The U-boat Pens

st_nazaire_uboat“All crew to their stations. Prepare to surface.” The distorted voice of Felix von Luckner crackled over the ship’s Tannoy system.

“Kapitän Entwhistle, if you would like to join me at the periscope.”

Minutes later Harold appeared on the Command Deck accompanied by his Chief Engineer, Albert Fleck, short and skeletal in a boiler suit that had once been white, hob-nail boots, a dish-rag round his neck and a woollen tea-cosy on his head.

“Ah Kapitän, and you have brought your stoker. Would you like to take a look at our destination?” Von Luckner ushered the trawlermen to the periscope and Harold peered into the eyepiece. He could see ice and snow – pretty much like all the ice and snow they had been surrounded by since coming south. Dead ahead was a low black rectangular orifice sheltered beneath an overhang in the cliff.

“Can I see too?” asked Albert. As he surveyed the desolate scene a lonely wandering albatross waddled over to the funny stick protruding through a hole in the lightly frozen ocean and blocked out the view. Distorted goggle eyes peered in at the startled artificer.

“What the f… …is that?

“The entrance to our U-Boat pens,” replied the Kapitänleutnant, blissfully unaware of the bird’s antics. He turned to his ensign, “Take her up.”

“Bow planes ten degrees, rudder amidships, blow all tanks.”

The Seeadler surfaced, breaking through the thin layer of barely formed ice and startling the inquisitive seabird into panicked flight.

A queue of ship’s officers formed at the bottom of the conning tower ladder whilst the Oberfähnrich climbed up to open the hatch. Von Luckner took two paces back and, with a hand pressed against Harold’s chest, indicated that the trawlermen should do the same. Seawater showered through the hatchway onto the up-turned faces below.

“This happens every time. They never learn.”

The submersible’s deck officers, still a little damp, were clustered outside on top of the conning tower when Harold and Albert joined them and the Seeadler was gliding silently towards the cavernous entrance. As they entered the submarine pens the crew lined the deck to take a salute from stevedores gathered on the nearest floating quay; a small brass band with a glockenspiel played ‘Edelweiss’. While Seeadler navigated alongside and was made fast Bert Fleck observed a Cuban, Foxtrot Class submarine and a Type VIIC/41 Flak U-Boat on neighbouring pontoons. The sleek Cuban vessel’s cargo of crates and steel drums was unloaded and stacked on shore. She was taking on the last of the supplies for her return journey and appeared to be making ready to sail.

“Stop engines. Prepare to disembark.” Once the trawlermen had been rounded up Easter joined Harry and Albert with von Luckner, Billy Tate remained with the crew who were quickly escorted ashore.

“Your men will be treated with respect, Kapitän. You may check on their wellbeing in a little while. But I wish to be with you when you first set eyes on our establishment here.” The Kapitänleutnant indicated the gangway. They proceeded along the pontoon to a short ramp and then ascended a long escalator. Globe lamps on patinated bronze mounts lit their way, the architecture was modernist with a severely Teutonic twist.

Aqaba

Loening's ElsanBeryl was naked under her voluminous indigo thobe, reclining on rugs and cushions within a traditional Bedouin black tent. An embroidered and tasselled wool camel bag nearby was playing As Time Goes By. She concentrated, hard. Phone. That’s my iPhone. I’m… I’ve got a phone call! Beryl dived for the bag, rummaged about in it and found the phone just as it stopped ringing. She was cursing fluently in Arabic, English and Swahili when it rang again. This time she answered.

“Agent 160? Can we talk freely?”

“We can,” she replied, “The boy is with his sheep.”

“Get down to Aqaba as quickly as you can,” it was Larry’s factotum, Barrymore, on the other end of the phone, “There will be a Loening Air Yacht down at the waterfront and Dark Flo will be joining you. She has all the details for your mission.”

“OK…” Beryl paused as if to say more.

“That’s not a problem is it?”

“Not a problem. I’ll be there sometime this afternoon.”

Beryl felt a weight lifted from her mind – action at last, and an excuse to move on. She really had enjoyed her time with Abdulla, but his affair with the blond English woman was doing much too much for his confidence after a short lifetime with nothing but his goats and camels. Before long he would have become a pain. It was better this way. Quickly changing into her flying kit and throwing a few necessaries into a threadbare carpetbag she wrote a hasty note of thanks and regret and left it on the brass tray under a coffee pot. It was but a short stroll to her Dragon Rapide. Beryl checked the fuel gauge, waved goodbye to the cluster of Bedouin children that had gathered around and, buckling her flying-helmet under her chin, taxied to the makeshift landing strip. She was airborne when she noticed Abdulla’s Toyota kicking up dust as it sped towards the camp. She banked the Rapide, flew low over his pick-up truck and dipped the wings in salute before heading south.

Arriving in Aqaba, Beryl found the seaplane swinging gently at its buoy as the tide turned. She selected a café on the Corniche, sat at an outside table, ordered a strong Turkish coffee and the fill of a shisha pipe. She would wait for Dark Flo to contact her, and pulling a well-thumbed Penguin paperback copy of Freya Stark’s Valleys of the Assassins from her canvas knapsack, she settled back in the uncomfortable plastic chair.

She had reread a chapter and a half and was beginning to drift when the winsome figure of Dark Flo appeared in front of her. The thick black hair was plaited into a single pigtail down her back and a thin, sleeveless frock exposed pale bare arms and legs, blushed by a hint of sun-burn and glistening damp in the heat of the early afternoon. Flo sat, took a long drag on the mouthpiece of Beryl’s hookah and waved to a waiter.

“A glass of mint tea, if you would be so kind.”

“So…” Beryl beamed and leaned in close to her willowy companion, “What have you got us into this time?”

“We’re going to Antarctica. Well I am. You’re to overfly New Swabia and I will bail out over some whaling station or other. Larry’s heard from Bamse at last and it appears they’ve made a right hash of things. So good old Ninja Flo gets to don a wingsuit and do her Wonder Woman act.

“Larry reckons it’ll be easier to find places on the way to set down and refuel with the amphibian than your Dominie. So he’s lumbered us with that crate over there.”

“Great.” The pair giggled together.

They took a room in a family run, backstreet hotel for the night. Throughout the nocturnal hours there was no let up in the clamour from the street and the fragrant air hung hot and humid. They did not sleep much. Next morning they had a breakfast of croissants and grilled halloumi cheese before setting off for the waterfront. After some hard bargaining Beryl secured the services of a local felucca skipper and they were ferried out to the air yacht. Flo produced the keys to the Loening and balanced on the felucca’s thwart as she reached for the door. Beryl passed up their luggage and then clambered, without much dignity, into the seaplane. Giving them an appreciative leer, the boat skipper sheeted in the large lateen sail on his skiff and veered away.

Within the fuselage most of passenger seats had been ripped out to make room for additional fuel tanks. An Elsan ‘Bristol’ chemical toilet and pipe cots had also been installed so that the duo would not have to go in search of accommodation every time they stopped for the night.WAE Loening Air Yacht

“How far is Antarctica? This is going to be real fun, I don’t think,” muttered Dark Flo as Beryl climbed to the open cockpit to begin flight checks.

“Don’t know. Check the charts. And can you make sure they cover the entire journey? I don’t want to be trying to track down a copy of ‘Admiralty 4075’ in some one horse South American back water.”

Sea Dog Bamse

Bamse Shower SAs the Lord Ancaster was hailed from the submarine, Bamse the Norwegian St Bernard, had concealed himself in the foc’sle paint locker and managed to remain undetected.

After two days at sea the Lord Ancaster arrived at a small, ice free whaling harbour in Neuschwabenland and the Acting Kommänder of the prize crew, wishing to demonstrate his seamanship and impress onlookers, steamed his charge at her top speed of ten knots towards the quay. It had been his intention to ring Full Astern and spin the wheel at a precisely judged moment so that the Ancaster turned sharply, lost momentum and drifted alongside the jetty in a single and elegant manoeuvre. Sadly, he was unused to the quirky character of his newfound command, and to the unreliability of the ship’s telegraph. The command Full Astern never reached the engine room, in fact the pretty brass handle of the telegraph came away in his hand and the trawler charged full pelt into the quayside, destroying the wooden jetty, rupturing the bow water tank and scattering paint pots around Bamse’s hidey-hole. Stevedores on the quayside were showered in drinking water, which froze instantly, and a rainbow coloured St Bernard appeared briefly on deck before bounding ashore and disappearing into the shadows.

At the same time as Oberleutnant Wilhelm Cremer was contemplating the fickleness of fate and his suddenly diminished chance of commanding so much as a turd in a piss-pot any time soon, Bamse had slipped into the ratings’ changing rooms. Rubbing in a liberal coating of Swarfega and following up with a hot soapy shower he had managed to remove the worst of the paint. He emerged cautiously from the shower and walked straight into a New Swabian seaman.

“Gott im himmel! Einen Hund. Was machst du hier?”

Bamse ducked back into the shower and pulled the curtain across while the sailor screamed, “Alarm!”

The changing room’s steel watertight door banged and a muscular figure in singlet and shorts, hard blue eyes below a severe blonde crew cut, burst in.

“What’s all this racket?”

“Oberbootsmann, there is a dog in the shower.”

“Do not be ridiculous Herman, there are no dogs on the base. There have been no dogs here since the last sled husky died in 1956. See.”

He threw back the curtain to reveal Bamse, with the expression of a startled owl and holding a towel in front of his body to preserve his modesty.   The petty officer ignored him.

“It would be impossible for a dog to be here without me knowing it. Now report to sick bay and get this hysteria nipped in the bud.”

“But…” Herman twitched his head towards Bamse.

“Now, Matrosengefreiter!”

“Aye aye, Oberbootsmann.” And, switching off the light as they departed, the pair left a stunned Bamse to contemplate his newfound fortune in the dark. There were no dogs in Neuschwabenland. Bamse was a dog. Therefore Bamse could not be at the whaling station. He defied logic and so he did not exist. He was invisible to everyone on the base… well, everyone not on the verge of a nervous breakdown anyway. He headed straight for the canteen, piled high a bowl with as many Bratwurst sausages as it would hold, made himself comfortable at an unoccupied table and tucked in. He was not acknowledged by any of his fellow diners. There was Ampelpudding for desert so Bamse had two generous helpings washed down with a stein of Bockbier.

More than adequately nourished, Bamse took a turn round the harbour. The Ancaster was tied up on the quayside, in darkness and apparently deserted. Across the water the old sea dog recognised the auxiliary cruiser Pinguin, which must have docked while he was eating and was moored over on the mole.Pinguin 1 Originally named the Kandelfels, she still looked like the harmless freighter that she had once been – she was converted into a commercial raider during the winter of 1939/40 in Bremen. He knew that she had two six-cylinder diesel engines delivering 7,000 hp, half a dozen 150 mm L/45 C/13 guns taken from the obsolete battleship Schlesien and discretely concealed behind her bulwarks along with a 75 mm cannon, one twin 37 mm and four 20 mm anti-aircraft guns, and two single 53.3 cm torpedo tubes. She could also carry two Heinkel He 114A-2 seaplanes, all of which made her a lot more formidable than she appeared and the most successful of the Axis raiders. What was she doing down here? No one had seen anything of her for decades and she had been presumed lost at sea. No matter, Bamse left off musing and turned to locate the radio transmitting station.Funkmeister Whilst the Oberfunkmeister was at supper he would have to get a message off to Larry back in London.

At Aunty Stella’s House

MG_9698-copyFerdinand Desai was having tea with Strawberry. It was a long time since he had been home and they were out in the garden, even though it was turning a little chilly. In the kitchen they could still hear Aunty Stella preparing cream scones. She seemed to have been at it for hours despite the best efforts of Mouse to lend assistance. The tubby little cat had been mixing the ingredients with a relatively clean paw and her tabby coat was hidden under a fine covering of greyish flour.

The rest was doing Ferdy good – sure, he still had that distracting tick below his left eye, and his stubby wing shook when he tried to handle the large stoneware teapot, but he was a lot better than when he first arrived. For three days all the pent up tension that he had kept suppressed, nurtured to enhance his combat awareness, came out and all but paralysed him. The days had been hell and the nights far worse. Now he was on the mend. He had been recounting some of his reasonably exciting, yet not too lurid Coleywar adventures and was getting some funny looks from his old friend.

“…and now Larry seems to think we’re going to sort out this mess in Antarctica. Do you know how far it is to Antarctica?”

They agreed that they did not.

“Well it’s a long way.”

Ginsbergbear joined them on the patio. He was wearing a loose fitting and stylishly shabby corduroy suit and was lighting a compact vulcanised meerschaum Peterson pipe. Aunty Stella and mouse followed him carrying trays with the first batch of warm scones.

“Are they going to join us?” Aunty Stella nodded towards the slumped figures of Boz and Phoebles, stretched out on recliners by the pool. “Tea’s up, you two.”

There was a stampede for the food and Phoebles had cream all over his nose before the others could get the top off the jam pot.

“Save some for me.” A tall figure slunk from the shadows by the wheelie-bins, the mole-grey fedora shadowing a face hidden behind a Lone Ranger mask and the wide striped zoot-suit instantly recognisable to the assembled company. The yellow MacDuck tartan pashmina scarf was new.

Ginsbergbear was the first to address him. “Slasher McGoogs as I live and breathe, and what brings you to leafy Surrey?”

“You do, your gang and Larry and this whole bloody mess you’ve got yourselves into. Stir things up a bit I says, and you start a war.

“I’ve been up north of the wall, amongst the Reivers, gathering intel. And nothing I’ve heard so far is good.

“Boz, you’re going to have to get hold of Larry and dissuade him from all that Antarctic rubbish. We need to defuse this powder keg in the Autonomous Northern Territories before there’s the biggest bang since Krakatau. And we may have to curb the Kittens of Chaos. They appear to have directed their undoubted if random enthusiasm towards some freelance offensive of their own devising.”

“Me? Why don’t you go and see him?” Boz was not in the mood to be taking orders, “I have to admit though, Blackpool does sound more attractive than some snow swept continent in the middle of the Southern Ocean.”

“Larry and I don’t meet. You can’t exactly be the shadowy antihero one mi nute and lunch with the Acting Prime Minister the next. And it’s not exactly going to be Blackpool, old pal. I want to introduce you to the Gilnockie of Gilnockie. See if we can’t get the Reivers back to cattle thieving, rape and vendetta amongst themselves, on their own patch – and something similar for the Corsairs. There’s a time factor though – rumour has it Les Chats Souterrains are moving a Vril-1 Jäger Class Foo Fighter up there and if any one gang gets their hands on that there’ll be all hell let loose.”

“No pressure then? As usual.” chipped in Ferdy, who was developing a disturbing glint to his eyes, “And the Kittens are raising Cain up there too. Walk in the park.”

“The Kittens,” said McGoogs ominously, “are laying siege to Berwick-upon-Tweed.”