Lou, Swanson is a 100%, bona fide, BOC-approved Hun-getter! You must be attracting all of the Eindeckers in Flanders, because I’ve scarcely seen a Hun these days. Not that I’m complaining, of course.
Fullofit, that first near collision was a dry throat special! I hope you get to a single-seater soon!
Hasse, I’m sure your moment is coming. In the meantime, enjoy the scenery and try not to become part of it. Julius’s crash on 21 February made for gripping reading. Well done!
Carrick, love the gunnery practice.
I’ve been on the road recently with work and tonight got caught up only to 25 February. MFair, I’ll mention Jericho’s kind payment in the next segment as it’s a 26 February entry.
An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins
Part Twenty-One: In which I nearly bring a Hun home for dinner
On 23 February we escorted Captain Mealing’s machine south to Fricourt in the Somme secton for an artillery shoot. I begged the captain to let Wilson spot for the guns but he said the weather was too bad to put a new observer to the test. As it happened, it was a milk run with only the lightest Archie and no sky-Huns about.
Received a parcel from home with a lovely fur jacket that can be worn over my leather flying coat. The thing makes me look like a sheepdog!
The news from the French front around Verdun suggests that the war might be decided without our seeing the main action. If the French manage to hold until the weather permits us to attack in Flanders, perhaps the Germans will find they have too much on their hands. I am optimistic, but the size of the German assault is impressive.
The weather on 24 February limited our patrols, but Mealing and I were ordered to take advantage of the low cloud to surprise the Hun aerodrome at Bertincourt. Apparently the place is occupied by some very keen Fokker jockeys. I’m afraid I was not overly keen on the idea since it is rather far into Hunland and we would be compelled to fly below 350o feet the whole way.
We climbed quickly to altitude and headed due south for about 15 miles before heading southwest for the objective. Our route took us close to Monchy and directly over a balloon position, so we were warmly escorted by Archie bangs and puffs most of the way once we crossed the lines. Several times I heard fragments pass very close, but was surprised that not a mark appeared on the Morane. Wilson leaned forward to express his crudely-worded discontent with the whole concept of the mission. It paid off, however, for Mealing brought us directly onto the aerodrome, which lay along a road between Bertincourt and Vélu. Many of the hangars were half hidden by woods on the north side of the field, but two machines and a small group of ground crew were visible. We lined up with the hangars and made a good run, seeing bombs explode among the hangars and sheds, including one direct hit on a shed. Mealing circled about to regroup, but the Huns were pushing several machines out to come after us, so discretion being the better part and all, we headed due west for the nearest lines.
The next day was the first dry day in a while, although the cloud cover was fairly close. Mealing, Bayetto, and I were assigned a bombing show on the lines up north near Diksmuide. Take-off brought a bit of a thrill when a gust lifted the nose of the Morane up and we came within a fraction of a second of stalling from only a hundred feet up. Fortunately, the gust let up just in time to get the nose back down and recover just above the field, then stagger over the trees and housetops of Auchel. I was soaking wet inside the new fur jacket and consequently froze for the next two hours.
There was little ground fire or Archie near the target and we all made very good bomb-dropping runs. Then just as we began to regroup, three Fokkers emerged from around the corner of some clouds a mile off and turned towards us. We abandoned all formality and headed southwest individually. Two of the Huns quickly turned back as soon as we crossed back over the lines, but the one HA following our machine stayed with Cpl Wilson and me as we skirted Ypres and showed no sign of abandoning the hunt. There was a balloon position near Messines, so I dropped close to the ground and made for it as quickly as I could. The Hun continued to close and I heard Wilson fire a short burst. I turned right and dropped to 200 feet. The Fokker fired and several rounds ripped through the Morane, but the machine seemed unaffected. We managed to come alongside the Fokker and Wilson let him have “anither go” (as he later put it). The Hun must have been hit, for all his keenness disappeared and he turned east out of range before we could react.
"The Hun continued to close..."
I was happy to have had a scrap, no matter how brief or inconclusive. Swanson and his observer, Captain Craig, have claimed two more Huns. They seem to get into a good bout with the Hun whenever they go up, and are making a bit of a name for themselves and the squadron. I am hoping that Cpl Wilson and I can do our part soon in the same way. Last night in the mess I told the CO that I thought Swanson would make a wonderful scout pilot, but the Major only smiled and said that fellows who could avoid killing themselves in a Morane were in short supply and a transfer would not be possible in the near future.