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33LIMA

Fanning down Huns in my Harry Tate

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Close to the Front

Just this side of Hunland

France

 

1st April 1917

Dear Auntie Mary

 

Please do excuse the shaky handwriting as this letter is penned in no little excitement, having just got back to our little aerodrome 'somewhere in France' after quite the most amusing show I've been on since coming out here last week.

 

As I think I mentioned in my last letter, I got a Flight of my own right away because of my good record with my previous squadron, in France last year. Things have changed quite a bit here since then, and not all for the better. You have probably heard all about the jolly Red Baron and his merry crew by now but we don't let that worry us a bit as we have a job to do and we just get on with it regardless. We two-seaters are the ones who do the real work over here and the chaps in my new squadron are all absolutely first-rate, the salt of the earth.

 

Well, that bold statement was put to the test today, even though we never met any Huns in the air; sometimes waiting for them to appear can be more a strain on the old nerves than when they do show up, when one tends to have no time to think, let alone worry.

 

We started off well; lovely weather, not too warm but not much cloud about either. I led off, and soon had Gibson, Sanders and Wallace in a neat gaggle - if there is such a thing as a neat gaggle! - just beyond my left wingtip. Each of us had two rather large bombs slung beneath our kites, for our plan was to park some of these in the laps of some Huns just behind the Front, where we knew they were concentrating around a bridge. Normally our Gunners would make short work of this sort of target but for whatever reason we got the job of fanning down these Huns - I should explain that while Gunners may blow things up, in the Flying Corps, we don't, we fan them down!

 

Our planes - Harry Tates we call them, can't say more as they are quite new types and all rather secret - looked rather smart in the bright sunshine and I think we all felt really brave.

 

Anyhow, we flew down behind our side of the Lines, intending to dash quickly over at a couple of thousand feet, drop our eggs, then dash back over again, using the river which cuts across No-man's Land at that point as our guide. As we reached the appointed spot, I swung my crate around to the left and lined up her nose with the bridge, in our target area, which I could clearly make out over in Hunland.

 

Now, this is where the thrill of anticipation comes in. You know the enemy are just ahead and below, towards the far side of that muddy brown belt of ground where lie the trenches of both sides. You know, or at least you fully expect, that down there, beneath many a pickelhaube, many a pair of Teutonic eyes is watching your four little specks coming their way, and that Archie, as we call the guns which shoot at us airmen, is manning his weapons and training his barrels along our line of flight, not to mention the machine guns in the ground who will gladly have a pop at us as we go. For we are quite low now, as I nose down to pick up a bit of speed, both to give us a better chance of hitting our targets from lower down, and to get there quickly before he can be sure we're coming to visit and then find our range.

 

But strangely, nobody shoots at us. It's like they're rather cruelly teasing us, or have decided that it's better for them to hide from our big bombs than try to swat us from the sky before we drop them!

 

So I plant one of the bombs on the eastern bank, right in the middle of what I hope is the biggest concentration of hiding Huns. Gibson does likewise, hitting the bank just on the opposite side. Sanders and Wallace, not able to see much amidst the plumes of smoke and debris thrown up by our bombs, fly over a bit further and drop their eggs on some Huns in an abandoned village, whom I found out latter had been firing at us, though I saw nothing of that, so concentrated I must have been on my own little bit of the war just then.

 

On the way back out, I drop my other egg on the bridge itself, although from the plume of water I can see it is a near miss, in the river just beside the bridge.

 

By this time I am so low that a Hun with a pistol could probably pop me off so rather than wait around for one to raise his head from the confusion we have sown beneath, I point my machine's nose west, and pull her up, at the same time looking around and signalling for my flight-mates to rejoin me for our dash back to safety. This has all gone so well, I am suddenly anxious it will all go wrong at the last moment.

 

My anxiety multiplies as I take in my surroundings. A second ago, the skies seemed clear; the ground too, apart from the little pockets of mayhem we have sown, marked by dispersing clouds of brown smoke. Now the world all around me has come to life, it seems. But of my former companions, there is nothing to be seen. Where have they gone? Have I lost the rest of my flight, on my first trip? What will I tell the Major?

 

Behind me over Hunland, a couple of planes are wheeling. Could it be my people? There is no Archie near them, so more likely they are Huns, whose acquaintance at that point I have no particular desire to make, discourteous though they may think me to be.

 

To my right, over the Lines and just into the enemy side, plumes of smoke rise from the ground - barrages, or bombing raids, I cannot tell, but I can see in the sky the little puffs of Archie, both our side's grey ones and the Hun's sinister black. Looking closely, I can see several little specks wheeling and dancing around each other, amidst the Archie - an air fight is in progress! It can't be my boys, I decide, too far north...but the uncertainty is gnawing at me. Where are they? They can't all have Gone West - not all on the one show!

 

I repeat the signal to form up and circle in mounting despair, just over our reserve trenches. As I do so, a speck appears from Hunland, from whence I came, and drifts in my direction. A Hun coming over to knock down the last of the accursed Englishmen who have interupted his comrades' breakfast? If it is, I decide I will sell my life dearly, although glancing behind at my sergeant observer crouched over his Lewis Gun, I can sense he is slightly less keen at this prospect. I cannot really blame him for that.

 

As the speck comes closer, it slides slightly to one side and - what relief! - I can see that it is a machine exactly like mine. A short time later, Gibson, for it is he, is back behind my left wing, and then Wallace too comes sliding in from above and behind. After a few more anxious minutes, my joy is complete as Sanders, too, appears in the distance and closes up slowly, flying a bit right wing down for a while, before recovering and straightening up.

 

As they broke away to land on our arrival back at the 'drome, I could see they had escaped without a scratch - just as I had! Funny business, this war; I was sure I was facing a sad and lonely return with my tail well between my legs to face the Major's wrath with just my observer for company, out of the eight of us who had set out in such fine spirits a short time before; but instead, we were able to regale the ground crews and the chaps in the mess with our tales of how we had tweaked the Kaiser's moustache with impunity, Red Baron or no Red Baron!

 

Well, there you have it - we all got back. And as I found out, Wallace and Sanders had actually fanned down some Huns, who had actually been shooting at us with machine guns, even though I never saw a thing!

 

Must dash - there's a tender waiting to take us into town for some rather safer amusements, but I promise I'll write again soon! Give all my best to mater if you see her this weekend!

 

Yours ever

 

Richard

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Edited by 33LIMA

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Cracking good story 33L. I bet it must have curled Auntie Mary's toes. I just love the RE8, thanks for getting her airborne.....the RE8, not Auntie Mary.

Cheers Grinseed

Edited by Grinseed

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Cracking good story 33L. I bet it must have curled Auntie Mary's toes. I just love the RE8, thanks for getting her airborne.....the RE8, not Auntie Mary.

Cheers Grinseed

 

LOL! Anyway my pleasure!

 

Just before flying the above mission (with 10 Squadron, in Ojcar's 1917 Armchair Aces) I'd flown one in a 59 Squadron RE8 'career' which I had on the go in RoF (I drew a bombing mission there too, but my leader got shot down by V-strutters and captured and I had to ditch my eggs and force-land just on my side of the lines with most of my upper right main-plane shot away). Have to say that good tho RoF can be in many respects, and exciting tho that mission was, somehow, having then flown an RE8 campaign mission in FE2, I find the latter is still the best Single Player recreation of the WW1 air war I've read about in all those books. So I thought I'd record here - again! - the sense of reliving those experiences, that FE2 gives me best of all.

 

Cheers

Ivor

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Fantastic story! Great reading :)

 

'Letters to Auntie Mary' should become a regular post 33Lima!

 

Also flying 2 seaters at the moment, flying a 'Bathtub' (Fe2B). It's a jolly nervous business! Especially since adding 37mm AAA. Before flying recon or airfield bombing missions, my pilot has a bit of a cry, pens a letter home, and one last nervous smoke .

Edited by SpinyNorman

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Thanks for the kind comments guys; just trying to convey how well a typical First Eagles campaign mission can bring to life for the player the sort of WW1 air war stories we've mostly all read, whether fact or fictional.

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