Maxim (Mischa) Karolovich Yefremov sat in the pilot's seat carefully studying the temperature gauges. There were three - two each for the cylinder heads and one for the cooling system - because, like the ship the helicopter sat upon, it was something of an orphan. This Kamov Ka-15 was an 'experimental' and had been so for the last 18 months. Officially, it was designated, Ka-15Ye-K - Ye, the first letter in cyrillic for the Russian word 'experimental', and the 'K' for Klimov, the designer of the engine. Unlike all other Ka-15 helicopters, the Ye-K had a liquid cooled, inverted V8 loosely developed from a German engine, the Argus, of the Great Patriotic War era. This adaption, with the expenditure of great time and effort, was meant to overcome a perceived difficulty with the standard engine, the air cooled, Ivchenko radial, in maritime conditions. The Ivchenko was thought likely to deteriorate rapidly through the action of salt laden sea spray. The engineers believed this could be overcome by fully enclosing the engine within the fuselage and affecting the cooling through radiators mounted each side of the rotor hub. It was a solution to a non-existing problem as Soviet handling teams regularly steam cleaned the whole chopper following each mission.
Like all co-axial rotor craft, the Ka-15 was noisy - so noisy it was impossible to have even a shouted conversation within the small cockpit. Mischa communicated with the handling crew through hand gestures. With significant hearing loss through an extensive career flying aircraft, Mischa found even the intercom problematic. He and his crewman, Yvgeny Adamovich Rostrimov, had a well practice system of cockpit communications through hand gestures and facial expressions. Making a whirling motion with his finger above his head, he signaled to the handling crew he was about to open up the throttle. The stuttering Klimov/Argus barked a deep baritone growl and a fine mist of exhaust smoke blew wildly about the helipad in the steadily increasing downdraft. The handlers took their cue and retreated to the edge of the wooden platform to take their stations on the main deck. Their role, now, was to be on hand in case of an aborted take off. In that case, they had to quickly re-attach the shackles to the front wheels of the Kamov to prevent it rolling off the deck into the sea. The two front wheels of the helicopter were castered, while the two rear wheels were braked in line ahead.
Mischa Yefremov was a fit 59 in that year, 1959, for he was born at the dawn of the century to parents of German ethnic origin in a small town in the Southern Urals. Like many Germans in the Tsar's Russia, his parents chose to 'Russify' their names to offset widespread xenophobia. It was thought 'Yefremov' was chosen at random from a newspaper article. Mischa's parents moved the family, first to Kazan, then eventually to Saint Petersburg where his father opened a tannery supplying the army. The business did well, and the Yefremov family became comfortably well off.
Mischa had just turned 14 when the Great War began. Beyond anyone's expectations, the war dragged on with ever increasing casualties and internal political turmoil. The Russian armies proved to be inefficient and the senior officers incompetent. In 1916, Mischa began to run the risk of being conscripted into the army and, fearing that was a fate worse than death, decided a better solution for his continued well-being was the navy. His father called in some markers and got him a place at officer cadet school, like many a middle class kid.
Conditions at Kronstadt, the home of the Baltic fleet, were hardly more tolerable than the army. Discipline was harsh, barracks cramped and suffocating, pay, due to rampant inflation, worthless. Food supplies were barely adequate by the Summer of 1917, and cases of typhoid and dysentery began to take their toll among the disgruntled sailors. The Baltic fleet, it's major units spending most of the war lying idle in harbor, had the humiliation of seeing the flower of its crews sequestered into combat units and sent to the front. Agitators, primarily Socialist Revolutionaries, gained ground among many of the barracked crews. Unlike many navies, Russian crews were housed ashore rather than onboard their ships when not at sea, and so, were susceptible to political subversion. By the time of the Revolution, the Kronstadt Cadets were among Lenin's most loyal supporters.
Mischa Yefremov had developed a keen political sense himself, by that stage. This was not the idealistic rhetoric of many of his comrades, but the art of looking after his own interests above all. Yefremov was a survivor, a man of a great deal of personal charm, and with a keen rebellious spirit. That rebelliousness had already earned him several reprimands, but Mischa always stayed on the right side of the line. He'd seen how insubordination had cost some of his comrades weeks in jail or cashiered from the service and wanted none of it. During the revolution and civil war that followed, Yefremov stayed out of the sundry sailors' councils and political leadership believing them to be minefields subject to the shifting winds of national events. Far be it for Mischa to be caught on the wrong side. That changed, however, in June of 1919.
The Dvina was the torpedo school ship at Kronstadt - an old ram bow cruiser once called the Pamiat Azova. On June the 19th, British navy coastal motor boats attacked the anchorage at Kotlin Island during the Allied Intervention and struck the Dvina with a single torpedo. The old ship, chock full of young naval cadets, exploded and sank taken most of the young boys with her. The Russian sailors were incensed and in October of that year, many, including Yefremov, formed volunteer infantry brigades and joined the 15th Red Army as they drove the British supported, White Russian, Northwestern Army of General Yudenich, back to Estonia.
Little is known of his brief career as an infantryman. Following the Civil War, he rejoined the Baltic Fleet and somehow, dodged the infamous Kronstadt Mutiny. He learned the arts required of a sea officer in the new Red Navy and, when ranks and grades were reinstated, he gained the rank of Junior Lieutenant. He served on Destroyers and on one of the Profintern Class light cruisers. In 1930, however, he was charged and convicted of embezzling mess funds on very dubious testimony from a brother officer - who'd likely stole the money himself. Cashiered and sent to a labour camp for three years, Yefremov eventually returned, lost, despondent and, as a convicted felon, subject to the whim of the authorities. He worked on a collective farm for a year, a factory in the Tula area, several other jobs, always trying to find his feet. Eventually, in 1932, he applied for flight training in the fledgling civilian mail service and, to his astonishment, was accepted.
In the years 1926 to 1932, Soviet civilian aviation was expanding rapidly using a motley collection of foreign built aircraft and Russian copies of foreign built aircraft. Several early airlines were in the midst of being merged to form Aeroflot, an all-Union government behemoth whose margin between purely civilian and military roles were from the outset, blurred. In 1930, proto-Aeroflot aircraft worked 5000 kilometers of routes from all the main centers carrying freight, mail and passengers. Mischa trained on the Polikarpov U2, a biplane trainer and utility aircraft that provided the mainstay of Soviet light aviation in the interwar period. He took to flying like a man born to it and quickly impressed his trainers. By the mid thirties he'd graduated to Tupolev ANT 6, multi engine airliners and, first as co-pilot, then in the main seat, flew some of the first international routes flown by Aeroflot. By 1941, Mischa Yefremov was a senior man, a tutor to other pilots, and had ratings on the premier airliners in the Soviet Union, including the famed Maxim Gorky.
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June of that year, Maxim Karolovich Yefremov enlisted in the AV-MF, Soviet Naval Aviation, and, because of his experience, readily accepted. He was posted to the Northern Fleet, based in a number of harbors dotted around the White and Barents Seas in the Arctic, principally, Murmansk, Arkangelisk, and Polyyarnii, in the Kola Inlet. The Arctic had a desperate shortage of pilots, and Mischa immediately converted to the Beriev, MBR-2 flying boat.
Russian naval bases were dangerously exposed to air attack by German bombers based in Northern Norway. Murmansk, in particular, was heavily bombed almost daily during the remaining Summer of 1941. With few modern fighters available to the Air Force Interceptor Regiments, FA-VVS, air defenses in the Northern theatre, were soon overwhelmed. This caused a great deal of friction between the Navy and the Air Force.
With VVS air regiments heavily committed against Germany's allies, the Finns, and having taken huge losses during the initial invasion, the Navy decided to form their own fighter defenses. Gaining the co-operation of the VVS was a diplomatic nightmare for the VVS, like most separate arms of the Soviet Armed Forces, were greatly protective of their own territory. Eventually, terms of engagement, operational areas, and sundry minutia were agreed upon between the two services and three Interceptor 'Eskadrons' of 12 aircraft each established to protect each of the three main ports. Planes were all ex-VVS, a motley collection of second hand crocks the Air Force had no further use for. Trainers were also provided by the VVS. Mischa thought it a joke, but nevertheless, volunteered for the single seaters.
Yefremov was posted to Eskadron 2 protecting Murmansk, located a few kilometers out of town. The airfield, itself, was new and lacked almost all facilities. An airstrip of sorts had been hacked out of the tundra by bulldozer and a pre-fabricated barracks building and an old shack meant to serve as a operations control centre, constructed. There were no telephones, repair facilities, hangars for the aircraft, which in this climate were essential, and no mess building. 2nd Eskadron pilots and ground crew ate their meals outside on wooden trestles and waited under canvass tents for orders. With their mixture of I-15 and I-16 fighters, both considered obsolete at this stage in the war, the pilots of Esk-2 practiced formation flying and air tactics assiduously for the day they would take on the crack, German Messerschmitt fighters.
Mischa, as the most senior in both rank and experience, was soon promoted Captain and commander of the Eskadron. His first task was to acquire equipment and facilities and this was where he found the first great flaw in the AV-MF's fighter arm - there was absolutely no command and control system whatsoever and little in the way of a chain of command. Although this gave the Eskadrons a great deal of independence, it also created big problems in securing supplies. Mischa overcame this to a degree with a mixture of diplomacy, charm and larceny. His men became adept at petty theft and their victims were often the VVS. Fuel was secured through contacts at the Polyyarnii Flying Boat base, spare parts stolen as required from VVS airfields, and communications equipment came courtesy of contacts within fleet headquarters. When the weather made it possible to conduct operations in late Winter of '42, Yefremov decided it was time to blood his pups. With no system of reporting the approach of enemy formations, and under strict orders to refrain from offensive patrols, Mischa decided it was time to go looking for trouble rather than wait. The inspiration came from an unexpected source, the army.
An army jeep arrived at the Esk-2 and the officer from the staff of the army units stationed in the Kandalashka area, asked to see Mischa. He explained that over the last week, the Germans had been flying in ammunition and supplies at a temporary airfield close to, but not within artillery range, of the frontline. They had asked the VVS to attack the target but they were prevaricating, he said. Could the Navy's fighters do something about it? Yefremov readily accepted the task, and set to work finding light bombs that could be attached to the fuselage rails of his aircraft. Again, it was the VVS airfields that suffered the attention of the Eskadron's thieves, and a dozen 250kg aerial bombs secured for the unit.
Eskadron 2's Polikarpovs had long been configured for dual roles as both ground attack and interceptors. Mischa obtained detailed maps of the area from the army, and set about carefully planning the attack with each aircraft carrying a single bomb under their fuselage. After a day, Yefremov sent word to the army they were ready and requested local weather conditions. They got the go ahead from the army, and early one morning, the crates were warmed up and each pilot received a last minute briefing from Mischa himself. Lining his antiques behind him, Mischa, in his I-16 bis, waved his arm from the cockpit and opened the throttle.
In the Murmansk Oblast, civilians and military alike were used to seeing Mischa and his boys screaming over at tree top height on his training flights. Thus they paid little attention as the Eskadron roared over heading for Kandalashka to the South. The Army had laid out smoke markers to guide the attackers and waved the navy boys on as they headed for the German airstrip. Sporadic anti-aircraft fire greeted them as they flew over the German positions, but they were too low for effective fire. Ahead, Mischa spotted the gash of the crude airfield and several transport planes parked on the edge. With little ceremony, Mischa opened fire with his machine-guns on the first of them, a Junkers Ju-52-3m, and saw the puffs of his shells stalk across the fuselage of the enemy airplane. Beside, another of his boys hammered the other side of the airfield setting another Junkers ablaze. At the end of the field an anti-aircraft gun opened fire on them and Mischa kept his finger on the firing button to give the enemy gun a dose of his bullets for good measure. Behind him, the navy fighters flew down the airfield in waves, firing at anything they could see, and dropping their bombs. Soon, the airstrip was smothered in smoke from burning aircraft and stacks of supplies and there was little else the Eskadron could do. With fuel getting low, Mischa gave the signal to head home. The army was delighted, the VVS, rather less so, and they weren't slow in letting their feelings be known.
Word spread quickly among the besieged of Murmansk and Eskadron 2 became heroes over night. Despite the grumbling from the VVS, the Navy were grateful for the positive propaganda. Little had really been expected of the Navy's interceptors, but now headquarters took interest in the hope some of the success would rub off on the Northern Fleet's hierarchy. Under huge pressure due to the continuing heavy losses sustained by the Murmansk convoys, the Navy seized on the interceptor arm to prove the navy really did have teeth. Soon, word came that Eskadron-2 would be receiving new aircraft, MiG-3s, and not ex-VVS cast offs. These arrived within a month, and the Eskadron immediately set to work converting to the new equipment.
In 1943, a British Hurricane squadron arrived to share Eskadron-2's airfield, now being steadily expanded with new facilities. The RAF's mission was to help secure the harbor from air attack and ensure the security of the many British merchant vessels that arrived regularly. The British brought expertise in air operations - each of the pilots a veteran of the Battle of Britain. The Russians were able to assist with their experience of Arctic conditions, but, Mischa, unable to shake off his memory of the Dvina all those years before, was always uneasy around the 'Engliski.' Indeed, relations between the allies, under the watchful eye of local NKVD officers, was always limited and amounted to a few self-conscious exchanges of vodka for English cigarettes and photo opportunities of good natured comradeship. It is likely Yefremov's lifetime liking for English 'Senior Service' cigarettes dated from this time. He was certainly never short of supplies of them throughout his career.
Yefremov flew the Hurricane and some of the ex-RAF machines found their way into the Eskadron's inventory. By way of the American's Lend Lease program, Curtiss P-40 and Bell P-39 'Airacobra' found their way into both the VVS and the AV-MF, as well as light bombers such as the B-25. These sophisticated Western aircraft provided a technological boost to both the Soviet air arms and the air industry, generally. With the local VVS equipping with Western aircraft, the Navy's Eskadrons were handed quantities of Yakovlev Yak-9s by 1944, arguably, the best Soviet fighter of the war. With these the Navy's interceptors were able to establish total air superiority over the Luftwaffe in the Murmansk area all the way to the Norwegian border. The beginning of 1945 saw Captain of the 1st Rank, Maxim (Mischa) Karolovich Yefremov, commanding six Interceptor Eskadrons grouped as a Division of the Northern Fleet.
But for his abrasiveness with officialdom and his notoriously short fuse, Yefremov may well have finished the war with a greater sackful of medals than was actually the case. The Northern Fleet was granted the Order of the Red Banner, a somewhat flattering honor considering the mixed success it generally had throughout the war. Lacking equivalent honorifics to the VVS - which relied on the army's systems - the AV-MF of the Northern Fleet were given the Order of the Red Star, but, for the Navy's interceptors, that had come from nothing to honor themselves in battle. For them, there was little but disbandment when the air arms were reorganized following victory. There was no longer a place for a fighter pilot in the navy, so Mischa was posted back to multi-engined patrol planes and flying boats.
Some time in 1952, Yefremov was asked to evaluate the Kamov Ka-10 'flying motorcycle' helicopter with a view to shipboard operations in the Arctic. The Ka-10 was little more than an open chassis with a pilot seat, an engine, and two contra-rotating, co-axial rotors on a vertical shaft. It was plainly unsuitable for the extreme conditions in the North, but Mischa fell in love with the little craft from the get go. Mischa conspired to remain attached to the Kamov OKB to develop and test fly their designs for the next 2 years. In 1953, he was one of the first to fly the Ka-15, a much more suitable aircraft for shipboard operations with an enclosed cabin and room for another crewman. The Ka-15 went into production in 1955 and the Northern Fleet received them soon after for installation on ASW cruisers. Yefremov assisted with the conversion to these little aircraft and devised an operations manual for their deployment.
Mischa had been passed over for promotion many times and was nearing the end of his practical service life as an active pilot. Flying, particularly in the North, was a young man's game, and there was little administrative work that interested him. He was, though, recognized for his work with helicopters and, for the next several years, he was found various positions developing air operations with both the AV-MF and the fledgling Border Patrol.
The Border Forces, rather than the poorer cousin to the Navy, was to evolve into a military arm in its own right. It was something of an anomaly, under operational control of a Directorate of the KGB, yet supplied for all intents and purposes by the Navy and Army. The Sea Border Patrol was tasked with controlling shipping within Soviet waters, both monitoring foreign shipping as well as Russian fishing fleets and cargo traffic. For this task, they were supplied with patrol vessels by the navy graduating in the late fifties to flotillas of dedicated Petya Class frigates. The Petya's were fast and well-armed, and gave little away to the Navy's equivalents in capability. Until the Patrol received their own equipment, however, they had to make do with a variety of second-hand naval vessels. One such vessel was the Petrovska, a converted, ex-American, Admirable Class minesweeper signed over to the Soviet Navy in 1945 as part of Operation Hula.
USS Newton had been launched at Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1944. At 650 tons and around 57 metres long, she was one of the largest minesweepers built for the US Navy. The Admirables were sound and reliable ships and, powered by twin diesel engines, post war, found themselves in a variety of roles in both the US and allied navies. Their modular construction made for easy conversions. 24 of them were handed over to the Soviet Navy for use against Japan. Although officially 'on loan', none were handed back, and, finally the USN struck them off their 'active' list in 1983 - long after they'd been scrapped by the Russians. As the Petrovska, the Newton became involved in a trial of getting helicopters to sea to extend the Border Forces' surveillance capability. The mine rails and gear was removed and rear the of the ship cut down to the main deck. A helipad was then constructed using steel frames and wooden cladding to avoid excessive top weight. Aviation fuel was stored in tanks below the main deck and pumped up through pipes for refueling. No hangar could be provided, and the Ka-15 was chained down to the helipad when not in use. In 1958, Mischa was seconded to the Petrovska to develop and train pilots. He did, however, conspire to go on operations with the co-operation of the Petrovska's Captain, who, of course, he outranked by several grades.
The Petrovska was not a great success, owing to her age and small size. It was too slow for its role and her aging machinery could rarely propel her faster than 12 knots in ideal conditions. Nevertheless, she did provide the Sea Border Patrol with experience in shipboard operations with helicopters and much valuable information was gleaned. The additional weight of helipad and helicopter so far above the waterline made the Petrovka uncomfortable for the crew. The Petrovka only went to sea when fine and still weather could be reliably predicted which, only occurred a few times a year.
The personal life of Maxim Karolovich Yefremov was something of a mystery. Tall and good looking, with a great deal of personal charm, women found him easy to like and, it's certain he indulged in numerous affairs. There was talk of a mistress with whom, it was rumored, he had a daughter, but nobody knows for sure. What we do know is, that, on one fine day in 1959, out in the Barents Sea, Yefremov took off in a Ka-15 helicopter from the helipad of the Petrovska and was never seen in this world again. What follows is his story from the next.
Mischa had not been happy that day. A series of breakdowns and equipment failures had frustrated him and darkened his mood. He was glad to finally be up in the air flying, even though this was a routine operation. The mission was to observe a number of Soviet trawlers operating some 30 nautical miles away. They were to note the registry numbers, which ought to be prominently painted on their superstructure, and compare it with a list of vessels authorized to be in the area ... The day was clear and calm with visibility at the maximum capability of the eyeball. Rostrimov sat beside him in the second seat, plotting their course on a board and chart clipped to his thigh. The Ka-15 had only rudimentary navigational instruments and no radar. There was a compass and a RDF loop for radio direction finding, and that was about all. Rostrimov plotted their progress with the aid of a compass and slide rule, making the necessary variations according to windspeed and direction, in much the same way navigators have done for hundreds of years. Mischa glanced at the chart occasionally and Rostrimov confirmed their ETA by holding up fingers.
26nms out, and they should be picking up the wash of the first trawler. Rostrimov scanned the horizon with his binoculars and shrugged, looking at his boss. Yefremov rolled his eyes and shook his head. The horizon was clear - it was going to continue to be that kind of day. Mischa gestured to Rostrimov he needed a prescribed arc within they should find the trawlers, given their maximum speed to be about 14 knots. He indicated he was going to do a semi-circular search pattern, after which, if they still weren't found, he needed to report it in. He swung the Ka-15 to starboard 45 degrees along, what they called, the 'y' axis. Maintaining this course for 15 minutes, Mischa swung to port on an arc and Rostrimov continued to scan, port and starboard. There was nothing, the sea was empty. Eventually, Mischa was reaching the limit of his fuel and needed to start back towards the Petrovska. He signaled to Rostrimov to call in and report the absence of the trawlers at their authorized location.
"Honey Bee to Hive, come in, please," he radioed. 'Honey Bee' and 'Hive', their call signs, was a little joke between Mischa and the ship. In truth, it didn't matter what their call signs were providing they were clear under difficult radio conditions. "Honey Bee to Hive, come in," Rostrimov continued. After a few minutes fruitless calling, he signaled to Mischa the radio was dead.
"Fuck!" Mischa spat, and Rostrimov had no doubt what he'd said. Yefremov plugged in his own headphones to the radio and clicked slowly through the channels. He noted he got nothing but static on all frequencies - no background chatter at all from other ships in the broad area. Arctic trawlers were notorious for calling each other up and there was always a lot of talking on the RTs. Mischa was convinced the radio was faulty and added it to the growing list of problems he'd had that day. Some twenty minutes later they found the Petrovska, still drifting, with the helipad 'fence' lowered to receive them. As they approached, however, they saw no-one on deck and Mischa decided to fly across the bows of their ship to alert the bridge crew of their arrival. They saw no-one on the bridge, but the tinted windows of the deckhouse made it difficult to see in anyway. They decided to land regardless, trusting the handlers would fall out when they heard them approach.
Mischa guided the chopper to the stern of the vessel and hovered for about a minute. No-one appeared on deck to guide them in and prepare for their landing. Yefremov was absolutely furious and cut loose with a mouthful of oaths that was plainly audible to his crewman. Still swearing, Mischa inched them towards the helipad, indicating to Rostrimov he needed to jump out and shackle the wheels while he held the throttle open. They had never practiced unaided landings on a ship before and Yefremov had never heard of an operational procedure for such an event. But, Mischa's long flying experience had given him the confidence to improvise and he signed carefully to Rostrimov what he had to do. He touched down carefully, while Rostrimov leapt out and sprinted for the lashings, crouched over in the rotor wash lest he get blown off his feet and over the side. He went to the starboard rear corner of the pad and pulled the wire cable out from its drum. Hauling it across the deck, he locked it into place on the starboard front wheel shackle of the helicopter. After Rostmitrov did the same to the port lashings, Mischa felt confident enough to wind down the engine. His crewman was panting like a steam engine from the exertion, and Mischa patted him on the back in appreciation of a job well done. Now it was time for the pack of lazy bastards called Petrovska's crew.
Although Rostrimov was merely an Officer Candidate, Mischa sent him storming off to wake up the helicopter handling crew, while he went forward to find the Captain. He had strong advice for him and, although he was in command of the vessel, his more senior rank gave him the authority to express his feelings forcefully. He went in the port side hatch under the wheelhouse and strutted to the door of the captain's day cabin. Not pausing to knock, he pushed it open to find the room empty. Looking around, he saw the bed was unmade and the captain's personal log open on the side table. Mischa knew the Captain to be old navy, with an obsession with tidiness. It seemed unlikely he'd leave his cabin in this state unless called away with an emergency. Yefremov, turned and left and made his way to the ladder to the bridge. A short climb later, he, too, found the bridge deserted.
To have no watch on the bridge was a serious breach of regulations that would earn the Captain a discharge and a prison sentence. It seemed inconceivable such a thing would be allowed to happen on the Petrovska. Shocked, he went to the engine room intercom and called the engineer - there was no answer. A cold spasm of fear went up his spine - a feeling something serious had happened to the crew. Trying to dismiss the idea, he was disturbed by Rostrimov, who came up the ladder - a puzzled expression on his face.
"No-one aboard?" Mischa said to him before he could speak.
"No-one," confirmed the lad. "What's going on? Is this some kind of a joke?"
"Jokes like this do not happen in the Soviet Navy," Mischa told him. "Particularly with the KGB watching over us. There must be a rational explanation. We must try and find it." Indicating the radio room, Mischa ordered Rostrimov to check the radio log, while he checked the bridge log and chart entries. Soon, they came back together to discuss what they'd found.
"Sir," began Rostrimov, "it seems to be just routine traffic - nothing out of the ordinary."
Mischa looked at the book, furrowed his brow, then looked at the clock on the wall. "What do you make the time, Rostrimov?" he asked. "By your watch, if you please?"
"1240 hours, sir," he answered, rolling his wrist.
"And the date?"
"Sir? It's the 6th of June, of course."
"Of course, Rostrimov? The chronometer on that bulkhead says 1130. Apparently, it stopped 5 minutes after we left," he explained, indicating the back bulkhead.
"What? It must have broken," Rostrimov replied.
"Well, if it's broken, exactly the same thing happened to the chart house chronometer at precisely the same time. You can check, and when you're there, you'll see the sweep hand is still going."
"Weird!" his crewman shook his head after returning.
"Here's another puzzle," Mischa continued, holding out the radio log. "As you can see, the last report to Murmansk was made at precisely 1100 hours, yes?" Rostrimov nodded his head in agreement. "Now, you see this code indicating the date. What does it say?"
Rostrimov's face bleached white. He stared hard at the page for half a minute before exclaiming, "but, that can't be."
"Apparently, it was 1100 hours, all right, but, June the 7th - tomorrow. Clearly, we have been out a lot longer than we thought. Nearly 24 hours, in fact."
"It must be a mistake," the crewman, replied, shaking. "The sparky got the date wrong - it happens."
"Possibly, but the same mistake has been made by the navigator. According to the plot, on June the 6th we hadn't yet arrived at this location. You can check it if you like."
"No, I don't want to," Rostrimov shook in fear. "This is not right. Something strange is happening to us."
"So what has happened to the crew?" Mischa asked, idly. "Perhaps they've been taken by an American submarine, perhaps? Or, maybe they've all decided to go South on one of those trawlers. The fishermen and the Petrovska's crew have all defected to Norway. What do your think of that, Rostrimov?" The young man shook his head, too shaken to voice an opinion. "But, there are numerous reasons why those are silly suggestions. Why would the Americans risk atomic war to snatch the crew of a rather innocuous old patrol boat with little in the way of secrets aboard. And why leave the ship behind, if they're going to go to all that trouble? I think there would be greater prizes out there than the Petrovska to interest American intelligence, don't you agree?" Rostrimov shrugged, still struck dumb. "Now, if they were to defect and they were just waiting for us to get out of the way, why hop on board a trawler? Why not sail this ship past the Kola patrols and take their chances. A trawler is hardly any faster than this ship. There are, perhaps, at least half a dozen radar stations along the coast and if the trawler chugged past any of them at the astonishing speed of 14 knots, you bet, there'll be all kinds of aircraft and patrol vessels gunning for them. The standing patrol has half a dozen frigates, and each one of them would be good for, perhaps, 30 knots in these conditions? How long do you suppose that trawler would stay afloat loaded down with thirty extra crew from the Petrovska? Not long, I suspect."
"They wouldn't..." Rostrimov shook his head.
"Absolutely. The Petrovska's crew are not traitors and, for any of this to work, they all would have to be in on it, trawlers, crew, everyone. That leaves us, where, Rostrimov? I'll tell you - absolutely nowhere." Mischa wandered to the rear of the wheelhouse to where there was a small, metal table. Upon it was a plate of fresh beef sandwiches and a pot of coffee. Mischa felt the jug and found it hot. He opened the lid and saw it hadn't been touched. "Have you known a bridge watch to leave a plate of sandwiches and good coffee untouched?" he said to Rostrimov. "Come, let's eat. We can think better after some food."
Mischa watched the young lad for a while, sitting, head bowed, munching half-heartedly on a sandwich, and scratched his jaw. He was totally lost, totally dependent on him to come up with a plan. He was the senior officer, a man who, was not only a pilot qualified on almost every aircraft in the inventory, but a trained sea officer to boot. Young Rostrimov waited, shaking, anxious for him to give some orders. "Rostrimov?" he said, "we must call this in, whatever the consequences. It's our duty as Soviet officers. We cannot stay out here forever. We must call and get someone out from the Kola to give us assistance."
"What do we say?"
"The truth. We kick this problem up the chain of command. That is the Navy way," he grinned. With that, he arose and went into the radio room. Several minutes later, he emerged, shaking his head. "Nothing," he said. "Not a damned thing on the radio. Just like the chopper. Nothing but static on all channels. Why am I not surprised?"
"So, what do we do?"
"Rostrimov? What do you know of running a ship's engines?"
"Nothing," he replied. "I trained as a navigation officer in the AV-MF."
"Well, my boy, you're going to have a crash course in marine diesel technology. Don't fret, it's easy. All you have to do is clutch up the engines when I give the signal. I can control them from up here. As soon as you do that, you must run back up here and be my second set of eyes, you got that?"
"I think so."
"I'm relying on you, Rostrimov."
"Yes, sir, I won't let you down, sir!" the lad replied, stiffly.
"When we near port, you have to run back down to de-clutch when I say. If you don't, I'll likely mow down the pier and ram whatever's tied up there, okay?"
"Yes, sir, show me what to do and I'll do it, sir."
"That's the ticket, Rostrimov," he smiled. "We do our duty and get this ship home. We report to headquarters and let them figure out what's going on."
Given something to do helped both men calm themselves and focus on their present task. Mischa showed his apprentice the engine room and explained how everything worked. When he was confident the lad knew his task, Mischa went back up to the bridge and called through the engine intercom, "Punch it, Rostrimov. Keep them together or we'll go around in circles, okay?"
"Got it. Clutching, now - port - starboard. Both engines clutched and ready for operation, sir," the lad replied, proudly.
"Good boy. I have power. Half ahead, both. Gosh, I haven't done this in nigh on 50 years. Get your arse back up here and give me a heading. If you run us onto a reef, I'll see you paddling trash boats on the Dvina River, Rostrimov."
Soon, the two men had the ship underway and bearing on Murmansk at the head of the Kola Inlet. "Get me a radio fix, Rostrimov," he ordered. "I want to bear on the channel. Don't want to drift off course and come in the wrong side. The bloody navy will never make me live it down."
Rostrimov went into the radio room and swung the RDF loop around with the handle on the wall searching for the signal. After trying several times he announced he couldn't find any signal. Mischa told him not to bother, he'll make a guess. Rostrimov had little doubt his Captain's guess was better than most navigation officer's careful calculations.
During the Summer, Murmansk was a busy port. There was a naval base and a large civilian dock area. As they glided down through the channel, Mischa noted the absence of traffic. This shouldn't be, he remarked, as there was always something coming in or going out. He brought the ship down to half speed as they headed towards the naval base. Already, he could see Murmansk resembled a ghost town. Nothing was active on the water and the docks appeared completely empty of workers.
"Prepare to de-clutch, Rostrimov," he called through the intercom. "You need to be back up here and on the mooring lines. There doesn't appear to be anyone to assist us. You must cast the lines over on to the pier and jump down and tie us up, okay? I'll try and keep her against the fenders. If I drift out, just don't fall between ship and pier, got that? There's no way I'm jumping in those waters to pull your frozen carcass out of the drink, understand?"
"Yes, sir., I understand, sir!"
Mischa let the Petrovska's momentum carry her against the pier. With a bump, the crunched the fenders, and Rostrimov, enthusiastically hurled the mooring lines over the side. Mischa remarked to himself, the lad had a good arm on him. He then jumped down onto the pier and dragged the loops over the bollards. Presently, the Petrovska was secured alongside, and Mischa went in search of the wharf office. Presently, he found it - a little room tacked on the end of a wharf shed betrayed by the clutch of telephone wires that led from it to a pole outside. He tried the door. It was locked, but a swift kick was sufficient to splinter the ancient timbers. Inside he found a small desk strewn with papers, and on a wall, an old wooden wind up telephone - the type you have to plug into a board.
He searched through the rows of sockets on the board until he found one with the word, 'exchange' scrawled underneath in red ink. He plugged in the phone and wound lustily on the handle. And he waited.
Mischa had little confidence anyone was going to answer. Already, he feared that he and his apprentice were the only two people left in the North, perhaps in the whole of the Soviet Union, maybe even the world? He began to realized that some great catastrophe had happened and all the people had disappeared. Perhaps the Americans had some new bomb that made this happen? The papers were full of stories of the perfidy of the capitalist countries and, although from his personal experience, he knew the English, at least, were not devils, he did wonder whether the Americans had developed some new terrible device. He wound again on the handle, more vigorously this time, and eventually, he heard a tiny voice on the other end of the line.
"Hello?" came the reply. Mischa was shocked. The voice was female and definitely not Rostrimov playing some joke in another office somewhere. "Hello," she repeated, "are you there?"
Relief descended on Yefremov, like seeing the sun for the first time after 5 months in the darkness of a Northern Winter. There were others after all and that meant a working organization, resources and plans to be made. "Hello," he called, trying to sound businesslike, "please, put me through to Northern Fleet headquarters. Chief of Border Patrol Operations, Admiral..."
"There's nobody there," she cut him off. "I've been trying for four days. There's nobody at the Navy, Police, or Civilian Administration. Nobody is answering. Have you many with you? Where are you? I am all alone, here. Please, can you send help. I don't know what to do."
"Hold on, hold on, madam," Mischa, replied. "What's your name and where can we find you?"
"My names is Svetlana. I'm at the Central Telephone Exchange, here, in Murmansk. Gorky Street, do you know it? I'm a Junior Telephonist. My husband is on submarines. Are you Navy?"
"Yes, Svetlana, Senior Captain Maxim Karolovich Yefremov attached to the Border Forces, at your service. There is just myself and a crewman, Officer-Candidate Yvegeny Adamovich Rostrimov. You must stay there and we will come for you."
"Please, I am frightened," the women sobbed. "For four days, I have walked from my apartment down the street to the exchange each morning at nine. I have seen no-one in all of that time. I didn't know what else to do, but, come to work and remain at my post. I have tried every number in the exchange and haven't received one answer. Do you have any idea what has happened?"
"None, as yet, Svetlana, but maybe, we can gather the survivors together and come up with a plan. Keep your chin up and we'll find a way to you soon, okay?"
"Okay, Captain, please hurry."
"Will do." Mischa hung up. Rushing back out to the pier, he called at the top of his voice, "Rostrimov? Get your best uniform on and hurry. We can't keep a lady waiting."