The Flying Officer 05

We were also used as escorts to our own two-seaters, when engaged on long reconnaissance or bombing raids. Sometimes there would be twelve or fifteen of them, and ten or twelve of us, and the combined formations were distinctly impressive. As long as the engine continued to function satisfactorily, an escort was quite pleasant work, since although one would see plenty of Germans, they would generally keep at a respectful distance and rarely attack such a formidable combination. If, however, one of our

machines lagged behind or turned back, the position was not so attractive, and the pilot often had a hard struggle to get home.

In a previous chapter description has been given of a typical offensive patrol. Such patrols formed the bulk of our duties. The following are one or two incidents which may throw light on other aspects of a pilot’s work.

The date is November 1917. The weather has been bad for some days, but in spite of this patrols have been carried out practically without interruption, although almost no enemy machines have been even sighted.

The German Air Force at certain periods of the war showed a distinct disinclination to fly or fight more than was absolutely necessary, and if the weather broke they would - so it seemed - gratefully accept the excuse for a few days on the ground.

We made use of this tendency, and on bad days our machines which spotted for the guns consistently flew over the lines, often battling with terrible weather conditions, but generally undisturbed. The gallantry displayed by their devotion will be more readily appreciated when it is understood that these “spotters” were almost invariably a distinctly unstable and dangerous machine, the R.E.8.

These “Harry Tates”- as they were inevitably re-christened - had a pleasing little trick of catching fire if crashed, and I well remember one very windy day when I had been forced to land on a R.E.8 Aerodrome owing to having received a bullet through my petrol tank. Flying conditions were abominable, and I watched four R.E.Ss land, all within half an hour. Two pulled up safely, one crashed on landing, and the fourth turned over on the ground. In both latter cases the machines immediately burst into flames, killing pilots and observers. A tribute is due to the squadrons using these machines, and while we scout pilots laughed at them to their faces, behind their backs we heartily respected and admired them.

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