Illustration: Drawing Petr Hrčka
“You’ve broken your machine, I hear,” went on the C.O.
“I have, sir.”
“Brigadier-General Sir Hales-Morier, of Air Headquarters, has just
been on the phone to me. I will spare your feelings by not repeating what
he said, but I gather he proposes to post you to Home Establishment; in
the meantime, he wants a report tonight from me on the matter. It is to
reach him by six-thirty, so will you please make out your own report and
let me have it by five o’clock.”
“I will, sir.”
Biggles did not go to the Mess. Instead, seething with anger, he made
his way moodily to the sheds. He stood on the deserted tarmac for a few
minutes and then sent anack-emma down to the Mess with a message
to Algy Lacey, of his own Flight, informing him that he was borrowing
his machine and would be back some time. Then he took off and hedge-hopped – finding some satisfaction in the risks he took – to 287 Squadron, and told Wilks, whom he found at lunch, just what had occurred.
Wilks, who was about to pull Biggles’s leg in connection with his failure
to turn up at the appointed place, swore luridly.
“What are you going to do about it?” he asked.
“Do? Nothing — not a blessed thing.”
“You might have told your Old Man about only having celluloid in your
“I’m making no excuses to anybody; people can think what they like.
Brass-hats should either ask why or look at a fellow’s record before
they jump down his throat, and mine isn’t too bad, although I say it myself.”
“They’ll think you’ve lost your nerve and send you home,” observed
“Let ‘em. I’d as soon be busted by a ham-fisted pupil at an F.T.S. as have
my inside perforated by explosive bullets. We’ll be able to finish that little
duel some time when you come home on leave.”
“Don’t talk rot. You go and tell Mullen that you hadn’t any ammunition,
or I will.”
“You mind your own blooming business, Wilks,” Biggles told him col-
dly, and refusing an invitation to stay to lunch, returned to his Camel.
He swept into the air in a climbing turn, so steep that if his engine had
conked the story of his war exploits would have ended there and then;
he knew it perfectly well and derived a bitter sort of satisfaction from
the knowledge. But his engine continued to give full revs, and on a wide-open throttle he climbed in ever-increasing circles. He knew precisely
where he was, for as one landmark disappeared from view, he picked
out another, although this procedure was purely automatic and demanded no conscious thought. Yet where he was going, he did not know; he
was simply flying for the sake of flying. In his present frame of mind,
he had no desire to talk to anyone, least of all his own Squadron. So, he
continued to climb, thinking about the affair of the morning.
It was a burst of white archie about two hundred yards ahead that brought him out of his reverie. It was only a single burst, and as it was British
archie it could only mean one thing – a signal. Mentally thanking the
gunners for what should have been quite unnecessary, he scanned the
sky around quickly for the hostile machine that he knew must be in the
vicinity and was just in time to see a vague shadow disappear into the
eye of the sun. It had gone too quickly for him to recognise the type, but
as he could see no other machines in the sky, he assumed it was an
Now a newcomer to the game would have turned at once, and thus made
it clear to the stalker – if stalker it was – that he had been observed; but
Biggles did nothing of the sort. He did certain things quickly, but he held
straight on his course. The first thing he did was to pullup the handle of
his C.C. gear and fire two or three shots to satisfy himself that the guns
were working; then he twisted round in his seat as far as his thick flying-kit and the cramped space would permit and squinted through his
extended fingers in the direction of the sun. The glare was blinding, but
by just keeping the ball of the thumb over the blazing disc and opening
his fingers only wide enough to get a blurred view through the bristles
of his gauntlet, he was able to search the danger zone. He picked out
a straight-winged machine, in silhouette, end on, and knew that the enemy pilot was just launching his attack.
Not by a single movement of joystick or rudder did he reveal that he had
spotted the attacker; he watched its approach coolly. Only when the Hun,
who now appeared as a thick black spot, was about three hundred yards
away, did he push his joystick forward for more speed; then, when he
judged that the other was about to fire, he made a lightning Immelmann
turn. He knew that at that moment the enemy pilot would be squinting
through his sights, and the disappearance of the Camel from his limited
field of view would not unduly alarm him.
In this he was correct. The Boche, thinking he had a “sitter”, wasted three
precious seconds looking for him in his sights, and it was the sharp
stutter of Biggles’s guns that warned him of his peril, and sent him half
Now it is a curious fact that, although Biggles had been thinking about
his orange-and-black acquaintance of the morning when the archie
gunners had fired their well-timed shot, all thought of him went out of
his head when he realised that he was being stalked; so it was with
something of a mild shock, swiftly followed by savage exultation, that
he saw the well-remembered colours through his sights as he took the
Hun broadside on and grabbed his Bowden lever.
The pilot of the black-crossed machine came out of his life-saving manoeuvre, looking around with a speed born of long experience. He saw
the Camel anywhere but where he expected to find it, and in the last place he hoped to find it – on his tail. But he was, as Biggles had assumed,
no novice at the game, and did not allow the British machine to retain the
coveted position long enough to do him any harm. Biggles did actually
get in a quick burst just as the other machine darted out of his sights, but
it was ineffective, and the duel began in earnest, both pilots aware that it
could only end in the downfall of one of them.
They were evenly matched, although Biggles, smarting from his reprimand of the morning – for which, rightly or wrongly, he blamed the pilot
of the orange machine – fought with a ferocity that would not have been
possible in a normal cold-blooded battle. He hit the other machine several times, but without causing it any apparent damage, and he took
several shots through his own empennage in return.
The fight had opened over the British side of the lines, the Hun evidently
repeating his tactics of the morning; but a fairly strong wind was carrying both machines towards the pock-marked, barren strip of no-man’s-land. Naturally, this was not to Biggles’ liking, for unless the Hun
made a bad mistake, which was hardly to be expected, he would soon be
INFO Eduard - September 2021