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The Kindness of Strangers – Chapter 6 – Hunters Hunted

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13 May 1940, somewhere in NE France

“Attention! Pilote allemande… Que pensez-vous que vous êtes en train de faire!?”

I stopped, taking care to make nothing that could be interpreted as a threatening gesture, and offered with genuine offense, “Allemand? Mais non... Anglais ! Je suis un pilote anglais....” Turning slowly, I favored the owner of the gravelly voice and ancient fowling piece with an exhausted silence.

Nothing forthcoming from the old Frenchman, I smiled wryly before gesturing towards the parachute which had brought me to earth only moments before. “Mon avion, monsieur... J'ai…” I started, and then was forced to pause, searching for the French that was eluding me in this moment of crisis. Exasperated, I finally asked “Parlez-vous anglais?”

“Oui…yes, monsieur. I speak English. Some.” Frowning now, he was careful to keep his distance. “You are… anglais?” he asked, clearly having difficulty disregarding his initial impressions of me.

“Yes, sir.” I confirmed, smiling. “English.” Gesturing towards the southwest, I added “And I really ought to be getting back to the airfield.” Placing the palm of my hand on my chest, I offered “Mon nom est Christophe.”

Seeing him pause as if considering my words, I continued, “If you knew of any transport… une voiture ... un camion...?”

He nodded absently, still trying to decide if he could believe me as I continued to press the advantage. “Oui, monsieur… I’m certain that if you could help me get back to the airfield… l’aérodrome….” Tailing off, I waited, a smile creeping back onto my face.

“Je sais où vous pouvez trouver une voiture...” he finally offered, lowering the barrel of the shotgun to a less threatening altitude.

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An hour later, I found myself bumping through the French countryside in, of all things, a 1931 Model A truck. Its Victory Red body, black pin stripe and red wheels, and white wall tires just added to the incongruity of my day. Thankfully, the driver – the town mayor, no less – remained quiet, concentrating on the road in the fading light. His silence let me draw inward, silently considering how I’d managed to lose my second Hurricane in only two days…

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Despite the fact that I had lost my wingman shot down and nursed home a Hurricane that had been completely shot about by the Germans, the lads of ‘B’ Flight celebrated my survival and 1.5 confirmed kills with an alacrity matched only by the solemnity with which they toasted our fallen comrade.

Stewart, my crew chief, did his best to convince me that she wasn’t a total write-off…so I humored him, nodding and offering a muttered “Uh-huh” before heading off to quarters.

Squadron Leader Halahan, ‘Bull’ to the lads, joined me as I walked. Offhandedly, he remarked, “You’re grounded until tomorrow afternoon…” he paused, before adding “when you’ll be going up, flying Billy’s wing.”

“Sir?” I asked, the question unfinished.

“Already penciled in, Sergeant Raymond,” he growled through a smile. “Now get some rest.”

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To be fair, we right stumbled upon the gaggle of 111s before either of us knew the other was there. Slipping below what had become a low ceiling – about 10,000 feet – the trio of bombers were to our 2 o’clock and couldn’t have been more than a couple thousand yards away.



Billy’s controlled “Tally-ho!” brought my eyes around and I nodded once, signaled I understood his intent. It had already been a good day, with my section leader downing a lone “Flying Pencil” less than 20 minutes into our flight, and he was eager to improve upon his success.



Although an attack from this quarter wasn’t ideal, the bombers had yet to see us, and Billy was not about to pass up such an opportunity. Rolling into a dive, I followed my section leader, falling upon the three Heinkels just as a series of orange flashes announced that we had the full and undivided attention of the German crews.



Billy, always a cool hand, closed range before firing such that we engaged the leftmost Heinkel simultaneously. I saw good strikes across the left wing and center fuselage, and proof that we had hurt her: a trail of greasy smoke began to stream from the port engine.



Leaving me to press home my attack, as Billy’s dove his Hurricane just past the 111’s tail plane, no doubt giving the dorsal gunner quite a fright, as no defensive fire was forthcoming. My .303s continued to hammer home, finishing the job on the port engine and riddling the cockpit area. Despite the concentrated weight of fire, the German bomber droned on, maintaining its place in the formation.





Having overshot his first target, Billy kicked rudder and engaged the far Heinkel. Despite the fact that this brought him under the guns of the entire flight, he weathered the storm and with one well-placed burst, drove his target from the sky. A far more spectacular finish that I would have expected, Billy’s fire must have touched off the 111’s petrol tanks, for the German disappeared into a cloud of fire and smoke.







One engine out and the other now trailing smoke, the battered He 111 succumbed finally to the fusillade of .303s, nosed over, and plummeted to the earth.





Our victory, however, was short-lived. Having engaged the flight of He111s in an empty sky, we fell victim to our own enthusiasm and failed to “check 6” at a critical moment.



Before I could turn my attentions to the final surviving Heinkel, I was horrified to see Billy’s Hurricane shudder under the weight of fire from the German fighter that had bounced us.



Something critical must have been shot away, as the sturdy little Hawker slewed first left, then right, and then entered a shallow, dead-stick terminal dive.



Billy’s curt “I’m done in, Tip,” shocked me back into the moment and I threw my Hurricane into a steep, climbing turn to the left. Looking over my shoulder, I was greeted by the ominous silhouette of my current nemesis, one of the two-engined Messerschmitts. Its nose flashed, and my kite literally jumped to the side, cannon shells exploding all around.



Following me into my ill-advised turn, the Me110 pressed home its attack, the next volley of shells tearing through the cowling in front of me, and slamming into the straining Merlin. Though I couldn’t see the devastation wrought by those 20mm shells, I knew that my Rolls-Royce – that beautiful work of art – had been dealt a mortal wound.



And it was this, ironically enough, that fueled the next desperate moments. Out of altitude, airspeed, and time, I wrestled the crippled bird into a stall, gambling that the German would overshoot and give me the only opportunity I was likely to get.



Carrying too much speed, and misjudging my intent, the pilot of the ‘110 made the critical error I so desperately needed. Flashing past to my left, he couldn’t shed airspeed fast enough to undo what had been done.



My tortured Hurricane screamed as I threw her into a violent roll to the left, but the effort paid off. The ‘110’s stunned gunner and I opened fire simultaneously, my strikes impacting the crew compartment. My Hurricane was shuddering so much by that point that I can honestly say I have no idea whether or not the German’s shots struck home.





Now completely defensive, the ‘110 slewed left, attempting to force the same overshoot I had induced seconds earlier, but to no avail. Wrenching the brutalized airframe into another stall, I scissored, and lashed out for a final time as the German passed before me.



The fusillade of .303s hammered home, shredding the crew compartment for the second time, before sending my quarry earthward in a shallow, uncontrolled diving roll to the left.

Sadly, the violent maneuvering I had forced upon my sturdy little Hawker proved to be too much for the tortured airframe. As such, I spent the next several seconds extremely motivated to find a way out of my crippled aircraft, and was rewarded with a rather leisurely return to the French countryside.

The enormity of this situation began to occur to me at this point, and though my first thoughts were of Billy, my racing mind found ample food for thought. Had he made it safely to the ground? Was he injured? Were 3 ½ confirmed kills for the loss of two Hurricanes enough to keep me flying? How was I going to get back to the Squadron…?

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The Lone Survivor:



Butcher’s Bill





P.O. Billy Drake / Shot Down / WIA / 1 Kill

Following historical events, P.O. Drake survives his ordeal, but is wounded severely enough to be evacuated to England. He will, however, return to combat operations during the Battle of Britain.



Sergeant (Pilot) Christopher Raymond / Shot Down / 2 Kills (Campaign Total = 3.5)

This was a first…I broke my airplane playing back-to-back “steep” maneuvers across two different turns, the first as mandated by engine damage, and the second as mandated by desperate situations. I failed to notice this fact while playing, however, so have explained this as another example of the adage, “it’s not the size of dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog.” Love that Hurricane.

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Comments

  1. Blackronin's Avatar
    Fantastic AAR,Chris. A bit sad about the photos out of focus, but then that's life. Seeing 3 He111 together is perfect.
  2. Gotham Resident's Avatar
    Very nice. It's hard for the film crew to have a steady hand while all those bullets are flying!