Captain Azeri peered through the periscope into the darkness. Five miles to his north was the dark shoreline of Azania. He could see the outlines of hills blocking out the stars. Shaitan had not risen yet, but he had a very short time to complete his observation before the submarine would have to dive again.
“Down scope,” Azeri ordered, and a quartermaster lowered the periscope and slid it into its receptacle in the control room floor. In the red-lit room, the anxious faces of his crew studied their instruments with rapt attention.
Azeri took two steps to the navigation plot.
The Persian submarine Yunes lurked only ten kilometers from the exit of Kenyatta harbor, the forward base of the Azanian fleet. His mission was to get even closer.
The war had started so suddenly the Yunes had barely cleared its dock before Azanian bombers had appeared overhead. Azeri had steered the boat out to sea on the surface while dodging falling bombs until the ocean bottom dropped away, and the boat could dive. It had been a terrifying experience. In the following days, the fear had transmogrified into a rage.
Damn the Azanians for attacking us, Azeri thought. We’ll make them pay. The image of bombs falling onto his base played through his mind again. It was the same all over New Persia. Nowhere was safe from the war. It wasn’t like the last war when the combat was confined, with few exceptions, to the front line.
This time they would bring the war to the Azanians.
“Make your course three-two-zero,” Azeri commanded. The diving officer and helmsman repeated his order, and the submarine turned to the northwest.
“Make your speed twenty kilometers, depth fifty meters.”
The submarine’s electric motors came to life. Running on battery power, they spun the single large propeller. The dive planes on the side of the submarine’s sail angled downward, pushing the boat toward the bottom.
The helmsman reported when the boat had leveled off at fifty meters.
“Very well,” Azeri said. It was cool inside the submarine, but he was sweating.
He watched the quartermaster chart their course to the harbor entrance. There was no way for the Yunes to enter Kenyatta harbor. His intelligence briefing reported the harbor defenses included anti-submarine nets and minefields. The harbor wasn’t very deep, either, barely deep enough for large ships to use. There would be nowhere for a submarine to hide.
But Azeri didn’t have to go in the harbor to hit the ships within. He only had to leave them a present.
In the torpedo room forward and below control, twelve naval mines were loaded in the six torpedo tubes. Another twenty-four waited on the hydraulically operated torpedo racks. They would place the mines on the ocean bottom outside the harbor entrance, and then the Yunes would depart. When the Azanian fleet sailed, they’d have a surprise waiting for them.
No submarine captain enjoyed laying mines. Torpedo attacks were far more challenging and exciting. Still, Azeri knew the mines were the best way to hit the Azanians where it would hurt them. He may never find out exactly what his mines had done, but he could be sure they would at least close the harbor until they could be cleared.
“Conn, sonar, new contact bearing three-two-five. Single screw, high speed,” the sonarman’s voice cracked, “Wait—active sonar, same bearing, range is less than five kilometers,” came the call from the sonar room.
“All stop,” Azeri ordered.
The order was repeated and acknowledged, and the submarine’s motors wound down.
The officer of the deck pulled the general quarters alarm, and throughout the ship, sailors raced to their stations.
“Conn, sonar, multiple contacts, at least three, bearings three-two-zero through three-two-five.”
Azeri waited for more information. He knew his sonar crewman were working frantically to locate and identify the sounds of the enemy ships.
“Three destroyers, fleet type, range is close from signal strength, nothing better yet. Sorry, Captain.”
“Very well,” Azeri said into the intercom. Already the sonar plot in the forward control room was being updated by the quartermaster. The weapons officer and the fire-control men stood by the torpedo data computer and wound the dials to input the limited information they had available.
Azeri knew it would do no good because the torpedo tubes were loaded with mines. He was carrying only four torpedoes for self-defense, and two of them were acoustic homing torpedoes useful only for attacking submarines.
“Torpedo room,” he called into the intercom, “reload tubes one and two with Mark Fourteen torpedoes.” It would take time to carry out the order— too much time.
“Conn sonar, new contacts, large surface ships, bearing three-two-zero.”
Azeri nodded. These new contacts were leaving the harbor. He wanted to curse. In a half-hour, he would have laid mines right where those ships were passing.
“Sonar, signal strength on active sonar?” Azeri asked.
“Not strong enough for a return,” sonar answered. The pings weren’t close enough to bounce off the Yunes’ hull and return a usable echo. The submarine was safe. “Signal on the closest destroyer is increasing. He’s getting closer.”
“All ahead one-third,” Azeri said. “Come right to course three-five-zero.” He angled the boat closer to the coast east of the destroyers leaving the harbor.
In fifteen minutes, the picture became clearer. Five destroyers exited the harbor and fanned out to the southeast and southwest, pinging their active sonars. Behind them came four large ships.
“I want to know what those ships are,” Azeri said. “Periscope depth.”
The boat slid close to the surface. Azeri reduced speed to decrease the periscope’s wake. A thin ESM mast slid up first to check for radar signals.
From behind a black curtain in the aft control room, a technician cried, “Multiple radar signals, approaching detection range!”
“Very well,” Azeri said. “Up scope!”
The scope slid up, and Azeri caught the handles. He let it slide up above the surface. He was only going to get one look, and he wanted to make sure it counted. He spun the periscope around the horizon.
The sea was flat calm. Shaitan was rising, and the twilight made it hard to distinguish the sea from the sky. The land loomed to the north. White-capped wakes betrayed the locations of the ships to the northwest. Azeri counted three small and four large ships in his field of view. He zoomed the periscope lens on the large ships.
They were enormous. With his rangefinder, Azeri estimated each at over eight hundred feet long. All had the flat deck, which told Azeri what he needed to know. The Azanian aircraft carriers were leaving port.
If he had a full spread of torpedoes loaded, he could be certain of sinking at least one, perhaps two. He drove the thought out of his head. God did not will it today.
Azeri was thinking he had the periscope up too long when the radar technician called out “Signal exceeding detection value!”
“Down scope!” Azeri said and stepped back from the downward sliding tube.
“Conn, sonar, two contacts have changed course! Bearing steady at three-two-five. Range decreasing.”
The Azanian destroyers had detected the Yunes. It was time to go. Without any way to attack the enemy fleet, the most important thing the submarine could do was escape and report what it had seen. The Azanian fleet had sailed, and it was going somewhere. Azeri wished he knew where, but it was a problem for another day. For now, he needed to survive.
Azeri examined the chart. It was not the time to hit a rock or the ocean bottom. He slapped the chart table with his hand.
“All ahead flank! Make your course zero-nine-zero,” he said.
The boat jumped into life and swung around to the east. The twin electric motors spun the propeller at its maximum speed.
Azeri looked at the sonar plot. With high speed, the flow noise of the water the Yunes was passing through would soon wash out any sonar contacts. He watched the speed gauge pass thirty kilometers per hour.
The Yunes was the newest boat in the Persian submarine fleet. It was novel in many ways, but its most important innovation was the shape of its hull. Older submarines were designed as surface ships that could dive when necessary, with flat decks and a conventional bow and stern. The Yunes was shaped like a teardrop with the bow being thicker than the stern and a round cross-section when seen from the front. The round, streamlined hull made her a terrible sea-keeper on the surface but gave her unprecedented speed underwater.
Azeri saw the speed exceed forty kilometers an hour. He could see the battery gauge dropping as he watched. At high speed, the electric motors could blow through the Yunes’ enormous battery bank in only thirty minutes.
Now is the time to use the battery power, Azeri thought. The enemy destroyers would have to run flat out to catch him, and running at high speed would deafen their sonar. If he left his last known position far behind, the enemy destroyers would find nothing when they arrived. He would be too far away for their hunt to be effective.
Azeri studied the sonar plot again. He checked times, distances, and vectors. He wanted to make sure he was as far away as possible before going silent to prevent the enemy ships from hearing him when they arrived at his old location.
After mentally checking his calculations twice, he ordered, “All ahead, one-third.”
The submarine slowed. “Make your course one-eight-zero.”
Azeri was pointing the submarine out to sea both to escape and to bring the bow sonar back into a position where it could hear the enemy ships. Directly behind the submarine, the sonar could not hear anything over the sound of the boat’s propellers.
“Sonar, report all contacts,” Azeri said.
Two destroyers were circling the spot where the boat had raised its periscope, pinging futilely with their active sonars. Another destroyer was searching a kilometer south. The rest of the ships were sailing south from the harbor unmolested at high speed.
Even with the Yunes’ unique hull, there was no way he could catch an aircraft carrier heading away from him. Even if he had the battery power, a carrier had to be fast enough to launch aircraft and could make speeds he could not match.
It was not God’s will today.
The Yunes sailed to the south for two hours until the enemy destroyers were far away. Then Azeri came to periscope depth and raised its antennas. His short HF radio message addressed to naval headquarters in Persepolis alerted the Persian fleet. The Azanians were coming.