by Captain W. E. Johns



XV.                 A TRAGIC ERROR  (Pages 178 – 189)


Ginger watches the Caproni flying low and following his formation.  In due course, Ginger loses height and falls away from his formation and dives down to the Caproni.  However, Harkwell turns the formation and with the four other machines, dives down on the Caproni, taking it for an enemy aircraft. Ginger is sick with horror at the predicament as he cannot fire on his own side “to shoot at them would be nothing less than murder”.  Biggles takes evasive action in the Caproni and dives further into Franco country.  There is nowhere suitable for Biggles to land.  Ginger watching this, is suddenly attacked by other enemy machines.  In one sense, these newcomers, fighting for Franco might protect the Caproni but Ginger doesn’t hesitate to fight back rather than “sit still and be shot like a rabbit”.  “Ability to think and act at the same time is the first essential qualification in air-fighting – so much Biggles had taught him”.  Ginger has a Fiat on his tail but is saved by Harkwell.  Ginger immediately returns the favour and shoots down a Fiat that has got onto Harkwell’s tail.  Ginger looks around for the Caproni and sees it, well inside Franco territory and he flies after it.  The Caproni dives as if being pursued which puzzles Ginger.  Ginger eventually pulls alongside and is amazed to see three men in the Caproni.  The third man is standing up in the rear gun turret.  Ginger suddenly realises he has been chasing the wrong machine but it is too late, the rear gunner opens up.  “Ginger winced as the bullets bored into his engine”.  Fire!  His machine is aflame.  Ginger “thought he was doomed, and decided – as many men have before him – to die suddenly rather than be burnt slowly to death”.  Ginger suddenly discovers that he is wearing his parachute, he had completely forgotten as he was unaccustomed to using one.  He is able to scramble out onto the port wing and launch himself into space.  (His rear tank was spurting smoke and swirling tongues of flame - is the frontispiece illustration taken from a line on page 185).  As he floats down, he sees his machine crash on the pine-covered slope of a hill.  Ginger crashes through the topmost twigs and branches of the pines and lands on the ground, suffering no serious injury other than bleeding from scratches.  Parched with thirst, Ginger sets off looking for water towards the top of a hill.