Friday, August 1, 2014

Chapter Two

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.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Chapter One

To all seafarers, including members of the Royal Navy,
Merchant Marine and civilians transiting upon the water!

Though the Great War ended some time ago, the threat from the sea to our nation and to all civilized countries remains a serious problem. In recent months, rogue elements have attacked merchant vessels throughout the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, plundering cargoes, kidnapping and murdering. Under the leadership of a shadowy individual known only as the GREY FOX, these pirates have utilized surface craft and submarines to prey on shipping vital to maintaining the flow of food, fuel and other goods between Great Britain, Europe and the Americas.

Let it be hereby known that His Majesty’s Government will not tolerate these acts of high seas piracy and that the full force of the navies of the world will be brought to bear upon these brigands. Anyone caught engaging in piracy or acts related to piracy will be liable to face execution for their crimes. In the meantime, the Admiralty advises great vigilance by those traveling by sea.

God Save The King!

In the name of Admiral Sir Davis Humes,
First Lord of the Admiralty
Whitehall, London
June 6, 1920

July 13, 1920
Somewhere northwest of the Canary Islands

            The lookout in the crow’s nest was the first to see the evil apparitions. He’d been standing his watch for three hours now, high above the gentle seas of the mid-Atlantic off the coast of Africa and had seen little more than dolphins and sharks out there. But then he caught sight of something else, something far more sinister.
            It was off to the port side – the left – of the ship’s bow, maybe two nautical miles away. The sea began to hiss and bubble there, the surface churning and turning white. Then a long, dark shape materialized from the depths, settling low on the ocean top. It just sat there as the bubbles dissipated, staring at the cargo ship from unseen eyes. The shape was topped with a strange-looking dorsal fin, covered in a checkerboard pattern.
            “Blimey,” the sailor blurted out on seeing this before quickly grabbing the telephone to warn the bridge officers. Cranking the wheel of the phone furiously, he waited for someone to answer as he continued to watch the menacing form that lay silently in wait.
            “Bridge,” a curt voice answered. It had to be Thompson, the Second Mate.
            “This is McVeigh in the crow’s nest, sir. We’ve got company off our port bow. It looks to be a – wait. There’s another one, off the starboard bow. They’ve got us!”
            On the bridge, Thompson dropped the phone and reached for his binoculars to scan the horizon ahead of the ship. Sure enough, he could see two dark shapes lying low in the water just waiting to pounce.
“Helmsman – evasive action! Hard a-port. Sparks, get an SOS off to the Admiralty.”  The Mate leapt to the engine telegraph and ordered full steam ahead while simultaneously picking up another phone and ringing the Captain in his quarters one deck below.
            “Skipper,” the Mate said breathlessly, “You were right. It looks like they’ve finally arrived.”
            A thousand miles away, the wireless operator pressed the earphones tighter against his head, trying to hear the message. There was a lot of static in the air today, but the faint tap-tap-taps of someone sending a message in Morse code were faintly audible. Finally the atmospheric conditions improved just enough for him to be able to receive some of the message, which he quickly wrote down on a cipher pad.
            “SOS…SOS…SOS…MERCHANT SHIP MAGELLAN UNDER ATTACK FROM UNKNOWN…” Static filled the airs again for a moment. “…POSITION 33 12 N 22 06 W…REQUEST IMMEDIATE ASSIST-” and the static returned for good, cutting off the rest of the message.
            The wireless operator turned to his superior, a pale-faced Lieutenant from the Naval Reserve who’d lost an arm in the War. “Sir, message from a merchant vessel claiming they’re under attack. I can’t quite make out all the details, but it’s in the general area we’d been warned about.”
            The Lieutenant read the note and silently nodded at the wireless operator. He picked up a red phone mounted on the stone wall of the room and pressed one of four buttons on the base. A few seconds later a woman’s voice calmly answered, “Atlantic Control,” and the Naval officer relayed the details on the cipher pad. Hanging up the phone, the Lieutenant turned to the wireless operator.
            “Well, not much we can do for those poor blokes, I think. Don’t think there’s another vessel anywhere in the area. We’ll just wait and see what the Old Man does now,” he said before a coughing fit made him grab a handkerchief from his pocket. Regaining his composure, the officer noticed there was blood on his handkerchief. He looked at the wireless operator with pleading eyes. “Please…please don’t tell anyone. Really, it’s just a cold. Please…?”
            The officer turned away, embarrassed, stepping into his little office as another coughing fit ensued. The wireless operator watched until the Lieutenant closed his door, before turning back to his equipment. Between furtive glances towards the sound of the coughing, the operator quickly turned a dial to change the wireless frequency. One last look towards the closed door and then he began tapping out a short message on the keypad.
           “Why don’t they move? What do you think they’re doing, sir?” the Second Mate asked. 
           Captain Nathan Hall continued to focus on the dark shapes in the water through his binoculars before answering. “I have no idea,” he finally answered, “But they have us trapped.” 
            For the last half hour, the SS Magellan had attempted to outrun the two shapes, without success. A third partner had recently shown up, off the freighter’s stern, and effectively boxed the merchant sailors in.  Wherever the Magellan tried to go, the dark shapes silently and swiftly followed. The cargo ship was now sitting motionless on the seas, rolling gently in the swells, waiting for some sign from the hunters as to what would happen next. 
            “Have we heard anything from the Admiralty?” the Captain asked tearing himself away from the visages on the sea. He said the word ‘admiralty’ in a manner that always caused the Mate to cringe, for Captain Hall was American, an oddity on a British vessel.
            “Nothing, sir,” the Mate answered. “There’s only static. I fear we’re too far away. Sparks keeps sending out messages, but…” 
            A telephone on the bridge began to ring and the Mate reached for it, only to have the Captain get there first. 
            “Bridge, this is the Captain speaking. What have you got?” 
            “Off the starboard bow, sir,” the lookout in the crow’s nest said over the line, “There’s some movement towards us.” 
            Sure enough, the dark shape that had lain in wait began to move slowly closer to the Magellan and the officers on the bridge swung their binoculars towards it. Through the magnifying glasses, the dark shape revealed its true form: a German-built Unterseeboot; a U-boat. Her conning tower was what attracted the most attention, for it was adorned with menacing white skull and crossbones. As the U-boat approached, crewmembers could be seen climbing onto her deck, dressed completely in black clothing from head to toe. They took up positions around the submarine’s main gun, an 88-millimeter cannon that was quickly being swung in the direction of the Magellan. 
            “Captain, it’s the - ” 
            “I know who they are,” he replied, cutting off the Mate. Grabbing a sheet of paper, the Captain wrote a short message that he handed to the junior officer. “Get this to Sparks and have him send it immediately. Somebody out there has to be listening. Go!” 
            As the Mate raced from the bridge to the wireless room, the Helmsman looked at the Skipper before speaking in a voice that sounded both weak and afraid. 
            “Captain? Are they the confederates?” 
            Captain Nathan Hall raised his eyeglasses to stare at the shape approaching him. He’d known the risks taking the Magellan on this route, without an armed escort. But Britain’s need for fuel and food was too great to ignore. Hall let the binoculars drop and stared through the windows of the wheelhouse. 
            In a quiet voice, the Skipper answered the Helmsman. “Yes. It would appear that the Grey Fox has won again.”
The Isle of Jersey, in the English Channel

A knock on the door caused the man to look up from a large chart of the Atlantic Ocean that was spread across his desk. Glancing at the ornate clock on the fireplace mantle, the man rolled the chart up and cleared away several folders that were marked “Top Secret”, carefully placing them in a drawer that he then locked.
            Slipping on his jacket, he carefully buttoned it and stepped in front of a mirror to check that everything was in order. The face reflected back was that of an older man, in his mid-60’s, with grey hair and dark, serious eyes. The tunic he wore was naval blue and there were five golden rings around each cuff and a grouping of coloured ribbons on his left chest. The man noted some lint on his lapel and brushed it off. One didn’t want to look out of uniform when meeting with the head of government.
            “Enter,” he bellowed, after which an aide-de-camp opened the oak door. Coming to attention, the aide announced, “The Prime Minister is here,” at which a bulldog of a man strode into the room with his hand extended in greeting.
            “Admiral Humes, so good to see you again,” the Prime Minister said as he doffed his black bowler hat. “I’m glad you could accommodate me on such short notice, but things have been a trifle hectic since I took over. I do wish we’d been able to meet in London, but I fear that won’t happen for a while more.”
            As the two men shook hands, the Admiral led the Prime Minister to a sitting area in front of a large fireplace and gestured towards a wingback chair. “I trust you had a pleasant flight to the island?”
            “Flying!  I’m still not quite used to it,” the Prime Minister said as he sat down. “It just doesn’t seem normal. I’d have much preferred to come by ship, but my schedule is tight. Tomorrow afternoon I’m to meet with my French counterpart at Mont Saint-Michel before returning to the Isle of Wight to brief the Privy Council.”
            “And what of the king? Any more news?”
            “None that is good, I’m afraid. The finest physicians in the nation are attending to him but, at this stage all we can do is wait. Anyway, how are you settling in?”
            Admiral Sir Davis Humes considered this for a moment. As First Lord of the British Admiralty, the man in charge of the Royal Navy, Humes had been ‘settled in’ to his job for a couple of years. But this, of course, was not what the Prime Minister was referring to. Instead, the question was really about how the Royal Navy was settling in to its new headquarters here on the Isle of Jersey, just off the coast of France. Part of the Channel Islands owned by Britain, Jersey had been chosen as the new home port just last year, after Portsmouth became unusable.
            “Well, Mr. Prime Minister, things are fine. The remaining parts of the Fleet have been able to effect repairs here and we are organizing our stores of supplies. We are having some problems with accommodations for the men on shore, but things are improving slowly. And, as you can see here, we’ve managed to get our command structures back in order here in the castle.”
            Mont Orgueil Castle was built on a promontory overlooking the sea, with steep cliffs providing protection from attack. Originally built some 700 years ago, it was now taken over completely by the Admiralty and thronged with officers, clerks and civilian workers helping to manage the affairs of the Royal Navy. From Admiral Humes’ office windows, he could stare down on the harbour of Gorey, where a number of warships rode at anchor in the afternoon sun.
            “Hmm, well good,” muttered the Prime Minister. “Now, about this briefing. When can we get started and what can you tell me about our supply lines? What is going on out there, because no one in the Home Office seems to know and things are getting quite desperate, as you probably know.”
            Humes realized that the Prime Minister was even more in the dark about the situation than had been expected. This might make things a little tense. The Admiral stood up and straightened his uniform. “Prime Minister, if you’ll just follow me, I think everything will be clear.”
            Admiral Humes led his guest through a side door that opened into a narrow hallway. It had probably once been used by servants to enter and exit discreetly, but was now the fastest way from the Admiral’s office to the Command Centre. As the two men made their way down a set of stairs, Humes began to brief him.
            “Since you were appointed to office three months ago, Mr. Prime Minister, the situation on the high seas has become more perilous. Our merchant ships continue to struggle to maintain just the barest minimums of foodstuffs, fuel, raw materials and everything else out nation needs at this moment. Both the Merchant Marine and the Royal Navy are undermanned and under-equipped.  I believe that the Home Office may be…hiding some of the details from you and your staff, sir.”
            The bulldog stopped and grabbed at the Admiral’s sleeve with its gold piping.
            “What on earth are talking about?” the Prime Minister asked coldly. “What do you mean ‘hiding some of the details’?”
            Humes stared into the other man’s dark eyes. “Mr. Prime Minister, if we do not do something drastic – and soon – Britain will starve this winter. Things are worse now than during The War.”
            The leader of the British government stood there dumbfounded by what the Admiral had said. Humes continued walking, the Prime Minister slowly following, until they came to a heavy steel door. Pressing a buzzer, a small window was slid back to reveal a pair of serious eyes.
            “Admiral Humes with a guest.”
            “Guest’s name, sir,” the eyes queried.
            The Prime Minister stepped towards the window and said in a loud voice, “My name is Winston Churchill”
            “Say again, sir,” the eyes asked.
            “He’s the new prime minister, Sergeant-Major. Please open the door.”
            The eyes looked Churchill over and then the window was slid shut and a heavy lock could be heard turning. The door opened to reveal a Royal Marine in battle dress and sidearm who saluted Humes and nodded at Churchill. “My apologies, sir. Just doing my duty.”
            The Command Centre was a former storage room, a large space now crammed with desks and dozens of Navy personnel. Several large maps of oceans and continents were on the walls and a large chart table of the Atlantic took up the middle of the room.
            As the two men entered the room, the Marine bellowed, “Admiral’s on the deck,” and people began coming to attention. “Carry on, as you were,” Humes said while striding to the chart table. A Sub-Lieutenant stood beside the table scanning a series of typed messages as the Admiral and Prime Minister arrived.
            “This is our Atlantic Operations Centre,” Humes began. “We have two other centres, one for the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean and another for the Far East, but this is the where most of the action occurs. We keep track of all merchant convoys and other shipping as well as the locations of our fleet vessels, and those of other….navies.”
            Admiral Humes frowned while looking at the chart table. There were small wooden models of ships placed here and there on the map in a variety of colours: white, black, blue, yellow and red. It was a red symbol that had caught his attention. He turned to the Sub-Lieutenant.
            “What’s going on there?”
            “I was just about to notify you, sir. We received an unconfirmed report of a merchant vessel under attack about thirty minutes ago. I just got a message from the commander of Convoy QX247 identifying her as the SS Magellan, a straggler that had been trying to catch up to the rest of the convoy.”
            “Excuse me,” Winston Churchill butted in, “But did you say ‘attack’? A merchant ship under attack? One of ours?”
            “One moment, Mr. Prime Minister,” Humes replied curtly. “Lieutenant, what do we have out there?”
            “Nothing that can make it in time. Commander Bernard has dispatched one of his destroyers from the convoy, HMS Amazon, but it will take her at least twenty hours to reach the last reported position we have of the Magellan.”
            A woman in the uniform of a Petty Officer with the WRENS – the Women’s Royal Naval Service – approached the chart table and handed a message to the Sub-Lieutenant, who quickly checked its contents before making a note on the map in black grease pencil, beside the position of the Magellan.
            “They sent another message, sir, stating that three U-boats have converged on their location and they expect to be boarded at any time. The Magellan confirms them as part of the Grey Fox’s pirate fleet.”
            Churchill could barely contain himself any longer and stepped close to Davis Humes. Though the Prime Minister was a good foot shorter than the naval officer, it was clear he intended to re-assert his authority.
            “Look, Admiral, what in the blazes is going on here? What’s all this talk of ‘attacks’ and ‘U-boats, ‘pirates’? Is this some sort of naval exercise or training mission? Because if it is, you’re wasting my valuable time here. My God, man, you’re all acting as though we’re still at war!”
            Humes stared down at Churchill, whose face was flushed with anger. He knew this was coming, so decided he may as well get it over with now.
            “Mr. Prime Minister, we are still at war.”  Turning to the Sub-Lieutenant, Humes told the man, “Keep me posted on any developments and tell Bernard to continue on his planned course. We’ll be in the conference."
 Two small inflatable rubber boats filled with black-clad figures began to row away from the U-boats, towards the SS Magellan. From his position on the outdoor bridge wing, Captain Nathan Hall could see that the men in the boats were heavily armed. Standing beside the Skipper was his First Mate, a large Scottish man named Kieran Foster.
            “Do ye think we kin fight ‘em off, Cap’n?” Foster asked while stroking his red beard.
            “I don’t know, I just don’t know. What’s our armament?”
            “We’ve a couple of Webley revolvers an’ a couple Lee Enfields, plus the flare pistols. S’pose we could get Cookie to give us his knives, but that’s about it.”
            The Captain thought about how ineffective these few weapons would be in an all-out battle against the intruders, but he wasn’t about to give up without a fight. Though he was American, Captain Nathan Hall had been serving aboard British ships – both merchant ships and naval vessels – for almost fifteen years now. He’d seen a lot during the war, when he’d commanded an auxiliary cruiser in the English Channel, but never anything like this. As he continued to ponder his options, the Mate piped up in his Scottish burr, “Skipper, the U-boat’s signaling us.”
            A light began flashing from the conning tower of the U-boat with the skull and crossbones painted on it. It was in Morse code and both Hall and Foster used their binoculars to decipher it.
            “Well, no surprise there: they intend to board us,” the Captain said to himself. He was trying to think of anything he could do to stall the pirates, anything that might buy enough time for help to come, even though he knew the chances were remote. But there was something else worrying him. He turned to his First Mate.
            “Foster, we need to slow those pirates down. And we need to hide the one thing we can’t let them discover. I’ll take care of that. Here’s what I want you to do.” At which the Captain laid out a plan he’d feared would never have to be used.
            Just forward of the bridge, on the main deck, a group of deckhands was clustered around a heavy rope ladder that was rolled up and ready to be thrown over the ship’s port side. The two inflatable boats were now bobbing in the water alongside the Magellan, and one of the pirates began to gesture for the ladder to be dropped down. As soon as it was unrolled, a couple of the black clad men leapt onto the bottom rung and began scaling the side of the cargo vessel.
            Jumping onto the main deck, the two men pointed 9mm Luger Artillery pistols at the Magellan’s deckhands, who immediately raised their hands above their heads. The long barreled pistols were modified versions of the Imperial German Navy’s standard issue Luger, containing a wooden shoulder stock and 32 round magazine that gave them the appearance of a sub-machine gun.
            The rest of the boarding party soon followed these two until there were sixteen armed men fanning out on the Magellan’s main deck with their weapons at the ready. All were dressed in the same manner: dark black oilskins, heavy boots and, most disturbingly, leather masks which covered their faces. To some of the Magellan’s crew, the pirates looked like grim reapers or attendants of the devil himself.
Some of the pirates had Lugers, others had Mauser pistols and a few had hand grenades stuck into their belts. They had surrounded the deckhands assembled here and stood menacing and silent. One of the brigands stepped forward; he had an old German Navy officer’s cap, though the Imperial crest had been removed from it.
            “Where is your Kapitan?” he commanded in a thick German-accent. When there was no movement, he took out his pistol and fired a shot in the air. “I said, where is your Kapitan!  Schnell!”
            The crowd of deckhands slowly parted as the commanding officer stepped forward.
            “Ay’m the Skipper ye outlaws. What kin I do ye for?”
            The pirate leader stood in front of the giant Scotsman, his pistol aimed squarely at the Kieran’s stomach.
            “You will order the crew to assemble here immediately and prepare to abandon the ship. And you will take me to your bridge so I can examine the vessel’s manifest. Then we will decide what to do with your rust bucket of vessel. Understood, Herr Kapitan?”
            Foster glared at the pirate’s pale blue eyes, visible through two small slits in his dark leather mask. The Mate looked ready to throw a punch and everyone stood watching the showdown tensely, until his shoulders slumped and he turned to Second Mate Thompson (who was wearing First Mate’s stripes on his shirt).
            “Do as the scum says and make sure no one gets left behind.”
            The pirate commander spoke quickly in German to several of his men and two teams split off to secure the engine room and search the Magellan while the rest stayed behind to guard the prisoners. He then prodded Foster with his pistol and nodded towards the bridge, indicating it was time to head inside the ship.
            As Foster led the German and three of the thugs up to the bridge, he tried peppering him with questions about what they wanted, but the pirate remained mute. Climbing the narrow stairs towards D Deck, the Mate stumbled and fell, yelping in pain. The German hovered over him, the pistol at the ready.
            “Give me a second, ye scoundrel, kinna you see I’ve ‘urt me ankle?”
            Just around the corner, behind the pirates, Captain Hall and four of his best men were crouched in wait. They had every weapon they could find and were ready to spring their trap. All they needed was the code word the Captain had given Foster when he’d devised this plan.
            “Kin one of ye lads give me a ‘and here,” The fake Captain pleaded.
            “That’s it,” whispered Hall to his men, “Let’s make this one quick.”
            Standing up, the Captain checked his Webley revolver and was about to leap around the corner when a bulkhead door behind the sailors suddenly opened and three black clad figures appeared with their Lugers locked and loaded. One of them stepped inside the door.
            “I say, chaps, we can’t be having you carry on like this, now can we? What say you put down your weapons and give up these infantile heroics, eh?”
            Hall was awestruck. Dropping his pistol, he raised his hands in the air while gawking at the trap that had been set on them.
            “You…you’re English. What…what are doing with this lot?” stammered Captain Nathan Hall.
            The English pirate approached with what can only have been a smile beneath his mask.
            “Ah, we welcome all sorts of people, Captain. Besides, I see you’re a Yank. But, I fear that’s too much information for you.”  At which the pirate swung the butt of his Luger across Hall’s skull, knocking him unconscious.
            “Lieutenant,” which he pronounced ‘left-enant’ in a loud voice, “The way is clear. Take whomever that officer is and check the manifest.” 
            “Aye-aye, Captain B,” the pirate lieutenant answered before heading off to the bridge with the Scottish Mate. ‘Captain B’ then turned to the remaining pirates.
            “Number Six, take these men to the wardroom with the others. And get someone else up here to carry the Captain down, too. Number Four, you tell Ten that everything is secure and I will get the engines up and running and make a course for the base. Have U-2 shadow us and tell the others to continue their patrols. Meanwhile, I think I’ll find myself a cup of tea.”

Late afternoon, July 13, 1920
Mont Orgueil Castle, Isle of Jersey

             If looks could kill, there was no doubt in Admiral Sir Davis Humes’ mind that Winston Churchill would have already done him in. The two men were seated in a boardroom of the Royal Navy’s High Command, facing one another across a large, burnished table, the ticking of a grandfather clock the only noise to be heard. To his credit, the 45 year-old Prime Minister had not exploded at Humes once the door to the room was closed, choosing to fume silently while the Admiral ordered some tea for them. Once the waiter had retired, though, Churchill could no longer contain himself and exploded in fury at the First Lord of the Admiralty.
            “What in the blazes is going on here, Hume? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were waging a private war against…someone. As confused as things may be at home, I am the Prime Minister of His Majesty’s government and, as such, should be kept informed of any – and all – military and naval matters. We simply cannot have career officers, in the most senior of positions, going off and…fighting God knows what sorts of battles. Pirates? Pirates!? This is the twentieth century, man!  Explain yourself before I have you removed from your position and sent to command a colony of seagulls in the Falklands.”
            Davis Humes steeled himself against the diatribe his Prime Minister had leveled at him. Oddly, he had only the utmost respect for Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, as the Prime Minister had himself been First Lord of the Admiralty almost a decade earlier. But so much had changed since then and there seemed no easy way to explain things to the leader of Great Britain. Calmly taking a sip of his tea, Admiral Humes collected his thoughts before beginning.
            “Mr. Prime Minister, this is neither easy nor pleasant, but it is of vital importance to our nation, to Europe and possibly to the world as a whole. What I am about to tell you has been kept under the tightest secrecy for the last two years, known only to a select few within the Imperial High Command, the government and at Buckingham Palace. Since you were appointed prime minister in April, we have been waiting for the right time to brief you. That time has now come for you to understand just what an enemy we’re facing.”
            Churchill glared at the admiral for a long moment before settling back in his chair and, with a wave of his hand, commanded the officer in charge of Britain’s naval forces to continue. It was clear to Humes that his boss was giving him only once chance to clarify the situation – and quickly – or there would be heck to pay.
            “Perhaps the Prime Minister would like something stronger than his tea?”
            “Humes, dispense with the pleasantries, please. I have no time for games.”
            “Very well,” the Admiral responded before taking a deep breath and beginning by reviewing recent events.
            In the summer of 1916, the Allied forces of France, Italy, Russia, Great Britain and her colonies were caught in a deadly stalemate with the military forces of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottomans. Across northern France, thousands of miles of trenches and barbed wire teemed with millions of soldiers intent on killing one another in any way that could be devised. Artillery barrages, flamethrowers, chemical weapons and aircraft were used in a futile attempt by both sides to break the impasse. But out of the trenches came something else that would forever change the world.
            Sometime around the third week of August in 1916, French soldiers in the Verdun sector began to fall ill from a flu-like illness never seen before. Within a week, tens of thousands of men were dead or dying as the pandemic spread throughout the lines, an incurable disease that the doctors were mystified by. Seizing on the weakened defenders, German troops overran the French positions, only to become themselves infected with the disease.
            With breathtaking speed, the virus – now known as “The War Plague” – spread across the entire Western Front and then across Europe as a whole, affecting soldiers and civilians alike. Fighting ceased – there simply were not enough healthy troops to continue the war – and the continent became a charnel house of dead and dying that harkened back to the Dark Ages and the Black Plague. By October it had spread throughout Germany and into Central Europe. By November it was Russia’s turn. And by Christmas of 1916, it struck Britain.
            It seemed as though no one was immune from the Plague. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was the first European royal to succumb to it, followed soon after by Emperor Franz Josef in Vienna. Any joy the British may have felt was tempered by the deaths of King George V and his wife, Queen Mary in early 1917. Tsar Nicholas II was the only major ruler to survive the pandemic, though most of his family perished alongside millions of ordinary Russians.
            The Plague killed millions of innocent people, regardless of nationality. In March of 1917, the disease gained a foothold in the New World when returning Canadian soldiers brought it home; from there it swept down into the United States. The same situation occurred in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India.
            As the plague spread, it soon began affecting entire economies: factories barely functioned, crops could not be harvested, schools closed and governments struggled to operate. Cities soon became ghost towns; Paris, Berlin and Vienna were the first major centres to see their populations wiped out, but by 1918 there was hardly a city or village that had not seen its citizens die off. And though it seemed no one could escape the disease, there were a few lucky souls who managed to elude death.
            The great navies of Europe and their merchant sailors were fortunate to be at sea as the War Plague spread across land. Forbidden to return to port, battleships, cruisers, submarines, cargo ships and anything else out on the open seas wandered aimlessly while the deadly disease struck down their countrymen. In January of 1918, a ceasefire was officially announced to end the fighting. The British then ordered their naval forces to sail for their colony of The Bahamas, which was disease-free. A few weeks later the Germans ordered their High Seas Fleet to steam for Cuba, where refuge had been offered. By May of that year, virtually the entire battle fleets of the major European nations were laying at anchor in ports scattered about the Caribbean, sweltering in the summer heat, far from home. Meanwhile, the Royal Navy’s headquarters left English soil for the first time in its history, moving here to the Isle of Jersey where there was no disease.
            Winston Churchill tapped his fingers on the table in agitation. “Admiral,” he said in a cold manner, “I know what has transpired these last few years. I am not an idiot. Next you will tell me about the mutinies that occurred on the navy ships when the sailors wanted to return home and could not.  How they worried about their families, who were dead or dying, but with whom they could not communicate. And the problems we had in paying them, owing to depletions in the national treasuries here, to say nothing of the shortages of food. But what other option was there? Where is this all leading?”
            Davis Humes opened a leather briefcase and pulled out a large file folder, with a red strip across it denoting a Top Secret document. He slid it across the table towards Churchill.
            “You may have heard about the smaller mutinies and other troubles with the various fleets in the Caribbean, Prime Minister, but you have not heard about the biggest mutiny and its aftermath. This file explains what we know to date. It is something to which you have not been privy. Until now.”
            Churchill skeptically opened the folder, scanned the first few pages and then asked Humes for a summary of the contents.
            “In October of 1918, there were widespread mutinies in the Caribbean among the naval forces of Germany, Italy, France, Austro-Hungary and, sadly, even in our ships. This resulted in much bloodshed as the rebellions were put down, though news of the mutinies was kept from the public for reasons of security. Following various courts martial, a number of the ringleaders were executed while many more were sentenced to be imprisoned. That was, perhaps, our first mistake. For reasons of expediency, the high commands of all the nations involved decided to create one central prison on the island of Tortuga, just off the north coast of Haiti.”
            Churchill looked up from a page he was scanning. “Do you mean to tell me we were cooperating with our enemies? With the Germans?”
            “Well…yes,” the Admiral answered uncomfortably. “Actually, we had been working together for several months prior to the October mutinies, keeping one another informed about events back here in Europe and whatnot. You must understand, Prime Minister, the war was over.”
            “Still, most unusual. Now, you said that imprisoning the mutineers was ‘our first mistake’. What do you mean by that?”
            “I mean that they escaped.”        
            As Winston Churchill sat in stunned silence, Admiral Humes went on to explain that less than two months after being incarcerated in a makeshift detention camp on Tortuga, a massive jail break occurred on New Year’s Eve. Over 350 prisoners overwhelmed the guards and took control of the camp before making their way to the nearby harbour and fighting their way aboard a number of naval vessels docked there. By dawn, the prisoners had sailed away from Tortuga.
            “What…they…how many ships did they steal?” Churchill stammered.
            “Four surface vessels – an Italian destroyer, two German cruisers and the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Spencer. But…they also made off with four submarines, three German U-boats and one of our P-class boats.”
            The Prime Minister was speechless. Actually, he looked as though someone had punched him in the stomach, so dramatic was the news that a group of mutinous sailors had escaped from prison and stolen seven naval vessels.
            “By Jove, man, how could this sort of thing happen? Didn’t you give chase? Hunt them down like the pack of dogs they are? Where are they now? And WHY haven’t I heard a whisper of any of this? I AM THE PRIME MINISTER OF GREAT BRITAIN!” Churchill bellowed, rising from his chair with renewed anger.
            Humes remained calm, or as calm as one could when the leader of your government is shouting at you. Churchill stomped over to a window that overlooked the harbour of Gorey below the castle, turning his back on the Admiral. Taking a deep breath, Humes carried on.
            “To the first of your queries, we don’t really know how they managed to overwhelm the guards and the crews of the vessels. The prisoners were highly organized, very disciplined and well armed. They likely knew they had little to lose, that many of their families were already dead from the disease and they would themselves rot away in the camp. As to what we did to catch them, well, we did everything we could. There were two other destroyers in the harbour at Tortuga that managed to fend off the attackers. But shellfire from the captured German cruiser put both out of action. We dispatched a flotilla from Nassau within twenty-four hours, and the Germans sent another one from Havana, but by the time the ships reached Tortuga, the mutineers were long gone. We know they headed east – they were spotted transiting the Mona Passage that separates the Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico – and the two flotillas made haste to catch up with them. But after that, the mutineers disappeared.”
            The Admiral explained that British and German ships, aided by the other navies in the area, scoured the Caribbean for months. Once or twice they caught a glimpse of what appeared to be one of the rogue vessels, but never managed to get close enough to confirm anything. It was as though the entire group of mutineers had vanished off the face of the Earth. Some officers wondered if perhaps the escapees had contracted the plague and died. Others speculated that the stolen vessels were heading for Europe, but none showed up there.
            Then, in March of 1919, the Admiralty received the first report of a missing cargo ship, a freighter bound from Argentina to Britain with a load of food. A few weeks later, another ship went missing, this one carrying coal from Venezuela. April saw a total of six cargo ships disappear while carrying food, fuel and raw materials from the New World to the Old. In every case, the Admiralty was able to rule out bad weather as a likely cause but with no survivors found from any of the ships, they were still confused as to what was going on.
            May of 1919 saw the disappearance of even more ships – ten in all – but also the first survivor. A young deckhand from the SS Amery named Harry Golding was rescued in the waters off the mouth of the Amazon River. Severely dehydrated, Golding had spent 28 days adrift on a small log. Once rescued, he managed to tell his rescuers that the Amery had been boarded by pirates, pirates who arrived in submarines. The attackers gave the crew two options: join them or die. Anyone who refused to go along with the pirates was thrown overboard, Golding among them. Before he was sentenced to death, though, Golding managed to hear the pirates describe their leader. They referred to him as “The Grey Fox”.
            Churchill turned away from the window to face Humes. “Well, now I see where this is all leading. The mutineers from Tortuga turned to piracy, correct?”  The Admiral nodded. “And I suppose it’s these pirates who have been playing havoc with our ships, eh?”  Another nod. “Then I must ask you again: why wasn’t I informed of this when I took office three months ago? It seems to me that it’s one of the most important dangers our nation is facing.”
            “Mr. Prime Minister,” Admiral Davis Humes began cautiously, “We, that is, certain members of the Imperial Governing Office, didn’t know if you’d live long enough.”
            Churchill stared at the naval officer for a long moment, before giving a little laugh and shaking his head.
            “Of course. Since my two predecessors fell victim to the Plague within a month of becoming Prime Minister, you wondered if I would do so as well. Am I right on this? Hmmm, I thought so. And given the nature of the disease, the delusions and crazy outbursts it can cause, the last thing you wanted was the Prime Minister rambling on to the public about pirates. Did my late precursors know anything about all this?”
            “No, sir. The King, of course, knows and so does the High Command and Governing Office. But it was decided to wait ninety days before briefing you.”
            Churchill walked over to Humes and laid his hand on the Admiral’s. “Davis, I’m sorry for my tantrum there. I realize you were only doing what you had to do. I apologize.”
            “Thank-you, Mr. Prime Minister.”
            “Right,” Churchill said as he returned to his chair and the secret dossier. “What say you get me a stiff drink and then tell me more about this ‘Grey Fox’ and his pirates.”

 Four thousand miles away, on another small island, a man wearing a strange-looking naval uniform knocked on a heavy mahogany door and waited for permission to enter. When it came, he opened the door, walked six paces inside and came to attention with his chin held high and his heels together.
            “Herr Admiral, a message from our contact,” the sailor said in German. “U-2 and her sisters successfully raided another British cargo vessel. Position 33 degrees 12 minutes North, 22 degrees 6 minutes West. U-3 and U-4 are continuing their patrol while Seahawk brings the ship to us with U-2. Sir, do you wish any message to be sent to the contact?”
            From a chair that was turned toward a large window, hiding the occupant from view, a gruff voice answered in German, “Nein. Leave the message on my desk. Any word on the crew of the cargo ship?”
            “Nein, Herr Admiral.”
            “Well,” the mysterious speaker continued, “Keep someone posted on the wireless. As soon as Seahawk is in range, I am sure he will transmit more information. Ah, what was the vessel carrying in her holds?”
            The messenger glanced quickly at the note in his hand. “Corned beef, Herr Admiral. And diesel fuel. Five thousand litres. Of fuel, that is.”
            “Ah, good. We can use the food. And the fuel will come very handy. This is all good. Very well, dismissed.”
            The messenger dropped the note on the desk, clicked his heels and marched out of the office as the Admiral rose from his chair, grabbed the wireless message and walked to a large wall map of the Atlantic. Checking the coordinates, he found the position where SS Magellan had been captured and, using a red marker pen, made a large X on the chart. Stepping back, The Grey Fox smiled to himself as he noted the dozens of other Xs that filled the map.