It was the fourth early morning of following the truck when the girls saw it stop at a pole barrier across a gap in a chain-link fence. The barrier went up and the truck entered and disappeared into a wooded area where they caught a glimpse of several buildings under the trees. Penny reported that the sign at the gate said FECOF. Which she looked up on her phone and discovered it was the German equivalent of the Forestry Commission. Jinnie punched a button on the SatNav and got a recording of the car’s current position to a few metres. Jinnie didn’t want to U-turn the car, possibly drawing attention to themselves, and instead drove past the entrance to the camp so she had the SatNav give her an alternative route home to the apartment and headed home for breakfast.
Off the West Coast of America the war games were proceeding well. An Allied combined fleet was staging a mock beach landing. The simulated land-attack missiles had been launched from dozens of surface ships and submarines. The high-level bombers were en route to saturate the defending force’s airfields with area denial bomblets. The Special Forces had gone in the night before and met with the ‘resistance’.
Staff Sergeant Williamson had his troop of 16 divided up into 8 pairs who had laser designators aimed at different targets including a railway viaduct, a fuel dump, a radar station, what the American ‘Green Beret’ attached to his troop called a motor pool and a defenders HQ building. As far as he and his captain knew their presence was totally undetected by the defenders. His men had also pre-placed around 40 smaller charges which were all timed to go in ten minutes, the same time the missiles were due to hit. These were taking out pylons, substations, radio and television transmitters, microwave towers and telephones towers and telephone exchanges. The fast jets, that they were designating for, were due in 2 minutes after the missiles and the high-level bombers, the B52s, due in two minutes after that. As soon as the fast jets were gone his men were heading for the beaches to guide the landing craft in. Steven checked his watch for the umpteenth time, 04:03. Why, he wondered, was start time scheduled for 04:08?
60 miles off the coast HMS Agamemnon had just simulated a launch of its full complement of 30 Tomahawk missiles on grid points they had been given. Commander Powderham ordered his remaining armaments of six torpedoes to be loaded and following orders sent the boat deep and turned it towards San Diego to perform a simulated reload. At the same time, Colour Sgt Joey Jones was feeling a little queasy. The flat-bottomed American LST was not the most stable of ships in even a slightly choppy sea. Still, he was delighted his squadron would soon be out of the boat and on the beach. Flying the Challenger 3 tanks out to Southern California had been interesting but ultimately satisfying when his squadron had come top of the live firing exercises beating the American A1M2s and the Ariete’s flown in from Italy and the Spanish Leopards, left over from German occupation.
Joey was itching to get off this American ship the second it hit the beach and the clamshell doors opened, provided the US Navy was capable of getting him to the designated spot on the right beach, he knew exactly where his squadron was going. He and his new mate Steven had it all planned. He and his tankers had flown out to the states on a chartered BA Boeing 777 while his tanks, spares and God knows what else was flown by the USAF on C5s. By the time all the equipment was on the transport aircraft, it was so laden that the crews were bumped off and stuck on the charter flight. It seemed that everyone in the forces was going mad on a few major exercises and the huge refuelling aircraft the RAF normally used for transport were actually practising refuelling fast jets. Joey didn’t mind that, flying on a BA jet was more civilised, the food was better and they could get a beer with the meal and even use the entertainment system. When checking in for the flight, ground stewardesses had seen his stripes and upgraded him to Business class saying the officers were in First Class and the NCOs in Business. Joey was happy; better food, booze on tap and a seat that turned into a bed.
Joey found himself sitting next to an SAS staff sergeant and they chatted and hit it off. They had both been in the forces for years and swapping stories of the War of Liberation they realised they had been in the same column that had raced through North London. Joey was immensely proud of being first to Buckingham Place while Steven told him about the destruction of the German HQ in Potters Bar and hinted at post-war special missions. Joey told Steven how a year ago his squadron had beaten a load of Yanks in a tank exercise on Salisbury Plain and he was determined to do it again. He then talked about the mock invasion exercise that was to follow. Steven explained that was why he was heading for the States, his troop were in the same exercise.
Joey had bumped into Steven in the PX at Fort Hunter Liggett ten days later. Joey was fed up with the Americans implying that his tanks had cheated just because they had outshot the Abrams and Steven was not happy because he was continually being told the Green Berets were the best special forces in the world. Talking, they realised that they were to be on the same side in the upcoming invasion exercise and that they were going to be on the same section of beach. They had been given satellite reconnaissance photos of the landing beach and the immediate hinterland. The beach looked to be sandy with grassy dunes separating it from light woodland.
Steven explained that his troop of 12 plus himself, a captain and attached Green Beret master sergeant where tasked with going in several hours before the actual landing and setting up a number of demolition tasks and laser designations before moving to the beach to eliminate guards and guide in the “invaders”. Joey was supposed, once off the beach to charge through the sparse woodland and lead a column of AFVs to grab a small civilian airport with a paved runway that would allow the US Marines to operate their AV8s in support of the “invasion”.
Looking at the photos, the two sergeants spotted a gap in the dunes with a track passing through the woods. Steven said it would be guarded and possibly mined. Joe said you take the guards from behind and I’ll deal with the mines, we’ll have a tank fitted with a flail to lead the way. Steven said look for the red and green flashing torches and drive between them that will be the safe route to the gap. The plan was sealed with a good old British handshake.
The clamshell doors on the LTC swung open and through his night-vision goggles Joey realised the US Navy had hit the beach in almost exactly the planned spot. Looking along the beach line he spotted “his gap” in the dunes and the flash of red and green torches. The SAS had even put up “vehicle lane” tape to keep the squaddies pouring out of the landing craft clear. Over the regimental net he ordered his flail forward and he followed close behind in its tracks. They were off the beach in moments and passing through the dunes when Joey spotted Steven at the side of the route with his officer. Calling down to him Joey shouted, “Where are you heading now?” Steven replied, “The airstrip to tidy up”. “Want a ride?” called Joey and the captain replied, “You bet”.
The troopers climbed aboard tanks and APCs and the column moved off. The GPS took them to the airstrip and they dropped the troopers and ten minutes later the airfield was secured and guards posted. Joey reported over the net, that the objective was secured, at the same time as the SAS captain. They had a brew going when half an hour later the first US Marines arrived. At the next day’s debrief, the US general in charge as good as accused the British of cheating. He said the same mock landing had been carried out with different units at least 6 previous times and the fastest anyone had taken the airstrip was 58 minutes. He had wanted to know how they had managed it in under 15? The SAS captain was having none of it. His reply was, “Inter unit cooperation, Sir. We Brits work together to a common end.”
A week later the two sergeants found themselves on a flight from California to Italy. Chatting over a beer they put two and two together. Steven had heard the dit weeks ago that this troop were heading for the South of France to do in real life what they had just practised in the States. And Joey admitted that he had heard they were going to be one of several regiments going in at Nice. After a bit more chatting they started wondering if there was an opportunity for more “inter-unit cooperation”. Both sergeants decided that this time the brass needed to be involved, this time wasn’t the time to wing it.
The sergeants got messages to their respective captains in First Class and were invited up to explain their plan and ask for approval in a half-empty First Class. The Captain’s ummed and ahhed and worried that this time the landing was likely to be heavily opposed and with multiple tank columns trying to get off a beach that in many parts had a bit of a step up to the promenade. But what appeared to swing it was when Steven told them that he knew the local SIS person who was working with the Nice Resistance to facilitate the invasion. The captains agreed that all forces working together had a far better chance of winning than alone and said they would take the matter to a higher level.
Jinnie and her sister picked up Simone and Juliette the next morning. Simone quickly fitted Juliette’s child seat using the car’s universal points, the buggy was put in the boot and they were away. Juliette was looking forward to a picnic in the country and announced she wanted “cheese and juice”. They headed inland and eventually pulled into a car park on the edge of a wood. There were a number of other cars parked there and several mothers were with their kids in the children’s playground. Juliette spotted Cleo, her friend from nursery with her mum Auntie Esme and wanted to go over to them. Simone found Juliette’s picnic lunch and a blanket and left her happy in Esme’s charge. The three girls headed into the wood.
Ten minutes walk and they came across a clearing with around ten men and women standing around chatting. Jinnie recognised the bank manager, with a large hold-all, and Pierre the taxi driver. Simone introduced Pierre as her second in command and congratulated him, for the first time, for not spotting the guards on the path. The armourer retrieved two Glock 17’s and two SA80s from his hold-all. Jinnie and Penny were in charge of instruction, Jinnie took the pistols and Penny the rifles. The group were fast learners and the weapons were stripped, cleaned and loaded numerous times. After a lunch of cheese, bread, tomatoes, rough red wine and apples the groups switched over to learn about the other weapon.
Jinnie wished they could fire the weapons but Simone explained they were a little close to a village where they were and that would have to wait for next week’s session which would be in a remote disused Quarry. The next day’s training session was to be a repeat of today’s but with a different group of fighters. Jinnie asked how many had the group grown to and Simone said about 50, so that was 5 sessions. Juliette was collected and eased into her child seat. She wanted to talk to her mum about playing with Cleo and her picnic lunch but after a few minutes driving she fell asleep.
The next four days followed a similar pattern but on the way home Simone said, “Mum wonders if you would like to come to dinner, she has guessed you are in town again. Blame Juliette, she has been telling her Mamie about mummy’s new friends who have a swimming pool and a big black car. Then she was talking about playing with her friends when mummy went into the woods. Mum worked it out and asked if you ever married Paolo. She was surprised when I said yes and we went to the wedding.” The sisters looked at each other and eventually Jinnie said, “Yes please, your mother is a brilliant cook. But who are we to be?” Simone thought a moment then and said, “You better stick with your current I.D.’s or Juliette may be even more confused.”
It was Sunday lunch with Simone’s family and Jinnie was delighted to be reacquainted with them. Juliette had taken quite a fancy to Jinnie and insisted on sitting next to her in her booster seat, while Simone sat on her other side so that she could help her with the difficult things, like cutting up the meat. Simone’s parents kept the story going perfectly until Juliette went for her nap and then wanted to hear why the sisters were here. They knew Simone was in the local resistance, it had been impossible for them not to know. Jan was involved with a second resistance group just a little way along the coast to the west at Villeneuve-Loubet where there was a marina. He said that although it was not a big port he was going to be working with the SBS to grab it.
The sisters told how they were there to ensure Simone’s group were fully trained in the use of weapons and to work with an SAS force who would be operating in the area. Simone’s father smiled knowingly and said, “At last we are to be free, the British are coming.” Jinnie nodded and said, “Plus the Americans, the Italians, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Australians, the Canadians and many others.” Simone’s mother burst into tears. While her father asked, “What can we do to help?” To which Penny replied, “Keep our secret and look after Juliette.”
In Chapter 26 – D-Day – Early Morning.
© WorthingGooner 2022