Mrs. Thatcher’s instructions were concise and clear. "Devote whatever resources are necessary to find this document."
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In 1982 a single page from an old ship's logbook holds the solution for Margaret Thatcher's desire to regain the Falklands without bloodshed. After opening the safety box of his deceased uncle, John Wingate encounters red-haired Vanessa Grieves while searching in the vaults of an Argentinean whaling company for a logbook and the secrets it holds.
Vanessa, seeking her own agenda, starts John looking for more that just an old ship when the Falklands Conflict is triggered by the juntas interest in Leith Harbour.
From the streets of Buenos Aires to the abandoned whaling stations of South Georgia, John and Vanessa are pursued by Argentineans whose personal interests are endangered by the discovery of the logbook's secret.
Caught in Port Stanley during the closing days of the conflict, they cross paths with the Argentine Special Forces who are privy to the real reason the 1939 Battle of the River Plate was fought.
Download the entire novel in 6 x 9 book format at - Haakon Publishing
SOUTH ATLANTIC- EAST OF ARGENTINA
13 DECEMBER 1939
Kapitän zur See Hans Langsdorff glanced at the chronometer: 5:56. Dawn. His steady gloved hands held up a pair of Zeiss binoculars while he studied the masts of two ships appearing over the horizon, 27 kilometres away.
As Commander of the Admiral Graf Spee, Germany’s lone sea raider in the entire South Atlantic, he had played the sly fox well, eluding the hounds while almost half the British Fleet chased him across the ocean in an unsuccessful hunt to bring his ship to bay.
His second in command crossed the bridge to stand at his side. “Herr Kapitän, the warship has been positively identified as the heavy cruiser Exeter.”
“Well, that’s the first surprise,” Langsdorff said. “I had expected a light cruiser as the escort. Still, it’s better than a battleship.” He wondered what else about the intelligence report would be wrong. Confident his eleven-inch guns could handle Exeter, he focussed his binoculars on the merchant ship steaming beside her, wondering who she was and why she needed to be sunk.
“More masts appearing to port,” Kapitän Kay said, pointing left.
Turning, Langsdorff readjusted his binoculars. With four ships to keep track of, he knew his ship would not come away unscathed. Fighting down the urge to slip away into the vast Atlantic and begin the long voyage home, returning men to their sweethearts, and some to tiny sons or daughters they had not yet seen, he issued an order he knew would condemn men to death. “Give me flank speed, and run up the Battle Ensigns, Herr Kay.”
Picking a telephone receiver off the console, he spoke to his Fire Control Director. “FregattenKapitän Ascher.”
“Yes, Herr Kapitän,” came the distorted voice back to him.
“You have a visual sighting on the merchant ship?”
A pause. Langsdorff could picture Ascher taking a final look in the great range finder, bringing the twin images together in its polished lenses.
Ascher’s voice came down the line, calm, confident. “Yes. Two salvos. That’s all we’ll have time for.”
Looking out the bridge windows, Langsdorff watched Exeter speeding towards him. “You know the Admiral’s instructions, FregattenKapitän.”
“The new radar has confirmed the range.”
“Very well. Open fire at one hundred and ninety-seven hectometres.”
Langsdorff noted the horizon was still tinged red when, twenty-one minutes after sunrise, the range closed to 19.7 kilometres, and big guns shattered the morning peace, hurling three shells into the South Atlantic sky.
Pulling back the top of his glove, Langsdorff looked at his watch, its time burning into his mind: 6:17 a.m. So this is how a naval engagement between warships begins, he thought, hoping it would be worth the cost. Once the smoke and acidic fumes cleared the bridge, he focussed his binoculars on the merchant ship. A flash and two columns of water leaping skyward from the ocean surface were hidden when Exeter, having closed to the extreme limit of her eight-inch guns, opened with all three turrets. The merchant ship was turning in Exeter’s smoke, he needed Ascher’s second salvo away. Confident the ranging radar would feel through the murk and touch it, Langsdorff let out his breath when the guns fired a second time.
Rolling black smoke billowed across the horizon behind Exeter. A brief smile crossing Langsdorff’s lips disappeared when incoming shells exploded, sending hot steel scything into his men. Target corrections straddled Exeter as the two smaller cruisers, Ajax and Achilles, their first shells falling short, searched for the range. Seventeen minutes into the action Langsdorff saw his eighth salvo disable one of Exeter’s forward turrets. The brief appearance of ‘Not-Under-Control’ balls proved a small victory, for the two light cruisers, closing from the east, were now endangering his flank. He ordered the big turrets swung in their direction to help the smaller side guns keep them at bay.
Returning them to Exeter, Langsdorff left Ascher to concentrate on the warship and noticed her second turret had ceased firing, giving hope that she’d withdraw. Torpedo wakes crossing the water revealed the cold-blooded tenacity of her British captain as he pressed the battle home with his diminished armament. When the last gun ceased firing and she turned away trailing a cloud of smoke, Langsdorff silently congratulated her captain. He’d fought well.
Across the sea in Exeter, Captain Bell stopped listening to reports of damage coming in: flooding compartments, guns disabled, men killed and dying. Commanding his ship from the After Conning Position was difficult enough when the steering-order transmitter and telephone were working. Without them, he stood in an information vacuum.
The pristine order of his ship had been destroyed by one accurately fired shell from the Graf Spee that struck the upper front turret. Ricocheting splinters had shredded the bridge, cut up communications cables, and killed most of his officers including the navigator and his plotting crew. The men either side of him now lay dead at his feet. Stepping over them, he issued an order to the helm, then picked up a telephone. Neither responded. Communication with the engine room was gone, leaving no alternative but to abandon the bridge. Dashing out, he wiped blood from his eyes, realizing for the first time he’d been wounded in the face.
Within five minutes of arriving at the aft position, Captain Bell had established a chain of messengers handling his orders and pressed the battle forward, being rewarded with a direct hit below the German raider’s funnel. Under withering fire and a rain of splinters, damage control crews were losing men and the fight to keep his ship alive. The Graf Spee, in command of the battle with all her guns intact, continued to systematically turn his ship into scrap. Thinking of the lives it had cost to come this far, Captain Bell forged ahead, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The ocean, which for so many years had carried the British Navy to victory turned against Captain Bell as in-rushing seawater shorted out all electrical power to the rear gun, leaving him defenceless. Gripping a bulkhead, he watched the Graf Spee turn away from certain victory as Ajax and Achilles chased her over the western horizon.
Taking a pair of binoculars, he scanned the sea to his east, frustration and anger surfaced when, except for a drifting black haze stretching to the horizon, he found it empty. Without wireless contact there was nothing more he could do. Turning his crippled ship toward the Falkland Islands, Captain Bell set course for a safe haven. Exeter had survived the Battle of the River Plate.
Howard Wingate watched a dark green Jaguar pull into his drive and park. Two men got out, their tanned faces looking out of place on the east coast of England after a dreary winter. Each stood behind his car door scanning the surroundings with a certain precision Howard recognized as belonging to military men. After what happened forty years ago, Wingate wondered how they stumbled on to him, but had no doubt about the lengths they would go to get what they were after.
Stepping back from the window, Wingate briefly considered his options. Stromness House was a two-story manor facing the North Sea and he was on the top floor. If he stayed here he’d be caught like a rat in a bilge. His only route of escape was a single set of stairs, its landing in sight of the front entrance.
The two men stepped away from their vehicle and split up, one walking to the old coach entrance, while the other, left hand in his coat, cast wary glances about the property as he circled out back. Time for the rat to run; Howard dashed to the wooden stairway, racing down it two steps at a time. Hearing the door chimes, he cursed himself for being so careless. Over the years, as the threat had diminished, he’d become complacent, often leaving the front door unlocked after the post arrived. Bounding off the last step he saw the doorknob turn, then the familiar creak of hinges as the front door opened past the halfway mark. He shoved the cellar door, allowing it to strike the wall as he started through the opening.
A shout in the entrance was followed by splintering wood as the back door gave way. Howard quick-stepped down the steep stairs one at a time, slamming against the lower door, was through and closing it before anyone appeared at the top landing. Spanish voices drifting down from above were cut mute as the door latched shut. They were most definitely Argentineans.
Turning on a light, Howard searched the musty cellar until he found what he was looking for. Turning off the light, he stood motionless. It had been ages since he’d held a flensing knife in his hands. Remembering how easily the hockey-stick shaped tool sliced through tough whale hide on the cutting floor at Leith Harbour, Howard felt confidence blend with his raging adrenalin. A sliver of light appeared under the door before him. He waited, both hands gripping the long wooden handle. Muscles tensed while he listened to steps creak as both men descended the narrow stairway.
The door opened, casting a beam of light to his left. Howard drew back the flensing knife, tightening his grip as the first man stepped through the door. Calling on strength borne of fear, he slashed across the silhouette six feet away opening the man’s chest as the blade, cutting through cloth and skin, dug into bone before slicing into the right arm. Blood spurted from a severed artery followed by a piercing cry of pain. Howard watched disbelief appear in the man’s terrified eyes as he grabbed for his cut arm, parted tendons no longer able to hold the pistol in his hand. Raising both arms to the skin peeled open across his chest he tried to stem the flow of blood seeping from the entire wound. Falling back against his partner in the confines of the lower landing allowed Howard his one and only chance to flee.
Feeling his way through the darkness, he made for the cellar exit as the injured man continually wailed in pain and thrashed his legs in agony. Outside, breathing hard, his heart pounding, Howard paused, searching in his pocket for the car keys. Finding them, he crept around and opened the garage. Slipping behind the wheel of his Triumph, he reversed out, changed forward, tearing up the grass as he swerved around the Jaguar, then accelerated out the drive.
Entering the yacht club parking lot, Howard Wingate looked for an empty stall near the water and parked. He sat staring in the rear mirror, his hands sweating in spite of the cold as they rested on the TR 7's steering wheel. Beyond the breakwater, white caps curled on the tops of waves driven by a Force 4 wind. Good sailing, he thought getting out. Seized by the urge to run, he mentally calmed himself before starting off at a brisk pace along the wooden pier, occasionally glancing behind, expecting to be followed, puzzled when he wasn’t. Looking out over the North Sea, friends from his whaling years came to mind. He’d slip away to Norway.
Alone on the dock, he untied the front line of a Waverley 29 he’d purchased to teach his nephew how to sail in his teenage years. Better days, he reflected, tossing the line on deck and releasing the stern. Stepping into the short companionway, he took a last look ashore. Nothing. Good. He opened the cabin door.
“Buenos dias.” The voice startled Howard as a set of hands grabbed his arms and pinned them behind. In the dim light before him stood a man of medium build, dark complexion, the hint of indigenous blood. From a face etched with lines of cruelty, eyes intense with confidence borne of absolute power, appeared to laugh at him. “Señor Wingate, let us do business.” The man nodded and Howard felt his arms released. “All I ask is the return of a document my government lost in nineteen thirty-nine.”
“In return for what?” Howard asked.
“Why your life, of course,” he said, developing a sardonic smile.
The man was a poor liar, and inklings of the military’s dirty war against its own citizens confirmed to Howard he’d become one of the disappeared ones. Men had died for what was now securely locked away. “I don’t have it.”
Howard grunted as a fist drove the air out of him. Bending over, he sagged to his knees, then felt his head snap back. Blocking his field of vision was the cruel face of the Argentinean, eyes like black pits with no bottom.
“Where is it?”
Howard shook his head between gasps.
“You’ll find I’m not a patient man,” the Argentinean said, dragging Howard up the companionway, across the deck, and dropping him on the pier. “Once more. Where is the Falklands Document?”
Howard said nothing. A hand shoved his face into the cold sea. Holding his breath, he resigned himself to the inevitable when his lungs gave out. Bubbles of air trickled up his cheek. He swallowed water, then started choking and gagging. His head was jerked back.
Coughing, Howard spit out salt water. “Bugger you.”
“Doesn’t matter,” the man said, shoving Howard Wingate’s face back in the cold sea.
Squirming sideways, Howard looked at the shimmering surface inches above him. The last thing he noticed was a crucifix hanging from a heavy, gold chain around the Argentinean’s neck.