- Jul 1, 2007
No. This couldn't be happening. This.Could.Not.Be.Happening. He dropped his torch where he was and didn't even register that it shattered into a thousand pieces on the stone floor. He rushed past Drake who was trying to hold him back, but Ian would have none of that and rushed forward to the man now standing in the cell. In the dim light he could barely see him, but it was undeniably him. A year older, some beard growth and incredibly thin, but it was him. Ian studied him from top to bottom. Felix was dressed in some sort of drab and grey-blue garment that was probably standard prison clothing. His face showed the sings of 'being worked over' and he had hollow cheeks that told of weeks of malnourishment, but other than that he seemed to be in comparatively good shape. Ian opened his mouth to say something, but the other beat him to it.
“It is you Ian!”
Ian found himself in a bear hug and when he stepped back he saw it was real.
The two men stared at each other before Ian broke.
“God Felix, I thought you were dead! If I had known...”
Felix grinned, even though is what not the grin he usually had had and said:
“I don't blame you, buddy. I did at times, but not now, not anymore.”
Drake had watched the exchange with wide eyes, because he could still remember the time when he had worked with both of them, but he knew that they had no time to loose.
“Sorry to interrupt, but we are on a tight schedule and....”
Ian waved it away and said:
“You're right. But could you take care of packing up?”
With this Drake stepped away from the cell door while Ian and Felix awkwardly stood in the cell.
“What took you so long?” Felix asked.
This was something Ian wasn't really looking forward to explaining. In spite of Felix apparently accepting that he had been thought to be dead, he would most likely not like that there had been no real efforts to find out if he was really and truly dead.
“Uhm..... To be perfectly honest, we didn't really come for you, we just happened to be coming here. From what we knew this was a minor outpost that coordinates whatever they gather in the Mediterranean Area...”
Felix nodded. After all, they had brought him here only days ago as far as he could measure by the meagre meals he had been given. Then however the whole reality of the situation came crashing down on him: He would be going home, just like he had imagined for more than a year now, and that made him ask a question that had been burning in the back of his mind ever since Ian had opened the door.
Ian turned again and instantly realized what Felix was trying to say.
“They are fine. London hasn't been bombed much, they are fine. I haven't been back since Market Garden, but from what your sister has written me it's all as well as can be expected.”
“Market Garden? Wha..”
Ian mentally smacked himself. Of course Felix had been out of the loop for more than a year and didn't know about a lot of things...
“Oh bugger. I didn't realize that you possibly didn't know. Market Garden. Well...We booted the Eyties out of Africa and are now booting them out of Italy proper. We have invaded Europe, my friend.”
He slapped Felix on the back and then reached into the pocket of the uniform where he had put the Walther PPK.
“You will need this.”
Ian began to walk out of the cell, but then turned.
“It's good to have you back, Felix. It wasn't the same without you.”
Knowing that this was extremely emotional by Ian's standards for public conduct he followed his friend outside and decided not to ask all of his many, many questions until they were alone. Outside he began to take in his friend as he was talking to that other officer, Dre..Dro...Drake was his name and he began to find subtle differences. Ian had visibly aged, not in the way of lines on his face, it was more his behaviour and the evidence that he had seen action in the meantime. Felix only now noticed that Ian was wearing the rank Insignia of a Colonel of Marines, which meant that he had to have a fourth stripe on his Navy Uniform, and he wondered how Ian had managed that. In Intelligence promotions were few and hard to come by, because by the nature of things an Intelligence Officer was seen as a bit of a rouge, and Ian most certainly fit that bill. Something else he saw gave him a bit of a smile, and he made a mental note to ask Ian later. Soon enough the three were walking up to the door of the tunnel again, Ian and Felix instantly falling back into their old routine of work.
The next ten minutes were spent with putting the captured papers into the almost empty backpacks of the Paras that had been emptied of most of the standard equipment meant for the mission into occupied Yugoslavia before they had flown off. Still most was still lying in a heap and all the paras except the one with the backpack wireless set were wondering what to do with it when Ian once again took charge, and decided that what they could carry would have to do. The most important piece of Intelligence gathered was the Enigma that he himself would carry on his back and the codebooks Drake had in his own, and everything else was just a by-product of their mission. As a trained Intelligence Officer he hated leaving anything behind, but there was nothing he could do except making sure that the most important bits were still here, and he had done that as well as he could under the time constraints.
The Time! He looked at his wristwatch and saw that they did not have much left.
He turned to Drake and said: “We better leg it out of here when we don't want to be blown to kingdom come when the RAF arrive.”
Drake nodded. “Agreed. Now, thanks to Gerries generosity we don't even have to walk. All these lorries are filled up to the brim.” He turned to his men and had them collect all the weapons of the Germans that were on the ground floor of the house while Ian took this brief respite to take Felix aside again.
“Damnit, Felix. I still feel...”
Felix waved it away and grinned, this time as loopsided as Ian remembered. “Let's not talk about that. If you had gone back for me you would most certainly have been killed too.”
Ian let it slide for the moment, but he vowed that he would apologize to Felix one day. Right now there was too much to do, because they had little more than two and a half hours left to get to the airfield and secure it for the Dakota to land, and in this moment they were watching how Drake stripped the body of the only dead on their side so far of everything that could allow the Germans to identify him. Both Ian and Felix knew that Drake did not like leaving people behind, but here they could not bring him back, there was nothing they could do but taking his identification and writing a heartfelt letter to his relations. They stashed all the bodies inside and surrounded them with petrol taken from one the car that was parked in a shed close to the house and then mounted the lorries that would take them to the rendez-vous with the second group. Ian had volunteered to drive one of the lorries and Felix had decided that this was about as private as they were going to get, sitting beside Ian.
“You want to know what happened?”
“One day I will tell you, but right now it's....difficult...”
Ian said no more. Whatever Felix had suffered through, it had to be difficult for him to say the least, and he couldn't fault him...
“One thing I don't understand.” interrupted Felix. “One thing I don't understand is why they treated me as a regular Prisoner of War when they could have shot me out of hand. The blokes that captured me after I was wounded were SS, but according to what I was told and what I could piece together the Abwehr chaps took me over while I was out. They nursed me back to health before they started questioning me.”
Ian said nothing and shifted the lorry into another gear. This was indeed puzzling and something he would most certainly think about.
“I talked, Ian.” Felix was clearly ashamed. “Once I was in reasonably good health again the interrogations started, and trust me the Germans are good at this. After two weeks I was so hungry and so...broken that I would have told them anything. They mostly asked me about our mission back then, and I didn't know too much about that to begin with. After they were satisfied they chucked me into a castle somewhere in Eastern Germany, where they interrogated me again, probably to cross check what I had said earlier, and about a month ago they put me into the cell where you found me.”
“God Felix... everybody talks sooner or later, I don't fault you for that.” Ian said sympathetically and decided never to press Felix any further.
“You won't, but what about.....” Ian knew Felix well enough to know who Felix was talking about. “Oh bloody hell no, Felix. Your folks will most likely give you the third degree for dying in the first place, but in the long run they'll be glad to have you back. As for the Fleet, trust me when I tell you that the patented Fleming Old Boys network will be working for you.” “Why?” Felix was genuinely puzzled. “Because, my old friend, I trust you. I trust you, you are my best friend and I'll be damned if I ever give up on you again. That's why.”
No more was said until the lorry in front of them suddenly stopped. The pre-arranged contact signal with the second group had been spotted and the lorries were now hidden behind the bend of a minor side road so that a casual by-passer would not see them right away. Felix was given a spare white snowjacket and the most chanchy part of their mission began.
On the Airfield itself no one had seen or heard anything of the battle taking place at the house, only that the lorry that they had sent had not come back yet which was hardly surprising in this kind of weather since the roads were slippery and no one wanted to race the clock on these kinds of streets. The gunfire therefore came as a total surprise. First the guards walking about on the roofs of the few buildings dropped down dead one after another, felled by accurate rifle fire, then several machine guns started hammering their bullets into the barracks and the two Ju-52 that were standing on the field in front of their hangars. The Guardhouse was riddled with fire and fragments when several grenades exploded inches away and then white-clad figures firing machine pistols from the hip more to keep the heads of the Luftwaffe personnell down than to actually kill anyone. The machine guns were belt-fed Bren guns that were the first of the Mk.VIII variety that had one special feature, namely that by simply switching out a part of the receiver one could reconfigure any given Mk.VIII for either belt or magazine feed, something that would later in the war become of prime importance.
The gunners saw that their comrades had broken through the feeble outer defences and picked up their guns, joined by the snipers as the other troopers swept through the airfield buildings like a scythe. The field had been manned by only a small group of Luftwaffe ground crews because no aircraft were permanently stationed here, this was merely a dispersal field for the aircraft defending this part of Europe from the Allied bombers. And even if there had been more of their number, the Luftwaffe crews were no match for the Special Air Service who unlike them had actually been trained in Infantry tactics, and so after only a few minutes the last surviving Germans in six miles were tied up and stashed in an empty ammunition bunker. Drake was uneasy with dividing his small force and therefore did not put out sentries beyond the immediate surroundings of the Hangars and a part of the runway. After they had taken the Airfield, the British had found themselves in possession of some German small arms, but most importantly stocks of food that proved to be far superior to the combat rations the SAS troopers were carrying, and so while his mean feasted on fresh food, Drake was starting to work on the wireless set in the airfield's communication room. The mission had been issued with a portable set, but Drake had found the German one to have a much stronger broadcasting capacity and using this one made sure that the flyboys would hear him. After carefully adjusting the set to the specified frequency he pressed the broadcast button.
“Broadsword calling Dannyboy, Broadsword calling Dannyboy, come in, over.” It took him almost twenty minutes to coax an answer out of the set, probably because the mountains around reflected part of the signal back onto the antenna. “Dannyboy calling Broadsword, I hope you boys are ready to receive us, over.” The quality was too bad to hear what accent the voice had, but Drake felt as if he could hear a faint whiff of foreign. Still, he was glad that the other bloke had finally answered and pressed the broadcast button again.
“Broadsword, this is Dannyboy. Hometown is secured and locked down tight, you can make your approach. Bastion has been cleared of friendly personnel. Over.”
“Roger that, Broadsword. Hold tight, we will be there in an hour.”
All they could do now was wait.
No.133 Squadron was approaching the the valley at low height with the Dakota travelling amidst them. When they crossed over the airfield, Drake personally fired a green flare, because now it was useless to disguise their presence. The Dakota turned, and while two Mosquitoes circled over the airfield she came in to land just as farther east the house went up in a series of Explosions, courtesy of the Royal Air Force.
The pilots then joined their comrades over the airfield and watched as the last SAS troops boarded the plane that immediately turned, spun it's engines to full military power and clawed it's way back into the air. Inside the men slept the sleep of men who had done a day's work and both Ian and Felix did not wake up until Dakota touched down on the airfield it had left hours ago. Felix stepped out and suddenly felt different, free even. He looked around and it was refreshing and soothing at the same time to be surrounded by people speaking English, by the familiar uniforms and mannerisms, and just at that moment, as if on cue a formation of two Squadrons of Spitfires flow overhead, transferring from Sicily to airfields south of Foggia, a British and a Polish Squadron flying in perfect formation. Yes, he was free again.
Spitfire Mk.V of 303 Dywizjon Myśliwski "Warszawski im. Tadeusza Kościuszki (No.303 Polish Fighter Squadron)
[Notes: So there we go. There are still some issues, some I want to explore, some I think I have to explore for the sake of plausibility.]
 No pun intended. Seriously.
 In reality I am doing this because of the availability of decent pictures.
Spitfire Image thanks to BaderBusCompany over on whatifmodellers.com