Volume 3, Chapter 21
On the evening of May 24, 1940, at 11:30 PM. On the Dover Strait.
British Royal Navy spotter, Tony Ralph. He stood on the bow of the small patrol ship, smoking a cigarette. It was his turn at lookout tonight.
Although it was already entered summer, there was still a coolness on the nights at sea. Tony threw the cigarette butt into the churning waves and started to readjust the collar on his short coat.
He turned the searchlight hoisted on the bow back and forth. Tonight, the sea was covered in a layer of fog. Even the light from the searchlight could only travel ten meters before vanishing. Tony looked around the fog, fearful of anything unusual.
This is the English Channel, the most important barrier of the British Empire. Now that war had started once again, could it block the enemy’s invasion? In Tony’s mind, the answer was yes. The Royal Navy could repel any invaders before they even set foot ashore.
Tony carefully watched as the searchlight skimmed the sea. The last few days, there were reports of increased German submarine activity in the Dover Strait. Maybe a sign of an upcoming major German operation. Perhaps he’s crazy but he wants to find one or two of those German U-Boats. However, he also knows how unlikely that would be. The German submarines have never casually surfaced, especially in such a place like the English Channel. Unless Tony’s luck was enough to see a surfacing, he would never find a submarine with this searchlight.
The ship began to turn slightly. Tony looked back to the bridge. Wondering if it was Thompson or Allen at helm tonight. Thinking some more he really hoped it was not that clueless Allen. That guy is prone to deviate off course. It’s a mystery why the captain still lets him be a helmsman. However, Tony heard that the Navy had been actively recruiting sailors into the active fleet. Leaving the Coastguard with what was left. Considering this, Allen could actually be considered decent. However, this never changed Tony’s impression of him.
Tony took a long sigh and looked at a piece of copper beneath the bridge. Inscribed was the name of the ship, the “Devil”. The name sounds very lofty, not sure who thought of it but this ship was definitely not one of those huge warships.
In fact, this boat only had a displacement of 90 tons. Rather, this was a commercial fishing boat which had been requisitioned by the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy installed a passive sonar system. Tony wasn’t sure from which retired ship that took it from. But more importantly, it more often failed then worked. There was also a radio station on the ship. But the Royal Navy also placed a new operator in that position. That kid is less than 18 years old, watching him try to work the radio, even the most ordinary sailor would shake his head. If there was an emergency, he was legitimately concerned that even an SOS would be sent incorrectly.
The ship was thirty years old and older than Tony. It was actually the body of an Express ship. However, the navy then retrofitted her with two semi-new diesel engines. The result was that the top speed was only seventeen knots. Even some high-speed cargo ships could outrun them. However, it should be enough for a German U-Boat.
The only armament that the ship possessed was a heavy machine gun on the platform behind him. He heard that it was removed from one of the decommissioned destroyers that participated in the Battle of Jutland. The only other weapons on the ship were twenty deep water bombs on the back deck. In order to release them, Tony has to push them off the back. He remembers very fondly how damn heavy those things were. No doubt they could sink a submarine.
Tonight, although he was a bit cranky, he still swung the searchlight dutifully. It was too dangerous here, in addition to enemy submarines, there may also be mines. In some areas of the sea there are large swaths of minefields, Tony had even witnessed a companion ship hit a naval mine right in front of him. The whole ship was blown to pieces in an instant. The crew didn’t even have time to wear the jackets before the boat sank into the sea. The entire process only took a minute. From then on, as long as he was on duty he would be particularly careful to not follow in that ship’s footsteps.
Tony gave himself another cigarette and took a deep breath. Although this ship had been repainted twice. However, it still couldn’t mask the thick smell of fish. However, it’s respectable, no matter how much people want to change her, they cannot completely erase her past. She’s a fishing boat, even if given artillery guns, she can never let out the same breath of those warships.
Thinking of those massive warships, Tony thought of this ship’s captain. He heard that the Captain was once on the battleship, HMS Indefatigable. On one occasion, he was drunk the night before sailing and hit another officer. So, he was locked in a confinement room on the naval base. Leaving him to only watch his warships sail into the ocean through the iron window. That would be the last time he saw the HMS Indefatigable. The same day, HMS Indefatigable participated in the Battle of Jutland. Her ammunition compartment was struck, the secondary explosion decimated the entire ship. Thinking about that, the old fart must really be lucky. Let’s hope his luck is still there this time around.
Then Tony felt someone come to the bow.
Taking a closer look, it was his shipmate Hopkins.
“Sir!” Tony hurried to give a salute.
Hopkins is a good man, he’s strong, brave, approachable, and the most aware in terms of navigation. Sometimes Tony feels bad for him. He should be commanding a warship, not a modified fishing boat.
Hopkins walked up to Tony.
“Is there anything?”
“There had been nothing all night, sir.”
“Can I have a smoke?”
“Yes, sir!” Tony answered loudly and then quickly took out his own cigarettes.
“Ah, thank you.”
“No need to thank me, you keep it. I have several packs, sir.”
“Haha, then I’ll accept, wait until we return back to port.”
Hopkins took out a delicate lighter from his pocket and lit the cigarette. Seeing Tony’s eyes on the lighter, he smiled and said.
“This is my father’s gift to me. When he was celebrating the victory 18, an American officer gave this to him as a gift. My father wanted this thing to bring me good luck.” Then he handed the lighter to Tony.
Tony quickly took the lighter, seemingly quite fond of its design. Two people then stood on the bow and smoked in silence.
“Tony, I remember you’re called Tony.”
“Oh.” Hopkins did not continue. Only continued to peer into the night fog.
“Sir, I have a question.” Tony felt that the situation was a bit awkward.
“Oh, what’s the problem?” Hopkins woke from his deep thought and took a slightly embarrassed expression.
“Sir, who is today at the helm?” Tony wanted to say something, anything. And so, he stopped handling the searchlight.
“Why are you asking this?”
“Sir, I was just a little worried. Tonight’s fog is too strong, and our route is close to our own minefields. I am afraid there might be some deviation in our route.”
“Allen is the helmsman, and he knows what to do. That last incident was only because of a faulty compass…” Hopkins suddenly stopped, then he turned and looked to the starboard side of the ship.
Tony also felt something, as if there was a low sound from that direction. He quickly turned the searchlight in that direction.
“Did you hear it?” Hopkins asked.
“Yes, sir, I heard something.”
“What do you think?”
“I do not know, sir, it sounds like an engine, but at the same time not.”
Hopkins touched his head to carefully discern the strange sound.
“It’s in that direction!” Then Hopkins pointed to the direction of starboard thirty degrees. Tony quickly turned the searchlight over. But nothing could be seen besides the vast white fog.
“The fog is too thick. You continue to observe, I’m heading to the cabin.”
“Yes, sir! Could it be our own boat?” Tony said a bit nervously.
“No, we are the only patrol ship out here right now. The others are still docked. There is little chance of our boats. Furthermore, that sound is by no means from a ship.”
“Is it the enemy?”
“We can’t be sure. Stick to your post.” Hopkins hurried toward the bridge. Tony quickly looked back at that direction.
The sound grew louder, and Tony could finally tell that it wasn’t one sound. But rather it was an orchestra of many noises. However, he could finally identify what it was.
“Aircraft!” Tony exclaimed.
“So many planes!”
In the wake of Tony’s panic, a sharp alarm sounded from the ship. Hopkins also recognized the sound. Then the sailors rushed out of the cabin and prepared to enter battle.
However, even with the searchlight, they could see nothing besides the thick fog. Leaving them to only blindly look around.
The captain was also awakened, and he went onto the bridge. The sailors all hoped that the captain would bless the ship with his luck. Then at the time, this small anti-submarine boat began to turn its bow to the same direction that the sound was coming from.
Then the aircraft’s sounds became more distinct. The sounds numbered at least in the hundreds, causing the sailor’s faces to become ugly. There was no way to fight against hundreds of aircraft. Now their hope lies that the fog gets even thicker so that they’re not discovered.
“Turn off all the sailing lights!”
The captain seems to have the same idea. Although the Royal Navy never had a tradition of shirking in fear, this was still the most sensible idea. Then a few moments later, a group of aircraft passed overhead the “Devil” and flew to the north.
“It’s bombers, likely in the hundreds.” Hopkins said to the captain on the bridge.
“Yes, we did not receive any reports, those planes must be German. It’s strange. Although we could not see them, judging from the sound, these planes are flying very low. Probably only on 150 to 200 feet. Those Germans are really crazy, even willing to fly so low on foggy days.”
“Yeah, I don’t really understand what they’re doing. There is only sea in that direction.” Hopkins said puzzler.
“We’ll follow and see where those planes are going.”
“But our boat…”
“I said to follow them. All forward.”
Hopkins felt that the Captain was still not completely awake. Urging a small fishing boat to chase an entire fleet of aircraft.
“Should we report to the Naval Command now?”
“No, not yet. Wait until we find out the whole situation. If we reported now than they would not believe us. They would simply say that we’re all drunk and the sound was an illusion.” The captain stubbornly dismissed his opinion.
“We’ve crossed the middle line of in the strait. We are now sailing along the French coast, Sir.”
“Keep the course! Listen, they are still right in front of us.” The captain nodded with satisfaction.
“I think we should notify the Naval Command. At least let them inform Dunkirk of a possible German air raid.”
“No, they are definitely not going to bomb Dunkirk. They’re flying along the coast in a big arc, I think there is another purpose…”
Then what do you think is the purpose?”
A silly screaming came from the bow of the ship. In front of the ship were a scattered group of black objects, bobbing gently in the waves.
“Left full rudder….” The captain shouted at the helmsman. But everything was too late, the momentum of the ship led it right into the mine. On the bow of the ship, a ten-meter-high column of water was shot up. The bow then hit a second mine nearby, decimating the entire front of the ship. Causing a large fireball to rise.
“Abandon ship!” The captain yelled at the sailors below. Then the stern of the ship started to lift from the sea, as water flooded the front of the ship.
Hopkins looked blankly at all the chaos, finished, everything was too late. He finally understood the mission of the German planes. They were setting up a minefield, they wanted to block the Dover Strait. But why? No one else was thinking of this problem. As the sea had rushed into the bridge, the heavy pressure shocking all those on the ship.
Five seconds later, the “Devil” anti-submarine trawler disappeared into the sea without a trace. The only traces were a small vortex and some pieces of wood. She and all her crew sank into the deep dark depths of the Atlantic.