Lou - my word! Swany is a killing machine! How has he not won the VC yet? Well, no matter...I sense he'll win the 'big one' very soon...shame about 70 Squadron's losses, that Somme offensive sounds nasty...
Hasse - looking forwards to your return!
MFair - Congratulations on #4! Only one more for acedom now. I wonder, will Drogo be the next Blue Max winner?
Carrick - close call for your wingman. Those DeHavs are a handful...
Sous Lt. James B. Fullard, Esc. N.124 'Américaine', Paris, France.
September 16th, 1916
“Hey, James, got any cash?” Thaw asked me, bearing a wide grin and trying unsuccessfully to hide the newspaper article he clutched behind his back. I raised an eyebrow. “What are you up to now?” I asked. He stifled a laugh. “We’re going to get a mascot for l’Escadrille Luf elaborated, also wearing a cheeky smile. “What about Fram?” I asked. Thaw shook his head. “Oh, we like Fram, but we’ve just found out about a very special pet that some doctor is selling not too far from here. We need 500 Francs, and we’ve only got 380. Whaddaya say?”.
Sighing, I pulled my purse from my trouser pocket and handed over 50 francs. “This had better be one hell of an impressive pet” I muttered. Luf slapped me on the back. “Oh, don’t worry mon ami, he is!”.
As had become my routine, I headed to the Ritz where it was Andrew’s turn to by lunch. As we sat down to a plate of pommes frites each, I looked him over. He had been in especially high spirits since my last visit - as promised, he had applied to join the Air Service. “So, any news, kid?” I asked him, and he pulled a note from his pocket. “Look here! My transfer has been accepted! They want me to report to Plessis at the end of the week”. I studied the note, identical to the ones Michael and I had received shortly after our arrival in France, and felt a pang of nostalgia. However, the feeling was soured as I looked over the table at Andrew and thought of the many dangers he had signed himself up for. “Good news, kid! Make sure you pay attention to everything you hear in the classroom. Only the top recruits get put in scout squadrons”. He nodded seriously. “Oh, I will. Don’t worry about that. I’m gonna fly Nieuports like you and Michael”. I handed him the note back. “You know, the Bosche are getting better machines. It’s not like when we started”. Andrew gave me a devilish smile. “Little good it’ll do ‘em” he said. My fist balled on the table. “Dammit, Andrew, don’t take the Bosche lightly. They’re good in the air. Just, use your head, okay?”. He agreed.
Around the evening is when the Ritz came to life. British and French pilots, war reporters from back home, Parisian socialites, all came down from their rooms or their nearby hotels and converged in one mass party. As I stood in my drink-stained tunic I chatted away with an English pilot who had just managed to secure himself 48 hours away from the front. He had been surprised to learn that I was an American - as it turns out, the English were hardly aware any of us had come over at all. “Say, pal, we’ve been itching to get involved in that big scrap at the Somme. Is that where you fly? What’s it like?” I eagerly asked him. He let out a long sigh, accompanied by a drag of his cigarette. “I wouldn’t bother if I were you, old boy, it’s a bloody mess over there. Our Quirks and Fees are dropping like flies, and even the DeHavs and Strutters have been having a rough time. The Hun have these damned new machines that fly rings around us whenever they please, and we’re stuck using the same old buses. It’s bloody murder”.
I was puzzled. “Fokker biplanes? You’re having that much trouble with them?”. I wondered just how inferior the English aircraft were to our Nieuports. To my surprise, the Englishman laughed. “My word, no! I wish the Hun were flying those tame little crates! No, my boy, I’m talking about Albatroses”. Something in the way he said the enemy machine’s name sent a chill down my spine.
“Albatroses? I haven’t heard of them”. “You can count yourself lucky, my friend”. “Why? What are they like?”. “Very quick, faster than our old buses, and they climb like the devil. They have two machine-guns that fire through the propeller. All the Hun’s planes seem to do that these days. By any means, they’re a damned sight better than our DeHavs. And, of course, if it isn’t them we meet then it’s Halberstadters. Almost as bad, but only one gun”.
I pondered over this new information. Albatroses. How much better than an Eindecker were they? Were there any around Verdun? Did they really make the new Fokker Biplanes look tame? For a moment I felt myself getting nervous, but then my mind wandered back to the new synchronised Nieuport 17s. “We’ve got new machines on the way as well” I told the Englishman. “Nieuports, also synchronised. Maneouvrable as the old 11s and quicker than the 16. Climbs faster too, apparently. You think these Albatroses will match up?”. The pilot shrugged. “Well, I hope they don’t for your sake, dear boy. All I really know is one of those damned air-huns is going to get me sooner or later”. He stared into his drink.
Leaving the Englishman’s side, I joined the Escadrille for another round, and then another. Tomorrow, we would be departing for the front once more. The mood was so high that we even humoured one of Bert Hall’s crooked poker games, and although our pockets were all made lighter we still enjoyed ourselves. Towards the end of the night, Thaw clapped a hand on my shoulder. “James! We’ve gotten the 500 Francs! Rockwell’s given us the rest of the money we needed. We’re going to go and pick up the Mascot first thing tomorrow, before we get the train to Luxeuil”. He laughed as he told me, slamming back another whiskey. “Well, that’s all well and good, Bill, but I still don’t know what I’ve paid for!” I replied. With a grin he removed the same newspaper article from his pocket and stuffed it into my hand. Frowning, I unfurled the paper and read through the article he pointed out to me. As I read, my eyes widened in shock. “You’re serious?” I asked him in awe, to which he simply let out an uproarious laugh and turned back towards our table.