Lederhosen - looks like you've been busy! The picture of the poor sods being chased by the entire luftstreitkrafte made me chuckle.
Fullofit - Glad to hear that Violette is back in business. Oh - or not! Perhaps Gaston should add some purple livery to that loaner. Congratulations on No. 48...not far to go before the big 50 now...
Bad luck for me so far today, had a great sortie that was action-packed to the brim, but then WoFF decided to crash on me just as I was making my claims! I was certain at least one would be confirmed as well. Lost the sortie and the flight time as well! Drat.
Adj. James B. Fullard, Esc. N.124 'Americaine', Bar-le-Duc, France.
July 8th, 1916
We were very pleased on the 8th, after our airfield-attack ordeal, to find out that we would have an easy day’s work. Our flight of eight, led by Thenault, was to patrol over the Argonne Forest, on our side of the lines. However, as it would turn out, our work wouldn’t be so easy as we had anticipated. Only moments after taking off, a gust of wind blew De Laage’s machine sickeningly close to Blanchon’s, and the two Frenchmen came horrendously close to colliding. Looking to my left in shock, I caught Masson’s eye, who gave me a worried glance in return. After this, we spaced our formation a little wider and, fighting the swells of wind and the ice-bullet rain, climbed up towards the Argonne.
Trying to control my shivering in the freezing cold, I bitterly thought of the phrase that Bill Thaw would remark in trying times; “Aren’t you glad you joined the army, boy?”. Over my shoulder I saw Blanchon start to fall behind. Fortunately, Prince was paying attention and slowed his own speed. Thenault, Masson and Luf climbed away and disappeared towards the North.
As we traced the rippling line of the Aisne river, I noticed a single aeroplane far away to our right. I wiped the rain from my goggles and strained my eyes, trying to determine its shape. It was a Nieuport. Strange. What’s he doing flying alone? I thought to myself. For some reason, seeing that lone machine made me wary. We reached the lines and turned onto our patrol route. However, the faster Nieuport 16s had soon left Blanchon and I behind, disappearing into the clouds. With an uneasy feeling I led Blanchon down the patrol route, keeping my eyes peeled for a glimpse of our flight. We flew slightly east, to St. Menehould, before turning back. To my happiness, our three comrades rounded a cloud, and we rejoined them. As we flew back West, I suddenly saw a large shape emerging from a cloud ahead of us. It was an Aviatik. Is he alone? I thought, scanning the sky above him. No. There - two Eindeckers, higher than the Aviatik, waiting to lash out at any pilots in search of an easy victory. Prince had seen them too, and he snapped his nose around to face them. The rest of our flight did the same, and I set my sights on the two Eindeckers. Bravely they turned to face us, the lead aircraft diving towards us and immediately being lost in a swarm of Nieuports. The second German stayed higher, and I zoomed up to his level. Cautiously we circled each other, and I knew at once that my opponent was an experienced hand. His movements were sure and calculated, and he matched my turn well. Simultaneously, we tightened our turns. Our duel had begun.
Quickly I was behind the German, and he rolled over and curved away in the opposite direction. I rolled after him and watched as he expertly flicked his machine out of the way of a second Nieuport - Prince’s. However, he still had me to contend with. Rolling onto his back, the German performed a sharp half-loop, and I felt my wings straining as I followed. The German rose up again and I fired a burst, which missed its mark. Again, we started turning, but this time I was too close to his tail, and he found himself in my sights. I fired a second burst. This time, I saw the impacts of the tracers - into the left wing. Immediately the German’s machine dipped downwards and to the left, and a moment later he was falling out of control in a wide spiral. It reminded me of the paper aeroplanes I had made as a boy, before I had learned how to make then fly straight.
There was a flash of green and brown. I watched, amazed, as Prince dove after the falling German at incredible speed, firing at him as he went. “No!” I cried aloud, “You’ll break your wings off, you fool!”. Prince seemed to realise this at the critical moment, and I watched, nauseated, as he pulled slowly out of his incredible dive. I had thought for sure he had killed himself, but his Nieuport mercifully stayed intact. Another flash, this time of yellow, passed over my head. The second Eindecker. Startled, I curved to follow, but before I could get behind him de Laage’s Nieuport dropped down onto his tail. I watched as the Frenchman sent the monoplane into an uncontrolled spin, before diving after it. Looking around, I realised I was now alone, and the wind had carried us into German lines. I decided to make for home.
As I crossed the lines, I looked around me for any sign of my flight. Two machines made themselves apparent, parallelling me to my left. With a jolt I realised that they were Eindeckers. Cautiously I curved away. The Eindeckers changed their course to match. They had seen me - and they were starting to dive. I braced myself and prayed that I had conserved enough ammunition to see them off. One dove over my head, and curved around to get on my tail, faster than I expected. I pulled the stick hard and rolled to the right. As we circled, I got a good look at the Bosche. This Eindecker...it had two guns. I had no time to be astounded - the fight was on.
We circled around furiously, battling to get on the other’s tail. Slowly, the Eindecker came into my sights, but before I could fire he looped away and under me. I looked up for the second Eindecker - and could have leapt for joy! Driving off the second Bosche was Thenault’s flight! They must have only just arrived! Reinvigorated, I chased my Bosche downward. He was just as skilled as my previous adversary, and like wild dogs we rolled around each other. Finally he attempted to zoom up above me, but he had mistimed the manoeuvre. I fired a long burst into him, and the machine hung in the air for a moment, before falling backwards and spinning to its demise. Out towards the lines, I saw Thenault’s flight busying itself with the other Eindecker.
I realised I must be almost out of bullets, and so I checked my map for a nearby aerodrome - the Bosche were lively today, and I so I decided I should land and borrow a drum of ammunition before heading back to Behonne. The closest aerodrome was Brocourt-en-Argonne. As I arrived, I saw that two Caudrons and a Nieuport were being attended to by raincoat-clad mechanics at the end of the aerodrome. I realised that they, too, must be seeking shelter at the aerodrome. The air fighting today must have been truly terrific, I thought, as I circled down to join them. Immediately as I landed alongside the Nieuport, I noticed the insignia on its side - a greek archer. It was an Escadrille 31 machine! After briefly greeting a mechanic and explaining my situation, I headed to the mess for a cup of coffee. Inside, I saw a familiar face, slouched deeply into an armchair by the fire. “Lemoine!” I called, and the pilot turned to face me.
“Sacre! Fullard! You’re not dead yet?” Lemoine cried, and jumped out of his seat. With a grin, I firmly shook his hand.
“How the hell have you been, Lemoine?” “Miserable! We've run out of Pinard and the sky is packed full of Bosches. Like flies, they were, today!” “Hm. Yes, I had a couple close shaves. Got two of those damned eindeckers, though! You might not believe me, but I swear that one of them was carrying two guns”. “They can carry as many guns as they like, so long as they aren’t flying Rolands! I only just managed to get away from one of those brutes, which is how I got here”.
We settled down into a pair of armchairs, as an orderly brought me my coffee. “So, how are the boys at the Escadrille?” I asked Lemoine. He shrugged. “Still a gang of bastards. Little Devienne’s in the hospital at the moment. He finally got his Bosche, and he’s got the scar to prove it! A bullet through the shoulder, from an Aviatik. Ortoli and Jensen are the same as they ever were. We don’t hear much about Jean, past what they say about him in the papers. Seems that our stars have all gone to different Escadrilles. Speaking of, how is life with the Americans? Did you meet up with your brother in the end?”. My expression turned cold. “Yes, but he was killed shortly after I arrived”. Lemoine sighed deeply. “Sorry, mon ami. Hell with this war” he muttered. I managed a smile. “Well. C’est la Guerre, right?. He smiled sympathetically, but stayed quiet. I finished my coffee and rose to my feet. “Well. I must be off. No doubt the boys will be wondering where I’ve gotten to. It was good to see you, Lemoine”.
“You too, Fullard. Take care of yourself”.
Everybody had a different account when I returned to Behonne. De Laage and Prince had managed to stay together, and had shot down another Eindecker after our first encounter. Thenault’s flight chased their Eindecker down low, but the crafty German escaped them. While looking for the rest of us, Blanchon had a very close call when he was attacked by a Roland. Fortunately, Bert Hall stumbled upon the fight and drove the Roland away, chasing him far into enemy lines before coming home.
All in all, we had downed four Eindeckers. However, to our outrage, we learned that the Poillus hadn’t seen a single one fall, owing to the poor weather.
July 9th, 1916 (Pt. 1)
On the 9th, McConnell, Luf, Thaw and I headed to the aerodrome early. As usual, Luf intended to work on maintaining his machine before the day’s patrols were underway. Thenault and De Laage were already at Behonne when we arrived, and so we joined them in deck-chairs, lounging in the sparse rays of sun. “How come you two are out so early?” asked Thaw, to which De Laage explained that a friend was coming to stay with us for a while. I was pondering what this meant, who our guest would be, when from the North the drone of an engine faded into my hearing. I scanned the skies and saw a speck, slowly growing larger and assuming the shape of a Nieuport, which then circled our aerodrome, came down in a terrifyingly sharp dive, and curved in one easy motion into an impressively smooth landing. As the machine rolled to a stop I noticed its macabre emblem, painted in stark black on its fuselage sides. A heart, in which was a skull and crossbones and a coffin. As the pilot, dressed in a thick brown-grey fur coat, stepped down from the machine, he waved to us and broke into a grin. In his mouth, yellow flashed from gold teeth. Swaggering over to us, as one might swagger through a casino after an evening of good fortune, he removed his flying gear to reveal his sharply slicked back hair, the medals gleaming on his chest. His face was something of a contradiction - dangerously handsome, heavily scarred. He reminded me of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. He was all of its characters rolled into one.
Of course, we all immediately recognised him, even before he had removed his flying gear. It was Charles Nungesser, the ace of 10 victories, a rising star among the French - civilian and soldier alike. He placed a hand on Thenault’s shoulder. “Good to see you, mon ami! And you too, De Laage. Can a friend convince you to part with a cigarette?”. Laughing, de Laage fulfilled the request. “Good flight over?” he asked. Nungesser nodded. “Mais oui, not the worst weather today. I saw a Bosche machine in the distance and turned to give chase, but the crafty fellow was halfway back to Berlin the moment I turned towards him”. He winked at us. “But, you must introduce me to some of your men, Georges!”.
We all stood up, and one by one he shook our hands. “Billy! How are you?” he asked Thaw, and the two exchanged brief formalities. It seemed they had met before. “Lufbery, oui? Thenault has told me about you. I hear you are a lion in the air! I look forwards to hunting alongside you”.
He came to me, eyeing me up and down with a curious interest. With a golden smirk, he extended his hand to me. “Ahhh. James Fullard, I take it? The ace of Escadrille 124! It’s a pleasure to finally meet you! Thenault has told me about you as well. Jean Chaput, too, in fact. You two flew together, yes?”. I shook his hand. “No, the pleasure is all mines. I flew with Jean in N.31, he’s a good friend. But, never mind me, I’ve very much enjoyed reading of your exploits in the air”. He laughed aloud. “Exploits? Is that what they call them? Mon Ami, I simply knock down the Bosche like I’m told to! On the ground, that’s the place for exploits. Speaking of, let’s head into town tonight. I’ll treat you, my gracious hosts, to dinner”.
Nungesser’s confidence was infectious. It was as if the morale we’d lost with our recent casualties was erased in an instant. By any means, as we prepared to receive our orders for the day, there was a fresh fire in our eyes.