Still lagging behind, but trying to catch up...

Sgt. James B. Fullard,
Escadrille N.31,
Ochey Aerodrome, France.

May 18th 1916:

Our patrols have been tense. Rumour has it that the dreaded Roland has been appearing over the front in larger and larger numbers, and are not shy of coming into our lines to look for trouble. Chaput, who seems to have a friend in every Escadrille, claims that losses to Rolands have been unnervingly high.

It was with this information in the back of our heads that Quinchez, Devienne, Ortoli and I climbed into our machines on the morning of the 18th, outbound into the depths of the Bosche lines. Even as we flew from Ochey to the front we scanned constantly, dreading the appearance of the hated ‘Walfisch’.

The lines were eerily quiet as we crossed over the front. I made long, slow scans of the horizon, expecting at any moment to spot Bosches coming in to attack. Below us, the mud abruptly transitioned back into greenery. Ortoli looked back at us and signalled - Keep a look out. Over Thiaucourt the artillery started up at us. Their aim was good - one round went off close enough to Devienne to rock him to the side. He looked over at me nervously as we begun to weave.

It wasn’t long before the artillery attracted attention. From the North came the razor-edged silhouettes of two Eindeckers, climbing up to meet us. Ortoli and Devienne had seen them too. We turned to face the two brave Germans. As we approached, the Artillery was still firing up at us. Chasing the Eindeckers to the ground would be suicide. They tilted their noses up as they came underneath us, and in response I rolled over onto my back and pulled my Nieuport into a dive. The eindeckers broke in opposite directions, and I picked out my target, quickly looping onto his tail.

My opponent circled to the left, denying me a shot, and we turned on the edges of our wings, staring upwards into each others’ faces. A moment later, there was a flash of red as Devienne arrived, followed by Ortoli and Quinchez. I gritted my teeth - four pilots attacking the same opponent was dangerous.

The German was very good. Avoiding two successive attacks from Ortoli and Quinchez, he pulled his Fokker into a climbing spiral as my three wingmen snapped at his heels. Unluckily for him, I was waiting for him. I pulled my nose around to face him, and at the same time Ortoli stood his Nieuport on his tail. Two simultaneous bursts tore through the enemy machine and he rolled onto his back, hanging nauseatingly in that position for a moment, before spiralling down towards earth. I watched, circling, from above as the Eindecker fell out-of-control.

Hungry for a victory, Ortoli dove after the falling machine at a horrendous speed, and I thought for sure his wings would come away. With my mouth agape I watched as, realising his mistake, he pulled slowly out of the dive, his wingtips quivering like autumn leaves. As he pulled up and straightened out I felt as if a ton of weight had suddenly been lifted off my chest, but now the Artillery was giving him its full attention. There was nothing I could do for him now. I turned back towards the lines, watching with my heart racing as Ortoli frantically danced his way through the hailstorm of shrapnel.

A moment later, with a lurch, I realised I had lost sight of him. I led Devienne and Quinchez out to the mud and anxiously circled for a few minutes. Finally, to my immense relief, I spotted Ortoli’s Nieuport emerging from No-Mans-Land. After reuniting, we flew home.