Early morning, July 14, 1920
The Isle of Jersey
Just after 3:30 in the morning, the waters off Jersey’s northern coast were quiet and deserted beneath a moonless sky. About 750 metres from the rocky shore of Bouley Bay, a small ripple appeared on the surface of the English Channel as a slender steel pole extended skyward from the murky waters. The periscope scanned the coastline for perhaps thirty seconds, no more than a minute, before quickly submerging. Fifteen minutes later the process was repeated. Twice more the periscope focused its attention on the island until, around 4:15AM, it picked out two lights on shore that flashed, ever so briefly. The first light was white, the second green.
Within moments, the water around the periscope began to bubble as a submarine surfaced. Had anyone been close enough to see, they would have picked out the unmistakable shape of a Type V Kaiser-class boat, the most advanced German U-boat produced. They would have also seen its crew scrambling out of the conning tower hatches and onto the glistening deck, while two officers trained their binoculars on the Jersey shoreline. As the crewmen unlashed a small dinghy stored on the after deck, three figures descended from the conning tower and stood near the dinghy.
Once the dinghy was in the water, the three figures, all clad in dark clothing, were helped into the small boat and began to paddle towards Bouley Bay. Moments later, the U-boat crew was back inside, the hatches were sealed and the submarine dove as quickly as it had appeared. The entire operation had taken barely five minutes and by the time the dinghy made shore, the U-boat was long gone.
Later that same morning
Mont Orgueil Castle, Isle of Jersey
Prime Minister Winston Churchill was ushered into the meeting room soon after he finished his breakfast. As Admiral Sir Davis Humes greeted the man, he could tell that Churchill hadn’t slept much. There were dark circles under the Prime Minister’s eyes and he was clutching the pirate dossier, which looked as though he’d read and re-read it several times.
“Good morning, Admiral,” Churchill said while yawning. “I hope you had a good sleep last night because I most certainly did not. I find this whole Grey Fox thing most disturbing…most disturbing.” The Prime Minister settled himself into a lounge chair and stared at the dossier. “I see from the file that you have been trying to infiltrate the pirates for some time, but with little success.”
“Correct, sir,” Humes replied while sitting himself opposite the Prime Minister. “As I’m sure you read, we have dispatched five agents to the Caribbean in the last eight months, and not one of them was ever heard from again. We must assume the worst. But, on the plus side, we have managed to narrow the area where we believe the pirates are based to the Windward Islands, somewhere between Grenada and Dominica. It’s just that the blasted pirates have established an extensive warning system, with coast watchers on many islands who feed them information about our movements. We can’t seem to get anywhere close to them before they disappear or send their subs out to attack us. As the report says, we’ve already lost two of our destroyers; the Germans lost a cruiser, the French a light cruiser and the Italians two patrol boats. And an Austrian submarine was reported missing two weeks ago, which we hope was sunk, as macabre as that sounds.”
“Yes, well we wouldn’t want the pirates to get another sub, would we? Look, why don’t you just assemble all the vessels from the various navies in the Caribbean and simply go from island to island until you find this Grey Fox, and then blast him and his rogue navy to smithereens?”
“Well, as I said earlier, the pirates have established a very secure early warning system. They’d know we were coming before we were even close. The Caribbean’s not that large a body of water and there are islands everywhere with poor people who would gladly help the Grey Fox for a few shillings more. To make things worse, Naval Intelligence now believes that there may be members of our own staff working for the pirates. The same goes for the German High Command. And possibly every other navy in Europe and America. These scofflaws seem to have a lot of money at their disposal.”
“And, I take it this is because of the…” Churchill opened the dossier and rifled through the papers until he found what he was looking for. “Because of the loss of the RMS Bluefields?”
“Correct, Prime Minister. The Bluefields was carrying gold bullion from Uruguay to New York. It was to be stored in a vault at the Bank of Mercantile Commerce but never made it. The value was in excess of twenty million American dollars.”
“Which can buy a lot of friends,” Winston Churchill said with a sigh. “Right. What are our options now? What can we do to combat this menace? And who the blazes is this Grey Fox character?”
Admiral Humes rose from his chair and picked up a telephone on the meeting table. After speaking quietly into the phone, he turned to Churchill.
“Mr. Prime Minister, we have prepared a somewhat unorthodox plan, which I alluded to in the report you just read. It’s one which we now feel has the best chance of success. Perhaps our only chance of success. I, uh, know you’re not fond of surprises, and do apologize in advance if what you’re about to hear strikes you as unusual. But I only ask that you hear us out and keep an open mind.”
There was a knock on the door and Humes shouted “Enter!” Three British officers marched into the room; one was dressed in a naval uniform, the other in that of the army. Both came to attention and offered crisp salutes.
“Sir, may I introduce the key planners I’ve been working with: Commodore Richard Booth has been working with Naval Intelligence on this problem for well over a year. The Commodore was executive officer with HMS Canterbury during the Battle of Jutland; before that he was naval attaché in both Cape Town and The Bahamas, and has provided us with great insights into the Caribbean and Africa. Major Stuart Tanner was with the Durham Light Infantry and wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, which, ironically, saved him from the plague that later came. Tanner developed a somewhat ‘unique’ manner of infiltrating enemy trenches which may prove useful to us.”
Humes furrowed his brow for a moment before continuing. “There is supposed to be a third person here, but…” He glared at the two officers who were momentarily uncomfortable. But another knock on the door caught the admiral’s attention. Rising, he went over to stand beside it, talking in whispers to whomever was outside, before throwing the door open and letting the guests in.
“Prime Minister Winston Churchill, may I now introduce Admiral Reinhard Scheer, the commander-in-chief of the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet.”
Reinhard Scheer walked into the room and came to attention in front of Churchill, who was now on his feet. Scheer was a bit younger than Davis Humes and sported a trim moustache and goatee beneath piercing blue eyes. He was wearing the dress uniform of the German navy, complete with a ceremonial sword and an impressive array of medals, including the famed Blue Max, the Pour le Mérite cross with oak leaves that was Germany’s highest military award. Staring straight into Churchill’s eyes, Scheer clicked his heels together and came to attention.
“Herr Prime Minister. I am honoured to finally meet you,” the German admiral said in a heavy accent while extending his hand.
Winston Churchill stared at the man standing before him, once his sworn enemy, the man who had commanded German forces in the Battle of Jutland against the Royal Navy. With an icy voice he merely stood there with his hands behind his back.
“If you think I’m going to shake your hand, Admiral Scheer, you are sadly mistaken. We may no longer be at war, but I still hold you personally responsible for the loss of millions of lives – British and German!”
Scheer retracted his hand and glanced at Davis Humes. “Well, Herr Prime Minister, I am not surprised at your reaction. Though I must admit that I believe your Australian and New Zealand allies hold you personally responsible for many deaths in Gallipoli – their deaths. But, Herr Prime Minister, we are not here to argue about that war. We are here to discuss what to do about our current problems.”
In the uneasy silence that followed, Admiral Humes waved towards the open door and two more individuals entered the meeting room. The first was another German naval officer, much younger than Reinhard Scheer. The second was a young, teenaged woman dressed in slacks, which was most odd in 1920.
“Sir,” Humes announced, “May I also introduce Kapitan zur See Heinrich Mathy and Miss Rebecca van Driesum. And, if everyone wouldn’t mind, could you please take a seat at the table. We do not have much time.”
It was clear that Winston Churchill didn’t know what to make of the situation – the head of the German Navy, another former enemy officer and a woman barely out of her teens dressed in a pantsuit – but he harkened back to Humes’ advice and decided to see what was about to transpire with as open a mind as he could find.
The group seated themselves at the large table and waited for Humes to begin, but he merely kept glancing at the open door. Finally he picked up the telephone in front of him and was about to dial a number when there was a knock from the doorway.
“Enter!” Humes boomed, after which a young man in the uniform of the Royal Naval Air Corps marched into the room and came to attention. Surprisingly, he had the word “Canada” stitched on his shoulders.
“Lieutenant Alexander Webb reporting as ordered, sir,” the officer announced.
“About bloody time, Lieutenant. Now take a seat and let’s get started, shall we?”
Webb pulled up a vacant chair beside Captain Mathy and sat down before taking a good look around the table. Noting the uniforms on Scheer and Mathy, Webb suddenly blurted out, “Hey – you’re German! And so are you!” The Canadian was staring at Scheer, then at the young woman and then at Churchill. “You’re…wearing trousers. And you – I recognize you! You’re the new…guy, I mean, prime minister, aren’t you?”
The Germans stared stony-faced while Churchill nodded with a slight smile on his face.
“Thank-you, Lieutenant, for that wonderful assessment of the guests. My goodness, I thought Americans were outspoken, but sometimes you Canadians surprise me.”
Humes glared at Webb and then tapped his pen on the tabletop to get everyone’s attention. “Now that the we’re all here, if I may continue. Mr. Prime Minister, Captain Mathy was, as you may know, one of Germany’s top zeppelin commanders in our recent…conflict. Many consider him is the best airship pilot around. Miss van Driesum is the niece of Dutch airplane designer Anthony Fokker and an aeronautical engineer – don’t be fooled by her age. And our last arrival is Lt. Alexander Webb, a Canadian aviator assigned to the Royal Naval Air Service who is credited with shooting down twenty enemy aircraft in the war. My apologies for bringing that up, Admiral Scheer.”
“Er…I believe the total was twenty-one, sir,” Alexander Webb said. “And there should be no apologies Herr Admiral. Your boys were just doing the same thing as we were. They were brave men. Just not very good flyers.”
Reinhard Scheer was about to say something when Commodore Richard Booth reprimanded Webb. “Lieutenant, perhaps it would do to mind your manners and show a little respect?”
“Oh, relax commodore,” Winston Churchill said while chuckling. He smiled at the Canadian flyer and added, “My boy, you’ve got something in you. Something I like. Something we need in this godforsaken place.”
As the German admiral began to stew, Humes rolled his eyes and then tried to get things back on track. “Gentlemen, and lady, if we can. I’d like to get this briefing continued.” The British Admiral stood up and walked over to pull down a large map of the Caribbean and Atlantic. Picking up a pointer, he began.
“As you all know, we – that is, Britain and other European nations – have been facing an increased threat from a gang of pirates operating from somewhere within the eastern Caribbean, so we think. The shipping affected has included vessels from Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. There have also been sporadic attacks on American, Canadian and South African ships, plus a few uncorroborated incidents with vessels from Australia and India. According to data compiled by both British and German naval sources, if this pattern continues, Europe faces a potential famine this coming winter.”
Admiral Davis Humes put the pointer down and turned to his audience. “If we do not do something now, millions of innocent people will die. To prevent that, we have only one choice: we must destroy the Grey Fox and his…confederacy of pirates.”
Humes nodded in the direction on an aide who had entered the room, and a dossier was placed in front of each person sitting at the table. There was the ubiquitous “Top Secret” marking on the top of the files, which were rather hefty. Taking his seat once more. Admiral Davis Humes fingered the dossier in front of him. “Gentlemen, and lady, I would now like us to explain some of the details of Operation Antilles to the Prime Minister.”
“Excuse me, Admiral,” Churchill began, “Am I to infer that this is something you have cooked up with these Germans? You will forgive me for speaking so, but this idea of cooperating with our former enemies still strikes me as…well, odd.”
Before Humes could reply, Admiral Reinhard Scheer cleared his throat and looked directly at Winston Churchill. “Herr Prime Minister, you continue to cling to old emotions. There has been no fighting between our two countries in almost four years. What happened in 1914 was stupid, a waste of life that cannot be atoned for. I, myself, remember the meetings with the Kaiser, and the arguments both for and against war with your country. We are not all beasts. Some of us are looking to the future, a time when we can once more –“
Lieutenant Alexander Webb suddenly cut the German commander off, while also gazing at Winston Churchill.
“Look, Mr. Prime Minister, let’s cut to the chase. What the good admiral is trying to say, and I’m sorry sir for interrupting, but there are lots of us – lots – who realize the war was fought for the wrong reason. I mean, I’m a Canadian. Did I have to come over here and fight to protect France? Or Europe? No. But I did. Probably for a lot of the same reasons those German soldiers, sailors and aviators did: because it seemed exciting at the time. But we all learned the truth about war. And now we have something that really matters. Something that could affect civilians: women and children. Admiral Humes and Admiral Scheer are not trying to do anything I wouldn’t do if I were in their positions. Just hear us out.” Webb turned to the British admiral. “Sorry, sir, if that was out of line.”
Davis Humes had the faintest of smile on his face, but stifled it. “Yes, well, thank-you lieutenant. Now, if we may: the plan.”
Down in the communications centre, Leading Wireless Telegraphist Bernard Olney stifled a yawn as he sat at his desk. Since yesterday’s attack on the Magellan, orders had been received to monitor all frequencies for any sign of the ship. There were five other radiomen in the windowless room, each doing what Olney was: slowly scanning frequencies for anything that could help the search for the Magellan. Two other operators were assigned to the sending and receiving of official Admiralty messages, and most of that traffic seemed to be material for the Prime Minister and his official staff here on the island.
Taking a break, Olney wandered over to the small kitchenette just outside the communications centre and began fixing himself a cup of tea. While he waited for the kettle the boil, another of the radio officers entered, massaging his neck.
“Lot of traffic for the PM?” asked Olney.
“Yeah, mumbo jumbo about schedules and meetings and all sorts of boring stuff,” the other man answered. “The worst of it is the ones demanding an immediate response. I mean, these messages are piling up. Don’t they know he’s in an important meeting and orders are he’s not to be disturbed unless the King himself calls?”
Bernard Olney stared at the steam beginning to rise from the kettle and grabbed a teabag from a cupboard. “Probably talking about another outbreak of the plague somewhere or – worse – that they’re postponing our next vacation times.”
“Actually, the way I hear it, there’s a big meeting going on about the whole piracy thingy,” the other man said. Then, looking around to see they were alone, he leaned closer to Olney and lowered his voice. “Phipps, the guy from the motor pool who used to be a boxer, he said that scuttlebutt is that a group of people arrived here on a sub, some sort of secret team. Spies, if you ask me.”
As he poured the boiling water into his cup, Olney turned to the man. “Look, mate, if I were you I’d keep these sorts of things under your hat. Unless you want to end up in a detention cell being grilled by naval intelligence for days on end. You know what they think about idle chatter.” Then, taking his tea, Olney returned to the communications room. He could hear the Naval Reserve Lieutenant in the Duty Officer’s Office coughing away again. Olney shook his head; it had to be the plague, but he certainly hoped it was just a cold. The poor man was looking paler as the days went by and rarely came out of his cubicle anymore, so the wireless operator walked past the office and returned to his radio to resume listening to the frequencies.
The briefing for Winston Churchill went on for several hours in the boardroom, the Prime Minister listening intently and making notes on a pad in front of him. From time to time he would ask a question, but otherwise he sat in silence and let the various officers explain the strategies. The briefing began with an overview of the situation in the Caribbean two years ago, presented by Commodore Richard Booth. He pulled down a large map of the area and turned to face the people in the room.
“As some of you know, throughout the hot summer months of 1918, the various naval fleets stationed in the Caribbean began to experience problems with discipline among the seamen in the lower decks. In time, these isolated outbreaks began to become more and more serious. There were complaints about the food, lack of shore leave, problems with pay and the general boredom of being stuck far from home and worrying about loved ones and such. By October, several of these…mutineers began to communicate with seamen in other ships, in other navies’ ships. This culminated in the Great Mutiny of 1918 when several vessels were taken over by these criminals, who began to talk about ‘revolution’ and other nonsense. After this outbreak was quelled – with a great loss of life, I might add – it was clear to all the naval commanders in the region that something had to be done to stop any further insurrections.”
“And that was when the prison camp was established?” Churchill queried.
“Correct, sir. At a meeting of the joint staffs, it was decided to remove this cancer of revolution from the fleets and send the conspirators to a secure location.” Booth pointed to a small island just north of Haiti. “A camp was built here on the island of Tortuga and over 500 prisoners were incarcerated. In hindsight, we perhaps could have chosen a less apt location.”
Churchill stared at the naval officer with a frown. “How so, Commodore?”
“Well, Tortuga was once a pirate stronghold. It seems that a few hundred years ago, the Spanish expelled French settlers from Hispaniola, and these settlers ended up on Tortuga. Impoverished, they apparently survived by eating something called ‘boucain’, a smoked meat, I believe. At any rate, the French eventually turned to attacking passing ships. They called themselves ‘boucaniers’; that’s where the term buccaneer comes from.”
“How educational, Commodore,” the Prime Minister added dryly. “Now, if we could return to the present, please.”
“Uh, yes, sorry, sir,” Booth mumbled. “On New Year’s Eve, December 31, the prisoners somehow managed to overwhelm the guards and take control of the prison. There was a lot of fighting, and some hundred prisoners and forty-four guards were killed, as well as several senior camp officials and the commandant.”
Churchill rummaged through a file and slipped on his reading glasses to look at a photo of a naval officer. “Yes, this commandant…how could he let this happen? Was he incompetent or poorly trained?”
“Neither, Herr Prime Minister,” answered Admiral Reinhard Scheer. “Admiral Freidrich von Gemmingen was a most ruthless commander. He had been in charge of our naval forces in East Africa before and during the war. There were some who regarded him as a bit too harsh in the way he dealt with things there and there were even rumours that he had effectively set himself up as de facto ruler of the region, but nothing was ever substantiated. I will admit that I never personally liked the man or his love of war, but he was an effective officer. When he was transferred with his ships and personnel from Africa to our base in Havana, he continued to carry out his duties with great efficiency. In fact, it was von Gemmingen himself who volunteered to command the Tortuga prison camp, and until the great escape he did a good job of maintaining order.”
Churchill scanned the file on von Gemmingen. “Well, I guess only he knows the truth. It says here that the prisoners burned his body after murdering him?”
“That is correct,” Commodore Booth replied. “German intelligence was only able to identify the corpse as the Admiral’s by a medallion on the body and the lack of a left hand.”
“Left hand?” Churchill said.
“Yes, sir. Admiral von Gemmingen lost his left hand in an accident ten years ago and always wore a fake hand made of black rubber. It was…er…melted, I’m afraid.”
“Melted, eh?” offered Churchill. “Well, okay. So the commandant was murdered, the prisoners had taken charge of the camp and then captured several vessels and escaped. Is that about it, Commodore?”
“Yes, Mr. Prime Minister. They overwhelmed the crews. Some of the prisoners were dressed as officers from the camp. And then they made steam and headed east, where we tried to find them.”
“You’ll pardon me for saying this, but it seems as if these prisoners, these pirates, it seems as though they were quite organized. They seem to have had a plan that the unfortunate Admiral von Gemmingen never foresaw, something that gave them a final destination. Did anyone figure out how they managed this?”
There was an uncomfortable silence in the boardroom as the naval officers stared at the table until Admiral Davis Humes spoke up. “No sir. We have not yet figured out how the pirates affected their escape and disappearance. There has been precious little communication from them since then, no demands for money or amnesty or anything at all.”
“And the Grey Fox? I take it he was among the prisoners in the camp? Do we have any idea of his true identity?” asked Churchill.
“We have gone through the list of prisoners incarcerated and those who are suspected of surviving the escape,” Commodore Richard Booth, the British Naval Intelligence officer, answered, while taking a sheet from another dossier on the table. “We have narrowed it to six possibilities, officers who displayed the leadership qualities someone would require to organize this revolt.” Booth passed the list to the Prime Minister.
“Two German…an Italian…a Frenchman…and two English officers,” Churchill mumbled, more to himself than the others, as he read the profiles of the men who might be masquerading as the Grey Fox. “Right, so we have no idea who the Grey Fox actually is, how many men or vessels he has at his disposal, what he is trying to do or where he is based. Is that about it, gentlemen?”
There was another uncomfortable silence around the table that Churchill let linger before adding, “But you have nevertheless come up with a plan to stop these high seas brigands. Well, I am most interested in how this ‘Operation Antilles’ of yours intends to succeed with such sketchy intelligence. How on earth do you propose to find these pirates?”
Admiral Davis Humes stared into Winston Churchill’s eyes. “We have no intention of trying to find them, Mr. Prime Minister. We plan on having them find us.”
Winston Churchill’s eyebrows went up at that comment and a silence filled the room. Several of the group could be seen thinking over what Humes had just said and Lieutenant Alexander Webb already had his hand in the air to ask a question when the Admiral cut the meeting short.
“Prime Minister, if you will give me a moment, Admiral Scheer and I will finish this briefing for you privately. Because of…security concerns, I must ask the rest of you to retire next door, where we have prepared some refreshments and food. I do apologize for this as I know you’re all eager to hear the final details. But until we have approval to go ahead with this mission, we must maintain absolute secrecy. Miss van Driseum, gentlemen – if you will follow the Marine sentry, please.”
As soon as the group had filed out of the boardroom, Admiral Humes and his German counterpart closed the doors and began to layout a plan that was detailed, daring and very, very dangerous. It would entail sending an elite team across land and water to infiltrate and ultimately destroy the pirate base in the Caribbean. There were many risks to the proposal and few guarantees that it wouldn’t end in failure, but there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was the most likely plan to succeed against the Pirate Confederacy.
Lieutenant Alexander Webb was happily sampling from a large buffet of food that had been laid out for the members of Operations Antilles in the dining hall adjacent the boardroom. Twenty-four years old and born in the port city of Halifax, Webb had enlisted in the Canadian Navy within days of war being declared back in 1914. With his exceptional eyesight – his green eyes could pick out a target well before most others – Webb was transferred to the Royal Navy’s Air Service and began flying as an observer over the trenches of France before being promoted and given the chance to become a fighter pilot.
While the other members of the team were clustered in small groups, talking amongst themselves, Webb was focusing his attention on a bowl of cherry tomatoes. Obviously not one to pass up a free meal, the Canadian was balancing a plate full of food in one hand while trying pop the tomatoes into his mouth with the other. He’d take one, throw it in the air and then open his mouth to savor the fresh fruit, though a few missed their intended target and landed by his boots. A tap on his shoulder stopped him, and he turned to find Kapitan Heinrich Mathy standing beside Webb.
“Herr Leutnant, we have not officially been introduced. I am Kapitan zur See Heinrich Mathy,” the German said, somewhat formally, while extending his hand in friendship. The Canadian did a balancing act before shaking the German’s hand.
“Berry peased to beet you…um, sorry,” he said, before quickly swallowing the tomatoes. “Pleased to meet you, sir. I’ve heard a lot about you in my briefings. In fact, from looking at your war record, I think we may have met up once before.”
“Really?” said Mathy, curious.
“Yeah, it was in early 1916, over the Thames. I was flying an intercept patrol in a Morane monoplane when my wingman and I came upon a trio of German airships. I can still remember seeing one of them illuminated in the searchlights. It had L13 painted on its bow. Wasn’t that your ship?”
“Mmmm, yes, it was. Did you attack me?”
“Oh, I tried sir. But your gunners were pretty good. I made several attempts to get under you, even had the control gondola in my sights once. But my engine kept giving me trouble every time I tried to climb and I had to break off my attack and return to base. Good thing, too, because there were bullet holes all along the fuselage. One just missed me by inches. No hard feelings, I hope. For either of us.”
“No, Leutnant, no hard feelings, as you say. Now, tell me, what do you think of the plan?” Heinrich Mathy asked, while trying to gauge the Canadian’s experience.
“Well, sir, it’s certainly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, that’s for sure. Since we were all briefed separately, I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to discuss things with you until the plan has been officially approved.”
“Herr Leutnant, you can speak freely. After all, we are in a secure room and, assuming the Prime Minister approves things, I will be your commander. Perhaps you could amuse me with your thoughts?”
“Very well,” said Webb, setting his plate on the table. “As you know, I am one of the most experienced pilots when it comes to flying an airplane from an airship. For the last two years I’ve been the lead test pilot at our…secret facility, working to finesse the ability to use airships as floating hanger bases for our aircraft. I have flown more than a hundred missions on and off dirigibles, without any serious mishaps.”
“Ah, but I heard you crashed five times,” Mathy said.
“Well, that was on the ground. Not in the air with the airships. In each case, it was caused by equipment malfunction. Anyway, I have no doubt about my abilities to fly a warplane off an airship and attack any target I’m ordered to hit - obviously that was why I was recruited for this mission. What I do have doubts about is whether we can actually carry off the plan in the first place, whatever it may actually be. Seems to me that the idea is we fly an airship to the Caribbean and somehow attack the pirate base. Am I right? Why else would you be here? Or the famed Major Tanner, instigator of ‘commando’ raids during the war? Or me? What am I supposed to be doing on this operation? Dropping torpedoes on pirate subs?”
A few faces turned in the direction of the two men and Heinrich Mathy took Alexander Webb by the arm, guiding him to a corner of the room. “Please, Herr Webb. A little quieter, if you would.” Mathy regarded the Canadian for a moment. “You seem to have pieced together more about this mission than you’re supposed to know.”
“Well, sir, I’m a bright guy. At least that’s what my mother always said. It’s just that this operation seems a little…daft, if you don’t mind me saying so. Whomever came up with the idea must be a bit wacko, if you ask me.”
“Well, Lieutenant, that would be me,” said Commodore Richard Booth in a sarcastic manner, having wandered close by and overhead some the conversation between Webb and Mathy.
“Commodore, the Leutnant and I were having a frank exchange of views, the better to understand matters and deal with them before they could affect the mission parameters. Perhaps you would care to enlighten him a little about your plan?”
Booth had a neutral look on his face, though his coal-dark eyes seemed to hide something else. “Lieutenant, this plan has taken months and months of diligent preparation on the part of myself, Captain Mathy, Major Tanner and others within both the British and German Admiralties. It is perhaps the most detailed such undertaking ever envisioned and, yes, there are risks involved. Your role is supportive, not command; you may question, but not alter.”
“Unless I order,” added Mathy quickly.
“Er, yes, sir, of course,” Booth corrected himself. “Mr. Webb, I suggest you leave the big picture issues to those who know better. You Canadians may amuse the Prime Minister, but not me. Let’s just remember who founded your country, shall we?”
“You mean the French?” said Webb.
“No, no, I mean let’s remember who arrived in your land first.”
“Oh, the Indians?”
“Wha-? No you little jokester, I refer to those who sailed from Europe and settled on your inhospitable shores.”
“Ah, you mean the Vikings. Sir. My grandparents often talked about some ruins up in northern Newfoundland somewhere that the locals said were built by Leif Eiriksson or someone.” He paused as he played his game of cat and mouse with the other officer. “Oh…you mean the English, like John Cabot. Sorry, wasn’t he really Giovanni Caboto?”
Booth’s face was beginning to fluster at the Canadian’s impertinence, but Mathy stepped in to defuse things.
“Enough of this, the both of you. Booth’s plan is excellent, Herr Webb, or I wouldn’t be here. Just understand this, Leutnant: I will get us to the Caribbean using Commodore Booth’s plan. But you have to do your part. And if this whole operation goes forward, remember that when I give an order, it will be followed. No questions. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” said Webb, coming to attention before adding, “Um, Captain? Do you think the Prime Minister will approve things?”
Heinrich Mathy shrugged his shoulders before responding. “I do not know, Leutnant, but I certainly hope he does.”
For the next hour, Admirals Humes and Scheer presented Churchill with the nuts and bolts of Operation Antilles, never once being interrupted. When they were finished, Davis Humes sat next to the prime minister and became very quiet.
“Mr. Prime Minister, I can see you have some doubts about this operation, but I must ask you to approve it immediately or we will likely not get another chance for several months more. Hurricane season will soon begin in the Caribbean and that will prevent us from carrying out this mission.”
Churchill sat in his chair, deep in thought. “Gentlemen, my reservations about this operation are based on two things: the shaky intelligence you have to begin with and the fact that it must be carried out with our former enemies.”
Admiral Scheer stepped close to Churchill. “Perhaps you prefer to starve on your pride this winter, Herr Prime Minister? Because that will be all you will have to feed and clothe and keep warm your citizens if we do not stop these pirates. In war you do not always get to choose your allies, sir. And make no mistake: we are at war with the Grey Fox. All of us.”
The two men faced one another there, eye-balling each other until the Englishman spoke to Davis Humes. “Give me a couple of hours alone to review everything and I will give you my answer, Admiral. Have someone send in some food and a good bottle of red wine, if you can find it. Let’s re-convene at five o’clock.”
Humes nodded and began to walk to the door with the German admiral when Churchill stopped them. “Admiral Scheer,” he said, extending his hand, “Thank-you.”
After the doors closed, the two naval officers looked at each other quietly. There was nothing more to say, nothing more to do than wait and see if Winston Churchill would approve the most audacious mission ever contemplated in the history of naval aviation.