“That’s right; take off how you like. I’ll approach from the north, and you

come in from the south. It doesn’t matter about the sun, as the shooting

doesn’t start until we see each other.”

“Good enough.”

“Wait a minute, though!” cried Biggles, suddenly remembering something.

“Have you got any ammunition in your Vickers?”

“No, they’re just being overhauled.”

“Hold you hard a minute, then,” retorted Biggles. “I’ve got a full belt in

mine, and they weigh something. I’ll have them taken out and then we’ll be


It was the work of a moment for a fitter to remove the belt of ammunition,

and both machines then took off amid the joyful applause of the assembled aerodrome staff, officers, and ack-emmas.

Biggles headed away to the north, climbing as steeply as possible in order

to reach the arranged altitude without loss of time. At eight thousand feet

he swung round in a wide circle and headed back towards the aerodrome,

knowing that he would be able to make the other two thousand feet by the

time he reached it. He peered ahead through his centre section for the S.E.,

although he was still a long way away from the aerodrome, but Wilks had

gone as far to the south as he had to the north, and they were still invisible

to each other.

Biggles, was, of course, backing the manoeuvrability of the Camel against

the slight pull in speed and ceiling held by the other. He hoped to beat

Wilks on the turn, for the Camel’s famous right-hand turn, caused by the

terrific torque of the rotary engine, was a very real advantage in a combat.

That was really all he had in his favour, but it was chiefly upon that quality

that he had developed his own technique in air-fighting, and he hoped to

catch Wilks unprepared for the manoeuvre.

Again, he peered ahead for his opponent, and pressed gently on the rudder-bar to swing his nose clear from the head-on position. The movement

may have saved his life. There came the shrill clatter of a machine-gun

at point-blank range; at the same moment a stream of tracer poured between his wings.

The shock was almost stunning in its intensity, so utterly unprepared was

he for anything of the sort, and his actions for at least two seconds were

purely automatic and instinctive. He kicked out his left foot hard and dragged the joystick back into his right thigh. The Camel bucked like a wild

horse, and before it came out, he had recovered his composure and was

looking for his aggressor. He had done quite a lot of thinking in the brief

interval of the half-roll. His first impression was that Wilks had attacked

him, thinking he had been seen, and by some accident ammunition had

been left in his guns. But he dismissed the thought at once and knew that

he had fallen victim to a prowling Hun, operating for once in a while over

the British side of the lines. That, he reasoned, could only mean that the

Hun – if Hun it was – was an old hand at the game; a novice would hardly

dare to take such a risk.

If it was so, then he was by no means out of the wood, for, unarmed, he

could only make for the ground, an operation that would require a few minutes of time, a period of which the Hun, finding his fire was not returned,

would certainly take full advantage.

Then he saw him, an orange-and-black Fokker D.VII, with a large Ace of

Spades painted on the side of its fuselage. Biggles brought the Camel

round in a lightning turn that put him on the tail of the black-crossed machine for a few seconds. Automatically he sighted his guns and swore bitterly when his pressure on the Bowden lever produced no result. At that

moment he thought he could have got his man, but there was no time for

idle speculation. The Hun had reversed the position by a clever move, and

a tattered skylight warned Biggles that he had better follow the old adage

of running away if he wished to fight again another day.

He spun, counted six turns, and came out. Instantly the chatter of guns

sounded so close that he winced. He held the Camel in a dizzy turn for

a minute, with the Hun racing behind him trying to bring his guns to bear,

and then he spun again. All the time, at the back of his mind, was a fierce

condemnation of his utter and inexcusable folly in flying without ammunition, and an equally fierce conviction that if he did succeed in reaching the

ground alive, he would never again be guilty of such madness. He spun

for so long that he became giddy and pulled out sluggishly. But the Hun

was still with him, and he heard his bullets ripping through the spruce and

canvas of his fuselage.

For the first time in his life, he nearly panicked. He twisted and turned like

a minnow with a pike on its tail, losing height on every possible occasion,

and finally side-slipped steeply into a field that appeared invitingly under

INFO Eduard - September 2021

him. He did not notice that a narrow ditch ran diagonally across the field,

and it would have made no difference if he had. Fortunately, the Camel had

nearly run to a stop when he reached it, so it suffered no serious damage.

It lurched sickeningly, stopped dead, and cocked its tail up into the air. The

prop disintegrated into flying splinters, mixed with clods of earth.

Biggles was jerked forward and struck his nose on the padded ends of his

guns with a force that made him “see stars”. He swore, tersely but effectively, undid his safety belt, and looked up just in time to see the Hun waving

him an ironic farewell. He watched it disappear into the distance, followed

by a long trail of archie bursts, and then climbed out on to the ground to

survey the damage. As he did so he noticed for the first time that a road

bounded the field, over the hedge of which a number of Tommies were

grinning at him. He heard a car pull up with a grinding of brakes, but he

paid no attention to it until a sharp commanding voice brought him round

with a jerk. No fewer than three red-tabbed officers were corning towards

him; the first, an elderly, hard-faced man, wore the badges of a General.

“My God! Here’s a General come to sympathise with me. I couldn’t bear

it,” muttered Biggles to himself, and he was framing a suitable reply when

the General spoke. The voice was not sympathetic; in fact, there was something in the tone of voice that made him wince and may have resulted

in his subsequent attitude.

“How long have you been in France?” began the General, coldly.

“About eleven months, sir,” replied Biggles.

“That seems to have been quite long enough.”

Biggles stared, hardly able to believe his ears. Then, suddenly understanding the implication behind the General’s words, he froze, and clenched

his teeth.

“I witnessed the whole affair – I should hardly call it a combat – from

start to finish,” went on the General contemptuously.

“Not once did you make the slightest attempt to return the German’s

fire. In fact, to put the matter still more clearly, you ran away. Am I right?”

“Quite right, sir,” answered Biggles frostily.

“I thought so. That orange and black Fokker has been causing a lot of

trouble over our side of the lines lately, and you had an admirable opportunity to shoot him down, such an opportunity that may not occur again.

It is a pity you did not take advantage of it, but it would seem that he was

the better man.”

“It would seem so, sir.”

“It would be futile to deny it,” went on the General, icily. “What is your


“Bigglesworth, sir.”


“Two-six-six, sir.”

“At Maranique, I believe.”

“That is so, sir.”

“Very well. Report back to your unit at once.”

“Very good, sir.”

The General turned on his heel, closely followed by his two aides. Biggles

watched them go, sullen angers mouldering in his eyes. “Never been in

the air in your lives, any of you, I’ll bet. You’d jump like cats if you heard

a gun go off. Then, without asking why, you come and call me a coward,”

he mused. “The fact is, I suppose that Hun has been shooting up your snug

little headquarters, and you don’t like it. You wouldn’t. Well, I hope he blows

your dug-out as high as the Eiffel Tower, and I hope you’re inside it when

he does,” he soliloquized, as he made his way slowly down the road in

search of a telephone, to ask for transport to fetch him, and the wrecked

Camel, home.


Major Mullen’s opening remark when, an hour later, he reported at the

Squadron Office, was an inopportune one, particularly with Biggles in his

present mood. Far from pouring oil on troubled waters, it added fuel to

a conflagration.

“You’ve let me down badly, Bigglesworth,” he began.

Biggles drew a deep breath, and stiffened. This sort of talk from the General had merely irritated him, but that his own C.O. should doubt him put

him in a cold fury.

“You let a Hun run you into the ground without firing a shot at him.” The

Major did not ask a question; he made a statement, and Biggles, who was

about to explain the true facts of the case, shut up like an oyster. He made

no reply.