This arti­cle is part 6 of 8 in the series War Plans

Satur­days around mil­i­tary bases are usu­al­ly busy with ser­vice per­son­nel hur­ry­ing away from those bases to find some rest and relax­ation in near­by towns or cities, relieved from their duties for a cou­ple of days, at least those able to get week­end passes.

But this was not a typ­i­cal Saturday and the bars and the­aters and USOs and broth­els were all devoid of their usu­al week­end crowds of uni­formed and civil­ian-clad sol­diers and sailors seek­ing a few hours of fun or a first-run movie.  The height­ened require­ments of base secu­ri­ty and the num­ber of ships and planes active­ly on duty demand­ed per­son­nel to keep them on sta­tion. The near­by towns’ streets were vir­tu­al­ly vacant, and local shop own­ers were all won­der­ing where their nor­mal week­end busi­ness was.

“Nothing from Washington so far this morn­ing, sir.” was the response from Lieutenant Commander Lowe to the admi­ral’s ques­tion as the two pre­pared to review any overnight mes­sages or oth­er com­mu­ni­ca­tion that might shed more light on the cur­rent situation.

“We have received a full report from Lieutenant Harriman, whose ship sank that unknown ves­sel inside the HDZ,” con­tin­ued Lowe.  “Guess you’ll be the first to hear if there’s going to be diplo­mat­ic blowup over that.”

“No doubt,” the admi­ral said reflec­tive­ly.  “And soon, I expect.”

“Anything more about those two picked up by shore patrol and the MPs?”

“Nothing on that front, either, sir.  But if you like, I’ll get in touch with my con­tact at the FBI office and see if I can stir up some news.”

“Yeah, you do that.  And check with Walt’s adju­tant, just to be sure we have all the bases cov­ered between us.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

Lowe swiveled in place and briskly left the admi­ral’s office, soft­ly clos­ing the door behind him.

* * *

In the Crypt, Commander Layton was dis­play­ing high agi­ta­tion far out of char­ac­ter with his usu­al­ly calm demeanor.  The paper in his hand had just been plucked from the tran­scrib­ing machine and con­tained infor­ma­tion that he would have to relay to the admi­ral as quick­ly as pos­si­ble.  The mes­sage, which had been sent from Washington, cod­ed and on a secure cir­cuit was unequivocal. 

EXPECT DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS TO BE TERMINATED TODAY OR TOMORROW.  EMBASSY HAS BEEN INSTRUCTED TO BEGIN DESTRUCTION OF CODE MACHINES, CODE BOOKS, AND COPIES OF ALL MESSAGES.  EXPECT HOSTILITIES TO COMMENCE IMMEDIATELY AFTER EMBASSY DELIVERS FINAL DECLARATORY MESSAGE.  INSTITUTE ALL SECURITY SAFEGUARDS NOT ALREADY IN EFFECT. END.

The com­man­der was stand­ing in front of the admi­ral’s desk, not quite at atten­tion, but respect­ful as the admi­ral read the mes­sage for the sec­ond time.

“Well, Commander, it cer­tain­ly looks like we’re going to be in a shoot­ing war any­time now.  I think we’ve done every­thing pos­si­ble to be secure and I appre­ci­ate you get­ting this to me so quick­ly.  Your peo­ple have done an excel­lent job keep­ing us all apprised of pos­si­ble ene­my inten­tions and even though they’ve changed their codes pret­ty often, you seem to be able to keep up with them pret­ty well.  Give your folks a “well done” for me.

“Oh, and send in Commander Lowe as you leave, please.”

“Yes sir.  Thank you, sir.”

One com­man­der left the office and short­ly anoth­er walked in.

“Lowe, we’ve just been noti­fied by Washington that things are like­ly to start break­ing real soon.  I think we’ve done all we can at this end to not be caught off guard.  Layton has made a pret­ty good guess — and I trust him implic­it­ly — that the ene­my car­ri­er group is like­ly to be approach­ing from the north.  That’s an area out­side nor­mal ship­ping lanes and they would be less like­ly to be spot­ted and report­ed.  I know our two car­ri­ers oper­at­ing are south and west, but we’ll have to get them re-rout­ed to the coor­di­nates that Layton has not­ed here.

“Also, increase our air patrols and con­cen­trate them with­in an arc between 270 degrees and 30 degrees.  That’s a pret­ty wide area and a lot of ocean, but we can’t leave any approach to chance in case their fleet moves out of the antic­i­pat­ed path.

“And get those extra patrols out immediately.”

“Aye, aye sir.”

Lowe turned and head­ed out quick­ly to dis­perse the admi­ral’s orders, espe­cial­ly those going to the air wing.

John and Ron were both annoyed at being called back to the flight line after such a short peri­od fol­low­ing their ear­li­er patrol.  Ron had been aroused from a peace­ful slum­ber at the bar­racks adja­cent to the ready room and John was engaged in anoth­er pok­er game, hav­ing slept off his tired­ness on the return trip from their pre­vi­ous patrol.  Both were now being trucked to their plane, along with their flight crew, and as they approached, they could see the fuel truck pulling away and the pro­pellers spin­ning as the ground crew had already received instruc­tions to make the plane ready for flight and to have the engines warmed and ready when the flight crew arrived.

The two pilots glanced at each oth­er as the truck neared.  They could not recall an urgency before that required that the engines be already turn­ing over when they arrived, except on those train­ing exer­cis­es when they had been timed on how long it took to get air­borne and every train­ing crew was try­ing to set a new record.

“Somebody must be in a godaw­ful hur­ry to get us in the air,” both pilots said almost simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, and the rest of the crew chuck­led at the fact that their two pilots seemed to always think the same thing at the same time, a good sign of intense training.

Indeed, time was run­ning out.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

Series Navigation« War Plans: con­clu­sionWar plans: chap­ter 7 »