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:
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.”
“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.”
“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.