The extraordinary, breathless final volume in the Nicholas Everard Naval Thrillers.
Six submarines are about to be towed underwater from Scotland to Norway. Their targets: the giant German warships Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Lutzow.
The odds seem stacked against the smaller craft. But if they can survive the nightmarish 2,000-mile tow, Commander Paul Everard will have a chance to gatecrash the fjords and cripple the ship Churchill calls ‘the Beast’.
Whether or not he succeeds, the chances of getting out alive are slim. If he fails, his father Nick Everard, escort commander for Arctic convoy PQ19, is in trouble: none of his ships can stand up to Tirpitz’s broadsides. As The Gatecrashers draws to its thunderous climax, father and son face their final and most searching test…
Based on the thrilling true story of Operation Source, The Gatecrashers is the blistering culmination of the bestselling Nicholas Everard Naval Thrillers, perfect for fans of Max Hennessy and Alan Evans.Praise for The Nicholas Everard Naval Thrillers
‘The prose has a real sense of urgency, and so has the theme. The tension rarely slackens.’ Times Literary Supplement
‘The research is unimpeachable and the scent of battle quite overpowering.’ The Sunday Times
‘The accuracy and flair of Forester at his best… carefully crafted, exciting and full of patiently assembled technical detail that never intrudes on a good narrative line’ Irish Times
About the Author
Alexander Fullerton was a bestselling author of British naval fiction, whose writing career spanned over fifty years. He served with distinction as gunnery and torpedo officer of HM Submarine Seadog during World War Two. He was a fluent Russian speaker, and after the war served in Germany as the Royal Navy liaison with the Red Army.
His first novel, Surface!, was written on the backs of old cargo manifests. It sold over 500,000 copies and needed five reprints in six weeks. Fullerton is perhaps best known though for his nine-volume Nicholas Everard series, which was translated into many languages, winning him fans all round the world. His fiftieth novel, Submariner, was published in 2008, the year of his death.
Read an Excerpt
By Alexander Fullerton
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1984 Alexander Fullerton
All rights reserved.
God Almighty, he thought, this is impossible! X-12 pounding, thrashing her thirty-nine tons around like a whale having an epileptic fit! Paul Everard, his hands clamped to solid fittings and muscles straining to hold himself in place against the midget submarine's frantic porpoising, saw Jazz Lanchberry, the engineer, open-mouthed and wide-eyed as he fought the wheel and tried at the same time to stay in his seat. His left shoulder had slammed against the end of the storage locker, and he was dragging himself back into place now, a snarl of anger taking over from the shock in his dark face: he'd momentarily lost control of the wheel and the boat's wild cavorting had acquired a lateral component as well as the plungings and soarings. At sixty feet she was fighting the tow-rope like a huge fish with a barbed hook in its mouth instead of a very, very small submarine with a steel coupling in her snout. Not a damn thing you could do about it, for the moment ...
Well, there was. In fact there were two things. One, you could release the tow-rope — it could be done from inside, by winding a handle in the bow compartment — and start the motor, surface. But that wouldn't achieve anything except short-term relief, because this exercise did have to be completed and you'd only have delayed it. With annoyance to a lot of people, since the practising was just about finished now, the operation imminent ... The other option — Paul didn't like it, in fact all his submariner's instincts were against it, but he'd have to try some damn thing before she shook herself to death. He looked round, met Dick Eaton's sideways glance from the first lieutenant's seat a few feet aft: Eaton looked desperate, the violent motion too savage for his hydroplanes to cope with — and X-12 shooting upwards with a steep bow-up angle on her. You couldn't blame him for not having countered it; the upward lunge had been caused by the tow-rope, slack or at any rate unstrained at one moment and then in the next tugging upwards at the midget's stem. Paul yelled over the noise of the sea and thumping steel, "Flood for'ard!"
Eaton's head turning: then he was hesitating. He couldn't not have heard. Presumably he was wondering if he'd heard right, knowing this was a manoeuvre Paul had sworn to avoid. Paul was opening his mouth to repeat the order when the sub-lieutenant acted — pushing the trim-lever forward to pump ballast from the after trimming tank to the bow one, shifting weight into her forepart so she'd lean on the tow and maintain an even strain on it.
That was the theory, how it was supposed to work. The price was to be trimmed heavy for'ard, which in professional terms was unseamanlike, in plainer language bloody dangerous. Other X-craft COs had made a practice of it: Paul realised that until now he'd just been lucky, had had no worse than moderate weather for his own towing exercises.
Stench of diesel, and wet salt smell from the bilges, a slight odour of disinfectant from the wet-and-dry compartment — known as the W and D — which also contained the heads, or lavatory. Bomber Brazier, the man crouching in there with a vaguely startled expression as the boat threw herself around, was this crew's diver ... The flooding of the bow tank was already taking some effect, though, leaving her light aft, so the stern had a tendency to float upward; to counter this, Eaton pulled the lever back and shoved it over to port to admit seawater from outside into the midships trim-tank. Sweat gleamed on Eaton's narrow, intelligent face, and Paul was remembering that split-second delay in carrying out his "Flood for'ard" order. If he was given the operational command of this boat, he wouldn't have Dick Eaton on the team. And he would — please God — get the operational command. He couldn't exactly count on it for certain, but —
If the medical gentry had rumbled him? If they knew about the nightmares?
Christ ... But they couldn't. He'd have been told. At least, given some indication ...
It was working: the shift of ballast had taken all the viciousness out of her motion. Midget submarine X-12 — she was forty-eight feet long (internally, more like thirty-five) and had a maximum internal diameter of five-and-a-half feet — was riding quite comfortably, now. You could feel the tugging surges of the tow, but the weight being permanently on the tow-line was cushioning it, dampening-down the jerking around which only a minute ago had been frightful. The towing ship — in today's exercise it was HM Submarine Scourge — was on the surface, and with the sea kicking up as it was this afternoon she'd have a lot of movement on her, which was what imparted that violent upward snatching routine. It would be a lot better when Scourge herself dived and got under the surface turbulence.
He thought, touching wood — this end of the storage locker — Oh, not the passage-crew chore ...
There was a chance he'd draw either passage or operational. Most of his training had been for the operational job, but there was still no certainty about it. Passage crews would man the X-craft for the long haul to the target area, and then operational teams would take over for the actual assault — which was likely to be short, sharp and frightening, but considerably less of an ordeal, Paul thought, than eight days of towing — eight days like this. Three men elbow to elbow, with so little space there was hardly anywhere they could squeeze past each other. Right here amidships, at the CO's position near the periscope, a small man could just stand upright under the dome of the main hatch; but Paul wasn't all that small.
She was towing quite easily still. Eaton had adjusted the trim — her bodily weight in the sea, and her fore-and-aft balance. Balance was easily upset in these midgets: you could move a tin of baked beans from the storage for'ard to the gluepot, which with an electric kettle comprised the boat's cookery equipment, and see an immediate shift of the bubble in the spirit-level ... But a trim that produced this milder reaction to the rough handling from above still went dead against the grain, against all submarine training and experience and common sense. The reason was that if you ran into trouble when you were heavy in the bow, the boat could go down like a stone before you could do anything to check her.
Ten knots showing on the log. Porpoising a little still, but depth only varying between about fifty-five and sixty-five feet. Eaton was using as little hydroplane-angle as possible, so as to encourage her to settle down. There was a varying list as well as depth, a slight rolling as she gently porpoised. Paul watching points carefully all the time — watching Eaton's work, just a few feet aft in the first lieutenant's position, and Jazz Lanchberry's on the helmsman's seat. Lanchberry stolid, silent, rock-like: and Brazier watching from his crouched position in the W and D.
A sharp buzz and a flashing point of light: Paul grabbed the telephone.
"All right down there?"
It was Vallance — captain of Scourge. The telephone wire was enclosed in the centre of the tow-line, which was 600 feet long and made of heavy Manilla rope. Nylon rope was infinitely better — stronger and less heavy — but nylon came only from the USA and was hard to get. Whatever the material, each rope had to be specially made, built around the central telephone wire. A few of the other X-craft did have nylon tows, but X-12 was not one of those lucky ones.
She'd jerked hard to starboard. Lanchberry countering with rudder. That would have been a sudden yaw on the part of Scourge ... Paul had staggered, grabbed at an overhead pipe for support: he told Vallance, "Not too good when you do that to us. It was very lively for a while, but easier now I've weighted her for'ard. It's the way your stern tugs at the rope that makes for problems. But we're surviving."
"Good show ... I'll make the ninety-degree turn to port now — OK?"
"Then I'll dive. Putting Scutson on this line now."
"Aye aye, sir." He told the others, "About to turn ninety degrees to port."
A nod from Eaton. Lanchberry lifted a hand, without looking round. He was an ERA, engineroom artificer. He'd steer her round, as he felt the pull developing, and Eaton would watch for the tendency to angle upwards on the swing, resulting from the flow of water sliding in under her forepart. But the weight for'ard might be expected to counter that, on this occasion. Some course and speed alterations were part of the drill for this exercise, and in themselves they presented no problems, but on the new course Scourge would be battling directly into wind and sea — wind force four, sea rough. There'd be a lot more movement on her, and it would be inflicted on X-12 too, via the tow-line from that heavily pitching stern. Might need a few more gallons in the for'ard tank ...
But the weight in the bow was already a danger. If she went out of control for some reason — for instance, if the tow parted — she'd be in a nosedive heading for the sea-bed.
He decided he'd use human ballast instead of liquid. Quicker to shift back in an emergency: and self-propelled, at that ... "Bomber" Brazier, sub-lieutenant RNVR and X-12's diver, weighed close to 200 pounds, and if Brazier moved from the W and D into the bow compartment where the battery was housed, that considerable weight would be shifted about twelve feet.
Paul warned him that he might be required to transfer for'ard quickly. Brazier raised a thumb the size of a banana. "OK, skipper."
A voice over the telephone announced, "Ten degrees of port wheel on!"
That was the voice of Scourge's navigator, Willy Scutson. Paul acknowledged, "All set, Willy."
"Bumpy, is it?"
She'd lurched again. Lanchberry spinning his wheel back, muttering soft curses. Paul told Scutson, "Be easier if you kept your bloody ship still."
In a minute Scourge would be headed to sea.
A number of full-sized submarines, S and T class and all of them fitted with the special towing gear, had visited Loch Cairnbawn for exercises like this one and for more elaborate rehearsals as well. Then they'd departed, to continue their natural warlike functions elsewhere. But now the whole group was assembling — eight of them, and each would sail with a midget in tow and a thousand miles to cover. Originally the plan had allowed for only six, and the whole team had trained on X-5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. X-11 and X-12 were recent deliveries, and HM Submarines Setter and Scourge had been added to increase the towing flotilla equivalently.
X-12 turning now, the Manilla dragging her round. It was becoming a jerky, erratic pull, though. Getting worse ... She was behaving like a hooked fish that had been lying doggo for a while and was now starting a fresh attempt at breaking the line.
"All right, are you? X-12?"
He gestured to Brazier, who turned to move for'ard, like a big dog in a small kennel. He was built like a heavyweight wrestler. The W and D was a closet-sized compartment with a hatch in the top of it and flooding and pumping controls inside. The diver, wearing a rubber suit and oxygen mask, could shut its two doors and flood it — by a pump working to and from number two main ballast — then open the hatch and go outside, usually to cut through anti-torpedo nets and let the boat slide through to its target. When she'd passed through, the diver would climb back in, shut the hatch and drain the W and D down again.
Jazz Lanchberry glanced round. "Be all right if it don't get worse, skipper."
Compared to that earlier knocking-about, the motion wasn't too bad — thanks to one displaced body and the shift of ballast. But you could still feel the tow-line snatching at her as Scourge's stern swung up and down.
"You OK, X-12?"
"No problems at the moment."
"We'll be diving in a minute."
"Thirty feet for five minutes, then sixty. Captain suggests you go to a hundred."
You wouldn't want to be towed right in the larger ship's slipstream. He told Dick Eaton, "She's about to dive. Periscope depth for five minutes, then sixty feet. We'll stay where we are for the time being, then go down to a hundred."
The first lieutenant's position was an aircraft-type seat a few feet aft, set transversely and surrounded by controls for the hydroplanes, main motor and trimming pump. He could even steer from there as well, if the ERA happened to be busy with some other task. Paul told Eaton, "You'll have to be quick to pump as soon as the motion eases. Normal trim quick as we can get it."
"Aye, sir." A sideways jerk of the narrow head. Eaton was dressed in serge battledress trousers and white submarine sweater. Paul was in similar gear except he had on waterproof over-trousers; he'd dumped the waterproof jacket near him. It was very essential protection for riding on top of an X-craft if the sea was anything but dead smooth ... The telephone warned, "Stand by. Diving." He repeated it to Eaton, who was watching his hydroplane position indicator and the depthgauge and the bubble in the spirit-level — which would be a couple of degrees aft of the centreline, because of the bow-down trim. The hydroplanes — just one pair, right aft behind the single propeller which was now idling, with no power on it, out there in the dark water about twenty feet from where Paul crouched with his backside against the warm casing of the gyro-compass motor — were in effect horizontal rudders. The murmuring, moving sea was all around you — within just inches, this steel cocoon like a bubble in it, held and compressed by its enclosing weight. Paul crouching, peering through the W and D, through the open doors in its two bulkheads, to where Bomber Brazier's hunched body seemed to fill the whole of the bow compartment.
Brazier grinned. "Wotcher, skips."
"Scourge'll be diving now. When I beckon, move back." Brazier nodded. Paul asked the ERA, "OK, Jazz?"
"Lovely grub." Eyes on the gyro repeater inches from his face, hands resting on the wheel. It was like a car's steering wheel, about that size too. There was no other kind of ship in which an engine-room artificer would double as helmsman. But Jasper Lanchberry also had the blowing panel — high-pressure air valves to numbers one and three main ballast, and main vent levers, and the pump for emptying number two main ballast, which was a kingston tank and had no high pressure blow — right at his elbow. Besides which his province was the entire boat, the whole complicated bag of tricks tightly packed into the tiny space.
Paul was edging back into his position amidships, when it happened. Simultaneously with the squawk from the telephone — "Diving!" — a very strong jerk, upwards, at the midget's stem. Then recoil, as the tow-rope slackened and the weight of her bow took charge, forepart slamming down, bow-down angle growing fast and depthgauge needle beginning to swing round its dial: sixty-five feet, seventy, seventy-five, eighty ... Brazier was heaving his bulk into the W and D: and Eaton had the pump running — the trim-lever pushed right back, aft, switching the pump to suck on the for'ard tank. Too little and too slow, to have any useful effect on the immediate crisis. Paul shouted at Lanchberry over the din of external seanoise, "Blow number one main ballast!" Then into the telephone as X-12 snouted downward — "Willy?"
He'd only been checking, confirming that the tow had parted, the Manilla rope and its wire core snapped. X-12 standing on her nose, and rate of dive increasing — 120 feet now, steep and aiming for the sea-bed, which wasn't so far away by this time, maybe 160 feet, or less ... High pressure air was blasting into the for'ard main ballast tank, though — Lanchberry turning his head to see Brazier emerging on this after side of the W and D bulkhead. Paul ordered, "Shut the shallow gauge." A reminder to Eaton — who'd have done it anyway, since the shallow depthgauge would have bust a gut if it hadn't been shut off pretty soon. But the blowing was taking effect — that, and Brazier's move: she was levelling, and the needle's swing was slowing. Bow finally coming up ... None too soon, in fact: the sea-bed might be soft here but you might have had the bad luck to find a rock-patch too, and X-12's forty tons of deadweight had been heading for it like a truck driving into a wall.
"Stop blowing. Main motor full ahead, group up."
Excerpted from The Gatecrashers by Alexander Fullerton. Copyright © 1984 Alexander Fullerton. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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