Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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 Chapter 25

May 1939

 Liz was happy to welcome Viv and Ivan at Bridport on their way back from Germany. It happened that Hitler and Mussolini had just signed the ‘Pact of Steel’, but Ivan didn’t take it very seriously. He said, “Even Ernst Udet thinks it’s better to have Italy as an enemy than an ally.”

But that wasn’t the bad news. The bad news was about the Luftwaffe personnel. Both Ivan and Viv thought that they were so far superior to that of the Armee de l’Air that France wouldn’t have a chance. Liz asked Viv, “Is there any point to your working with the French if it’s hopeless?”

“It would be unless, as is likely, Hitler attacks Poland. The French are committed to making some sort of attack on western Germany as a diversion, and they’d only be opposed by the token forces.”

“So the Germans think so poorly of the French military, that they’d hardly defend their western frontier?”

“So it seems.”

Liz privately suspected that her sister was hoping to play a combat part in the French operation, and wondered if her father had caught on. He seemed not to, saying,  “It’ll help if the French just delay Hitler in the course of being conquered. That’ll give the English time to organize their defense against invasion.”

“How long do we have?”

“There are incidents in the Polish corridor and Danzig all the time. They center around some local people called the Kashubians who aren’t really Poles, and aren’t really Germans. The Germans beat them up, and the Poles protest, even though they wouldn’t really mind having the Kashubians driven into the sea.”

It seemed to Liz that there were always people so despised that other people wouldn’t mind their being driven into the sea or desert without food or water. Feeling a little uncomfortable and unfeeling, she replied, “They sound like Gypsys.”

“As near as makes no difference. In any case, there’s confusion and enough chaos to make the immediate future unclear.”

“Meanwhile, the English can build Spitfires and train pilots lickedy-split.”

“Yes. And, of course, people have tried to invade England before.”

“The Spanish Armada and Napoleon came close, but nothing’s worked since the Normans.”

“There probably will be a scare. If the RAF can’t defeat, or at least stalemate the Luftwaffe, it’ll be all over.”

Feeling the need to restore Ivan’s normal optimism, Liz replied, “I think they’ll hold out.”

“In that case, the real threat will be the same as last time.”

"Submarines cutting the supply routes and starving England?”


It was hard for Liz to imagine England starving. There was food all over the place. She asked, “Couldn’t they all plant gardens?”

“Not sufficient. It’s the same with all northern countries. The winters are long and dark, and they can’t raise enough in the short growing seasons to last them through. Since England’s heavily populated, they couldn’t even come close without imports.”

Viv added, “England also doesn’t produce any oil. After they ran through their storage tanks, they’d be defenseless.”

Liz replied, “At least, our training’s going well. Between Ivan’s sonar Walrii and our attack ones, we’ll get the occasional U-boat.”

The others didn’t seem greatly impressed, and Ivan, with a wan smile, explained again, “That’s not really the point, Liz. With the scale of our operation, we can only deliver pin pricks. But we have a system which, if greatly expanded, could be very effective. We need a couple of notable successes right off. That’s what it will take to get the English to convert dozens of merchant ships and train five hundred Walrus crews.”

     That gave rise to some deep thinking. How to get those quick successes? Viv went back to France, and Ivan back to his ship, with the question unresolved.

     Deciding to consult a historian well versed in aviation and naval affairs, Liz found that Henry already knew precisely what they planned to do. He observed, “Your secrets are as safe as before. It’s just that someone who’s been as close as I have would have to catch on.”

“How did you know about the sonar part?”

“They started practicing in the lake below our house. I also happened to be present when the engineers from Supermarine were talking with Ivan. They may have assumed that I already knew.”

“Okay. How do you see the situation?”

“I don’t think you’ll find much just searching ocean. It’s ships that attract submarines and torpedoes. If you circle over a ship entering dangerous waters, you’ll either scare away the sub and save the ship or get a chance to attack the sub.”

Liz wondered why she hadn’t thought of something so obvious. She then said,

“We’ve already been told that a sub is most vulnerable on the surface at sunrise when it’s looking for ships to attack.”

“The chances are great that, if it did see a ship, it would have to use its surface speed to get into position well ahead of the ship in order to get a good angle of attack. Only then could it submerge.”

“According to plan, we’ll already be at altitude in darkness, and will be gliding down out of the sun’s rays as it rises.”

“Apart from not being able to see into the sun, the U-boat officers will be heavily focused on their target.”

“Viv told me that the easiest time to shoot down a fighter is when it’s engaged in shooting down someone else.”

“Easy to understand why.”

In further discussion, it emerged that there might be a trade-off between protecting the ship, possibly their own ship, and sinking a U-boat. In view of what Ivan had said, there was hardly any question. Liz explained the matter to Henry, who replied, “Even apart from that, the sinking of a U-boat would save the ships that it would otherwise sink.”

There was nothing like some straight-forward logic to resolve a moral problem.

     It was later, when Sheila was flying the Walrus, that she asked Liz, “When are we going to fly at night?”

Sitting in the co-pilot’s seat and looking down at the coast-line, Liz considered briefly. One didn’t want beginning pilots flying at night, but they had surely reached the point where they could. She replied, “It’s time to start. We’ll have to get some approach lights for the airstrip.”

     As always with Ivan, the lights picking out the airstrip quickly appeared. They then transitioned into night flying by taking off in darkness before dawn, and then landing an hour or so afterwards. In between, they familiarized themselves with the look of the coastline at night, and also searched for ships.

     Henry accompanied Liz on a couple of the flights, and he was impressed with the difficulty in locating even fairly brightly lit landmarks. He then asked, “How would you ever find the carrier at night?”

“We’d probably have to shine searchlights in the sky.”

“That would attract U-boats, which we want. But it might also get us torpedoed.”

“Yes. When you say, ‘us’, Henry, does that mean that you’ll be with us?”

“Of course. I’ll see that you’re all well fed.”

“Okay. At any rate, we’ll be safer if we have only the daylight landings we’ve been planning.”

     The next step was to practice attacking Lisa’s power boat at sunrise. That would mean getting out on the water much earlier, and Liz was almost sure that Lisa wouldn’t want to get up at four. However, there was a surprise. On the phone, perhaps in the hearing of her husband, Lisa said, “It’s very important that we practice interception at dawn. I won’t want to disturb Peter and the household that early, so I’ll just spend the night on the boat and be ready.”

Liz assumed that Peter lived somewhere on land, and was known to do so by Sir Hugh. However, there would be nothing to keep Peter from spending the occasional night on the boat.

     This time, Lisa had on an all-black secret-service-looking outfit when she picked Liz up at the dock and rowed her out to the mooring. Not surprisingly, there was no sign of Peter. It was cold when they got under way, but Liz again wanted to see what it would be like to be attacked by Walrii.

     Before long, Lisa, noticing that Liz looked cold, knocked on the companionway hatch and called down, “Peter, find something warm for Liz.”

Soon afterwards, the hatch opened and Peter, looking sleepy, handed out a heavy pullover with a hood. Lisa asked whether it was one of his, and, being answered affirmatively, replied, “I hope it’s clean.”

“Fairly clean.”

Liz slipped it on and said that it bordered on the luxurious.

     Throughout this exchange there was none of the earlier coyness. It seemed a fair trade to Liz. She had secrets which Lisa would keep, and Lisa had secrets which she would keep.

     As they headed out to the agreed on search area, a circle of a radius of six miles, Liz checked the sky. There was just a touch of gray light to the east, and the moon was visible, not quite full. There was scattered cloud, sometimes obscuring it, at some five thousand feet. The wind was northeast, perhaps fifteen knots, producing white-caps of modest size with little swell.

     The Walrii would already be up, cruising slowly at altitude, but they wouldn’t be attacking until the sun came up. Liz did wonder whether, at the moment, they would be visible from the air. Proceeding at eighteen knots on a southeast course, they did produce a very considerable wake, showing white in the early light. Liz thought that a sleek and slender U-boat, travelling at the same speed, might produce a less visible wake, and she asked Lisa to slow down a bit.

     Liz, now warmer, was in the act of taking off the pullover when there was a whirring noise, and, then, the roar of an engine as a Walrus dropped almost on top of them. Lisa didn’t scream this time, but the boat did give a noticeable swerve. She said to Liz, “That was quite frightening!”

“Yes. And that’s good, of course. They found us even before dawn.”

“One can imagine how a submarine captain would feel.”

“The only trouble is that it’s quite a bright night, and the search area isn’t very big. I don’t know if that was Sheila, but, if it was, we don’t know what an ordinary crew would be able to do.”

“Aren’t there others up there?”

“Yes. We’ll see what happens.”

In the event, nothing happened, even after the sun was up and almost blinding.

     Lisa hadn’t met Sheila, but, on the way back, Liz described her. Lisa asked, “Is she rather like a prodigy?”

“She’s certainly intelligent, but she’s not a musical or mathematical prodigy. It’s a combination of abilities.”

“You said that she’s a fine soccer player.”

“Better than any of the boys. And, of course, there’s the extraordinary vision, which seems to include night vision.”

“You’d better be pleased with what you have, and not expect it of everyone.”

This was said with a laugh, and Liz, realizing that it was meant to apply everywhere, replied, “So the motto would be to take what’s there without spoiling it by trying to improve it?”


At that moment, Peter popped us and chatted with them. He was, most definitely there. Liz didn’t think that Lisa was intent on improving him.

     When Liz got back, she discovered that it had, indeed, been Sheila. The girl greeted her with delight, asking, “Did I give you a start?”

Having admitted the start, Liz asked what had happened.

 “I started from the east side of the circle and zig-zagged back and forth across it as it widened. I could look to my left on the northern legs, and, on the southern ones, I had the co-pilot fly while I stood behind him looking over the glass to the right.”

That, in itself, was a highly unusual procedure. People usually searched in square boxes, and she had also done her search in such a way as to take advantage of the best eyes, her own. She said, “I saw you near the northern edge from four thousand feet. Did you hear me?”

“No. There was a lot of noise from the boat crashing through waves.”

“It was easy once I spotted you.”

Liz was sure that it had been for Sheila. But, where had the others been?

Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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