We’re being exceptionally unsporting and mean today. That’s right, ground attack! It just doesn’t seem fair to drop things out of planes at people trapped by gravity on the surface, but apparently it’ll help the war effort somehow. Heaven forbid Field Marshal Kitchener doesn’t get his extra metre of dirt to brag about, especially in this delightful autumn weather.
Command’s hope, it would seem, is that nobody else would be foolish enough to fly around when it’s bloody cold and the clouds are hugging the terrain. Not to worry though, they can always count on us! If I still have a nose by the end of this mission, I’ll be surprised.
Our targets are a couple of German motorised convoys. While there may not be anything special about trucks these days, most military transportation of the time relied on literal horse power.
While cavalry regiments quickly became obsolete due to the inability for a man on a horse to avoid being shot a lot by machine guns, moving stuff around behind the lines was still predominantly a horse-based endeavour. As such, our attack on a motorised convoy is an exercise in wrecking something pretty jolly expensive. The Germans won’t be happy, and it’s expected there’ll be a lot of Flak and Machine-guns covering them. The perfect environment to send fragile, wood and canvas aeroplanes into.
Once we locate the convoy, a shock of accurate intelligence stunning us all, we notice something else. It happens to be passing by an entire airfield of enemy fighters that nobody apparently noticed.
Once more we’re engaged in the deadly dance of aerial combat. From what I can see we’re up against two very angry flights of Albatross aircraft. Some in black markings, others in yellow and red. I left my German paraphernalia guidebook back at the aerodrome, so only God knows what that mess of stripes actually means. We seem to be getting good at this, and quickly the squadron dispatches a number of Jerry planes. It appears the Germans were equally as surprised to see us barreling over the horizon as we were to see they’d set up camp in this particular spot. Scrambled pilots are never as effective as they ought to be. Probably caught them in the middle of bratwurst and sauerkraut. Remember children to wait an hour after eating before you fly a combat aircraft.
I manage to bag myself one enemy pilot, his plane dressed in black and white livery. There’s a brief moment of comradeship, due to recognising my own, equally silly colour scheme, but it’s short lived before he makes intimate acquaintance with the ground.
After the rest of the rudely awakened Albatrosses are dispatched, we move on to interfering with German logistics. It’s only 1917, so the convoys are dreadfully slow things. Not much in the way of suspension either, so I consider the fact we’re probably doing the crews a favour mitigating their inevitable future spinal injuries.
Soldiers in trucks manning Flak guns scramble to get a bead on us as we swoop low to the ground, but we’re moving too quickly. The fox is loose in the henhouse, as they say, and the hens aren’t particularly good shots with their 75mm Krupp anti-aircraft guns.
I still haven’t got the hang of dropping bombs out of my plane, so most of them end up scarring the landscape rather than doing damage to anything useful. I also have a tendency to be going too low and slow while dropping them, so each blast buffets my plane a little, giving me a fright.
Luck prevails in the end, however, and I manage to land a bomb on the last truck in the convoy, it having stalled while the rest of the motorcade, in callous but predictable military fashion, left it behind.
My bomb rack depleted, I have to resort to strafing the rest of the convoy. Where the rest of my squadron has gone, I’ve got no idea. They were hereabouts the last time I checked, but they seem to have scarpered since. Nice to know my competence has such a high reputation that they’ve seen fit to let me complete the mission by myself.
Of course, now I’ve said that. Whether I was being sardonic or not, the First World War is an environment that prides itself on irony. Any and all statements about how well things are going, especially the dreaded “how could it possibly get any worse”, the monster will awaken. Cheerfully it will dismantle all hopes, obliterate any kind of self-assurance and tactfully remind you that it will always, always be watching. Such as it was when I went for a particularly low strafing run over the convoy and forgot where my landing gear was.
The worst part of the ordeal wasn’t the crash, the damage to my aeroplane or even the damage to myself. The worst part was how the convoy straight up ignored me and continued on its merry way. I mean, I had sort of been shooting at them. And bombing them. And shouting mean epithets at them. But that’s no excuse.