Mission No. 3 for Hauptmann Kiener
(note: GPU Tuner Patch 1.4/1.2/1.1.1 combo. in place; also BB's optional clouds ver 2.9.2 being used and they work fine in the platinum ed. of WOFF, have spotted no problems so far; as well used is JJJ's Multimod ver. 2.1)
The morning of the 14th of Nov. opened with flurries in the forecast and low, foreboding clouds hovering around the 'drome at Ghistelles. Nonetheless, Kiener was unfazed by the weather, ruminating that it might actually be an advantage, acting as a cover for his lengthy patrol mission today, together with Unteroffizier Hutzenlaub, to spot for enemy positions as far south as the batteries parallel to Lille. Also flying today, providing that their engines would behave, were the two resident Aviatiks; they would drop bombs on the enemy's positions, first near Ledegem and then further south.
Kiener was most pleased to see his multi-colored Eindecker ready for use, the engine primed, and the control cables checked, with one of the riggers looking over the tailskid and wheels. 'We'll all be spotted by enemy aeroplanes with you, sir, in that colorful getup,' commented Hutzenlaub. But the Hauptmann was not concerned and remained silent, instead considering the similarities between the colors and some of the outfits often worn during his days of rigorous duelling as a student in Heidelberg. V. Pranz had made an excellent choice, he thought, with the color combinations; the late Pranz had also been a good mentor to him on their previous couple of flights, and Kiener had in detail remembered several of those suggestions offered for an effective patrol, and that he now briefly shared with the Unteroffizier.
'Stay approximately one kilometer behind me, directly behind, and slightly above, Hutzenlaub, and do not approach closer unless I am jumped by someone, but still make sure to remain above the fray,' he commented. 'Yes sir, and what about the balloons?,' was the Unteroffizier's naive question. 'Those, leave to me for now, and observe carefully, as I had observed Hauptmann v. Pranz's well-measured flights - you will notice how, with a good aim and no theatrics, things will usually unfold in your favor, should you decide on some balloon bursting in the future.'
The Aviatiks had by now ascended slightly above the 'drome; and soon the two Eindeckers were aloft as well, with their Oberursels rotating consistently, and with the good rate of climb taking the monoplanes up ever higher. It was, however, not practical to go above 1600 m alt. or so, since the heavy clouds were immediately above, and Kiener certainly did not want to lose the young Unteroffizier in the clouds. They, in this manner, proceeded slightly southwest and towards the lines at Diksmuide, to pass onto the enemy's side of the trenches. Here, Kiener pointed the nose of his crate in the direction of a balloon that was in the vicinity of Passchendale, cut power to about four-fifths, and began a steady and long descent, glancing back briefly to make sure that Hutzenlaub was following. Soon the balloon was in his sights, followed by a brief volley of shots and then profuse smoke, and an explosion. Kiener at that moment remembered the balloon further north of Diksmuide and v. Pranz's anticlimactic end there on the 13th. 'Under no circumstances maneuver around the balloons,' he thought to himself, 'but keep the nose steady, a gradual ascent away, full throttle - with a brief glance back to affirm that the balloon is indeed on fire.' Satisfied as to the results, they floated further down towards Ypres, when another balloon came into view on the western outskirts of the town. And again a careful aim was provided, the hunter's instinct alive, with an unswerving descent on the part of the Eindecker, a quick rattle of the Spandau - and another balloon hissing out flames and smoke, to be complemented by a roaring explosion.
With two balloons now down, Kiener briefly contemplated the possibilities - to swing gradually back across the lines south of Ypres, or to keep trodding the current path, further down towards Messines and Armentieres, for, after all, the course was still parallel to where the two Aviatiks were to patrol the enemy's batteries. The latter choice was made quickly, for Kiener was a brave fellow, a solid marksman, and the weather, still grey and miserable, was nicely cloaking his and the Unteroffizier's movements. 'As long as it did not begin to snow, there was no reason to retreat behind the lines,' he thought. No sooner was the choice made, then a balloon west of Messines was located, hovering and bobbing slightly in the mist below. A quick glance back, again, to verify Hutzenlaub's location, and also to make certain that no Franks or British airmen were in the vicinity - and then the gradual descent towards the target, the engine working steadily, Kiener's eyes fixed on the Spandau's sights - to be followed by the robust rattle when the trigger was pulled, rat-a-tat, tat, and a nice, thin stream of vapor and black smoke now emanating from the top of the stricken balloon. Kiener now passed over it, the ascent steady, unwavering, with no unnecessary risks being taken, and then the glance back - the balloon now emitting a stronger fire, and then a small explosion this time, after which the remnants of the gasbag fluttered down onto the meadows below. 'One more stop on our way south,' now thought Kiener; 'hopefully my steady aim will hold, for, even with this obscure weather, there is strangely an absence of strong winds, and of turbulence, at these lower altitudes,' he appended.
As they flew further south, Armentieres came into view. And behind Armentieres, on its eastern outskirts, a balloon was waiting. The two airmen now knew that they were not too far from the River Lys, and that, on the other side of the Lys, all that remained was to turn their noses to the left and proceed towards their lines, a journey that should be fairly short, and hopefully uneventful. The one problem was that the winds now had picked up, and, while Kiener was doing his best to keep the Eindecker steady in its dive towards the balloon, the Spandau's sights would, for a moment, nicely frame it, and, at another moment, they would be either to the left or right of the balloon. Kiener clenched his teeth, cut power slightly, and sent some shots in the direction of the balloon - and then some more. Having now passed over it, he glanced back briefly, only to find that the gasbag was still intact! 'Horrible,' he now contemplated in his head the possibilites: 'to get out of here as soon as possible, to try another run, or two.' 'Let us go for more!,' he now shouted out load even though the Unteroffizier was unable to hear him over the noise of the rotaries and the speed at which they were flying. And now a quick turn was made, this time with full rudder - and then a quick pounce onto the balloon, with another volley of shots sent in its direction - and now the ascent away, with Kiener's head turned back - and again, no result. The turbulence was picking up and throwing his aim off, but Kiener remained collected and methodical - now a third, wide, ascending climb was finally undertaken, the kind that had done in v. Pranz near Diksmuide. Some rifles were then heard below, with a few bullets cracking and whizzing through Kiener's left wing. But the Eindecker, still in control, now had the balloon in its sights a third time; the trigger was now depressed more thoroughly, and at least 50 or 60 rounds went cleanly through the balloon. It was now pouring out black smoke as Kiener glanced back a third time - and, very soon, the culminating, luxurious explosion was both seen and heard. 'That is four balloons down,' now thought Kiener, 'but enough of this, the winds are no longer working in my favor.' He then signalled to Hutzenlaub, and they were soon over their side of the lines, slightly south of the batteries close to Lille, and, with their fuel now low, attempting to move north-eastwards towards the small 'drome for Aviatiks, north of Menen. The wind was, however, not working in their favor anymore, even though there was a crack or two in the clouds at this stage of their flight - with the sun at times, very gently, sending its rays through and onto the moist fields below.
Kiener and Hutzenlaub now flew on closer together, with the Unteroffizier slightly above and to the left of the Hauptmann. With the aerodrome at Menen eventually in sight, Kiener signalled, and the other flyer plotted on slowly, to do a gradual, upwind landing at the further end of the field. The Hauptmann instead made a wide circle around the 'drome, dropped the throttle as much as possible, to about two-thirds power, and then, with irregular cutting of the fuel flow to the rotary instead of riskily blipping the engine, he managed to coax it into a fairly controllable glide, downwind, towards one of the empty hangars - to plop down gently before the Unteroffizier had even arrived. The Hauptmann opened the throttle a few times and was soon next to the hangar, with the fuel now off and the propeller idly spinning for a while longer. 'Four balloons!,' he thought to himself while still unfastening the harness, and while observing Hutzenlaub's landing that he thought a bit messy but sufficient, considering that the Unteroffizier had brief difficulty levelling out before he turned off his engine and rolled to a stop.
Shortly thereafter, both men were in the 'drome's makeshift office, with the four claims for the balloons being wired to Ghistelles, and also their approximate locations. After that it would be time soon for lunch, a quick and spicy goulash that one of the improvisario
cooks had managed to create for the local officers - but that turned out quite appetizing, thought Kiener. Some idle talk was exchanged amongst the officers at the table, ranging from the awful weather that had prevented the local Aviatiks from doing any flying today, to the current state of military affairs, also with some discussion of Immelmann and Wintgens thrown in for good measure, since both were now rising stars among the young German pilots. Here, Kiener again thought of v. Pranz, who, equally so, had he not been unlucky with the balloon at Diksmuide, might now have eclipsed the tallies of these other heroic fellows. Such sombre pondering was then cut short by a phone call from Ghistelles.
'Kiener, is that you?,' was the C.O.'s question. 'Yes, sir, it's me, and Hutzenlaub is in one piece too,' responded the Hauptmann. 'Most pleasing, and, furthermore, all four of your claims have been confirmed!, not only by Hutzenlaub but also by some of our men at the batteries parallel to Ypres and Messines - with today's weather, your burning balloons featured as four torches going off in succession, and lighting up the immediate horizon - we thank you for the fireworks, and for your bravery. It is obvious that v. Pranz had taught you well - the Iron Cross 2nd Class awaits you upon your return, and my greetings to the Unteroffizier as well.' The C.O., in his usual style, was most animated while explaining all of this over the telephone - although his gesticulations could not be seen by the two pilots. Kiener further explained that both of the Eindeckers received several holes in their wings, some at Ypres, more during their attack on the balloon east of Armentieres, and that it would take until next evening for the repairs to be completed. The C.O., surprisingly, received this information in a calm manner, suggesting that they do their best to fly back by noon on the 16th, since it would not be practical that they return by train, and then to have the repaired Eindeckers also crated and returned by train. The C.O. was most fond of such comparisons and minute details, and spent another minute or two, before putting down the receiver, discussing the goings-on at Ghistelles, that one pilot had returned from leave, and that it was possible that another, replacement pilot would arrive over the next few days as well - Seelig's replacement.
Later in the afternoon Kiener suggested to Hutzenlaub that they drive into town, to see if Marie Siegelinde Seubert was still there, since he remembered the previous excursion with v. Pranz into Menen. 'And what shall we talk about with Ms. Seubert?,' asked Hutzenlaub. 'Oh, various things,' responded Kiener - 'she is a walking encyclopedia and most talented.' Kiener was also thinking of how to share the news of v. Pranz's fate with Ms. Seubert, and if this was appropriate at all to mention. Perhaps they would instead talk about the movie she is involved in, and Kiener hoped that he would be able to give some suggestions regarding its title, since Master Caligula's Easy Chair
would never sit well with his friends the Heidelberg duellists. It sounded much too obtuse and artistic for those naturally talented with competitive skills.