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Monday, July 2nd 2018, 10:09am

HMS Magnificent, Scapa Flow, Monday 28 September

Admiral Syfret descended the gangplank to the waiting launch. Autumn had now closed in and a chilly wind was blowing across the open waters around his ships as they lay at anchor. His ships were only making a brief visit, he knew that Exercise WASHTUB was scheduled to begin in two days. He was hoping to be able to complete that exercise fairly quickly, perhaps about the time the Germans would be sailing home if they decided to take the northern route back. Already he had requested a submarine screen across the western end of the Iceland-Faroes gap, he wanted good warning of the approach even though he knew that given the weather conditions and shortening days that their job would be difficult. He stepped into the launch which whisked him away towards the shore.


Monday, July 2nd 2018, 7:46pm

The North Atlantic, Dawn, Monday, 28 September 1948

FO Bayard

At Admiral Bailly’s insistence, Capitaine de vaisseau Pierre Le Gloan had juggled FO Bayard’s air assets to maintain a relay of scouts tracking, if loosely, the position of Force Bleu. Those might not survive encounters with its combat air patrols which, he expected, would be launched as soon as the sun rose. On the decks of Zélé and Héros the deck crews made final preparations to launch the first wave of strike aircraft – a relatively small force of fighters and dive bombers that would hopefully distract the Germans and mislead them for a stronger second wave of torpedo bombers and their fighter escort.

Aircraft Carrier Wallenstein

It was shortly before dawn that Admiral Engel ordered his ships to activate their dradis systems, doubting that at this point the snooping French aircraft would have to be piloted by blind men not to find his ships. The first fighters launched from his carriers were swift to eliminate or chase off these persistent scouts but it was clear that he would be facing another series of air attacks which might last the day.

FO Bayard

Bailly ordered his ships to turn into the wind to launch the first, diversionary, strike. As soon as they were clear, FO Bayard returned to its intercept course, seeking to win a few more kilometres on their adversary. In the meanwhile, the decks of the carriers were respotted for the main strike; an hour later, the carriers were brought back into the wind while the second strike group took off and assembled. Now the die was cast.


Tuesday, July 3rd 2018, 11:04pm

The North Atlantic, Monday, 28 September 1948

The diversionary first strike from FO Bayard comprised sixteen Épaulard dive bombers with an equal number of Milan fighters. The former carried their normal load of practice bombs but the latter did not carry rockets, as they would under normal circumstances. Their mission was to tempt the Force Bleu combat air patrol to over-commit, to keep them occupied while the heavier second strike delivered a crushing blow. To this end they flew high, certain to be detected by the pair of air defence cruisers that accompanied the task force. They also deliberately kept poor wireless discipline in an attempt to convince anyone listening on their frequency to believe their numbers were greater than they were in fact. In this endeavour they were successful.

The slashing attacks of the Focke Wulfs of the combat air patrol were able to ‘shoot down’ several of the dive bombers before the mass of aircraft dissolved into a confused fur-ball of aircraft struggling to ‘destroy’ each other. Bombers shed their ordnance loads in exchange for added manoeuvrability, the airwaves were a cacophony of chatter as pilots of both nations tried to organise themselves.

Meanwhile the low flying second strike, torpedo bombers with fighter escort, flew an evasive course under wireless silence – pilots communicated by hand signals. They hoped that by doing so they might be able to deliver a surprise attack on the aircraft carriers that were at the core of the Alliance task force. Their faith was rewarded.

The Russian destroyer Pylkiy gave the first warning of the incoming torpedo bombers, opening fire with both her main and secondary batteries. As antiaircraft fire burst nearby the torpedo bombers split into two groups, each boring in on one of the German aircraft carriers. The defensive fire grew in intensity, and in the absence of Force Bleu fighter cover, the rocket-carrying Milans were able to ‘shoot up’ the vessels that stood in their way. The Pappenheim was subjected to a classic ‘scissors’ attack, with torpedo launched at her off either bow. The escorting frigate Stockach deliberately took one of the torpedoes aimed at her charge, but at least one torpedo found its mark in the carrier’s side. The Wallenstein too had to twist in evasive manoeuvres while the nearby cruisers Marseilles and Suffren threw up a ‘wall’ of antiaircraft fire.

The umpires would be forced to spend much time deciding which aircraft had been shot down or badly damaged before they delivered their torpedoes or rockets, and how many had escaped. So too would they require time as assess the damage done to the ships of the Alliance task force. For the pilots involved it meant a long flight back to Zélé and Héros, a shorter flight back to Wallenstein and Pappenheim. The commanders of both task forces were advised to hold their respective positions pending the scoring; something that would be alien in wartime, but acceptable for an exercise – particularly if there was a question of whether it would be able to be continued.


Wednesday, July 4th 2018, 7:50pm

Aircraft Carrier Wallenstein, The North Atlantic, Monday, 28 September 1948

Admiral Engel finally received the accounting from the team of umpires on the state of his task force after the savage French air attack. While his own ship had managed to avoid serious damage her sister, the Pappenheim, and been judged as having taken two torpedoes, leaving her heavily damaged and non-operational. The results of damage control exercises presently underway would determine whether she could be saved or not. The escorting cruiser Suffren had taken one torpedo, which for the moment reduced her speed to twenty knots. The frigate Stockach had been judged as sunk, while the frigate Mohlsdorf, the destroyer Skoryi, and the cruiser Lissa were scored as damaged in varying degrees. His air group had suffered additional losses, which combined with the aircraft marooned on the ‘damaged’ Pappenheim left him with little more than twenty fighters and a handful of scout bombers.

Force Bayard, The North Atlantic, Monday, 28 September 1948

The report Bailly received from the umpires at once heartened and dismayed him. The morning attack on the Alliance task force had caused heavy damage to one German aircraft carrier, sunk one frigate, and damaged several other of the escorting ships. Coupled with the four vessels previously detached as ‘sunk or damaged’, his air groups had whittled the opposition down by nearly half. But the cost had been heavy. His two aircraft carriers mustered between them little more than seventy operational aircraft, with losses judged to be very heavy among his strike aircraft. If he chose to mount a further strike against Force Bleu, and suffered the same level of casualties, he would have very little strength left. He still had to guard against the possibility of Engel forcing a surface engagement.

The Admiralstab, Berlin, Monday, 28 September 1948

Gerlach turned from the plotting table in the Operations Room to receive an intelligence report. He scanned it quickly and smiled.

“U-boats and long-range reconnaissance aircraft have detected the arrival in the Orkneys three battleships, two aircraft carriers, several cruisers and destroyers. It would seem as if the British have given up on monitoring Pegase and completed their anticipated redeployment.”

Bramesfeld nodded in agreement. “Excellent. Merten, has the exercise achieved its objective?”

“For the most part; only time will tell if all the objectives had been achieved. But I would recommend that at this point the exercise be concluded.”


Friday, July 6th 2018, 6:12pm

Aircraft Carrier Wallenstein, Brest, France, Friday, 1 October 1948

The ships of the Alliance task force rocked gently in the swells of the rade de Brest, the outer roadstead of the great French naval base. Supply craft brought out provisions and fresh water while small tankers replenished the fuel bunkers of the ships. Engel took the opportunity to begin to organise his notes on all that had transpired thus far during the course of the exercise; while is duel with Force Bayard was completed, the overall exercise would not be complete until he had brought his ships back to the Baltic.

He had been informed by the Admiralstab regarding the likely redeployment of the heavy units of the British task force that had been sent out to ‘observe’ the little game played by Engel and Bailly. These now appeared to have been based in the north of Scotland, which gave Engel pause on the choice of route for his return. He presently awaited approval from Berlin on his request; his ships could not depart until refuelled, and so, there was no need for haste at this time.


Thursday, July 12th 2018, 7:20pm

Aircraft Carrier Wallenstein, Brest, France, Sunday, 3 October 1948

Engel read the dispatch from Berlin, approving his suggestion for the task force’s homeward course, which also left the timing of their departure to his discretion. This last point was important, for the crews of the ships of the task force – German, Russian, and French – were enjoying their liberty in the Breton town, which had opened its arms to them. There had been an impromptu fete at which his crews were given tokens in recognition of their excellent performance – small embroidered patches which – to his surprise – the Admiralstab had authorised to be worn on their uniforms.

He liked it – Gules, a sword erect surmounted by wings Argent. He put down the patch he was admiring and took up a sheet of notepaper and wrote a quick thank you note to the commandant of the port, the officer, he was told, who had arranged on short notice their production.


Monday, July 16th 2018, 10:45pm

Aircraft Carrier Wallenstein, 48 dgs 32 min North 5 dgs 20 min West, Wednesday, 6 October 1948

Engel had led his reunited and resupplied task force out of the harbour of Brest that morning for their homeward voyage. At the moment their course was due north, with Ushant bearing to the southeast.

“Have we cleared Ushant?”

The navigator checked his charts for the third time. “Ten more minutes to assure we avoid any reefs Herr Admiral.”

Engel waited. He wanted to make certain that he had plenty of sea room to starboard before the task force changed course. He walked to the aircraft carrier’s open bridge and looked aft, smiling at the sight of German, Russian, and French men-of-war operating together and having accomplished a difficult assignment. He pondered what might lie ahead. Moments later he returned to the ship’s command centre.

“Signal to all ships. Execute Plan Emil Three.” By wireless, signal lamp, and signal flag the message was rapidly disseminated. The prows of the great ships turned to starboard and settled down on a north-easterly course, moving from the waters of the Atlantic to those of Le Manche.


Wednesday, July 18th 2018, 4:04pm

Destroyer Pylkiy, 49 dgs 36 min North, 4 dgs 7 min West, Thursday, 7 October 1948

The Pylkiy was in the lead of the starboard column, her flotilla mates following in her wake. They were maintaining a steady twelve knots – there was no reason to speed in the busy shipping lanes of the Channel. To port the task force’s aircraft carriers and their immediate escorts formed the centre column, while the cruisers took position to port.

Captain Pavel Kozyukhin was on the bridge, aware that in their present location an encounter with a merchant vessel was not merely a possibility, but a near certainty. The danger was not so much in those ships going up or down the Channel, but from the smaller ferries that crossed the Channel on a daily basis. His lookouts were therefore on high alert, and the warning that a ship was approaching on an intersecting course was not a surprise.

“Signal the Serioznyi to warn the vessel off until the column passes. We need no collisions today.”

The cross-Channel ferry Winchester had left Southampton that morning for St. Peter Port, Guernsey, with her last load of holiday-makers. Her master had been told that there were warships coming up the Channel but he had not expected to encounter them. He saw one of the destroyers break from its position and turn in his direction.

“All stop!”

“All stop aye!”

The Winchester slowed as her screws ceased to turn. She was still two thousand yards distant, more than sufficient sea room, and the passengers crowded the rails to try to get a sight, or a picture, of the distant warships. The destroyer came alongside and its captain thanked Winchester for stopping to avoid an incident, and also apologising for the delay in the Winchester’s schedule. Whoever was speaking on the loud-hailer did so in good English, but with a definite Russian accent.


Friday, July 20th 2018, 9:38pm

The Admiralstab, Berlin, Friday, 8 October 1948

The exercise portion of Operation Pegase was complete, but the staff in the Operations Centre of the Admiralstab continued to monitor its return voyage, and would continue to do so until its ships were reunited with their parent commands or safe within the Baltic. Kapitän Merten checked the plotting board which showed the task force making steady progress up-Channel – its last reported position was approximately one hundred kilometres southwest of Boulogne – without particular incident. Of this Merten was most thankful. While he doubted very much that the Royal Navy would provoke an incident the sheer fact that so many foreign warships were sailing through waters the English had come to think of their own would no doubt be seen as provocative.


Saturday, July 21st 2018, 10:35am

Friday 8 October

The destroyers HMS Vigo, Albuera, Barrosa and Mons of 6th Destroyer Flotilla were shepherding the returning ships at a discrete distance as they headed east out of the English Channel and into the North Sea. Overhead three BCAC Buccaneer GR.Mk.I reconnaissance aircraft from 42 Sqn at RAF Thorney Island were flying a looping patrol pattern. The Admiralty was carefully watching, not that they expected any maritime incidents but the opportunity to exercise their own training was too good to give up. Further north off the Orkneys the air was filled with the sound of carrier aircraft as Exercise WASHTUB came to an end, soon Syfret's force would break-up into its new deployments.


Sunday, July 22nd 2018, 10:45pm

Amiraute Francaise, Outside Paris
13:30 Hours, October 8, 1948

Admiral Gensoul set down the phone, but sat for a few moments in silence. After a few moments of contemplation, he lifted the phone again and ordered the switchboard to connect him to the headquarters of the Armée de l'Air, and it's Chief of Staff, General Jaouen. "Good afternoon, Charles," Gensoul said. "Have a good lunch? Thank you... Right, down to business - yes, I just got word. Not a large number of aircraft, but a few... yes, I've been told Buccaneers or Buckinghams... whichever the reconnaissance variant is, yes. Four destroyers tailing, too. Yes, the plans as we discussed last week. That will be marvelous, Charles. No, don't ride them too hard - just enough to get the point across. Aeronavale's going to send one of their Br.932s from Cherbourg to eyeball the surface ships. No, the German carriers aren't operating a PAC until they get back in home waters, so anything else in the air will be fair game. Thank you for seeing to this, Charles."

The Manche
14:30 Hours, October 8, 1948

Commandant Gabriel Le Berre's escadrille departed their air-base at Abbeville, but they did not climb to altitude, as was normal for a training mission. Instead they stayed low, at three hundred meters, at speed across the Baie de Somme and out over the Manche. Le Berre's Ouragan I had just been freshly overhauled and the paint touched up - the better to make a show. Le Berre couldn't remember offhand any time that the Armée de l'Air - or the Aeronavale - had intercepted a British aircraft over the Manche; but it seemed like the Rosbifs had irritated Paris one time too many.

"Eleven o'clock," Three reported. "Twin engine."

"Another at one o'clock," Four reported.

"All right, spit by wing-pairs," Le Berre ordered. "I'll take left - Three, you take right. Lemercier, stay with me, I'm throttling up. Allons-y!"

The four Ouragans split into pairs, and Le Berre pulled his throttle all the way back to maximum. The Ouragan accelerated, climbing slightly, banking slightly to starboard as Le Berre lined up on the British reconnaissance bomber. Going all out, the two Ouragans passed a hundred meters to starboard of the Buccaneer. Le Berre then banked sharply, pulling four gees and throttling all the way back, sweeping back around to find the British aircraft again. At a much more sedate pace, now, Le Berre closed in on the Buccaneer, throttling back as necessary in order to keep a modest distance. He crept up on the Buc's starboard side, eventually seeing the faces of the crew as they looked back. He jauntily waved his gloved hand at them and matched speed.

"Get used to us," Le Berre said, mostly to himself. "The rest of the Groupe de Chasse is queuing up for the fun. Come on, get your bosses to send out some Meteors or Vampires. We want to play..."


Tuesday, July 24th 2018, 9:50pm

The English Channel, 14:30pm, Friday 8 October

Flight Sergeant Paul Adams in the dorsal turret of the Buccaneer had a good view of the Ouragans sweeping down at speed, unsure whose's fighters they were at first he warned his skipper, Flt Lt. Simon Greatrex that the fighters were coming in. They shot past and Greatrex adjusted his throttles, catching a glimpse of the roundels as the fighters swept past.
"Looks like they're Frenchies skipper." Adams reported.
Greatrex turned to port slightly and descended slightly, he instructed his radio operator to report their sighting. Moments later the Ouragan appeared beside them, the pilot waving. Greatrex's co-pilot, Flying Officer John Reed waved back but Greatrex refused to budge his course.

At No 12 Group, Eastern Sector HQ at Bawburgh, reports from the Chain Home stations had already witnessed the French formation forming up. In neighbouring No 11 Group, the Metropolitan Sector HQ at Kelvedon Hatch had already released a four-aircraft flight from North Weald, four Vampires from 3 Squadron.
As 'Flashlight' scrambled and climbed for height Greatrex's report was passed to Fighter Command. RDF reports updated the size of the French force, up to a Group in strength in a drawn-out formation.

The Duty Controller watched the plot as the four 'Flashlight' Vampires climbed to intercept. He looked at the available assets, most of the ready squadrons were Tempests and Cyclones, fine fighters but all piston engined. 74 Squadron from Coltishall was airborne on gunnery exercises off the Norfolk coast in their Meteors but they lacked the fuel for an intercept. He scrambled off another eight Vampires from 3 Squadron but with strict orders for them to stay on the English side of the Channel and not to overfly the naval ships heading East. He called Fighter Command HQ for instructions. His counterpart at Coastal Command confirmed they had ordered their crews to stay on station.

Greatrex looked back at the pilot to his starboard side. Before his current posting he had done a tour on Mosquito night-fighters, smiling he opened the throttles and broke away smartly to port, diving for speed and rolling back under the Ourgans in the reverse course, the ASI reading almost 320mph.

Moments later Squadron Leader Harold 'Tiny' Small clicked his transmitter on a broad frequency, hoping the French pilots would pick it up.
"This is His Majesty's Royal Air Force, we call on you to desist from annoying our water-watching friends. I hope you agree and don't make us late for afternoon tea."
He levelled off at 25,000 feet, checking his compass bearing. Radio chatter on Band C made it clear that 'B' and 'D' Flights were following up behind.


Wednesday, July 25th 2018, 12:43am

Aircraft Carrier Wallenstein, Le Manche, 8 October 1948

Admiral Engel enjoyed watching the impromptu air display occasioned by the British aircraft detailed to “escort” his ships on their voyage home interacting with the “escort” of French fighter aircraft that now took up station to “escort” the British maritime aircraft, and then the British fighter aircraft that joined the show to “escort” the “escorting” French aircraft. He supposed it might be fun for the pilots involved in it all, but for his crews, particularly on the cruisers Lissa and Saida, it provided an unprecedented opportunity to gather electronic intelligence. The frequencies, pulse repetition rates, and other characteristics of the British airborne and shore-based electronic systems – their so-called “radar” – were studied intently and recorded; only with knowledge of such details could effective countermeasures be evolved. His own ships deliberately navigated with minimal electronic support – limited to simple navigational aids – to deny the British such opportunities.

They would enter the Strait of Dover by nightfall; Engel doubted that the British would continue their harassing tactics in such crowded sea-space but signalled the task force to take proper precautions against collision, ordering all ships to be lit. Thankfully the weather was fine, but the sea state could change unpredictably.


Wednesday, July 25th 2018, 5:04am

Zone d'Opérations Aériennes Nord
1500 Hours

Colonel George Andrieux frantically studied the plot as his subordinate added another flight of aircraft. Someone in Paris must have been enthusiastic with their telephone, he figured. G.C. II/3 out of Abbeville had emptied their hangers, putting over sixty Ouragans in the air. At the French Navy's airfield at Maupertus-sur-Mer, another squadron of Dassault jets - Marins, this time - was apparently rolling for takeoff. The three squadrons of G.C. II/9, deployed at Niergnies, Beauvais–Tillé, and Athies, had phoned him to give an hour's warning: seventy VG.64 Revenants! To top it all off, thirty-odd VB.20 Rafales from G.C. II/2 in Peronne had announced that they were warming up to join the show, with an estimated takeoff time of 1545 hours. There were Vampires were coming up to meet them from the British shore - not as many, but enough to show that the Brits were not asleep.

Andrieux wondered what his British counterpart must be thinking. The Armée de l'Air's Zone d'Opérations Aériennes Nord-Est maintained a very healthy portion of the French aviation's fighter power - over eight hundred fighters alone, and nearly a hundred of that number were Ouragans or derivative Marins, under the control of Aeronavale. Nearly a quarter of them were airborne, headed for the Manche to provide PAC for the allied warships in transit - and although Andrieux had no confirmation, he guessed the remaining squadrons were getting telephone calls to wait for their turn. And it was all up to Andrieux to keep them organized - keep them away from the commercial and private traffic - and keep them roughly south of a nice line of demarcation halfway across the water.

At least so far as Andrieux could see, his British counterpart seemed to have the same idea. That was good: it might prevent an accident...

"...tell G.C. II/3 that they're pushing it a bit far north," Andrieux ordered. "I know they want to stake the Vampires, but that's not the goal of this exercise. We cover the fleet and keep the reconnaissance planes at ten clicks. Tell them that if they can't watch their navigation, I'm going to pull them back a sector!"

From his time in the cockpit, now six years in the past, Andrieux figured the two nations' fighter pilots were likely chatting informally between themselves. That would be fine; the formation leaders had been instructed to let it happen. Paris wanted to send a message. The French did not, in general, stalk British ships headed up or down the Manche, and it was getting particularly obnoxious when the British shadowed everything that might happen to have another nation's ensign. Intelligence had anticipated that the ships returning from Operation Pegase would be thus subjected to these aerial shadows, and some ideas tossed around, rejected, accepted. It appeared the British had even added in a quartet of destroyers to top Intel's expectations. Well, that was fine - the Z.O.A.N.E. had things under control, and if Andrieux felt it necessary, he could start whistling and scramble another four or five hundred fighters. Completely off the table, however, were any electronic warfare activities. It was one thing to send up a gaggle of interceptors to make a show of force, but jamming Chain Home and the British radio channels would probably cause the situation to spiral out of control.

One of the junior lieutenants answered a telephone, then turned to Andrieux. "Colonel, G.C. IV/1 - Juvincourt. One squadron of MD.450s. They say they've been ordered to fly up to Abbeville, refuel on the quick, and then join the operation when G.C. II/3 starts heading back to the aerodrome. They're on my schedule, sir."

"Yes, yes, that's fine," Andrieux said, sweating. The pilots must be having fun, but this was too much like work!


Wednesday, July 25th 2018, 3:00pm

Fighter Command HQ, RAF Uxbridge, 16:00, 8 October

The situation was becoming busy, tentative long-range Chain Home reports indicated a build-up across the Channel and new formations kept coming in and out of range, eventually formating along the French side of the Channel. The controllers had never seen much like this before, over a hundred fighters were airborne.
Air Marshall William Elliot, the AOC Fighter Command had been called in from a meeting at Whitehall. The duty staff explained the situation, that the Buccaneers had been shadowed at close range and that a dozen Vampires of 3 Squadron had been scrambled. Now they were low of fuel and about to return. Eight Meteors Mk.IVs were already taking off from 66 Squadron from RAF Biggin Hill to take over the escort.

Elliot noted the positions of the French aircraft, undoubtedly it was a show of force. The main worry was the main commercial routes, he realised his French counterparts must be pretty busy just to keep their formations in good order to avoid the airliners and light aircraft crossing the Channel.
The Duty Master Controller spoke up, "Sir, we've had requests from a few of the COs in 11 Group, they want to go up and have a play. We've told them no. So far everything seems amicable."
Elliot shook his head, the last thing he wanted was to give his pilots free reign to have a mass brawl, there were too many risks at stake, too many aircraft and the risk of political repercussions. The question was whether it was right to commit more aircraft and risk the French over-reacting further.

Elliot studied the plotting map from his glazed position, watching the WAAF controllers moving their counters.
"Send up 19 Squadron from Tangmere, they might not be jets but they'll have better endurance to stay with the Buccs. 66 will be top-cover. Get on to Charlie at 12 Group and tell him to ready the Wittering Wing but no-one is to take off without my express permission. That will give us two dozen fighters to their hundred. Then get Southern Sector to send out up a dozen Hornets from 137 at Pembrey, and head south-west, make it look like a routine exercise, it might draw off some of the French fighters. It will be dark soon, so the French will probably give up, but just in case put the West Malling nightfighter wing on alert. Lastly get onto Coastal Command, I want to know what they are planning, if they want to sortie more aircraft they had better let us know about it."
Then he turned to his aide, "Any pilot regardless of rank who crosses the demarcation line or engages in mock combat will be grounded pending court martial."

Already the teleprinters were rattling away as messages flashed across the secure landline network and soon pilots would be running to their aircraft and mechanics spooling up jet engines and priming piston engines.


Wednesday, July 25th 2018, 6:25pm

Zone d'Opérations Aériennes Nord
1700 Hours

Andrieux rubbed his eyes. He still had another hour before his relief showed up, and things were still happening. The initial surge of Ouragans from Abbeville were headed home, having guzzled down the jet fuel in their auxiliary tip tanks and belly tanks. For the moment, that left Andrieux sixteen Dassault Marins from the Aeronavale, plus seventy-odd Revenants from G.C. II/9. He'd arranged the Revenants in four racecourse-pattern sectors from west to east, covering the allied fleet on its leisurely voyage up the Manche. The Marins, operating at a higher altitude, were drifting eastward, following the fleet

Unfortunately, G.C. IV/1 from Juvincourt had been delayed reaching Abbeville - Andrieux had been forced to jockey them around a few Air France, KLM, and BEA airliners headed through his airspace. That meant they were only just refueled at Abbeville as the leading aircraft from G.C. II/3 needed to land. Despite its size and modernity, Abbeville wasn't capable of handling that level of traffic without a dispersal field... well, a dispersal field capable of handling jets, at least.

Still, despite the hectic afternoon, things were going well; Andrieux was pleased to see that the Brits were holding themselves to, if not the same line of demarcation, then at least a similar enough line to prevent aircraft from tangling with each other.

Andrieux lifted his phone. "General Jaouen, please?"

The Chief-of-Staff answered in less than a minute. "How is Z.O.A.N.E.?"

"Everything seems to be under control, sir," Andrieux reported. "We've got a few Meteors from RAF Biggin Hill that have shown up, and what appears to be Tempests - probably 19 Squadron out of Tangmere. I got a call about a half hour ago from Z.O.A.N.O. that they're tracking some twin-engine types to the northwest, but they're not closing into my sector."

"No, it's probably a distraction," Jaouen agreed. "I've spoken with the duty officer at Z.O.A.N.O. and we're not going to bother with it unless they come further across the water."

"Yes, sir. I've got a snarl at Abbeville, unfortunately; G.C. IV/1 is ready to take off again, but the returning Ouragans from G.C. II/3 have landing priority. Looks like it'll be a half hour before I can get them up, and Flotille 13F will need to head back to Maupertus before I can replace them. I'm sorting it with Abbeville. Otherwise... the Brits are playing it carefully. They seem to be staying over the northern half of the Manche, and leaving us the southern half. We've forced their naval reconnaissance planes to keep about eight clicks between them and the fleet."

"Very good!" Jaouen said. "Do you have any recommendations?"

"Yes sir. Here in a half-hour, I'd like to release the entirety of G.C. II/9 to return to their fields, and reduce the barrier force to three eight-ship flights from G.C. II/2. And I'd like to stagger the takeoffs of G.C. IV/1, and let them take off at fifteen minute intervals. We should have done that from the start with G.C. II/3."

"Your opinion is noted, but it was instead deemed preferable for political purposes to send up most of the Groupe de Chasse all at once," Jaouen said, his voice patient. "So you recommend that we reduce the number of aircraft in play?"

"Yes sir," Andrieux said. "The British aren't responding with numbers, and we're accomplishing our goals. I'll keep four to eight Ouragans over the fleet, and leave twenty-odd Rafales in the barrier. Otherwise, I feel our work here is done; by the time those planes land, it will be night, and the fleet will be past Calais."

"Very well, go ahead and do that," Jaouen ordered.


Wednesday, July 25th 2018, 6:50pm

London, The German Embassy, 8 October 1948

Walter Schellenburg laid aside the copy of The Mirror he was reading and allowed himself a chuckle. The tabloid contained a fanciful account of a great battle between the Royal Air Force and the French Armee de l’Air in the air over the Alliance task force that was then sailing up the Channel towards its home ports. There were eye-witness accounts of squadrons being scrambled from RAF stations all along the south coast of England, and one account even claimed that one RAF Vampire had returned to Tangmere trailing smoke from being shot up by an errant French pilot. Not that any of it contained a shred of truth; its writers had gotten carried away with the wave of alarm that the task force’s presence had engendered.

The Standard was much more circumspect in its reporting but even there a hint of hyperbole crept into its story. The RAF had, it reported, maintained an air presence in response to an unprecedented and totally immoderate French reaction to RAF Coastal Command aircraft shadowing the German task force that dared to sail through English waters. This account, of course, omitted the fact that among the ships in question were vessels of France and the Russian Federation, and also that the Channel was an international waterway.

The Times did not permit itself to be distracted by what happened in the air, but reserved its opprobrium for the British Admiralty. It had told off a mere quartet of destroyers to assure that this “Hunnish Armada” carried out no mischief on England’s doorstep. What had happened, it asked, to the battleships and cruisers formerly stationed at Plymouth? They had sailed in response to the initial German exercise? Where had they gone? A routine redeployment the Admiralty had answered in response to inquiries. The editor-in-chief had rejected this explanation outright and indirectly challenged the courage of the Senior Service in the face of growing audacity by the Germans and their allies.

There was little doubt that over the next few days Schellenburg would receive voluminous reports from his ‘Baker Street Irregulars’.


Wednesday, July 25th 2018, 8:29pm

The English Channel, 18:20, Friday 8 October

'Tankard Four to Mallet, at angels twenty, heading oh-eight-four. On station.'
Flt Lt. Charles Brown clicked off his transmit button as the Mosquito cruised at altitude. The sun had just dipped below the horizon as night fell, to his left the coastline of Essex stretched out, a line of blobs of light outlined the towns along it. Beside him his navigator PO Ronnie 'Tinker' Bell was fumbling with the controls of the Mark IX RDF set, his face pressed to the cathode tube.
'Charlie, I've got two contacts about three miles head, ten degrees to starboard.'
Charles checked his compass and gently turned, 'must be the two ship spotters, any sign of our French friends?' he replied.
Ronnie gave a shrug, he knew that his set was no use against a fast moving fighter.

At RAF Thornaby a large four-engined aircraft rumbled down the runway its four Centaurus engines at full boost as it struggled into the air. With only twenty hours on the clock the Argus of the Air-Sea Warfare Development Unit began to climb, heading eastwards into the night.

Défense Aérienne du Territore HQ Brussels
The staff were gathered around the teleprinter. All afternoon the RDF stations of the Défense Terreste Contre Avions had been tracking some large aircraft movements to the west, mainly on the French side but some isolated contacts, presumed to be British had been spotted on an off. They had heard lurid reports from the British Air Attache about what had gone on and the French Attache had given a frank view of British interference. They had almost scrambled their own Meteor fighters from Schaffen but when it was clear that nothing untoward was occurring the AéM sent up a qaurtet of Caproni Arietes to make sure that nobody stumbled into Belgian airspace accidentally.


Wednesday, July 25th 2018, 9:39pm

Aircraft Carrier Wallenstein, 51 dgs 11 min North 2 dgs 4 min East, Saturday, 9 October 1948

The chronometer on the aircraft carrier’s bridge indicated that it was not long after midnight. Engel was thankful that his task force had passed the narrowest part of the Channel without serious incident – though he did not care to consider the cost of the aerial antics of the Royal Air Force and the response imposed on his French allied. They were not yet home, but the marginally greater sea room gave him less reason for concern. According to the broadcast news reports their passage had caused a great stir, not only in Britain, but in Belgium and the Netherlands; no wonder, Engel thought – with so many ships and aircraft manoeuvring nearby both of the Low Countries had reason to wonder what might be meant by it all.

He hoped that by morning they would be able to reform into the three columns the task force had taken when it began its journey – here they were still liable to encounter cross-Channel ferry traffic. His thoughts were interrupted by a yeoman.

“Message from the Admiralstab Herr Admiral.”

Engel took it, read, and smiled.


Friday, July 27th 2018, 4:15pm

Saturday, October 9th, 1948

General Jaouen (Air Force Chief of Staff): I will only take three questions, gentlemen. We will start with you - Paris-Soir, yes?
Paris-Soir: Yes sir. We've read some rather lurid reports from various British news sources that the Armée de l'Air and the Royal Air Force had an aerial confrontation yesterday afternoon over the Manche. Is there any substance to these reports?
Jaouen: I've actually read yesterday evening's articles, and they seem to be a complete work of fiction and fantasy; pure public hysteria. It would appear that, in the absence of a great enemy, the British press seems compelled to invent one for themselves to fight.
Paris-Soir: So nothing happened?
Jaouen: Very little happened. The Armée de l'Air and the Aeronavale did fly a number of air patrol missions over the Manche in order to cover an allied fleet, including French, German, and Russian warships, that was cruising east to make their next port call. They were shadowed by British reconnaissance aircraft, which pulled back to a more respectful distance once our jets arrived on patrol. There was no confrontation. Now, the gentleman from La Croix?
La Croix: Were the British aircraft shadowing our vessels, and did they get too close?
Jaouen: Yes to both questions. Neither are unusual. The British, either by means of the Royal Navy, the RAF, or RAF Coastal Command keep regular watch on all non-English warships that are navigating up or down the Manche. Oftentimes this gets excessive, particularly when our German friends are involved.
La Croix: Does the French Navy not do the same?
Jaouen: That is a question better directed to Admiral Gensoul, but I do not believe that is the case. Our patrol aircraft may overfly a ship to confirm their identity, but we do not shadow warships, either on the Manche or elsewhere. Certainly not to the extent conducted by the RAF. Final question - Agence Havas!
Agence Havas: The initial British press reports appear particularly alarmist. Do you feel yesterday's events offer any insight into the future relationship with Great Britain?
Jaouen: I certainly hope that is not the case, but it is up to them whether or not they wish to manufacture further confrontation with us. As to the socio-political aspects of your question, I would instead address that question to the political leaders. Now, my apologies - that's all the time I have for questions, gentlemen. Have a good day.