Wulfe, another outstanding chapter. And Fullard is sipping Yukon Gold! Good man. Lou, I'm looking forward to seeing Swany a bit safer for a few weeks! 70 Squadron has been roughly handled. Congratulations on Swany's well-deserved VC. MFair, thanks for the nice thought and I hope Herr Dorn manages to avoid all those rounds that are affecting his squadron mates. Carrick, the term is socialized medicine, not social medicine. Fullofit, wonderful videos. Congrats on number 23. HarryH - Please watch out for those Strutters -- Albatri are on the horizon.
And now for Collins...
An Airman’s Odyssey – by Capt James Arthur Collins, VC, MC
Part Sixty-Six: In which the Huns return
I made my way across the sodden field to the macadamised apron in front of the large hangars, stepping from tuft of grass to tuft of grass in a vain attempt to spare my batman the chore of scraping the clay from my boots tonight. Since I downed the third Zeppelin on the night of 23/24 September, it had rained without pause. The press has clamoured for stories. Aitken had called twice. Yet for some reason I’d been ordered to refrain from all contact with journalists. And I wanted to see Alex again.
The Ack Emmas in No. 6 hangar were playing cards. Someone shouted “Room!” and they jumped to attention. There were two BE12s in the hangar.
“Aircraft status?” I asked.
The sergeant answered. “2692 has a new motor and was re-rigged yesterday, sir. It was run up this morning and checked out fully. 2734 has new plugs and leads, sir. Also run up and tested.”
A good officer would have dreamed up some horrid but beneficial task, but I could not. “Then cards are the order of the day, I suppose, provided your personal administration is in order.” They all visibly relaxed. Just then an orderly corporal arrived with a telegram. It was stamped “OHMS” but I could not tell where it originated. It read simply: “Waiting for the boat. You buy the beer. More to follow. Swany.”
Swanson. He must be posted to HE too! He’s probably got leave until his VC investiture. I returned to the station office, where I found a message to report to Masons Yard at 1 pm tomorrow to see a Lieutenant- Colonel Palmer. Mason’s Yard was the RFC training HQ. This would be about my dreaded desk job. The rain stopped mid-afternoon and by sunset the sky was clear. Ogden and Atwell were to fly tonight with me if called upon. I held them back at the Kings Head after dinner to discuss the potential patrol. With the night so clear and the moon so bright we would try staying in a loose vee formation. I would keep my panel lights on until we reached the river, and then we’d go dark, turn east, and climb together to fourteen thousand feet until Southend. We would fly a box circuit back toward London, then east again. We discussed the use of clouds to silhouette the enemy, and the action to take if searchlights concentrated in a close area or Ack-Ack fire was seen.
That night I laid on my cot fully dressed. At five past eleven the call came – Zeppelins heard over the coast near Foulness, heading west. They were back.
By midnight we were shivering as we reached patrol altitude. My machine throbbed on, seemingly motionless under a dome of stars. On either side, the faint yellow shadow of another BE12 undulated. I strained to see the bubble in the glass to ensure I was in level flight. After a while it became easy to imagine things. We were over open water. I turned north. Now we were crossing the Zeppelins’ path. More than ever, I squinted to try to make out any unusual form or shadow. After ten minutes, I began a gentle turn to just south of due west, back to London. Five minutes later, the sky ahead was streaked with faint beams – searchlights filtering up through a layer of haze at six thousand. The beams lay nearly flat. The Huns must be awfully low tonight.
I opened the throttle. Odgen and Atwell separated. The plan was a mile’s separation on contact until the attack. Odgen would always attack from the Hun’s left and Atwell from his right. I would attack from behind. Down to ten thousand, eight, six.
For an instant there was a silvery glint as a beam found an airship. Three or four more beams then joined in and the Hun was transfixed, ours for the taking. But he was very low, no more than four thousand feet. I cut the engine and dropped in a series of S-turns, levelling off at thirty-five hundred. The Zeppelin was a mile off when I began the stalk. It was important to stay alert, for one could easily fly into another Zeppelin while focused on this one. Two nights ago, I’d taken fifteen rounds during my attack from a second airship I hadn’t seen.
At four hundred yards I began to fire – short bursts, one after the other. I tried to repeat the tactic from last time, aiming for the dorsal area ahead of the fins. I closed slowly, throttled well back. The rounds made no impact. I was now very close and must be very low on ammunition. The two streaks of tracer I’d loaded to mark the final hundred rounds had streaked away seconds ago. One last burst and break right and down. The Hun gunner in the rear upper position had seen me now and tracer flashed between my wings.
"Then the fireball."
But the Zeppelin was starting to glow. I knew that glow. Then the fireball. I followed it down; the airship lit up the open fields below. That makes four of them. I turned north for home. Some searchlights had found another target, but there was no point in chasing it. Far off to my left and slightly behind, another Zeppelin began to burn.
[i]"I followed it down; the airship lit up the open fields below."[/i]
In those two aerial infernos, thirty to forty young Germans were dying. I said a quiet prayer.