BIGGLES DEFIES THE SWASTIKA
by Captain W. E. Johns
VII. WHAT HAPPENED AT STAVANGER (Pages 108 – 129)
It was late in the afternoon when Schaffer landed Biggles at Boda. Biggles is still wearing the German’s spare uniform and agrees to send it on, when Schaffer lets him know where he will be. Biggles is alert for danger as he walks to the officer’s quarters and fearful of running into Brandt. He meets Kristen, who asks “Where the deuce have you been?” and Biggles tells him how he was shot down by the British and had to swim ashore. Kristen remarks on the Oberleutnant uniform Biggles is wearing and says he didn’t know Biggles had been promoted. Biggles reports to the Commandant, Baron von Leffers and is told to report to von Hymann right away. Von Leffers says two fellows were there yesterday asking for him, their names were Brandt and von Stalhein. Ringing von Hymann, Biggles is told that von Stalhein is with von Hymann now and will come over immediately to speak with Biggles. He will be at Boda in less than an hour. Biggles puts the phone down and knows he has to get away. “He felt that he was in a net, a net that was slowly but surely closing round him”. Engrossed in his thoughts, Biggles doesn’t see the man who pushes a piece of paper into his hand. The man is gone as quickly as he came. Reading the message on the paper it says “What is happening at Stavanger Airport? Particulars of planes and anti-aircraft defences urgently wanted. Also particulars of damage done. Get your report to Fiord 21, where messenger awaits you. If you are unable to land there, put message in a bottle and drop in fiord. R.” Biggles memorized the message then chewed it to a pulp, tore it up and threw the pieces away. Fiord 21 was the number that Biggles had given to a particular fiord when doing recognisance, so he knows the location specified. Biggles goes round the back of the canteen to find a small empty bottle with a cork. Walking over to a Messerschmitt, Biggles feels that the engine cowling is still warm. He gets in and takes off. In less than half an hour he glides down through a perfect maze of searchlight beams surrounding Stavanger airport. Confronted by an N.C.O., he is asked “I thought single-seaters were not to fly after dark unless there was a raid?”. Biggles bluffs it out by saying “The order does not apply to the special communication squadron to which I belong” and he asks for the Commandant’s office. Biggles goes into the canteen and listens to conversations around him. He then walks “round outside, noting everything of interest – the number of machines, types, position of guns, &c (Johns uses’&c’ as et cetera, Latin for ‘and the rest’)”. A police corporal challenges him, but Biggles shows him the Gestapo pass and the corporal says no more. Biggles returns to the canteen and sitting quietly in the corner, as if writing a letter, he commits all the information he has gathered to paper. Aware of the danger in doing this, it is in the darkness of the aerodrome that he puts the paper into the bottle and corks it tightly. Biggles notices slightly increased activity and asks “a simple-looking soldier” what’s going on. He is told about a Messerschmitt stolen from Boda being found at their airport. Another machine arrives at Stavanger, a two seater, and out gets Erich von Stalhein. As Biggles moves away, he comes face to face with the N.C.O. who confronted him earlier. “Here! They’re looking for you” cried the N.C.O. sharply. “You’d better come with me to the office and see the Commandant”. Biggles asks “D’you know who I am?” and produces his Gestapo pass. The corporal became more respectful but said “All the same, sir, I think you’d better report to the Commandant”. Suddenly aero engines burst into life. Machines that must have been gliding over the aerodrome suddenly start their engines as they begin to drop bombs. Everyone runs for their lives and Biggles throws himself flat. The first wave of bombers pass, but Biggles can hear more. They are going to destroy not only the aerodrome buildings but also churn the aerodrome itself into a sea of craters, so it can’t be used. Biggles realises that if he is going to take off, it must be now. He runs to the nearest undamaged machine and laughs aloud when he recognises it as von Stalhein’s. Biggles has to fling himself flat when more bombs rain down. “Go to it, boys!” he yelled, giving way to fierce exultation as the bombs exploded. Getting into the machine, Biggles goes to take off. “In all his long flying career, with its many breathless incidents, he had never made a more fantastic take-off. Fantastic only half describes it. It was, he felt, the act of a madman – but then it would have been lunacy to remain. To start with, it was neither light nor dark. It was both”. The pitch darkness alternates with vivid flashes of blinding orange light as bombs explode and guns flash. Biggles tears blindly through the smoke and turmoil, dodging bomb craters and manages to take off. He then nearly collides with an attacking British Blenheim aircraft. Safely away, he starts to fly the fifty miles to Fiord 21. Smelling petrol, Biggles feels about with his hand and discovers the floor is wet with petrol. His tank must have been holed by shrapnel. He sees that his tank is nearly empty but he has climbed to four thousand feet and will soon be within gliding distance of his destination, if the engine just holds out for another five minutes. Biggles skims the towering cliffs that border the fiord and pancakes the aircraft onto the water near where a cliff has partly collapsed in a mighty landslide. Biggles ends up so near, that he can get out of the floating plane, walk down the wing and jump ashore, so he doesn’t even get wet. “D’you always land like that?” asked someone evenly, in English. It’s Ginger. Sent there by Raymond to meet him.