Wednesday, June 28, 2017

June reading: Duel at Sea III

Frank Berg, wounded in the fight with a U-boat, transferred from the damaged ship Charles Maguffin to the destroyer escort Crowley.
Both Crowley and Berg required repair so he was given a ride to the Brooklyn Navy Yard where he underwent surgery to repair his gunshot leg.
After recuperation and contacting Anne Campbell again Berg was ordered to give an account of the action that had resulted in the death of crew members and the destruction of Maguffin.
Rather than being mustered out of the Navy Berg was given command of Excalibur, a lend-lease destroyer escort. His task was to acquire an Omega coding machine.
Berg familiarized himself with the ship, added crew members and set sail to Bermuda on a shakedown cruise.
Would his crew be combat ready by the time the shakedown was finished?

Frank Berg received an order for him to terminate the shakedown and join the convoy being assembled in Bermuda.
The crew of Excalibur had shore leave along with the ration of beer that had been promised. Scuttlebutt soon told them that the shakedown had been canceled and they were going on patrol.
Excalibur, Georgina and Crowley the escort ships of convoy BHX 32 ranged the boundaries of the three columns of ships doing their best to protect the ships and their precious cargo.
Even with sharp eyes and full attention one of the ships was hit by a torpedo. Rose O’Hanlon, a tanker filled with aviation gasoline, exploded sending flame and debris into the maritime sky. Few of the men sailing on O’Hanlon escaped the holocaust.
The fate of O’Hanlon weighed heavily on the rest of the convoy and the escort ships.
As the convoy neared the farthest limit of air protection the tension that had become routine with General Quarters called at dawn and dusk sent a wave of adrenaline-laced expectation into all the men in the convoy.
Would the revelation from the captain of Miniver Steel make Frank Berg’s job as captain of Excalibur even more difficult?

Frank Berg's task, set by Admiral Sheffield to retrieve an Omega device, was constantly on his mind.
When a U-boat made a surface attack on the convoy he thought his chance had finally come.
He ordered Hurtzfeld to take a boarding party to the surfaced sub.
Hurtzfeld thought it odd that only one man with a white flag was on the sub's bridge. It was even odder when he asked the officer why the captain wasn't on deck and why the hatch leading below was still sealed.
After receiving the okay from Captain Berg to blow the hatch if it wasn't opened in five minutes, Hurtzfeld began the countdown.
Finally the hatch opened. The rest of the crew including the captain exited the U-boat. Hurtzfeld and the submarine's captain went below.
Finding the scuttling charge, Hurtzfeld thought he disabled it by knocking the timing device off.
He picked up pieces of the Omega from the radio shack.
Back on deck the scuttling charges exploded.
Hurtzfeld and the German prisoners abandoned the sinking U-boat and returned to Excalibur.
Berg had space for only a third of the prisoners so the officers were transferred to Crowley.
Berg was mightily disgruntled when he looked at the trashed remains of the U-boat's Omega.
Moving on toward the convoy's destination Berg learned that the scuttled U-boat had two Omega's aboard.
Maybe, Berg thought, with U-boats having two of the coding devices his chances of finally capturing an intact one were good.
We'll have to read the final quarter of the book to find out whether Berg was successful.

The tension and at times the tedium of patrol was shattered by a torpedo hitting the starboard side of Excalibur.
Even though the torpedo seemed to be a dud it still required courage and skill to defuse what could be instantaneous death.
With the torpedo secured by welding it to the hull, Berg concentrated on getting the U-boat responsible to the surface.
Another disappointment as Berg discovered that the Omega had been used as part of an escape ruse by the U-boat.
Hoping for another chance at securing an Omega Frank Berg received a message that the last U-boat in the pack had an ace commander.
Berg knew that having an ace in command would make it even harder to force the U-boat to the surface.
After much maneuvering and a successful boarding, Berg finally had an Omega in his possession.
As A neared the British coast Ian Landers' mood was vastly improved by knowing that Berg's command was coming to an end and Excalibur would soon again be under his command.
Frank Berg received a message from Admiral Sheffield congratulating him on capturing an Omega. Berg reflected on Sheffield's enigmatic end to the message: what was the task that was right up his alley?

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