Authors: Douglas Reeman
|Torpedo Run (1981)|
It was in 1943. On the Black Sea, the Russians were fighting a desperate battle to regain control. But the Russians' one real weakness was on the water: whatever they did, the Germans did it better, and the daring hit-and-run tactics of the E-boats plagued them. At last the British agreed to send them a small flotilla of motor torpedo boats under the command of John Devane. Devane had been in the Navy since the outbreak of war. More than a veteran, he was a survivor - and the two rarely went together in the savage war of MTBs. Given command t short notice, Devane soon learned that, even against the vast and raging background of the Eastern Front, war could still be a personal duel between individuals.
John Devane is given command at short notice and soon learns that even against the vast and raging background of the Eastern Front, war could still be a personal duel between individuals.
Douglas Reeman did convoy duty in the navy in the Atlantic, the Arctic and the North Sea. He has written over thirty novels under his own name and more than twenty best-selling historical novels featuring Richard Bolitho under the pseudonym of Arthur Kent.
It was in 1943. On the Black Sea, the Russians were fighting a desperate battle to regain control. But the Russians’ one real weakness was on the water: whatever they did, the Germans did it better, and the daring hit-and-run tactics of the E-boats plagued them. At last the British agreed to send them a small flotilla of motor torpedo boats under the command of John Devane.
Devane had been in the Navy since the outbreak of war. More than a veteran, he was a survivor – and the two rarely went together in the savage war of MTBs. Given command at short notice, Devane soon learned that, even against the vast and raging background of the Eastern Front, war could still be a personal duel between individuals.
Douglas Reeman joined the Navy in 1941. He did convoy duty in the Atlantic, Arctic and the North Sea, and later served in motor torpedo boats. As he says, ‘I am always asked to account for the perennial appeal of the sea story, and its enduring appeal for people of so many nationalities and cultures. It would seem that the eternal and sometimes elusive triangle of man, ship and ocean, particularly under the stress of war, produces the best qualities of courage and compassion, irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the conflict . . . The sea has no understanding of the righteous or unjust causes. It is the common enemy, respected by all who serve on it, ignored at their peril.’
Reeman has written over thirty novels under his own name and more than twenty best-selling historical novels, featuring Richard Bolitho and his nephew Adam Bolitho, under the pseudonym Alexander Kent.
A Prayer for the Ship
Send a Gunboat
Dive in the Sun
The Hostile Shore
The Last Raider
With Blood and Iron
The Deep Silence
Path of the Storm
The Pride and the Anguish
To Risks Unknown
The Greatest Enemy
Rendezvous – South Atlantic
Go In and Sink!
Surface with Daring
Strike from the Sea
A Ship Must Die
Badge of Glory
The First to Land
The Iron Pirate
Against the Sea
In Danger’s Hour
The White Guns
A Dawn Like Thunder
Dust on the Sea
The Glory Boys
Twelve Seconds to Live
one of the Glory Boys
Lieutenant-Commander John Devane sat on a plain wooden bench seat and regarded the opposite wall. Grey rough concrete. You could even see where the first layer had been tamped home. The brief professional interest passed just as quickly as it had emerged and he sank back again, outwardly relaxed, but his mind busy with the distant sounds, the feeling of being off balance, lost.
The room was little more than a space curtained off from one of many such corridors beneath the Admiralty building in London. A far-off murmur was like the sea across a scattered reef, but it was traffic – red buses which still managed to make splashes of colour against the dust and rubble of wartime London, and taxis which never seemed to see you when you needed one – and people on the move: endless, restless throngs, many in the uniforms of countries occupied by ‘them’, as his mother called them. The enemy.
Devane glanced at his watch. Again the movement was easy and without waste. It was eleven in the forenoon, a May day in 1943. But down here it could have been anywhere, any time.
He thought briefly of his leave, the first he had had for many months. He tried to resist the feeling that he was glad it had been interrupted by this summons to the Admiralty after only four days. Perhaps that was what you needed after the blood and guts of the Mediterranean war. Any longer and maybe you were too scared to go back.
His home was in Dorset, or had been in that other, prewar world. It was strange to go back, for, unlike London and other major towns and cities, Dorchester seemed to move more slowly, as if reluctant to accept that change would ever come. His father was still running the family
business where he himself had once been employed as a fledgeling architect, although now there seemed very little to do unless it was under some government contract or other. His mother had grown older, but not so much that it caused surprise or pain on their rare meetings.
The curtain was plucked aside and Devane saw a small Wren studying him, her hair shining in the corridor lighting behind her.
‘Captain Whitcombe will see you shortly, sir.’
Devane reached for his cap and stood up, adjusting himself for this unexpected interview. He knew Whitcombe from way back, a bluff, red-faced captain who had been in retirement before the war and had been slotted into a desk job to allow someone else to take over a bridge at sea. Unlike some, Whitcombe seemed to have dropped into a niche which suited him perfectly.
Devane fell in step beside the little Wren and wondered if she had a boy friend, if she liked her job underground, what she would say if he took her by the arm and. . . .
She paused by a steel door which was labelled
and waited for Devane to open it. The door weighed a ton, and he guessed she always had to do that.
Another concrete box, with clattering typewriters, harsh lighting, and engrossed Wrens bustling about with signals and files as if Devane were invisible.
A Wren second officer looked up from her desk. ‘Wait here, please. I’ll tell Captain Whitcombe you’ve arrived.’
He nodded and ran his fingers through his hair. It was as unruly as ever, and nearly four years of active service had not improved it. He thought about his last commission. The North African coast, sunshine and washed-out blue skies, or the fierce off-shore winds which tore your face with dust and desert sand.
What were they going to do with him? Not back to the Med surely? Perhaps to the Channel, to the motor torpedo base at Felixstowe where it had all started?
His mother had exclaimed angrily, ‘It’s not right to recall you so soon, John! There are plenty round here who’ve never been in uniform!’
Whereas his father, as mild as ever, had said, ‘I expect they know what they’re doing. Our boy’s important.’
. Devane smiled to himself. His father had really meant it.
It had certainly been a long haul from those other days when he had started to work for his father. Looking back it always seemed to have been spring or summer. Every weekend down to the coast in the green sports car he owned jointly with his best friend Tony. Sailing their old sloop round Portland Bill, pints afterwards in a pub at Weymouth. And later, more for a bet than anything, when they had both joined the peacetime Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, he should have seen what might happen. What was still happening. Now the old sloop and the sports car were gone. Tony too, for that matter, killed in a mine-sweeper within sight of the Portland Bill they had both loved so much.
He steeled himself as he heard footsteps and muted voices. So there was someone else in that room. Probably saying, ‘You speak first, old chap, while I watch his reactions.’
With a start he realized that the typewriters had all stopped, that several of the girls were looking at him. Naval officers, with wavy stripes or otherwise, were two a penny here. His eye fell on a carefully preserved newspaper which one of the Wrens had taken from her desk. The same one which his parents had at home.
Was it really him? Eyes squinting at the camera, battered cap all awry; some vague, grinning faces in the background with what he knew to be part of the old Maltese battery in the far distance.
The glaring headline still stunned him.
DEVANE’S BATTLE SQUADRON STRIKES TERROR INTO THE RETREATING AFRIKA KORPS! THE LAST GERMANS FLEE FROM TUNIS
! There was more, a whole lot more.
The voice said, ‘Will you come this way, sir.’ Even the unsmiling second officer was looking at him differently.
Devane had seen that look on the faces of newly joined officers and ratings. It asked, what was it like? How does it feel to fight the enemy at close quarters?
Devane found himself in the other room without realizing
he had moved or that the door had closed silently behind him.
Whitcombe strode to greet him. Still the same, thank God. Good old Tubby.
The other man was in civilian clothes but he looked like a naval officer.
Whitcombe beamed. ‘Bloody good to see you again, John.’ He jerked his head but his eyes stayed on Devane’s grave features. ‘This is Commander Kinross of our operations staff.’
Kinross did not shake hands but gave a stiff nod. He looked a cold fish but extremely competent. On the ball. Between them, these two men, whom most people had never heard of, planned each special operation in the Mediterranean like chess players. They probably had irons in other fires too, Devane thought. The world was waiting to see what would happen next. The Germans had been pushed out of North Africa and for the first time were on the defensive. This year the tide would have to go harder against them. Italy and Sicily were obvious beach heads, maybe Greece too. Then, with the enemy divided on several fronts at once, the real one, the invasion of northern Europe, which months, rather than years, ago had been the impossible dream.
Whitcombe was saying, ‘Damn sorry about your leave.’ He smiled and glanced at the ribbon on Devane’s jacket. ‘Another bar to your DSC, what does it feel like to be a hero and the public’s darling?’