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Operation Raptor Rescue (Part 6)

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I was concerned about the damage that the torpedo had done to the Mongoose but was assured by my chief engineer, who had helped design and build the experimental ship, that she was still seaworthy and could be fully repaired with special plates and sealant once the Raptor had been repaired and the engineers and machinists could be spared.

I was hoping to have my ship repaired before encountering any more of the enemy but this was not to be for three more light cruisers appeared from around islands to the west. They must have been responding to the distress call from the sinking enemy battle-cruiser. A battle-cruiser, four light cruisers and a destroyer? We had not just stumbled onto a small reinforcement convoy; there must be an entire carrier group in the area. But if so, then where were the carriers? The Mongoose and the Farragut were ordered to perform a delaying action while the rest of the task force rendezvoused with the Raptor. This would be a tough fight indeed for cruisers were destroyer killers and they outnumbered us.

The Farragut got within torpedo range of the enemy cruisers and released her torpedoes undetected. She then, very sensibly, retired behind the cover of a nearby island. From our position, the cruisers were out of range of even the Mongoose's remaining three long-range torpedoes so I ordered my crew to conceal the ship behind a low-lying island with the active camouflage generator running. We then waited to see if the Farragut's torpedoes would have any effect. Soon our radar showed that the cruisers were turning, which indicated that they had spotted the torpedoes. Two of the cruisers then turned back on course toward the Raptor but one remained dead in the water. At least one torpedo had hit. I ordered the Mongoose to open fire.

Our long-range shells begin to find their mark but a cruiser is a large ship and can take a substantial amount of damage. We were able to do a significant amount of damage to one cruiser but, even with our active camouflage running, it wasn't long before both underway cruisers spotted our ship by the smoke of our firing and began to return fire. I, therefore, ordered the Mongoose to leave the concealment of the low-lying island and perform evasive maneuvers. While our fire-control computer could keep up with our twisting and turning and keep our own guns locked on target, I was hoping that the enemy had no such device and therefore would miss with most of its shells. Shells from both cruisers were splashing all around the Mongoose but thus far none had hit us. As we now had the full attention of the two remaining cruisers, the Farragut advanced on the crippled enemy cruiser and sank it with gunfire. By this time the Mongoose was far removed from the rest of the task force so I requested the Farragut re-join with the main group to help protect the Raptor and the repair ships. We would stay and delay the remaining two enemy cruisers as long as we could.

While we had been lucky thus far, our luck was not going to last, and the Mongoose suffered its first direct hit by a shell large enough to do it a substantial amount of damage. Not only had the explosion ruptured the steam pipes that fed our starboard turbine, it also had jammed our rudder. Fortunately, we were turning in the right direction to limp to cover behind another of the many islands of the archipelago. The ship's engineering department quickly got to work repairing the damage while the rest of us prepared to launch our remaining three torpedoes and anxiously watched the radar. The Japanese commanders were not new to naval warfare and they approached the crippled Mongoose from opposite sides of the island in a pincer maneuver. I ordered two of our remaining fish send toward the nearest cruiser and one toward the farther one.

The two torpedoes aimed at the nearest cruiser ran straight and true and it erupted in a huge explosion. We must have hit its magazine. Now we only had one cruiser to deal with, and it was the one we had already done substantial damage to with our guns. We trained our guns on the remaining cruiser and started firing, just as I was informed that the rudder had been repaired sufficiently for us to get back underway at half speed.

It was sheer luck that we now could maneuver as our sonarman reported torpedoes in the water. We had fired ours, was it they that he was detecting? No. I was informed, our fish had a different hydro-acoustic signature. These were Japanese “long lance” torpedoes, each carrying over a thousand pounds of high explosive. Even worse, these torpedoes could not be spotted from the surface as they produced no tell-tale bubbles like standard American torpedoes did. Our sonarman would have to guide us if we had any chance of dodging them, and he would have to do so while the ship was ringing from the impact of the continued enemy shelling.

I was hoping that our guided torpedo would hit the cruiser but its captain also was very good. He had anticipated torpedoes and thus had run his ship aground behind a shallow coral reef. As straight and true as out fish was running, it hit the reef before it did the ship and did no more than send a geyser of water over its decks. We would have to sink the cruiser with our guns, However, at this range the Japanese cruiser's own six-inch guns were a match for ours, and it had six more of them. Fortunately for us, by maneuvering to avoid our torpedo the Japanese commander also had put his main turrets out of position and while shells from the cruiser's smaller-caliber secondary batteries continued to impact us, they were bouncing off of the Mongoose's sloped armor plating. That is, until one found its way into a gun port and exploded, starting a fire.

The automatic fire-suppression of he Mongoose activated and doused the fire before it could ignite the racks of shells feeding the auto-loading guns. Once again, there were no casualties because the Mongoose's gun turrets were self-contained wire-controlled systems and thus unmanned. Both of our guns continued to pour fire into the cruiser and before it could direct its main batteries onto us, it heeled over and sank. As we turned to head back to rejoin the task force we saw the Japanese sailors swimming toward the island. We limped back toward the task force and the repair ship, for we were now in dire need of repair.

Edited by Snargfargle
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