Ofz. Alfonse Straub
FFA 48; Aviatik B.I
July 6-7, 1915
It has been a boring few weeks: Just enough went wrong to keep me on my toes, but not enough to be worth writing about. Perhaps this won't be a gripping yarn either, but it's good to put pen to paper again.
As a reminder, there are six of us: Offz. Sandleitner, our fearless leader: Nice man, pleasant to talk to - when you can actually get his attention. Offz. Nebgen, a mechanic from Bavaria who used his skills and family connections to earn him this role. Fliegers Hammer and Todt - the former even more enigmatic than our leader, while the latter and I (verbally) jousted over which part of Germany was superior, mine or his. I won, of course, and he resents it, which I don't care. Lastly there's Offz. Andreas Collin, who stepped in after 'poor' Flieger Adam was captured. An unknown quantity, though highly confident in his skills.
We've spent the past several days reconning the same patch of hilly, forested land over and over. The French and English are certainly there, but if they're planning something it's beyond my ken and I have no idea what Army HQ thinks we're going to find. It's gotten to the point where we'll send two people up to do our duty and go home as quickly as possible.
Two fliers, for we've heard in Flanders some murderous BE 2 and Morane pilots have taken to settling in front of our Aviatiks and shooting them down. May they burn for their crimes. Perhaps I could be doing the same: Some of the squadrons are getting the new C model Aviatiks. It would probably be a hilarious battle watching two planes with rear gunners try to slug it out.
On the sixth it was just Collin and I, and we flew our routine patrol/recon. By this point I can almost do it with my eyes closed, and between you and me I do just that for a few seconds at a time until the next air pocket brings me to my senses. When I'm not doing that I simply enjoy the sights.
Our route takes us over The Web. That's my name for it - I don't know what, or even if, the converging network has a name. I'm surprised a town hasn't sprung up there, a depot or petrol station, anything. Perhaps after the war when we've finished knocking the French around.
My observer, Edgar Papenberg, has the real job. Whatever Army wants involves using a camera, and we've figured out that attaching the camera via a brace to the plane itself improves the pictures' quality amazingly. Every five seconds or so he takes an exposure as I wheel around. Every so often he reloads the camera. When he runs out of film he signals we can go.
Whatever it is he took pictures of got Army's attention, for on the 7th they sent two flights: Sandleitner leading one, while I led the second with my good friend Todt. We exchanged some unplesantries comparing our pay books and headed back past the rail tracks, past the Web and so to circle our English and French friends some more.
Today they're in a bad mood: They open fire on us, which only encourages me to fly a little higher. It's a dismal day over the front, but not so bad I have trouble staying under the clouds. Papenberg and Todt's observer take more pictures.
After Papenberg finishes we head home. I'm still a bit bored with the routine and idily tapping at switches as we begin our descent. I accidentally kill the magnetos. In reality, I'd just remapped my joystick so I had one button to turn off the engine in an emergency. I forgot what it did, and thought to myself 'What harm can it do?' so I pressed it. Oops.
After much scrambling and cursing, where my poor Aviatik tried to simultaneously stall AND dive, I got the engine to fire and landed behind Todt.
Where was Sandleitner's flight? I'd seen him turn away to the northeast shortly after takeoff to gain altitude, a step I found unnecessary. Had he been delayed? Worse, had some of those Moranes crossed the line? I knew there were some stationed at Fontaine, perhaps 20 miles away.
After about 20 minutes I washed up then headed into the mess where the orderly made me a sandwich. Stepping back into the sunlight, I heard the familiar drone of engines. I swore Offz. Sandleitner jumped out of his plane before it was completely stopped.
"Where the devil were you?" he demanded, storming to me and wiping his face with his scarf.
"You!" He pointed at my sandwich, which seemed to offend him. "You weren't on station when we arrived!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but we were there. Papenberg has a full camera as does Todt's man. Perhaps we were gone when you showed? There really is no reason to make a separate climb when..."
"We were supposed to go together so we could compare pictures!" he complained. "Now Army's going to want us to go back there."
I smirked and took a bite out of my sandwich. Army was going to send us back there anyway. Who was he kidding?
Sandleitner shook his head and stormed past me to clean up.
"Try the roast beef!" I called after him.