Well, you never know how a mission is going to turn out do you...let alone a campaign!'The Last Post'One month later: October 31 1940.At Croydon airfield, 111 Squadron, 0920 GMT
All routine flying operations have been suspended, and in the officers mess pilots are huddled around the radio listening to the BBC broadcast of the Armistice Signing ceremony at the Horse Guards Parade in London. Present for the signing will be representatives of the Italian, British and German armed forces, with the co-signatories being the foreign ministers Galeazzo Ciano, Lord Halifax and Von Ribbentropp.
Dubbed the ‘Co-Prosperity Pact’ the armistic agreement assigns mutual trade and transport rights to Axis and British interests in the UK and Europe, but cedes to the Axis powers significant British interests in Africa and Meditteranean. British dominions in Asia, the middle East and sub-continent are protected by a non-interference clause, as are Axis interests in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Despite being anathema to British negotiators, German military forces have secured right of passage through British territories, ports and airports, and Axis air and naval forces are currently being ‘hosted’ in Dover, London, and Scapa Flow, while German air transports have been landing on the hour at Fighter Command airfields in 11 Group, ferrying troops, couriers and materiel between Europe and Britain.
Three 111 Squadron officers however are not in the mess.
Out on the flight line, Pilot Officers Gabriel Niedzwiecki, William Turner, and Warrant Officer Simon Dixon watch as a Luftwaffe aircraft drifts down to land on the other side of the airfield where a German liaison post – tents, store yard and repair facilities – have been set up.
“Storch,” says Turner.
“Third one today,” Dixon responds.
They grind out their cigarettes. Niedzwiecki looks at his watch. “It is time.”
The men shake hands with each other, and walk out to the two Hurricanes sitting at readiness, their engines already warm. Dixon runs between their machines, helping them strap in.
As they taxi out to takeoff, the squadron adjutant comes running up to him, “Those men! Don’t they know ops are suspended?”
“I believe so Sir,” Dixon remarks.
“Where’s the bloody Very pistol?!” the adjutant yells, running into the ready room behind their caravan looking for the flare gun to fire a red flare across the path of the Hurricanes. Dixon lets him fossick around for a few minutes, as the Hurricanes power up and start rolling down the field. “Damnation!,” the adjutant comes steaming out of the caravan empty handed. “It isn’t there!”
Dixon watches the Hurricanes lift into the air, then turns to the adjutant, “Really sir? I’ll investigate that immediately.” Over East London
Negotiations on the exact composition of the Armistice Ceremony flypast dragged on so long the pilots were given no time to drill together, so the four squadrons of aircraft are flying in loose formation. Out front are Spitfires of 72 Squadron, then six 109s. The honour of representing Germany's fighters in the flypast went of course to LG2, who flew from British soil throughout the Sealion campaign.
Behind them come 6 BR20s of Corpo Aero Italiano, and 6 Luftwaffe FW200s in mirrored echelon formation. Finally, six Italian G50 fighters.
Their track will take them over the Horse Guards Parade near Westminster, just after the signing of the Armistice documents by the three foreign ministers. Then they will veer slightly to starboard, passing along The Mall, heading for Buckingham Palace, where they will split - the English aircraft heading north, the Axis aircraft heading symbollically south toward France. It was this last condition that the English had insisted upon, and which had been the main sticking point for the Luftwaffe, but in the end they agreed.
As Westminster comes into view, the flight leader from 72 Squadron reaches for his R/T, "Keep it together gentlemen, look sharp, even though it seems no one is watching down there..."
He is right. Except for a few military convoys, soldiers and police on the streets, they are empty. Even outside Buckingham Palace, there are no cheering, flag-waving crowds, no joyful bystanders marking this day.
It is a mood the pilots of 72 Squadron share - not happy to be pressed into duty escorting Axis bombers, they have removed the RAF roundels from their Spitfires in protest.5 miles north of Croydon.
Niedzwiecki and Turner are also flying wingtip to wingtip, just as they had done, mission after mission, for nearly a year now.
"There they are Gabriel," says Turner as he sees the strange assortment of aircraft on the horizon ahead.
"Acknowledged," is all the Pole says.
Turner feels he should say something more. He and this man have been through ten months of war together. Since his wife Lilly died in the Blitz, there is no one in the world he would he trusts more than Niedzwiecki, but he realises he hardly knows the man. He was married too, he knows that much. His wife left behind in Poland, with his son, as he escaped west to continue the fight for his homeland, first with the French airforce, then with the RAF. But what is there to say? They have both been over the plan a dozen times.
In the end, he sticks to the script, "Take my six Gabriel. See you on the other side."
"Behind you flight leader," the Pole replies, and slides into place below and behind his friend.
The formation of ceremonial aircraft looms large in the sky ahead of Turner. Are they even armed? He supposes he will soon find out. They have deliberately placed themselves in the path of the flypast, in position for a head on merge. He sees Spitfires in the lead. The hated 109s behind them. But he places his pipper on the the line of heavy bombers, the Condors, behind the Luftwaffe fighters.
"This one is for you Lilly," he says under his breath.
As Turner sweeps under the Spitfires, then over the shocked and surprised 109s, the Condor rushes toward him at a combined 500 miles per hour, filling his sights...Niedzwiecki
The Pole watches dispassionately as his flight leader ploughs into the Condor and his Hurricane evaporates into a ball of gas and schrapnel.
Niedzwiecki pulls up, watching with satisfaction as the formation scatters like startled geese. The right wing of the stricken Condor peels away, and it begins its earthward plummet.
This was exactly their intention, an initial attack so shocking it would cause chaos and fear. It was essential that the midair collision succeed, so that the Axis pilots would have no idea if it was an attack or an accident. He sees the trailing aircraft below him, trying to reform, and he drops down to join them, hiding for a moment in the confused maelstrom of circling aircraft.
None are firing yet, but he knows fingers are tense on triggers in every aircraft as they frantically cast about them for the cause of the explosion.
Niedzwiecki finds his targets.
The line of BR.20s has continued almost undisturbed and he pulls in behind them.
In the corner of his eye he sees Axis fighters, now aware they are being attacked, pull up to engage him.
He opens fire on the rearmost Italian.
On the streets below, troops and civilians, German and British alike, stop suddenly and look up at the skies, in shock at seeing again the once familiar sight of a dogfight over Buckingham Palace.
Tracer and cannon rounds burn past the Hurricane. The Pole glances quickly over his shoulder at the pursuing 109s, G50s further behind. Fires burning in the London streets below where fallen aircraft have buried themselves. He keeps his finger on the firing button, walking his .303s down the line of BR.20s
They had decided, Turner and he, that the people of Britain needed a sign that their armed forces had not deserted them. That they had been betrayed by weak kneed politicians and aged, cowardly bureaucrats. Sold into defeat at the very moment of victory. Every soldier, sailor and airman in the land knew it.
Now the people of London and everyone listening to the BBC across the Empire would know it too!
But as he flashes under the belly of a bomber, his guns hammering, he feels 20mm shells slam into his aircraft, and his control column goes slack.
His machine veers right, out of control. Matkojebca!
He throws back the canopy and leaps into space, the 109s breaking away satisfied with their kill.
Niedzwiecki is not satisfied. He watches as the BR.20 he hit the hardest goes sailing overhead, trailing vapour, but still flying.
Gówno! Had they done enough? Would the world even notice?
But he sees some Condors approaching and...what is this? A second Condor...going down in flames
! How could this be?
Then he hears the unmistakeable chatter of .303s behind him, and twisting his neck, he sees why.
The 72 Squadron Spitfires have taken up the fight!!
He watches as the second Condor ploughs into the streets of London, about a mile from where the Armistice Ceremony is taking place.
He has no idea what will await him when he lands. But neither does he care.
He crosses himself, in memory of his friend, "We did it Billy..." he says under his breath. "For everyone who was betrayed, we did it."