Woah, plenty to catch up on! But, now I am (almost) all caught up. I've never been so thankful for the bad weather, which allowed me to get a large chunk of the time I'd missed back. Only two days behind now!
A heartfelt thank you to Lou for the Medaille Militaire - I shall wear it proudly. Fullofit - Congratulations on more Bananes, well-earned! I belive that's now a Legion D'Honneur Chevalier, Croix de Guerre with 4 palmes and now the British MC. Quite a haul! Gaston already has quite the chestful of ribbons, I wonder just how many he'll have this time next year...
I see Gaston's had his first encounter with a 'Wolfish" - and shot it down. Just what we can expect from the darling of France. But keep your eyes out for that Voullermoz fellow...he may just be more dangerous than the Wheelfish...on a happier note, 33 victories now! That's quite something!
Lou - the long-awaited return of Swany to the front! I'm immensely jealous of your new mount, and the livery looks great. Looks like that poor Eindecker had no idea what hit him, and I couldn't help but chuckle at both the pilot and the observer getting stuck in to the poor helpless monoplane. Target practice! No doubt Swany won't waste any time in getting back into his old scoring ways.
MFair - So Jericho was next in line to meet the dreaded Roland...and in a Morane, no less...great work staving the Bosche off. Shame about Phillips, though...glad to hear he added one more victory to his list before the Hun got him.
Apologies if I've missed anybody!
Sgt. James B. Fullard, Escadrille N.31, Ochey Aerodrome, France.
May 26th 1916:
Standing beside what remained of N.676, Thierry’s disgust was evident. He stood, cigarette in hand, shaking his head with a vicious look in his eyes. “Fullard, tu Salaud...how in the name of god do you expect me to fix her? This poor little coucou has flown her last!”. I couldn’t bring myself to look my mechanic in the eye. “I know it’s bad, Thierry, but she’s a fighter. She stayed in the air in that state, and she got me down safe! I owe it to her to at least try to fix her”. Thierry scoffed. “Fix her? Do you hear that, Souris? Fullard’s going to fix her! We have the day off!”.
I let out a deep sigh. “Look. Name your price. Anything you want, food, drink, money...just name it. Please, Thierry, Souris, try and fix her. If anyone can do it, it’s you two”. Thierry let out an exasperated sigh and scratched behind his ear. “Dammit, Fullard. Dammit. Fine. You’re lucky I like you. But don’t expect her to be flying anytime soon. She’ll need a new engine, a new wing, and a lot of replaced fabric”. My face lit up. “Thank you, Thierry! I owe you one!”. As I turned to leave, Thierry called my name again. I turned to face him.
“A rudder. That’s what it’ll cost you”. “...er, what do you mean?” “I want a Bosche’s rudder to decorate the wall. Aviatik or Eindecker, your choice. But that’s the price”. “Done”.
The next morning we were afforded a gloriously long lie, and Georges didn’t call on us until 7 O’Clock. When we stepped into the mess, we were surprised at the presence of de Villeneuve, his face grave and serious. A moment later, Devienne appeared from the hallway behind us, with Georges in tow. “Gentlemen. Have a seat. Today’s mission is an important one”.
Anxiously we seated ourselves. Since my arrival at the Escadrille, I had yet to see the C.O. personally call upon us to relay his instruction. I shot Devienne a nervous glance, and he gave me a subtle shrug in return. I don’t know either. Clearing his throat de Villeneuve laid flat a map of the front before us. “The Bosche have been moving aeroplanes to the front via the Metz spurline junction. For that reason, it has fallen to us to destroy the junction. Make no mistake, this mission will be very dangerous. You will be flying low behind enemy lines. You must remain vigilant! Fullard, I’m tasking you with leading the attack”.
I went cold. “Me? Sir, I -” de Villeneuve silenced me with a wave of his hand. “Seeing as your own machine is undergoing repairs, you are to take Sergent Chaput’s Nieuport. You will gather on the flight line at 0800. That is all”. Promptly folding the map away into a pocket, de Villeneuve made for the door, pausing to quickly wish us good luck before stepping out into the aerodrome. We sat in silence for a few moments, looking at each other with dumbfounded expressions.
At 8 AM, we gathered on the flight line. Chaput’s machine, and its two mechanics, made their final checks as I stepped into the machine, before swinging my prop. I watched as one of the mechanics rushed to attach two streamers to my struts, then turned to my flight, whose engines were idling in harmony with my own. As I had seen Jensen and Ortoli do many times before, I waved my chocks away, signalled to Devienne and Quinchez that I was taking off, and pushed the throttle forwards.
As our balloon line came into view, I looked back at my flight and signalled them to tighten up our formation. I scanned the skies ahead for signs of German aeroplanes - once we started our attack on the Junction, any formations of Germans we missed would be able to surprise us. Quinchez occupied my thoughts - he was far too inexperienced for this kind of work.
We crossed the lines. Scanning the ground below and looking over my map, I looked downwards for the Junction, feeling my nerves becoming more strained. As we approached the Junction, my blood ran cold. Below and ahead of us was a large German aerodrome. From within a long line of hangars poked the noses of Fokkers and Aviatiks, and opposite them was a huge hangar unlike anything I had seen. I tensed up, awaiting the inevitable barrage of anti-aircraft fire. I then noticed two machines on the German flight line. I strained my eyes, and my blood seemed to stop in my veins. They were Rolands.
Past the aerodrome was Loos Spurline Junction. I pushed my Nieuport into a dive, rocking my wings to my flight. Quickly, I urged my flight in my head, Let’s hit that junction and get the hell out of here before those Rolands get off the ground!
We descended at terrifying speed, fanning out our formation for our strafing attacks. I first fired a long burst into a building, watching as tiles rained down from the roof and shards of shattered glass showered onto the ground below. Suddenly the railyard was a mass of grey specks, running wildly to the numerous machine-gun nests. As I overflew the railyard, there was a hail of tracer all around us, an unbelievable amount of bullets being thrown our way. Despite my fear, I circled for a second attack.
Again and again we strafed the boxcars and buildings, and each time our bullets seemed more ineffective than the last. After the fourth strafing attack, I fired the flare signalling the end of the attack. To continue was insanity. Flying out towards the lines, I looked back anxiously for my flight. As I looked over my shoulder, I saw three holes in the fuselage, not an inch from my back.
As first Quinchez’ Nieuport appeared, and then Devienne’s, I breathed a sigh of relief. We climbed back towards the lines, keeping our eyes peeled for vengeful German aeroplanes. As I looked back, I saw a flight of three Fokkers high, circling over the railyard. Upon our return to Ochey, I tiredly stepped down from Chaput’s Nieuport and went to make my report. For the next six days, the rain returned with a vengeance, and we enjoyed a much-needed rest from combat flying. I wrote Michael, and Andrew, telling them of the railyard attack. Of my fifth victory. I asked Michael of the Escadrille Americaine, whether or not they had a full complement of pilots. Then, to my shock, on the morning of the 24th I was called to de Villeneuve’s office, and presented the Medaille Militaire. That night Lemoine organised a binge in my honor, and we awoke the next day with thunderous headaches. Devienne’s call of “Temps Aeronautique” was never so well-received.
Our time off came to an abrupt end on the morning of the 25th. The rain still poured, but de Villeneuve deemed the weather to be acceptable. Before first light, the pilots of the dawn patrol were roused, myself included. We sat down for cocoa and buttered toast in the mess. Our mission was artillery spotting over the front. As we ate, Quinchez nudged me, a grin on his face. “Hey, Fullard! Think we’ll get another chance at the Bosche today? I’ve been just waiting for them to show their faces again ever since we gave that Aviatik a hiding”. I shrugged. “We don’t usually see Bosches this early. Maybe a stray Aviatik, but I wouldn’t count on it”. Across the table, Ortoli laughed. “These green pilotes, so eager for the fight! Don’t worry, Quinchez, one or two scraps with some proper Bosche pilots will knock that attitude out of you!”.
We finished our breakfasts and made our way to our lockers, to retrieve our flying gear. As I did so, I was intercepted by Thierry, a smug smile on his face. “Fullard. Are you going over the lines today?”. I nodded. “Good! Well, you can get me that rudder then”. My eyes widened in realisation, and Thierry couldn’t fight back his grin. “That’s right - she’s done. Et Voila!”. As he said the words, he pointed to the machine that sat at the rear of the hangar - my machine.
With my mouth agape, I looked over my Nieuport. She was in a sorry state. The upper wings had large sections of re-fabriced linen, mismatched in colour from the original fabric. A new Vee-strut connected the left planes. The cowling had been replaced, and underneath it sat a new engine. However, most noticeable of all was the replaced wing, which had been painted in a brown and green camouflage. “Engines and fabric are more easily replaceable than entire wings. This one was originally intended to replace the wing of some machine or other in another Escadrille, but the airframe was written off instead. A friend of mines at Senard tipped me off, and I sent Pierre in a truck to pick it up. Your little coucou may look….unusual...but she’ll fly. Speaking of, we’d better wheel her out to the flight line”.
On the flight line, Ortoli was in fits of laughter. “Mon Dieu! Fullard, you’re going to fly that?! Well, it was nice to have met you, mon ami! Can I have your flying coat after it falls apart in flight?”. Beside him, Jensen shook his head with an air of distaste. Even Quinchez was trying to mask a smirk at the sight of my battered old machine, but I didn’t care. For an unexplainable reason, the machine had become very important to me, and I was simply glad that Thierry, the miracle worker, had brought her back from the edge of death.
Once my colleagues had exhausted their amusement at my machine, we climbed aboard our Nieuports and Ortoli led us into the sky. The weather was miserable, and in moments we were soaked to the bone. Nonetheless, we pushed on towards the lines.The artillery spotting itself was uneventful, but over Pont-a-Mousson we sighted two Fokkers, returning to their own lines. Immediately we dove towards the Germans, with one turning tail upon sighting us. The other, however, pointed his nose straight upwards at me, firing an inaccurate, but defiant, burst.
We circled together, but every time I got behind the Bosche he snaked out my guns, rolling onto his back and half-looping away. After three repetitions of his trick, I realised we were descending further and further, right above the German trenches and the awaiting machine-guns and rifles. I decided to fly back towards my own lines, watching closely to see if the Bosche would follow. To my excitement, he did. Once we were over neutral ground, I could chase him as low as I liked.
It was then that I realised we were alone. No sign of the other Fokker, or my three wingmen. Once we were well clear of the German lines, I swung around, and our private duel commenced.
The German’s flying was wonderful. At first we circled, each keeping pace with the other until I pulled the stick hard, tightening my turn. No sooner had I brought my gun to bear when the German expertly danced away under my nose. I followed in a dive, but there was no trace of the Eindecker. Suddenly, to my alarm, tracer flew past my right wingtips, and instinctively I broke away to the left, turning to see the German monoplane firmly affixed to my tail. Using the Nieuport’s climb, I zoomed upward and out of the Fokker’s guns, before banking over and diving back down on his tail. We entered in a series of turns, reversals, loops, slips, rolls, neither of us having so much as a chance at the other, until eventually the German straightened out and made a bid for home. Immediately I settled my sights on his tail and pulled the trigger, and the Eindecker shuddered gracefully, before slowly rolling onto its back and falling vertically towards earth.
As soon as I had pulled the trigger, I felt regret for the German flyer who had displayed such skill. Until then, I had never known a Fokker to be such a threatening opponent. As I turned for home, scanning the skies for any sign of my flight, I vowed to drink to the memory of the German that night. The thought was quickly replaced, however, by the realisation that if I had led the German further into our own lines, I could have salvaged his rudder for Thierry.
I was the second to arrive back at Ochey, after Ortoli. Joining him in the mess and removing my soaked-through tunic, I asked him where the others were. He looked at me, his face grave.
“We left you to get your man, and followed the other Eindecker. He dove down to ground level with Quinchez in tow”. “What? Down into the Bosche trenches? The idiot!” “I’ve told the damned hothead never to do that. I’ve told him”. “Well? What happened?”
Ortoli didn’t answer. He wore a tired expression. Lemoine entered from the hallway, immediately picking up on the mood. Slowly pulling up a chair, he turned to Ortoli.
“Who did you lose?” “...Quinchez. I saw him crash just ahead of the Bosche lines. But he got his Fokker before he went down”. “Merde. Poor Quinchez. He was a good sort”.
I felt a nausea creeping up into my throat. “Why couldn’t he have been more careful?” I asked weakly. Lemoine gave me a sympathetic look, and uttered “C’est la Guerre, my friend. It’s a horrible thing”. He offered up his hip flask and I took a swig, passing it back to him. As I did, we heard Jensen’s Nieuport landing on the aerodrome.
After changing into dry clothes, I made my way to the C.O’s building to write my report. There was a knot in my stomach that night as I entered my room, seeing Quinchez’ bed neatly made and unoccupied, the letter he had begun to write to his sweetheart resting on the pillow. I felt ill at the thought of Georges’ arrival tomorrow, to erase any trace of my roommate. Just as I was settling in for the night, Georges arrived to inform me that my Fokker claim had been rejected.