One Shot Kill - Robert Muchamore
16 May 1943–1 June 1943
By mid-1943, World War Two was turning in the Allies’ favour. Hitler’s armies had been knocked out of Africa, faced devastating setbacks in the eastern war with Russia and increasingly ferocious air raids by British and American bombers.
But Hitler still thought Germany could triumph. He believed that the alliance between Russia and the United States would be short lived and told his people that new and revolutionary German ‘Victory’ weapons would change the course of the war.
Fat Patty was a four-engined B-17 bomber, crewed by Americans, but assigned to a Royal Air Force special operations squadron. She’d been in the air for four hours, heading for France’s Atlantic coast. There were three men in the cockpit. Seven more manned electronic equipment and gun turrets, plus two trained spies ready to parachute into one of the most secure areas of occupied France.
Fat Patty’s crew were old hands. They’d dodged night fighters and anti-aircraft guns to insert agents deep in German territory and even made top-secret runs, dropping supplies to partisan groups in eastern Europe and refuelling in Russia before returning the following night.
Tonight’s run was as easy as this work got. After takeoff they’d flown down over Cornwall, then in a gentle southwards arc over the Atlantic, where no German fighter dared probe. The agents were to be dropped in countryside, a few kilometres from the port town of Lorient and its heavily fortified U-Boat1 base.
Dale was the radio operator, but the crew called him Old Boy because at thirty-five he was ten years older than his pilot, and the rest were even younger. He rubbed gloved hands, pulled his headphone cup away from one ear and gave the girl squatting on her parachute a few metres away a big show of pearly white teeth.
‘Gets damned cold up here,’ Dale said, shouting above four propellers and a whoosh of air. ‘Got a flask of coffee if you feel the need.’
The view down the metal-ribbed fuselage was gloomy. The only light came off illuminated dials and chinks of moonlight through the gun turret up front.
‘If I drink too much I’ll have to pee,’ Rosie Clarke replied.
The closest thing to a toilet on board was a relief tube built into the fuselage, but even when it wasn’t frozen up there was no dignified way a girl could use it.
‘Better give it a miss then,’ Dale said, smiling. ‘How old are you? Seventeen? Eighteen?’
At sixteen, Rosie was young enough to be flattered when someone said she looked older. But while Dale seemed nice, she wondered if his question was a trick that would cause trouble when she got back to campus.
‘I’d better not answer,’ Rosie said. ‘You know, security and everything.’
Dale nodded. He’d dropped enough agents to stop wondering what happened to them, but Rosie might stick in his head because she reminded him of his daughter. Rosie was nervous and kept the conversation going to help her mind settle.
‘Where are you from?’ she asked.
‘Garfield County, Utah,’ Dale said, before making a little laugh. ‘I’ll bet you’ve never heard of that.’
As Rosie nodded her stomach plunged. The pilot had pulled the bomber into a sudden upwards lurch and she had to put her hand against the floor to stop herself tipping over. They’d been skimming at two hundred feet to avoid German radar, but now they had to gain height to get a visual on their drop zone.
The two agents were to be met by a reception committee from the local resistance, who were supposed to switch on a battery-powered light beacon when they heard Fat Patty approach. Rosie’s fellow agent Eugene came eagerly down the steps from the cockpit, crouching to save his head.
Eugene was a twenty-one-year-old communist who’d run the anti-Nazi resistance around Lorient for almost two years. He’d been picked for the job by Rosie’s commanding officer Charles Henderson and by most accounts he’d built a superb team of locals to gather intelligence and sabotage the town’s heavily fortified submarine bunkers.
While the combat gear they wore draped awkwardly from Rosie’s curves, Eugene’s thick frame had been made for it. He was moderately handsome, but sharply angled eyebrows and slicked-back hair gave him a vampirish quality.
‘How are we doing?’ Rosie asked, in French.
‘Just waiting for the beacon,’ Eugene replied. ‘I wanted to see the terrain from the cockpit myself. Last time I parachuted in, the navigator mistook the landing beacon for a German searchlight and I ended up walking twenty kilometres.’
Eugene had travelled to Britain to brief