Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page
 Chapter 9

A Noble Virginian

Wentworth Huntington Thurmond stood as they entered his office. Virginians stood for ladies. But JOAD culture was influenced by egalitarian university people who didn't stand for ladies. A compromise was called for, and Went stood in an unusual and mocking way. First pointing the top of his head at them, he then snapped upright with a pretend salute and a chuckle.

Having arranged with the secretary for coffee for everyone, Went motioned to a large map of Asia on the wall and said,

"There's too damn much distortion at high latitudes."

Heike nodded and pulled from her capacious purse what looked like a large balloon. As the others watched, she proceeded to blow it up. Went asked,

"Are you proposing to attack the Soviet Union with balloons, Heike?"

She shook her head while continuing to blow. The balloon turned out to be an inflatable globe, about eighteen inches in diameter. It was made of heavier material than an ordinary balloon, but it still bounced as she rolled it across Went's desk to him. He seemed to distrust things that bounced and rolled, and touched it only tentatively with his long tapered fingers. He asked,

"Did you get this in a dime store?"

"Oh no. I got it at F. A. O. Schwartz. That's quite a fashionable toy store."

"And costly, as I know to my cost. Anyhow, I suppose we don't have anything better."

"I use it for all my strategic planning. I've got the distances marked out on this envelope."

Went held the envelope up to the globe and measured distances in silence for some moments. He then rolled the globe over to Jones and asked,

"What do you think?"

Jones looked briefly, and replied,

"The admiral said we should figure on a range of a thousand miles. That's not much when you're dealing with Russia. Their strategic airbases and atomic weapons will be way out of our range."

"Sure, but the main population centers aren't that far."

"Moscow and Leningrad can be reached from the Baltic, particularly the Gulf of Finland at its eastern end. We could also attack from the White Sea in the north, but that's iced up part of the year. Kiev and southeastern Russia are within range of the Black Sea, and a few potential targets in eastern Siberia can be reached from the Sea of Ohkhost. That's about it."

"We can't get their main weapons, but we can kill lots of Russkis."

"If we can penetrate those practically enclosed seas."

"Yes, that'll be interesting. The Turks might not let us through the Dardanelles into the Black Sea, and the Gulf of Finland is small enough to be easily patrolled. Of course, we can pretend to be tourists visiting Helsinki, and then sneak off in the night and atomize Leningrad."

"By the same token, Soviet subs may take to cruising peacefully in Chesapeake Bay, and then attack Washington."

"You used to be able to take your warship almost anywhere in peacetime and stop in foreign ports. You could give a speech to the local Rotary Club, stuff youself at a banquet or two, and then sail off."

"That was before the warship could destroy half the country."

"I'm afraid, folks, that our nice little strategic exercise is about to become political. Neither side will want the other's subs anywhere near them, even in peacetime. But naval officers have to call on politicians to declare forbidden security zones."

Heike responded quickly,

"Perhaps our government could negotiate an agreement that neither side patrols off the coast of the other. Then we'd all be safe."

Went smiled tolerantly and said,

"Such an agreement is more likely to be implicit and not negotiated, perhaps not even discussed. Whatever sort of agreement there might be, we'll try to cheat, and so will they."

"How can you cheat if it's not expliclt?"

"We might give the impression that we have no intention of penetrating the Black Sea at the exact time that we're doing it."

Jones added,

"Then, if one of our subs is caught and sunk, we'll claim it wasn't ours."

Went concluded,

"Yes. We wouldn't want to give them a justification for doing what we're doing."

During this discussion, Heike hadn't looked happy. But, with something of a sigh, she allowed,

"I suppose we could simulate penetrating these seas with submarines."

Jones added,

"We can begin the programming even before we get a computer."

Went looked as if he had just accidentally dipped his fingers in melted butter. He snorted out,

"We hardly know what kinds of subs we'll have, or what kinds of missiles! We'd have to have a million different simulations."

Jones replied,

"If the simulations vary continuously, as they probably will, we can have just one model, but different parameters for each scenario."

This was the sort of thing Went didn't understand, but Heike interpreted,

"One variable would be the length of time a sub has to stay on the surface before it can fire its missile. Another would be the maximum distance it can be from its target when it fires, and so on. We can keep the same model, but change these numbers as the real situation changes."

Went objected,

"In one scenario, we might have patrol planes searching for subs in daylight, and, in another, we might have surface ships trying to intercept surfaced subs at night before they can fire."

Heike intoned gently,

"The generic model will allow for all these possibilities. We just fill in descriptions of the types of weapons there happen to be in a particular situation."

"You mean in words?"

"Well, in numbers. Ones that represent the capabilities of, say, a destroyer. Speed, guns, that sort of thing."

"What about search? Those numbers won't tell us whether the destroyer will find the sub. That depends on the men on the bridge."

Jones replied,

"We can construct functions which will tell us the probability that a ship with certain numerical qualities will find the sub. We can even take as a variable the number of lookouts on the bridge, not to mention the history of past sightings by similar ships."

There was always the trouble that Went didn't believe that qualities could be measured and then expressed as numbers. But Heike could make numbers, functions, and equations sound as soft as nursery rhymes. He finally seemed to gave in, but then said,

"Since we'll probably have to penetrate the Gulf of Finland to get a decent shot at Moscow, we'll have to simulate the gulf itself on the computer. How'll we do that?"

Jones replied,

"We have a complete set of charts for the Baltic, including the Gulf of Finland. We'll eventually load the geometry into the computer."

"When you look, you'll see that the Baltic isn't a circle, a triangle, or any other damn thing."

Heike replied,

"With overlapping figures, we can get any degree of accuracy that may be required."

As she spoke, she sketched out on a piece of paper a sea more or less the shape of the Baltic. She then filled it with overlapping circles. There were big ones in the middle, and smaller ones around the edges. With a smile, she traced out some truly tiny ones at one edge with her smooth white hand.

"We can calculate whether the sub is in any of these circles. If it isn't, we can consider that it's run aground."

"You keep wanting to take away my pictures and give me numbers instead."

Heike replied, now with a slightly less solicitous tone,

"Blame Descartes, not me. He invented analytic geometry."

"Wasn't he also the joker who doubted the existence of everything?"

Jones nodded and replied,

"For a while. Then he reconsidered."

"That's a Frenchman for you! Russians aren't like that. They'll sink our subs without first asking whether they exist."

Jones, not wanting to be philosophical, said hopefully,

"We can use parts of our existing models. Patrolling aircraft and ships still have to find the subs and attack them."

At that point, Went went off on his own. At times, he would engage in a sort of naval prose-poetry, describing in lurid and sensual detail imagined engagements, not omitting imitations of shell and torpedo explosions. On this occasion, he held back a little, perhaps in deference to Heike. Having temporarily run out of breath, he pointed his finger at Jones and said, more quietly,

"We've got to think as much about defending our country as attacking theirs."

"Either way, it's the same simulation. Subs against whatever the defense has to offer."

"You know, this may tend to break down the gulf between the submarine force and the anti-submarine warfare command. We have had escort commanders taking rides in subs to find out what its like from underneath, but this would go way beyond that. A single tactical and strategic doctrine for both offense and defense."

"Whatever we come up with, the ASW people aren't going to accept it just because we say so."

Went looked pleased and replied,

"They may have to be folded into a single command, one where we call most of the shots."

Heike rejoined,

"Not yet another turf war in Washington, I hope!"

"Can't be helped, my dear. Anyhow, Jones, this is finally where your PT boats might see some service. A Soviet submarine on the third day of war surfaces at nightfall about a hundred miles east of Delaware and runs due west at twenty knots. All kinds of Mongols and Kazaks and Uzbeks scramble on deck, and start to erect a crane and missile platform. The missile itself comes on deck, and they have to stand it up vertically and pump fuel into it. One shot could blow them all to hell, but its blowing hard with low clouds and sleet, and our planes aren't flying. Seas are coming on deck and the crew is soaked and has to hang on, but that doesn't stop the Uzbeks and Kazaks."

Heike objected,

"Uzbeks and Kazaks ride horses, not submarines."

"They've adapted. Anyhow, we have a whole fleet of PT boats patrolling out to a hundred miles, and they're flying off the crests of the big rollers in the darkness. The foam on top of the waves shows white, and you might just see the dark sub crashing along. You might even see the officers silhouetted on the conning tower. An hour passes and a PT boat does see them. But it's too late! The missile is rising and the men in the PT boat hear the diving horn as they attempt to ram. We're sitting here in the office, working late, and wondering what, if anything, we can get to eat. Then, just as we go to the coke machine, the goddamn missile hits me right in the stomach."

It usually took a minute to react to one of Went's forays, but Jones replied,

"Under ordinary conditions a PT boat couldn't outfight a sub on the surface. It'd be a forty millimeter cannon against a hundred and twenty five or so."

"But these will be missile subs. They'll have to eliminate the deck mounted guns to accomodate all the missile equipment. At night, when they're getting set to fire, they'd be very vulnerable to a sudden attack."

"The PT boat's best thing is to sneak up on something at night and blanket it with fire."

"That's exactly what's wanted! Men trying to fuel the missile will find slugs passing through their guts. And the missile itself will be delicate. One shot might well do for it."

"What if it's a February snowstorm off the New England coast?"

"The PT boats will just have to use their radar."

"Possibly. Anyhow, if the sub can't fix it's own position accurately, it can't fire accurately. The atomic missile might come down, not in Washington or New York, but in some farmer's field."

Went considered a moment and replied,

"I'm sure that the politians will say that we can't afford atomic explosions anywhere in America. So our eventual mission will be to stop enemy subs from firing, no matter how inaccurately."

"At a guess, it might take five hundred PT boats to patrol the Atlantic coast."

Heike asked,

"How many PT boats could be built and operated for the cost of one destroyer escort?"

Neither Jones nor Went knew, but Went guessed about twenty five. Heike replied,

"Our simulation should be able to determine whether it's better to have five hundred PT boats or twenty destroyer escorts for this application."

Went replied,

"I already know. Five hundred PT boats. Twenty ships couldn't possibly cover the area."

Jones finally reacted,

"Went, you just don't know how hard it would be to keep the sea in a PT boat in the North Atlantic in winter for any length of time."

"I know. You get thrown on your rear whenever you're not tied to something, but you could still do it. Anyhow, how do you put that in your model?"

"It's easy enough to rate the seaworthiness of a boat or ship on a scale."

"I suppose PT boats would sustain damage in heavy seas."

"Damn near everything, including the torpedo tubes, would be swept away."

Went, with a dismissive gesture, said,

"We may have to get out in a PT boat in rough weather to see what it's like. I'm sure the admiral can arrange it."

Heike gave him a surprised look, and he replied,

"That includes you, Heike. There'll be some sort of floating target, and you can shoot at it with a pair of fifty caliber machine guns."

The image of Heike as machine-gunner was bizarre. However, she only smiled in a docile way, perhaps thinking that Went would forget about it.

Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page