« Caroline Unger | Main | Bangkok Burning - Why? »

Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 90 - Scramble!

...He felt his responsibility hang like a dead weight. He would have given anything for the youngster straight from school not to be there, knowing what would face him once they had joined battle. He tried to bolster
their morale, but even as they chatted,a klaxon sent them sprinting to their planes. All he could offer as they left was a banal, "Best of luck, chaps!" before he, too, joined the rush to the door...

And within minutes the deadly aerial battle is joined yet again.

John Waddington-Feather continues his vivid tale.

To read earlier episodes please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

When they were ready, the pilots lounged about the mess in small groups, sitting in armchairs or chatting, always watching the window. Outside on the runway, the ground-crews were making last-minute checks on their fighters which stood in line; swarming over the fuselage and cockpits like busy ants as they loaded belt after belt of ammunition into the gun bays.

Some of the pilots lit cigarettes and sat apart, looking grimly into space. These were hardened veterans knowing what lay in store for them. A group played cards to while away the time, and John sought out the newcomers, going over again what he'd told them at breakfast.

He felt his responsibility hang like a dead weight. He would have given anything for the youngster straight from school not to be there, knowing what would face him once they had joined battle. He tried to bolster
their morale, but even as they chatted,a klaxon sent them sprinting to their planes. All he could offer as they left was a banal, "Best of luck, chaps!" before he, too, joined the rush to the door.

He lined up the squadron so that he was in the middle and the veterans on the flanks. That way they could keep an eye on the newcomers and warn them of hostile attacks. Jumping onto the wing of his plane, he climbed into the cockpit and pulled the canopy shut. Then, having checked his instrument panel and guns, and contacted the rest of the squadron over the intercom, he gave the thumbs up sign to the ground-crew. They were ready for take-off.

On his port was Sydney Goldstein. He could see him through his canopy and waved cheerily. The other waved back, adjusting his oxygen mask, and glancing round at the other planes to check their positions. "Stand by!" said John, then, as the control tower gave him the go-ahead, he ordered, "Scramble!" and, one by one, the squadron taxied to the runway and took off with a deafening roar.

Once airborne, they climbed to ten thousand feet and formed up in formation. Sydney remained on John's port just as they had flown in the old days in exhilarating runs like that over the moors near Keighworth, but there was nothing exhilarating about the run now, nothing amusing about the aerobatics they were to perform.

They flew for some time vectoring south-east where German bombers were massing, escorted by their fighters as they followed the Thames upstream to London. John's Squadron climbed higher to gain the advantage of height. Below, they saw the river snaking through Kent and Essex towards it estuary, winding its way through banks of clouds. Above them the sun gleamed hotly, reflecting on their canopies and wings.

Suddenly the fighter on the starboard flank sighted the German bombers. "Tally-ho! Tally-ho! Bandits below!" he yelled.

John banked his plane slightly and looked down. He could scarcely believe what he saw, a veritable Armada of Heinkel and Dornier bombers spread wave on wave across the sky. There were hundreds, clustered in tight formations with their Messerschmitt fighter escorts two to each bomber.

"Orbit! Orbit! "he shouted, turning his squadron into a more advantageous position. Then, with the sun to starboard, he gave the order to attack and they dived steeply, breaking their tight formation and spreading as they lined up their targets.

All hell broke loose as they, in turn were sighted and approached the bombers. Flak from anti-aircraft shells burst about them making their planes buck and lift. The din was tremendous. It seemed the whole universe trembled and throbbed with the roar of bomber engines and the scream of the RAF fighters as they manoeuvred for the kill.

They made their first pass successfully and John called in his men to re-group. He watched with satisfaction a Dornier dive earthwards in flames out of control, a cluster of tiny parachutes dripping from its fuselage as it plunged to the ground. Then, banking tightly and climbing steeply they went in again, only this time there was no clear run. The German fighters began to intercept.

"Scatter! Scatter! Bandits to port!"yelled John, and swung his plane into a steeper climb as shells sprayed all around him. Away he went, twisting and turning till he was through the web of enemy aircraft and ready for the kill again.

A Dornier loomed in his sights and he engaged, raking it mercilessly with cannon-fire, blasting away at the cockpit the nerve-centre of the huge bomber. Swooping in close, he saw the dead pilot slumped over his controls and the aircraft juddering crazily out of formation. He continued firing till he had to bank sharply over it to avoid colliding, glancing down to see it burst into flames and slither uncontrollably out of sight.

His eyes raced along the lines of planes to check out his own squadron. He glimpsed Sydney's fighter some way below him, latching onto a German bomber to begin his attack. But behind him he saw a Messerschmitt diving in fast. Oblivious, Sydney continued his manoeuvre towards the bomber.

"Delta Victor! Behind you!" shouted John. "Delta Victor! Behind you! Bandit coming in fast!"

Sydney looked into his mirror then over his shoulder, shading his eyes against the glare of the sun. He saw his attacker and went into a steep dive, but too late, the Garman had fastened on him, raking his plane with long deadly bursts. Almost casually, a plume of smoke drifted from Sydney's engine. Then there was an almighty explosion and bits began falling off it as it spiralled earthwards. Worse still, there was no sign of a parachute leaving the fighter.

Horrified, John watched helplessly as Sydney's fighter went down. Time seemed to stand still and for some seconds he watched in disbelief as the German fighter went on mauling the stricken craft. Elated by his kill, the German pilot continued giving the fighter bursts from his cannon, only stopping when the plane exploded in mid-air.

But as he pulled out of his dive, John was on him and stuck terrier-like to his tail, as he twisted and banked to get away. John fired constantly each time the Messerschmitt crossed his sights, until, like Sydney's plane moments earlier, it began to trail smoke and went into a nose-dive. So close was John that he could see the pilot struggling with his canopy to bale out. An insane drive made him bank and follow the parachute till he had it in his sights. "You bastard! You bastard!" was all he could say and he had almost begun to fire, but willed his thumb off the gun-button at the last moment and let the pilot float safely to earth. Then he returned to the battle about him.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.