The Setting Sun
The Pacific War (1940-1947) seen through the eyes of Captain Michael Shaw, commander of destroyer ARS Erin of the Antaran navy.
My last day of high school was a celebrated one, not because the school year had ended, but because we were to be formally drafted the following day. None of my fellow 12th graders expected the school to throw a massive after school party, complete with lights, music, dance and of course drinking. The other students organised the party after a month earlier our headmaster announced that most of the male 12th graders would be visited by military officers in order to test their eligibility for the draft. It was nearly the end of the year, 1938, so most of us were 18 already. 1938-1946 had the strangest year books ever. Our class photo consisted of nothing but girls and the odd 17 year old boy, as all the guys were in military academies in preparation for the war the government was expecting we would be a part of.
It was still class time when the military folk came over, all us grade 12 boys had gathered in the assembly hall. We where excited, in all honesty. Even though we all had separate ambitions and none of us cared for the military, there was a strange sense honor in serving our country we never experienced before. We stood proud while the other younger students peaked into the hall to get a look at what we were doing, and of course some of us needed to show off in front of the girls.
"Name, surname and branch please" the draft officer asked.
"Branch?" A dumb question because my friends and I already decided which branch we wanted to serve in if we were accepted. We chose what we believed to be the safest bet.
"Ah, the navy please" The officer ticked a box, sat for a moment and looked up to me with an annoyed look.
"Oh uh... Michael Shaw"
The officer fumbled around some papers, ticked some boxes and wrote down what he needed. He pointed to the left without lifting his head.
"Alright, check up's that way. Next please"
My friends behind me went next and I proceeded to get measured by another officer. You could see on their faces they had already done this procedure with hundreds of others and they were quite impatient. After about a week our classroom was visited by our headmaster and a military man. We all looked knowingly at one another when the headmaster introduced the man. For some reason they saw it fit to announce who would be accepted into the military during a lesson. One by one the man read off our names. Every single guy in our small class was selected. In total, 320 of our grade of 650 people were drafted.
The party happened at night on the sports field, and it was a night to remember, but not in the traditional sense. It represented the last normal day for at least 8 years. It was here I was gathered with my closest friends, men that would serve along with me, and men that would become my brothers. The most notable three were Darren Hakes, Allen Parker, Vince DeLanno. Until the end of the upcoming war, I wouldn't go a single day without them by my side. Without much of a care in the world during the celebration, my group of course pressured me into finally chatting up my oldest crush, Charlotte Lewis. I wasn't afraid of talking to her, we were friends actually, but I hadn't bothered much with a confession. She was growing up to be a professional dancer, and thus she was part of one of the entertainment groups at the celebration. And I was of course there watching, and she knew, as afterwards she invited me to speak behind the stage. No it never evolved pass a final goodbye hug, much to my friends' disappointment, but it was more than enough for me. I bring her up for a reason, as in 1943 when the draft extended to women, I would meet her aboard a fleet oilier during the war. She would also be my future wife, and I doubt it was a surprise. There seems to be a tendency for couples to have met on the battlefield, such is the result of mixing the two genders in the military I guess.
My mother and father were sad to see me leave for the navy, of course. They knew this country was going to war and that I wouldn't be coming back for several years, or even at all. They were more saddened by the fact that I was the only one of my two other siblings to be drafted. Though strangely I was the youngest. My older sister and brother were already professionals, and thus they were exempt from the draft as they 'provided a valuable service the country'. My brother was a businessman and my sister was employed at a large firm that made enough bank to bribe recruitment officers away if needed. My brother was more proud of me than my father, the latter was a veteran of the first War and cried when he heard the news. My goodbyes said, I took the train with my friends to Cambria Naval Academy. It's quite the distance from Entarro to be sure, but the sights were great. The countryside on this side of the nation is beautiful. This train was packed with recruits and we screwed around happily for the several hour trip. Cambria was a massive city, even compared to Entarro, but the weather was actually good most of the time. Entarro isn't bad at all, but I do feel as if it rained too much and it was overcast alot.
I and 1700 students from various schools, including mine, were enrolled in Yewmen Academy of Naval Warfare. Yewmen, unlike the other naval academies that would be partially converted during the war, was fully dedicated to producing navy men. We were enrolled for 4 months at the minimum, including bootcamp and such. Bootcamp was terrible, the drill instructors were your stereotypical asshole that hadn't actually seen combat and was obsessed with yelling at poor 18 year olds that hadn't even finished high school yet. We couldn't quit as many of us wanted to, but for most of us, it was our bonds as friends that kept ourselves together. I don't hate the instructors of course, the intense physical training was more than necessary for what was to come, but I'll never look back on bootcamp with fondness, that's for sure. The courses during and after the first month and half of bootcamp were far more enjoyable. It was like regular school, except we were disciplined - not because we were afraid of punishment, but because we knew it was important. We knew war was coming, but we didn't think about it much, we just focussed on the theory and the practicals.
My 'exceptional' grades resulted in me getting an extended officers course, along with my aforementioned four closest friends. Darren Hakes and I were both put in the officer's course which taught way more than the regular course ever could. It expanded to naval doctrine and the intricacies of command. I soon found out we were on the path to becoming captains, and indeed that would be the result, though not immediately. Hakes would command destroyer Jasmine, and my vessel would be Erin, but that would only be two years after the war had already began. It makes sense inexperienced college age men would not be given command of a vessel right from the get go, instead I served as a helmsman for two years. The experience I gained shadowing a real captain was invaluable.
My two months in the officer's course meant I spent much of my time with Hakes and even before we were formally assigned to a warship, I came to trust him with my life. Even when he was put in command of Jasmine in 1942, his destroyer still formed part of my division. His vessel and crew would save my life countless times over and not once would our two crews be separated.
Graduation ended on 4 May 1940 and it was a spectacular day at that, I would never forget it. Our five months of training was concluded with a navy review in Summerwood, a major city just south of Cambria. The navy wouldn't dare host a review in the capital because the weather was always unpredictable. Summerwood was aptly named, the skies were clear and the weather was perfect, an absolutely lovely day for festivities. I never attended a navy review before, but my god the streets were packed. By now I was assigned as the helmsman aboard destroyer Kameron - and I'll get to her later - but due to the nature of the review, a more experienced man piloted the ship. Most of my old schoolmen were also assigned to less glamorous roles aboard our destroyer, but we were all proud to be a part of the navy as we stood at the handrails in our new white navy uniforms, watching the rest of the populace cheering us on as we sailed slowly across the canal in the Summerwood Naval base. It was wonderful, we were joyful.
Allen Parker was our ship's chief gunnery officer and he stood beside me as the crowds waved us on from the streets. With an almost laughing grin on his face he told me,"I swear they are sending us off to war now".
That was a statement that hit me hard. The thought of war was something that occasionally crossed our minds during training, but we did not dwell on it, but the day of the navy review stuck to me. He was right, not because a month later the Japanese would surprise us at Port Isla, but because the country seemed to want a war and were really preparing us for it. The government made no attempt to diffuse the situation in Europe and Japan, no, we were quite literally arming ourselves. Was there a naval treaty? Apparently not, our industry was already gaining momentum, and for god sake they drafted kids that were still in high school! The populace gathered in Summerwood for the review were not simply enjoying the bright sunny day or the festivities, but were cheering on the men (and women to a lesser degree) getting ready to fight. As a young lad I didn't care for the politics of the time, but by the late 30s the people were fed up of the overly pacifistic nature of our ruler and when he gave his throne to his daughter, we were all more than willing to reassert our power we originally displayed in the First World War.
As I had previously mentioned, I and most of my original classmates were assigned to the 1,600 tonne destroyer ARS Kameron, named after Phillip Kameron - an old navy officer. I was her helmsman and Second in Command, Hakes was her chief navigator and Third In Command, Allen Parker the lookout in the crow's nest and Vince DeLanno was one of the director's operators. It would be this way for most of the war, well with Hakes and I receiving promotions to captains of seperate ships later of course. Kameron was a new ship by our own standards (8 years old in 1940) as the navy looked after her vessels, and she was a good destroyer at that. Five 127mm dual-purpose guns, eight torpedoes with reloads for one launcher and capable of a top speed of 37 knots. Her range was unimpressive and vessels of her class were constantly suckling on the teats of fleet oilers throughout the war. Kameron was reliable though, her fire-control for a destroyer was state of the art and wouldn't change even on newer classes, she was very response too. She had a stupidly quick acceleration of zero to thirty knots in only fifteen minutes and she turned on a dime. Having helmed her two years I can say all of that with absolute certainty.
Our destroyer's captain was Commander Richard Sampson, a rather greyed, burly man in his late 40s. I did not (and still do not) have much admiration for many of the older commanders during the war as, to be frank, they were not entirely competent. Anybody that knows anything about the early years of the Pacific War would no, Antara and the Allies in general suffered a great deal many losses. Old doctrine and limited support for the navy the interwar years saw many of the experienced and enlightened commanders and even admirals retiring and stepping down. It was stagnant and there wasn't much innovation or evolution in our naval doctrine even after the Great War. The strategy at the tactical level displayed by our commanders in the first few battles of the war were a testament to this, but you wouldn't get that impression from Captain Sampson. He was the reason I became myself became the captain I did when I was assigned command of ARS Erin. It brought be to tears after I witnessed Kameron's destruction during the Leyte Gulf campaign on the bridge of my own destroyer, knowing that Sampson did not survive her sinking.
After the May navy review, my destroyer patrolled the West Coast up until June. As monotonous as it may have seemed, the excitement of finally serving aboard a real ship and piloting it at that had not yet worn off. The cool breeze and sunny weather of the South-West coast was quite literally the vacation weather that people would come to experience. My younger self was also somewhat excited to hear what happened at Port Isla in the Tuscadian Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. On 18 June, Antara was dragged into the war with a terrific surprise attack. Barely two weeks into my first patrol my flotilla (Destroyer Division 4) was to make its way to Tuscadia. Even though I missed the attack, plenty of others witnessed it so I won't bother going over with it, instead I'll tell of my experience on arrival.
Even when we were a few miles off of Tuscadia we could see the massive smoke plumes that engulfed the harbour and that got most of our imaginations running while we slowly steamed towards Port Isla. We got a radio message that was relayed to the bridge,"To: DesDiv 4, you are to proceed with caution, harbour is covered in debris, rescue operations continue". Captain Sampson ordered the division to slow to 5 knots as we rounded the island to where Port Isla came into visual range. Some cruisers were leaving the harbour too be repaired at a working dock, because no doubt it was hard to get anything done at this port with it in shambles. The harbour itself still smelled of burning oil and the water was littered with rescue boats, oil, bodies and debris. The view from the bridge was pretty restricted so I only got a good look after we finally were granted permission to anchor, allowing us to get a look at what was happening. The most eerie sight amidst this carnage was the battleships in the middle of the harbour. It was quite honestly scary. They were all covered in thick black smoke, one had rolled over and one was in three separate junks and still burning furiously. Battleship Emperor Franklin had both her magazines explode, tearing her in three. Not a single survivor among her, and her ammunition cooked for three days. Another thing I failed to notice our way in were the two carriers on the entrance to the port. The carriers to me looked like piers because they were partially sunk and thus I failed to recognize them. Those carriers were Carpathia and Westwood, which were only recently commissioned and her crews were still training with them.
We sat around Port Isla for two days while the Admiralty decided what to do. It was the first sign of Antara's early war inefficiency and incredibly poor decision making. The debris from the harbour had been cleared enough to allow regular traffic to flow again but we were still sitting idle despite the fact that we were now at war. On 20 June - two days after the attack - I was relaxing on the bridge of my ship when I noticed the arrival of a destroyer of the same class, ARS Delila. She was incredibly bruised and damaged and it made me wonder. I spoke with her skipper once I had the opportunity. Lieutenant Haley Dawson commanded Delila after her actual captain was in an accident a week ago. She was young, anxious and very tired, having just survived an invasion of Wake Island two days prior. This was the first I had heard of this! It shouldn't have surprised me our other holdings in the Pacific were attacked. Dawson would command Delila for the rest of the war as a result of a promotion. Along with my Erin, Delila would also become one of the most decorated ships of the war, though my first action wasn't as rough as hers.