The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 143: Points to Ponder in Pago Pago

The US Naval Air Station, American Samoa

The United States Naval Air Station, American Samoa, spread along the southern shore of Tutuila Island from the banks of Pala Lagoon to Logotala Hill. It was a substantial facility, with a dozen mooring masts, a long row of airship sheds, three separate hydrogen plants, and enough fuel storage to support the USN South Pacific Airship Squadron for several months. It was currently home to two of the new Los Angeles class patrol vessels, several older Shenandoah class ships, and an indeterminate number of Lakehurst class transports.

As a visiting warship of an allied power, the R-505 had been given the guest mooring, Number Six, toward the west side of the field. The view from her mess deck was the very picture of industry. Switching engines rumbled back and forth, hauling strings of freight cars to and from the moored airships. Immediately to the east, crews were servicing one of the Shenandoahs. Beyond it, handlers were walking a C-Class blimp out of its shed for a short range patrol. In the distance, in Pago Pago’s spacious outer harbor, units of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet -- including the mighty USS West Virginia, BB-48 -- seemed to be raising steam as part of some drill.

Everett studied the scene with mixed feelings. Like all Englishman, he’d been raised to believe that unnecessary labor was good for one’s character, but these Americans seemed to carry things a bit too far. The exuberance of a young nation, he thought. I suppose we should give them another eight or nine centuries before we pass judgment.

He turned away from the window, set down his tea, and addressed Iverson and Pierre. "I trust you didn't have any difficulty finding dealers in used submarine parts."

"Nothing worthy of note," replied Iverson, a bit too quickly. Everett wondered at the lieutenant's expression, then dismissed it from his mind. Commanders posted to the South Pacific learned to turn a blind eye to minor irregularities.

"Did they have any word of our Mister Fuller?" he asked.

"The man did call here for equipment," said Iverson. "He also arranged shipments to other islands. He’s been doing this on an irregular basis for more than a year."

"This would have begun sometime before he conspired with Police Chief Channel to order those tanks," Jenkins observed.

Everett nodded. "It would seem that the gentleman plans ahead. Were you able to determine where these shipments were sent?"

"The majority went to British, Australian, and New Zealand possessions, such as Fiji, the Solomons, and Savage Island," said Pierre, "but there was one noteworthy exception. Sometime toward the beginning of October, Fuller arranged for a pair of wet heater motors to be delivered to Rabaul."

"A month ago," mused Everett. "That is certainly suggestive."

"Do you think that’s where they’re headed now?" asked Iverson. "It sounds as though he arranged the shipment several weeks before he visited the Russians on Eua."

"True, but the two parties could well have been in contact prior to then. Jenkins, did you learn anything at the Residence?"

"I spoke with their intelligence officer," said the signalman. "He knew nothing about the German nationalists or the British Union -- indeed, he seemed quite surprised when I informed him of their existence -- but he was able to provide me with these."

Jenkins unrolled a set of blueprints and spread them across the table as the other leaned forward to look. A bold legend at the top proclaimed USN ZR-57 Mansfield. Below this were plans for a modern airship, much like their own vessel, with an attached control car and a fully streamlined hull. She was somewhat more rounded than the Flying Cloud, without the latter's elegant tapering stern. She also seemed significantly larger. A complicated web of girders and cables, from Frame -23 at the stern to Frame 210 at the bow, enclosed eleven titanic gas cells, the accommodations section, and a sizable cargo hold. Eight engines were arranged in rows of four on each side.

The configuration was very familiar. "Sacre bleu!" muttered Pierre. "C'est ça!"

"That looks exactly like the ship that attacked us!" exclaimed Iverson.

"It does bear a rather striking resemblance to our mysterious adversaries," observed Everett. "We’re quite sure the American vessel is still in Sunnyvale?"

"Yes," said Jenkins. "They've been practicing with heavier-than-air craft, trying to devise some way to launch and retrieve them for scouting purposes. I understand they're using floatplanes based on the Airco DH.2, built under license from Hendon."

"What a very strange thing for them to do," said Davies. "Wasn't that the one they called the ‘spinning incinerator’?"

"Yes," said Jenkins. "I gather that this newer version is not much of an improvement."

"Ambitious fellows, these Americans, " said Everett. "We must wish them the best of luck with this novel experiment. What are the vessel's specifications?"

"She's quite substantial: 785 feet overall with 6.8 million cubic feet enclosed volume, a gross lift of 200 tons, and a useful lift of 76 tons."

The captain ran through the figures in his head. This was almost three times the volume of their own ship. With a fixed weight fraction slightly higher than the Flying Cloud, the American design would have a slightly lower pressure height, but her larger size would give her greater endurance. "What's her engineering plant?"

"According to this plan, she has eight Cleveland 201 airship diesels developing 450 horsepower each -- not quite as good as the latest German designs, but still sufficient to drive her 68 knots."

"Suppose we assume our adversaries have a vessel like this with engines like ours?"

"You think this is possible?" asked Jenkins.

"It might even be likely."

The signalman did a quick calculation. "Assuming their hull could take that amount of power, they could be a few knots faster than us. It depends on how they’re tuned and what kind of propellers they have."

Everett nodded to himself. This was much as he'd expected. "This," he said, "is food for thought. But we'll consider it later -- at the moment, we have more pressing matters to deal with. Mister Iverson, if MacKiernan and Miss Helga left Eua on the 28th of November, when could they reach Rabaul?"

"You think they're aware of Fuller's interest in the place?" asked the lieutenant.

"I believe we can be confident this is the case. They’re both resourceful individuals, and it's quite possible Miss Perkins might have been able to provide them with additional information of which we're unaware."

The lieutenant set to work with parallel rules and a set of dividers. After a moment he frowned. "They're two weeks ahead of us. If they headed there straight from Eua, they could be arriving now."

Everett hid his misgivings. It wouldn't do to show concern to the men. "I suppose it can't be helped," he said brightly, "but we can hope they stopped for fuel or cargo along the way. With any luck, we should be able to catch up with them. We'll lift ship this evening, as soon as we've finished regassing."

Next week: Victory at Sea, In a Somewhat Indirect Fashion...

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