Hey all, sorry for the long hiatus. Anyway, my son was over here last week and we went onto the New Wings - Wargrounds server and went for a little photo-recon flight in an R.E.8, me flying and he took the observer's seat. This story is in two parts; the first bit is based on how we felt during and just after the flight, and the second bit is based on how I felt on seeing how the game scored the sortie. I think I might have gone a bit Black Adder on this one...
The R.E.8’s engine rumbled along as we climbed out toward our target area. Looking over the side to confirm our course along the river heading West I was greeted by a puff from a flack shell that shook the plane slightly. I took a breath to steady myself; we were high enough that hitting us would be more a matter of sheer bad luck on my part than any amount of skill on theirs. All the same, they insisted on lofting one at us every once in a while to try their chances.
I checked the map once again; follow the river’s trunk west to where its four tributaries met, and then follow the northern-most one to the clearing. The army group commander had a hunch that the Hun was marshalling reinforcements there and wanted us to have a look into it.
Another round burst far off our right wing drawing my attention. I stared at it for a moment before shaking my head at it. Kaiser Willie had most likely spent more on shells this morning than King George had spent on their entire aircraft, I didn’t understand why they kept-
A tracer whizzed by and there was a flash of dust off one wing where a round had struck through the canvas. This was a different matter entirely! Leaning over the edge of the cockpit I saw an Albatross beneath us, falling off and diving to regain speed; the iron crosses on its wings plainly visible as it gave me its full profile to look at. This was indeed a different matter entirely!
Perry was still scanning high and behind us; oblivious to this new threat! I swung at him, rapping his shoulder to get his attention. He looked at me and I pointed down underneath the aircraft and looked over the side again. The Albie was just starting to lift his nose again for another attack but the weapon mount obstructed Perry’s view, he obviously couldn’t tally the target. We needed a different plan!
Sitting back into the cockpit I rolled the plane right and pulled toward the cloudbanks. Tracers once again flew past, luck was still with me as my maneuver must have thrown off the Boschie’s aim and we were once again spared serious injury. I heard the ‘tacka-tacka-tacka” of our own Lewis guns as Perry finally got a clear shot at the villain. He rolled toward us and dove underneath once again. The world went white as we flew into the cloud bank and I rolled the plane back left hoping the Hun would lose our scent in the confusion.
Breaking back out into the open I frantically looked around, I didn’t see any sign of him and hoped that perhaps my gambit succeeded. Such hopes were dashed a split-second later to the rattle of paired Spandau’s. Wood shattered and splintered all around me, a bullet whined just past my ear and struck the engine cowling; denting it severely before ricocheting off into the stratosphere. Once again our Lewis guns replied to the attack and the tenacious Albie rolled away and dove underneath us.
Leaning over the edge of the cockpit I looked past the ruined bomb-sight and watched him level off then start climbing at us again. I was beyond reason and no-longer planning when I seated again, rolling the machine steeply to the left and pulling back on the yoke. Glancing over my shoulder I saw him coming up at us again; he almost had guns on us when he rolled his wings to match ours and his nose dropped away. He couldn’t manage both the climb and the turn at once!
Moments like these, an instance or two can last a lifetime. So fiercely did I concentrate on keeping that Hun fixed in that point in space, holding his plane perfectly still next to our stabilizer. I could hear every bullet as it left the Lewis’s and streaked with singular deadly purpose at that point. The Albie rolled away and dove hard to get away from the ferocious pounding just as the last of the ammunition left the barrels. The guns were silent and our foe was gone.
Rolling the wings level again I let the plane start climbing again; if that villain decided to come back for another try I wanted him to have to fight a few more feet of Newton’s gravity on top of a fresh set of the Lewis’s drums.
Perry was hurrying with rearming the guns when I heard him cry out, “I got ‘im Sah! I got ‘im!”
I looked over the side of the cockpit again and saw the Bosch in an ever-tightening spiral as his wings came apart piece-by-piece until only his bare fuselage was plummeting straight down towards its doom some 5000 feet below. I quickly looked around for more aircraft, but this seemed to be a lone hunter and for the first time in minutes I let go of the breath I didn’t know I had been holding. “Perry?! You hurt?”
“No sah! You?” he yelled back at me as he frantically scanned around the skies looking for more enemy.
“I’m fine! How’s the crate?”
He looked us over and shook his head, “The tail’s been shot-all-to-‘ell, an’ there’s holes all ovah!”
I felt the controls, and she seemed to still be behaving herself just fine. Standing up in my seat again I looked over the engine before sitting down and yelling back at him, “She’s still flying just fine! The engine’s been hit but I don’t see any leaks! We’re okay to continue mission but let’s keep a sharp eye out!”
We flew on and reached the target area a few minutes later when I noticed something odd with the fuel gauge… it had dropped by a quarter-tank since our brush and now. I thought, I was pretty sure of it anyway. I looked behind us but didn’t see anything abnormal against the white backdrop of clouds. Looking down, I could see we were in position and snapped off the first of our photographs. As I changed out the film as quickly as I could I glanced up at the fuel gauge again and sure enough it had dropped noticeably from the last time I’d checked it. “Perry! Are we leaking fuel?!”
He looked around behind us, leaning frightfully far over the side trying to get a view underneath us. When he hoisted himself back into his seat the look on his face told me before he spoke, “Aye sah… aye.”
I set to work with a new impetus; we had to hurry up, get these God-damn photographs, and get back to the aerodrome before the engine quit on them and left them stranded on the wrong-side of no-man’s-land. I hoisted the camera back into position and took the next picture, then the next, and the next. I worked with a driven fervor until I had the last area on film. Stowing the gear, I glanced at the fuel-gauge and saw that there was less than a quarter-tank remaining.
Swinging the nose around I flew as quickly back toward the mud as the girl would go; choosing to remain at altitude instead of diving to the deck just in case we needed the extra room to glide. I strained my eyes several times trying to get a glimpse of the aerodrome to no avail. I glanced back at the fuel gauge; the needle was resting firmly on the peg just below ’00’, all that was left was whatever fuel was in the sump and the lines.
Finally I spotted the aerodrome, breathing a sigh of relief I throttled back the engine and began descending toward the earth. As the nose settled downward, the exhaust note dropped in pitch for a time, and then abruptly disappeared. Experimentally I opened the throttle again; nothing. I was suddenly thankful that I had decided to hold onto our altitude. “No going-around on this one; I have one shot to stick it.”
We were actually a high and descending too slowly so I started slipping the craft to help with the decent. Loading a red flare into the signal gun I fired it over the side so everyone on the ground understood I was in a state of emergency. I kept slipping the aircraft as we descended until I could make out the individual trees in the stands near the field. She didn’t seem to want to come down and it wasn’t until reflecting afterwards on how lightened she must have been with no fuel in the tanks.
I turned onto our final approach, the propeller wind milling uselessly as we descended. The ground came up to greet us and I flared out, the propeller stopping just as the wheels bumped the ground. We trundled along with the tail still flying past the first row of tents and onto the grounds proper. As soon as the tail stopped flying I pulled hard back on the yoke to dig the skid into the ground and the plane came to a halt perfectly in the middle of the field just a few feet from where she had been parked that morning.
I grinned, feeling like I had gotten off the hook for the second time today and very happy with the landing. Grabbing the plates I left Perry with the machine and ran to the processing tent to turn them in.
I felt pretty good about myself the rest of that afternoon and into the evening; cheating death twice, getting the mission through, and executing a flawless landing despite it being dead stick. The mechanics had the aircraft repaired quickly and she would be available for the next round of missions first thing in the morning.
And then Sergeant Mayfield updated the pilot roster in the mess that evening…
I confronted him immediately, “Pilot rating ‘1’, crash landing, worst pilot in the squadron?!”
He shrugged and nodded, “Yes sir, Colonel Bungelhoff designed a new system for rating the flyers in our company and I double checked the results myself.”
I was incredulous, “Colonel Bunglehoff is an inbred-drooling moron with less real-world experience than an English toffee… And how does his ‘system’ justify calling that a crash-landing?! I set that crate down more gently than a feather dropping from a bookcase!”
He spoke firmly, but sympathetically, “Yes, but the engine wasn’t running, and we did have to deploy the maintenance team to your location. I understand they did have to expend several supplies to bring your crate back up to fighting trim.”
I glared at him furiously, “Your ‘maintenance team’ was one chap who had to walk 10 feet from his tent with a wad of chewing gum and a roll of gaffer tape.”
“I understand he was pretty fond of that chewing gum sir. Regardless, Captain Leonards wishes to have a word with you some time this evening about your piloting rating… he didn’t seem very happy about it.”
I felt as if the whole world had quite suddenly gone stark raving mad, or that perhaps I was the one who had and all of this made perfect sense. After a moment I muttered back to him darkly, “I’ll make some time for it…”
He left and Perry looked at the board for a moment before clapping my shoulder, “I wouldn’t worry about it too much sah, everyone knows what a thankless job photo-recon is; but we know what it is we do out there and that should be enough for anybody.”
He kept studying the board for a moment before nodding to himself and quietly saying, “Number four in the squadron, not bad…”
And that’s when I shoved him, “Oh, shut it Perry!”