Wild Days and Nights Above the Trenches of the Great War (A Novel Inspired by High Quality Simulation and an Old Brown Dog)
by Slobodan Sucur
Foreword I consider myself neither a writer nor compiler of belles lettres, but rather a “compounder”—compounding some aspects of reality, expounding on others, within the world of literature, and, especially so, in this quaint volume of tales and reports that are inspired by the wonderfully immersive WW1 flight simulator Wings Over Flanders Fields, by OBD Software. I am pounding home a story of days gone by, of the whimsicalities of war and the picturesqueness of taut linen on fragile wooden wings, and of the passage of time. Recommended selling price for this book, in UK currency, is three to four Pounds Sterling. —S. Sucur This narrative is © S. Sucur, as are all embellishments in the novel. Wings Over Flanders Fields (WOFF), as well as the living-world AI that simulates history and provides the “vessel” for recreation of WWI air combat (which would otherwise be impossible for reasons I’m sure readers will understand), is © OBD Software. Included scenes/pictures from WOFF are also © OBD Software. Many thanks as well to the authors (Buckeye Bob, RAF_Louvert, Robert J. Wiggins, Jara, Xjouve, Geezer, Nibbio, Gecko, etc., to name but a few) of various mods., such as cloud, river, airfield and airfield items, hangar placement, crop and landscape cultivation around airfields, mission editor mods., historical maps, prop hands, field mechanics, fitters and riggers, and that were often used for basic mission setup in Wings Over Flanders Fields, prior to flight. Furthermore, while historical names are frequently used in this narrative, as are cameo appearances of some pilots, officers, etc., any possible, detailed similarity to historical persons, living or deceased, including their virtues, flaws, and piloting skills, or lack thereof, is strictly coincidental. Common Period Terms and Foreign Titles Englisher/Britisher—discourteous term possibly used by German military in WWI to refer to British batteries, aircraft, etc. (used for period flavour in this book) Hun—condescending term often used by British units in WWI to refer to German batteries, soldiers, aircraft, etc. (again, merely used for period flavour in this series of tales) Feldwebel—lower rank non-commissioned officer, “field usher” Vizefeldwebel—senior non-commissioned officer Unteroffizier—junior non-commissioned officer, similar to “Corporal” Offizier—commissioned officer, rank unspecified but usually equivalent to 2nd Lieutenant or higher Leutnant—lowest Lieutenant rank Oberleutnant—highest Lieutenant rank Hauptmann—Captain Rittmeister—Commissioned Cavalry Officer (often in charge of a squadron) Gefreiter—enlisted airman of transitional rank, often awaiting promotion to Unteroffizier Rotary—a revolving aircraft engine, usually rotating in the same direction as the propeller (not to be confused with internal rotary engines of the Wankel variety); common suppliers were Le Rhone, Oberursel, Gnome, etc. ’Crate—occasional period term for aircraft ’Drome—shortened variant for “aerodrome” C.O.—commanding officer and/or squadron leader in some cases W/C—Wing Commander, senior commissioned officer one step above a squadron leader General Table of Contents (in this issue): Mission Nos. 1-3 for RFC 1 with Johnny Dobson; pp. 7-11 Mission Nos. 1-3 for Bosta 2 with Von Pranz; pp. 12-22 (in future issues of Rundelania): Mission Nos. 4-9 for RFC 1 with Johnny Dobson; pp. 23-47 Mission Nos. 4-7/2 for Bosta 2 with Von Pranz; pp. 47-76 Mission Nos. 7/2-7 for Bosta 2 with Eberhard Kiener; pp. 70-116 Mission Nos. 10-15 for RFC 1 with Johnny Dobson; pp. 116-167 Mission Nos. 8-14 for Bosta 2 with Eberhard Kiener; pp. 167-242 Mission Nos. 1-6 for Esc. N49 with Chaps Saulnier Bouffant; pp. 243-287 The Thicker Plot—Mission No. 0; pp. 287-293 Mission Nos. 16-19 for RFC 1 with Johnny Dobson; pp. 294-320 The After-Mission Report—Mission No. 20; pp. 321-331 Pictures* Front Cover; Sopwith Triplane balsa model based on plans from DPC Models Ltd.’s Aero-Werkes Division V. Pranz Ascends from Ghistelles; p. 48 Kiener and Hutzenlaub Head Towards Diksmuide; p. 99 The Ill-Fated Aviatik; p. 188 Chaps Bouffant on Patrol; p. 254 De Belleville’s Injury; p. 262 Dobson Gets Another Aviatik; p. 310 Back Cover; Kiener at the ’Drome South of St. Eloois * NOTE: Some scenes from WOFF contain mods., such as the picture on the back cover (for airfield and other mods., please see the relevant threads/forums for WOFF on SimHQ). Mission No. 1 for Ltn. Johnny Dobson The middle of May 1915 gave us a wet period along the Belgian-German border. It was quite damp, occasionally cold, particularly in the wee hours, with a light haze present at an elevation slightly below the treetops, and meandering and curling around our airfields and the adjacent pond, east of Armentières. Truth be told, I did not really know what I was doing here, in the opening and tumultuous chapters of the war, other than that my general services were required. One thing I was aware of, at least—and that was my desire to fly: to experience that rare pleasure of seeing all things from above, while floating, while observing from a perspective only eagles and hawks had known until recently. True, the sounds of lorries bustling in and out, of troops moving by foot, of the sounds of song emanating from our mess—these things too gave me a sense of place. But still, the desire for flight lingered on, now mixed paradoxically with delight and some moments of apprehension, if not of terror, when, after a couple of flights to orient ourselves, it finally came time to pass over the Hun’s side of the lines. I was stuck with the same Morane Parasol I had flown during my orientations, but now in very rainy weather, for my first official flight with RFC 1; and yet I managed to return in one piece. We flew from our airfields at Armentières to north of Passchendaele and made the circuit back, but, all of us being young and brave flyers, we decided it was easier to do recon. spotting by flying on the German side of the lines. Thankfully none of our engines conked out (a flight of three). Landing back at the ’drome was however hair-raising in the wet weather. One of our fellows sank into the mud upon alighting, quite literally. Difficult also was wrestling the winds at higher alts., at times. Mission No.2 for Ltn. Dobson The next flight was again in poor weather. Fortunately the rain wasn’t falling this time around, but the winds were rather nasty above about 3300 feet alt., requiring constant correction with rudder to minimise slippage in these strange Parasols. The flight was a bit over half-an-hour in length. Once again, being brave and occasionally foolhardy flyers—we chanced it (slightly) and didn’t follow the flight plan exactly, but veered off several miles to the right, over the German side of the lines, towards Ledegem in Belgium. This allowed for better observation of the battle taking place below, and of troop positions. Spotted was some solitary aircraft flying far below, at an altitude of no more than several hundred feet, but I decided not to experiment and we continued the flight back uneventfully, doing a wide circle over Ypres—and then back to the closer (and smaller) of the two ’dromes near Armentières. I was pleased to see that none of the other fellows would sink into the mud this time at the far end of the ’drome, it having dried somewhat overnight, most likely. Another pleasant surprise was that on the next day I was promoted from Ltn. to Captain—for what reason precisely I did not enquire—perhaps for my tendency to fly further over the German lines than recommended by the flight plans (“forward action” as it is called, over at HQ). Cap.’n Johnny Dobson’s Adventure No. 3 My first flight as Captain was a broad circuit from our northernmost aerodrome at Armentières, down to Neuve Chapelle, and then back. We were a flight of two, and, the flight being mostly uneventful, except for the winds at higher alts., we decided (when coming back north) to veer several miles to the right, over the German side of the lines, for better spotting—and, feeling confident, we proceeded as far north as to take us parallel to Lille. Close to the lines at Lille, we observed a battle taking place far below—and then decided to cut back across our lines, flying directly over Armentières before landing at our ’drome. I at least landed at my aerodrome—the other Parasol for some reason decided to land instead at the ’drome slightly to the south of our smaller, more northern one. I would later learn that this was owing to the direction of the prevailing wind and the sometimes sloppy (and dangerous) nature of tight turns when executed in the Parasol. Felix Salmond, the pilot of the other Parasol, therefore considered it the safer option to land further downwind. Mission No. 1 for Oberleutnant Otto Von Pranz (Editor’s note: V. Pranz hails from Tübingen, and was based at the ’drome north of Zerkegem, with Bosta 2, and flying the Fokker E.II variant, at the time of these entries dating from Nov. of 1915.) Today’s November flight was a lengthy one. I was rather surprised that our flight officer encouraged us (two Aviatiks were also to proceed) to fly all the way to the area around Bethune and the front lines there. I was somewhat apprehensive but was encouraged that, owing to my pre-war flight experience, I would do just fine—and besides, I was to fly the E.II variant of the Eindecker, nicely tuned-up by our polymath of a field mechanic, aeronautical engineer, and occasional test pilot Karl v. Schnapps, affectionately known as Von S. by those who have had the pleasure to fly his modified contraptions here above Ghistelles. Starting the Eindecker was pesky business but it accelerated well and I was soon aloft. The overall theory was that I escort the two Aviatiks as far south as possible, although I was given freedom to roam silently and stealthily if the Aviatiks were faring well on their own. I decided to follow them down to about Aartrijke before bidding them farewell and cutting across the lines slightly north of Passchendaele, then directly across Ypres, and floating further south—all this on their side of the lines (which is usually frowned upon) to be able to observe things more clearly. I kept regular watch behind me, although at this alt. of about 2000 m I did not meet anyone. Solitary and singular was the entire flight. Eventually Bethune was spotted on the right side, and small skirmishes happening at the front lines there, on the left. Wrestling constantly with the winds in the slippery Eindecker, I only then noticed that my fuel was down to less than 60%. Erring on the side of caution, I cut across the lines, to land at a smaller aerodrome that was immediately north of Lens. The landing kept my hands full but I managed to taxi, still in one piece, towards a tent—and spun the engine down. We telephoned my aerodrome at Zerkegen, and, to my relief, the flight officer recommended that I refuel and stay the night at Lens since storms and even worse winds were building up north—it was already difficult to coax the Eindecker into any semblance of flight even in the somewhat decent weather conditions that had prevailed during my flight south. The two Aviatiks would complete their mission unmolested, I was assured, since they had by then attained the necessary altitude. I was encouraged by our globe-trotting flight officer, via telephone, to dine at Schmidt’s in Lens—excellent sausages and sauerkraut there. Mission No. 2 for Oberleutnant Otto v. Pranz On the fifth of Nov. I was to fly a long circuit once again, south of Ypres and back, largely on our side of the lines. Also flying today was an Aviatik and another Eindecker that we had recently received. I ascended and accompanied the other Eindecker and Aviatik as far as Aartrijke. Seeing that they were doing well, I headed towards the lines, and slightly south, nearer to Passchendaele, where I eventually crossed over the lines. I then continued heading south, expecting to make it at least to Ypres, when I noticed over the left wing, at a much lower alt., two Parasols heading towards our lines. I circled and began a descent gradually, making sure to remain either below and far behind the Parasols, or at least in front of them—knowing that this way I would be safe for the time being. One Parasol eventually disengaged and headed back towards its aerodrome, while the other fellow and I intermittently exchanged fire, with me getting about ten rounds into him, and he getting about four or five rounds into my engine. Hearing that my engine had developed trouble, I attempted another couple of maneuvers around the Parasol but considered it wise now to turn towards my lines and crossed over, with a thin stream of smoke following (that I only then had noticed). In the meantime the Parasol had also disappeared from the area. Throughout our brief skirmish, a battle was observed to be raging between the trenches below. No sooner had I crossed over into our sector than my engine quit—and then passed several nervous minutes in which I tried to find a spot with no trees, in largely pock-marked ground from shelling, and in which to land. Surprisingly, the Eindecker behaves better if landing with engine off (or destroyed in my case) than with futile attempts to control its nearly nonexistent throttle settings. I quickly rolled to a stop in a fairly flat area of ground. By evening I was back at the ’drome above Zerkegem, lucky to have come back in one piece; although, it would take two days to repair the Eindecker that had also been dismantled and returned to the aerodrome, by truck, the next morning. I would take these two days to write down some of my observations on the Eindecker’s flight characteristics—and committing much of the info. to memory, in hopes of engaging in more successful skirmishes against the rather ominous Parasols in the future. Mission No. 3 for Oberleutnant Otto v. Pranz The seventh of Nov. was a fine day for a reconnaissance flight, or so said our commanding officer, a jovial fellow but sometimes predisposed to misinterpretation of the weather. Today I was to be flying with a new man, Friedrich Seelig, originally from Bavaria, and also with one of our “resident” Aviatiks—more resident than aloft since it acquired the odd habit of frequently requiring fixes to its engine, and has been known sometimes to stay for days on end at our ’drome here at Ghistelles, undergoing repairs. We were soon under way in what seemed favourable conditions, although the winds were stronger above about 1000 m alt. and required constant correction with warping or rudder, or both, on the Eindecker, to maintain direction. Seelig was in the other Eindecker that we had recently received. I indicated, while still on the ground, that we follow the Aviatik as far south as Aartrijke, and then to make our way towards the lines, slightly north of Passchendaele—to go over the lines there, flying a direct path south and above Ypres, in the spirit of good reconnoitering. The winds seemed more manageable south of Ypres so we continued our flight unimpeded, passing an area of some battles that were roaring and thundering far below, roughly parallel to Ledegem. Slightly south of Messines we did a wide turn towards our side of the lines, emerged on our side, and then proceeded slightly north again to follow the zig-zag pattern of the trenches. Not more than a few minutes into this return pattern of the flight—first spotted was our Aviatik, crossing towards the enemy lines, and entering a cloud that was hovering a couple of kilometres in front of us. No more than half-a-kilometre behind the Aviatik, and slightly below, possibly headed back towards their lines—were next seen two lumbering enemy types (I would later ascertain that they were some kind of “gunbuses,” as called by the Englishers). It was likely that these characters had not seen the Aviatik since they were not ascending towards it; what was more important was that they had not seen us. Quickly I ran over, in my mind, some of the advice given the previous day by Von Schnapps our test pilot and resident mechanic, regarding the second production series Eindecker: ‘Avoid diving at speeds higher than about 220 kph. Also take advantage of the now highly-strung wires for more sensitivity of wing warping. And please do use the few extra horses I have managed to wrangle from the Oberursel. You may easily outdistance yourself from opponents, not necessarily on the level, but certainly in a climb maintained at about 105 kph, giving you a healthy ascension rate of three metres per second or so. This should certainly upset those lethargic Nieuport two-seaters and silly one-seater conversions that we have had the pleasure of capturing at times.’ Other advice, and which I wrote down in my notebook over the last two days, I would now have no time to contemplate. Instead, I gave the signal to Seelig and we proceeded to attack, making a wide left turn towards the two craft and following them back over their lines. Owing to a change in the winds, however, we began to drop further and further behind. One of the fellows was faster but lower, and disappeared into cloud cover, never to be seen again by us. The other craft was somewhat closer and, in a futile attempt to deliver damage to it, I intermittently let off some rounds. A few of these rounds seemed to have accomplished their task for a few small bursts of smoke were observed in the vicinity of the straggler, and we then began to shorten the distance between ourselves. Seelig kept to my left and slightly above me, while I floated to the right of this craft and then kicked my rudder to point my nose in the direction of his fuselage—more of a tub really that held the pilot and observer. I raked the length of the tub with twenty or thirty rounds. No sooner was this completed than the craft pointed its nose towards the earth and hurtled into a field below, to break up and burn. Only now did I notice that we were northwest of Armentières, fairly deep over the enemy’s sector. Promptly I swung my Eindecker towards our lines and began a gradual ascent towards safer altitudes, and to avoid the flak that was now occasionally active, most likely once they had seen what we had done to one of their aeroplanes. We passed back over our lines close to Messines, turned northwards, and continued the now uneventful flight home to our aerodrome above Zerkegem. I came in first and rolled to a stop next to an empty hangar. Next to arrive, of all surprises, was our Aviatik that dropped down nearby and parked itself at the edge of our ’drome, soon to be followed by Seelig—thus completing our rather lengthy expedition. The next day my claim for the lumbering British type was confirmed. I was to learn that it was a second variant Farman Experimental. to be continued in the next issue of Rundelania...
Slobodan Sucur’s publications include analytical works on 19th century authors, as summarized on his profile page at The Literary Encyclopedia. He also writes the occasional (odd) poem, some of which have been published in The Melic Review and in Ygdrasil, A Journal of the Poetic Arts. His hobbies include topics in WWI aviation, flight modeling, and the early years of aeronautical engineering, areas that he has attempted to transform into an experimental text that fits well the serialized novel format and that is inspired by OBD Software’s detailed WWI flight simulator Wings Over Flanders Fields.