Thursday, 10th April 00:25 BDST: - Dinard-Pleurtuit Airfield, France
It never really crossed Rudolf’s mind that much, as his plane took to the sky, in the early hours, that he was actually in the business of killing people. His job, he thought, on this 10th day of April 1941, was merely to fly his bomber to a fixed point in the sky and then fly it back home again. It was Egon Grolig’s job, who lay face-down in the canopy, in the nose of the bomber, whose job it was to take care of the killing part, and to actually drop the bombs on those below.
He was only the pilot, after all. All that he did was merely follow the directions of the navigator, yes that man Egon Grolig again, laying down there at his feet, behind that thin layer of plexiglass, whistling “Schön ist die Nacht”, as he plotted his course through the darkness. Listening for the clicks of the direction beam indicators to tell him that he was on course and following the invisible navigational beams which stretched through the night and crisscrossed over Birmingham at target fifty-two. His role, Rudolf thought, was to only ever follow orders, it was only ever to get Egon to wherever he needed to be, tonight, tomorrow or until someone told him to stop.
Or someone made him stop, of course.
I wonder if Rudolf and Bodien would have become friends if they'd met in friendlier times? Those two men, two pilots on either side of history, soon to be heading towards each other in the skies above England as perhaps destiny had always planned. Sergeant Henry Bodien, the R.A.F. pilot who, in less than an hour, would intercept 1G+KM and set it ablaze.
But of course, Rudolf knew nothing of him, as he and his crew finally took to the sky while the other planes in the bomber stream of two-hundred and eighty-two aircraft, ahead of them, having already dropped their bombs on Birmingham, were heading for home. Except, of course, for the crew of G1+DN Werk no: 1423, all but one of them, at that very moment, laying dead in a field outside of Godalming in Surrey, as the undercarriage of 1G+KM retracted as it rose up into the night sky.
I’m sure it would have crossed Rudolf’s mind, or those of his crew, as they waited for flight, sat there strapped into the seats of their plane, on the runway at Dinard, there in Brittany, just to the West of Saint-Malo, waiting for take-off. At that same moment, British pilots would be doing the same. Readying themselves to find them. And indeed they were, Sergeant Henry Bodien, “Snowy” to his friends, and, his gunner, New Zealander Dudley Jonas, had been preparing for their own night mission to patrol over the skies of Birmingham, after earlier sitting with red goggles on, trying to get their eyes accustomed to the night.
Rudolf would have felt stupid if the rest of the crew had known that, while he waited, he often tapped his toe in his boot, seven times for luck, as it rested behind the yoke before each flight. Even more perhaps if they’d known also about the newspaper folded up in his boot. While he’d sat there, stern-faced, and focused on what was to come as he rolled down the runway, adjusting himself in his seat, mentally taking his fears and placing them in a box, pushed to the back of his mind. Doing what a superior had told him to once do: imagining the worst that could happen, so that when it did he wouldn’t freeze.
Rudolf wouldn’t have known then that fate had conspired for the lives of so many strangers to collide, these men and women from three different countries, and for fate to them in the night sky above the West Midlands.