James R. Driscoll.

The Brighton Boys with the Flying Corps online

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by him for future reference. At one railway station a sufficient
amount of bustle caused Carleton to watch that locality carefully.

"That is odd," he mused. "New activity there this morning. Maybe the
Boches have planned an ammunition dump at that point. That is one
for the bombers."

Thus time passed. Archie was busy dodging his dangerous namesakes,
while Carleton focused his entire attention on gathering material
for his report.

Carleton did not watch the movements below, however, with more care
than Archie watched the sky on all sides for signs of enemy air-craft.
The American machine had been so long inside the enemy lines that a
German fighting plane might be expected at any moment. At last a
Boche plane did make its appearance, a mere brown speck, at first,
far ahead. Archie's signal to Carleton that trouble was ahead was
conveyed by giving the machine a slight rock as he started to climb.
Not much time was allowed for maneuvering. Carleton lost no time
in placing a disk on his Lewis gun, and as the German approached,
both observers opened up with a salvo. It was all over in a second.
Firing point blank, in that fraction of time spent in passing, both
had missed.

The excitement of that brief encounter, a mere matter of seconds
as the two swift planes swept out of each other's range, was hardly
past when the rattle of a machine-gun nearby and the _zipp!_ _zipp!_
as the bullets tore their way through the canvas, told of another
Boche machine at hand. Neither Archie nor Carleton could see it.
Carleton unbuckled the strap that held him in his seat, rose, and
looked over the top plane.

There, just above and well out of range, was an enemy fighting plane.
The machine had apparently dropped from the clouds above, and with
great good fortune gained an ideal position. Before Archie could
swing his "bus" around so that Carleton could get his Lewis gun to
work on the Boche another salvo came from the enemy machine-gun.

That belt of cartridges found its mark. Both Carleton and Archie
were hit, the former badly. The young officer dropped back into his
seat. Archie saw that the lad had sufficient presence of mind to
hastily buckle his belt round his waist again, then, his right
shoulder numb, he dived steeply, bringing his plane up and straightening
it out after a sheer drop of a thousand feet.

The German machine tail-dropped alter the American one, but by a
stroke of good luck the enemy pilot seemed to have some difficulty
in righting. When Archie headed for home the Boche flier was far
below.

Carleton had become unconscious. Archie's head began to swim. His
right arm became stiff, and the blood from a wound in the shoulder
trickled down his sleeve. He dared not try to stop the bleeding,
and decided to trust to luck and make for home as fast as he could.
Periodically he became dizzy and faint, and once, when he thought
he was going to lose consciousness, he was roused by an anti-aircraft
shell that burst but a few feet from one of his wing tips. He managed
to dodge about and tried a half circle to get out of range of the
guns below.

Archie felt cold and hot by turns. Then his arm became painful. The
pain was all that made him keep consciousness, he thought afterward.
At last his own lines were passed. He felt a strange weakness, and
began to lose interest. Carleton's inert body swayed to one side,
and called Archie's attention to the fact that he was custodian
of another life, as well as his own, if life was still in Carleton's
body. Archie felt, somehow, that Carleton was not dead. That thought
keyed him up to still greater effort. He throttled his engine and
started downward, the warmer airs welcome as he came lower. At last
he was in home air. A final decision to buck up and hang on was
necessary to urge his weak muscles to act. He swayed in his seat.
His eyes closed and his grasp on the levers slackened. Again he saw
that senseless form strapped in the observer's seat. Poor Carleton.
He had been hard hit. Nothing for it but to land him as gently and
as safely as possible. Will power overcame the growing weakness and
inertia for one more struggle against the darkness that threatened
his consciousness, and Archie, striving with every element of his
being against falling forward insensible, threw back his elevator
and made a good landing.

As the machine came to rest the mechanics ran up to it and found
both observer and pilot apparently lifeless in their seats. Willing
hands soon had the two young men out of the machine and in the orderly
tent under the eye of the doctor. Carleton was the first to regain
consciousness. He was sorely wounded, a machine-gun bullet having
struck him in the neck and another in the leg. Archie's wound was
not so bad, but the hard fight to keep going and bring Carleton
and himself back home safely had told on his nervous system. At last
he opened his eyes, and smiled to hear his C.O., who was standing
beside him, say: "Carleton says you both got it well on the Boche
side of the line, and that you must have done wonders to get away
and get home. We won't forget your pluck, young fellow. Now let
them take you away and patch you up as soon as they can."

It was not often that the chief distributed praise, which made it the
more sweet. Archie was sent back to hospital, to spend many weary
weeks there, but to come out well and fit again at last. Carleton
was much longer in the doctor's hands, and months passed before he
again saw the front.




CHAPTER XIII

THE RAID ON ESSEN


A new triplane of great climbing power and high speed came to the
airdrome. Joe Little fell in love with it. Twice he took it on
bombing expeditions and twice returned with reports of real damage
to enemy supply stations and communications.

One night round the dinner table the boys of Joe's squadron planned
a raid of some magnitude, and later asked permission to carry it into
effect. It was a scheme to drop a load of bombs on the great Krupp
works at Essen. This had been done by one or two individual fliers
from Allied units, but the boys planned that with six of the new
type triplanes, if they could be procured, a really effective raid
on the great German productive center could be carried out.

The commanding officer did not disapprove the idea, but passed it
above him for approval from headquarters. The boys had worked out
the details carefully, and were keen on their project. At last
permission came. Booth, one of the most experienced aviators on
the western front, was to pilot one of the two triplanes of the
new type that had been allotted to the airdrome, and Joe Little
the other. The four other big bombing machines that were to go
on this mission were to be sent from another air station nearby.
Joe was pleased to be able to take Harry Corwin as his companion,
and none of the twelve men who had been selected for the expedition
worked harder over the plans and the maps than these two Brighton
boys.

At last the night selected for the raid came. It was a study to
see Joe Little inspect a machine before a flight, but on this occasion
he went over the big plane with extra care. He stood by the right
side of the tail for a minute chatting to Harry and then the two
boys went over every detail of the machine. While one fingered the
tail skid bolt the other examined the safety cable on the tail skid.
Stabilizer, elevator, and rudder were gone over carefully. Control
wires were gone over for their full lengths and their pulleys tried.
Brace wires were felt for slackness, from the tail to the inside of
the fuselage. The control wires to the ailerons, the pulleys and
the hinges, nothing escaped the eyes of Joe Little.

Each blade of the propeller he searched for a minute crack. Every
nut and bolt on the propeller he tried.

When in the machine and safely buckled to their seats, Joe ran his
engine a bit, to satisfy himself that she was producing just the
right music. The other five triplanes had been waiting. When Joe
had satisfied himself that his machine was in perfect condition the
word was given for the start. A series of staccato pops announced
that the whole fleet was getting under way and they were soon circling
the hangars and climbing off in the direction of the trenches. The
long journey had begun.

The night was moonlit and the stars were bright. Not a cloud was to
be seen. A fog obscured some of the low ground over which the
squadron had to pass, but they steered by compass, keeping perfect
formation. Finally the silver Rhine wound below them. Turning,
they followed the river until Coblenz was reached, then turned north
again. Germany's great manufacturing centers were passing below
the squadron now, one after another. The countless fires of monster
furnaces and factories, thousand upon thousand, glared into the night.
The tall chimneys and furnace stacks belched forth red, yellow, and
white flame as the munition works were pressed to their utmost to
produce the sinews of war for the guns along the line over which
the squadron had come.

By a certain point of identification all of the fliers knew Dusseldorf
when that large factory center was reached. So far they had not seen
an enemy plane. Essen was not far ahead now. Searchlights had been
semaphoring over more than one town they had passed, but not until
they had come over Dusseldorf did any of the Hun eyes from below
see them. At Dusseldorf they were spotted and a veritable hail of
anti-aircraft shell was hurled skyward. The signal to climb higher
was given and they were soon out of reach of the "Archies."

As they approached Essen the fires from thousands of furnaces lit up
the whole country round. Below them was the very heart of
shell-production and gun-making. The sight was an awe-inspiring and
magnificent one. The lights were so bright that the pilots and
observers could hardly distinguish the flashes of the guns which were
firing hundreds of shells at the menacing squadron.

Hovering but a few seconds above the scene of so much activity, guided
by the flaring furnaces and the blazing chimney stacks far beneath,
the signal was given to release the bombs, and down through the night
air, into the fire and smoke, dropped bomb after bomb.

As they fell and exploded their flashes could be seen distinctly in
spite of the blaze all about them. Great tongues of flame licked
up heavenward as if trying to reach the aircraft that had hurled the
destruction down upon the seething hives. A dull boom told of an
explosion, and the air rocked with the disturbance.

Hundreds of pounds of high explosive fell on Essen that night. Great
fires started here and there, visible to the Americans long after
they had started for home, which they did as soon as their loads
of bombs were loosed on the factories and munition plants beneath.
Enemy planes had begun to climb up to engage the daring raiders, but
the triplanes were well away before the German fliers reached anything
like their altitude. Not one of the six bombers had been hit. Back
they flew, satisfied that damage had been wrought to the enemy plants,
back by the Rhine and the Moselle, back safely to their aviation base.

At last, ahead, the pilots could see the flares lit to guide their
return. Each flier switched on his little light to see his
instruments, and gracefully dropped nearer the ground. A night
landing is always interesting. The familiar points near the airdrome
have a strangely different appearance at night. Everything is vague in
outline - -indistinct. Down the six machines dropped to the rows of
lights, flickering in the night breeze. A last moment, then the
instant for raising the elevator, then the gentle, resilient bump as
the wheels touch the level floor of the airdrome, and the fleet is home.

It was a fine raid, well planned and splendidly executed. It did not
cost our side a man nor a machine, and it spread death and destruction
among the centers that turned out the means of destruction that had
made the world-war a thing of horror. To bomb Krupp's works! The
very thought had a ring of retribution to it! The very name Krupp
had so sinister a sound. Well might the Brighton boys be proud of
Joe for the part he had played in the inception of the idea and the
work of carrying it through. They were proud. So was Joe's mother
when she heard of it. Harry Corwin wrote home about it. He wrote
three times, as a matter of fact, before he could concoct an account
of the night flight that would pass the censor. Finally he
accomplished that feat, however, and thus Joe Little's mother heard
of what her boy had done. The brave woman cried a little, as
mothers do sometimes, but her eyes lit up at the thought of the
lad distinguishing himself among so many brave young men. Such a
son was worth the sacrifice, she thought, with a sigh. "He is his
father's son," she said to herself. And to her came his words,
spoken many months before, "And my mother's," and her heart swelled
with pride.




CHAPTER XIV

A FURIOUS BATTLE


For a time it seemed that the Brighton boys were doomed to be separated,
but word came to the squadron commander in some way of the manner in
which they had entered the service, and he so arranged matters that
they were retained in his unit. Moreover, he saw to it that their
work should so far as possible keep them in touch with each other.

News came one day that the squadron to which they belonged was before
long to be transferred to the rear for a well-deserved rest, and
a new lot was to take their place. The boys were speculating upon
this item of news one evening after dinner, when Joe Little said:
"What a fine thing it would be if one day we all went out on the
same job! Did you fellows ever come to think of the fact that the
whole lot of us have never actually been out together once since we
came to France? I would like to see the whole lot of us have a shot
at the Boches at the same time, before we quit."

"I had a letter from Archie to-day," said Jimmy Hill. "He says it
will be some time before he rejoins us."

"Well, five of us are here yet, thanks more to luck than good sense,"
laughed Joe. "I think the Boche would know the five of us were left
if we went out together and had a smack at him."

"Stranger things might happen," said Richardson, looking up from an
illustrated paper. "The chief was talking only yesterday about
sending out a combined bombing and observing expedition to save
hunters. Three pilots gone sick in three days has made him short,
he said. I think the lot of us want a rest, if you ask me. With
three more fellows down there will not be such a lot of hunter pilots
to choose from. So you wonderful birds may have that chance to show
off that you're worrying about."

This sally raised a general laugh, and Bob Haines said quietly: "If a
bunch goes out to-morrow and we are all in it, I for one certainly
hope that you are in it, too, Richardson. I do not see any harm in
thinking we are better than the German fliers. I believe we are,
and I would like nothing better than to have one good combined go at
Brother Boche before we leave this part of the line."

Bob said this in such a serious tone that Parker, who had come in
late and was devouring a huge plate of corned beef. - -"bully," as
he called it - -and a big pile of bread and butter, looked up and
nodded his approval. "Me, too," Parker said, between bites.

"What we want and what we will get may be two very different things,"
said Harry Corwin. "We have never built any castles in the air yet
that materialized. I guess our combined raid, much as we might enjoy
it, will be a long time coming."

Harry was wrong. Two days later, the flight commander received orders
to carry out certain observation work and certain bombing work in
the same sector of the enemy's territory. The two new triplanes were
to be used as a bombing machine and an observation machine respectively.
The flight commander assigned the piloting of the first machine to
Richardson and the second to Bob Haines. To Bob's delight Dicky Mann
was chosen as his observer. Four of the wasp-like hunter machines,
the swiftest planes in the airdrome, were to accompany the two
triplanes. The pilots selected for these four one-man fliers were
Parker, Jimmy Hill, Joe Little and Harry Corwin.

The six machines were in the air before the boys realized that they
had their wish of two nights before. The roar of the six engines
filled the airdrome. Circling up, before the planes had risen more
than a few hundred feet, they began to take up their respective
positions according to instructions. The two heavier machines hung
comparatively low, while the four hunters, light and agile, climbed
higher and higher, above and on each side of the larger machines
below them. The great wing spread of the triplanes, and the huge,
ugly fuselage of the bombing machine, were in sharp contrast to the
dainty, wasp-bodied hunters.

Richardson's little major sat behind the machine-gun that was mounted
on the front of the fuselage of the big bombing machine. There were
sufficient high explosive bombs at his feet and suspended around
the cock-pit of the fuselage to do great damage if properly directed.
Dicky Mann was perched out on the very nose of the observation plane.
On one side of him was his Lewis gun, on the other his camera. The
great power of the triplanes had made it possible for the fuselage
on each one to be lined with light splinter-proof armoring, which gave
the occupants an added sense of security.

The four hunters sailed high out of sight of the two big triplanes.
It was a day of spotted clouds, a day of a sort of hide-and-seek
in the air. Up twenty thousand feet, nearly four miles above ground,
the quartette made for the appointed place, then took up their positions
and circled round waiting for developments.

Bob and Dicky, in the observation plane, were after certain definite
photographs, and the lower cloud strata made it necessary for them
to drop lower than usual to obtain that of which they were in search.
The Boche "Archies" burst shells all about them, but Bob kept the
swift machine maneuvering in such manner that to hit it required
great good fortune on the part of the German gunners. The _pop!_
_pop!_ _pop!_ of the anti-aircraft shrapnel and the _whizz!_ of the
pieces of shell went almost unnoticed by the two boys, so intent were
they on their quest. Once bits of shell tore through one of the
planes, and once a few stray bits rattled against the light armor
of the fuselage.

Richardson and the major, in the other triplane, had climbed to a
greater height. Richardson's instructions were to get into a
certain position as soon as possible and drop several hundred pounds
of high explosive on a big munition dump. Experience had taught him
that to be at a good height above an exploding dump was advisable.
Once before he had nearly been wrecked by the explosion of a German
munition depot, which had caused a commotion in the air for thousands
of feet above it.

Just as Bob and Dicky were circling around the spot they were bent on
photographing, and Richardson and the major were loosing off their
messengers of destruction toward the munition dump they had set out
to destroy, the four men in the hunters, at twenty thousand feet,
were beginning to feel the cold. Parker, whose job it was to give
the signals for action to his little fleet, dipped his plane slightly
and peered downward to see what was taking place below. His face
felt as if it was pressed to a block of ice. Surely some enemy
scouts would be on hand soon.

As Parker circled round, his eyes searching the sky below him, seven
Boche fighting machines came hurtling down from the north.

They had been hidden by fleecy, spotty clouds for a few moments,
and were already too near to the two triplanes below. Parker waved
his wing tips, which was his signal to his three companions in the
hunting machines that the fight was on, and headed toward the oncoming
fleet of seven. Joe Little was the first of the other three to see
their adversaries, and was not far behind Parker. Next came Jimmy
Hill, with Harry Corwin bringing up the rear.

The splendid planes rushed to the attack as though they knew the
necessity for speed. Their engines purred smoothly, singing a vicious
song, as they worked up their speed to more than a hundred miles an
hour. The four American hunters were high above the seven German
machines. Then the time came to drop downward. Parker first, and
the other three in turn, dipped the noses of their planes. The
added assistance of gravity lent swiftness to their flight until
they were swooping down on the enemy at little less than one hundred
and fifty miles an hour. The Boches at first seemed so intent upon
their quarry, the two triplanes, that they were like to be taken
completely by surprise by the four wasps from the upper air. Then
they saw the descending quartette. Parker, ahead, with one hand on
his controls and the other on his Lewis gun, made direct for the
first Boche of the seven. The moment he was within range he opened fire.

Parker was going at such speed that the fifty rounds he loosed off
apparently missed his opponent, in spite of the fact that but forty
yards separated them when the last bullet left Parker's gun. The
German went down in a clever spiral for a couple of thousand feet.
When he flattened out, however, Parker, who had dived with and
after him, was close behind. More, he was in an ideal position,
from which he fired another fifty rounds. These steel messengers
reached their billet, and the German flier went straight down to
earth.

But while Parker had been dropping with eyes on the first Boche, the
second had dropped after Parker. Parker reached for a new drum for
his Lewis gun, and as he did so the second Boche, who had got on
Parker's tail, let go at close range. The hunter was riddled. Parker
felt that he was hit, but not badly. That was his impression, at
least, at the moment. He spun his hunter round and dropped sheer
for a thousand feet, coming up in a fairly thick bank of white cloud.
He there flattened out again and began climbing, not being sure of
his altitude. No sooner had his engine begun to drone out the
rhythm of its full power, and the good hunter-plane begun to rise
majestically, than what should he see but the second enemy fighter
right in front of him! A new drum was in place on his Lewis gun,
and he let go. The Boche pilot threw up both hands and fell back,
and down into the cloud went the enemy plane, clearly out of control
and quickly out of sight.

Parker examined himself as well as he could, but was unable to locate
his wound. It was in his back somewhere, for he felt a stiffness
and numbness all down his spine, but he still could move his arms,
and felt no faintness. He decided that it must be merely a scratch,
and climbed up as fast as he could to get into the fray again.

The other three American hunters had engaged in close, desperate
encounters to a man. Joe Little was lucky enough to bring down his
adversary and circled round toward the two triplanes, which had
both finished their work and were climbing fast to get out of the
range of the "Archies." Jimmy Hill had missed his man, who went
down in a spiral, Jimmy spinning down after him. Owing to the
greater pace at which Jimmy was traveling he had to make a wider
spiral. The Boche flattened out and Jimmy dived for him again,
but before he could come within range the German dived straight
down to the ground and safety, where he appeared to land in such
manner as to show that he had suffered but little, if any, damage.
Jimmy was treated to an exceptionally severe salvo of "Archies"
before he could get well up again, and was slightly wounded in the
cheek by a shrapnel splinter. Harry Corwin's adversary fired at
Harry, and Harry fired at him, but neither made a hit, so far as
could be seen. The Boche was soon lost in a cloud for which he
was heading, and Harry circled back to find his fellows.

Meantime two of the German fighting machines had kept on for the big
triplanes. They were heading for fast, powerful machines, well
armed, but they dashed at them as though they had no fear of result.
The first German machine to score a hit was a fast Albatros. It
dived straight at Richardson's machine. Richardson side-slipped
and dropped like a stone till close to the ground. Not a single
German who watched his drop, whether watching from the air or from


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Online LibraryJames R. DriscollThe Brighton Boys with the Flying Corps → online text (page 10 of 11)