Dirk Pitt 18 - Black Wind

Dirk Pitt 18 - Black Wind


Japanese Imperial submarine I-403 and Seiran float plane December 12, 1944 Kure Naval Base, Japan Lieutenant Commander Takeo Ogawa glanced at his wristwatch and shook his head in irritation.

“Half past midnight already,” he muttered anxiously. “Three hours late and still we wait.”

A young ensign staring through the glazed eyes of a sleep-deprived insomniac nodded slightly at his superior's grieving but said nothing. Waiting atop the conning tower of the Japanese Imperial Navy submarine i-403, the two men gazed across the naval yard searching for signs of a pending arrival. Beyond the expansive naval base, a haphazard twinkling of nighttime lights glistened about the scenic Japanese city of Kure. A light drizzle fell, lending an eerie tranquility to the late hour, which was broken by the distant sounds of hammers, cranes, and welding torches. Repairs to enemy-damaged ships and new vessel construction persisted around the clock in other parts of the shipyard, in a futile rush to aid the increasingly bleak war effort.

The distant whine of a diesel truck soon echoed across the water.

the sound rising in intensity as the vehicle approached the submarine docks. Rounding the corner of a brick warehouse, a slate-colored Isuzu cargo truck rumbled into view and turned along the wharf. The driver inched his way cautiously toward the submarine's pen as he struggled to make out the edges of the darkened pier, barely visible under the truck's wartime-blackened headlights. Pulling alongside a large gangplank, the truck ground to a halt as its worn brakes squealed loudly in protest.

A moment of silence ensued, then six heavily armed soldiers sprang from the truck bed and enveloped the vehicle in a perimeter guard. As Ogawa made his way down from the conning tower to the dock, he sensed one of the guards pointing a weapon in his direction. The soldiers were no Imperial Army regulars, he noted, but elite members of the feared Kempei Tai military police.

Two uniformed men exited the cab of the truck and approached Ogawa. Recognizing a superior officer, Ogawa stood at attention and saluted smartly.

“I've awaited your arrival, Captain,” Ogawa stated with a tinge of annoyance.

Captain Miyoshi Horinouchi ignored the innuendo. As staff operations officer for the Sixth Fleet, his mind was occupied with graver matters. The Japanese submarine fleet was slowly being decimated in the Pacific and the Imperial Navy had no answer for the antisubmarine warfare technologies being deployed by the American forces. Desperate battles by the fleet's submarines against overwhelming odds inevitably resulted in the loss of crew and vessels, which weighted heavily on Horinouchi. His short-cropped hair had turned prematurely white, and stress lines creased his face like dry riverbeds.

“Commander, this is Dr. Hisaichi Tanaka of the Army Medical College. He will be accompanying you on your mission.”

“Sir, I am not accustomed to carrying passengers while on patrol,” Ogawa replied, ignoring the small bespectacled man at Horinouchi's side.

“Your patrol orders to the Philippines have been rescinded,” Horinouchi replied, handing Ogawa a brown folder. “You have new orders. You are to take Dr. Tanaka and his cargo aboard and proceed immediately per fleet directives to strike at the enemy's doorstep.”

Glancing at one of the guards holding a German Bergman MP34 submachine gun pointed in his direction, Ogawa asserted, “This is most unusual, Captain.”

Horinouchi tilted his head to the side, then took a few steps to his right. Ogawa followed, leaving Tanaka out of earshot. Speaking softly, Horinouchi continued.

“Ogawa, our surface fleet was annihilated at Leyte Gulf. We counted on a decisive battle to stop the Americans, but it was our own forces that were defeated instead. It is just a matter of time before all of our remaining resources will be assigned in defense of the homeland.”

“We will make the Americans pay heavily in blood,” Ogawa said harshly.

“True, but there is no question that they have the will to conquer, regardless of the losses. The slaughter of our own people will be appalling.” Horinouchi contemplated the sacrifice of his own family and fell silent for a moment.

“The Army has approached us for assistance in a valiant operation,” he continued. “Dr. Tanaka is affiliated with Unit 731. You will take him and his cargo across the Pacific and launch an attack on the American mainland. You are to avoid detection and protect your boat at all costs en route. Succeed, Ogawa, and the Americans will bow to a truce and our homeland will be preserved.”

Ogawa was stunned by the words. His fellow submarine commanders were waging a mostly defensive battle to protect the remnants of the surface fleet, yet he was to cross the Pacific single-handedly and launch an attack that would end the war. He might have ridiculed the idea, had it not been a fleet staff officer dictating the order to him out of desperation in the middle of the night.

“I am most honored by your confidence, Captain Horinouchi. Rest assured my crew and officers will uphold the honor to the emperor. If I may ask, sir, what exactly is Dr. Tanaka's cargo?” Ogawa inquired.

Horinouchi gazed forlornly across the bay for several seconds. “Maka^e,” he finally muttered quietly. “An evil wind.”

Under the watchful eye of Dr. Tanaka, a half-dozen oblong wooden crates were carefully loaded by the Kempei Tai guards into the forward torpedo room of the I-403 and tightly secured. Ogawa ordered the submarine's four diesel engines turned over and the deck lines released. At half past two in the morning, the iron sub nosed slowly into the inky harbor and inched its way past several other fleet I-boats docked in the yard. Ogawa noted with curiosity that Horinouchi sat silently in the darkened truck on the pier, refusing to leave until after the I-403 was well out of sight.

Creeping past the docks and warehouses of the sprawling navy yard, the sub soon approached a massive shadow looming against the darkness ahead. Lying quietly in a repair dock, the massive battleship Yamato towered above the submarine like a behemoth. With its massive eighteen-inch guns and sixteen-inch-thick armor plating, the Yamato was the most feared vessel afloat. Ogawa admired the lines and armament of the world's largest battleship as he sailed past, then felt a touch of pity toward her. Like her sister ship, the Musashi, recently sunk in the Philippines, the Yamato, he feared, was destined to find her way to the bottom of the sea before the war was over.

Gradually the lights of Kure fell away as the submarine snaked around several large islands, then entered the Seto Inland Sea. Ogawa ordered increased speed as the mountainous island outcroppings fell away and the first gray patches of predawn light tinted the eastern sky. As he marked their route in the conning tower with the I-403\ navigator, Ogawa was approached by the executive officer climbing up from below.

“Hot tea, sir,” Lieutenant Yoshi Motoshita said, thrusting a small cup toward the commander. A thin man with a warm demeanor, Motoshita mustered a grin even at five in the morning.

“Yes, thanks,” Ogawa replied crisply before gulping at the tea. The hot liquid was a welcome tonic against the chilled December air and Ogawa quickly drained the cup.

“The sea is unusually calm this morning,” Motoshita noted.

“Fine conditions for fishing,” Ogawa said reflectively. The son of a fisherman, Ogawa had grown up in a small village on the southern island of Kyushu. Accustomed to a hard life on the water, Ogawa had overcome a modest background by passing the formidable entrance exams to Etajima, the Japanese naval academy. After gaining his commission, he was drawn to the growing prewar submarine force and served on two boats before attaining command of the I-403 in late 1943. Under his leadership, the I-403 had sunk a half-dozen merchant ships, along with an Australian destroyer in the Philippines. Ogawa was considered one of the top submarine captains remaining in the rapidly shrinking underwater fleet.

“Yoshi, we'll initiate a zigzag running pattern when we reach the strait, then submerge before we leave the mainland. We can take no chances with enemy submarines patrolling off our coast.”

“I will alert the crew, sir.”

“And Dr. Tanaka. See that he is situated comfortably.”

“I have offered him my cabin,” Motoshita said with a pained look. “Judging by the stack of books he brought with him, I think he will keep himself occupied and out of our way.”

“Very well,” Ogawa replied, wondering silently about his unwanted passenger.

As a crimson sun crept up over the eastern horizon, the I-403 veered south from the Inland Sea into the Bungo Strait, a pathway above Japan's southern island of Kyushu that poured into the Pacific Ocean. A gray destroyer limped past the sub on its way back to port, listing heavily to one side and showing a rash of gaping holes in its bridge and decks, the result of a nasty encounter with a pair of U.S. Navy Hellcats. On the submarine, several petty officers crowded the conning tower to take a final glimpse of their green island nation, uncertain as all seamen departing for bat de whether they would return home again.

When the approach to the Pacific became visible to the lookout, Ogawa issued the command to dive. A loud bell clanged throughout the submarine and sailors scurried to secure the deck and hatches.

“Submerge to fifteen meters,” Ogawa ordered from the bridge.

Large ballast tanks were flooded with seawater and the diving planes tipped forward. With a rush of collapsing water, the I-403's nose dipped downward and the entire submarine was quickly gobbled up by the murky green sea.

In the Pacific waters off the Bungo Strait, aggressive American submarines lurked in the depths hunting merchant supply ships or armed vessels en route from the Kure Navy Base. Submarine-against-submarine attacks were not unheard of and Ogawa was not about to make himself easy fodder. Entering the Pacific waters, he quickly aimed the I-403 northeast and away from the bulk of the wartime traffic traveling south toward the Philippines.

As were most subs of its era, the I-403 was powered by diesel and electric motors. In daylight hours, the I-403 would operate submerged, powered by battery-operated electric motors that pushed the sub along at a sluggish 6 knots per hour. Under cover of darkness, the I-403 would surface and crank up the diesel engines, which propelled the boat to better than 18 knots, while recharging the batteries. But the I-403 was no ordinary submarine. Stretching over 390 feet long, the I-403 was one of a handful of Sen toku-class submarines, which were the largest built in their day. The massive iron vessel displaced over 5,200 tons and was pushed through the water by four 7,700-horsepower diesel engines. The I-403's truly unique feature, however, was the vessel's armament of aircraft. The I-403 could carry three Seiran float planes which were small converted dive-bombers that could be launched from a catapult on the center bow. While traveling at sea, the planes were disassembled and stored in a 110-foot-long watertight hangar that stretched along the sub's deck. A shortage of aircraft had forced Ogawa to give up one of his seaplanes for coastal reconnaissance, however, and his vessel now carried just two of the Seiran aircraft.

Once the I-403 had safely entered the Pacific, Ogawa retired to his cabin and reread the brief mission orders Horinouchi had given him. The succinct commands called for him to sail a northerly route across the Pacific, with a refueling stop in the Aleutians. He was to proceed to the northwest coast of the United States, where his two aircraft were to launch air attacks on the cities of Tacoma, Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver.

On the face of it, it appeared a futile gesture, thought Ogawa. Japan needed her submarines for homeland waters defense rather than instigating minuscule attacks with a pair of small aircraft. But there was the question of Dr. Tanaka and his unidentified cargo.

Summoned to Ogawa's cabin, Tanaka bowed gracefully before entering the cramped quarters and seating himself at a small wooden table. The slightly built scientist bore a shrewish and unsmiling face. A pair of vacant black eyes that were magnified by thick glasses augmented his sinister appearance.

Dispensing with formalities, Ogawa pressed immediately for the nature of the doctor's presence.

“Dr. Tanaka, my written orders are to sail this vessel to the west coast of North America and launch an airborne attack on four cities. There is no mention of your duties or the nature of your cargo. I must ask what your role in the mission is.”

“Commander Ogawa, rest assured that my assignment here has been authorized at the highest levels,” Tanaka replied in a quiet monotone voice. “I will be providing technical assistance for the attack operation,” he continued.

“This is a warship. I fail to understand how a medical officer will assist in a naval strike,” Ogawa countered.

“Commander, I am with the Army Medical School's Epidemic Disease Prevention Study Group. We have received materials from a research facility in China that have enabled us to develop an effective new weapon against the enemy. Your submarine has been chosen as the means to launch the weapon for the first time against American forces. I am responsible for the security and deployment of the weapon on this mission.”

“These 'materials.” They will be dropped from my aircraft?"

“Yes, in special canisters that can be accommodated by your bombers. I have already made the necessary arrangements with your aviation ordnance crew.”

“And the men on my vessel. Are they in any danger with this weapon aboard?”

“None whatsoever.” Tanaka's face was inscrutable as he lied.

Ogawa didn't believe him, but figured the risk of the American Navy's antisubmarine warfare forces were a greater risk to his sub than anything carried on board. Ogawa tried to procure what little information he could from Tanaka, but the Army doctor volunteered few additional facts. Whatever mystery was associated with the weapon, he kept close to the vest. There was something ominous about the man, Ogawa decided, and it made him uncomfortable. After sharing a quick cup of tea, he dismissed the eerie scientist. Sitting silently in his cabin, Ogawa cursed the Fleet Command for selecting his vessel for the assignment. It was a mission that he didn't want.

The sporadic ocean traffic of merchant ships and fishing boats soon dissipated as the Japanese mainland fell behind the sub's wake and the vessel crawled farther north in latitude. For the next twelve days and nights, the crew embraced a normal operating schedule as the sub nosed northeast, surfacing at night to run at higher speed. The prospect of being detected by an Allied plane or ship was more remote in the north Pacific, but Ogawa took no chances and ran submerged during all daylight hours. Operating under the waves, the bottled-up sub became like an oven to the men who drove her. Interior temperatures would climb into the nineties from the machinery, while the confined air would grow foul to the breath over the hours. Evening darkness was eagerly anticipated by each crewman, knowing the sub would finally surface, open its hatches, and vent cold, fresh sea air into the dank interior.

Naval authority on submarines was notably relaxed, even in the Japanese Navy, and operations on the I-403 were no different. Officers and enlisted crew mixed easily, sharing the same meals and suffering the same miseries aboard the cramped vessel. The I-403 had survived depth charge attacks on three different occasions and the near-death experiences had bonded the crew tightly together. They were survivors in a deadly game of cat and mouse and felt the I-403 was a lucky ship that could defy the enemy.

On the fourteenth night, the I-403 surfaced near the Aleutian island of Amchitka and quickly found the supply ship Morioka anchored in a small cove. Ogawa gently brought his vessel alongside the surface ship and mooring lines were tossed across. As diesel fuel was pumped into the submarine's reservoir tanks, crewmen on each vessel bantered back and forth in the freezing cold.

“Aren't you a little cramped in that anchovy tin?” asked a bundled yeoman at the ship's rail.

“No, we've got plenty of room for our canned fruit, chestnuts, and sake!” yelled back a submariner, boastful of the superior food the undersea services were provided.

The refueling operation was completed in less than three hours. One of the submarine's crewmen, diagnosed as suffering an acute bout of appendicitis, was transferred to the ship for medical attention. After rewarding the supply ship crew with a box of hard candies, the I-403 cast off on an eastward tack toward North America. The skies gradually turned black and the gray-green ocean waters frothed with spray as the I-403 found herself sailing into the teeth of an early winter storm. The sub was tossed violently for three nights as waves flooded across the low deck and crashed into the conning tower as the sub attempted to recharge its batteries. A lookout was nearly washed overboard into the icy seas on one occasion, and many of the experienced crew succumbed to bouts of seasickness. Strong westerly winds aided the voyage, however, pushing the sub briskly through the swells and quickening its trek east.

Gradually, the winds began to ease and the seas flattened. Ogawa was pleased to find his vessel had survived Mother Nature's buffeting with no damage. The battered crew regained their sea legs and their fighting morale as the seas stabilized and the submarine neared the enemy's homeland.

“Captain, I have a final plot to the coast,” Seiji Kakishita remarked as he unrolled a chart of the northeast Pacific Ocean in front of Ogawa. The I-403's navigator had ceased shaving, like many crewmen upon leaving port, and sported a straggly tuft of hair from his chin that created a cartoonish look about him.

“What is our present position?” Ogawa inquired as he studied the map.

“Right here,” Kakishita replied as he pointed to a spot on the map with a pair of dividers. “Approximately two hundred kilometers west of Vancouver Island. We have two more hours of darkness for surface running, which will bring us to within 150 kilometers of land by daybreak on our current heading.”

Ogawa studied the chart intently for a few moments before speaking. “We are too far north. I wish to launch the attack from a point central to the four targets in order to minimize flight time. Bring us south and we'll approach the coastline here,” he said, stubbing his finger at the map. Beneath his fingertip lay the northwest tip of Washington State, an angular peak of land that jutted into the Pacific Ocean like the snout of a hungry dog. Just to the north lay the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which created a natural border channel with British Columbia and was the main thoroughfare for maritime traffic from Vancouver and Seattle into the Pacific Ocean.

Kakishita hurriedly plotted a new route on the map and recalculated the distances. “Sir, I compute that we can arrive at a position fifteen kilometers offshore from the point marked ”Cape Alava' in twenty-two hours."

“Excellent, Kakishita,” Ogawa replied smugly as he eyed a nearby chronograph. “That will allow us plenty of time to commence the attack before dawn.” The timing was right. Ogawa wished to spend as little time as possible in high-traffic areas where they might be spotted before launching the strike. Things seemed to be falling into place, he thought. With a little luck, they might just be on their way home from a successful mission in just over twenty-four hours.

A buzz of activity overtook the I-403 after it surfaced again that evening as preparations were made to launch the aerial strike. Mechanics pulled out the fuselage, wings, and pontoons of the aircraft and began piecing the parts together like some giant toy model. Seamen rigged the hydraulic catapult and carefully tested the device by which the planes would be launched. The pilots attentively studied topographic maps of the region, plotting their course to the drop zones and back. And the ordnance men, under the cautious direction of Dr. Tanaka, configured the bomb racks of the Seiran bombers to hold the twelve silver canisters still stored in the forward torpedo room.

By three in the morning, the I-403 had crept quietly to its staging point off the Washington coast. A light drizzle was falling and the six lookouts Ogawa had stationed on deck strained to peer through the murky darkness for signs of other vessels. Ogawa himself paced the open bridge nervously in anxious wait to see the aircraft off, so that he could hide his submarine under the protection of the rolling seas.

Another hour had ticked by when a hurried squat man in a grease-stained jumpsuit approached Ogawa tentatively.

“Sir, sorry to report we are having troubles with the aircraft.”

“What is the problem at this late hour?” Ogawa countered, clearly annoyed.

“Aircraft number one has been found to have a faulty magneto. We must replace it with a spare for the motor to operate. Aircraft number two has a damaged elevator, apparently due to shifting that occurred during the storm. This we can repair also.”

“And how long will it require to complete both repairs?”

The mechanic looked skyward for a moment, contemplating his response. “Approximately one hour for the repairs, sir, plus another twenty minutes to load the ordnance from belowdecks.”

Ogawa nodded grimly. “Proceed with all haste.”

One hour turned into two and still the planes were not ready. Ogawa's impatience grew as he noticed gray streaks in the eastern sky, signaling the approaching dawn. The drizzling rain had stopped and was replaced by a light fog that enveloped the sub, cutting visibility to less than a third of a mile. Sitting ducks, perhaps, but at least ducks in a blind, Ogawa thought.

Then the stillness of the morning air was shattered as a cry from the sound-detection operator belowdecks pierced the air.

“Captain, I have an echo!”

“I've got you this time, Big Brother!” Steve Schauer yelled into the radio transmitter with a grin, then pushed a pair of throttles to their stops. Alongside him in the fishing trawler's cramped cabin, two teenage crewmen, exhausted and reeking of dead fish, looked at each other and rolled their eyes. Schauer ignored their looks as he lightly fingered the wooden wheel of the plodding fishing boat and began whistling an old drinking tune.

A pair of fortyish siblings with youth in their veins, Steve and Doug Schauer had spent their lives fishing the waters in and around Puget Sound. With skill and hard work, they had thrown all their earnings into ever-larger fishing boats until they traded up for a matched pair of fifty-foot wooden hull trawlers. Working as a team, they successfully fished the Washington and Vancouver shorelines with an uncanny ability to sniff out large schools of halibut. After a three-day excursion, with their holds full of fish and their coolers empty of beer, the brothers would race each other back to port like a pair of kids on roller skates.

“It ain't over till the paint scratches the dock,” Doug's voice crackled over the radio. After a particularly good haul during the 1941 season, the brothers had splurged on two-way radios for their boats. Though intended to help each other coordinate the catches, the brothers spent most of their time on the airwaves goading each other instead.

As Schauer's boat chugged along at its top speed of 12 knots, the skies lightened from black to gray and a spotlight beam shining on the water ahead of the bow gradually lost its illuminating effect. Ahead, in the mist, Schauer saw the faint outline of a large black object lying low in the water. A second later, a small orange flash emanated from the object's center for a brief instant.

“Is that a whale off the starboard bow?” The words had barely escaped his lips when a shrieking whistle creased past the cabin, followed by a volcanic explosion that erupted in the water off the port beam, showering the trawler in a downpour of seawater.

Schauer stood stunned for a moment, his mind unable to comprehend what his eyes and ears had just absorbed. It took the sight of a second orange flash to jolt him into action.

“Get down!” he shouted at the two men in the cabin as he spun the ship's wheel hard to port. The laden trawler was slow to respond, but it was enough to avoid the second shell from the I-403's 5.5-inch deck gun, which screamed into the water just astern of the boat. This time, the force of the explosion lifted the entire trawler out of the water and slammed it back down again hard, shearing the rudder off in the upheaval.

Wiping blood out of his eyes from a gash to the temple, Schauer groped for the radio microphone.

“Doug, there's a Jap sub. It's blasting the hell out of us. No joke. Keep to the north, and get help.”

He was still talking when the third shell found its mark, piercing the forward hold of the fishing boat before detonating. A furious explosion of splinters, glass, and mangled halibut blasted into the cabin, throwing the three men viciously to the back wall. Struggling to his feet, Schauer peered out a gaping hole in the front of the cabin and saw the entire bow of the trawler disintegrate into the sea before him. Instinctively grabbing the wheel for support, he looked on in disbelief as the remains of the boat began to sink rapidly beneath his feet.

Peering through binoculars, Ogawa watched with grim satisfaction as the trawler slipped beneath the waves amid a scattering of flotsam. Rescuing survivors was out of the question, so he wasted no time in looking for bodies in the water.

“Motoshita, have there been any additional sound recordings?” he asked his exec.

“Negative, sir. The sound operator reported a possible secondary target before we initiated firing but the reading faded. It was either background noise, or a small vessel at best.”

“Have him keep sweeping. With this visibility, we will hear a vessel well before seeing her. And have the chief aircraft mechanic report to me. We've got to get those planes launched.”

As Motoshita scurried off, Ogawa stared toward the hidden coastline of Washington. Perhaps we'll get lucky, he thought. The trawler was likely a lone fishing boat and wouldn't have a radio. The guns could have been heard ashore, but, at this distance, would sound like an innocuous muffle. The charts showed few inhabitants residing along that stretch of coast as well. Perhaps-just perhaps-they could still pull off the mission undetected.

The hairs on the back of Radioman First Class Gene Hampton's neck stood up like a grove of ponderosa pine. The voice ringing through his earphones had an air of urgency and authenticity that could not help but be believed. After confirming the message twice, Hampton popped out of his chair like a jack-in-the-box and bounded to the center of the bridge.

“Captain, I just picked up a civilian Mayday message,” he blurted excitedly. “A fisherman says there's a Jap sub offshore shelling his brother's boat.”

“Did he sound coherent?” replied the ship's bearded, heavyset commander in a skeptical tone.

“Yes, sir. Said he didn't see the sub because of the fog but got a radio call from his brother on another fishing boat. He heard a couple of shots fired from a big gun, then lost contact with his brother. I received a call from another boat confirming the sound of gunfire.”

“Did they provide a fix on the location?”

“Yes, sir. Nine miles southwest of Cape Flattery.”

“Very well. Contact the Madison and tell her we are headed out of the strait to investigate a reported enemy contact, then provide a location fix to Navigation. Mr. Baker,” he continued, turning to a tall lieutenant standing at his side, “let's go to General Quarters.”

As an alarm bell rang throughout the ship, the crew of the USS Theodore Knight scrambled to their battle stations, adorning helmets and kapoks as they ran. It wasn't the first time the Farragut-class destroyer had seen action. Launched in 1931 at the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine, the Theodore Knight had an active service duty garnering North Atlantic convoy duty in the early stages of the war. After dodging several U-boat attacks while escorting the merchant fleets, the 341-foot-long destroyer was sent back for patrol and escort duty off the West Coast, sailing the waters from San Diego to Alaska.

Trailing three miles behind, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, was the Liberty Ship Madison, bound for San Francisco with a cargo of lumber and tinned salmon. Leaving the assigned cargo ship in its wake, the Theodore Knight broached the mouth of the Pacific as its captain, Lieutenant Commander Roy Baxter, ordered flank speed. The ship's twin diesel turbines churned the sleek gray ship through the water like a hound chasing a rabbit. The crew, accustomed to quiet, routine patrols, was at an unusually heightened sense of readiness at the prospect of facing the enemy.

Even Baxter felt his heart beat a little faster. A twenty-year Navy man, he had seen action in the Atlantic but had grown bored with his recent assignment on the home shores. He relished the thought of tasting battle again, though remained skeptical about the radio report. Japanese subs had not been seen off the coast for over a year, he knew, and the Imperial Navy was now clearly on the defensive. “Radar?” he demanded loudly.

“Sir, I have three small vessels approaching the channel, two from the north and one from the west,” replied the radarman without taking his eyes off his monitor. “I have another indefinite target that appears to be stationary lying to the southwest.”

“Take us to the southern mark,” Baxter barked. “And have the forward batteries stand by for action.” The commander had to suppress a grin of excitement as he issued the orders. Maybe we'll earn our pay today, he thought while strapping on his helmet.

Unlike their American counterparts, most Japanese submarines in World War II were not equipped with radar. The early-warning technology was only first deployed on Imperial submarines in mid-1944, and then installed only on selected vessels. Most Japanese submarines instead relied upon sound-detection equipment to reveal a distant enemy. Although more limited in range than radar, sound detection could be utilized underwater, and aided many a sub in avoiding a fatal rendezvous with depth charges.

Absent a radar unit, it was the I-403^ sound operator who first became aware of the destroyer bearing down on them.

“Vessel approaching ahead ... sound intensity one,” he reported at the first registering on his equipment.

On deck, both of the aircraft had been moved out of their hangars, where the wings and pontoons were affixed, while repairs continued. It was the situation Ogawa feared most. With both planes assembled but neither ready for flight, they would have to be sacrificed should the submarine have to make an emergency dive.

“Deck gun at the ready,” he ordered, hoping the unwelcome intruder was yet another fishing boat.

“Sound intensity two and increasing,” the sound operator relayed calmly. “It's a ship,” he added, to no one's surprise.

“Secure all aircraft and clear the aviation deck,” Ogawa ordered an ensign, who sprinted down the large deck shouting at the mechanics and pilots as he ran. Tying down the two airplanes, the aviation crew quickly grabbed their work tools and scurried to the hangar. The watertight doors of the hangar were closed and sealed; then the men dropped down another hatch into the secure body of the submarine.

“Sound intensity three, off our bow. May be a destroyer,” the operator reported, correctly identifying the churning sound of the tin can's twin propellers.

As if on cue, the gray ship materialized out of the fog a half mile away, the apparition of a steel wraith charging across the moor. White foam burst off the bow in angry torrents while wisps of dark smoke billowed from the funnel. The lean ship drove straight at the sub, an attacking lancer not to be denied.

In an instant, the I-403's deck gun boomed as the submarine's experienced gun crew attempted to halt the oncoming dervish. The slim, head-on profile of the destroyer made for a difficult target, however, and the shell passed harmlessly to one side. Hurriedly, the gun crew took aim and fired again.

Once identifying the ship as a destroyer, Ogawa recognized the futility of a surface duel with a superior vessel and immediately ordered a crash dive. The mission would have to be sacrificed for the safety of the ship and crew, he reasoned, if it wasn't already too late.

As the dive alarm sounded, the gun crew fired off a last desperate shot before scrambling belowdecks to safety. The gunner's accuracy was nearly dead-on, but he overcompensated the approaching speed of the destroyer. The shell splashed into the water fifty feet directly ahead of the American ship's bow, blasting a spray of water onto its deck but causing no damage.

The two forward batteries of the Theodore Knight ax last came to life, lobbing five-inch shells in succession toward the Japanese sub. The inexperienced and adrenaline-fortified gun crew fired high, however, placing the destroyer's shells harmlessly beyond the now-accelerating submarine.

On the exterior bridge of the I-403, Ogawa hesitated momentarily before dropping down the hatch, taking a final glance at his approaching stalker. Movement caught his eye on the forward deck, where he was surprised to see a crewman striding toward one of the airplanes. It was a pilot, ignoring the dive command and climbing into his plane. In the spirit of the kamikaze, the pilot could not bear the thought of losing his aircraft and was willing to die with it instead. Ogawa cursed his foolish bravery, then ducked down into the bridge below.

The ballast tanks were opened and a rush of seawater began flooding in to weigh the submarine down. The huge hull of the I-403 was a liability in this situation, requiring a notoriously long time to submerge. As Ogawa waited for the sub to make its agonizingly slow descent, he played one more card.

“Prepare to fire torpedoes!” he commanded.

It was a gamble, but a calculated one at that. With the destroyer directly ahead, Ogawa could let go a shot in the face of the ship and make the hunter fall prey to the victim.

“Tubes loaded,” the torpedo officer reported.

“Stand by tubes number one and number two,” Ogawa ordered.

The destroyer was barely two hundred yards away and still belching fire from its five-inch guns. Amazingly, the destroyer's guns continued to miss their mark. The point-blank target of the sub slowly began to diminish as the nose of the undersea craft dipped beneath the waves and a wash of seawater gradually flooded over the forward deck.

“Fire one!” Ogawa shouted. Counting off three seconds silently, he paused, then ordered, “Fire two!”

With a blast of compressed air, the two torpedoes burst out of the forward tubes on a deadly streak toward the advancing destroyer. Each packing an 890-pound lethal warhead, the twenty-three-foot-long, oxygen-powered torpedoes accelerated quickly, racing toward the Theodore Knight at better than 45 knots.

An ensign standing on the bridge wing of the destroyer noticed a seam of white trails under the water's surface burrowing toward the ship.

“Torpedoes off the port and starboard bow!” he shouted, though his body remained frozen in rapt fascination as he watched the speeding explosives approach.

In an instant, the torpedoes were on them. But either by miscalculation, divine intervention, or just plain luck, the two deadly fish somehow missed their target. The immobile ensign watched in amazement as the two torpedoes skimmed past both sides of the destroyer's bow, then raced down the length of the ship no more than ten feet from either side of the hull before disappearing beyond the stern.

“She's diving, sir,” noted the destroyer's helmsman as he watched the waves slosh over the bow of the sub.

“Steer for the conning tower,” Baxter commanded. “Let's go right down her throat.”

Firing from the forward batteries had ceased, as the guns could no longer be trained on a target so low to the ship's bow. The bat de became a race, the destroyer boring in like a charging ram in an attempt to batter the I-403. But the submarine was gaining depth and, for a moment, appeared like it would successfully slip beneath the stalking ship. The Theodore Knight had crossed over the bowline of the sub, its keel missing the top deck of the descending sub by a matter of feet. But the destroyer drove forward, intent on crushing the submersing vessel.

The aircraft were the first to feel the sharp wedge of the destroyer's prow. Partially submerged on the receding deck, the randomly aligned airplanes just caught the surging bow of the ship at mid height and were instantly dissected into large sections of mangled metal, fabric, and debris. The defiant pilot, who had climbed into the cockpit of the first airplane, received little time for impudence before realizing his wish to die with his plane in a crushing blow.

The I-403 itself was now half submerged and had so far avoided damage from the assault. But the sub's conning tower was too great a protrusion and could not escape the charging wrath of the ship. With a crunching shear, the bow of the destroyer tore into the vessel's console, slicing through it like a scythe. Ogawa and his operations officers were killed instantly as the ship crushed into and through the control center of the sub. The entire structure was ripped away from the body of the submarine as the destroyer continued its onslaught, carving a mutilating gash along the rear spine of the I-403. Inside, the doomed crew heard the screeching grind of metal on metal before the torrents of seawater burst in and flooded the compartments. Death came quickly but painfully to the drowning men as the sub lurched, then dropped rapidly to the seafloor. A smattering of air bubbles and oil boiled to the surface to mark the gravesite, then all was silent.

Aboard the Theodore Knight, the crew and officers cheered their destruction of the Japanese submarine as they watched the telltale slick of black oil and fuel pool on the surface like a death cloud above the sunken boat. How lucky they were to have found and destroyed an enemy vessel right on their own home shores, with not so much as a casualty on their own ship. Though the enemy had fought with valor, the victory had come easily. The crew would return to port as heroes, with a great tale to tell their grandchildren. What none of the men on the destroyer could have suspected or imagined, however, was the unspeakable horror that would have befallen their countrymen had the I-403 succeeded in its mission. Nor could they know that the horror still awaited, silently beckoning from the depths of the shattered wreckage.

Mystery trawler and NUMA May 22, 2007 The Aleutian Islands, Alaska The winds swirled LIGHTLY about the faded yellow tin hut perched on a small bluff overlooking the sea. A few light snowflakes danced about the eaves of the structure before falling to the ground and melting amid the grass and tundra. Despite the nearby hum of a diesel generator, a wooly Siberian husky lay on a sun-exposed patch of loose gravel enjoying a deep sleep. A white-feathered arctic tern swooped by for a look, then stopped momentarily on the small building's roof. After curiously examining the odd assortment of antenna, beacons, and satellite dishes adorning the rooftop, the small bird seized a gust of wind and flew away in search of more edible offerings.

The Coast Guard weather station on Yunaska Island was as tranquil as it was remote. Situated midway along the Aleutian chain of islands, Yunaska was one of dozens of volcanic uprisings that curved off the Alaskan mainland like an arched tentacle. Barely seventeen miles across, the island was distinguished by two dormant volcano peaks at either end, which were separated by rolling grass hills. Absent a single tree or high shrub, the green island rose like an emerald from the surrounding frigid ocean waters in the late spring.

Lying central to the North Pacific currents, Yunaska was an ideal location for tracking sea and atmospheric conditions that would brew into full-fledged weather fronts as they moved eastward toward North America. In addition to collecting weather data, the Coast Guard station also served as a warning and rescue relay station for troubled fishermen working the surrounding marine-rich waters.

The site could hardly be considered a paradise for the two men assigned to man the station. The nearest village was ninety miles away across open water, while their home base in Anchorage was more than a thousand miles distant. The isolated inhabitants were on their own for a three-week stint until the next pair of volunteers was airlifted in. Five months out of the year, brutal winter weather conditions forced closure of the station except for minimal remote operations. But from May to November, the two-man crew was on call around the clock.

Despite the seclusion, meteorologist Ed Stimson and technician Mike Barnes considered it a plum assignment. Stimson enjoyed being in the field to practice his science while Barnes relished the time off he would accrue after working a station shift, which he would spend prospecting in the Alaskan backcountry.

“I'm telling you, Ed, you're going to have to find a new partner after our next R&R. I found a fissure of quartz in the Chugach Mountains that would knock your socks off. I know there's got to be a thick, juicy gold vein lying right beneath it.”

“Sure, just like that strike you made wild claims about on the McKinley River,” Stimson chided. Barnes had a naive sense of optimism that always amused the elder meteorologist.

“Just wait till you see me driving around Anchorage in my new Hummer, then you'll believe,” replied Barnes somewhat indignantly.

“Fair enough,” Stimson replied. “In the meantime, can you check the anemometer mounting? The wind readings have stopped recording again.”

“Just don't file a claim on my gold field while I'm up on the roof,” Barnes grinned while pulling on a heavy coat.

“Not to worry, my friend. Not to worry.”

Two miles to the east, Sarah Matson cursed leaving her gloves back in the tent. Although the temperature was almost fifty, an offshore breeze made it feel much cooler. Her hands were wet from crawling over some sea-washed boulders and the sensitivity was evaporating from her fingertips. Climbing across a gully, she tried to forget about her icy hands and concentrate on moving closer to her quarry. Stepping quietly along a boulder-strewn path, she eased herself slowly to a prime vantage point beside a shallow rock outcropping.

Barely thirty feet away lay a noisy colony of Steller's sea lions basking at the water's edge. A dozen or so of the fat-whiskered mammals sat huddled together like tourists jammed on the beach at Rio while another four or five could be seen swimming in the surf. Two young males barked loudly back and forth at each other, vying for the attention of a nearby female, who showed not the slightest sign of interest in either mammal. Several pups slept blissfully oblivious to the rancor, cuddled up close to their mother's belly.

Pulling a small notepad from her jacket pocket, Sarah began jotting down particulars about each animal, estimating their age, sex, and apparent health condition. As accurately as she could, she carefully observed each sea lion for signs of muscle spasms, eye or nasal secretions, or excessive sneezing. After nearly an hour of observation, she replaced the notepad in her pocket, hoping that she would later be able to read the scribbled handwriting created by her frozen fingers.

Slowly retracing her steps, Sarah edged away from the colony and made her way back across the gully. She found that her original footsteps had left indentations in the short grass and she easily followed her imprints leading inland and over a gradual rise. The cool sea breeze felt refreshing to her lungs as she hiked while the sparse beauty of the island made her feel energized and full of life. Belying her slender frame and delicate features, the flaxen-haired woman of thirty actually relished working outdoors. Growing up in rural Wyoming, Sarah had spent all her summer days hiking and horseback riding in the Teton Mountains with a pair of rambunctious brothers. A love of outdoor wildlife led her to study veterinary medicine at neighboring Colorado State University. After a number of research positions on the East Coast, she followed a favorite professor to the federal Centers for Disease Control with the promise that she wouldn't be stuck in a lab every day. In the role of field epidemiologist for the CDC, she was able to combine her passion for wildlife and the outdoors by helping track the spread of communicable diseases among animals that posed a health threat to humans.

Finding herself in the Aleutian Islands was just the sort of outdoor adventure she craved, although the reason behind it tugged at her animal-loving heart. A mysterious number of sea lion deaths had been reported along the western Alaska Peninsula, although no known environmental catastrophe or human-induced culprit was suspected. Sarah and two associates had been sent from Seattle to diagnose the extent of the die-off and determine its range of dispersement. Starting with the outward Aleutian island of Attu, the team had begun island-hopping eastward, searching for signs of the outbreak while working their way toward the Alaskan mainland. Every three days, a small seaplane would pick the team up, then ferry them to the next designated island with a fresh drop of supplies. The second day on Yu-naska had failed to reveal indications of the ailment in the local sea lion population, which added a small sense of relief to Sarah.

Blessed with high cheekbones and soft hazel eyes, the pretty scientist quickly ambled the two miles back to camp, easily spotting the trio of bright red tents some distance away. A squat, bearded man wearing a flannel shirt and a worn Seattle Mariners baseball cap was rummaging through a large cooler when Sarah approached the campsite.

“Sarah, there you are. Sandy and I were just making plans for lunch,” Irv Fowler said with a smile. An easygoing man on the thin side of fifty, Fowler looked and acted like a man ten years his junior.

A petite redheaded woman crawled out of one of the nearby tents clutching a pot and ladle. “Irv's always making plans for lunch,” Sandy Johnson responded with a grin while rolling her eyes.

“How did you two make out this morning?” Sarah inquired as she grabbed an empty campstool and sat down.

“Sandy's got the stats. We checked a large colony of Steller's on the eastern beach and they all looked fat and healthy. I found one cadaver, but by all appearances the fellow looked like he expired from old age. I took a tissue sample for lab analysis just to be sure.” While he spoke, Fowler pumped the primer on a propane gas camp stove, then lit the hissing gas escaping beneath the burner, the blue flame igniting with a poof.

“That's consistent with what I observed as well. It appears that the affliction has not spread to the sea lions of charming Yunaska,” Sarah replied, her eyes sweeping the green landscape around them.

“We can check the colony on the west coast of the island this afternoon, since our pilot won't be back to pick us up until morning.”

“That will be a bit of a hike. But we can stop for a chat at the Coast Guard station, which I recall our pilot saying was manned this time of year.”

“In the meantime,” Fowler announced, placing the large pot on the portable stove, “it's time for the specialty of the house.”

“Not that fire-belching-” Sandy tried to declare before being cut off.

“Yes, indeed. Cajun chili du jour,” Fowler grinned, while scraping the lumpy brown contents of a large tin can into the heated pot.

“As they say in N'Awlins,” Sarah said with a laugh, “Laisse^ k bon temps rouler.”

Ed Stimson peered intently at a weather radar monitor watching a slight buildup of white electronic clouds fuzz up the upper portion of the green screen. It was a moderate storm front, some two hundred miles to the southwest, that Stimson accurately predicted would douse their island with several days of soggy weather. His concentration was interrupted by a rapping sound overhead. Barnes was still up on the tin roof fooling with the anemometer.

Static-filled chatter suddenly blared through the hut from a radio set mounted on a corner wall. Nearby fishing boats, their captains yakking about the weather, constituted most of the garbled radio traffic received on the island. Stimson did his best to tune out the meaningless chatter and, at first, failed to detect the odd whooshing sound. It was a low resonance emanating from outside. Then the radio fell silent for a moment and he could clearly hear a rushing sound in the distance, something similar to a jet aircraft. For several long seconds, the odd noise continued, seeming to diminish slightly in intensity before ending altogether in a loud crack.

Thinking it might be thunder, Stimson adjusted the scale view on his weather radar to a twenty-mile range. The monitor showed only a light scattering of clouds in the immediate vicinity, with nothing resembling thunderheads. Must be the Air Force up to some tricks, he figured, recalling the heavy air traffic in the Alaskan skies during the days of the Cold War.

His thoughts were broken by a crying wail outside the door from the pet husky named Max.

“What is it, Max?” Stimson called out while opening the door to the hut.

The Siberian husky let out a death-shrieking howl as it turned, shaking, toward his master in the doorway. Stimson was shocked to see the dog's eyes glazed in a vacant stare while thick white foam oozed from his mouth. The dog stood teetering back and forth for a moment, then keeled over on its side, hitting the ground with a thud.

“Jesus! Mike, get down here quick,” Stimson yelled to his partner.

Barnes was already climbing down the ladder from the roof but was having a hard time catching the rungs with his feet. Nearing the ground, he missed the last rung with his left foot altogether and lurched to the ground, staying semierect only by a hearty hand grasp on the ladder's rung.

“Mike, the dog just ... are you okay?” Stimson asked, realizing something was not right. Running to his partner's side, he found Barnes in a state of labored breathing, and his eyes were nearly as glassy as Max's. Throwing his arm around the younger man's shoulder, Stimson half carried, half dragged Barnes into the shack and set him down in a chair.

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