I'm glad to see Aleck made it! Be careful out there!
So many interesting stories to read in this thread already. IMHO, this DID campaign has had a very strong start when it comes to the quality of writing. So keep it up everybody!
Julius is now serving in his new unit and has his first encounter with the enemy...
4. SEEING THE ELEPHANT
"However the world pretends to divide itself, there are only two divisions in the world today – human beings and Germans."
- Rudyard Kipling in the Morning Post, June 22, 1915.
Early January, 1916.
Since his arrival at Bertincourt, life had been extremely busy for Julius. His first day at the field had been spent learning the basics of military service in a frontline aviation unit. He had reported to the Abteilungsführer, Hauptmann Viebig, after which had followed a round of introductions to his new comrades, both pilots and observers. Julius was housed in an old brick building, where he shared one of the rooms with a fellow warrant officer. All in all, housing conditions at the field were excellent and Julius felt he was very lucky compared to the men serving in the trenches, including his brother Hermann.
Early in the morning of January 6th, Hauptmann Viebig ordered Julius to report to the hangars in his flight gear. It was time for his introductory flight, and the Abteilungsführer wanted to see for himself how the newest member of his unit performed in the field. Julius was rather nervous, but the weather was fine and he was only required to takeoff and fly a few circles around the field, which was something he had already practiced many times at the flight school in Bork. Hauptmann Viebig was a determined-looking fellow, and taller than Julius. He was one of the Alte Adler (Old Eagles), men who had earned their pilot’s license already before the war. Compared to the relaxed Leffers, Viebig was a strict military professional - the kind of Prussian military man Julius had known well since childhood. Armed with this knowledge, Julius expected he would get along fine with his commander.
The mechanics had already prepared the Aviatik for takeoff, and after receiving orders from Viebig, Julius climbed into the cockpit. A short while later he was taxiing on the grass field now wet with snowy mud. A final push of the throttle and a gentle pull of the stick, and Julius was airborne. He climbed to 300 metres and then began to circle the field. After ten minutes of circling, Julius took his Aviatik down for a landing. It was a bit bumpy, but went otherwise well. Viebig congratulated Julius, apparently satisfied with his performance.
Next on the menu was a longer familiarization flight to teach Julius the lay of the land in the area of operations of Feldflieger-Abteilung 32. The unit was attached to XIV. Reserve-Korps, which was defending the positions of the Somme front between Bapaume and Péronne. The British 3rd Army was facing them on the other side of the lines. Julius was accompanied on this flight by Oberleutnant Max Weber, one of the detachment’s observer officers. (Weber was not related to the famous sociologist of the same name.)
The good weather continued, so Julius and Max took off later on the same day. The plan was to fly through a series of waypoints to give Julius a basic understanding of the important landmarks in the sector while staying safely behind German lines. First they climbed up to 2000 metres above Bertincourt and then proceed south towards the river Somme and the town of Péronne, which formed the left flank of their army corps’s sector. Julius had never seen the front with his own eyes, so the sight that opened up below them among the scattered clouds of a dim midwinter’s day was sobering. Kilometer after kilometer the muddy and snowy ground was mutilated by lines of trenches, which extended as far as the eye could see. Further south was the sector of the 1. Armee, and somewhere in its trenches Julius’s brother Hermann was leading his company of infantry.
Julius’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by Max, who had turned to face him and was gesturing with his hand towards the west - an enemy airplane! Julius turned his head and attempted to spot their foe. It took a while for his inexperienced eyes to locate the enemy machine, but finally Julius succeeded in spotting him. Now that he knew where to look, it was easy to see the dark shape flying along them in the distance. Julius used his binoculars to get a better view. The enemy plane turned out to be a British two-seater - a B.E. 2.
Julius had been strictly forbidden to look for trouble on this flight, so he contented himself with keeping an eye on the British machine while completing their tour around Péronne. Nothing unexpected happened during the rest of the flight. Julius thought it was relatively simple to navigate in his sector (at least in good weather) with so many towns, woods and the river Somme in the south acting as excellent landmarks.
After landing safely back at Bertincourt Max and Julius immediately informed Viebig of the British plane. The commander ordered Leffers to go search for the two-seater, and soon the would-be flying ace took off with the detachment’s Fokker E.III.
An hour later Leffers returned. He had been unable to find enemy machines. Apparently the British had departed soon after Julius and Max had left Péronne.
It had been an exciting first day of action for Julius. Now he was ready to begin participating in the actual operations of Feldfliger-Abteilung 32.
"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