Volume 3, Chapter 39
“Well, continue the bombardment. Increase point of aim by 50 meters. Keep the radar crew attentive, make sure they’re watching for enemy vessels.” The fleet commander, Admiral Forbes was standing on the HMS Nelson’s armored bridge, issuing orders to Captain Mills.
Then Forbes picked up the coffee prepared for him, slowly gazing outside the porthole. Looking at the fleet of boats heading for Dunkirk, Admiral Forbes was full of doubts.
Forbes had his own private objections to the plan as it was being proposed. This incredibly ambitious plan was full of assumptions and unrealistic fantasies. As a veteran of the Great War, he felt that this plan lacked the rigorous analysis and long-term preparations needed for its success. In short – this plan was stupid.
A naval battle was rapidly changing and accidents could happen. Any amount of negligence by any one man could lead to the destruction of a warship. Perhaps even the entire fleet. This was something those filing-cabinet officers had no experience with.
Although the Forbes was dissatisfied with the plan, he was still brought up on the old traditions. He believed in loyalty to the Royal Navy, no matter his own thoughts. A command is a command. A Navy officer should have unconditional obedience. He is to be entrusted with carrying out the plans of his superiors.
The Royal Navy only just recently managed to clear a channel through the minefield. However, Forbes was still terribly bewildered at who thought it was a good idea to bring such an elite fleet into such a narrow channel.
Rather, this passage was too narrow – only two kilometers wide or so. Meanwhile, all of their large battleships were around two hundred meters long. While it was acceptable for forward movement, it would not allow for maneuvering or turning if they encountered German submarines. The explanation from the Naval Department was that the large numbers of destroyers would protect them from that threat. Forbes hopes that they’re right. However, probably none of them have ever faced the true terror of the submarines. Leaving him still worried.
As for the British bombardment, he was still confident in his ships’ abilities to suppress the German artillery. According to the intelligence reports, the Germans are mainly using 210mm heavy howitzers. The maximum range being eighteen kilometers. Currently, they were following the plan of forming up twenty kilometers from the shore. The naval guns equipped on the warships had a maximum range of twenty-five kilometers. It can be said that the weapons were on completely different levels.
According to the plan, their warships would drop anchor and essentially become floating turrets. This would allow for more consistent firing as they don’t have to recalculate after every shot. For this, Admiral Forbes didn’t have any particular opinion. When it came to naval bombardments, this was already standard practice. The enemy wasn’t a coastal fortress. Hence, there was no danger with doing so.
The destroyers had already begun their anti-submarine patrol. As long as no submarines sneaked past them, there was nothing to endanger the warships.
As for the German air force. Forbes also didn’t mind. To this date, no British battleships have even been sunk by an enemy plane. Moreover, their warships are equipped with enough point-defense artillery to deal with those threats. Furthermore, the Royal Air Force also arranged a wing of the fighter aircraft for their fleet escort. In such a tight defense, German aircraft would not even have the opportunity to get near them. Even if those German pilots were not afraid of death and passed the defenses, Forbes didn’t believe that their little bombs could break through three centimeters of heavy armor.
However, what really made the Admiral annoyed was that even now, he never had any accurate information about where the German artillery placements were. He had to agree that the Army’s military intelligence department was run by a group of incompetents. So many days have passed and yet they didn’t even know the layout of the German positions. The Expeditionary Force was bombarded by the enemy for three whole days. Yet they didn’t even know where the shells were coming from.
What are those Army commanders these days doing? Thinking about it, if such a foolish army was rescued, then would they even have a use in defending the mainland? Forbes has always believed that task would fall to the invincible Royal Navy.
Rather, in this current situation, they lacked coordinates regarding the enemy positions. Nothing, not even a British map of this port could be found. In his hands was the only map he had, giving from the French army. Also, the Germans seemed to understand that they’re at a disadvantage. Even after three volleys, they yet to fire back. Either as a precaution against exposing their artillery positions or they knew that they could not reach the ships. However, on the British side, the Navy has no idea where the Germans are. Thus, they had to use the stupidest method possible. Pound the German positions inch by inch. Finally, they might reach their artillery.
The huge roar of the guns became somewhat dulled as it passed through the thick bridge armor. Meanwhile, every time the guns fired, the hull would shake. Forbes looked at those mighty guns with a very satisfied look. They were the pride of the British Empire. So long as those guns were present, it was impossible for them to be defeated.
Forbes was on the bridge with a high-power telescope observing across the German position. Twenty kilometers was not a short distance, even with a strong magnification, he could only see a small silhouette of the German positions. Even now, the last volley of shells had not hit their targets, leaving him to wait patiently. Finally, a few seconds later he saw the scene that he wanted to see. Numerous columns of smoke and dust were shot up into the sky. Sending plumes of debris that lingered in the air.
“Yes, continue. If they don’t wish to fight back then we can simply shred their defenses apart. The threat to those boats has been reduced by half. Today’s operation is going very smoothly.” Admiral Forbes said to Captain Mills beside him.
“Yes, Admiral.” Mills answered.
Forbes turned the telescope to the direction of Dunkirk and the fleet of boats. Now that the plan had developed as planned, the only thing that worried him now was the German Air Force. If they somehow manage to defeat or bypass the RAF escort then they can all be wiped out within half an hour.
If the boats are destroyed, then the whole plan would have lost its meaning. If the German Air Force was really dispatched then their own ships have no way of providing support. This time, they can only rely on those British pilots.
The Royal Air Force was also under great pressure. For this operation, they brought in all of the fighter aircraft available. Dividing them into batches, they are ready to provide 24 hours of uninterrupted support.
The group in front of them are the first batch. Forbes was thinking while looking through the bulletproof porthole into the sea. Putting down his telescope he exited the bridge and walked onto the observation platform above.
The other bridge officers also followed him and everyone gazed in the direction of Dunkirk. They work was completed, their ships were already anchored and there was no need for steering. With nothing to do, it would be best to witness the rest of the operation.
“German aircraft! At high altitude!” An officer shouted.
Forbes also saw a large crowd of locusts swarming from the direction of Dunkirk. Moving towards the British fighters. The British fighters also saw this situation and quickly organized into numerous squadron formations.
“The Royal Air Force really have a hand in the fire. There are hundreds, I can’t even tell who is who.”
“God, it is spectacular!”
Even as a veteran of battles, Admiral Forbes could not help but feel amazed. Above the skies were countless planes of different types engaging in countless dogfights. In only five or six kilometers of airspace, there were at least three hundred fighters from both sides. Pulling off complex maneuvers, some planes fell like meteors as black smoke trailing behind them. Some exploded into blazing fireballs before they crashed into the ocean. Both tragic and gorgeous, cruel and elegant, bloody and spectacular. It became a strange harmony of sights. The onlookers were left with an unforgettable experience.
Meanwhile, Forbes looked nervously at the planes in the air; hovering, sprinting, and fighting among the chaos in the skies. He started to sweat for the RAF, it appears that the most critical job in the operation was indeed given to the Royal Air Force. Now the battle in the skies was entering its most critical step. From time to time, there would be a parachute released as a pilot glided into the ocean. In the vicinity would be either a smoking Hurricane or a Messerschmitt. Although victory or defeat had not been decided, from the current situation, the Royal Air Force was at a disadvantage. Forbes did not dare think of the consequences of if the RAF fell. The boats would face a massacre unprecedented in British history. Looking at the battle with a telescope, prayed that the Royal Air Force would be able to attain victory.
Then another series of alarms rang out. Indicating the next volley was about to begin. Admiral Forbes and the officers quickly hid back within the bridge. In the case of the naval guns, the loud noise and pressure generated was enough to cause serious harm to people and equipment. Especially the nine main guns. If someone stood on the deck as one was being fired, their internals would be blasted to smithereens.
“Boom!” With a huge roar, another row of giant shells flew toward the German positions.
“Good, very good, their coastal positions should all be near destroyed. Continue extending the range… Hmm… Pay attention to that hillside to the left, there seems to be a few large fortifications. It may be their observation station, command all warships to aim at that hillside.”
“Yes, General.” Captain Mills picked up the phone on the wall and gave the order to the other ships.
Forbes excitedly awaited the next volley. Then suddenly, from the rear of the German positions came a series of faint white smoke. Then the white smoke covered almost the entirety of the German rear positions.
“Hoh, they want to fire smoke to obstruct our targeting? Haha. Truly idiotic.”
Forbes gave a slight chuckle, but after five seconds he felt that he might have been wrong. Mainly because the smoke rose too fast and was now already dispersing.
“Is it? … It’s the German artillery fire. It seems they grew bored doing nothing. Captain, immediately transfer the target. All weapons fire into the smoke, we’ve finally found them.”
“Yes, Admiral.” Mills gave a serious expression as he picked up the phone and started to convey the orders.
“They may have fired at the boats. Let us pray that the losses are minimal. Soon, the Germans will lose their shelling capabilities.”
At this time from outside the bridge came a sudden and violent explosion.
“General, a destroyer…”
An officer shouted as he pointed out of the window. Forbes was also shocked by the sudden explosion, and he turned quickly toward the direction of the officer’s finger.
The sight left the Admiral stunned.
The six destroyers, who are patrolling in front of the battleships were now surrounded by numerous huge columns of water. The shells were constantly coming towards the destroyers, at least one stuck each destroyer.
“Admiral, the German positions are returning fire!” An officer shouted.
However, Admiral Forbes was still perplexed. Picking up the telescope, his gaze was still trained towards the sea.