Today’s guest post is brought to you by author John Brimlow.
The bridge of the Arys was a precise affair. Instead of the traditional array of plate glass windows, the bridge was enclosed with thick armored steel plates. Small, glass-filled slits provided some semblance of visibility. There was one man stationed in the very bow, operating the large wheel controlling the rudders. One man stood to either side of the rudderman, to be able to feel changes in the zep’s inclination. The man on the starboard side controlled the bowplanes, and the man on the port side the tailplanes. Behind each elevator man stood the engine men; one for the four port engines, and one for the four starboard engines.
In the middle of the bridge stood Ernst Franz, in temporary command of the zeppelin while the captain was away. Ernst checked his watch for the umpteenth time and continued to pace the bridge. There was no getting around it. Captain Harlan Calhoun and the Countess Katarina von Schmeisser were overdue. Their plane should have been sighted half an hour ago. Perhaps their haul was bigger than expected, and the weight was slowing them down. Or perhaps they were caught. Or perhaps their plane was damaged. But there was no sense idly speculating. He walked back to the plot room. There, Jan Larsen tracked the ship’s course with a pencil over a map of the South China Sea.
“Jan, do we have a fix on the Empress Eugenie?”
“Ah…” Jan started shuffling through the neat stack of notecards on the table, finally pulling one out. “Here it is.” His eyes went half closed as he did some quick mental arithmetic. “You want heading 305, absolute.”
Ernst went back to the bridge. “Helm, steer course—” Just then one of the lookout phones rang. He snatched the phone from its holder. “Do you see them?”
Anna, one of the lookouts, turned through pages in Jane’s Fighting Ships as she replied, “No. It’s trouble. We’ve got a large capital ship off the port bow.”
“Type and nationality?” Ernst asked.
“German. Very large.” She continued to flip through the book, checking the pictures against the view through the large field glasses. “Ah. I should think she’s the Graf Spee. Has eight 8.8cm anti-aircraft guns. Main battery: eight 35cm guns. Secondary battery twelve 15cm guns. Neither of those can aim high enough to engage us.”
Ernst hung up the phone, then grabbed the public address mic in one hand and smacked the scramble klaxon with another. Angry electromechanical screams reverberated through the duralumin decks of the Arys. Ernst keyed the mic, “Pilots man your planes. Nazi battlecruiser off the port bow. Engage immediately.” He smacked the klaxon again for good measure.
Ernst turned back to the helmsmen. “Steer course 305 absolute, bow planes up ten degrees, stern planes down five, engines ahead flank.”
At the sound of the scramble klaxon, Dr. Aki Nagumo stubbed out her cigarette in an ashtray in her lab, grabbed her flying goggles and dashed out the door at a dead run. Her lab coat billowed, and for a moment she regretted not stopping to take it off. But it mattered little; she had not seen combat in several weeks. This would do, even if there was to be no dogfighting involved. She ran down to the hangars and across the gantry to her plane. As one of Arys’ top interceptor pilots, she had the privilege of parking her little Kawanishi fighter first on the rail. She hopped the safety railing and deftly dashed across the wing. She then leaped up to the docking clamp, grabbed the manual release lever and swung into the cockpit, using her weight to pull the lever down and release the locks. As her fighter slid gently forward, she secured the harness, switched on the fuel pumps and started the engine. She pushed the throttle forward to gain speed, and then she hit the end of the track and dove out of the hangar. A zeppelin launch was one of the more terrifying aspects of flying, where the desire to not crash into the ocean had to be balanced by a need for speed to provide lift. As Aki pulled out of her dive, she scanned the surface and noted the location of the large battlecruiser.