Henry was surprised and amused by Crampton's sudden display of fervour.
But remember, please, the law by which we live,
We are not built to comprehend a lie,
If you make a slip in handling us, you die!"
Crampton smiled back as Henry quoted Kipling's lines aloud. Then the barrister stretched out his arms as if easing the kinks in his muscles.
"Good old Rudyard. I wished he'd lived long enough to see this. But I take your point. It's just as easy to get things wrong with computers as it is with anything else, perhaps a great deal more easier. We must make sure we don't get it wrong, that's all. For now, Henry, we'd better get back to the barge because there matters we must settle very quickly."
He turned to the two scientists: "It'll be getting dark soon. You'll be along presently?"
"Very soon," the beefy faced one said. "We've just got to make sure that all the data is back loaded before we leave."
"Alright, but remember, I don't want to see any torches being used and I certainly don't want anybody straying off the path or getting drowned in the dark."
For an academic, Crampton seemed to Henry to have quite a brisk tone of command. On the other hand a barrister would no doubt get a lot of practice in browbeating people. Crampton led the way out into a dreary dusk with the formerly clear skies now filling with a scud of grey cloud driven by a rising wind. Even straw beds in a skittles alley seemed a welcoming prospect in these gloomy dregs of the day.
"One thing I don't understand is why these German aircrews aren't billeted on their aerodrome," Henry commented.
"KGr 100 isn't using a captured French military airfield, but a peacetime flying club field," Crampton explained. "There are reasons. The first is that to get the best cut of radio beams across targets in England the main radio beam is transmitted from Brittany, with the secondary beams broadcast from the low countries cutting it at right angles. Where the beams cross are where the bombs are dropped. By flying from from Brittany the pathfinder crews can follow the main beam all the way in.
"The second reason is the shortage of concrete runways in northern France for all the Luftwaffe bomber units now deployed there. Since it's intended that KGr 100 will mainly carry marking flares, which are a light load, they only need a grass aerodrome to fly from. Hence the need to find local accommodation."
Henry rubbed his hands together briskly for warmth. "OK, I understand that." He saw Crampton's face turned towards him.
"You'd like a cup of tea and something to eat, I daresay?"
"I would," Henry confirmed. "I'd also like to take a look at this computer gadget, if you don't mind. And I'd like to have Mrs Braddock sit in with me on the briefing."
Crampton stopped and stared up at Henry: "Why? Why Mrs Braddock, I mean?"
"I have to get close to that chateau before I can do anything. Naturally, the problem is getting rid of sentries before they can give the alarm. I have men who were raised in Germany, so if I dress them up as Luftwaffe officers there's a good chance they can get close enough to the sentries to kill them silently. It just seems to me that if there's a party going on a woman with them dressed up to the nines would be good camouflage -- provided she had the nerve to tackle the job."
"I can assure of Mrs Braddock's nerve, and her ability to kill if she has to. She went to school in Switzerland and speaks both French and German fluently. I don't think you'll have much trouble in persuading her to go with you."
"Now, seriously, do you really think it would be possible for you to carry out this operation without the RAF's help?"
"Look, the idea of having to rely on split second co-operation with the RAF is complete nonsense. The brylcream boys are likely to get halfway over the Channel and then turn around and go home because they've suddenly discovered their flight ration sandwiches have been made with stale bread."
Crampton seemed scandalised: "I assume you're joking?"
"That's right. Three days on the beach at Dunkirk being bombed and shot at by everything with swastikas on its wings and not one sight of our super young pilots in their Supermarine fighters. I haven't stopped laughing yet. Look, if this was a German operation I could trust the Luftwaffe to be at the right place at the right time to help the ground troops. The RAF in comparison are just flying club amateurs with no real interest in Army co-operation. We'd be lucky if they even showed up in the right country on the right day. We'll need them to get in and out, and we'll need them to make some kind of a diversion but, for God's sake, let me deal with the important part of the job myself."
"Never in the history of human conflict has much been owed . . ." Crampton quoted quietly. "You don't agree?"
"Never have so few been so badly led by so many. Fighter Command, the Air Staff, the Air Ministry -- all rotten to the core. I've talked to some fighter pilots. Our fighter tactics were abysmal, our squadrons were wrongly deployed, our aircraft were underarmed and most of our pilots couldn't hit a barrage balloon."
"Well, Henry, I can see you'll be a great help to inter-service co-operation," Crampton remarked dryly. "But it's obvious even to me that a handful of men armed only with small arms couldn't seriously damage a chateau from the outside. You'd need to take a field gun with you."
"Exactly. Or the next best thing, a Smith gun."
Crampton peered at him, blinking his eyes. "What the devil is a Smith gun?"
Henry smiled: "A most unlikely contraption. It's probably the cheapest gun ever built, designed for the Home Guard by a toy factory engineer named Smith. It's a smoothbore which fires three inch mortar bombs. The barrel and the wheels are made from sheet steel joined together with nuts and bolts instead of welds. The barrel is mounted through the axle between the wheels so the whole thing can be turned on its side and one wheel becomes a three hundred and sixty degree traverse mount. Recoil is absorbed by twelve rubber bands in the axle." Smith Gun picture
"Rubber bands?" Something seemed to be amusing the barrister.
"Rubber bands. The Smith gun is ideal for this job. It only weighs six hundred pounds, so it's easy to manhandle. It has scarcely any muzzle flash to blind the gun crew at night and it packs a hell of a punch because it's a low velocity weapon. A field gun weighs five and a half tons and fires a fifty five pound shell with four and a half pounds of explosive inside. The rest of the shell has to be made of high grade steel to stand up to the stresses of being fired at high velocity. A three inch mortar bomb puts twice as much high explosive onto the target. Of course, the effective range of the Smith gun is only about three hundred yards. Which is quite good enough for what I want to do."
"Would one of these guns be able to demolish the chateau?"
"No. What I'd do is to lob in a couple of high explosive rounds to smash the windows and doors with concussion. Then I'd fire in phosphorous rounds. Phosphorous is used to make smoke screens. In seconds the place would be filled with blinding smoke so thick nobody would be able to find the cellar entrance. Phosphorous also burns, and keeps on burning unless it's kept under water. If you ever get a piece of it on your bare skin the only chance you've got is is to scrape it off before it burns through you. A few thousand fragments of that floating around inside any kind of building and you'll have uncontrollable fires in seconds, especially when they're fanned by draughts from the broken windows."
Crampton shook his head: "This sounds an appallingly savage way of tackling the business."
"Which is something I've already warned you about. German bombers are killing hundreds of our civilians every night. The only possible responses are either give them a taste of their own medicine or ask for an armistice. Which is it to be?"
"Well, one immediate thought I have is that there's a small moat around the chateau, directly under the windows. A lot of people inside the building would probably have no difficulty in jumping into it, thereby escaping from the flames. Nor would you be able to see them in the smoke."
"Better and better. All I have to do is to fire Mills bombs from rifle grenade launchers into the smoke. They'll hit the chateau walls, bounce back into the water, sink to the bottom and explode. Anybody within thirty yards gets gutted like a kipper by the shock waves transmitted through the water."
"Hmmm . . . perhaps."
Back on the Lady of the Lea their reception seemed as indifferent as before. Crampton led Henry below via a hatch and a ladder to the hold, divided up by thin plywood partitions rattling gently with the vibration from a diesel engine idling inside the hull. A teleprinter kept chattering away angrily in the background. The partitions seemed to be used as offices, each lit with bare electric lights. Henry saw seven or eight civilians busy at trestle tables covered in reams of paper and teacups. Despite the time of day they all seemed to be still hard at work, scarcely glancing at him as he passed by. He was very surprised to see the majority of them were females, mostly young, and all looking desperately tired.
"We've found that women seem to have a natural talent for programming," Crampton explained. "Quite frankly, I don't know how we'd be able to cope without their diligence and constant good humour. Most of them are having to sleep in their offices in hammocks."
The thin partitions at the centre of the hold were reinforced by steel bars. The only entrance was by a door also made of steel bars. Two men were on guard there, each of them holding one of those precious Thompson guns which the auxiliaries seemed to be able to obtain so easily. Hanging above their heads was a pull friction igniter connected to two lengths of instantaneous fuse cord wound round a supporting chain.
"Pull cord in case of emergency only," Crampton said drily. "There's enough explosive stowed in the hold to turn the entire barge into instant firewood."
He beckoned Henry to the door. "There's our oracle, the electronic brain that was guiding the glider you saw earlier."
Henry peered through the bars. It was perhaps the most anti climatic experience of his life. The only thing to be seen was a locker about five feet high and three foot on each side, apparently made of aluminium. A small red bulb glowed above a switch at the top right hand corner. Nothing else was visible on the the smooth surface. Mounted behind it was a tube coming down from the deck and a hum which suggested cooling air was being sucked down the tube.
"Is it doing anything now?"
"It never stops working. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it never stops waiting for work to do. The problem is that human beings are very slow in preparing the work into a format that the computer can deal with. Of course it would be totally uneconomical to have an expensive machine here just for our aircraft guidance programme. We have other programmes on hand it can tackle whenever we can spare it. I believe it's doing some aircraft design stress calculations for Hawkers at the moment."
Henry nodded: "Is there any measure of the performance of these things, like the horsepower of an engine?"
"Yes, although the only one I pretend to understand is the amount of core memory it has available. By memory the scientists specifically mean the memory inside the machine -- if you like, memory is equivalent to brain power. The more memory, the more ability. But there's also a concept called storage, where a computer reads and writes information on rotating magnetic drums or on paper tape. By our thinking that's like taking information from books or writing books. If I asked you your birthday you could tell me instantly from your memory. So could a computer if that data was in its memory. If I asked you Napoleon's birthday you'd probably have to go to a library to find out the answer. In a computer's terms it would have to search for the data in outside storage. Internal memory is very fast but there's never enough of it, whilst data storage is virtually unlimited, but slow to read."
"So the rating is on the amount of internal memory available to the computer?"
Crampton nodded: "Yes. I've explained that in the binary sytem everything eventually comes down to on's and off's -- one and zeros. Each one or zero is called a binary digit. Binary digits are put together in groups of eight to make a letter or number which we humans use. An eight bit grouping of binary digits is called an octword. A thousand octwords is called a kiloword. Of course it's slightly complicated by the fact that a kilo in binary is not a thousand but one thousand and twenty four. Still that's close enough. If anybody says the internal memory of a computer is 1K, they mean the memory can hold one thousand and twenty four octwords, each octword made up of eight binary digits. This machine is considered very powerful for its size, with a 4K internal memory."
Henry scratched his nose, still staring through the bars. "Somehow, life seemed a lot simpler when I got up this morning. I've just about reached the stage where I expect a white rabbit with a gold watch to come running past."
"Believe me, Captain, these devices are going to take us into a world which will probably make Alice's look like a model of sanity. Lewis Carroll was, after all, a mathematician by profession, which doesn't surprise me at all. They are the strangest people I know, by a very long chalk."
"You obviously haven't met some of my senior officers. Can we look at some maps, now, please?"
Henry was well endowed with the average soldier's ability to get lost in anything that floated. Crampton went down another ladder and went towards what Henry thought were the bows, though he wasn't quite sure. The dim festoon lighting shone on damp planks and frames that looked like the setting for Nelson's death scene. Then Crampton opened the door of a snug little cabin. Waiting inside was Mrs Braddock, seated in front of a small desk. On the desk was a tea tray, complete with a teapot hidden under a knitted cozy in a odd touch of domesticity.
"Perhaps I can put you two on first name terms," Crampton said. "Julie, this is Henry, Henry this is Julie. My dear, Henry has suggested that you might like to join his little expedition. He thinks you might be useful in helping to dispose of any troublesome sentries."
"One would like to do one's bit, of course," drawled Mrs Braddock. "Milk and sugar, Henry?"
"One lump, please, Julie." He could be as full of sangfroid as any member of the upper class. "You do realise I'm talking about killing people?"
"I didn't think you wanted me to pat them on the head and send them home to mother. I've got something here which might interest you on that point -- oh, by the way, those are fishpaste sandwiches on the plate. It was the best I could do, I'm afraid."
Henry took the covering napkin off the plate and bit deeply into one of the sandwiches. Then he stopped chewing and replaced the sandwich as Julie Braddock reached into a wardrobe against the wall and took out a stubby rifle. The back half looked like a normal .303 butt and action. From the bolt forward it resembled a car muffler mounted on a wooden stock.
"The auxiliaries don't have to go through the usual cumbersome procedure to get the weapons we need. This is one of our little toys, called a De Lisle carbine. It was designed to meet our requirement for a silenced weapon. The problem with most silenced weapons, as you probably know, is that they fire supersonic rounds, so no amount of muffling the exhaust gases can do anything about the sound made by the bullet breaking the sound barrier. To get around the problem this carbine fires American .45 pistol rounds, which are heavy but subsonic. Not only is the weapon almost completely silent, the long barrel means the rounds can be fired accurately out to a hundred yards."
Julie whipped the bolt open expertly, checked the action was empty and passed him the carbine. Henry held it to his shoulder, looking through the sights and checking the balance. His first instinctive judgement was that the De Lisle was the answer to the Commando unit's prayers.
"Remarkable. We've been making crossbows out of car springs. Your equipment makes me envious."
Julie Braddock finished stirring his tea and passed the delicate cup to him balanced on a fine bone china saucer. "Perhaps you should temper your enthusiasm for that De Lisle with the thought that if things go wrong in France I shall be expected to kill you with it -- or will you kill me first, I wonder?"
Henry nearly dropped the saucer then tried to smile: "Ladies first, perhaps?"
"I'm not a lady." Julie said curtly, passing a steaming cup to Crampton, who sipped from it with clear pleasure before speaking.
Henry was indeed greatly puzzled as to exactly who or what Julie Braddock was. He was trying to judge her by her appearance, which was difficult. She was old, perhaps over thirty, her features more resolute than good looking, with some hint of bitterness about them. Her hair was very fair and bobbed short, there were fine wrinkles around her hard blue eyes and a faint yellow brown tinge in her complexion which was the usual trademark of time spent in India. Definitely one of the memsahib sort, the kind who went around putting down native revolts with stern words. Just the sort to make him acutely conscious of his social inferiority.
"Julie does have a point," Crampton said. "I've given you a fuller briefing than I should have done, Henry, unwisely perhaps, but I feel you have a measure of ingenuity in you which could only be given full reign if you know most of the facts about this business. If either of you are to venture into enemy territory, it will only be if you give your word to take poison pills rather than be captured."
"I understand that," Henry acknowledged. "But what if the worst should happen and one of us is wounded and captured while unconscious? Just a thought, but have you seen those shoulder holsters that American detectives wear in films? They might be the solution."
The woman shook her head, frowning. "I don't understand. If we're not in a position to take pills, how could we shoot ourselves?"
"We wouldn't need to. The holsters would have several ounces of plastic explosive sewn into them and pressure release detonators at the bottom. The guns would be secured by stud press straps around the hand grips. The first thing the Jerries would do with any prisoner -- wounded or not -- is to disarm them. As soon as a pistol was lifted out of a holster the explosive would be set off against the prisoner's chest cavity, and bingo, no more chance of an interrogation."
Crampton smacked his palms together in approval as Julie fluttered her eyelids across the desk. "Oh, Henry, I knew from the first that you were going to turn out to be a heart breaker."
"Very amusing, Julie. Henry, do me a favour and roll down that map on the left, would you?" Crampton asked.
The map came down easily on the roller. It was an Institute Geographic National map, number 0516, scaled at one to twenty five thousand, covering North East Brittany.
"Henry, our area of interest is bounded by Cap Frehel, Saint Malo, Dinan and Lamballe. A flat coastal plain of about twenty miles square between the coast of the Golfe de Saint Malo and the high ground of the Landes Du Mene. Look for where the river Arguenon flows into the sea."
"Trace the river inland to where the Dinan to Lamballe road crosses it."
"At this village -- Carnoules?"
Crampton and Julie both winced. "My God, your French pronunciation is awful," Crampton complained. "How did you communicate with the French when you were stationed there?"
"The only thing the French are any good at doesn't need explaining. Anyway, I'm afraid I'm completely tone deaf. There's no way I can learn any foreign languages. Sorry."
Crampton waved his hand. "Never mind. Pull down the second map there."
Henry did so, scratching his chin as he studied it while Crampton kept on talking.
"What you have there is a local map drawn up with the help of one of De Gaulle's Free French soldiers who used to live in the area. You can see it looks something like the flag of Saint George, cut up into four smaller squares. The dividing line that runs down the middle is the Arguenon, flowing roughly from south to north. The line running through the centre from one side to another is the road between Dinan and Lamballe. Directly in the middle is the bridge which carries the road over the river. On the western bank is most of the village of Carnoules, perhaps forty buildings all told, stretching out to the west along the road. According to our information there are only a few cottages on the eastern side of the river."
Crampton paused to refresh himself with another sip of tea before continuing. "On the southern side of the road the ground drops quite steeply from a maximum height of five hundred feet above sea level in this particular area. On the northern side the coastal plain begins. Now, let's look at each of those convenient quarters into which the map is divided. The upper left quarter contains the flying club airstrip which has now been taken over by KGR 100. The upper right quarter is flat farming land. Bottom left quarter is of no special interest -- but look at the bottom right quarter."
"You mean this re-entrant?"
"That's right. A second and smaller valley runs alongside the valley of the Arguenon, or, more correctly, approaches it at an angle until they meet near the road and flatten out together at the edge of the coastal plain. At the mouth of this second valley is the Chateau Valbourges, which takes its name from the valley it guards and the stream that runs through it. The Chateau Valbourges is now the home of the aircrew of KGr 100."
Henry swallowed half his cup of tea in one gulp and picked up the rest of his sandwich again. "What does that mean exactly? Is it just an officer's mess? After all, many aircrew will be NCO's, not officers."
Julie Braddock answered. "The German armed forces are much less rank and class conscious than ours are. They put all the aircrew in the same building if it's large enough."
Henry nodded. "OK, that makes sense. What sort of a building is this chateau?"
Crampton scrabbled through the files on his desk, finally opening one of the thinnest. "We simply don't know too much about the construction and layout. The most helpful thing we've been able to find is this rather gaudy promotional note, by courtesy of the Cook's travel people."
Henry took the proffered sheet and read it.
'In 1518 Gilles Montaigne, a bourgeois treasurer to Francois I, began work on the chateau of Valbourges, on the site of a medieval castle destroyed by the Dauphin a century before. What now stands, except for one nineteenth century tower, was finished by 1527. It was then that Montaigne was involved in a corruption scandal at the court, a scandal which forced him into exile. The King confiscated his treasurer's chateau and put his own royal badge upon it, a salamander.'
Henry grunted when he saw this. "The Jerries'll need to be bloody salamanders by the time I've finished with them," he commented. Crampton and Braddock said nothing and Henry continued looking at the report.
'Architecturally, the chateau is on the borderline between medieval and modern. At the latter end of the previous century gunpowder had made castles obsolete in warfare, but their towers, moats and machicolations were still considered symbols of status and nobility in 1518. For Montaigne, suddenly raised to the nobility by his own success, nothing could be more important than these visible symbols of rank, and Valbourges possesses all of them. The final wonderful effect is of an illumination from the Book of Hours brought to life.'
Henry shrugged and handed the paper back. "It sounds as if the place is pretty solidly built. But there's nothing useful there. Even the moat may have been filled in long ago."
"Our Free French informant says no, he visited the chateau about a year ago and the moat was still full then."
Henry drained the last of his tea. "I get a creepy feeling up my back whenever you talk about De Gaulle's pathetic mob. What do they know about this business?"
"Absolutely nothing," Julie said curtly. "We asked them to supply twenty men, all from different parts of France, and they're being kept in strict security until it's all over."
Crampton put another sheet of paper down in front of Henry. "This is the best diagram we've been able to make of the chateau from our informant. For the building we've assumed a square layout with approximately a hundred yards on each side, surrounded by the moat which we guess is about twenty yards wide. Then there's a footpath around the moat, and a belt of thickly planted trees, maybe forty yards wide, forming an outer circle. At the perimeter of the trees is a wall, ten feet high.
"There are two ways in to the chateau. From the front is an driveway from the Dinan-Lambelle road. That crosses the moat by a causeway. At the rear is a pedestrian footbridge from the chateau over the moat, which connects in turn to some stables. From the stables there's a bridle path which passes through the trees and through a gate in the wall big enough to let a horse through. Apparently the stables were still being used pre-war and so the gate should still be functional.
Henry nodded: "Have you made any decision about which approach you consider the best?"
Julie stood up, smoothing down her ugly pinafore and tapped the centre of the sketch map with the tip of her pencil. "This, as you see, is the bridge over the Arguenon river. It carries the Dinan-Lambelle road, which is classed as a 'D' road, a chemins departemental. If we follow the road to the east for two hundred yards we come to a road junction, where a minor 'V' class road, a chemins vicinal, joins the D road from the south-east. This V road passes over the high ground between the valleys of the Arguenon and the Valbourges, then follows the valley of Valbourges until it eventually joins the Lamballe-Rennes road eight miles to the north."
Julie brought the pencil back towards the middle of the map. "At its closest point the V road passes within nine hundred yards of the chateau and about two hundred feet above it as it crosses the ridgeline between the two valleys. And the bridle path from the chateau joins up with the V road at that point."
Henry lit a Churchman, nodding slowly. "So you're suggesting that following the V road and then going down the bridle path is the logical approach?"
"Yes," Julie said. "Whatever else happens you can hardly get lost if you follow them. The nearest piece of flat ground suitable for landing the glider is also alongside the V road further up the Valbourges valley. One snag is that there's a farmhouse on the site. Another problem is that you'll have an approach march of over two miles from the farm to the bridle path turn off above the chateau."
"Hmmmm . . ." Henry stared down the Institute Geographic map, closely studying the contour lines. "My first reaction is that I dislike the idea of landing the glider blind, hoping everything will be as we expect. I feel the best thing to do would be to drop a small scouting party the night before the raid. Four men, including myself, parachuted into the valley perhaps two miles further up the valley from the farmhouse. We'd then march south west, up into the high ground. I leave two men to watch the farmhouse during daylight hours. Myself and one other man move further on to watch the chateau and what we can see of the village. At dusk I move back, rejoin my OP party at the farm, then secure the farm and put out shielded landing lights to help the glider pilots to land."
Crampton seemed unenthusiastic. "You may well be seen coming down, or seen during the day, wrecking any chance of a successful raid. A British aircraft flying around near Carnoules might be enough to put the Germans on their guard."
"Let's think this through," Henry countered. "When's the raid scheduled for?"
"The night of the 17th."
Henry took out his pocket diary. "OK, so that means the night of the 16th for the scouting party to land. It's the first night of the moon waxing gibbous and moonset is at 0147 hours. If we can have the services of your flying computer and a transponder fitted to the dropping aircraft we should be dropped in exactly the right place, even in pitch darkness. Once I've got my feet on the ground all I have to do is to follow a compass bearing and walk uphill. When I'm on the ridgeline I can't get far lost in direction and I'll count my paces for distance."
Crampton seemed unhappy. "What you're suggesting is a full field trial of the navigation system twenty four hours before the real thing. I can see some advantages to that, and some disadvantages. What I have to judge is the danger of warning the Luftwaffe that something is in the wind."
Henry held up his hand and bent one finger over. "Point one, the noise of the dropping aircraft. I'd suggest we use a de Havilland Dragon. With both engines at full power it uses only two hundred and sixty horsepower, and obviously the engines won't be at anything like full power for level flight at slow speed. With a bit of careful route planning and navigational help from your computer it can slip in and out over a non populated piece of coastline and stay away from any towns or villages inland. The Dragon probably won't be heard and it certainly won't be seen after moonset."
Now Henry bent over another finger. "Which brings me to the second point, that rural France has a much lower population density than most of England. So if we jump from a very quiet plane with darkened parachute canopies, with no moon, we stand a very good chance of not being seen. Provided, of course, we do get dropped where we want to be dropped. That's the responsibility of your back room boys."
Another finger. "Thirdly, all my movements will be over empty country between moonset and sunrise. I'm certainly going to keep clear of that farm and any dogs it might have. When the sun comes up both my observation parties will be hidden and camouflaged up on the high ground, and won't move until it gets dark again. For those three reasons I feel we can put a scouting party in ahead of the main raid without being detected."
Crampton slouched lower in his seat. "It's becoming a long day." He picked up a gold propelling pencil and made some notes. "Alright, what do you see as the advantages of using a scouting party?"
"It gives us a chance to try out the navigation system. It gives me a chance to look over the area in daylight so I know exactly what's where the next night. It gives us a chance to confirm our information is correct. We'd look fine fools if there were no Germans in that chateau after all. It gives me a chance to make sure there isn't a platoon of German infantry billeted in that farmhouse. It gives me a chance to select a clear strip for the glider to land on and put out lights to aid the landing. Most importantly, if the glider tow plane doesn't get a go ahead signal from me, he turns around and goes back to England. Because if there's no signal they can assume things have gone drastically wrong.
"The great disadvantage is that I'm making my plans without being sure of whether the drop plane or the gliders are likely to be detected by one of these radiolocation devices you've talked about. How much of a danger is that?"
Crampton tapped the pencil against the table top. "Little or non-existent just now. The Germans don't have many sets in service yet and so far all of them have been deployed along our bombers' likely flight paths to help protect the Fatherland. On the other hand KGr 100 are a very technically minded unit and are likely to get themselves an RL set as soon as they can. So on that one I think we can only cross our fingers and hope for the best. Otherwise, you're making a strong case."
He looked at Julie. "Communications, that's going to be important if we use a scouting party. You were telling me something about a special air to ground wireless, weren't you, my dear?"
"We have a requirement for a small ground-to-air transceiver which is suitable for clandestine operations. I believe there's a radio workshop designing something called an S-phone. I don't know how far they've got with it."
"I'll check." Crampton made another note. "Alright, Henry, assume your scouting party has no troubles and the glider lands as it should. You march off down this V road, do you?"
"Wait a minute, what's the carrying capacity of one of your twin gliders? Twice a Hotspur would be about fourteen troops or three thousand pounds per glider."
Crampton flipped an outstretched hand from side as if it were teetering on an edge. "Well, that's what we can cram in. And we have installed extra panels in the wings to try to keep the wing loading within reason. But at that weight they'll need very careful handling."
"In that case, we'll work on three of them being required to bring in everything I need. Because all the equipment will be abandoned one glider will be enough to get us out afterwards."
"I don't see that being a problem," Crampton responded. "If we can guide one glider in we should be able to land two others in the same place as well. Just as long as they don't collide on the strip. And it gives you two more chances of getting out if one gets damaged during landing. I presume you need the extra glider for the -- hmm -- Smith gun and ammunition?"
"Partly. Take a look at the chateau again. I probably won't need many three inch rounds to set the place on fire. I won't need many mills bombs or much small arms ammunition to kill survivors in the moat. My problem is in trying to seal off the front of the building. The simplest and safest way would be to use a pair of two inch mortars firing over the roof. But it means I'll need a lot of two inch bombs, more than my men can carry. So I'll have to get some help from the Great Western Railway Company."
Crampton took a deep breath. "I'm not really in the mood for jokes, Henry."
"I'm not joking. I'm talking about those little Borough Superior electric trolleys the porters use to move luggage around on station platforms. They run off batteries slung underneath the cargo tray and I had a close look at one a few weeks ago while I was waiting for a connection at Plymouth. They can carry three hundred pounds each easily and provided the bridle path is reasonably smooth they should be able to reach the chateau. So I'll take three of those, each loaded with bombs, three inchers for the Smith gun and two inchers for my mortars."
"Nine hundred pounds of ammunition! Isn't that rather over-egging the pudding?" Julie asked in surprise.
"A pair of two inch mortars firing at full speed use up a hundred pounds of ammunition every minute. I'm going to need all the two inch bombs I can get. I'll also need to have them modified."
"For what reason?"
"If the Luftwaffe's best start legging it over the causeway and my bombs are landing down in the moat, most of the blast and splinters will miss them. What's needed is for the bombs to explode about twenty feet up in the air, so the whole area gets swept clean. That's a general principle for all mortar bombs, exploding them above ground is far better than exploding them on the ground. So I've been designing a mortar fuse which uses a pinch of black powder in the nose and a time delay of half a second. A mortar bomb, unlike an artillery shell, usually lands almost vertically, so when the small primary charge explodes it'll blow the bomb back up into the air, then the delayed action fuse sets off the main explosive charge. Every bouncing bomb should kill or main anyone within three hundred square yards."
Julie was pouring out some more tea, but paused to look at Henry with interest. "You say you've been designing these fuses?"
"That's right. A not yet patented Winfield guaranteed wiper out. I have a lot of strange ideas but I've never had much luck up until now in getting people interested in them. The Army is a very conservative organisation."
"If you can deal with KGr 100 Winston will give you your own army," Crampton promised airily. "Now, having landed, you make your way to the chateau. What time do you intend to attack?"
Henry consulted his diary again. "Moonset on the 17th is 0233 hours. I want some moonlight to see by when we retreat, and I assume some moonlight would help the snatch aircraft. What we'll actually get depends on the cloud cover. But let's say the glider is retrieved at 0200. So if I start firing at 0120 I should have done whatever I'm going to do by 0130. That gives me thirty minutes to get back to the glider."
Crampton shook his head. "Half an hour to cover two and a half miles? Isn't that cutting it a bit fine, bearing in mind the inevitable confusions and delays?"
"No, not the way we'll be travelling. Each man will be carrying a folding airborne pattern push bike on his back. They weigh twenty eight pounds each and fold up into a flat package, even the handlebars and the pedals. As soon as we've finished we'll jump on our bikes and pedal off at a speed which will make the Tour de France look like a spastics' outing. Folding bike picture
Henry gratefully accepted another cup of tea from Julie while Crampton sorted through his notes. "Do you think you can out speed any pursuing force?"
"I'm assuming that the nearest Germans are at KGr 100's airfield or, more likely, billeted in Carnoules. The key to blocking them off is clearly the bridge over the river. So I intend to detach three men at the bridle path turnoff to cycle down to Carnoules and blow the bridge. That way my back will be covered."
"The RAF could probably do that job for you."
"No, it's too important to be left to them. What I could use is a heavy bombing raid on the airfield to cover the noise of my attack on the chateau and the noise of the bridge being blown. You'll appreciate the importance of getting the timing right though. If the air raid starts before I'm in position the Jerries in the chateau will take cover down in the wine cellars before I attack. Which is not what we want. And if the senior officer at the airfield hears gun fire from the chateau before the bombs drop he'll immediately send ground forces to investigate. Ideally, I'd like to be able to use that offshore computer aircraft of yours as a kind of flying command post to co-ordinate the timings. Assuming, of course, that we can find a way of talking to each other."
"Once the bridge is destroyed you won't have to worry about the Germans on the other side of the river, that's certain."
"The Germans always counter-attack, they always do it quickly, and they always do it with the maximum amount of ingenuity and ferocity. My main safety lies in their not knowing the chateau is being attacked. Knocking down that bridge is just some additional insurance."
Eric Crampton sighed and made another note. "Look, Henry, I think you're making some good points, but that's enough to start with. First thing in the morning we'll make out a complete operations plan and code it on the computer. Then we'll pass it to my immediate superior, the Minister of Defence."
"I've never heard of any such a thing as a Minister of Defence."
"The Minister of Defence is the chairman of the Defence Committee of the War Cabinet -- whom also happens to be the Prime Minister. Which means that the Defence Committee is run, by no coincidence, by the Ten Downing Street Secretariat. In essence, the Defence Committee consists of different members for each meeting, all handpicked by Winston to let him have his own way. Which he usually does for three quarters of the time. Then he starts talking about invading Norway or something equally bizarre, the Chiefs of Staff tell him as politely as possible not to be so silly, and things break up in a huff."
"It sounds like a strange way to run a war."
"Perhaps it is, my boy, perhaps it is, but at least it has the essence of simplicity. As long as Winston backs us the wheels will turn relentlessly. So get a good night's sleep and we'll reconvene in the morning. I hope you won't find the skittles alley too uncomfortable."
Henry stood up. "I don't think I'll have any trouble sleeping -- I may have some strange dreams though, after today's events."
Julie led the way out. At the cabin door Crampton called Henry back.
"Captain, do you think you can really mete out a measure of revenge upon the Luftwaffe for what they have done to our women and children?"
Henry smiled gently and answered softly:
I'll light their land with twain!"