Lt Martin Tetlow, Cheetah’s MEO, surveyed the torn metal casing, covering the reduction gear housing. Someone had intended to sabotage the gear housing, to immobilise the boat in the water.
Back in engineering it was cramped and noisy, although not as noisy as the engine rooms on surface ships. Anybody could have crept in unseen, due to all the nooks and crannies in the compartment. It could have possibly have even been one of the engineering ratings themselves. Tetlow was worried and rightly so.
‘You don’t want some madman running lose on a submarine,’ he thought.
“What’s the problem Martin?” Cdr Peter Crossfield, the boat’s XO asked, as he came into view from round the side of the main turbine.
“Take a look at this!” he replied, indicating the torn metal casing.
“Any damage?” Peter asked, as he peered into the gear housing.
“Luckily, none on this occasion, but I’m not happy; we’ve got some nutter running around out there somewhere.”
“We’ll just have to increase the frequency of rounds and safety checks for now,” Peter said, a look of concern on his face. “I’ll inform the skipper. Can you get that repaired?”
“No problem,” Tetlow replied. “It’s only the casing.”
The XO made his way forward, past the turbo generator, towards the shielded bulkhead of the reactor compartment. Looking through the glass inspection port in the hatch door, leading to the reactor tunnel, he could see that the hatch at the opposite end of the tunnel was closed. He began to open the hatch. If the hatch at the opposite and of the tunnel had been open, he wouldn’t have been able to open the hatch at his end anyway. This was a built-in safety precaution, designed to stop contamination of the whole boat if a radioactive leakage occurred. Looking down as he entered the tunnel, he gazed through the small glass ports at the side and could see the pressurised water reactor (PWR1), together with its domed steam generator.
‘That can throw out some power,’ he thought, ‘over sixteen thousand horsepower!’
Arriving in the control room the XO approached the CO, who stood on the bandstand.
“Sir, we’ve got problems,” he said, lowering his voice.
“Over here,” Boydell indicated towards the after hatch in the control room.
“You mean to say that I’ve got more problems?” Boydell queried.
“Sir - more problems?”
“It’s okay,” Boydell continued, “I’ll fill you in later. What’s the problem?”
“Someone’s tried to put a spanner, so to speak, into the reduction gear housing.”
“Any damage Peter?”
“No, none on this occasion. We’re going to step up the number of rounds and safety checks we do.”
“Fine, keep an eye on it back there will you? Perhaps a word with the MEO wouldn’t go amiss?”
“I’ve just finished talking to him Sir. He’s fully up to speed on the situation.”
“Thanks Peter. Can you take over the watch for me early? I know it’s fifteen minutes before you’re due on, but I could do with digging out a larger scale chart of the Barents Sea/White Sea area…”
“No problem Sir.”
Hinton cursed to himself as he pulled off his oil-stained overalls and threw them on the deck. Searching frantically through his own stowage space, he quickly found a clean pair of No8s and put them on. Moving forward through the boat, nobody paid him a second glance. They were all too busy with their own tasks to even notice him. He glanced quickly down, into the hatch entrance leading to the bomb shop; nobody around. Quickly he jumped down.
Working as fast as he could, he soon found what he was looking for: a torpedo tube filled with water. With a grim grin on his face, he hung a notice on the inner tube door: ‘TUBE EMPTY’.
‘That should do nicely,’ he thought, unaware that Ian stood above him a clipboard in his hand, staring downwards in disbelief.
It had been Ian’s turn to do safety rounds. Having checked the battery space levels, he hd arrived at the bomb shop to check the tubes.
“John!” Ian shouted. Instinct telling him that perhaps he shouldn’t have given his presence away quite so quickly.
Hinton’s mind raced. He didn’t look up.
“What’s up Ian?” he asked casually.
Ian started to climb down the ladder into the bomb shop, his clipboard banging against the side of the ladder.
Hinton moved away from the inner door of the torpedo tube and stood to face Ian.
“What’s the problem?” Hinton asked again.
Ian was wary, but Hinton was smiling…
“What are you doing pissing about with that tube?” Ian’s forefinger pointed towards the tube adjacent to Hinton.
“Oh that?” Hinton laughed. “Some pillock’s put the wrong sign on the tube. I was just changing it.”
Ian approached the inner door of the tube and was just reaching up to check the vent on it, when Hinton lunged at him with a three foot wrench. Luckily Ian caught sight of it from out of the corner of his eye and managed to dive to his right.
“You interfering bastard!” Hinton yelled, his face full of rage, as he brought the wrench down towards Ian, who lay on the deck.
Ian flung himself in a rolling motion to one side, as the wrench smashed into his clipboard. He rolled under one of the torpedo loading racks and shakily pulled himself to his feet. His legs felt like jelly. As his head rose above the level of a Mk24 Tigerfish, Hinton’s feet smashed into his head and left shoulder, sending him spinning backwards to land with a crash on the deck. Ian’s head was racked with pain and his eyesight started to blur. He pushed his hand urgently into the right-hand pocket of his No8 trousers. The blurred outline of Hinton appeared in front of him, his hand raised, brandishing the wrench, about to strike. Ian didn’t have time to pull the 9mm pistol from his pocket, so he just pointed it through the material towards Hinton and squeezed the trigger. The bullet left Ian’s gun, tore through his pocket and ripped into Hinton’s left shoulder, sending him sprawling backwards.
“Ian! Ian! The pungent odour of smelling-salts made Ian reel.
“It’s okay Ian, the MO’s here,” Boydell leaned anxiously over him. “Did Hinton try to attack you?”
“Never mind try; he bloody well did!”
Boydell looked down at Ian, noticing that his jaw was badly grazed and the underneath of his eye was badly swollen.
“You’ll not go down very well with Fiona looking like that,” he mocked.
“Very funny, SIR!” Ian replied.
“We’ve found that one of the tubes has been tampered with,” Boydell continued, on a more serious note.
“I caught the bastard in the middle of it!” Ian stated angrily.
“We’ve got him handcuffed to a bed in sickbay. He’s conscious, but he’s not saying anything. He just stares at the bulkhead.”
“Why Hinton?” Ian enquired.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Boydell replied. “We’ll hand him over to Naval Intelligence when we get back. Perhaps they will be able to get something out of him.”
“Just give me five minutes with him and I’ll get you some answers!” Ian snapped, with venom in his voice.
“You must be joking,” Boydell grimaced. “We want him in one piece. Oh and speaking of pieces, where did you get the 9mm from?”
Ian tried to smile, but his jaw hurt like mad.
“Serves you right,” Boydell mocked, noticing Ian’s discomfort.
“I’d rather have this,” Ian said, indicating his injuries, than be pushing up the daisies.” He gritted his teeth as pain seared through his jaw.
“Once the MO has seen you, do you think you can make it to my cabin?”
“Bastard!” Ian yelled, clutching his jaw as the pain came in waves. “Sorry - for drinkies?” He tried to muster a smile.
“Piss off Ian. You couldn’t drink through a straw at the moment if you wanted to… As soon as you can make it, okay?”
“I’ll be there.”
Boydell stood to one side, allowing the MO access to Ian.
“Well, you’ve got bruising to your shoulder and you’re going to have a swollen cheek for some while, but thankfully it’s not broken. Also, you’re going to have one hell of a black eye. Here, take a couple of these for now and come and see me for some more later. They should ease the pain,” said the MO, handing Ian a couple of pain killers.
“Thanks Doc. Hey, you should see the other guy!”
The MO grimaced. He didn’t find it funny.
“Any problems, come and see me,” the MO said, as he picked up his bag and made his way out of the bomb shop.
Ian managed to drag himself to his feet, leaning against one of the old Mk8 torpedoes. His whole body felt drained. He was absolutely exhausted.
Climbing the ladder out of the bomb shop was hard work. With his left shoulder aching, he could only use his right hand as he shuffled upwards.
‘I need my pit (bed) badly,’ he thought to himself. ‘I’ve got to get my head down for a couple of hours, the CO will just have to wait.’
Walking slowly back to the JR’s mess, Ian had to pass the sick bay. On approaching it he saw his oppo, LRO Forester, standing outside. He stopped.
“What are you doing here Martin?” he enquired.
“I’ve copped for the duty of guarding your mate!” he replied, with a fed-up, sort of resigned look on his face.
“You’re welcome to him,” Ian remarked, as he carried on walking down the passage. Suddenly he stopped.
“Oh fuck it!” he uttered to himself, turning round.
He stood facing Martin.
“Before you ask - NO!” Martin said, seeing the look of rage on Ian’s face.
“Martin, I need to speak to my friend in there. The little-boy-lost look replaced the look of rage on Ian’s face.
“You can’t be serious Ian; I’m not stupid - you would bloody well kill him!”
“Look Martin, that pillock in there could know something that could save all our lives, surely just a few little words?”
Martin looked around nervously.
“Look, if I let you in, don’t go overboard, or I’m in the shit!”
“Promise!” Ian replied, with as serious a look as he could muster on his face.
Martin stood to one side to let Ian enter, grasping hold of his right arm as he did so, holding him back.
“Look, I mean it Ian. Don’t go too far!”
“Trust me,” Ian said, breaking free from Martin’s grasp.
Closing the door behind him, Ian approached Hinton. He just lay there, his eyes open, staring at the deckhead. He didn’t move a muscle.
‘Smug bastard!’ Ian thought.
Ian noticed that Hinton’s right hand was handcuffed to the sickbay bed.
“Just one question Hinton,” he asked sarcastically. “Why would you endanger all our lives?”
Hinton didn’t reply. He just continued to stare at the deckhead.
“Okay then,” Ian lowered his voice, making it much calmer.
“Are we expected at the rendezvous?”
Still Hinton lay silent.
‘Bollocks to this!’ Ian thought to himself. In one quick movement he threw his own body upwards, landing on top of Hinton’s left shoulder, with his backside. All the weight of Ian’s body pressed down on his shoulder. Looking down at Hinton, he was amazed to see him still staring up at the deckhead, totally silent. But there was some hope. Hinton was gritting his teeth in an attempt to block out the pain.
“Can we expect a reception committee?” Ian asked.
Still no reply.
Ian was raging inside. He started to wriggle his body and pressed down harder on Hinton’s upper body.
Suddenly Hinton screamed. He could no longer control the pain.
The door to the sickbay was flung open.
Martin hissed in a loud whisper, “Ian, you can’t…”
“Just give me two more minutes,” Ian pleaded.
Martin puffed out his cheeks, let out a sigh, shook his head and closed the door.
“Well?” Ian looked down at Hinton. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. He was in real agony.
In a last act of defiance, Hinton looked directly into Ian’s eyes and sneered, “You will be met!”
Ian stood up and flung Hinton’s arm away from himself. Hinton winced once more with pain.
Opening the sickbay door, Ian stumbled past Martin and onward down the passageway. “Thanks!” he shouted back over his shoulder.
“You okay?” Martin shouted after him.
“No problem.” Ian held his arm up in acknowledgement, without looking back.
Ian had no longer stumbled on to his bunk, than he was asleep. A fitful, restless sleep.
“Come on, hands off cocks, on socks!” came the traditional naval greeting when you were woken from your sleep, as a bearded, burly able seaman shook Ian from his slumber, oblivious to the fact that he was pumping his injured arm.
“Bleeding hell!” Ian shouted as he pulled his arm away from the over zealous able seaman.
“Skipper wants to see you in his cabin ASAP!”
“Okay, I’m awake. No problem.”
Ian climbed gingerly out from on top of his bunk. His face and shoulder ached incessantly. He didn’t have time for a wash to freshen up, so he decided to have what is known as a submariner’s bath; he pulled out a can of Lynx body spray and applied it liberally under his arms and down the front of his trousers.
Making his way aft, Ian headed for the CO’s cabin.
“Come in,” came the reply, as he knocked resoundingly on the door.
Entering, Ian saw that the cabin was almost full. What little space there was was occupied by the CO, XO and NO.
“Would you like some ice for that?” the XO asked, looking concernedly at Ian’s face.
“No Sir, but I’ll have my tot straight if you’re offering,” he replied cheekily.
“Cheeky sod!” Crossfield laughed. “But I’ll buy you one if we get through this little lot in one piece.”
Ian nodded his appreciation.
“Right gentleman,” Boydell started, “firstly, I have decided that our operation should go ahead: unless of course any of you can give me a good enough reason for it not to?”
“Sir, if I may,” Norton chipped in. “It would appear that the Soviets could be expecting us in the Kara Sea?”
“Possibly.” Boydell nodded his head. “But Soviet Naval activity is minimal and the Akula that we encountered a few days ago is hundreds of miles to the west of us in the Barents Sea. Hinton may be operating under general orders. He may not have had time to communicate our full intentions to the Soviets…”
“They know Sir!” Ian interrupted.
“How so?” Crossfield asked.
“Because Hinton has just told me so,” Ian said confidently.
The three men looked at Ian and recognised that knowing look on his face.
“I see,” Crossfield acknowledged.
“Well then,” Boydell continued, “we still have problems. Firstly Hinton was our diver. He was to go ashore and bring our passenger and package back. Secondly, we have to get within three to four miles of our coastal rendezvous and we’re expected!”
“I’m willing to do it Sir,” Ian said confidently. “I’ll meet the contact.”
Boydell turned to face Ian.
“You’re a bloody killick sparker (Leading Radio operator), not a diver!”
“Sir, I’m a bloody good swimmer and I’ve just completed my refresher course on the use of the escape chamber,” Ian pleaded.
“How can you manage a four mile swim, pick up a passenger, and swim back four miles to rejoin us? Tell me that Ian!” Boydell asked.
“I can do it!” Ian said as positively as possible.
“What about your shoulder?” Boydell queried.
“It’s only bruised. If it becomes a problem prior to the start, I’ll get the doc to give me a jab. Besides, what other option do we have?”
Boydell looked round his cabin. The others were shrugging their shoulders.
“Okay then, we go with it. It goes without saying we all have to be on the ball for this one. Peter, lay in a course for our rendezvous position. David, pay a visit to sonar and make sure they’re on their toes. Ian, you had better check out Hinton’s diving gear. I think he’s stowed it in the usual locker in the fore-ends. And finally, has anyone seen the TASO (Torpedo and anti-submarine officer) lately?”
“I last saw him in the showers Sir,” Norton volunteered.
“Fine David. When you leave, can you seek him out and tell him that I’d like to see him in the control room. We need to go over what hardware I want loading into the tubes.”
Ian made his way to the fore-ends to check his diving gear. He needed two sets, one for himself and one for his passenger, so to speak. Meticulously, he checked every piece of equipment; the masks, mouthpieces, valves and harnesses. Lastly, he examined the two sets of grey air bottles, with their cream and black markings on the top. According to the guages, all the bottles were full. Carefully packing it away again, he secured the lockers.
Making his way aft along the passageway, Ian bumped into Steven, who had just come off watch.
“I’ve been looking for you,” he said. “The family-grammes are coming in. You said that you wanted to know when…”
“Great. Thanks Steve,” Ian interrupted. “I’ll make my way up there now. Thanks again.”
The door to the comm’s suite was opened by LRO Jervis.
“Thanks Pete,” Ian acknowledged, as he stepped inside.
“Come for the grammes?” Pete enquired.
“Yep, are they in yet?”
“Nearly,” he replied. “Martin’s just logging them in now.”
Martin ripped a section of TP roll from the teleprinter and passed it to Ian via Pete.
A plastic ruler hit Ian on the head - thrown by Martin.
“You can rip the individual grammes off and put them on the notice board - you owe me that after what happened at the sick bay!” Martin chuckled.
Ian picked up the ruler from the deck and began to read the family-grammes.
After half a dozen he arrived at the first one from Fiona:
LRO IAN MCALLISTER. CANCEL RENDEZVOUS. I’VE
HAD A CHANGE OF MIND. EVERYONE AT HOME
AGREES. DON’T BE TOO DESPONDENT. LOVE FIONA XXXX
Ian read the message over and over again.
‘This can’t be right,’ he thought. The word ‘cancel’ kept ringing in his brain. ‘Things must be even worse than I imagined.’
Meanwhile Pete was reading through the rest of the grammes and was busily tearing them off into strips with a ruler, to assist Ian.
“This is a good one,” Pete chuckled: “LOOKING FORWARD TO SOME GOOD VIBRATIONS. N.O.R.W.I.C.H. Hey Ian, here’s one of the old ‘Nickers off ready when I come home’ jobs here! CPO (Chief Petty officer) Sidlow will like this one. His wife’s a right randy old bugger!”
Ian was only half-listening, trying to make sense of the gramme from Fiona.
“Hey, what’s this, who’s LRO SCOTCH PIE AND CHIPS?” Pete said, in a puzzled voice.
Ian turned immediately.
“Let me have a look at that.”
Pete pulled the sheet of grammes back, away from Ian.
“Something to do with you is it?” he mocked.
“Look, don’t piss me about!” Ian snatched the whole sheet back from Pete.
“Touchy, touchy!” Pete grinned.
Ian read the gramme repeatedly:
LRO SCOTCH PIE AND CHIPS. REVERT TO ORIGINAL
MENU. SHARKY STILL ASKS AFTER YOU. SORRY BUT I TAKE BACK MY PROPOSAL. LOVE GIN AND TONIC. XXXX
‘It has to be from Fiona. It has to be,’ he said to himself.
He picked up the comm’s microphone, “Captain to comm’s please.”
“XO here, he’s tied up at the moment. Can I help?”
“Yes Sir. Can I have a word? It’s LRO McAllister?”
“No problem. I’ll be along in two minutes.”
Ian turned to see Pete staring at him, open-mouthed.
“I’d close your mouth if I was you, you’ll attract flies!,” Ian said.
“What’s going on?” Pete asked.
“Nothing you need to worry about; need to know basis!” Ian replied, tapping his nose with his forefinger.
A knock came at the comm’s suite door.
Opening the door, Ian saw the XO.
“Come in Sir.” He stood to one side.
“Jervis, can you give us a few minutes?” the XO said, holding the door open for Pete.
“No problem Sir,” he replied, looking at Ian quizzically as he left the office.
Martin was still busy logging in incoming traffic.
“What have we got?” the XO enquired.
“Has the CO briefed you on the nature of our incoming family-grammes from PO Wren Greaves Sir?” Ian asked.
“Yep, I’m up to date Ian. Have we just received another?”
“Actually Sir, another two - I think?”
“What do you mean, you think?” The furrows on Crossfield’s forehead stood out like a ploughed field.
“Well, here’s the first one. It’s obviously addressed to me, which seems to indicate that we should cancel our operation, with everyone back at base being in full agreement,” Ian said, as he passed the first family-gramme to the XO.
“Understood; it seems fairly adamant.”
“But here’s the second.” Ian handed over the next gramme.
The XO looked up at Ian, looking slightly puzzled.
“How do you know that this one is definitely for you?”
“Well, firstly it refers to an LRO, which narrows the field somewhat. Secondly, I met PO Wren Greaves - Fiona, in Helensburgh before we sailed. She only drank gin and tonics and we ended the evening with a supper of Scotch pie and chips. I know it sounds corny, but to me it seems obvious that the message is specifically intended for me!”
“I can see your point,” Crossfield said, nodding his head, “so we must have some sort of compromise here somewhere. Someone knows our intentions and the incident with Hinton jus seems to confirm this.”
“I agree Sir,” Ian answered.
“Revert to original menu, then, obviously means to go with our original plans - to forget the message prior to this, and ‘take back my proposal’ just confirms this, but what does ‘sharky still asks after you’ mean?” Crossfield asked, as he studied the message.
“Oh, the CO and myself had decided that ‘sharky’, which was mentioned in the first gramme that we received, meant an Akula SSN. ‘Still asks after you’ probably means that it’s still somewhere in our area.”
“I see,” Crossfield said, reading through the gramme once again. He finally nodded.
“Yes I agree Ian, I’ll pass this on to the CO. It looks like we’re going to have to be careful. It seems that every man and his dog knows about us.”
As the XO left, Ian looked down the office towards Martin.
‘He’s very professional,’ he thought, he must have a good idea what’s going on and he doesn’t even bat an eyelid.’
“Thanks Martin!” Ian shouted. Without waiting for a reply, he brushed past Pete, who was entering the office. Ian made his way to the control room just a few yards away.