The Angel On Her Wing - 12 - A Wing and A Prayer.

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The Angel On Her Wing


THE ANGEL ON HER WING


War Changes Everyone.
Maria comes to terms with her future and the team hit an unexpected snag.

 

Chapter Twelve - A Wing and A Prayer.

 

Andrew Matheson couldn’t manage to sit still. They had parked the vehicles in a small patch of woodland next to the main road heading west. It was the location they had agreed to wait for Maria as the meadow adjacent had just enough room to land an aircraft without too much difficulty. They were far enough from the road to avoid the attention of casual passers-by but it still paid for them to remain quiet.

As he paced back and forth between the trees he wished above all else that he had gone with her. They had left Campbell at the gate over an hour ago and there was still no news. He couldn’t believe that he’d allowed her to pull this silly stunt on her own; he should have insisted on sending one of the others with her or gone along himself. He knew that sending a single person in made more sense, but he was undoubtedly worried. What if she’d been captured? Finding a British officer in German uniform inside a Luftwaffe base would surely end with her execution.

He’d felt a strong urge to protect the young pilot from the very first day that she had arrived in the camp long ago. His memory played tricks on him; even now, he somehow replaced the shy young man who had first joined them with the striking young woman she was today. What had happened to her was strange and unusual, but it certainly seemed to suit her.

It was fortuitous that their escape had come when it did. Whatever had happened to her had changed the young pilot a great deal. It certainly hadn’t gone unnoticed amongst the camp inmates. While the other imprisoned airmen were allies and countrymen, he wasn’t blind to the fact that many had been eying her up as their separation from polite society had drawn on. By the time of the escape, Campbell had not resembled the young pilot who arrived in anything but name. If they had remained there much longer, he feared he wouldn’t have been able to protect her from some of the others.

Matheson let his mind float back to the first moment he’d seen her in the administration room in the uniform of a Luftwaffe Lieutenant. Even as nervous and awkward as she was, it had been a stark difference from the awkward creature she had been before. The young woman he saw that day seemed to somehow fit the skin she was in far better. He hadn’t dared to say a word on the subject, but he had seen her truth at that moment. Thinking forward, he visualised the woman he’d sat with on the bridge in Manching and smiled to himself. No, that awkward creature had been left behind in the camp.

A low rumble in the distance snatched his attention from his daydream.

“That was from the direction of the airfield Sir,” Maddox called, making his way over from the edge of the woodland. “Explosion by the sound of things, a big one, smoke rising I think.”

“An explosion seems to suggest all is going to plan with the wee lass.” Hamley chuckled. He hadn’t been the only one worried Matheson mused. Even from his position within the woodline, he could now make out the smoke rising on the horizon a few miles away. Secondary detonations were rippling out every few minutes; whatever had gone up was not insignificant, an ammo dump or a fuel supply by the sound of things. The group watched the smoke cloud climbing for a few moments in silence before the low drone of aero engines could be heard in the distance.

“You think they’re scrambling fighters?” Maddox asked as he sidled up next to his friend.

Matheson shrugged. “I have no idea old chap, I sure as hell hope it’s our girl though. Wild as this bloody foolhardy plan has been, I’ve gotten rather fond of that one.”

“I Hope so too, for all of our sakes,” The younger naval pilot admitted, turning to face his colleague. “I have to say, I find myself unable to shake the urge to look after her.”

Matheson smiled. “I know what you mean Dan, she’s a real enigma.”

Maddox shifted uncomfortably. “That’s just it isn’t it Andy? She; how by Jove did that happen? I know what started all of this, the mechanics as it were. I just don’t understand how what seemed to be a chap turned into a dish like her. Do you think she’s been having us on this whole time?”

Matheson shook his head, still straining his ears as he attempted to locate the low drone of an engine. “No, I’ve seen her in the shower, she wasn’t, he was…” he shrugged. “You know what I mean. She’s still not as far as I know, but everything else is up in the air old chap,” he shrugged. “I can’t explain it, neither can she, but it’s not my place to go into her feelings.”

“Blows my bloody mind that she’s so convincing, it’s like something out of a paperback,” Maddox admitted glancing over at his friend. “She’s going to have a bloody difficult time when we get home, I don’t envy her.”

Before he could reply, Matheson’s attention was drawn to a dark speck on the horizon. He squinted, attempting to make out the object, it was low, moving west over the landscape. “Either I’m imagining it or that’s a bloody plane.”

As they focused their attention, the dot resolved itself into the distinctive three-engined form of a Junkers transport aircraft.

“I had my doubts, sir,” Maddox admitted. “We really do have a shot at this don’t we?”

The Junkers loomed into view, its three engines distinctive against the blue sky. Andrew watched the plane swoop in low over their heads before banking around to the south, the big iron crosses visible under its wings.

“Never thought I’d be pleased to see one of those,” Maddox chuckled.

“I’d fly back to England in a bloody hot air balloon Daniel.”

The aircraft came around and lined up with the meadow and began its approach. The big aircraft seemed to float, its huge wings holding it aloft like a raptor riding a thermal. Matheson watched as it touched down and rolled to a stop a short distance away from their position. Without breaking a beat, the engines roared and the big aircraft began to turn, spinning around on the short grass of the meadow and positioning itself for the return journey before its engines coughed and cut out.

The cockpit window slid back and an elfin blonde leaned out grinning broady. Andrew felt his heart jump as he grinned back at Maria. Somehow in that moment, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Cupping her hands to her mouth she called out to them. “I heard you boys needed a ride back to England?”

“I don’t think that balloon will be strictly necessary sir.” Maddox offered, shooting his friend a smile, “Let’s get out of here.”

 

* * *

 

Maria hopped down from the hatch at the rear of the Junker’s fuselage. It felt good to have solid ground under her feet once again, even for a pilot. Even now she was still coming to terms with the fact that she had made it out of the base in one piece. When Bergmann had discovered her she had, she realized, been preparing herself for death. She had acknowledged the possibility when they had concocted this foolhardy plan but it had always just been a theoretical possibility. Confronting that moment had brought a cold clarity to her. She had chosen to fight and she had chosen life. Here she now stood on the cusp of achieving that very goal. The group was reunited, and her mind was clear on at least one more question; Maria had fought for her life, not Brian.

Still shaking slightly with nervous energy, she lit a cigarette to calm herself and distract from the sudden feeling that she might burst into tears. She felt a strong urge to rid herself of her stress and fear; to vent her shame and anger in a visceral way. She focused her energy instead on deep cleansing breathing and resisted the urge to cry in front of the others. It was not because they would think it weak or unmasculine, but rather, because she didn’t want them to feel guilty for what she had done for them. These men had protected and cared for her in the camp and now, she would do her level best to get them home, no matter the cost.

She had barely a chance to inhale when the others rounded the tail of the aircraft and rushed toward her, joyful expressions on their faces. She squeaked indignantly as Matheson unashamedly swept her into a crushing bearhug, lifting her clean off the ground as he did so.

“Oh hell! Put me down you bloody oaf!” she giggled, the moment relieving a great deal of the tension she had held. “You still need me to fly this crate. I can’t do that with broken ribs!”

Matheson had the good grace to blush slightly as he deposited her back on her feet. “Glad to see you made it in one piece.”

“Close run thing, but they’re having somewhat bigger issues at the moment,” Maria grinned wolfishly as she drew on her forgotten cigarette.

“Those explosions were your doing, eh lass?” Hamley asked with a note of incredulity.

Maria nodded, “I started a fire in a hangar. I got lucky that the Jerries aren’t storing things separately like good boys.”

“No fighters?” Down asked as he joined the others.

Maria shook her head, “I don’t think so. I did a few circuits around the area checking for any tail and I saw nothing.” She was about to continue and tell them about Bergmann but chose to remain silent on that matter. She would tell Andrew later, once they were all safe. For the time being, it wouldn’t make a difference, and it would only serve to complicate things.

“How are we on fuel?” Down asked, testing the control surface he was leaning next to. “And how much does this kraut shed drink?”

Maria shrugged. “Just over half tanks by my reckoning. She’s got around a thousand-kilometer range according to the Jerry manual, we’re about… I’d guess half that, we might have enough if we run her lean and economical.”

“You think or you know?” the American raised an eyebrow.

“No idea,” Maria admitted frankly. “Manual isn’t super clear on what to expect and I’m mixing measurements. The best guess, honestly.”

“We play it by ear then,” Matheson offered. “We’ve got no reason to push things, so lean her out and we can see what we’re working with. Worst case, we’ll land and find another option, but we’ll be far closer to home in doing so.”

With their defacto leader’s orders settling matters, the crew set about the business of loading their meager possessions aboard the aircraft. With the cars well hidden inside the woodland, they hoped their trail would remain cold for some time.

When everyone was finally aboard and the hatches closed, Maria and Down made their way forward into the cockpit and set about preparing for takeoff.

“How do you even work this mess out?” Down frowned, regarding the instrument panel. “This entire thing is gibberish.”

Maria smiled and pointed at the altimeter. “You see this? It’s exactly the same as normal, except its in meters and kilometers, just triple your numbers.”

“What so three thousand feet is one kilometer?” The American frowned.

“Essentially yes, otherwise it’s pretty normal,”

“I don’t like it; feels wrong” Down complained as he scanned the checklist. “Feels mighty unAmerican.”

Maria settled the headset over her ears and began flicking switches in preparation of engine start. “That, my dear, is because the world doesn’t revolve around your little patch of Cowboys and Indians.”

Within short order, they had the engines restarted and the big aircraft was turned into position on their improvised landing strip. With a glance at the American sitting across from her, Maria advanced the throttles smoothly toward their stops and the big Junkers vibrated with power as it began to roll across the meadow. Before long, the tail rose and the speed increased until they lifted clear of the ground and began to climb away.

“Damn, this thing really wants to fly.” Down observed, watching Maria as she banked them north. “Wish my clipper leap up this easily.”

“It’s certainly nothing like we have at home,” Maria agreed as she leveled out high above the German countryside. “Not bad for a garden shed eh? This thing can get up to… she paused, herself mentally converting the metric instrumentation into a more familiar Imperial unit. “I’d say around one hundred and fifty miles per hour?”

“Damn crate is at walking pace next to the DC3 and the clipper,” Mike mused.

“But we’re in the air and flying home, it’s a darn sight better than driving past every Jerry on the way I’d say.”

As they cruised along, Maria explained more of the cockpit’s German instrumentation and systems to her American colleague. He was a quick study, and before long the pair had an efficient system going. They weren’t experts by any stretch, but they were more than prepared to handle the beast. For the first time since they’d left the camp, Maria felt confident that they were going to make it home.

She gazed out of the window as they flew, watching the German countryside pass by far beneath them. It was not a country she had visited during peace time but she was surprised at how similar it appeared to back home. The tableau of patchwork fields and villages below could have been easily transported into the home counties of England..

A tap on her shoulder drew her attention from the landscape and she turned to find Matheson leaning into the cockpit. She smiled down at him, “Everything ok?”

“You think you can handle the kite for a bit on your own Mike?” Matheson asked her compatriot. The American shrugged and nodded wordlessly. Now he was more familiar with the Junkers, he had settled into a long-practiced routine from his years in airline service.

Returning his attention to Maria, Matheson jerked a thumb back into the cabin. “You’re on a break, you need to rest after this morning.”

Maria shook her head and smiled, “I’m fine really; last leg and all that.”

Matheson shook his head, “Maddox will take a turn, Down can keep an eye on him, you’re taking a break and that’s an order.”

Maria held her hands up in surrender. “Your aircraft Mike,” she called before removing her headset and slipping out of the seat and down into the cabin. Arthur was snoring loudly in one of the rows, his head resting against the vibrating window unperturbed. Making her way aft she dropped into the back row of seats and closed her eyes. Now that she was out from behind the controls she could sense her weariness far more profoundly. She felt the seat move as Matheson sat down beside her.

“You look exhausted.”

“It’s been a long day,” She agreed without looking over at him.

“What happened in there? Don’t think I didn’t notice the state you were in when you landed.”

Maria grimaced and glanced over at Matheson. She thought she had hidden the tremor left by her experience with Bergmann. There was no accusation in his expression, simply a look of concern.

“I ran into an old acquaintance this morning, things got a little more complicated than we would have liked.”

“Bergmann? Wait, you actually met him? Did he recognize you?”

Maria shifted awkwardly in her seat, remembering the interaction. “Not at first, but he worked it out eventually.”

Andrew placed his hand over Maria’s where it rested on her knee and squeezed, “What did he say?”

“He wanted what those men in the camp wanted,” she replied timidly, her eyes flicking to his as they shared a moment of understanding. “He threatened to turn me over and have me shot if I didn’t let him… If I didn’t let him have sex with me.”

Matheson bristled and Maria felt his hand clench around hers. “That bastard,” he growled.

Maria turned to watch Germany pass them by beyond the window far below. “He said I was… exactly what he liked. I think he wanted me because I’m… not like other girls.”

Andrew squeezed her hand and remained silent as she stared out of the window. He wasn’t sure what the right thing to say at that moment was, but he knew that she needed him to be there. She of all of them had placed so very much on the line that day. She alone had faced certain death to speed them homeward.

“I let him think I was interested,” she offered looking back at him, her eyes pleading with a childlike sadness. “I made him think I was going to be, that I would allow him to… that I wanted it too.”

She glanced down before returning her gaze to Matheson, “I hit him, Andrew, I hit him in the head with the telephone and I calmly left the room; just like that. I don’t even know if he’s alive or dead. I just knew I had to hit him as hard as I could.”

“That was the right thing to do,” Andrew soothed. “You didn’t have a choice.”

“Is it wrong that I hope he’s dead?” She asked uncertainty.

Matheson shook his head. “He would have had you killed either way in the end, I suspect, so no. This is a war after all.”

“Feels very different to being behind the gunsight of a Hurricane,” Maria muttered sullenly. “That’s two now that I won’t ever forget.”

Matheson nodded, “One does tend to keep count, I must admit.”

“I should get back,” Maria offered, giving his hand a final squeeze of thanks before she slipped past him and out into the aisle. Turning back before she made her way back to the cockpit, she hesitated. “Andrew, what will become of me when we get home?”

Matheson stood and closed the distance between them before wrapping the girl in a gentle embrace. “I don’t know,” he whispered in her ear, barely audible over the drone of the engines. “But I’ll be there, and so will the others. You mean a great deal to me, to us all.”

Maria detangled herself and smiled sadly before working her way forward to the cockpit to resume her place.

 

* * *

 

“That’s the River Rhine down to our left,” Maria indicated the wide band of water that carved through the landscape far below to the others. “That puts Frankfurt to our north and Mannheim to our south.”

“This is the right way?” Maddox asked uncertainly.

“Kent as the crow flies,” Maria indicated ahead of them,“if my calculations are correct.”

“How are we on fuel?” Hamley chipped in from the cockpit door.

“So, do you want the kinda good news or the really bad news?” Down asked brightly.

Matheson sighed and nodded. The American grinned broadly, “Well the good news is we still have fuel, the bad news is we got, what?” He asked glancing across at Maria.

“Maybe forty or fifty miles,” Maria grimaced. “We are burning far more fuel than I calculated. This beast is a right old brick.”

“Options?” Matheson asked, rubbing his neck.

Maria shrugged, “We could find an airport and risk the Germans but we might get lucky and blag some fuel. The other option is to go as far as we can and glide to a landing, go on foot, and find a car. That is of course if we stick to a route where we’ll have the option.”

“How far can we get if we fly straight on?” Matheson queried.

“Probably south of Koblenz, that’s in the Eifel region I think. That would put us maybe forty miles from the Belgian border.”

“Further to the French line at the South?”

“Last I heard there were still holdouts fighting in the Maginot Line,” Down offered, that area would be real busy.”

“More chance of friendly folks in Belgium and Northern France boss,” Maddox pointed out to his friend. “I say we push it as far as we can economically and see what we can get then play it by ear.”

Matheson nodded and without being asked, Maria throttled back the engines to draw as much range as possible out of their remaining fuel reserves.

They kept the Rhine off their right side as they droned northward towards the Belgian border. Maria felt a growing apprehension as their fuel levels continued to drop lower. She could glide an aircraft, that was not in question. She’d flown gliders with her Uncle before the war, but she had never performed that maneuver with an aircraft that was designed to have engines that also happened to carry people she valued very highly.

“Keep North of those hills, Mike,” Maria called over the intercom, “I want to keep possible landing sites in range for us, we have no idea what this brick will do when she goes dry.”

The American nodded and adjusted their heading to avoid the terrain feature indicated. Maria watched the engine instruments nervously, her eyes flicking to the antiquated tube and float fuel gauges attached atop each of the three engine cowlings. What she wouldn’t give for a modern dial like her Hurricane at this moment in time; something with a modicum of precision. They were hovering just above the empty marker from the angle she could see. After that point, she expected they would have what fuel remained in the lines.

There is an old saying that a watched pot never boils, however, this does not apply when hoping that your remaining fuel will last just one more mile. They had managed to make it past the Rhine’s turn northward at Bingen and were cruising high above the forested slopes of the Hunsrück mountains when the port engine coughed and spluttered before dying completely.

“Port is out, feathering,” Down called, moving the lever between their seats. “Strap in back there,” Down yelled into the cabin as the aircraft’s note began to drop. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re about to begin our descent, please ensure your seats are in the upright position and you extinguish any cigarettes, please assume crash positions and kiss your asses goodbye.”

“That’s a horrible thing to tell them,” Maria scolded as the nose engine failed followed shortly by the starboard.

“You were saying?” Down chuckled.

“I said it was horrible, not wrong,” she admitted, raising her eyebrows. Gently, she pushed the controls forward, lowering the nose to maintain their speed.

“When we pull off a miraculous landing they’ll all think we’re damn heroes,” The American beside her chuckled darkly.

“If.”

Maria rolled her eyes and began to scan the terrain below for a suitable landing site. The forest gave way to farmland as it approached the mighty river that carved its way through the landscape. Above the river valley, the terrain was gently rolling and dotted with small villages and farms. Maria turned them north along the river, her eyes scanning the terrain below. The big Junkers was gliding well, its huge wings providing a great deal of lift as she had expected despite the cargo plane’s overall blunt profile.

“There, by the bend, on the left.” She pointed out at a small village overlooking a town down by the river.

“Think we can make that?” Down asked, manhandling the controls of the big aircraft.

“Fields to the east of town, that pale one’s been fallow since harvest in the autumn, it should be fairly clear and hard.”

“You got it, Ma’am.”

To both sides of the village, the ground dropped away steeply as gorges ran down towards the Rhine itself. Unlike a powered landing, they had no opportunity to do a flyby and check out the suitability of their landing site, nor, would they be able to change their minds once committed. This would be an all-or-nothing gamble.

To kill off excess altitude and airspeed, Maria flew outwards over the Rhine before swinging back around to make their approach to the field. Each turn elicited creeks and groans from the aircraft as it flexed in the air, the noise of the wind rushing past as their only accompaniment. The climbing gradient of the terrain made their descent seem faster than it was, and it took all of Maria’s nerve to maintain her approach angle.

Just in case, Maria took a hand of the controls and pulled the pilot’s side window open as they descended. It was naught but a habit from her days in a fighter. In an emergency landing, pilots made sure their canopy was unlatched and open so they could escape if the fuselage was warped by the impact. Here, it hopefully did nothing, but it would pay dividends if anything happened to the crew hatch aft.

“We’re going too fast to stop this beast, we gotta scrub some of this off or we’re gonna tip her over as soon as we hit,” Down pointed out past gritted teeth.

Maria thought back to one of her uncle’s glider tricks and acted quickly. “Help me, Mike,”

Stepping on the right pedal with both feet, she forced the rudder to the right as she cranked the control wheel left. Crossing the controls slewed the big aircraft sideways until it was heading towards the ground at forty-five degrees, its slab side acting like a massive airbrake.

“Jesus Christ woman what the hell are we doing.” Down yelped. He might not know what she was doing, but she felt his help on the controls to achieve it.

“Hang on and snap straight when I say.”

The aircraft lurched and seemed to drop out of the air, their speed reducing as the field rushed up to meet them.

“Now!” she called, reversing her actions.

The aircraft straightened out around thirty feet above the hedges the pilots hauled back on the controls just in time for them to slam into the ground far harder than a normal landing. Bounced around in her seat, Maria fought for control as they thundered over the rutted field, their gear thankfully still holding out. The pilots slowly applied the brakes, afraid of tipping the aircraft over on the uneven ground.

It felt like an eternity before the transport rolled to a stop, creaking and ticking as the metal cooled. Letting out a long-held breath, Maria switched off the instruments before flexing her painfully cramped fingers. “Is everyone okay?”

“Aye, I’ve had worse,” Hamley laughed from the cabin.

“I didn’t realize you landed on aircraft carriers.” Maddox complained, “Now I know how my lunch feels.”

Maria and Mike were the last to disembark after checking over the aircraft. The American rolled his eyes as Matheson offered Maria his hand to help her down from the cargo door.

“Hey Hamley, you wanna lift me down from here? Or is chivalry dead?” The American hammed, posing in the doorway.

“Carry yourself on yank,” The Irishman laughed. “After that landing, ye can walk back to England.”

“That was more her fault than anything.” Down pouted, leaping down to the Barley stubble-covered ground.

Matheson deposited Maria carefully on the ground. “She has other redeeming qualities Down, and she’s far easier on the eye than you.”

The American huffed. “So little respect.”

The field that they now found themselves in had a rutted dirt track running along its southern edge that led to a farmhouse a few hundred meters away. It hadn’t taken long before the resident had come to check on the new addition to his field.

A man that Maria assumed to be the farmer pulled up by the gate in a small truck. Hopping down, he regarded them for a moment before approaching casually across the field.

“I thought the British had crashed one of their bombers. I was coming out here to take you all prisoner and get myself a medal.” the man smiled as he approached the Junkers with a shotgun cradled under one arm. “What are you all doing here?”

Matheson stepped forward and offered the farmer a handshake, his posture the mirror of the perfect German Officer. “Good day Mein Herr, we appologise for any damage caused to your land. My aircraft suffered a mechanical malfunction and were forced to make an emergency landing.”

The farmer regarded the motley group for a moment before nodding in understanding and chuckling, “the magnificent machines of the Riech are more unreliable than my tractor, it seems.”

“Quite so,” Matheson smiled politely. “I wonder if you might help us. We were not able to radio in our position before we landed, would you possibly point my men in the direction of the nearest town?"

The old farmer nodded and gestured up the road to the west. “That way, half a mile, or down the hill by the Rhien. You can’t miss it. I don’t have a phone at the farm or I would offer.” he shrugged. “I do have kaffee however. I would be honored if you would join us?”

Matheson smiled and nodded before turning to the others, “You guard the aircraft,” He indicated the plane to Hamley so he understood the German order. “You two head into town, contact the base and organize transport. You can find us at the farm when you are done.”

“Jarwol Herr Major,” Maddox clicked his heels and took off with the American in tow after explaining Matheson’s orders quietly to Hamley. Maria was almost certain they understood the real message to ‘steal’ some transport, but the show seemed to work for the old farmer who led them back to his small truck.

“Where are you based?” The farmer asked as they slid into the cab and headed off towards the farm along the bumpy dirt track.

“Manching, near Ingolstadt,” Matheson offered. “We were moving to a new headquarters nearer the front when we suffered our misfortune.”

“Eclectic crew you have,” The Farmer observed eying Maria briefly.
Matheson smiled. “Staffel headquarters personnel. Oberloitnant Horler here is my Adjutant.”

“A pleasure Fraulein,” The farmer nodded.

Clattering into the small yard, they stopped the ruck by a large barn. Matheson hopped down before turning to offer Maria his hand so she could step down with a little grace. Straightening her uniform skirt, she gazed around at the farm. It was typical of the region; with the farmhouse and barn constructed of latticed timber and plaster exterior with thatched roof. Following their host, the group was led inside where they were met by a warm and welcoming kitchen. The farmer offered them seats at the table before disappearing into the house to find his wife.

Matheson leaned close to Maria and lowered his voice, yet continued in German. “Did you ever expect to find yourself taking Kaffee in a Deutches Bauernhaus?”

Maria smirked slightly and shook her head. “Not in my wildest dreams, but it will be a story to tell one day.”

The farmer returned accompanied by a cheerful woman with rosy cheeks who bustled over to the stove immediately and began preparing coffee. “Hallo! I’m Ingrid, It is good to meet you! Please sit!”

“Thank you, Frau…?” Matheson asked, taking a seat at the table.

“Schneider Herr Major, I am Kurt and this is my wife, Ingrid,” The farmer offered joining them only once Maria had taken a seat herself.

“Your men will be joining us?”

Matheson shook his head. “They will be quite busy with the aircraft and securing our transport, but thank you. Tell me, where are we exactly?”

“We are near the village of Dellhofen, we are just above the town of Oberwesel down by the Rhein, is that where you expected?”

Matheson looked thoughtful then nodded, “Yes, we were traveling to Belgium.”

Ingrid turned to Maria while the men were talking and smiled, “My husband he said you are Adjutant to the Major? What does that mean?”

“I am his assistant; I help him organize the sq…staffel,” Maria offered. “I am a staff officer.”

“You are nervous, going closer to the front lines?” She asked offering a slice of what Maria interpreted to be some sort of plum cake. “Our two boys, they are in France, with the Wehrmacht.” Ingrid offered.

At that moment, Maria’s heart went out to the German couple. They were lying to them and abusing their kind-hearted generosity. This couple was offering them their hospitality out of the goodness of their heart because they had sons away at war just like their own families.

She could see a mother’s worry on Ingrid's face as she regarded the older woman; a look that she knew must have crossed her own mother’s face on more than one occasion. She could scarcely imagine what her parent went through when she was reported missing and later a prisoner. She wondered if they would even speak to her now.

“You are ok, my dear?” Ingrid asked softly, noting Maria’s darkened expression. “You have someone in France too?”

Maria shook her head, “No, no I do not... Your concern for your sons; it made me think of my own parents back home.”

Ingrid smiled softly and touched Maria’s hand. “I hope you return home to your family one day, just as I hope my Hans and Erik come back to us. One day they will take over the farm when we are old and grey.”

Maria smiled at the woman’s image of the future. These people were exactly like her own family and friends. They were simple folk who were swept up in this bloody mess and just as affected by its horrors. Maria felt nothing but sympathy for the farmer and his wife. She regretted their subterfuge, but she was glad she had met them.

Ingrid gave Maria a hard look for a moment, as though she was evaluating the young woman before her. Maria’s stomach dropped, fearing that the older woman had seen through her presentation. Eventually, the farmer’s wife smiled and leaned forward, lowering her voice. “Between you and I, I don’t care much for the city politics or living space or whatever they call it. I just want our babies home safely and this all to be over.”

Maria realized that the woman was judging her allegiances rather than her womanhood. It made her wonder just how many Germans truly subscribed to the wild ideals of the Nazi party. At home, of course, they were told that all of the Germans were Nazis, fervent supporters of Herr Hitler and his terrible machinations. Here, in the real place, amongst its people, she’d seen her fair share of Nazis that was certain. But the reality was that just like at home, people were people.

This couple simply wanted to live their lives in peace; to see their sons return from war, sons that like her were fighting for their country. She hated the nazis, she hated what they were doing, but she couldn’t hate the ordinary Germans like Ingrid and her husband. Would it stop her from pulling the trigger on another German bomber? No, but it would however cost her soul a little more each time she did.

“Where are your family?” Ingrid asked, refilling Maria’s coffee.

Maria resisted the urge to say Cambridgeshire. “Regensburg.”

“Do you miss them?”

“More than you can know. It feels like a lifetime.” she sighed whistfully. “I’m afraid they will think I’ve changed.”

Ingrid smiled warmly and placed her hand on Maria’s. “My dear, we all change, life is a never ending journey. Your parents will love their daughter no matter what. I have no doubt you will see them again.”

Maria was quiet for a moment as she battled the urge to cry. She hoped that Ingrid’s words were true, that this mothers love extended to her own. She looked across at the older woman and smiled her thanks. Neither spoke, they didn’t need to.

A short while later their conversation was interrupted by the roar of an engine as a large grey truck pulled into the farmyard. Maria caught sight of iron crosses on the doors and her heart dropped. Matheson had clearly spotted the truck too, but seemed unfazed as he stood and straightened his uniform. “Herr und Frau Schneider, I thank you for your hospitality. It would seem my men have acquired transport for us.”

Maria eyed him uncertainly but Matheson didn’t show any sign of reaction. As usual, whether he had a plan or not, the Navy pilot had a poker face that could deceive even the most veteran player.

“The pleasure was ours Herr Major,” Kurt Schneider replied offering his hand to Matheson. “The best of luck with your onward journey.”

“I’ll have a crew remove the aircraft from your field Herr Schneider, it may take a day or two,” Matheson promised as he stepped towards the door. “Goodbye and thank you.”

Maria followed Andrew out into the farm yard and towards the large grey truck. The Opel Blitz was idling as Maddox hopped down from the cab. “Herr Major, we are ready to leave.”

Maria wasn’t sure how or where they had acquired a German army truck, but she was certainly impressed. Maddox offered his hand to assist her up into the cab of the truck. It was all she could do to maintain her modesty as she clambered up into the vehicle next to Down on the bench seat. “Where’d you get this from?” she asked as Matheson joined them.

“We got our sources,” The American grinned as he put the big truck into gear and pulled away with only minor abuse of the transmission. Driving out of the farm yard, Maria waved to Frau Schneider. She knew that she would find out one day that she had been lying to them, but she did hope they saw their sons again. As the truck rumbled along the dirt road and past the Junkers, a window at the back of the cab slid open to reveal Maddox’s head “Like our new wheels boss?”

“Do I even want to know?” Matheson asked with a smirk.

“We took a wrong turn and ended up going down into the main town by the river. Here we are wandering through town when this Jerry chap pulls into the petrol station. Well, we told him a sob story about running out of petrol with wounded onboard and if he could bring us up to the plane to transport the poor buggers to the local hospital we’d be really grateful.”

“He’s far less grateful now tied to a tree about half a mile back.” Down chuckled. “Really colorful language that even I understood.”

“When I saw this bloody great thing pull into the yard I thought our goose was cooked for certain.” Maria sighed. “I was hoping we could drop the Luftwaffe disguises and just be civilians.”

“We’ll pass easier through the occupied countries with a military cover than as civvies being asked for paperwork at every checkpoint,” Matheson pointed out.

“I feel really bad deceiving that couple back there,” Maria mused, glancing at the disappearing farm in the rearview mirror. “They were kind to us; hospitable. We just lied straight to their faces.”

“A necessity,” Matheson replied quietly. “They might very well have handed us over to the Germans if they had known the truth, they might not be that nice.”

Maria nodded reluctantly. She hated this war. Her own part in it back home had not prepared her for the reality faced since her capture in France. It felt like a lifetime ago that she had awoken in a hospital bed as a prisoner of war. She had seen so much and experienced so much that she wasn’t sure she would see it the same way again. The hopeful exuberance, the British bravado to ‘wack the Bosch and teach Mister Hitler a lesson.’ seemed so arrogantly jingoistic. That couple were not Nazis, they were not political ideology bent on her destruction. She hoped their sons would return to the family farm one day, she hoped she would live to see her own.

 

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Slipping it in

BarbieLee's picture

This won't resonate with most. What Kit described as the plane dropped one wing and held it in that position is known as side slipping. One loses altitude in a hurry without gaining airspeed which would normally happen if Maria had pointed the noise down. The side of the airplane becomes an air brake.
Kit, I can't begin to express my pleasure at your description of flying before high end computers and what is described as "glass cockpit". The rest of the chapter is icing on the cake.
Hugs Kit
Barbie
What I don't know is millions times more than what I do.

Oklahoma born and raised cowgirl

:)

Kit's picture

Honestly, pre glass flying is much more fun :D Modern glass systems are 'useful' but they lose the art. Actual stick and rudder flying makes for far more entertaining fiction... Plus I needed to redeem Maria's aviation chops after her donk in the Hurricane!

I like Turtles.

Proper flying indeed

Always good to read a flying sequence written by someone who obviously actually flies. The aircraft I fly is over 60 years old and the only computer is my tablet running SkyDemon. I don't even look at the fuel gauges, they barely qualify as fuel indicators rather than gauges. Far less accurate than looking in the tanks and knowing the fuel burn rate...

Are there no flaps on this type of aircraft?

Alison

Yup

Kit's picture

She does have flaps, but they're hydraulic, in something this size with no hand crank it would be just ignored in a deadstick without hydraulic pressure.

I like Turtles.

The Angel on Her Wing

David the PDX Fashion Pioneer's picture

Just in case any of you Doubting Thomasinas are dubious about the possibility of effecting a successful landing of such a large, heavy aircraft using a glider maneuver, Smithsonian Channel’s “Air Disasters” had an episode on how a Canadian airline pilot saved his plane and passengers in an emergency using that very maneuver. The jetliner was rechristened the Ghimli Glider. If you can’t find the TV show, try Googling “Ghimli Glider.” It’s a great story in its own right!

David the PDX Fashion Pioneer

Be yourself; it's who God made you to be.

:D

Kit's picture

Yup, the slip is a fairy common manouvre, usually more common in Gliding and bush flying, but not impossible. The bigger the aircraft the worse the yaw moment can be but it's certainly doable. The Tante Ju is just about small enough to handle it decently and her gear is fairly rugged. Flying energy not speed is pretty useful :D

The Gimli Glider is a fantastic case of airline emergency resulting in lives saved! (It didn't inspire this, but its a great real world example) The manouvre is used outside of emergencies regularly too even in powered aircraft, often in heavy crosswinds.

I like Turtles.

Ghimli Glider.

Patricia Marie Allen's picture

Better yet, go to YouTube and search on Ghimli Glider.

I read an account of that story decades ago with great interest, A fantastic flying feat by a resourseful pilot that saved lives. Everyone walked away and as every pilot since the Wright brothers as said, "Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing."

Hugs
Patricia

Happiness is being all dressed up and HAVING some place to go.
Semper in femineo gerunt
Ich bin eine Mann

Short on petrol

Oh, dear, I did not see that coming ~_^.

Per the previous commentators, I agree, that was some seriously good flying.

Also not mentioned is the tremendous feat of landing an aircraft she has not flown before, in the meadow to pick up her passengers.

Granted it is a bit of an albatross of an aircraft but still.

At this point I agree they should ditch their disguises, if they could, as they have now all been eyewitnessed by some German.

The fact that they have shown mercy to those Germans they have encountered by not killing them to eliminate any witnesses, while laudable in a humane way but it will make their escape that much harder now.

They are now back to land transport and will have to travel through Belgian and occupied France.

If they can hook up with the French Resistance than they would have an easier time potentially.

But I am sure there will be a nerve wracking manhunt ahead by Bergmann unfortunately for our heroes, would be gut feeling.

So, They were seen by Germans

Kit's picture

So, They were seen by Germans but those Germans think they're also German. (The Farmer and this wife.) The one solder with the truck only saw two of them. It's not much on its own and there's no need to kill. Plus the couple are civilians, they'd never dream of killing civilians.

Try tracking down a handful of Germans in uniforms that speak German in occupied Europe during the war :D It's a mess of moving units and people.

As for what happens next, look forward to many hijinx :D

I like Turtles.

Killing civilians

Like I said, this group would never do such a thing. I am just laying out the cold analytical truth for their situation.

The guy they tied up is the weak link as they willl be linked together as a group.

Maria's alias is still being used. So if possible maybe change the last names if possible (yes I know their present identity papers forbitd that but still.) Bergmann does not know about the others but he might circulate Maria's name around. Bad luck happens.

But yes, since they are moving around so much it would be hard to dragnet them.

Bergmann

Patricia Marie Allen's picture

Bergmann if he lived, might have a few problems himself for not containing the situation if he admits to knowing Maria was on the base and became the saboteur. It's quite possible that the plane won't even be missed for some time while they clean up the mess created when the fuel fire set of the armament in the hanger next door.

Then you have to ask, just how well will the Nazi's put the pieces together to connect the plane down in that farmer's field to the incident at the airbase several hundred miles away and just how long to make that connection. The farmer will wait possibly a week or more before complaining about the plane not being removed. Then there will be the lag time before the local armed forces check on the complaint and even begin to ask where the plane came from.

All in all I think they have a lot of time before they need to worry about a definite search for them.

Hugs
Patricia

Happiness is being all dressed up and HAVING some place to go.
Semper in femineo gerunt
Ich bin eine Mann

A week before complaining

I can't agree with that assessment because upon discovery of the tied up Wehrmacht soldier he will tell the story of a group of Luftwaffe personnel who gave him the story of needing his transport to pick up wounded from an aeroplane nearby. He is tied up a mere half mile from said downed aircraft so the farmer will get to tell his story since well *duh* it is in his field.

So, I don't think the farmer will get to complain but get a visit from the German military, probably the Wehrmacht or Luftwaffe in this case and he will tell the story of the group, distinguished by a certain female first lieutenant. Her presence will confuse the local authorities or first responders to this incident I am sure as they would not consider them to be possibly escaped prisoners unless she is just an accomplice or sympathizer.

In any case, that means they will likely have no more than a day or two of a head start. They should probably be thinking of switching the vehicle as soon as they can. The random factor is whether the soldier was posted locally so will be missed for being AWOL or is he on an extended mission and would not be missed for a while. A local can stumble upon him else he will starve for a while.

The vast majority of my time in aircraft…….

D. Eden's picture

Both fixed and rotary wing, was as a passenger. I did actually take a few lessons and actually spent a bit of unauthorized time flying rotary wing aircraft in the military (a pilot friend of mine gave me a few illegal lessons and some very, very unauthorized stick time), but in all honesty I have much more experience jumping out of perfectly good aircraft than flying them.

To me, aircraft were simply the fastest means to get to a hot spot, or often the fastest way to get out of big trouble. Two of those trips being medivac’d.

This has been a wonderful story, and the illustration of the great variance in attitudes amongst the characters really adds to the story. You have shown how people on both sides can be honorable or evil, depending on the circumstances and the environment in which we find them.

Yes, propaganda on both sides painted the enemy as evil people, when the truth was often very different. One fact not often known is that their were more Austrians in the Nazi party than there were Germans. As is often true, the average citizen is sometimes simply carried along by political forces - both back then, as well as today.

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

The attitudes of people and

Kit's picture

The attitudes of people and individuality is something I really wanted to focus on with this story. To me, its a story about people and I wanted to tell a war story about humans, not battles.

I like Turtles.

Many Times

joannebarbarella's picture

I was the 'co-pilot' in single or twin-engined small planes, not that I ever had to do anything much except be a back-seat driver, but occasionally we had a hairy approach to a bush airstrip, and three not-so-good landings, so I do know what went on here.

This is a great story and 'Maria' is a wonderful character. I can't wait for the future chapters. I love it, Kit.

Geography

Would they have made it to Switzerland if they had tried to fly there instead?

Eric

Probably!

Kit's picture

They could, but what is a few years in a more comfortable prison camp in Switzerland? (The Swiss arrested any escaping airmen and held them as neutral parties (comfortably) but still... its why many attempted other methods. In this case, a shot for England felt hopeful with a plane, with a car, not even possible.

I like Turtles.

JU-52

The JU-52 Junkers were flown by both sides in WW2. In Panama, some had been bought pre-war and due to aircraft shortages continued to fly during the war. There could be some commercial American pilots who had flown the JU52 as the type was widely exported pre-war.