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21

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.”

22

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.

23

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’.

24

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.

25

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. ;)

26

Yesterday, 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 a scout would find them, but every minute they could keep the details of their location, course, and speed, would make it more difficult for the French to find them.