Lederhosen - great writing style, Rosenstein's bleak outlook on the war, the way you describe his memoirs, really adds a lot to his character. Superb stuff.
Carrick - close call! Glad you made it back.
HarryH - Sounds like our Bosche Anti-hero might have literally dodged a bullet. I don't fancy my chances in an Eindecker against Nieuports! Good call letting the Hauptmann handle it
My bid to catch up continues.
Adj. James B. Fullard, Esc. N.124 'Americaine' Behonne Aerodrome, France.
June 19th, 1916.
As I reached the dining table, Balsley was excitedly talking away to Luf and Bill Thaw, both of which seemed to have a mixed look of confusion and mild annoyance on their faces. As I sat down beside them, I started to tune into Balsley’s narrative:
“...But, don’t you see? I woke up on my left side! Facing the wall! I always wake up lying on my right! I tell you, fellas, it’s a sign! Today, you mark my words, something is going to happen! I bet I’ll get my first Bosche!”. Luf made to reply, but only managed an exasperated sigh. Thaw shook his head, chuckling. “Clyde, my boy, you’re as mad as a hatter”. The effeminate young pilot laughed, embarrassed, in response.
On the airfield, Thenault gave us the day’s orders. A pilot from C.13 was scheduled to make an important reconnaissance sortie over Etain, and the American Escadrille was to cover them until they had completed their work. The photographs must have been very important indeed - seven of us were departing, lead by Thenault himself.
We lifted into a crystalline blue sky, accented by sizeable clusters of clouds. I breathed in the open air as we ascended. It was a good flying day. De Laage de Meux formed up behind me, and we circled as the others caught up, before Thenault turned us toward our Rendez-Vous point, splitting our flight into two elements in order to find the twin-engined machine quicker. We found the lumbering giant first, over Rembercourt, and settled into formation beside it. I allowed a faint smile to betray me - the giant, hulking Caudrons had always astounded me, and to see one so close, the gunners waving as we settled into formation, was a thrill.
Satisfied with our presence, the Caudron lazily swung around towards the front and begun to climb. We followed, weaving in gentle curves overhead. We reached our trenchlines, when suddenly the caudron dropped a wing and curved quickly away from the lines, headed West once more. Alarmed, I searched the skies around us. What had he seen?. Nothing made itself apparent. Puzzled, I leaned my head over the side of the fuselage and looked downwards. A few hundred meters below, three pairs of stark black Iron Crosses stared back at me, from the razor-wings of three Fokkers. Immediately I rocked my wings and dropped into a spiralling dive.
As we dropped, two more Fokkers appeared, seemingly from thin air, and in an instant we were in a twisting dogfight. I got behind one German machine and fired two short bursts, but the Bosche slipped away. I gave chase, but soon had tracer bullets soaring past my own machine. Pulling up into a zoom-climb, I found that I now had two opponents to myself. We twisted and danced around each other for a few moments, before one Bosche decided he’d had enough and ran towards his own lines. I got behind his unfortunate comrade and fired two longer bursts into him, at which point he slipped to the side and fell into oblivion. Turning back into the fray, I saw one Fokker fall while being pursued by Chapman’s startling blue Nieuport. Above my head, de Laage de Meux frantically twisted and looped, a tenacious Fokker harassing him with bullets. I climbed up and got behind the Bosche, firing an accurate burst into his back. At once his engine siezed and he dropped to earth, landing just ahead of the French trenches. De Meux gratefully sped for home, and I followed. Looking around, I saw another Fokker above us, ready to strike - but before the Bosche could, the yellow-white Nieuport of Thenault fell upon him, and soon three Nieuports were chasing him for home. What timing to find us on Thenault’s part! I left his flight to their work, heading after de Laage.
As I flew, I spotted Chapman’s blue Nieuport landed at Verdun aerodrome, beside our Caudron. I floated down to land and found my comrade cursing up a storm, a bloody rag pressed to his face. “Victor! You okay?” I called. Angrily, he called back “Nuh! Smh Shrpnnll h’ muh ‘n m’mouf!”. I blinked. “What?”
Angrily he dropped the rag from his face, revealing a nasty-looking cut on his upper lip. “I said - some damned SHRAPNEL, hit me in my MOUTH!”. He was seething. Despite myself, I tried to bite back a laugh, clearly showing more restraint than the Caudron crew, who were bent over and howling with hilarity at poor Chapman. He made a rude gesture at them, and waved me over. Still muttering curses under his breath, he pointed to an impressive twisted dent in his windshield. “There. One of those damned explosive bullets. I got a facefull of it”. I whistled. “Lucky you. But, hey, we stitched them up proper, didn’t we? I saw you send that one artist down into a picket fence”. He attempted to grin, which quickly turned into a wincing grimace. “Yeah, I got him good, didn’t I?”.
Our Nieuports were patched up and we headed back to Behonne for lunch. As we arrived at the Villa, James McConnell excitedly rushed out to meet us, frantically waving a newspaper in front of our faces. “Look! Look! Immelmann’s dead! He was killed yesterday!”. In disbelief we snatched the paper from him, scanning through the words. It was as McConnell had said - the ‘Eagle of Lille’, darling of Germany, had been killed in a fight with some Englishmen.
We sat down for lunch with Thaw, Cowdin, Luf and Hall before they went out on patrol. As he stood up from the table, Cowdin winked at us. “Well! I’m off to get my Bosche. Wish me luck!”.
Balsley’s prediction would turn out to be true. That is to say, something would happen. The atmosphere at the dining table that night was horror, sadness, quiet fury. The patrol, led again by Thenault, had encountered a group of Fokkers. Poor Balsley had been working one of the Bosches over when a second attacked him. One of those explosive bullets, so hated by Victor, had gone into Balsley’s cockpit and hit him in the thigh.
He had fallen into a spin, but miraculously recovered despite his appalling injuries. As we later found out from the medics that had recovered him, his pelvis bone had been split in two. As we sat quietly and ate, I heard Victor mutter under his breath that he’d kill every last filthy bosche he could. Nobody asked him to place a Franc in the jar for switching to English.