MFair - I believe you're right! I noticed this in Graham's more recent scrap - it appears to be derivative of Rickard's awful target prioritisation Coming over from RoF, where the Fee observer will visibly stand up and mount the rear Lewis, I hadn't noticed that the rear gun was in action.
Lou - finally, Swany gets a rest! Surely there'll be a medal or two to follow soon.
Sgt. Graham A. Campbell, No. 20 Squadron R.F.C, Clairmarais Aerodrome, France. 4 Victories.
March 14th, 1916.
This morning our Batman, Cpl. Dean, arrived with a package for Switch-Off, freshly arrived. It was a large package, hastily wrapped. Grinning, Switch-Off took it to the writing desk, quickly opening it and crying out in delight. McHarg and I shot each other a glance, and hurriedly rushed over to peer over Switch-Off’s shoulder and examine the contents. Inside was a selection of food - Macaroons, two bars of choccolate, a smaller package of dates, an apple, and three tins of sardines, as well as fresh bread and a breadknife. It all came with a handwritten letter, which Switch-Off was now eagerly reading. “What’s all this for?” McHarg asked, and Switch-Off turned to face us. “Look at you two, nosy buggers! It’s from my parents” he laughed. “Special occasion?” I asked, and he nodded. “Why, yes, it was my birthday yesterday”. Across the room, Jimmy shot up from his reclined position on his bunk. “What! Yer’ birthday! Why did’ye no tell us, we would’ve celebrated!”. Switch-Off shrugged meekly.
“Well then. We must go into town tonight!” I exclaimed, meriting a loud “Aye!” from Jimmy. Switch-Off nodded, smiling. “Okay! Let’s do it!”. Shooting Switch-Off a sideways glance, McHarg asked “So how old are you now, then?”. Switch-off reddened slightly, turning away. “Sixteen” he mumbled. McHarg betrayed no shock. “Well,” he said happily, “you’re a man, now! Here”. He offered Switch-Off one of his cigarettes.
After Switch-Off had spread a tin of sardines on bread, graciously sharing some with us, we made our way to the briefing room. Today we were unlucky - ‘B’ flight had the dreaded D.O.P - the Distant Offensive Patrol. We were to cross the lines at Loos, with the intention of stirring up trouble. Outside the briefing room, Normie gathered Graves, Reid, Edwards and myself, looking at us firmly. “Listen up, chaps. The Major tells me that the Huns have been sending more patrols up recently, so I want everyone to be sharp out there. Don’t go off tail-chasing by yourselves, and keep a watch out”. We all nodded - not one of us had any intention of pussyfooting about in Hunland. Edwards headed to the mess for a whiskey to still his nerves as the rest of us parted ways to retrieve our flying gear.
At 10 O’Clock we boarded our buses and had our props swung. As Cpl. Weston had discovered, a dent in the mount for 6338’s forward Lewis had caused it to stick yesterday, so I had convinced Pearson to again let me borrow 6333. With nervous anticipation buzzing within us, we ascended into the sky. The wind was harsh, and we were buffeted about until Normie relented and signalled for us to spread out our formation. Breaking through clouds, we turned for the lines. Coming towards us from above were two small machines, and we were immediately alert - however, there was no archie fire, and as they approached we saw that they were French Nieuport 10 scouts. We watched them fly overhead, and I marveled at their sleek design as they silently cut through the sky.
At 8,000 feet we crossed the lines, scanning the sky in readiness as we crossed into Hunland just south of Armentieres. The sky was eerily empty as we patrolled, with no sight of the enemy save for an Aviatik far below, landing at an airfield. As I watched it, archie begun to burst around our formation. Cursing the damned artillery, I turned my gaze back to the sky. Now our presence would be obvious to any Huns nearby. Suddenly, as I scanned, I spotted the shape of two Aviatiks in-between my struts, approaching from the northeast. They were above us. I then saw a second formation, distant and to the right of the Aviatiks. Fokkers.
Our formation had split - Normie and Edwards were separated from us. I watched, my teeth gritted, as the three Fokkers swung towards our distant colleagues, and immediately I swung my Fee around. The two Aviatiks turned away from us, as I climbed above the incoming Fokkers. Two of them, now seeing me, dove away, but one insolent Hun stayed up, stalking the unwitting Edwards. The two yellow Fokkers, who had dove away, suddenly zoomed up to chase Normie as the higher Hun, who I now noticed flew a Green eindecker, dove down at Edwards in a near-complete dive. In an instant I recognised the Hun’s confidence in the air - it was Greeny. Our Greeny.
Greeny closes in on Edwards
I dove after him, the wires singing in the wind as 6333 groaned in protest. As we approached, Rickard fired a burst at Greeny, who immediately skidded away to a flank. I chased after him as Edwards tore away towards the lines. Our opponent demonstrated his skill - as I pulled behind him again, he zoomed up, going into an inverted flat-spin and dropping past us, before expertly flicking his machine out of the spin and circling around, standing on his tail and firing at us. In alarm, I skirted to the left, circling down behind Greeny again. Rickard was ready, and fired another burst, before switching drums as we circled our opponent. As we circled down to ground level, I got so close to Greeny that I could see Rickard’s bullets striking his wires. Suddenly, as Rickard fired, his machine snapped upwards and once more fell into a spin.
Greeny's final battle
I laughed out loud as we watched our stricken foe crash into a field below - we had gotten him! But we did not have time to enjoy our victory. The moment Greeny hit the ground, the archie came at us with a new ferocity, and immediately I turned for the lines, weaving to avoid the barrage. I looked around for our wingmen - but there were no other machines in sight. I tried to coax 6333 into a climb as we approached the Hun trenches. Reaching the low cloud, I flew through them to shield us from the infantry below. It was then that two shapes appeared in the sky ahead of me, and my heart sank.
It was the other two Fokkers. They had abandoned their chase of my wingmen, and turned back for home, but now I stood directly between them and their lines. Immediately they swung their noses to face us. Ahead of me, Rickard quickly swapped the Lewis drum, charging the handle and pointing the weapon towards the two closing Fokkers. I threw my machine into a desperate dive, attempting to distance myself from the Huns, or at least get to our own lines. Bullets rattled through our machine and I flinched. It was no good - the Huns were keeping right on our tails, but we had made it to our frontlines. I skidded to the right, avoiding the two Fokkers’ gunfire, and swung around on them.
We circled each other like wolves, sizing each other up, before tightening our turns. I was quickly behind one Hun, who dove down and away before Rickard could bring the Lewis gun to bear. I circled to face the second Fokker, and we came at each other head-on. He passed above me at a wicked speed and I pushed the stick down hard, his undercarriage narrowly missing our top wing. Desperately, I willed my wingmen to appear, but no help came. The Hun looped back towards us, and I manoeuvred in response. This time he beat us in the turn, and a stream of bullets smashed into the nacelle, in between Rickard and I.
In a panic, I stalled and fell into a spin, dropping down into the clutches of the second Fokker, who approached from the right. Rickard was quick to react, and I saw sparks as bullets struck the Fokker’s engine cowling. It peeled away, climbing up and turning for home - but we weren’t out of it yet. The other Hun had come down to follow my spin, and was now on my tail. I turned as hard as 6333 would let me, barely missing another burst of gunfire. The Hun zoomed up, and we begun to circle each other again. He disappeared above my top wing, and I desperately scanned the skies for him again. When I next saw him, he was coming at us from the left. I watched the flash of his Spandau, as more bullets rattled our machine. Panic rising in my throat, I reversed my turn, trying to get on the Hun’s tail to respond, but he had zoomed back up, and sat above us, circling like a hawk. Cursing, I again turned for our lines, as Archie from our own gunners begun to burst around us. Suddenly, 6333 dropped to the right, stalling without warning. I cried out in terror and kicked the rudder, straightening the spin. The ground rushed up at us, horrifically close, and I pulled the stick back as hard as I could. Our machine pulled up mere feet from the ground, and I felt dizzy with shock.
Dancing with Fokkers
Looking backwards, I saw the Fokker follow after us, before slowly circling away and pointing East. As we flew into our lines at ground level, my whole body was numb. Ahead of me, Rickard clambered up onto the rear Lewis. His face was pale white. He watched the Fokker as it retreated for a moment, before slumping back into the nacelle. Suddenly, he broke out into a grin, descending into hysterical laughter. I felt the corners of my own mouth twitching upwards, and soon we were both laughing like a pair of madmen, scarcely believing we were alive. Ahead of us, I spotted an FE2 landing at La Gorgue and, having more than enough of being in the air for today, decided to follow suit. We made a shaky landing, and a pair of Ack-Emmas rushed out to meet us.
One came to the side of the Nacelle, slowly looking the machine over and whistling, before glancing up at us. “Hm. Look like you two have had a rough time of it” he exclaimed, as I feebly climbed out of the machine, followed by Rickard. The second Ack-Emma waved over help from the side of the aerodrome, and wheeled our machine towards the hangars, as the one that had greeted us gestured for us to follow. “Unfortunately the C.O’s out at the moment, but I’ll take you to Captain Armstrong so that you can call your squadron. Funnily enough, we’ve just had another Fee come in”. He led us towards a cozy chateau that sat beside the leftmost hangar, directing us inside and then pointing to a high-ceilinged room to the left, from which soft piano notes drifted out welcomingly. “Captain Armstrong’s in there”. “Thank you, Corporal” I responded, extending a hand for him to shake. He took it, winking at me. “My pleasure. Well, I’d better get your bus sorted out. Cheerio!” and with that, he was off.
6333, down safe and sound!
Rickard and I stepped into the extravagant dining room, in which several pilots had crowded around a pair of lounge sofas near an inviting fireplace. Sitting in the centre of one was a sharp-faced Captain that wore the thickest moustache I had ever seen above an impossibly squared jawline. The thick moustache would have covered his mouth, if it was not wide open with laughter that boomed above the piano. Across from him sat two airmen, their backs turned to us, who were excitedly acting out a story. Around them stood five or six rugged airmen, laughing and occasionally asking questions about the tale they were being treated to. Still reeling from our fight, I didn’t pay much mind to the detail of them, but later on I would notice that they all looked worse-for-wear, and appeared as though they were having one hell of a shaky war.
We presented ourselves to the Captain, who stood up from his seat and in a booming voice cried out “Ah! More guests! Please, have a seat! Would you like a drink?”. Rickard and I took one look at each other, before I turned back to the bearlike Captain. “Oh, I should think so. Whiskey, sir, if you please”. Armstrong laughed heartily, shouting a command to a nearby batman, who reappeared swiftly with a bottle of whiskey in an ice bucket. As we went to take our seats, two armchairs positioned by the sofas, a familiar voice cried out ‘Campbell? Rickard?”. I swung around, and was delighted to find that the two seated airmen were Graves and Bristow! They jumped to their feet and we vigorously shook hands. “Where the devil did you get to?” Bristow asked of us, “we thought you had been killed!”. A batman passed me a glass of scotch, with I took with a grateful “thank you”, before answering. “Killed? We nearly were…”
Eventually, having calmed down from our shock, we called Clairmarais and let them know where we were, before heading to the aircraft hangars to check on 6333’s condition. There, one of the Ack-Emmas shook his head as he looked over the machine. “No good, I’m afraid. You have a strut shot through, and the elevator cable was nearly severed, not to mention all the flying wires you’ve had shot away…”.
The Major sent a car to pick us up, along with a breakdown crew to retrieve our bus. Graves’ own machine was flyable, although damaged, and so after a quick ‘see you soon’ he lifted off again. We arrived back home in the early evening, at which point I was greeted by a relieved Reynard. “Campbell, ye troublemaker! We thought you’d had it after Edwards told us aboot yer scrap!”. I sighed, patting him on the shoulder. I suddenly realised I was incredibly tired. “I’m afraid I might not be able to celebrate Switchy’s birthday after all” I yawned, blearily making for the Billett. Inside was Switch-Off, who jumped to his feet as I entered. “Thank god! I really thought you’d had it this time!”. I winked at him, before falling onto my bunk. Drifting out of consciousness, I smiled to myself, while telling myself I ought to stop worrying my chums.
That night, unbeknownst to me, a party was thrown in honour of Rickard and myself - our Aviatik from yesterday had been confirmed by infantry. I now had four Huns to my credit. Regrettably, our claim for Greeny was rejected.
Seems like it's poor old Graham's turn for a dose of Fokker Scourge!