Escape From Stalag VIIIB

Briefing in Catania
21 September 1943

Compared to their previous exfiltration from Eastern Europe aboard the badly damaged ‘Black Cat’, the journey to Catania this time is a short one, as the RB-17G trusts to its impressive armaments to keep it safe over enemy territory. The plane is also a great deal roomier than the Catalina, and so they are able to nap a little.

As a result, around 0430, the Flying Fortress comes in to land at Catania. As the RB-17G slowly comes to a halt on the runway, the party members peer through the perspex windows in the plane. The place is hardly recognizable from the bombed out airport that they saw when they were last here some five weeks ago, the 814th Battalion of the US Air Force Engineers having done a fine job in the meantime.

The plane comes to a halt and a ‘deuce and a half’ truck soon comes to join the plane. Inside it is the familiar face of Captain Matthews who met them last time they were here.

“Good to see you back here again, chaps,” says the Captain, shaking each of them by the hand. “I’ve arranged some digs for you for the night – and some fresh uniforms. Probably best that you get 40 winks ASAP as the boss wants to see you tomorrow bright-eyed and bushy tailed.”

The party members hop in the back of the truck and are escorted to some barracks – better than the ones that they were in before, but still fairly spartan. At least there are no Military Police watching their every move this time around.

Mindful of the Captain’s words, everyone takes a quick shower and then takes advantage of sleeping in a real bed for the first time in quite a while.

All too soon, they are woken up once again my the Captain:

“Wakey, wakey, chaps,” he says with an irritating smile. “You have an hour to get ready and some breakfast inside you before you have a meeting with the boss at 1000.”

They dress in the smart battledress which has been provided for them. Terry has US Army issue while the others all have British issue. After a decent breakfast, Captain Matthews escorts them towards a quite impressive looking villa just outside the perimeter of the airport. They wait in the lobby area for a few minutes before an orderly tells them to come through.

They come through to a comfortably furnished lounge area where they find two men waiting for them – one of them wearing the uniform of a Royal Navy officer, while the other seems to be an officer in the Regio Aeronautica -the Italian Airforce, of all things. The Royal Nay Officer is smoking a cigarette through a pretentious filter, while the Italian is sipping an espresso piccolo and eating a cannoli.

“Ah, gentlemen, thank you for coming. Please make yourself comfortable,” the Royal Navy Officer says.

The party members all find themselves a seat on one of the large, overstuffed sofas in the room.

“I’m Commander Ian Fleming,” the Royal Navy Officer says. “And this is Comandante Franco Bordoni-Bisleri.”

The Italian raises his microscopic coffee cup in greeting with a smile.

“First of all, well done on your missions in Czechoslovakia,” Fleming continues. “Normally you would be due for some well-earned R&R after a mission like that. Unfortunately though, a mission has some up of the utmost urgency and you are the only chaps available for it at the moment.”

“Let me brief you on the situation in Italy at the moment. In summary, it’s a complete bloody mess.”

“A couple of months back, King Emanuel III took control of the country back from Mussolini, imprisoned him and installed General Pietro Badoglio as the country’s leader. They continued to fanny around though, not making any decisions until we invaded the mainland of Italy on 3 September. They finally announced an armistice on 8 September. Because of all their messing around, the Hun were able to increase their forces in Italy from one division to seven and so have control of the country. General Badaglio urged Italians to rise up against the Germans and fight alongside the allies on 11 September – some 10 days ago – but by that time, Jerry was already in control of Rome and the king and General were already in exile.”

“So everything is a ruddy mess. Most of the Italian army don’t know what to do. The smart ones simply threw their weapons away and ran home to their mammas, but unfortunately this is not the situation with most of them. Some are now loyal to the allies, some are fascists who are loyal to Hitler and a lot more have been captured by the Hun and given a choice of continuing to fight with the Axis or become a slave labourer in Germany. So basically, you don’t know where the loyalties of any Italian lies at the moment until they either hug you or shoot you.”

“It’s a ruddy mess.”

“In amongst all this mess, we’ve asked for Mussolini, but the Italians won’t give him up. If he is in our hands, then we should be able to get more of the Italian troops on our side. The Italians want to keep him to themselves as a bargaining chip though. Naturally the Krauts want him as well because Mussolini is a personal friend of Hitler’s and would be very useful to them as a figurehead which will ensure that Mussolini’s supporters (of which there are still many) will continue to fight for the Axis.”

“Through German communiques which we have recently intercepted and decoded, we believe that they have found out where the Italians are hiding_ Il Duce_ – they believe that he is being held at the Hotel Campo Imperatore in the Gran Sasso range around 100km north-east of Rome. It’s a good spot for hiding someone as it can only be reached by cable car.”

“We know that the Krauts are going to try and snatch him, but we don’t know how and we don’t know when – for all we know they may have already taken him yesterday. This is why time is of the essence. We need to get him before the Krauts do.”

“We have not had much time to put a plan together, but this is what we have so far. In two hours’ time, we will fly you to the plateau, together with Comandante Bodoni where you will parachute next to the hotel. Although Franco is one of Italy’s top fighter aces, he is no friend of Mussolini’s as a result of Il Duce having killed his father and having seized his family business. Franco is very much on our side now and will assist you in negotiating with the Italian troops guarding Mussolini in order that they let him go without bloodshed.”

“If-a I do this, I will get to pilot a Mustang P-51D against the Nazis, si?” Franco asks.

“Yes, Franco,” Fleming replies with a sigh. “That was the deal. You help us get Mussolini and you get your Mustang.”

“Grazie.”

“Anyway,” Fleming continues. “So you need to take Mussolini – alive – bring him down on the cable car and then escort him on the 20km trip to L’Aquila airfield, where Franco is going to beg, steal or borrow some kind of a plane that will bring you all back to Catania.”

“it’s as simple as that.”

“You leave in two hours, which should give you just enough time to pop to the armory and rearm and ammo yourself for the mission. You can also take a spare canister of equipment if you need it, but we don’t think that you are going to face too much heavy opposition on this mission.”

“Is this all clear? Does anyone have any questions?”

“Seems clear enough to me, Sir,” says Bruce.

He looks to his companions:

“The sooner we get out of here, the more time we have to get our gear together.”

The others nod in agreement.

“Very good then, chaps,” Fleming says. “Best of luck to you all. You are dismissed.”

The party members all throw the Commander a stiff salute and then exit the building, with Franco following them. Captain Matthews escort them straight to the Quartermaster’s where they spend the next hour resupplying with ammo and other consumables which they all used up on the Czech jobs and then start packing up a standard canister with spare materials and items which are too bulky to carry on their persons.

They then expect the parachutes which they have been issued with.

Once they have all of their gear checked and ready, they are moved out to a waiting B-24 Liberator. Franco is impressed that it is flanked on both sides by a couple of Mustangs. He looks at them enviously, mutters something in Italian and smiles.

Compared to the long flights that they have been taking recently, the journey to the Gran Sasso plain is a short one. The Mustang escorts proved to be unnecessary as the only planes that the party members see are all Allied. After a little over 90 minutes in the air, one of the crewmen opens the door and tells them to tether themselves to the line. It is a little after 2.30pm when the green light comes on and the party members start to leap one by one from the plane onto the plain.

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My Kingdom for a Hearse
20 September 1943

The party members are in no hurry to wake too early, expecting another day of sitting around waiting for nothing to happen. They are awoken by the greengrocer at a little after 8.00am, however, as the greengrocer talks excitedly to Piotr.

“OK, it’s time to go, quickly,” the Pole says, pulling on his clothes. “Our ticket out of this place is waiting downstairs in the yard.”

The others quickly dress too, check their sidearms and head into the yard. What they see waiting for them outside is not what they expected at all. They see an elegant black cart with seven simple wooden coffins in the back. Sat on the footplate is an undertaker dressed in black and a young boy, who is also dressed somberly.

The undertaker talks to Piotr, who translates to the others.

“We’re to get into the coffins,” he says. “The seventh one at the bottom contains our weapons.”

One by one, the party members help one another to get into the coffins which are piled back onto the back of the hearse. While physically it is more comfortable than lying underneath a cart full of turnips. psychologically, the feeling of being buried alive is far from pleasant.

Together the undertaker, the boy and the greengrocer help load the last coffin containing Piotr onto the hearse and then they feel the hearse start to move.

In the pitch blackness, with all movement restricted, time seems to stand still. It seems as if hours and hours have passed with them inside and the air is starting to turn stale. They lose all sense of movement as well.

Eventually though, they feel the sense of movement stopping. Shortly afterwards, it feels as if their eyes are burning as the coffins are opened to allow the party members to escape.

As their sight returns, they see that they are in a field, hidden from a road by hedgerows. They can see villas in the distance, presumably the outskirts of Prague.

The undertaker speaks to Piotr, who translates for the others.

“We have quite a walk ahead of us, I’m afraid,” he says. “It will look too suspicious if we ride on the back of the hearse. The best thing we can do is look like mourners following the hearse.”

Walking is no imposition – at least to start with – it comes as a welcome relief from the hours spent in the coffin and the time spent in the greengrocer’s apartment. The weather is warm and sunny and the countryside is beautiful, although the flat contours of the land become a little repetitive compared with the hilly terrain around the Karlstejn area.

They walk through the remainder of the morning and right through the afternoon. As hour after hour passes traipsing through narrow country roads, the novelty of a trek through the countryside is starting to wear off and everyone’s feet are starting to ache. The sun is low in the sky now and they must be the best part of twenty miles from Prague now as the hearse comes to a stop.

The hearse seems to stop in the middle of nowhere. Apart from the hedgerows either side of the road, there seems to be nothing as far as the eye can see except flat open fields.

Piotr speaks with the undertaker and then reports back.

“He says he was just instructed to drop us hear,” the Pole reports. “We just need to wait. He has not been told what is going to happen next or who will meet us.”

The party members simply shrug, reclaim their weapons from the last coffin and then go and hide in the bushes. The undertaker simply doffs his top hat to them, turns the hearse around and then heads off into the distance.

The party members set up in a defensive position and then simply wait to see what happens as dusk falls and all turns completely dark.

It is a couple of hours later before the party members hear sounds of movement – horses’ hooves and cart wheels. Everyone hides in the bushes with weapons at the ready while they wait to see whether the sound belongs to friend or foe.

As the cart gets closer, they see that there are four simply dressed peasants on the cart, which also contains a couple of large oil drums.

“Cover me,” Piotr whispers to the others. “I will try and make contact.”

All have weapons pointed on the cart as Piotr slowly emerges from the bushes with his hands in the air.

“Dobrý večer přátelé,” Piotr says warmly. “Chtěli byste se dívat na někoho konkrétně to v pohodě večer?”

The Czech reply equally warmly and Piotr gives the thumbs up to the others, beckoning for the others to come join them. The party members come out and introduce themselves.

“Please let me introduce you to Stanislav, Ladislav, Oskar and Stepan – four loyal members of the resistance.”

They pull the cart off the road so that it is hidden behind bushes and then Piotr chats with them. He then explains the situation to the others:

“We’re getting picked up around midnight,” he reports excitedly. “The oil drums contain kerosene. Around 11.00, we need to help them to pour out the kerosene in two long lines to act as landing lights.”

This is still nearly two hours away and so the party members chat with the resistance members, with Piotr acting as interpreter. The resistance have brought some food with them and cigarettes, and so they chat until Stanislav tells them that it is time to prepare the landing strip.

All of the party members help to steady the oil drum as Stepan leads the horses in a straight line across a flat meadow. The resistance members have obviously done this before as they know just the right amount of kerosene to pour out as the hoses move slowly forward. Once the first oil drum is empty, Stepan turns the horses sharply and then starts moving them backwards, some 20m parallel to the original line of kerosene.

Once both drums are empty, they head back to the bushes.

“Now we just wait and hope that the mission wasn’t cancelled,” says Piotr. “Or that we accidentally end up signalling to a Kraut plane.”

They wait for what seems like an agonizingly long period of time, but is probably only 45 minutes, and then hear the distant drone of aero engines. None of the party members are experts on planes, but the bass roar sounds like it’s coming from something pretty big.

The Czechs wait a couple of minutes more to ensure that the plane is getting closer. Once they are sure it is, they light soaked rags and throw them at the start of the trails of kerosene. With an almighty ‘WOOF!’ the parallel trails of kerosene light up the sky.

“Hodně štěstí!” the Czechs all cry as they leap on the cart and set the horses off at a gallop, well aware that the place is going to be swarming with Nazis in well under an hour.

The party members watch on and finally see a plane approaching, lining up in order to approach the fiery landing strip. It’s big, and it’s extending its undercarriage.

“It’s a B-17!” Terry cries out excitedly.

They watch on as the Flying Fortress skims over the hedgerows. bounces a couple of times between the fiery lines before settling down and coming to a halt around 200m from where they are hidden in the hedgerows.

They all run for the plane as fast as they can. The pilot is already turning around ready for take off again and so it is obvious that the crew is in just as much of a hurry to get out of here as the party members are.

As the party members get close, the side door opens and an extendable ladder emerges. A couple of USAAF airmen are at the door to help pull each of the party members onboard. As soon as the last one is onboard, they retract the ladder and close the door. The pilot already has the engines at maximum thrust ready for take off and, a matter of seconds later, is taxiing the plane back down the makeshift runway before pulling back on the controls and sending the huge plane back into the air, before banking it sharply.

Terry is delighted to be among his fellow countrymen again and chats with the airmen:

“So how are you guys finding life with the Limeys? How can you put up with the warm beer and the bad teeth?”

The airman smiles as he replies:

“We ain’t flying out of England, buddy. We’re flying out of Catania, Sicily, these days. And that’s where you’re headed now.”

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Waiting & Eating Vegetables
19 September 1943

The party members wake up early after an uneventful night. The day proves to be equally as uneventful. Although the party members are starting to get anxious and bored, at least they are well-fed as there are plenty of vegetables in the apartment, which Piotr uses to create a very fine borsht.

Afternoon passes into evening and the greengrocer returns to the apartment. He tells Piotr that he has heard nothing from The King though. All they can do is to continue to wait and to hope. Another watch rota is arranged as they continue to get some rest.

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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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Waiting for an Escape Plan
17 September 1943

Being holed up in the crypt is starting to become a miserable experience. Conditions are cramped and it’s freezing cold down here being surrounded by nothing but rock. The party members are getting hungry too.

They each take it on turn to work on the tunnel. Maybe Father Petrek got it wrong though – they don’t seem to be getting anywhere close to finding an exit to the sewers.

The only piece of excitement – and hope – during the day comes late afternoon when Ata arrives bearing some meagre rations. Nothing to get excited about, but enough food to keep them from getting too hungry for another 24 hours. Ata is far from his usual cheery, optimistic self as he pays his visit. He tells the party members that the Nazis’ fury regarding the death of Heydrich seems to know no bounds – their search for his assassins is increasing rather than decreasing as they put all of the many resources at their disposal towards the hunt. He also tells them that, as retribution, the Nazis have totally destroyed one village outside Prague – Lidice – raising the village to the ground, murdering nearly 200 men and sending 300 women and children to concentration camps.

He tells them that The King is working hard on arranging an escape plan for them, however, which he hopes will be completed in a couple of days or so in order that they can get out of Prague and they can arrange a plane to pick them up and take them back to England. The party members just need to be patient.

Ata leaves them, and they continue to pass them time while waiting for The King to deliver on his promise of getting them out of here.

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The Church of St. Cyril & Methodius
16 September 1943

Not knowing what is due to happen next, the party members sleep in a little. It’s 0900 before they assemble in Aunt Marie’s lounge for another meagre breakfast from what little she can spare from the family’s rations. Auntie Marie is not her normal smiling self; she seems nervous, but says nothing.

The party members wonder among themselves what will happen now. The King didn’t give them any further instructions. It is a little before noon that they find out when the King arrives in person.

Auntie Marie lets him into the lounge and then leaves.

“Well done,” the King says without emotion. “You succeeded in your mission. It should be no surprise to any of us that the Nazis are absolutely furious about the whole exercise. They are tearing the city to pieces trying to find you and have posted a 10 million crown bounty on your head.”

“It is too hot for you to stay here. Marie and her family have done enough for the cause already. We’re going to move you and we’re leaving right now.”

The King gets up and Piotr leads the rest of the party out behind him. They say their farewells and give their thanks to Auntie Marie as they exit the shabby apartment.

This time they are not taking public transport; The King leads them on foot, walking slowly, heading in a southerly direction, but in a roundabout way with The King looking over his shoulder regularly in order to make sure that they are not being followed. After an hour of walking, he leads them up the steps into a church. The church is empty when they enter it.

The King heads towards the altar and then kneels on the ground before it. The Padre urges the rest of the group to join in.

A priest, loitering in the background, sees the seven men ostensibly deep in prayer and comes over to them.

“Forgive us, Father, for we have sinned,” the King says in Czech to the Priest.

“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God,” the Priest replies. “Psalms 9:17”

“Amen,” says Bruce.

The priest introduces himself as Father Petrek and then heads to the main doors of the church and locks them. He then heads to an area at the back of the church and pulls up a rug. Beneath it is a loose flagstone with a couple of large rings in it. He pulls on them and the flagstone lifts in order to reveal a dark hole with a ladder leading into the gloom.

Father Petrek speaks and Piotr translates:

“The Church is built upon an ancient monastery,” he says. “Underneath here is a crypt – a burial site for bishops. He says that we will be safe here until the heat dies down and they can figure out a way of getting us out of the city safely.”

Father Petrek leads the party members down into the crypt. It is cramped down here and freezing cold. The only natural light coming into the crypt comes from a ventilation slit some 10 feet above the ground. The Padre looks around then turns to Piotr.

“Well, mate, it looks hidden enough but, with just one way in and out, if the Nazis do find us, we’re screwed. I don’t suppose there’s some secret door that leads out is there?”

Piotr translates. Father Petrek chuckles and then speaks in Czech. Piotr translates again:

“Father Petrek says that you have been reading too much fiction, Bruce, my friend. He has heard that the main sewer leading to the Vltava River runs not too far from the crypt though.”

“The Father must leave us now,” Piotr continues. “The King will arrange for our weapons to be brought here to us and also some food.”

With that, Father Petrek leaves them, sliding the flagstone over them, securing them. There are a few candles dotted around which they light to keep the gloom at bay. They are also able to move the ladder to the ventilation shaft so that they can keep a lookout. All seems normal outside though.

“I suggest that we start digging right away,” says Taffy. “We’ve nothing else better to do anyway.”

The area below the ventilation shaft is narrow and they don’t have much in the way of tools. It also makes quite a noise whenever they chip away at the rock and so they can only work when there is no one close by. As a result, progress on a possible escape route is frustratingly slow as they each take it in turns to work away for a few hours.

Early in the evening, the flagstone slides open. All of the party members point their sidearms towards the hole, but the voice announces that it is Ata – Auntie Marie’s son – who is bringing them some food. Again, it is nothing much, but all are starving and so are glad of anything. Ata does not stay long, needing to get home before curfew.

The party members try and get some sleep – difficult upon the freezing rock of the crypt floor. Auntie Marie’s apartment seems like luxury compared to this place and all hope that they are not going to have to spend too long here.

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The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich
15 September 1943

They get up early, wanting to ensure that they are in position with their weapons as early as possible so there are not too many commuters to see them lugging their weaponry about. A sleepy Auntie Marie is up in her dressing gown to see them off:

“You’ll find six bicycles in the coal shed,” she says. “Whatever you are going to do, I hope it goes well. I’ll see you when you’re done.”

They set off on the bicycles at 6.00am. Piotr leads the way, following the tram lines that he memorized from the journey the previous day and are back at the point at a little before 7.00am. Fortunately there are few people around at this time of the day and so they head over to the bushes immediately. With relief, they see that their weapons are waiting for them, as promised by the King. They are a bit grubby with coal dust, but still fully functional.

Once they have their weapons they head to their allotted spots. Bob has the toughest job as he needs to shin up a drainpipe to get onto the roof of the two-storey building with the flat roof that overlooks the turn. Taffy, Lodd and the Piotr are all in well-concealed positions and so can relax. Terry and Piotr who have chosen less well-hidden positions have to hide out of sight of the road and keep watching Bob for a signal that the convoy is on its way.

They have a long time to wait.

0900 comes and passes, as does 0930. Once 1000 has come and gone, everyone is starting to get nervous and starts wondering what could have gone wrong and how long to leave it. Finally, shortly before 1030, Bob finally sees the Sd. Kfz 234/1 hurtling into view and gives the signal for Piotr and Terry to get into position.

Bob raises his Gewehr and tracks the movement of the convoy through its telescopic sights. He watches as Sergeant Klein finishes taking the turn and, just before he hits the accelerator, he presses the trigger. He doesn’t quite get the headshot that he was aiming for, but manages to get Heydrich in the shoulder. Taffy then opens up on Heydrich with his M3. A full burst sprays Heydrich in the head and the Nazi Reichsprotektor slumps forwards in his seat. Taffy takes just a split-second to be sure that Heydrich is very much dead, then disappears into the bushes, knowing that the job is done.

Before the convoy can react, the others open up. Piotr manages to catch Sergeant Klein in the shoulder, while Terry opens up with his MG42 on the Horch, stunning the driver and killing the officer riding shotgun. Lodd is on target with his shots on the Opel Blitz too, immediately taking out the driver.

The convoy is in disarray. The scout car continues for a short distance until the commander realizes that something very bad is happening and shouts for the driver to come to a halt. At the same time, he comes down from the turret and pulls the anti-grenade grille shut. Klein slams on the breaks, reaching for his Walther P40 as he does so. The driver of the Horch, still stunned rams the back of the Mercedes while the Opel Blitz, now driverless, piles into the back of the Horch. The party members take advantage of the disarray as, between them, Bob and Piotr finish off the bear-like Sergeant Klein as he attempts to leave the Mercedes and run after Piotr. Piotr notices that he has bigger problems ahead of him though as the turret of the scout car is starting to rotate in his direction. Terry continues to shoot at the Horch, injuring more of the officers while Lodd takes out a couple more troopers in the truck.

The occupants of the vehicles are now starting to bale out to find cover. Apart from the crew of the Sd. Kfz 234/1. They are trying to kill Piotr. The 20mm autocannon spits chunks of large-caliber lead in the Pole’s direction and one of them manages to catch him. If Piotr ever needed some motivation to run fast, it’s now.

Terry continues to shoot at the officers in the staff car, but they are in cover behind the Horch now and tricky to hit. As the troopers file out of the truck, Bob and Lodd take out a few between them. The Padre tries to help by stunning a group of troopers with a spell. The fanatical fighting spirit of the SS troopers mean that the spell has limited effect, however.

So far the combat has pretty much gone totally in the party’s favour, but the remaining Nazis are starting to get their act together now. As he sprints for cover, Piotr gets hit once more by the autocannon before he gets behind cover. Now he is starting to hurt bad. Terry also gets hit badly by a burst from one of the SS officers MP40’s and realizes that it is definitely time to beat the retreat as he gets up and runs behind the protection of the wall. To the north, Lodd is also in trouble as he gets hit badly by a couple of rifle shots. Fortunately he has The Padre next to him to keep patching him up. The pair of them realize that it is time to get the hell out of there, and bound off towards the boundary wall with four troopers in hot pursuit.

Bob moves to the edge of the building in order to join the great escape. Both Terry and Piotr are badly injured and realize that they have a scout car and two SS officers with MP40’s bearing down on them. Terry tosses the last of his smoke grenades to cover his retreat as he, Piotr and Bob, all head for the top of the ridge and safety. Lodd and The Padre are also heading for freedom as well, but Lodd gets hit once more in the process. To make matters worse, the scout car is also rapidly approaching them to try and cut them off down a side street. Terry runs for the top of the ridge as a burst of 20mm fire churns up the ground just behind him.

With no time to lose, everyone jumps on the bicycles that they positioned at the top of thre ridge and pedal furiously, meeting up as they do so.

“We need to dump our weapons somewhere,” Piotr says. “The resistance can pick them up later, but they’ll spot us a mile away with the weapons over our shoulders.”

A few hundred metres later, they see another patch of wasteland, overgrown with bushes. Quickly they toss their weapons among the thickest clump they can find and then pedal off once more. They decide to split up and make their way back to the safehouse individually so as not to attract too much attention.

The flaw to this plan is that no one knows Prague that well and so it is that it takes each of the party members quite some time of random cycling until they find a familiar tramline which they are then able to follow back to Aunt Marie’s place. On their way back, they pass hundreds of troops heading towards the ambush site. The Nazis sure seem pretty pissed off.

By mid-afternoon, all are back at the safehouse. Bruce is busy treating everyone’s wounds. After using much of the remaining contents of his medical kit to patch up Lodd, Piotr and Terry, he waits for his powers to replenish, healing up the three of them every three hours. By the middle of the night, everyone is finally feeling much better.

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The Recce
14 September 1943

The party members are up just before 07.00 and Auntie Marie cooks them breakfast before they head off, with Piotr leading them back to the tram station.

The journey to the stop that the mysterious King circled takes them a little over 45 minutes and requires them changing a couple of times as the location is towards the northern outskirts of the city. They alight from the tram and wait at the benches opposite. Right on time, the mystery man comes and sits next to them.

He sits and says nothing for ten minutes, which Piotr finds frustrating.

“So why are we here?” he asks.

“We are here to wait and watch,” he says. “Keep looking to the road to the north.”

They wait and watch for half an hour, but there is nothing unusual – just a few commuters, but not too many as the area is so far from the centre.

Then they see why they have been brought here.

The first thing they see is an eight-wheeled Sd. Kfz. 234/1 armoured scout car driving towards them, going at a rapid pace. They see that the commander is stood up above the hatch. They watch the pace of the vehicle slow as the scout car has to negotiate a tricky hairpin turn.

Next they see their prey – the arrogant looks, the blonde hair, the steely blue eyes and immaculate uniform of the passenger in the open-top Mercedes saloon tells that this is Heydrich. Next to him, driving the saloon is a huge bear of a man. Following Heydrich’s staff car is a Horch staff car – containing four SS officers by the look of their uniforms and, bringing up the rear, an Opel Blitz. They peer in the back as it passes and see that it contains what appears to be a squad of SS troopers. Once the vehicles have negotiated the tight hairpin, the convoy speeds up again as it hurtles towards Prague Castle.

Once it has disappeared out of sight, the King speaks:

“It is the same plan every day,” he explains. “We have been watching the convoy for weeks now and it is always the same. Only the timing differs – it can be as early as 9.00am or as late as 10.00am, but it is always the same convoy taking the same route.”

“This hairpin is the only time when the convoy has to slow down to under 10 km/h. Along the rest of the route they are travelling too fast to get a good shot at him.”

There is a pause before he continues.

“You see the bushes in front of the dead conifer in the scrubland on the bank opposite?” he asks.

They all nod in the affirmative.

“Your weapons will be dropped there just before dawn. Everything else is up to you. Return to the safehouse after it is done.”

With that, he gets up once more and leaves.

The party members get up off the bench and start to wander around the neighbourhood, working out where the best shooting angles will be. They spend the best part of the morning muttering possibilities to one another until finally they have all chosen their spots. With nothing else to do for the rest of the day, they take the trams back to Auntie Marie’s safehouse and then spend the remainder of the day fine-tuning the plan before getting an early night.

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Meeting With A King
13 September 1943

The party members enjoy a comfortable night and then a decent breakfast prepared by Edvard. He tells them that, once again, there is nothing to do apart from to wait until he receives word. He then heads down to open up the shop at 9.00.

A little under an hour later and he returns and gives instructions to Piotr.

“We have a meeting at noon,” he explains. “I have instructions as to how we get there and the pass codes.”

“Bundle up all of your gear apart from a hidden pistol in case of emergencies,” he continues. “Our gear will be moved to a new safehouse while we are gone.”

Edvard leaves them alone.

“Hodně štěstí,” he wishes them, before heading straight back to the shop.

Once everyone’s weapons have been bundled up, Piotr leads them out of the back entrance into the yard. They then head into the streets of Prague. They walk a couple of hundred metres until they reach a tram stop. Ten minutes later and the next tram arrives and they get on it.

Piotr counts the number of stops. Although the journey is only a couple of kilometres, they see that the neighbourhood changing from a grubby working class area into one of the more upmarket parts of the city.

Piotr leads them off the tram and they find themselves at the base of a steep hill. Above them a couple of kilometres to the north is Prague castle. Piotr leads them to the base station of a quaint funicular which runs up the hillside. Ten minutes and the car arrives. They get on and are soon on their way to the top of Petrin Hill. Alighting at the top, Piotr leads them to the left, and counts the benches until he brings them to a halt at the fifth one that they pass.

He looks at his watch:

“11.45 – still a while to wait.”

Waiting is hardly a hardship as the sun is warm, the skies are blue and from this observation area, they have a stunning view over the historic Medieval city below them.

At exactly noon, a nondescript looking man in his late-thirties sits next to you.

“Máš Sparta cigaretu, že bych mohl půjčit?” the man asks.

“Je mi líto, ale kouřím jen Petry,” Piotr replies.

The man is silent for a while, making sure that there is no one within ear shot of them, and then starts to whisper:

“What do you know about Reinhard Heydrich?” he asks.

The party members shake their heads.

“He’s one of the Nazi Party’s golden boys,” the man explains. “If there was a top ten of most powerful Nazis, he would be on the list somewhere. One of the original members of the SS, he reports directly to Himmler himself and is a personal favourite of Hitler’s. He is responsible for setting up most of the Nazi’s anti-espionage activities and is one of the main architects of the Final Solution. Some say that he is being groomed as a possible future Fuhrer.”

“Among his many titles is Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia,” the man continues. “He holds court in Prague’s Royal Palace and has absolute rule of the entire Czech nation. Sadly, for loyal Czechs, he has been spectacularly successful in this role. Through a ‘carrot and stick’ policy of rewarding good workers with decent rations, while punishing those who work against him with extreme cruelty and brutality, he has managed to increase production levels in the country so that they are higher than most parts of Germany itself.”

He pauses for effect.

“And this is why London has decided that he must die. At any price.”

He glances at each of the party members in turn:

“So this is why you are here – to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich.”

He pauses once again:

“This shouldn’t have been your job,” he continues. “There were a team of Czech SOE agents who have been in Prague planning this mission for more than six months and were about to put their plan into action. Unfortunately, they were all captured by the Gestapo last week, just two days before they were due to act. Fortunately, they took cyanide pills before they could be interrogated and so the Nazis never found out why they were here.”

“We were in the process of planning to get another team parachuted in. However, four days ago, we learned that Heydrich has received a promotion – he now holds the title of Reichsprotektor of all Occupied Territories. In just three days’ time, he will be redeployed to Paris and all of our months of planning will have been in vain.”

“When we discovered that you were in the country and were in contact with one of our cells, then we realized that you are our only chance for accomplishing this mission. So that’s why Moravec ordered you to Prague to meet with me.”

The party members look at one another, then Piotr returns to the still unnamed man.

“Dobze, if that’s what we need to do, then this is what we will do,” he nods.

“So the plan is already in place? You better give us the details.”

“Better than that,” the man replies. “I will show you the details.”

He slips Piotr a leaflet, which Piotr glances at before putting it in his pocket. He sees that it is a map of Prague’s tram network.

“Meet me at the tram stop that I circled in pencil at 08.30 tomorrow morning. Head now for the tram stop that I circled in ink. You will be met there by a young girl on a bicycle. Do not speak to her. Just follow her to the next safehouse. You will find all of your equipment there.”

With that, the man just gets up and leaves. The party members spend another ten minutes admiring the view to give him time to disappear fully and then Piotr retrieves the map from his pocket.

Piotr then leads the others to their destination. They take the funicular down the side of the hill and then take another tram at the street below. Here they catch another train which takes them across the River Vltava to downtown Prague. Ten minutes later and Piotr nods for them all to disembark.

They look around the square once everyone on the tram has wandered off. Sure enough, they see a girl in her early teens watching them from the other side of the square. Once she is sure that they have spotted her, she slowly rides the bicycle around them and heads off down a side street, glancing over her shoulder from time to time to ensure that the party members are still following her.

After 15 minutes of walking a circuitous route, they reach the courtyard of a four storey tenement block and the girl gets off her bicycle, leaving it by the railings. She nods for the party members to follow her as she skips up a couple of flight of steps and knocks on the door.

The door is opened promptly by a middle-aged woman, presumably the girl’s mother.

“Pojď dovnitř,” she says with a nervous smile as she glances down to the yard to ensure that no one is watching.

She shoos everyone into the cramped living room and then introduces herself as ‘Auntie Marie’ as everyone calls her. She then introduces her daughter, Jindrisska and her 18-year-old son, Ata, a violin student at the Music Academy. She tells them that her husband, Ivan is out working and will return later. She tells them that Ivan knows nothing about Marie and her children working with the resistance and so they are to say that they are friends of Mr. Pavlicek up from the country looking for work. She says that their weapons are hid in the coal cellar in the basement of the building.

Auntie Marie heads off to cook them an early dinner which is tasty although the portions are small. Worrying that their complete lack of Czech will make Ivan suspicious, the rest of the party members head off to spend the evening with Ata, leaving Piotr to speak with Ivan. All then head off for an early night.

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Journey to Prague
12 September 1943

It is a little before 6.00am when the party members are aroused from their slumber by Vaclav.

“Everything is arranged,” he says. “You set off within the hour. Best to arrive in Prague well before sunset. The Nazis start getting suspicious about anyone arriving in the city too late in the day.”

The party members have a very small breakfast, knowing how limited the resistance members are now that they have so many mouths to feed. Half an hour later and Vaclav leads them out of the mine out to the edge of the strange, cobalt blue-coloured water at the bottom of the quarry and then assists them in climbing the steep, hidden path up the quarry bank to the top. The party members then follow him through the trees that cluster around the abandoned quarry to its north-eastern point. Vaclav checks that the coast is clear and then beckons everyone to come out of the woods.

Before them, they see an elderly-man in his late-fifties dressed like a peasant. He is sat upon a open cart which is pulled by a pair of horses. The open cart is filled with turnips. On top of the turnips are five bicycles.

“This is Ales,” Vaclav says by way of introduction. “He will take you to the safehouse.”

Ales just nods in greeting, saying nothing.

“Bury your weapons beneath the turnips.” Vaclav continues. “Just keep a pistol tucked into the back of your belt in case of emergencies.”

“One of you can ride with Ales, the rest of you should take the bikes. Ales knows where the checkpoint is. He will stop a few hundred metres short of if and then help you bury yourselves inside the turnips. That way you don’t have to spend the entire day hiding under them.”

“Don’t all ride together,” Vaclav adds. “The Nazis are suspicious of groups of fit-looking men all travelling together, so space yourselves out a bit.”

The party members do as they are bid and stash their dwindling supplies of equipment beneath the turnips. The Padre takes the footplate next to Ales while the rest saddle up.

“Good luck,” says Vaclab as he bids them farewell. "And thank you once again for all that you have done to help the people of Karlstejn.

The party members give their thanks to Vaclav and then head on their way.

Despite the fact that the day is overcast and a little chilly so early in the morning, the countryside is beautiful and everyone is glad to get out of the claustrophobic confines of the mineshaft. After a while, they are following the Vltava northwards following the river’s flow, and pedaling the bicycles is a lot easier.

Ales leads them on a circuitous route that avoids the main towns and villages where the Nazis have a presence, and so the journey is a lot further than the 15 miles distance as the crow flies. After journeying for seven hours, however, Ales finally brings the horses to a halt and speaks to Piotr in Czech.

“Dump the bicycles in the river and then it’s time for us to bury ourselves in the turnips.”

One by one, the party members burrow into the root vegetables, while the other members of the party cover them up. Piotr is the last in. Ales gets down off the footplate in order to make sure that Piotr is fully covered and then gets back up, leading the horses on.

Being covered in turnips is a far from pleasant way of travelling, so all are thankful that they will not have to endure the discomfort for too long. After a few minutes of travel, the hear spoken words of German and the cart comes to a stop. Everyone holds their breaths and hands move closer to weapons as they hear Ales talking. They all breathe a sigh of relief when the cart starting moving again.

They can hear the sounds of the city growing louder as the cart starts to make its way through the streets of Prague. After an hour of terrible discomfort caused by lying upon and under the root vegetables, some of the party members have just about had enough but then, mercifully, the cart finally stops again.

Ales says something in Czech.

“We can come out now,” says Piotr.

Instantly everyone frees themselves from their turnipy graves. They find themselves in the backyard of a run down square of houses, the walls all covered grey from years of smoke pollution. Ales watches them emerge. He is standing next to another elderly man dressed in a white apron.

The man in the apron quickly and nervously shakes each of the party members by the hand.

“Edvard,” he says, then something else in Czech while pointing to an open back door.

“We need to grab our gear from the cart and then head up to the rooms above the shop as quickly as possible,” Piotr translates.

It takes just a couple of minutes for everyone to retrieve their belongings and head up to the rooms. They are left alone for an hour before Edvard comes up and says something to Piotr.

“Edvard tells us to make ourselves at home, but not to get too comfortable as we will only be staying here one night,” Piotr translates. “Tomorrow morning we will get instructions as to where we will be going next.”

Edvard then disappears again as he heads down to the greengrocer’s shop. There is little for the party members to do apart from to wait. Although it is after dark now and the shop is closed, Edvard is still not back. He finally returns a little after 9.00pm.

Piotr questions him, but gets little in the way of answers.

“Edvard says we should all just get a good night’s sleep as he will not know the plans until tomorrow morning – after the shop is open.”

And so the party members do as they are bid. The rooms above the shop are fairly cramped and one of the party stays on watch all evening, but all get some good rest during the night.

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