This was a significant time in the history of the United States. There was divisiveness at home splitting the country into several factions. Vietnam remained high on the list of reasons why the relations between China, Russia, and the United States were strained.
Upper Nappeun was a small country located just East of China. It was run by a dictator who squandered money on arms and riches for himself. It was no wonder that Upper Nappeun was so poor. They desperately needed a bargaining chip to help the dire situation in their country. Any advantage a small country could obtain would allow her to bargain with larger countries by trading for materials and food needed for the people. Capturing a significant naval ship would put the ball in their court and bring them to the bargaining table.
Since they were eager to deal with a larger country, the captain of an Upper Nappeun patrol boat was surprised by the presence of a small intriguing American Navy ship sailing unescorted. It was rumored that she was the guardian of the secret code which deciphered Top-secret messages sent by the government of the United States. As she neared the national boundary, an opportunity presented itself and Upper Nappeun attacked with all its forces. The ship was captured without incident. It was theirs – all theirs! There were ninety-eight sailors aboard, none of which spoke a word of Upper Nappeun. Communication was difficult and Upper Nappeun had no idea what to look for if there was important equipment on board.
What a recompense this would be for a small country to have in their possession!
Upper Nappeun discovered that the ship they captured, the USS Santa Fe, was known to be a “spy” ship.
The capturing of prisoners was prohibited by several international conventions. Yet, proof that the ship transcended international boundaries became a “he said, she said” battle and the ship was forcibly controlled by an unfriendly nation. The crew was held hostage for thirteen months by Upper Nappeun.
The capturing of the Santa Fe took place quietly and quickly. As the enemy approached, the Santa Fe had approximately three hours to destroy any classified equipment and documents aboard. However, because the spy equipment was so extensive, it would take at least three days to do the job right.
The Captain and sailors subsumed to the enemy. The deed was done!
The ship would not be returned to the United States. They claimed this ship entered a sovereign country’s territory. Of course, the United States disputed this statement, but the facts remain that the ship was still in custody of a foreign government. At that time, the controlling government did not have the knowledge or ability to retrieve what was aboard the USS Santa Fe. She was equipped with cutting-edge sensors and sensitive encryption devices. The technology was far advanced, and her captors struggled with interpreting what was significant. They paraded her around like a trophy just won at the Olympics.
The Russians knew better and requested permission to extract the equipment to take back to their country. Here, their experts could untangle the secrets of the United States guarded. They dispatched the L-154 submarine to get the secret mechanisms from the captured ship and bring it back to Russia.
The Mathers found itself right in the middle of the action. Most of the crew was unaware of what was taking place. Only the few that had a Top-secret clearance and a “need-to-know” were involved.
The sailors aboard the Mathers had limited knowledge of the exercise being conducted. They could only guess as to the reasons why. However, sonar was thickly involved with the grave situation.
Sonar tracked the L-154 sub and was proud to have her insight on the sonar display. Then it happened. Suddenly Sonar yells out, “Chief, contact lost, contact lost”.
The Chief could feel his knees go weak. “How the hell can you lose something that important?”
“Don’t know Chief. She fell off our display and I’m unable to detect any movement”.
“Get the hell away from my display, sailor”. The Chief assumed control of the AN/SQS-23.
“Captain, target lost”
“What? Find that sucker before it starts WWIII.”
It was well-known that L-154 was carrying three nuclear missiles and she was unpredictable. The Captain sent orders to the Fleet Helicopter to seek and search for the sub and report back the minute contact was made.
One hour passed and still no contact. All who knew the situation were on edge. If the sub remained rogue, the risks could be disastrous. Night fell without a word and those aware of the situation became nauseated at the unequivocal threat the L-154 held in her fingertips. A stealth submarine armed with nuclear missiles lurked beneath the surface of the Pacific. No one could find her.
The Captain proceeded to inform the Grand Marina Explorer of their location and requested assistance. His hope was that the L-154 would be located soon.
Two days passed and still no sign of L-154.
“Where the hell could she be”, yelled the Chief. “She has to surface soon”.
It was a known fact that submarines using batteries have limited power and may run out of oxygen in usually 36-48 hours. She must then surface and run her diesel engines to recharge the batteries. The Chief was counting on this to happen.
The atmosphere was so tense and thick you could cut it with a knife.
No one slept. Coffee and cigarettes helped maintain and covered-up the fact that the entire division was sleep deprived.
He was at wit’s end and failure was no option to the Chief.
“Sailors, we must find that sub, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME, dammit?” screamed the Chief.
As the tension grew, each person involved in the exercise felt more and more responsible for the situation they faced.
The Captain could not believe they lost the sub. He was hell-bent on making Admiral and nothing was going to stop him. He dreamt of the day he would be called Admiral and the honors were given that position.
His goal was to make Admiral next year. But if they lost the submarine, his career would be over. He would be passed over for Admiral and then quietly exited from the Navy. “Oh no,” he thought to himself. “That’s not going to happen to me. I won’t let it.”
Bubba sat back and did whatever the Chief asked. He was so afraid he would screw up the chase and end up scrubbing toilets for the rest of his career in the Navy.
The Chief knew his next promotion rested on the finding the Russian submarine known as L-154. He needed that promotion and wanted the raise that went along with it. Military pay didn’t cover the bills and any extra helped.
The two other seamen just looked around and waited for someone to tell them what to do. They had no idea nor the severity of the situation. Their motto was “shut up and do as you are told”. They kept their beliefs to themselves. It was tough enough dealing with their inner beliefs and reconciling that they must follow orders.
Chief examined all the possible routes L-154 could take. She may just be sitting on the bottom and waiting. Time was not on her side.
After contemplating all the scenarios, the Chief closed his eyes and loudly said, “Shit”. He raced to the charts, quickly calculated distances between the two vessels and checked the capabilities of L-154 missiles.
He realized that it was possible for L-154 to fire its missiles and hit Hawaii! Oh my God, that is a big possibility. The lives of those Americans rest on our shoulders. How do you live with the fact that your mistake caused World War III??
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