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Title: Barry Blake of the Flying Fortress
Author: Bois, Gaylord Du
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Barry Blake of the Flying Fortress" ***

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Transcriber’s note:

      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).




Illustrated by J. R. White

Fighters for Freedom Series

Whitman Publishing Company
Racine, Wisconsin



Copyright, 1943, by Whitman Publishing Company

Printed in U.S.A.

All names, characters, places, and events in this story are entirely



  CHAPTER                         PAGE

      I Randolph Field               9
     II Two Kinds of Rats           17
    III Jeep Jitters                26
     IV Lieutenant Rip Van Winkle   33
      V Sweet Rosy O’Grady          41
     VI Submarines to the Right     51
    VII Raid on Rabaul              60
   VIII Flying Wreckage             71
     IX Night Attack                82
      X Hand to Hand                93
     XI Lieutenant in White        110
    XII New Guinea Gardens         118
   XIII Mysterious Island          129
    XIV Dogfighting Fortress       137
     XV Slaughter From the Air     149
    XVI Secret Mission             170
   XVII Out of the Fog             184
  XVIII Adrift                     198
    XIX The Catamaran              212
     XX Floating Wreckage          225
    XXI Patched Wings in the Dawn  238



Smoke Drifted Through a Crack in the Drawer         22
Barry Learned the Correct Touch on Each Control     37
“Radio’s Okay, Sir!” Came Soapy Babbitt’s Voice     53
Sergeant Hale Counted Aloud Through the Interphone  69
Barry’s Enemy Gasped and Dropped His Knife          85
“Here’s a Trench!” He Whispered Over His Shoulder  101
“I’ll Be Back as Soon as the Nurse Will Let Me.”   115
Shell Fragments Whizzed About the Plane’s Interior 143
Ravenous Appetites Made the Dinner a Success       167
The Fliers Piled into the Army Trucks              181
“Crayle Lied When He Said Our Tanks Were Dry!”     201
“Now We’ll Wring out a Fresh Fish Cocktail.”       217
Peering Through the Camouflage They All Cheered    233


[Illustration: _Barry and Chick Were Among the First to Leave_]


Barry Blake

of the




The bus from San Antonio pulled in to the curb and stopped. The door
snapped open. Half a dozen uniformed upperclassmen wearing grim
expressions moved closer to the vehicle.

“Roll out of it, you Misters!” bawled their leader in a voice of
authority. “Shake the lead out of your shoes! Pop to it!”

Barry Blake and Chick Enders were among the first out of the bus, but
they were not quick enough to suit the reception committee.

“Are you all crippled?” rasped the spokesman of the upperclass
“processors.” “Come alive and fall in—_here_, on this line. Dress
_right_! I said _dress_—don’t stick your necks out. Atten-_shun_! Hope
you haven’t forgotten _all_ the military drill you learned at primary.
You, Mister! Rack it back. Eyes on a point. And out with your chest if
you have any. Keep those thumbs at your trouser seams.... All right!
Here’s your baggage tag. Write your name on it. Tag your baggage—and
make it snappy. Stand at attention when you’ve finished. _Hurry!_
That’s it.... Take baggage in left hand—left, not right. And wipe off
your smile, Mister! ’Sbetter.... Mister Danvers, you will now take
charge of these dum-dums.”

Barry was sweating. The blazing Texas sun was in his eyes. His chest
ached for a normal, relaxed breath; yet he dared not move. Mister
Danvers’ barking command came as a sharp relief.

“Right face.... Forward, _march_! Hup! Hup! Hup! Pull those chins back.
Hup! Hup! Eyes on a point! And hold your right hands still—this isn’t
a goose-step. Hup! Hup! Shoulders back—grab a brace—you’re in the
Army now! Hup! Hup! Dee-tachment, _halt_!”

For more strained moments the new arrivals stood on the arched stoop of
the Cadet Administration Building and listened to acid instructions.
The talk dealt with the proper manner of reporting for duty. The tone
of it, however, showed the processor’s profound doubt of the
“dum-dums’” ability to do anything properly. It was deliberately

Barry Blake felt a wave of hot resentment sweep over him. A second
later cool reason met it and drove it back.

“They’re just trying to see if we underclassmen can take it,” he told
himself. “A cadet’s got to learn how to be an officer and a gentleman,
in _any_ situation. They’re teaching us the quick, hard way, that’s

Barry held his tough, well-proportioned muscles a little less stiffly.
He wondered how Chick Enders was taking the processor’s verbal jabs.
From where he stood he could see Chick’s short, bandy-legged figure
quiver under the barrage of upperclass sarcasm. Chick’s good-natured
mouth was a hard line, and his eyes were pale blue slits above his pug
nose. The homely cadet was having a hard job trying not to explode.

Suddenly he relaxed, and Barry, seeing it, chuckled inwardly. He had
known Chick Enders since they were both in kindergarten. When he got
angry, the kid’s blond bristles would stick up like the fuzz of a newly
hatched chick. That always meant a fight, unless Chick’s sense of humor
got the upper hand, as it had just now.

While the processor’s stinging remarks continued, Barry’s memory
flashed back to the day that he and Chick had graduated from the
Craryville High School. Barry had been valedictorian of the class, and
Chick, he recalled, had been prouder of the fact than anyone.

There was an almost hound-like loyalty in the homely youth’s soul, and
his hero was Barry Blake. From their earliest snow-ball battles to high
school and varsity games where Barry carried the ball and Chick ran
interference, it had always been the same. Both had enlisted at the
same time and later applied for flying cadet training.

“I’m glad we’re still together,” Barry thought, with another glance at
his friend’s freckled profile. “If he’d been sent to any other basic
training school than Randolph Field, I’m afraid it would have broken
Chick’s heart. We’ll be together here for nine weeks. After that—well,
there’s a war on. We’ll train and fight wherever we’re sent, with no

“All right, you Misters!” the upperclassman’s voice broke in on Barry’s
thoughts. “Right, face! Column right, march! You’ll receive your
company and room assignments upstairs. _Try_ not to forget them!”

Still under a running fire of orders and caustic comments, the
suffering “dum-dums” were taken to the supply room. Here each new cadet
proceeded to draw a full outfit of bedding, clothing, and equipment.

“I feel like a walking department store!” Chick Enders muttered as he
joined the line behind Barry. “They must have figured out
scientifically just how much a guy can carry if he uses his ten
fingers, his elbows and his teeth....”

“Roll up your flaps, Mister!” snapped a keen-eared processor, taking a
step toward Chick. “You’ll get your chance to sound off soon enough!”

Just in time Chick caught and straightened out an apologetic grin. He
had a hunch that _any_ smile just now would be asking for trouble.
Pulling his freckled face even longer than usual, he stepped out at
Barry’s heels, and hoped that none of his assorted burdens would slip.

At the barracks, while changing into coveralls and new shoes, Barry and
Chick were able to exchange a few hurried words.

“I’d heard that these upperclassmen were pretty unsympathetic,” the
homely cadet remarked, “but I never thought they’d lay it on quite so
heavy. I guess they stay awake nights inventing ways to make a dum-dum

“Don’t let it get under your skin, Chick,” Barry laughed. “There’s no
meanness behind their processing. It’s intended to make soldiers out of
us. The first thing they do is to prick our balloons—take the conceit
out of us, if we have any.”

“And the next thing is to toughen us up,” grinned Hap Newton, their
roommate. “Don’t worry—in five weeks _we’ll_ be processing a new bunch
of dum-dums, and making ’em like it!”

Before they had finished changing clothes the processor in charge
bellowed another order.

“Hit the ramp, you Misters!” he shouted. “On the double! Leave your
powder and lipstick till tonight.”

Barry Blake grabbed his cap. He headed for the doorway, tightening his
belt as he went.

“Come on, Chick,” he said. “I don’t know what the ramp is yet, but I
aim to hit it hard and quick.”

“Me too,” his friend grunted, “even if I lose a shoe.... Mine aren’t
laced up yet.”

The ramp, they discovered, was the broad stretch of concrete just
outside the cadet barracks. Pouring out of the door, the dum-dums were
greeted by rapid-fire commands:

“Fall in! Dress, _right_! Straighten-that-line-d’you-think-this-is-a-
ring-around-the-rosy? ’Ten-_shun_! Count off! Forwar-r-rd, march! Hup,
hup, hup! Column right, march! Column left, march! By the right flank,
march! To the re-ar-r-r, _march_! Squa-a-ad, _halt_! Left, face! About,
face! Forward, march!”

To Barry and Chick, both assigned to Squad 17, these maneuvers were a
welcome change. Having mastered close-order drill at primary school,
they now went through it automatically. Their taut nerves relaxed. The
stiff soles of their new issue shoes were just beginning to smart, when
a hollow voice boomed through the air.

“’Tenshun all squads now drilling!” whooped the invisible giant. “Squad
26! Take Squad 26 to the tailor shop.... Squad 17. Take Squad 17 to the
barber shop. That is all.”

It was the voice of the Field’s public address system. Instantly the
processors in charge of the two squads named marched them off the
drilling area. As Squad 17 entered the shop, six barbers stood waiting
by their chairs. Barry got a quick mental picture of sheep being driven
to the shearing pen.

First in line was a sulky-looking youth, whose name-tag proclaimed him
to be Glenn Cardiff Crayle. He had a sleek black pompadour, and a habit
of passing his hand caressingly over it.

“Just trim the sides and neck, please,” Barry heard him mutter to the
wielder of the shears.

The barber exchanged winks with the upperclassman in charge. He slipped
expert fingers under a long lock of Crayle’s hirsute pride.

“Maybe you’d better have it regulation, sir,” he suggested with heavy

_Snip-snip-snip_ went the shears. Cadet Crayle writhed as if they were
a savage’s scalping knife, but he knew he was helpless. Barry Blake
chuckled inwardly. “Regulation length” would mean no loss to his own
short, wavy hair, or to Chick’s blond bristles.

Six barbers and ten minutes for a haircut! In little more than a
quarter of an hour, Squad 17 was marching back to the drilling area.
Another half hour of close-order drill—then dinner formation.

Scarcely were they seated in the big cadet mess hall, when the nervous
dum-dums found their worst suspicions realized. Mealtime was just
another opportunity for hazing by the upperclassmen. Placed at the foot
of a table seating eleven men, Barry and Chick discovered that they
were the “gunners” of the group. That is, they must pass—“gun” or
“shoot”—food and drink up the table whenever asked.

Two minutes after the meal began, the “table commander” at the upper
end sent down his coffee cup for re-filling.

“A cup of coffee for Mr. Danvers,” murmured the lowerclassman nearest

“A cup of coffee for Mr. Danvers,” repeated Hap Newton as he passed the

“A cup of coffee for Mr. Danvers,” Barry Blake solemnly announced, as
he filled it and passed it back.

“You, Mister!” the table commander barked, looking straight at Chick
Enders. “The potato dish is empty. You will signal the waiter by
holding it up—like this.”

With his upper arm horizontal and his forearm vertical, the
upperclassman demonstrated the proper gesture. Hap Newton giggled.

“Silence!” snapped the processor. “What’s your name? Newton? Sit
forward on your chair, Mister—on the first four inches. Chin up, get
some altitude. And take your left hand off the table. And
_remember_—for a dum-dum to laugh, smile or chortle at mess is an
inexcusable breach of manners.”

“Yes, sir,” mumbled Hap Newton, so meekly that Chick Enders nearly
dropped the potato dish, trying not to laugh.

Dinner ended all too soon for most of the hungry new cadets. The food
was ample, but so excellent that the time seemed too short to do it
justice. At the close of the noon hour, Squad 17 was issued rifles, and
plunged into the monotonous manual of arms. Not until evening did the
weary dum-dums have time to relax.

Their first day at Randolph Field had been a full one—crammed with new
impressions that would whirl through their dreams that night.




The weeks that followed were more crowded than any Barry Blake had
known. Drills, monotonous, tiring, but excellent for physical “tone,”
occupied the first few days. On Monday of the second week the regular
training schedule began.

Mornings were devoted to Ground School. Barry and Chick put their best
into it, knowing that study was vital to passing later tests. There
were five subjects: Airplane and Engine Operation, Weather, Military
Law, Navigation, and Radio Code. Of them all, Barry Blake preferred the
first. His hobby had been flying model planes since he was in short

The classroom in Hangar V with its blueprints, charts, takedown and
working models made him feel at home. Here he “ate up” every lecture on
Fuel Systems, Motors, Electric Systems, Engine Instruments, Wheels, and
Brakes. The floor of the great hangar itself Barry found still more
fascinating. Here were displayed the real planes and their parts, with
cutaway and breakdown views. They gave him his first intimate contact
with the powerful, fighting ships that he hoped soon to fly.

Flight instruction, in the BT-9 and BT-14 training planes, was always a
mixture of anxieties and thrills. There was much to learn, and little
time to learn it. In these ships, twice as big as the primary school
“kites,” the speeds were higher, the controls more quickly responsive.
The gadgets on the instrument panels were just double in number. And
the instructors—!

“Lieutenant Baird has it in for me, Barry,” Chick Enders confided, as
they headed down the concrete apron toward their ships. “No matter what
I do, he just sits back and sulks. All the encouragement I’ve had from
him is a grunt or a glare—ever since the day I taxied into the wrong
stall with my flaps down.”

A step or two behind him, Barry glanced down at Chick’s short legs
twinkling below the bobbing bustle of his ’chute. In spite of himself
Barry chuckled. The idea that anybody could “have it in for” a fellow
as homely and likeable as Chick was just too funny.

“Perhaps Lieutenant Baird has other troubles,” he suggested. “Remember,
when your flight period begins he has already spent an hour with a hot
pilot by the name of Glenn Crayle. That lad is enough to curdle the
milk of human kindness in any instructor. I wouldn’t worry about it,
Chick. You passed your twenty-hour test all right, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” Chick admitted. “Maybe it is Crayle, more than I, who’s
responsible for the lieutenant’s sour puss. Crayle’s a born show-off
and a sorehead as well. Even the processors couldn’t prick his bubble,
and they tried—oh-oh! G-gosh! I—er—hello, Crayle! I—uh—didn’t see
you coming.”

Walking fast, Cadet Crayle passed the two friends with a glare. They
turned and watched him disappear into the Operations Office. Chick
Enders let out his breath in a long whistle.

“He must have heard all we said about him before he zoomed past us,”
Barry said, with a dry smile. “Oh, well! It’s the truth, and it _may_
do him good when he thinks it over.”

Practicing his _chandelles_ that afternoon, Chick gave less thought to
his instructor’s sour mood. As a result he did better than usual. Barry
Blake, for his part, forgot the incident completely. It was not until
special room inspection, the following Saturday morning, that he
recalled Crayle’s ugly look.

Barry Blake was room orderly that week. This meant that he alone was
responsible for the general neatness of the quarters he shared with
Chick and Hap Newton. For ordinary morning and evening inspection the
preparations were simple. Beds must be made, the room must be swept and
dusted, and everything had to be in its proper place.

On Saturday, however, all three roommates pitched into the work.
Everything must be in perfect, regulation order—each blanket edge laid
just so, each speck of dust wiped up. Shoes, clothing, equipment must
be spotless, or demerits would fall like rain.

To make sure that Barry had overlooked nothing in his dusting, Chick
and Hap went over the furniture with their fingers, searching for a
smear of dust. They found none, until Hap tried the bottom of the waste

“Two ‘gigs’ for you, Mister Blake—if the inspecting officer had found
that,” he remarked, with a wink at Chick.

“You’re dead right, Hap,” Chick spoke up, wiping his finger over the
same spot. “The inspecting officer will do it with white gloves, you
know. And if he gets a smear—”

“Aw, drive it in the hangar, fellows!” Barry protested with a grin.
“Give me that waste basket and a rag. And then go wash your own hands.”

“Okay—but not in the washbowl _I’ve_ just finished cleaning!” retorted
Hap. “It’s too near inspection time. I’m going down the hall....
Coming, Chick?”

Barry polished the bottom of the waste basket as if it were brass. As
he put the cleaning rag away, he glanced about him.

“If this room were to be any cleaner, it would have to be sterilized,”
he declared. “Bring on your white gloves, and let’s see what they can
find now. Guess I’ll have just time to join Chick and Hap down the hall
and get back before inspection.”

The three roommates had figured almost too close. They were just
starting back to their room when call to quarters sounded. As they
hurried into the hall, a uniformed figure darted across the farther end.

“Say!” hissed Chick Enders. “Didn’t that mister come from _our room_?”

“I thought so,” muttered Barry. “He _looked_ like Glenn Crayle! I

There was no time for more speculation then. Official footsteps were
approaching. The three cadets were just able to reach their room and
stiffen at attention by their beds before the inspecting party came in

The officer in charge was Captain Branch, whose piercing black eyes had
never been known to miss a spot of dirt. Square-jawed, quick-moving, he
entered the room accompanied by a cadet officer with notebook and
pencil. His thin, sensitive nostrils sniffed the air.

“Who,” he asked sharply, “has been smoking here within the last few
minutes? The room smells foul!”

A tense, five-second silence followed. Barry Blake broke it.

“I don’t know, sir,” he managed to say. “It was none of us three. We
don’t use tobacco.”

The muscles of the captain’s jaw bulged. The thin line of his lips

“What is your idea in leaving rolls of dust under your bed at
inspection?” he demanded bitterly. “And dirty soap on your washbowl?
And that can of foot powder on the desk? And that drawer—”

He broke off, to stride across the room. From the crack of a drawer in
Barry’s desk drifted a tiny feather of smoke. Captain Branch jerked it
open. There, on a charred paper, lay a smouldering cigar.

With his face like a marble mask, the officer tossed the cigar into the

“Gentlemen,” he said heavily. “This is an idiotic defiance of
authority. Unless you can clear yourselves immediately in a written
report, appropriate punishment must follow. That is all.”

Not until the captain was out of hearing did the roommates dare to look
about. Then, with a sigh that told more than words, Barry stooped and
picked up two big, fuzzy “rats” of dust. Wordless, Chick Enders took
the can of foot powder from the desk and wiped up what had been spilled.

Hap Newton groaned.

“It was Crayle, all right,” he declared. “I recognized him by the way
he carries his head.... But _why_? Why should he want to sabotage _us_?”

“I think I know,” said Barry. “Two days ago he overheard Chick and me
talking about him. What we said was true enough, as this frame-up
proves—that Crayle is a sorehead, with an inflated ego.”

“Inflated and inflamed, both!” Chick Enders exclaimed. “He’s always
trying to tell what a hot pilot he is. He hates anybody who shows him

A hard grin stretched Hap’s wide, good-natured mouth.

[Illustration: _Smoke Drifted Through a Crack in the Drawer_]

“We’ll show him up for a sneaking rat,” he said. “Nose up to the desk,
fellows, and we’ll get busy on that written report....”

“Pull out of it, Hap!” Barry Blake interrupted. “We’ll only do a ground
loop that way. Our best maneuver is to say nothing about Crayle and
take our medicine. We can’t prove a thing against him, anyhow.”

Hap Newton’s jaw dropped. He sat down hard on his chair.

“You-you’re crazy, Blake!” he gasped. “We’re likely to be dismissed
from Randolph for what’s happened this morning. Why should we sacrifice
our wings, our reputation—everything we value here—to protect a
yellow snake-in-the-grass like Crayle? That’s what it will mean!”

“We’ve circumstantial evidence that Crayle did it,” Chick Enders put
in. “He had no business in our quarters. And it _would_ have been
idiotic for us to stand inspection in a room as raunchy as this, if we
could help it. That ought to be plain to anybody. Get your pen and
paper out, Barry.”

Seated at the desk, Barry Blake shook his head.

“We won’t make anything plain by accusing Glenn Crayle, fellows,” he
stated. “That mister may be a fool in some ways, but he’s covered his
tracks. Remember, we only _thought_ that he came from our room. And,
from the captain’s viewpoint, it would be natural for us to accuse
someone else if we were guilty.”

Barry let those points sink into his roommates’ minds for a full minute.

“On the other hand,” he went on, “suppose we face the music. That is
what Captain Branch would expect us to do if we were innocent and had
no proof. We’ll pay a stiff penalty, of course, but I don’t think we’ll
be dismissed from the Field.”

Hap Newton rose and stared out of the window. Chick Enders passed
nervous fingers through his short, tow-colored hair.

“You’re right as always, Barry,” the homely cadet said finally.
“There’s a paragraph in ‘Compass Headings’ that says: ‘_Flying Cadets
do not make excuses._’ I have a hunch we’ll be doing punishment tours
for the rest of our course, but I’m ready to suffer in silence.”

Hap Newton grumbled and fumed, but he, too, gave in.

“I’ll get even with Crayle,” he added vengefully. “I’ll fix him—”

“No you won’t, Hap,” Barry cut in, “unless you’re willing to fly at his
level. The ceiling’s zero down there. Come out of the clouds, fella!
And help us clean this room for the second time today.”




Tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp! Up the long concrete ramp—halt—about
face—and back again. One hundred and twenty steps to the minute,
thirty inches to each step—a fast walk, in civilian life. But these
three, covering a prescribed beat at widely spaced intervals, marching
in silence and without pause, are not civilians. Not by a long shot!

They are Flying Cadets Blake, Enders, and Newton, wearing the uniform
of the day, with field belt, bayonet scabbard and white gloves. Their
penalty for a dirty room is posted on the company bulletin board: five
tours and six “gigs,” or demerits, apiece. That’s a lot easier than
they expected. Still, a “tour” lasts one hour and covers almost four
miles. They have three hours still to go.

“_And Glenn Crayle’s enjoying ‘open post’!_ Right now that mister is
doubtless disporting himself with some sweet young thing at a tea dance
in the San Antonio Flying Cadet Club.... Tramp, tramp, tramp.... Here’s
where the ‘gig’ dodger ought to be! One of these days, he’ll slip

                  *       *       *       *       *

Glenn Crayle never became a “touring cadet,” however. In small, clever
ways he continued to work out his grudge against Chick and Barry. One
of his bright tricks was to dust itching powder over the stick of the
“Jeep,” or Link Trainer, knowing that Chick Enders would be the next to
handle it.

The “Jeep” is a marvellous device to teach aviation cadets the art of
flying by instruments—without ever leaving the ground. Entering it,
the fledgling pilot finds himself in a cockpit like that of a real
plane. Before him is an instrument panel. Above him an opaque canopy
shuts off his view of everything else. In his closed cockpit are all
the familiar controls. His situation is the same as if he were flying
through clouds at night.

Poor Chick had a case of “Jeep jitters” from the moment he started his
“flight” under the hood. The little moving ball and the two queer
little needles simply _would_ not stay in place. According to his
instruments he dropped one wing and went into a “spit curl” or side
slip that cost him precious altitude. Correcting it, he
over-controlled. Dangerously close to Mother Earth, according to the
Jeep’s altimeter, he zoomed, stalled, and theoretically crashed.

Climbing (in theory) to five thousand feet, Chick attempted once more
to conquer the “jeepkrieg.” For some moments he succeeded. Then,
without warning, his hand on the stick began to itch. He stood it as
long as he dared, let go for one second of frantic scratching—and was

Fifty feet from the theoretical ground he pulled out of his dive. He
hedge-hopped over some imaginary trees, caught the stick between his
knees, and tried to climb while scratching. Result—a third crash.

“I give up!” gurgled Chick, slamming back the canopy and bouncing out
to the surprise of his instructor. “The thing has given me hives on my
hands, sir. I’ve committed suicide three times by the altimeter, and
I’m afraid I’ll do it in earnest!”

The instructor glanced at Chick’s reddened palm and snorted.

“Very well, Mister,” he snapped. “Spin off and get control of your
nerves. You can try it again tomorrow when you’re out of the storm. But
you’ll never learn instrument flying by mauling the stick the way you
did just now.”

Within the week Chick had mastered the art of level “flight” in a
“Jeep.” Yet he knew that his itch-inspired tantrum stood against his
record as a prospective pilot of warplanes. The men who fly the Army’s
fighting ships must have nerves of chilled steel. Those who might crack
under the strain of air combat must be weeded out.

Second thought told Chick that Glenn Crayle must have doctored the
“Jeep’s” stick. No hive ever itched as wickedly as his palm; _and
Crayle was using the trainer just before him_.

“I’ll call that rat out for boxing practice, and work him over,” the
angry cadet told Barry. “Crayle may outweigh me, but I’ll whittle him
down to my size.”

“If you did,” Barry Blake pointed out, “he’d still win, according to
his twisted way of thinking. Crayle knows that open grudges are frowned
on here at the Field. If you let yourself get mad enough to beat him
up, your supervising officer will put _that_ down to poor control, too,
Chick. Another show of nerves might wash you out as a pilot—for good.
Stick it out, man! The sixty-hour test is only a week away.”

The sixty-hour progress test is a landmark, warning the Randolph Field
Cadet that his basic training is nearly over. Sixty hours of flight
training have been accomplished. All fundamental flying movements have
been mastered, of course, at primary flying school. At Randolph Field
they have become still more familiar. Climbing turns, steep turns,
“lazy eights,” and forced landings have been learned and practiced
thoroughly. Now the pilot’s ability to fly by instruments alone is to
be judged.

Both Barry and Chick Enders had worked hard to perfect themselves in
flying “under the hood.” The test should have held no terrors for
either of them. Yet, as the hour approached, Chick grew nervous. He
knew that his instructors were watching him for signs of another

“I’ll have to be extra good today,” he told his roommates, as the three
donned their coveralls that afternoon. “Captain Branch just had me in
the office for a little talk. I’m worried, fellows.”

“I noticed that you were sort of ‘riding the beam’ when you came into
the locker room,” Hap Newton said, picking up his parachute. “Eyes
fixed on vacancy, expression of a calf in a butcher’s cart, and all
that. ’Smatter, Chick—did he bawl you out?”

“No, Hap, he was kind—too kind entirely. Reminded me of a sympathetic
executioner. He’s flying with me on this test—in his own washing
machine. If he so much as coughs when we get ‘upstairs’ I’ll probably
reef back the stick and go into a stall.... Well, wish me happy
landings. I’m taking off.”

Barry Blake shook his head gloomily at Chick’s departing figure.

“The kid’s in a storm already,” he muttered to Hap. “If Chick were the
best gadgeteer on the Field he’d never pass a test under the hood with
that case of jitters.”

“Instrument flying will show jumpy nerves every time,” Hap agreed.
“It’s tough, Barry. The whole thing started when Glenn Crayle doped the
‘Jeep’ stick with itching powder. Of all the lowdown, squirmy tricks,
that was the worst! And he’ll be tickled half to death if Chick is
washed out.”

Barry Blake was so upset about his friend that his own nerves were none
too steady. When he stepped into the cockpit, however, he took a firm
grip on himself. Glenn Crayle, he vowed, should not have the laugh on
two of them.

Barry was a born flier. Once in the air, he lost every trace of
jitters. His performance was better than ever. He passed the test with
a high mark, and brought his instructor back smiling. Hap Newton, who
landed soon after, also passed without difficulty.

“Where’s Chick?” the latter asked, the moment they were alone.

“Still flying,” Barry said shortly. “There comes his ship. Flight
Commander Branch must have been giving him an extra-thorough test.”

The two friends watched Chick’s ship come in for the landing. With
engine cut off, it glided down. The wheels bumped—bounced—came down

“He’s heading for the hay,” Hap Newton yelled, as Chick’s plane slewed
around. “Give her the gun, Chick!”

As if his frantic shout had actually been heard, Chick’s engine roared
into life. The ship leaped into the air, and climbed like a cat with a
dog after her.

“That washing machine must have developed a wobbly tail wheel,” Barry
muttered; “or maybe it was a freak breeze that caught him.”

“Shucks, Barry,” Hap answered unhappily. “There’s no use making excuses
for him. Chick’s still got the jeep jitters. He’s as good as washed out

“Not if he lands okay this time,” Barry said.

Chick’s plane banked, turned, and came down the base leg with open
throttle. The engine cut out. A wing dropped slightly, to counteract
the drift of the light wind. So far, Chick was handling her nicely. At
just the right second he lifted her nose a little to make a three-point
landing. The tires touched....

And then it happened. The tail swung sharply. Chick, feeling it,
cracked open his throttle, but he was a split second too late. The
plane swapped ends, pivoting on a wing. Dust spurted from the runway.
With a splintering, ripping crash the wing gave way. The plane nosed
over, propeller biting the dirt.

Barry groaned, and started running before the dust began to settle.
From West B. Street came the clanging of the ambulance and the crash
truck. From the length of the West Flying Line men were running, each
with an ugly picture in his mind’s eye—_fire_!

But neither smoke nor flame appeared. Instead, two helmeted figures
crawled out of the wreckage. For a moment they stared at each other.
Then, shaking his head, the Flight Commander walked away.

Barry Blake caught Chick roughly by the arm.

“Snap out of it, man!” he whispered. “Crayle’s here in the crowd,
laughing himself sick. Reef back and gain some altitude! Chin up!”

Except for Crayle, few of the cadets about the plane were laughing.
From the look that Captain Branch had given Enders, they sensed that
this was no ordinary ground-loop that would qualify Chick for the
Stupid Pilot’s Trophy. It was the tragedy that all cadet pilots
dread—the wash-out.




Chick’s actual elimination from basic training school did not occur for
a few days. Captain Branch’s recommendation had to be confirmed by the
Stage Commander, who first flew with the unhappy cadet in a final test.
His report, duly filed with those of Chick’s instructors and his Flight
Commander, must be reviewed at the next meeting of the elimination
board. All this took time.

On the evening before Chick was to hear the verdict, Barry and Hap made
a special effort to cheer him up.

“Being ‘washed out’ is no disgrace, fella,” Barry told him. “It doesn’t
mean that you’re kicked out of the Air Forces—only that you can’t be a
pilot. You’ll get your officer’s commission just the same, in some
other classification. So why worry?”

Chick’s homely face cracked in a wan smile. He had not regained his
natural color since the ground-loop that wrecked his plane. The
freckles stood out more plainly than usual on his snub nose.

“I hope you’re right, Barry,” he said huskily. “It’s only ‘under the
hood’ that I go to pieces. Ever since that time I got the itch in the
Link Trainer, instrument flying gives me the jitters. If it doesn’t
carry over to advanced training school....”

“It won’t, Chick,” Hap Newton assured him stoutly. “What course have
you picked for a first choice—Photography, Navigation, or
Communications? You’re better than most in ‘buzzer’ code. Why don’t you
ask for the advanced course in radio?”

“That would be my second choice, Hap,” Enders replied. “Bombardment’s
my preference, though. Next to being a pilot, I’d like to dish it out
to the enemy in big, explosive chunks. I’ve already told Captain
Branch. He’ll put in a good word for me. And, listen, you bums! Don’t
think I haven’t appreciated the way you’ve helped. A man’s got no right
to be downhearted with a couple of friends like you.”

The next day Chick came into the room with a broad grin.

“Bombardment school for me!” he announced. “I’m leaving tonight. The
board didn’t question Captain Branch’s recommendation. Now it’s all
settled, I’m almost as happy as if I’d passed all my pilot tests. Only
thing I hate is leaving you fellows, and—and the grand bunch of
officers that we’ve had here at the Field. They tried to make me feel
as if _they_ didn’t like to say good-by, either.”

“They meant it, Chick!” Barry Blake exclaimed softly. “Student pilots
aren’t just so much grist through the mill—not as our teaching
officers see us. They’re real and personal friends of each cadet who’ll
meet them halfway. It’s a big honor to know men like that!”

Parting with Chick Enders was a hard wrench for his roommates. As he
boarded the bus for San Antonio that evening, they realized that they
might be seeing him for the last time. In a world war of many fronts
only a rare coincidence would bring them all together again.

“Happy landings, you goons!” Chick gulped as he gripped their hands.

“Pick your targets, fella—and remember us when you’re dropping
block-busters on Tokyo!” Barry replied.

“Yeh, we’ll be right behind you with some more of ’em!” grinned Hap
Newton, as the bus door slammed shut.

                  *       *       *       *       *

A few days after Chick’s departure for bombardier school, graduation
separated the two remaining roommates. Barry, whose cool, quick brain
and steady nerves would have fitted him for either fighter or
bombardment flying, was allowed to choose the latter. Hap Newton’s one
hundred and eighty-five pounds removed him automatically from the
pursuit class. Recommended to twin engine school at Ellington Field, he
said good-by to Barry in the Flying Cadets’ Club in San Antonio.

“We’ll keep in touch, Hap,” Barry promised. “And there’s just a chance
we’ll meet up before this war is over. Keep eager, you stick-mauler!
I’m taking off for Kelly Field now!”

“Set ’em down easy, you old sky-jazzer!” Hap smiled. “If you don’t,
I’ll come along and lay an egg right on your tail assembly.”

Barry Blake strode away with a lump in his throat. He’d have to get
used to parting with good friends, he told himself. The Air Forces were
like that. Sometimes a flier had to watch his squadron members torch
down under enemy fire. That was a lot tougher than shaking hands for
the last time, with a grin and a wisecrack. Time to lay a new course,
now—for Kelly Field and a pair of silver wings!

                  *       *       *       *       *

For Barry, the nine weeks at Kelly Field passed even more swiftly than
those at Randolph. His acquaintance among his fellow cadets widened
considerably. Yet, perhaps unconsciously, he avoided making friends so
intimate that good-bys would be painful.

From training planes he graduated to handling the steady, reliable B-25
bombers. Taking off, flying and landing these medium bombers presented
problems quite different from those he had met at Randolph Field. Barry
caught on quickly. Gathering every scrap of skill he had ever learned,
his mind “sensed” the right maneuver, the correct touch on each control.

[Illustration: _Barry Learned the Correct Touch on Each Control_]

“You’re cut out for a Fortress pilot, Blake,” his instructor told him.
“You’re naturally methodical. At the same time you’re as quick to grasp
a new emergency as any cadet I’ve ever seen. Tomorrow you’ll shift to
the old B-17. She has no tail turret, but for training purposes she
handles like the newer types.”

Barry was more thrilled than he cared to show. Since pre-flight school,
he had envied the pilots who flew the big flying forts—the famous
B-17F’s. When the hour came that he actually sat at the controls of his
Fortress, he knew beyond all doubt that these were the ships for him.
The quadruple thunder of the bomber’s 4,800 horses was sweeter in his
ears than a pipe-organ fugue.

First, in the co-pilot’s seat, he learned the exact touch needed on the
throttles, the turbos, the r.p.m. adjustment, to keep the winged
giant’s airspeed constant. This, for accurate bombing, would be a most
important factor. Next, he learned exactly how to follow the Boeing’s
P. D. I., or pilot director indicator, which kept the ship straight on
her course with not the slightest change of altitude, while the
bombardier sighted his target.

His final lessons included setting down and taking off on small, rough
fields. Under war conditions many a bomber pilot has escaped
destruction by knowing just what his ship can do in a pinch. Barry
Blake was now as ready as any training school could make him.

What he longed for now was actual combat—the take-off before dawn on a
real bombing mission—the swift descent on the enemy city, camp, or
convoy—the blasting of his bombs on the target—the sight of enemy
fighter planes falling apart before his ship’s guns.

But where would it be? Europe, Africa, the South Pacific, or the
Aleutian chain?

Barry had hoped for a few days’ furlough after receiving his
commission. A week at home would be like a taste of paradise after
these seven crowded months. Even five days with Dad and Mom and the kid
sister would be worth the heartache of saying good-by again. Yet, at
the last moment, he learned that this was not to be.

Like a flooding tide the mighty crest of America’s war effort was
sweeping everything before it. More planes than ever were needed at the
fighting front. More planes were going there—and that meant more
pilots. Twenty-four hours was the limit of Barry Blake’s time at home.

It was all like a dream. Walking up Craryville’s old main street, Barry
felt like a beardless Rip Van Winkle. He had left there a green kid of
eighteen. Now, an inch taller and ten pounds heavier, he passed
neighbors who didn’t know him—until he spoke. And, speaking to them,
he hardly knew himself. Professor Blake’s gangling offspring, who’d
been the high school valedictorian, who had jerked sodas on Saturdays
in the corner drug store—what had that self-conscious kid in common
with Lieutenant Barry Blake, pilot of multi-engined bombing planes?

There was Mom and Dad. He’d never be different to them, or they to him.
To the kid sister, he was a hero, of course, but Betty was only
fourteen. She’d changed, too, in the past seven months. Barry wondered
what in the world she’d be like when he came back again, after the war
... if he _did_ come back. There wasn’t time for such thoughts, though.
Half of his twenty-four hour visit was gone already!

When the train pulled out of Craryville next morning, Barry the high
school kid was only a dim memory in the mind of Lieutenant Blake. His
orders were to report at Seattle, Washington, where he would join the
crew of a new B-17F as co-pilot. It was better, far better, to keep his
thoughts fixed on that. Otherwise, recalling the good-bys just ended
would be a bit too much to bear.




His pulses pounding with excitement, Barry Blake gazed across the long
runways of Boeing Field at his first fighting ship. The great Flying
Fortress seemed to perch lightly on the ground, despite her twenty-odd
tons. Her propellers were turning slowly, glinting in the sun like the
blades of four gigantic sword dancers.

Despite her drab coat of Army paint Barry thought her beautiful. The
slim, torpedo-like profile, the high, strong sweep of her tail
assembly—even the fishy grin produced by her bombardier’s window and
forward gun ports—thrilled her young co-pilot to the core. This was
the ship of his dreams. Her name, _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_, was painted
just above her transparent nose.

Hurrying forward, he saluted the long-legged, lean-faced pilot who
stood by the _Rosy’s_ armed tail.

The lengthy captain looked up from the postcard he was scribbling. He
lifted a nonchalant hand.

“You’re Lieutenant Blake?” he said with a Texas drawl. “The rest of our
crew are all here, getting acquainted with the ship. I was just dashing
off a card to the real Rosy O’Grady—my wife. It’s finished. Come in
and meet the others. Then we’ll be ready to take off.”

Inside the big bomber, Captain O’Grady introduced Barry to the six
other members of the crew.

“Meet Lieutenant Aaron Levitt, better known as Curly,” the skipper
invited. “He’s the smartest, and probably the handsomest, ex-lawyer in
the Air Forces. Born in Manhattan.”

“Lower East Side,” Levitt added, giving Barry a cordial handclasp and a
keen look. “Happy that you’re going to be one of us, Lieutenant.”

“... and this gent is our bombardier, Sergeant Daniel Hale. He’s of the
old time Texas breed, in spite of hailing from Arizona and looking more
like a shorthorn bull. His great-granddad died fighting in the Alamo.”

Barry pulled what was left of his hand from Sergeant Hale’s
bone-crushing grip and turned to “Sergeant Fred Marmon of Glens Falls,
New York—the head nurse in charge of _Rosy’s_ roaring quadruplets.”
The red-haired engineer-gunner chuckled as he acknowledged Barry’s

“Boy!” he exclaimed. “And do those 1200 horsepower babies keep a man
busy! Some of ’em, that is. One engine will run like a dream for fifty
or a hundred hours. Another will develop more ailments than a
motherless child. I’m hoping these new engines will be the first kind,
Lieutenant. If not—well, here are Sergeants Cracker Jackson and Soapy
Babbitt to help me out. They’re our top-turret and belly gunners, but
they know a lot about aerial power plants, too.”

Last of all, Barry Blake met Tony Romani, the pint-sized tail gunner.
The little corporal was as friendly as could be, but his sad, Latin
eyes seemed to hold all the cares and worries which his crew mates
laughingly discarded.

He was already hurrying back to his turret when Captain Tex O’Grady
said, “Okay, boys! We’ll take her upstairs! I’ll mail this postcard to
Mrs. O’Grady from Salt Lake City. If you have any letters to send you
can drop them there. We’re heading west to the Orient.”

The _Rosy’s_ four big engines deepened their song of power as she
rushed down the runway. She was a living, throbbing organism, but her
personality was yet to be learned. Newly fledged from Boeing’s great
hatchery of warbirds, she had still to get acquainted with her crew,
and they with her.

Barry Blake sat alert in his co-pilot’s seat, checking the instruments,
as the runway dropped away below him. At the skipper’s nod, he touched
the lever that retracted the landing gear. He heard the wheels wind up
with a smooth mechanical whine, and noted the time it took in seconds.
Again he moved the lever, letting the wheels down and raising them back
in place. He tested the action of the flaps, the engines’ response to
their throttles, the revolutions-per-minute of the props. In everything
the _Rosy O’Grady_ behaved as sweetly as any lady with such a name
should do.

At Salt Lake City there was a short stop; then on they flew to San
Antonio. Again Barry glimpsed the familiar countryside over which he
and Chick Enders and Hap Newton had flown. The perfect green pattern of
Randolph Field, with three or four flights of planes swinging over it,
brought a homesick pang.

“We’ll never forget that scene, Mister,” the voice of Captain O’Grady
broke into Barry’s thoughts. “I graduated from Randolph ten years ago,
but it’s just like yesterday when I look back.”

“Those were the happiest weeks of my life,” Barry replied with a choke
in his voice. “I know it now, though at the time it seemed a tough

Captain O’Grady turned one of his warm Irish grins on the young

“The real, tough grind,” he said, “will come when we reach our South
Pacific base, I reckon. Barring accidents, the life of a fortress is
about five or six months on the battlefront. Before it’s over we’ll all
feel like graybeards, kid.”

The _Rosy_ made one more stop at Tampa, Florida, where her engines were
thoroughly checked and her tanks filled. Ahead of her stretched the
long hop to Trinidad, off the northern coast of South America. If
anything should go wrong, there were island bases in the Caribbean Sea
where an emergency landing might be made. But in aviation, an ounce of
prevention is worth many pounds of cure.

That evening in Tampa the crew had their last big restaurant meal for
months to come. The following afternoon they took off despite storm
warnings. There was no long last look at their native land. A few
moments after the _Rosy’s_ wheels had left the runway she was climbing
through a heavy overcast of clouds.

As they roared over the southeastern tip of Cuba the weather cleared.
Below them the Windward Passage lay, deep blue in the sunlight. Ahead
rose the rugged mountain tops of Haiti.

Barry Blake felt a strange thrill as he gazed down into the jungle-clad
valleys where not so many years ago United States Marines had hunted
murderous voodoo worshipers. Somewhere in those dark gorges bloody
voodoo rites were probably being performed at this very moment.

Invisible from the air the Haitian border was left behind. The dark
green ranges of the Dominican Republic flowed past beneath the _Rosy’s_
wings. Again the blue Caribbean stretched ahead of her.

Crossing the long thousand miles between Haiti and Trinidad they struck
the worst weather yet encountered. At ten thousand feet the Fortress
slammed into a black storm front.

It was worse than anyone had expected. The tumbling masses of air were
like giant fists pummeling the big ship. She bucked like a frightened
horse, reared, stood on her nose, and shuddered.

Something struck the right wing from beneath, flipping the _Rosy_ over
on her side, and off course. It was only air, though it felt to Barry
like a collision with an express train. Tex O’Grady fought the controls
with every ounce of strength in his big body. Muscles stood out in
bunches on his lean jaw. In a flash of lightning Barry saw sweat
streaming down the pilot’s face.

He glanced behind him. Lieutenant Levitt’s teeth showed in a fixed
smile below his little moustache. In the lightning flashes the whites
of his eyes showed clearly. Sergeant Hale’s big mouth was closed like a
steel trap. Only Fred Marmon, the red-headed engineer, seemed to be
enjoying himself. Meeting Barry’s eyes he winked, and waggled his
fingers in a mocking gesture.

At that moment lightning struck the ship. Every light went off. The
fuselage might have been the belly of a blasted submarine, pitch dark
and battered by ceaseless depth charges. A beam of light touched the
instrument panel. Barry Blake felt the cool barrel of a flashlight
pressed into his hand.

“That will help you keep a check on your instruments!” Fred Marmon’s
shout sounded in his ear.

Barry was grateful for his first chance to do something, however small,
to help Tex. He watched the altimeter register a drop of five hundred
feet, a steady climb of eight thousand, then another drop. In this
fashion an hour passed.

All at once they were out of the storm. Clear moonlight shone through
the plastic windows of the cockpit. The crew raised a hoarse cheer.

“Take over, Barry,” drawled Tex O’Grady’s voice. “I want to find out if
I am still in one piece. When _Rosy_ starts bucking like that she’s
tougher than any bronc I ever forked on my daddy’s ranch in Texas!”

Unfastening his safety belt, Captain O’Grady heaved his lanky frame out
of the seat and went back to talk with the navigator. Barry swept his
glance over the instrument board. He tried the controls, to feel out
any possible storm damage. Satisfied that there was none, he looked

A sea of rolling, silvery clouds lay in every direction. It was
beautiful, but menacing. The ceiling below that overcast, Barry judged,
would be zero. It might hide either land or sea, hills or marshes, for
all that anyone knew. The storm had carried the _Rosy O’Grady_ a number
of miles off her course.

The four big engines’ steady drone of power sounded reassuring, until
Barry remembered the last reading of the gas gauge before the lightning
had knocked it out. There wasn’t enough left for fooling around, while
the _Rosy_ found out where she was.

After a few minutes, Captain Tex O’Grady loafed back to the cockpit.

“The radio’s out,” he told Barry. “That means we can’t get cross
bearings to find our position. Curly Levitt is getting a fix now on
some stars. Trouble is, he’s afraid his octant may have been knocked
out of kilter when it fell off the navigation table, back there in the
storm. Why don’t you go back and cheer him up?”

Barry thanked the lanky pilot and unfastened his safety belt. He
suspected that O’Grady was just giving him an opportunity to stretch
his legs. If a fellow needed cheering up, nobody could do a better job
of it than “Old Man” O’Grady himself.

Lieutenant Curly Levitt was up in the top turret sighting through his
instrument when Barry stepped back.

“Three stars is enough for a fix,” he shouted above the engines’
thunder. “Just wait till I shoot Venus.”

“Better not—it might really be Sirius!” punned Barry. “Anything I can
do to help?”

“Thanks,” replied the navigator, as he prepared to step down, “Just
open your mouth again and I’ll put my foot in it.”

Barry dodged, just in time to tumble over Fred Marmon who
“accidentally” happened to be crouched just behind him. As he picked
himself up, even sad-eyed Tony Romani laughed. The crew’s tense nerves
were relaxing. Whistling a few bars from _Pagliacci_, the mustachioed
navigator went back to his desk.

Curly Levitt was still a bit worried, however. On the accuracy of his
reckoning depended the life of every man on board. If he failed, the
chances were excellent that _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ would plunge to a
watery grave the moment her gas supply gave out. At best she would
crash in the Venezuelan jungle—unless, of course, the clouds broke up
farther on and showed her crew a landing field.

“Check this reckoning with me, will you, Blake?” Levitt invited. “Then
if there should be an error we can blame it on the wallop my octant
took in the storm.”

“Okay!” Barry agreed. “If your octant is off, we’ll probably find it
out too late to help ourselves. So don’t worry.”

Reckoning the fix is really a simple matter. At a given time only one
point on the earth’s surface can be directly under any star. Using his
octant, the navigator “shoots” or measures the elevation of two or more
stars, and then figures out just where each “substellar” point is on
the earth’s surface.

His next step is still easier. With his substellar points located on
the map, he draws circles around them. One of the places where these
circles intersect is the place where his plane was at the time the
stars were “shot.” There is no real difficulty in guessing which
intersection is the right one: the others are apt to be thousands of
miles from his last known position.

Everything, of course, depends upon the accuracy of the star-shooting
octant. This expensive and delicate instrument will not always stand
abuse such as Curly Levitt’s had taken. There was reason for the young
ex-lawyer to be worried. He slipped on his headset and switched on the
interphone. The click in his ears told him that it still worked.

“Pilot from navigator,” he said. “If I’m right we’re fifty miles due
north of Cayo Grande. Our present compass course would take us just
past the southern tip of Trinidad. That checks pretty well with my dead
reckoning. I haven’t had an accurate drift reading since we banged into
that front.”

“Navigator from pilot,” came the drawling reply. “_Rosy_ says she’ll
take your word for it. She likes your style, hombre, even if you _are_
a lily-fingered product of the effete East. A man who can keep _any_
sort of dead reckoning in a storm like the one we just rode through
will do to cross the river with.”

For the next hour Barry flew the big bomber, while her “Old Man” dozed
in his seat. Below them the clouds continued unbroken. The moonlight on
their gleaming crests and ridges gave the young co-pilot a queer
sensation. It was hard not to believe that he was guiding a fantastic
ship over the surface of a strange planet, thousands of light-years
from Earth. In the lightless cockpit nothing seemed real.

“You fool—snap out of it!” Barry found himself muttering. “You’re
heading into dreamland with your throttles wide. And that blur on the
window isn’t imagination—_it’s oil_!”




“A cracked cylinder!” was Fred Marmon’s verdict, the minute he saw the
oil spray on the window. “How near are we to landing, navigator?”

“Less than an hour,” Lieutenant Levitt answered, “provided there’s
enough ceiling under those clouds.”

“I think there will be,” Captain O’Grady told them. “See! There’s a
break in the overcast, dead ahead. We’ll go downstairs for a look.”

Taking over the controls, he nosed the _Rosy_ downward through the
black hole in the clouds. A moment later Barry could see moonlight
glinting on the wave crests.

At a thousand feet the Fortress leveled out. Above her the cloud scuff
was breaking up rapidly.

“Got that radio damage located yet, Babbitt?” O’Grady asked through the
interphone. “We really ought to let Trinidad know that we’re on our way
in, so they won’t be throwing up a lot of flak at us.”

“I’ll have the trouble fixed in about five minutes, sir,” Soapy
replied. “Good thing we have plenty of spare parts. What that freak
lightning bolt did to us was a caution!”

Just ahead a dark land mass rose out of the sea.

“That’s the upper jaw of the ‘Dragon’s Mouth,’” O’Grady remarked.
“Trinidad is just beyond. I’m going upstairs again, until Soapy gets
our radio working.”

The big bomber nosed sharply upward. For a few moments she clawed her
way in almost pitch darkness through a cloud. Then the moonlight shone
clear through the windows.

Suddenly a shaft of brilliant light burst through a rent in the scuff
below them. Other searchlights stabbed upward. A sharp detonation
jarred the Fortress.

“Antiaircraft shell!” grunted _Rosy’s_ Old Man. “Evidently they don’t
like unidentified planes cruising over the airfield. We’d better spin


Two shells, still closer than the first, made the big plane rock. Tex
O’Grady pulled the stick back between his knees and gave the engine
full throttle.

“Guess those hombres mean business, Blake,” he chuckled. “How do you
like being under fire for the first time?”

“I don’t know,” replied Barry with a forced grin. “Somehow it doesn’t
seem quite real, being shot at by your own ground forces. The trouble
is that those shells would hurt just as much as Jap flak.”

[Illustration: _“Radio’s Okay, Sir!” Came Soapy Babbitt’s Voice_]

“Radio’s okay, sir!” came Soapy Babbitt’s voice. “What’ll I send?”

“Identification signals first,” the Old Man replied. “Explain what
happened to our radio and lights. Then tell ’em to switch on the
floodlights, so we can land before the oil from that cracked engine
cylinder drowns us.”

Soapy was still talking into his radio when the searchlights behind
them switched off. O’Grady nosed down. In a moment floodlights lighted
up the field a few miles distant. The _Rosy_ landed lightly for all her
massiveness, and braked to a smooth stop.

“_Yahoo!_ Me for some hot coffee!” whooped her Old Man, reaching for
the entrance hatch. “Last man to the office buys for the whole bunch!”

Six days were spent in Trinidad, replacing the cracked cylinder and
repairing the lightning’s damage to the electrical system. On the
seventh day _Rosy_ hopped off on her long trip across the Atlantic to
Freetown, Africa.

This time she carried a few bombs. It was Sergeant Hale’s hope that
they might sight a Nazi U-boat on the crossing. The chance, of course,
was one in a million. However, watching for a target would help to
dispel the monotony of the trip.

The weather was perfect—not a single bump in the air. With “George,”
the automatic gyro, taking care of their flying, the pilots had little
to do. By turns, they napped, lunched, listened to the radio, played
games with the others of the crew. Even Fred Marmon had a soft snap,
for _Rosy’s_ hungry “quadruplets” were sucking their gas without a

Only Sergeant Hale, the bombardier, refused to join his crewmates in
killing time. Stretched at full length in the plane’s transparent nose,
he stared fixedly at the sea.

“Danny is a born hunter,” the Old Man observed. “Reckon he learned his
patience from the Texas Apaches. They’ll lie ten hours in one spot
without moving, waiting for a deer to pass a runway.”

They were just six hours out from Trinidad when Hale gave a bellow of
discovery. Gazing down and ahead, Barry saw a convoy of twenty merchant
ships, escorted by two destroyers and three corvettes. The intensified
Nazi submarine attacks had made heavy protection necessary, he reasoned.

“We’ll go down and say hello to them,” said the captain, fastening his
safety belt. “Maybe it will cheer them up to see _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_
dropping them a curtsy, even if she can’t stick around.”

With engines throttled down, the bomber dropped toward the crawling
convoy. Fascinated, Barry Blake watched the toy-like ships grow larger.
Now he could make out the British flags and the tiny figures of the
antiaircraft gun crews in their tin nests on the superstructures.

“I hope no cockeyed gunner takes us for an enemy and cuts loose,” he
thought. “That wouldn’t be any fun at all—”

“_Submarines to the right!_” yelled Sergeant Danny Hale. “I can see
their shadows just under the surface, Captain. And look—they’ve just
fired two torpedoes! Let’s smash ’em!”

“You bet your sweet neck we will!” answered the Old Man. “Take over the
throttles, Blake. Watch your r.p.m. We’ll give Hale a target he can’t
miss.... Sergeant Babbitt, signal the convoy that we’re not bombing

The Fortress leveled out at 500 feet. Glancing down, Barry saw the deck
of a freighter immediately beneath him. He could almost catch the
expressions on the upturned faces of her crew. His eyes came back to
his instruments and clung to them.

“Bombs away!” yelled Hale’s voice in the interphone. “Give me a run at
the other one, Captain.”


As the Fortress zoomed sharply, the two bomb explosions buffeted her.
She staggered, gained altitude, banked, and turned.

WHAMM! A torpedo had struck. Flame blossomed from the sides of the
freighter. Another ship was dodging the second “tin fish.”

Searching the water for the submarines’ shadows, Barry spotted one, but
it looked misshapen, seen through the spreading ring of the bomb burst.
Then he found the other. It was less distinct, evidently diving at top
speed. That was the next target.

Between it and the convoy, a destroyer was circling like an excited
hound. She was waiting, Barry realized, for _Rosy’s_ next run. The
corvettes were threading their way through the mass of slower
freighters, to be in at the kill.

“Steady, Blake—here we go again!” warned Captain O’Grady. “If that Hun
is too deep for our bombs to hurt him, the explosion will spot his dive
for the destroyer. Her depth charges will get him for sure.”


The _Rosy’s_ second run was still lower. The explosions made her
aluminum skin crackle like an empty oil can. Suddenly Barry glimpsed
the mast of a freighter spearing up at the bomber’s nose. He gave her
full throttle. The mast flashed beneath—seemingly with mere inches of

“Upstairs” again, the fortress’s crew had a grandstand view of the
submarine’s finish. The destroyer raced toward the mark left by
_Rosy’s_ last bombs. She dumped a depth charge off her stem. Her Y-guns
pitched two more “ash cans,” bracketing the spot. A fourth and last
depth charge completed the square.

Behind her, the corvettes darted to the oil slick that now spread over
Sergeant Hale’s first target, and dropped two more charges for good

“Pilot from radioman,” Soapy Babbitt’s voice crackled on the
interphone. “The destroyer’s commander sends us his congratulations and
thanks. He thinks we bagged the second sub, too. Wishes we could stay
with him for the rest of the voyage.”

“I reckon he’s telling the truth,” chuckled _Rosy’s_ Old Man. “Those
undersea wolves have been hanging right at the heels of every convoy
lately. They hunt in packs. We’ll just swing around the outskirts of
this floating freight train and see if Danny Hale can spot any more
suspicious shadows.”

The Fortress banked slightly in a slow turn, describing a twenty-mile
circle around the convoy. As she swung back again, Barry could see the
result of one torpedo hit.

The freighter had been struck on the starboard side near the bow. She
was slightly down by the head. Smoke was still rising from her
forecastle, but she still kept her place in line. Her life-boats were
in place, with nobody near them. Evidently her crew had no other
thought than to take her to port.

“There’s the second oil slick, Captain!” Hale called. “We got both
those U-boats. Yip-yip-yippee!”

As the bombardier’s coyote howl shrilled in his earphones, Barry Blake
laughed outright. Like every man on board he felt pretty cocky. Already
their ship had been under fire. Now she had drawn first blood, sinking
at least one enemy submarine without help. The world was their oyster,
waiting to be cracked wide open when they reached the battlefront.

With a final waggle of their broad wings, _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ turned
her back on the convoy and headed eastward on her course. A chorus of
grateful whistles followed her. Owing to the thunder of her own
engines, her crew could not hear the freighter’s salutes, but Tony
Romani in the tail turret reported seeing the puffs of white steam.

The sinking of the subs provided conversation to last Barry and his
companions for most of the trip. They were still comparing notes when
the sun set. That put an end to Sergeant Hale’s sea-gazing.

Supper was supplied from thermos jugs and a box of sandwiches.
Afterwards, Curly Levitt took a fix from the stars, and made a slight
correction in their compass course. The engines were behaving so
beautifully that their red-headed nurse, Fred, began to be bored. He
roamed from tail turret to cockpit playing small practical jokes on
everyone, until the Old Man told him to spin off.

By midnight everyone but Captain O’Grady was dozing. His co-pilot was
sound asleep in his seat. He was waked by the first red beams of the
sun rising over Africa. That was another thrill for Barry
Blake—watching the shoreline of a foreign continent loom up out of the
horizon. He slapped on his earphones in time to hear Curly Levitt
giving the Old Man another change of course—this time to the north.

A few minutes later the deep harbor of Freetown took shape beneath
them. Soapy Babbitt, contacting the RAF field, received permission to
come in and land. The first of their long, transoceanic hops was safely




The stop at Freetown was brief—chiefly for gas and a bit of rest for
_Rosy’s_ crew. Shortly after noon the big bomber took off again, headed
for Accra, six hundred miles to the eastward. There the Pan American
Lines had everything to do a complete servicing job. Captain O’Grady
landed his ship just before the sudden equatorial night shut down.

A two-day rest put _Rosy_ in first-class shape. Her engines were
thoroughly broken in. Her mighty framework had been tested in action.
Now it remained for her guns and gun turrets to be tried out under
combat conditions.

And her crew! As Captain Tex O’Grady glanced at their keen, confident
young faces, he knew he could depend on them. They’d meet danger with a
grin of defiance and their cool efficiency would whittle down any odds
they might meet.

Six thousand miles still remained between them and the Indian
battlefront to which they had been ordered. The route would lie across
Nigeria to Lake Tchad, then northwest to the Egyptian Sudan and down
the Nile to Cairo. From there they would fly eastward in easy hops over
Iran and India, till they reached their assigned base.

That was the plan; but in wartime the plans of mice and men are
especially subject to change. A few hours before his take-off from
Accra, radioed orders reached Captain O’Grady to head for Australia and
the South Pacific. Heavy bombers were more urgently needed there, it
appeared. And that meant _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_!

The new orders involved a greatly changed route. From now on Captain
O’Grady and his crew would be flying below the equator. Heading
southeast, they would have to cross the great Belgian Congo into East
Africa before stopping to refuel. As soon as Fred Marmon learned that,
he gave his “quadruplets” an extra careful inspection. A forced landing
in those all but trackless jungles was something he hated to

From Accra the Flying Fortress took off with all gas tanks full. Nine
hundred miles across the Gulf of Guinea she roared to Libreville, where
the Fighting French made up her depleted fuel. In the air again, she
swept in a few hours over the vast territory that took H. M. Stanley
years to explore. Twice she crossed the mighty Congo River. Then the
five-hundred-mile expanse of Lake Tanganyika lay below.

“Watch out for elephants and giraffes, boys,” came the Old Man’s
humorous drawl. “This is the country all the animal crackers come from.
I’ll take _Rosy_ down low enough so that you can see them.”

There was a general laugh, but as Captain O’Grady nosed his ship down
to a thousand feet the crew really started to look. Perhaps the Old Man
wasn’t kidding after all.

The dense masses of green forest broke up into small patches. Lush
grazing lands appeared, with here and there a clump of trees. Farther
on stretched a dry plain, spotted with the green of an occasional water
hole. As they neared one of these, Barry Blake gave a shout.

“There are your elephants, Captain!” he exclaimed. “We interrupted
their drink. I see a bunch of ostriches on the run, too—”

“Ostriches—ha, ha!” Tex O’Grady chuckled. “We’re not that near to
Australia, Bub. Those long-necked critters you see are _giraffes_. Want
me to prove it to you?”

He shoved the stick forward. As the giant plane dipped down to within
two hundred feet of them, the frightened giraffes scattered like sheep.
Barry could see their long, pathetic necks swaying like masts as they
turned this way or that. Seconds later the herd was far behind.

“When we reach Australia, Lieutenant,” Curly Levitt’s voice murmured in
the headphones, “I’ll buy you a beautiful, big picture book, and you
can learn that G stands for Giraffe, and E for Elephant and M for the
little Monkey who didn’t know which was which.”

A howl of merriment from the others who were listening in made Barry’s
ears tingle.

“Okay, okay, I asked for it!” he admitted ruefully; and for the next
hour he felt like a high school kid who has pulled the prize “boner” of
the week in class.

The sensation wasn’t comfortable. Yet it went farther than anything
that had happened yet to make him feel at one with the other members of
the crew. These men, he realized, weren’t simply a detachment of
non-coms and officers. They were a team, a family, an organism knit
together by closer bonds than their assigned duties. Every last one of
them was a brother to the rest, regardless of race or rank.

It was dark when the Flying Fortress reached Dar-es-Salam on the east
coast. The next day, after servicing, the _Rosy O’Grady_ hopped off
across the Mozambique Channel. That same afternoon she landed at
Tananarivo, Madagascar’s mountain capital, where the Fighting French
had recently improved the landing field to take care of heavy planes.

“This is the last land we’ll see for three thousand-odd miles,” O’Grady
informed his crew. “Next stop will be Broome, Australia. Marmon and
Jackson, you will make an especially close check on the engines. Take
your time about it. Better to spend an extra day here than a month on
rubber rafts somewhere in the Indian Ocean.”

By noon of the third day, Fred and Cracker had checked and re-checked
everything. Some of the care they took was really unnecessary. When
they had finished, however, the bomber’s power plant was as perfect as
human skill could make it. The fuel tanks were full. Food and water for
a thirty-hour trip were aboard, but no bombs. To allow a safe margin in
case of bad weather, the ship must fly as light as possible and save
her gas.

They took off just at dawn. Soon they were out of sight of land, and
from then on the trip became a long fight against boredom. Half of the
way they flew on two engines, to economize on gas. The big bomber
loafed along at five thousand feet, except on two occasions when she
sighted squalls and had to dodge them. Before the trip was ended most
of the _Rosy’s_ crew would have welcomed a storm to break the monotony.

They landed at Broome, on Australia’s southwest tip, with plenty of gas
to spare. The next day they headed northeastward, across the continent.
Stopping at an American base in northern Queensland, they gassed up and
hopped off on the last leg of their long flight to the battle zone.

Their base, when they found it, was still being carved out of the New
Guinea jungle with the help of native labor. On the dirt runway Old Man
O’Grady set his ship down like a cat on velvet. The moment she stopped
he let out an old-time “rebel” yell.

When Barry and Fred Marmon climbed out last, after making their final
checks, the _Rosy’s_ red-haired engineer looked scornfully around him.
In mock disgust, he stared at a group of men filling in a big, raw hole
with shovels.

“Look, Lieutenant!” he snorted. “This is what we came three quarters of
the way around the globe to find—a potato patch in the back woods!”

“Yes?” retorted Barry with a grim smile. “Those boys aren’t planting
spuds, Fred; they’re filling in a new shell hole. The Japs must have
dropped a few of Tojo’s calling cards just a little before we landed.”

The Japs called again that night. This time the “cards” that they
dropped were shells from a cruiser that had sneaked close to the shore,
in the dark hours. Five miles away, she let loose with her heaviest
guns. Her aim was surprisingly accurate. To the _Rosy O’Grady’s_ crew,
the stuff seemed to be exploding all around their tent.

The screaming of shells, each followed instantly by an earth-shaking
blast, produced a nightmare of horror for the unseasoned men. Not one
of them gave way to fear, however. The most upset man in the tent was
Tex O’Grady, who paced up and down between the cots, worrying about his
ship and fighting mosquitoes. He couldn’t get _Rosy_ into the air,
because the field had no lights as yet.

“If I knew this confounded field better,” he fumed, “I’d take off and
get her safe upstairs. But except for those shell flashes it’s as dark
as the inside of a cow. I’d only ground loop—”


A shell burst, nearer than any before it; tossed chunks of earth
through the open flap. Some dirt must have struck O’Grady in the mouth,
Barry guessed, from the way the Old Man sputtered and spat.

“Better get your head down, Captain,” Curly Levitt spoke up. “You’re
not as big a target as _Rosy_, but you’ll be safer on your cot.”

The shelling stopped as suddenly as it had started. Later Barry learned
that a pair of motor torpedo boats had routed the Jap cruiser, with two
gaping holes below her waterline.

The damage to ships on the flying field was comparatively light. One
bomber had received a direct hit. Three more were damaged by shell
fragments. _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ had escaped without a scratch. The
worst tragedy was the killing of a twin-engined bomber’s crew when a
shell exploded in their tent. Seven men had been sleeping there. All
that was found of them was buried the next day in a single grave.

The attack was the last thing needed to make Barry and his friends
ready for a raid of their own. Every man in the field was fighting mad.
When O’Grady brought them the news that they were scheduled for a
bombing mission that day, the _Rosy’s_ crew cheered like maniacs.

“We’re going with the squadron to lay eggs on Rabaul,” the Old Man told
them. “High-altitude stuff. You gunners will probably get your chance
at a few Zero fighters, so make sure you load up with ammunition before
we leave. Here come the carts to bomb us up now.”

Before _Rosy_ had taken her last five-hundred pound egg on board the
squadron commander was racing his Fortress down the runway. The other
ten followed. Last of all, Old Man O’Grady took his ship up to her
assigned position at the end of the right wing.

Looking ahead, Barry Blake thrilled at the sight of the other mighty
Fortresses flying in a perfect V of V’s. To his mind they spelled
irresistible, smashing power—force which must, in the long run, blast
all the little yellow invaders out of the Pacific.

As the 600-mile distance to Rabaul narrowed, a tense expectancy gripped
pilots and gunners. The squadron was flying at high bombing altitude,
25,000 feet. Every man was in his place, for at any time now a swarm of
enemy planes might appear.

The Japs were struggling grimly to keep their grip on New Britain,
Barry knew. Many of their best fighter squadrons had been shifted there
from other fronts, in the past few weeks.

“Sixty miles still to go!” Curly Levitt’s warning came over the

O’Grady turned his head to glance at his co-pilot.

“The Nips’ aircraft detectors have heard us by now,” he drawled.
“They’re manning their guns, and sweating some, too, I reckon. A bunch
of Zero fighters will be taking off to bother us on the way in.... How
do you feel about it, Blake?”

“As if I’d like a gun in my hands—or the lever that releases the
bombs,” Barry laughed. “I feel just a little useless.”

Tex O’Grady’s smile faded out. He gazed straight ahead.

“You won’t be useless if anything happens to me, son,” he replied,
gravely. “Keep your eyes peeled on every side now.... Those Zeros _may_
not show up until after we’ve made our run, but you never can tell.”

Sergeant Hale in the bomber’s nose began counting aloud through the

“—thirteen—fourteen—fifteen Zeros dead ahead, and a flight of three
more just above them. Here they come!”

“Flights two, three and four, pull in closer!” barked the command
radio. “Wing men will step up—the others down—ready to repel
attacking planes.”

Glancing up and to the right, Barry caught sight of still another enemy
flight arrowing down at the Fortresses. He nudged O’Grady and pointed
with his finger. The Old Man merely nodded. Keeping _Rosy_ in her place
in the tight protective formation was his only task for the moment.

[Illustration: _Sergeant Hale Counted Aloud Through the Interphone_]


With a chattering roar that cut through the engines’ thunder, _Rosy’s_
nose, top turret, and side guns went into action. From the squadron’s
.50-caliber machine guns burst a storm of white tracer bullets. These
mingled briefly with the fire of the diving enemy. Then most of the
Zeros were below the flying forts.

_Rosy O’Grady’s_ belly turret opened up, followed by Tony Romani’s fire
from the “stinger” turret in the tail. As it ceased, the thought came
to Barry Blake: “We’ve knocked them out of the sky! I thought those
Japs were tough fighters, but this was like shooting clay pigeons.
There’s nothing in sight but three Zeros torching down below—”

A slamming explosion jarred the fuselage. Then the side gun manned by
Curly Levitt chattered harshly. Out of the corner of his eye, Barry saw
the nearest Fortress stagger out of place in the V.

“Pilot from top gunner!” Soapy Babbitt’s report came through the
phones. “Turret damaged by enemy shells. Machine guns still fire, but
can’t aim.”

“Are you hurt, Soapy?” the Old Man asked.

“My left shoulder won’t work right,” came Babbitt’s reply. “Nothing to
worry about. I’ll keep watch for more diving Zeros.”

“Ready, Blake!” O’Grady spoke sharply. “Watch your throttles—we’re
nearing our targets now.”




Barry glued his eyes to the r.p.m. indicator. He forced his nerves to
ignore the antiaircraft shells that burst closer and closer. This was
the big moment of the whole raid—when the bombs were about to plummet

Cold air from the open bomb-bay doors rushed into the big ship’s belly.
There came the welcome whistle of a falling bomb; then another, and
another. A moment afterward the harbor of Rabaul swept beneath. It was
out of sight before Barry could spot the bomb hits.


An antiaircraft burst rocked the big bomber like a cradle. Her right
inboard engine sputtered and quit. Looking out at the wing, Barry
glimpsed a jagged shrapnel hole in the cowling. He glanced to the left.
Another Fortress had been hit. She was falling out of formation.

“Never mind, boys, _Rosy O’Grady_ can toddle home all right on three
engines,” the Old Man declared. “All you’ve got to do is to smack down
every Zero you see....”

“Here come three of ’em, straight down at us!” yelped Soapy Babbitt
from the jammed top turret. “If only I could aim these guns!”

“Maybe a Jap will cross your sights, Soapy!” the Old Man grunted, as he
reefed back on the wheel. “I’ll try to give Hale a shot.”

_Rosy’s_ nose came up. Her forward guns cut loose at the trio of diving
planes. One spun away, smoking; another changed direction. The third
kept coming, with his tracer bullets feeling for the Flying Fortress.
When they touched her the Jap pilot pulled the trigger of his cannon.

A stunning blast threw Barry hard against his safety belt.
Something—it felt like a hard-thrown baseball—struck his head. He
felt himself falling into a black void.

Someone was shaking him, none too gently. A voice, Curly Levitt’s,
pierced through his dulled consciousness.

“Wake up, Barry! Wake up and take over these controls before I have
to,” the navigator was repeating in his ear. “The Old Man is out
cold—ripped by that shell.”

Barry made a desperate effort. It was like struggling against gravity,
but he won. His eyes cleared. The plane was flying on a fairly level
keel, thanks to Curly’s hand on the wheel, but something was very
wrong. The Old Man....

One look at O’Grady’s crumpled form drove the last of the fog out of
Barry’s head. The captain’s left arm was missing below the elbow. A
handkerchief tourniquet had stopped the worst bleeding, but there were
other wounds on his left side and leg. He was mercifully unconscious.

The bomber’s machine guns were still firing, by fits and starts, but
only two engines were still functioning. The other Fortresses were
nowhere in sight. Two Zero fighters were coming head-on into Sergeant
Hale’s fire....

These impressions took barely three seconds for Barry to absorb. He
gripped the wheel hard, setting his teeth against the pain in his head.

“Thanks, Curly,” he gritted. “You tend to the Old Man.... With two good
engines even a dumb co-pilot ought to get _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ home

“Good man!” Curly exclaimed, as he turned to the captain. “I’ll fix up
your scalp wound later. Just fly southwest until I get a chance to
figure our exact position.”

One of the Zeros that had been heading for _Rosy’s_ nose was now
falling, with a trail of black smoke. The other had swooped past. Barry
heard one of the side guns firing, then a burst from the belly turret.

“Got him!” came Cracker Jackson’s grunt in the radiophones.

Barry eased back on the wheel and found that his crippled Fortress
could still gain a little altitude. Cold air still poured in from the
open bomb doors; a chunk of flak must have damaged the jacks that
raised them. Barry began calling the turrets one by one to learn of any
further damage.

Aside from a shell hole through the rudder and countless bullet holes,
there was none worth mentioning. Best of all, the sky seemed to be
clear of enemy fighters.

The pain in Barry’s head was easier. His brain functioned more clearly
with each minute that passed. From the crew’s reports he made a rough
calculation of the Jap planes shot down.

About thirty fighters had attacked the bomber formation as they
approached Rabaul. Thirteen Zeros had been shot down at the cost of one
Fortress. The eleven remaining bombers had laid their eggs with perfect
accuracy on the docks and ships, and flown on. The Zeros, already
decimated, had hung around just out of range. When _Rosy_ fell behind,
with one engine damaged by antiaircraft fire, the Japs had jumped on
her like wolves.

Seventeen Zero fighters against one crippled Boeing—and the Fortress
had won out! Nine of the Japs had torched down. The others had turned
back to their home base.

Barry’s heart swelled with pride in the great ship and the fighting
crew of which he was a member. Except for that last shell hit....

A glance at the slumped figure of Tex O’Grady sobered him. Curly Levitt
had finished bandaging the captain, and Fred Marmon was helping to lift
him out of his seat. The two men lugged their wounded pilot back toward
the tail and laid him down, wrapped in their coats.

“What are the Old Man’s chances?” the young co-pilot asked, as the
navigator returned.

“It’s hard to tell how deep those shell fragments in his side have
gone,” Curly answered. “He’s lost a lot of blood, too. All we can do
now is hope.... Hold steady, now, while I swab out that cut in your
scalp—oh-oh! I can feel something there.”

“So can I!” grunted Barry. “Take it easy, fella!”

Curly’s fingers touched the cut again, cautiously. Barry felt a
stabbing twinge.

“There it is, Mister!” the navigator shouted. “A bit of shrapnel as big
as my thumbnail. If your head weren’t solid bone, as I’ve always
suspected, we’d be minus a co-pilot.”

He held the scrap of jagged metal in front of Barry’s nose for a
second, then stuck it in his pocket.

“When you tie it up, be sure to leave the bone in,” Barry answered with
a grin. “When this war is over you can get yourself a nice job in a
butcher shop. It would just suit your rough-and-ready style.”

“That’s base ingratitude!” Curly retorted, applying the bandage. “I
hope Soapy Babbitt is more appreciative when I fix him up. He got a
smashed shoulder when the top turret was wrecked.”

As Curly left him, the full weight of his responsibility settled upon
Barry’s mind. Had the Old Man been at the controls, _Rosy O’Grady’s_
crippled condition would not have worried him particularly. If it were
possible to bring a ship home on only one engine, Barry would have
trusted his captain to do it.

Now, however, both the wounded plane and her wounded crew depended on
him. With little more than training school experience, could he land
them safely? As he struggled against such fears, Fred Marmon’s voice
sounded in his ears.

“I’ve got bad news for you, Lieutenant,” the engineer announced. “The
same burst of flak that jammed the bomb doors washed out the electrical
system. Your landing flaps won’t work and your wheels won’t come down.
Looks like we’ll all have to bail out and let _Rosy_ crash.”

Barry’s first feeling was one of relief. Now, at least, he wouldn’t
have to risk the lives of everybody aboard, landing a shot-up plane on
a jungle field. But, wait! How about Old Man O’Grady? Even if somebody
pulled the chute’s cord for him and dumped him out, the landing would
kill him. A parachute lets you down with about the same shock you’d
feel if you jumped out of a second story window. A half-dead man could
never survive it, even if he didn’t land in the jungle and break his

“You men will bail out,” Barry said into the intercom mike. “When we
get near the field, strap Captain O’Grady into his own seat, and pad
him with your coats against the shock of a crackup. I’ll try to land
_Rosy_ on her belly without too much of a flop. It’s the Old Man’s only

The crew got that reasoning without any trouble.

“It makes me feel like a doggone coyote!” big Danny Hale muttered,
turning to look at Barry. “My great gran’daddy didn’t leave the old
Alamo, when it was _sure_ death to stay. I reckon if he was in my

“He’d obey orders, just as you’re going to do, Danny,” Barry Blake shot
back at him. “I’m in command of this plane, while the Old Man is out.
You and every other member of the crew will bail out when we reach the
field. That’s final!”

“I agree absolutely, except on one point,” Curly’s voice chimed in.
“You’re wounded, Lieutenant. It’s a miracle that you can fly a ship at
all, with the beating you’ve had. It’s no reflection on your skill—or
your grit—to say that you might go dizzy at the last minute of
landing, and crack up. Now, I’ve had some flight training, enough to
land belly-floppers on a soft field. Therefore it’s _my_ place and not

“Spoken like a lawyer, Curly!” laughed the young co-pilot. “You’re a
swell guy to offer, but it’s no go. So don’t argue. Just tell me when
we’re nearing our base, and then help Fred bring the Old Man back to
the cockpit.”

There was a little more discussion of the landing Barry would have to
attempt, but nobody else protested. As soon as Soapy Babbitt was made
as comfortable as he could be, the thermos jug of coffee was passed
around. Barry forced himself to eat a little.

After a seemingly endless time Curly Levitt reported that he had warned
the base by radio. The field would soon be in sight.

In the distance Barry recognized the New Guinea coastline. Now he
picked out certain mountain landmarks that gave him the exact direction
of the base.

“Bring the Old Man up front, fellows,” he said. “And then hook on your
parachutes. We have about five minutes to go.”

The men worked fast. Captain O’Grady was still unconscious under the
double effect of shock and the morphine that Curly had administered.
The navigator and Fred Marmon handled him as tenderly as they could.
The strapping was finished, and the men were back at the open bomb bay
when Barry spotted the field. Big Danny Hale was gripping the zippered
case that held his precious bomb-sight.

Barry tried to judge the proper moment for the first parachute jump.
Twisting in the seat, he raised his hand.

Fred Marmon saluted, grinned, and dived headfirst into space. The
others followed in quick succession. The bomber roared on, slowly
circling the field. Far below, Barry counted six white ’chutes drifting
toward the raw, brown slash in the jungle.

“They’re safe!” he murmured. “Wish I had a parachute for _Sweet Rosy
O’Grady_, too!”

When the last ’chutist had landed, the young pilot nosed down and came
in up-wind for his risky attempt. He cut the gun, fishtailed to kill
speed. A Fortress’s wheels should touch the ground at ninety miles an
hour, for a smooth landing; but _Rosy_ couldn’t let down her wheels. A
belly landing at ninety would be an ugly mess.

At a shaky sixty m.p.h. Barry brought her in. At the last moment he let
her drop. The bomb-bay doors dug into the runway, before they ripped
loose. The ship bounced on her belly turret, tore an engine clean out
of its mounting, and came to rest.

When the crash squad entered the cockpit, _Rosy’s_ young co-pilot was
“out cold.” Fortunately neither he nor the Old Man had received any
further hurts. A hospital-corps man jabbed a hypodermic into Barry’s
arm. Sixty seconds later, both he and Captain O’Grady were being rushed
on stretchers to the field’s temporary dressing station.

The next afternoon, Barry Blake woke up, feeling almost himself again.
The marvelous new Army drugs had given him twenty-four hours of
refreshing sleep. His head wound had been expertly cleansed, sewed and
bandaged. His greatest discomfort was a gnawing appetite. He swung his
legs over the edge of his cot and looked around for his clothes.

“Hold it down, Lieutenant!” the medical-corps man in charge warned him.
“You’re scheduled to stay right in this hangar till tomorrow.”

“Quit woofing me, Corporal,” Barry growled. “I feel fine. And I’m so
hungry my belt buckle is bumping my backbone. Did the major order you
to starve me, too?”

“No, sir,” chuckled the medical man. “I’ll bring you some chow right
away. It’s almost time for mess call so the cook will have it ready.”

“Wait a second!” Barry exclaimed, as the other turned to go. “Where’s
Captain O’Grady, and Sergeant Babbitt? They ought to be here—”

The corporal paused in the doorway, shaking his head.

“Not here, Lieutenant,” he replied. “This place is only equipped as a
field dressing station as yet. Captain O’Grady and Sergeant Babbitt
were flown to Australia last night. The Captain will have a fighting
chance in a real hospital, and they’ll probably save Babbitt’s arm,

Barry lifted his legs back onto his bunk and relaxed. So the field
doctor had given Tex O’Grady a fighting chance! That was better news
than any of _Rosy’s_ crew had expected.

The medical-corps man returned with hot chow and five grinning Fortress
crewmen. Fred Marmon was the first to grip Barry’s hand. Curly Levitt
crowded him aside, as Danny Hale and Tony Romani and Cracker Jackson
surrounded the cot. Everybody was talking at once. Out of the barrage
of wisecracks, congratulations and laughter, Barry Blake got one
definite impression: his crew was immensely proud of him, for making
that landing and saving the life of their Old Man.

The medical corporal found difficulty in drawing Barry’s attention back
to his hot chow. He succeeded at last, but _Rosy’s_ young co-pilot was
still too busy talking to know what he was eating. The six friends
would have discussed the raid, the fight, and the return trip for
hours, if mess call had not interrupted.

After supper, Curly Levitt returned to the dressing station. The
others, he said, were needed to help set up the new equipment which had
arrived during the past two days. There were electrical generators,
searchlights, floodlights, antiaircraft guns, and the first units of a
big repair shop. This last would take care of damaged planes landing on
the field. It would have crews to bring in ships that had crashed.

“When the repair plant is running, it will probably be able to rebuild
_Sweet Rosy O’Grady_,” her navigator stated.

“I wish we could hope as much for her Old Man,” Barry sighed. “But
there’s no repair shop in the world that can put a missing arm back on
a pilot.”

“It will just about break his heart,” Curly agreed, rising to his feet.
“I imagine that Mrs. O’Grady won’t feel too badly about having her
husband back, however.... Well, here’s the doctor, come to have a look
at you. That’s my signal to take off.”




When Barry next saw Curly Levitt, the dapper navigator was firing a
sub-machine gun at the searchlighted sky. Black parachutes were
dropping toward the field, with Jap soldiers dangling beneath them.
Every man on the field who could find a gun of any kind was shooting at
the rain of enemies. And the Japs were firing back.

The party started with a terrific bomb barrage about midnight. The Japs
evidently believed that neither aircraft detectors nor antiaircraft
equipment were as yet set up. They were wrong about both. Another thing
they didn’t know was that most of the living quarters, supplies, and
even planes, had been moved into the jungle that fringed the field.

A few moments after the bombs started falling, the new antiaircraft
batteries went into action. They caught three of the Jap bombers with
their shells. In return, bombs wiped out two guns, three searchlights,
and their crews. Then came the parachute troops.

There weren’t many of them—not more than fifty in all. Apparently the
fire was too intense for the Jap transport planes to risk. Why these
few suicide squads were dropped remained a mystery until morning.

Barry reached the field as the first ’chutists landed. He saw a Garand
rifle in the hand of a soldier who had been killed by shrapnel. The
weapon, he found, was fully loaded—and unharmed. As he turned to pick
a target, the field’s floodlights went on.

A dozen of the Japs lay motionless, tangled in their parachutes. The
others were squirming free, or firing from bombholes with their small
caliber sub-machine guns. Barry felt a bullet tug at his trouser leg;
another burned the skin of his shoulder. He threw himself prone.

A Jap had just wriggled free of his chute and was diving toward a bomb
crater. Barry took a snap shot at the man, and saw him collapse. He
switched his aim to a hole from which the pale flames of Jap machine
guns were licking like serpents’ tongues. They were firing at the
floodlights, which were rapidly going out.

The shadows deepened across the bomb-torn field. Barry was sure that
some of them were Japs crawling toward the jungle. He fired at the
nearest. Suddenly he realized that he was trying to shoot an empty gun.

Bullets were kicking up dirt too close for comfort. Barry glanced about
and spotted a convenient bomb crater. It was strange that he hadn’t
noticed it before. Clutching his empty gun, he rolled into the hole.

As he reached the bottom a steely hand seized him by the throat.
Instinctively his hand shot up, grasped a muscular wrist. Moonlight
glinted faintly on the long knife in the hand that he had blocked.

While he struggled with both hands to wrest the weapon away, a rocket
streaked up the sky. Directly overhead the flare burst, flooding
everything with white light. Barry’s enemy gasped and dropped his
butcher knife. He was Fred Marmon.

“Lieutenant Blake!” the redhead yelped. “Thank Heaven for that flare—I
might have carved you for a Jap.”

“You mean I might have broken your arm!” retorted Barry. “Listen,
Fred—if you’ve got an extra gun or a clip of ammo, let’s have it. I
think those yellow snakes are heading this way.”

“I have something better,” Marmon replied. “A sack of hand grenades. I
got ’em when the Japs started landing. Help yourself—”

He broke off as Barry made a lightning lunge past him with his empty
rifle. A high-pitched scream rang briefly. Barry had rammed his
gun-muzzle like a bayonet into the face of a crawling Jap who had
reached the edge of the hole.

Another queer-shaped helmet appeared, and beside it a machine-gun’s
muzzle. Barry swung his gun-butt at the weapon, knocking it aside. A
split instant later Fred struck with his knife. The second Jap kicked

“I fixed him!” the redhead muttered. “See any more, Lieutenant?”

[Illustration: _Barry’s Enemy Gasped and Dropped His Knife_]

Other flares were lighting the field. Barry spotted a furtive movement
in a crater thirty yards from the jungle’s edge.

“There’s a bunch that’s getting ready to break for the bush, I think,”
he said. “Give me a few of your grenades.”

“Swell! We’ll both rush ’em,” Fred Marmon responded. “Here’s the bag of
pineapples.... Help yourself, sir.”

Barry stuffed his pockets hastily. He kept one grenade in his hand,
with his finger through the ring.

“I’ll go first,” he said shortly.

Crouching low, he sprinted toward the Japs’ bomb hole. Before he had
quite reached throwing distance, the raiders saw him and opened fire. A
slug glanced off his helmet. He took three more strides and flung
himself flat. Behind a ten-inch-high ridge of earth he pulled the pin
of his first grenade. Then, rising on one elbow, he flung it.

Five yards away he glimpsed Fred hurling another. As the second grenade
landed six Japs boiled up out of the bomb crater. Two were still on the
edge when the grenades went off—Barry’s in the hole; Fred’s just ahead
of them.

A cheer went up from the American riflemen and machine gunners. A new
storm of gunfire broke out, aimed at three or four other bomb craters.

“Come on, Fred!” Barry yelled. “We’ll clean out the rest of the
snakeholes. The boys are shooting to keep the Japs’ heads down for us.”

“Right with you, sir!” came the sergeant’s shout.

So furious was their friends’ fire that few Jap bullets came near Barry
and Fred. Crouched within easy throw of the occupied craters, they
flung their deadly little missiles. Some of the enemy attempted a dash
for the bush, only to be cut down. Once a grenade was tossed back. It
exploded in the air dangerously close to Barry. Later he found that a
flying fragment had cut his cheek.

With their “pineapples” gone, the two Fortress men trotted back to the

“Why didn’t I bring another bag of ’em?” the red-headed engineer
wailed. “I just know there’s a few more Japs playing possum out there
on the field. Only way to get ’em is to toss a grenade into every hole
you can find—”

Just in front of them an antiaircraft battery went into action. The
white fingers of the searchlights began combing the sky again. Between
the gun reports, Barry caught the scream of a falling bomb.

“_Down!_” he yelled, pulling Fred to the ground beside him.

The ground erupted near them. Half dazed by the shock, the two friends
started crawling. Dirt rained down on their helmets. From farther up
the field came more bomb concussions.

This time the bombardment was less intense, but it lasted for half an
hour. One Jap bomber followed another at irregular intervals, flying at
a very high altitude. The light of a blasted and blazing gasoline truck
furnished a plain target, not to mention the antiaircraft gun flames
and the searchlights. Yet the Japs were so high that more bombs fell in
the jungle than struck the field.

When the raid was over, Barry Blake headed for the dressing station.
His injured head was pounding like a bass drum. He longed to lie down
and close his eyes.

There was no place for him in the hospital tent, however. The medical
officer was operating on men wounded by bomb fragments—tying off
severed arteries, sewing up torn flesh, probing for shrapnel. He was
stripped to the waist, covered with sweat and blood. The medical-corps
men were equally busy.

Barry had no intention of getting in their way. He found some aspirin
for himself, swallowed two of the pills, swabbed iodine on his cut
cheek, and left. In his crew’s shelter tent he found Curly and Fred
arguing about the raid. He sank down on a cot beside them.

“There’s something queer about those parachute troops,” Curly declared.
“The Japs didn’t drop them just by accident. They had some very
important job which only suicide squads could do. If only we knew what
it was....”

“Don’t worry, sir,” said the red-haired sergeant. “They didn’t
accomplish it. We’ve just searched the field and found only four live
Japs. They were all wounded. Two of ’em opened fire on us and were
blotted out. Number Three played dead until one of our boys tried to
turn him over. Then he set off a grenade that blew both of ’em to
pieces. Number Four struck with his teeth—just like a rattlesnake—and
bit a medical-corps man’s cheek. He’s the only one that’s still alive.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure that they didn’t accomplish anything
important,” said Curly Levitt. “A few of them may still be loose in the
jungle. I have a hunch that we’ll hear from them yet.”

“I’m inclined to agree with you, Curly,” Barry Blake put in. “I’m not
so much worried about the few Jap parachutists that may have escaped to
the bush. To be sure, they could do plenty of damage. But if immediate
damage had been their purpose, we’d have had two or three times as many
to fight. I have a hunch that this bombing and skirmishing on the field
was just a trick to cover up some other maneuver.”

“You mean a Jap landing on the beach, sir?” asked Fred Marmon. “That
thought hopped into my head, too—but it’s no good. Our boys have that
coastline guarded so well that wild pigs couldn’t get through without
raising an alarm. Their scouts would have brought us warning.”

“Let’s try to get a little shuteye, then,” Curly Levitt yawned. “We
won’t help matters by worrying or arguing all night. ’Sufficient unto
the day is the evil thereof.’”

At dawn the field was roused by a third bombardment. This time it was a
shelling from medium-heavy field guns. It plowed the already bombed
runways until the field looked like a map of the moon’s craters. Two
swift fighter planes tried to take off before the last smooth strip of
ground was blown up. One of them ground-looped.

The second, by clever dodging of bomb holes, managed to take the air.
Fifteen minutes later it returned, riddled with bullet holes. The pilot
nosed over trying to land on the field’s least plowed end. When they
pulled him out of his wrecked fighter he said that he had flown over
the enemy positions at less than five hundred feet and had a pretty
good look at them.

The Japs were entrenched on a grassy ridge, about 1500 feet above the
field and within easy range. There were two or three hundred of them,
with at least twenty pieces of artillery camouflaged in clumps of
trees. Evidently they had been landed by parachute from a swarm of huge
transport planes, under cover of the night attack on the air field.

“You were right about the purpose of that raid, Lieutenant Blake,” Fred
Marmon admitted, as the _Rosy O’Grady’s_ crew moved their tent farther
into the jungle. “The Japs will make our field useless as long as they
hold that ridge. The problem is how to clean them out.”

“Better heads than ours are working on that right now,” Barry told him.
“We could bomb the Jap positions with planes based at Port Moresby, for
instance. Or we could bring up troops and take the ridge by assault.
But neither job would be as easy as it sounds. We’ll just have to wait
for the brass-hats to decide.”

The American plan did not develop for forty-eight hours. During that
time a transport vessel arrived with more antiaircraft and two
companies of soldiers. They were welcome additions to the field’s
strength, but they did not solve the problem of the Japs’ shellfire.

On the third day after the Japs’ first raid, the field’s commandant
called all his officers together. These included the air as well as the
ground forces. Between the regular _whoomp_ of bursting shells, the
colonel outlined his plan of attack.

“Tomorrow,” he stated bluntly, “we shall attack the enemy position on
Grassy Ridge. I should like to have had artillery here to soften up our
objective, but we cannot wait for it to arrive. A surprise attack must
take its place. After dark the infantry will move forward as far as
possible. They will carry iron rations, and ammunition for their
weapons. The attack will be at dawn.”

“How about supplies, in case the Japs aren’t routed by the first
assault?” an infantry captain asked.

“In that case, our engineers will open a jeep road through the bush
with bulldozers,” the commandant replied. “They’ll start in the
morning, and push ahead to the steep hillside a mile and a half from
Grassy Ridge. From there on we’ll have to carry all supplies by
manpower, including mortars for close-in bombardment.”

“How about us fliers, Colonel?” the commanding officer of the Fortress
squadron spoke up. “Do we have to loaf while even the native blacks are
doing their bit? Can’t we fix up one runway while the Japs are busy
ducking our shells? My boys would love a chance to smash those
egg-heads with a few five-hundred-pounders.”

“You’ll probably have your chance, Captain,” the commandant smiled.
“Building a road to the Ridge is the engineers’ first job; after that
they’ll tackle the field. Don’t let your crews get mixed up in the
ground fighting, or some ships may be short-handed when you’re ready to
take off.... I think that is all for the time being, gentlemen.”




Curly Levitt linked an arm through Barry’s as they left the
commandant’s tent.

“That warning about crews joining the scrap doesn’t apply to us, does
it?” he asked. “We’re short-handed already—with the Old Man and
Babbitt in the hospital. Anyhow, the _Rosy O’Grady_ won’t fly for a
long time after this battle is over. We’re free to do just about what
we please, aren’t we?”

“I get your point,” Barry answered with a grim smile. “You’re
suggesting that the six of us form a sort of guerrilla squad and bag a
few Japs on our own. Not a bad idea at all—if our squadron commander
agrees. Let’s get him alone now and see what he thinks about it.”

Captain Loomis was not yet thirty years old, and next to flying a
fighting ship he loved best a fight on the ground. His sympathy was
easy to enlist.

“I can’t give you boys official permission to join the ground attack,”
he told Barry and Curly, “but I won’t confine you to the post. If you
pick up some rifles and grenades and wander off into the woods, that’s
your affair. And I certainly wish you good hunting!”

“Thanks, Captain,” Barry replied as the two turned to leave. “If we
find a Samurai sword in the bush, we’ll bring it back to you for a

The two young lieutenants found the rest of the _Rosy’s_ crew at mess,
and passed them the word to rendezvous in their tent. When the six were
all together, Barry broached the plan.

“It’s better than sitting around and swatting mosquitoes,” he
concluded. “And we know that the fight for Grassy Ridge will be tough.
Six extra men might be quite a help.”

“You don’t have to sell us the idea, Lieutenant,” Fred Marmon spoke up.
“After two days of taking Jap shellfire we’re all spoiling for a chance
to dish it out. I know where we can get some hand grenades and
side-arms tonight.”

“I know where there’s a case of tommy-guns,” said Tony Romani. “We can
‘requisition’ them, so to speak, this afternoon. And plenty of ammo, of

“I’ll collect a few tin hats,” added Cracker Jackson, “and some iron
rations and water canteens. Reckon you-all didn’t think of them.”

Danny Hale rose to his feet and spread his big fingers.

“If I get near enough to one of those yellow snakes,” he said slowly,
“I’d like to match his jiu-jitsu tricks with an Apache wrestling hold.
Anyhow, the six of us ought to have a pretty good time before the
party’s over.”

Before supper the _Rosy O’Grady’s_ crew had collected a young arsenal
in their sleeping tent. It included bayonets and three sheath knives.
Fred Marmon had brought six suits of green coveralls to replace their
flying togs, and even some burnt cork to blacken their faces.

“We’ll have to fit a tin hat over that nice, clean bandage of yours,
Lieutenant Blake,” he said. “Anything white would draw Jap bullets like
a doggone magnet.... Look. If I set it on sidewise, like this, it
doesn’t hurt your wound.”

“That’s fine, Fred,” Barry agreed. “I’d be cooler without the thing,
but it _will_ turn bullets. We’re all going to have a lot more sympathy
for the infantry after this masquerade.”

The attacking troops set out as soon as the tropic night had shut down.
Barry Blake and his friends joined a platoon that was pushing and
slashing its way through the pitch-black jungle, with the help of a few
dimmed flashlights. The vine-laced growth was so dense that at high
noon only a green twilight would have penetrated it. Bayonets and
machetes made openings through the worst tangles. Thorn bushes fought
back, raking arms and legs mercilessly. Some of the advancing units
used compasses to keep them headed toward Grassy Ridge. A few of them
had the help of native guides. Most, however, followed the trails
opened by the advance guard.

The _Rosy’s_ crew took their turns with the machetes, cutting a path.
The work, in that hot-house temperature, was exhausting. At any rate,
the advancing troops had plenty of time. They reached the hill’s steep,
rocky base at about midnight.

Here the word was passed to rest for an hour. Mosquito headnets were
donned; emergency rations were opened. Weary, and sweating at every
pore, the men stretched themselves out in such level spaces as they
could find by groping on the damp ground.

Fred Marmon complained that the mosquitoes liked his blood better than
that of any man in the Army. He declared that more of them were
gathering from all over New Guinea, as the news spread.

“If they suck me to death,” he groaned, “dig a hole and bury my carcass
quick so it won’t draw any more of them. Enough of these flying siphons
could wipe out the whole company.”

Big Danny Hale also suffered aloud. He declared that the only
difference between New Guinea mosquitoes and Zero fighting planes was
that the bugs didn’t need an airfield. In size and poison, he insisted,
they were about equal.

At the end of the hour, word was passed to start climbing the lower,
wooded sides of the hill. This was to be a far slower and more cautious
task than the first few hours of the advance. The Japs were less than a
mile above them now. Not even dimmed flashlights would be permitted,
except in the hands of platoon leaders. All movements would be as slow
as a snail’s and, if possible, as silent.

By touch, and by occasional low whispers, the men kept in contact.
There were frequent halts, to let those behind catch up. Only the
knowledge that they were nearing the enemy, and would soon be charging
his positions, kept the soldiers’ nerves from exploding.

The last and hardest wait came at the edge of the bush, where the
coarse, four-foot-high grass began. Scouts had been sent out to locate
the Jap positions, so the soldiers’ “grapevine” reported. When they
returned, the troops were to move forward. If all went well they would
pounce upon their enemies in the first gray light of dawn. The Japs,
notoriously late sleepers when they did not expect an attack, would be
caught literally napping.

“It sounds fine,” Curly Levitt muttered in Barry’s ear. “But one little
mistake of ours could give those people warning. Wouldn’t it have been
safer to surround the Nips’ positions and rush them from all sides?”

“Possibly—in full daylight,” Barry whispered back. “But at dawn
there’s danger of shooting down our own troops by mistake. Our jungle
uniforms are enough like the Japs’ to fool you where the visibility is
low. You’ve given me an idea, though, Curly. If the rest of our crew
agree, we six might circle around to the enemy’s rear. We’re not under
orders, and we’d be taking our own risk.”

“Wait a minute while I crawl around and ask them,” the _Rosy’s_
navigator replied eagerly. “I think they’ll eat it up!”

Curly was right in his guess. The extra risks involved meant little to
the four Air Force sergeants. They would go where Barry Blake led, even
if it meant charging the whole Jap force with hand grenades.

Fortunately for their plan, the six “guerillas” were on the far right
wing of the attacking line. In the darkness their silent departure
would not be noticed. Keeping contact by touch alone, they crawled away
along the edge of the jungle.

The moon was now well up in the sky, silvering the long grass of the
hill-crest. Thus Barry could watch the lay of the land, while keeping
in the black shadow of the bush. On reaching the height of land, he

“There’s a rocky outcropping twenty yards from here,” he whispered to
Curly Levitt. “I’m going to crawl out to it and try to spot the Jap gun
positions.... They might give us a clue to the trenches our scout plane
reported the first day.”

Without waiting for Curly’s answer, Barry Blake wormed his way toward
the exposed outcrop. Reaching it, he inched his way to the highest
part. Now he had no protection except the dirty color of his jungle
suit. If a Jap sentry should catch his least movement, it would be just
too bad.

From the rocks he looked down on a sea of grass, broken by little
islands of brush and trees. No trenches appeared. They were either
cleverly camouflaged with grass, or else there were none near by. One
of the tree clumps, however, drew Barry’s especial interest. From where
he lay, a vaguely pagoda-like shape could be glimpsed protruding from
the shadows.

A Jap tent, draped with camouflage netting? It would be worth a risk to
discover the truth, Barry believed. Cautiously he crawled back to his

“We’ll proceed in single file, on hands and knees,” he told them.
“Stick a lot of grass in your helmet nets before you start. It’s nearly
dawn now, so we won’t have long to wait for the big fight to open.
Better take a good drink from your water canteens while you have a

A foot at a time they advanced, with little pauses. A sentry, had he
glimpsed the movement of their grass trimmed hats, might have taken it
for a passing breeze.

The light grew stronger. The clump of trees took more definite shape.
Now the guerillas could see clearly the angle of a large tent with its
protective netting. From within came snores in three or four different

“Officers’ tent!” Curly whispered. “Sentry must be asleep, too—if
there is one. What’ll we do now?”

“Get a little nearer; wait for the first shot of the main attack, and
then toss a couple of grenades apiece. That ought to put us into the
scrap with a bang.”

“Twelve bangs!” chuckled Curly. “Even one small bomb would do a better
job, though.”

Barry moved off in a different direction, to bring the open door of the
tent into full view. Five yards further on he stopped with a gasp. His
hand had slipped into a hole, beneath the grass roots.

Laying down his tommy-gun, Barry grasped the edge of the hole and
lifted. A whole section of the “ground” tilted up. Beneath it yawned
black emptiness.

“Here’s a trench!” he whispered over his shoulder to Curly. “It’s
covered with grass sods, laid on matting. Tell the boys to come on in.”

Feet first, he let himself down into the hole. It was only four feet
deep and very narrow. Evidently the Japs had dug it as a protection
against air attacks, but it could also be used for ground fighting. For
the guerillas’ purpose it was ideal.

At Barry’s orders, only three mats were removed—no more than could be
quickly replaced. In the opening all six men stood, waiting for
daylight and the first gun. Each held a grenade, as he faced the door
of the Jap Officers’ tent.

[Illustration: _“Here’s a Trench!” He Whispered Over His Shoulder_]

Their wait was not long, though to their tensed nerves it seemed hours.
From behind them a Jap sentry’s rifle shot was blanketed by the heavier
voices of American sub-machine guns. Shrill yells arose. The sharper
clatter of Jap .25-caliber machine guns joined the din.

Barry’s party needed no command to toss their deadly little
“pineapples.” Two apiece, they lobbed them right into the tent. Then
they ducked, pulling the grass mats over them.

The explosions came almost together—like a string of giant
firecrackers. A patter of debris sounded on the grass matting just over
their heads. Jap voices broke out, shrill with excitement, drawing
rapidly nearer.

Suddenly light showed, farther down the trench.

“They’re coming in!” Barry snapped. “Wait till they fill the trench,
and then rake ’em with the tommy-guns. Curly and I will lie down; the
rest of you kneel or stand and fire over us. Toss off the end mat at
the last minute.”

“Okay, Lieutenant—we’ll sure clean them out that way!” muttered Fred
Marmon. “That is, if nobody lobs a hand grenade into _this_ end of the

Evidently the Japs had no idea that the grenades that had wrecked the
tent might have come from the trench. They proceeded to take the
camouflage mats off methodically, moving up from the other end.

Barry lay on the very bottom, with Curly’s elbow digging him in the
ribs as he aimed his weapon. It was lighter now in their end of the

Taking a long breath, Barry pressed the trigger. The trench erupted
with fire and sound. He saw the Japs nearest him crumple like rag
dolls, one after another, down the trench. They never knew what hit

At the further end, however, the doomed men saw the licking gun-flames.
Some of them tried to return the fire—only to be riddled in the act.
The remainder started scrambling out of the death trap. Cracker Jackson
and big Danny Hale caught most of these, but not before one Jap had
lobbed a hand grenade.

The missile, hastily thrown, landed outside the trench, six feet from
Hale and Jackson. Without a split second’s hesitation, big Danny flung
himself upon the thing. In one motion he grabbed and flung it. The
grenade burst harmlessly, fifty feet away.

Now, however, bullets were humming over the slit trench. The Japs were
all outside.

“Down, men!” Barry Blake shouted at Danny and Cracker Jackson. “We’ve
got to hold this trench if we want to live.”

All of the shooting now came from the direction of the American
advance. The Japs between the attacking force and Barry’s trench were
keeping their heads down and their gun barrels hot. Their camouflaged
helmets offered difficult targets.

“Hold your fire until our boys blast them out of those trenches,” Barry
told his friends. “It won’t be long now. Then we can see what we’re
shooting at. Curly, suppose you face the other way and see that nobody


Barry broke off as a .25-caliber slug glanced off his helmet. The shock
of it hurt his old head-wound like a knife stab.

“I see the beggar!” yelped Curly. “He’s in that tree above the wrecked

The raving of his tommy-gun drowned out Levitt’s words. Tony Romani’s
weapon joined it, firing short bursts. Suddenly the shooting stopped.

“One more honorable sniper bites honorable dust,” chanted _Rosy
O’Grady’s_ navigator. “So solly!”

From concealment in patches of brush and trees the Jap field guns
started to fire. They were lobbing shells just over their trenches,
feeling for the Americans down the slope. Apparently some of the shells
landed close. Their result was simply to speed up the attack.

In a series of short rushes the two companies closed in on the
entrenched Japs. While some of them advanced the rest poured a hot fire
into the Jap positions. Then the foremost Americans started hurling
grenades. In a few minutes much of the fighting was hand to hand.
Howling like wolves, the boys from Montana, Ohio, and New York leaped
into the Jap front-line defenses and cleaned them out.

Fred Marmon and Cracker Jackson wanted to charge down the slope and
join that fight, but Barry forbade it.

“You’d probably be shot for Japs,” he told them. “And, anyhow, you’ll
be more useful here when the enemy starts to scatter.... Look there!
Isn’t that a bunch of ’em crawling out of a communication trench? Once
they reach the bush they’ll all turn into snipers. We’ll have to head
them off.”

The Fortress crew needed no urging. A fight in the open was more to
their taste than crouching in a trench, any day. This time, with big
Danny Hale in the lead, they ran, stooping, through the grass toward
the outcropping of rock.

They were within twenty feet of the enemy when the Japs realized that
they were Americans. The little men tried to shoot, but the Yanks were
too close. Swinging his tommy-gun like a war-club, big Danny Hale
closed the distance. He took a bullet through his thigh without feeling
it, and mowed down two Japs with one blow. His gun came to pieces, so
he dropped it and fought bare-handed.

Cracker Jackson was using his bayonet like a short sword—inside his
opponent’s guard. Fred Marmon was swaying in a knife duel with a third
enemy. Tony Romani, his sub-machine gun empty, was coolly picking his
shots with an automatic pistol.

Barry had shot two Japs and knocked out a third with his gun butt.
Without stopping to make sure of the last man, he turned to help Fred
Marmon. That was a mistake. A half-dead Jap is more dangerous than a
coiled cobra.

As Barry turned his back the dizzy son of Nippon clawed out a pistol
and fired. Fortunately for Barry the Jap’s aim was bad. The bullet
drilled through the calf of his right leg.

Tony Romani’s quick eyes caught the play. His pistol blazed twice. The
Jap stiffened out, his weapon sliding from his hand.

The nearest enemies were all accounted for, but a movement to the right
caught Barry’s eye.

“Down, boys!” he said sharply. “There’s another bunch coming out of the
communication trench. I’ll keep ’em busy while you reload your

Throwing himself down behind a small rock, Barry opened fire in
two-second bursts. He must halt the Jap retreat, and still conserve his
ammunition until the others had replaced their empty cartridge drums.

His strategy worked almost too well. The Jap officer leading the
retreat took Barry for a lone gunner, and decided to wipe him out at
once. Firing in short spurts, he led his thirty-odd men straight at the
outcropping of rocks.

Bullets pounded the stone behind which Barry lay. They glanced off with
wicked little screams. Once rock-dust got in Barry’s eye, half-blinding

“Make it snappy, fellows!” he warned through clenched teeth. “Our game
will be up in half a minute.”

“I beg to differ with you, Lieutenant,” Curly Levitt’s voice sounded at
his shoulder. “Just watch this!”

His tommy-gun spoke, just as the thirty Japs started their rush.
Barry’s weapon chimed in briefly, slamming its last bullet into the
officer’s midriff. The charging Japs flung themselves flat.

Barry rolled aside to make room behind his rock for Fred Marmon.
Sergeants Jackson and Romani had now finished reloading. They were
firing from the highest point of the rocks, raking the enemy
mercilessly. Quickly the Japs realized that to stay where they were
meant sure death. Behind them the Americans were mopping up the last

Barry had just joined Danny Hale in the shelter of a half-sunken
boulder. The big sergeant was trying to puzzle out the workings of a
captured Jap rifle. Suddenly he glanced up.

“Here they come, Lieutenant!” Danny Hale whooped. “No time to reload

Dropping his tommy-gun, Barry whipped out his bayonet. At Danny’s heels
he vaulted the boulder. The Japs who dived through the hail of
sub-machine gun bullets must be met with cold steel.

The shooting fizzled out. Now all the fighting was hand-to-hand. Barry
bayoneted a monkey-like figure who had leaped upon Fred Marmon’s back.
Turning, he glimpsed Danny Hale wielding his Jap rifle like a
pitchfork. Just in time, he leaped aside to dodge an enemy bayonet
thrust and grapple with the man.

He blocked a vicious kick with his knee, but his wounded leg gave way.
The next instant he was rolling on the ground, with the Jap’s buck
teeth snapping at his throat, and the Jap’s knife slashing his ribs.

Desperately he twisted aside and jabbed with his bayonet. His enemy
screeched and went limp.

Another mob of helmeted figures came bounding through the tall grass.
Barry heaved the dead Jap aside, and came up on one knee. Sweat stung
his eyes, blurring them. He gripped his bayonet for a last thrust.

“Hold it, man!” yelped a Yankee voice. “Don’t you know your friends?”

The newcomers were infantrymen, arriving just too late for the finish.
They had popped out of the communication trench and were looking for
more Japs. With them was a medical-corps man—the same one who had
attended Barry in the field dressing station. Seeing Barry’s new
wounds, he whipped out a hypodermic needle, and drove it home before
the young flier knew what was happening.

“You bonehead!” Barry cried. “I’m only scratched. Now you’ve fixed me
so I can’t carry on. There’s a lot of mopping up to do. Those Jap field

“We’ve plenty of men to take care of them, sir,” the corporal
interrupted. “If the Lieutenant will permit me to contradict him,
wounds two and three inches deep are hardly scratches. They need to be
stuffed with sulfa powder—not dirt. And besides that, sir, you’ve lost
a lot of blood.”

“Oh, have it your own way,” sighed Barry, as the swift-acting drug
began to take effect. “Got a drink of water handy? I’m thirsty as a
fried fish.”




Barry’s next impression was as startling as a vision of something
unearthly. A girl with big, blue eyes and a crisp white uniform, was
pushing something into his mouth. The thing was a thermometer.

“Who—where—whap happumed...?” Barry mumbled in bewilderment.

The blue-eyed vision touched her lips. A red-gold curl that had escaped
from her cap dangled as she shook her head. She took Barry’s wrist in a
light, expert grasp and compared his pulse-beats with her watch. The
seconds, it seemed to him, passed with agonizing slowness.

A glance about him showed a regular hospital ward. The beds were
occupied by young fellows dozing, reading, listening to the tuned-down
radio. This couldn’t be New Guinea! But where was it? And _how long_
was it since the Battle of Grassy Ridge, when that Jap had tried to
bite his throat, and....

“You’re in a base hospital in Queensland, Australia,” the nurse
murmured, just as if she had been reading his thoughts. “You have been
here for a week. As long as your fever continued you were kept under
the new sleeping drugs. I don’t think you’re very bright,
Lieutenant—getting into a second fight before your head wound had
started to heal. But your blood seems to fight germs as hard as you
fought the Japs. You’re disgustingly healthy.”

“And you’re distractingly beautiful, Lieutenant!” Barry retorted.
“Nevertheless, feasting my eyes on you doesn’t fill my empty stomach.
How about bringing me a T-bone steak—rare?”

The blue-eyed nurse made a face at him.

“All you deserve is a can of bully-beef,” she declared. “But I’ll see
what I can do.”

Barry’s steak turned out to be bacon and toast. At his groan of
disappointment, Nurse Stevens threatened to take it away. In fact,
Barry had to apologize and promise to make no more complaints before
she would let him eat anything.

Not many days passed, however, before Barry Blake was actually eating
steaks and calling Lieutenant Moira Stevens by her first name. He
started that on the first evening that she helped him to walk from the
ward to the canopied ramp that surrounded the hospital.

“Why won’t you tell me anything about Captain O’Grady?” he asked as she
took the deck chair beside him. “You admitted he was sent here from the
New Guinea airfield. If he’s dead, I’m well enough to stand the news
without bursting a blood vessel.”

Lieutenant Stevens turned her clear, steady gaze on Barry’s face.

“You think the world of Captain O’Grady, don’t you?” she murmured. “How
long did you know him before he was wounded?”

“Less than two weeks,” Barry Blake responded. “Somehow time doesn’t
count much with wartime friendships. It seems as if I’d known you for

A low laugh bubbled in the girl’s throat. It wasn’t a giggle—just a
good-humored, friendly chuckle. Lieutenant Moira Stevens rose several
points in Barry’s estimation because of it.

“I guess I can safely tell you the latest news about Captain O’Grady
now,” she said, changing the subject. “I heard the doctor say this
morning that he is out of danger. When you first came to your senses
the captain was just hanging between life and death. If I’d told you
the truth then, you might have worried yourself back into a fever.”

Barry did not speak. He gazed across the clearing at a row of tall
cocoanut palms. All at once the tropical night seemed very beautiful.

“So the Old Man is here—in this hospital,” he said at last. “When do
you think I might see him? I—I’d like to talk with him about _Sweet
Rosy O’Grady_ ... tell him she’s not beyond repair.”

“I’ll ask the medical officer in charge, Barry,” the girl promised, as
she rose to her feet. “Come, now! It’s time you were getting to bed.
Take my arm—that’s it—and we’ll go back to the ward.”

The following day Moira took Barry to see his Old Man for a
three-minute period. Captain O’Grady looked shockingly thin. His wide,
humorous mouth was drawn with lines of pain, but his blue eyes had the
same smile that Barry remembered.

“What brought you here, Barry?” he asked as he released his co-pilot’s
hand. “Another raid on Rabaul?”

“Nothing so pleasant,” Barry grinned. “The Japs raided our airport the
next night after you came to this hospital. The raid was a cover-up for
a landing of paratroops and field guns on a ridge above the field. I
got cut up a few days later helping to clean them out with tommy-guns
and grenades. All of _Rosy’s_ crew went along and had a great time.”

Captain O’Grady’s face sobered.

“I see,” he murmured. “The Jap guns had shot up the field so you
couldn’t get any planes off to bomb them. You boys were wrong, though.
You had no right to risk half a dozen highly trained Fortress men in a
land skirmish. Why did you do it?”

“That’s hardly a fair question, Captain!” Moira Stevens broke in.
“You’d have wanted to go yourself if you’d been there. Would you be
happy, sir, sitting in the shade of your plane while your friends were
fighting to save it for you?”

“Nurse Stevens,” the Old Man replied with a wry smile, “you’ve knocked
out all my guns. I’m completely at your mercy, and you know it.”

“In that case, sir,” Moira said, “Lieutenant Blake and I will leave you
to make the best landing you can.... Come along, Barry! Time is up.”

As she pulled the young co-pilot toward the door he turned for a last

“I’ll be back to see you again as soon as the nurse will let me,
Captain,” he said. “And, by the way sir, _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ is only
grounded until she can get repairs. I—er—thought you’d like to know.”

In his later conversations with the Old Man, nothing was ever said
about the Captain’s missing arm. They talked as though one of these
days would see him again at the wheel of a flying fort. But both men
knew that it was all talk. Before long Tex O’Grady would be back at
home in the States with the only person in the world that he loved
better than his warplane—sweet Mrs. O’Grady herself.

Six weeks from the day he came to the Queensland hospital, Barry Blake
received his new orders. He was to report at the new airplane repair
base immediately upon being discharged.

Barry was exultant. He demanded that Moira bring the medical officer in
charge to examine him at once. For the past week, he told her, he had
been feeling more like a prisoner than a patient—without even a
prisoner’s excuse for sticking around. Furthermore, he declared, a
certain blonde, blue-eyed lieutenant had been neglecting him shamefully.

[Illustration: “_I’ll Be Back as Soon as the Nurse Will Let Me._”]

Moira Stevens wrinkled her pretty nose at him.

“As a nurse I have no interest in perfect physical specimens,” she
replied. “Sick men are my job. But if you haven’t forgotten me when
this war is over, it might be fun to get together and compare notes.”

She flashed him a smile that took the chill out of her words.

“Hmmm!” murmured Barry as she swept out of the ward with a rustle of
starched uniform. “They don’t make ’em any finer than Lieutenant Moira
Stevens. And I mean, _definitely_!”

The colonel in charge gave Barry an examination that overlooked nothing.

“You’re fit for service, Lieutenant,” he said. “If you were my age,
you’d be in bed for another six weeks. Be thankful that nineteen years
heals just twice as fast as forty-five! Er—by the way—at eleven
thirty you will report to Captain O’Grady on the west ramp outside the
hospital. That is all.”

Barry had intended to see the Old Man before leaving, but being
_ordered_ to do so puzzled him. He glanced at his watch and saw that it
was already ten-thirty. He would have just comfortable time to shave,
dress, and check over his few personal effects that had been sent from
the New Guinea airport.

As he stepped out onto the west ramp, the sight of several “brass hats”
halted him in his tracks. A mere second lieutenant had no place in such
company! Then he glimpsed Captain O’Grady in a wheelchair, chatting
with the highest-ranking officer.

Barry glanced at the time—eleven-thirty. Recalling that he was there
by order of the colonel gave him courage. He waited until O’Grady
recognized him, then stepped forward and saluted.

“General Morse,” the captain said with grave formality, “this is
Lieutenant Barry Blake, who brought our crippled Fortress home after
the raid on Rabaul. Although wounded, he landed the plane under almost
impossible conditions, risking his own life to save mine!”

As in a dream, Barry found himself taking the general’s outstretched
hand. He tried to make some appropriate answer, but no words would
come. All at once he found himself the center of everyone’s attention.
General Morse was pinning something on his breast. In the background
the colonel and the brass hats were standing at attention—to honor

Barry caught his Old Man’s eye, and it steadied him. He saluted, met
the general’s handclasp, and stepped back. The tableau of high-ranking
officers broke up and passed on into the hospital.

“Sit down with me, son,” O’Grady invited him. “Moira Stevens will join
us in a few minutes for lunch. There’ll be just the three of us. You
don’t know how pleased I am, Barry, that I could be present to see you
decorated with the Purple Heart.”

Barry touched the bright medal wonderingly.

“I feel, somehow, as if it ought to belong to you, sir,” he answered.




Reporting for duty at the Queensland repair base, Barry ran into
surprises still more bewildering. The first was the news that he was
promoted to first lieutenant; the second, that he would be given
command immediately of a Flying Fortress. The ship and crew, he was
told, were now waiting for him on the runway.

Wondering if it were all some crazy delusion, Barry hurried to the
airport. For a moment it seemed that he must be back in Seattle,
looking at _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ for the first time. For there she sat,
with her inboard props turning slowly in the sun, and her name painted
clear on the fuselage.

There was even a tall, wide-shouldered figure in flying togs, leaning
against the plane’s tail. He looked like Captain O’Grady from a
distance. But he couldn’t be!

Barry wiped his hand across his eyes, and walked toward the ship. The
tall fellow looked up. He wasn’t the Old Man—he was _Hap Newton_!

Hap let out a whoop like a locomotive and charged down upon Barry
Blake. The two friends proceeded to do a war-dance, bombarding each
other with questions. The surprise was entirely mutual. Hap had been
based in another part of the South Pacific until recently. His B-26
Marauder had run out of gas near the northern tip of Queensland one
night, and its crew had bailed out. Only Hap and the bombardier-gunner
had made shore. Just this morning Hap had been assigned to the _Rosy
O’Grady_ as co-pilot.

“And now _you_ are my skipper!” he exclaimed. “It’s such a wild
coincidence that I can’t believe it yet.... But just wait, Barry—the
shocks aren’t over. Step inside and meet the rest of us.”

Barry turned to the open hatch, but he had no chance to enter. Men were
boiling out of it as if the ship were too hot for them. In five seconds
they were all around him. Fred Marmon, Cracker Jackson, Tony Romani,
Curly Levitt, and Soapy Babbitt, with his broken shoulder still a
little stiff, but useable.

“Where’s Danny Hale?” Barry asked, the moment they gave him a chance to

Silence, as stunning as a blow, answered him. Barry’s face went white.

“Tell me, boys,” he muttered through stiff lips. “You—you mean that
Danny—that he....”

“He got transferred, Barry,” Curly Levitt said quietly. “It was just
after the medical-corps men carried you back to the dressing station on
Grassy Ridge. A bunch of us were trying to capture a Jap field gun. We
ducked into a slit trench and started tossing hand grenades, but the
Japs chucked them right back at us before they could explode. One
landed in our trench. Danny covered it to protect the rest of us—and
just then it went off.”

“Thanks, Curly,” Barry said in a choked voice. “Sorry my question
brought it all back to you. It—it _is_ easier, somehow, to think of
Danny as simply transferred.... Have they sent us a bombardier yet?”

“They sent him—such as he is!” replied a strangely familiar voice.

Barry jumped as if he had been shot. Through the hatchway dropped a
small, bandy-legged man whose short blonde hair bristled like the fuzz
of a newly hatched duckling.

“Chick Enders!” Barry cried, making a grab for his old friend. “How did
you get _here_?”

“The same way Hap Newton did,” answered Chick, grinning from ear to
ear. “I was the bombardier who bailed out with him from the B-26.”

“Boys,” said Barry Blake, turning to face his crew, “I know that in a
few seconds I’m going to wake up and find myself back in my little
hospital bed. The sawbones will be looking solemn and saying: ‘That
chunk of shrapnel went deeper than we thought. It’s affected his

He cuffed back his hat and laughed.

“It’s too good to be true, finding you all here—and _Sweet Rosy
O’Grady_ too! I’m going to say hello to her before she vanishes in a
pink fog, or something!”

Understanding chuckles followed him as he dived into _Rosy’s_ open

“We’ll leave him alone with her for a few minutes,” Curly Levitt
suggested. “Mess call is about due. Lieutenant Enders can wait here to
show the Old Man to his quarters.”

It was past midnight before _Rosy’s_ crew talked themselves out and
fell asleep. In the morning, Barry reported for orders. He learned that
his new battlefront base was to be another jungle airport, farther west
along the New Guinea coast. They would fly the shortest route across
the island’s central mountain range, and carry a full load of bombs.

“Not much excitement on the way,” Fred Marmon commented; as the crew
headed toward their waiting ship. “There’s nothing in the interior but
mountains and jungles and wild men. Even the Japs steer clear of it,
they tell me!”

“You’ll have plenty of excitement once we reach the northern coast,
Fred,” Barry told him. “The Japs have been punching back hard at our
new airports. They realize that, given enough bases for a big air
offensive, we can push them right out of the East Indies. They can’t
keep backing up forever, and keep any ‘face’ with their people at home.”

_Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ took off as smoothly as she had on her maiden
flight. Except for the patched places in her aluminum skin, there was
little to show that she was not a new ship.

“As a matter of fact, she’s better than new, Lieutenant,” Fred Marmon
declared. “She’s been battle-tested. Every part of her, except these
new engines, has stood up under the worst strains. She won’t fail us,
no matter what we ask of her.”

“They patched her up in New Guinea—enough to fly her back to this
Queensland repair base,” Curly Levitt explained. “Here they gave her a
complete overhauling. Most of her replaced parts came from other
wrecked ships—”

“Like Hap and me!” spoke up Chick Enders.

“Yes, you’re battle-tested, too,” Barry laughed. “By the way, did
either of you hear or see anything of our old messmate, Glenn Crayle?
After all the surprises of the past twenty-four hours, I wouldn’t be
surprised to see him waiting for us at the new airport. Would you, Hap?”

“Aw, don’t talk about it, Barry,” his big co-pilot replied. “I wouldn’t
be surprised, either, but I’d be pretty doggoned sore. The sight of
that mister would sour my stomach for the duration.”

“Mine, too—unless he’s toned down a lot,” agreed Chick. “This war does
queer things to people. It may have let the wind out of Crayle and
showed him that he wasn’t such a hot pilot as he thought. I hope so,

“I believe you’ve got hopes for Hirohito, too,” Hap Newton scoffed.
“Let’s forget Crayle until he does show up—and I hope that event will
be a long, long time away!”

The blue expanse of Torres Strait now showed beyond the green of Cape
York. For an hour the Fortress hung above it at six thousand feet.
Then, almost before her crew realized the change, the high grasslands
of New Guinea were sweeping beneath her belly. Far to the east lay the
Gulf of Papua, with a mass of cumulus clouds tumbling above it. Ahead
rose the island’s mountainous backbone.

“Let’s fly a little lower, Barry,” Chick Enders said. “You won’t have
to start climbing over the central range for half an hour. I’d like to
get a look at one of these native villages, and give the local
hillbillies a thrill at the same time.”

“All right, Chick,” Barry replied. “But we won’t do any hedgehopping
with a quarter of a million dollars worth of Fortress. If the air isn’t
bumpy I might take _Rosy_ down to five hundred feet—when and if you
spot a thatch-roofed metropolis.”

“Don’t try to thrill ’em by dropping an egg on the town pump,” said Hap
Newton. “General MacArthur has caused the word to be spread among the
tribesmen that United Nations airmen are their friends. We wouldn’t
want to give them the wrong impression.”

“I wonder how many New Guinea wild men could tell the Jap ‘rising sun’
from our insignia,” Chick remarked, “even if they were near enough
to—oh-oh! Look, Barry! Straight ahead on that little grassy plateau
... don’t those patches look like native gardens to you?”

By way of answer, Barry eased the wheel forward. In a long, flat dive
_Rosy O’Grady_ roared down toward the plateau. Moment by moment the
tiny squares and oblongs of different colors took the shape of
cultivated gardens. Near by appeared a few loaf-shaped native houses.

“There’s your village!” Barry exclaimed. “Looks like a busy place, too.
They’re clearing more grassland for garden space, if I’m not mistaken.”

Looking down through the plastiglass of the big bomber’s nose, her crew
could distinguish twenty or thirty human figures at one end of the
cultivated section. Suddenly the natives stopped gaping at the diving
plane. They ran for cover.

“We’re wowing ’em, all right,” whooped Hap Newton. “Just see those
grass skirts scatter! You ought to be ashamed of scaring the ladies
this way, Barry!”

“They’ll have something to talk about for a month at least,” laughed
the _Rosy’s_ skipper, as he pulled back on the wheel. “Are you
satisfied with this glimpse you’ve had of native culture, Chick?”

“Not by a long shot!” the homely bombardier replied. “I wish you’d turn
back for another look, Barry. There’s something blamed queer about that
village. Several things, to be truthful.”

There was a grim note in Chick’s voice that Barry recognized. His
bombardier was in deadly earnest.

“Okay,” he said shortly. “Slap on the coal, Hap. We’re going back for
another look-see. What was it that struck you as queer, Chick?”

“Since when do _men_ wear grass skirts, or New Guinea women wear their
hair clipped short?” Chick responded. “I had a better view here in the
nose than the rest of you did. I’ll swear to what I saw. And, while
we’re asking questions, will somebody tell me when the natives of this
country became _market gardeners_? There’s enough cultivated land
around those dozen thatched huts to supply food for ten villages....
Look down now and tell me what you think of it!”

For wordless moments every man in the cockpit gazed at the orderly
patchwork of little fields below. Suddenly Barry grasped the truth.

“Look at the pattern down there, Hap!” he exclaimed. “They’ve broken it
up pretty cleverly with camouflage, but the cleared place is L-shaped.
If that isn’t an airport I’m cockeyed.”

“Then those birds in grass skirts—” Curly Levitt’s voice gasped
through the interphone.

“—were _Japs_!” Chick Enders finished the sentence. “Go as low as you
dare, Barry, and see what else we can spot.”

“Man all the guns!” Barry’s order crackled in the headsets. “Cracker,
be ready to strafe any antiaircraft before they can pot us....”

He broke off as the white lines of tracer bullets streaked upward from
a patch of bushes at one side of the field. Other guns opened fire.

Small bullet holes appeared suddenly in the bomber’s fuselage and
wings. But four of _Rosy’s_ .50-caliber machine guns were talking
back—the twin weapons of her bottom and tail turrets. Seconds later
she had swept out of range.

“Well, whaddyuh know about that?” Hap Newton blurted. “New Guinea
Gardens Grow Grass-skirted Gunners. Who’d ever believe that headline?”

“Why didn’t they throw any flak at us?” Curly Levitt asked. “A field as
big as that ought to be protected by more than machine gun fire.”

“The airport isn’t completed yet,” Barry pointed out. “The Japs
probably haven’t had a chance to bring in heavier installations. There
wasn’t even a camouflaged plane in sight—nothing but those steel-mat
runways dressed up to look like vegetable gardens. Of course it’s
possible that there were some bigger guns but no time to man them,
before we were past.”

“It’s worth risking them to give the field a thorough pasting,” Chick
Enders said. “Let’s go back at about five thousand and give it every
bomb in our racks.”

No shellfire greeted them as they made their run over the Jap airfield.
Even the machine guns were silent. The grass-skirted gun-crews were
fleeing through the surrounding grass and scrub like scared rabbits
when the first stick of bombs whistled down.

They left the runways looking like a raw, black wound in the earth,
with a thick cloud of dust hanging over it. All their bombs had struck
with the accuracy of rifle bullets, five-hundred-pounders that flung
the twisted steel matting high in the air.

“Get the exact position of this spot, Curly,” Barry Blake said, as he
climbed into the hot blue sky. “The sons of Nippon won’t be using their
little mountain playground as long as our fliers can keep an eye on it.”

“That’s right,” agreed the _Rosy’s_ navigator. “We’ve wiped out an air
base from which the Nips could have raided Queensland, Port Moresby,
and any of our northeast airports with equal ease. And we’ve discovered
some of their latest tricks of camouflage, thanks to Chick Enders.
Headquarters will be glad to know about it.”

For the rest of the trip _Rosy O’Grady’s_ pilots and bombardier kept
their eyes peeled for suspicious looking “market gardens,” but none
appeared. An hour after they crossed the height of land the ocean was
again in sight. Soapy Babbitt contacted their new airport on the Mau
River and received the answer to come in.

As the field came in sight, Barry noted that it was scooped out of the
tropical forest, not far from the sea. A United Nations transport
vessel lay just beyond the beach. It was unloading by means of
lighters. In this manner the new airdromes all up and down the coast
would be quickly furnished with equipment and defenses. The danger, of
course, was that the Japs might send warships to shell the fields at
night. They might even land troops a short march from the field itself.

All this passed through Barry’s mind as he circled for a landing. He
had experienced one shelling from warships, and a worse one from
air-borne artillery. No base, he decided, was safe from a sneak attack.
In any war the main strategy must be to “dish it out” to the enemy in
heavier quantities than he could return.




No familiar faces greeted _Rosy O’Grady’s_ crew at the Mau River
airport. A new bomber command was based there. Three more forts, Barry
learned, were due to join it within the week. Until they arrived there
would be no mass raids on enemy targets.

_Rosy’s_ first job was a reconnaissance flight to the northwest. There
had been signs of enemy concentration among the islands west of Point
D’Urville. Headquarters wanted to learn what it meant.

_Rosy O’Grady_ took off with the first faint dawn light. Her bomb racks
were full. In addition, she carried a few score of four-pound
incendiary bombs. She was “loaded for bear,” and eager for a fight.

At 10,000 feet, Barry Blake turned westward. As they flew along the
coast, the gunners in the top and tail turrets watched the sky for Jap
planes. The pilots and the bombardier scanned air and sea ahead.
Suddenly Chick Enders leaned forward on his perch in the nose, with a
shout of discovery.

“What do you see now, bombardier?” Barry asked. “Some more grass

Chick Enders ignored the gibe.

“Look at that little island, just offshore,” he said sharply. “There’s
a white streak stretching north from it, like the wake of a ship.”

“It is, at that!” cried Hap Newton. “A boat of some kind must have put
into a hidden cove there.”

“That island isn’t big enough to shelter any vessel that could make
such a wide wake,” Barry Blake declared. “Could the island itself be
moving, Chick?”

“It is!” the _Rosy’s_ bombardier yelped. “The thing is a Jap vessel
camouflaged with palm fronds. Give me a run on it, Skipper ... _now_!”

Barry’s touch on the controls did not shift. Without altering its
course by a single point the flying fort kept straight on up the coast.

Chick groaned.

“Why did you pass up such a chance, Barry?” he asked. “We could have
laid an egg right in the middle of that floating brush heap.”

“Two reasons,” the young skipper replied. “First, there are four ships
at least in that floating island, and two or more may be cruisers.
Splitting their formation would only prolong the job.... Second, I want
a better look at their scheme of camouflage before we blow it to
pieces.... Sergeant Babbitt, you will radio the airport what we have
seen, and say that we are about to attack.”

He swung the Fortress a few points to the left and nosed down.

“Tail gunner from pilot:” he said through the interphone. “Let me know
as soon as that fake island is out of sight.”

A few minutes later Tony Romani’s voice came through.

“Pilot from tail gunner: Floating island has dropped below the bulge of
the coastline.... Are we going back, sir?”

“Right now, Tony!” the skipper told him.

Keeping the land mass of New Guinea between him and the Jap vessels,
Barry turned his plane around. Lower and lower he took her, until
_Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ was skimming only a few hundred feet above the
sea. Tree tops nearly grazed her belly turret as she swept over a blunt
headland, into sight of the camouflaged ships.

“We’re going over ’em at two thousand feet, Chick,” Barry warned. “Be
ready to drop a whole stick of bombs on the target.”

“Look!” yelled Hap Newton. “There’s a swarm of landing barges between
the fake island and the shore. They’re crammed with Jap troops.”

“We’ll take care of them later,” Barry said grimly. “Here we go,

“Roger!” Chick’s answer came back ... and an instant later: “Bombs

Hard upon his words came the blast—a multiple explosion so terrific
that it tossed the great Fortress like a feather. Later her crew found
that it had torn all the fabric off her ailerons and elevators.

Barry climbed his ship, and came back. There was no more “floating
island”—only three burning Jap transports and the two broken halves of
a fourth, just settling into the waves.

A puff of smoke blossomed just beyond _Rosy O’Grady’s_ right wing-tip;
another, to the left and rear. The gun crews of the stricken transports
were only now reaching their weapons. _Rosy’s_ sudden re-appearance,
close at hand, had taken them entirely by surprise.

Barry Blake swung his ship shoreward and nosed down.

“We’ll risk the shell-fire,” he said briefly. “Our first job is to
destroy those Japs landing on the beach. Be ready to fire all guns.”

At a thousand feet the big bomber roared between the burning ships and
the shore. Her nose and tail and belly turrets spat .50-caliber death.
Beneath her the Jap soldiers in thirty landing barges fired their
rifles upward in frantic reply. Through the side gun-port Fred Marmon
hosed lead at the deck of the nearest transport.

Twice more the flying fort swept back over the same course. Shells from
the Jap ships missed her narrowly. Some of the bursting antiaircraft
fragments struck her fuselage and rudder. But the Jap landing force was
practically wiped out.

Sinking barges drifted aimlessly, filled with dead men. Some of the
soldiers jumped overboard, only to die in the water. Curly Levitt with
his side-gun mowed down the one bargeful that made the beach.

After that run, Barry did not turn his ship until well beyond the range
of Jap shell fire. At ten thousand feet he swung back. The three Jap
transports were much farther apart. The nearest one was drifting and
burning more fiercely than ever. The others were zig-zagging.

A sudden sheet of flame shot up from the drifting vessel. In a space of
seconds her superstructure went to pieces.

“She’s done for,” Chick Enders said. “Give me a run on the farthest
one, Skipper. I’ll try to drop an egg right down her stack.”

“Hap and I will do what we can to help you,” Barry answered, “at ten
thousand feet. We have those last two ships in the bag. There’s no need
to risk _Rosy O’Grady_ at point-blank range.”

Chick’s first attempt was a near miss—the Jap helmsman was too good at
dodging. On his run over the second transport he scored a hit. The
five-hundred-pound bomb struck her stern, crippling her steering gear.

“Nice work, bombardier!” Barry applauded. “Now we can concentrate on
the last target.”

A shell burst from the stricken craft slammed chunks of jagged metal
through _Rosy’s_ tail assembly. The big bomber lurched.

“Tail gunner from pilot:” Barry spoke into the phone. “Are you all

“That flak missed the turret, sir,” Tony Romani answered. “But I can
see daylight through the fuselage just behind me.”

“The rudder and elevators still work,” Barry told his crew. “That’s as
near a hit as I want, though. Let’s get this job done.”

On his next run Chick Enders accomplished the nearly-impossible. His
bomb plunged down the transport’s stack and exploded in her bowels. The
Jap ship simply crumpled up and sank, like an old tin can.

The one ship left afloat was burning fiercely from stem to stern. No
boats or barges had been lowered. Those Japs who had survived the
flames were now swimming in the shark-infested water.

“Here come three of our forts from Mau River!” Hap Newton cried,
pointing to the east. “Boy! Will they be sore when they see what we’ve

“Just a few bones on a broken platter!” Barry exulted. “We had all the
cold turkey and cranberry sauce. Switch over to the radio and let’s
hear what they’re saying, Soapy!”

Few of the other crew’s comments were cheerful, but Barry soothed their

“You might possibly find a force of Jap warships farther up the coast,
sir,” he told the commanding officer, Major Browne. “My guess is that
they were landing troops for a night attack on our airport. In that
case they’d be expecting some naval units to come after dark and
‘soften up’ the field for them with shell fire.”

“That’s good reasoning, Lieutenant Blake,” the major agreed. “We’ll
search the coast toward Point D’Urville. _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ looks to
me as if she needs a little patching before she goes hunting more

“_Rosy_ needs bombs, too,” Chick Enders remarked, as they headed for
home. “She’s had a pretty good day’s hunting, even if she didn’t finish
her patrol. By the way—how do you think those Japs rigged their
camouflage, Skipper?”

“With rope nets, I’d say,” Barry replied. “I noticed some of the stuff
drifting alongside the ships, after the first bombs struck them. I
think they strung their nets over the masts and superstructures and
fastened the tops of jungle trees to them. They used bushes to cover
the sides. The one thing they couldn’t hide was the ship’s wake.”

“They’d planned to have all their troops ashore a little after
sunrise,” Curly Levitt put in. “If we hadn’t come along, they would
have left a force here strong enough to take over our airfield and
perhaps two or three more.”

Five minutes after landing, Barry Blake and his crew were making their
report to the officer in command of the airport, Colonel Bullock.

“You men have written a great page in Fortress history today,” the
officer declared when they had finished. “Four transports and thousands
of enemy troops sent to the bottom within a few minutes! That would
have been a nice bag of game for a whole squadron. I have an idea that
decorations will be coming to all of you for this feat. You’ve earned a
few days’ rest, too, but I’m afraid you won’t get it.”

“We shan’t mind that, sir,” Barry said with a smile. “We like action
better than sitting around and fighting mosquitoes. Is there some
special mission for us?”

Colonel Bullock’s gaze shifted to the slice of blue sky framed in the
tent door.

“No, not yet,” he replied, frowning. “But the enemy is massing his
strength for another big land, sea, and air attack. Our steady gains in
the South Pacific have cost him too much. He is due to strike back,

There was a brief silence. Glancing at his crew, Barry saw their faces
tighten with eagerness.

“The sooner they come the better, sir—so far as we’re concerned,” he

The colonel rose to his feet, smiling.

“That spirit will win this war for us, son,” he said. “It’s won every
war we Americans have fought. But here at Mau River we’re still short
of planes and men. I shall see to it personally that _Sweet Rosy
O’Grady’s_ repairs are rushed through. In a day or two we may need




Three days passed without news of any Jap naval maneuvers. That was not
surprising, for the weather was frightful. The regular bombing runs
from Henderson Field to Rabaul and Gasmata had been called off because
of it. Two reconnaissance planes were missing—probably wrecked by
those unspeakably fierce South Pacific squalls. It seemed unlikely that
enemy warships would be out.

Nevertheless, Colonel Bullock was nervous.

“The Japs have used bad weather as a screen for their movements before
now,” he pointed out to Barry Blake. “If they wanted to risk getting
off course and piling up on a reef, they could sneak up within striking
distance of this coast, and land their troops when the fog lifts.”

“_Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ is ready to take off the minute you give
permission, sir,” Barry responded. “We’ll gladly take the chance of
running into a squall. All of us would rather be upstairs fighting the
weather than stewing in our own juice down here.”

The colonel met Barry’s eyes, and grinned.

“You mean you’d risk anything for a chance to bomb the Japs,” he
chuckled. “All right, Blake! You can take off at dawn tomorrow, wind or
no wind. Head eastward toward Rabaul, then swing around by the
Admiralty Islands. The Japs might even send a convoy from Truk, their
big base to the north.”

_Rosy O’Grady’s_ crew was jubilant when they heard the order. The fog,
the bugs, the everlasting sticky heat of Mau River made idleness a
torture. That night they crawled under their mosquito bars and fell
sound asleep without the usual “bull session” of complaints.

The fog had lifted a little when they finished their pre-dawn breakfast
and headed for the runway. _Rosy’s_ four engines were whooping it up as
the greaseballs warmed them.

“That’s real music!” Fred Marmon shouted to Barry. “If they run as
sweetly as that today, no storm’s going to worry us.”

“She’s bombed up. I saw to that last night,” said Chick Enders at
Barry’s elbow. “They’re all half-ton babies. If we should spot a Jap
convoy, we’ll be set to slam it.”

“If!” repeated Curly Levitt, the navigator. “It’s a pretty big ‘if,’
even granting that there is a convoy at sea. There won’t be many holes
in this cloud ceiling, I’m afraid....”

His voice faded out beneath the thunder of five thousand horses, as
_Rosy O’Grady_ strained at her braked wheels. The engine roar died down
suddenly, a moment later, and the mechanics slid out of the hatch. The
sergeant in charge made a circle with his thumb and finger, indicating
“Okay!” Barry Blake nodded, and plunged into _Rosy’s_ dim interior.

The runway was a vaguely lighter strip down the center of the field as
they took off. It dropped away, as lightly as a streak of fog. Hap
Newton touched the lever that raised the wheels. Suddenly the
blanketing mist closed them in completely.

For the first hour Barry flew by instruments. Then, just off the
western tip of New Britain, the air about them cleared. No loom of
Arabia ever wove such gorgeous colors as the rising sun now spread over
the cloud rug below _Rosy’s_ broad wings. Among deep blue shadows the
rolling vapors gleamed with gold and pink.

In the bomber’s transparent nose, Chick Enders gazed at the scene,

“Fellows,” he said in a voice of wonder. “That’s a sight worth any
flier’s life. It’s Heaven’s art work, fresh from the hand of God!”

Nobody else spoke. Chick Enders had expressed the feeling of every man
in the plane who had a view of the colors below. Soon, however, the
cloud painting changed, the gold growing whiter and more brilliant, the
blue and pink fading out.

Fifty miles farther on a gap appeared, and through it the white-capped
ocean. For nearly an hour the water remained in sight. A hundred miles
from Rabaul the ceiling closed again, and Barry turned his Fortress
back on the second leg of a big triangle.

No more breaks appeared until they were halfway to the Admiralty
Islands. Here the clouds were higher, with small gaps in them that
opened and closed as the winds whipped the masses of vapor along. Below
them the ceiling seemed to be several hundred feet above the sea.

“I’m going down, Hap,” Barry Blake announced. “We won’t be able to see
as far as we’d like to, but we’re doing no good up here above the
ceiling. Besides, I have a hunch....”

“Play it, then,” Hap Newton advised. “In this game a bit of a hunch is
sometimes worth a barrel of reasoning. Chick, be ready with that
bombsight! We might come out right over a Jap battlewagon!”

The bomber sank through the fluffy cloud mass like a swooping eagle.
For a moment her pilots could see nothing outside. Barry kept his eyes
glued to the altimeter: a thousand feet, nine hundred, eight
hundred—Suddenly they were through, with the rolling ocean so near
that its white-topped waves seemed to reach up for them.

Hastily Barry pulled out of his shallow dive, and climbed for the
clouds. His hunch had been right, as the shouts of Hap Newton and Chick
attested. Spread out over a twenty mile area were a dozen large vessels.

“The Jap convoy!” Hap cried. “No doubt about it—they’re heading
southwest toward New Guinea. Let’s give ’em all we’ve got—”


The blast of a small-caliber shell inside _Rosy’s_ fuselage shocked her
crew into grim alertness. Two seconds later her top turret guns
chattered. Empty shell cases tumbled smoking to the floor behind Barry,
as he zoomed the Fortress into the nearest mass of clouds.

“Where is he, Soapy?” the young pilot asked through clenched teeth.

“Right on the other side of this cloud, last I saw of him,” replied the
radioman-gunner. “He’s a big Jap twin-float bomber ... looks like an
_Aichi_ T98.”

“Two 20-mm. cannon and four fixed wing guns,” stated Barry, recalling
what he had learned of the T98’s armament. “Unless he gets in some
lucky shots our .50-calibers ought to be a match for him. We’re going
after that baby, and blast him out of the air!”

The broken clouds opened out suddenly, revealing the two planes flying
almost abreast, and barely a stone’s throw apart. They opened fire
together. Now it was _Rosy O’Grady’s_ full broadside that came into
play—nose, tail and side guns, spitting bullets that could chew chunks
out of railroad tracks.

Rows of holes like stitching appeared here and there in the _Aichi’s_
fuselage, but the “greenhouse” of the Jap plane appeared bulletproof.
_Rosy’s_ slugs struck it and bounced away at right angles. Inside could
be seen the Jap gunners, hunched over their weapons, their faces drawn
and tense. Smoke drifted from the hot muzzles of their cannon.

_Rosy O’Grady_ was taking punishment. Her fin and rudder looked like a
slice of Swiss cheese. Shell holes gaped in her fuselage. Shell
fragments were whizzing about her interior—thin, jagged bits of steel
with cutting edges. Every gunner was nicked and bleeding, yet all stuck
by their guns.

The Jap was catching plenty of trouble, too. His left hand engine was
smoking, and his forward cannon appeared to be damaged or jammed. He
made a swift, left hand turn, trying to escape _Rosy’s_ broadside.

Barry saw the _Aichi’s_ play, and countered it. The huge Fortress
seemed to pivot inside the Jap’s half circle. The strain of that sudden
turn would have broken anything but a fighter or a Fortress in two, but
_Rosy_ took it. Her deadly broadside kept hammering the now-frightened

The _Aichi_ nosed up, disappearing behind a long streak of cloud. The
shuddering racket of _Rosy’s_ .50-calibers stopped. Barry Blake wiped
the blood off his forehead, where a ricocheting shell fragment had cut
him. He winked at Hap Newton, who smiled back despite a sliced cheek.

“Ball turret from pilot,” he said into the interphone. “Watch out for a
trick. That Jap might try to dive below us and rip at our belly....
_There he goes now!_.”

[Illustration: _Shell Fragments Whizzed About the Plane’s Interior_]

“I see him, sir!” said Cracker Jackson, as his bottom guns opened up.

Barry shoved the wheel forward sharply, diving after the Jap. Smoke
from the _Aichi’s_ left engine was drifting back to blend with the
powder smoke of her rear cannon. A shell slammed into Chick Enders’
left gun with a crack that resounded through the plane.

Chick lost balance as Barry pulled out of the dive, barely two hundred
feet above the water. The little bombardier shook his numbed fingers,
grabbed the right-hand machine gun and swung it broadside. Again the
two planes were flying side by side, but the Jap was licked.

Flame burst from his crippled engine. A front panel of his “greenhouse”
collapsed. He swerved wildly, nosed downward, and struck the water with
a terrific splash.

Barry zoomed his ship as steeply as he dared. In that last minute of
dogfighting he had flown within two thousand yards of a Jap cruiser.
Tracer shells from the warship were streaking the air about him.

In a tight climbing turn the big Fortress dodged, heading for the
protecting overcast of clouds. If one of those five-inch naval shells
hit her, she would be a dead duck, and every man aboard her knew it.

Chick Enders was not satisfied with mere escape. He turned to his pilot
with a pleading expression.

“Give me one crack at that warship, Barry,” he begged. “What’s the use
of coming out with a full bomb load if we’ve got to take it all back?”

Barry banked his plane, and climbed again. The clouds enfolded the
battle-torn Fortress like soft fleece.

“All right, Chick,” he consented. “I’ll give you a crack at something,
but not when they’ve got us pinned to the wall. It’s more important to
get the report of this convoy back to headquarters than to sink a ship.
Soapy, get on the air and let me talk to the base.”

Circling at reduced speed within the sheltering cloud blanket, Barry
radioed a brief report of the convoy’s location, direction, and
probable size.

“Shot down twin-float _Aichi_ T98 that attacked us,” he concluded.
“We’re going back to leave a few calling cards on the Jap’s decks.”

Roaring down through the ceiling, Barry spotted the circle of flame
that still marked the grave of the _Aichi_. Two vessels of the convoy
were steaming past it on either side. The nearer was a big,
troop-carrying destroyer. The farther was a cargo vessel of six
thousand tons.

“We’ll take the destroyer first,” yelped Chick Enders, cuddling his

They were so near that the Jap gunners had no time to swing their
heavier guns. The shots that they aimed flew wild. Already the
destroyer’s deck was almost beneath. From stern to bow _Rosy O’Grady’s_
shadow swept over the doomed warship.

The thousand-pound bomb went through her deck as through paper, and
exploded in her bowels. The destroyer broke in two, spewing into the
waves shapeless things that had been men and machinery.

“Now for that cargo tub!” cried Chick, his voice high pitched with

Barry banked around and came at the Jap freighter head-on. It was a
dangerous maneuver, for a cruiser scarcely a mile away had opened fire.
Flak was coming near enough to make the air bumpy, and there was no
chance to dodge while making a bombing run. Barry hugged tight to the
ceiling at a scant thousand feet.

“I’ll go over at eight hundred, Chick,” he said quickly. “They’re
shooting too close.”

Before he had finished speaking, Chick’s fingers were busy at the
bombsight’s knobs, compensating for the intended drop. The Fortress
dipped abruptly. The freighter’s deck flashed beneath. Two hundred feet
above, the cruiser’s shells burst—where _Rosy_ would have been, had
not Barry changed his altitude at the right instant.

The shock of them was almost simultaneous with the wallop of the bomb
blast. Chick had laid his half-ton “egg” on the freighter’s stern,
blowing it clean off. As the vessel settled in the water a column of
smoke and flame poured upward from the torn deck.

“Good boy, Chick!” said Barry quietly. “And now we’ll take that
somewhat despised but highly appropriate action known as _scramming_.
The whole task force will be gunning for us now—not to mention
whatever planes the Jap cruiser may try to launch.”

Hap Newton turned and waved mockingly astern.

“Don’t worry, Tojo—we’ll be back, with plenty of company,” he said.
“You’re going to be honorable shark-meat about twenty-four hours from

_Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ plunged into the clouds and leveled off for Mau
River, three hundred miles away. The wet mist whipped through her
gaping wounds. The torn edges of her metal skin hummed and shrieked in
the wind, but her four mighty engines thundered in unbroken harmony.
She was still fit to fight.

“Speaking of shark-meat,” Fred Marmon’s voice came over the interphone,
“would somebody be kind enough to slap a bandage on my back? It feels
like a cubed steak.”

“I’ll do it, Fred, if you’ll tie up my right shoulder,” Curly Levitt
responded. “I’ve got the first-aid kit here.... Anybody else need
patching up?”

“My ear feels like something the cat brought in,” came Tony Romani’s
voice from the tail turret. “I think there’s some shrapnel sticking in
my ribs, too, but that can wait. You fellows fix yourselves up first.”

All of the crew had some wounds, but none of them were dangerous.
_Rosy’s_ pilots had escaped with scratches. Chick Enders had a bruised
hand and a cut on his leg. Their hurts were just enough to get them
“warmed up for a real fight,” as Hap Newton put it.

“When we land, we’ll stick with _Rosy_ until she’s bombed and serviced
for another run,” Chick suggested. “Only the pilots need to report to
Colonel Bullock, and he won’t ground them for a couple of scratched
faces. That way, we can take off with the other planes for the all-out

The plan was unanimously approved, but it was doomed to failure. _Rosy
O’Grady_ made a three-point landing, like the perfect lady she was, but
as she rolled to a stop, Chick Enders groaned.

“There’s Colonel Bullock coming out to us in the jeep!” he exclaimed.
“He’ll never let us take off without a real inspection. And that means
we’ll miss the big fight!”




Chick Enders’ prediction was only partly right. Colonel Bullock did
order _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ and her fighting crew grounded for temporary
repairs. But it was only for the rest of that day and night. To smash
the Jap task force utterly, every bomber that could fly would be needed.

“Get those wounds dressed at once,” he ordered the eight bloodstained
ragamuffins who faced him near _Rosy’s_ shell-torn fuselage. “Then
report to the mess shack. Fill your stomachs and hit the hay. If
you’re all fit for duty tomorrow morning I’ll let you fly.
And—er—congratulations on spotting that Jap task force, Blake!
You’ve probably saved us a lot of ships and fighting men.”

Barry took the officer’s proffered hand, with an embarrassed smile.

“I was just playing a hunch, sir,” he murmured. “Chick—I mean,
Lieutenant Enders—did the real job. He sank a big destroyer and blew
the stern off a cargo vessel before we had to clear out. And the other
boys knocked that _Aichi_ T98 out of the sky—simply chewed her to

“My congratulations were meant for all of you, Lieutenant,” the colonel
replied with a twinkle in his eye. “And so are the orders I just gave.

As Barry and his friends moved wearily toward the hospital tent, a
squadron of Mitchell bombers passed over, heading out to sea. The
ceiling had lifted to three thousand feet. If it stayed there, Barry
thought, the planes would have little trouble in spotting the Jap

The field, he noted, was almost empty of planes. Evidently they had
taken off right after his radioed report. The Japs would catch plenty
of grief before darkness shut down, but the real pay-off would be
tomorrow. By that time Allied airfields from all over eastern New
Guinea as well as Australia and the Solomons would be sending planes to
the attack. The Japs would meet them with swarms of their own
land-based fighters. A gigantic air-and-sea battle would be on, with
the outcome impossible to guess.

Much the same thing was passing through the minds of all the crew, but
they were suddenly too tired to talk about it. The tension of battle
had broken. Now they were conscious chiefly of stiffening wounds and
the deep, physical craving for food and sleep.

The night passed in dreamless oblivion. It seemed to Barry that he had
just closed his eyes when the bugle routed him out of bed. He glanced
unbelievingly at his watch. Yes, the hands stood at five-fifteen—half
an hour before dawn!

“Roll out of it, Chick, Hap, Curly!” he called. “This is our big day.
If we’re not out there in time, I bet you _Rosy O’Grady_ will take off
without us!”

Groans and yelps answered him, as the tent mates moved their sore
bodies and found them more painful than the night before.

“Come on!” urged their young pilot. “Snap out of it or I’ll report the
whole crew on the sick list. We’ll miss our crack at the Japs, but—”

He saw a boot come sailing from Hap’s side of the tent, and ducked just
in time.

“All right, all right!” he laughed. “I’ll see you lazy birds on the
runway, if you’re too late for mess call. So long!”

Hap Newton’s other boot caught him as he hurried out of the tent. He
picked it up, but paused in the act of throwing it back.

“Setting up drill at this time of the morning, Lieutenant?” said
Colonel Bullock’s voice behind him.

“No, sir—_getting_-up drill is more like it,” Barry replied. “My crew
slept too hard last night, and they’re still in a fog.”

“Harrumph! I envy them!” grunted the colonel. “Couldn’t sleep at all
myself, last night.... But I have good news for you, Blake. Your ship
has passed every quick test for serious damage, and except for the
holes that there wasn’t time to patch, she’s fit to fly. That damaged
machine gun in the nose has been replaced. She’s been bombed up and
serviced. I’m counting on her—and you men—to give the Japs a very
special pasting today.”

“We’ll do that, sir, and—er—thank you for giving us so much of your
time and thought,” Barry responded. “Are we taking off with the
squadron this time?”

“Yes. Extreme right wing position,” Colonel Bullock told him. “The
take-off is in thirty minutes.”

Barry saluted and watched the officer’s tall, still youthful figure
stride away in the twilight. Behind him the crew were piling out of the

“Just time to eat and run, fellows,” he said, turning toward the mess
shack. “The squadron takes off at six.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Clear sunlight gleamed through the bottle-green crests of the big
combers that tossed and battered the Jap task force. Gone was the
protecting blanket of clouds. Gone, too, was any hope in the mind of
the Jap admiral that he could sneak up on the Allied bases without a
costly attack from the air. Yet his words were confident as he issued
his orders to the flotilla.

A second convoy of fourteen vessels had joined his ten during the
night. With their added strength he felt certain of success.

“Inform the honorable captains that they will close the intervals
between their ships to five hundred yards,” he told his chief executive
officer. “Our massed antiaircraft, plus the umbrella of our land-based
fighter planes, will beat off any air attack our enemies may make. In
fact, we shall utterly destroy them.”

The executive bowed and hissed politely.

“We shall destroy them utterly,” he repeated. “Banzai!”

Green water crashed on the forecastle as the flagship buried her bow
under a giant comber. The cruiser shuddered, heaved, and shook herself
free. The bow rose higher, higher, until the steel warship seemed to
those on deck as if she were going to stand upright on her propellers.

Again her foredeck dipped, rolled, plunged into the trough of a mighty
sea. The antiaircraft crews balanced themselves calmly on sea-trained
legs. Their eyes never left the reeling sky above them. They breathed
deeply, fingering the cold steel of their weapons, waiting for the
targets they knew would soon appear.

It was a different story below the wave-washed decks of the troop
transport ships. There, packed in the stifling holds like sardines,
eighteen thousand Jap infantrymen gagged and groaned. The throes of
seasickness gripped officers and men alike. It was not deadly, they had
been told, but it made them long for death. Only their inbred habit of
obedience had kept them from shooting themselves or committing _hara
kiri_ through the past week of inglorious suffering.

Suddenly the flotilla’s antiaircraft opened fire with a concerted roar.
The transports’ long range guns joined it. Their barking reports made
the thin steel hulls quiver. Then came the bombs.

One struck an 8,000-ton troopship aft of the bridge. A thousand Jap
soldiers died in the flaming inferno it made. Live steam from the
wrecked engine room cooked fifty other men alive.

A second bomb blasted the stricken vessel. Its superstructure leaped
into the air and fell overside in twisted pieces. The ship itself
rolled, broke apart, and sank.

That second bomb was a credit to Chick Enders’ marksmanship. From a
three-mile height he had hit the wave-tossed Jap ship with the accuracy
of a sharpshooter. He had done it, flying through air that was bumpy
with antiaircraft bursts, ignoring the darting Zero fighters that
stabbed at his ship from above.

Soapy Babbitt in the top turret and Tony Romani in the tail were not
ignoring the hornet-like Jap Zeros. While Barry, Hap and Chick were
concentrating on their first bombing run, they knocked down a plane

The Flying Fortress squadron had dispersed, and its members were making
individual runs over the flotilla. Now, however, the Jap flak was
forcing them to fly higher. One bomber already was down in the sea.
Several others had been nicked by shrapnel. _Rosy O’Grady’s_ stabilizer
showed ragged holes, and Cracker Jackson had been stunned by a direct
hit on the ball turret.

“We’re going upstairs, too,” Barry Blake decided. “We won’t make so
many hits, but we’ll make the Japs disperse, so their flak won’t be so

“That suits us gunners, Lieutenant,” Fred Marmon spoke up. “We’ll pick
off a few more Zeros up there where our Lockheed Lightnings are

The Jap “cover” of fighting planes certainly looked as if a tornado had
struck it. The deadly but unarmored little fighters were torching down
all over the sky. Others were fleeing back toward their New Guinea
bases, glad of an excuse to return for gas. The reason was simple:
plane for plane and pilot for pilot, our forces were better. When the
Fortresses got “upstairs” there was not much opposition to deal with.

_Rosy O’Grady_ made three more runs before the first wave of Australian
_Havoc_ bombers arrived beneath her. Skimming the sea at mast-height,
the twin-engined attack bombers strafed the Jap decks with a terrible
hail of bullets. They passed over, from stern to stem, and dropped
their bombs at point-blank range—sometimes down the enemy’s

On their heels came the North American B-26 Mitchells, repeating the
same tactics, with even greater effect. Back and forth like a great
broom of destruction they swept across the Jap flotilla. Enemy gunners
withered and died under blast after blast of hot lead. Those who
survived tried desperately to swing their heavier guns into action, but
that was like trying to shoot mosquitoes with a pistol.

Now, all over a forty-mile area, Jap ships were blazing. Barry saw
three of them sink before Chick emptied the bomb racks with near misses
on a dodging destroyer.

“We’ll go back for another load,” he said, turning the Fortress’s nose
homeward. “How’s Cracker Jackson?”

“Coming out of it,” was Curly Levitt’s reply. “His right arm’s broken
above the elbow, and his nose is banged up. The ball turret took an
awful wallop from that ack-ack shell.”

“Better our ball turret than our bomb bay!” Hap Newton remarked grimly.
“We could have gone out in a blaze of glory if that shell had hit a few
feet forward.”

Much to Cracker Jackson’s distress, his friends took him to the
hospital tent the moment they landed at Mau River.

“Have a heart, Lieutenant!” he begged Barry. “This bum wing feels fine
in a sling, and I could shoot my left gun with my left hand. Please let
me go along this trip.”

Barry shook his head.

“That’s a compound fracture, man!” he replied. “If you don’t get proper
treatment now, it may gangrene. Besides, your nose is swollen so big
that you couldn’t see around it to shoot. Lieutenant Levitt will man
your turret if necessary.”

They left him, still protesting, in care of the field doctor.

“As a matter of fact,” Curly Levitt said when they were out of hearing,
“Jackson’s turret is so banged up that it’s useless. It won’t turn, and
only one gun will fire. I didn’t tell him, because he would worry about
our going back without belly protection.”

No more than six Jap vessels were still in the fight when _Rosy
O’Grady_ returned with a fresh bomb load. One cruiser, four destroyers
and a small cargo ship made up the half dozen. They were scattered many
miles apart, each trying to make good its own escape. Between them the
sea was covered with rafts, landing barges, lifeboats and wreckage of
every description, but they made no attempt to take aboard survivors.

For the moment, the sky was fairly clear of planes. Two other Flying
Fortresses, a PBM flying boat, a few Grumman Wildcats and Lockheed
Lightnings on the hunt for Zero fighters—these were all that Barry
Blake could see. The enemy had been definitely shot out of the air.

“We’ll go after that cruiser,” the young pilot told his bombardier.
“Before she gets our range, I’ll dive to three thousand, level off
there for a quick run, and then climb for a cloud. Ready, Chick?”

“Roger!” answered the little man in _Rosy’s_ nose. “It’s risky but it
will give me a swell target. You never learned this stunt out of a rule
book, Barry!”

In the co-pilot’s seat, Hap Newton sat nursing the throttles, changing
the bomber’s air speed from moment to moment. Barry worked the wheel to
keep her constantly shifting altitude—foiling the ack-ack gunners on
the Jap warship. Abruptly he shoved the wheel far forward.

The Fortress headed down as if out of control. Then, at three thousand
feet she pulled out of it. For a matter of seconds her run at the Jap
cruiser held true and level.

“Bombs away!” cried Chick Enders. “Let’s get out of here in a hurry!”

Barry put his Fortress into a steep, climbing turn that strained her to
the limit. Zigzagging, banking, spiralling, he made the big bomber
climb like a cat in a fit.

Far beneath, a sheet of flame was rising from the enemy cruiser. Chick
Enders’ bomb had opened her oil tanks. Some of her antiaircraft were
still firing, but _Rosy’s_ unorthodox actions fooled them completely.

“Great stuff, Barry!” yelled the little bombardier. “We’ll pull the
same stunt on that destroyer to the east of us. Let’s go!”

“We will not!” Barry Blake retorted. “I felt _Rosy_ groan too many
times in that last crazy climb. If I did it again she might really come
apart. From now on we’ll confine our bombing attacks to a reasonable
altitude. It’s better to waste a bomb than a bomber, even if you don’t
believe it.”

As they headed for their new target at ten thousand feet, more bomb
bursts tossed up white fountains of sea water around the farther
warships. Seven or eight Fortresses were now on the scene. The
flotilla’s fleeing remnants were doomed.

It had been a ghastly slaughter, Barry reflected. Nearly twenty
thousand enemy troops, not to mention the crews of the Jap vessels,
were either dead or floating among the wreckage. An army and a task
force blotted out in two days!

Mechanically he guided _Rosy O’Grady_ on her run. He was sick of
killing. Even Chick’s jubilant, “Bombs away!” failed to thrill him as
it had before.

Another hit! The thousand-pound bomb burst the thin-hulled destroyer
apart like a paper bag. Swiftly she settled, stood up on her nose, and
slipped out of sight. There was no time to launch a boat.

Five miles beyond, a number of tiny waterbugs were leaving zigzag wakes
in the water. They were probably Jap landing barges, Barry thought,
crammed with armed soldiers from one of the troop transports that had
gone down. Now he saw the cause of their erratic dodging—a flight of
Mitchell B-25’s diving at them, with tracer bullets streaking from
their guns.

“Those Nips haven’t a chance, even if they’re lucky enough to shoot
down a plane or two,” Hap Newton observed. “Their barges must look like
sieves already. More meat for the sharks!”

“More butchery!” muttered Barry Blake. “It’s necessary, of course. If
those armed Japs ever made land, they’d soon be killing our own men.
That’s what they were sent here for. But I’ve seen enough slaughter
today to make me feel rather sick.”

Chick Enders didn’t say so, but he may have felt the same way, after
thinking it over. At any rate, he seemed to have lost his uncanny
marksmanship for the rest of that day. His remaining bombs scored
nothing better than near misses on a desperately zig-zagging destroyer.
Another Fortress sank that vessel as Barry turned his plane homeward.

“Looks like some sort of a weather front, over toward the coast,” Hap
Newton remarked. “I hope our base isn’t shut in by it. We’d have to
find another field or bail out....”

“Tony can’t bail out, Lieutenant,” Fred Marmon’s voice interrupted.
“He’s bleeding to death fast, from a leg wound. I’ve just found him
unconscious in the tail turret, and put on a tourniquet.”

A moment of shocked silence followed Fred’s statement. Each man of the
crew felt as if he himself had received a deadly hurt. The fortress
crew was like a single body, its members knit inseparably together by
weeks of common danger, duty, thought and feeling.

“Tie that tourniquet tight, Fred,” Barry Blake said huskily. “Keep Tony
alive, and I’ll manage to set _Rosy O’Grady_ down somewhere, ceiling or
no ceiling.... Soapy! Contact Mau River, will you, and ask what the
weather is there.”

Leaving his position in the top turret, Sergeant Babbitt sat down at
his radio. In a few minutes he had the field’s weather report.

“Closed in,” it said briefly, “and so are all near-by airfields. Better
try Buna—or Port Moresby if you have enough gas.”

“That’s the tough part of it,” said Hap bitterly. “We used up our gas
hunting down the Jap Navy. Buna and Port Moresby are out! Our only hope
is to hit the silk.”

Groans sounded over the interphone. Not their own danger but that of
Tony Romani, brought unanimous protest from the others.

“There’s _got_ to be some place for us to set her down, Skipper,” Fred
Marmon declared. “You’ve always been able to figure a way out. We can’t
let Tony down.”

“Curly!” exclaimed Barry Blake. “Get out your charts and see if there
aren’t some atolls or small islands somewhere this side of that weather
front. If one of them had a beach long enough and smooth enough—”

“I see what you mean,” Curly spoke excitedly. “I’ll tell you in two
shakes, Barry. There’s a sprinkling of little islands between us and
the western tip of New Britain.... Here they are! Two or three of them
ought to be clear of fog right now. I’ll give you the compass

A new spirit pervaded the bomber’s crew. Despite battle weariness,
their still painful hurts and their worry over Tony, they crowded
around Curly’s map like a bunch of eager kids.

“Don’t get your hopes too high,” their levelheaded navigator warned
them. “None of these islands may have a beach big enough to land a
fighter plane. If that’s so, we’ll lose _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ anyway.”

“And if we can land,” Barry added, “the place may be swarming with
Japs. Personally I’m for taking the risk, but if there’s one man who
doesn’t like the idea, we’ll turn back and bail out over Mau River.
Tony would have a bare chance to live if we pulled his ripcord and
chucked him out.”

Silence answered him. It was broken finally by Curly Levitt’s voice
giving Barry the compass course for an unnamed islet that they might
hope to reach ahead of the fog.

“Okay, Crusoes, you asked for it!” _Rosy’s_ Old Man said cheerfully.
“We’ll be in sight of Island number one in about twenty minutes.”

In twenty minutes to the dot they sighted the first white-and-green
bump on the ocean’s surface. The islet rose to a central peak about
three hundred feet high, covered completely with jungle. As the
Fortress swept over it at two thousand feet, her crew voiced their
disappointment. Such beaches as the place possessed were narrow and
rocky. A helicopter might have found a landing place, but not a bomber
with a 90-mile-per-hour landing speed.

Almost before the little peak had passed beneath, Curly was laying the
course for Island number two. It lay a little farther to the north, and
away from the weather front. Its length, however, suggested better
landing possibilities, and it was barely fifty miles away.

Ten minutes later Chick Enders pointed it out. As its low-lying shape
became more distinct, the crew’s hopes rose. The south beach, they saw,
was wide and free from stones, and the tide at this hour was out. The
only fault of this natural runway was its slight curve, and the tiny
brook that broke its length.

“I’ll chance it,” the young skipper decided. “As a matter of fact, it’s
going to be a lot easier to set down on that beach than to take
off—even supposing we can get more gas.”

Climbing to a safe height, he turned and came in for his landing. In
order to make the most of the beach’s length, he brought _Rosy’s_
wheels down just at the farther edge of the brook. The Fortress bucked
a trifle in the wave-packed sand, and rolled to a smooth stop. Within
her, six men cheered like maniacs.

“Hold it down, men,” Barry advised. “We don’t know what we’re up
against yet. Our first job is to dress Tony’s wound. Then we’ll explore
the island, if there’s time to do that before dark.... Curly, pass me
the first-aid kit and a bottle of water, will you, please?”

Tony was still unconscious when they carried him to the plane’s
cockpit. His wound had evidently been made by a piece of flak that had
ripped through his thigh like a dull knife. The arteries were bleeding
slowly despite the tourniquet.

With small silver clips from the first-aid kit, Barry managed to close
the severed blood vessels. He dusted a handful of sulfanilamide powder
into the wound, removed the tourniquet, and used most of the kit’s
gauze in a snug bandage.

Straightening up, he pointed to the windows in the nose and overhead.

“Open up and give him some fresh air,” he directed. “The minute Tony
comes to, we’ll make him swallow some salt tablets and sulfadiazine,
with all the water he can drink. That’s all we can do.... Chick, you
and Soapy will stay with him now, while the rest of us look over the
island. We’ll be back before dark if we don’t run into any Japs.”

“Okay, Skipper—we’ll hold the fort,” Chick answered. “If you should
meet trouble near by we can cover your retreat with _Rosy’s_ machine
guns. Maybe you’d better demount one of them and take it along for an

“Our pistols and the tommy-gun will be enough,” Barry said, as he left
the cockpit. “Those fifty-caliber babies are too heavy to carry far, or
to use without a tripod. See you soon, fellows.”

A five hour search of the island revealed no human inhabitant. On the
farther side from their plane the Fortress men found the burned
remnants of a native village and a few unburied corpses. The Jap
butchers had evidently come and gone a few weeks before.

Barry and Hap downed a half-wild pig with their pistols. On their
return to the Fortress, they frightened a number of scrawny island
chickens that flew squawking into the jungle. It was plain that they
need not starve, Fred Marmon remarked, even if escape from the island
should be delayed for a month.

“I’ve no idea of waiting that long, Fred,” Barry laughed. “As soon as
it’s dark, we’ll radio the base to send a supply ship here. With a
runway of steel mats on the beach we should have no trouble in taking
off. That is, if the Nips don’t spot us!”

Reaching the plane they found Tony Romani conscious again. He had been
swallowing salt and water in quantity to make up for his loss of blood.
Despite the pain of his wound he greeted his friends with a plucky grin.

“All I want is a juicy beefsteak,” he told them. “And mashed spuds and
apple pie and—”

“You’ll have to be satisfied with pork chops,” Barry interrupted. “Beef
won’t be on the menu until we’re back at Mau River. The same goes for
potatoes. Dinner tonight will be roast wild pig, palm cabbage, and
cocoanut milk—with a vitamin pill for dessert.”

Ravenous appetites made the jungle dinner a success, even though Tony
dropped off to sleep in the middle of it. The others literally cleaned
the bones of their little roast porker. There was no campfire to enjoy,
however: the light would have betrayed them to any scouting Jap plane
within twenty miles. The moment the sun set, they kicked sand over the
coals and finished their meal in the dark.

Contact with Mau River was made quickly by radio. A brief message, not
likely to mean much to listening Japs, gave their location. Barry added
a request for supplies, and arranged radio and ground signals to guide
the approaching planes to a moonlight landing.

“The next thing,” Barry announced, “is to camouflage _Rosy_ so that
she’ll be invisible from the air. As soon as the moon rises, we’ll
begin cutting vines and leafy bushes. With only four pocket knives, it
may take us most of the night, but that just can’t be helped.”

[Illustration: _Ravenous Appetites Made the Dinner a Success_]

“There’s the moon coming up now!” Hap Newton exclaimed, pointing to a
glow on the eastern horizon. “Out with those toadstabbers, gentlemen!
We’ll cut out a new green dress for _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_—or fall
asleep trying!”

The camouflage was only half completed when the first supply plane
arrived. It was a big _Coronado_ flying boat, altered for extra cargo
space. It brought enough gasoline in cans to feed _Rosy’s_ big engines
on the trip home, and it took Tony Romani back to the field hospital.
The next two planes brought bundles of steel mats for the beginning of
a long, straight runway.

Three days later _Rosy O’Grady’s_ sunburned crew had lost ten or
fifteen pounds apiece, but the roadway of perforated steel was
completed. One end of it was under water, owing to the curve of the
beach. An incoming wave might cause the huge bomber to ground-loop at
the moment of her take-off, but that was a chance that had to be taken.

As the men piled into their ship they tried not to worry about this
danger spot; yet there was no denying the risk. Belted into his
co-pilot’s seat, Hap Newton warmed up the four big engines. Slowly he
increased the r.p.m. until _Rosy O’Grady_ was straining to be off. The
mighty slipstream ripped jungle foliage and tossed the fragments of her
camouflage screen.

“Let’s go, Hap!” Barry Blake said quietly.

With brakes released the bomber leaped ahead. She rushed down the
narrow steel runway, her airspeed gauge climbing fast. If one of her
big wheels should run off into the sand, disaster would almost
certainly result.

Almost on the “step” she reached the wet end of the strip. Spray flew
from her right hand wheel. The water tugged at the tire like a
many-tentacled octopus. Despite both the pilots’ weight on the
controls, it pulled her down. The right wing dipped into a wave.

Every man on board held his breath, bracing himself for the shock and
rending crash of a ground loop.... Then, abruptly, the ship righted
herself. When Barry eased back on the controls she lifted her
twenty-five tons as lightly as a windblown leaf.

“Home, James!” croaked Chick Enders, and a gale of laughter swept
through the Flying Fortress, releasing her crew’s badly stretched




The safe return of Barry Blake and his crew to Mau River was celebrated
the following night at supper. The meal was the nearest thing to a
banquet that the army cooks could turn out. There was a sort of
program, too, mostly humorous. It recalled the never-to-be-forgotten
days at Randolph Field.

Barry himself was heralded as the “Big Dog” at the moment of his
entrance into the mess tent. Colonel Bullock, as master of ceremonies,

“The Big Dog is coming in to land.... The Big Dog is rolling down his
flaps.... The Big Dog has landed.... The Big Dog is waiting to be

Between each announcement, the second lieutenants softly chorused:
“Woof, woof! Woof, woof!” When Barry lifted a large baked potato from
the serving dish it was announced that “The Big Dog is getting bombed

At this point an exuberant woofer from Texas lost control. Tilting his
head far back, he gave tongue to a genuine coyote howl that raised the
hair on the necks of more than one “effete Easterner.” The bumptious
ex-cowboy was penalized by being made to sing “Deep in the Heart of
Texas” with his mouth full of olives.

Following that there were speeches in praise of _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_
and every member of her crew. Tony Romani and Cracker Jackson received
their full share of glory, as wounded heroes. Finally _Rosy_ herself
was described as the plane that “sighted convoy, sank same, and retired
to a desert island, where she became a sort of Empress Jones, too proud
to come home and associate with her sister Fortresses.”

After the celebration, Colonel Bullock asked Lieutenant Blake and three
other pilots to report to his tent for a brief conference. Arriving a
moment after the rest, Barry noted that he was the only Fortress
skipper present. The others were twin-engine pilots, who had made fine
bombing records during the recent slaughter of the Jap convoy. They
were Captain Rand Bartlett, Lieutenant Thurman Smith, and Lieutenant
Ben Haskins.

The four young officers sprang to their feet and saluted as the colonel
appeared. Bullock waved them to canvas-bottomed chairs.

“I’ve been asked to supply four of my best bomber crews,” he told them,
“for a secret and difficult mission. What that mission is I don’t know
myself, but you are to fly B-26 planes. The orders from headquarters
stressed a high record of bombing hits. You’re to take off before
daylight tomorrow and fly to Port Darwin. There you will doubtless
learn more details. Have you any questions, gentlemen? You are at
perfect liberty to pass up the job—in which case I’ll choose some
other crew.”

Barry Blake was the first to break the ensuing silence.

“I think we all feel alike about it, sir,” he said quietly. “It’s a big
honor to be chosen by you under these circumstances. But as Fortress
men, my crew and I might not measure up to the best B-26 performance.
Those Martin bombers are sweet little ships, but they handle
differently from a Boeing. We wouldn’t want to let you down, sir—”

“I know all that, Blake,” Colonel Bullock interrupted with a smile. “I
chose you and your crew after a good deal of thought, just as I picked
Haskins and Bartlett and Smith. You’ve flown twin-engined planes in
Advanced Training School and you’ll get the hang of your new B-26 on
the way to Darwin. I’ll supply you with a first-class tail gunner to
take the place of Tony Romani.... Now, gentlemen, for the last time, do
you want the job?”

“Yes, sir!” chorused the four pilots.

The C.O. arose. One after the other he gripped their hands and wished
them good hunting. In that moment he seemed more like a proud parent
than their superior officer. The four young officers knew that they had
found a lifelong friend in Colonel Bullock.

_Rosy O’Grady’s_ crew, all except Tony and Cracker Jackson, were
overjoyed at their new assignment. They lay awake talking it over until
Barry curtly ordered them to “drive it into the hangar and get some

“_Rosy_ will be laid up for a couple of weeks’ repairs anyway,” Chick
added in a loud whisper, “and so will Tony and Cracker. We’ll probably
be back by that time. Nobody’s got any kick coming, so far as I can
see—unless it’s the Japs!”

Out on the runway at five o’clock Barry’s crew found their new ship
waiting, complete with tail gunner. The latter was a little bulldog of
a man with the map of Ireland jutting fiercely out of his helmet. He
was Sergeant Mickey Rourke from South Boston. He greeted each of his
new crew mates with an undershot smile and a brief “Pleased to meet

Later _Rosy’s_ crew found out that Mickey was the lone survivor of a
B-26 that had been sliced in two by a diving Zero fighter. Mickey had
bailed out of his severed tail section unharmed and had swum ashore.
After two weeks in the New Guinea bush he had walked into the Mau River
base and calmly reported for duty.

The four Martin bombers took off by moonlight and promptly headed
southwest. Barry found _The Colonel’s Lady_ as Hap had named their new
craft, strangely quick and light on the controls, compared with her big
sister _Rosy_. Flying in formation with the other three Marauders soon
cured his tendency to over-control, however.

As the sun rose, tinting the peaks of New Guinea’s high backbone ahead
of them, he turned over the controls to Hap Newton.

“Easy on the stick, Mister,” he warned his big co-pilot. “Those crowbar
wrists of yours work swell at the wheel of a Fortress, but this little
lady won’t stand for rough handling.”

“Finger-tip control!” chuckled Hap as he took over. “I may be rough,
but I can be oh, so gentle, too, Skipper! Just watch me take her

The bomber formation was climbing steadily, to top the 16,000-foot
range ahead. A bitter chill seeped into the plane. The crew found
themselves breathing faster to get enough air. Automatically they
reached for their oxygen masks. Those things were lifesavers when you
got up above 20,000. Even at somewhat lower altitudes they helped keep
your head clear and your stomach in place.

At 18,000 the air was bumpy. The flight leader, Captain Bartlett, took
his bombers up to 20,000, where it was colder but smoother. Beneath
them the great range was spread out like a relief map, with patches of
white cloud here and there showing local rains.

An hour later the immense blue bowl of the Arafura Sea rose up to
enclose them with its rim of endless horizon.

“We’re like four tiny flies buzzing across a giant’s washbowl,” Barry
thought. “And yet this Arafura Sea is just a little spot on God’s
Footstool. Most high school students never knew where it was before the
war. A flier certainly comes to feel his smallness in time and space!”

The four planes loafed along at about 200 m.p.h., to conserve gas. They
dodged a thunder storm just north of the Gulf of Carpenteria and swung
back to the southwest. At noon they were over Port Darwin, Australia,
with a heavy overcast obscuring sea and land. Barry took over the
controls in preparation for landing.

“Ceiling one thousand feet and dropping fast,” came the airfield’s
radioed report. “You arrived just in time. In another hour we’ll be
closed in.”

“This weather may postpone our mission, whatever it is,” Chick Enders
remarked as they went down through the wet cloud rug. “Looks like a
general storm coming over the coast.”

“That’s something for the brass hats to worry about, Chick,” Barry
Blake replied. “We haven’t the haziest notion yet what we’ve come here
to do—There’s the field, Hap! It looks a lot better than the one we
left this morning.”

Though his B-26 was still a bit unfamiliar to the young Fortress pilot,
he set her down without a bounce. The field was hard and smooth, with
only a few patches showing where Jap bombs had recently dropped. The
lowering clouds, Barry remarked, would probably keep enemy raiders at a
distance for the next few days.

Reporting to the Operations Building, the Marauders’ four young
officers were told to return immediately after mess for instructions.
The general himself would be present, with other high-ranking officers.
All further information would be given at that time.

Mess call sounded as they left the place. In the camouflaged mess tent,
they found a number of flying officers already gathered around rough
tables. Most of these greeted the newcomers with cordial smiles, but
there was one outstanding exception. A rather handsome, sleek-haired
second lieutenant stared at them insultingly, then turned his back and
moved to a farther table.

“Glenn Crayle!” exclaimed Hap Newton. “The same swell-headed hot pilot
that he was at Randolph! Did you get that ‘dirt-under-my-feet’ look he
gave us?”

“Hold it down, Hap!” Barry whispered. “No use in stirring up more hard
feelings. The whole room heard you. After all, Crayle’s a fellow

“He’s just as much of a sorehead as he ever was,” muttered Chick
Enders. “I’d hate to fly in formation with him, for fear he’d pull some
spite trick and crash both of us.”

“You’d probably get ‘jeep jitters’ and scare the life out of him if you
were at the joy-stick,” Hap Newton laughed under his breath. “Here come
the brass hats! We’d better take places at this table, near the wall.”

They saw no more of Glenn Crayle than his neatly uniformed back until
the meal was over and the B-26 bomber officers assembled in the
briefing room. There, after another dirty look, the sulky pilot
whispered behind his hand to a hard-eyed acquaintance. The pair of them
glanced toward Barry’s group and laughed. Whatever “crack” Crayle had
made was certainly not to the Fortress crew’s credit.

The briefing room filled quickly, until the space between the long
table and the walls was filled with the officers of four bomber
squadrons. Facing them stood the general and a rear admiral of the
Navy. As the former raised his hand, absolute silence fell on the group.

“Gentlemen,” the general said quietly, “this talk will be very brief
and, I trust, to the point. You are to leave sometime tonight on a
mission of high strategical importance. Your objective is the
Japanese-held harbor of Amboina. As you know, this is the enemy’s
strongest East Indian base. We cannot at this moment tell you why its
demolition is so important to our war strategy. Your orders are simply
to destroy every plane, ship and installation that you can, cripple its
defenses. Leave it helpless to resist the regular bombardment forces
that will follow up your attack.”

He paused impressively. In the silence Barry could feel a rising tide
of unspoken questions filling the room. How, for instance, could four
squadrons of medium bombers effect such a complete destruction as the
general had described? Why not use Fortresses and Liberators, such as
were even now smashing the U-boat pens at Lorient and Wilhelmshaven?

“You, gentlemen,” the officer continued, “have been picked from several
bomber commands for a task of utmost difficulty and danger. The planes
you will fly are B-26 bombers that have been altered to carry twice
their normal bomb load, and about one fourth of their regular supply of
fuel. Each plane will lay a two-ton, delayed action bomb directly on an
assigned target, from mast-head height. You will then go on to strafe
the Jap aircraft in the seaplane anchorage at the head of Amboina Bay.
By that time you will have just enough gas left to fly the six hundred
thirty miles back to Port Darwin—providing you meet no interference on
the way.”

“Are there any questions, up to this point?”

Captain Bartlett was the first pilot to speak.

“You mentioned that we should carry about one fourth of our usual gas
supply, sir,” he said in a puzzled tone. “But the B-26’s greatest range
with a one-ton load is only twenty-four hundred miles. To fly six
hundred thirty miles to Amboina and back again would use up more than
half of it.”

For the first time a slight smile crossed the general’s face.

“You are quite correct, Captain,” he answered. “However, I didn’t say
that you were to fly from here to Amboina. That is the little surprise
we are preparing for our enemies. Your three squadrons of Martin
bombers are already loaded on an aircraft carrier which you will board
tonight. Under cover of the weather front that is moving northwest we
hope to approach within fifty miles of Amboina. The flight deck of this
carrier is quite long enough for medium bombers. You’ll need a bit of
verbal instruction regarding the take-off, however. Am I right,

The naval officer cleared his throat.

“We’ll take care of that after we’re at sea,” he said to the assembled
fliers. “You won’t have to worry about finding and landing on your
flat-top in the fog, as the Navy pilots would. Once you leave our
flight deck it’s good-by—until we see you back in port.”

“And now,” added the general, “we’ll turn to the matter of targets.
Here’s a map of Amboina Harbor, with all the important installations
marked. As you receive your assignments, please note them down,
gentlemen. With a limited number of bombs, we must have no duplication.”

The target assigned to Barry’s crew was the radio station at the
extreme tip of Nusanive Point. Captain Bartlett, Lieutenant Haskins,
and Thurman Smith were given the heavy coastal fortifications just
beyond. Other crews received the airfields across the bay at Hatu and
Lata and the antiaircraft batteries mounted in the hills along shore.

Amboina City, with its piers, its big coaling station and its naval
installations, offered the biggest group of targets. A whole squadron
was assigned to hammer it with two-ton block-busters.

At supper time the study of contour maps, targets and enemy gun
positions was still in progress. Nobody had been permitted to leave the
briefing room. So great was the secrecy with which the whole venture
was surrounded that guards had been posted several yards from the
building, to keep anybody without a pass from approaching it. Not until
ten o’clock was the order given to dismiss; but the evening was not

A dozen army trucks pulled up near the door. The fliers piled in, and
the vehicles roared away toward the docks. There a number of speedy PT
boats were waiting. In these the hundred-odd flying officers were
rushed through the spray-filled darkness to a point offshore which the
steersmen seemed to find by instinct.

There lay the carrier, a long, dim shape that grew rapidly huger until
the speedboat paused close to her towering side. Ship’s ladders had
been lowered already. Each boatload of airmen climbed hurriedly to the
dark port that opened into the ship’s bowels. Behind them the PT boats
roared away into the surrounding blackness.

[Illustration: _The Fliers Piled into the Army Trucks_]

Young Navy fliers of the carrier’s own company came forward to greet
the Army men and conduct them to their mess. They were cordial chaps,
perhaps a little more formal than the Army fliers. They stood treat for
the newcomers with soft drinks and there was a lot of pleasant
small-talk. Finally they got around to showing the bomber group their
temporary quarters.

The enlisted members of the B-26 crews were already on board, bunking
forward with the petty officers. In the morning they’d all get together
and each crew would be assigned a plane. From then until the moment of
take-off they’d be responsible for its care.

Barry’s team took four bunks in a corner of the large room assigned to
the Army group. For the first time in many hours they had a chance to
talk quietly together about the mission on which they had embarked.

“It’s a smarter stunt than any of the Japs have pulled off,” Hap Newton
declared. “B-25’s and 26’s are usually considered too big to take off
from a carrier’s deck. I still don’t see how we can do it with a double
load, but the experts must have figured it out. Each ship will be
practically a flying bomb.”

“Flying Fortresses could do the same job from a land base and do it
better,” Chick Enders remarked. “We’ve done skip-bombing with _Rosy
O’Grady_. The trouble is that she’s too big a target, and she cost a
quarter of a million dollars to build.”

“Not only that,” Barry Blake put in, “but all the forts that can be
spared for this job will be coming right in after us to hammer the Jap
gun emplacements in the hills. That’ll be high-altitude bombing, if the
weather is right.”

“The weather,” agreed Curly Levitt, “is the big risk. There has to be
enough fog or low-hanging cloud ceiling to hide the carrier from Jap
patrol planes, right up to the last minute. But over the island itself
our forts and Liberators will need visibility unlimited. If the
meteorologists have guessed wrong, it will be just too bad.”

That was true enough, Barry thought, but it didn’t worry him. The brass
hats who had planned this secret attack so painstakingly must know what
sort of weather they could count on. Meteorology was almost an exact
science nowadays.

He caught sight of Glenn Crayle talking with his co-pilot at the other
side of the room. Barry could not hear what they were saying, but
Crayle’s cocksure manner suggested his familiar, boastful line.
Probably the sleek-haired pilot was thinking of this Amboina job as
offering a splendid chance to make the news headlines. At any rate,
thought Barry, the fellow must be a first-rate pilot, or he’d never
have been picked for such a mission.




Flanked by two cruisers and four destroyers, the big flat-top plowed
through rain and fog across the Arafura Sea. Her speed was low, since
the weather front was moving slowly. She must stay behind its dark
curtain until the moment came for her planes to take the air.

Since the B-26 bombers were not fitted to return to her decks, there
could be no practice take-offs. However, everything possible was
rehearsed. A special catapult had been built to insure each bomber
flying speed before it reached the end of the flight deck. The engines
were checked and tested and tuned until their engineers could swear to
their perfect condition. The new bomb releases were objects of especial
care. At the last crucial second as they swept toward the target,
nothing must go wrong.

Just thirty-two hours from the time he had boarded the carrier, Barry
Blake sat at the controls of the first “flying bomb” to be launched at
Amboina. Hidden in mist, the carrier had approached within forty miles
of the island. The B-26 was already in the catapult; her Double Wasp
radial motors were roaring at full throttle. Every man on board was
braced for the launching.

The shock came, jerking the pilots’ heads back as their seats pushed
them suddenly. The heavily loaded Martin _Marauder_ literally shot
along the carrier’s fog-swathed deck. Barry eased back on the stick,
and felt the deck drop away.

“We’re flying!” Hap Newton said hoarsely. “I never was so jittery
taking off from a bomb-pitted jungle strip. I’d been wondering whether
that catapult would boost us into the air or into the sea. How does she
handle, Barry?”

“Like a lady!” replied the young skipper. “I can feel the double bomb
load, but it’s balanced perfectly. We’ll have no trouble with it.”

Barry glanced at his climbing altimeter. When it showed a thousand feet
he leveled off, heading due north. An instant later the surrounding fog
fell away like torn gauze. The carrier had been keeping just within its
edge until the moment her warhawks were released.

Amboina Island rose like a deep purple cloud on the northern horizon.
In less than fifteen minutes it would be directly beneath, Jap flak
would be bursting; tracer shells and bullets would be criss-crossing
the air. Already the Jap defenses must be seething like hornet nests.
Their plane detectors had probably caught the first hum of Barry’s
engines—now multiplied by ten or twelve as the catapult launchings

“Pilot from tail gunner,” Mickey Rourke’s voice sounded on the
interphone. “I can see four of our planes jist comin’ out of the fog.”

“They’ll scatter when they reach the harbor,” Barry remarked. “That
will keep the Jap guns from concentrating on any group of them.”

“Yeah, but how about us?” Chick Enders asked. “We’ll get to our target
before the others are even in range.”

“So what?” retorted Hap Newton. “The Japs will still be blinking the
sleep out of their eyes when we slam ’em. And once we’re rid of this
bomb load, Barry’s going to make us mighty hard to hit. That right,

“I’m not going to wait for that,” Barry told him. “Do you see that fog
layer hanging close to the water? It reaches almost to the tip of
Nusanive Point. We’ll duck into it and fool any gunners that might spot
us too soon in clear air.”

A long, shallow dive took them into the fog layer two hundred feet
above the water. And there, for the next thirty miles, they stayed.
When at last the mist thinned to a few wispy streamers the swift little
B-26 fairly hugged the water. Her target, the Nusanive radio tower,
loomed just ahead.

The shore batteries had spotted her now, but she was flying too low and
too fast for them. The ack-ack was bursting far above and behind her.
Some of it was aimed at her sister bombers who were now scattering over
Amboina Bay.

“Listen, Chick!” cried Barry. “I’m going in low—just clearing the roof
of that radio station.”

“Can’t miss it, Skipper!” the little bombardier replied. “I’ll lay this
two-ton egg right on their breakfast table. Boy! Look at that gun crew
duck for cover.... _Bombs away!_”

Barry reefed back sharply, gaining altitude in the few precious seconds
before the delayed action blast arrived. Without it he might find
himself knocked out of the air by the concussion.

The plane jumped—like a baseball struck by a giant’s bat. Her nose
went down. With all his might, Barry pulled back the control post. At
three hundred feet he leveled off, turning sharp right, to skirt the
steep slope of Mt. Kapal.

“Tail gunner from pilot,” he called. “What happened to that radio

“Everything, sir,” Mickey Rourke’s answer came back. “The last I saw of
the tower, it was headin’ for the moon, with a few bits of the station
roof taggin’ along behind. Your bomb must have landed in the cellar.”

“Keep your eyes peeled for Zero fighters when we start shooting up the
seaplane anchorage,” Barry warned him. “We’re moving too fast for them

“You’ve got the best seat in the whole show, Rourke,” put in Fred
Marmon. “Babbitt and I are missing all the fun, with our heads stuck
into this two-gun top turret. If we were flying _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_
now, we could see something of the countryside.”

“The countryside,” said Chick Enders from his perch in the nose, “is
going by too fast for me to see much of it. Oh-oh! That ack-ack battery
just ahead has spotted us—”



The explosion of a Jap shell just above the hedgehopping Marauder was
answered by a two-second burst of Chick’s gun.

“That crew is out of action,” he said grimly as the gun emplacement
swept beneath him. “They came a little too near to spotting us. Better
keep below the treetops where you can, Barry.”

Entering the little valley behind Hauisa Point, the B-26 fairly skimmed
the bushes. At the base of Mt. Horiel she turned north, dodged behind
Mt. Sirimau and cut across the broad base of Latimore Peninsula. Behind
her now lay the Amboina docks and naval station, the target of bombers
that were still on the way. To the left appeared the tiny villages of
Halong and Lateri, Barry’s landmarks.

He hopped over the little rise between them and found himself above his
next objective—between forty and fifty Jap seaplanes. Nearly half of
these were big three- and four-motored flying boats, _Kawanishis_ and
_Mitsubishis_. A few _Aichi_ T98’s and a number of single engined
_Nakajimas_ made up the rest.

“Burn ’em up, Chick,” Barry Blake ordered curtly. “Between you and
Rourke we ought to account for plenty of these babies.”

The chatter of Chick’s machine gun answered him. Barry swept over five
of the huge _Kawanishis_, while Chick Enders and Mickey Rourke ripped
at their engine cowlings, floats and keels. He swung over a line of
little _Nakajimas_, climbed swiftly, and came back to strafe a string
of _Mitsubishi_ boats.

Suddenly a tracer shell streaked past the bomber’s nose.

“Look out!” yelped Mickey Rourke. “One of them bloody _Aichi_ float
planes has opened up on us....”


A rending explosion in the empty bomb bay punctuated the little tail
gunner’s warning. Barry banked so sharply that his right wing nearly
touched the water. He hopped over a _Kawanishi_ and kept the big flying
boat between him and the _Aichi’s_ shells.

“If nobody objects,” he remarked drily, “we’re getting out of here
while we’re still in one piece.... Anybody hurt back there?”

“I’ve got some shrapnel bites in my legs,” Fred Marmon replied. “How
about you, Soapy? That shell burst right behind us.”

“Are you telling me, Fred?” the radioman returned. “I won’t be able to
sit down in the presence of my betters for a couple of weeks, anyway. I
feel as if I’d squatted on a red hot stove. When this plane quits
jumping like a bee with St. Vitus’ dance, you’ll have to look and see
what happened to my south end.”

Reassured that neither of his two sergeants was seriously hurt, Barry
cut straight across the Hitu Peninsula, dodging between the hills. From
far behind came the muffled WHUMP, WHUMP, of block busters falling on
Amboina and the Lata airfield. There were no Zeros over the hills as
yet. Those which had managed to take off had more trouble than they
could handle in the harbor itself.

Suddenly a line of white surf stretched across the Marauder’s course.
Skimming low above the waves she headed for the low fog bank that lay
three miles out from shore. A single shore battery opened fire, but the
shells burst well behind her. Seconds later she was safe inside the
wall of vapor.

“How’s the gas, Barry?” Curly Levitt asked. “If we have to set down
before we reach Darwin, I want to have my island picked out. We might
not happen on a perfect beach like Tana Luva’s, but any land is better
than a rubber raft.”

“We’ll make it to the mainland, I think,” the young skipper said, after
a glance at the fuel gauge. “We haven’t a lot to spare, though, after
fooling around the harbor with those seaplanes. I’ll go upstairs and
cut the engines down to bare flying speed, Curly. That ought to save
enough gas to bring us home safely.”

The Marauder climbed easily now, with no bomb load and nearly empty
fuel tanks. At ten thousand feet she looked down on a world of rolling
clouds still dyed with sunrise colors. The air at that altitude was
clear and almost windless.

“Course is southwest by south,” Curly Levitt’s voice came over the
phone. “As long as we stay above the ceiling, I can make corrections by
shooting the sun.”

“Good!” Barry answered. “I’m cutting speed to one hundred fifty m.p.h.
We’ll try to hold her there for the rest of the trip. How are your
shell-torn heroes doing back there in the waist?”

“Say, Lieutenant,” came Fred Marmon’s reply, “did you ever try to
bandage a man’s seat with a roll of one-inch gauze? I might do it if
Soapy would hold still, but he’s wiggling like a worm on a fishhook....
Stand still, you jitterbug!”

“Aw, don’t try to be funny!” Soapy’s aggrieved voice answered. “That
iodine you sloshed on me burns like fire. Just wait till I start
operating on your legs, wise guy!”

A chorus of chuckles bubbled over the intercommunication system.
Everyone began ribbing Soapy and Fred, until the two sergeants were
forced to join in the laughter at their expense.

As the merriment died down, Mickey Rourke reported another B-26 bomber
overtaking them. It was flying at top speed, heading for Barry’s plane
as straight as a bullet.

“Hold her steady, Lieutenant,” the little Irishman warned. “That
crackpot pilot is intendin’ to give us a scare if he can. I wish he wuz
a bloody Jap and I could let him have it—_yeow_!”

The oncoming bomber had dived at the last moment under Barry’s ship.
Her vertical fin had actually ticked Mickey’s tail position, sending a
slight shock through the whole plane. An instant later she was nosing
ahead, still perilously close to the belly of the slower flying craft.

“Look out, Barry!” Chick Enders yelled. “The crazy galoot is going to
zoom right under our nose ... and I’m a dodo if it isn’t _Glenn

Barry gritted his teeth as Crayle’s fuselage rose up just ahead of his

“Cut the engines, Hap!” he ordered. “I’ll try to hold our nose up till
that fool is clear. If only we had a trifle more airspeed....”

Hap was muttering savagely under his breath. Chick Enders was gripping
his gun, obviously yearning to pour bullets into Crayle’s back.
Abruptly, however, the little bombardier relaxed. Crayle’s tail
assembly was pulling clear—and Chick had just caught a glimpse of the
rear gunner’s scared face.

“Slap on the coal, Hap!” Barry cried, as his plane’s nose tilted
sharply upward. “We’re going into a spin.”

The twin engines bellowed. Hap “revved” them up to the limit, but the
spin continued. Instantly there flashed through Barry’s mind all his
instructor at Randolph had told him to do in such a situation. His
hands and feet now moved automatically, applying just the right control
at the right moment.

Four thousand feet above sea level he pulled out and leveled off on the
compass course.

“Okay—take over, will you, Hap,” he said, wiping the sweat from his
forehead. “I’m tired out.”

His big co-pilot was gazing upward through the plastic window. Hap’s
face was a deep red.

“Wait till that cockeyed ape gets out of sight, can you, Barry?” he
asked in a choked voice. “He’s stunting now—and waggling his wings at
us. If I took over nothing could keep me from giving him a dose of his
own medicine. I’d probably crash us both.”

Though his face was still damp with perspiration, Barry smiled.

“All right, Hap,” he said quietly. “I’ll give you a chance to cool off.
But you’ve really no reason to lose your head because Glenn Crayle is a
nut. You’re playing his game when you let him burn you up. He’s already
punished himself, and incidentally his crew, by using up his gas with
that monkey business. If they get home at all it will be on a raft.”

“Say!” exclaimed Hap, his face brightening. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

Apparently Crayle, or someone aboard his plane, thought of it now for
the first time. The stunting ship straightened out abruptly and headed
for home. Her distance from Barry’s craft, however, remained unchanged.

“He’s reduced speed!” Chick Enders cried. “It’s too late, though. We’ve
still enough to get home, and he hasn’t. Let’s fly past and give him
the merry _ha-ha_, Barry.”

“I’ll take over now, Skipper,” Hap chimed in cheerfully. “It’ll be
swell fun pulling up close to his wing tip and giving him the old
‘thumbs down’ signal.”

“You’re taking the controls but you’re keeping the interval exactly as
it is, fella,” Barry Blake declared. “Those are my orders. We’re
following Glenn Crayle as far as he goes; and when he sets down, on
land or water, we’ll at least be able to report his position.”

An unhappy silence fell upon the Marauder’s crew. They knew that their
skipper was wholly in the right and they loved him for it. But their
anger at Crayle was not easily bottled up. The appearance of a Flying
Fortress squadron high overhead furnished a welcome change of thought.

“Wish we were going back with them!” Chick Enders exclaimed. “Dropping
one egg and skedaddling like a scared sparrow isn’t my idea of fun. If
we’d come out in _Rosy_, we could have hung around Amboina picking our
targets and making a real party of it.”

“That’s the trouble, Chick,” spoke up Curly Levitt. “_Sweet Rosy
O’Grady_ had been attending too many such parties. She’s all shot to
junk. I don’t imagine that squadron of forts will hang around after
they’ve reached their target area. They’ll drop their loads where
they’ll do the most good, and head for home.”

“Here comes a bunch of Liberators!” cried Hap Newton. “Oh, boy, are
those Japs due for a royal pasting! They’ll probably send in a few
squadrons of Australian Havocs and North American Mitchells with
regular bomb loads to mop up the shipping in the main harbor. That
place will be a shambles.”

Hap’s guess was correct. Half an hour later three large formations of
Australian attack bombers and B-25’s swept over, headed for the Jap
base. The soldiers of Hirohito were going to get their teeth knocked
loose before this day was over!

For the next hour Barry watched his fuel gauge as a mother watches her
sick infant. From time to time he asked Curly to check their position
by dead reckoning. Finally he asked his navigator to shoot the sun and
make an accurate check.

“Either there’s a difference between our compass and the one on that
other plane,” he said, “or Crayle is away off course. He could be
heading for one of the Jap-held islands to make his forced landing. In
any case, I want to know exactly where we are.”

Curly Levitt stepped up to the top gun turret with his octant and took
his shot. For a few minutes he figured rapidly.

“You’re right, Skipper,” he said in a shocked tone. “We’re heading
straight toward the Tanimbar group of islands. If it weren’t for the
cloud rug below us we could probably see them from here. There’s a
good-sized Jap base on the biggest island, and probably a holding force
of soldiers on most of the little ones. Any Allied plane that lands in
this area is sure to be bombed or captured....”

“He’s going down!” yelped Hap Newton. “Shall we follow him, Skipper?
There may be a low ceiling under these clouds.”

“I’ll take over,” Barry answered. “No telling what we’ll run into

He shoved the bomber’s nose down into the cloud scuff. Eyes fixed on
the altimeter, he held her in a power dive, past five thousand, four
thousand, three thousand....

At two thousand feet they broke through the ceiling into a thin drizzle
of rain. Visibility was fair. Crayle’s ship was about the same distance
ahead as before, flying low toward a small land mass three miles away.
Beyond the small island loomed the dim bulk of Tanimbar.

Barry dropped his plane quickly toward the water. If no Japs on
Tanimbar had already spotted the two bombers, the little island’s mass
would hide them from the larger one. There might still be a chance to
rescue Crayle’s crew. Yes! There was a smooth, straight beach, now
exposed at low tide.

Circling just offshore, Barry watched the other plane land. The
tricycle gear touched the hard packed sand lightly and rolled to a
smooth stop.

“Neat work!” Barry applauded. “I hope I do as well. Of course a nearly
empty B-26 wouldn’t plow up wet beach sand like a fortress....”

“Hey! What’s the idea, Skipper?” Hap blurted in alarm. “You’re not
going to maroon us too on that beach? Isn’t losing one perfectly good
plane enough to suit you?”

“Keep your shirt on, Hap—and everybody!” Barry replied. “We may have
to abandon one plane, but there’s nothing to stop us from picking up
Crayle and his team and taking them home with us in ours. I have an
idea they’ll jump at the chance, too!”




The moment that Barry’s wheels touched the wave-packed sand, he knew he
had made no mistake. The beach was hard and smooth enough for a
take-off. Best of all, its length at low tide made a runway as perfect
as could be wished.

A hundred feet from Crayle’s bomber, Barry stopped his plane.

“Everybody out and swing her around!” he cried, unfastening his safety
belt. “Maybe we won’t have to take off in a hurry, but we’re going to
be prepared.”

Glenn Crayle and his six team mates were standing rather gloomily
beside their ship. Evidently they had been laying full blame for their
predicament on the pilot. Crayle’s sulky, handsome face was flushed
with anger as he glared at the newly arrived crew.

“Couldn’t you find a beach of your own to set down on?” he snarled. “Or
did you just want to be chummy? If you came to bum gas, you’re out of
luck, Blake. Our tanks are dry.”

Barry ignored him. With a pleasant nod of greeting he spoke to the
other crew’s navigator, a blond, worried-looking chap.

“We came down to ask if you fellows wanted a ride home,” he said. “Of
course, if you had any gas left it would help, but I think we still
have enough left to take both crews back to base. What do you say?”

The other’s worried frown vanished.

“What can we say, except ‘Thanks?’” he answered heartily. “It’s pretty
swell of you to risk a landing on this beach just to pick us up.”

“That’s right!” the co-pilot agreed. “This island is enemy territory.
You could have just gone on and reported us forced down here. Why you
didn’t do that, after what happened an hour ago, I can’t understand.”

“Forget it!” smiled Barry Blake. “Help us turn our plane around, and
pile in. We don’t want to hang around here till some Jap patrol plane
finds us.... Coming, Crayle?”

“No!” blurted the other pilot furiously. “Tonight there’ll be a chance
to find a Jap boat or plane along shore and transfer its gas. If none
of my crew has the nerve to take that chance with me, I’ll do it alone.”

There was no answering such a crack-brained statement. Crayle’s
proposition hadn’t one chance in ten thousand of accomplishment, even
with a full crew to help him. Barry turned away with a shrug.

Crayle’s crew followed him. The combined teams lifted the tail of
Barry’s plane and walked it around. Now the bomber was facing in the
direction from which she had come. As Barry Blake stooped to crawl
through the belly hatch, Crayle’s co-pilot, Ted Landis, halted him.

“Wait a minute, Skipper,” he said. “Crayle was lying when he told you
our tanks were dry. We have nowhere near enough gas to reach Port
Darwin, thanks to his stunting, but if we put it with yours, we’d all
be sure of getting home. Shall we get it now?”

Barry hesitated. What Ted Landis proposed was common sense. On the
other hand, Crayle would certainly prefer charges of mutiny, assault
and everything else he could contrive if they drained the tank of his
plane against his orders.

“All right, Landis,” the young Fortress skipper decided. “We’ll do
that. And we’ll take Crayle along whether he wants to come or not. We
can all testify that he is not behaving like a sane man. Drain off that
gas, Mister, and let’s get away from here the minute it’s transferred
to our tanks.”

The crew of the stranded bomber hurried back to it at Landis’ heels.
Ignoring Crayle, the co-pilot and his engineer dived into the open
hatch. The others stood beside it, blocking their furious skipper’s way.

“I’ll have you all court-martialed!” Crayle shouted, completely beside
himself. “Stand away from that hatch—”

[Illustration: “_Crayle Lied When He Said Our Tanks Were Dry!_”]

“Look out!” yelled a member of his crew. “Here come the Japs—they’re
on to us!”

The droning of airplane engines swelled to a snarling roar. Over the
treetops came a twin-engined _Mitsubishi_ bomber, but she was not
heading toward the two B-26’s. Evidently she had just taken off from
Tanimbar on patrol, with no idea that enemy planes were so near. Her
Jap crewmen were probably more surprised than the Americans. Swerving,
she opened fire with her bow and belly weapons as she started her climb.

“Man those guns!” yelped Crayle. “That Jap will be back for us. Inside
with you!”

Without a second’s hesitation the team obeyed. A moment before they had
defied his orders, but this was different. In a fight they’d stand by
their skipper, crazy or not.

Barry’s team was already inside. His Marauder’s engines bellowed. Like
a startled seagull she swept down the long, straight beach. As Barry
lifted her into the air he saw the Mitsubishi coming back.

“Good grief!” he gasped. “She’s going over Crayle’s plane at a thousand
feet.... She’s going to _bomb_ as well as strafe it!”

Climbing as he turned, he was still too far from the Jap for his
.50-calibers to take effect. In a matter of seconds the _Mitsubishi_
would drop her bomb at point blank range. The stranded Marauder’s crew
wouldn’t have a chance!

Evidently one member of Crayle’s team had realized this and decided to
save his own skin. He was running for dear life toward the jungle. As
tracer bullets began streaking past him he flung himself flat.

Leaning hard on the controls, Barry fairly whipped his plane around.
Already Chick Enders was firing his bow gun. The two weapons in the top
turret were raving.

“Riddle the Jap!” Barry shouted. “Don’t let him drop that egg—Oh-h-h!”

The slender, deadly shape of a falling bomb had caught his eye. To the
agonized nerves of the watchers its descent seemed as slow as a falling
leaf’s. Deliberately its pointed end dipped downward, aiming straight
at Crayle’s doomed plane.

Barry did not wait for the explosion. With his jaw set like a rock, he
headed his B-26 for the enemy. The bomb’s blast barely jolted the air
about him.

“Catch the Nip before he loses himself in the clouds!” Chick Enders
muttered, reaching for a new belt of ammunition. “He’s trying to run
from us, and that’s his only chance.”

“He won’t make it, Chick,” Barry replied through clenched teeth. “We’re
more than a hundred miles faster.... You boys in the turret—start
ripping that _Mitsu’s_ belly. _Now!_”

The turret guns chattered. A second later, Chick’s bow gun joined them.
The Marauder was overtaking her enemy as if he were anchored.

Smoke burst from the Jap’s fuselage. Flame licked at his left engine.
He staggered like a wing-shot goose under the slashing American fire.
His guns were still talking back, but their aim was nervous and poor.

All at once a great ball of flame appeared just behind the Jap’s wings,
and his nose dropped seaward. Swathed in fire, he plummeted into the

Barry banked sharply, turning back toward the island. The bombed B-26
was blazing on the beach. At the jungle’s edge a lone figure lay

“They’re all dead, Skipper,” Hap Newton muttered. “Let’s go home before
the Nips send out a flock of Zeros to shoot us up....”

“Wait!” Barry Blake exclaimed sharply. “That bird on the beach isn’t
dead yet. I saw him move.”

Barry swung away in a big circle and came in toward the end of the
beach. The others of his team realized what he intended; he was going
to land, regardless of risk, to save the neck of a coward who had
deserted his fighting crew-mates. At best it meant that they all would
fail to reach Port Darwin on the gas that would be left. At worst, the
Zeros from Tanimbar would catch and strafe them on the beach.

Yet not a man questioned their skipper’s decision. Each one was ready
to back up Barry’s judgment with his life. The crew of _Sweet Rosy
O’Grady_ would remain a smoothly functioning unit as long as it existed.

Barry’s second landing was as careful as his first. Rolling as near to
the burning bomber as he dared, he set the brakes, and followed Hap
Newton through the hatch. The man they had come to rescue was sitting
up about fifty yards away.

“It’s Crayle, the yellow pup!” Hap grated.

“It _would_ be!” Chick bitterly exclaimed. “I always knew a hot pilot
of his stripe would be a quitter when the real test came.”

Barry Blake said nothing as he helped his crew turn the plane around
for a quick take-off. He was wondering whether Crayle’s dazed manner
was real or faked. A trickle of blood from the pilot’s forehead
suggested a head wound. The man was mumbling unintelligibly when they
reached him.

Barry’s fingers quickly explored the gash in the injured man’s scalp.
Crayle winced but voiced no protest. The wound, Barry found, was no
more than a shallow cut. Nowhere else on Crayle’s clothing did he see
any sign of blood.

“Shell-shocked,” was the young skipper’s verdict. “His mind has
snapped, fellows. Maybe he’ll get over it shortly, but just now we’ll
have to treat him like a baby. Help me carry him back to the plane,

“Let me, Skipper!” Fred Marmon said, taking Barry’s place. “I’ve been
feeling useless ever since that _Mitsubishi_ torched down.”

Despite their awkward burden, they broke into a run, conscious that any
second might bring the snarling of Zero engines overhead, and a hail of
tracer bullets. Barry, first into the belly hatch, turned to lift
Crayle’s shoulders through the low door. Mickey Rourke, the last man,
glanced up before ducking inside.

“Here they come, sir!” he cried, as he dived through the opening. “Five
Zeros, flying low from Tanimbar.”

The bomber’s engine pulled her down the runway like a scared shadow.
Her guns were spitting before she was in the air. One Jap exploded
above her, and the others scattered briefly. As the B-26 climbed, they
came in from all angles, stabbing at her with their tracers.

Again and again Barry’s plane was needled by bullets. Twice she
received shell hits as she roared up toward the sheltering cloud
ceiling. A second Zero fell away with his engine smoking. Then a shell
hit Mickey Rourke’s tail gun.

Barry heard the little Irishman’s yell over the intercom, and guessed
its meaning. He zoomed sharply—the last thing that the pursuing Jap
expected. Fred Marmon’s gun blasted the Nip plane an instant before the
B-26 plunged into the clouds.

“We’ll just stay here for a while,” Barry declared. “The Jap bullets
missed my instrument panel. We can fly in any direction we choose as
long as our gas lasts. What’s your suggestion, Curly?”

“Wait till I glance at my chart,” replied the navigator. “There’s a
mass of little islands at the southwest of us—part of the Babar group.
We might set down there unobserved, especially if the ceiling is low.
Of course, we’ll take big chances on finding a place to land.”

A moment later he gave the compass course. Barry, who was flying due
southwest, made the necessary correction.

“How far is the island we’re aiming at?” he asked.

“About a hundred miles,” Curly told him. “It’s not one island, but a
nest of little ones. The Japs are less likely to have them guarded.”

“Good reasoning,” Barry commented. “I’m flying at a steady two hundred
m.p.h. Figure out just when we’ll be six or eight miles from the
nearest island, and let me know. I’m setting down on the water. If this
crate fills and sinks too quickly, we’ll drown with her, but it’s worth
the risk. We’ll probably be able to reach our rubber boats. In that
case we can keep out of sight of Jap shore patrols until dark, and then
paddle to land.”

“Skipper,” said Hap Newton solemnly, “I wish I had half of your brains.
In your place, I’d probably have tried to land. Of course, the Japs
would spot the plane sooner or later, and the hunt would be on. This
way we’ll have a swell chance of foxing them.”

“We’ll still be three hundred miles from Port Darwin,” Chick Enders
spoke up. “Maybe we can swipe a Jap motor launch some night—”

“Don’t be so modest,” Hap broke in. “Why not a plane while we’re about
it? I’d rather take a chance of getting shot down by our own fighters
than be potted like a sitting duck on the water by Jap Zeros.”

“Hold it down, fellows!” Barry Blake ordered brusquely. “We’re hitting
the pond in a very few minutes. Get out of your parachute harness, and
grab a brace. Fred, you and Soapy Babbitt loosen the topside hatch so
it won’t jam when we come down. Mickey Rourke will come forward so he
won’t be trapped in the tail if things go wrong. Hap, stand by those
levers that spring the rubber rafts. Curly, the minute you give the
signal, we’ll cut the engines and nose down.”

There were no more wisecracks. Barry’s crew obeyed orders without
wasting a motion, and waited quietly for the next development. Only Hap
Newton spoke during those last minutes of flight.

“I’ll take care of Crayle, Skipper,” he said. “He’ll be easy to handle,
dazed as he is. I’ll inflate his lifejacket and boost him through the

“Ready, Skipper,” Curly’s warning came a few moments later. “Time to go

Hap Newton cut the throttles. As the engines’ roar died out the plane’s
nose dipped seaward. When they broke through the low ceiling the water
rolled barely a thousand feet beneath.

The ocean, Barry noted with thankfulness, was calm, except for a long,
smooth ground swell. He must time his landing so as to set his ship
down in the middle of a watery valley. Thus he could kill her forward
motion against the waning slope of the swell ahead, and the shell-torn
bomber might float for a good many seconds. If he should miscalculate
and strike a crest, his plane would dive like a fish.

One glance only he spared for the island that lay nearest, a full six
miles away. It was tiny—little larger than a city park. The Japs might
have posted a guard or two on it, but at this distance they could
easily fail to notice a bomber landing on the water with a dead stick.

The long, oily swells now swept along barely a hundred feet below him.
Barry picked the valley where he must try to set down.

“This is it, fellows!” he warned.

Every man in the plane except Crayle held his breath. The next seconds
seemed age-long. Then came the shock.

Fixtures flew from the bulkhead above the radio panel. Green water
poured in through the shell holes in the bomb bay. It roused the
half-stunned men to desperate action.

Hap Newton had already sprung the rubber life rafts. These were now
floating on either side of the plane, attached to it by light lines.
Soapy Babbitt and Fred Marmon were first through the topside hatch, by
Barry’s orders. Next came Mickey Rourke, the little tail gunner. Before
climbing out, Mickey tossed a queer-looking bundle to the men outside.
It was a long, oilskin covered parcel wrapped in a Mae West lifejacket.

“Don’t let it get away from yez,” he grunted, as he pulled himself up.
“That bundle may be worth the lives of all of us before we’re through.”

Chick Enders was the fourth man out, Curly Levitt the fifth. They
crouched on the slippery, rolling fuselage, and reached down to take
Crayle’s limp weight from Hap Newton and Barry.

“Hurry, you two!” Chick shouted. “This crate’s sinking fast.”

Salt water was already three feet deep in the cockpit, as Barry turned
sharply on his co-pilot.

“Up with you, Mister!” he snapped. “I’m last!”

For the first and only time, Hap Newton was guilty of an act of mutiny.
He seized Barry in a gorilla-like grip and literally hurled him through
the opening overhead.

“You’re worth three of me, Skipper,” he panted, “in everything but

On top of the waterlogged plane, Barry twisted himself around like a
cat, to face the hatch. Hap’s head and shoulders were over the edge as
the bomber’s nose dipped suddenly.

“Quick, you idiot!” the young skipper cried. “She’s going under! What’s
holding you, Hap!”

“My feet!” the co-pilot gasped. “They’re tangled in a parachute harness
or something. Don’t wait for me, Skipper!”

Barry grabbed the bigger man beneath the arms. His feet found a
purchase on the hatch combing. With every muscle of his body straining,
he added his strength to Hap Newton’s.

“Now,” the thought wrenched at his brain, “something’s _got_ to give

It did. Like a cork from a bottle Hap’s big body popped out of the
hatch. Both men went under water. Breathless, stroking for dear life,
they fought to reach the surface. The water seemed like a living enemy,
clutching them, pulling them down. Their lungs were on fire.

They broke surface together, gasping, not far from one of the rafts.
Fred Marmon’s whoop of joy blended with the splash of paddles.

“The plane—where’d it go?” Hap Newton gulped.

“To Davy Jones’s locker!” Fred answered as he reached past Crayle to
grasp the co-pilot’s hand. “We thought it had sucked you and the
Skipper down with it.”




Chick Enders and Curly Levitt pulled Barry onto their raft.

“Great guns, Skipper!” the little bombardier exclaimed. “I never was so
glad to see anything as I was to spot your headgear poking up out of
that swell!”

“Chick cut our line just in time,” Curly remarked, “or the ship’s
plunge would have spilled us into the pond, too. And, speaking of
water, I hope we find a spring on that island when we reach it tonight.
Nobody ever thought to bring along anything to drink, unless Mickey
Rourke has a canteen in that bundle of his.”

“I have not!” the little gunner retorted. “Many a flier has been set
adrift without water and lived to tell the tale. The small matter of a
drink did not worry me. But the night before we took off from the
flat-top I had a dream of floatin’ helpless on a rubber doughnut while
the bloody Japs strafed me from the air. So I brought along a
waterproofed tommy-gun, just in case me dream came true! Ye can laugh
at me if yez feel like it, gintlemen.”

“Who wants to laugh?” Curly Levitt cried. “After this I’ll trade all my
day dreams for one of your nightmares, Mickey.”

“We’re the nitwits not to think of something like that!” Barry Blake
confessed. “Did you by any chance remember to put some oil and cotton
waste in the same package? Our pistols could stand a cleaning now,
before the salt water makes them useless.”

Rourke pulled the little oilskin-wrapped container from his bundle and
handed it to Barry.

“Here it is, sir,” he said with a grin. “I’m sorry I’m not a real
sleight-of-hand artist, so I could produce a glass of ice water just as

Barry’s left eyelid flickered in a mysterious wink. Pulling out his
water-soaked automatic, he handed it, butt first, to the little

“You clean my gun for me, Mickey, and I’ll produce your glass of
drinking water—though it may be minus the ice. I’m afraid neither a
silk hat nor a rabbit was included in this raft’s equipment, but we
have something just as good.”

While the others watched, open mouthed, Barry turned to a small,
waterproofed case attached to the side of the raft. Opening it he drew
out an object that looked like a small alcohol stove built on
futuristic lines.

“Here’s our water supply,” he said, holding it up. “You put seawater in
_there_ and a little can of fuel in _here_ and set the thing going with
a match. In an hour we’ll have a quart and a pint of pure, distilled
water. Hap Newton has a gadget just like this on his raft.... What do
you think of it, Hap?”

“It’s the only respectable still I ever saw,” the irrepressible
co-pilot answered. “How much ‘Adam’s Ale’ will it turn out before all
the fuel’s used up?”

“About fifteen pounds,” Barry stated. “One of the officers on the
carrier told me each plane’s rafts were equipped with it. I just forgot
to pass on the news. This still is a piece of regular Navy equipment,
and so is the fishing tackle that goes with it.... Look!”

Reaching into the case again he brought out a sealed, three-pound can.
Under the amazed eyes of his three companions, he opened it to show a
complete fishing outfit of hooks, lines and dried bait. There was even
a small steel spearhead for gaffing large fish.

“We’ll use this right away,” the young skipper declared. “Since we’re
so near to land we can afford to use some of our still’s fuel to broil
a tasty fish dinner. Here are three hook-and-line rigs, so it shouldn’t
take us long to catch a meal.”

The castaways discovered all at once that they were ravenously hungry.
With the tension of immediate danger gone, they went at the fishing
with the zest of youngsters. The fish were hungry, too. Within half an
hour fifteen pounds of finny food lay on the bottom of the two rafts.

The difficult job was preparing and cooking them. Barry solved the
problem by cutting the fish into fillets and broiling these on the
blade of one of the raft’s aluminum oars. Two cans of fuel were used
for that one meal.

“We couldn’t be so wasteful, out of sight of land,” Curly Levitt
observed. “We’d have to learn to eat our fish raw and like it.”

“Which might not be so hard, after all, sir,” Mickey Rourke responded.
“A sailor once told me he’d drifted for three weeks on a big raft with
six other lads, and eaten raw fish three times a day. They cut it thin
and dried it in the sun, like herring. The sea water had salted it
already. Me friend said it tasted fine.”

“Your sailor friend was spinning you a salty yarn, if you ask me,” said
Chick. “What did he do when the water rations gave out?”

“Sure, that was easy!” Mickey Rourke replied. “He drank fish with his
meals and was never thirsty except when it stormed for three days and
the fish wouldn’t bite—”

“Haw, haw, haw!” howled Hap Newton, whose raft had drifted closer. “You
bit, all right, Chick. You ought to know better than to match wits with
an Irishman. So they _drank_ more fish when they got thirsty, huh!
That’s the best joke I’ve heard since I was a dodo. How about it,

Barry Blake’s smile was not sympathetic.

“The joke’s on you, Hap!” he chuckled. “Mickey, hand me that fish we
didn’t cook, and I’ll show Lieutenant Newton just what sort of a sucker
he is to doubt your word.”

From the bottom of the bait can Barry took a folded square of muslin
and the sharp edged spearhead. After making criss-cross cuts through
each side of the five pound fish, he pulled the diced flesh from the
bones and placed them in the cloth.

“Now hold the can under this muslin while we wring out a fresh fish
cocktail, Mickey,” he directed.

From the cloth, strongly twisted by Barry and the little sergeant, a
stream of watery liquid dribbled into the bait can. When no more would
come, Barry threw out the squeezed fish meat and put in more diced
pieces. The final result was half a cupful of fish juice.

“It’s drinkable,” the young skipper declared after the first taste,
“just as that naval officer on the flat-top told me it would be.
There’s practically no salt taste, and it’s not as strong of fish as
you’d imagine. Who wants to hint that Sergeant Mickey Rourke is a liar,

Hap Newton shook his head solemnly.

“I take it all back, gentlemen,” he said. “I’ll never doubt your word
again, Mickey, unless I see you wink behind my back. But please don’t
ask me to guzzle your fish cocktail while I have a perfectly good still
to make my own moonshine water. Pass me a match, Fred, and let’s get
the thing started. I want to wet my whistle before Crayle, here, wakes
up and demands a fresh water bath.”

[Illustration: “_Now We’ll Wring out a Fresh Fish Cocktail._”]

While their water stills boiled, the two raft crews began paddling
toward the island. Their progress was less than a mile an hour, but
that did not bother them. With darkness still several hours away, they
dared not approach too near.

“The moon rises early tonight,” Curly Levitt informed his friends. “If
we’re within two miles of land then, we should be able to see the shore
line. The cloud ceiling isn’t so thick that it will shut out all the

As a matter of fact, the clouds thinned as evening approached. A stiff
breeze sprang up, drifting the rafts so rapidly toward land that the
paddles were no longer needed. As the last daylight faded a faint glow
above the eastern horizon told that the moon was up.

The rafts had been tied together all afternoon, to avoid drifting too
far apart. Now, with paddles plying steadily, they were making good
headway toward the dark line of jungle that marked the island. Barry
Blake, in the leading “doughnut,” strained his ears for any sound of
breakers that would indicate a dangerous landing place. There was
none—only the rhythmical roaring of the surf on the smooth beach, and
the slap-slap-slap of water against the rafts’ flat bottoms.

They were a hundred yards from the head of a little cove when the
clouds thinned enough to show the moon. For five short seconds the
light was fairly clear. A scudding cloud mass dimmed it, but not before
Barry had glimpsed a long, black shape moving out from shore.

“Stop paddling!” the young skipper whispered. “Pass the word to Hap’s
raft.... There’s a boat putting out from the beach—due to pass us
within a few yards. Have your guns ready if it spots us, and keep your
heads down.”

“Sure, I knew me little tommy-gun would come in handy, Lieutenant,”
Mickey Rourke muttered. “I’ll take the oilskin bag off and be ready
when yez say, ‘Open fire!’”

Tense moments passed. A patch of darkness blacker than the surrounding
water moved into Barry’s range of vision. Mickey had seen it, too. He
snuggled lower in the raft, the stock of his weapon tight against his

Abruptly a high-pitched, chattering voice broke out in the oncoming
boat. Barry felt Sergeant Rourke stiffen beside him, waiting the word
to fire. But that word was never given. A girl’s voice spoke from the
darkness in clear American.

“Quiet, Nanu!” it said. “That’s not a Jap boat, unless it’s upside
down. Paddle closer and we’ll look the thing over.”

Gusty sighs of relief went up from the bomber’s crew.

“A girl! From the States!” they chorused.

“So they want to look us over,” remarked Fred Marmon’s voice
sententiously. “Well, _I’m a monkey’s uncle_!”

Feminine laughter pealed in the darkness. There were two women in the
strange boat and at least one white man, to judge by the voices. Barry
thought, however, that he could distinguish other figures.

“We’re the crew of an American bomber, forced down by lack of fuel this
afternoon,” he explained. “We nearly turned a sub-machine gun on you
people a minute ago, thinking you were Japs. If we hadn’t heard one of
the ladies speak—”

“That was Dora Wilcox,” another girl broke in. “She and her father had
a mission station here; and I’d just come out to join my father at his
cocoanut plantation when the Japs came. We’ve been hiding from them
ever since. The little brutes caught and killed Reverend Wilcox only
last week. I’m Claire Barrows, and my father is here beside me.”

“We had a hard time persuading Miss Wilcox to come with us,” a man’s
voice added. “She wanted to stay with the native converts until they
themselves urged her to leave. The Japs are due to occupy this island
in force at any time.”

“Nanu and Kari Luva and their wives decided to escape with us in their
catamaran,” Dora Wilcox chimed in. “Why don’t you people join us? This
craft is really too heavy for three men and four women to paddle, and
we’re well stocked with water and food. I’m sure that Providence
brought us together—and kept you from shooting us in the dark.”

There was no resisting the girl’s logic. Barry Blake quickly introduced
his crew by name as they lifted Crayle into the native boat. He himself
came aboard last, carrying his precious still and fishing tackle. The
two rubber rafts were left to float ashore and mystify any Jap patrol
that might find them.

Dora Wilcox, he soon discovered, was the real leader of the refugees.
The four natives showed a childlike devotion to her. Even Clarke
Barrows, the middle-aged plantation owner, deferred to the girl’s
opinion. Barry Blake found himself consumed with curiosity to see the
face of this young person who planned like a general and thought of
everybody else before herself.

Dora Wilcox’s hope was to sail the entire three hundred miles to
Australia. She had brought palm fiber mats to cover the catamaran
during the day and make it appear abandoned. The mats would serve the
double purpose of camouflage and shade. At night the sail would be
raised. With a favorable wind, she told Barry, the double-dugout craft
could travel as much as eighty miles between dusk and dawn.

The young Fortress skipper glanced up at the scudding clouds. Weather,
he realized, would have a great deal to do with the success or failure
of their escape. Without a keel the catamaran would make a lot of
leeway. If the wind held from the northeast, it could easily blow them
ashore on a Jap occupied island. The wisest plan would be to get as far
to windward as they could before dawn.

“Let us take the paddles, Miss Wilcox,” he said. “My crew will relieve
your native boys until it’s time to hoist sail. Then perhaps we can
figure out a way to beat the leeward drift.”

“We’re at your orders from now on, Lieutenant,” the girl replied. “None
of us is a navigator. If an American bomber crew can’t take us through,
no human power could do it.”

The seven airmen fell to work with a will and a weight of muscle that
sent the thirty-foot boat lightly over the swells. At midnight, when
the sky cleared, they were well out of sight of land. Now for the first
time the bomber team had a chance to see their companions’ faces.

In the moonlight neither of the white girls looked more than eighteen
or twenty years old. Claire Barrows had her father’s wide mouth and
turned-up nose, and a smile that was decidedly attractive. Dora smiled
less often, and her features were more finely chiseled. She wore her
long hair in braids wound about her head. Her calm, efficient,
thoughtful personality could be read at a glance. Somehow she made
Barry’s pulse beat faster than any girl had done before.

The two native couples were quite young, in their ’teens or early
twenties. As they sat relaxed, balancing with the boat’s dip and sway,
their shapely black bodies would have thrilled any sculptor. Barry
could imagine what capture by the Japs would mean to these children of
nature—slavery, degradation, living death!

The thought made him fiercely determined to outwit the enemy, to bring
all these people through the gantlet of Jap boats, planes, and shore
patrols. Thirteen persons now depended largely on him as their skipper.
He must find some means of covering those three hundred miles to
Australia in a shorter time.

“I have it!” he exclaimed aloud. “We’ll use the paddles in place of a
centerboard. Is there any rope handy, Dora?”

“Plenty,” replied the girl. “But what do you mean by using paddles for
a centerboard, Lieutenant?”

“I’ll show you,” the young skipper smiled, looking straight into her
eyes. “But please leave off the handle and call me Barry, won’t you?”

“All right,” Dora Wilcox answered, with a twinkle in her eyes. “It’s
easier to say.... Oh, Nanu! Hand me that coil of rope you’re sitting

With the help of his crew, Barry tied four of the native paddles at
intervals between the catamaran’s twin floats. The broad wooden blades,
thrust deep in the water, acted like a keel. Now the wind pushing on
the sail would not drift the craft sidewise. Already equipped with a
steering oar, the awkward-looking boat was now as manageable as a

As the single, lanteen-type sail went up, water boiled white under the
double bow. The catamaran was gathering speed.

“Splendid!” cried Claire Barrows. “All we need now is a chart and a
compass to set the course. Which way is Port Darwin, anyway, Lieutenant

“I’ll be just plain ‘Hap’ to you, if you want me to live up to my
nickname,” the big co-pilot retorted. “When it comes to finding
directions, Curly Levitt is the lad to consult. He carries a compass in
his head, I think!”

“I have one in my pocket, which is a lot better,” Curly spoke up. “And
I stuffed a chart of these islands under my shirt when the plane was
forced down. With that equipment I can keep track of our course by dead
reckoning. It will be pretty crude, without a log to check the knots
we’re making, but at least we won’t miss the broadside of Australia!”




For the rest of the night, most of the catamaran’s company dozed or
slept. The craft was amazingly steady for its size. Although low to the
water, she was not particularly “wet.” The raised central platform on
which her crew sat or sprawled caught only a feather of spray from time
to time. The four natives slept as soundly as if they were on shore.

At dawn the breeze freshened. For three hours the catamaran skipped
southward over the long rollers, while everyone kept a sharp lookout
for planes. Fiber mats were lashed in place to afford the greatest
possible shade. Barry noticed with amazement how cleverly Dora Wilcox
had painted their top surfaces to look like wreckage to a passing
plane. Only the sail and the greenish wake behind could tell a Jap
pilot that there was life on the crazy-looking craft. At first sight of
a plane, Barry planned to drop the sail, and trust that the fading wake
would not be noticed.

“Every mile that we cover lessens our danger,” he declared, “and every
unnecessary hour we spend in enemy waters increases it. I think it’s
worth the risk to keep moving—especially in perfect sailing weather
like this.”

His companions agreed. There was risk, whichever way they turned, and
to know that every hour cut their distance from the continent by eight
or nine more miles was a great boost to their morale.

At noon the wind had slackened. The catamaran was making barely five
knots, Curly judged. The sky was like a vast, blue furnace, without a
speck of cloud. Had it not been for the straw mats, the white members
of the company would have been painfully sunburned. The four natives
were elected to keep watch for planes, as their eyes and their skins
were better able to stand intense sunlight.

The watchers may not have been to blame for failing to see the Jap
seaplane in time. He had probably come gliding out of the sun,
invisible and silent. The roar of his motor and the snarling of his
machine guns, as he suddenly power-dived, were the Americans’ first

Thirty-caliber bullets peppered the catamaran. A few pierced the
camouflage matting. Three or four, by some freak, chewed the mast half
through at a point four feet above the decking. One struck the leg of
Nanu, the steersman. The rest of the little slugs struck the log hulls
or missed entirely.

Glenn Crayle, who had remained until now in a shell-shocked stupor,
came to life with a howl. A bullet had grazed his shin. He moaned for
help, but nobody paid any attention. Barry Blake’s quick, sharp orders
averted the panic that otherwise might have cost them all their lives.

“Lie low, everybody. Whatever happens, don’t disturb the mats. Mickey
Rourke, crawl outside with your tommy-gun and pretend to be wounded.
Send the native women in under cover. That Jap will be back in two
shakes to look us over. If he flies low enough to make sure of your
hitting him, let him have it.... Otherwise hold your fire.”

Claire Barrows began weeping hysterically.

“We’ll all be k-killed,” she sobbed. “Like rats in a c-cage. I’m
g-going to jump overboard and—”


Dora Wilcox slapped her friend hard across the mouth.

“Stop it, Claire, this instant!” she commanded. “A fine example you’re
setting Alua and Lehu. For shame!”

As Claire’s sobs quieted, Mickey’s voice reached the others from
outside the shelter of mats.

“The Jap is comin’ in low to see what he did to us,” the little
sergeant reported. “I’ll play dead till the last second, and then pour
it into him. He’s a _Nakajima_ single-engine job, equipped with floats.”

The hum of the Jap’s motor grew louder. Once more his machine guns
opened up, but this time his burst was high enough to miss the
catamaran’s crew. It finished the mast which fell across the matting,
scaring the women but doing no damage.

As the plane roared low overhead, Mickey Rourke’s gun opened up. Its
harsh, deadly chatter held the hopes of fourteen souls. It ceased, and
the Jap’s engine song rose sharply.

“I hit him!” came Mickey’s whoop. “He’s zoomin’.... He’s goin’ into a
stall.... His engine’s smokin’ and he’s goin’ to crash!”

Without waiting for more, the catamaran’s company threw aside the
concealing mats. They were just in time to see the _Nakajima_ end her
tail-spin in a great splash and a burst of flame, less than two hundred
yards away.

The fight was over. Except for a patch of burning oil on the water, and
the three wounded persons on the sailing craft, it would have been hard
to realize that the thing had not been a nightmare.

“’Twas just as I saw it in me dream,” Mickey Rourke was saying. “The
only part I didn’t see was Nanu and Miss Wilcox bein’ wounded—”

“What’s that?” Barry cut in. “You wounded, Dora? Let me see what’s
under that cloth!”

The girl shook her head. Her face was pale, but the hand with which she
pressed a folded towel to her left arm was perfectly steady.

“See to Nanu first,” she replied. “Hurry—or I’ll do it myself. He’s
lost too much blood already. You’ll find clean cloths here in my little

Barry flung open the cover of the teakwood box she indicated. Inside,
packed neatly with a few feminine belongings, were a number of old,
clean cloths. Barry snatched out a threadbare pillowcase and a man’s
ragged white shirtsleeve. With these, he made his way to Nanu who sat
in the stern with his hands clasped around his thigh.

The native boy’s wound was a clean puncture. The small-caliber,
steel-jacketed bullet had passed through his thigh muscles just above
the knee. Fortunately it had missed the larger artery and the blood had
already begun to clot. Barry applied a cloth pad to each bullet hole,
binding them tightly in place with strips of the old pillowcase.
Throughout the operation, Nanu lay quiet. When Barry slapped him on the
shoulder and told him, “Everything’s okay!” the boy’s eyes had lost all
trace of fright.

Meanwhile, Claire and Hap were dressing Dora’s hurt. A bullet had
gouged her forearm, making a painful but not a crippling wound. Claire
showed considerable skill in the bandaging. She had brought her nerves
fully under control, and was giving sharp orders to Hap.

Barry glanced at the splintered mast and fallen sail. Before much
progress could be made, it was evident that the catamaran would have to
land for repairs. At present it looked so thoroughly wrecked that the
most suspicious Jap patrol pilot would hardly waste bullets on it.

The same thoughts were evidently in Curly Levitt’s mind. Standing up
beside his skipper, he pointed to a fairly large island, seven or eight
miles to leeward.

“We can go ashore there tonight, Barry,” he said. “With the sail
hanging on the stump of the mast as it is now, we’ll drift toward that
island at the rate of about one knot per hour. Everybody can keep out
of sight under the mats and wreckage. We’ll tie the steering oar in
place and let the wind do the rest....”

“No!” Glenn Crayle’s shout interrupted him. “You’re foolish to go any
nearer to land. The Japs will bomb us. They’ll shoot us down like dogs.
You’ve got paddles, haven’t you? Start using them, then, if you’re not
too lazy! I forbid you to head for shore, Blake!”

“He’s crazy as a loon,” Curly muttered. “How are we going to shut him
up, Barry?”

The young skipper made his way forward to where Crayle sat binding a
handkerchief around his grazed shin. He took a firm grip on the
shell-shocked pilot’s shoulder.

“Look there, Crayle,” he said, pointing to a black triangular fin that
showed above the oncoming wave. “That shark is hungry. He smells blood.
He’ll probably trail this boat till it lands—unless one of us falls
overboard. Be quiet and behave yourself, or _you’ll be that one_!”

Crayle’s mouth fell open. In sudden terror he gazed at the approaching

“No! No!” he moaned, clutching Barry’s arm.

The young skipper freed himself with a grimace of disgust.

“Everybody under the mats!” he ordered. “There’s no telling when the
next Jap plane will show up. Once we’re out of sight we can relax and
eat a bit of lunch, if the ladies care to break into their supplies

Cocoanuts, bananas, smoked chicken and taro bread had been stored in
the catamaran’s hollow hulls—enough to last the entire company for a
week. Since it was the first meal the bomber’s crew had tasted for a
whole day, they were given extra rations.

Crayle wolfed down his share and reached for more. A sharp word from
Barry stopped him, but the young skipper caught a look of animal
cunning that replaced the greed in the other’s eyes. From now on, Barry
decided, the shock-crazed lieutenant would need to be watched like a
wild beast. There was no predicting what mad impulse might seize his
twisted brain.

They were finishing their meal when another Jap plane roared overhead.
This was a twin-engined _Mitsubishi_ bomber, a land-based type, that
appeared to have taken off from the island to leeward. It swooped low
to investigate the drifting catamaran.

For a tense thirty seconds Barry’s party waited, and wondered if more
bullets would come slashing through their thin fiber mats. Then the
engines’ snarl faded to a distant droning. Their camouflage had worked!

Not so pleasant was the thought that they would have to land on a beach
patrolled by the enemy. If this island were the site of a Jap air base
it would be well guarded. Even the darkness might not be camouflage
enough to fool the Nip patrols.

As the afternoon waned, the island’s shore line grew more and more
distinct. A second bomber rose from behind the wall of dark green
jungle, and three more returned from some patrol or bombing mission.
There could be no doubt of the existence of an air base somewhere
inland from the beach.

The one encouraging fact was that none of the planes paid any
particular attention to the drifting catamaran. Undoubtedly they had
all looked it over. If the wreck looked so harmless to the Jap pilots,
shore patrols were not likely to bother their heads about it. The real
danger would come after Barry’s crew went ashore to cut a new mast.

The sun was low in the west when two squadrons of heavy bombers
approached at 20,000 feet. Even before the Jap ack-ack on the island
cut loose, Barry’s party recognized them—_American Flying Fortresses
and Liberators_!

Peering up through the cracks in the camouflage, everyone aboard the
catamaran raised a wild cheer. For a moment, Barry had all he could do
to keep his crew from tossing the fiber mats aside and standing up to
wave. His orders were drowned out by the thunder of exploding bombs.

[Illustration: _Peering Through the Camouflage They All Cheered_]

The noise, even at a distance of three miles, was ear-shattering. The
very ocean shuddered. More than eighty tons of block-busters, Barry
later calculated, must have been dropped within the space of a few
minutes on the Jap air base.

When the two squadrons re-formed and wheeled majestically away into the
evening sky, not a single shellburst followed them. The Jap
antiaircraft was wiped out. Instead of ack-ack a vast pillar of smoke
and flame mushroomed up from the smitten jungle.

For some moments afterward no word was spoken aboard the drifting boat.
That swift, devastating raid had left the watchers awed, and a little
dazed. Chick Enders was the first to break silence.

“So,” he exclaimed hoarsely, “that’s the way a real air-blitz sounds
and looks from below! The next time I’m laying big eggs on Hirohito’s
little boys, I’ll know better what I’m dishing out to them!”

Most of the crew wanted to paddle ashore immediately, but Barry
restrained them. Unless the Jap beach patrols had received orders to
leave their posts, they would still be there. No single bombing raid,
however terrible, could demoralize those tough, stupid little beasts.
Their meager mental life was shaped and ruled by discipline. Only their
higher officers were trained to think their way out of a difficulty.

The night came swiftly, with no clouds to reflect the sun’s afterglow.
This night there would be a brief interval between sunset and
moonrise—just enough to let the catamaran paddle ashore unseen. The
strong arms of Barry and his teammates made the most of it. Just as the
moon’s silver rim peeped over the eastern horizon, they grounded their
craft at the jungle’s edge, in the shelter of a little sandspit.

Since the tide was high, and already beginning to ebb, there was no
need to tie the catamaran. Pulling it just out of reach of the waves,
the whole party left it, and followed Barry into the bush.

“Dora,” the young skipper said, low-voiced, “you and your people will
stay here, within sight of Nanu and the catamaran. You can stretch your
legs, but don’t move about too much or make a noise. I’ll leave Mickey
Rourke on guard with his tommy-gun. He’ll watch for Japs and keep an
eye on Crayle. The rest of the boys will go with me to look for a mast.
If we should run into trouble we have our pistols.”

“I’d rather we all went with you, Barry,” the girl responded. “We could
carry Nanu into the bush where he wouldn’t be found. Where there’s
danger, we shouldn’t be separated.”

“If we were all fighting men, I’d agree with you, Dora,” he said. “As
it is, you have no right to risk the lives of your people in order to
stand by me and my crew. If a Jap patrol spots the catamaran while
we’re gone, your job, and Mickey Rourke’s, is to fight clear of the
beach and push out to sea. Never mind the rest of us. Naturally I hope
neither you nor we are going to be discovered; but if we should
be—well, so long and take care of yourself!”

He turned away quickly, beckoning his team after him, and headed up the
beach. By keeping to the shadows at the jungle’s edge, they remained
under cover and at the same time had light enough to see where they
were going. Each man scanned the jungle growth nearest him for any
slim, straight young tree that might serve to support the catamaran’s
sail. Bamboo, of course, would be the best, but that could only be
found in the interior.

They had gone no more than five hundred yards when Barry halted, with a
sharp hiss of warning.

“I heard voices,” he whispered, “ahead of us and to the left.... There!
Did you hear that, Chick?”

“Jap talk!” muttered the little bombardier. “Look! Isn’t that the mouth
of a creek just beyond us? I think that’s where they are.”

“You’re right, old Eagle-eye!” the skipper exclaimed. “Follow me, and
don’t make a sound. I want to see what’s going on.”

The voices grew louder as they advanced. The Japs, it appeared, were
some little distance up the creek. From the sounds, Barry judged that
they were loading something into a boat. He found a little trail
bordering the creek bank, and followed it.

Where the trail bent sharply to the left, he saw the flicker of
flashlights. Less than a hundred feet away, two Jap motor launches were
drawn up to the bank. Both were partly filled with soldiers. One of
them was still half covered with the camouflage net that had concealed
it during the day. Into the other launch someone, probably an officer,
was being loaded on a stretcher. The Japs, Barry knew, lost interest in
an ordinary soldier the moment he fell sick or wounded, and abandoned
him promptly.

This looked like a general exodus from the island. If that were the
case it could mean only one thing: The bombing raid had smashed every
installation of value at the air base, including the radio. It must
have killed most of the personnel, too. These thirty or forty men could
be only a small part of the air field’s ground forces.

As the last soldier jumped in, the motors of both launches sputtered
into life. In wondering silence the American fliers watched their
enemies disappear around the bend, heading out to sea.

“Do you really think that’s the last of ’em?” Hap Newton asked. “It
doesn’t seem possible that we’re the only ones alive on the island. And
yet, why would _two_ boatloads of Japs clear out if they just wanted to
send for help?”

“There’s just one way to make sure what has happened,” Barry Blake
responded. “We’ll follow this trail to the airfield and see for
ourselves. If the Japs have abandoned the island it won’t be for long,
but I should enjoy a chance to look the place over.”




The trail was easy to follow in the moonlight. It followed the creek
for about a mile, and ended at the edge of a huge open space. This had
been, a few hours before, the Jap airfield. Now, in the dim light, the
place looked more like the cratered landscape of the moon than anything
on earth.

“There,” said Soapy Babbitt, pointing to a heap of coral blocks and
rubble, “must be what’s left of the operations building. Probably the
radio was there, too.”

“What happened to the planes?” queried Chick Enders. “There must have
been a lot of ’em caught on the ground, but I can’t see more than two
or three wrecks from here.”

“I guess our bombs pulverized them,” Fred Marmon said. “Boy! That blitz
certainly was thorough. It’s hard to see how any Japs lived through it.”

“Some of the barrack buildings around the edge of the field escaped the
worst of the bombing, no doubt,” Barry Blake observed. “We’ll circle
the place now and see if anything is left. Keep your pistols ready,
fellows. If there should be any wounded Japs left, they’ll open fire on

Blasted, leafless trees that rimmed the field bore ghastly witness to
the size of the bombs. Moonlight made the scene of destruction more
horrible, with shadows that both concealed and exaggerated. Several
times the searchers stumbled on fragments of bomb-torn corpses.

One end of the field showed fewer bomb craters. It was here that a
number of _Mitsubishi_ bombers had been lined up when the blitz opened.
Either they had been left there for servicing, or the Japs had felt so
secure that they didn’t bother to scatter their planes around the field
at dispersal points.

At first glance most of the bombers seemed to be intact. If that were
the case, a guard might have been left with them. So as not to walk
into a trap, Barry led his men into the jungle and approached the
line-up from the rear.

Two hundred feet back in the bush he came upon a frame building that
sagged drunkenly as if a giant hand had given it a push. The tin roof
had been blown off, and now lay upside down on a group of flattened
tents. The building had evidently quartered Jap officers, while the
tents served as shelters for the enlisted personnel. There was no sign
of life in any of them—only half a dozen Japs killed by shrapnel.

The planes, too, were unguarded. On closer inspection they proved to be
hopeless wrecks. Fragmentation bombs had riddled the bombers with
shrapnel holes, torn off wings, ripped the thin-skinned fuselages.
Strangely enough, only two ships at one end of the line had burned.

“No wonder the Nip survivors cleared out!” Curly Levitt remarked.
“There aren’t enough usable parts in the whole line-up to build half a
plane, so far as I can see. Let’s cut a mast for the catamaran, and get
back to the beach, skipper.”

Barry Blake did not move. Deep in thought, he stood staring at the
nearest bomber, which leaned crazily on one wheel and one wing tip.

The plane’s left aileron dangled loosely. Its tail fin was smashed, and
one of the elevators was gone completely. Great holes showed in the
fuselage. The greenhouse was broken in. Yet something about the wreck
appeared to fascinate the young pilot.

“Curly,” he said soberly, “you’ve given me an idea. We _can_ build a
plane with these parts, if the Japs will give us time. A few shell
holes are nothing if the crate will fly. You fellows beat it back to
the beach and bring the others here. We’ll rig up sleeping quarters for
tonight and begin work at crack of dawn.... Fred, you stay here with
me. We’ll start looking these planes over now, by moonlight. It will
save time.”

If the others had doubts that Barry’s scheme would work, they failed to
mention them. The idea of flying home appealed so powerfully to their
minds that they would have backed a one-in-twenty chance of success.
They headed for the creek trail in high spirits.

When they returned, an hour later, Barry had good news to tell the
whole company. He and Fred had found two _Mitsubishi_ bombers with
engines apparently unhurt and wings not too badly damaged, though the
tail assemblies, fuselages and undercarriages were in sad shape. A
greater surprise was a two-place _Kawasaki_ fighter. Its greenhouse and
rear fuselage were full of holes, but its working parts were undamaged.

“Hap, you can take off first in that _Kawasaki_ with the two ladies,”
Barry told his co-pilot. “The rest of us can rebuild one of the bombers
and follow you in a day or two. Finding that fighter plane is a better
break than anything we’ve had yet.”

“Humph!” snorted the bigger man. “It might be—if you could find
somebody else to fly it. But even then I have a hunch the girls would
make trouble. Claire wouldn’t leave without her father, and Dora
wouldn’t leave without Claire. Of course neither Chick nor Curly nor I
would leave without you, and nobody else except Crayle knows enough to
handle a plane; and so—”

“Oh, drive it in the hangar, will you, Hap!” Barry said with a wry
grin. “I know when I’m licked. We’ll all have to wait till one of the
_Mitsus_ is fixed, I suppose—and just hope that the Japs won’t be back
before we get off. Come on—let’s see what sort of chow and sleeping
equipment the Japs have left us.”

In the Jap officers’ wrecked quarters they discovered a flashlight, and
with its help located other things. There were enough iron cot beds and
fairly clean bedding to supply all the white members of the party. Best
of all, there was plenty of mosquito netting.

The islanders found all they needed in the flattened tents. A quantity
of canned beef and vegetables was also located, but everyone was too
weary to think of preparing food. As soon as three of the tents could
be set up the whole crowd turned in to sleep.

The next four days and nights were one long, frantic battle against
time, heat, and mechanical difficulties that only desperate men could
have solved. The men snatched an hour or two of sleep when they could
no longer keep awake. Even Crayle worked at filling in shell holes to
make a runway—not willingly, but in fear of punishment.

The man’s reason was so warped that he regarded everyone with a sullen
hatred. If he could have laid hands on a gun, anything might have
happened. His companions realized this and took special precautions.

Nanu, the wounded native, was made custodian of the tommy-gun while
Mickey Rourke was working. His instructions were to shoot Crayle rather
than let him come near the weapon. The shell-shocked pilot was sane
enough to realize that Nanu would obey orders to the letter. He made no
open break, but his eyes never lost their cunning look.

The repairs to the least-damaged _Mitsubishi_ were completed by Fred,
Soapy, and the two Fortress pilots within three days. As the work
neared completion, the four men erected a camouflage of wreckage above
their plane, supporting the junk on a framework of poles. To a Jap
pilot flying overhead the restored _Mitsu_ would be visible only as
another hopeless ruin.

At last the repair job was finished—even the radio which they dared
not test. The weary mechanics filled the big bomber’s gas tanks with
fuel from other wrecks. They tested her engines and that of the
_Kawasaki_ fighter.

It was planned that Hap Newton should fly alone in the latter. Reaching
Darwin a little ahead of the _Mitsubishi_, he would take the risky job
of identifying himself. Once landed, he would prepare the airport’s
defenders for his friends’ arrival in a Jap bombing plane.

One more day was needed to smooth a runway long enough for the bomber’s
take-off. The thirteen able-bodied members of the party worked
feverishly, with shovels improvised from pieces of wreckage, to fill in
the last gaping bomb craters. The knowledge that at any time the Japs
might return in force was a spur to their bone-tired bodies. Only Glenn
Crayle stalled, when he thought he was not observed.

By mid-afternoon one unfilled crater stood between them and freedom,
and the workers, except Crayle, were all at the point of exhaustion.

“We’ll lay off for an hour, friends,” Barry Blake croaked, as he wiped
a dirty hand across his forehead. “Can’t afford to break down with
success almost in sight. A cool drink and a rest will help us to finish
the job by night....”

He broke off as a distant hum of engines grew on the air.

“Planes coming!” he yelled. “Take cover!”

Dropping their tools, the little crowd staggered into the sheltering
bush. As they flung themselves down, a squadron of _Mitsubishis_ sailed
into view. At twenty-thousand feet, they looked like small silver
flying fish.

Probably, Barry thought, they were scanning the island for signs of
enemy activity. He wondered if they would notice the smooth strip at
the edge of the bomb-pocked field.

He was not left long in doubt. Three of the bombers peeled off and
circled down in wide, slow spirals. They were wary, those Jap pilots,
of another Guadalcanal-style occupation. The newly smoothed runway
strip must have looked to them exceedingly suspicious.

A shout from Nanu at the other end of the runway rang above the droning
of enemy engines. There was alarm in it, and pain. A cry from Dora
Wilcox echoed it.

Barry sprang to his feet and raced through the bush, in the direction
of the planes. Behind him he could hear his crew panting.

Their progress was maddeningly slow, yet they dared not leave the bush.
Once the enemy planes guessed their identity bullets would fly, and
bombs would fall.

“Crayle’s grabbed the tommy-gun, I’ll bet,” Chick Enders gasped as he
fought to keep up with Barry. “The idiot _would_ pick a time like this.
Oh-oh! There he is—in the—uh—_Kawasaki_!”

The bomber’s team halted as Crayle saw them and swung his sub-machine
gun to cover them.

“Stay back!” he warned hysterically. “You can’t keep me here on the
ground while they’re dropping bombs on us. I’ll kill you if you come
another step.... You, Nanu—walk that propeller around once again, or
I’ll kill you, too. _Turn it, you fool!_”

Nanu, sweating with the pain of his injured leg, grasped the
_Kawasaki’s_ propeller and leaned his weight on it. Off balance, he
slipped to his knees. The fall probably saved his life, for at that
moment the engine coughed into life.

Crayle did not wait for the engine to warm up.... Scarcely had Nanu
dragged himself out of the way of the wheels when they rolled forward.
The _Kawasaki_ rushed down the runway trailing a cloud of dust. Her
tail came up. Then, just as she reached the end of the strip something
went wrong.

Either the plane had not gathered sufficient speed, or Crayle failed to
ease back on the stick soon enough. Instead of rising, the wheels
struck the far edge of the unfilled bomb crater. The _Kawasaki_ went
end over end, with a rending crash.

Fire burst from the center section. The whole plane exploded in a giant
bloom of flame. Above it the Jap bombers zoomed, and spiralled upward
to join their formation. The Kawasaki’s futile attempt to take off had
at least convinced them that the field was not in enemy hands.

Barry turned around to find Dora and Claire Barrows bandaging Nanu’s
re-opened wound. They appeared far more concerned over the suffering
native boy than about Glenn Crayle’s flaming death.

“How soon do you think we can get Nanu to a hospital, Barry?” the girl
missionary queried anxiously. “This new loss of blood is likely to
bring on a fever, and we haven’t a thing to treat it with.”

The young skipper looked toward the _Kawasaki’s_ wreckage, blazing on
the other side of the last bomb crater.

“We’ll have that hole filled before midnight, Dora,” he said wearily.
“It will have to be Glenn Crayle’s grave. When the earth is smoothed
down and the burned plane is hauled aside, there should be enough
runway for the bomber. We’ll take off at dawn, and be over Port Darwin
in two hours—if we’re not intercepted.”

At breakfast time the next morning an excited radio officer telephoned
the O.C. at Port Darwin airfield.

“Message just received for you, sir,” he reported. “It purports to be
sent by Lieutenant Barry Blake of the United States Army Air Forces,
who’s been missing since the raid on Amboina. He says he is flying a
_Mitsubishi_ bomber with his B-26 crew and seven refugees aboard and
asks permission to come in.”

“Barry Blake!” exclaimed the Australian colonel. “I should know that
name. There’s a Yankee captain having breakfast with me, who’s been
talking of little else. He came here with a fantastic notion that Blake
would pop up sooner or later. We’ll jog down to the radio room and let
Captain Tex O’Grady identify your mysterious pilot.”

Not a trace of fog obscured the Australian coast as Barry Blake picked
out the rugged mass of Melville Island. The _Mitsu’s_ patched wings
glinted like silver in the early sunlight. Landing should be easy, but
before giving permission, the O.C. had insisted on identifying the
bomber’s crew by their voices. The Jap radio was tuned on the port’s
wave length.

Without warning Tex O’Grady’s voice rang in the crew’s earphones.

“Dawg-gone you, Barry,” it said. “Where did you Fortress men get the
idea that you could desert _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_ and go gallivanting off
with a silly little B-26? No wonder you-all had to come home in a Jap
crate! What happened, anyway?”

“_Skipper!_” Barry shouted joyfully. “Where are you—at Port Darwin?
What brought you here—”

“It’s the Old Man himself!” gasped Curly Levitt.

“Captain!” yelped Fred Marmon. “How are you, sir? And what’s the good

“Reef back, boys!” Tex O’Grady’s humorous drawl answered them. “I’m not
answering questions until you come in and we have a chance to talk. But
the news is this: Your part in finding and helping to smash the big Jap
flotilla off New Guinea has won Barry a captain’s bars and the rest
some decorations. And here’s the best little item of all, I reckon....”

He paused briefly, as if trying to control a new huskiness in his

“You boys,” he continued, “have drawn a thirty-day furlough, and we’re
all going—going home to the States in _Sweet Rosy O’Grady_, as soon as
she’s patched up enough to make the trip. Here’s Colonel Raymond with a
word you’ve been waiting for.”

Barry’s head felt queerly light, and the mention of “home” had brought
a lump to his throat that would not go down. As if from a great
distance he heard a strange voice speaking.

“Permission to land is herewith granted,” the Australian O.C. said.
“And may all your future landings be as happy as this one, _Captain_
Barry Blake of the Flying Fortress!”





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Transcriber’s note:

Some punctuation errors and minor spelling errors have been
corrected without mention.

A table of illustrations has been added immediately after
the table of contents.

page 11 - changed "goodnatured" to "good-natured" and page 22 - changed
"good natured" to "good-natured" - other books in this series use
"good-natured" consistently

page 35 - changed “one hundred and eight-five” to “one hundred and

page 159 - changed “Fortresses were now on the seene” to “Fortresses
were now on the scene”

page 225 - changed “Dora Wilcox had pointed their top surfaces” to
“Dora Wilcox had painted their top surfaces”

page 232 - changed “island were the sight of” to “island were the site

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