Got up late, went to get my SPAD out, took some time before I was able to get off the ground, very impatient to do so, maybe a little snappish
Found a leakage in my gas main where a rubber jacket attaches to the carburetor Engine was missing, bad carburetor too. Stuffed my ears full of wax again. Had 35 minutes flying, the machine acting splendidly now. Tried verages, reinversements and one loop, but stalled and got a bath of oil from the breather. No dizziness, reported this to Meissner and he gave me the go ahead to join a10 man patrol between St. Mihiel and Watronville, stayed inside friendly lines. Spotted enemy formations twice but didn’t engage because they were over their own lines.
What a morning. The pilots of 1st and 2nd flight were abruptly roused by Soubiran, who had come into our Barracks with the express purpose of shaking us all out of our dreams. Woozily we staggered next-door into the Mess, where Soubiran gave us our briefing. Given the circumstances, we were all allowed to eat our breakfast as we received our orders. However, we wouldn't have much of an appetite after hearing what the day had in store.
2nd. Flight was tasked with shooting up a Bosche aerodrome at Carignan, about 30 miles behind the German lines. 1st. Flight would be present in order to deter any fighter threats. Naturally, Soubiran was eager to lead by example and opted to take command of 2nd. Flight. We appreciated the sentiment, but many of the more experienced men were appalled at the mere notion of flying at low level so far into German territory. I must admit, I was excited. The folly of inexperience!
Nothing much was said that morning, apart from Soubiran's orders. Instead, we quietly made our way to our machines,which awaited us on the airfield. As I boarded my SPAD I saw Larner partaking in his usual routine of lighting three cigarettes off the same match. We ascended and headed towards the climbing point. No sign of "Je Vois Tout" today - I guess he'd seen enough to earn himself a rest.
We reached our altitude and turned towards St. Mihiel with the intention of making a dash straight through the German 'pocket' in the lines towards Verdun. Luckily for us, no Germans decided to impede our progress, and we made it across fairly easily. From Verdun we headed further North-West, before settling onto our final course at the French front-lines. We followed the Meuse river on its flowing path towards our target, the whole time scanning for Bosche machines. Whereas the more well-versed men were seaching for scouts, I, the inexperienced man, was hoping to spot a lone Biplace.
About 10 miles into Bosche lines the flak started up at us, bursting in foreboding clouds around our formation. 1st. Flight, sitting above us, looked down on us with concern. To our discomfort, the flak was more accurate than we were used to, and I saw Monk wallowing left and right slightly to throw their aim. I copied this trick, although in hindsight I doubt it did much for us. At one point the artillery got especially bad, and I looked down to see that we were crossing over a Hun airfield. Not our target. I must admit, the flak put the fear in me something fierce and before long I had climbed above my flight. I felt utterly ashamed as I peered over at them taking the brunt of the artillery, and once it had died down sufficiently I promptly dropped my SPAD back down into the formation. Although I got a glance from Monk, none of the pilots seemed to chastise me. I guess they must all have felt the fear of flak early on in their flying days.
Very soon we were over another Bosche airfield. This time I steeled myself and resolved not to leave my flight's side. The flak went off all around me in terrifying bursts, but I 'stuck to my guns', as they say, and flew on. Suddenly I saw Soubiran's machine rattling violently, and a second later he had split off and was headed straight back the way we came. Had he been hit? Engine trouble? We all nervously glanced at each other as we flew on towards our target without our C.O.
Despite Soubiran's absence, we reached the target and proceeded to drop altitude. By this point the artillery had whipped itself up into a frenzy. One flak burst went off intimidatingly close to my machine, causing it to rock upwards in the air. Muttering curses under my breath, I focused on the task at hand. Once I had recovered from the initial shock, my attention drifted towards an unsettling whistling sound coming from my machine, and a dull ache worked its way into my mind. I looked down to see lines of blood trickling down my left forearm and thigh...several fine cuts had appeared, no doubt due to some overenthusiastic shrapnel from the close flak burst! A warmth underneath my flying scarf informed me that I'd been gotten in the face by the shards as well. I leaned out the left side of my machine to see how it had fared, and my stomach turned at the sight of a greeny-white trail of fuel, steadily evacuating my newly-holed petrol tank. God, not here! What do I do? I thought. My two options were to press the attack with my formation and pray that I would have the fuel left to get home, or break off now and face 30 miles of hostile skies alone. I racked my brain as I flew, before finally deciding that, despite hating the thought of leaving my flight, I had to turn back.
I snapped my SPAD Southwards and begun to climb away, reluctantly watching my flight as they continued onwards towards the Bosche aerodrome. Cursing the flak gunners, I continued to ascend in order to avoid taking a second hit on my way home. My plane felt unresponsive - I feared the damage was much worse than was evident to me at the moment. The damn flak gunners, seeing that I had split from the formation, turned their full attention to me. Another close burst went off near me, then another.
Suddenly, my revolutions started to drop at a horrifying rate. Oh no, please, not now! I begged, looking on helplessly as my RPM dropped from 2000 to 1600, then down to 1000. The Germans on the ground really had my number now, and one burst sent shards flying through my windscreen. I flinched as one glanced off the side of my flying cap. I knew I couldn't stay in the air any longer or they'd get me for sure, and so I said a prayer and dipped my nose, looking for a suitable field. Everything felt dreamlike as I descended, 30 miles inside enemy territory.
In one nauseating instant my propeller began to windmill, and then stopped dead. My head spinning, I aimed for a relatively flat patch of field in front of me. To my amazement, the flak still went up at me as if I were flying perfectly normally! Those twisted b*stards on the ground must have been so desperate for a victory that merely forcing me down wasn't enough to satiate their bloodlust. The ground rushed up to greet me and so, with no other choice, I obliged.
I sat in my cockpit, numb with fear. What was going to happen to me...? Would I be excecuted? Tortured? I've heard what they say about Germans in the papers. It seemed like nonsense - but what if it was true?
Calm down, Frisk! What are you supposed to do?. I climbed out of the plane, scanning my surroundings. . The machine. Burn the machine.. I lit a cigarette, and tossed the match into the cockpit of my SPAD. Immediately, flames begun licking out from underneath the dashboard. Just then, a single shot cracked past my head, and I dropped down in terror before looking behind me, the cigarette dropping out of my mouth. On the road several feet away stood a group of grey-clad figures, all pointing rifles my way. I turned to make a break for a treeline nearby, but a second shot impacted the earth in front of me, followed by a distant voice; "Halt, Amerikaner!". I needed no more encouragement after that, and my hands promptly found themselves above my head.
The Bosche infantrymen walked over to me, rifles implying death at every step of the way. When they reached me one German, apparently their commanding officer, stepped forwards and spoke to me in accented, yet perfectly clear, English:
"So, American, you are now a prisoner of war. Come with us or we will shoot you". As I said, perfectly clear. They led me to an infantry truck which I was promptly bundled into the back of. Two Germans sat close on either side of me, while the Bosche officer sat across the way, regarding me with tired eyes. To my amazement, he offered to replace my lost cigarette with one of his own. I hesitated a moment before accepting his offer and nodding my thanks. He lit my cigarette, and sighed. "Don't look so sorry - your war is over. You survived" he muttered.
After that we drove in silence for another fifteen minutes before a great commotion came from the drivers' cab. The German in the passenger seat turned round and excitedly shouted something at the officer. A sharp, barked reply warranted us to veer off the road with alarming speed and roll to a stop. Again the Germans, save for my two guards, piled out the back of the truck. Moments later I was hit with Deja Vu as a single gunshot rung out followed by the command of "Amerikaner, Halt! Jetzt!" A few moments passed before an Aviator was thrown through the flap of the truck, swearing under his breath. The unfortunate pilot rose to his feet before being pushed down onto the bench and boxed-in by two Germans like I was.
We looked across at each other, and I blinked in surprise. "Wilson?" I asked, and the pilot squinted in the darkness. "Is that you, Drummond? What are you doing here?". "Same as you, dummy!" I shouted, earning a sharp command from one German soldier, followed by a pistol barrel in my face. I reckon it translated roughly to "Stop Talking, Please".
We drove for roughly an hour before stopping and abruptly being ordered from the truck. We were met with the sight of some kind of temporary camp, surrounded by barbed wire and crudely-build guard towers. I guessed that it was only going to be our temporary accomodation while the Germans decided what to do with us. As we were escorted towards the entrance, a bullet-holed wooden sign had the words "HOTEL BAYERISCHER" painted in red, It looked uncomfortably similar to blood as it swung above the checkpointed entryway.
After being stripped of our personal effects and our flying coats, we were marched into a Barracks full of filthy P.O.Ws, who scarecely bothered looking up at our arrival. We were shown to our 'bunks', if you can call them that - the mattresses were badly holed and rock-hard, and there were no covers - and before we had even sat down the Germans had quick-stepped out and slammed the door shut. No sooner had they left than the barracks burst into life - some Americans came over and patted us on the back and one inquisitive British pilot rushed over to Wilson and begun pestering him with questions about life in the U.S.A.S.
Suddenly the finality dawned on me, and I fell backwards on to my bed. I had lost. My war was done. I would be here until it ended. I held my head in my hands, despairing privately. When I again looked up, a ragged British pilot was staring at me intently. Warily, I stared back. After a while, he leaned closer to me, shot a glance towards the door, and spoke to me in a raspy Scottish accent;
'B' flight were up earlier than the sun today! We were to set off at half past four in the morning, headed by Cpt. Wallace, having been tasked with meeting a French Breguet 14. Apparently the Frenchie was after some important photographs, for he had 5 of us coming up to watch his tail for him!
Take-off was a shambles. In the cloudy pitch-black early morning we could barely see each-other's machines as we begun to formate. Somewhere behind me was Rast and, although it's rather unfair on the poor lad for me to say, I was concerned the whole time that he was going to run into the back of me! How in blazes we were meant to find the Frenchman I had no idea.
In a state of extreme caution we begun to climb. Just as we did, I noticed a beam of light shooting up several miles away. A spotlight! That could mean only one thing - there was a hun machine over there! Knowing there was no hope of signalling my wingmen in the dark (Although they must have seen the beam!) I broke away from the formation and headed for the eerie column of light. As I got closer I could see that the beam was moving slowly, with purpose. It had definitely found its man!
In hindsight, I had undertaken a fool's errand. Flying towards an unseen number of foes in pitch-darkness to me now seems completely barmy! But, I admit, I was thrilled at the concept of my first 'night fight' and keen to take the chance to score my next victory! Possibly the lesson of my 20 days in hospital was wasted on me.
However, I was not to learn if I had seriously erred or not, for by the time I reached the light it had begun to search erratically again and whoever it had found was long gone. And so I turned West towards the lines, in hopes of finding my flight again. Far away I saw a black silhouette snaking its way across the face of a cloud, and so I turned for him. We came towards each other, and as he sailed past I saw that it was, astoundingly, the Frenchman in his Breguet!
Swinging around into formation with the Breguet I saw the observer ready on his gun - however, spotting my roundels pacified him, much to my relief! I joined up with the Frenchmen, and awaited the appearance of my squadron. By now the sky had lightened to a slightly more reasonable visibility, and so I begun scanning the skies for aeroplanes.
Mayes escorts the Frenchman.
I assume the Frenchman thought his five-man escort had been relegated to just me, as he decided to turn out towards the mud. As we flew along next to each other, we spotted a second spotlight coming up from Arras. I elected not to abandon the Breguet, but that is not to say I didn't keep one eye firmly fixed to the spotlight's trajectory.
Seeing nothing below, I resumed scanning around us for my wingmen. Finally, I spotted five machines in formation a few miles down the lines. I was just about to fly over to join them, when I realised that...I was the 5th wingman in our formation. So...who were these five? Warily, I kept my eyes on the anonymous machines. The sky was growing ever-lighter, but it was still too dark to make out any defining features. However, it seemed to me that the five machines were coming our way. I gritted my teeth. Oh, how I hoped they were our boys...
They turned towards us, and a chill ran down my spine. Fokkers. In an instant I was forced to make my resolve. Scarcely believing my own courage (or, indeed, stupidity!) I stuck by the Breguet. I had bloody well been ordered to see the Frenchman to his destination, and no Hun was going to make me turn tail!
Keeping my eyes on the Huns, I climbed up so as to be on the same level as them. If they were to pounce us, I wanted to be in with a fighting chance! Cautiously the Huns edged closer, and closer still. Then, it happened. In one unified movement all five Fokkers pointed their noses straight at us. This would be a fight to the bitter death.
I clawed for a few more feet in height, then begun to turn inwards to the attack. Suddenly, a half-mile off my right wing, I saw a second flight also headed towards the Huns. My heart leapt - it was my flight!
Grinning from ear-to-ear, I cocked my twin Vickers. Now we had a fight on our hands! I peered over my shoulder to see the Frenchman turning for home - god speed, friend! Shortly after our two flights merged, and a savage furball broke out.
These Huns looked the part. Their tailplanes were painted in a striking half black, half white design, and their manoeuvring was excellent. I had one man ahead of me, but couldn't get so much as a single burst off at him! Eventually, he gave me the slip and disappeared. I turned back towards the fight just in time to see poor old Rast's Sopwith burst into flames and drop away into oblivion. The poor lad never stood a chance.
The Last Moments of Sgt. Chris Rast.
Cursing myself bitterly for allowing Rast to be killed, I saw another of my wingmen chasing one black and white tail, and I flew in to give the Hun a good hiding with him. Together we shot-up the machine as it tried to dive straight down, and we watched with glee as the Hun went in! That was our wingman avenged, at least. We joined up together and cruised along the German lines. After a while, we spotted tracers above our heads and realised that 'Archie' flight must have found a scrap of their own. It looked like a rather fierce one! As I circled below, a second 'flamer' dropped out of the melee. As I got closer I realised with a start that our boys were horrendously outnumbered by the Huns!
I pleaded with my Camel to climb faster as I attempted to rush up and assist 'Archie' flight, and watched in sheer frustration as two Camels tore home with at least five Fokkers in tow. Just then I looked over my shoulder to see one of the devils behind me! I rose to the Hun's insolent challenge, throwing my machine into a right-hand turn. I thought I had evaded, but bullets tore through my planes! Infuriated, I tightened my turn and within two rotations I was behind him, close. I threw a vicious burst into him and he winged over on his side trailing black smoke.
Mayes takes on a Fokker D.VII.
Just when I had my Hun where I wanted him, more bullets went through my fuselage. One of the Hun's wingmen was interfering! I turned to face my new opponent, and our waltz began. This new fellow had the most curious decoration to his machine I have seen yet - his fokker was tan with zebra stripes running down the entire fuselage - except for his black and white tail, of course!*
I soon had this upstart in front of me as well, and he suffered a similar fate to his compatriot. After I had placed many rounds into his machine, he finally begun to wallow back and forth, before trying to put in. The poor devil was clearly as shot about as his machine was, for at the last moment, as his propellor ceased spinning, his nose tipped upwards and he stalled for a moment before crashing down to earth.
Alfred Lindenberger's final moments.
My celebrating was interrupted by a flak burst that tore shreds of fabric away from my plane and punctured my fuel tank. Taking this as a sign that I had overstayed my welcome, I turned for home. In the distance I saw an aeroplane in a spin collide with the earth. I did not know whose side he was flying on. Unfortunately, my tank ran dry over the mud and I was forced to make a landing right there and then. To add insult to injury, our friends in the S.E.5s flew overhead just as I was landing! The fellow that went over me waggled his wings, and I sighed in annoyance as I watched them sail off Hunlandwards.
It took me until the next morning to scramble my way out of no-mans-land and barter passage to Valheureux. Upon my arrival early on the men were astounded. For the second time I had falsely been reported as killed by a Fokker! Needless to say, the men were very glad to have me back safe and sound. I was saddened to know that in addition to Rast, Haynsworth and McBride, both of 'Archie' Flight, had been shot down and killed in our fight with the skilled black-and-white-tailed pilots. However, Franklyn and Maxted had gotten one each in retaliation. Maxted had also apparently seen one of my Fokkers go in (I assumed that he was the pilot I had gotten my first of the morning with), so that made three of theirs for our three. It seemed to be a day of threes, as that Hun also became my 3rd confirmed victory.
An eye for an eye, as they say.
* Alfred Lindenberger, Jasta 'Boelcke', 9 victories at time of death. Historically Lindenberger scored 12 victories with Jasta Boelcke before going on to shoot down a B17, two B24s and a P-51 with II./JG. 300 in WW2! .
Being involved in the DiD challenge has honestly been so much fun - I only wish I hadn't joined in so close to the Armistice what a great community WOFF has!
Friday, September 6th 1918On alert this morning, did another stint over the aerodrome in the afternoon, engine overheating, have a leak somewhere. Had to change the water connections and finally found the leak in the top water tank. Rick ‘s back, appears to be right as rain. Removed some infection in one of those mysterious bones in your ear that cause so much trouble.
Stars and Stripes says that since July 15th, Allied forces have captured 140,000 Germans in 7 weeks. That makes about 20,000 a week. We’ve got almost 13 million men elligable for the draft now. You do the math.
Great stories all around, Gentlemen. Sorry for a bit of a delay on the News of the World. With all that WOTR beta-testing and all that... Anyways, back to the regularly scheduled program:
News of the World for April - Intrepid Fliers:
April 1 The Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were amalgamated to form the Royal Air Force - the first independent air force in the world. April 2 Martial Law was declared in Canada following the anti-conscription Easter Riots that had occurred in Quebec City between 28 March and 1 April. April 4 The Battle of the Avre constituted the final German attack towards Amiens which was fought between advancing German troops and defending Australian and British troops. April 5 Operation Michael was halted when an attempt by the Germans to renew the offensive towards Amiens failed after British troops forced them out of the town. April 9 Following the failure of Operation Michael, The Battle of the Lys began. The second of the series of attacks making up the German Spring Offensive, Operation Georgette was planned by General Erich Ludendorff with the objective of capturing Ypres and forcing the British troops back to the Channel ports. April 10 The Battle of Messines 1918 began as German forces attacked north of Armentieres and captured the town. The British Government passed an extension to the Military Service Act of 1916 raising the upper age of conscription to 50. The law was also extended to Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. April 11 The American steamer SS Lakemoor was sunk by German submarine U-64 whilst en route from Newport to Glasgow. April 12 During the German Operation Georgette offensive, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig issued his famous order that his men must carry on fighting, "With our backs to the wall", appealing to his forces to stand fast and fight to the last man. April 13 The Battle of Bailleul began with British troops under the command of General Herbert Plumer. April 14 General Ferdinand Foch was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Allied forces on the Western Front. April 15 The Battle of Bailleul ended when the town of Bailleul was captured by German forces. April 16 German forces progressed on the Lys River and reoccupied Passchendaele. April 17 Frenchman Bolo Pasha, originally named Paul Bolo, was executed by firing squad after his conviction as a traitor and a German spy. April 18 The Third Military Service Act came into force in Britain. April 19 German forces entered the Crimea region. April 20 British Secretary of State for War, Lord Derby resigned and was replaced by Lord Alfred Milner. April 21 German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen (more commonly known as the Red Baron) was shot down and fatally wounded while flying over Morlancourt Ridge on the Somme front. April 22 The British Royal Navy attempted to blockade, and thus neutralise, the key Belgian port of Zeebrugge by sinking obsolete British ships in the entrance to the harbour. The port was used by the German Navy as a base for their U-boats which posed a serious threat to Allied shipping. April 23 Guatemala declared war on Germany. April 24 The Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux was launched against British lines in front of Amiens during the Battle of the Lys. It was the first tank-versus-tank battle in history. April 25 At the Second Battle of the Kemmelberg the German Army attacked and captured the Kemmel Hill (Mont Kemmel). April 27 Sir William Weir was announced as the Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force. April 29 A final German attack captured the Scherpenberg, a hill to the northwest of the Kemmelberg and ended the Battle of the Lys. April 30 British troops advanced east of Jordan at the Second Action of Es Salt in Palestine.
(From The Great War - Unseen Archives by Robert Hamilton)
"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."
August 1 The Allied Expeditionary Force captured the port of Archangel in northern Russia. August 2 The Japanese Government decided to land troops at Vladivostok. August 3 The hospital ship SS Warilda was sunk by the German submarine UC -49 whilst carrying wounded from Le Havre to Southampton, despite being clearly marked by red crosses. August 4 British forces arrived at the city of Baku on the Caspian Sea. August 5 German airships launched an unsuccessful attack on East Anglia in England; the raid resulted in the loss of Zeppelin L70. August 6 General Ferdinand Foch was declared Marshal of France. August 7 The French armed cruiser Dupetit-Thouars was sunk by the German submarine U-62 400 miles west of Brest. August 8 The Battle of Amiens, also known as the Third Battle of Picardy, began. The battle was the opening phase of the Hundred Days Offensive - the final period of the War, during which the Allies launched a series of offensives against the Central Powers on the Western Front. Allied forces made one of the greatest advances of the war on the first day. August 10 French forces attacked and recaptured Montdidier, Picardy. August 11 The Allied offensive at Amiens continued to advance, though not with the same spectacular results as were achieved on 8 August. August 12 The Battle of Amiens ended in a decisive Allied victory. Amiens was one of the first major battles involving armoured warfare, marking the end of trench warfare on the Western Front. August 13 The British Government formally recognised the Czecho-Slovaks as an Allied nation. August 15 Part of the Hundred Days Offensive, the Battle of Montdidier ended. August 16 Japanese General K Otani, commanding the Allied expedition, arrived at Vladivostok. August 17 The Second Battle of Noyon began as French forces renewed their offensive on the Somme. August 18 British forces in Flanders began a successful offensive operation in the Action of Outtersteene Ridge. August 19 Merville was recaptured by British troops on the Lys Front. August 21 The Battle of Albert was the first phase of a fresh offensive launched by British forces during the Second Battles of the Somme. August 22 The town of Albert was recaptured by British troops. August 24 The British merchant ship SS Flavia was torpedoed without warning and sunk by the German submarine U-107 near County Donegal, Ireland whilst travelling from Montreal to Avonmouth. August 26 The British launched a fresh offensive as the Battle of the Scarpe began during the Second Battle of Arras. August 27 Stiff resistance from the Germans and their heavily defended positions, coupled with very bad weather limited Allied gains during the Battle of the Scarpe. August 28 Canadian Divisions seized part of the German Fresnes-Rouvroy defence system after three days of intense fighting. August 29 The town of Bapaume was recaptured during the Battle of Albert as the British advanced on the Somme. August 30 Russian political revolutionary Fanya (Dora) Kaplan attempted to assassinate Vladimir Lenin as he left a meeting in Moscow, seriously wounding him. August 31 Australian troops crossed the Somme River during the night and breached the German lines at Mont Saint-Quentin and Peronne at the beginning of the Battle of Mont St Quentin on the Western Front.
(From The Great War - Unseen Archives by Robert Hamilton)
"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."
The Scottish Aviator's name was Cpt. Ross Muldoon. After we had made sure no undesirables were listening, he quietly explained to Wilson and I that the Germans were all amassing on their side of the lines in response to a build-up of French and American forces. According to Muldoon, he had seen this kind of build-up many times during his years in the RFC (now known as the RAF), and each time without fail it forewarned the same event. Unfortunately for Wilson, who had yet to encounter a Scotsman before Ross, the explanation was utterly lost on him. He probably better understood the Bosches that carted us in.
"An offensife, an' it's comin' suin!" he said, with a lopsided smile. I shrugged. "Alright, but what good does that do us? You think we'll be liberated?". Ross shook his head. "Nae, but it means thaur willnae be many Huns atween their lines an' this camp...ye ken?". Slowly, I nodded, then leaned in closer. "An escape, you mean?" A fire lit in Ross' eyes. "Two weeks ago," he started in a hushed, yet impassioned voice, "a sheel landed jist oan th' fence in th' coortyard. th' huns quickly pit up a new fence, but ne'er filled in th' crater properly. it's only a wee gap, but big enaw fur one man at a time". I pictured the courtyard we had been marched through in my head. There were a few sentries scattered around, easy to see any movement in the day. However, at night..."Tha'morra nicht, ma observer an' I are gauin' fur it. we could use some extra hands". Ross left it at that.
We turned in for the night, my thoughts racing. An escape plan...but how would we cross the lines?. Ross' unyielding confidence made me believe, or at least want to believe, he would see us through. I glanced over at Wilson, who nodded with a stern look on his face. So, it was settled, then.
We would make a bid for freedom.
Part 8: Fugitive.
August 6th, 1917.
We awoke in the morning, stiff as all hell from sleeping on that sorry excuse for a bunk. No way of washing our faces, and I was already in uniform (The Bosche, of course, hadn't given us any form of nightwear). I sidled over to Ross, who looked up expectantly. "We're in". The Scotsman nodded, the slightest hint of that lopsided smile forming under his smoking-pipe. At 9 AM we were moved in groups of five - there were maybe 20 prisoners overall - into the mess. Here we were served small bowls of cold, lumpy porridge that had clearly been prepared the night before. Under watchful eyes we ate. I took the time to find out about my new colleague, and sat over by Ross and his observer, one 2nd. Lieutenant Georgie Densmore. "So, Muldoon, you've flown for long?" I asked, and he smiled knowingly. "Ah, yank, Imagine...I've bin up since 1916! Georgie-boy haur has bin ma observer since bluidy April". Damn, bloody April...I remember that from the papers. That was when the R.F.C took a savage beating in 1917. He must be some pilot to have survived that. "Aye, bluidy April..." Ross continued, now reminiscing privately, "we hud Fees back then...".
"Fees?" I inquired, and Georgie laughed. "F.E.2s, dear boy! The old pusher types, you must have seen one by now, no? A perfectly sound machine for 1916, but a bloody good way to get yourself shot about by '17!" he chirped happily. I think I know the machine he meant from the aeroplane profiles we'd studied in my Pursuit training. They were strange tail-less machines, designed before we knew how to fire through a spinner. God, the British still used those old things?
After eating we were allowed to roam the courtyard, and I scanned the surrounding fence discretely for our 'door'. Eventually I spotted it. That's a tight fit... I thought, grimacing. God help me if I got stuck in it.
The rest of the day was eventless, and we were eventually escorted back into our prisoners' barracks. Pretending to turn in, we lay wide-awake waiting for the lights to shut off (they had done so last night at around 10:30). Finally, we were plunged into darkness and, without a word, the four of us arose and moved to the rearmost window, carefully pushing it open. The window had a stopper so that it could only be opened a certain amount - coincidentally the space we had left was about the same as the 'door' under the fence. Good. I'd rather find out here that I don't fit I thought, as Ross hoisted himself up. I was amazed at how catlike the Scot was as he effortlessly slid through the opening. Next was Densmore, who with his small frame got through just as easily. I motioned for Wilson to go next, and my heart sank as he came to a halt half-out the window. He was stuck!
A great hairy hand reached out from the dark, and with a pull Wilson was through. On the other side, Ross released him with a stern glance. Now it was my turn. I went through head-first and, to my immense happiness, got through without much of a problem. The night air was bitterly cold, and visibility was poor with the moon being obscured by clouds. This was exactly what we wanted, however, as it obscured us perfectly from what guard remained awake (the Germans weren't particularly bothered with maintaining a strict watch - the majority of prisoners in the camp seemed all but done with the war). Eventually we found our way to the hole and, one by one, we crawled through on our bellies. I had to stop myself from yelping out as the fence scraped a long gash down my back. Feeling a wet warmth running down the back of my tunic, I straightened myself up and helped Wilson through. He got a similar gash on his arm, and part of his uniform tore away on the fence. Carefully, Ross took this scrap and pocketed it.
We walked for what felt like an eternity. Every so often we would bustle into a hedgerow or a treeline and Ross would light a match to check a small ornate compass he'd been hiding in his boot. After what must have been hours, we started to notice more shell-holes, and the greenery of the land begun to meld into a muddy mess. We were nearing the front-lines...I hadn't realised how close our camp was!
It seemed like all the world's Germans were assembled in their lines - if I hadn't believed Ross' warnings about the oncoming offensive, it would be indisputable now. Holding our breath we made our way across the first catwalk - right over a German trench. I could see one or two soldiers down there, propped up against posts or sprawled out on benches. I guess the only thing that saved us is that they wouldn't dream four P.O.Ws would so boldly cross over their heads - they probably mistook us for a patrol!
We repeated this pattern over the next two trenches, and finally, to mine and Wilson's amazement, we reached the front-line German positions! By this point, the sun was threatening to peek over the horizon. We would have to act quickly. My heart stopped as, behind us, a German sentry called out a question to us. Without missing a beat, Georgie swung around and fired back a response in perfect German. A short reply came back, and he nodded to us. However, the brief exchange had roused one or two of the Germans, who had begun to turn their attention on us.
Ross took one look over them, and turn to us. "RUN!" He barked, and, wide-eyed with fear, I obliged. We all did. Suddenly there was a great commotion of Germans shouting orders to each other, men snapping out of sleep and running to positions. We had cleared a fair distance when the gunfire started, and it seemed that the earth all around us was being chewed up by Bosche bullets! Ross called out for us to follow him and, staying as single-file as possible to make ourselves a smaller target, we headed for a particularly deep shell crater. We were moments away when I felt one bullet graze my arm. I stumbled, and Wilson grabbed me and hoisted me to my feet. Eventually we slid into the crater. It had all happened in seconds. After a few minutes had passed the gunfire ceased, and we could hear the Germans settling down. I guess they weren't particularly bothered by our escape - we were only four men after all...we would hardly improve the war effort for our boys by getting home.
"We move a hole at a time. We'll haf' te move fast. If we gang steadily, an' keep the heid, we should be haem by tha'morra". Ross uttered, after catching his breath. Tomorrow? But we'd covered so much ground, and fast! Surely one last home stretch would do it? No...I trusted Ross, he'd gotten us this far already. Wilson begun shakily laughing, and Georgie hushed him. "Dear boy, it's best the Germans don't find out we're still close". He whispered, and Wilson nodded, clasping his hands over his mouth like a kid.
Over the course of the day we made mad sprints from shell-crater to shell-crater, within 15-20 minute intervals. During most of these runs the Bosche chucked some lead our way. Fortunately, it got increasingly less accurate the further away from them we got. By the time the sun was dropping, we had gotten a good third of the way across. I tried my best to ignore the horrifically churned-up men and horses that scattered the battlefields. As the sun begun to set, we exhaustedly slumped into the next hole, and Ross suggested we get some shut-eye and wait until complete darkness, where we could move more safely. I opted to take the first 'lookout' shift, and the other three tried to get comfortable in our current dwelling. The dead German hanging over the lip of our crater didn't help, I'm sure. I don't know how I would manage to sleep through the smell.
As the other three slept, I peeked over the top of the crater and took in the surroundings. About a mile away from where we hid I saw the wreckage of a French SPAD tangled up in a tree. Or was it American? Suddenly, I recalled Soubiran dropping out of formation the day I'd been captured. I hoped the Captain was alright.
After twenty-or-so minutes Ross softly called my name under his breath. I turned, nodded, and lay down to get some rest. Across from me the dead German grinned, observing me lazily with two empty eye sockets.
Thank you kindly, Jerbear! Hopefully Benny-boy makes it
Sgt. Albert Mayes MC, No. 3 Sqn. RAF. 4 Victories.
September 5th, 1918:
We held a service for poor old Rast this morning. It was a fleeting affair, as they usually are, but I felt particularly moved. Despite his flying inability, Rast had a certain bumbling charm about him. I shall sorely miss having him wobbling along behind our formation.
As there was no breakdown crew alive skilled enough to fetch my downed Camel from within No-Mans-Land I have taken another Squadron spare as my own. This time, I had it painted up as a proper B flight machine, and I now wear the number 5 on my wings and fuselage. In addition, Erroll managed to fish out an old bucket of red paint and attempted to talk me into painting my cowling and wheel caps red. "It looks like blood - fitting for the squadron's current top scorer!" he crooned, and eventually his charms took effect. McClintock was furious when he saw what we'd done - "What are you doing painting your machine like a bloody squadron leader, Mayes?" He roared, as Erroll snickered in the background. A real devil, my mechanic is!
Despite McClintock's irritations, there was no time to strip the paint from my cowling, and so the red stayed put for our morning patrol over Mont St. Eloi. Our gang merged with 'Archie' flight to form an impressive 10-machine formation. More than once as we climbed I saw McClintock look back at my red-nosed Camel and shake his head in disgust. However, I think some of the other boys found it rather striking! Once or twice I caught a flash of a grin from a wingman.
D. 7677, Mayes' 3rd Camel.
As per usual, we reached the mud without any trouble (the enemy didn't like to venture out of Hunland so readily as we would leave the comforts of our own side!). We had to break through a cloud at the edge of the lines, and upon emerging on the other side I noticed that my balloon from the Train Station Raid had been replaced. This annoyed me, I must confess. Why were we sent out to shoot the bloody things down if the Huns just put new ones up right away?
We patrolled nice and low, challenging the Huns to come and get us! As we circled, I did see one formation of 7 or 8 machines far above us, cruising down the Hun lines. I wondered if they'd seen us, and if we would meet later in the morning. By any means, for now they stayed firmly put on their side. Moments later I saw an R.E.8 with 6 Camels in tow cross over our heads. My, it certainly was a crowded morning!
I decided to climb up above our formation in order to better keep an eye out for marauding huns. From my perch I could see a great many machines up and down the lines, all going about their work in relative peace. Then, over on the edge of Hunland, something caught my eye. The group of Huns I had seen earlier had spotted the flight that had passed us, and they were now falling upon them en masse! I immediately broke away from my formation and turned my machine to assist my countrymen.
Very soon I spotted the R.E.8 tearing away from the furball at full speed, with a Fokker hot on his heels. Oh, no you don't! I thought and set my sights on the Fokker. This hun, flying a Black and Yellow machine (1), carried on obliviously as I got behind him and fired a crippling burst through him! He immediately turned for the nearest cloud, attempting to lose me. I checked over my shoulder and, sure enough, one of his wingmen had spotted his plight. I evaded the oncoming attack and the two Fokkers dove through the cloud layer...straight into the middle of 'Archie' flight! My wingmen reacted, and soon the brute that had interrupted my work had four Camels to contend with. Good!
I turned after my Hun, the poor devil was clearly wounded as his attempts to evade me were feeble at best, and I shot him about as I pleased until eventually, trailing a great plume of smoke, his engine gave up the ghost and he spiralled down into oblivion (2).
As I turned back to find my flight I saw Franklyn engaged with one fellow and so I spiralled below the battle, attempting to climb up. My appearance must have put the wind up the Hun, for he immediately turned towards his own lines. Franklyn got after him, and so I followed the headstrong Scotsman. It appeared to me that the rest of our squadron had already headed off home.
Although I did enjoy a good scrap, having only two of us in Hunland put a bit of a scare into me! We were now over past the mud, and still Franklyn insisted on running down his Hun. The pair disappeared into a cloud, and I grimaced...how bloody reckless he was being! By now Archie was being chucked up at us in fearful quantity. Come on, Franklyn, bloody well leave him and let's go home! I silently urged.
We were now well clear of the mud, with Vimy visible to the North. Gritting my teeth hard, I swore to Franklyn in my head that I would only pursue for a moment more, before leaving him to his fate. The Fokker's aerodrome was still in sight, and I could a second Fokker circling high above us inquisitively. This is Madness. Franklyn's lost the plot! I thought, and reluctantly turned and left the Scotsman to his fate.
I got back and put in my Fokker claim, before explaining to McClintock what had happened with Franklyn. Frowning and stroking his chin, he patiently listened. "Bloody fool" he muttered. I am glad to say that Franklyn did return about an hour later! However, he had eventually lost his hun and his machine was badly knocked around by archie.
The rest of the day was mostly eventless - 'B' flight had no scheduled missions past our patrol, and 'Archie' flight only went up for the one patrol in the evening. Sadly, poor old Nathaniel Hurst didn't come back - the victim of a Fokker. According to my fellow pilots, it was that damned Black-And-White-Tailed 'Staffel' that got him in the end. We'll be starting tomorrow off with another memorial service, then. At around 9 PM McClintock got a telephone call from our front-lines - my Fokker had landed inside a British trench! I was very pleased to have 'Blooded' my new machine on its first flight.
"Barbed wire aheid" Ross warned us as we crawled through the murk. As if in response, we heard the rattling of the wire as Densmore got his trouser leg caught up in the wire. One quick tear later and he was free. We had been going for the last three hours, and were getting close to the American lines! "Wallace - look!" I whispered, and he strained his eyes. "What...?". I pointed, and he followed my indication. In the darkness I saw the white of his teeth flash as he broke into a grin. In the distance, only a couple miles away, we could see the silhouette against the horizon of a Doughboy standing on the papapets of the front-line trenches! We were there! I was about to stand up when Ross grabbed me. "Nae. bide until it's light. They'll shoot anythin' movin' at nicht". I nodded in quiet fear and ducked back down.
After more crawling we reached a sizeable shell-hole. Ross slid down into it, closely followed by Densmore. I followed and turned back round to see Wallace sitting on the edge of the crater. "Why are we still sneaking around?" he asked, at a volume that made us all flinch. "Get down" Ross snarled, and Wallace regarded him in surprise. "What for? Those are our boys out there!" He said, again far too loud. And then he did something that made all of us freeze in terror. He lit a cigarette.
"Pit 'at bluidy thing out!" Ross roared, causing Wallace's face to turn sour. "What the hell's your problem, buddy?" He yelled back, and took a pull of the cigarette. The Orange glow illuminated his face, and Ross grabbed at his ankles, trying to pull him down. Enraged, Wilson kicked Ross hard in the chest, sending him rolling back into the crater. "You've gone mad!" He shouted, and took another pull. Just then, a sharp crack split through our quarrelling, and Wallace swayed, leaned to the side and fell, rolling limply down the side of our shell-hole. His cigarette fell from his mouth and rolled alongside him, coming to rest on his hand. He didn't react to the burn.
Clutching his chest, Ross grimaced. "Bloody fool!" He spat. I just stared down at the thick dark blood flowing from the hole underneath Wallace's left eye. He had been instantly killed by a single bullet. "What the hell were you thinking?" I whispered, before turning away from Wallace's body and throwing up. Densmore sat with his head in his hands. After a while, Ross put a hand on my back. "Sorry, pal" was all he said, and numbly I nodded. "No, no need. I can't believe he..." I trailed off, feeling more bile rise in my throat.
We dared not move after that, all fearing the American marksman that had killed Wallace. I didn't sleep a wink. Instead, I listened to the now-fervent American trenches, all scrambling around and preparing for the 'German Raid' that they were no doubt now expecting.
At 4 AM we got Hurst's memorial service out of the way in time for the Dawn Patrol. Fortunately for us, it would be an easy one, as our patrol area was deep within our own lines. Command had caught wind that Hun two-seaters had started appearing in larger numbers on our stretch of the lines, and so Scout squadrons were being consigned to rear-area patrols at a higher rate, in order to deter the Hun Reconnaissance machines. As we expected, no two-seaters appeared, although it wasn't all bad as we were treated to an exquisite sunrise! Finally, we'd had enough of the cold and decided to head back.
Homeward bound, we rounded a cloud just shy of Valheureux and were astounded to see bursts of Archie a matter of feet away. Perhaps a two-seater had come across this morning after all! McClintock waggled his wings and we lazily listed towards the commotion. It wasn't long before I made out the shape of four machines in amongst the archie bursts...but they weren't two-seaters. They were Fokkers.
In disbelief I watched as the four Huns turned straight for us - and from a lower altitude, too! We all knew that a Fokker wouldn't so much as dream of chasing one of us past our trench-lines, but here were these fellows, bold as you like, so many miles into our lines and picking fights! These artists must be very sure of themselves, I thought.
I crossed over the top of the Fokkers, peering down at them - Ah, of course! It was none other than those devious Black-and-White-Tailed brutes! Who else would be so bold? I thought to myself. As I regarded them, I saw that the man at the head of their flight had painted his fuselage in striking red. Their C.O, perhaps? A top German Ace? I decided that this should be my man.
I turned back to get the signal from McClintock, and was horrified to see that he was leading the flight away, towards our aerodrome! However, 'Archie' flight was still close, and, praying I could count on them to join me, I dove right through the Fokkers and put a burst of vickers fire into the Red Fokker. Their gang broke up, scattering every which-way, and I quickly turned away to attempt to re-climb. Before long one fellow with a large white 'V' painted on his upper wing had taken exception to my attack, and was now busying himself by trying to get onto my tail. I admit that 'V' did manage to hole my machine quite a bit, but he had made the classic mistake of trying to stay with me in the turn, and soon I was behind him. I fired a short burst into him and he immediately dove straight down, as if killed. Unfortunately for 'V', I knew this trick well by now, and I followed him in the dive. At low altitude he realised his ploy had failed, and reluctantly pulled out of the dive before pointing his nose straight for home. By this point there was no sign of any other machines nearby; it was just 'V' and I. I got up behind him again and fired more rounds through him. He tried to break out of my gunsights, but I stuck to him like glue. The poor fellow must have known he was for it then and there!
Mayes and 'V' locked in combat.
His engine slightly trailing smoke, 'V' led me into a spiralling dive. Just as I had gotten down to his level he shot back up, using that great climb that the Fokker possesses. I followed, straining everything out of my Camel, but eventually my nose dropped, with 'V' still a ways above me. Clever fellow! Regrettably, his smarts were not enough to save him, as soon after this trick his propellor abruptly ground to a halt, and he fell back down into my gun sights.
Despite having the Hun squarely in my sights with no hope of escape, I hesitated to press down on the trigger. The fellow was clearly going nowhere - his propellor was stopped at low altitude miles behind the lines! I resolved that I was no butcher. I broke away, and flew off to the side of 'V' as he coasted in to land. I am glad to say that the fellow landed safely, and not too far at all from our aerodrome!
I landed alongside the downed German, who was slowly de-planing. It turned out he'd taken a slight knock to the left leg in the rough landing. I rushed over, helping him out of his machine, and he begun to laugh. "Tommie, you had me nervous just now!" He exclaimed. As he stepped down from his Fokker, I noticed the Iron Cross hanging at his neck. "The feeling is mutual! You put some holes through my wing!" I replied, and the German winked, and extended a hand. "Leutnant Hermann Vallendor". I shook his hand. "Sgt. Albert Mayes".
We strolled back to Valheureux, where McClintock invited Vallendor to join the squadron for lunch. Unfortunately for the German, the sentiment was rather soured as one of his wingmen had shot down and killed poor Francis Wilkins. Franklyn was particularly hostile; he and Wilkins were good friends, being the squadron's only two Scots. A breakdown crew was sent out for Vallendor's Fokker, and I tagged along in order to retrieve my camel. I instructed one of the crew to remove a Spandau from the German machine, and to bring it back to Erroll as a present. I claimed the other for myself.
We went up again at 2 PM, just after Vallendor had been taken away, having been charged with escorting an R.E.8 to his reconnaissance target. Again McClintock led us. I was on Franklyn's wing - I must admit, this made me nervous. He was stillvery much fired-up from Wilkins' passing, and I suspected his flying would be erratic if we ran into the enemy. We had only just reached the rendez-vous point in time to see four sleek Hun two-seaters flying along, quite the thing! My, the Huns certainly had guts today - this was the second time a formation had crossed into our side! Was it a full moon tonight? I turned after the formation of Huns. To my irritation, McClintock again kept our flight out of it. He must be losing his nerve. One Two-Seater immediately started for home at my arrival, but the other three stayed together. I circled above them much like a hawk, waiting to pick out the right target. Eventually the Archie broke up their flight, and I dove down on one isolated Hun. What a curious machine this was - it had a Biplane tail! The observer and I traded shots, each of us scoring hits on the other. Eventually I employed the technique of staying under the machine's belly, only surfacing for a quick burst.
On one such attack, I got too close and bullets rattled through my engine cowling. Cursing as oil splattered my face, I held down the trigger and let forth a torrent of bullets, tearing the left upper wing away from the strange machine. It plummeted towards the ground and came to rest near a small farmhouse.
I turned for home, but immediately saw a second enemy machine and so decided to try my luck a second time. I got behind the second biplane-tailed machine in a much less favourable position. Feeling very pleased with myself after bringing down his wingman, I recklessly sat right behind this new Hun and jovially fired away at him. However, his Observer was not to be trifled with, and he hit me with a very good burst. I jolted back in my seat, feeling a forceful thud in my shoulder. Alarmed at the precision of this observer, I dove away and left the two-seater alone.
Heading back to Valheureux, I suddenly became aware of a dull ache in my shoulder, that, upon my noticing it, grew into a nauseatingly agonising burn. Groaning and gritting my teeth, I looked down to see blood welling out of a hole in my flying coat, and felt it soaking through the side of my tunic & trouser leg. The agony now was almost unbearable! Fighting not to fall unconscious, I desperately looked for someplace to land. I spotted La Bellvue Aerodrome, thank goodness, and begun to shakily descend, finally touching down. When I was going slowly enough on the ground, I let what little strength I had left escape me and released the controls. My Camel 'ground-looped' to a stop. As I looked around weakly, I could see some of the hangars had been damaged. This aerodrome must have been the two-seaters' bombing target. One pilot rushed out to greet me with a grin on his face. "Bloody good show knocking one of those blasted huns down!" He shouted as he ran over, "That's the right stuff to -" he trailed off as he saw my now-bloodsoaked tunic. "Medics! Here!" He turned and bellowed, before helping me out of my machine.
I believe I must have lost consciousness after that, for I next remember being in the less-than-pleasant setting of a Casualty Clearing Station. I felt rather silly sitting quietly with my arm in a sling as all througout the Station men's screams of agony filled the stagnant air. The sound was horrifying - but I was becoming used to horror by now. Later in the day McClintock sent Erroll over to let me know that my Two-Seater, a 'Hannover', apparently, had been confirmed and that, to my outrage, my 'Boelcke' Fokker hadn't! What reason could they possibly have to deny me that victory...was it because I didn't butcher the poor helpless fellow? Some nerve from McClintock, who dared not even go near the Boelcke Staffel!
Seething, I thanked Erroll and sent him on his way.
Unfortunately 'Calamity Mayes' is out of action for the next 13 days. Never take a two-seater lightly!
On a side note - will WOFF reject a Fokker D.VIIF or a D.VII OAW claimed as a Fokker D.VII? Despite citing no witness, I was really quite suprised when a victory scored well inside allied lines was thrown out!
Adjutant, Darcel Limoges Esc 95 Spads Raray AF Marne, France 4 Xictorys.
15 missions 10.7 hrs
Sep 8 1918.
Post to a fight of 4 Spads for Escort of 1 Recon type, Nearly got Chopped up there. Ran into 2 Flights of Huns, One flight chase and forced me down ( our side of Lines ) and the other chased and shot down 1 of three Spads. The Recon fled for home after taking hits. No score and mission failure for us.
Five SPAD patrol with Alk. 06:15, usual route, nothing to report. Oil pump quit, made it over the lines before the engine quit altogether, dead stick landing at French airdrome
Rain shut flying down for the rest of the day.
Saw the new model Marlin tried out on the range. Seemed to work very well, fires much faster than the Vickers. Supposed to be able to carry 700 rounds for it, as opposed to the 400 for a Vickers. I’m in no hurry to give up my Vickers. It takes a while to get to know a machine gun, learn its peculiarities and work out its flaws. That’s why they don’t allow the doughs to swap MGs when one outfit relieves another in the trenches. I’ve got mine just the way I want them now and you don’t need 1,400 rounds in an air fight. I’ve never used more than 400 rounds in a fight, but for ground strafing it’d be handy.
We sit around in the tent after lights out and chew the fat. Some amazingly dirty stories, some of them actually believable, truly filthy jokes. How disappointed Daddy would be at the morals of our boys. Some useful discussion as well.
I performed one of my mock sermons, well received by some, but others were so frightened by it they asked me to stop, afraid lightening would strike me and burn them too. Very superstitious for educated men, but then, we all have our superstitious side, especially in war.
Swedeholm is a prisoner. Wally led a patrol out yesterday morning, went a little way into Germany. Swedholm dropped out for an unknown reason and didn’t report in. Balloon observers saw him land and say he didn’t set the SPAD on fire. There’ll be no doubt in the German’s minds that we’re here now with that kicking mule on the side of his plane.
Wally’s probably going to get reprimanded for going over the lines. We were ordered not to but nobody was taking it that seriously as long as you just put one toe over and scooted off if you saw EA. Group HQ issued strict orders now that under no circumstances are we to cross over. If you do you’re subject to a Court Martial.
Hartneys having a decoy airdrome built about 4 miles away. Since the Germans will be looking for us now, he’s going to light it up at nights to give them something to bomb
Intermittent rain, no regular patrols. Went up for a scarecrow patrol to keep the Rumplers away in the afternoon. Got to 4,000 meters and the keyway of my prop gave way, caused terrific vibrations
Adjutant, Darcel Limoges Esc 95 Spads Raray AF Marne, France 4 Victorys.
Sep 10, 1918.
The Riggers are working on my kite, reassemble, fix landing struts, broken Spar , and a lot of holes. It will be ready by late day or tonight. The Esc flew in the light rain doing 2 patrols No e/a but one a/c is Missing.