This publication is entirely fictitious. Real names are used only to illustrate time of drama and in no way reflect on individuals, other than as reported in the media, circa 1988.
NEWS FLASH – 1988
REPORTED BY OCEANA PRESS
Unidentified submarine attacked shipping
Australian Navy investigates at
United Nations request
Darwin circa 1988
The patrol boat H.M.A.S. Saracen came alongside the quay. A
sailor standing beside a bollard caught the rope thrown from
her deck and tied her up. He looked up. She was showing
her age. Built by Vickers at the Barrow Shipyard in Scotland
nearly thirty years before, she looked old fashioned. She was
one of six Motor Torpedo Boats; also know as M.T.B.’s purchased
from England for use in coastal protection and surveillance
work. She carried a crew of 20, her armament consisted
of two heavy machineguns, one forward and one aft.
The boat also carried radar and sonar underwater detection
equipment. She was powered by 2 high-speed engines, due
to their age, were requiring more maintenance than hitherto.
She was also carrying torpedos and depth charges.
The figure of her skipper appeared on deck dressed in regulation
whites with epaulettes showing two gold bars indicating
a Lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy. His name, James
Barton, better known as Jimmey. He paused at the top of the
gangplank, saluted, made his way down to the quay, returning
the sailor’s salute. He headed towards the Headquarters
Building of the Director of Naval Intelligence for the North of
Australia. Lt. Barton entered the outer office, announced himself
to the female Petty Officer who made a call on her interoffice phone.
“Sir, Lt. Barton to see you.”
“Send him in”, boomed the voice of D.N.I. Captain Brown.
Jimmey knocked the door. “Come in,” said Brown. Captain
Brown was standing looking at a map of North Australia on
“Have a seat Jim,” he said, indicating a chair with a slight
flick of his hand. The room was typical of a naval establishment.
One black phone, one red phone. A cabinet holding
maps, a few chairs at a large desk and cupboards. The only
personal item was a photograph of his late wife. Captain
Brown, 50, was a widower with one child, a son, Peter, at
school in Sydney. He was perspiring. His white uniform was
creased. His round face was lined and eyes tired.
“I’ve got a job for you,” he said.
“A signal from Headquarters Canberra indicates we have
pirates on our patch and I want you to find them and bring
‘em in. Some refugees from Vietnam, making their way to
Australia in a fi shing boat were stopped by men in a small
boat after being fired upon. Apparently these men were
heavily armed and shot their way onto the fishing boat. They
stole money and gold, killed a couple of the refugees. They
made off into the sea mist to a larger craft lying off which
some reports say might have been a submarine.” The Captain
paused. “It was about here,” pointing to the map, “that
the Navy ship picked up the survivors.”
He paused and looked out of the window at the blue sea
“This job has a nasty smell about it, take Saracen and see
what you can find.”
“We will get right onto it.”
Following a detailed briefing, Jimmey Barton returned to
Saracen. Sub. Lt. Andrew Parker was busying himself with
restocking the boat. There was a sound of a step behind him.
On looking up in response to a voice, a sailor stood to attention.
“Captain’s compliments Sir, would you see him in his cabin.”
“You wanted me, Sir?” the Sub. Lt. was standing in front of
the Skipper’s desk.
“Andy, we got some bandits on our patch, how soon will
we be ready to sail?”
“In two hours – what’s the beef?”
“Some Vietnamese boat people have been attacked and it
looks as if their attackers came from a submarine.” He went
on to fill in the details.
The Saracen had been at sea for a couple of days, and on numerous
occasions Andy had been asked by the Skipper if
there was anything to report.
“No Sir, I am afraid not.” There was nothing on the radar.
“A couple of merchant ships who identified themselves making
their way along the coast,” Andy concluded. “No sign of
Soon after a shout from the Radar Cabin, “Small ship on
the star-board side, Sir!”
Almost at once up on deck a lookout shouted, “A fishing
boat, Sir. She’s stopped.” Visibility was about 5 miles and
there she was. A small trawler with no sign of life aboard.
“Yeoman, ask the boat to identify.” The Yeoman clicked the
shutters of the communication light.
“No answer, Sir.”
The Captain was at the telegraph, speaking into the
microphone, “Full ahead, both.” Saracen charged forward.
“Andy, get a boarding party ready.”
“Aye, aye, Sir.” Andy went forward collecting six men, issuing
them with small arms.
“Gun crews stand to.” The two machine gunners and support
crews adjusted their green flack jackets as the Saracen
came closer to the fishing boat.
“It’s too damn quiet,” muttered Jimmey Barton.
“Give them a shout, Petty Offi cer Bailey.”
P.O. Bailey picked up the loud hailer microphone.
“Ahoy, anyone aboard?”
The Saracen was 200 metres from the fishing boat. Then
it happened. There was a loud explosion as the fi shing boat
The crew of the Saracen were taken by surprise. Bits of metal
rained down on the M.T.B. – one piece pierced the deck, hit
one of the engines and ricocheted through the side of the
hull before hitting the sea.
“Good God,” said Andy as he fell over, striking his head.
“Stop engines,” shouted Barton who fought to keep his balance.
“Nothing serious,” said Andy. The handset at the skipper’s
“We have been holed, and there is some damage to the engines.”
“Is it serious chief?”
“The pumps are working, but the engine damage may take
longer to fix.”
“Keep me informed chief.”
“Aye, aye, Sir.”
Of the fishing boat, there was no sign.
Captain Brown back at headquarters was tired. It had been
a long day. He had been in the Navy for 30 years. He had
seen service in Vietnam, a stint as an exchange officer in
Royal Navy and United States Navy. The Australian Government
had been concerned for sometime with the protection
of Northern Australia. Within the constraints of a limited
armed forces budget, the problem of securing the vast areas
was almost impossible; consequently the purchase of ageing
M.T.B.’s from England. The main disadvantage, they were 30
years old. They had been in service with R.A.N. for a few
years and required a great deal of maintenance. The sea duration
was strictly limited before a major overhaul was necessary
for all six M.T.B.’s. As it was, two were always in dock.
“Oh for some new boats…” he thought.
Captain Brown’s black telephone rang.
“Signal from Saracen,” said a female voice.
“Bring it in please.”
P/O Betty Smyth entered. Brown was cheered by her
“Thank you Betty.”
“Good heavens, get Lt. Cmdr. Evans!” said Brown.
P/O Smyth left the room; almost immediately the door
burst open and a tall offi cer entered looking immaculate in
his white uniform. He was looking older than his 36 years,
this was probably due to being Brown’s deputy and he usually
felt the full force of the Captain’s personality. However,
he liked the old codger.
“Take a look at this,” said Brown, handing the signal over.
Evans paused, “Must have been scuttled for some reason. It
doesn’t say if any bodies were found.”
Petty officer Smyth stood at the doorway. “There is a call
from Rear Admiral Talbot, Sir.”
Brown picked up his red phone.
“Captain Brown, what’s going on up there, I hear you got
“Sir,” said Brown. “I’m sending Lt. Cmdr. Evans to check
up and give Saracen any assistance.”
“Good,” said the Admiral. “I’m sending a Nimrod Surveillance
Aircraft to cover Saracen. Keep me informed.”
Putting down the phone, Brown looked at Evans.
“Take H.M.A.S. Signet at once… my intuition tells me there
really is a nasty smell out there.” He nodded towards the
“Aye, Aye Sir.” Brown detailed his instructions and Evans
left. Evans paused as he reached P/O Smyth’s desk. He
grinned. “By the way,” he said, “the all ranks dance is on next
week, will you be going?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Would you care for escort or…” he did not fi nish what he
“You offering your services?” interrupted Betty. Evans
grinned again. “Pick you up at 7.00pm at the entrance of single
quarters. Friday week.”
“O.K.,” said Betty. It was going to be a long 10 days.
On board H.M.A.S. Saracen, Lt. Barton was talking on the
phone. “That’s correct, as we were almost alongside the fishing
boat she blew up without warning. There were no survivors
and no bodies either,” he added incredibly. “She was
there one minute and gone the next. It’s unbelievable!”
What Lt. James Barton did not know was that Saracen was
being watched. Unbeknownst, a submarine was lying below
the waves five miles away, and H.M.A.S. Saracen was
stopped, temporarily out of action. Barton replaced the telephone.
Sub. Lt. Andy Parker spoke. “Both radar and detection
equipment, Sonar, is on the blink.It’s a good job Lt. Cmdr. Evans
is on his way out to give assistance in Signet.”
On board the submarine the situation was tense. The Captain,
LeChein said to himself “So far, so good”. They had to
destroy the fishing boat and put the few passengers in small
boats and let them go to be picked up by passing ships. He
marveled at his attitudes. The pickings had been small, a
small amount of gold coins and jewellery.
He said aloud, “That damned Aussie boat will have to be
finished off.” He would have to sacrifi ce a torpedo on her. He
looked at his crew of thugs. What a come-down!
LeChein, the fox, as he was known in reality, a native of
Indo-China, had served with the French Navy 40 years before
as a Submarine Commander, turned against the French
after the French-Indo-China War following the end of World
War II, and had taken to piracy on the high seas.
He had gathered together a motley collection of human
misfits of all nationalities, mostly criminals and a sprinkling
of mercenaries, who would work for anyone who would pay
the right price. The submarine was undermanned, but they
It was just luck. Diesel powered, once owned by a third
world government, the submarine had been under tow to
the breakers yard when it came adrift in a typhoon. It was
presumed lost at sea but had, in fact, gone aground on an
uninhabited island where she was found and re-equipped
by a terrorist organization with international connections.
LeChein was its leader, a fanatical and dangerous man.
LeChein muttered “I’ll get the Western bastards.”
The submarine was at periscope depth. LeChein gave the
order in a heavily accented voice, “Target 230°. Fire one.”
The torpedo left the tube with a hissing sound, making it’s
murderous path through the water towards the unsuspecting.
On Board H.M.A.S. Saracen, Lt. Andy Parker was back on his
feet following a trip to sick bay. He still had a headache but
nothing worse he hoped, following the explosion. He had
surveyed the damage. The hole in the starboard bow had
been repaired. One engine was working again. He looked
seaward. Something in the water, a black object, appeared
momentarily on the surface and then dropped out of sight.
Andy grabbed the phone.
“Bridge to Captain, Sir, a torpedo heading for us.”
“I’m on my way,” replied Barton. Swinging his legs over
the side of his bunk, grabbing his cap and in one bound he
arrived on the Bridge just in time to hear Andy giving the
chief engineer orders over the communication system.
“Give us all we’ve got, Chief!” shouted Andy, pushing the
bridge telegraph forward. There wasn’t much response, but
it was enough to carry the M.T.B. forward out of the path of
the on-coming torpedo. Both Andy and Jimmey looked back
with relief as the torpedo continued beyond the boat’s stern.
“Yeoman, send a message to D.N.I. Darwin,” said Lt. Barton,
“‘Have just been missed by torpedo. Sonar unserviceable,
Saracen on one engine. Stop. Barton.’”
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© 2006 Geoffrey Nash