by Captain W. E. Johns



V.            A DESPERATE COMBAT  (Pages 77 – 86)


Five days later, Biggles and his team are flying over the Mergui Archipelago on the fourth day of their search, having started at the north end of the long chain of islands and worked their way slowly southward.  Nothing worthy of note had been seen, apart from a junk moving slowly northward.  Ginger was flying, whilst Biggles and Algy were observers.  Algy sees a speck of white in the middle of an island and thinks it could be the broken wing of an aeroplane.  At a thousand feet, this is confirmed.  Biggles takes over the machine and lands in “a beautiful little bay that lay at no great distance from the crash”.  “I think you’d better stay here, Ginger,” he said quietly.  “We may find something – not nice to look at.  We shall have to leave a guard over the machine, anyway”.  Biggles and Algy take an hour getting to the crash site.  “The pilot was still in his seat, held by the tatty remains of his safety belt, helmet askew, goggles smashed and hanging down.  Biggles took one swift look at the face and then turned away, white and trembling.  “Yes,” he said, “it’s Tom”.  A second body, in air mechanic’s overalls, lay a short distance away where it had been hurled clear.  This body has a gunshot wound in the forehead.  Tom was shot down.  Algy says that Tom must have got pretty close to the enemy base to have been shot down in this way.  Algy is sent back to Ginger to get him to take off and send a signal to Sullivan to come right away.  Biggles stays to collect the dead men’s personal effects for identification.  Sometime later, Biggles hears the Nemesis start up and take off.  “Above the subdued hum of the ‘Kestrel’ engines came the sound of another, and the scream of wind-torn wings and wires that told a story of terrific speed”.  The Nemesis is unaware of the danger, but Ginger and Algy are attacked by “a small single-seat seaplane not unlike the Supermarine of Schneider Trophy fame, painted red”.  The Nemesis does an Immelmann turn (Max Immelmann (1890 – 1916) was a German Air Ace whose name has become synonymous with a famous aerobatic manoeuvre where you are flying in one direction and end up flying in the opposite direction by  heading straight up and over in a loop, but at the top of a loop, you turning your aircraft over, so you are the right way up when you head back in the opposite direction) and twists and turns.  (The amphibian twisted like a snipe as the pilot strove to spoil the other’s aim - is the frontispiece illustration taken from a line on page 85 – although the frontispiece itself erroneously says that it is page 83).  Biggles roars “Go down!” well aware of the futility of speech but the Nemesis does go down and disappears behind a high ridge of trees to the right.  The seaplane goes down after it and there is the staccato chatter of a machine-gun then a crash.  No machines reappear.  Biggles “set off at a wild run in the direction of the hill behind which the machines had disappeared”.