Keynes Cruisers

Story 0119 March 23 1940
March 23, 1940 east of the Maginot line

‘Allons, vite vite’

Half a dozen men broke cover and ran seventy meters to another cluster of trees. A dozen men covered them with weapons scanning the horizon. The patrol had gone over the German border to probe the defenses. The young privates had been fairly good at being quiet while the older sergeant shook their head silently as these young men would have been dead meat during the last hundred days of the first Great War. Now those men were soldiers. These men were mere boys. The patrol had found almost nothing new. A German observation post had been abandoned as the location was too obvious, a secondary post was being constructed and hidden far better. The main German positions were still a lightly held screen with just enough density to force a French force to reveal itself.

The half dozen running men hit the ground and re-aligned themselves to cover the next section’s retreat from German territory.

Nothing had happened tonight, and the men were glad. Their damn colonel had insisted on active patrolling so they had spent the night shimmying through Boche land while the poilus in other regiments were able to sleep in warm barracks while they waited for the Germans to smash themselves against the concrete of the Maginot line.
 
Story 0120 March 23 1940
March 23, 1940 Sydney Australia and the Grand Harbor of Valletta

Doric Star blasted her whistle. She was returning to the mother country. Ten thousand sheep and three thousand cattle dressed carcasses were stored in her refrigerated holds. Deck cargo of manganese ingots and raw wool completed her load out. She was heading to Southampton with a stop at Capetown and Gibraltar. Her master wanted to continue independently to her final port, but the Admiralty had insisted on convoying through the Western Approaches.


Half a world away, the small tanker Africa Shell finished pumping ashore a cargo of high octane aviation fuel in Valletta. The journey through the canal at Suez was uninteresting. The men had gone ashore for a night at Port Said and lost money chasing women but that had ended uneventfully. A new charter was due to carry a load of pool petrol from Haifa to Athens so the captain was anxious to leave harbor and begin to make money for his owners again.
 
Story 0121 March 24 1940
March 24, 1940 Scapa Flow

The low islands that surrounded the anchorage were ineffective. Winds that had thousands of miles to flit and flutter along the waves were not deterred by the scrub covered hills and low sand dunes of the southern Orkneys. Dense fog covered Hoxa and Flotta while the central anchorage still had reasonable visibility.

Home Fleet had returned from another patrol. Ark Royal and Glorious had landed their air wings earlier in the day. Both would soon be reinforced by squadrons of the new American fighter. They were not quite ready yet, but trials and training could start from a pitching and heaving flight deck instead of a concrete runway. Renown, Resolution and Warspite bobbed at their mooring buoys near the wreck of Royal Oak. Their thick superstructures had been consistently wet as they pounded through the North Atlantic’s waves. There had been chatter about a break-out and they had gone to intercept any heavy raiders, but the chatter was wrong. They saw nothing in a week of hard steaming. The little boys, cruisers and destroyers, were exhausted. They had spent the week screening the capital ships, pinging and probing, listening and sprinting. All their effort was for naught. There were no submarines, no surface contacts, and no aircraft to drive away.

Home Fleet was sheltered for a few days. A division of cruisers would be detached to be made ready to move the light elements of an infantry brigade to Norway while a destroyer squadron and a pair of light cruisers were to be made ready to mine the Leads. The rest of the Fleet would cover them, but first they would recover from their fruitless patrol.
 
Story 0122 March 25 1940 to April 9 1940

March 25, 1940 St. Nazaire, France


France’s sole aircraft carrier, Bearn, had a quiet war. She had been used as a beater for the hunting groups, her aircraft spotters and flushers for the cruisers of the Force du Raid. Once Graf Spee had been harried and sunk, she was taken off of active operations. Now she was merely an aircraft ferry. The Americans had been supplying a steady stream of aircraft for the Armee d’Aire. Yet they required French or British ships to transport them. She had made three journeys to American ports, each time loading up with forty or more aircraft.

Today she arrived with twenty nine new Curtis Hawk fighters. They still needed work before they would be combat ready.

That work would not start any time soon. The thirty three Hawks from the last trip were still in the warehouses that Bearn’s crew had deposited them in. There was a dispute between the training command and the material command on who was responsible to move the fighters to the operational conversion units. Until that could be resolved, the ADA had decided to keep all of the American aircraft at the port. No work had been done since early February.

The new aircraft could not be stored in the warehouse. There was no more leased space available. A contract was supposed to be signed for another two large warehouses but the final price and indemnity for damage from any potential raids had yet to be negotiated. The owners want the government to bear all of the risk of an air raid while the government refused to pay for damage to the structures that came from a raid. So the new fighters would be deposited on a field near the marshaling yard, exposed to the elements, quickly degrading as the planes would not have even a single ground crew to check on them.

The Marine Nationale’s air arm was in better shape. Half a dozen Consolidated flying boats would be landed by the end of the week. They would be taken in hand by the aviation school upriver and flying by the end of the month. Eight more dive bombers would also be sent to the training units by the first week of April.

March 26, 1940 near the Jade

One last mine exited the tube. Fifty mines were now deployed in a small, dense field along the German coastal shipping routes. Bomber Command had started gardening raids but accuracy and lift were limited so HMS Seal and her minelaying sisters were called upon to thicken the accurate and useful placement of minefields.

Within minutes, the large submarine turned slowly in the shallow water and headed for her home port. Another patrol was almost completed. She would resupply and reload before heading back out to lay another field.

March 27, 1940 Western Approaches


The young captain swore as he stepped away from the quickly descending periscope. He had penetrated the light Allied escort on a convoy. From eleven hundred yards, he fired three torpedoes at a tanker. One went wide, one broached and the final torpedo struck the tanker amidships. It failed to explode. This was the third direct hit in the past six months that definitely failed to explode and who knows how many other unobserved hits failed.

The attack was enough to alert the escorts that there was a wolf among the sheep. A trawler had already started to head down the torpedo tracks. A destroyer had started to ping wildly with her ASDIC.

The U-boat descended to one hundred and ten feet. As he began his escape, his screws increased their turns to push him through the water at four knots. The captain wanted to get as much space from the noisy datum as possible before the escorts could run down the tracks. He knew he was in for a long day of depth charges and pings.

March 28, 1940

A single Luftwaffe bomber was able to complete a photography run over Scapa Flow. Another was shot down by Hurricanes as it approached Rosyth.

A British Blenheim returned to its base in the Midlands with an engine shot up and the copilot bleeding out. They had flown over Hamburg. Another bomber returned without incident from a flight over Emdem. Ground crews first removed the precious film canisters and then the copilot who was quickly dying.

Fleets were being assembled, men were on the move. Either a breakout or an invasion was in play.

March 29, 1940 Helsinki

Arne Elo and the handful of American technical advisors that had survived the war walked up the gangplank of the passenger ship. They would return to New York. Arne’s first stop would be a great steakhouse near Times Square, his second would be the Brewster factory as he had a list of improvements needed for their fighter. Finally, he would be recommissioned into the Navy to fly fighters again.

March 30, 1940 Rosyth

Four large mine laying submarines laid next to each other. Three boats had the smoking lamp out. Twenty-five mines per rail were being loaded. HMS Porpoise would leave on the morning tide while Grampus and Narwhal needed another day to complete repairs. All were heading to the Norwegian coast, and they would hold position until they received a signal to mine the ore routes.

HMS Seal had arrived that morning. She would depart in a few days for her tenth patrol. Her men needed leave and her engines needed care. She could wait before heading to Norway.


April 1, 1940 RNAS Hatson

Thirteen Martlets were lined up on the runway. NAS 771 had re-equipped with the new American fighters five weeks ago. They were hot birds compared to the Swordfish they had flown from land bases. It was a major reorganization to go from being a strike squadron to being one of the first squadrons flying single seat naval fighters and it had not gone well so far. Two planes crashed as the pilots attempted to land below stall speed. Another half dozen pilots had shown the creativity of a plodding forward from Manchester United on the attack instead of the dazzling brilliance of a midfielder going one on one against a defender along the wing.

HMS Furious was at sea west of the Orkneys. She had two squadrons of strike aircraft aboard and another squadron of Swordfish committed to her. The Martlets would fly out and do touch and goes during the morning. Once the squadron commander and the landing officers were satisfied, carrier qualifications could begin. By the end of the week, the Admiralty wanted at least ten Martlets on board the carrier with fourteen pilots who had landed at least four times a piece. There were rumors that Home Fleet had a major operation coming up and fighter cover would be critical.

April 2, 1940 Oscarburg Fortress

The regular garrison looked down at the raw recruits. They were pitiful. Most could not find their right foot from their left. Yet they would be straw holding together the bricks of the fortress that defended the capital.

They would have to make do.

All three heavy guns as well as the battery of six inch guns could be manned with experienced gunners. The raw recruits were the ammunition handlers and haulers.

Three hundred of the men would be soaking wet over the next three days as they needed to lay the defensive minefield at the narrows. A single well-marked channel one hundred yards wide would be cleared. The rest of the narrows where the water was at least nine feet deep would be mined. Four lines would be laid, a mine every twenty yards with a stagger so that no ship broader than a skiff could traverse the minefield in a straight line without striking at least two mines. A notice to mariners had been released that Norway had begun to mine its waters and all vessels should follow clearly marked channels. Most of the marked channels were empty space in a sea of emptiness but a few critical points would soon be mined.

April 3, 1940 The Kattegat

Eight German minesweepers advanced slowly. They did not fear air attacks. The Royal Air Force would occasionally raid port cities but they could not reach the Baltic without flying over neutral Denmark. The French barely tried, anyways their effort was focused on the Heer across the fortified border. Each ship had at least double lookouts posted as a cluster of naval cadets and raw recruits had been hurried aboard yesterday morning. They were almost useless but they might be able to see a mine or a periscope of a lurking English submarine so they were worth their weight and their food.

A large lane was being prepared through the confined sea. Another minesweeper squadron was working on clearing a pair of known minefields further north in the Skagerrak. Patrol boats and anti-submarine trawlers were trailing the minesweepers. They would guard the lanes from any additions by roving British submarines.


April 5, 1940 Oslo

The Cabinet was frozen. The men had hardened into factions. The German leaning faction had the simplest argument to make --- the intelligence that the British had presented had become stale. The iron ore routes in the Baltic would soon open up and Narvik would no longer be a single source of failure for the German war economy. The RAF and RN had been aggressively patrolling the seas adjoining Norwegian territorial waters while harassing Norwegian ships in the blockade line. Yes, the Germans had sunk several merchant ships with mines and U-boats but those were either accidents or ships that appeared to be heading to Allied ports. There was not an active campaign of harassment. Mobilization against a land invasion was not needed. Only the British could mount an amphibious assault so the rumors of a German fleet at sea were just that, rumors meant to provoke a reaction. Indeed, there were rumors that the Royal Navy would soon mine the Leads.

More of the Cabinet was concerned. They were concerned as the Norwegian Air Force possessed only a single trained squadron of monoplane fighters. There were concerned that the Norwegian Army possessed a platoon of modern tanks. They were concerned that the infantry battalions of five divisions had never operated under war time conditions. They were concerned that the half a dozen destroyers including some coal burners were readily obsolete and outnumbered while the coastal defense ships could not reliably steam more than a day from Narvik harbor without fearing a catastrophic engineering failure. They were concerned about the rumors of the Kreigsmarine clearing the Little and Big Belts. They were concerned about the proliferation of Swiss tourists who had never been invited into the country unlike the American tourists.

They were concerned as no choice was good. Mobilization would provoke a German and an Allied response if there was none currently planned. Mobilization would take a week or more to begin and a month to bring all of the formations to readiness. Mobilization would freeze the civilian economy and lead to great hardship. Mobilization might not be enough to defend against any foreign assault even as it invited an assault.

The King sat and listened to his ministers rage at each other for five hours. The only pause in the din was a half hour dinner break where the opposing factions gathered, and a few men walked across the room and down the hallway to have brief chats with reachable colleagues in their opposing faction during short visits to the private water closets. No decision was close to being made.

As the sixth hour of deliberations began, King Haakon cleared his throat.

“We face a grave danger where no action is right, no action is profound, and no action is obvious yet the difficulty of the moment has become our trial. We are the guardians of our people and of our nation. Danger is approaching, invasion is not yet imminent but probable. We shall resist with our full might. We shall begin a secret mobilization tonight. The Royal Regiment shall assume the war positions, the coastal artillery shall be authorized to engage any warship of any belligerent that enters our waters once their identity has been ascertained. The navy shall aggressively patrol and protect our waters as our minefields are thickened. Our air force shall protect our cities. Our airports shall be closed for foreign aircraft starting on the 7th.

We do not desire war. We desire peace and the friendship of all our North Sea neighbors but we shall be ready to defend ourselves.”


Within an hour, diplomatic notes were being drafted to be sent to the embassies of all belligerent and neutral powers. Three DC-2’s took off from Oslo’s airport at night fall. Two had only fit, American tourists whose visas had expired. The last flight to London carried half a dozen reserve officers including a navy Captain who had a sudden urge to visit relatives in East Anglia.

April 6, 1940 0241 Scapa Flow

HMS Renown along with a division of destroyers cleared the channel out of the anchorage. They were heading to northern Norwegian waters to cover the half dozen destroyers and a division of cruisers that would be laying mines in the Leads over the next few days. The Guards battalions and the 148th Infantry Brigade were preparing to load onto old light cruisers for a fast dash to northern Norwegian ports. The men had not loaded yet but their equipment was being stowed and re-arranged as the cruisers were not transports so the storage of light artillery and prime movers was not a well-practiced exercise.

April 7, 1940 Oslo 1200

‘Haarald, I have sad news. His Majesty’s government has determined that the Norwegian waters are being violated by German ships on a too regular basis and this undermines our blockade. Effective tonight, Royal Navy ships will mine the Leads. We have no intentions on Norwegian sovereignty. We will defend your country against any German reprisals, but we must defend ourselves, I am truly sorry, my friend. “

Captain Boyes looked across the small coffee table at his old friend. The British, French and Polish ambassadors were making a joint presentation of a diplomatic note containing the same information to the Foreign Ministry. The attaché was at the Norwegian’s military headquarters speaking with an old friend, a captain in the Norwegian Navy. His aide had a similar meeting with a contact in the Norwegian Army.

“I see… this is unwelcomed but not unexpected. It will be a great strain on the relationship between our nations, my friend. We will fire on any British ship that mines our waters in range of our guns. Our neutrality is our right, but I understand why you must lay siege to Germany, it is just that the little mice of the field are crushed when the lions battle for dominance.


April 8, 1940 Off of Norway 0752


Another wave crashed against the destroyer’s bow. Her compatriots were struggling off to the west and the south. The battlecruiser escorted by the rest of the her division mates were twenty or thirty miles away as Glowworm finished quartering the rough sea looking for a man who fell off the battlecruiser. If he had not been picked up in the four hours in the search, odds were that he was dead and would be found by a Norwegian fishing crew sometime in the next week.

“Ships, enemy ships, starboard and aft”

The look-out shouted to the officer of the deck. He turned quickly, his eyes tracking the look-outs fingers. He could see nothing, but he had weak eyes and was several feet under the sharp eyed teenager. Another look-out shouted confirmation, two ships on the horizon. They were closing in echelon, one a few hundred yards closer than the other.

The young lieutenant called for battle stations as the Skipper came to the bridge.

Within minutes, HMS Glowworm had all of her guns manned and had closed to within 11,000 yards of the two German destroyers. Lt. Commander Roope had ordered the wireless room to radio Renown and the Admiralty that she was in contact with the Germans. The radio room rat-a-tat-tatted repeatedly laying out a contact report and a location, waiting for acknowledgement.

The firing gong sounded, and the first salvo roared out. The forward 4.7 inch guns barked and then silence as everyone waited for the fall of shot. The Germans responded as they made smoke and turned to increase the range. They fled at twenty-eight knots as Glowworm pursued at thirty two knots. The first salvo was wide and short, and the second splashed harmlessly behind the fleeing German destroyers who had started a steady cannonade with their aft five inch guns.

Only on the seventh salvo from Glowworm did she strike. A single shell pierced the steel of Hans Ludeman’s bridge before detonating in the radio room. No critical damage was done.

Two more British shells struck the fleeing German destroyers, knocking out one gun on the closer destroyer before the first German shell hit causing little damage but opening up her hull to the sea. Suddenly the sea erupted. Eight large fountains of water reached skyward before the plumes froze and collapsed onto themselves. The lookouts strained and they saw a flash as another salvo streaked towards them. Admiral Hipper had found them. Hard right rudder and every revolution left in the boilers was called for as Glowworm began to chase splashes and make smoke.

As the destroyer twisted and turned through her smoke screen, continued messages screamed out for aid. Renown and her compatriots finally heard her anguished cries and they began to make speed for the last known location. Four minutes later, Glowworm emerged from her smoke screen and within seconds shuddered under the impact of the large German cruiser’s main battery striking her three times and the secondary guns scoring four hits. Five torpedoes entered the water as Glowworm heeled over to expose her far side torpedo battery. Another eight inch shell detonated just underneath the bridge, throwing bodies into the air and the dead and dying into the sea. Three hundred yards away from the cruiser the two aft guns of the damaged and dying destroyer barked, again and again, scoring hits on Hipper’s superstructure. The anti-aircraft guns began to fire, raking the cruisers’ exposed gunners manning the anti-destroyer guns, two hundred yards from the adversary, Glowworm lept forward for the last time. Twenty seconds before the collision, everyone who could see braced themselves as the small destroyer attacked the great bull like a terrier chasing a badger down a hole.


The destroyer smashed into Hipper’s bow, ripping it open to the cold sea. A dozen tars climbed the anchor chains to the main deck of the German cruiser and as soon as their feet touched the hard wood the lucky men raised their arms in surrender. Three dozen more men were able to escape into the cold sea.

German sailors hurried to rescue those that they could.

Two hours later six British ships broke through the morning squalls and found only debris. The German task force had continued north into the fog.


April 8, 1940 1147 North of Cherbourg


The ship twisted and shuddered. Smoke poured from half a dozen spots on her deck and guns flashed rapidly as they fired blanks defiantly against her tormentors. The anti-aircraft guns may not have killed any of the attackers, but they would distract them.

The last Vindicator from Bearn’s allocated airwing pulled up. Twelve had dove on the remote controlled training ship. They had tipped over at sixty degrees, and dropped their one thousand pound bombs from eleven hundred meters. One thousand pound bomb blanks descended. Two were solid hits, five near misses that may have caused minor damage. The remaining bombs were widely inaccurate.

Another squadron of Vindicators were scheduled to begin their dives on the target in an hour. They would be armed with three light bombs. The French Navy and their American technical advisers were working to determine if more but lighter bombs produced enough additional hits to make the trade-off worthwhile. The French carrier pilots favored the single heavy bomb as they knew they would just have a single sortie to damage an enemy while the Armee d' Aire pilots wanted dispersion to take care of enemy infantry that had scrambled for inadequate cover.

Today’s test would help determine tactics.


April 8, 1940 Narvik, Norway 1503


HNoMS Eidsvold cleared the fjord. A trio of patrol boats displacing less than a tenth of the armored ship’s bulk escorted her. The lead ship acted as both a guide and a mine buffer while the other ships flitted around the port side nervously heading south to extend the search radius before hurriedly steaming back to the protection of the panzerskip’s heavy guns. The patrol area was a box ten miles wide and forty miles long twenty five miles off the mouth of the critical warm water port.

Her sister ship, HNoMS Norge, was preparing to relieve her the next day and the crew had been brought aboard. Petty officers had already begun to sort through the thousand tasks needed to bring a coastal defense ship to readiness, and by the 15th they were confident that they could tell their officers that they were fully ready.


April 8, 1940 1642 Near Kristiansand, Norway

Four patrol boats and three fishing vessels headed out to the burning ship. By now, burning and sinking ships were not an unusual sight for Norwegian sailors. They had lost a score off the Norwegian registry to belligerent actions in this war so far, and they had seen scores more of all flags go down to torpedoes, mines, bombs, guns and bad navigation. The cold seas would kill an exposed swimmer in minutes so the ships poured on as much power as they could to save whom they could.

A fishing vessel arrived first and threw lines onto the German liner’s deck. Men scrambled across while another trawler began to pull sailors and surprising fit young male passengers from the water. Four minutes after the first man was aboard the fishing vessel, a patrol boat arrived. A pair of machine guns were manned but the rest of the crew plucked swimmers from the water. A young infantryman from Bavaria cracked after he was handed a warm cup of tea and a blanket. They were supposed to be landing in Kristiansand tonight he told an able body seaman who understood enough German to buy beer and chase women. The seaman told his chief who told the old man, a skipper at the age of twenty-nine. Seven minutes later, a radio message had been sent to the small port stating that the liner Rio de Janeiro was sunk nearby with at least a battalion of German infantry aboard. Survivors would be sent ashore and a naval guard was requested.

The naval guard was most of the organized forces in Kristiansand. A coastal battery was partially manned, and the home defense militia had drilled the week before but there was no general mobilization order (later, researchers would determine that the mobilization mail would have arrived in Kristiansand on the afternoon of the 9th).

Invasion was imminent and the defenses were beginning to rouse.


April 9, 1940 0258 Trondheim

The unidentified ships were steaming confidently down the channel. They had not been challenged yet. A single Norwegian lugger had flashed recognition signals at Hipper but he disregarded the little boat and proceeded to his objective at 25 knots.

The batteries at the narrows were coming up. The first gun fired and missed the heavy cruiser. The rest of the battery followed seconds later and missed as well. Hipper and his companions returned fire. The first battery fired again but the searchlights never came on as a shell cut the electrical cable that powered both forts. Ten minutes of ineffective cannon fire followed until the German force slipped past the firing arcs.

Twelve minutes later, the battery on the southern wall of the fjord fired. The ships were only in the arc for seven minutes. Half a dozen shells found their target. Hipper was damaged but not severely. A pair of shells crippled the destroyer Paul Jakobi. He ran aground on the shallows near Ingdalen. Most of the men survived including almost all of the landing force but they would be miles out of position.

April 9, 1940 0359 Oscarsborg Fortress

Silence lightly hung on the night like the sweat of a man enjoying the silence after pleasing his wife. It gripped the Norwegian gunners and the raw recruits who stood behind them. They had been called to their post an hour ago. The outer fortifications to Norway’s capital had telephoned the Obstert that unidentified ships fired upon the batteries as they passed. At least five ships were sighted. A patrol boat had also sighted unauthorized movement. No ships were allowed to steam in the fjord at night without a naval escort as the minefields were state secrets.

A twenty year veteran looked through his glasses and saw the hulking bulk of a cruiser approaching from the south at a steady eleven knots. Range 18,000 yards. The guns older than almost all of the gunners and most of the officers could reach that range but their accuracy was suspect and ammunition limited. They would wait.

Oberst Erickson had vague orders to defend the capital without creating an incident.

He was supposed to identify any threat before firing warning shots but these ships had fired on another Norwegian battery and they were operating with complete disregard for the navigation rules of this critical fjord. They had declared their intent. The orders were passed to load the main guns and the secondary battery with armor piercing rounds. The lighter guns were loaded with a mixture of star shells and high explosive shells to suppress any mine sweepers that had to be with the assault force that was making its way up the highway to his nation’s largest city and capital.

Three large ships grew larger in the darkness, their bulk omnipresent. The lead ship’s forward turrets were skewed to to track the fortress. The menacing bulk of a cruiser with a single triple turret forward followed only eight hundred yards behind the leader. An anxious destroyer followed the two large ships cutting back and forth across the broad churned wakes.

The three heavy guns tracked their target. Closer, closer, closer they came.

Eighteen hundred yards was the closest, twenty six hundred yards, the most powerful. Steadily they steamed, attempting to sneak past the alert fortress and through the narrow clear channel.

Twelve hundred yards and the heavy cruiser Blucher was almost into the cleared mine channel. Two thousand yards and Lutzow was being tracked by three heavy guns her equal.

Seven hundred yards now, and the old man of the fortresses passed word for the torpedo battery to engage the ship in the channel and for the guns to hold their fire until the torpedoes had time to run. Thirty seconds later, three torpedoes jumped from their racks. Forty year old machines made in Italy ran straight, hot, and true. The first missed Blucher by eleven yards. The other two struck the new cruiser square. The warheads were old and light but they worked as a hollow boom echoed across the sound. The captain was shocked as his intelligence showed that there was a cleared channel and he had been hit by what could only have been a mine. As Blucher skewed to port, she struck first one and then a second mine thirty seconds later. Garish orange flashes illuminated the night as the main guns of the fortress fired at the second ship at point blank range.

Three five hundred pound shells screamed down range. One struck underneath Lutzow’s anchor chain, opening his bow to the sea but causing little damage before penetrating the other thin skin and exploding in the air, spraying shrapnel and fragments harmlessly into the fjord. The other two shells were fired true. Gun Moses landed their shell eight feet under the bridge. The hard cap of the armor piercing shell resisted detonating until it had penetrated the superstructure armor. The navigator and the bosun of the German Panzerschiffe were decapitated and then quartered as the shell exploded feet from them. The captain and the gunnery officer were thrown from their feet, blood pouring from wounds and their ears ringing in shock.

Gun Aron’s shell penetrated the thick face armor of the forward turret. It’s filler exploded eighteen inches from the center gun, shrapnel spitting and reflecting off of the spalling abattoir.

"Don't be lazy boys.... heave the shell" Gunners cried as other men prepared the old eleven inch rifles to receive more ammunition. Nineteen year old recruits swore as ten of them lifted each shell from the carriage, muscles straining with the awkward weight, breath heavy and fast with excitement and fear. Incoming shells would be ripping into the fortifications any time now. They had their duty and they did not want to look the coward in front of their classmates and lifelong friends and rivals, but they knew fear was as present as excitement. Each man worked hard, and a minute later, the first heavy rifle boomed again.

Six inch shells from the supporting batteries landed in the water and then they walked their way onto the German panzerschiffe. Dull hollow booms clanged across the water as some shells were deflected and defeated by the heavy armor. Other shells were able to burrow and penetrate into the citadel of the ship before exploding, ripping men apart, destroying machines and starting fires. The firing ceased only minutes after it started. The Germans turned around with a heavy cruiser rolled up on its side and a hundred men in the water and another large ship on fire, limping away into the Hadian darkness. Shells could have chased the flickers of flames but the fire control equipment was not good enough to hit maneuvering targets 9,000 yards or further away.

Oberst Erickson ordered the Norwegian Royal Guard to take small craft. A platoon would dig in across the southern road to the capital. Another half a dozen boats were dispatched into the water to collect prisoners. Cooks were ordered to prepare soup, and the rest of the recruits who were not needed to service the guns and man the anti-aircraft positions were ordered to collect blankets and set up a temporary hospital.

The attack force had been hit hard. Blucher sank in under seven minutes, a minesweeper had been crippled and abandoned after the 57mm guns focused on her, and Emden had been hit three times by six inch shells. Lutzow and the rest of the Oslo attack force retreated into the gloom.

Eleven miles south of the fortress, they landed their troops. Lutzow could not support the invasion anymore as her captain did not trust his command's seaworthiness. Her forward turret was damaged, a shell had exploded in an engine room and eleven hundred tons of cold Baltic water needed to be pumped out of the ship. He intended to make critical repairs during the day and depart for Germany overnight.
 
Story 0123 April 9 1940 to April 16 1940

April 9, 1940 0418 Aboard HMoNS Draug


Four three inch guns tracked the merchant ship Main. The Norwegian crew had been hearing radio snippets of foreign operations in Norwegian waters. British minelayers were active in the north while a German transport had been sunk near Kristiansand while warships were attempting to force the narrows leading to the capital.

The boarding party aboard the 7,200 GRT ton ship had been handed a manifest stating that her cargo was merely coke and heating coal destined for Bergen. The ship's master refused to open the cargo holds for inspection. After forty five minutes of dickering, the boarding party decided to seize the merchant ship as a smuggler and take her to an admiralty court.

Once the Norwegian destroyer shifted a fifth of her crew to the merchant ship, the men attacked the locked cargo holds with gusto. Sledgehammers and crowbars made short work of the impediments as locks and ciphers were merely deterrents to the lazy and the unmotivated. Two thousand naval mines were present in the hold.

Over the next three hours as it became clear that Norway was being invaded, the crew of the Draug along with impressed German merchant sailors laid a casual minefield of two hundred mines as the two ships started to steam to England.

April 9, 1940 0521 Aboard HMS Renown


Vice Admiral Whitworth cursed. His battlecruiser slowed from twenty four knots to a steady twelve knots. She slowly turned so that her broken bulges would not be damaged any more. The heavy seas and high speed maneuvering had done more damage to the old battlecruiser than the two German ships. A pair of 11 inch shells had struck her, one skidded off the main deck and the other penetrating above the belt and causing very little damage to the midshipmen’s quarters. Her fire had been just as efficient as the German fire but more effective. A pair of fifteen inch shells struck the nearer battlecruiser. One was fundamentally harmless while the other holed a turret. Secondary batteries had scored some hits. The battle had been short and inconclusive for the Germans turned to flee once they realized they faced a British capital ship. The heavy seas slowed all three ships. The Germans had to spend an hour to get out of range after Renown had started to fire at 16,500 yards.

She needed to turn and collect the flock of destroyers staggering in her wake through the North Atlantic gale. Once the force was re-assembled, an armed reconnaissance of Narvik would be undertaken.

April 9, 1940 0523 Narvik Fjord

Dawn's fingers permeated the frozen fjord. Snow whipped into the eyes of the lookouts as they strained to stay awake and alert. Morning general quarters would be called shortly. The patrol had been eventful. A clash between a German cruiser and an English destroyer had occurred forty miles south of the patrol box. A pair of patrol boats had been dispatched to search for survivors. Nothing had been heard from them since nightfall.

“Ship, near the port bow.” The sailor jumped up and down as he pointed. Two men ran to the bridge to alert the officer of the deck.

Sleek, angry shapes glided out of the fog and past the coastal defense ship at a quiet twelve knots. Two were within 4,000 meters of the old guardian of the fjord. Norway had a few modern destroyers but none were within a hundred miles of Narvik. These had to be foreign ships. The officer of the deck had clear orders, challenge and turn away any foreign ships. If they did not turn away, he was authorized to fire.

The general quarters bell was not rung as surprise had to be maintained. Instead an announcement was made on the ship and runners were dispatched to rouse the crew. A raw recruit was sent down the passageway to wake the captain. When he arrived at the small cabin, he saw the captain had already started to dress and was ready to command his ship in battle for the first and last time.

Seven minutes later, Eidsvold was ready for action. Both heavy guns were manned, and the secondary port armament tracked another pair of shapes that emerged into view as the leading pair glided away into a squall.

A single 76mm gun fired. A star shell arced into the sky. As it burst, brilliant white light reflected off the rough sea and smooth, snow covered walls. It was not just Eidsvold and a few destroyers. Five modern destroyers were now visible. Two still within 2,000 meters and three more a thousand meters further away. The captain knew of another pair that had passed him. A fully destroyer squadron was in the fjord. This was not an accident, this was not a navigation error. This was a provocation.

Before he could order the ships to reverse course and leave Norwegian territorial waters, the closest ship fired a salvo from his two forward guns. Seconds later, the aft trio fired as well. Four shells missed, one ripped a symmetrical hole in the old ship’s funnel.

“Fire” and five heavy guns boomed. All missed.

The reload cycle began as the light 76mm guns sent a shell down range every seven seconds. The 47mm guns added to the din. Within a minute, the armored ship had been hit three times and the closest destroyer had been hit five time by the light guns and once by a 5.9 inch shell. Eidsvold turned slightly opening up her broadside and a single torpedo left the coastal defense ship.

She scored another two hits, the first one by her large 8.26 inch forward gun. That shell detonated in the forward engine room of Z22 Anton Schmitt, laming him. Flames licked at the destroyer as more shells slammed into him at nearly point blank range. The coastal defense ship could not celebrate as six destroyers now tormented her. Her guns could either focus on a single adversary and achieve hits under director control or annoy and distract all six ships. She could not do both.

As the captain fought his ship, he had his radio operators scream for assistance and warning to Narvik’s garrison including her sister Norge. The Germans were coming. The warnings were received but no reply was ever acknowledged.

Four torpedoes slammed into the old warrior. She turtled and took ninety percent of her crew to the bottom of the fjord within three minutes. The lucky men died suddenly. A single compartment near the rear magazine maintained water and air tight integrity with eleven men inside. Naval divers in 1969 opened that compartment and found six with self inflicted gunshot wounds from a Colt pistol. One man evidently lived for days before carbon dioxide poisoning killed him.

Anton Schmitt joined Eidsvold and her crew as her forward magazine exploded eleven minutes later. Another destroyer was run aground to prevent her from sinking. The flotilla paused to rescue survivors and transfer the assault force onto the eight remaining ships. Within an hour they were heading back up the fjord.

April 9, 1940 0547 Copenhagen, Denmark

The harbor was a flurry of chaos. Telephone orders and radio messages had been shouting invasion for the past hour and a half. There was a red flag flapping over the government’s building and a steady stream of multi-engine transport planes entering the landing pattern. Four trawlers had cleared the fortifications. Three would steam to Sweden while the last ship arrived in Amsterdam a week later. A week following that journey, the trawler made port in England. Two bulk carriers, an ore ship and a small tanker would follow the trawlers out of the harbor before the coastal defense guns were seized by German paratroopers. The tanker and the ore ship would spend the next nine months interned in Sweden until a Swedish shipping company bought the ships from their owners who then were forced to transfer the hard currency to German accounts. The other two ships headed north. One made England while the other struck a freshly laid mine in the Katergak.

April 9, 1940 0621 Sola Airport

The most powerful aerial striking force in Norway was taxiing down the runway. There was a sighting of an enemy task force containing at least a pair of cruisers approaching Bergen. That was at the edge of the combat range of the five Douglas bi-plane torpedo bombers but they could always land on a field and be recovered later if they were low on fuel. The bombers had been built for the US Navy just after the Great War and exported to Norway. They could lug a single 18 inch torpedo though and their large wings made them ideal delivery platforms when they were low and slow.

Five British Gloster Gladiators were already in the air. The more modern biplane fighters would fly top cover. They were inadequate against modern fighters but they could scare away light bombers.

An hour later the five torpedo planes flew into the heavy anti-aircraft fire of the Bergen attack group. One was shot down and tumbled in the water. The gunner escaped and was taken prisoner by a German S-boat. Four torpedoes splashed into the fjords water. Two went wide of Koln while one detonated under the rearmost turret and the final torpedo ran deep underneath the cruiser.

As they returned to their base with the escort, a squadron of ME-110s jumped them. Modern twin engine fighters diving on biplanes was an uneven match. The Gladiators turned into the fight and distracted half of the twin engine fighters while the others chased the bombers. Within minutes all of the torpedo bombers had been forced down. Two were able to make controlled crashes which allowed the crews to survive. The Gladiators were overmatched and outnumbered. They were able to claim a single kill and two damages for the cost of four of their numbers.

The survivor later crashed in a field outside of Stavanger when he saw that his base had been captured by German paratroopers. Before he had to abandon his aircraft, he strafed the line of JU-52 transports, lighting two on fire and damaging three more.

April 9, 1940 0715 Narvik Fjord

HMoNS Norge waited for revenge. She had left the dock an hour ago to reinforce her sister on forward patrol They had planned to hold a three days on, one day in transit and three days in port routine for as long as the heightened alert schedule was maintained. She was due to have relieved Eidsvold later this morning when the radio had cracked with life. Invaders were present.

Twenty minutes later after that message,, she had left the dock with a patrol boat whose deck was stacked with a dozen mines. They did not have far to go. The patrol boat laid a thin minefield just north of the village of Vidrek while the coastal defense ship went up one of the sub-fjords on the southern wall. The guns were manned, damage control crews were ready and everyone waited. Ashore, the militia was beginning to assemble. A single battalion of the 6th Division was in the port. A company headed to the regimental arsenal, and the rest of the battalion began to prepare positions along the docks. Naval guards were preparing boarding parties for all of the neutral, German and Allied ships in the port.

They waited but not for long.

A lookout above the village flashed a signal down to the warship. Enemy ships were in sight. A more detailed message soon arrived --- eight warships, steaming at fourteen knots, ten minutes away from coming into view.

Eight minutes later, the first German destroyer cleared the headlands. As soon as the range finders settled on the target, the broadside of the old warrior flashed. The lead destroyer was only twenty three hundred meters away. Her crew was more concerned to find the coastal defense batteries that they knew had to be hidden somewhere rather than looking for another ambush from a ship that should have been pensioned years ago.

The first salvo missed although three shells landed within meters of the destroyer. The second salvo fired before the Germans could respond. That was more effective. Both heavy shells ripped into the destroyer. The second shell exploded in the forward engine room while the first shell eliminated the forwardmost gun and its crew. Finally the Germans started to shoot back, the five inch shells coming in straight and flat and ineffectively as they either missed or spent themselves on Norge’s heavy armor. This was the battle she was made for, this was the battle that she could fight. Short range flat water fights.

Seven more salvos and the lead destroyer was ineffective with a twenty degree list and the rear third of the ship on fire. He could creep at seven knots to the fishing village to run aground and save as much of his crew as possible. His compatriots had responded to the ambush quickly and professionally, They sought to open the range and gain maneuvering room in the middle of the fjord to launch their torpedoes and overwhelm Norge with plunging shell fire.

As they maneuvered, first one and then a second destroyer’s backs were broken. The minefield barrier had done its job. There was no sea room to fight in. The five surviving destroyers made smoke and accelerated to thirty knots as they could get out of the firing arcs of the damaged but not crippled Norge in a few minutes. As they ran, Norge’s lighter guns scored a handful of hits on the still active invasion force while her heavy guns focused on finishing off the crippled destroyers.

Eleven minutes after the first shell was fired, the half strength invasion force reached safety. The infantry men aboard checked their weapons and prepared to charge off the heaving decks of the racing destroyers as charging a machine gun nest had to be safer than sitting onboard a ship in narrow defended waters.

April 9, 1940 0759 Oslo

The airport was burning. A wave of German fighters finished strafing the row of revetments. Level bombers had bombed fifteen minutes earlier. Dive bombers were beginning to top over in into their dives, screaming sirens terrifying the ground crews to grip the ground tighter as bombs flattened hangers and pulverized the control tower.

Only an hour ago, Norway’s sole squadron of modern fighter aircraft took off. Sixteen Hawks clawed for altitude as the air defense commander had heard about an invasion attempt having been defeated at the narrows and assumed air raids would be incoming. Five more Hawks were not ready and scattered around the field. And then the sky darkened with German aircraft. A giant furball developed as the Hawks had one good pass diving out of the sun and from altitude and then they were swarmed by more experienced pilots. The Norwegians had no more than thirty five hours in type and most had fewer than two hundred hours of total time. The leading Messerschmidt pilots had combat time in Spain and then more in Poland. Pairs and pairs of pairs worked as a well honed team dividing the spirited Norwegian defenders up, breaking their support and then splashing the isolated tail end Charlies and the loners who attempted to fight as single combat warriors.

Fire trucks and construction equipment was out and about attempting to put out the fires that the dive bombers started as an unearthly drone emerged from the south. Dozens of triple engine transports emerged, dropping lower and lower, going slower and slower until they were just over the airfield. The half dozen 40mm Bofor guns rat-a-tat-tatted and the dozen Colt machine guns flung tracers into the slow moving transports. First one, then two and three were hit. Men leapt out the back, some with parachutes deploying and others in a terminal dive. A fourth transport nosed over as the pilot and copilot slumped on their controls after a 40mm shell exploded between them.

It was not enough. Within minutes hundreds of paratroopers were descending on both of Oslo’s airfields. Only a company of reservists were available to defend each airfield and their morale had been shattered by the bombardment. Even more confusing was the conflicting reports coming in over the radio. A former Defense Minister claimed that he was now the Prime Minister and that the Germans should be welcomed. No officers had received any orders to welcome the Germans. Their orders were to resist any foreign intervention but the men were confused.

By noon, both airfields had been secured and only isolated pockets of fighting occurred in Oslo itself as the Royal Guard covered the escape of the Royal Family and Parliament. Down the fjord, the fortress at the narrows was repeatedly pounded by bombers as its guns held up the advance of the landing party that had to strike overland to reach the capital.

April 9, 1940 1742 Narvik

A stream of tracer bullets went down the street. An infantryman slumped over as two rounds wents through his lungs. The rest of his squad made it across the street. Within minutes, a hole was blown into the wall between the two houses on the north side of the block and a dozen men stormed a strong point with grenades, pistols, bayonets. The defenders responded in kind until five men were left standing and the attackers retreated.

The assault wave had landed early that morning. The five destroyers poured heavy machine gun and artillery fire into the first few blocks of building but once the initial rush broke through the thin crust of observers along the waterfront, their progress stalled as the storm troopers only had the supplies on their back. The Norwegian defenders lacked artillery and had too few heavy machine guns but there were a few concrete reinforced blockhouses and every house could be quickly re-purposed as a strong-point. The rest of the division was assembling and relief was promised by the 11th if the battalion and the militia could hold on.

German naval support slackened in the early afternoon when the panzerskip Norge steamed down the fjord and began to shell the docked German destroyers. Four were able to get back to sea, the fifth had taken a pair of 8.26 inch shells to the engine room. Norge did not have a chance to fight a battle of maneuver as the low slung, nimble destroyers were able to maneuver without worry for once. Within thirty minutes, the panzerskip sunk, her guns still above water as the captain found some shallows for his torpedoed ship to settle on. Half the crew was able to make it to shore.

The battle raged on as somewhere else just a few hundred meters from the docks, another platoon attempted to wink out a stronghold.

April 9, 1940 1520 Bergen Norway

The Fleet Air Arm raid of twenty Skua bombers was successful. Koln had been hit four times by 500 pound bombs, and Koningsburg was hit once more. Both ships had started to settle on the bottom when a Royal Navy task force arrived off the port. Five cruisers and seven large Tribal class destroyers shelled and torpedoed every German ship in port. Within thirty minutes, a dozen ships were sinking. Prize crews from four of the destroyers rowed across the burning oil covered water and seized eight of the large merchant ships tied up. Five were Norwegian, two British and one German. Before night fell, those ships had left, following a pair of destroyers.

A riposte was organized by the Luftwaffe, two squadrons of dive bombers homed in on the cruiser force. The initial response was intended to be from two groups but the twin engine Heinkels of KG-26 were needed to bomb the Oslo coastal defenses again. HMS Furious had a flight of Martlets over the withdrawing cruiser force. The three fighters ripped into the Junkers before they tipped over. HMS Penelope was damaged by a pair of near misses but the cruisers were throwing themselves over wildly like Appalachian bootleggers avoiding revenue agents. Five dive bombers never made it back to their base.

The cruisers and destroyers sped along at 26 knots to the safety of Home Fleet. HMS Ghurka and Sihk escorted the prizes back to Scotland. Once they were in port, they took on fuel, water, food and more ammunition before heading back to sea to allow another pair of destroyers to return to port to resupply.

April 10, 1940 Narvik 0417


The waterfront was on fire. Norwegian reinforcements had started to trickle in after sundown. Men would arrive and be shuffled to a safe house fifty meters behind the front line where tired, bloody and angry men who were now veterans briefed them on the dangers of house to house fighting with the well armed German mountain troopers. The defenders had been pushed back two more blocks but the line stabilized at midnight as the second battalion of the regiment arrived and the local militia had time to equip itself from the regimental depot located north of the city.

There was no will yet to counterattack.

The defenders knew the toll they had inflicted on the Germans as the defenders withdrew one house at a time. They knew the Germans could do the same to them. If anything, the Germans had more grenades and more importantly more automatic weapons than the rifle armed Norwegians so they would be even stronger in the defense. The four destroyers refueling and resupplying along the docks still had some ammunition left and they could be counted on to break up any large rush.

Five destroyers had glided into the fjord overnight. They were challenged and stopped by a Norwegian patrol boat that was not seen when the Germans sank Eidsvold. A pilot hopped aboard the lead ship, HMS Hardy and led them through a channel that he knew had been cleared. The burning waterfront highlighted the four German destroyers whose crews had been at action stations for over twenty seven hours straight and had seen three fifths of their command sink in the past day.

Hardy, Hotspur, Havock, Hunter and Hostile closed to decisive range as the German lookouts had their night vision blinded by the fires and the ships silhouetted by the infernos onshore. Hardy called for a torpedo launch over the radio. Within a minute thirty seven torpedoes were in the water, bearing in on their targets from a range of 2,900 yards. Full broadsides were fired rapidly within seconds of the torpedo launch being completed. Each destroyer engaged their opposite number with the last destroyer, Hostile, doubling up on Hunter’s target. The Germans were completely shocked. In the few minutes for the torpedoes to run, only two ships were able to fire at the flashes in the light. No hits were achieved even as 4.7 inch shells wrecked the upper works of the German large destroyers. The shellfire was overkill and incidental. All four ships were torpedoed. One was hit five times, the best off ship was hit twice.

The German mountain troopers were cut off and their heavy support was now sitting at the bottom of Narvik harbor.

Hotspur and Havock withdrew to screen the remaining three destroyers. Within an hour, a Norwegian shore party was able to get Hotspur’s attention and they sent a boat with a simple request. Would the British destroyers close to point blank range and shell the strong points the Germans had been setting up?

Forty minutes later, two destroyers began a steady rotation along the waterfront. Norwegian army officers pointed out the houses and strong points that would hold up attacks. Four or eight guns would send fire repeatedly and rapidly for a minute or two until the strong point was a charnel house of broken bleeding limbs and young boys crying for their mothers or lovers as they laid dying.

After an hour of this duty, two more destroyers took their place so that no ship would run critically low on ammunition.

By noon, Norwegian infantry had started to see white flags raise whenever a strong point was hit with the first two or three ranging shots. By nightfall, the port was firmly in Norwegian hands. Eleven hundred German prisoners sat on the docks. Five hundred would be loaded onto the British destroyers to be taken back to the United Kingdom while the rest were to be held in the basement of three surviving churches to avoid the cold of the night.

April 11, 1940 West of Stavanger

Gneisenau and Scharnhorst headed south. They had achieved their mission of drawing off heavy British units and then escaped an encounter with a British battleship. The lookouts swore they saw Rodney but the cryptographers thought their opponent was Renown. No matter, Scharnhorst had only weather damage. Gneisenau had been hit four times. Two were minor wounds, a single 15 inch shell scraped the forward director off and deposited into into the sea while a 4.5 inch shell was defeated by her belt. More serious damage was done by a fifteen inch shell that crippled Anton turret and a light shell that opened by Bruno turret’s rangefinder to the sea, flooding the turret whenever the waves crested the bow. It did not matter. Luftwaffe patrol planes orbited overhead.

Suddenly the ship shuddered and a hollow boom reverberated. A mine had detonated against Gneisenau port bow. Water poured in and as the ships had been moving at twenty five knots, the forward momentum caused more damage as water pushed past open doors and quickley flooded the forward tenth of the ship. Within minutes, the battlecruiser was down six feet at the bow and had slowed to three knots.

The destroyer Draug struck again.

April 11, 1940 1540 north of the Skaw

HMS Sealion crept along, her periscope occasionally flitting upwards through the waves. She had been stalking her prey for the past three hours as it was steaming south at eleven knots. Finally she was in firing position, six hundred yards away and her target would never get any closer. Six torpedoes were fired. Five ran hot, straight and true, the last porpoised through the waves and took a seventy degree turn before settling down to run straight. Two torpedoes missed forward of their target, but the last three detonated along a two hundred foot span of the damaged cruiser Lutzow.

Twelve minutes later, the panzerschiffe sank.

April 12, 1940 0800 Narvik

The sailors jumped off the edge of their ship and made fast the lines to secure the old cruiser to the severely damaged pier. The Scots Guards had arrived to reinforce and relive the Norwegian 6th Division. The last German prisoners would be taken away on the fast cruisers. Engineers had already started to survey the ruined port. Liberal use of high explosives had cleared two berthing areas large enough for warships while the merchant docks were still unusable. Royal Navy and Norwegian merchant crews were surveying the captured German merchant ships. Some were innocent bulk carriers with nothing more suspicious than the typical contraband that could be found on most merchant ships. Two however were forward deployed support vessels for the follow-on echelon that had been diverted to Stavanger and Bergen.

Further south, “American tourists” were surveying the fishing ports and secondary ports north of Bodo. Three brigades from three nations would soon be landing in Northern Norway. Another division equivalent was to be landed near Trondheim in order to prevent the Germans from expanding their beach head from the port and cutting the county into two non-supporting segments.

April 12, 1940 1520 Oscarburg Fortress

The flag was lowered.

Oberst Eriksen and a small staff of men who had not been able to cross the Drobak Narrows and be taken in by the slowly mobilizing 2nd Division had negotiated a surrender for the fortress to the invading Germans. Three rowboats were coming across the water skirting wide of the wrecked Blucher with the occupation party.

Four hundred sorties had been flown against the fortress. Two of the heavy eleven inch guns had been knocked from the mounts, all of the anti-aircraft positions had been either suppressed or ran out of ammunition by mid-morning. The six inch gun battery was no more after a battalion of German guns along with the cruiser Emdem engaged it with deliberate, spotted and observed fire. The only building that was still habitable on the island was a storage shed on the northern point. Casualties had been light as the garrison was able to shelter underground, but they could not influence the battle. Over the past two nights four hundred men had been evacuated. They could do more with the 2nd Division than as prisoners on the island.

The surrender was to take effect at 1530 local time. At 1525, large explosions were heard. Each of the heavy gun barrels were now splayed, steel tongues reaching outwards as eighty pounds of dynamite were detonated in the barrel and eighty more pounds exploded in the open breach. The fortress had done its job.

As the German commander stepped onto the rock pier, he received the salute of Oberst Eriksen with a respectful reply of his own. The fortress was now German.

April 13, 1940 Stavanger Norway 1258

HMS Seal’s periscope harshly penetrated into the air above the still waters of the fjord. She was vulnerable, confined to shallow and narrow waters. Any patrol ship that spotted her could hound her until her batteries were exhausted and her crew nearly asphyxiated. The captain spun quickly around, the handles of the scope in his firm hands. One, two, three… and down periscope. He had seen enough. There were no ships in Stavanger harbor larger than a fishing vessel. A single wrecked German patrol boat stood crucified on a shoal, forced there by accurate gunfire from the coastal batteries. Those batteries had been taken from the rear by German infantry.

Twenty minutes later, fifty mines were laid, blocking the central shipping channel three miles from the harbor. Seal spent the rest of the day creeping to a patrol zone midway between Stavanger and Oslo in the heart of the Kattegat.

April 13, 1940 1545 Kykklsrud, Norway

Low, intermittent, clouds provided some protection for the two battalions of Norwegian reservists. Luftwaffe bombers had been constantly over their positions since before breakfast. Four or six bombers would drop a few thousand pounds of steel and high explosives on any exposed Norwegian formation or when they had no obvious targets, they would bomb the river bank just before they had to return to base. The anti-aircraft battery of five thirty caliber machine guns had been out of ammunition since mid-morning. The artillery battery of ancient 75mm guns had been hit three times in the past hour and would be hit again because a German observation plane orbited the primary firing location.

Twenty four more JU-88 twin engine bombers tipped over into their dives. The front burst into flame and then the three batteries of German light artillery that had arrived from the Oslo docks that morning commenced firing. Fifteen minutes later, two batteries switched to firing smoke while the third still flung high explosive shells into the pillowy clouds. A regiment of infantry advanced behind six Panzer 1 tanks that had also just arrived at the front.

Twenty minutes later, the bridge had been seized and the German flank into Oslo was safe. The remnants of the Norwegian regiment split into two disorganized clusters. Men on the left flank were able to drift away. Most were able to find their ways to their home and their family. When German patrols visited these farms, most of the men could claim without too much effort that they never reported for duty. The rest of the regiment with most of the survivors retreated east to Sweden where the Swedish border guards disarmed them and proceeded to intern the regiment.

April 14, 1940 Faroe Islands

A reinforced Marine company disembarked from HMS Suffolk at the main town in the Faroes Islands. Arrangements were being made for a friendly occupation of the Danish county while the rest of the country was occupied by the Germans. As soon as their equipment was offloaded, Suffolk left the harbor and made a high speed run back to Scapa Flow as she was needed off Norway.

April 14, 1940 Dombras Norway


Three ME-110 carcasses littered the valley. Two FAA Martlets were burning just west of the city. A battalion of the French Foreign Legion was marching towards the village and critical rail junction when the sky filled with a dozen transports. Out of those transports a company of paratroopers dropped into withering anti-aircraft fire that destroyed half the transports.

The elite paratroopers surprised the Norwegian defenders as they dropped near the rail line. Most of the men fired at the militia while two men in each squad hurried to set charges on the rails. Within an hour, the rail line was wrecked and the steel twisted as if it was an abstract sculpture. The Legionaries marched at a double time to add their strength to the defenders and by nightfall the paratroopers had been forced into a pocket two hundred meters wide. German bombers dropped ammunition and supplies to the attackers while dive bombers acted as unmolested flying artillery.

Southern Norway was now isolated.

April 15, 1940 Hamburg

The battlecruiser was eased into the dry dock in the great Blohm and Voss shipyard. She was dwarfed by the still incomplete Bismarck. Work crews had been reassigned from him to repair the mine damaged battlecruiser.

April 16, 1940 1145 Namsos Norway

A trawler billowed dark diesel fueled flame smoke. Stukas had sunk the ship an hour ago during an attack on the harbor. Two had been shot down by the fleet’s anti-aircraft fire. One bored straight into the harbor while the other was able to make a belly landing in a fielding. A Polish destroyer was damaged in the air raid and a small 1,100 GRT coaster with general supplies had to be run aground after being targeted. This was the third raid on the beachhead in the past seventeen hours and the attacks were getting both heavier and more effective.
 
Story 0124 April 17 1940 to May 1 1940

April 17, 1940 0517 near Stavanger, Norway

Six ships’ guns flashed. Fourteen heavy shells heaved skyward along with sixteen lighter shells from the destroyers. The airfield had been captured by paratroopers the previous week. The defenders were able to put heavy equipment on the concrete runway to block the glider attack, but the elite storm troopers overran the partially mobilized and woefully armed militia by the end of the first day.

Since then, the Luftwaffe had begun to stage fighters and single engine bombers out of the forward base. Air support was on call for the German infantry units. The last half dozen Norwegian Hawks had tried to strafe the base, but they were intercepted by ME-109s earlier in the week. Blenheims bombed the base on the 15th, but the distance necessitated a light bomb load. The Royal Navy needed to close the base down so that they could operate in the southern Leads.

Suffolk and Exeter were escorted by four destroyers. They were the fast bombardment task force. Furious and her escorts would provide cover for the heavy cruiser. A pair of Martlets orbited overhead. After a twenty-five minute bombardment, a strike from Furious would finish the operation.

April 17, 1940 0845 HMS Effingham Trondheim Norway

The large light cruiser was accompanied by HMS Penelope and three Polish destroyers. The Norwegian division was preparing to attack the outpost line the Germans had assembled north of the port. The cruisers would support the effort as more and more Allied battalions were being landed even further north. Landing south of the city were due by the end of the day. Soon the Germans would be cut off. Fourteen six inch guns firing on their positions would hopefully cause some damage while also reducing German mobility and morale.

As Effingham cleared the winding fjord walls, the captain slowed her speed and ordered a turn to open her broadside to the town’s harbor front. Once Penelope and the destroyers followed suit, the order to open fire was given and the bombardment started.

April 17, 1940 1135 near Stavanger, Norway

The Marlets were being overwhelmed. Steady dive bomber and twin engine level bomber attacks had gone in against the cruiser force for the past three hours. The initial patrol of two Martlets had disrupted the first attack, shooting down a pair of JU-88s before they could dive on Suffolk. However one of the Martlets was damaged by defensive fire and had to return to Furious. A replacement patrol of four Martlets had arrived after a squadron of level bombers sprayed the fleeing group with water spouts and fragments. That patrol intercepted another flight of Stukas, damaging at least two but splashing none. The presence of the fighters combined with the heavy anti-aircraft fire from the cruisers led to no hits. Exeter’s hull had sprung leaks from a near miss.

They continued to run, looking for clouds, looking for squalls at a steady twenty eight knots. Whenever there were no bombers overhead, the force ran in a straight line seeking to increase the range from the Luftwaffe bases. When the bombers appeared, the destroyers tightened up and speed increased as each captain waited until they were sure they were targeted and the bombs had been dropped before throwing their rudders hard to port or hard to starboard so that their ship heeled over and the weather deck approached the water. They chased splashes, hoping that the wild maneuvering and the steady stream of pom-pom fire disrupted their attackers’ aim if not killing them before they could threaten them.

The Martlets had to leave as they were low on ammunition. Furious signaled that she could replenish the patrol by noon but she needed to hold fighters back for her own defense. A pair of Skuas were overhead but they were vastly inferior protection.

Twenty one German bombers homed in on the last sighted position of the cruisers. Twelve were high level bombers and the other nine were dive bombers. The Skuas made a single head on pass, damaging a dive bomber that later crash landed near Oslo but they were too slow to re-engage. The high level bombers released a stream of 250 kilogram bombs targeting the wildly curving Exeter. Most missed. One hit her A turret, exploding in the cordite room. Her speed was not diminished even as her forward magazine flooded. The eight surviving Stukas tipped over. One crashed into the sea as a pom-pom round exploded in his engine. The other seven released their bombs against Suffolk.

Black eggs fell from the sky. The Suffolk’s gunners continued to fire, one machine gunner switched his fire from a Stuka to a bomb. He missed. The black masses screamed and grew larger as gravity pulled them faster.

None hit the cruiser. Three entered the ocean within forty yards but a last second emergency turn to port had created just enough space for clear misses to occur. The rest splattered within one hundred yards of the heaving cruiser.

Smoke rose from Exeter. She would need time in the dockyards, but she could still fight and run. Two Martlets arrived after the bombers had departed. An hour later four Blenheims reinforced the fighter patrol. The bombardment force returned to Scapa after nightfall.

April 18, 1940 0530 Scapa Flow

HMS Penelope arrived at the fleet anchorage. She had not been hit by the raiding high level bombers. A half dozen near misses punctured hundreds of holes in her thin steel hull. A porcupine array of wooden plugs kept the leakage to a tolerable limit. She unloaded her ammunition and her liaison with the Norwegian navy before heading to Belfast for two weeks of repairs.

April 18, 1940 El Segundo, CA


The new dive bomber took off for the first time. Her 1,000 horsepower engine dragged her into the sky with arching desire, tempting the winds to carry the plane aloft. Her test pilot was gentle, soothing her around a lazy circle of the airfield twice before going to 11,000 feet for ten minutes, greater Los Angeles spread out beneath his eyes. The chase plane, a Navy Brewster fighter kept pace with her, guns removed and replaced with cameras.

Thirty minutes later, she touched down, bouncing twice as the pilot came in fast. They had a winner in the Dauntless.

April 18, 1940 Kobe, Japan

The Danish 4,500 ton steamer Nordbo pulled into port. She was carrying a cargo of wood and a variety of machine tools from Denmark. Her crew were now countryless as the Germans had conquered Denmark a week ago. The officers agreed that they had a legal charter to complete but once that was done, they would steam to an Allied controlled port and place their services under the command of the Allied navies.

April 18, 1940 Marseilles France

Seven merchant ships tied up at the great Mediterranean port. A pair of light cruisers and six destroyers had escorted the convoy from Gibraltar to the final destination. This was not just any convoy. It was an arms convoy from America. The first tranche of Polish tanks were on board as well as a squadron of heavy bombers and thousands of other critical intermediate products. A raider that sank one of these ships would cripple a French division for a year. Stevedores were marshaled like an impatient army ready for an offensive to empty the holds of the ships.

April 19, 1940 Scapa Flow


804 NAS Squadron landed aboard HMS Glorious. The seventeen Marletts had been in their pilot’s hands for only six weeks. The brass would have preferred another month of operational training but the German invasion of Norway disrupted their plans. The Sea Gladiators that the pilots were familiar with were vastly inferior machines. They would be flown off by cadet pilots and transferred to Norwegian units that needed replacements for their destroyed fighters. The cadets would be ferried back to Scotland by Royal Navy destroyers which could safely enter the long fjords where their speed and maneuverability provided protection against roving Luftwaffe sweeps. A squadron of RAF Gladiators was also on board.

The biplane fighters would all be deck parked for the short trip across the North Sea. Once those planes had flown off, a squadron of Swordfish could be used from storage in the hangers to join the Marletts that were also on the deck park for the entire journey.

April 20, 1940 Norwegian Sea aboard HNoMS Sleipner

The guards flitted around the perimeter of the vulnerable convoy. Five merchant ships, none larger than 1,550 tons, bobbed along in the eight foot waves off the coast of Narvik Fjord. Sleipner and three English destroyers probed the ocean for threats, ASDICS pinging for undersea opponents and eyes alert for both mines and aircraft. Heinkels raided Narvik the previous morning, sinking the largest ship that had been assigned to the convoy that was bringing an artillery battery and the 1st Battalion of the 14th Infantry Regiment to the assembling Allied force north of Trondheim. They had not fought to defend Narvik, having arrived the day after the Germans surrendered but the men had been mobilized since October and their training had been accelerated since February.

A flare was fired. The red light hung over the small convoy. The merchant ships had their naval gunners run to the machine guns that had been expeditiously requisitioned from the German mountain troopers and re-purposed as morale boosting anti-aircraft guns welded onto the coasters. They held their fire as six JU-88’s ranged on the convoy. No Allied fighters were available to chase the bombers away. The destroyers low angle guns could not break up their formation. As the bombers dove, Sleipner’s 40mm gun banged away, joined by pompom fire and machine gun tracers. One bomber never pulled up.

The convoy continued south with only four merchant ships. C Company was being pulled out of the water by the light patrol boats and guard ships that had accompanied the flotilla to the edge of the fjord.

April 20, 1940 a shipyard on the Tyne England

Geordie McIntyre looked at the small ship in front of him. The work order proclaimed her to be a destroyer but his eyes told him something else. His gang was supposed to assist the crew in bringing her to full combat readiness as soon as possible. This would be a large task as the Norwegian Tor at less than 800 tons total displacement had very little room to be a warrior. She had good engines and her crew seemed to be keen and willing but they had escaped the German invasion with almost nothing other than a full oil tank and four days of food. Tor had no guns, she had no sensors beyond three telescopes, she had no spare parts, she had nothing. She escaped as the Germans were too busy licking their wounds from Droback Sound and could not send one of their large destroyers to blockade the naval yard at Frederickstad. She escaped like a mistress running out the back door as the wife came home early. She escaped.

She arrived on the Tyne the night tide before. The Admiralty wanted her ready so that the Norwegians could stay in the fight. Her crew wanted to get back to their country. Two officers and half a dozen senior enlisted men had already been poached by the Royal Navy to place on their cruisers and destroyers so familiar men could guide the warships in the confined waters where men and ships were already dying. The rest of the crew were willing to work but the question remained what tools could be given to them?

April 22, 1940 near Lillehammer Norway


Defeat was inevitable. The Norwegian infantry had dug in but they never had enough. They never had enough time, they never had enough anti-tank guns, they never had enough air cover, they never had enough artillery and they never had enough will to fight. Every night before dark, roll call would be taken. Every morning roll call would be taken again. Companies counted themselves lucky when they reported to their battalions that they only lost two or three men unaccounted for. Battalions were lucky to report to the regiment that they were only down 1% strength as the heavy weapons (how few they were) were left behind. Sometimes the men who disappeared surrendered to the Germans. More often, they just faded away, unarmed and mostly unmolested as the Germans were more than content to watch the Allied blocking position melt like a glacier approaching the warm waters of a Gulf Stream heated fjord.

Allied units had arrived to strengthen the line. A battalion of French Foreign Legionnaires had arrived. They were tough men, well led and well trained professionals but they were light infantry raised in the desert. Mountain and sub-Artic warfare were not their forte. A few independent British companies had followed the rail line down from Drombas.

One man just watched as men broke cover and raced to get on a reverse slope, as artillery positions were dynamited and guns spiked, as supplies were burnt. Captain Robert Losey of the US Army Air Corps and recently the assistant military attache to the Embassy watched. He was a meteorologist but a professional soldier who started his career in the artillery. His trained eye told him that a strong division with good leadership could stop an army in this valley if they had enough time to dig in and prepare for a siege. That division did not exist.

Instead the scattered fragments of defenders of Southern Norway retreated up the valley. Every time they stopped, the Germans would bring up a few companies of light tanks. The tanks would have infantry draped on and near them. Breakthroughts would be made as artillery pounded the lightly armed defenders who could not respond in equal weight and dive bombers ranged into the Norwegian rear to attack any organized group of reserves. This dance had played out half a dozen times. The anti-aircraft machine guns and bad weather had claimed more than a few bombers but never enough. The terror of the infantry operating under enemy air dominance was palpable. He had noted that the first time he saw a company break when an unarmed Storch flew by. He saw it again and again.

The Allied forces had for the most part disengaged. A single company had assumed blocking positions further up the valley as the rear guard. They were good positions held by well trained men, but they would be insufficient to actually stop the multi-division German advance. They could give the rest of the polyglot Allied brigade time to evacuate to Drombas and more importantly, give the engineers enough time to lay a copious amount of high explosives on key bridges.

The three Norwegian regiments were a different story. One regiment had already started to disperse and disband. The men hoped that the Germans were far more interested in conquest rather than smashing up demobilized mobs who were trying to get back to their own farms. Another regiment had borne the brunt of the attack. So far they had not broken but they had little fight left in them. The final regiment was leap frogging back with the Allied brigade. Ten to fifteen miles of retreat overnight to the next defensive position and then they would repeat the same trick tomorrow to avoid air attack.

Captain Losey got into his car and made sure that the Stars and Stripes which he and his driver had painted on the 1938 Ford were still visible and started north. He wanted to be at Drombas before the Allied infantry arrived.

April 22, 1940 near Trondheim

Smoke wafted over the forward German observation post. It commanded a kink in the coastal road outside of the village of Hasselvika. A single machine gun and a dozen riflemen had held up the attack of the Polish Highland brigade for an entire day already. Forty bodies, mostly dead and the rest quickly freezing to death laid on the road and the ditches next to the coastal road. The first two pushes which were conducted with elan and without firepower had failed.

The obsolete 18 pounders that equipped the light artillery battalion attached to the brigade ceased their rapid fire. Each gun now was only firing one shell a minute to keep the smoke thick and the defenders honest as the occasional high explosive shell scythed exposed flesh. Another infantry company was on the attack.

Machine gun fire poured into the general area of the observation post. Bren guns were being brought forward as men ran in a crouch besides whatever cover they could find. They had advanced to within three hundred meters of the German position when the first unaimed machine gun burst swept the most likely sector of an advance. Mortars started to rain into a linear sheaf across the line of advance. The Polish artillery waited for their observation parties to report the location of the mortars and started a counter-battery nine minutes after the first infantry man was wounded.

The easy advance down the coast was over. The outer works of Trondheim were defended by determined and dug-in infantry that just had to hold until relieved.

April 24, 1940 0640 Maastricht Netherlands

A sixteen year girl on a bicycle rode past the sandbagged machine gun nest thirty yards from the bridge that crossed the Maas (Meuse) River. The smell of fresh bread pervaded the air and she was too young to see the worry in the soldiers’ faces. She did not see them as soldiers. They were her older brothers’ friends who had been called up a few months ago. They looked uncomfortable in their heavy wool coats and cold steel helmets. A single man who was almost as old as her father attempted to keep the conscripts focused but it was a never ending task. The girl pedaled by and waved as the soldiers appreciated her form and one foolishly blew her a kiss.

The sergeant who had duty shook his head. He had no idea why the battalion had been placed on alert last night. A platoon was on each side of the bridge and the lieutenant on the west bank had clear orders to blow the bridge if any attack came. Evidently the high command was worried about paratroopers but the large guns of Eban Emal had enough range to slaughter any column that used the bridge so the sergeant thought that it might be better to welcome an attack and make the Germans pay the blood price to Belgian guns instead of Dutch rifles. It would be safer for him at least.

What the sergeant did not know was the Dutch government had an excellent source within the German government, General Oster. He had sent word to expect an invasion within a fortnight as soon as the weather turned. The Dutch had already received two invasion warnings, one in the fall and one in January and nothing had come of it but preparedness was not as expensive as surprise.

April 25, 1940 0953 East of Dombas, Norway

A trio of Hurricanes flew over the battlefield that had smoke columns emerging from half a handful of cooked up scout cars and flames licking at the remains of an Allied ammunition dump. The pilots could smell the battle through their masks as 7,000 feet was not enough distance. The crucifix cairn of destroyed Stukas laid east of town, joined by a pair of Gladiators that had been jumped by German fighters earlier in the morning. Streaks of tracer fire reached for the pilots as anti-aircraft crews on both sides were working through their nerves. The French machine guns quickly ceased fire as the Hurricanes edged out of range. The German guns continued. A single 20mm gun was crewed by an expert who could see where the fighters would be in the future. His shells whipped perilously close by and punched through the fabric surfaces of the wing of the trail Hurricane. The rest of the shells went wild and wide.

Advancing up the rail line from Lillehammer were two German divisions with a battalion of light tanks just behind the lead regiment. Their forward screen had attempted a hasty attack to overrun the seven companies of Allied defenders in the town. It was a hasty attack made without artillery support. A squadron of Stukas had arrived just after dawn but the attack had been stopped within an hour by a combination of Legionnaires and Guardsmen.

The Hurricanes turned around and increased power to flee from any late arriving Luftwaffe fighters. Their mission was accomplished. The Army would know what was coming from Southern and Eastern Norway; most of an army corps with heavy support weapons would soon be in position to attack the lines of contravallation. Now they just had to safely land on an icy lake north of Trondheim.

April 26, 1940 1452 north of Skagen Denmark

One of the world’s great maritime highways was eerily deserted.

A single Swedish patrol boat led a convoy of half a dozen coasters through a marked Swedish minefield. They never got more than three miles from shore except to dodge a shoal. Luftwaffe seaplanes flitted out of Oslofjord, searching for ambitious submarines and unwary Royal Navy warships. A trio of German destroyers escorted a damaged light cruiser south to the Little Belt. A single submarine watched the near emptiness. HMS Seal was unable to get into good position to attack the wounded prey.

The submarine snuck close to shore. Her hydrophones heard a flotilla of German minesweepers to the east, and a division of torpedo boats quartering the sea to the south. The air in the submarine had already turned rank as the last ventilation was over twelve hours ago. She crept closer to shore until there was only eighty feet under the keel. Fifty mines were ejected. Their anchors sank to the bottom while their chains held them a few feet beneath the waves.

Seal scurried away.

But she did not escape. The large minelayer was soon being hounded by nine German ships.

“Boom, Boom”

Depth charges rained down through the cold gray sea. Most missed but the seventeenth and eighteenth charges were near misses. Four hundred pounds of high explosives went off seven feet from the port shaft. The seals broke. Dark water rushed into the rear compartment and the men rushed forward as power was lost. Fifty three men rushed forward.

Another salvo of depth charges bracketed HMS Seal. She could not escape as the rear compartment flooded.

“Blow all tanks”

She rose through the deep sea suddenly, her nose broaching the surface. Forty two men escaped and jumped into the sea before Seal submerged again for the last time. The captain did not escape. He stayed with the ship and made sure four compartments were open to the sea.

Four minutes later, Seal rested on the bottom, the sky four hundred feet above her.

April 26, 1940 Multiple Dutch shipyards


A sudden flurry of activity had descended on the shipyards. The Navy had been re-arming for the past four years. Two large, modern light cruisers and a flotilla leader were under construction as well as four modern destroyers that were the equal of any ship of its class in the world were being fitted out. The large light cruisers with their ten six inch guns were years away from completion. Every other ship was at least minimally sea worthy. Discussions had started among the captains, the senior chiefs and the yard dogs as to which ship could be sent to sea with almost no notice. At least the unarmed flotilla leader and three of the big new destroyers could survive passage to England. Isaac Sweers was in the best shape. She could be made ready for sea in three days. The rest would need at least a week of emergency work.

That work was authorized and unlimited funds for overtime and material would be approved.

Close offshore, the destroyer Van Galen and the forty year old and completely obsolete, by two technological revolutions, protected cruiser Gelderland , steamed independently outside of the ports. They were checking ships and insuring the Dutch could maintain an armed neutrality over their coast. A flight of Army light bombers flew overhead as the anti-aircraft guns near the shipyard tracked them and trained hard for the first time in months.

April 26, 1940 Central China

The sky was laced with contrails and the occasional parachute. Soviet “volunteers” flew I-16 fighters tangled with Japanese navy fighters. The air battle had been an ongoing campaign over the past week. The Japanese were slowly grinding away the Soviet Volunteer group through superior logistics and sheer numbers. The bombers were getting through in increasing numbers.

On the ground near an anti-aircraft battery that had paused, Captain Chennault craned his neck and saw a section of Russian fighters get jumped by a half dozen Japanese pursuit planes. Two Russians were splashed in the first eight seconds, and the remainder dove and fled. The Russians by now knew not to get into turning fights with the very lightweight and nimble Japanese planes. The survivors of those fights were the loudest evangelists for energy combats instead of angles combat. They wanted to dive, fire and run until they could reform and repeat the performance. The light Japanese fighters could not keep up with them in a dive.

He dove back into a slit trench as a dozen twin engine bombers opened their bomb bay doors miles away and miles above him. A string of bombs emerged and fell. Most fell into empty paddies and fields but a few landed on a road that supplied one of the many divisions that was fighting to hold the Japanese back.

April 26, 1940 near Strasbourg

Anne Marie Jeanne d’Orlong waved at the piper. He smiled as he remembered the pretty girl and the fun night in the barn they shared together in November. The battalion would again stay for the night in the village before finishing their march to Strasbourg in the morning and entraining to rejoin the core of the BEF in the north of the country. The 4th Polish Infantry Division had come through the crowded and congested roads to replace the two brigades of SaarForce that were being pulled back. A single Territorial brigade stiffened by a Regular Army battalion was staying on the main defensive line.

Since she had returned from Strasbourg, Anne Marie had wondered how she would feel if she saw the piper. Would it be fear, would it be disgust, would it be excitement? She was going to hell and she was fine with that. As she looked at the tall, strongly featured man, her stomach fluttered a little more. This time, she was ready if the soldiers were allowed to fraternize. She had presertifs stashed in the back of the barn, more than enough for a singular romp. She had bought them three villages over earlier in the month when she visited a cousin on a school holiday. No one could know that she had them, but the pleasure was too much to deny herself until her wedding night.

Three hours later, the Scottish battalion was released to improve relations between allies while drinking copious quantities of beer and bad wine.

April 28, 1940 0330 Over Germany


Bats were displaced by large looming shapes that descended from the air above. The eleven gliders swooped downwards. Alert sentries of the defending infantry battalion saw something in the seconds before the gliders landed. A pair of twenty year old privates were alert enough and brave enough to make the decision to rouse the entire garrison as one watched the central field while the other fiddled with a flare gun. He aimed the flare gun skyward and as he was preparing to pull the trigger, the lead glider came over his watchtower, the fabric belly clearing the roof by thirty four inches. The apparition caused him to drop the gun and curse. As he realized he had dropped the gun, his companion kicked the flare gun two meters along the floor of the post. By the time a pale red flare hung over the encampment, thirty seven assault engineers were already on the parade ground and two squads had closed half the distance to their target.

Within two hours, the umpires stopped the exercise. The engineers had “seized” the fortress. The Landser battalion would now be quarantined until after they crossed the Dutch frontier.

April 28, 1940 1120 north of Hjerkinn Norway


“Where’s my ma… I need my ma….” a badly burned teenager cried out as an orderly hurried by him. Casualties had been coming into the forward hospital in a steady stream. The Guards brigade had been leapfrogging backwards in conjunction with the Legionnaires in the face of a determined German assault. Each pass was held, each valley contested in the retreat from Dombas. The infantry of the Guards was arrayed along the Valasjoen a narrow water obstacle with strongly anchored flanks on the steep snow-covered sided valley walls. The Legionnaires had broken contact the night before and had already started to dig in a few miles north of the village along the right bank of the Svane.

“Ma, Ma, Ma….” The nurse in the triage area had heard enough. He looked at a doctor and received a curt nod before the surgeon resumed the work of staunching arterial bleeding caused by a German shell to a fusilier’s left leg.

“Here, here, you’ll see your Ma soon enough Private… just close your eyes now” With that the enveloping fuzziness of another dose of morphine descending onto the young man’s mind and soon he started to breathe slowly and shallowly.

April 29, 1940 Pearl Harbor

The Battle Fleet had arrived. Twelve Standard battleships, two dozen cruisers split between the fleet screen and the scouting force, three carriers and a shoal of destroyers. President Roosevelt had ordered the Fleet to relocate from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in order to support American interests against Japan in the Pacific Ocean. The bars of San Diego would empty while new establishments optimized to extract greenbacks from the fleet were soon opening in Honolulu.


May 1, 1940 Camp Coëtquidan Brittany, France


The First Polish Grenadier Division had received movement orders. They were to entrain from Brittany to Paris and then head north to a central reserve position near St. Quentin. From there, they were to make camp and continue training. The past three months had seen most of the equipment needed to field a light division arrive at the camp. Individual training had progressed, and unit training at the company and battalion level had shown solid improvement. Veterans of the Defensive Campaign in Poland frequently educated their peers on how to fight the Germans. Alertness and a willingness to fight from an all-around position was critical as well as improvised anti-tank teams that utilized the few Boys anti-tank rifles and Molotov cocktails gave each company some anti-armor capacity even if it was nearly suicidal capacity.

The American 75mm guns were already loaded on two trains of flatcars. Troop trains would be bringing the infantry with their MAS36 rifles and light machine guns to Paris later on in the afternoon. The men might have a night near the Gare du Nord to relax before moving on.

May 1, 1940 South of Trondheim

The snow covered ground exploded. Flares were soon shot into the air as whistles were blown and the entire line came to. Smoke floated down on the eastern most observation post that overlooked the road that emerged from Trondheim. Half a dozen naval guns salvaged from the initial assault force focused on the three dozen Norwegian infantrymen huddled at the bottom of their dugouts. A few men tried to do their job and keep their eyes out on the advance. They lasted less than three minutes. Two men, including the lietutenant were limp, bleeding bodies as one had a shell fragment go through his eye into his brain while the other no longer had a head. The third man was dazed as a fragment hit his steel helmet, numbing but not visibly wounding him.

Allied artillery responded in kind. The Norwegian and French batteries fired blindly at previously registered attack channels. They were deliberate in the fire as the Luftwaffe had made landing shells at the numerous small fishing ports a costly affair. A single battery at rapid fire could run through a trawler’s entire delivery in half an hour. The heavier guns of the Royal Artillery were reaching out for the German batteries. Within an hour, the fight had devolved into a close combat between tired Allied infantrymen and hungry German infantrymen. The Allies slowly gave ground as the German attack was successful in rolling up a Norwegian battalion whose men were no longer interested in dying for their divided country. By nightfall the front line stabilized after the 6th Battalion of Alpine Chassauers had charged with fix bayonets a German company that had threatened to seize the road running behind Tonstad. The lines stabilized for the night as the Luftwaffe surged over seventy transports into Trondheim to resupply the besieged division and three dozen Stukas bombed the road junction at Leinstrand where the Dombas force’s vanguard had arrived an hour earlier.
 
Story 0125 May 2 to May 10 1940
May 2, 1940 HMS Hood Plymouth

She was immobile. Power was flowing through the hundreds of tools civilians and landlubbers brought aboard her. Her engines had been opened up. Thousands of tubes were being replaced by both her crew and the yard workers. Some of the tubes were in fine condition, others had been narrowed by scaled mineral deposits. Hood needed the month in the yard while her older and weaker sisters, Renown and Repulse could hold the line against the sole seaworthy German battlecruiser. Dunkerque and Strasbourg were both at sea having joined increasingly powerful fleet committed to the Norwegian campaign.

Work stopped throughout the ship at 1400.

Seventy men, fifty Royal Marines and twenty sailors of the naval landing party had arrived at the gangway. The Royal Marine major requested permission to come aboard and it was quickly granted. The men had returned from Norway after they had landed at Alesund. They had held the small port until relieved by the Army and now they were home. Hood’s let go three mighty blasts of her whistle as the ships’ company let go with a roar:

“Huzzah, Huzzah, Huzzah”

Within an hour, work had resumed to make her ready for war once again.

May 2, 1940 South of Trondheim

The artillery observer looked through his binoculars. Four thousand yards away in the river valley thirty men were seen hugging each other. The cleaner and fatter soldiers had handed the skinnier and poorly clothed compatriots a few bottles of cheap booze and confiscated cigarettes. The meeting place was only a few hundred yards from a registered target. Six minutes later a battery of 75mm guns sent fifty rounds at the Germans who had celebrated breaking the seige of Trondheim. Four divisions had forced their way up the valley against two brigades, one Guards, one Legion. They had fought hard and they left hundreds of their comrades buried in impromptu graves. The terrain had been their friend in delaying the overwhelming power of the advance but as they retreated up the rail line the front became too much to cover.

The four Allied brigades that were besieging the southern approaches to Trondheim had abandoned their lines overnight. The Norwegian division had moved to the east with the intention that they could demobilize and send as many men home as possible. The French Alpine infantry, Poles and Scottish Territorials were able to hold a line of retreat open over the Gaula River while the Guards and Legion passed through the lines of contravallation.

If the Germans could give the Allies twelve hours to reorganize, a stand could be arranged east of Borsa by a rearguard as the other five brigades continued to march through the snow constricted roads to the ports at the top of the fjord where they could be evacuated.

May 2, 1940 Scapa Flow

HMS Penelope and four Tribal class destroyers steamed smartly pass the boom defense vessels near Flotta. They would head to a patrol box near Alesund as a score of merchant ships and even more fleet auxiliaries moved to evacuate as much of the Norwegian expeditionary force to Bodo.

Seven hundred miles away, the cruiser Koln left his anchorage with a pair of destroyers. Within an hour they had entered a cleared channel and headed north to Trondheim at 18 knots.

May 3, 1940 Lille, France


The last train pulled out the station. The passenger cars were mostly empty. A few families were leaving Lille for Paris and a company of engineers were being sent to the rear for more training on mine removal. The regular brigades of the 51st Highland Infantry Division had arrived with the main force of the BEF. General Gort wanted to hold the division in general reserve for at least a week to allow it to shake out from the transfer from the central front to the northern front. The men wanted the time to rest and recover. They had been used to working on their own and had some experience in light patrolling east of the Maginot line but their duties were static instead of potentially mobile war.

May 3, 1940 Maastricht


The pretty girl enjoyed the spring day. The sun was up almost as early as she was. The wind flew past her face, her long blonde hair kept down by a kerchief. She had to get her mother some herbs and fish from the market, and after that she had a few hours to herself. As she rode past the bridge over the Maas, the soldiers waved. Fewer soldiers were on duty today than they had been yesterday as three day leaves had been granted for one squad of each platoon. Some of the men had already made it to the train station to head back to the coast, while others were able to catch a streetcar to their homes. A few of the most industrious hired themselves out to work gangs while others decided to find an open tavern.

May 3, 1940 Camp Coëtquidan Brittany, France


The station master was apologetic. The Polish division had left. The last train carrying a battalion of sappers had departed the night before. There was no one left to sign for the cargo of eleven M2A2 medium tanks for the Polish Armored Training School. The tanks had arrived from America three weeks ago in Marseilles. Since then they had been slowly moving north to join the Polish Army. The station master told the bureaucrat that the Poles were on their way to Paris and then to the north. Perhaps the tanks could go back to Paris as well.

May 4, 1940 0815 Near Krokstorda Norway


Draug was back in her home waters. She had returned two days ago and already she had covered one evacuation convoy from the small fishing ports west of Trondheim. The crew was not the same crew that escaped Norway three weeks earlier. Half her officers were now on Royal Navy ships as liaisons. Half a dozen enlisted men were ashore along the Tyne assisting in the reconstruction of the incomplete destroyers that had escaped. Gaps were filled by impressed merchant sailors and a few uniformed men who had been able to avoid the initial onslaught and then made their ways to the Allied cause.

Eleven small ships and two larger ferries were in the convoy. Three destroyers from three nations along with a pair of sloops provided immediate cover as they headed north at seven knots. A minesweeper had been part of the escort until a squadron of Stukas sank her an hour ago. The bombs did their job, killing everyone aboard instantly after a magazine exploded. A pair of Skuas orbited overhead. Ark Royal and Furious were covering the evacuation but they kept the Martlets closer to the carriers for their own defense.

Forty miles to the south Force G patrolled. Dive bombers had attacked the light cruiser and four destroyers twice in the past two days. Afridi had been damaged. A French destroyer was with her halfway across the North Sea as they attempted to rendezvous with a fleet tug. Neptune had joined Penelope on the patrol a few hours ago. Her radar had been installed as the repairs from the Graf Spee action had been carried out. She was south of the main fleet to both strengthen the cruiser patrols and to give the fighters another thirty minutes worth of warning. She had already guided two FAA fighter flights against incoming raids leading to their disruption and half a dozen kills.

May 4, 1940 0200 Detroit Michigan

Eighty five flatbed cars were waiting outside the Michigan Central Railway Tunnel. Custom inspectors were going over the unusual cargo. One man could not believe the manifest. Each tank, however obsolete, was listed as scrap steel. Each would be sold for scrap for $250. If he had known that a tank could be bought that cheaply, he would have bought one or two for himself as a project for his brother’s garage. He would have had the most unique vehicle for the city parade.

Two hundred and fifty twenty three year old light tanks, knock-offs of the French Renaults that won the First Great War were being sold to Canada. The Canadians were in the process of standing up two armored divisions. They had a very simple problem. They had no tanks to either train with or equip their formations. These tanks could be training tanks for large scale maneuver and process building but they were death traps in mobile warfare. Heavy machine guns and light infantry support guns could penetrate the thin armor. They were protected against individual shoulder arms and mortar fragments and little else.

The US Army had stored several hundred tanks without a plan. Another 90 M1917s were being shipped to the Philippines. The Army there wanted to use them as the anchors of a defensive line. The engines had been stripped from the hulls. They would be pushed into place after engineers finished digging positions into the slopes of the Bataan Peninsula as impromptu pillboxes. One cannon tank would be matched with a pair of machine gun tanks in thirty strong points.

The rest of the tanks still in reserve were slowly being reconditioned to give the Army a large number of tanks for initial familiarization training. They were due to arrive at training units by the end of the summer.

May 4, 1940 0900 Along the Leads

Smoke pitter-pattered against the glaring white background of the Norwegian coast. Sharp eyed observers had seen flecks of darkness circle a distant point of grayness on the southern horizon. The men had been at anti-aircraft stations for hours now. A few men scrambled to the main battery turrets while the machine gunners were brought back inside the armored citadel. The three destroyers pushed away from the two light cruisers. Within minutes, they radioed that they saw three warships, one heavy cruiser and two light cruisers heading north at twenty knots. Ghurka pressed forward until she was within seventeen thousand yards. As she was chasing splashes she radioed that that the Germans were only light cruisers, one larger than the others. A few stray salvos of her forward guns replied at the edge of their range scoring no kills besides an unfortunate dolphin who had chosen that moment to breathe.


Eleven foot seas crested over the bows of the two Royal Navy cruisers as they edged south. Green water broke against the lead turrets as propellers began to turn and push the ships forward at 27 knots. The three Tribals had increased speed and fled from the oncoming Germans. At twenty seven thousand yards, Neptune’s radar pierced the horizon and had a solid set of contacts. Turrets began to shift and rudders turned slightly so the two cruisers were in echelon, the larger Neptune two ship lengths ahead of the smaller Penelope while the three destroyers clung closely to the flanks of the cruiser division. The forces were closing on each other at almost a mile per minute. The Germans began a turn to port as the range closed to under twenty thousand yards and the two smaller ships broke free from the escort mission and began to race across the open sea at thirty three knots.

Penelope opened fire with a ranging salvo against the lead German attacker. The shells arced into the air and between a misestimate of range, an understatement of speed and slightly inferior propellant that had a non-uniform burn, the shells splashed over one thousand yards from their intended target. Neptune waited thirty seconds until she fired on the large cruiser in the rear of the German formation. Four shells ascended into the stormy air until gravity pulled them back down. One shell landed ahead of Koln while the other three were on azimuth but four hundred yards short.

The Germans returned their fire. Ghurka was the target of the lead ships. The larger German destroyers forward guns roared and the almost cruiser sized weapons soaked the exposed seamen with water and a few shards of shell casing that cut wiring and scarred bulkheads but did not hit any of the crew.

Penelope’s fire improved in the first few minutes. The seventh salvo was a clean straddle on the leading German destroyer. The three destroyers had closed the range to under 9,000 yards where their lighter but far more numerous guns began to take an effect. The two German destroyers had by now realized they had not run into a destroyer patrol but a cruiser force. The lead ship had been hit three times, once by a six inch shell and twice from the accurate and increasingly rapid fire from Punjabi. Smoke had started to pour out of the bridge. Smoke, thick, dark, almost impenetrable smoke was puffing frantically from her funnel to hide Koln from pursuit. The smoke screen was thickened by her compatriot who had already started to flee while calling for help from the Luftwaffe.

Koln and Neptune traded blows. One shell had penetrated Neptune’s unarmored bow while Koln had been hit in her radio room. The German cruiser broadside was flashing every ten seconds, nine heavy shells raining towards the British patrol as Penelope had ceased assisting the destroyers, they would fight their own battle of same versus same, three predators against two where one had already been lamed and would need luck to survive the morning, and turned her guns. Three minutes later as Penelope gained her range, a salvo landing near Koln every four seconds. Few shells hit as the seas were rough and the range high but every minute, one, two or three shells hit. Koln’s single forward turret was inoperable, a six inch shell from Neptune had penetrated the barbette and jammed the training mechanism in place. The upperworks were a perforated as if mice had been given free reign in a cheese warehouse. Neptune had not escaped without harm. A trio of shells had struck. One detonated in the torpedo station, killing most of the torpedo crew and sending four into the sea wildly as a quick thinking hostilities only man released the firing pins and sent them overboard as he bled out from an leg wound. The torpedoes went their full run without threatening any ship and sank to the bottom of the sea instead of exploding onboard.

Yet the damage Koln could do from his two rear turrets was empty defiance. Richard Beitzen had split in half eight thousand yards to the north. The damaged Ghurka had all of her remaining guns trained on the still floating forward half of the ship as she slowed to make her own repairs and throw life rafts and floats over the side to the five score men in the water. The single operating gun aboard the catastrophically damaged destroyer was quickly swiveled around so it was flush with the centerline and raised to the maximum elevation. That decision was made by the senior surviving officer, a twenty three year old lieutenant who had assumed command after a 4.7 inch shell killed the ship’s executive officer and engineer moments before the aft magazine explosion.

Penelope closed to within three thousand yards with every gun firing as rapidly as possible. Six and four inch shells were flying across the water in fast, flat trajectories while the arcing fires of Neptune crashed into the battered body of Koln and added blood to the water as his crew still tried to fight. They fought with only Cesar turret operational in local control. In the time for Penelope’s torpedoes to run hot straight and true, Penelope was hit twice. A turret was a mangled slaughterhouse as a shell pierced her armor and exploded. The flash protection worked but her forward firepower was now halved. And then the torpedoes hit. Two struck Koln and detonated, splitting the dying ship into two with a heavy aft third floating while everything forward of the engine rooms quickly dove into the sea.

Punjabi and Eskimo chased Theodor Reidel for an hour. The smoke screen had given him time to open the range before the general chase began. Six Stukas ended the chase. Punjabi was hidden in a series of near misses and her hull had dozens of holes in it from the bomb casings exploding within yards of the wildly dancing dervish of a ship but beyond a broken arm, she took no casualties.

Force G gathered themselves and headed north by noon time. Eleven miles from the main evacuation convoy whose escort they were joining, the French cruisers Montcalm and Émile Bertin along with four destroyers blasted a salute for Force G. The French squadron would hold the southern flank as the convoy brought men and material to Bodo and Narvik.

May 6, 1940 0645 near Marby France

Green tendrils of life passed beneath him. The forest was coming alive as spring shook off winter and the trees came into full bloom. Paths and traces that were obvious two months ago were no longer visible except when a trained eye looked for the indirect indications of greater greenery and taller trees that edged along the openings in the forest. Captainde St. Exupery breathed with contentment as his MB.170 cruised above the French screening zone. Cameras were going off. This was a simple mapping mission as the artillery branches wanted to resurvey the impact zones for their guns. There were no fighters to harass him and no anti-aircraft fire reaching up to kill him. Flight was free for the moment and he enjoyed filming the emptiness of the Ardennes. Four minutes later as he approached the Belgian border the rudder kicked out and the plane banked away. The beauty of flight was truly ephemeral and he would enjoy every moment of it before he had to land.

May 6, 1940 0655 Force Z near Bodo


Waves slapped against the hulls of the seven warships. An eighth, an older, smaller destroyer had been abandoned the night before. Torpedo bombers had managed to hit her twice. The first hit would have been enough to justify scuttling the destroyer but the second hit in the engineering space made the decision easy. Royal Navy fighters had arrived to chase off the bombers after they had finished dropping their missiles on the French ships. The five kills were enough to make the fleet safer today and tomorrow but the victories were Pyrrhic at best for the seventy three sailors who had already died.

Death streaked through the water. Four strands of explosives pushed aside the resistance. One streaked thirty meters ahead of Montcalm’s bow, one failed to detonate as the warhead’s whiskers were not compressed at the off angle strike, one passed meters astern of the cruiser while the final torpedo worked. Men were thrown from the bunkers, steam lines opened up as a thirty by sixty one foot hole opened the cruiser to the sea. Water rushed into the ship as the officer of the deck ordered the ship to slow so as to not cause even more structural damaged.

Thirty minutes later, three destroyers were depth charging a suspected submarine. Emile Bertin had pulled alongside her slightly younger and larger sister. Pumps had been spread out throughout the ship in an attempt to keep even with the tides of ocean water coming into the listing cruiser. Sailors were chest deep in frigid waters as they pushed wood into holes and struggled to isolate the damage.

By mid-afternoon, Emile Bertin had Montcalm in tow. The French force had been joined by half a dozen British cruisers and a dozen destroyers that had been detached from the carrier groups. The carriers were sixty miles to the north and east providing fighter and anti-submarine cover as the damaged cruiser limped home at five knots. Signals were exchanged between the Admiralty and the Marine Nationale. By the end of the night, the Allies agreed that Montcalm would be repaired along the Tyne with any final touches being completed at Brest as she was not in any condition to make the long journey to the French dockyards.

May 6, 1940 1643 south of Bodo Norway

Eleven thousand feet beneath the deadly ballet, a polyglot Allied Division and most of the Norwegian 4th Division dug in. A regiment was stationed at the impromptu fighter field that supported thirty old Hurricanes and a dozen Gladiators flown by Norwegian pilots. Anti-aircraft guns were being placed around critical points and behind the strategic passes to the port.

All of these thoughts could not pass through the mind of Squadron Leader Barwell. He had nine of his machines in the air frantically climbing for altitude. Spotters had radioed in a large air raid of three dozen Heinkels covered by a dozen twin engine Messerschmitts. The best estimate was the attackers were at 11,000 feet. His squadron had just passed nine thousand feet when a sharp eyed section leader called Tally Ho over the radio --- many bandits one o’clock even.

The Merlins strained to give the Hurricanes the last horse power available. Aviation pool 87 Octane was all that was available so the planes had very little left to give as they arced over at 12,000 feet. The three vics slashed into the formation. The dozen twin engine destroyers in six pairs swarmed the lighter, smaller single engine fighters. Six Hurricanes turned to dogfight the Messerschmitts… one flashed in front of his gunsight and the eight machine guns hammered the port engine of his opponent.. A two second burst was all that could be fired as a string of tracers whipped in front of him. The three Hurricanes dove to create speed and space from the attackers.

One Hurricane and then another were shot down. The second pilot descended on his silk canopy until he was rescued and later ransomed by a platoon of Norwegian militia men. The going rate for a pilot was three quarts of whiskey.

A heavy fighter followed the Hawkers to the ground. Neither pilot survived the night. The last section of Hurricanes managed to slip through the fighter escort and lined up an attack on the last section of bombers in the trailing squadron. Dozens of tracer streams reached out for the nimble fighters. None hit but the morale effect of charging into machine gun fire specifically aimed at you was as formidable for fighter pilots as it was for infantrymen. The men were brave but they let go of their triggers that laced the trailing two bombers with dozens of small holes early and broke off the attack at two hundred yards. They looped underneath the formation and then returned the stolen speed back into altitude for a second pass. This time a bomber lost its wing and four parachutes emerged before the defensive power of the bomber formation could be brought to bear against the skyward streaking fighters.

Four miles from port the furball ended as the Hurricanes dove the for the deck. HMS Curlew and a dozen other warships as well as all of the anti-aircraft batteries the Army had landed opened up. Black puffballs of heavy high angle guns were mixed with steady streams of lighter weapons. Army 40mm guns sent rounds skyward faster and longer than the Navy’s pompoms. Some of the thousands of shells hit their target or at least an aircraft. As the German bombers turned away from the port their mission was a success. Two merchant ships had been hit and HMS Curlew had underwater damage from a series of near misses. Seven bombers did not return to their base. Their escort was three short as well.

Thirty minutes later, six Hurricanes were able to taxi to the dispersal area. Ground crews hurried over to their machines that they had let the pilots borrow and gasped at the damage. Three planes had at least thirty holes in them. Only the skipper’s mount was not damaged. The seventh plane of the fight had tipped over on landing on the improvised field and had already been hauled to the maintenance area to be stripped of useful parts.

May 7, 1940 0900 Rotterdam

Three ships had arrived from the Americas the night before. One contained high priority civilian goods including four thousand tons of coffee beans and a thousand tons of tobacco. The Dutch naval authorities had been hearing rumors of war and invasion. Maas would be one of the last ships to arrive with purely consumption goods. In the best of times coming forward, tobacco and coffee would be luxuries found only at high end shops as they would be taxed at three times their value. If war came, they would only be available on the black market.

The other two ships were far important. One had arrived from New York. On board was six more Martin bombers. They would need at least a month to assemble. More importantly than the bombers were the cargo. The Dutch Army Aviation brigades had enough bombs to equip their current Martin bombers for a single sortie. Stad Schiedam carried six sorties worth of bombs for the entire brigade. The Panamanian flagged companion had left New Orleans with three dozen 105mm guns and twenty thousand shells. She also carried enough mines to make almost any engineer happy. Six bulldozers were also aboard. These ships had been met at sea by Gelderland the previous afternoon and escorted into harbor.

Stevedores had been conscripted and impressed from all other duties along the waterfront to unload these two ships. Shells and mines were stacked up into a waiting line of trucks while the heavier equipment was being craned onto waiting trains that would have military priority to transfer the supplies to the Lichte division.

May 7, 1940 1200 north of Trondheim

Clang, Clang, Clang

Thirty men sat patiently in the small Lutheran church built in the 1880s. None were visibly praying. A few had wiped their brows more than once. All had the look of men who had been in the field for a month with the weight of command burdening them, responsibility for life and death draining their energy, visions of failure playing across the back of their eyelids when they could sleep for three or four hours straight at night.

Clang, Clang, Clang

They were the command element of the 5th Norwegian Division. At the start of the invasion, they were responsible for almost 6,000 men. Now they were responsible for themselves and only themselves. The rest of the men were gone. Some had been buried in hasty graves, more had been sent home in pine boxes to be buried in family plots. A few had their bones at the bottom of a fjord. More just simply disappeared, their bodies absorbing steel and explosives, their death a relief, their death a failure, their death a burden. Many more were scattered in a plethora of hospitals.

Clang, Clang, Clang

Most however had simply been told to go home. And so they did. A few brought their rifles and some ammunition with them. Most only brought their uniforms and field clothing. The Germans had stopped bombing movement and the guns had fallen silent two days ago when some of the thirty men sitting in the pews arranged a conference with their opponents. Prisoners would have been a burden and a delay. Demobilization and dispersal would be sufficient, a kind mercy for the defeated Norwegians and an aid to the Germans. The Germans wanted the senior leaders of the Norwegian division to surrender, so the thirty men sat in the pews, waiting for the bells to finish striking noon.

Clang, Clang, Clang.

The 5th Division was now no more.

May 7, 1940 1410 North of Kiel

The pride of the fleet was back at sea. Both battlecruisers had repaired the damage they had suffered. Scharnhorst had only been lightly damaged in April’s fighting; the weather was more dangerous than the enemy. Gneisenau was not as lucky. She had been shelled, she had been mined, and she had been bombed while under repair. The last raid by twenty Wellingtons had placed three 500 pound bombs in the graving dock. One failed to detonate, a common problem with British bombs. Another destroyed a secondary gun mount. The final bomb was defeated by the turret Anton’s roof armor and exploded along the quay. Repairs had taken longer than originally anticipated due to both the damage from the mines and shells as well as the new air raids. He was ready.

Both ships steamed at twenty four knots in the calm Baltic, working out the kinks, and revising the teamwork that made these battlecruisers so effective. As the ships heeled over to fire their main guns at a towed barge twenty five thousand meters away, the sea exploded. Thick gray smoke hung over the sky and cold water splashed on the deck of Gneisenau.

An RAF laid mine detonated mere feet aft of the previous mine strike. The battlecruiser was never in danger of sinking but the crew froze and swore and slammed temporary plugs to fill the eighteen by twenty two foot gash in the hull. By the time he arrived at Kiel, twenty six hundred tons of seawater would need to be pumped out and a new condenser would have to be installed.

The next morning Scharnhorst resumed her exercises with Hipper.

May 8 1940 House Hearing Room 221B, Washington DC

“General, what have been the greatest impediments to fully manning the Army at this time? As I see it, there are still millions of unemployed young men who should be more than willing to come to the colors for three square meals and a reliable monthly wage, but you’re currently nine thousand men short of establishment. How do you explain that?”

“Sir, over the past year we’ve had to turn away 40,000 men who had approached recruiters to join the Army. Some of those men were common criminals, but most are good, honest, young, hardworking men who want to improve themselves in the Army. However, they are underweight, or missing teeth, or missing fingers, or can’t see without thick corrective lens. Compared to the recruiting in 1928, we have turned away three times as many 18 to 20 year olds for medical reasons in the past year than we did in 1928. The Depression has led to malnourishment and the lack of medical care for this generation of recruits. The proportion of fully capable men of military age compared to the total population of men of military age has declined precipitously and will not improve for several more years.

“I see, has the Army changed their standards?”

“No sir, we have not. We believe we can recruit to full authorized strength within our preferred recruiting pools through the use of targeted bonuses and aggressive outreach.”

“Thank you, now I want to go on about the efficiency of the colored regiments compared to the white regiments….”

May 8, 1940 2100 Finniefjord, Norway


A few men were visible to any observers looking at the pass from the south. A glacier anchored the east flank and an inlet anchored the right flank. A single road led north to Bodo and further north to Narvik. Men walking along the road would take weeks to reach the final destination. Trucks could move men and supplies quicker but an unopposed peacetime run would still take days. The three independent companies had been landed at Mo I Rana the day before. The three destroyers that had brought them over to Norway had left at daybreak to avoid dive bombers. Little heavy equipment beyond saws, shovels and pickaxes could be brought over and not all of it was unloaded. A few crates of dynamite had been unloaded in time.

Seven hundred men with enough heavy weaponry to make a Norwegian battalion feel endowed dug in. Their job was not to stop the German advance. It was to make it difficult. To further that goal, a platoon from the 1st Independent Company commandeered three trucks at dawn and headed south. They had two of the precious boxes of dynamite. Throughout the day as the rest of the men dug in, they heard distant booms that came closer. Finally a single truck came down the road slowly with its lights on. Twenty men were in back, joking and huddling together to stay warm. The rest of the platoon and two trucks were thirty miles south watching a major road cut. They would flee when the Germans advanced in force but they would give the rest of the force time to prepare.

May 9, 1940 1600 Fortress Eban Emal, Belgium


The fortress was overflowing. Men were bumping into each other as the first contingent moved deeper into the fortress. The colonel was rotating the garrison. By dinner time, the veterans who had been in the barracks just north of the fortress would take command of the strongpoint. The reservists and draftees who had been locked underground for the past week would be relieved. They could breathe the fresh air, they could feel the sun on their faces, and they could run with abandon as a crew wide football tournament had already been arranged for Saturday.

May 9, 1940 1800 Alexandria Egypt
The first piece of a convoluted swap was being dragged out of the harbor. A floating drydock capable of holding a thirty thousand ton ship was being towed by six large tugs. Four harbor tugs were also helping the steel monstrosity leave the constricted waters of the port. She would be brought to Malta to support cruiser forces and any older battleships of the Royal Navy and Marine Nationale.

At the same time, Malta’s Grand Harbor had been closed for thirty six hours. The largest Admiralty drydock in the world was being moved from her exposed position. Then tugs, escorted by a pair of destroyers would bring the dock to Alexandria. She could lift a battleship without a challenge. The only ships she could not support were the great greyhounds of the sea, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.

The switch would be completed by the end of the month. After that Malta could support cruisers and older battleships while Alexandria and Mers el Kebir could support any warship in the Allied fleets.

May 9, 1940 Las Palmas, Canary Islands

The flying boat skipped along the rough seas outside of the harbor. Thirty one hundred yards later, it was airborne with its passengers including six very fit young businessmen. A pretty stewardess waited until the aircraft was above 5,000 until she circulated, more legs and implication than actual flirting with the passengers, a coy smile and eyes that hinted at far more intelligence than a good girl should show as she went through the cabin and made cocktails for her passengers. As she approached the businessmen, they stopped talking. Two bottles of champagne were ordered and charged to the home office as the deal had been closed.

Three hours later as the flying boat was going through a small storm between the Canaries and the Loire, a series of muffled explosions went off in Las Palmas harbor. The German tanker Corrientes soon flooded and sank to the bottom of the harbor. Sabotage was the only explanation as salvage divers would later find half a dozen explosion holes within twenty feet of her shafts.

May 10, 1940 near Pearl Harbor

Thirty dive bombers, twelve torpedo planes and six fighters, all monoplanes, cruised through the beautiful morning sky at 11,000 feet. They had been launched forty five minutes ago from USS Enterprise based on the information provided by a Kaneohe Bay based amphibian. The target was USS Yorktown and her task force 75 miles south of Pearl Harbor. The aircraft were beginning to split up from their cruising formation to an attack formation 30 miles from the last observed position of Yorktown and three battleships of BatDIV3. The torpedo bombers descended to 500 feet, while the fighters and dive bombers gained altitude.

The mock attack went well, Yorktown’s fighters had been split into two elements. Four Grumman biplanes orbited the fleet in a point defense combat air patrol. Enterprise’s fighters occupied their attention in a mock dogfight.

The other four Grummans were on a snipe hunt. Yorktown had received a new CXAM radar but the operators were novices. The flight was six miles behind the strike and three thousand feet below the dive bombers when Yorktown “sank”.

When the fleet docked at Pearl Harbor, Enterprise led the victorious BatDiv2 into harbor. Yorktown trailed after she had been raised from the dead.

May 10, 1940 0800 Scapa Flow

The Fleet was home. The evacuation of Southern Norway had been successful. A pair of destroyers were lost, one to dive bombers and another to a mine. Two coasters were sunk and half a dozen ships had been damaged to some degree but the army was able to evacuate. The fleet was exhausted by its success in covering a retreat. Penelope and Neptune were both in dry dock, joining Exeter. Reinforcements were no longer available from the Mediterranean. The French ships that had been vital in relieving Home Fleet’s battlecruisers had withdrawn. Strasbourg and Dunkerque stayed in the anchorage long enough to take on fuel and disembark English and Norwegian liaison officers. Now they were steaming through St. George’s channel with an escort of six large destroyers. Their destination was Mers El Kebir. Resolution was hours behind them as she would join Malaya as part of the Mediterranean Fleet.

May 10, 1940 1500

The observation post along the Maas was occupied by a squad of Dutch reservists. Nothing unusual was reported.

A small aerial skirmish took place over the triangle of the German, French and Luxembourg border. Six French Hawk fighters were escorting a pair of reconnaissance planes. They were jumped by a staffel of ME-109. The French fighters turned into the attack and allowed their charges to escape at the cost of three fighters. The Germans lost a single plane but had accomplished their mission.

A sentry in the north cupola shielded his eyes. The Belgian Army continued to dig in along the Albert Canal but he saw nothing to the east. To the south, he saw a tankette battalion drill and to the west he caught a glimpse of a few of his compatriots’ sisters working in the greening fields.

The Moroccan private checked his rifle again. His sergeant put him on policing duties because the bolt was not sliding due to a lack of attention and care to his rifle the previous week. He would pass inspection today and get a day’s leave to Lille.

HNLMS Jacob van Heemskerck
entered the water for the first time. The small light cruiser had been hurriedly readied for sea. A pair of tugboats had been chartered to stay by the navy yard. The cruiser still had no weapons beyond a dozen rifles and a pair of machine guns expeditiously mounted on her fantail. She had no engines. She was the skeleton of a ship with a barely completed skin and not yet a warrior.

Private Angus MacMahon of the Seaforth Highlanders stretched his arm behind his shoulder. The regiment had completed a fifteen mile march just minutes ago and he had to get a crick out of his back before he tightened up. Once his gear was cleaned and stowed, he needed to write a letter home to his brother. The last letter from him said he was thinking of joining the Navy as soon as he turned nineteen.

All was quiet on the Western Front.

May 10, 1940 1645 Buckingham Palace

King George VI nodded his assent. The resignation of Prime Minister Chamberlain would be accepted and Winston Churchill would be given the first chance to form a new government of national unity. His Navy had performed brilliantly in Norway, the aircraft carriers had received their high performance fighters just in time to give the fleet enough protection to operate well forward in support of the army. It was the army that was the disappointment. Every time the Army made contact with the Germans, they needed to retreat. The Guards and the Territorials of the expeditionary force had been fighting bravely but without enough ammunition, without enough anti-tank weapons, without enough artillery, without enough air cover. These were the faults of the Government of the last years of peace. The British Empire needed a war leader and Neville Chamberlain realized he was not that man nor did he have the confidence of a unified nation.

Within minutes, Mr. Churchill had entered the audience room and received the formal invitation to form a government acceptable to His Majesty.

May 10, 2200 Reykjavik Iceland

Operation Spoon was a success. A battalion of new Royal Marines had been ferried to the island that afternoon by a division of cruisers and seized control. The fiercest resitsance was offered by three dogs by the fishing docks as they refused to give up their meal of offal in front of the harbor master’s office. A can of bully beef was deployed to eliminate the resistance. No U-boats were found to have visited the island; the interned survivors of a German blockade runner had been transferred to HMS Berwick while the German consul was being sent to the United States aboard HMS Gloucester to be repatriated.


The sun’s faint glow still dominated the sky as the town descended into twilight. In the harbor, a pair of British chartered transports were busy unloading a dozen flying boats and half a dozen biplane fighters. The last heavy cruiser of the ferrying force was still tied up at the docks. Her crew was busy trying to unload the pair of field guns that the landing force had brought. The Germans could possibly organize a riposte covered by a bad storm so the Royal Marines wanted their artillery in place as early as possible as they established defensive positions in the capital. A pair of companies would be detached tomorrow to occupy the other landing strips on the island.

End of Part 1
 
Story 0126 May 11 to May 12 1940
May 11, 1940 0300 village of Troisvierges, Luxemburg

The night shift was the easy shift for the village police. The few taverns had closed hours ago and the usual greatest threat overnight was the lack of coffee. Tonight was different. The border crossing into Germany had been empty for hours. Heavy machinery could be heard in the distance but nothing was seen.

The police chief had rallied his entire and completely insufficient force. A few men had hunting rifles, the rest had pistols. A pair of trucks were parked across the road ten yards inside the Duchy’s territory.

Suddenly the noise became louder. Squeaking wheels, grinding tracks and heavy engines revving came down the road. The police chief looked through the night and saw a line of steel beasts approaching. The lead reconnaissance elements of Army Group B were now on the move. Objectively speaking, the police chief knew it was not a powerful force. A well equipped infantry company could at least harry and delay this force but he did not have an infantry company dug in behind him, equipped or not.

He sent two men to run to the mayor’s house. They would call the capital and then make calls to their cousins in Belgium and France. The rest of the men he ordered to put down their weapons and stand to the side of the road. These decisions took only seconds. He had only a few more seconds to compose himself as a tankette pulled up to the wooden border gate. The single border guard asked for papers and the tank commander laughed. They would give him his papers later but he had an important meeting in Brussels to attend to.

The gate lifted and the first tank crossed the border.

May 11, 1940 0400 Fortress Eban Emal Belgium

Experienced men were on watch tonight. This was not part of a plan. Their company had lost the garrison wide soccer tournament. Twelve lookout posts were manned. Thirty six men were posted. One man in three scanned the sky, one man in three looked over the Albert Canal and one man in three was either brewing tea or taking a leak. Another platoon had brought its machine gun to the surface of the fortress as they wanted the air and the light and the openness to avoid the depression of living in the concrete and steel caves below. War time service would force them underground, but Belgium was still at peace even as the look-outs heard an increasing number of aircraft engines in the distance.

Belgium was no longer at peace.

Dutch anti-aircraft guns had started to fire at unseen targets. Shells exploded and tracers drew brilliant lines into the sky. Sentries looked upwards. They all cheered when they saw the anti-aircraft fire light a twin engine aircraft on fire, and then realized they were cheering the deaths of young men very much like themselves.

A lookout saw a dark silent shape occlude several stars in the east. He yelled for the rest of his nest to look. One of his compatriots also saw a night darker than night. Three of his uncles had died in the forts at Liege and he had no intention of joining them as he fired a green flare into the air. The lime colored light illuminated two silent aircraft, engines off and diving rapidly. The sentry swore. They were going to crash onto his landing post. Another flare, and then another was fired. Flares were also being fired from the infantry regiments guarding the canal line.

More silent airplanes were in line to make crash landings on the fortresses’ roof.

And then someone fired. There was no order but someone fired.

No one knew why the machine gunner pressed his finger gently on the trigger. The machine gunner would die in the initial round of fighting. The first burst missed wide and over. The second burst missed over while the third burst scored a solid set of hits into the cockpit. The silent aircraft nosed over and crashed into the embankment beneath the fortress. Soon every rifleman on top of the fortress and every available machine gun concentrated on the next engineless bomber. Another silent bomber crashed and three more were riddled with rifle and machine gun bullets as they crash landed on the impromptu soccer field. It was unmined but it was also a shooting gallery. Bomber crews did not exit. Instead infantrymen came out of the side doors with sub-machine guns blazing at Belgian riflemen who had been standing up to aim their rifles without cover. The first three bursts cut two men down and wounded another whose screams keened over the eastern wall.

The infantry platoon which had been on the surface solely to have a rest under open skies moved quickly. A pair of squads ran south to protect the anti-aircraft guns who were still blazing away at the stream of crashing aircraft. Two more were shot down short of the fortress, two more landed. And then there was nothing left in the air.

Forty Germans from five gliders were attempting to move quickly to silence the resistance. Grenades and sub-machine gun fire silenced one machine gun nest and then another but each nest that had to be cleared cost the Germans time and casualties. One team of four engineers had arrived near the lead cupolas and as they started to place their shaped charges on the dummy turrets, Belgian reinforcements started to emerge from the interior of the fort. As an infantry battle raged on the roof of the fortress, the casemate guns began to fire. First they fired star shells over the bridges of the Albert Canal and then a mix of shrapnel and high explosives on the three bridges that were supposed to have been demolished.

By dawn, all the guns of the fortress were firing on the two bridges the other glider troops had captured intact. The Maastricht bridges over the Maas were also targeted by the heavy 120mm guns as the Dutch signaled that they lost control of the crossings. One bridge over the Albert Canal had been demolished by the defenders. Twenty two German assault engineers had been taken prisoner, seventeen of them wounded. Three were not expected to live through the day even as the infirmary did all they could for them.

May 11, 1940 0550 Maastricht Netherlands

The basement shuddered again. The pretty girl who had wanted to ride her bicycle to the bakery to get some fresh bread and butter for her mama’s breakfast shuddered too. She hung onto her mother’s arm and held her little brother tight. Her father paced in the basement with staccato steps of worry. Artillery fire had started an hour ago followed by a loud boom and the screeching sounds of steel being twisted and turned in ways that it should never be moved. Horses were screaming in pain as their flesh was scoured until mercy shots finished their painful lives off. The sound of men, young boys mainly who were trying to be manly and brave but failing as their lives were bleeding out of them even as their families and friends could not aid them from fifty yards away due to the fear of being the next victim of statistical and inhumane death forced them under cover, barely penetrated the thick stone walls of the family house.

Rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns flaying ground and scything hopes and dreams away added to the noise of the battle that raged just a few blocks away. The Dutch reservists had been forced from the bridge first by the Germans and then by Belgian artillery from the fortresses a few kilometers to the south. The bridge itself was wounded by the partial demolition and more and more of its strength ebbed after each Belgian shell hit it. A dozen tanks had made it across and a few companies of jaegers were advancing through the city. Nervous men were ready to grenade anything that frightened them as several young boys had already found out.

The young woman shuddered as another barrage landed a block away. Glass broke in the windows. The chimney stayed strong but the mortar finely misted from the vibrations. Rifles cracked and then grenades exploded half a block away. More artillery landed closer. The roof opened up to the sky as a near miss shattered the shingles.

Her father held her mother tightly and then the two of them forced all of the children further underneath the staircase. The fighting was getting closer and the family huddled tighter.

May 11, 1940 0800 Northwestern Louisiana

Smoke covered the far bank of the Sabine River. Artillery units of the Red Army had three days to prepare for the crossing. Most of the guns were still old 75mm and 155mm guns that had served the Army well in 1918. Two battalions of new artillery had been formed. One consisted of 75mm guns in half tracks while the other was the first operational battalion of 105mm guns that would soon be ordered to equip every new infantry division.

Captain John “Squirt” Williamson looked up from his notebook. He had not been impressed. The artillery battalion had done a reasonable job of stockpiling shells and siting their guns but there was almost no overhead cover, few slit trenches and security was abysmal. The battalion he was observing was a National Guard battalion from Oklahoma. The CO had been in his position since 1934 and he knew too many of the men from being around town to make them uncomfortable. Every man got a steady six or more hours of sleep every night. The pickets were perfunctory, the coordination with a military police platoon was arrogant and ineffective, and the battalion was still effectively camping out instead of living and fighting in the field.

Red flares burst 3,000 feet above his head. Navy Helldivers, the last of the biplane dive bombers, had tipped over and bombed the battalion. The captain had to decide quickly what the damage was. As the flare floated down, it sputtered out into darkness forty yards from C battery. The 75mm guns were in individual revetments with sandbags forming a thigh-high U around each gun. Two guns destroyed, one gun toppled was the material damage. Since the gunners had not been able to see the attack until too late, anyone who was in the open was hit by fragments. Seventeen men would be deemed to be killed and another forty would have to be evacuated.

Captain Williamson declared the damage and casualties and then backed away. Three hours later eleven of the wounded men including three critical cases were still sitting under a shade tree waiting to be evacuated. Twice the battalion staff had attempted to order the men to return to the guns before seeing the wounded tags on each man. Yet they still sat there.

May 11, 1940 0600 near Lille France

Deep throated engines roared. Morris transporters started to assemble themselves into a column. Men were still fumbling with their equipment. All of their weapons were in place but men checked for ammunition, they checked for compasses, they checked for water, they checked for snacks, they checked for a pulp paperback, they checked for everything that they would need in the field. The 51st Highland Division had received movement orders six hours ago. The high command thought invasion was imminent. Tartan clad bagpipers warmed up their mouthpieces before starting to play as the rest of the division prepared to dash into Belgium. Their dash was a bit more limited than the rest of the BEF. Instead of heading to the River Dyle, the Highlanders would hold in reserve near Halle.

May 11, 1940 0845 US Department of Labor Washington DC

“Harold, tell me the truth, can we get health insurance through this Congress or the next one?” Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins was tired. She had been caroming from one crisis to another as the economy was starting to take off through both American rearmament and massive orders for war material from the Allies. The unions were looking to make some long term gains for their members during the first period where the labor market was strong enough to actually create wage pressure while Capital was looking to hold onto Depression wages even as profits were returning en masse. She was also tired as her job to help the American worker and their families would never be complete, just changed every day.

“No, not this Congress, and probably not the next one. Franklin will be running, as you know, for a third term. We’ll pick up some seats but not too many more votes for the New Deal. This Congress and the next one will only be able to pay attention to Europe, not here. We can probably slide in a few riders on the margins of projects to help but nothing wholescale”

“Did you hear about the House hearing on Wednesday, about how the Army is having trouble recruiting fit young men. Can we aim for a national defense nutrition package or a childhood vision and dental program? Can we get something to build on in the future? “

“Frances, if you can draw up a plan, we’ll present it to the President and the Committee Chairs. Just don’t be too grand in your schemes, you already have Social Security as a feather in your cap.”

May 11, 1940 0640 Rotterdam

Four anti-aircraft guns on the far bank roared. Another flight of transport aircraft slowed as they descended. The second transport in line shuddered as a shell ripped into the port wing. Shrapnel ripped into the prop and the fuel tank. Another shell punched straight through the passenger cabin, killed a paratrooper who had stepped forward to talk to a friend as they both confronted their pre-combat nerves. The seventh transport nosed down and crashed in the watery arteries of the city as a string of machine gun bullets decapitated the pilot.

HnlMS Gelderland steamed up the restricted waterway. Her captain had no orders. But he saw the airfield was under attack and his ship was useless to the Allied cause unlike Van Galen and the partially completed destroyers and cruisers whose crews were scrambling to get ready for sea. Already one of the new destroyer hulls had been towed past the ancient cruiser. They were trying to make for England while the old cruiser picked her way down the crowded waterways.

Her six-inch guns could reach miles if they were in open water. But she was not. Her guns could only shoot line of sight as the city offered the enemy protection. As the cruiser came within several hundred yards of the battle, every available gun and the deck mortars opened up. There was no coordination with the reserve infantry battalions guarding this critical and vulnerable point. There had been no time to do that. Shells ripped up the grass field and the artillery school spotters attempted to walk the fire into any clumps of Germans who appeared to be organized and motivated.

Seventy rounds from each of the main guns and an untold multiple from the lighter guns littered the deck. The German infantry attack had stalled as the defenders had a moment to reorganize. Machine guns were deployed even as the anti-aircraft guns kept on exacting their toll against the relentless waves of transports bringing in more paratroopers and more supplies. Aircraft and bodies littered the riverbanks. Isolated German paratroopers from the shot down planes whose pilots were able to have controlled crash landings were starting to advance but they were bogged down by the mud and machine gun fire from Gelderland.

Suddenly twenty Junkers arrived over the airfield. They were supposed to have supported the infantry so their light general-purpose bombs were not optimal but they tipped over and dove on the protected cruiser. If Gelderland had been one of the new light cruisers, she may have had a chance. But the few light machine guns were a token anti-aircraft defense. The light land based guns were able to shoot down two of the attackers before they dropped and another three on their egress along a predictable path down the congested waters but it was not enough.

Half a dozen bombs destroyed the forward gun positions. No man on deck survived the onslaught. A pair of light bombs penetrated between the funnels. If Gelderland had been a modern ship, she may have had a chance as her armor may have been placed to stop a light bomb from penetrating her engine room. She was 42 years old and designed for battles of a far simpler sort. Her boiler exploded, scorching every man in the engine room and setting coal dust on fire.

Seventy-four seconds after that last surviving Junkers finished juking and jinking away from the anti-aircraft guns near the target, Gelderland’s aft magazine exploded. The ship settled sixty yards from shore in thirty-six feet of water. A single gun still fired at the paratroopers, but the defenders again had no support.

May 11, 1940 1200 near Neufchateau Belgium


The last ruined aircraft was pushed to the side. Hundreds of German infantrymen had landed over the past few hours and most had left as they marched into the Ardennes. Their mission was simple; cause chaos and confusion even as Allied attention was focused on them and the push through the northern flank of the Allied line as the panzers began their penetration of the Ardennes.

May 11, 1940 1454 Arnhem

Gray water rose and collapsed upon itself, columns cut into fragments by shells exploding short of the defensive line. The first push had failed earlier in the morning as the Germans had tried to rush the bridges even as the artillery had not left Germany yet. The two divisions had waited for their artillery to arrive. And it had. Ninety guns were lined up with ammunition limbers full. A concentrated barrage had been called for. High explosives for the first ten minutes and then adding in a steady stream of smoke as the engineers would rush assault boats to the river edge and the infantry would paddle as quickly as they could across the river.

The first infantry men were fifteen meters from the bank when six Fokker twin engine bombers pulled up from their approach altitude of 150 feet to 500 feet and attempted to bomb the mangled bridges Two were lost early in their run as the German flak traced the sky with steel and nitrate infused explosions. Three dropped, short, the American made bombs splashing in the river, sinking half a dozen assault boats. The last bomber dropped on time and on target, six bombs walking across the mangled river bridge, denying it to the enemy for several days.

Another bomber was shot down by Dutch anti-aircraft guns near its home base. The three surviving bombers quickly landed. The ground crews scrambled to re-arm the bombers with bombs fresh from America.

May 11, 1940 1750 Eben Emal

Destruction was everywhere.

Carapaces of gliders were still on the roof of the fortress. Machine gun cupolas had their walls pierced by shape-charges. The stains of dying men darkened the field atop the roof between the cupolas. Artillery shells had started to dig into the fortress as heavy German field guns had found the range later in the afternoon. 120mm guns continued to fire north against the single pre-war bridge the Germans captured. Around that bridge dozens of T-13 tankettes burned as the 4th Panzer Division’s Panzer 2 and Panzer 3 tanks were able to force the infantry and light tanks of the defenders back. That success was not without cost as forty German tanks were burning and another half dozen had been captured and towed behind Belgian lines.

To the south, the other modern forts of the Liege defenses were active. 75mm and 120mm guns roared at the infantry divisions crossing the border. Their anti-aircraft guns reached up at the Stukas which were trying to suppress the forts and failing. The 250 and 500 kilogram bombs were enough to suppress and destroy the machine gun positions but they were not harming the heavy artillery turrets and casements. Off to the southwest, more Belgian infantry regiments were sending out their forward screens and scouts as their main defensive positions were being improved.

May 11, 1940 2120 Maastricht Netherlands

The German military police walked warily down the side street of Maastricht. The Dutch reservists had been killed or captured hours ago but no one knew. No one knew if the Belgians would shell the neighborhood near the Maas bridges. No one knew if there was a diehard Dutch nationalist who wanted to become a martyr. No one knew if the thousands of shells fired that day produced duds that would explode and kill at the slightest touch. No one knew.

The German reservists walked carefully under the eyes of their sergeant an old man of twenty six who had seen enough to keep his boys alive. That could not be said of the steady stream of ambulances coming through the town. They were filled with men with steel in them and without all of themselves. The lucky ones had been dosed with enough morphine to calm them although the worst off who were worth working on could not have morphine as their vital signs would drop too low too quickly. Their screams competed with the noises of artillery and aircraft and dying horses.

The military police squad crossed the street. A Dutch fire brigade and dozens of neighborhood volunteers were removing the rubble of from the remains of a corner house. Half a dozen defenders had barricaded themselves in the upper floors during a crescendo in the fighting. A single machine gun had delayed the advanced for over an hour until a pair of tanks along with an engineer squad with a flame thrower was able to wink those few diehards out.

A firefighter came up from the stone steps carrying the limp body of a young girl who was almost a young woman. She may have been pretty at dawn, but now her cotton dress loosely covered her battered and lacerated body. There were no survivors from her family.

May 12, 1940 1500 Hannut Belgium

A policeman waved at the French armored car driver. Artillery rolled in like an angry thunderstorm. The scout commander wiped his eyes of the dust and then prodded the driver to lunge forward. Three dozen Belgians, all either too old or too young to actually fight got out of the way. The Panhard was hull down in waist high revetement thirty seconds later. Both crewmembers got out and started to repair the rear axle as it was making an odd noise on the road march from Brussels to the forward delaying positions.

The Belgian Army was fighting on the Albert Canal line. An armored cavalry corps was counter-attacking along the line supported by the infantry of three divisions. German bridgeheads were slowly expanding although every rush across a bridge had to pay a toll to the guns of Eben Emael. An infantry brigade along with an artillery battalion of Great War guns and gunners shared the same road as the French armored division for most of the morning. They had been strafed three times and bombed twice. The horses fled slower than the men, although the men could be regathered. The lack of Allied fighter cover was the most demoralizing part of the march. Half a dozen Belgian Buffaloes had attempted to intercept the second raid but they were jumped by two squadrons of Messerschmitts with experienced and well trained pilots.

Over the scouts heads flew three Fairey Foxes. The French soldiers looked and saw the obsolete bombers advance at tree top height. Each had a pair of light bombs as they strove to support the attack on Briedgen.

By nightfall, the rest of the division had started to arrive and a defensive zone was being dug with scouts and outposts to identify the attack’s main axis of advance four kilometers in front of the main line of resistance while the medium tanks and motorized infantry provided the strength of the defensive position backed by the artillery group and the divisional reserves available for a counterattack. By midnight, every man had walked his position twice and had a hot meal before they were allowed to go to sleep.

Twenty five miles away, the Belgian counterattack had almost succeeded. The bridge at Briedgen was now being pelted by machine gun and rifle fire. Belgian artillery had been zeroed in on the battered spans. The Germans had stiffened three hundred yards as a new infantry division and more importantly its artillery had been fed into the battle. The 4th Panzer had been mauled even as it mauled the counterattacking Belgian cavalry. The Germans were now restricted to attacking out of a single bridge at Vroenhoven as their engineers struggled to erect half a dozen field expedient bridges even as they ferried men, tanks and ammunition west and took the wounded and dying east.
 
Story 0127 May 12 to May 18 1940
May 12, 1940 0733 near Bodo Norway

Eleven men were in the water. Their five hundred ton coaster was forty yards behind them, broken in half. The stern was sinking while the empty forward section floated around like a cork filled child’s bath toy. They had delivered another cargo to the Allied force in Bodo and the convoy had departed only hours earlier when they hit a mine.

By the time a patrol boat was able to cross the five hundred yards of confined seas, three men had already become too cold to survive even after they were pulled aboard their guardian and rescuer.

May 12, 1940 1230 Chabrehez Belgium

In other years, this location would be an idyllic rustic retreat from the confines of the capital. A small stream ran through the hamlet which had a hundred yards of buildings on each leg of the crossroads. A single large barn rose above the rest of the village offering a view in all directions as the well fed people had lovingly maintained both their homes and the hotel for the tourists. It was a gorgeous village, one of many in the Ardennes.

It was also an ambush site. A company of light infantry had arrived on their motorcycles earlier in the morning. A squad occupied a small concrete bunker that had been built for this day many years ago while the rest of the men laid mines and sited a pair of anti-tank guns along the crook in the shallow hills to the southwest of the village. A section of men climbed the barn’s roof and maintained a look-out. They saw little besides a ferocious air battle to the north. German fighters tangled with French Hawks and British Hurricanes. The Germans were trying to cover their bombers flying in supporting of the assault on the modernized Liege line while the Allies were covering the advance of thier most modern armies. Every now and then a plane corkscrewed into the ground. More often a smoking aircraft was escorted by a section of squadron mates as he returned to the grass fields in western Germany. The look-outs could see little through the forest. The broadleaf trees had already opened up for the spring. A ditch had been blown open across the road to slow down the invaders and then the men worked on their personal positions. Half a dozen machine guns had interlocking fields of fire along the far bank of the stream and then the men waited.

Some men smoked in their shallow fox holes. Others played cards. One man whistled and a few prayed. None had wanted to be in combat. They were serving their time and all would have been happy to complete their conscription, turn in their rifles and join the reserves while getting on with their lives. Events had not allowed them that simple peace. So they waited.

They did not need to wait long after completing their position. A pair of Panzer I’s with a company of motorcycle infantry behind them came down the road. The enemy scouts saw the bridge block and the anit-tank ditch guarding the position. They edged forward, the motorcycle scouts dismounting and spreading out, looking for contact, hoping to find a flank without starting a fight.

A Belgian lieutenant and his platoon tracked the scouts. Their range closed from three hundred meters to two hundred meters. Men were more than indistinct blobs. The tanks were still edging forward, ready to support their infantry. The scouts continued to close as a pair of motorcycles went to the rear to report to the rest of the scout battalion. The Belgian platoon waited. It was not a pleasant wait, it was not a fast wait. It was a wait of time in a mobius strip. Every step took forever but the advance was quick. Men checked their rifles, machine gun loaders made sure the ammunition feed was clean and ready. Anti-tank gunners quietly slid a shell into the breech. They all waited.

A scout stepped past a tall tree that was ninety four meters away from the platoon’s position. A loud yell emerged from the line of fox holes. Every man fired their rifles. Two squads concentrated on the closest man, the other squad fired independently. Within seconds 150 rounds had been fired.

None hit. A few were near misses. One would have hit but the scared infantry man had gone to ground as soon as he heard the first bullet whiz by his head. Most of the bullets just went high as adreneline and fear and the all too human aversion to taking. Yet they had their desired effect. Every German want to ground for the first few seconds before they started to fire back at the hidden Belgian defenders. The two tanks’ commanders turned their attention from other threats as the small turrets rotated and the heavy machine guns began to lace the woodline with the potential of death.

Both anti-tank guns fired. The eastern gun missed cleanly. The shell burrowed into the field two hundred yards past its target before exploding. The other shell missed but barely. It bounced on the road eight yards from the rear tank. A quick adjustment was made by both gunners and the better gunner this time hit his target. A 47mm shell passed through the side armor like it was the skin of an exposed man. The light tank’s ammunition cooked off mercifully killing the crew before they burned to death. The surviving scout tank had spent the last seven seconds pivoting and reacting. A stream of tracers reached out to the smoke of the anti-tank position. Half a dozen rounds sparked and gouged the gun shield. Both anti-tank crews hurried to reload and fired again. Both shells missed but not by much. The light tank’s commander knew that he was outgunned and told his drive to retreat to the woodline until reinforcements could arrive.

As that dual ended, the infantry battle was picking up in ferocity. The rest of the Belgian defenders held their fire until a German flanking force had entered their kill zone. The first six seconds of the ambush killed three attackers and wounded a dozen more until the survivors could find cover. Within an hour, the Germans were able to break contact and report back to the scout commanders that a major blocking position was finally located.

By three PM, a deliberate attack by the 7th Panzer Division’s lead regiment had started. An artillery battery had pulled off to the side of the road an hour earlier to support the attack while an infantry battalion supported by a half dozen Panzer IVs moved forward. The Belgians saw the weight of the attack coming at them. They had no artillery on call and their two anti-tank guns might be able to take on unsupported or unsuspecting tanks but they would be vulnerable to a combined infantry/artillery/tank attack. The Belgian captain ordered two of his platoons to retreat to the north and re-establish positions along the next line of roadblocks to the capital while the third platoon and the anti-tank guns covered the retreat.

By dinner time, the Germans had taken the hamlet and the advance continued. Two Panzer IVs joined the single Panzer I burning. Work crews labored to tow a single damaged tank to the rear for repairs. The other two tanks were beyond immediate reconditioning.

May 12, 1940 1540 East of Aubin Neufchateau Belgium

The siege guns had already started their bombardment. Two flights of Belgian bombers had attempted to hit those guns. One plane returned from their forlorn sortie. The block houses shook again and again. Lights went off and then flickered back on as twelve inch mortar shells buried themselves into the soft earth near the fortress or wasted themsleves against the steel reinforced concrete. A shell three hours ago had eliminated an artillery block and the German infantry had started to advance without paying as much of a tax in time and lives and shattered limbs now.

The 3rd Panzer Division had started to shift its center of operations. The German XVI Corps had fought hard to cross the Prince Albert Canal and their success had been blunted and contained. An infantry division would stay on the west bank but the rest of the division would follow the tanks of the 3rd Panzer as they shifted south to penetrate the frontier line behind a carpet of Stukas and a screen of aggressive scouts.

May 12, 1940 2000 Across Northern France and Belgium

Three hundred tanks were off to the side of the road. The 2nd French Armored Division had been advancing from their forward positions but the roads were blocked by the successful demolitions of the Belgian defenders who had withdrawn northward towards the central plains.

Mechanics waited for the light bombers to get back. Eight Battles had taken off an hour ago to attack the Germans near the Albert Canal. The young wrench turners and the few pilots who had not been assigned the mission waited and their ears strained as they heard the roar of Merlins in the distance. Six planes returned. Three were damaged by light anti-aircraft fire.

An unused bunker was destroyed by German engineers in the Ardennes.

Lt. Francois Mitrel stood still, face impassive and anger as his regimental commander belittled him. How dare he have his anti-tank platoon fire practice rounds. The defenses of the Sedan would not be tested and if they were, it would be the artillery of the infantry divisions that would hold. Anti-tank rounds were too expensive for practice. The reservists would just have to wait until the enemy was too close to miss. The young man stood still for another seven minutes until he was dismissed.

Four young boys, none old enough for their voices to crack scurried home. Their houses were a few dozen meters away from the forest tracks that had been filled with German tanks for the past five hours. Half a dozen spots they saw crooks and curves in the country road that could have been blocked with an axe or a culvert collapse. But there was not delay besides an hour before dinner as the panzers refueled.

Isaac Sweers was towed by a pair of tugs and Jacob van Heemskerk followed her. Van Galen was leading this odd little squadron to England. Another destroyer hull, a handful of submarines and a few auxiliaries were being worked on. The submarines woudl depart at first light and the shipyard workers were making a herculean effort to get Gerald Callenburgh to sea by the end of the next day.

Private MacMahon drank a cup of tea with the rest of his squad. The trucks had deposited the Seaford Highlanders at their final destination early in the afternoon. Two fighters strafed the column during the march killing seven men and destroying three trucks but the rest of the battalion was making good progress on digging into a general reserve position outside of Halle. Another line of trucks streamed by, Territorials moving forward to support the march to the Dyle.

May 13, 1940 0715 near St. Quentin

A train arrived from Paris. It had left the capital two days before but the flux of refugees, the confusion of both Plan D and Plan E(mbrouiller) and roving strikes by Luftwaffe fighters had slowed rail traffic to a halt. Once the train arrived, the commander of the 1st Polish Division had a good problem to solve. What was he to do with eleven American tanks when he had no trained tankers and no logistics to support the tanks beyond the shells in their magazine?

The Polish division had been at St. Quentin for four days. The infantry regiments had well prepared camps just outside of the city. They had originally been prepared as training camps but the start of the German offensive had transformed them into all-around defensive positions. Anti-tank roadblocks supported by artillery were set up south and east of the city. There was no word on if and when the Germans would come, but the Poles who had lost their country were determined to not be surprised by a German column hitting them before they could be prepared.

A tank company without tankers and without resupply would not not add much value beyond an initial shock to the Germans and perhaps a morale boost for the inexperienced but trained infantry. The general could scrape together the crews from the engineers and artillery with perhaps a few infantrymen to handle the machine guns. It would be a central reserve capable of little besides a frontal assault but it gave him another option that he did not have when he woke up that morning.

May 13, 1940 0745 east of Hanut, Belgium

“Char to the front”

The S-35 was hull down in a hastily dug position. The rest of the battalion was arrayed next to the commander’s tank. They were in support of the infantry of the 2nd DLM who had arrived along the stream banks earlier in the week and had started to dig in. Armored car scouts had been holding contact with the Germans. Two Panzer divisions had attempted to outflank the Liege defenses at Maastricht. The canal line had been held by the Belgians. So instead, the Germans were willing to pay the price by their infantry and soft skin transport vehicles and horse drawn logistics train to attack between the increasingly suppressed Belgian fortresses.

The scouts had been in contact with German light tankettes and motorcycle troops for the past sixteen hours. Sharp ambushes started by machine gun and light cannon fire and then escalating to a battery or more of artillery firing high explosives for a few minutes and then switching to preplanned smoke screens had harried the advancing Germans. Seventy armored cars had left the hastily prepared positions before dinner last night and sixty one had passed through the lines an hour ago to regroup. Seven were towed by their compatriots and would be sent to the rear for repair and remating them with new crews.
Infantry battle groups and anti tank guns had spent the night breaking down buildings, clearing lanes of fire and stockpiling ammunition in each hamlet and cluster of farm houses along the stop line. In between the infantry strong points, the chars would hold the Germans back while the heavy tanks of the reserve battalion would be the hammer strike against any German success. The goal of the two divisions was not to defeat the Germans, but to delay them as the rest of the 1st Army needed time to dig in at the Gembloux positions twenty miles to the rear. The Char company captain knew what he had to do and his tank rocked back as the 47mm gun roared. Within seconds the rest of the company had fired. The commander twisted his body to reload the gun, a shell taken from the magazine and slammed into the breech. His eyes were off the target of a half dozen Panzer II tanks and a company of infantry advancing with them.

By the time the next shell was on the way, three German tanks were stopped. Two were on fire and the third’s engine had been destroyed by heavy French guns. A counter attack would be useful here and the captain ordered his driver to advance at a steady pace as he fired the main gun one more time and then squeezed the trigger on the coaxial machine gun. If the rest of the company could see their commander, the attack would have worked. Instead, half the company stayed in their prepared positions while a single platoon and a few stragglers advanced slowly once they saw their captain lead.

German anti-tank guns were emplaced seventeen hundred yards away from the French stop line. Two S35s were left burning on the field as the Germans were able to regroup and counter the counter-attack. By mid-morning, the lines had been reformed and the 4th Panzer Division was feeding men, artillery and tanks into battle. Overhead the battle was dominated by the Germans. Belgian, British and French fighters were rare. A flight of French light bombers had destroyed a German 105mm battery but that intervention was unique. Instead Junkers dove and level bombed the French main line of resistance and artillery parks. Casualties were seldom heavy as the French were either dug in or under armor but the consistency rocked the morale.

A final attack on the southern flank of 2nd DLM was launched in the late afternoon. Two hundred German tanks and two regiments of infantry attempted to take the village of Marilles. The French infantry had been resupplied during the day and they needed every round and every shell. A counterattack by two battalions of Hotchkiss H-35 tanks devolved into a swirling dervish of a battle of the heavily armored and gunned French tanks were consistently able to penetrate German armor at short ranges but they were swarmed repeatedly by the lighter and connected German platoons and companies. Companies were fighting as one unit instead of fighting thirteen individual tank battles as a company.

By the time night fell, pyres lit the country side outside of Hannut. The French had held the field. Eighty tanks had been severely damaged. Crews and teams were in the wheat fields retrieving what they could. By morning as the 3rd Panzer Division started their attack, the French had recovered thirty seven tanks and sent them to the rear for repair and reconstitution.

May 14, 0753 Along the Dyle

Chip, dig, throw, chip, dig, throw, chip, dig throw. Hundreds of men worked in the early morning mist. The lead regiments of the BEF had arrived on the line the night before and now they were digging in. Along the edge of the line, a young lieutenant had his elbow jogged by a forty year old sergeant. A few quick words were exchanged and then the young man called for his platoon to take a break. They had been at work for two hours now. Those who wanted a brew could set one, while the rest could have a few minutes to watch.

The men put down their shovels, they put down their picks, they put down their mallets and relaxed for ten minutes before resuming the hard work of digging back in. They could hear the artillery rumble in the distance and they knew the Germans were coming sooner rather than later.

May 14, 1940 0800 Near Mers El Kebir

Five battleships, an aircraft carrier and a dozen cruisers were surrounded by a shoal of destroyers. None of the capital ships were fast but they were powerful. The two Royal Navy battleships had fought at Jutland while the three French ships had penned in the Austro-Hungarian Navy in its Adriatic prison for years. Now they were alone in the surrounded sea, exercising and working hard to be seen by Italian float planes.

These five ships were superior to anything that the Italians had worked up although rumors and observers noted the new Treaty battleship Littorio was almost ready for war. A steady routine of steaming between Toulon, Malta and Algeria had occupied the Allied Mediterranean squadrons for the past four weeks. They would be reinforced soon with another English battleship and the paired pride of the Marine Nationale. Soon enough Richeleau would be released from the builder yards to counter Littorio.


Until then, they trained. A flag went up from the lead battleship and the five old behemoths turned to port, unmasking their batteries. Paced salvos reached out at a target tug twenty two thousand yards away. Splashes of green, yellow and orange die marked French shells while the British directors had to count time to track their shells. Six salvos later, enough training had been completed for results to matter and improvements to be made. Anti-aircraft drills would be next as Hermes' dozen Swordfish and half a dozen Sea Gladiators commenced their attack on the battle line.

May 14, 1940 1532 Sedan crossing of Army Group A

The enemy was coming. Hordes of Huns were on the far bank of the Meuse and Valkyries were plucking men from the sky. Every twenty minutes another squadron of dive bombers followed by fighters would hit the artillery group. The first raid, the artillery men quickly got back to their guns and resumed dropping twenty year old shells into the river that the German engineer were trying to cross in rickety rubber rafts. By the third raid, few had died and few had been wounded but they paused to return to their guns. The reservists had few anti-aircraft guns and the ones that they did were light and ineffective under the steady bombardment.

A riverside bunker opened fire. A steady stream of light machine gun bullets splashed through the water, occasionally hitting a man and destroying his body or his life but mainly making the engineers paddle ever harder. Suddenly the eastern sky darkened. Over one hundred bombers were descending on the northern prong of the attack. French artillery ceased fire as the gunners ran. The bravest just ran to their trenches. Most ran to the woods. Enough ran with the intention of catching a drink in Paris by nightfall. The steady counter-bombardment which had allowed the reserve infantry divisions to throw back the first hasty assault in the morning ceased. Half a dozen guns were dismounted, another dozen were damaged and dented by the bombers but the artillery was a shattered mace unable to strike back at their tormentors, unable to shield the infantry from concentrated attacks.

More dive bombers dove on the bunkers. The whistles shrieked as Furies descended for revenge of all the sins, imagined and real, of the infantrymen who were expected to hold back two panzer corps. None of the bunkers were destroyed physically but enough shook, enough shuddered, enough felt unsafe and targeted by the entire world for some of the older infantrymen to leave. A few left as individuals and a few platoons broke as a whole.

Within an hour, the GrossDeutschland lansers were among the bunkers. Some were easily cleared as no one defended them. Others, the French defenders matched grenade with grenade, submachine gun with machine gun and bayonets with bayonets. Satchel charges created gaps in the French defensive zone as bunkers were slowly taken and the defenders forced back up the hill. Heavy 88mm anti-aircraft guns were brought forward and fired a dozen or more shells into hold-out bunkers that had resisted storm trooper attacks and infantry guns directly firing against their concrete walls. The heavier, faster shells holed the concrete armor, spalling death and smearing bodies along the inside of the defenses.

By nightfall, the GrossDeutschland had the ridgeline and the first tanks were getting ready to come across impromptu bridges.

The French line had been broken, and now Guderian and his corps could punch empty air with an armored fist.

May 14, 1940 1800 Portsmouth Navy Yard


USS Buchanan eased into the graving dock. She had been on Neutrality Patrol for the past six months. Three crews had been rescued, one torpedoed by a U-boat, another thirty men rescued after they had been set adrift in a pair of lifeboats after their ship had been taken by a raider and the last ship had been wrecked during a hard winter storm. American ships would often follow her like baby ducklings following their mother and foreign ships would check in with the American ships as often as possible. Yet this time at sea had taken its toll. Six weeks of limited availability would start tomorrow as her sisters would take her place on Neutrality Patrol.

May 14, 1940 2133 West of Hannut Belgium

Ammunition cooked off in the distance. Batteries fired at each other as sound locators and flash spotters attempted to direct barrages on their equal opponents. Wounded men laid where they had been hit, some silent, some crying and others screaming for help. The lucky had been found by their comrades and taken in a steady stream of ambulances to the rear. The gunshot and shrapnel wounded men were usually in far better shape than the armored vehicle crewmen who had been burned by petrol that ignited when their tanks had been hit by a cavalcade of enemy fire.

This was what victory looked like. A steady stream of infantrymen marching to the west as a crust of tanks and armored cars covered the planned withdrawal to the main position.

The Cavalry Corps had done its job. The two French light armored divisions had blunted the spearpoint of the German advance. The opposing Panzer division had never been able to concentrate due to the steady movement tax inflicted upon them by the Belgian fortress line. Yesterday the 4th Panzer had wasted itself attacking a prepared foe that was dug in and outnumbered it. Today the 3rd Panzer attempted to turn a short flank and ran into a buzz saw. The heavier German tanks had some initial success penetrating the southern flank of the defensive screen but the commitment of heavy reserves in a limited attack restored the line after destroying forty German panzers and routing a battalion of infantry.

Their orders were clear; delay and wound but do not hold firm. They had done that and now they would withdraw as the infantry of the 1st Army had the time to prepare a strong position at Gembloux. Thirty thousand men would march west tonight followed by the bloodied and wounded German XVI Corps the next afternoon.

May 15, 1940 0554 14,000 feet above the Meuse

The town below was in chaos. French reservists had retreated over night. Some had blown up their equipment and burned their reserve ammunition. Others had cast aside their rifles and ran. A few had retreated in reasonably good order and attempted to set up an outpost line away from the river banks. German infantry and engineers had taken the left bank. Pontoon bridges had been thrown up throughout the course of the previous evening. Staff officers estimated that German tanks would be able to cross in force by mid-morning.

A maximum effort had been ordered for the Allied air forces. The Armee d’Aire was exhausted from supporting the engaged armies in Belgium. Their bomber squadrons had already taken forty percent losses, their chase squadrons were barely better. The ADA would attempt to strike, but they could not assemble a strike until mid-day. The British air forces would attack as well, light and medium bombers covered by Hurricanes. They could attack by lunch.

The Navy’s dive bombers had been uncommitted to Belgium. They were uncommitted to the general plan. When the order for an all out effort had gone across the wires, Lt. Pierret and Mesney realized that they could be the first aircraft to strike the bridgehead. Ground crews worked throughout the night to load ten bombers with one thousand pound bombs and the remaining fifteen operational bombers with three one hundred and fifty kilogram bombs apiece. Before the light broke, the two squadrons took off and formed up at 13,000 feet, flying alone without support to strike the critical point.

The crepuscular light protected the bombers until they were four miles from the bridgehead. A flight of Messerschmitts tore threw the rear of the formation, splashing three bombers and damaging another one. The young, inexperienced dive bomber pilots tightened their formation and hoped that the rear gunners were doing more than just improving their morale as the chattering of machine gun fire ineffectively chased the German fighters away.

Another section of fighters had enough time to make a single head on pass. The squadron and strike leader’s plane was stitched with cannon fire. A single chute blossomed before the remaining bombers tipped over into 55 degree dives. Mesney’s squadron attacked a pontoon bridge that had a company of infantry crossing it. Two hundred flak guns and thousands of rifles tracked the dive bombers as they came down to their target. One, two, three bombers shuddered and skidded, damaged and dying before bombs could be released. One pilot, bleeding from a bullet that clipped his carotid, had a single conscious thought as he turned his aircraft into a guided missile. As the river became ever larger, he struggled with the controls to line up his windshield with the central pontoon.

He missed. His right wing clipped the pontoon before his head slammed into the control panel. He would have drowned in the muddy brown water of the Meuse but his single bomb exploded eleven feet from the bridge.

Three bombers dropped before they knew the bridge was destroyed. The remaining section had already committed. Two bombed the right bank, while the last plane’s bombs exploded amongst an engineering company that had taken inadequate cover on the left bank.

The other squadron had more success. They split into two groups. The first of eight bombers destroyed a pontoon bridge. Three Panzer III tanks and their crews were at the bottom of the river as they had not crossed quickly enough. The other group of four, each armed with three one hundred and fifty kilogram bombs, dove on a ferry. An infantry battalion had lost its weapons company and most of a rifle company.

The success had come at a cost as the surviving dive bombers buffeted along the early morning thermal columns one hundred feet off the ground. Twenty five bombers had departed before dawn. Fourteen would land and only eleven would ever be able to take off again.

May 15, 1940 0815 East of Gembloux

The point man paused. He knew he was being watched from somewhere on his right but he did not know where. The thirty men behind him waited as they trusted his instincts, his knowledge that someone should have a bead on him given their time in combat in the Saar Offensive and then later patrolling throughout the winter in front of the Maginot line. He had saved himself and his platoon at least three times because something told him he was being watched.

They waited nervously. A few of the young men wanted to crack jokes or have a smoke but silence and stillness was the order of the day during a patrol. They waited as two men crawled forward to join their point man. He nodded and gestured for them to cover him as he began a long slow stalk through the treeline.

Thirty minutes later, they still waited for him. No noise had been raised, no weapons fired. A flight of Luftwaffe bombers had flown east from raids into the Army’s rear but there was nothing yet. And then there was a rustle of a branch as the point man walked back without a care in the world. Seven men followed him.

They were the far flank screen for the Liege garrison and strategic screen for the Belgian Army that was set to fight on the KW line. Most of the III Corps was still in Liege as the high command debated whether to hold the city with an infantry division or to just allow the forts to harass and attrite the Germans. An outpost screen by two divisions was being stretched along the Meuse as well as long the roads leading back to Brussels so the fortified city could remain in contact with the rest of the Army.

That mission was successful. The front was continuous from Breda to Namur and the German infantry divisions and supply trains were still being squeezed by forts of Liege.

May 15, 1940 1300 Vlissengen, Netherlands


War should have passed the fishing village by if it was anywhere else. No ships were built here. No artillery was emplaced. No airfields could accommodate anything larger than a Storch. War should have passed this village by if it was not on the Scheldt.

However it was the cork in the bottle of Antwerp. The Belgians had fortified their great port and the French had rushed to Breda but the little fishing village was not garrisoned by more than a dozen policemen and half a dozen reservists who had been sent back from their units due to illness, injury and Communist sympathy.

This did not matter. Three dozen triple engine transports had raced out to sea through a gap in the Dutch anti-aircraft defenses. They then swooped low, 1,000 feet over the gray North Sea and curved around the coast to release their adventurous paratroopers on the minimally defended village. Two reservists raised their rifles at the transports and then lowered then as they realized the futility of their possible resistance. Firing on their soon to be captors would lower their odds of surviving the day.

An hour later, the police chief, a priest and the mayor managed to arrange a surrender of the town without a shot being fired. An hour after the surrender, thirty twin engine bombers mined the Scheldt as the paratroopers (including half a dozen freshly trained sailors) observed the splash.

Antwerp was now locked up.

May 15, 1940 1500 Norfolk Virginia

USS William Burroughs left the naval yard with a general cargo of steel and concrete and seventy eight passengers. The recently acquired merchant conversion was on the way to the Canal zone. Once she dropped off her supplies and passengers she would head to San Francisco to take on construction material for Midway and Wake Island.

May 15, 1940 1700 Rotterdam

The city cracked and creaked. Families shrieked as they looked for their missing members. Fire captains yelled and soldiers screamed.

Flames were consuming the old quarter. The Germans had issued an ultimatum for surrender or destruction. The defenders had managed to hold the Germans outside of the city lines as plentiful artillery from the Lichte Division had stiffened their ability to resist. American 105mm guns were often being used as shotguns over open sights to break up attacks as the gunners had only rudimentary and hasty training to fire at sights unseen but it was enough to slow the German advance.

No more. The city was being destroyed and the destruction would be for nought as the Water Line had been broken through audacity and treachery. The garrison could hold the north bank of the Neiu Maas for another day or two but the blood price to be paid for that time would buy Amsterdam nothing.

A parley was arranged as flames flicked the air and the conflagration grew until it consumed all the dry wood and old construction along the river front. The city was now open and the terror was spreading.

May 16, 1940 40 miles south of Bodo

He brought the stock of the Bren gun up to his shoulder, cheek to butt like a perverse but gentle lover. His assistant scanned the tree studded terrain in front of them as the rest of the company prepared for their first contact in two weeks since they retreated. His eyes focused on the narrow patch of path that was his responsibility. He ignored the few aircraft overhead. They could be friendlies as the RAF and the ADA had established several squadrons at Bodo and the RN’s FAA would occasionally raid the advancing German columns. They could be Germans as they had brought their aircraft forward to airfields just north of Trondheim. However there were few aircraft as this was now a secondary theatre. It was not decisive but that did not matter. A bullet would still kill a man, an artillery shell would still maim a man and falling boulders would still crush a man. Death did not care that it scythed supporting actors.

A German patrol was advancing slowly forward. Half a dozen men were thirty yards in front of the main body, their eyes alert and heads moving side to side and up and down looking for a hint that the terrain was not right and thus hid an ambush. The Independent Company had a week to prepare its position. Two days earlier the old men of the company, veterans of the 1st BEF had walked the position and declared themselves satisfied that it was a good well prepared and camouflaged position. The Germans knew there were positions somewhere on the road near here as their photo-recon had been extensive but the exact location was a mystery that the infantry had to ferret out.

The gray coated soldiers continued to advance as they were tracked by a hundred guns of almost veterans. Light mortars two hundred yards behind the battle position tracked the advance. Mortarmen turned screws and lowered the tube’s angles as everyone waited. A few more minutes of waiting would not be too long as they waited for contact for a week now. But it was the longest seven minutes of silence as everyone knew that someone was out there getting ready to kill them unless they killed first.


And then the German point man stopped thirty five yards from the Bren gunner. He never knew what did not look right but something was wrong in the terrain. He raised his hand to the rest of his squad and one man turned to stalk back to the rest of the column. Before he took three steps, the entire British company erupted in a line of flash and smoke and noise and steel.

Contact was made and the battle for Bodo had started.

May 18, 1940 0700 Near Narvik aboard HMS Effingham


“Sir, your pencil is hiding the rocks near Terra.” The Norwegian reserve lieutenant and former gunnery office aboard the now docked Draug looked at the light cruiser’s navigator with a jaundiced eye. The navigator had been willing to listen to him when he suggested ways for the large light cruiser to maneuver in the restricted Trondheim fjord to bombard German positions near the town but since the cruiser returned to cover a troop convoy away from his old stomping grounds, his advice was less and less listened to.

The Royal Navy officer looked at his chart again. The Norwegian liaison officer had been onboard the ship for over a month now and he had been right at least a few times a week. The course was straight and true but it was always worth a second look as the relationship needed to be maintained. Thirty seconds of delay before another cup of tea was a small price to pay for a happy liaison.

“Bloody hell.. That is a shoal covered by my pencil… We’ll cut the corner a little short and enter Bodo through the main channel… Jurgen, thank you… get yourself some tea and a biscuit before we head to the bridge”
 
Story 0128 May 18, 1940 to May 24, 1940 New

May 18, 1940 0745 Montcornet France


Forty four D-2 tanks were tasked to advance on the crossroads as soon as the artillery group shifted their targets to the German rear. Thirty one tanks advanced. The others were scattered between the railhead at Reims and the treeline at the southern edge of the wheat fields that served as the attack’s jumping off point. This was France’s elite tank group from 1937 but they had been relegated to a school unit as their equipment was worn out and the char forces expanded rapidly. Their colonel was now in command of an impromptu armored division. It was more a gaggle of independent battalions, batteries and service groups where no unit had spent more than two weeks working with a compatriot unit.

And they were expected to blunt the breakthrough by seizing the crossroads at Montcornet and forcing the fuel starved German Panzer corps to double back on itself to counter the 4th Armored Division’s counterattack.

That at least was the plan but first the improvised division needed to seize the crossroads. And that was not going to plan as a wall of German anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns were dug in and rippled fire across the village front, killing three tanks within the first minute and driving the rest to smoke and evasion.

May 18, 1940 1032 Near St. Quentin France 1032

“Fire”

Six 47mm anti tank guns and eleven American tanks fired within seconds of each other. The tank gunners were horrendously trained. Seven had fired their first main battery rounds that morning. The other four had fired half a dozen rounds the night before. They had been moved into place along the main road entering the city from the southeast before dawn and camouflaged. The anti-tank gun crews had already selected the best positions and had their guns under heavy cover for the past day. A flight of Stukas had devastated an exposed battery of 75mm guns an hour ago, illuminating in the harsh screams of the dying men the need to prepare.

Seventeen shells arced down range.

Four hit the leading pair of Panzer I light tanks. They began to burn as machine gun ammunition cooked off. The crews attempted to evacuate from the deadly fire to the dubious safety of open ground. The short company of American built tanks opened fire with their machine guns, staccato bursts digging into the ground, killing men and driving the survivors to cover on the far side of the road.

A single 37mm shell slammed into the ground a two meters in front of a motorcycle, tipping the machine on its side and trapping the driver who was bleeding. Mortar rounds started to land on the road, separating the following motorized infantry from the leading tank platoon. The German panzers fired their machine guns in the direction of the anti-tank guns, killing none of the Polish gunners and forcing them to proceed with caution as the gun shields pinged with the deflected bullets. The anti-tank guns fired again,and again, and again.

Artillery from both Polish and German guns started to rain down on the first ambush position. Five anti-tank guns were able to withdraw along with ten American tanks. The last tank threw a track and was immobilized. The crew had a chance to evacuate but decided to stay firm to force the Germans to attack a forward strong point. Seven German tanks could not withdraw as they had been holed repeatedly by the ambush.

The deliberate attack came two hours later.

A Panzer regiment attacked north with a regiment of infantry in support. Artillery lashed at the Polish forward and reserve positions as one hundred dive bombers struck the rear. The Poles did not flee. The sole tank was supported by a company of infantry. For a quarter of an hour, its armor was dented and pinged by 20mm and 37mm shells from the German light and medium panzers. It held its position, roaring back with its own 37mm gun at the German light tanks, and lashing out at German panzergrenadiers who audaciously broke cover with the multitude of machine guns. The strong point fell when a platoon of Panzer IV’s flanked the impromptu bunker to pump a dozen shells into the weak rear armor of the immobile tank.

This was just one spot among many where Germans and Poles bled and died in Northern France. The Poles fought with every weapon they had but whenever they broke cover, the Luftwaffe pounced.

By nightfall, the roads to the sea were clear again. The First Polish Division had faced a Panzer Corps and bloodied it. One hundred tanks littered the outskirts of St. Quentin along with a thousand corpses and hundreds of boys still crying for their mother. German medics found the men who cried. Those they could save, they brought to the rear, others were given triple dose of morphine so they could find a moment of peace before dying.

The Division had been shouldered aside, forced back nine kilometers from their initial positions. The men and the officers were still willing and able to fight, but now the German motorized infantry had begun to dug in, screening the breakthrough with a thin line of exhausted landsers.

May 18, 1940 1954 Stonne France

A town used to be here. Twenty one times in the past three days it switched hands. Twenty times the issue was in doubt. No more. The small town of almost no consequence in peace time was now firmly held by the German infantry. The infantry was originally from the GrossDeutschland regiment and odds and sods from the 10th Panzer division. Three hours ago, a lead battalion from one of the following leg infantry regiments arrived in the town minutes before the last French counterattack was launched. The French with their heavily armored tanks and plentiful artillery advanced but were bogged down in the ruins of the town. The fighting , as it had in the twenty one other battles for this town quickly became ferocious as tanks tried to run over infantrymen, anti-tank gunners fired at point blank range and infantrymen fought as often with their rifles as clubs and spears as they were used as firearms. Quarter was never expected and seldom given but the attack failed to dislodge the reinforced defenders.

Six more Chars laid burning and dozens of men were dead or dying on the outskirts of the breakthrough. The flank was secure.

May 18, 1940 2000 near Montcornet France

The newly promoted brigadier cursed in frustration. The initial attack had achieved success early in the day. And then things started to fall apart. The heavy infantry chars had become stuck in the mud while attacking the hamlet of Chivres. Infantry had tried to advance in the face of dug in defenders but without armor, artillery or air support, the progress was slow and bloody. The single battalion of infantry could only be in one place instead of the fourteen places that it was called for today. An afternoon effort had some success as the light tanks raided behind the German positions but the intervention of three dozen dive bombers and the lack of fuel forced them back. Losses were moderate, 10% of his command could not fight tonight. If he could hold the field for a day, half of his losses could come back, but the division needed to fall back to Laon and guard its supply. His losses would be irrevocable.

May 18 1940 2100 near Halle Belgium

Private MacMahon waited. His regiment, his division, his corps was snaking its way back beyond its starting point that they had left earlier in the week. The positions outside of Halle were being abandoned without a fight. The French First Army had brawled near Gembloux and Wavre against the German spearpoint. A steady stream of ambulances came back as well as a stream of lorries carrying petrol and artillery ammunition headed forward to the French Army. The rumble of artillery had slowed the night before and the eastern sky rumbled with thunder that had been as distant this morning as it had been two days ago. Their success did not matter. The Germans had pulled a sneaky hook and curved around the defenses. Now the Highlanders were being trucked to Lens and Arras while dozens of other snake like truck convoys were converging on numerous other little villages and towns on the right bank of the Somme.

As he waited for the trucks to leave the camp, he had a few minutes to take a piss and smoke a cigarette. He would be ready for his scenic motor tour of Northern France to continue.

May 19, 1940 1300 Sheerness England

The cruiser’s screws stopped turning. Sailors threw mooring lines over the side and the dock gangs tied HMS Curlew to the pier. Within minutes a gangway was wheeled up and a side party of Royal Marines was prepared to receive the King and Queen of the Netherlands. Four minutes later, the Royal Family touched down on the soil of their home in exile. They had evacuated early that morning and once their feet were on solid ground, a signal was sent for all resistance in the Netherlands to cease.

Hours later, the cruiser left. She had enough time to disembark four hundred Dutch refugees who would be critical for the government in exile as engineers, pilots, navigators, shipwrights, bankers and quartermasters as well as dozens other specialists needed to wage modern global war. Resistance would continue, funded by both the gold of the Dutch national reserves and the oil of the East.

Curlew was needed in the Channel. She would be part of a task force to support and possible evacuate the BEF if they could not successfully break through.

May 20, 1940 Calais France

The British were coming. A small convoy of half a dozen coasters and two large ocean going ships had arrived that morning. Two regular infantry battalions and the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment were disembarking and unloading their heavy equipment in the port. Four thousand lines of communication troops were helping dig defenses just outside of town. They would be evacuated once the forty five tanks had been unloaded.

A pair of Bofors batteries guarded the approaches to the town while a single heavy anti-aircraft battery was being sited south of the town to bring the coastal road under direct fire in support of the infantry as well as to provide some air defense.

Similar efforts were being made at Dunkirk and Ostend. Boulonge was being defended by French infantry as well as its coastal defense garrison.

May 21, 1940 Sint Niklaas Belgium

Antwerp had become a refuge. A full corps of the Belgian army had withdrawn behind and between the fortress line protecting the great port. At this little town the rest of the field army of the kingdom joined the fortified position. The past ten days had been hell. There was never a minute when the army could look skyward with confidence. The anti-aircraft complement of the infantry divisions were exhausted as they were insufficient protection despite being in constant action. Infantrymen sometimes broke when they saw tanks and other times, they stood firm as the few heavy anti-tank guns took their toll on too aggressive German commanders.

The Dyle provided an obstacle backed by hundreds of bunkers. The issue was the Allies were scrambling to respond to the German breakthrough in the south. The single corps of the 7th Army had already scrambled past Antwerp as it attempted to reach its homeland. The BEF as the most mobile major Allied formation was now trying the logistically challenging job of marching across the rear of the retreating First French Army to hold a line near the Somme and maintain a connection to the rest of the French armies.

The First French Army had won a pair of victories at Hannut and Gembloux. Each time the Germans attack. Each time the French had held the field. At Gembloux, they would have been willing to hold the field for as long as they wished if the Germans had not turned their southern flank at Sedan. Now they had to expand their front to cover the what the BEF had left uncovered while also refusing their right flank and preparing a counterattack against the northern flank of the German corridor to the Channel. What had been a powerful and compact formation was now becoming a collection of outposts, strong points and minor concentrations running in four directions at once.

The Belgian Army had expected to be able to hold the Dyle against a determined attack only if they had help from the Allies. And they had that help for the first week. The fortresses on the frontier had channeled the Germans. They still held even as siege artillery spat tons of steel at each fortress. Eben Emael still stood along with Battice. Liege had been screened and now was under siege, a pair of divisions trapped but denying a major road to the Germans.

The field army was still in a position to fight and delay the Germans but their fate relied on the ability of the French and British to destroy the German breakthrough to the southwest. If they could not, any success in Belgium would be ephemeral.

May 21, 1940 2200 near Lens, France

“Get some sleep, we’ll wake you when you need to go on picket duty” Private MacMahon’s section leader had paused for a second as he walked by. Another section had picket duty for the company until the middle of the night. Then it would be his turn to watch the land and the sky to make sure the Germans could not quietly sneak up on them. Detection probably meant death, but that was the risk of taking the King’s shilling. It was not just fun, beer and birds. However he could not settle himself down enough to sleep. The entire division had moved from Belgium to a series of assembly points near Arras over the past two days. German bombers had attacked the string of convoys but this time RAF Hurricanes had been around and gotten their fair share of kills. German fighters had strafed columns, killing men and destroying some trucks but the light AA guns had been leapfrogging the division during the entire march and again they claimed their fair share. It was not a pleasant peace time march, but it was a march that they could achieve.

The Highlanders had arrived at their temporary bivouac before dinner and by nightfall, every man had at least two bowls of hot stew and warm bread. Most of the men had been living on their pack rations which were sufficient for energy but little else. Fresh, hot food was a luxury that would earn their quartermasters great leeway in all other challenges. An officers group had been called two hours ago. Ninety minutes later, the officers were speaking with the senior enlisted men. An attack would be going in tomorrow to cut off the German spearheads. The Army tank brigade was arriving at their jumping off points three miles east of the Highlanders. The tanks would advance and the infantry would follow. The objective was to meet with the French who were counterattacking over the Somme. Scouts would be sent off over night to find the German lines and then the attack would start just after breakfast.

Until then, everyone should get some sleep. He knew this was a good idea. He was not a veteran yet and was incapable of sleeping when the chance to do so safely presented itself no matter what else was happening.

So he looked at the stars and he bent down to start stripping his rifle yet again. This would be the fourth time he had cleaned it in the past two days as his hands needed something to do. Would he be yellow or would he be brave, would he know what to do tomorrow? Would he be able to laugh with his buddies, all of them doing what they needed to do tonight before their first contact tomorrow. Who knew, he did not, as his Enfield began to spread itself out beneath his barely conscious hands.

May 22, 1940 Aboard Maverick-02 North Pacific

Engines steadily droned on. Flaps squealed as they were raised and the landing gear rattled loose from the broad wings. The flight was almost over. A pair of specially fitted B-18 bombers were lined up a mile apart from each other as they descended. Three days ago they started their journey at Hickam Field just outside of Honolulu. Now they were minutes from landing at an almost deserted island. The navigators were proud of their job. They were only thirty miles off course when they detected the homing beacon from the single high power radio on the island.

Thirty minutes later, the bombers touched down. The runway was barely long enough to handle the twin engine Douglas bombers but they both stopped before running out of space along the packed coral landing strip. Ground crews from the Pan Am flying boat base and enthusiastic volunteers from the thirty seven civilian construction workers still left on the island charged on expanding the fuel dump and build ammunition storage bunks swarmed over the two planes. They pulled them to the dispersal area and attempted to talk to the three man crew but were pushed aside as four of the six men hurried for the latrines.

The Bolos had made it. One made it with twenty-four gallons of fuel left. They had departed Midway as effectively flying fuel tanks. Three crew members had been left in Hawaii and fuel tanks had been added in the bomb bay. The flight was a proof of concept that Army bombers could deploy to the middle of the Pacific. Now they had to make the return flight home after the crews had a day to rest and the dozen mechanics who had been ferried to forsaken Wake Island aboard a destroyer mine layer the week before could tweak the engines. The mission had met the minimal level of success. Optimal success would see both bombers on the ground in Hawaii next week with girls climbing onto the laps of the hero pilots at a tiki bar as they boasted about their prowess.

May 22, 1940 Arras France


Beneath the rail embankment, he waited. The rest of his company was with him. A company of Matilda’s were on his right and the remaining companies of the Seaforth Highlanders were to the right of the tanks. They had been waiting for the order to attack for three hours now, having been in place since just before dawn. They were supposed to have gone over the top and across the tracks at seven in the morning, but a runner came by fifteen minute to tell them to wait. They would go when the artillery had finished setting up. That was two hours ago and there had been three more delays. No one had popped their head over the rail line, but he knew that the Germans had to know that the Highlanders were there as the tanks were too big and too loud to hide.

Off to the east, four regiments of artillery waited for a signal. Each field gun was loaded, each team had dialed in the range and checked the weather condition. Each observer was wired into the battery commander. A whistle blew and one gun from each battery fired. Each battery had its own target and the observers waited for the fall of shot. Some went long, Some went wide. Some were on target. A minute later, more ranging salvos landed on the suspected German positions. More shells were landing where the were needed. Soon every regiment of artillery was firing for effect with every gun being rapidly worked. German artillery was silent for the first ten minutes and then ragged responding salvos reached for spots where attackers may have been lying down.

A heavy battery shredded a copse of oak trees one hundred yards behind the rail line. If there were men in that area, they would have been dying but the cover was too obvious, so the Highlanders ignored it as they pressed forward to the jumping off point in the pre-dawn darkness.

And then a moment of silence as the Royal Artillery lifted its fire. Five thousand yards to the rear, forty-five guns were hitched to lorries to move forward to another set of positions fifteen hundred yards closer to the line. The silence was heavy as the village had started to smoke. And then it was broken as one regiment of twenty five pounders threw a steady stream of high explosive and shrapnel shells into the center of the village while the other regiment laid a thick smoke screen.

The officers stood up. Some had their pistols out like they were on an American frontier movie set, others were calmly motioning for the pipers to begin to play. The Highlands were going to war again in Northern France along the same lines that their fathers and uncles and older cousins had fought and died. Private MacMahon made sure his rifle was loaded and his bayonet fixed. His sergeant paused a moment before rising and exposing himself to the increasing hum of German machine gun bullets and unaimed mortar shells exploding half a football pitch to the left. His legs were without control as his body rose and his lungs emptied themselves of air in a deep keening scream. His sergeant waited another beat ---

“Laddies, at them” and they crouched low and ran at a moderate jog to be near the tanks that had started to advance. The Matilda’s heavy machine guns were firing at the specks of light of German machine gun nests. An anti-tank gun fired. Its shell hit the tank twenty yards to his right. It did no damage, but a hot fragment burned a hole in his right sleeve and singed the hair on his arm. Four tanks stopped for a moment and concentrated their machine guns on the spots where their commanders thought the German anti-tank gun laid hidden. A Bren gun opened up as the range closed. The tanks continued their advance.

They advanced. He advanced. One of his friends collapsed in a heap from a rifle round that was aimed at a tank commander standing up in his turret. The German rifleman was too excited and forgot to change his sights so the round went high and long until it shattered Padraig’s throat. A squad of German motorized infantry had a strong point in a yellow house. The platoon stopped for a moment before two sections rushed the house with hand grenades and bayonets. Private MacMahon yelled and then threw a grenade on a short fuse. It thumped along with half a dozen other grenades. Tanks fired their heavy Vickers into the windows and second floor walls. The grenades exploded and the green clad infantrymen burst through the doors. Two Germans had their hands up and were taken to the rear. Five attempted to fight but the explosions stunned them. Two were shot, blood pooling from their wounds while the other three were bayoneted. He knew that he had to change his clip but he did not remember actually firing his gun. Two more defenders were upstairs, dead from the supporting fire.

By noon, the village was cleared. A section of quartermasters in a universal carrier came forward to the infantry companies. Clips, grenades, water and bread were passed out to the infantry men. The attack would continue shortly. They were to advance down the road to Wailly as the other Allied columns had come to grips with German Panzer regiments and were slowly grinding forward.

May 22, 1940 1417 near Baupamme France

Six Hawks patrolled above the bombers. The chase squadron had been re-equipped from the vast stores of equipment lying in French ports. On the first day of the offensive, they lost seven planes on the ground and three more in the air. Now they had had nine American fighters on the establishment and eleven pilots who had already claimed twenty three kills. Below them were half a dozen Vindicators, each with three 150 kg bombs,

The radio crackled, the bombers had completed their drop on a crossroad. Half a dozen trucks and most of a company of infantry had been hit. The bombers were on the way back to base. The Navy was fighting on land and doing an excellent job of supporting the army. As the escort prepared to break off, the rearmost and youngest pilot glanced down.

“Junkers, fast and low”

The two elements split. Three planes stayed high at 14,000 feet looking for German escorts. The other three dove. The element leader squeezed his trigger and a string of machine gun bullets traced a steady line across the port engine of the rearmost bomber. A string of tracers reached out for the attacking fighters and punched harmless holes in the rudder. The attacking Hawks gained altitude again, and the covering Hawks made a single diving pass. Another bomber crashed into the fields near the Somme.

May 22, 1940 1440 near Agny

Forty five tanks, mostly machine gun Matildas but a few heavy cannon armed Matildas advanced. The Highlanders were walking in the fields with the tanks concentrated on the road. A few German squads and platoons had tried to slow the advance since noon time but each time, the infantry would pin the Germans down and the tanks would pour suppressive fire into the positions while the artillery pounded the holdouts. After a few minutes, rifles and grenades would clear the hold-outs. That had happened five times and each time, the advance continued. They had taken four miles in three hours.

Private MacMahon walked across the field with his rifle ready and his eyes scanning for movement. His friends and section mates were line abreast, a machine gun burst or an exploding grenade apart. They were coming up to a low stone wall and then another open field leading up to a gentle ridge line where they could see Germans digging in and getting ready. Artillery observers were already scrambling to call in concentrations. They reached the wall. The corporal motioned for them to all get down for a minute. Some of the men paused for a sip from their canteens. He took a piss, spraying on an old piece of granite, marking his newly conquered territory. And then the advance continued as artillery began to fall. German artillery lashed out at the company to his left. Divisional artillery began to land a barrage on the ridge line where the Germans had set up a gun line of anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns.

Seven infantry tanks advanced as the Scottish infantry fell in a few yards behind the metal monsters. Four hundred yards from the ridge, German mortar shells began to explode. Most were short, a few were wide but the mortar men began to walk the shells into the advancing mass of men and machines. Machine guns opened fire at the anti-tank gunners as 37-mm rounds bounced off the glacis plates of the nearest tank. Suddenly, a tank seventy yards away stopped as the turret was lifted thirty yards into the air. A German 88-mm anti-aircraft gun scored a hit.

A cascade of rifle rounds and artillery shells and machine gun bursts converged on the top of the ridge line. Heavy shells on flat trajectories were the German reply, ripping up the field from near misses and stopping men in their tracks if the shell exploded in a cluster of infantrymen. The Matildas were relentless in their slow advance. German 37-mm rounds failed to penetrate while the heavier 88-mm rounds could stop the tanks but the tall and obvious guns were poorly protected. Their crews were fighting hard but they were exposed to everything the Highlanders and the 4 Royal Tank Regiment could throw back.
Two hundred yards from the ridge line, the young Lieutenant fell to the ground. A German mortar shell landed three yards from him, taking off his head. Private MacMahon gripped his rifle tighter and then relaxed for a moment as he brought the butt to his face and squeezed off a series of suppressive shots in semi-aimed fire. He did not know if he hit anything, but the act of fighting back focused him as the section broke into a run across the field. Machine guns fired in enfilidate against his platoon but the tanks protected them as they fired back. Five friends were hit but soon the Scots were over the hill.

A German officer, tall with a pinched nose and an Iron Cross dangling from his neck was trying to rally the anti-tank and anti-aircraft gunners to stand firm and pour fire into the British tanks at point blank range. A few guns tried but they only invited the concentrated attention of the British tanks and Scottish infantry. He waved his pistol and yelled at his men as first one, and then another Matilda crushed 37-mm anti-tank guns beneath their tracks, grinding the crews who had tried to fight into muddy slurry.

He was looking to his right and did not see the young Scottish private running at him from fifteen yards away. The private fired once from his hip, hitting the officer in the hip and then plunged his bayonet into his back. The steel blade tore through the officer’s liver and punctured a lung. A second and third thrust sent the steel blade into his body and his life faded as the Scottish private continued to advance.

An hour later, the hamlet of Agny was in British control. Half a dozen 88-mm guns were captured and moved to reinforce the defenses of the Seaforth Highlanders. Young Private MacMahon was digging in as a wave of nausea and a trembling fear swept his body. He looked for a foot of privacy and found it behind a partially wrecked telephone booth thirty yards away from his platoon’s position. He vomited until he had nothing left in his stomach and then heaved some more until he had collapsed in exhaustion.

His platoon sergeant saw the young man who had survived and fought hard that day step off the front line for a moment. The old veteran of Arras 1918 waited as he experienced the same reaction after the first time he killed a man just miles from this village. Soon enough, the old man came over to the young man who was now a veteran and offered him a cigarette and a splash of water from his canteen.

Night would soon fall, and the attack had only an hour or two left as the half strength 4 RTR and a follow on battalion of infantry rolled out to attack the now leaderless 7th Panzer Division.


May 23, 1940 St. Riquier France


Again the Poles dug in. They had been forced aside at St. Quentin by several fresh Panzer divisions. They had fought and they had held the shoulder of the breakthrough. And then they were replaced by a French infantry corps that had been moved by rail from the Maginot Line. Two days to rest and recover brought the division back to four fifths strength. It was still light in artillery and the American tanks formed a platoon that they would not release. Those tanks were dug in southeast of town with two infantry regiments flanking the single strong point on the road. The last regiment minus a battalion guarded the left flank.

Traffic to the north of the Poles was heavy as six French divisions were marching southwest. There were a few trucks carrying poilous and more pulling artillery and other heavy equipment but the columns that marched today looked like the columns that marched months before the active duty conscripts were conceived. The difference was these soldiers marched with fear of the air. An occasional Allied fighter squadron patrolled overhead and they cheered when a German plane crashed in the fields near the columns but there were no Allied bombers. Instead the Germans were staging steady pulses of dive bombers. Fighters would strafe the columns at the end of their patrols if they did not combat Allied aircraft. Each step brought half of the 7th Army to safety but each step came at a cost.

Three miles south of the Polish position, a German spearhead waited. They waited for orders to turn around and counterattack the British offensive at Arras. They waited for orders to seize Abbeville or to cut into the French retreat. They waited for orders. An enterprising major wanted to move forward as a reconnaissance in force but his battle group commander squashed the aggressive action as the steady fighting had brought his command to half strength. If they could seize the bridges at Abbeville, the 1st Allied Army Group would be isolated but an understrength regiment of tanks without sufficient artillery or infantry support could not do that against a Polish division that bruised a Panzer corps a week ago.

So they waited.


May 23, 1940 0730 near Agny, France


He had been awake for five hours now. Stand to had been ordered in the middle of the night as patrols and the wizards in intelligence detected a German counter-stroke. A panzer corps was turning around and concentrating north of the Arras Salient and an infantry corps was marching rapidly to squeeze the southern edge of the thirteen mile deep penetration into the German lines. Two divisions were containing the breakthrough attempts by the exhausted 1st Army Tank Brigade which was now down to half its operational strength while the French attacks over the Somme had been slowed and then stopped miles from any plausible linkage with the BEF.


They were to hold the town until the advance elements of the 4 RTR and Cameron Highlanders could pass through the lines and establish a blocking position between Agny and Arras. Then they would retreat, leapfrogging the tank units and Camerons until they held a position outside of Arras. If they were walking with pretty girls, they could have arrived at Arras by late morning even accounting for a snog but the retreat would be opposed as the Germans would rather kill him while he was walking rather than he was fighting.


May 24, 1940 Throughout Northwestern Europe


A dozen Heinkels raided Bodo. Norwegian pilots in their Sea Gladiators scored a pair of kills while RAF Hurricanes lost three of their own to shoot down a pair of ME-109s. The Independent companies south of Bodo were slowly conceding ground as three German divisions were grinding north. The terrain offered more resistance than the Territorials.

Twelve German divisions concentrated on the Dyle line north of Brussels. An exhausted Belgian Corp was their target. Four hundred guns opened their bombardment twenty minutes before dawn and the first assault boats were over the river twelve minutes after sun rise. The two severely damaged Panzer Divisions had time to receover and they received the weak 9th Panzer as a reinforcement. PanzerKorps Nord was held in reserve until late afternoon when it was released to curl around the Belgian capital.

The front had been ruptured. Half of the remaining Belgian Army retreated to the north and onto their remaining depots. The other half fell back to hold contact with the French First Army and the fortress of Namur. The French started to pull back their northeastern outposts when it became obvious where the Germans were attacking. By midnight, the Cavalry Corps had arrived at Lille while the 1st DCR had halted its attack into the main German offensive salient. It had gained ten miles of territory in three days of fighting but German infantry was arriving and slowing the rapidly weakening division. The threat was not the anti-tank guns but the combination of artillery and mechanical breakdowns. Some of the tanks had driven two hundred and fifty miles and fought three major battles in the past two weeks. Two infantry corps started a march to Ath with a final destination unknown but to the north. The final forces of the 1st Army stood still in their positions near Valenciennes.


The Arras counterattack force stood in place after they retreated to Arras. I Corps of the BEF started preparing positions between Bethune and Boulonge. The rest of the II Corps and III corps arced on a line from Arras to Tournai. Lines of communication troops and units were being assembled to form a second line of defense inside of the developing pocket.


Polish troops clashed with German probes as a battalion of medium tanks with a regiment of infantry managed to slip to the east of the Polish positions around Abbeville and they seized the coastal road. The Armies of the North were now isolated.


At midnight, Operation Dynamo warning orders were sent to light forces in the Channel. They were to begin overnight runs to Channel Ports to evacuate line of communication, labor, RAF and other extraneous personnel from the developing pocket. Destroyers and other fast craft would operate during daylight while Channel ferries would be restricted to nighttime operations. Food, fuel and critical supplies would be delivered to the BEF, 1st French Army and Belgian divisions as often as possible.


Two Fleet Air Arm Martlet squadrons began their movement from their airfields near Scapa Flow to Kent.

Luftwaffe units in Northern France were ordered to fly no offensive patrols on the 25th. Maitenance and logistics would be consolidated as the pilots were ordered to sleep. They would be the decisive arm to defeat the Northern Allied Armies as the Panzer divisions needed to stay in place and allow the leg infantry of the rest of Army Group B to catch up to the spearhead. The tanks would halt in place except for local patrols and defensive action for two days.
 
Story 0129 May 19 to June 3 1940 New
May 25, 1940 852 Berck, France

A dozen tanks and seven score men rested. They had reached the sea. Six men had dismounted a few minutes ago to assess the state of the small town’s petrol station. They had come back with a single French police officer in front of them. He insisted that the German soldiers pay for the petrol in the town’s tanks. The panzer officer laughed at the absurdity of a man armed only with a pistol demanding payment from the vanguard of a victorious army. Yet, he had to smile at the audacity of a man trying to do his duty. He signed a receipt for four hundred liters of civilian petrol for his tanks. It was not enough for another day of headlong advance, but his battle group had nowhere else to go. They had reached the sea. Their enemies had to come to them or starve.

Within minutes, the Panzer troops and the accompanying grenadiers started to survey and prepare defensive positions to await the inevitable counterattack.

To the southeast, the 1st Polish Division continued to dig in and cover the rail and road bridges over the Somme. The withdrawn fragments of the 7th Army were digging in on the left bank of the river as the British 1st Armored Division and the French 4th DCR were being sent by train to the extreme northern flank of the congealing Allied line outside of the pocket. A counterattack was coming and the tanks would need the bridges to advance, so the Poles had to hold even as signal intelligence and the occasional surveillance flight showed German infantry was steadily marching north.

Trains had come in overnight. Some were troop and tank trains. More were supply trains. The BEF supply depots were being emptied as every shell, every mine, every gun, and every bullet that could be sent forward was being sent forward. Not all of it was useful. The seventy three Boys anti-tank rifles would have been a significant addition of the light anti-tank capacity of the Polish grenadiers. But those rifles had no ammunition. Trains were arriving in the morning, for once not attacked by the air. The air was eerily empty. A flight of RAF Lysanders buzzed one train but beyond that, there was no threat and no protection.

To the north of the German patrol the BEF withdrew to within sight of Boulonge. Seventeen destroyers, eight sloops and several dozen motor gun boats were queued outside of the harbor. By noontime, eleven thousand men were being taken back to England. Three thousand were French supply troops. By nightfall they were on a train to Portsmouth and a liner waited to take them back to Cherbourg.

After afternoon tea, dozens of Royal Navy officers scattered along the Channel ports and the small harbors near the mouth of the Thames. They were looking for small craft that could run to France and back in a single night to take men away. If the lines held for a day or two, these yachts, tugs, luggers, trawlers, drifters and tenders could pull several thousand more men off of the the beaches and from the small fishing villages while the major harbors with their piers and docks served the ocean going ships. At Ramsgate, they found and requisitioned four little boats. M/Y Sundowner's elderly master volunteered to lead the flotilla across the Channel but he was told to wait a day for further orders.


May 25, 1940 Cherbourg France


Two battleships and half a dozen destroyers and torpedo boats left the harbor. The dreadnoughts were old warriors that had stood the line in the first Great War. Now they were needed to support the French Armies along the coast. Each had a dozen twelve inch guns and a reasonably heavy anti-aircraft outfit. They sailed without the float planes that should have acted as their spotters but they could communicate by radio to Army liaisons who could watch the fall of their shells. They were needed and so they steamed to the front at eleven knots.

Situation Map May 26, 1940

situation-0526140-keynes-cruisers-jpg.305625



May 26, 1940 1145 south of Abbeville


Two hundred Allied tanks had been shuttled across the river over night. A division of French infantry had marched and been seen to be marching over the river by the Germans in their outpost line. There were promises of air support even as Fighter Command committed to covering the BEF as it retreated to the Channel Ports and the Armee d’Aire northern command was an epitome of chaos as airfields had been overrun, squadrons evacuated and then sent elsewhere again and again, pilots and their planes hundreds of kilometers from their mechanics and weapons. It was promised.

Across the Polish lines was the damaged 7th Panzer Division and a pair of infantry divisions that had arrived that morning. The attack would go in shortly to push them back to LaBroye where a decision would be made to either continue to Cresdin or hook inland depending on opportunity.

At noontime, all the guns controlled by the French started their bombardment. The British guns had not started to fire. Liaison officers scrambled back and forth between headquarters. The 1st Armoured Division had been told earlier that morning that no attack would go until late afternoon. That had been an early order but the French commanders had moved up the attack. The courier who was supposed to deliver that message had been wounded in a German air attack and no one ever inquired for confirmation.

By two o’clock every gun was firing where they should have been firing two hours previous. The heavy French tanks pushed forward, German anti-tank shells bouncing off the heavy armor plates. Instead of the light guns being the successful defense, anti-aircraft guns and artillery firing over open sights slowed the assault. More importantly, the broken terrain had been mined and ditches had been dug so the French tanks either were stuck with mechanical failures or concentrated on narrow, pre-registered pathways.


May 26, 1940 1900 north of Bethune

Endless columns of men marched. Trucks that could have been carrying them to the Channel ports were elsewhere, ferrying artillery, ferrying shells, ferrying the seventeen thousand items a division needed to wage modern warfare to supply dumps near the ports. Some of the infantry but more of the rear echelon and lines of communication troops, were able to hop rides so that they could act as stevedores in the ports. A company of trucks had been detached to help the French Cavalry Corps resupply and reorganize itself as they were short of everything after having been in three major combats and winning each time in two weeks. And yet they had to retreat two hundred miles.

So they marched. Luftwaffe bombers were overhead but few attacked the columns to kill them retail. Instead they were starting to attack the ships and the port facilities to trap the columns. Private MacMahon had two good meals and a loaf of fresh bread that he paid too much for to a village baker. His eyes scanned the sky when his ears told him to look but other than that, he marched with his platoon as they joked and boasted and sang. Their victories were meaningless even as the platoon was far smaller leaving France than when it entered Belgium.

They marched.

May 27, 1940 near Abbeville 0621

Seventy panzers and supporting infantry were heading down the coastal road. The French counterattack towards LaBroye had stalled three miles from that crossroads that night and their flank was left hanging in the air as only an exhausted and under-strength cavalry screen covered the advance. The 7th Panzer had retreated overnight as LeBroye was now stoutly defended by infantry. Now they were going to cut the neck of the French off and destroy one of the few formed heavy counter attack units that the French had left with their main body.

Eleven hundred yards away, a dozen French soldiers and two sailors watched the impressive force advance. They had been watching the advance for an hour and they had been radioing their reports for the past half hour.

Finally a company of tanks rolled through the crossroads outside of the village. That was their mark. Everyone knew the exact location of that crossroad and five miles offshore, Courbet and Paris elevated their guns, rotated their turrets and waited for their fire control to settle as they bounced on the light Channel waves. Within three minutes, twenty twelve inch shells were smashing the German column every thirty to forty seconds.

Eleven minutes later, the bombardment ceased. The 7th Panzer’s spearpoint had been blounted. Few tanks were destroyed, several had been flipped upside down or onto their side, more suffered from concussion damage. A single Panzer IV had a twelve inch shell penetrated its thin roof armor before exploding in the road. More importantly, the infantry had taken to the ground and the supply trucks were on fire.

May 27, 1940 1200 Southeast of Abbeville

Four divisions from the 7th Army were now supporting the counterattack. Three had followed 4DCR, 5 DLC and 1st Armoured Division forward towards LaBroye. The last moved to a blocking position south east of the counterattack’s exposed wedge to guard against any German attempts to squeeze the neck and choke the attack off. Their march forward was not easy. German planes outnumbered French planes five or six to one. The few support missions that the ADA could provide were seldom effective as the bombers were jinking, juking and dodging against both anti-aircraft fire and fighters. The Luftwaffe had committed three hundred planes against 7th Army. Some regiments were able to get to their positions without interference while others were being destroyed on the road. More often, a march that should have taken an hour was taking three hours due to the unstoppable air attacks. The infantry needed to advance as the armored divisions had been stopped because they had almost no infantry to support them and house to house fighting from a steel pillbox was a death trap.


May 27, 1940 1454 the English Channel near Abbeville

Paris was alone. Courbet had returned to Cherbourg to resupply as she was down to six heavy shells per gun. Fire mission after fire mission had been called for as the old battleships were needed to control the coastal road. The 7th Panzer’s leading elements had been destroyed by the veterans of the First War. But they were still needed. Courbet would re-arm and return tomorrow to either Abbeville or Boulonge as need arose. Paris with twenty rounds per gun still remaining held station with five destroyers escorting and supporting her.

They had fought off a desultory air attack a few hours ago as they were a target of opportunity for half a dozen dive bombers. Ships dancing like Dioneysian dervishes while lashing the sky with Diwalian strings of tracers fire were far harder targets than stable bridges or infantry columns advancing at a steady two miles an hour. No damage was done.

The radio operator received a disturbing message from their fire spotting team on land. Within a minute the Captain and Admiral knew that there were over one hundred dive bombers coming off the Somme hunting for them. The men who could be taken off the deck and placed under armor were moved. The machine guns and 75mm guns had additional ready ammunition hurried out and the formation turned for more open water at eighteen knots. It would not be much as they only had ten minutes worth of warning, but the extra maneuvering room might be valuable.

Lookouts strained their eyes. Finally one of them spotted a cloud of gnats in the distance bearing down on them. The destroyers tightened up and a pair started to make smoke to hide the battleship. And then everyone waited as the dive bomber were still out of range. The wait was not long as Paris three inch guns started to fire into the formation.

A half dozen squadrons of dive bombers began their deadly ballet as the first one tipped over at 11,000 feet into an 80 degree dive. The sirens on the wings shouted as every light gun in the force reached out to kill him or at least scare him. A single 13.2 mm round scoured the lead dive bomber, punching through the cockpit and exiting through the upper pane of glass; no damage was done, and the pilot was not aware of the hit until after he dropped his single 550 pound bomb. It missed, wide of Paris by thirty meters.

The first seven dive bombers missed. Most took some damage, none fatal and most not sufficient to make them miss their taskings in the morning. The anti-aircraft fire was becoming more accurate as the French gunners learned to lead the dive bombers more. The heavy guns scored their first kill as they were shooting against the line of dive bombers who had queued up for attack and had not dropped. A shell exploded six meters from a Stuka that was circling and it dove for the sea. The lighter guns claimed their first blood on the ninth Stuka. The plane never released an plowed into the sea a hundred meters from a torpedo boat.

Four more misses occurred. And then the first hit as a Stuka dropped his general purpose 550 pound bomb that landed near the port wing turret. The damage was not severe as the bomb exploded underneath the thin deck armor but a thin curl of smoke and tongues of flame leaping out of the battleship encouraged the other pilots who continued to dive.

Four more minutes of attacks went on as the anti-aircraft fire slowed slightly as ready ammunition had been used up and the human chains running machine gun rounds from the magazines were slower. Five more bombs hit and four more bombers had been shot down. The general purpose bombs were defeated by the battleship’s armor when the bombs struck turrets or other vitals, but two opened the ship up to the sea and one that was defeated by B turret’s armor still killed half the forward port anti-aircraft crews.

The last squadron of dive bombers had seen their compatriots fail to sink the panzer stopper. They had wounded her, but not killed her. This squadron had been taken their time to arm themselves right. Their bombs had delayed fuses on them instead of the general purpose fuses. They dove in groups of three, pushing through the thinning anti-aircraft fire sleeting off their air frames like hail during a thunderstorm. Two never pulled up. But six more bombs penetrated the battleship. Two damaged boilers, three opened the ship up to the sea in more places. One penetrated the secondary magazine before exploding.

Seventeen seconds after the last surviving Stuka pulled up and started his race to safety, Paris buckled as a secondary magazine vented all of its energy skyward. Within minutes, a raging fire started to threaten the aft magazines for the main guns. They were being flooded as well as the central magazines but this was more water being allowed into a ship that already had eight great gashes in her sides allowing water in. The ship slowed as water entered a boiler room through broken rivet holes and a crack between two plates. Paris turned to the southeast and headed for the mouth of the Somme at six knots as her crew fought to save her and themselves.

Two hour later, the fires were still uncontrolled as they consumed the classrooms and teaching aids of a gunnery school that had been forced back into a warship without enough preparation. The captain ordered her forward at three knots and told his crew to brace for impact as Paris grounded herself on a sandbank at the mouth of the Somme. Her forward guns would still dominate the crossing if ammunition could be found but her ability to fight with eight of her twelve guns had been compromised.

Throughout the night, the flames of Paris could be seen for miles as a billowing cloud of smoke marked her resting spot. Eleven thousand tons of water were in her hull before the fires burned themselves out, gutting the aft two thirds of the ship.

May 27, 1940 1600 near Ostend

Half of HMS Ivanhoe’s main battery crew were just released from their guns. They could run inside to relieve themselves, eat a sandwich and drink a cup or two of tea before relieving the other gunners to do the same. The crew had been at general quarters since dawn and would be for a few more hours. Already HMS Keith had been lost to Stukas. Her survivors were aboard the numerous small craft that were milling about bringing parts of the Belgian Army to England. It was the job of Ivanhoe, Whitehall, and Worcester to guard Curlew as well as the extreme eastern edge of the evacuation zone. They had sunk three German torpedo boats that had attempted to sneak into the mass of shipping near Ostend an hour ago and had fought off a dozen air attacks already. The destroyers might have one more day’s worth of ammunition before they needed to pull back and resupply.

Three hundred yards away from Ivanhoe, the Ramsgate flotilla of four yachts and two tugs advanced back home at a steady six knots. Sundowner led them as her master had two lamps hanging on her stern ready to allow her ducklings to follow their mother home in the dark. Aboard the little flotilla was an entire Belgian battalion. Nervous infantrymen had found ways to stack their machine guns onto sandbags to at least scare attacking aircraft. The rest of the men still had their rifles and they fired volleys at strafing fires. None of the thousands of bullets did any damage but the fighters did pull up and attack less aggressively defended targets. A few mortars were dragged aboard a tugboat, but there was no way to bring the heavy anti-tank guns. They were left behind for other Belgian units to use when the Germans pressured them by early tomorrow morning.


May 28,1940 1140 Near Calais

The retreat ended.

Bones hurt where muscles pulled on their connections. His eyes had trouble staying open. Orders had to be repeated twice to be understood once. They had marched for thirty one hours with only the occasional break. He prayed for the moments when Luftwaffe fighters came low to strafe the columns. They had done that several times yesterday and each time, the regiment scattered into roadside ditches and laid low. By the third time, he was able to shut his eyes and sleep, glorious sleep for a few minutes until the march started again.

Private MacMahon did not care about what was going on around him. He did not see the Regular brigade with a tank regiment had been in Calais for almost a week now. The outer fortifications were complete. The Division’s artillery group had arrived hours ago. Most of the guns were lined up in prepared gun pits. Anti-tank companies were spread throughout the short demi-lune perimeter. They could hold. A division could hold this town for a week and most of a Corps had started to assemble itself. In the harbor there was salvation. A dozen destroyers were being loaded with men. Three were clearing the breakwater with a Territorial labor regiment. A dozen ferries and coasters were loading heavy equipment. A crane tilted in grotesque wreck from bomb damage but its peers were loading a battery of 9.2 inch guns onto a ship.

He saw none of that. Instead he saw a cluster of netted areas near some trees. He saw some food laid out and he saw another company from the Regiment fast asleep. He ate quickly, not tasting and barely chewing. Once done, he took off his helmet and put it over his eyes so he could sleep.

He never heard the Heinkel, he never saw the bomb, he never felt the explosion that killed him.


May 28, 1940 1500 near Bodo


Another attack was repulsed. Three German divisions had been grinding their way forward until the night before when their forward patrols had bounced off the solid Allied line near Bodo. Two attacks had gone in this morning. The second had some success until a well placed 2 pounder section destroyed the last tanks with well placed flanking shots. After that, it was an infantry battle of man versus man, and machine gun against fortification. Artillery ammunition was precious on both sides so only concentrated targets were hit, suppression, harassment and interdiction was rare. The third attack in the afternoon had some success as a mountain battalion had pierced the lines of the 4th Norwegian Division but two battalions of Legionnaires had been ferried across the fjord in a hurry. They had re-established a line behind which the Norwegians recovered and then counter-attacked. By the end of the push, nothing had changed besides the casualty counts.

Allied sea control was the key to the Bodo position as they had interior lines and the ability to rapidly reinforce and raid. The port was key and it could not be taken without bulling through the defenses to the east.

May 28, 1940 1900 The Oval Office
Eleven men sat in the Oval Office. Seven Americans, two British and two Frenchmen smoked cigars and drank their Scotch neat. The emissaries of the Allied powers had been busy over the past two weeks since the German offensive started. Their moods darkened as defeats accumulated and maneuvers emasculated what few tactical successes their nations’ armies had achieved. The French government was in a panic as Paris was again under threat from the Germans for the third time in seventy years. So far there had been no push south of the Somme but her most powerful armies were being trapped against the Channel coast. The Ambassador and the attache knew that an evacuation effort was being assembled and another offensive was being planned to break in and break out of the trap. But even if the 1st and 7th Armies could escape, their equipment would be scattered from Hannut to Gembloux and from Breda to Ostend. The French needed to re-equip that army and her factories could not do that while supplying the rest of the the armies of France.

“Very well, our factories are open to you. I will direct General Marshall to make the re-arming of the French 1st Army Group the greatest priority for scarce material over the next six months. However, I can not do this without guarantees. I need three conditions before I can allow our defenses to be impoverished while we rebuild fifteen French divisions” The president paused as the French and British ambassadors leaned in.

“First, I will need at least half of the gold reserves held in Paris to be shipped to either Washington or New York as a sign of good faith. Secondly, I will need a guarantee that the modern ships of the Marine Nationale, namely Richelieu, Jean Bart, Strasbourg, Dunkerque and several cruisers will either be placed in friendly control in the case of a separate peace or interned in Western Hemisphere ports. Finally, American observers and staff officer will need to be present down to the divisional level so that we may learn what our equipment can and can not do in a modern battle.”

The French ambassador would have inhaled sharply if he was not a well trained diplomat. His country needed American weapons and supplies, but the army that would be equipped with the output of Detroit and Chicago and Cleveland and Pittsburgh would also cost the French their independence as the fleet would be in hock to the President and their reserves that had been accumulated so painfully over the past generation would be shipped overseas and out of French control. But since he was a skilled diplomat, he did not breathe unusually deeply. Instead he sipped his Scotch to collect himself.

“Very well Mr. President, these are very strong conditions but I have been empowered to use my judgement. I agree to all conditions as we need the three thousand tanks, two thousand guns and the millions of tons of supplies to rebuild our armies. I will have my attache schedule time with your General Marshall to arrange the details tomorrow morning. “


May 28, 1940 Toulon, France


Three light cruisers of the 3rd Cruiser Division left the harbor under the strictest secrecy and tightest security just before the dawn broke. .

They had arrived just before dinner the previous evening. Their crews had worked throughout the night to refuel the ships to full capacity and then unload a dozen box cars that had arrived from Paris with a company of Legionnaires as no-nonsense guards. Half of the gold reserves of the Republic were being shipped to New York under absolute secrecy. A company of Polish infantrymen guarded a second train that arrived after midnight. All the Polish gold that the French controlled would also be shipped to New York for safekeeping. No one knew if Paris could be held and the Polish government in exile was preparing to re-exile itself.


May 29, 1940 Washington DC
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=15959

The President adjusted his papers one last time before he took a sip of water from a cup on his desk. The radio technician adjusted the microphone, moving it back two inches and to the right by half an inch to accommodate the President’s body lean. Three, two, one and now he was on the air.

My friends:

At this moment of sadness throughout most of the world, I want to talk with you about a number of subjects that directly affect the future of the United States. We are shocked by the almost incredible eyewitness stories that come to us of what is happening at this moment to the civilian populations of Norway and Holland and Belgium and Luxembourg and France.

I think it is right on this Sabbath evening that I should say a word in behalf of women and children and old men who need help-immediate help in their present distress—help from us across the seas, from us who are still free to give it.

Tonight over the once peaceful roads of Belgium and France millions are now moving, running from their homes to escape bombs and shells and fire and machine gunning, without shelter, and almost wholly without food. They stumble on, knowing not where the end of the road will be. I speak to you of these people because each one of you listening to me tonight has a way of helping them. The American Red Cross, that represents each of us, is rushing food, clothing and medical supplies to these destitute civilian millions. Please—I beg you—please give according to your means to your nearest Red Cross chapter, give as generously as you can. I ask this in the name of our common humanity.

Let us sit down together again, you and I, to consider our own pressing problems that confront us.

There are many among us who in the past closed their eyes to events abroad-because they believed in utter good faith what some of their fellow Americans told them—that what was taking place in Europe was none of our business; that no matter what happened over there, the United States could always pursue its peaceful and unique course in the world.

There are many among us who closed their eyes, from lack of interest or lack of knowledge; honestly and sincerely thinking that the many hundreds of miles of salt water made the American Hemisphere so remote that the people of North and Central and South America could go on living in the midst of their vast resources without reference to, or danger from, other continents of the world.

There are some among us who were persuaded by minority groups that we could maintain our physical safety by retiring within our continental boundaries—the Atlantic on the east, the Pacific on the west, Canada on the north, and Mexico on the south. I illustrated the futility—the impossibility—of that idea in my message to the Congress last week. Obviously, a defense policy based on that is merely to invite future attack.

And, finally, there are a few among us who have deliberately and consciously closed their eyes because they were determined to be opposed to their government, its foreign policy and every other policy, to be partisan, and to believe that anything that the Government did was wholly wrong.

To those who have closed their eyes for any of these many reasons, to those who would not admit the possibility of the approaching storm—to all of them the past two weeks have meant the shattering of many illusions.

They have lost the illusion that we are remote and isolated and, therefore, secure against the dangers from which no other land is free.

In some quarters, with this rude awakening has come fear, bordering on panic. It is said that we are defenseless. It is whispered by some that only by abandoning our freedom, our ideals, our way of life, can we build our defenses adequately, can we match the strength of the aggressors.

I did not share those illusions. I do not share these fears.

Today we are now more realistic. But let us not be calamity howlers and discount our strength. Let us have done with both fears and illusions. On this Sabbath evening, in our homes in the midst of our American families, let us calmly consider what we have done and what we must do.

In the past two or three weeks all kinds of stories have been handed out to the American public about our lack of preparedness. It has even been charged that the money we have spent on our military and naval forces during the last few years has gone · down the rat-hole. I think it is a matter of fairness to the nation that you hear the facts.

We have spent large sums of money on the national defense. This money has been used to make our Army and Navy today the largest, the best equipped, and the best trained peace-time military establishment in the whole history of this country….



The funding of the past few years was then listed off as the Navy had grown in strength and power. The Army was beginning to re-awaken from its post Great War slumber but it would not be enough. Gigantic bills would be submitted and the President paused for a moment before he told the American people the cost that he expected them to bear, the price that they would pay, the treasure they would burn and the young men that they may bury.


May 30, 1940 Dunkirk 0453


“Full Astern, full astern.” The powerful screws of the train ferry Shepperton bit into the harbor water. On her deck where sleeping cars usually rested where seventeen H39 tanks, the remains of a proud battalion. That battalion commander was trying not to cry as the ferry pulled away from the dock. He had failed. He had failed his nation, and he had failed his men who were not on board.

This was Shepperton’s third trip to Dunkirk, one trip per night. She and her two sisters had pulled most of the 1st DCR out of the collapsing pocket. Or at least they had pulled ninety seven tanks and twenty one armored cars along with thirty artillery pieces. It was no longer a division. It was a base upon which a division could be rebuilt it given time, but the 1 DCR had fought at Gembloux and fought near Namur and fought again near Lille. Only a few dozen tanks were lost to German fire. Most had failed mechanically and had to be abandoned.

German tanks and infantry had started to arrive at the outer perimeter the night before and artillery shells were reaching into the town itself. The men of four British divisions had already evacuated. Most left with their shoulder arms and rucksacks while their crew served equipment was left behind. The remaining British divisions were double or tripled their normal firepower as riflemen were issued machine guns, mortar teams were spread to 25 pounder batteries and light anti-aircraft machine gunners were moved to abandoned Bofors. The Germans had eleven divisions converging around the Dunkirk pocket and another five besieging Calais. A light screen stood in front of Abbeville to guard against another counter-attack. Three British and four French divisions defended Dunkirk. Further up the coast, the Belgian Army was back in contact with the Germans near Ostend. The Royal Navy was attempting to evacuate from all three ports. Boulonge had been cut off and its men assigned to be an afterthought for as long as they could harass and tie down German soldiers. A trio of old destroyers had been held back from today’s evacuation to make fast repairs and prepare for a dash into the westernmost Channel Port to pull out the ad-hoc brigade defending its walls, but few had hope that any could be rescued.


June 1, 1940 HMS Basilisk, De Panne Belgium


The B-class destroyer was overloaded with men. Two companies of infantry had been loaded onto her decks along the the single fishing pier only forty minutes ago. The men were ragged, bloodied, tired and angry. They were angry at being outflanked. They were angry at being failed by their allies. They were angry that they were being evacuated. They were angry that they would soon need to fight for their homes.

The two single pom-poms had been firing intermittently throughout the morning. Half a dozen Bren guns had been haphazardly mounted to provide some close in cover against the roaming bands of Luftwaffe bombers. Air battles raged as Fighter Command Hurricanes and Spitfires and a few French fighters attempted to contest the space above the loading areas.

As the destroyer broke through the waters of the Channel at a steady twenty six knots, the look-outs shouted in alarm that a squadron of dive bombers were seen lining up the destroyer. The guns began to boom and steam poured into the turbines. Infantrymen held on tightly as the destroyer heeled over with maximum rudder and smoke poured from both her stacks and smoke pots.

Before the first Stuka tipped over, it caught fire. A squadron of Fleet Air Arm Martlets had arrived over the evacuation area. Six swooped in against the dive bombers, splashing two and driving the other nine away while the other four fighters stayed high. Almost a dozen bombs hit the sea, three splashing water onto the crowded decks of the destroyer. A few men were flayed by flying steel but Basilisk continued along at thirty one knots to unload the men at Dover before lunch time.

As she returned to the beaches to guard against S-boats and U-boats, another flight of Martlets circled over the French Foudroyant. Three large circles of wreckage surrounded the large destroyer as she maneuvered to get into queue for another load of soldiers to be evacuated.

June 2, 1940 Bodo Norway

The fighters landed again. Another raid of bombers covered tightly by fighters. Today thirty Hurricanes formed a big wing and made two passes, shooting down five bombers and an escort. Twenty eight planes landed. The maintenance crews hurried to get the fighters under covered and repaired again. The airfield was only yards from the port and both were busy although far emptier than normal as the infantry had been pushed forward to support a counter-attack. A single battalion was in barracks recovering and recuperating from its time on the line.
 
Story 0130 June 2 to June 15 1940 New
June 3, 1940 Northumberland

The forty Royal Engineers sweated in the late spring sun. The last of the concrete was being poured into the bunker’s wall mold. Steel rods stuck upwards as they had nothing to reinforce yet. Another work party three hundred yards away was also working on their own bunker. No weapons were available yet to fill the bunkers but they would be a stop line. The young privates and the nervous lieutenants were disappointed that they had been kept at home instead of being sent to France but the few veterans had seen enough, had heard enough, and had known enough to know that the Boche beat the BEF soundly and another engineering company’s worth of bad infantry would do nothing to have changed the result. Now they were preparing for an invasion to be defeated with weapons scattered over the country or not yet made.

June 4, 1940 Bodo

The largest air raid in the past month departed. Fifty twin engine bombers and thirty fighters appeared from the south. A gigantic furball erupted over the waters to the south of the port. Six Hurricanes and seven German escorts were shot down. Anti-aircraft guns claimed three bombers and Norwegian Gladiators claimed two more. But that was a cost the Germans were willing to pay. Seven fighters were burning on the ground. Two ships in the harbor had tipped over, their decks awash with cold water. An anti-aircraft battery was destroyed as a string of light bombs landed within yards of the sandbagged position.

The pace of attacks had been picking up over the past three days. Something big was in the air, something big was bound to happen as the German corps to the east of the city had pulled back behind an aggressive screen that kept Allied scout units occupied.

June 5, 1940

The second BEF was forming. It was anchored on the sea and the Somme. First Armoured Division had been pulled back from the counter-attack at Abbeville. Another battalion of cruiser tanks and a brigade of infantry had been ferried forward to make good its losses. Another day or two of repairs and the division would be ready for both offensive and defensive maneuvers. Two divisions of lines of communication troops scattered throughout Northern France had been hurriedly reformed into infantry divisions. They were mostly Territorials but a few regulars and newly made veterans had been able to join companies and battalions to stiffen the morale of the part-timers as well as impart the wisdom of what worked and what did not. Tanks had to be supported by infantry and infantry had to be supported by tanks. One with out the other was asking for more trouble than feeling up the parson's daughter.

On their right stood a pair of new Polish divisions forming a corps with the 1st Polish Grenadiers across the Somme in Abbeville. They had time to dig in and their defenses were formidable. Most of the residents of the city had been evacuated with a single piece of baggage allowed. The lucky ones had been able to make it to Paris and points south. Others had to flee west as fast as their tired feet could take them. This would be the zone rouge for the final defense of France. Behind the Poles and the 2nd BEF was a steady stream of supply trains. Five divisions had started to return from England and the evacuation. Three hundred and fifty tanks had been landed and another two hundred were being moved to the ports. 1 DLM and 1 DCR joined with the rebuilding 4 DCR to form an armored corps in the rear even as they covered Paris. The other divisions were leg infantry. One had been broken up to supply veterans to Series B divisions while the rest kept on digging in and attacking the narrow bridgeheads the Germans had been able to seize over the Somme. More men were coming, some from England, some from the South, some from the Army of the Alps, and some from across the sea.

France was still fighting.

June 5, 1940 1845 Dunkirk

Artillery roared. Shells fired blindly splashed into the harbor. The German field artillery was fairly light although a few medium batteries of 150mm guns had joined the symphony of destruction, reaching death behind the thinly held lines of French fusiliers. Allied artillery and more often naval gunfire roared back. A single French cruiser had emptied the magazines of her main battery against an overly aggressive Panzer battalion just before sunset.

TSS Scotia nosed in against the mole. She had made five runs so far.. Seven hundred and fifty French soldiers broke cover near the waterfront and they ran to the ship’s gangways. Military policemen and officers with whistles directed the men up the planks. Twenty one minutes later, all of the men were aboard. This tranche was different than the last five tranches as heavy weapons were brought aboard. Half a dozen anti-tank guns with four dozen crates of ammunition were manhandled aboard. A trio of antiaircraft guns followed along with two dozen machine guns with ammunition. The perimeter was pulling back and great supply dumps would be overrun before they could be drawn upon. The evacuation ships had already taken off 390,000 men, and now there was more space for some critical equipment.

June 6, 1940 0800 Near Liege Belgium

The siege guns stopped burping their one ton expulsions. The machine guns did not hunt for men who peeked over a sandbag. The reserve Luftwaffe units did not strafe or bomb any cluster of men who dared to move. A bugle blew a sad plaintiff note. And then it blew another note. Whistles sounded as the Belgian defenders rose from their trenches, their hardpoints, their hedgehogs and brick built barriers that had stopped the attackers for almost an month, more time than they were ever expected to hold. The men had their rifles on their shoulder as they walked to central depots. Within minutes, their rifles were neatly stacked like summer wheat and the men congregated in the by the neighborhood squares. Two hours later, they marched out and surrendered the city to the invaders who had offered good terms. The men would be processed in local camps and then shipped east to work German fields.

Outside of town, Eban Emael and Battice lowered their flags and opened their gates. Eban Emael had three working artillery pieces left and two days worth of shells for those guns. Battice was slightly richer in her supplies. Around both were the bloody remnants of a dozen assaults and hundreds of trucks and an untold number of men who paid the blood price for transit. They had squeezed the German advance through Central Belgium like they were designed to do. They did their job but their Allies failed.

To the north, Antwerp held on.

To the west, the evacuation at Ostend and Dunkirk had removed over 100,000 men to England. The King had stayed with the field army and he looked at the quartermaster report and knew he had to do his duty. Ostend would surrender at 1600 and all Belgian formations except for those in Antwerp were ordered to lay down their arms at that time as well.

June 7, 1940 east of Bodo


Everything was too quiet. The Guards Brigade had patrolled aggressively into no-mans land for the past three days. Two prisoners were taken last night. They said almost nothing beyond the minimal required in the Geneva Convention besides asking for a real cigarette. German patrols had been light as well. A sharp fire fight at a listening post had erupted into a company size brawl that bled into morning but the constant raids, probes, feints and the occassional deliberate attacks had ceased three days ago.

Everything was too quiet.

June 8, 1940 Baltimore Maryland

The aircraft carrier Bearn was guided past Fort McHenry by four harbor tugs. She had arrived two days ago to collect another batch of aircraft for the front. Twenty four Hawks and twelve Vindicators were in her hanger deck. Seven Martin bombers and another eleven fighters were on her flight deck. These aircraft would not be ready for the Army de Aire for another two months but they were needed to keep the pipeline full and replace the losses suffered so far.

In the outer approaches, eleven British merchant men assembled. They would be met once they cleared the outer cape by an armed merchant cruiser and the old light cruiser Emerald. From there, they were bound for Marseilles to deposit the equipment the Polish Army in Exile ordered for their new armored division. This was just the first tranche, enough to fill its table of organization and equipment to the brim and then some, but not enough to keep a division at full strength after marching and combat. The cadre for the division had relocated to the South of France as it waited for its equipment to join the battle that had yet to be fought in the north.

June 9, 1940 Dunkirk 0452

The beaches were strewn with abandoned equipment. Hundreds of heavy guns, dozens of anti tank guns, thousands of trucks taken up from trade were scattered along the beaches, the dunes and the thin front line outside of the town. Most were smoking. Thermite and high explosives had been liberally spread along engine blocks and breech screws. Twenty five pound gun barrels were split like a child’s paper flower petals. A gasoline dump with thirty thousand barrels of fuel was burning merrily minutes from the docks. Pillars of smoke rose from where the Stukas sank another Royal Navy destroyer the previous evening.

Carcasses of Spitfires, Hurricanes, Martlets, Messerschmitts, Junkers and Heinkels littered the town as fierce air battles had raged for over a week. The Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm were able to contest the space but not prevent raids while the Luftwaffe had not been able to crush the evacuation fleet.

Outside of the town, a white flag went up. Eleven thousand French soldiers of the rear guard were ready to surrender. They had accomplished their mission. The entire BEF had escaped. Most of the French First Army had escaped to England. Part of the Belgian Army was in Kent.

Victories and wars were not won by escape. But the 487,000 men who had escaped during all phases of Operation Dynamo would be the nucleus of the new armies that could fight to victory.

June 9, 1940 Bodo


The morning’s standing patrol of fighters, this time French Hawks clawed for altitude as the rest of three ready squadrons were scrambling to take off. The Royal Navy cruiser in the harbor had detected the biggest blip the operator had ever seen including those of Bomber Command raids against Bremen and Hamburg he had seen in training. This was no drill, this was no harassment raid. This was something else.

Air raid sirens went off throughout the entire defensive zone. Destroyers and sloops began to make to make smoke while the ships tied up in port made themselves watertight as they expected to be damaged. Men along the front lines had little to do besides wait as the German infantry across from them were well hidden in the tree line. German artillery started an intense preparatory barrage against a battalion of Polish mountain troops. The barrage was not the standard harassment mission but a fury of steel and cordite and death from every gun in range. Trenches were caving in, strong points were being isolated and men were dying.

Thirty four miles south of the city, the six French Hawks called "Tally-Ho". A thin line of twin engine fighters were a mile in front of an aerial convoy. Over one hundred triple engine transport planes were entering the lead pilot’s sight. This was not a bombing raid. It was an invasion.

The American made fighters dove from 17,000 into the thicker and richer air of 7,000 feet. Messerschmitts rose to meet and challenge them. One section was swarmed by a squadron of German fighters. Two Hawks were flamed while only damaging a single enemy. The other section had the good fortune to dive through a stray cloud and obscure themselves from the alert defenders. They curved in on the lead staffel of transports unmolested for the first pass. The leader fired and his two wing men disobeyed doctrine and fired as well. Within seven seconds four transports were breaking apart. Eleven seconds from the start of the destruction of the platoon of Mountain Infantry Regiment 137, the escorts arrived and a turning dogfight led to the Germans chasing the French pilots away at the loss of one combatant apiece.

Eleven miles from the runway, two under strength squadrons of Hurricanes tangled with the heavy destroyers escorting the transports that were rapidly descending into the slashing attacks of the remaining Hurricanes and a few Gladiators.

As transports were being ripped into by the shark nosed predatory defenders, German infantry rose from their jumping off points and ran behind the bombardment that had ceased on the stunned Polish mountain brigade. Allied artillery had been engaged in counter battery and predictive suppression fire on logical marshaling points for the past ten minutes. They were not able to shift their fires onto the suddenly visible German infantry as the forward observers were dead, dying or cut off from communication as their wires had been cut by the blizzard bombardment.

A battle raged on the eastern defenses of Bodo as the defending fighters ripped into the German transports. One Hurricane pilot became an ace in a sortie with four JU-53 and a single Messerschmidt. A Norwegian Gladiator shot down three transports, making him the first Norwegian double ace of the war. As the transports slowed and dropped to twelve hundred feet, the anti-aircraft guns of the ships in the harbor and the defenders of the airfield opened up. They could not miss big, slow and low targets that could not juke. Half of the transports never arrived.

Another quarter were damaged. Some were not severely damaged, but most could not drop their full squad healthy and combat ready as shells ripped into them and exploded. One surviving transport returned to base with seven bodies and three wounded paratroopers. Two had been able to jump somewhat safely into the fiery cauldron below.

Two battalions were supposed to have taken the airfield and port by a coup de main. Seventeen hundred men were supposed to descend from the sky, seize the strong points before defenders were ready and destroy the Allies’ interior lines. From there, the general offensive would suck forward all Allied reserves to prevent them from concentrating sufficient force to counterattack and retake the port.

That was the plan at least.

Instead, fewer than six hundred men parachuted onto land. Some broke their legs, others their back, one stick died as their transport dropped them from 400 feet at 160 miles an hour to avoid the anti-aircraft fire. Their chutes failed. Another hundred men safely jumped from their planes but landed in the water. Three men landed aboard the destroyer Sleipner and surrendered without a fight to the sailors who turned an anti-aircraft gun on them.

Six hundred men landing as a coherent mass with their weapons still may have been enough to seize the airfield that was defended by a company of Irish Guards resting from the front lines and several hundred rear area troops. But coherence, mass and armed were not valid descriptors for the mountain troopers. Most men landed with a knife as their heaviest weapon. Weapons containers scattered as widely as the paratroopers. Usually they landed past the drop zone as they were the last things to exit a transport.

The Irish Guards responded. Two platoons held the southern edge of the runway while a third platoon acted as glue to bits and sods of airfield support soldiers and airmen who had grabbed their rifles and helmets. The third platoon began a rapid counterattack against the single cohesive German element of thirty or forty infantrymen who were scrambling to find their weapons. Before the machine guns could be set up, the Guards were among the paratroopers with grenades and bayonets. From barracks inside the town and from the ships north of town, small armed parties of Marines, Territorials, Legionnaires, sailors and quartermasters began a steady push to compress the German pocket and pick off isolated clumps before they could organize resistance.

By the time the fighters had broken off and emptied all of their remaining machine gun ammunition on the German artillery crews supporting the main attack, the runway had been secured. Twenty three machines landed. Three hours later, all had made at least one attack sortie on the German advance east of Bodo.

By nightfall, three hundred German paratroopers were holed up in a dozen buildings in town, isolated, and unsupplied. They would surrender the next morning.

June 10, 1940 0800 17,000 feet over Perrone, France

Silence was ephemeral as the twin engine reconnaissance plane emerged from the clouds it had been hiding in for the last fifteen miles. The pilot looked at the green earth cut by muddy brown rivers and blue gray streams with flecks of white along the fords and rapids. His country was beautiful if one forgot for only a moment about the great destruction that would soon be inflicted along the left bank of the Somme. He squeezed the camera trigger. The shutters flashed back and forth, opening and closing with the speed and dexterity of a nine year old boy attempting to avoid being caught after eating the last cookie. They started to record everything that was not hidden in grid squares B-6-6 to B-6-12.

Below him, the French Army continued to dig in. They knew an attack was coming. They just did not know where and when. Every village within seven miles of the Somme had been evacuated, refugees joining ever larger columns of civilians heading to the rear. The villages were no longer a center of life, they would become a center of defiance and death as fields of fire had been cleared, concrete dragons teeth implanted on the roads leading to the river, artillery preregistered along likely attack paths. Anti-tank crews had manhandled their twenty five and forty seven millimeter guns into flanking positions that covered road blocks. Infantrymen had dug platoon and company size strong points that could blunt an attack from all direction. Anti-aircraft guns tracked the few German aircraft that had been seen flying but they seldom fired as they wanted to be ready to defend against the raids that they knew would come with the general offensive.

A few miles behind the lines, tanks were laagered in battalions and brigade size hides with fuel trucks meters from them. They were ready. All officers had spent at least a day walking along the front and talking to the infantry commanders whose men would form the crust that would channel the German attack into kill zones for the tanks to finish off. Some First War tanks were pushed forward to support the infantry with immediate counter attacks, but as many independent tank battalions as possible had been pulled back. Some were brigaded with the survivors of the fighting in the north to rebuild established divisions while others formed ad-hoc battle groups and divisions. They were ready.

And in between the tanks and the infantry was the artillery. 75 mm guns were forward while division and corps artillery groups of 105 mm and 155 mm guns formed pockets of immense power able to dominate the battlefield ten kilometers in each direction. Surveyors and wiremen had spent the past three weeks mapping every road crossing, every dead zone, every piece of cover that they could find and then performing an incredible number of calculations.

As the cameras finished exposing all of their film, the pilot looked down. His country was beautiful even as the peace below was an ephemeral illusion.

June 10, 1940 0900 Narvik

The decision had been made in capitals far away days ago. Narvik and Bodo were to be evacuated. Yesterday’s victory was insufficient to change the strategic calculus.

Yet disaster elsewhere took away the local victories. As the 1st Army Group and BEF collapsed in France and had to be evacuated from the French channel ports, the threat of invasion and the wrong side of an attritional battle became ever clearer. The weak corps in Norway was at the extreme end of a supply line that every day became more tenuous. Luftwaffe dive bombers could range up and down the Leads, submarines could torpedo ships at will and fast coastal attack craft could pick off stragglers while laying new minefields. A bridgehead in Bodowas a dead end where British blood and treasure could be poured away without any gain. The RAF could not supply a group of fighter aircraft to defend the force, the Royal Navy could not force convoys through every three weeks without ruinous losses.

Narvik would be evacuated first after the rail system from the docks to the Swedish border was destroyed. Three hundred men and twenty thousand pounds of dynamite were already riding an ore train to the border. The garrison and whatever Norwegians who wanted to leave would be taken off in the next few days.

Bodo was a different case. The German offensive had pushed the Poles back three miles before the combined counterattacks from the Norwegian 6th Division and the French Alpine Chasseurs first stopped the Germans cold and then routed two regiments. They ended up capturing 1,100 German reservists and had restored the line by night fall.

The withdrawal would take place over a week. At first, a third of each front line unit would stay in place and simulate the full formation as the other units moved to a halt line just outside of the town. Naval units would then move up the fjord and provide overwhelming fire support to cover the withdrawal of the covering force. Finally, the Guards Brigade would form the final rear guard as six other brigades loaded onto troop ships and cruisers with their heavy equipment loaded onto coasters and ferries. The high command expected to lose the Guards Brigade but there were plans to take them off. Again, Norwegian units and men would be given the option to evacuate or surrender. Most would choose to evacuate and continue their fight.

38,000 well trained men with their equipment would return to the British Isles. The French Foreign Legion would be given enough time to re-equip and re-organize before they were shipped to either Lorient or Marseilles to reinforce the French armies that were on the Somme.

June 11, 1940 Northern Louisiana


“Fucking mud, thicker than your accent Biloxi”

“Just push the goddamn wrench Brooklyn”

“Learn how to fucking drive, yuz run us into the ditch again, the heat must have damaged your fecking brain”
Two young men were arguing as they were attempting to get a track remounted on their new M2 light tank. Their new mount was far better armed and armored than their old M1 combat cars, but the Dancing Devil was a difficult beast to keep running in the field. The heavy spring rains had slowed the 7th Cavalry Brigade down over the forty mile flanking march. By now, what should have been a mailed fist into the rear of Red Army was a light slap presaging a duel as the 120 tanks of the regiment were coagulating into one group of fifty tanks in the spearhead and then a thirty mile long trail of broken down tanks littering the back roads of Louisiana.

June 12, 1940 Gibraltar

A new fleet was ready for sea. Hermes would soon detach from them after the Gladiators flew off her deck and landed on Malta. But the core of the fleet was the battleships. Ramillees and Resolution. They were the stopper for the Mediterranean. Two French battlecruisers and two older battleships were at sea between Malta and Tunisia while four battleships of the Royal Navy dominated the eastern end of the inland sea. The Italians were making noise and signal intercepts had indicated that most of their fleet was at sea. Flying boats out of Malta and Algeria were scouring the central Mediterranean while patrols from Toulon covered the northwestern Italian coast.

June 13, 1940 near Peronne France

The 29th Alpine Division had to refuse a flank. Ten battalions were on the division's order of battle. Four had been reduced to 60% strength, two more had been damaged while the other four pushed forward to relieve the units that were on the verge of becoming ineffective. A hundred German tanks burned in front of the defenses. The division on the right flank had also been the focal point of the German attack and it had to slowly give ground before it was destroyed. A small gap was opening in the lines, a gap paid for in blood, a gap paid for in time, a gap paid for in lost dreams but there was a chance for the Germans to break the crust and penetrate into the soft French rear again where the Panzers could flow like water around hard points while wearing away resistance as they descended to the Biscayan ports.

A battalion of S-35 tanks along with the divisional scouting group attacked. They attacked behind a flurry of artillery. A rolling barrage forced the German infantry to stay low in their foxholes, to stay in the cellars of burned out houses, to not maneuver for advantage but to huddle tight and hope that blind luck would not kill them. Thirty one tanks rolled forward with the machine guns sweeping likely spots for anti-tank guns to hide in ambush and the 47 millimeter cannons blasting away to force the German machine gunners to either stay low and survive or fight and die. The counterattack was seeing success when a company of Panzer III tanks attempted to hit the French in the flank. The heavy cavalry tanks were surprised for a moment as three tanks started to cook off but they turned. As soon as the heavy front armor faced the Germans, the skill advantage was overwhelmed by the French survivability and firepower advantage. Seven German tanks were destroyed and abandoned on the field.

Two companies of Somua tanks pushed forward, reconnecting the line as the third, weakened company supported the scouts as they dug out the German holdouts. A few men escaped through ratlines and folds in the ground, but the combination of furious infantry and heavy armor led to very few survivors of the infantry battle group that had been a threat only hours ago. By nightfall, the tanks had withdrawn to re-arm and refuel, the twenty four working tanks back in reserve and ready to counter any penetrations tomorrow morning.

(I’m using Alexander, M. S. "After Dunkirk: The French Army's Performance against `Case Red', 25 May to 25 June 1940." War in History 14.2 (2007): 219-64. Web as a source and inspiration )

June 14, 1940 0700 near Breilly, France

The Series B division had fought. The old reservists had fought hard. A few had fought in the last 100 days and even fewer had fought and survived the Spring Offensive. Their division mates of those years would have been proud as those who were young boys who did not know better and fought to hide their fear and fought to prove themselves now were fighting just as hard despite despite better know their own mortality, despite their fear and with nothing to prove. For four days, they had been throwing back attacks. Four days they had stood their ground. Three times, British and French tank brigades dashed through controlled gaps and smashed threatened sectors. Men who were once respectable men of their community were now haggard survivors. They were still ready to fight as they passed rifle and machine gun ammunition to the surviving men in the forward positions. They were still ready to fire another barrage even as Stukas concentrated on the battered artillery group. Forty German tanks were twisted, burned out cairns to their skill and bravery. They were ready to fight for another day.

Two full corps had moved off of the Amiens front where the German infantry had barely made any progress against the active divisions and Colonial divisions entrenched in front of them. It was a meat grinder of firepower against elan and skill. Firepower had no respect for skill or bravery. It was a cold reaper of men. Instead those two corps moved a few miles north to where the Germans felt a weakness rather than knew a weakness. They had sent waves of infantry to take on the reservists, and each time, the wave descended back to the river bank having crashed against the solid blue wall, wasting their energy and their lives for no gain. But here was where a weakness had to be as they knew their opponents were tiring, they knew the reserves had been committed too many times at too many locations between Abbeville and Amiens and knew that the French and British tanks feared the air and refused to refuel in the opening.

Four hundred guns that had been at Amiens the morning before opened fire. A ten minute barrage that was familiar to the veterans of the Spring Offensive blanketed the reserve divisions’ guns and strong points. Stomtroopers with flame throwers, grenades and submachine guns moved forward from the narrow beachhead by the river bank.

By mid afternoon- the reserve division had crumpled. Individual men and squads and platoons fought. One company had retreated to a fortified farm house meters from a critical crossroad and held it until a a regiment attacked with their six inch infantry guns and a dozen flame thrower teams broke the improvised stone fortress open. Seventeen French soldiers, six unwounded, were able to surrender. But seven divisions attacking one with an incredible firepower advantage does not count on bravery or elan or fury to win. By evening, two ferries and a temporary bridge had been thrown across the Somme.

By the next morning, elements of three Panzer divisions were seeking out the Allied armored reserves.

June 15, 1940 0815 south of Lofoten Island, Norway


The Narvik garrison had finished evacuating yesterday. The Bodo force had finished loading this morning. The last transports were due to arrive at Rosyth and Inverness during the evening. The two British brigades had withdrawn with almost all of their equipment and most of their supplies. The Polish mountaineers had also withdrawn in good order. French Legionnaires manhandled most of their artillery onto destroyers and light cruisers that should not have held those guns while the Alpine brigade was so light there was very little equipment available to be abandoned. The French units would recover and reorganize before being shipped to Biscayan ports to reinforce the depleted lines along the Somme.

HMS Glorious turned into the wind. Twenty eight modern fighters were still at Bodo. They had served hard and taken thirty percent losses but they succeeded in protecting the port. The ground echelon of the three squadrons would be taken off in destroyers. They had a few more hours worth of demolition work to do. Three squadrons with their pilots could be decisive as Fighter Command had surged another seven squadrons to fight in France from airfields in Brittany. These squadrons along with the depleted FAA squadrons would be the largest source of fighter reserves in the Metropolitan.

A Fleet Air Arm pilot who had been transferred from the Sea Hurricane testing group for service on a new tranche of Martlets had suggested that the basic Hurricane could land on a carrier if a few simple modifications were made. The group commander, the captain of Glorious and the commanding admiral were willing to take the risk.

The first Hurricane pitched and weaved as the landing signal officer danced in the wind. The lead wheels touched down and the brakes on the fighter slammed hard. Within three hundred feet, the pilot had his canopy popped open as the deck crew pushed his plane to the flight deck’s edge. It worked. The addition of a few hundred pounds behind the pilot was enough.

Twenty eight planes were in the landing pattern. Twenty seven were cleanly recovered. The seventeenth Hurricane landed too fast and broke a strut as the deck heaved upward. The fighter twirled on deck. The pilot was able to escape as the ruined aircraft was pushed over the side.

Within an hour, the landbased fighters were stowed below. Eight Martlets were brought up to a temporary deck park. A Skua was launched for a routine anti-submarine patrol. Glorious, escorted by Acasta and Ardent and accompanied by Effingham would head home at high speed. The rest of the evacuation convoy was covered by Valiant and Ark Royal and escorted by a cruiser squadron and a flotilla of destroyers. Glorious and her companions had permission to steam at high speed to Scapa for a court martial and then extended refits.

June 15, 1940 Along the Somme

A set of trains ran through Paris and then back north. Another two divisions were being pulled from the far right to the center. The reservists were in high spirits as they had held their positions for days and had not conceded an inch. These divisions were being moved to block any breakthrough the Germans may have been able to achieve.

The 29th Alpine Division scouts pushed forward into the desolated no man’s land. A few wounded men were taken prisoner. Their comrades had either forgotten them or thought that no one could or would have survived the bombardment that had caught a battalion in dense order preparing another attack.

To the far north, Paris roared again. Her forward guns were an anchor that the Polish Corps counted on. A lighter had arrived the night before and the half strength crew worked for eleven hours to load another two hundred shells into the main magazine. The Captain and the Chief engineer had spent the past thirty minutes before breakfast walking through the bowels of the ship. If she had been pulled off the river’s bottom quickly and had not been subject to a corps’ worth of artillery, she could have been worth saving. Now she had found her final resting place until the scrappers came to dismantle her. She would still fight and now a company of Polish infantry had settled in to help repel boarders. They preferred the ship to land duty as steel was far better cover than dirt.

Just north of Amiens there was chaos. A division had melted away beneath the German tide. Three Panzer divisions were trying to get across the Somme and into the rear. So far the deepest penetration was four kilometers by a motorcycle battalion. Seven hundred Allied tanks in four divisions were converging herky jerky in three hour spurts to close the gap in the line. They would race forward and then stop as the refueling trucks filled their tanks. Air attacks had started to shift from trying to destroy the tanks and the combat power to trying to destroy the trucks upon which all depended. Allied fighters could not dominate the air over the counter attack but they were making the Luftwaffe pay for every success.

Another four hundred guns erupted near Ham. An army was attacking a corps that so far refused to bulge.

June 15, 1940 1452 Norwegian Sea aboard HMS Effingham

The light cruiser was coming back to the flank of HMS Glorious after she departed to investigate an oil slick four miles away. The small formation was cutting through the waves at a steady 22 knots, zigzagging every twenty to thirty minutes to disrupt any U-boats. No enemy had been sighted. HMS Devonshire had cross their path two hours ago as she steamed at twenty eight knots to bring the Norwegian government and gold to Great Britain. The strain of bringing the RAF squadrons aboard had led to Glorious’ captain to stand down from flight operations. Two Martlets and a Skua were now on deck and spotted for launch but no aircraft were circling the formation.

Lt. Jurgen Kleisterman of the Norwegian Navy had time to himself. He needed a cigarette and stepped off the bridge and fumbled for his Zippo and Pall Mall. As he turned his eyes down and cupped the flame in his hand, he noticed that the lookouts were more concerned about their warmth than their task.

“Damn limeys, they should know better” He thought to himself. This was unusual, usually the Brits were conscientious about the little details that kept men alive and ships afloat at sea. The cascade of defeats and evacuations must have disturbed the normal routine. A few long drags later in the brilliant sun, he put his hand to his eyes and looked over the vast sea that separated his soon to be occupied home and the bastion of resistance from which he would fight from again. He looked back once more and as he was ready to go back into the warm superstructure. His eyes barely saw anything different but the color of a cloud looked odd far to his south.

He stared for another moment and the color was necrotic gray against a white cloud. It was not natural. He stabbed out the flame on his cigarette and hurried into the bridge.

“Sir, smoke spotted to the south over the horizon” He blurted out his report as he saluted. The commander on the bridge looked at the frantic young man and saw the seriousness in his eyes and heard the urgency in his voice.

“Very well, can I have confirmation and signal the rest of the force about smoke to the south”

Effingham’s boilers started to release more steam as she slowly built up to thirty knots. Within minutes, every gun was manned even though odds were that they would just find a merchant ship in the wrong spot. As Effingham went south, Glorious and her two destroyers stopped zig zagging and turned into the wind to launch the three ready aircraft. As soon as those planes were up, the ships turned to the north.

Seven minutes later, what was just off tone patterns on clouds were firmly established as thick smoke clouds of warships. Effingham radioed Glorious a sighting report and the three planes circled closer. The Martlets then dove on one of the ships with their four machine guns strafing the deck. One pulled up. The other crashed into the sea.

A moment later, the director’s optics were powerful enough and the weather clear enough for a firm identification. One battlecruiser and another cruiser were 35,000 yards away and steaming on a converging course at thirty knots. The last few revolutions were urged out of the boilers and into the screws as Effingham increased speed to thirty two knots. Acasta and Ardent had begun to make smoke for Glorious as flight crews scrambled to arm the dive bombers.

Urgent calls were made to Valiant and Ark Royal for assistance. They were coming as soon as they could.

Devonshire never acknowledged the message.

As the range closed to 25,000 yards, the German battle cruiser fired his first ranging salvo. The radar directed pattern missed Effingham by only a few hundred yards short and ahead. The captain turned his ship hard to chase the splash and ordered smoke to be made to allow the upcoming destroyers to hide for as long as possible. She continued to close the range as her nine six inch guns could barely reach 19,000 yards. Splashes soaked the cruiser from near misses as shrapnel opened up holes in her lightly armored flanks. Men screamed as steel shards tore into them, some just bloody, others crippled or dying.

Finally at eighteen thousand yards, Effingham fired a partial salvo. As her gunnery officer waited for the shells to land, the first 11 inch shell hit her. The ship shuddered sideways as the shell punched through the base of the aft mast. The armor was enough to activate the fuse but not defeat the shell. It plunged three decks and exploded. No critical damage was done although the aft magazines were threatened by the fire started. Speed slowed by four knots as steam pipes were dislodged and the turbines shook with shock damage.

The initial salvo was short and the following salvo was again short. The wildly maneuvering cruiser continued to close the range as the other German cruiser commenced firing and the battlecruiser’s light guns engaged. Smoke poured from the smoke stack, clouds sitting on the water to hide in, clouds sitting on the water to retreat to.

The dancers of the deadly ballet darted towards each other and then opened up their rudders to create sea room. Effingham’s guns flashed as quickly as her crews could feed shells into the narrow maw of their breaches. The Germans were wounded, the radar on the battle cruiser destroyed, the anti-aircraft positions forward decimated from a shell defeated by the armor but exploding feet from the gun to spray needle like shrapnel across the deck at knee level. These successes were not without cost as another heavy shell and two light shells knocked out guns, destroyed boats and impaled boys and men.

The smoke was no longer intentional, it was the smoke of a crippled guardian, flames roared in the boilers and in mess areas, men screamed as they were burned, men cried as their life poured out of them, men struggled to keep their mouths in the air as water filled isolated compartments that had been ripped open to the sea. Ardent joined the fray and she too was quickly hit, sacrificing herself, sacrificing her crews’ lives to buy time, precious time. The little destroyer pressed closer in and out of smoke screens, in and out of shells’ waterspouts and then turned hard to release a torpedo salvo.

Four Skuas from Ark Royal dropped their bombs on the second cruiser as the 500 pound bombs would not stop a battle cruiser but they could delay a smaller ship. All missed but they forced the Germans to turn away and bought Glorious three more minutes and three more miles. The destroyer’s torpedoes missed as Scharnhorst ninety degree turn allowed them to pass forward of him. His aft turret fired again at Effingham. A 697 pound semi-armor piercing shell crushed the thin belt armor of the light cruiser and brushed aside the layered armor protecting the forward magazine before detonating. There was a full sized ship fighting at one moment and then only half a ship and a gigantic plume of fire and smoke whose tendrils would soon be seen from eighty miles away.

The Germans turned again and made for the carrier that they knew was just out of reach. Ardent launched the rest of her torpedoes at suicidally close range. As the destroyer was being pummeled, the senior surviving officer, a junior grade lieutenant saw two torpedoes strike the light cruiser Emdem.

Forty minutes later after Scharnhorst brushed off the light damage of a single 500 pound bomb dropped by another Skua from Ark Royal, she turned suddenly and began to flee south. Valiant had arrived and placed her mighty bulk between the battle cruiser and the carriers. She steamed after the battle cruiser at twenty one knots and fired six half salvos at 30,000 yards at her foe to no effect.

Two hours later Glorious joined the main convoy. Acasta along with three other destroyers looked for survivors from Effingham, Ardent and Emdem. The hypothermic Norwegian liaison officer was the third man rescued. He was one of seventeen rescued survivors from the light cruiser.
 
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