The truck's engines needed to be rebuilt or at least recalibrated. The sound came from the trees that lined the road that led to the wood and barbed-wire gates of Luftwaffe Stalag 13.
The Allied prisoners-of-war, turned out for roll-call on a dank and bitterly wet evening, looked for the newcomers. None of the vehicles used their headlights; at this point in 1945, it would be like painting a target on the top of their trucks for British or American fighters. The Allies ruled the sky.
Leading the parade was a German staff car marked drooping Gestapo flags on each bumper. Following in its path were exhausted prisoners stumbling along in ragged lines down the frozen road. The tarp-draped trucks brought up the rear.
The commander of the Stalag 13 prisoners, Colonel Robert Hogan, Army Air Force, felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up despite the icy rain soaking the collar of his worn leather jacket. He'd been expecting this to see something like this, but not this soon. He’d hoped that the Allied armies would arrive first.
"That's torn it, guv," muttered the stocky, dark-haired man standing beside him in the tattered blue of the Royal Air Force dress with the rank markings of a corporal. "The Jerries are movin' prisoners inland, aren't they, sir? Forcin' them along like that, they're going to kill the lot before they get here!"
"Not if I've got anything to say about it, Newkirk," Hogan replied grimly. “Where the hell is Klink?”
Standing in the harsh rain that turned the parade ground around them into ankle-deep mud, Hogan wasn't sure that he could do anything at this stage of the war. For the last three years he'd run an escaped prisoner-of-war clearinghouse as well as sabotage unit out of the confines of Stalag 13, but that was too dangerous to do at the moment with the uncertainty of situation outside the camp. Daily it seemed the Allies would arrive, then the Germans would appear, all more jittery than he’d ever seen them. Hogan wasn’t going to lose any of his well-trained team in these last few days.
The day had started normally. After the dawn roll-call, Hogan and the other prisoners retreated to the dubious pleasure of their barracks which was just about as cold as the February day outside. The rain had started shortly after that, so hard that the prisoners didn't even hear the usual formations of Allied bombers, heading for Berlin. Hogan suspected the airplanes had been grounded, their missions scrubbed.
They couldn't even listen to their secret radio or try to reach London on the hidden transmitter since a radio detection truck had taken up residence in the confines of the POW camp. The Allies weren't known to blow up their own imprisoned soldiers so this might be the safest place in Germany as long as the prisoners were here.
The lack of information was driving Hogan nuts. The rain and snow had sunk into the ground, freezing, and unfreezing, and several of their tunnels collapsed, which was dangerous for two reasons: the Germans might notice them and investigated, and that the team couldn't get out of camp if they were discovered. While Hogan knew the Allied cause was of paramount importance, his first dedication was to his team, and they knew it. Even the other prisoners understood their part in the Stalag 13 plot, and to their credit, not one of them, without being ordered to, ever tried to escape.
But it looked their time at this palatial palace near Hammelburg might be ending. From the state of the men stumbling toward them, it looked as if the Germans had other plans for their Allied prisoners. Like moving them.
The gates opened, the men stumbled in, to stop at a distance from the prisoners, as Hogan's persistent enemy, the Gestapo Major Hochstetter, emerged from the staff car, looking even more tightly-wound than he usually did.
The line of trucks rumbled to a halt, disgorging Gestapo soldiers who took up guard positions.
"Wounded," Hogan mused. "They're going to need help, Newkirk."
"Right, sah." The non-com was the closest Hogan had to a second-in-command in the small team as well as being an expert safecracker, tailor, and forger. "Right after Schultzie gets through counting noses."
The rotund German in charge of the Stalag's guards, Sergeant Schultz, was plainly terrified as he saluted Major Hochstetter who was ignoring him as he stalked over to Colonel Klink, the camp's Kommandant.
The tall thin officer came down the stairs from his office holding his hands outstretched. "Major Hochstetter, how nice to see you!"
"Shut up, Klink," Hochstetter cut him off even more abruptly than he usually did. "How much room do you have here?"
"Room? Room? We're full up, you know that, Major -- " Klink replied, his voice even more quavery than usual. "We can't take -- "
"Unload them!" Hochstetter ordered over his shoulder.
"Unload who, Major?" Hogan asked coming up beside them. Hochstetter glared at him.
“Some friends of yours, Hogan!”
The German guards went to the back of the trucks, and pulled down the tailgates. Men clambered out, stiff, limping, dirty but wearing unmistakably American and British uniforms. They clustered around the back along with the other prisoners.
"You will feed them and put them up until I get orders as to where we are going," Hochstetter grated.
"We don't have the food for them!" Hogan protested, seeing the men pull more and more stretchers out of the back. Most of the marchers were muddied up to their mid-thighs. It didn't take a genius to figure out that they had had to dig some of the trucks out of the mud.
Hochstetter turned on him. "Then they will camp out here in the mud, hungry, and defeated. Are you refusing to share with your own fellow prisoners, Colonel Hogan, would you prefer that? I'm sure it will make the headlines in Berlin!"
"Only if Berlin has the paper to print it," Hogan replied impudently. "How long are you planning on staying, Major Hochstetter?"
"Don't worry, you'll all be leaving soon," Hochstetter cut him off. "Klink, your office!"
"Yes, sir, Major!" Klink said obediently. "Schultz!"
Shultz saluted. "Ja, Herr Kommandant?"
"Get them into the barracks! Hogan, I will talk with you later."
"Kommandant!" Hogan protested. "At least, order the release of more of the Red Cross packages so we can get the supplies!"
"Not now, Hogan!" Klink said spinning on his heel. The tall thin man was a coward to his bone, and while he'd prefer to talk with Hogan, both men knew that leaving Hochstetter alone in Klink's office was unwise.
The door slammed behind him.
Hogan exchanged worried glances with the sergeant. "There's a lot of them, Schultz."
"Yes, Colonel Hogan, and they didn't bring food or bedding," Schultz replied looking at the ragged lines that were forming. "At least not out of the trucks."
"We got big trouble," Hogan said under his breath and to himself.
"Colonel," Schultz said hesitantly. "What are I going to do?"
"We'll sort them out, Schultz. Carter, LeBeau, put the wounded in the rec. hall, use the canteen, and, if you're desperate, the delousing station," Hogan ordered, stepping off the stairs. "Add another ten men, if you can, to each hut, and everyone share. I want to know where they came from, where they've been, who's their commanding officer."
"Oui, mon Colonel," LeBeau, the diminutive Frenchmen replied, looking at the German guards who were watching with disdain from their watchtowers.
"Sure, Colonel.” Andrew Carter, their demolition expert, and the youngest of the team, added, "Shouldn't we tell London?"
Hogan winced and looked around. Luckily Schultz was on his way to talk to his counterpart among the newcomers.
"Well, I would, Carter, but that radio detection truck that’s decided to take up residence here makes it impossible!" he replied in exasperation. He called to his prisoners, "Fall out and help them!"
Newkirk dogged Hogan's footsteps as they went inside Barracke 2 where Hogan had the only private room in the entire camp. "What's up, Colonel?"
"We're going to listen in on Hochstetter and Klink. What else?" Hogan connected the coffee pot listening device created by their former radioman, Kinchloe. He had been replaced by Baker a few months ago.
The group had bugged the Kommandant's office years ago. Colonel Wilhelm Klink was a decorated Luftwaffe officer of limited intelligence and overwhelming ego, who Hogan could handle easily. Over the years, it had been a combination of Klink’s blindness and cowardice that that let Hogan get away with many of his operations. Whenever Klink had nearly seen through him, Hogan's talent as a natural-born liar, put him off the scent. Personally, he had a love-hate relationship with the German who specialized in paperwork and torturing violins. Sometimes he almost liked him; most of the time, he was a nuisance.
Hochstetter and Klink had to be standing almost in front of the microphone hidden in the picture of Adolf Hitler and their voices boomed out of the coffee pot.
"But Major, I can't possibly accept any more prisoners!" Klink protested.
"You won't have to," Hochstetter said gratingly. "In two days, all of the prisoners in the camp will be leaving, moving inland. The Allied armies are on the verge of breaking through our lines."
Hogan smiled broadly at Newkirk whose face lit up. It was the best news they'd heard since the landings at Normandy the year before.
"Oh, no," Klink burbled in worry. "Our glorious army..."
"Klink!" Hochstetter snarled, "I suggest you start practicing your English because you may need it. Or Russian."
"Russian!" Klink said in panic. "But I don't know any Russian!"
Hogan's door opened a crack. "Colonel," LeBeau called. "We have one of the leaders of the prisoners here."
Hogan unfastened the cord to the coffee pot and put it away. "Be right there."
"I am making soup for the new men," LeBeau offered. "Beef soup from those horrible tablets. It's probably all they can keep down."
Newkirk shook his head regretfully. "Don't make it too tasty, Louie. Wait till our lads get here, and those Krauts'll be eating that soup, and we'll be haven' pheasant under glass."
LeBeau stared at him. "'Get here?' You mean -- "
"He means we'd better have a talk with your man," Hogan interrupted. "Where is he?"
Seated at the table, seven new men stared dully at Hogan. He felt a burn that went clear to his toes. He hadn't seen men this exhausted in his life. These men were in no shape to move on any further.
A young man with dark hair and prematurely gray at the temples stood, winced as he put weight on his left leg, and saluted. "Captain David Troy, Army Air Corps."
"Colonel Robert Hogan. Sit down. You look beat," Hogan said briskly. "Where did you come, Captain?"
"Stalag 3," David replied, sinking down on the bench. LeBeau set a cup of warm broth by his elbow and slid back to his stove. The others listened closely as David went on. "They moved us from Stalag 3, to Stalag 19 and then here."
"That's a lot of moving of men," Hogan commented. "You seem to be short some."
David chuckled grimly, and sipped on the broth. He'd plainly have liked to drunk it fast, but was exerting control. Hogan concluded that he'd learned discipline in a hard school. The other marchers around the table were too exhausted to follow his lead and were gulping at the soup, ignoring the conversation.
"We're missing a fair number," David acknowledged. "The ones who couldn't keep up were either shot or put in the trucks if they were officers."
The Stalag 13 prisoners exchanged glances of disbelief. Killing prisoners because they couldn't keep up? Hogan stared at Troy in suspicion. "Shot? That’s against the Geneva Convention!"
"When we saw it happening, we started carrying as many as possible," Troy said, so tired that he couldn't be lying. "The Waffen-SS has little mercy, Colonel, for anyone they call ‘malingers.’"
"Filthy Bosche," LeBeau murmured. "We'll shoot them all in our time."
"Any reason they should be moving you so far and fast? You didn’t take the most direct route to Stalag 13," Hogan asked.
David grinned. "Our guys keep breaking through their lines. Or bombing on the direct routes. The Krauts are trying to stay ahead of us." Newkirk chuckled knowingly. "Then that SS major joined us this morning, got rid of the original slave-driver, and now we're here."
"The only decent thing that Hochstetter’s ever done in his life," Hogan murmured. "We'll see if we can keep you here for a couple of days."
David smiled disbelievingly. "Got pull with the SS, Colonel?"
"Don't laugh," Newkirk warned. "We've got pull with the Kommandant!"
"I'm going to see how the others are doing," Hogan said abruptly. "LeBeau, you have the soup ready?"
"Right, let's go play Florence Nightingale. Newkirk, get Captain Troy squared away."
Newkirk knew this meant check the story against the other men’s. He saluted.
LeBeau picked up the warm pot and followed Hogan out of the barrack. Night had almost fallen, it was on the edge of the curfew, and there were SS guards crowded among the normal guards. Most of them stared as Hogan proceeded towards the recreation hall.
"Colonel Hogan," Schultz blustered coming out of the crowd. "Kommandant Klink has ordered all prisoners stay in their barracks!"
"Come on, Schultzie," Hogan coaxed. "I'm the ranking officer in charge and I have to check on all the new men."
"You aren't the highest officer any more," Schultz said. "There is a general in the recreation hall -- "
"What?" Hogan said losing levity. "A general?"
"But he is very sick. What is that, 'little cockroach'?" Schultz asked, smelling the soup.
"Consommé," LeBeau said with slightly more edge than normal. Usually he could hid his dislike of Germans, even Schultz, but the revelation about the shot prisoners, and the potential for freedom, pushed his feelings to an upper level. And he hated Schultz's nickname for him. "For the prisoners."
"That smells so good!" Schultz said longingly.
"He'll make you beef bourguignon later," Hogan replied flippantly. "If you can get us some meat, that is." Schultz gave him a reproachful look. "Come on, Schultz, let us through."
"I will escort you to the recreation hall," Schultz decided. "And maybe get some of that soup..."
"It's for the wounded--"
"Quiet, LeBeau!" Hogan interceded. He walked around Schultz who huffed but followed trying to make it look like it was done on purpose. "Let's see what's there."
Inside the rec. hall, the men lay in rows against the walls, most asleep or unconscious. LeBeau went to one side where some men were obviously serving up donated food and began to talk with them.
Hogan looked down the rows and saw a general, several other colonels and other officers, along with enlisted ranks. None of them paid any attention to Hogan, or looked like they were in any shape to do so. Hogan decided not to disturb them. He only hoped that Stalag 13 wouldn't end up being their last resting spot. Too many of the wounded were gray, not from mud, but illness, and coughing was spread from man to man.
"All ready, mon Colonel," LeBeau said quietly sliding up beside him. "I will leave the soup. They will share it."
"Let's get back to our barracks." Angry, Hogan looked around one more time, saluted, then walked out, LeBeau followed on his heels.
Schultz was waiting outside the door. The darkness of night fell over the camp, only illuminated by the searchlights which reflected off the falling raindrops turning them into silver coins. Hogan shivered, and turned up the collar on his worn jacket. Another miserable night in Germany.
Out of the blackness came the sound of another engine, and one of the spotlights highlighted the car as it came around the bend. The trio exchanged wary glances as a German staff car drove up to the wooden gates. The guard bent over to hear the man in the front window, then stepped back, saluting. The gates opened and the car drove up to the Kommandantur.
Klink emerged, Hochstetter on his heels. Hogan sourly noticed the Gestapo officer had a wine glass in one hand. Some Germans were still eating well.
The driver slid out of the front seat, and looked around, his face clearly visible, dark eyebrows and thin lips compressed in a suspicious express. He glanced at Hogan, LeBeau and Schultz, before turning his back and holding open the rear car door. He wore the black uniform and lightening bolts on his shoulder of the SS. Just what Stalag 13 needs – more Gestapo, thought Hogan. A tall slender SS officer stepped out of the vehicle, slapped his gloves on his hands and stepped forward to speak with the Kommandant. Did he outrank Hochstetter? Hogan couldn't tell at this distance.
Klink ushered the newcomers inside.
"Show's over. Let's go home," Hogan said to Schultz.
"Raus!" Schulz growled half-seriously.
The barrack was quiet. The newcomers had been bunked either on the floor or in some of the other prisoners' beds, the original occupants giving up their bunks. David Troy was staring out the cracked window looking confused, Carter standing beside him. Carter closed the window hastily seeing Schultz.
"Colonel Hogan, Kommandant Klink says that tomorrow we'll be leaving," Schultz said apologetically. "He says Major Hochstetter ordered-- "
"Don't believe everything you hear," Hogan said grimly. “I’m not leaving tomorrow.”
Newkirk chimed in from where he was riffling cards at the table, "Why don't you find out who the new Krauts are, Schultzie?"
The sergeant shrugged. "More Gestapo. Major Hochstetter's men have taken over the guardhouse. There's nowhere to sleep."
"Here either," Newkirk replied philosophically.
"Colonel Hogan..." David said hesitantly. “I…”
"Bedtime," Hogan said. "Night, Schultzie."
The sergeant nodded and went outside where he was instantly stopped by two Gestapo men walking by. As Hogan shut the door, he heard sputtering explanations.
"Troy, I’ll talk to you tomorrow."
“But..!” David sank back on a bunk, Carter holding him down.
“Newkirk, LeBeau, Carter, Baker -- my office," Hogan ordered. He led the way and fastened the cord to the bottom of the pot, hoping it wasn't too late.
The discussion in Klink’s office was entirely in German. Luckily, all of Hogan's men knew the language intimately. If they hadn’t, they would have been in front of a firing squad long ago.
The Kommandant was his usual wishy-washy self. “What brings you here, Obestleutnant Reinhardt?”
"Good, he outranks Hochstetter," Hogan commented, folding his arms. The men were so intent on listening they didn't notice the door open and David followed by Carter, slid in.
“Your prisoners are important pawns in this war, Kommandant,” Reinhardt replied crisply. “The Allies will not bomb their own men. This has kept you safe for the last four years.”
“But we have been bombed…once or twice only, but we have been in danger!” Klink protested defensively. “And we’ve had terrible problems with spies here."
"I would have ended that years go if I shot Hogan," Hochstetter cut in angrily, "but I never had the proof!"
"Whoever this Hogan is, he is unimportant," Reinhardt said coldly. "We have orders dealing with the prisoners."
“What are you doing here, Major?” Klink asked. They could hear the creak as he sat behind his desk. “I thought the SS units were in Russia…ah, the Eastern front. Far, far away us here in the backwaters--"
“We were detailed for other work,” Reinhardt replied. “Very good brandy this, Klink.”
“Thank you, Sir! Other duties?”
"Why haven't I heard about this?" Hochstetter asked suspiciously.
“The High Command has ordered us to take command of your prisoners. The Allied soldiers have made inroads in the area close to Stalag 12. We must hold the prisoners here until we know the roads are safe," Reinhardt explained in a clipped tone. "And there will be more prisoners coming."
"That’s impossible! I’m overcrowded as I am! There is no more room here, Obestleutnant Reinhardt! And the cost of feeding them--”
“As if they weren’t stealing from our Red Cross packages!” Newkirk muttered.
“Nonsense,” Reinhardt said flatly. “They will simply have to make room. Lose some of their precious British privacy.”
“What the hell is he about?” Newkirk asked puzzled. “Is he thinking that we’ve got lots of room? Let him try to sleep like a sardine in a tin!”
“And talking about extra prisoners,” LeBeau added. “We don’t have room for more prisoners.”
“As Klink keeps telling him,” Hogan murmured. The Kommandant was protesting vehemently.
“Uh, Colonel?” Carter said hesitantly. "I-we need to talk to you."
Newkirk turned, and cursed, moving fast to pin Troy against the wall. The soldier didn’t try to escape, his desperate glance going to Carter.
“No, Newkirk, listen to him!” Carter said urgently. “Colonel?
There had been many times in the past few years that Robert Hogan had wanted to kill Andrew Carter, but never so badly as at that moment. Everything that they’d worked for was probably going up in smoke if they let the stranger live; they’d have to kill him, and Hogan always tried to avoid cold-blooded murder. “What?” Hogan said grimly.
“It’s him! I didn't believe it!" David said staring over Newkirk’s arm at Hogan.
"Him? Who ‘him’?" the officer asked harshly.
"When I saw them outside...I still didn't believe it until I heard his voice!"
"What?" Newkirk asked flatly. His tone was devoid of emotion. David was in danger of dying in the next few seconds if it was necessary to protect Hogan's unit. They'd spent too many years to put up with a spy at this point.
"'Privacy.' The way he said that word. And the driver; I know him."
"The Gestapo driver?" Hogan asked suspiciously.
David smiled, something that made him lose five years. "That’s no Gestapo man; he’s my brother, Sam Troy. He's a commando. The other man's his partner, Sergeant, no, Lieutenant Jack Moffitt. The Allies have arrived."
The men stared at each other, then finally at Hogan.
The colonel eyed David narrowly. "You're saying they're our commandos?"
"How would they know what was going on here?"
David shrugged as much as he could with Newkirk holding him. "I've been out of touch with Sam since I was shot down in '43, Colonel. He was part of a commando team back in North Africa called the Rat Patrol."
"'Rat Patrol'! Blimey!" Newkirk said startled. "I've heard about them. They caused the Jerries no end of problems in the desert. 'Thought they'd been taken out of action!"
"Isn't there supposed to be more than two men in a team?" Hogan asked suspiciously.
"There should be two more out there," David agreed. "Privates Hitchcock and Peterson...or Pettigrew if he's back. He was one of the regular men."
"Colonel, Klink's finished talking," LeBeau called. "He's given in on the prisoners."
"I will have to confirm your orders with Berlin," Hochstetter said in a disgruntled tone. "Which member of the High Command did you say gave you these orders?"
"General Burkhalter," Reinhardt said coolly. "Two days ago."
"I had heard he was captured," Hochstetter said suspiciously.
"He was early yesterday. We barely escaped the Allied soldiers to come here," Reinhardt replied smoothly. "Call Berlin, Major, if you want further confirmation. If you can get through. The partisans have cut many of the phone wires."
"And we'd better intercept that call if those men are on our side," Hogan said sharply. "Baker can you rig something up here?"
"And tip off those Krauts in the truck, sir?" Newkirk asked worriedly. He loosened their grip on David who sank down on the end of Hogan's bed.
"Damn! Forgot about them," Hogan snapped. "Must be getting old."
"Besides it's too late," LeBeau added. "Hochstetter's calling now."
They heard the Gestapo officer get increasingly more frustrated as it was clear his call wasn't going through.
"If what you say is true, then the rest of that team has cut the lines," Hogan said to David. "Or the partisans."
David nodded. He looked like he’d lost ten years at the thought of seeing his brother. It reassured Hogan no end. Maybe he wouldn’t have to tell Newkirk to dispose of the officer.
Reinhardt said smoothly. "Kommandant Klink, you say that you don't have any more room for prisoners. Would you like to show me why you don't have room?"
"Obestleutnant, the only place not filled to the brim is the cooler!"
"Then you have room for them in there?" Reinhardt asked smoothly.
"Oh, that's not suitable for prisoners to live in!"
LeBeau snorted. "Considering how much time I spent in there, I agree."
"Show me. What about this Colonel Hogan? What is he like?"
"I can have him brought here--"
"Nein. Show me the barracks," Reinhardt said flatly.
"This isn't necessary," Hochstetter tried to interrupt. "The barracks--"
"Major, I outrank you so don't tell me what is unnecessary!" Reinhardt replied in an icy clinical tone. "This Colonel Hogan's barracks, Kommandant Klink?"
Hogan wouldn't have wanted to meet up with that officer if he really was a German. Reinhardt had the tone of a killer. That this Moffitt might be able to mimic it was chilling.
"They're coming here!" LeBeau said unplugging the coffee pot.
"Yeah, and we don't have any time. Let's get outside and welcome them," Hogan said. “Newkirk, watch him!”
“Right, sah!” The Englishman pulled an unresisting David to his feet and hustled him out into the main room.
It was after lights-out, and the main light, and barrack’s heat came from the ancient pot-bellied stove in the center of the room. The other prisoners lifted their heads watching Hogan come in except for the newcomers who were sunken in exhausted sleep.
The command group sat down at the table, Newkirk still flanking David who sat on the end, and waited.
It didn't take long for the sound of boots, then the crash of the door as it opened. Klink, Reinhardt, followed by the SS driver, and Hochstetter came bursting through.
Hogan looked up from where he was pouring ersatz coffee into his well-stained cup. "Special roll-call, Kommandant? I haven't gotten the new guys’ names yet."
"Colonel Hogan, this is Obestleutnant Reinhardt," Klink said waving to Reinhardt who stared intently at Hogan. "He says that you will be getting more prisoners shortly."
"We don't have the room," Hogan said grimly. "I already have men sleeping in the recreation hall. And we badly need a doctor for those men."
The eyes of the man behind Reinhardt flickered warningly. If he was one of the Allied commandos, then he'd picked up on Hogan's message that they needed medical care urgently.
Hochstetter shrugged. "If they are ill, they will be abandoned when we move. We have no need for sick prisoners laboring in the Third Reich."
"Heard you guys shot them on the road," Hogan commented.
"That's a lie!" Klink burbled.
"I saw it," David cut in, standing up. He swayed, and stepped so he could hold onto the bunk right by the door, Newkirk at his shoulder. His attention flicked from the driver back to Hochstetter and stayed there. "One by one."
"Who is this man?" Hochstetter asked suspiciously. "The Third Reich does not murder prisoners!"
"Captain David Troy, Army Air Force."
"I will remember that name," Hochstetter replied menacingly. David didn't flinch as he met the Gestapo man’s gaze.
"We'll investigate your claims," Reinhardt said coldly. He looked around the room. "You have room for more prisoners in here, Colonel. Prepare for them."
"What about food?" Hogan asked. "We're short on food as well. At least you can release more of the Red Cross packages!"
Reinhardt smiled thinly. "Much of the countryside would like those packages as well, Colonel. I suspect that you eat better than my own men. Prepare your camp for new prisoners."
Realizing his protests were fruitless, Hogan saluted, and Reinhardt returned it, then turned on his heel and strolled out, followed by Klink, Hochstetter and the guard.
David moved forward fractionally to stop the guard who paused, facing him.
Hogan wasn't sure that the newcomers were on his side until they stood face to face. The Troy family resemblance was uncanny. The brothers gripped hands for a fraction of a second, then the guard slid out following the other Germans.
So, if David Troy was authentic, and he'd better be after discovering the coffee pot radio, then all he'd said was true. The Allies were here, there were more men, prisoners or no, on the way and all he, Hogan, had to do was keep his command alive until they arrived.
"Mon Colonel," LeBeau whispered into his office. "There is trouble."
Hogan nearly brained himself on the roof. He had given David Troy the lower bunk in his office, one way to keep an eye on the officer, and he could hear the man snoring gently below him.
LeBeau beckoned and Hogan rolled out of the upper bunk, trying not to land heavily on the wood floor. He followed LeBeau out into the main room.
Carter stood next to the door with a man from Barracke 9, halfway across the camp. Hogan came fully awake. What the devil was Johnson doing here? It was still dark outside. He could have gotten shot!
"Sorry, to get you up, sir," the man said hesitantly in a low rumble, "but there's something going on with the radio detection truck."
"I knew I should have gotten rid of it," Hogan mumbled. "What's up?"
"I saw Major Hochstetter go over to it, and wake up the two operators. He sounded really annoyed. I'm not sure what he's got in mind..."
"But they might have a radio there where they can reach Berlin," Hogan finished. "Good work, Johnson. We should have taken out that truck days ago."
"Thank you, sir," Johnson said. "Don't fancy trying to get back across the camp though."
"Don't worry, we'll send you back through the tunnels," Hogan said aloud. "In fact, that might be the way to get rid of that truck."
"And Major Hochstetter?" Carter whispered enthusiastically.
Hogan grinned at the demolition expert. "An added bonus. We'd better get moving." He looked at all the strangers, and hoped that they weren't spies. Most of them were still dead to the world. "Right, LeBeau."
The Frenchman hit the wood on the bunk that raised to reveal the secret ladder down to their tunnels, and Hogan led the way with Carter following, then Johnson, and Baker. Newkirk slapped his hand, shutting it, and lay down as if nothing had happened.
"Where exactly is that truck?" Hogan asked.
"About forty feet from our barrack," Johnson replied. "Next to the barbed wire."
"How close is the tunnel exit from it?"
Carter shrugged. "We ended that tunnel about ten feet from the truck, Colonel. Had a cave-in, and then the Krauts took down the forest outside so we stopped digging. Not a safe way out of camp."
"Yeah, I remember that," Hogan mused. "Didn't even let us harvest the wood. Well, Carter, have you got enough dynamite to blow that truck to the Pearly Gates from ten feet away and underground?"
Carter beamed. "Oh, boy, don't I, sir! I've got some of those new demolition caps, and a couple of handfuls of--"
"That's enough, Carter!" Hogan interrupted. "First we'd better see if Hochstetter has reached Berlin." He turned to Baker. "Can you pick up any radio signals?"
Baker was already at his post with the headphones on. "Yes, sir. The Major is trying to reach someone in Berlin!"
Hogan cursed. "Carter, get to work. We're going to have to work fast if we're going to stop this! Johnson, get back to your barrack and warn them there's going to be a big bang coming!"
Carter scurried off to his laboratory as Johnson went the other way. Baker listened carefully, as Hogan rapped on the bed. Newkirk let him up.
"Get down here. I need your talents," Hogan said briskly.
The Englishman came down the ladder, nearly falling on the officer, and the bed shut again. "What's up, Colonel?"
"Hochstetter's trying to call Berlin," Hogan said grimly. "Can you put him off the scent?"
"Sure," Newkirk said nonchalantly. "And the next person I talk to will be an SS firing squad?"
"You might anyway if we don't get there first," Hogan replied sharply.
"Colonel, they've reached someone in Hammelburg and he's transmitting the radio call to Berlin!" Barker said.
"Right, Newkirk, do your stuff. Baker, can you cut him on that call?"
The radio operator looked doubtful, but shrugged. He turned up his radio transmission to overwhelm the other call.
Hogan tried not to think of what might be happening in the radio truck when they started to detect the signal from inside the camp.
"This is a message from Major Hochstetter for the SS officer in charge in Berlin," came a voice through crackling. "Are you there?"
"Right here," Newkirk said in his finest German. "I am Hauptmann Stirlbach. What is it?"
Hogan stepped back as Carter came running through his hands full of high explosives. He headed down the tunnel that led to Johnson's barracks, Hogan following. He hissed, "Carter!"
The young man turned.
"As soon as you set that for five minutes run back here. I'm hoping that the explosion will cave in the walls, and they'll think it's an abandoned tunnel, and not try to investigate too much. Or we might have to bring down more of it."
"It's going to be a mess," Carter said seriously, then grinned. "The last big bang of the war, Colonel!"
"Just make sure it's not us, Carter!" Hogan said trying to dampen his enthusiasm. He headed back to where Newkirk and Baker were tangling with the radio operators.
Checking his watch he saw that time was running short. Getting some rope he headed for the tunnel. He might have just enough time to rope some of the supporting timber so he could pull it down and make it look like a cave-in. God knows, his men knew what it was like to dig through the mud!
Carter came tearing back. "Four minutes, Colonel!"
"Get back to the barrack, and tell Newkirk and Baker to get off the radio. Get upstairs all of you."
"But what about you, sir?"
Hogan gave him an exasperated look. "Go, Carter!
Carter saluted and disappeared. Hogan tested the ropes, then retreated to the end of the rope. Three minutes.
One.... Boom! Creak! A cloud of black dust and the acrid smell of gunpowder, then the earth started to shift, sag, and fall in torrents.
He didn't have to worry about the tunnel filling in. If he was lucky, he might not get buried! He coughed, then gagged, his eyes burning.
From behind, he felt hands dragging him out of the tunnel as more and more earth caved in.
It took the three of them a few minutes to get back to the main cavern.
As he suspected it was Newkirk and Carter who had dragged him out. Baker was hanging up the headphones.
"Cor, guv, thought we'd lost you that time."
Hogan nodded, his throat still full of smoke. "Let's get upstairs," he whispered. His face was dirty, and the leather jacket covered with silt. The others weren't much better.
Climbing out of the bed, he saw everyone was awake now. The newcomers gaped at the emergence of Baker, Carter and Newkirk, but no one said anything as they heard the sound of running feet.
"Get the dirt off!" Hogan ordered. "As fast as you can!"
LeBeau threw a wet cloth over at Newkirk who wiped his face, and hair, then passed it to Carter. Hogan came last, throwing the cloth behind him as the door burst open.
The first man in was Major Hochstetter, followed by Klink.
Damn! Hogan thought. We missed the Major!
"What's going on?" Hogan asked boldly. "What's all the noise about?"
"The radio truck!" Hochstetter said almost frothing at the mouth. He was fully dressed, the only man who was. Klink wore his long coat was over his nightshirt. "Someone blew up the radio truck!"
"Aw, what a pity!" Newkirk said loud enough to be heard.
Hochstetter glared at him, his face reddening.
"What are you doing fully dressed, Colonel Hogan? A little bit of sabotage?" Hochstetter snarled.
Hogan shrugged, spreading his hands. "It's colder in here, Major, than out there. I always sleep in my jacket!"
"Covered with dirt?" Hochstetter needled.
Fortuitously Reinhardt came through the door, with the ever-present driver on his heels. They hadn't been resting if undress was the guide. The two men were still in full uniform. "What is going on here!" Reinhardt asked, cutting through the hostility.
"They blew up the truck!" Hochstetter screeched. "I have told Berlin over and over again that this is a nest of saboteurs and they should all be shot, and now they have blown up the only way to contact Berlin!"
"Is that what you were trying to do?" Reinhardt asked, eyeing him clinically. "Checking on my orders?"
Hochstetter backpedaled as fast as he could. "Just trying to make sure of where we will be taking the prisoners, Herr Obestleutnant. The Allied armies move quickly, as you know, and I wanted to be sure the path was clear."
"I know very well. Tomorrow, Major, you will scout them out yourself," Reinhardt said bitingly. "I will give you the route, and you can scout it for yourself! Now what about that truck?"
"It blew up," Hochstetter said simply. "I was almost blown up with it."
"Serves you right," came a mutter from the crowd but Hogan quenched them with a glance. He knew how dangerous Hochstetter was even if he looked like a clown right now. The man was still a Gestapo major, and he could order a prisoner shot and be obeyed before their supposed ally, Reinhardt, could stop him.
"That truck was over near Barracke 9," Hogan said. "What is going on over there!"
Hochstetter grinned. "Oh, you're worried now about your men? Did you think of that before you blew up the truck!"
"You have no proof that Colonel Hogan was involved in that," Reinhardt cut in. "Show me the damage. Make sure all these men are confined to their barracks!" He led the way out automatically assuming that Hochstetter and Klink would follow, as they did.
The guard held back for a second, staring at Hogan. "Arm yourself tomorrow morning," he ordered in English, then went outside slamming the thin wooden door.
Everyone looked at each other in bewilderment. "Colonel?" LeBeau finally asked in a whisper.
Hogan went over to the window and opened it a crack but the gleam of a gun barrel outside made him close it hastily. There were guards outside the barrack, Gestapo men. In a low voice, he said, "You heard him. Tomorrow's roll-call, we're all armed. This is it. This is the end."
"Mon Dieu," LeBeau whispered. "Freedom!"
"If we live to see it," Newkirk put in warningly. "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched, Louie."
"Better get out the guns," Hogan ordered. His gaze swept over the newcomers. "Don't worry. It'll all be explained, so relax."
"Right, sir," said David Troy, leaning against the door to Hogan’s office. "We'll follow you to hell if it'll get us away from that damned Kraut."
Hogan prayed that the Allies would be there tomorrow because he'd just blown the unit's cover in the most obvious way. "Get some sleep, guys. It's going to be a long night."
Moisture dripped off the roofs of the barracks, and puddled in the muddy ground, but it was no longer a torrent that soaked the men as they filed out for morning roll-call. Sometime in the early morning hours, the rain had become a gentle mist that seeped in to their tattered uniforms, and cracked boots, and chilled the prisoners to the bone.
Hogan eyed the weather moderation with disapproval. If the ground dried out, Hochstetter might try again to get the prisoners moved out.
Klink was in fine form this morning. Despite having to share his comfortable quarters with three Gestapo officers, and the predominance of black uniforms that outnumbered his own troops, he still acted as if he was in charge of the camp.
"Schultz! Are they all here!"
"Yes, Herr Kommandant!" Schultz said puffing out his chest. "I have a list of the new prisoners as well, and they are all accounted for as well."
"Kommandant Klink, I need to talk to you," Hogan called.
"Not now, Hogan," Klink blustered looking back at Hochstetter who just emerged from the door. He looked as if he had had a rough night.
Hogan hadn't slept much himself after the blow up. He was planning on what to do if the Allies didn't show up that day. It wouldn't take much digging to unearth the tunnel, then it might lead back to the main cavern, and their printing press, laboratory, and ultimately web of tunnels to the outside. Hochstetter would have them hanging on hooks in Gestapo headquarters in Berlin, in hours.
His mood wasn't lightened by Hochstetter's smug look. Hogan glanced around and saw Johnson and his barrack mates looking beat. They were covered with dirt.
The Gestapo man must have kept them up for hours digging. It was obvious that the tunnel had already been discovered, and maybe the rest of the operation.
Two Gestapo men stalked over, and pulled Hogan out of the ranks. He realized that things were worse than he thought they might be.
"So, are you satisfied, Obestleutnant?" Hochstetter asked turning to Reinhardt who was standing slightly behind him, one step up on the stairs of the Kommandantur. "I told you Hogan and the others were a danger to the Reich. We must move them away from here before they blow something else up!"
"I think that now that Colonel Hogan's network has been discovered, his teeth are pulled," Reinhardt said coldly. "Until we take the prisoners west, he should be in the cooler--"
"He should be shot!" Hochstetter burst out. "I cannot understand the reason that you are avoiding this--"
"He was an obviously successful spy, Major, and the kind of information he can provide us will give us the Underground," Reinhardt said coldly.
Looking at his guards, Hogan realized one was Sam Troy who stared at him warningly, his gun muzzle against Hogan's jacket.
"He'll never talk," Hochstetter replied angrily. "Look at what he has done. You know he won't talk--"
Clank. Growl. The sound of metal treads plowing through the mud came from outside the barbed-wire and guard stations.
Everyone turned and looked in disbelief as a tank on huge treads came up the road. Out of the woods to the right came another one. A third came from the undergrowth to the left.
Nothing stopped the approach of the tanks that stopped yards away from the camp.
One cannon was aimed at the guard station overlooking the ranks of shivering prisoners, the other at a crowd of Gestapo and the third directly at the Kommandantur.
Which meant, of course, directly at Hogan and the others.
"What are they?" Klink finally asked breaking the spell. "I mean, I've never seen--"
Hochstetter growled deep in his throat. "That one's a Sherman tank, an American tank! The Allies are here! Get the prisoners -- !"
"Surrender," Reinhardt ordered with a very British accent. The muzzle of his revolver was now against Hochstetter's back. "Tell your guards to surrender, Major."
Klink looked around aghast. "Herr Obestleutnant..."
"Leftenant Moffitt, Royal Scots Greys, actually," Reinhardt said coolly. "Back me up, Major! Order them to surrender!"
"I'll die first!" Hochstetter said grimly through his teeth.
"Excellent." Moffitt hit him hard and the officer gasped, then collapsed.
"Colonel Hogan, watch out!" David yelled, and yanked the officer back as the Gestapo guard on the right saw Moffitt’s actions, and drew his own conclusions.
A gun went off. Hogan felt the scorch of a bullet on his stomach. The guard crumpled in a heap.
Hogan sagged back to the ground, David grabbing him as he fell. Hogan saw smoke coming from Troy's gun and realized that he'd save Hogan's life.
Pandemonium reined. The Gestapo took the shot as an excuse to raise their guns, only to find the prisoners also armed, and quite willing to shoot back. Men collapsed as bullets flew.
Unfortunately the Germans were winning.
Then, with a tremendous boom, the right watchtower exploded, knocking everyone over. The guards went flying to land against the side of the Kommandantur, badly wounded or dead.
One of the tanks had let loose, quenching the riot in its infancy. It started for the front gate, followed by the others.
On the other side, the ersatz Reinhardt got to his feet dusting mud from the black uniform, with a massive look of disdain on his face. He held up his hands, and the Gestapo paused, watching him. Hogan realized that they hadn’t seen him holding the gun on now-unconscious Hochstetter. Could Moffitt pull this off?
“We are surrendering to the Allies!” Reinhardt said baldly, not dressing up the facts. “Put down your weapons!”
The camp guards looked at Klink who was the only person who hadn’t been knocked down. He was trembling, his hands clenched and his face stark white.
"Herr Kommandant?" Schultz asked tentatively. He'd been watching it all unfold around him, but didn’t seem to understand. "What is going on?"
Klink shook his head in disbelief. "Schultz... tell the men to put down their guns. If the Gestapo are surrendering, so are we. Tell the men at the gate to let them in and get the guards down from the towers. Now!"
Hogan couldn't keep the smile off his face. Around he could hear men starting to shout and yell. He stood up, realizing seconds later that it was David who helped him to his feet.
He could feel the wet blood from the stomach wound soaking his shirt, and he pulled the jacket closed.
The Gestapo men put their guns down reluctantly, folding their hands on top of their heads and lined up as the prisoners began to mill around, taking care of the wounded, and chattering excitedly. Carter and Baker organized a barrier between the Germans and the weapons, hustling the captives to one side.
"Colonel?" Newkirk said, coming up behind him. "It's over, sah?"
"Not quite yet," Hogan said, hiding his pain. "I want to see those tanks in here!"
He walked through the crowd, clapping hands with prisoners who were yelling ecstatically, and getting clouted on the shoulder. His stomach burned and he could feel the cloth getting wetter. If those tanks didn't get here soon, then he wasn't going to last on his feet long enough to greet them.
The first tank moved closer, ponderously through the mud, heading for the now opened gates. Soldiers came out of the woods, joined by the cheering Resistance fighters.
Two partisans joined them, holding their hands up until the Resistance waved at them to join them. Hogan didn't recognize their faces.
His eye was caught by the former Gestapo officer, Reinhardt or Moffitt?, remove his jacket and hat, tossing them and his gun aside into the dirt. Troy following his actions. Both had their hands up in light of all the armed prisoners around them, uncertain of their status.
David Troy stood in front of them explaining what was going on to suspicious questioners.
Hogan turned his head to LeBeau. "Go, make sure they don't get hurt. They're on our side."
"Oui, sir!" The Frenchman made a beeline for them.
The leading tank came straight towards Hogan, and the prisoners formed ranks, saluting the metal behemoth.
It stopped in front of Hogan, and the hatch opened.
The young man popped up was Carter's age with the pips of a captain.
Hogan saluted him, and the man returned it.
"Are you in charge here, sir?" he asked.
"Colonel Robert Hogan, Army Air Corp."
"Captain Walter Boyd, 2nd Armored Division. We're here to send you home."
"Glad to see you, boys," Hogan said with a weak grin. "Welcome to Stalag 13."
Suddenly everything went black, and he pitched forward. As his consciousness faded, he heard Newkirk's voice urgently calling his name.
He came back to life hazily. He recognized the room. Klink's bedroom? Had it all been a dream? Not if he was here lying in comfort on the Kommandant's threadbare sheets. Something smelled wonderful. Fried Spam? He hadn't had that since...last year sometime when it had turned up in a Red Cross package after years of not being included. Maybe that had been an accident, but the Spam smelled wonderful now.
He vaguely recognized the men talking at the doorway. One looked like Reinhardt, but now wore civilian clothing, while the other - Sam Troy? - now also in normal dress. Two partisans, the ones he hadn't recognized, leaned against the wall, all talking amiably among themselves.
LeBeau appeared, a plate in his hand. "Colonel Hogan?"
Hogan turned his head. There was the source of the smell. It was some kind of hash or Hogan would turn traitor and spill everything to the Germans. Like all of LeBeau's dishes, it smelled wonderful.
Reinhardt, no, Lieutenant Moffitt heard him and turned, but it was Troy who spoke first. "How are you feeling, Colonel?"
He sounded very much like his brother, David. "Awake." Hogan tried to sit up, but LeBeau pressed him down. "What's happening?"
"Well, most of the SS and guards have been marched out, and the trucks are being filled with our wounded to take them back to the American lines," Troy said briskly. "Sorry, I didn't get that guard sooner, sir, or you wouldn't be lying there right now."
"At least I didn't get killed," Hogan said with a weak smile. "What about my men? LeBeau, how are they?"
"They're helping with the loading, Colonel," LeBeau said cheerfully. "Everyone's fine."
"You'll be leaving shortly as well," Troy added. "All wounded out first."
Hogan gaped at him in disbelief. Leaving? Now? So soon? “I don’t get to turn out the last light?”
David interrupted, holding a message for Moffitt. He and the commandos retreated further down the hall, leaving Hogan and LeBeau alone.
"You should have seen Newkirk's face when you went down," LeBeau said with serious tone. "He went crazy. I thought he was going to start shooting Germans out of hand."
Hogan could imagine. "What’s happened to Hochstetter?"
"Oh, he's out there," LeBeau said smugly. "He'll live to be hanged."
Hogan tried sitting up, and made it half-way before the room swam with black dots, and his wound gave a jab of pain. He sank back. "Klink?"
"He's in the barracks with Schultz. The Allies didn't have enough guards to send them back all at one time, so the Gestapo went first."
"In my quarters?"
LeBeau smiled smugly. "Oui, mon Colonel. But we took your stuff out first. We left him the blanket with the holes."
Hogan began to laugh. The thought of the elegant Kommandant in his quarters was almost too absurd to imagine. “Disconnected the coffee pot?”
“Mai oui. We sent a message to London as soon as we were sure the Germans couldn't take back control. They said that the commandos were there under orders, and to follow their lead. They also passed along their congratulations, Colonel."
"Congratulations? For what? Getting shot?"
LeBeau shrugged. "We did not tell them that part. It was for a job well done."
Hogan tried to shrug but that hurt too much. "Speaking of jobs, did you have some food?"
The Frenchman lifted the plate. It smelled heavenly. "Shall I help you, sir?"
"Eat fast," Troy said briskly coming back. The others trailed on his heels. "We’ve got a message from HQ regarding you, Colonel. They want you back behind our lines as soon as possible. I’ll send you with Tully -- "
"Tully?" Hogan questioned.
Troy waved to one of the mysterious peasants. "Tully Pettigrew, one of my men. The other one's Hitchcock. They were working with the Resistance, making sure the roads out of here were clear for the tanks to arrive. We’ve got a car outside. "
Hogan was glad that he hadn't had that job. The two hard-faced men had looked like they'd been doing sabotage for years, which if they’d been in North Africa, they had. How many dead Germans could be chalked up to them? Hogan didn't want to think about it. He might have his share, but he never did it hand-to-hand if he could avoid it.
"Corporal, do you want to tell your buddies that the Colonel's leaving?” Troy concluded.
"Oui, Sergeant," LeBeau replied, putting the pan down where Hogan could spoon the heavenly hash into his mouth. "I will be back in a second, Colonel."
Left alone, Hogan eyed the five men around him. The resemblance between the Troys was uncanny but David had more gray in his hair, and limped from a leg wound.
"You've done brilliant work here," Moffitt said breaking the silence. "We were briefed about your activities before we were sent in."
"Not much of a briefing," Troy commented. "We were rushing to get here before the Krauts could move more prisoners!"
"Did the Gestapo really shoot stragglers and wounded?" Hogan asked.
Tully nodded. "I drove past the bodies. They didn't bother to bury anyone."
"What'll happen to them?"
"Oh, we'll give the Gestapo a fair trial," Moffitt said cheerfully. "Then we'll hang them, of course."
"What about your Luftwaffe Colonel? How'd he treat all of you?" Troy asked watching Hogan closely.
Klink? What could be said about Klink? "He's dumb but honest," Hogan replied. "Gullible. Won't give anyone any problems."
"Then he won't get shot," Moffitt callously joked. "Here's are your men."
He and the others moved out of the way as Newkirk, Carter, Baker and LeBeau came in with the canvas stretcher. LeBeau rescued the half-emptied pan and put it to one side.
"Blimey, Colonel, I thought you were like Nelson at Trafalgar, dying at the best moment," Newkirk said cheerfully. "Looks like you'll be the first one home."
"Don't worry about us," Carter said eagerly. "They say they'll ship us out in the next couple of days, and I have to clean up the laboratory..."
"Carter..." Hogan said tiredly but was drowned out by a chorus of the others telling Carter to shut up.
"Got some good food, and the promise of home to keep us going," Baker said quietly. "I'll radio them to have nurses waiting for you, Colonel."
Hogan grinned, then felt a pang of remorse and regret. This was the last time they'd be together in this place and time, and he couldn't even celebrate. "I think I can walk out--"
"Not the way you was bleedin'," Newkirk contradicted him. "Looked like a bloody river by the time we got you turned over. And the prisoners was going wild. Thought we was goin' to shoot every blasted Kraut in the place."
"One of the partisans, you know, Hitchcock fired into the air, and everyone froze. We found out that you were still alive," Carter said in a burst, "so that meant there wasn't an excuse."
Hogan frowned trying to make out what he meant.
"To start shootin' the Krauts," Newkirk explained. He glanced at Moffitt. "You were lucky, there, sir. You were the first on my list."
"Always the hardest part of the spy job," Moffatt acknowledged with a nod. "Not getting shot by our own side."
Newkirk grinned and sketched a salute. He turned back to Hogan. "Right, here we go."
They lifted him onto the stretcher and carried him out.
It couldn’t be the same day; it had to be morning of the day after the tanks arrived, and it had frozen overnight. The temperature had dropped, and the ground was stark with frozen ice and churned mud.Turning his head, Hogan could see that the torched guard station was already gone, probably into the prisoners’s stoves last night.
A thick blanket was laid over him by Johnson. "A souvenir, Colonel. From Klink's bed."
Puffy clouds overhead matched the mist from the mouths of the prisoners waiting to see him off.
There was a murmur as the quartet appeared. One by one the prisoners formed their lines as if it was roll-call, and stiffened, saluting.
Hogan's eyes stung. That was a tribute to be remembered. He'd never forget these four years but finally, he was going home.
For him, the war was over.