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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Bloody April Day One, Last Mission of the Day XIII Army Wing

Mission 5 Photo-Recon Road Network

Elton tells his escort he wants to switch it up, the NIE17s to take a high-altitude approach while the Fe2 comes in underneath them at 4K. “This will take 1,000 meters off my initial dive on target and give me more distance from any German aircraft. They may not see me if you two get in their face fast enough. We stack up and go in together.”

The two Americans nodded glumly and rolled their Lucky’s nervously between dry fingers and lips. They couldn’t take their eye off the sky. It was so wet.

“Lt. the planes are ready for takeoff.” This was the Flight Deck Officer on Duty (FDOOD) Adams. The Scotsman had seen fit to have his deck crew stay on top of the chocks under the flight’s wheels. No one was to leave a plane unattended once on the runway. The wind and rain made accidents more likely to happen which would damage planes. But even in this mid-day’s morass Adams still strutted with his clan bag pipes under arms. In tartan kilt Adams would follow behind the departing planes under his watch, the almighty screeching sound (which was the source of the 11ths squad mascot) of old Jacobite martial songs ringing out. Ballads of blood-frenzy, of doomed souls fighting to the last lifting them up into battle. All were glad not to hear any of it over the diesel engines when planes took off. 

The three pilots dashed from the assembly hall and under the wing of their planes as quickly as they could. Grounds crew hoisted them up and once secured they slid off the plane and the choks removed. Elton took to the air first followed by Brendon and then Tye. The three Americans had been through flight school together in Yorkshire so their flight plan was quickly set up. In fifteen minutes they should see the front lines.

Everyone but Reinhardt expected the Allies to throw it in for the day. The Roten Spinnen could claim three confirmed kills on the day. Two Fe2s and a Nieuport fighter. Dietmar has been confirmed a kill. The front reports his Alb2 was shot down by a lone Allied fighter over No Man’s Land. This has made the men sour along with the black weather and everyone wants to drink. No more flights, let us just drink.

The groan was palatable when the air raid siren warned of danger, another threat which must be met by the Spiders. Reinhardt was out of his tent before it sounded, it seemed. He was in front of Nicole’s tent when the grumbling Lt. stepped forth. “I got this sir. Those two fucking Italians need not sleep in any longer. Let me send them up Reinhardt. If they don’t make it back...” Here the Austrian gave an exaggerated shrug, revealing the true state of his intoxication. On his knees in the mud he waved two thickly-haired hands up in the air. “I say send the EYE-TALYUNSS!” Too late. Reinhardt did not expect the Austrian to hit the bottle until six o'clock. Nicole was a superstitious swine and kept to his routines, drinking like a fish from six to midnight being one of them, but he had never seen the Ace so blatently flirt with a court-martial. Maybe Nicole only flies when the Baron is in rotation. Manfred was on two days leave and may be reassigned anyways. 

He walked away from the blubbering Nicole and told the Deck Officer on Duty to pull out the Italian’s d2’s. “He doesn’t know about Diameter then.” Reinhardt mused. If Nicole found out in his current state his friend had been killed while he drank himself stupid he would likely end up shooting the Italians, some how reasoning it was the Dago’s fault.

Vasco and Teibaldo trotted out to their lime-green fighters purring on the runway. Despite their age the d2’a were in showroom condition. They were part of a gift from the Kaiser when the Italian’s made their disastrous junket into Ethiopia. Somehow this pair of fighters was left behind in the hangers of Sicily and forgotten. Vasco and Teibaldo, having the dubious fortune of never seeing action while in Libya, were recalled upon their discovery and sent to the Western Front to fly them. Reinhardt had no measure of their value as pilots. Perhaps Nicole has a point. No need to risk German lives when one doesn’t have to. Capt. Reinhardt gives his orders to the Italian aid and returns to his tent to finish his reports.

The pair of Italianians in their striking fighter planes stay in visual contact all the way to the front, but the weather has spread them a 1000m apart. At 3K Teobaldo’s Cativo Grifone is out of position to protect Vasco's Tutti tre Morti. Teobaldo spots the enemy bomber reported the same time he hears Vasco being shot at by two approaching Nieuport fighters. His orders are to attack all recon aircraft, but to do so would leave his wingman to die! Teobaldo hits the throttle and hammers the Alb2 up, up. The Allied fighters strike together in a head-on attack against Vasco. It is near suicide, but they do rip up Vasco’s plane. Every time he hits right rudder there is a violent shaking. He must have hit one of the Allied planes, it has dropped out of formation. The other NIE17 banks right for another pass. 

The damaged plane is the Sick Vulture, Brendon’s plane. The damage is so extensive a non-powered crash landing is inevitable. The squad will never get a definitive answer to which of the many planes that crashed down in No Man’s Land this day was his and if some how he survived.

Tye can only hope the recon plane is far from the fight now. He only cares to get his first kill and then head for home. He drops the Mad Sparrow’s nose and comes at the lower Alb2 as steep as he can. The Italian pilot can’t even get a snapshot off at the NIEU17 as it barrels by over his 10 o’clock. A hole ripped and flapped open where bullets danced down one of the wings. Teobaldo rolls the Cativo Grifone right and makes his wide turn to reengage. Tye points his plane back up and dares the green Albatross to follow. The pilot of the Cativo Grifone obliges and gives chase. The Tutti tre Morti dives, but not to attack. Vasco is seeking his wingman’s left. Per textbook. While not an aggressive move there is nothing to fault the Italian for flying “smart”. 

But aggressiveness has a quality all its own. Tye stretches the seconds he has ahead of the trailing d2. Quick bursts from its guns make it clear it is closing in on his six. Tye juggles his throttle and peddles. The Nieuport complains as Tye bends the tail over clockwise and begins a violent corkscrew, shedding altitude. His timing is well calculated. He gets five seconds of reversing the tables and trashes Teobaldo’s rudder controls. Vasco is now on Tye’s tail, but his aim is off in the stormy weather. The Mad Sparrow takes a few shots through the canvas, nothing more. Tye pulls an extreme loop which the Italian is unable to counter. “His plane must be crippled as well!” Tye thinks as the adrenaline pumps through him, the death-dealing cold all but forgotten in the heat of battle. Completing the loop Tye’s luck holds and is able to run a long burst through the Albatross from stem to stern. Black smoke pours from the stricken airplane and it careens towards the ground. More gunfire reminds Tye he still is in danger. Diving right and seeking a westerly course he gauges the last enemy plane cannot keep up. He points the Nieuport west, locks the throttle open and scans the skies until the front is well behind him.

Elton has already brought in the Fe2. He had taken the critical photos needed and the film had already moved up the chain of command. Hopefully it paid off, XIII Army had lost pilots and planes all day up and down the front. The 11th lost two planes and their pilots. 60th lost Crimson Claw, Comanche and Sick Vulture along with their pilots. Duke survived his crash landing but Swamp Fever and Duke would not return to the war. Six pilots in all. The “Night Sheets” could claim two D2’s shot down. They were losing 3-1. As far as the Royal Flying Corp is concerned the war in the air was proceeding on schedule and in their favor!

After debriefing Tye found Lee in his tent. “I was hoping you could tell me about your day.” Lee said. To entice the tired pilot he revealed an unopened bottle of Old Irish from inside uniform. 

“What do you want to know?”

“Not here, this place has no atmosphere. Follow me.” Tye had to hurry after the quick striding Lee. The urge for a drink was strong, overriding all present needs. If he was going to relive today’s action a stiff drink was the only sane thing to do. Lee kept walking, almost jogging now, across the soggy runway and towards the dark forest at the north edge of the aerodrome.

“Where are we going?” Tye asked again. Lee swatted the cigarette out of his hand before he could light it. “Shut up, you want to spoil it?” At the fence line Lee pulled back a small, ripped up part of the fence and held it expectantly. “What are you waiting for?” There was nothing to do but follow his lead. On the other side it was a wet ten-minute walk through the woods. Tye was going to demand a drink before he took another step forward when they came out on a cart track running behind the quiet homes of a French town. After passing three such places Lee stopped at a large, two-story brick building. Stairs in the back descended to a basement entrance and here Lee gave a sharp knock. Tye smiled as the door was open and warm light and warm music spilled out. There were some Canadian brass playing high-stakes Canasta and 6 French pilots entertained the hostess with their drunken pledges of eternal love. The mousy bar tender, a short, blue-buttoned gentleman in his fifties called “Popaul” offers the two Americans a table and lights another oil lamp. Glasses are produced, francs are passed and Lee pours the eagerly awaited Old Irish.

“Those bombers are going to get us killed.” Lee states flatly.

“Not the Germans?” counters Tye.

“Oh, Jerry will get us sure as anything. But they are going to do it a lot quicker while we play wet nurse to the 11th. Those Fe2’s have no business up there against these d3’s.”

“Well, the Fe’s are going up tomorrow. And we will be going up with them.” Tye salutes the granite hard truth with another swallow of the Old Irish.

“Yes, but how far do we have to follow them? As soon as Jerry shows up they are supposed to disappear leaving us to face the attack. I say we disappear and hunt Jerry before the bombers attract attention.” Lee has given this some thought since he saw Hildred and Taylor go up in flames. Three drinks deep he lays it out on the table for Tye. “We keep up with flying the bombers low, nothing above 3K, fighters at ceiling at 4.4K. As soon as we see trouble, we go at it. The bomber has really been on its own anyways. If the Germans want to shoot it down isn’t nothing we can do to stop it.”

“So what do you want to do, put the 11th on notice?” Tye was being sarcastic. Lee made to close the deal. Pouring Tye another glassful he said conspiratorially, “I tell Emmerson to put us together. As long as you don’t raise a stink it should be no problem. After that we do our best to stay tight up there and let the bombers fend for themselves. I guarantee Jerry will target an easy kill over two fighters who look like they know what they are doing.”

The French hostess of the speakeasy peels away from her countrymen, stands on the sturdy bench and begins singing a song currently popular among the men. The native pilots accompany her in the sodden shouts of the truly drunk while enthusiastically shaking the bench between red-flushed hands.

“Here, why don’t you hang onto this.” Lee passes over the whiskey bottle. “I’’ll go catch Emmerson before he turns in. I recommend on the way back you keep to the road. You’ll just fall in the river if you go back through the woods. The MPs won’t give you any trouble trying to get in to the aerodrome. I’ll make sure we get an afternoon mission tomorrow.”

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