Mission No. 3 for Oberleutnant Otto von Pranz
(note: this mission was flown before the fps/video tweaks indicated above were fully applied)
Nov. 7 was a fine day for a reconnaissance flight, or so said our commanding officer, a jovial fellow but sometimes predisposed to misinterpretation of the weather. Today I was to be flying with a new man, Friedrich Seelig, originally from Bavaria, and also with one of our "resident" Aviatiks - more resident than aloft since it acquired the odd habit of frequently requiring fixes to its engine, and has been known sometimes to stay for days on end at our 'drome here at Ghistelles, undergoing repairs.
We were soon under way in what seemed favorable conditions, although the winds were stronger above about 1000 m alt. and required constant correction with warping or rudder, or both, on the Eindecker, to maintain direction. Seelig was in the other Eindecker that we had recently received - I indicated, while still on the ground, that we follow the Aviatik as far south as Aartrijke, and then to make our way towards the lines, slightly north of Passchendale - to go over the lines there, flying a direct path south and above Ypres, in the spirit of good reconnoitering.
The winds seemed more manageable south of Ypres so we continued our flight unimpeded, passing an area of some battles that were roaring and thundering far below, roughly parallel to Ledegem. Slightly south of Messines we did a wide turn towards our side of the lines, emerged on our side, and then proceeded slightly north again to follow the zig-zag pattern of the trenches. Not more than a few minutes into this return pattern of the flight - first spotted was our Aviatik, crossing towards the enemy lines, and entering a cloud that was hovering a couple of kilometers in front of us. No more than half-a-kilometer behind the Aviatik, and slightly below, possibly headed back towards their lines - were next seen two lumbering enemy types (I would later ascertain that they were some kind of "gunbuses," as called by the English).
It was likely that these characters had not seen the Aviatik since they were not ascending towards it - what was more important was that they had not seen us. Quickly I ran over, in my mind, some of the advice given the previous day by Von Schnapps our test pilot and resident mechanic, regarding the second production series Eindecker: "Avoid diving at speeds higher than about 220 kph. Also take advantage of the now highly-strung wires for more sensitivity of wing warping. And please do use the few extra horses I have managed to wrangle from the Oberursel. You may easily outdistance yourself from opponents, not necessarily on the level, but certainly in a climb maintained at about 105 kph, giving you a healthy ascension rate of three meters per second or so. This should certainly upset those lethargic Nieuport two-seaters and silly one-seater conversions that we have had the pleasure of capturing at times."
Other advice, and which I wrote down in my notebook over the last two days, I would now have no time to contemplate. Instead, I gave the signal to Seelig and we proceeded to attack, making a wide left turn towards the two craft and following them back over their lines. Owing to a change in the winds, however, we began to drop further and further behind. One of the fellows was faster but lower, and disappeared into cloud cover, never to be seen again by us. The other craft was somewhat closer and, in a futile attempt to deliver damage to it, I intermittently let off some rounds. A few of these rounds seemed to have accomplished their task for a few small bursts of smoke were observed in the vicinity of the straggler, and we then began to shorten the distance between ourselves. Seelig kept to my left and slightly above me, while I floated to the right of this craft and then kicked my rudder to point my nose in the direction of his fuselage - more of a tub really that held the pilot and observer. I raked the length of the tub with 20 or 30 rounds. No sooner was this completed than the craft pointed its nose towards the earth and hurtled into a field below, to break up and burn. Only now did I notice that we were northwest of Armentieres, fairly deep over the enemy's sector.
Promptly I swung my Eindecker towards our lines and began a gradual ascent towards safer altitudes, and to avoid the flak that was now occasionally active, most likely once they had seen what we had done to one of their aeroplanes. We passed back over our lines close to Messines, turned northwards, and continued the now uneventful flight home to our aerodrome above Zerkegem. I came in first and rolled to a stop next to an empty hangar. Next to arrive, of all surprises, was our Aviatik that dropped down nearby and parked itself at the edge of our 'drome, soon to be followed by Seelig - thus completing our rather lengthy expedition.
The next day my claim for the lumbering British type was confirmed - I was to learn that it was a Farman Experimental no. 2.