Commander George Wallace is a retired submarine officer. He served on JOHN ADAMS and WOODROW WILSON, was XO of SPADEFISH and Commanded HOUSTON. While in command the ship worked with SEALS and was awarded the CIA Meritorious Unit Citation. He and Don Keith have written three other submarine novels; Final Bearing, Firing Point and Operation Golden Dawn.
Don Keith is a native of Alabama who enjoyed a long career in radio as a featured personality and later as a station owner. At the same time he became a successful author of fiction. He later wrote non-fiction historical works about World War II submarines and co-authored, with CDR Bill Anderson of NAUTILUS, The Ice Diaries.
Editor’s Note: In this issue THE SUBMARINE REVIEW continues the practice of giving some special attention to submarine related novels. We did so in re- viewing several of Joe Buff’s novels and more recently we cited several retired submarine officers who have written submarine novels. The point in departing from our normal no-fiction policy is to take advantage of their fiction, based on long experience in the boats, as authoritative depictions of USN submariners, and how they probably would, and could, react in extreme situations. Dangerous Ground certainly does provide the extreme situations for those depictions. It is an exotic story with plenty of action by a wide range of colorful people, ranging from South China Sea pirates, North Korean arms dealers, Islamic Terrorists, SEALS, all the way up to the President of the United States. Of course, several submariners act to accomplish all tasks and resolve all threats in an admirable manner. For the older members of our readership some of the scenarios will bring back memories of past incidents or near-instances, including the TREPANG Plot of the late 70s.
We have extracted some sections of the book to give our readers some flavor, a sample of the writing and touches of the plot without giving away too much. All the italicized subheadings are editorial guide posts for this purpose and are not part of the book’s text.
The Medong Sui threaded her way among the hundreds of small islands that were silhouetted between the blue-black water and the pink and orange streaks of sunset. The ancient diesel engine groaned pitifully under the strain as it did its best to propel the overloaded freighter across the South China Sea. Long beards of sea grass draped under the hull, slowing the old coaster’s progress even more. Jagged streaks of rust festooned her once white-painted sides.
Kei Nugyen Doa leaned back against the ship’s bridge rail while he sucked on a Vietnamese cigarette. He took a deep draw then blew the smoke out, allowing the gentle tropical wind to take away what little smoke he had not been able to hold in his lungs. From up here he could see the passengers milling about on the main deck below. They were finishing the last remnants of their evening meal by lantern light. Soon they would be bedding down for the night, their din would subside, and he could listen to the quiet of the night.
This evening, while the passengers and most of the crew slept, Kei would guide the Medong Sui through the narrow Balabac Straits, into the Sulu Sea. Tomorrow night, the Medong Sui would arrive, only a few hours late, at Isabella, on Basilan Island in the southern Philippines.
The freighter was four days out of Nakhon Pathom, Thailand. It carried a manifest proclaiming that the Medong Sui was hauling a cargo of foodstuffs for delivery to a wholesaler in Isabella and a supercargo of Buddhist pilgrims returning home from a pilgrimage to Doi Suthep, one of the faith’s most revered shrines.
Kei would be happy when he could offload the fifty peasants who were making the passage. He would be even happier to rid himself of the other cargo the ship carried down in its hold. The manifest did not lie. It was just incomplete. It wasn’t the bags of rice and the dried fish that made Kei so nervous. It was the ton of pure heroin hidden underneath the rice and fish that scared him. The value of that cargo represented more money than he and his family could ever earn, not in a hundred lifetimes. He also knew that Sui Kia Shun would hold him personally responsible for every baht’s worth if it should somehow be lost, whether it was his fault or not.
Sui, the powerful Chinese drug lord, expected his servants to perform their duties unfailingly. There was no margin for error. Kei’s duty was to deliver the heroin to a waiting freighter in Isabella. Barring catastrophe, he would do just that, then accept his small compensation and wait for Sui to call upon him again someday.
Kei had traveled this passage, and most every other one in the South China Sea, countless times. Medong Sui was almost new when, as a young man, he first set sail. Now both he and his ship were well past their prime, worn and tired. Now that they were once again near their destination, he would soon breathe easier again. Kei inhaled the last bitter tendrils of smoke, held it in as long as he could, and then exhaled as he tossed the tiny butt over the side. The embers at its tip died in the damp air.
It was time to enjoy the solitude of the night. A million stars would keep him company on what was left of this moonless voyage. Manju Shehab sat low in the black inflatable boat. Like the men behind him and those in the other two boats on either side of his, he was dressed all in black. The boats were running without any lights, invisible to anyone traveling these waters on such a dark night. Even with very sensitive radar, it would be almost impossible to detect the trio of boats, each with its own well armed five man team crouching inside.
But they knew their quarry tonight wouldn’t have sensitive radar. Most ships transiting these waters were lucky to have engines that worked, much less electronics. The rusty old freighter they were awaiting was a few hours late but that was to be expected. Shehab’s instructions were to remain in this spot until it came, no matter how long it took. If Sabul u Nurizam…Allah praise his blessed leader’s name…said they were to wait until the stars fell from the heavens, Shehab would do so.
Finally, near midnight, Shehab saw the freighter’s running lights on the horizon. There was no mistaking the old coaster. He let it chug a mile past them before he signaled his men to start their engines. The powerful, expensive outboard motors could jet the rigid-hulled, inflatable boats across the water at better than forty knots, yet they were quiet enough that they were almost inaudible above the wave slap.
The old freighter was easy to track. The three boats followed the glimmering phosphorescent wake that trailed out far behind the ship.
Within minutes they had caught her and were hidden beneath the overhang of the high, sloping sides of the old vessel. Shehab moved his boat up along the starboard side and kept pace while he watched for any sign that they had been observed while they closed. He listened for excited calls of alarm from up on the main deck, but there were none.
Satisfied they were ready, he allowed his boat to slip back until it was only a few feet in front of the freighter’s single churning screw. It was a dangerous place to be. One small slip and they could be capsized and chopped into shark food. But this spot had the advantage of being aft of the bridge. In the unlikely event there was anyone up there awake, he would certainly be looking forward. Still, the ship’s superstructure would hide Shehab and his men, even if someone on the bridge should glance backward.
The pirate checked his AK-47 ready and then, with one broad swing, tossed his rubber-coated grappling hook up over the rail. He scurried up the line, followed closely by the other four men from his boat. Shehab knew that one of his team leaders already had his boat riding along on the port side, and that they were mimicking every move his group made. The third team would remain a few yards astern, riding in the ship’s rough wake, ready to charge in and open fire if help was needed.
Shehab reached the top of his line, rolled over the railing onto the deck, and jumped to his feet, his AK-47 ready. He stayed in a low crouch as he ran the short distance to a ladder that led up to the bridge. He could hear the muted footfalls of his men, following behind. He silently charged up the ladder and rushed through the open doorway into the wheelhouse.
Kei Nugyen Doa was in danger of being lulled to sleep by the quiet night and the soft rocking of the ship beneath him. He was about to light another of the cigarettes when he was startled by movement out of the corner of his eye. He found himself staring at the business end of an AK-47 as a black-clad man slipped through the starboard hatch. Seconds later the first intruder was joined by an accomplice through the port hatch. The old seaman leaned against his chart table and watched the armed men while he allowed his heart to slow its racing.
He had sailed these waters long enough to know there was nothing he could do to stop them. The pirates would simply take what they wanted. The best course of action was always to be helpful and hope they left peacefully. They would steal the little bit of money Kei had in the ship’s safe and rob the passengers. There weren’t any of them worth kidnapping and holding for ransom. Maybe, if the gods were smiling, they would never even go below, would never find the heroin hidden deep in Medong Sui’s bowels.
Kei was surprised when the pirates herded him off the bridge and down the ladder to the main deck. Pirates usually left one or two men to make sure he steered straight while the others seized what plunder they could easily get to. This time, he was shoved down, right into the middle of the milling mass of crew and passengers who had been awakened by the men’s shouts.
This was not going well. The pirates should be in a hurry to gather any valuables and leave the Medong Sui. They would need to be far away from the ship before the sun rose. After all, they were only a few miles from the Philippine Coast Guard base at Balabac.
Kei felt the ship heel slightly as it began a turn. He knew at once what was happening. Someone was up in the wheelhouse, turning the Medong Sui so that she was retracing the track they had just steamed down. This was trouble. Kei slumped down, squatting forlornly in the midst of his chattering passengers. There was nothing he could do now. Nothing but pray.
The sun had risen high into the sky when Manju Shehab spotted the ship for which he had been scanning the horizon from the old freighter’s bridge. The vessel rode at anchor, just to the leeward of Royal Charlotte Reef, a narrow spit of land that barely broke the water’s surface at the southern end of the Spratley Islands. The isolated bit of rock and coral was a perfect meeting place. It was too far off the beaten track for anyone to stumble across them accidentally. Not even the most desperate fishermen would venture out here.
Shehab ordered the engines stopped and allowed the old scow to coast until he came to a halt two hundred meters from the anchored ship. Then he directed one of his men to drop Medong Sui’s anchor. It fell free with an awful racket and splashed into the blue water.
Kei Nugyen Doa had kept his eyes closed since the bright sun had come up. He did not want to see what might happen next. These men were not the usual pirates, looking for a few coins or cargo that was light enough to drop over the sides to their mates. These men seemed to have no interest in the few bills in an old sailor’s dungaree pockets.
When he heard the anchor chain rattling loose, he dared to look. As his eyes grew accustomed to the brightness on the deck, he could see that they were stopped near a rocky sliver of land that looked vaguely familiar to him. If they were where he thought they were, rescue was not likely.
There was another ship anchored over there, as if it had been awaiting them. He watched as a pair of lighters left from alongside the other freighter and made their way across the short stretch of turquoise water. They pulled alongside the Medong Sui and tied up next to the Jacob’s ladder that the pirates had lowered. A dozen armed men clambered up the ladder. They milled around on deck, shouting friendly greetings to the pirates who now controlled the Medong Sui. This seemed to be a lot of effort and planning, a lot of men, all just to steal the rice from a little coastal freighter. It was almost as if they were intent on taking the whole ship. Certainly it wasn’t for the value of the Medong Sui. The rusted old scow was near worthless. They wanted something much more valuable. Kei felt his stomach sink. The leader of the pirates, the one who was called Shehab, pointed at Kei and spoke to him for the first time. “Show us where you hid the heroin. Show us now or we will kill all the passengers.”
To punctuate his order, the pirate fired a short, vicious burst into the midst of the huddled group. The pilgrims screamed and cried in terror. Four of them fell, their blood staining the deck red as it drained toward the scuppers. “Be quick or more will die. Passengers, then your crew, and finally you, old man.” There was nothing else for Kei to do. The inevitability of what was about to happen had already dawned on the old freighter captain.
If he refused to tell them where the drug was, the pirates would murder everyone. They knew already it was onboard and they would still find the heroin, even if they shot everyone and then searched the Medong Sui themselves. If he revealed the drugs’ hidden location, the pirates would still murder them all, if for no other reason than to eliminate witnesses. Kei shrugged his shoulders tiredly. He was much too old to think of dying defiantly. Better to go into the next world with as little angst as possible. “Come, I will show you,” he muttered. Slowly, he forced his stiff old legs to push him upright. He made his way down the ladder into the main cargo hold. There, under the sacks of dried fish, the deck planks were loose. He pulled up one to show the pirates where the bags of white powder were stuffed.
Shehab forced the hapless captives to off-load the drugs while all the pirates stood about and watched. One ton of pure heroin made a nice little pile on one of the rusty old lighters’ decks. It would be safely stowed on the other freighter soon.
But it was not to be. The actual plan puzzled even Shehab. It had mystified him ever since their leader, Sabul u Nurizam, had spelled out in no uncertain terms this most unusual final step in the plot. It didn’t make any sense to go to all the trouble and danger of stealing fifty million dollars’ worth of drugs, only to dump the stuff into the sea. That money would have gone far in the new war of terror against the infidels.
There was no question, though. Sabul had ordered it done so, and Sabul was the anointed one. The remainder of his leader’s orders had made more sense. Shehab set about following them to the letter. When the off- loading of the drugs was completed, Shehab ordered the Buddhist pilgrims and the freighter’s crew herded into Medong Sui’s main hold. Most of them assumed they were to be locked up there until someone came to rescue them. They settled down to pray and wait.
Kei knew better. Even so, he could not resist looking up at the pirates as they glared down through the hold at them. He could not help pleading with his eyes. It did no good. They opened fire. The deep throated rumbling roar of the AK-47s didn’t stop until the last plaintive cry for mercy, the last shrieks of horror were silenced, and nothing remained but the eerie creaking of the old scow as she rocked in the sea swell.
Extract # 2
White House Situation Room “You’ve got to be kidding!” President Adolphus Brown ex- claimed in disbelief. “Let me get this straight. You’re proposing I okay our personnel invading a sovereign country. And one that’s not particularly friendly, either.” The briefing room, in the fourth basement under the West Wing of the White House, resembled any high-level executive conference room. The recessed indirect lighting reflected the dark walnut wainscoting and beige fabric wall covering. A pair of Monet prints added a bit of color to the long wall behind the President.
This room was a bit different from the average office-suite conference room though. When the heavy wooden doors were shut, it was totally isolated from the outside world. No sound wave or stray electron penetrated the sophisticated security barrier that protected its occupants from even the most advanced attempt at surveillance. The NSA engineers had used every trick, down to routing the room’s electrical power through a series of isolation transformers, just in case someone came up with a new way of tapping the room through those lines. This was a place intended for use when the most secret and sensitive decisions had to be discussed. Dr. Samuel Kinnowitz sat across the conference table. He looked the President directly in the eye when he answered his rather pointed question.
“Yes, sir, Mr. President. It would definitely be considered an act of war if the team were detected. Even bringing the sub in close enough to deploy and retrieve them in their territorial waters would be an act of war.”
“Sam, are you telling me that there’s no other way? That with all that hardware we have orbiting around up there, we can’t spot nuclear weapons in North Korea?” President Brown asked. His jaw was clenched tightly as he looked around the table at the others who were assembled there. If the press had even an inkling that these people were all gathered in one place at the same time like this, the vultures would have themselves a field day, speculating on the possibilities and manufacturing their own wild theories about what might be going on. Even then, they would likely never guess the nature or the magnitude of the crisis that led to this meeting. Dr. Kinnowitz had gathered the heads of all the various intelligence and homeland security agencies for the job of briefing President Brown about the apparent North Korean nuclear threat. Now they had to come up with a way to verify and counter its existence.
No one spoke in response to the President’s question. The Director of Central Intelligence shook his head slightly but remained silent. No one else moved. None of them wanted to be the one to confirm the NSA’s bad news. Dr. Kinnowitz finally answered the President’s question. “No, sir. There’s no other way. We have to know for sure that the North Koreans have the weapons before we can do anything about them.” “Why don’t we just go public with it? Demand they allow U.N. inspectors in?”
“You know the answer to that, sir. They’ll just deny it and accuse us of looking for an excuse to invade their territory. Now, if you will allow Admiral Donnegan to continue with the brief, you will see that what we are proposing is the only option we have available to us.” President Brown nodded and sat back in his chair, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he turned to where the tall black Naval officer stood.
Admiral Tom Donnegan aimed his laser pointer at a large map of North Korea and eastern Siberia. The tiny red dot rested squarely on the port city of Najin. “Mister President, as we discussed earlier, we believe that two Russian nuclear weapons were smuggled into the DPRK naval base at Najin aboard a tramp steamer. The weapons are both old Soviet-era nuclear torpedoes that have the NATO designation of ‘Type 53-65.’ They each have a twenty-kiloton yield. As a torpedo, they have a range of twenty thousand yards. They require a Russian 53-centimeter torpedo tube and a Felix-Artika variant fire control system. It makes a real nasty anti-submarine or anti- carrier weapon.”
“Do the North Koreans have a submarine that can shoot this thing?” Brown asked. The admiral was ready for this line of questioning. He didn’t miss a beat. “They have several old Whiskey- and Foxtrot-class boats that the Soviets gave to them back in the fifties. They have 53- centimeter tubes all right, but they don’t have the Felix-Artika fire control systems. They could be fired with a portable test set if they weren’t too concerned with accuracy, though. The safety interlocks are crude and pretty easy to circumvent. But we don’t see how they could deploy the torpedoes. All of their boats are rusting alongside the pier. None have been underway in two decades so…”
“Damn! I don’t understand,” President Brown interrupted again. “Why steal a nuclear torpedo if you don’t have any way of using it?” “Mr. President, that has us confused, too,” Donnegan answered. “Even if they pulled the warhead off the torpedo body, it’s still a big hunk of metal. The bastard weighs over a ton. It’s not something the Koreans could set on top of a missile or that a suicide bomber could strap on and carry into some disco in Tel Aviv. That’s a piece of the puzzle we don’t have a good answer for. But remember this. The Koreans know why they stole them and we have to assume it wasn’t to keep themselves warm in the winter. Whatever their use is going to be, it won’t be good news for us or anyone else in the world.”
Dr. Kinnowitz moved over to stand next to Admiral Donnegan. “Whether or not we know the purpose of the weapons doesn’t really affect the decision to verify their existence and to destroy them if we can,” he added. President Brown nodded thoughtfully. His brow was creased in deep furrows as he tried to absorb all this bad news. He waved his hand for Admiral Donnegan to continue.
“We are reasonably certain that the weapons didn’t stay in Najin very long. There doesn’t look to be a facility there to handle them and we’ve seen no unusual activity. But we have satellite imagery of trucks hauling what could be weapons on the coast highway south of town. Unfortunately, we are not completely positive of the trucks’ destination. We had a gap in coverage during that time period. The trucks were gone when we regained coverage. They could not have gotten to the next town. Not enough time for that. So the weapons have to be somewhere along this stretch of road.” The red dot of the pointer danced along an isolated section of the highway that snaked along the coastline. “We think we know of three possible locations where they could be.”
Donnegan next moved his laser pointer in turn to three spots on the topographic map of the area. “These three points are all new construction facilities in relatively rugged country. Each would be the perfect place for hiding an important secret. There are copies of imagery from the latest Keyhole satellite pass in your folders.” Donnegan pointed toward the thin, black notebooks on the table in front of each person in the room. The words “Top Secret, Special Compartment ed Information” were stamped across the front of each notebook in two- inch-tall red letters. “As you can see, there is nothing to single out any one of the sites. We will need to check them all out.” President Brown opened his notebook and stared intently at the 8×10 images. He closed the cover again and looked up.
“Hell, since the experts can’t differentiate anything, there’s no reason for me to think I can. Okay, Admiral, what is the plan?” “Mr. President, we put a small SEAL team ashore that deploys simultaneously to each site. They carry self-defense weapons and some very sensitive monitoring equipment. With luck, they should be able to detect the presence of those 53-65s without needing to actually see them or lay their hands on them. Once they have found the weapons, they send the location back to the command and control team in Yokosuka. The target coordinates are sent to the submarine for a Tomahawk strike. The SEAL team stays in position to verify destruction and then they are extracted by the sub. The area has no civilian population so collateral damage will be minimal. The only people at risk are the garrison that is likely guarding the site. Oh, and our SEALs, of course. Any questions?” The room was deathly silent. Each man was contemplating the import of what they were being asked to consider. Placing troops on the ground in a foreign country. Shooting missiles into that country and blowing things up. So many things could go wrong.
President Brown rose and looked to his right and then to his left. He spent a few seconds looking into the face of each man. These were his most trusted advisors. He knew any one of them would not hesitate to raise a howl if he had qualms. No one spoke. The President turned and looked at Donnegan and Kinnowitz. “You are certain of the intelligence we have? You are positive we need to do this? There’s no other way we can find out for sure where these bastards have hidden those weapons?” Donnegan answered smartly, “Yes, sir.” “There’s no other alternative?” “This is the best one we have.” President Brown straightened before he spoke again. There was a note of finality in his voice.
“Carry out the mission. Put together whatever resources you need. You have to get those nukes before they use them.” He paused for a second and then added, “And gentlemen, don’t try to micro-manage this from Langley or the Pentagon. Get someone you trust to take charge on scene and let him do his job.” Yes, sir!” both men said in unison. With that, the President turned and left the room.
Extract # 3 In-Theatre Brief Commander Don Chapman and his executive officer, Marc Lucerno, strode up the sloping walkway, past a row of gray, stone- and-concrete buildings. Each of them bore a large, blue sign that announced the important functions housed within the aging walls. The street slowly wound around a craggy, fissured, granite rock that towered over the Navy base. They had walked almost three- quarters of the way around the rock when they came to a narrow paved road that headed directly toward the extinct core of the volcano.
The road stopped abruptly at a pair of heavy steel doors carved into the rock. An LAV-25 light armored vehicle blocked the road. Its M242 Bushmaster 25mm chain gun pointed menacingly down at the two approaching submariners. The tank commander sat in the turret hatch, holding the M240E1 pintle mounted 7.62mm machine gun at the ready as he balefully eyed the approaching men. Two more helmeted and combat-rigged Marines stood in front of the pile of sandbags that circled the cement block guard shack. A small blue sign with gold letters proclaimed that this was the home of the Commander, Seventh Fleet Command Center.
Chapman glanced around warily. Someone was real serious about security. It would take an all out assault by a very deter- mined and heavily armed fire team to blast their way to the doors. And he suspected such an attack would only get tougher then. When Chapman and Lucerno flashed their IDs to one of the Marines he nodded and a Navy Lieutenant emerged from the guard shack. He wore over his left shoulder the gold aiguillette of an admiral’s aide.
“Please follow me, Commander. Everyone else is already in the briefing theatre.” The lieutenant turned on his heel and disappeared through the steel doorway. Chapman glanced at his XO and shrugged. “Everybody” meant that the admiral was cooling his heels while the commander and his XO were lollygagging up the hill.
Chapman slipped between the heavy steel doors. They must have been six inches thick. He had read someplace that this place was built as the Imperial Japanese Navy command center. The doors would stand up to everything but a direct hit from a two thousand pound bomb. Inside, the walls were bare rock. They still bore the chisel marks from when they were carved out of solid granite almost a century before. A couple of strings of heavy-duty electric cables powered incandescent lights that dimly lit the passageway as it led down and then curved away to the right. Chapman guessed the tunnel was wide enough for two Toyota’s to drive abreast.
A few feet further down the tunnel, the aide guided them through another set of steel doors that seemed identical to the outside pair. “Ever been in here before?” their tour guide asked nonchalantly. He continued without waiting for an answer. “The Japs were smart. You notice how we turned ninety degrees from the time we started? Went exactly seventy-four feet and dropped down fifteen feet. Their engineers figured a sixteen-inch shell might be able to go through those outside doors and hit the rock inside. These doors would stop the blast from making it any lower.” Chapman grunted noncommittally. The aide went on. “Yep, not that it means shit now. A nuke would vaporize the whole damn rock, doors or no doors. But it’s still the best damn bug-proof room in Asia.” Then aide stopped abruptly in front of a dull, gray-painted door. The brass nameplate proclaimed that the “Briefing Theater” was on the other side. A small electric sign hung just above the door. “Classified Briefing in Progress,” it said.
The aide indicated that the two submariners were to enter. Jon Ward stood at the head of the briefing table that dominated the room. He motioned for Chapman and Lucerno to take their seats at the table and flipped on the projector. The low hum of idle conversation came to a halt as the large screen brightened and Ward stepped to a little wooden lectern to the right of the screen. Large red letters read: “TOP SECRET. Special Compartment- ed Information. Sly Eye.” Just beneath the words were the SEAL’s “Budweiser” shield and the submariner’s gold dolphins.
Chapman noticed that several of the people seated around the room were dressed in cammies and sported the large, gold SEALs shield. Two of them, a commander who appeared about his age and a youngish-looking lieutenant, were seated at the conference table. The room was silent as Ward spoke. “Gentlemen, this brief is classified. No notes will be taken. Nothing will leave this room. Couriers will deliver your orders to your individual commands later this evening.” He pressed a button. A map of the unmistakable peninsular shape of North and South Korea flashed up on the screen. “We have reason to believe that the DPRK has acquired a number of nuclear weapons from Russian sources. Our intelligence is very reliable on this one.”
He stopped for a second while a collective gasp arose from the group. They had just heard their worst fear verbalized. Something they had dreaded for their entire careers had apparently come to pass. The North Koreans, one of the most unpredictable and desperate nations ever to cloud the Earth, owned the power to ensnare Asia in a nuclear holocaust. It was unthinkable, intolerable. And in his own mind, each man in the room knew immediately that they had to be stopped at any cost.
“We know that at least two old Soviet-era nuclear torpedoes disappeared from the submarine base at Vlad,” Ward said, using his laser pointer to point to the spot on the edge of the map. “They were last located at the North Korean naval base at Najin. They probably came in by sea, as observed by Topeka while she was gathering intelligence in the area.” Ward nodded in Chapman’s direction. He was always glad to give a submariner props. “We have not positively located the torpedoes since. National assets aren’t able to pinpoint them because of the high natural radium content in the mountains in that part of the world. We have only one recourse. We have to put eyeballs on the target to confirm their existence. That’s where the SEALs and the Topeka come in. They’ll go in and they’ll find the nukes if the are there.” The SEAL lieutenant, the one wearing a nametag that said ” Walker” asked, “And then what? We blow ’em?” “Easy, Cowboy,” the older SEAL said, almost in a whisper. “We gotta let everyone play.” A Navy captain wearing a Lake Erie ball cap spoke up. “Reckon that’s where we come in. You guy’s find ’em and we use Erie’s Tomahawks to smash ’em.”
“That about describes the plan,” Ward chimed in. “Now, let’s get down to planning the nitty-gritty. We haven’t got much time. They may keep moving them to lessen the chance we’ll find them. Or they may intend to get them to their buddies somewhere else in the world. We have to find them first. I want Topeka and the SEAL team underway by first light tomorrow. Lake Erie will follow tomorrow afternoon.” Jon Ward paused for a moment and looked into the eyes of each man in the room. “Fellows, do I need to tell you how sensitive this all is? Or what it means if we don’t stop those nukes before the bastards use them. Or give them to somebody who does?” No one said a word.
Extract # 4
Insert SEALs Don Chapman swung the scope around slowly, looking care- fully at the surface of the sea sixty two feet above his submarine. Nothing to see but the last glimmer from the sun as it slid below the horizon. They were all alone in this bit of the Sea of Japan. That was a good thing. Chapman spoke into the open microphone just above his head. “ESM, picking anything up?” The early warning receiver was quiet, but it was still a good idea to have his experts make sure no one was looking for them.
“Captain, picking up a shore-based surface search radar,” the ESM watchstander answered. The man was sitting in the forward corner of the radio room, twenty feet aft of Chapman, watching a graphic display on his computer as it continuously built and shifted while his sensitive equipment searched the airwaves for probing radar signals. “Signal strength two. Probably on that mountain below Najin. Ten percent chance of detection.”
Ten-percent chance of detection? Chapman wondered idly. How did he come up with that number? Why not fifteen percent or twenty? Or better still, why couldn’t he be definite and just say they ain’t gonna see us?
Chapman shook his head. Not a good time for idle wondering. There was a job to do. He continued his sweep of the horizon. Just one more check to make sure that no North Korean gunboat was going to come roaring over the horizon at them. He quietly ordered, “Officer of the Deck, surface the ship. Send the SEALs up into the bridge trunk.”
Lieutenant Marc Lucerno glanced around the Topeka’s control room. The watch standers were sitting on the edge of their seats, nervous but ready. Lucerno rubbed the sweat from his palms onto the legs of his blue poopie suit. Everything looked ready. The SEAL team leader, Brian Walker, stood at the base of the ladder to the bridge, waiting for his order to scurry up. The man, his blackened face hidden in the shadows, was dressed in a black wet suit with a heavy pack on his back and a wicked looking M-4 rifle in one hand. He looked ready to go to war.
The fire control team was hunched over their computer panels, waiting and ready, just in case Kim Jaeuk sent a welcoming party out to spoil their little surprise. Two of Topeka’s four torpedo tubes were loaded with Harpoon missiles, ready to roar out and slam into any ship foolish enough to get in the way. The other two tubes had ADCAP torpedoes to blow their bottom out.
Everyone aboard the submarine hoped it would never come to that. Such an occurrence was, plain and simple, war. They were trained to go to war, to fight an enemy, but not a man onboard the boat had ever done it for real. Now, here in this part of the world and with the mission before them, they would be damned close. “Diving Officer, surface the ship,” Lucerno ordered with a lot more confidence than he felt. “Mr. Walker, stand by the bridge access hatch.” Lucerno watched the SEAL commander disappear up the ladder as he felt the boat take a slight up angle. The diving officer was using the planes to drive the sub up to the surface before he put air into the ballast tanks to hold her up. “Thirty-eight feet and holding,” Lucerno called out. The diving officer ordered, “Chief of the Watch, conduct a ten second normal main ballast tank blow.”
The chief of the watch stood and reached up to grab a pair of switches high up on the vertical panel in front of him. He flipped one marked “Forward Group” and then another one marked “After Group.” The roar from the forty-five-hundred-pound high-pressure air rushing into the ballast tanks almost drowned out his report. “Blowing the forward group,” he yelled, then followed it with, “Blowing the after group.” The big sub bobbed up to the surface of the ocean as the air pushed seawater out of the huge tanks forward and aft of the “people tank.” The chief of the watch locked his stare on the clock as it ticked off exactly ten seconds. He flipped both switches up. The roar stopped.
“Completed ten second normal blow. Three-four feet and holding. Half inch pressure in the boat.” Lucerno nodded and ordered, “Crack the bridge access hatch. Half inch pressure in the boat.” A green light blinked out on the ballast control panel. The chief of the watch called out, “Bridge access hatch indicates intermediate.” Almost immediately, Lucerno felt his ears pop as air whistled out past the bridge access hatch, equalizing the sub’s atmosphere with the air pressure outside the boat. “Open the upper hatch,” Don Chapman called out. “SEAL team to the bridge. All stop.”
Topeka’s screw slowly stopped turning. The boat slid forward for another thousand yards before it stopped dead in the water. In the meantime, Brian Walker had climbed up into the bridge cockpit. He threw a rope ladder down over the vertical steel side of the sub’s sail. The ladder just reached down to the round, slippery, rubber coated deck of the sub. He dropped down the ladder and immediately clipped himself in to the deck traveler. No sense falling overboard. At least not just yet.
Two more SEALs, Tony Martinelli and Joe Dumkowski, followed Walker down the ladder. They clipped in as well and quickly headed aft. As the sub came dead in the water, they opened the engineroom escape trunk hatch and manhandled the two inflatable boats up onto the deck. Five minutes later, two black, six-man, inflatable assault boats sat on the deck, full of air and ready to go. The rest of the SEAL team, Chief Johnston, Jason Hall, Mitch Cantrell, and Lew Broughton, helped by the sub’s crew, passed the team’s gear up the bridge trunk to the sail and down the rope ladder to the deck. Five minutes after the boats were ready; they were fully loaded with the black-clad SEALs sitting inside them.
The men could hear the bridge hatch clang shut. Each SEAL felt the same tinge of loneliness. They were out here on the open deck alone and the sub’s hatches were closed. Still, they sat quietly waiting. A few seconds later, the night was pierced with the low-pitched roar of twelve foghorns close aboard. Pressurized air blew columns of mist and water high into the sky as it rushed out of the ballast tanks through the vent valves atop each ballast tank. Topeka slowly settled lower and lower into the sea until the SEALs’ boats floated free from the deck. There was no trace of the sub except for a few lingering bubbles and the tiny periscope sticking up from the water a few feet ahead of them. Slowly that, too, disappeared into the night as the sub moved silently away from them like some giant leviathan. Chief Johnston was the first to speak.
“Okay, toads. Time to quit lollygaging. Man the paddles. I want a hundred feet between these two boats. Cantrell, you and Hill break an IR Chem-lite each and hold them up. The sub skipper is going to need something to steer by if he’s gonna snag us clean.”
Chapman had already driven the Topeka a thousand yards from where the SEALs and their boats bobbed above them. He carefully turned her around and again looked through the periscope. He could just see the dim red glow of the Chem-lite beacons through the scope’s IR lens. He spoke calmly. “I’m going to call the mark on bearing to the left light and then the right. XO, get them plotted and give me a course. There ain’t a whole lot of time to screw around fairing up here, so be quick about it.”
Chapman couldn’t actually see the bearing read-out through the periscope. Instead he would put the cursor he could see in the scope on the left light the SEALs were holding up, call “Mark,” and let the XO read the bearings. Then he would repeat the procedure on the other light. The XO would have his team plot the bearings and yell out the course Chapman needed to steer.
Lieutenant Commander Sam Witte looked up from the chart he had taped down on the navigation table. “Yes, sir. We’ll split the difference, just like kicking a field goal to win the Rose Bowl in overtime.” Chapman shook his head and smiled. The XO seemed to come up with these football similes in every conceivable situation. Chapman was willing to bet the awkward, slightly overweight man had never donned pads in his life. “Very well, XO. Officer of the Deck, lower the outboard and shift to remote.”
The “outboard” was a small electric motor and screw that could be lowered out of the after ballast tanks. The motor, only a little over three hundred horse power, could only push the big sub along at a couple of knots. Its big advantage was that it was trainable so that it could push the boat’s stern around faster than the rudder could. That was a real advantage when Chapman needed to maneuver quickly. “Left bearing, mark!” Chapman called out, then swung the scope a tiny bit to the right. “Right bearing, mark!” “Course three-two-four,” Witte called out. The sub swung around slightly to follow the new course directly between the two rubber boats. “Left bearing, mark. Right bearing, mark.” “Course three-two-three.” Slowly the lights he was watching grew brighter and further apart as Chapman drove the sub back toward the SEALs. “Left bearing, mark.” Swing the scope. “Right bearing, mark” “Course three-two-one.”
Sweat trickled down Chapman’s back as he made the meticulous maneuvers. “Captain, plot shows one minute,” Witte called out. The lights were almost one hundred and eighty degrees apart now. “Left bearing, mark.” Chapman lugged the scope around, now swinging it almost a full half-circle. “Right bearing, mark.” “Looking good skipper. Right through the uprights.” Chapman watched as the two black boats seemed to swing astern and then come together behind the submarine. The men in the boats were little more than black shapes against an even blacker sky. One of the SEALs, and there was no way to tell who it was, flashed an IR light at the periscope. Chapman read the Morse code out loud. “Snag good. Now for a Nantucket sleigh ride.”
Extract # 5
Firing Point Lieutenant Commander Sam Witte looked up from the computer display. The dots were all neatly stacked in a vertical line. No doubt about it. He had the target dead nuts. It was like watching a snail meander its way across his flagstone patio back on Oahu. Corpus was running a steady course and speed, not the slightest hint of a zig. And now he had his own submarine exactly where the captain wanted it to be when he decided to shoot: five thousand yards aft of the sub and deep on her port quarter. Witte tried to swallow. His mouth was too dry. Nothing went down.
It was time to shoot, before the nuclear sub somehow got away from them. Or turned around and found them. Then the hunter would become the hunted in an underwater free-for-all if anybody on the other boat were alive. If whoever had control of the vessel knew how to fire its deadly weapons. But it still didn’t feel right. They would be shooting friends. No, more than friends. Shipmates. And shooting them in the back. Sam Witte took a deep breath and, in a voice far calmer than he felt, said, “Captain, I have a shooting solution. Recommend firing point procedures.”
Don Chapman moved quietly to stand next to Witte. He glanced at the computer screen for a second and then, in a commanding voice, said, “Firing point procedures, master one, tube two. Tube one will be the back-up tube.” Witte immediately replied, “Solution ready.” The Officer of the Deck called out, “Ship ready.” Marc Lucerno glanced at his weapons monitoring panel and then yelled out, “Weapon ready!” “Shoot on generated bearings.” “Jesus,” somebody in the control whispered. Marc Lucerno pulled the heavy brass handle to the left. A row of lights blinked from red to green.
“Standby,” he said, in a voice that surprised him with its strength. First time he had ever done this for real. First time. He yanked the handle to the right, the way he had drilled a thousand times before. “Shoot tube two.”
Down in the torpedo room, two decks below where Chapman, Witte, and Lucerno wrestled with their feelings, a solenoid valve opened and ported fifteen hundred pound per square inch air into the chamber behind the firing piston. The piston slammed forward, shoving seawater ahead of it and up into a series of slide valves arranged around the aft end of number-two torpedo tube. The high-pressure water gave a mighty shove to the Mark 48 Mod 6 ADCAP torpedo sitting in tube two, flushing it forward. The first few inches of travel broke the A-cable connection just moments after the bits and bytes of the final firing solution were download- ed into the torpedo’s microprocessor. The forward jerk generated enough G force to close the acceleration switch in the aft end of the torpedo just as it cleared the torpedo tube shutter door. The switch made an electrical circuit that fired a tiny explosive squid in the torpedo’s swash plate engine. The charge pushed the engine so that it was already up to speed when Otto fuel was sprayed into the combustion chamber. The tiny engine was attached to a pump jet that shoved the torpedo forward. As it came up to its pre enable speed, steering vanes brought the ADCAP around to a course that would intercept with The City of Corpus Christi in a little over four minutes.
Four minutes. If the torpedo ran true—and there was no reason to think it wouldn’t then that was just about how much life anyone aboard the rogue submarine had left to live.