Berlin. The very belly of the beast. The seat of evil for six long years of war and half a decade before that.
In the pit of his stomach, Squadron Leader Robert ‘Robin’ Priestman felt revulsion bordering on rebellion. He’d had disappointing postings before. His current job at the Ministry had hardly been his first choice. Yet a posting to Berlin filled him not just with disappointment but also with anger.
His first thought was defiant: he would not go to Berlin. His second thought was realistic: what was the alternative?
The RAF didn’t need insubordinate, uncooperative officers. Great Britain was bankrupt and the Empire crumbling. The ruling Labour Party wanted to retrench and spend money at home rather than abroad. Britain, the government said, should not attempt to play policeman in a complex post-war world; it was time for America to assume that role. Nor should Britain try to hold on to an Empire it could no longer afford, much less do so by force of arms. In place of imperial grandeur, the British people wanted prosperity for the common man. It was time to grant the colonies independence and reduce the ‘bloated’ military establishment so revenues could be redirected toward social services.
As the ranks thinned, the competition for each job increased. No one was going to retain officers who said ‘no’ to assignments.
“Very good, sir.” The words came out automatically, the façade intact.
“Should be very interesting for you,” the Air Vice-Marshal continued. “The Ivans can’t be trusted, but although the Americans can be rough at the edges they’re generally on the same page as we are. Gatow itself is a bit sleepy. It has one grass and one of these new PSP runways.”
“PSP?” Priestman asked, unfamiliar with the term.
“Perforated steel planking — rather like steel mats that are rolled out over the grass. The Americans developed them during the war. They’re quick and easy to lay down, cost a damn sight less than concrete, but are quite adequate for light traffic. We’ve only got a single Spitfire squadron at Gatow and a BEA flight from Northolt every day but Sunday. Otherwise, all you’ll see is the odd VIP swooping in for a meeting of the Allied Control Council. I think you’ll find it a refreshing change from the stuffy halls here at Adastra House.” He winked and laughed shortly.
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