BIGGLES IN FRANCE
by W. E. Johns
5. BIGGLES’ SKY HIGH HAT TRICK! (Pages 67 - 82)
(First published in the Modern Boy on 4th August 1934 – Issue 339)
(This is ‘Out for Records’ (Chapter 9) & ‘Biggles’ Bombshell!’ (Chapter 10) in the book and the story became “THE RECORD BREAKERS” in “Spitfire Parade”).
“The greatest number of enemy aeroplanes to fall in one day during the Great War under the guns of any single airman numbered six. At the end of the War two or three officers had accomplished this amazing record, which was first established by Captain J. L. Trollope shortly before he himself was shot down”. “Biggles’ record day’s bag was four. On one occasion he shot down three enemy ‘planes before breakfast, and with this flying start, so to speak, he thought he stood a good chance of beating his own record. But it came to nothing. He roved the sky for the rest of that day, until he nearly fell asleep in the cockpit, without seeing a single Hun”. The three victories before breakfast were when he attacked a formation of five enemy scouts out of the sun and picked off a straggler. He then fired on the next machine and killed the pilot with a burst of five rounds. “The second machine was spinning downwards before the first had reached the ground, so he had two falling machines in the air at once”. The remaining three aircraft came back at Biggles and he set the leader on fire with his first burst. “For a matter of twenty rounds he had secured three victories, all within the space of two minutes”. “The occasion on which he scored four successes was a very different proposition, and not without a certain amount of humour, although it must be admitted that only three of these victories were confirmed. The anti-aircraft gunners put in a claim for the last one, and although Biggles was quite satisfied in his own mind that he shot it down, the subsequent court of inquiry, for reasons best known to themselves, gave the verdict to the gunners”. “It happened shortly after Captain Trollope had astonished all the squadrons in France by his amazing exploit”. (Captain J. L. Trollope of the 43rd Squadron performed this event on 24th March 1918 in a Sopwith Camel). Nothing else is talked about by the officers of 266 and 287 Squadron and when they are together on a guest night they each proclaim their Squadron would be the next to do the trick – or perhaps beat it. The next morning, “Mannering, the recording officer of Squadron No. 287, informed Wat Tyler, the recording officer of Squadron No. 266, by telephone, that Captain Wilkinson had already shot down three machines”. Biggles was still in bed when he heard the news and he rushes to get into the air. By the time he is ready to take off, he has heard that Wilkinson has got a fourth. Biggles searches for enemy aircraft for two hours but on the return home, he shoots down a big dark green Hannoverana, a two-seater. Biggles then sees to his astonishment a S.E.5. Biggles lands at his aerodrome and is followed in by the S.E.5, which is piloted by Wilkinson who is furious that Biggles has got “his Hun”. Wilks says he would have got the Hun in ten seconds and suggest they go fifty fifty on the claim. Biggles refuses. “First come, first served is the motto!” Flying back to the Lines, a shadow falls over Biggles’ plane and he turns a shoots down a yellow Albatross. Wilks in his S.E.5 roars past and shakes his fist at Biggles. “Great Scott, I believe I’ve done it again!” mutters Biggles. “Biggles third victory that day was a straightforward duel which was won fairly and squarely by superb flying and shooting, and only then after one of the longest and most hair-raising combats that had fallen to his experience. The victim was the pilot of a Fokker Triplane”. The plane crashes into a hedge but the pilot got out quickly and appeared unharmed and “looking upwards, waved cheerfully to his conqueror”. Back at Maranique, to report the matter, Biggles is told that Wilkinson still has four to his credit but “a bullet grazed his arm and took the tip of the middle finger of his left hand” and he has been sent to hospital to have it dressed. Biggles’ aircraft needs to be repaired and it is well into the afternoon before he is back in the air. Darkness forces Biggles to land at another aerodrome and his rings Maranique to explain. Biggles is told that Wilks and the other S.E.5 pilots are coming over, no doubt to gloat over their officer having got four enemy aircraft. Biggles returns to Maranique at 10.30 pm and is faced with a gloating Wilks saying he got four planes to Biggles three. Biggles says at that at 8.30 pm he got a night-raiding Gotha over Amiens. “It’s a mistake to count your chickens before they’re hatched!” he concluded, amid a mighty roar of laughter from the assembled Camel pilots”.