This is the hint.
This crossword appeared in The Times on Wednesday 4th June, 1941
I rather suspect it was submitted very shortly after the sinking of the Bismarck on the 27th May in the north Atlantic thanks to an air torpedo from one of HMS Ark Royal’s Fairey Swordfish which managed to scupper her screws and steering. But this crossword probably had to wait it’s turn, which may have come as a huge relief for one of the more immediate targets for German intelligence, after Operation Merkur, the Axis invasion of Crete, where the eventual securing of Maleme airfield, at about the same time saw evacuation by courageous, (some with extreme sacrifice and valour) of British, New Zealand and Australian forces, inevitable when Admiral Cunningham ordered their removal from the island and the remainder of the RN to the relative safety of Alexandria in Egypt.
Being familiar with standard Times crossword grids of the day, this one struck me as unusual and not on the regular list.
Using my father’s intuition, I happened upon the last down clue (always less obvious than across I find), and saw: Aphra (4) Solution: BEHN and I knew I could be on a winner, because she was none other than Charles II’s undercover spy in Antwerp! This looked suspiciously like an agent’s sign out code. I’m willing to hazard a guess that this compiler was either an Oxford or Cambridge fifth columnist, but I am inclined to think the former and most definitely a man, despite masquerading as a notorious poetess! You only have to look at this one to recognise my drift: 11 across Indoor version of the Lady of the Lake? WIFE OF BATH and my conviction!
Cut to the chase, literally, and try these for size! 1 across Sale-time offensives? (14) COUNTER ATTACKS – very witty but very clever too! A question mark in crossword land, can also ask a very simple question. What does the clue sound like and what might it become? And what is its message? Of course! ‘Sail-time offensives’, with the announcement of Cunningham’s decision to evacuate the island. Look no further that the last letter in the solution for the first, highly vulnerable target: 7 down: Flying Fortress? (8,6) Read ‘Fleeing’ for ‘Flying’ and we get STIRLING CASTLE embarking laden with troops in all probability from Herakleion, destination Alexandria, one of the few of that honourable fleet of the Union Castle Line sequestered for war service by the ministry of Defence for the vital role of troop transport, which when she was decommissioned from military service as one of a handful of ships who had pulled through in 1947 had racked up a total in excess of 600,000 fortunate British, Commonwealth and Allied troops ever indebted to her.
Second target, and this very much in reply to the sinking of the Bismarck, I suggest, and the Allies’ joint decision to ensure the safety of the Baltic convoys to assist the Soviet Union in Hitler’s impending Barbarossa campaign. This British pocket battleship, HMS Royal Sovereign, was very much in Hitler’s sights for a revenge attack for the sinking of the Bismarck, which very nearly happened but for an intelligence report alerting pocket submarines in the vicinity of Arkhangelsk and the sinking of a subsequent cordon at the harbour entrance protecting the quarry. Canny Winston however, did much the same thing as the Ministry of Defence and the Union Castle ships, with this much improved fighting vessel, bristling with the latest technology courtesy of refits in the USA and Rosyth shipyards! He decided to loan the battleship with her new temporary name the Arkhangelsk to the Soviets complete with Russian sailors for the remainder of the War, thereby cementing the alliance against Nazi Germany. Worked a treat and she too emerged unharmed at the conclusion of the War. Here’s the clue immediately pursuant to the last one with a caveat! How did no one blink an eye at this crossword! Again, Churchill would have had a fit!
8 down: Game which should make the “Royal Sovereign” secure in all respects (5,3,6) CROWN AND ANCHOR where? Arkhangelsk!
Need I say more, yet the effrontery of the man saw no bounds with his sign out!
13 down: Silent mole (anag.) (10) EMOLLIENTS don’t be soft!
You’ve got to hand it to him, even if he was our adversary! Glad he didn’t succeed, but it was a very close call for both, and relieved that The Times had other innocent crosswords to deal with before this one!
David Akenhead, crossword archivist