The Falcon & the Viper

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Chapter 22

The ambulance sped away from the quayside in the Eastern dock, the shrill ring of its bell clearing the road ahead. Max Schiller lay on the stretcher in the back with one of the ambulance men attending him and Johnny Faulkner by his side. Pulling up with a squeal of brakes outside the doors of the emergency department of the Buckland Hospital, the rear doors were opened by two waiting porters who took both pilots inside.

‘Put them in cubicles six and seven.’ called out the ward sister, getting up to follow them as they went past the reception desk gathering an escort of nurses.′

‘Don’t worry about me.’ interrupted Johnny, ‘I’m Ok.’

Entering the first cubicle, two nurses and one of the porters lifted Max Schiller gently off the stretcher and on to a bed. A doctor hurried in as the nurses started to cut of Max’s flying clothes. He leaned over, prodding and probing with his fingers and used a stethoscope to exam the patient, as another, more senior doctor entered the room.

’What’s the prognosis, Dalton?

’He appears to have injuries consistent with a heavy fall, sir. Fractures of the arms, legs, and some of the ribs. I suspect serious internal injuries, as there is evidence of haemorrhaging, gesturing to a nurse who was wiping blood away from the patient’s mouth.

Eyeing the patient’s torn Luftwaffe uniform lying by his side the doctor turned to the young man in RAF blue waiting just inside the door.

‘What do you know about this, young man?’

‘He’s a friend of mine, sir. He bailed out over the Channel, but I understand he was very low and his parachute only partly opened.’ stated Johnny.

‘You have some strange friends, considering we’re at war with Germany.’

‘I knew him before the war started.’

‘Well, the hard impact with the sea would explain his injuries. I’m afraid it’s not looking good.’ said the doctor as the younger doctor checked the German’s pulse.′

At that moment, Johnny’s sister, Catherine, who now a trainee nurse working at the Buckland Hospital, walking along the corridor outside towards the room. She was listening to a fellow nurse complaining loudly about how horrible her day had been. The ward sister poked her head out into the corridor and in a stern, hushed voice hissed,

‘Be quiet nurse, there’s a young man dying in here.’

‘I’m sorry, Sister.’ replied the nurse.

Glancing into the cubicle, Catherine stopped in her tracks on seeing her brother standing inside.

‘Johnny! What are you doing here?’ cried Catherine ‘Are you all right?’

‘Ssssh, nurse,’ reprimanded the ward sister.

Catherine looked at the patient lying on the bed inside.

‘Max!’ she screamed as she saw her former lover and ran into the room.

‘Oh Max!’ she cried again in front of the speechless doctors and nursing staff, and cradled his hand,

‘What has happened to you?’

The bewildered look of surprise on the faces of everyone in the room prompted Johnny to explain

‘He was my sister’s former boyfriend as well and you may not believe it, but I was the one who brought him down!’

The battle raged on in the skies over southeast England with the Luftwaffe continuing to attack RAF airfields, but on 23 August during a night raid, a bomber crew accidentally dropped bombs on civilian areas in London because of a navigational error. The British government responded by launching a bomber attack on Berlin, which angered Hitler, who in retaliation ordered Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe to begin nightly bombing attacks on London. This new bombing campaign, later to become known as the Blitz, would prove to be a crucial mistake by the Germans. Fighter Command’s airfields in southern England, which were being bombed out of existence by the Luftwaffe, now enjoyed a respite because of the tactical mistake of turning the bomber fleets towards London, relieving the pressure on the RAF to defend its airfields. The mistake was of such importance that later it was argued to have been the turning point of the battle. The refocused attacks on London gave the weary RAF respite to recover and repair planes, and it became easier for the RAF pilots to defend London, as the Luftwaffe had to attack further inland and German fighters had less fuel and consequently less time to protect their bombers.

On Sunday, the 15 September 1940 the Luftwaffe launched one of its heaviest and most concentrated attacks on London with over fifteen hundred aircraft. Raids continued throughout the day, which the RAF met, in the process inflicting heavy losses on the German bomber fleets.

Although the main target was London, a geschwader of Messerschmitts defied orders and swooped down to attack RAF Hawkinge, hoping to catch one of the RAF squadrons on the ground. Their timing was perfect as they caught 79 Squadron re-fuelling and re-arming at the satellite station close to the coast. Losses were heavy but some of the pilots scrambled their Hurricanes to engage the enemy.

One pilot ignored the attacking Messerschmitts, unwavering in his determination to get the Hurricane he was flying with its secrets across the Channel to France. He was aware that the chain of sentinels guarding Britain’s coastline, which gave the battered RAF squadrons time to gain height to meet the bomber fleets, had only been lightly attacked by his fellow Germans, who had not realised their significance. If he could get the locations, especially the headquarters of the Chain radar system into their hands, there could still be time to win the Battle.

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