scraps and pieces: World War I

   grappling with the enemy
When I just got into active service, there were only a few aircraft equipped with machine guns, and they didn't belong to our squadron. Kousakoff had devised a method of attack that certainly could be called novel. It was almost as dangerous for the attacker as for his victim. It consisted of a manoeuvre in which the attacking craft would fly in a position above the enemy plane, and then lower a grappling hook on a thin steel cable. The object of this was to hook onto and then tilt the enemy machine.

On a fine sunny morning I was sitting outside the observer's tent on the airfield, when I saw Kousakoff take off to chase an enemy observer plane away. A very exciting air battle developed in the clear blue sky. Then he actually did get above his opponent - so close it seemed he was on top of him - and we saw the anchor fall on its spider's web thread. It hooked onto the main wing of the enemy. The tail dropped and for a second it seemed the plane was hanging there in the air. Then the plane righted itself again, and to my dismay a wingtip connected with the tail of Kousakoff's machine. They flew on for some minutes like this, but then the German lost control and fell to the earth like a brick, dragging Kousakoff. Disaster seemed very near.
Hardly 200 ft from the hard ground, they seemed to disentangle; a miracle! Alex KozakovKousakoff tore his machine out of the deadly downward course and landed rough but safely, only breaking his propeller. His opponent was a fraction too late and dived with his nose into the ground. He became our prisoner.
After this occurrence the grappling hook method was discontinued.

Iwan Smirnoff, Smirnoff vertelt (the story of Smirnov) (1938)

Alexander Kozakov was Russia's greatest ace
and was killed, according to Smirnov,
by the Bolsheviks during the Revolution.

   the sun ambush

Of all patrols the early morning one was the most hazardous, because the sun, rising in the east, blinded us, and the Hun, attacking with this armour of light about him, was invisible even when the tracers from his machine gun were spinning through our wings.
It was a cloudless, perfect morning with a sun like a white eye, glaring, overpowering; a blinding arrogant sun dominating the alien heaven. The sky seemed a dazzling cristalline void. Three miles below, the scarred earth witnessed the existence of war; but the air was innocent, clear as a draught of spring water.

Then, far over from the east, a patrol of three red Huns ventured out to sniff the war. We saw them and dropped like hawks; but they did not wait to engage, turned and ducked for the Vaterland. I dived with the others, testing my guns. The Vickers jammed, and I had to take off my glove to clear it. It was very cold at eleven thousand feet early in the morning. My hand went numb. I blew through it, banged it on my thigh and crouched into the cockpit to keep warmer, still trying to clear the jam. Thus, inadvertently, I became a straggler - alone in the sky - but what matter when the heavens were so utterly empty of danger?

Then, faintly, I heard the intermittent chatter of a machine gun. I looked round. Nothing. No sign of a fight, no one in the sky - but the chatter became a jabber and then a stuttering menace - the sun ambush was down on me. I tried vainly to look up, but the glare shrivelled my eyes to sightlessness. But tracers were whistling through the planes, and suddenly a white-hot rod was flicked along the round of my back. I jammed over stick and rudder and went flashing into a spin, then shut off the engine and collected myself to look up. It was one of the latest Pfaltz scouts: the SE was no match for that machine.

Seeing the machine apparently out of control, he thought he had got me, and did not follow. Having dropped a thousand feet down to the patrol below me, I stopped shamming dead. With the rest of the patrol, we should certainly have got him; but this hornets' nest was not to his liking, he pulled away sharply and rose high out of our reach, going east.

Cecil Lewis, Sagittarius rising (1936)

scraps and pieces

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