Great stories everybody! With so many pilot careers developing nicely, I'm hoping we won't have any casualties - but of course I know there will be. DID is DID, after all.
In my latest entry, Julius finally makes it to the front, and encounters one of the rising stars of the Fliegertruppen...
3. OVER FLANDERS FIELDS
“I shan't give this up again, I swear to you.”
- Kaiser Wilhelm II during a visit to the Flanders front, October 1915.
January 5, 1916.
“Happy New Year, Herr Schreck!” The administrative officer said to Julius and flashed a fake smile that resembled the grin of a corpse more than anything.
“Happy New Year, Herr Hauptmann!” Julius stood in one of the offices of the headquarters building where he had been ordered to report early that morning.
“Well then, let’s get down to business, shall we? I imagine you are already eagerly waiting for your assignment? Well, I have some good news for you right here!” The officer paused for a while and kept grinning in a comically macabre fashion. Julius had already learned to dislike the fellow, so even though he was indeed excited to finally hear about his assignment, he kept his feelings under tight control.
“Yes, Herr Hauptmann. I would very much like to hear the news.”
“Excellent! Well, based on your performance at the flight school and the needs of the Fliegertruppen, you are hereby ordered to report to Feldflieger-Abteilung 32 at Bertincourt!” The Hauptmann had a map of the Western Front on his table and pointed at a location in Northern France. “See, it’s this small town here between Amiens and Cambrai. Quite close to the frontline, so you’ll be right there in the middle of it! Pretty exciting, eh? And you’ll be working in support of XIV. Reserve-Korps under 2. Armee command. The British 3rd Army is here opposite you!” The Hauptmann tapped the map excitedly with his finger.
Julius looked at the map and nodded. “Indeed, Herr Hauptmann! I look forward to getting there!”
“Well, that is the next item on the menu, as they say! You will be going there by plane!”
Now Julius was truly surprised. “You mean I get to fly there?”
“Yes, though not by yourself! You will go to Bertincourt as a passenger in a brand new Aviatik C-type!”
At that moment, somebody knocked on the door. “Come in!” The Hauptmann said with a shrill voice. A rather short, blond-haired man with a square jaw stepped inside and briskly saluted the higher-ranking officer.
“Offizierstellvertreter Schreck, this is Leutnant Gustav Leffers, one of our finest combat flyers! He will be your pilot!” The Hauptmann had stood up. His smile appeared more genuine now. The Leutnant approached the desk and shook hands with Julius. “A pleasure to meet you, Herr Schreck. I trust you are ready to leave as soon as possible?” Leffers had a firm grip and a slightly mischievious look in his eyes.
“I am, Herr Leutnant! I just need to get my things and we can start right away!”
“Excellent. But first we need to get you some proper flying gear. It’s rather cold up there, and you’ll freeze to death without thick furs!”
Leffers waited as Julius finished the necessary paperwork with the Hauptmann. Then Julius practically ran to the barracks to fetch his backpack and from there proceeded to the depot building, where he was given his flight gear. From the depot, the men went to the row of hangars, where their Aviatik was already being readied for takeoff by the field mechanics.
Leffers, now wearing a brown flying suit, put his right hand on the plane’s fuselage. The Aviatik had a fresh coat of white paint. “This girl is a brand new machine, straight out of the factory!” Leffers sounded like an enthusiastic rider talking about his horse.
“We flew B-types at Bork, but never a C-type”, Julius said while carefully studying the machine. He was also wearing a flying suit.
“Yes, well, this is really not so different. These are typically armed with a Spandau or two for the observer, but as you can see, we’ll be flying unarmed! Don’t worry, it’ll be perfectly safe. We’ll be staying behind our lines, and the enemy has no interest in harassing us there. In fact, they are quite scared of our Fokkers!” Leffers looked at Julius and smiled encouragingly.
“Herr Leutnant, I understand you’ve scored victories flying the Eindecker?”
“Let’s leave the military formalities aside, shall we? Just follow my instructions and we’ll be fine! I was actually promoted to Leutnant only a couple of months ago. And yes, I have shot down two British machines with our Abteilung’s Fokkers. As a matter of fact, my second victory was only a few days ago. But please, call me Gustav!” Leffers paused for a while before continuing. “However, our unit commander, Hauptmann Viebig, is not so informal. So do remember to address him properly!”
“I will, Herr -- Gustav!” Julius stammered and felt his cheeks turning red.
Leffers chuckled. “It becomes like second nature, doesn’t it? I’m actually a civilian engineer working for the Hamburg-America Line. I had no intention of becoming a soldier - far from it - but I happened to return from America just when the war was breaking out, and, well, the rest is history, as they say!”
“You’ve been to America? I’ve always wanted to travel there!” Julius was instantly reminded of Karl May’s stories of American Indians.
“Well, perhaps you’ll get a chance some day! But let’s get ourselves ready for takeoff now, shall we? We can talk more when we get to Bertincourt.”
The weather was cold and the sky was completely covered by a thick layer of clouds as Leffers throttled up and the Aviatik began to accelerate on the field. Soon they were airborne. Julius sat in front of Leffers on the observer’s seat and followed their progress on a map. From Cologne, Leffers took a straight path to Aachen, Liège, Namur, Charleroi and finally to Cambrai and from there to Bertincourt on the southwestern side of Cambrai. The flight was uneventful and the new Aviatik performed well without trouble of any kind. Leffers made a smooth landing on the snow-covered field. As the engine suddenly stopped, the silence that followed felt almost deafening to Julius.
Now it begins, was the thought repeating itself in his mind, over and over again.
"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