Mission No. 15 for Major Dobson & Company
(notes: additions for mission no. 15 include JJJ's realistically-populated airfields mod, with setting enabled only for "static aircraft" on fields, instead of all 'drome aircraft populated; as well included is the consolidated facilities mod by PR and RJW; also set is manual winds setting in Mission Ed., for BB's clouds ver. 3.0 full winds/clouds effects to work; further addition is Xjouve's max.-undulating terrains mod., ver. 1.0, with no noticeable drop in FPS and wonderful terrains; as always, GPU Tuner Patch enabled, as indicated in previous posts, etc.; will try out Xjouve's ver. 2.01 max.-undulating terrains mod. in future missions)
(Next several missions will shift to focus on Rittmeister Kiener's adventures up at Ghistelles.)
Around two o'clock in the afternoon, of the 29th, while I was reading my technical journals after lunch, Salmond Sr. wired us with orders directly from HQ this time, and that I provide cover for one of our Parasols, to be flown by the seasoned Ltn. Strugnell - the goal being a bit of spotting of enemy troop positions south of Vimy, and along the lines there. Rowena, Knight, and the new fellow, Thompson, were at our other, adjoining 'drome in the meantime, after their morning outing - to engage in some bombing practice and in cooperation with the scarce supply of Be.2b types stationed there - which, hopefully, would be replaced soon by the newer Be.2c. I was also still awaiting a reply from Henderson, in Blighty - with regards to his attempt at procuring such two-seater types for us.
Our ascent, of the Bristol and Strugnell's Parasol, was uneventful enough, with my throttle cut to four-fifths power so that I would not overtake the Ltn. in his Parasol, and, with only light winds and some encroaching clouds accompanying us, nothing of any significance troubled us on this flight. The Bristol was again performing beautifully, with a strong and steady climb, and with me taking the opportunity to observe lovely, rolling hills slightly to the east of our 'drome - and that I had previously not had the pleasure of contemplating, since most of my flights had been taking place rather early in the mornings. These two undulating and symmetrical hills, I would learn later in the day from one of our fitters, were on the property of Monsieur Trouvers, a noted landscape architect and part-time hydrologist responsible for some irrigation system improvements, at the turn of the century, in the Netherlandish lowlands.
I soon signalled to Strugnell that he proceed on course, while I veered eastwards and passed over the lines slightly north of Neuve-Chapelle, dropping down stealthily at half-throttle and to harrass the westernmost German 'drome located above Lens - that I had flown over earlier in the day. To my surprise, the several, thin-tailed aeroplanes spotted previously were no longer present at the 'drome, but, instead, parked on its edge were two of those lumbering Aviatiks that occasionally come across to observe our batteries, sometimes venturing as far as Armentieres and our own aerodromes. I considered that now was an excellent situation presenting itself - to put this duo of crates out of commission - and so it was done. Multiple dives were made in the sturdy Bristol, with the Lewis M.G. cracking away and sending several volleys at the types. Intermittent return fire from a German M.G. was heard below, but I was not mindful of the sound and, after another few circles in the vicinity, I noticed clearly that the wings on both Aviatiks were seriously damaged, with entire ailerons and portions of the planes missing. 'What success!,' I here thought to myself - 'these fools will not be found aloft for quite some time, perhaps to be scrapped for spare parts entirely.'
I then pointed the nose of my Scout towards a newly-erected enemy gasbag south of the 'drome, and made sure to light it up rather well. I, however, did not stay to enjoy the fireworks but floated further south, over and above Lens, whereupon I dropped on another balloon, also a fresh one that had sprung up since this morning - and knocked this one down as well, before loitering in the vicinity for several minutes. Overheard then was a light buzzing above me, and what should emerge but Ltn. Strugnell's Parasol - to spot for enemy troops in the area of the lines south of Vimy, where I was soon as well located. I followed about 200 meters below, and slightly behind, making several detailed observations of the sky, to ascertain that no German aeroplanes were up this afternoon. And, eventually, the Parasol having completed its task - we joined up - flying back on roughly the same level, which I thought a wise choice, considering that the clouds were once again piling up at higher alts. above 1500 m and slightly reducing our visibility.
Once over the lines, I signalled the Ltn. again that he proceed directly for Bailleul Asylum, while I headed for one of our 'dromes immediately north of the Lys, and where I had the pleasure of alighting already on a few occasions. My petrol was running low and I was to refuel there. At the aerodrome, while waiting for the fitter and rigger to organize themselves, I spotted a hole in the fabric on my top wing, as well as another, smaller one on the left side of the fuselage, in front of the cockpit; it was concluded that the repairs could all be done in a couple of hours. 'That bullet hole there came rather close, eh, whad'ya think of that, Major?,' finally asked one of the riggers. 'Well, now that I think about it,' my response was uttered in a measured tone - 'I believe you are right, although I wasn't even aware of that hole while flying along.' 'And better for your wits that you weren't,' came the reply from this talkative and smart fellow, but I did not offer a comment in return. Also overheard above the 'drome, while these repairs were under way, was a grating and reverberating sound, as of a damaged engine, followed by a shrill whistling and then a muted crash, somewhere, further in the distance. 'An enemy's 'crate dropping, you reckon', Major?,' asked the rigger again. 'Could be anyone,' was my reply - 'one of theirs, maybe one of ours, no way of telling now since we spotted nothing, and strangely with no smoke or debris from the crash site either, but I will make enquires at Bailleul Asylum.'
By evening, with repairs on the Scout complete, I was back at our 'drome, to be greeted by Ltn. Strugnell who was loitering near the flight office, a pleasant sight and much to my relief. 'Glad it wasn't you Ltn. who went down a couple of hours earlier - did you hear it too?,' was my first question upon alighting. 'Certainly did, Major,' came the response - 'an Aviatik or Albatros of some kind, plugged nicely by Partridge & Leavington, signature piece really, and corkscrewed down in a ball of fire somewhere around Messines.' 'Well that explains why I didn't see anything either, and, pray tell, who or what is this mysterious duo of Partridge & Leavington?,' I queried.
'Why, those two fellows are Ltn. Partridge, don't know his first name, Sir, and Captain Rory Leavington, his observer and a crack shot if there ever was one; they fly over us sometimes, usually in the morning when you engage in your dawn runs - they are stationed at one of our 'dromes further north. Never met them personally, but they've been mentioned in the military despatches as early as December of 1914,' was Strugnell's lengthy response. 'Well, indeed - I'll have to start reading the despatches more thoroughly in the future,' I concluded, before proceeding to wire in my claims for the two balloons and also for my little experiment at the enemy 'drome, with its two demolished Aviatiks. Also submitted to HQ was my spotting of the several and original, double-winged aircraft earlier in the morning at the same German 'drome.*
Later in the day a telephone call was waiting for me in the flight office, with his eminence Salmond Sr. at the other end. One of my balloons from the morning flight was rejected, as were, oddly, the two balloons of the afternoon escapade - with more abundant cloud cover being mentioned as the culprit that made verification impossible - but the duo of stationary Aviatiks was granted, and our C.O. most pleased with my attack on the German 'drome. I now had a total of nine confirmed victories, and, as suggested by Salmond Sr., my afternoon flight would be cited soon in the despatches of The Gazette
- 'worthy of a short citation at any rate, Dobson! - and you will be receiving the DSO for this,' Salmond added - 'I trust that it will be excellent motivation for more of your examples of forward action; now, do carry on and please do not wreck that Bristol. One more is due to arrive tomorrow at your aerodrome, and perhaps Henderson can fly it once he returns from leave.' Here the telephone call abruptly terminated.
Admittedly, I was rather surprised by the turn of events, especially considering that, with the DSO, I would soon have opportunity for some leave. A trip to Paris, perhaps; after all, it was the gentlemanly thing to do, and Lady Harbury would not have it otherwise. All sorts of ideas piled up in my head, ideas which I rounded out, before turning in for the night - by listening to a record on the phonograph, of a duet
between Caruso and Geraldine Farrar, and by imagining, to the sound of their voices, the smell of Linden trees in a light spring rain.
* These aeroplanes that disappeared from the westernmost German aerodrome above Lens, by the afternoon of May the 29th, 1915, would prove to be prototypes for the Halberstadt D.I, itself a testbed for the better-known Halb. D.II of 1916.