by Captain W. E. Johns



XIV.        BIGGLES FLIES A BOMBER  (Pages 153 – 167)


Biggles arrives back at Zabala and is asked by von Stalhein if he burnt the machine.  He is also asked if he landed, which Biggles denies.  Biggles says the reason he was longer than he expected was that he saw a new type of British aircraft.  “A very fast machine with no dihedral on the top plane; they call it the Camel, I think, and it’s made at the Sopwith works”.  Biggles says that it landed at what looks like a new aerodrome about twelve miles south-east of Kantara.  After lunch, Count von Faubourg summons Biggles and tells him that he wants him to lead six German machines on a bombing raid on this new British aerodrome.  He wants Biggles to lead the raid as he knows exactly where it is, although Oberleutnant Kranz will still be in command in Mayer’s absence.  Biggles agrees to do so and takes a camera to photograph the results.  Biggles leaves with mixed feelings.  “During the next two hours there was a strong possibility that he would be shot down by his own countryman; and he did not overlook the fact that in the event of his formation being attacked, he might find it difficult not to put up some sort of fight, or pretence of fighting, yet he had no desire to be responsible for the death of a British pilot”.  The squadron fly to the target and Biggles is impressed by the realism of the dummy aerodrome.  Bombs fall wide but Biggles is able to score a direct hit.  Suddenly, “a tornado of archie burst around him” and it seems that every anti-aircraft gun on the British front has opened fire at them.  Biggles’ German gunner is a lad called Bronveld and he makes signals for Biggles to get out of the vicinity as soon as possible.  One German plane loses its propeller and has to glide down, although it looks like it will reach the German lines.  Problems increase when a squadron of eight British Sopwith Pups arrive, with a solitary Sopwith Camel and from a different direction, six British Bristol Fighters.  Biggles guesses Algy is in the Camel.  Bronveld crouches over his gun and is putting up a good show when the Camel attacks.  Biggles is alarmed.  “Something like panic seized him as he visualized the unthinkable picture of his gunner killing Algy, or conversely, Algy’s feelings when he found he had shot down his best friend.  Whatever else happened, that must be avoided at all costs.  Better to betray himself and be shot by the Huns than that should happen”.  Biggles fires a red flare to let the pilot know that it is him, Biggles, in the German plane.  The Camel continues to attack.  All four of the other remaining Halberstadts bank round and close in on him, disconcerting the British pilots and the Germans are able to get a lead and fly for home.  The Camel however, by reason of its superior speed is able to continue its attack on Biggles’ plane and Bronveld shoots it down.  The Camel spins down and a wing breaks off.  Biggles “turned back to his own cockpit feeling as if he had turned into a block of stone.  Something seemed to have died inside him, leaving in its place only a bitter hatred of the war and everything connected with it”.  Biggles lands and the Germans are laughing and talking over the battle.  The Count says that Kranz is full of praise for the way Biggles handled a nasty situation.  “Your firing of the red signal to form circle when you did, he says, saved the whole formation.  And that last bomb of yours, and the way you left the formation to make sure of a hit, was brilliant.  Your recommendation for the Iron Cross shall go off to-day”.  The Count says the Camel fell in German lines and the body of the pilot is being sent to them for burial.  Biggles has a shoulder wound caused by a bullet fired from the Camel, although it is little more than a graze.  Biggles goes to lay on his bed in a daze.  All he can think about is Algy’s death.  The body of the dead pilot eventually arrives at their aerodrome and Biggles goes to look at the body.  The face is not Algy’s.  “It was that of a middle-aged man in the uniform of an infantry regiment, with pilot’s wings sewn on his tunic above the white and violet ribbon of the Military Cross.  It was quite peaceful.  A tiny blue hole above the left eyebrow showed where life had fled, leaving a faint smile of surprise on the countenance, so suddenly had the end come”.  Biggles returns to his room and “flung himself face downwards on his bed, laughing and sobbing in turn”.  He does not see an orderly bringing tea and the orderly quickly withdraws.  In the camp kitchen the orderly tells the cook that “Brunow’s finished – nerve’s gone to bits”.