(Rover Homepage)


First episode, taken from The Rover issue: 1052 March 6th 1943.




The lone cyclist toiled up the steep hill out of the little Rhineland town of Kalk. It was hard going, and he was breathing hard. It did not seem possible that he had any time to spare to look ahead. Yet he was quite aware of the crippled boy who sat under the signpost, a bindle and a stick on the ground beside him. There were no direction fingers on the sign-post. Such things had been taken down soon after Germany had gone to war. The cyclist appeared to be an elderly man, with graying hair, shabby clothing, and a cheap leather bag on his carrier. The traveler reached the crossroads as the crippled boy reached down and turned his stick upon the ground. The stick now pointed to the left fork. The cyclist took the road to the left, and his eyes followed a power-cable which was run on concrete poles to the right of the road. There were many of these overhead power-cables in Germany. They supplied even the most remote parts with electricity. The cable line cut across a field towards some woods. The dense trees covered no more than three acres. Many of these copses were found in the Rhineland, not a dozen miles from Cologne. The cyclist glanced behind him. Except for the crippled boy he had the stretch of road to himself. Nobody saw him jump from his machine at a gateway and enter the field. Again mounting, he pedalled vigorously towards the copse, and a few minutes later he was under the trees. Breathing hard, he lowered his feet and swung from the saddle. The cycle he propped up against a tree. He began to unfasten his leather bag, and from it took various pieces of apparatus, including a case linked with numerous wires and earphones. He placed these on the ground, drove two pegs into the earth, made sure they were connected with his wires, and began to don long rubber stockings and long rubber gloves. Climbing irons which were heavily insulated with rubber were fastened to his feet, and he armed himself with a hook which was sheathed in rubber. His eyes blazed with excitement as he picked up a third wire and coiled it over his insulated arm. The other end of the wire ran to the case on the ground.

Not twenty yards away there was a concrete pole carrying the lower cable. Approaching this he began to climb, making clever use of clamps and hook. For an ordinary person to have neared the cable at the top would have meant death. But the climber was protected against possible contact and electrocution. On his skull he had placed a close-fitting rubber cap. He climbed steadily until he was able to grip and hold the heavily-charged cable with his insulated hook. Bearing down on this, he pulled the line close enough to be able to clip a spring connection on to the cable. To this connection was attached the end of the wire which he had carried from below. Sparks flashed in the air, but the climber was unhurt. He tested the connection, then swiftly slid to the ground, taking the wire with him. He now had three lines linked with the case on the ground, two of these with the earth, and one to the highly-charged cable overhead. He glanced at his watch and saw it was a few minutes to six. He next peered through the bushes and saw the crippled boy sitting on a tree trunk at the edge of the copse. The lad was munching some black bread. He looked innocent enough. “Good for Carl!” muttered the mystery cyclist. “He certainly knows his stuff.” Without further delay he opened the case and revealed a complete radio transmitting set. It was not an ordinary set, for there were gadgets and windings such as were found on no normal apparatus. It was an apparatus suitable only for use on the “side-band.” When connected with the overhead power cable the miniature transformer which formed an important part of the equipment could produce two hundred watts, more than sufficient for the purpose intended. The man put earphones over his head and strapped a microphone to his chest so that the mouthpiece was close to his chin. He turned a dial and listened intently. Somewhere nearby a powerful note could be heard throbbing over the ether. It was the power-wave from the main Cologne radio station. At six p.m. a most important message was to be sent over the air. The man in the copse continued to listen, until suddenly the voice of the announcer came over the air. “In exactly fifty seconds Herr Goebbels, Press and Publicity Minister of the Reich, will be speaking to you. Stand by for Herr Goebbels!” “And for his lies!” said the cyclist clearly and distinctly into the microphone. “In less than thirty seconds you will hear Herr Goebbels trying to explain our defeats on the Russian Front.” He spoke in fluent German, quietly but distinctly, and the apparatus before him was capable of carrying his voice to the powerful power-wave on which Goebbels was about to address the whole of Germany. “Herr Goebbels!” came the voice of the announcer, and a few minutes later the strident voice of Germany’s propaganda chief was heard on the air.

The man in the copse listened to every word. He waited until the Herr Doktor paused for breath, then flashed in some sarcastic comments, which were carried on the same power-wave all over Germany. That apparatus on the ground did not enable him to send independent all over the country, but within twenty miles of a first class radio station it made it possible for him to cut in on any speaker, and to slip in his remarks whenever there was an interval or the speaker paused for breath. As he also heard every word that was being spoken, he could make the remark apt. “Germany will never starve!” shrieked Doktor Goebbels. “Because our people are being killed faster than our food supplies are expended!” broke in the Ghost Voice. “Already we have had more casualties than we had in the whole of the Great War of 1914 to 1918. This is Nemo giving you the facts that are hidden by Goebbels.” The strident tones of Herr Goebbels continued. The speaker did not know he was being interrupted by a voice which was as clear as his own , a voice which was picked up by every loudspeaker set to distribute the words of the Propaganda Minister. Everyone in Germany was being forced to listen to Goebbels, and thus they listened to Nemo as well. “Nemo, the true voice of Europe, is addressing you!” the man in the copse found time to get over when the Herr Doktor paused to take a sip of water. “By the courtesy of the German Government I am enabled to give you the truth, something that has not been heard in Germany for a long time!” Suddenly Goebbels’ tirade ceased. His voice had faltered. A low growl was heard coming from him. A note had been handed to him telling him what was happening. He had decided to go off the air in order to silence the Ghost Voice. Instantly every power-wave carrying his speech was cut off. That shut down the Ghost Voice, but it also shut down Herr Goebbels.

Nemo chuckled as he removed the earphones and the microphone, replaced these in the case, and lifted everything into the leather bag which he had carried on the bicycle. It did not take him many minutes to climb up and unfasten the wire from the power-cable. Even the power he had used for his cut-in had been provided by the German Government. When everything was stowed away, and he was ready to leave the copse, he uttered a low whistle. Out on the road the crippled boy glanced keenly right and left, then whistled twice in reply. It was the all-clear. Nemo came cycling down to the gate and gained the thoroughfare. The crippled boy was munching some bread and sausage, and did not glance at him, but as the cyclist mounted and passed on he muttered. “Good work, Carl! We stopped the Herr Doktor’s speech. Hitler and Co. will have a fit when they hear about it. Meet me at Frau Heinbach’s inn after dark.” He rode steadily towards Cologne, head down, face lined with weariness. To the military patrol car which passed a few minutes later he looked a harmless simple-minded tramp.


Within the office of Leo Frisch, Chief of the Gestapo in Cologne, there was something approaching panic. Men rushed here and there, answering phones, bellowing orders. Telephones whirred all the time. Berlin was hardly ever off the line. In Herr Frisch’s office Goebbels frothed and raved. He swore by all the power invested in him that something terrible would happen to everyone concerned if the person responsible for interrupting his speech was not apprehended. “We have radio-locations stations which can find the transmitter within ten minutes,” he roared. “Why have they not told us where this secret station operates, so that we can surround and seize the fiends?” “Herr Doktor, the locators tell us the messages came from Cologne broadcasting station itself. The interruptions were carried on the same waves as your own words,” replied Frisch. Goebbels yelped as though he had been stung. “Then what are we waiting for? The culprit is within the broadcasting station. Someone allowed him to slip in and speak on the same wave as myself. One of the officials if probably a traitor. Surround the place! Arrest everyone! We will squeeze the truth out of them!” “Herr Doktor, the place is already surrounded, but the officials are of the highest repute. They say—” “Never mind what they say!” roared Goebbels. “We know the facts. The interruption came on my own wavelength and my own power-wave, therefore it emanated from Cologne station. We will get to the bottom of this, even if we—” The door crashed open, and a worried looking official burst into the room. “Herr Goebbels, the Fuhrer himself is waiting to speak to you on the radio transmitter from the Russian front. You are linked straight through. You have only to pick up the telephone receiver there, and—” “Get out!” snarled Goebbels, and snatched the receiver. A crackling noise came to his ears, then a bubbling in the distance. “Ja, mein Fuhrer! It is Goebbels who speaks.” Clearly and sharply came the words in his ear. “You are a great fool, Goebbels! You have made yourself the laughing stock of the world, and have provided our enemies with much amusement.

Why did you let that clown talk at the same time as yourself?” Goebbels went red in the face. “But mein Fuhrer,” he protested, ignoring the faint spluttering and muttering in the distance, “it was not my fault. It—” “I want no excuses, Goebbels!” came the harsh voice which drowned all others. “I have finished with you. You can consider yourself discharged.” “Dis—dis—dis—” spluttered Doktor Goebbels unable to believe his own ears. “You are not serious. Herr Hitler. I give you warning—” “What are you warning me about, you clumsy fool!” came a rasping voice from the dim distance. “How dare you speak to me like that, Goebbels? Have you gone out of your mind?” “But—but you said I was to be discharged!” howled Goebbels. “I will not stand—” “You must be crazy!” came the unmistakable shout of the maniac who ruled Germany. “I said nothing of the kind. I’ve only just come on the air. Listen to me!” Goebbels went yellow with fright. He realised that the first voice had been the Ghost Voice. He had almost been led into telling Hitler what he thought of him! Adolph Hitler began to explode over the ether, and Goebbels had no chance to give orders that the Ghost Voice must be hunted down afresh. At that same time, in the inn run by Frau Heinbach, on the outskirts of Cologne, the elderly man who called himself Nemo switched off his apparatus and chuckled at the boy who stood beside him. “In another few moments Hitler and Goebbels would have been telling each other the truth. It’s a pity I daren’t stay on the air any longer.” Carl Pittmann leaned on his crutch, and nodded happily. He was a boy of about fifteen, thin and under-sized, with one leg twisted at the hip. His bright, alert face was marred by a scar down one side, and by deep-set eyes which seemed to be haunted with fear. Fear and horror had been his lot ever since the Nazis had marched into Austria. Carl and his family had lived at Innsbruck, and were proud of their Tyrolese extraction. Carls’ father had always believed Austria’s future happiness depended on her keeping out all entanglements with other countries, and he had always been bitterly opposed to collaboration with the German Reich. Everyone had known his feelings, and when the Nazis had marched in they had gone straight to the Pittmann home and had dragged Oscar Pittmann from his bed. They had shot him against the wall under the window of the room where Carl had been lying with a broken leg obtained when mountain climbing. The boy had been unable to interfere.

The Nazis had afterwards set fire to the house. Carl’s mother had tried to save him, but had been overcome by the smoke and had perished in the fire. The injured boy, to avoid being burned alive, had jumped from the high window, and had crippled himself for life. When Nemo had asked him to help in the dangerous mission which he was carrying out within enemy territory, Carl had readily agreed. Now his smile faded as he watched the other pack up his portable gear. “They’ll never forgive you for this,” he said. “Are you sure they can’t track you down? They’re very clever about such things. They use several radio sets and get cross-bearings, then—” “I know, Carl, I know that but it doesn’t work in this case.” Nemo assured him. “I don’t actually send out the wireless message, but merely superimpose it on the power-wave being used by some German station. I use their own power-wave, so all the trails lead to that. Wouldn’t it be fun if they suspected some of their own men, and—” They both turned their heads and rose to their feet, for heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs, and a harsh voice accompanied a thundering knock on the door. “Open there! Open in the name of the Reich!” The boy went white, and grasped his crutch fiercely. Nemo looked to make sure his battered leather bag was tossed carelessly into the corner, and that nothing incriminating lay about the room, then moved towards the door. “Coming—coming!” he growled. “What’s the matter with you? What do you want?” He had unlocked the door, and they thrust it open. There were three S.S. men with revolvers, and a plain clothes man who was obviously a member of the Gestapo. It was the latter who said— “It’s you we want—if your name is Ebard Holtz!” The boy’s knuckles whitened as he clutched his crutch more fiercely than ever. He looked miserably at his companion, who grinned at the new comers as he fished out a pocket book and some papers. “You’ve come to the wrong person, my friends. My name’s Otto Dreis, as my papers show. This boy is my cousin, Carl Pittmann. What’s this Holtz wanted for?”


They passed his papers from hand to hand, and scrutinized them intently. Even then they did not appear to be satisfied. They stared around the room and noticed the bag in the corner. “What’s in that?” demanded the leader. “My samples. Can I sell you any fountain pens or cigarette lighters?” asked Nemo, grabbing the bag and planting it on the table. “I’ll let you have a percentage off as you’re in uniform. I was in the army myself last war, and maybe you’d like to help me. For three marks—” “Shut up! We want nothing—except Ebard Holtz!” snapped the senior S.S. man. “He’s suspected of being a British agent. He was seen near this inn an hour ago by someone who knew him in the past. He’s about your height. Have you got a ring tattooed around your left little finger?” He grabbed for Nemo’s hand as he spoke, and the traveler in fountain-pens and cigarette lighters laughed aloud. Most of his little finger was missing altogether. It had been cut off below the bottom joint. “I’ll never wear a ring on that, tattooed or otherwise,” he gurgled. “That’s a souvenir of the last war. Sure I can’t sell you a good lighter?” Again he reached for the bag on the table, the bag which contained his invention. Hitherto to carry out what he had done would have necessitated an apparatus with a transformer much too heavy to be carried by an ordinary man. Nemo had invented a hyper-mu core for the primary winding of his transformer, which cut down the weight to a quarter. It was because of this he could carry the apparatus on a bicycle. “Nein!” snarled the man he addressed, and waved the others towards the door. “We want nothing. We’re on duty. There is an enemy of the Reich in our midst, and we’ve got to find him. Herr Goebbels himself is driving us, and Thalfang says—” He broke off abruptly, as though he realised he had said too much. The next moment they had tramped along the corridor to another room, and the boy drew a moist hand across his face. He was trembling. “Were—were you ever known as Ebard Holtz?” he muttered. “I was, and I had a ring tattooed deeply into the skin of my little finger. That’s why I had it amputated by a surgeon before I took on this job,” was the grim reply.

The boy stared in fascinated horror. He had joined Nemo because of their mutual hatred for the Nazis, but until now he had known he was a British agent. “How—how did they know?” he whispered. “Apparently Thalfang is in the district and recognised me. I didn’t know that. I’m grateful to the Gestapo for warning me. He’s the last man I wish to see. He nearly caught me when I was over here in 1941, and swore he would get me if I ever set foot in the country again. He must have seen me before we came here. He’s got eyes like a hawk. It means we’ve got to go before he makes them search more closely. If I hadn’t bluffed them they’d have opened that bag, and then—” He turned his thumbs meaningly downwards, and the boy’s mouth dried. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “It will be dark in ten minutes. We’ll leave by the bedroom window. Thalfang doesn’t know you, so I’ll lower you first to scout around. He explained in detail, and very soon it was dark enough outside for their purpose. They opened the window at the bottom, and a rope which Nemo always carried about his waist was lowered. Carl tucked his crutch under one arm, and went down with extraordinary agility for a cripple. He landed lightly, and disappeared from view. He had a rubber tip on the end of his crutch, and could get about in silence. Nemo waited at the window, the heavy bag slung from his shoulders by a strap. He waited until Carl gave a low whistle then knew it was safe to descend. Not many moments later he had gained the courtyard, and the boy pointed to a side gate. That was the way to the road which led to the riverside. Nemo had planned to stow away on one of the many barges going up or down the Rhine. It would mean easy travelling for his companion, and he might get within range of another radio station from which he could speak to Germany and Europe. They kept close to the wall on their right, the heavy bag weighing Nemo down on one side. He wished he could have got his bicycle from the shed, but that was out of the question. He had to get the bag aboard a barge. A bicycle would have been too conspicuous. They were nearing the end of the side passage, and could hear the hooting of a tug on the waterway, when a uniformed figure came running round the corner and crashed straight into Nemo. Thud! The heavy bag had been knocked out of his hand. Fortunately it did not burst open, but the S.S. man gave a grunt of recognition as he snatched for his big revolver. “Where are you two—” Crack! Carl Pittmann had swung his heavy crutch with lightning speed. Up and over it came, and caught the speaker on the side of the head, sending him reeling to the wall.

A moment later Nemo had snatched the revolver from the limp hand, and was threatening the fellow with it. There was no need for that. The S.S. man had doubled at the knees and slowly slumped to the ground. It had been a clean knockout. There was no further fear of trouble from the S.S. man, but there had been others somewhere to the right, and they had evidently heard the scrimmage. Voices were shouting, and heavy feet were pattering to the corner. Away went Carl Pittmann, hobbling as fast as he could with the aid of his crutch, clinging to the heavy bag, making for the glint of water that marked the River Rhine. “There goes someone!” bellowed an unseen runner, and the next moment shots rang out. Bullets whistled around the stumbling youngster. Nemo grunted as he stepped into the open. He had not intended to expose Carl to danger. It was necessary to draw off the fire from him. Raising the revolver which he had taken from the S.S. man, he pulled the trigger three times in quick succession. The runners stopped, and hurriedly flung themselves down beside the wall. Again there was a shout. This time bullets hummed close to Nemo’s head. He had cleared the boy of danger but had brought it upon himself. It looked very much as though Carl and the precious bag would reach safety, while the British agent would be cornered. Men were coming down the passage behind him.


© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007