Escape From Stalag VIIIB

Assault on Castle Karlstein
10 September 1943

The truck comes to a halt outside the outer gate of the castle and the guard comes up to speak with Helena.

“Sie sind sehr spät an diesem Abend, Fraulein Svobodova,” the guard says a little suspiciously. “Und das ist nicht Ihre normale Fahrer?”

“Ich bin sehr traurig,” Helena replies. “Es war ein schrecklicher Tag. Mein Vater ist krank und so Michael angeboten, um mit den Lieferungen heute helfen. Aber er konnte nur kommen, nachdem er seine Herde gebracht in. Und dann hatten wir einen Reifenschaden auf dem Weg hierher. Es war so eine schreckliche, schreckliche Tag.”

She then bursts into tears – a performance certainly worthy of an Oscar.

The guard quickly waves Helena through, not wanting to be the one who gets accused of making ‘the Kommandant’s bitch’ upset for no reason.

Vaclav continues the drive until they get to the second gate. Once again they are stopped by the guard who also makes the same comment. Once again, Helena replies with her sob-story and the nervous guard simply waves her through.

The truck is now in the outer courtyard, as far as they can go.

One of the three sentries comes up to Helena as she and Vaclav get out of the truck.

“Guten Abend, Fraulein Svobodova,” he says with a smile. “Ich werde gehen, um einige der Jungs holen zu kommen und sammeln die Lebensmittel.”

“Danke,” Helena responds with a smile and slowly makes her way to the Kommandant’s quarters, as she usually does. Normally she doesn’t have a silenced Welbeck under her jacket though.

In the back of the truck, everyone starts to emerge from their vegetable-covered hiding places and look out through the canvas. One of the guards is off towards the barracks already and is out of range, leaving just two guards in the courtyard. One of them gets taken down with a shot to the head from the silenced sten. Helena smiles as she also takes out the guard to the Kommandant’s quarters.

So far, so good. They have control of the outer courtyard. The next challenge, however, is to take over the inner guard tower. Although Terry manages to get inside it without being seen, the shot from his Welbeck only wounds one of the guards who cries out in pain.

The stealthy part of the operation is now over – now it’s going to get complicated. And bloody.

Lodd, Piotr and Jan all help Terry in storming the gatehouse. It doesn’t take too long before all of the gate guards are down and the group takes up position to slug it out with the four guards who were patrolling the walls, all of who are starting to rush the gatehouse. One of them catches Piotr badly, but he fights on.

Taffy, Bruce and Karel are the first to head towards the barracks area. Now that the alarm has gone up, mortar rounds are starting to drop in the courtyard – and sundry other parts of the complex.

After an abortive attempt to take control of one of the half-tracks, Bob leads Vaclav and Josef into the main courtyard as well.

The two girls, Helena and Anna take up positions to take out the Kommandant and his flunkies when they finally appear to investigate all of the shooting. Anna finds out to her cost that the MG42 position inside the halftrack does not provide enough cover from above, as the Kommandant himself quickly takes her down with a well-aimed burst from his MP40.

This pisses off both Terry and Lodd – both of whom were developing a real soft spot for Anna – and they get some quick revenge. Terry grabs the MG42 from a surprised Jan and immediately takes out the Kommandant. Lodd takes out the other two with some unsubtle shots from his bazooka, allowing Terry and Helena to advance further into the complex.

Father Cerny, who has been remaining in the truck while the battle raged around him, rushes out of the back. Quite where he goes, no one knows as he has not headed for the main combat. he simply seems to have disappeared elsewhere in the complex.

Two pesky sentries seem to be leading charmed lives as they tie down Piotr, Jan and Lodd at the gatehouse. Finally losing patience, Piotr takes out one of the guards with a grenade (not the one he was aiming for though) while Lodd takes out the other (and the truck that he was hiding behind) with another round from his bazooka.

Inside the courtyard in front of the barracks area, the garrison is starting to get their act together now and are starting to appear at the windows. Taffy and Bruce provide covering fire while Bob’s team rush towards the SS building. Bruce surprises everyone (including himself) as he takes two Nazis out with two quick bursts of his pistol.

Bob’s team manages to avoid most of the fire from the barracks but, as they get close to the building occupied by the SS, they come under withering fire from the MP40 armed SS troopers. Both Bob and Vaclav are badly hit before they manage to take out the guards firing at them and manage to enter the building.

Terry and Helena are next on the scene. Terry lets off one of his smoke grenades to provide some well-needed cover in the area before the pair of them make their way up the staircase.

Vaclav is first into the SS building and narrowly avoids getting hit by yet more SS troopers waiting in doorways. As the bullets ricochet all round him, he manages to dive into an open doorway and start giving as good as he has been getting.

Bob and Josef are right behind him, but neither are too keen to leap into the killing zone of the corridor. Although they manage to deal with the SS troopers relatively quickly, the Obersturmfuhrer is starting to bring through large numbers from the garrison through the corridor in order to keep a hail of fire upon the party. Grenades manage to take many of them out but it seems as if there is an inexhaustible supply of troopers coming to replace them.

The party members are getting backed up now at the entrance to the SS’s tower.

Realizing that there is no more resistance coming from the front of the castle, Lodd, Piotr and Jan abandon the tower to come and join in with the main fight. Being latecomers to this battle, however, there are now a lot of Germans shooting away from their barracks. Piotr gets badly hit as he goes up the stairs where there is no cover, but somehow manages to get up the remainder of the stairs where he can go prone.

As Lodd comes up behind it, people are shouting at him that he needs to take out the bridge connecting the garrison to the SS building to stop more Germans coming through. He blasts the bridge but, although he shakes it, it doesn’t fall. As he reloads, he gets hit badly as he is very much exposed on the stairs. Fighting off the pain, he reloads the bazooka.

Inside the SS building, Taffy has arrived with his pre-prepared bundles of dynamite. He hurls them down the corridor, but the Krauts hurl them straight back at him. Fortunately there is just time to hurl it back at them so it catches them in the end. The party members hurl more grenades down the corridor.

Lodd has reloaded his bazooka now and fights off the pain and the bullets as he takes aim at the bridge once again. This time he manages to hit it once again. Already quite badly damaged, the bridge finally manages to fall, bottling up the remaining Germans in the garrison. Another grenade manages to take out the last remaining troopers in the SS building. The troopers on the other side of the bridge are still able to shoot down the corridor, and so Terry uses his last remaining smoke grenade to block their line of sight.

Now in control of the SS building, everyone piles into the relative safety, particularly Lodd who is keen to ‘get away from where the bullets are coming from’. While the Padre finally sees to Lodd and Piotr’s heavy wounds, the party sets up a machinegun nest on the stairs up to the SS building to try and keep the remaining troopers at bay.

The party members regroup in order to get ready for the next part of the mission – the assault on the Great Keep itself where the prisoners are being kept.

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Meeting Helena
9/10 September 1943

The party members are sleeping soundly when Jakob steals out of the resistance’s hideout in the quarry a little before dawn heading for the village of Karlstein.

Having gone to bed late, they have just finished their breakfast at a little before noon when Jakob returns with a stunningly beautiful girl in tow. Kommandant Kratz might be Nazi scum, but he certainly has a fine taste in women. Both Jakob and Helena come carrying large wicker baskets of food, which are very much welcome as the party members are putting quite a drain on the resistance members’ supplies.

Vaclav beckons Helena to join with everyone and introduces her to all of the party members in turn. She shakes hands and smiles with them all. The resistance leader then explains who they are, why they have come to Karlstein and then tells her of Terry’s plan to start a fire.

Helena is as silent as Vaclav was as she considers the idea.

“The plan is possible but I think it is quite risky,” she finally says. “Risky for me a little, but I would say that it is a lot more risky for you.”

“Do you have a map or photographs of the castle here?”

“Yes, we do,” says Father Cerny as he unfurls a plan of castle.

“Your objective will need to be the Great Tower, number 13 on the plan,” she says, pointing to it. This is where I have been told that Doktor von Kammerstein conducts his experiments. I have never been able to get inside it though so I do not know what it contains."

“Number 11 on the map is St. Mary’s Tower, which is where the SS troops are based. The main garrison is based in the Imperial Palace, marked as number 8 on your map.”

“Kommandant Kratz resides at the Burgrave’s House, marked as number 6 on your map. I am able to get to and from here without arousing any suspicion, but would need a very good reason to go through the gate marked number 7 or any further into the castle as I have no reason to go there and Kommandant Kratz has never given me a guided tour.”

“So I could set off an incendiary device in Kommandant Kratz’s quarters if you were able to supply me with one and show me how to use it. The problem as I see it though is that it would bring the entire garrison into the courtyard to deal with the fire and you would need to make your way through them all to get to the Great Tower.”

“Despite the large garrison, actually there are not so many guards manning each of the entrances usually. Most of them just stay in the Imperial Palace most of the time. If you were able to set up machine guns trained on the doors to this building, you would be able to keep most of them at bay. But obviously this would only be possible if you were able to make a more stealthy assault upon the castle.”

Bob, despite feeling an overwhelming need to outline his foolproof plan, stays silent. He knows his brilliant ideas are unappreciated by this band of racist fascist commie nutbars. He enviously watches the yankee strutting around flipping his new gold coin in the air.

He’s afraid to admit that he can’t read. Especially maps. Just a bunch of wiggly lines. Frustrated, he practices lining up shots, peering carefully through the scope on the Gewehr, adjusting for windage. Taffy’s eye is the size of a silver dollar; Terry’s “dresses left” is really only half the size he claims, even at full magnification. The print in the Padre’s bible is large enough to read at 100 yards (if only the prairie boy could read). Lodd’s head is too big to be seen in its massive entirety even at 200 yards. Bob sighs. Maybe if he goes and stares at the map again it will make sense.

There is a deafening silence as everyone looks at one another to see if they can come up with anything. But no one seems to have any bright ideas.

Vaclav turns back to Helena. “Well if you think that the stealthy approach is the best one, then what would you suggest?” he asks.

“Well each day we bring fresh provisions to the Castle,” she says. “If you were packed into crates, then I could get you at least halfway into the place.”

“Well halfway is better than no way,” says Vaclav.

“We brought a 2” mortar with us," Piotr says. “Do you have a couple of men who could keep pumping shells into the place?”

“Sure,” nods Vaclav. “We are all at your disposal.”

“Well if the mortar team keeps dropping shells at the entrance to the garrison, that should keep most of the troops off our backs. It would even the odds a little.”

“I think that’s as good as we’re going to get,” Vaclav agrees. “Unless anyone has any better ideas?”

The others just nod in agreement, understanding that the resistance members know the castle better than they do.

Helena and Vaclav spend a while working out the minor details for a few more minutes and then Helena takes her leave as Oldrich escorts her back to the village.

For the next 24 hours, there is little for the party members to do other than to check over their weapons, cleaning them over and over again and dividing up the spare materials which they brought with them in the canister. Most of the time they just spend sleeping and resting, however, knowing that the following evening is going to be a far from relaxing one.

It’s mid-afternoon by the time that Vaclav tells everyone that it is time to make a move. Everyone grabs all their gear and makes the difficult climb back up the side of the quarry. Once they are at the top, Vaclav tells everyone to wait inside the wooded area surrounding it.

Some thirty minutes later and a beaten up old truck pulls up close to them. Helena is in the cab together with an older man, presumably her father. He looks scared out of his wits.

In the back of the truck are large wooden boxes which are around one-third full of vegetables in the main. Then comes the uncomfortable task of getting everyone into the boxes with all of their gear and covered up. Such camouflage is unlikely to pass a close inspection, but should be OK if the guards just give them a cursory glance into the gloom of the covered wagon.

After seems like forever, the party members lying among their vegetables hear the engine start and the old truck takes off. From the bumpy ride, it seems as if they are taking some small tracks rather than going by the main road.

After a half hour journey, the truck comes to a stop. After checking that the coast is clear, Jiri and Jakob get out of the back of the truck, taking the 2" mortar and box of 20 shells with them. They make their way up the heavily forested slope of the hill to try and get to within mortar range of the garrison. Helena’s father also gets out here and Vaclav takes over the driver’s seat.

The truck takes off again, passing through the upper part of Karlstein village. Dusk has just fallen when the truck takes the steep road up to the castle.

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Planning the Assault
8 September 1943

It is late afternoon when the party members awake. As they come around, then can hear that Vaclav and Father Cerny are still arguing with one another in Czech.

They stop when they see that the newcomers are now awake and invite them to come and eat and drink with them.

Vaclav starts off the conversation:

“As I am sure you are all aware, getting in and out of the castle is going to be a far from easy exercise. Castle Karlstein has never fallen to attack – not even when whole armies tried assaulting it in olden times. You have now met all of the resistance members who can be of assistance in this exercise – myself, plus my ten comrades, plus the six of you.”

“And Father Cerny,” he adds with a sigh.

“So there are 18 of us in total. We are up against something like 80-120 Wehrmacht and 10 SS, plus their officers and so we are outnumbers by somewhere in the region of eight to one. And of course they are all occupying excellent defensive positions from ramparts through the castle, which is built on several different levels so, no matter how far we advance, they would always have an elevated position.”

“So a direct assault is most certainly doomed to failure,” Piotr says.

“Correct,” nods Vaclav. “Totally out of the question.”

“So our only chance would be to come up with a plan based around stealth and/or deception,” Piotr continues.

“This is what we believe, yes,” Vaclav agrees.

“Do you know of anything that could help to get us inside without being seen or deceive them in some way?” Piotr asks. “Any secret tunnels in that the Nazis don’t know about?”

“No secret tunnels, I’m afraid,” Vaclav says with a shake of the head. “That would make it nice and easy.”

“We do have just one advantage. One other member of our resistance is a very charming and attractive girl by the name of Helena Svobodova. She is the daughter of the grocer in Karlstein village. The Kommandant of the Castle garrison, Hauptmann Manfred Kratz, is very fond of her and is constantly attempting to woo her, which puts her in a very useful position as she has her wrapped around her little finger … well, to a certain extent. She goes up to the Castle most days to bring special deliveries to the Kommandant and spends a lot of time with him. All of the troops in the Castle know of the Kommandant’s feelings for her and so know not to obstruct her. As a result, she is never stopped going in or out of the castle and is free to come and go as she pleases wherever she wants to go.”

Vaclav sighs deeply.

“This is the only trump card we have, I’m afraid.”

“Any suggestions as to how we can get inside?”

We hire one of them new-dangled helochopper things and launch ourselves from it wearing these cool pink bat suits that let you fly," Bob suggests. "We swoop into the courtyard guns blazing…what? Hey, it’ll work! Oh, all right, let’s use the girl.”

“That would certainly be convenient if we were able to drop from the sky into the castle,” agrees Vaclav with a smile. “Unfortunately though, it is a bit beyond our resources.”

“So the girl – Helena – how do you think we can best use her position in order to help us accomplish the mission?”

“Well, maybe if she could set up a distraction? A fire? Would the local fire brigade respond to that? If they did, we could pass as firefighters to gain entry,” asks Terry.

“Hmmmmmmm,” ponders Vaclav as he consider the idea.

It seems like an eternity before he speaks, obviously mulling over the chances of the success of such a plan.

“The nearest fire station to Karlstein is in Beroun, which is ten miles away along some very hilly roads,” he finally says. “So it would take them no less than half an hour to get to the Castle.”

“A team of fire fighters would probably only consist of half a dozen old men whereas there are maybe 100 fit young soldiers garrisoned at the Castle. So the arrival of the fire fighting team half an hour later probably wouldn’t make a lot of difference, so there is a good chance that the Kommandant wouldn’t call them up.”

“Saying that, however, if flames were licking around the castle, the gate guards would probably not check whether they were called or not.”

He pauses for a moment before resuming.

“It would be a risky strategy for sure,” he resumes. “Too great a fire and we could end up incinerating the very people that we are trying to rescue. If it’s too easy to put out, then the gate guards will simply turn the fire truck around and tell them to go back – and the garrison will have been stirred up like a hornet’s nest in the process.”

He sighs:

“Still, it’s a plan at least – there’s more chance of our getting in that way than simply walking up to the gate and asking them nicely if we can come in.”

“I think we all need to speak with Helena directly if she is going to be the key to getting us in,” he continues. “It will be too late for us to meet with us today as she wouldn’t be able to get here and back before curfew. We should be able to meet with her tomorrow though.”

After all of the fighting and walking of the past three days, taking it easy for a while certainly has its appeal to the party members and so they agree to take the rest of the day off. They spend the rest of the evening chatting with the resistance members before getting some more rest.

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The Resistance's Hideout
7/8 September 1943

The terrain immediately north of the river is as steep as it was to the south and so they walk west along the road for ten minutes until the terrain is flatter and Karel leads them to a turnoff which starts to ascend the hill via a narrow country road which is likely to see little in the way of traffic. Again they are relieved to see that there is plenty of cover on either side of the track in case they need to get off the road in a hurry.

But there is no sound of any activity anywhere in close proximity. They continue northwards for the next hour, avoiding the village of Serbst and then Karel leads them northeasterly when they get to a T-junction.

They continue on for another half mile, feeling quite exposed now as they pass through rolling fields on the crest of a low ridge and so are quite relieved when the road comes to an abrupt end, with just heavy woods ahead of them.

Entrenching tools are called for as they need to clear a path through the dark woods but, after twenty minutes, the deep woods open out a little onto a trail where walking is a lot easier. They follow the trail for an hour until they come out onto another road. Again it is just a travel track which sees little traffic. Karel leads them northwards along the track once more.

They follow the track north for another hour until they reach a crossroads. They cross over and head down another track over open pasture, which they follow for another hour. They can see the shape of large, industrialized buildings immediately to the south which they are by-passing, but all there is silent. Passing quickly over what would appear to the road into the industrial complex. Karel leads them along the treeline of a wooded area for another twenty minutes, then across a gravel track and into a clump of trees. It is now around 4.00am.

“We should rest up here until dawn now,” Karel says. “You’ll see why when the sun is up.”

After the exertions of the day, this comes as welcome relief to everyone. They set up a watch rota while the others get some rest.

Once the sun is up, they can see why Karel halted them here for a few hours. The sight before them is quite breathtaking.

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“You should feel at home here,” Karel says to Terry with a smile. “It is known as ‘Big America’. It’s a disused limestone quarry. It’s a major pain in the neck to get in and out of it, which means that it is like an upside down fortress, And the bottom is riddled with a network of abandoned caves. A few men could hold off a battalion down here. We’re just a little over a mile from Karlstein here, so it makes for an excellent bolthole.”

Everyone takes up their packs once more and then Karel goes to the edge of the cliff and makes a bird call. A couple of seconds later, he receives another bird call in response. Karel then leads everyone down the side of man-made canyon. Even following in Karel’s footsteps, it’s a nervewracking experience to follow the narrow path down when there is a very long drop to the side. Eventually, after half an hour, they manage to make it down to the bottom of the quarry, skirting the unnaturally blue water of the lake at the quarry’s base.

Two men dressed in civvies but brandishing Kar. 98Ks emerge from the undergrowth and greet Karel, Jan, Jozef and Anna warmly (particularly Anna). Immediately afterwards though, they start asking questions as to the identity of the six strangers. Piotr translates as Karel tells them all about what they have been through together over the previous 36 hours. After fifteen minutes of explanations, the other resistance members seem satisfied that the party members are not Nazi infiltrators and so lead everyone through a cave mouth into the labyrinth of limestone tunnels.

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After ten minutes of traipsing through the warren of interconnecting tunnels, they can see the glimmer of lights ahead of them and the sound of people arguing in Czech.

As they hear the group’s approach, they all go quiet and grab their weapons, but then relax when they see that the arrivals are friendlies. There are five men there, one of whom is dressed in the outfit of a priest. Obviously this is Father Andrzej Cerny. As the others already mentioned, the priest looks somewhat deranged. The other four are dressed in civvies, obviously more resistance members.

One of them starts speaking with Karel, once again asking him who he has brought with him. Karel, once again, goes through the entire events of the previous 36 hours, which seems to reassure them.

“I am Vaclav Zajic, leader of the resistance in the Karlstein area” the man who has been doing most of the speaking says. “These are my comrades, Jiri, Jakob and Oldrich. And this is Father Andrzej.”

He scowls as he introduces the Father. Obviously there is some friction between the two of them.

The party members introduce themselves one by one and everyone shakes hands. Vaclav invites them to sit and take breakfast with them, which they do. While eating, Piotr goes through the full details of their briefing, telling him that they are members of the S.O.E. and are on a mission on behalf of Frantisek Moravec to find out exactly what is going on in Karlstein Castle. Vaclav seems highly impressed that they reporting directly to the Head of Czechoslovak Military Intelligence. Father Cerny is very excited that some professionals have arrived to help with his mission to ‘rescue more of the children’.

Karel stifles a yawn. It’s been a long time since the group had a proper night’s sleep.

“We have much to discuss,” says Vaclav, but I can see that you are in no condition for a long planning meeting now. You are safe here now, so get some rest and we will discuss details when you are fresh."

The party members are more than happy to take Vaclav up on his offer and are soon fast asleep on the pallets that the resistance members provide them with.

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Crossing the Berounka
7 September 1943

“We’re going to need rope if we’re going to make rafts,” suggest Jozef. “I’ll check the barn if you can check the two half-tracks. I’m sure they must have some rope or cables onboard them for towing purposes.”

Sure enough, both of the Sd. Kfz. 251/1s have ropes with them and Jozef was also able to find an axe in the barn as well. The Padre also grabs the first aid kit from one of the half-tracks. They all then pile into the second half-track. Terry takes up position in the driver’s seat with Karel sat next to him to navigate. Lodd mans the pintel-mounted MG42 while the other drag all their gear into the rear and take their seats.

“You might as well … how do you Americans say it? … ‘step on the gas’,” Karel says. “We have taken out a significant proportion of the German garrison today and so they don’t have massive amounts of reserves to scour the countryside with and, hopefully, it should be a few hours before this platoon’s superiors realize that they aren’t coming back and come out to investigate what happened.”

Terry doesn’t need asking twice and floors the throttle, soon getting the 8-ton vehicle up to its top speed of 32 mph. As a result, the two mile journey back to Krupna takes just a few minutes.

“I think we should dump the half-track on this side of the village, in the woods over there,” Karel says. "If we abandon it on the other side, then they could figure out which direction we are heading in.

Terry turns off the road, driving the half-track as far into the woods as he is able to go. Everyone then helps out in camouflaging it as best they can before dividing all of their gear between the ten of them and heading off on foot.

It’s 3.30am by now and they know that they only have another three hours of darkness remaining, so decide that it is less riskier to travel quickly along the road rather than taking the slow route across country which would probably mean that they don’t reach their destination before daylight.

They pass through the centre of Krupna village, going straight through the site of their rescue of the resistance members just 18 hours previously. The Germans have cleaned up the site during this time. The bodies have been removed as has the Kubelwagen. Only blood stains on the ground serve as a reminder of what happened here.

They pass through the eerily silent village quickly and head down a narrow road heading due east, following the line of the ridge. After just ten minutes of walking, the metalled road comes to an end and the road continues as just a muddy track. Obviously this route sees little traffic and there are hedgerows on either side which would provide ample cover if needs be. Now they are far from any villages and so they would hear any approaching vehicles in plenty of time.

They continue walking for a little under an hour when Karel leads them off the road into a wooded area. It’s pitch black inside the woods. Karel leads everyone into the woods up to a distance of around 100m and then gestures for everyone to stop.

“We should stay here until it’s light,” he says. “We’re close to the edge of the ridge now and we’ll kill ourselves if we stumble around in the pitch black.”

And so the party members set up a temporary camp for the remaining couple of hours of darkness, setting up a watch rota while the others catch up on a little of the sleep that they missed.

Once it is light, they can see exactly where they are and realize why Karel suggested that they stop here for the remainder of the night.

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Much of the ridge that they are on has a virtually sheer drop down to the valley of the River Berounka below. At the bottom is a floor plain some 150m wide with a wooded area skirted by a railway line, with 80m of open ground to the shore of the river.

Far from habitation, it’s a great place to hide in and so there are few worries of being seen by patrols as they pack all of their gears on their backs and then Karel leads them eastwards close to the top of the ridge. After half an hour of travel, they see that the gradient down to the valley flattens considerably and so they change course, making their descent. Even here though, it is fairly steep and they have to watch their steps constantly in order to avoid a fall.

Once they arrive at the wooded area of the valley, they see some buildings of what used to be a limestone quarry. They appear to be deserted, but Karel doesn’t want to take any chances and leads the group back westwards, following the railway line for a distance of 250m until there are no buildings anywhere in the vicinity. Heading back from the railway lines, they pick a site among the thickest of the trees where they are sure to be safe from view.

It’s 8.00am now – plenty of time until dusk falls.

“So, we have plenty of trees and plenty of rope; now we need to build some rafts,” Jozef says.

Bob takes on the role of project leader assembling the rafts, being the party member with the best wilderness survival skills. He recommends building three smaller rafts rather than one large one, otherwise it will be difficult to lug them through the trees to the water’s edge.

As for chopping down the trees, this is a job that Lodd was born to do. With delight, Lodd brandishes his trusty entrenching tool and starts to hack away at the defenseless conifers all around. While the four resistance members keep a lookout from all directions, the other party members give Lodd a hand, working in shifts as they find that it is backbreaking work. Lodd, conversely, hardly breaks a sweat as tree after tree crashes to the ground before him.

As the stripped logs start to pile up before him, Bob sets about the task of lashing them together, assisted by Bruce. One by one, tidy little rafts begin to appear from the production line, roughly 10′ × 10′, which Bob calculates should be enough for them to hold three people together with a couple of hundred pounds of gear.

The constant hacking and felling seems to make a hell of a din, but Karel reassures them that the sound of people chopping wood is hardly an unusual or suspicious sound in this part of the country.

It is mid-afternoon by the time all three rafts are assembled and all, with the exception of Lodd, are exhausted by the activity.

“We should all try and get a little rest now,” suggests Jan. “The river crossing is only the start of our exercise for the night. We have a long walk ahead of us once we reach the other side.”

Those not on watch nap a little as the afternoon passes through dusk into evening. And then it’s time to swing into action.

Firstly they all cautiously emerge from cover and cross the railway track with their gear, dropping it off at the water’s edge before coming back for the rafts. Despite their relatively compact size, it is still a cumbersome exercise to carry them through the trees in the pitch darkness through to the river bank.

“Dobzhe,” says Karel. “So who fancies a swim?”

“I can swim a bit,” Bruce volunteers.

“I can too,” says Terry.

As the current is relatively fast, Bruce looks highly relieved when everyone votes that Terry should do it. Anna looks the other way as Terry strips down to his underwear and fastens the remaining rope around his waist. He hands the other end to Lodd, knowing that the Serb would easily be able to pull him back to shore if he got into any difficulties.

While the others get into position to provide covering fire in the unlikely event that anyone should arrive onto the scene, Terry gingerly wades into the water, unleashes a torrent of curses as the cool water makes contact with his gonads.

He then begins to swim across. Terry reveals hitherto unknown talents as he crosses the water quickly and gracefully, the current having little effect on his powerful moves. He makes the 200’ journey in just a couple of minutes, climbs ashore and sits down, bracing the rope.

One he gives the others the thumbs up, the others maneuver the first of the rafts onto the water. Much to Bob’s relief, it floats nicely. Taffy, Anna and Jozef take the first raft over. With Terry securing one end and Lodd the other, it is easy going for them to haul themselves to the opposite side of the river using the rope. They disembark, grab all of their gear and form a defensive position around Terry.

Piotr, Bruce and Karel take the second raft. Again, they cross the Berounka with ease and add to the defensive line.

Jan, Bob and Lodd are the last ones over in the third boat. They have the easiest job of all as Lodd just needs to grip the rope tightly while all those on the north bank help Terry to pull the raft into shore. In less than half an hour, all are safely across the Berounka.

Taking his kukri, Bob quickly undoes his fine handiwork by cutting the ropes, not wanting to leave evidence of their river crossing for the Germans to find, assisted by the others. They leave the cut logs on the edge of the water, hoping that they will be carried downstream one by one so as not to look too suspicious. Everyone then grabs all of their gear and start on the long journey to the resistance’s main hideout.

View
The Unsafe House
7 September 1943

In the wee small hours of the morning, the party members are rudely awoken by the voice of Jan:

“Nazis!” he exclaims in a loud whisper. “Advancing from the south.”

Everyone hurriedly shakes themselves from slumber and grab their weapons.

Lodd peers out from his observation post in the toilet where he is keeping an eye upon the building’s northern flank. He can just make out a full squad approaching from this side of the house – half providing cover, well hidden behind the picket fence to the next garden. The other half of the squad is cautiously advancing upon the safe house.

Once all of the party members are in position, they open up on the advancing Germans.

With most of the windows in their building south-facing, the party members unleash a hail of fire upon the Germans advancing from the south, with the MGs of Terry and Jozef sending the Nazis diving for cover. Lodd is the only one with line of sight to those approaching from the north, stunning the Leutnant and taking out another of the Germans. This leads the Germans to abandon their stealthy approach as they rush towards the side of the building in order to get out of Lodd’s line of sight. The Germans providing covering fire from the north realize they need to close the range in order to have any chance of hitting Lodd in his well-covered position and cross over the fence in order to start advancing through the garden. Piotr gets a bead on the MG42 gunner in the squad and takes him down.

The party members realize that there just aren’t enough good firing positions inside the building to cover the approach of the Germans in each direction and so Bob, Anna and Taffy all leave it while the others cover them, taking out much of the German force to the south in the process.

The Germans to the north have crept around the side of the building now and Lodd discovers that the narrow window in the toilet provides little in the way of cover when the injured Leutnant sprays his MP40 through the window and another of the Wehrmacht troopers gets him with a Kar. 98K as well. The Padre grabs the injured Slav and pulls him from the toilet where he quickly patches him up and get him back on his feet again.

No sooner is Lodd back in action again than the remaining squad starts to make their way around the east of the building and now Piotr finds himself in trouble, also needing the Padre’s immediate attention.

While the others give him supporting fire, Taffy bursts into the next door building in order to get a good angle on the remaining Germans to the south. By the time he gets into position, however, the MG42s of Terry and Jozef have managed to decimate the German southern flank and so there is just one left there for Taffy to finish off.

More Germans are approaching from the south-west, however, giving more targets for the big guns of Terry and Jozef to keep at bay, which they manage quite well.

More Germans have made their way around the east of the building now. Piotr drops a grenade amidst the Germans clustering at the window with devastating effect, taking out three of them. Jan and Piotr manage to take out the last member of the squad before he can fire at them through the window.

Now there are just four troopers approaching stealthily from the north, keeping to cover among the trees in the garden. The MP40’s of Anna and Jan seem to be of little use at the range and so it takes the Gewehr 43 of Bob backed up by the MG’s of Terry and Karel to finally finish off the last of the Nazis coming from this direction. Finally the entire platoon of Germans have been vanquished.

Taffy grabs himself a Luger and some ammo while Jan and Anna, having found their MP40’s to be practically useless at the longer range of the contract, but decide to take Kar 98’s as well plus several clips ready for any future combats. Those with MG42’s replenish the ammo that they used from the dead Germans.

“We need to get away from here and fast,” says Karel. “Obviously this safe house is not as safe as we thought it was.”

“Any idea where we should head next?” asks Piotr.

“We may as well head straight for the forests above the river bank,” Karel replies. “Then we can cross over tomorrow night.”

Terry heads out to see how the Germans managed to get so close to the village. Scouting around, he manages to quickly find a couple of Sd. Kfz 251/1’s plus a Kubelwagen that was the German’s transport to the safehouse.

“How far to the woods by the river crossing?’ asks Terry.

“A couple of miles as the crow flies,” replies Karel. “I suggest that we take a half-track back to Krupna and dump it there. Krupna is already in so much trouble that they are not going to get into any more if the Krauts find an abandoned half-track there. Then we make the last mile of the journey on foot to the woods. We should be able to get there before dawn and can spend the day there and make rafts during the day so that we can make the river crossing tomorrow night, by which time the garrison should have lost our tracks,”

“Has anyone got any better ideas? Or is there anything else that we need to do before we leave here?”

View
Interviewing the Resistance
6 September 1943

The female member of the resistance fighter makes tea for them all.

“So it is about time that we introduce ourselves,” says one of the resistance members. “I am Karel and my comrades are Jan, Jozef and Anna. We are all members of the Czech UVOD resistance group. We are deeply indebted to you for rescuing us. We were sure that we were all going to be dead by now.”

“God obviously has other plans for you,” Bruce comments quietly.

“So who are you and what are you doing here?” Jan asks.

“We are working with the British Special Operations Executive,” Piotr says. “On a mission on behalf of Vaclav Moravek.”

The resistance members seem impressed by this, recognizing the name immediately.

“We understand that the Nazis are up to something in Karlstein Castle,” Piotr continues. “We are here to make contact with Agent Angel, who we believe is Priest Andrej Cerny. We have been told that he has the most information on what is going on there. This is why we went to Krupna to see if we can find him.”

The resistance members nod at this, it seems as if the name is familiar to them, but they say little else.

“This is all of the intel we have been given,” Piotr admits. “Do you know Priest Cerny and where we can find him?”

“More or less,” Anna says, but her body language says that she is uncomfortable. “We know roughly where he is currently based. In the hills to the north of Karlstein, on the opposite side of the river.”

“Good,” nods Piotr. “Then it seems as if you know a lot more about what is going on here than we do. Hopefully our actions have proven that we are who we say we are, otherwise we would not have slaughtered the Nazis and freed you. So we would be obliged if you could tell us everything that you know about Prist Cerny and whatever is going on at the Castle so that we can continue on our mission.”

The resistance members all look at one another, unsure as to how much information they should reveal. Karel decides that they might as well tell the party members everything that they know.

“A pall of terror lies over the villages around Castle Karlstein,” Karel starts. “Something horrific is being done in the castle and the Nazis have recently begun reprisals in returns for attempts by the Czech resistance to stop them. All of the villagers in the local area are paranoid and terrified.”

“Some three months ago, Father Andrej Cerny, priest of the church of Krupna, single-handedly rescued a group of four children from Nazi clutches in Castle Karlstein when he was secretly investigating screams he had heard from the castle after being tipped off by Father Pavel, the priest from Karlstein church. The Nazis subsequently conducted a house-to-house search of Karlstein and the neighbouring villages, and there are many who they they weren’t just looking for the children.”

“Father Pavel was subsequently taken captive by the Nazis and tortured to death – the Nazis thought that it was him rather than Father Andrej who had taken the children.”

“Father Andrej’s second rescue was of twelve children, again from the castle and this time with the help of the resistance, about six weeks ago. At that point the Nazis worked out it was him and he was forced into hiding – though again there was a house-to-house search. As yet, there have been no reprisals in Krupna, though people are fearful.”

“I fear that they have all the more reason now to be fearful after you rescued us,” Jan interjects. “Now the Nazis really do have reason to get retribution for the deaths caused when you rescued us.”

“Cerny’s third rescue was only three weeks ago,” Karel continues. “A convoy from Beraun, the town to the north of Karlstein, was intercepted by a band of resistance fighters and this time fifteen adults and children rescued. There was considerable gunfire along the banks of the Berounka near Serbst and Kommandant Kratz had five villagers from Serbt executed in reprisal. Since that time, there have been random searches of houses at all times of day and night – the Nazis are clearly looking for something. As yet, there have been no further executions.”

“A week ago, a heavily armed convoy delivered another thirty or so adults tand children to the castle and the screams have begun again. People are terrifited of what is going on there – and of possible reprisals if Father Andrej tries a rescue again.”

“Recently the number of children rescued by Father Andrej has begun to be a problem for the local communuties. Some have secretly been returned to their families, but this isn’t always possible. Four children could be comfortably hidden – but the priest has now rescued more than twenty (excluding the adults) and we are having to go further afield to place them with families. Children being children, there is always the risk that the host families may be found out by the Nazis. Particularly since the reprisals at Serbst, people are very much on edge.”

“Understandable,” Bruce agrees with a nod. “So what else do you know? Presumably you have met the Priest. What else can you tell us about him?”

“Before the Nazis came, he was well-liked by the entire community,” Anna says. “He had a reputation for being incredibly kind – a true angel.”

“As Jan says, for some reason, Father Andrej only seems to be interested in rescuing the children and no one seems to know why. No one knows what has happened to the adults that he did not rescue. They never returned after being taken to the castle.”

“Some of the other resistance members who have worked with him think that he has gone completely mad ever since his first mission inside the castle. Several of our comrades have asked what he saw in there, but he refuses to speak about it.”

“Sometime later, he suddenly became strangely elated by something he had discovered and spoke of stopping the atrocities, even driving the Nazis out of Karlstein, and fighting fire with fire. Most people who know him are now very worried about him. He has become very confident, even over-confident, and his talk of doing God;s work is now verging on blasphemy. People now smile strangely whenever anybody calls him an angel – even as part of a Codename.”

Anna falls silent.

“So can you help us to find Father Andrej?” Bruce asks.

“We don’t know exactly where he is right now, but we know how to reach Vaclav Zajic,” Karel replies. “He is the Head of the Resistance organization in the area who knows all of the members in the area. He will know where he is.”

“The problem is that he is on the opposite side of the river and there are guards on all of the bridges. We can lead you to him, but we need to wait for things to calm down as the garrison will be on high alert at the moment after what happened in Krupna this morning. I think we need to lay low here for at least a day. The earliest that I think that we can look at moving on is tomorrow night. We will still need to come up with a way of crossing the river though now that our cover has been blown.”

“So do you have any more questions?” asks Jan.

“How well is the river patrolled away from the established crossings? Can we go across by boat?” asks Terry through Piotr.

“Crossing the river by boat shouldn’t be a problem,” Karel says in fairly good English. “There’s a nice empty mile-long stretch of the river between Karlstein and Serbst where there should be no problem as long as we can avoid patrols.”

“But getting hold of the boat in the first place is a different matter. The Nazis realize what a handy way they are of avoiding the checkpoints on the bridges and so they have them secured in the major villages where they can keep an eye on them.”

“When do they allow the boats to go out? Is there a way we could sneak onto one?” asks Terry, “Or maybe have it take a slight ‘detour’ to this bank and then across? Like my Pa used ta do when he was runnin’ licker outta Jersey for the Degos?”

“There are some boats at Karlstein village for tourists,” Karel replies. “They would only be available from around 0900 to 1700 though. The Nazis would definitely be suspicious though if a boat didn’t come back. They would definitely suspect that someone was trying to use it to cross the river.”

“What about swimming? We could use a bath,” Bob says as he looks pointedly at Lodd.

“If we all know how to swim, then this would be a possibility,” Karel replies. “The river is around 50 yards wide and the current is not too strong. But there would still be the problem of how to get our equipment over.”

“How about making a simple raft?” suggests Anna. “The area is very wooded around where we would need to cross.”

“All we need is a big strong man with a sharpened entrenching tool,” she adds, looking at Lodd with a smile.

Lodd finds a quiet time to talk to the Padre.

“Youts think that the ‘Angel’ man found the healing majicks like you used on me and the Count? Es that why he get happy in the middle of the story?”

“It’s a possibility, I suppose, cobber,” Bruce replies with a shrug.

“You didn’t see me jumping up and down in excitement when the O.S.I. taught me the tricks of the trade. Mind you, us Aussies are a lot more laidback than you Slav fellas.”

He shrugs again.

“Maybe he just got himself an entrenching tool and a lucky mutant boar tusk like you did, mate.”

Once the initial conversations have finished, everyone settles down to a long and dull period of waiting for the heat to die down so that they can attempt the river crossing. They organize themselves into groups for watches to take them through the next 30 hours after which, hopefully, the Germans will have calmed down a little.

View
Firing On the Firing Squad
6 September 1943

Once the sun is up a little after 0700, Piotr shins up a tree with the Padre’s binoculars to see what he can see from the top of the hill. He isn’t able to see a great deal however, apart from Karlstein Castle itself among the hills to the north. Although there are probably Nazis down there in the villages, he can’t see them and there does not seem to be any general panic going on.

Over breakfast, Piotr shows everyone the map:

“So we’re going to head due west to Krupna now,” he says. “Fortunately it’s woodland all of the way so we should be able to get there without being seen, unless we are really unlucky. Again.”

This time, however, luck is on their side, helped by the fact that visibility is so poor in the thick of the forests, as opposed to the flat open fields to the south. After two hours of cautious advancing, they have covered the mile of distance and can see the buildings of the hamlet of Krupna through the trees which are now thinning out.

They stop to decide how they are going to play it when they enter the village. After all, Lodd’s Bazooka and MG42 would be sure to raise some eyebrows.

Before they have made a plan, however, a volley of shots are heard from the centre of the hamlet – around six shots.

Instantly the party members come to the same conclusion – it’s a firing squad.

Quickly they advance towards the sound of gunfire. As the hamlet is at a higher elevation, they don’t see exactly what is going on until they have made their way through the garden of one of the houses and peer over a four-foot tall wall.

As they suspected, the gunfire came from a firing squad. They see six troopers lined up with their backs towards the party members. In front of them are five civilians, one of whom is now dead. The other four are tied and bound on their knees, blindfolded. In front of them, a Gestapo Officer in a black leather trench coat is interrogating them, accompanied by the troop’s Leutnant and Feldwebel. Next to the scene are the Nazis’ vehicles – an Sd. Kfz. 251/1 with two machine gunners with a Kubelwagen in front of it.

The party members are in an excellent position, covered by the wall with the Nazis totally unaware of their presence as they have their backs to them.

Lodd starts off the proceedings as he launches a Bazooka round into the side of the half-track, ripping a huge hole in the side of the vehicle and throwing the machine gunners to the ground. Taffy fires on the firing squad with his M3 Greasegun on full auto. The results are devastating as three of the troopers fall to the ground. Bob, located on the northern flank, quickly drops the Feldwebel and then manages to take down the Gestapo officer too.

Terry manages to take out one of the machinegunners, but the other manages to hit Lodd. The Leutnant runs for cover hiding behind the Kubelwagen as Bob and Taffy manage to take care of the last of the troopers. The drivers of the two vehicles advance around the side of the vehicles, with one of them managing to shoot Piotr with his Luger. The Padre sees to both Lodd and Piotr, quickly getting them back in action once again. Finally the second machine gunner gets taken out and, despite the Leutnant managing to hit Piotr and Lodd once again, the others soon manage to finish him off.

As The Padre sees to the wounded, the other members of the party hop over the wall and head towards the four captives, cutting them loose. Three of them are male, and the other are female.

“Kdo jste?” they all ask as they are unbound.

“Friends,” Taffy says as he continues to free them.

“You are English?”

“No, I’m Welsh,” Taffy says with a hint of irritation. “Who are you?”

“We are UVOD – resistance fighters,” the captive says.

“We need to leave here, now,” another says as soon as he is free. “There are troops at Karlstein station. They will probably have heard the explosions and will soon be here. We have a safehouse in Belec – all of the others are on the other side of the river.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” says Bob. “We need to pick up the rest of our gear on the way though. It’s stashed on the top of the hill, just under a mile east of here.”

“Then let’s go, and go now,” the resistance members says.

The resistance members take their pick from the dropped weapons, with two of them each taking an MG42 and a Luger, while the other two both take MP40’s, plus the ammo.

Once they are all armed, they head off. Piotr, now healed thanks to The Padre’s healing powers, leads them back the way that they came, keeping to the treeline as they cautiously return to their spot at the top of the hill. As they advance back to the day’s starting position, they hear the sounds of half-tracks racing around the narrow lanes of the area. Once they are across the main road from Karlstein to the south and are back in the thick woods, however, they are well away from the roads and out of danger from being seen.

An hour later and they are back at their stash. They pause for a while to catch their breaths and distribute the gear among themselves and the resistance fighters – much easier to carry now that the load is split between ten rather than six and then they are on the move again, wanting to put as much distance between themselves and Krupna as possible.

Keeping to the treeline, they follow the meandering course of the Berounka River south for the best part of a mile, once again keeping well out of sight of the roads. The resistance fighters obviously know the terrain like the back of their hands as they are able to get to the outskirts of the village without leaving the cover of the woodland.

Two of the resistance members leave their weapons and tell the others to wait while they scout out the approach to the safehouse. Ten minutes later and one of them comes back into view, beckoning for the others to come to join them.

Fortunately the small village of Belec, or Bleichen as it is known in German, is sparsely populated with just a few houses all set on large plots between them and the safehouse close to the centre of the village.

“Move quickly and try and keep to cover,” one of the resistance members says. “Carrying all this weaponry around makes it obvious what we are and any collaborator would know that they could earn a good reward by reporting us.”

Although it is only 250 yards from the trees to the safehouse, the journey seems to take forever and it is with great relief that they finally run into the building with the doors being bolted behind them, having not run into any of the villagers along the way.

The resistance members all spend a while peering through the single-storey house’s few windows for quite a while, looking for any suspicious activity before they finally relax a little and come to sit with the party members.

“Dobry,” one of them says. “Now we can talk.”

View
Closing in on Karlstein
5/6 September 1943

After the less than perfect start to the mission which saw Lodd come off worst when he headbutted a tree during the off-course parachute drop, bad luck seems to continue to dog the party.

After less than an hour of travel through the fields just north of the forest, they come to cross the first road in their path – a small country road connecting the tiny hamlets of Hatye and Hodynye. Immediately after crossing the road, they are alerted to the fact that a half-track is coming down the road towards their position. Bob, in the vanguard position, is easily able to hide behind the bank on the south side of the road, but the others have to dive into the field and hope that the crops will hide them. Unfortunately, with everyone laden down with the contents of the canister, the packs on their backs are spotted in many cases, particularly in Lodd’s case as the Bazooka sticks up from the crops like a periscope.

The Sd. Kfz. 251/1 immediately comes to a halt and the Nazis start to run out of the back while the machine gunner opens fire, catching a confused-looking Padre in its sights and knocking him down. The Padre remembers his training. He had hoped it would take a little longer before he needed to use them, but he utters a prayer and his wounds are bathed in light, instantly healed.

Taffy crawls forward under cover of the crops to close the range while the others start to zero in fire on the Krauts. Terry and Bob are trying to take out the one manning the pintel-mounted MG42 but, with the protection of the armour plate, he’s a tough nut to crack. Lodd, with delight, gets to use his Bazooka for the first time, managing to wipe out three of the Krauts coming around the north side of the half-track. Terry is also on form as he manages to get a clean shot through the window of the Sd. Kfz. killing the driver.

The party members don’t have everything their own way, however, as the MG 42 operator manages to bring down both Piotr and Lodd in a hail of fire.

The remaining Nazis, being led by their Feldwebel are hiding behind the bank to the south. Their Mausers are little match for the party members’ automatic weapons though and, once the Padre has patched up both Piotr and Lodd, they are easily taken care of before they can cause too much damage.

The machine gunners remain a problem though until they are finally taken out. Bob has finally given up the location of his position now and the Feldwebel and one of the troopers are approaching him. Fortunately, with all of the party’s fire now aimed at the pair of them, they are taken down before they are able to do any damage to Bob. All of the Nazis are finally down.

With his own weapons hardly weighing him down, Lodd picks up the two MG42’s from the dead Nazis and adds them to his own personal armory.

The party members stay where they are for a while, listening intently for the sound of more vehicles advancing towards them, but there are none. It was actually quite fortunate for them that they encountered the patrol so far from any of the towns where there is a German garrison.

Once they are fairly certain that there is no alarm, everyone piles into the half-track and Terry gets into the driving seat with Piotr next to him, map in hand, to guide him towards their destination, avoiding as many hamlets and villages as they can along the way.

They proceed slowly and cautiously for the next hour, following roads that are little more than tracks much of the time. Quite often they end up in dead ends and have to double back on their route, but it’s still quicker, and more comfortable, than walking most of the way.

“We’re only about half a mile from our destination now,” Piotr says. “I think it’s time to dump the half-track in the middle of these woods and make the last part of the journey on foot so that the Germans don’t find it and locate us immediately afterwards.”

Terry takes the half-track offroad and into the forest as far as he can. They then spent half an hour hiding the damaged vehicle as best they can before loading all of the equipment on their backs once more and then continuing on foot.

Although it’s only half a mile to the brow of the heavily wooded hill where they decided to rest up and to stash their excess equipment, the sides of the hill are steep and several members of the party are panting by the time they finally get to the summit. In among the trees, it’s pitch black and so there is nothing much to see from here. They head as deep into the woods as they can and find a hidden spot to dump their excess equipment, which they spend a while camouflaging.

It’s about 1.00am by the time they have finished everything. There’s nothing more that can be done during the hours of darkness and so, while the Padre changes the bandages of the injured, the others eat some more of their K-rations and doze a little while they wait for the dawn to arrive.

View
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.

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