Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Fanfic: "Victory of the Seventh Carrier"

Today I would like to share some writing I did back in 1992.  It's a short outline of a book which I will never write, concluding a series of novels that I enjoyed but that will now never be completed.

Some background: in 1984, whilst taking a course at the Navy's combat training center in Virginia Beach I became enamoured of a novel by Mr. Peter Albano named "The Seventh Carrier". Clearly a piece of 'men's fiction' complete with the requisite macho hero and a number of busty feminine conquests, it was also something else;  a contra-historical tale of Japanese "holdouts" from the Second World War, surfacing in the early 1980s (complete with an aircraft carrier and complement of aircraft) to complete their sacred mission for the Emperor: attack Pearl Harbor!

The writing was good, the concept gripping, and the author's grasp of Japanese Bushido and Chivalry made me take notice; this was no simple manly shoot-em-up.  I found myself drawn into the tale of a great ship, lost for so many years, emerging to wreak havoc in the North Pacific Ocean.

"The Seventh Carrier" was a complete story, no sequel required.  However, the book was very well received and sold well through three editions, and Albano found himself besieged by his publishers; they wanted more "Seventh Carrier".  But how to continue a tale that had been so neatly wrapped-up?  How could the Imperial Japanese Navy carrier Yonaga and her crew of ancient warriors (led by the incredibly elderly Admiral Fujita) possibly play a part in this modern world of radar, guided missiles and instant communications?
Enter a Chinese satellite anti-aircraft laser system gone haywire. Enter 1980s strong-man Mohammar Gadaffi and his world-wide Arab Jihad. Enter an alternate world where jets and missiles are obsolete and the nations that posses antique weapons and aircraft rise to dominate.  In this world Yonaga and her crew aren't simply relevant but vital forces in the battle against the air and naval forces of the Libyan-led "revolution" that threatens to set the world aflame.

Eleven books in all. From Yonaga's emergence from the ice of the Kamchatka peninsula, through all her battles, Albano kept me entertained as his heroes joined forces with the remnants of the United States' and other navies, holding the line and then pushing back the tide in elderly warships and vintage aircraft.  Like any series that runs for so long the quality of the story-lines varied and apparently immortal warriors survived engagement after engagement, but concepts so audacious and battles so vividly depicted kept me returning to Albano's fantasy world, again and again.

As the series finally began to run out of steam I wrote the following outline, even mailing it to Albano (with whom I had begun corresponding in 1991) for his thoughts.  Only two years before his death he wrote me that he would love to write one last novel of Yonaga, perhaps ending the series with the "apocalyptic" (his word) scenario that I had imagined...
With that endorsement from the author himself, here, for those who enjoyed Peter Albano's novels of the Yonaga and also for those who might be inspired to seek out his books, is my conclusion to the saga of "The Seventh Carrier"*.

Victory of the Seventh Carrier
by Thomas L. Epps
"Duty lies heavy as the mountain; Death lies light as a feather"

Yonaga is in deep trouble. Admiral Fujita's latest stratagem has gone terribly wrong, and the great carrier and her escorts have paid a brutal price; five destroyers, carrier Bennington, and heavy cruiser Newport News now lie on the bottom of the Pacific nearly 1,000 nautical miles to the north-east of Tokyo. New Jersey and Yonaga have suffered multiple hits, and more than half of the carrier's aircraft and pilots are gone, destroyed in what may go down in history as the largest and most bloody air/sea battle of all time.

As the battered task groups turns to the north in an attempt to evade the Arab forces long enough to make urgent repairs and regroup, Fujita agonizes over his errors. He has failed Japan, and he has failed his Emperor. There is only one option open to him, and as the last fires are extinguished and his ship crosses the Arctic Circle, still heading north, he summons his officers one last time...

Captain Brent Ross, the Konoye blade bared, stands behind the kneeling, white-robed Admiral in the Yasakuni shrine.  Commander Yoshi Matsuhara, only recently grounded due to his failing sight, presents Fujita with the short ceremonial blade.  The ancient mariner, after formally turning over command of Yonaga to Ross, opens his robes and the ritual is carried through to it's grisly conclusion.

Ross, newly burdened, faces the naval officer's nightmare; he has been forced to assume command of a crippled force in the worst of circumstances. Outflanked, outgunned, and with limited fuel and munitions remaining, he sends his scout planes out to determine the disposition and capabilities of his enemy.

Whether by enemy action or as a result of the steadily-deteriorating weather only one scout survives long enough to report; Al Kufra, longest lived of the Arab carriers and seemingly invulnerable, waits to the south. Her bombers are ranged on deck and her escort cruisers and destroyers search the fog-blanketed sea for Yonaga and her consorts.

North of the Komandorski Islands, the Seventh Carrier has completed what repairs she can.  New Jersey has joined the formation and the few destroyers remaining have resumed their customary disposition about their greater sisters. With radars silenced they hold position, hove-to against the seaway, while the true status of the force is appreciated by Capt. Ross; Yonaga has only a handful of bombers remaining, ammunition is low in all ships, and--by far the worst card of a bad hand--all ship's bunkers are low; too low even for a return to home waters.

Ross has no choice.  In the tradition of Bushido--and of the cornered animal--he orders an attack.  The remaining aircraft are armed and prepared for launch, and the tiny fleet steers southward to close their enemy.

The deck trembling beneath their booted feet, Ross and Matsuhara meet on Yonaga's navigation bridge. (How empty that high aerie seems without the Admiral!) There is no pretense; Matsuhara does not plan to return from this mission--and Ross does not expect him to.  The two men, warriors and brothers, once enemies and now comrades-in-arms, clasp hands.

And then the unescorted bombers wing off into the mist and that end that every Samurai craves.

Yonaga and New Jersey close to within  a thousand yards of each other, and the order for flank speed brings the two behemoths to nearly thirty knots, their aged, wounded hulls singing with a final effort that twists rivets and bends steel plate like paper. And still they advance, close-enough to appear on radar as a single contact, their destroyers dashing ahead in one last charge.

As planned, Matsuhara's bombers loiter far to the east, turning inbound toward the enemy just as Yonaga and New Jersey enter the Arab fleet's radar range. Arrowing-in low over the concealing mist, his aircraft close in, achieving visual contact with the hostile task force--and the Arab fighters stoop onto them like falcons.

Most of Yonaga's strike force is shot down on the first pass.

With hydraulic fluid spraying from severed lines--and his own blood pooling at his feet--Commander Yoshi Matsuhara flies his fifty-year-old "Kate" bomber like the "Zero-Sen" that he loves; his maneuvers catch the Arab fighter pilots off-guard, and he is through. Ahead, superstructure already twinkling with anti-aircraft fire, steams Al Kufra!

Wings torn by mini-gun fire, flesh riven by fragments of metal torn from his own engine, Yoshi still manages to hold his course. Flak explodes about him as he dives...and he sees them all! His family, his Admiral, the women he has loved and seen torn away in violence. He sees himself, young, handsome and agile, and then aging in an arctic hell. He sees, just before his ravaged airplane strikes Al Kufra's bridge, the younger man who had, over the past decade, become more than friend, more than son...and he dies, with Brent Ross's name on his lips.

Yonaga emerges from the mists just in time for Ross to see the streamer of fire and smoke that was his friend slam into Al Kufra's superstructure, just as he sees her swing out of formation, out of control with helmsman and Captain dead. The attack planes that had been warming-up on her deck are showered by white-hot fragments and burning fuel; even as he watches, the destruction of Al Kufra's air-group begins.

Still shuddering at flank speed, and with guns blazing, New Jersey and Yonaga close the distance between them and the shattered Arab formation...the destroyers engage in the closing waterspace between them and the enemy capital ships--fireflies dueling to keep each other from reaching torpedo attack range--whilst the Arab cruisers return the gunfire of the Seventh Carrier and her battleship consort and dash toward flanking positions, trying to envelope them in a deadly crossfire.

The damage mounting, Ross orders Yonaga on, as Al Kufra expands in his view to dominate the horizon. The sea is churned by shell-bursts, the sky darkened by smoke even as New Jersey's mighty guns demolish one of the Arab cruisers and cripple another.

Brent Ross draws his sword--the sword that has seen the deaths of so many enemies and friends--and raises it high. Standing on the great carrier's riddled and sagging bridge, he joins in the tremendous "Banzai!" that rises from his crew as Yonaga's bow slices though the skin, skeleton and steel entrails of Al Kufra like the living, driving embodiment of the sword in his hand! The Seventh Carrier continues tearing through her enemy, steel ripping steel, aluminum and flesh as the flagship of the Arab Jihad is gutted and crushed helplessly beneath the sword of Admiral Fujita and Captain Brent Ross.

But Yonaga is old.  Her plates like Al Kufra's are torn; her skin ripped, her bowels shattered. Even as the Arab carrier is broken into two sinking wrecks the ancient carrier slows, settles into the calm sea, and, though her guns continue to roar defiance, begins to list heavily to port. She is doomed, but like any warrior worth the name of Samurai she has sent her enemy ahead to whatever hell awaits those who make war.

The battle--the war--is over. In half and hour a dozen great ships have been sunk and ten thousand men have died gruesome deaths. New Jersey, last seen emulating Yonaga by crushing heavy cruiser Al Burak under her forefoot, has vanished in a colossal explosion that could only have resulted from a magazine detonation. All of Yonaga's escort destroyers, bravely led by Captain John Fite for so many years, have gone; burned, blasted and sunk even as they did the same to the foe.  The waters are empty but for wreckage and that pitiful human remnant that always mark a battlefield on land or sea.

His crew is dead. His ship is dead. His friends, comrades and his Admiral are gone; even his father who had been beheaded a decade before on the Seventh Carrier's flight deck. Brent Ross would be dead as well--had hoped to die in the holocaust that had taken everything he loved from him. He would indeed have ended aboard Yonaga but for the American sailors--members of the Crypto unit deployed aboard the carrier--who dragged him unconscious from his bridge and brought him away from the stupendous wreck in one of the ship's launches. These same men now tend their Captain, keeping him warm as they drift on frigid North Pacific waters.

As the sun sets over graves and waves defiled, Brent Ross, oil-soaked and battered with the Konoye blade by his side, dreams of his father. And his father, to his fevered mind, has the soft voice of Yoshi Matsuhara and the ancient face of Admiral Hiroshi Fujita.

The End

In respectful memory of a warrior and a friend, Mr. Peter Albano (1922-2006).
The blade is now sheathed, never again to be drawn.

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