BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY
by W. E. Johns
11. BIGGLES SURPRISE PACKET! (Pages 176 - 191)
(First published in the Modern Boy on 23rd June 1934 – Issue 333)
(This was ‘The Pup’s First Flight’ (Chapter 19) & ‘Caught Napping’ (Chapter 20) in the original “Boy’s Friend Library” first edition and ‘The Pups First Flight’ (Chapter 13) & ‘Caught Napping’ (Chapter 14) in the 1955 revised edition)
(Biggles moves from 169 Squadron to 266 Squadron at the very beginning of this story)
“When the time came for Biggles to leave his old squadron and say good-bye to Mark Way, his gunner, he found himself a good deal more depressed than he had thought possible; he realised for the first time just how attached to them he had become. “Still, war is war!” he reflected, and not the least unfortunate thing about it was that friendships were severed almost as soon as they were formed. Naturally, though, he had been delighted to join a scout squadron, for he had always wanted to fly single-seaters. The presence of his old pal, Mahoney, who was a flight-commander, prevented any awkwardness or strangeness amongst his new comrades, and he quickly settled down to routine work. The commanding officer, Major Mullen, of his new squadron – No. 266, stationed at Maranique, France – allowed none of his pilots to take unnecessary risks if he could prevent it. So he gave Second Lieutenant Bigglesworth ten days in which to make himself proficient in the handling of the single-seater Pup Scout that had been allocated to him”. By the end of the week Biggles was begging to do a show and when Lorton was wounded in the arm, Biggles took his place. The afternoon before, Biggles had managed to force down a Rumpler two-seater and capture it intact, which pleased Major Raymond of Wing Headquarters, who had been with Major Mullen at the time. With Biggles replacing Lorton, five machines take off and soon they are chasing after three German Albatroses that have just shot down a British R.E 8. Looking back, Biggles sees “not less than twenty Triplanes were coming down like the proverbial sack of bricks”. Having little choice, Biggles turns to face them and so does Mahoney. “He knew what Biggles himself at that time did not know; that the German formation was the formidable Richthofen ‘circus’, led by the famous Baron himself, his conspicuous all-red Fokker triplane even then pouring lead at the lone Pup. “It was the opportune arrival of a second formation of Pups and a squadron of Bristols – Biggles’ old squadron, although he did not know it – that turned the tide. The huge dog-fight lost height quickly, as such affairs nearly always did, and was soon down to five thousand feet. It was impossible for any pilot to know exactly what was happening; each man picked an opponent and stuck to him as long as he could. If he lost him he turned to find another. That was precisely what Biggles did, and it was utterly out of the question for him to see if he shot anyone down. If a machine at which he was shooting fell out of the fight, someone else was shooting at him before he could determine whether his Hun was really hit or merely shamming”. Eventually, the fight peters out and Biggles rallies to Mahoney. One other Pup joins them, of the other two there is no sign. They return to their aerodrome.
Back at base, Biggles discusses an idea with his colleagues and Major Mullen. He says that if they work with other squadrons they should be able to carry out an ambush like the Hun did this morning. “If we did happen to catch them properly it would have the effect of making them chary about tackling odd machines for a bit. They’d always be worried for fear they were heading into a trap”. Biggles thinks about it and plans an attack on the Richthofen crowd at Douai just as they come in from their evening show. The plan is for one squadron to attack a prearranged sector of the Line and the Hun artillery observers will call up Richthofen headquarters. When the Germans go there, that squadron scatters, causing the German formation to break up. As the Germans return to their base in drips and drabs, two or three squadrons are up high waiting for them and then drop on them and pick them off. Major Mullen organises this, with Biggles old squadron (169) creating the nuisance and then 287, with their S.E.’s and 231 and 266 squadrons doing the actual attack. “It took nearly a week of conferences to bring the scheme to a stage where it was ready to be tried out”. When it happens, 266 Squadron are waiting at ten thousand feet, 231 Squadron at thirteen thousand feet and 287 Squadron at sixteen thousand feet. Major Mullen leads the show. When the first two German Triplanes come back to their aerodrome, nine Pups roar down on them. “It was impossible to say which machine actually scored most hits. One Triplane broke up instantly. The other jerked upwards as if the pilot had been mortally wounded, turned slowly over on to its back, plunged downwards in a vicious spin with it engine full on and bored into the ground two miles below”. Back in formation, another Triplane gets away when it sees them. However, a party of seven German machines arrive, followed by five more. “Biggles was amazed at the calm, almost blindfold manner in which they continued flying with death literally raining on them from the sky”. Biggles pours a long burst of bullets into his chosen target and sees smoke and flame burst from the Triplane’s engine. Looking around “the seven machines had disappeared. Two long pillars of smoke marked the going of a least two of them”. The other five Triplanes are pursued by the second squadron of Pups, whilst the S.E.’s wait to pounce on any machine that tries to leave the combat. “It was the last real surprise of the day, not counting a lonely straggler that they picked up near the Lines and which they had sent down under a tornado of lead”. At the end of the day, no British planes have been lost. “Congratulations flew fast and furious when Major Mullen’s squadron landed, for it had unquestionably been one of the most successful ‘shows’ ever undertaken by the squadron. A quick comparison of notes revealed that seven Triplanes had been destroyed for certain, either having been seen to crash or fall in flames. How many others had been damaged, or enemy pilots wounded, they had, of course, no means of knowing”. The day ends with Watt Tyler (again spelt with two “t’s” here), the Recording Officer, coming to tell them that the squadron is to be equipped with the long-secret super-scout at last. “Our Pups are to be replaced by Sopwith Camels”. “Fine!” says Biggles. “Now we’ll show the Huns what’s what!”