Fullofit - Being in Blighty, where the weather is decidedly one-overcast-sky-fits-all, the idea of a 'little' tornado doesn't compute. I'm glad to hear it came and went without causing too much trouble for you!
Scout - Glad to hear that MacKinlay is on the mend. Enjoy the rest of the 'free leave' while it lasts!
Carrick - Shot down! Ouch! Glad your man's okay...lucky those Bosche were poorer shots than they could have been! And, yes, the N11 is by far a more tame little ship. Noticed immediately after Campbell went West and Fullard came on the scene.
Fullofit - shame about the dud weather. But, hey, 18 confirmed victories! That, sir, is nothing to scoff at. Delluin who? Voscadeaux is the only name we know in N.31's barracks!
Raine - I jest about aforementioned one-overcast-sky-fits-all weather. It's actually lovely in the UK at the moment (or, at least, it is in London!) - a good time to visit! Hope you thoroughly enjoy your stay over our side of the pond. If you're in London, give the RAF museum at Hendon a visit - plenty of WW1 kites there, and some great stuff in the other hangars, too!
Sgt. James B. Fullard, Esc. N31, Ochey Aerodrome, France, 2 Confirmed Victories.
April 23rd, 1916:
The 22nd was marred with another sweeping storm that came towards us from Hunland like an infinitely huge artillery shell, and once again Ochey aerodrome was bombarded with weighty ice-cold rain. Today, however, in its strange European way, the weather had completely reversed and as Georges appeared to gently rouse us for breakfast, I saw from the small window of my room a beautifully blue sky as the tall, nourished blades of grass rolled gently, basking in a pleasantly warm sun. In the mess I sipped at a mug of hot chocolate as Lemoine, little Devienne and I discussed our first mission of the day - another aerodrome raid. This time we were paying a visit to the Bosche at Thiaucourt, at the edge of St. Mihiel.
Lemoine’s face was wrought with a mixture of misery and annoyance. “Bad enough we have to match our speeds to those damned slow Nieuport 12s without us going to St. Mihiel! I say let them go it alone. After all, it’s not just Tartaux’s bus today - that new fellow, what’s his name?” “Papeil?” “Papeil. Oui, he’s coming, too. Can’t they escort each other?” “What are you moaning about?” Devienne crooned, “the worst we can encounter are Fokkers, and they stand no chance compared to a Bebe!”. “They have those devilish synchronised guns. That’s chance enough for me”.
We finished our breakfasts and made our way onto the airfield. As the sun beamed on us, I was suddenly reminded what warmth felt like. Beside the two Nieuport 12s sat our three machines - Devienne’s heart insignia glowing in a violent rouge at the end of the flight line. As the mechanics made their checks, Lemoine passed cigarettes around to us, lighting a match and putting it to the end of his cigarette, then mines. Devienne leaned in to light his cigarette, and Lemoine pushed him away, crying “Lá! Lá! Lá! Lá! Do you want to get me killed?!”, before throwing Devienne his box of matches. Grinning, the youngster lit his cigarette.
After we were done smoking, we clambered up into our cockpits and started our engines with a sharp percussive roar. We were first to take off, and we peeled off to the right as we watched for the Nieuport 12s lifting. Up they came, and the five of us took our machines into a lazy climb. It was the largest formation I had been with thus far, and I found it quite thrilling to be wrapped in the ferocious hornetlike buzz of engines.
Ahead of us, the front lines melded into focus from a vague brown blur into its regular mass of chaotic trench lines and endless debris and shell-holes. However, the mud failed to depress me - it was a glorious day for flying. The clouds hung low, close to their shadows, in their lazy belly-crawl, and the bright sun offered us one or two extra degrees of warmth. It hung high in the sky, above our heads, too high for the use of any clever Bosches.
The Lac de Madine shone like gold as we approached the Bosche aerodrome. Lemoine, Devienne and I curved away to the side as Tartaux and Papeil’s Nieuport 12s lined up with the row of yellow-white hangars, mere specks on the ground far below. The whomp-whomp of artillery started at our heels, but they were too late - the Nieuports promptly dropped their bombs before circling around for another run. A grin broke across my face as I watched the flashes of the bombs below - one had landed directly on the roof of a barracks. That’ll wake the Bosches up!
Our carnage went on unchecked, save for the increasingly unconvincing bursts of artillery below our wheels. Suddenly, there was a sharp flash below us, a glinting that reflected up at me once, then again. I strained my eyes against the ground, and several thousand feet below us I made out the shapes of two Fokkers. It was then that Tartaux signalled to us that his work was complete, and so I pulled alongside Lemoine’s machine and pointed downward at our two German colleagues. He peered down, and after a moment of searching gave me an exaggerated nod. He had seen them.
Like aerial wolves we slowly started to circle our prey, anticipating their intent. Were they headed for our lines? If so, we would pounce on them. But, they were currently overflying our targeted airfield, and we all knew better than to give the frustrated Flak gunners the opportunity they so desperately sought. From high above we paralleled their course, watching as they sailed farther away from the safety of their guns, closer to our own lines. Periodically my eyes flicked up towards Lemoine, who had a look of unmatched concentration on his face.
Finally, he glanced back at Devienne and I, and slowly dropped a wingtip, coming down in slow, measured curves towards the unaware Bosches. We followed, the adrenaline starting to course through me and rise in my throat. Again, I felt the quick-breathed excitement that came before the fight. My heart couldn’t decide on a tempo as slowly, slowly, we came down towards our quarry. But, then, Lemoine broke off and flew back towards the German trenches. I looked at him in confusion, but only saw the back of his helmeted head. I was even more astounded to see a thin smile appear on Devienne’s lips. Watching the two Eindeckers sail into our own lines, I couldn’t make sense of Lemoine’s decision.
Slowly we started to circle down again, and as we approached the level of the Fokkers I suddenly realised the crafty readheaded gaul’s plan; He had put us between the Bosche and their own lines, cutting off their escape route. These two artists below us would now be forced to fight us to the death to escape! Lemoine turned us towards them again, this time with purpose. The Bosches had reached past the trenches and into the green on our side now - if we got them here, our claims would surely be confirmed!
We opened our throttles wide now, and quickly we closed on the two machines. One of them suddenly banked around, quickly followed by the other, and both pointed their noses at us. Boldly they rose to our challenge as we soared above their heads before rolling on our backs and dropping down for the attack. I picked out my man and looped around for his tail, but Devienne had beaten me to the punch. I looked for the other, and found Lemoine on his tail. How unfair! I thought to myself, Why couldn’t they be three? In the next moment I watched Devienne’s tracers pierce the Fokker, which promptly ceased to fly and instead crumpled in the air, falling to earth. I joined in Lemoine’s twisting fight - his opponent was skillful, but a sudden head-on pass initiated by me startled him. We passed frighteningly close, and in that instant blur I took in the details of the Bosche’s face. From beneath his flying goggles protruded a wide, flat nose and a sharply squared-off jawline. A lopsided mouth sneered at me in alarm, flashing a hint of whitened teeth. With a reflective splash of sunlight on his goggles, the face disappeared behind me.
My Nieuport whipped around ferociously to chase the helpless Fokker, and within an instant my sights were rested on his tail. With Lemoine observing from the side, I fired two rapid bursts from close range. I watched as one of my tracers found the pilot’s back, the burning phosphor disappearing into his torso, and a second later the Fokker was lost from view, having dropped his nose. Euphoria washed over me, and I punched the air in delight. Lemoine’s Nieuport pulled up alongside me, and as I turned, grinning, to face him, I saw that he was wearing an irritated expression. He gestured dramatically towards where the Fokker had fallen, and immediately I realised that I had poached his trophy. I held up a hand - Sorry, Lemoine!. I saw his shoulders shrug in a sigh as he wiped his goggles, then raised a palm halfheartedly. I’ll let this one go. But don’t do it again!. I looked back at my handiwork, which now lay smouldering in the centre of a field. An inquisitive flock of sheep had approached it, and stood confusedly around the thin trail of smoke. Well, if Lemoine didn’t see it then I can count on them for a report! I thought to myself, chuckling.
Halfway back, little Devienne’s Nieuport began to cough smoke, and he signalled that he was going to make a landing. We circled to see him down okay, marked his position on the map, and headed back to Ochey.
On the ground I made a hasty apology to Lemoine, who simply laughed me away. “What can I say, Fullard? I let you have him. Naturally, I could have ended the fight in an instant if I so desired, but honour bade me to let the new man have his glory. You can pay me back with a bottle of Pinot, though”. He threw an arm around my shoulder. “Man, but we really stitched those two up, ah? Poor fools had no idea what was coming until it was far too late!”.
As Thierry and Souris started to wheel my machine away, I turned to them. “You two! Can you see that she’s ready to go up again for the evening patrol?”. Thierry blinked at me. “Evening patrol? There is none! You’ve had your lot for today, you warmonger!”. I looked at him quizzically, and he then explained to me that de Villeneuve, our new C.O, had ordered an insignia painted on each machine - a squadron emblem. “Oh? What emblem?” I asked. Souris unfolded a scrap of paper which had on it an illustration of a Greek Archer, bow drawn and pointed forwards, inside a circle. Over my shoulder, Lemoine’s lip curled downward as he nodded approvingly. “Hm. I like it!” he decided. “We’ll have to paint the new marking over your old ones, but don’t worry, we’ll have your fancy insignia painted elsewhere on your machines” Thierry explained to us.
When Devienne reappeared, he had quite the story to tell. As he had landed, a spark came from the dashboard of his machine and, as it was rolling to a stop, flames begun to lick out from the cowling. In a panic he had unstrapped his safety harness and dove out of the machine, coming to a sudden stop as he rolled into a hay bale. He was unharmed, but he seemed shaken as he recounted to us how he had watched his Bebe burn down to nothing but the charred and warped skeleton of an aircraft.
In the evening I was sent for by de Villeneuve’s orderly and summoned to the C.O’s office. From behind his desk, he looked up at me with a thin smile on his face. “Fullard. I’ve read your reports from today and made the calls to the frontlines. They did, indeed, find the wrecks of two Fokkers there. Congratulations, the victory is yours”. Excitedly I saluted him and shook his hand. “Now then. You are Americain, yes?” he asked, and I nodded. “Well, l’Escadrille Americaine, as you may know, have been activated three days ago, and they are still seeking pilotes to fill their roster. The option to transfer may come to you, indeed, you may request it yourself. But I would urge you to stay with Escadrille 31. We shall need good pilots like yourself among us”. I paused for a moment. “Okay, sir, I’ll consider my options”. The C.O. leaned back in his chair, smiling warmly as he produced his oversized pipe. “I am glad to hear it. That will be all, Sergent”.
That night, my thoughts were racing. Whereas the war seemed so quiet and faraway last week, after today it felt alive and constant. Will Michael join the Escadrille Americaine? I thought to myself. If he does, I must go as well. I should write him tomorrow. As I had the thought, two feelings conflicted. On the one hand, I relished the chance to see my brother once more, and to fly alongside him. On the other, I thought that I would sorely miss my new friends at my current Escadrille.
Wow! Looks like Fullard might have just saved a lot of his Entente pals some real bother in the future!
It was Esc N.31's fifth C.O, Lieutenant Lucien Couret de Villeneuve, that came up with the Greek Archer insignia, which Esc. 31 would use for the remainder of the war, when he assumed command in April 1916.