The Complete Navarone
I wanted to write a war story — with the accent on the story. Only a fool would pretend that there is anything noble or splendid about modern warfare but there is no denying that it provides a great abundance of material for a writer, provided no attempt is made either to glorify it or exploit its worst aspects. I think war is a perfectly legitimate territory for a story-teller. Personal experience, I suppose, helped to play some part in the location of this story. I spent some wartime months in and around Greece and the Aegean islands, although at no time, I must add, did I run the risk of anything worse than a severe case of sunburn, far less find myself exposed to circumstances such as those in which the book’s characters find themselves.
But I did come across and hear about, both in the Aegean and in Egypt, men to whom danger and the ever-present possibility of capture and death were the very stuff of existence: these were the highly trained specialists of Earl Jellicoe’s Special Boat Service and the men of the Long Range Desert Group, who had turned their attention to the Aegean islands after the fall of North Africa. Regularly these men were parachuted into enemy-held islands or came there by sea in the stormy darkness of a wind- and rain-filled night and operated, sometimes for months on end, as spies, saboteurs and liaison officers with local resistance groups. Some even had their own boats, based on German islands, and operated throughout the Aegean with conspicuous success and an almost miraculous immunity to capture and sinking.
Here, obviously, was excellent material for a story and it had the added advantage for the writer that it was set in an archipelago: I had the best of both worlds, the land and the sea, always ready to hand. But the determining factor in the choice of location and plot was neither material nor the islands themselves: that lay in the highly complicated political situation that existed in the islands at the time, and in the nature of Navarone itself.
There is no such island as Navarone — but there were one or two islands remarkably like it, inasmuch as they were (a) German-held, (b) had large guns that dominated important channels and (c) had these guns so located as to be almost immune to destruction by the enemy. Again the situation in the Dodecanese islands was dangerous and perplexing in the extreme, as it was difficult to know from one month to another whether Germans, Greeks, British or Italians were in power there — an excellent setting for a story. So I moved a Navarone-type island from the middle of the Aegean to the Dodecanese, close in to the coast of Turkey, placed another island, filled with trapped and apparently doomed British soldiers, just to the north of it, and took as much advantage as I could of what I had seen, what I had heard, the fictitious geographical situation I had arranged for my own benefit, and the very real political and military state of affairs that existed in the Dodecanese at that time.
The Guns of Navarone
The match scratched noisily across the rusted metal of the corrugated iron shed, fizzled, then burst into a sputtering pool of light, the harsh sound and sudden brilliance alike strangely alien in the stillness of the desert night. Mechanically, Mallory’s eyes followed the cupped sweep of the flaring match to the cigarette jutting out beneath the Group-Captain’s clipped moustache, saw the light stop inches away from the face, saw too the sudden stillness of that face, the unfocused vacancy of the eyes of a man lost in listening. Then the match was gone, ground into the sand of the airfield perimeter.
‘I can hear them,’ the Group-Captain said softly. ‘I can hear them coming in. Five minutes, no more. No wind tonight — they’ll be coming in on Number Two. Come on, let’s meet them in the interrogation room.’ He paused, looked quizzically at Mallory and seemed to smile. But the darkness deceived, for there was no humour in his voice. ‘Just curb your impatience, young man — just for a little longer. Things haven’t gone too well tonight. You’re going to have all your answers, I’m afraid, and have them all too soon.’ He turned abruptly, strode off towards the squat buildings that loomed vaguely against the pale darkness that topped the level horizon.
Mallory shrugged, then followed on more slowly, step for step with the third member of the group, a broad, stocky figure with a very pronounced roll in his gait. Mallory wondered sourly just how much practice Jensen had required to achieve that sailorly effect. Thirty years at sea, of course — and Jensen had done exactly that — were sufficient warrant for a man to dance a hornpipe as he walked; but that wasn’t the point. As the brilliantly successful Chief of Operations of the Subversive Operation Executive in Cairo, intrigue, deception, imitation and disguise were the breath of life to Captain James Jensen, DSO, RN. As a Levantine stevedore agitator, he had won the awed respect of the dock-labourers from Alexandretta to Alexandria: as a camel-driver, he had blasphemously out-camel-driven all available Bedouin competition: and no more pathetic beggar had ever exhibited such realistic sores in the bazaars and market-places of the East. Tonight, however, he was just the bluff and simple sailor. He was dressed in white from cap-cover to canvas shoes, the starlight glinted softly on the golden braid on epaulettes and cap peak.
Their footsteps crunched in companionable unison over the hard-packed sand, rang sharply as they moved on to the concrete of the runway. The hurrying figure of the Group-Captain was already almost lost to sight. Mallory took a deep breath and turned suddenly towards Jensen.
‘Look, sir, just what
‘Well,’ Jensen murmured, ‘what did happen?’
‘No leave,’ Mallory said bitterly. ‘Not even a night’s sleep. Just hours and hours in the SOE Headquarters, answering a lot of silly, damn-fool questions about climbing in the Southern Alps. Then hauled out of bed at midnight, told I was to meet you, and then driven for hours across the blasted desert by a mad Scotsman who sang drunken songs and asked hundreds of even more silly, damnfool questions!’
‘One of my more effective disguises, I’ve always thought,’ Jensen said smugly. ‘Personally, I found the journey most entertaining!’
‘One of your —’ Mallory broke off, appalled at the memory of things he had said to the elderly bewhiskered Scots captain who had driven the command vehicle. ‘I–I’m terribly sorry, sir. I never realised —’
‘Of course you didn’t!’ Jensen cut in briskly. ‘You weren’t supposed to. Just wanted to find out if you were the man for the job. I’m sure you are — I was pretty sure you were before I pulled you out of Crete. But where you got the idea about leave I don’t know. The sanity of the SOE has often been questioned, but even we aren’t given to sending a flying-boat for the sole purpose of enabling junior officers to spend a month wasting their substance among the flesh-pots of Cairo,’ he finished dryly.
‘I still don’t know —’
‘Patience, laddie, patience — as our worthy Group-Captain has just advocated. Time is endless. To wait, and to keep on waiting — that is to be of the East.’
‘To total four hours’ sleep in three days is not,’ Mallory said feelingly. ‘And that’s all I’ve had … Here they come!’
Both men screwed up their eyes in automatic reflex as the fierce glare of the landing lights struck at them, the flare path arrowing off into the outer darkness. In less than a minute the first bomber was down, heavily, awkwardly, taxiing to a standstill just beside them. The grey camouflage paint of the after fuselage and tail-planes was riddled with bullet and cannon shells, an aileron was shredded and the port outer engine out of commission, saturated in oil. The cabin Perspex was shattered and starred in a dozen places.
For a long time Jensen stared at the holes and scars of the damaged machine, then shook his head and looked away.
‘Four hours’ sleep, Captain Mallory,’ he said quietly. ‘Four hours. I’m beginning to think that you can count yourself damn lucky to have had even that much.’
The interrogation room, harshly lit by two powerful, unshaded lights, was uncomfortable and airless. The furniture consisted of some battered wall-maps and charts, a score or so of equally scuffed chairs and an unvarnished deal table. The Group-Captain, flanked by Jensen and Mallory, was sitting behind this when the door opened abruptly and the first of the flying crews entered, blinking rapidly in the fierceness of the unaccustomed light. They were led by a dark-haired, thick-set pilot, trailing helmet and flying-suit in his left hand. He had an Anzac bush helmet crushed on the back of his head, and the word ‘Australia’ emblazoned in white across each khaki shoulder. Scowling, wordlessly and w ...