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Thursday, 31 March 2022


 “Skipper bandits at one o'clock, I repeat bandits at one o'clock, same height as us, I repeat same height as us” Crikey that woke me out of my reverie, “Skipper acknowledge please” Good grief why do I always get the pedantic ones.

“Ehh alright I’ve seen them, there’s no need to shout now, tha’ll only deafen me tha nose” “OK we’ll engage head on, you just stay on my starboard wing and it’ll all be OK. That’s my right hand side”

“Wilco Skipper”.... “Pedantic b***tard” I heard him mutter before he remembered to cut the transmission.

We were patrolling 5 miles offshore, 15 miles west of the Isle of Wight and to be honest I was surprised to see any bandits but there they were, 2 black specs in the sky and closing fast. If it hadn’t been for me daydreaming about the pretty little bar maid at the Old Dog and Bone I would have seen then 5 minutes ago, but there was still plenty of time to sort ourselves out before we started to mix it with these Jerry’s.

Today I’m flying with a miserable bugger called Binky, I know he has a proper name but I don’t know what it is. He’s recently joined the Squadron and he has a strange accent so he might come from one of the Colonies or maybe Lancashire who knows and I certainly don’t care. All he has to do is stick like glue to my right hand side and we might make it back home.

As we drew closer I could see the black specs were a pair of Me109’s, fast and nimble and would give us a run for our money, - if we let them.

I could see tracer spit from the one on my right and when I looked over at Binky…. Well…..

There was black smoke putherin from his engine, but the miserable bugger just said “ I think I can get on the one in front of me, is that OK Skipper” over.

“Aye lad that’s fine” I don’t really have much of a Yorkshire accent but I put it on because it does get up the noses of some of the toffee nose fops we get posted here from time to time and so it sort of comes natural like.

Things were going down the pan quickly, the chap who I had my sights on, also had his sights on me, which can be quiet uncomfortable at times.

Binky pulled his plane to the right,

Well actually it’s only because I liked this picture that it’s here, unfortunately it doesn’t enhance the story but by now you’ve probably realized not much is going to do that.

The pair of bandit’s pulled their noses up and were obviously going to do an Immelmann turn and come chasing back on our tails.

For some reason they didn’t and one started to turn to starboard, (that’s right to Binky) but give him his due when I had shouted over the radio “Immelmann” he had responded straight away and we were now behind the two bandits.

Well until one of them also Immeled but his wingman continued to do a slow starboard turn right in front of us.

Binky caught him with a long burst and he started a long and inevitable dive down to a watery grave.

I saw him hit the waves with a big splash of water and he disappeared within seconds.

I might not have taken to Binky but give him his due he was sticking to my right wing like treacle to a spoon. There were clouds of smoke still coming from his engine and I wondered if it was an oil leak, then how long before his engine seized up.

“OK Binky cut for home and I’ll finish this poor fish” No reply.

“Over” I said thinking he was a radio protocol nonse. No reply.

“Binky cut for home now, do you understand” Still no reply.

I got on the tail of the last ME and fired a long burst and his plane just exploded in mid air, no parachute, nothing - then he also hit the sea.

I knew I was low on ammo and so turned for home and Binky followed.

When we landed I strode over to his plane, it was full of holes and demanded “Why didn’t you respond to my radio call telling you to go home”

He looked a little shaken up and his face was as white as a sheet, “I couldn’t reply, I never heard you” and he pointed at the shattered wreckage of his radio, indeed his whole instrument panel. Then I noticed the small red patch on his flying suit and thought. 

“He’ll do”

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Hello Hello --- this is Nighthawk Calling

Hello Hello --- this is Nighthawk Calling

After Dunkirk most of the German Army continued to advance into France but a Division of specially trained troops had followed the British Army across the sea from Dunkirk. In the confusion of the evacuation they had been able to cross the English Channel without being detected by the Royal Navy, and had sailed north landing in the Felixstowe area of Suffolk. Operating under strict security they had moved out swiftly from their landing area, and now all of East Anglia was under their control.

The object of this incursion was to destroy the extensive network of airfields in the area and in addition, to open a second front against the British with the aim of bringing about an early end to the war in the west.

The British had been prepared in a very ad hoc way for an invasion along the south coast but not in the flat lands of East Anglia. As usual with British planning there were a number of hare-brained schemes for local defence but they were totally uncoordinated and very local.

In the countryside around Much Piddling in the March for example the local landowner, Lord Snapcase (on the right in this picture), was in charge of the defence of the three villages of Much Piddling in the Marsh, Little Piddling and Bigger Piddling on Tap. The River Tap was an insubstantial river that drained the marshes around the Piddling villages and provided a small barrier to the advancing German troops.

Rather than cross the river at Bigger Piddling on Tap the German troops had gone 5 miles down stream and crossed by the bridge at Upper Piddling, they had continued their lightning advance to the market town of Thetford and consolidated their position around that town.

The rest of the defence of the Piddling’s was borne by Sir George Douglas D’Emfour (The grumpy looking one on the left) and Snapcase’s Gamekeeper, the son of Old Scrotum, the aged Family Retainer.

The Germans were well aware that during the advance they had left behind many small pockets of resistance, indeed this had been their plan all along. Their only worry was that if these isolated pockets of resistance could be coordinated into something larger, then there might be trouble. To deal with that problem they had brought over a small number of radio tracking vehicles and 3 of these had pinpointed radio signals emanating from Little Piddling.

Meinhard Wenke and Rachael Weiss with a small body of crack troops were despatched to Little Piddling immediately with orders to find and destroy the radio and eliminate the potential resistance from these amateurs.

This is an aerial reconnaissance view of Little Piddling and the cunning Germans have decided to split their forces and advance from both east and west of the village and trap the Radio Operator between them.

The small green dots with lentils stuck on them represent potential events, things such as the radio, a rabid dog or even a bag of rancid mushrooms, but you will get the gist as we go along, as usual each marker means drawing a card from a shuffled deck and depending on the card drawn as to what the event might be. Once an event had been decided then there were usually a series of possible options for it. For example the Rabid Dog could run away, or look aggressive or attack the nearest person. 

Nothing too complex!

This is just a close up to show the markers and the fact that I failed to design the buildings with removable roofs for internal access.

The view is from the west of the village, the direction that Meinhard Wenke is advancing.

He issues instructions to his small force and they hurry to obey. Everyone hurries to obey the Gestapo.

On the far side of the village Rachael Weiss is advancing from the east.

A slightly elevated view but suffices to show her view of the village and like Wenke she issues her orders with precision.

She decides to stay clear of the pig pens herself but they must be searched and she designates this task to one of her underlings. She will stay on the road, in the centre of her command to coordinate the search.

Of course the real reason, is so that she doesn’t get her highly polished jack boots muddy in this dreadfully dirty countryside.

Wenkes team spread out, searching the crates on the right of the road and also the first house on the left, but they don’t find anything. They have made rather a lot of noise which might not have been so wise.

Looking like a lost sheep, Torsten searches the cart but discovers nothing there either.

Searching the pig pen the underling finds an enraged dog, or maybe the enraged dog finds the underling because without any other warning it attacks him, the pigs remain neutral perhaps expecting supper to be provided by one or other of the protagonists.

Rachael ignores her underling’s plight as Dietmar finds an Arms Cache in the truck across the road. Whilst this is indicative of a Resistance Cell in the area it’s not really what they are looking for and so they continue towards the centre of the small hamlet.

The underling’s sense of self preservation is strong or maybe he’s just well trained because with a quick burst from his smg he lays low the enraged dog – Boo Hiss.

It looks like the pigs are going to have a smaller and less tender supper than they would have wished for, but supper is supper. That’s an old piggy proverb that you might not have heard before.

Rachael moves towards the corner of the field and fails to see a small cache of papers hidden in the wall. If she had looked more carefully she would have found the Radio Operators Code Book, it would have been a bit of an Enigma to her.

Another of her underlings moves warily to a brown truck and looking carefully under the cover he sees a Radio. He climbs into the back of the truck and reaches out for the Radio thinking that he might get promoted for this.

Unfortunately he didn’t look closely enough and failed to see that the radio was booby trapped. There’s a loud explosion and he doesn’t worry about promotion anymore.

Meinhard’s men are moving into the heart of the hamlet, if 4 houses and a pigpen can have a heart.

One of them goes into the area behind the houses but does a poor job of searching it before re-joining his comrades in the main road.

He catches up with the rest of the team just as they enter the remaining two houses. After a thorough search the right hand house reveals nothing but on the left hand side things are more exciting…. come on … wake up in the back

Badeker kicks in the door of the large house on the left and is just in time to see and hear movement.

It’s the Radio Operator and she legs it out of the back door, she had been watching the German team move through the Hamlet and was well aware they were coming, they should have been quieter. She was lucky in that the dope that searched the area behind the houses had only done a perfunctory job of it before leaving and she had a clear escape path.

Chasing after her, Oswald the Afrika Korps soldier was just too off balance to fire and she was running like a gazelle for the fence and freedom, anyway he might have one more opportunity to open fire.

….. but vaulting the fence like an Olympian she escaped, leaving him to report failure to Wenke of the Gestapo. That's not going to be a happy conversation.

Meanwhile Rachael Weiss having learned a very valuable lesson decides not to climb into the back of this truck but instead stands back a little and gets another of her expendable underlings to examine it first. After duly rolling a few dice George Douglas decides that while Home Defence is a worthy cause, so is staying alive and he climbs out of the truck but plays dumb and doesn’t disclose any information about the Radio and its Operator.

Of course he may well be aware that both have been discovered and he’d rather not be implicated in any reprisals that might be forthcoming.

A wise man our George.

At this point there’s a loud braying sound as Lord Snapcase clears his throat and bellows “What are you chaps doing on my land” “Don’t you know it’s duck shooting season and I won’t have anyone disturbing my duck’s” He stands, hands on hips glaring at them malevolently.

With barely a pause he roars like a lion, “Young Scrotum, see them off.” “Quickly man” and Young Scrotum raises his side by side nervously but while he’s pretty nifty shooting squirrels shooting a man is different.

They shoot back.

The men from the Afrika Korps are not used to being bellowed at and have no idea what duck shooting is and level their weapons at the Mad Lord and then everything slows down.

The Germans are veterans from the North Africa campaign, confident in their ability to deal with this old mad man and his Gamekeeper but Snapcase saw action as a Trench Raider in the first World War and has served in countless Colonial actions since that time.

A man with a short temper and a fast right hand he pulls his redoubtable Webley revolver and opens fire. Damn…he misses and receives a hail of fire in return. A lesser man would have dived for cover behind the stone wall but Snapcase stands his ground and returns the hail of fire, bang bang, click. Both shots missed and now he’s out of ammunition but worst of all, he realises he’s wearing his reading glasses. Blast and damnation.

Before he can duck down behind the wall the rifleman fires but he misses as well, the adrenaline is making everyone jumpy.

Before young Scrotum can bring his shotgun to bear he takes half a magazine of sub machine gun bullets to the chest and falls like a sack of potatoes. The Officer firing the smg kept his finger on the trigger too long and has also run out of ammunition.

George Douglas wants to intervene but the sight of Rachael Weiss’s Luger pointed steadily at his left eye has a calming effect and he stands and fumes impotently.

Meanwhile Snapcase is reloading the Webley behind the wall.

Popping up from his refuge, Snapcase - snapfires and hits one of his adversaries, badly wounding the man and putting him down and out of the fight.

Cunning as a fox, Rachael has moved forward, fires in return but she is also wide of the mark but Snapcase responds by ducking back behind cover. He’s not used to shapely young women taking pot shots at his ample frame. Well not since that incident on the NW Frontier in 25, or was it 26, best not raise that here though.

The German Officer has reloaded his smg and is waiting for Snapcase to re-appear.

….Which he duly does but before he can fire again, Rachael puts a 9mm bullet right between the MC and DSO, both medals that for some reason he habitually wears on his chest. If this had been ½” to the right she would have hit the DSO middle and centre and the story might have finished differently but we’re going for gritty realism not Hollywood and Snapcase falls to the ground.

Moaning quietly about foreigners and being out for a duck.

You might be wondering why, when George Douglas was released from the immobilizing sight of Rachael’s Luger he didn’t move to help his friend.

You don’t turn your back on the Gestapo.

Meinhard Wenke took the credit for clearing out this nest of saboteurs as the Gestapo are wont to do but when the history of Much Piddling in the Marsh is finally written down, the world will know the truth.

Of course that pre-supposes that local Historian Mary Martin also the School Mistress and Radio Operator survives the war.

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Memories of an Old French Sea Dog – Against the Wind and the Crimson Pirate

The text relating to the pictures is under them, it looks like Blogger has changed yet again in how text and pictures are inserted, Bugger them.
Another story taken from the Log Book of Capitaine Jean le Vagabond, some events and recollections may differ from the official French Naval Records but I am sure mine are the more accurate.

We had been fighting the wind for days and days and days, well it seemed like that at the time. With the wind on the nose as we old sailors like to say life is a misery, nothing is right with the world, the seas bang into our bows, we get wet from the spray and the worse thing of all for a Frigate Captain is heading into the wind escorting 2 fat old ladies, they are slow. Fat old ladies is how we describe the rich merchant ships that we have to escort over the oceans, they turn a profit for some lazy Merchant who never goes to sea, but France needs the goods and so we have to do our duty.

Of all the ships I’ve sailed in there’s one that holds my heart and always will, yes Hermione we both know she is your namesake, I wonder why your mother she named you so. Baptiste I believe you wanted to call your daughter Gertrude, I’m just so pleased your dear wife prevailed. As penance I believe it’s your time to buy the drinks, I’ll have my usual 98 brandy if you don’t mind, you may chose whatever you would like for yourself.

Hermione you can understand that when you’ve been at sea as long as we had, a sail, any sail is an excitment, all at once there’s desire, the desire to meet and talk to another person, find out the latest news, maybe even get mail, but just see a new face is a pleasure. Although there’s always the fear, the fear that it will be an enemy, a man who will try to take your life, rob you or enslave you.

Of course Hermione that fear never afflicted Jean le Vagabond when I was onboard Hermione, we could outfight any other ship afloat, and those we couldn’t outfight we could out sail and so we feared nothing and no one.

We were in an area of the ocean that my reports said were infested by pirates, one in particular was called the Crimson Pirate, he had a reputation for good seamanship, audacity and ruthlessness to his captives. I knew he commanded a large ship, bigger than Hermione, more guns a bigger crew and he was reputed to be fast as well. I had every confidence in my ship and crew but the 2 merchantmen would be easy prey and so you see I had a dilemma when the lookout cried “Sail ho”.

If this was the Crimson Pirate I knew we could out sail him but to outfight him I was going to have to rely on a slight amount of good luck or the Merchantmen and I did not trust the later to be better than the former.

I determined it was indeed the Pirate and we were downwind of him, I needed to put Hermione between the 2 fat ladies and this predatory adversary. I brought Hermione about, and went through the wind intending to cut between Neptune and Aquilon. This was a dangerous manoeuvre to turn into the wind in front of Neptune, if we failed our tack she would slice into us and that would be the end, but I had confidence in my crew and so when I shouted the series of orders that would change the sail setting and course I had a light and happy heart.

I can’t say the same for the Captain of the Neptune, he ran to the bows of his ship shouting and waving his fist at us. Well he would have run but he was similar to his ship and so waddled as fast as he could.

The Captain of the Aquilon was made of sterner stuff and he fired a broadside at the Africa, for that was the name of the Crimson Pirates vessel. His gun crew didn’t do much damage but I never really expected them to. It was disappointing to see their ineptitude compared to the sailors on the Hermione who were a crack crew, if I say so myself. They had been trained by my hand into a finely honed machine and we had been together long enough that their devotion to me was unquestioning; I knew they would sail off the end’s of the earth if I asked them to.

I see that you are smiling Hermione but it is just an allusion I know perfectly well the earth is not flat, I who have sailed it man and boy know the Oceans like the back of this gnarled old hand of mine.

As we shot across his bows I gave the Neptune’s Captain a gay wave and Hermione sliced through the waves, responding to the deft touch of my helmsman like a 1000 Franc mare. We crossed the bow of the Pirate ship and gave him a broadside that must have rattled his teeth, the Neptune also managed a weak salvo that must have surprised their craven Captain. After the action I presented the old salt who commanded her guns with a box of the finest French brandy. Well maybe not as good as this 98 brandy, this story telling is proving thirsty work Baptiste I would be grateful for another glass if you don’t mind.

The Crimson Pirate turned away from my sweet but deadly Hermione and headed towards the Merchantmen giving us a blast from his port stern cannon and I will say, his gunners were good, we took more damage that I expected and some of my best crewmen were laid low.

What do you mean Baptiste, it’s not at all complicated, your Hermione is following my story perfectly well aren’t you my dear. Just pass me 4 beer bottles Baptiste and I will explain it so your simple landsman’s brain can understand. No not those bottles, the empty ones, don’t you remember the last time you passed partly full bottles! There was almost a riot when you spilt the Blacksmith’s beer, if I hadn’t been here you would have been in real trouble.

I had signalled the merchantmen to turn to starboard, and as I planned, this allowed the gun captain on the Neptune to fire another salvo at Africa, of course he didn’t do much damage but it must have worried the Crimson Pirate to realise that the Merchantmen were encouraged by my presence to fight back. Without a bold French Naval Officer protecting them they would normally just surrender.

The Neptune and Aquilon were on their course southward as the Africa turns to give chase, at the same time Hermione turns to intercept him.

I can see by the glint in your eye Hermione that you have understood the bold move I must make. I have to keep the Africa away from my two fat ladies and give them time to make their getaway. The only way to do that is for me to fight him ship to ship, he is bigger, with more guns and crew but we have boldness, bravery and a crew who have complete faith in their Captain, it would be a close run thing.

The damn fool of a Captain on the Neptune was on his bow, shaking his fist again as we crossed within metres of his bowsprit, but his gun crews were shouting huzza for our bravado, they knew fine seamanship even if he didn’t.

We slipped between Neptune and Aquilon like a ghost and were now in the perfect position to allow their escape even if it meant sacrificing our lives on their behalf.

With full sails set these two fat ladies made a famous sight, one to gladden the eye of the hardest sailor.

If only they could sail as famously as they looked, if they could fly away rather than wallowing through the waves then I would have a glad heart going into this fight knowing our sacrifice would not be in vain. Enough of that defeatist thinking, I am Jean le Vagabond and my ship will never be beaten by a mere Pirate. I ordered more sails to be raised and we sped towards him, Hermione seemed to sense my urgency.

The Crimson Pirate was having problems, you remember Hermione when I said that tacking wasn’t always as easy as a landsman would think, well he had misjudged his speed going into the tack and had not turned through the eye of the wind. Unfortunately I didn’t expect him to make such an elementary mistake and so he was able to fire a salvo at us.

It was not as bad as I feared because some fool had calculated the damage to be at short range when it should have been at long range which made a big difference.

We had the wind on our beam giving us a famous turn of speed but that combined with the swell meant that when our forward port battery fired the balls fell short and buried themselves in the sea. I don’t know how many times I’ve explained to Gilbert the Forward Larboard Gun Captain to fire high in those circumstances but he’s a good hearted fellow even if a little slow in the head and he needs to support his old mother and so I can’t just keelhaul him as he deserves. You are right Hermione sometimes I’m too soft hearted but that’s one of the reasons my men love me so.

The Africa was in dire straits, she had the wind on her nose and what ever the helmsman did she just kept flopping side to side going backwards all the time, this made my life very difficult as you understand. What do you mean Baptise you don’t understand, give me those bottles again will you and I’ll explain.

You can see that I had positioned my Hermione perfectly with the wind behind and I was turning hard to larboard and would give the Pirate a full starboard broadside at close range, this would rake his ship from stem to stern and then I intended to board him and see the fellow hang.

Because he had lost control the wind took over and pushed him away which meant he did to my beautiful Hermione what I had intended to do to him. We suffered tremendous damage and I realized at once that the game was up. We would need all our skill and determination to weather this storm.

We came around into the wind and close enough to see the frightened looks on the faces of the scurvy pirate horde but our broadside was a weak effort, even though I had the guns double shotted and then the musketry from the pirates was far more accurate than anyone could have envisaged.

They were working feverishly to reload for another broadside and we would be reduced to a smoking ruin at this range. What could we do to avoid the disaster of being taken captive by a merciless pirate?

Cheat appears to be the answer, in this photo Africa looks as though she should have fired, but didn’t. My notes just say Hermione turned in to Africa who turned away!!!!

We continued turning and both ships fired ineffectual salvos.

In spite of the bravery of my crew we were outnumbered and took more crew casualties from musketry as well. Things were looking very bleak at this point and I was at a loss to know how we should prevail, but a man such as I is never at a loss for long.

I could see the Merchantmen escaping and knew we had prevented the Pirate ship taking a rich prize and so all that remained for us to do was re-join out two fat ladies, but in the process of disengaging he was able to fire another devastating broadside raking us from Stern to Stem, damaging our rudder in the process.

It took tremendous skill to manage my poor damaged Hermione but once out of range from his heavy guns we were able to show him a clean pair of heals and so rejoined our charges and escort them home to France.

It was a long sail home and the pumps never stopped, I had so few crew remaining that most of the damage was not repaired until we landed at Rochforte where I received a hero’s welcome and a gold watch and chain from the grateful merchant ship owners.

There was a small piece of nastiness and spite from the Captain of the Neptune when he accused me of recklessness but our Navy needs bold and daring sailors and there were non bolder or more daring than Jean le Vagabond you can be sure of that.

Well that was a close call, 1 more damage point and you would have seen the unthinkable sight of Jean le Vagabond surrendering his sword to a pirate. Mind you there would have been some daring escape cooked up that would see him back on the high seas pretty soon.

The HMS Africa was called up to stand in for the Crimson Pirate’s ship, she has been fumigated and re-painted and is now back in His Majesties Royal Navy.

A grand scenario and my decision to let the Merchantmen run while I tried to hold up the pirate was probably a big mistake and I nearly lost my ship. I did think when I was flying down towards the Pirate that the double 0 drawn might be an omen and then at the last minute for me to take the raking instead of giving one was a shock and probably just shows my inexperience.