This excerpt from Dress Rehearsal -- what the television show didn't tell you about the Rommel kidnapping mission -- is set in about the middle of the book.
Things had gone well enough in the beginning. They’d managed to set things up so that Klink would never even miss them, unless they were gone longer than three days. They had arrived in Metz with no problem. And the hospital looked exactly as Crittendon described it.
But everything after that was a disaster.
"What the hell do you mean, Rommel isn’t there?" Hogan demanded of the French agent, "Henry."
"Well of course he’s there," Crittendon said so loudly that Hogan was tempted to hit him. "All my information said he would be stopping there. And my sources – "
"Is not English your mother tongue?" Henry replied in cold fury. "I said he isn’t there. C’est de la foutaise. C’est un vrai cingle, ce type."
Hogan looked at LeBeau, who whispered, "He says our information is garbage, and he thinks Colonel Crittendon is a real nut-case."
Hogan restrained his temper with difficulty. "Where is Rommel?"
"He’s still in St. Germaine. Latest word is they won’t move him for two more days," came Henry’s irritable reply. "If you ask me, it is all a trick. They don’t want anyone to know when he’s being moved. Else someone might try what we are trying, or worse, no? Have not the English tried to kill the man before?"
With a muttered oath, Hogan turned to Crittendon. "All right, Crittendon. This was your brilliant plan. What do we do now?"
"That’s easy enough. We wait for Rommel to get here," Crittendon said nonchalantly.
"Colonel Crittendon," Hogan said, biting off his sarcasm as best he could, "we don’t have your freedom of movement. If we’re not back at camp day after tomorrow, we’ll be classified as escaped. It’ll ruin Klink’s record and shut down my operation. I can’t do that."
"Then we go back to camp and try again in two days," Crittendon said.
Hogan shook his head. "We’d never be able to use the same trick twice in a row to get away. I’ve told you, about the best we can normally do is an overnight job; these 18-30 hour jobs are just too risky for us. Besides, we don’t even know for sure when he’ll be moved."
"Excuse me," said Henry with the exaggerated politeness he reserved for dealing with idiots, "but are you not missing an alternative? St. Germaine is five hours from here. I have a contact with a fishing boat who can take your captive to the mouth of the Seine, and a copy of the hospital blueprints from St. Germaine."
Hogan stared at him. "Do you live in Paris, or what?"
Henry smiled thinly. "I am from the Alsace, Colonel. But all Frenchmen live in Paris. All life is to be found in Paris."
LeBeau looked adoringly at Henry. "I could not have said it better myself."
"So, to Paris," said Henry. "But will this débile mental come with us?"
"This débile mental is in command," Crittendon announced cheerfully. "I do speak French, you know, and I quite appreciate your calling me a great wit. Now as I recall, the hospital room number is 107. Right on the ground floor; no trouble at all. Come along, then."
He strode off toward the truck, leaving Henry muttering "I said ‘half-wit.’"
"Great," Hogan said. "Just great. Let’s go."
"Colonel," LeBeau said eagerly, "I have a friend in St. Germaine; her name is Yvette Blanchard…"
"Don’t even try," Hogan snapped, stomping after Crittendon.
"He just doesn’t understand," LeBeau muttered.
"How could he? He’s not French," Henry replied. "Ah well, the sooner we begin, the sooner we’re done, no?"
The little luck they had was with them through their arrival at the hospital in St. Germaine. Of course, Crittendon had set off the air raid sirens rather than cutting electrical power, and he’d given them the wrong room number too, though they didn’t find that out until later. But even so, they had made their way safely from the hospital with their precious burden in tow. Henry had, as promised, gotten them to the fishing boat, where the unconscious – and yet, unseen – patient/prisoner was transferred, along with Crittendon, to the boat. Henry radioed the change of coordinates to London so the sub would be waiting to rendezvous with the boat at the point where the Seine spilled into the Channel.
And with that, Hogan was ready to breathe a sigh of relief and go home…but fate had not finished playing tricks on him yet.
"Oh, Hogan," Crittendon called as he stepped aboard the boat, "What road had you planned to use to go back to camp?"
"The most direct route from here is through Belgium," Hogan replied impatiently. "Why do you need to know?"
"That’s what I wanted to tell you, don’t you know – the Jerries have the Paris-Brussels highway mined. In fact most of the roads around Paris are mined."
"Thanks for telling me now!" LeBeau cried, having done the driving since they’d left Metz.
"Well you must look at it properly, old chums – Jerry knows we’re coming, you see, and doesn’t want us to have Paris. And if we get it, he certainly doesn’t want us to keep going. You really ought to go back through Mannheim."
"Too far out of the way." Hastily examining a map and his watch, Hogan asked Henry, "How about going through Luxembourg?"
"Still occupied, Papa Bear," said Henry. "So it will mean additional borders to cross and more identity checks. But, the people are helpful. It’s probably your best bet. I certainly don’t recommend going through Mannheim, though. The Mannheim Gestapo has been out in full force of late."
"The Mannheim Gestapo is on training exercises with the SS," Crittendon snapped back. "They’ve moved to the southeast of Mannheim, so all you have to do is stay out of that area. Now, Hogan, don’t forget – I rank you, and I’m giving you a direct order!"
Hogan stood up straight and saluted, barking, "Yes sir!" With that, Crittendon’s boat pulled away. Hogan bent back over the map. "Okay fellas – we’ll take Trier."
"But Papa Bear," Henry protested, "You’re disobeying a direct order!"
"Aw, you wouldn’t tell, would ya?"
Henry laughed. "As a matter of fact, no, not when the commander is un couillon. But I do think you should take the Luxembourg Road – Trier still takes you too close to Mannheim for my taste. I’ve heard – "
Hogan shrugged. "I can’t please everybody all the time, and I don’t like the notion of going through even more border checks. Thanks for your help, Henry." Turning to his men, he said, "Okay, we’ve got a nine-hour drive and we still need to be back at the Barbed Wire Bistro by morning roll call. Let’s move!"
Henry, AKA Garriott LeTourneau, watched in concern as they pulled away…and then he went to his hidden short-wave and sent an urgent message.
Two miles south of Trier, coming over the crest of a hill, Carter cried, "Oh my gosh, look at that."
It was dark, but they could still see – all too plainly for their taste – 6 cars, 8 trucks, and about a hundred men swarming all over the area, all in trim black uniforms and carrying blazing flashlights. Some were SS, some were Gestapo.
Hogan bit his bottom lip. "Crittendon said the Mannheim Gestapo was southeast of Mannheim, didn’t he?"
"Yeah," Newkirk said. "On joint exercises with the SS, he said."
"And Trier is…" Hogan prompted.
"Northwest of Mannheim – oh, bloody hell," Newkirk sighed.
"I should’ve run the other way as soon as I saw that moustache," Hogan muttered. "Crittendon. Even when he isn’t here, he’s a jinx!"
"So do we run for it?" Carter asked.
"Nope," Hogan said grimly. "That’s the quickest way to make ’em chase us. We’ve got our papers. We beard the lions in their own den. It’s the stupidest thing to do…and the last thing they’d expect. But fellas, just in case, here’s a backup plan…"
A minute later they headed toward the lions’ den – noting with relief that even as they drove up, four of the trucks were loading up and pulling away. Next to him, Newkirk muttered, "Lovely. We’re evening the odds bit by bit, aren’t we?"
"Quiet," Hogan said, rolling down the window and praying he could keep his voice normal, for all his desert-dry mouth.
Hogan’s men held their breath while the papers were examined under the sentry’s flashlight. The sentry looked intently into their faces and back at the papers again. Then he looked at the truck. He walked slowly all the way around the truck, and looked in the back. Newkirk and Carter exchanged nervous glances as the sentry returned.
"Herr Hauptmann," said the sentry, "Why is a Wehrmacht officer, with Wehrmacht men, driving a Luftwaffe truck?"
"We are on temporary duty," Hogan said calmly. "Assigned to Luftstalag 13."
"Far from home, are you not?" the sentry asked. "Isn’t Luftstalag 13 several hours north of here?"
"It is," Hogan replied curtly. "And you are delaying us even further, by asking meaningless questions. As you see, our orders were to take a prisoner to Paris for questioning by the Paris Gestapo. We have done so, and are now anxious to return home."
"Hmm." The sentry walked around the truck again, and looked in the back again. Kinch, under a tarp, held his breath, and LeBeau, in a German uniform, simply waved at the sentry. "Where is the prisoner?"
"Retained by the Paris Gestapo. I suggest you contact them if you have any more questions. Heil Hitler!"
"What is your hurry?" the sentry asked. "Major Friedman, will you come here?"
Newkirk’s hands were sweating. He rubbed them nervously on his trousers as the major approached. The major and the sentry held a conversation in German for several minutes, most of which the men could understand. They just didn’t like what they were hearing.
"Entschuldigen Sie, Herr Major," Hogan finally interrupted impatiently. "We have been away from camp for three days now. In addition to being tired, dirty, and hungry, we must also report to the Kommandant, who is certainly the toughest prison camp Kommandant in Germany, and who is not going to let us rest between our return and our having new duties assigned. Unless you have some very specific questions for us, Herr Major, please let us pass."
"In fact, I have several questions for you," the major said pleasantly. "Will you and your men please get out of the truck?"
Hogan looked at Carter, and moved his head imperceptibly.
And three of the remaining Gestapo trucks suddenly blew up, direct hits of a bundle of dynamite. Heisting that dynamite truck last month had been a good idea, Newkirk thought as Hogan popped the clutch and, with the tires squealing in protest, drove through the narrow space between the burning trucks and a group of SS troopers. Suddenly the air was thick with bullets. Hogan swore as he heard a tire blow, but he kept going, while Carter, in the truck’s cab, and LeBeau and Kinchloe, in the back, threw dynamite in every direction.
In the chaos that followed no one was sure if another tire blew out or if they hit something, but the truck suddenly shot upwards and then slammed down at an angle, rolling over twice before landing on its side.
Text and original characters copyright by Mel Hughes
This copyright covers only original material and characters, and in no way intends to infringe upon the privileges of the holders of the copyrights, trademarks, or other legal rights, for the Hogan's Heroes universe.