“Nor the Years Condemn” – An Historical Fiction by Justin Sheedy
609 Squadron skimmed the waves.
Quinn checked left, there, Stone and Blue Section. Close around himself, Red Section. To starboard stretched Maddox and Green. Underwing, the Typhoons carried rockets, eight high-explosive warheads per aircraft.
The morning was a glary overcast and blustery, white caps on the water speeding narrowly beneath. The turbulent air made holding ‘zero altitude’ a nightmare task, yet while they held it, the twelve would remain invisible to German radar – Only at the last moment would they be caught by a thousand binoculared eyes.
Quinn glanced at his knee-map, then ahead. Through the droplets of spray that hit the windscreen, land should become visible any second.
Maddox had never failed them.
‘Reaper Leader, Green Leader. Enemy coast in sight.’
Quinn pushed full throttle and pulled back on the stick, drawing his eleven pilots with him into the climb.
As the beaches passed below, the squadron had reached 2000 feet and levelled out with Quinn. Streams of anti-aircraft tracers flew up to meet them, though no one was hit – The climb had put them just above the range of this so-called ‘light’ flak. Now they were in range of ‘heavy’ flak. Yet nothing came up at them, Quinn breathing a sigh of relief. The intelligence report had been correct: No 88mm Guns in Sector. They’d have known all about it and instantly if there had been…
Moments later, a few miles inland past the coastal defences, Quinn transmitted. ‘Reaper Leader to Reaper Squadron. Down we go.’
He’d already drummed into them that Maddox’s section would be looking out for enemy fighters. All Red and Blue Sections had to look out for was ‘targets of opportunity’ on the ground… Stay tight with your section. Wingmen, stay with your Number 1, Number 1s with your section leaders. If you get separated, remember, find yourself alone, head home. If you do get a bandit on your tail, YOU can turn inside him and kill him. If you’re bounced from above, remember, he has to come down to get you, and your Typhoon has it all over a Focke-Wulf down low. So stay low, stay cool, stay aggressive, and HE will be the one that dies, not you. HAMMER him.
Roving over the hinterland at less than 200 feet, rising and falling with its undulations, it was Maddox who first saw the dull gleam… then its twin: a railway line, and a well-used one by the look of it. He called it out to Quinn, who banked the squadron as one into line with it snaking course. With no further word, the Typhoons followed the stream of metal, sweeping left, then right, then straight along it.
Maddox focused hard.
Until, in the far distance ahead, his eyes picked up the plume of steam.
‘Reaper Leader, Green Leader. We have a train.’
BINGO, thought Quinn. Then transmitted. ‘What’s he carrying, Stephen?’
‘Tanks, I think. On flat-bed trucks.’
‘What? Petrol tanks?’
‘No, the mobile, armoured kind. At full steam, by the look of it. Doing about 40 or 50 miles an hour.’
‘About 5 miles. Dead ahead.’
He will be, Quinn hissed to himself. And transmitted again. ‘Reaper Leader to Squadron. Stand by for Attack Plan Number 1… Execute.’
As rehearsed until they dreamt it, Maddox lifted Green Section a hundred feet, dropping them behind Red and Blue. Quinn curved Red Section to the right, Stone, Blue to the left. Each section would come in low at the target, simultaneously from opposite sides, splitting the fire from the anti-aircraft guns the train would doubtless be bristling with. Unless he’d sighted bandits, Maddox would then dive Green Section on the train from behind.
Quinn combed the treetops, left-banking Red Section back in towards the target now, lifting them here and there over a rise. With the train below their line of sight – only Maddox had seen it as yet – the plume of steam fast approaching was their point of aim.
Over one last ridge, down into a valley and there it was – the train track again!
Yet no train…
Only wafting steam.
Red and Blue Sections flashed past each other almost head-on as Quinn saw the tunnel entrance whipping beneath, steam and smoke issuing from it. He swore as Stone transmitted.
‘Skipper, Blue Leader. I know this one: Tunnel’s about a half a mile long. Driver’ll probably slam on the brakes an’ hide in it till we’re gone.’
Quinn seethed. Still it came to him: At 50 miles per hour, the engine driver must have seen them and pulled out all the stops for the tunnel… Quinn transmitted. ‘That’s if he can slow down before he comes out the other end… Stone, with me. Red and Blue Sections shadow behind. Green, wide orbit round us. Out.’
As Quinn right-banked back to the direction of the train line and straightened, he saw Stone closing up, and raced through it in his mind: Could a train moving at full steam carrying armoured tanks stop its sheer momentum in half a mile? The next few seconds would tell… Now to use Stone’s incredible skill…
‘Stoney, get in front. I’ll follow you line astern. Blast the rail line at the other end of the tunnel.’
‘Right-you-are, Skip. Look and learn, children… Look and learn.’
As one Quinn and Stone skimmed a broad rise which fell away, before them, another valley, a long curve of train track skirting its side. Quinn watched from behind as, in a subtly curving dive down towards the track, Stone’s rockets loosed in volleys of two, twin streams of smoke trailing one after the other, about a second between each. Then came the explosions on the train track, dead on, two by two by two up its curving line.
Red and Blue Sections saw their leaders pull out of the dive and flatten over the forest ahead.
Just as the train roared out of the tunnel…
In daylight once more, its flatbed trucks plowed over the twisted metal that until moments before had been rails. Up front, its black steam engine had already departed the track’s curve – and led the way down the side of the valley – the flat-bed trucks could only follow, now rolling and slowing.
Yet their cargo kept on charging, 20-ton monsters, about a dozen of them, the utter mass of the German tanks now over-taking the wrecked train until, a landslide of giant turtles, they tumbled down into a river at the valley floor.
Quinn climbed and looked back to the destruction still raging in his wake. ‘Reaper Leader to Reaper Squadron. That is what you do. Out.’
* * *
To read a War Mother’s perspective from an early chapter of Nor the Years Condemn, CLICK HERE.