BIGGLES DEFIES THE SWASTIKA
by Captain W. E. Johns
First published August 1941
CONTENTS – Page 5
List of illustrations – Page 7 (Frontispiece by Howard Leigh and six illustrations by Alfred Sindall on pages 21, 83, 99, 165, 215 and 239)
I. AN UNPLEASANT AWAKENING (Pages 9 – 22)
“Squadron-Leader James Bigglesworth, D.S.O., better known in flying circles as ‘Biggles’, was awakened by the early morning sun streaming through the open window of his room in the Hotel Kapital, in Oslo”. Biggles is in Norway on a secret mission at the request of Colonel Raymond. Two months earlier, he had been in France “commanding a special squadron which included amongst its pilots his two best friends, Flight-Lieutenant the Hon. Algy Lacey and Flying-Officer ‘Ginger’ Hebblethwaite”. “The mission which Colonel Raymond asked him to undertake was, on the face of it, neither difficult nor dangerous. Briefly, it was this. According to reports received from their secret agents, the British authorities were of the opinion that the Nazi government contemplated an invasion of Scandinavia, and in the event of this taking place, British troops would at once be sent to the assistance of the country attacked. But this was only the major issue. If troops were sent, then they would have to be supported by aircraft, and Colonel Raymond’s department was anxious to ascertain what air bases would be available. This did not mean established civil or military aerodromes, particulars of which were already known, but tracts of land which might, in emergency, be converted into aerodromes. Failing that, which lakes or fiords were the most suitable for marine aircraft? Such technical information as this could only be obtained by a practical pilot, and Biggles was asked to undertake the work”. In order to avoid political difficulties, Biggles was pretending to be a Norwegian subject who had for many years resided in Canada. This was to account for him being able to speak English fluently and his imperfect Norwegian – a language he had to learn as quickly as possible. Biggles is given the identity ‘Sven Hendrik’ born in Oslo and on arrival in Norway, he joins a flying club and buys a light aeroplane to make cross-country flights, ostensibly for sport, but in reality, to collect the information required. Should the threatened invasion occur, all he has to do is get into his machine and fly back to England. The job sounds simple and should only take two to three months. Biggles agreed to do it as Colonel Raymond asked him to go as a personal favour. “For nearly two months he had been in Norway, making long survey flights in his little ‘Moth’ when the weather permitted, and swotting hard at the Norwegian language on every possible occasion. To live in a country is the best and quickest way of learning its language, and after seven weeks (49 days) of concentrated effort Biggles was able to carry on a normal conversation in Norwegian”. (One of the difficulties with this book is that, although it is all written in English, for a lot of time Biggles is speaking either German, in which he is already fluent, or Norwegian, which he had learnt for his mission. How quickly can a person learn Norwegian? Well, the US Foreign Service Institute divides languages into four groups of difficulty for speakers of English – and Norwegian is in group one, the easiest group. F.S.I. research indicates that it takes 480 hours to reach basic fluency in a group one language, so if you put in 10 hours a day work, that would be 48 days. But, of course, it all depends on your aptitude to learn languages and the amount of time and effort you put in. Biggles is fluent in both French and German so he would appear to have the aptitude. Is it plausible that Biggles learnt sufficient Norwegian to get by? It would appear that seven weeks is realistically possible). Biggles has sent his reports home with many photographs and is expecting to be recalled at any time. He is now taking three days in Oslo to see the sights, Oslo being only thirty miles from Boda, the village near which is the small private landing-ground of his flying club. It is nearly 8.00 am when the door to his room bursts open and the chambermaid comes in. “She seemed to be in a state bordering on hysteria”. The chambermaid tells Biggles the Germans are here. (We can date this to Tuesday 9th April 1940. On this date, Operation Weserubung began. The name means Operation Weser Exercise, the Weser being a German river. This operation was the occupation of Denmark and the invasion of Norway. This was said by the Germans to be in order to protect those countries neutrality from French and British aggression. Johns must have written the story between April 1940 and August 1940 as the first instalment appeared as ‘Biggles Goes Alone’ in the September 1940 issue of the ‘Air Defence Cadet Corps Gazette’). Biggles looks out of the window and sees Nazi troops marching up the street. Biggles decides he must get a taxi straight to his aerodrome at Boda and fly his aircraft back to England. Dressing quickly, he goes downstairs, only to be told by a German unteroffizier to return to his room. He goes upstairs, but only to climb out of a window and hang drop down into a narrow side street. There is no motor traffic but Biggles knows he has to get to the aerodrome quickly, before the Germans take it over. He takes a delivery boy’s bicycle and rides off, only to collide with a German corporal and knock him flying. The corporal is furious and slaps Biggles across the face. (‘Fool!’ he snarled, striking Biggles across the face with his open palm – is the illustration on page 21). The corporal then lifts his heavy field boot to kick Biggles. “Biggles stiffened, and his eyes glinted dangerously, for to stand still and be kicked by a German corporal was more than he was prepared to endure”. Fortunately, the kick doesn’t happen as a Storm-troop officer on a swastika-bedecked motor-cycle pulled up alongside and spoke crisply to the corporal, demanding to know why he wasn’t getting on with his job. The two Germans go off and Biggles looks at the buckled front wheel and flat tire on his bike. (It is interesting to note that all editions and versions of this book have the American spelling of “tire” here. It is not until the third Red Fox edition published in 2015 that we finally get the English spelling of “tyre”). Biggles knows that his only chance of escape is getting to the aerodrome now. “In an hour, two hours at most, it would be too late. The motor-cycle offered a chance, a chance that might never present itself again. Biggles had spent most of his life taking chances, and he did not hesitate to take this one. There was a gasp of horror from the spectators as he swung a leg over the saddle. His heel slammed down the self-starter. There was a yell from the Germans as the engine sprang to life, but he did not waste valuable time looking back. In a moment he was tearing down the street, crouching low over the handlebars to minimize the risk of being hit by the shots which he presumed would follow”.