Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Damn Busters

RAF Clandestine’s Briefing Room smelt of two day old socks, stale tobacco and Fruity Frogmore’s 4711 Cologne. Expectant faces turned upwards as Wing Commander Binky Beaumont stepped onto the podium while waving a hand to hush the assembled airmen. He jammed a pipe between his teeth.

“Grentulmum, quot peese,” he said.

“Speak up, Skipper,” shouted Beaumont’s flight engineer, Klink The Collaborator. Beaumont often wondered how Klink earnt his nickname. Aside from the Luftwaffe flying jacket Klink insisted on wearing and his habit of heel-clicking when being addressed by a superior officer, he was as normal as the rest of the crew. Beaumont gazed admiringly at his men. Dear old Bumpy Ryder the bombardier was, as usual, in the front row. Bumpy hadn’t let his two glass eyes – the result of catching flak during a heavy water factory raid – warm his sangfroid. He’d say: “Accuracy isn’t everything,” as his bombs cascaded down through the clouds.

Next to Bumpy was Rear Gunner Clive “Annie Oakley” Silverton, so called not for his deadly aim but the denim skirt he wore into battle. On the right sat Roger “Wrong Way” Talbot, a nervy navigator with a penchant for reading his maps upside down.

Pulling the pipe from his teeth, Beaumont repeated: “Gentlemen, quiet please.” With a telescopic pointer, he tapped a large wall map behind him. “This is our target - the Bratwurst Dam, Germany.”

“That’s Sevenoaks, Kent,” sighed Talbot.

“Well spotted, Wrong Way.” Guiltily, Beaumont tapped a more easterly spot. “I meant here-ish. In a few hours, we’re going to give Fritz a bit of gyp.”

Silverton lifted his skirt hem an inch. “We’ll also give Jerry what for. Damn Krauts, Boche, Huns …”

Beaumont held up a silencing hand. “We get the picture, Annie.”

He paused. At the back of the room, the youngest crew member, “Jail Bait” Bingham, took the opportunity to flick a Zippo lighter over the bowl of his pipe. He sucked a stream of naked flame up the pipe stem, sending him backwards off his chair.

“Next time, tobacco in first,” advised Beaumont.

“Right you are again, Skipper,” the lad called back.

That’s how I like my men, thought Beaumont, mustard-keen and toadying. Swinging his pointer, he slapped the tip against a mounted illustration of the RAF’s newest weapon, the Brick Bomb. Developed for use against dams, the concept was simple. Drop the oblong-shaped bomb at just the right speed, height, angle and distance from the dam’s retaining wall, and it would skip like a thrown stone over the water before detonating against its target. There’d been minor teething problems. “Sinks like a brick every time,” Klink had said on their last practice run. “Have the scientists thought of making the bomb another shape?”

“Don’t be impertinent,” Beaumont had snapped. “This bomb was created by the finest British minds.”

"Jawohl. Zat ist the problem,” Klink had muttered.

Beaumont had stroked his chin, a difficult feat given he’d been wearing an oxygen mask strapped across the face of his leather flying helmet. Hmmm. There might be something in Klink’s remark.

Beaumont had reported Klink’s comment to the authorities. Here was the result. With an upward stroke, Beaumont flipped over the Brick Bomb drawing to reveal a second illustration, this time of a flat, oval-shaped device. “Let me present Mark Two of the Brick Bomb – the Discus Bomb. Some of our boys are taking it for a spin right now. To maintain secrecy, it’ll be an elegant, low charge explosion. In a few minutes, the bomb will be tested on an empty barn on the shores of nearby Lake Duck.”

On cue, the drone of an Avro Lancaster bomber filled the room.

“Do you think we’ll hear the blast?” asked Bumpy Ryder. “Because I might have trouble seeing …”

The Briefing Room windows blew out as shockwaves from the exploding Discus Bomb surged across the countryside.

Flicking shards of broken glass off his epaulettes, Beaumont strode to the nearest window and shouted in the direction of the vaporised barn: “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”

Still smouldering – both from his temper and a burning piece of window frame in his hair – Beaumont left the room, his faithful black Labrador beside him. As they headed for the airfield, Beaumont patted the dog. “Let’s take a shufti at the undercart before we get the green. What do you say to that, Ni …” A klaxon horn blast drowned him out.

In the darkness, Beaumont could just about make out the row of Lancasters on the tarmac. Inspection completed, he clambered aboard with his dog in his arms. Beaumont encouraged his crew to bring a pet along for the ride. It made the long flights to and from blowing the bejesus out of sleeping German cities more family-like.

Klink was already in the flight engineer’s seat, his large Bundesadler eagle perched on his shoulder. Beaumont hesitated. Allowing pets on board was one thing, but this eagle was studying his throat. Perhaps he’d raise the matter another time.

After the routine checklist, Beaumont pushed the aircraft’s throttle controls forward. He glanced down at his dog. “This is it. Chocks away, eh, Ni …” The roar of the four Merlin engines smothered his voice.

Almost wing tip to wing tip, the three bombers in the first wave of attack aircraft swept low, the light of a full moon throwing their shadows on French fields and villages.

“At this height, we’re invisible to radar and the Luftwaffe will never catch us,” said Beaumont.

Klink said nothing. His eagle cocked its head and admired Beaumont’s Adam’s Apple.

Crossing over the German border, the low-flying Lancasters hit heavy anti-aircraft fire and the tops of several clothes washing lines. “I suggest we take these crates up another 20 feet,” said Klink. “And shut the side window.”

Beaumont nodded. A pair of large ladies’ bloomers was entangled around his head. Freeing himself, he looked out at the ack-ack explosive rounds stitching the night sky: “Amazing. It’s as if they knew we were coming.”

Klink said nothing.

The rear gunner’s voice crackled in the crews’ headsets. “Bandits! Twelve o’clock high!”

Wrong Way looked up from his cramped navigation desk. “Where’s that?” The answer came from above as a sweep of tracer bullets perforated the fuselage.

Taking evasive action, Beaumont flung the heavy bomber sideways. In the rear of the aircraft, the contents of the Elsan chemical toilet shifted menacingly.

Wrong Way pressed his radio button: “Bratwurst dam dead ahead.” He hoped.

Like birds of prey, the three bombers swooped down towards the dam with Beaumont’s aircraft in the lead, its bomb bay doors open. Holding a moistened fingertip high, Bumpy Ryder shouted: “Close enough. Discus Bomb away.”

In the valley below the dam, Jerry and Fritz Hun – two elderly bachelor brothers sharing the old family cottage – were reading The Bible before breakfast.

Mein Gott, this Noah was prophetic,” said Jerry. “He knew a flood was coming before the first drop of rain.”

Gl├╝cklicherweise,” replied Fritz.  “We are safe from flooding here. It is so peaceful.”

High above them, Bumpy’s bouncing bomb skipped towards its target.

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Copyright 2016 GREG FLYNN

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