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Minarets of Notre Dame

Minarets of Notre Dame

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Minarets of Notre Dame

528 pagine
8 ore
Apr 26, 2011


This is a story about a tightly knit group of Americans living, loving and fighting in WWIII in the middle of the twenty-third century. In the world of the future, old competitors, even one-time geopolitical enemies, now trade, cooperate in space exploration, make babies, and fight in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East against a bitter and hardened enemy. The threat comes from the nuclear-armed radical Muslim government of the French Caliphate. My protagonists hail from the North American Union, Russia, France and Israel. Their lives are touched by the lives of other people of different nationalities and religions. Together, they shape the future and protect the very existence of humanity. To survive a nuclear Armageddon unleashed by the leaders of the Caliphate against the NAU and its closest allies, America needs more than brilliance of her scientists, competence of her leading politicians, bravery and professionalism of her soldiers. She needs trust, love and courage of her friends, regardless where these friends can be found, and she needs some luck.
There are historical developments, scientific breakthroughs, battle scenes based on future geographical and political realities, humor, love scenes. Most of all, this is a story about real people who are not jingoist, but put their lives on the line when it counts.

Apr 26, 2011

Informazioni sull'autore

Alex Estrov was born and raised in the former USSR, and his first language is Russian. He graduated from the Moscow Institute of Electronics with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Following two years of military duty in the Soviet Air Force as a lieutenant in signals, he immigrated to the USA. Estrov has worked as an engineer for several electronics companies in Massachusetts, became a consultant for several major corporations, and then founded a power electronics company. He has written technical articles and given presentations at engineering conferences. He holds four patents in the field of electrical power conversion and electronic components. Currently, Alex Estrov is the President of Planar Quality Corporation (PQC), whose customers include some of the leading aerospace and military companies in North America and Israel. Minarets of Notre Dame is his first novel.

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Minarets of Notre Dame - Alex Estrov


Chapter 1. June 6, 2244, England and French Caliphate

Captain Boris Panov checked his PW, as the Marine Corps insisted on calling personal weapons. All warning lights were in the green, exactly as they should be. Boris pushed a button on his personal link, PL, and a holographic image of his face materialized in front of every man and woman in his company.

Check your weapons, people! And welcome to France!

They were within five miles of the beach, so the fun was expected to begin shortly. His company rode in eight Marine Personnel Carriers, or MPCs, and in two much larger Battle Marine Vehicles, or BMVs. Every vehicle had the letters NAUMC stenciled on the bottom and the American flag with sixty-four stars painted on each side. In addition, an outline of Maryland was added next to the flag. Boris commanded one hundred forty-three well-trained professional soldiers wearing battle uniforms of the North American Union, the long established successor to the United States of America. In addition, his command BMV also housed three civilians. One tall, dark-haired man seemed somewhat familiar. The two others had former military written all over them. They were big and looked proficient. Boris wouldn’t mind having them in his command. All three carried PWs, but the tall man did not handle his weapon as easily as his two companions did. He had intrigued Boris from the moment he was first introduced to him. The previous night, when they were about to man the vehicles, Colonel Rodriguez – Boris’ commanding officer, originally from Sonora, one of Mexico’s states of the NAU – called him into his BMV for a chat in a command compartment. Boris was surprised to find the three men in uniforms without insignia sitting with the colonel.

Meet Mr. Smith and his friends, Mr. Cooper and Mr. Jones, the colonel stated. They will be joining you at tomorrow’s party. You are to do your job, as briefed. These gentlemen are going with you to observe and assist with technical aspects of our new machines. They are not triggersqeezers. In fact, they shouldn’t leave the vehicle unless it catches fire. Nonetheless, they are armed and trained with our weapons. FYI, Mr. Cooper and Mr. Jones are trained and certified in all our weapons, including those in the BMV. If need be, they will fight as Marines, but their primary function is to protect Mr. Smith.

Boris had met a few Smiths during his years as a professional military man in the NAU. Some labeled people like the captain mercenaries. If this guy was a Smith then Boris was a Georgian, from Tbilisi. The man’s features were very much like that of his Moscow friend, Misha Katz, and Misha was a member of the tribe, not a damned Smith. Boris couldn’t place him but thought he’d seen him somewhere before. Smith offered a broad, boyish smile, and then his hand. Then he dumbfounded Panov by saying: "Vi iz Moskvi?" (Are you from Moscow?). The fact that the question was asked in Russian did not surprise Boris that much; he’d met enough Russian-speaking people in the NAU. What really startled him was the total lack of American accent. Over many centuries, Muscovites had developed a distinctive way of speaking, not so much an accent, as a very special way of pronouncing vowels, and placing emphasis on certain words. This guy was from Moscow, no doubt.

"Da, replied Boris, glancing in the direction of his commander. I was born and raised there."

We are going to be friends then, continued Smith, this time in English with a Boston accent. Boris did not know what to make of it, so in a proper military fashion he snapped to and sounded off, Yes, sir.

These men will join you at twenty-four hundred. I shall have them escorted to your company. Rodriguez interrupted their homecoming.

When a sergeant escorted civilians out of the BMV hatch, Boris asked the inevitable question, Permission to speak, sir?

I know what you are going to say, Captain. Why are we taking three civilians, who are obviously not members of a press corps, into the invasion of France? replied the colonel. General Chase’s orders. He was very specific about where to place them, and about their weapons. I can sympathize with you regarding the matter, but in the NAU Marine Corps, we do what we are told. Any more questions?

No questions, Colonel, sir!

At ease, Captain! continued Rodriguez, in a less formal manner. Just do your job, and meet your objective tomorrow. These guys are instructed to stay out of the way. This man Smith is some kind of expert in our new machines. If something goes wrong with them on the beach, and Murphy will make sure that it will, Smith will advise your techs as to how to field-repair them. The CO told me that he can go all the way to the top, and people will be listening. Try to make friends with him, and take advantage of any help he can give.

We are friends already, Colonel, smiled Boris. Smith said so himself!

Bunch of Russkies, joked Rodriguez. Let’s go and kick some Caliphate butt!

* * *

When Boris returned to his company, he had a lot to do, so he dropped Smith and his friends from his thoughts. He was worried about the new machines. They were highly classified, as far as he knew, and they had only arrived in England two months before. There were only forty of the MPCs, plus ten big BMVs, so they were going to invade the Caliphate with one reinforced battalion of Marines. There would be ten groups, each group with a mother duck BMV and four duckling MPCs. This was definitely a crazy notion, considering that the Caliphate would probably have a full division of armored infantry in the area plus all those missile batteries. He understood that the NAU would have a few infantry and tank divisions following the Marines’ breakthrough force. Nobody told the captain how everything was to be organized, once his battalion crashed through the coastal defense.

What the brass did tell and demonstrate to the Marines was simply amazing. Boris remembered how, two months ago in England, his company was taken to a very well-camouflaged range where they were given a presentation about the new MPCs and BMVs. The new machines had a completely transparent thick upper half and rounded support beams. They were shaped like an American football, elliptical in form when looked at from the top. They were flat on the top and on the bottom. Apparently, the transparent material was exceptionally strong, as well as lightweight. No one would tell him where it had come from or what it was called. When a major from military intelligence opened up at an MPC with a PW, the Marines were not surprised. Many things could stop PW rounds and grenades, although it was unusual to see glass-like material stop ammunition without any damage. Then the major ordered a three-inch Howitzer to fire at the MPC. The resulting explosion was absorbed by a shimmering funnel before the shrapnel and shockwave even reached the machine’s surface.

The next trick was mind-boggling. A battle tank roared to a distance of about a hundred meters from the machine. The NAU’s principal tank was an Abrams M12. It was armed with a 125-millimeter gun capable of penetrating just about any type of armor. It was better than anything the Caliphate had, but not by much. The major used a remote clicker to open the hatch in the MPC and got in. Evidently, he’d pushed some buttons, because lovely lights showed up around the MPC. Everyone moved back, at least two hundred meters, activating the ear-blocking features and eye-shields in their helmets. What happened next was impossible to explain. The tank fired a main gun and the shell slammed into another funnel that miraculously appeared when the tank fired. They were able to observe a tremendous explosion in front of the MPC. The shell created a huge fireball, except all fire took place away from the MPC. It scorched the earth near the target, but left the ground under and around the machine untouched. The vehicle itself was not damaged at all. It had not even moved. It was obvious that something had absorbed all the energy, shielding the MPC. The tank continued firing the gun, each time with the same results. Finally, the major, who was very visible inside the machine, waved the tank away. The Marines were instructed to withdraw one thousand meters and to take cover in concrete shelters with narrow viewing windows. They were told that the Air Force would have the next shot. After a short wait, a tactical fighter buzzed the range, dropping what seemed to be a very heavy bomb. The ground shook hard and the fireball around the machine was stupendous. When the dust settled, the MPC, with the major still inside, was completely undamaged. The Marines yelled OohRah! followed by some choice words for the Air Force pukes. They understood that the new technology was creating some kind of energy shield that could prevent just about any weapon from striking the vehicle.

Later on, the Marines learned to operate the new personnel carriers and activate their weapons, which were standard Marine Corps hardware. They quickly got used to the transparency of the body, but everyone had difficulty adjusting to being pummeled by all sorts of lethal weaponry while seated in a fish tank.

* * *

A standard MPC could elevate and move at six to eight feet above the surface of either land or sea. They moved at forty to fifty miles an hour. But the attacking regiment in their new MPCs and BMVs flew at thirty to forty feet, and therefore they could move over high waves caused by very stormy weather. Since they were more lightweight, the new MPCs could develop a speed of one hundred miles an hour. They carried a standard 76-millimeter automatic cannon, and surface-to-surface, surface-to-air, self-guided missiles. They were also complemented by two large-caliber machine guns, front and back.

A BMV, while every bit as fast and agile as a smaller machine, could have been called an Armory on Wheels or a Flying Fortress for infantry. Its main 150-millimeter cannon rivaled anything modern artillery could deploy on a battlefield. Reliable multi-barrel fifty-caliber machine guns protruded from all sides, including the bottom of the vehicle. Satellite-guided missile launchers, normally hidden in the body of the BMV, could be automatically or manually deployed from either a stationary position, or in flight.

* * *

The battalion separated from the transport ship at a distance of twenty miles from the coast of France. The Marines were moving in tight groups of five vehicles apiece, with a BMV in the middle, surrounded by a diamond formation of four of the smaller MPCs. There were ten groups of them: ten diamonds flying towards Normandy. Computers maintained the correct speed and distance for every vehicle and every diamond. Automatic shields were activated and every gun was loaded. Behind the advance of the Special Assault Marine Battalion attacking the French Caliphate in new machines, the rest of the invasion fleet was waiting for a signal to hit the beaches. Men and women from all sixty-four American states and provinces had vengeance in their hearts and apprehension in their minds. They were joined by some old natural allies and by some new, very unexpected friends. The third world war was coming to the European continent.

* * *

The Caliphate’s radars were able to pick up the diamond formations from a distance of fifteen miles. They also detected hundreds of similar groups, all the way from the Spanish border to the coast of Holland. Alarms went to the coastal defense headquarters, where the night duty officer did not know what to make of it. He decided to pass the buck to his boss, who connected them to General Mustafa Alshabbi in Paris.

Both generals materialized in holographic manner in front of the panicked man.

Report! barked Alshabbi.

Your Excellency, there are hundreds of targets approaching the coast at a high rate of speed. We do not identify them as standard personal carriers or navy ships. They are moving too fast and too high above the water, but not fast enough to be attack aircraft. We suspect that some of them are bogus, but we can’t identify which ones, so we are not engaging them. If we engage, we will reveal all of our positions. The weather is very bad, so our patrol boats do not see anything; in fact we’ve already lost contact with some of them.

We were just informed that a similar attack is taking place to the south. The weather there is much better and patrol boats are in force. They can’t see anything either, interrupted his boss. I think the infidels are faking this attack electronically to make us give away our positions.

The infidels have overplayed their hand, concluded Alshabbi gleefully. They sent these attack phantoms at us, thinking that we would start shooting. Still, I want to place all coastal defenses on alert.

Already done, your Excellency. We are prepared to fire at real targets, once identified.

Your Excellency, we don’t have any intelligence reports about this kind of vehicle. They move at relatively low speed. In fact, they remind me of helicopters, except, of course, we haven’t had those for over a century. added the night shift commander.

His boss ventured: Could this be something new?

As I said, there may be nothing there; just fake electronic signals. Put them all on my screen, replied Alshabbi.

All three generals gazed in silence at a hologram of a large map of France; each man was viewing different holograms, because they were hundreds of miles from each other. They could see a lot of white dots, already very near the west and south coasts.

Put me in the Le Havre area and magnify ten times, ordered Alshabbi.

The Caliphate men saw the scale jump, and the seaport of Le Havre showed up, along with a section of the coast. The dots were just three to four miles away, approaching rapidly. They reached the coast and kept on going.

Your Excellency, Le Havre reports seeing nothing, but we’re getting reports from observation posts about fast-moving vehicles in diamond formations, crossing the coast of Normandy, between Caen and Bayeux. We’re under attack! Coastal defenses engaged the targets! So far, there are no reports of any enemy vehicles being shot down. We still can’t determine what they are! the duty officer kept reporting.

Stand by. There are no reports of any real targets anywhere else. We don’t have an actual count yet, but they’re all in Normandy.

Damned Normandy! growled Alshabbi. Sounds familiar…

Now they all stared at a map of Normandy. They could see ten fuzzy targets, moving inland. The target on the right was traveling west of Bayeux. The left wing was headed in the direction of the area east of Caen. Additional targets were in between those cities.

Sir, reports are coming in, there are ten groups of five vehicles, each in a diamond formation. As you can see, they are all roughly in line. Coastal missile defenses have opened up, there are multiple hits.

The dots on screens just kept coming. Why are we missing, General? Alshabbi sharply demanded. I do not see any results.

I can’t explain it, sir. Reports indicate that explosions are taking place directly on targets. It’s as if they’re immune. We’ve never seen anything like it.

The dots started to slow down and then to reverse course. Another smaller screen, in the lower right corner of the map of Normandy, revealed an amplified image of five aircraft, flying in a diamond formation. The one in the middle was much bigger than the other four. They were clearly firing at ground targets. It was also evident that they were fired upon, but every hit on enemy aircraft showed that the force of the blast was deflected away from it.

Your Excellency, if I didn’t know that it’s impossible, I would say that they have invisible shields. We’ve been unable to penetrate their defenses, so far.

They look like damned American footballs. What are they doing now? Wait, I can see that they’re much lower to the ground now, and they’re slowly moving back in the direction they came from.

They’re attacking and destroying our missile batteries, sir, the duty officer answered. We also have reports that they are attacking our tanks and artillery in the area.

They’re clearing a passage for the rest of invasion force! Where is our air force? Direct them to blow these footballs out of my sky!

Your Excellency, we have very few air assets in that area. They’ve already scrambled what they have, in Nantes and Rennes. There are reports that the infidel’s air force engaged our fighters from their space stations. We do not see any Caliphate fighters in the Normandy area so far. The duty officer wanted to say, "Since Medina defected, we don’t have much of an air force," but he kept his mouth shut.

Your Excellency, we see new targets exactly like these within fifteen miles of the coast. They are also moving towards the land. If some of them are real, this could be an attempt to clear yet another corridor.

Don’t turn into a strategic thinker on me! growled Alshabbi. I need you to report and I need you to shoot down the targets in Normandy! They attacked there three hundred years ago, and they’re doing the same thing now. Damned infidels and their long memories! Get anything you have in the area and knock these things out of the sky! The invasion is coming!

* * *

Boris checked the battlefield info on his PL. Missile batteries were clearly identified as semicircles pointed towards the coast. Yeah, you Caliphate bastards, we know where you are now. You shoot at NAU Marines, we will shoot back! He did not realize that he was speaking out loud, until every marine in his BMV yelled OohRah! Mr. Smith looked at him with curiosity; he obviously was not familiar with the old Marine yell. His companions did not join the Marines in cheering, but they approved.

Execute step Alpha! Ordered Rodriguez, on the battalion net.

Go Alpha, Mac. Boris followed the order. Grace McIntosh, or Mac, as everybody called her, was his BMV driver. Other forward drivers in the battalion carefully changed their machines from the position at the front of the diamond, to the right flank of the BMV. At the same time, the rear MPC took its place on the BMV’s left flank. The diamond became a straight line, with the heaviest piece of equipment in the center. Boris knew that the same was happening in the other groups. On the order from Rodriguez, the line of Marine machines moved forward slowly from the far back of missile semicircles, toward them. They floated at about ten feet above the ground. The whole idea was to locate well-concealed, automatic pillboxes and gun placements that were protecting batteries from the rear. Most of the defensive hardware was well hidden underground, popping up above ground level when directed by Caliphate operators. At a slower rate of speed, hugging the ground, Marine sensors were able to identify the low-power radio emissions of the controlling equipment. They were sniffing the enemy, hidden below the ground, not unlike hounds and terriers would do when sniffing out vermin. From time to time, a Caliphate operator would raise his heavy-caliber weapon from the ground, letting it loose on a Marine vehicle. Underground dwellers didn’t get a message from the brass yet, speculated Boris to his captive audience. The group tightened up, entering the semicircle. Grace and the other drivers allowed automatic control to maintain proper distance between machines, speed, and direction. They needed to crawl as closely as possible to the batteries from the rear in order to map all defensive positions.

Heads up, people! We are detecting tank and artillery movement at our six! Rodriguez barked. Sure enough, Boris could see the targets on his PL, heading deliberately towards them. Marines, we have heavy shooters on our asses! We have to wait to clean things up on the ground. Grace stopped her forward movement, as did the other drivers, and pivoted the vehicle 180 degrees. They were now facing their main threat, while sandwiched between the back of missile batteries and the incoming Caliphate traffic. This was the time for the BMVs to shine. They opened up with the main guns and heavy missiles. Smaller machines unleashed what they had, as well. Every Marine observed the way Caliphate targets kept blinking out on their PLs. Now I know why we needed these monsters. Grace stated coolly. She had barely finished her sentence when a well-hidden missile placement popped up from the ground and fired. The hit was aimed at the battalion commander’s BMV, and its protective sensors detected the threat. Unfortunately for the BMV, the distance to the target was too short; the shield didn’t have time to fully deploy. The missile exploded within inches of the vehicle’s glass wall, sending some shrapnel into the machine. No matter how tough the glass wall was, the kinetic energy of missile shrapnel allowed some pieces to pass through, instantly killing Colonel Rodriguez and his main computer operator. The missile launcher did not have a second chance to fire, because every rear-placed gun opened up automatically on the target, vaporizing it within seconds.

Listen up people! Boris heard XO’s voice on the net. Falcon is down, I am in command. Our computer system is also down. We can’t fire the main gun and our defensive shield is inoperable. Attempting to repair. Seagulls, shield us from the bad guys while we work on it.

MPC drivers deployed either in front, or close to the side of the BMV. The smaller vehicles used their shields to protect the wounded mother hen. Boris knew that without the BMV’s main gun and missiles, the MPCs had no chance of holding off heavy tanks and artillery for long. They might have to evacuate the battalion BMV, gather the dead and wounded, and leave. The Caliphate’s battery would remain untouched, and that part of the mission would fail. How can we help you, Major? he inquired of the acting battalion commander, Major Petrossian.

Unless you’re an expert in computer systems, there is nothing you can do, was the reply.

I think I will be able to repair his computer, the voice with a Bostonian accent declared. Apparently, Mr. Smith had been monitoring the battalion’s net. Requesting permission to come aboard, Major.

We are not fuckin’ sea or space navy, Mr. Smith! It seemed that the major was also aware of the civilians’ presence. If you can help, we will open a hatch for you.

Boris did not even consider bringing up the "civilians are not to leave the vehicle" order. The colonel who had given that command was dead, and the new person in charge was giving a different order. They had to place both machines on the ground, head to tail. The distance between his back hatch and the front hatch of the battalion BMV was short, about ten feet, but it was ten feet of hell, with Caliphate bullets flying at them from all directions. Mr. Cooper and Mr. Jones checked their weapons, getting themselves ready to go. Mr. Smith did not let go of his gun, but he clearly was not in the mood to use it. At a signal from the major, every MPC and every functioning gun in the BMVs opened up simultaneously, and the civilians moved through the opened hatch outside and in the direction of the damaged BMV. Immediately, all three were hit by Caliphate bullets, but standard Marine Corps personal armor held. For his trouble, Mr. Smith got hit in the helmet as well, making sure that he’d have a headache for a while. Both Cooper and Jones stayed as close to him as possible, but they could not find any targets to shoot at.

One by one, they dove into an open BMV hatch. Boris could see them through the glass wall of the big machine.

Victor Goldman—Mr. Smith–– moved toward the computer panel, dialing his sister-in-law’s number at the same time. It was quite late in Boston, so it took some time for her to answer the call.

Vic, baby, is that you? Where are you? What’s happened?

I need your help with the BMV computer, Rosie, on the double. I’m somewhat pressed for time.

Are you where I think you are, Victor?

Rosie, it can’t be helped. Let’s get it done, sis.

Tell me what you’ve got. Vic knew that as long as the problem remained, his sister-in-law would work like the professional she was. She would let him have it later, when the danger had passed. He quickly described what the diagnostics revealed and they attempted a few fixes. Finally, she advised him to replace the synchronizer box with the spare on board. Vic and a sergeant who’d been assigned to assist him located the unit and swapped it out. This turned out to be the correct solution. The system lights all went green, and they were back in business.

Good job, Mr. Smith! That was all from Major Petrossian, along with a slap on the back.

The BMV roared to life, rising up to thirty feet, blasting away with its main gun. Its shields worked properly, and the tide turned. Vic noticed the body of Colonel Rodriguez in the corner. He steadied himself and to his credit, held his composure.

Caliphate tanks and artillery melted in front of the Marine group. After twenty minutes of heavy lifting, nothing remained to shoot at.

Execute step, Bravo, the major barked out. Every Marine vehicle moved to positions, where sensors had located underground weapons. Weapon specialists injected underground probes, loaded with heavy dose of explosives, to a depth of five feet. This had been deemed sufficient to disable weapons, and that proved to be the case. The vehicles then moved forward, initiating a blast. It took until sunset, but they cleared out the Caliphate defensive weapons. When all targets disappeared from the screens, the major ordered Step Charlie. They were now going after the missile launchers themselves. This would be the most dangerous stage of the operation for the grunts. They quickly rushed out of their hatches and placed explosives into ventilation shafts and into carefully concealed entrances of the underground bunkers. The missiles and bunkers were dug in much deeper than the five feet capability of the machines, so the Marines had to do their work the hard way. For more than two hours, leathernecks methodically blew whatever they could. From time to time, Caliphate soldiers tried to exit their bunkers and engage the Marines, but they never had the chance to get far. Still, the Marines sustained casualties, some from Caliphate soldiers, and some from mines. By ten hundred, Zulu time, the enemy batteries were wiped out.

A large swath of the coast of France between Caen and Bayeux lay open.

Execute step Delta, ordered the major. All Marine vehicles picked up their crews and casualties, returning to their assigned lines of defense. Their task was to keep a corridor open until the army was able to relieve them.

The army was on the way. And, following the all-clear signal from the Marine Assault Battalion Commander, the Allied Navy moved in with their troop carriers. By the end of the day, there were fifty-thousand Allied troops with main battle tanks, personnel carriers, artillery, communication centers, and field hospitals on the beach. After unloading troops and supplies, empty troop carriers rose above sea level, turned around, and flew towards the coast of England at a high rate of speed. In the middle of the channel, every second ship turned south, proceeding towards Gibraltar.

The first to hit the beach were Quebec tankers of the De Gaulle Division, French Liberation Army. They were able to reach the Marines by noon, and it was not a minute too soon. The Marines were running out of ammunition, fighting nonstop against whatever the Caliphate had to throw at them. French tankers happily joined the battle, and the Marines moved back into the diamond-shape formations, traveling out towards the beach to resupply.

The invasion of Normandy was over. The enemy was different from what the Allies had faced three hundred years before; however, the result was quite similar. Allies secured a large beach on the European continent. The battle for France had just begun.

Chapter 2. June 6, 1944, France

David looked at his wristwatch. Did only fifteen minutes pass? The whole un-pressurized cabin of the B24 bomber felt like a refrigerator, flying at close to twenty thousand feet. He was freezing in spite of his the warm clothing, courtesy of the US Army Air Force. The Liberator bomber took off from an English airfield after dark for the mission in occupied France. As the aircraft commander, Lieutenant Torricelli, a quiet Italian from the North End in Boston, informed them at the briefing: Boys, we go in the dark and we’ll leave France in the dark, and let’s hope that the Krauts won’t even know we were there.

They were carrying twelve very serious looking Brits this time. The soldiers were loaded for bear. David’s crew had made a few drops in France before, but he’d never seen so many heavy guns and mortars for so few people. On previous drops, they had carried two or three people with boxes of radios, ammunition, batteries, perhaps some light weapons, but this bunch seemed prepared to liberate Paris on their own.

To make the situation all the more confusing for the airmen, the Brits wore military field uniforms. Are they going to open the Second Front in Europe tonight? It’s about time! We’ve been flying from this island for almost a year! Today is June 5, or no, it’s June 6 already. He corrected himself, looking at his watch again. If so, why were we not informed?

Attention, crew! he heard Torricelli’s voice in his headphones. The pilot proceeded to call everyone by name to make sure that they were all alert.  Goldman! Are you O.K. back there? See any damn Krauts? David spontaneously placed his hand on his twin Browning half-inch machine guns. Visibility above the clouds was good, especially from his tail turret. He had a spectacular view of the stars and moon, and he could even see three American escort fighters in the dark sky. But, he observed thankfully, no German fighters.

Nah, Lieutenant! They’re all sleeping so we can keep going all the way to Berlin! Are you sure we don’t have any spare bombs to drop on Hitler’s ass?

Hold on to your panties, Sergeant! There’ll be enough 88s where we’re headed.

David sneaked his hand inside his flight jacket to touch the sterling silver Star of David his mother had given to him on the day he left for England. His fellow flyers advised him on many occasions to leave the symbol of Judaism in his bunk before each flight. His best friend Ken Morris, a former butcher from Chicago, admonished him many times: The Krauts do not need to know that they’ve got another Jew to torture when they shoot our sorry asses from the sky.

As if they’d have to figure out who I am after I’ve given them my name, rank, and serial number, replied David on every occasion. He would never admit to his friend that he held onto the firm belief that, as long as he wore his mother’s parting gift, he would be protected from harm.  The crew was now on their fourteenth mission, including anti-sub patrols over the Atlantic Ocean. They’d managed to sink two German U-boats and Ken had been the principal shooter on both occasions. Naval radar proved to be an instrumental tool in locating the submarines, and the Liberator had always been on top of the German sailors before they’d even known it.

Then one day the Flying Nun, as Torricelli had christened the plane, was painted pitch black and they found themselves transporting Joes, a common reference to spies, into occupied France. On one occasion, they’d landed in a French field retrieving six American airmen who’d been shot down and saved by French resistance fighters. That had been a close escape, because the Gerstapo had been able to view the entire operation. The Nazis had missed the takeoff, but their column was close to the field, and had machine guns mounted on trucks. After the takeoff both Ken and David had a good field of fire, and let 12.7-millimeter bullets greet the Germans. The moon had been too bright that night, as far as the Americans were concerned; some lucky German was able to put a few holes in the Flying Nun. The American airmen knew all too well that B24s were prone to catching fire as a result of enemy flak. The planes had been designed with minimum electrical circuits but maximum hydraulics, so the smell of hydraulic fluid, combined with that of 100-octane fuel was always pungent. That night they’d been lucky, but those low-altitude nighttime flights were extremely dangerous and took their toll on the boys.

While in their tents at night, everyone speculated that they’d been selected for these operations because of their training with the anti-submarine bomb group, and because of their special training in low-altitude flying and pinpoint navigation skills. Who cares why the Army does what is does? As long as they keep me out of harm’s way, Ken would joke.

The damned Army decided to land the Nun deep within occupied territory with a bunch of crazy British commandos, thought David. He was well aware that they would require a long empty field, in spite of a lot of fuel having already been consumed, which left the plane lighter than when they’d departed England. They needed time to unload, turn around, and take off. Hopefully, this time the Frenchies will select a field far away from German guns, he thought. Unfortunately, parachuting all of that heavy British hardware would not be an option, if they wanted to keep it all on the ground.

None of the crew was aware that this was the night Eisenhower had ordered an invasion fleet to sail over the English Channel, thus beginning the liberation of Europe. The Brits had been given the task of attacking a major German communication center located deep within occupied territory, in fact, between Paris and the German border. It was determined that bombing wouldn’t be fully capable of completing the assignment, because the Germans had positioned the center deep beneath the earth. French resistance fighters were too lightly armed, and thus no match for the German SS unit in charge of guarding the hub. British soldiers were given the mission to take over the center and to blow up all its equipment. The operation was scheduled for nighttime, before the German High Command in France could fully grasp the unfolding events and place every German unit in France on high alert. 

The Nun was supposed to land by 3 A.M. and depart after a few minutes on the ground. So far, they were on schedule. German radar had located the flight of four allied planes when they had crossed the coastline, but, luckily, no German fighters were available to intercept them, and the American group entered the occupied territory without problems.

They’d completed a large loop to avoid heavy antiaircraft defenses around Paris, and proceeded towards Germany. Heads up, boys, Torricelli finally announced. We are about to land. The Nun was flying much lower by this time, and everybody on board was on a lookout for landing lights. Suddenly David sensed a change in the tone of the engine noise.

Crew, number 4 engine is overheating, I had to shut it down, explained Torricelli. This would not present a problem on landing; they’d practiced this scenario before. Still, the probability of difficulties on takeoff remained. Apparently, the pilot was able to observe landing lights, because the plane banked, beginning a rapid descent. Torricelli guided the aircraft to the French field by moonlight, quickly bringing the Nun to a halt. The crew worked in unison, unloading the commandos, along with their heavy load. French resistance fighters drove a truck to the plane, working alongside the British to transfer the load as quickly as possible. This time, the Germans were not at all organized, providing the plane with plenty of time to taxi in the dark field, in preparation for take off.

The plane was much lighter with its heavy load removed and a good deal of fuel consumed during the flight into France. Torricelli brought the Nun up very carefully, but the speed was sufficient for takeoff, and soon they were joined in the night sky by circling escort fighters. At this point, Torricelli had to break radio silence to inform the fighters that the Nun had one engine down. They were a long way from the coast, and without all engines their cruising speed would necessarily be much slower.  David knew that the pilot couldn’t afford to run the defective engine, due to the danger of its catching fire. They found themselves in a challenging position. The escort planes would burn more fuel at lower speeds, requiring them to eventually abandon the B24 and speed forward to cross the coastline under cover of darkness.

 Well, every mission deep into enemy territory is a suicide mission, David thought, as he once again reached to touch the Star of David beneath his flight jacket. As time passed and the nighttime hours grew shorter, the escort planes were forced to leave the Liberator behind. The B24 and its crew were alone in the sky, and the sun was beginning to rise. As they looped around Paris again, the sun shone bright, and with that, they were fully exposed to the enemy.

Heads up, guys! Torricelli warned the crew. They’ve spotted us and will probably start firing! David was in the best position to spot German fighters from his tail turret, so his eyes continuously swept the sky. Suddenly he caught a glimpse of a single aircraft approaching rapidly from behind. This plane was flying at higher altitude than the Nun, approaching from the direction of the sunrise, and firing shots from a long distance away. David noticed that the German plane was shooting rockets rather than machine gun bullets or cannon shells. However, it was flying so fast and was so far away that none of the rockets came even close.

Pilot, looks like a jet plane is after us! he screamed into the intercom. Torricelli and the rest of the crew had been briefed in the past about German experimental jet craft, which were known to be very fast but not maneuverable. Up until now, none of the aircraft in their squad had encountered any of the new German jets. Still, every airman dreaded this new and mysterious enemy. Why us? thought David. Of all the days we have to see a fucking jet, it’s the day when we’re running slow! Torricelli banked the Nun, in an attempt to outmaneuver the German, but without their escorts, and with a damaged engine, they’d be no match for the jet.

They’d been informed that experimental jet aircraft flew so fast they wouldn’t have enough time to line up at slower-flying allied planes. Their tactic was to dive from a higher altitude, then come up from behind and under the target at much higher speed. From a distance of about a mile the Germans would steeply pull up to slow down. Once the lower level of velocity had been attained, they could begin firing their rockets from a distance of 200 to 300 yards, directly into the belly of their target. This was an assumption supplied by Allied intelligence. Although the Nun lacked speed, it possessed plenty of guns. The German aircraft was too far, but the men in the side turrets choose to open up anyway. David was still waiting for his shot when the German plane flew beneath the belly of the Nun.

Predictable bastard . . . Hopefully Ken will be ready for you. Ken began shooting, as did the German. Rockets exploded not far from the Liberator and David could hear shrapnel hitting the plane. Suddenly, he could no longer hear Ken’s gun firing; at the same time he felt something strike the outside of his left thigh and his left shoulder. He instinctively squeezed the trigger in reaction to the intense pain and, as if he were watching in slow motion, he saw the jet soaring right in front of him. The German pilot hadn’t expected the American bomber to be so slow; thus he’d miscalculated his distance and speed. David’s twin half-inch machine guns sprayed the belly and canopy of the jet with point-blank fire. The pilot of the jet was killed instantly and his plane spiraled to the ground, spewing a trail of smoke as it fell.

Pilot, I got him! screamed David, momentarily forgetting his pain.

Good job, Goldman! Is anybody hit?

I’m hit, Lieutenant, David yelled. Feels like my left leg and shoulder. Can anybody patch me up?

I’ll send someone shortly. Can you shoot?

I can, once I stop the bleeding!

David felt warm blood seeping into his jacket and pants. Torricelli called everyone by name and only Ken did not answer. The pilot sent a waist turret gunner to patch David up. The plane kept going and the sun kept shining.

Finally, the Nun reached the coast of Normandy, and everyone held his breath for a few seconds. As far as their eyes could see, there were thousands of ships nearing the French coast. The American crew also saw many Allied aircraft flying towards France.

Boys, hold on! I’m going to go higher, so the navy pukes won’t shoot us down, warned Torricelli.

Seems the brass neglected to inform us they’d be invading France this morning!

On the ground in

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