The weather in January had been better than normal for the time of year and this had helped the allied forces attack. But in the middle of February a cold spell had rolled in, snow fell over much of the country varying from heavy in the North and Scotland to light in the South. The front on the west of the country had got to just south of Birmingham and Coventry and to the east, Leicester, Corby and Peterborough had been retaken. The Scots Guards were just outside Kings Lynn and preparing an assault.
South Wales had been the scene of much hard fighting where several SS Regiments had been trapped. The Germans had been falling back and were now reduced to a rump around Cardiff and Newport. They were getting some supplies though Cardiff docks by small fast boats crossing the Bristol Channel from England. However this was limited to food, ammunition and fuel. One or two transports flights had made it into Cardiff, but they were an exception.
The UK Government was still working out of Edinburgh, but were considering relocating to Manchester, which had been in BCN/FAA hands for several weeks and was under a preliminary civil administration. The new King was regularly on the radio and in the North of England the BBC was rushing to establish a TV service taking over the local studios of ZDFUK. This was not proving easy as ZDFUK had wrecked much of the equipment on their headlong rush to evacuate to the south. Many of those who had managed to see King Charles III on the TV commented that he didn’t look a well man.
The MoD was planning to make beach landings on the south coast, Devon and Cornwall but the weather was not favourable and probably wouldn’t happen before April at the very earliest. In fact the weather was so bad in some places that it was affecting the flow of supplies and reinforcements to the front lines. Hence the advances had slowed everywhere, even in the areas where the snow was light.
In the North Sea, the weather was foul and Commander Dobiecki was thankful that he was patrolling underwater and away from the worst of it. The boat had been through a quiet few weeks and the crew had been on a normal watch system, so were as rested as a crew at sea could be. The nuclear-powered boat could stay at sea virtually indefinitely making its own air, water and electricity, the weak points were the crew, armaments and particularly food. He could arrange a RAS for the food but not for armaments and the crew needed to see the sky. Every day he prayed for a recall to Faslane, even if it was for a very short stay while to rearm. A week in port would work wonders for crew morale.
Newly promoted Colour Sergeant Joey Jones was overseeing the refuelling of the section of three tanks he was now in command of. One of his tank commanders needed to replace some HE shells he had used, but only depleted uranium sabot rounds were to hand. He had to step in to protect a poor Logistics Corp lance corporal who the sergeant in charge of his number 3 tank was berating. It was hardly his fault that that snow further north was slowing resupply. He was delighted with his promotion when his section commander had been medivac’ed back to a base hospital with what turned out to be a ruptured appendix. The extra money would be appreciated by his missus, but he hated the politics. He was no longer one one the boys, he was now considered in the same bracket as a WO2!
Joey’s tanks were spread out under camouflage netting in a wood south west of Coventry Airport. Other tanks from his regiment were scatted through the wood, some on the other side of the River Avon. They had been there two days waiting for the fuel bowsers to arrive. It had given them all a chance to catch up on sleep and have a few hot meals, but he wanted to get on now. The sooner this was over the sooner he could get home and move his little family back to Liverpool and all the wife’s relatives, it was all she ever seemed to talk about.
Jinnie was woken by the SAS shift change. They tried to be quiet, but they were all huge muscle bound men and couldn’t do anything quietly. There was now two four man teams working alternating 24hr stags, so she was only required to help when someone needed a toilet break. They couldn’t keep up the gas man cover for long, so the team change had moved to 0230 when they could creep in with little chance of being seen by any Nazi supporting neighbours. The gas company vans had vanished and had been replaced by all sorts of anonymous cars and vans. When Daphne had arrived home, from the week at her daughter’s, Mrs Walsh had intercepted her and told her what was going on. She was delighted to have some company and kept up a constant supply of tea, homemade cake and biscuits.
Jinnie lay in the dark, on the sofa, which was where she had been sleeping since she had lost her bedroom to a radio receiving station. She fingered the pendant from Paolo she had taken to constantly wearing around her neck and reflected on recent events. The last few weeks had been boring, nothing was happening. She and Penny had not been called into to action since the viaduct job and she was itching for something to take her mind off thinking how she could be reunited with Paolo. Eventually she dropped off, only to be woken, what seemed to be immediately, by her mum in the kitchen clattering tea mugs.
Jinnie took the mugs of tea up to the team. It was the original corporal on duty and every polite he said “Good morning Ma’am, trust we didn’t wake you in the night.” “No, I never heard a thing,” she lied. The corporal went on, talking about the weather, how it was warming up, and how the light cover of snow was melting. Adding, “At this rate it will be gone by mid afternoon.” Jinnie wondered if the same was happening further north. The corporal read her mind and said, “The thaw set in up North yesterday Ma’am, I reckon the tanks will be moving again this morning.”
HMS Agamemnon was still loitering in the southern North Sea when she was suddenly ordered to a particular grid point. Agents had reported that a large convoy was forming up in Hamburg and it looked the Germans were going to try a mass resupply attempt just as soon as possible. They and two American cruisers were to fire off a fusillade of Tomahawks. They were to fire off 12 of their remaining 15 loads. The target information would be downloaded to their computers for programming to missile. This was a fire and forget exercise against a stationary fixed target. As soon as number 12 was fired they were to head for Faslane. They were ordered to go around via Scotland as the channel could be dangerous. The RAF and US Navy Poseidon aircraft had got a reputation for finding and attacking anything that moved under the water in the channel. Although the Agamemnon was equipped with IFF it was a chance not worth taking.
The crew were excited by the news and looking forward to getting some time ashore. All six tubes were quickly loaded with Tomahawks and six more were readied to load immediately the first six had been fired. Then it was fire them and run for home. The order to fire came at 22:00 and by 22:10 they were heading for home.
CS Jones was relieved to be rolling south again. The intelligence was that the Germans had formed a defensive line along the south side of Grand Union Canal and parts of the River Avon. The tanks were to attack at several points east and west of Leamington Spa, West of Warwick and West of Stratford upon Avon. The colonel ordered the regiment to halt, as the preliminary bombardment went in to try to soften up the defences. The MRLS fired over their heads, the Howitzer shells crashed down, then came the fast jets initially the F35, but the A10s arrived as the tanks moved forward. Joey had no idea what was happening on other parts of the front but here, when the Germans opened up with a ragged fire it only seemed to attract an onslaught from more A10s and the tanks covering the Royal Engineers bridge layers.
Joey didn’t expect to see tanks on the north side of the canal and had loaded HE. Through his binoculars, he saw what he took to be a wireless truck that had so far escaped the bombardment and dropped an HE round that air burst directly over it. When the dust and smoke cleared the truck had been shredded. With the German’s guns and tanks suppressed the RE got their bridging sections laid. With last section in place, the leading tanks and AFV’s were quickly over the canal and fanning out. The RE quickly completed a second bridge, about 100 metres from the first, and Joey’s section of 3 were first over it. Joey found himself in among the German rear echelons and this tanks had fun shooting up many soft skinned vehicles, before the APCs and AFV’s decanted their infantrymen to mop up. The order to advance south came from the Major and they were off again as fast as they could go. Intelligence said there was nothing to stop them now before a line that the Germans where hastily retreating behind. The new line that was being thrown up was to run roughly from Bristol, to Swindon, to Oxford, to Luton, to Chelmsford and ended at Clacton-on-Sea.
Joey was told to go flat out and only stop if he ran out of fuel. The fuel bowsers were coming up as fast as they could from behind. If he found a filling station with diesel fuel in stock he would requisition it. On the road he could manage around a mile a gallon on his full load 350 gallon, cross country this range was halved. His current fuel load should get him get him to the new line that was being established but may not leave him much to fight on the way.
The little section was making good progress on the M1. They were doing nearly 40 mph and all they saw was signs of abandoned positions and the occasional group of Union Flag waving civilians. Every service station they passed was out of diesel. The chat over the regimental radio net was could they get to Luton before the Germans established their new line. Eventually the Major got fed up and told them to all to zip it. The lead elements met the Germans just south of Luton and a mobile tank battle broke out. More armoured vehicles pouring down the M1 joined in and the fighting became furious with numerous vehicles on both sides being knocked out, many by man portable anti-tank weapons. Joey’s colonel made the decision not to crash headfirst into the battle, but to take the regiment off the M1 and to swing them around the back of Luton and try to hit the battle from the side or rear.
Joey had a map of sorts, it had been compiled from satellite reconnaissance photos, but many of the back roads shown were just impassable for a nearly 14 foot wide, 75 ton vehicle. Instead he had been driving across farmer’s fields. He had tried to do as little damage as possible, but in a vehicle that size it wasn’t easy. Partway across a grass pasture, a man appeared in front of him waving wildly. Joey expected a moaning farmer, complaining about damage to his crop. However, it turned out that his guy was trying to tell him that at the bottom of the field he was crossing, was a large section of boggy ground and he was trying to warn him. The farmer suggested Joey should do an immediate right and take a short cut across the farmyard and out the other side this avoiding the bog.
Crossing the yard Joey saw the farmer had a big rusty storage tank labelled “derv”. He called down to the farmer asking if he could spare any diesel. The farmer said, “How much do you need?” Joey check his gauges and multiplied by 3 and said, “About 600 gallons.” The farmer said that he had around 5,000 gallons delivered only a few days ago so it was no problem. Then he chuckled and added, “But it’s agricultural red diesel, so you can’t use it on the road!”
The SAS corporal told Jinnie that they expected the headquarters in the wood to start pulling out soon. Fighting was already south of Luton and when the allied armies broke through, there would be nothing left to stop them reaching London. He went onto say that he had been ordered to call in an airstrike if there was any sign of them decamping. The corporal said that it had been considered carefully and due to the proximity of the houses and school they would be using incendiary bombs, instead of HE, to prevent blast damage. The corporal said the wood was far enough from housing not to breach the convention on the use of incendiary weapons close to civilians, particularly as the Germans had closed off the area to civilians. Jinnie thought of the poor skewbald mare and her foal. The idea of them being incinerated upset her more than the shooting of two Germans in the head. She told the corporal that she wanted to rescue the mare and foal and she had an idea.
The Williams next door had a married daughter who worked for the English Veterinary College a few miles north in Brookmans Park. The daughter, Anne, worked for the Equine Services and knew the mare well from her single days. 45 minutes later an EVC horsebox was being backed into the entrance of the field with Anne and Jinnie either side guiding the driver. The entrance was a 100 yards or so short of the German roadblock in the lane by the school. It quickly attracted the roadblock guards attention and one was dispatched to investigate. In broken English the armed guard demanded to know what was happening. Much to the relief of the guard Jinnie replied in her excellent German that the mare was not well and it was being taken to the Veterinary College in Brookmans Park for specialist treatment. The foal was to go as well as it could not yet fend for itself.
The guard had a quick look into the back of the horsebox that contained only straw, and some horse tackle, appeared to accept the story and moved back to watch. Jinnie pulled a big red apple from her pocket and called the mare who was happily grazing a 100 yards away. The mare’s head came up and spotting Jinnie holding up the apple. She trotted over dutifully followed by the foal. Jinnie gave her the apple which she crunched, core, stalk and all. Jinnie backed up the ramp into the back of the horsebox and produced a second apple, the mare followed into the truck accompanied by the foal. Anne closed the horsebox’s gate trapping the horses inside.
While the Driver raised the tailgate/ramp Jinnie secured the horses and checked they had access to food and water, even though the journey to Brookmans Park was less than 15 minutes. Jinnie gave the mare the second apple and the foal a carrot, before slipping out of the groom’s door in the side of the truck. The truck edged forward, Anne closed the gate to the field and the two girls climbed into the cab. Both girls happily waved to the guard as they departed and he waved back. 300 yards up the road and round a bend, Jinnie climbed down from the cab and strolled home happy in the knowledge that the skewbald mare and her foal were safe and would be able to return to the field once the fighting had passed through Potters Bar.
In Chapter 20 – Potters Bar is liberated.
© WorthingGooner 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file