The early morning contact patrols had just gone out. The ‘Long Patrol’ was thundering off into the distance. Soon there would be nothing left to disturb the sunny silence but the returning birds or a buzzing fly awakening from a deep sleep.
I wasn’t flying that day. Although I had a bit of an earache and a bad cold, the promise of spring was in the air. I had been on the squadron for about two months and already had a few missions, maybe a couple of dozen. Before this I was an observer, having transferred in from an infantry unit. After some of my experiences in the infantry, life on an RFC aerodrome, even over that harsh, cold winter, was quite civilized.
And I was relaxed, confident, having been accepted into the company and camaraderie of the mess. Life felt good even though I couldn’t go with my mates on this mission. It wasn’t that I felt that bad, it’s just that at fifteen thousand feet or so, an earache can be a serious problem.
From a previous bout of some kind of flux, I knew that only a few days off and you lose the keen edge, that fine focus that could make a lot of difference between death and survival. Still, a holiday once in a blue moon can’t hurt.
So I’m standing there in front of the dispersal hut, and right next to it was the first of the row of empty hangars. The mechanics had gone for breakfast or back to bed, whichever suited the individual taste. It was peaceful, and a couple of hundred yards away, I could see the children of a nearby French peasant family going along past the end of our lane. There were a couple of hammocks slung under a clump of trees, and while the branches were not fully leaved-out, it would be a fine place for a nap.
I guess the children were going to head off to school. Some of their friends came and off they went. Kids always make me smile, and this family had provided us with a lot of family atmosphere, and had sort of adopted us. Anyway, I heard a droning noise approach from the south, and while the engine had a familiar note, I couldn’t quite place it. Sometimes ‘big shots’ and ‘Brass Hats’ who had access to personal planes or the power to requisition one would show up at the aerodrome on some trumped-up excuse or another. The major was leading this morning, on the weekly Long Patrol. This duty was rotated through the squadrons in this sector.
I called in through the window of the Recording Office & Command Post & Miscellaneous Shack, for that’s what it said on a crudely-carved plank nailed up over the door.
“I wonder who the hell that is?” I called.
No sound came from inside, but maybe he had gone to the latrine or over to the cookhouse for a cup of coffee. The aircraft was very unusual, in that it appeared to have a glossy black fuselage and white wings, at least on the oblique angle I was seeing.
Idly watching the unfamiliar shape enter a left-hand circuit at about seven-hundred-fifty feet, the south east orientation of the sun, and a bit of morning fog bank, turned it into a soft grey silhouette.
The gentleman piloting the machine reduced throttle, lined her up into the western breeze, and dropped her down first time without a hitch, which is pretty good, for even the best sometimes have to pass over the field once or twice and study the situation before attempting it.
The graceful shape taxied up and the engine sputtered to a stop. I straightened up, preparing to snap a bold salute, gaping in disbelief. Bulky in the highly-polished black cavalry boots, leather coat, blue breeches with a red stripe up the leg, massive gloves, holding a pen and clipboard, helmet, scarf, and goggles, this apparition pushed his green-tinted goggles up on his forehead, while I took the clipboard. He struggled out of his gloves and pulled some thick glasses from a deep pocket on his right breast. He put them on and blinked in the wan sunlight. Nothing out of the ordinary?
He stood there as I studied the brilliant blue eyes twinkling at me in a kind of humourous bonhomie. Fortunately I happened to be wearing a pair of stout walking shoes as I had been preparing to go a-hunting for rabbits, pigeons or whatever I could hit. It would have been embarrassing to be wearing slippers and striped pajamas when a man like that arrived.
The silly bugger had a basket of eggs and cheese, unbelievable! Hopping on one foot, I could barely contain myself. How long could it last?
Unable to believe my great good fortune to have this gentleman all to myself for a few more minutes, I clicked my heels together as smartly as I could and gave a dashing salute.
“Guten Morgen,” he told me affably.
“Wilkommen,” I purred at the Unteroffizier, as he stretched a little in the morning breeze.
“Kommen zie hier,” I said politely and courteously, turning and beckoning. “Ja, ja, wilkommen.”
I opened up the door and held it open in polite fashion as he hesitated and then went into the dark interior. He stumbled in the darkness and I pulled up a chair for him. Then I made a show of dropping his clipboard on the CO’s desk. Loudly, enough for him to know what I was doing. I pretended to look for a pen.
“Scheiss!” I murmured. “Dumbkopft.”
I rummaged in a drawer.
“Gott im Himmel…” I grunted.
“Wo ist…?” his mouth opened up but I was right on him, even as I pulled out another drawer and mucked about in the contents.
“Berlin,” I sighed.
Then I leaped up out of my seat behind the desk and scooted out the rear door while he took a load off of his feet. And my luck held, for right there, coming back with a tray and a steaming coffee pot and cups, was Mitch, the recording officer.
“Give me that!” I whispered excitedly. “Sh-sh-sh!”
I put the tray down on an old table beside the wall.
“Come around and look at this.”
And with my hand literally holding his face shut, I pushed, poked and prodded him into the alleyway between the office and hangar number one. I was a little rough with him, but it was well worth it. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
“What the…fuck?” he gasped. “No! You can’ be serious…”
“Get a fucking guard on that. Tell him I’ll be taking off in a minute. Make sure they know me,” I told him. “Don’t think. Sorry sir. But, seriously, just do it? Please?”
He had a silly grin on his face as he gazed deeply into my eyes in glee. He was wild-eyed, in fucking delight! These desk jockeys, they don’t get out much. The man looked at me, looked back at the plane. I could see his mind go.
“This is too good a chance to miss…” he was thinking out loud and we had no time for that, in my humble opinion.
“Carpe diem, Captain. Seize the day.”
“I knew that would come back to haunt me,” he grumbled, still grinning though.
There was a little bit too much white around the eyes, but he was coming around…
“Come on captain,” I pleaded. “See if you can keep the boys quiet for about five or ten minutes.”
“You are one sick bastard,” he breathed in awe. “What the hell are you up to?”
“Just play it by ear and let the ball roll, and the chips fall where they may,” I begged him.
He smiled and nodded.
“Some things are worth any risk…why, I believe it was you that told me that, once upon a time. I’m just taking the lessons you taught us and now I’m applying them.”
He nodded again.
“Damn it all, son-of-a-bitch,” was all he said.
Then I nipped back to the tray, and went into the building, to see how far I could get with this little charade. The real trick was to keep from bursting out laughing, or being asked the wrong question.
“Ah, café? Camerade?” I beckoned to the German pilot, who had been frankly dozing in the warmth of the stove, which was still lit.
“Ja, ja,” he grinned as I laid out all the stuff.
He had a sleek, well-fed look about him, with thick but straight brown hair, very long, piled up on his head, combed around in a swirl.
“Kraft durch freude!” I murmured at him, and he guffawed, ‘strength through joy.’
It may have been some help in the current situation, but he seemed to be gazing at a photo torn from the ‘Zeitung’ or news, a paper confiscated from a prisoner. It was pinned up on the wall behind Mitch’s desk. The Intelligence boys provided us with it, just so we knew who and what we were dealing with, (sometimes.)
A picture of an aristocratic face…it was the face of the Baron Manfred von Richtofen. He was wearing his most recent decoration.
Still, I was convinced this man was as blind as anyone I’ve ever seen without an actual white cane.
“Nein, danke shoen,” he said, taking out a pouch and pipe.
Excellent! It takes some men days to smoke a pipe. This one seemed in the mood to relax.
Thank God, but he didn’t appear to be the overly-talkative type, and I needed every break I could get on this one. Mind you, it’s not like I couldn’t just shoot the silly bastard in the head, and have done with it. So I controlled the situation, so far…so good.
“Das ist gut café, ya? Gut Englander café,” I told him with special emphasis.
“Ja, das ist gut,” he agreed with me, looking down in approval at his chipped enamel mug.
“Englander schwinehunde!” I yapped a time or two to make my point. “Arf! Arf!”
And he smiled politely, and concentrated on puffing on that pipe. No doubt enjoying a brief respite from some paper-bound existence somewhere in a rear echelon. Yes, the gentleman was no doubt aware that some of the fly-boys were getting pretty slap-happy these days.
“Englander schwinehunde,” he agreed.
“God, I owe you one,” I prayed silently.
That stove didn’t get put out for days at a time, in early spring we opened a window and put wood in the stove. I opened up the door and tossed in a stick or two, just to look busy, anything to stall for time.
Smoke up the room…blind the bastard.
“Ya, Ya,” he murmured, grateful for a chance to warm up after his long flight.
I let him help himself to more cream and sugar, while I stood by the window, watching the boys outside falling all over themselves. Mitch, smart fellow, had divined the need to refuel the plane, and he had a couple of guys with rifles and bayonets guarding some kind of perimeter. I could just see them, if I stood on tiptoe and looked out on an oblique angle from the window.
While admittedly a quiet kind of a morning, one never knew who might turn up.
“Das ist gut, ya?” I asked him, as I thumped down in my chair and picked up the form.
Quickly perusing its contents, I noted that we were being delivered a Halberstadt two-seater which the enemy used for reconnaissance and escort duties. It was a very nice plane, brand-spanking new. That must have been worth a few bucks.
“Gut, gut,” he acknowledged as he noisily slurped his coffee off the top of the brim.
A thick finger, with long black hair on each segment politely indicated where I was supposed to sign.
“Hier, hier, und hier,” etc, but I held off for a moment.
Near sighted. I bet he could see to thread a needle, and everything else was just a blur. I burped, farted, squirmed in my chair, hummed some nameless tune, making sure it was nothing he could have ever heard of, a little Cape Breton ditty I had heard on a train once.
I went over to the back door and propped it open, with a big rock we kept beside it for that reason.
The German pilot might see latrines out there, if he cared to wander, and I went out the front to have a quick look-see at my new acquisition, clipboard held proudly in hand. Off in the distance, I could hear the odd gasp and giggle, as I strutted around the two men checking over what was a very impressive and attractive machine.
“Is she full?” I murmured to Gill, and he nodded in the affirmative, with a big smirk lighting up his normally dark, lantern-jawed features.
“What do you think?” I asked the adjutant.
Someone in a nearby hangar was banging on tin. Voices were kept very low.
“I’ll go chat the lad up while you change into your flight suit,” he told me, Wiles and the other mechanic, it was Eldon Heath, they chuckled in complete disbelief.
I gave Mitch the clipboard and told him, ‘Someone will have to make a decision.”
I can’t begin to describe the attitude of admiration they looked at me with, it was unbelievable.
“Be ready to spin that prop,” I told Eldon, who was a bright fellow and could be relied on.
“If he talks to you, just ignore it,” I told the men. “Just fire the fucking thing up, alright?”
They nodded, and I buggered off at a fast trot, for this kind of prank can easily go wrong if you don’t keep aware of the time factor, and the element of chance gone awry. Despite the usual struggle, the flying suit went on in jig time, and as I approached the hut again, the two men came out the door in a brotherly fashion, as if they had known each other all their lives.
The adjutant pointed at me, and said something to the effect, “Und Wilhelm….sprachen ‘Ich bein ein Berliner…ein Berliner!’”
The ‘Fritzie’ had the paper, he was carefully putting it on his little clip board. Mitch could take responsibility for it. Let him sign for it.
They both laughed. Fine, my name is Wilhelm, I’ll remember that, as I climbed up into the front seat of the Halberstadt. They were still talking, jabbering away in Jerry-talk and that was just fine with me because I was totally unfamiliar with this aircraft. I poked my hands around the cockpit, feeling the instrument panel and throttle setup. A process of osmosis, but then someone told me the Germans are a very methodical people. Where would everything be?
“My name is Wilhelm and I am a doughnut? We’ll talk about this later, Mitch,” I whispered to his evident satisfaction.
Suddenly the German pilot was standing there, pointing in at things and jabbering at me as I nodded vigorously. Then he pulled on his goggles, and began to climb into the rear cockpit.
I waited until he has had time to buckle his strap up.
The adjutant told me, “Nothing unusual. There’s the fuel cock, there’s the electrical, there’s the trim, there’s the compass, et cetera. It’s pretty simple, really.”
The ‘Fritzie’ was all bundled up around the head and ears, and Mitch spoke in a low tone.
Men nearby were shouting and running around, all of them looking busy and efficient.
“I’ll be back in half an hour,” I told him.
The other man looked suddenly serious.
“I’ll rustle up a discreet escort for you,” he said. “Be careful.”
“And good luck,” he added. “Tee-hee-hee…”
Poor guy could barely keep his composure. Hang on sir, hang on.
“It’s been good so far,” I told him, just then some boy came running up from the area behind the hangers with a brown paper package tied in string.
He ran up and quickly handed it in to the figure behind me. The perfect touch! A couple of bottles of the finest French brandy and some good English sausages. He turned and waved and took off from there at a brisk pace. Ah, yes, ever the efficient dishwasher, he didn’t look back or wave. A local civilian employee, the story would go around in a flash.
The perfect final touch, and the kid handled it just right, probably earning himself a half crown for his trouble.
“Did you throw in a box of condoms?” I asked Mitch, who blinked back tears, trying not to convulse in hysteria.
I could see some kind of paroxysm quaking at him as he stumbled away through the cloud of dust and dirt thrown up by the propeller wash of another nearby plane, just pulled out of hangar number two. Men stood in front of the fuselage roundels looking at me and that poor Boche Unteroffizier. He waved at them, and a couple of them waved back.
Mitch waved us on, lips smiling and voice unheard in the morning air. God, I love my job…sometimes.
The German started talking, so the man at the front of the plane, Eldon, he flicked the prop over for me and the motor suddenly sputtered into life.
I was on my own now, that’s for sure, but I felt supremely confident. I was young, and this was the lark of a lifetime. My companion, who must have been as blind as a bat and a very brave man, idly glanced around at things as I gingerly learned to taxi the big, splendid machine. A little logical reflection told me this situation was manageable, provided I didn’t try to hurry and get ahead of myself. As the plane wove right and left through the alley between the big trees, branches naked in the sunlight’s glare, the gauges showed that the water temperature was fine, the oil pressure was good, the revs were easy enough to read. When I poked, pulled, pried or prodded at the throttle…it had a kind of spring-loaded squeeze-catch on it, it moved and the revolutions increased accordingly. I waggled the ailerons, kicked the rudder, and looked back to
see my elevators moving. Everything was right there, all self-explanatory. Everything seemed good.
As we cruised past, first one hangar, and then another had tarpaulins over the doorways.
The next two or three were clearly empty hangars, and there weren’t too many vehicles of any sort about. I was relieved not to see the big red ‘Bovril’ van parked there! That van, hastily impressed into service, might have been a dead giveaway.
Mitch had been very quick on the uptake. As I taxied down to the east end of our field, I saw out of my peripheral vision that Bob Riley and Steve Gilmore were preparing to follow me.
Basically the plan was to fly straight, level and very, very low over our lines, and then climb like crazy over no-man’s land so the German gunners could see the distinctive wings and shape of the aircraft. Not much of a plan, but not having time to co-ordinate with the other lads, there wasn’t much else to do. It was a very chancy proposition, yet I just felt lucky. Ever had one of them days? Good day to buy a ticket on the football pools.
“No sense in hanging about,” I told the sky and the birds, of which I could see a few.
I sat on the end of the runway briefly, running up the engine and checking the magnetos. I turned to look at him. We both nodded and so then I boosted the power. We rolled along and began to pick up speed. The rudder was effective at about fifty kilometres per hour, as I deduced the metric system from the dashboard. The elevators were mushy but the rear of the plane came up smoothly at about sixty-five kilometres per hour, and at about ninety, the right wing began to feel light and I had to put in right rudder to counteract some moderate torque. I wondered if he knew how to use the rear machine-gun, or if we would end up having to evade Allied fighters.
But with his eyes, it would be useless anyway. I would just have to maneuver as if I didn’t have a rear gunner, and just use the front gun. That’s really all I was thinking just then.
She lifted off smoothly, all on her own at about ninety miles per hour. I figured that out later. It sure was a beauty of an aeroplane, let me tell you! Keeping it low and fast…I headed straight on.
There was a slight cross wind from the right, and I turned into it, clearing the trees at the end of our field. As I continued to climb, I continued to turn, for after all this gentleman was an enemy soldier and we wouldn’t want even his dim eyes to observe too much of this area. Also, I didn’t want to miss seeing any other aircraft in the vicinity.
If I saw them first, I could steer to avoid friend and foe.
Today there were no friendlies. Heading east, I dove down to about fifty feet as I went over our own lines, grateful to see a couple of familiar shadow shapes passing along left and right beside me. Gilmore popped off a couple of rounds which went into the dirt ahead of my plane and in the tiny mirror the German bobbed his head around at the sight of the two scouts.
Poor old fucker is shitting his pants now, isn’t he? Good old Gilly. God I miss that man. We had a few good times together, in Paris, in London, and a few other places.
Rushing up a riddled hillside, with the lone, stark skeleton of a tree with two and only two branches. At the base of the tree, I saw a clump of huddled bodies, waiting to be picked up in the night.
Here we go. Enemy trenches look different from our own, don’t ask me why. Somehow more evil, darker, more sinister. There is no friendly welcome down there for the wayward lad, the lonely flier. Just people with guns who want to kill young Englishmen. Or anyone they can get.
A few shots came, quickly silenced by alert German NCO’s. Then we were through. And now I even knew where we are going. It had to be the place. Anyhow, it’s a German two-seater squadron, and it’s a pretty lonely place, and that’s where I plan to set him down. I know it’s there, we raided them the other day. And I know this country like the back of my hand.
And at that, I began to claw for altitude.
No one around here knows who I am.
It’s an odd thing, but when you go on a patrol with the express purpose of shooting at enemy aircraft, you often see hardly a thing. It’s difficult to approach them. They’re quite shy.
Today they’re everywhere. It’s enjoyable to wave, to stare back at them, and all the time, thinking, ‘if only you knew…’
You stinking bastards, if I pull this one off, it will be ‘A severe blow to enemy morale…’
I giggled at the thought. Who really cares? Not me. This one has a personal feel to it.
Leveling out at about six thousand feet, (two thousand metres by the dial,) I was thinking ahead. Shaking the stick to and fro and kicking the elevators to warn him, I put the plane into a ninety-degree vertical bank on its left side, and held it there as we lost five hundred feet.
“Hang on to your sausage, old man,” I screamed in sheer delight.
Then I pulled back on the stick and with a good amount of elevator, did a full three-sixty degree turn without losing altitude. This required a certain amount of high side rudder, but the aircraft handled smoothly and predictably. It was quite impressive, and I had a new perspective on just why this aircraft was so often hard to shoot down, being strongly built and having adequate power for it’s size and mission.
Leveling out, I throttled back and pulled up the nose gently to about ten degrees above the horizon, and felt the fish-tugging-on-the-line feeling of an incipient stall.
She stalled very nicely, neither going left nor right, and the nose dropped and that was about it.
I made a mental note that she stalled about eighty-five or ninety kilometres per hour with large elevator deflections…mind you, it was all in metric. I headed east again.
It’s nice to know these things, when you’ve never landed a particular machine before.
I did a big, beautiful loop, after diving a little into it, seeing the speedometer hit about two-hundred twenty kilometres per hour. I eased back on the stick and up we went, until we were hanging in our straps. The whole world hung upside down over our heads and I could feel the blood rush up but it wasn’t unpleasant. As we plunged vertically, I let back a little on the throttle and concentrated on clearing my ears and ever so smoothly adjusting the flight path with touches of rudder.
I don’t mean to brag, but I feel like an ‘artiste’ sometimes, especially when we shook for a brief second and I knew we have hit our slipstream perfectly. It ends quickly. I flew inverted for some time, then rolled out yet again, pulled up into a vertical climb and rammed full throttle and aileron to the left. The aircraft seemed to pause, hang there, in a cloud of blue exhaust, then we did a slick little tail slide back down again, turning anti-clockwise.
Pulling back on the stick, I caused her to nose forwards again, and we continued on our journey. I heard noise. Looking back, he waved at me in glee. I guess it must have been quite a thrill. Sure hope its worth it…at least he wasn’t angry.
I wouldn’t want to get a reprimand. As my eyes scanned the area where I expected the enemy aerodrome to be, a very loud droning rang in my head and I wondered just what the problem was? But according to the instruments, it wasn’t the engine. I was fifteen miles behind enemy lines…and there they were, the whole goddamned Richtofen Circus!
Oh, my God! They were coming up from behind, stacked up in three layers of about six or seven planes each. A section of five planes surrounded us, and damned if the two nearest ones, one on each side, weren’t upside down. As they went by, the man on the right did an anticlockwise eight-point roll, and the man on my left did one in the opposite direction.
“Udlinger!” I bellowed at the top of my lungs, that’s Ernst Udet for fucking certain. “Buddy!”
Recognizable? Hell, with blue wings and silver fuselage, with pink polka dots, you would think so.
And there’s fucking Smiltz, and von Fluebl, and whole bunch of fuckers whom I plan on shooting down later.
And they were close – maybe ten feet outboard of my wingtips.
One of them even waved at me, and I didn’t have time to see if the other one did, but I bet he did too! That was a hell of a lot of enemy aircraft to see up see close and personal.
“I’m glad they’re on our side,” I bellowed, turning back to look at my passenger.
A big silly grin, firmly affixed upon my face.
Holy shit, what now? Two Nieuport 11’s flashed past and one had a red patch on the fuselage.
It’s Gilly! They somehow managed to stick with me. And now the freaking Richtofen’s bastards are on my friends’ asses, as the two friendly machines climbed like the bandits they are, up into the sunny bowl of the sky. One Hun began to smoke.
I saw that they made it to the first cloud even as several machines broke off the pursuit and made to the south, no doubt planning an ambush tactic. The ‘Flying Circus’ disappeared as I lined up on my runway. With a bit of luck, I might still pull this one off.
As soon as my wheels touched down, on the edge of their field, I hooked in the rudder and caused her to ground loop. What do I care if I damaged the wing tip? It’s not my plane.
I pointed up at the sky yelling incoherently, and bobbed around in my seat, as if I were undoing my straps in a great panic to get out.
“Ausfahrt! Schnell! Schnell!” I yelled at him, frustrated because he seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace.
The gentleman knew what a strafing was, and so he wasted no time in abandoning our cozy little ship. I saw him scurry for cover nearer to the hedgerow as my engine idled. He remembered his package, I could see it clutched under his left arm. Good man. Wouldn’t want to forget the brandy, you’re going to need it.
That pesky droning came again. As I pulled my neck around to sweep the sky and the nearby airspace, my two pals shot past the aerodrome boundary and began to shoot up the hangars about a quarter of a mile to the west.
The distinctive noise rolled back as scurrying figures ran for cover.
Now was as good a time as any! I throttled up and took off straight at the hangars, probably causing even more panic and confusion. Engine caterwauling like a banshee, I yanked her up a couple of hundred feet and made off as quickly as I could.
At least two columns of smoke rose up near the hangars and workshops, and I could see one machine burning and another that didn’t look too healthy, but I had no time for detailed observations.
The return trip should have been uneventful. But I suppose I’d been lucky enough for one day. It doesn’t pay to expect too much sometimes, but my luck held a little longer. And that’s all that’s really important, isn’t it? Just hold out long enough, as I scanned the sky all around.
Give her full throttle and hope she doesn’t break. Hell, all I needed was twenty minutes.
So anyway, I was cruising along about eight hundred feet, heading into the usual western wind, which thankfully was light today. A couple of black puffs ahead alerted me to the presence of an enemy balloon, and yes, Holy Shit!
Here were Gilly and his wingman attacking it.
They broke off and headed straight towards me, then turned in behind me, as I plowed on, straight ahead. Two-seater pilots often dove into their own barrage to throw off pursuit. I pulled what was obviously the cocking lever, and it wouldn’t move, then I saw the little catch, on the side of the breech. Now she’s cocked. I lined up my sights as we sailed serenely towards the enemy balloon, as Gilly and pal took pot shots, firing short little bursts at me, narrowly sending them past my wings and tail. I dove even lower, giving the impression of sheer desperation, a friendly aircraft seeking the protection of the guns…
The enemy gunners have bought into the fraud completely. But Gilly and the other one were too close behind me! The enemy machine gunners were in a quandary as to what to do now.
They hesitated for vital seconds. Arguably, they should have risked shooting down a friendly aircraft.
Two for one, right? The inexorable logic of war.
“Fuck you too!” I bellowed, I was suddenly just mad as hell for no reason at all.
And then I let rip with the old Spandau, and the balloon seemed to crumple up and float to the round. It was too low, too sudden for the observer to jump. Since it didn’t burn, it’s possible he didn’t die. Later the boys told me they didn’t see anyone jump either, but were pretty sure they’d seen someone in it when they attacked, so it is hard to say. But the enemy ‘sausage’ was definitely destroyed.
At that, the usual response was for every gun to open up, and that’s what they did. We were lucky to have confused them and we got into no-man’s land with very little damage. Riley had a few holes in the main-planes, and Gilly had three holes in the fuselage about halfway to the tail empennage. My earache was completely gone, although I did kind of feel in the mood for a nap, as I switched off the engine. They never did shoot at me, or if they did, they didn’t hit anything.
Probably thought it was an honest mistake.
Mitch stood here looking at me.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he told me.
Won’t we all, Mitch. Won’t we all.
This was cut from 'Heaven Is Too Far Away,' the memoir of Lt.-Col. William Tucker, who flew against the Red Baron and lived to tell about it. Available for $2.99 from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords as well as other fine online retailers.