Where’s Boz?

The sky was copper where the park still burned beyond the horizon. As dawn crept up, returning tank buster single-seater ‘dragons’ careered recklessly in through the Queen Anne’s midships hanger bays to pull up sharply as their tail hooks engaged with the arrestor wire, each urgently manhandled to one side before the next warbird arrived. Cumbersome roach-like bombers circled Captain Rotskagg Blenkinsopp’s dirigible, waiting for their turn to be craned up into the ventral hanger. Ferdy, in his Cierva, bumped down onto the topside flight deck. He stood at the edge of the platform as a lift lowered him and his autogyro into the cavernous interior. He was met by the expectant enquiring faces of Phoebles and Flo.

“There’s no sign of him.” Ferdinand said dejectedly. Nothing had been heard from Boz since he called down the air strike, and the trio had accompanied the attack fleet in the hope of picking him up.

“But what can have happened to him,” said Phoebles.

“All be not yet lost.” Rotskagg came up from behind and placed a hand on the ginger cat’s shoulder. “We’ll be back in camp soon and gather together your colleagues to plan our next move.”

Ginsbergbear was outside the stockade watching the Queen Anne’s Bounty approach through his little brass pocket spyglass. He jumped as a scarlet, stubby, monoplane fighter roared overhead, barely clearing the blockhouse roof; its Shvetsov M-63 supercharged radial engine spraying oil and smoking. Two gaudy red and yellow Grumman J2F Ducks were hard on its tail firing bursts from the heavy machine guns gaffer-taped to their top wings. Within seconds the ack-ack battery immediately forward of the Queen Anne’s majestic four funnels opened up with a QF 2-pounder pom-pom. One of the Ducks erupted in a ball of fire and spiralled away. The other broke off and, with shells exploding all around, turned it’s rear end to the airship. The red Rata executed a 180-degree handbrake turn, losing height all the time. It banged down heavily, at speed, onto the cleared killing zone surrounding the corsair compound. It roared past Ginsbergbear and into the woods, sacrificing its wings and many other vital bits as it ploughed on between the trees. The bear broke into a trot, following the gouged scar of snapped twigs and flattened foliage. And eventually, there was Wing-Comrade Polly Karpova sitting astride the tail section of her I-16 and downing a long swig of something suspect out of a plastic milk bottle. She unzipped her flying jacket and pulled a Rizla from the breast pocket of her dungarees.

“Ginsbergbear. Swap you the last of this Ukrainian horilka samohon for a roll of nip.”

The teddy bear offered up his tobacco pouch. “You be careful with a naked flame near to that moonshine,” but she tossed the bottle down to him before lighting up. “Where’s the rest of your plane?”

“Most of it’s on down there a ways.” Polly waved a thumb over her shoulder. “Not sure where I left the wings, I had my eyes shut. Think she’s going to be a bit of a challenge for the maintenance guys.

“Are Boz and the rest of the gang here? I’ve some important news.”

Save

Ferdy Flies Out

Ferdy over Jersey 2SThe summons, when it came, was not from Larry’s able factotum. Dark Flo knocked gently on the penthouse bedsit door.

“Call for Boz, the payphone on the landing.” She smiled round the corner at Phoebles, who blushed. “Can’t stop, there’s a riot broken out in the bar.”

“Need any help?” asked Slasher McGoogs as Boz squeezed past on his way to the phone.

“Nah, it’s just high spirits.”

And out on the landing Boz picked up the handset.

“Boz? It’s Ferdy. I’m grounded in Guernsey, at the Silvertown Airways’ airship hangers in St Peterport. There’s some sort of commotion going on out over the sea to the southeast and I’m worried about The Kittens. I dropped them off outside St Helier earlier. They and Consuella have a gig at the Jersey Opera House. Have you heard what’s going on.”

“The Opera House?” The Kittens of Chaos were infamous for many activities, but their choral skills had rarely been called upon.

“Yes. It’s the Channel Islands Naturist Society Annual Karaoke next week and the Kittens are booked to do their Histoire d’ O with Balloon Sculpture. But what about the other stuff?”

“Oh that’s just an invasion. I expect Larry will want us to do something about it. Keep calm and find something to occupy the time while you wait for us. Have a go at that Jackson Pollock jigsaw I gave you for Christmas.”

But Ferdy could not just wait. He was a dodo of action.

 

Ferdinand sprinted across the tarmac, buckling his flying helmet under his chin as he ran and pulling on his goggles. He sprang into the rear cockpit of his shiny new Cierva C.30A autogiro, taxied onto the runway and took to the air.

As he approached the island tax haven of Jersey, hidden beneath a blanket of oily smoke, his headphones crackled into life.

“Sergei’s taken a hit! Watch out for the flack, comrades!”

“Mayday! Mayday! I’m going in!”

“Red6 on strafing run. Yahoo! See how they scatter!”

“Cut the chatter, comrades. And keep tight.” This last voice had been female, sultry, with just a hint of Russian accent. Ferdy flicked on his microphone.

“Polly? Is that you Wing-Comrade Karpova? What’s occurring?” Her distinctive scarlet Ratta burst out of the smoke screen climbing steeply, looped over and plunged back into the fray with all guns blazing.

“Ferdy? Good to see you old friend. Welcome to the scrap. It’s hotting up down here. There’s two clapped out old battleships anchored in the bay, but they’re bristling with Ack-Ack, QF 2-pounder pom-poms. Can’t get near them. And some mob’s established a bridgehead on the beach. God know’s where they bought their uniforms, they’re all dressed as superheroes. We’re trying to keep them pinned down.”

“What’s the plan?” Ferdy asked.

“No plan, and no back-up. So we’re just going to blast the hell out of them till we run out of ammo and then bugger off home.”

Gilnockie Tower Part 1

Gilnockie_Tower 3SI (Phoebles) was the first to spot the Gilnockie Tower on account of I was looking out the bridge windows with the big spyglass.

“Left hand down a bit, the tower is over there,” I says to Ferdy, who is doing the driving. And he gives me a stern look, as if I’s criticising his navigation or summat. I do have very keen eyesight, ’specially when I got the spyglass.   But Ferdy’s being OK too.

Polly sticks her head round the door.

“Are we nearly there yet?”

So I says, “Yup, we’ll be landing within the hour.”

And she says, “In that case I am going to bugger off in my little red plane. If things don’t go to plan you all may need back up later.”

She’s dead good in that thing. It’s a Polikarpov I-16 fighter, red all over with yellow stars and two 7.62mm ShKAS machine guns and two 20mm ShVAK cannons mounted in the wings. And it’s dead manouverable.

She stops off at the officers’ canteen to pick up a pre-ordered packet of Catapano goats cheese and Coln Valley smoked salmon sandwiches and to refill her hip flask with cheap vodka.

“No point using the good stuff,” she says, “in the middle of a dog fight I spill more than I drink.”

“You should get one of those Beerbelly™ WineRack bras for hands free drinking,” suggests the Pusser.

“What’s a bra?” asks Polly.

The best things about the Airship of State are deffo the food. She has chefs instead of cooks and three-Michelin-star gourmet restaurants instead of mess decks and there is all day breakfasts available ALL DAY!

Anyway, back to the story. Polly gets in her plane and starts up the engine and stuff, while the crew are lowering it out of the hangar, unbolting things and hammering and swearing at the release mechanism. Then there is a clunk and the red Rata drops away from beneath the airship. And she is whizzing off towards the horizon doing barrel rolls as she goes.

And I has another look through the spyglass. It’s dead good, made of brass tubes that slide inside each other and when you stretch them out it’s really long and makes things look ever so close even when they’re not. I’m looking at Gilnockie Tower again. It’s grey and stony and has a little flag on top.

The dour, granite, crenulated pile had been sturdily built with defence high on its creator’s agenda. It stood in solitude amidst the wooded hills of the Scottish Marches, bearing the battle scars of centuries of conflict, family feuds, power struggles and border wars.

We approach slowly from down wind and come in over the croquet lawn.   Lots of ghillies (sort of Scotch servants) in greeny-bluey tartan kilts and matching bonnets rush out to catch our mooring lines as we cast them down, and we are dragged and guided over towards the stables, where we are tethered close to the laird’s Silver Ghost.

It’s the War, the Whole Bloody War!

The Lady Æthelflæda was struggling to gain height. The crew of the Belgian trawler observed the hot-airship preparing for action and disappeared off the deck. Pouring smoke from its funnel the fishing vessel quickly made its best speed away from the area. As the dirigible banked, a young rating, who must have lied about his age, manned the port waist gun and opened fire towards the Chats Souterrains’ Ducks.   They were not yet within range, but were closing fast.

Ferdy turned to his comrades; his wide, pale eyes flashed cold resignation and a small muscle on his right temple twitched. “She’s sluggish. That flack must have done more damage than we thought. It’s ruptured a gas cell.”

“Dump the ballast, Phoebles.” Boz spoke quietly but with dark determination,   “Ferdy… just get us above those fighters.”

The Gruman J2Fs came in, broke away left and right, and circled the wallowing dirigible like wolves around an abandoned biryani takeaway.

With the aggressors closing in, Ginsbergbear puffed and wheezed his way up the spiral staircase that climbed through the belly of the airship, eventually reaching an open machine gun turret just aft of the funnel. He clung to the sides for a while, gulping air, back bent and shoulders drooping while his breathing steadied and heartbeat returned to normal. He cocked the four 0.303 Browning machine guns, tested the swivel mount and pressed the throat mic to his larynx.

“Dorsal gunner ready. Nothing to see up here. Wait…” Something was diving out of the sun.

He took aim at the lead aircraft, saw there were three of them, and then recognized the silhouettes. He quickly panned the guns off the target. “The Ratas have arrived. We might be alright after all.”

As the Polikarpovs roared overhead they opened fire towards the corsair fighters with 20mm ShKAS wing mounted cannons. The crimson fuselage of the lead aircraft flashed in the sunlight and as it banked Ginsbergbear could make out a red star outlined in white on the tail and a scarlet winged anchor on a blue rimmed white roundel below the cockpit. All much more flamboyant than was usual for the chromatically conservative Kronstadt sailors who regarded a plain red star against a complementary green ground amply adventurous. Through her gun-sights the pilot of the lead Rata could make out a rear gunner in one of the Ducks speaking urgently to his pilot and then standing up, gilded pickelhaube glinting, waving to the other seaplane and pointing into the sun. Shells exploded around him. The ensuing dogfight was short – the Polikarpov Ratas were faster and more manoeuvrable. But once the J2Fs of Les Chats Souterrains broke off, their rear facing machine guns kept the pursuers at bay.

Job done, the red Polikarpov I-16 pealed away to fly over the Lady Æthelflæda, dipping its wings in salute, Wing-Comrade Polly Karpova, open cockpit, her strawberry blonde hair streaming in the wind, giving an OK sign with one raised hand. The remaining sea green Ratas followed the Ducks at a respectful distance. They only turned back when they reached the limit of their range, certain by then that the Ducks were heading for their base on the Tyne.

The dirigible turned to limp for home, leaving the abandoned gunboat and corsairs in the orange life rafts to sort out their own problems. A CPO, his sleeveless summer telnyashka exposing an impressive array of tattoos, appeared on the bridge.

“We have stemmed the leak, tovarisch, but we’ve lost a lot of helium…” The Aethelfleda was a composite airship, with gas bags fore and aft and a hot air chamber amidships. “…We should make it back OK – just.”

Phoebles slumped on the deck, his face blank and no hint of his customary inane smile. Ginsbergbear arrived at the bottom of the spiral staircase. Boz removed his eye patch and gripped the chart table with his one free paw.

“This is not an adventure any more, we just keep going ‘cos there is no alternative. Where will it end? When will it end?” He nodded towards the helmsman, still rigid at his post. “Ferdy is strung so tight something has to snap. He’s running on catnip and Red Bull. We’re making such little headway in this war, it’s just endless attrition.”

“I’m fine,” snapped the pilot.

“No you’re not.” Phoebles, wrinkling his brow, spoke almost in a whisper, “It was all so gentlemanly at the start. There were rules, unwritten rules, but everyone understood them. Somewhere it all changed and we barely noticed. We do what we have to, because we have to win.

“I wonder if we have lost sight of something. We try to prevent these pirate raids without considering what makes the Corsairs tick. We outwit them when we can. But have we stopped trying to understand them? Has anyone thought of making sandwiches? It’s been a long time since second breakfast.”

The Kronstadt Fleet Air Arm

f465e08986ae8b180f27d2550e19de81There was frantic activity at the Naval airstrip on Hessle foreshore. Within the suite of offices that occupied the upper floor of a concrete blockhouse, beneath the concrete control tower, an operator rushed from the radio shack to the desk of his Comrade-Squadron-Leader. Seconds later an adjutant ran along the corridor, down the stairs and out into a surprisingly sunny Indian Summer to ring urgently on a large brass bell whilst shouting, ‘Scramble!’

8aab91a3c4d46271076569d6ef335fb0Boiler suited engineers were already removing the protective quilted jackets from the engine cowlings of three Polikarpov I-16 fighters parked expectantly on the tarmac as the Comrade-Pilots pulled sheepskin flying-jackets over their telnyashkas and clasped their parachute harnesses into place. Each clambered over the wing of his aircraft and into the cockpit. There was an irregular chuck, chuck, chuck as the Shvetsov M-63 9-cylinder (900hp) supercharged air-cooled radial engines fired up and soon settled into an even drone. Props twirled faster and faster. The three planes sang in unison, Comrade-Pilots waved, ‘Chocks away, tovarisch.’ Gathering speed in single file down the runway, they lifted, banked and, forming up wing-tip-to-wing-tip, headed out to sea.

The radioed call for assistance had also reached Consuella Starcluster at the Cirque des Absurdités in The Land of Green Ginger and she immediately headed for the docks, riding pillion behind Snowdrop on her unicycle and with two of the Kittens of Chaos crammed into the sidecar. Now they were standing on the quayside looking at ninety metres of what could be taken for a gigantic flying boat were it not for the wholly inadequate stubby wings. Its white paint was pealing and the red star on its tail was faded. There were two formidable rows of missile launchers along its back. A Kronstadt Starshina stood beside them holding a large cardboard box.Destroyer of Worlds 2

‘The finest ekranoplan ever to take to the air. We bought her on e-bay from a scrap metal dealer in Kaspiysk. He had her deconstructed and shipped flat-pack on an IKEA container vessel bound for Immingham Docks. We’ve followed the instructions to the letter putting her back together, but we’ve got this box of bits left over and some of them look as if they might be important.’

‘¿No iba a estar listos para el combate de cualquier momento pronto, entonces?’ (It will not to be combat-ready any time soon, then?) sighed Consuella.

‘Nyet.’

‘Oh, but…’ from two very disappointed Kittens, ‘…we wanna go in the big planey thing!’

‘With the rockets!’

The Petty Officer smiled down on the pair as if they were cherubs, in their battered straw boaters, micro skirts and laddered black stockings, ‘Not today, little ones. For now, she goes nowhere.’

Snowdrop had wandered over to another large cardboard box sitting on the quay close to a stocky cast-iron bollard. From it she had selected three suitable yet random items of an aeronautical nature and was honing her juggling skills.

Consuella looked concerned, ‘Joost how many beets do hyou haav left oveer, Comrade-Starsheenarrr?’

‘Er… quite a lot.’

‘Hand what exactly does work on thees wonderfool vessel of yoors?’

‘It floats.’