Intrépide: Part 5
By Blaine Lee Pardoe
Thirty days later…
Aviation Board of Inquiry
La Borget Field
Sous-lieutenant François Moreau sat alone at the table for the defense, as was the tradition. The board of inquiry into the events of the previous month was necessary. He had assumed command of the Intrépide, and the French Admiralty had questions that must be answered. While it was standard procedure after an incident such as this, he did not feel comfortable about the situation. More than one officer’s career had been broken in this room. And while he felt his actions throughout the engagement were justified, he also knew the Admiralty might have other ideas and perspectives.
The room was stuffy, made worse by the fact that the hearing was a closed proceeding. That meant no open windows, through which anything inconvenient might be overheard. The two ceiling fans created the illusion that they were cooling the room, but that was all. François tugged at his starched uniform shirt collar and tried to ignore his physical discomfort. If only his unease could be ignored as easily…
The first three hours of the court martial were a summary of the engagement. Capitaine Guisarme attended the proceedings as well, offering his recollections up until he had passed out. He knew he had given command of the ship to a Sous-lieutenant, but didn’t recall that it was to François. Hardly the ringing endorsement François had hoped for. All along, he had harbored the illusion that the Capitaine had put him in command for a reason, that he had recognized François’s competence. That wasn’t it at all. Guisarme had put him in command of the ship because he had been there.
Lieutenant Miller took the stand. He informed the board members that he had insisted on assuming command of the Intrépide but that his junior officer had refused to turn over the vessel to him. Miller gave him a glare as he said this, as if to say, “Take that!” François did not let this stir him. Miller had his own career ambitions. His true colors will show through…eventually.
Finally, he was called to testify. He walked across the ornately tiled floor to the mahogany podium and grasped it with both hands. Around his neck he felt the small wooden medallion he wore on a chain—carved from the splinter of teak that had stabbed him in the leg. He’d had an artisan etch the herald of the Intrépide into it.
Commandant aérien Gravois spoke first, not looking at François but speaking instead to the paperwork in front of him. “Sous-lieutenant Moreau; have the events thus far as presented in the testimony been accurate, in your recollection?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied.
“And you admit that when Lieutenant Miller, a more seasoned and experienced officer, attempted to take command of the Intrépide, you refused to relinquish said command?” He finally looked up from the files and gave François a glare with his light gray eyes.
“That is correct.”
“Why not?” cut in Commander Neville, the youngest member of the court martial board.
François felt his face flush red with the question. “Under regulation 46A, as the acting Capitaine of the ship I was not required to relinquish command until such a time that measures dictated it.”
“Lieutenant Miller has said that he would have broken off the engagement. You pressed the attack on the Renown and the Python.”
“That is correct, sir. It was my estimation that turning tail and attempting to flee would only have invited disaster and a greater loss of life.”
“Greater loss of life? Lieutenant, this engagement cost the lives of eighty-seven of your crew. Another 129 were injured as a result of remaining engaged with the British ships.”
“If we had lost the ship, all hands would have gone down…including me.”
“So,” portly Commandant aérien Lisle chimed in, “You felt that the losses were acceptable?”
François paused. “The loss of a single life is not acceptable to me. But this is the life I, no, we have chosen. I was in command of the ship. When in command, you must be willing to take the risks necessary to protect our country. The British lured us into a trap. If we had tried to flee, I am confident we would not have made it to the coast. The best counter to their trap was to fight and win the battle. That is what we did.”
Commandant aérien Gravois leaned back in his chair and slid the paperwork aside. “Who were you to command that cruiser? Surely there were other officers more qualified?”
<<To Be Continued…