The young R. F. C pilot’s air war above the Western Front
It seems incredible that just over 100 years ago no country counted an air-force among its armed services. Pilots were drawn from other branches of the military and the early airmen were not referred to as ‘the cavalry of the air’ for no reason. The First World War introduced aerial bombing of troops, transport, manufacturing installations and cities, aerial reconnaissance, air to air combat—the ‘dog-fight’—and the potential for the destruction of shipping from the air. The third dimension of warfare had come of age. Flying was still a primitive business with flimsy aircraft of canvas and wood often powered by unreliable engines. The brave young men who sat at their controls often died before they could master their craft. Nevertheless, if there can be any romance in war the exploits of these early aviators embodied it and retain it to the present day. The author of this book has written an account of high adventure: a story of a war fought in the clouds and clear blue skies, high above the wire, mud and blood of the trenches of the Western Front. This is an exceptionally enjoyable book about the early days of the R. F. C. It covers every aspect of the Great War in the air from an allied fighting pilot’s perspective and will delight anyone interested in the subject. The introduction is by General C. G Hoare of the Royal Air Force.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
We got the usual outburst from Archie, but he was not very accurate that afternoon, so we treated him with contempt.<br>
At our high level we were above most machines, but passed by one or two of our scout formations engaged in a similar job to our own—Hun hunting.<br>
Six hands grasped their gun controls, and six pairs of eyes eagerly scrutinised each formation as we swept up to it at over a hundred miles an hour, but up to now only the familiar red, white and blue rings met our gaze.<br>
However, we wore now flying northeast and knew that it was most likely only a matter of time.<br>
Suddenly a brilliant coloured light burst into flame just over the flight commander’s machine—he had fired a signal!<br>
In our code its colour meant—“Am about to attack—Close on me—”<br>
Down went his nose as he commenced to dive followed by the rest of us. Half hidden by the leading machines, there appeared, about a thousand feet below, a formation of one—three—four—seven—yes, seven machines, and on each wing tip appeared a small, regularly formed black cross.<br>
Our whole formation was now diving practically in a vertical line, and the screaming shrill of the air became almost unbearable. I glanced for a second at the dial of the speed indicator—one hundred and ninety miles an hour!<br>
Our leader had dived at a point behind the Huns, and now, flattening out from the dive in a great curve, the formation dashed into the middle of them.<br>
A fight in the air is so extraordinarily rapid that eternities seem to pass in a few seconds and no clear picture can be memorised until some time afterwards.<br>
The flight commander was leading and was the first to engage a machine. He drove down on the enemy leader, closer and closer, until it seemed that the two machines were locked together. Then streaks of flame leapt from the muzzles of his machine guns.<br>
The Hun pilot pulled his machine up into a great upward bound, and did a splendid turn almost upside down back to his aggressor; but the commander was too old a hand to be caught. He had followed the Hun yard by yard, and was even then circling round behind the latter’s tail, firing continuously.<br>
The Hun suddenly spun round on one wing tip, and doubling in his tracks, dashed back through the rest of his machines, but always relentlessly followed by his implacable enemy.<br>
Then the Hun did a half loop clean over his adversary and performed a very clever turn at the top of it. It was so quick that they lost each other for a second.<br>
A fraction of a second more and they found themselves; both machines dashed at each other and simultaneously two streaks of fire appeared from their respective gun muzzles. Still they held on until it appeared they must crash and fall in pieces together.<br>
Then the Hun machine careened wildly up on one side and a great gout of flame burst out from its nose. It dived a few hundred feet and then wrenched back till it pointed almost straight up. It was now a mass of flames from end to end. One of the wings dropped off and fell away.<br>
Simultaneously the machine gave a great lurch and dropped like a stone—a mass of charred wood and red hot steel, carrying its pilot down his last awful dive to death, fifteen thousand feet below.<br>
In the meantime, the rest of the machines had been vigorously engaged and much fighting had taken place.<br>
One of our machines fell spinning down, obviously out of control, but its passing was so quick that it was scarcely noticed.<br>
A Hun machine suddenly left the fight and went down with its engine running “all out” in a vertical line as straight as a ruler until it crashed into the earth. The pilot must have been killed or mortally wounded and fallen forward on his controls. A few mad minutes, a futurist picture-like impression stamped on the memory, of the whirl of machines and hammer of guns—the malignant ssip-zrrip of enemy bullets tearing through fabric—then the show was over as suddenly as it begun. Three enemy machines diving madly away to escape, and five of ours left collecting together once more under their leader, and the flight was resumed.