The Stockholm Run, Excerpt Three: Flight to Stockholm
By Bob's watch it was 12.30 a.m. when they emerged from the short corridor that led past empty offices into the hangar nearest the BOAC office. There were several Mosquitos in various stages of disassembly and Bob saw his own sitting in the far corner, waiting to be serviced. This was clearly 540 Squadron's hangar.
'We've borrowed this end for our parking area,' said John. 'It wasn't such an issue when we were relying only on types like the Avro York and Lockheed Hudson, but as we've currently only got one Mosquito, we don't want to broadcast whether it's at Leuchars or not too widely, because if it's not here then there's a good chance that it could be somewhere where a well-informed German fighter pilot might be able to find it. We've still got one of the Hudsons parked outside.'
Bob saw that the BOAC Mosquito was camouflaged much like his own, but carried a civilian registration, G-AGFV, in large letters on the sides of the fuselage. From this angle he could see it was in even larger letters across the underside of both wings. The registration was underlined in a long tricolour of red, white and blue.
'I'm still not seeing how we all fit in,' said Bob. 'And where's your navigator?'
'On these flights it's a “first officer”, but tonight he's got the night off and you'll take his seat, Bob. Nominally you'll be doing the navigation, which I recall you were rather good at. But don't worry, I know the way, by day or by night. I'll be making the trip back solo.'
'What about me?' asked Monique.
'Are you at all claustrophobic?'
'Follow me, I'll show you.' He let them both under the aircraft, where the bomb bay doors were open. 'We've converted the front part of the bomb bay into a rather cosy little den for one person. It's felt-lined as you can see, for comfort. There's an oxygen supply in here, which you'll need, and you will be plugged into the intercom. There are also heating controls which I'll show you how to operate, and a reading light. We can additionally provide coffee and sandwiches. Or not as you prefer,' as he saw Monique shake her head.
'What would have happened if I had been claustrophobic?'
'Let's just say that could have been tricky.'
'And toilet facilities?'
'We're all in the same boat as far as that's concerned. That's why I suggested a toilet break before you got all that kit on.'
Bob looked into the space that Monique was meant to occupy for the next three hours and felt deeply relieved that it wasn't him who would have to travel that way. He looked round. 'What are the metal baskets for in the rear part of the bomb bay?'
'Tonight, they're for your suitcases,' said John. 'As often as not, however, they are for the boxes of ball bearings we bring back from Sweden. Our war industry relies heavily on Swedish ball bearings, as does the German war industry for that matter. The amount we can carry does actually make a difference. On the outward trip we'll sometimes carry gold, as bars or sovereigns. The Swedes are very businesslike people and very much prefer cash on delivery.'
To Bob's surprise, John started the aircraft while they were still inside the hangar. He then taxied out and round the airfield to line up at the eastern end of the longest runway, which was lit up ahead of them by the beam of the Chance Light, a floodlight located just to the left of the threshold, and by the runway marker lights. After the wheels had come up and the speed increased, Bob found he could breathe again as they turned back towards the North Sea and began their climb. Looking over towards Leuchars, Bob saw all the runway lights go out, consigning the entire area to darkness.
He looked at John, but could see only the vaguest outline of him, illuminated by the dimmed lights from the instruments. 'The only thing I don't like about the Mossie are those few moments after takeoff, when you find yourself listening to the engines and wishing for the speed to increase to the point where a failure isn't going to kill you.'
'Me too,' said John. 'I've talked to pilots on 540 Squadron who say that stays with you, even after months of flying the thing.'
'You do know I can hear everything you are saying over the intercom, don't you?' said Monique.
'Sorry, Monique,' said Bob, mentally kicking himself.
'Is there any way we can change that, so I don't have to listen to the two of you talk about aeroplanes, which is what I suspect you are going to do for the next three hours? It's actually quite comfortable down here and I'd like to try to get some sleep.'
'Yes, we can manage that Monique,' said John. 'But your microphone will still work if you activate it so you can let us know if you have any problems.'
They flew over the edge of a weather front as they crossed the North Sea, the clouds beautifully illuminated from above by the nearly full moon.
'A little cloud is never a bad thing as you near enemy territory,' said John.
'What's our route tonight?'
'In a straight line it's about 685 nautical miles from Leuchars to Stockholm's Bromma Airport, but that takes you over a chunk of southern Norway. We don't like to make things too easy for the Luftwaffe, so rarely travel in a straight line and try to vary our route a little as well. If you take a slight dogleg to the south, you can avoid overflying both Norway and Denmark, and make an approach to Sweden over the Skagerrak. That's what I intend to do tonight. We're still within range of fighter bases in both Norway and Denmark, so need to keep a good lookout.'
'Presumably, that's why you fly at night as well?' asked Bob.
'Usually, we fly during daylight in the Mosquito. We always flew at night in slower, lower and more vulnerable aircraft, and still do when we use them, but we've found that with the Mosquito we can outrun or climb above pretty much anything that tries to come after us. This particular aircraft has been modified in ways that make it, we believe, the fastest example of the type that has yet flown. We would have had to fly this trip at night anyway because of your schedule but I understand it was thought better to wait a few hours until we could arrive in the early hours of the morning rather than before midnight. That way we might catch the Abwehr spy ring at Bromma Airport off guard or, with any luck, literally asleep.'