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Chapter 60

"I'm sorry, sir," Franz-Leo Chomse said. "His Majesty seemed disinclined to listen to reason."

"Not too surprising, sir," Captain Halberstat pointed out.

"Not surprising at all, actually," Simpson replied. He stood on the bridge wing once again, gazing up the body of water usually known in English as the Sound. He'd been here before the Ring of Fire, right after the Øresund suspension bridge's construction had finally been authorized. He would have liked to have seen the bridge completed, he thought.

There are a lot of things I would have liked to have done, come to that. And there are some things I'm not going to enjoy doing at all. Not that Christian's left me a lot of choice.

He considered delaying the attack until the turn of the tide. The channel between the island of Amager to the west and the shoal fringing the low-lying island of Saltholm to the east wasn't all that wide. Indeed, when Nelson attacked Copenhagen, several of his ships had gone aground on that shoal, Simpson recalled. The seaman in him was tempted to allow the incoming flood tide to give him the greatest depth of water possible over the shoal, but the admiral in him suspected that the temptation was simply one more subconscious effort to avoid the inevitable. Yes, some of Nelson's ships had grounded. But those ships had been wind-powered, far less maneuverable than any of his. And Nelson's ships had been deeper-draft than his, as well. Not to mention the fact that his ships boasted fathometers.

Stop delaying, John, he told himself sternly. You have enough water for what you've got to do. And the more promptly you move in, the deeper the psychological impact is going to be. Maybe even deep enough to make an impression on Christian IV.

"All right." He turned back to Halberstat. "If he won't listen to reason, then we're just going to have to convince him to reconsider his position, aren't we?"


"They're moving!"

Ulrik glanced up from his conversation with Norddahl. The man assigned to watch the dockyard signal flag mast was pointing at the mast, and the prince looked over his own shoulder. The agreed upon signal flag had been raised, and he felt his belly muscles tighten.

"I suppose it's time to go a-viking," he said, as lightly as he could.

"It is that," Norddahl agreed. The pirate was closer to the surface than Ulrik had ever seen it, and the burly Norwegian radiated a fierce readiness, an eagerness, which abruptly made even the most outrageous of his tales very believable.

To Ulrik's surprise, some of that same fierceness seemed to leap across the space between him and the older man, like sparks flying from a piece of rubbed amber.

"Then let's get started," he said, and oars thumped, then groaned in the oarlocks, as the crews ran out the sweeps and threw their weight on to them.

The shallow-draft, fifty-foot galleys—basically outsized open rowboats with three men on each sweep—gathered speed through the two-foot swell. Fifteen of them still carried their original eighteen-pounder cannon mounted in their bows, but the other ten had traded in their artillery for spar torpedoes, raised so that they looked like strange masts stepped all the way forward, swelling into ungainly pods at the business ends.

Half of the galleys towed rafts in addition to their weapons, and Ulrik jerked his head in their direction, then nodded to Norddahl.

"Whenever you think best, Baldur," he said.

Norddahl glanced at the water, obviously considering the state of the tide and wind. He waited a few more moments, then picked up the signal flag and waved it around his head with a quick, circling motion.

The galleys towing the rafts slowed briefly. Just long enough for the men carrying the lit oil lanterns to toss them into the carefully prepared rafts. Oil splashed over the piled combustibles. Flame followed, and the first tendrils of dense smoke began to rise.


"Smoke bearing three-five-five!"

Simpson raised his binoculars and peered in the indicated direction. At first, there wasn't a great deal to see, but the first smudge the sharp-eyed lookout had done remarkably well to spot grew quickly into something far denser and darker. The moderately stiff breeze blowing out of the north played with it, rolling it along on its breath, and he frowned as his binoculars picked out the first of several low-slung galleys.

"Ships bearing three-five-five!" the same lookout announced at almost exactly the same moment Simpson spotted them. "Many ships—galleys!"

Simpson's mouth tightened. His intelligence reports had warned him the Danes were assembling a fleet of oar-powered gunboats to defend Copenhagen. Even without those reports, he would have anticipated exactly the same thing. Galley fleets had lasted longer in the Baltic and the Black Sea than anywhere else, given the normal sailing conditions. They were also small enough that they could be turned out quickly in relatively large numbers, and they had frequently been manned by hastily impressed soldiers, rather than the trained seamen sailing ships required.

Set against that, they'd seldom proved very effective against larger warships. They were simply too fragile, and the best most of them could hope to mount was a single heavy gun in the bows, which could normally fire only straight ahead. True, some of the larger ones mounted a single gun aft, as well, but none of them were stable enough for broadside fire, which meant they could never bring more than one gun to bear at a time. As long as a sailing ship had enough wind to turn and keep its broadside directed at the oncoming galleys, they'd been able to accomplish very little. Against the tough hides of Simpson's ironclads and timberclads, galley gunboats—especially with seventeenth-century artillery—were going to be totally ineffectual.

Several of these galleys, however, carried what were obviously spar torpedoes, and those actually could damage or even sink any of his ships . . . if they managed to get close enough.

Which is exactly what that damned smokescreen of theirs is designed to bring about, he thought grimly. Damn. Why couldn't they be stupid, as well as stubborn?

Even as he watched, the steadily thickening pall of smoke was rolling down across the leading galleys, blotting them from sight like a dense, artificial fog bank.

He lowered the binoculars, eyes narrow as he contemplated his options. The probability of any one of those torpedo-armed galleys getting close enough, even under the protection of their smokescreen, wasn't very great. But he'd seen at least six or seven of them, and the odds of at least one of them getting through were substantially higher. What he needed to fend them off were lighter escorts of his own, but he didn't have those. Certainly the one undamaged bass boat he still had available would be useless floundering around out there in the smoke.

"Captain Halberstat!"

"Yes, sir?" the flag captain replied almost instantly.

"We're going to change formation," Simpson decided. "Have Ajax take the lead, then Achilles. The ironclads will follow behind them, and the squadron will assume Formation Charlie on a heading of zero-niner-five."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Halberstat disappeared back into the conning tower, and Simpson heard him calling down the interior ladder to the radio room. At almost the same instant, Constitution and her sister ships slowed, reducing speed to allow the timberclads to steam past them.

Simpson watched Achilles coming up to port, while Ajax steamed past to starboard and wondered what their crews were thinking. He wasn't sending them ahead because they were more expendable, although he supposed that was exactly what they were, in cold-blooded terms. But the main reason for sending them ahead was their heavier close-range firepower. They'd be much more capable of taking care of themselves in the sort of knife fight galleys with spar torpedoes would be seeking.

"Well, sir," Halberstat's voice observed at his elbow, "at least we can be fairly certain we're not sailing directly into one of those minefields of theirs. Not if their own galleys are crossing through it, at any rate."

"Probably," Simpson replied, but his own tone was more thoughtful, less assured, and Halberstat's eyebrows rose. Simpson turned his head in time to see the flag captain's expression, and he chuckled mirthlessly.

"First, those galleys probably don't draw much more water than the ironclads do when their ballast tanks are empty. They could be sailing right across the top of a minefield, if they were ballsy enough. Second, they could be deliberately showing themselves to us figuring that we'd charge right in to attack them, at which point we'd discover that there was a minefield between us and them."

"Do you seriously think there is one, sir?"

"No, not really," Simpson acknowledged. "Mining this channel would have closed Copenhagen's harbor completely, which obviously hasn't been the case. Not unless they somehow managed to work out a way to detonate mines from the shore after all, and I don't believe they could have. Even contact mines built with the tech currently available to them are going to be pretty damned problematical. Most of the mines employed prior to the 1900s had a very high failure rate, and I'd guess that anything they could cobble up on such relatively short notice would be . . . less than fully reliable, let's say.

"On the other hand, only one of them would have to work to put any one of our ships on the bottom. And the same is true for those spar torpedoes of theirs. Which is why we're going to Formation Charlie."

"Yes, sir."


The main problem with smoke screens, Ulrik discovered (not to his surprise, particularly) was that neither side could see through them. He knew approximately where the American warships had been when the reeking, choking, thoroughly filthy wall of smoke rolled down across the galleys. Unfortunately, he couldn't be certain they were still there. For that matter, it was all but impossible to be confident about his own vessels' heading. Fortunately, the breeze was strong enough and the smoke rolling along on it was thick enough to keep his sense of direction from becoming totally confused.

"Shouldn't we have made contact by now, Your Highness?" his galley's second-in-command asked. He sounded more than a little nervous, and Ulrik commanded himself to wait long enough to draw a deep breath and be positive he was in control of his own voice before he responded.

"We haven't gone as far as you think we have since we lost sight of them, Sven," he said then. "And if you were in command on the other side, would you have continued charging straight ahead after you'd sighted us coming? Especially if you'd noticed the spar torpedoes, first?"

"Probably not, Your Highness," the other man acknowledged after a moment. "I wish we did know where they are, though."

"Well, so do I!" Ulrik assured him with a laugh. "On the other hand, blind as we may be, they have to be equally blind. And just between the two of us, that suits me just fine."


Commander Wolfgang Mülbers muttered another oath as the front edge of the smoke bank enveloped Ajax. Mülbers' timberclad had turned hard to starboard, with Achilles astern of her. Their new heading was at right angles to their earlier course, and they had reduced speed to no more than six or seven knots. He didn't like moving so slowly when he might have to maneuver hard to avoid those dammed spar torpedoes, but Formation Charlie was essentially a defensive one. Admiral Simpson had worked it out as one of the Navy's standard deployments specifically designed to deal with the threat of torpedo attack in poor visibility and narrow waters. In open water, or with better visibility, they would almost certainly have gone to Formation Delta. Delta called for all units to maneuver at high speed, giving them the best opportunity to evade, but that wouldn't have been very practical here in the approaches to Copenhagen. And at least the slow speed of Formation Charlie should give them stable gun platforms.

The smoke grew thicker, and he heard members of his bridge crew coughing. He also felt his muscles tightening, and his nerves singing with tension. Below the bridge, the forward port mitrailleuse moved slightly, mounting squeaking as its crew trained it in the direction of the anticipated threat. The carronades were ready, as well, but they were also much slower firing.

Seconds dragged past, trickling away into minutes that seemed impossibly long, and still there was no sign of the Danes. What the hell where they up to?


"Think the smoke's reached the ironclads?" Ulrik asked. He kept his voice low, his mouth only inches from Norddahl's ear, as if he were afraid the Americans might hear him. Which was pretty silly, he supposed . . . not that he had any intention of raising his voice.

"Hard to say," Norddahl replied only slightly more loudly. The Norwegian frowned into the eye-watering murk, then shrugged with a certain fatalism. "Either it has, or it's about to, or it's never going to get there at all. In any case, it's probably time, Your Highness."

"That's what I was thinking, too," Ulrik said, and then he did raise his voice.

"All right, boys! Let's go!"

There were no cheers. He and Norddahl had been very firm about that part of their instructions during their training exercises. But Ulrik felt the sudden electric surge, the release of the tension of waiting transmuting itself into eagerness, as the sweeps groaned once more and the galleys, which had come almost completely to a halt, began to accelerate through the water again.

They'd stayed about as close together as they could get without fouling one another's sweeps. Even so, Ulrik could see only the three or four closest galleys, and he was unhappily certain that his squadron was advancing unevenly. The other galleys, the ones far enough out from the center of his line to be unable to see his command galley, wouldn't know to begin advancing once more until one of the other galleys they could see started to move. Still, he'd factored that into his planning with Norddahl from the beginning. They couldn't hope to win an organized fight at any sort of extended range, so they'd planned from the outset to fight the opposite sort of battle: a close-in melee under the worst visibility conditions they could create.

Now it remained to be seen how well those plans were going to succeed.


"Ship on the port quarter!"

Commander Mülbers whipped around, peering aft through the filthy, greasy smoke. For a second or two, all he could see was more smoke. Then the bows of a gun-armed galley came thrusting into visibility.

The galley's crew obviously hadn't seen Ajax until the moment they were spotted in return. Its eighteen-pounder couldn't be brought to bear, and the slender craft began turning sharply, trying to point its bows toward its larger enemy.

There was no need for Mülbers to issue any orders. Or, rather, all the necessary orders had been issued long since. As the galley started its turn, the after mitrailleuse in the port broadside pivoted slightly behind its heavy splinter shield, and the gunner turned the crank.

The staccato explosions sounded like someone dragging the world's biggest stick down a picket fence made of steel, Mülbers thought. The range was no more than forty or fifty yards, close enough that a shot from the galley's gun might well penetrate Ajax's stout timbers, or at least the thinner planking protecting the paddle wheel. But that was also a low enough range for the mitrailleuse's .50-caliber slugs to punch through the galley's thin hull planking like sledgehammers.

The men clustered around the eighteen-pounder went down first as the heavy bullets ripped through them in a ghastly red fog. The same slugs, scarcely even slowed by their passage through the gunners' bodies, smashed into the rowers behind them. Men screamed, others simply died, and splinter-fringed holes perforated the galley as the mitrailleuse walked its fire aft down the centerline of the Danish vessel.

A single magazine more than sufficed to cripple the galley, but the mitrailleuse crew swung into polished action. The intensive training Admiral Simpson and their own officers had hammered into them went deep—so deep they never really had to think about it at all. The gunner released the expended magazine. One of his assistants snatched it from the mitrailleuse's breech, aligned it over the extractor's fingers, and shoved it down, punching out the empty cartridges. Even as the empties fell to the deck, the gunner's second assistant had slammed a second magazine into the weapon. The gunner threw the lever, locking the new magazine into place, and then turned the crank again, traversing his fire across the shattered slaughter pen of the galley, while his third assistant reloaded the first magazine.

Fresh thunder sounded from the direction of Ajax's bows as the forward mitrailleuse opened fire, and then number two port carronade bellowed. Mülbers had turned back forward when the second mitrailleuse opened up, but he still hadn't found the carronade's target when the eight-inch shell smashed into it.

Fortunately for the galley's crew, the shell punched clear through both sides of their vessel before the fuse could initiate detonation. Unfortunately, it did so at a sharp downward angle, exiting through the boat's bilge and giving birth to an instant geyser. And, even more unfortunately, water wasn't very compressible. When the shell did explode, the force of its detonation was directed upward, right into the bottom of the galley's hull, with devastating consequences. The vessel's back broke instantly and it capsized, spilling men into the icy water, and the Sound was cold enough even in May for hypothermia to be a very real danger.

The after mitrailleuse was thundering again, and in the brief pause as its crew reloaded, Mülbers heard Achilles firing astern of him.


"It would be nice," John Chandler Simpson said through clenched teeth, "to have some fucking idea who's fucking shooting at what."

The admiral's tone was remarkably level, under the circumstances, Franz Halberstat thought. His language was something else, of course, and the flag captain felt an ignoble temptation to flee to the other side of the conning tower. The actual physical separation wouldn't have meant much, but every little bit helped.

He waited for Simpson to say something else, but despite the profanity, the admiral obviously had himself under tight control, which said quite a lot about his self-discipline. One concept he'd hammered home again and again was the absolute necessity of situation reports. "Never assume that your senior officers see and know what you see and know," he'd said over and over. Now he and Halberstat could both hear the stuttering bursts of mitrailleuse fire and the occasional deeper, harder coughs of carronades. Unfortunately, what they could actually see was absolutely nothing, and no one was using the radio to enlighten them.

"Ship on the port bow, bearing three-four-niner!"

Halberstat was out of the conning tower's protection and onto the port bridge wing in a flash. The need to see as clearly as possible dwarfed any consideration of the conning tower's armored protection, and he strained his eyes against the smoke.

The centerline mitrailleuse mounted on the foredeck in front of the main armored casement began to spit streaks of fire into the smoke. Halberstat followed their direction and finally found the galley the lookout had spotted. How that young man had managed to pick it out of this infernal fog was more than Halberstat was prepared to guess. He couldn't see it very clearly himself even now, but it looked as if it had actually been crossing ahead of the flagship when it was sighted. And even under these miserable visibility conditions, it was clear that the mitrailleuse's gunner had found his mark.

The galley slewed sideways, and an instant later at least one of the mitrailleuse's heavy bullets must have hit the spar standing upright in its bows. The torpedo mounted on the spar pitched over the side as the spar itself shattered. It plunged into the water, vanishing in a flash of white foam . . . then exploded with ear-stunning violence as its sinking weight jerked the firing lanyard taut.

The galley—and its entire crew—disappeared in a volcano of white water and splintered timbers.

"New ship, port quarter, two-seven-five!" another lookout shouted, and the after mitrailleuse began to fire.


Ulrik heard the rapid-sequence firing of what had to be the USE's "mitrailleuses," and the interspersed thunder of their cannon. He couldn't see a thing, and the tension in his own torpedo-armed galley twisted tighter and tighter as the crew continued to row straight ahead into the impenetrable smoke.

The gunfire seemed to be coming from every direction but directly ahead of them, he reflected bitterly, while his heart hammered at the base of his throat. Apparently everybody but him and the other two galleys somehow managing to stay in formation with him had made contact. It took all his willpower to keep from ordering his own galley to turn sharply, hunting back the way it had come for the prey it had obviously somehow missed.

"That was a torpedo!" someone unidentifiable through the smoke half-shouted as a deeper, somehow longer explosion roared.

Ulrik had no doubt that whoever had shouted was absolutely correct. The question was whether or not the explosion had accomplished anything. And, if it had, what—

"Ship dead ahead!" someone screamed.


Captain Markus Bollendorf's lookouts weren't as fortunate as Constitution's had been. They picked up all three of the attackers, but not until the galleys were almost on top of SSIM Monitor.

The after mitrailleuse opened fire almost instantly, and the carronade crews started frantically training their guns toward the threat, but the forward mitrailleuse wouldn't bear at all, and there wasn't enough time to coordinate the ironclad's defensive fire power properly. The after mitrailleuse crew ripped one of the attacking gunboats into a splintered charnel house, and the forward carronade managed to get off a single shot which struck its target with devastating force. It hit just to one side of the galley's stem and punched directly aft until it exploded halfway down the vessel's length, killing virtually its entire crew.

The second carronade, unfortunately for Monitor, had been training around to engage the same target. When the first gun's shell exploded, the second gun captain instantly started slewing his weapon around to engage the remaining galley, but there simply wasn't enough time.


A corner of Ulrik's brain cringed.

Despite everything, his efforts to envision the effectiveness of the USE warships' weapons had come up short. The stabbing, staccato thunderbolts streaming from the mitrailleuse came faster and more accurately than he had ever anticipated. They had heaped the crew of one of his accompanying galleys in mounds of dead and wounded, and the shockwave from the volcanic eruption as the carronade shell disemboweled his second galley seemed to punch his entire body like some huge, immaterial fist.

But despite the carnage that had enveloped and devoured the other two galleys, his own swept forward, as if protected by some magic spell.

Norddahl manned the tiller, arrowing straight toward the fire-spitting behemoth of their target, and Ulrik's heart thundered louder than the enemy's guns as he lowered the spar. It dropped, angling sharply into the water, and drove straight toward the ironclad's flank. It was like a knight's lance driving into a dragon's side, and every ounce of Ulrik's being focused down to the firing lanyard in his fist.

The tip of his lance drove in under the ironclad's bilge. Despite the potentially lethal consequences if the spar shattered and drove back into his own body, Ulrik kept his free hand on the thick shaft, feeling for any telltale vibrations.

It quivered suddenly, jerking, flexing madly, and the prince visualized the torpedo on its other end. It was as if his eyes could pierce the blinding smoke, actually see down into the water. He knew the torpedo had gone exactly where it was supposed to go, under the turn of the bilge, grating along under the "roof" of the ship's flat bottom.

He jerked the lanyard.


Monitor heaved indescribably.

Bollendorf went to his knees as the entire ship bounced and twisted underfoot. Wooden planking shattered, framing members snapped, water poured in through a ten-by-ten-foot breach, and the ship began listing sharply to port.

Any other vessel of Monitor's size would have sunk quickly. But Monitor had been designed by John Chandler Simpson with exactly this sort of situation in mind, and Bollendorf used the voice pipes to drag himself back upright.

"Pump the port trim tanks!" he shouted down the voice pipes to Engineering. "Shut down the port drive pump!"

"Aye, aye, sir!"

The disembodied reply coming back up out of the voice pipe was distorted, high-pitched with excitement and perfectly reasonable fear. It was also recognizable as that of Lieutenant Johannes Verlacht, Monitor's senior engineer. Even better, Bollendorf heard the steady, pounding roar of the ironclad's big diesel still thundering along in the background. As long as they had power for the pumps, they had a chance.


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