Mission No. 4 for Oberleutnant Otto Von Pranz
(note: ver. 1.2 of the GPU Tuner Patch for WOFF was run for this mission; also installed are BB's clouds (ver. 2.9.x); as well, the latest ver. 2.1 of JJJ's MultiMod is being used)
This early morning of Nov. 8, around 7:00 am, while still half-asleep, I was instructed by our C.O. to go up on a wide-circling patrol that would take me and another pilot, Oskar Krebs, down to our batteries near Ledegem, then further south towards our positions around the River Lys, and back again to our 'drome here at Ghistelles above Zerkegem. The winds were terrible, however, already at this early hour, and the clouds were looking even worse, large, and foreboding, although with a few small breaks of brilliant sun coming through.
Krebs and I quickly ran up our rotaries, with the few extra horses that Von Schnapps our test pilot had wrangled out of the engines on our E.II variant of the Eindeckers making it impossible to lean them any lower than about two-thirds open. This we had to tolerate for extra power and maneuverability. Also accompanying us, or rather, to be followed by us, was our resident Aviatik - surprisingly in an air-worthy state today.
And off we went, careening across the meadows around our 'drome first, and allowing the Aviatik to gain alt. and speed. Krebs proceeded to follow the two-seater slightly south, towards Aartrijke, while I, seeing that the weather was becoming even more unmanageable, coaxed my crate into some semblance of direction and headed towards the lines west of us and slightly south of the batteries running parallel to Zerkegem.
I eventually spotted Krebs following me, in the far distance, but I was already at the rather high alt. of about 2500 m while passing over the lines - and we lost sight of one another. The clouds were becoming even more congested here and darker, close to Diksmuide, and so I considered it now futile to attempt waiting for Krebs since we would not be able to reform our tandem flight - and, furthermore, it was outrageously difficult to battle the winds at the 3000 m alt. mark where I now found myself by the time Ypres came into view on my right, through a few cracks in the clouds. I was now a solitary Eindecker pilot - in the worst weather imaginable - and on the enemy's side of the lines. There was no choice but to be carried along by the winds, further south, and hopefully towards tamer weather.
Some reconnoitering was attempted near the enemy's entrenchments southeast of Ypres, but the visibility was next to zero on the front today, even at the slightly lower alt. of about 1500 m to which I had descended by now, hoping for greater opportunity to spot for enemy positions. The winds were not much better at this lower alt. and so I considered it not wise to stay in the vicinity of the lines for too long - but instead plotted further south, and slightly west, towards Armentieres. There, on the eastern edge of the town, I noticed a single observation balloon hovering in the wind and seemingly aloof to the fact that a war was going on.
I at first checked all directions around my Eindecker to ascertain the situation and, seeing that no English aircraft were about - I leaned power to four-fifths and took aim at the gasbag - approaching in as controlled a fashion as possible, given the turbulence, and taking brief shots at it of about 10 to 20 rounds. Two such passes were made, with brief volleys fired. On the third and last pass, I opened the Oberursel fully, took careful aim, and, when rather close to the bag, sprayed it with about 100 rounds from the Spandau while using rudder to sideslip away and above it. Even before having passed the balloon fully, a great plume of dark smoke and fiery debris lifted above and in front of my aeroplane, with the acridity and heat biting into my nose as I pulled my crate into a steepening climb. Turning back, I could see the gasbag now enveloped in flame and smoke, and descending towards one of the fields around Armentieres.
I passed onto our side of the lines around our batteries next to the Lys, turned slightly northwards, and proceeded towards Menen, since the clouds were now once again becoming congested and my fuel was dropping below 50%. Somehow in the mist I managed to spot a small 'drome full of Aviatiks, north of Menen, and alighted there. My claim for the balloon was filed and reported by telephone back to Ghistelles. In the meantime some local riggers and I looked over a few bullet holes that the Eindecker's wings had acquired during the balloon attack; their assumption was that the repairs could be completed by next morning. Later in the afternoon, a phone call came through from my C.O. 'Pranz, is that you?,' he asked. 'Yes, sir; and has the claim been received? Here it is dreadfully windy again,' was my initial response. 'Pleased to hear that it is windy - here it is even worse. This means no return flight until tomorrow; stay put and I recommend dining at Kotzendorf's in Menen - excellent veal slices there and superb dark beer. Please avoid becoming tipsy, though. Your balloon claim has been received - and was rejected, since no witnesses! Next time bag something closer to our side of the lines.'
'But, surely the explosion and fire were spotted by some of our batteries near the river?,' I drearily responded. 'Pranz, rest assured that I am confident in the accuracy of your claim, but such is love, conflict and bureaucracy as our poets are fond of saying - and, besides, I have better news than balloon-busting. You have been promoted to Hauptmann for your energetic contributions and daring flights in support of the fatherland. I expect you here by noon tomorrow. Good evening!'
This unexpected news sat well with me, and was a comforting thought. It is true that I would regret for several days the loss of the balloon claim - but I looked forward to my new rank, and even more so to the veal cutlets and dark beer at Kotzendorf's.