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Authors: Margaret Mayhew

The Pathfinder

BOOK: The Pathfinder
Table of Contents
About the Author
Margaret Mayhew was born in London and her earliest childhood memories were of the London Blitz. She began writing in her mid-thirties and had her first novel published in 1976. She is married to American aviation author Philip Kaplan, and lives in Gloucestershire. Her other novels,
Bluebirds, The Crew, The Little Ship, Our Yanks, Those in Peril
I'll Be Seeing You
, are also published by Corgi.
Also by Margaret Mayhew
and published by Corgi Books
Margaret Mayhew
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form (including any digital form) other than this in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Epub ISBN: 9781409057819
Version 1.0
A CORGI BOOK : 0 552 15241 2
First publication in Great Britain
Corgi edition published 2002
3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4
Copyright © Margaret Mayhew 2002
The right of Margaret Mayhew to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
For Moira and Colin
I should especially like to thank Sir John Curtiss, who flew in the Berlin Airlift, for suggesting it as a subject for a novel and for his kind help. I am also grateful to Geoff Smith, Alan Melvin and Phyllis Parsons who all served at RAF Gatow during the Airlift, to Dr Helmut Trotnow and his staff of the Alliierten Museum in Berlin, and to Han Geurts and Hans-Gerd Troue for their translations. Ann and John Tusa's superb book
The Berlin Airlift
has been my bible. My thanks, as always, to Diane Pearson, my editor, and to my husband, Philip Kaplan.
At the end of the Second World War, the victorious Allies – America, Russia, Great Britain and France – divided up the defeated Germany between them into four separate zones, each occupied by one of the Allies. Berlin, the capital city, which lay a hundred miles inside the Russian zone, was similarly carved into four sectors. The subsequent disagreements between the western Allies and the Russians over the control and administration of the new, post-war Germany threatened a Soviet blockade of all land and waterway access to Berlin, leaving only three narrow air corridors for the western Allies to supply their sectors of the city.
The seeds of the Cold War had already been sown.
The target was Berlin. The Big City. Headquarters of the Third Reich. Hitler's lair. The black heart of the enemy. If it hadn't been such a bastard of an op, it would have been a positive pleasure. So far they'd clobbered Essen, Düsseldorf, Bremen, Mannheim, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, Bochum, Hanover, Kiel and done a couple of fairly boring trips to Italy. They were all the same to him. You flew there, you dropped your bombs, you got the hell out as fast as you could and flew back again. But Berlin had a particularly nasty reputation. First, it was a bloody long way away and, second, it was much better defended than most. New radar devices, decoy targets, fighter flares and a whole lot more flak guns. The chop rate was pretty high. As Harrison and his crew rode out in the truck he knew they were all jumpy, though naturally they didn't show it. Nobody ever showed fear. Not done. Personally, he'd stopped worrying about dying round about their fifth op. Given the known odds, it seemed more or less inevitable that he'd buy it, sooner or later.
They clambered up into the bomber and he settled himself in the pilot's seat, went through some checks and started up the four engines, one after the other. The Lancaster rolled out onto the perimeter track and joined the queue of other bombers heading for the marshalling point. Waiting to turn onto the runway, he went through a whole lot more checks before it was their turn to take off. In the beginning this had been the moment when he'd always wondered whether they'd make it back to earth alive; now he didn't give it a thought. All that was in his mind was the job in hand. The laden bomber started down the runway and he increased power until she lifted from the ground and rose majestically into the night.
They crossed the enemy coast north of Bremerhaven and then turned east over the Elbe, droning on across a blacked-out Germany towards Berlin. As they approached the target, searchlight beams groped for them and flak exploded round them, tossing the aircraft violently like a ship on a stormy sea. He held her as steady as he could for his bomb aimer until their load of high explosives tumbled out and fell towards the target. As he turned the Lancaster away hard to port he glanced down for a second at the city below: at a great mass of leaping flames that lit up the buildings and the streets and the river; at a raging inferno. Serve the bastards right, he thought. They asked for it and, by God, they've got it. They sowed the wind and now they're reaping the whirlwind.
She crouched in a corner of the cellar with her hands pressed over her ears. In the opposite corner, her mother was clasping her small brother close against her, shielding him with her body, and, near them, her grandmother and grandfather were clutched tightly in each other's arms. Her other brother was standing defiantly upright shaking his fist at the ceiling and shouting. She couldn't hear what he was saying but she knew he was cursing the British Royal Air Force, using up all the bad words he knew. She cursed them, too, for the hideous suffering they were inflicting night after night, and for the merciless destruction of the city; for the deaths of thousands of defenceless old people, women and children, and for the hundreds more who would be dead by dawn. On and on it went. The whistling shriek of bombs raining down, the ear-splitting explosions, the seismic shaking of the ground beneath her. The paraffin lamp on its hook was swinging violently to and fro. Another terrific explosion close by brought down a cloud of debris and dust and at another, closer still, the lamp went out, leaving them in total darkness. She began to pray, babbling the words to herself,
Oh God, in Thy infinite mercy, spare us. Mary, Mother of God save us
 . . .
The next explosion was so great that, at first, she thought a bomb had come right through into the cellar. She lay stunned, the breath knocked from her body, unable to move. She could hear her grandmother screaming hysterically and her mother's voice trying to calm her. Then she could hear the roar and crackle of flames overhead and feel heat fierce as from a blast furnace penetrating into the cellar, sucking at her lungs, choking her. Her mother was shouting now, telling them to get out.
Hurry, hurry, hurry.
She struggled to her feet. Her little brother was thrust into her arms.
Take Rudi, Lili. Look after him, whatever happens.
She stumbled up the cellar steps after her other brother and into the courtyard. The apartment building was a mass of flames and they ran out into the Albrecht Strasse, into a tunnel of fire. The flames were leaping across the street from one building to another and a great wind was blowing a blizzard of charred paper. She saw a woman framed inside a window on an upper floor, her hair and clothes alight; saw her jump and crash onto the pavement and burn. People were running down the street with bundles of belongings, fleeing from hell. She ran, too, with her brothers. Ran and ran down to the banks of the Spree.
The convoy of British army lorries left Hanover shortly after first light on a morning in early April. Harrison travelled in the leading vehicle, up in the cabin, and the driver, a tough-looking corporal, was somewhat surprised to find himself sitting beside an RAF squadron leader. ‘Thought you'd've gone in by air, the comfy way, sir.'
He would have thought so, too, but he had no intention of discussing it with the corporal or of satisfying his curiosity. Instead he lit a cigarette and smoked in silence, staring out of the window. He was glad to have left the city behind. Seeing the massive destruction in central Hanover, close up and at ground level, had been a more sobering experience than he had expected. By the end of his second wartime tour with the squadron he had notched up a good number of ops there and revisited it later as a Pathfinder, marking the targets for the bombers coming after. He'd come to know Germany rather well by night from the air and had flown over it low in broad daylight in the first months after the war was over, taking ground crews on a kind of Thomas Cook's sightseeing tour. The army corporal was, apparently, reading his thoughts.
‘First time you've 'ad a close-up at what the RAF did to the Jerries, I expect, sir? Clobbered them good and proper, didn't you? You and the Yanks. With Bomber Command yourself, were you, sir?'
A quick sideways glance at his wings. ‘What did you fly, sir?'
‘Lancasters mainly.'
The corporal nodded. ‘One of the best, sir, an' no mistake about it. You can keep your 'alifaxes and your 'udsons an' all the rest of 'em, an' those Yankee Flying Fortresses an' Liberators. The Lanc 'ad 'em all beat – that's the way I see it.'
He was inclined to agree. He'd loved flying the Mosquito for its sheer daredevil speed but the Lane would always have a special place in his heart. Strong, sturdy, reliable. Mile after mile, hour after hour, op after op, ploughing steadily through night skies, through swarms of fighters and barrages of flak and coming back home battered but unbowed. With his crew, at least. Their luck had held out.
‘I was in the Desert myself, sir. With Monty,' the corporal went on. ‘We 'ad respect for Rommel and 'is lot. They fought decent. Don't know as I feel the same about any of the rest of the Jerries – not after 'earin' an' seein' what they done in them camps, an' all that. The SS an' them Gestapo blokes. Wicked, I call it. A crime against 'umanity. I reckon they deserved everythin' they got from us, an' more.'
Again, he agreed but he didn't say so. The man wanted to talk and, if given any encouragement, would probably chatter all the way to Berlin.
‘First visit to Berlin, sir? On the ground, that is.'
‘Yes, as a matter of fact.'
‘Wait till you see it, sir. Blimey, they really copped it. Bad enough what we an' the Yanks done, but the Ruskies went an' finished off the job somethin' shockin'. You wouldn't 'ave wanted to be a Berliner when they came marchin' in, specially not a fräulein. Not from what I've been told. Never ever felt sorry for a Jerry till I saw Berlin. Stayin' there long, are you sir?'
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