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Summing Matters Up
November 19, Northwest of Madrid, early afternoon.
Shortly after witnessing the attack, Oberst Reinecke found a working telephone and reported the results back to his base. He spoke with General Sperrle himself, and went so far as to congratulate the general on the operation, both the victory of the fighters and the effective bombing. Indeed, as the Oberst took a last look at the city, it seemed that the conflagration was finally getting out of control. One more night's bombing should start the swarm of refugees on its way.
It took over three hours to motor back to base over the primitive roads. The Oberst passed the time pleasantly. He had always taken a keen interest in architecture, not only of great buildings and cathedrals, but also in its application to railway stations, private dwellings, and even peasant cottages. He thus saw something to excite his interest in every village that they passed through.
Reinecke was thus totally unprepared for the air of crisis, and even recrimination, that greeted him on his return. Only six of the twelve Messerschmidts had returned. Even those were badly shot up, with two pilots wounded. The others were long overdue. Reinecke quickly got on the telephone.
An hour later, despite strenuous efforts, none of the six missing pilots had been located. It was yet another hour before a call came in. Major Balck took it, and then asked Reinecke to step out into the corridor. It appeared that something extraordinary, perhaps incorrect, had occurred. A pilot had been found, Leutnant Gerstmann. Instead of reporting, he had gone to a whore house. He was waiting there to be picked up. Both officers agreed that, in these trying circumstances, it would be better not to burden General Sperrle with too much detail.
Oberst Reinecke dispatched his own driver to the indicated address. He also threatened him with solitary confinement if he flapped his mouth. Gerstmann's squadron leader would deal with him when he returned. It was to be hoped that he knew something of what had happened to the others
Hotel St. Louis, Rue St. Louis en Isle, Paris, November 27, 1936
Mrs. Eustacia Bellows was proud of the fact that she avoided the great showy hotels when she travelled. She had stayed the first night in a small hotel near the Gare St. Lazare, where she had arrived on the train. Early the next morning, she put on walking shoes, and, guidebook in hand, set out to explore Paris. By lunchtime she arrived at the Seine, walked up the right bank, and stopped to eat in a brasserie in the Marais district.
All morning, she had watched to see if she were being followed. She almost invariably was. It seemed to be a tendency of Parisian men to follow single women. One actually bumped into her physically. It was irritating, and it also made it difficult to see whether she was being followed by a man who most certainly wouldn't disclose himself.
On another level, Eustacia was thoroughly enjoying herself. She hadn't been in France for many years, and this was, after all, the real thing of which St. Marc in Haiti was only an extremely dim copy. On emerging from lunch, she again walked to the Seine and noticed something which looked rather like a great fortress in the middle of the river. According to the book, this was the Isle St. Louis, one of two islands in the Seine. These islands constituted the oldest part of the city, but the other, which contained the cathedral of Notre Dame, was the famous one. This little island seemed rather overlooked, both by the guide book and by the Paris traffic which whizzed past it on the other bank. The book said of it only that it was inexpensive, and that some artists lived and worked there.
As Eustacia crossed the nearby bridge, the fortress revealed itself to consist in a seemingly endless series of five storey houses of a uniformity which accounted for their forbidding appearance. Passing this barrier into the interior of the island, Eustacia found herself greatly charmed by the village atmosphere. It was, for example, possible to walk down the main street of the island without being followed by anyone.
Toward the end of the street, Eustacia saw a pretty little hotel, and decided to stay there. She made a point of passing it with hardly a glance, and returned to the Gare St. Lazare for her luggage. Having done so, she took no fewer than five taxis, taking that opportunity to pass down many of the streets she remembered from her much earlier visit as a teen-ager. Finally, confident that she had eluded anyone who might have been in the pay of a foreign government, or any newspaper at all, she arrived at the Hotel St. Louis. The accomodation was even more pleasant than she had expected. She was also able to use the telephone to place international calls without any difficulty.
Hotel St. Louis, Paris, November 29, 1936
Mrs. Bellows welcomed her guests in the ground floor sitting room that the hotel had made available for the occasion. She hoped that none had been inconvenienced by the last minute selection of location, but knew that they understood the necessity. Anyone who might have missed a meal could have sandwiches served right there.
The maid went around to take orders. Commander Paul Filson, speaking excellent French, ordered Grand Marnier and a roast beef sandwich. Mr. Conway took a glass of Beaujolais and a ham sandwich, acquitting himself linguistically as well as Eustacia, and almost as well as Commander Filson. Captain Whitby seemed uncomfortable, and enlisted the aid of both Eustacia and Mr. Conway in ordering a glass of Vichy water. Commander Murphy also had some difficulty in communicating, but refused help. He ended up ordering, by intention or not, a cheese omelet and a cup of expresso.
The maid having left, Mrs. Bellows directed the attention of the group to Captain Whitby. He seemed to be pleased to be back in English again, and settled himself comfortably in the large chair.
"It's a very odd situation. We've been quite successful in the air. We've also lost almost all our aircraft in a ground attack. We've had virtually no impact on the war as a whole. But, of course, we wanted to be unnoticed."
Murphy, looking a little anxious, nevertheless spoke in a tone more suited to a social occasion than a business meeting.
"I understood that there have been three major engagements. Have I got it right?"
"Two, really. In the first, over Madrid, we had twenty one ships to twelve Messerschmidts. We lost three, but only one pilot. They lost six."
"How sure are you of that claim?"
"There's an agent who has a view of the Condor Legion's present airfield. He counts planes as they take off and land. He even keeps track of the identification numbers. The six missing fighters have never turned up since."
Murphy looked somewhat puzzled, and Filson added.
"That agent is Mrs. Bellows' doing, really. At least she pressured someone else into putting him there and collecting his reports."
Murphy seemed only slightly enlightened, but looked to Whitby.
"How many did your pilots claim?"
Whitby smiled, as if this were a matter for congratulation. Murphy explained to the others.
"Fighter pilots usually claim about three times as many planes as they actually shoot down. They're usually being honest, too. When a plane goes down, everyone thinks he's the one who got it. The low claim indicates that our men are cool, and that they have a good picture of what's happening."
Whitby picked up the thread again.
"The second engagement was two days later when they attacked our airfield in force. We used the same tactics and led them further into our territory than they should have gone. There were fourteen of them this time. We got four, and captured two of their pilots. We lost two ships. One pilot parachuted safely, and the other was wounded slightly when he crashed."
"Could you keep this up if we got you more planes?"
"Not unless they were much better planes. We've had success partly because there's always been cloud cover to work around. On a clear day we'd have problems."
"Are you satisfied that your tactics work?"
"Yes. And I'm happy with our training. If we were only twenty or thirty miles miles slower than them, they wouldn't have much left by this time."
Murphy looked around at the others. Eustacia asked how they had lost their planes.
"At first I kept three planes in the air at all times to guard against surprise attack. After the first engagement I realized that it was useless. Three pilots couldn't have done much except get killed, and the rest of us wouldn't have had time to get off the ground. So I put everyone in the air just before dawn, and at other times I thought they might attack. It was pretty much a matter of guessing."
Whitby paused, seemingly in thought. Murphy prodded him gently.
"You must have guessed right the first time they attacked."
"Yes, I suppose I did. That worked out well. But it was only a matter of time. They were bound to catch us on the ground. It happened sooner than I'd hoped, though. It was when we were cooking dinner. I had everyone camped on a wooded ridge well away from the field. I wouldn't let them go near the field, except to fly. When the enemy did attack, they probably didn't see us pilots at all. Anyhow, they came in low. They had biplane fighters in addition to the Messers, and there were more than I'd seen. They made several passes. Even after the first one, our ships were burning and exploding in all directions. Mine was one of the first. The gas tank was full, and it must have taken only three or four seconds to disappear. They would have gotten all our ships, except that the smoke must have obscured the two that came through it. Bob and I managed to keep the boys from running down to the field during the attack."
Eustacia spoke consolingly.
"I remember in St. Marc how angry the boys got when you dropped bags of garbage on their social club."
Whitby laughed, not quite in his usual way.
"Yes, they did, didn't they? This time they were fit to be tied. I really didn't know what they'd do. One German crash- landed. I don't know why. One of his own men must have mistaken him for one of us. Anyhow, I had Collishaw take him over to the local militia before the boys saw him. Whatever the militia did to him, it couldn't have been worse than falling into our hands."
This last remark seemed not to be a joke. Eustacia somewhat nervously inquired,
"That was almost a week ago, wasn't it? How were they when you left?"
"In a funny state. On one hand, they're sky high. They think they can lick anyone under any circumstances. But they're also very vengeful. If they get any kind of planes, they'll want to attack the German headquarters. That would be a great mistake."
Eustacia spoke with a good deal of assurance.
"Then, I think we should get them out of there right away. We've got to keep them alive, and we really want them to think they're unbeatable. It sounds like the perfect attitude for the next war."
Whitby continued to look unhappy.
"I was going to suggest it myself. We've found out what we needed to know. If we go back with more fighters we'll have reverses. We've got them confused now, but they'll eventually learn to keep a closer eye on their fuel guages and not be lured too far."
Murphy, for the first time, spoke to Conway.
"What do you think, Mr. Conway?"
"I think we should go before we get found out. There are all sorts of rumors floating around about us. We're Russians, Mexicans, and even Finns. But, despite their time in Haiti, our kids are totally American. Anyone who knows Americans would recognize them immediately. There are reporters, including American ones, all over the place. I don't know how we've avoided them this long."
"The thing I like most about the present situation is that we've really won, but the Germans probably think they have. As you know, they've just signed an alliance with the Japanese. The chances are that they'll tell them that German planes and pilots are overwhelmingly superior to anything else in the world. Or, if they're tactful, to anything else in Europe. That's a good message for the Japanese to get. They can relax and take things easy."
No one else had anything to say. Murphy looked around and added,
"So it's agreed then. We get out of Spain. Mission accomplished. Is there likely to be any difficulty getting our pilots out?"
"I shouldn't think so. We took them in as a youth tour group. Most of them still look too young to be combatants. We'll take them out the same way. Moses, why don't you just go home from here? I'm a more plausible tour guide than you are."
As everyone laughed, Murphy added,
"Captain Whitby, I think you deserve some rest and relaxation. Let's begin immediately with a little tour of the sights. I imagine you can guide us, Commander Filson."
Filson at first looked confused, but then caught the conspiratorial look in Murphy's eye and accepted with alacrity. As they were leaving, Murphy addressed Conway.
"Mr. Conway, after you catch your breath, I'd appreciate it if you'd go back to Spain and pack up. Give those two Mureaux to the Spaniards. Or burn them if you think they'll just get killed in them."
"I disabled them before I left. I didn't trust the boys with them. I'll see if Malraux wants them. He's already so badly off that he doesn't have much to lose."
After the three men had left, Eustacia looked at Conway.
"They left us alone on purpose, didn't they?"
"I think so. I'm glad they did."
The Condor Legion, Santa Maria, Spain, December 2, 1936
Even in the midst of the victory celebration, Oberst Reinecke had been worried. Now, a week later, he at last had a chance for a private talk with Major Balck, who had flown on some of the fighter sweeps. The two men had sometimes made a practice of speaking Spanish to one another, in an attempt to learn the language. On this occasion, Oberst Reinecke, without apology, spoke German.
"I think our victory is a somewhat hollow one, Heinz. Destroying enemy aircraft on the ground, useful as it may be, isn't the same as shooting them down."
Major Balck, balding in his early middle age, was a combat fighter pilot. The commander of the Condor Legion fighter force could have remained at his desk, but, as an ace of the last war, he was convinced that he was still as good as all but one or two of his young fliers.
Some people thought that Balck was a depressive, perhaps as the result of too much time spent in fighter cockpits and too much combat. Whether or not he was truly unhappy most of the time, his crusty and consistent realism contrasted starkly with the bouts of euphoria so common among fighter pilots. His reply didn't surprise the other man very much.
"We tried to shoot them down and couldn't."
"I gathered as much. Was it mostly a matter of superior numbers?"
Balck looked at Reinecke appraisingly. One didn't have to know Balck very well to know that he considered most of his superiors, including General Sperrle, to be fools. That is, persons who didn't understand fighter tactics. He did make an exception for Reinecke, despite the latter's lack of prowess in the air. On the other hand, it seemed to Reinecke that, each time he talked with Balck, the major had to decide anew whether to trust him. As usual, he passed the test.
"Between ourselves, I think they only slightly outnumbered us. It's their discipline in the air. They separate into three groups in a kind of weave. You can't get on the tail of one group without having at least one of the others shooting at you. And they all seem to be good shots. I've never seen anything like it."
Reinecke couldn't recall a time when his friend had spoken with such animation. Most enemies were dismissed with grunts. Praise for anyone, friend or enemy, was sparing in the extreme.
"You've seen the intelligence reports?"
"I don't believe them. This isn't a collection of mercenaries. These pilots have been flying together for years. That leader of theirs, the one with the beard, must have been in the last war."
"He's supposed to be a White Russian, Prince Tomkonovitch."
"Whoever he is, this must be a detachment of some air force, like ours. It's not a scratch group."
"Could it be part of the French Armee de l'Air? Or the Red Air Force?"
"I know something about both. Neither's that good. Or any good at all, really. When a man's been a fighter pilot as long as I have, he can recognize styles of flying. It's almost a matter of personality. These people aren't French or British. Or Russian or Italian. They're something quite different. Perhaps Japanese or American."
"We've just signed an alliance with the Japanese."
"Besides, that bearded man obviously isn't Japanese. Could they be American?"
Reinecke paused a minute to consider.
"Politically, that's very unlikely. A few volunteers might turn up, but a trained force like that would have to have government approval. At present, it wouldn't be forthcoming. Neutrality and non-intervention are very strong in America."
"More than anything else, they remind me of Richtofen's group. Carried a step further."
Oberst Reinecke reacted suddenly.
"God in Heaven! We've overlooked the obvious. That's what they are. German communists. There's the Thaelmann Battalion on the ground, also very well trained. This is the air component that goes with it!"
Major Balck exploded with a string of oaths. At the same time, Reinecke noticed that he was smiling. He was pleased. It puzzled Reinecke. For Reinecke, German communists were virtually traitors. Balck, on the other hand, didn't care what they were as long as they were German and flew well. As with the regrettable incident of Leutnant Gerstmann, he would make endless allowances for anyone who even showed promise as a fighter pilot. He now ran on happily.
"I probably know their leader. If I could see him well, I'd recognize him. He must have been with Richtofen. I wonder where they've done all their training."
"They must have had some secret base."
"Anyhow, they aren't any threat any longer. We've destroyed all their planes."
Reinecke made an uncharacteristically abrupt gesture.
"That's not an answer, Heinz. You know as well as I do that this is only a practice war. They'll turn up somewhere else sooner or later."
"If they ever get decent planes, they'll give someone a bad time."
"It may be us."
The Condor Legion, December 3, 1936.
Oberst Reinecke knew that it's never an easy thing to approach a victorious commander and take his victory away from him. General Sperrle, like Reinecke, was an army officer who had gone through the motions of learning to fly when he was transferred to the Luftwaffe. Unlike Reinecke, he had never really taken in the concepts of air warfare, and regarded war in the air as a kind of long range artillery duel.
Reinecke began with the premise that the Messerschmidt was far superior to the Mureaux as a fighter. There was no difficulty there. He then advanced his second premise, that the results of the aerial combat, as opposed to the air- ground action, had gone against them. That didn't go down so easily, but it was eventually accepted grudgingly. Reinecke then produced his conclusion.
"If our aircraft are superior and our results inferior, our tactics and training must leave something to be desired."
General Sperrle became very excited.
"You forget, Reinecke, that it's victories, and not theories that count. You would throw away the victory at Tannenburg because it wasn't a Cannae. So we got them on the ground? Who cares? War is rough and dirty. One wins in any way that one can."
The general rose heavily from his desk in a signal of dismissal. Oberst
Reinecke withdrew pensively. His thoughts were obviously not going to reach
higher levels. The wrong conclusions would be drawn. On the other hand,
it would be professional suicide to attempt to bypass his commanding officer.
Possibly, however, a few words to his friend Hallenstein, at Luftwaffe
headquarters, wouldn't be amiss.
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