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Bandits above - 2

     ‘Red leader - Bandits eleven o’clock low. Range five’ comes a call from my wing man as he spots a swarm of incoming aircraft about two thousand feet below heading towards the London docks.

     ‘I see them…Tally Ho! Red Section, line astern, line astern – Go!’

     In turn each pilot manoeuvres his aircraft in line behind the one in front, following me into the attack. I drop a wing, roll over, checking for other ‘friendlies’ or ‘bandits’; then throttle back slightly to prevent an over-speed in the dive from tearing the wings off – that could be embarrassing!

     The enemy formation looms up in my two-inch thick bullet-proof windscreen, growing in size by the second. There are about forty JU 87 Stuka dive-bombers flying straight and level, lining up for a bombing run. They are slow, vulnerable aircraft but with a sting in the tail, the gunner sits behind the pilot looking backwards – ‘take care.’

     We dive on the swarm, picking our individual targets as we close. I selects one, fourth back in the centre row. Rolling upright with the nose of my aircraft pointing at my chosen target, I flick the safe/fire gun selector to fire; touch the rudder pedal lightly to bring the bead of the gun-sight just ahead of the enemy’s cockpit. As the target fills the circle of my gun-sight I thumb the firing button for a two-second burst and watch the tracer shells from my eight, .303 inch calibre wing-mounted Browning machine-guns rake across the engine, cockpit and starboard wing of the target. It coughs black smoke, drops a wing and begins its death spiral to the ground five thousand feet below. There are no parachutes.

     I twitch my aircraft through a gap in the formation, narrowly missing two other JU87s and receive a short burst of fire from one of them for my efforts. A quick check, no blood, no smoke, aircraft handling OK – fine. Pull up; full throttle to gain airspeed and reposition myself behind the formation for a rear end attack on another; all the time keeping a good look out all round for the inevitable Me109 top cover.

     There… a flight of three yellow-nosed German fighters bearing down in my two o’clock. snatch a hopeful long range burst at a JU 87 as it drifts through my sights, the target twitches within the formation but my primary concern is to engage the fighters.

     Wing over and turn in towards the incoming 109s, slightly below them and climbing head on – not the best situation. Select a target - the one in the middle. He has less manoeuvring room than the other two.

     Wait, wait, wait … fire! Again I thumb the trigger for a two-second burst just ahead of the yellow spinner and see sparks dancing around the engine cowling – ‘got you’ I breathe into my oxygen mask. My closing speed on the enemy aircraft is around 650 mile per hour and the Messerschmitt pilot aims his crippled aircraft at me. Instinctively I roll my Hurricane onto its back and pull the control column back into my stomach. The gforce drains the blood from my head but Me109 screams past trailing white glycol and grey smoke and misses my tail by a hair’s breadth – ‘My God that was close!’

     As I turn my Hurricane upright again I see one of the other fighters heading in from behind; a jink left then right, trying to shake him off. My fighter school instructor’s advice comes to mind, ‘If he’s on your tail, use a boot-full of rudder, it makes your aircraft look as though it’s going one way when in reality it is going another.’ I push hard on the left pedal and the nose slews left, the ball goes way out to one side and the aircraft is out of balance but the blazing tracer shells from the German’s 20mm canon skim past harmlessly to the left of my nose – ‘close one that.’ The 109 dives away and turns for home. I pull up to rejoin the fray some seven thousand feet above when, suddenly…

     Bang! My Hurricane is hit. I franticly look around for the culprit but can see no-one.

     The hit might have been flak or a stray round from another dog-fight, but wherever it came from it damaged my engine and it’s beginning to run rough. ‘Time to retire while I can’, I call on the radio:

     ‘Red leader returning to base, I’ve been hit’

     I pull away from the combat zone, throttle back and dive for the safety of the English countryside; levelling out at three thousand feet above the Kentish Downs and set course for Biggin Hill. I’m still vulnerable and keep a constant head-twirling lookout for any enemy aircraft that might be looking for a wounded bird to take out as easy pickings.

     Twisting my head left and right, above and behind him as best I can in the compact cockpit, all looks clear then…thump, thump, thump! I feel the impact of canon shells hitting the rear of the fuselage, ripping through the canvas skin and alloy framework; the nose of my Hurricane drops suddenly ‘Damn it, lost my elevator control run’ the instant diagnosis sprints through my mind. ‘No way to land this one – got to get out’

     Thump, thump, again my aircraft is hit and smoke is now beginning to filter into the cockpit. I pull the emergency release for the canopy and the Perspex cover lifts into the slipstream and disappears. I unbuckle the seat harness, disconnect the oxygen feed and push the control column hard over to the left to get the plane inverted. I fall free of the noisy cockpit feeling, relief at escaping from my doomed craft, scared that my parachute might not open and very vulnerable in the face of the attacking enemy.

     But, just as I think I am about to die…quite unexpectedly from behind me comes….

     ‘Can you land or something? Lunch is on the table...’ My wife calls from the kitchen.

     I hit the pause button and freeze the on-screen action. I can return to my combat flight simulator this afternoon.

 

End

Noel K Fletcher

 

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