BIGGLES IN FRANCE
by W. E. Johns
11. FLYING CRUSADERS (Pages 164 - 180)
(First published in the Modern Boy on 26th January 1935 – Issue 364)
(This is ‘He Shot Him to Bits!’ (Chp 22) & ‘Written Off!’ (Chp 23) in the book and the story became “WAR IN HOT BLOOD” in “Biggles of 266”).
NB – The last two stories were transposed from the order they were published in “The Modern Boy” so that the book finished on a lighter note.
Following a dog fight in which Biggles, Algy and Wilson had linked up with Wilks and three other S.E.5’s and then encountered a “circus” of orange and black Albatross D.5’s, Biggles arrives in the officers’ mess of Squadron No. 266 “in a blazing white-hot fury!” “Where’s Wilson?” asked Mahoney. “Wilson’s dead!” replied Biggles shortly. Wilson was an officer who had recently transferred to Squadron No. 266 from a two-seater squadron. “How did it happen?” “I don’t know. I saw him going down in flames, but I didn’t know whether it was Wilson or Lacey until I got back. Wilson was bound to get it sooner or later, the way he flew. He acted as if the sky was his own”. “Well, don’t let it worry you!” muttered Mahoney. “That’s not worrying me. It was only - ” Biggles broke off, buried his face in his hands, and was silent for some seconds. Nobody spoke. Mahoney caught Algy’s eye, and grimaced. Algy shrugged his shoulders. Biggles drew a deep breath, and looked up. “Sorry blokes,” he said slowly, “but I’m a bit het up!” “You remember young Parker, of Wilks’ squadron?” went on Biggles. “They got him – this afternoon – murdered him”. Parker had gone down with a dead propeller but had been followed down by a German Albatross D.5 with green streamers. Parker landed in a field. “I happened to look down again just as Parker was climbing out of his machine, waving to let us know he was all right. Green Streamers, the skunk, went right down at him, and – and - ” Biggles’ lips quivered, and the hand that held the teacup trembled. “He shot him” he went on, after a short pause. “Shot him to bits, in cold blood! I saw the tracer bullets kick up the ground around him. Parker just grabbed at his chest, then pitched forward on to his face. I went at Green Streamers like a bull at a gate, but some of the others got in my way, and I couldn’t reach him. Then I lost him altogether, and didn’t see him again”. Wilks arrives. “Wilks’ face was chalky white, and his eyes blazed. He came to a halt just inside the room, and pointed at Biggles. “You saw it, didn’t you Biggles?” he snapped in a tense voice. Biggles nodded”. Wilks says he is going to get Green Streamers but Biggles says “Let us, mop up the whole lot of ‘em, good and proper!” Biggles thinks there are thirty machines in the new Hun staffel and they would need two squadrons to tackle them. Major Mullen, the C.O. and Major Benson, of Squadron No. 301, enter the mess and Biggles tells them his idea. Biggles and two other officers will go and shoot up Seclin where the Huns are based. (Algy and Mahoney immediately volunteer to go with him). They will do this for three mornings in a row and it can be expected that on the third morning the Huns will be waiting for them. But on the third morning there will be six Camels above them at six thousand feet and then nine S.E.s at twelve thousand feet. “This is how I hope we shall wipe these blighters and their perishing aerodrome off the map”. “We’ll start the action tomorrow, Tuesday, which means that the big show will be on Thursday”. The following morning, Biggles, Algy and Mahoney carry out their early raid and bomb and strafe the enemy aerodrome. On the way home, Mahoney chases a German staff car until it overturns. On Thursday morning, at a quarter to five, nine Camels are lined up, including Major Mullen who will lead the six Camels above Biggles’ raiding party. Biggles’ party of three head back towards the Hun aerodrome and ahead and above, Biggles sees the entire German circus. “He counted their numbers. “He made it twenty-nine the first time and twenty-eight the second”. Biggles zooms up to meet the attack as the six Camels above come down. A Camel from the top layer collides with a Hun and both machines disintegrate. A third machine, a Hun, strikes the wreckage and goes down as well. Biggles takes on an Albatross which bursts into flames, although it wasn’t Biggles shooting at it. “The air was stiff with machines, diving, half rolling, and whirling around in indescribable confusion. It would need all the pilots’ wits to avoid collision, much less take aim”. Biggles shoots at one orange and black Hun and sees the pilot sag forward in the cockpit. The plane drops like a bomb. Some brightly coloured Fokker triplanes arrive. “Biggles stared. “My hat!” he ejaculated. “It’s the Richthofen crowd – and the blinking baron himself” he added, as his eyes fell on the blood-red triplane”. Biggles sees the orange Albatross with green streamers and sees Wilks in his S.E.5 pursuing it. “He saw the S.E. slip sideways to escape a burst of fire directed at it by the red triplane, and it left the way clear. Biggles goes for the plane with green streamers but it spins away, shamming and Biggles follows it. The Hun makes a bad turn that almost caused him to stall, and for a couple of seconds Biggles had a “sitter”. Biggles shoots the plane with green streamers down. Suddenly Bristol Fighters arrive and Biggles realises that Major Benson and his crowd have turned up – having heard the plan being discussed. Biggles then sees an R.E.8 and three D.H.4’s. “What the dickens is happening?” he muttered. “If this goes on much longer the whole blinking Flying Corps will be here!” “There must have been at least a hundred machines engaged, and the Huns began to disappear like magic”. Rallying to Major Mullen’s red Very light signal flare, seven Camels return to base. They then fill up with petrol and ammunition and all three squadrons rendezvous over the German aerodrome at Seclin. Camels, S.E.5’s and Bristol Fighters attack the aerodrome and it becomes a blazing inferno but it is not until photographs are returned by a reconnaissance machine the following morning that it is known that Seclin aerodrome has been written off. “Well, that’s a bonnie picture!” observed Biggles next morning as he examined the photograph of the stricken aerodrome. “We said we’d wipe ‘em out, and by gosh, we have. Wilks agrees that we have settled Parker’s account for him!”