Michael Ridpath: Shadows of War

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Michael Ridpath Shadows of War
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    Shadows of War
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Shadows of War: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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October, 1939: War has been declared, but until the armies massed on either side of the French — German border engage, all is quiet on the Western Front. There are those who believe the war no one wants to fight should be brought to a swift conclusion, even if it means treachery. A year ago, Conrad de Lancey came within seconds of assassinating Hitler. Now the British Secret Service want him to go back into Europe and make contact with a group of German officers they believe are plotting a coup. But this is the Shadow War, and the shadows are multiplying: it’s not only disaffected Germans who are prepared to betray their country to save it…

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Michael Ridpath

Shadows of War

To Richenda

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

From ‘Dover Beach’ by Matthew Arnold

Part 1

September — November 1939


Chilton Coombe,


3 September 1939

Dear Theo,

War was declared this morning, at eleven o’clock. I am staying with my parents on weekend leave in Somerset, and we had just got back from church when we heard the Prime Minister announcing it on the wireless. They say there have already been air-raid warnings in London. Perhaps by the time you get this the streets of London will be rubble and men will have started dying in trenches in Flanders. Again. With all the modern killing machines mankind has developed, all the aeroplanes and the tanks, this one will be worse than the last one. Millions more will die.

You and I are at war. I can’t help thinking of the oath you made me swear that night eight years ago in my rooms in Oxford, that we would not let them tell us to go and kill each other. We were both tight on college port, but I meant it then, and I haven’t forgotten it. Yet now I am in uniform and so are you. I feel guilty that I am breaking that oath. Not exactly guilty, but regretful, and I think you deserve an explanation.

I have seen war for myself, in Spain, and I know it is hell. I voted at the Union not to fight for King and Country. And I have done my best to avoid this war; you know that. I am British, but my mother is German, and Father is as firmly opposed to war of any kind as he has always been. Yet when I was in Berlin with you last year I saw what evil the Nazi regime can do, will do, unless it is stopped. That’s why I joined the army, and why I will probably soon find myself in France in the mud shooting at your compatriots, maybe even shooting at you. It is a cause that is worth fighting for; not just worth fighting for, it must be fought for, and I must fight for it. I hope you understand that.

I am sending this via the safe address in Denmark you gave me. Despite that, it might not reach you, but even if it doesn’t, at least I will have tried to get in touch.

I hope that in a year, or five years, or however long this damn war takes, we will be able to share a glass of port again. Make that a bottle.




Zutphen, Holland, 21 October 1939

In a neutral waterlogged country on the edge of a war that was already becoming phoney, Captain Sigismund Payne Best sat in his American Lincoln Zephyr and waited. Beneath him, the broad powerful waters of the River IJssel rolled down to the North Sea. Ahead, across green damp meadows, the medieval towers of Zutphen scratched grey bellies of heavy cloud.

This was Payne Best’s second war. He had been involved in intelligence in the last one, and made a decent fist of it, although he had lost some good agents along the way. But already, only six weeks into the rematch, he was on to something. Something big. Something that might, just might, bring this new war to a halt before it had even had a chance to get going.

An absurdly long barge, two hundred feet at least, nosed under the bridge, its bow and its stern visible on either side, carrying raw materials upstream to feed the German war machine.

He checked his wristwatch. They were late, over an hour. That wasn’t yet a cause for alarm; there was plenty that could delay them on the border. Payne Best tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and lit yet another cigarette. Patience was a necessity for an agent, but Payne Best had little of it. He had the languages — his Dutch and his German were perfect — he had charm, an excellent memory and people trusted him. But he hated waiting.

Two cars approached, a Citroën followed by an Opel. The Citroën swished past, but the Opel slowed down and pulled over just on the Zutphen side of the river. A German number plate.

Stubbing out his cigarette, Payne Best stepped out of his car and stood on the bridge. He adjusted his monocle to examine the two men approaching. One of them, Lieutenant Grosch, Payne Best recognized. The other was young, about thirty, with a chubby face bearing nicks and cuts picked up from duels in a German student corps. He, too, was wearing a monocle, Payne Best was glad to see. Cut a bit of dash, a monocle, Payne Best thought.

Grosch greeted Payne Best and introduced his companion in German as Captain Schämmel. They shook hands, and Schämmel performed a little heel click.

Payne Best smiled at the stranger, but disappointment and frustration nagged at him.

He turned to Grosch. ‘And the general? We were supposed to be meeting the general.’

‘I am sorry the general could not be here,’ said Schämmel. ‘As you can imagine, it is very difficult for a serving general in the Wehrmacht to travel to a neutral country without permission. But he and I are close colleagues. He has asked me to open discussions on his behalf.’

Payne Best studied the German captain. Large brown eyes, a ready smile; his words were soft and precise. An intelligent man, not some lackey.

‘And what do you wish to discuss?’

The German scanned the bridge and the road beyond it, empty now apart from their two vehicles, and then fixed Payne Best with those sharp eyes.

‘Our plans to remove Hitler. And what peace settlement your government will agree to when we do.’


Wiltshire, 5 November

‘Chin chin.’

‘Cheers.’ Second Lieutenant Conrad de Lancey raised his glass to his company second-in-command and knocked back half his scotch and soda. ‘I needed that.’ They were alone in the ante-room of the mess in armchairs around a blazing fire.

‘Your men did well, de Lancey,’ Captain Burkett said.

‘I heard the CO calling it a shambles.’

‘Everything is a shambles to him,’ said Burkett. ‘It was raining; the visibility was perfectly bloody. We’re getting better. You did a bloody good job considering you’ve only been with us a couple of months.’

They had spent the last thirty-six hours on exercise on Salisbury Plain with a cavalry regiment that to Conrad’s eye had yet to grasp the difference between a Matilda tank and a horse. Conrad’s battalion, however, had become adept at jumping in and out of lorries, as befitted its ‘motorized’ status, and Conrad himself could read a map and a compass and readily identify fields of fire and dead ground. He had spent enough time with his face pressed into Spanish dirt with live bullets whizzing over his head to get a feel for that kind of thing.

‘We’ll be doing it for real soon,’ Burkett said.

Conrad’s ears pricked up. ‘Are we going to France? Have you heard something?’

‘No, nothing specific. But they’ll send us sooner or later. Probably sooner.’

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