Part 40 – Preparing for the next round
While the convoy battle raged the war continued elsewhere.
The RAF had launched their second strike against Chikuma, on paper more than enough to do the job. In practice however the force was less formidable than it appeared. There were two squadrons of Beauforts, but only one of them was armed with torpedoes – the other had been temporarily based away from its home airfield at a location where no torpedoes were available so was armed with 500 pound bombs instead. They were joined by a squadron of Blenheims and a squadron of RAAF Mosquitos – neither of which had any experience of attacking targets at sea, and a flight of 6 Skuas from the Fleet Air Arm. All the squadrons were under strength due to losses sustained during HAILSTORM.
The Chikuma group was known to have fighter protection – protection strong enough to chew up the earlier raid – so the strike needed an escort. The RAF sent it in with every available Beaufighter – twelve in all. However these aircraft comprised of elements of three squadrons, hurriedly thrown together – a less than ideal situation, but given the operational urgency the best that could be done in the time available.
The strike was given the code name “Ripper”, with the escort having the call sign “Falcon” and the strike aircraft “Raven”
Ripper Lead, over the sea
Wing Commander Jonathon Boyce looked out of the window and checked the elements of the strike.
“Ripper Lead to Ravens, watch your formation – Blue Ravens close up, if you straggle then the Kestrels will find it harder to cover you.”
“Blue Raven wilco.”
Boyce watched as the seven Blenheims adjusted their formation. Satisfied he re checked the others, his own squadron – call sign “Red Raven” was nicely formed, all eight aircraft carrying the weight of the torpedoes well. The formation of the seven Beauorts (Green Raven) to his port looked alright as well. Looking starboard he saw the eight Mosquitos (Yellow Raven) of the RAAF Squadron, and behind them the six Skuas (Black Raven) of the FAA.
Satisfied his mind went back to the hurried briefing that they’d all received before take off. It had been stark – an enemy Heavy Cruiser with strong enough air cover to have chewed up and spat out the previous airstrike without breaking sweat, but a target that had to be sunk none the less due to the threat it posed to a commando force returning home. The briefers had stressed the importance of the Commandos returning with whatever it was they’d pinched from the Japanese. If the cruiser got in among the convoy they were lost – the air strike represented their only chance of survival, and failure was not an option – the cruiser had to be sunk.
There was only one fly in the ointment – no one knew where the bloody thing was!
The RAF didn’t know about the torpedo hit on Chikuma, as far as they were concerned she’d escaped undamaged. Once the remnants of the first strike had crossed the horizon the RAF had lost touch with her completely, and the length of time it would take the second strike to arrive coupled with Chikuma’s high speed – 35 knots – left an awfully large search area.
However they couldn’t just wait to reacquire her before launching the strike – if they did that the Cruiser would definitely hit the convoy before the strike arrived, which effectively meant losing the entire convoy. What they could do however was send the air strike off heading for the convoy itself, on the grounds that this was the cruiser’s probable target. If the cruiser was located by recce aircraft the strike could be diverted, if not then stooging round the convoy gave the best chance of catching the cruiser.
Operations Room RAF Bentong
Air Commodore Temple saw Wing Commander Grosman coming over to him. The man had just been updating the Navy on the current situation.
“Well did you tell him?”
“Most of it sir, I told him the strike was airborne and heading for the convoy.”
“But I left out the fact that, if the cruiser is doing any sort of speed, they’ll be too late to do anything other than avenge the convoy. No point telling him, nothing he, nothing anyone can do about it.”
Temple nodded. He and Grossman had gone over the calculations several times, but nothing could change them – they were subject to the tyranny of time and distance, which couldn’t be overcome.
“If we’re lucky the strike may arrive while the cruiser is mopping up … may let some of the poor bastards escape I suppose.”
“Long shot sir.”
“I know. Still they can’t say we haven’t tried.”
Bridge, HIJMS Chikuma
While the British were concerned about Chikuma cutting in to the convoy like a wolf in a sheep flock, the Japanese were actually working to a completely different agenda – survival. Concerned about Walthrop-Channing’s cruisers Chikuma was heading for the rendezvous with the Syonan fleet, all thoughts of engaging the convoy long forgotten.
Chikuma’s Captain stood on the Bridge wing contemplating the future. Years of experience allowed him to keep his face impassive and radiate an air of confidence, but it was a confidence he didn’t feel himself.
Even though he’d been joined by the Chidori and Manazuru from the Inshore Patrol and he now had fighter cover overhead the overall situation wasn’t good. Chikuma was able to make 11 knots, but with her steering gone she was dependent on her tow for any course corrections. That left him unable to shell chase or manoeuvre radically during action – a sitting duck from a gunnery perspective.
Should the British cruiser squadron turn up the he was confident his armour would keep out the worst of the damage while his own shells tore into them, but it wouldn’t take much to part the tow rope – wouldn’t even need to be a hit, as shell splinters from a near miss would do it. Once that happened the British destroyers would find him an easy mark for a torpedo attack.
His engineers said they could make repairs, restore some element of manoeuvrability, but to do that they’d have to stop and send down divers to cut away at the wreckage, a process that’d take at least an hour, possible two – and with the British cruisers closing on him he couldn’t afford to sit stationary for that long. When he reached the shelter of the Syonan fleet he might be able to stop and make repairs, but for now with the British squadron hunting him down he didn’t dare try.
Meanwhile in London the results of the Cabinet ambush had surprised everyone.
11.25am (London Time), 6.30pm (Singapore time), London, Prime Minister’s Office, Cabinet War Rooms
“Well Sir Edward it seems that our little surprise went further than we expected.”
“Yes Prime Minister. The Foreign Secretary’s intervention was … unexpected to say the least. We’ve no evidence of actual anti Semitism and never thought to accuse them. It could prove … inflammatory.”
“Quite, nevertheless Mr Eden did have a point and it’s not something we can ignore. Particularly as Mr Bruce was present when it was discussed. It has to be followed up.”
“But with more discretion than the other point. While we want the Empire to know about that, this is a different kettle of fish. If I may suggest …?”
“Please do Sir Edward.”
“Well it’s not the sort of thing we’d want any signal traffic about. Codes can be broken and the American’s probably try and break ours – much as we do with theirs – and if this came out, even in a couple of years time , well …”
“Quite. I see your point.”
Churchill reached for the telephone.
“Get me the Chief of Imperial General Staff … Ahh Brooke I’ve been thinking about the Australian business. You can send the signals as we discussed for most of it but, well the Jewish question … I think it needs handling more delicately, wouldn’t want it getting taken the wrong way … yes … yes I quite agree … no signals traffic if it can be avoided … yes …eminently satisfactory General, thank you.”
Churchill replaced the handset.
“Well Sir Edward that’s sorted. General Brooke will broach the subject by personal letter to the Corps and Division commanders, with instructions that any replies also be written, with no signal traffic.”
“I think that’s for the best Prime Minister. Now about our signal to Canberra, I know we’d approved the draft but … well in light of the meeting …”
“You think we should tone it down a little?”
“Yes Prime Minister. Mr Bruce’s report is likely to … cause some consternation. As currently drafted our signal might be … shall we say misinterpreted.”
“We still have to get our message across though, still I see your point, adopt a softer tone maybe?”
“Yes Prime Minister.”
11.30am (London Time), 6.30pm (Singapore time), London, Australia House
Stanley Bruce, Australia’s High Commissioner to Great Britain got out of the car and headed towards the door. The Head of Chancery met him at the doorway and walked with him as they headed towards Bruce’s office.
“How was it? I take it they threw a couple of surprises?”
“How did you know?”
“Lets wait till we get to the office sir, then we can go over it.”
The two men were silent till they reached the office. Then Bruce removed his hat and coat before turning to the Head of Chancery.
“What do you know, and how do you know?”
“I know you were set up, I know how and I may have an inkling why – If you can tell me about the meeting it that may provide some more pieces of the puzzle to confirm my suspicions.”
“Walthrop-Channing’s report – the one we didn’t get …”
“We did, found it forty minutes ago, which is …”
“Why the blazes didn’t we have it sooner, if I’d known …”
“I’ll explain later sir, in the meantime what about Cabinet?”
“Well usual War Cabinet, plus Atlee and Amery, the Chiefs, Mountbatten as well. Winston started the ball rolling by asking for an update on the effect of the seaman’s strike. Brooke said that it had caused minor disruption, but no lasting damage. Cunningham said that some of the convoys had been delayed but that they were sailing again now. The delays might cause minor disruption for a few weeks, but again nothing serious. Both of them praised Walthrop-Channing’s handling of the situation, said he’d managed to nip things in the bud at an early stage, stop it becoming nasty.”
“Then Amery mentioned the effect in India. This whole thing was caused by stories of mistreatment of the men, and when a religious element got added to the pot well … it made the whole situation much more volatile. According to the Viceroy we were within a whisker of a full blown docks strike, there had been fears that the convoys would refuse to sail to the front anymore, and if either of these had happened then it would have given the Quit India brigade and Congress the opportunity to make mischief. With the political situation already volatile they might even have pulled off a General Strike. Things are still a little tense, but the Viceroy is taking steps – some sort of film being shown round the country - to quieten things down.”
“So no lasting damage?”
“No. It threw everyone a scare though. Winston made the point, emphasised it, that it could all have been much worse, could easily have been much worse. He wanted everyone to understand what happened, and to ensure that it didn’t happen again. That’s when I mentioned that the whole thing started with Mountbatten’s man ordering the arrest – thought I’d get my blow in first, get him on the defensive.”
“Only it didn’t quite work out that way did it?”
“No damn it! Mountbatten said that the arrest could have been smoothed over – was smoothed over in fact –quite easily. These things happen all the time. What really upset the applecart was our men abusing the prisoners, forcing them to break caste. That was the real issue, and an entirely Australian one at that. Amery piled in as well explaining just how seriously caste breaking, deliberate caste breaking, is seen in India, then Brooke comes in with a report from Percival saying that his Indian troops picked up on the rumour and it was starting to unsettle them. Percival said he could deal with it – again there was some sort of film doing the rounds – but stressed that much of his army were Indian troops and he could do without this sort of problem.”
“And what did you say?”
“What could I say? This was the first I’d heard about this caste thing, and there were Brooke and Amery both telling me it was a big issue and that Australian troops had caused it. Then Winston asks Mountbatten why he saw the caste thing as an Australian problem, and Mountbatten points to Walthrop-Channing’s report.”
“Which you hadn’t seen.”
“Precisely, which made it impossible to refute. Mountbatten helpfully read extracts at me – judging from which it clearly puts the blame for the caste thing squarely on our men – fed beef to Hindus, and roughed them up a bit into the bargain. I was on the back foot. When I said I hadn’t read the report Churchill said that everyone else seemed to have found the time, and Sir Edward confirmed that they’d sent us a copy. Then to cap it all Mountbatten said that our men had held their hands up, admitted it all and apologised. Left me without a leg to stand on. Then it got worse.”
“Worse – how?”
“Walthrop-Channing’s report made it clear that anti native – by which he means anyone not white – feeling among our troops was widespread, a pervading atmosphere. Said that was a major contributory factor to the incident. Winston got on his high horse, stressed that the natives were Imperial subjects too, and that we were fighting the war for the whole Empire, not just the white bits. Then Brooke threw in another grenade. Seems Theatre weren’t happy with the situation, with most of their troops being Indian themselves they decided something had to be done, especially with our blokes being attached to an Indian division. Apparently it’s been decided that our men – the entire brigade – need remedial training in how to treat the natives. Damn embarrassing. Things went downhill from there.”
“Well given the potential seriousness someone asked if it wouldn’t be better to withdraw our brigade altogether, replace them with other troops. Brooke said that it seemed premature, but Cabinet asked him to seek Percival’s view on whether he was still prepared to keep our men on. Then Atlee piped up. Said that Australian troops were serving in other theatres too and often alongside Indian troops. Asked if there were similar problems elsewhere? Mountbatten pointed out that the report hadn’t specified a problem with Indians but with anyone non white. Then he mentioned 1st Australian Armoured division, pointed out that the plan was for it to be part of a Commonwealth Corps with African troops - King’s African Rifles and so forth. This was intended to be somewhat of a showcase, demonstrating to the Americans the unity of the Empire, different parts all pulling together in pursuit of a common goal and all that. If there was anti black feeling in the Australian contingent then not only would it affect Corps performance, it’d also be acutely embarrassing for the Empire. Anyway Brooke said it was a good point, so he’d ask other theatres if there were any signs of it being a problem.”
“So it’s no longer a question of 23rd Brigade, the enquiry is going wider … not good.”
“Oh it gets worse, Eden saw to that. He said he seemed to recall that 1st Australian Armoured wasn’t Australian at all but was a multi national division wearing an Australian hat. Brook said yes and reeled off the units involved, and when he mentioned the Jewish Brigade Eden asked the question – was there any sign of anti-Semitism?”
“Where’d that come from? We haven’t heard any hint of that.”
“Neither had Brook and he said so, but Eden said that until recently there hadn’t been any sign of anti native feeling either, and look what just happened. Eden pointed out that the Empire had gained a lot of political credit in the US for giving the Jews a home and Dominion status, credit our embassy staff were leveraging in the US Congress to help fend off some of Roosevelt’s anti Empire policies. If there were even a rumour of widespread anti Semitism it would damage us badly, reduce our influence there. If there were anything to find out it’d be best we did it ourselves and dealt with it quietly in house, before it blew up into something public.”
“But there isn’t any anti Semitism is there? We’ve no reports of it.”
“That’s what I said, and Brooke agreed, but Eden wasn’t satisfied with that and persuaded Cabinet that we needed to check. Winston directed Brooke to make discrete enquiries.”
“Was that it?”
“So in summary, the original incident is all our fault, Theatre are being asked if they still trust our men or whether they want to throw us out on our ear, other theatres are being asked if our men are causing trouble with the natives, and Brook is going to be asking specifically about anti Semitism in 1st Australian Armoured division, all of which means that a lot of people are going to be looking at our blokes and asking a lot of questions.”
“Yes, and Winston damn him said he’d be sending a signal to Canberra about it “to keep them in the picture” – reminded me of our complaint last month about him not keeping us informed of matters that affect us. So he plans to tell Canberra all about it himself.”
“That’ll be put the cat among the pigeons.”
“Yes. Now what about this report. You said we received it, so why didn’t I see it?”
“Because someone didn’t want you – want us – to know about it before cabinet. They gave us the report yesterday although we didn’t find it till this morning.”
“Why was that?”
“Because they delivered it in a way that practically guaranteed that we’d miss it. That’s it on your desk there, notice anything about it?”
Bruce picked up the document and started looking at it, turning the pages and scanning through the text. The Head of Chancery interrupted.
“Forget the words, look at the paper. Unusual size isn’t it, smaller than normal.”
“So if it somehow got stuck inside another document or file, a full size one, it might not be noticed until someone read through the document in question. Know where we found it? Stuck between the pages of an excruciatingly dull paper on the diseases of sheep and their treatment, sent to us courtesy of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The paper somehow got wedged tight into the document, between the annexes on Epididymitis and Polyarthritus to be precise. Very well wedged and virtually undetectable, until someone went through the report looking for it.”
“How did that happen?”
“Apparently Sir Edward Bridges placed the document in the box personally, and made sure that he got a receipt from us to prove we’d got it. I’m sure that if asked he’ll be totally surprised and won’t be able to understand how it could have found its way into the report – write it off as pure chance.”
“But you don’t believe it?”
“Hardly. It was so well wedged in and disguised that someone had to have carefully put it there, and there’s no way the report would have gone near Agriculture and Fisheries so it couldn’t have just slipped in, it has to be deliberate.”
“Why would they do that?”
“So they could ambush you in cabinet obviously.”
“What’s their motive then? You said you had an idea.”
“I thought I did, but this anti-Semitism business … look can we order some tea, give me a chance to think through the implications?”
Bruce nodded, then pressed a button on his desk. Moments later the door opened.
“Ahh Tomkins, can you organise some tea for us please?”
The two men waited, Bruce reading through Walthrop-Channing's report while the Head of Chancery sat deep in thought. Eventually the tea arrived.
“One please. Now have you had enough time to think?
“Yes, well enough for an initial view anyway.”
The Head of Chancery finished stirring the tea and passed Bruce a cup, then returned to his chair and took a sip from his own cup before continuing.
“The Wellington Alliance, we ambushed them, more of less presented them with a fait accompli. That bruised their egos, ruffled a few feathers, but they saw the logic and no real harm done, right?”
“Yes … yes that’s fair.”
“Well since then the other Dominions have been keeping a bit of a low profile, letting the bruising heal. We haven’t. Canberra has been pushy, jogging London’s elbow a couple of times - you’ve played your part in that too. Fact is that the last six months or so we’ve been twisting the Pom’s tails a bit haven’t we? Mostly minor stuff, but … well I told you we should advise Canberra that we needed to tone it down a bit, then they let Rupert Long pull that last stunt. I think … I think we may have pushed things too far.”
“How do you mean.”
“Well individually what we’ve done is minor tail twisting and seen in isolation nothing to bother about but … well supposing they aren’t seeing it in isolation? Suppose they’re looking at it as a whole, looking for a pattern.”
“Well, it could look like a planned campaign on our part – it isn’t of course, but how would they know that? Especially if they’re trying to make sense of things, and someone’s thoughts run along those lines. The pieces fit, fit too well. Now what if they’re interpreting our actions as an attack on them?”
“The Wellington Alliance redefines the relations within the Empire … now if Australia was trying to edge England aside, become a dominant voice in the Empire … THE dominant voice.”
“Yes you know that and I know that but do they? If they’re seeing our actions as a deliberate campaign, and if they’re looking for a reason behind it …”
The Head of Chancery left the sentence hanging, inviting Bruce to consider it.
“Hang it all man you must be imagining it. All right we may have tweaked their tail one to many times and maybe you were right that they’d push back a little, but even so …”
“Yesterday I’d have agreed with you, but look at the facts. Blaming 23rd Brigade and embarrassing you in Cabinet, cause a little embarrassment in Canberra – well that’s just tail tweaking of their own. Asking everyone if our chaps have been misbehaving themselves, and don’t forget that asking all theatres virtually ensures that word will get out to the other Dominions that we’re on the naughty step – it’s a bit strong, but I can see it as a signal that they’ve had enough tail tweaking. But this anti-Semitism business that’s something different. If that got out it’d damage us, and not just within the Empire but also with the Americans.”
“I see … and if the Americans get dragged it then it’s not just a disagreement within the Empire family … washing our dirty linin in public that’s …uncharacteristic.”
“Unless the British thought that a vital interest – like control of the Empire – was a stake. If they thought we were making a real play at displacing them, well you know Winston, how would he react?”
Bruce considered this carefully. When he spoke his voice was that of a man who’d seen a future he didn’t like.
“He’d do what it took to defend the Empire and Britain’s place in it. Whatever it took.”
The Head of Chancery nodded.
“And there’s an awful lot he could do, if he put his mind to it. Kicking out 23rd Brigade as untrustworthy, that’d send a signal to the Indians and put them on side. If 1st Armoured was deemed unfit to work with the African troops and replaced with a British division, that’d send a signal to the entire Empire, damaging our standing. And how much of the RAN depends on the RN these days?”
“But damn it all, we haven’t done anything, haven’t even thought about doing anything.”
“Yes but if they think we have, that we are …things can go down hill fast. I think we need to apply the breaks before things get too far.”
“Agreed. Any suggestions?”
“Well Winston is going to signal Canberra. We need to send them our appreciation of the situation – if they react badly to Winston’s signal and he reads something into that reply … that could be unfortunate, start a fight that we really don’t want. And if we can advise them that the lion is roused so tweaking his tail isn’t the best idea right now …”
“Quite, I’ll do that. We’ll also need more information, Rupert Long’s man, what’s his name?”
“That’s the chap. Send him in to me and I’ll brief him. See if he and Long can get to the bottom of this, find out why the British think we’re making a move like this. We must have done something, inadvertently trodden on forbidden ground to have sparked this off. We need to know what so we can avoid doing so again.”
“We’ll need to be careful sir, they’re touchy already, if they find Long and his chaps poking around … could be misinterpreted.”
“I know, but we have to know what sparked this off.”
“Your decision sir. In any case we can’t just leave it to Winston and Canberra to sort out. With your permission I’ll invite the Permanent Secretary to the Dominion Office to lunch, see if I can organise some sort of ceasefire, lower the temperature, stop things getting worse.”
“Good idea. If you succeed it’ll give us time, give Canberra a chance to decide how to play this.”
Meanwhile the Machiavellian whiles of politicians were the last thing on the minds of both sides as they regrouped to prepare for the next round of the convoy action.
Commander Isoroku saw the Damage Control officer approaching.
“How bad is it?”
“We’ve lost Y mount – direct hit, and we took some splinter damage too, only minor leaks though and we’re patching as we find them. Meanwhile the pumps are coping well enough. We’re in good shape overall sir.”
“Good.” Isoroku turned to his Executive Officer. “Any word from the squadron?”
“Okikazi reports heavy flooding – no direct hits but she took a lot of water due to splinter damage, two or three bombs landed very close. They have it under control now and they’re pumping out the worst of it. Down to about fifteen knots, though that’ll improve as they pump out. Hagi escaped almost unscathed – a couple of splinters but that’s all. Kunashiri took the worst of it – at least two direct hits and some near misses. She’s on fire and taking water.”
“How serious is it?”
“She should be able to cope now. One of the near misses caused her to lose power, so she lost the pumps and the hoses but she managed to restore power and she’s getting things back under control. Fire is still bad though and she’s not really fit for action.”
“I see. Very well, signal Okikazi and Hagi to form on us. Tell Kunashiri to join Uji and Asagao.”
“Putting all the cripples together?”
“Yes, and the others should be able to use their hoses to help Kunashiri to get her fires under control.”
“While we go in.”
“Yes, we need to finish this off. Make the signal.”
“Aye Aye sir.”
As the flotillas regrouped Lieutenant Commander Settler sought out the commander of the Fairmiles so he could co-ordinate tactics.
“That’s the one sir, seven eight five.”
“Right, bring us along side so we can have a chat.”
As the ships closed Settler had the time to take a good look at 785, at all the Fairmiles in fact. Every one showed signs of being in a hard fought action – he hadn’t seen ships so badly shot up since … well come to think of it he’d never seen ships in quite that state. His helmsman smoothly bought the two ships alongside and Settler called out.
“Ahoy there. Settler 27th Flotilla.”
“Dasgupta sir, Seventh Indian.”
“25th Flotilla is going to protect the convoy from seaward until the Yank Destroyers come up, you and I will fend off our friends there …” Settler gestured towards the Japanese Coastal forces. “ .. if they decide to come out to play. Hows your flotilla?”
“We’ve all taken damage and lost speed sir, we were reduced to playing close escort, don’t have the speed to do any more than that. We’ve replaced our casualties with survivors from Hero’s crew, but the key problem is ammunition – we’re just about out. We’re completely out of .303, 20 mil is practically gone and if Peel hadn’t given us some 2 pounder ammo we’d be out by now.”
“How much do you still have?”
“No .303 at all, and on average I estimate maybe one belt or drum remaining per gun mount for the others. We scrounged up some Stens from the Army when the .303 ran out, but we’ve shot off most of the ammo for those too.”
“Cox’n, break out the ammunition reserves, pass some across to 785.”
“Aye Aye sir.”
Settler reached for the TBS.
“Two Seven Lead to all Two Sevens, the Fairmiles are just about out of ammunition. Break out your reserves and share what you can – give them enough to stay in the fight.”
Putting the handset down he turned back to Dasgupta.
“That should help. And that call reminds me, you’ll need to retune your TBS to our frequency.”
“Yes sir, not all of us have TBS though, the MTB weren’t equipped with it, and at least one of my chaps lost it due to battle damage.”
“I see … well we’ll have to work round that somehow. For the moment let’s talk tactics.”
The convoy was on the radar now, and they could see the smoke clearly.
“Deck here, I can make out a hull, they’re coming into view.”
“We’ll try and raise them on TBS – tell the radio shack.”
“Aye Aye sir”
Japanese Divisional Leader, attached to 7th Squadron
Commander Kuroki’s previous ship had been badly shot up in the battle with the MTBs and reduced to a wreck barely capable of 5 knots. Consequently he’d been forced to shift to another while his original ship headed for the Depot ship. The new ship was a gunboat variant, which given the situation was no bad thing – at least he was in something able to match the British in firepower.
“What’s your state Captain?”
“Some damage – nothing major. Guns are still operational and we replenished from the Depot ship earlier so still have a decent ammunition supply. Speeds down to about 28 knots. With your old crew replacing our casualties we’re about up to strength. The Squadron is a bit battered though. Three of them are out of the fight, and the other five have all taken damage and casualties, though they’re still capable of combat.”
“On a par with the others then.”
A lookout cried out.
“Ships bearing Green Two Five sir. It looks like our escorts.”
Kuroke bought up his binoculars.
“It’s our escorts all right. Just in time. Signal the squadrons to reform on the escorts, then we’ll go back in. I have a plan.”