Carrick - Airfield raids, dangerous stuff. Hoping to avoid them for as long as possible....looks like you gave le Bosche a good seeing-to, though. Nieuport 16s, you say? N.26 must be a fancy unit!
Fullofit - That loaner's an old rustbucket! Seems all the same to Gaston though, Violette or not, the Fokkers keep falling! Might want to get the A.M's to give the engine a once-over, though...Great pic with the Caudron, they really are giants of the sky...bet the crew was pleased to see a gang of Nieuports turn up!
Scout - Tough day for No. 29. I, too, struggle with finding the buses I'm supposed to be escorting...keep an eye on that Bell fellow.
2nd. Lieut. Graham A. Campbell, MC, No. 24 Squadron R.F.C, Bertangles West, France. 5 Victories.
April 9th, 1916.
In the morning, Maj. Hawker had gathered the ‘C’ flight pilots in the mess. “Okay, listen up”, he started, laying a map flat on the table. We crowded round. “Our chaps on the ground near Fricourt have been having a rough time of it off of the Hun artillery recently, and H.Q. suspects that their Balloon at Delville Wood is to blame. So, we’ve been ordered to get rid of it. Make no mistake - this is a dangerous job, and I’m sure you all know that Fricourt is an especially Hot Shop at the moment, so I want you all to be bloody careful. The Archie Gunners there are also accurate, and you’ll be low, so don’t stick around to admire your handiwork!”
I watched at noon as our machines were rolled onto the aerodrome, Cowan’s machine being fitted with its two streamers on its rear struts. To my right, Saundby was giving a crash-course in war flying to the new pilot that had arrived this morning - Lieutenant Logan Osborn, a tall, slim Scotsman with a hard, yet youthful face. As Maj. Hawker had explained to us in the morning, Osborn was freshly out of training, but had shown some promising skill in the air, and so was immediately forwarded to a scout squadron. Needless to say, we were all dubious at the prospect of having a green pilot along for the ride - especially when we had a dangerous show.
We climbed into our machines and the Ack-Emmas prepared to swing our props. As I waited, I quickly looked over the route on the map. I then made sure my charm was properly tied to the flight stick, before looking out to my right. I felt a stab of misery as I saw Osborn’s unfamiliar face peering over the top of his cockpit, in the same spot where only last week Freddy’s grin would be flashing back at me.
Without any further ado we were off, and airborne, Cowan swinging us round into a long, climbing loop. 5986 purred smoothly as we climbed - she seemed to be eager for her first scrap - and I smiled as she obediently responded to the controls. You’ll see me through okay, won’t you? I asked her in my head as we circled upwards.
As we crossed over the lines from Beaumont-Hamell, I caught a glimpse far below of Courcelette, and the old couple’s house, still defiantly standing in among the death and misery, and I became emboldened, checking the skies around for any sign of Fokkers. We flew further into the destruction, as ahead of us the looming, dark shape of the Observation balloon came into view. As we approached, Saundby tested his guns, and the rest of us (save for a confused Osborn) did the same. Suddenly, there were two sharp percussive cracks as a pair of archie shells went off just underneath Saudby’s machine. A third followed, pushing Andrews upwards in the air. Dammit, I thought, they’re bloody accurate!. 5986 purred on, unfazed, as more bursts went off frighteningly close to our formation. They almost had us ranged - but the Balloon was rushing up fast, and Cowan was putting his machine into a dive.
Saundby, Andrews and Cowan all opened fire at the same moment, and as I approached I saw a trail of smoke beginning to rise upwards from the balloon. Immediately I pulled 5986 up, as below me the balloon went up in a terrific fireball, jolting me upwards in my seat. I narrowly avoided colliding with Osborn, who was still diving at the balloon, but I skidded away just in time, and our formation turned for home. Down the Hun lines, I saw a second balloon being hastily winched to the ground.
Furiously the Archie opened up a fresh wave of hatred, and shells burst on all sides of us, one almost flipping me onto my side as it exploded within inches of my machine. We broke formation, weaving and zooming up to avoid the barrage, and we had soon become separated. Eventually, with distance, the archie died down, and I looked around for my flight, eventually finding Andrews and joining up with him. Over our trench-lines a very light shot upwards, and I made out the shape of two more DeHavs. Andrews had seen it too, and we flew over to join them.
We turned East as we started to settle into formation, and I scanned the skies. Every air Hun in the region must have seen the fireball from our balloon. Suddenly Cowan again rocked his wings, and begun to climb. I intensified my scanning - and saw them. Three Fokkers, diving towards us from the West. We swung about and lifted our noses to meet them, and at my back 5986 roared in excitement. As they drew near, one of the Huns straightened out to stay above us, as the other two dove down into our formation.
Here they come...
They came screaming over my head, and a green one immediately rolled on his back, falling upon me. I skidded away and before I could respond I became overwhelmed in a mess of turning machines, narrowly avoiding slamming head-on with one Fokker, and then coming even closer to hitting the DeHav behind him. From out of the confusion I saw again my green Fokker, and now I got behind him, firing off a five second burst as he tried to loop away. I watched in grim satisfaction as he fell into a spin, crashing in the mud below.
I looked around, trying to make sense of the fight. Above me, two DeHavs were tripping each other up while chasing the same Fokker. Apart from that, I saw nothing, so I decided to linger on the edges of their fight. Suddenly, the two DeHavs split away to avoid colliding, and the Hun flashed in front of me. I fired at him, seeing bullets strike his engine, and he immediately dove for the ground. I chased him, but was cut off by Andrews. Irritated, I broke off, before swooping back and shooting at the hun as he tried make a desperate run for home, zooming along mere inches from the dead treetops. I noticed two other streams of tracers, from Andrews and the other DeHav, all converging on the helpless Eindecker, and moments later his nose dipped down and he ended up wrecked in the mud, his tail sticking up into the air. By this point, we were at ground-level, and we hastily turned for our own lines. Before we could form back up, I spotted the shape of another Fokker diving on the unaware Andrews. 5986 roared out in eager defiance as I looped around towards the Hun. As I did, I saw another two Fokkers flash overhead. This was bad.
Coming head-on at the lowest Fokker, he was caught by surprise as my tracers whipped past him. Immediately he curved away, and the circling began. In dismay, I watched as he begun to gain on me, but then I felt a dull anger build within me, and pulled the stick as far back into my stomach as I can. Come on, girl! I pleaded with 5986, as first I equalised the distance, and then slowly begun to catch my opponent’s tail. I saw panic start to show on the German pilot’s face as my Lewis gun came around to face him. I had him!.
I fired continually into his machine, for ten seconds at least, and as I watched my tracers slamming into his engine the first licks of flame appeared. Suddenly black smoke shot out from behind his machine, blinding me, and I curved away in alarm. Staying at his flank, I watched in mute horror as the German airman desperately dove for the ground, his machine now consumed almost entirely by flame. I felt ill as I watched the man desperately trying to land the burning machine, before finally succumbing and rolling onto his back, crashing into the mud in a sickening shower of sparks. For a moment I circled above him, looking down at the still-burning remains of his machine on the ground.
A rotten way to go
The fight wasn’t over. Ahead of me, another Eindecker was chasing after a DH2. From the lethargic, uncertain manoeuvres, I realised that it must be Osborn. I gritted my teeth as the fight drew nearer, praying for the rookie pilot to hold out a little longer, before firing a long range burst past the Fokker. Immediately he swung around for home, but 5986 was too quick for him, and I fired away the last of my ammunition at him as he went. The poor Hun had the worst luck - just as my Lewis fell silent one round must have caught him in the back, for I saw him slip to the right, coming down in a slow descent, before finally his wingtip brushed the ground and the machine was thrown violently into a surreal cartwheel on the ground, the airframe tearing apart with each rotation, before finally the splinters that used to be a machine came to a stop.
Swinging around for home, my heart racing and my body feeling heavy, I looked for Osborn, but couldn’t see him. Poor fellow, the Hun must have got a shot in I thought to myself. With no trace left of friend or foe, I climbed a little to figure out where I was, and then turned my machine for home. 5986 sung happily to herself as we approached Bertangles, and I landed smoothly. Switching the magnetos off, I placed a hand on the side of the nacelle. Good work, girl, I told my machine, before shakily stepping out and, in a daze, making my way to the H.Q tent.
Never been so relieved to get home!!
Inside, Hawker was pacing in front of his desk, his arms folded and a deep frown on his face. He swung about to face me as I walked in. “Campbell! Where are the others?” he boomed, his voice a mix of tension and fear. “I don’t know, I’m sorry...we got mixed up with Eindeckers after we’d gotten the balloon. I think one got Osborn”. He groaned in frustration, as I turned to the Old Man to make my report, slowly listing what details I could remember. “What! Four?!” he cried, as I recounted the details of our aerial battle. I nodded, then swallowed as I added, my voice hoarse and quiet, “One in flames”.
I waited with them in the H.Q tent, as we sat beside the telephone. It rung about an hour after my return - Andrews. He had landed at Bellevue, near the lines, with a stopped engine. Not long after that, we heard an engine approaching and ran out onto the field, just in time to see Cowan’s machine make a shaky landing at No.3’s field, before ground-looping and tipping onto its wings, buckling them. I took off sprinting across the road, running out onto the field. No. 3’s Ack-Emmas were there first, and I felt a wave of relief surge over me as I saw them helping a pale-faced Cowan from the nacelle. “Cowan! Are you okay?” I cried out to him as I ran up to the wrecked machine’s side. As he took a drag of a cigarette, his hands shaking violently, he turned to me with a nervous look. With a weak forced smile, he said “Campbell, mate, I’m never going near Delville Wood again”. I gave him a pat on the back. “Kettle’s on. Get yourself into the mess and have a cup of tea”. He nodded, and wandered off in the direction of our airfield.
“You lot are becoming a pain in our backsides” one of the Ack-Emmas said to me, as he looked at the wreckage. I sighed. “Come on - I’ll help you move it”. Together we tipped the machine back onto its undercarriage, and wheeled it off to the side of a hangar, where we left it in a sorry looking state. The mechanic started muttering to himself. “Fifteen...sixteen...seventeen...”. I shot him a confused glance. Catching my eye, he grinned. “Counting bullet holes, sir”.
It was around three O’Clock when we found out what had happened to Osborn. He had come down not far from Bellevue, and had been found aimlessly wandering the side of a road by an infantry truck and driven to the airfield. From there, he telephoned Bertangles, and Powell was sent out to get him. To our amazement he seemed not so much scared, or shocked, as he did intensely annoyed by the whole ordeal. “Bloody Huns, a’ couldny see theim fur the damned great engine in the waiy!” he cried out, his arms out to his sides in an exaggerated manner. Despite our shot nerves, we chuckled at the display. “Dinnae you worry, big yin, ye’ll get them next time!” Milligan called over, with a foxlike smirk, to the amusement of the rest of us. It turned out that nobody had really known what was happening in the confusion - and, unfortunately for me, neither Andrews nor Osborn had seen any of my machines go down. Of course, they were occupied with duels of their own.
At dinnertime, the Old Man came to his feet in the usual manner. “Alright, you damned delinquents, here we are. It looks like you’ve at least managed to get a couple victories, in between wrecking your buses!”. We all cheered, and Wilkie cried out “Here’s to our wrecked buses!”. Saundby called back “The huns gave us a stir today!”, and from the far end of the table Andrews responded “Get the Parasols to go next time!”. We all had a good laugh, before the Old Man cut through the sound. “QUIET DOWN, you villains! Do you want to hear this or not?!”.
There were a few chuckled apologies, and the Old Man produced the telegram. “Firstly, our new boy has been given credit for the balloon. It seems even a green pilot can’t miss a sausage!”. There were raucous cheers and applause, as Osborn’s face lit up into a wide grin. “Secondly, I have had a very dubious report from 2nd. Lieutenant Campbell, who has claimed no less than four Fokkers today!”. “I think that was me you shot down!” Andrews shouted over at me. “Me, too!” came Saundby’s voice, as the table erupted into hilarity. I grinned, and made a carefully selected hand gesture at him, as he stuck his tongue out at me in response. “Well, he’s only three quarters of a fibber!” the Old Man cried. “The boys in the mud saw your flamer - in fact, you damned near landed it on their heads! As for the others - stop bloody making stuff up!”.
There was another celebratory bout of cheers and laughter, as Whiskey, sitting next to me, shook my hand. The Old Man cleared his throat. “Actually, I do a disservice to poor old Campbell. For, in fact, one of his other claims did exist. It was even awarded. Just not to him! Congratulations, Andrews, that’s one Eindecker driven down!”. Three victories for no losses was more than enough reason to celebrate, and soon bottles of various drinks were appearing at our table, along with more food.
I smiled and laughed along with the chaps, but in my head the word ‘Flamer’ turned over and over. I suddenly lost my appetite as I realised that I could still smell the smoke from the burning Fokker.