Stanley had spotted the two Aviatiks from a few miles away. He had gently corrected course to intercept and the rest of C flight had obediently followed. There was little cloud cover this morning, so Stanley was not surprised when the two German machines turned and tried to run. He was confident that he had speed and numbers on his side.
Sure enough, the DH2s swept in and von Poellnitz sent the first Aviatik into a fatally vertical dive. Stanley clearly saw the pale aeroplane smash into the ground below.
They were not far from the German aerodrome of Riencourt and Stanley hoped that the wreckage would put the wind up the German airmen there.
The second Aviatik was a team affair, as Poellnitz, Lewis and Aldridge all took bursts at it. Stanley made a sweep as well, but paid for his lack of caution when a burst from the observer's gun peppered his left wing.
Suddenly the DH2 wanted to do nothing but roll left. It was all that Stanley could do to haul the stick right and use rudder to help pull the wounded machine level. He knew he was out of the fight.
The Aviatik was a wreck and soon the pilot lost control of what remained of his machine and span into the ground. The DH2s formed up on their hobbling leader and made for home.
Stanley saw a pair of Fokkers above them. He thought that the superior numbers in his flight would keep them from getting involved. Perhaps the Germans were incensed at the death of their comrades, or perhaps the smelled weakness. In any case, the Eindeckers dived.
Stanley could not dodge much in his crippled aeroplane. Bullets smashed into his odometer and he swore that one pulled at the leather of his jacket. Had he been hit? He couldn't feel it, but he thought that perhaps you don't feel it in the heat of battle. He wondered if he would feel the pain before that final bullet.
More bullets hit the engine behind him, which began to make a terrible noise and shudder. But the Fokker was chased off by Poellnitz and Aldridge and Stanley found himself alone.
Not quite alone. Lewis formed up on his right and gave him an encouraging wave.
The DH2 could not muster up the power to climb and Stanley did not know why no-one shot at him while he and Lewis flew perilously low over No Man's Land.
After what seemed an eternity, three DH2s put down at the advance landing field of Bellvue. They had been joined by Aldridge after crossing the lines. Stanley landed fast, tail up. He was terrified of a stall on landing. No matter, the DH2 quickly slowed to a halt after the fuel line was stopped.
Lewis ran over to the Pegasus badged machine where Stanley sat, staring into space.
“Are you alright Wags?” Stanley blinked and turned to look at the concerned Welshman. “Quite alright, thank you Bill. That Eindecker nearly finished off what the Aviatik started.” He patted the side of the cockpit. “She pulled through though. Good work.”