'll have to go ashore for a few minutes. I’ll leave No. 1 here to give you other information.”
Horace descended to his cabin flat in a bit of a daze. It was as if he had lived a lifetime since leaving London in' the dawning hours.
“It strykes me ’c’s a bit ’limped about something,” opined Seaman Kittle as he went for’ard with his opposite number, Seaman Wilson, after meeting the newcomer to whom they had been assigned as servants.
“But nice though,” offered Wilson. “ ’E don’t know much, but they tells me ’is old man was a ’umdinger in these here ships. Well, don’t forget to call ’im fifteen minutes before we shoves off.”
EDDYSTONE LIGHT had dropped astern—or rather the spot where the famous beacon once sent out its flashing beam in the pre-blackout era had—when Horace at last managed to collect himself to review the past few hours. The casting off, the almost crowded bridge and lowvoiced commands in the dark which sent the sleek destroyer gliding out through the gate of the anti-submarine boom. The slow passage out through the labyrinth channels of the mine field; the seeming nonchalance of captain and navigator as they bobbed their heads in and out of the canvasshrouded chart desk on the starboard side of the bridge.
11 was difficult to imagine, standing there on the bridge in the grey-black night, that the waving field of water held
such a crop of death. In the occasional faint gleam from a three-quarter moon the shoreline receded astern and the shadowy outline of Eddystone passed by slowly, far to starboard.
And now the Innisfail no longer steamed a tortuous path, but held to a steady course.
“All clear of the No. 17 field, sir.” Navigator Lewis’ voice was softer than the perceptible exhaling of all hands on the bridge as they dropped the tension.
“Well, that’s the last of it. Lewis. Tricky business even in daylight,” commented the skipper. “Not that the light helps, but it does give you something of a lift. Oh, Farrell.”
Number One had just come up the ladder from the wheelhouse below. He’d been on and off the bridge all the way out from Devonport.
“Carry on with the usual routine now, Farrell,” the skipper ordered.
“Very good, sir,” replied the lieutenant commander.
Captain Jackson turned to the chart table and huddled with Lewis. Horace, Sub-Lieutenant Harrison, the yeoman of signals and one of the ratings, meanwhile kept a steady gaze out over the slowly heaving watery wastes ahead.
As far as Horace was concerned, he was not actually sure what he was looking for. It seemed to be the proper thing to keep a sharp lookout, and he imagined the main object to watch for was a periscope. Occasional glances skyward of the others reminded Horace that because he had left London he was still not immune from aerial attacks.
Well, at least there were many pairs of eyes on guard. As if those on the bridge were not enough, seamen crouched in the signal-lamp wings just aft of the bridge, shadowy shapes, wool caps down over their ears and heavy mittens protecting their hands as they held their binoculars.
The muttered conversation behind the chart table curtain ceased, and Captain Jackson ducked out to step
over to the voice tube by the binnacle amidships on the bridge. Down went the course to the coxswain in the wheellouse below; followed by the order to the men at the telegraphs flanking the man at the wheel to call for a high late of revolutions on the turbines. Quickly the bow of the innisfail swung to her new course, almost as speedily as the coxswain called back his course verification.
Horace hunched his shoulders to bring his collar up liigh. The pitch of the wind rose as it sang through the signal halyards and stays and blended with the mounting tune that seemed to come from the stacks just aft.
There was not much conversation. Everyone seemed intent on gazing into the nothingness ahead, the void vhich now was bringing greater surges of sea into which the Innisfail sliced her thin prow and occasionally cascaded spray onto the foredeck.
Deep down below, Horace knew, men sat at their antisubmarine stations. Yes. The ship was well guarded.
“Oh, Smith!” A tired Horace roused himself as the captain spoke. “You’re having quite a baptism, aren’t pu?”
“Yes, sir. It’s quite an experience.”
“It always is. I should imagine you’re pretty well done in though. We’ll be changing the watch in just a little while, so you might as well go below.”
“Thank you, sir. I am rather tired,” Horace admitted.
“Well, get below and get your head down for a few tours,” advised the captain. “You’ll be called soon enough. If action stations sounds, come right up. If you re asleep, the alarm will soon get you out of it.”
Horace got a cheery good night from Lewis and Harrison and a friendly nod from the signalmen as he left the bridge, vent down the ladder and warmed immediately as he got in. the lee of the wheelhouse.
A quick glance in the door as he passed revealed eerie
silhouettes in the dark; the coxswain looking into the faint glow that came from the binnacle and the ratings standing to at the port and starboard engine-room telegraphs. He turned aft down the starboard side and gripped the sides of the ladders tightly as he descended to the lower decks. He seemed, to himself, to be making a terrific clatter as his heels struck the narrow steps.
White water surged up the sides of the destroyer to what seemed inches of the deck as he moved aft. From below, through the ventilators, came the steady hum and song of the driving machinery. In the lee of the stacks and torpedo tubes, figures almost black as the night around them huddled together, their conversation barely audible.
It was almost a melting warmth that greeted him as he left the night behind and descended the steep hatch to his cabin flat. His topcoat was shed before he was through the curtains of his cabin. Never did bed—or even a bunklook so enticing. Horace revelled in the joy of releasing his feet from the bondage of shoes. It was after he had doffed his shir t that he suddenly thought of that alarm gong.
He looked at the pyjamas his servant had laid out and regretfully tossed them over the back of a chair. There might or might not be an alarm. Wondering if the others undressed fully, he lay down in his trousers and undershirt.
He was still wondering as he pulled a blanket up over him. The Innisfail lurched to port as her stern fell away into a trough.
Horace rolled in his bunk. But he never knew it.
"piVE nights later Horace didn’t worry about action Jstations as he turned in. Captain Jackson had kept his men alert. There’d been several alarms and all strictly for training. The main feature of the training so far as Horace was concerned was to get into at least a decent assortment
of clothes between the time he rolled out of his bunk and made the bridge.
Unhampered by a convoy because her early presence at Bermuda was in order, the Innisfail had plowed along at much better than her usual economical cruising sixteen knots. Lively seas in the eastern stretches of the Atlantic had given way to long swells with a lull moon making a mockery ol the Innisfail's blackened ports and extinguished running lights.
Not that the voyage had been devoid of all indications of war. The wireless had told them on the last two nights of an enemy submarine operating somewhere southeast of Bermuda. Each night a freighter had gone to the limbo of lost snips—just the usual S S S. the submarine attack call, and the next morning only a few scattered bits of v’reckage found by neutral American ships who rushed to the scene.
On board the Innisfail there was some enthusiasm over the probability that after they'd picked up stores at Bermuda they’d get a chance to do a little hunting. In fact Mr. Daniels and Mr. Williams, the gunnery officer, had got to the point of holding wardroom and bridge debates on the respective advantage of patterns that could be sown with depth charges.
They had stopped on the bridge for a moment as their watch ended, to draw Lewis and Harrison into the argument when the chief yeoman of signals answered the buzz of the phone from the wireless room.
“It’s the sub again, sir,” said the chief yeoman, handing the signal he had copied out to Lewis. The navigator took the slip beneath the canvas shroud of his chart desk to the light, ducked out a moment later and immediately whistled down to the captain’s sea cabin. The retiring watch remained on the bridge to await the skipper. Captain Jackson was up before Lewis could tell the rest of the story.
“Get No. 1 up here,” he ordered, and a bridge messenger left in a hurry to retrieve Lieut. - Commander Farrell, who had ducked below as soon as the relief hove in sight.
“Tell the wireless room to keep reporting,” the skipper ordered the chief yeoman. "Remind him to keep off the air.” By this time Lewis had ducked under the canvas to examine his charts.
"That sub again.” Captain Jackson finally proffered to the impatient officers. Farrell clanged up just in time to hear. "The call was from the Bootle,” the skipper added. “She’s one of our freighters. Bound up from Rio to Halifax. She’s close, I think. He signalled he was attacked, gave his position and then shut down.”
The skipper didn’t wait for an answer. He joined Lewis, the navigator, under the canvas.
Meanwhile Farrell went into action. “How are the depth charges, Daniels?” the executive officer asked.
“Everything’s in order, sir,” replied the commissioned gunner.
“Good. And Williams?”
“Sir!” The gunnery officer’s reply almost overlapped the question in his eagerness.
“Better go below and check the antisubmarine watch. Keep them on their toes.”
“Yes, sir.” said Williams, and the absence of a clang of the steel stairs as he left the bridge indicated he’d taken the fast way down, the quick slide.
Captain Jackson and Lewis emerged from the chart table shelter together. The skipper was at the voice tubes in a second and down went the shift in course, related immediately by the coxswain. “Send down maximum revolutions,” he added down the tube.
“Revolutions on, sir,” came the voice from the wheelhouse below, and the sound of the telegraphs to the engine room was a verification.
“Better see that the A/S is
Continued on page 46
Continued from gage 11
especially alert/’ the skipper addressed No. 1.
“I’ve already sent Williams below, sir,” replied Farrell.
“Good. Well, gentlemen, I suppose you’d like the news.” The skipper’s grin was wide enough to see in the moonlight. “It’s the Bootle. From the position she gives she’s about 250 miles away. That’s close enough for us to help her. What’s the time, Smith?”
Horace glanced at his watch. He was glad to be in on the party. For a few minutes he’d been feeling like a spectator. “Twenty after eight, sir—” He suddenly remembered he was in the service. “I beg your pardon, sir—twenty hours and twenty minutes, sir.”
“That’s quite all right, Smith,” said the captain. “Either way it’s still the same. Well, I figure we’ll be alongside the Bootle about 4.30 or five. That’s a little better than eight hours. With this weather we should be able to get about thirty-three or thirty-four knots.”
ALREADY the Innisfail had settled 1 down to that gait. There was an almost imperceptible increase in the hum from amidships as the turbines buckled down to their task. Lower in the water squatted the stern and the boiling, phosphorescent-lit wake seemed but inches from the end of the quarter-deck.
And the Innisfail took on a new motion as if she, too, scented the first tangs of battle in the night air. No longer the bow seemed to lift idly to the swells, hang and then drop to the trough. Now, the knifelike prow, quartering the seas, split them open with a shower that cascaded water down the starboard side of the for’ard deck. Heaving water boiled up almost to the steel deck plates amidships.
And above it all theshrill song of the stacks, halyards and wireless aerial kept almost at soprano pitch. Midnight, the change of the watch, and still the Innisfail hurtled on.
Captain Jackson stayed on the bridge sending Lewis, Harrison and Smith below with a warning that he’d be sounding action stations in an hour just to be prepared. Only one signal had come through the night about the stricken ship. An American freighter, the Sumas, had wirelessed she was on her way but couldn’t reach the position until possibly eight or nine in the morning. British freighters, too, might be on their way to aid, but would not disclose their position.
The binisfail remained silent. Hers was a double mission. She would rescue the survivors—and possibly avenge them. To give her position and decision would warn the enemy. It would be of no help to the survivors who by now were drifting about in their boats.
For’ard in the crew’s quarters there wasn’t a hammock slung. The men were at the mess tables. Leading seamen, veterans of the Namsos and Dunkirk evacuations were listened to with a new degree of respect by the hands making their first destroyer voyage.
Aft, in the wardroom, Lewis, Harrison and Smith lounged in the big chairs before the electric fireplace and talked over tea and sandwiches. Over the length of the ship and even down below in boiler and engine rooms where Commander Thompson personally sat by the main controls, and Lieutenant McIntosh did similar duty watching the nozzles of the burners in the roaring boilers, all hands waited for the call of action stations.
It came, but after an almost interminable wait.
The crews of the stem guns were already at their stations, shadowy, muttering shapes as Horace followed Lewis and Harrison from the canopy and into the open. While Harrison stayed aft to
supervise the depth charges and Daniels halted by his torpedo tubes, Horace moved up in the shelter of the port side. First aid and fire crews stood at the ready with Lieutenant Black chatting with his hospital crew.
“Tell the Captain we’re all prepared, will you, Smith?” he called.
Horace nodded and continued for’ard beneath the platform of the multiple pom-pom guns now uncovered, up the ladder to the foredeck, up again to the wheel house and finally to the bridge. He passed on the message from the medical officer.
“Right,” said the skipper.
Horace surveyed the bridge as he took up a position just back from the port wing. Captain Jackson stood almost motionless, eyes ahead, the peak of his cap almost over the shelter flap at the for’ard edge of the bridge. Lewis, the navigator, was at the starboard side, just inches from his chart table. Between them there was Lieut.-Commander Farrell, who seemed, to Horace’s mind, ready to take a flying leap to the director tower just abaft the bridge.
The other officers, he knew were at their stations either on deck or in the mysterious places where gunnery and plotting officers make their action abode. The four officers were not alone on the bridge. There was little room to spare. The Captain’s servant and another bridge messenger stood silently at the rear while the Chief Yeoman of Signals was almost bent over the shoulder of the radio-man in his cubbyhole bridge position.
So this is how a destroyer man fights, thought Horace. Action stations was no longer a novelty to him but this was different, even though there was but faint hope of offensive action. Still, it was action.
He glanced at his watch. Hours to wait yet. Three anyway. Glancing aft he could see in the waning moonlight the shapes of the watchers in the signal-light wings near him and farther back, huddled by the flag locker, the signalmen chatting quietly with the two men ready at a moment’s notice to clamber up to their exposed places on either side of long black range finders glistening above them.
The Innisfail was ready for action! There was occasional conversation as the hours passed, but mostly between the skipper and his navigator. Then there was that cheery ten or fifteen minutes when the understanding skipper’s steward suddenly appeared with a big pot of cocoa and some sandwiches.
'"THE MOON had paled away into a A greying dawn before Horace realized the flight of time. And with the first lighting of the eastern sky, Lieut.-Commander Farrell suddenly gave an order for all hands to be on the alert. Up to the range finders went the two ratings; watchers in the signal-light wings changed shifts. Horace gazed ahead at the sea until his eyes ached.
“Check with the A/S,” called the skipper to Lewis.
The navigator turned to a phone station to call the anti-submarine position. “Nothing to report, sir,” he answered a moment later.
“The sub’s not likely to hang around at that,” commented Captain Jackson. “I’d like to get a crack at whatever secret base he’s using in those islands down in the West Indies.”
It was practically daylight now. Lewis was figuring rapidly on a scratch pad. “We’re right in the neighborhood, sir,” he informed the skipper.
“It shouldn’t be very difficult to sight the small boats in a sea this quiet,” Capt. Jackson commented.
“There’s something well off on the
starboard quarter, sir!” It was the seaman in the starboard signal-light wing who gave the first news.
The Captain, Lewis, Horace and the Chief Yeoman all levelled their glasses in that direction. Quickly the Captain stepped back to the voice tube to the wheelhouse below.
“Alter course twenty degrees starboard !”
“Twenty degrees starboard on, sir,” came the reply. The Innisfail swung quickly and took the light swell almost bow on.
“What do you make it, Lewis?” called the skipper.
“Looks like two ships, sir.”
“That’s what I make it,” confirmed Captain Jackson. “But why the two? They’re awfully close.”
“Range 14,000,” came the call from the finder aft the bridge. Glasses were kept glued on the specks in the distance.
Horace seemed to make out one vessel, a small one, with a much larger cargo-type ship bow alongside and just past the starboard side of the smaller ship.
The smaller ship seemed to have a slight list to port, Horace thought. Captain Jackson apparently thought so too.
“Must be considering salvage,” he said to no one in particular, and then turned to the Chief Yeoman.
“Give them a signal. Make known name and flag,” he ordered.
There was silence for a few minutes, tense silence in which Horace’s arms ached as he kept his glasses to his eyes.
“Range 9,000,” came the call. It was daylight now.
Horace rested his arms a moment then brought his glasses up again.
There seemed a lot of action for’ard on the larger of the two ships. "Then a grey cloud seemed to envelop its bow.
The Innisfail’s bridge galvanized into action before the import of that cloud dawned on Horace.
“Hard to port,” shouted the Captain down the tube and the Innisfail was heeled almost completely over on her starboard side as the repeat came back from the coxswain.
Horace heard what seemed a fantasy of bells punctuated by rising voices from the director tower that now swivelled to starboard almost in conjunction with the turning of the bow guns.
“We’re fired on, Mr. Lewis,” said the Captain.
It was as matter of fact as that. It was not just a statement. It was the announcement of a battle.
Horace, still gripping the bridge rail tightly as the Innisfail heeled, suddenly looked into the side of a waterfall that seemed but feet away. The shells had landed just off the starboard bow.
“Sixty degrees starboard,” went the Captain’s order to the coxswain. “Alternate revolutions by 800 at two-minute intervals,” he added.
HORACE, through his glasses, saw almost continuous clouds about the bow of the larger freighter, and now a cloud that seemed to form amidships, among the superstructure.
“We’re going in Lewis.” The skipper’s voice took on a grimness. “She must be a big-gunned auxiliary cruiser lying in wait for anything not neutral that comes to help what her submarine sinks. Open fire when we get in to 7000. I’ll work in to . get a starboard bearing on—”
The skipper’s voice was drowned in the crash of rent steel and Horace was thrown off his feet. Geysers heaved up to both port and starboard and Horace struggled up to look aft and see a shambles where once had been the canopy and the guns there.
“Open fire,” went the skipper’s word to the director tower. “Prepare torpedoes,” he added, the last word just beating the blast of the two for’ard guns.
The Yeoman was starting to relay the order to the torpedo-men amidships when
both funnels belched up in an eruption of steel and steam.
.“Boiler room hit, sir,” shouted the Yeoman and his words just beat the second blast of the bow guns. “I can’t get through to the torpedo officer,” he added, and now his shout seemed almost a shriek in the momentary lull between salvos.
“Smith!” Horace swung toward the skipper. “Get down to the torpedo officer,” Captain Jackson called.
Horace was looking, while listening. The first of the Innisfail’s blasts had rent the sea slightly over the range of the enemy’s bow, and the second so close it must have shaken the bow plates.
The Innisfail was still twisting in her slowing way as the Captain punctuated his words with course changes to the wheelhouse.
“Tell the torpedo officer to fire independent,” the skipper ordered Horace. “Tell him I’m still going to close in as long as she’s got any way on her at all !”
Down steel ladders that shuddered, Horace scrambled to the main deck. Behind him he heard guns blasting and in his face the salty spray from cascades that seemed to rise almost at his side. He passed men moaning and wondered why he paid no heed.
A steaming crater of steel stopped him aghast, steam that curled up from what had been the boiler room, curling with lightning and eerie magic around the shambles of smoke-stacks, whalers and the crew’s galley. The shell had apparently struck the stacks and blasted downward.
Once more Horace started to walk aft. A terrific blast behind him almost spun him around as he pitched to the steel decks. Dazed, he scrambled out of the twisted ruins of the starboard pom-pom platform. His right shoulder burned furiously.
Steadying himself, he took his bearings. He knew he was looking for’ard but there seemed no bridge now. And neither was there sound from those bow guns. They had caught that last one and caught it hard. His brain cleared quickly. The torpedo officer. That was the order.
He stumbled aft. The torpedoes were miraculously intact. But where was Daniels?
“They’re hit hard aft, sir!” Horace turned to meet the unscathed among the starboard first aid and fire party.
“Mr. Daniels?” Horace asked.
“He’s here; sir.” A petty officer pointed to the base of the searchlight tower between the two sets of tubes.
Daniels was conscious. He couldn’t stand but he could think and talk.
“What’s happened on the bridge?” he asked.
“I’m finding out,” Horace replied. Quickly he sent seamen fore and aft with orders to report immediately.
HORACE suddenly felt the silence about him. No rush of wind now. No singing stays. Only the hideous hissing of escaping steam and the cries of men pulled, by their mates, free of debris.
Across the water, now but a scant three thousand yards away, lay the enemy. For the moment the enemy, too, was silent. Evidently he believed that the Innisfail was done for, that she wasn’t worth any more shells. The destroyer moved, just perceptibly, drifting parallel in reverse on the enemy’s course.
Horace looked the enemy over, found himself thinking aloud. “So that was it! She was using the smaller ship as a decoy— and using her as a shield in case we got in range!”
He realized that the gunnery officer had also apparently seen the game and had tried, despite the handicap, to range the larger ship behind her shield.
Horace looked through his glasses and suddenly shouted at Daniels: “That’s the swine’s game. He let’s the torpedoed ship sink and nabs the first rescuer who isn’t a
Yankee. His sub’s probably gone off for more game.” He yanked his binoculars from his eyes. “Are those torpedoes ready?” he roared at the helpless Daniels.
Daniels nodded assent. If Smith wanted to fight he’d get all the help he wanted.
Horace turned to the men about him. “Any torpedo-men here?”
Five men yelled and in the same instant dashed to the tubes.
“I don’t know how you do it, but set them on the range,” Horace shouted.
“The range is set, sir,” yelled a torpedoman. “I hope they fire!”
“They’ve got to,” snapped Horace. “Can you set them to depth. I'd like them to run at twenty or twenty-two feet ”
Men scrambled around. “It’s a good chance,” one cried. “It’s like shooting at a sitting duck. We’re both stopped. Nobody ever got a better shot!” Horace hoped they were right. They should know, he thought.
“Fire the damned things!” he yelled. “And fire them straight!”
Even while he was speaking the torpedomen had bustled into their final stations. There was a swoosh and a thump as the great long steel fish, one by one, hurtled their blunt noses out and overside.
In quick succession, four messengers of death bounced momentarily on the surface, swung fantastically back and forth for an agonizing second or two and then disappeared in a greyish line on the blueblack sea. A grey cloud billowed up from the bow of the large freighter.
Horace knew the torpedo firing had been seen. But he knew, too, that those others would have time for but one shot. The Innisfail was slowly drifting into a blind spot, as the enemy ship’s floating shield blocked her from her target. They were blinded by the top-hamper of the smaller craft.
Even as the sound of the parting shot floated across the sea they were showered in spray.
The shot, thank heaven, was short.
Horace and every man around him glued eyes on the ships across there.
Daniels was counting—counting the seconds aloud. Horace prayed that those beloved torpedoes of Daniels’ would run true. He had no fear of the torpedo-man who sent them away. He’d been well trained.
Suddenly Daniels yelled: “They’ll vary in their depth, you know. They do the dips.”
“As long as they dip in the right place, don’t worry,” Horace called back grimly.
Through his glasses Horace could see a violent scurrying about the upper works of the enemy ships. He could guess that frantic efforts were being made to cast off the lines that linked them.
The men Horace had sent to investigate and report returned. He heard them only vaguely. Fires were under control. Casualties were heavy but, miraculously, few were fatal. The Captain and Lewis were both out of action. The other officers? They didn’t know. Every available first aid man was working.
Horace nodded. Daniels still counted. “Good lord, have those blasted fish gone straight down!”
Somewhere out there four huge cylinders were streaking along beneath a heaving sea.
“Daniels,” yelled Horace. “How long do those— !”
His voice froze in his throat. Before his eyes, two great hulks of floating steel seemed to quiver. Around them the sea flattened out and suddenly spewed up an inferno of flame, smoke and debris.
Daniels struggled up onto his elbows as the thunderous roar came over the water. Horace’s throat was dry—too dry to join in the cheers of the men around him.
The billow of haze and fog across there cleared away in a moment. The closer, smaller ship was still afloat. Back of her the other still rode. Yes, but with a crazy list, down by the bow and belching fire!
Horace turned. It was Williams. At least the face was Williams. The gunnery officer was begrimed and ragged. “I just worked myself free up there for’ard,” he panted. First aid men quickly examined him.
“So the fight is over,” mused Horace, and suddenly was struck with the fear that his own ship might soon plunge to the same watery grave that was claiming its adversary.
“I think we ought to launch a boat,” he said gravely.
The babel of conversation around him suddenly turned into a roar of laughter. He joined with them as he remembered and looked at the kindling wood that had been the whalers.
“Ship to port!” came the sudden yell of one of the hands.
A ship it was, and a sizeable one, still fairly distant. A bit farther astern was a cruiser. They saw the white ensign.
Horace walked slowly toward the remnants of the bridge Williams straggling with him. The men were singing now, singing “Roll Out the Barrel !”
That was the song British tars sang at Namsos and Dunkirk, the song the crew of the sinking Fraser sang, the men of the Glorious, the Courageous, the Rawalpindi.
Horace and Williams struggled for’ard. Up and over the ruins they clambered at last to reach the battered steelwork which was all that was left of the bridge and wheelhouse. Seamen who had come from somewhere, and who, from their appearance, had been digging themselves out, were ministering to the wounded.
“Captain Jackson was just asking about you, sir.”
Horace and Williams looked at the seaman in amazement and hurriedly scrambled still farther for’ard with him.
Covered with coats, the skipper and Lewis lay braced against a pile of debris. It was evident that they’d taken a bad beating but were not dangerously injured. “How’s the ship?” the skipper asked. “Badly hit, sir, and a mess below decks I think,” Horace answered.
“She’ll stay afloat, sir,” added Williams. “There’s another ship and one of our cruisers close by.”
“What about the men—and Farrell, Daniels—? The Captain’s voice was tired.
“We’re having a thorough check made, sir,” Williams told him. “Daniels is wounded in the legs but I don’t know about the others, sir.”
“Let me know as soon as you can,” ordered the skipper. “Have the cruiser’s boarding officer get all the wounded over there as soon as possible.”
“Yes, sir,” said Williams.
“Who fired those torpedoes?” The skipper spoke slowly.
“It was Smith, sir.”
“Smith?” Capt. Jackson eyed him. “How did you know you’d get the second ship, Smith?”
“I guess I just couldn’t forget the files at the shipping office, sir,” replied Horace. “You see, Lloyd’s Register is the Bible there.”
“What’s Lloyd’s got to do with firing torpedoes,” Williams asked as the skipper frowned, puzzled.
“Well,” said Horace,” I knew the smaller ship was the Durban. I guess she’s the one who came to the rescue of the submarine’s victim. Then I recognized the second ship as the Astra.”
“She’s a Norwegian,” cut in Williams. “They probably captured her and took her over.”
“I couldn’t mistake her,” Horace went on. “I went as supercargo on her to Antwerp once. Well, I figured the Durban was only drawing about seventeen feet. She looked fairly light.”
“But the Astra,” asked the skipper.
“She draws almost thirty feet when she’s loaded, sir,” said Horace. “Actually she’s a big ship and I could see she was well down by the bow with munitions and oil or something. That’s why I figured the
torpedoes would run under the Durban and get the Astra.”
“Well, I’m dashed!” It was Lewis who spoke, whether it hurt him or not.
THE CAPTAIN looked at Lewis and Lewis looked at Williams. Then they all three looked at Horace, but a hail across the water interrupted whatever they were about to say. It was Horace who spotted the launches nearly alongside.
“Boats from the cruiser are here, sir,” he reported to the skipper.
“From the cruiser?” The skipper's eyes twinkled. “You’d better receive them on boæd, Lieutenant Smith—if that shoulder of yours is all right.”
Shoulder? Horace looked and saw the jagged rip in the right shoulder of his uniform coat.
“It’s quite all right, sir,” he stated. He hadn’t noticed it since he started aft and got caught apparently in that shrapnel burst, and at least he could move his arm all right. He clambered aft to find
seamen already getting a ladder overside.
Looking down at his uniform, Horace realized with a shock that didn’t look much better than his ship. He was also worried that he couldn’t pipe the visiting officer over the side. Maybe he didn’t rate being piped aboard, but it seemed to Horace that some traditional rite was missing.
Before he could remember what it was, the officer came aboard, saluted the quarter-deck and returned the salute Horace automatically gave him.
“Splendid show, sir,” he greeted Horace. “I’m Commander Bracken of the cruiser, Sefton.”
“Paymaster-Lieutenant Horace Smith, sir,” replied Horace.
“Smith? Horace Smith?” The other’s face suddenly lighted up with pleasure. “Why, of course,” said Commander Bracken. “I knew your father well. Great destroyer man!”
Then he added: “All you Smiths are great destroyer men.”