They flew out over the North Sea and after levelling off at just 2,000 feet, Fauquier turned the controls over to Moran and lay his head back to ‘get a few winks’ — or pretended to anyway. From this altitude, by the light of the stars alone it was easy to see how rough the North Sea was. At one point they passed over a northbound convoy. The heavily laden merchantmen wallowed in the deep troughs of the waves, partially submerged. Around them the escorts battered their way through the frothing crests, flinging sheets of water upwards as their sharp bows cut into the lead-grey seas. The gusty wind blew the spray and spume backwards, drenching everything topside and making the superstructures glisten.
At the designated turning point Fauquier took the controls again and banked the big black kite onto a course of due east as they crossed over Norway. Not a single search light greeted them. No gun fired at them. There really was a gap in the enemy defences, Moran concluded in wonder. Usually, such promises proved illusory.
Fauquier stayed at the controls until they crossed into Sweden. They knew exactly when they crossed into Swedish airspace because the Swedes greeted them with half-hearted bursts of flak. These appeared designed to indicate they were not sleeping, but just as clearly to send the message that they meant no harm either. With the RAF blatantly and consciously violating Swedish airspace, Moran conceded that his joke about Fauquier “tearing a strip off” for causing an international incident had been seriously misjudged. Forrester would probably take the mickey out of him about it when they got back.
They turned again to fly up a broad valley between two mountain ranges. For a second time Fauquier turned the controls over to Moran, but rather than pretending sleep he worked his way back to the Elsan toilet. They were still flying low to deceive German radar. Gradually the sky brightened. Slowly and almost eerily the Norwegian glaciers to port turned a pale pink. Below them headlights beamed as they wound along on twisting roads. Shortly afterwards, a whole town appeared, like scattered diamonds on a velvet cloth. The beautiful sight encouraged Moran to hope that the time when all of Europe would be free of blackouts was not so far away.
They flew on, and a dawn from a low sun shone on the ordered, peaceful life of northern Sweden in the snow below them. Finally, the navigator warned, “Fifteen minutes to marshalling point.”
Fauquier took over the controls again. Moran received permission to stretch his legs, and after a quick pee, climbed up into the astrodome to get a good look around. Streaming out behind them in an irregular gaggle flew the other Lancasters of both 617 and 9 squadrons. They started slowly circling an invisible point in the sky like a huge mobile while waiting for the stragglers to catch up. Moran identified Forrester’s Q for Queen among the melee. Peal would be conscientiously doing his calculations, so there was no point in waving, but mentally Kit mentally wished them luck.
Eventually the wireless operator reported that all aircraft of both squadrons were on station. The navigator gave Fauquier the next course as they started laying on altitude to climb over the Norwegian mountains toward Tromso. Gradually, the ground rose to meet them and sides of a pass closed in on them. At the one hundred feet they had been briefed to fly, they left Sweden behind. Beyond, as the ground sloped down again towards the Atlantic, they continued to climb towards their bombing height of 18,000 feet. This was the altitude at which the “Tallboy” bombs were supposed to be most effective.
“Happy?” Fauquier asked, glancing over at Moran.
“Pleasantest sight-seeing tour I’ve had in a long time.”
The Canadian laughed briefly before adding, “I hate to tell you this, but that’s probably about to change.”
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