Mission No. 5 for Hauptmann Von Pranz
(note: ver. 1.2 of the GPU Tuner Patch loaded, also BB's clouds ver. 2.9.x, and JJJ's MultiMod ver. 2.1)
Our often-animated C.O., it seemed, had acquired the habit of sending us on morning missions, and 7 am on Nov. 10 was no exception. The day before I had returned to Ghistelles as expected, before noon, but rains and winds forbade any flying. The weather now seemed better, when viewed from below - but from above would prove worse. Today's flight was to be a tandem patrol, again with Oskar Krebs, who on our previous flight became lost in congested clouds. I was more interested, today, in doing some work on my Eindecker with Von Schnapps, since we had previously debated the merits of the current Garuda propeller that was installed - and whether or not it would be of benefit to move to one of the lovely, curved propellers being produced by Integral-Propeller-Werke. I had also entertained the idea of repainting my aeroplane, but our speculations were unfortunately cut short by the mission at hand, to do a wide, circling patrol down to the area around Ledegem and one of our observation balloons there.
I suggested to Krebs, as our engines were being primed by the fitters, that we proceed towards the front instead, enter the enemy's side of the lines around Diksmuide, and then fly south - to swing back over our lines and head that way towards our balloon above Ledegem. The idea was received well and soon we were ascending, but with the weather most strange. There was low-hanging fog everywhere, in a sort of quilt-work pattern, with constant, moderately heavy winds being encountered the higher we climbed. We were at nearly 2300 m alt. by the time we floated above Passchendale, and wrestling with the wind required constant attention at the controls. Here we did some reconnoitering, or at least attempted to do so, flying several wide circles - whereupon I spotted, through a crack in the clouds and fog, and below my right wing, two Nieuport types likely heading back after a mission over our side of the lines. I signalled to Krebs and we dove at four-fifths power to get behind the Franks. They however spotted us coming at them and a wild tussle then erupted, in the horribly obscure weather conditions. Krebs attacked a cream-colored Nieuport while I latched on to a green fellow and managed to get a few short bursts into him. This was, however, cut short since I had to maneuver wildly to get out of the way of the other aeroplane that was sometimes firing at me from behind.
We all eventually spiralled down to lower altitudes in an attempt to get a bead on each other, and, while I then saw the cream-colored Nieuport on Krebs' tail, firing intermittently - I was unable to help - since I still had my hands full with the green fellow who was proving to be relentless. It was rather turbulent at these lower altitudes and my opponent was unable to catch me in his sights properly - though, I had the same problem while attempting to get him in my sights. We danced some more around one another, with me demonstrating various ballet skills in the wiry E.II so as to avoid the green Nieuport, and also taking advantage of my better climb rate. Soon the other fellow broke off the scrap and headed for his aerodrome - likely out of ammunition by that point. For good measure, I fired several volleys at him as he left, but with inconclusive results. There was no way of catching him since, on the level, he was faster by several km/h. In the meantime, both Krebs and the other aeroplane had disappeared, most likely disoriented by the fog, I speculated.
And so I proceeded further south towards Ypres, assuming that Krebs, if in the vicinity, would eventually catch up with me. There was no sense in my loitering further in the region of Passchendale, as a solitary flyer. My next goal would be observation of Ypres, if possible through the fog, and also of enemy positions along the lines close by. Through gaps in the mist I eventually spotted an English balloon over the western side of Ypres, cut power down to two-thirds, and proceeded to do two short strafing runs, over and around the gasbag. The rather nasty turbulence in the area had in the meantime pushed me slightly off course and over some artillery, since I could hear rifle fire below. I then opened to full throttle, ascended slightly in a wide turn and came down directly at the balloon, firing two bursts of about 50 rounds each - a gesture that was greeted by a large explosion and fiery remnants of the balloon then descending at an alarming rate. I soon left the area and crossed the lines north of our own batteries that were parallel to Ledegem.
Here I remembered our balloon and circled several times, looking left, right, above and below - with no evidence as to the balloon's whereabouts. This was odd, I thought, but there was no time for further assessment since my fuel was now at 40%. I flew further east and north, slightly above the trees to avoid the low-lying fog that was pressing upon me, and alighted at the 'drome next to Sint-Eloois-Winkel. Our aerodrome at Ghistelles was then wired my location, and also my claim for the balloon. Several nervous hours passed by; my Eindecker was inspected and a few bullet holes were discovered in the left wing. Two days it would take to repair the beast, said some of the local riggers. But how would I fly back to Ghistelles, I asked myself?
In the meantime the phone rang, with my C.O. at the other end, telling me that even more fog was rolling in and that I wait until the next morning to fly back, repairs or no repairs. 'But where is Krebs, and of the balloon?,' I asked. 'Ah Krebs, never came back, did you see him go down Pranz?,' commented the C.O. 'No, I assume he became lost in the fog - there was no fire or crash heard in the vicinity,' were the only words that came to my mind. 'Precisely!, and that is what we will assume too, lost in combat, perhaps brought down in a fight by that Nieuport, maybe taken prisoner, most likely - I will for now list him as missing in action. It will take about three days for a replacement pilot to be sent to us. Oh, almost forgot, congratulations on the downing of that balloon Pranz! - this one has been confirmed.' 'But how confirmed?,' I asked confusedly. 'By Krebs, you fool!,' was the C.O.'s response - 'it's entirely possible that he saw the fireworks, but we'll say no more about it.' 'I do have one more thing to report, sir,' I interjected - 'our balloon, perhaps some of those Nieuports got to it.' 'Hardly the case,' replied the C.O., 'these contraptions are often winched down and deflated in bad weather - think no more of it. Instead, see if that Eindecker of yours can be patched already today. I expect you back tomorrow - no fine dining for you tonight but instead go to bed early - good day!'
I took advantage of the C.O.'s suggestions and decided to turn in earlier that evening. A light rain had by then begun to fall with a rhythmic, tapping sound that was mother nature's elixir for a good rest. My initial idea was to sleep in a makeshift bed in the hangar, two chairs brought together under one of the wings of the Eindecker, a blanket as cover, and I still in my flight gear - since the conditions at this 'drome were rather spartan and I was willing to improvise. But I was instead offered a small, somewhat cozy room off to the side of the aerodrome, really more of a shed that, if it wasn't for the war, would look quite picturesque. It contained a small bed of straw, a bookshelf with some faded technical magazines, and a nightstand that hosted two items - an oil lamp of no particular importance, and a slip of brown paper with text typed on it, and that one of the local pilots drew my attention to before leaving. I turned over the paper. It was a note wired from Ghistelles a couple of hours earlier - my C.O. congratulating me - that I was to receive the Iron Cross 2nd Class for today's mission. Most pleasant I thought, as I dozed off, but in my head I saw instead images of the cream-colored and green Nieuports - and, most of all, wondered what had become of Krebs.