Truk Lagoon, Empire of Japan
April 21st 1960
Sixty odd planes flew through the abnormally windy skies above Truk, their propellers chopping into the warm tropical air as they combed the ocean. If the neighboring Philippines happened to have anyone observing the display then there would have surely been an international incident. The planes were not alone, and below them sailed a small task force led by the carrier Shiroyama
plus the battleships Katsuragi
. Accompanying the capital ships were a handful of destroyers and light cruisers. It was enough to constitute a strike force against any number of of the less powerful nations in the area, and it was no secret which one in particular it was targeted at.
Far ahead of the task force was a rare sight, a dirigible flying the naval ensign of Japan. Though the Empire had adopted airships after the loss of the fleet at Dalian with the intent of using them as a cheap, quickly assembled alternative to an actual naval force, little had ever come of the effort. Plans to create "torpedo airships" to perform attacks from a relatively safe position on enemy warships never came to fruition thanks to the 2nd American Civil War which cut Japan off from helium supplies. Forced to use hydrogen, they couldn't risk sending an airship into the range of flak for fear of the gas igniting. And so, Japanese airships only remained in support roles.
In the case of the Hayabusa
, the dirigible flying before the fleet, it served an anti-submarine role. Where it might have instead carried torpedo tubes, it instead carried dozens of compact sonar buoys. Many of then had already been deployed, but were picking up nothing so far.
"Deploying buoys eighteen through twenty-five, switching seven through seventeen over to the Katsuragi's
operators. Switch your frequencies."
The twin lines of men hunched over sonar equipment re-tuned their receivers to match the transmitting frequencies of the newly-dropped buoys. Had the airship not been built as a torpedo boat, then they would have had enough room to house operators for all the active buoys. At least IJN battleships had sonar suites of their own that could be used in a pinch in concert with airship-dropped buoys.
Yumi flipped his equipment over to buoy twenty-one. Nothing, just as usual. For a force sent specifically to hunt down a submarine, there sure weren't any submarines to be found. Out of boredom he peered out of the gondola's window, hoping that he might catch one surfacing to recharge out of a stroke of luck. Unsurprisingly, he didn't. The specific submarines they were looking for hadn't left their home port nearly long enough ago to be running out of power in their batteries.
"Captain!" Yelled out the Hayabusa's radio operator, turning quite a few heads. "The Katsuragi
has been torpedoed, they're dead in the water!"Impossible!
Thought Yumi, frantically switching back to the frequencies of earlier buoy's to make sure he hadn't missed anything. Still nothing. A modern submarine might go unnoticed in these conditions, but not some old clunker from the 30's!
"It might be among our own fleet," said Yumi, "hiding in the noise from our own ships."
"No, they couldn't attack from that range without almost surfacing." Said the Captain. "Switch all buoys to active sonar, find it."
Yumi did as he was told and went through each of the buoys, ordering them to begin sending out sonar pings. "All buoys on active, sir!"
Said the crew in unison.
"We'll backtrack, start monitoring your assigned buoys from nine to seventeen.""Yes, sir!"Ping
Yumi heard it the moment he flicked back to buoy ten, the faint noise of a sonar ping being returned. A quick look at the deployment plans on the clipboard next to him confirmed that it wasn't any part of the task force.
"I've got something! Buoy ten!"PingPing
"Off the Katsuragi's
"I'm reading it too! Buoy twelve!"
"Buoy nine, I confirm."
"Buoy ten, distance estimate... nine kilometers? Can anyone else confirm?"
"Buoy eleven, I hear it too."
"Buoy nine, distance estimate nine-point-five kilometers."
"That wasn't a Mark 14 torpedo," said Yumi, "too far out. I'd guess it's not even a P-Class boat."
"Buoy twelve, I confirm location. Depth approximately two-hundred and fifty meters."
"Radio it to the fleet and set a course for the location, prep the depth charges."
did technically carry depth charges. Technically. Due to the nature of its role (spread buoys everywhere, then sit back and listen) it rarely got a chance to use them. Even so, everyone knew that the Captain would order their use even after they got the enemy submarine. Mainly because if they ever did
need to be used he wanted his crew to actually know how to set and fire them.
Yumi turned around at Captain Saeki's voice. He was an old and wise man, ever since being assigned to the Hayabusa
Yumi had looked up to him. They had never spoken before off-duty, but one-duty he could tell that the Captain was just the sort of man he wanted to serve under.
"What boat and what torpedo do you think it was, if not a P-Class with a Mark 14?"
"I'm not sure about the class, but it seems similar to the Hakuryū Class. Assuming it's an American boat I'd say its carrying Mark 38 torpedoes. If we're sticking purely to American classes then my best guess would be a T-Class. Test depth of two hundred meters, much like the Hakuryū, although with a much higher never-exceed depth."
"And why is that?"
"The American and Filipino navies set the test depth at one third of the design depth, we set ours at one half. They've been using roughly thousand megapascal steel to construct their submarines for a while now, we haven't been able to mass-produce it until recently."
"Buoy ten, you're a fine sonar tech."
"Thank you, sir."
The radio operator took off his headset and turned around.
"The destroyers got it, I have confirmation that the enemy submarine has been sunk."
"Well at least we still managed to go without any losses despite the sub's captain going directly against the exercise's plan and failing to emulate the P-Class he was meant to. The Philippines doesn't have anyone to import new submarines from, and certainly not any that can match an American T-Class. I can guess that the idea was to see how we perform in the face of an unexpected threat, but it seems a little far-fetched that the Filipinos would have a sub equal to our own cutting-edge. I suppose we know now that we can deal with it if they do, though."
Yumi picked the tool up out of the box next to him and threw it to the mechanic, who responded with a smile and a nod as he went back to work. Whenever he didn't have anything else to do, Yumi would go over and help the guy out. He'd never actually asked his name, even though it had been a good few weeks since the Hayabusa
was rebased to Truk, but despite that they had become good friends. The mechanic was happy to have an assistant, and Yumi was happy to watch him work on the planes.
Originally, Yumi had wanted to be a pilot. It had been his dream for as long as he could remember. Things turned out differently though, and by the time he joined the military he ended up enlisting in the Navy since it was just as the high brass was drawing up plans for southward expansion. Not to mention the talk of restarting the old dirigible program. He thought he might have had a chance of ending up as a pilot on the dirigible carrier that had been planned, but instead the program was canned again and he settled for being a sonar tech. Not nearly as glorious as being a pilot on a flying aircraft carrier.
At least it was still in the air.
"I'll bet you know enough to do my job by now," said the mechanic, "all the time you spend here and all. You a Navy pilot or something?"
Yumi chuckled at the thought. He had a license, and could fly the fighter the mechanic was working on, but he wasn't even close to capable of a carrier landing. Or a takeoff. Or combat. He could keep a plane steady and not much else.
"No, not at all. I'm a sonar tech on the Hayabusa
"Oh really? I heard about the exercise you did yesterday, sounds like you screwed up. The sub got a shot at the Katsuragi
, didn't it?"
"The briefing said the sub would be acting like a Filipino P-Class. We all took it at face value and started looking for a noisy piece of junk from the 30's. Instead it was acting like a T-Class and we had to use active sonar."
"I dunno what any of that means, but why'd they deviate from the plan?"
"It was part of the plan, but nobody in the task force was told that. T-Class subs are some of the more recent American designs, they dive deep and move quietly. Totally different beast from a P-Class. Anyhow, the whole point of it was to see how we handle unforeseen threats. The Admiral said that there'll be another exercise eventually with the same purpose."
"It sounds like they're planning to redeploy you, the Philippines won't have anything unexpected after all. Do you think you're headed to China?"
"I'd like to think that, but the Chinese fleet is almost entirely ships stolen at Dalian. There's not much point in a large-scale naval redeployment, especially since we have a land border anyways."
"It seems that way, doesn't it?" Said a familiar voice.
Yumi turned to the hangar's entrance and found Captain Saeki standing there. It took a couple seconds for him to process it.
"C-Captain?" Stuttered Yumi, jumping up into a salute along with the mechanic. "Why are you at the Air Service base?"
"You are well-prepared to do your job, Yontōsuihei
Nakamura. More so than any other sonar tech recruit I've worked with, you've got a real drive. I looked through your file and wasn't surprised, you volunteered?"
"Yes sir, my father died during the battle of Dalian. He would have wanted me to join up."
"So you really are their son! Kei and Naoko Nakamura's boy!"
The Captain's eyes lit up with mirth Yumi hadn't thought possible on such a serious and old face. His dignified, respected captain suddenly started acting like an excited kid.
"You knew my parents, sir?"
"You father and I were good friends, I had a hunch that you were his kid after I looked at your file. We were both pilots and were in the same squadron for a couple years, I still remember your birthday-he kept on going on and on about you right after he got the telegram. I came down here to make sure it was you. How about meeting somewhere else, not as airmen, totally informal. I doubt you remember him well, and I can tell you plenty!"
Yumi wasn't quite sure what to make of it all, and all he could muster was a canned "Yes, sir". With the handing over of a hastily scribbled note with a time and address on it, the captain left the two alone in the hangar.
The mechanic let out some pent-up chuckles.
"So," he said, "your mother was named Kei and your father was named Naoko?"
"Yes." Said Yumi with a sigh.
"And they named you, their son, Yumi?"
" Said Yumi with a more exasperated sigh.
"Are you actually a woman?"
"The recruiter asked that too."