Enemy Surprise

Posted by Rebekah
Aug 30 2010

It was the morning of departure.  After Captain Austin and Captain Crowley finalized the last steps to evacuation the message went out to the local people:  if you’re coming, you have 12 hours to get rid of your possessions and report to the base.

The Coastwatchers, of course, were staying.  All of them being on Filipino descent, they at least LOOKED the part, even if they could not speak the language in a tight corner.

Despite being American and having two daughters attending college in the US, Mr. Edwards and his wife and youngest daughter decided to stay too.  Mrs. Edwards, being local to the area, could rely on her family and people to hide her husband if necessary, and the Edwards felt that they could still do a lot of good for the people of the Brooke’s Point area.

The Sutherlands reported to the clearing early in the morning.  Alastair Sutherland was agog that his prayers had come true so precisely, and they were about to go on a submarine.  George, Red and Charlie were ready, as was Henry Garretson, as well as a new member of the party.

He was tall and thin, and likely spoke with an Scandinavian accent.  his name was Vens Taivo Kierson, born in Finland, emigrated with his family to the northwest US when he was about 15, and now experienced world traveler.  He actually left school to become a topper for a lumber company that felled trees for Boeing to build their plane frames.  When aircraft manufacturers started to build frames from steel rather than lumber, he learned to salvage dive and moved to Alaska.  He received a huge bonus from one of his clients when he recovered something from a recent shipwreck which enabled him to tour the Pacific.  Soon, he began working salvage in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and the Philippines.  He fought the Japanese during the (what is now known as) First Battle of Shanghai in 1932, helped the Philippine Army until the invasion of Manila and was Garretson’s partner in the salvage of the SS Panay. Why had the Fliers not seen him before now?

He had been conducting a scouting and trading mission around the island.  A couple of months earlier, a Japanese ship grounded.  The crew got off, but couldn’t take any of the cargo with them.  Kierson salvaged pretty much everything that could be carried off  the ship before the official salvage team could get there.  This haul of rifles, medicine, money, liquor, food stuffs, paper, charts and more was a godsend, and Keirson set off on a tour of the island, gathering intelligence, trading the goods for other needed items and checking in with the local guerrilla factions.

He had one other talent: transforming Japanese mines into ammunition.

Japanese mines of the time period were designed to deactivate if they came loose from their chains and floated to the surface.  This was obviously because a floating mine was dangerous to everyone, friend or foe.  Occasionally, one of these loose mines would come to rest on the beaches of Palawan.  Using a technique he’d invented and developed on Negros, Kierson would dismatle the thing to get at the black powder charge which he would put in the empty ammo shells and top with small, carefully selected and shaped pebbles for bullets, thus keeping the guerrillas on Palawan in ammunition after the official stuff had long since be used up.  It was more than tricky work, and those mines, as it turned out, rarely deactivated when they popped up on the surface, so deactivating the mines was a tricky and dangerous business.

He taught the guerrillas everything he knew, and now, with an opportunity to escape, the guerrillas were insisting that Kierson leave for his own protection.

Eight Fliers, the four Sutherlands, Charlie, Red, George, Garretson and Kierson…seventeen extra people  on an already crowded boat, and more than half unqualified and/or civilians, on patrol for who knows how long.  If Redfin had been assigned a similar length of patrol as Flier, they still had about three or four weeks left.

After breakfast, the group set off for the beach, the Flier’s feet now healed enough that most of them walked a good distance down the mountain.

But an ugly surprise waited for them:  that morning, a Japanese shipping vessel dropped anchor offshore, less than a mile from the planned rendezvous point.  Even more eerie, no one could see any sailors on the decks or pilothouse, it was as if she was abandoned.

Had they been found out?  Was the Maru waiting for Redfin to show herself before blowing them all away?  Was she bait for the rest of the convoy, lying in wait somewhere out of sight?

No one knew, but the three officers of Flier had to make a decision.  If the maru didn’t move by nightfall, would they try to make for the rendezvous point anyway, hoping the maru would miss them in the darkness?  Should they skip the attempt tonight and hope the maru would move during the night or next day and they can try again the following night on the backup date?

In the end, the officers decided to ask the civilians if they would be willing to risk the trip tonight, keeping the small boats further away from the maru and the rendezvous point than previously planned, and using the radio Howell fixed to call Redfin, since there was no way they could safely hang the lanterns in the lighthouse for the “all safe” signal to get Redfin to show herself.    The civilians quickly agreed to try that night.

After sunset, and farewells for a bunch of people who likely would never see each other again, the small crafts took off.   They headed south before looping west in a great arc, keeping a safe distance from the maru.  Howell kept calling with the radio, trying to raise the Redfin, then trying CW Keying (a variation on telegraph) in case there was something wrong.

After an hour of trying to raise the Redfin, Howell suddenly heard a staticy message.  Redfin couldn’t see them, and the CW Keying was coming through more clearly.  Howell abandoned the voice radio to concentrate on the CW Keying, while Russo grabbed a flashlight (some accounts say a shuttered lantern) and began to signal to the Redfin with it.

An hour passed, then another.  It was now midnight.  There was no sign of the Redfin, and no sign of life from the strange maru anchored too closely for comfort.

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