A Death and a Loss…
Wilhelmina , Commander of the Admiral Graf Spee, looked at her Captain and best friend as she lay on the deck and tried to right down the bile that threatened to spill out of her mouth. Thea, her best friend since their earliest school days, was dead.
"Mii?" A voice made her turn to see one of the Harekaze crew members staring at her and her dead Captain. "I'm sorry..." She trailed off as if realising that words were not enough.
"Thank you" the German girl said.
"We've cleared your engine rooms - one of our engineers is standing by"
"Can you ring the telegraph for all stop? And send Minami here - I doubt there is anything we can do, but I had better be sure for the record" and the girl nodded and went away. Wilhelmina was left alone for a few more moments and she took off her friend's jacket and covered her body with it - taking great care to put her cap back where it rightfully belonged. "Spee to Harekaze"
"Harekaze" came the reply of her newest best friend, Kouko.
"We have recaptured the ship and are slowing down"
"Minor injuries... One death. Spee out"
"I am sorry for your loss" the quiet voice of the Harekaze's Doctor came from the left of her.
"Thank you. Could you give an official verdict of death please? I will need it for both the log and the report to our Headquarters" both girls knew it was a mere formality. Whilst Thea might have lived with a crippled back, the piece of metal sticking out of her side would have made sure.
"Of course" Minami said quietly. She would have said something more, but decided against it as she was, herself, a little shaken. She knew how to deal with death, in theory, but to see it in real life was a completely different matter.
"I will be on the Bridge" and Wilhelmina stood to attention, saluted her dead friend and Captain before walking away to the Bridge where she was needed the most right now.
"Have you decided what you want to do?" asked Akeno. Once the Spee had come to a stop, the Harekaze had recovered the Skippers before coming alongside. The moment she was able, she'd boarded the other ship and went straight to Mii to discuss plans.
"I do not know" the German girl admitted. "I have enough crew already to get us moving, and we've only got minor damage to repair sustained in our rescue operation... Thea would have had orders, but they will be in the ship's safe and she never told me the combination. In the absence of orders I should call in to my school"
"You could always try and break into the safe, but I know you don't want to abandon us"
"No - I'd like to follow you to your meet up with Akashi. If you encounter the Musashi, another ship would be of help. Besides, it is my duty and on my honour to help you after you risked so much to save my crew"
"You might be able to refuel from Akashi too" Akeno pointed out.
"True" Mii replied. "Captain" she said formally, "There is something else I would like to ask of you. Would you permit Kou–"
"I thought you might ask for her, so told her to pack a few things. You care for her, don't you?"
"Of course... She is a friend"
"I didn't mean that" Akeno replied and smiled.
"I'm not... I mean..." Mii stuttered.
"Shiro might be right in saying I'm not the brightest person, but I know when somebody is in love. Did you ever wonder why she was on the radio so quickly? She was supposed to record all the damage, but she stayed on the Bridge because she didn't want to go without knowing you were alright"
"Do you object?"
"Of course not – why should i? Anyway, let's get back to business - how soon can you get moving?"
"The engine room staff report at least another hour"
"Are we..." Akeno's cheerfulness faded, "Are you burying Thea at sea?"
"No... I've decided that after we stop the Musashi, I'm sailing Spee directly for Kiel" Mii sighed and looked at the log she had been writing in. "This isn't what I wanted my first entry as Spee's Captain to be"
"None of this is what we wanted, but at least we're going to do the best we can and save people"
"Harekaze to Captain"
"I'm here, Shiro" Akeno replied.
"We've had a message from the Akashi saying they've been attacked and damaged by the Musashi. They've suffered no injuries, but their engines are out of action"
"Where were they heading?"
"Towards the Yap Islands"
"Get Rin to plot a course and take us there"
"What about Spee?" asked Shiro.
"We might be a little late to the party, but we will be there" Mii said with a determined look.
Kouko felt a little uneasy seeing the Harekaze sailing without her, but she was glad she could stay aboard the Spee and look after her friend. Although not an official member of the crew, Mii had arranged it so that any requests were obeyed without question - much as she had had hers done on Kouko's ship. Standing on the Bridge, out of the way, she watched Mii give orders.
"Helmsman, ahead full speed - compass bearing 222"
"Steady on bearing 222"
"Radar reports two contacts at the extreme edge of range" came a call over the intercom.
"Lookouts, can you spot them?" Mii asked.
"Too far to see them" came the reply.
"Acting Captain, we could launch a Skipper" Kouko suggested respectfully. She wasn't entirely sure how to address her friend now that she was in command, so used her title when possible
"The one that your ship left for us is out of action"
"Bridge" Kouko took the call herself out of habit.
"I can make out the masts and stack of a destroyer... She's on fire and engaging somebody"
"Are we close enough for TBS?" asked Mii.
"Engine Room, Bridge... I need flank speed"
"The engines can't go to full power without breaking apart and down" came the reply.
"Can they do it, though?"
"Then do it… Kouko, on my authority as Acting Captain, I order you to break radio silence and communicate with the destroyer - it might be the Harekaze"
"Ship approaching bearing 042" Noma, their lookout reported.
"Can you identify?" asked Shiro.
"No, but it's huge"
"Harekaze, this is the Spee... Do you read us?"
"We read you" Shiro picked up the TBS system mounted on the rear of the Bridge.
"You need any help?" asked Kouko. The occupants of the Bridge paused for a moment and smiled as they heard their friend and shipmate – it had been quiet without her on the Harekaze.
"We're trying to board the Musashi and cure her crew, but we're taking a lot of damage - can you try and draw her fire from us?"
"Will do. What about the Blue Mermaids?"
"Only Chief Hiarga's ship is sailing, but that's reduced speed. Draw its fire... We're going to do a torpedo attack on Musashi's stern and take out her engines and steering"
"We will support you" Kouko said over the radio. "It is good to be with you, friends" and she clicked off.
"Rin, put us on a direct course for Musashi's starboard side. Torpedos – prepare for action. Your target is the Musashi at 300 degrees" Akeno ordered.
"Ye… Yes" Rin said. The girl was frightened out of her wits by all of the firing, but she knew that many lives depended on her skills as a Helmsman.
"How many?" asked Mei.
"A full salvo – aim for the stern" Akeno said quietly.
"All torpedoes at once?" Mei became animated at the thought of firing torpedoes – even if it was at a ship of her own school.
"Tama, target artillery for the main cannons on the Musashi only"
"Aye…" the girl replied and bent to her speaking tube to issue orders.
"We are in position" said the port watchkeeper.
"Fire" Akeno said simply. The was a moment of delay and then every possible weapon was fired at the Musashi. The main weapons just bounced off the other ship's hull either causing no damage at all or making very small dints in the deck plates. The torpedoes, however, hit their target and caused the other ship to heel over before righting itself and turning its mighty guns on the Harekaze and fired.
"Oh no… This is going to hurt" Rin muttered from the wheel.
"All hands, brace for impact from incoming fire" Mashiro called into the voice pipes.
"Rin, hard to starboard. Engine Room – all back full on the starboard shaft for ten seconds and then go to all ahead full until I say otherwise" Akeno replied.
"Are you trying to get us killed down here?" Maron asked sarcastically.
"Musashi has fired" called down Noma from her position high up.
"Rin, hard to starboard – bring us right around in a complete circle until our bow faces the Musashi" Akeno said. She realised that facing one set of cannons was better than facing many.
"Rig… Right" the girl answered shakily.
"Go ahead" Shiro took the call.
"Spee asks what they can do"
"Tell them they can get onto the Musashi's other side and draw some of their fire"
"Tama, can you shoot at the Musashi's stern underwater?"
"We can't get to fire another round of torpedoes without taking a lot of damage – but we can fire the forward battery" Akeno said.
"Aye" and she issued instructions to the crew that worked the forward gun.
"Rin, bring us a few points to the starboard side" Akeno ordered.
"Captain?" Rin hesitated to speak as he carried out the direction. "Why do you always want to fire to port?" and Akeno was about to reply when a shout came through from port watch.
"TORPEDO, TORPEDO, TORPEDO! Musashi has fired torpedoes and they are heading are way"
"Helm hard over…!" Akeno ordered quickly. Rin spun the wheel as quickly as she could, but the torpedoes slammed into their portside – luckily in the recently fitted torpedo bulge.
"Captain, we've got fires breaking out on all decks. The Musashi has cut the main water pressure and the crew is attempting to use the standby system and hand held equipment" Mashiro said as she took a call from the damage control post.
"Can they contain it?" Akeno asked.
"For now, but the standby system will not last for much longer"
"Maron, is there anything you can do to help?" Akeno asked into the speaking tube.
"No" came the instant reply. "I've got most of the crew away trying to put the fires out"
"Very well…" Akeno took a calming breath, straightened and looked around at the Bridge crew. "All hands, prepare to abandon ship"
"Captain?" Mashiro spun on her heel – she couldn't believe it.
"We've got to abandon ship, Shiro… The water will not last long, and my main concern is the safety of the crew" Akeno looked over to the Musashi which took fire from an anti aircraft gun at extreme range which seemed to be an act of defiance from the gunners on the Harekaze. "Maron, what are the engines like?"
"Battered, but you can still call for full speed when you like" came the scratchy reply.
"Good – give me everything you have in a few minutes. Shiro, get the crew off except for the engine room staff…"
"What about you?"
"Radio Room – is the radio working?"
"I think so, Captain – I can send but not receive"
"Good… Send a message to the Spee and ask them to standby and rescue our survivors"
"Captain, you have not answered my question" Shiro leaned into her commanding officer and put her hands on her hips – an angry expression flashing over her face.
"We can go a little faster than the Musashi, so I am going to ram it. I hope that I can hit it in the bow and make it sink" Akeno looked back at Shiro with a grim and fierce look in her eyes. "Get the crew over the starboard side – that way the Musashi won't hit any of them" and the pair exchanged looks and an understanding passed between them.
"All hands, abandon ship. Launch skippers, boats and rafts from the starboard side only. Make for the Spee where possible" Mashiro confirmed the order to the entire ship and let the handset simply fall on its cord. Akeno simply remained on the Bridge listening to one of the crew report all of the crew had evacuated one by one before going over the side herself.
"Bridge, Engine Room. I've sent all of my staff over the side, its just me here – do you still want full speed?" Maron asked from deep down in the ship.
"Please do so and then you may leave, Maron-chan" Akeno replied into the speaking tube.
"Like hell… You need somebody to run the engines, and you can't do that all the way up there" and Akeno nodded in understanding.
"Thank you, Maron-Chan… I hope that you are able to get away before we both sink"
"Course?" a voice asked and Akeno turned round to see Rin with her hands firmly gripping the Harekaze's wheel.
"Rin, you may leave – I will sail the ship" the Captain told her. To her surprise, the Chief Navigator and Helmsman shook her head with a look of determination.
"You're going to need a good pilot… I am the Navigator – I go with the ship"
"Rin, the Harekaze will explode the moment we hit the Musashi's bow – you have to go… That's an order" Akeno added as the ship took a full broadside.
"I ordered you to abandon ship!"
"Let the record show that Shiretoko Rin respectfully refuses to comply" and Rin smiled. "If we live through this, you can court martial me"
"Main canon ready"
"What…?" Akeno was startled by the reports coming in. "I thought I ordered everybody to abandon ship – this is something–"
"That we will not let you face alone" Shiro finished as she stepped onto the Bridge. "Captain, the crew has abandoned ship – the Spee is standing off to pick them up. Your orders?"
"Thank you… Thank you everybody" a wave of emotion came over Akeno and she tried hard not let more than a few tears fall. "Engines ahead full, Maron-Chan… Do what you like to them. Rin, steer a course that makes us hit the Musashi. If Tama and Rei are here, who is manning the gun and torpedos?"
"Macchi has the gun while Tsugu and Mariko are working the torpedoes" Shiro replied. "Being so close, we have no need for any of their normal stations anyway"
"Thank you" Akeno said softly. "Lets go"
"Mii-chan!" Kouko came rushing onto the Bridge of the Admiral Spee. "The Captain is going to ram the Harekaze into the Musashi and take it with her. We have to do something"
"We are too far away to do anything with certainty. I think that's why your Captain had us stop to pick up your crew – she didn't want anybody else getting hurt" came the reply.
"But others will!"
"What do you mean?"
"The officers, if you will, are all still onboard!"
"I'm beginning to suspect the ship might up being Kamikaze instead of Harekaze" Wilhelmina said darkly. "Radar, give me an update…"
"We're about a thousand yards to impact" Shiro looked through her glasses at the closing gap between Harekaze and the Musashi. The ship was belching smoke out at a vast rate and flames licked the sides of the wounded ship – blistering paint and melting metal as it did so. Akeno had spared a moment to look aft and could see the damage the ship was taking and yet shrugging it off as it prepared to do its final duty. Despite everything, she could feel the vibration of the engines as they powered the ship to a fateful encounter.
"Tsugu and Mariko – launch all torpedos at the stern. Macchi, fire the main gun as long as you can. Maron?"
"Ramming speed! When you've done that, set the charges and then get topside"
"All torpedos launched" Rei said from her position.
"Rin, aim for a point a bit behind the bow"
"Ye- Yes!" the scared girl said. "Got it" she added shortly.
"Anything else that can be done?" Akeno asked over the noise of the forward gun firing as fast as possible. The others all shook their heads or otherwise indicated in the negative. "Right, everybody over the side" and Akeno waited on the starboard bridge wing to make sure everybody got off. She looked behind her to see only a hundred feet remained to go, and, after clapping her hands together and bowing to the Harekaze, she leaped over the side and into the waters of the Japanese Sea. Swimming hard, Akeno put distance between her and the two ships that came together in a scream of twisting and buckling metal. Quickly, Akeno pulled out a small box and pressed the only button on it. There was a moment of silence before the Harekaze exploded – tearing herself to pieces but also taking the first thirty feet of the Musashi with it.
"Captain!" it was Rin calling from a Skipper – by the identification on the sides, it looked like the one they had given to the Spee. Akeno sighed and swam over where she clung to the side and taken slowly to the remaining Blue Mermaid ship which had managed to get close enough before the Harekaze had rammed the Musashi. Once on deck, Akeno turned round to see what remained of her ship break up and sink as the Musashi started to tip forwards and slowly slide beneath the waves. To her immense relief, boats were lowered with crew members onboard and they hurried away to eventual rescue and Akeno gave a small prayer of thanks.
"Did everybody make it?" asked the Captain.
"Yes… We went to the Blue Mermaids, but the others headed towards the Spee" Mashiro said quietly.
"Excuse me, but which one of you is the Captain?" asked an older female voice. They all turned to see the Captain of the Blue Mermaid ship.
"Me" Akeno raised her hand.
"We saw what you were forced to do. Despite the loss of your ship, you were able to stop the Musashi before it was too late and she fired her guns on civilians. You will be pleased top know that nobody was killed or injured too badly"
"That is good news" Akeno said.
"Yes… We've already heard from the Musashi's Captain that she was able to close all of the bulkheads before leaving – the ship is salvageable"
"Is she here?"
"No. That leads me to my next problem – and its not a pleasant duty to perform" the Blue Mermaid said.
"Your school's Principal has asked us to arrest and detain you for destroying your ship during the attack on the Musashi. You were ordered to make only one attack and you disregarded that order"
"We helped too!" Rin protested.
"Ignore her – they were following my orders. Am I going to the Brig?" Akeno asked.
"Normally, but I will put you in quarters. You did what I would have done anyway"
"Captain, my mother can not do this to you" Shiro said angrily.
"Mashiro, please do not protest. I am the Captain and its my fault the Harekaze was lost" she turned back to the waiting women. "I'll make no trouble" she said and allowed herself to be escorted below and to quarters – to be confined there until they reached port.
"Captain!" Rin called out as Akeno reached the hatch. She stopped and turned to see her crew lined up and, as one, stood to attention and saluted. As she returned the salute, she realised it might very well be her last both as a Captain and a student of the Yokosuka Girls' Marine High School – and she wasn't sure which made her more frightened.