PART 2 - THE CROCODILE KIDS -
The seven young soldiers who waited inside the darkened room jumped to attention at the sight of their commanding officer.
"Taejang! Crocodile Two, reporting for duty as ordered!"
"Taejang! Crocodile Three, reporting for duty as ordered!"
"Taejang! Crocodile Four, reporting for duty as ordered!"
"Taejang! Crocodile Five, reporting for duty as ordered!"
"Taejang! Crocodile Six, reporting for duty as ordered!"
"Taejang! Crocodile Seven, reporting for duty as ordered!"
"Taejang! Crocodile Eight, reporting for duty as ordered!"
"Very good, please sit down." The man paused for a moment as he stood before them. They addressed him only as "Taejang" - "General", because they had never been told his name. Inside the safe at the General's office there were seven files containing every piece of information that could be relevant to their ability to do their job. The General knew as much about them as it was possible for him to know. He knew that they were model citizens, the children of high level Party members, he knew that their futures had been planned since before they had been born. That their mothers and fathers had been introduced to one another for the express purpose of producing perfect servants of the North Korean state, and that through a combination of natural aptitude and rigorous training and indoctrination, it was inevitable that each would be formed into a tool, a weapon of that state.
The first thing they had learned of their mission was that they were to forget their names. Their mission in the South required them to learn to inhabit new identities. They were now members of Operation Crocodile Zero. They were each given a number from two to eight and told that they would meet the final member of their team, Crocodile One, when they were ready to undertake their mission. Almost one year had passed since they had been selected from their units. They were all graduates of either the Pyeongyang Institute of Foreign Studies or Kim Il Sung University's Foreign Studies programme, none of them had a trace of a North Korean accent, it had been beaten out of them. They all spoke fluent English.
As Special Forces officers they had spent their military careers training and retraining to achieve one main goal; they were commited to the reunification of the entire Korean peninsula under the flag of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Now they had been chosen for a mission that would allow them to go beyond their training and serve their country in a way that few people ever got the chance to, a mission that had been planned with them in mind. This opportunity was all they lived for.
"Operation Crocodile Zero is entering its final phase. You have been trained and tested in the skills and tactics you will need to make your incursion into the South and survive to successfully complete your individual missions upon arrival. I would like to once again make it clear to you all that when you have breached the defenses that the enemy has placed before you it is essential that make contact with our agents already in place as quickly as possible! Every step has been taken to increase your chances of success, and of course you all have certain natural advantages, but let me make it clear to you all now that if you do not co-ordinate immediately with our agents already in place there is a much greater chance that you will ultimately fail your country."
"A mission of this exact kind has never been tried before, but if you follow your orders there will be many more like it. I should also make it clear to you all that should you fail, those members of your family who do not take their own lives will most likely die in Camp 22." The seven officers sitting before the General did not flinch at this, and the General smiled. The threat was no exaggeration. Their families, while politically valuable, were not above the retribution of the Party. Their mothers and fathers had almost outlived their worth now anyway, although their brothers and sisters, along with the other members of their generation and their particular niche in society were proving very useful. All the more so if this mission succeeded as a proof of principle.
"I promised you a year ago that when you were ready you would meet the final member of your team, Crocodile One. Well, this week you will begin your final set of operational briefings, and as soon as the 35th Room passes on confirmation to me you will accompany Crocodile One to your entry point. After that, you will probably never see each other again. You will meet Crocodile One when we travel to the West Fleet Naval Base tomorrow to continue your briefings. Until then, I will give you a brief description and answer any questions you may have."
The General pressed a button on the lecturn he stood behind. The dim glow from the projection window at the back of the room became a strong beam throwing an image onto the screen in front of the sitting officers. Their pupils contracted as they made sense of the image in front of them. It was a set of blueprints and views from different angles of a half submerged greenish brown shape in the water, smooth sided and widest across the middle, narrowing at either end.
"This is Crocodile One, the newest submarine in our fleet. It is different to anything that has ever been built by any navy in history. Designed by the Special Projects Division of the 35th Room, it is, for its size, the fastest, quietest, and lightest submarine in the world. The outer hull is made from a high density wood fibre which is invisible to most forms of sonar, is waterproof at shallow depths, and which will mask the heat traces of the drive system and the soldiers inside."
"The navigational systems include positional guidance and control via a Chinese military satellite channel, and impeller-tube ultra-quiet propulsion modified from a prototype built by the Russian Navy. The hull is almost exactly three inches thick, and will stop standard issue 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO ammunition but little else. The only weapon that Crocodile One is fitted with is a modified mine which is held at the extreme forward end of the vessel. This mine holds a shaped-charge stage designed to blast forward through rock and at the same time shatter Crocodile One with the minimum of explosive force. It has a remotely armed time delay fuse of three minutes and thirty seconds. The mine also holds a fragmentation stage which is designed to eject shrapnel at a lethal range of around one hundred and fifty metres, elevated up to fifteen metres from the point of detonation. Crocodile One will carry you all up the Han River, past the enemy's first line of defence, where you will escape in order to fulfil the next stages of your missions, which you have all already been thoroughly briefed upon. Questions?"
"General, I respectfully ask, have any of my team-mates been trained to operate this vessel?"
"No. Crocodile One will be launched from a Song-Ah class submarine at a point outside the mouth of the Han River, it has been designed to be operated remotely from a fire control station on board any Song-Ah. You will equip, enter Crocodile One and be guided to your entry point. When you reach your entry point the mine at the nose will be activated, and the rear exit-hatch will open, you will leave the vessel and head for the riverbank . The mine will detonate well before you reach land. From that point your missions diverge, and provided that none of you are killed within the following few days, Operation Crocodile Zero will have been a complete success, and you will all have made the beginnings of an outstanding contribution to the reunification of our country. Further questions?"
"General, with respect, what is the exact purpose of Crocodile One's weapon? It is a self-destruct device?"
"Yes, the mine will leave no recognisable trace of those parts of Crocodile One which must remain secret. What evidence is left will appear to show that another one of our mini-submarines has ran aground, while also allowing the enemy to believe that the resulting explosion may have killed the majority of the crew. The mine also fulfills two other functions, which will be explained in further detail tomorrow at the Nok-Sam-Oh Submarine Base, where I will answer any other questions you may have. I have arranged transport tomorrow morning, assemble at the barracks helipad at 0700. This briefing is over. Crocodile Four, Crocodile Five, outside my office, 2045. Crocodile Two, Crocodile Three, outside my office, 2130. You are dismissed"
The General turned on his heel and left, the Crocodiles filed out a few seconds later, silent, their faces unreadable.
The tiny helicopter chopped through the grey half light of the Winter dawn. It was heading to Nok-Sam-Oh, a Western Fleet submarine base that had been taken over by the 35th Room. It was chosen for its well hidden location on the rocky coastline and its position 150 kilometres North-West of Seoul, roughly 50 kilometres West of the point where the centre of the DMZ meets the Yellow Sea. Crocodile Eight was the last to jump the final few feet to the earth, as the sun rose over the mountains, the pilot flew up and sped away back to Pyeongyang without touching the ground.
Crocodile One was held on a thick frame of wooden beams off the concrete floor. No further than twenty feet from the clenched-fist shaped mine in its nose the concrete fell away into the huge dry-dock which held the waiting Song-Ah submarine, which was being loaded with missiles by crane. It was easy to see how the mission had got its name. The mini submarine was proportioned something like a huge simplified crocodile, flattened and tapering to the front and rear, a crocodile that was meant to somehow swallow the seven soldiers that stood in a line facing the General.
The General spoke, directing their attention to a hatch on the underside.
"Attention please! This is the entrance and exit hatch of Crocodile One. There is just enough room for all of you to lie flat and to enter and exit one by one. When the explosive bolts on this seal are fired, Crocodile One will rapidly fill with water. If any of you panic and try to leave the vessel early, the mission is at risk, and it is the duty of the remaining officers to preserve the mission."
He paused and looked at them... did they understand?
"You must trust your orders and your training. I am telling you that it may become neccessary to break the windpipe of the person standing next to you if and when they lose their ability to do the job, and put the mission and lives of the team in danger. Are you ready for that? Answer me"
"YES GENERAL!" barely a heartbeats pause, he believed them.
"Good, now, Two will enter first and Three will lie overlapping Two's legs directly behind him, occupying the left side. Next come Four and Five occupying the right side in the same way, Six, Seven and Eight will enter last and lie in the centre line. When the mine is armed and the hatch opens, you will exit the submarine quickly and calmly in reverse order. Provided that none of you insult me by a display of weakness or uncertainty on the frontline of battle there is no physical reason why all seven of you cannot leave this vessel and reach the shore safely, which I will allow you plenty of opportunity to drill and practice for in the next few days. Questions? No?"
"Good, now, follow me to the forward end. I told you yesterday that I would explain in more detail the purpose behind Crocodile One's weapon. Obviously I will not be giving you any information that does not directly relate to your mission. Crocodile One is designed to breach the enemy's defences in two main ways. Covertly, by sneaking past the obstacles placed in front of it, and overtly using this weapon. The Han River has always been a soft way into Seoul, the Americans knew that as early as the 19th Century. The Combined Forces Command still knows it, and have militarised the river and its banks in an attempt to prevent a mission like ours. The river contains mines, sonar, hydrophones and infra-red detectors, none of which will be a problem to Crocodile One. Our remaining problems are the physical barriers. Further upstream, closer to Seoul, there is a series of low rock walls built across the river, and on both banks the enemy has placed high fences wired to explode in sections on contact and reveal the exact point at which our forces break their line. It appeared impossible for us to gain detailed information about this extremely important defensive line, much less actually manage to break it, without causing a major international incident, or escalating the conflict beyond a politically acceptable level. Crocodile One solves this problem by giving us an indication of the force needed to breach the first of these river walls, and using a powerful shrapnel burst to trigger the explosives wired into about 200 metres of fence on both sides of the river in the same instant. All this will appear to the enemy like another one of our submarines has ran aground, at full speed straight into a wall in this case. Thus we have a chance to insert seven operatives, potentially open another invasion route, and gain very worthwhile intelligence, all while avoiding unwanted consequences. We will allow the enemy to believe that although our submarines operate inside the Han River, which they already know, they are reduced to crashing there in the middle of the night. The success of this plan depends on our enemy's continued willingness to allow us to violate the terms of the armistice, and of course on your ability to evade capture. Questions?"
The seven Crocodiles thought about what he had said, only their eyes moved from the General, to Crocodile One, and back again. The General watched them for a few moments, lost in his own thoughts until he snapped back into his surroundings,
"Very Good! In that case I expect to see you all directly after this evening's Political Awareness lecture in the Officer's Mess, where you will receive your schedules for the following five days. You are dismissed"
"What is it, Six?"
"General, with respect, do we need to know how we are going to be launched in Crocodile One from the Song-Ah?"
"I suppose you all might as well know now, that you are going to be fired by compressed gas from a missile tube. Further questions? Dismissed"
Over the next five days the Crocodiles trained hard. They lay in the cramped space of a dummy Crocodile One waiting for the seven tiny lights inside the cabin to begin to flash, the signal that the countdown had begun. They lay there in the cold dark for forty five minutes, an hour and a half, three hours, over and over again until the General gave the signal and the hatch blew open, the cabin filling in seconds with water from the Yellow Sea. They trained at high and low tide, they trained at night. The General would drag them out to sea inside the dummy and leave them to swim ten times the width of the Han River back to the shore. Their every waking thought and moment was dedicated to preparing for their mission. They were ready.
On the fifth day the General received a coded signal from Pyeongyang confirming that the connection with the Chinese satellite was active and instructing him to open the second of the three sealed envelopes that had been given to him the morning he had left for the submarine base, where he would find specific time and location orders for the operation. The General transmitted the response code from the envelope back to the 35th Room within the hour.
Crocodile One collided with the first wall across the Han River on the 2nd of January 2009 at 0137. Its speed of four knots against the Winter flow of the river nudged it gently into the barrier and held position there. The seven lights in the cabin began to flicker. The soldiers had a few seconds to whisper to each other before the hatch bolts blew.
The bolts popped and the freezing water crept up their legs and bodies into the hull. They slipped out in perfect order, fighting against the current, they had been lying in the dark for close to an hour, calmly regulating their oxygen intake as they had been trained. Now the seven of them counted the seconds as they maintained a safe and constant distance from the bomb that was about to explode. Within ten seconds to detonation, seven heads appeared just above the surface, avoiding the underwater pressure wave that was about to pass them, trusting that the weapon engineers had done their job properly as they swam hard for the shores.
A muffled thump disturbed the almost silent night, a spray of water, the whisper of thousands of pieces of shrapnel hissed through the air, cutting through the air and igniting chaos as they struck the border fences with enough force to set off a series of new explosions as sections of the mined fences on both banks collapsed. The night was alive with bullets too now, shocked sentries, some wounded by the blast, opened fire from guard towers on the drifting wreckage of Crocodile One.
Crocodiles Two and Three split up on the north shore, one heading to the pillbox closest to the river wall, the other already climbing with his knife in his teeth up the stilts of the sentry tower thirty metres upstream. Their mission was to kill as many enemy sentries as possible and draw attention away from the other five members of their team by guerrilla action at the entry point. They were the only ethnic Korean members of the seven man squad.
The other five were the sons and daughters of American and European defectors, chosen for their ability to disappear. They could just as easily have been the children of dozens of people kidnapped from countries all over the world. They stripped next to a ditch between some farmland and the highway, changing into their covers and tying their old clothing into bundles as the battle on the other side of the river continued. Two and Three had already captured the weapons of the sentry positions they had surprise-attacked, helped by the shrapnel from Crocodile One. They would soon begin to move tactically further upriver, both of them would be dead within two hours.
Six, Seven and Eight, the sons of former US Army enlisted soldiers and their Soviet wives, disappeared into the farmland together, heading to the place where it had been arranged for them to meet their fellow agents.
Five waited for Four as she recrossed the highway and managed to swing the soaking bundles of clothes into the river. They picked their way along the ditch, if anybody had noticed them they would have assumed that they were seeing two western girls a long way from home on a Saturday morning. They were collected almost twenty minutes later by a man on a motorcycle just outside one of the clumps of apartment buildings on the highway that encircles Seoul.
Two days later a senior diplomat attached to the North Korean Embassy in Beijing received a coded message via email to the effect that the initial stages of Operation Crocodile Zero had been a success, he relayed it on to Pyeongyang. The five remaining Crocodile Kids would remain in place for as long as necessary, ready to do anything that their country required. They had joined an ever growing network of their comrades. The General read the diplomat's report and as he began to think ahead to the next task, his mind rested for a moment on some of the more hidden consequences of the mission; the messages it sent to the enemy, the political value of showing them their vulnerability, the incrementally growing capacity for mayhem in the South. The work of the Special Battalions had implications for the structure of political power within the DPRK, too. Sitting at his desk, the General smiled to himself, in his office in Building No. 3 of the North Korean Workers Party Headquarters, in the 35th Room.