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Anderson Taylor - Into the storm_Destroyermen

sf_historyAndersondawn of the Destroyermen - an imaginative alternate history saga.Pressed into service when World War II breaks out in the Pacific, the USS Walker - a Great-War vintage 'four-stacker' destroyer - finds itself in full retreat from pursuit by Japanese battleships. Its captain, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Patrick Reddy, knows that he and his crew are in dire straits. In desperation, he heads Walker into a squall, hoping it will give them cover - and emerges somewhere else.Familiar landmarks appear, but the water teems with monstrous, vicious fish. And there appear to be dinosaurs grazing on the plains of Bali. Gradually Matt and his crew must accept the fact that they are in an alternate world - and they are not alone. Humans have not evolved, but two other species have. And they are at war.With its steam power and weaponry, the Walker's very existence could alter the balance of power. And for Matt and his crew, who have the means to turn a primitive war into a genocidal Armageddon, one thing becomes clear. They must decide whose side they're on. Because whoever they choose to side with is the winner.

.0 - Ñîçäàíèå ôàéëàAndersonthe Storm: Destroyermenmy darling daughter, Rebecca Ruth. I do is for her, after all. return, I get her humor, wit, companionship, , and unqualified adoration. a bad trade. , I must thank my parents, Don and Jeanette Anderson, who tolerated my various early eccentric pursuits—albeit sometimes with dubious, strained smiles and rolling eyes. Parents always want the best for their kids, and many of the paths I chose in life were untrodden, dark, and overgrown. At least they didn't have to worry that I was running with the "wrong crowd," since I spent most of my formative spare time in the woods with a flintlock and a bedroll. They didn't just sit back and watch, though, and therefore must take a measure of responsibility for the example they set. My dad taught me about old radios, Fort Worth Spudders, flying—and honor, of course. My mother taught me strength of will and character. I might sometimes feel compelled to substitute "stubbornness and obstinacy" for those more noble-sounding traits, but which is, after all, more virtuous and practical? have to thank MMCPO (SS) Tom Postulka, USN, a good friend I miss a lot and who, even though a submariner, sparked my interest in four-stackers a dozen years ago. Erik Holland, USN (ret.), is a quintessential "snipe," and his stories of engine-room life on diesel-electric Fleet submarines have kept me laughing and learning for years. SCPO Jeff Fairchild, USN (ret.), may be a "Nukie Puke," but he's helped me out of a few jams too. Lt. Col. Dave L. Leedom, USAFR, and Mark Wheeler reminded me how fun flying can be. (Bad) Dennis Petty, Jim Goodrich, Col. Alan Huffines, USAR, and Lynn Kosminski convinced me that maybe I could string a few words together after all—in spite of the harm many of my professors did by stifling all literary allusions in my earlier, purely historical work. people who've helped me in so many ways include (but are certainly not limited to) Robin and Linda Clay, Mark Beck, Brad Fisher, USMC (ret.), Dennis Hudgens, Michael Dunegan, Walter Baldree, Sgt 1st Class Dex Fairbanks, USA (ret.), Riqui and David Wartes, Preston Furlow, and Cortney Skinner, Special thanks to Dr. David Bererra and all the nurses and staff as Harris Southwest Methodist Hospital, and of course, to my long-suffering, beautiful bride, Christine. Last, but certainly not least, I have to thank Russell Galen and Ginjer Buchanan. is the best editor I know and has always been gracious, friendly, and supportive. She and her staff are a pure pleasure to work with. Russell Galen is the best agent in the business. His patience, professionalism, encouragement, and friendship truly are the steam that moves this ship through the water. To say "I couldn't have done it without him" is ridiculously insufficient praise. I rarely find myself at a loss for words, but I simply cannot express how much I appreciate his help. Thanks, Russ. 1were running. There was no other word for it, no comforting euphemism to make the sting less sharp. In fact, it seemed impossible to wring the slightest sense of purpose from the confusion, privation, terror, and bone-numbing weariness they'd endured since the very day the war began on December 7. Now, three months later, they were running away ("limping" might be the better term) and they hadn't even had a chance to lick their wounds. The tired men and elderly ships of Destroyer Squadron (Des Ron) 29 had hurled themselves repeatedly at the implacable juggernaut that was the Japanese Imperial Navy while their numbers were ruthlessly slashed by disaster and disrepair. It was a tragically lopsided contest, a feeble gesture of defiance against overwhelming odds. In the end, a gesture was all it had been. Now all that remained was to flee—and it was probably too late. Commander Matthew Patrick Reddy, USNR, the captain of USS Walker, stood on the starboard bridgewing and tried to maintain at least a semblance of dignity in his rumpled and sweat-stained shirt. His left hand clutched his hat to his head against the thirty-knot breeze while his right tried to keep the half-filled mug of lukewarm coffee from slopping onto his uniform. rimmed eyes squinted from what was normally an almost embarrassingly boyish face, but at the moment a general covering of brown stubble and a fatigue-slacked expression made him look older than his thirty-two years. Not quite thirty-six hours earlier, he and his exhausted crew had participated in the largest surface action of the war to date: the Battle of the Java Sea. For once, the forces were evenly matched—in numbers, if not quality—and they thought they'd had a chance. But from the beginning, nothing went right. The battle finally ended sometime in the night with the ruthless slaughter of virtually the entire force under Admiral Doorman's command. While the enemy grew ever stronger, the scattered Allies were picked off in ones and twos. wasn't there when the poor old Houston and the staunch Perth were surrounded and hammered to the bottom. All the destroyers had been ordered to Surabaya to refuel and had thus been granted a short reprieve. Edwards, Alden, Ford, and Paul Jones departed for Australia as soon as their bunkers were full, and nobody knew if they'd made it through the gauntlet or not. The remaining destroyers were ordered to wait for the British cruiser Exeter, the only capital ship to survive the battle, and escort her to Ceylon after she completed temporary repairs. Matt spent that day of short intermission sending out parties to scrounge anything they might use, but little turned up in the bombed-out remains of the Dutch naval yard. The searchers discovered some belted .30 cal, eighty rounds of four-inch-fifty for the main guns, two condemned torpedoes, a little food. It wasn't much. All the while, emergency repairs to Walker were under way. Even if Matt had found the time, he couldn't have slept through the racket. , standing on the bridgewing, he allowed a huge yawn to escape and hoped it made him look calm instead of just worn-out. The morning sun was bright, and the beauty of the vast, calm, almost violet sea was marred only by the distant hump of Bawean Island and the tiny cluster of American and British destroyers guarding Exeter's wounded flanks like battle-weary army ants escorting their injured queen to a new home. As far as Matt knew, he was looking at all that remained of the Allied Forces in the American, British, Dutch, Australian—or ABDA—defensive area. He knew they'd been the last ones out of the tangled mass of wreckage and half-sunken hulks that Surabaya, Java, had become. ABDAFLOAT's initial force was composed of two heavy cruisers, seven light cruisers, twenty-three destroyers, and about thirty submarines and assorted support vessels. Now all that was left were three battered, Great War­vintage U.S. "four-stacker" destroyers, one British destroyer, Encounter, and the badly damaged heroine of the River Plate, HMS Exeter. The massive Japanese fleet that destroyed or chased off the rest of their comrades now had them alone to concentrate on. USS Pope (DD-225) and HMS Encounter screened Exeter's starboard side, while USS Mahan (DD-102) and Matt's own Walker (DD-163) screened to port. He glanced up at the lookout standing in the little tub near the top of the mast. Rodriguez, electrician's mate 3rd class, appeared transfixed, staring through heavy binoculars at a point far astern. From where he stood, Matt couldn't see anything yet, but he knew the two Japanese heavy cruisers and the destroyer that had pursued them since 0700 were still behind them. Rodriguez could see their smoke and they were getting closer. they'd slipped out of Surabaya the night before, they intended to run the Sunda Strait into the Indian Ocean and make a dash for Ceylon. Blocked by the enemy, they reversed course across the Java Sea to run east along the Borneo coast. Their quick about-face gained them breathing room, but the enemy cruisers launched observation planes. Two circled even now, high above and beyond reach of their meager antiaircraft defenses. All they could do was watch while the planes kited lazily overhead and reported their progress to every Japanese ship within range of their radios. convoy was limited to twenty-seven knots by Exeter's damage, but Matt knew Walker couldn't steam much faster herself. The daily litany of mechanical casualties plaguing his ancient ship read more like a shipyard inventory than a morning report. Pope and Mahan were in no better shape. The stress of constant steaming and frequent combat—in addition to ordinary wear and tear—had placed a heavier strain on Walker's machinery and equipment than she'd endured in all her twenty-three years of service. Walker had gone beyond her design, and Matt was very much afraid that she, as well as her crew, was being pushed beyond their capability. hadn't commanded her long, only four and a half months. As a reservist, even one from the Academy, he'd been treated pretty rough by the Navy. He'd worked his way into the exec's slot on a Benson-class destroyer (a major step up in the peacetime Navy), but he'd lost the posting to an older regular officer and found himself on the beach. He knew it wouldn't last and he was right. War was brewing all over the world, and it was just a matter of time before the United States got involved. When he got the letter, he expected—hoped for—a posting to one of the new Fletcher-class destroyers, possibly as gunnery officer. That would have suited him fine. Much to his surprise, he was given a command. But not of one of the sleek, lethal, modern destroyers he yearned for. No, he was to command one of the decrepit and almost defenseless antiques with which he was familiar, but found far from satisfying. Even more disheartening, his "new" command was attached to the Asiatic Fleet. Walker had toiled with the Asiatic Fleet for more than six years and in that time she'd never been back to the country of her birth. She was 314 feet long and not quite 31 feet wide. Her long, sleek, needleshaped hull and the four slightly raked funnels that provided the unofficial moniker for her class gave an impression of speed. And she was fast—by the standards of 1919—having made thirty-six knots on her trials. Even now she wasn't what one would have called slow, but the effort required to maintain her maximum speed was . . . excruciating. ancient boilers were choked with sediment, and her steam lines sprouted leaks with unpredictable capriciousness. Her wiring was so corroded that most of it didn't do anything anymore. Much had been spliced or bypassed, and unidentifiable bundles of wires ran all over the ship. Her hull plates leaked rust through cracked and peeling paint, despite constant work by her crew to keep it chipped and touched up. The plates themselves were only two-thirds as thick as they once had been. She stank of sweat, smoke, grease, paint, fuel oil, steam, and strangely, hot linoleum. Her round bottom made her roll horribly in anything but the calmest seas, and she rattled and groaned and vibrated so badly you could feel it in your teeth. Her blowers produced a loud and decidedly asthmatic wheeze, and the general cacophony of abused machinery made hearing difficult in the remotest areas of the ship. main battery consisted of a meager quartet of four-inch guns—only three of which could possibly bear on a single target—and none of which could elevate high enough to engage aircraft. There was one little three-inch antiaircraft gun on the fantail, but its range was so short it was used mostly for firing illumination star shells. The only even marginal antiaircraft defenses she had were two .30-caliber machine guns on the fire-control platform and two .50-caliber guns on the amidships deckhouse. Hanging over the fantail where it tapered sharply to a slightly rounded vee were two old-fashioned depth-charge racks. Her real teeth consisted of twelve 21-inch torpedoes carried in four triple-tube mounts between the number four funnel and the aft deckhouse. The torpedoes, and her once-respectable speed when delivering them, had been the reason for her creation so long ago. But like everything else in this new war so far, the torpedoes had been a grave and costly disappointment.had always heard that new captains often overlooked the shortcomings of their first command. But the first thing that sprang to mind when he saw her riding at anchor in Manila Bay, besides a general feeling of dismay over her apparent condition, was that the white-painted letters "163" on her bow seemed much too large. had been to the China Station and the Philippines—the Asiatic Fleet's area of operations—only once before. He'd been an ensign aboard another four-stacker during the buildup over the Panay incident, when the Japanese "accidentally" bombed and sank an American gunboat on the Yangtze River. Even then, the men, ships, and conditions of operation in the Asiatic Fleet made quite a negative impression. Equipment- and personnel-wise, the station was the abused, ugly dog of the Navy. The men were considered the dregs of the service, and the ships were thirdrate obsolescent relics that, it was joked, were kept in the Asiatic Fleet because they weren't worth the fuel to steam home to scrap. When he assumed command of USS Walker he'd studied the log and fitness reports of his predecessor, Captain Simmons. As expected, the crew's reputation for hard drinking and carousing was confirmed on the pages he read. But to his surprise, there was also a subliminal thread of tolerance, amusement, and even protectiveness among the author's words. Discipline had been strictly maintained, but it was quickly clear that Captain Simmons had liked his crew. Judging by the initial reserve with which Matt was received, the feeling was mutual. He wondered at the time how difficult it would be for him to "fill the Old Man's shoes" and how much trouble he'd have making the men conform to his own expectations. Even on more agreeable stations, change often provoked the most friction when a new captain took command. And he hadn't "come up" in the Asiatic Fleet. his apprehension, there was little friction after all. Perhaps it was his quiet competence and uncomplicated, black-and-white sense of duty that left no doubt among the crew where they stood. Or maybe it was his quick discovery that these men were not dregs—at least most of them weren't. Ever since the Depression, the Navy had been particular about the recruits it accepted. A fair percentage of the misfits may have gravitated to the Asiatic Fleet, but for the most part, the men were at least as professional as their counterparts on other stations. They just led an entirely different life than was the norm in the rest of the Navy. They were forced to cope with worn-out equipment and keep their ships combat ready with little more than the proverbial baling wire and chewing gum. It was only natural that they might vent more steam than their peers on stations with less stress, a better climate, and fewer "diversions" than had been the case in China or the Philippines. He could discipline and punish them for their rowdiness and debauchery during a night on the town, but in his heart he couldn't condemn them for it. Their ability to fix anything, or at least make it "sorta" work, in difficult circumstances appealed to his sense of independence. Whatever the reason, much quicker than he'd expected, he'd been elevated to the exalted status of "Skipper," and he realized he liked them too. , captain and crew together had been tested in the cauldron of combat, and Matt's black-and-white concept of right and wrong had come under serious assault. They'd dodged air attacks and experienced the unexpected exultation of "victory" in the Makassar Strait. They'd seen the senseless waste of lives in the Badung Strait caused by confusion and miscommunication. They'd lived through the frustration and horror of the Battle of the Java Sea, while their comrades on other ships and in other navies died for a purpose that began to elude them. No one questioned the War; it came without warning or mercy. It was real, it was allconsuming, and it was here. Why they were fighting it here was the unfathomable question. the Philippines was tough. A lot of the guys had Filipino wives and sweethearts, and to them it was home. Some planned to retire there. But after the Air Corps was slaughtered in the opening days of the war, the only things left that had wings had red circles painted on them. Clearly, if the air belonged to the Japanese, remaining in the Philippines was suicide. No one wanted to leave, not even Matt, who still hated being stationed there. But he hated being "run off " even more. Maybe it was his Texas upbringing, or the "Spirit of the Alamo" or something like that, but he'd been perfectly willing to fight to the last even though the withdrawal made good sense. of gray appeared when Walker and Des Ron 29 were redeployed south to defend the Dutch East Indies. It was clearly a hopeless cause. Air cover was still nonexistent, and there weren't enough ships to stop what was coming. The Dutch oil fields were the Japanese objective, but leaving a few old ships to try and slow them down would only provide them with target practice. If they had to make an Alamo-like stand, why couldn't they have done it in the Philippines? Their "home" waters, so to speak? belonged to the Dutch, and it was understandable that they'd want to keep it, but it was impossible. Reinforcements weren't coming. It made more sense to Matt to pull everything out and save the men and ships until they had enough to knock the Japanese on their butts for a change. Of course, he wasn't an admiral or a politician, and the very condition of the Asiatic Fleet proved that its survival wasn't a priority to those who were. He admitted he might've felt differently if Java was his home. The Nazis had Holland, and Java was all that was left. He had felt differently when the Philippines were at stake, and he hadn't even liked it there. It was all a matter of perspective. He knew he was relatively young and inexperienced, but he couldn't shake the thought that if it was strategically wrong to defend the Philippines, it was wrong to defend Java too. Maybe he was just bitter. The same people who expected them to fight to the last in the Dutch East Indies hadn't lifted a finger to support the United States in the Philippines. the disaster in the Java Sea he thought even the Dutch would realize it made more sense to fight their way back in than be destroyed getting kicked out. As far as he knew, they hadn't sunk a single Japanese ship during the battle. Except for Exeter and the aged destroyers, ABDAFLOAT had ceased to exist. He was mistaken. Word was that Admiral Helfrich, the Dutchman who'd replaced Tommy Hart as ABDA's commander, still planned offensive action even after Admirals Glassford and Palliser told him they had nothing left. The Dutch had no monopoly on stubbornness; the British hadn't showed much more sense regarding Singapore, and thousands of Americans were trapped in the Philippines, cut off from any support. But it was past time to leave. ABDA had done its best with what it had. There'd been willing cooperation, but no coordination. Without air cover or reconnaissance, or even a common language, they'd been like blindfolded kids running around on tricycles with a steamroller bearing down. It was a disaster. often reflected on the certainty he'd felt regarding an eventual war with Germany, and he admitted that before he got out here, he'd never given much thought to the Japanese. Evidently nobody had. Now his entire consciousness was devoted to preventing that underestimated foe from shredding his ship and her crew and sending them to the bottom of the Java Sea. a gauging glance at the stately Exeter off the port quarter to ensure that Walker was holding proper formation, he stepped into the pilothouse. The gunnery officer, Lieutenant (j.g.) Greg Garrett, looked anxiously from the port bridgewing and Matt waved him back. The tall, lanky young officer nodded solemnly and resumed scanning the sea toward the dark smudge in the north that was Borneo. A good kid, Greg. He was conscientious and industrious, if just a bit intense. They were still at general quarters, as they'd been since the morning watch, and Garrett's battle station was normally on the fire-control platform above the pilothouse. Matt had told him to rotate himself and his team out of the wind and sun periodically. The main battery was useless against air attack, and it would be a while before they were in range of the Japanese cruiser's eight-inch guns. Longer still before they could hope to reply. Even so, when it was Garrett's turn to take a break, he merely descended to the pilothouse and kept doing what he'd done above—watching and waiting. Matt understood how the younger man felt. The atmosphere of anxiety and tension was thick. Everyone anticipated the cry warning of enemy ships or planes. stocky, broad-shouldered form of Lieutenant James Ellis clomped metallically up the ladder from the main deck below, and Matt arched an eyebrow at him. He liked Jim Ellis, and they were as close to being friends as their rank difference allowed, but Jim was much farther from his battle station at the auxiliary conn on the aft deckhouse than Garrett was from his.



"Yes, sir, I know," Ellis said, anticipating the reprimand as he maneuvered Matt out of hearing of the others in the pilothouse. "But those nurses and their flyboy chauffeurs want to know if there's anything they can do. That Army captain"—he tilted his nose up with unconscious disdain—"actually tried to come up here and bug you. Chief Gray said he'd have to wait your convenience." Ellis grinned. "That wasn't good enough and Gray offered to sit on him—physically. Then he sent for me." Matt smiled in spite of his jitters. they cleared Surabaya, they'd taken aboard a rather motley assortment of passengers. First to arrive was an unkempt and harried-looking Australian, a Mr. Bradford, a construction engineer for Royal Dutch Shell. He introduced himself as a "naturalist," but paid his passage by intervening on their behalf with the harbor officials, who didn't want to fill their bunkers. They'd argued that the fuel would be better used by Dutch ships, staying to defend Java. Courtney Bradford countered with the fact that there was only one Dutch ship left, a destroyer, and she was getting the hell out just as fast as she could. Perhaps it was their lingering respect for a corporate superior, or maybe just the final realization that everything really was falling apart. Whatever the motivation, Walker left Surabaya with her bunkers overflowing. Next to come limping aboard was a sergeant from Houston's Marine contingent. He'd been wounded by a bomb that had killed dozens and wrecked the old cruiser's aft turret. Left ashore in a hospital with a lacerated leg, he missed her final sortie. He didn't intend to become a guest of the Japanese. Upon his arrival, he was roundly scolded for bleeding on the deck and sent below to the surgeon. , motoring out to catch them in a "borrowed" boat just as they were preparing to get under way were six Navy nurses and two P-40 pilots who'd escaped the sinking of the old Langley the day before. Langley had been ferrying P-40 fighters in for the defense of Java, but she was caught fifty miles short. Bombed into a smoldering wreck, she was abandoned, and one of Walker's sisters, Edsall, was forced to finish her with two precious torpedoes. The majority of Langley's personnel shipped south on the oiler Pecos, but in the confusion, the nurses and airmen were left behind. They persuaded the driver of a Dutch army truck to take them to Surabaya, and they arrived just in time to come aboard Walker. hadn't seen them. He'd been aboard Exeter conferring with Captain Gordon's executive officer. When he returned, he was informed of the ship's newest passengers by a leering Jim Ellis and a scandalized Lieutenant Brad "Spanky" McFarlane, the engineering officer, whose strict observance of Navy custom—if not always regulations—filled him with a terrible conviction that women on board would certainly doom the ship. That Army aviators accompanied them would probably send them to hell as well. Matt was inwardly amused by the diverse reactions, and it never occurred to him to set them ashore under the circumstances. He only wondered briefly where they'd be kept. Since then, he hadn't seen them and they'd been forgotten.

"What's his name?"

"The Army captain? Kaufman, sir."

"Very well, send him up, but by himself. And, Exec," he added ominously, "we don't need the distraction of women on my bridge. Clear?" Ellis grinned hugely and went to fetch their visitor. Matt stepped onto the bridgewing as the Air Corps captain clumsily appeared. He prepared to return the salute he expected, since they were technically out-of-doors. It didn't come. His eyes narrowed slightly and the other members of the bridge crew exchanged shocked, knowing expressions.

"Lieutenant Commander Reddy? I'm David Kaufman, Captain, U.S. Army Air Corps." man stuck out his hand and Matt took it briefly. His initial impression was that the lack of a salute and the use of his specific rank instead of the appropriate, if honorific, title of "Captain" were due to ignorance. A Navy lieutenant commander was equivalent to a major in the Army. But the emphasis Kaufman applied to his own rank warned Matt that his guest didn't see it that way and might try to intimidate him if he could.

"What can I do for you, Captain Kaufman?" he asked, placing emphasis on the "Captain" as well, but in a way he'd address a subordinate. glanced at the hostile expressions of the seamen on the bridge and modified his tone. His next words were less condescending.

"I just thought if there was anything I or Lieutenant Mallory might help you with, why, just let us know." He smiled smugly, and the patronizing inflection returned as he spoke. He acted like he'd granted a favor.

"What can you do?" Matt asked simply. "Besides fly airplanes. I assume you can fly airplanes." 's face reddened, and he realized he might have overstepped.

"Yeah, I can fly airplanes," he said with a quick, brittle smile. He held his hands out to his sides. "But I'm fresh out. You don't have one I can borrow?" His attempted joke fell flat and he just shrugged. "I can fire a machine gun." turned to Garrett, observing the exchange with wide eyes. "Mr. Garrett, perhaps the captain and his lieutenant might assist your crews on the thirty-cals on the fire-control platform? If we come under air attack they'll need to be supplied with ammunition." He grimaced. "Since we lost most of our mess attendants when we left the Philippines, it's hard to spare men for that chore." He looked the aviator square in the eye. "Thanks for the offer. You're dismissed." With that, he turned and peered out the pilothouse windows at the number one gun down on the foredeck. He sensed Kaufman's furious presence behind him for a few moments more, but with an audible sigh and a few muted chuckles, the rest of the watch relaxed and he knew Kaufman must have left. I shouldn't have let him rile me, he scolded himself, but he made a quiet snort of amusement anyway. he spun—"Exec!" 's head popped back into view. "Skipper?"

"Those women are nurses, you say?" leered again. "Absolutely." shook his head. "If they want to help, send them to Doc Stevens in the wardroom. And spread the word! They'll be treated with respect. man who inflicts himself on them will go overboard for the Japs. Understood?" nodded, his leer now slightly wistful. "Sir."

"Very well. And, Exec?"

"Sir?"

"Keep them off my bridge." slid down the ladder, firehouse style, and caught up with Kaufman, who was striding purposefully through the amidships deckhouse. His handsome, square-jawed face was clouded with anger. Ellis touched his sleeve and Kaufman spun. He recognized Ellis and forcibly composed his expression. He stood six inches taller than the burly exec, but Ellis was more muscular. A tolerant smile never left his face. Fitzhugh Gray strode up, adding his pudgy but powerful presence to the group. He handed each man a Coke, already opened, and slipped a church key onto the cap of the one in his own massive paw. a service where everyone had multiple "names"—real name, nickname, and sometimes multiple titles—Gray had the most. He was the chief boatswain's mate, and the highest-ranking NCO on the ship. Although he was technically subordinate to the most junior officers, only the captain and the exec would have dreamed of giving him an order. Time in grade, as well as personality, made him the "senior" chief aboard, and he was usually referred to as just "the Chief " by the crew. The other chiefs and officers often used the outdated but still honorific "the Bosun." Only the captain or the exec ever used the respectful diminutive "Boats."

"Going to be another hot one," Gray said, wiping his forehead with his sleeve. "'Course, if the goddamn Nips get us, I guess we'll be swimmin'. Them that can swim. I think I'd rather be sweating than swimmin'. I guess you fighter jocks don't give as much thought to swimmin' as destroyermen do." It was just a friendly jibe, but Kaufman was still annoyed by Gray's earlier threat, and what he perceived as the captain's humiliating treatment of him.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded hotly. Gray looked at Ellis and rolled his eyes. At that moment, Lieutenant Benjamin Mallory joined them. He was already drinking a Coke and he held it up.

"How about this, Captain?" he said. "These destroyer pukes have a Coke machine! Far as I can tell, it's the only thing that works." by Kaufman, Gray began to bristle. Ellis recognized the lieutenant's friendly banter, however, and turned to him. "That's right, boy," he said with a grin, "and if you airedales had done your job in the Philippines, we'd still be sitting fat and happy going up and down with the tide in Cavite. Nothing to worry about but keeping the Coke machine stocked while the yard-apes worked on these worn-out boilers." He stomped his foot on the deck for emphasis, indicating the forward fireroom below. didn't laugh. "I'm afraid you got me. I wasn't there, of course, but I heard the fellows didn't do so good." Ellis saw Gray take a breath and prepare his tirade about the ineffectiveness of the Air Corps, a topic much discussed. The Japanese air cover and the American lack thereof had been an extremely sore subject since the war began. Ignored now, and glad to be, Kaufman strode away. Mallory started to follow, but Ellis stopped him.

"By the way, Captain Kaufman asked if we could use a hand, and the captain said if you could keep the ammunition flowing to the machine guns it would help." nodded thoughtfully. "Sure thing. Not much else we'd be good for on a ship. Show me where you keep the bullets and I'll haul as many as you need." He looked wryly at Ellis and gestured over his shoulder with his chin. "He didn't like that much, did he?" smiled and shook his head. "No, son. I think he expected us to put him in charge." corner of Mallory's mouth quirked upward. "Kaufman's really not such a bad guy, but I guess he is sort of—" He caught himself and shrugged sheepishly. "I'll do anything I can to help." slapped him on the back, and the powerful blow nearly knocked Mallory into the Chief. "I know you will. Boats, have somebody show this man where we keep the bullets. I better get back where I belong." Lieutenant Sandra Tucker pushed aside the pea green curtain and led her entourage into the wardroom. She was petite, measuring only five foot three, and her long, sandy-brown hair was coiled tightly about her head. When it came down, it framed a face that may not have been classically beautiful, but was striking in a pretty, "girl next door" sort of way. Her large green eyes projected an impression of naive vulnerability, but anyone making that assumption would have been mistaken. At twentyseven, she'd been a Navy nurse since '35, and in that time she'd encountered every excuse, pickup line, real and imagined ailment, injury, and malingerer's complaint possible in a bored but active peacetime Navy. She was smart, confident, and even tended toward an arrogant streak when in her realm of expertise. Her mild conceit was understandable, since she was an outstanding nurse and often made a better doctor than the doctors did. She'd assisted in a variety of surgical procedures and performed everything from appendectomies to amputations by herself, since many of her postings had been in remote areas where emergencies were handled on-site. When war loomed, she and her companions volunteered for the Philippines. She had friends there, and that was where she figured nurses would be needed. She knew she was good at her job and genuinely wanted to be where she could make the greatest contribution. That was why she'd become a nurse in the first place. Right now, although she was the highest-ranking officer in the wardroom, it became quickly obvious that she wasn't in charge. ship's surgeon, "Doc" Stevens, was a tall, cadaverous man in his mid-forties. He and Pharmacist's Mate 3rd Class Jamie Miller were sitting at the green-topped wardroom table with the Marine sergeant, Pete Alden, playing dominoes when Sandra entered with the five other nurses. wardroom was the officers' dining room, but it also served as a surgery when the ship went into battle. The long dining surface became an operating table, and a large light hung above it by a fixture that could be lowered near the patient. Except for the dominoes, all superfluous articles had been stowed, and various gleaming surgical instruments lay neatly arranged and ready at hand. pharmacist's mate looked to be just a boy, like most of the crewmen Sandra had seen, but the Marine was a large, well-muscled, and deeply tanned thirtysomething. He regarded the nurses with a frankly appraising eye. The imposing surgeon grimly played a domino and glanced at them as the nurses crowded through the opening.

"I sort of expected to see you . . . ladies here." His Massachusetts accent was strong and nasal. "I bet you nurses want to be nurses, right?" He shifted in his chair and rubbed his chin. "I never had a nurse before. Not counting Jamie here, of course. Tell me, Sergeant," he said, addressing the Marine, "have you ever had a nurse?" Alden looked at him, astonished. The nurses were, after all, officers. Stevens shook his head. "Never mind, Sergeant. Of course you have. You're a wounded hero, after all. I'm sure you had nurses all over you." Sandra's face clouded and she began to snap a reprimand. Doc Stevens's look momentarily silenced her protest. "I know you're officers and I'm just a lowly Warrant. I don't give a damn. I know about you nurses; wouldn't even give me the time of day if I came squirming into your nice, clean, modern hospital. Well, this is my hospital! If you want to stay here and help, that's fine. There'll probably be plenty to do. But if you want to give orders or get in the way, you can turn around, climb that ladder and go play dollies under the depth charges because I don't need you." He stopped long enough to smile at their expressions. "I've got Jamie. He makes a pretty good nurse, even if he looks dreadful in a dress." 's eyes narrowed, and for an instant she hesitated. She'd faced this kind of attitude all her life and it was particularly pervasive in the military. Her father had perhaps been the worst, refusing to accept that she might do something with her life other than wait for "the right guy" to come along. His restrictions and expectations might have been couched more gently than Stevens's, but they were no less corrosive and condescending. And wrong. She'd proven that. She straightened her back and forced a smile.

"Surgeon's Mate Stevens, is it not?" she asked, and her voice held an icy calm. Stevens arched an eyebrow, but jerked an aggressive nod.

"Your captain asked that we report to you and that's what we've done. I know this is your `hospital' and I'm prepared to defer to you." Her voice took on a dangerous edge. "But since you insist on wallowing in your `lowly Warrant' status I'll remind you I'm a LIEUTENANT in the United States Navy. My ensigns might not pull rank on you, but I SURE AS HELL WILL! You're clearly not a gentleman, so I won't appeal to you as one, but as a superior officer I insist you get up off your skinny ass and show the respect due my rank or by God, I'll have you up on charges for insubordination!" voice had risen as she spoke, until her final exclamation was uttered as a roar that her small form seemed incapable of producing. Jamie Miller's chair hit the deck as he rocketed to attention. Even the wounded Marine struggled to his feet, his face a study of embarrassment mingled with respect. Doc Stevens remained seated a few moments more, but finally he stood also, an expression of mocking insolence on his face. He threw an exaggerated salute.

"Your orders, ma'am?" The question dripped sarcasm, but Sandra smiled in anticipation of his reaction. She looked at Jamie. "You!"

"Pharmacist's Mate Miller, ma'am."

"Mr. Miller, stow those dominoes and disinfect that table this instant. We could have casualties at any moment." She looked at the blood-soaked bandage the Marine wore. "Are you even fit for duty?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Hmm. I doubt it, but we'll see. We'll have a look at that leg presently, circumstances permitting." cleared his throat. "And what about me?" he demanded, surly. Sandra was sorely tempted to upbraid him again, but instead she smiled sweetly and indicated the rest of the nurses.

"You, MISTER Stevens . . . will tell us what you want us to do next. is your `hospital,' after all."had already forgotten his encounter with Captain Kaufman. He had far more important concerns. A Morse-lamp message from Captain Gordon was composed of only three words: "Enemy in sight." Exeter's lookouts had a higher vantage point than Rodriguez, but just a few moments later Garrett held his earpiece tight against his head and looked up.

"Sir! Rodriguez sees them too. Still dead astern, but coming up fast. They must be making thirty-five knots!" He sounded incredulous. Matt nodded. Even without Exeter slowing them down, Walker couldn't outrun them. Not anymore.

"Very well, Mr. Garrett. Return to your station. Mr. Rogers?" he said to the first officer. "Relieve Rodriguez in the crow's nest, if you please. If we can see them, they can hit us. Lieutenant Flowers"—he addressed the navigating officer—"take the conn." spoke to the man holding the brightly polished wheel. "I relieve you, sir." seaman relinquished his post. "Mr. Flowers has the conn," he responded and looked around, at a loss. Matt motioned for him to put on a headset.

"Sound general quarters again. We've been at battle stations all morning, but somebody might be fooling around in the head." rhythmic, ill-sounding gong, gong, gong of the general alarm reverberated throughout the ship. the aft fireroom, Brad "Spanky" McFarlane, the engineering officer, wiped sweat from his narrow face and shook it off his hand to join the black, slimy slurry on the deck plates. In the space containing the number three and four boilers, it was at least 130 degrees. He barely heard the sound of the alarm over the thundering blower and the roar of the burners as atomized fuel oil was consumed at a prodigious rate.

"Gotta get back to the forward engine room. That's the second time they've sounded GQ. Maybe they mean it this time." Isak Reuben on the blower control and Gilbert Yager on the burner nodded, but paid him no further attention. They were both entirely focused on their tasks. Their two jobs, and that of the water tender, required careful concentration. Too much fuel and not enough air, and black smoke billowed from the stacks, earning an instant reprimand from the captain and the scorn of their fellow "snipes." Not enough feed water in the lines, and white steam rose overhead. Too much water, not enough air and fuel, and water instead of steam sprayed into the turbines. That could damage the delicate blades. Isak and Gilbert were magicians at their jobs and the very best he had, but McFarlane didn't know what to think of them otherwise. They were inseparable, but rarely talked to anyone else. They were both wiry, intense little men, and neither seemed to mind the hellish temperatures in which they worked. Even off duty, they lingered in the vicinity of their posts—which annoyed the men on watch. They never caused any trouble, but they didn't make friends and they didn't play on the ship's baseball team. They just kept to themselves. The other snipes called them the White Mice, or just the Mice, because of their similar, almost rodent-like expressions and because they never went above deck if they could help it. Therefore, their otherwise perpetually sooty skins had an unhealthy pallor. The only explanation McFarlane ever got was that if they spent too much time in the "cool" air on deck, they'd lose their tolerance for the temperatures in the fireroom. McFarlane shrugged and stepped to the air lock. They were squirrels, sure enough, but they were his squirrels. cycled through the air lock into the forward engine room. He was shaped much like the Mice, and he barely had to squat to step through. The large compartment was filled by the big turbines and a maze of steam lines and conduits, but he moved among them with practiced ease to the enclosed intercom by the main throttle control. "Throttle manned and ready," he said into the mouthpiece. The talker on the bridge acknowledged, and Spanky looked at the other throttlemen. They looked back with almost pathetically hopeful expressions. They were all so young, and the faith they placed in him and their "new" captain made him feel uncomfortable. wasn't much of a poker player. He disliked games of chance. He felt at ease only when he was totally in control of everything it was his business to control. Right now his business was the engines, and cantankerous as they were, he could handle that. He couldn't influence the outcome of anything beyond the confines of his engine room, and in a way he was glad. Deep inside, however, was a feeling like the one he hated whenever he did play poker: knowing that his destiny, or at least a portion of his pay, was at the mercy of the cardboard rectangle held carelessly in the dealer's hand and knowing that luck alone would dictate how it affected him. He understood the sense of frustrated helplessness plaguing the young sailors nearby. It gnawed him too. But he couldn't let it show—just as the captain couldn't. All he could do was hope for an ace. Somehow, they'd drawn the right cards so far, in spite of their deficiencies, but the Japanese kept stacking the deck. He hoped Captain Reddy had some card tricks of his own, because that was what they'd need to survive this call. squinted ahead against the sun. It no longer streamed directly through the windows, but it was bright enough to make everything washed-out and fuzzy. Suddenly, exactly where he looked, two closely spaced geysers of spume erupted directly in their path, two hundred yards ahead. This was followed by the superfluous report of his talker that the enemy had opened fire. The columns of water thrown up by the eight-inch shells were at least as tall as the mast. Matt glanced at his watch and took note of the time. He was glad to see that his hand was steady. His carefully hidden anxiety of a few moments before had subsided now that the first shots had been fired. Large, grayish-brown clouds enveloped Exeter as her own eight-inch guns replied to the Japanese salvo. The overpressure of the report shook the pilothouse windows. The waiting was over, and Matt felt a surge of exhilaration edge out the anticipation even further. It was much like the baseball games of his youth, he reflected. He sometimes got so keyed up for a game that he felt physically sick. He didn't know why, but he suspected he was afraid he would screw up somehow. He played third base, and in his mind's eye he always saw himself missing the critical catch and thus allowing the other team to score the game-winning point. The idea of such humiliation was worse than enduring the real thing, and always, as soon as the first pitch was thrown, his nervousness was forgotten. He supposed this wasn't a dissimilar context, although if he screwed up here much more than a game was at stake. 's salvos came faster than Matt would have expected, and he noticed with a sense of admiration and vicarious pride that Captain Gordon had replaced Exeter's naval jack with an enormous battle flag, much like the little destroyer Electra had done in the Battle of the Java Sea when she charged the enemy fleet all alone. That action saved the crippled Exeter from destruction by forcing the enemy to maneuver to avoid Electra's torpedoes, but the resulting fusillade of enemy shells obliterated the gallant destroyer. It was one of the bravest things Matt had ever seen, and he'd seen a lot of courage in the last few months. Unfortunately, he thought bitterly, most had been futile. enemy shells became more concentrated, and the great plumes erupted continuously around the veteran cruiser. The impacts seemed to have increased in number as well.

"Sir, Exeter has sent a radio message. I guess they don't think we'll see their Morse lamp through the splashes." It was Petty Officer 1st Class Steve "Sparks" Riggs, the comm officer, who had scampered down from the fire-control platform above.

"What does she say?" asked Matt impatiently.

"Two more Jap ships, heavy cruisers at least, and three destroyers bearing two one five! The heavies have opened fire. Exeter says her fire control is out—no hits yet, it just quit. They've gone to local control of the main battery." Matt's sense of exhilaration turned to dread. Without her fire-control equipment, Exeter was nearly as helpless as her escorts. "Captain Gordon wants us to take formation with the other destroyers astern and make smoke." nodded. "Acknowledge. Confirm Pope and Mahan received as well. Make the adjustment, Mr. Flowers," he said, addressing the helmsman. "I'm going topside for a look. You have the deck."

"I have the deck, aye, sir." turned and climbed briskly up the ladder to the platform above. Now, except for the mast and the four slender funnels beyond it directly astern, he had a full 360-degree view of the panoramic drama of which Walker was, so far, such an insignificant part. Garrett stepped from the range-finder platform.

"More Japs, sir! They just popped out from behind that squall. Do you see? There!" He raised his long arm and pointed far astern, off the port quarter. "There's more and more rain squalls," he added hopefully. The deck tilted as Walker heeled into a sharp turn to starboard. The blowers lost their intensity briefly, as Flowers reduced speed to join Walker's partners forming in Exeter's wake. Off to the west-northwest, a number of indistinct ships were visible to the naked eye, not far from the coast of Borneo. That landmass appeared as a hazy smear, but it was actually closer than it seemed. The shoreline was obscured by the same squall that had concealed the Japanese ships.

"I see them, Mr. Garrett," he said in what he hoped was a confident tone, but he felt like he'd pronounced their death sentence. There were now two distinct battle groups in pursuit and far above in those loitering planes he knew even more forces were being called. It would probably not be long before attack aircraft arrived as well. He leaned over the speaking tube. "Let's make a little smoke, Mr. Flowers." , his orders were relayed to the torpedomen, who sprang to activate the smoke generators. At the same time, in the boiler rooms, the burner batters exchanged the sprayer plates to increase the flow of oil through the burners. Slowly at first, but building rapidly, a huge column of sooty black smoke gushed from the funnels and piled into the clear morning sky. It was joined by the smoke of the other three destroyers, rapidly creating an opaque wall between them and the enemy. The incoming fire began to slacken, and Matt stared aft at the huge cloud they were creating. It seemed to blot out the entire western horizon. Lieutenant Garrett glanced at him when he chuckled quietly. "I always get a hoot out of doing that." continued east-southeast under a black pall. The enemy barrage was less accurate, but it didn't stop. The cruisers were in direct radio contact with the spotting planes overhead, correcting their fire. The Allied squadron tried to zigzag subtly, to increase the correction error, but they couldn't deviate much from a straight heading because the enemy was already faster and zigzagging slowed them down. All they could hope for was a squall of their own to hide in, to stretch the chase until dark. Then they might change course unnoticed and lose their pursuers. Matt had little hope of that. It was now only 1100. Whatever fate awaited them, it would certainly unfold before the sun went down. Rogers's excited voice screamed from Garrett's headphones. "Surface target! Starboard quarter! Four Nip destroyers out of the smoke. God, they're fast!" The ordnance strikers on the platform swung the gun director.

"Gun crews, load!" Garrett shouted into his mouthpiece.

"Fire on the nearest target as soon as you're ready, Mr. Garrett," Matt said, and stepped back to the speaking tube. He looked to see how the other destroyers, in line abreast, were maneuvering. "Conn, starboard ten degrees." this speed, Walker's range finder was useless because of vibration, but Garrett estimated the range to target. "Fire up-ladder. Range, nine five-double-oh!" The shouted commands came rapidly and Matt heard the tinny replies of the gun crews leak from Garrett's earphones. He couldn't help but feel a surge of pride in his crew as they went about their duties with calm, well-drilled precision. After the range, bearing, and apparent speed of the target were fed into it, the mechanical fire-control computer reached a solution.

"Surface action starboard. Match pointers!" Garrett instructed the three crews whose weapons would bear. He listened as they reported their readiness and looked at Matt. "The guns are ready, Captain."

"Commence firing."

"Three rounds, salvo fire. Commence firing!" He leaned forward and stabbed the salvo buzzer button. The nerve-racking, jangling raaaa sound was almost instantly overwhelmed by the simultaneous concussion of three 4-inch guns. Even before the first rounds fell, the buzzer sounded again and the second salvo was on the way. Splashes kicked up beyond and astern of the closest enemy destroyer, but seconds later more splashes rose among the ships when their friends opened fire as well. The third salvo seemed to have the range, but it was still behind the enemy.

"They're even faster than I thought! I guess I didn't lead them enough," Garrett said apologetically. He fed corrections into the computer. Somebody got a lucky hit with the first salvo, and the third Japanese destroyer belched black smoke from her curiously raked 'stack and slowed out of line. Men cheered and even Matt felt like pumping his fist. It looked like the hit came from Pope or Encounter. The remaining enemy ships continued the charge. They opened fire from the twin mounts on their foredecks, all three shooting only at the damaged British cruiser.

"They're making for Exeter. Get on them, Mr. Garrett!" To Matt, the enemy strategy was clear. They were trying to get in a few licks on the primary target and slow her down still more. Her escorts would then be forced to leave her or stand and fight. Either way, the result would be the same. Another salvo slammed out from Walker, and this one looked on target, but there were no explosions. Either they were still shooting long, or the shells were passing through the thin-skinned Japanese ships without detonating.

"That's it!" shouted Garrett into his comm. "No change! No change! Rapid fire! Let her have it!" The geysers erupting around the advancing enemy now resembled those that had bracketed Exeter a short time before, if not in size, then surely in volume. The Japanese couldn't know that Exeter's fire control was out, and Matt had to admire the courage of their approach. They began to angle for Exeter's starboard side. Knowing their gunnery was in capable hands, Matt realized his place was in the pilothouse. Without a word of distraction for Garrett, he dropped to the quarterdeck below.

"Captain on the bridge!" somebody shouted.

"As you were. I have the deck, Mr. Flowers. You keep the conn."

"Aye, aye, sir. You have the deck. I have the conn."

"Skipper." PO Riggs spoke up. "Captain Blinn on Pope sends to execute a starboard turn in column and prepare to fire torpedoes." Blinn was senior to both Matt and Captain Atkinson on Mahan and had authority over the three American destroyers.

"Very well, acknowledge. Mr. Flowers, bring us in behind Mahan when she makes her turn." Bernard Sandison, the torpedo officer, stood on the starboard bridgewing and adjusted his headset while an ordnance striker fiddled with the connection linking the antiquated torpedo director to the two mounts on the starboard side. As the four destroyers accelerated to block the enemy thrust, his eyes burned when they turned into their own smoke screen.

"Sir," commented Flowers, "Exeter's firing torpedoes." He pointed at the cruiser, now off their port bow. Puffs of smoke drifted aft from her amidships tubes, but the splashes when the weapons hit the water couldn't be distinguished from those of enemy shells. Then, as they looked on, there was a small reddish flash between Exeter's two funnels. A column of black smoke rocketed skyward and a cloud of escaping steam enshrouded her amidships. Except for the racket of the blowers and the wind, there was stunned silence in Walker's pilothouse, broken only by someone's soft, pleading murmur.

"No, oh, no . . . no." didn't know who said it. It might have been he. Somebody cursed. Exeter's speed dropped to nearly nothing, as if she'd slammed into a wall. Shells rained down and more began to hit as she wallowed on helplessly at barely four knots. The Allied destroyers executed another turn, in column, and ran up Exeter's starboard side, placing themselves between the doomed cruiser and the oncoming enemy ships. Through the thinning haze of the smoke screen, the Japanese cruisers were visible, much closer than before. At the head of the line, smoke and steam spewed from Encounter as her torpedoes leaped into the sea. The two American destroyers ahead followed suit.

"Engage as they bear with the starboard tubes, Mr. Sandison."

"Aye, aye, sir!" he replied, and cried into his microphone: "Torpedo action starboard! In salvo! Fire one, fire three, fire five! Fire seven, fire nine, fire eleven!" peered around the chart house. The amidships deckhouse was in the way, but he saw the cutoff-looking muzzles of the pair of starboard triple launchers angled out thirty degrees from the side of the ship. As he watched, the first three 21-inch-diameter, 2,215-pound MK-15 torpedoes thumped out, one after another, the sun shining on their burnished metal bodies as they plunged into the sea with enormous concave splashes. disappeared, but a moment later dense trails of effervescent bubbles rose to the surface in their wakes. There were only three, however. looked at his captain with an apologetic, frustrated expression. "Sir, there's a casualty on the number-three mount. They don't know what it is yet, but the torpedoes are secure." swallowed a curse. It probably wasn't anybody's fault, just wornout equipment. "Very well, Bernie. Let me know what you find out. Light a fire under it, though. I want those torpedoes!"

"Captain!" cried the talker. "Lookout reports torpedoes in the water!" looked at him blankly for a second. Of course there were— Then realization struck. He ran to the bridgewing and shouldered Sandison aside.

"JAP torpedoes!" he yelled over his shoulder. "Right full rudder!" Walker heeled sharply. "Signal to all ships—torpedoes inbound! Lots of torpedoes! Am evading!" During his brief glance, he saw over a dozen wakes. He looked back at the incoming streams of bubbles, which contrasted sharply with the dark, deep water. They should be relatively easy to avoid in daylight, but there were so many. They might blunder into one while maneuvering to miss another. Walker was only thirty feet wide, and Matt instinctively turned directly toward the oncoming weapons to present the smallest possible target. The rest of the column of destroyers disintegrated into chaos as they maneuvered independently as well.

"Lord, looks like the Nips just flushed a covey of quail," said Flowers as dryly as he could manage.

"Rudder amidships!" With gratifying alacrity, Walker steadied, and the cant to the deck disappeared. She may be old, Matt thought with an unusual sense of proprietary satisfaction, but she still handles like a rum-runner. Nimbleness wasn't a trait usually associated with four-stackers, but Chief Gray had told him an extra three feet of depth had been added to her rudder as an experiment. It worked, but there were objections to the added draft and, as far as Gray knew, only a couple of her sisters were ever altered.

"Here they come!" someone yelled. Almost everyone in the pilothouse but the helmsman rushed to the bridgewings and looked anxiously at the water as a pair of torpedoes raced by on either side of Walker's frail hull. The one to starboard passed less than a dozen yards away. A young seaman's apprentice named Fred Reynolds, a boy who looked all of thirteen, grinned at Matt with a pallid expression and then vomited over the rail. The malicious wind made sure that most of the spew wound up in his close-cropped hair. The salvo buzzer rang again, and the number one gun fired alone. The report stirred the bridge crew from the momentary relief of having dodged the torpedoes, reminding them that they were steaming directly toward the enemy.

"Where the hell do you think you are? Watching toy boats in a duck pond?" bellowed Chief Gray as he ascended the ladder. He gave Reynolds a malevolent glare and pantomimed dumping a water bucket on the deck. The boy wiped his mouth and staggered back to his station. The rest of the bridge crew followed suit. Matt winced inwardly. He'd been as guilty as the others, but Gray just winked at him and sighed theatrically when no one was looking. Matt nodded grimly and turned.

"Left full rudder! Helm, tack us back onto the tail of the column as it re-forms!" was a loud clang above their heads, and Lieutenant Rogers's voice blared from the crow's nest speaking tube. "JESUS CHRIST! A shell just took a notch out of the mast about two feet under me!" salvo buzzer rang and three guns fired again. Matt looked down at number one and was surprised to see a young man in Army khakis carrying four-inch shells from the wardroom below to replenish the ready-lockers.

"That's Mallory," said the Chief, reading his mind. "He came aboard with that other officer. He seems a decent sort." Matt nodded his understanding and noted Gray's obvious opinion of Captain Kaufman. column shook itself out. But their relief over evading the torpedoes was shattered when they were brutally reminded of the one member of their group that couldn't evade anything. A towering column of water spouted directly under Exeter's aft funnel on her starboard side. She heeled hard to port and then rolled back into a pronounced starboard list. A heavy secondary explosion sent debris and smoke high in the air. salvo buzzer rang. Wham! couldn't worry about Exeter now. Waterspouts were rising around Walker again, and there was another loud noise somewhere aft.

"Damage report!" 's voice came over the intercom. "Nothing serious, Skipper. A new hole in the aft funnel. The shell didn't explode. It must've been armor-piercing—and it's not as if we have any armor." ! Wham! Cheers erupted from fire control when a big explosion rocked a Japanese destroyer. It veered hard out of formation, smoke obscuring the bridge. The other two enemy destroyers finally broke off their attack and retreated behind a smoke screen of their own, toward the protection of the remorselessly approaching cruisers.

"Skipper." The grim voice was Riggs. "Signal from Exeter to all ships. Captain Gordon says thanks for the help, but he'll take it from here." Matt strode to the port bridgewing and stared at the once-handsome ship that had seen so much action in this war before the United States was even involved. She'd hounded the Graf Spee to her doom, but past glory meant nothing now. Lifeboats were in the water and men were going over the side. He took a deep breath.

"Acknowledge. And send, `Good luck, Exeter. God bless.' " still pummeled the helpless cruiser as Walker, last in line, sped impotently by. Matt slapped the rail in frustration. "God help them," he muttered. God help us, he added to himself. Another huge explosion convulsed Exeter, and she rapidly rolled over onto the boats and men in the water. He could see the red paint of her bottom come up on the far side as her superstructure disappeared into the sea. And still the shells fell. The number one gun was silent now, no longer able to bear on their pursuers, and he saw the grim expressions of its crew as they watched Exeter go down.

"Skipper . . ." It was Riggs. "Signal from Pope. She says to resume line abreast and continue making smoke. She also wants to know if we can increase speed."

"Acknowledge, and tell her we'll try." next hours were like a feverish nightmare. They gained some distanc


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