Escape From Stalag VIIIB

Tales from the Crypt

18 September 1943

Another day in the crypt passes. Everyone is as cold and as hungry as they were the previous day. Morning passes into afternoon and it’s Lodd’s turn at the face of the tunnel (the Slav’s massive brawn and minuscule brain making him perfect for the task) while Piotr is on watch, peering through the narrow ventilation slit to observe what is going on in the street outside the church.

It’s mid-afternoon when Piotr speaks to the others with some alarm.

“Something’s going on,” he says. “There are hordes of Germans swarming outside. They are blocking off the streets.”

Expecting the worst, everyone grabs their main armaments and gets themselves into defensive positions – all except for Lodd who attacks the rockface with a newfound sense of urgency, realizing that it could be their only way of exiting.

With the roof and walls of the crypt being so thick, they can detect no sounds of movement from upstairs and so the first sign of the fact that their hiding place has been discovered is when they hear the grating sound of the flagstone being slid open above them. Lodd stops chipping away at the rockface and the other can scarcely breathe as they wait to see what happens.

It takes five minutes for something to happen – some unfortunate SS cannon fodder gets lowered into the crypt on a rope. The party members wait until he has reached the floor and he has spotted them before bringing him down in a hail of automatic weapon fire. Another five minutes passes until the Germans try again. They try again with a second sucker, but the results are the same – another SS trooper gets shot up as soon as he is in sight.

Lodd continues with the tunnel now, knowing that the Nazis know exactly where they are, so the noise of his actions is not going to make any difference.

Another trooper is dangled down the hole, but the results are the same – he just gets torn to pieces by the party members waiting in ambush for him.

While the Nazis are wondering what to do next, Taffy comes forward to investigate the bodies. In addition to their MP40’s, he sees that each of them has a couple of potato-masher grenades on them. While waiting for the Germans to make their next move, Taffy fashions the six grenades into one major bomb which he places at the end of the tunnel and pulls the detonator. There is an almighty ‘BOOM!’ as the charge goes off.

Once the dust has settled, Taffy goes to investigate the effects. Much to his surprise (and relief) he can see a few square inches of inky darkness in addition to the rock. It looks as if Father Petrek was right – that there is an entrance to the sewers here.

Lodd continues at the tunnel mouth with renewed vigour. Every time he hacks at the rock, the entrance to the tunnel mouth increases a little.

The Nazis try new tactics now that they understand that dangling their troopers on a rope is just signing their death warrants, throwing grenades down the hole instead. Fortunately, however, all of the party members are outside the blast radius.

Another five minutes passes and then the Germans change tactics again, throwing grenades through the ventilation shaft. Piotr is slightly hurt from the first of them before he runs for cover together with the other party members.

Another ten minutes and the Nazis have another trick up their sleeves – a wide hose appears through the ventilation shaft as they try and fill the crypt with smoke. It is quite a simple matter for Piotr to simply push it back out again.

Twenty minutes pass with no activity, and then the party members’ ears ring with the sound of an almighty explosion. The Nazis have blown the stone covering the stairway down to the crypt. More SS troopers begin to run down the stairs towards the party members’ prepared position in the crypt. The party members, however, well in cover, simply mow them down before they reach the bottom of the stairs though.

An entire squad throws itself down the stairs with no result other than getting mown down by the party members. And then there is a pause as the Nazis try to come up with a new strategy.

“The hole is big enough for us to squeeze through now!” exclaims Lodd with a mixture of relief and excitement.

“All well and good, mate,” says Bruce. “But the Krauts are just going to follow us straight through it if they get in here and we don’t shoot them up as soon as they get down the stairs.”

The party members wrack their brains for a solution to the problem. But it is the Nazis that come up with one. Once again, they push hoses through the ventilation slit in order to start filling the crypt with smoke.

The party member seize their chance. If the crypt is filled with smoke, then it will buy them valuable time to disappear through the tunnel before the Germans realize where they have gone. They each grab a grenade or two and then clamber through the narrow tunnel which Lodd has made into the sewers.

Once are all safely outside the crypt which is now completely filled with smoke, they each toss their grenades into the tunnel mouth, collapsing it so that any Germans who may try and follow them are unable to do so.

Realizing that it will not take long before the Nazis realize where they have gone, they quickly follow the flow of the stinking sewer water, assuming that it flows towards the River Vltava. Their assumptions are correct and, after a journey of just 250m, they reach the river. Fortunately, they see that the sewer outlet comes out underneath a bridge where their exit won’t be seen. Not so fortunately, the exit is blocked by a large iron grille which is padlocked from the opposite side. Lodd and Terry start to hurl themselves against the grille in an attempt to dislodge it. It’s slow going and the others wait anxiously, aware that every minute longer that the exercise takes, the more chance they have that the Nazis will figure out where they have gone. Eventually though, with another almighty push, the grille finally swings free.

Piotr cautiously emerges from the sewer first. He looks around to check that the coast is clear and then beckons for the others to follow him. They walk along the embankment beneath the level of the adjacent road and soon see six small dilapidated rowing boats, obviously designed for the enjoyment of courting couples in happier days, but now looking abandoned. The party members quickly toss their weapons into a couple of the boats. Lodd, Bruce and Piotr get into the first one, with Terry, Bob and Taffy taking the second.

They cut the boats free and then Piotr directs them to get to the far bank as quickly as possible. With the powerful strokes of both Lodd and Terry on the oars, it takes just a couple of minutes to cross the 250m width of the Vltava.

Piotr tells them to head south but, no sooner have they passed the next bridge down just 250m away, he tells Lodd to bring the boat into the shore.

“I think I recognize the chimneys of a factory over there,” Piotr says. “I think we are fairly close to the greengrocers where we stayed the first night we were here.”

Lodd and Terry maneuver their boats towards a jetty to which a couple of abandoned and rotting pleasure boats are moored. The jetty seems to see little use. They tie the boats up and then clamber out.

“We better leave our longarms here, under that tarpaulin,” Piotr says. “They will spot us a mile off if we’re carrying MG42’s around.”

They all hide their longarms and all their remaining gear, keeping just their sidearms hidden upon their persons and then Piotr leads them away from the river.

For the next half hour, Piotr tries to track down the greengrocer’s shop. It takes a fair few attempts involving dead ends and having to double back on themselves before they finally find it.

“You all go and hide in the back,” Piotr says. “I will go and speak with the greengrocer.”

They all hurry to the yard and wait for Piotr to come join them. He arrives back five minutes later with the greengrocer following behind him. The greengrocer does not appear to be at all happy to see them again, looking as if he has just seen a ghost. Nevertheless, he does unlock the door to his apartment and shoos them all in quickly before locking the door behind them and disappearing.

As they relax in the familiar confines of the safehouse, the adrenalin starts to wear off, only to be replaced by a new fear – that the lure of the 10 million crown rewards may prove stronger than the greengrocer’s loyalty to the cause. Eventually though, they tire of being constantly on edge. They realize that they are filthy and stink to high heavens as a result of their trip through the sewers and so each takes a shower and wash their clothes.

The greengrocer returns late in the evening. He mumbles a few words to Piotr before retiring to his bedroom.

“He says that he has got word of our current whereabouts to The King,” Piotr explains. “There’s nothing more that he or us can do now apart from to wait and hope that he comes up with a way of getting us out of here.”

The party members shrug, arrange a watch rota and then start to get some good rest in the relatively comfortable warm and comfortable surroundings of the greengrocer’s apartment.

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NickPendrell

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