Intrépide: Part 3
By Blaine Lee Pardoe
Heavy Cruiser Intrépide
8 September 1900
It took a long, painful two minutes for the Intrépide to arc around 180 degrees. Halfway through the turn, Lieutenant Miller entered the makeshift bridge. His uniform was torn, but he was alive. Where he had been for the last few minutes was something to be learned later. Part of François was happy to see his commanding officer, but that changed the moment Miller spoke. “What are you doing, Moreau? I was in the forward turret and heard you are in command?”
“Qui. Capitaine Guisarme turned over the ship to me,” he replied, not lifting his eyes from the enemy ship. He saw flashes of light from cannons firing just as shells hit his own ship. The Intrépide vibrated violently under the impacts from the Renown, so hard he almost fell over, but still the old mademoiselle was in the air…still in the fight.“I outrank you. I will assume command now,” Miller said. He closed the hatch behind him, cutting out the roar of the wind outside. From what François could see, wherever he had gotten to, he had been in a fight. Black smudges marked his face and his right hand was wrapped in a piece of cloth that served as a makeshift bandage.
“No. By the regulations, I am Capitaine until the engagement ends, I am dead, or I turn over command. I plan on none of that—not now,” he spat back. This was not the time for such a debate, and Miller ought to know it.
“This is not some test at La Borget, boy! Good men are dying below deck. We need to break off this engagement. We are being pummeled to scrap metal.”
“You will mind your tone. I am your Capitaine! We will not break off until I say so! If we try to get away now, they will stalk us like wolves. No, we fight here – now! Assume your station or I will have you relieved.”
Miller looked stunned. “They will court martial you for this, if we live.”
“I look forward to it,” François replied.
Miller’s face reddened as he moved stoically next to Dumont and took over at gunnery control. “Very well. Your orders, Capitaine?”
The Renown kept firing at will, but François’s own guns held their fire, his men awaiting orders. “Stand by the fire. All guns track your target carefully. Ready the aft torpedo launcher. After we fire our barrage, we will bank to starboard. I want that torpedo fired into the cruiser’s path.” The Intrépide shook again from another hit. We can’t take much more of this punishment, can we?
As if to accentuate that reality, a shell from the British cruiser landed near the fire control deck. The entire crew was knocked off their feet. The armored glass on the starboard side held, but was now horribly cracked. The exterior wall buckled from the explosion, only a few meters from where François had been standing.
As he started to move, a stab of pain wracked his left thigh. He looked down and saw a piece of teak, eight centimeters long, sticking out. Blood soaked his dark blue pants. Ignoring a jolt of fear, he gritted his teeth, reached down and pulled the massive splinter out. The wood had varnish on it, a piece of trim from the inner hand railing near the window. More modern ships removed much of the decorative wood trim for just this reason—a near miss could turn wood into shrapnel. Removing the piece of wood hurt intensely, but from the amount of blood he saw, no artery had been hit. He gingerly tested his leg. It ached, but he ignored it, relying more on his right leg. The rest of the gunnery crew clambered to their feet as well. Dumont bore a nasty bruise on his forehead from the fall. None had escaped injury.
The Intrepide and the British ship were at optimum range, passing each other by only 300 meters. François called out, “Fire!”
The entire cruiser rocked, as if she would roll over upside down. The electrode compensators adjusted her trim as the guns unleashed their iron hell on the British cruiser. Explosions raked the Renown from one end to another. Her aft turret took a hit, touching off the reserve powder. The explosion from within the ship shot a pillar of fire up where the turret had been, sending debris raining down to bitter North Sea below.
“Engine room, hard to starboard now! Bring us around 90 degrees. Adjust altitude up 100 meters, gradual.” François did not wait for them to respond. “Lieutenant Miller, prepare the aft torpedo—fire at her before she turns.”
Miller gave out the string of commands to the mouthpiece, then turned to the torpedo officer, Sous-lieutenant Lefevre. “Make your calculation now!” Black-haired Lefevre took out a brass disk and turned it, using a specially designed eyeglass to determine the angles of both of the ships. The brass disk had a cover that allowed him to turn and make the necessary calculations to fire. It took a painfully long few seconds for him to spin the disk, take notes, spin again, take a sighting and scribble more notes. Then he spoke to Lieutenant Miller. “I have the fire angle for the torpedo ready, sir.”
“Fire torpedo,” François said. Miller passed the command down to the torpedo crew. Turning to the rear armored window, François saw the aerial torpedo take off, a wisp of white smoke trailing it. He snapped his head to watch the destroyer in front of him and the torpedo simultaneously, giving each a millisecond at a time. The destroyer was opening up with everything she had, but half her shots missed and those that hit did not have the penetration power to do serious damage. The Intrépide shook off the hits as if they were harmless.
The torpedo was another matter. At the sight of its approach, the British ship attempted to turn, but the laws of physics were in play. Given her speed, the Renown could not bank around too quickly. There was simply not enough time to avoid the incoming weapon. As the British cruiser began to turn, the torpedo slammed into her lower steering gear. The explosion sent parts of her rudder raining downward to the sea below.
With the cruiser heading in the opposite direction, François concentrated on the Python. “It is time we dealt that that annoyance,” he said. “Engine Room,” he called into the communications tube. “I need a turn of 60 degrees to port, now!”
To Be Continued…