Two outstanding accounts of high adventure by WWI fighter pilots
This unique Leonaur edition offers two personal accounts by pilots with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. George Campbell came from a renowned Scottish military family and by the time he joined the R. F. C., following a bayonet wound received at Neuve Chapelle in 1915, while serving with the H. L. I., he had already lost his father and four siblings—including his sister—killed in enemy action. His mother had died of heartbreak. So the potentials for personal revenge as a ‘fighting scout’ of the air held much appeal and Campbell brought down 18 officially confirmed ‘kills’. Despite the harsh background to his career as an aviator, Campbell tells his story in a personable style full of incident and dialogue making his book essential reading for all those interested in the war in the sky. The second book in this volume was written by an American, who, deciding to fight for the allied cause, also became a fighter pilot in the R. F C. The first part of Pat O’Brien’s narrative concerns his experiences in combat with the German foe over the trenches of the Western Front. In one notable dog-fight he was shot down, taken prisoner and transported to Germany. What follows is a thrilling account of intrepid escape as O’Brien struggled against all odds to return to his squadron.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Now the shells came up thick and fast. They were on my right, on my left, all around, and below me. “Cr-ump!” Gad, that was a close one. Another! I tried to force myself to keep cool, remembering how my captain had belittled “Archie” to me only that morning.
Automatically,—as I had been taught to do when shell-fire came too close for comfort,—I “crabbed” or side-slipped, like the others. This is a necessary precaution, for when the enemy gunners get that close to you, they usually put “the bracket” up; this being a salvo of guns, so directed as to make it pretty hot for you if you once get caught in it. When “the bracket” is put up by Archie, the fighting scout immediately dives, in order to get out of range. The dive compels the Archie batteries to change fuses in their shells, which gives the flyer a chance to take up a new position.
On, on, went the patrol! Now we must be at least fifteen kilometres on the other side, for the trenches were getting dimmer and dimmer as we flew into the enemy territory.
Getting pretty well used to Archie by this time, I kept looking around me. Suddenly I noticed several other machines in patrol formation in front of us, but slightly higher. We were now at an altitude of 13,000 to 15,000 feet. Gad, it was cold!
But who were these chaps ahead of us? What were they? Were they Huns? The thought thrilled me. Why couldn’t I tell a Hun machine at a glance? But I couldn’t then. That’s what bothered me. I must follow my leader.
On we went, flying straight at them and gradually climbing higher. Suppose it was an enemy patrol up there! Immediately on the thought I cleared for action; that is, I loosened from its container on the side of the machine a spare drum of ammunition for my Lewis gun. One drum of forty-seven cartridges was already in place on the gun.
I then cocked my machine-gun, stiffening in my seat as I did so, ready and eager for action. If an opportunity presented itself, I was determined to do something. I had a triple purpose: To retrieve myself in the eyes of the squadron after the mishap with my first machine; to settle my private score with the Hun; and, as I said to myself, “show them what a Scot is made of.”
Now I noticed my commander turning up straight into the sun. All of us trailed after him. Yes, that must be a Hun patrol, for they turned straight on a course to cut in ahead of us. My heart was now pounding rapidly. God! We were going to fight!
The enemy was trying to put himself between us and the sun. This I knew would be a decided disadvantage to us. Sixteen thousand feet! We were almost on a level now with the hostile patrol and saw that they numbered eight machines in all, against our five, “So much the better,” thought I. “More targets for us, old chap,” and I fondly patted my machine-gun.
Now a great struggle for the advantage of height took place. First this way, then that, we turned, keeping our formation as closely as we could. The Hun seemed to be counteracting every move we made.
Presently I noticed that two of his machines were not moving quite so fast as the others. They were gradually falling behind and below the rest. This, I thought, was our opportunity, our opening for a move. Then I saw the two Hun machines put their noses down, trying to get in front of and below their comrades, where they would be in a safer position. This move would also enable them to act as a decoy for us, by drawing our fire should we, too, dive.
At last! There it was! The red ball of fire! Our signal to attack! I gulped and wondered what my action should be, not having decided on whom or on what I was going to dive. Then remembering my instructions to “stay on top and follow down,” I pulled myself together to obey, though itching all the while to dive at the low man of the hostile bunch, whose position seemed to present a wonderful opportunity to me.
The Huns, realising that we were now in the advantageous position they had been trying to get, did a sharp turn and started dashing off inland—farther into “Germany.”
All this time, while we were manoeuvring for the advantage of position, Hun Archie had been firing a regular barrage directly in front of us and between the opposing forces. This was decidedly disconcerting, to say the least, but failed to stop us.
Captain Burns led off the attack, by turning sharp left, away from the sun, thus getting it behind him, and diving straight at four of the hostile machines, now below him and scarcely two hundred yards away. One Hun had gained height and remained on top.
Down and forward—straight at them—went three more of the boys of my own flight. What was I to do? Follow them? No! What about that Hun on top? I was now being menaced by him.
Remaining above, I first made a feint, as if turning away from my own patrol. Then I did exactly what the Hun least expected me to do, I should judge. Putting my nose down suddenly, and thus getting up an enormous speed, I “zoomed’’ up straight at him. This threw him off a bit, I think, for he turned and putting his nose down, started going like blazes from me, leaving me on a higher level.
Looking away down below, there was the scrap being carried on. One of the Hun machines was evidently disabled, for it was going down in a spin. All I had was a fleeting glance at him, but that was enough, and it certainly bucked me up. I had at any rate driven away my particular opponent, for the man I had “zoomed” at had “beat it” for home. Rapidly debating whether I should follow him or follow my patrol, I decided to do the latter, as my Hun raced away from me farther into his own territory.