Thursday, 25 November 2010

Somewhere in the Black Sea....From the Bridge of the Evstafi

Vice Admiral Andrei Eberhardt downed his customary glass of morning vodka in one gulp and let out an explosive ‘Pah!!’ as the ice cold liquid seared his throat. He turned to the young and very nervous steward and favoured him with a benevolent smile. The steward blanched at this unexpected gesture of goodwill (Eberhardt was known as very serious commander and a draconian disciplinarian) and saluting hurriedly, withdrew from the bridge. Normally the Vice Admiral would have taken the steward to task for his unseemly exit but today such lapses of protocol could be forgiven. He was pleased; both with himself and with the fleet – especially as it was now united into a single formation having rendezvoused at dawn, some hours beforehand. The timing was fortuitous although very much a case of better late than never. The Evstafi and her sister ship, the Ioann Zlatoust, together with a small escort of torpedo boats had been patrolling along the coast in anticipation of more Turkish mine laying and shore bombardments. The remainder of the fleet should have been with them but had been delayed on its outward journey by some minor engine trouble in the Rostislav. By the time this had been rectified they were several hours behind the Evstafi and her sister ship and had then had to struggle to catch up. They made it, in part due to the herculean efforts of the stokers but more to the Vice Admiral’s foresight in moving his patrol line much closer to the coast thereby reducing the distance the remainder of the squadron had to traverse. This was not without risk as the possibility of running on to a Turkish minefield was very real. Still, that was all in the past and the most important thing was that the whole fleet was now in place. Although the ships of his command were old, they were well trained and more than capable of dealing with anything the Turks could face them with, except of course for the Yavuz Sultan Selim. Eberhardt knew that once the Dreadnoughts currently being completed for Black Sea service were ready then even the Yavuz had best be wary but until then, the five pre-dreadnoughts were all he had. Singly they would be no match for the Turkish battle cruiser but combines it was a different story. The two newest ships, the Evstafi and the Iaonn Zlatoust, had drilled in a new technique of firing by spotting the fall of shot for each other rather than individually. Also, the maximum elevation of the main 12” guns used by the two ships had been increased to 35 degrees which extended their maximum range dramatically. Eberhardt was too wily a tactician to think that such a novel approach to naval gunnery would compensate for the obsolete material under his command but, he reasoned, it would certainly give the Turks something to think about – especially if their pride and joy, the Yavuz Sultan Selim was in anyway damaged as a result.

Thus far the Russian sweep had passed off without incident with nothing worthy of his attention. It would soon be time to turn the fleet around and Eberhardt was about to address his captain when a young and breathless sailor rushed on to the bridge, fairly bursting with emotion and clutching a flimsy signal report. After a hurried salute and in moments the signal was read and its contents exploded like a shell in their midst. The leading Russian cruiser – the Kagul – reported heavy smoke to the West and was awaiting further instructions.

The bridge fell silent, the only sound disturbing the quiet, almost church–like atmosphere being the steady thrum of the engines. All eyes went to the Admiral who stared out to sea and into the murky distance; his face impassive, his thoughts unreadable. The seconds ticked by, agonisingly slowly. Eberhardt pondered the enormity of his responsibility and weighed up the inevitable risks that a general action involved. This was the moment he had worked towards throughout his long career and he allowed himself a momentary savouring of the heady bouquet of commanding men and ships in time of war. He reached his decision. Suddenly, the Admiral blinked as if waking from a short nap. He turned to the Captain. “Signal the cruisers to maintain their surveillance but to avoid action unless unavoidable – the Captains will have full discretion in that respect,” he grinned wolfishly and continued.”Signal the Pantelejmon, she and the rest of the squadron will maintain current course and speed whilst we shall head due North to position ourselves so we can welcome our Turkish visitors!” The bridge crew grinned to a man and hurriedly set in motion the appropriate orders.

Captain Yuri Gregoravitch of the Evstafi was that rarest of Russian naval officers in that he was cautious and preferred to act when in possession of the fullest possible information concerning his opposition. He badly needed to be sure of exactly what they were sailing towards, the ships involved and their positions, basic and elementary facts that his superior seemed to be largely oblivious of. He had enormous respect for the admiral but often wondered exactly what he based any of his tactical decisions on – in this case a solitary and unconfirmed sighting report from a cruiser. “Admiral, with all due respect, what if the Yavuz Sultan Selim is present, should we not keep the squadron together as these are Germans and not Turks,” he enquired, as tactfully as he could. “Yuri, Yuri, Yuri,” began the Admiral, placing his hand on the Captain’s shoulder and shaking his head slowly in mock admonishment. “Turks or Germans is of little consequence; just because they have this one ship does not make them invincible, remember Yuri, you can give a dog a gold collar and feed it on fresh meat but it is still a dog!” The Captain visibly winced at his commander’s earthy observations – he was far too cultured to use such language – but inwardly agreed with the sentiment.
The Evstafi swung around with her sister ship following closely and the destroyer screen falling into place both forward and aft of the battle line. The four 12” gun turrets were already trained to the port side and with the great barrels set to maximum elevation waiting for the order to open fire. It was not long delayed as the Evstafi's guns roared out their defiance at the age old enemy. The seonds passed with all privileged eyes facing the direction of fire at the distant columns of smoke. Great geysers of spray, light pillars of fire were seen on the far horizon as a second salvo roared out, this time from the Ioann Zlatoust. Still the stomach crawling wait as the huge shells sped to their target. More towers of water as the Evstafi's guns spoke for a second time, the roar and shudder vibrating throughout the ship. The range was good and it would only be a matter of time before straddles and hits followed. Suddenly, the horizon erupted with a long, rolling, threatening cloud of smoke with terrible and ominous intent as the great Yavuz Sultan Selim exposed her full broadside and opened fire with her ten huge guns, surrounding the two Russian ships with their own forest of shell splashes. Eberhardt roared his defiance at the hated enemy "Now Yuri, we fight and may the devil have mercy on their souls for I shall have none!" Battle had been joined.

To be Continued....


Anonymous said...

Marvellous, well written and an excellent essence of historical detail coupled with dramatic spice. I can't wait for both fleets to lock horns fully. Keep up the good work!

David Crook said...

Many thanks for the generous comments. I enjoy adding a little narrative to the action as it makes it that little bit more believable. I am looking forward to finally fighting the action and will report in full as to the outcome.

All the best,


Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Your scenario is exactly why I bothered to buy those 1/3000 Russian Black Seas models :)

Good stuff

I hope to follow suit and get to play this scenario some day

David Crook said...

Hi Geordie,

Many thanks for the kind comments. The 1/3000th Bogatyr class cruiser - Kagul and Pamiat Merkerija is a lovely model, one of Navwar's finest IMHO. Re the scenario - I shall try to get a map on the blog with the starting set up if I am able and of course, the rules will be forthcoming in due course. I am enjoying your Pacific articles despite this not being my area - especially because the camera shots are very atmospheric.

All the best,