My second WWII themed flash fiction story, this one on the subject “bridge”.
The bridge of the HMCS Yellowknife lay silent as Captain David Silverman glanced at his watch, waiting for the pivotal hour he knew was coming. Minutes ago, he and his crew had heard the crack and thud of bombs striking inland targets, while plumes of fire rose into the sky. Soon, the Yellowknife would make its own mark on proceedings.
And after that…
Silverman didn’t envy those poor fellows involved in what came next. So much was at stake, yet so many of them would have to fall so that others would win through. He just hoped it would all be worth it.
“Captain,” First Officer Stuart announced, “The gunners have acquired their targets. They just await your signal.”
“Thankyou, Mr. Stuart,” said the captain, with a curt nod. “Ninety seconds.”
The sea was calm, and the Yellowknife rocked gently in the swells. It had been smooth sailing from Portsmouth. The Met Office had done its job well and High Command’s gamble to move on the evening of the fifth had paid off.
5:22 AM. Sixty seconds to go.
There was no gunfire from the coast. Silverman and Stuart knew that a lot of false information had been spread to fool the Germans about where the blow would fall. It appeared to have paid off, but neither of them could relax, in case the ship needed to take evasive action.
Thirty seconds to go.
Tension hung in the air as thickly as cigar smoke. The bombing had stopped now and in the gathering dawn light, the shoreline lay silent and undisturbed. How fragile that illusion would soon seem.
“Ten seconds, Mr. Stuart,” the captain uttered.
“Here, sir,” said Stuart.
He handed Silverman a telephone receiver, already connected to the gun deck. Apprehension flooded the captain’s whole being, but he fought to hide it as 5:23 AM arrived at last and he spoke two fateful words.
There never was a sound quite like it. The air seemed to split in half, as if cloven by an axe blade. The floor of the bridge reverberated as the destroyer’s guns opened up with a roar of apocalyptic fury. 120 millimetres and 40 millimetres, joined by the Yellowknife’s little 20 millimetre Oerlikons, poured a ruinous deluge onto the coast of Normandy.
Captain Silverman and Officer Stuart took up their binoculars and joined the sighting crews in picking out targets. A gun emplacement was transformed into a mess of flame and twisted metal even as its crews scurried towards it. A pillbox burst open as a shell impacted, creating a shower of concrete fragments like crumbs from a stale cake.
Throughout the firing, Silverman continued to issue orders to the gun crews. They had been trained well and he shouted encouragement down the phone to keep their spirits up.
The Yellowknife’s gunfire was joined by that of British, American and fellow Canadian vessels along the Normandy coast. A deafening cacophony shook French citizens from their beds and German invaders into stupefaction. Deck guns thundered, rocket batteries howled, while overhead fighters and bombers circled, ready to see off any foolhardy Luftwaffe pilots who tried their luck at stopping the onslaught. To the east and west, jets of fire flashed at the edge of the horizon, then, just like a thunderclap, the boom of the guns followed.
Finally, at 6 AM, as forces on the shoreline began mustering, the next, decisive wave was at hand.
“Cease fire,” Captain Silverman ordered, and the guns stopped.
Silverman took the wheel and ordered Stuart to set the engine room telegraph to half speed ahead. The Yellowknife turned about and retreated out to sea, to avoid the counterattack of the recovering German defenders. They watched as scores of landing craft, some filled with their fellow Canadians, now passed them on the way to Juno Beach.