Saturday, November 5, 2011
The night was cold and clear. The stars were out in full force and made men feel small an insignificant, which is as it should be. As individuals we are insignificant. When gather and join into armies we are far from insignificant when it comes to the destruction we can impose on each other and other living creatures. We don't seem to bother rocks and the wind too much but the things that live on those rocks and fly on the wind are affected in very dramatic ways.
Take for example the owl getting into position to snare a mouse that he has just spotted. This mouse would have made a great meal for the night. Just as he was starting his dive Sergei Slimac’s Tu2's right engine coughed to life and started the prop spinning at a high rate of speed. This caused the owl to flinch and altered his flight path which made him miss his intended mark. The mouse dogged the preverbal bullet or in this case the owl and lived another 10 minutes.
All along the flight line other dramas where being played out. It was pitch dark and mistakes were made and corners cut. The goal was to launch all of the squadron’s planes in record time regardless of what obstacles the night provided. Things were actually going quite well considering. Only 2 major incidents so far but they did not hamper the operation. The TU 2s of 224 squadron maneuvered into place and took off nose to tail, wing tip to wing tip just like the commander had ordered. 3 planes were already in the air when out of the blackness death rained.
The rumors were that it was only 12 night flying British RAF Mosquitoes that caused so much death and destruction. It was supposed that having the marker lights on, so that the Soviet medium bombers could take off and land, guided them into the perfect position to kill and maim so many on the ground and then hunt the 3 Tus who were in the air. Only one Soviet bomber escaped major damage or outright destruction and that was the one being services in the old barn away from the rest of the buildings.
It just happened to be the barn that the owl lived in and slept in during the day. The barn was saved but the owl was not. He was torn in to tiny pieces by a 20mm shell on the way to a bombers just taking off. The collision managed to divert the speeding shell just enough to save the pilot from having his head taken off. It did however take off his arm at the elbow. This forced him to lose control of the brakes and rudder and he veered to the right and into 2 other planes whose pilots were watching in horror as their comrade slammed into them. All three crews died instantly and the fireball created many more aiming points and targets for the marauding Mosquitoes.
The anti aircraft gun crews finally were able to respond but all explosions and flashes from them destroyed their night vision. One mosquito decided to take another run at the airfield and he paid with this decision with his life. The Soviet made 35mm shell hit the plane 5 feet outboard on the left wing. Being so low and fast the pilot never stood and chance or possibly never comprehended the situation and slammed into the ground 248 yards from the south runway killing the mouse who had earlier survived the misdirected owls razor sharp claws.
And that was it. In 10 minutes 24 men had altered the lives of countless of creatures of the night and their fellow men. The Soviets lost all but one TU 2 medium bomber of 24 Squadron and 46 dead personnel and the RAF lost one Mosquito high speed night fighter bomber along with its crew and 2 others on planes 3 and 9 were also critically wounded and did not make it back to England and home alive.
As it so happens not one of the surviving personnel at the Soviet airbase 224 in Calais made it back to their homes in the USSR either. That is except the pilot whose head was saved by the owl. He actually survived and most of him was transported back home to the Ukraine. Minus of course his lower arm. He lived to be 91 years old, had 5 children and 23 grandchildren and it was never determined how many great grand children, one of whom became a very famous Climatologist but that is a tale for another time.