Colour Sergeant Jones and his troop now had full fuel tanks on their Challenger 2s, thanks to the friendly farmer. Looking at his GPS navigation computer it told him that he had enough, not just to reach London, but to cross it and come out the other side even if he had to go off-road for a while. He thanked the farmer and gave him a chitty for the fuel, telling him to submit it to the Army and if they refused to refund him he would personally do so. Just before pulling out of the yard the farmer’s wife presented them with fresh homemade bread, eggs, farm cured bacon, fresh unpasteurised milk, butter and cheese made on the farm. Joey’s mouth was already watering, no field rations for them tonight.
Joey’s route took him south of Luton Airport, he told his other 2 tank commanders to keep a wary eye open for defenders. They might choose to defend the airport but they may equally have decided to retreat. He had no intention of attacking the airport with only three tanks and was intending to pass as far south as possible and join the battle on the M1 from the rear. However, like all the best-made plans it didn’t work out like that.
Corporal Eldridge in the number 2 tank came on the radio net asking if Joey had seen what was happening on the airport runway. Joey’s small troop was passing the edge of a wood in single file, about a mile south of the airport and would be difficult to see from the runway. He called a halt and viewed the runway through his binoculars. A military crew appeared to be about to start work. Two trucks and a backhoe were making their way down the taxiway that ran parallel to the runway and had nearly reached the midpoint of the runway. The work party halted and a squad of troops jumped out of one truck. Under the order of a Feldwebel, they started to unload boxes from the second truck. Meanwhile, the backhoe was putting out its stabilisers, clearly preparing to dig by the side of the runway. Whether this was to be demolition charges or mines it had to be stopped.
Joey first ordered them to load HE squash head rounds, but then realised that would do as much damage as the demolition charges so he switched the order to the coaxial chain guns. Two short bursts from the three chain guns firing 550 rounds a minute and the vehicles were on fire and the taxiway littered with bodies. Joey gave the order to move out. A few minutes later the Colonel came on the net saying that they weren’t needed on the M1 as the defences were reported to be collapsing. Intelligence had the Germans retreating everywhere, so the race to London was on. He added he would personally buy the first troop to Buckingham Palace three cases of beer. Joey was up for the challenge, he had a start as he was already well south of most of the other regimental tanks and had a nearly full fuel tank.
In Faslane Commander Dobiecki was docking. Two tugs were nudging them alongside and he had crewmen on the bulkhead ready with heaving lines. The dockyard mateys were standing in a crowd ready to swarm aboard as soon as gangplanks were established. Peter had spent the last two days preparing maintenance requests and sending them off to Faslane. For a new boat, rushed into service there was remarkably little wrong, Mostly it was little things. For example, the catering service’s chief reported an overheating oven and an electric ring not working. There were plenty of squeaks, things jamming and a motor that regularly overheated, but the reactor, electronics and armaments had performed perfectly.
Peter had been ordered to a meeting with the Commodore and a staff car arrived at the gangplank to take him. He handed over to his XO who was busy organising the weapons reload, but that was going to be the last thing to happen before sailing. There were several flag officers around the meeting table, plus an officer in military fatigues but with no unit markings. Peter guessed SBS, he had worked with them on previous boats and realised that his boat was in for a special mission. The Commodore got down to it straight away. The Germans were on the back foot, they were retreating everywhere, between them the RN and the USN had the German Navy bottled up in port and the RAF had established air superiority over the UK and the Channel. The plan now called for the liberation of the Channel Islands and in preparation, a number of special forces teams were to be landed surreptitiously to prepare for full-blown landings as soon as a South Coast port was liberated.
Agamemnon was to be used to land two 16 man teams on Jersey. Other submarines would land further teams on Jersey and on Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. He was being told now because his boat was due to sail in just over a week and the German ground forces were collapsing so fast a South Coast port could be available by then. He needed to liaise with the special forces officer to arrange accommodating the men and their equipment on board. To keep things hush hush the special forces wouldn’t be coming aboard until the last minute. He could tell his XO, but not his crew. How was he going to explain that a number of them were going to have to hot bunk?
Up until now the German HQ in the wood had been showing no sign of moving, but in the last few minutes things had changed, with men rushing around packing thing away without even trying not to be seen. The SAS Corporal was on the radio and the airstrike was due in around 10 minutes, hopefully before the HQ vehicles started to move. Jinnie asked the Corporal, “Why are they leaving now?” The Corporal answered, “They have suffered a big loss at Luton and the BCN are pouring through an ever-growing gap in the defences, they could be here in a matter of hours.”
Fortunately, it was a Sunday and the school was shut, but Jinnie could see several neighbours in their gardens working in the early spring sunshine and she knew she couldn’t warn them what was coming. Anne was over for Sunday lunch with her parents and trying to tire Bonnie by throwing a ball down the garden for her to chase. Daphne was hanging washing on her rotary dryer. It was just a normal early Sunday afternoon. The troopers in the attics had set up laser designators to guide the airstrike in and were ready with their sniper rifles in case they needed to pick off anyone escaping. All they could do was wait.
Joey Jones had a word with his two tank commanders and they agreed with his plan to keep away from the M1. It was almost certainly going to be expected to be the main thrust of the attack and as such there would almost certainly be defenders left behind to slow the breakthrough down. Joey planned to use minor roads where possible and head for the old A1, now the A1000, before it was upgraded and many sections were made into a motorway. The planned route took him through a number of smaller towns like Harpenden, Hatfield, Brookmans Park, Potters Bar, over or maybe under the M25, the map was unclear. Through Barnet and then into London proper. The GPS said his chosen route was less miles to central London, but that the M1 was quicker. But that didn’t take into account ambushes. Joey then wanted to head straight down the A1000 but he wasn’t sure what German resistance would be like once in London.
Just before his troop reached Harpenden he came across a pathfinder group of half a dozen mixed APCs and IFVs. The infantrymen had dismounted and were aiding the crews to refuel from a “liberated” German lorry loaded with Jerry cans. They were from the Yorkshire Regiment and had become detached from the rest of their regiment when their radio net had gone down. Under the circumstances, the standing order was to use their own initiative. The senior man among them, a sergeant, agreed to join forces as he fancied being in the first force into London.
Shortly after the agreement, with the refuelling complete, they were off making a good speed and found no resistance from Germans. They raced into Harpenden and were almost out the other side before the surprised residents were coming to their doors. The next town on the map was Wheathampstead. It was a good job it was only a small town because the residents were out lining the street, news they were on the way was spreading. After Wheathampstead, they had a choice to stick to the plan and travel on the old road, or switch to the A1(M). A quick discussion over the radio net and they were sticking to the plan and on the old road passing to the East of Hatfield.
They were making excellent progress, it was less than an hour since they left Luton and were passing through Brookmans Park. It was here that the first bit of German resistance happened. A shot rang out and a bullet pinged off Joey’s turret. Three men who Joey guessed were resistance, as they were armed and wearing armband that appeared to have a Union Flan on them, turned and kicked a door down and rushed inside. Joey didn’t stop to see what happened to the sniper, just telling the driver to keep going just as fast as was safe.
The Sunday afternoon quiet was wrecked by a single Allied F35 coming screaming down the valley at treetop height. As Jinnie watched, a pair of Mark 77 bombs fell away from its open weapons bay. Almost in slow motion, Jinnie could see neighbours falling to the ground as the bombs picked up the reflected laser light and steered onto their targets. The wood erupted in a sheet of flame. She heard a crack of a sniper rifle, come from the roof space above her, as the SAS trooper fired a single shot. Jinnie hadn’t seen a target but the Corporal pointed to the distant lane and said, “The roadblock guard, from up higher you can just see them.” The F35 was visible in the distance coming round for a second run. This time the weapons bay door remained shut. The Corporal said, “A photo run for damage assessment, but that’s done the job.” He spoke into his throat mike and ordered his troopers to pack up and not to forget to put the roof tiles back as he didn’t want any compensation claims!
Jinnie was watching all the gear going back into their packs and the troopers making several trips to an anonymous grubby white van on the far side of the green. The SAS men made no effort to hide their uniforms, there was no point now. Bill from next door arrived beaming from ear to ear, totally ignoring the soldiers. His son in law had been working in his Brookmans Park job, intending to join the family later to eat, but had just phoned his wife to save he didn’t think he would make it as a BCN column was passing the front of the book warehouse where he was employed. The Corporal chimed in, “My information is that the Germans are retreating on a broad front. They have abandoned Potters Bar. A team is reporting that the last stragglers, from around here, have just cleared Barnet High Street, heading toward Finchley.” He continued, “I’ll say goodbye now Ma’am and thank you for the hospitality. We have orders to assist that column as we have another job in central London. We need to intercept the column in the high street and we only have a few minutes to get there, the speed they are moving at.”
As he left Brookmans Park Joey’s radio net demanded a “sit rep”. Joey gave a grid position and the radio operator express his incredulity saying that the main body of the regiment was making slow progress down the M1 due to frequent ambushes. He gave a grid reference for the regiment that Joey’s map read as near Redbourn. He was delighted, they were miles behind. The beer was going to be his he could already taste it!
The radio operator continued saying that a number of special forces units had that been working behind the lines, were now finding themselves on the allied side of the front. Several such groups were in his path and had been ordered to join his little band. He was to look out for the first such unit joining them at the junction of Potters Bar High Street and Mutton Lane. Joey became aware of something happening ahead of his column, an F35 appeared to be bombing something and smoke was rising on the other side of Potters Bar. He bent down and checked that his IFF was working. A blue on blue incident was the last thing he needed.
Jinnie was stunned. The dreaded Germans were gone. She was living in a free country, well her bit was. What was she going to do now, she couldn’t resume her place at AHU. She sat for a few minutes watching the flames that were dying down revealing a mess of tree stumps and twisted metal. She realised she now had a clear view from her bedroom window of the M25 and it was deadly quiet. Her mum put her hand on her shoulder, handed her a mug of tea and they both burst into tears of joy.
In Faslane, replenishment of HMS Agamemnon was generally going well. The maintenance issues were nearly all signed off. The faulty oven was proving problematic to fix and it was to being swapped out. The old one had been removed, but the stores didn’t carry a spare. The manufacturer needed another 48 hrs to rush a replacement which was threatening to delay sailing by a day. Frustrating for such a trivial but important item. The food lockers and freezers were full. It was only last-minute items like fresh milk that were still to come aboard. The crew always moaned when the fresh milk ran out and the boat switched to UHT!
The crew had been allowed local shore leave on a rota. Great for crewmen who lived locally but that only applied to a handful of the 98 man crew. The XO and he had decided that they would only tell the crew what was happening once they were all on board and sealed up for the mission. By then it would be obvious anyway with 36 guests onboard.
The advance down the east side of England had been heading for London but with the western attacks down the line of the M1 and M40 were both heading for London it was diverted further east and was enjoying great success in East Anglia, which was almost completely under Allied control. The western advance had split after Birmingham and a mostly NAA lead battle group was progressing well down the M5 and were well past Gloucester heading for Bristol. The weather was still not good enough for the proposed South Coast landings but with the rapid advance down that side of the country, they were rapidly becoming superfluous.
In Chapter 21 – London falls
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file