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A Code for Tomorrow

A Code for Tomorrow

by John J. Gobbell


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“The sea action is exciting and thoroughly convincing.” —Kirkus Reviews

Todd Ingram is back in the fight.

After narrowly escaping the Japanese-held Philippines, he is promoted to the destroyer USS Howell.

His new assignment puts him in the middle of two epic naval engagements: the Battle of Cape Esperance and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. But his fight against the Imperial Japanese Navy is just the beginning.

Todd learns that his lost love has joined the Philippine resistance on a nearby island. He sets off to find her...under the watchful eye of an enemy spy in the ranks.

With the war at its apex, Todd must put his life on the line not only for the woman he loves, but for his country, and a world that is perilously close to collapse.


Praise for John J. Gobbell and A CODE FOR TOMORROW:

“A Code For Tomorrow” is as big as a Fletcher-class destroyer and the story races along with pace and power … A thrilling read.” —T. Jefferson Parker, author of Iron River

“Gobbell … (once) a naval officer, combines painstaking research and solid storytelling to produce a highly readable military adventure.” —Booklist

“From its exciting beginning onboard a Russian prisoner ship off the coast of San Francisco to its incredible high-action conclusion off the coast of Mindanao, this World War II novel cooks with intrigue … This stick-to-your-fingers novel is John J. Gobbell at his best.” —Stephen J. Cannell, author of the Shane Scully series, including The Pallbearers


What readers are saying:

★★★★★ "A strong sense of history and vivid character development wrapped around an interesting and ongoing WWII naval career."

★★★★★ "Best historical WWII fiction in a long time. JJ Gobbell's has sure got it right. His descriptive narrative of the action has you right there in the thick of it and I highly recommend the whole series."

★★★★★ "All I can say is, that if you like true Naval history, the war in the Pacific , good character development, interesting back stories, exciting and authentic well researched action...this Todd Ingram series is for you!"

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781951249786
Publisher: Severn River Publishing
Publication date: 02/03/2020
Series: Todd Ingram , #2
Pages: 476
Sales rank: 136,147
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.06(d)

About the Author

JOHN J. GOBBELL is a former Navy Lieutenant who saw duty as a destroyer weapons officer. His ship served in the South China Sea, granting him membership in the exclusive Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club. As an executive recruiter, his clients included military/commercial aerospace companies giving him insight into character development under a historical thriller format. The Last Lieutenant is the first of six stand-alone novels in the Todd Ingram series. The most recent is: Dead Man Launch, A novel of the Cold War. Altogether, John has written eight novels involving U.S. Navy action and is currently at work on his ninth, At Danger's Ebb. He and his wife Janine live in Newport Beach, California. He can be reached at

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

11 AUGUST, 1942

The ship's running lights were switched off. Steaming in ponderous circles on the windless night, she slogged through dark swells five miles west of the Farallon Islands. The moon was down, yet nervously she waited for her Coast Guard escort to lead her through the minefield into San Francisco Bay. After a sixteen-day, 4,570-mile trek from Vladivostok, the freighter was tired and nearly out of fuel oil to feed her ancient boiler. Without cargo she was top-heavy, rolling awkwardly in the swells, her crew cursing and holding on as she creaked from side to side.

    Displacing 6,908 tons, the ship was built in Schiedam, Holland, in 1921. Cyrillic letters spelled DZHURMA on her curved transom, from which drooped the red and gold ensign of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a neutral in the Pacific war. Lazy wisps of smoke meandered from a narrow stack on her midships superstructure high above pale yellow decks. Long, reddish brown streaks ran down her gray superstructure, trickled across her decks, and finished the trip to her faded white boot-topping on the waterline. Countless storms had dished in her hull plates, making the Dzhurma look every bit of her twenty-one years, almost as if she were a stooped old woman hobbling down the hall, a hand braced on her hip.

    She hailed from a large fleet of prison ships whose holds were stuffed with thousands of pitiful wretches who had survived Stalin's execution squads. Instead of dying, their greater misfortune was to beshipped by rail to Vladivostok, then boarded on the Dzhurma or one of her sisters, for a hellish trip through the Bering Strait to Ambarchik at the mouth of the Kolyma and on to the gulags above the Arctic Circle.

    Nevastroi, Indigirka, Dalstroi, Dneprostroi, Nikolai, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Igarka, Kulu, and Sovlatvia: Each ship's name was a death sentence. Among them, they averaged five thousand prisoners per shipment, with the Dzhurma, Dalstroi, and Sovlatvia acknowledged as the core of the slave fleet.

    The stench of misery, perspiration, excrement, and death lingered among the ships, but the Dzhurma's odor was unusually fetid. It was most noticeable on those warm evenings when a soft wind grazed her quarter, the ship steaming in her own stagnant air. Even so, her crew, unrotated for three years, grew accustomed to the rank smell, impossible to wash away or eradicate with chemicals.

    On this trip there were no prisoners, only a crew of twenty. In the pilot-house, her skipper, Kapitan Vtorovo Ranga—Captain Second Rank—Michael Fedotov, braced himself against the roll, wearing a stained Navy surplus pea coat. He was stocky, with virtually no neck, bald, a Van Dyke beard, and the largest and blackest eyes east of the Urals. With Fedotov was the ship's first officer and three enlisted watch-standers gulping the last of their ersatz coffee. Five others stood watch in the engine room, with the rest of the crew lying in their bunks, some listening to a San Francisco jazz station, others pretending to sleep. But with the ship's motion and the visage of a Japanese submarine firing a torpedo into the engine room, one could only look at the rusted overhead and hope for a quick rendezvous with the American escort or a quick death in the cold Pacific.

    The bridge intercom buzzed and Fedotov reached for the handset. After three low grunts, the Dzhurma's skipper hung up and trudged to the hatchway. Eduard Dezhnev stood on the port bridge wing, binoculars to his eyes, scanning the ocean, his body rigid with concentration as if expecting to find an entire fleet lurking behind the Farallon Islands. At five-eleven, Dezhnev had dark red hair combed straight back, and was fair-complected with a medium build. His chest and arms, although not prominent, were well defined, conveying a sense of power and alacrity when he moved. It was difficult to disguise a limp, and most of the time his left foot twisted out when he walked. It was a prosthesis, Fedotov knew; Dezhnev, commander of a patrol boat, had lost his left leg in a battle with German E-boats last winter in the Gulf of Riga.

    Fedotov had orders to treat Dezhnev like a VIP. After all, the man was a Starshiy-Leytenant in the Voyenno Morskoy Flot—a senior lieutenant in the Soviet Navy. But the man kept to himself and Fedotov knew little of him, except for the Gulf of Riga business. But fighting boredom, Dezhnev had volunteered for everything during the tedious voyage from Vladivostok, practically becoming a member of the crew. For the past three hours, he'd been port lookout, this time filling in for able body seaman Lodoga, ill in his bunk after drinking homemade brew.


    Dezhnev, wearing a black turtleneck sweater, pea coat, and dark work trousers, walked over and leaned in the pilothouse hatchway. "Yes, Sir?"

    Fedotov nodded to the phone. "Zenit wants to know why you aren't in the wardroom."

    "Had to stand a watch, Sir." During the voyage, Dezhnev had more than subtly demonstrated contempt for Sergei Zenit. Even though he tried to avoid him, there were times when he actually had to snub the man to stay out of his path. For Zenit was the ship's zampolit, or political officer: a politician who wore the naval uniform and stood first in line to suck up the glory. Zampolits were not regular Navy. They were NKVD—Narodnyi Kommissariat Vnutrennikh Del—state security police, who hid behind their rank when the going grew difficult. Zenit had no idea what made a ship run, was of no use while under way, and openly defied the captain by refusing to stand watches of any kind.

    The ship slowly circled, letting a small breeze catch up to sweep across the fantail, bringing once again the strange sweet-foul odor.

    Fedotov said, "Go on down. I'll fill in until your relief comes."

    Dezhnev stood there, his eyes burning.

    The air was moist for this time of year. Fedotov sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve.

    A curtain seemed to rise above Dezhnev's face. "Thank you, Sir. No sign of the American escort yet." He handed his binoculars to Fedotov and headed for a companionway.


    Dezhnev turned. "Captain?"

    "Go easy."

    "Yes, Sir." Dezhnev hobbled down a ladder, his cane clattering on the steps.

On the main deck, the wardroom was perhaps five by ten meters, with a long table running athwartship. On the starboard side, a serving buffet stood against the aft bulkhead, where a pass-through window gave way to a small galley just aft. Two tattered couches, a chipped metal game table, and folding chairs were scattered about the port side. Dezhnev walked in, finding Zenit seated alone, wearing the coat of a kapitan tret'yevo ranga—captain third rank, one grade senior to him. He had dark curly hair, was much taller than Dezhnev, and was a bit on the heavy side, at least as much as a Soviet diet would allow. Zenit's nose was long and drew to a fine point, as if carved by a wood whittler. His blue-gray eyes were close together, and he wore a thin mustache above a protruding upper lip. As the Dzhurma's zampolit, Zenit was charged with the cultural, moral, and political development of the Dzhurma's officers and crew. But Dezhnev knew that half of Zenit's time was spent collecting the crew's mandatory contribution to the Merchant Seaman's Retirement Fund, then raking ten percent off the top. It was a way of life in the Navy and the grumbling crew eventually gave in, lest they end up on the beach, rifle in hand, marching off to fight German tanks.

    After too many peppermint schnapps one night, Fedotov told Dezhnev the San Francisco trip presented new challenges to Captain Third Rank Sergei Zenit. After a layover for much-needed repairs to the Dzhurma's boiler, she was due to take aboard a yet-to-be-specified cargo financed by Lend-Lease dollars, courtesy of the American Congress. Then she would sail for Vladivostok. Except ...

    ... the Americans didn't know she would stop first in Yokohama, Japan, where Zenit would sell much of her cargo to the Imperial Japanese Army. Zenit was counting on another shipment of penicillin, the wonder drug now mass-produced by the Americans, that cured everything from gangrene to gonorrhea. Fedotov knew Zenit would demand that his Japanese broker pay in gold bullion. Next, Zenit would rake off another twenty percent, kicking back ten to the Japanese broker and keeping the other ten. The rest of the proceeds would go to the NKVD. All in gold bullion, of course.

    Zenit leafed through a file as Dezhnev sat, propping his cane against the table.

    "You're fifteen minutes late." Zenit withdrew a flimsy from the folder; it looked like a radio message.

    "I was standing watch."

    "Sir." Zenit gave him a cold stare, expecting a reply.


    "Yes." Then Zenit returned to his folder.

    The ship careened on a swell to port. Dezhnev caught the cane just as it threatened to spin away. After securing it, he tried again. "Fedotov is filling in for me."

    Zenit folded his hands and looked around the wardroom before focusing on Dezhnev. "Well, now. How do you like our part of the Navy?"

    "To tell you honestly, this ship stinks."

    "Of course. Did you ever wonder why, comrade?"

    "Actually, yes." What the hell is this?

    Leaning forward, Zenit drew a deep breath and said, "Three years ago we boarded a load of prisoners in Vladivostok, cleared the Bering Strait, and sailed into the Arctic. But it was late autumn and we'd had a boiler breakdown. We were two and a half weeks late getting underway, you see."

    Dezhnev scratched his head, wondering why Zenit was telling him this.

    Looking into space, Zenit continued, "Winter came early, and we were trapped in the ice pack near Wrangel Island. We carried only two thousand people on that trip—all of them criminals of some sort: murderers, rapists, thieves, and political malcontents, you see. They were in the forward hold."

    Dezhnev closed his eyes momentarily, trying to visualize what it would be like living with two thousand souls in a stinking, cramped hold.

    "After four weeks in the ice, a fire broke out. The prisoners"—Zenit lit a cigarette, took a long puff, and exhaled—"well, with this fire they rioted, you see. We had to hose them down and keep them battened in the hold. But we couldn't control the fire." He leaned forward and speared Dezhnev with his eyes. "The water boiled and they were roasted alive."

    Dezhnev gasped, "All of them?"

    "Every last one. I ... I still hear their screams in my sleep.

    "Then ... then, it was sixteen weeks until the icebreaker reached us. Only the crew remained. Thirty-five in all. Thirty-three, actually. Two committed suicide, you see."

    An emptiness swept over Dezhnev.

    "That is why the ship stinks, comrade." After a pause, Zenit asked, "Does anything else bother you? Perhaps you would like a tour of the forward cargo hold?"

    Dezhnev tried to comprehend what sort of men crewed the Dzhurma. Living with constant death and human misery, he wondered how they maintained their sanity. Or did they?

    Suddenly the ship's motion changed to a deliberate rolling. Both could tell she now steamed on a straight course. "On to San Francisco," Dezhnev said.

    Zenit stared at Dezhnev for a moment, then let his eyes fall to a folder on the table. "This says you commanded a torpedo boat and, hmmm"—he made a show of flipping pages—"and you shot it out with two German E-boats in the Gulf of Riga, sinking at least one."


    "But then you lost your boat?" It sounded like an accusation.

    It was in his file. All the fool had to do was read on. "Yes."

    "And your crew was lost, too?"


    "Yes, what?" Zenit snapped. He wanted another "Sir."

    "A direct hit, Sir. I remember nothing except being fished from the water."

    "And your leg?"

    Dezhnev raised his left leg and thumped it twice on the deck. "That, too. Just below the knee. Sacrificed for the glory of the Rodina."

    Zenit didn't miss a beat. "Yes, an artificial leg. Made in Britain, I understand. Mmmm. Very privileged. Lets you get around very well. Does it still hurt?" His eyes sparkled.

    It hurt like hell, especially in this damp weather. And it still wasn't fully mended. But Dezhnev wasn't about to say anything. "What is it you want, comrade?"

    Zenit wasn't ready yet. "And you carry the Order of Lenin?"

    "They gave that to me, yes."

    "Hmmmm. And your mission now?

    "I'll be leaving the ship ..."


    "... to be assigned as naval attaché to the San Francisco consulate."

    "Doing what?"

    Dezhnev shrugged. "What all naval attachés do. Discovering the latest in your host's tactics and technologies."

    "Come, now. Doesn't Beria have something else in mind for you? Your English, for example, is perfect. Aren't you Bykovo-trained?"

    Dezhnev sat back. Zenit trod on dangerous ground, invoking the name of Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria, NKVD commissar, one of the most powerful men in the Soviet Union and second only to Premier Josef Stalin. Also, he had referred to Bykovo, a school for spies sixty kilometers north of Moscow, established by Beria in 1938. It was a large camp of gifted youths in their late teens to mid-twenties, from pianists to athletes, who were Americanized, learning everything from baseball to What's up, doc? Dezhnev had spent six months there, training and recouping from his leg wound.

    With the slightest of smiles, Zenit prodded further. "An actor in peacetime?"

    Now the fool was showing off. Dezhnev picked up his cane and tapped it on the deck.

    Zenit reached to a chair beside him and produced a thick packet of papers. "Your assignment has changed, comrade." He tossed the packet before Dezhnev. "And I am to be your control. You will find the authorization in there."

    A cold sickness grew deep in Dezhnev's stomach. He picked up the papers, finding a long transmittal. It was signed by Beria. "I see nothing here about you being my control."

    "I wasn't supposed to say anything until our arrival in San Francisco. But because of this message"—he held up the flimsy—"we have to talk now. It came in two hours ago: priority. I've been decrypting the damn thing. So there you have it." Zenit handed over the radio flimsy.

    Dezhnev read:







    Dezhnev was flabbergasted. The thought of following orders from this dreg ran counter to everything he believed in.

    Zenit must have read his thoughts, for he said, "If not for me, comrade, for the Rodina."

    "Da," Dezhnev replied. Wait and see. That was the only thing to do.


    "Yes." Dezhnev handed it over.

    Zenit held the pages over a large ashtray littered with brackish Russian and Egyptian cigarette butts. Drawing a gleaming American Ronson cigarette lighter, he flicked it into life. As the document burned, Dezhnev asked, "What's this about leading with this one? And what is a Type 93 torpedo anyway?"

    Zenit cocked his head slightly, adopting an officious air. "Let's begin at the beginning." He waited, giving Dezhnev an unfocused stare.

    Dezhnev almost laughed aloud. "Very well."

    "As you saw from the message, you are assigned to Operation KOMET."


    Zenit checked his notes. "It's in two phases. The first involves General Douglas MacArthur, who is running for president in ..." He flipped pages and looked up. "When is it?"

    Play along. "Their next presidential election will be in November 1944."

    "Yes. November 1944. Now, the Japanese think there is an enormous potential to disrupt the American leadership. That's phase one."

    Thoughts of Lend-Lease and American convoys bringing badly needed supplies to Murmansk to fight the Nazis swirled through Dezhnev's head. "They're supposed to be our friends."

    "That's just the point. They are our friends, you see. But it won't hurt to slow them down a little. Beria is convinced the Japanese will ultimately lose the war in the Pacific, and it looks like they're beginning to realize this, too." Zenit rolled Beria's name off his tongue as if he'd been out drinking vodka with him just last night. "Especially after the Battle of Midway. His best estimate is that it will become a war of attrition, with the Americans out-producing the Japanese and defeating them in 1948, perhaps 1949."


    "In June, the Japanese lost four large attack carriers in one decisive blow near Midway Island. This essentially nullified their ability to remain on the offensive. Now they feel off balance."

    "I hadn't heard."

    "You were in Bykovo, listening to jazz and sucking up chocolate milkshavings."


    "Yes. And with the Birkenfeld fiasco, we owe the Japanese a favor."

    Dezhnev raised his arms and flopped them to his side.

    Zenit nodded. "All right. Dieter Birkenfeld and Richard Sorge. Spies, they worked for us. In Tokyo, they posed as newspaper correspondents in the German Embassy for the past five years. They were brilliant, uncanny. They penetrated the highest levels of government and unearthed an enormous amount of top secret data. Then"—Zenit's voice softened—"they were caught last October. They confessed, you see. Birkenfeld has been executed; we don't know about Sorge. That's why we owe the Japanese a favor. And we're trying to do something for them without violating our neutrality."

    "What is it, precisely, that you want me to do?"

    "Monitor MacArthur's campaign. You see, like you, he's an actor, very dramatic. The Japanese figure MacArthur's speeches can undermine confidence in President Roosevelt's government by blaming him for the disaster at Pearl Harbor. They're hoping world opinion will swing against Roosevelt if MacArthur does run for president. It doesn't matter if he wins. Enough damage will have been done. But if MacArthur should win, it will be very disruptive to the American political and military systems, since he would have to vacate his post in Australia while kicking Roosevelt and his cronies out of the White House."

    "And if MacArthur doesn't openly blame Roosevelt for Pearl Harbor?"

    "Then you are to look for ways to make it appear so. You see, the Japanese need the disruption to buy time."

    Dezhnev leaned forward, his hand on the table, balling into a fist. "I'm not a politician, damnit."

    Zenit shrugged.

    "What about the staff there now? Why can't they do this?"

    "Apparently Beria thinks you're more qualified. A combat veteran trained in American nuances."

    Dezhnev spun the cane handle between his palms. "KOMET."

    "Yes, KOMET." Zenit opened another file. "On to phase two. A part of being a naval attaché requires that you gain the trust of your American Navy counterparts. At your discretion, you are authorized to release Japanese secret technical data to appropriate American personnel. This will give you credibility with the Americans. Then you, in turn, may be able to learn some of their secrets. Some that we may want to pass on to the Japanese."

    Screw the Americans while screwing the Japanese. What sort of game is Beria playing?

    Zenit jabbed the table with his middle finger, something that would have looked comical in America. "Let me be clear on this. You are to go to the meetings, attend the parties, and listen. You will stay alert. You will stay sober. You will not chase women. You will make friends by dropping the little Japanese eggs where appropriate. And you will gain their confidence."

    "What do I have to give them?"

    Zenit ticked on his fingers: "Included in your package is microfiche on such things as Japan's new M2597 light tank, their 240-millimeter howitzer, their current naval order of battle. And as the cherry on top of the pie"—he pointed again with his middle finger—"there is some rudimentary data on the Type 93 torpedo."

    With his forefinger, Dezhnev stirred the ashes in the tray. "The radio message said the Type 93 had been used in the Solomon Islands battle."

    "Yes. Apparently the Type 93 is the best torpedo in the world."

    Dezhnev sniffed. "Nonsense."

    "Check for yourself. It's all there."

    "I plan to."

    Zenit looked from the hatch to Dezhnev, then to his folder. "Like you say, this ship stinks. I'll be glad to get off, too. When we get in San Fran—"

    The roar was terrific. The whole deck seemed to lift, and a great light flashed before their eyes. Dezhnev was knocked to his hands and knees. Then he rolled to his back, realizing there had been an explosion.

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