Above the Mediterranean Sea

October 1956

The American U2 aircraft was operating well above 70,000 feet.

At this altitude its pilot felt completely secure. Absolutely confident that no missile or aircraft could possibly intercept him here, in what was almost the edge of space. Well below him the fevered British military preparations that were the subject of his spying mission continued unabated. In what was pointing increasingly to an intervention in Egypt. More specifically the Suez Canal.

The American pilot smiled thinking The Limeys have no idea I'm up here and even if they did there's not a thing they can do about it. Then the smile came well and truly off his face as two English Electric Lightning fighter/interceptors, screamers of cold war warriors, sailed serenely into view.

The pilot had been briefed on this aircraft but had thought it was still at test flight stage. Even if the Lightnings were operational nobody had bothered to mention that they could achieve such high altitude. Perhaps nobody knew.

One of the Lightning pilots indicated the U2 should leave the area but the U2 pilot was reluctant to do so. They can't stay long at this altitude he thought to himself hoping to outlast them. He then decided to take his U2 to even higher altitudes where he was sure the Lightnings could not follow. Before he got very far the U2 pilot was disabused of this course of action when a short range air to air missiles streaked uncomfortably close to the nose of his aircraft. The Lightnings were following him upwards.

"For chrissakes," yelled the unfortunate pilot – a remark he repeated a few moments later when a second air to air missile came even closer and exploded at what was only just safe range. All hesitancy was gone as the high flying spy plane high tailed it out of the immediate air space as fast as a plane built for altitude rather than speed could go.

The two Mach 2 capable English Electric Lightning fighters followed the U2 for a while, like lions following a Vildebeast, before eventually descending to a lower altitude. Leaving the U2 pilot wondering in the end just how high these formidable aircraft could actually go.

The Oval Office

The White House

Washington DC

October 1956

Eisenhower was utterly furious about the U2 incident as indeed was much of America when it became public knowledge. Unfortunately, at the particular moment he most desired it, "Ike" didn't have anything British that he could immediately vent his spleen on. Except for some English china ware in the Oval Office. The British Prime Minister, Cecile Tittington, in charge since Churchill's death in late 1944, wasn't taking calls from anyone with an American accent. Neither was Deputy Prime Minister Harris. Moreover the British Ambassador to the US had been temporarily recalled to London. Calling in the acting Ambassador and giving him a thorough dressing down somehow didn't seem enough.

Not that Ike and Tittington talked much at all these days with the heavily strained relationship between their two countries. Indeed, in the tri-polar world that had emerged since the end of World War II, the animosity between the three global superpowers Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States had been unrelenting.

"With everything that is happening with the Russians in Europe, and especially Hungary, at the moment we don't need this," Ike almost yelled to Admiral Radford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Everyone in the room could see that recent events in the Mediterranean had taken the President very much by surprise.

"It smacks of yet more British and French Imperialism," continued Eisenhower "something we've been at great pains to put a stop to ever since the end of the war. The last thing we need now is to give the Russians an excuse to intervene in the Middle East!"

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles looked over at the Minister for Defence, George Patton and both smiled inwardly. Perhaps now we can finally get Ike to be more aggressive in our dealings with the British thought both of them. One of them was thinking these thoughts just a little more colourfully than the other. In these incredibly dangerous times since the end of the war the wartime relationship between "the big three" had not so gradually unravelled. Also there was always the potential in their jockeying for power that two of them could gang up on the other. It had happened just once - in 1948 when in the face of extreme Russian aggression at Berlin the British and Americans had cooperated in a major airlift to the city.

As if in answer to Dulles and Patton's earlier thoughts Ike called out ""Get me the Commander of the 6th fleet on the line."

Somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea

October 1956 - Several days later

Aboard the carrier USS Forrestal one of its radio operators had a very bad feeling. Call it a premonition.

Earlier that day the US 6th fleet's intimidatory shadowing of British and French naval forces in the Med had led to a major confrontation. The British and French fleets were steaming eastwards in the Med, their ultimate destination pretty clear to the US military. As several US destroyers had gotten in a little close to the British, HM fast battleships Vanguard and Hugh Dowding and the older King George V manoeuvred into a firing position and fired several distant warning salvos. The American destroyers withdrew in haste but not so very far away were two Missouri class battlewagons, the USS Wisconsin and the "Mighty Mo" the USS Missouri herself. More than this the American and British and French carriers and their aircraft were now on the highest state of alert. However neither side wanted to put any aircraft aloft just at this particular moment.

The big American battlewagons manoeuvred themselves into a firing position on their British counterparts and suddenly a clash of dreadnoughts of the first order of magnitude was a distinct possibility. A battle that would make the sinking of the Bismarck seem pale by comparison. Thank goodness Tittington had insisted on 16 inch guns for the KG5 and Vanguard thought one of the senior British naval officers present. A reference to Tittington's role before and during the earlier part of WWII as Munitions minister. Technically the equivalent of Albert Speer.

There was a period of "ranging" gunfire as 16 inch shells plunged into the sea not too distant from each of the dreadnaughts. More, submarines of both fleets were in the area and the possibility of the first sinking of a major naval unit by a submarine since the war was suddenly on the cards.

Fortunately the Americans blinked first and withdrew. Perhaps reasoning, quite correctly, that it was a clear cut case of three on two. Yet it was only a slight withdrawal as they continued to shadow the Franco-British fleets. There were many in the US fleet, ordinary ratings, junior and senior officers alike that were ready to continue with what had just started. The only thing really bothering them was neither the three battleships nor the submarine menace but the newest RN naval fighter – the supersonic naval equivalent of the RAF's superlative Hawker Hunter. A carrier born aircraft which had them apprehensive.

The radar operator on board the USS Forrestal had been right to be alarmed.

Not so long after he had his dire premonition the entire relatively sophisticated radio-communication, radar and sonar capabilities of the US 6th fleet in this part of the Med came crashing down around their ears. The mighty US 6th fleet effectively without any communication or detection capability. Their very innermost workings completely fried.

Overhead about 40 RAF Vulcan medium bombers, radar jamming capabilities at full stretch, overflew the American fleet and came back for another pass and, if thought necessary, another pass. An electronic warfare capability that had originally been designed to defeat the air defences of the Soviet Union was used in a role for which it had never been intended. With spectacular success. Damn limeys thought a frustrated US Admiral at the same time damning the technical advantage Great Britain had managed to maintain in radar and sonar capabilities since early in WW11 and even before.

The Suez Canal

October 1956

The British and French air attack on the Sues Canal zone and various supporting Egyptian naval, air and army bases was a spectacular success. It was followed by the world's first helicopter borne commando assault as the still relatively new form of transport ferried in wave after wave of elite troops.

Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Squad (SBS) units had already gone in followed later by pathfinder units for the paratroopers that followed. Egyptian morale sunk even lower when it became known that the legendary Gurkhas were on the ground together with the Welsh and Scots Guards. The French too did their bit and more. Whatever their past or future military performances, they performed magnificently at Suez.

The cooperating Israeli military having smashed through Egyptian armies to take up positions on the other side of the Suez Canal beforehand (and who were the pretext for the invasion) looked on with some appreciation at the efforts of their allies.

The Kremlin

October 1956

If Eisenhower had been absolutely livid at the Anglo- French- Israeli attack on the Suez Canal zone, then the Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, was apoplectic.

In times past Tittington and Harris had gone on record as describing the Soviet Leader as a bluffing, blustering, blowhard and even, possibly unkindly, yet only occasionally, as a buffoon. Khrushchev would see to it that no one, least of all his worst enemies, would interpret his actions now as a mere bluff.

Soviet Defence Minister Georgi Zhukov advised against directly challenging British and French (and particularly British) air power over the Canal. "We have the numerical superiority but it's a matter of the distance of our air bases and RAF technical superiority" the great man advised his leader. It was a message Krushev didn't want to hear. "Yet a massive armoured and mechanised infantry thrust , with heavy duty anti-aircraft units down through Northern Syria, through Israel, and through the Sinai to the Canal, well that's another matter," said the former hero of Stalingrad, Leningrad, Kursk, and not a few other places of note.. "All of this with adequate air support," smiled Zhukov, "I mean who is there to stop us, really?" Khrushchev smiled also. He didn't really need Zhukov to tell him the obvious but coming from the country's finest military mind – it sounded good.

"I can't believe that even Harris, even Tittington himself, will use tactical nuclear weapons, just in order to save face," added Zhukov, almost as an afterthought. Khrushchev nodded. He was of the same mind. Rhodan Malinovsky, Commander of all Soviet ground forces wasn't so sure.

As Zhukov and Malinovsky looked on the Soviet leader was thinking:

The whole episode will distract from Hungary and as a minimum will give us leverage and improve our stocks immensely in the Arab world. We probably will not even need to actually retake the Canal before the British and French, facing American pressure as well, pack up and go home and without them the Israeli's don't count.

Mr Khrushchev never did understand Tittington. It was possibly the Soviet leader's greatest single weakness.

British Prime Ministers Official Residence

No 10 Downing Street

London, England

"I'm pretty sure there will be no further American attempts at military intervention," said Tittington, "from here on in Eisenhower will concentrate on the financial side. Making it difficult for us to borrow at the International Monetary Fund and elsewhere, attempting to cause a run on the pound sterling, investors to lose confidence in us, you know that sort of thing. For which we are, by the way, very well prepared," he added.

"The Russians are another matter," said Harris thinking how, above all else, the Russian Bear had never forgiven the British for beating them to Berlin.

"I will not tolerate Soviet interference in the Sues Canal zone," responded Tittington. His cold, hard, even icy voice seemed to rise a little. Harris blinked. It was very rare that he ever heard the boss's voice noticeably higher.

"Are the bombers ready," he enquired of Harris, Tittington's stocky, deputy almost salivated at the thought which brought back warm memories of times past.

Among some others in the British Cabinet the remark brought looks of deep concern.

Sir Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Minister, who had at one time harboured designs on the top job, looked stunned. It was very hard to fault Tittington's record in Office yet how in the hell had "the boss" allowed the likes of Arthur to become his Deputy? It defied belief.

Harris looked over with some disgust at Sir Anthony as if he detected the latter's thoughts. Harris could scarcely imagine Eden handling a crisis like this. The snivelling little shit would most likely give in to the Americans, the Russians, the Egyptians and pretty much everybody else for that matter. Thank goodness for Tittington. Or "Titty" as he was occasionally but affectionately known.

"How many V bombers do we have operational?" enquired Tittington full well knowing the answer but indulging Harris for the moment.

"Two hundred, mostly Avro Vulcans, but with a few Victors and Valiant bombers," came Harris's response. "All of them armed with two blue steel stand off bombs."

"Can they get through?" enquired Tittington turning around to show a most mischievous look on his face and already knowing the answer. A look that sent shivers down the spine of some Cabinet colleagues.

"Well," responded Harris totally in his element, "the V bombers can fly at nearly 60,000 feet and I believe radar jamming can effectively degrade Russian air defence radar capability by 80%. More," he continued really warming up, "the range of the blue steel stand-off bombs mean the bombers will not have to penetrate the very inner Soviet defences of their key cities."

"Good work Bomber," responded Tittington in a deliberate but what some present probably regarded as a distasteful reference to Harris's former nickname. Harris smiled regarding it as the compliment it was intended to be. It was a nickname that still came up from time to time as Sir Arthur was also Great Britain's Defence Minister. He was no sycophant but he genuinely liked Tittington and appreciated the boss indulging him from time to time.

Turkey

October 1965

The endless Soviet armoured columns rolled south towards Syria.

There was no opposition from Turkey who were not a member of NATO in this reality, nor would there be any opposition until the Soviets got to the Israeli border, and not so much as a single unfriendly aircraft on the Soviet ground radars.

The big T54 tanks, occasionally with soldiers riding atop them, and with supporting self propelled guns were an impressive site as they rolled on as far as the eye could see. Mixed in among them was a sprinkling of World War 11 vintage T34 and Josef Stalin JS2 and JS3 tanks. Moreover, the columns were bristling with mobile anti-aircraft guns and missiles of many varieties.

The tank columns were flanking large columns of mechanised infantry with lord only knows how many soldiers. A sight that would have utterly dismayed the British and French military commanders at the Suez Canal. Not to mention the Israelis.

Considering the Soviets current involvement in Hungary it was an impressive show of force by the world's most powerful army. An unmistakable demonstration of vastly superior ground forces. Overkill in fact.

Just how, exactly, the relatively lightly armed, apart from a few Centurion tanks, British and French units around the Canal Zone might handle this was anybody's guess. Still the aircraft aboard the British and French carriers in the Med, at the RAF base on Cyprus, and in makeshift airfields set up in Egypt had their orders. Some of them, a hand picked few, had slightly different orders.

Nuclear Bunker 1

RAF High Wycombe

October 1956

"Ivan is still coming then?" enquired Tittington. It was a purely rhetorical question.

"Conventional RAF and RN air strikes, together with their French counterparts, have hardly even disrupted the armoured columns," answered Harris "there are just too many of them – and we've taken some heavy losses. We've called off the conventional air attack but our "special" units, from HMS Eagle are 5 minutes from weapons release."

"And the V bombers?" enquired Tittington "how long did it take them to get airborne?"

"Just under 4 minutes Prime Minister," responded Sir Arthur Harris proudly, "the last of them only one minute ago."

"Slightly less time than we allow for in the event of a nuclear attack on us," responded Tittington

"Of course the Soviets will back down," said Harris confidently to the largely shell shocked audience, "Khrushchev will be furious and he will bluff and bluster and then some time in the next 10 minutes he will back down."

To Harris it was an absolutely ruthless but fool proof tactic. The small tactical nuclear strikes from naval hawker hunters from HMS Eagle may or may not stop the colossal Soviet advance to Egypt. Yet it showed the British were prepared to use nuclear weapons and taken together with the launch of the V bomber force, the message was unmistakable. Only a madman would ignore the message and not order the Soviet armour to turn around. Or only a madman or madmen would give it in the first place, thought Eden.

Just then one of the "hotline" phones did indeed ring but it was the link to Washington. "Sir, its Vice President Carl Spaatz, on the line." came the urgent plea to answer the phone. Tittington waved the call away, wondering why Eisenhower himself hadn't rung. "I don't have time for it now," was Tittington's response.

Bomber Harris as Deputy PM, Carl Spaatz as Vice-President, what was it about the former chiefs of strategic air forces? thought Anthony Eden.

Everyone in the comparatively small room waited for Khrushchev's call. The silence was eerie.

Bomber Harris was the first to break the silence. It had only been a relatively few minutes but to everyone in the room it had seemed like all of eternity. "He's cutting it a bit fine," said the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Chief.

"When's the point of no return?" asked Eden. Harris answered him, telling him what everyone in the room already knew.

When the phone call finally came Tittington himself answered it. A little surprised that communication with Moscow was still possible at all

"You're too late you fat Russian bastard, you left it too late, _." All of it in perfect Russian. He would have continued berating the former Commissar but the line went dead. No doubt Moscow had gone the same way as Karkhov, Smolensk, Kursk, Leningrad, Volgograd and not a few other Russian cities. Even Harris had gone white. Eden had never seen him like that before. Yet as everyone looked over to the boss Tittington seemed to be smiling, actually smiling. Or was it a grimace? In any event it was all too much for Eden, fundamentally a gentle man, who collapsed on the spot.

The chilling smile or grimace on Tittington's face was the last thing Sir Anthony Eden remembered before that collapse into unconsciousness. On finally coming too the Foreign Ministers' first observation was that he was still alive. Which was a plus, possibly. Had it all been just some fantastic nightmare that was even now fading away? Yet Eden found himself on a bed in the small medical room still in the cramped conditions of the RAF High Wycombe nuclear bunker. A nurse told him he had been out for several days.

Tittington and Harris came in to greet him.

"Khrushchev was too late," said the boss "he thought we would be the first to blink and, of course, we weren't about to do that!"

"What about Russian retaliation?" enquired Eden, too scared really to hear the answer.

"Will you tell him or shall I?" Harris turned to Tittington.

"You do it Bomber," said the boss.

"It seems like the Russians never had as many missiles and bombers as we thought," said Harris "that the supposed "missile gap" was actually the other way around. Since he thought we were bluffing anyway the Russians only got a few missiles launched after we struck them. It amounted to almost a first strike on them. On European Russia anyway.

"Funny thing is," added Tittington "the very few ICBM's the Russians launched were targeting American cities. They wouldn't have had time to change that. New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. New York with a 20 megaton monster.

"So how did the Americans respond?" enquired Eden timidly.

"Nuclear missile and bomber strikes on mostly Soviet Asian targets," was the reply. "We thought maybe Ike was even going to send a few our way. If some of his military had their way that might have happened. Probably a close run thing."

"The Russians are completely finished," chipped in Harris "and, of course, so are the Americans though they'll never admit it. You can't have three such major cities be completely destroyed and act as if nothing has happened. They will never be the same again."

"Funny thing is," finished Tittington "our nuclear devices, so much cleaner than those of either of our enemies, achieved maximum destruction with relatively modest radioactivity. In the scheme of things that is.

The bastards are smiling, thought Anthony Eden grimacing, Tittington and Harris, both of them, are definitely smiling.

End