The Coldwarspyship Lord Ancaster was holding position off the coast of Antarctica, surrounded by growlers and bergy-bits in a heaving swell of slush. Icebergs as big as a house or the size of a small principality surrounded them – white, ice blue, ultramarine, thrusting pinnacles, towers and cathedral spires skywards. Tall arches perched on tiny rafts of ice, sculpted by wind and sea, drifted by, escarpments stretched out towards the horizon. The trawler inched up to the pack ice, pushing forward till the crunching frozen sea no longer gave way. On deck a shore detail of Kronstadt sailors lined the rail, white parkas over their winter weight telnyashkas, AKS-74s slung, skis at the ready. The expansive ice flow brought to mind the last days of Kronstadt One – Trotsky’s assault across the frozen sea in 1921 and the fall of the fortress to the Red Army – the day that the revolution was finally lost. They began to hum a tune from the film Specnaz, haunting and baleful, whilst a lone tenor sang out lyrics that told of betrayal, lost hopes and exile in Finland, his mournful tones reverberating across the grumbling, crackling ice.
With grey clouds the sky is veiled
Nerves tensed like balalaika strings
Snow falling from morning to night
Frozen time seems an eternity
We are assaulted from all directions
Infantry, machine gun and artillery fire
The Reds are killing us, but some will survive
Once again, we sacrifice ourselves on waves of attack
We are few in number, but we are wearing our stripy t-shirts…
Skipper Harold Entwhistle scanned the shelf from the bridge-house. They were enjoying a welcome break after a succession of squalls. Spring was well on the way and the weather could only improve. Through his 7×50 watch keeping binoculars he could make out the cliffs where ice met the land. Beyond them was New Swabia, mystery and, without doubt, adventure – but not for him. Generations of Entwhistles had found adventure enough on the sea, someone else – these irrepressible Russians – could battle blizzards and Nazis, and who knew what else, down here on the wrong side of the world.
The capstan clanked and derrick groaned as two NK-26 propeller driven sledges were winched onto the frozen sea. The Comrade-Starshina leaned out of the open bridge window and shouted down to his lads below.
Drivers and Petty Officer machine gunners clambered into the aerosanis whilst the ratings knelt down to attach their skis. The M-11G aircraft engines revved and gunners’ heads popped up behind the snowmobiles’ 7.62mm DT machine guns. The Chief Petty Officer, standing on the aft starboard ski of his lightly armoured sledge raised an arm and waved the group forward. As the sledges picked their way slowly and noisily across the ice, with the shore detail towed behind, it began to snow, flakes whipped into swirling tunnels by the whirling blades. Harold Entwhistle watched the party disappear as the weather closed in.