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      In the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey used guile to overcome with his 18th century Royal Navy frigate, HMS Surprise, a larger, faster, and more powerful French man-of-war. Being overtaken by the French vessel at night, he used a raft rigged with a lantern and a sail to lure the enemy in one direction, while he steered his ship on another course. In another scene he disguised his ship as a whaler to tempt the French vessel to approach to try to seize him as a prize vessel. At the last second he revealed his true colors, blasted the French vessel with a broadside, boarded, and captured her.

       As commanding officer of USS Morton (DD 948), a Forrest Sherman class destroyer, in 1981, I was forced to use similar tricks to win “victories” over more modern destroyers in training exercises right off the coast of San Diego (hence the “Near Side of the World”). Morton was a steam powered destroyer assigned to simulate Soviet destroyers in opposing modern gas turbine powered American destroyers. The weapon systems were more modern in those newer ships, as well.

      My best victory was over three modern destroyers in an electronic countermeasures and passive sonar detection exercise. The exercise took place within an imaginary equilateral triangle west of and abutting the Coronado Islands off the California coast. The islands were barely inside the eastern border of the triangle whose apex was north and whose base was a 150 nautical mile long east-west line. My assignment was to proceed from any point along the base of the triangle to the apex of the triangle undetected by the three modern destroyers over a ten hour period from midnight to ten AM. At a steady13 knots from the center of the base to the apex, USS Morton would have arrived at that time. Unfortunately, we would have been “destroyed” by the destroyers waiting for us near the apex.

       That, in fact, was their tactic. They simply waited in a line making slow circles near the apex. Not wishing to give away their positions, they maintained electronic silence and darken ship. The exception was that each ship periodically used one surface search radar to attempt to locate me. Since my electronic intercept equipment would detect these emissions, they took turns radiating briefly, hoping to confuse me about where they were. Actually, those sweeps enabled me to pinpoint each of them.

        My trick was to begin the exercise at over 30 knots heading directly for the Coronado Islands. We maintained total darken ship, with total electronic silence. Because we had bathythermograph readings of the water temperature at various depths, we calculated that the noise of our engines at high speed would not reach the modern destroyers until Morton was within 20 miles of them near the islands.

        As we approached those islands, my ship was beyond the detection range of their radars and sonars. We slowed to five knots and shut down half of my engineering plant, steaming northeast on one of our two propellers, so close to the islands that the “enemy” could not discern the Morton’s radar return from the return from those islands. By the time my ship’s radar return split from the islands, we were very close to the other ships and enveloped in fog. If their radars detected me at that point, they did not know whether Morton was one of them or a fishing vessel. At dawn Morton was passing between two of the modern destroyers a few hundred yards away and the third one was just visible in the fog beyond.

        The way you simulated “killing” the enemy was to send a repeating flashing light signal the letter “G,” “Golf, Golf, Golf,” or the letter “M,” “Mike, Mike, Mike.” “Golf” stood for shooting them with guns and “Mike” stood for shooting them with missiles. My signalmen were ready on both sides of the bridge. Morton “sank” all three ships before their crews had time for morning coffee. The other commanding officers wondered how we had gotten there so fast. They had expected us to show up about 10 AM steaming at 12 or 13 knots.

         My tactic was dangerous. Steaming in darkness without radar, we had to rely heavily on lookouts. Navigating using only lights on shore was hazardous in the vicinity of the islands. Finally, to steam in fog without sounding signals violates international laws for the prevention of collisions. In my defense, none of the other ships sounded fog signals or used navigation lights. The worst fallout from my tactic was that the ship passed so close to the islands that kelp was sucked into the condenser of the one engine. My engineer was not happy, for cleanup was messy and smelly.

         But we had won!

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