Finally back on schedule. Finished my training with the grasscutters and can move on to Field 2 for some actual flight training, takeoffs and landings with an instructor in the 23-Meter Nieuport (1) with an 80 hp Le Rhone. I was one of the last of our outfit to finish. Wasn't keeping the bus straight while her tail was up. One of the boys from the 139th forgot how short the field was. He rolled into a ditch and turned turtle. He wasn't hurt, except for his feelings. He'll be a few days joining the rest of us.
Lt.s Lawrence(2) and O'Neill(3) joined us today. They were assigned to the 147th before we left New York but came over on a different ship, just now catching up with the rest of us. The Major is none too pleased with them and most of the boys don't care for them much. It's felt that they should and could have been on the Cedric with us, but chose to go off on their own little adventures instead. O'Niell fiddle farted around in England and missed our movement here while he was getting engaged to some British Naval Captain's daughter. Somehow, he and Lawrence who are best buddies, avoided a Courts Martial and VOILA' , here they are.. For myself, I rather like them. Ralph is full of fun and doesn't take anything too seriously, even being disliked in the Squadron.
A little too much rough housing in the barracks tonight, A few of the guys almost got into real fights. Too much PEP! We need to get out of here, this is taking much too long.
(1) 23 Meter Nieuport, generic term for any Nieuport with a total wing surface of 23 meters. The ones used at Field 2 were Nieuport 80 E2s, two seaters built specifically as a trainer, with flight controls for both the pilot and passenger.
(2) 2nd Lt. Edgar A. Lawrence, B Flight, killed in crash 4 June 1918.
(3) 2nd, later 1st Lt. Ralph A. O'Neill, B Flight, 5 aerial victories.
Charles is an artillery NCO who got tired of service in the quiet Vosges front and successfully applied for pilot training in early 1917. He received his pilot's license from the École d'aviation de Pau in December 1917, and after a short leave in his home city of Paris, Charles has now been assigned to Escadrille BR 11 in the Verdun sector.
The Linder family is originally from the province of Alsace, which Germany annexed in 1871. Charles has several siblings, and his father works as an official at the Ministry of War in Paris. Max, the elder brother of Charles, was killed in action in April 1917 in the Second Battle of the Aisne. As a result, Charles now hates the Germans, and is eager to avenge his brother. He's also interested in politics and follows the developments of the Russian revolution as much as the war censorship in France allows.
From the War Diary of Charles Linder.
10 Dec. -17
Quite the gathering tonight! I’m leaving to the front tomorrow morning, and the small apartment was packed full of people who wanted to see me before I go. I spent all my savings on early Christmas presents, as I won’t be here on the actual date. Father seemed quite pleased with his silver cigarette case. It did cost a small fortune! However, it’s entirely possible that this will be my last Christmas, so I see no point in saving my francs for the future. I’ll do my best to avoid the fate of Max, but our fate is not always in our own hands. I got a stack of books and lots of warm clothing as gifts, so I should be well-equipped for the winter. Good people - I’m going to miss them!
11 Dec. -17
Departed Gare de l’Est before sunrise in a train full of poilus headed to the front. I’m to report at the depot of 2e Armée at Souilly near Verdun. Final destination - Escadrille BR 11, Verdun! It’s one of the old escadrilles and has a fine reputation. I guess I’ll have to do my best to earn my keep there. The training I received at Pau was good (as far as I could tell), but I’m still such a greenhorn at this flying business that I can’t help but feel nervous about it. --- The train was moving slowly and the poilus served pinard to pass the time. Apparently I was the only pilot in the car. I had to explain that I was rather new at the business and unfortunately had no exciting adventures to share with them yet. Later we sang La Marseillaise and at some point, after enjoying more pinard, L’Internationale. As we stopped on the way at a small station somewhere for a little break, a captain told us to keep it down or the locals will think the Russian Bolsheviks are invading. Seemed like a decent fellow who had the respect of his men. I slept the rest of the journey.
12 Dec. -17
At Verdun. The famous Verdun! The place is packed full of military stores and equipment and is crawling with soldiers. Traces of last year’s fighting are everywhere. The hills are bare and everything looks like a wasteland. I reported at the depot and after getting the paperwork in order, I was soon on my way to the base of Esc. 11. How to describe it? Well, there’s a field surrounded by lots of tents, hangars and other buildings. I’m living in an ugly wooden hut with the other NCOs. It’s pretty comfortable, and definitely better than a dugout! The front is now farther away than during last year’s fighting, but it’s obvious I’m now very close to the war again. Occasionally, a gun barks in the distance, and airplanes (our own - the boche doesn’t like to wander far from his lines) pass back and forth in the sky.
The day was spent with introductions and learning the basics of living at a front airbase. They seem like a decent group of gentlemen. The CO is Capitaine Guy de Lubersac, a veteran pilot. In fact, they’re all veterans here! I really feel like a fledgling among old eagles.
13 - 14 Dec. -17
Hard at work since 6 AM on both days. The escadrille is equipped with brand new Breguet 14 two-seaters. And what a machine it is! At Pau, we had old Caudrons. The Breguet is so much better in every way that I’m almost ashamed to admit I’ve flown something as obsolete as the Caudron! The speed, the power and roar of the engine, the easy controls… it’s magnificent! I’m not allowed to fly combat missions yet, so I spent the days getting familiar with the Breguet both on the ground and in the air. As I climbed out of the cockpit after flying a few circles around the field for the first time, the CO said I was grinning like a dervish! Apparently the Breguet does that to people. With such a bird, how could we lose the war in the air?!
"Upon my word I've had as much excitement on a car as in the air, especially since the R.F.C. have had women drivers."
James McCudden, Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps
On Field 2 today. Today's instruction put me in my place. I thought this was going to be a sinch and that we could do without most of what they are cramming down our throats here. Well, maybe we aren't quite as ready as we thought. Just because you've earned your wings on a Jenny in the States doesn't give you everything you need to know for these rotary chase planes over here.
I drew Lt. Weatherby, an American instructor. Before he let me near the plane he checked me out to make sure I had the hang of the manettes on a motor used for that in one of the hangars. His technique is a little different from mine but he said it seemed to be working for me, Everybody seems to have his own way of using them.
The plane looks fragile and the 80 hp Le Rhone is very quiet compared to the Liberty. He sat in the front seat and had me follow through with him on the controls as he took the plane up, around the field, then landed. Up we went again, twice more, with Weatherby giving me more control each time. I had some trouble overcoming the tendency to hold the nose down in a turn like I was flying a Curtis with a stationary motor. A right hand turn with a Nieuport takes a different technique than a left. If you don't hold that nose level you go into a spin. He had to take over the rudder and broomstick to save our bacon a couple of times. I was also flying with too little rudder. You can guide a Jenny with just the ailerons, but with the rotary you have to be using the rudder all the time. The blip switch takes some getting used to as well. After two more circuits we called it a day. He said he felt I was ready for Field 3 but I would have to go up with the tester before I could be passed along.
Wrote Cousin Davey to let him know I'm over here.
April 11th 1918
Got the thumbs up from the tester after I satisfied him. Took my card over to Field 3. Didn't get to start until late afternoon. The Nieuports over here are the same as the ones on Field 2, except that they have no dual controls. Despite the late start I was still able to complete my 10 solo takeoffs, turns and landings.
Ralph, we call him Snake now, showed us all how it's done today. He completed Fields 1 and 2 yesterday, got his 10 landings on Field 3 done in 70 minutes, then was off to Field 4 to solo in the faster Nieuport 21 C1. He finished that program the same day. He appears to be a born pilot! Hope some of that rubs off on me.
Saw Abe flip his plane. He flared too high off the ground , bounced, went over on his nose, then slowly flipped over. Abe crawled out and gave a bow like he'd pulled off a slap-stick stunt for a moving picture. A crash can be pretty comical when nobody gets hurt.
Luthor Linderman Uhderofficer, 9 Victories. 3rd Floor Section F Row 4, Bed 3 Hospital # 9 Dusseldorft.
Apr 14, 1918.
Not much good news from the Jasta, they are loosing on average a machine every other day with few replacements. I should be leaving the Hospital in 3 to 4 days for 2 days leave then back to the front. I will miss the Nurse with the Medicine Trolley. The stuff is awful ,but I could never tell her no or not take it.
Field 4 for me today. We have to do 30 landings here in the much faster, Nieuport 21 C1, delicate little bird. I'm loving these little French rotary machines, they respond instantly, almost as if they're reading to your thoughts. Nothing like the old Jenny, where you'd put the stick over, then wait for the wing to get good and ready to come up in response. Will probably finish up and move to Field 5 tomorrow.
The Major joined us at evening mess. Big News! As soon as we finish up here we'll be joining the 94th Aero at the front.
April 13th 1918
Finished up my 30 and reported to Field 5. Ralph told me that's part of how he's moving along so much faster than the rest of us. Don't let any grass grow under your feet, get over to the next field and keep going as long as the instructors will let you. Of course, not screwing up helps too.
Made 6 landings but only 3 weren't any good. You have to land within a painted circle 10 times. You have to come in pretty hot to land this bird and it's a bit hard to control on the ground.
April 15th 1918
Been having problems with the spirals, over controlling and falling into spins. Casey(1) showed me the stick and rudder positions on an uncovered fuselage in one of the hangars, then then took me up in a dual control 23 Meter to work with me. He's a life saver, not many instructors would take that kind of time for you. I'm not the only one he saved from washing out, we just about all owe him.
Yesterday the first Huns were shot down by Americans at Toul. Two monoplace were destroyed by Lts Winslow and Campbell of the 94th. We're in the WAR now Lafayette!
April 16th 1918
Still at Field 5 but should finish up tomorrow. Fell into another spin during one of my spirals but Casey said he was pleased with it because I recovered so well.
(1) Lt. Charles Sherman "Casey" Jones taught precision landing and acrobatic maneuvers at Field 5 and 6, Issoudun. Post war air racer, established the Casey Jones School of Aeronautics in 1932.
The squadron has been flying defensive the past week due to the lack of machines. We finally got 2 new ones yesterday and will be able to put up 8 machines for a balloon busting mission west of Lens. Jackson led “B” flight. Critt was assigned to his flight so he was in good spirits. Critt was a good man and very capable pilot. Gerber had not even pissed Jackson off today.
The flight climbed to 6000’and made toward Lens. With the balloon in sight Jackson noticed 3 machines low headed southwest. The flight dove on the ballon with Ralph scoring a direct hit with rockets. Jackson pulled up and to the right looking for the 3 machines he had spotted. He spotted 2 heading NE and followed. Where was the third one? As he got closer he could see they were Triplane’s. Jackson had heard about them but had never seen one. He closed on the rearmost machine and opened fire. It dropped like a stone. The other turned to engage but Jackson’s flight was all over him. At that moment Jackson found out where the 3rd enemy machine was. On his tail! The rumours of the Triplanes ability to climb and turn were not exaggerated. Jackson could not get a shot in the turning low level fight and almost stalled and crashed once. The Hun finally had had enough and made his escape. Spotting Archie to the north Jackson headed in that direction. Two of his flight were having around with another Triplane. Jackson saw his chance and dropped in behind it. As soon as he fired the right wings on the machine collapsed and it crashed next to Haubourdin. His two mates were heading for home and Jackson did the same.
His flight had claimed a balloon and 3 enemy machines. All were confirmed except Jackson’s first Triplane. 43RFC was back in business.
Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear or a fool from either end. BOC Member since....I can't remember!
MFair, Keep your eyes peeled for those Dreideckers! Carrick, looks like it's time for retribution after that dastardly attack.
18 December, 1917 Jasta 18, Avelin
Today Aldi woke up and thought to himself that it would be great to bag a nice, fat Britisher after a few long weeks without a claim. It was his birthday after all. After breakfast he went with Paul to see what mission was waiting for them in the briefing room. Turck was explaining the latest orders and his plan to accomplish them. The plan was simple enough: fly to the front and shoot down anything that is not Kaiser’s property. When they got to the field, their machines were already being warmed up and the weather looked like it would hold for some time. Clear skies with a few fluffy white clouds looked promising. The roar of his Mercedes-Benz engine kept him focused on the task at hand, instead of the evening plans which included a birthday bash organized by his good friend Paul Strähle. They were nearing the Front and puffs of Flak over Haubourdin announced presence of enemy airplanes.
Two specks were racing to get away from the German shrapnel and Aldi was more than happy to give chase. His Kette was closing in fast on the enemy and they were ready to do some damage. Aldi shifted slightly in his seat. Perhaps he will get his birthday wish? Nearly there. His attention was consumed by the two machines in his gunsight. Something moved in the corner of his eye. He stole a quick glance to check if his wingmen weren’t getting too frisky and too close to his kite. His eyes grew instantly larger. A gaggle of DH 5’s was bearing down on them high on starboard!
Suddenly the hunter became the pray. The two machines in front abandoned, Aldi pulled sharply up and to the right to meet the onslaught head on. The rest of the Kette realized their predicament and mirrored Aldi’s maneuver. The two flights merged with guns firing in all directions. Schwarzkopf managed to separate from the furball following one of the enemy scouts. They were locked in a turning fight with neither one gaining an upper hand. The British plane was just as maneuverable as his Pfalz.
Every time Aldi turned inside his opponent, he would nearly stall and lose altitude. He then would have to repeat the maneuver to get back in position. Finally, on one of the attempts he fired and appeared to have hit his foe. The DH 5 lurched and spiralled to the ground. Aldi followed the Englander with his gaze, looking for a telltale sign of a crash in the form of a large dust cloud below, but instead the pilot levelled out and proceeded to fly towards his own side of the Frontline. Aldi smiled. The sly fox nearly got away. Schwarzkopf put his machine into a dive and followed. The Pfalz picked up speed and didn’t protest when subjected to additional stress. Aldi liked the sturdy construction of his mount. It afforded confidence in a dive, which the latest offerings from Albatros lacked. He soon caught up with the English machine just west of the Front.
Schwarzkopf took care to line up a perfect shot and squeezed the paddles on his Knüppel. The DH 5 pilot was riddled with 7.92 caliber bullets and his plane plummeted to the ground.
Aldi looked around for any of his wingmen, but they were still fighting over Haubourdin and no one would be able to confirm his victory. No one, except maybe one other DH 5 just returning from the main battle. Aldi adjusted the course to intercept and climbed. This new foe must have been damaged in a fight as Aldi was able to catch up to him relatively quickly.
The Britisher was preoccupied with managing the damage on his wounded bird and didn’t expect Aldi’s attack. The German twin gun onslaught set the biplane on fire producing a thick plume of black smoke.
Aldi watched his foe struggle to land as the flames kept licking the cockpit. The machine finally reached the ground with fire spreading throughout the fuselage. The pilot could not see the wooden fence stretched across his landing path and the craft smashed into it with such force that the whole plane exploded into a giant fireball. Aldi started to climb immediately, knowing well that the black smoke will attract other scouts in the area, leaving him exposed to attacks in enemy territory. He was over the trenches and still climbing when 2 more enemy planes appeared crossing in the opposite direction. Schwarzkopf had the altitude advantage, but was outnumbered. He checked his fuel levels and the remaining ammunition stores. He made up his mind - he will make a slashing attack on the trailing ship and run. Aldi put his Pfalz into a dive and aimed. The trailing aeroplane reacted by turning to face his opponent, exposing his leader to an attack. As they merged, Aldi targeted the leader instead, while his wingman was now left behind.
The leading DH 5 was caught by a broadside from Aldi’s Spandaus. He wobbled, but didn’t attempt to evade. Aldi was already turning to face his companion who now was sliding in on Aldi’s six. While they were circling each other, Aldi kept one eye on the flight leader, which was quickly losing altitude. After another series of stalemate loops, Aldi took a chance and quickly banked in the opposite direction. The Englander followed but somehow messed up and stalled.
Aldi was now on his six and firing. The DH 5 dove and Schwarzkopf followed. The stricken leader was now on the ground, but Aldi knew he won’t get credit for a “zur Landung gezwungen”. Instead he concentrated on the enemy in front of him squirming to get away. Aldi wouldn’t allow it. He kept chipping away at the machine ahead, which stubbornly stayed afloat.
Finally, after countless volleys, the Englander lost control and smashed into the mud below. A nearby balloon defence crew opened up with angry puffs of white-grey smoke exploding all around him. Aldi was climbing again over no man’s land, quite ecstatic with his four victories, singing “happy birthday to me!” at the top of his lungs amongst enemy’s fireworks.
He brought his Pfalz to a stop at Avelin and walked over to the debrief office with a smile on his face. He had no witnesses to support his claims and he certainly didn’t expect Turck to approach him with the news that a German observation balloon team witnessed his victory. It was the black smoke that caught their attention and they called it in. Aldi’s birthday wish came true. Nothing could top this now. Strähle, who was also in the office, grabbed Aldi by the shoulder congratulating him on another brilliant victory and led him back to their room to change before the birthday party at the Kasino later tonight. When Aldi opened the door Käte was standing inside near the window. He froze in the doorway, stupefied by his love interest‘s surprise visit. Paul winked at Käte, proud of his involvement in the charade required to smuggle her onto the base, nudged Aldi with an elbow, turned around and left. Käte looked fabulous. She was wearing a long navy blue skirt and a black blouse with a white front panel with pressed ruffles. A velvet ribbon was tied into a bow at her neck. Her short grey jacket was already neatly folded on the back of the desk chair and her hat with a floral decoration was laying on the table. She smiled when Aldi came into the small room. She slowly tugged at the free ends of the ribbon to unravel the bow tie and asked in a sultry voice: “Are you going to help me unwrap your present?”
Aldi stammered something that resembled “yes” and locked the door behind him. The rain kept on coming down for the next two days.
"Take the cylinder out of my kidneys, The connecting rod out of my brain, my brain, From out of my arse take the camshaft, And assemble the engine again."