Escape From Stalag VIIIB

One by Bloody One...
September 28, 1943

England

“Pyotr, we need to talk.” said Admiral Barrington as the Kvalen Island mission briefing broke up.

“Is it something the whole team needs to hear?” responded the Pole in his flawless English, glancing towards his comrades in arms, as they began to file out of the meeting room.

“No. They know about the need to investigate the S.S. presence on the island, but you alone will understand the importance of this information.” pausing, “Perhaps he would as well,” the senior officer added, looking at the broad back of Lodd as the giant Slav exited, probably in search of Vodka. “But then he wouldn’t process the information in the same way as you or I, would he?”

“Better to keep this between us, my friend, as your Baltoslavic heritage allows you to understand what I am about to tell you better than the North Americans, or even Taffy.”

“Yes?” asked Pyotr.

“We have information that the S.S. activities on Kvalen Island involve a Finnish priest named Kustaa. His history, as nearly as we can tell, relates to Runic Summoning magic.” Barrington drew a deep breath, “Pyotr, we think the S.S. are working with him to raise one or more Norse gods.”

Letting that sink in, the Admiral went on, “Tell Bob, if he gets Kustaa in his sights, to aim right between the eyes.”

The Polish officer nodded.

“And tell him to hit this time.” Barrington finished, dismissing Kowalcyzk with a stern look.

Pyotr saluted crisply and left.

Back at their quarters, Pyotr and the others went over the briefing materiel they’d been given.

“We’re to be dropped off at the Northwestern tip of the island, where patrols are least likely to spot us.” said Taffy, “Then we’re to make our way to the Southern part, where the U-Boat base is, and destroy that. We’ll be given cover identities as German Abwehr, and we’re to rendezvous with our O.S.S. liaison, an Norwegian named Anders Trygstad, who is undercover as a Kriegsmarine officer. After we hit the base, we’re to investigate an S.S. camp at the Southern end of Kvalen, then destroy the Radar installation in the center of the island before making our way back to the original insertion point to await extraction.”

“In keeping with our cover identities, we’ll be issued German weapons, uniforms, and I.D. papers. Pyotr will be Major Wilhelm Stransky, I’ll be Leutnant Karl Heffernan, the rest of you will be our escort, and Lodd, you’ll be mute.” Taffy finisihed.

“What about opposition, Sarge? How many mooks are we facin’?” aked Terry.

“Fifty to one hundred veteran Wehrmacht infantry, a few armoured cars, some ack ack batteries, and a couple hundred sailors from the U-Boats.” Bob said before Taffy could respond, reading from the briefing notes.

“The Kriegsmariners shouldn’t be a problem, but that’s a lot of infantry, mates.” added Bruce.

“Is not too many. After I am done, only leaves one or two for each of you.” laughed Lodd in his broken English.

“Provided you use your Machine Gun as an automatic weapon, rather than as a sniper rifle, or worse yet, a club.” snapped Taffy. “Otherwise we’ll be at this mission for the rest of the bloody war, while you kill every German one by bloody one…”

“Is so, yes?” chuckled Lodd.

“If that’s all, let’s head for the Submarine. _Hermes_’ captain wants to put out to sea as soon as possible.” said Pyotr.

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Lodd Wakes Up
21st September 1943

Another air pocket jolted the Ju88, rousing Lodd from his well earned slumber. The fat Italian they had kidnapped was piloting the craft, being watched alternately by Terry and Taffy. The jolt caused a sharp pain in his wounded shoulder, and he grunted.

The drive to L’Aquila airfield had been without incident, and before the bemused airfield crew had known what was happening, Terry was driving through two lines of parked aircraft towards a pair of Ju88s that were being prepped, clipping a few wings as he did so. Lodd and the others had disembarked near the fighters, and had wreaked what havoc they could.

As the Garrison had struggled to life it had been just too late, and Terry had overseen Il Duce while the plane was readied. Lodd dimly remembered Taffy shouting at him.

“It’s not a fucking sniper rifle its an LMG!”" he yelled, grabbing hold of the MG 42. “Give it here and get back to the plane with the others.” Taffy grunted with satisfaction as he took a line of four germans down like ninepins.

Lodd shook his head, his animal brain dimly remembering his Russian officer’s admonition not to waste precious bullets. He lumbered back to the plane, ignoring the pain from his wound.

As the Ju88 had started to taxi the padre had shouted to Taffy, who sprinted for the door and was hauled aboard. With fires raging on the airfield behind them, they staggered into the air.

Lodd considered the import of their mission.

“Lodd sleep now. Lodd eat much food when we get home”. He started to snore.

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Battle for Gran Sasso Base Station
21 September 1943

The party members manage to get into the cablecar before any of the remaining gliders in the air manage to land. Taffy (the boffin) takes a look at the controls and manages to get the cablecar in dock to move. He then has to make a quick dash to get into it before it sets off, Fortunately Terry and Lodd are waiting to grab him and drag him onboard before he tumbles down the mountainside.

It is a clear day and so they can see the base station and the small hamlet surrounding it. They can’t see what may be waiting for them there, however. They realize that the slow-moving cablecar is going to take a while to get down there – leaving the Padre with ample time to patch up the injured before the cablecar arrives.

After ten minutes of journey time, they can now get a better view of the cablecar station that they are slowly heading towards. As feared, there are Fallschirmjager waiting for them. Fortunately, however, they do not seem to have been forewarned that Skorzeny’s mission has gone wrong, as they appear to be relaxed and simply watching the car descend. They can make out around four troopers on the platforms waiting for them, and three Fiat trucks in the parking lot next to it – one of which is occupied by a squad of paratroopers.

The party members discuss their tactics. Lodd loads a round into his bazooka and waits until the cablecar is close to the base station. Once he is sure that he has the truck well and truly fixed in his sights, he squeezes the trigger.

KABOOM!’

The Fiat truck goes up taking much of the squad inside with it, leaving just three of the troopers to rush from the back of it. Simultaneously, Terry, Taffy and Bob manage to take out a couple more of the troopers on the platform while Piotr continues to keep a careful watch on Mussolini. Mussolini still seems to be in a state of shock, however – or is still trying to figure out whether he is being ‘rescued’ or ‘kidnapped’.

The cablecar has docked now. Bob and Piotr manage to pick off some of the troopers that are in sight – their automatic rifles much better weapons for this task than the MP40’s of the Fallschirmjager. They understand, however, that they need to get out of the cablecar as quickly as possible and so Taffy bravely leads the way, with Terry hot on his heels.

Unfortunately for Taffy, he finds a lot of Nazis waiting for him around the corner of the base station and gets shot up pretty badly, a situation not helped by the arrival onto the scene of a Zündapp KS 750 motorcycle and sidecar, which brings an MG42 bearing down upon them. Fortunately, Bruce is not far away and helps to patch him up, while Terry, Lodd and Bob take care of the crew of the motorcycle.

As the party members struggle against superior numbers with a distinct lack of cover, Bruce reveals that the Lord has seen fit to bestow him with a new gift. Having seen the effect of Terry’s smoke grenades in obscuring the party’s movements, he utters a prayer and is rewarded with the appearance of a globe of darkness between the party and the Fallschirmjager, allowing them to advance towards the cover of the vehicles.

From their new positions in cover and with the range advantage that their weapons have over the MP40’s of the paratroopers, the party members seem to be gaining the initiative as trooper after trooper bites the dust.

However, shots ring out to the west of their position from bushes and they realize that there are more of the Fallschirmjager out there who are keeping to cover. Before Terry is able to counterattack, he is taken down by a burst of MP40 fire and it’s all that he can do to crawl into cover. Bob is close by and manages to take down several of the force attacking from this direction.

Lodd is now using his own MG42 and helping Piotr and Mussolini get into one of the still-running Fiat trucks. Piotr takes a bullet in the process and is shaken for a while. Mussolini is obviously considering his options with his minder temporarily out of action but, between the actions of Terry and Lodd, together with another couple of well-aimed shots from Bruce’s Colt that hits his targets right between the eyes, the situation is soon under control once again and Piotr and Mussolini are soon bundled into the truck.

There are just a handful of Fallschirmjager remaining to the south now, using the small security building at the entrance of the base station and surrounding bushes as cover. Although badly injured, Terry keeps firing away – managing (with the help of Bob) to finish off the troopers to the west and another one to the south. Taffy and Lodd manage to clear the rest.

They get a glimpse of Major Harald Mors, and Taffy manages to injure him with a burst from his Grease Gun. The Major manages to limp away from the action though, finding cover and running from the action like an Italian. The party members think of going after him, but decide instead that the most prudent course of action would be to make a swift getaway while the going is good.

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Saving Il Duce Mussolini
21 September 1943

The stream of Italians pouring down the stairs seems to have dried up to just a trickle and so the party members decide that it is time to go on the offensive as otherwise they are never going to succeed in their mission to grab Il Duce. Piotr, Lodd and Terry all start to make their way cautiously up the stairs, with Bruce following behind them at a safe distance.

Taffy and Bob, meanwhile, are more concerned with what has happened to Skorzeny as he doesn’t seem to be coming out of the room where he has holed up for a while. Taffy decides to go looking for him and carefully heads through the doorway into the room where the SS-Officer was hiding. Upon opening the door, however, he finds that the bird has flown – outside presumably considering the fact that the window onto the balcony is open.

Taffy shouts to Bob for assistance and the sniper comes out onto the balcony. He runs along it and leans around the corner, where he sees Skorzeny trying to come around the opposite side of the building. Bob fires off a quick shot at him, catching him in the shoulder. This hastens Otto’s determination to get around the other side of the building. Bob shouts back to Taffy who quickly runs to the opposite side of the hotel. Skorzeny emerges right next to where the Welshman is laying in wait for him. Taffy gives the SS-Officer a full blast from his Grease Gun, leaving Skorzeny little more than a bloody pulp beneath the window.

Meanwhile, as Piotr, Lodd and Terry all reach the top of the stairs, they are met with withering fire from Italians hiding in the doorways of the hotel rooms on the second floor. Receiving some minor wounds in the process, they all dive for cover in order to make it a more fair fight. As is their wont, many of the Italians immediately give up and cower in their rooms, but a significant number of them continue to fight back and the corridor and doorways of the hotel start to get ripped to shreds by all of the lead flying around. Little by little, however, the party members are managing to whittle down the remaining Italian defenders, despite them using their cover very effectively, while taking only minor damage in the process.

Having dispensed with Skorzeny, Taffy and Bob realize that there is little for them left to do on ground level now and so begin to make their way up to join the others with their firefight on the upper floor. Unfortunately, before they get there, another squad of Fallschirmjager bursts through the main door. A well-aimed grenade from Taffy manages to take out several of them, but Taffy and Bob are still under heavy fire from the survivors with their MP-40s, with Taffy in particular taking some heavy damage. Bruce lends a hand from the staircase. As is so often the case, he doesn’t use his Colt that often but, when he does, he makes every shot count. He does get injured in the process, however.

Between the three of them, they eventually manage to finish off the Nazis.

It’s too late for them to be of much assistance to those on the upper level as the battle up there is already won, although Piotr, Lodd and Terry are all pretty badly shot up in the process.

There are a lot of rooms in the hotel. To check out every single one of them would take a while and could lead to a lot of shooting back at them from panicked Wops.

“The two outside that room over there seemed to put up a particularly strong fight (for Italians anyway),” says Terry.

Lodd decides to be the one to check the room out.

Terry was right. Standing in the middle of the room, looking half confused/half arrogant, is the familiar shaven-headed figure that they immediately recognize as Il Duce.

“Chi cazzo sei?” Mussolini asks.

“You’re coming with us,” Lodd says, towering over the dictator who always looked taller than his 5’ 7" on the newsreels.

Lodd grabs Il Duce, putting him in an armlock and proceeds to frog-march him down the corridor while Piotr and Terry cover all of the doorways. Mussolini continues to babble away in Italian, but puts up no resistance, presumably trying to work out whether he is now better or worse off than he was when he was a prisoner of the Carabinieri.

They bring him down the stairs. Taffy is watching from the main doors.

“Another glider has just landed,” he says. “The fighting’s not over yet.”

By the time that all of the party members are back in the foyer of the hotel, the next squad of Fallschirmjagers are out of their glider and making use of the cover provided by the rocky terrain to make their way towards the hotel. Lodd passes Mussolini over to the quite badly beaten up Piotr for safekeeping, checks on his bazooka and MG42 and join the others as they start to exit the hotel.

Thanks to Lodd’s bazooka and some on target shooting from the others in the party, they manage to dispense with the final squad of German paratroopers without too much damage – their automatic rifles being a lot better at this range than the Fallschirmjagers’ MP40’s.

Finally the way to the cable car station is clear. They can all see that the black dots of more gliders in the sky are getting larger all of the time. They know that they are going to act quickly if they are going to get to the cable car station before more Fallschirmjagers arrive. Certainly there is no time to retrieve the contents of the canister that was dropped along with them as this fell far away from the dropzone on the opposite side of the Hotel Imperatore. Realizing that he is low on ammo for his M3 now, Taffy scavenges an MP40 and several clips from a couple of the dead paratroopers.

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Entering Hotel Campo Imperatore
21 September 1943

As they were warned en route, parachutes don’t work as well at such high altitudes as the Gran Sasso plain and the party members realize that they are falling a lot faster than they did on previous drops. Their training back in England was good though and the majority of them fall precisely where they wanted to – just behind a rocky slope around 100 feet to the south-east of the building. The only exceptions are Terry who comes down a distance to the south and Franco – who is more used to watching British pilots using their parachutes than using one himself – who falls quite far to the north east – dangerously close to the sharp drop off the plain. The canister containing the extra equipment also falls a little further away than they would have liked.

As they all discard their parachutes, they notice that there are eight Italian guards watching them. They all appear to be jabbering to one another excitedly, seemingly in a state of confusion. With Franco being too far away to try and negotiate with them, the party member decide just to shoot them. As soon as the first shots are fired and the first few are injured, the majority of them decide to turn tail and run away as fast as possible.

The sound of shooting alerts more of the guards who start to come around the sides of the building. Shooting at the confused Italians as they arrive on the scene is like shooting fish in a barrel. Those who aren’t mown down usually just run away and very few of them are brave enough to take any pot shots at the party members – and those that do don’t come anywhere close to hitting anything.

With Terry and Franco now just about having caught up with the others, the party members realize that they need to advance on the hotel if they are to continue with their mission. Bob leads the way, with the others following behind him. They see that the balcony is raised ten feet off the ground – tough to get up. Lodd acts as a human ladder in order to give the others a boost up – just like they learned in their basic training.

Bob is the first one up and sees that he is next to the hotel’s restaurant – where a large number of guards were enjoying a typically Italian five hour lunch. They have obviously heard the sounds of shooting outside, but it is only when they see Bob on the balcony that they decide what they are going to do. Most of them, typically, decide that they will simply run away. But a fair few of them decide to fight and, there are still enough of them to cause Bob some problems as he gets hit.

Fortunately help is on its way. Unfortunately that help is Piotr.

Piotr lobs a grenade at the group right in front of him all clustering close to the window. Unfortunately his aim is short and, although it takes out a fair few Italians, the blast peppers him with shards of broken glass. Piotr is hurting already.

As other party members start to clamber up onto the balcony to help Bob and Piotr, they are alerted by the sound of a loud sickening crunch to the south of them. They see, to their horror, that a glider with German markings has landed in almost exactly the same spot that they parachuted onto just moments earlier.

Thinking quickly, Terry lobs a smoke grenade just behind them so as to obscure their position from the Nazis who are starting to emerge from the glider. The remainder of the party members manage to clamber up onto the balcony. The party members are starting to clear out the restaurant of its occupants now, although they continue to stream into the hallway from other rooms and down the stairs from the floors above.

The party members are all up onto the balcony after Terry gives Lodd a helping hand up. They manage to get up just in time, however, as the Nazis from the glider have now managed to run through the smoke and are assembling at the base of the balcony. Lodd takes his bazooka and aims at the centre of the group. Although his aim is slightly off, it’s still like shooting fish in a barrel and he takes down several of them before he rushes into the hotel to join his companions.

The unfair fight against the Italians continues as the party members mow them down as soon as they show themselves. The majority of those who aren’t slaughtered immediately simply run for the main door. Franco manages to convince three of them to join in with the party members. Unfortunately none of them last too long, however, as the remaining SS members are now starting to get up on the balcony. The Italians with their clumsy Carcano M1891 rifles are no match for the SS stormtroopers and their MP40’s and all are quickly cut down. The party members fare a lot better against the advancing Germans, taking them down before they are able to get through the windows. All except for their leader – SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny. Although he gets hit as he enters the room, he does not drop. Seeing how badly outnumbered he is by the party members while the rest of his squad struggle to get up onto the balcony, he quickly takes refuge in one of the adjoining rooms.

Franco tries to take out some of the braver Italians who are using doorways as cover. Although he manages this, he leaves himself exposed in the corridor in the process. Skorzeny unleashes a full auto attack on the unlucky Italian which practically cuts him in two, before the Austrian ducks back inside the doorway.

Taffy ducks into the large conference room on the opposite side of the hallways from where Skorzeny is hiding, laying in wait for him. Bob holds back, managing to pick off the remaining SS troopers as they manage to make it up onto the balcony. The remainder of the party are clustered in the centre of the ground floor which in happier times was the reception desk of the hotel. Now it is the home to a Breda Modello 37 Heavy Machine Gun which they had swung around ready to deal with the Nazis coming onto the balcony. Between them, Bob and Terry seem to have taken care of all of them, including the Italian General that they had brought with them in an attempt to get the Italian carabinieri onto their side.

Instead, more Germans arrive through the front door as a squad of Fallschirmjäger rush through the door. In the process, they are bunched up nicely ready for Piotr to toss a grenade into their midst. Although falling a little short, he still manages to take out half of the squad. The others scatter looking for cover, but Lodd’s MG42 sees to several of them, while Piotr, Terry and Bruce take out the remainder.

Italians are continuing to pour down the stairs. In most cases, they are mown down before they know what has hit them or else bolt for the door as quickly as they can. Sooner or later though, one of the Italians is going to get brave and lucky. Unfortunately, Piotr is the one on the receiving end of a direct hit from the Carcano, which knocks him back. Fortunately, The Padre is next to him and manages to patch him up so the Pole doesn’t go the same way as Franco did.

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Briefing in Catania
21 September 1943

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a ruddy mess.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Grazie.”

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

“it’s as simple as that.”

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

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

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

He looks to his companions:

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

The others nod in agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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My Kingdom for a Hearse
20 September 1943

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piotr speaks with the undertaker and then reports back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The airman smiles as he replies:

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

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Waiting & Eating Vegetables
19 September 1943

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

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

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Tales from the Crypt
18 September 1943

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Waiting for an Escape Plan
17 September 1943

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

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

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

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

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

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