Authors: Nick Cook
To everyone who helped coax
out of my weary typewriter - family, friends and literary ‘boffins’ - go my heartfelt thanks.
I am especially grateful to Colonel Maurice Buckmaster OBE, for listening patiently to Plan Archangel and pronouncing it feasible; Sheila Mills for her in-depth analysis; and Harry Hawker for his excellent technical advice.
Finally, had it not been for Mark Lucas’s constant encouragement and help, Kruze never would have taken to the skies.
This book is as much his as it is mine (well, almost).
The aide-de-camp to the Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army worked furiously to decipher the signal that had just come in from General Nerchenko on the First Ukrainian front, but long before he reached the end he reckoned that Plan Archangel was dead.
For a moment, the colonel considered flight, then thought better of it.
How could he hide from the eyes and ears of the NKVD in Moscow?
Nerchenko said he could contain the situation, but it was still desperate news.
Yuri Petrovich Paliev, whom they had entrusted with the secret of Archangel, was gone.
Colonel Nikolai Ivanovich Krilov did not feel any fear.
After almost two years of burying himself in Archangel, Nerchenko’s message merely served to trigger the exhaustion he had suppressed for so long.
If Paliev managed to reach the NKVD, the Comrade Marshal had friends in the Kremlin who could give them enough warning to take a walk with their revolvers into the woods off Komsomolsky Prospekt.
He wanted to see his wife one last time if it came to that.
He would hold her a little more closely than he had done since the early days of their marriage, but it was essential that he did not arouse her suspicions.
When they came to her with the news of his death, her shock would have to be genuine and absolute.
He had not loved Valla for many years, that was true, but he cared for her too much to let her become another victim of the NKVD’s interrogation techniques.
Krilov put the code book down on his desk and folded the piece of paper, carefully placing it in the top pocket of his tunic.
He doused the lights in his office and then headed for the end of the great Kremlin corridor where he would find his commander and mentor of the past two years.
Marshal Boris Shaposhnikov, Hero of the Soviet Union, did not look up from his paperwork when Krilov knocked and entered the room.
Krilov realized that after months of listening to the coming and going of his footsteps on the marble floor of the great corridor, the Marshal knew immediately that it was he who had entered.
“Comrade Marshal, Archangel has been badly compromised.”
Krilov had got to know his master well.
When Shaposhnikov and he had first taught doctrine to junior officers at the Voroshilov Military Academy shortly after the relief of Stalingrad, Shaposhnikov had expounded the value of keeping a clear head through the crises that a commander inevitably faced on the field of battle.
Shaposhnikov maintained his legendary ice-cold facade.
“What has happened, Kolya?”
Still he called him by that diminutive of his given name.
Usually he found it comforting, almost fatherly.
Now it meant nothing.
The Marshal had stopped writing and was looking up at Krilov’s face.
The blue eyes had not lost their lustre, Krilov thought, trying to keep his voice even.
“Nerchenko just reported in from Branodz.
Paliev took the plans from his safe last night, commandeered a jeep, an escort vehicle and a platoon, and was last seen heading east towards Ostrava.”
You are sure?”
“East, west, what does it matter, Comrade Marshal?
He’s gone and the plans with him.
Yuri Petrovich has betrayed us.”
“What made him turn?”
Shaposhnikov had risen and was facing the window, seemingly more interested in the snow that fell on the Palace of Congresses than in the crisis that was unfolding in his office.
“Nerchenko’s safe not only contained everything on Archangel, it also detailed the arrangements for deploying the Berezniki consignment at Branodz.”
“Nerchenko has been most careless,” Shaposhnikov said.
“He obviously intends to bargain this knowledge for his life,” Krilov continued.
“I believe he wants to lay the plans at the feet of the NKVD.
Who knows, maybe he wants to present them to Stalin himself.”
Krilov studied the lined features of the sixty-two-year-old man in the reflection on the window.
It displayed little emotion.
“And what is General Nerchenko doing to save the situation, Kolya?”
“He has despatched one of his Siberian units after the traitor.
He has also sent word to depot-level HQ at Ostrava that Paliev is a dangerous deserter who is likely to be making for one of the airfields or the railhead there.
He has issued orders for Paliev to be shot on sight.”
“Yuri Petrovich will find the road to Ostrava is longer than he thought,’ Shaposhnikov said.
Krilov saw the reflection smile.
Paliev had to negotiate some two hundred kilometres of hostile Czechoslovakian terrain before he reached Ostrava, the main marshalling point between the industrial heartland of Russia and their southern front.
Aircraft and trains shuttled back and forth ceaselessly with their cargos of men,
In Krilov’s mind, there was little doubt that Ostrava was Paliev’s initial waypoint on the way back to Moscow.
But Nerchenko would have ordered checkpoints on the larger roads, forcing the traitor on to mountain and forest tracks.
It was the type of country where the Siberians performed best.
They had to.
Paliev had become a needle in a very large haystack.
“It won’t be easy to find him, Comrade Marshal.”
Shaposhnikov turned to the younger man.
His face, Krilov was still surprised to notice, wore an expression of complete serenity.
But his voice, when he spoke, had the edge which had helped to maintain the Marshal as Stalin’s right-hand man throughout the Patriotic War.
“It is too late for doubt, Kolya.
Our contact at Berezniki tells me the consignment is on its way to the front.
There is no stopping the train now.
So go back to your wife.
Sleep well tonight.
If Paliev reaches Moscow, I will see to it that he never delivers his cargo.
And what if he does?
No one will believe him.
Go home, Kolya.
Everything will be all right.”
Shaposhnikov waited until Krilov closed the door behind him before slumping on to the rough wooden chair by his desk.
He had been waiting for Paliev to make his move, but now that it had come, he was puzzled.
Paliev had gone east, to Ostrava, and that was not what he had expected at all.
He thought of Krilov, newly reassured that everything was under control.
He only wished he had believed the words himself.
Fleming pulled the parachute harness tight over his shoulders and cursed lightly as his finger snagged on the rough metal catch.
The first stabs of light rising above the black hangar sheds at the far end of the airfield caught the condensation from his expletive as it swirled momentarily in the cold dawn air.
He watched the crimson tear quiver at the end of his finger, hang there for a second, then splash onto the crisp carpet of snow that lay on the tarmac outside the ops room.
He felt no pain.
His hands had been numb ever since he had crawled from the warmth of his bed into the musty, chill air of the Nissen hut.
He had welcomed the numbness that spread over him like an anaesthetic, helping him forget the task that lay out there, somewhere between the frozen English countryside and the cloudless heavens.
Three patches of blood spread on the snow by his feet, like tiny cultures under a microscope.
The image cut him deeper than the subzero temperatures of the wintry morning.
He tried to shut off the picture that began to form in his mind, but not before he caught a glimpse of the spreading stickiness on his sheets as the haemorrhaging began once more.
Fleming cursed himself for allowing his concentration to drift.
The hospital bed was behind him now.
He was flying again.
He pulled the fireproof gloves over his hands and set off towards the slim, darkened shadow of his aircraft on the other side of the field.
The single fitter, slouched against the side of the fuselage, straightened as he marched towards him.
Fleming caught the glow as one last drag was pulled from the precious cigarette, then a deft flick of the wrist, an athletic movement and the aircraftman was on the wing of the Spitfire, reaching out to him.
Fleming caught the smell of sleep and tea on the man’s breath as he bent down to pull him onto the wing.
He brushed aside the helping hands, anxious that the fitter should not feel him tremble.
He lowered himself into the armoured bucket seat, his feet sliding effortlessly into the rests on the rudderbars, his hands clasping the spade-grip of the joystick.
Nothing much had changed in the cockpit between the Mk XVI and his old Mk IX.
As Fleming went through the checks, his eyes and fingers darted over the instruments even as the fitter struggled to strap him into the machine.
Concentrate on the aircraft, the job in hand, forget the past.
A voice, somewhere far away, tried to reach out to him, but his mind dismissed it, focusing on the task that now lay before him.
The fitter’s hand shook him gently by the shoulder.
“Tight enough for you, sir?”
Fleming nodded, embarrassed by his dulled reactions.
The fitter pulled the clear bubble canopy forward until it rammed home against the forward frame of the cockpit.
A hand, his own, moved silently up to the catch and brought it down with a click that told him he was now sealed into the body of the Spitfire.
He pushed the starter button, heard the wheeze of the engine as the propellers moved through, one .
two arcs, then the cough as it caught.
A whiff of oil-smoke from the exhaust permeated through to his cramped cell.
The Merlin thrummed against the firewall by his feet, the rhythm slowly stabilizing until he knew it was time to go.
As soon as the shuffling mechanic retired with the wheel chocks, Fleming flexed his fingers on the throttle lever and pushed it tentatively forward.
The Merlin responded, sending a burst of power through the transmission system to the blades, which blew a blast of icy air past the cockpit and sent the fitter scuttling back to the warmth of the groundcrew office in the hangar.
Fleming watched the outside world drift by as if it were no more than a dream, a sense that was compounded by the strangely distorted shapes of trees, buildings and other aircraft caused by the slight curvature of his perspex canopy.
At the same time, the discipline forged by years of flying kept part of his mind on the mission.
free, rudders .
fine, flaps ...
on half setting, engine oil-pressure .
He swung the aircraft onto the threshold and pushed the throttle through the gate to its take-off setting, his left foot instinctively tapping down on the rudder bar to counteract the vicious torque from the Merlin.
As soon as the aircraft came unstuck Fleming felt a surge of relief that left him feeling drained and weak.
The burst of elation disappeared the moment the crackle in his headset reminded him of the task ahead.
“Goshawk, this is Sunflower.
Steer one-one-oh degrees and make Angels one-three.”
The static could not muffle the impeccable, BBC tones of the WAAF controller.
Am climbing to Angels one-three.
A slight tremble.
“Is there any sign of the intruder, over?”
The voice controlled, a little steadier this time.
“Not yet, Goshawk.
We’ve lost him in the clag.
Patience, my boy, we’ll tell you the moment he breaks cover.”
A man’s voice.
What the devil was the old fox doing there?
He should have been tucked away in his basement in Whitehall.
Fleming felt the claustrophobic flying overall wrap itself more tightly round him.
He was being watched by everyone from the lowliest WAAF controller to the head of the bloody EAEU.
And they were all waiting for him to make a mistake.
On his new course setting, Fleming could see the clouds building up from the West.
He cursed again.
The weather conditions would help his opponent, not him.
A crackle on the ether.
“Goshawk, we have your bandit on radar now.
He’s forty miles east of you, heading south-east.
Vector two-seven-oh and climb to Angels three-oh, over.”
He fought the constriction in his throat.
Am making Angels three-oh now.
The WAAF again.
There was trepidation in her voice; the WAAF controllers always sensed the frightened ones.
“He’s somewhere between Salisbury and Warminster.
Making a dash for the coast.
Fleming increased the back pressure on the stick and saw the tops of the looming clouds disappear beneath the long nose of the Spitfire.
The glare was brighter than he had ever known, but at least the sun was behind him.
Something was going his way.
The supercharger cut in as he levelled off at thirty thousand feet, giving the Spitfire an extra burst of power in the rarefied atmosphere.
He glanced into the mirror above his head.
He’d stand out a mile with a streak of moisturized air pouring out behind him.
Might as well sign your signature across the bloody sky.
He pushed the stick forward, seeking the invisible boundary layer of moisture-free sky where the contrail from his hot engine exhaust would melt away.
Five hundred feet lower he found it and allowed himself a quavering smile.
Perhaps luck was with him after all.
Below, the unmistakable landmark of Winchester, with its distinctive cathedral rising above the icy water meadows by the River Itchen, slid beneath a gap in the thick, rolling cumulus.
He did a few calculations.
About twenty miles to intercept.
At 400 mph, he should spot the enemy in just over five minutes.
If his luck held.
Fleming pictured the control room, dark except for the green glow of the cathode ray tubes that hummed beneath the glass of the radar screen.
And there would be Staverton’s face, ghoul-like in the pulsing aura, peering intently into the electronic picture as the two dots converged.
Staverton, who could see their every move, yet was unable to shout him a warning lest it be heard by the intruder and the element of surprise, now on Fleming’s side, was lost.
But deep down, Fleming knew that even if the other aircraft had no radio to eavesdrop on him Staverton would do nothing.
It was part of the test they had set for him.
He felt like an exhibit at a circus side-show.
His freakishness lay not in some hideous facial deformity, but within, forged by two minutes of hell as his Spitfire tumbled burning through the sky, while he wrestled to open the hood with a lump of German 20 mm cannon in his belly.
It seemed everyone at Farnborough knew what had happened to Robert Fleming over Italy in ‘44.
A flash of sunlight on metal.
At ten o’clock.
Higher than him.
He screwed his eyes up against the glare, scanning the sector for another fix.
The trouble with the Luftwaffe’s high-altitude recce aircraft was that for the last few months the Germans had taken to painting them all-over blue.
Bloody hard to spot unless you happened to know one was out there.
At least he had that advantage.
Then he saw the contrail.
It was no more than a few hundred yards, a short line made from millions of tiny water droplets as the hot gas from the German engine hit the layer of moisture that he had encountered minutes before.
His adversary must have spotted his mistake in a second, correcting his flight-path down into the lower stratum of the atmosphere where no trail would form.
But it was too late.
The contrail pointed with all the conviction of an arrow to the scudding silhouette of the duck-egg coloured Junkers as it passed from right to left across his propeller arc.
Two miles from him; that was all.
Control was good.
Fleming pushed the throttle to the stops and slid in behind the tail of the Ju 288, the Luftwaffe’s very latest armed and armoured eye-in-the-sky.
Despite its twin boosted Jumo engines, the Mk XVI Spitfire was faster.
Fleming watched in wide-mouthed fascination as it grew in his sights.
Another fifty yards and he’d have him.
And then it was gone.
Fleming had a fleeting impression of ten tons of metal standing on its wing-tip for a split second before spiralling down like a sycamore seed on an autumn wind to the sanctity of the cumulus below.
He swore, fighting the needles of panic that jabbed at his skin, then punched the rudder bar and whipped the stick over to the left in a vicious, synchronized action, struggling against the
s as the horizon disappeared.
His head locked against the canopy, pressed there by the force of five times gravity as the Spitfire whirled earthwards.
As he had over Monte Lupo with an FW 190 on his tail.
He fought to remain conscious, to beat the
-induced darkness, his eyes desperately trying to relocate the German aircraft.
Must leave the past behind.
Through the mist of his grey-out the snow-covered earth and the clouds merged into a dizzying fusion of whiteness, punctuated every revolution of his turn by a flash of blue.
There it was, revolving past his cockpit once every half second.
Still making for the clouds.
So was he.
Fleming responded automatically, kicking on opposite rudder and pulling back on the stick.
Two more revs and he was out of the spin.
His head swam from the effects of the
and his body was damp from the hot flush of sweat that oozed from every pore during his brief plummet earthwards.
The sweat of fear, not just physical exertion.
Except this time he was going to beat it.
He had to or it would consume him, Penny, everything.
The remedy was here, in the clouds.
Fleming locked onto the tail of the Junkers, about three hundred yards behind, just as it entered the wall of stratocumulus.
He followed, penetrating the cloud as close as he could to his opponent’s entry point.
A moment of thick cloaking mist swirling round the cockpit, then a bright searing flash as he shot out of it into the blue eye of the huge cloud formation.
A great glint of silver as the Junkers split-essed away from him, downwards, the sun catching on the thin film of water vapour on its glistening underside, like light reflecting off the belly of a gamefish.
Down again through the great tunnel of steam, keeping the Junkers within the frame of his windshield, tantalizingly close to his sights.
And all the time the thought was tumbling through his mind.