Extract


Chapter I

Greece, October 1941

Arainy day of October came to an end in the Aegean Sea.
Low clouds hid the sky over the coast of Greece. The whitecaps
of the turbulent sea and the bleak spume of surf reinforced
the gloomy impression of unpleasant autumn weather.
Lights were already burning in the barracks of the small frontline
airstrip of Kalamaki, not far from Athens' harbour of Piraeus,
when mission order was received for the two Heinkel HE 111 fighter
bombers of the 4th Unit of the 26th Bomber Wing of the German
Luftwaffe. As its emblem the Wing bore a seated red lion with the
motto Vestigium leonis -The Lion's Track -, for that reason it was
also known as the Lion's Squadron.
Now just thirty minutes were left for the pilot, Leutnant Jansen,
to discuss the route with the airman of the other plane. Their first
stopover was scheduled to be the recently established airstrip of
Iraklion. Additional fuel tanks would be fitted there and the planes
refilled, for this time, their range had to be increased to maximum.
As their target was named the Red Sea, south of the Canal of
Suez. For according to just recently received reports of the military
intelligence service, the Queen Mary was there, having aboard
enormous amounts of supply for the Allied troops in North Africa.
At that time the Queen Mary was the largest passenger-ship of
the world; but for war purposes the Brits had re-equipped her as a
troop transporter. That night of October 6, 1941, the two German
planes were ordered to sink her with special torpedo bombs.
Jansen started the huge engines of his aeroplane. Roaring loud
its mighty propellers came up to speed, and after the other

bomber had also started its engines, both planes rolled closely behind
each other to the left end of the airstrip. The twin-engined
Heinkel 111 with their five-men crew each had take-off on schedule,
and after little more than an hour they already arrived at the
barely illuminated runway in Iraklion on the island of Crete. Within
short distance to each other both machines touched down on the
levelled airstrip and rolled to the already waiting tank lorry. In the
air surveillance barrack the two flight commanders received the
current weather report for their flight course. And within shortest
time the additional tanks were fitted under the wings and the
planes refilled. They departed South and set course for the Egyptian
port of Alexandria.

Just before reaching the African coast, Leutnant Jansen
ordered to cease all radio traffic, lest the enemy might home in on
the bombers. Over the north of Egypt the sky was cloudless, and
in the moonlight the coastline of the African continent stood out
crisply. Now Jansen altered, as agreed before, his course to 110
degrees, and the second HE 111 followed in close distance. At an
altitude of 10,000 feet they passed North of Cairo, and just after
midnight they were approaching the Red Sea South of Suez. Now
they had very good visibility and descended to 300 feet above
sea-level. Within the next thirty minutes they should encounter the
Queen Mary.

A calm sea shone below them in the pale moonlight. Both
planes followed the coastline of the Sinai peninsula South. Yet
there was no trace of their target.

'If this ship won't get into view soon we'll have to turn around!'
Leutnant Jansen, already a bit nervous, wiped sweat from his
brow. He looked first on the fuel gauge and then his watch. Their
fuel supply would just last for about twenty further minutes South,
latest then they would have to turn around so that they could still
safely get back to the Cretan airstrip. And still there was no trace
of the Queen Mary.

Then, suddenly, an anchoring convoy of the Allies appeared

before them. The largest ship was a freighter of more than
120 metres length; behind there anchored a medium-sized cruiser
and many smaller escorting ships. Jansen broke the radio silence,
ordering immediate attack on the large freighter: 'Release and fire
at will!'. Almost instantaneously the 20-millimetre guns of the
planes began to chatter loudly. Now everything had to work out
very fast. They didn't have a lot of time, for as soon as they were
revealed at this low altitude, they would certainly be sitting ducks
for the naval guns.

The first bomb released by Jansen's plane made already a direct
hit. The large freighter was torn open like a canned food tin.
Obviously it had a lot of ammunition on board, because explosions
went on for several minutes like huge fireworks before the ship finally
sank into the Red Sea before the coast of Sinai with a red
glowing stern. This unexpected success had made the pilots careless:
Now they also were determined to sink that cruiser which
meanwhile fired back with all its guns. Taking a steep turn port
Leutnant Jansen tried to arrange his plane in release position for
another bomb. And then a sheaf from the naval guns of the cruiser
punched their right wing. The other plane was hit in the fuselage.
Black smoke trailed after it when it tried to turn away and unmistakably
managed it. Jansen's own plane was still maneuverable,
and he also wanted to fly back, when he noticed that one of the
tanks had been shot leaky. This loss of fuel would prevent their return
to Crete.

'We got a hit in the right tank! Return flight to base unpromising.
Trying to land in the desert behind the mountains on the other
side of the Red Sea. Lots of luck to you, mates', after this final
radio message to the crew of the other machine he veered round
to the open sea, hoping to cross the Red Sea with what fuel was
remaining in the left tank and then to get over the mountains of the
Eastern Egyptian Desert, so that he could attempt an emergency
landing in the level, sandy area of the Nile Valley. From there he

might get somehow with his four members to Cairo. Half an hour

of flight time should be enough -if the fuel would last and the
plane keep up that long.

Leutnant Jansen observed tensely the control displays of the
engines. The sound had changed, and this meant bad news.

'The left engine is damaged, it runs only at half performance.
Prepare to leave! I don't think that we can still make it over the
mountains.' Now Jansen had trouble keeping the plane up in the
air. Slowly the hand of the altimeter was turning left, indicating
steady drop.

Meanwhile it was two o'clock in the morning. They were still
above the mountains when suddenly the plane began dropping
faster. The right engine of the HE 111 started to stutter, and then
it ceased completely. Jansen stared, transfixed, at the silent propeller.
Instinctively he put the blades to feathering pitch to prevent
descending even faster. Yet they rapidly lost height. It was obvious
that they would not reach the plain desert to the north of Luxor any
more.

Jansen considered that only for a short moment. 'All hands,
prepare to jump off! Take care to get out of here fast, otherwise
you will jump from too low. Meet you at the plane.' He screamed
into the board microphone and pulled up the machine one last
time so that his members might easier leave. In rapid succession
the four soldiers jumped out of the plane. And soon afterwards,
when the height was already alarmingly low for risking a skydive,
flight captain Jansen also left the heavily damaged aeroplane.
Dangling at his parachute he could observe his aircraft dropping
steeply and finally crashing into the foot of a high mountain.

An immense explosion followed. Burning wreckage eerily illuminated
the mountaintops of this remote rocky desert.

Jansen touched ground in a gravel trough between two minor
mountain peaks and was able to quickly get free of his parachute.
He supposed that his members had come down about one kilometre
away. The burning plane should indicate to them where to

go. Jansen groped his way down through the darkness, and the

glow of the fire guided him. Silently he hoped to find still something
useful in the debris, such as an operable compass, because
finding their way in the desert would otherwise be hard. Till Cairo it
was at least 500 kilometres.

Jansen wondered where they might be. From the southern tip
of the Sinai peninsula where they had attacked the convoy it was
about fifty kilometres as the crow flies to the Egyptian coastline,
and high mountains such as these were only up to eighty kilometres
inland. They should definitely have reached already the
lowlands of the Nile valley. Unless, that was, the north-wind had
been stronger than anticipated, not an unusual thing at this time of
the year.

Suddenly, when he came closer to the burning aircraft wreck
and saw the mountain at which the plane had crashed, he realised
where they were. No other elevation of the Eastern Desert at
about Luxor was as high as this one. This would be the mountain
of Gebel Semna, raising gloomily to more than one-thousand
metres. At its foot there blazed the flames from the debris of the
crashed aeroplane. So this meant that the north-wind had shifted
them more than 100 kilometres South.

Jansen had to grope his way through the darkness over pieces
of rock that were razor-sharp. He watched out for his men. The
first one found was Obergefreiter Kr¸ger. He as well had survived
the skydive unhurt and was obviously glad to find his leader safe,
reporting: 'All right, sir, Obergefreiter Kr¸ger is back!' Then, behind
a small rocky hilltop, they met two other crew members. These did
not seem so well. Gefreiter Huber had sprained his ankle and
struggled to limp over the sharply edged rocks toward the wreck.
Feldwebel Kˆrner even had a gaping wound at his left arm that he
had gotten during his descent from the mountain slope on which
he had touched ground.

Any help was too late for Unteroffizier Berger. His parachute
had been entangled high up at a ledge. When trying to cut himself

from the ropes the poor soldier must have fallen down and broken

his neck. They found him lying on the bottom of the valley.

'Soldiers', Jansen said, 'as sad as it is that we have lost a mate,
we can feel lucky that death didn't take all of us. It meant taking a
big risk to skydive into these mountains in darkness and from minimum
height. Let us bed Unteroffizier Berger on his final resting
place.'

They took from the dead soldier his identity disc and stacked
rocks on the lifeless body as a simple burial mound. Then they
continued on their way, guided by the light of fire.

After a while they arrived at the wreck and discovered that the
mighty explosion seemed to have caused a rockfall. Not far above
the slowly dying flames they saw a stone porch rising halfway out
of the scree.

It looked like some ancient, buried gateway. When they came
closer they noticed that a sort of greenish smoke or mist crept out
of the half exposed entrance.

'I will have a look at this', Kr¸ger suggested. At Leutnant
Jansen's nod the Obergefreiter climbed up the scree to the gateway.


'What is this green mist, sir?', asked Huber. He looked as if was
somewhat under shock.

'Smoke from burning parts of the plane, maybe, assuming a
greenish colour from hydraulic oil?', Jansen suggested.

'Sir, that is possible. But I don't think that's smoke', Huber said,
'It looks to me as if it came out of the porch up there.'

Meanwhile Obergefreiter Kr¸ger had arrived in front of the
stone porch, approached it straight. And as soon as he reached
the greenish mist wavering on the ground, he suddenly disappeared
from the eyes of his dismayed mates. The mist was not
that thick that it could hide him, no, it only crawled along as a layer
of a few centimetres above the ground. But one second Kr¸ger
was there, and the very next second he was gone.

Terrified, the other three stepped back, understanding nothing

of what was going on before their eyes. They called for their mate,
but he remained vanished. It seemed incredible. Finally, they tried
to recollect themselves and looked near the wreck for a place to
establish a night camp. Huber got his ankle bandaged, then they
slept under a ledge, completely exhausted, for as much short time
as there remained till dawn.

***

Slowly, Kr¸ger went on toward the old porch. The greenish mist
on the ground was really only a thin layer; he did not think twice
about it as he passed through. Then he stood just before the gateway
of stone. Before it were lying some boulders, and he found it
difficult, squeezing himself between them. But when he finally
made it and passed through the gateway into the mountain, he arrived
in absolute darkness. Fear took him. There was something
unknown that he could not classify. Quickly he took his Luftwaffe
lighter from his flight jacket, it dropped from his shaky hand.
Kr¸ger bent down and felt for it in the darkness on the ground.

Finally, his fingers touched the round item of metal.

He lifted and lighted it. In the glow of the small flickering flame
he noticed that he was standing in a narrow, coarsely made pas-
sageway. Curious he went on. At the end of the passageway he
found a life-size relief of the ancient Egyptian god of death, Osiris,
that was chiselled there into the wall. Kr¸ger turned aside -and
was terrified. For on the right side of the wall, the image of a lion-
headed deity was engraved into the rock, gazing down at him
with fierce eyes. Then, before the image of Osiris, he could barely
descry a cube of rock, about the size of a table, the next moment
the flame of his lighter flickered out. All was pitch-dark around him.

Panic struck: He had to get out of there quickly! Kr¸ger groped
attentively his way through the darkness back toward the entrance.
Stumbling over a rock, he fell flat down. Rapidly he
struggled back on his feet and now ran towards the exit. From

there, bright light shone, and he was completely surprised to find

that dawn had broken outside. He felt as if he had been in the pas-
sageway for only some minutes -had he possibly fallen unconscious
and laid in the cave for hours? In the desert, dawn could
sometimes break rather fast, he thought, especially in such a
mountainous area. But Kr¸ger was even more surprised when he
had finally crept out of the stone porch and saw the sun high up in
the sky. It seemed to be midday already.

He could not interpret this. Immediately he began to search for
his mates. When nobody answered his loud calls he started looking
for their traces, but except for the coarse burial site of Feldwebel
Berger, nothing was there. Nearby the wreck of the plane
was lying, now fully cooled down. Sand had already been blown
into the destroyed cockpit. It looked as if the relics of the crashed
bomber had been around there for weeks already.

Kr¸ger had only his Luftwaffe canteen and a knife, and that was
it. He set out west, toward the Nile, the sun being his only guide.
But Kr¸ger was horrified. How often had he already being facing
death during flight missions: Three times he had jumped out of a
burning plane with his parachute and each time survived unharmed.
But now, in this remote desert of rock, he was in extreme
peril.

He was aware that if he did not meet people within one or at the
utmost two days, and if he did not at least find water somewhere,
then he would miserably die of thirst in this lonesome region. And
he did not bet on high wages for himself any more. Kr¸ger laid
down in the shade of craning rocks, waiting for the sun to set. In
the cool night he might get at least get further than in the heat of
the day.

He had, though, not reckoned with those many small rocks on
the ground that provided harsh trouble when walking in darkness.
However, Kr¸ger was extremely lucky. For the next morning he
descended already from the gulches by the extensions of a wadi
and reached the flat, sandy desert. And there was a bedouin's

tent, inhabited by some old Arab. The guy gave him water and

food. Then, in the evening, a group of riders showed up at the
tent, and the next morning they took Kr¸ger along on horseback to
the Nile. Two days later they got to the river. Quickly, a felucca
was found, a boat that would take him to Cairo. For just as it had
been agreed about with his mates on the evening of the crash, he
intended to get from the capital of Egypt straight through the zone
occupied by the Allied Forces and to the German units in Libya.

Yet after his arrival in Cairo, the blonde Kr¸ger was discovered
by the English while trying to acquire Arabian clothes, and he was
arrested. Thus he fell into British captivity. This was the end of the
war, as far as Obergefreiter Kr¸ger was concerned.

***

When Leutnant Jansen awoke, it seemed to him as if he had
had a bad dream about the attack on the British convoy, the skydive
in the mountain desert, the death of Unteroffizier Berger, and
finally Kr¸ger's disappearance in front of the old porch under the
rock face.

When daylight had come they re-examined the spot where
Kr¸ger had disappeared, keeping away from the gateway. Still that
greenish mist hovered everywhere around the porch, although it
was now not as clearly visible as in the night before. But they
found no trace of Obergefreiter Kr¸ger. In the end, they decided to
look for things that might come helpful from the wreckage of the
crashed plane, and indeed they found a bag of maps that had
been cast out of the aircraft during the collision. Everything else
was burnt.

Jansen, studying the map, told his mates: 'We are here at the
mountain of Gebel Semna, and the Nile is more than 100 kilometres
away. Our supply of water will last for one day. If we intend
to get to the Nile Valley, we will first have to pass a hardly penetrable,
mountainous rock desert'. He kept aware that without water
they could impossibly make it across that distance. 'But here, in

the Southern mountains, there are some wells or watering places

marked on the map. Turning to there will mean a detour of two
days, though.' Jansen passed the map to his mates.

Feldwebel Kˆrner seemed to be most doubtful. 'Sir, what shall
we do if the wells have silted or don't exist any more?'

'In my opinion we have no other choice. We do need to put our
hope into those wells!'

'I agree with our leader's opinion', Huber said. His sprained
ankle still caused him strong pains.

Not losing any further time, the three got on their way. The injury
of Gefreiter Huber slowed them down considerably, but after a
walk of eight hours under blazing sun they got into a settlement
that was fallen in ruin, and it had a well that was silted. A few small
trees surrounded it. With bare hands and the help of stones they
took turns digging and finally found in low depth the urgently
needed water. The next day went similar, and on the third day they
came to a sea of debris. Inmidst there was a large, deep well with
a staircase spiralling down down all the way into the shaft. They
climbed down on the stairs hewn into the rock. Every few metres
there was to the inside of the staircase a small breakthrough
through which dim light shone from the shaft. Then, arriving at the
bottom, they indeed found fresh water.

After they had refilled their water supplies and established a
camp for the night, the three soldiers explored the surroundings of
the well. What they found took them by surprise. All around, the
rock faces were decorated with ancient drawings, carvings, and
hieroglyphs. It seemed that unknowingly they had followed from
the site of their crash an ancient path of the Pharaohs, and now
they had found the remains of a settlement from that era.

The next day they hit close-by on a gravel road, leading west to
the plain of the Nile Valley. Again and again their talking returned
to Kr¸ger's mysterious disappearance. What had really happened
there two days ago? And if they got home, how would they explain?
Who would believe them? Yet right now there was no time

to think about that. Huber's ankle had gotten slightly better and

now they made progress more quickly. In the end they left the
mountains of the rugged rock desert behind. An almost endless
plain of gravel, permeated with some spots of blown sand, now lay
before them. But there was at least a kind of road that they could
follow. According to Jansen's map, it should take them to a town
at the Nile. Maybe they would even meet people before.

Indeed, in the afternoon they encountered a small caravan of
bedouins and some camels who took them along to the Nile.
There was at last a small town named Kift, too unimportant for the
English to establish a permanent control post there. Facing thus
no danger from this side, and with the Arabs being friendly and
helpful ñ for these simple peasants hardly knew or cared for
whether Brits or Germans were the occupying forces -, the three
soldiers acquired Arabian clothes from the locals so that they
might not immediately be recognised as Germans if they
happened to encounter some English. An old captain of an as old
sailing boat, taking goods from Cairo to Upper Egypt with the
north-wind's help, agreed to take the soldiers to Cairo. And when
two days later they passed by the city of Assyut, they could barely
breathe. For their felucca swam very closely along an English gunboat.


But because of their bedouins' clothes nobody took notice of
them.

Unchallenged they reached Cairo six days later. With much
luck they found their way during the next weeks, off the traffic
routes, through sandy deserts to Tobruk, Libya, where they met an
armoured unit of the German Africa Corps, and so they were safe
at last. Their report on the disappearance of their mate at Gebel
Semna was however taken with extreme reservation. And a dispatch
to that extent was sent to the army intelligence service.