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The Regiment by Michael Asher

Extract 2 from The Regiment by Michael Asher, published by Viking.

Operation Kipling took place in August 1943

The SAS party consisted of Captain Derek Harrison and five men of C Squadron. Their base was in the forest at Merry Vaux in central France. They were informed that the Germans had occupied the villages of Les Ormes and two jeeps set off at speed. On arrival an old lady in tears told them that between 200-300 Germans had occupied the village and were burning it, she was on her way to alert the Maquis nearby. Harrison realised there was no time to spare:

'Harrison gripped the front twin-Vickers. Hall gunned gas. The two jeeps fried rubber, spooned dirt, shrieked into the village square with Union Jacks up. A Waffen SS officer in field-grey stood in the road, pistol in hand. Harrison saw his eyes go big with shock, and squeezed twin-triggers. The Vickers K rasped, the German lurched and fell. The pistol clattered into the gutter. Harrison took in houses, an orchard, a church, a truck, two staff cars, a bunch of Boche in field-grey. He stood up in his seat, pulled iron, traversing the Germans. Twin-Vickers streaked, incendiary rounds socked metal, chugged petrol tanks. Cars and trucks threw up steel shards, spurls of flame and smoke. Germans twitched, lurched, spattered blood, dropped Schmeissers, hurdled through smoke, and clawed for cover. "Many of them died in those first few seconds in front of the church," Harrison said, "lit by the flickering flames of the burning vehicles."

Harrison screamed at Hall to reverse, but the jeep caromed on. It stopped smack in the middle of the square, thirty yards from the church. The Germans were recovering. Schmeissers and rifles chirred out from cover, rounds scraping air. There were German faces at the windows of a nearby high building.

Harrison dekkoed Hall and saw his driver face-down on the steering wheel, pulsing blood. He toed the starter. The engine was dead. He squeezed twin-triggers again. Nothing happened. Both guns were jammed. He pivoted into the back of the jeep, grabbed the Bren. It popped a burst and stuck hard. German rounds wheezed, spiked bodywork. He vaulted to the single Vickers on the driver's side, double-tapped. The gun bleared flame twice and stopped. "A dud jeep and three jammed guns, Harrison thought. "Hell, what a mess!"

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