Fullofit - Gaston is unstoppable! Pity about the wingman...always nasty to lose one.
Carrick - always good to get a quiet day in. One more day survived, right?
77_Scout - Man, 29 is having it really rough at the moment...and the damned Aviatiks strike again! Stay safe out there...
MFair - oh man, having one on your side unconfirmed is the worst. Must have been the same balloon crew that denied Graham's claim when he dropped one practically on top of a Brit gasbag...
Sgt. James B. Fullard, Esc. N31 Ochey Aerodrome, France.
3 Confirmed Victories.
April 29th, 1916:
Chaput sat, his legs crossed over one arm of his chair, sipping his coffee and flicking through the paper as Metayer and I walked through into the mess. His eyes flicked upwards and he broke into a smile. “Morning, you two. Have you heard the news? Le Violette got another Bosche yesterday. I think he can get his score to twenty by the end of the month”. I nodded and smiled, but I was distracted. Last night, I had laid awake comparing the young German I had shot down yesterday to Vertadier. I wondered how excited the Bosche had been, at the German equivalent of the G.D.E, waiting for his assignment. I wondered if he had been over-the-moon when he found out he would be flying Fokkers, as Victor and I had been when we were assigned to Nieuports. I wondered if the Bosche who escaped Metayer’s guns was a good friend of the one I had slain.
On the blackboard I checked the day’s sorties. Georges had woken Metayer and I up early, so I assumed we would have the first patrol of the day, and one quick scan of the board confirmed my suspicion. We were going to Pont-à-Mousson on a dawn patrol, with Jensen leading. Takeoff at 0600.
We polished off our coffee and croissants and headed out to the field, stopping by the hangars to don our flying gear. As per usual, our machines were already waiting for us, finely-tuned with their metallic noses glinting in the infantile morning sun. Jensen briefly went over our patrol route. Thankfully we had an easy one - behind our lines for the most part, only briefly crossing into the mud at Nomeny before turning for home. Jensen’s engine roared into life as his Nieuport begun to crawl forwards, and soon Metayer and I had lifted after him. The sky was clouded over, but the sinister grey hue had left them. It was a beautiful day for flying.
As we approached the lines we found ourselves darting in and out of towering cumulus clouds, our shadows flitting alongside us. As we flew into one cloud, my shadow rushed up to meet me and I was met with the strangest sensation - it was almost as though I was colliding with myself in mid-air. We broke through the top of the cloud, and I gazed out across an incredible scene. The clouds mirrored the landscape of Verdun, a sea of white rolling and cresting into towering hills and stooping into low valleys.
At Nomeny we dropped a little to watch the impressive flashes of an artillery barrage below. As we looked on, great chunks of mud were thrown thousands of feet into the air by huge explosions. I noticed a yellowy shape drifting low, along a road, and strained my eyes. It was a Fokker. I signalled to Jensen, but he was already turning our flight towards it. We dove, the Fokker closing fast, but then Jensen suddenly waved us away. Confused, I followed and shot him an inquiring glance. He pointed down intently and I strained my eyes, but only saw the Fokker. However, I decided to trust his judgement.
We returned towards our lines and saw another Fokker, this time much closer to our lines. This time Jensen didn’t wave our attack off, and before the Bosche could see us coming we were swarming around him like angered hornets. I fired a burst in the Fokker’s direction, but in a flash Metayer was past me and behind him, firing a savage burst into the Bosche’s back. He quickly spiralled down to escape, with Metayer hot on his heels. Nearly at ground level Metayer opened up his barrage once again, and the Bosche dipped his nose once more.
Metayer stuck to his man like glue, and the Eindecker tried his downward spiral again. However, he was far too low, and it was plain from the second he entered the manoeuvre that he could never recover in time to avoid the ground. But then, to my horrified disbelief, I watched as Metayer attempted to follow the manoeuvre. With my mouth agape I watched the Fokker smash into the ground. Behind it, Metayer, now realising his error, pulled up violently on the stick and I saw his wings quivering under the strain, before his undercarriage struck the ground and his Nieuport’s nose slammed down with a horrendous force. Through the explosion I saw sections of his wing and fuselage cowling scatter, kicking up a shower of debris as his machine was reduced to powder. I watched Jensen’s wings cut the cloud of smoke in two with his wingtips as he pulled up to avoid the fireball. In a state of numb shock, I circled around to form up with him. His face was pale as he looked over at me. After a few moments, he sadly shook his head and signalled to fly home.
Pale-faced and shocked into silence, we flew home.
As we walked into the mess, around lunchtime, little Devienne and Lemoine were sitting down each nursing a cup of coffee. “Good hunt?” Lemoine asked us. “ᴍᴇᴛᴀʏᴇʀ's ɢᴏɴᴇ” Jensen answered, unbuttoning his tunic and slumping heavily into his chair. The two looked at us, with shocked faces. “How?” asked Devienne.
“ʜᴇ ᴡᴀs ʙᴇʜɪɴᴅ ᴀ ғᴏᴋᴋᴇʀ ᴀɴᴅ ғᴏʟʟᴏᴡᴇᴅ ɪɴᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇ ᴅɪʀᴛ.” “Merde! But he was a fantastic pilot!” “No, he was too hungry. Young fool”. “ɪɴᴅᴇᴇᴅ. ʜᴇ ᴀʟʀᴇᴀᴅʏ ʜᴀᴅ ʜɪs ᴍᴀɴ. ᴀ ғᴏᴏʟ ᴡᴀʏ ᴛᴏ ᴅɪᴇ.” “I really thought he’d stick around…”
Lemoine took a generous swig from his hip flask, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his tunic. “Damnit. He was your room-mate, right, Fullard? I’ll help you gather his things later. Merde”. I shook my head. “No, Lemoine, thank you, but I’ll do it”. We sat in contemplative silence.
Chaput took Metayer’s spot on our next patrol - an offensive patrol to Lac de Madine, on the Bosche side. The sky had darkened and greyed since the morning, almost in answer to Metayer’s shocking demise. Pathetic fallacy. We lifted apprehensively and turned towards the lines. Metayer was still stuck in my head as we reached the front, but a few pensive Artillery bursts around us soon snapped me back into our current situation. Alarmed that I should allow myself to be so distracted, I fervently checked the skies for Fokkers. Nothing made itself apparent. We followed our patrol route, weaving among the flak before gratefully turning for home. Just as we were roverflying Flirey, Chaput suddenly rocked his wings feverishly and went into a dive. Jensen and I shot each other a look and went after him, quickly making out two silhouettes crossing a cloud near our lines. Two Eindeckers. We picked our targets out and closed, as in my head the image of Metayer’s crash played on repeat. My heart beat in double time, and in the back of my mind I vaguely noted that the initial thrill I had felt in my first pursuits had gone almost completely. My mouth felt dry as the Fokkers’ tails rushed up towards us.
The Bosches spotted us diving on their tails and made a vain attempt to turn back for the mud, but they were too deep into our lines; there was no escape for them now. They shot under us in close formation and we looped down to get onto their tails. The wind rocked my nose around violently as I lined up my shot on the rightmost machine, and I cursed it for its insolence. However, the two Fokkers weren’t attempting to evade us in their panicked run for home. Break, idiots! I willed them in my head as I got closer. They didn’t. I opened fire on the rightmost machine.
Bullets impacted the Fokker, who finally pulled away to the right. I followed, as Chaput and Jensen went after the other Bosche. Without any other options, the Bosche made a half-hearted attempt to engage me in a duel, but he was no match for my Nieuport, and I stuck close to his tail, firing short bursts into his machine. Suddenly his engine kicked out a cloud of black smoke and he stalled in front of me. In a panic, I tipped my nose sharply down, but I felt a horrendous lurch as our machines momentarily became entangled in the air, before separating with a jolt.
For one bizarre moment we glided down together, almost line abreast, before the Eindecker went into a dive and levelled out, attempting to make his landing. I watched as he collided headlong into the side of a gradient, immediately crumpling sickeningly and bursting into flames. I cursed, looking for a place to land. There was seemingly nowhere - trees, fences, valleys, hills, all conspired to crush my own machine in a similar manner. Finally, taking a shaky breath, I made for the top of a hill, hoping my machine would roll to a quick stop. As I landed, my Nieuport tilted sickeningly onto one wingtip, and I watched as the world turned sideways. Scraping along the ground in my strange position, I shut my eyes and awaited the inevitable.
I only opened my eyes several minutes later when I realised I had stopped moving. My machine lay propped on its side, the rightmost wings shredded beyond recognition. Laughing like a madman, I scrambled down from my machine. Just ahead of me, the thick black smoke rose from the less fortunate German flier.
After wandering towards the rear trench lines, I found an artillery unit at which I was able to telephone de Villeneuve and inform him of my situation. He sent Pierre out in his Fiat to pick me up, and I made it back at around 10 O’Clock. I made my report, but my victory claim over the Fokker was immediately rejected. As de Villeneuve told me in an irate voice, "A collision is not a victory, Fullard. It is bad flying. Tomorrow, you can travel to Lemmes and acquire a replacement Nieuport". Making my way to my room, I found that Lemoine had already organised Metayer’s effects neatly onto the bed. A chill ran down my spine as I looked at them. This room had very nearly lost both its occupants today. On my bed I found a letter from Michael. My eyes widened at the return address - Luxeuil aerodrome.
Hastily I tore the envelope open and read:
How are you doing, kiddo?
I am thrilled to hear of your first victory, but I am not surprised. Us Fullard boys are too tough for those Bosches. I have exciting news regarding myself - I have been reassigned to Escadrille 124 ‘Americaine’. No doubt your transfer orders will come through soon, they are sending away for every American pilot in France. You would be amazed at how many there are. All of the NCOs are Americans like us, although the officers and the C.O, Capt. Thenault, are all French.
I can’t wait for you to arrive here so that I can see you again in person.