“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.”
“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
“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
“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
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
“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