It was the year of our Lord 1917. It was a lovely month of July, not too hot, neither too cold. The perfect weather for a walk along the Senna shore. But Europe was being swept by war like it never knew.
“Of course, aren’t they all?!” It was the idea that crossed 2nd Lieutenant Gerald William Ferguson mind, moments after received the Intel of a mission “top priority” and “top secret” from a courier of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) 16Squadron. He drunk the rest of the champagne that was in the flûte, turned is eyes to the awesome and beautiful Parisian girl that was with him, smiled and said:
– Life is hard and the future doesn’t belong to us…
Which got the following reply from her:
– Mon Cher, you don’t need to say nothing more. I know perfectly what you are thinking of. Let´s kill this bottle of gods nectar and go up to the hotel´s room, all this flirting is making me dire tired…
(But what the deuce! What were you thinking of? That this was going to be a soap opera? What about getting a life? Let’s go on with the description of the game of Wings of War that occurred in “the gruta” the last 16 of September of 2012I).
The wind was blowing through the poppies (papaver rhoeas) fields, the red of their petals was contrasting with the greener and darker colours in the surroundings. Harvest time. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Aubrey Beauclerk Ellwood was observing the scenery while remembering a pleasant afternoon in Tatiana’s company, behind the gazebo of the borough where he grew. He was so immersed with his inner thoughts that he was not aware of the black car that was approaching.
From it two distinctive figures came out of the car, one tall and broad, the other short and pot bellied. It was the sound of the car doors closing that brought Ellwood to the reality. The moment his gaze was on the figures he realized that life wasn’t going to smile back at him! “Certainly another stupid mission”.
Little time has passed since the lunch hour in the advanced airfield. 30 km separated the pilot’s barracks from the muddy trenches where the “poor bastards” of the infantry men were having the “hard times”.
2nd Lieutenant Ferguson, his observer, 2nd Class Air Mechanic Fry, and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Ellwood had finish their “top secret” and “extreme priority” mission briefing. The target was in the following coordinates: N 39º 17′ 17.63”, W 8º 44′ 23.86”. It was a factory that processed wastes from the swine industry, turned into a chemical weapons plant. Weapons that were beginning to tilt the balance to the central powers.
“Are you all mad? Do you think that our two airplanes will be enough to clean up that midden?” 2nd Lieutenant Ferguson shouted. “Do you at least know what is near those coordinates?”. It was the lair of Rittmeister Manfred Von Richthofen and his new Fokker DR.1. An airplane that was in the process of acceptation into the forces of the Luftstreitkräfte, but it was one that had already proven it valour and it superiority in face of most of the airplanes that RFC and the rest of the air forces of the “entente” had at their disposal.
To join the party, the Bloody April it hadn’t been nice to the squadrons of the RFC, leading them to a level of readiness below the acceptable.
The tallest man answered him to keep calm because the situation was under control and preparations had been taken to counter all the possibilities. Support was asked to the 65e Escadrille from the Aéronautique Militaire, and they had sent nothing less than the future ace, Sous Lieutenant Charles Nungesser with the superb, yet underrated, Nieuport 17
With the attack force assembled:
The battle plan was revealed:
The walls were covered with posters appealing to the national union, patriotism and to the sacrifice for the Kaiser. The day wasn’t turning out to be a good one. Although the sun was beginning to appear from behind the hills, the weather was damp, the sky was overcast and the mourning dew wasn’t making it any better.
The young telegraph operator was cursing his life when his machine burst into life. After receiving the entire message he ran his eyes through it. “Another meaningless message”, he thought, “don’t those bastards have anything better to do than to make my life a living hell?” Reluctant, he gets up and heads towards the communications officer to deliver the message.
“When did you receive this?”, the officer asks him. “Just now, sir”, the young telegraph operator promptly responds. It was a coded message with information about an attack the Allied forces were about to launch in the early morning hours on that same day.
The sirens loud cry made leutnant Werner Voss get up heavily from the comfortable chair where he was resting after a well spent night in the pilots lounge. “It feels like I got run over by a truck”, he thought as he drank a glass of water to clear his head. He put on his flight jacket, headed outside and disappeared in the morning mist.
“They’ll be aproaching from our 2 o’clock” Von Richthofen was saying. The estimated time of arrival of the enemy aircraft was drawing near. The mechanics had been alerted and the german planes were ready.
“They’re going down in flames”, boasted Oberleutnant Ernst Udet as he picked up his flight goggles and took a sip from a bottle of schnapps that was on the table. “It’s just to keep the joints warm, like my grandmother used to say” he anwsered when faced with the inquisitive look in the Red Barons face.
They took up their flight gear and left the building towards the waiting aircraft with the stance and look of the hunters they were.
Leutnant Voss joined them along the way. He was a mess and was dinking profusely from a bottle of water.
“I’m guessing you don’t give a damn about the plan details, right?” said Oberleutnant Udet. Voss just shook his head. He was a young pilot that already counted 34 confirmed kill al the controls of his fabulous Albatros D.III.
The three planes were aligned near the runway. Their mission was one of life or death. The Factory was to be defended to the death.
The German planes begin the game near the Factory, the Albatros D.III of Leutnant Werner Voss and the Albatros D.Va of Oberleutnant Ernst Udet where on the left flank while the Fokker DR.1 of Baron Manfred Von Richthofen defended alone the right flank. His reputation forced him to take that place.
The Entente pilots aboard their infernal machines got to the sky with the Nieuport 17 of Sous Lieutenant Charles Nungesseron on the left, the Sopwith Camel of Flight Sub-Lieutenant Aubrey Beauclerk Ellwood in the center and the RAF Bomber RE 8 of 2nd Lieutenant Gerald William Ferguson and Air Mechanic 2nd Class Fry on the right, this last one loaded with the precious explosive charges meant to successfully accomplish the mission – the destruction of the Factory.
The overcast sky was suffering with the passage of aircraft preparing for a crucial clash that could significantly alter the course of the conflict that ravaged Europe.
The German aircrafts traveled with the maximum possible speed across the left flank in order to cut off the passage of the dangerous bomber approaching its objective. This seeing the coming danger of the enemy aircraft, got closer to the friendly fighters looking for the support of the comrades in arms.
While these movements ocurred, the Red Baron positioned the triplane in order to account for a new victim to his string of victories. “Well, at worst I’ll turn to the right and cut the passage to the bomber and support the attack of these two green flyers” was the toughs of Von Richthofen coming closer to the enemy aircraft.
Flight Sub-Lieutenant Ellwood observed the maneuvers of the opponents and positioned his old Camel in order to cross the path of the Red Baron and try his luck nailing the triplane with lead. “Ah Ah!! Let them see how I’ll get that Crimson Baron!“, Ellwood dreamed while priming the trigger of his twin synchronized Vickers guns, inflicting 3 damage to the structure and engine, of the already weakened (8 points of damage ) red triplane.
“I can’t believe this guy is coming at me like that!!” thought Von Richthofen as he prepared for another bold and risky maneuver that was his hallmark.
The German maneuvers brought them to very favorable positions, enabling them to carry out a deadly attack against the sluggish English bomber.
Voss’ Albatros assumed a predatory stance against its main target – the RAF RE 8 – while Udet and von Rich circled around to trap their prey.
Meanwhile, Sous Lieutenant Charles Nungesser on his brand new Nieuport 17 darted through the bloody battle like a sparrow through a cloud of gnats – certainly his objective was to test the machine and not to get entangled in boring attrition fights!
Ellwood pushed his machine too far and missed the chance to finish what he had started – shoot down the Baron!
Realizing their prey was such an easy target, Oberleutnant Udet and Baron opened fire with their Maschinengewehr 08.
and managed to shoot down in a single swoop the biggest threat to their lifes.
At the same time, 2nd Lieutenant Ferguson tried his luck and managed to do what Flight Sub-Lieutenant Ellwood could not: shoot at Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen. However, he was unable to get a clear shot and managed only to strike a single damage point out of the afflicted triplane.
The German pilots had succeeded in their mission: to protect their dear factory.
It was already high time to return to the air strip, repair existing damage and have a well deserved breakfast – they could almost smell the sausages and hot coffee being served in the officers’ mess.
The remaining “Entente” pilots still managed to see the crew of the bomber crawling unharmed out of the airplane’s wreck, despite its violent crash.
“The Huns will get what they deserve!” raged Ellwood while returning to friendly lines to find support for a rescue of his fallen comrades.
Several minutes had passed since the battle had started, and apparently the narrator had forgotten his job – he must have been quite busy…
2nd Lieutenant Gerald William Ferguson and 2nd Class Air Mechanic Fry, after being recovered in a dangerous and troubled mission of “search and rescue”, were already inside the new bomber, equipped with herculean willpower and an unwavering faith in their goal. Even after seeing their comrade Sous Lieutenant Charles Nungesser’s Nieuport 17 being shot down heartlessly and mercilessly, by the huns pilots, their resolve was steadfast.
“Fry, that’s it mate!” shouted 2nd Lieutenant Ferguson to his observer, moments after shooting down the Oberleutnant Ernst Udet’s Albatros D.Va. But to Ferguson misery, the clash between the two airplanes that had happened minutes before was enough to distract him momentarily from his mission route. When he came to himself his target was passing by his left side!
“Bullocks! The target was so damn close and now I have to go around the world just to catch him again!”, ranted Ferguson while preparing to make a right turn.
“Fry, do you see anyone in our tail? Fry, do you copy?” He looked back and saw that 2nd Class Air Mechanic Fry hung lifeless on the gun he had used to shoot down the German plane. Oberleutnant Udet while being shoot down managed to inflict mortal damage in the english bomber.
At the same time Leutnant Werner Voss at the controls of his Albatros D.Va, was struggling frantically to free himself from the pursuit of the Sopwith Camel, flown by Flight Sub-Lieutenant Ellwood.
Meanwhile Von Richthofen just finished to complete one of his risky maneuvers! The kind that made his name known among the other pilots! (Von Richthofen thought to himself – “geez! This game has very real maneuvers! One has to turn the cards face up to make sure that it is the correct maneuver!” – while picking a card that made him turn left when what he wanted was to turn right! – no comments!”).
Voss managed to free himself from Ellwood’s harassment. Life was smiling at him again!
“God damn it! This animal has real nice moves!” Cursed Ellwood while coming across his comrades bomber that was in middle of the turn which will make them pass exactly above their target.
Von Richthofen finished the Immelmann maneuver which would intercept the 2nd Lieutenant Ferguson’s planed trajectory.
Ferguson goes full throttle, and puts to work all of the 150 horses from his bomber motor. “It’s now or never! This time I mean business, the goal is near”.
The baron achieved his intentions, a perfect positioning with clear view to shoot down the English plane, once again he would be denying success to the enemy pilots. He presses the trigger of his machineguns, but the result was very unsatisfactory, after all the noise coming from their spandau’s seamstresses, the english bomber remained unchanged in its will to complete the mission.
Voss albatros had concluded with success another Immelmann maneuver, and his position was perfect for shooting merciless Ferguson’s airplane. With the advantage of the speed gain with the maneuver and extracting all the power that the Merced’s motor if his airplane could give the distance between the two planes got shorter. The distance was the ideal for maximizing the damage that his machineguns could give. Voss shoot without mercy or pity against 2nd Lieutenant Ferguson bomber.
Von Richthofen, like a bird of prey, continuous stalking his prey, with the double objective of denying the success to the British mission and increasing his kill count.
Fergusson feels his bomber trembling, “hold on, the day will be ours!”. While Ellwood’s Sopwith Camel, was preparing to leave the field of battle with the feeling that their mission was almost complete and with success
Ferguson already cranky bomber did not resist another attack from the enemy airplanes and it literally died on the shore. Victory, once more, did not escape to the central powers forces. Although one of their airplanes had been shoot, the balance of the mission was positive. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
The German planes return to their base, with protruding feelings, the joy of the mission accomplished, but at the same time with the grief of a down comrade. The battle was pretty demanding, as you can see from the damage inflicted in the German side:
Ferguson climbs, from the wreckage of another bomber, this time with is comrade and friend Fry, between is arms, in the end he still breathed. “Fry they do not expect for the delay! While exists British men with your fiber and resilience, those Huns won’t prevail!”.
“hum… that and sausages with cabbage” replied 2nd Class Air Mechanic Fry.
author: Emanuel Dias