Authors: Dennis Wheatley
Tags: #Fiction, #Occult & Supernatural, #War & Military
In a beauty contest the judges might well have hesitated between the dark-haired, magnolia-skinned loveliness of the Hungarian Baroness and the golden, blue-eyed, Nordic perfection of Erika von Osterberg. But for Gregory there had never been any question of choice. Between him and Sabine it had been no more than physical attraction and enormous fun; although fun that he had had to pay for dearly when he had got his entrancing Hungarian mistress back to London. Erika whom, for a score of qualities that Sabine lacked, he truly loved, had learned of his brief infidelity and he had come within an ace of losing her for good.
Sabine, too, had caused him one of the worst headaches he had ever had in his life. He had brought her to England in the innocent belief that he was saving her from the vengeance of the Gestapo. Where he had slipped up was in never having visualised the possibility that Sabine, convinced that Germany would win the war, had agreed to Ribbentrop's suggestion that, to rehabilitate herself with the Nazis, she should make use of Gregory to get into England as a spy for them.
Clever girl though she was, she had been caught. By most subtle intrigue, great daring and the reluctant help of his powerful friend and patron Sir Pellinore Gwaine-Cust, Gregory had enabled her to return to Germany, but had sent her back with false information about the objective of the âTorch' convoys, which were then already on their way to North Africa.
When Gregory's age group was called up, Sir Pellinore had secured for him a post in the Map Room of the Offices of the War Cabinet and towards the end of November he had resumed his duties as a Wing Commander there. As he was not actually
a member of the Joint Planning Staff, he was never officially aware of the forward plans under consideration. But owing to his constant contact in the famous fortress basement below Whitehall with those responsible for the High Direction of the war, there was little that he did not know about what was going on and differences of opinion between the Allies on the way in which their forces should be used.
It was one such difference that had deprived them, after the splendid initial success of âTorch', of the magnificent achievement envisaged by Churchill. The original British plan had been for a third Allied landing at Philippeville in Tunisia, two hundred and fifty miles further east along the coast than Algiers. But the Americans had flatly refused to agree and insisted instead that the third landing should be made at Casablanca, a thousand miles away from the enemy on the Atlantic coast. Their excessive caution had cost the Allies dear. A force based on Philippeville could have seized Tunisia before the Germans had had time to reinforce it. Within a month Montgomery's Eighth Army, advancing from the east, could have joined up with âTorch' and the whole North African coast from Morocco to Egypt would have been in Allied hands.
Instead, owing to transport difficulties the advance of the Allied Army from Algiers had been held up and, with their usual swift ability to take counter-measures at a time of crisis, the Germans had poured troops into Tunisia. Through the winter months, with growing depression, Gregory and his colleagues in the Map Room had seen the âTorch' forces robbed of their great prize and become bogged down.
As Gregory's mind roved over the events earlier in the year on the other battle fronts, he felt there could now be no doubt that the tide had really turned in favour of the Allies.
During the second winter of the vast campaign in the East the Russians had taken their first revenge for the destruction of their cities and the brutal slaughter of their civilian population ordered by the Nazis. After their failure to take Stalingrad the German Sixth Army had been surrounded and virtually annihilated, only Field Marshal Paulus and ninety thousand men out of his twenty-one divisions surviving to become prisoners.
From the date that General Sir Harold Alexander had taken over as Commander-in-Chief Middle East, British fortunes had also prospered there. His offensive to pin Rommel's Army down while the âTorch' landings were made had resulted in the great victory of El Alamein, and General Montgomery had lost no time in following up this success. In eighty days the Eighth Army had driven the enemy back over a thousand miles and on February 2nd General Alexander had sent his famous telegram to Mr. Churchill, the words of which Gregory remembered well:
Sir. The orders you gave me on August 15th 1942 have been fulfilled. His Majesty's enemies together with their impedimenta have been completely eliminated from Egypt, Cyrenaica, Libya and Tripolitania. I now await your further instructions
Rommel, although boxed up in Tunisia, had by then the advantage of mountainous country defending both his flanks and a constant stream of reinforcements being poured in across the narrows from Sicily; and he still had plenty of kick left in him. But by March 28th Montgomery's Eighth Army had forced the Mareth Line, on April 7th his forward patrols met those of the U.S. Second Corps pressing south-east, on May 7th the Allies entered both Bizerta and Tunis, on the 13th Alexander could telegraph the Prime Minister:
The Tunisian campaign is over. All enemy resistance has ceased. We are masters of the North African shore
Had the Americans let Churchill have his way this triumph might have been achieved five months earlier, but when the final victory was gained its results were spectacular. A score of enemy Generals, a thousand guns, two hundred and fifty tanks and many thousands of motor vehicles fell into the Allies' hands; and nearly twice the number of the enemy captured by the Russians at Stalingrad were made prisoners.
To this splendid victory the Navy and the R.A.F. had both made great contributions. In fact, without their tireless seeking out and destruction of transports bringing succour to Rommel and key points in his defences its achievement would have proved impossible.
In other theatres, too, the Navy and R.A.F. had been getting on top of the enemy. The ability of Britain to continue to wage the war successfully depended entirely upon keeping open her sea communications and during 1942 the threat to them had increased to a truly alarming degree. By March 1943 Admiral Doenitz had no fewer than two hundred and twelve U-boats at his disposal and so great a number enabled them to hunt in packs, with disastrous results to our convoys. In that month sinkings rose to an all-time high and the Allies lost seven hundred thousand tons of shipping.
But in February Air Marshal Jack Slessor had been appointed to Coastal Command. By new tactics and devices he had forced the U-boats to come to the surface and fight it out shell for shell with his aircraft. The major encounters had taken place during that spring in the Bay of Biscay, so it had become known as the âBattle of the Bay'. In April shipping losses had been reduced by nearly sixty per cent against those of the previous month and by mid-May Slessor had broken the back of the U-boat menace once and for all. The public little realised the immense significance of this victory, but in reducing Germany's prospects of winning the war it was second only in importance to the Battle of Britain.
Over Europe, too, fleets of British bombers by night and American bombers by day were now incessantly breaking through the enemy's defences to pound his cities into ruins. On the 17th of May, only a few days before Gregory had left the Cabinet Offices to go on leave prior to setting off on his present mission, he had seen the report of one of the most devastating raids ever inflicted on the enemy. Wing Commander Guy Gibson had led in sixteen Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron. They had been loaded with a new type of bomb and the Squadron had launched these powerful missiles on the waters of the two huge reservoirs controlled by the MÃ¶hne and Eder Dams that fed the heart of the industrial Ruhr. Early reconnaissance next morning had shown that the breaching of both dams had caused millions of tons of water to flood an area miles in extent, scores of armament plants had been rendered useless for months to come and thousands of munition workers' houses made untenable.
To this far brighter picture of the war in Europe it could be added that Japanese aggression had also now been brought under control. Between their treacherous massacre of the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and the summer of 1942 they had conquered Malaya, Hong Kong, Sumatra, Java, Burma, Borneo, the Philippines and scores of other islands, while their warships sailed unchallenged from Kamchatka down to the northern waters of Australia and from the Indian Ocean eastward two thousand miles out into the Pacific.
The Americans, by extraordinary feats of improvisation and daring, had first held the Japanese in the Pacific, then built up forces large enough to go over to the offensive.
The great clash had begun in August 1942 with battles in the Coral Sea, in the neighbourhood of the Solomon Islands and desperate fighting in the jungles of Guadalcanal. With magnificent courage and tenacity the famous United States Marine Corps had held on to these, against great odds, while the Australians in the jungles of New Guinea had rivalled their Allies' bravery. In the naval battles between August and January over forty warships had been sunk and hundreds of aircraft shot down, but by the spring of 1943 the Japanese had been driven out of New Guinea, Guadalcanal was firmly in American hands and now, in May, the enemy was everywhere on the defensive.
To outward seeming, therefore, it appeared to be only a question of time before both Germany and Japan were finally defeated. But those who were responsible for the High Direction of the war were far from being as sanguine as the public about the outcome. They had learned that a new development in warfare was maturing which might not only cancel out the superiority in men and material they now enjoyed, but reduce Britain's cities to ruins, render her ports unusable and make it impossible ever to invade and conquer Hitler's âFortress Europa'.
As early as the autumn of 1939 British Intelligence had reported rumours that German scientists were experimenting with some form of long-range weapon. From then on, at lengthy intervals, corroborative reports had come in; but it was
believed that this new, secret weapon was still in its infancy and not likely to emerge from its experimental stage for several years, by which time it was anticipated that the war would have been won. Until December 1941 it had not even been known if the German scientists were working on a revolutionary type of cannon, a rocket or a pilotless aircraft; but chance had led to Gregory finding out at least that much.
In June 1941 Herr GruppenfÃ¼hrer Grauber, the Chief of the Gestapo Foreign Department UA-1, had become so infuriated by Gregory's series of successes as a secret agent that he had decided to lure him into a trap and put him out of the way for good. For this purpose he had used Erika's husband, who was a distinguished scientist. A letter from Count von Osterberg had reached Erika, informing her that, revolted by the inhuman method of warfare that would result from a project on which the Nazis had forced him to work, he had fled from Germany and was living in hiding in a villa on the Swiss shore of Lake Constance. The letter went on to say that since they meant nothing to one another Erika would probably welcome a divorce, and that if she came to live in Switzerland for three months they could secure one.
As Erika's dearest wish was to marry Gregory, she had asked Sir Pellinore to help her to get to Switzerland. He had agreed, at the same time urging on her the importance of endeavouring to find out about the project upon which her husband had been working. On reaching Switzerland she had been led to believe that it was a new and terrible form of poison gas, the formula for which von Osterberg had left in his castle on the other side of the lake. She had accompanied him back into Germany to get it, so had fallen into Grauber's trap; providing, as he had planned, the perfect bait to ensnare Gregory.
Meanwhile, Gregory had been on a mission in Russia. On learning what had happened he had immediately gone to Switzerland, taking with him his friend Stefan Kuporovitch, the ex-Bolshevik General who had aided him on an earlier mission and then married a French wife and settled in London. At the lake-side villa they had killed the Gestapo thug who was acting as von Osterberg's jailer, and Kuporovitch had taken his
place while Gregory went into Germany. There he had succeeded in blackmailing Grauber into giving up Erika. On their return, for a brief while, they believed that Grauber had shot the spineless Count, only to realise, when they recovered from their exhaustion, that the shot had come from a Swiss patrol boat. So Erika's husband was still alive.
While he had had the Count on his own Kuporovitch had forced him to talk. The secret weapon upon which he had been working was not a new poison gas, but a giant rocket weighing seventy tons. It was being constructed at PeenemÃ¼nde, on the Baltic, and had a range of over two hundred miles; so from the French coast it could be used to bombard London.
That had been in December 1941. In the fifteen months that followed further somewhat vague and conflicting reports had come in about the Germans' activities at PeenemÃ¼nde; but it was not until the previous April that serious notice had been taken of them. On the 15th of that month General Ismay had sent a Minute to the Prime Minister stating that, in the opinion of the Chiefs of Staff, German experiments with long-range rockets had now reached a stage when definite facts about them must be obtained, and recommending that a secret committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Duncan Sandys should be set up to carry out a full investigation.
Air reconnaissance over PeenemÃ¼nde had disclosed that the buildings of the experimental station covered such a large area that several thousand people must now be employed there, and the aerial photographs had shown missiles of several different kinds assembled near the launching sites.
Suddenly, the need for full and reliable information became regarded as a matter of urgency. Sir Pellinore, who had a finger in every pie, was consulted. Although Gregory had never been an official member of the British Secret Service, most of the top people knew of the missions he had carried out for Sir Pellinore and the elderly Baronet had to admit that few men could be better qualified to find out the facts.