Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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 Chapter 12


The return from Portland was interesting. Viv got the funny old phone in the disgustingly dirty red cubicle to work by repeatedly putting the huge penny coins through the slot and pushing buttons. Reaching the hotel desk, she left a message for Liz with their approximate time of arrival. When she was about to hang up, the clerk said that Liz was passing by and called to her. They spoke for only a minute, but Liz managed to indicate that Barbara was under control, and that the prospects for civility were good.

     As it turned out, they were better than good. There was even a return-of-the-conquering-hero scene in which Barbara, more glamorous than ever, threw open her arms. Ivan, looking very pleased, responded with all that was possible in a public place.

     At dinner, some aspects of the grand plan, of which Barbara had not been informed, began to leak out. Not the sonar part, but the ship, and the likely participation of the Bolskys in the defense of England. Barbara was actually as anglophile as anyone could wish, both because of her upbringing, and because of her new friends and relations. Moreover, unlike so many of the Europeans, her hatred of communism didn’t result in a toleration of fascism. Hitler was, she thought, ‘a nasty little thing’.

     Ivan was at his most reassuring. There were funny stories about his recent experiences, and he was full of praise for the new order that Henry had put in place at their home. He went so far as to tell Barbara, “You and I really don’t have to worry about anything. Everything works, and the young people Henry’s brought in are very well educated and mannered. They’re living in the south wing, and are available whenever one wants to discuss anything from the watering of plants to world affairs.”

Viv found it a little hard to imagine the Bolskys interacting with people a great deal more civilized than themselves, but she supposed that the new hired help would be so happy to have jobs that they’d overlook various eccentricities.

     At a relatively early hour, Ivan, claiming to be tired after a long day, retired with Barbara. When they had left, Viv looked quizzically at Liz, who replied, “He didn’t really seem all that tired to me.”

Viv laughed in complicity.

     The next morning, Viv and Ivan were again the first up for breakfast. There was one thing about Ivan. He was quick to understand. Barbara, with Liz’ prompting and coaching, had evidently made the point. Viv didn’t have to say anything at all. It was Ivan said, “We need to give Supermarine an additional commission to adapt the Walrus for landing on our carrier. The two men you’re working with are certainly capable of doing it, so we won’t be interfering with the main Spitfire mission in any way.”

Viv replied, “They’ll welcome the additional funding. They’ll probably want to meet you.”

“I don’t want to take up their time. You can discover if they really do want to meet, perhaps a quiet evening at a pub that they already frequent. Apart from that, I don’t want to get involved in modifying the Walrus. You and Liz, and your two young men, are fully competent. I’ll concentrate on the ship modifications.”

Viv asked, “Is there much more to do?”

“The biggest thing is to put in an elevator to take planes down from the flight deck to the main deck. If we reserve the flight deck for landings, and take planes down to be catapulted, we can accommodate as many as twenty of our little Walrii.”


“Isn’t that the Latin plural?”

“Beats me. Anyhow, if we could have ten in the air most of the time, we should be able to patrol quite an area.”

“If we have them flying in concentric circles in opposite directions at various distances, we can pretty thoroughly cover a circle with a radius of sixty miles.”

Viv was sure that Ivan and Eye-Eye had calculated it in detail, and asked only,

 “Don’t carriers usually have elevators?”

“Yes. The technology is well known. Then, there’s the secret recruiting of the crew for our sort of operation. An area in which the technology is not well known.”

“You could try for divorced men trying to avoid alimony and child support payments. They won’t tell people where they are or what they’re doing.”

Ivan replied, “Like our chartered accountant working in the sewers. I have something a little more promising than that.”

“Which is?”

“I have an appointment next week with Admiral Sir Charles Little, the Second Sea Lord of the Admiralty. He’s in charge of personnel, like our navy’s chief of the Bureau of Navigation. He might be able to release certain key personnel for detached service with us.”

“What about our navy?

“No chance. Roosevelt will probably want to intervene in the coming war, but the isolationist sentiment in America is so strong that he won’t now be able to do much. We’ll be in the nature of volunteers for the British. It’s commonly accepted for young people to volunteer in a foreign country, as you did in Spain. The only difference is that we’ll be bringing a ship with us.”

“That’s a pretty big difference. It might be a good idea to register the ship in some little country somewhere.”

“Yes. Eye-Eye did suggest that. There are people in the shipping bureaus in London who know how to do such things.”

So that was that. As far as Viv could see, they were just to proceed as before.

     When they went over to Supermarine, it took Liz’ tact to get across to Ozzie and Henry the fact that Ivan would be happy to come over, but didn’t want to be disruptive. Liz explained, “He wants the four of us to be entirely responsible for the Walrus and its development and tactics. He has quite a job on his hands in connection with our aircraft carrier, but would be delighted to stand any of you a few drinks at the pub.”

That seemed to hit the right note, and they proceeded to business. The 37mm cannon had arrived, but, Harper said, “It’s an impressive weapon, but, looking at it, I realized that it’s too intricate to be continually drenched in landings and take-offs from the water.”

By this time, their two colleagues had been apprised of the plan for landing and tracking a sub with sonar, and it was agreed that there should be two kinds of Walrus on the carrier. Some with cannon for attacking a surfaced sub, and the rest for depth-charging and tracking a submerged one. Viv suggested that both could machine-gun the conning tower and put the AA gun out of commission. There then arose the question of the best machine-gun armament for both kinds of Walrus.

     It turned out that neither Ozzie nor Henry knew much about automatic weapons. The Spitfires each carried eight wing-mounted Browning .303s, but neither man had been involved in that project. Liz happened to mention that her sister-in-law knew a man who was an automatic weapons consultant with the RAF. Henry asked, “Who is that?”

Liz replied, “I only know that his first name is Ian.”

“I wonder if that can be Ian MacLachlan. He’s done some work for Vickers, our parent company.”

“I understand that he was in Spain with the International Brigades.”

“That must be him! He’s in great demand because he’s one of few who’s had a chance to see how modern weapons operate in battlefield conditions. Things that work perfectly well on the practice range tend to fail in all sorts of ways in action.”

Liz was able to reach Olivia on the office phone, and got confirmation. It was agreed to bring in Mr. MacLachlan at the first opportunity.

     Ivan wanted to see his friend, Ralph Randolph, and so the next expedition to London was an enlarged one. Ivan and Ralph went off to the museums with Barbara, she insisting that the Tate be included along with the Imperial War Museum and the United Services Museum. The others headed for Kew Gardens, planning to have lunch nearby.

     After lunch, there was another division. With the agreement of Lady Mary, Olivia took Liz off to meet Ian MacLachlan and discuss gunnery. That left Viv with Mary, still sitting at the table. Mary said, “I expect you know that I have misgivings about this man.”

“I haven’t met him, but I did know some of the other young Englishmen in Spain. A few were from the universities, but most were working-class men with strong convictions.”

“Were they communists?”

“Not really. They knew enough about the Soviet Union and the purges under Stalin not to be attracted to that regime.”

“I don’t know how anyone could be.”

“Of course, the young Russians I flew with were committed ideological communists.”

“They must have been amazed to find a young Russian-American woman in their midst. You do speak Russian, don’t you?”

“Oh yes. It’s my native language, and Ivan, Liz, and I often speak Russian. The Russians in Spain must have realized I came from anti-communist White Russians, but it didn’t seem to bother them.”

“That was because of you, my dear.”

“I didn’t have affairs with any of them, but there were lots of long intimate talks. They were under stress, both from the enemy and their own political people.”

“Were many killed?”

“Yes. You know how it is with fighter pilots.”

“Quite so. Even among the survivors, there are scars.”

Viv could imagine, but let it go. She said, “The other part was that occasional people were sent back to the Soviet Union with the possibility of being executed. All the Russians in Spain wondered how they’d be treated after being ‘contaminated’ by foreign bourgeois influences.”

“It’s a wonder they didn’t defect.”

“There was an overriding loyalty and fatalism. The much respected head of their air force had been purged, but even so.”

“So strange. Did you understand?”


“But our young men, the ones like Olivia’s admirer. Were they also ideological?”

“In a very different way. I puzzled them. I went to Spain as an adventure, but they had much purer motives. They couldn’t understand that I didn’t.”

“What were their motives?”

“They wanted to take money from the wealthy, and distribute it among the people.”

Mary laughed, and replied, “Our money’s mostly gone. Do they want what’s left?”

“Probably. They also want you to let them into the schools and universities, the clubs, and everything else. But, of course, I haven’t met this young man, Ian. He may be quite different.”

“I rather think he isn’t. I may well be more willing to accept him than he me.”

“I don’t think Spain was good for most of us. There were atrocities on both sides, and it was easy to demonize people on the other side.”

“I’ve heard about peasants cutting off the genitals of priests and forcing them to eat them.”

“I’ve also heard that. It may have happened. On the other side, there were the so-called senoritos who murdered people they suspected of being leftists in the cafes.”

“Right in public?”

“I didn’t see it, but so I heard. A man at a table would be asked to stand up. When he did, he would be shot in the chest or stomach, and sat down again in his chair. He didn’t always die.”

“I suppose we might have behaved in those ways three hundred years ago.”

“I think, really, it may be a matter of respect. A few slighting comments can sometimes enrage people almost as much as something gruesome.”

“It does seem that this man of Olivia’s might look at me and imagine my saying something disparaging about him in his absence.”

“I’ll be meeting him shortly, and I may be able to convince him that, at any rate, you don’t want to shoot him in the stomach.”

Mary laughed, and Viv had the impression that she enjoyed being with someone rather different from her usual cronies.

     On the way back, Viv got Liz alone at the end of the car, and inquired about Ian.

“He’s a big rough-looking guy, almost American, but for a Scots accent. Totally unlike Olivia, but a lot of fun in a way that’s likely to shock and unsettle a lot of people.”

“Like Mary?’

“Unless he has another mode, or she has one, I don’t think the combination would be good.”

“Perhaps something could be done. Will he help with the guns?”

“Definitely. He said the cannons will very likely jam unless a crew member can reach them and manage the feed.”

“We should be able to manage that.”

“He also had some suggestions about the machine-guns. He seems to have a lot of ideas.”

“Well, that’s what we need.”

“He’s coming down the day after tomorrow.”

Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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