December 30, 1980 the Baltiysky Naval Shipyard in Leningrad was a very busy place. It was the day the first of a new fearsome naval surface action combatant, the nuclear guided missile battlecruiser Kirov was slated to be commissioned into the Soviet Navy, the first of four planned ships in this class. It would be some time before the Western analysts and intelligence experts who watched from a distance would really take the measure of this awesome new ship. In its early months in the Baltic NATO planners had taken to calling it BALCOM-1 for “Baltic Combatant 1.” Once they got a look at the ship they hoped it would be the last they would ever see of this class, but Soviet Russia would not oblige.
Bristling with vertical launch missile ports, SAMs, and deck guns, the ship promised to upset the balance of power in the Northern Seas and, for the Royal Navy, there had not been a ship this feared and respected since the launching of the German Bismarck class battleships in the Second World War. One man who watched the reports saw the satellite and high altitude U-2 photos was Captain Peter Yates, British Naval Intelligence. The rumors of the ship had already set analysts into worry mode since it first hit the Soviet naval designer’s drawing boards in the mid 1970s. Yates had been one of the privileged few to see the drawings and early photographs of the ship in the naval yards. Something about the scale and design of the ship immediately set off a thrum of anxiety. Kirov would be over 827 feet long with a generous beam of 94 feet and displace 28,000 tons fully loaded. While half the weight of a respectable World War II class battleship, she would have the power to confront and sink an entire fleet.
A young man in 1980, Yates was recruited into a dark program hidden deep within the wandering the hallways of the Naval Board at Whitehall. He would not even learn what it was for some years, and then one day he would be escorted into a windowless room handed a sheaf of files with photography and transcripts and told he was to see the British Royal Navy Admiral Of The Fleet immediately after he had reviewed the material. Captain Peter Yates, whose surname meant ‘dweller by the gate,’ or the gatekeeper, was about to receive a promotion and become Commodore Yates. He would be admitted to a very select group of men known only as the Watch, and told he would have more than his fair share of long years to stand if he accepted the post, and be privy to intelligence matters with the highest possible clearance. He accepted, and was soon surprised to learn that his post would relate directly to the photographs he had studied before the meeting. His watch would be on that very ship, Kirov,
and he would need to know its movements, whereabouts and status at all times.
On December 30, 1980, he also got his first look at the dark history of this vessel. There before him were
photographs, gun camera footage, and other video related to a top-secret event known only as the “Geronimo incident” dating from World War II. To his great surprise that December the ship
he saw cruising quietly into the Baltic Sea was the image and likeness of the ship he had seen in those secret files! The phantom that had haunted the opera of British intelligence for the last forty
years had finally taken shape in the real world, built by the hands of men.
Yates did not know then that this was not the ship that confronted the Royal Navy in the North Seas in 1941, and
then again in the Mediterranean of 1942. There were subtle differences, but it's lines and specifications were so close that the first Kirov became the most watched ship of its era, with a British submarine assigned to dog its movements for each and every second of its brief ten-year active service life.
When the ship finally suffered a reactor accident in 1990 during a Mediterranean cruise, and was taken off the active-duty list, Yates released a sigh of relief. Now the ship would at least be kept in one place for a time where British Intelligence could keep a watchful eye. There it sat, rusting away in the cold Arctic North while Yates watched the three others of its class suffered similar fates. They were all given new names and one by one they fell out of active service. Admiral Lazarev sat in the Bay below Russian Naval Pacific Fleet Headquarters at Fokino near Vladivostok, and Admiral Nakhimov sat in Severodinsk. The last of the four, battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy, or Peter the Great, remained in active service into the year 2015 when it was also retired. The dread battlecruisers were finally off the world stage and no longer a threat until the year 2018 when the new Russia resurrected its promise to refit and reactivate all four of these formidable ships by the year 2020. They made the deadline, but produced only one such ship, built from the bones of all the others that had come before it. And to honor the original class they gave that ship back its old name and called it Kirov.
that year, forty-four years after its original design took shape and form, the new updated battlecruiser Kirov returned to the northern seas, making a brief training cruise in the year 2020 and then taking a proud place at the head of the Soviet Northern Fleet as its new flagship. By that time, Commodore Yates was now Admiral Yates, a man of sixty-four years, yet young for his age with just a touch of gray at each Temple and the tall sturdy frame with sharp dark eyes that seemed to notice everything when he entered a room. Yates was now the senior officer in charge of the group known as the Watch, one of many such men and women scattered throughout the world in key positions still keeping a vigilant eye on world events.
2020 had been a jarring year. Kirov was back. That was the great worry once again. Now that the ship had returned to active duty service with new electronics, engines, and deadly new weapons, Kirov once again posed a grave threat to the sea lanes Western navies and their vast fleets of commerce ships depended on. But it was not what Kirov might do to a present-day ship in the year 2021 that so bedeviled the Watch this time. It was what the ship might do to the navies of an earlier time, for now this shadowy group was convinced that this second rebirth of the dread battlecruiser was indeed the ship their founders had come to call Geronimo.
Yates knew that, one day, on some mission, perhaps a routine cruise for training or simply to show the flag at distant ports of the world, this ship would simply vanish. What it would do to the history of the world after that moment would make all the difference between survival and the utter destruction of the entire human race. So just like it's older brother before it, the ship could never sail outside the purview of the Royal Navy. A submarine was assigned to intercept and shadow the Russian battlecruiser at every moment, and a special emergency communications device was installed on that sub that would immediately signal level one critical alert should the sub ever lose contact with the ship. The Royal Navy, and the men of the Watch, wanted to know the exact moment in time that the ship was first displaced to a distant era where now legendary figures like Admiral John Tovey and men like Alan Turing of Bletchley Park had first grappled with the deep mystery of the ship's sudden appearance in the middle of World War II. Now, at long last, they were to have their answer.
On a late summer night in July the telephone was ringing in a lonesome and largely unknown office of Royal Navy Headquarters at the Maritime Warfare Centre, Whale Island, Portsmouth. This was the old Coastal Command Headquarters that was eventually expanded to take over joint operations for air/naval operations for the United Kingdom and related NATO affairs. Home to a staff of 1600 men and women, the main buildings were simple four story offices with long rows of windows and little architectural appeal, but when something really dicey went down, the deep underground secure bunkers were in operation to coordinate events, as they soon were that day when the alert first came in.
Admiral Yates was in his office, working up fleet assignments for the new Queen Elizabeth battlegroup assembling for deployment. He would have two of the newer Type 45 destroyers in Daring and Dragon,
the first of the new Type 26 Global Combat Frigates, Defiance, and two more older Type 23s in Lancaster and Somerset. The new Astute class fleet submarine Anson,
the fifth in the series, would serve in escort to her majesty, Britain’s newest and largest fleet carrier.
But that night another sub in the same class, the Ambush, was living up
to its name as it silently stalked the Russian battlecruiser Kirov north of Jan Mayen. Commissioned in 2015, Ambush was a superbly stealthy boat with a hull coating of nearly 40,000 acoustic tiles. She also had a deadly sting in her six 533 mm torpedo tubes firing the Spearfish heavyweight torpedo, a 21 inch diameter killing fish indeed with a 300kg warhead. Her Tomahawk cruise missiles were another long range threat out to 1240 miles, and accurate to within two meters. At 30 knots submerged, Ambush was capable of running with the fast Russian battlecruiser when necessary, and her real underwater speed was still a highly classified secret. With a 25 year supply of nuclear fuel, and advanced air and water purification systems, the sub could technically circumnavigate the entire globe without ever once surfacing. Her only limitation was a 90 day supply of food.
Ambush had been following a small task group centered on Kirov,
picking them up as they left Severomorsk and drifting quietly as they passed in a stately line. The old Oscar class submarine Orel led the procession, followed by the aging cruiser Slava towing a large targeting barge, and then came the bane of the West, the mighty Kirov out for live fire exercises with the ship’s holds bulging with missile reloads. The formation was in no particular hurry, making a sedate 10 knots until the Slava veered off with her targeting barge and increased to 15 knots. The sub listened to the whole scene, her sensitive sonar tracking the movement of each ship until the Slava was some 30 kilometers south of Kirov and the now submerged submarine Orel,
which hovered nearby. Weather reports indicated a strong front was moving in rapidly from the north, and it looked as though the Russians wanted to complete their exercise before the sea conditions
made operations impractical.
Then it happened.
The whole boat shuddered with a thrumming vibration as if a massive kettle drum had been struck a mighty blow beneath the sea. The sonar
operator ripped his headset off in spite of the noise spike inhibitor, staring blankly at his CO. No one on the boat knew it at that moment, but a strange loop in time had just completed one full
The first time it had happened there had been no Admiral Yates on the watch, and in fact, no “Watch” mounted at all. The group did not exist when the Orel incident first sent Kirov careening through time to 1941. Yet actions taken by the ship and crew changed history, and in the year 2000 a Great War broke out on that altered timeline and devastated the world. Kirov never saw it. Rod-25 snatched the ship away from the icy waters of the North Atlantic and sent it home to the year 2021…Only home was no longer there!
Twelve days later an unknowing Chief Dobrynin and Rod-25 worked their magic again and sent Kirov back to 1942, only this time she had moved in space while in the future, and was now in the Med. Actions taken by the ship and crew again altered history and caused the war to be delayed in that newly altered timeline, but it happened in the year 2021. When Rod-25 sent the ship forward again off the Island of St. Helena, Kirov once more found the world a desolate and blighted place.
The third shift into the past to 1942 gave the ship one last chance to change that fate. After so many tries Time now seemed to know its own future, and cleverly tipped off the principle officers on the ship by delivering a newspaper to them with a warning before they made that last return trip to late 1942. The war would start in 2021, it told them. Get busy. Kirov’s actions in the Pacific of 1942 had been enough to win but a brief respite to that fatal deadline, a matter of a few weeks delay, and not enough to prevent it from occurring. Because the ship had left one thing, one man of great importance behind—Chief Gennadi Orlov—a Man of War. It was something Orlov would do, or fail to do, that would make all the difference where the two roads of time now diverged in a yellow wood of infinity, and led to a future that only a privileged few now knew.
When Kirov reappeared and made its way home to Vladivostok it was living in the alternate history that the ship and crew had created, and on that timeline a Watch had been waiting for long decades, ever vigilant. In late July, 2021 of that altered history, Kirov vanished…right on schedule. Orel blew up again, just as before on the original timeline, and a story a thousand pages long was written in the new history. This time Admiral Yates was standing his Watch.
A telephone rang in Royal Naval Headquarters—a very special telephone. It flashed signals to the deep underground operations bunker near Portsmouth, to a solitary office in Plymouth, and its shrill alarm was relayed to locations, and individuals all over the globe, all men and women of the Watch. It was just one single word repeating in sets of three until a button was pushed on the receiving end to indicate secure reception of the message: Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo…
had finally happened. The ship they had been waiting for since the 1940s, watching since 1980, had finally pulled its disappearing act and was gone, and it was now anyone’s guess where and when
it might return. The Watch did not have long to wait. Kirov was gone for all of a long, breathless month, and then was suddenly spotted in the Pacific by an American submarine. Key West was supposed to have been killed that day, but lived on due to a moment of restraint that bought the world a few brief weeks of restless peace.
* * *
on the Sea of Japan was thousands of miles away when Kirov finally turned her bow north from the paradise island where they had made one final stop. There was only one loose end that they could not account for as they sailed for home, though Anton Fedorov spent many long hours trying. What had happened to Chief Gennadi Orlov? Where did he go? What effect, if any, did he have on the history that Fedorov could now spend long quiet years re-reading, re-learning, much to his delight? His curiosity and diligence would become a saving grace for the world, though he did not yet know that as he stood on the weather deck when the ship first turned for Vladivostok harbor. Kirov was coming home, but it would not be the last time the ship would see the fire of war.
Karpov had stayed his hand at the last moment, and the curious American submarine, Key West had lived to return to its home port in Guam, its captain happily smoking a fresh Cuban cigar on the conning tower. Yet the reprieve that single moment of sanity and restraint Karpov gave to the world was to be short lived. Events in the Pacific were building up like tall storm clouds on the horizon, their flanks darkening with rain, tops crowned with the lightning of the threat of war.
In a strange twist of events, the ship they left broken and stranded on the shallow coral reefs of the Torres Straits would sire a brave young son to pose a new challenge to the world. Kirishima would return, but it would not be the old battleship this time, nor the stern presence of a man like Sanji Iwabuchi. No, this time it was a sleek guided missile destroyer, Kongo class, built for the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force in the late 1990s. In an odd echo of the history they had just lived, Kirov would soon come to hear the name of ship that had hunted them, pursuing them through the long nights as they struggled to find safe waters in a sea of war. DDG Kirishima was now fated to have a major part to play in the war that was still looming.
Men no longer stood the watch from a high pagoda tower on this new ship. Instead they huddled below decks their eyes fixed on the glowing screens of their advanced Aegis Fire Control System. The big 14 inch guns of its distant ancestor had been forsaken for deadly new Harpoon missiles. The AA guns that once bristled from the superstructure of the old ship were now SM-2MR Block IV radar homing SAMs. Yet one thing remained the same, the destroyer was a ship of war pledged to bring her wrath and fire to any who might threaten or oppose the interests of her nation on the high seas. The forms and shapes of the ships had changed, and new men sailed within the hard metal frames plying the waters of the misnamed Pacific, but the deadly game they played with one another was still the same.
Escort Squadron 6 was a part of Flotilla 2 assigned to the Sasebo Naval District, and tonight DDG Kirishima led a group of three warships as they prowled the dark waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands, called the Diaoyutai by rival China. English sailors of old had called them the Pinnacles, deserted specks in the sea that seemed to hold little interest before lucrative oil and gas fields had been discovered on the seabed beneath them in the 21st century. Now the largest of the tiny group, once called the “Island of Peace” would become a terrible new flashpoint for war. History had a way of spoiling human expectations with its cold ironic smirk.
Peace was far away that night, a will-o the-wisp notion that had been laid aside in the service of more immediate interests. The 21st century was starving for energy. China has risen like a great fire breathing dragon, and her hot breath now needed fuel to stoke those flames. Japan too, was hungry again, and the same search for oil and natural resources that had sent her to war in the 1940s now saw her slowly set aside the pledge of non-belligerence written into her constitution at the end of that last great conflict. It was a new world, but some things never changed.
Just as fate brought the name Kirishima back from the dead that night, she was also to start a new, cruel dance for the men who had served, and fought and endured aboard another proud ship of war, the battlecruiser Kirov.
For that ship also seemed to return from the dead when the Kirov suddenly radioed home to Vladivostok, and reserved a berth in the Golden Horn Harbor for her weary crew….All but one
As it turned out, fate was not so kind to the man who had shirked his duty in a wild leap of violent self-interest. Yes, Gennadi Orlov found a new life when he jumped from the KA-226 that day, yet it was not the life he had imagined. Time, fate, and the British Special Intelligence Service had other plans for him. And Fate had plans for Fedorov, and Karpov, and Volsky too, their names written in some bizarre ledger in the Book of Time, right next to the names of men like Alan Turing and Admiral John Tovey, and many others you are now about to meet. For this, dear reader, is that strange tale, and it began, quite unexpectedly, with a couple of frustrated U-Boat commanders, the first one in the western approaches to the Straits of Gibraltar on a dark night in September, 1942.