Escape From Stalag VIIIB

Dropping into Czech
4/5 September 1943

A couple of hours later, and Lieutenant Baker calls everyone down to the Quartermaster’s vast stores. All of the equipment that they ordered are laid out before them. They spend another hour carefully checking over each of their weapons before signing for them and then the Quartermaster helps them to pack the gear that they will be carrying upon them during the drop into the canister.

It’s 1730 by the time that they head back to their quarters. They are told to put all of the items that they won’t be taking with them into storage lockers so that other teams can use their rooms. They are also told that they may not be returning to England after the mission is over – there is always a chance that they will be sent straight into another operation.

They spend the remaining time checking their weapons. Piotr also spends half an hour on the range getting familiarizing himself with the silenced Sten and the Welrod.

At 1900 they go back to their lounge for what they understand is probably going to be their last proper meal for a while and then sit around anxiously waiting for their transport to arrive.

It’s 2030 when Lieutenant Baker tells them that their truck is waiting for them and helps them drag the canister up onto the bed of the truck they will be traveling in. They then head off on the 45 minute journey to Croydon Airfield, which is not very familiar to them.

Instead of a C-47, however, this time they are loaded into a Handley Page Halifax Medium Bomber and taken their places on the benches either side of the interior of the fuselage, with the canister on the floor between them.

The Halifax takes off at precisely 1000 and starts its journey eastwards. The first two hours of the flight are uneventful but, at 0007, they start to hear the ‘POOM POOM’ of ack-ack fire as they are flying close to Darmstadt which the party members find to be an unnerving experience. The crew of the Halixax seem to be pretty nervous as well.

Worse is to come, however, when the Halifax is buzzed by three Messerschmidt Me. 109s. All of the gunners on the Halifax are firing furiously and the pilot is forced to take evasive action which throws the party members around. The Jumpmaster tells them that they had better fix their lines in case they are going to need to be jumping sooner rather than later. The Padre spends his time deep in prayer.

After a nerve-wracking fifteen minutes, the sound of the firing stops. Somehow they seem to have escaped from the fighters.

“Sorry about that, chaps,” the pilot says. “Thought you might be getting a little bored and be in need of a little in-flight entertainment.”

Slowly everyone starts to calm down a little, but the fear is soon replaced by terror of a new kind as they are informed that they have not crossed the Czech border and will be jumping in around half an hour. They all check their weapons and reserve chutes one last time before the Jumpmaster checks that everyone is secured properly. Then the light goes red as the Jumpmaster opens the door, filling the interior of the Halifax with a wave of intense cold.

Remembering all of the drills, everyone nervously gets into a line, with Lodd at the front so that he can help push out the heavy canister.

At 0200, the red light turns to green and the Jumpmaster assists Lodd in pushing the canister out first. Its parachute instantly opens as it is pulled free by the line. Lodd is out next, closely followed by Terry, then Bruce, Taffy, Bob and with Piotr bringing up the rear.

Everyone is relieved when they hear the “WOOF” on the canvas of their ’chutes opening. Apart from Bruce. The others look on in horror as the Padre hurtles past each of them with no parachute, with a scream of:

STREEEEWWWWWTTTHHHHH!!!!”

With relief, they see him deploying his reserve ‘chute, seemingly just in time to avoid him becoming a bloody mark upon the landscape. Their relief doesn’t last long, however, as they look towards the ground and see that, instead of the open fields of the drop zone that should be below them, there is nothing but dense forest as far as they can see (which is not terribly far considering the limited amount of light from the moon).

Remembering their training, they try and guide themselves towards the slim gaps between the trees. Piotr, Bob, Taffy and Terry all manage to land on the ground without incident, although their ’chutes snag in the trees. They quickly release their harnesses and unbuckle their reserve chutes.

They grab their weapons and, as they have been taught, try to pull in their ’chutes so they are less easy to spot. They hear the sound of an owl hooting – or at least a not terribly good impression of one. Cautiously each of them advances towards the sound, to find that it is Piotr who was calling them.

“Kurwa RAF,” growls Piotr. “They must have missed the drop zone and dropped us in the middle of the fucking forest.”

“Well at least we don’t have to worry about our drop having been seen by the Krauts,” he says. “There can’t be any for miles around here in the middle of nowhere.”

“Has anyone see Lodd, Bruce or the canister?”

Piotr’s question receives shakes of the head from everyone.

“OK, we need to find them all,” he says. “Everyone take a quadrant and whistle when you find any of them.”

They all start to head off in different directions, spiraling out as they get further from the start point. It’s almost pitch black in the forest making it difficult to spot anything in the darkness, especially as the parachutes are black for the night landing.

“Oi. I’m up ’ere, cobber,” Bob hears a loud whisper from up above him.

It’s Bruce, suspended from a conifer like a Christmas decoration.

Bob whistles for the others to come and join him.

They all stand around looking up at him.

“Cut away your spare equipment,” Piotr says.

The Padre does as he is bid and his backpack falls to the ground.

“Taffy. come with me,” Piotr says.

The pair return some twenty minutes later with one of the discarded chutes.

“Everyone take a corner,” he says, unfurling the ’chute. “Then we can catch his fall when he cuts himself loose.”

They all take a corner of the ’chute and hold it out beneath the dangling Padre.

“We’ve got you, Bruce,” Piotr says. “Use your knife to cut yourself loose.”

With some trepidation, Bruce saws away at his straps until the final one snaps and he falls into the ’chute, fortunately without incurring any injury."

He picks himself up.

“Am I bleedin’ glad to be down safely,” he says. “That was a lot harder than any of the practice jumps we made.”

He is bleeding from scratches from the branches that he hit on the way down, but is not seriously injured.

“What about the others?” Bruce asks.

“We’re still missing Lodd and the canister,” Piotr replies.

They carry on searching again. It’s a full half hour before they hear another whistle. This time it comes from Taffy. The other comes running towards him.

“Up there,” Taffy says pointing to the treetop. “I’ve tried calling to him, but there’s no response. I think he must be unconscious.”

“Who’s good at climbing?” Piotr asks.

Bob and Terry both admit to having done a little.

“You’re probably better off holding the canvas,” Piotr says. “That Lodd is a heavy lump.”

As the others head off to go and get the ‘safety net’, Bob starts to climb up the conifer to get to where Lodd is dangling like a marionette. Climbing trees is second nature to the Canuck sniper and he is at the top of the tree before the others are back with the ’chute.

He hacks away at Lodd’s straps until the huge Serb drops from the tree like a stone and it is all that the other two can do to stop him from hitting the ground.

Once he is on the ground, The Padre looks over him, his face a mass of blood.

“Looks like he hit the tree head-first,” he says.

The Padre immediately starts work on the ‘Beast of Belgrade’. Five minutes later and Lodd comes to with a start.

Bruce looks into his eyes:

“No permanent damage done – well no more than there was before,” he says. “But it’s not a great start to the mission.”

“Now to find the canister,” says Piotr.

Now there are six searching for it.

Lodd manages to redeem himself as it is he who is the one to find the canister. It fell a couple of hundred yards to the east and took another hour to find. Once again, Bob easily manages to shin up the conifer and cut the straps so that it falls to the ground.

“We might as well just leave the canopies here,” Piotr says. “It would take hours to untangle each of them and hide then. We’ll just have to hope that, by the time anyone spots them. we’ll be long gone from here.”

“Talking about being long gone, we need to move and find out where we are. I assume that we dropped a little south of the zone as that was a heavily forested area.”

The Padre takes his compass and points north. Taffy, Lodd, Terry and Bob all lift the heavy canister onto their shoulders and start moving it, looking like pallbearers. Maneuvering the heavy container through the thick forest in the pitch blackness proves to be a far from easy task. It’s 0630 and dawn is starting to break by the time that they reach the edge of the forest.

The others start to hide the canister carefully after taking the items that need from it. The Padre replenishes the medical supplies that he used on Lodd and then studies the terrain in front of them with his binoculars, comparing what he sees with the contours of the land.

“Looks like we’re not too far from the original drop zone now,” says Piotr. “About three-quarters of a mile west.”

“So what now? Shall we rest up here until after dusk or move by day? Shall we try and head straight for Karlstein? Or stop off at some of the small villages along the way? Shall we just keep to the roads and try and bluff it out if we meet any Nazis or should we try the stealthy approach and keep to the fields?”

“Remember, cobber, that before we go on a crazy commando assault on the castle, we’re supposed to meet up with this Agent Angel fella,” Bruce says. “All that we know about him is that he used to be the Priest of Krupna. If that’s the only lead we have, then I would suggest that we start off by making our inquiries there.”

Piotr nods:

“Makes sense to me,” he replies, having no better ideas.

“We’re going to have to move closer to Karlstein and Krupna before we do anything else and bring our gear with us,” Piotr continues. “We’re four miles away from everywhere we might need to be. We can’t go on an eight-mile round trip to pick up any materials that we need.”

“Right, mate,” agrees Bruce. “We’ll need to leave the canister here though as it’s too bulky. We’ll need to split all of the contents up between us and lug them closer to everything.”

Piotr spends a while looking at the view through the binoculars and comparing what he sees to the map.

“You see that hill about three miles north of here? It’s less than a mile from Karlstein Castle and less than a mile from Krupna. It’s a good vantage point for seeing around the whole area and it’s also wooded so we should be able to hide pieces of gear in there.”

Bruce nods:

“Looks like as good a place as any,” he says. “We can’t go lugging Bazookas and mortars around in plain sight though. We’ll have to go under cover of darkness and proceed with great caution across the fields keeping a good look out in case there are any patrols.”

“Dobzhe,” Piotr agrees. “Has anyone got any better plans or shall we rest here until nightfall and carry out the Padre’s plan?”

“Those jokers at HQ are killin’ me. Couldn’t they have dropped us near a road? And a Taxi?” Terry laughs as he starts loading up gear from the canister.

“Fine. I like the Padre’s plan fine. Let’s just keep this as quiet as we can and don’t take any wooden nickels, alright?”

And so the party members kick back and relax for the day. The usual watch rota is set up with at least one party member keeping an eye over the terrain while most of the party members get some sleep in after the excitement of the drop. The Padre changes Lodd’s bandages during the day.

From their vantage point, they see little signs of any activity. The only buildings close to them are summer chalets that are either empty of inhabited mostly by pensioners and their position is too far away from any of the main roads or population centres to see much activity here.

It’s 19.40 by the time the sun starts to set and those on watch wake the others. After a good eight hours’ sleep, everyone is ready to move on now. They eat some of their K-rations as they watch the sun finally drop over the horizon and then start to load up the equipment between themselves, feeling more like pack mules than humans. And then they set off in the direction of the hill immediately south of Karlstein Castle.

View
The Briefing: Czech Mate
4 September 1943

After the late night due to the night-time drop and celebration afterwards, the party members are allowed to sleep in until 0800 the next morning. At 0900, Lieutenant Baker comes to their quarters.

“Right-o, chaps, we’re off for a little drive in an hour,” he says in his clipped tones. “Everyone needs to look smart for the occasion.”

They dress in their best uniforms and are waiting outside when a ‘deuce and a half’ truck turns up. All are pleased to see that there are no MP’s in it this time. Baker helps everyone up into the back of the truck and then gets in the front with the driver.

This time they leave the canvas up and so they can see where they are going. Thirty minutes into the drive, Taffy spots a familiar landmark of Twickenham Rugby Stadium which he visited several times in happier times.

Half an hour later and the truck pulls up outside a location that is familiar to all of them – the Baker Street offices of the S.O.E. The Lieutenant leads the party members from the back of the track into the offices.

“Lieutenant Baker, O.S.I.,” he reports to the receptionist. “We have an 1100 meeting with General Moravec.”

They wait in the lobby area for ten minutes and are then led through to the same board room where they had their initial interview with Major-General Gubbins.

Sitting in the room is an unassuming man in his late-forties dressed in the uniform of the Free Czechoslovak Army. He salutes them as they enter:

“General František Moravec, head of Intelligence for the Czechoslovak Government in Exile,” he says in perfect English.

Lieutenant Baker introduces all of the party members. They notice that he introduces each of them by rank and name, but does not make any mention of their unit.

Once everyone has sat down, Moravec starts the briefing:

“We have a situation that needs resolving and Major-General Gubbins tells me that you are the best team for the job.”

“Unfortunately we don’t have a great deal of information to go on. Naturally there is a resistance movement in Bohemia and Moravia as in the other occupied territories. Whereas they may have not accomplished as much as the resistance movements in other countries, one section of the resistance whom we only know as ‘The Three Kings’ have provided the Allies with more useful information than any other field agents working for the S.I.S., S.O.E. or O.S.S. We have no idea who the hell they are as they are probably the three most wanted agents in all of Europe, so it’s hardly surprising that they keep their identities secret. They must have a mole very high up in the Nazi organization due to the quality of the information they pass back. They told us about Operation Barbarossa – the invasion of Russia – over six months before it happened.”

“Anyway, through the ‘Three Kings’ channel, we have recently learned that a resistance member, Father Andrej Cerny, who operates under the codename of ‘Angel’, the former priest of the village of Krupna close to the German-occupied Castle Karlstein, has information concerning atrocities committed by German forces in the local area.”

Lieutenant Baker interjects at this point:

“Although the information we have is terribly vague in case radio traffic is being intercepted by the Jerries, we’re putting two and two together and are getting the idea that the Hun is up to the same sort of tricks as you found them up to on the Polish/Slovak border. It all sounds suspiciously like they are up to some more experimental medical and scientific research conducted on captive test subject.”

“So the mission we would like you to undertake is this,” General Moravec continues. “You must first make contact with the local resistance and get them to lead you to Agent Angel to find out exactly what he knows, then infiltrate Castle Karlstein to find out what the Nazis are up to. If it’s something as sinister as we think it is, then you are to do all you can to try and put a stop to it.”

“You will be dropped into the area tonight. Once you have completed the mission, the local resistance will arrange your exfiltration back to England.”

He pauses for a moment.

“This is all we know at the moment, but if you have any questions, now is the time to ask them.”

“What opposition can we expect?" asks Bob. "What German units are in the area? Can we have SS uniforms to take – that worked well last time? Who’s our Resistance contact that’ll take us to Cerny and where do we meet him/her?”

“I’m afraid we don’t know how many units of Germans are in the area,” Moravec replies. “It seems as if there is a platoon in most of the villages and more in the towns. As for for what they have in the castle itself, your guess is as good as mine.”

“There is no set contact with any of the resistance members set up,” he continues. “To have set something up over the W/T would run too much risk of compromising the mission. Every time we have agreed on new codes, Jerry manages to snatch another operator and our security is compromised, so we are not going to be broadcasting your arrival.”

“This is why I specified that I needed a fluent Czech speaker as part of the team. You’ll need to track down the resistance while you’re in the field and think on your feet in order to work out some way of getting in contact with them.”

“Ever since Reinhard Heydrich took over as Protector, he has shown immense cruelty to everyone in the resistance – even those who are just assisting them. As a result, everyone you meet is likely to be very guarded about what they say. Fortunately Czech are strong-willed and so few are actively collaborating with the Germans.”

“You’ll need to think carefully as to how you want to go in dressed and armed. Go in your battledress and with Allied weapons and you shouldn’t have too much difficulty in convincing any resistance you meet that you truly are Allied commandos sent to help them, but obviously you’ll be in big trouble if you run into any Krauts. Walk around in SS uniform and you’ll certainly struggle to convince the resistance.”

“I recommend that you go in dressed as civilians. We can also arrange false documents, although the game will still be up if they try and talk to any of you other than Rotmistrz Kowlaczyk.”

“I suppose that it doesn’t really matter whether we take Allied or German weapon,” Piotr says. “If the Nazis catch us with anything on our person we’ll be in deep shit anyway.”

Taffy nods in agreement:

“Can we take some extra ammo to be cached? Or to lug around with us over short distances?
If we’re going in civvies, we might all want pistols (and silencers) even if we don’t carry these in ‘battle mode’.”

“I’m good going in a a civvy.” says Terry to the others.

“Can we get good maps of the area, in case these mooks have me driving all over creation again?”

The General nods at all the suggestions:

He walks over and takes a large map of the area which he lays out before them.

“It was hard to find a drop zone as far from inhabited areas as we would like, so the best we can do is this place here,” he says pointing to a spot four miles south of the castle. The nearest villages are a mile away in each direction, but they are both little more than tiny hamlets which we doubt have permanent garrisons, although it is likely that patrols pass through each night."

“As long as the RAF do their job properly, then you should drop with a couple of hundred yards of this heavily wooded area to the south. This will enable you to regroup under cover in case you are spotted by a patrol and also hide any extra gear you would like to take with you.”

“You can take a standard G-1 container with you,” the Lieutenant says. “That will take up to 300 lb of additional question. You’re not going to be able to lug the bloody thing very far though.”

“We can also supply you with good maps of the area,” the General continues. “As you can see from the map, the area is lightly populated with plenty of rugged and wooded areas that make good places to hide out. As a result, you’re probably going to be better off moving on foot most of the time, as vehicles are going to attract attention to yourselves.”

“As for the castle itself, it’s obviously a well-known landmark to every Czech – most of us went there for a visit before the war and we have recent reconnaissance photos as well. From these, the backroom boys have created a scale model which you will find when you return to your quarters.”

“Now is that all, gentlemen?” the General finishes. “In this case, I will allow you to return to your quarters in order to ready your equipment and study the maps and model in detail.”

“Good luck to all of you.”

He rises and salutes each of you and then the Lieutenant escorts you back to the waiting truck outside.

You return to your quarter at 1430.

Sure enough, as the General promised, there is an excellent model of the castle waiting for you in your lounge. All can see that it is a highly impregnable fortress with only one route up to the main tower.

“No wonder no one managed to take it in 600 years,” Piotr sighs. “I can’t see any way of getting over or through those walls. Our only hope lies with bluffing our way through. Maybe we better takes our SS uniforms with us – at least in the canister.”

“Well if we have 300 lb at our disposal, we might as well use them all,” Bruce says. “Better to have more kit than we need. We can take a radio transmitter in there as well just in case everything goes wrong and we are not able to contact the resistance and need to be taken out of there.”

“If I can have your wishlist within the next hour, I will have the Quartermaster arrange everything for you,” the Lieutenant says.

Piotr studies the model intently:

“If they are doing whatever they are doing in the main tower – and they would be fools not to, then it’s a horrible journey to get there,” he says with trepidation. “It basically means we have to get from one end of the complex to the other and back again to reach the building, constantly surrounded by battlements.”

He thinks carefully:

“How about if we took a 2” mortar with us?" he suggests. “It would have enough range so that whoever fired it could stay well away from the castle, so hopefully we can get some of the resistance members we find to fire it once we have set it up. We can give them instructions to only fire if the shit hits the fan and they hear shooting breaking out. The chances of them hitting anything without an observer is remote, but it should confuse the Jerries and keep their heads down so they don’t know exactly where we are.”

“It would be a low risk exercise for whoever is manning it. They just fire off 20 rounds and then run off into the hills – they’d be long gone before the Krauts got anywhere close to them.”

The Padre is scribbling down numbers on a piece of paper:

“I imagine that you’ll be wanting to take your box of tricks with you too, Taffy? That’s another 25 lb. All of a sudden, that 300lb weight limit is not looking quite so generous as it first appeared.”

View
Training Days
18 August - 3 September 1943

The following half month is a busy one for the party members, consisting of long days for everyone. Although everyone works twelve hour days every day, at least they don’t have the RSM barking commands at them constantly – they are treated with a lot more respect.

Morning sessions are spent as the individual party members wish to spend them, always under the guidance of a top instructor.

Terry, Piotr and Taffy spend most of their time together, spending half of the time on the shooting range and the other half improving their hand-to-hand fighting skills. During the two week session, they start by familiarizing themselves with a variety of weapons, from revolvers through to Bazookas. Once they are familiar with all of the options, they choose their standard weapons. Taffy opts for the Thompson, liking its semi auto function and workmanship: far superior to the British Sten. Piotr has managed to keep hold of a Radom ViS wz. 35 semi-auto pistol that he brought with him from Poland and keeps that, plus he takes to the M1 Garand, finding it far superior to the Mauser copies that he used during his time with the Polish Army, especially with the addition of a scope.

Already a good shot, Terry spends the first week of training shooting pistols with his left hand. For the first few days, his shots are wildly off-target but, after a few days and a lot of spent ammo, his shots are finding their targets. During the second week of training, he concentrates on firing pistols from both hands at once. Again, he is way off-target initially, but at the end of the second week, he is managing to get shots from both weapons into the bullseye on a regular basis.

In between times on the range, they spent time together improving their hand-to-hand combat skills using a variety of weapons. Terry needs no help with his boxing skills and so spends the time learning to fight with a knife in each hand. Piotr brushes up his skills with his sabre, having to learn a new style now he is going to be on foot for the vast majority of the time.

Bruce doesn’t join the others at all during these sessions. Much of his time he spends in the gym, pumping iron. The rest of the time he simply seems to disappear, and remains tight-lipped to the others about where he has been and what he has been doing there. During much of his free time in the evenings when the others are drinking, he sits alone in his room.

Bob, terrified by his wounds in the escape, spends much of his time also improving his fitness. He becomes a running and gym fanatic. He doesn’t completely neglect his more soldierly duties though; recalling the number of times he had to try and shoot a Nazi from a moving vehicle, he spends quite a bit of time practicing keeping his balance and steadying his shooting.

After trying out the new Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk 1 (T) sniper rifle and the US M1 equivalent, he decides he likes the Gewehr 43 the best. The No. 4, while lightweight, trusty, and familiar, is bolt action. The M1 has the advantage of superior armour penetration, is semi-automatic, but has only an 8 round clip that must be emptied before it can be changed. The Gewehr is just as good as the Garand, a bit heavier, but has a 10 round magazine that is easier to deal with. Plus, ammo should be easier to find behind enemy lines.

For a side arm, he does elect to go British, choosing the Browning HP35. While the Browning doesn’t have the US Colt’s killing power, its smaller ammo is the same size as German ammo and so should be easier to “refuel”.

He falls in love with the new Denison smocks and pinches one from the Quartermaster, just in case the team isn’t issued any following their training.

He also meets a fellow Canadian, Sgt Harold Marshall, of the Calgary Highlanders Scout and Sniper Platoon and decides to emulate his new hero by packing a few 36M grenades and carrying a kukri. As well as wearing the purloined smock, and paratrooper boots, Bob also covets Mr Marshall’s camo face veil and wears it as a head covering just cause it looks so cool.

During their time at the manor, where they are allowed to wander around the grounds on their own (although many parts of the manor house and the buildings in the ground are still off-limits to them) they are pleasantly surprised to bump into Haim. They find out that Haim has been employed by the school as a translator, interpreter and teacher of German and Polish. He seems to be very happy with the appointment, having been growing increasingly worried that, with no other skills and with all that he had seen, he might have simply been ‘disposed of’. He has no idea what happened with Dr. Holdst. He seems to have gone from the mansion shortly after the interview process that they all went through.

Afternoons are always spent on parachute training. The first couple of days are spent in the classroom where they learn all of the different parts of the parachute and the basics of how to land without injuring themselves. For the third day, they move outside to where a mock up of an aircraft door has been set up and they learn the correct way of attaching their lines and exiting the plane. Days four and five are spent on the 34-foot tower that is erected within the grounds and they get their first taste of dropping from a parachute.

The next five days are spent on a platform that is suspended 250-feet above the ground by a barrage balloon where there is more practice of mass exits, guiding the parachutes and swing lander training.

After ten days of practice, it’s time for the real deal. After lunch, they make the 15 mile journey to Croydon Airfield (which leads them to believe that the manor is located somewhere in Surrey). Here they are taken up in a Douglas C-47 Skytrain and, when the red light turns green, it’s time to jump. The Padre seems to spend the entire period going both up (and down) deep in prayer.

The experience is a terrifying one for all the first time but, as they repeat the exercise on the following days and manage to survive each time, it starts to become routine. On the fifth day, they take off to Croydon Airfield later and make a jump in nighttime.

As the truck comes round to pick them and their parachutes up from the field that they have landed it, the instructor shakes them all by the hand and says:

“Congratulations, guys. You’ve all just earned your wings.”

They had back through the night back to the manor and celebrate their achievement.

View
The O.S.I.
18 August 1943

At 0600, all are starting to come around, expecting to hear the annoying screams of the RSM as they have heard for the past couple of days. To their surprise and delight, however, they hear nothing and so blissfully head back to sleep.

The finally get up and get dressed a little before 0800, heading into the lounge for breakfast.

Upon entering, they are greeted by the familiar smile of Piotr.

“Dzien dobry, panowe!” he says.

Piotr is looking very dashing as he is wearing the uniform of a Polish uhlan cavalry officer for the first time in many years, together with the rather odd looking square-shaped cap. At his side is draped a curved szabla or sabre. He also appears to have made a full recovery from the terrible injuries that he received during the ambush at the pick up point.

“So have I missed anything?” he asks.

Over breakfast, the others fill him in on the two days of grueling testing that he missed while ‘malingering’ in hospital.

Once breakfast is finished, they just relax for a while, wondering what is going to happen next.

They find out a little after 0900 when the Lieutenant enters – the one who has been recording the results of all their activities on his clipboard – and asks them to accompany him.

They are led back down to the drawing room where they find General Thomason and Colonel Ackers sat before them.

“At ease, guys,” says the General. “Grab yourselves a seat each.”

Once they are seated, there is an uncomfortable silent as the General studies each of them intently.

Finally, he speaks:

“I’m guessing you guys are wondering where the fuck you are, who the fuck we are and what the fuck we’re going to do with you now?” he asks.

All of the party members nod vigorously.

Another uncomfortable pause.

“All that stuff you told us about,” the General continues. “All that talk of witches and zombies and secret Nazi experiments …”

Everyone’s hearts are in their mouths.

“It’s all true. We know it’s true.”

A wave of relief flushes over them all.

“Shit, it’s all fuckin’ true – everythin’ you ever heard about things that go bump in the night – every horror story you ever read and every fairy tale your Mommas ever told you – it’s all true and the fuckin’ Nazis have got hold of it somehow and are making it work for them.”

“Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if A-dolf had the fuckin’ tooth fairy and Santa Claus Sieg Heiling and goose-stepping to him by now.”

This news comes as quite a shock to everyone, despite what they have witnessed with their own eyes.

“That’s where we come in. We’re here to stop him and his abominations.”

“For the last few days, you have been guests of the O.S.I. – the Office of Special Investigations. I head up this operation in Europe and report straight to the top. We work closely together with both the British S.O.E and the American O.S.S. Whenever they get wind of anything ‘weird’ going on, they report it straight to us and then it’s our job to take care of it. That’s why Gubbins referred you straight to us when he found out that Richard Gwynedd was one of our boys.”

“Naturally everything that we do is done is in the highest secrecy. Shit, if the media got hold of anything we discovered, then there would be pandemonium throughout the world and the panic that ensued could turn the tide of the war back in favor of the Nazis. So we therefore keep a tight lid on any of our findings.”

“If just one of you had witnessed what you did, then you’d probably have been carted off to the Loony Bin to keep you quiet. Or worse.”

“That’s still a possibility if you don’t want to cooperate,” he adds with a growl.

“However, we’ve been pretty impressed with the report on your activities since you escaped from Stalag VIII-B, which is why we’ve been testing you over the past couple of days. You’ve still got some rough edges which need to be knocked off, but we think you’ve got the basics for being a pretty decent addition to our organization.”

“So this is who we are and what we want from you. We want you to work for us, taking care of any operations of a supernatural bent that we hear about. Or sometimes we’re just tasked with standard missions with no abominations involved if a mission is important enough. The powers-that-be know that we have the best of the best at our disposal and so our teams are often the first to be called in to handle any serious missions of vital importance.”

He falls silent again:

“So has anyone got any questions?”

“What happens if we decline your offer?” asks Bruce.

“You don’t want to know the answer to that question, Padre,” the General replies. “Let’s just say that there are several different options, but none of them are ones you’re gonna like very much.”

“I’m in,” says Bob enthusiastically. "Long as there’s Nazis to kill. Sir.”

“Oh yeeeeah,” nods the General. “You betta believe there’s gonna be plenty of Nazis to kill. Might be some wops as well coming up soon if they don’t decide to call it a day soon.”

“Sir? Any chance the Easter Bunny is still on our side?” Terry waits for the chuckles to subside, “Ah crap, doesn’t matter anyway Sir, I’m in. I never had much use for the frikkin Tooth Fairy anyway. Not really surprised she’s Hitler’s Goomah.”

Then he smiles as wide as he can to show the General the missing Bicuspid he lost in the boxing ring back in ’36.

“Cheap bitch didn’t give me nothing for losing that tooth.”

The General laughs along with the others and then continues to smile.

“I can’t promise you the Easter Bunny, but we do have a few tricks of our own up our sleeve.”

His eyes are upon The Padre as he says it.

“Fine Sir," agrees Taffy also. "Any chance of a week or so’s leave? All our families will think we’re dead, more than likely.”

The Colonel jumps into the conversation here:

“Naturally you will be permitted to write letters to your families to assure them that you are well and are still very much alive and kicking and back in Blighty,” he says. “They will, of course, be read and censored in case they contain any information that could be useful to the enemy, so better to be discrete and not go into too many details.”

“Unfortunately, however, it will not be possible for any of you to be able to take any time off for the moment.”

“Gubbins at the S.O.E. has a job that he has asked us to help him with,” the General picks up. “Or rather the Head of his Czechoslovakian Team has a job. We haven’t been completely briefed on it yet, but they say that they need a Czech speaker along with the team. We didn’t have one until Captain Kowalczyk turned up with the rest of you.”

“Gubbins is getting impatient and so it’s gonna be a rush job to get you prepared and on the job as soon as possible.”

“None of you guys have jumped out of a plane before, have you?”

“No, Sir,” they all reply as one.

“Well that’s all gonna change over the next few days,” the General continues. “Most of your missions are going to be behind enemy lines and the quickest and safest way of doing that is to drop you in by parachute. So you are all going to start intensive parachute training tomorrow.”

“Here at the O.S.I., we have the best instructors that we were able to find among all Allied armies. They are all at your disposal in order to help you brush up on any skills that you feel you are maybe lacking in. We also have access to all weapons in use from any of the services – and German weaponry too. So you can choose whatever weapons you want. If you can carry it, you can take it. Shit, if you can carry an M4 Sherman on your back, you can have one of them.”

Terry looks at Lodd hopefully. Lodd carefully considers it for a moment, then shakes his head.

“Between the six of you, you’re going to need to take care of anything the Nazis can throw at you, so choose carefully.”

“So have a think as to what skills you would like to work on alongside your parachute training and spend some time on the range getting a feel for all of the different weapon options to see which ones you prefer.”

“Lieutenant Baker will be waiting for you after this meeting and will guide you to the appropriate instructor depending upon how you would like to spend your time.”

“Anything else, gentlemen?”

“No, Sir,” the party members reply.

“Very good, you are dismissed,” he says. “Except for you Padre Gibson. If you could just stay behind for the moment.”

The others head out to find Lieutenant Baker – complete with his clipboard – waiting for them.

View
Rude Awakening
16/17 August 1943

They are all rudely awoken at 06.00 by the sound of someone screaming in the corridor outside their rooms:

RIGHT THEN YOU ’ORRRIBLE LITTLE MEN, I WANT YOU OUT OF YOUR BEDS, INTO YOUR GYM GEAR AND FINISHED WITH BREAKFAST INSIDE 30 MINUTES.”

At first some of the party members think that it’s just some nightmare flashback to when they underwent basic training. But upon leaving their rooms, they see the ruddy-face of a intimidating looking man in his late thirties wearing the uniform of a British Sergeant-Major.

JUMP TO IT YOU USELESS PIECES OF WORTHLESS CRAP,” he screams. “GET A MOVE ON!”

Half in a trance, half as a reflex from their basic training, they quickly shower, change into some new singlets and shorts that have arrived at some point in the night and then quickly gobble down some breakfast.

NOW GET IN LINE AND FOLLOW ME. QUICK MARCH, QUICK MARCH, QUICK MARCH!”

With that, he sets off at a brisk pace down the stairs with the party members running along in his slipstream, dazed and confused. He leads them down to a large courtyard behind the manor house.

RIGHT, TIME TO SEE WHAT YOUORRIBLE LITTLE MEN ’AVE REMEMBERED AFTER SITTING ON YOUR ARSES IN A KRAUT HOLIDAY CAMP WHILE THE REST OF US HAVE BEEN BUSY FIGHTIN’ A WAR.”

FALL IN.”

As they struggle to fall into a line, they notice someone in a Lieutenant’s uniform standing in the corner with a clipboard and a stopwatch, watching them intently.

TURN TO THE RIGHT.”

“I SAID TO THE FUCKIN’ RIGHT YOU USELESS GREAT APE. TO THE RIGHT!”

Over the course of the next hour, the others soon remember their drills as the Sergeant-Major at Stalag VIII-B had kept them in shape, but Lodd is a complete fiasco, having not the foggiest idea what the whole point of the exercise is. He simply moves in random directions raising and lowering limbs in the hope that he might accidentally be doing what the RSM wants him to do.

The Sergeant-Major screams and bellows at him, but this only makes matters worse. The Lieutenant with the clipboard is just shaking his head.

Next they move into the gym.

RIGHT, LET’S SEE IF YOU CAN DO ANY BETTER IN HERE THEN.”

He stands in front of Lodd and grins at him.

RIGHT MR. BIG AND STUPID. TRY AND KNOCK ME OVER.”

The RSM adopts a defensive wrestling pose.

Lodd looks at him, scratches his head, shrugs, then grabs the RSM and hurls him against the wall.

The RSM looks dazed for a while, then picks himself up and dusts himself down.

“OK, that wasn’t too bad, actually,” he mumbles quietly.

The Lieutenant with the clipboard also looks quite impressed. They spend a few more hours in the gym, with the RSM back to screaming at them constantly as he gets them to do a seemingly endless amount of sit ups, press ups, pull ups and to make use of every other piece of equipment in the gym.

Terry doesn’t seem to mind the ‘PT torture’ too much. He looks at the others"

“This ain’t any harder than a long day of bag work or sparring. Toughen up, you mooks. Youse are acting like the Stooges in that short, ya know da one, where they’re afraid of work? Oh wait, that’s all of them!”

He continues, chuckling, “My all time favorite though, the cat’s cream, is that one where they install Moe as the fascist dictator of Moronica…”

They come back inside the manor and are told to change back into battledress and then they follow the RSM out to a shooting range, spending the rest of the morning shooting at targets. The Lieutenant takes down each of their scores, not saying anything as he records everything that the party members do.

They break for lunch and then, in the afternoon, they are set a series of IQ tests. Lodd just draws some pretty pictures on his sheet and looks out of the window until their time is up. After this, they are split up and have medical examinations by a doctor and are interviewed by a psychologist.

“What does this remind you of?” the psychologist asks Bruce.

“A Rorschach inkblot test, cobber,” The Padre replies with a grin.

The examinations continue throughout the afternoon until they are finally allowed to retire to their rooms in the early evening.

“Bugger me, mates, what the bloody hell’s going on here?” The Padre asks, dazed and confused. “Are we being punished for something we all said or what? I’m starting to miss life at Stalag VIII-B compared to all this crap.”

The question is a rhetorical one, however, as no one is telling them a thing no matter who they try and ask or how they try and ask it. Everyone remains tight-lipped.

The day’s activities are so exhausting that everyone just heads straight to bed immediately after dinner.

The following day it all happens all over again. More drilling straight after breakfast, more exercising in the gym followed by more time on the range. This time there’s time spent throwing knives and dummy hand grenades and some bayonet practice, all still carefully monitored by the Lieutenant while the RSM continues to scream and shout at how useless everyone is at everything.

In the afternoon there is more activity, a couple of hours swimming up and down the ornamental lake in the gardens, climbing up the side of the building, then abseiling down several times and then it’s back inside where they are all tested on stripping down and cleaning a variety of weapons. Once again, everyone is totally exhausted by the time they are finally allowed to return to their rooms.

They all wonder out loud how much longer this form of torture is going to last – another day, another week, another month, another year? All agree that the RSM is more terrifying than the witch and the zombies put together and wonder if they would have been better off if they had just stayed in Poland.

“I wonder what happened to Haim and Dr. Holdst?” Bruce also wonders out loud. There has been no sight of either of them since you left them in the East Wing. Once again, no one answers any of his questions about this or any other matters.

View
The Interview
15 August 1943

All are awoken by knocks on their door at 6.30am.

“Breakfast will be served at 7.00am sharp,” the voice of the butler gently informs each of them.

They shower and dress and assemble in the lounge for breakfast, wondering what the day will hold for each of them.

Taffy soon finds out when the MP Lieutenant reappears at 8.00am:

“Sergeant Dai Williams,” he says. “If you would like to come with me.”

“Yes, Sir,” Taffy replies and follows the Lieutenant, receiving good luck wishes from the others as he goes.

He is led downstairs into a large drawing room occupied by two officer, an English Colonel and an American General. An actual General. There is also a female secretary in the corner with a notebook to write up the contents of the meeting in Pitman shorthand.

Taffy salutes the pair of them.

“At ease, soldier,” the General says.

“Please take a seat, now there’s a good chap,” says the Colonel.

“Now I’m General Thomason and this here is Colonel Ackers,” he says.

He looks at his notes.

“And you are Sergeant Williams of the Royal Welch Fusiliers?”

“That is correct, Sir,” Taffy replies.

“Now, Sergeant, we are going to ask you a series of questions,” the Colonel says. “It’s very important that you answer all of the questions fully and honestly, no matter how … improbable … it may all sound to us.”

“Don’t be bullshitting us or lying to us soldier, or else you’ll be in so much shit that you’ll be cryin’ for your momma to drag your sorry ass back to the Stalag,” the General barks.

‘Classic good cop/bad cop techniques’ Taffy thinks to himself.

“Right then, Sergeant, let’s start right at the beginning from the day when you were being transferred out from Stalag VIII-B,” the Colonel starts.

There’s nothing for Taffy to worry about from the first part of the story and so he answers all of the questions honestly and fully. The officers just nod as he does so and the secretary faithfully records every word spoken.

“So now we come to the morning when you were hiding in the barn a few klicks west of Auschwitz,” the General says. “Tell us what happened there?”

By now Taffy has realized that the notes that they are constantly referring to must obviously be the transcript from Bruce’s interview the evening before. Knowing that Bruce would never lie, this relaxes Taffy a little. He is still rather circumspect at describing the details of the encounter with the witch, however.

“This SS officer which accompanied the SS section, was there something … ‘odd’ … about him?” the Colonel asks.

‘Here we go’ thinks Taffy. He takes a deep breath and spills the beans watching the two officers intently as he does so for any sign of a reaction.

There is none, however. Taffy’s story of the bolts of dark energy that the witch threw at Lodd and the aura of intense fear that sent Taffy screaming away in terror momentarily just receives nods in response, dealt with as matter-of-factly as Taffy’s responses to the mundane questions about Nazi troop compositions and the weapons they were armed with.

Now that Taffy has crossed the Bridge of No Return, he relaxes a little and has no hesitation about telling them the full details of the horrors that they encountered in the Lab.

The interview lasts a little over three hours. At the end of it, all he receives is a, ‘Thank you, Sergeant, that will be all’. The Lieutenant is then summoned to escort Taffy upstairs to the West Wing.

Here he finds The Padre praying quietly to himself. A broad smile crosses Bruce’s face as he is reunited with Taffy.

“Good to see yer, me old ocker,” he says. “Did you tell them everything?”

“Yes, I did,” nods Taffy.

“So did I, cobber,” Bruce replies. “So it’s all up to them and the Lord Almighty now.”

Bob is the next one to be called up. It would appear as if they are being called up in order of rank. Bob’s experience is identical to Taffy’s, although the interview is a little shorter now that most of the main facts have been confirmed. He too goes through to the West Wing afterwards. Then it’s Terry’s turn – again the same situation and he arrives in the West Wing by the middle of the afternoon.

Then it is Lodd’s turn.

A look of utter blankness is his only expression after three hours of questioning, three hours during which time a succession of translators were brought in just in case the individual sat before them didn’t understand English (although all the previous interviewees already said that he did).

“I think he’s playing stupid,” says the Colonel.

“I don’t think he’s playing,” says the General.

“Oh well,” he says with a sigh, “I think we have all of the facts from the first four, plus the Polack in the hospital. We don’t really need to go through it all again anyway.”

He presses an intercom on his desk, “Lieutenant, take this man away and put him with the others.”

And so the five are altogether again, just leaving Haim and Dr. Holdst remaining in the East Wing presumably.

The comfort of the West Wing is identical to that of the East Wing and so they enjoy a pleasant evening wining and dining at the Military’s expense while waiting to see whether they did the right thing or not by telling the whole story as it happened.

View
Destination Unknown
14 August 1943

“Mushrooms,” comments The Padre. “That’s what I reckon we’re going to be for a while, cobbers. Kept in the dark and fed bullshit.”

They ask the Staff Sargeant where they are going, but he remains tight-lipped.

The journey lasts a little under an hour. The sounds of city traffic dissipates the further you go, leading Taffy to believe that you are somewhere in the Home Counties by the time the truck stops for a while.

Five minutes later and the truck starts again. You can hear the crunch of gravel beneath the wheels now rather than tarmac. A couple of minutes later and the truck stops once again. This time the back of the canvas opens and they all emerge, blinking from the light.

They find themselves standing in front of a very large and grandiose stately home, set in acres of beautifully landscaped gardens which stretch quite a way.

There are more MP’s waiting at the entrance. The Lieutenant accompanying you exchanges paperwork with another Lieutenant MP who is waiting at the entrance and, once it is completed, the original MP’s depart.

You are then led inside the building to find that the interior is as richly appointed as the exterior. It looks like a palace. You see some uniformed staff scurrying around in the background and notice a wide assortment of uniforms warn – Brits, Yanks, Army, Navy – they seem to have the lot here.

You are kept well away from the others in the building however as you are led up a wide staircase up to the East Wing of the building.

“At ease, men,” the Lieutenant says. “You have the run of the wing, so make yourself at home. If you need anything, just ask and all reasonable requests will be granted.”

The Lieutenant salutes the party members and then leaves them to explore their new ‘gilded cage’.

Everyone’s eyes open wide as they see the sumptuous nature of the rooms in the wing. None of them have experienced such five-star luxury before in their lives. There is also a lounge that they are able to use with a radio, a gramophone, a well-stock library and even a snooker table.

The party members relax and smarten themselves up after the long flight and then explore their pleasant new environment. After just an hour, the Lieutenant returns:

“Captain Bruce Gibson, if you would like to come with me, Sir?”

Bruce throws the others a wink.

“Wish me luck, cobbers.”

The others wait anxiously for Bruce’s return, but the hours pass without sign of him. A sumptuous dinner is served with wine, beer or spirits and the party members even enjoy the service of a butler for their stay.

They use the radio to catch up on the news, which is all still sounding positive. The main item of news is that the Allies have started intensive bombing in Italy in an attempt to try and get the Italians to surrender rather than have to fight their way into the country.

As the hours pass, there is still no sign of Bruce, even by the time the clock chimes midnight.

This fact is starting to make everyone nervous.

“They’re probably interrogating us all separately, to see if our stories match. Probably being bugged too,” says Taffy.

“I guess we need to tell them everything, and they either believe us or they don’t. Not much we can do about it.”

“I wouldn’t believe us myself, Pal. But you’re right as rain, we don’t have many choices.” replies Terry.

“What? You bastard!" cries Grumpy Bob, living up to his name. "Here I am trying to make sure the ‘right’ people get the story and now you’re all, like, ’Let’s let the whole bloody world know! Tell it all to the tabloids!”

“Thing is Bob, we have no way of knowing whether these are the ‘right people’ or not," says Taffy. "Absolutely no way of knowing, and they’ll tell us nothing.”

“Oy vey!” says Haim. “Well I would say that the decision is totally out of our hands now that The Padre was the first one to be interrogated. If he told them the truth and they didn’t believe an Officer and a man of the cloth, what chance do we have that they will believe us?”

Realizing that there is little more that they can do (and Taffy is probably correct that everywhere is bugged anyway) the temptation of the huge four-poster beds in each room proves to be too much. They sure beat sleeping on the floor of a plane and so all are soon fast asleep.

View
At the S.O.E.
14 August 1943

The journey from RAF Northolt only takes thirty minutes. The canvas is down and so the party members have no idea as to where they are going, but the sound of increasingly heavy traffic would indicate that they are heading into Central London rather than out of it.

Eventually the Bedford comes to a halt and the two MP’s lead everyone out. They all find themselves outside an impressive looking stone building in a busy part of London. Those who know London well realize that they are in Baker Street.

“Great, mates, looks like we’ve got a meeting with Sherlock Holmes,” Bruce comments.

But that is not the case. Instead they are escorted past more MPs into the bowels of a large office complex which is obviously military in nature from the clean, smart uniforms of the male and female staff who the party members pass as they are led through a building.

You are led to a large reception area where a pretty secretary smiles politely.

“If you could please be seated for a moment, the Major-General will see you shortly,” she says. “May I get you some tea?”

It is half an hour later, the tea having been drink before the secretary comes back over to you.

“Follow me, please.”

She leads you into an elegantly appointed board room, with detailed maps of Europe seemingly covering most of the surfaces of the wall.

Shortly after you are seated, four officers enter the room.

“Major-General Gubbins,” the lead officer introduces himself as saluting everyone who quickly get to their feet and return the salute.

The Major-General is in his late-forties, smoking a pipe and seems genuinely pleased to see you.

“Please, at ease, everyone.”

They all return to their seats.

“These chaps are Major Patrick, Colonel Marecki and Colonel Cepa.”

The officers all take their seats after welcoming the party members.

“Now chaps, I believe that you have brought us back a rather nice present from Poland, isn’t that right?”

All of the party’s eyes are on Padre.

He reaches into the inside of the battledress and pulls out the Peenemünde Plans, but doesn’t touch the spellbook in his other pocket.

“Sir, I believe that this is the reason you went to so much trouble to extract us,” Bruce says as he slides the documents over the polished walnut-wood table.

The Major-General picks them up and studies them. For the next ten minutes, the room is silent as Gubbins carefully goes through the documents.

“Don’t understand a bally word!” the Major-General admits. He hands them to the Major sat next to him.

“Can you get these off to the boffins toot sweet, Major?” he asks. “Hopefully they’ll know what to do with them.”

Major Patrick takes the documents, gets up, salutes everyone and then leaves the room.

The Major-General addresses everyone again, his smile now even broader.

“Jolly good show, chaps, all of you,” he says.

“I can’t begin to explain why these documents are so valuable,” he adds, although all present understand that even if he could explain, he still wouldn’t.

“Now, chaps, I am sure that there’s nothing better that you would all like to do after your long and arduous time out behind enemy lines than to hop in a cab to Piccadilly and down some well-earned pints of warm beer. And that’s exactly what you deserve for having done such a fine job.”

“The pints and a little time for R&R are going to have to wait a while longer though, I’m sorry to say, chaps. The thing is – and I’ll be frank here – we haven’t the foggiest idea who the hell you are, where you came from and how the plans managed to come into your possession!”

“You might be Hun double-agents for all we know!” he adds with a chuckle.

Dr. Holdst is not laughing. He looks as to be petrified in fear.

“So I am afraid you’re all going to have to go through a debriefing with the Colonels as you seem to have ended up wrapped up in one of their Polish operations and so they want to find out exactly what happened. So they will be interviewing you individually one by one. They’ll try and get through you all as quickly as possible so that you can be out of here enjoying some well-deserved R&R for a while before rejoining your units.”

Dr. Holdst is looking even more scared now. The story of his being a Polish Jew that he has been carefully learning from Haim for the past 24 hours is now going to be blown out of the water as soon as he is asked to open his mouth with his not knowing a single word of Polish.

He looks at each of the others in turn, his eyes beseeching them all to help him out.

Bob thinks furiously: if we’re split up and questioned, we have a greater chance of one of the questioners being a spy, plus the guud doktor is probably doomed. It seems less likely that a high-ranking officer is a spy, plus Gubbins seems the real deal. Plus, better to raise the spectre of the supernatural when we’re all together.

“Erm, excuse me sir,” he says, “But we’d like to tell you about our experiences as a group and for your ears only sir. Richard recommended that approach sir. You might decide not to have us debriefed by others sir.”

He crosses his fingers that he’s guessed correctly about the General.

Taffy kicks Bob under the table and jumps in.

“Sorry Sir,” says Taffy. “The carriage of the Peenemünde rocket plans was incidental to our mission. Our strict instructions were to debrief only to Richard Gwynedd’s controller, and without being awkward, I think we need to do that first. His orders were very specific.”

The Major-General looks confused.

“Who is this Richard Gwynedd chap, exactly?” Gubbins asks. “I’m pretty sure he’s not one of my boys.”

“We don’t know exactly, Sir,” admits Taffy. “He was a Welshman and he said he was working with British Intelligence, but didn’t go into any more detail.”

“Good man,” nods the Major-General. “He shouldn’t have told you any more than he did without knowing that you had been properly vetted.”

“So where is the chap now?”

“He bought it when we were ambushed at the pick up zone, I’m sorry to say, Sir,” Taffy replies. “His body was returned on the same plane that we arrived on.”

“Oh, that’s very unfortunate,” Gubbins replies. “The pen-pushers in Whitehall have made such a bloody hideous dog’s dinner of the whole organization that ‘British Intelligence’ can mean any one of God knows how many departments these days.”

“And that was before the bloody Yanks started poking their noses into everything as well.”

He is silent for a moment as he thinks. He then picks up the phone and calls.

“Enid? Can you be a lovey and call around all of the competition to see if any of them have a ‘Richard Gwynedd’ working for them? Try the Brits first, but if you haven’t had any joy with them, try the Yanks as well.”

He looks at his watch.

“Can you get some sandwiches and refreshments arranged for the chaps here as well while you’re at it, darling? And send up those couple of security chaps in here as well. I’m off for a spot of lunch with the Colonels.”

He replaces the receiver and returns his attention to the party members.

“Enjoy your lunch, chaps. I’ll be back with you once we’ve found out who this ‘Richard Gwynedd’ chap is and who he is reporting to. Then I’ll had a word with his CO and clear everything up.”

“Hopefully we’ll have the whole thing wrapped up by tea time.”

The MP’s arrive into the room. Once they are there, the Major-General says ‘cheerio’ and then heads off with the two Polish Colonels.

Some half an hour later, the pretty secretary arrives with a large plate of sandwiches plus a large teapot and cups which she serves everyone with a smile.

An hour passes, then another, then one more – with no sign of Gubbins – no sign of anyway other than the secretary who keeps them supplied with tea.

Eventually, around 3.30pm, the door opens. But it is not Gubbins who returns – it’s more of the red-capped Royal Military Police. This time its a Lieutenant and a Staff Sargeant.

“You are all to come with us,” the Lieutenant says in a matter-of-fact fashion.

Everyone gets up as the four MP’s usher them out of the boardroom. They look at the secretary to see her reaction, but she is consciously avoiding their gaze.

They are led through the warren of corridors back the way they arrived. Arriving outside, they are bundled into the same Bedford 15cwt truck that brought them from the airport. The Lieutenant closes the canvas securely with the Staff Sargeant and the other two MP’s inside the truck and, a few moments later, it sets off with the party members literally kept in the dark as to where they are going next.

View
Catania to London
13/14 August 1943

Captain Matthews escorts the able-bodied members of the party into the back of a ‘deuce and a half’ truck while Piotr and Bob are led into the back of the ambulance. The bodies of Richard and Lorelei are immediately put into bodybags and are also put into the hospital.

Both of the truck and the ambulance drive to the hastily constructed buildings around the apron. Piotr and Bob are immediately put into hospital beds and a doctor quickly comes over to tend to their wounds, replacing their bandages.

The others, meanwhile are taken to the canteen.

“Let’s get a hot meal inside you,” the Captain says. “Looks like you chaps could do with one.”

Indeed they could, it having been several days now since they enjoyed the hospitality of the guesthouse.

The Captain and the Military Police stay with the party members as they eat, escorting them to sit on the other side of the room from the others inside the canteen. As they eat, the Captain exchanges small talk and pleasantries, but he expertly sidetracks any conversation that starts heading towards the subject of where they have been, what they have done or where they are going.

After seconds (or fourths in Lodd’s case) they head off again.

“Time to get you out of those civvy rags you’re wearing and into something a little more presentable,” Captain Matthews says.

He then escorts you round to the Quartermaster’s store where the QM asks everyone for their sizes, ranks and units and everyone is issued with a standard British issue battledress. Somehow he is able to rustle up a Padre’s dog collar. He gives the Padre his Captain’s pips and Taffy is given sargeant’s stripes plus a needle and thread so that he can sew them on himself. The Padre gets uniforms for Piotr and Bob too, together with Corporal stripes for Bob.

“What about me?” asks Terry.

“Don’t ’ave nuffink for Yanks, mate,” the QM apologizes. “That’s the best I can do until you meet up with yer own unit.”

Captain Matthews leads everyone onwards once more.

“And finally we need to get you cleaned up a little. Don’t take this the wrong way, chaps, but quite frankly, you stink!”

Everyone gets rid of their ‘funny Jew clothes’ and takes a long, well-needed shower and a shave before putting on their new uniforms in an empty barracks area.

The Padre spends a long time attending to his uniform.

“Better smarten up, me ockers,” Bruce says. “Looks like we’re back in the army now. Remember that? Discipline and doing what you’re told to do? That’s the downside of having decent clothes to wear, decent tucker and not having to worry about the SS running through the door any minute.”

“I’m going to leave you chaps to get a little R&R,” Captain Matthews says. “I will be back in a few hours to escort you to your connecting flight.”

The Captain salutes them all and then leaves them. They notice that the two MPs stand outside the door, however.

Meanwhile, Bob lies in his uncomfortable hospital bed trying to ignore the poor bastard next door with no legs. A remarkably cheerful Kiwi who laughed every time he told the story of losing the legs in an auto accident while on a date with the First Lord’s grand-daughter. Bob wasn’t sure why the story was supposed to be funny.

Maybe it was the overwhelming feeling of doom hanging over the whole affair. He hadn’t seen Piotr since they arrived at the hospital, and now he had a private room with his own MP guarding it.

“I should’ve laughed with that bloody kiwi,” he thought.

The able-bodied party members spend a few welcome hours relaxing or dozing while they wait for Captain Matthews to return. It’s around 8.30pm by the time he reappears.

“Right-o, chaps, your ride home now awaits.”

They head into the awaiting truck and this time they are led to a USAF B-24 Liberator and told to board. Ten minutes later and an ambulance arrives bringing Piotr and Bob with them on stretchers plus the two corpses still in their body bags.

Despite the Liberator being a substantially larger plane than the Catalina, once more it was still not designed with passenger comfort in mind and so is even more cramped if anything.

Once onboard and everyone is sitting as comfortably as possible, the B-24 starts to taxi down the runway. Being totally unscathed, the take off is a lot easier than the previous one and the large silver bird is soon airborne, quickly passing over Sicily and out over the Mediterranean.

The B-24 is a lot faster than the badly damaged Catalina, but the journey is a lot further. After a couple of hours in flight, one of the gunner brings everyone a K-ration supper. The crew of the plane mostly keep out of the way of the passengers. The crew don’t seem to be unfriendly – it seems as if they are under strict instructions not to speak with any of party members. From their position in the plane, they are able to listen in on the chatter between the two side gunners located just behind them and so are able to get a fairly good idea as to their progress.

The drone of the motors is hypnotizing and, shortly after midnight. shortly after hearing that the plan is passing Algiers, all of the passengers are asleep.

Everyone is awake again once light starts to appear through the windows. The gunner comes around with more K-rations so that everyone can have breakfast.

As the plane flies on through the morning, the party members each have different reactions to the upcoming return to England ranging from fear in the case of Dr. Holdst through to relief and excitement from many of the others. Lodd thinks only of escaping by getting as far away from the war as possible.

It’s late in the morning when you receive words that everyone should get up and prepare for landing. At this point Bob decides that he’s had enough of being a stretcher case. His encounter with the one-legged Kiwi was enough to convince him that being among the maimed and mad in a military hospital in no cushy holiday. He gets dressed into his battledress and sits with the other, leaving only Piotr on the stretchers.

A few minutes later and the B-24 touches down. From here it is a repeat of the landing at Catania. A jeep, truck and ambulance soon come up alongside the plane.

“Welcome to RAF Northolt, chaps,” a RAF officer says with a stiff salute. “I’m Captain Franks.”

This time there are four MPs with him. Piotr and the corpses are put into the ambulance which heads of first. The other party members are shepherded into the back of the truck. Two of the MPs get in along with them and secure the canvas.

As the truck takes off, all of the party members have a strange feeling of deja vu at being in a similar position to the one where they were in at the start of their adventure.

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All Aboard the Black Cat
13 August 1943

“I’ll head back to the shore to see if I can get the Cat to come back,” the Navy crewman says. “You see what you can do with the injured and then drive down after me.”

Fighting back the tears, Dr. Holdst, starts to patch up The Padre, doing a fine job.

“Fair dinkum, cobber,” Bruce says as the Austrian sees to his wounds. “You sure seem to know what you’re doing.”

“Danke,” Dr. Holdst says. “I am a Professor of Medicine, so I am glad I can still remember ze basics.”

Together they work on Lodd and Piotr. Lodd is pretty easy for them to patch up, but Piotr is still in a bad way by the time the two medics have done all they can. The Padre utters a prayer as he attends to his own injuries with more attention and, after he has finished, he seems to be in pretty good shape for someone who was injured to badly.

Once the injured are taken care of as best they can, Terry drives Betty back down to the shore. They stop to pick up the shattered body of Richard. Taffy searches through the agent’s pockets. but unfortunately finds nothing useful there. They bring the body back with them rather than leaving him here.

By the time they get back to the shoreline, the Black Cat is located where it was originally. The plane looks a complete mess. They can see that only one of the twin Pratt & Witneys are still turning and a large chunk of the wing is also missing. The cockpit is also exposed and they can see that several crewmen are frantically bailing water out of the exposed side of the plane.

The crewman shuttles the group over in two journeys – Dr. Holdst, the Padre plus the dead and injured first, with Lodd, Terry, Taffy and Haim waiting for the second trip.

Upon arriving aboard the Black Cat, they can see that The Padre and the Captain of the Black Cat seem to be having something of an altercation.

“I sure hope you fuckin’ Limeys, fuckin’ Polacks, fuckin’ Krauts – or whoever the fuck you are – are pretty fuckin’ important for the fuckin’ mess you made of my plane. My co-pilot’s dead and the engineer is hangin’ on for dear life.”

“Awwwww, c’mon Cap’n, that ain’t fair,” the crewman who was in the inflatable says in the party’s defence. “These Limeys, Polacks, Krauts or whoever the fuck they are took out damn near an entire platoon of Fall-schtum-jaggers or whatever the fuck those Kraut parachute bastards call themselves.”

The normally mild-mannered Padre is also pretty pissed off:

“Strewth mate. I’ve been putting up with Whinging Poms for the last three years. Don’t tell me I’ve got to put up with Whinging Yanks now as well?”

“This crate is banged up so bad, we’ll probably all be spending more time with the Krauts until the end of the war.” the Captain continues to bark, chewing on a stogie. “If we take on any more water then I’ll have to change my uniform to a submarine captain.”

“You are familiar with the expression ‘on a wing and a prayer?’” the Padre asks.

“Of course,” the Captain replies.

“Well, cobber – you’ve got a wing and I’ve got a prayer,” Bruce replies. “So I reckon we’re going to be OK.”

“Then lifted I up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came out two women, and the wind was in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork: and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven. Zechariah 5:9.”

With that, the Padre turns his back on the Captain and goes to help Dr. Holdst attend to the wounded.

The Captain just rolls his eyes and sighs.

“Alright, men, everyone get into position. Let’s see if we can get this bag o’ bolts back into the air.”

The crewman from the dinghy helps everyone find some space in the Catalina, which is not so easy as the boat was not designed for this many passengers. Piotr and Bob lie in two of the Cat’s rest bunks while the others sit on the others. The corpses of Richard and Lorelei are laid out in the rear along with the dead co-pilot.

The Captain turns the Black Cat around and applies full thrust to the sole remaining engine.

“If you’re gonna pray for us, Padre, then now is the time to do it,” the Captain growls as he fights with the controls.

The Padre doesn’t acknowledge him. He is deep in prayer already.

The Black Cat is definitely picking up speed, but there are few signs of it taking to the air as it covers the first few klicks.

“Fuckin’ good job the spooks chose a fuckin’ big lake,” the Captain growls as he pulls back on the controls.

The end of the lake seems to be coming up at a very fast rate of knots but, with just a couple of hundred metres to go, the damaged black bird finally manages to lift itself into the air.

He continues to pull back on the controls to give him as much lift as possible.

“You better find us a route that avoids any peaks,” he calls down to the Navigator. “I’m not going to be able to get much more altitude out of her.”

“Roger that, Chief,” calls back the Navigator.

“You Limeys, Polacks, Krauts or whoever the fuck you are better settle in for a long and slow flight thanks to the fuckin’ engine you cost me,” growls the Captain. “Just sit back and keep out of our fuckin’ way. This ain’t fuckin’ Pan-Am you’re flyin’ with today.”

Compared with their ogre of a Captain, the other crew members are pleasant and apologetic for his behavior.

“Don’t worry about the Cap’n,” the dinghy pilot says. “His bark is worse than his bite. It’s just that the Black Cat is like his kid so he ain’t very happy.”

“Just sit back and relax and we’ll have you in Sicily for breakfast.”

The Black Cat seems to be moving so slowly that it seems as if it would be quicker to just get out and drive to Sicily in Betty instead.

The long trip gives the party members plenty of time to discuss what they are going to do when they get to their destination.

Remembering what Richard said before his demise, Taffy suggests that as well as the normal debrief, they say that they were asked to debrief personally to his Controller?

“We can claim that these were Richard’s firm instructions, and they were specifically ordered not to do so to anyone else,” he suggests.

“That’s all I can think of in terms of speaking to ‘the right people’” he finishes.

Bruce nods:

“Totally agree, cobber,” The Padre agrees keeping his voice down. “Whoever they are taking us to only knows about the Peenemünde Plans – they know nothing about what else we’ve seen or got.”

He pats the location of the spellbook.

“I don’t know much about Intelligence. I just know that there’s a byzantine mess of organizations all protecting their own patch of turf – then there’s the problems with overlaps between the Pom and Yank organizations.”

“Taffy’s right. I reckon we should just tell who we’re heading to see about the Peenemünde Plans and ask them to track down Richard’s CO – we must be able to find out who it is – and then he’s the only one we tell about the lab and the spellbook.”

“Sounds like a good plan to me,” agrees Bob. “We have to ensure Holdst comes with us and isn’t taken away as a prisoner. Maybe we could initially claim he was a POW with us? Can he pretend to be Polish or some nationality other than Bosch?”

“Leave him to me,” chimes in Haim. “We can say that we he’s another escaped Polish Jew, the same as me. I’ll tell him what to say and what not to say.”

“Should work,” says Bruce. “If Intelligence think that he was involved in our getting the Plans in any way, then they will want to keep us all together so they can debrief us.”

The Black Cat flies south throughout the night.

“Are we gonna make the Adriatic before dawn?” the Captain asks the Navigator.

“Touch and go, Captain,” the Navigator replies.

“You better find us a quicker route then. We’ve got to be out of Kraut airspace by dawn or else we’re fucked.”

By the time dawn starts to break, the Black Cat is still passing over Croatia although they aren’t far away from the Adriatic now. Fortunately there are no major cities or areas of strategic importance around here and Croatia is a Nazi ally and so the area is lightly defended. As the Cat finally leaves land and heads over the sea, there is a little flak thrown up, but the guns are fortunately too far away to have any chance of hitting.

The Captain seems to relax a little as the Cat starts to skim over the crystal blue water of the Adriatic.

“We’re gonna have to take the long way round to avoid Italy,” the Captain says. “So you can forget about breakfast in Sicily. Should get you Limeys back in time for your ‘high tea’ though.”

The long and uneventful trip lasts most of the morning as the Cat flies down the Adriatic following the coastline of Italy. Late in the morning, the Captain banks to the right as the Cat rounds the heel of Italy and sets course for Sicily. Eventually, a little before 3.00pm – after some 13 hours in the air – the coastline of Sicily comes into view.

The Captain sets up his final approach for landing at Catania airport. Everyone crowds around the windows to watch the landing. Catania looks like a complete mess – the city really has been bombed to such a state that it looks little more than rubble. The airport looks just as bad – with USAF Engineers still patching up parts of the runway.

The Black Cat makes a pretty heavy landing, but the Captain manages to get it down in one piece (although takes almost all of the runway to do so).

By the time they have the doors to the plane opened, they can see that there is a jeep, a truck and an ambulance heading in their direction.

The jeep stops just in front of the plane. An officer in British Naval Uniform gets out of the jeep escorted by two Military Police.

“Captain James Matthews,” he announces himself with a stiff salute. “Now if you chaps could come with us, then we’ll get a hot meal inside you and cleaned up a bit.”

“Please don’t speak with anyone on the base. Also don’t make yourself too comfortable here as you’re not going to be staying here too long.”

Terry starts humming, then quietly breaks into a short snippet of song, _

“People are queer, they’re always crowing, scrambling and rushing about;
Why don’t they stop someday, address themselves this way?
Why are we here? Where are we going? It’s time that we found out.
We’re not here to stay; we’re on a short holiday.”

Bob just looks up at him from his bunk as if the whole experience has finally sent him mad.

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