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A thrilling World War II adventure that moves from a daring submarine to a notorious Japanese prison camp and ends in a dramatic military court, by the Boyd Award–winning author of Pacific Glory In late 1944, America’s recapture of the Philippines is jeopardized by what seems an insurmountable threat from Japan: immense Yamato-class battleships, which dwarf every other ship at sea. Built in total secrecy, these 76,000-ton warships seem invincible. American military intelligence knows of two such ships, but there are rumors of a third, built not as a battleship but as an aircraft carrier. Now ready to go operational from Japan’s heavily defended and mined Inland Sea, a carrier of that size could disrupt the entire invasion effort. American bombers can’t reach the Inland Sea, so the Navy high command decides to send a submarine on a special mission to kill the carrier...assuming that it even exists. No American submarine has ever been able to penetrate the Inland Sea; five boats and their crews have perished in or around the main entrance strait, known as Bungo Suido. Lieutenant Commander Gar Hammond - an aggressive, ship-killing captain with a reckless streak - is now skipper of the Dragonfish, a new submarine. When Admiral Nimitz decides to try one more time, Hammond becomes the navy’s only hope to locate and stop the Japanese super-ship before it escapes into the open Pacific. P. T. Deutermann’s previous World War II adventure, Pacific Glory, won acclaim from readers and reviewers, and was honored with the W. Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction, administered by the American Library Association. In Ghosts of Bungo Suido, Deutermann presents another sweeping, action-filled World War II novel, based on a true event from the Pacific theater.
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P. T. Deutermann is the author of fifteen previous novels, including The Last Man and Pacific Glory, which won the W. Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction. Deutermann spent twenty-six years in military and government service, which included a Pearl Harbor tour of duty; his father was a Vice Admiral in the WWII Pacific theater, and his uncle and older brother were submariners, whose stories helped inform this novel. He lives with his wife in North Carolina.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Luzon Strait, October 1944
“Make your depth three hundred feet.”
The two planesmen turned their brass wheels together but in opposite directions. “Make my depth three hundred feet, aye, sir,” said the diving officer.
Gar Hammond felt the deck tipping down smoothly, but his attention remained on those screwbeats echoing audibly right through the hull as the Jap destroyer kept coming. Steady course and speed. No acceleration. Even better, he wasn’t echo ranging.
He looked over at his exec, Lieutenant Commander Russ West, and watched him force himself to relax his grip on the console rail. “This is nuts,” West muttered, then glanced hastily in Gar’s direction, as if he’d thought it but not intended to actually say it out loud.
“Relax, XO,” Gar said, laughing. “Two thermoclines, remember? He’s deaf. As soon as he passes overhead he’ll be totally deaf.”
The exec managed a weak grin back, but the destroyer’s screwbeats were getting louder, that unmistakable pah-pah-pah sound making every man in the crowded control room clench his teeth. Gar noticed that no one in Control was making eye contact with anyone else; they’d been on enough patrols to know that fear was contagious. He also knew that someone in the control room wanted to shout out, If we can hear the destroyer’s screwbeats, why can’t the destroyer’s sonar hear us? Because, Gar thought, we’re being quiet. The destroyer is not.
This was the most dangerous phase of the tactic, the one his crew called Asking for It, behind his back, of course. Get out in front of a Jap convoy, submerge deep, let the targets and the escorts pass overhead, then rise to periscope depth behind the last escort and fire a torpedo right into his stern while the destroyer’s sonar was blinded by his own wake and propeller noises.
“Approaching three hundred feet,” the diving officer announced. The hull was creaking under the increased pressure, but Gar had taken Dragonfish down to almost 500 feet before. More importantly, back up, too, a happy modulation on that old aviator rule: You want the number of safe landings always to equal the number of takeoffs.
It was almost time to sprint.
Pah-pah-pah-pah, louder now. The destroyer was almost directly overhead. If he’d detected them, this would be the moment when depth charges would start rolling off his fantail. He can’t detect us if he’s not pinging, Gar told himself. And even if he were pinging, those two thermoclines in the 300-foot water column above them should deflect his sonar beams. “Should” being the operative word.
Gar waited impatiently. They’d accelerate once he passed overhead, get right behind him, rise to periscope depth, take one firing observation, and shoot. He’d done this three times since taking command, and so far he’d never missed. He was, of course, fully aware of how nervous this made his whole crew. If that single torpedo did miss and the destroyer’s lookouts saw its wake slicing alongside from astern, she’d immediately roll depth charges right into the Dragonfish’s face.
“ Down Doppler, bearing zero five five,” the soundman in the conning tower reported, the relief audible in his voice. The destroyer was headed away from them. Everyone strained his ears to detect any noises indicating the Jap had rolled depth charges, but all they could hear was those screwbeats, steady at about 12 knots, based on turn count, in the away direction.
Okay, Gar thought. Time to kill this hood.
“All ahead two-thirds,” he ordered. “And come right to zero five five.”
He saw the exec let out another deep breath. Eight knots was just about their top speed underwater, and they would entirely deplete the battery in less than one hour if they kept that up. Both of them scanned the array of instruments and gauges all around them in the control room. Gar felt the sudden surge of power as Dragonfish heeled into her turn. Control was, as usual, crowded and tense. The air was filled with the haze of diesel fumes and human sweat, mixed with a faint tinge of ozone as the batteries dumped amps.
“I’m going up,” he told the exec. “Diving officer, bring her to periscope depth. Handsomely, please.”
Once he’d climbed up into the conning tower he told the torpedo officer to make ready tubes one and two. The attack team seemed steady, especially now that the tin can above had gone past them without loosing a barrage of 500-pound depth bombs. The deck sloped upward as the Dragon rose to periscope depth. The conning tower was under red-light conditions, just like Control. It was dark outside, and Gar needed his eyes to be night-adapted once he raised the scope. Conn was even more crowded than Control.
“Passing two hundred feet,” the diving officer reported from down below.
“All ahead one-third.”
The helmsman acknowledged the order.
“Leveling at one hundred feet,” called the diving officer.
It wasn’t very hard for Gar to keep a picture of this tactical plot in his mind. Pausing the ascent was standard procedure. The last thing they wanted was for the boat to punch through periscope depth and broach in full view of the destroyer’s after lookouts. He should be about 800 yards in front of us now, Gar thought, well within visual range even though it was past sunset. Assuming you had the time, it was always best to stabilize and trim her at 100 feet, then rise slowly to periscope depth.
“Sound, confirm bearing.”
“Mushy bearing zero five niner, Cap’n. Plus or minus five degrees. I’m listening through his wake.”
“Zero five niner, aye. Helmsman, come right to zero five niner. Indicate turns for three knots. Sound, watch that Doppler carefully.”
“Sound, aye.” The Doppler, or pitch of the audible screwbeats, was a critical indication. Down Doppler meant that the destroyer was going away from them; up Doppler meant the opposite. Steady Doppler meant he was broadside to them and thus probably turning around. They waited.
“Steady at periscope depth,” the diving officer called.
“Indicating turns for three knots, and steady on zero five niner,” the helmsman reported.
Gar went to the periscope well. “You ready?” he asked the attack team.
“We have a solution,” the operations officer replied.
“Up scope,” Gar ordered. “This will be a firing observation.”
The electro-hydraulic motors down in Control whined as they sent the attack scope up to the surface, with Gar hunched over the eyepiece handles like a monkey as it rose, all elbows and knees. He could barely hear the torpedo data computer team comparing sound data to what their predicted firing solution plot was showing.
He trained the scope around to the last reported bearing of the destroyer so that he’d be looking right at him once the scope broke the surface. His eyes took a few seconds to adjust, and then he saw him, just a black blob in the darkness dead ahead of them, but with a phosphorescent wake pointing right at Gar’s aim point.
“Bearing, mark! Range is one thousand yards. Down scope.”
One second later he heard the magic words from the plotting team. “Bearing and plot agree. Torpedo running depth ten feet. Tube one ready. Plot set! Fire any time.”
They felt the sudden impulse of pressurized air in the boat as the firing flask expelled the torpedo and then dumped its residual compressed air into the sub rather than releasing a huge bubble outside. Doctrine called for a second torpedo, but Gar disagreed: The torpedo’s gyro was slaved to the ordered bearing. On a long-axis shot like this, if the first one missed, a second one would probably miss, too. One hit, however, would blow the after end of that bastard clean off, especially if the depth charges stacked on his fantail also exploded.
“Conn, Sound, fish is hot, straight, and normal.”
“Run time, twenty-one seconds,” said the ops boss, standing at the TDC—the torpedo data computer.
They all held their breath. Nothing happened for fifteen seconds.
“ Up scope.”
Gar could visualize the exec down in Control biting his lip. He and Russ had hashed this over many times before, with the exec arguing for leaving the scope down after firing when they were this close. The destroyer’s after lookout might see the approaching torpedo wake, but he’d surely see both the wake and the periscope. Gar maintained that he needed to see what happened in order to take evasive measures if the fish missed and the tin can came about. I can’t wait for sound, XO, not when we’re in the clinch.
There—a soundless, bright red flash, down low on the visible horizon.
“Got him!” Gar called down. “ Down scope!” A moment later the gut-punching thump of the warhead reached the boat, followed seconds later by several smaller explosions a half mile away. The Dragon whipsawed a bit as the underwater pressure waves enveloped her.
Got him good, Gar thought, as he listened to the depth charges detonating. “ Flood negative and make your depth three hundred feet. Helm, all ahead two-thirds and come left to three two five.”
The sound of smaller explosions drifted to starboard as they spiraled down and away from the sinking destroyer. The sound-powered phone talkers in the conning tower were mumbling into their phones, informing the rest of the crew that they’d killed another destroyer.
Gar, of course, felt relieved, although he knew they were just getting started. They’d counted two escorts, one ahead of what appeared to be a three-ship convoy, the other tailing astern. The second escort destroyer would be turning from the front of the convoy now, headed back to see what was going on. They couldn’t yet hear echo ranging over all that noise from the mortally injured destroyer, but Gar knew they surely would.
“Passing two hundred feet,” the diving officer called out as Dragonfish completed her turn to the northwest. This was the second, and most dangerous, phase of the tactic: fire from behind, go deep and 90 degrees off firing axis for 2,000 yards, then turn parallel to the convoy’s course again, slow down, go quiet, and wait to see what the remaining escort would do. It was dangerous because while they turned their stern to the action, they were the ones who became deaf.
As they opened out to 2,000 yards, Gar talked to the plotting team about the convoy. The first lookout sighting had been two smoke columns over the horizon, just before sunset. They hadn’t had to maneuver—the ships were coming right at them. Once the ships themselves hove into view, Gar had submerged and taken periscope observations. He was pretty sure he’d seen two tankers and a smaller something between them, plus one escort out front and the mast of another on the horizon. The exec, ever cautious, had wanted to confirm the convoy’s composition with the radar before they set up on it, but Gar had become convinced that the Japs could detect submarine radar if they radiated for too long. His standing orders were to keep surface and air-search radars in the standby mode unless there was no other way to see what was out there, and then to use only one sweep or two.
He reviewed the next phase with the attack team: After sprinting away from the scene of the first attack, they’d stay deep and quiet. If the other escort did not seem to be having any success locating them, they’d open out some more and then surface in the darkness, light off the diesels, and do an end-around run on the convoy at 22 knots to get back out in front of them. This time they’d be going for the high-value targets, those two tankers. Success during this phase depended on their having an accurate count of the enemy escorts. If they’d missed one, it could get really exciting.
Gar did the math: By the three-minute rule they’d be in the off-axis position in just under eight minutes. He was ever conscious of the battery’s limitations. Running submerged at full battery power was a chancy business for Dragonfish, although they’d done that many times, too, since he’d taken command. If they fully depleted the battery, they’d be forced to surface and duke it out with that remaining destroyer, which meant using their single deck gun against five of his, or even being rammed.
He leaned against the bulkhead near the periscopes and closed his eyes for a minute. The hatch to Control was right at his feet, and he could overhear the conversation below.
“Gotta hand it to him,” the chief of the boat was saying. “Guy can shoot.” The Dragon’s senior chief petty officer, “Swede” Svenson, was almost too tall for submarine duty; he walked in a permanent hunch to keep from banging his head on the low overhead. He had a classic Scandinavian face, all angles and eyebrows, bright blue eyes, a prominent Viking nose, and a permanently ruddy complexion. Being chief of the boat, he was, of course, called “Cob.”
“I’ll give him that, Cob,” the exec said quietly. “But this is still some crazy stuff. We should be shooting at tankers, not tin cans.”
“Maybe this is how it’s done, XO,” Cob said. “The Dragon’s sunk more Jap ships under Cap’n Hammond than she did in the two previous patrols.”
Gar smiled. Cob had that part right. It was all about results these days. No results or even skimpy results, the brass found someone else to be in command, which in fact was how he’d come to command of Dragonfish. Under Captain Mason, who’d put her in commission, they’d had several shooting opportunities and scored on none of them. Mason was a pleasant man, compassionate, tactically very conservative, and always looking out for the welfare of his officers and crew. He’d apparently been a peach to serve under, but the boat’s lack of results had resulted in his early relief.
Then the exec said something interesting. “I’m guess I’m just tired of being scared all the time, Cob.”
“Crew’s scared, too, XO, but they like all those Jap brag-rags on the conning tower just the same.”
The plotting team interrupted his eavesdropping. “Plot recommends coming right to zero five five, speed three, and rigging for silent running.”
“Make it so,” he replied. “Sound, you got anything?”
“Sound, negative. No echo ranging. Yet.”
“They may not suspect a sub, then,” he said as he started down the ladder into Control. There were some sotto voce groans as the ventilation shut down for silent running. The temperature in the control room rose immediately.
The exec agreed with Gar’s assessment. A tanker blowing up in a convoy always meant a sub; a destroyer going boom in the night might mean an operational accident, since subs supposedly gave destroyers a wide berth. So now they pointed the Dragon in the general direction of the convoy’s movement and waited to see what, if anything, the other destroyer did.
“XO, take the conn,” Gar said. “I need a sandwich. Have the crew stand easy on station, but let ’em know we’ll be back at it in about a half hour.”
He went forward to the tiny wardroom, where he took ten minutes to have a sandwich and a mug of coffee. The wardroom had a single table and room for six men at a time. There was a green bench on either side of the table in place of chairs. He put his mug into a dish drawer and then went to his cabin to flop for a few minutes. He needed to relax, and he also needed the crew to see that he was relaxed. What’s the Old Man doing? He’s taking a nap. Oh, okay, it must be safe, for the moment, anyway.
Thirty minutes later they called him, and he returned to the conning tower. Lieutenant Ray Gibson, the ops officer, announced, “Captain’s in ...
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