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The Kindness of Strangers WW2 Campaign - Chapter 3 – Targets of Opportunity

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Late afternoon, 12 May 1940, Somewhere over NW France

Two days ago, the German war machine had come to France, and “Marianne” was finding blitzkrieg to be an unforgiving dance partner. The initial thrust of the attack had broken through French lines in several locations; troops were already falling back before the flood, reeling from a coordinated series of strikes that had overwhelmed their defenses.

It had been two of the longest, most frustrating days of my life.

“Bull” Halahan had pulled me off the flight line after that first, eventful sortie. I can’t say as though I really could fault his decision: we had more pilots that aircraft, I had the fewest hours in Hurricanes, and I had managed to get myself lost in our own backyard before bouncing three ‘109s…and then proceeded to muck about without firing a shot. At least the morning wasn't a total loss, as my section leader had bagged himself a ‘109 with a nice bit of deflection shooting.

I appreciated that he let me down easy, without an official word of sanction, though we both knew the truth. I suppose “my particular skill set” saved me, as we now had need of a dedicated maintenance officer and my “grounding” became “temporarily reassigned.” In hindsight, if I wasn't so bitterly disappointed, I might have appreciated the opportunity to take apart one of those glorious Merlins to see what made it tick. Instead, I watched. And I waited. And I discovered that I hated waiting.

Much of my time those first two and a half days was spent overseeing the refueling, rearming, and general maintenance of the squadron’s kites. As of 10 May, we had been down to thirteen operational Hurricanes, a number which had fallen to ten by the afternoon of 12 May. The lads were giving better than they were getting, but not without cost. And my crews were doing what they could to keep the damaged Hurri’s operational. I found myself falling back into familiar rhythms, my time on the Grand Prix circuit and later, in Spain, guiding hands left idle by a troubled brain.

Briefings had become short, intense affairs, by the afternoon of 12 May. The squadron was prepping for our fourth sortie of the day in support of French troops in our sector. As had occurred in earlier sorties, the expectation was that our Hurricanes would see action…and against a numerically superior foe. I was scratching out a series of reminders for my crew chiefs when I was jarred back to reality.

“Hey… Tip? Still with us?”

Looking up, I found the eye of PR “Johnnie” Walker, a senior flight leader with several kills already to his credit. “Sir…?” I queried, mentally trying to catch up. “You up for a go?”

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It was probably the late afternoon sun catching a canopy that betrayed the low-flying Stukas. They had apparently delivered their payloads on some unfortunate souls, and were running for home and doing their best to look inconspicuous…but we were having none of that.



Pilot Officer Collins spied the three gull-winged dive bombers several thousand feet below and to our left. His simple “Tally-ho!” signaled his intent, as did his aggressive approach. Flipping my Hurricane onto its back, I followed, once more intent upon my lead’s wing. The three Junkers turned into our dive as soon as they identified their danger, hoping to increase the angle of attack and blunt the thrust of our attack.







Perhaps a little too hungry to avenge a comrade lost earlier this day, we closed at an incredible rate, accepting the reality of the passing engagement offered us by the enemy. Collins’ last second slip to the left came as a surprise, separating us just as he began firing on the lead plane. I saw strikes against and Stuka’s right wing and fuselage at the same time I felt my kite shudder under the impact of multiple hits. Distracted, my first shots went wide.



And then we were among the dive bombers, two foxes in the hen house. The lead Stuka passed to my left, and I fired instinctively at the black and green bird as she flashed past. At that range it was almost impossible to miss. Dozens of .303 rounds staggered the Ju-87, holing the engine and crew compartments, and setting the kite ablaze. I had no time to admire my handiwork, no confirm the kill, as Collins was taking a pounding from the remaining Stuka’s rear-seater







Once again, I felt my rugged little monoplane shudder as I came under fire, this time from the third German dive-bomber. This time, however, I refused to be deterred, snapping off a quick shot as the second Stuka obliged by passing directly under my guns. Once again, I could not assess the damage I’d dealt, as the proximity of the third German forced to snap to left to avoid a collision…







…which brought me within range of their rear-mounted mg’s. More lucky than good, today, was apparently enough as I was able to weather the storm relatively unscathed and reacquire my lead as he swung around in pursuit of the fleeing Stukas.









It was only a matter of time, I suppose, as the lone remaining Stuka was struggling to remain in the air. We quickly reeled the dive-bomber in, overhauling her in a matter of minutes.







I've got to give a hand to the Stuka’s pilot, he did what he could to unmask his defensive fire, but Collins had outguessed him, slipping to the right to line up a shot.







Two quick bursts, and the deed was done.







I flew silently for a few seconds, collecting myself as the violent and very personal nature of war overwhelmed me. We, Collins and I, had been the agents of these pilots’ deaths. It very easily could have been us… but it was not. Whatever brought us safely through this day…be it luck, or skill, or fate…carried the day.

That thought, combined with the growing exultation that I had struck finally at the enemy, taught me a painful, valuable lesson that day.

Never celebrate until you are safely home, and in your own barn. Never.

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Have you ever had the feeling that you were being watched? Or that something was wrong? Have you ever had that little voice in the back of your head warn you of something dire? My advice to you if you do? Listen to it. Immediately.





Whether the ‘109s were responding to requests for help from the doomed Stukas, or they simply happened on to us at an inopportune time matters not. They came screaming out of the sun and, if not for a lucky quirk of fate, they would have had us both.



“Bandits! 5 o’clock! Break! Break! Break!” I threw my Hurricane into a tortuous climbing turn, the violence of which threatened to tear her wings of. She protested at the violence of the turn, but she brought her nose around with alacrity. Collins, too, responded immediately, but had not the advantage of acting as the words were spoken.

Almost immediately, the air was alive with cannon fire. Amazingly enough, I emerged unscathed. I think Collins took a couple of strikes, but I cannot be sure.



Nearly standing my kite on its tail forced the yellow-nosed ‘109 to overshoot, but his turn enabled a shot at Collins’ Hurricane. Bracketed by the German fighters, Collins didn't have a chance. I watched in horror as the fusillade snapped off the Hurri’s right wing. There was no time to get out before the aircraft careened earthward.







Everything was happening so fast, that I had no time to think. I muscled my Hurricane’s nose back to the left, firing as Collins’ executioner slashed by. The ‘109 staggered under the fire of my eight .303s, and then entered a shallow dive. I snap-rolled after him, putting in another long burst for good measure. Smoke trailing from under the manifold, the green Messerschmitt rolled over and nosed towards the ground as my guns ran dry.



The absence of sound was what brought me back to the mortal peril I had put myself in. I was so intent upon avenging Collins, that I lost situational awareness. There was another ‘109. Where was that other ‘109?!



My Hurricane suddenly jumped sideways, the stick ripped from my hands, and my head thrown against the canopy. Unable to see clearly, I fought to regain control of the Hurricane by instinct and feel, finally pulling out of what must have been a spin a few hundred feet above the trees. Blinking my eyes clear, I frantically searched the surrounding sky, amazed to find it unoccupied. The ‘109 was gone.

Had we collided? Why was I still airborne?



Not one to question salvation, I got to work nursing my bent bird home. The Hurricane’s control surfaces were, to be polite, responding sluggishly, and the entire crate was shuddering in a most unhealthy fashion. Struggling to keep airborne, the Rolls-Royce was putting up a valiant fight, but she didn't sound as though she had much left in her. The fact that we made it to M. Dupont’s wonderfully flat field, I believe, emptied my daily reservoir of luck.

You've heard that they say that any landing one can walk away from is a good one? Well, I walked away from my first belly landing.

Sadly, my Hurricane did not. She was written off as a total loss.

Oh, and remind me to thank my mom…. Let’s just say that M. Dupont is neither an expert in aircraft recognition, nor is he all that pleased that the “German” he’d captured wasn't.







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Scenario Briefing
  1. Pilot (Sgt) Raymond is a Rookie, and embodies all the limitations of such.
  2. AI aircraft flown using BlackRonin's Advanced Solo Charts
  3. AI aircraft will RTB if they suffer fire or engine damage, 75% of total damage points, or the pilot is wounded (5 damage).
  4. The positions of advantage were determined by a simple die roll: even = RAF, odd = Luftwaffe
  5. Once the Stukas were engaged, an "A" damage chit was drawn. The '109s enter the round after the 1st special damage is drawn.

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Comments

  1. Blackronin's Avatar
    Excellent, Chris.
    This is, in my own opinion your best WW2 AAR ever!
    Thanks for being a companion in this Solo Campaign!
  2. twr's Avatar
    Really enjoyed the report, thanks!