Read Fortunes of War Online

Authors: Stephen Coonts

Fortunes of War (11 page)

Yonai complied immediately. He had complete confidence in Hirota, whom he believed to be the best TACCO alive. Yonai now had the airplane thundering along at two hundred knots indicated airspeed, two hundred feet above the water.

He and his copilot concentrated fiercely on the flight instruments. There was no margin for error, not at two hundred feet. The P-3 was a big plane; they were flying it right against the surface of the sea.

The sonobuoys went out of the bay with split-second precision. Hirota selected the ones he wanted from among the sixty-four buoys in the bay and the order in which he wanted them dropped; then the computer spit them out. Forty of the buoys were the cheap LOFAR, or low-frequency, buoys. Eighteen were DIFAR, or directional, buoys used in tight search patterns. And six were the new doppler-ranging
buoys that had been developed in secret by Japanese industry. Should the crew need them, more buoys were stowed in the plane and could be dropped manually by the ordnance technician.

The crew had good tools, which they knew how to use. They spent their professional lives practicing.

A murmur went through the plane each time a sonobuoy was dropped. The tension on a contact always racheted to violin-string tautness, which was why most of these men did this for a living. Hunting submarines was the ultimate team sport.

With the string down, the operators pressed their headphones against their ears and listened intently for the slightest stirring in the ocean below, the tiniest hint of screws pushing a man-made leviathan.

“I have it,” shrieked the number-one sensor operator. “Third and fourth buoys. He's still above the layer.”

Koki Hirota flipped switches and listened intently. He closed his eyes, concentrating with all the power of his being.

The TACCO got just the subtlest of hints, the most exquisite nuance amid the cacophony of the noisy ocean. There was the noise of sea life, rhythmic surf sounds from Hokkaido, and the hum of at least ten ships. Amid all that noise, the submarine was there, definitely there. The sound seemed to be part screw noise, part deck-plate gurgle, maybe a hint of a loose bearing.

The submarine was fading now, perhaps slipping down below the thermal layer, trying to hide.

Hirota switched to the deeper buoys.

Yes, he was quite audible on this buoy.

Hirota checked another. Louder still. Hirota's fingers danced on the computer keys in front of him, and a blip appeared amid the search pattern on the screen.

The submarine skipper was turning, coming back to an easterly heading. Still, he was moving very slowly to minimize his noise signature, maybe three knots. Four at the most.

Should he drop a two-thousand-yard pattern, or a thousand-yard one? Hirota had only a limited number of sonobuoys, so he couldn't afford to dither.

He was chewing a fingernail on his left hand as he flipped back and forth between the channels, listening alternately on different buoys. He checked the computer, which agreed with his assessment. There was the track, turning back to the east.

They had caught this Ivan in shallow water, and he was trying for deeper.

The TACCO lined the pilot up for another buoy run—keyed the computer for a tight string, a thousand yards between buoys, a bit north of east. He elected to put a DIFAR at each end of the string and a doppler buoy in the middle.

He wanted to wait, to drop the string after the sub steadied out on a new heading, but that was not going to be possible since the sub was fading from buoys already in the water.

Hirota thought the sub skipper's most probable new course would be about 090. The shortest route to deep water was in this direction. Still, Hirota was merely making an educated guess. Or perhaps he sensed the Russian captain's thoughts.

Masataka Yonai turned the P-3 using the autopilot heading selector. Level on the new heading, he corrected his altitude—the autopilot had lost twenty feet in the turn—and reengaged the thing. When he was a new aircraft commander he had insisted on flying all these patterns manually; and he had stopped that nonsense only after Hirota convinced him the autopilot could do the job better than any human could.

“Be alert, men. We are tightening the net,” Yonai said over the intercom.

The tension was palpable.

Out went the sonobuoys, like the ticking of a clock.

The last two buoys in the string were still in the airplane when the operator screamed over the intercom, “I've got him.”

Hirota checked. Yes. The computer was plotting…. There! Heading 085, speed four knots.

“Yonai, do a slow two-hundred-seventy-degree turn to the left and roll out heading zero eight five degrees for a MAD run. I will direct your turn. We will fly right up his wake.”

Yonai twisted the autopilot heading selector as the flight engineer nudged the throttles forward a smidgen. The extra power would help hold airspeed in the turn. The airplane's altitude was down to 150 feet above the sea. Yonai disconnected the autopilot, concentrated fiercely on the instruments as he coaxed the airplane back to two hundred feet, still in the turn. When the plane rolled level out of the turn, he reengaged the autopilot.

Every man in the plane was concentrating intently on the displays before him. The men listening to the sonobuoys could hear the screws, urgent, insistent.

“He's turning again. We will have to drop a short pattern. Come right ninety degrees and stand by for another heading.”

Hirota stared at the computer display. He was trying to read the mind of the Russian submarine commander.

“He is turning back north,” Hirota declared. “He knows we're onto him. He may climb back above the layer. Let's put this pattern a thousand yards apart. New heading three six zero, pilot; then I'll call a right turn.”

Silence on the intercom. Everyone was concentrating on doing his job to perfection. Yet even as the new sonobuoy pattern went into the water, the computer lost the track of the submarine. The sub was there, and then it wasn't.

Hirota listened intently on each channel, as did his enlisted specialists. Nothing. The sea was as quiet as the grave.

He must have stopped his engines, Hirota decided, or be moving very slowly, just maintaining steerage.

“He's probably very deep by now,” someone offered.

Hirota triggered an active ping by one of his middle sonobouys in the new pattern, then waited for the others to pick up the echo.

Even before he heard the echo, he heard the thrashing of the submarine's screws. It was a thunder, quite loud.

“He's going to full power,” the number one sensor operator said. “And I think he's going deeper.”

Yes. Full power. In just a few minutes, the sub would be doing in excess of twenty knots. Maybe twenty-five. If that was a nuclear boat, the speed might be as high as forty-five knots. Hirota's one American sub two years ago had disappeared over the horizon at fifty-two knots.

The computer began a plot.

“I have him,” Hirota told the others, his voice tight with excitement. “We will do a MAD run. Yonai, come right to zero four five.”

Yonai laid the plane into a forty-degree banking turn. Hirota could feel the increased g.

We are going to nail this sub!

“On around to zero nine zero degrees…steady…steady…We are closing, coming up his wake.”

The damned submarine was still accelerating, making over twenty knots now.

“MAD, MAD, MAD!” shouted the radar operator, who also ran the MAD gear. The needle pegged as the plane flew over the magnetic field of the submarine.

A short, fervent cheer on the ICS. These were disciplined men, but this was a life-or-death game. Yonai positively encouraged enthusiasm in his crew; in the past he had canned people who didn't demonstrate fighting spirit.

Now Yonai laid the big P-3 into another forty-degree-bank right turn. He needed to turn for 270 degrees and come across the submarine again from the beam. If the MAD operator sang out and the TACCO gave his okay, Yonai would drop a Mk-46 homing torpedo.

The torpedo would go out of the bomb bay. When it hit the water, it would turn right and begin a passive sonar search for its target, which, if the P-3 crew had done its work properly, should be within five hundred yards. Once the torpedo detected the sub, the torpedo's seeker would switch to active pinging and home on the submarine. In American movies, submarines outturned and outran torpedoes, but Yonai knew that was pure fiction: the pinging of a Mk-46 torpedo zeroing in was the last thing the submarine crew would ever hear.

Masataka Yonai had the plane over hard, turning tightly. “Open bomb-bay doors,” he ordered.

“They will not open,” the copilot reported.

Yonai looked at the indicator.

Still closed. Damnation!

“Check the circuit breaker. Quick.”

This was intended for the flight engineer, because the armament panel circuit breakers were aft of him, beside his right elbow.

The autopilot, which had lost altitude in the turns earlier in the search, was doing it again. Just now the plane was passing a hundred feet above the water, descending gently, but no one noticed.

“Sir, the circuit breakers are all in.” All the flight engineer had to do to establish this was run his hand over the panel and ensure none was sticking out.

“Well, cycle it.” Yonai wanted the engineer to pull the bomb-bay breaker out, then push it in again.

“I can't find it,” the engineer confessed, his voice frantic.

Matasaka Yonai was beside himself. They were almost to weapons release, and then this! “You idiot! It's on the armament panel.”

The copilot turned around, pointed the beam of a flashlight at the panel. “Right there,” he said. “It's right there.”

Yonai felt the plane slew as the right wingtip kissed the crest of a wave. He slammed down the autopilot disconnect button and twisted the yoke to the left as he pulled it toward him.

Too late! The right wing buried itself in the next swell.

The drag of the wingtip through the water yawed the nose right, hard, toward the sea. That dug the wingtip deeper into the water. The plane cartwheeled.

The uncontrollable yaw threw the ball in the turn-and-bank indicator as far left as it would go. Yonai felt the yaw and instinctively mashed in full left rudder as his eyes shot to the turn-and-bank indicator. It was the last thing he would ever do.

The cockpit struck the water first. All three of the cockpit crewmen died instantly.

The men in back were flung forward, then crushed as equipment and seats broke free and smashed forward. Then the left wing hit the sea and the fuselage of the airplane came apart.

The splash was stupendous, and almost a minute passed before the roiling waters became calm.

The remains of the P-3 and the men who flew it began the long descent to the seafloor.


In the control room of
Admiral Kolchak
, Captain Pavel Saratov heard the splash. He was wearing headphones so that he could also listen to the sonar as the sonarman called out bearings to sonobuoy splashes. The navigator was plotting the bearings based on range estimates supplied by the captain. Saratov decided where to take his boat based on the picture developing on the chart before him. The chart was crude, the method long abandoned in better-equipped navies, but this was all Saratov had.

The huge splash surprised him, baffled him. It was far too large to be a sonobuoy or torpedo. He closed his eyes and listened intently as rivulets of perspiration coursed down his face and dripped off his chin.

The sonarman spoke first. “The engine noise is gone.”

He was correct. The background vibration from the four aircraft propellers was no longer audible.

Saratov could hear something grinding. Perhaps the fuselage being crushed?

Could it be? No engine noise, a gigantic splash? Were they miraculously delivered?

Pavel Saratov opened his eyes. Every eye in the control room was on him.

“He crashed,” the captain said.

His listeners couldn't take it in.

“He crashed,” Saratov repeated. “He hit the water.”

Cheers. Screams. They laughed so hard that tears ran down their cheeks.

Ah, life was sweet.


Jack Innes stood in the doorway of the Oval Office and watched President Hood finish with a group of Eagle Scouts. The photographers snapped away; the president shook hands, smiled, pretended he didn't see Innes. One of his skills was the ability to concentrate totally on the people in front of him, make them feel that during their moment they were his sole concern.

The aide ushered the Scouts and their leader from the office right on the tick of the clock. They had had their five minutes.

As the president seated himself behind his desk, Innes said, “Japanese forces are invading Siberia. They began around midnight there, which is about an hour ago. The news just came in.”

“I wondered how long Abe would wait.”

“The Russians arrested the leader of the Siberian independence movement eighteen hours ago. Abe went on television at midnight. The native people of Siberia have suffered enough from Russian oppression, he said. The Japanese, their blood brothers, are taking up the standard of their kinsmen.”

Innes continued, telling Hood everything he knew. The president swiveled his chair, looked out the window while he listened. He swiveled back around, glanced at his schedule. When Innes finished, he asked a few questions.

“Okay,” Hood said. “You know the drill. Get the National Security Council over here, the majority and minority leaders of both houses, all the usual suspects. We'll see what the consensus is.”

Yes, sir.

“They'll dither and wring their hands and advise doing nothing.”

“Surely they'll condemn Japanese aggression?”

“Words. Just words. You watch. They won't want to actually

“You are going to try to make them take action, aren't you?”

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