Tramp in Armour

Tramp in Armour by Colin Forbes Read Free Book Online

Book: Tramp in Armour by Colin Forbes Read Free Book Online
Authors: Colin Forbes
Tags: Fiction, General, Science-Fiction, Horror
evidence that the scythe of war had passed that way, more and more burnt-out Renault tanks, smashed guns, still figures lying sprawled in the fields, helmets. And always they were French helmets. He was still waiting to see even one sign of German casualties in either men or machines, and he had not found it when he saw in the distance the first indication of life in this eerily empty landscape - a horizontal line of smoke. The line crossed the sky just above the ground and it hung perfectly still as though drawn in with charcoal. But at one end, the end which was approaching the road half a mile farther on, the line was growing and he realized it was smoke from a train's engine, a train which was still invisible below the level of an embankment. He scanned the sky and stiffened, his hand tightening on the turret rim. High up in the blue vastness a formation of planes was flying on a course which seemed to parallel the direction of the train. He raised his glasses and focused them. It was impossible to be sure but they looked like a squadron of British Blenheim bombers and his heart lifted at the sight of them.
    As the tank trundled forward he watched the planes coming closer and then, focusing his glasses along the road, he saw the level crossing which the train would pass over within the next minute. He swivelled his glasses back to the aerial formation and caught his breath. They were moving into line now - coming in for a bombing run. He gave the order to halt and warned his crew over the intercom.
    'I think there'll be some bombs dropping in the vicinity shortly. Don't laugh - but they'll be coming from our chaps.'
    No one laughed as they waited in the stationary tank, the engines still ticking over. Should they reverse, wondered Barnes, and then he rejected the idea. -They might just as easily reverse into a bomb. He prepared to slam down the lid but for the moment he waited, curious to see whether the Blenheims hit their target.
    'What are they after?' Penn called up.
    'A train, I think. It's just about to cross the road farther along, so get ready for it.'
    His glasses brought up the road ahead now and he saw the smoke line emerge from behind the embankment. The train began to move across the road into the fields beyond. Two engines, drawing a line of goods coaches. He sucked in his breath as he saw tiny figures clustered round a long barrel on a flat truck. A Bofors? He could hear the gun now as it began pumping shells into the sky. When he looked up the first bombs were falling, small black dots against the warm blue, too far away to menace Bert, thank God, but they were going to be close, mighty close, to that train. The stick of dots vanished behind the smoke and he waited for the detonations. As he stood there, his eyes glued to the smoke line, a colossal explosion murdered the evening, far more enormous than it should have been. The first shock wave swept along the road as a coach went hump-backed. The wave buffeted against the tank hull and Barnes started to scramble inside, the words screaming through his brain. Ammunition train! The second, more devastating shock wave hit the tank when he was halfway down, his hand inside the turret, the lid still open. The tremendous force of the wave unbalanced his footing and his head smashed back against the steel rim. At that very moment the undetected Messerschmitt swooped in a power dive, all guns blazing, but Barnes was already unconscious.

    Saturday evening, 7 pm. The 14th Panzer Division was racing deeper into France, now well beyond Laon, coming close to the Somme. General Heinrich Storch not only had the nose of a hawk, he also had the eye of that predatory bird, and this eye was now fixed on a hump some distance away across the fields. Whipping up his glasses, he focused on the object, letting out his breath in a hiss. He spoke briefly into the microphone hanging from his neck as a shell screamed across the field towards the tank, column. A 75-mm gun, Storch told

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