February 8th, 1942
Going back in time a bit the French 2nd fleet under the command of Admiral Blanchard left Toulon the evening of January 3rd under complete darkness. The plan for this escape from Vichy France had taken over a month for Admiral Gastineau to develop and coordinate and it was imperative that all involved stick to it. Some lives would be lost in the end but if balance the lives lost with what was saved than too many it was well worth the risk.
The battleships Alsace & Normandie were just about 70% complete and certain aspects of their construction were moved ahead of schedule. One of the main things that were accomplished was the mounting of the 4 main battery turrets and having the 15” guns placed in them. To accomplish this work on the ships superstructure were put on hold as well as the mounting of the secondary batteries. Along with each ship having their main batteries installed had the installation of each ships power plants finished to the point that both were literally able to go to sea at their current state of completion. This work had to be done in secret unlike the main battery turrets.
Both ships were removed from Dry-dock on Christmas Eve during the beginnings of a heavy snowstorm. The next step was unplanned but the arrival of the snowstorm would provide whatever cover they would need to move the ships out of the harbor. The initial plan was to take and scuttle them out at sea before the rumors that the Germans would seize them for the Kriegsmarine. Each of the battleships building crews had stored a large amount of debris on and in the hulls so that it would appear to anyone investigating both ships had been sunk.
The majority of the escorts for the battleships would come from Algiers & Tunis and would meet them off the coast of one of the Balearic Islands, Menorca but before that they would set in motion to set in place of the deception plan that is the scuttling of the 2 ships. The ships were to be moved to a point some 20 miles off the coast of Spain near the city of Barcelona. At the prearranged time both ship crews began to dump the debris as well as pump hundreds of gallons of fuel into the sea. This accomplished both ships moved to the prearranged rendezvous point.
By early morning of February 9th all ships had grouped in and around the islands and still under the cover of darkness but soon it would be dawn and they had to hurry. They had to make it to Casablanca in Morocco before someone discovered the deception otherwise they would be discovered. So steaming as fast as the ships could move and without any plans of stopping or even engaging British forces from Gibraltar they set course for the straits hugging the coast of North Africa as close as possible. In the meantime pilots of the French Air Force loyal to the real French Government stood by to intercept British force who came even close to the French ships.
By 9AM debris along with fuel oil began to float up to the Spanish beaches around Barcelona as the tides had started to come in. Reports had begun to come into the Guardia civil who in turn reported them to the Spanish Coast Guard who sent ships and aircraft to investigate. The first on the debris fields were a couple of Spanish fishing boats which began to collect some of the debris. By the time the first Spanish Coast Guard boat arrived the debris and fuel were determined to come from the Alsace & Normandie and it didn’t take long for the Spanish Government to lodge a formal complaint about scuttling their ships off the Spanish Coast endangering valuable fishing grounds.
News to the Vichy government they soon began to investigate and it didn’t take long to discover that both ships were no longer in Toulon along with several destroyers. Like a wildfire this news spread to the German High Command in Paris. Less than 3 hours later a dozen senior German Naval Officers as well as scores of military police began to arrive at the French Naval Base and started to collect prisoners by the score. Interrogations were not far behind and lasted well into the evening and the next day. It seemed for all intensive purposes that a few disgruntled naval officers the thought of turning over to the Germans 2 of the French Navies most powerful ships was too much and acted to prevent this from happening.
Two days later the Germans and Vichy French Government were to learn the truth as the leading elements arrived off the entrance to Dakar’s harbor. Agents for both governments watched as each ship entered the harbor to join those of the 1st French Fleet already there. Hitler was furious and ranted and raved for hours before ordering Admiral Doenitz to begin dispatching U-boats to the area with orders to sink the French warships. By this time also the British government was also informed as British subs in the area began to report of the arrival of the French Fleet.
The reconstituted French Fleet would remain in Dakar for another month under close protection. In the meantime negotiations were ongoing between Admiral Gastineau and the US government through the American consulates office in Dakar to turn over the French ships to the Americans. This was a sensitive matter as one of Admiral’s Gastineau’s key points in the negotiations that the French ships and crews would not be interned. He insisted that his ships be allowed to fly the French flag and fight alongside the US navy as a separate fleet. He also insisted that the Alsace & Normandie be completed in the US.
It took more the 10 days of discussion within the US government especially between President Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy and Admiral King but in the end Admiral Gastineau terms was accepted and arrangements were made to escort the French Fleet to American shores. Task Force was tasked with this mission and arrived off the coast of Dakar on March 5th. Under the protection of Task Force 24 the French Fleet began ship by ship to leave Dakar. Several British warships had arrived on the scene but did nothing to interfere in fact they joined the escort. Massive searches by destroyers from all navies prevented attacks by German U-Boats.
By 1700 the French Fleet accompanied by ships of the US and British Navies set sail for the US. While they were enroute the disposition as to where the French ships were to go was being determined but one thing was definite and that was that the Alsace would go to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Normandie would be heading to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for both to be completed. It would take another 9 months before this was to be accomplished and they would be ready for sea. US plants who produced the shells and propellant bags for US ships were going to be tasked with producing the same for all French ships, no daunting task and it would take time but in the end it would be done.
Many of the ships especially those of the battleships, battle cruisers and heavy cruisers were to have their secondary’s replaced with 5” twin mounts for additional AA protection. It was hoped that if all went well the French ships would be able to set sail as a separate fleet by mid 1943. But since it would lack carriers several Essex class carriers would be loaned to them but would be manned by American crews.
Admiral Rearson temporarily staying at flag officer’s guest housing was just about to prepare himself some long overdue breakfast as he’s been living on coffee since 0530. With pretty much nothing in refrigerator or cupboards he went shopping the day before for what he might need for the next few days. Didn’t get much just some eggs, sausage, bacon and the normal things one needed for breakfast, for the other meals he would go to the officer’s club and share meals with a few other officer’s but mainly his brother.
No sooner then he cracked open a couple of eggs to make a country omelet then the phone rang. Thinking that it was Admiral Nimitz of one of his staff he answered it.
“Hi Bobby its Karen, guess you thought I had forgotten all about you”
“Oh! Hi Karen, the thought had crossed my mind for awhile, by the way how are you?”
“I’m doing fine and you?”
“As well as can be expected considering”
“I can imagine. The reason I hadn’t called you sooner it was because Sarah and I had to explain where we were and who we were with the other day, it actually turned into an interrogation”
“Well that’s to be expected I think coming from your parents and all. They had no idea of what you and Sarah were doing so early in the morning. Sometimes especially parents have a tendency to worry a lot about their children especially when it comes to daughters”
“Yeah! I know but like I said Sarah and I had a devil of a time to tell all, but when we mentioned you and Jack they were suddenly all ears. They wanted to know everything; where you both were from, what service you were in, your ranks, your ages and most of all your marital status”
“And what did you tell them?”
“Everything that you and Jack told us, you should see the reactions on their faces when we told them your ages and ranks. I could have sworn that my father was on the verge of having a heart attack and my mother for a moment I thought she was going to faint”
“Are they alright?”
“Yes they are thank you but it came as quite a surprise to them”
“By the way Bobby my parents would love to meet you and Jack so they are wondering if the both of you are free for dinner?”
“I know I am but I’ll check with Jack but I’m sure that if I mention the chance of spending time with Sarah he would jump at the chance”
“Great. I’ll tell you what I’ll send a car for you is that okay?”
“Sure just have the driver meet us at the main gate ok because I think he’ll have a little problem in trying to get on base”
“Okay can you both be ready by 3PM?”
“Don’t think that will be a problem”
“Okay we’ll see you when you both arrive at our house”
wait Karen because I’ve been thinking about you a lot these past days”
“Same here, my sister and I have dated a number of men but being with you and your brother well it’s something that a girl always dreams of especially the romantic side. Sarah and I really enjoyed walking the beach at Waikiki, holding hands and laughing at the jokes you and your brother made but what we liked the most is the both of you kissed us. No man has ever kissed us like that before and it was all we were talking about on the way home. It’s early right now for all of us but I agreed with Sarah”
“Well it’s too early to say but if all things go well for us then we might have finally found the men we will fall in love with and perhaps marry”
“It’s a little premature don’t you think to mention that but before you can answer that there is something that I wish to share with you and that is my brother and feel pretty much the same. But where I can’t speak for my brother just myself I’ve never met a beautiful woman like you before, but you’re not just beautiful you’re also very intelligent and someone who is not afraid to speak what is on her mind, a very rare quality in a woman and one that I highly admire. Truth be told Karen and I was hoping to say you this in person and maybe I will but you are a woman that I could very easily fall in love with and well I think I already have”
“Wow I never expected this but I feel pretty much the same and can’t wait until this afternoon. Tell you what Bobby instead of sending a driver to pick you and Jack up Sarah and I will and we’ll talk some more on the drive home okay”
“I have another idea Karen how about picking us up at 1PM and the 4 of us will go somewhere private like to spend time alone before going to your house I think Jack would it as well”
“Perhaps one day the 4 of us could find the perfect place for a picnic as well”
“I know just the spot for both Bobby and I can’t wait until 1PM”
“Same here Karen”
“Gotta go Bobby see you at 1PM, bye”
It took the ending of the conversation before he realized that he was fully aroused a condition he has been in, in years. A good sign he thought for if Karen can do that to him over the phone imagine what she good do in person. But just as quickly as he thought about he quickly put it out of his mind as he didn’t to think of Karen in that way.
About an hour later right after he had cleaned up he had gotten another phone this time from one very important naval officer.
As he picked up the phone again he thought that it might be Karen with a change of plan.
“No Admiral Rearson its not Karen, its Admiral Nimitz were you expecting someone else”
“Kind of sir”
“I see, perhaps a young lady you had met”
“No comment Admiral, but can I ask why you called me this morning. Have you scheduled a meeting?”
“No meeting Admiral Rearson was throwing a dinner together and thought that you might like to attend but it sounds like you might have other plans for this evening’
“Yes sir I do”
“Very well Admiral good luck and good hunting and I hope that your evening goes well”
“Thank you sir but the hunting is over with so to speak”
“Excellent, when will I get a chance to meet this Karen?”
“Well sir if you don’t mind I would like to keep this Top Secret for the moment. I just met her and don’t want to jinx it by introducing her to a lot of brass just now”
“Afraid it might scare her off Admiral?”
“Does she know about you, your age, rank and service?”
“She has no problems with this?”
“No sir but why the questions Admiral Nimitz?”
“Well even though the war just started for us a number of men including officers have you might say been taken advantage of by some of the women on this island already and I wouldn’t want to see it happen to one of my senior officers”
“You don’t have to worry about that Admiral, her family goes back over 100 years on the island and is well respected”
“Good for you, well I won’t keep you any longer but remember one thing Admiral you just met her and I don’t want this to distract you from your duties?
“Admiral I’m no ordinary seamen nor a cadet I think that I can handle it”
“As you say Admiral Rearson well once again good luck” and with that Admiral Nimitz hung up.
“Robert you jerk” he said to himself “turning down dinner with the head man himself not a good career move, still I’m really looking forward to spending time with Karen”
Meanwhile back at the home of Admiral Nimitz he was thinking about doing a background check on the families that have been on the island for as long as this young lady’s has in order to find out if this relationship his Battle Line commander is getting into will be a problem in the future. He decided not to as he knew from Admiral Rearson’s reputation that he is not one to make callous mistakes.
It was 1:15 and the Rearson brothers were still waiting at the main gate waiting for Karen and Sarah to arrive and once again they opted for civvies.
“It’s 1315 Bobby are you sure that you and Karen arranged for them to pick us up at 1300”
“Yes Jack, I wouldn’t worry too much as they might have had something to do before coming to get us”
“I hope so. Glad you told me about this double date when you did as some of the other officers asked me to go golfing with them”
“Golf, I didn’t know you played golf”
“I don’t but I thought it would be a good way to say goodbye to some of them”
“I know what you mean being transferred to a new ship even if being just a seaman is always difficult but more so for an officer especially even if is its prospective new captain”
“You got that brother”
Just than a cars horn sounded and a couple of beautiful young woman were waving their hands and arms to get attention outside their windows.
“I told you not to worry there they are”
“As the car pulled up and came to a stop both girls got out of the cat and went to their dates and kissed them “sorry we’re a little late but we had to pick up a few things” said Sarah. Bobby you mentioned something about having a nice quiet picnic in some remote secluded area where the 4 of us can be alone. Well guess you’re getting your wish, we just stopped by the market and picked up a few things and well we’re ready to go when the 2 of you are”
It didn’t take but a minute before Jack said “shotgun” and got into the front passenger seat with Sarah getting into the driver’s seat.
“Guess that leaves me and Karen to get in the back seat” which left me to say to myself I couldn’t have planned it anybody. As me and Karen cozied up Jack asked just how far it was from Pearl.
“Not far Jack” Sarah replied but it will take about an hour to get there because of the roads.
“What about dinner with your family won’t this make us a little late?”
“It might but I we already told our parents that we might be but didn’t tell them the reason as to why” Sarah replied.
“A bit sneaky don’t you think Sarah” was Admiral Rearson’s response.
“Yes it is” replied Karen”
Jack’s quit answer was simple “I like it” which led everyone to laugh.
“Besides guy’s we’re 21 and not teenagers plus we trust the both of you and once our parents meet you they will as well but Sarah and I hope that it will be much more than that as we both hope that they like you just as much as we do, well maybe not as much”
Again this provoked some more laughter and as the drive to this mystical spot progressed the talk became more personal like and between couples. Everyone avoided talking of the war, for the girls any mention was a forbidden topic as they felt that each’s relationship became serious they didn’t want to dwell on what might happen to the men. It was still early but the feelings that they were beginning to feel towards the men were real and genuine and they didn’t want this feeling to go away even for a minute yet alone for the rest of their lives. In essence they too were in love at this point.
Soon Sarah drove up to perhaps the most scenic and beautiful place I all of Oahu, Ka’ena point. The view from that point was so spectacular that both men were quiet for awhile as they took in the view. In the meantime the girls took out a couple of blankets as well as the picnic basket from the trunk, once they set everything up the girls went over to the men and were quickly embraced by both.
“Beautiful isn’t it”
as beautiful as the both of you, not by a long shot” quipped Admiral Rearson
The girls both broke out in warm smiles, Karen had the foresight to bring along a camera and before you knew it they ran out of film as numerous photos were taken.