Excellent reports, as usual! I'm particularly enjoying Colin's encounters with the Scottish.
The Caudron continues to suprise me. I've now managed to shoot down two Hun planes in Bruno's career, though unfortunately neither kill was confirmed. As long as you can keep the enemy machine in your observer's sights, he will do a pretty good job at shooting it down. Obviously things will get harder as more Hunnish Albs enter service, but we're not there yet!
Bruno had an engine failure in one mission, so I decided to write a little story about it...
25 November 1916. Somewhere northeast of Nancy.
“Merde!” Sous-lieutenant Pascal Girard cursed loudly as he struggled to get up from his cockpit.
“Are you all right? The landing was a bit rough!” Sous-lieutenant Bruno Berthier was still seated and holding the control column of his Caudron tightly with both hands.
“A bit rough! Bloody hell, Bruno! We’re lucky to be alive. And I’m covered in this filthy mud!”
“Better mud than blood. We barely missed that building back there!” Bruno let go of the stick, unstrapped his safety belt and carefully got up. The nacelle of the Caudron was partly buried in the wet mud of the field that had acted as their emergency landing place. The right engine was almost broken loose of its fittings and was hanging in an odd angle among a mess of struts and torn fabric from the badly bent wings.
Earlier that day, their escadrille, along with other units of Groupe de Bombardement 2, had been sent to attack the important Metz railroad junction. The mission had gone well for Bruno and Pascal, until their Caudron began having engine trouble during the flight back to base. Finally their right engine had lost all power and Bruno had been forced to leave the formation and try to make a landing somewhere. Fortunately they were already flying safely behind friendly lines, so they didn’t have to worry about anti-aircraft fire or becoming prisoners of war.
Bruno had spotted a suitable field on the outskirts of Nancy and barely managed to direct his rapidly descending Caudron towards it. However, there were some buildings flanking the field, and Bruno had to pull the stick back with all his strength to avoid smashing into one of them. Their flight ended in a big wet crash, as the nacelle of the Caudron plowed into a field turned swamp by the constant rains of the past few weeks.
Pascal was already on his feet and helped Bruno out of the cockpit. The men stood next to their wrecked machine, trying to avoid sinking into the mud themselves and wondering what to do next. Their thoughts were suddenly interrupted by loud noises coming from the direction of the building they had barely dodged - horses and men, and lots of them!
Bruno and Pascal saw several horses galloping between the buildings, with men in blue uniforms running to and fro like a group of ants in a disturbed nest.
“Looks like we almost crashed into a stable!” Pascal said, wiping some mud off his face.
“And the horses panicked. Here comes the cavalry!” Bruno replied and nodded toward a small group of men running towards them. As they approached, Bruno saw they were led by a small but very muscular maréchal des logis (cavalry sergeant) with a strikingly red face.
“What the hell was that?! Are you crazy, flying here like that! You just scared the horses of the whole battalion!” The red-faced sergeant shouted at them and gestured wildly with his arms, trying not to fall down in the mud.
“Sergeant, I’m sous-lieutenant Berthier and this is my observer sous-lieutenant Girard. We’re sorry about your horses, but it was an emergency. Our engine failed and we had to land on the closest suitable field.” Bruno looked around and spread his arms before continuing. “And this happened to be that field.” His explanation didn’t seem to satisfy the sergeant who was still steaming with rage.
“Now please take us to your commanding officer, sergeant. I want to contact our escadrille about our accident. And nobody is allowed to touch the wreck without our permission!”
The sergeant looked like he was about to say something very impolite, but managed to restrain himself (perhaps because of the higher rank of the aviators) and ignoring military formalities, simply told Bruno and Pascal to follow him to the stables. Then he turned around and began sloughing through the mud at a brisk pace.
As Bruno and Pascal reached the nearest building, they could see several men trying to calm the horses down and lead them back into the safety of the stables. Some of the animals were still nervous and protested their treatment by tossing their heads and whinnying loudly. A captain was waiting near the corner of the stable, and the angry sergeant reported the aviators to him.
“Thank you, Reynaud. You may return to your duties.” The sergeant gave Bruno and Pascal one last angry look before joining the men handling the horses. The captain turned to address the aviators. He was neatly dressed and sported a carefully trimmed moustache. Bruno saluted him and described their situation.
“Very well. I am capitaine Leclair. Maréchal des logis Reynaud appears to have already reprimanded you, so I won’t needlessly repeat his words. He doesn’t like it when our horses are harassed like that, and neither do I. But what is done is done.” The captain studied the muddy aviators for a second. “Do you require any medical assistance?”
“No, mon capitaine. But we’d like to make a telephone call, and also put our wrecked machine under guard so that nobody fiddles around with it.” Bruno explained to the captain.
The captain gave orders to his men and then asked Bruno and Pascal to follow him to the office building. As the men walked across the courtyard, the captain told them that they had landed in the midst of the depot area of 68th Infantry Division and that he was the commanding officer of one of its supply columns.
Bruno managed to get through to his escadrille and made arrangements for the transportation of their wrecked Caudron. It would take several hours to sort it all out, so there was nothing left for them to do but to remove their muddy flying suits and enjoy the hospitality of the supply battalion, whose peace they had so dramatically disturbed by their crash.
TO BE CONTINUED…
"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