scraps and pieces: World War II

   bloop! bloop! BANG!
Bang! a blinding explosion just in front of my eyes burst my eardrums. I let go of everything and instinctively cover my face with my two arms. The smell of ozone and indiarubber from a short-circuit, mixed with the acrid smell of cordite, filled my nostrils. Jolted about, my heart in my mouth, hanging upside down like a fly in a spider's web, I tried in vain to get my feet back on the rudder bar - my legs weighed a ton! One of the smashed instruments on the panel was hanging on the end of its wire in front of my nose, and I could see blue sparks on my contact box and hear their crackling in my earphones.

Panting, I mechanically straightened out 1,500 feet below the clouds and my flooded engine started up again after a few noisy backfires - bloop! bloop! BANG!
What again! I felt the impact like a hammer blow through my back plate. Frantically, with both hands I put my aircraft into the steepest possible turn. The Focke-Wulf, spotted with green, flashed before my windshield, a white feather at either wing tip, and climbed vertically back into the clouds.Pierre Clostermann

My radio was now dead, pulverized by that last shell. I hesitated - what ought I to do? I saw, emerging from the base of the cloud, in a shower of flaming fragments, a limp shape hanging on a half-opened parachute. Was it one of mine? Then I saw a Focke-Wulf dive vertically down at full throttle. The small glittering object hurtled towards the ground like a bullet - a fiery bubble burst on the snow, and the smoke bellied out immediately but was soon swept away by the wind. Then the sky was empty.

Pierre Clostermann, The big show (1951)

scraps and pieces

   where is everybody
Every fighter pilot has experienced the swift transformation from the confused mix-up of a dog-fight to the dangerous solitude of a seemingly empty world. For the sky is a big place.
Its horizons are infinite and a man's capacity in its vastness is very limited. I was to learn from hard experience that in one moment the air space can be saturated with a hundred twisting Spitfires and Messerschmitts; the next, nothing. Two or three parachutes blossom open and drift towards the earth below. The wing of a Hurricane, or is it a 109, spins lazily down like an autumn leaf. A plume of dark smoke draws a parabolic curve against the backcloth of the sky. Throughout it all the radio is never silent - shouts, oaths, exhortations and terse commands. You single out an opponent. Jockey for position. All clear behind! The bullets from your eight guns go pumping into his belly. He begins to smoke. But then the wicked tracer sparkles and flashes over the top of your own cockpit and you break into a tight turn. The Spit protests and shudders, and when the blood drains form your eyes you 'grey-out'. But you keep turning, for life itself is the stake. You black-out! And you ease the turn to recover in a grey, unreal world of spinning horizons. Cautiously you climb into the sun. You have lost too much height and your opponent has gone - disappeared.
You are completely alone in your own bit of sky, bounded by the blue vault above and the coloured drapery of earth below.

Johnny Johnson, Wing leader (1956)

scraps and pieces

   safety in numbers
The next few minutes were typical. First the sky a bedlam of machines; then suddenly silence and not a plane to be seen. I noticed then that I was very tired and very hot. But this was no time for vague reflections. Flying around the sky on one's own at that time was not a healthy course of action. I took a look around the sky for some friendly fighters. About a mile away over Dungeness I saw a formation of about forty Hurricanes on patrol at 20,000 feet. Feeling that there was safety in numbers, I set off in their direction. When about 200 yards from the rear machine, I looked down and saw 5000 feet below another formation of fifty machines flying in the same direction. Flying stepped up like this was an old trick of the Huns, and I was glad to see we were adopting the same tactics.
But as though hit by a douche of cold water, I suddenly woke up. There were far more machines flying together than we could ever muster over one spot. I took another look at the rear machine in my formation, and sure enough, there was the swastika on its tail. I had the sun behind me and a glorious opportunity. Closing in to 150 yards I let go a three-second burst into the rear machine. It flicked on to its back and spun out of sight. Feeling like an irresponsible schoolboy who has perpetrated some crime, I glanced round me. Still nobody seemed disturbed. I felt that it was inadvisable to tempt Providence too far, so I made a quick half roll and made off home.

Richard Hillary, The last enemy (1943)

scraps and pieces

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