||Feb 7 2010
Second World War sabotage thriller.
Two Abwehr agents are landed in Scotland by U-boat in the early days of World War II. Their mission is the destruction of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, the world's largest liner still in its fitting out basin in Clydebank. Their operation runs into trouble from the outset and the men find the Military Intelligence net closing round them. If they are to succeed, they must trust each other whatever the cost. Although their sabotage is foiled, did it ultimately lead to the liner's destruction 32 years later in Hong Kong harbour?
19 January 1940
The Kriegsmarine’s U.33 blew its buoyancy tanks and broke through the black surface of the water just before 9.00 am Berlin time. The conning tower hatch was opened and Kapitanleutnant Kroll and Oberleutnant Bauer, erster Wachoffizier, emerged. The Bo’sun and four watch crewmen scrambled onto the bridge next.
Above them the stars glittered in the still dark morning sky, beneath them the water swelled gently. Dawn was breaking through to the east; the sun taking its time this far north. The winter, the first of the war, had been one of the coldest on record and the men on deck soon felt its bite. Submariners, on bitter mornings like this, gave thanks for their cork-soled boots which prevented the numbing chill of the steel penetrating their leg marrow. Kroll felt a comforting rumbling beneath his feet as the Chief Engineer switched from electric motor to the powerful diesels.
Kroll swept the horizon with his Zeiss binoculars. Satisfied they had the sea to themselves, he spent a few seconds watching the bow waves as the boat cleaved cleanly through the water. The submerging had been a practice one, the fourth since they had left their home port of Wilhelmshaven two days before. So far the trip had been pretty uneventful. They had crossed the North Sea undetected, but during the night they had rounded Cape Wrath and turned south into North Minch, the stretch of water dividing the Inner and Outer Hebrides. They would need to maintain constant vigilance in enemy waters, especially when passing the Firth of Clyde, before pushing farther south into the North Channel.
Built in the Germania yard at Kiel, the U.33 was a type VIIB boat, capable of eighteen knots on the surface. Normally armed with fourteen torpedoes, on this voyage the payload consisted of twenty-six magnetic mines. Naval High Command had great expectations for the new mines, designed to lie on the bottom undetected, exploding under the keel of any ship unfortunate enough to sail above it, more often than not, breaking its back.
Mine-laying was not the sort of operation Kroll would have wished for on this his first voyage as the ‘Old Man’. There would be no sinking pennants flown when they returned to Wilhelmshaven, no tonnage towards a Knight’s Cross. Mines could be as deadly as torpedoes, but the U-boats received no credit when an enemy vessel was sunk by one.
“Permission to come on the bridge?”
Kroll recognised the voice of one of the civilians on board. Mueller had the clipped tones common to the Bavarian aristocracy.
“Permission granted,” he barked down the speaking tube.
Mueller emerged quickly from the hatch and nodded at Kroll.
Before any mines could be laid, U.33 had another task to undertake. Civilian passengers hitching a ride on board a U-boat were not unheard of, but still an infrequent enough event to make him and the crew feel uneasy. Two men, grim-faced and wrapped-up in heavy overcoats, carrying battered leather suitcases, had boarded just before they sailed. Kroll had been warned by coded radio signal to expect them. The blond-haired one, Mueller, had handed Kroll his amended orders as soon as they were at sea. The Kriegsmarine envelope had also borne the seal of the Abwehr — Military Intelligence — so Kroll knew not to pry any further into their business, and told his Bo'sun to pass a quiet word of warning among the crew.
On opening the orders, countersigned by Admiral Canaris, the Abwehr chief, he found the instructions to be concise. Sailing under strict radio silence, the U-boat was to take the two civilians to given coordinates one thousand metres off the south-west coast of Scotland, where they would disembark and row themselves ashore in the submarine’s collapsible dinghy. The U.33 was then to sail for the Clyde estuary to lay its magnetic mines. There was no mention of when and where the men were to be picked up again.
For their part the interlopers had kept themselves to themselves, as best they could, given the U-boat’s cramped conditions. They took turns to sleep in a bunk that had been allocated to them in the crew’s bow room, keeping both suitcases next to them at all times. When the chief artificer had offered to find a place to stow the cases, the men shook their heads in a manner that brooked no further discussion. They ate their meals together and in silence. Although Mueller would come into the control room from time to time, his companion, an Irishman called Bracken, rarely left the bow room, other than to visit the head.
The submariners, a superstitious bunch at the best of times, considered the men’s ominous presence to be an ill omen. Kroll refused to allow them or the mine-laying mission to dishearten his crew. Their chance of glory would come soon enough. Admiral Doenitz, commander of the U-boat fleet, had guaranteed it when he had taken his hand to congratulate him on his promotion. Kroll’s opportunity to command was a reward for the part he had played in U.47’s now legendary raid four months earlier. Under the command of Gunther Prien, U.47 had given the British a bloody nose at Scapa Flow. Prien had done the unthinkable and slipped undetected through the narrow eastern entrance of the Royal Navy’s backyard. The British had no idea they were there until the first torpedo had exploded against the hull of the Royal Oak, blowing the mighty battleship asunder with a catastrophic loss of life.
“Ship bearing 32 degrees, Herr Kapitan,” the port lookout shouted.
Kroll swung his glasses around and soon located the tell-tale masts etched against a trailing plume of black-grey smoke. It was a merchant vessel, running in darkness close to the coast, and apparently unaccompanied.
“Ten degrees to port,” Kroll ordered the helmsman. The ship would not have seen them yet and there was no harm in taking a closer look.
“Your orders were clear, Herr Kapitanleutnant,” Mueller snapped. “You are to sail with all due haste to the drop-off point.”
“Just taking a look,” Kroll replied, with all the authority he could muster.
“Any intelligence I can gather on enemy shipping may prove valuable.”
“Not as valuable as following orders.”
Kroll bristled. Who the hell was Mueller to question him? He was not on the battlements of his family’s Black Forest Schloss now, ordering the village peasants around. “Äusserste kraft, full speed.”
“Herr Kapitan, she’s an oil tanker,” the forward watch announced. “British!”
“And she’s low in the water,” Bauer added.
Probably making for Scapa Flow, Kroll thought. Only the tanker was visible against the skyline, and with the rising sun at her stern as she zig-zagged, any other accompanying vessel would be silhouetted like a lone pine on a bare hillside. A fully laden twelve-thousand ton tanker, sailing without escorts, would be a juicy prize.
“Clear for action,” Kroll barked. “Gun crew on deck.”
Mueller stepped forward. “Cancel that order!”
Kroll lowered his binoculars and directed a hard stare towards Mueller. “Get below. You have no authority here.”
Mueller just gave a thin-lipped smile, turned and moved towards the hatch. He had to wait for the gun crew to scramble onto the upper deck before he could climb through the hatch and slide down the conning tower ladder into the control room. Kroll let out a deep breath. He had been expecting further protest. Mueller must have thought better of threatening him with a report to his superiors. After all, it would have been a threat without teeth; Mueller was not to be on the U-boat when it made its return to Sludge City, the crew’s name for Wilhelmshaven.
Below him on the gun deck the ratings had the 88mm ready to fire. The U.33 may have lacked torpedoes, but it did have two hundred rounds for its deck gun, three or four of which should be enough to earn the U.33 its first sinking pennant.
Kroll leaned in to the speaking tube. “Any radio intercepts?”
“Negative, Herr Kapitan,” the radio operator answered,
As the U-boat closed on its unsuspecting prey, Kroll counted down the distance in his head. As soon as they were within range, he gave the order. “Let’s wake up her captain. Fire a warning shot across her bow.”
The deck gun roared and a tongue of flame shot from the mouth of the barrel. Kroll nodded his approval when he saw a plume of water rise out of the sea not a hundred metres from the tanker’s bow. Nice shooting.
The sun was now providing enough light for the submariners to make out the merchant seamen as they rushed to the hand railings to stare at the boiling maelstrom of water sweeping past on their port side.
With a grunt of satisfaction, Kroll noticed that the tanker was making less smoke and slowing. He would have done the same thing if he and his crew were sitting on top of thousands of tons of highly inflammable oil and someone was threatening to lob a high explosive shell into their midst.
“Smart man, that tanker skipper,” Bauer said, echoing his Kapitan’s thoughts.
The rating on the varta-lamp stared at Kroll, anticipating delivery of his next order.
“Signal them to make no radio transmissions and to surrender their vessel,” Kroll said.
The lamp’s shutter started its familiar clanking. Kroll expected the tanker’s captain would count his blessings that he had been given the opportunity to get his crew off without any loss of life. With any luck, before evening the captain and his men would be enjoying a beer in one of Ullapool’s public houses without having got their feet wet.
The tanker’s seamen moved away from the port bow and started to prepare to launch the lifeboat. Kroll watched the bindings holding the tarpaulin being slipped by the frantic crew. The tanker was already almost dead in the water, another sure sign that it had a very full hold.
“Can you make out a name?” Kroll asked.
“It looks like the Algonquin,” the watch officer replied uncertainly. “French- sounding?”
“Herr Kapitan, it’s North American Indian,” the gunner spoke up, not once allowing his attention to wander from keeping a deadly bead on the tanker. “She’s out of Liverpool. I was once moored beside her in the Port of Glasgow.”
Kroll returned his attention to the merchant ship. The davits had been swung out and the tanker’s crew was climbing into the lifeboat. Try as he could, Kroll could not be sure at this distance which of them was the captain. When the crew was all seated, the two seamen on the winches started to lower the lifeboat.
An abrupt announcement came from the speaking tube. “Herr Kapitan, the tanker is signalling its position!”
Kroll responded instinctively to the hostile act.
“Fire two rounds into her side!”
The deck gun roared a fraction of a second after he had finished giving the command. The steel deck shook from absorbing the recoil and Kroll had to stretch out a hand and grab the bulwark to steady himself. The lifeboat was riding the waves and a few of the seamen were lowering oars to row away from the tanker. Their heads turned as one as the shell exploded into the wall of steel towering above them. Red-hot shrapnel and burning oil rained down on them.
The gun fired again, but Kroll knew that it was overkill. The tanker was already doomed. A second explosion ripped through the tanker’s stern. A few of the seamen stood up, coated with the flaming black oil. The clinker-built lifeboat was a mass of flames. Two men threw themselves into the water, but the oil pouring from the ruptured steel plates was spreading faster than they could swim. The sea seemed to be on fire. A blanket of thick black smoke was rising quickly across the morning sky.
Sickened at the needless slaughter, Kroll, his face as white as chalk, watched as the devouring flames caught the two swimmers.
“Herr Kapitan,” the radio operator shouted, scrambling through the conning tower hatch. “The tanker did not use its radio. It did not signal its location!” he shouted breathlessly.
“What are you saying?” Kroll demanded, but realised in that instant what Mueller had done. For he knew it had been the arrogant Bavarian who had used the speaking tube to deceive him into sending the British seamen to a fiery hell.
Interview - Kindle Author Sept 3, 2010
Irish author AJ Davidson talks about his American crime thriller, An Evil Shadow, about how growing up next to an infamous killer helped put him on the bestseller list, and about why he switched from traditional publishing to self-publishing on Kindle.
DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about An Evil Shadow?
AJ DAVIDSON: An Evil Shadow is the first in a series of American crime thrillers. In each book I take a different crime as a starting point and in this case it is corporate corruption. Set in New Orleans, it is the story Val Bosanquet, a former NOPD detective who is persuaded to become the chief of a campus police department. A Haitian child-killer who Val help convict has been released from prison and is about to start as an freshman. Reluctantly, he re-evaluates the girl's conviction for killing her mother and realizes he may have got it wrong.
He is drawn into a tangled web of voodoo and corporate corruption, facing a killer who casts an evil shadow and fighting to save the life of his estranged wife and their unborn child.
I was an anthropology graduate, so it was inevitable that some cultural aspects would creep in. Voodoo's adaptability has always been of interest to me. All religions evolve, some more rapidly than others. In voodoo we can document the changes and appreciate how a society had to create a religion so it could function in adversity.
DAVID WISEHART: How do you create and maintain dramatic tension?
AJ DAVIDSON: I create tension by building crisis upon crisis until the protagonist reaches the climax—crisis is Greek for decision. For instance, a woman running to her car to escape a deranged killer is dramatic. The tension is racked up if she stumbles and the pursuer seizes her. She stabs at his face with her ignition key and breaks free, reaching her vehicle seconds ahead of him. The key is bent and she can't start the car. The killer bangs on the trunk. In the nick of time, she gets the engine running and reverses, crushing the man against a tree. But as she is about to drive off, the car rear wheel catches in mud and starts to spin. In her rearview mirror she sees the killer struggle to his feet.... Creating tension in a book is not as straightforward, but you get the point.
DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
AJ DAVIDSON: My characters tend to be organic creations, growing and developing as the story progresses. I do very little outlining before I start writing, preferring to let the story take me on a journey of discovery. Often the plot will dictate aspects of the character, but they all have some traits of people I've met, however briefly. Characters are also developed by the way other characters relate to them.
DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?
AJ DAVIDSON: I am a crime mystery writer, but I believe that a good story, well told, can appeal to readers of all genres. YouWriteOn is a great site to learn what people think of your writing. Time after time I receive feedback from readers who admit they wouldn't normally read my genre, but are delighted they have done so. Readers have compared me to Harlan Coben, James Patterson, and most recently Elmore Leonard. But I like to think I have a voice of my own and I certainly don't go out to copy styles.
DAVID WISEHART: You also wrote a bestselling nonfiction book, Kidnapped: True Stories of Twelve Irish Hostages. How did you come to research and write that book?
AJ DAVIDSON: Kidnapped was a commission from Gill & Macmillan. I grew up in South Armagh, where murder and bombings were everyday occurrences during the Troubles. So in some ways I was ideally placed to write a book like this. My neighbour was a well-mannered young man who became The Border Fox, one of Ireland's most feared paramilitary killers. He murdered twenty-nine people. Ironically, Dessie O'Hare's kidnap of a Dublin dentist and the cutting off of the victim's fingers was the crime that led to his capture. I also knew Brian Keenan, the Irishman held for four years in the Middle East. The most amazing thing I discovered when researching the book was how often a story would interconnect and overlap other strands of Irish society. The failed kidnap of one businessman led to the kidnap of another and a shoot-out in which a police officer and soldier died. Spanish police recently arrested the Jennifer Guinness kidnapper, and charged him with being part of a huge drug import ring. Crime does not occur in a vacuum. It will continue to affect people for decades.
DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?
AJ DAVIDSON: I have loved to write since my teens, but it was years before I decided to make it a career. My breakthrough was Kidnapped, which still brings me fans years later. My next book was Defamed!, an expose of Ireland's creaking libel law. Not many writers have received a two page review from a Supreme Court judge, or been credited with changing a country's law.
I have written a few short stories, even some poetry, but I much prefer longer manuscripts. My first love has always been fiction and I don't consider writing it a chore. I become very absorbed when writing, often I will look at my watch and discover that five or six hours have gone by and it feels like minutes.
DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?
AJ DAVIDSON: As I mention above I do not go in for much planning before starting a book. I take a crime and build a story around it. The book I finish is sometimes very different from the one I envisaged at the off. I tend to write in the early morning, when the house is quiet. It's great in the summer months when dawn comes early and it's warm, not so much fun in the middle of winter. I will usually write about 3,000 words a day and try to leave off on a cliffhanger so I have no problem getting restarted the next time. I'm a two-finger typist, which my wife says is all the speed my brain can handle.
DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?
AJ DAVIDSON: Every writer inspires me. We all have something worthwhile to say. I could easily list dozens of "big names" like James Lee Burke, Charles Dickens, James Ellroy, and so on. But I am the judge of a junior school's short story competition each June, and the kids' stories really blow me away. They put so much creativity and effort into their work: plot, characters, resolution, pictures and covers. They shame many adult writers.
DAVID WISEHART: How did you create your cover?
AJ DAVIDSON: I think the cover of An Evil Shadow works really well. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was perfect. I wish I could say that about all of my covers. It comes from a Bigstock photograph and I simply added the title and author name.
DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?
AJ DAVIDSON: It's still very much a learning process. In Ireland I would do a few interviews and get a bunch of reviews published. Unfortunately, I am rather unknown outside of the Irish communities across the world. My first step was to launch a number of books at the same time, believing that an author with several titles will be easier to promote. The usual press releases and articles followed. I had a wonderful response from a number of newspapers. Then I started to build my platform in the digital world. A bit of a slow start, but it is now starting to snowball. The marketing experts say that a person needs to see a product eight times before the image will register with them. I now get lots of e-mails from people commenting on how I have improved my covers, my blurb and my pitch over the past few months. So it seems to be working.
DAVID WISEHART: You've had a successful career in traditional publishing. Why switch to indie and publish on Kindle?
AJ DAVIDSON: I was frustrated by the time it took traditional publishers to produce a book, years in some cases. And by their laissez-faire approach to marketing. The advances in digital publishing was ideal for me. I could write the sort of books I wanted to read, have them quickly available, and build a closer relationship with readers. So in Spring 2010, I went indie, as more and more traditionally published authors are doing. Does that make me a control freak?
DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?
AJ DAVIDSON: Just do it. I met one author at a library talk, who has been sitting on a terrific true story for twenty years. It would be a bestseller, but he's afraid to submit it in case publishers or agents steal it. I have steered him towards indie publishing, but his paranoia still stops him. I think what he is really afraid of is failure. I tell him that anyone who publishes a book is a success, even if only a handful of people read it.
The other advice I would give first-time authors is to have their manuscripts professionally edited, or failing that at least let a friend read over it. I do some editing for other people and thought I would edit my own books. Big mistake. There's a sort of word blindness that strikes authors; they know what they are trying to say and will often fail to spot that what they have written is not perfect. Indie authors have a duty to keep high standards. Our readers deserve nothing less.
DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.
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Reader Reviews for "Churchill's Queen"
|Reviewed by A Davidson
|Clydebank Post: Wednesday, 17th February, 2010
For Queen and Country
The real-life daring maiden voyage of the Clydebank built Queen Elizabeth during the Second World War takes centre stage in a new adventure novel.
Despite having undergone no sea trials, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill secretly ordered the ship to make the bold journey from Clydebank across the Atlantic in 1940, in a bid to outsmart German bombers.
The gamble paid off and the Cunarder made it to New York where she was initiated into fully fledged war service.
Now - almost 70 years since the voyage, which began on March 2 1940 - author Adrian Davidson is retelling the under-told story, with a few added twists and turns, in Churchill's Queen.
Most of the novel is set in the Clydebank of 1940 and it links the ship's wartime beginnings to a theory about what caused the fire that destroyed the Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong Harbour in 1972.
Adrian, 54, who writes as AJ Davidson, told the Post: "Two agents from Germany come to Clydebank to destroy the ship in its fitting out basin and almost immediately things start to go wrong for them.
"They are being hunted by military intelligence and have to find a new method of destroying the Queen because they lost their explosives early on.
"When it was decided to take the Queen Elizabeth out of Clydebank, a lot of misinformation was sown in Clydebank about where she was going and German High Command was duped into believing she was sailing to Southampton.
"A bomber squadron was sent to sink the Queen Elizabeth in Southampton but the ship wasn't there.
"The captain didn't know about the plan until he opened his secret orders on the morning of departure."
Adrian says the decision to risk a transatlantic crossing with a new ship showed Churchill's faith in Clydebank shipbuilding and Adrian tries to capture the quality of workmanship and the industrial power of the Clyde at this time.
He spent five days in the town researching the novel and several years reading historical books and visiting maritime museums.
The book is currently only available to download from www.amazon.com as a Kindle E-book which can be read on a computer or an electronic reader, but Adrian says it should be available in bookshops soon.