The Little Matter of the Coleyfish Pirates
As the flare hissed into the North Sea ahead of the erstwhile whale catcher, rust dribbling over matt-black, death’s heads on the funnel, shark’s jaws painted on the prow, it opened up from a 37mm twin barrelled Soviet V-11 AK-AK cannon that was mounted on the foredeck. With a staccato of thunderclaps the sky around the hot-airship above peppered with shell bursts, shrapnel rattled on the hull of the gondola and tore into the skin of the canopy. Ferdy spun the elevator wheel as he banked the dirigible hard to port. Pumps screamed as ballast was forced to the stern, the great hot-air burners roared and the sixteen triple-bladed large diameter propulsion screws whined. The Lady Æthelflæda, almost standing on her tail, powered towards the stratosphere, out of range of the corsair’s gun. The flack would not last long. Most corsairs used reloads for ammunition and a miss-fire or jam was inevitable.
There was crashing and banging from beyond the bridge door as everything not secured took off towards the stern, and a hideous screeching when Ginsbergbear tumbled from his armchair in the rear saloon and landed on Phoebles’ tail.
“Make black smoke.” A veil of black oily smoke poured from the funnel to hide their ascent, it poured from seams and joints in the engine-room, it poured from the galley stove.
“We may have detected a bit of the refurbished system that’s not been thoroughly tested till now, eh?” Boz blew hard down the gunnery deck voice tube and the whistle was answered with an, “Ey ey captain?”
“Run out the stern chasers and fire when ready.”
During the refit the Lady Æthelflæda had acquired two massive F-Off howitzers in the stern to deter pursuers. The violent recoil, partially absorbed by giant springs, shuddered the gondola’s framework; the gun ports spouted cordite-smoke and flame. The large-bore shells purred towards the pirate vessel and, just as Ginsbergbear struggled onto the command deck, the first one exploded in mid air showering the craft from stem to stern in vivid Day-Glo pink paint.
“Paint bombs?” enquired Boz.
“Well? Suddenly being spray-painted pink can be very demoralising in a macho situation,” explained the bear. The second shell had clanged, unexploded, onto the deck of the corsair and was ticking. As the crew cautiously approached there came a clockwork whirr and a tink. Something brown and treacly oozed out across the newly pink deck and began to evaporate. The pirates fled. From the dirigible they could be seen scrambling in a panic across the stern, holding their noses, clawing at their eyes and desperately trying to launch the life rafts. The foc’sle gunner threw himself into the sea.
“Second round will have been a stink bomb then,” laughed Phoebles triumphantly, as he too arrived on the bridge, still cradling a throbbing tail.
“Drop down to sea level and prepare to take on survivors,” instructed Boz.
It’s the War, the Whole Bloody War
Much had changed since the early days of the Coleycorsair Wars. The Lady Æthelflæda had recently had a major upgrade. She bristled with assorted weaponry and her eight newly modified, light weight, yet ultra-powerful Stanley Steamer engines drove three twin, contra-rotating propellers each. She was fast and agile. The top half of her canopy had been painted a North Sea slate-grey and below she was a light sky-blue. Ginsbergbear and Phoebles felt they had greatly enhanced the effectiveness of the camouflage by painting waves and an albatross into the dark grey and adding fluffy clouds to the blue underside. The aluminium outer casing of the gondola was streamlined and starkly functional. In the pilot’s seat the once affable dodo appeared drawn, thin beaked, his cold eyes fixed on the distant horizon. Boz sported an eye patch and the empty right arm of his reefer jacket was safety-pinned to his breast.
Phoebles was unimpressed, “You might find the controls easier to manage if you stopped mucking about and used both hands – put your jacket on properly,” he muttered, somewhat scornfully, “And if you don’t take that silly eye-patch off you’ll go blind. You don’t look rugged, just daft.”
Boz sighed, “This war’s not much fun any more… And that bruised tail is making you insubordinate.”
The Lady Æthelflæda descended and Ferdinand straightened her up to hover a few feet above the swell, midway between the abandoned pirate vessel and its intended victim, a Belgian sidewinder coleyfishtrawler that wallowed and rolled as only a Belgian built trawler can. The entire crew lined the rail in enveloping oilskins and sou’westers and a cheer went up.
“Hoera! U hebt ons opgesiagen.”
“Hourra! Vous nous aves sauvés.”
Ginsbergbear and Phoebles waved to the fisherman whilst Boz turned his field glasses onto the corsair pursuit craft. A bilious green mist rolled along the deck to tumble through the scuppers and drift down wind along the surface of the sea. A little further away orange life rafts bobbed at the mercy of the waves. Gradually the gang became aware of a distant, gnat like whine and Boz spotted two indistinct dots in the sky to the northwest. Ferdy took up the 20×60 binoculars that were housed in a box by the bridge windows. Through them he could make out two gaudily painted Grumman J2F Ducks sporting CSAAF insignia on the wings and tail. Each had twin ring-mounted 50 calibre machine guns to the rear of the cockpit and they had additional machine guns Gaffer taped to the wings. The Corsairs and Reivers utilised prodigious amounts of gaffer tape and controlled by far the largest Gaffer tape factory in the northern counties.
“It’s Les Chats Souterrains,” shouted Ferdy.
“Bugger,” groaned Boz, “Is there no let up?
“Take her up again, Ferdy. Those crates can’t out climb us. And, Phoebles, get the Kronstadt Fleet Air Arm on the radio. We need back up.”