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The Sky's War Part 1
Sparked by powder, burned by fire, doused by tears
The British had finally finished their first Zeppelin Hunter- His Majesty’s Airship Broadsword. The impossibly large semi-rigid airship employed the new, non-flammable gas, helium, rather than the incendiary hydrogen. The volume was a good 550,000 cubic feet, almost as large as the biggest of the Kaiser’s Zeppelins.
Charles Knight stared down towards earth from the main gondola of Broadsword. The ceremonies of her maiden voyage had been made and the ropes tying the great beast of the airship began to fall away, slacking the hold on the ground.
His heartbeat quickened as the last strand dropped and Broadsword began to climb. The crowds below cheered and waved kerchiefs towards the sky. Soon enough though, the onlookers shrank to the size of their kerchiefs and finally to one great pulsating mass.
“Ding, Ding!” the airship’s bell sang out to announce the start of the afternoon watch- Charles’s watch.
Pulling his leather and wool lined “bomber” jacket close about him, Charles opened the hatch of the gondola.
A wave of cool air engulfed him; no doubt this would grow frigid as the altitude increased. Charles clipped his safety harness onto one of the jack lines and began climbing a rat line.a
Charles ascended the rat line with a combination of ease and grace. If he wanted to, he could probably climb the line without a safety harness, but that would give him the jitters.
He was now reaching the outermost area of the airship, the most dangerous and frightful portion. From here, he could not see the top, nor the bottom of the airship. Swallowing saliva and fear, Charles proceeded faster, even for an experienced airshipman, you could never be too sure when a sudden gust might blow you to oblivion.
Finally, Charles reached the spine of the great ship. This was the solid portion of the ship, the very top where the soft skin of the ship binded together. In theory, it was the safest area, excluding the gondola. The spine deck was where the wind blew the hardest though.
This solid part provided the ideal place for a gun deck and guns there were. Six Lewis machine guns and one new model air artillery. The artillery was filled with phosphorus and incendiary shells- the pinnacle of British engineering. There was no fear of a great hydrogen fire, because the Royal Navy filled the ship with the brilliant and safe alternative- helium.
Charles took his pos at the machine gun closest to the bow, directly behind the artillery gun. Grasping the trigger in his hand, the cold steel felt deadly.
“John…over here lad! No dawdling with you!” Charles called to his younger brother. John, a midshipman was under Charles’s command.
“Right away, petty officer Charles!” John called back. John, only sixteen, was nimble as a feather and quick as a leopard. His neck kerchief flapped behind him as he ran to his brother.
“C’mon brother! You’re late on your first day on Broadsword!” Charles hollered.
“Bloody riggers getting in the way, sorry!”
“All right, take your seat here,” Charles said as he pointed to the gun loader’s chair, “feed some ammo into this already.”
They traveled for about an hour, currently crossing the English Channel. John was dozing off in his chair and Charles struggled to stay focused on combing the sky for the enemy.
“Fevern Sie oben die Maschine ab, fire up the engines!” Addler Heldenwie yelled at the mechanics, as they fiddled with his plane’s propeller. The reconnaissance plane had just returned, bringing exciting news with it.
The boy exclaimed that a grand British fleet was heading for the Zeppelin yards. The fleet contained the rare British Vickers Vimmy bomber, four of them to be exact. It also contained eight escort Sopwith Camel fighters. Most intriguing though was a Zeppelin like thing accompanying the entire affair.
The recon boy said the airship was heavily armed with Lewis machine guns and even artillery! Addler doubted that. No man, no matter how stupid would put artillery on a hydrogen filled airship. It was a completely absurd notion.
Finally, the plane’s engine crackled to life. The propellers caught and began to whir, hacking away at the air. The mechanics stepped away and grinned.
Addler turned to his brother in the plane next to him. His younger brother, Joseph, was a skilled pilot as well, but did not even come close to Addler.
“Viel Gluek, good luck brother,” Addler spoke.
“The same to you,” Joseph replied.
“May god keep us safe and our aim true Joseph.”
Joseph gave a curt nod and slipped his goggles on. Addler did the same. They both steered their planes onto the fairground, followed by the other members of the squadron.
Addler concentrated on taking off. Keeping the power at the maximum, the plane gained momentum. The grass blanketed the ground, cushioning any bumps. Soon the grass became a blur and the plane’s wheels began to hop up and down, struggling to defy gravity. Addler set his jaw and pulled the stick back, raising the nose of the plane. At last, gravity relinquished the fight and surrendered to the air.
The Fokker D.I lifted into the air, its three wings providing excellent support. Addler checked the various dials on the dashboard and everything appeared sound. His Fokker D.I was his favorite plane. The tri plane suited his needs and felt well balanced and alive in his hands. Most men preferred the other bi plane Fokkers, but not him.
As captain of a squadron, he could paint the plane his choice of color. He chose black with crimson trim and a glorious gold eagle, a threatening scheme. The greater fear factor however, were the 23 Iron Crosses painted on the side of the plane, signifying 23 confirmed kills. Addler was an ace and he wanted every other man in the sky to acknowledge that.
He refocused on the mission at hand. The plan was to rendezvous at the Zeppelin yard with another of their squad. From there, they would launch a combined fleet of two squadrons (sixteen fighters) and two Zeppelins towards the British incoming fleet. Addler figured this would be more than enough to eliminate the enemy fleet.
After fifteen more minutes of flying, the fleets rendezvoused. With the entire fighting force assembled, Addler was on his way to the engagement. Joseph, Addler’s wingman, kept close to Addler’s right wing. They were situated between the two Zeppelins, leading the large formation. Addler had made good use of the fourteen Fokker D.VIIs at his command. He had placed the Zeppelins far apart from each other- a large amount of space between them. On the outside of each Zeppelin, Addler stationed six of the Fokker D.VIIs.
Addler’s plan was to envelope the British formation with the Zeppelins and the D.VIIs. He and Joseph would act as free fliers, helping where they could and watching the flanks of the formation. The Zeppelin machine guns could tear apart anything that got in between them. Addler played the battle out in his mind- it had to work.
Movement to Addler’s right caught his eye. It was Joseph waving his gloved hand. No, not waving, pointing. Addler followed the point and recognized what he saw immediately. Towards his eleven o’clock and low, were black speckles- the telltale sign of incoming aircraft.
Addler waved his hand in response and steadily guided his plane downward and to the left. The formation followed him. He stopped when the dots were directly in front of them. Addler then waggled his wings- the signal to maintain course unless he waggled again. Addler pulled the stick back, guiding the nose up. The plane ascended with only Joseph following him.
The air grew colder as the altitude increased. Addler’s breath blew steam and the air had a bite to it. The sun was behind them and not a cloud dotted the sky. The perfect day for a clash of wings was upon them and Addler was going to make sure that the last plane left would have a black cross of the Luftwaffe on it.
From the higher altitude, Addler could see much better. The air was splayed out before him like a chess set. The distance between the two fleets had also shrunk and Addler could see what they were facing.
“Absurd, ridiculously absurd,” Addler said aloud. The recon boy had not been lying. Mounted on the top of the British airship were six Lewis machine guns. The most shocking however, was the artillery gun mounted at the bow, jutting out like some sore thumb. “How foolish!” Addler thought. One spark from the gun would alight the whole ship.
The entire bow of the airship was armored with some metallic alloy, of which he did not know of. His planes would have to maneuver to the side of the ship and fire on it from the flanks.
Addler stared at the battlefield once more. It was changing. The opponent had made his first move.
“Oi! O’er yonder!”
Charles turned around turned around to the voice behind him. The gunner that had called out was pointing his finger to bow faced port side. Charles followed the man’s finger through the sky and also spotted what the gunner had scene. Planes, heading straight for them, all marked with black crosses. Two Zeppelins also accompanied the German fleet.
“Ready the guns, men! Get that artillery a firin’!” Charles hollered. Following his orders, men scurried behind him, loading their Vickers machine guns and taking their places for the show about to ensue.
“BOOM!” the artillery roared, sending its deadly payload to the enemy formation. Every head on the ship craned to see the result of the shell. Out of nowhere, one of the German planes on the right side burst into flames. The shell had obviously had hit it. Then the shell’s fuse blew sending red hot iron shot every which way.
Another plane was hit by the flying shot, shredding its feeble wings and mangling the engine. The machine struggled to stay aloft, but slowly was beaten down by gravity. The plane dropped out of the sky.
A second victim of shot was extremely unfortunate. The shot must have struck the fuselage of the plane, instantly igniting the back portion of the plane. The fire was not remorseful; it quickly engulfed the entire plane. The pilot chose a flying death over a burning one. Before the fire could alight the cockpit, the pilot flung himself out of the plane. The man plummeted downward. Charles could just make out the doomed pilot’s gaping mouth, obviously screaming in vein at his fate.
Charles shuddered. How could something force a man to jump out of an airplane? Is that how badly afraid men were to burn? Before, Charles could further ponder, Sephamore flags flew at the bow of the airship reading one word: F-I-R-E.
“All right men, give those Germans what they came for!” Charles yelled. He squeezed the trigger to his Lewis machine gun. The gun rattled and jerked as the bullets flew. John fed in rounds steadily, his deft hand guiding the bullets along without break of stutter. From behind him, Charles could hear the chatter of five machine guns, all having a boisterous conversation.
“Focus your fire on the planes, the big gun can take care of the Zeppelins!” Charles ordered. Two German planes, one black and white, and the other a red, black and gold tri plane dived down. Their Spandaus blazed lead. The tri plane passed over their heads before Charles could swivel the Lewis gun towards it. The following plane was not fast enough and Charles pelted it relentlessly. The first shots flooded the plane’s engine, ripping off the propeller with it. Other gun crews behind him tore off the wings, stripping the bird of life.
As the plane flew close over his head, he could just make out the pilot’s body jerking side to side as each bullet slammed into the unlucky fellow. The plane rolled lazily in the air, just passing by the airship. Gravity and wind took care of the rest of the plane, tearing the remaining canvas from it as it dived downwards. Eventually it disintegrated into just a couple of black dots.
“We did it John! We downed one!” Charles patted John on the back.
“Aye, now turn this gun around, the first plane’s comin’ in for a second helping!”
Four of the eight Sopwith Camels of the British formation had pulled to Addler’s left. “Fine,” Addler thought, “if the British wanted to flank, so be it.” He knew his fighters on the left were outnumbering them eight to four. Addler turned his attention back to the British airship. A puff of smoke flew from the artillery gun.
Addler watched the artillery shell fly through the air, heading to the right of his formation. By some miracle, the shell managed to hit a Fokker. Addler gasped as the pilot’s seat of the Fokker was utterly obliterated by the impact of the shell.
Then, a second explosion ripped through the plane. Addler stared once again in terror as the second explosion sent dozens of one inch red hot iron shot flying. The shot swarmed from the shell, stinging planes nearby. Thin canvas wings were shredded, engines mashed and fuel tanks hit.
One plane, that’s engine was hit, began to smoke and shudder and slowly began to fall from the sky. If the pilot was skilled enough, he may be able to crash land and survive. The other plane hit was not so lucky.
The shot had flown into the plane’s fuselage and ignited it with vigor. The back of the plane inflamed first, billowing tar black smoke. With speed faster than Death’s steeds, the fire enveloped the front of the plane. Before the fire could reach the cockpit though, the pilot clambered out of the plane and flung himself out of the plane. The pilot chose a flying death over a burning one. He was a smart man. The fire ignited he whole plain and it spiraled to the ground in a massive fireball.
Addler’s fleet, once of sixteen fighters, was reduced to thirteen. Addler was not fazed. His fighters on his left were now pulling off and engaging the attacking British Camels. The Zeppelins were very close to the British formation, just out of range for the machine guns. Addler turned to Joseph and waved his hand towards the British airship. Joseph nodded in response.
Addler led the dive towards the gun deck of the airship. Joseph spaced out behind him and followed the descent downwards. Without warning, and much to Addler’s delight, the machine guns on the British airship began to fire. Addler laughed gleefully as he evaded the bullets streaming toward him. He jammed the stick one-way to the other, zigzagging the oncoming fire. His agile tri plane obliged to his every command.
Swooping down before the British airship gun decks, Addler squeezed the trigger of the two Spandau machine guns. The guns belched their deadly casings and the acrid smoke of burning gunpowder and sizzling brass casings filled the air.
The line of bullets whipped the airship beat’s spine, striking down brutally any human in its path. The sound of bullets ricocheting off metal filled the sky with various octaves of pings and clangs. “A symphony of death,” Addler thought. He saw several men hit by the bullets, red puffs of blood confirming the kills. The bodies were flung backwards by the force of the bullets. After flying down the length of the ship and dumping hot lead along the way, Addler pulled left, swooping again for another round of firing. He looked back to his brother- his brother, where was he?
Frantic now, Addler reduced speed and searched the skies for his brother’s white and black Fokker D.VII biplane. Pain welled in Addler’s chest as he spotted the spiraling airplane. The wing had been hit and fragments of canvas were ripping off of the wounded bird. A thin trail of smoke tailed the dropping airplane. In just a matter of seconds, the entire biplane had been torn into miniscule black pieces by the cruel forces of wind, gravity and nature. One of those black specks must have been Joseph, hurtling toward his death.
Addler could not speak; he could not cry nor smell nor hear. All he could feel were his emotions. His body moved like automation as time seemed to slow and finally coast to a stop.
Addler’s eyes wandered around. He looked at his plane: the dials, the stick and the rudder pedals. He looked at the sky, the one that he had fallen in love with when his father had taken him kite flying for the first time- the sky that had taken his brother, the person he had cared for greatest.
Most of all though, Addler looked at himself- the man that his baby brother always wanted to be, the man that encouraged his brother to join him in the air as a pilot. Was he the one to blame for his brother’s death?
Part of Addler argued against it. It was his brother’s choice to fly, wasn’t it? It was a British bullet that caused his fate, correct? Perhaps it was the fault of Germany, for creating such a weak plane? Addler knew though, he had killed brother. Subconsciously or not, Addler had killed the boy.
Addler wondered if he should turn the machine gun on himself, or crash the plane into the ground to join his brother in heaven and apologize. It would be so easy to do. No. His brother did not want him to die. Joseph had died been doing something he loved- flying and he would want Addler to leave this realm in the same way- doing something he loved.
Time slowly began to start once more, the grief and regret and sadness leaving with it. Addler’s eyes were watering with tears. Despite them, Addler smiled. He was fulfilling his brother’s final wish.
Grasping the controls, Addler turned his plane back into the fight. The battle was raging, fighters and bombers engaged in fierce aerial dogfights. Various fighters danced with each other, swooping, gliding and soaring through the sky. It was a deadly fight indeed.