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datatime: 2022-12-01 00:48:15 Author:shkXkqjI

"Gentlemen, this is Squadron Leader Torrance. Squadron Leader Torrance," he added unnecessarily, "is an Australian." Mallory had the impression that the commodore rather hoped this would explain some things, Squadron Leader Torrance among them. "He led tonight's attack on Navarone. Bill, these gentlemen here-Captain Jensen of the Royal Navy, Captain Mallory of the Long Range Desert Group-have a very special interest in Navarone. How did things go to-night?"

For a long time Jensen stared at the holes and scars of the damaged machine, then shook his head and looked away.

Navarone! So that's why I'm here to-night, Mallory thought. Navarone. He knew it well, rather, knew of it. So did everyone who had served any time at all in the Eastern Mediterranean: a grim, impregnable iron fortress off the coast of Turkey, heavily defended by-it was thought-a mixed garrison of Germans and Italians, one of the few Aegean islands on which the Allies had been unable to establish a mission, far less recapture, at some period of the war. He realised that Torrance was speaking, the slow drawl heavy with controlied anger.

"It is impossible, you say?" Jensen persisted. "This is terribly important."

"Thanks." Jensen looked across at the burly Australian and smiled faintly.

The commodore nodded again, and Jensen touched his sleeve.

"Of course you didn't!" Jensen cut in briskly. "You weren't supposed to. Just wanted to find out if you were the man for the job. I'm sure you are-I was pretty sure you were before I pulled you out of Crete. But where you got the idea about leave I don't know. The sanity of the S.O.E. has often been questioned, but even we aren't given to sending a flying-boat for the sole purpose of enabling junior officers to spend a month wasting their substance among the flesh-pots of Cairo," be finished dryly.

"It is impossible, you say?" Jensen persisted. "This is terribly important."

Both men screwed up their eyes in automatic reflex as the fierce glare of the landing lights struck at them, the flare path arrowing off into the outer darkness. In less than a minute the first bomber was down, heavily, awkwardly, taxi-ing to a standstill just beside them. The grey camouflage paint of the after fuselage and tailplanes was riddled with bullet and cannon shells, an aileron was shredded and the port outer engine out of commission, saturated in oil. The cabin perspex was shattered and starred in a dozen places.

"Yeah. Clear weather. It was ten-tenths over the target," Torrance said bitterly. "We had to go down to fifteen hundred. Not that it made any difference. We would have to have gone down lower than that anyway-about three thousand feet below sea-level, then fly up the way: that cliff overhang shuts the target clean off. Might as well have dropped a shower of leaflets asking them to spike their own bloody guns. Then they've got every second A.A. gun in the south of Europe concentrated along this narrow 50-degree vector-the only way you can approach the target, or anywhere near the target. Russ and Conroy were belted good and proper on the way in. Didn't even get half-way towards the harbour.... They never had a chance."

"I still don't know-"

"Four hours' sleep, Captain Mallory," he said quietly. "Four hours. I'm beginning to think that you can count yourself damn' lucky to have had even that much."

"Just one little question, Squadron Leader. You don't fancy going back there again?"

"Gentlemen, this is Squadron Leader Torrance. Squadron Leader Torrance," he added unnecessarily, "is an Australian." Mallory had the impression that the commodore rather hoped this would explain some things, Squadron Leader Torrance among them. "He led tonight's attack on Navarone. Bill, these gentlemen here-Captain Jensen of the Royal Navy, Captain Mallory of the Long Range Desert Group-have a very special interest in Navarone. How did things go to-night?"

"They gave you clear weather?"

The interrogation room, harshly lit by two powerful, unshaded lights, was uncomfortable and airless. The furniture consisted of some battered wall-maps and charts, a score or so of equally scuffed chairs and an unvarnished deal table. The commodore, flanked by Jensen and Mallory, was sitting behind this when the door opened abruptly and the first of the flying crews entered, blinking rapidly in the fierceness of the unaccustomed light They were led by a dark-haired, thick-set pilot, trailing helmet and flying-suit in his left hand. He had an Anzac bush helmet crushed on the back of his head, and the word "Australia" emblazoned in white across each khaki shoulder. Scowling, wordlessly and without permission, he sat down in front of them, produced a pack of cigaottes and rasped a match across the surface of the table. Mallory looked furtively at the commodore. The commodore just looked resigned. He even sounded resigned.

"Of course you didn't!" Jensen cut in briskly. "You weren't supposed to. Just wanted to find out if you were the man for the job. I'm sure you are-I was pretty sure you were before I pulled you out of Crete. But where you got the idea about leave I don't know. The sanity of the S.O.E. has often been questioned, but even we aren't given to sending a flying-boat for the sole purpose of enabling junior officers to spend a month wasting their substance among the flesh-pots of Cairo," be finished dryly.

"Just one little question, Squadron Leader. You don't fancy going back there again?"

"Yeah. But he'll be all right. The old crate was still awash when we passed over, the big dinghy was out and it was as smooth as a millpond. He'll be all right," Torrance repeated.

"They gave you clear weather?"

"Patience, laddie, patience-as our worthy commodore has just advocated. Time is endless. To wait, and to keep on waiting-that is to be of the East."

"It is impossible, you say?" Jensen persisted. "This is terribly important."

"Patience, laddie, patience-as our worthy commodore has just advocated. Time is endless. To wait, and to keep on waiting-that is to be of the East."

"Yeah. Clear weather. It was ten-tenths over the target," Torrance said bitterly. "We had to go down to fifteen hundred. Not that it made any difference. We would have to have gone down lower than that anyway-about three thousand feet below sea-level, then fly up the way: that cliff overhang shuts the target clean off. Might as well have dropped a shower of leaflets asking them to spike their own bloody guns. Then they've got every second A.A. gun in the south of Europe concentrated along this narrow 50-degree vector-the only way you can approach the target, or anywhere near the target. Russ and Conroy were belted good and proper on the way in. Didn't even get half-way towards the harbour.... They never had a chance."

"Bloody awful, sir. A fair cow, it was, a real suicide do." He broke off abruptly, stared moodily with compressed lips through his own drifting tobacco smoke. "But we'd like to go back again," he went on. "Me and the boys here. Just once. We were talking about it on the way home." Mallory caught the deep murmur of voices in the background, a growl of agreement. 'We'd like to take with us the joker who thought this one up and shove him out at ten thousand over Navarone, without benefit of parachute."

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