MFair - Nice introduction to your new man! It seems like he's wasting no time in getting his score up. German efficiency, eh?
Fullofit - A promotion! And you got rid of that miserable Alford! What a result! Although, ol' Chesty had better keep his wits about him if he's to be flying alone. As for playing the Ace card - when flying with pilots like Lufbery, Thaw, Rockwell, etc. etc. you have to enjoy it before they all out-do your score
Lederhosen - If the Rolands carry on like that then they'll end up hated on both sides of the lines. Congrats on getting your own Jasta!
Lou - Bloody Hell! That is a close, close call...it'll take more than rose hip to get over that one! Keep an eye on those kamikaze air-huns...Swany is too much of a DiD Legend to be rammed out the sky!
Sous. Lt. James B. Fullard, Esc. N.124 'Americaine' Bar-le-Duc, France.
September 3rd, 1916.
I felt myself being shaken gently awake and opened my eyes to find that the sun hadn’t yet come up. Realising our rain-holiday must be over, I sighed heavily and sat up in bed, turning to face the apologetic face of the Corporal, oil lamp in hand, who had roused me. “Sorry sir, but Capitane Thenault has requested your presence downstairs”. Muttering to myself, I pulled my uniform and fumbled towards the door, bumping into Charles Johnson in the hallway. “Morn’, Charles” I mumbled, and he grunted in response. We made our way downstairs to the dining room, where we found an equally lethargic Blanchon, Thaw and Rockwell. Spreading some of the Marmalade gifted to us by our friend, the Caudron pilot from Esc. 13, Thaw let out a groan. “How come I’m always gettin’ the first patrols?” he asked himself. “It ain’t just you,” I responded, “I’ve had the dawn patrols for the last two weeks!”. Thaw chuckled. “Aren’t you glad you joined the army, boy?”.
After snapping up our breakfast we piled into the mess, where Thenault was patiently awaiting us. “Good morning, my Americans. Listen up, because you have an important job today. Command has had a thorn in its side in the form of a German balloon, located here”. With his riding-crop he tapped the map that lay on the central table, indicating a position directly between Etains and Conflan, just North of St. Mihiel. “It has fallen to us to destroy this balloon. Fullard will lead the attack. I have had the mechanics fit your machines with Le Prieur rockets. Be careful of the blast when you fire them at the balloon, don’t get too close! Take-off is at 0430. Best of luck, gentlemen”.
There’s no denying that we were all nervous as our machines were wheeled onto the aerodrome - except for Rockwell, that is. Lately he had developed something of an obsession with attacking the German gasbags, but had seen no success so far. With the Le Prieurs taking up all the available space on the struts, the mechanics left the streamers off my machine. Hastily we bundled into our ships and I led us upwards into the dark morning sky. Flying with explosives strapped to my wings made me very nervous, and I found myself continually glancing at the carnival-esque red and white striped rockets. The closer we drew to the lines the more doubts entered my mind. How do they launch? Will they set my wings on fire? What if they don’t launch but explode anyway?
Our route to the Balloon took us down the entire Northern stretch of No-Man’s-Land between St. Mihiel and Fresne-en-Woevre. At a mere 1000 meters, I was ever conscious of potential high-flying Bosches, scanning the corners of every cloud with distrusting eyes, but no Bosches appeared save for a lone Aviatik high above us. I watched it as it weaved among little white cotton-ball artillery bursts. That’s a rare opportunity...an Aviatik on our side, all alone! I thought to myself. Shame we’ve got other business.
My apprehension only grew as we crossed into the Bosche lines. I was frightfully aware how low we were, and with each trench we crossed I awaited a hail of bullets from below. From that height you can hear the artillery shells hitting the ground, even over the sound of the engine and the wind. Poor devils down there I thought, as a particularly savage explosion caused my Nieuport to shudder. Just then the first anti-aircraft shell burst behind our formation. It was close. The balloon emerged from its veil of smog ahead of us, and the A.A. increased in ferocity, the woof-woof of shells growing ever more frequent. Dropping my nose, I signalled the attack and flew straight at the Bosche balloon.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl as I set the balloon in my sights, each A.A. burst more menacing and drawn-out than the last. As my target grew nearer still, I saw the muzzle flashes of two machine-guns at its base. #%&*$#, this is too hot! I thought to myself, choking down the fear as the balloon drew nearer, nearer…Now! I flipped the switch in the cockpit and the rockets screamed into life with a bright flash. I held my breath, watching the spider-web of smoke trails - and cried out in dismay as all eight rockets fell short of their target. The others fired their barrages, with little effect. Refusing to accept defeat, I circled back and fired off a drum of Lewis into the balloon. Suddenly I saw flickers of red from within, and the Balloon started to smoke. I curved away to a side and watched from a distance as the gasbag erupted into a huge, blinding fireball. In my excitement I almost forgot about the hail of ground fire coming up at us for a moment, but an artillery burst close off my right wing snapped me back to wakedness, and I quickly turned the flight for home.
The return trip was uneventful, save for Bill Thaw signalling engine trouble as we got back to our side. With a cheery wave, he turned off towards Senard. It seemed Masson’s engine was giving him a hard time as well, and he quickly fell behind the pack. All the same, we were soon back at Behonne, all except for Bill Thaw. After checking the operations board in the Ready Room we made our way back to the Villa for second round of breakfast.
Owing to the fact that we had a line patrol over Senard scheduled for noon, the members of my flight and I decided to take an early lunch. Crafty Masson had been doing a fine job as our new Mess Officer, and had procured from a local farmer some rashers of Bacon, which we had with eggs and toast. However, there was an unfortunate lack of cream for our coffee. Rumsey didn’t seem to mind - he always had his coffee black - but I, along with Chouteau Johnson, decided against doing without.
As we took off bound for Senard, we were thrilled to discover that the weather had let up considerably. The sky was a beautiful blue with lazy rolling clouds hanging easily above the French landscape as we flew out to the West and, after a perfectly pleasant and uneventful flight, we returned home.
In the evening we decided to give the new Gramophone a try. To our delight, the record started to spin, grinding out its question of Who Paid the Rent for Mrs. Rip Van Winkle? “What a fine prize, eh?” Rumsey declared proudly, for it was he who had spied the Gramophone during our piano search. I slapped him on the back, grinning. “I’ll say. The ol’ villa is really starting to feel like home!”. We managed five repetitions of the record before it grew old, but fortunately the sound was replaced by Thenault on his piano. Removing our caps and belts and unbuttoning our tunics we lounged around and happily discussed all things aviation. In the corner, Pavelka was busy finding out why none of us entertained Hall’s poker games any longer. “Did you hear?” Luf asked me, “Nungesser came down roughly the other day. He’s wound up in the hospital”. “What, again?” asked Prince, with a chuckle. “Oui. He wrote me about it, and says he plans to come and stay with us for a while”. From the table came the cry of “Damnit!”, followed by a hearty laugh from Hall. “Read ‘em and weep, Paul! Hand over yer money!”. We all chuckled as Pavelka dipped into his pocket, producing his purse as he muttered profanities under his breath.
The clock struck nine, and we decided to retire for the evening, sleepily making our way upstairs. “I hope we don’t get another damned dawn patrol tomorrow,” Rumsey confided. “Yeah, me neither. I’ve had a headache for the past two days, I could do with a decent night’s rest” I replied. Rumsey flashed a grin. “I’m not sure that the lack of sleep is the culprit, James! You do like your whiskeys, after all”. I laughed and pushed him away. “G’night, Rumsey. See you at four”. He laughed. “P.M, I hope! G’night, James”.