Alternative History



We are waging war

against a hydra.


2041: Over Denmark

November 10, 1943

Oberleutnant Otto Hauken received the new bearing from the He-277 radar aircraft and turned left to a heading of 310. The He-219 Uhu was the best night fighter in the world, better even than the American P-61 or the British Mosquito. The Heinkel was not only faster than both Allied fighters, but two of her six 30-mm cannon were arranged at an upward firing angle, playing a devastating music for the British bombers which unloaded on Germany four and five times a week. In the last year small numbers of He-219s had punished the English crews for their raids, but the Islanders had nonetheless continued their raids and had gone a long way towards turning Hamburg to rubble.

"Not tonight, Mr. Churchill," the Hamburg native said to his gunner/radar operator.

"I have him, Herr Leutnant, come right five degrees." The deep roar of the two upward firing 30 mm cannons cut into the Mosquito, the Wooden Wonder's left wing falling off as the Uhu flew past.

"Hold on there a minute!" The heavy pounding of the four forward firing 30s and the lighter thump followed Hauken’s yell from a pair of 20 mm cannons that backed them up. Another pathfinder began to flame, its plywood wing torn apart by the heavy metal spit at it from the German guns. Three seconds later the bomber exploded, the shrapnel from its bombs peppering the He-219 Owl.

"We have a problem here, Reinhardt."

"I know, we've lost the radar and there's fluid leaking all over the place back here."

"Are you hit?"

"No, what about you, sir?"

"I'm fine, but the port engine is overheating. I'm shutting it down now." Hauken began the shut down procedures, first feathering the propeller while power remained, then cutting off the flow of fuel to the now useless powerplant.

"Eagle One-Six, how do you copy?"

"Five by five, Nest Two-Zero, but a second Mosquito was tucked in front of the first. I'm afraid we were a little close when it exploded. I had to shut down the number one engine. We're checking on the rest of our systems right now."

As fine a fighter the He-219 was, if it couldn't find the enemy bombers, then they were safe. Most non-pilots have no idea how large the sky is, especially at night. Even with radar it can be difficult to find a plane which doesn't wish to be uncovered from its blanket of darkness. The Germans, that night of November 10th, however, were employing a new weapon aboard their converted He-277 bombers. A score of the long-range four-engine version of the He-177 had been fitted with the most advanced radar the Germans possessed. The Heinkel only carried a pair of heavy machine guns in its tail, but the He-277 Illuminators and their crews effectively tripled the number of night fighters that could be brought to bear on bomber streams the British used in their thousand plane raids.

"I've got some more bad news for you then, One-Six, you have company closing up on you fast from your eight o'clock."

"Range, Nest?"

"You boys are supposed to have that."

"Well we don't, damnit, our night eye is out." The Illuminator/Owl set-up had been designed as an integrated weapons system with each command aircraft being able to direct up to six fighters at a given time. The He-219's own radar system had to be turned on for the final four km of closure, however.

"Come left 120 degrees and dive, One-Six!" Hauken did as he was told, happy that the two-engine fighter performed well enough on only one motor. "He should be there with you now, One-Six," the new controller added.

"I've got him." The pilot let go with his weapons as the Beaufighter crossed over them at less than ten meters.

"You get him, Herr Leutnant?"

"I think so, Reinhardt." He had in fact, only damaged the British aircraft, the latter's radial engines saving the English crew for another night's battle. A second Allied machine followed the first, however, and after emptying the Uhu's forward firing cannons into the Bristol, both fighters continued on course, the German fighter taking out the Beaufighter's vertical stabilizer as they passed.

"Time to leave the office, Reinhardt," the pilot remarked calmly over the open mike. The collision had taken out most of the already dead port engine, but the 20 mm cannon of the Beaufighter had done too much damage to the Heinkel to risk a forced landing.

"Are you ejecting, One-Six?"

"That is affirmative, Nest Two-Zero." Hauken was getting busy, the Heinkel, which under normal circumstances had wonderful flying traits, was now bucking like a bronco and even after shutting down the right engine she was still bolting all over the sky.

"Punch the canopy, Reinhardt!"

"Got it, Leutnant." The Plexiglas flew off into the slipstream and Hauken rolled the stricken plane onto its back. The two crewmen blasted out into a black night two thousand meters above Jutland.

0129: Over the North Sea

November 11, 1943

"Keep more left rudder in her, Flying Officer."

"I'm giving her all I can, sir, but she canna' take much more of this." Duncan MacRay, the flight engineer had the left rudder pedal to the floor and it was almost enough. The Lancaster wasn't meant to be flown in such a manner. Smith, the pilot, was dead, and the Wing Commander sitting behind MacRay hadn't yet cleared the body from the flight deck and climbed in to help.

"Will you be able to land her?"

"Perhaps with your help, sir." The huge bomber had been in the air for almost six hours, and was one of the few Arvos in the squadron still flying. Their target had been Peenemude, but the Germans had been waiting for them. First it seemed as if every night fighter in the Luftwaffe had been after them on the way in. The Me-410s and Ju-88s had been bad enough, but after crossing back into the Baltic on their way into the target one of the dreaded He-219s had found them and shot down three of the remaining Lancasters in the squadron. Then the eighty-eight, one of five and hundred and 50 mm flak opened up, and while no more of their number were lost to the big guns, MacRay's Lancaster had lost its number four motor, two feet of wing and half its tail. Everyone in the crew but the pilot had been wounded. The pilot had been killed and MacRay had found himself flying alone since then. But the worst had been saved for last. As they steadied on course for the bomb run, what could only be described as three dozen flying telephone poles came flaming towards the remaining bombers in the lead flights, swatting thirty-one of the huge four engined beasts out of the sky as if they were no more than gnats. That had been enough for the wing commander. The Londoner had ordered his plane to drop and the one remaining plane in the squadron released with them, as did the few surviving aircraft in the wing.

"What can I do?"

"Get him out of here, he can't fly the plane in his condition." The wing commander dragged the headless body into the radio compartment, then returned. ' At least he's coming around now,' Angus thought. Ever since leaving the target the Wing Commander had simply sat there in the cold cockpit letting the wind slap at his face.

The senior officer glanced over the control settings, advancing power to number three engine and cutting the fuel to the left outboard motor as much as he dared. Angus was able to release a little pressure from the rudder pedal. "Must have lost some of the tail, MacRay."

"Yes, sir." The Scotsman stretched his cramped legs a little, then pulled out the pre-landing checklist. "You want to read, sir?"

0139: Peenemude, Germany

The last of the British bombers droned off to the northwest and the scientists and workers at the rocket facility climbed out of their slit trenches and bunkers. Dornberger, the base commander and head of the A-4 project, was surprised at the damaged caused by the attack, or lack there of. For once the Luftwaffe had done its job correctly. Not one of the pathfinders had dropped its load on the base, and the fighters and flak had thinned the bombers out enough for his three battalions of Wasserfall to do the trick. In all they had managed to launch an even one hundred anti-aircraft missiles, hitting seventy-one heavy bombers in the process. Between the missiles and guns, the general was sure they would find well over a hundred of the enemy ships littered about the base and the shallow Baltic around it. Not a bad night all in all, and the first damage reports suggested at most light damage to both men and material. It was nice to finally win one.

0321: Norfolk, England

"Cut back number one a little more, sir." MacRay was doing his best to keep the bomber straight as they lined up for final. "Gear down."

"Gear down," the wing commander repeated. "Two greens."

"God, it still works." MacRay was surprised, but pleasantly, it was the first good news he had had in hours. "I've got the runway, now, cut number one." Duncan took his eyes off the approach long enough to note the senior officer's look. "We have only one shot at this, sir. We're not going around, so if we feather the prop it should give us more left rudder control.

"Shutting down one." Duncan felt the pressure on the rudder ease up, as if the Lancaster knew it was almost home. The Avro would make it now, Angus was sure of that. As the big wounded bird crossed the fence and set down on her mains he could almost hear her cry with relief. She would never fly again, but she had brought her crew home.

"Thank you, MacRay." The wing commander looked down at the dead body of the pilot, then helped the flight engineer with the rest of the check list. "He was your friend, wasn't he?" The officer asked when the last switch was turned to "OFF."

"Yes, sir, he was." After that night Duncan wasn't sure he'd ever want another.

0402: Norfolk

"Sit down gentlemen." At every American bomber base in England similar briefings were getting underway. The Eighth Air Force was gearing up for a major raid, committing its total strength in an offensive against the petroleum production centers of the Nazi Reich. In spite of the heavy losses experienced by the 15th Air Force against the Rumanian oil fields two months earlier, the Allied planners in London knew that fuel was Reich's Achilles Heel. "Today our target is the synthetic oil factory northwest of Leipzig. Each of the nine factories around Leipzig will be hit today, each by approximately one hundred bombers. The B-24 drivers will take out the further targets while our group and the rest of the Fortresses get the ones a little closer in. At the same time 15th Air Force's heavy bombers will have another go at Ploesti."

"That's going to be tough on the Liberators," the colonel leading one of the groups remarked.

"Yes and no. We're taking off an hour earlier than the 8th Air Force B-24s, and they will be taking a slightly more northerly course than us."

"What about fighter cover?"

"Every fighter we have will be in the air today, sir. The P-47s will be able to escort you most of the way to the target. If they have the fuel they'll make a sweep on the way home. A second flight of Thunderbolts will takeoff about three hours after the bombers and pick you up near Kassel, so with luck you'll have fighter cover most of the way there and back."

"What about the Lightnings?"

"I'm afraid that the four Liberator groups get the P-38s along with the three P-51 formations, sorry."

0813: 30,000 feet over Holland

The crew of Lady Bug, a Liberator from the 426th Heavy Bombardment Group, watched the North Sea pass behind them as they winged their way towards targets still over two hours away. Already their close escort of P-38s had closed up on them, and in a few minutes the RAF Spitfires would wing away to be replaced by the Thunderbolts of the 56th Fighter Group.

0821: Over Munster, Germany

Gunther scanned the instruments in the cockpit of his Fw-190D. Everything was in the green and he resumed his navigation. At twenty-two years of age the young pilot was leading Eighth Squadron, III/JG-26 into combat. The war had lost any sense of glory a long time back, and like his brother Willi, the only two things which remained important were surviving until the war ended and seeing to it that as many of his countrymen also made it.

"Come left twenty degrees." A ground control station corrected the group's heading.

"Copied, first," Gunther saved the group commander a little time, then changed to the squadron net. "Come left twenty and keep your eyes open." The twelve aircraft under Kohl's command settled on their new course and continued their climb to eleven thousand meters.

"What was that?" Kohl asked. Twelve twin engine aircraft had just streaked by, passing the propeller fighters at better than 200 kph.

0837: Over Nijmegen, Holland

"Here they come again!" Colonel David Livingston banked his P-47 hard right, pulling back on the stick for all it was worth. The big fighter responded and the German jet overshot him, allowing Livingston a chance to empty the eight .50 caliber machine guns on the Messerschmitt. His Republic gained a brief moment of revenge. "No, Johnson, don't dive from them!" It was too late for that, however, and another P-47 was shattered under the pounding from the four 30 mm cannons carried by the Me-262.

The first pass from the jets had been worse than anything the colonel had ever experienced. Coming in from out of the sun, four Me-262s from Steinhoff's JG-7 had attacked Colonel Livingston's 56th Fighter Group with rockets and cannon fire. Five of the big Thunderbolts fell out of the sky before anyone had seen the enemy, and now, on their second pass, four more Allied fighters were falling to earth with at least two more damaged. Livingston's shots were the only ones in the squadron to hit home, but the Colonel was too busy trying to put his group back together to press home his advantage. The jet he had pounded rolled away spewing flames from one engine and going down quickly, but its pilot was able to bail out of his burning kite long before it exploded into the cold autumn soil of Holland.

"Second squadron, what do you have left?"

"Five are still up here, two are heading home."

"Third squadron, report." There was no reply. "Third squadron, report!"

"Ah, Bartkauski here, sir. There are only two of us left."

"Fourth squadron?" Livingston had reorganized his group for the fighting that day, reducing the size of his three large squadrons into four smaller plus the command flight. He feared the worst.

"We're twelve for twelve, Colonel. I think those devil machines the Jerrys threw at you forgot about us or something."

"Have you dropped your tanks yet, Major Gregory?"

"Still have them, sir." The fourth squadron in the wing had somehow survived the onslaught that had damaged or destroyed twenty-eight P-47s. Of the original 52 fighters that had taken off an hour earlier, only twenty-four remained to escort the B-17s to their targets.

"Okay, Gregory, take your squadron to thirty-nine and keep a lookout. Everybody else form up on me and find a wingman. We'll operate this group as two squadrons instead of four." Livingston got on the radio and discovered that the other groups in the wing had been hit almost as hard as the 56th. Each had lost about half their effective strength under the surprising and crushing attack of the German Swallows

The remaining P-47s closed on Livingston and pulled slowly ahead of the bombers they were to protect for another two hundred miles.

0850: Over Northern Germany

"I've got twelve Thunderbolts climbing past eleven thousand, Gunther."

"I see them, sir."

"You have them, Hauptmann." The twelve Dora pilots rammed their throttles to the stops and hit their injectors, forcing an alcohol and water mixture into the cylinders of their Jumo inlines and increasing their speed to over six hundred kph.

"They're coming in dumb." Kohl's wingman noted. In their hurry to provide high cover, Major Gregory's squadron had taken an attitude that had reduced visibility to a minimum. None of the American pilots spotted the Focke-Wulfs until the Germans were less than a km away.

"No they're not!" Gunther lined the nose of his fighter up against one of the Republic's, and fired a long burst into the enemy.

"I'm hit! I'm hit! shutting down ..."

"Got one. Watch out, Peter, there's one on your tail!" The chatter coming over the squadron net told the story as the well planned ambush turned into a giant fur ball as the twenty-eight Fw-190Ds of III/JG-26 engaged what was left of the 56th Fighter Group. Ninth Squadron engaged another American group along with a Staffel from I/JG-26.

Slowly, the two forces lost altitude as high "g" force maneuvers drained energy from the planes. The first pass by the Germans had been met head on by the Thunderbolts and now the Americans were giving almost as good as they got. After fifteen minutes at full power, however, the remaining Americans began looking at their fuel gauges. The two sides were about evenly matched machine for machine, but today the Germans outnumbered the Americans. The Fw-190 Dora was faster and smaller than the Thunderbolt, but the P-47 was next to impossible to shoot down and packed even more punch than the nimble Focke-Wulf carried.

Gunther lined up on the tail of a second P-47 after having spent nearly twenty minutes and five thousand meters of altitude downing his first. He was saddened that there had been no parachute from the Thunderbolt, but those things happened.

"This one's better than the last," he said to himself. Shooting down Major Gregory's P-47 had consumed most of his cannon ammunition, and the first pass against the second P-47 had accomplished little and had cost him some damage to his right wing as he pulled away. He came around for another go at the American with only his machine guns, but before Gunther had him in range he saw that the few remaining Americans were running. Kohl broke off and ordered his squadron to form up. As fast as the Dora was, not even it could catch the heavy Republic in a power dive.

"Command to group, return to base." Gunther passed the order on to his squadron. Some of the fighters in the first engagement would refuel and continue to engage the American attack groups heading towards Leipzig, but JG-26 was to remain at its forward bases in order to intercept any reinforcements the Allies sent to aide their bombers on the long flight home.

0936: North Sea

She was running rough, but David Livingston was sure that his beloved P-47 would get him back to England. He would be one of the few. 56th Fighter Group had just gotten their butts kicked, and he knew it. As far as Colonel Livingston could determine, of the fifty-two fighters the 56th had put into the air two hours earlier, about ten were still flying. More than forty aircraft lost, more than half of them to a dozen jets in the first five minutes of combat. The 56th had been destroyed as a fighter group until their losses were made good. That those losses included most of the group's senior officers didn't make matters any easier. For the destruction of a single jet and perhaps a half dozen piston fighters, the Germans had ruined one of the elite formations in the Army Air Force, and, Livingston noted, most of the Germans who had been shot down would be flying again tomorrow.

1001: Northwest of Leipzig.

Sergeant Henry Masterson didn't understand it. His B-24, Lady Bug, hadn't even been attacked by the German fighters. Several times the flak had opened up on them and the Denver Pearl had gone down, but Masterson counted ten parachutes. That had been good, but he hadn't seen any fighters for some time now, theirs or the Germans'.

"Better keep a good lookout back there, Masterson," the captain's voice crackled in the intercom. "The B-17s are taking a pounding from the German fighters, but I'm sure they've saved something for us."

"Got it sir." The sergeant tested the power in his top turret, then checked with the five other gunners aboard the Liberator. "By the way Lieutenant, have you seen any of our fighter escort lately?"

"No, Sergeant, I haven't." In fact, the last of the P-38s were either running for home or had been torn to pieces by the Me-262s attacking after a fast turn around which consisted of most of the jet pilots climbing into already preflighted planes at various airfields in central Germany. At present, there were more jets than there were pilots trained to fly them. Rather than allow them to sit on the ground unused, General Galland had devised the tactic of using the Schwalbe's greatest strength, speed, to overcome its one weakness, unreliable engines.

"What the hell was that?"

"I saw it too, Masterson, beats me," the port waist gunner replied. They had seen a blur flash going by almost straight up. Seconds later the big bomber was rocked and another blur followed the first.

"I'm hit, I hit!"

"Who?" Masterson asked, being in charge of the Liberator behind the flight-deck.

"Moran, Sarge. It's not bad, but I never saw a thing."

"Help him, Dorsey." How the port gunner could not see that his partner to starboard had been hit was beyond Masterson, but then again, both of them had been watching the streak that had flashed by.

"Well I'll be..." Masterson thought for a couple more seconds, then got on the intercom to the captain. "Ah, Lieutenant."

"I'm here, Masterson. We got company?"

"Not now, but I think guests dropped in without being invited, then left before being noticed. Dorsey's been nicked by the presents they left, but I think he'll be okay."

"Got you. Do you have an ID on our visitor?"

"Negative, sir. It was climbing like a bat out of hell. I'd say four hundred miles an hour, straight up."

"Masterson!" The gunner was a known story teller back at base and the lieutenant was not in the mood for one now with one of his men hurt and three hours still to go in the mission.

"I saw it too," Dorsey remarked. "I've never seen anything like it, sir. Not only was it going like a bat out of hell, it sort of looked like one too."

What the crew of the B-24, Lady Bug, had witnessed, was the first operational use of the Me-163B Komet. As of yet the Luftwaffe had only five operational squadrons of the interceptors, each with twelve pilots and twenty-four aircraft, but their numbers would grow. Two squadrons were at Ploesti, one was located near Vienna, and the last two stationed at Hanover and Leipzig respectively. All of the rocket planes were tasked with protecting the vital fuel reserves of the Reich, and it was hoped that the addition of forty-five more squadrons of the short ranged interceptor would provide point guards to bolster the anti-aircraft defenses for the most important German industries. With six hundred Komets guarding the Ruhr and the petroleum centers, the Luftwaffe would be free to fight the air battle for the Reich on its own terms. Of course, pilots needed to be found to fly the Me-163, and if training was any indicator, the attrition rate for Komet pilots was about ten percent every time the plane went into the air, regardless of enemy contact. The five training schools being formed would be kept very busy, as the crews for the Me-163 were to be specific type instructed as to not take away from the core of fighter pilots needed for the more conventional aircraft committed to Germany's defense.

"Here they come again!" Masterson whipped his turret around as the tailless planes swept through the formation on their return glide. He wasn't able to hit either in the pair as they fell in a near vertical dive of almost five hundred miles per hour. "Hold your fire," Masterson yelled over the intercom to his gunners as the bats returned to their caves. The sergeant noted that almost all of the B-24s had been firing their guns at the pair of interceptors, but couldn't see that either side had done any additional damage to. "Ammo report, tail gunner." Masterson looked down at the floor of the bomber and judged that he had fired fifteen percent of his base load to no effect, and was sure that the same was true for every other gunner in the group. If it kept up, the 426th Bomb Group could expect a very long trip home.

1126: Over Osnabruck

"Here we go again." Gunther banked his Fw-190D over to the right and followed the rest of his group down to attack the enemy fighters. The Americans had reacted quickly to the air battle and were sending their reserves into Germany in an attempt to rescue the bomber force that was well on its way to destruction over the decidedly unfriendly skies of Deutschland. A hundred and fifty of the new American P-51s were being used for this mission, all three groups from a newly formed long range escort wing. All three of JG-26s groups were being thrown up against the new American weapon. But without the jets to soften them up first, not only were the hundred plus Germans out numbered, half the pilots in the group were replacements and the Mustang was almost as good of a fighter as the Dora. "Remember," Kohl said over the command net, "never leave your wingman."

This time the furball took up even more time and space than the early morning dogfights. A Mustang would blast a Focke-Wulf out of the sky, only to go down in flames seconds later as a more experienced German would end the promising career of an American. The sides were too close in numbers and quality of aircraft for either item to become a factor, and in spite of Kohl's warning, both sides soon dissolved into individual engagements resembling nothing more than knights from the Middle Ages attempting to define the fate of nations in single combat.

"Break left, Gunther!" A little late, Kohl pushed over but still felt several heavy bullets from the Mustang slam into his kite. "Missed."

"Thanks, Werner." The Mustang roared off his right wing, Kohl's wingman in hot pursuit. Although he had managed to keep his own flight together, the other eight planes in his squadron were all over the sky. Gunther was pretty sure that two had already gone down. "I've got your wing now." Gunther changed positions with his wingman and looked for the American on his six.

"How can they be fighting so long?"

"Don't know, Werner." The P-51 they were chasing had long since broken contact and some order had been restored to the battle as numbers were reduced on both sides. Eight of his charges formed up with Kohl once again, and with the twenty other Focke-Wulfs remaining in III/JG-26, they went after the Mustangs once again. For the first time in the war it would be the defenders who ran out of fuel first.

All attempts at refined maneuver were lost as the large groups mimicked the individual combat of the last hour. Two formations of aerial knights slammed into one another, bringing down more warriors from each camp. And then, as if by some mutual agreement, the two sides parted, the Mustangs heading for the pastures of England and the Focke-Wulfs for their own barns.

"I've got a problem here, Werner." The last pass had been costly for Kohl, and while he managed to finally get another kill, his mount was losing power.

"Can you make it down?"

"Should be able to, but it will be dead stick."

"How about bailing out?"

"No, we need the plane."

"We need you more, Gunther."

"Thanks, Werner, but I can make it." With that, Kohl switched to the field frequency, reported his condition and began the pre-landing check-list. At a thousand meters he entered a long downwind, keeping as much altitude as he could in the now heavy glider. Before turning base he slipped the canopy back and dropped his wheels. After a quick check he decided that a flapless landing wouldn't be all that difficult on the concrete runway of the airfield. Gunther was still at three hundred meters on short final, but with a windmilling prop little slipping was needed. The Dora crossed the fence at less than fifty meters and the fighter kept enough ground speed for the squadron commander to pull off the active runway without a tractor.

1308: Over North Germany

"Dorsey, get the rest of the fifty from the waist up to the turrets, then take the tail." Lady Bug was running out of fuel, power, ammunition, men and luck. In the hour and a half since bombing the refinery the 426th Bomb Group had been hit by more of the German rocket planes, single engined fighters, heavy interceptors, and even converted medium bombers. Of the fifty-six Liberators that had taken off that morning from Norfolk, thirty remained, most of those damaged, and all of them running short of ammunition.

"Thanks, Dorsey." Masterson set about reloading his twin M2 fifty caliber machine guns and wondered if they would be enough. Already the B-24 had lost three of its crew, two of his gunners and the copilot were dead, and they still had another hour before crossing the coast of occupied Europe.

"Here they come again, boss." Dorsey's voice was lost in the clatter of machine gun fire as he opened up from his new position. The Liberator behind and above Lady Bug lost her number two engine in the attack. Masterson noticed that her tail turret hadn't fired at the Me-410 on its attack run. A second two engine fighter followed the first, and after knocking another engine out on the tail end Charlie, it ripped into Lady Bug at the cost of a shattered cockpit. The Messerschmitt veered into another B-24 exploding both planes.

"Dorsey, how are you doing back there?" There wasn't an answer, Dorsey was already dead. "God, no." It was over now, Masterson knew it before the squadron of Bf-109s showed up to finish the job on the remaining seventeen wounded bombers. Death would be slow for some of them, faster for others, while some of the crews chose to surrender the only way flying crews can, by hitting the silk and hoping the accommodations in a Luft Stalag weren't too bad. Masterson considered that option, but Lady Bug still had three engines turning and was drawing closer to Holland every minute.

"Masterson, you might think about leaving this bucket."

"Can't, sir, I'm too busy." The sergeant turned his guns on another fighter before they fell silent for the last time. Metal flew off the Messerschmitt, but it kept coming, putting more lead into the Davis wing of the B-24 than it could stand. The airfoil collapsed, sending Masterson and Lady Bug in a final spiral to their deaths. What remained of the 426th Bomb Group was to survive them for exactly seven minutes.

1903: Benghazi, Libya

"It was awful, just awful." The young, freckle-faced lieutenant stifled a sob. He took a long drag on his Chesterfield choking on the smoke. A full minute passed before he composed himself enough to resume the debriefing.

"Crossing the Med went according to plan," he continued. "There were '24s as far as the eye could see, not one of 'em more than 200 feet off the water. It was after we crossed the coast that things started to go to hell in a bucket. I dunno where exactly, but we made a wrong turn. Not just us, the whole damn wing! I dunno how long we were off course, but after we hauled it around it wasn't hard to find the target. The columns of smoke musta been 500 to a 1,000 feet high. I figured the other groups had found Ploesti before us and plastered the refineries but good. It wasn't until we got up to them that we realized all the smoke was comin' from '24s that had gone in before reaching the oil fields."

The lieutenant ground out his cigarette and the spook lit another for him. "We went screamin' into the target area hell bent for leather. Captain Price was flyin' the plane so I was just sittin' there with too little to do. I'll tell you, I was scared. Smoke everywhere, and the flak! My God, there was flak all over the place. It was like flyin' into the jaws of hell!" The young officer lit another Chesterfield off a butt before going on.

"In the Mood was just ahead and to the right of us. She clipped a balloon cable with her wing and went straight in. Her bombs went off and the shock wave nearly pushed us into My Gal Sal off our left wing. I grabbed the yoke and Price and I straightened her out. It was a pretty near thing. We took some light flak, but got lucky, I guess. Some of it came aboard and knocked out the intercom, but most of the heavy stuff was being aimed in the other direction. Guess that wrong turn saved us." He wiped the sweat from his eyes. The debriefer nodded, he had seen it a dozen times in the last few hours. This one was no different.

"I dunno when we dropped our load, but that place is big. We had to hit somethin'. Just as we were leavin' the target area though, a Lib with a wing on fire cut in front of us and crashed. Didn't miss us by more than a few feet. Some gas must have splashed on us, because the paint back of the cockpit is burnt." The major debriefing the mission poured from a bottle of bourbon. The trick was to keep the flyer going. It was more of an art than a science, and one of the major's charges had fallen off his chair dead drunk while another had broken down completely before the debrief was half finished.

"We musta been about five minutes off the target when the fighters hit us. At least I think they were fighters. They looked like somethin' outta Buck Rodgers on Saturday afternoon. That's when our navigator got it. We had formed up on a couple other '24s from another group. Next thing I know My Gal Sal and one of the others is burnin'. A couple of Kraut planes - little bitty things - went by like bats outta hell. I never saw anything fly that fast in my life! They just made the one pass, blasted those two '24s and hit us. Killed our navigator like I said. Then they were gone fast as they came. We stayed low and didn't see another airplane until before we joined the pattern at Benghazi."

"I think that will do it, Lieutenant." The debriefing officer helped the flyer up. "You're dismissed."

"Sir?" The lieutenant didn't dare ask the question.

"I don't know, son. I don't think so."

"That was the last one, right?" the major asked while loading his pipe from a leather pouch.

"Yes," replied his assistant, a female officer who resembled Mary Astor, the movie star. "Their stories are all pretty much alike," she observed. "Radio navigation all fouled-up, mountains of flak over the target and at least a hundred more fighters than should have been in Rumania. There's also his story about fast interceptors. We got a note on that from the other wing earlier, but he's the only one of ours who reported them."

The intelligence officer looked out the window. A dozen mechanics were working under flood lights on a row of battle-scarred Liberators. He continued to study the B-24s, survivors of the second disastrous Ploesti raid. He puffed on his pipe, his callused thumb packing down the burning tobacco.

"The Germans learned a lot more from the last raid than we did," he remarked. "A lot more. We lost better than fifty percent today, and..." The intelligence officer was lost in thought.

"And what?"

"We can't send the boys back again without fighter escort, Lieutenant." The intelligence officer had a lot more things to say, but it wasn't the time or the place. He grabbed the half full bottle of bourbon, knocking over the two empties that also sat on the table. "Care to join me, Lieutenant?"

1943: Berlin

"Yes, I said all mobile flak battalions within a three hour radius of Emden are to deploy on the northwest coast. I know that goes against defense in depth, but we hurt them last night and you can be sure they will return tonight. Yes, I know that will leave other areas weakened, but all anti-aircraft reserves are being moved to our northwest sectors. No, I've already promised Galland that by tomorrow morning every fighter base in Holland and Northern Germany will have double or triple the flak batteries they had yesterday. I don't care, just do it!" General Johann von Gneisenau slammed down the phone with more than a hint of disgust. He had been awake for most of the last two days, but the Luftwaffe was winning. After more than two years on the defensive in the west, his fighters and flak batteries had turned the tide in the air battle for Germany. Now some fool of a colonel wanted to ruin everything by not following orders.

Gneisenau looked at the couch in the room and walked over to it. He would have time for a nap before his eleven o'clock meeting with Scharnhorst.

2000: Sawston, England

"Last night RAF Bomber Command launched a heavy raid against the secret German rocket base at Peenemude and sustained very grave losses at the hands of the Luftwaffe. Due to the extreme nature of the losses, it has been impossible to determine the exact cause for individual aircraft. For the last ten hours our debriefers have been attempting to ascertain general percentages and trends." Air Chief Marshal "Bomber" Harris looked over the grim expressions of the crowd. It was a who's who gathering of both major RAF commands, the leaders of the American Eighth and Ninth Air Forces, along with various commanders or representatives from every wing in both air forces. There was another smaller group that Harris studied over the top of his notes, pilots and crew from Bomber Command and the Eighth Air Force who had survived the day's combat.

"On the evening of November 10/11 Bomber Command put 1,023 four-engine bombers into the air, of which 990 crossed into occupied Europe. Twenty-three aircraft were forced to abort the mission and ten were lost to unknown causes; intervention by German night-fighters is suspected. In addition to the heavy bombers, fighter command supported the mission with seventy-two Mosquitoes and forty-eight Beufighters.

"Losses were as follows: Bombers, 98 Halifaxes, 46 Stirlings, and 153 Lancasters for a total of two hundred and ninety-seven heavy bombers or about thirty percent of the raiding force." Harris didn't need to tell anyone that sustained losses above ten percent would destroy Bomber Command inside of six months. No one had ever even done figures on losses three times that.

"Fighters, 19 Mosquitoes and 26 of the Bristol machines for a total of forty-five or close to thirty-eight percent. We have to assume that Jerry has either just been very lucky, or that he has improved his night fighting ability beyond any level we imagined.

"As near as we can figure, the Germans have improved their early warning system greatly in the past months and have reason to believe they are now employing at least one squadron of Heinkel 277 class bombers as radar platforms.

"The last bit, by the way, was only learned during today's debrief, so to our American friends, please don't feel as if we've been holding out on you.

"Now, back to Jerry. To put it in as simple terms as possible, we, both American and British, were ambushed. My staff and I feel that recent improvements in the enemy's defenses have been building over time. Our friend Galland seems to have been waiting for the right time to spring the trap. Here I'm afraid that General Eaker and I have to take full responsibility. Both of us were of the belief that the twenty-fifth anniversary of the end of the last war would be a good time to convince Hitler that he would lose this one also. We were mistaken.

"A breakdown of the causes," he returned to his printed notes. "All, or nearly all of our fighter losses were due to interception by the new Heinkel model 219. Two night fighter wings have been equipped with this excellent machine which can show its tail to anything in our inventory. With two hundred and sixty of them, and airborne radar control, I'm afraid Bomber Command cannot be expected to achieve any great success deep inside the Nazi Reich for the time being.

"Bomber losses, as you have seen, were heavy too. At least twenty percent came about at the target itself due to a rocket anti-aircraft system the Germans have deployed around Peenemude. Standard flak defenses were also very heavy, and there is at least one new flak belt that our bombers discovered last night. It is believed that from fifteen to twenty-five percent of our losses were due to standard anti-aircraft fire, which will give you an idea how important Peenemude is to Hitler. Of course the bulk of our losses were due to night interception, and before we can go back to our deep penetration raids the enemy's defenses will need to be countered.

"I also think it is important not to let the enemy know how badly he hurt us last night, and as such, Bomber Command is flying a seven hundred plus raid tonight against Emden.

"I'll now turn this over to General Eaker."

"Thank you, Air Marshal. The American spoke without notes.

"Earlier today the Eighth Air Force mounted a maximum effort against nine important petroleum targets in and around Leipzig. The mission was launched using over eighty percent of the crews that were present in the ETO and attached to the Eighth. Bombing result for most targets has been received and processed, though losses amongst our photo aircraft were heavy due to the presence of the new Messerschmitt jet fighter.

"Specifics. As in the case of Bomber Command, our forces fell into a trap presented to us by Generals Adolf Galland and Johann von Gneisenau. The Luftwaffe waited for long range missions to be mounted, then committed their reserves. During the action over nine hundred heavy bombers and twelve hundred fighters were employed, including two hundred of the latter from RAF Fighter Command. Against the Allied air forces the Luftwaffe threw in fifteen fighter wings totaling over seventeen hundred fighters and interceptors. Types were as follows; one wing of Me-262 jets, five wings of Bf-109 and six groups of Fw-190s, including at least three hundred of the new Fw-190D high altitude fighter. The remaining four wings of two engine heavy fighters included the following types; Ju-88, Me-110, Me-410 and Do-217. We do not believe that any of the Heinkel model 219 were engaged or destroyed. We have, however, confirmed that one hundred and ninety-five German aircraft were shot down, with losses being close to twelve percent for each type of aircraft engaged, perhaps less for the jets.

"Now, for our own losses." The General paused, wondering if his air force could recover. "Five hundred and three fighter aircraft were lost, the majority of them Thunderbolts. The losses were as follows: P-38, one hundred and twenty-five, or forty-nine percent of type employed. P-47, two hundred and eighty-six, or forty percent of type employed. We also lost fifty-nine P-51s, or thirty-seven percent of our new long range escorts. The RAF lost thirty-three aircraft in the last phase of their emergency escort mission over Holland and the North Sea.

"Of the five hundred and eleven B-17 Flying Fortresses which crossed into occupied Europe this morning, four hundred and two have returned." Eaker thought it better not to mention that almost half of those had taken heavy damage. "Of the four hundred and sixteen Liberators employed, twenty-five were forced to abort before crossing into enemy airspace. Our second heavy bomber type, due to their greater range, was forced to fly deeper in to the Nazi Reich than the Boeings and their losses were therefore higher. The 426th Heavy Bomb Group was destroyed in action. Of the fifty-six Liberators that took off this morning, not one has yet returned to any Allied base as of the end of their maximum endurance. All must be considered lost. One hundred and twelve additional B-24s were lost to enemy fire.

"Totals were as follows. Two hundred and seventy-seven heavy bombers of both types, which was close to twenty percent of the B-17s and B-24s which reached the zone of battle. Fifteenth Air Force also reports heavy losses from their Ploesti raid, but we don't have any details on that yet."

General Eaker sat down and the first of the day's survivors took the platform. The majors and colonels who had led the raids for Bomber Command and the 8th's bomber groups supported their commanders on the ground. In spite of the opposition led by Colonel David Livingston, it was decided that the Americans would also continue their air offensive, albeit on much shorter missions than those of November 10/11.

2300: Berlin

"Good evening, Gottlieb, scotch?"

"Thank you, Johann." The army officer took the drink from his counterpart in the Luftwaffe. For the time being, in addition to his post as chief of weapons development, Gneisenau was head of Reich Air Defense. Scharnhorst's official title was now Commander of Reich Ground Force Reserve, or head of all army units stationed in the Greater Reich, both permanent and those divisions which were refitting for further action at the front.

"I understand that your boys did rather well today."

"Yes, I just got the confirmation. In the past twenty-four hours almost six hundred heavy bombers have been shot down, along with almost as many fighters."

"What does that mean for the enemy?"

"It will make Bomber Command cautious with their toys. They don't have the same resources the Americans can call upon."

"No one does, Johann, not even the Russians. How long can they enemy sustain losses like they did today?"

"Oh, the Americans will have to lick their wounds for a couple of months, but I expect them to beat their heads against our outer defenses for a couple more days before they pull back their strategic bombers from attacks on the Reich."

"And then their Eighth Air Force will be used to support their troops in Normandy?"

"I would imagine so, Gottlieb."

"Can you give me more fighter support?"

"Maybe four wings."

"Thanks. What can we expect from Bomber Command?"

"Pretty much the same, and there's not much we can do about it if they pull back their operations to France."

"Such are the fortunes of war. I'll see about pulling more flak units out of the central sector and send them out to the fighting divisions."

"Robbing Peter to pay Paul, my friend?"

"I have to, Johann, and if my transportation chief is correct, you're doing the same thing."

"We have to, Gottlieb. What we really need is to end the war."

"And what will do that, Johann?" The Luftwaffe general thought for several minutes before answering, knowing that his security men had swept his office for listening devices earlier in the day.

"Either we surrender, or we find new leadership."

"Do you know what you're saying there, Johann?"

"Yes, Gottlieb, and I know also of our oath to the Führer."

"So, what worked so well against the British and Americans?" Scharnhorst tactfully changed the subject.

"Our He-277/219 find, direct and hunt system worked as our friends at Heinkel and the weapons office advertised. The Uhus ripped the Lancasters, Halifaxes and Stirlings apart."

"I hear that our friends at Peenemude had some surprises for the bombers."

"It's called Wasserfall, I understand it comes form the A-4 project. Until this morning I didn't even know about it."

"No one did, Johann. Dornberger set the thing up himself and put together three working battalions without anyone knowing."

"Good thing. Any chance of wide deployment?"

"If you mean a rocket flak system at every airfield, no. With a little luck we'll have a couple of battalions at Ploesti before late spring, and maybe a battery at each of the synthetic plants sometime in June. Perhaps in another year there will be another system for low flying aircraft. Your troops will get some of those."

"If there is a Luftwaffe left in another year."

"I thought you won today, Johann."

"We did. The Americans took heavy losses, but so did we. A hundred pilots Galland had this morning are either dead or out of the war for six months or more. We also lost over two hundred aircraft to all causes. Night operations have a high attrition rate, and the jets." Gneisenau held up his hands. "They may prove to be our saviors, but operational losses are high."

"But how did you kill so many of the American Thunderbolts and Lightnings today, the jets?"

"That, and the fat one finally listened to Galland. We attacked the fighters early and often, and when the last of the fighters left we hit the bombers."

"Then most of them got to their targets?"

"Yes, but over a third of them will not be back tomorrow."

"Will this policy be continued."

"I hope so, but the synthetic refineries took a beating. I'm not sure the Führer or your people will let this tactic go on despite today's success."

"Yes," Scharnhorst knew now what he had to do. "Thank you for the drink, Johann. Good luck with the bombers."

"Well, I suppose we can't keep them from crashing the party, but if the bouncers throw them out often enough at least they might stop coming back." After Scharnhorst had left, Gneisenau pulled out a map of the Reich Air Defense Zone and checked his calendar.

0511: Exning, Essex

November 12, 1943

"They knew we were coming, Air Marshal, they must have." Wing Commander Alex Shockley's blackened face told the whole story. His wing of Halifaxes had been the last over Emden and while the enemy fighters hadn't been as successful as on the previous night, the flak had been thick enough to walk on. Over one hundred bombers had been lost on the mission.

"Okay, Wing Commander, tell your men to stand down for a couple of days. Until further notice I'm canceling Bomber Command flights over Germany and Holland."

1042: Washington D.C.

November 14, 1943

"How did the meeting go, General?"

"They're going to keep me in this building until it falls down, Captain." Mike Burns laughed. The two men had worked together for so long they knew how each other thought, and also knew that even if they were sent overseas it would be no further than London.

"Where you go, I go, and this new office ain't bad." Jones couldn't argue with that. The move had only been completed a month ago, and everything still hadn't settled down since the transfer from the old War Department to the Pentagon.

"Come in!" Burns replied to a rap on the door. Only two men had the key to their office, and both men were there now. Even the cleaning crew had to be observed by them or one of the three warrant officers who acted as secretaries for the Intelligence Office for Emergency War Dispatches.

"This just came in from State."

"Thank you, Major." Burns took the envelope from the officer, wondering what the army was coming to if majors were delivering mail. "That's all, Major."

"Yes, sir." He left the office and Jones called over to Tuchman and Jovanovich and told them to take an early lunch. There was only one thing that came from the State Department, and it had been almost a year since they had last heard from Tangent.

"Dear General Jones." Dan began reading.

"Tangent is certainly well informed, sir." The general had to agree with his partner. His star was even newer than their office.

"There is to be a tea party at the sport stadium in Giessen on 16 November, 1943. Food will be served at four sharp and everyone will be there! I hope that your friends will be able to drop in and say hello to some of my associates. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet with the folks in high society.

"If your friends are able to make it, then perhaps our relationship will become more cordial."


TANGENT 121143

"Does this say what I think it does, sir?"

"It's pretty clear to me, Burns." The captain opened a special telephone book and dialed a number on a phone inside his lower desk drawer, handing the receiver to Brigadier General Daniel Jones before anyone answered.

"This is Jones, I need to come over." The general waited for a minute, then hung up.

"The President will see us as soon as we can get there."

1555: The White House

"Well, dear, what should we do with the information our friend has given us?"

"Act on it, what else?"

"I'll be sending a lot of boys to their death if I do. The Eighth Air Force has been taking one hell of a beating the last few days, and Harris has taken Bomber Command out of the battle. We'll need those British bombers if we're to be sure of killing Hitler and his henchmen."

Jones had detailed the high Nazi officers he believed would be at a meeting of all the Gauleiters in Germany. Perhaps one more hammer blow and the Secretary would have his wish. The Germans would have to agree to unconditional surrender.

"How many more will die if you don't go through with it?" The last had been a line given to the First Lady by the Secretary just before her meeting with the President. I suppose you are right, dear." He puffed on his cigarette for several minutes, writing down the names of people he needed to call. Churchill, Marshal and Arnold headed the list.

0641: London

November 15, 1943

"This had better be damned important." Ira Eaker wasn't pleased to be called down to London in the middle of the night, especially after the heavy losses his flyers had taken during the last week. The day bombing offensive had ground to a halt two days earlier after suffering heavy losses over Germany and Holland on the November 12th and 13th. True, every German fighter base in the Netherlands had been hit hard, as had over two dozen fields in Germany. His pilots had shot three hundred fighters and the bombers had destroyed another two hundred and fifty aircraft on the ground. In addition to the air to air combat, the B-26s and A-20s from Ninth Air Forces had gone after the hundreds of flak batteries in the zone of battle. The cost, however, had been too high to continue, at least without the support of Bomber Command. Three hundred American fighters had failed to return from their missions, and coupled with the losses on the eleventh it was just too much. Eaker had been forced to follow Harris' lead and shut down the air offensive against Germany. The loss of almost two thousand aircraft in only three days was bad enough, but machines could be replaced quickly from factories in the United States. Crews were a different story, and it would be spring before the Eighth would be able to launch an effort equal to that of November eleven.

"It is important, General." Eaker was surprised to see Prime Minister Churchill and Arthur Harris in the room, along with Generals Arnold, Eisenhower, Patton and Lord Gort.

"What's this about, Arthur?"

"I have no idea, my boys are still standing down, and I was in Scotland up until four hours ago.

"Sit down." Churchill lit one of his cigars and waved the smoke from his face. General Eisenhower, would you like to conduct this briefing?"

"Yes, sir. To begin with, nothing discussed here will ever leave this room, is that understood?" There was a general agreement and Eisenhower continued. "At 2300 hours I got a call on our secure line from General Marshal. He was calling from the White House in Washington D.C.

"To put it bluntly, he inquired if Eighth Air Force and Bomber Command could launch a major effort on the afternoon of November 16, that's tomorrow."

"No, sir." Eaker wasn't about to throw more of his boys away for the civilians back in Washington. It was probably for some propaganda maker for the movie folks in Hollywood. "Our moral is near zero, sir. One more day of losses like we took on the eleventh and we can forget any bombing for at least six months."

"I have to agree with General Eaker," Air Chief Marshal Harris added. "We pulled Bomber Command out of the fray a day earlier than the Eighth, but the RAF’s moral is no better than that of the Americans."

"Perhaps I had better rephrase the President's question. More specifically he inquired as to how strong our maximum effort will be on the sixteenth. It was not a request."

"I must add that I agree with my friend, the President," Churchill added." The two bomber commanders remained unconvinced, and after giving both Eisenhower and Churchill long looks, General Hap Arnold spoke up.

"I think perhaps we should tell them the nature of their mission, sirs. To put it bluntly, General Eaker and Air Chief Marshal Harris, this is an order, not a request.

"Beginning at 1410 hours on November 16, 1943, every bomber in the Eighth Air Force that can fly will begin attacking specific points in the city of Giessen. The American attack will be followed by every assault aircraft in the RAF. They will carpet bomb the same town."

"That will put British bombers over the Reich during daylight!" Harris was livid.

"Our pilots aren't trained for night operations either, and they'll be coming back after dark!" Eaker protested. Arnold ignored the objections of both men, and continued.

"The purpose of this attack is to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Herman Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Göbbels and every Gauleiter in Germany!"

"At what cost, sir? Are you willing to destroy two air forces in the process?" Eaker had one card left up his sleeve, he could resign, but no, looking at Eisenhower and Churchill he knew that it would do no good. "At least let me lead the raid then, Hap."

"Yes, Ira, of course." It confirmed his belief, he was expendable. Then, however, there came help for the two air commanders from an unexpected corner.

"I feel that you may be making one hell of a huge miscalculation here," the high pitched voice commented.

"What is it, Patton?" The tank general was fresh from Sicily, but had as yet not been assigned a command in France.

"You're assuming that this will force Germany to surrender."

"Yes, I think that is clear, General." The prime minister looked at Eisenhower to reel in his best field commander, a general who remained absent from the Normandy campaign due to politics. Churchill wasn't that crazy about the whole plan as it was, and the last thing he wanted to be forced into was defending it. Deep down, he agreed with Patton.

"History shows that it will not work. It would do far more good to kill the general staff than wipe out Hitler. That won't end the war either, but it will at least shorten it. Hell, there is always another politician ready to step from the ranks when one loses his head, Machiavelli told us that. Good field commanders are much harder to find." The last was an attack on his friend, Eisenhower.

"Oh, one can always find another General, Georgie," Eisenhower flashed his smile.

"Perhaps that isn't the point here, Ike. I suppose the question is whether or not you are willing to settle for a negotiated peace with a post-Hitler Germany. If you're not willing, then you're going to waste six months rebuilding our air cover after you waste it on some damn Pyrrhic victory! I'll tell all of you this, your friend Tangent may not like Hitler and his gang of thugs, but he isn't about to waste away everything the Nazis have gained for the Reich, at least not yet. Remember this, gentlemen, the Germans don't know they're losing this war, and after reading the latest reports from the air campaign I'm not so sure we know that either."

"Shut up, George. And I don't even want to know how you found out about Tangent, but if I ever hear you mention that name again without it being in a trigonometry problem I'll have you named commander of latrines in Alaska. Is that understood, General Patton?"

"Yes, sir." George sat down with the knowledge that he would have a combat command again. Hodges would never get out of Normandy by himself, and the British were playing their cards close to the vest in France.

"Nothing more needs to be said about this, Ike." The general turned to the prime minister with a surprised look on his face. Churchill had no love for Patton, but for the man to defend Patton he had to first agree with him.

"What kind of support can you give my forces, General Arnold?" Eaker decided that if he was going to do this he might as well make his last mission one for the history books.

1530: Kiel

November 15, 1943

Leutnant Otto Hauken awoke with a start. There was something wrong, but he couldn't place it. His gunner, Reinhardt, was still asleep in the other bunk and through the window he could see the sun setting in the west. Like all night fighters, the pilots and crew of NJG-1 had grown accustomed to sleeping by day and flying by night. During the past few days, however, there had been no raids to disturb his slumber, nor had he been forced to fly a mission for three nights now. Suddenly it occurred to Otto exactly what it was that wasn't right. For the first time in as long as he could remember, Otto Hauken wasn't tired.

"Wake up, Reinhardt." Hauken threw a clean towel over to his crew, hitting the sergeant on the head.

"What do you want, Hauken?" Like most crews, when no one was around they were quite informal.

"Take a shower, you stink."

"Yes, sir." Reinhardt got out of bed and took his kit into the shower while Otto walked over to the communications shack to place a call.

"Gunther, are you still alive?"

"Otto, you night owl, how are you?" The two pilots had known one another since before their Luftwaffe days and tried to keep in touch when their schedules allowed.

"Fine. Believe it or not, I'm well rested. I suppose I have to thank you and the single engine boys for that."

"I think it must be a mutual aide society, Otto. It's nice to get a full night's sleep, and for the past two days the Americans haven't even been coming. Outside of a half hour training flight this morning I haven't even been in an Fw-190 since Saturday."

"Nice, isn't it?"

"Yes, but you might have a bit of a surprise when you get your briefing tonight."

"How's that?"

"Tomorrow the night owl is going to be taking to the air before the moon rises."

"You're nuts, Gunther. It will be at least a week before Bomber Command raids again, and they sure the hell aren't coming by day."

"I'll do my best to keep the Thunderbolts off your tail, Otto, I have to go now."

"Good luck, Gunther." Otto put up the receiver and wondered what his friend had meant.