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Sunday, July 14th 2013, 7:28pm

Operation Pekin

Repository for stories of forthcoming Franco-Yugoslav naval exercises.


Sunday, July 14th 2013, 7:29pm



Sunday, July 14th 2013, 7:31pm

Operation Pekin, Part One

Thursday, 17 February 1944, Bar

The five ships of the First Striking Group, the flotilla cruiser Srbija, and the destroyers Pancevo, Petrinja, Podgorica and Pristina, lay ready with steam up in the roadstead of Bar, waiting for the signal to begin Operation Pekin. To seaward the ships of the First Escort Group and Second Minesweeping Group were actively patrolling, seeking to drive beneath the sea any lurking submarines belonging to their Italian neighbors.

Commodore Anton Lokar stood on the bridge of the Srbija, his eyes on the chronometer, his ears alert for any message from shore. He heard the shutters of a signal lamp flashing and immediately moved to the bridge wing, where he could see the signal light at naval headquarters.

"Message from the Admiral Commanding," the signals officer reported. "Execute Operation Pekin."

Lokar allowed himself a small smile. "Make to all ships. Operation Pekin activated; proceed as ordered."

As the signal lamp flashed he returned to the bridge, and ordered, "Take us down the channel Number One, ten knots, until we clear the harbour."

"Aye, aye sir," came the automatic response.

The Srbija's screws began to churn the waters of the darkened harbour and slowly the cruiser pointed her bow westward; the destroyers followed in her wake. The ships were darkened, the only lights being hooded lamps pointed aft, so that each ship in the column might see the one ahead of it and keep station. Lokar checked the chronometer, 2310 GMT.

It took no more than thirty minutes for the last of the destroyers to clear the harbour channel and the five Yugoslav vessels settled onto a southerly course through the Straits of Otranto. They could see the navigation lights of the patrolling sloops and minesweepers, who steered well clear of the First Striking Group. Lokar signaled his ships to increase speed to twenty-five knots, which should put them well into the Ionian Sea before daybreak, and hopefully clear of Italian patrols. While Lokar did not think that they would do anything foolish, he did not want to have snooping Italian aircraft watching every move made en route to Bizerte.


Monday, July 15th 2013, 8:55am

Friday, 18th February 1944

The drone of four Alfa-Romeo engines cut though the silence of the morning air as the Fiat Scorpione soared over the Ionian Sea. Its crew had already burned through a sizable volume of coffee, and were now intent on there work. Ideally, this patrol would not last long and they would be home in time for lunch. The radar operator started feeling that the ideal would remain just that as his electronics picked up something far below them. After informing the aircraft's commander, the radar man took a quick stock of what was left to eat aboard the bomber and then returned to his station. It was going to be a long day.

Captain Francesco Alunni looked down from the pilot's chair. Sure enough, there were the ships that had been detected on radar. Its quite offsetting he though to himself I'm afraid it might cook me if I go anywhere near it. Next to him, the copilot rifled through a identification manual along with the radio operator.

"Cruiser sized, not Greek because its small and going the wrong way. Must be..." Pages turned rapidly and the two men glanced out the windows and back to the book rapidly. "Got it! Its one of the Srbija's. Looks like she has a few friends. IDs coming up"

Francesco spoke up "Better call this in. Tell them we are not going to get much closer. Best not to give them any reason to shoot."
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
-Siegfried Sassoon


Monday, July 15th 2013, 2:43pm

Yugoslav Cruiser Srbija, Friday, 18 February 1944, the Ionian Sea

The Srbija and her consorts had settled down to a sedate fifteen knots on a southeasterly course shortly after dawn. Normal watches were set and half the crew were at breakfast, the current watch having had theirs. In his cabin off the Srbija's bridge the radar operator watched his screen intently. Suddenly a bright green pip appeared, and the operator quickly snatched up his microphone.

"Radar to Bridge," he said somewhat excitedly. "Unknown air contact, bearing 065 relative, distance twelve kilometers and closing."

The officer of the deck immediately summoned Commodore Lokar, who arrived on the bridge within minutes. "One contact sir, bearing 065 relative, now distance eight kilometers and closing." he reported.

"Hmm," was Lokar's neutral reply. Looking at the chart, it was possible his radar had picked up regular air traffic from Brindisi to Athens, but he suspected that it was more likely to be an Italian patrol aircraft. "Maintain current course and speed, and track the unknown," he ordered.

Reports of air contact were coming in from the Srbija's accompanying destroyers; Lokar found it reassuring that they were as ready as his own vessel. His orders were relayed to them along with the amiable suggestion, "Try and look Greek!"

Radar showed the unknown closing at a height of about three thousand meters, and overflying the flotilla. In the clear skies Lokar could make out its lines easily - four slim engines, long fuselage, huge wings. "A Fiat Scorpione" he thought. "Wonderful. They will dog us all the way to Bizerte."

Admittedly, if this was not an exercise but a preliminary movement, he would expect to be tracked by the Italians, so he knew it was realistic enough.


Monday, July 15th 2013, 10:34pm

Taranto Naval Base, Italy

"So we have some Yugoslavian ships out and about."

"Yes sir, one of the big Fiats on a morning patrol found them this morning. Looks like they are headed in the direction of North Africa, but that is unlikely to be there final destination. Intelligence wagers they are just trying to stay far away from our coastline on there way to wherever they are going. The Scorpione can stay on station for several more hours, and we have a replacement aircraft being readied."

"Do we have any ships coming back from the exercise off Sicily that have the endurance to pay the Yugoslavian ships a visit?"

"Let me see..." *papers shuffling* "Ischia had to stop at Messina to offload a medical emergency. Her commanding officer toped off her bunkers there."

"I will draft the order. See to it that the second Scorpione replaces the first soon, we don't want to loose them before Ischia arrives."
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
-Siegfried Sassoon


Tuesday, July 16th 2013, 2:00am

French Cruiser De Grasse, February 18, 1944, 0110 Hours
"Time check."

"0110 hours, Amiral."

Contra-amiral Virgile Lapeyre nodded. "It is time, then. Signal to all ships: 'Execute Harmattan - sortie by division.'" The semaphore on the De Grasse's navigating bridge started to flash as Lapeyre turned to the cruiser's Capitaine de Vasseau Le Goff. "Captain, please get us underway."

"Aye," the bearded Breton officer replied. "All hands to unmoor ship. Engines make revolutions for six knots."

De Grasse began to gain way even as her crew recovered the last of the mooring lines that tied her to the next cruiser inboard of her - Dupleix - and pulled in the ship's bumpers. In good order, Dupleix was already pulling in her own lines, and would be following ninety seconds behind the flagship. As De Grasse cleared the channel, three minelaying cruisers following at precise ninety-second intervals, the four Roland-class ships of the 3rd Cruiser Squadron fell into place behind them. Then the four Le Fantasque-class contre-torpilleurs of the 8th Flotilla took up the rear of the formation.

"8th Flotilla reports they're clear of the channel, sir," De Grasse's signalman reported.

Lapeyre nodded, picking up the handset for the line-of-sight voice radio. "HOSPITALIER to all FLANDRE ships, turn in sequence, course zero-nine-zero, speed twenty-five knots. Set condition three in all ships."

Lapeyre turned back to Le Goff, who nodded immediately. "Helm, make your course zero-nine-zero steady. Officer of the watch, ring for seven-eighths ahead."


Tuesday, July 16th 2013, 3:30pm

French Cruiser De Grasse, February 18, 1944, 0730 Hours
36°58'57"N by 12°57'45"E

Contra-amiral Lapeyre woke from sleep as De Grasse pounded eastward. Lapeyre had gone to bed only five hours before, leaving the Forces Légères d'Attaque in the capable hands of 3rd Squadron's Capitaine de Vaisseau Nicolas Pelletier, aboard the Roland. Lapeyre lay in bed for a few minutes, feeling the movement of the ship beneath him, and determined that something felt off. Rising and dressing, he walked the short distance to his flag quarters, one deck above De Grasse's navigating bridge.

The sight that met Lapeyre's eyes was dramatic: the sun rose in the east while a yellow-brown haze filled the southern horizon. The sea, driven by the wind, had become more choppy, though it had yet to reach a state that would slow any of Lapeyre's ships.

Lieutenant Jean-Paul Lejeune, Lepeyre's adjutant, appeared quietly at Lapeyre's shoulder, handing him a mug of pipping hot tea. "Good morning, sir."

"Good morning, Jean-Paul." Lepeyre sipped his tea, then gestured toward the southern horizon. "I see we're in for a bit of a day."

"Yes sir. I was talking with Lieutenant Gregoire a few minutes ago. Apparently there's an early-season sirocco to the south of us - coming off the coast between Sfax and Tripoli, maybe as far east as Sirte. It wasn't reported on the shipping channels until about four hours ago. Capitaine Le Goff and I conferred and elected not to wake you, but Lieutenant Gregoire is preparing you a weather report."


Tuesday, July 16th 2013, 9:03pm

Yugoslav Cruiser Srbija, Friday, 18 February 1944, the Ionian Sea; early afternoon

Commodore Anton Lokar came to the bridge when called.

Sir, the officer of the watch advised, weve picked up commercial weather reports suggesting that an early season ghibli has begun to blow; reports indicate it could be a strong one."

"Let me see," Lokar ordered, and held out his hand for the message clip board. He quickly perused it. Indeed, the weather reports suggested that the sirocco, or ghibli as the Italians called it, was rising all along the North African coast. It would inundate the coastal towns along the northern fringe of the Sahara with choking dust and howling winds; the dust would be blown far out to sea, where the winds would raise sea states considerably, maybe even spawning a serious storm. As he reviewed these, he wandered to the chart and checked the current plot of the squadron. And then he smiled.

"Signal to all ships. Course change. Steer southwest, course 250," he directed.

"Signal course change 250 aye," the signals officer replied. The signal lamps flashed and acknowledgements from the Srbija's consorts came in quickly.

"Execute!" Lokar ordered.

The bows of the five Yugoslav vessels swung southwestward in unison, and the formation steadied up on course 250.

On that course the First Striking Group would be heading directly into the oncoming storm. It would play hob with Italian air reconnaissance, grounding airplanes in Libya. A course change to the southwest had been planned in any case, but now it was opportune to do so.

"Radar," he asked, "you are still tracking our friend aloft?"

"Aye sir," was the reply.

"Keep me informed of any change," Lokar concluded. "He may soon have problems on his hands."


Wednesday, July 17th 2013, 12:47am

In the skies above the Yugoslavian Squadron
Francesco Alunni read the orders again. Hold position as long as posible to maintian bearing on Yugoslavian forces. Be advised there is potential for incliment weather via a ghibli from the North African coast. Should weather deteriorate return to base.

Taranto Naval Base
"This storm is going to throw off our ability to track them by air. Once it breaks sufficiently, we will need a few Scorpiones to sweep the likely courses. Inform Ischia to return to Messina and ensure full bunkers and readyness to steam by the time the storm breaks. As soon as we find them, she is to intercept if the course warrants it. Have one of her sisters under the same readiness here in case they turn around."

"Aye sir. I will see to it."
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
-Siegfried Sassoon


Wednesday, July 17th 2013, 10:32pm

French Cruiser De Grasse, February 18, 1944, 1500 Hours
36°21'1.94"N by 15°24'26.47"E

As the leading edge of the sirocco passed overhead of the Forces Légères d'Attaque, the sea became more choppy and the wind rose dramatically. Foam curled under the bows of the French ships, but all of them could easily maintain twenty-five knots all the way to sea state seven. Although the weather looks as if it will disintegrate sufficiently to slow us down before evening, Lapeyre thought.

Lapeyre walked over to look at the flag plot and the double-sided glass sheet that showed the DEM returns, constantly updated by one of the technicians on duty. The sand and dust raised off the Sahara by the sirocco winds had turned the sky a gray-brown, and Lapeyre stopped a moment to talk with the technicians. "Are you having any problems with the sets, gentlemen?"

"Oui, amiral," the technician said, looking up from the signal autoplot scope. "The atmospherics are very ***. I'm getting phantoms off the equipment - three minutes ago I was watching something that looked like a hundred aircraft flying from two thousand to four thousand meters, then back down again before it disappeared. I still have most of the squadron on the scope, but even that's getting messed up - I ranged off Le Fantasque three times in the last five minutes and got three different results - two thousand meters, three thousand meters, and seventeen thousand meters."

Lapeyre nodded. "Keep on trying, Quatre-maitre. I know you're doing the best job you can."

Capitaine Le Goff stepped closer. "I suppose this cancels our plan to send out floatplanes to find the Yugoslavs for rendezvous."

"It does, yes," Lapeyre replied. While the four De Grasse-class ships had lost their floatplanes when they were refitted into fast minelayers, the four Rolands still carried a single LeO-400 floatplane. Unfortunately, with the sea getting increasingly choppy and the sand being carried aloft by the wind, that would not be possible.

"We'll carry on for now with the present course and speed," Lapeyre commented to Le Goff conversationally. "At 1900 hours, we'll break radio silence and ring the Yugoslavians - we should be close enough for a rendezvous, then. Do we have any information on Red Force yet?"

"Nothing official, sir," Le Goff replied. "But this morning we intercepted instructions from Amirauté Française to 'FRANKLIN'."

"FRANKLIN? Oh no... that's Contre-amiral Cassady," Lapeyre said. "He's not going to be an easy opponent to out-fox..."


Thursday, July 18th 2013, 1:13am

Yugoslav Cruiser Srbija, Friday, 18 February 1944, 1900 GMT

N 34 degrees, 35 minutes, E 18 degrees, 2 minutes

Commodore Anton Lokar looked at the message form and swore silently.

His course change to the southwest to get under the cover of the approaching ghibli had come back to haunt him. He checked the chart, and found that he was far out of position to effect the rendezvous with the French Forces Légères d'Attaque as planned. He was too far south and east.

"Signal to all ships," he ordered. "Come to course 355, increase speed to eighteen knots."

He composed a signal in response to the brief message sent by Contra-amiral Lapeyre, indicating the likely place of rendezvous. He could only imagine the Frenchman's reaction.


Aboard the cruiser De Grasse Capitaine de Vasseau Le Goff plotted the location the Yugoslav flotilla and their point of rendezvous. "Amiral, that is what they indicate," he said with a shrug of his shoulders.

Lapeyre compared his own plot with what the Yugoslavs ought to have sailed, and where they now indicated they were.

"I suspect that they changed course to throw off the Italians, and then tried to use the sirocco to avoid air surveillance; at least that is the logical explanation," he concluded. "I hope that is what it is."

"If we steer to the southeast we should be able to effect rendezvous before midnight sir," Le Goff replied.

"Please make it so," Lapeyre ordered. "It might not be unwise to rendezvous further south of Sicily."


N 35 degrees 30 minutes, E 16 degrees 14 minutes

Lokar had not left the bridge of the Srbija since receiving the signal from the French admiral.

"Surface contact," came the voice of the radar officer, "bearing three-three-five relative, distance twelve kilometers."

"Slow to twelve knots," Lokar ordered, and the order was repeated to the rest of the flotilla.

"Target bearing steady, distance ten kilometers," the radar operator reported. "Several distinct returns."

"Slow to ten knots" Lokar replied. He went to the port bridge wing and peered through the dust-filled darkness. It was still too far for visual recognition.

"Sound our fog-horn," he said. A moment later a long low-moan escaped into the night, sounding across the waters.


Aboard De Grasse Lapeyre checked the DEM reports. Several targets on a northerly course, slightly to the southeast of him. The weather however defeated all attempts at visual sighting.

"Sir," Le Goff reported, "the lookouts report hearing a fog horn." The Breton rolled his eyes.

"Our Yugoslav friends do not have the low-power radio equipment of our ships for communication. Let us close slowly and make rendezvous with them. There is no good reason to give the Italians something to listen to."


The First Striking Group and Forces Légères d'Attaque made rendezvous shortly after 2300 GMT, and settled onto a westerly course. In the morning, if the weather moderated, pleasantries could be exchanged. For the moment, Commodore Anton Lokar was happy enough to have brought this initial phase of the operation to a conclusion, even if it was on a less than fully successful note.


Thursday, July 18th 2013, 2:07am

Above the respective forces and at various Italian military bases

A second Scorpione had picked up the French force as the day wore on and continued tracking them. Several aircraft in relay continued to follow the two forces, only backing off from visual range when forced to by the weather. Even so, the sea search radars functioned well enough to allow intelligence officers in Taranto to finally give the admiralty all the information they needed to send the cruiser Ischia out at high speed to shadow the projected rendezvous. At airbases throughout southern Italy, recon aircraft were moved to 30 minute or less standbys in case they were needed to observe further naval or ground elements. Taranto saw the rapid refueling of many naval units, with the prioitry to an additional pair of cruisers which left harbor under heavy steam very late on the 18th. Other naval bases saw there designated recon groups moved to 90 minute readiness. Army commanders were informed, but almost nothing was done to increase readiness. Even tho SIM had many indicators that this was nothing more then a exercise, the highest echelons of the Italian Navy decided to use this as a large scale recon exercise. Always better to test when you had no idea what your prey would be doing.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
-Siegfried Sassoon


Friday, July 19th 2013, 9:05pm

Operation Pekin, Part Two

Yugoslav Cruiser Srbija, Saturday, 19 February 1944, 0600 GMT

N 35 degrees, 14 minutes, East 13 degrees, 36 minutes.

At the order of Amiral Lapeyre the combined Franco-Yugoslav force had changed course in the night, increasing speed as, seeking to put distance between its position and Sicily. Its current course was south-southwest, slightly west of Malta but east of Lampedusa, heading for the Tunisian coast. The short briefing by Amiral Lapeyre indicated that their exercise opponents were known to be operating to the northwest, having to transit the Sicilian Narrows. Its exact whereabouts was unknown, the exercise umpires not having disclosed that sort of information.

This phase of the exercise called for the his Blue Force to avoid interception of a Red Force squadron of indeterminate size; counting the First Striking Group, the combined squadron comprised no less than thirteen ships. This led Lokar to deduce that the Red Force squadron would be far larger and heavier. It would require good ship handling.

The continuing sirocco was playing tricks on the ship's radar, so Commodore Lokar was uncertain whether the Italian snoopers were still above them; he hoped that the weather was giving them as much trouble as its was giving him.


Saturday, July 20th 2013, 5:56pm

French Battlecruiser Dunkerque, February 19, 1944, 0700 Hours
37°27'N by 11°46'E

Contre-amiral Philippe Cassady sighed as the 'air attack' alarm sounded for the second time in an hour. For the purposes of the exercise, Dunkerque and Strasbourg were deemed unsinkable by aircraft ordinance; but Cassady and his force was duty-bound to try to avoid their attacks. The morning still had some wind and low cloud, but much of the sirocco had passed northward by now, and aircraft from Tunisia were out in force to hector Red Force.

"MB.175 torpedo bombers," announced the lookout. "Twenty-nine aircraft, incoming from the starboard bow."

The four Surcouf-class contre-torpilleurs moved slightly forward as Cassady turned his two battlecruisers away, attempting to deny the attacking torpedo bombers the opportunity of a broadside attack.

"Sir," one of the flag bridge talkers reported. "Cassard reports a DEM contact - more aircraft are incoming from the direction of Cape Bon. Probably single-engine."

Cassady grimaced. "Probably torpedo or dive-bombers. Understood." With all these simulated air attacks, it'd be almost impossible for me to keep this station for very long. I need to find Blue Force... somehow.


Tuesday, July 23rd 2013, 3:57pm

Yugoslav Cruiser Srbija, Saturday, 19 February 1944, 1100 GMT

North 34 degrees 43 minutes 30 seconds, East 12 degrees 57 minutes 49 seconds

The Franco-Yugoslav force had continued their course southwesterly, and to Lokar's disappointment it seemed that the ghibli was dying down as fast as it had arisen. His radar showed the presence of a single high-flying aircraft above them - no doubt an Italian snooper. There was, however, little he could do about the situation.

"Signal from De Grasse" the signals officer announced. "We are ordered to come along side to receive instructions."

"Acknowledge," Lokar ordered.

The Srbija maneuvered out of her place in line and increased speed to bring herself alongside of the French cruiser De Grasse, whose bulked dwarfed the small flotilla cruiser. Nevertheless the Srbija's quartermaster had a steady hand and held the ship in close formation as a line was shot over from the Srbija to the De Grasse and a breeches buoy erected. Lokar watched as a single French officer was slowly hauled across the foaming sea. "I do not envy that man in the least!" Lokar thought to himself.

With the Frenchman safely aboard the line between the two cruisers the line was taken down and the ships parted company, exchanging salutes. As the Srbija maneuvered to retake her place in formation Lokar awaited his visitor in his day cabin. A knock at his door announced his visitor.

"Lieutenant de vaisseau Jean-Michel Mahe at your service," the Frenchman said by way of introduction.

"Welcome aboard the Srbija," replied Lokar. "I trust you have recovered from your unorthodox arrival?"

Mahe suppressed a small laugh. "Yes", he muttered. "With the complements of Amiral Lapeyre." Mahe proffered an envelope that obviously held instructions. As Lokar opened it, Mahe continued. "I am to serve as your liaison officer for the duration of the exercise. As soon as it can be done, liaison officers will be provided for each of your vessels. The amiral invites you to provide the same for the vessels of the Forces Légères d'Attaque."

"Yes," replied Lokar, engrossed in reading the instructions provided by the exercise commander. They were brief. The combined squadron was to continue on their present course until reaching the Gulf of Gabes. There, in the lee of the island of Kerhennah, they would wait until nightfall. Under the cover of darkness they would attempt to avoid Red Force elements of unknown strength believed to be operating in the vicinity of Cape Bon; if successful they should be able to make Bizerte before sunrise the next morning.

Mahe waited until Lokar was finished. "Are there questions I might answer?" he asked.

"Many," replied Lokar. "But they can wait. Please join me in the wardroom - I would like to introduce my officers to you."


Saturday, July 27th 2013, 10:46pm

Above the FLA/Striking Group 1, 19 February 1944, 1130 Hours
34°43'N by 12°57'E

Sous-Lieutenant Jacques Girard took out his field glasses. "Where did you say it was?" he asked his back-seater.

"DEM shows nine thousand meters ahead, eleven o'clock - down one or two thousand meters," Lambert replied. He was bent over the Hanriot H.313's radio-scope, using the equipment designed to intercept night bombers. "It's a strong return; closing at fifty kph."

Girard lowered the throttle settings and raised his glasses again. "Ah - I see it. Right on the money." He worked for a few minutes as the Roussette swept in closer to the lumbering Italian scout plane, and took up a position on its left wing, thirty meters back. Another Roussette, Girard's wingman, came up on the starboard wing, matching speed and taking up an escort formation. Girard saw faces of the Italian crewmen appear in the Scorpione's windows; he waved one gloved hand in their direction. "Hello, Luigi," he chuckled.

* * * * *

French Battlecruiser Dunkerque, February 19, 1944, 1200 Hours
37°27'N by 11°46'E

"We've got something, Contre-amiral."

Cassady looked up at the chief of his communications staff. "Yes?"

"We started intercepting transmissions from an Italian naval patrol plane that's been following Blue Force," the lieutenant reported. "They're broadcasting back to their home base in the clear, just using code-words. We can't read it all, but they're giving Blue Force's course, position, and speed." He gave Cassady the report.

"Hm," the admiral said, mulling over the news. Blue Force was to the east of Sfax; their course and speed apparently calculated to sweep up the Tunisian coastline into the Gulf of Hammamet, passing Cape Bon at night. Cassady had hoped to remain in the straits like the cork in the throat of a bottle, plugging it closed; but the air attacks, now entering their sixth hour, were becoming increasingly distracting to both the crew and commanders of the Force de Raid. Cassady privately opined that if the attacking aircraft had been using live weapons, his two battlecruisers would have been seriously maimed or sunk despite what he knew was brilliant ship-handling on the part of all involved. And yet, if I go charging south to try to put an end to this torment, I'll almost certainly regret it. But I need to play my part out to the hilt...

"Signal to all ships," Cassady said. "Course one-five-zero, speed twenty-three knots."


Sunday, July 28th 2013, 7:13pm

French Cruiser De Grasse Saturday, 19 February 1944, 1900 Hours

North 34 degrees 33 minutes, East 10 degrees 49 minutes, Kerkennah bearing northwest


Sunday, August 4th 2013, 1:11am

French Cruiser Roland, February 19, 1944, 2230 Hours
36°40'N by 12°11'E

"DEM contact bearing two-eight-zero, range thirty thousand... large return."

Capitaine de Vaisseau Nicolas Pelletier subconsciously clenched his fist before forcing himself to relax again. The contre-torpillieur [/I]Roland[/I] led her three sister-ships at the head of the Blue Force formation, as the 3rd Cruiser Squadron had some of the most up-to-date radio direction finding systems in the group. Pelletier immediately picked up the radio telephone.


"This is HOSPITALIER, go ahead CHANSON."

"Contact two-eight-zero range three-zero thousand from CHANSON," Pelletier said.

There was five seconds of silence before Contre-amiral Lapeyre replied. "Contact bearing two-eight-zero range thirty thousand... I confirm, CHANSON."

Pelletier hung up the handset and sweated for a few moments. "Lieutenant Monteclerc, any changes?"

Lieutenant Monteclerc, who managed the Roland's electronic detection equipment, looked unworried. "Changing bearing but not range, sir. I... might have a second contact developing, though, just a bit north of the first. Not sure."

"At thirty thousand meters, we should be getting a clear reading from two battlecruisers in formation. And they should be seeing us, with their higher-mounted sets," Pelletier observed gravely.

"Yes sir; but Pantelleria is also coming up to port. We're getting a lot of clutter from the shoreline. The Dunkerques probably can't sort between land and our ships their old teledetector equipment."

* * * * *

Aboard the Dunkerque, Admiral Cassady was regretting that he'd chosen to come south. Even though night had fallen, the frustrating air attacks that had dogged Red Force throughout the day were continuing without respite. MB.175T medium bombers and Aeronavale Epaulards based in Tunisie were persisting in torpedo attacks even as Red Force was cloaked in night. As the two battlecruisers and their escorts passed west of Pantelleria, yet another attack by twelve MB.175T torpedo bombers started boring in on the ships.

"This is just getting to be too much," Cassady muttered. The air attacks had started at 0600 hours, and Red Force had never been given more than a half hour of peace. Seventeen hours of air attacks were driving the crews of Red Force to their limit of endurance.

Capitaine de Charitte stepped closer. The Dunkerque's commander was physically drooping. "Contre-Amiral, I'm going to have to turn east to evade."

"I understand," Cassady replied. "What's our ammunition situation?"

de Charitte smiled grimly. "If we were really firing at these guys, we'd have run out the magazines for the secondary and tertiary batteries about eight hours ago."

Cassady snorted. "Continue on, Capitaine."

* * * * *

"DEM contact... range increasing," Lieutenant Monteclerc reported. "I'm definitely getting two major surface units, now, both maneuvering at about twenty-one knots. They're turning westward."

Pelletier nodded, feeling a boost of optimism as he reached for the radio-telephone to inform Admiral Lapeyre.


Sunday, August 4th 2013, 8:54pm

Operation Pekin - Part Three

Yugoslav Cruiser Srbija, Saturday, 19 February 1944, 2300 GMT
North 36 degrees 50 minutes, East 11 degrees 47 minutes, Pantelleria bearing east-southeast