Operation Osprey Nest (Chapter two)

 

 

Twenty minutes later the raft slid softly onto an upward sloping beach being licked by the smallest of waves.   The tide was a high ebb and they stepped easily onto the soft sand.   Both sailors wore side arms that remained clipped to their chests while the Erster Offizier, in full uniform, had his clipped in a holster.   Hefting the duffel over his shoulder, the man smiled in the darkness as the two young sailors hastily stuffed dry sand into their pockets – ‘sand from the shores of the enemy!’

Not a word was spoken as they rowed away into the darkness.

Alone again in all its completeness, upon a hostile shore, a feeling of calm at once enveloped him.  The first few times in Poland and Norway, inserted prior to the invasions, he recalled being nervous and at times besieged with fear.   Infiltrating France shortly thereafter, far less so and now here in America, not at all. Over the many years of clandestine operations, it became clear to him that one who travels alone, travels faster and far safer.

Unarmed with nothing but the cash in his satchel, diamonds sewn into lining of his leather jacket and his experience, he assured himself in that most solitude of moments, that he would prevail in this mission, for everything counted upon it.   It would be here in America, that he would spend his 42nd birthday.  

 Now looking West through the hanging mist, with the dim lights of the Inn barely visible, he turned slowly East towards the breach way a mile away.

It was 2:38 am, Tuesday the third day of June.

The walk to the East end of the beach took a bit longer than he anticipated as his legs were fatigued by their inactivity during the crossing.   When he had last visited this area briefly before the war under the cover as a marine engineer consultant  (Berater für Schiffsingenieure), there existed a fishing cabin at the far eastern end of this beach.   While surely destroyed by the ‘38 hurricane, he gambled that it would have been rebuilt by now. The shack had stood up in the dunes and abutted an inlet separating Weekapaug from Quonochontaug.   It was an epic fishing spot where bait was sucked into the salt pond and flushed out to the abundant waiting morone saxatilis. Being a Tuesday in early June, he further reckoned, that it would be vacant.  

Approaching with care and stealth under a lightly falling mist he observed jeep tracks in the sand leading to the darkened shack but saw no vehicles and smelled no smoke from the chimney.   Lighting a match, he carefully inspected the sand near the cabin’s only door. He saw remnants of footprints blown over with sand and concluded on this windless night, that they were days old.    He knocked, just the same, with a prepared story that he was a guest of the Inn hoping to fish the first light. Three times he knocked and waited, even tapping on the window twice. With the door locked, he check each shingle around the door and found the key, under the fifth to the right.   The cabin was indeed empty with the ashes of the fireplace cold. He lit an oil lamp, built a small fire, found a can of beans and sat down and ate.    

It was half past three am.

The cabin was well provisioned with supplies and it looked to have been stocked recently.   Where the walls were not populated by mounted fish, there displayed pictures of older men with their catch.   On the low rafters hung rods of all sizes, from bamboo fly rods to long heavy surf rods. Handmade lures and flies littered almost all of the empty wall space.   

To the patter of rain against the window to his left, he he lit a cigarette and stepped outside.   The wind had clocked from the East and the sound of the surf carried Westward with the smoke from the chimney.   Stepping inside, he threw another log onto the fire and reflected on his fortunate landing and those recent tense days aboard U-1230.   

To Be Con’t . . .

Osprey Nest

 

 

           OPERATION OSPREY NEST

           Early June, 1944

 

With the air rapidly dissipating, most inhaled another’s exhale and the only sound to be heard was an occasional suppressed cough, met by quick stern looks from the other crew members, in those tight quarters.  Instinctively, most look upward to the ceiling of the boat, the fate that buffets the dense ocean fathoms from the fresh surface air.  With each drop of sweat falling to the steel floor of the hull, the exhausted crew of U-1230 maintains a taught discipline – if there are prayers, they are silent.  For over two hours they have sat on the seabed, 400 meters south-southwest of Quonochontaug breachway, off the coast of Rhode Island.   For the past day and a half they have sailed submerged, silent on batteries.  They have crept west along the coast undetected from Frenchman’s Bay Maine, past Boston and Newport to this very mark on the chart, without any ventilation from their schnorchel.

Now, they were at their limit.  Moral was touching a low point.   All the milk had soured days after leaving Kristiansand naval base and at least a half a dozen merchant vessels were spotted in the crossing, yet not a torpedo was fired.   Strict orders were to avoid any risk of detection until the primary mission objective was attained.  Echo soundings by U-1230’s navigator now determined they were approximately northeast of Montauk, due North of Block Island and West of Pt. Judith.   They had heard no propeller propulsion from any vessels since passing south of Pt. Judith, five hours ago.

It was one thirty in the morning.

 It was time.

Stepping left of the navigator into the center of the bridge, Kapitanleutnant Otto Von Bulow, distinguished recipient of the Knight Cross with Oak Leaves for sinking the USS Ranger a year earlier while commanding U-404, gave the order:  “Periskoptiefe” (Periscope depth).   

The tension of the crew rose another level and the focus of those operating the controls, was absolute.   Three times since reaching their initial objective of Frenchman’s Bay, they had gone to periscope depth to surveil the situation and each time the seas were either too rough or convoy traffic too high.

Kapitanleutnant Von Bulow swung the periscope slowly a full seven hundred and twenty degrees, pausing only to whisper: “223 Grad nach Montauk Licht … 176 Grad Block Island und 259 Grad von Pt. Judith. Ruhige See, kein Verkehr”

Then in English for effect, to the one man on board not in uniform, standing near but in the shadows: “calm seas, no traffic.  This will be your spot.”

To the young sailors on the planes: ”Oberfläche leise, nur Turm verbinden” (surface silent, just conning tower).   His calm and determined demeanor once spoken brought smiles and nods of comfort.

In the ink black cold spring waters, at a position 223 degrees to Montauk Light, 176 degrees to Block Island and 079 degrees from Pt. Judith, the German submarine U-1230 , an IXC/40 type U-boat (Unterseeboot) of the Kriegsmarine, slid to the surface and opened its darkened hatches.   

The rush of the cool Atlantic air sucked deep into the silent hull and if the crew could have sprung to the deck and cheered and sung, they would have – but they did not.

In the next minutes, a raft was brought topside and inflated by way of a small silent compressor.   Kapitanleutnant Von Bulow swept his field glasses North along a barren beach a hundred meters away.   Beyond the beach, across a salt pond, there were several lone lights emanating from a large structure.  Von Bulow handed the glasses to the quiet man in civilian clothes and asked: ’what are those lights?’  To which the man looked on and replied in a soft English accent:  “that must be the new Weekapaug Inn.  It used to stand on this beach before the ’38 hurricane struck – they must have rebuilt it across the pond.   This will do indeed.   Thank you captain.”

Von Bulow turned then in the darkness and spoke in a soft curt tone to the faint shadow before him:  “These two men and Erster Offizier Haslau (First officer), will row you in and return at once.  We will then immediately sail to the East and as per my orders, not attack any vessels in this area.   This shall ensure that we not compromise all that we have achieved here.”  Seeing the shadow’s confirming nod, he continued:  “Beyond the shelf to the East however, I will be unleashed, relentless and shall deliver to my crew their tonnage, that I can assure you.”

To this the man in civilian clothes turned towards him and they exchanged powerful grips and saluted in the darkness. Lastly, the Kapitanleutnant offered: “Make this work, Viel Glück.”

 

TO BE CON’T . . .

 

Going Home

 

 

 

A sound so loud, it can only be best described as hushed silence.

All along the platform, a collective breath has inhaled in cascading unison and like falling dominoes, it is quickly quiet.

The soft cool breeze that has gently tapped each shoulder has delivered an entrance.

At the doors of the station, stand six tall Marines and in their six strong hands, holds one of ours.

They walk at a glacial pace with purpose and no one speaks; shifts or shuffles.   The entire station is silent and staring at track eight, the 177 to Washington, DC. 

A father, a few back from me, finds the hand of his young son and squeezes gently as his eyes fill with moist. 

The door to the baggage car is ceremoniously opened, officers stand erect, canines sit and there is not a hat on in the entire yard.   The coffin is raised to eye level and three carrying with their left, salute smartly before entering.

 

So Blessed we are.

 

 

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The Storm

 

 

 

 

I had just closed the cabin door with a chosen deference to those already asleep, though I wanted to slam it.

The crew, my life blood, tether and pulse, had given their all and beyond in effort.

Sadly, it was not enough.

The squalls came first and the sky appeared to look down upon us in disdain, before the storm was unleashed.

Eight long hours of horrific anguish, one soul overboard and now in the calm, drifting with only one mast . . . a despondent and sullen crew.

We were by the stars, some 270 miles off course and being pulled by an insidious ocean tide not found on any chart.

SIRI

 

 

Witnessed on a trip not too long ago: 

 

Conductor walks by and somewhat cheerfully says:  ‘found another cell phone on an empty seat – if it’s not soon claimed, well then, it’s going all the way down Washington, DC to forever lie in a bin full of other lost phones – ha ha.’

Guy sitting across from me (a professor I think) speaks without looking up: “ask SIRI whose it is”

The conductor, perhaps not accustomed to being addressed, holds it up and smugly says: ‘its locked…’ (dummy).

Professor, now slowly looking up: “doesn’t matter, try: ‘whose iPhone does this belong to?’”

Then, as if suddenly holding a live bird, the conductor nervously hands the phone over to the professor: ‘you do it’ . . . and steps quickly back.
  
Sure enough, SIRI: ‘Michael Kansan’

 

Another conductor now appears out of nowhere and checks his list to confirm . . .
(the level of drama has risen noticeably in the recent seconds) . . .
and exclaims, that Mr. Kansan is getting off at the next stop and is right now standing by the door, two cars back!
  
With urgency and the a nod of:  ’I knew that’, the 1st conductor moves past him with a good deed in hand. 
 

The professor just rolls his eyes towards me and returns to his reading.  

 

 

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Baggage

 

 

 

 

Just got on the train, folks jockeying for seats in measured and purposeful ways.  Up ahead, a mid-western couple (grandparents I imagine), have completely clogged the aisle with two enormous black carry on bags (she in front & he stuck behind) .

With a nervous glance at the sudden building line of anxious faces behind him, he takes hold of the first trunk in an attempt to heave it high above his head to the racks. 

‘No Ned, no – please your back – the trip …oh please!
    
Impulse urges me to intervene, to push ahead of a the quietly waiting family in front of me and assist but this is a man of great pride, as he never hesitates to look around for help.   He is once again young on a train, with his bride before him.
A characteristic and determination that is instantly admirable.

I hold back.
  
Like a fake prop on stage, he impresses us all by deftly delivering the rear bag topside.   All are now patient as he looks to the next.
  
‘No! please, for Heavens sakes Ned, no you cannot (she pleads) – let me help’

I nudge past the children.
   
Ned quickly bear hugs the second trunk which appears to be bolted to the floor.   I move the three remaining feet to assist.   Seconds later, he somehow already has it to his waist and together we place it on top.
  
He is embarrassed. His eyes have shifted downward to the right in the waiting stillness.    It is then that I hear my voice, and it does not surprise me:

“Well. . . it’s certainly clear whose bag is whose.”

The woman appears slightly offended as I pass by and says:  ‘and what exactly does . . .that mean?’

“I too, am married myself ma’am”.
 

 

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The Grin

 

     The heat was oppressive and unyielding and it was five hours past noon.   On the streets, folks ducked into hotel lobbies to suck cool manufactured air deep into their exhausted lungs.   The station however had no such air, just lazy fans fatigued by rising heat, high above in the rafters.   A number of trains had been cancelled due to electrical issues and the elderly occupied most benches, wheezing in wait – a collective, labored exhale.   On the platform few stood but those who could bear the humidity, saw the quickly building thunderheads climbing far above skyscrapers to the West and hoped that relief may soon blow through this suffocating station.   It was now time to board the train which was heading straight into the storm.
 
     As expected, it took longer to get everyone seated but the mood in the car was noticeably better given the intermittent air.   The wind came first and the rain followed just as the doors closed and I suspect some felt cheated, not having been caught out in it.   Across the aisle from me arrive two, he full of energy and wide eyed . . . taking it all in.   She is spent, tired and worn.   She wipes the perspiration from her brow into her dark matted hair and sits while managing a soft smile towards her son, staring intently out the rain lashed window.   I suspect he is ten, maybe twelve and marvel at his fascinated enthusiasm.   She entrust him with their tickets and baggage claim and asks that she may get a little rest. He nods in a manner politely routine, suggesting that this trust has been earned over time.
 
     The conductor is but a shadow as he comes by and is quietly impressed at the young boy’s behaved efficiency.   He gives him some extra stubs, should the boy wish to play with or draw on.   The conductor moves on, following the rattle of the tracks beneath us, down the aisle.   It is then, in the half light of the car that lightning flashes with a fury outside and I see the boy standing in his seat, staring my way with a most mischievous grin and a devious shimmer in his eyes.  

     Before the clap of thunder, he has lifted himself over his sleeping mother and is crawling forward amidst the luggage overhead.   ‘What in the world?’ . . .I want to shout out, reprimand, protect and chase the little monkey down . . .but I am pinned in by an old timer finally sleeping soundly and all around me, it is quiet.   Besides, where can he go?   The bathroom, no, that is the other way – towards the conductor . . . my worry then grows as he drops to the aisle up ahead and opens the adjoining doors to the car.   ‘The cafe car . . .why, that little devil!’.    I recall now, seeing his small hands return the baggage claim . . to his mother’s purse. . .’I’ll be damned’.
 
     Five minutes, ten . . .the next stop is approaching and it is mine . . . my concern grows.   The conductor walks quickly by, towards the cafe . . . ‘game over kid’ – I am thinking.   To my astonishment however, just as the door closes and behind the conductor, the boy darts back into our rail car with a big box of snacks in his left hand.   He calmly walks the aisle like some fancy waiter and maneuvers into his seat, causing not a stir from his mother.  

     The great locomotive has by now punched through the rain and is racing towards a brilliant setting sun.   As far as the eye can see, the soaked land is lush and a bright green.
 
     The boy is licking his fingers and hiding wrappers when I look back next, as the train slows into my station.   I deftly step over the sleeping gentleman and look down towards the mother and her son.   She has awakened and looks up, half expecting me to say something – and I am tempted.   Something like: ’best leash this lad towards NYC ma’am’ . . . but the boy has leaned back and smiled up at me . . . he winks with a wide grin while placing his right forefinger over his chocolate covered teeth and I just smile back, as his secret is now mine too.   I nod to them both as the doors open and bid them ‘a pleasant journey’.
 

 

 

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