The Thalassan War
18 November 1941
It was a calm November morning. Gentle waves lapped against the cold, gray hull of the Giokton Type 3A-class submarine C-23; her blunt bow cutting silently and steadily through the surface of the Tiauhai Sea. A soft sea breeze blew against the cheeks of five men perched atop the bridge, nonchalantly keeping watch over the seemingly endless void of blue water that surrounded them on three sides. Behind them lay the western coast of Giokto; the faint shadow of mountains and dense forests looming in the distance. The land grew smaller and smaller until it had completely disappeared beyond the horizon.
There was no turning back.
C-23 was part of a flotilla of six submarines deployed from the naval base in Chiongto, all tasked with one single, specific objective—to eliminate any Andallan troop transport steaming east, towards Giokto. The top-secret operation was ordered by an emergency meeting of Giokto's highest military officials, only days after Giokton moles in the Andallan Commonwealth Army uncovered plans to deploy the 14,000-strong 1st Infantry Division to reinforce Liamchia—a Giokton province under Andallan control. The meeting was presided by none other than the commander-in-chief of the Giokton military—High Leader Tseng Ho-soa (曾賀山)—with State Minister Li Siong-lan (李翔蘭) present.
Tseng was, needless to say, a crazy man. Having served as High Leader since 1931, he had abolished term limits in 1939 and was known for his cult of personality. Luckily for him, he had many cronies and supporters in all ranks of government—a result of political decay in a democratically-structured but highly-flawed administration.
As the top-secret meeting took place, the SS Theo Antonsen steamed past the breakwaters surrounding the Ålsstrand Naval Base—the headquarters of the Andallan Commonwealth Navy. Soldiers lined the upper decks of the merchant-turned-troop transport, waving to passing fishing boats and enjoying a panoramic view of the entire Arkhavn Bay.
"Ever seen this kind of a view before?" said a young soldier in his mid-20's, to the one beside him.
"Many times, yes," said the other one. "I've been places. I've been to Liamchia, too, twice."
"Oh? How is it there?"
"Not bad. Kaohen somewhat resembles old Møllerup, if you've been up north. But that was 8 years ago, when I went there. Definitely much better by now."
The Theo Antonsen was bound for Kaohen, a large port city on the coast of Liamchia. Aboard were 1,629 soldiers and their equipment from the 8th and 9th Infantry Battalions, as well as 683 crew. Displacing 11,000 tons and measuring 135 meters from bow to stern, she was among the largest active auxiliary vessels of the Andallan Commonwealth Navy. Built in 1929 by Albertsen Skipsverft A/S in Skager, she plied Arkhavn-Argis routes as an ocean liner before being acquired by the Navy in 1938.
"Contact, eleven-o'clock, bearing three-two-zero. It's flying Andallan colors."
"Good! We've found our target. Prepare the boat for dive."
Captain Hong Hsu-eng's order rang throughout the boat. In seconds, the bridge was cleared—Hong himself sealing the hatch shut. Officers and crew gathered around the captain as he unraveled a rolled-up sea chart on a table.
At the same time, an operator sat at the controls of a small panel with several red and green bulbs. One by one, the red bulbs turned green as Captain Hong lifted his head towards the board and waited expectantly. This was the "hull opening indicator panel", a small board that indicated which hull openings were open or closed; the crew had to secure all openings shut before the boat could commence its dive.
At last, the final red light turned green.
"Full green, Captain."
Hong nodded in acknowledgement.
"Bow planes, five degrees down. Begin dive."
The final countdown had begun. As C-23's sail slipped below the waves, it was only a matter of minutes before her potent weapons could be unleashed.
"Forward room! Ready tubes one, two, three. Depth zero-five feet."
"One and two ready," came the voice from the telephone, which was lying on the map table as the captain made his final computations.
"All tubes ready."
"Aye. Ready tube one, and... fire!"
The faint sound of the torpedo's engine whirring to life was barely audible from the control room.
"Tube two... fire! Tube three, standby... and, fire!"
"Torpedoes in the water."
Leaving a visible white streak along the water above them, the three torpedoes zoomed towards the Theo Antonsen at 55 knots. In seconds, a warrant officer on the bridge had spotted them.
"Torpedoes on the starboard! Approaching fast!"
An ear-piercing scream rang from within.
"Haaaaaaard to port!"
Immediately, the Theo Antonsen made a sharp, abrupt turn to the left. An old ocean liner wasn't the most maneuverable of seagoing vessels, however the sudden list was enough to catch several men off-balance. It was just enough for the first torpedo to miss the ship's bow by several meters.
Seconds later, at exactly 0832 hrs, the second torpedo fired from the C-23 scores the first hit on the doomed vessel, detonating right off the bow and creating a sizable hole in the forward cargo hold. The cargo hold began to fill with seawater as the ensuing fires quickly licked up crates of supplies. Yet before any action could be taken, the third torpedo rips through her amidships where the bulk of the passengers' quarters were located—instantly killing anyone who happened to be in their cabins at that time. Flames continued to engulf the forward cargo hold, threatening to spread to the upper decks, as the hull continued to fill with seawater. Damage control teams are sent to quell the worsening fire in the cargo hold—the breach amidships left almost unattended—as the Theo Antonsen began to list 15 degrees to the starboard.
At 0835 hrs, an explosion rocks the forward section of the vessel; the fires had reached the ammunition stores for the soldier's firearms. Meanwhile, the situation amidships continued to worsen as the hole enlarged due to water pressure buckling the hull. The Theo Antonsen's list slowly increased to 20 degrees, threatening to capsize the vessel.
The call to abandon ship is made at 0838 hrs—a mere 6 minutes after first impact—as seawater slowly crept up the foremost section of the bow. The upper decks, already a chaotic mess, began to flood with men waiting for life rafts; others opting to jump off the ship instead. As a result, several crewmembers are ordered to throw as many large buoyant items into the sea as possible, in order to provide the men with something to hold on to. With a lack of buoyant items save for several pieces of light furniture, the men aboard quickly resort to chopping off doors, windows and wooden panels lining the deck.
At 0844 hrs, a loud, eerie creaking noise resonates from below decks, as the Theo Antonnen's list increases to 30 degrees. Seconds later, a second noise is heard, followed by a large crack running up to the starboard side of the deck amidships. With the davits rendered inoperable due to the sheer number of men crowding the decks, the situation grows hopeless as the few remaining lifeboats and life rafts are thrown overboard instead, forcing the men to jump as well.
Suddenly, at 0849 hrs, the Theo Antonsen capsizes, trapping hundreds of soldiers and crew below decks. Those on the upper decks tumble along with the ship, killing several men on the starboard side as the force of impact with the seawater slams them against the wall behind them. The vessel remained afloat for a few moments, her keel exposed, and slowly began to sink again.
By 0853 hrs—21 minutes after first impact—the last of the Theo Antonsen fades beneath the waves, taking over 800 lives with her.
Minutes before the SS Theo Antonsen capsized, the vessel's wireless telegraph operator—young 23 year-old Kjetil Frandsen—had managed to send a single, desperate distress call on the 500 kHz emergency frequency. Luckily, it was picked up by the AMS Bodalf Hjalmarsson, an Arngrim-class destroyer which was about 6 hours out.
SOS SOS SOS SOS SOS ATQH ATQH ATQH ATQH MARINESKIP. TORPEDERET TO GANGER PA HOJ HAV. SYNKER FORT. KREVER HJELP. KOM RASK KOM RASK. OMBORD 2300 SOLDATER OG MANNSKAP PA VEI TIL LIAMTSIA. 5.42 N 119.26 W SOS SOS SOS SOS SOS AQTO (the Theo Antonsen's callsign) ATQH ATQH ATQH ATQH Navy Vessel. Torpedoed twice on the high seas. Sinking fast. Require assistance. Come quickly come quickly. Onboard 2300 soldiers and crew on the way to Liamtsia. 5.42 N 119.26 W
The survivors—numbering nearly 1,400 of the initial 2,312 soldiers and crew—remained afloat in clusters of lifeboats, life rafts, and pieces of chopped-off wood. In a snap of a finger, the 3rd Infantry Regiment had lost nearly a third of its manpower.
Early the next day, 19th November 1941, saw the Landstinget—the Andallan parliament—convene in an emergency joint session for an address by President Hakon Carlsen
Thus the Thalassan War begins.