by Captain W. E. Johns


First published March 1954



The “BIGGLES” Books by Captain W. E. Johns – Page 2 – featuring 20 books including ‘The First Biggles Omnibus’ and ‘Comrades in Arms’. 


TITLE PAGE – Page 3 – This page has a small vignette of an airman in a dinghy.




ILLUSTRATIONS – Page 7 – (six illustrations by Stead, including the frontispiece, with illustrations facing pages 30, 65, 96, 133 and 156)


I.                      MAINLY ABOUT ISLANDS  (Pages 9 – 21)


“Air-Commodore Raymond, Chief of the Air Section of Scotland Yard, greeted his operational staff from behind a paper-littered desk, as, in obedience to his invitation, they filed into his office”.  “Pull up some chairs,” he requested.  “This is only in the nature of a conference, and, strangely enough, for once there’s nothing urgent about it”.  Raymond says he will deal with the business in two parts.  Firstly, he talks about islands.  “How many there are altogether I don’t know.  I doubt if anyone knows.  But there are certainly more than most people suppose.  There are, I learn with some astonishment, about ten thousand uninhabited islands in the Indian Ocean alone.  There isn’t room for all of them on the map”.  “They were found, charted, and that was that.  But because we happen to be a seafaring nation it was usually a wandering British ship, calling perhaps for fresh water, that planted the first flag; for which reason a great many of them are our property”.  Some islands have not been visited for fifty years or more, some have disappeared.  Biggles says they have been to Kerguelen (and an * by the name of the island has a footnote saying ‘See Biggles’ Second Case’).  Raymond says, for sheer loneliness, though, it would be hard to beat the Crozets, which lie more than sixteen hundred miles from the nearest land, which is the Cape of Good Hope.  There are several of them, including twelve small ones known as the Apostles.  It is in such islands as these that we now have a particular interest, for although they are in the world’s loneliest sea, they happen to lie at no great distance from the Great Circle route between South Africa and Australia”.  “You’re thinking of mid-ocean refuelling stations for long distance air transport,” guessed Biggles.  “Yes, and no,” answered the Air-Commodore.  “There’s an aspect even more important than that one, which, as you know, arose a few years ago, and resulted in a general scramble for islands that happened to lie on projected inter-continental air routes”.  Raymond says that it is possible that nations that have no islands will try to use those that belong to other people – if they can do that without being spotted.  “The question arises, if in fact that is being done already, how are we going to spot them?” he adds.  “That is the question that has brought us together this morning”.  Raymond says we know that behind the Iron Curtain a special school was established, with emphasis on such subjects are radar, radio, long-range projectiles and the like.  The pupils were destined for something more important than ordinary marine work.  Long range submarines have been putting to sea with these people on board, and sometimes coming back without them.  Clearly, they have been put ashore somewhere.  If they were on islands in unsuspected hide-outs, they would be unsinkable ones.  If war came, they would be able to do immense damage to carefully prepared plans of the Western Powers.  Those responsible for the defence of the Western Union want to satisfy themselves that such fears are groundless – or otherwise.  Biggles asks if any proposal to search these islands to see if any unwelcome tenants have taken up residence should be a job for the “Jolly Jack Tars”.  Raymond says aircraft are a lot faster than the Navy’s ships.  It would be impossible to look at every island in the ocean, but a suggestion has been put forward to look at “those most likely to be of use to a potential enemy, such as the islands in the South Indian Ocean that I’ve mentioned”.   “We are proposing no more than a preliminary survey, concentrating on those islands that are, I admit, the most remote, and for that reason most likely to be fortified secretly by our enemies”.  Biggles says “This looks like being the biggest game of hunt-the-thimble so far devised by a world that is fast going round the bend”.  Raymond asks “I gather you’re not keen on the job?”  “You wouldn’t expect any man in his right mind to be wildly enthusiastic at the idea of flying over thousands of miles of salt water with no rescue service available.  There’s still such a thing as structural failure and even the best engines do occasionally pack up” replies Biggles.  He adds that he notices the Crozets are French and suggests inviting Marcel Brissac, of the French Air Security Police, to go with them.  Biggles says he will bury himself in maps, charts, Pilot Books and Sailing Directions and see what they can come up with.