The Prisoner of War (Chapters Seven, Eight and Nine)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Savage stops his car to help at an accident involving a truck carrying German POWs and their British guards, and comes face to face with Sergeant Müller, the sergeant of the German patrol that captured him after he had been shot down the previous year. Müller is injured and Savage takes him back to the base hospital for treatment. A strange relationship develops between the two as he prepares for an important mission.

THE PRISONER OF WAR

(Continued)

 

Chapter Seven

WEEK THREE, Friday, Mid-Morning

Savage was studying the flight plan for Hannover when his intercom buzzed, "General.  Sergeant Müller is here."

He had forgotten, Müller was to leave for St. Hugh's today. "Send him in, Harvey."  he said and turned the maps he had been studying face down on the desk. 

Müller entered and stood before Savage's desk at attention and saluted.  As he returned the salute, Savage noted that this was the first time he'd seen Müller in anything but a robe and hospital pajamas since the accident.  Now he was wearing his POW uniform.  It was very similar to British Army battle dress uniforms, only darker with the letters 'PW' painted on the back of the jacket and down the trouser leg.  Even in the uniform of a prisoner, Müller carried himself with the pride of a senior NCO and professional soldier.

"I will not keep you, Herr General.  I see you are preparing for an important mission.... "

Alarmed, Savage asked, "How did you.... ?"

"The 'look', sir."he said matter-of-factly.  "When you were our prisoner, you had the look of a man who HAD to escape, not just because you didn't want to be a prisoner, but because you had something important you had to do.  I see that same look now."

"You're very perceptive, Sergeant."  Savage said as he came around from behind the desk to face Müller. 

"Sergeant Douglas is driving me up to St. Hugh's before he reports back to Camp.  I wanted to say 'good-bye' before I left, and thank you for all you have done for me.  I can never repay your kindness, or that of the people here.  I will never forget."

"Take care of yourself, Sergeant."  Savage said and extended his hand.  "Maybe we'll meet again sometime." 

Müller accepted the offered hand and they shook. "Lebt Wohl (Farewell), Herr General." 

Müller saluted again, then turned and left the office.  Savage followed him outside where he found Sergeant Douglas waiting by a jeep.

"Think you can get used to doing things the British way again, Sergeant Douglas?"  he asked with a smile. 

"Yes, sir.  Although, I must say, my stay here has been very... 'interesting'." 

"Good.Well, have a safe trip, and watch out for flat tires."  Savage said with a grin. "We don't want a repeat of what happened last time."

Straight-faced, Douglas straightened his cap, and in his best parade ground stance, came to attention with a stamp of his boot, rendered a crisp quivering salute, and bellowed, "SAH!  No, SAH!  Thank You, SAH!"

 

As the jeep drove away and Savage re-entered the building, he thought to himself, 'in another time, under different circumstances, Müller and I could have been friends....' 

"But this is here and now,"  he said aloud, "and I have a mission to prepare for."

As he passed Stovall's desk, Harvey said, "Sergeant Müller left something for you, General."  and he handed Müller's cherished flask to him. "He said he wouldn't be needing it any longer, and wanted you to have it..... for luck, he said."

"Thanks, Harvey"  he said as he continued into his office.  He looked at the flask for a moment, then smiled, and set it on the window sill behind his desk where he could see it.

*  *  *  *

WEEK THREE, Saturday, St. Hugh's Hospital

Müller had been met by Doctor Hays when he arrived at St. Hugh's the previous afternoon, and after saying his farewells to his friend, Bill Douglas, had followed him into his new temporary 'home'.

He was settled in a room with another patient; the area divided by privacy screens.  Once back in hospital bathrobe and pajamas again, Hays gave him a quick examination. Doc Kaiser had removed most of his bandages and his stitches two days before, and his head was now protected solely by a light bandage and a removable plaster 'helmet'.  He would have to wear until the 'bone flap' Doctor Hays had removed to access his brain completely healed. 

Hays carefully removed the 'helmet' and probed the scar on the side of his head to see how well it was healing.  Satisfied, he replaced the 'helmet', and as it was getting late, left Müller in the care of the Ward Nurse, or 'Nursing Sister' as the British called them, saying he would return in the morning with some other doctors.

*  *  *  *

"Wo bin ich? (Where am I?)"  Müller asked as he woke the next morning in an unfamiliar place.  But it took only a moment for him to remember where he was and why.

The Nursing Sister was tending to the other patient and, surprisingly, speaking in German.  She heard Müller speak out, and came over to put him at ease.  "Es ist in Ordnung, Herr Feldwebel. (It's alright, Sergeant.)  Sie sind im Krankenhaus, bei St. Hugh's.  (You're in hospital, at St. Hugh's.)"

"I speak English, Sister.  I was just confused for a moment... a new place.  I am alright now."Then looking across the room, he asked, "He is also German?"

"Yes.  Doctor Cairns, our head surgeon, takes all wounded with serious head trauma, even enemy soldiers.  He learns from them all, and what he learns, he uses to treat others.  That is why you are here... so they can learn from you."

Suddenly there was a crash from the bed behind the screen. The Sister rushed over only to find her patient trying to get out of bed.  The privacy screen tipped over, and Müller saw the Sister struggling with the patient, a boy barely out of his teens.
Müller quickly got out of bed and crossed over to the boy's bed.  His head was swathed in bandages, and he was shouting at the Sister as she tried to hold him down.

"Was werden Sie tun? (What are you doing?)  Halt dieses Verhalten, auf einmal! (Stop this behavior, at once)  Ich bin Feldwebel Müller. (I am Sergeant Müller.)Was ist Ihr Name!(What is your name!)"

The boy stopped struggling and responded to Müller's command. "Gefreiter Hans Dieter, Herr Feldwebel.  (Private Hans Dieter, Sergeant.)"

"Das ist besser. (That's better.)  Nun, was ist alles dieses Geräusch über.  (Now, what is all this noise about?)"

"Sie meinen Kopf aufgeschnitten und experimentieren auf mich heute wollen. (They want to cut open my head and experiment on me.)"  The boy was clearly terrified and on the verge of panic.

"That's not true!  Doctor Hays is going to operate this afternoon to remove a bullet from his brain."

"Sie lügt. (She is lying.)" 

Noting the boy obviously understood what the Sister had said, Müller asked, "Do you speak English, Dieter?"

"Jawohl.... Yes, Sergeant."

"Then, be polite and while you are here, speak it!"

"Yes, Sergeant."

"Now, who told you they were going to experiment on you?"

"They did not know I understood English.  I heard them talking. They said they were going to try an experimental procedure on me."

"Yes, well, the procedure may be 'experimental', but they will not be 'experimenting' on you,"  Müller attempted to explain, "not the way you think....  Look, Junge (boy), there are more head injuries in this war.... injuries that used to be fatal.  But now many live, because Doctors have learned new ways to treat these injuries.  But it is all new; they learn as they go."

 

While Müller had been trying to calm the boy, Doctor Hays and some others had entered the room unobserved and were quietly listening.

Dieter was paying attention, but not convinced.  "Dieter, look at me."  Müller said as he removed his 'helmet' and bandage.

"You see this scar?"  he said tenderly tracing the half-moon-shaped scar along the left side of his head.  "Two weeks ago, I was operated on.  This is where Doctor Hays, your Doctor, removed a part of my skull and operated on my brain.  He removed grenade fragments from a wound I received in 1940, then put my skull back together again.  He warned me it would be very risky, and I could die, or be paralyzed.  Clearly, I did not die, nor am I paralyzed."

He could see the boy was calmer now and really listening.  "I cannot promise your operation will go as well as mine,"  Müller continued.  "but if it does not, I can promise it will not be because Doctor Hays did not do the best he could.  That is all anyone can ask."

 

"I couldn't have explained it better, Sergeant."  Doctor Hays said as he made his and the others presence known. "Although, it would have helped to know Private Dieter spoke English."

"Perhaps, Doctor, now that you know, you could explain the operation to the boy as you did for me.  The 'known' you can deal with, it is the 'unknown' that is often more frightening."

"I agree." 

Then addressing Hans, said, "Your surgery will not be as complicated as Sergeant Müller's, but it is a new procedure, a less invasive method.  After I finish with the Sergeant, I will come and explain everything that will happen."

There was still anxiety in Dieter's eye, but the panic was gone. "Thank you, Doctor. I would like that."

*  *  *  *

Dieter's operation had been successful.  It was a simple procedures really, removing a bullet from his occipital lobe using a new procedure that entailed less risk to the patient's vision. 

When he awoke the next morning, with both Müller and Hays standing over him, Müller said. "So Junge, it wasn't so bad after all."

"No, Sergeant."  he replied with an embarrassed grin. "But I do have a terrible headache."

"That's to be expected." Hay's said. "You remember the side effects I described to you.  They're all temporary and will go away in a few days..... Now get some more sleep, and after lunch, we'll get you up for a little exercise."

"Yes, Doctor.... and thank you.  Thank you very much."

*  *  *  *

Chapter Eight

WEEK FOUR, Monday, Zero Six Thirty -'Spoil Sport'

'Spoil Sport' had been postponed numerous times since they had first received the 'green light'.  But not this time..... today it was a go.

"Forty........Fifty........Seventy..........Ninety,"the flight engineer called out the speed as the Piccadilly Lily sped down the runway and took off, then climbed to four thousand feet and circled the airfield until the rest of the Group, twenty-two aircraft, as Nero had promised,  lifted off and formed up behind. 

As he waited and circled, Savage could see the wreckage of the '' Lady', the plane he had been flying on the Hamburg mission; the plane his bombardier Jack Walker had brought home because he, Savage, couldn't.  The 'Lady', and its crew, especially its pilot, had been badly shot up.  They had crash landed; the 'Lady' coming to rest in the middle of a field off the end of the runway.  Her presence didn't interfere with flight operations, so Savage had left her there as a reminder to his aircrews that the B-17 could take an awful lot of damage and still bring them home.

Finally airborne and in a staggered formation slightly behind Savage's lead squadron, with the low squadron down to the left, and the high squadron up to the right, the 918th turned east toward Margate at the far eastern tip of England, their point of departure from the English coast.

*  *  *  *

The call sign today was Wolf Pack.  Savage was Wolf Pack Leader in the Lead squadron, and the squadrons in his Group were Red Wolves; the 911th and 915th's squadrons, Blue and Green Wolves, respectively.

Their flight plan would take them Northeast across the North Sea.  At Control Point Able, they would rendezvous with the other Groups, and at Control Point Baker, their fighter escort would join.  Once the formation was complete, they would continue Northeast to a point off Alkmaar, on the Dutch Coast, where they would alter course West and proceed inland to Hannover.  Once they had dropped their bombs, they would rally and re-group at Control Point Foxtrot, Southwest of Hannover....where the P-47s would be waiting to escort them home.

 

Leaving Margate behind, Savage began a slow, three-hundred-foot-per-minute climb to 28,000 feet, their operational altitude.  As they had passed 10,000 feet, they had gone on oxygen, and they donned their electrically heated suits and heavy gloves to protect them against the cold.  At 28,000 feet, the temperature would drop as low as 60 degrees below zero, and the cold could kill a man just as quickly as an enemy bullet.

 

When they were over the North Sea, Savage knew his formation was now registering on the German radar screens, and German pilots were being alerted.  Each of the B-17 Flying Fortresses, or 'Forts', carried thirteen Browning .50-caliber machineguns, and as they flew on, Savage gave the gunners the OK to test fire their guns.  Looking down out his left window, he could see little puffs of smoke from his low squadron as their gunners fired short bursts to clear their guns.

As they approached the designated Control Point where they would rendezvous with the 911th and 915th, Savage radioed, "Wolf Pack Leader to all Red Wolves, the other Groups will be joining in about three minutes, stay alert, and keep it tight."
Moments later, Savage heard over the interphone, "Red Wolf Eight (that was Major Joe Cobb, leader of his low squadron) to Wolf Pack Leader.  Blue and Green Wolves approaching on my six, sir."

"Roger."  replied Savage.  Then, "Wolf Pack Leader to all Blue and Green Wolves.  Welcome.  Form up and keep it tight.  Wolf Pack Leader out."

As the other Groups joined, Savage's single group box formation expanded into a combat wing formation with Savage's Group in the center, and the two joining Groups immediately behind in an inverted 'V'; the Blue Wolves, a thousand foot above to his right, and the Green Wolves, a thousand feet below on the left.... all flying in tight formation for optimum defense.

The formation flew on towards the Dutch Coast in radio silence; even though the Germans already knew they were coming, there was no point in giving them any more information than they had to. 

 

At Control Point Baker, they rendezvoused with their P-47 escort.  Because of their much faster speed, over 400 mph, almost twice the fastest speed of the Forts, the Thunderbolts had given the bombers a thirty minute head start before they had taken off from their base at Bodwell.

"Radio to Pilot.  Groundhog Leader calling on Channel Three, sir. "

Switching Channels, Savage heard, "Groundhog Leader to Wolf Pack Leader.  On station. Over."

"Wolf Pack Leader to Groundhog Leader.  Roger.  Welcome to the Party.  Wolf Pack Leader Out."

Switching back, Savage called to the formation, "Wolf Pack Leader to all Wolves.  Groundhog is on station.  Keep alert.  We will be within range of the fighters soon. We'll have a surprise for them today, but I want to see a really tight formation...  all the way in and all the way out.  Close it up and keep it tight."

It was an unnecessary reminder, the gunners were already searching the skies for bandits.

High overhead the Thunderbolts broke their group formation as a P-47 squadron took position high over each of the bomber groups.  The formation flew on without incident until they were within sight of the Dutch Coast.  Here, at Alkmaar, Control Point Charlie, the point where they would alter their course to head inland, the point when their escort would normally be 'bingo' fuel and have to turn back, is where, Savage knew, the fighters would be waiting. 

At 0822, Savage called over the interphone, "Pilot to Navigator.  Check in."

"Navigator to Pilot.  On course, on time, sir.Dutch Coast dead ahead.  Three minutes to new heading."

"Pilot to Navigator.  Roger."

 

Fifteen minutes after the bomber formation had altered its course inland, Savage heard the dreaded, but expected, call over the interphone, "Enemy fighters at eleven o'clock high!  It looks like the whole German Luftwaffe!"

The fighters, ME-109s, had waited just past the point when the bomber escort should have had to turn back, then came on in a rush like a swarm of bees.  They attacked the bombers head on trying to get the lead planes and split the formation.  The Lily shuddered as the gunners opened fire at the fighters darting through the formation doing as much damage as they could.

Over the interphone, Savage called, "Gunners, short bursts. Verify your targets.  Remember there are 'friendlies' out there."

Then as the German fighters turned wide to make another pass at the formation, they were attacked from above by the P-47s.The 109's were caught by surprise, and the Thunderbolts chalked up several kills before they could react to the presence of the American fighters. 

The fighters broke up into individual dogfights with the B-17's and their crews becoming almost spectators.  Over the group radio and interphone, Savage could hears shouts and cheers as the P-47s took on the 109's.  "Go get 'em guys!"....  "Way to go!".... "Get one for me!".... "How do you like it, you SOB!"

"Cut the chatter!  Maintain radio discipline."  Savage yelled into his mike as the formation continued inland. "Gunners, keep alert.  Remember they're after us, not the fighters." 

The German 109's continued to chase the bombers and press their attack for over an hour as they tried to break through the P-47s and get inside the bomber formation.  Some did manage get through and do some minor damage, and many of them paid for it as the Group's gunners shot them down. 

As the formation approached the outskirts of Hannover, Savage could see a thick blanket of little white puffs waiting for them in the distance.  In sight of the flak field, the fighters finally broke off and limped away, having lost a substantial number of their comrades.  But they would re-fuel and re-arm, and be waiting for them when they came off the target and out of the flak. 

The P-47s, had dropped their belly tanks when they engaged the 109s, and were now flying on the fuel in their internal tanks, but those tanks were still mostly full as they used the fuel in the belly tanks first.  The P-47s had lost one of the number. They would be waiting when the 109's returned.

*  *  *  *

The fighter attacks were bad, but at least you could defend yourself against them.  But the flak.... flak was a different story altogether.  In a flak field, all you could do was sit there and take it, and pray you came out on the other side.

'Flak' was the by-product of 88mm anti-aircraft shells whose fuses were set to detonate at a different altitudes, or when the shell came in close proximity to an aircraft.  This technique enabled them to create a several thousand foot barrier of flak through which the bombers had to fly.  'Flak' itself consisted of the thousands of pieces of splintered metal from the exploding shells that when they hit, destroyed engines, blew up fuel tanks, and cut through a B-17s unarmored aluminum skin... and human flesh... like it was paper.  Everyone hated and feared 'flak'.

Frank Savage was a brave man.  He had the medals to prove it, and you didn't do what he did for a living voluntarily if you weren't.  But he was also a man who could admit to his own fear, again because you didn't do what he did, or survive very long, without having a healthy respect for your own mortality.

Savage had almost died from flak wounds on that mission, months ago over Hamburg, and he wouldn't be human if that wasn't on his mind as he entered the flak field.For bombing accuracy.... and you wanted to be accurate because you didn't want to have to come back and do this again... the group had to maintain a straight and level course.  It took a lot of 'resolve' to calmly fly straight into exploding shells when there was nothing you could do but sit there... and hope you didn't get hit.

The flak was thick and brutal. The Lily shuddered and shook as shells exploded all around them. It was all Savage could do to maintain his course and altitude as they bounced around.  He glanced over at his co-pilot, Lieutenant Baker, one of the new replacements. This was only his second mission.  Though the cockpit was freezing, the boy's forehead was covered in sweat, and as Savage watched, he pulled away his oxygen mask to wipe the sweat from his face.  He was terrified, but he was doggedly doing his job, monitoring the engine gages and instruments, and instantly responding to his pilot's commands.  Savage shook his head, where do we get these kids.

Checking the formation, Savage looked down at Joe Cobb's Low Squadron; they were taking a lot of hits, but so far they were all still there.  Looking further down, however, he saw one of the 915th's Green Wolves suddenly disintegrate in a brilliant explosive ball of flame, then watched as the other airplanes closed up to fill the gap that was all that was left of ten men.

*  *  *  *

They were at their Initial Aiming Point, the Church steeple in Kolenfeld, a small town on the outskirts of Hannover.  It was here the three Groups would separate, each to attack their specified target:  the Blue Wolf Group would take the Misburg Rubber Reclamation plant, the Green Wolf Group, the Ricklingen Metal Works, and Savage's Red Wolves would go straight in after the Limmer Oil Refinery. 

"Wolf Pack Leader to Blue and Green Wolf Leaders.  IP dead ahead. This is where you get off.  Good luck.  Re-group at the rally point.  Wolf Pack Leader out."

Almost immediately, he heard a 'Roger'  from both group leaders as they slowly left the formation and altered course toward their individual targets.

With a visual on his target, the oil refinery, Savage engaged the Lily's autopilot, and squeezed his throat mike to activate the interphone, "Pilot to Bombardier.... "  but before he could continue, his co-pilot, Baker, tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention and pointed out his overhead window to a B-17, one from his high squadron, out of control and spiraling toward the earth.  He counted seven chutes before it hit the ground and exploded.  But the survivors chances of survival were minimal; they were floating down right into the middle of the target area.

Snapping back, Savage called, "Pilot to Bombardier.  Coming off the IP, Walker.  Center your PDI."

The Pilot's Directional Indicator, or PDI, was part of the Norden Bombsite System.  When the PDI was centered with the autopilot engaged, and the airplane properly trimmed, the autopilot would automatically make the necessary course corrections for altitude, speed, wind and other factors as the Bombardier set his sight on the target.

Within moments, Savage heard, "PDI centered, General."

"OK.....  You've got it."  He said, removing his hands from the yoke, and giving Walker control of the aircraft.

 

Heading into their bombing run, Savage felt the bomb bay doors open.  A few moments later, he heard "Bombs Away!" and felt the Piccadilly Lily lift as four thousand pounds of bombs and incendiaries left the bomb bay and fell towards the target.

As the first bomb dropped from the Piccadilly Lily, the bombardiers in the rest of the Group pickled their bombs as well.  The Group bombed off the Leader, and Lieutenant Walker was not only 'Lead Bombardier', he was the best Bombardier in the 918th, which is why he was on Savage's crew. Jack Walker was also the young Lieutenant Savage had recently recommended for the Medal of Honor.

The Lily's bomb bay doors closed, and Savage disengaged the Auto Pilot and took back control of the aircraft. 

Almost immediately, his ball turret gunner reported that Red Wolf Nine from Cobb's low squadron had dropped out of formation and was trailing below and behind. 

“Wolf Pack Leader to Red Wolf Nine.  What's your status?  Over.”

“Red Wolf Nine to Wolf Pack Leader.  I’ve lost my number three engine, and some of my hydraulics.  Losing speed and altitude, but I think I can make it.  Over.”

“Wolf Pack Leader to Red Wolf Nine.  Try to make it to the rally point.  If you can’t, find some clouds and make your way as best you can.  Stick to the flight plan.  I'll try to send you an escort.  Leader out."

Savage thought they had a chance.  If they could make it out of the flak and to the rally point, they'd have the P-47s to protect them.  But if they couldn't, the fighters would be waiting to pick off any stragglers.

 

Suddenly, the Lily shuddered as a shell exploded almost underneath them.  A fragment of white hot steel shot up through the cockpit floor between the seats and out Baker's overhear window, and at the same time, Savage felt a solid thump under his seat, as if someone had just whacked him hard in the butt with a baseball bat.  "Thank you, Sergeant Nero!"  he said, though only he could hear it.  His 'butt' was uncomfortably warm, but it, and 'everything else', was intact.

"Savage to crew. Check in and report damage."

All reports were negative, except the flight engineer. "Flak burst under the bomb bay, sir. Good thing it was after we pickled... We took some shrapnel through the bomb bay doors.  Hydraulics for the landing gear are out.  If I can't fix it, we'll have to crank 'em down for landing."

"Alright.  Get on it."

*  *  *  *

The Limmer refinery had been a large, sprawling complex with extensive piping, chemical tanks, cracking towers, blending pools, storage tanks, and rail yards.  By the time the last B-17 finished it's run over the refinery, the entire complex was in flames with widespread secondary explosions. 

Fingering his mike, Savage radioed the Group, "Wolf Pack Leader to all Red Wolves, commencing a ninety degree turn to the right.  I say again, a nine-zero-degree turn to the right.  Close it up. The fighters will be looking for stragglers."

As the Group flew out of the flak towards their rendezvous with the waiting P-47s, Savage looked to his left across the city to see fiery explosions and columns of smoke coming from the Rubber Plant, and a slightly thinned and loose formation of B-17s making its turn off the target.  Looking to his right, he saw a similar scene over the Ricklingen Metal Plant.  Savage fired a green-red flare to identify himself to the other Groups, and as the other Groups altered their courses to rejoin Savage's Group, he was pleased to see them begin to fill in the gaps and tighten their formations.

*  *  *  *

0925, at Control Point Foxtrot, the Thunderbolts circled and waited.  They had followed the bombers as they entered the flak field, then withdrew to their Control Point outside the area and waited in the clear for the bombers.

"Groundhog Four to Leader.  B-17s approaching, ten o'clock low.  Approximately two miles out. Over."

"Leader to all Groundhogs.  Let's get over there.  Groundhog Two, they'll have stragglers; take your element and go find 'em.Everybody keep alert for those 109's.  Leader out."

Savage had slowed his Group to allow the other Groups to form up, and they all scanned the skies looking for fighters....ours and theirs.  Savage knew there were several crippled forts straggling behind,  trying to keep up, but once their combat wing had re-formed, he wouldn't be able to hang back to protect them.  They had a long way to go, and the safety of the Group had to be his overriding concern.

Then he heard, "Fighters. Two o'clock high.....  They're ours!  They're P-47s!"

The Thunderbolts roared overhead to circle around above them, while three split off and kept going to hunt for stragglers.

"Wolf Pack Leader to Groundhog Leader.  You're a welcome sight.  Over."

"Groundhog Leader to Wolf Pack Leader.  Always nice to be wanted.  I've sent some of my boys to bring in your stragglers.  Do you want to wait?"

"Negative, Groundhog Leader.  It's a long way home, and there are still a lot of fighters out there.  The safety of the Group has to come first.

"Roger that.  Just thought I'd ask.  Taking station overhead.  Groundhog Leader out."

"Wolf Pack Leader out."

 

"Red Wolf Eight to Wolf Pack Leader.Red Wolf Fourteen's tail gunner reports five stragglers following below and about three miles behind.  Three P-47s are escorting.  He thinks Jacobsen is with them, sir.  He thinks he can see a red triangle on the tail of one."The 918th's group identifier was a 'red triangle-H' on the bomber's vertical fin.

"Wolf Pack Leader to Eight.  Roger."

'I hope he's right.'  Savage thought to himself.  Jacobson was the pilot of 'Red Wolf Nine', the crippled ship from Joe Cobb's low squadron that had fallen behind after the bomb run.

Time to report, "Pilot to Radio Operator.  Mike, break radio silence and send the following  Strike Report to Pinetree.  'All targets destroyed, minimal losses. Proceeding back to base according to flight plan.'  Then give them our position."

Then switching from interphone to radio, "Wolf Pack Leader to all Wolves.  Close it up.  Let's go home."

Once again the 918th had fulfilled its mission and was heading home.... now all they had to do now was get there.

*  *  *  *

The bombers didn't have long to wait before the German fighters returned. ME-109s and Focke-Wulf 190s, this time; at least three full squadrons.  They knew the Thunderbolts were waiting now, and they came up at them in a coordinated assault, attacking in pairs from every direction trying to pull the P-47s away so they could get at the bombers.  Strangely, they ignored the stragglers trailing a few miles behind with only the three P-47s to defend them; they wanted the main body.The guns of every B-17 were firing as the enemy fighters darted in and out of their formation, and the interphones were alive with chatter as crewmen called out warnings of approaching fighters, and gunners claimed kills. 

The running battle went on for almost an hour.  The Thunderbolts lost two more of their own, and two of the 911th's Blue Wolves were lost, one when a crippled FW flew into the side of the bomber, and they both blew up.But they were taking a heavy toll on the Germans.  Between the bombers and the P-47s, they accounted for almost a third of the fighters.  The sky was dotted with parachutes as Americans and Germans alike floated down to earth; the Germans landing to a warm welcome and a bottle of beer; the Americans, if they survived, to captivity and a Luft Stalag for the remainder of the war.

The attacks were becoming less frequent as the 109's ran low on ammunition and fuel.  They were beginning to tire of the chase, and their attacks slowly diminished until at last they were gone.

*  *  *  *

They were approaching Holland.  They had flown over several areas with anti-aircraft emplacements, but the flak was minimal and not very accurate.  And while they spotted the occasional fighter in the distance, none approached or attacked; it was if they were just following to make sure they were leaving.  Whatever it was, Savage wasn't going to question it.

After another hour without incident, Savage heard the sweetest words ever, "Navigator to Pilot.  North Sea ahead, sir.  Five minutes to our new heading."

"Roger."  he replied.

The formation flew on into the North Sea, altered their heading, then began a gradual descent toward England and home.  Approaching Margate, the radio operator called Savage on the interphone, "Groundhog Leader on Channel Three, sir."

"Groundhog Leader to Wolf Pack Leader.  Party's over.  Time to go home.  It's been a pleasure, sir; we'll have to do this again sometime."

"Wolf Pack Leader to Groundhog Leader.  Thank you for your company.  Wolf Pack Leader out."

Savage watched as their escort departed and headed home.  Almost immediately, the 915th and 911th called in their departures, and shortly it was just the 918th again.

"Savage to all Red Wolves, close it up and let's go home."

*  *  *  *

1335 (1:35).  The returning B-17s of the 918th circled the field at Archbury waiting for their turn to land.  Sergeant Wells, Savage's flight engineer, had not been able to restore the hydraulics to the landing gear, and they'd had to crank the gear down by hand, but they didn't know if it was locked. 

The cripples had to be the last to land in case they crashed and blocked or damaged the runway, and the Piccadilly Lily was the last in line.  Savage had ordered his crew to bail out, and as he circled and waited his turn, he saw them land safely and a truck rush out to pick them up.  At least he didn't have them to worry about.

 

Finally his turn came,  "Savage to Tower.  I don't have a green light on my landing gear indicator.  My wheels are down, but I don't know if either wheel is locked.  I'm coming straight in.  Prepare for a crash landing."

In hind sight, Savage would have preferred to make a wheels-up landing, but it was too late for that now.  He had run the various scenarios over in his mind:  the best case, his wheels were locked, and it would be a normal landing; the worst case, only one wheel was locked, and he would ground loop or cartwheel and probably explode. 

Coming in on a normal approach, the Piccadilly Lily glided lower and lower until her wheels were just barely above the runway.  Then she touched down, and as the wheels held, Savage expelled the breath he had been holding.  He continued his roll down the runway, then taxied to his hardstand and parked.  He sat there for a moment, glad to be alive, then stiffly climbed out of his seat.  He had just swung down out of the nose hatch when a staff car drove up. 

 

As soon as the car stopped, General Wiley Crowe jumped out and ran over to Savage. "Do you ALWAYS have to make such an 'entrance', Frank?"  he said returning Savage's salute. 

"It's not top on my list, Wiley, no."  he replied with a grin as he shook hands with his friend and superior officer.

Removing his parachute harness, Savage stretched and arched his back to loosen the tight muscles.After almost seven tense hours in the air, he was stiff and sore and tired..... and his butt hurt.

"Come on, get in."  Crowe said motioning to his car.  "I'll give you a ride back to your office.  I want to hear all about it."

As Savage headed for the car, Crowe noticed he seemed to be limping a little.  "Are you alright.  You're limping."

'Just tired and sore from the mission."  Savage replied.  Then giving Crowe a 'look', "You've been sitting behind a desk too long, Wiley."

Crowe laughed and said, "Maybe so, Maybe so."

*  *  *  *

"Welcome back, General."  Harvey Stovall said as Savage and Crowe entered the office.  "The crews are still being debriefed, sir, but from all reports it was a very successful mission.  The strike photos are on the way over."

"See if you can find out what the final count was, will you, Harvey?"  Savage asked as he and Crowe continued on into his office.  As Crowe took a seat, Savage opened the bottom drawer of his desk and withdrew a bottle and two glasses. 

"Drink?"  he offered as he poured a shot into his glass.

"Not right now, thanks."Crowe replied shaking his head.  Then asked, "Rough one?"

"Yeah."Savage downed the shot, then put the top back on the bottle and replaced it and the glasses back into the drawer.  He had just needed a little something to take the edge off.  Then he tiredly rubbed his hand over his face and gingerly sat down.

"They threw everything they had at us, Wiley.  If we hadn't had those P-47s we'd have been cut to pieces.  As far as I'm concerned, 'Spoil Sport' was an unqualified success.  We successfully hit and destroyed three priority targets deep into Germany.  I don't know what the count is yet, but we weren't hurt too badly."

"I have the count now, General."  Stovall offered as he entered Savage's office. "and the strike photos."

Stovall laid the photos on the desk, then referring to his notes, said, "Combined bomber force losses were eight: four over the target, two to fighters on the way home,...."

"Yes.  I saw one."  Savage interrupted. "A crippled FW flew right into him."

"….another ditched in the Channel."  Harvey continued. "Air Sea Rescue picked them up, and one of the stragglers crashed on landing at an RAF Colburn, just past Margate."

"What about the fighters?"

"They lost four out of their twenty-four, and three damaged.

"How many did WE lose?"

"Three....Christianson and Stevens over the target; Wilson ditched in the Channel."

"What about Jacobson?"He was one of the stragglers Savage had had to leave behind.

"He made it.  Landed at Colburn with the other stragglers, just before the last one crashed."

"It was a very successful mission, General,"  Stovall said. "But Sergeant Nero isn't going to be happy.  Almost half of the planes that made it back have damage.  He and his crew will be working day and night to patch them up."

"Speaking of Nero,"  Savage suddenly said. "Make out a 48-hour pass for him and his crew.... let him work it into his schedule however he wants.  I owe him a big one!"

"Yes, sir"

As Stovall left Savage's office and closed the door behind him, Crowe exclaimed, "Eight losses out of sixty-six, Frank, and only two due to fighters! That's fantastic!"  and as he looked through the strike photos,  "Look at these strike photos!  If the other Groups' results are half as good as the 918th's, Pritchard will be ecstatic!"

"But before he starts outfitting every Fighter Group in 8th Air Force with belly tanks, he'll want to have a sit down with both you and Joe Mason from the 112th to go over the mission details.... what worked; what didn't."

Standing to leave, Crowe said,  "I'll check back with you later with a date and time.  Right now I'd better get up to Bushy Park, Pritchard will be biting his nails waiting for mission results.  If you don't mind, I'll take these photos with me."

At the door, Crowe turned and asked, 'What's this about owing Nero?"

"We took a flak burst in the belly coming off the target.  Didn't do too much damage, but a couple of good sized fragments came up through the bomb bay and the cockpit floor.  One piece continued out my co-pilot's overhead window; but the other imbedded itself in the bottom of my seat.  It Nero hadn't just put some armor plating under there......."

"Owwww."  Crowe said screwing up his face. Then with a grin added,  "Maybe you should make that a 72-hour pass."

*  *  *  *

After General Crowe had left, Savage cleared some of the paperwork from his desk, then walked over to the hospital to check on the wounded.  He sought out Doc Kaiser, and found him coming out of one of the wards.

"What's the story with the wounded, Doc?  How bad is it?"

"Not bad, General.  Not bad at all.  Eleven wounded.  Only three will require surgery; the rest are relatively minor.  Several have already been treated and released…… From what I've heard, it was a very good mission… if there is such a thing."

"Yes.  It was......Say, Doc, do you have some kind of salve for burns?"

"Why?  Are you hurt?"  Kaiser was instantly concerned.

"It's nothing serious.  I'd just like some salve."

"If you don't mind, General,"  Kaiser said as he pulled Savage towards an empty examination room. "Let me be the judge of what's serious.  Come in here." 

Kaiser shut the door behind them, then said, "Now where's the burn?"

"I'm not even sure it's a burn; it just smarts a little."

"Show me."

"Damn it, Kaiser.  It's my backside, if you must know.  A piece of flak came up through the bomb bay and embedded itself in the bottom of my seat."

"Drop 'em."

"Excuse me?"

"Drop your pants, General, so I can take a look, and climb up on the table, face down."

Savage wasn't too happy about it, but reluctantly did as Kaiser ordered.  "You don't leave a man much dignity, Doc."

Making a quick examination, Kaiser said, "What you've got, General, are first degree burns across both buttocks.  That fragment must have been red hot to radiate that much heat through your seat.  I'm surprised you were able to stay seated."

"I didn't have much choice.  I was a little busy at the time……. Can you give me something for it?"

Kaiser opened a cabinet and removed a jar.  "Spread this on as needed.  It will give you some relief, but I'd recommend you wrap some ice in a towel and sit on it.  The cold will pull the heat out and help it heal faster.  You'll be fine in about three to five days, but sitting will be very uncomfortable until then…..  I'll leave it up to you, but I'd recommend you sit out the next couple of missions…… no pun intended."

Savage re-dressed, and stuck the jar in his jacket pocket.  "Thanks, Doc,"  he said as he started to leave, then stopped and said, "This is just between us, right."

"Of course."

*  *  *  *

Chapter Nine

WEEK FOUR, Tuesday - After 'Spoil Sport'

Savage had been very tired after yesterday's mission, and had overslept.  Maybe he couldn't handle these long missions as well as he used to.  He had also stayed up late sitting on an ice-filled towel while going over some reports he had brought back to his quarters.  The ice had definitely helped, as Kaiser had said it would, but his backside was still extremely tender.  He wanted to stay on his feet as much as possible today. 

When he entered the office, Stovall met him at the door with a cup of coffee, "Saw you coming, General.  Thought you might like a cup of coffee."

"Thanks, Harvey.  I need one."

Looking around, he saw Sergeant Ross typing away, his hands now relatively bandage free.  But he also noted he was studiously avoiding looking up from his work.  Harvey also seemed to be acting a little strange.  Probably just not used to him coming in late.

Sipping his coffee, he started toward his inner office, when Stovall, struggling to keep a straight face, said, "Oh, General.  Sergeant Nero sent something over for you this morning.  Said you might want to keep it as a memento of yesterday's mission.  It's in your office." 

Entering his office, Savage found the bottom portion of his flak-embedded seat from the Piccadilly Lily sitting on his desk.  Turning the seat over, he saw a metal fragment about the size of a misshapen softball. It had slightly penetrated and fused into the bottom of his steel strengthened seat, and the seat cushion was scorched and discolored from the heat.  Unconsciously, Savage placed a hand on his buttocks and gently rubbed; then realizing what he was doing, quickly stopped.

Stovall and Ross were both standing in his doorway chuckling.  Stovall couldn't resist, "I've heard of flying by the seat of your pants, General, but.... "

His face an unreadable mask, Savage responded, "You two are treading on dangerous ground.  You'd make a silly looking second lieutenant, Major." he said to Stovall, then glaring at Ross, "and those stripes can come off as fast as they went on, Sergeant!" 

Then he gave in and began to laugh, too, and a relieved Stovall and Ross joined in.

"It wasn't funny at the time, however."  Savage said sobering. "And aspects of it aren't too funny now.  Kaiser says I have first degree burns.  So sitting for the next couple of days is not going to be my favorite thing."

Stovall nodded in the direction of the door as a sign for Ross to leave, and as he closed the door after him, said, "I'm sorry, Frank.  I didn't know you'd been hurt.  And I'm sure Nero didn't mean anything by it.  He just wanted to show you how effective that armor plating had been."

"Believe me, I knew that as soon as the damn thing hit."  he said laughing again.  "Send the seat back to Nero, will you, Harvey..... and thank him."

"Now, what's on my plate today?"

*  *  *  *

Müller had been at St. Hugh's for almost a week, and since he'd been there, he had been repeatedly examined, and x-rayed, and questioned, and his daily routine observed for any sign of complications, and all of this was recorded in minute detail for further study.  He had taken all of this in his stride, without complaint, recognizing the value of the information to the doctors, but he was becoming tired of doing nothing.  It had been almost a month since the accident, and over three weeks since his operation, and he was tired of sitting in a hospital room all day. 

His routine had been briefly interrupted a few days ago when he had received another letter from his sister; it had been forwarded from Camp Barton.  He enjoyed reading her letter as she described their farm and the apple orchards, and her children.  He had immediately sent a reply, but knew it could be weeks before he heard from her again, and he contented himself with reading her letters over and over again.
Out of a need to be useful, and have something to do, Müller began to accompany the Doctors as they visited other German patients. He acted as a translator where one was needed, and told his story to those who wanted to hear there was hope for them, too. 

But Müller was ready to move on.  Surely the Doctors had all the information they needed from him by now.

Each day he wondered where the British would send him when they let him go.  General Savage said they were going to send him out of England, to Canada or America.  America would be good.  He knew it was a big country, but wherever in it he was sent, he would be closer to Anna than he was now, and Anna had said in her letters that when the war ended he was to come and live with them.  More and more, he hoped the war would end soon.
 

TO BE CONTINUED


Submitted: October 14, 2015

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