CHAPTER SEVEN - A SURGE OF POWER, A DANGEROUS DESCENT AND A DASTARDLY DECEIT
Konrad Berthold von Blumenthal June 20th, 1916. Sivry-sur-Meuse, Verdun. KEK Sivry
Konrad had flown a couple of patrols yesterday, still in his EIII. On the second, his flight had gone so far ahead in their EIVs that Konrad was completely alone. And lost. He checked his knee-board to try and work out his whereabouts. They were supposed to have been somewhere around the Jametz field near the Bois de Parlay, but the orientation of the roads and train tracks didn't seem to fit with his current location. Eventually Konrad managed to ascertain that his likely position was actually much farther north than he had originally thought. He was correct. Spotting the field at Carignan, tucked into the forest south east of Sedan, he descended. The field was laid out very strangely, and given the prevailing wind, Konrad knew this would be a difficult landing. Thankfully he made it down safely and was able to radio in.
On the morning of the 20th, they had an early start. Still alone in his hut, due to the fact that his Rottenflieger, Strunze, was still recovering in hospital, Konrad woke and washed his face in a bowl of water, before suiting up for the morning mission. No time for breakfast today, he went straight onto the field. He looked around for his plane.
"Where's Behr?", he shouted at the nearest mechanic.
"He's not here, sir", the man replied. "The Hauptmann ordered him away last night. He's been transferred, sir." Konrad smiled to himself. Serves the #%&*$# right, he thought. He couldn't help but notice that the mechanic was regarding him with a measure of suspicion. So what if he suspects it was my doing. I don't give a #%&*$# what happens to Herr Behr. He certainly had it coming to him.
"Well, where's my plane then?". The mechanic pointed to a waiting EIV machine.
"The Hauptmann said to tell you you're flying that one today, sir.".
"Isn't he coming along?"
"No sir, apparently he's got business with the chief to attend to later this morning". Konrad wondered what that was all about, but he soon shifted his attention to his new mount! There, in the early morning light, stood a brand new Eindecker Mk IV, and it was his to fly! Eagerly, he clambered into the cockpit and dropped his googles over his eyes. The mechanic gave the propeller an almighty spin as Konrad engaged the motor and the EIV roared into life. He had to work hard to suppress the urge to cry out with joy. Finally he was going to be able to keep us with his Hauptmann! But on this particular mission, Boelcke wasn't going to be around, so he was free to "experiment" a little and get used to his new machine.
They carried out a routine reconnaissance escort for a lone Aviatik, without incident. Konrad marveled at the sheer surge of power on takeoff. He finally had the ability to climb, as well as keep up with the other flight members. Too soon try try any stunting, he decided. That could wait for another time. The excitement of flying the new plane faded on the return journey, however. Konrad became aware of a strange vibration happening somewhere in the vicinity of the engine. Soon, oil was splattering across his windshield. He immediately shut the engine off and assessed his position. He was just on the other side of the lines, but the winds were in his favor and he had sufficient altitude to coast back to the other side. The landing was still atricky one, but Konrad managed to find a clearing where he was able to set down without hitting anything.
When he finally got back to their field, Konrad was given a message that the Hauptmann wanted to see him. He quickly got changed and made his way to the office.
"Ah, von Blumenthal! Well? How was it? You're late!", said Boelcke, looking up as Konrad entered the room.
"Well I had a bit of engine trouble on the way home, sir. Other than that, it was a truly truly wonderful surprise, sir, and marvelous to fly! I really feel that I'll be able to accomplish many victories for the Fatherland with this machine, sir, like yourself!" Konrad was gushing with excitement.
"Hmm, think you can be as good as me, eh?", the Hauptmann's eyes twinkled in amusement. Konrad realized he may have let his enthusiasm carry him a little too far.
"Well, I could only hope, sir, one day, to reach your high standards, sir!". Konrad snapped off a salute and stood, statue like, hoping he had rescued the situation.
"In actual fact", Boelcke leaned back in his chair, "I've composed a list of the things that every pilot needs to learn and master. Call it my "Dicta Boelcke" if you will. Every German air pilot will study this and learn". Boelcke's facial expression changed, as he continued. "Now then, there's every chance that I'll be leaving Sivry soon to attend to some important work for the Kaiser. I will let you know who your new leader will be in due course. Make sure to look after that machine and obey orders at all times while I'm gone. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir!", replied Konrad, smartly.
"Good, good. And one other thing. These EIV's are as rare as rocking horse poop. I've decided to let you have this one, but we may not get any more for some time. With Strunze still in the hospital, even though he's the better pilot, and you know it, I've decided you can make better use of it. Just one thing: I need to inform him myself, so try to be discrete about it for now, will you?".
"Yes, of course, sir!".
Konrad left the office feeling giddy with excitement. His first thought was that he hadn't even been to visit Strunze since he had sustained his unfortunate injuries. Now seemed like the perfect time! He was soon able to secure a ride into town where he quickly made his way to the converted Chateau that was now functioning as a makeshift hospital. He found Strunze, considerably bandaged and immobilized. Strunze looked up to see Konrad standing at his bedside and managed to croak out a greeting.
"Well, I didn't expect to see you here, ever, frankly". Konrad squirmed a little.
"Well, you know, it's only right that I come and visit one of our own. How's the pain?"
"Excruciating, which I suppose you're none too bothered about. What's your real reason for coming, von Blumenthal?". Konrad could not prevent a smirk.
"Well, with you all bent out of shape, the Hauptmann decided that the one new EIV that has arrived better go to me. Besides, he thinks I have the talent to surpass your tally quite soon, given a better machine. I though you had better hear the news sooner than later, so that you won't be as disappointed when you return"
"Why, you horrible piece of work! Is that the only reason you came here? To brag and annoy me? Well, you've succeeded. You just wait until I get out of here. We'll see who's the better pilot!". Konrad smile slightly and replied.
"Well that's if you can keep up with me in your old crate". He left the hospital feeling very satisfied, looking forward to the following day's patrols already. He decided to celebrate by picking up a couple of bottles of wine on the way back. Life was good.