Has Stachel's luck deserted him, on his fifth mission?
I'm not superstitious, but when I saw in PWCG that the date for my next mission had advanced to April 13th, I hesitated briefly. Should I ask for a spot of leave? But no, I decided to press on. I might have thought again, if I had realised that this day in 1917 was Friday the Thirteenth!
Happily ignorant of this, I drew a patrol up to the lines to the north-west of our base at Pronville, and swapped out the appointed flight leader so that this would be my show. I accepted Karlstadt and Veidt, who had flown with me before, and selected replacement pilot Fischbein to make up the foursome. These would be the men I'd try to bring through the war with me.
The northern end of our patrol down the lines was marked by a village who's name I've forgotten. It was a good landmark, though, lying astride our reserve trenches, close to the shelled area. It was probably abandoned, if its occupants had any sense!
Swinging around to the south as we passed over the village, I noticed a formation of aircraft, higher up and on a reciprocal course which took them over our heads. Enemies would likely be diving on us by now, but I watched them closely, until I could see that they were Albatrosses, like our own.
I watched them too closely in fact, for I nearly missed two other aircraft that were coming up on our right, at the same level. From their stubby noses, I realised they were almost certainly enemies, Sopwiths perhaps.
I turned around after them, while they did the same, apaprently intending to come in behind my flight, which - as bad luck or carelessness would have it - I had allowed to straggle a little, at that very time. Our flak opened up, the bursts falling so far below the two enemy aircraft that I took a little while to confirm there weren't additional enemies down there.
I gave the 'Attack!' order, but it was probably redundant. My flight broke up as the two RFC Nieuports - for that is what they turned out to be - tore into them.
Then it happened! As I came around to join the fight, two Albatrosses came together, then seemed to stagger appart. A collision! The victims fell away below, both seemingly in one piece but out of control. The best I could hope for was that one or both managed to force land and save their lives. But clearly, they were out of the fight and it was now two against two.
I wasted no time in latching onto one of the Nieuports, before they could gang up on my surviving comrade. As usual, the more agile enemy machine could turn in under me, but by staying above him, I was able to bide my time until the opportunity presented itself to make diving attacks onto his tail.
In one of these attacks, I think I managed to hit the pilot - I now have Gavagai's reduced damage mod enabled, which lessens the frequency of wings being shot off - for he seemed to be slumped forward in his cockpit.
However, the Nieuport continued to turn, so I throttled back and stayed behind him, firing again. He fell into a sideslip...
...and sensing victory, I kept after him, firing again. Suddenly his rudder came off and his nose rose up. If I hadn't been so sure I'd got him, I would have worried that he was still under control and trying to force me out in front.
But no, his nose dropped and now I could clearly see that the Englishman was slumped forward, lifeless, in his cockpit.
He spiralled down, and as I watched, I saw that his propeller had spun to a stop.
My comrade all the while had been engaged with the other Nieuport and I climbed in the direction of the fight, ready to join in if needed. The opportunity to do so came when the two machines turned in diffrernt directions. In a flash, I dropped onto the Nieuport's tail and let him have it. His left aileron came off under my fire and I was lucky it didn't hit me. I didn't notice at the time, but in the picture below, you can see that there seems to be a fight going on up ahead, perhaps involving that other flight of Albatrosses.
My target stopped turning, levelled off and flew to the south west, as if to escape. Checking that my flight-mate wasn't about to drop in us - one collision was more than enough! - I raced up behind him, cursing the friendly flak which had chosen this very moment to find the range.
I slotted in close behind the enemy aircraft and basically shot him full of holes. It took more rounds than I expected but he suddenly nosed down and spiralled earthwards, crashing in open country just behind our lines. The score had been evened, in the face of some pretty foul luck!
My wingman was behind me as I made a climbing turn to the south, back onto our patrol route. I contemplated going home - reduced to two aircraft with a fair bit of ammo expended, I believed I could defend the decision to the CO - but I felt duty bound to complete the patrol. I would, however, be more cautious about accepting combat...if I had a choice.
And more combat seemed to be a distinct possibility. Looking up, I saw a flight of four aircraft, a good deal higher up, also flying south. Out flak wasn't engaging them, but from their square-cut appearance, they didn't look like German machines. Evidently, we weren't quite done here.
...to be continued!