Mission No. 6 for Hauptmann Otto Von Pranz
(note: ver. 1.2 of the GPU Tuner Patch for WOFF installed; also BB's clouds ver. 2.9.2; JJJ's MultiMod ver. 2.1; "aircraft stress damage" settings are at default in the MultiMod when flying my modded FMs, as for the E.IIa - they are set slightly higher when flying the stock FMs such as the M.S. Parasol types)
The next day consisted of a short hop back to my 'drome at Ghistelles, but then, as if on schedule, obscure weather rolled in again, accompanied by a light drizzle, and our flights were cancelled for the rest of the afternoon and evening - time which I spent, together with one of the riggers, repainting my Eindecker in bolder colors, in one of the hangars. Our C.O. was in the meantime in Zerkegem, looking over some surplus rotaries that for some odd reason had not been shipped directly to Ghistelles - and he would return by the 13th. This left me and another Hauptmann in charge of operations for the morning of the 12th, our basic idea being that we were to do a morning patrol down to our batteries paralleling Ledegem, and then to proceed back towards our aerodrome. Two Eindeckers were to take part in the escapade, while our Aviatik was to patrol the lines and drop some bombs on the English positions southwest of Ledegem. We urged caution that the Aviatik not venture too far onto the enemy's side of the lines since it sometimes suffered from engine trouble, and that it maintain a healthy altitude to avoid flak and the occasionally precise groundfire present in that sector.
This other Hauptmann, Eberhard Kiener, was a man who looked older than his years - a good flyer whom I would sometimes see going about the 'drome, but as a somewhat silent type. He sported a scar across the right side of his chin, a badge of bravery he boasted, and that he had acquired in one of his many duels while a university student in Heidelberg, before the war. Such duels were all the fashion when I was a child, although I was somewhat skeptical of their purpose and preferred to preserve my boyish looks and to keep my symmetrical moustache intact, observations which Kiener found amusing, if not downright bizarre, for some reason. There was still no word of Krebs' whereabouts, while the replacement pilot was not due for another two days. Soon, our Oberursels were humming away consistently and we ascended into the skies. There was still some lingering fog about, not having fully dissipated from the day before - and, at higher altitudes, it made for an interesting picture, with the morning sun being mirrored by bands of silver vapor that were hovering across the trellis-work of the fog itself. Such images of light, reflection, and strands of vapor became especially apparent around Diksmuide, where we entered onto the enemy's side of the lines, and at an altitude of about 2300 m.
But this was no time for meditation on aesthetics, for bombardments were heard raging far below along the lines, reminding me, as I coaxed the Eindecker along in the strong winds, of our national poet Goethe's motto of Sturm und Drang,
when he himself was a fiery youth. Kiener followed slightly above and to my left, and soon we spotted a new British balloon hovering above the western outskirts of Ypres - they had let up a fresh one, it was now evident, since I had knocked down one close to that location but two days earlier! I cut throttle to four-fifths and began a gradual descent, to repeat the example of the previous day, and so that Kiener could observe the techniques involved in balloon bursting - for he had little experience in deflating such contraptions.
I made a short first pass on the gasbag, firing about 20 rounds into it, and also surveying the area for any enemy aeroplanes, before making a wide turn and a second dive on the balloon - this time lighting it up with about 50 rounds. It began nicely to roast, with a dark plume of smoke building above it, soon to be followed by a crunching sound as it exploded, deflated, and dropped to the field below. Kiener wagged his wings in approval and we proceeded further south, slightly gaining alt. in the process. About 10 minutes later, I signalled, and we proceeded further westwards, having now located another enemy balloon north of Armentieres, and west of Messines. The same tactic was applied, with engine at four-fifths power, my aim careful and centered on the gasbag, and then the gradual, tension-filled dive. This time I fired a few short rounds somewhat earlier, and then a longer volley, of about 50 rounds, very close to the target - so that it erupted in flames on my first pass and began its descent towards the meadows below. At this point we met with some flak, one or two bursts popping up in the vicinity of our Eindeckers - and so we made a run for it, at full throttle to pass over our lines south of the batteries nearby, and then to turn north, in a wide circle, gaining much-needed altitude as we did so.
Here, south of Ypres, we spotted our Aviatik at work some 500 m. below us, and directly over the trenches, while, above us - what should be passing back over their lines but two of those lumbering gunbuses such as I had encountered on a previous flight. I pointed my nose upwards, signalled to Kiener, and up we went, with our confident climb rate bringing us shortly in proximity of the gunbuses and at an alt. of about 2000 m. One of the fellows who was further in front was faster and eventually slipped away from us, in a shallow dive - while the other character was left alone. We approached stealthily from the back, and I fired first, emptying about 20 to 30 rounds into the Englishman's engine and also into the tub-shaped cockpit. I then did a low swing to the left, underneath the fellow, but here the oscillating titty-twat-twat sound of his observer's gun opened up and five or six holes magically appeared in my left wing. Fortunately I had now climbed away and was above, and behind, the gunbus. This offered me a good position from which to observe Kiener's hunting talents - he now came in very close, as I had, and pounced on his victim - letting off a good volley of about 50 rounds into the engine and tub. In a matter of seconds this large crate was then seen to enter a simultaneous dive and sideslip to the south, to embed itself in a cloud of dirt far below, in the vicinity of the trench lines.
Both of us were by now low on fuel, around 40%, and there was no more time to look for other enemy craft or balloons - so we turned sprightly in the direction of our lines and headed towards a small 'drome that was slightly north of Menen, to alight there, to refuel, and also to wire our claims to Ghistelles. I put in claims for the two balloons, and encouraged Kiener to do the same for the gunbus. It took several hours for the Unteroffizier we had left in charge in the C.O.'s office to reply, but eventually a call came in - confirming my two claims for the balloon, since verified by Kiener, but rejecting his claim for the gunbus. I asked why - the reply given was that, since both of us had fired into it, there was no possibility of determining from whom the lethal shots were delivered, and that, besides, since the craft was likely and utterly destroyed in the crash, on their side of the lines - the whole point was rendered moot. We grudgingly put down the telephone's receiver and I consoled Kiener briefly with reference to our immediate situation. The local riggers estimated that it would require the rest of the day to patch the wings on both our aeroplanes - since Kiener's too received some holes from the pesky gunbus. Also, the winds had picked up again, and at lower altitudes. This meant that our return to Ghistelles would have to wait until tomorrow.
After some cleaning up, to remove our flying jackets and whale oil from our faces, we borrowed a motorcar that was not getting any use at this little 'drome and rolled into Menen in style, by the early evening - temporarily to forget about this war. And, perhaps, also to meet with the lovely Marie Siegelinde Seubert who, we were told by one of the fitters, is currently making a film in the town, to be called Master Caligula's Easy Chair
- and that will possibly be followed by a more entertaining and explicit sequel in the years to come, should this newly contrived style of expressionist cinematoscopy become popular.