Alistair MacLean

Force 10 From Navarone


Prelude: Thursday 0000-0600

Commander Vincent Ryan, RN, Captain (Destroyers) and commanding officer of His Majesty's latest S-class destroyer Sirdar, leaned his elbows comfortably on the coaming of his bridge, brought up his night-glasses and gazed out thoughtfully over the calm and silvered waters of the moonlit Aegean.

He looked first of all due north, straight out over the huge and smoothly sculpted and whitely phosphorescent bow-wave thrown up by the knife-edged forefoot of his racing destroyer: four miles away, no more, framed in its backdrop of indigo sky and diamantine stars, lay the brooding mass of a darkly cliff-girt island: the island of Kheros, for months the remote and beleaguered outpost of two thousand British troops who had expected to die that night, and who would now not die.

Ryan swung his glasses through 180 degrees and nodded approvingly. This was what he liked to see. The four destroyers to the south were in such perfect line astern that the hull of the leading vessel, a gleaming bone in its teeth, completely obscured the hulls of the three ships behind. Ryan turned his binoculars to the east.

It was odd, he thought inconsequentially, how unimpressive, even how disappointing, the aftermath of either natural or man-made disaster could be. Were it not for that dull red glow and wisping smoke that emanated from the upper part of the cliff and lent the scene a vaguely Dantean aura of primeval menace and foreboding, the precipitous far wall of the harbour looked as it might have done in the times of Homer.

That great ledge of rock that looked from that distance so smooth and regular and somehow inevitable could have been carved out by the wind and weather of a hundred million years: it could equally well have been cut away fifty centuries ago by the masons of Ancient Greece seeking marble for the building of their Ionian temples: what was almost inconceivable, what almost passed rational comprehension, was the fact that ten minutes ago that ledge had not been there at all, that there had been in its place tens of thousands of tons of rock, the most impregnable German fortress in the Aegean and, above all, the two great guns of Navarone, now all buried for ever three hundred feet under the sea. With a slow shake of his head Commander Ryan lowered his binoculars and turned to look at the men responsible for achieving more in five minutes than nature could have done in five million years.

Captain Mallory and Corporal Miller. That was all he knew of them, that and the fact that they had been sent on this mission by an old friend of his a naval captain by the name of Jensen who, he had learnt only twenty-four hours previously — and th.-n to his total astonishment — was the Head of Allied Intelligence in the Mediterranean. But that was all I knew of them and maybe he didn't even know then Maybe their names weren't Mallory and Miller. Maybe they weren't even a captain and a corporal. They didn't look like any captain or corporal he'd ever seen. Come to that, they didn't look like any soldiers he'd ever seen Clad in salt-water-and blood-stained German uniforms, filthy, unshaven, quiet and watchful and remote, they belonged to no category of men he'd ever encountered: all he could be certain of as he gazed at the blurred and bloodshot sunken eyes, the gaunt and trenched and stubbled-grey faces of two men no longer young, was that he had never before seen human beings so far gone in total exhaustion.

'Well, that seems to be about it,' Ryan said. The troops on Kheros waiting to be taken off, our flotilla going north to take them off and the guns of Navarone no longer in any position to do anything about our flotilla. Satisfied, Captain Mallory?'

That was the object of the exercise,' Mallory agreed.

Ryan lifted his glasses again. This time, almost ut the range of night vision, he focused on a rubber dinghy closing in on the rocky shoreline to the west of Navarone harbour. The two figures seated in the dinghy were just discernible, no more. Ryan lowered his glasses and said thoughtfully:

'Your big friend — and the lady with him — doesn't believe in hanging about. You didn't — ah — introduce me to them, Captain Mallory.'

'I didn't get the chance to. Maria and Andrea. Andrea's a colonel in the Greek army: 19th Motorized Division.'

'Andrea was a colonel in the Greek army,' Miller said. 'I think he's just retired.'

'I rather think he has. They were in a hurry, Commander, because they're both patriotic Greeks, they're both islanders and there is much for both to do in Navarone. Besides, I understand they have some urgent and very personal matters to attend to.'

'I see.' Ryan didn't press the matter, instead he looked out again over the smoking remains of the shattered fortress. 'Well, that seems to be that. Finished for the evening, gentlemen?'

Mallory smiled faintly. 'I think so.'

Then I would suggest some sleep.'

'What a wonderful word that is.' Miller pushed himself wearily off the side of the bridge and stood there swaying as he drew an exhausted forearm over bloodshot, aching eyes. 'Wake me up in Alexandria.'

'Alexandria?' Ryan looked at him in amusement. 'We won't be there for thirty hours yet.'

'That's what I meant,' Miller said.

Miller didn't get his thirty hours. He had, in fact, been asleep for just over thirty minutes when he was wakened by the slow realization that something was hurting his eyes: after he had moaned and feebly protested for some time he managed to get one eye open and saw that that something was a bright overhead light let into the deckhead of the cabin that had been provided for Mallory and himself. Miller propped himself up on a groggy elbow, managed to get his second eye into commission and looked without enthusiasm at the other two occupants of the cabin: Mallory was seated by a table, apparently transcribing some kind of message, while Commander Ryan stood in the open doorway.

'This is outrageous,' Miller said bitterly. 'I haven't closed an eye all night.'

'You've been asleep for thirty-five minutes,' Ryan said. 'Sorry. But Cairo said this message for Captain Mallory was of the greatest urgency.'

'It is, is it?' Miller said suspiciously. He brightened. 'It's probably about promotions and medals and leave and so forth.' He looked hopefully at Mallory who hail just straightened after decoding the message. 'Is it?'

'Well, no. It starts off promisingly enough, mind you, warmest congratulations and what-have-you, but after that the tone of the message deteriorates a bit.'


Miller took the message from Mallory's outstretched hand, moved the paper to and fro until he had brought his bleary eyes into focus, read the message in horrified silence, handed it back to Mallory and stretched out his full length on his bunk. He said, 'Oh, my God!' and relapsed into what appeared to be a state of shock.

That about sums it up,' Mallory agreed. He shook his head wearily and turned to Ryan. 'I'm sorry, sir, but we must trouble you for three things. A rubber dinghy, portable radio transmitter and an immediate return to Navarone. Please arrange to have the radio lined up on pre-set frequency to be constantly monitored by your WT room. When you receive a CE signal, transmit it to Cairo.'

'CE?' Ryan asked.

'Uh-huh. Just that.'

'And that's all?'

'We could do with a bottle of brandy,' Miller said. 'Something — anything — to see us through the rigours of the long night that lies ahead.'

Ryan lifted an eyebrow. 'A bottle of five-star, no doubt, Corporal?'

'Would you,' Miller asked morosely, 'give a bottle of three-star to a man going to his death?'

As it happened, Miller's gloomy expectations of an early demise turned out to be baseless — for that night, at

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