Carrick - Sounds like a good scrap! Gotta watch for that DH2 stall...
Fullofit - Thunderstorms! You get those in WoFF?! Scary...kill hungry wingmen can be pests! Perhaps Dagonet is jealous of Gaston's steadily rising reputation? I'm really enjoying the 'evolution' of Violette. She's a character just as much as Gaston is.
Sgt. James B. Fullard Esc. N31 Ochey Aerodrome, France
April 21st, 1916:
After five days of continual rain, N31’s holiday came to an abrupt end. Messier appeared before first light to rouse Ortoli, Jensen, Metayer and myself - we had the dawn patrol into Enemy Lines at St. Mihiel. His presence was met with the usual barrage of insults.
“Merde, I hate dawn patrols most of all! Flying on an empty stomach, in this cold! And it’s even still raining!” Ortoli moaned as we headed out into the pre-dawn light from the Barracks. As if in answer, my stomach rumbled. “Well, at least we have something to do” I replied, trying to keep a positive spirit.
Our machines were waiting for us on the field. As I went to board my own, Jensen grabbed my arm. “ғᴜʟʟᴀʀᴅ, ᴋᴇᴇᴘ ᴀ ᴄʟᴏsᴇ ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ. ᴡᴇ'ʀᴇ ɢᴏɪɴɢ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇ ғᴏʀᴇᴛ ᴅᴇ ʟᴀ ʀᴇɪɴᴇ. ɪᴛ's ᴀ ʜᴏᴛ sʜᴏᴘ”. I nodded solemnly, and he patted me on the back, nearly knocking the wind out of me. We started our engines in the rain - much to Thierry’s distaste - and we were off.
The ice rain whipping into my face was a horrible shock after those days spent in the comparative warmth of the barracks, and within five minutes of blistering cold I was sure I could feel the frostbite nipping at my face. Constantly I wiped my goggles as we climbed, as my vision became obscured and blurred by droplets of rain. The journey to the lines was hard - the Easterly wind kept blowing us off course, and several times we almost lost sight of each other in the clouds, but eventually we reached the familiar curve in the lines at St. Mihiel. The ground was becoming hard to see through the thick, intrusive clouds, but below we could make out the flashes of artillery shells bursting in the mud.
As we crossed over the trench-divide of no man’s land, I heard a strange whomp-whomp around us. Peering out the side of my cockpit, I was surprised to see little black balls of smoke appearing around us. At once I realised that it must be anti-aircraft fire. At first I was in awe, I had never before seen AA shells in the air, but quickly I found myself on edge as the artillery slowly begun to close in around us. Jensen, well used to ‘Flak’, brought us into a weaving climb to escape the barrage.
The walls of cloud became ever-thicker around us. This is no good… I thought, how can we possibly even see anything in this weather?. But, it wasn’t long before I sighted a flight of three Eindeckers below us, struggling up in the ice rain just as we had done at the start of our patrol. For an instant I felt a certain sympathy, that they might also have been rudely shaken from their warm, comfy beds as had we, before reluctantly coming up, but I soon put those feelings aside as the thrill of facing the enemy took hold. I dove under Jensen’s nose so that he could see me and rocked my wings, pointing downwards over the side of my cockpit.
Lazily, Jensen pointed his nose down, and we followed. Soon we were spiralling down at incredible speed, keeping our eyes affixed on the unaware Bosches. I picked my man out and dove at his tail. They had seen us - their formation split apart like sparrows scattering from a hawk - but I had my man clearly in my sights, and I curved around to follow his turn. However, he was a superb pilot and no amount of manoeuvring could earn me a clear shot. A second Nieuport joined my chase, flashing past me towards my tail. I turned to follow him with my eyes - and saw a second Fokker lining up a shot on me.
Immediately I spiralled up and away from this new Bosche, and we started to circle each other. My Nieuport won out - this Bosche was not as elusive as his counterpart, and I saw bullets strike his machine as he rose his nose up in a bizarre manoeuvre, standing his machine on its tail and hanging in the air in front of me, before spinning away. 100 meters below me, he came out of his spin and turned for home - but I was soon behind him again, and fired another burst through his machine. Immediately it quivered, and fell into a sharp nosedive. He attempted to recover again - but this time the damage was done, and his machine begun to spiral sickeningly fast. I watched him fall all the way down, crashing into the trees of Foret de la Reine.
Out to my left I saw four Fokkers in a line, and for a moment felt a surge of panic - but they were headed away from me, seemingly turned off the idea of an attack after witnessing the demise of their companion. I looked around for my flight nervously as I turned my machine for home.
The flak was hellish during my escape - my Bosche had fallen not far from an Observation Balloon, and its batteries spat their contempt at me as I timidly weaved past. I was low by this point, and thought for sure that I had had it. Then, to my right, I caught a glimpse of a pair of Nieuports receiving the same rough treatment as myself. I guided my Nieuport towards them, immensely glad to be in the company of my colleagues once more. As I drew closer I saw the palm tree of Ortoli. The second machine bore the ‘Viking’ inscription of Jensen.
We arrived back at Ochey and climbed out of our aeroplanes, and I made my way towards the C.O’s office to report my Fokker. I was sure it hadn’t been seen, but I thought I would take my chances. When I arrived in the little white building, I was surprised to find Metayer in the C.O’s office. Overhearing him, I realised that he was putting in a claim of his own. He’s a devil, that one… I thought to myself, as I knocked and entered. The new C.O. was a gaunt figure, with tired, sunken eyes. From behind an oversized pipe his lazy eyes looked over me. “Yes?” he asked, with a sigh. I told him about our fight, and my Fokker. He smiled thinly. “Well, it seems I’ve inherited quite the Escadrille” he said to himself.
We finally had our breakfast, but as I ate i couldn’t help wondering about the fellow I had killed. The solemn meal his friends were having in their leaky, rain-dampened barracks. I wondered if they were swapping fond memories of him in their grief, or if they were simply trying to ignore the fact that he would never again sit with them. It was a strange, distant, and unwelcome thought. Ortoli seemed to echo my thoughts.
“So, you said you got one, Fullard? And you, too, Metayer? Man, you two are dangerous! Poor hopeless souls probably never dreamed they would meet us on their side on such a miserable day! Jensen and I nearly had one, but he was a crafty one and faked a death-spin. I saw him snap out of it near the tree level, and turn for home”.
“Good thing you never followed him,” I said, “I saw him too, with three of his friends lurking above the woods. You would have been outnumbered two to one!”. Ortoli blinked. “Really? Well, that is a good thing!”.
We settled back into our regular routine - cards and idle chat. Lemoine and Chaput came back from the mid-day patrol and joined us. They had seen nothing, and Lemoine was complaining that he should have to take his ‘poor little ship’ up into the rain. At Four O’Clock, Messier reappeared to inform Metayer, little Devienne and I that we were to fly the evening mission. “What! And miss Supper! Curse you, Messier, why do you always bring me the worst news?”. The orderly ignored the question. “You’ll be escorting Tartaux’s Biplace over the lines, to the airfield at Mars-la-Tour, where those damned Fokkers stay. He’ll drop his bombs on the field and you’ll keep him clear of any Fokkers. C.O’s orders”.
“Mars-la-Tour? At Foret de la Raine?!” Ortoli cried out. “We’ve already kicked that Hornet’s nest this morning! It’ll be crawling with Fokkers!”. I felt a chill run down my spine. Messier shrugged indifferently. “Not my problem - bring it up with the C.O!” and with that, he left. As we reluctantly got to our feet, Lemoine said to Devienne, a strange air of seriousness in his voice, “Be careful, mon petit ami. Devienne waved him off.
We geared up at quarter-to-five, and climbed into our Nieuports, under the same scrutiny from Tartaux as we had been afforded on our last trip together. From out the corner of my eye I caught him give me a curt nod. I hoped that was a good thing. Our three Nieuports took off first, and Tartaux followed.
Fortunately, some of the cloud had since been blown away to the East, and, although the rain stung at our faces and froze on our flying coats, we were able to see clearly enough as we came towards St. Mihiel for the second time today. I was instantly alert, expecting at any second to see Fokkers en masse diving towards us from the North, or the East. The skies were quiet as we approached the Bosche aerodrome.
As Tartaux lined up his bombing run, I noticed a lone aircraft, silvery in colour, making its way towards his Nieuport 12 - but it wasn’t a Fokker. It was an Aviatik - a Bosche two-seater. He had seen Tartaux, at 3,300 meters, but hadn’t seen the three Nieuport 11s at 3,600. The others had spotted him, too. As one, we banked towards this lone defender and pushed the noses of our machines down.
However, as a torrent of AA fire opened up on us we swiftly reconsidered our strategy. By any means, Tartaux had finished his day’s work, and the Aviatik, who had now seen us, was spiralling down towards the aerodrome below like the devil, and so the four of us turned back towards our side.
As to be expected, my Fokker could not be corroborated during the chaotic first scrap of the morning, and nor could Metayer’s. Fortunately for my roommate, however, he was awarded two days’ leave in recognition of his "fighting spirit", as our new C.O. put it.
A strange thought occurred to me as I lay down in my cot that night. I wondered if the Bosche I had shot down that morning was complaining like Ortoli about his morning being disturbed, or if he was trying to keep a positive outlook like me. For a moment I felt a vague sadness for my fallen foe, but quickly I brushed it aside.