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An episode, taken from The Wizard issue: 1876 January 27th 1962

The little black bag that’s worth two million pounds!

Captain January, of the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police, halted abruptly for the excellent reason that a German S.S. trooper was pointing a rifle at his stomach. A second German covered January’s colleague, Captain Tissigny, of the Free French Military Police. It was a misty afternoon during the last war, and the incident occurred on a bridge over the railway near the French town of Metz. The area was still in full occupation by the Germans.


Both Captain January and Tissigny wore grimy berets and boiler suits. Both had red, diamond-shaped patches on their backs. The two men had not shaved for a couple of days and looked thoroughly scruffy. The two burly, scowling Germans thought that January and Tissigny were fugitives from a French slave labour force. Thousands of Frenchmen had been conscripted by the Germans to work for them. Now that the Allies were driving the German armies back towards the River Rhine, and there was confusion in the territories that the Germans had held for so long, many Frenchmen—as well as Belgians and Dutch—were slipping away from the labour camps and trying to find their way home. The S.S. troopers thought that in Captain January and Tissigny they had nabbed a couple of these deserters. The Germans had the idea that they were dealing with half-starved fugitives who were dead scared of a German uniform. The S.S. was a private army of the Nazis. They were the personal troops of Hitler, the German leader. The Germans would probably have been safer if they had disturbed a couple of spitting cobras instead of January and Tissigny. The railway bridge was in a dreary area of the town. The gasworks were on one side, but no gas was being made because of the shortage of coal, and the gasholders had sunk to their lowest level. On the other side of the bridge were the semi-derelict buildings of an old iron foundry. The German trooper who levelled his rifle at Captain January glared at him ferociously and spoke in limping French—in fact, it limped so badly it was hard to understand. “Where have you come from?” the trooper demanded. Captain January created a surprise for the troopers, and he did it by speaking to Tissigny in German. There was nothing limping in the way January spoke. His tones were as Germanic as sauerkraut—the favourite German dish of pickled cabbage. His plan in speaking German was a simple one. He hoped to bluff the two S.S. troopers into believing that he and Tissigny were German secret agents in disguise. It was a plan that could easily work, for there were many such agents knocking about in the battle areas. “Ach! They are a pair of conscientious fellow, Oberscharfuhrer!” exclaimed Captain January. “They keep their eyes open!” Tissigny’s wits worked with the speed of forked lightning, and if he was surprised at being addressed as Oberscharfuhrer, which meant a superior class of leader, he did not show it. “Yes, yes,” he replied in German. “We shall not have to report them for inattention to duty.” Captain January gave the storm trooper who had him covered an admiring look. “You need not apologise for pointing your rifle at me,” January declared. “In fact, it is a tribute to our disguise.” The trooper instantly swung his rifle back to the port and clicked his heels, an action copied by the man who had held up Tissigny.

Captain January’s bluff had worked. The troopers had taken him and Tissigny for fairly high-ranking German officers in disguise. Once the troopers had put up their rifles, it took Captain January only a split second to lock a judo grip on the big German’s wrist and send him crashing against the parapet of the bridge. The German uttered a gasp of pain and dropped his rifle. The other German writhed in the grip that Tissigny had put on him. Captain January let go. He picked the rifle up and slung it over the bridge on to the railway embankment. The second rifle followed when Tissigny had disarmed the other German. “Start walking,” snapped Captain January to the two dazed troopers. “I’m carrying a pistol, and I’ll use it if you try any tricks.” Captain January and Tissigny hurried the troopers off the bridge and steered them through a gap in the crumbling wall of the iron foundry. They had just got inside when a lorry crammed with German soldiers passed along the road. The foundry looked as if it had been bombed. This was not so. The Allies had done very little bombing in the area. They avoided attacks on French towns and cities as much as possible. “Why had you been posted on the bridge?” Captain January asked. One of the German troopers gave him a surly look. “We were told to watch the bridge, that is all I know,” he answered. Tissigny jabbed his prisoner in the back with his automatic pistol. “Is a special train expected?” he asked. The German shrugged. “It is possible,” he replied. “Reichmarshal Sturm’s special train?” pursued Tissigny. “We were not told any details,” replied the German. “But the Reichmarshal’s train is in the region?” Tissigny exclaimed. “Yes,” grunted the German. Captain January looked for somewhere to leave the Germans. He had belonged to the Special Investigation Branch of the Military Police from the day it was formed. The Special Investigation Branch was to the Military Police what the Criminal Investigation Department was to the civil police. Captain January was a detective in khaki. His special task, now that the war was nearing its end, was to make sure that top-ranking Nazis who had looted art treasures and valuables in the occupied countries did not get away with that loot. There was reason to believe that Marshal Sturm had in his possession one of France’s great treasures, the gold and diamond Collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Captain January had been on the Marshal’s tracks for a week, and was glad to have the assistance of Tissigny, not only for the Frenchman’s local knowledge, but also because he was a good man to have at your back when you were in a jam. Tissigny was January’s counterpart in the Free French Military Police. It was Tissigny who drew attention to a flight of steps leading down to a cellar. Captain January ordered the S.S. men to go down the steps. Then January and Tissigny placed boards across the opening at the top of the steps, and stacked bricks on the planks. There were plenty of bricks lying about. The military policeman made a big pile of them on the boards. “The Germans will not be able to get out of the cellar now,” declared Tissigny at last. “We must remember they are shut in,” remarked Captain January. “We can come back when our present mission is accomplished and hand them over to our troops.” Tissigny nodded. “It will be these two Germans’ bad luck if we get bumped off by their comrades,” he said. Captain January grinned. He was tall and swarthy, with piercing eyes, and a hint of ruthlessness in the set of his jaw. “We must find somewhere to watch the railway,” he said. “Sturm’s train will have to pass through the junction.” “It will surely not arrive until it is dark,” murmured Tissigny. “The Marshal takes very good care of his own skin, and would not risk an attack on his train by one of our planes.” Captain January and Tissigny moved across the iron foundry towards the railway. It was known that Hitler, the German leader, had sent Marshal Sturm to the region to bolster up resistance against the hammer blows of the American armoured divisions which were striking through France towards the German border. The wall on the railway side was in a rather better state of preservation than the other walls, but January and Tissigny found a lookout where some bricks had fallen away. The embankment sloped down to a double line of metals. In one direction the railway disappeared under the bridge, and in the other it curved towards the junction and sidings of a big marshalling yard. The town of Metz was an important railway centre. Captain January and Tissigny looked cautiously through the hole in the wall. It was a good thing they did not stick their necks out, because a patrol of seven or eight Germans was moving slowly along. Two of them were paying special attention to the far track. “From the way they’re poking about, they’re making sure the Marquis haven’t sabotaged the line,” Captain January muttered. The Marquis were members of the French Resistance movement who fought in secret against the German troops who occupied their land. They had become known as the Marquis because the French Resistance operated a great deal from the marquis or dense scrubland which covered parts of the country. “Surely it means the special train is expected,” replied Tissigny. “It will arrive from the west, and, I imagine, will be routed through Nancy and Strasbourg into Germany. “We’ve got to get on to the train!” Captain January exclaimed. “It will have to stop here for water, won’t it?” Tissigny nodded. “Yes, or to change engines,” he answered. “We’ll get as near the engine depot as we can,” said Captain January.


During the day there had been no activity in the railway yards at Metz. As soon as darkness fell shunting started. There was not much fear of air attack, as low clouds had drifted over the sky in the late evening. Here and there lights were switched on and the shunters had their lamps. Most of the men working the yard belonged to a German railway battalion. In addition to the railwaymen, German S.S. troopers were on the prowl.


Captain January and Tissigny picked a way through the maze of sidings. The clanking of a shunting engine drowned the rumble of a van that was on the move. In the nick of time Captain January saw the van’s dark shape loom up and pulled the Frenchman clear. “Thanks,” gasped Tissigny, for he had had a very narrow squeak. He had been on the track right in the van’s path. “Don’t mention it,” replied Captain January. January’s shin suffered as he tripped over a ground signal that was not lighted. Moving about a railway yard in the dark had its perils. The two men kept moving cautiously until they were near the motive power depot. Then they stood in the deep shadow of a great stack of briquettes. French locomotives burned briquettes. German engines were fuelled by ordinary coal. A shaded lamp cast a downward glow on two big German locomotives, each with huge smoke deflectors, that were coupled together. The engine crews were preparing them for the road. The leading engine was a 2-6-2 and the other a giant 2-8-2. These figures referred to the wheel arrangements of the engines. Into the light of the lamp strutted a foxy-faced German, an officer of the S.S. He was a short man, but added to his stature by wearing high-heeled boots and a high crowned cap. Four troopers with slung rifles were with him. “That’s Klepe, Major Klepe,” growled Tissigny. “It would give me great pleasure to kick him in the teeth.” “Perhaps you’ll have the opportunity,” muttered Captain January. Klepe snarled at the German engineman. “Show me your identification cards,” he rasped. The drivers and firemen cringed in front of the nasty little man. They produced their identification  cards, which he scrutinized carefully. “The cards are in order,” Klepe snapped shrilly. “You have a great responsibility tonight. Handle the train with care. You have the honour to be driving Reichmarshal Sturm, and he doe’s not like being jolted. Give him a smooth journey.” “We will do that,” said one of the drivers gruffly. The safety valve of the 2-8-2 engine lifted, and steam blew off with a deafening roar. Captain January and Tissigny were not surprised by the conversation they had heard. It had been pretty obvious that the locomotives were to take over the special train when Major Klepe ran his rule over the enginemen. “We must get into the train,” said Captain January. “Of course,” replied Tissigny, “but you can bet your last trouser button that the doors of every carriage will be guarded.” “My idea is this,” said Captain January, and told Tissigny of the plan he had in mind. Tissigny rubbed his nose with the back of his thumb. “Yes, it has possibilities,” he agreed.


A few minutes afterwards, Captain January and Tissigny were in an empty coal waggon, a big steel vehicle that stood on a siding adjacent to the main line. The two men had judged as nearly as they could the position where the engines would be changed.


There was rain in the air. “The train’s coming,” announced Captain January when he detected a rumble to the west. A long, heavy train came slowly round the curve. It was pulled by two French locomotives that showed dimly against the sky. The locomotives passed the coal waggon, and ran on for the length of two vehicles before wheezing to a stop. Both the leading vehicles of the train were baggage cars. Coaches, with windows blacked out by shutters, stretched back a long way. A light glimmered behind the tender of the second engine. Obviously it was cast by the lamp of the shunter who was about to do the uncoupling. “Shall we go?” demanded Tissigny. “Wait,” snapped Captain January as he looked out of their waggon. “There’s a posse coming along.” Tissigny took a look. A shaded torch bobbed about. Three men were walking along the side of the train. A door at the front end of the third vehicle opened, and a faint shaft of light shone out. An officer of the S.S. peered down from the carriage door. “Is that you, Klepe?” he exclaimed. “Yes, Kommandant,” replied Klepe. “Have you had a trouble-free journey?” “All has gone well so far,” was the gruff answer. “And you?” “We are exercising the utmost vigilance,” Klepe answered. “Two of my troopers, careless buffoons who will be punished, were discovered in a cellar nearby. “They had come off worst in an encounter with two dangerous fellow, probably men of the Marquis, who have so far dodged us.” Captain January looked at Tissigny and smiled. At least, they wouldn’t have to worry any more about the two Germans they had shut up. “Himmel! That’s bad!” snapped the train commandant to Klepe. “I will warn my men. I have a sentry posted at every door.” He added a hasty “Auf wiedersehen” – farewell – stepped right back into the train, and slammed the door. Klepe and his two troopers came on in a single file. “We will watch the engines being changed and make sure everything is in order,” rasped Klepe. For an instant Captain January thought this decision would cramp his and Tissigny’s style. Then an idea flashed into January’s head and he passed it on to Tissigny in a whisper. They drew the two bolts that held the big, ponderous downward-opening door of the waggon in position. Then they crouched behind it. Klepe and the troopers were just below, walking past the waggon, as Captain January hissed “Now!” He and Tissigny gave the steel door a push. It swung outwards on its hinges and descended on the heads of the Germans. They dropped as if they had been coshed. The released locomotives started to puff away. Captain January and Tissigny crept forward for twenty yards or so before getting right down and crawling under the front carriage just behind the leading bogie. The shunter waved his lamp as a signal. At least two other railwaymen, one a sergeant of the railway battalion, stood with him. Captain January and Tissigny heard the German locomotives backing down on the train. The shunter flicked his lamp to red as, with a thud, the buck-eye couplers of the rear engine’s tender and the leading coach engaged. The shunter turned the lamp to white, and passed it to the sergeant while he ducked under the buffers to connect the brake and steam pipes. This was soon done, and he stepped clear. The sergeant directed the lamp on the coupling and pipe connections to make sure that everything was in order. Then he stepped away and gave the guard the green light for the train to move off. Captain January started to wriggle forward under the bogie. “This is where we get on or get left,” he muttered. The railwaymen, their done, began to move away. Captain January and Tissigny rose between the tender of the second engine and the end of the baggage car. The locomotive nearest the train, the 2-8-2, gave a hoot. There was an instantaneous response from the driver of the leading engine on his whistle. Captain January pulled himself up on to one buffer of the second engine, and Tissigny was jack-knifed over the other as the train started to move. The exhausts of the engines made a deafening din. Steam spurted from the cylinder cocks. V felt slightly more secure when he located a handhold on the back of the tender. Tissigny crouched on the shank of the buffer on his side. They ran the gauntlet of the dim station lights as the train rolled past the platforms. The speed of the train increased. Sparks whirled back like fireflies from the engines. “Right, Tissigny, we can get started,” shouted Captain January. “How do we open the gangway door?” January used the torch dropped by Klepe to look at the door on the end of the baggage car. It was secured by bars locked in position by a lever. Captain January needed both hands and a lot of luck. He stuck the torch in his mouth. He used the small metal steps on the back of the swaying tender to work his way across to the buck-eye coupler on which he proposed to stand. The vehicles jolted. Water came slopping over the back of the tender from the tank and soused January. Captain January got a foot on the massive coupling and passed the torch at arms stretch to Tissigny. Then January held on with one hand and gripped the lever of the baggage car door with the other hand. The lever was very stiff. January gave it a terrific jerk. The lever shifted and the door fell out and dropped between the tender and the car. Captain January, black, greasy, and wet, stepped into the gangway of the baggage car. He was up against another door with a frosted glass window. It was locked. Tissigny came after him and produced a key. “Try this,” he offered. It was a German Federal Railway key. “Where did you pinch it?” inquired Captain January. “Oh, off some German,” said Tissigny. “I had to stun him first,” he added. Captain January unlocked the door. Before he opened it he drew his automatic pistol. He pushed the door open. The van was stacked with boxes, but no German was travelling in it. They moved into the gangway. Captain January unlocked the door of the second car, and then shoved it open and sprang in. In the car, the front guard of the train sat looking into his periscope, which gave him a view of the signals and line ahead of the train. Two S.S. troopers sat on a box. As Captain January burst in, one of them shouted and snatched for his pistol. Captain January’s gun cracked and the trooper pitched off the box. January’s bullet had hit him in the shoulder. The train roared into a tunnel.


Reichmarshal Sturm sat at the table in his private bulletproof car. He turned the scales at eighteen stones, but was tall in proportion. He had several double chins, and yet he was a hard man. His eyes were bright and beady. He wore an ornate tunic with the badge of the German eagle in gold. A map was spread out on the table. He was reading a report.


His Adjutant, Colonel Triber, a tall Prussian, and another aide, Major Count Desendorf, who wore an eyeglass, were with him. “When am I going to get my dinner?” demanded Sturm. Triber looked at his wrist watch. “It was ordered for seven o’clock, Excellency,” he replied. “It is a quarter to seven now.” The door at the leading end of the car flew open and a German fell in backwards. He appeared to be dead. Sturm and his companions stared as if mesmerized as two grimy men wearing filthy boiler suits and berets sprang in and shut the door. Count Desendorf came out of his trance very swiftly and made a stab for a bell-push. Captain January fired and, despite the swaying of the train, his aim was accurate. The Count lost his fingertip and screamed with pain. Tissigny slithered to the table. He rammed his gun into Sturm’s stomach. “Where is the Collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece?” Tissigny demanded. Sturm stared at him and spluttered. “We know you have it,” Tissigny added. “Oh, put a bullet into his fat stomach,” snapped Captain January. “We’ll find it—” Sturm’s complexion went blotchy. “No, no!” he burbled. “I have the Collar. I—I was arranging for its safe custody.” “There’s no need to lie, you fat robber,” rasped Captain January. “Where is it?” Colonel Triber made a sudden leap for the other door. Captain January’s gun fired and the German staggered and fell. “Um, he showed more courage than sense,” snapped Captain January. Sturm, his face glistening with perspiration, put a key on the table. He pointed to a heavy leather brief-case placed on a settee at the side of the car. Captain January reached for the brief-case and inspected the lock before inserting the key. “We’ll make sure he isn’t bluffing,” he said. He opened the brief-case and slid out a box that looked like an antique. It was made of leather and tooled in gold. Upon it was the cipher of the French King to whom the Collar had once belonged. Captain January opened the box. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, opals, and pearls shimmered in the light. An exquisite enameled plaque with the emblem of the Golden Fleece, bordered by jewels, hung from the collar on golden chains. “Whew, you can well believe it’s worth two million pounds,” breathed Captain January. Tissigny made a quick bee-line for the door and stood at the side. It opened, and a stately servant stepped in. “Dinner is served,” he began. Tissigny put a hand round the scruff of the servant’s neck, heaved him into the saloon, shut the door, and locked it. Captain January shut the jewel case. “We’ve got what we came for,” he said to Tissigny. “It’s about time we got going!” He reached for the communication cord and pulled it down. There was a rasp from the wheels as the brakes made a semi-application. The train started to slow down. Sturm glared at them furiously. “What has happened to my guards?” he spluttered. “Some we shot, some we coshed, and one went through a window,” replied Captain January. “Cheerio, Marshal! Your name is on the list of war criminals, so I suppose you’ll be hanged in due course.” The train came to a stop, and, while there was confusion and alarm among the officers and guards in the back half of the train at the unexpected halt, Captain January and Tissigny jumped down and vanished in the darkness.


CAPTAIN JANUARY – 31 Episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1872 – 1902 (1962)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2006