Maneuvers at sea
When he wasn’t in the imperialist mood that caused him to fall out of favor in the years after World War I, Rudyard Kipling could be a sparkling writer. One such story is called “Their Lawful Occasions” written in 1903 and dealing with a fictitious maneuver of the British fleet in the English Channel.
There are Blue Fleet and Red Fleet in a war game against each other. Kipling had an imaginative way with the names of the ships in the fleet.
Two battleships were HMS Caryatid and HMS Pedantic.
There are two cruisers, named Cryptic and Devolution.
There are several destroyers — Wraith, Stiletto, Kobbold, Gnome, Dirk.
The unnamed narrator is a journalist who intended to join Blue Fleet but who ends up in the Red Fleet harbor, aboard a Blue Fleet torpedo boat that is in disguise.
In the days before wireless communications, ships sent messages to each other by searchlight. During the war games, the message-sender had to make sure he was talking to a ship from the same fleet. This was in the form of a coded signal that came at the beginning of the message. Red Fleet had one set of codes and Blue Fleet had another set. If the ship sending the message didn’t see the proper code, it would know the recipient was from the opposing fleet and would have to be wary.
The disguised torpedo boat, by devious means, obtains the Red Fleet’s code, and proceeds in a channel fog to approach a bay in which two cruisers — Cryptic and Devolution from Red Fleet — are undergoing engine-room repairs.
The torpedo boat takes in tow a trawler from the Dorset coast, and here Kipling had fun with the provincial accent of the fishermen:
“We’m all crushed to port like aigs. You was runnin’ twenty seven knots, us reckoned it. Didn’t us, Albert?”
Liberally supplying the fishing crew with rum, the skipper of the torpedo boat persuades them to distract the attention of the crews on the cruisers while he and his men paint stencils on the sides of both ships to indicate where torpedoes have struck. Both cruisers are thus “well vaccinated.”
The Blue Fleet torpedo boat sends a message to the umpires asking them to come and judge. When dawn breaks, the extent of their effort is fully displayed, and the torpedo boat skipper, who is aged 19 and in his first independent command, says:
“Is there such a thing as one fine big drink aboard this one fine big battleship?”
Kendall Wild is a retired editor of the Herald.