The Watch–cont’d

They announced the bearing and heading for the aircraft and he looked in that direction.  It was where the clouds were breaking up and the sun was about mid way up its morning passage toward noon.  He couldn’t find anything.  He kept scanning the skies over moving up and down from the water’s horizon up and then moving over a couple of degrees and starting over.  Then he saw them, he could count 6 and they were larger so they were Dorniers most likely, bomers.  They were still a few miles off and weren’t heading directly for the convoy.  They appeared to be skirting around the edge of it.  No sooner than he spotted the aircraft than the klaxen rang again for battle stations.  He immediately begain moving to his spot.  It was only about 30 feet away to the gun mount for the 5 inch.  Moose was right behind him.  Others from the merchant marine crew would take their spots as lookouts while they manned the guns.  Most of the time the battle station alerts were false alarms or at least nothing ever happened except sitting there in the cold for hours at a time.  He checked and removed the muzzle cover, made sure the sand buckets were full and in their spot and as the other 3 crew members of the gun unit arrived he made sure they open the ammo ready box and had the hatch open for the ready room extra ammo.  They were all there within a minute or so.  They had practiced this drill so many times and everyone knew how to drop everything and get to their station quickly.  Even Albert was there; he usually was the last to arrive.  Guess it was that slow moving New Orleans weather or something that made him move like molasses.

He applied the flash cream to his face.  This was the first time they had used it.  New orders.  He wondered if it really would help in a fire or just cause the heat to be retained and bake his skin even more.  No good to worry about that now because it was on and he had no choice.  The cream gave them all a comical appearance even though there were no smiles to be seen.   He put on his communications helmet and announced No. 1 was manned and ready.  Moose had opened the breach and was ready with the first round.  Now they waited.  He looked back to where he had seen the planes before but couldn’t see anything out there.  The only word from now on would be through the helmet from the Lieutenant.   He twisted around and finally saw planes.  There were only three but he knew there had been at least six before.  Where were the other three?   They seemed to still be circling, he thought they were like buzzards waiting for things to be just right to come down for dinner.  Then a warning.  A flight of three aircraft were coming in lower from the south.  That would be on the far side of the convoy.  He looked that way but saw nothing.  But the order came to set the gun at a 170 degree reading and to elevate it to 40 degrees and the proximity fusses were to be set for 4 seconds.  That meant they would be firing at about  7 thousand feet.  He readied the gun per orders.  Albert swung the gun into position.  Moose and his helper were setting the fusses and attaching them to the shells. Then the order came to open fire at will and maintain fire.  They slammed in the first round and he ordered “fire”.  The blast and sound always gave him a fright that first round especially.  It was so loud and he always remembered those stories about short shells or malfunctions where the shell blew up in the barrel and killed the gun crew.  They were working now and he was watching were the shells were taking effect.  It was  brief delay but then the sky lit up over the convoy with puffs of black and gray.  He still couldn’t see any planes but they were sure throwing up what seemed to him tons of shell.  The tracers were arcing through the sky also and they always seemed such a crazy quilt pattern.  He never could tell if they were really aiming at anything or just shooting up to the detonation of the bigger guns like his. 

Then he saw the planes, they were flying lowering than the pattern of shot from the big guns.  They were more like only  2 thousand feet and moving at a diagonal to his ship.  He was relieved to see they weren’t heading directly for him.  It was very personal now.  He wondered why they werern’t being ordered to change the heading for the antiaircraft pattern.  It only took a few seconds.   He could even see the bombs as they dropped from the bellies of the planes.  They were about a half mile away and going after the ship in the second line up from them.  He never saw the bombs hit because the scream came from the helmet that other aircraft were coming in from the  bow.  He would never see them because of the super structure even if he tried.  They were ordered to reset the gun for as elevated a position as it would go and the fusses were set for one second.  Firing point blank essentially right over head and he knew the truth was that they would hit anything that way but might scare them off with the blasts and smoke.  Those enemy pilots were scared too and didn’t like flying into shrapnel if they could avoid it.  They were firing about 5 rounds a minute now.  The gun was already so hot you could feel the heat from the barrel even in this weather.  The planes came over but they were thankfully off the starboard beam and at least a quarter of a mile away.  Some other poor soul was having to sweat it out.  He did see the bombs this time as they dropped and hit.  They were close but none of them hit their companion ship starboard. 

The order to cease fire came but he knew it was not over.  Everyone could plainly see that the Dorniers were circling again waiting for the moment they chose to attack again.  How long had all that lasted?  He was sweating hard now and the sweat was making his face and hands cold.  He had to clear the gun pit and make sure everything was ready for the next order.  They couldn’t relax now.  They wouldn’t be standing down for a while.   To be cont’d……

Check out Hud,,,it is a great movie, maybe Newman’s best effort.  Read a bit of Shakespeare.  They aren’t called Classics for nothing.



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