On my way north to intercept the other convoy I run across a strange sight in the night — a fully lit up ship. Having operated near territory at war where all ships are running without lights, I take a moment to remind myself that the Gibraltar Strait services many, many nationalities and ports, and some of them might not even be at war with us. Bugger. Time to run some drills!
After the break, I lose half of my torpedoes.
I slowly creep up on the lit up shipat one-third and submerged. I only pop out the periscope when I’m in position. My approach is perfect and I stop a bit over a kilometer out and take a peek. Much to my dismay, the lights pointing at the flag are directly behind it from my angle and I utterly cannot make it out. I try to wait it out and get closer but to no avail, as the flag is determined to remain un-illuminated. I cannot fire on an unidentified ship and so slink slowly away. A few klicks out I surface and we make haste for that north interception point. At least now I know what the screws of a medium cargo sound like, and how fast we can get a firing solution with the rear torpedo from a fully head-on position (about a minute turnaround time).
I get lucky this time. I get a second sighting report over the wireless and we make a small course correction. I plop myself right in the middle of the oncoming ship’s path — too much so as more soundings make it appear that they will pass directly over my head. I need a little more firing room than that, so I frantically maneuver at the dazzlingly silent speed of 3 knots until we’re finally lined up. Look at those lovely, lovely squares, each one a potential 10,000 tons of war.
It took us long enough to get here that it is daylight and clear now, so we’ll have to fire and move immediately away so the torpedo wakes don’t make a neat arrow pointing right back at us. Also, the scope must be down as it will stand out once they know roughly where to look. Fire and scoot, fire and scoot. Finally, I perform a depth check out of range of these goons, and we’re still in the middle of deep space. Over 1,000m reported.
I can see 2 warships — a Black Swan and something else — bracketing the convoy, but since I’m right in the middle they pass far away on their zig-zag routes. I take my time identifying the Union Jack and count targets for a future report. I can make out at least 15 ships, with half of those in perfect range for a firing solution. Let’s begin.
I send two fish towards a large cargo (9,000 tons) and two towards a large merchant (10,500 tons). Both are very juicy targets. I briefly flirt with reloading but with two destroyers nearby I don’t really dare make any excessive noise. Instead I use my previous knowledge and turn around, firing the last torpedo on a small merchant a minute later and a good distance away from the previous position. Now we wait. The 3 minutes until impact drag like hours. I busy myself with yelling — quietly — unnecessary orders at the crew until my XO gives me a pointed stare. Still, 2.5 minutes killed! Time to take a peek.
I can see a splash but no meaty boom. Most likely a torpedo broached and exploded by itself, which certainly was a common occurrence at this time. I curse the luck and hope that the convoy is too sluggish to react and wait a little lon– BOOM! And seconds after that BOOM again! I can see one ship listing heavily and a fire on another one, but no telltale sounds of secondary explosions or crumpling bulkheads, so there’s only one thing to do: try again. I curve slowly outwards and away from the warships while I reload two forward tubes and the one aft.
Twenty minutes pass ever so slowly while I hover over the sonar specialist. He informs me that the entire starboard side — sounding much like a heavy machinery factory — is moving slowly farther and farther away, but some targets still remain ahead. Suddenly a distant explosion rumbles through the water. Something just sunk! I don’t know what, but all of my targets were worthy of sinking, so we celebrate quickly before coming up for a second salvo. The targets available are nothing fantastic, but at least I still have some targets 20 minutes later! I send two fish at two different merchants and finally turn away for good. No sense pushing my luck any further with one kill and two more fish on the way. I wait by the torpedo computer and the map,
nonchalantly sipping some coffee.
When you think about the distances covered and the primitive guidance of these torpedoes, it’s some sort of miracle that anything was ever sunk. A long 6 minutes away (6 minutes! Just think how many times you could change direction in 6 minutes if you were driving or walking!) I hear a boom. The hydrophone confirms an instant kill on a small merchant. A minute later I get rewarded with a lovely action camera of the second torpedo missing its target by a gnat’s hair. Well, if the gnat was stadium-sized, I suppose. All he did was accelerate a bit! I peer cautiously through the periscope as the convoy vanishes in the distance and gloat briefly at a small enemy crate, which is all that remains after the massive damage my torpedo dealt to the merchant.
As the Black Swan thrashes ineffectively 4km away and we slink off south, I settle on our next move and do some housekeeping. We will stay here, submerged for the next several hours as the convoy and escorts move away. We’ll pop up to take a look in 6 hours or so to see if I got in any hits on engines or propellers. If not, time to finally head down to that grid we were supposed to patrol. Then I take a look at our remaining torpedoes and realize that we’ve expended nearly half of our arsenal, which means we should move our external torpedoes to the internal bays. Unlike normal reloading, this process takes a full hour so we’ll have to do it in the middle of the night and pray for overcast.
Finally, I make a note to myself that I should fire at targets similar distances away to avoid them being alerted and moving before the later torpedoes hit.
Testing out that theory will have to wait, as other matters soon occupy our time.
(Click here for the previous Silent Hunter III entry.)
Marcin Manek has been playing games since Pong and BASIC programs from the back of magazines on the ZX Spectrum. He now codes, reads, plays games and explores Oregon with his wife and 1 year old.