7 April, 1916 Bertangles West, France 3 Squadron, R.F.C. 2nd Lt. Randolph Arvid Swanson, MC & Bar 10 confirmed victories, 3 pending claims
The drought of Eindeckers ended with a vengeance today for 2nd Lt. Swanson and Captain Rankin. It was during a late afternoon sortie which had taken B Flight across to Miraumont for a recce of the enemy lines there. Swany became separated from his two other flight members due to the low clouds that hung just under 4,000'. He had climbed up through the large, gray masses that were drifting about, and when he popped out above into the darkening skies of early evening he found himself on his own. He and Captain Rankin continued on and completed the mission without finding the remainder of B Flight, and after they'd had a good look at the trenches below and made their notes the duo headed back towards Bertangles. Just as they were crossing over into friendly territory a brace of Eindeckers closed in on them from behind. The Captain was ready and had a firm grip on the Lewis when Swany began carving the Morane about to avoid the Hun guns. Rankin took advantage immediately of the clear line of fire he had on the nearest Fokker and sent it down out of control in a matter of seconds. Despite the loss of his partner the second Hun continued the attack. It took Swanson another two minutes of twisting and turning and maneuvering before the Captain was able to get a hit on the remaining Hun. When the shots finally did land the enemy plane turned immediately away to the east and disappeared over No Man's land. The two British airmen breathed a collective sigh of relief. They were now well below the clouds and the last of the day's light was fading fast. Their bus had some venting in the wing but apart from that seemed unscathed. Swany did not bother to climb back up as he did not want to lose sight of the ground, he'd need the landmarks to find their way home. It would likely be quite dark by the time they returned.
Suddenly, and seemingly from out of nowhere, three more Eindeckers came tearing down on the tail of the lone Morane. Fortunately, Swanson and the Captain were just passing Beaumont-Hamel and the British balloon position there, which meant there would be lots of friendly guns nearby to help them out. Swany banked down towards the balloon, dragging the trio of Fokkers behind him as they closed the gap on their prey. Just as the lead Hun was about to fire Swany flipped the Morane around towards the threat and as they zipped past the Eindeckers Rankin began firing away. He clearly hit something vital on the middle Fokker and the plane rolled over on its back and fell to the earth below. Upon seeing this the trailing Hun lost his nerve and ran away towards the lines as the gunners at the nearby balloon position began blasting at him with both AA and machine gun fire. However, the leader of the enemy flight had now latched on to the Morane and was not letting go. Swany did everything he could to shake the fellow off but the Hun managed to stick close, sending numerous volleys into the wing, fuselage, and tail of the Morane, as well as shattering the forward windscreen. Rankin returned fire every chance he got and at last scored hits in the engine of the Eindecker, its prop grinding to a halt. Swany turned and watched as their attacker glided down and made a perfect dead-stick landing in a field just south of the town. Things were not quite over though for the British team as the Le Rhône in their bus began making a sickening scraping noise and brief moments later came to a sudden and complete stop. The Lieutenant now had to perform the precise same maneuver as their foe had just completed. Swany quickly lined up on the very same field the Eindecker was parked in and glided the Morane down, making a landing every bit as nice as that of the Hun's. When the King's aeroplane came to a stop it was mere feet away from the Eindecker. While the Morane had been shot up a fair bit the Fokker did not appear to have a mark on it apart from the bullet holes in its engine. The Captain had managed a very lucky hit.
By the time Swanson and Rankin had climbed out of their bus, the Hun pilot was standing next to his with several troops from the British balloon position training their rifles on him. The Captain pushed past them, telling the men to stand down as he did so. He walked right up to the enemy flyer and in nearly flawless German asked the young fellow his name. "I am Leutnant Jacob Kestmann", came the reply. The Captain went on to ask about the fellow's jasta and assigned field, but all he got back was, "I am Leutnant Jacob Kestmann". After going through the man's pockets and giving the cockpit of the Eindecker a quick inspection, the Captain took the belongings and maps he had garnered and ordered that Kestmann be taken to the balloon position and held there until he said differently. He also ordered a guard to be placed around the Eindecker and added that if anything was missing from it when the crew came to recover it he would see to it personally that the men responsible for the looting would be shot. He then turned to Swany.
"2nd Lieutenant Swanson, please do a full inspection of this monoplane and make any notes about it you feel are important. And write a full description of its current condition and inventory as well."
The Captain's voice was stern, yet Swany could sense a suppressed excitement in it as well. And something else - fear. It was then he noticed that the Captain's hands were shaking. What he had just made it through in the sky was hitting him now that he was standing firmly back on the ground, and he was having a time not showing it to the others around him. Swany was feeling it too, but he had experienced this a fair number of times already by this point and was better adept at keeping it to himself.
Rankin turned and headed off with the soldiers as they escorted their prisoner away. "I am going to phone Bertangles and let them know where we are", he called back over his shoulder. "You stay here with our prize and make sure no one mucks about with it."
"Vill do Captain", Swany replied in a tone that did little to belie his own feelings about what he and Rankin had just lived through. "I'll make myself comfortable."