Episode 494: An Unequal Match
Korvettenkapitän Ernst Mayer studied the island ahead. Dawn
was spreading across the sky to the east, bathing the mountains with light,
gilding the layer of broken clouds that washed the slopes below.
Beneath this, the southern coast was still cloaked in shadow. A ribbon
of white marked the place where a waterfall plunged into the sea. The
captain took a bearing on this, then glanced at the chronometer.
"We are on schedule," he announced to his men. "Oberleutnant
Becker, bring Engine One to a quarter astern, Two, Three and Four a quarter
ahead, and be ready to give us a turn to starboard."
"Quarter astern on One. Half ahead Two, Three and Four. Be ready to turn
right," said the helmsman as he reached for the telegraphs. Bells rang,
the sound of the diesels dropped in pitch, and the L-147 began to slow.
She might have been small as airships went -- a copy of the P Class vessels
that had served as workhorses during the War -- but like all good Germans,
her crew took pride in their ship-handling.
Mayer glanced back toward the radio shack, where Obermaat Lange was
manning the wireless set. "Have there been any reaction from our friends up
ahead? he asked.
"Nein, Kapitän," answered the radio operator. "There have been no
transmissions to suggest they've spotted us."
"What about that strange signal?"
"It continues as before: a brief tone every fifteen seconds. These never
change, so they could not possibly carry a message. I am at a loss to
explain this. Perhaps they are testing their equipment."
"I suppose this is possible," mused the captain. "Kapitänleutnant
Roth, have you spotted any settlements?"
The Exec had been examining the shoreline through a pair of night glasses.
"Nein, Kapitän," he reported. "It appears that this side of the
island is uninhabited, just as the Englisch informed us. Still, we
cannot know if the Governor placed watchers on the ridge."
Mayer studied the row of volcanic peaks, their outlines softened by jungle.
"This should not matter," he decided. "They cannot
have seen our approach during the night. They might spot us now, but it
will take his Japanisch allies at least an hour to prepare that
giant cruiser of theirs for flight. By then, we'll have deployed our party
and left. Flieger Zimmerman, take us down to 100 meters.
Oberleutnant Becker, give me a turn right to 160 degrees, then
reduce Engines Two and Three to idle."
"Descend to 100 meters."
"Turn right to 160 and Two and Three to idle."
The sound of the engines dropped again as the airship crossed the shoreline,
slowed, and turned into the wind. Back in the cargo hold, the landing party
would be checking their parachutes and gear. Mayer took a reading through
the drift meter, then glanced toward the meadow their contact in the Royal
Navy had told them about. They'd be over it in a few minutes.
"Gut," he said in satisfaction. "Kapitänleutnant, call
Leutnant Neumann and tell him to be ready to deploy."
At that moment, a voice crackled over the speakers.
"Upper lookout to bridge! An airship is climbing above the mountains to the
north, bearing 015, range 15 kilometers!"
Mayer swore as he recognized the outline. "Verdammt! It's the
Unerklarlicher Kreuzer! Neumann, make your jump now!
Steuermann, full ahead on all four engines!
Aufzugsman, maintain 100 meters! All hands to battle stations!"
Beside him, Roth was staring at the other ship in dismay. "How did
they know we were coming?" he marvelld.
"The Franzose must have agents in New Guinea," said Mayer. "We
must warn the Administrator. Obermaat, can you raise Rabaul?"
"Nein, Kapitän," Lange reported. "The Japanisch are
"Then we will have to carry the message ourselves," said Mayer.
"Steuermann, ring for emergency power."
Becker reached for the telegraphs and the drone of the engines deepened to
a roar. Frames creaked as L-147's rigging took up the strain. Roth
glanced at the airspeed indicator, then back at his captain.
"Do you think we can escape?" he asked. "If that ship is a copy of the
American's Sunnyvale class, as we have been told, she could have 30
kilometers per hour on us."
"Perhaps this is true," said Mayer, "but our ship is smaller and handier.
We can fly lower, where there is less headwind. Let us hope this gives us
Unfortunately for the Germans, it is the nature of hopes to fail. As their
pursuer closed the distance, it became clear that this one was no exception.
Mayer kept his expression neutral while he listened to the reports from the
This was part of a captain's job.
Another was to be ready with a back-up plan.
"We must complement the Japanisch engineers," he remarked to his
men. "We will do this after we have lost them in the clouds.
Flieger Zimmerman, take us up to 650 meters.
Oberleutnant Becker, give us a turn left toward that cumulus
bearing 190. As soon as we've entered it, reduce all four engines to half
"Climb to 650 meters."
"Left toward cloud bearing 190 and prepare to reduce One through Four to
The deck tilted upwards as Zimmerman eased back the elevator wheel. Ahead,
the cloud Mayer had chosen grew to become a looming white wall. Then it had
engulfed them and the outside world was replaced by a swirling chaos of
"Very good, mein Herren," Mayer told his men. "Becker, give me a
turn left to 070. We will move from cloud to cloud, changing course each
time, until we have competed our escape. This strategy cannot fail.
Obermaat Lange, has there been any reaction from our pursuers?"
The radio operator listened to his headset and frowned. "It is very
strange," he replied. "They have stopped jamming us and resumed
transmitting a string of pulses. These are slightly different from
before, as if they come from another set of equipment."
Mayer felt a twinge of unease. He stifled a frown -- it wouldn't do to let
his men know he was worried. "We will take advantage of their oversight to
contact Rabaul," he announced. "Becker, be ready to give me another turn
when we leave this cloud."
Around them, the mist was growing lighter. Then it was gone and the cruiser
was looming a mile to port. Sunlight gleamed on her mighty hull, sharklike
fins, and eight powerful engines arranged in two rows of four. Smoke
blossomed from her guns as they opened fire. Something small, fast, and
deadly shrieked past the L-147's control car.
"How did they find us?" cried Roth.
"We will wonder about this later," said Mayer. "Zimmerman, turn left to 050
and ring emergency power on all four engines. Gunners, fire when you're in
Engines roared and a rattle sounded from behind them as machine gunners
cleared their weapons. These seemed hopelessly inadequate -- a few
obsolete Spandaus versus a battery of 47 mm quick-firing cannon.
"Kapitän?" asked Roth. There seemed nothing else to say.
"I know, Kapitänleutnant," Mayer replied gently. "The odds may be
against us, but we have managed to deploy Neumann's party on the island.
Now we will buy them time to hide."
Next week: An Interrupted Plan...
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