Alistair MacLean




The two oddly similar incidents, although both happening on the night of February 3rd, and both involving army ammunition storage installations, had no discernible connection.

The occurrence at De Dooms in Holland was mysterious, spectacular and tragic: the one at Metnitz in Germany was a good deal less mysterious, unspectacular and faintly comic.

Three soldiers were on guard at the Dutch ammunition dump, set in a concrete bunker one and a half kilometres north of the village of De Dooms, when, about one-thirty in the morning, the only two citizens who were awake in the village reported a staccato burst of machine-pistol fire — it was later established that the guards were carrying machine-pistols — followed immediately by the sound of a gigantic explosion, which was later found to have blasted in the earth a crater sixty metres wide by twelve deep. Houses in the village suffered moderately severe damage but there was no loss of life.

It was presumed that the guards had fired at intruders and that a stray bullet had triggered the detonation. No traces of the guards or supposed intruders were found afterwards.

In Germany, a group calling themselves the Red Army Faction, a well known and well organized band of terrorists, claimed that they had easily overcome the two-man guard at the US Nato arms dump near Metnitz. Both men, it had been claimed, had been drinking and when the intruders had left both were covered with blankets — it had been a bitterly cold night. The US Army denied the drinking allegation but made no mention of the blankets. The intruders claimed that they had acquired a quantity of offensive weapons, some so advanced that they were still on the secret list. The US Army denied this.

The West German press heavily favoured the intruders account. When it came to penetrating army bases, the Red Army Faction had an impressive record: when it came to protecting them, the US Army had an unimpressive one.

The Red Army Faction customarily list the nature of their thefts in meticulous detail. No such details of the alleged secret weapons were published. It has been assumed that, if the Faction’s account was true, the US Army or the US Army through the German government, had issued a stop order to the press.


‘It is clear that it is the work of a madman.’ Jon de Jong, tall, lean, grey, ascetic and the general manager of Schiphol airport, looked and sounded very gloomy indeed and, in the circumstances, he had every justification in looking and sounding that way.

‘Insanity. A man has to be deranged, unhinged, to perform a wanton, mindless, pointless and purposeless task like this.’ Like the monkish professor he so closely resembled, de Jong tended to be precise to the point of pedantry and, as now, had a weakness for pompous tautology.

‘A lunatic.’

‘One sees your point of view,’ de Graaf said. Colonel van de Graaf, a remarkably broad man of medium height with a deeply trenched, tanned face, had about him an imperturbability and an unmistakable cast of authority that accorded well with the Chief of Police of a nation’s capital city. ‘I can understand and agree with it but only to a certain extent. I appreciate how you feel, my friend. Your beloved airport, one of the best in Europe — ‘

‘Amsterdam airport is the best in Europe.’ De Jong spoke as if by rote, his thoughts elsewhere. ‘Was.’

‘And will be again. The criminal responsible for this is, it is certain, not a man of a normal cast of mind. But that does not mean that he is instantly certifiable. Maybe he doesn’t like you, has a grudge against you. Maybe he’s an ex-employee fired by one of your departmental managers for what the manager regarded as a perfectly valid reason but a reason with which the disgruntled employee didn’t agree. Maybe he’s a citizen living close by, on the outskirts of Amsterdam, say, or between here and Aalsmeer, who finds the decibel level from the aircraft intolerably high. Maybe he’s a dedicated environmentalist who objects, in what must be a very violent fashion, to jet engines polluting the atmosphere, which they undoubtedly do. Our country, as you are well aware, has more than its fair share of dedicated environmentalists. Maybe he doesn’t like our Government’s policies.’ De Graaf ran a hand through his thick, iron-grey hair. ‘Maybe anything. But he could be as sane as either of us.’

‘Maybe you’d better have another look, Colonel,’ de Jong said. His hands were clenching and unclenching and he was shivering violently. Both of those were involuntary but for different reasons. The former accurately reflected an intense frustration and anger; the latter was due to the fact that, when an ice-cold wind blows east-north-east off the 1jsselmeer, and before that from Siberia, the roof of the main concourse of Schiphol airport was no place to be. ‘As sane as you or I? Would you or I have been responsible for this — this atrocity? Look, Colonel, just look.’ De Graaf looked. Had he been the airport manager, he reflected, it would hardly have been a sight to gladden his heart. Schiphol airport had just disappeared, its place taken by a wave-rippled lake that stretched almost as far as the eyes could see. The source of the flooding was all too easy to locate: close to the big fuel storage tanks just outwith the perimeter of the airport itself, a wide breach had appeared in the dyke of the canal to the south: the debris, stones and mud that were scattered along the top of the dyke on either side of the breach left no doubt that the rupture of the containing dyke had not been of a natural or spontaneous origin. The effect of the onrush of waters had been devastating. The airport buildings themselves, though flooded in the ground floors and basements, remained intact. The damage done to the sensitive electric and electronic machinery was very considerable and would almost certainly cost millions of guilders to replace but the structural integrity of the buildings was unaffected: Schiphol airport is very solidly built and securely anchored to its foundations.

Aircraft, unfortunately, when not operating in their natural element, are very delicate artifacts and, of course, have no means at all of anchoring themselves. A momentary screwing of de Graaf’s eyes showed that this was all too painfully evident. Small planes had drifted away to the north. Some were still floating aimlessly around. Some were known to be sunk and out of sight, and two had their tail-planes sticking up above the water — those would have been single-engined planes, carried down head-first by the weight of the engines in their noses. Some two- engined passenger jets, 737’s and DC9’s, and three engined planes, Trident 3’s and 727’s had also moved and were scattered randomly over a large area of the airfield, their noses pointing in every which direction. Two were tipped on their sides and two others were partially submerged, with only parts of their upper bodies showing: their undercarriages had collapsed. The big planes, the 747’s, the Tri-Stars, the DC 10’s, were still in situ, held in position by their sheer massive weight — these planes, fuelled, can weigh between three and four hundred tons. Two, however, had fallen over to one side, presumably because the undercarriages distant from the onrush of water had collapsed. One did not have to be an aeronautical engineer to realize that both planes were write-offs. Both port wings were angled upwards at an angle of about twenty degrees and only the roots of the starboard wings were visible, a position that could only have been accounted for by the fact that both wings must have broken upwards somewhere along their lengths.

Several hundred yards along a main runway an undercarriage projecting above the water showed where a Fokker Friendship, accelerating for take-off, had tried to escape the floodwaters and f”ed. It was possible that the pilot had not seen the approach of the flood waters, possible but unlikely: it was more likely that he had seen them, reckoned that he had nothing to lose either way, continued accelerating but failed to gain lift-off speed before being caught. There was no question of his plane having been engulfed: in those initial stages, according to observers,

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