The American was a good two inches taller than the tallest Brit in the squadron. Spitfire cockpits were small and required small pilots, but the American wasn’t flying a British Spitfire. He had an experimental airplane that had been shipped over from the new world, a faster, more maneuverable fighter with a big engine that roared like a tiger. And the American was here to put it through its paces in real combat.
But it was more than just his hot American airplane and his lanky American height that distinguished this Yank. It was something about the way the Marlboro cigarette dangled from his dry lips, the way he lit a match with the flick of his thumbnail. It was the way the wind teased the ends of his wavy brown hair and the way he looked right through you with his brazen, blue eyes. Or perhaps it was just the way he leaned up against the fuselage of his Mustang as if he were a cowboy at a rodeo and not an air force pilot being sent off to die.
“Who’s the Yank?” Sergeant Smythe sized up the stranger from a distance with a mixture of jealousy and disdain. It was an unspoken axiom that RAF pilots despised their American Allies, especially the ones who volunteered to join the battle for Europe, not because they thought them cowardly for joining the war late or greedy for making a fortune off the manufacture and sale of weapons. Certainly they thought these things, but that’s not what made them jealous. It was the vulgar manner in which those tall, good-looking hotshots spread their dough around at the local pub, buying up all the best beer and stealing all the prettiest girls. The British ladies flocked to the foreign pilots like hummingbirds to honey. At only three shillings a day, the average RAF pilot just couldn’t compete.
“That’s all we need—another guts and glory Yank who wants to add a few more crosses to his engine cowling. He’ll get us all killed.”
“Stow it, Smythe.”
Smythe turned abruptly to see Major Harris standing behind him. He saluted sharply and then gave his wingman an evil glare. The wingman just shrugged. He was a Canadian himself and hated Smythe’s snobbery more than he hated Yanks, maybe even more than Jerries, but he wouldn’t admit that out loud.
“Take a good look at that man’s aircraft, Sergeant. Do you see how many crosses he already has on the side of that monster? You’re looking at one of the few pilots to get off the ground at Pearl Harbor. He’s been flying ops over the Japs heads for the past six months and now he’s come to help us fight the Hun. Do you have a problem with that?” Smythe shook his head and Major Harris picked up a Mae West off the field and slammed it into Smythe’s narrow chest. “How about you go and introduce yourself, William? He’s your new wing commander and you’re darn lucky to have him.”
Two miles over the North Sea, Eagle Squadron encountered heavy resistance from ground-based antiaircraft fire. They lost two Spitfires in the English Channel before breaking through the coastal defenses and into enemy airspace. Their mission was simple, but risky. They were to locate the Luftwaffe’s new airbase in Holland and make it back alive to relay the vital information to the bombers. If only it were that easy . . .
“Stay frosty, Eagles. Keep your tails clean and your eyes peeled for that airbase.” Major Harris scanned the green fields as he spoke into his radio transmitter. He saw a small patch of darkness, like the shadow of a bird, race across the field and into the trees, and then he heard gunfire.
“He’s gone crazy. He’s after me. I can’t shake him.”
Harris heard the frantic voice over the radio and looked up just as a flaming aircraft crossed his path. He banked suddenly to the right and the airplane crashed into the trees and exploded in a brilliant fireball that singed the trim lines on Harris’ tail. “What was that?” he exclaimed. “Was it one of ours?”
“It was Sergeant Smythe,” Harris’ wingman answered over the radio. Harris scanned the horizon in all directions, but there was nothing, no sign of another plane anywhere.
“Delta Wing, do you read me? Come in, Delta Wing.”
Harris felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck and his hands begin to perspire. “Wing Commander Douglas, report your position.”
“It’s that blasted Yank.” Harris’ wingman cursed. Harris couldn’t believe it. Lieutenant Douglas may have been an American, but he was a celebrated war hero. It couldn’t be him. But if it was . . .
Harris looked up. A black shape was forming in the center of the sun. It grew larger, sprouted wings and then belched fire. Harris screamed as the cannon shells ripped through his cockpit and turned his unprotected body into mincemeat. There was enough left of his dead hand to rest on the joystick and send his Spitfire careening wildly into his startled wingman. Both planes exploded on impact and then plunged into the green fields of Holland.
One mile away, Field Marshal Schmitt watched the explosions through his field glasses. “Will the British never learn how to fly?” He gloated with more than a little arrogance. The rumble of the explosions was still echoing over the airbase. Gunners had been alerted, but no British squadron arrived to meet them. The old general listened for the distinctive purr of the Spitfire’s Rolls Royce engines, but he heard nothing like that. There was the sound of an approaching engine, but it was muffled and soft as if it were coming from only one plane.
“Sir, I’m receiving a message.” The radio operator tried to get the field marshal’s attention but his ear was still tuned to the sound of the approaching aircraft.
“Yes. What is it?” he said testily.
“He says, Stop, don’t shoot.”
“Is this a joke?” The sound was growing louder, just beyond the trees–a single prop fighter flying very low. “It’s a trick. Ready the gunners.”
“But field marshal, the message is in German.”
A solitary airplane appeared over the treetops. It wagged its square wings up and down with comic exaggeration.
The radio operator looked up at the general. “His German is very good. I think he’s from the Brandenburg region around Berlin. My father was from Brandenburg and he spoke—”
“I know where Brandenburg is, you idiot. I was born there. What does he want?”
“He wants to land. He has important information for Reich Command. He says he’s a German operative, codename Vengeance.”
Field Marshal Schmitt hesitated. He didn’t know the name but he knew there were German spies in the West and it would be a black mark on his illustrious career if he shot one down before he had a chance to deliver his message to high command. If he let him land, however, he could always kill him later. A single fighter plane couldn’t do much damage to his new airbase, not without a very large bomb attached to it, and fighters couldn’t carry large bombs. The marshal, who was never a quick thinker at the best of times, was just about to make up his mind when he heard the tower machine gun battery come alive with a resounding ack ack.
“Cease fire!” Schmitt bellowed angrily, but the damage had already been done. The slowly approaching target had been almost impossible to miss. Schmitt watched helplessly as the fighter plane’s single engine burst into flames. In seconds, the aircraft was fully encompassed in thick, black smoke. The marshal heard the engines stutter. He could no longer see the aircraft, but a moment later he heard the crash and saw the tell-tail signs of smoke rising over the trees. Schmitt felt a heavy weight deep in the pit of his stomach.