THE FIRST DAY
Occupied France - 1943
Gestapo Officer Margit Kessler was beyond terror. She lay, shaking, as the old Renault van carried her towards her death.
She had been crossing the town square when she had been grabbed, hooded and bundled into the back, where she had been bound.
Whilst one of three men drove the other two had laughed as they had stripped away her clothes with something like scissors or shears, not caring if they cut her. Within minutes she was naked and helpless as they rolled her about the van with their feet, kicking her and calling her a Gestapo whore.
They told her that she was going to get the same treatment as the other whore that they had snatched. Kessler knew that they were referring to her assistant Elsa Bauer. The only part of poor Elsa that had been found was her head, spiked on some railings. The Medical Officer had said that it looked as if a saw had been used.
The old van, burbling and missing on its low quality fuel supply, twisted and turned as it used back roads, avoiding the choke points where the Germans were likely to establish road blocks. Eventually, it rocked and bounced down what felt like a track, and then came to a stop. The rear doors were thrown open and Kessler was kicked out, landing heavily on what felt like gravel. She was dragged backwards into some sort of building where the hood covering her head was yanked off and she saw her captors.
Covert Road Watch - Forest Area - Occupied France
They had established their Hide before first light, using a natural hollow in the ground and roofing it with branches, camouflage netting and uprooted bushes. It was at the junction of the road used by the Germans as a Main Supply route and a minor road that wound through the vast, heavily forested area.
The three men lay inside the Hide, silent and motionless. Two of them faced forward, logging the movements of the occasional military vehicles, whilst the third, Ronny, their backdoor man, faced the rear ready to engage with a supressed Sten Gun, watching for any movement indicating that they might be compromised. They were all members of a FOREST FIRE patrol from the newly formed 1st. Brigade Special Air Service Regiment, parachuted in complete with equipment, including vehicles dropped from the bomb bays of converted Halifax bombers, to instruct the Maquis, the French underground army, on small unit tactics and to gather intelligence on German troop movements.
The all heard the approaching van as it ground up the side road, turning onto a track just before it reached the main road. It was a civilian vehicle and not worthy of their attention.
Then they heard the screams.
Forest Workshop - Just off the Main Supply Route
The three men lifted Kessler, still bound, onto a wooden work bench in the middle of what seemed to be an abandoned workshop. One end of the bench was heavily blood-stained and she knew that this was where they had dealt with poor Elsa. They rolled her onto her back and one of them cut the rope binding her ankles, the other two holding her firmly in place.
They were typical peasant types, grubby collarless shirts and baggy old suit trousers. One was wearing a beret.
Under different circumstances Kessler would have been contemptuous but now she cowered away from them. Standing on either side of her two of them took hold of her shoulders and legs, holding her down and pulling her legs wide apart. The third man, the one who seemed to be their leader, told her what they were going to do her as he unbuttoned his trousers. They were all going to have her and then they were going to cut her, burn her with a blowlamp and break her bones with a hammer. Finally, when they had finished with her, they were going to cut off her head and then all the townspeople would be able to see it, spiked on some convenient railings.
The leader, with his back to the doorway, mounted her. She was dry and felt sharp, tearing pain as he jammed himself into her. He pounded away at her repeating "Fucking Gestapo whore" over and over again. Mercifully, he finished quickly but then the second man took his place, then the third.
At last it was over. Kessler, hands still bound behind her, rolled off the bench as their grips on her slackened, landing face down with a thud. She tried to eel across the floor away from them but, laughing, they grabbed her and threw her back onto the bench.
One of them cut the rope on her wrists and they stretched her hands back above her head as the leader went to a tool rack attached to the wall, coming back with a claw hammer and some six inch nails.
He told her that he was going to nail her hands to the bench to stop her doing that again. Desperately, Kessler thrashed and kicked out at him but he punched her between the legs, making her scream and vomit on herself, the fight going out of her.
He loomed over her, grinning, showing her the hammer. Kessler heard herself begging. She felt the prick of a nail on the palm of her hand, saw him raise the hammer.
There was a crack like a branch breaking and his face exploded, splattering her with red, pink and white slop. An eyeball landed on her cheek. He fell forward, what was left of his head smacking her in the stomach.
There were more cracks and the hands holding her disappeared. For the second time Kessler rolled off the bench, this time landing face up. She lay on her back, staring up at the three new comers standing just inside the doorway.
Two of them were facing her, holding strange looking pistols with long, tubular suppressors fitted, resting across their crooked left arms for stability. The third had his back to them, watching the environment outside the doorway, with what looked like a British Sten Gun up at his shoulder. All three were wearing thigh length camouflaged smocks with woollen caps on their heads. They were all grimy and unshaven.
One of them smiled and winked at her.
Kessler looked under the bench to her left where one of her assailants had fallen. He was still alive, a sucking chest wound making him fight for breath, pink froth bubbling from his mouth. Kessler saw the hammer lying on the floor and grabbed it, crawling under the bench and sitting astride him. He was conscious, his eyes pleading with her. She looked down at him. This disgusting unwashed untermench had helped to kill poor Elsa, had had his filthy cock inside her and, even worse, had heard her begging.
Kessler bashed and bashed until his head was pulped, finally flinging the hammer, skin and flesh adhering to its head, into a corner. She sat back, breathing hard.
Vince, the Team Leader, slid the Welrod pistol back into the holster under his Denison smock. The Frenchie civilian whose screams they had heard had certainly put paid to the rapist scumbag.
They were exposed here and it was time to go. He motioned to his partner and together they moved towards her.
Kessler felt them take her under the arms and one of them said to her in schoolboy French, his accent excruciatingly English, all wide open whiney vowel sounds
" Madame, venez avec moir".
To the man facing the door he said in English
"Ronny, we're moving".
They bundled Kessler out of the building, down the track and across the road into the dense forest on the other side, the man Ronny covering their movements.
The twigs and stones dug into Kessler's bare feet and branches whipped her as they hurried her along. They came to a sunken area and Ronny started to strip camouflage netting off a squat, boxy vehicle that looked to Kessler like a Kubelwagen on some of those new-fangled steroids. She vaguely recognised it as an American Jeep. Evidently JUST EVERY ESSENTUAL PART didn't include doors, windscreen or even a radiator grill. The vehicle did, however, have a twin barrelled machine gun with flat, circular ammunition pans on it mounted in the rear compartment.
In his atrocious schoolboy French Vince apologised as they bound her hands loosely and blindfolded her, lifting her into the back of the vehicle. Kessler had trouble understanding him.As a linguist she understood his English better but didn't think that it would be a good idea to tell him that.
They all piled in, someone's boots kicking Kessler as he manned the machine gun in the back, the twin barrels sticking out over the heads of the two in the front.
The Jeep started up and they roared off, pieces of brushwood tied to the back of the vehicle obliterating its tyre tracks.
Kessler was bounced around, suffering more bruises as she cannoned off sharp edged objects stowed in the rear compartment.
After what seemed like an age of twisting and turning down forest tracks they came to a halt and lifted Kessler out, removing her blindfold.
She looked around.
Dear God, she was in the belly of the beast, a British camp in the middle of occupied France.
Safe House 4 French Resistance PRIMROSE CIRCUIT
The School Mistress was quite upset.
The Gestapo were rolling up her Circuit and, as the leader, she'd had to run from her day job before she got rolled up with it.
Now, she and her minders were moving from safe house to safe house, one step ahead of them. She had begun to wear an "L Pill", a suicide capsule, taped to her wrist in case she was taken. She had no wish to end up in a basement interrogation room with someone like Kessler.
She had activated an Action Cell to take reprisals by beheading that muff munching Gestapo whore but they hadn't reported back.
Now, she had to send another Cell to do a "Sneak and Peek" on the workshop where they had taken her.
All in all, she wasn't having a good few days and she was beginning to wish that the British Special Operations Executive people had never made contact with her. Her current feeling was that they could "Set Europe Ablaze" without any further help from her.
1st Brigade SAS Forward Operating Base LONGJOHN - Occupied France
Margit Kessler lay miserably on a grimy, grass stuffed mattress in the lean-to shelter where she had been dumped.
She had been brought to an encampment in a large clearing in the dense forest, roofed over with camouflage netting. It consisted of several lean-to shelters down one side and a cooking pit in the middle, with four Jeeps dispersed to the corners.
A collection of scruffily dressed men were gawping at her and Kessler, realising that she was still naked, quickly covered herself as best she could with her hands.
A man appeared at the entrance of one of the shelters and, from the way everyone deferred to him, Kessler surmised that he was in command.
He was marginally less scruffy than the rest, wearing a sleeveless leather jerkin over his battledress denims and an officer's cap. He was short and dark and looked vaguely piratical.
He also looked extremely annoyed.
Kessler looked round. These men were definitely the enemy.
With the possible exception of Otto Skortzeny's Commandos, who were pretty much a law unto themselves, no German soldier would ever be allowed to descend into the slovenliness being displayed.
Her abdomen was still on fire despite the pills that the Medical Orderly had given her and she pulled her knees up to her chest to try and alleviate the discomfort.
Someone had given her some British Battledress trousers and a shirt to cover her nakedness but everything was huge on her and she looked like a clown.
Next door she could hear the short, piratical man they called "Boss" giving Vince a right royal bollocking.
What did he mean by abandoning the Road Watch and turning up with a Frog civilian in tow?
Which part of "Covert" did he not understand?
Vince was trying to explain that, having exposed their presence to her to stop her being raped they couldn't leave her behind.
After a while Boss started to calm down and they began discuss the problem of having a Frenchie civvie on board who could blow the location of the FOB, whatever that was, if they released her.
Kessler didn't understand all of the colloquialisms but it didn't sound good.
And they thought that she was French. God knows what would happen if they found out that she was a Gestapo Officer.
Tears rolled down her grimy cheeks.
Was this how it ended?
A few hours ago she had been a member of the conquering Master race; now look at her- imprisoned in a British camp, hurt, dirty and with ridiculous, smelly clothes that didn't fit.
With the tears came a revelation. If she could escape and tip off her colleagues she would be a hero. She might even be able to wangle a home posting away from this God forsaken country.
One of the problems was that Kessler was basically a Police Officer and had little or no military training.
The other was that she had no idea where she was.
Never the less she began to think about the idea.
THE SECOND DAY
Close Target Reconnaissance - Forest Workshop
The three men who made up the second Action Cell activated by the School Mistress lay in the scrub that bordered the abandoned workshop.
The old van was still parked at the side of it but there were no signs of life and now they were contemplating the certainty that something was badly wrong and that at least one of them was actually going to have to look inside the building.
They all drawn Sten Guns from the Weapons Cache in the cemetery and the leader pulled back the bolt on his, cocking it. He made sure that he kept his finger well clear of the trigger. This British shit went off if you looked at it sideways and he didn't want an accidental discharge this close to the German MSR.
He signalled his two wing men out to cover the flanks and began the cat crawl across the open ground to the door.
Time slowed to a crawl.
He could hear birds singing in the trees but nothing else - no sounds to indicate the presence of anyone - friend or foe.
He clamped down on the panicky thoughts telling him that there might be German SS Troopers inside waiting in ambush.
After an eternity he reached the half open door.
This close there was a faint buzzing coming from within and he could smell the sickly sweet smell of rotting meat.
Oh Jesus, he didn't want to look inside.
Keeping as close to the ground as possible, he craned his neck and took a half a second peek round the edge of the door.
The hoard of flies feasting on the ruined head of one of the bodies took off with a rush and the stench of corruption rolled over him. He yanked his head back, breathing hard and gulping in an attempt to control his heaving stomach.
Eventually, he felt strong enough to take a second, longer, look. Amid the carnage and pools and splashes of blood he noticed something glinting on the floor.
Reluctantly, signalling to his wing men that everything was OK, he came to his feet.
In order to put off going into the charnel house he moved around the side of the building to check the van in the vain hope that the prisoner might still be locked inside.
That hope was dashed when he found the rear doors unlocked and the van empty apart from a blood splashed pile of female clothing and a pair of shears.
He retraced his steps to the open door of the workshop and slid inside. Two of the bodies were face down with the third, beside the bench, face up.
They had all been head jobbed.
There was no sign of a female.
Blood and brains had sprayed everywhere and, as he moved around, he was careful not to get any of it on him.
In the warmth of the day the bodies had begun to bloat and take on a bluish hue. The strong, sickly sweet smell of decay was too strong to ignore and, again, his stomach revolted and he had to rush outside to throw up.
It wasn't until he had recovered that he thought to go back for the glinting object on the floor.
Safe House 4 French Resistance PRIMROSE CIRCUIT.
The School Mistress held the glinting object in her hand. It was a cartridge case that the Action Cell had found on the floor of the workshop.
The stamping on the rim read:
Automatic Colt Pistol, she knew - not a calibre that the German military would use.
It was those bloody British hiding out in the forest. For reasons of their own they had killed her men and taken away the Gestapo whore.
The School Mistress already disliked the British, they had ruined her country in two world wars and had run away at Dunkirk and left it at the mercy of the conqueror.
Now, she hated them. They were serving no purpose in the forest except using the Maquis to stir up the Germans and France could do without them.
Abwehr Counter Intelligence Section Region 5
Karl Stonner, an Agent Handler, thought that Christmas had come early.
He had just received intelligence through a back channel, via a known Quisling that he suspected the Resistance left in place for just that purpose, about a covert British Special Forces unit hiding out in the forested area several miles away.
If it was true it would make his career as an Intelligence Officer. He might even be able to wangle a home posting on the strength of it.
When he had recovered from the initial rush he went and informed his Section Head, who immediately pushed it up the line to the Region 5 Desk Officer.
The Abwehr considered the Gestapo to be brainless, vicious thugs and the Gestapo considered the Abwehr to be toffee nosed rich boys who tried to play the intelligence game without getting their hands dirty. Exchange of information was, to put it kindly, minimal. Consequently, no one in the Abwehr thought seriously about advising the Gestapo of their new intelligence and the Gestapo, afraid of looking incompetent, were dragging their heels about the fact that one of their officers seemed to be missing.
The Desk Officer, whilst sceptical, decided that the safest thing was to push it further up the chain of command and authorised a FLASH signal to Berlin via the encrypted Wireless LORENZ Teleprinter system.
Unknown to the Germans the British had broken the LORENZ system some time ago and were able to read its contents. The transmission relating to the discovery of LONGJOHN was intercepted by a Y Station at Beachy Head on the South Coast of England and onward transmitted to Station X at Bletchley Park for deciphering and evaluation. As soon as Bletchley realised what they had the deciphered signal was DON R d to Whitehall, the powerful motor bike eating up the miles to London, where it was delivered to the Combined Operations Clearing House and thence to the COMOPS Steering Group. It was decided that, whilst LONGJOHN was important, if it were advised that it had been blown the risk of the Germans realising that their LORENZ System had been penetrated was too great and, therefore, the SAS Patrol must be left to its fate.
THE THIRD DAY
Operation ANGRY BIRD - Forward Staging Area - Early Morning
The Fallschirmjager, crack German Parachute troops, had originally been posted to France to take part in the now indefinitely postponed Operation SEALION, the invasion of England.
Now, they were acting as a Quick Reaction Force and, on receipt of orders from Berlin, were dispersed along the edge of the MSR, awaiting a GO signal.
They were in Company strength, comprising of a PATHFINDER Reconnaissance Platoon incorporating a Headquarters Section and two SPEARHEAD Striker Platoons with Sniper squads attached.
The strikers were all equipped with the new StG 44 Assault Rifle, capable of fully automatic fire, and the snipers were carrying the older but trusted Mauser 98K rifles fitted with ZF 42 telescopic sights.
Elite troops, well equipped, disciplined and motivated, they were more than capable of dealing with the few British Special Forces believed to be hiding out in the forest.
ANGRY BIRD, generated by Berlin in response to the FLASH signal, was simple in concept:
- Investigate the reports of a British camp and locate.
- Surround and isolate.
Attached to ANGRY BIRD was a copy of the Top Secret Fuhrer "Commando" Order No2 which stated that all enemy Commandos were to be killed immediately - even if they were attempting to surrender.
Squads from the PATHFINDER Platoon had already located the abandoned Road Watch Hide and the bodies in the workshop.
They had also discovered Margit Kessler's Gestapo ID in a pocket of the clothing in the van. Judging by the bloodstains on the workbench they thought that Kessler must have been dealt with and was probably dead, buried somewhere in the woods.
At 0800 hrs. The PATHFINDERS received their GO Command and, almost invisible in their Splinter pattern camouflage, ghosted off into the dense woodland.
ANGRY BIRD was running.
Margit Kessler sat on her grimy, lumpy mattress, still toying with the idea of escape.
Earlier, she had been given a metal plate with unappetising looking pink pressed meat and stewed vegetables on it. She had choked it down but the unfamiliar food had given her indigestion.
She looked up as the man Vince appeared at the entrance to the shelter.
The PATHFINDER squads soon discovered some partly obliterated tyre tracks and, following them to their source, came upon the outer perimeter of the camp.
They quickly disabled the trip wires and Anti-Personnel Mines and moved on.
Seemly secure in the depths of the forest the first the British Sentries manning the inner perimeter knew was when the Paratrooper's Gravity Knives found their throats.
The PATHFINDERS circled round the clearing to provide an ambush Stop Group should any survivors attempt to escape that way and the main body of troops, the SPEARHEAD squads, moved up to their Start Line just inside the treeline.
The PATHFINDERS hunkered down into Dead Ground to avoid being hit by friendly fire and everyone waited, motionless, silent, for the whistles that would give the signal to open fire.
Kessler's stomach plummeted as she saw that Vince was carrying his strange, supressed pistol. He levelled it at her, saying
"Madame, Je regrette…."
Whistles blew and a burst of automatic weapon fire raked the shelter, passing over her head but cutting Vince neatly in half.
There was a sudden, strong smell of faeces and once again Kessler was spattered, this time with pulped intestine.
As she bicycled her legs, pushing herself away, the bottom half of Vince fell forward and the top half fell backward, landing beside her.
The head was turned toward her and she saw the eyes, still aware, blinking as they regarded her. She watched in horror as they clouded over.
She heard Boss outside yelling
"Stand To! Enemy front! "
And then there was just gunfire.
Once resistance had been crushed the SPEARHEAD squads formed a skirmish line and advanced into the clearing, using single shots to finish off the wounded and to make sure that the "dead" stayed dead.
As the shooting stopped Kessler was galvanised. She didn't have to escape, she was being rescued!
Forgetting that she was wearing British Battledress she jumped to her feet and ran into the open toward the advancing Paratroopers, waving her arms above her head.
The sniper saw the uniformed running figure. Through his telescopic sight he could see that it was a female but he was tired and hungry and didn't really care.
Because the tree that he was in was not a stable shooting platform he elected to go for centre mass instead of the normal head shot.
He placed the cross hairs on the target and took first pressure on the trigger.