Jackdaws

CHAPTER 28

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THE OLD BALLROOM was in the bombed west wing of the chateau at Sainte-Cdcile.

The room was only partly damaged: one end was a pile of debris, square stones and carved pediments and chunks of painted wall in a dusty heap, but the other remained intact.

The effect was picturesque, Dieter thought, with the morning sun shining through a great hole in the ceiling onto a row of broken pillars, like a Victorian painting of classical ruins.

Dieter had decided to hold his briefing in the ballroom.

The alternative was to meet in Weber's office, and Dieter did not want to give the men the impression that Will was in charge.

There was a small dais, presumably intended for the orchestra, on which he had placed a blackboard.

The men had brought chairs from other parts of the building and had placed them in front of the dais in four neat rows of five-very German, Dieter thought with a secret smile; French men would have scattered the chairs any which way.

Weber, who had assembled the team, sat on the dais facing the men, to emphasize that he was one of the commanders, not subordinate to Dieter.

The presence of two commanders, equal in rank and hostile to one another, was the greatest threat to the operation, Dieter thought.

On the blackboard he had chalked a neat map of the village of Chatelle.

It consisted of three large houses- presumably farms or wineries-plus six cottages and a bakery.

The buildings were clustered around a cross- roads, with vineyards to the north, west, and south, and to the east a large cow pasture, a kilometer long, bordered by a broad pond.

Dieter guessed that the field was used for grazing because the ground was too wet for grapes.

"The parachutists will aim to land in the pasture," Dieter said.

"It must be a regular landing-and-takeoff field: it's level, plenty big enough for a Lysander, and long enough even for a Hudson.

The pond next to it would be a useful landmark, visible from the air.

There is a cowshed at the southern end of the field where the reception committee probably take shelter while they are waiting for the plane." He paused.

"The most important thing for everyone here to remember is that we want these parachutists to land.

We must avoid any action that might betray our presence to the reception committee or the pilot.

We have to be silent and invisible.

If the plane turns around and returns home with the agents on board, we will have lost a golden opportunity.

One of the parachutists is a woman who can give us information on most of the Resistance circuits in northern France-if only we can get our hands on her." Weber spoke, mainly to remind them that he was here.

"Allow me to underline what Major Franck has said.

Take no risks! Do nothing ostentatious! Stick to the plan!" "Thank you, Major," Dieter said.

"Lieutenant Hesse has divided you into two-man teams, designated A through L.

Each building on the map is marked with a team letter.

We will arrive at the village at twenty hundred hours.

Very swiftly, we will enter every building.

All the residents will be brought to the largest of the three big houses, known as La Maison Grandin, and held there until it is all over." One of the men raised a hand.

Weber barked, "Schuller! You may speak." "Sir, what if the Resistance people call at a house? They will find it empty and they may become suspicious." Dieter nodded.

"Good question.

But I don't think they will.

My guess is the reception committee are strangers here.

They don't usually have agents parachute in near where sympathizers live-it's an unnecessary security risk.

I'm betting they arrive after dark and go straight to the cowshed without bothering the villagers." Weber spoke again.

"This would be normal Resistance procedure," he said with the air of a doctor giving a diagnosis.

"La Maison Grandin will be our headquarters," Dieter continued.


"Major Weber will be in command there." This was his scheme for keeping Weber away from the real action.

"The prisoners will be locked away in some convenient place, ideally a cellar.

They must be kept quiet, so that we can hear the vehicle in which the reception committee arrive, and later the plane." Weber said, "Any prisoner who persistently makes noise may be shot." Dieter continued, "As soon as the villagers have been incarcerated, teams A, B, C, and D will take up concealed positions on the roads leading into the village.

If any vehicles or personnel enter the village, you will report by shortwave radio, but you will do nothing more.

At this point, you will not prevent people entering the village, and you will not do anything that might betray your presence." Looking around the room, Dieter wondered pessimistically whether the Gestapo men had brains enough to follow these orders.

"The enemy needs transport for six parachutists plus the reception committee, so they will arrive in a truck or bus, or possibly several cars.

I believe they will enter the pasture by this gate-the ground is quite dry at this time of year, so there is no danger of cars becoming bogged down-and park between the gate and the cowshed, just here." He pointed to the spot on the map.

"Teams E, F, G, and H will be in this cluster of trees beside the pond, each equipped with a large battery searchlight.

Teams I and J will remain at La Maison Grandin to guard the prisoners and maintain the command post with Major Weber." Dieter did not want Weber at the scene of the arrest.

"Teams K and L will be with me, behind this hedge near the cowshed." Hans had found out which of the men were the best shots and assigned them to work with Dieter.

"I will be in radio contact with all teams and will be in command in the pasture.

When we hear the plane- we do nothing! When we see the parachutists-we do nothing! We will watch the parachutists land and wait for the reception committee to round them up and assemble them near where the vehicles are parked." Dieter raised his voice, mainly for the benefit of Weber.

"Not until this process has been completed will we arrest anyone!" The men would not jump the gun unless a skittish officer told them to.

"When we are ready, I will give the signal.

From this moment on, until the order to stand down is given, teams A, B, C, and D will arrest anyone attempting to enter or leave the village.

Teams E, F, G, and H will switch on their searchlights and turn them on the enemy.

Teams K and L will approach them with me and arrest them.

No one is to fire on the enemy-is that clear?" Schuller, obviously the thinker among the group, raised his hand again.

"What if they fire on us?" "Do not return their fire.

These people are useless to us dead! Lie flat and keep the lights trained on them.

Only teams E and F are permitted to use their weapons, and they have orders to shoot to wound.

We want to interrogate these parachutists, not kill them." The phone in the room rang, and Hans Hesse picked it up.

"It's for you," he said to Dieter.

"Rommel's headquarters." The timing was lucky, Dieter thought as he took the phone.

He had called Walter Goedel at La RocheGuyon earlier and had left a message asking Goedel to call back.

Now he said, "Walter, my friend, how is the Field Marshal?" "Fine, what do you want?" said Goedel, abrupt as ever.

"I thought the Field Marshal might like to know that we expect to carry off a small coup tonight-the arrest of a group of saboteurs as they arrive." Dieter hesitated to give details over the phone, but this was a German military line, and the risk that the Resistance might be listening was very small.

And it was crucial to get Goedel's support for the operation.

"My information is that one of them could tell us a great deal about several Resistance circuits." "Excellent," said Goedel.

"As it happens, I am calling you from Paris.

How long would it take me to drive to Reims-two hours?" "Three." "Then I will join you on the raid." Dieter was delighted.

"By all means," he said, "if that is what the Field Marshal would like.

Meet us at the chateau of Sainte-Cecile not later than nineteen hundred." He looked at Weber, who had gone slightly pale.

"Very good." Goedel hung up.

Dieter handed the phone back to Hesse.

"Field Marshal Rommel's personal aide, Major Goedel, will be joining us tonight," he said triumphantly.

"Yet another reason for us to make sure that everything is done with impeccable efficiency." He smiled around the room, bringing his gaze to rest finally on Weber.

"Aren't we fortunate?"

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