North Reich - Robert Conroy (2012)
The Beaufort was a ten thousand ton freighter that usually steamed between Quebec, Montreal, Toronto, and, occasionally across the Atlantic to France with whatever cargo she could find. She was old and there was significant rust on her hull, but her bones were solid, as was her engine. She could do fifteen knots and that was fine for an old lady like the Beaufort. The ship had survived convoy duty and submarine attacks before the end of hostilities between England and Germany. Now, with peace more or less broken out, she stayed on the Canadian side of the Atlantic.
Jean Charest was her owner and was as sturdy as his ship. Fifty years old, he was weathered and looked much older. He was proud of his French heritage, even though he knew that the people of France looked down on the people of Quebec. They were not quite French, he’d been told - second class Frenchmen, not even provincials. Well, he’d frequently thought, at least my country isn’t ruled by the damned Nazis. Of course, he’d had to change his tune when the Germans suddenly showed up on Canadian soil.
Charest had been devastated by the German conquest of what he considered his beloved Gallic homeland, and stunned by the presence of German soldiers in Canada. An intelligent man, he understood that nowhere was safe from the likes of Hitler. He also saw no reason to believe that the world would change anytime soon. The Nazis were here to stay, so it was best to come to some kind of an accommodation with them. Of course, it would have to be one that let him maintain both his pride and his beloved ship. A single man, the Beaufort was Charest’s life.
When the Gestapo in Toronto offered to hire his ship to transport a cargo to France, he was both reluctant and suspicious. His reluctance disappeared when he was informed by a German named Neumann that he’d be shot if he didn’t cooperate. His suspicions did not diminish. If anything, he was even more worried.
Then, when his cargo was loaded at night a few miles east of Toronto, he was horrified and sickened. He was told to be ready to sail immediately. After a few discreet inquiries, a man named Lambert met him at a Toronto bar. Lambert was appalled and said he’d see what he could do.
The Gestapo might have wanted the Beaufort to depart immediately, but a sudden and fierce storm blanketed the area and delayed her departure. Instead, there was concern that there was enough ice in the St. Lawrence to be a hazard to shipping, so an icebreaker had to be brought down, which further delayed matters. Neumann seethed, but there was nothing he could do. Nor was he convinced that the ice situation was as dangerous to shipping as Charest and the others insisted. Yes, shipping was delayed, but vessels got through.
Finally, she departed. The Beaufort was the last of six ships following the icebreaker as she slowly plowed through the ice and moved towards the ocean. Many eyes followed the ad hoc convoy and most of them were not German. Neumann had sent the ship on its way and he thought he was well rid of her and her grumpy bastard French skipper. He was also glad to be rid of her bastard cargo.
Alicia’s golden hair flowed long and lovely down her back. The violin was tucked under her chin and she played with exquisite skill and enormous passion. Grant recognized it as something by Tchaikovsky, but couldn’t name the exact piece. There was a glow of sweat on her face as she poured her soul into the music.
Alicia was naked. Her proud breasts swayed to the music and her flat belly contracted with the effort. He was fascinated by the tuft of light colored hair at the base of her abdomen and her legs were as lithe and athletic as he’d dreamed.
He wanted to walk behind her, press her to him, and cup her breasts in his hands, but that would spoil the spell, ending the music.
Something was wrong. The vision was fading. Someone shook his shoulder. “Major, you’re wanted on the bridge.”
Shit. He blinked his eyes and looked around. He was on a bunk in a small cabin on the USS Boston, a Baltimore class heavy cruiser that had recently returned from duty in the Pacific. He’d also been dreaming and he checked himself to see that nothing worse than an erection had occurred. To his immense relief, it hadn’t. Somewhere on the Boston, an unknown sailor was probably laughing his ass off telling his buddies about a dumb army major sleeping with a hard-on. At least he hadn’t gotten seasick - at least not yet.
Someday he might get Alicia to play for him in the nude, but, so far, nothing even remotely close had occurred. He did wonder how accurate his dreamy imaginings of her body were. Maybe someday he’d find out.
He and Commander Westover had flown by seaplane to the Boston two days earlier and were looking for a Canadian freighter, the Beaufort. Planes in the air and eyes on the ground had tracked her as she made her way with agonizing slowness towards the open sea. The Beaufort’s crew had aided by sending out a number of messages inquiring about the weather and other factors.
Grant was gasping by the time he made it up to the bridge, a reminder that desk duty was getting him out of shape. He’d never be able to swim any river in his current condition, much less the St. Lawrence.
Captain C. H. Carson skippered the Boston and had been in command since she was commissioned in June, 1943. He was perplexed that his ship had been brought back from the Pacific where she had been pounding the Japanese to well-deserved oblivion. He understood that war with Germany was very possible and that his warship needed to be well prepared for both the German surface fleet as well as their damned U-boats. He was, however, further perplexed at his current assignment which seemed like an enormous case of overkill. The sleek and deadly Boston displaced more than thirteen thousand tons, had a crew of over eleven-hundred, and carried nine-eight inch guns and a dozen five-inch guns, along with a host of anti-aircraft weapons. The Boston could do an almost incredible thirty-three knots, which meant that her target was not going to outrun her.
Nor was the Boston alone. Three new twenty-five hundred ton Fletcher Class destroyers that were even faster than the Boston accompanied her as an ad hoc task force. Over the horizon was the light carrier Cowpens, also recently returned from the Pacific and carrying forty plus planes.
Westover informed Tom that a scout plane from the carrier had positively identified the freighter and that they were steaming directly towards her.
Radar soon picked up the Beaufort, and shortly after, she appeared as a speck on the horizon that grew and took on shape. A platoon of heavily armed marines had been brought on board to augment the Boston’s own marine detachment. Launches were ready and the marines would be loaded and on their way once the order was given.
On the Beaufort, Charest watched as the American force closed on them.
“What the hell are they doing?” demanded young SS Lieutenant Emil Stolper. The lieutenant was young, blond-haired, and full of himself. A perfect little Nazi and an equally perfect little shit, Charest thought.
Charest fervently hoped that the little bastard got seasick and puked his guts out for the entire voyage. At least he spoke English. Charest spoke some German but flatly refused to acknowledge that fact.
Charest sighed. “Since they did not inform me of their intentions, I have absolutely no idea what they are doing. More than likely, they are practicing their maneuvers and have decided to make us part of their little games.”
“I don’t suppose we can tell them to stop?”
“They will do what they wish,” Charest said as he masked a quiet smile.
Soon, the Beaufort was bracketed by the four American ships. A giant warship with enormous guns was close along her bow while the other ships took up station to her front, side, and rear. They slowed, causing the Beaufort to slow, and moved in dangerously close.
“Heave to,” came an amplified voice from the ship. They could see her name on her hull, the Boston, and Charest knew it was a heavy cruiser.
“Ignore it,” snapped Stolper.
Charest shrugged and did as he was told. A moment later the order was repeated and ignored. Another moment, and an anti-aircraft gun fired a stream of shells into the water just yards in front of the Beaufort.
“What do we do now?” asked the lieutenant, clearly shaken by the American response.
“We stop,” said Charest as he gave the orders, “unless, of course, you want this ship and yourself riddled with shells larger than a house.”
Stolper paled, “Of course not.”
Charest signaled that he would comply and the Beaufort slowed to where she barely maintained control. The American cruiser ordered Charest to lower cargo netting over the side. Again, he complied and was impressed by swift efficiency of the launches moving toward his ship. Equally impressive was the fact that they were filled with heavily armed soldiers.
Again Stolper was upset, almost shaking with impotent fury. “They outnumber my small force.”
“I have been stopped by the Americans before,” Charest said. “In order to avoid any accident, I would strongly suggest that you have your men lined up on the deck and unarmed.”
“Agreed,” Stolper said angrily, “but not all of them. We need to guard our cargo.”
Grant was stuffed into a motorized launch with a squad of marines led by a hard faced sergeant. Westover was in another. Altogether, they had forty men headed to the Beaufort with more to come. Grant was nervous, but tried to conceal it. He clutched his M2 carbine, a brand new model that would fire full automatic, much like the venerable Thompson sub-machine gun. Sergeant Farnum had told him it was more accurate and had less of a kick than the Tommy gun. He hoped he wouldn’t have to find out.
The sailor driving the launch through the gently rolling sea skillfully brought her alongside the Beaufort. Grant’s was the second launch. Westover’s was first since he was the ranking naval officer and this was a navy operation.
The first squad was well up the side of the ship when Grant began his climb. Once again his shoulder roared with pain, but he willed himself to go up and over the railing. If he fell into the frigid water, he would likely drown before anyone could get to him. Finally, chest heaving, he stood on the deck and was confronted by a handful of German soldiers in bulky winter jackets who glared angrily at him and the marines. With the exception of an NCO and a young lieutenant who had pistols in holsters, the Germans were unarmed. Grant decided not to take chances and shifted his weapon to a more comfortable and accessible position.
“This is an outrage,” the German officer yelled at Westover and Grant, his face red with anger. “This ship has been chartered by the German government and has diplomatic immunity. You will get off this ship immediately.”
Westover shrugged. “That’s all news to me, young Adolf. We’ve gotten word that this tub is carrying contraband and we are going to search her, whether you like it or not. If everything is on the up and up, you will be permitted to proceed. If there is contraband, we will do what we have to, and that includes arresting or interning everyone and everything. My men and I are now going to inspect the cargo.”
“The hell you are,” screamed the German lieutenant. He pulled out his luger and fired point blank into Westover’s chest. Westover screamed and fell backwards. Grant quickly raised his weapon and fired several shots into the German who tumbled into a bloody heap. A couple of German soldiers reached for pistols they’d hidden in their jackets and began shooting wildly. Grant turned on them and continued to shoot. It was bloody chaos as marines and Germans fired at point blank range. There were screams of fear and pain as bullets ricocheted off metal walls and decks, while some found flesh.
In a few seconds, it was over. A couple of shocked and stunned Germans stood with their hands in the air, while the others lay on the deck, either dead or wounded. Grant checked and found that two marines were dead and two more wounded. Westover was alive, but barely, and a medic was working on him with quiet efficiency. Other marines climbed over the rail from their launches and quickly took up station, their faces contorted with rage at the ambush of their buddies. They were ready to kill.
Suddenly, gunfire emanated from below decks. Now what? Tom thought. “The Jews are escaping,” Charest said.
Grant slapped a fresh clip into his carbine, grabbed a few marines, and headed below, trying not to slip on the pools of blood that were congealing on the deck and running in rivulets down the stairs. He was greeted by the sight of a couple of dead Germans and three others who were unharmed, but being covered by several civilians with pistols.
“Who are you?” asked one of the civilians.
“U.S. Navy and Marines,” Tom said. He noticed that the man stank of body waste and was almost wild with fear. “Now put down those guns before more people get hurt.”
The man laughed harshly. “We’re Jews. They were going to take us to Germany to be murdered. What do we care if a few of them get hurt?”
Tom conceded the point. He did, however, get the Jews to put their weapons away. He had the hatches and other access points to the hold opened so the Beaufort’s human cargo could get some air. They were bedraggled, scared, hungry, and filthy. Little or no provision had been made for food, water, or sanitation. It was apparent that many of them would have died before they reached France.
Marine medics were taking good care of the wounded, and the Jewish leaders were doing the same for their own people, some of whom had been hit by stray bullets. More hatches were opened, and food and water was provided. Captain Carson arrived from the Boston and was appalled by the carnage as well as the condition of the Jews who’d been stuffed into the hold.
Carson checked over the casualties as they were being shipped back to the cruiser and her excellent medical facilities. The marine wounded might make it, but there was doubt about Westover. He’d taken two bullets in the chest. Fortunately, his life jacket had absorbed some of the blow, but he was still grievously hurt.
Tom checked over the men he’d shot. Both the SS officer and an enlisted man were dead. No one had bothered to cover their graying faces and they gazed blankly at the sky. Tom fought the urge to shake. In all the years he’d been in the army, he’d never fired a weapon in anger, never hurt anyone. Now, in the space of a few seconds, he’d killed two men. He’d snuffed out two lives and he felt miserable. So what if they’d been trying to kill him - he’d killed them. Of course, a second’s difference and he might be the one lying on the deck. He took a deep breath and got a hold of himself. With Westover down, people needed his leadership.
Grant found Charest sitting on a chair in his cabin. There was a blood-soaked bandage on his cheek where he’d been hit by a piece of flying metal. None of his crew suffered more than cuts and bruises.
“Well, American, am I your prisoner, too?”
“I hardly think so. We know what happened. We’re well aware that you gave all that information to the OSS and Canadian resistance so we could find you and stop this atrocity. By the way, where did the Jews get their guns?”
“A man from the Canadian underground gave them to me and I put them in the hold. If the rescue didn’t work, the Jews and my crew would try to take over the ship some night when most of the Nazis were asleep. I thought I’d even get the nasty pricks drunk to help out.”
Charest lit a cigarette and blew a perfect smoke ring. “What happens now to my ship, my men, and me, of course?
“It’s my understanding that your ship will be escorted to either Boston or New York. The Jews will be granted permission to stay in the U.S., and you and your ship will be permitted to do whatever you wish. After all, you were victims, too.”
Charest blew another smoke ring. “My crew can do whatever they wish as well. They can return to Canada or stay with me. Most have families, so I suppose they will go home. I will not go back to Canada. I think too many evil people will correctly surmise that I had something to do with this and take revenge on me. If permitted, I would like to continue shipping goods for a living, only this time I’ll be using the United States as a base.”
The band at the large but stark hall that had been rented for the party was doing a decent imitation of a Benny Goodman type orchestra. There was no real reason for the party, just that people wanted a break and chipped in to make it happen. The result was a couple of hundred people seated at card tables and thoroughly enjoying themselves with decent music, mediocre food and cheap booze. As at the Downing’s, everyone was in civvies in an inadequate attempt to mask the fact that almost all were in the military.
Tom had slow danced a few times with Alicia and had enjoyed holding her slender body close to him, but the idea of jitter-bugging was a little too much. He could dance it a little, but he was whipped after flying in from New York early that morning, and giving verbal reports to a lot of generals and admirals. He’d even reported to Admiral Ernie King, and he’d assured the admiral that Westover would likely make it, although wouldn’t be back to duty for a long while.
As much as he loved dancing with Alicia and holding her tight, he didn’t at all mind watching her as she and her friend, WAC Lieutenant Rosemary Poole, jitterbugged. Rosemary was short and chunky, and all eyes, at least his, were on Alicia. She wore a fashionably short full skirt that flared and showed her magnificent legs to well above her knee. Only a short slip kept him from seeing much more. She danced with a rhythm and abandon that surprised him. So much for the reserved nature of a school teacher and a classical musician, he thought happily.
Finally, she sat down and took a quick swallow of her beer. “Wow. That last one almost got me.”
“Where did you learn to do that?”
“Twelve years of dancing lessons as a kid should count for something. Yes, I had dreams of becoming a ballerina, but then I grew to adulthood and the male dancers complained that I was too heavy to lift.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Well, most of the male dancers were tee-tiny things themselves. I think anybody over five feet tall and weighing more than eighty pounds scared them. Between dancing and violin lessons, my parents hoped I really didn’t have much time to get into trouble. They were right, of course.”
“Maybe that was the idea. Do you have any other skills I should know about?”
“You already know I speak fluent German and passable French and Spanish. And you?”
“I can get by in German, but that’s it. Now, when am I going to hear you play your violin?”
“Pretty soon. Is there anything you’d particularly like?”
He thought of his erotic dream. “A little Tchaikovsky would be great.”
Her eyes widened and she laughed. “I keep forgetting you’re civilized. Tchaikovsky isn’t the easiest, but I’ll do it. Is there anything else you’d like? Do you want me to wear something special?”
Sweet Jesus, he thought, again recalling his dream. “Anything you choose will be wonderful.”
On its own, his hand began to shake as recent memories flooded in. She reached over and grasped it firmly, calming him. “You okay?”
“I think so.”
He’d told her of the fighting on the Beaufort and that he’d shot down two Germans. The fact that he’d killed the two men and wounded at least one more and nearly been killed himself was getting to him. He’d discovered that the distance between life and death was often just the width of a hair, maybe even less.
Westover’s situation was just such a case in point. The newspaper headlines and the radio reporters were calling Westover and Charest heroes, the Beaufort a slave ship or a death ship. The sailors and marines were praised to the skies for rescuing the Jews who’d been packed into the Beaufort’s hold. There’d been no mention of the one lonely army major who’d also taken part, and that he’d killed a couple of Nazis. Officially, it had been a navy-marine show. Whatever anti-Semitic feelings that had prevented previous boatloads of Jews from emigrating to the U.S. were quickly dissolving. Those who still harbored such thoughts were keeping discretely quiet.
Unofficially, Tom had gotten a commendation and it looked like he might be promoted to lieutenant colonel fairly soon.
Alicia squeezed his hand even tighter and stared into his eyes. It looked like tears were about to spill down her cheeks. “You had to do it and I’m glad you did. They would have killed you if you hadn’t. I just found you and I’m not ready to lose you. Do you understand me, Major Grant?”
He managed to laugh. Her intensity was contagious. “Yes, teacher. Maybe I just need a good night’s sleep, and no, I’m not suggesting we call it a night. I don't want to lose you either. I want to be right here with you for a very long time.”
She smiled warmly at him. There was a wicked glint in her eyes. “I’ve an idea what to wear when I play for you. I was originally thinking of a lovely and elegant basic black dress, but perhaps I will wear something else.”
Secretary of State Cordell Hull tried not to feel sorry for the tense and nervous German diplomat who sat before him. Chargé d’Affaires Hans Thomsen was clearly uncomfortable with the role his masters in Berlin were forcing him to play. Too damn bad, thought Hull. You play with fire and sometimes you get burned.
“Let me assure you, Mr. Thomsen, your protests are for naught. The American people are outraged by the atrocity your Nazi masters almost perpetrated on more than a thousand innocent people.”
Thomsen ignored the comment. He had a script to follow. “Mr. Secretary, your men had no right to forcibly take the Beaufort. My government requires a formal apology, compensation for the damages incurred, which included the deaths of several German soldiers, and Berlin wants the, ah, cargo returned. According to German law, the Jews are criminals and were being taken back to Germany for legal and lawful punishment.”
Hull snorted. “You mean they were being sent to be murdered, don’t you? Do you really think we don’t know what’s going on in your death camps?”
“Those terrible rumors are without merit, sir. Frankly, I’m surprised you even mention them. I must also point out that the Beaufort had diplomatic immunity since she was chartered by the German government.”
Hull shook his head sadly. Did the man really not believe in the existence of Auschwitz and other death camps? Why not, he thought. FDR and the military didn’t tell him everything, either.
“Please, Mr. Thomsen, do not insult my intelligence. The Beaufort is a Canadian flagged ship and her home port is Montreal. All the German government did was contract with her owner to ship a cargo to France. And in this case, it was a boatload of half-dead Jews who were being shipped across the Atlantic to be murdered. There is no immunity involved and there will be neither an apology nor compensation. In fact, I believe the United States is due both an apology and compensation.”
“Because approximately fifty of those Jews you so cruelly treated were American citizens.”
Thomsen was genuinely shocked, “Sir, that cannot be. I’ve been informed that all of them were confirmed to be Canadian citizens.”
“And indeed they all were,” Hull said, “but only up to a point. Your murderous masters neglected to check that some might have dual citizenship. Thus, there were American citizens on that ship and at least two of them are dead, either from maltreatment or in the gunfight that began when your Fuhrer’s SS Storm Troopers began firing into the packed hold.”
Thomsen shook his head. “I was informed that it was the Jews who shot first, right after your marines opened fire on the German soldiers who were guarding and protecting them.”
Guarding and protecting them my ass, thought Hull. He sat back in his chair and smiled benignly. “Well, it looks like we have two different versions of the same story. What a surprise. However, one thing is absolutely certain - we have the ship and crew, the human cargo, and a number of German soldiers in our possession. We will retain all but the soldiers who will be free to either return to German control or remain interned in the United States. Of course the Jews from the Beaufort will be free to do whatever they wish, but I cannot see any of them returning to Canada in the foreseeable future.”
Thomsen stood. The meeting was over. “Mr. Secretary, you are aware that each incident like this brings us closer and closer to war, aren’t you?” he asked sadly.
Just as each day brings us closer and closer to April second, Hull thought. He wondered if Thomsen was aware of what was going to happen on that date.
Barring a miracle, war with Germany would commence in only a couple of weeks. Hull wondered if that would be a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly oppressed and brutalized peoples in Canada and Europe would rejoice and pray for their liberation, while other nations, ostensibly neutral, would wait to see how this new war played out. Would the United States prevail, or would the Thousand Year Reich become a terrible reality. And how long would it take and how much American blood would be spilled to bring down the Third Reich?
Hull wondered what the Soviets would do when the spring thaws arrived. Again, there were rumors that either the Germans or the Russians would commence their own war again once the snows melted and the mud dried. Perhaps it was time for another conversation with Andrei Gromyko, the very young ambassador from what remained of the Soviet Union.
There was no question regarding the British. They were totally dependent on others for their food, which meant that the British Isles, already on short rations, could be starved if Hitler decided to impose a blockade. The British would do what they did in the previous decade - they would try to appease the Nazi monster.
B24 pilot Terry Romano was bored to tears, and so was his crew. How many times could they pretend to bomb a make believe enemy ship? They had honed their skills to perfection. Men, plane and weapons all functioned as one.
Neither Terry nor his men were stupid. They knew that it was one thing to drop bombs and fire weapons at a defenseless target and quite another to shoot at one that might just fire back, perhaps wounding or killing crewmen or even shooting down the Vampire. They’d even taken their bomber out over the Chesapeake and pretended to shoot up U.S. submarines that maneuvered and dived to stay away from them as part of their own training.
In briefings, they’d been told that the German’s Achilles Heel was a supply line that extended from France to wherever their subs lay in waiting. Even unopposed, it was a long and dangerous journey for the U-boats from the coast of the United States back to their bases in France along the Bay of Biscay. Thus, only about a third of the U-boats’ total strength could be mustered at any one time. One third would always be in transit to and from France, and the other third would be re-fitting and their crews getting needed rest.
He’d been told that the Kriegsmarine had gathered a number of transports that would be used as supply ships and even had a number of specially designed transport submarines called ‘milch cows.’ The German crews could take their recreation in Halifax, which, while not France, was peaceful enough. A thoughtful German military hierarchy had even imported a number of French prostitutes to service their brave lads. Terry doubted the U.S. navy would ever go along with something like that, although both he and his crew thought the idea had merit. Hell, the American navy didn’t even allow alcohol on its ships, something Terry thought was absurd.
Along with sinking German U-boats, the bombers’ assignments would include killing those supply ships.
Strong rumors had the war beginning shortly. Terry was as nervous and scared as the next guy, but he was confident he would do his duty. He owed it to himself, his crew, and, oh yeah, the nice little girl named Nancy O’Connor he’d met in Baltimore. They’d dated a few times and, even though she wouldn’t let him do more than kiss her, he found himself more and more wanting to be with her.
Nancy wasn’t Italian, but she was Catholic. He thought his family would like her.