CAPTAIN ZOOM Birdman of the R.A.F.
episode taken from The Skipper issue: 512
THE EAGLE THAT RESCUED PRISONERS OF THE NAZIS.
The Crazy Professor
Darkness shrouded the
Now came one of the greatest
opportunities of all. They had recently rescued from
The towering peak came nearer. It
was shut in between two mighty cliffs, but quite distinct from them, and a good
hundred yards away from either of them. A winding pathway, with many flights of
steep steps, was the only approach from the foot of the peak. It was easy to
see that one man, well armed and resolute, could have kept back an army from
ascending. The top of the peak was entirely occupied by the house. In some
cases its walls had merged in with the rock. The house was a large one, but the
most peculiar thing about it was the total absence of windows, though on top
there was a half-dome which might have been an observatory or lookout. Neither
was there any door apparent. “How the dickens do they get inside?” muttered the
hovering Birdman, then realised there was doubtless an entrance amongst the
rock foundations of the house, an entrance leading into the building from
below. He could see no glimmer of light as he headed for the roof, but when he
gently alighted close to the glass dome, he realised there were plenty of
lights burning, but they were well hidden. The dome itself was made of that
peculiar glass which shades light but allows anyone inside to see out. Captain
Zoom had sometimes seen the rear windows of cars in
His eyes roved on. A door at one side had just opened, and in came one of the most astonishing figures he had ever seen. The man was short, no more than five feet tall, and his head was unnaturally large, as bald as the proverbial egg. He wore a long surgeon’s smock and the operating mask which usually covered his face had been dropped on to his chest. Below the surgeon’s smock showed huge bare feet, the biggest feet Captain Zoom had ever seen on a human being! They gave him a shock when first he saw them peeping out, but not as much as the shock he got when he saw the man’s face. It was dead-white, like the face of a corpse. Big ears projected on either side like flaps, the eyes were tiny, deep-set, and a blazing blue, the nose was like a beak, and the mouth a mere slit. It was a repulsive face, made even more evil-looking by the cruel grin which twisted the corners of the mouth. The man was chuckling hideously to himself as he stared at the object he carried in his outstretched hands. The Birdman looked at this for the first time, and nearly leapt to his feet in alarm. It was a human head, projecting from a box shaped apparatus, into the top of which it fitted so snugly that it might have been growing there! On the side of the apparatus were numerous switches and gauges. The chuckling man set the whole affair down on the end of the operating table, quite close to the feet of the headless body. The fascinated eyes of the hidden Birdman could not leave the face of the detached head. It was the face of a man who had suffered agonies. Even now the eyes were closed, and the features were in repose, it was possible to see the lines of suffering. “He! He! He! I wonder how he will like the look of himself without his head?” chuckled the hideous little man, and turned two switches in the side of the apparatus. A red light glowed in a tube, there was a very faint buzzing sound, and a terrible thing happened. The face of the detached head began to glow as though with life, the eyes opened, and looked about them in horrified amazement. The little man in the surgeon’s smock leaned down and grinned into this twitching face. “Well, Ernst Weimar, how are you? Don’t you know me, the good Professor Schinz? Don’t you recognise your benefactor?” Professor Schinz! The Birdman’s blood chilled with fear. Why did the crazy scientist speak to a head? Did he expect it to hear and understand him? The eyes of the head became fixed on him unwaveringly, and then something so uncanny happened that Captain Zoom felt like pinching himself. The dead lips wreathed, parted, and shaped words which came forth with a rush. “Why do you torture me? Why do you torture me? Kill me and have done with it, Schinz!” The Professor cackled to himself and studied one of the gauges on the side of the apparatus in which the head was stuck. “You are ungrateful, Ernst Weimar. Don’t you realise you have been chosen to make history? You are the first man who has had his head cut off, but still lives!” The other’s face contorted in nameless terror. The head could not turn, but the eyes looked down, rolled from side to side, and then puckered in awful fear. A shriek rang through the operating room. “No, no, it isn’t true! It can’t be true! It’s only a trick. I cannot be only a head.” “Ja, Ernst Weimar, you are only a head. There lies your body. I will turn you so that you can see it. I, Professor Schinz, have performed a miracle. I have cut off a man’s head, have attached it to an electrical apparatus whilst keeping it partly immersed in a saline solution, and, lo, behold, the head lives, the brain functions, the senses of sight, thought, hearing and speech are still alive. I can keep your brain alive as long as I like by turning this switch. When I turn it the other way, you are as one dead. Is that not a miracle? Aren’t you glad the Secret Police handed you to me for experimental purposes instead of putting you in a concentration camp and shooting you?” The Birdman tottered to his feet and spread his wings. He felt he could stand no more of that horror. He felt he would have to cry out if he remained and watched that ghastly experiment any more. As he sped aloft, his wings whirring in answer to the motor, he could hear the helpless shrieks of the man who still lived even though his head had been detached from his body.
Inside the Eyrie
The cold air and the altitude calmed
Captain Zoom down, and he flew over to alight on top of one of the nearby
cliffs, where thick bushes promised cover. From there he could see the white
A motor cyclist had just emerged from the woods on the mountainside, and rode straight towards the Storm Troopers at the foot of the path. They stepped aside and allowed him to pass. He was also in uniform. Round and round the winding path he rode, until he reached the foot of the first flight of steps. Then he abandoned the motor cycle and climbed the rest of the way on foot, passing into the tunnel under the house, and disappearing from view. Captain Zoom noticed the man had a bundle of letters in his hand, and one or two small packets. He was evidently the official postman. Then the Birdman focussed his glasses on the flat roof beside the glass dome. A movement there had attracted his attention. A trapdoor, which he had not noticed the previous night, had opened, and the head and shoulders of the mad professor appeared. He now wore a red dressing-gown instead of the surgeon’s smock. His bald head glittered like marble in the sunlight, and in his hand he carried a bundle of letters. Strolling over the flat roof to a seat in the recessed wall, he seated himself in the sunlight and began to read his mail. Captain Zoom studied the pale face intently. It was hard to believe the man to be either crazy or a fiend. He looked normal enough opening and reading his letters. Apparently some extra instinct told Schinz that he was being watched. He fidgitted, frowned, and looked about him in a puzzled manner. Captain Zoom lowered the glasses lest the lenses should catch the glint of sunlight. The feeling that he was being watched evidently worried the Professor, for he soon went down through the trapdoor and vanished from sight. The trapdoor remained open, and the Birdman watched it with silent longing. If only he could get inside there! By craning his neck over the edge of the cliff on which he perched, he could see the three Nazi sentries bunched together round one of the morning newspapers which the postman had brought them. They were interested in the news of the war, and when he saw their heads together the R.A.F. man had an idea. Close to where he lay, a large boulder was balanced perilously near the edge of the cliff. Keeping out of sight behind it, he strained with all his might, finally toppling it over into space. Flat on his stomach, he watched it hurtle downwards. The Nazis suspected nothing. They knew nothing until it landed on top of them, crushing two of them under it, and hurling the other several yards to one side. Crash! Shrieks and yells went up.
The Birdman made quickly for his
wings, and strapped on the apparatus. Sprinting through the bush, he made for
the other side of the gorge in which
They were subjects for the mad Professor’s experiments! They were under the influence of drugs. They were all bandaged in various places, and two had queer pieces of apparatus projecting from their skulls. One had no eyes, another was without a face. It was like a vision from a nightmare. No sound came from these luckless creatures. The drugs had killed their bodies but not their brains. Gulping with horror, the young R.A.F. man strode on, reached the further door, and listened. There seemed to be no one on the other side. He ventured to turn the handle and gently open the door. A square, airy laboratory showed before him. There was the smell of newly refined oil in the air, and a tarry odour which might have come from petroleum by-products. This was undoubtedly the place where the all-important experiments were carried out. But the Birdman looked round the well-stocked laboratory, at the numerous benches, the mass of apparatus, the thousands of bottles, test tubes, and containers, his hopes sank. He was not an expert chemist. How was he to find what he wanted midst this mass of scientific material? There was a desk at which the Professor had apparently been making notes. The airman strode towards this, and was halfway across the laboratory when his projecting wings must have touched one of the swinging lights overhead. There was a splintering crash, and a shower of glass scattered over the floor. The noise made him jump. He did not know if there were any other servants left in the house, but if there were they would certainly come hurrying to see what had happened. It was no time to loiter. Running along the corridor between the cells where the living dead still cowered, he scrambled through the operating-room and up the ladder to the roof. A blast of cold, damp air met him on the roof. He was amazed by the change that had taken place outside during the past ten minutes. He had forgotten how banks of mist can sweep along the mountainside at those altitudes. It had been sunshine when he had entered the house; now there was a whirling white mist shrouding everything. He could not even see as far as the foot of the rock where the Storm Troopers had been caught by the falling boulder, but he could hear their voices. It sounded as though the Professor was returning. The mist at least did Captain Zoom one good turn. It shrouded his movements and gave him cover. He took off and flew upwards into the white blanket.
The Man from the Concentration Camp
He soon discovered the mist did not extend upwards for more than a few hundred feet. A belt of it lay along the mountainside. It would probably clear as quickly as it had come. Above and below was clear sunlight. He decided to make the most of the mist. The scant food supplies he had brought with him would not last throughout the day. He needed to renew them. Flying low over the tree-tops, he made for the direction in which he had seen the Nazi soldiers coming. There in a clearing stood two long huts. These were their quarters, now almost completely blotted out by the mist. Narrowly avoiding collision with a tall tree, the Birdman descended at the rear of one hut and crept forward to investigate. Savoury smells guided him to the cook-house. He could hear someone tinkering about inside, and a few moments later a stout Landsturmer emerged with a pile of plates, which he carried into one of the other huts. He appeared to be the only man about the place. Doubtless the others had gone to help bring in their injured comrade, and the bodies of the dead. Captain Zoom glided to the door of the cook-house and peered inside. For the time being it was deserted. He could see saucepans and dixies bubbling on the stove, but it was to the cold food on the shelves that he gave most attention. There were many kinds of sausage, plenty of black bread, numerous cheeses, and a quantity of canned goods. He made a swift selection, stuffed everything into a clean sandbag which he picked from a corner, and swung it over one shoulder. The extra weight would make no difference to his flying, and he could cache the food he was unable to eat that day. It was well to have a reserve. He escaped from the hut without encountering the cook, and made for the rear of the clearing with the idea of taking off once more. It was then he heard a motor car coming slowly up the lower mountain track. It was feeling its way through the mist, and seemed likely to stop at any moment. Captain Zoom got behind some trees to watch. He knew it would have to stop at the huts because the road further on was not wide enough for a car. It was a military car, and when it halted he saw there were at least half a dozen men inside, there being a high officer beside the driver, and several ordinary soldiers in the back, together with a civilian whose eyes were dull and hopeless and whose face and clothing showed distinct signs of man-handling. “Bring him out! We’ll have to go the rest of the way on foot,” growled the officer. “I don’t know why the Professor wants to live in such an outlandish place!” The officer evidently expected to be met by the men from the little camp, but instead of that the cook came shuffling forward and told how there had been an accident in which two of their men had been killed and one injured. “Huh, I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents in this confounded mist!” grunted the Nazi officer. “We’ve got another specimen for the mad Professor. I suppose it’s worth our while to humour his whims, but it means a lot of trouble. If I had my way I’d lock him up in a fortress and force him to work for us.”
Captain Zoom pricked up his ears.
He had heard and understood every word. So the poor wretch with the bruised
face was going to be handed over to the mad Professor for experimental
purposes! That was the price the Nazi party paid the scientist for working for
them. Political and other prisoners were given into a worse than living death.
It was foul. The group moved towards the narrowing path. The prisoner
hesitated, and one of the soldiers struck him heavily in the back with the butt
of his rifle. At once the helpless man turned around and roared. “You dirty
skunk! If my hands weren’t held, I’d smash your dirty nose for you!” The R.A.F.
man tingled with horror. The words were in English. This prisoner was no German
political prisoner of the Nazis, but a Briton—maybe a civilian who had been
The Birdman drew a deep breath, and
dived with the speed of a hawk. There was no warning of his coming, no sound to
tell the group of men to look upwards. One second he was nowhere to be seen,
the next he had driven both feet into the face of the soldier behind the
prisoner, and had sent him crashing backwards against the rest of the Nazis.
The officer turned in amazement at the sound of the scuffle. He was just in
time to see a huge winged shape seize the prisoner by the shoulders, and then
both the prisoner and the winged unknown had toppled sideways over the edge of
the precipice. The mist swallowed them up. It was the only way. The wings which
supported Captain Zoom so easily were not powerful enough to support a double
weight, but they were sufficiently strong to break the fall of two men.
Clinging desperately to the terrified prisoner, the airman hissed in his ear.
“Don’t be scared. I’m British. I’ve come to save you. Relax and leave everything
to me. Don’t struggle!” If the man had struggled it would have been all up, but
either through fear or commonsense, he remained limp and passive. The Birdman
had switched his small motor on to its fullest extent, and the wings were
flapping desperately to try and support the extra load. They failed, but such
was their effort that the Birdman and his passenger dropped no more swiftly
than in a parachute. The wings caused them to glide sideways rather than to
drop straight downwards, and not many minutes later they landed amongst some
thick bracken unhurt. The Birdman at once released his hold and shut off his
motor, folding back his wings out of harm’s way. The dazed man lay on the
ground, breathing hard, and staring at Zoom as though he could not credit his
senses. “Who—what are you?” he panted. “I’m a friend—R.A.F. I’ve got you away
from those brutes thank goodness. I’ve seen examples of the cruelty awaiting
you. Are you fit to climb?” The other nodded. He was still too bewildered to do
much talking. He could not take his eyes from the wings. “They’ll probably
think I was a giant eagle,” went on the Birdman. “They’ll come down here and
look for us, and when they don’t find your body they’ll conclude the eagle
carried you away to some eyrie,” He grinned. “There’ll be startling headlines
in the German papers about a giant eagle at large in the
As the mist was likely to rise
quite soon, he started for the head of the valley, telling the man to follow.
The latter was fast recovering his wits, and soon showed he could climb. They
kept clear of the pathways and tracks, and headed up through the pinewoods. By
this time Captain Zoom had a fair knowledge of the lay-out of the slopes and
cliffs. He wanted to get to the top of the cliff which overlooked
© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd
Vic Whittle 2007