Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sunday Night Sea Story

Action in the North Pacific

Jack leaned against the navigation table to take pressure off his lower back. He could still out-run most nineteen-year old sailors on the physical readiness test. But he wasn't getting much exercise on this Northern Pacific (NORPAC) gig, and having his feet planted on a metal deck eighteen hours a day wasn't exactly orthopedic therapy.

Connie hurled herself ahead at thirty knots, the mountains growing larger and larger in the Plexiglas windscreen. Chief Kirk looked up from the navigation plot. "Holy shit, Mister H, how close is Captain Zach going to cut it this time?"

Jack checked the time on his Jap job and sidled over to the helm console, where Stick Boy had the conn. "How soon do we turn?"

"Thirty seconds, sir."

"Keep an eye where you're going, Stick Boy. This is a bigger car than you're used to driving."

Jack skulked over to the port side where Gary, on watch as OOD, stood by Zach Taylor's chair. "Time to turn," he whispered in Gary's ear.

"I know," Gary whispered back. "But I need the captain's permission. He told me yesterday not to do anything what-so-fucking-ever unless I checked with him first, and I can't get his attention."

Jack raised his voice. "Captain, I show time-to-turn as right now."

Zach Taylor looked up from the paperwork in his lap and peered at the mountains, taking a fine measurement with his superior eye. "Bullshit. We have a good thirty seconds to go."

Two seconds later, he waved the back of his hand and Gary, Jack, and Stick Boy. "All right, goddammit, turn us around and bring us into the wind."


The Northern Latitude Operation Area was a fiord like body of water in Alaska's Aleutian Island chain. Sheer mountain cliffs surrounded three sides of the NOLA. The mountains protected the carrier and her escorts from attack by Soviet cruise missiles, whose radars couldn't sort out the ships from the mountains. A barrier reef covered the entrance to the NOLA. The single break in the reef was barely wide and deep enough for a super carrier like the Connie to transit, and was relatively easy to protect from penetration by Soviet attack submarines.

Officially, the NORPAC exercise's purpose was to demonstrate that U.S. carrier battle groups could operate with impunity in striking distance of the Soviet ballistic missile submarine pens in the Kamchatka Peninsula. If you asked Jack Hogan, NORPAC's real purpose was to justify the Cold War Navy's budget and burn off excess testosterone.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff had two choices for taking out the Kamchatka ballistic missile submarine pens. They could send the dozen ships and ten thousand men in a carrier battle group to the NOLA, let them operate to the point of exhaustion, then launch a squadron of A-6 Intruder bombers on a one way mission and hope one or two of the jets made it through the Soviet air defenses and dropped a nuke on the sub pens...


They could order some matinee idol Air Force major--sitting in an air-conditioned missile silo in Bumfuck, Omaha--to push a button and fling a fistful of nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles in the general direction of Kamchatka. Hell, they had enough ICBMs to barbecue the whole planet five or six times over. Fencing off a handful of them for Kamchatka wouldn't make a shit bit of difference.

But if we threatened the sub pens with our fleet, then the Soviets would have to build and train and maintain a fleet of their own to deal with it, and spend all those rubles, and look one way while we went another, and wheels-within-wheels, and hocus pocus, and blah, blah, blah. And here Jack and 9,999 other sorry bastards were, breaking their balls, trying to make this red ass NOLA bullshit work.

Carrier aircraft operations required 25 knots of wind down the deck. In open-ocean, you turned into the natural wind and cranked up the ships speed until they added up to 25, and you stayed there for the half hour or so it took to launch and land everybody. In the NOLA, you had to work wind and distances precisely enough to launch and recover everybody before you rammed the carrier into the reef or the mountains. Which would suck.

Jack, near the end of his assistant navigator tour and the Connie 's most experienced OOD, spent most of his time on the bridge. Partly because it was his job to be there, but partly because Zach Taylor had shit canned the other two OOD dip shits, and it was just the Jack and Gary show now. And Gary needed all the help he could get in dealing with Zach Taylor.

In "normal times," Zach Taylor was a man of many moods, few of them good. On NORPAC, the guy went totally Queeg on everybody. The gator theorized that Zach just wanted to get this final underway deployment of his command tour over with before somebody else fucked the dog for him and knocked up his chances of making admiral.

You couldn't blame Zach for shit canning the other two OOD dip shits, though. They'd asked for it, mostly.

The first dip shit was a surface warfare lieutenant commander who'd been shit canned from every other ship in the surface navy--the navy of destroyers and cruisers--because he'd been such a dip shit his whole career. The dip shit thing he'd done on this ship was let the battle group's supply ship, the Mars, pass down the Connie 's starboard side within two hundred yards in the middle of the night. Standing orders on the Connie required OODs to notify the captain if any ship got any closer than five thousand yards, day or night.

Zach Taylor had been asleep in his at-sea cabin when the Mars passed within two hundred yards, and the dip shit lieutenant commander hadn't bothered to tell him about it when it happened. He hadn't bothered to tell Zach about it when Zach came out on the bridge in the morning, either, or when the dip shit reported he was going below at the end of his watch.

Zach never would have found out about it at all except that the captain of the Mars, Commander Winifred "Bull" Palsy, Connie 's old executive officer from the West Pacific cruise the year before, called Zach on the bridge-to-bridge circuit that afternoon.

"Hope you're having a fine Navy day," Bull said over the radio. "Just wanted to call and say thanks for letting us pass close down you side."

Zach must have thought he was losing his other marble. "When did that happen?"

"Last night," Bull said.

Zach Taylor about shit. The dip shit lieutenant commander was about to have a real fine Navy day.

Zach ordered the enlisted duty messenger down to the dip shit's stateroom to shake his ass out of his rack. When the dip shit finally hauled himself up to the bridge, still half asleep, his shirt tail half out and his shoes untied, Zach ripped him a open a couple new assholes and shit canned the dip shit right there on the spot.

It was kind of the same thing with the second dip shit. Except the second dip shit was just a jay gee, like Gary. All the jay gee dip shit did was put his eyes over the rubber night hood of the port side radar repeater in the middle of a midnight watch, just to rest his head for a second. Next thing he knew, he'd dozed off and gone face first down the night hood, and broken his nose on the radarscope.

Zach picked that minute to wake up and walk out to the bridge, and saw the jay gee tits up on the deck, his nose bleeding all over his blouse. Zach had the jay gee flown off the ship and transferred to civilian command the next day.

Jack and Gary and Buzz thought Zach wasn't being quite fair when he shit canned the jay gee dip shit. The jay gee dip shit hadn't been nearly as big a dip shit as the lieutenant commander dip shit had been. The jay gee dip shit sure wasn't the first OOD of a Navy ship who ever dozed off for a second on a late night watch. And the lieutenant commander dip shit's career had been over anyway, while the jay gee dip shit's career had been nipped in the bud.

But, oh well. Those were the breaks.


  1. Really interesting chapter of the story. I learned lots of things I never knew. The references to the small launching area was fascinating, and the description of why is was "safe" from detection was a good point.

    Question: If the Sovs had pressed the button, wouldn't they have presumed there was a Carrier Group there and have logically serviced the NOLA with a couple of MIRV-ed high trajectory missles?

    It's surprising a ship the size of a carrier (4000 to 5000 crew) would have only 4 qualified OODs. Can we learn more about how an officer gets qualified for this? Is it a career enahncement that really matters?

  2. Lurch,

    Not unusual for a carrier to only have 4 qualified OODs, especially if it's a dysfunctional ship like the Connie that I depict here.

    You've hit on another MADness of the NOLA exercise. If a war went nuclear, the Sovs would do just what you suggest. The idea would be that the carrier would be out of the NOLA by then--but out in open ocean where it would be vulnerable to fixed wing and surface/sub-surface threats.

    I'm not real sure right now if I want to go into that much detail here. Might be warranted, though.

    If you get a chance, let me know your thoughts on this subject a few chapters down the road.

    Thanks again,


  3. Redcane1:42 PM

    Those would be the "breaks of Naval Air," I assume.

  4. Redcane

    Precisely. I stole that part of "breaks of naval air" to illustrate the fragility of any naval officer's career.

    It's also a SUBTLE piece of foreshadowing (I prefer the term "placement") for what happens to Jack eventually.

    Thanks for stopping by and posting.