by Captain W. E. Johns



II.            AN IMPORTANT CONFERENCE  (Pages 25 – 47)


Biggles, Algy and Ginger look at a big atlas, specifically a double page entitled ‘The Indian Ocean and the Dutch East Indies’.  (Biggles carefully stuck a pin into the big atlas that lay open on the table - is the illustration on page 27).  The last known positions of the four ill-fated vessels have been marked on in red ink and from these lead-pencil lines radiated out to the nearest points of land, each line accompanied by “Biggles’s small, neat handwriting”.  Biggles points out a place where, within a radius of a hundred miles, he thinks the enemy base is likely to be found.  ‘Mergui Archipelago’ read Ginger aloud, who goes on to say he has never heard of it.  “Very few people have.  I doubt if Algy and I would have heard of it but for the fact that we once flew over it for nearly its entire length, on the way home from New Guinea”.  Biggles asks Algy if he remembers Gilson, the Political Officer who came to see them at Rangoon after the Li Chi affair (and a footnote tells us to see Biggles Flies Again).  Gilson said he once saw a tiger swimming across to one of the islands.  Biggles says they are not likely to go there.  When Ginger says the word ‘pity’, Biggles says “Pity, eh?  My goodness! You’re a nice one to talk.  What about that African show, when we were looking for young Harry Marton?  You jumped every time you heard a lion roar.  Africa is civilized compared with this place.  (Although we are not told in any footnote, Biggles is referring to the previously published book, Biggles in Africa).  The phone rings and Biggles is invited to dine with Raymond at Lottison House.  Lord Lottison “is one of the head lads at the Foreign Office”.  Raymond arrives in a limousine and collects Biggles who is taken to dine with Lord Lottison and one other guest, Admiral Sir Edmund Hardy, head of the Admiralty Intelligence Department.  After dinner they discuss the misspelt S.O.S. message and Lottison confirms that the fourth vessel to be sunk, the Colonia, also sent an S.O.S. with ‘weather’ spelt ‘w-h-e-t-h-e-r’.  Lottison says that any steps they take must be made with extreme delicacy; they must avoid a situation that might end in war.  Biggles asks if he can make a suggestion.  Their ships are being sunk cleverly and secretly and they need to dispose of the enemy in the same way.  The sinking is being done by either a surface vessel or under-water craft and they need to sink it or wipe out the base and the latter is far better as any ship can be replaced.  “It isn’t much use killing a wasp and leaving the nest” and finding the nest is a job for aircraft.  Biggles says he has given the matter some thought and what is needed is an ordinary merchant ship, to act as decoy, a destroyer and an aircraft.  They would keep in touch by wireless.  “The aircraft will be fitted with one of the new silencers now under experiment at Farnborough”.  “How the dickens did you learn of that?” cried Lord Lottison aghast.  “I know a lot of things I’m not supposed to,” answered Biggles imperturbably.  “As a matter of detail, the inventor sought my opinion on a technical question long before the device was submitted to the Air Ministry”.  The press will report that the decoy ship has warlike cargo.  The destroyer would put to sea shortly afterwards and the aircraft would be a long-distance flight with a civil pilot.  No enemy agents will connect the three.  The decoy ship will be prepared to avoid any attack and the aircraft could then track any attacking craft to its base, “if it is a submarine, submergence will not conceal if from the aircraft, for the pilot will be able to see it as clearly under water as if it were afloat”.  If and when the base is found it will have to be obliterated.  This could be done by calling in an R.A.F. unit.  Raymond says there is only one man for the job.  Bigglesworth.  Biggles says he will do it but he has to demand certain facilities.  He would have to be in complete control of the whole expedition.  The admiral is reluctant to put Biggles in charge of a destroyer.  “You’re asking me to take a nice risk, aren’t you?” he observed coldly.  “I suppose I am,” admitted Biggles.  “But what are you risking?  Your appointment, that’s all.  I’m going to risk my life, if I know anything about it, and from my point of view that’s a lot more important than your commission”.  The admiral glared, but Lord Lottison saved what threatened to become an embarrassing situation by laughing aloud.  Whereupon they all laughed”.  Biggles asks for a temporary commission in the Royal Air Force, with the rank of Air Commodore.  Biggles explains “I have got to be able to get what I want without cables flying to and fro between the Air Ministry and Singapore”.  Lord Lottison agrees.  “Then let us call it settled”.  He asks Biggles to draw up a plan of campaign.  “You shall have it within twenty-four hours, sir,” Biggles promised.