Mission No. 7 for Hauptmann Kiener
(note: 1.4/1.2/1.1.1 GPU Tuner Patch combo. in place; BB's clouds ver. 2.9.2 loaded and functioning well; JJJ's Multimod ver. 2.1 activated; claims/promotions are at "medium" difficulty settings, as for all previous missions)
The C.O. was again in an agitated state, after the tumultous events of the last several days, and he suggested a long bombing run on the enemy's aerodrome southwest of Bailleul for the morning of the 22nd of Nov. Aviatiks of Bosta 1 would be dropping bombs on the 'drome known as La Gorgue, as would the two resident Aviatiks from Ghistelles. The idea was that Kiener and Hutzenlaub accompany Bosta 2's Aviatiks to the destination, and to loiter about for some time until all German two-seaters had vacated the area. The suggestion seemed reasonable enough, although Hauptmann Kiener was somewhat hesitant to get into the now finally repaired, colorful Eindecker that had once belonged to v. Pranz. For assurance, he inspected it as it was being rolled out of its hangar, with the morning sun glistening on its wings, and with some riggers doubly checking that all the control wires were tight and the wing-warping assembly in order.
'Looking pensive, sir?,' was Hutzenlaub's question, as he emerged from the other side of the hangar to give his own monoplane a look-over before they ascended. 'Indeed,' the Hauptmann commented - 'today we must break the string of bad luck that has plagued us for the last several days, and to keep in one piece.' 'Aye, that I can agree with,' reflected the Leutnant, without indicating whether he meant the bad luck or that they keep in one piece. In the meantime, they had done up their gear, and also packed tightly a couple of flasks that would be of benefit on the lengthy flight. 'Two flasks?,' asked Kiener. 'Something I learnt a while back on those nasty, long reconnoitering flights, Herr Hauptmann, when I was with Bosta 1,' responded Hutzenlaub - 'one flask of water for standard procedure, the other filled either with cognac or schnapps, for emergency procedure.' 'Most interesting,' was the Hauptmann's response - 'my second flask will in that case include an elixir of bitter, to settle the stomach and sooth the nerves, although, if you follow standard procedure and fly slightly above me, and about half-a-kilometer back, Leutnant, I am sure that I will not experience any indigestion; and now, if you please.'
Their Oberursels had by then been primed, the signal given, and the chalks removed, with both monoplanes ascending quickly into the fresh, late November air, to follow briefly the two Aviatiks that, with their slower speed, had been given a head-start. Observing that all was well, with no enemy aeroplanes in the vicinity - Kiener motioned with his wings and he and the Leutnant proceeded to gain alt., with their noses pointed in the direction of Diksmuide. For the last several days the Hauptmann had been thinking of the malevolent balloon there that had marked v. Pranz's demise, and he was interested in paying the gasbag a visit. 'Today is a fine, sunny time for gasbag bursting,' he thought to himself, while the Eindecker continued to carry him ever higher. They passed the lines slightly north of Diksmuide at an alt. of about 2000 m, scanning the skies to the left and right, back, and above, to make certain that no English or French machines were preparing to give them the jump. With things looking serene and still sleepy at this early hour of the morning, Kiener thinned out the rotary to four-fifths power and began a steady descent, with the balloon already in his sights. One or two glances back were given to make sure that Hutzenlaub was following - and then the chatter of the Spandau, a quick and noisy form of communication, to be followed by a stream of smoke rising from the stricken gasbag. No sooner had the Hauptmann passed over the balloon than an immense detonation was heard that slightly threw the Eindecker upwards - but with Kiener, most joyous, still in control of the aeroplane.
Composure maintained, and the target destroyed, Kiener signalled that they continue onwards, towards their destination - while simultaneously gaining much-needed altitude. Soon they were at 1500 m, when another balloon came into view - hovering over the meadows, and located roughly between Diksmuide and Ypres. The same procedure was now followed, even more quickly than with the gasbag above Diksmuide. A steady dive, the engine this time at two-thirds power, the Hauptmann carefully keeping the sights as stable as possible, and then a goodly series of rounds being sent in this balloon's direction - to be followed by hissing, steam, black smoke and the satisfying explosion. 'My wonder, they certainly put these gasbags up rather quickly after I down them!,' thought the Hauptmann at this point, but more flying awaited. They continued further south, now veering slightly to the east, for both flyers knew that here, most likely, another gasbag would be waiting - and indeed it was, floating rather naively above the western outskirts of Ypres. Kiener here decided to dive at full throttle, coming awfully close to 200 km/h, but the Spandau's sights were still held steadily over the balloon. It was best here, thought Kiener, to swoop in and be done with it as soon as possible, for there were stronger concentrations of rifle and artillery around this pesky bag of hydrogen. And so it was: a quick swoop downwards, as that of an eagle accelerating towards its prey, and then several percussive pops of the Spandau - to be greeted with flames, and a lovely, lingering explosion that put a smile on Kiener's face once he glanced back to admire the results of his handiwork.
Soon after, as they were gaining alt. between Ypres and Messines, Hutzenlaub gestured towards another balloon located not too far from Messines - but Kiener signalled in the negative, since this would now mean a loss of much-needed altitude that would be of great benefit as they passed over and above the two British 'dromes located west of Armentieres, and that were already known by the Germans for their collection of Morane Parasols. In fact, as early as the spring of 1915, a certain Capt. Dobson from one of those 'dromes was responsible for afflicting noticeable damage to the Pfalz factory south of Lens. The name was of course not known to the German military since the English top brass preferred to keep their pilots veiled perpetually with a curtain of modesty, but the exploits certainly were making the rounds - and word of this had eventually reached Bosta 2 as well. Kiener, though brave, was no fool, and decided that unnecessary risk was now uncalled for. And so he and Hutzenlaub thus proceeded, at the now safe altitude of 2400 m, towards their destination that was not too far further south of Bailleul and the Imperial Forest immediately below Bailleul.
'What a lovely and clear morning,' here Kiener again pondered - 'if it wasn't for the war, some leasurely flying would be most welcome.' And, indeed, the sun's rays were now higher up in the east, presenting a scene worthy of the Kodak & Eastman Company, even more so once the two Aviatiks from Bosta 1 entered the picture frame, to do a wide turn towards the south, while edging closer to La Gorgue. Here Hutzenlaub wagged his wings again; but, Kiener, first observing the skies, could not understand what was being signalled - there were no enemy aircraft in the vicinity. Granted, he did spot a solitary gunbus floating above one of the 'dromes near Armentieres, but it was more than a thousand meters below, and of no concern. Soon, a whizzing sound was heard as the Bosta 1 Aviatiks began dropping bombs over their target, to do several more wide turns and to repeat the process. They then pointed again northwards and slowly disappeared, but in the meantime their own Aviatiks, from Bosta 2, had arrived, also to drop their luggage on La Gorgue, and then to proceed merrily northward, slightly below the two Eindeckers that were still doing wide, patrolling circles in the area.
'It is about time now that we head back as well,' here thought Kiener, and motioned to the Leutnant. The signal was followed by a wide, descending turn towards Armentieres, with the duo dropping down to about 2000 m alt., and purposefully so - for the Hauptmann was most curious, with his remaining rounds, to try for the problematic gasbag that was located on the eastern side of the town. Unexpectedly, however, and while they were descending rapidly - Hutzenlaub levelled out - and instead did a wide turn again, to head towards the River Lys and the front lines between Neuve Chapelle and Loos. 'What insolence!,' Kiener roared over the sound of his Oberursel, 'can it be that Hutzenlaub has gone mad?' - what could be the matter he thought. The Hauptmann's Eindecker here entered a steep, spiralling dive towards Hutzenlaub, maintaining a precarious angle for Kiener better to observe the situation - and, now it was evident - that Hutzenlaub's Oberursel had ground to a halt, with the monoplane now gliding towards the lines. 'I will leave you here awhile my friend,' now thought the Hauptmann - 'proceed at that exact angle,' he further ruminated, and now motioned with his hands, while holding the control stick between his knees; 'proceed exactly like so.' This was greeted by a nod from the Leutnant, but Kiener had already entered a dive, to attack the balloon below. And a troublesome attack it was, two times hampered by turbulence that threw the Hauptmann's aim off. Only on the third attempt was the gasbag on fire and deflating at a satisfyingly rapid rate, to sink onto the grass near the outskirts of Armentieres. 'Dreadful winds, they are always here around this balloon!,' uttered Kiener - 'but where is the Leutnant?'
The Eindecker here entered an ascent, at full throttle, and was soon near the Lys, with Hutzenlaub's Eindecker spotted below, no more than 100 meters above the ground by this point, and gliding directly above the river, in the vicinity of two bridges. Kiener remained slightly above, to hear occasional rifle fire that was taking shots at Hutzenlaub. Miraculously, the Leutnant did not crash but proceeded to glide, finally alighting about 50 meters south of the river and along the trench lines, to come to a stop near a rather large, carbonized-looking tree that had seen better days. Kiener leaned his engine and dove in, doing a slow flyby to inspect - and to be greeted with a wave from Hutzenlaub. Here again, rifle shots were heard and the Hauptmann opened the throttle fully, realizing that it was best not to advertize Hutzenlaub's location to the entire line of trenches in the vicinity. With less than 20% fuel remaining, and only 60 rounds in the Spandau, Kiener flew on towards a small 'drome near Lens, and that v. Pranz had told him of many missions ago. But, already in visual distance of the 'drome, two specks were now spotted to his left, near the outer disk of the sun's rays. These specks then became larger, and soon the grunting of their LeRhone rotaries was unmistakable - two beige Parasols, British, were returning to the 'dromes near Armentieres! And soon a waltz erupted, with Kiener pulling up underneath the two Parasols to assess the situation further, the two Parasols then dancing around him, with each letting off a few rounds from their guns, and then coming back together again, only to repeat the process a couple of more times. Here, Kiener danced some more around them - 'but enough of this early morning prancing,' he thought. Kiener picked out the one that was slightly lagging behind, came up again, a bit below and to the right of him, and emptied first 20 or so rounds into the fuselage, and then the remaining 30 or 40 rounds into the Parasol's rotary. A few puffs of smoke then emerged from under the cowling, and the propeller spun to a stop. The observer was nonetheless a stubborn fellow and kept cracking with his Lewis M.G. at Kiener, even while the Parasol was descending. Kiener circled a few times until the Parasol finally alighted, near the lines where Hutzenlaub was last seen, but on the German side, with the pilot and observer captured soon afterwards. The other Parasol had by now gained noticeable height and was already on the other side of the river; and, besides, Kiener's Spandau was now empty.
Less than 10 minutes later Kiener's Eindecker was in front of one of the empty hangars at the 'drome north of Lens, with five claims being wired to Ghistelles, for four balloons and a British Parasol. Also wired was Hutzenlaub's approximate location. Soon, the C.O. was already on the phone, chronically animated, to congratulate Kiener that all five claims had been verified, even by German batteries in the relevant sectors. 'Yes, that is all good and well, and I am most appreciative, delighted really, sir, but how to get to Hutzenlaub - and his Eindecker, it is still intact, possibly to fall into the enemy's hands?' - Kiener asked with a worried tone. 'Yes, the Eindecker is no laughing matter - that is a problem - perhaps he will manage to destroy it somehow, Kiener; from your description of the location, it is likely that he is on the British side of the lines, although awfully close to no man's land - no way of telling what will happen now. Go have supper later at Schmidt's in Lens, v. Pranz may have told you about it,' responded the C.O. 'Yes, excellent sausages and sauerkraut,' was Kiener's rather irritated response. 'Ah!, so you know about it, wonderful,' replied the C.O. - 'now good day to you and let me know if any news of Hutzenlaub comes through; I expect you back on the 24th, if you need a day for repairs on the Eindecker.'
While this was transpiring at the 'drome north of Lens, Hutzenlaub dreaded the strangest of predicaments that he had ever fallen into. The River Lys was visible, and its two bridges, behind the tail of his Eindecker. In front of the nose, and the tree that was masking the aeroplane, was a stretch of uninhabitable mud and depressions, about 30 meters wide, and ending with the German dugouts on the other side. Immediately behind him were the enemy's dugouts, some 15 to 20 meters removed. This was no good at all he thought. He had already gathered his kit, made sure that both of his flasks were intact, and was now resting, and trying to be as still as possible, in a depression in the ground next to the tree, and underneath one of the monoplane's wings. 'If only I can hold out here for a while, and then somehow to withdraw into another of the many indentations in no man's land, there to await nightfall - it may then be possible to get back to my side of the lines.'
Other thoughts also flowed rapidly through his mind now, some of elation at having managed to bring the Eindecker down onto the only flat spot of earth in the vicinity, and some of dread - as to the consequences, either of being captured, to survive the rest of the war in imprisonment, for who can know how long it will last - or, to squeeze into no man's land and be pulverized by artillery fire later in the day. He thought back to his school days and boyhood tricks, some of which might prove helpful now - at any rate, at least to help pass the time. The flask with cognac was also beneficial, with not too much of it to be enjoyed, but only a small portion, to harden the nerves, to strengthen the perspective, and also to help Hutzenlaub to hear, in his head, the many pleasant Kaiser Marsches
that he enjoyed listening to, and as played by various military bands, when he was still a young and curious student in Baden-Baden.
His greatest worry was that there was no way of setting the Eindecker on fire - to make sure that it did not fall into the enemy's hands, to be dismantled, inspected, also to have the interruptor gear studied. This would not do - and would be a shambles if it became known. He devised soon after a perverse plan, to make his presence known, with the whistling of some of the tunes he remembered as a boy, and thus to draw the enemy batteries' attention to his location. But he would only do this later in the day. Contemplating these possibilities, and others, the hours went by, with only occasional sniper fire heard, a ricochet or two in the vicinity, one or two plucks at the wings of the monoplane - but that was all.
Soon, it was twilight, and the outrageous plan was in effect. A few loud whistles and ditties were uttered by the Leutnant, with Hutzenlaub already crawling away into no man's land through a space where no barbed wire was present. He was slowly and stealthily crawling on all fours, already all muddied and filthy, but this was also serving as fine camouflage. It was not possible for him to estimate precise locations since he was deep in mud by that point, and still moving forward, when several loud detonations were heard emanating from the back, to be followed by a singular image, of the Eindecker's shattered propeller falling in Hutzenlaub's vicinity. He then remained motionless, for several minutes, while the detonations continued - in total he counted six or seven large eruptions, and then silence again, to be broken by some occasional rifle fire, sometimes close by, other times heard from a distance. He resumed his crawling, stopping only when he found himself in one of the larger depressions, about a meter in depth, and that allowed for him to remain unnoticed until nightfall. It would be entirely reckless now to pop out his head and verify destruction of the Eindecker, and so he kept still - assuming, and hoping, that the splintered propeller that fell nearby was evidence enough of the enemy's foolish battery - that had pounded hard what should have been considered a valuable military trophy.
Another couple of artillery barrages took place as night fell, but then all was relatively quiet, except for the intermittent pow-pow-whiz sound of a stray shell. Here, Hutzenlaub thought of some of his relatives, and their stories from his youth, of how two fellows from his family had worked as hired guns for Wells Fargo in the America of the 1850s, before returning to Baden-Baden prior to the Civil War erupting there. 'Pow-pow' went a stray artillery shell again, with Hutzenlaub imitating the sound and imagining himself as a pistolero
from another century and involved in other distant skirmishes. But soon he came to his senses, took a swig of cold water from the other flask, and resumed his slow and steady crawl - to emerge, or rather, fall into, one of the German trenches. 'Hallo, und was ist das?,' grunted out one of the voices in the trench. 'A fellow soldier and an airman, Leutnant Hutzenlaub,' was the response. This was followed by a chorus of loud laughter - 'and if this is the condition of our airmen,' said one of the soldiers, 'we are certainly in good hands.' More grunts and laughter followed, with a drink of schnapps then passed around to soften the jabs, and to cap off both the Leutnant's dexterity and originality of escape.
The next day was, in a way, anticlimactic almost. Hutzenlaub had been transported to the 'drome near Lens during the cover of the previous night, stories of adventure had been exchanged, and Kiener then realized why the Leutnant had a few times responded strangely to signals given during the flight on the morning of the 22nd. His fuel tank had received some minor damage from ground fire during one of the balloon attacks, and the gasoline had disappeared half an hour earlier than would otherwise have been the case. 'But enough of these anxious and morbid tales of escape,' eventually commented Kiener - 'tonight we dine at Schmidt's in style, and tomorrow we return to Ghistelles, I in my repaired Eindecker and you in another one that we shall kindly borrow from the 'drome here.' 'But why the supper and celebration?,' asked the Leutnant - 'granted, you are now a grosse Kanonen
with your 10 victories, surpassing both Immelmann's and Boelcke's scores; however, there seems to be other information you are withholding, as you typically do.'
Here, Kiener merely smiled; he would reveal all at Schmidt's, namely, that the C.O. had wired him again on the 23rd, the slip of paper indicating that he was being promoted to Rittmeister upon his return to Ghistelles, and that he would be the very first of German flyers to be awarded the coveted Pour le Mérite
. It would be given to him by the Kaiser, personally - at a later date. Kiener hoped that the medal would eventually become known as Der blaue Eberhard