Raine, best of luck to Colin as a Nupe pilot! She's a fine machine, though the British version with only the Lewis gun is lacking in firepower. Bruno is also starting to have ideas about Nupes...
Banjoman, please don't underestimate your writing skills! Your stories have been enjoyable reading ever since the first adventures of Abner in the old DID. Keep it up!
1 November 1916. Melzéville.
Dear Mama and Papa,
Thank you for your latest - its arrival truly saved my day. Terrible weather continues here and we are more often than not completely grounded, which leaves us with excessive amounts of spare time. Some of that we can spend in military matters, like improving our tactical and theoretical knowledge, or making sure our machines and living quarters are in tip-top shape. But at the end of the day, we’re military pilots, and our sole raison d’être is flying and fighting the boche! So you can probably imagine how not being able to do that because of miserable weather is enough to make us mad.
Speaking of flying (which we still manage to do occasionally), I recently had quite an adventure with my observer Vercingetorix. (Remember that his real name is Pascal Girard and we jokingly call him Vercingetorix because his moustache resembles that of the famous gentleman in Royer’s painting!) We were flying high above the trenches on a photographic reconnaissance mission as the escorts for one of our machines equipped with the camera when a German biplane approached us from their side of the lines. The fellow was alone and I recognized that he was flying a Fokker biplane scout. It resembles the infamous monoplane of the same company, which is now more or less obsolete and only rarely seen over the front. Well, this German aviator had a newer machine, and was clearly seeking to put it to test in a real fight, approaching as he was our pair of two-seaters in a very threatening manner.
Both of our crews had noticed the attacker and the observers were prepared to give him a fiery welcome with their machine guns (you remember our machines carry two such guns for self-defense). The German went after the plane with the camera, which was flying on our right wing. Only amateurs open fire from too great a distance, so we waited until the Fokker was about 150 meters behind us - and only then did both observers pull the trigger. The barrel of the gun is very close to the pilot’s head when firing backwards, and I could really feel the loud cracks and smell the powder! The German pushed his machine downwards and attempted to dive below us and then pull his nose up and fire at our exposed bellies. Our observer guns can’t be used against an enemy approaching from that angle, so the boche clearly knew what he was doing.
Quite instinctively I made a sharp turn to the left and then descended towards the Fokker, trying to give Pascal a good field of fire straight ahead. My maneuver must have taken the boche by surprise, because he was still aiming at our other machine. Pascal opened fire and we flew past the German so close that I could actually see the details of his cockpit! Our bullets must have hit the Fokker’s engine, because soon after our pass the boche turned his machine around and entered into a steep dive, leaving a thick trail of black smoke behind him. He then disappeared into a cloud several hundred meters below us and we could no longer see his machine. Only the smoke trail was left to remind us of our first combat encounter.
We returned to formation and flew safely back to base without any new adventures. After landing, we were still quite excited about our experience and attracted a big crowd to listen to our report. Although we hadn’t actually seen the Fokker crash down, the case was so obvious that we wrote an official claim of victory to the headquarters for further examination. Alas, the next day we received word from them that observers in the forward trenches had witnessed that same German machine diving down very close to the ground, but then the pilot obviously managed to straighten his course and soon the plane disappeared into the distance, leaving a trail of smoke behind it. So we had definitely hurt him, but not enough to bring him down! We were of course disappointed, but such things happen in war.
Our captain was nevertheless very pleased with our offensive spirit, though he did remind me that I’m not flying a Nieuport and one can also be too aggressive for his own good in a fight.
As strange as it may sound, I actually enjoyed my first air combat. It’s hard to describe the experience, but it feels like living your life to the full and then even beyond that. In that moment, nothing else matters. It’s just you or him. Everything else is insignificant and pales in comparison. I’ve seen combat on the ground, but it never felt like this, so it must be the element of flying that gives me this powerful impression.
In any case, the captain spoke wisely - one must try to avoid becoming reckless.
Still, I wonder: what could I do with that Nieuport?
As always, tell Marie and Sophie and Louis that I love them and always think about them. And please write often, especially during these bleak months of winter.
Your humble (occasionally) and obedient (rarely) son,
PS. Please tell Sophie that the new socks fit perfectly and that I greatly appreciate them. One can never have too many pairs of warm socks in my line of work!
"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