Kidnapping Hitler Did they really think they could stop the war?
‘Nothing like being in the thick of it, eh?’ Brigadier Wilson said.
He was standing with his adjutant, Colonel Pevensy, just outside the open flap of their operations tent.
Wilson stretched, coughed and sniffed. The morning air was hot and dry. It was near the end of July ’44 – six weeks since D-Day and the mass invasion of the Normandy beaches by the Allied forces. They were in an army base a hundred and fifty kilometres west of Paris. Trucks and marching troops surrounded them. Bombers and fighters droned overhead. He and Pevensy were part of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, SHAEF, which commanded the invasion forces. Their role was to assist in supervising the day-to-day activities of the advancing Allies.
The allied forces had spread themselves across Normandy away from the D-Day beaches, creating airfields and army bases for all the troops who followed behind the initial invasion heroes – four million in all. The Germans, under Rommel and other military leaders of note, fought a fearsome rear guard action as they were driven steadily eastwards. Soon Paris would be liberated signifying the severing of Hitler’s grip on la belle France and bringing the Third Reich’s western reach of its empire back to the German border – and closer to Berlin, the holy grail of the Allied push to conquer their enemy.
The end of the Second World War would not be far away.
The Brigadier continued, ‘I’ve spent most of the bally war behind a desk. Shuffling from one conference to another. Planning this, planning that.’
‘I say, Sir, don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ve done a thundering good job all round.’
‘Well, nice of you to say so, Tom, but I’ve atrophied through lack of real physical activity. Can’t help but be envious of our lads in the field.’
And those lads in the field, his six Hawkwind heroes, would all be happy enough to be taking a breather across the Channel in Britain. They were two airmen, a soldier, an SOE agent, and two French Resistance guerrillas. They had constantly seen action since they had first been caught up in Operation Hawkwind’s clutches when shipwrecked on German-occupied Guernsey in April that year, and were pressured into chasing around the island trying to kidnap Field Marshal Rommel, who as head of the Atlantic Wall was inspecting the Channel Island defences. They had ended up later in Normandy in time to become embroiled in chasing someone else, this time an American Nazi spy with the stolen Invasion plans.
Brigadier Wilson, architect of Hawkwind, continued ruminating with Pevensy.
‘I wanted us to keep in touch with them, Tom, but it’s the devil’s own job.’
‘Well, they are scattered all over northern France doing their bit, sir, with their regiments. Almost impossible to keep tabs on them.’
‘Hmm, except for Eric Baker, eh? Poor fellow. I wish we could do something for him.’
‘I’m not sure what we can do. We all have to face up to our own transgressions, sir.’
The ‘poor fellow’ Baker was at that moment facing a disciplinary board in the offices of the Special Operations Executive in Baker Street, London - and enjoying the experience not one bit.
‘I’ve tried my best, sir,’ Baker said in a pitiful, pleading voice.
‘Tried?’ exclaimed one of the board.
‘Done it, sir. Done my best, sir.’
The other two joined their colleague in a triumvirate of voices to assail the sagging Baker whose depressed state of his manic-depressive personality was sucking the last dregs of vitality from him.
‘Only half your missions a success. And at the loss of most of your agents.’
‘Your whole Berlin operation was an abysmal disaster.’
And on. And on.
Baker hung his head, breathing hard, shuffling his feet. Then a dim instruction seeped into his cramped mind, ‘If interrogated by the enemy, keep your feet and hands still. Restless feet are a give away to guilt. Convince yourself deep down you are innocent and it will help abolish the truth that you are not.’
He immediately stood still. Which stimulated him to stand more upright. Which forced his head to lift and thus his eyes to look steely-eyed across the desk. It took him a minute or so to stop flinching as they bombarded him with further recrimination, but he slowly felt the Black Dog slip from his straightening shoulders, and when it fell away at last, his supressed manic side burst into its full blown magnificence.
‘This isn’t fair, gentlemen! And lady. I know I made mistakes. I will be the first to admit it. But in the maw of battle fear and the guile of the enemy take their toll. It is easy for you to sit at a desk removed from the vicissitudes of war and criticise me for my failings, but…’
And on. And on.
Lieutenant Curtis Olson, bomber navigator of ‘King of the Clouds’ a B-24 Liberator of the United States Army Air Forces, was equally animated. He was back in the air again since surviving the destruction of his previous aircraft, ‘Juicy Lucy,’ and suffering the loss of his nine buddies. He was now a new member of the ten-strong crew and loving every minute of it.
He had yet to be fully integrated into the crew who were in a form of low-key bereavement at the loss of his predecessor who died in a drunken brawl with a mess cook’s assistant. But his sunny manner was slowly winning them over.
Olson was a gangly basketball player with a blond buzz cut and corn blue eyes. He was twenty years old. A perversity of war decreed that while one country’s young men might brutally kill those of another, when captured certain courtesies were acknowledged. One being the elitist notion that officers be separated from the lower ranks and given better treatment. The top brass of the American Air Force therefore made it mandatory for all flying crews be officers. Whether they were officer material or not.
Olson reckoned he was. And don’t nobody say no different!
The twenty-strong squadron of Liberators continued to drone homeward. They had dropped around 8000 pounds worth of bombs each on Berlin, and, although splattered with flak, none was seriously hit.
‘Grip those triggers, boys,’ said the co-pilot. ‘The Luftwaffe is here like a mess o’ hornets!’
It was impossible to count them, but the air was now crowded with 109s and 210s. The Allies might be flexing their muscle in France as they relentlessly thrust eastward towards Paris and then over the border into the Fatherland, but Hitler gathered his forces into a death or glory defence of the Third Reich. Now, as they returned over the German border, this raging Luftwaffe vengeance was unleashed upon them. Lead ripped into wing and fuselage. But the King was armed with thirteen .50 calibre machine guns controlled by the four gunners plus the bombardier and whoever else was available, and she engaged in a defiant counterattack. Unfortunately the manoeuvrability of B-24s was maddeningly lethargic. All they could do was plod single-mindedly in the direction of their squadron’s newly constructed base over a hundred kilometres west of Paris and gun down as many of the pesky darting fighters as possible.
‘Yee ha!’ Olson yelled, as the King of the Clouds’ gunners rattled off killing rounds at the Germans. ‘Let’s get this goddamned war over with and get back stateside to girls we left behind!’
And hamburgers yet to be tasted.
The Brigadier had been highly praised for his contribution to the success of Operation Hawkwind, firstly in the Channel Islands, and secondly with the vital pre-invasion data gathering his stalwart chaps had done immediately following. And the subsequent hunt for the Nazi spy with the stolen D-Day plans had also proved successful.
‘Those lads and that French girl have not received their just rewards. Tom. It’s all very well patting me on the back, they, and you too, old chap, did the real business. I was the figurehead.’
‘Oh, come, sir,’ insisted Colonel Pevensy. ‘Without your guidance and forethought, we would have achieved precious little.’
‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’ said Wilson. Then after a moments rumination, added, ‘I supposed Hawkwind is my baby and I want it to grow into a fine young chap, as you know, Tom.’
‘With your next operation, sir? That will be one to bring in the applause from Churchill and Monty. And Eisenhower, too.’
His next operation.
Brigadier Wilson pondered this with an intense brightness in his eyes. What had once been a vague half-awake notion was now blossoming into a possible reality, fed by his megalomaniac belief in himself and his ambitions for Hawkwind.
His mind drifted into an absorbing reverie for a minute before the reality of the day brought him back to earth. He slapped his hands together and rubbed them briskly.
‘But first, we have to drive Jerry out of France. Come on, let’s get on with it, although we should try and keep tabs on our lads for when we need them again.’
Sergeant Sam Haines still remained a sergeant in the Royal Engineers despite being away from his regiment in unconventional circumstances. Getting himself seconded to a commando unit for a few weeks in March because of his linguist skills and intimate knowledge of the area the unit were operating in was bad enough. Being the only one to escape alive, despite the success of the mission, might have damaged his tarnished reputation as a rogue element for good. It was only because of his association with the Brigadier as a Hawkwind field agent along with Baker, Olson and the others that saved him.
‘Sergeant Haines! Get here, you raggy arse sniffer!’ bellowed his sergeant major. ‘I’ll have you scrubbing out the latrines before this war is over!’
Haines stood before him and saluted, steel-spine straight.
‘Yes, Sergeant-Major, sir!’ he said, without any obvious trace of disrespect, and stared at the SM’s cap badge without glancing into his piggy eyes.
‘Snap to it, snap to it! Just because you’ve been out hob-knobbing with the Commandos and War Office pinstripes, doesn’t mean you can come back here and play toy soldiers with me! Think you’re a blue-eyed boy, eh, with your special missions?’
Haines blanked out his mind to the taunts and insults. All his adult life he had to suffer his superiors who saw him as a threat or were dismissive of his talents, like a dog walking on its back legs and barking the national anthem. Because of what? Because he was a working class boy born with the ability to soak up foreign languages like the best top-drawer linguist, and worse, instinctively take on the varied mannerisms of Germans and Frenchmen and Italians.
‘Think of all I’ve done this year to end up back under that bloated bastard. Oh, give me my freedom!’
But he had to blinker his thoughts of heroic adventures past and live in the now, a humble cog in a vast war machine trundling across northern France. There was nothing he could do about it.
At the moment at least.
The Brigadier’s fourth field agent was Squadron Leader John George Hartley-Penrose DFC, your archetypal elite British fighter pilot. Key player in the Battle of Britain and survivor of many intrepid missions. Twenty-two-years old. All public school and landed gentry. Like Olson and Haines, he had stayed in Normandy and had not been recalled to his squadron in West Plymouth, for it was now over here using a temporary base half-way between the Normandy beaches and Paris, the focus of the current push across northern France.
He and his fellow airmen were helping to soften up the land ahead of the advancing ground forces.
‘Tally ho!’ he whooped. ‘Bandits ahead, boys!’
They had encountered a handful of German bombers, Dorniers and Stukas out for a morning raid on the encroaching Allies. By now, the Luftwaffe in France had lost over half its capability either to the enemy or by redeployment to protect Berlin, the nerve centre of the Nazi regime, along with the vast industrial areas in Germany that were continuing to churn out tanks and guns.
He downed a Stuka with ease, but a shepherding M110 fighter caught him from behind. Its two nose cannon punched him with deadly lead. Hartley-Penrose did a backward loop, only a few feet above the German. They could have knocked their cockpit hoods together. With a wild cry of youthful exhilaration, he then continued to loop underneath the tail of the 110, straightening out and dropping back behind and below it. His Brownings thundered, splintering the trailing edge of the German’s starboard wing and then the belly of the fuselage.
The 110 continued flying steady for half-a-minute before tipping sideways and rolling, dropping to the dirt in flames.
‘Another perfect Hartley-Penrose dogfight, what?’ he gloated with a self-satisfied smirk.
He thought life was fun and frightfully exciting.
In their office tent, the Brigadier and Pevensy huddled over their desk of a folding table – hardly larger than a card table. Maps and notepaper covered it. Pevensy acted as secretary. It was evening now but there was ample daylight to see by. Outside were noises of a military camp never at rest. Raised voices of command, thump of marching feet on packed earth, a vehicle or two passing.
Before the war, Brigadier Wilson had been a detective-inspector in the Metropolitan Police. His instinct for solving mysteries, whether following whodunit clues or working out the whereabouts of absconding criminals, never left him. If there were no real life conundrums to solve, globally large or domestically small, he did crossword puzzles or read Agatha Christie and Charles Roach.
He had no home life now that his wife and their son had perished in the London blitz. His future was what he made of it for himself without the constraints of others. And that future was Hawkwind, a small covert organisation engaged in protecting Britain in whatever was considered right and proper. But his immediate superiors saw only his overt activities with his colleagues, poring over maps, assessing the incoming data and creating strategy for the invading Allied troops.
‘Right, Tom,’ he said, ‘that will do us for today. Get someone to take these maps and notes to the General.’ From a file he withdrew another map and papers, spreading them on his desk. His eyes darted from a street map of Berlin to scribbled notes and official typed papers. ‘Now, let us continue our plans with Operation Hawkwind’s next mission, eh? And by Jove, this one is tops the others like Everest does over the Matterhorn!’
He paused and scratched his chin, and then added quietly, ‘Although it might be a little more difficult to pull off, of course.’
After surviving the D-Day Invasion when the six Hawkwind heroes had been dug in on the cliff top, and waited until the German troops were driven inland before emerging, Claude of the French Resistance made his way back to Avranches, his hometown in Lower Normandy. As far as he was concerned he was done with Hawkwind.
‘I did my duty assisting our allies, now I must do my duty to my family and kinsmen.’
It was a dangerous journey, for he had to avoid both German and Allied forces as the offensive continued, but after days of hardship and danger, he climbed the winding road up to the hill town. From the top could be seen the coastal plain to Mont Saint Michel and the nearby sea. The sky was blotched with drifting smoke. Bombers thundered over the fields. The roads were choked with army vehicles and marching troops.
Claude cautiously passed down the streets near empty of civilians but with some German presence in the form of patrolling sentries. Anti-aircraft guns were permanently manned. Eventually entering a specific door after verifying himself, he met with two of his old pals. And the next hour was filled with the animated exchange of war news.
‘The Boche are beaten! They might still be here but it is a token gesture of defiance. General Patton and his army is heading this way. He will chase them out of Normandy.’
Claude excited them with his tales of seeing the invasion at first hand. But then when all was done for the present and food and drink were consumed, he prepared to go to find his wife and children. They lived on the outskirts of Avranches in his cottage where he followed his trade as a carpenter.
‘The fight isn’t over yet,’ he said, putting on his coat. ‘But we have an army four million strong to help us now. I shall take a little time off to be a father and husband and be on call whenever I am needed.’
He had sensed some undertow in the room since arriving but had not taken heed of it with all the excited conversation. His friends looked awkward.
He said sharply to them, ‘What is it? What has happened? Tell me!’
The other Resistance fighter, Marie-Claire, had visited her parents in Caen before leaving once more to fight the fascists – German Nazi and French bourgeois capitalist alike. She sought out her party comrades but they had either been killed, were in gaol or had left the area.
After a few more days persistence she encountered a republican Maquis group who took her in when she convinced them she was genuine, quoting Claude’s name and her involvement with him and his group over the past nine months or so.
She asked them, ‘So, what are your plans? Are you working with the Americans and British?’
‘They don’t really have time for us,’ she was told. ‘Not until they bed themselves in and get the lay of the land with respect to the Boche. And they are not going to be easily dislodged from France.’
‘We should be dislodging them!’ she cried. ‘No one knows this part of Normandy like we do. We should be out cutting throats and spiking guns!’
She had acquired the nickname of Petit Guillotine for her ability with a sharp knife and a slight figure that enabled her to sneak up behind someone like a wild cat.
Inspired by her fanaticism for immediate retaliatory action, the group of four plus Marie-Claire made their way on bicycles undercover of twilight along back roads and through orchards and fields. Her companions knew where the Germans were dug in despite the peripatetic nature of current events, and enjoyed a few happy hours ridding France of a few of their now near conquered conquerors.
But their fulfilment had little time to be enjoyed, for they were shot at when returning to Caen by Allied sentries and she and one surviving Maquisard were captured.
‘We’re mighty sorry, ma’am,’ said the army captain, ‘for the trouble we’ve caused you. But under the circumstances, I’m sure you’ll understand the situation from our side? It’s war. It’s dark. It’s a hellova of mess all round.’
Marie-Claire had been wounded in the exchange of fire with the US army unit that she and her new Resistance comrades had encountered – her bandaged head concealed a gouged skull with roughly trimmed flesh around the wound. Over the bandage she fashioned a scarf made from a neckerchief supplied by a sympathetic medical orderly.
‘What do you want to do now, ma’am?’ continued the captain.
Marie-Claire looked wistfully back at him for a brief moment.
‘Get to Paris,’ she said in a determined voice.
In the countryside outside of Avranches, Claude wept at the side of his wife and children’s grave.
They had been caught in the fields while digging up carrots and potatoes when two American P-40 Warhawks were in a dogfight with a stray Foche-Wulf 190. Cold fury dispelled his grief after he let his tears fall. Putting handfuls of soil from the grave mound into his pockets as a talisman, Claude took an abandoned German motorbike, and with hand guns and ammunition, bread and cold rabbit, rode away, heading east.
Towards the retreating German enemy.
And finally, Karl Kruger.
His affiliation with Hawkwind had been a tenuous one. As a patriotic German on the run from the Gestapo, he had met Baker in a Berlin safe house and travelled with him across France to Normandy in hopes of reaching England to flee their evil grasp. No such thing happened. Both met up with Olson, Haines and Hartley-Penrose, plus Claude and Marie-Claire who were assisting them to reach a British Navy frigate to take them to England. Instead, they ended up marooned in the Channel Islands.
It was true he assisted in helping them get away from an underground hospital they were hiding in, but soon after he also helped Rommel, the famous Desert Fox, get away from them, for they had kidnapped him as agents of Operation Hawkwind. As a reward, Kruger was surreptitiously taken under Rommel’s wing as Corporal Uwe Webern, and served as one of his aides at the Atlantic Wall headquarters based at Chateau Roche-Guyon, situated on the Seine between Paris and Le Havre on the coast.
Now the Allies were getting close, and Hitler was constantly interfering with Rommel’s plans how best to deal with them. Like Kruger, he was a true German patriot, but he had had enough.
‘Korporal Webern, my office when you have a moment.’
Then Kruger was alone with him. They were both standing, looking out of the high windows at the rose garden outside that made the air in the room far too fragrant for the seriousness of the mood.
‘We have never discussed in detail your attempted assassination of our leader Adolf, have we? I have never wanted you to compromise yourself. But you must be aware of the feelings of many of my officers about their lack of respect and belief in him. I have shown my own dismay at his leadership and the whole workings of the Nazi Party of his. They have destroyed any progress Germany has made since the First World War, even though they were initially responsible for dragging us out of a terrible economic and psychological depression.’
He paused and then said, ‘You may or may not be aware of a coup to replace him in an attempt to reverse the current situation, and be in a better position to negotiate an armistice to our advantage.’
Kruger smiled and said, ‘One does hear rumours, sir.’
‘How did you feel when you were plotting your attempt on his life?’
Kruger could never accustom himself to the intimacy this hero of heroes, this god of all the German forces sometimes extended to him.
‘I treated it as a job of work, sir. I remained detached. My only concern was the repercussions it would have on my wife and family if we were discovered. On the day I was naturally ill at ease. But I wasn’t in the kitchen mixing the poison into his food.’
‘And after you realised you had failed?’
‘A perverse relief it was all over. Only later, when I was hiding and couldn’t get news of my wife, did I suffered any deep anguish.’
Rommel nodded thoughtfully and then said, ‘Would you be prepared to be involved in another attempt?’
Kruger froze with horror. His body shivered with the memories of the past.
With a constricted throat he said, ‘I will do my duty as you see fit, sir.’
There was a deathly silence as Rommel mulled over his reply and then nodded again.
And the meeting was over.
Kruger was not with the Fox a few days later when his personal car he always used, a heavyweight Horch saloon, was riddled by a Canadian-piloted Spitfire. Rommel suffered serious head injuries and was hospitalised. His days as the commander of the vital Atlantic defence barrier were over.
Kruger was devastated as all at the chateau were. But the effect of Rommel’s condition was only a part of it.
‘What’s going to happen if my past catches up with me and he isn’t there to defend me? I’m getting too old to be running away any more.’
He then consoled himself that Rommel was responding well to treatment and was going to survive. People like him had such strong willpower, which was the reason they were what they were, extraordinary human beings.
But Fate has greater power.
On July the 20th, the deposing of Hitler that Rommel had spoken to Kruger about took place at the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia. But Operation Valkyrie was a failure. The briefcase bomb may have killed others but Satan was protecting his favoured son. There had been a well-coordinated plan to take over the German government and control of the armed forces, but this also failed - helped by the news that Adolf Hitler was alive and still the Fuhrer, the Teutonic god of the invincible Third Reich.
Over 7000 conspirators were arrested.
Including Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel.
‘My God, Tom,’ said the Brigadier, reading a report. ‘There’s been a huge shake up in Berlin. Hitler and his cronies have survived being thrown out by some sort of uprising. There was another assassination attempt and he escaped with only a dusting of fallen plaster.’
‘He’s protected from on high, that one,’ said Pevensy.
‘If he isn’t removed soon, Jerry might regroup and stop our advance for good.’
‘You think we really have a chance, sir? Your plans and all that for Hawkwind?’
Brigadier Wilson was silent for a reflective moment and then exclaimed, ‘By Jove, yes! Why not? Our lads have proven their mettle. And we have proven we can organise an operation as grand as anyone else’s. As soon as we have a spare minute we’ll get cracking bringing our original idea up to scratch!’
And then a few weeks later, in August, two months after the Invasion, came the liberation of Paris.