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Thursday, June 7th 2018, 7:48pm

Cargo Ship Manchester Pride, 55 dgs 15 min North, 26 dgs 49 min West, Saturday, 26 September 1948

“Captain to the Bridge!” crackled the tannoy. The officer of the watch kept his glasses glued to the warship that was rapidly overhauling them to port.

“What is it Number One?”

“Warship sir, certainly not one of ours. Looks to be trying to come abeam of us.”

The ship’s master put his own glasses to his eyes and scanned the approaching vessel. Slim, sharp, fast – and at her masthead the colours of the Russian Federation.

“Blimey! A bloody Russian!”


Aboard the rocket cruiser Admiral Kolchak Captain Morozov was making his own estimates…

“Close to six hundred metres, slow to fourteen knots.”

When the Admiral Kolchak had come completely abeam of the Manchester Pride he started a stop-watch, and held his ship on a parallel course. “Welcoming party man the starboard rail!”

Several dozen Russian sailors took station on the ship’s starboard side, waving to the British vessel for all they were worth. Their orders were to be friendly and non-threatening. The last thing that was needed was to spook the quarry.


Have you ever seen something so strange Captain?”

“… No, but the Jerries and Frogs are supposedly running some sort of exercise. Maybe this fellow’s a part of it.”

The master considered his options. The Russian was merely matching course and speed, and held his distance. For about fifteen minutes this went on.


Morozov checked his watch. Sufficient time had passed. “Come twenty degrees to port, make your speed twenty knots.”

The Admiral Kolchak sheered off, leaving the Manchester Pride in her wake. “Ten thousand tons to add to our take.”


Saturday, June 9th 2018, 11:02am

Blackburn Firecrest TR7287 'B', Saturday 26 September

Lieutenant Commander Philip Scones was leading C Flight of 829 Squadron on a routine sweep from HMS Centaur. The four single-engined strike-fighters were cruising at 15,000 feet, they had hoped to meet some of the German reconnaissance aircraft that had been loitering for the last few days. Suddenly in his headset he heard the controller vectoring him to investigate a sighting report sent by a merchantman, the Manchester Pride. Noting the position was some sixty mile south-west of his position he altered course and the four Firecreasts began to descend.

"Blue Three to leader, I can see a ship about seven miles at ten o'clock", his headphones crackled.
Scones brought his aircraft a little further to port and could see a large cargo ship, he clicked his transmit button, "Good work Teddy, looks like we've found the Manchester Pride, keep your eyes peeled for the cruiser."
The flight circled the cargo ship at 5,000 feet, some of the sailors aboard looking up. In the distance some miles astern of the ship was a large grey ship.
"Blue leader to flight, Tally Ho! Cruiser bearing two o'clock, follow me."
Moments later they flew down the starboard side of the cruiser before banking and returning down the starboard side.

The radio chatter began; "Blue Two to leader, she's Russian allright, just spotted the Andrews Cross on her ensign."
"Blue Four here, what's that large object on her stern?"
Scones realised it was no ordinary cruiser, this was the Admiral Kolchak, a ship the Admiralty was dying to know more about.
"Ok, cut the chatter lads, let's go around again and get some pictures." he lined up on the port side for a perfect oblique shot from his F.24 camera.
Sensing they might be unwelcome if they hung around too long they climbed away heading back to their patrol area making their sighting report to the carrier.

The Admiralty, Whitehall, London, 26 September

The Second Sea Lord, Admiral Sir William Whitworth, was on duty in the Admiralty, keen to keep an eye on events in the Atlantic. More sightings from merchants had come in and finally elements of Force Y had made surface and aerial contact with 'Red North' ships heading south. Syfret's force could do little other than watch.
As the latest report came in he turned to his assistant, Captain Raddock, "I can't see why they are persisting in chasing these individual ships, in any war scenario our ships would be in convoys and protected."
"Perhaps they think it would take us time to organise a convoy system and feel they could profitably make a raid early on in any war stages before we could react," Raddock suggested.
"With a powerful submarine fleet their aim should be to use those and keep their surface ships for distracting our fleet, modern surface raiding seems unprofitable for the likely return on the risks," Whitworth replied.
"We'll see their full intent once 'Red North' makes contact with 'Blue South', it can't be long now." Raddock looked at the chart on the table.


Monday, June 11th 2018, 3:52pm

Torpillieur L'Inflexible, 52 dgs 17 min North, 26 dgs 42 min West, Saturday, 26 September 1948

The increasing volume of reports from merchantmen that had been ‘intercepted and sunk’ by marauding cruisers had at least given indication of the general location of the Alliance task force, but the weather front still caused FO Bayard concern. Yes, it was clearing, but it was clearing from west to east – thus while Bayard enjoyed improving weather and could begin to make productive use of its air assets the Alliance force was still shrouded in bad weather, with night approaching. This made the advance screen of the 13eme Flotille all the more important.

“Contact bearing Zero Four Zero mon Capitaine”.

L'Inflexible’s captain moved to the PPI scope in response. “What have we here?”

“Faint contact sir, but growing stronger. Perhaps more than one contact.”

The lookouts aloft reported nothing; whatever they were, they were already shrouded in darkness; L'Inflexible remained silhouetted against the glow of the setting sun.

Suddenly the ship was bracketed by the splashs from the fall of several heavy shells.

“Action stations!”

“Emissions contact mon Capitaine! We are being painted by emissions from cruiser-class equipment consistent with that of the Marseillaise.”

“Evasive actions! Radio a contact report to Héros and all FO Bayard.” Another salvo bracketed the destroyer – admittedly falling wide – this was an exercise after all – but the simulated danger was potent none the less.

“Come about. Flank speed. Make smoke.”

The captain looked at the exercise umpire who sat stone-faced at the chart table. A third salvo bracketed L'Inflexible. The umpire nodded; discretion, he judged, was the better part of valour and L'Inflexible’s retirement had ‘saved’ her from immediate ‘destruction’.


Wednesday, June 13th 2018, 3:59pm

Force Operationalle Bayard, 52 dgs 3 min North, 27 dgs 13 min West, Sunday, 27 September 1948

It was still dark, but Bailly stood on the bridge of his flagship, his cruiser glasses trained on the deck of the aircraft carrier Zélé; he could barely discern the preparation of aircraft on her deck, and then he could see the faint blue glow of the exhausts as her pre-dawn search prepared to launch. The encounter with the Alliance cruisers the previous evening – and he was very happy that L'Inflexible had been ruled ‘escaped’ – confirmed that Engel’s task force was nearby. He hoped his search aircraft would locate it; indeed, once Zélé had finished launching, she would ready what aircraft she could, to join a full deck-load strike from Héros, the preparations for which were under way.

Aircraft carrier Wallenstein, 52 dgs 9 min North, 25 dgs 18 min West, Sunday, 27 September 1948

While he was aware that FO Bayard was nearby, Engel had little idea exactly where they might be. He decided he would launch a limited morning search in the direction suggested by the encounter the previous evening between Marseilles and a French destroyer, but more importantly he made certain that his combat air patrols might intercept any search aircraft from Bailly’s carriers before they could report his position. He had recalled his cruisers from their ‘commerce raiding’ adventures to resume their appointed places in the task force’s screen, and the task force itself was racing southwest towards the French coast at twenty knots. They might have to absorb the first blow, but Engel was confident that a riposte would be successful.


Thursday, June 14th 2018, 2:06am

They might have to absorb the first blow, but Engel was confident that a riposte would be successful.

Well, confidence is always good! Even so, Engel has only 60% of the airgroup that Vice-Admiral Bailly can employ. ;)


Sunday, June 17th 2018, 8:34pm

Above the North Atlantic, approximately 52 dgs 8 min North 25 dgs 15 min West, Sunday, 27 September 1948

D for Désiré was one of the Épaulards that had been launched from Zélé earlier that morning, to search for the Alliance task force that was FO Bayard’s quarry in the exercise. Thus far their luck had not been good. The empty miles of sea stretched out below them. The pilot, André Pezon, divided his attention between scanning the sea and watching the sky for Focke-Wulfs; the air gunner did the same. Unfortunately, from Pezon’s view, the bombardier’s position was occupied by an umpire, robbing him of one set of searching eyes.

Pezon checked his fuel gage; he had not quite reached the point of no return, but would probably do so in less than an hour. Suddenly caught a glint of something above him and instinctively put the Épaulard into an evasive manoeuvre. Nevertheless he saw the red tracers from the incoming pair of German fighters stream past his cockpit. Scanning the sky he then saw the second pair making a high side attack to ‘finish’ him off.

“No report.” The umpire spoke quickly. “Take her back to the barn but the combat air patrol has caught you.”

Below, the air defence cruiser Lissa noted the course change on her electronic screens, and received confirmation from the Wallenstein that another French scout had been dealt with. There was little doubt that the task force would be found, but every minute they could keep the details of their location, course, and speed secret, would make it more difficult for the French to find them.


Monday, June 18th 2018, 6:43pm

Force Operationalle Bayard, 52 dgs 12 min North, 27 dgs 4 min West, Sunday, 27 September 1948

The distressing lack of success from his morning search left Bailly with two facts. Those search aircraft that had reported told him where his ‘enemy’ was not; the failure of search aircraft to report left him little doubt as to where the Alliance task force was – somewhere to the southeast of his present position, but at unknown distance. He paced the deck for a moment, pondering his next move.

"L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace."

Napoleon’s dictum. Audacity in the face of a great challenge. He could order his strike aircraft aloft and send them forth in the hope that a search report would provide more exact information; or he could wait until precise information was obtained, but risk the chance that Engel might slip away.

“Signal to Zélé and Héros. Prepare to launch aircraft. Bring the squadron into the wind.”

His staff had a best-guess position for the location of the Alliance task force. He would take the chance and hopefully deal a powerful blow against the ‘enemy’.

Aircraft carrier Wallenstein, 52 dgs 6 min North 24 dgs 57 min West, Sunday, 27 September 1948

The ‘destruction’ of several French scout aircraft that approached the task force left Engel certain that his opponent would divine his location. He dared not risk launching his own small scouting force in an attempt to locate FO Bayard; the wind was against them, blowing strongly from the west, while there present course was southeasterly, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the hunters.

“Herr Admiral, contact report from our air patrol. Encountered French scouting aircraft – escaped in damaged condition.”

The terse report, relayed through the exercise umpires, was disheartening but not unexpected. Presuming that the French aircraft made it back to its carrier his position would become known, and an incoming strike expected soon.

Aircraft carrier Héros, 52 dgs 12 min North, 27 dgs 4 min West, Sunday, 27 September 1948

The signal lamp on the circling aircraft indicated that the returning Épaulard was ‘damaged’, its wireless inoperable among other things. The landing signals officer handled his paddles carefully to guide the plane’s pilot aboard, the aircraft catching the second wire and being jerked to a halt. Even before its propeller had come to a complete stop an officer had run from the carrier’s island superstructure to obtain the details of the location of the Alliance task force. This would be flashed to the strike aircraft already on in the air.


Wednesday, June 20th 2018, 4:20pm

Above the North Atlantic, Sunday, 27 September 1948

The aircraft of the French strike force – nearly fifty strong – had reached the last reported position of the Alliance task force and found empty ocean; it was not unexpected, as hours had elapsed since the scout had made a sighting, escaped ‘destruction’, and had made its way back to FO Bayard in damaged condition. The question for the strike leader was which direction to search? As he hesitated, the Focke-Wulfs struck.

Four came in from high above the leading fighter escort, slashing through it and scoring some ‘hits’ before diving away for the sea below – taking with them too many of the over-eager pilots of the strike escort.

“Hold your formations!” The strike leader’s effort were limited – some of the Milans stayed with the Épaulards – taking evasive manoeuvres while doing so. Into this confusion came another wedge of German fighters from the sun high above them – concentrating on the heavily loaded dive bombers and torpedo planes. The disruption of the escort gave the German planes an edge, permitting the ‘damaging’ and ‘destroying’ far too many of the strike force. Those French fighters still with the bombers had to shed their own rockets in order gain agility for intercept.

Aboard the French aircraft carriers the radio-telephone chatter told the story of confusion and ‘destruction’. The strike had flown into a classic ambush – its cohesion disrupted, aircraft eliminated or forced to jettison their ordnance, and still no better aware of the location of the Alliance task force – though it could not be far from the scene of the air battle.

Bailly took the news of the action stoically. There was enough light left that a second strike might still catch his quarry before nightfall – and the aerial ambush was a tactic that would only work once.

Aboard the aircraft carrier Wallenstein Engel watched as his fighters landed in succession to refuel and rearm. He expected that the French would be back. The far-seeing electronic eyes of Lissa and Saida had done very good service, permitting him to use his limited numbers to advantage. He wondered if his luck might hold.


Thursday, June 21st 2018, 7:42pm

The North Atlantic, Sunday, 27 September 1948

FO Bayard

The last of FO Bayard’s outgoing second strike had barely cleared the decks of Zélé and Héros before the returning aircraft of its first strike began turning into the landing pattern of the carriers. One-by-one they thumped to down and were struck below for servicing. The reports relayed to Bailly were troubling to say the least. Between the losses of several of his scouting aircraft, and the savaging of the first strike, his air groups had lost more than fifteen percent of their strength. The exercise umpires had been tough in their assessments. Yes, some aircraft were merely ‘damaged’ and could be repaired, and spare aircraft erected, given enough time – but with nightfall coming on, time was a commodity in diminishing supply.

Alliance Task Force

Once the last of the departing French aircraft were out of range Engel ordered his ships to change course to due east, hoping to increase the distance between him and any second strike from FO Bayard, and perhaps evade it completely; in that result he put little faith. The news from the exercise umpires was of some comfort – more than twelve of the ‘attacking’ French aircraft were confirmed kills; his own losses were judged to be two fighters ‘destroyed’ and two ‘damaged beyond repair’ – five percent attrition. Night could not come soon enough.

Aeronavale Second Strike

In the final moments before launching the pilots of the aircraft comprising the second strike had been admonished to stick together, no matter what dodge their opponents might try to separate them. To these instructions the pilots remained faithful. Winging their way towards the last known position of their quarry, they found but empty ocean – something that came as no surprise. The strike leader had anticipated this, and ordered his pilots to turn eastward; a course that would put maximum distance between their target and the pursuing FO Bayard; it would also put the Alliance vessels closer to the veil of darkness.

His foresight was rewarded as the first white wakes of ships at high speed were seen, clear indicators of the course taken by their foe. Their engines strained to close the distance and the upper works of ships could soon be made out on the horizon.

Air Defence Cruiser Saida

The incoming strike had appeared some moments before at the fringes of the detection range of its equipment, and steadily moving on an intercept course. A warning was flashed to the entire task force, where ships closed up for air defence stations and the carriers launched their last fighters to join the combat air patrol umbrella. They had expected the French, and aimed not to disappoint them.


Friday, June 22nd 2018, 7:31pm

The North Atlantic, Sunday, 27 September 1948

The Air Battle

For the moment it appeared as if the incoming French aircraft had achieved a tactical surprise, and as the strike leader began to issue his instructions for the attack the earphones of the crews in the strike force crackled.

Test, test, un, deux, trois. Venez à Buttercup.”

"Die Welt ist meine Auster."

“Quelque chose est pourri dans l'État de Danemark.”

The deluge of drivel disrupted communications among the strike aircraft at the most critical moment – not only were the pilots unable to communicate effectively, but it was also clear that their foes were monitoring their frequency. Some tried to switch to an alternate, but it too was swamped.

“Économie, économie, Horatio. Les viandes rôties des funérailles ont été servies froides au repas du marriage.”

But the escorting fighters saw the approaching Focke-Wulfs in time and rallied to intercept – holding off the ‘enemy’ fighters long enough for the torpedo-carrying Épaulards to separate to make their attack runs, while the Épaulard dive bombers made their descents on the closest of the Alliance vessels. The bomb-carrying Épaulards were ‘met’ with a thick wall of antiaircraft fire – despite the deliberate offsets of the exercise some of the pilots later reported that they had been rocked by the nearby explosions.

The torpedo bombers had a more difficult time. Not only were they set upon by additional flights of Focke-Wulfs but when their tormentors broke off it only signalled the onset of a hail of well-directed antiaircraft fire from the ships of the escort screen. They were not even able to target either of the German aircraft carriers, which were furthest from the point from which they had launched their attack. The practice torpedoes dropped seemed to score hits on one cruiser, identified as the Admiral Hipper, and one of the escorting destroyers.

The cacophony over the wireless telephone of the attacking aircraft had not ceased, its disruption adding to the confusion of battle. Now, as the strike began its withdrawal for a return to their carriers, its words were doubly ironic.

“Et la Crépin Crépinien ne reviendra jamais a compter de ce jour jusqu'à la fin du monde sans que de nous on se souvienne. De nous, cette poignée, cette heureuse poignée d'hommes, cette bande de frères.”


Saturday, June 23rd 2018, 12:38am

Heh heh, now that's a veteran German trick. They tried it often both during and after the Battle of Britain, where English-speaking Germans would get on the British radio channels and try to vector fighters in random directions. Some of the English-speakers were quite good, and when a British pilot suspected he was being misled, he'd say "...pronounce 'squirrel'!" Sometimes they just blanketed stuff with static, too - but that usually took a ground station, and they never knew all of the channels that were in use. (Clearly somebody aboard Marseillaise or Suffren leaked that one... ;) )


Saturday, June 23rd 2018, 1:04am

Heh heh, now that's a veteran German trick. They tried it often both during and after the Battle of Britain, where English-speaking Germans would get on the British radio channels and try to vector fighters in random directions. Some of the English-speakers were quite good, and when a British pilot suspected he was being misled, he'd say "...pronounce 'squirrel'!" Sometimes they just blanketed stuff with static, too - but that usually took a ground station, and they never knew all of the channels that were in use. (Clearly somebody aboard Marseillaise or Suffren leaked that one... ;) )

The Brits developed that tactic to a fine art, deploying it against the Luftwaffe's night fighter force. They never really tried to use false orders (as good analysis of the 'false' directions might give away the 'true') but noise, drivel, test messages were all used. Alfred Price's Instruments of Darkness covers the ground quite well. It is among the books on my bookshelf I can reach from my computer without having to get up. ;)

Glad you liked it.


Saturday, June 23rd 2018, 5:33pm

The North Atlantic, Sunday, 27 September 1948

The Reckoning

The last of the aircraft of FO Bayard’s second strike made their landings as night was falling, and on Zélé and Héros the umpires were busy comparing their assessments. When he received them, Bailly was appalled; nearly half of his aircraft had been ruled as ‘shot down’ or ‘badly damaged’ – some to the defending fighter aircraft but most to the wall of antiaircraft fire thrown up by the ships of the Alliance task force. Again Engel had confounded him through the use of deceptive tactics to frustrate the coordination of his pilots. Though he fumed at the paltry returns, the umpires did credit his ships with hits on the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, one of the escorting destroyers, and ‘probables’ on several other ships of the task force.

Aboard the aircraft carrier Wallenstein Engel too reviewed the umpires’ reports. The Hipper had been judged to have taken two torpedoes, causing significant underwater damage and slowing her speed to fifteen knots. The rocket cruiser Admiral Kolchak, though not directly hit by the dive bombers what had swarmed him, had been deemed to have suffered damage from near misses, significantly degrading his electronic and rocket systems. The destroyer Serioznyi had been ‘torpedoed’ and judged to be near sinking. The air defence cruiser Lissa and the frigate Chemnitz had both suffered hits but the umpires ruled them still operational. Another five of his Focke-Wulfs had been shot down or damaged. Of the losses to FO Bayard he was given no clue.

Decisions and Plans

When informed of his ‘losses’, Engel came to a quick decision. He detached the damaged Hipper, Admiral Kolchak, and the ‘sinking’ Serioznyi, escorted by the destroyer Smotriaschyi to make for the port of Brest in western France – informing the umpires that they were out of the exercise. The remainder of the task force changed course – now heading south-southwest, hoping to elude FO Bayard. He placed D'Estienne d'Orves’ cruisers on the starboard flank of the task force, just in case a night action could be brought about.

For his part, Bailly decided to continue his pursuit, closing on the last known position of the ‘enemy’, hoping to get off a third strike in the morning. Aboard his aircraft carriers mechanics worked through the night to repair ‘damaged’ aircraft and make as ready as possible a force that might saturate the defences of the Alliance task force.


Sunday, June 24th 2018, 6:21pm

HMS Magnificent, 20:30 ZULU, Saturday 25 September

Admiral Syfret looked out across the choppy waters, he was holding the latest Admiralty communication. They could postpone his ultimate mission no longer, by midnight he was to detach the bulk of his forces and head east to Scapa Flow. Albion, Amphion, Mercury and the three Battle-class destroyers would remain to watch the exercises as Force V until it was prudent for them to return home. The manoeuvre had been prepared already and that remained was to give the orders to his ships.

He paced across the flag bridge from the windows and checked his wristwatch one last time, "Flags, send to all ships 'Ascot Final Straight', then send to C-in-C Home Fleet, repeated Admiralty, 'Force V on station at twenty-thirty Zulu, will execute previous orders. Force Y carrying out tactical manoeuvres as instructed."


Monday, June 25th 2018, 5:03pm

Aircraft Carrier Héros, Sunday/Monday, 27/28 September 1948

A section of the bulkhead in the ready room of the Héros was padded for just an occasion such as this. Capitaine de corvette Roger Grosjean entered the already-crowded ready room and pounded on it to relieve his frustration before turning to speak to his assembled pilots.

“The Admiral has turned down our proposal.”

“Why?” the cry of disbelief came from more than once source.

“It was forbidden by the exercise umpires.” The sarcasm in Grosjean’s voice was thick. “And the Admiral would not deign to share their reasoning.”

“So we so nothing?” The enthusiasm of the pilots seemed to deflate like a balloon.

Grosjean shook his head and walked toward the large map that hung at the front of the room. “The umpires would permit a limited night search – thank God for that. Force Bleu has been leading us a merry chase, but we have the opportunity to locate them – and keep them fixed – before our strike force launches in the morning.”

He quickly sketched his plans on the map with a grease pencil. “This is the last known position of Force Bleu – we will launch four pair of Épaulards on a base course… strung north and south of this line… if they have continued their retreat to the southeast, we should find them easily… but I bet they will have executed a course change.”

Questions followed on specifics of courses to be flown, wireless frequencies, procedures for using their electronic detection equipment. Instead of ordnance, their Épaulards would carry additional fuel tanks to extend their range; for Grosjean and his pilots, it would be a long night.

Shortly after midnight the first of the torpedo bombers lurched off the deck of the Héros and into the darkness. The deck crew was careful in their preparations and, thankfully, there were no accidents – ‘losses’ in this exercise had been high enough without losing more aircraft to haste.


Wednesday, June 27th 2018, 6:32pm

Above the North Atlantic, Monday, 28 September 1948

The four pairs of Épaulards spread out on their base course, enveloped by the night. In the darkened cockpits only the glow from electronic instruments provided illumination, and by mutual consent chatter on the wireless telephone was kept to a minimum. Capitaine de corvette Grosjean knew the risks of night operations but the relative ease with which the Alliance task force had foiled not one but two air strikes still stung – he had to find Force Bleu tonight to give FO Bayard an edge in the morning.

After more than an hour’s flight they reached calculated last known position of the Alliance vessels. Grosjean issued a terse order for the Épaulards to continue to the southeast, presuming that Admiral Engel, the commander of Force Bleu, had continued his retreat. As the moments clicked by the electronic equipment in the bellies of the torpedo bombers continued to sweep the surface of the Atlantic – occasionally making contact with what proved to be merchantmen here in the busy shipping lanes.

“Contact, bearing zero-two-zero relative, large pip, course south-southeast.”

Grosjean ordered the more northern pairs to continue to pursue the base course while he and his wingman turned to starboard in the direction of the latest contact. Their persistence was rewarded, for fifteen minutes later they had a solid contact on at least four ships, speed fifteen knots. Both sets of aircrew were thankful that so far at least they had not fallen ‘victim’ to night fighters from the Force Bleu aircraft carriers. A contact report was immediately flashed to Héros, and Grosjean waited impatiently for acknowledgement. The two Épaulards orbited, straining to locate the other vessels that ought to be there.

L'antre du dragon to Dragon bleu leader. Ships sighted are not a part of the exercise. Repeat, ships sighted are no longer part of the exercise. Continue your search.”

It took Grosjean a few moments to comprehend this import of this revelation. Of course, Engel must have detached the cripples from the day’s air strikes and the umpires had declared them officially out of the exercise. He cursed himself for being led astray, but upon checking his fuel gages realised he still had sufficient fuel for several hour more flying. He immediately recalled the three pairs of Épaulards from their wild goose chase towards the southeast and ordered them to commence a box search, while he himself pondered which direction Engel might have chosen for escape.


Thursday, June 28th 2018, 3:33pm

FO Bayard, 51 dgs 52 min North, 25 dgs 3 min West, Monday, 28 September 1948

Bailly stared at the plotting chart on the bridge of his flagship, pondering his options. His risky night search had discovered that Force Bleu was not continuing its retreat to the southeast, though several ‘cripples’ had been detached – their course suggested they were heading to Brest. The search leader, Grosjean, had dispatched four of his aircraft to search the area to the north of the former track of the Alliance task force, and himself led the remaining aircraft to search the area to the south and southwest. They might find Engel before morning, but there were still too many unknowns to leave such matters to chance. There were also the limitations of what the exercise umpires might permit him to do. After a moment’s thought he turned to his senior air officer.

“Le Gloan, I want search seaplanes launched from the Redoubtable and the Renommée, four to search to the north of our current track, and four to the south.” That officer had suggested that additional Épaulards be sent to carry out such a mission but Bailly opted to conserve his striking force in the hope of locating Force Bleu in the night. “Immediately sir”.

Baily was rightly concerned about the possibility that Engel might court a night surface engagement, in which FO Bayard would be at a slight disadvantage, despite the loss of Hipper and her consorts to Force Bleu. With daylight, though, the advantage would shift to FO Bayard – if Engel could be found.


Saturday, June 30th 2018, 1:26am

Aircraft carrier Wallenstein, 46 dgs 47 min North 21 dgs 12 min West, Monday, 28 September 1948

The matter of discovery, or more properly, avoiding discovery, also preyed upon Engel’s mind. He hoped that his decision to reverse course from southeast to south-southwest would put sufficient distance between his ships and FO Bayard; despite the several air attacks his force had endured he still had no firm idea where it was located, its speed, or its heading. If he knew that with certainty he might have risked a night engagement, confident in the ability of his remaining cruisers and destroyers to ‘swamp’ FO Bayard’s escorts and damage its aircraft carriers.

Now, however, he counted on the cover of night to cloak his withdrawal to the west; his ships had shut down their active electronic search equipment and relied solely upon their passive systems to detect any snooping French aircraft. The dradis watches had been doubled and all ships were blacked out. What precautions to avoid detection that were within his means, he had ordered. And the weather report - Goldener Löwe continued to broadcast regular weather data in the clear – suggested that another front was moving in from the west; dirty weather would assist him, if it arrived soon enough.

The seaplanes launched from FO Bayard’s Redoubtable and Renommée had fanned out over the darkened sea on their assigned courses. The seaplanes from Redoubtable, assigned the northern sectors, found nothing. One of the quartet launched from Renommée had better luck.

“I have a blip on my screen, it comes and goes.”

“What direction?” The pilot checked his fuel gages.

“Turn ten degrees to starboard, we’ll see if the signal improves.”

The seaplane responded to the pilot’s commands and the signal, which had been rather weak, strengthened. “Getting a clearer response now… at least four groups of ships… we’re too far out to distinguish individual vessels.”

“I’ll take her up a couple hundred metres – it might increase the range.”

“That’s better. It’s definitely Force Bleu…”

“Get off a contact report to Renommée immediately! Before the German night fighters jump us!”


Saturday, June 30th 2018, 8:04pm

The Admiralstab, Berlin, Monday, 28 September 1948

Gerlach and Bramesfeld had joined Merten in the Operations Room to review the latest status report on the exercise – its contents dating to the previous midnight.

“All in all things are going well for Engel’s task force.” Bramesfeld was always an optimist; confidence was important for a planner.

“Perhaps, but FO Bayard is in a position to pin him against the French coast, or drive him into Brest or Lorient.” Merten, in contrast, was the pessimist – a player for the sure game.

“Bailly has been rather orthodox in his tactics… of course, the constraints of the exercise and the ruling of the umpires have given him disadvantages as well.” Gerlach tried to balance the views of his peers in their assessment. “The electronic capabilities of the Aspern class ships proved to be a surprise, which Engel used well. But they are certainly no panacea.”

In objective terms, all three were correct in so far as they went; before its encounters with FO Bayard Engel’s ships had intercepted and notionally ‘sunk’ twenty-two merchantmen; in two air battles FO Bayard had failed to deliver a massive blow despite damaging several of Engel’s ships, taking them out of the exercise, and suffering substantial losses to its air groups.

“Of course, in wartime, we would be dealing with convoys. Snapping up individual merchantmen would not be so easy.”

“Merten old friend, do you think the English can form convoys on a moment’s notice? Look how long it took them to come to that conclusion in the Great War? Even so, against a raiding force of Engel’s strength what could might destroyers and sloops avail? If the English disperse their major fleet elements to escort convoys they would have less strength to counter any move we chose to make.”

Gerlach nodded, acknowledging that Bramesfeld had a good argument. “True, the English are obliged to maintain strength in the Mediterranean and in the Far East, whereas we have the luxury of concentrating our strength in home waters.”

“What has become of the fleet the English sent out to shadow Engel?” Both Merten and Bramesfeld looked for answers there.

“Signals intelligence suggests that it is still at sea, its exact whereabouts unknown at this time.” Gerlach chose not to conceal the gap in their knowledge. “I would suggest that our air and U-boat patrols be strengthened off Scotland and the Orkneys; the English may finally redeploy the greater part of their Home Fleet against us, rather than any threat from France or Iberia.”


Sunday, July 1st 2018, 8:36pm

FO Bayard, Monday, 28 September 1948

Receipt of the contact report from the Renommée’s scout plane galvanised the French task force into action. Word of the contact was flashed to those Force Rouge aircraft still aloft – recalling those patrolling to the north to their ships for recovery, and directing the four Épaulards under Grosjean to try and join up with the seaplanes in shadowing the Alliance task force.

Bailly ordered his ships on to an intercept course to try and close the distance between himself and Engel’s carriers. A dawn strike would be at maximum range, with little margin for error; and dawn was now but three hours away. If he closed the distance it would increase the chances his strike aircraft would have sufficient fuel to return after their attack. He paced the bridge of his flagship, practically willing the sun to rise before its time.

Aircraft Carrier Wallenstein, Monday, 28 September 1948

The signals yeoman brought Engel a report.

“Signal from the Saida Herr Admiral, relayed via Chemnitz. She is tracking two probable scout aircraft at the outer edge of the task force. Passive systems are not adequate to localise the targets. She requests permission to go active with her dradis systems.”

The French scouts were not closing, as they would be expected to do, had they spotted the task force. It was possible that his ships had not yet been discovered. Activating the ships’ electronic equipment would, in the circumstances, act like a beacon for any snooping scout aircraft.

“Make to Saida, maintain emissions control until further ordered.” Engel decided to play a waiting game. The yeoman hastened to comply. Moments passed, and Engel pondered his options.