Recollections of the Battle of Spratley

Telegram FROM Adm. Hirogawa Sayako TO S.Com.Pac. Yamamoto Toshiro, 14/7/1904

HAVE TRACKED FSA CARRIER GROUP TO VOLCANIC ATOLL NORTH OF BURMA STOP WILL ENGAGE IN 36 HOURS STOP

Telegram FROM S.Com.Pac Yamamoto Toshiro TO Adm. Hirogawa Sayako 15/7/1904

INTENTIONS CONFIRMED AND APPROVED STOP ENGAGE AT WILL STOP

dystopian 01

Letter from Capt. Elizabeth DeWitt, Heavy Cruiser Colombia, to Mr. G DeWitt, Maine [unsent]

Dearest Gordon,

I will not be sending this letter in the form you receive it; it is too confidential, too sensitive to the war. But I am writing because my mind is greatly troubled and it is only in committing my turmoiled thoughts to paper that I can find some relief from them.

We have been patrolling the Pacific now for what feels like months, if not years, fighting the heat and pursuing the Japanese fleets as they melt into the islands. Admiral Hawkins is convinced that victory is near and has sent us deep into a volcanic sea-region where he believes there is a fuelling-ground for Japanese ships.

I suspect our enemies, however, know well our intent and are preparing an ambush and it is this which troubles me so. The islands have forced our fleet to string itself out, and heavy rains have grounded much of our fighter support. Were the enemy to attack now I doubt we would be able to respond promptly…

[letter unfinished]

dystopian 03

Hour One

Testimony of 1st Lt. Hideka Sato, Battleship Zankantou

…Admiral Hirogawa was more driven than I have ever seen her that day – we had the Yankees cornered in the atoll and they had turned to fight, like rats or dogs in the pit. I won’t forget her, the way she gripped the rail of the bridge, her hair shining in the low light and the rising sun, and with a sweep of her arm ordered the fleet forward like the very image of the Empress just for a moment. It was that sight that reassured me we would win…

…Our first volley scored good hits on the Yankee battleship as it came round the edge of an island. Its bridge was smoking heavily and in the confusion we were able to press the attack brutally. Strategies like that are what Hirogawa is famous for…

dystopian 02

Testimony of Capt. Morimoto Yuki, Air Cruiser Soyokaze

…The American broadsides took out most of our machine-gun emplacements in seconds; they had loaded flak shells in their sub-gunnery and I’ll say one thing, their battleship packs a lot of four-inch repeating guns. I was about to finalise the promotion of Petty Officer Tonegawa for his heroic action in repelling American missile artillery when the shots hit. Damage control told me I’d be making it a posthumous one…

dystopian 04

Testimony of Sqd. Cmdr. Hojikata Kenji, Frigate Group Nadesico

…Under orders from Admiral Hirogawa we pressed forward ahead of the flag and I swear that battleship came out of nowhere. It was right there, guns blazing at the Zankantou and up into the sky to repel bombers, and we ducked in beneath its angle of depression and blasted a hole right in its armoury-decks. Must have killed three dozen marines or more, the sharks ate well that day…

Notes of Captain Joseph “Joe” Pescale, Battleship Langley

…Hawkins had tracked those Suns bastards to the volcano and goddamnit we were all set to make them pay. The RPF-man said he’d got some kind of contact up above cloud level so I had the gunners throw down a bit of thunder, and wouldn’t you know we heard ’em squawking damage reports back home to their flagship. Now those mathmos at the gunnery-table did some clever stuff and told me they knew where that Suns BB was and so we sent some shells downrange. I coulda sworn we hit the slippery bastards but they were steamin’ on like it wasn’t no thing. They had one of them Markov shields I think…

…Then of course there was the matter of them frigates. Slipped through our defences good like they was going to ram us, and tore C deck a new, well, you know how the saying goes sirs. Of course, us lit up like a goddamn Christmas tree we were a sitting target for their own gunnery and those long-18s on their big fellow sure knackered my RPF good. Then I began hearing the other stuff, how one of Group Boston’s corvettes was going down, and that damn Ruskie fellow tagging along was running quiet, and I began to think this weren’t a good idea after all…

dystopian 05

Notes of Squadron Commander Slate, Heavy Cruiser Group Salvation

…It is fair to say I was having reservations about the furtherance of this mission at its onset; Captain DeWitt had long a reputation for caution but I hated to admit she might have been in the right. Admiral Hawkins’ flagship was in the midst of our formation, and we were advancing under a traditional escort-screen, but nevertheless we were separated by volcanic island-formations and so flak coverage was distinctly underwhelming. I blame this for the damage sustained by the Colombia from Japanese missile-artillery…

…Nevertheless the Japanese frigate-group which had harried the Langley were firmly within our vision and combined fire from our number destroyed them all; I saw some life-boats making for the islands, and while those sailors were my enemy I was aware full that they too were fellow souls in peril on the sea, and ordered a cessation of fire so that they may quit the combat-zone. A soldier I may be, but as a God-fearing man I am no slaughterer…

Testimony of Lt. Crockett, Corvette Texas

…We’d lost one of our number to judgment from the skies. The damned Suns had one of their flying fortresses up there and we had no chance of denting that thing. That was, you see, when Commander Tatum had one of his good ideas – we cut right into their cruiser-line because if there’s one thing gonna make a gunner think twice about pulling that trigger it’s seeing his own flag in the crosshair. Our fire weren’t too impressive but we put a few holes in one of their heavy cruisers and that’s a good day’s work for us…

Hour Two

Testimony of Capt. Morimoto Yuki, Air Cruiser Soyokaze

…Even damaged as we were, and under heavy fighter assault, we continued to carry out our duties. Descending from cloud cover we saw two enemy heavy-class ships – a damaged battleship with cruiser escort and an aircraft carrier. After conversation with Major Yukimura of the Soyokaze‘s paratroops, I formulated a plan which I sent to the Admiral for her approval…

…We would launch a diversionary barrage with our sonic disruption charges and main gunnery to damage as many enemy ships as possible, and then Major Yukimura would launch a raid on the enemy carrier with the intent of capturing or disabling it. I am pleased to say it was a complete success; Major Yukimura may elaborate further on the raid on the carrier but I can confirm our gunnery was sufficient to further damage the enemy battleship…

Addendum: Testimony of Maj. Yukimura Date, 7th Airborne Marines

…We met almost no resistance from the enemy. Their carrier was poorly defended and the first assault wave landed on the flight deck whereby we engaged the remaining enemy marines. They had established a perimeter around the conning tower and their bravery was admirable; I lost a good half of my initial forces and it took the arrival of marines from the Yukikaze to allow a breakout. Once that siege was broken, however, the enemy’s resistance was much the lesser; between entering the vessel and reaching the command-bridge we suffered no casualties and took many American sailors prisoner…

…The American admiral surrendered honourably to us and a skeleton crew was left to bring the captured vessel home. We took the ranking prisoners back to the sky battleship Ikaruga for interrogation…

dystopian 06

Testimony of Adm. Hirogawa Sayako, Battleship Zankantou

…Receiving the news from Morimoto that the enemy Admiral was our prisoner was a significant asset; morale had understandably faltered at the destruction of group Nadesico. I will admit that the news did surprise me to an extent; I had not foreseen that the enemy flag would be so central in their formation, nor indeed that it would be simultaneously so lightly-protected. Nevertheless a rapidly-transpiring series of events before me was making acquiring good firing-solutions difficult and my gunnery was limited to the destruction of a single frigate…

…The enemy use of a corvette-screen was a significant annoyance; their vessels were difficult to track and harder still to hit. Cruiser Group Kami reported some success using close-range barrages, but for the moment I encouraged my captains to concentrate fire on larger vessels…

Testimony of Sqd. Cmdr. Kurugi Ougi, Frigate Group Kurogane

…With air support from the Ikaruga clearing out enemy frigates we were in a prime position to engage enemy dirigibles; a full barrage from all vessels caused catastrophic damage to the enemy vessel’s superstructure and sent it plunging to the ocean-bed. Suppressive anti-aircraft fire from our machine-gun batteries, however, had little effect on the second dirigible…

dystopian 07

Notes of Captain Petr Medvedev, Submarine Cruiser Volka

…It is not often you are given a prime shot at an enemy airship which has dived low to recover marines, and it transpires this is when they are at their most susceptible to the Seismic Concussion Shell’s effects. The barrage itself knocked out two of the vessel’s engines and the secondary shockwave sent it well off-course…

…That is of course, in the eyes of the Americans, nowhere near recompense enough for the capture of their flagship by accursed Japanese marines…

dystopian 08

Notes of Captain Joe Pescale, Battleship Langley

…Well those Suns had hammered us pretty good and the helmsman was deader than a doornail. Now I don’t know how it happened but we went to return fire and god help me the Colombia was right there out of control headed for us, and without a helmsman there isn’t much you can do to stop a battleship going where it wants to go. All we could do was brace for impact, and offer prayers for the poor souls on that cruiser because we were, so to speak, the unstoppable force meeting the not that immovable object. The collision was, I think, too much for the Langley to take because once it happened I began hearing some mighty strange noises from the hull…

…Now, I ain’t stupid and saw what was going to happen, so got out of dodge PDQ. Thankfully there was a seaplane getting the wounded off which was more than happy to assist me, what with me looking like I’d come out of a slaughterhouse and all because Japanese shells had made a pretty mess of my bridge crew. I feel a bit sorry for the Langley really, it’s a darn shame she went down like that…

Hour Three

Testimony of Adm. Hirogawa Sayako, Battleship Zankantou

…The collision between an American cruiser and the damaged battleship was the moment of disarray I needed to compose myself and order a new firing-solution. The resulting barrage proved truly devastating; two of the cruisers were heavily damaged and the one which had been already crippled by collisions was sunk. They indeed returned fire, with a barrage that would have ordinarily proved devastating, but the Markov Shield held firm…

…That said, I will never be truly used to the sight of shells exploding in thin air above my ship. The shield is a fascinating device, one I do not fully understand, and it is capricious. I have seen ships protected by such devices sink like any other, and I never make the mistake of complacency…

…To my great surprise one of the damaged American cruisers was clearly suffering engine damage; it was unable to avoid oncoming rocks and ran itself aground on a volcanic basin which emerged from the water, tearing a significant breach in the hull. I saw many of its crew escaping in fear of a magazine explosion or some other catastrophic structural failure…

dystopian 09

Testimony of Capt. Morimoto Yuki, Air Cruiser Soyokaze

…The Soyokaze was crippled and dying; I ordered my crew to evacuate and followed only once I had done all I can. The transport-planes which took us to the Yukikaze were crowded and the threat of American fighters bringing a sudden end to my life was omnipresent…

…Then I saw the Russian submersible put my former command out of its misery from the bridge of the Yukikaze, and then as it dived we, too, pounced. Curtains of bombs fell upon the vessel and it exploded with blinding force which gutted the Yukikaze‘s point-defences. Even in death that accursed Russian had the last laugh; his vessel had achieved more in its final moments than most of the American fleet had in life…

Epilogue

Priority Communication from PACCOM to POFSA

…With the capture of Admiral Ruben Hawkins operations in the Burmese theatre have taken a new direction; Battle Group Delaware was supposed to bring a decisive end to Japanese operations in the theatre. Increased deployments from Hawaii will be accompanied by appeals to the British Empire and Australian holdings for assistance; arresting the expansion of Japanese power is a vital first step to the restoration of peace in China. Negotiations with the Taipings continue but it is feared the bamboo curtain will fall with the Confederacy on its outside as soon as the Chrysanthemum Empress completes her negotiations with the Son of Heaven…

Letter from Empress Eisho Chikako to Admiral Hirogawa Sayako

…Further to your most perfect victory over the Americans you have been recommended for receipt of honours at this year’s Peach-Blossom Festival. You will, on returning to Okinawa, proceed to the Summer Residence at haste and dine with me there so that suitable reward for your duties to the Empire may be discussed…

Farewell to these homely lands

A ship setting off

Its return bringing salvation

– From The Noble Battleship, by Muragata Okita

Bonus Feature: Punch Cartoon “Her New Favourite”, 21/7/1904

(thanks to a sadly anonymous artist for drawing this!)

Punch Cartoon

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