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Operation Raptor Rescue (Part 5)

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We grouped up, the engineers and technicians from the Mongoose were transferred to the floating workshop, and then we got underway. The three cruisers were stationed in front and to the sides of the convoy and the battleship to the rear. We in the destroyers ranged out on the far right and left front flanks of the formation to screen for submarines. The Cleveland's catapult-launched fighter was sent airborne and began circling overhead, acting as a spotter pane. The cruisers' planes would alternate acting as spotting aircraft so that carrier's squadrons could be held in reserve for combat actions.

As we neared a large island, the Mongoose's long-range radar picked up the Raptor, which was anchored on the leeward side of a smaller island several miles to the southwest. However, our radar couldn't penetrate the mass of the large island, nor was our spotter plane in a position to see over it, so I was ordered to take the Mongoose around the other side to ensure that the area was clear. We had just turned toward the island when our spotter radioed that he had seen a Japanese destroyer, coming toward us from the southwest. The destroyer was near the Raptor but fortunately on the windward side of the small island behind which it was anchored. We had hoped to be able to repair the Raptor and escort her to safety undetected but this wasn't going to be the case, for at the same moment we spotted the Japanese destroyer it spotted us and opened fire.

We swung our twin 6-inch guns around and returned fire. The radar-guided shells found their mark but only had nominal effect on the destroyer. Then I realized that our armor-piercing rounds were punching right through the Destroyer's thin hull without detonating. I ordered the fire-control crew to aim for its waterline. Even if our shells didn't detonate there, enough six-inch holes below the waterline would start the destroyer flooding and also perhaps damage its propeller shafts.

Our second salvo apparently sheared or jammed the destroyer's propeller shafts as it immediately stopped dead in the water. However, before we could fire a third salvo our sonarman reported torpedoes heading straight for us! These torpedoes didn't come from the direction of the destroyer; there must be a second Japanese ship in the area. I ordered hard to starboard and the torpedo spread barely missed us. At that moment, not four thousand yards away, a Furutaka-class cruiser rounded the island. That's why our radar had not picked it up, it's radar signature had blended in with that of the island. The cruiser's guns were pointed directly toward us and splashes in the water around the Mongoose indicated that it was firing at us. Now, I began to appreciate the small side of our ship. If a Farragut was hard to hit then were, being half its size, were twice as hard to hit. Before I could even give the order “fire at will” the Mongoose's auto-loading guns began sending shell after shell into the cruiser.

At the same time, our sonarman detected more torpedoes in the water. Because there was no time to issue directional commands, I ordered full speed and grabbed the ship's wheel myself,  telling the sonarman to keep me informed where those torpedoes were located. Even though the Mongoose was an agile ship, I barely was able to thread between two fo the approaching torpedoes. I then ordered a torpedo of our own readied for launch but there was no need to fire it, for the Japanese cruiser was already sinking. As it sank, its secondary batteries continued to fire at us but the smaller shells only bounced off the Mongoose's angled armor. Soon even they were under water and the cruiser fell silent.

At the same time this was happening, our own cruisers had opened fire on the crippled destroyer, sinking it. However, before it sank it also had launched a spread of torpedoes, which our sonarman said were heading straight for the Bogue, our transport carrier. Now the Mongoose is a fast ship, capable of doing more than 40 knots and we were already traveling at full speed. The Bogue was maneuvering to avoid the torpedo spread but it was turning slowly and at least one torpedo was going to hit it. If the transport carrier was hit we would have two crippled carriers to deal with, and it appeared that there might be a substantial Japanese naval presence in the area.

I quickly asked the Mongoose's chief engineer just how good the belt armor on this experimental destroyer was and if it could take a torpedo hit. “It can take one” was the answer, so I turned the Mongoose to intercept the torpedo that was about to hit the Bogue. While the explosion raised a huge geyser of water that splashed over the ship and most of the crew was thrown to the deck, our hull remained intact, though just barely and with a huge depression knocked into the side of the ship. We would not be able to absorb another torpedo attack on that side but we did manage to save one of the mission-essential ships, at least this time.

I gave the wheel back to the helmsman, who gave me the complement “Good work, sir” as he took the wheel. I then ordered the Mongoose back towards the island. As we neared it, I saw several Japanese swimming for the island. I sort of felt bad that we couldn't go pick up survivors but we were in the midst of a battle and had an important mission to complete. Also, by this time the war we well knew that Japanese sailors would do anything in their power to take over an American ship unless heavily guarded. The Mongoose only had a few Marines stationed on her, not nearly enough to guard several dozen Japanese sailors. Therefore we would pick up none but American Allied survivors. The Japanese would have to pick up their own men.

Little did I know then but after our battle the Allies would isolate these islands and bypass them as we retook the Philippines and islands to the north. Therefore, the Japanese navy would never return to the islands. After the war, the Australians would scour the area and try to convince the marooned Japanese sailors that the war was over. Many would not surrender until a former Japanese admiral was flown in to negotiate with them. A few would remain on the islands for decades, still thinking that Japan battled on.

Just as we passed the area where the Japanese cruiser had sunk, our spotter had circled around where he could see past the large island and radioed us that an enemy battlecruiser was coming around it. Now, the Mongoose had proved herself to be a capable little destroyer against a light cruiser but a fighting a battlecruiser, which essentially was a fast, less-armored battleship, was an entirely different matter. I radioed for permission to retreat and was given it. However, before we retreated, we were to release a torpedo spread.

Fortunately for us (though unfortunately for it), as soon as the battle-cruiser came in sight it began firing on the Independence, which was trying to launch its dive bombers. The New Mexico was still aft of the task force formation and couldn't fire at the battlecruiser because the island was in the way. However, the Cleveland and La Galissonnière were in a position to fire at it and began doing so. Their shells were having some effect but the Japanese battlecruiser could sink the Independence before it was forced to retreat. It was time to see what those experimental torpedoes the Mongoose carried could do.

I set an intercept course for the battlecruiser. I was about to order a zig-zag approach when I recalled that we had active camouflage. I ordered the camouflage generator turned on and the Mongoose swung around so that the torpedo launchers were aimed at the battlecruiser. Whether they saw us or not I do not know. Perhaps our active camouflage kept us hidden or perhaps they were too busy fending off the dive bombers that the Independence was able to launch before an exploding shell rendered her flight deck temporarily unusable. Either way, they never fired on us, which allowed us to release three torpedoes. Our guided torpedoes ran straight and true and blew a gaping hole into the side of the battle-cruiser, just below the waterline. The Japanese ship quickly begin to list to port, rendering its main batteries useless, as they now pointed downward toward the water. With the fire, flooding and continued bombardment from the cruisers it only was matter of minutes before the battle-cruiser exploded and sank beneath the waves.

Though two of our ships had been damaged during the engagement both were still serviceable so we considered ourselves lucky. After a quick look-see on the other side of the island to ensure no more Japanese ships were nearby, er re-joined the formation. The Independence's repair party quickly patched its flight deck and recovered its planes. The Cleveland's float plane landed in the water beside it and was recovered as well. The Columbia sent one of her fighters aloft to act as our new spotter and we headed southwest to rendezvous with the Raptor.

Edited by Snargfargle
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