The Camels are coming!
Such was the title of one of the WW1 Biggles books by Captain W.E Johns - the others being 'Biggles of 266' and 'Biggles of the Camel Squadron'. And while adapted for a younger readership - a case of beer became one of lemonade, for example - they were for me a useful, informative and entertaining introduction to the lore of World War One in the air, written by one who served in it. As the titles indicate, our hero Biggles flew a Camel. And why not, for the Camel is one of the few WW1 aircraft whose name is still widely-known to the English-speaking general public, credited with the destruction of more enemy aircraft than any other British or French type. The Camel also seems to have destroyed rather a lot of its own pilots, due to some tricky flying characteristics. But it was one of the planes that helped the Royal Flying Corps put 'Bloody April' of 1917 behind them and was still in widespread and effective front-line service at the end of the war, in both fighter and fighter-bomber roles. Named it seems from the hump wherein were mounted its twin Vickers .303' machine-guns, the doughty Camel is surely a worthy subject for this, the fourth installment of Sopwiths over Flanders Fields.
For this campaign, I elected to fly with 46 Squadron, after she had fully converted from Pups to Camels in November 1917, about the time of the Battle of Cambrai. Unfortunately, due to not having FRAPS running, I neglected to get pics of the mission briefings and the like! We're based at Filescamp farm, a bit north-west of Arras and much further north from Cambrai, where a massed tank attack was to achieve a breakthrough of the German lines that the British found themselves unable to exploit.
Our first mission was nearly my last!
Leading 'B' Flight's seven (!) Camels, I was tasked to catch enemy aircraft reported to be in the area of the front lines just south of Arras, as described in the map view in the pic below. By the time this was taken, we were about half-way to the target area.
There was nothing much to be seen when we got there, so I took the flight a little further south of Arras, keeping a careful eye all around. The weather was quite good but there was a fair bit of cloud about which, combined with a ground haze, somewhat restricted visibility.
We were at just over ten thousand feet, high enough for Huns to be able to slip in underneath us, where they would be hard to spot against the shelled ground far below.
In fact, had it not been for turning on the Tactical Display briefly for a navigation check, I would not have spotted the Huns who were, it seems, stalking us from below. You can just about see one of them, an Albatros D.V which I have just padlocked, in the centre of the screenshot below.
I ordered an attack and spiralled down to the right, after my chosen target. The Hun, not to be outdone, spiralled up to get at me.
As you can see, the Albatros had distinctive black and white fuselage and tail markings, as well as the common mauve and green on the upper surfaces of his wings.
Using my height advantage and superior turning ability, I was soon on his tail, but he kept his speed up and didn't make it easy for me. In the picture below, you can see some of the rest of my flight arriving. I had seen a second Hun on the way down, so I trusted to the others to deal with him, while I knocked down this one.
I got some hits, causing the V-strutter to reverse his turn and break left. I had to fight some adverse yaw bringing the nose around, and this enabled him to gain some ground on me.
But not for long. He levelled out. I knew that I'd definitely done him some harm, and wondered if he was going to make a run for home. He wouldn't make it, if I had anything to do with it!
Suddenly, a burst of fire whacked into my machine from somewhere astern. 'B' Flight didn't seem to be doing a very good job of keeping the other Hun or Huns occupied! I broke hard to get out of the line of fire of my attacker, even as my own intended victim rolled right and came down after me. A second ago, I'd been the hunter. Now, I was the prey. This wasn't working out at all as I had intended!
My virtual blod had spattered my virtual goggles and I twisted and turned to escape my pursuers. One of them was an historical ace, Werner Dahm of Jasta 26, evidently intent that I should be his next victory.
But if there's one thing Camels can do, it's turn. I was losing a lot of height in the process but I'd nothing to lose, and I even got one of the Huns in my sights, for a time
But the roll-rate seemed to have dropped off, like my wounds were sapping my strength. Just when I thought I was done for, other Camels hove into view and I rolled over and nosed down, in an effort to get clear.
It didn't work. A pair of beady Hun eyes were watching my every move. And then, down he came.
At this point, I was being shot at from the ground, too, and my one thought was to get away, back to the west and over our own side of the lines, just a few hundred yards away.
The Hun made a single pass, coming in so close he all but chewed my tail off with his prop. But by then, I was over our trenches and, pursued by rounds from our ground MGs, the Albatros pulled up and around, and that was that. I'll bet that the drivers in the motor transport convoy that was trundling along the road just behind our trenches were as glad to see him go, as I was.
There was a friendly aerodrome close to the lines and I made straight for it. Happily, I remembered to avoid flying into the the cable of the observation balloon which was tethered nearby...
...and I was soon safely back on terra firma.
That little show cost me a damaged kite and thirteen days in hospital. It was some consolation that I had damaged at least one of the Huns, and that the others were claiming three victories between them, all later confirmed. It wasn't a very auspicious start from a purely personal standpoint, but I had survived, and 'B'' Flight had won its first battle with me at the helm. A start had been made, of sorts.
...to be continued!