James Jackson

Author of the Best Selling Books Pilgrim & Blood Rock

Preview – Hellfire

Surrender had thrown up its own overnight crop.Whiteness billowed in sheets and pillowcases, bright and clean like the silk chutes of a thousand downed airmen.This was the end, spotless, unequivocal.Across the blitzed graveyard swathe of Europe, the survivors and the dead littered the streets and the camps, lay huddled in the craters and shell-scrapes.A wrecked continent, its blackened cities made rubble, its children orphaned.But here, in this corner of Swabia, the morning of April 21st 1945, just white and pristine cotton.

The Colonel squinted.Sure they wanted to save their homes, their livelihoods, their woodcarvings, their cute little bucolic, cow-bell infested idyll.Fuck ‘em.Yesterday, they were dancing around maypoles, screaming Sieg Heil!, marching to a different tune through other lands, running up their sacred swastika Hakenkreuz flags as readily as they now displayed their linen.So damn easy when fortune scowled, when the promise of a Thousand Year Reich had been reduced to a few last ragged days, a countdown to extinction.Total war, and they were well and truly totalled.Images reeled past, a girl emerging to stick out her tongue, her panicked mother ushering her hastily indoors, a horse rigid and fallen at the roadside, the hidden stares from blank and pretty houses,.They were imprinted or forgotten, overlaid on a hundred others, the vehicles chasing on, bouncing along the pitted track, weaving fast towards the village of Haigerloch, the destination.Time was critical, speed essential.He breathed deep.Victory smelled good, of mountain air, fresh grass, of the promise of going home.

‘Sir, keep your head down’.

He ducked, his reverie punctured, his hand sliding instinctively for the Browning automatic at his hip.The man had a point.There were still remnants spellbound by the Austrian sorcerer trapped several hundred miles to the north.Defeat encouraged unpredictability.It could be a blue-eyed, pumped-up Hitlerjugend-teen with balls and a Panzerfaust, or a geriatric from the Volkssturm with a bolt-action Mauser.Whatever, it would be foolish to die at this late stage.Intel had predicted an entire Wehrmacht division somewhere in the area.Intel were usually wrong.Nazi command was shot, Nazi control vanished, Nazi communication non-existent.Any resistance would be patchy. His T-Force was equipped to deal with just such a patch.

The truck lurched, its gears protesting, and picked up momentum.Behind, the two requisitioned Hanomag half-tracks growled noisily, their progress trailing dust and smoke.In front, the lead escort of combat engineers, 6th Army volunteers, rode point.Tough guys, veterans, spoiling for a fight, pushing hard for the finish.He was grateful for their presence.If anyone could get him there, outpace the opposition, these dust-covered, wise-cracking sons of bitches would do it.He checked his watch again.On schedule.Across the Reich, other T-Forces and espionage outfits were mopping up and moving out, scouring ahead of the main armies, seizing blueprints, ripping the high-technology, top-dollar heart from Germany’s military corpse, spiriting its scientists and technicians back to the United States.A race, and Uncle Sam had the lead.T was for Technical, T was for thousands of tons of paperwork flown out from a myriad airfields, T was for things never before seen or thought of, things that were fifteen to twenty years in advance of any concept possessed by the Allies.And T was for the greatest mother-lode of all time.He was on a different path with a separate brief.No-one needed to know, no-one would stand in the way.It was a dangerous and difficult assignment, the science of Armageddon.The Alsos Mission.

That morning in Berlin, Red Army shells were beginning to burst on the doomed city.The Soviets had arrived, the spearheads of Marshals Zhukov and Rokossovki punching through the evaporating outer defences, grinding relentlessly into the suburbs of Köpenick and Spandau and on for the centre.A rolling barrage came, an endless, vengeful flow, chewing up ground, spitting out combusted bodies, the shriek of aircraft and ordnance lost in the shattering madness of detonation and street battle.No quarter was given, no prisoners taken, each block, every brick, contested with demolition-charge, flame-thrower, bayonet and trenching-tool.It was a man-made horror.It was Russian against German, fascism against bolshevism, small boy against T-34 tank.And in his subterranean bunker below the remains of the Reich Chancellery, the Führer, ill, deserted, cornered, stared at his maps, talked of salvation, and knew collapse was near.The morning after his fifty-sixth birthday.Some birthday present.SS General Steiner could counter-attack.But Steiner was retreating.General Wenck’s 12th Army and General Busse’s 9th could ride in to his rescue.But Wenck and Busse were nowhere to be seen.Other field commanders were indisposed or withdrawing, racing westwards to capitulate to the Americans.Everywhere betrayal, connivance, cowardice.Even Himmler had fled, even Göring had scampered for the mountains.So this was Götterdämmerung, the final orgy of destruction, the twilight of the Gods.A long way from his vision, further from the small house at 15 Salzburger Vorstadt in the Austrian town of Braunau.Germany, its people, had failed him, had proved unworthy.He would show them, display the courage they lacked.The moment would come, his sacrifice endure.

Nine days later, his position hopeless, surrounded, he and Eva Braun were to enter the green-tiled annexe that served as a study and close the sound-proof door behind.His teeth clenching on a glass phial of cyanide, his newly-wed dying from poison beside him, he would press the muzzle of the heavy-calibre Walther pistol beneath his chin and fire.History transformed.Only a few days on.

From a distant valley, a bell was tolling.A warning or a welcome, the Colonel did not care.He swayed, bracing himself against a strut, steadying his excitement, reining back his thoughts.Had to focus, had to stay calm.Around, the tension-claustrophobia showed, in the sparsity of conversation, in fingers working a rosary, in the tightness of faces and the nervous brevity of smoking.He knew the signs, had travelled with them through France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and on into Germany.Towns ticked off, locations searched, captives interrogated.Building the picture, closing in.Five minutes.

‘Get ready, boys’.A hand proffered a Lucky Strike.He waved it away.‘What are the scouts saying?’.


lsquo;Clear run in, sir.All the way.Inhabitants are out on the streets to cheer’.

‘Nothing like hypocrisy to add enthusiasm’.

‘Only thing to worry about are the French behind us’.

‘If they move out of Horb, I’ve asked the air jocks to strafe ‘em’.

‘Shit, do it anyway’.

Laughter.The Colonel smiled.There was no love lost - no love at all - between himself and the French pussies crowding in on his turf.Hell, they had already ignored Ike’s order to stay west of the Necker.He could live with it, had the advantage.Alsos were going in.

The Americans entered the hamlet at speed, trucks and wheeled armour fanning to cover the approaches, maintain their options.And people applauded, their emotions torn, their eyes dulled by the schizophrenic mix of relief and despair.To the children, the newcomers meant chocolate, novelty, diversion.To the adults, the widows, it meant new uncertainty to replace the old.At least the shooting would be over.

‘Colonel Pash? We’re holding three of their technicians, sir’.

He turned to the sergeant who had pushed his way through to the inner conclave.‘Heisenberg?’.

‘Not with them, sir.They’re saying he escaped by bicycle’.

‘He’ll be picked up.What about Weizsäcker, Wirtz, Hahn?’.

‘Hanging out round Hechingen and Tailfingen, destroying the Institute’s evidence, I guess’.

‘We’ll get all the evidence we need here.The kraut technicians cooperating?’.

‘Right down to showing us the sweet spot’.

‘Then we’d best take a peek.Keep the people back, and bring up the kit’.

‘How’d you like the captives, sir?’.

‘Right in front of me as sandbags.High-value target, high likelihood of boobytraps.Let’s go’.

They found it quickly, the entrance a concrete box construction set behind a half-timbered house and built into the side of an eighty-foot cliff.A cave-cellar, prepared and occupied in the last futile months, the hideout and resting-place of Germany’s greatest wartime mystery.Low-profile, unremarkable, now discovered.He had seen a hundred installations like it.This was the final piece, the concluding act.He gazed at the steel doors and up to the church on the summit.Heaven and hell at a single map reference, the kind of paradox the Nazis enjoyed.

‘Stand back’.He angled the Browning, aimed at the lock, and fired.It splintered and fell away, ricochet fragments sparking angrily.‘Okay, boys, I declare it open.Keep your guns in the backs of our German friends, and your trigger-fingers nervous.Any tricks, they go down.Got it?’ They got it.

The steps were narrow, worn smooth, the descent slow and picked out with the intermittent beams of flashlights.Breathing was tight, the silence broken only by the shuffling tramp of feet and mechanical ticking of the detection devices.Emptiness.It had the chill feel of abandonment, the depression of failure about it.They were at the bottom.The illumination ballooned into the cave, reaching into the corners, crawling towards the lip of a pit sunk into the floor at the far end.

‘Uranbrenner, Uranbrenner’.The German was gesticulating urgently, trying to win friends, show useful.

‘See anything, Samuel?’, the Colonel whispered to the scientist edging forward.

But the scientist remained still, staring down, his face shadow-hidden from his companions.Could be shock or relief, naked emotion, the drying of vocabulary overburdened with experience.Dammit, they were all tired.The Colonel strode over to stand beside him, dipping his flashlight.‘Uranbrenner, Uranbrenner…’.The metal gleamed, the polished alloy surface reflecting the artificial poles of light playing across its surface.So this was what had been evacuated from Berlin, what they had been chasing.A small vessel with a metal lid, a few feet in diamater, placed in a concrete-lined hole in the ground.Other members of the team drew round.

‘Uranbrenner? It’s a goddam practical joke’.

‘It’s a goddam chamber-pot’.

‘Sure as hell stinks to me’.

‘This for real?’.

‘Are we in Oz?’.

‘I’ve seen tea-urns bigger than that’.

‘Where’s the shielding? The instrumentation?’.

‘Gotta be a decoy’.

‘Nothing doing here.Might as well throw it to the Brits’.

Voices climbed in disappointment and disbelief, in the anticlimactic aftermath of feeble discovery and shredded expectation.It could not be, could not be the sum total of all their effort, achievement, all their fears.Uranbrenner? Decoy? For real? Yeah, might as well throw it to the Brits.They had flown in a Dakota-load of boffins, were waiting for the call, could bring their sardonic stiffness and analytical equipment, their groomed moustaches and clipped Limey accents, their subtle superiority and sense of irony.This went far beyond irony.

And the Colonel looked and started to chuckle, the tears pricking then streaming from his eyes.It was something to tell the grandchildren, something heroic for the history books.He could see the absurdity, the humour in it, could see that the Alsos was had.No close-run thing, no knife-edge duel.Simply an illusion at the end of the yellow brick road.The Master Race had been primitives all along.

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