Sunday, September 12, 2010
SOPWITH CAMEL PILOT ON A LOW LEVEL STRAFE
BEING AN ORDINARY INCIDENT IN THE
ORDINARY LIFE OF AN ORDINARY PILOT.
A Low Strafe
THE clouds were hanging about six hundred feet, and there
was no wind to worry about when steering a compass course
in the clouds.
I had been back from leave for four days, and in that time
I had not flown at all as it had rained and blown hard all
the time. The day was an ideal one for a low bombing show.
My chief fear was that if, for some unforeseen circumstance,
I had a forced landing, I should have to come down complete
with bombs, and as I had not flown for nearly three weeks,
my judgment would be rusty, a crash might ensue and up
I should go again (in pieces). After lunch I felt a little
braver, so that I telephoned to the sheds, ordered my machine
with bombs in half an hour, and got myself into my tidiest
suit. When all was ready I got on board and ran up my
engine. The machine had been hardly used while I was
on leave, but the Clerget gave a good eleven fifty revs.,
running very sweetly. On our aerodrome we had to " taxi "
out along a track to get on to the only part which was good
enough for taking off and landing. I punctured a tyre while
taxi-ing, a frequent occurrence, which delayed me about ten
minutes. I got off at last and climbed straight up through
the clouds over the aerodrome. The clouds were 600 feet
to 1,300 feet, and above was blue sky and bright sunshine.
I steered east for about ten minutes by compass, •which I
calculated would bring me about two miles over into Hunland,
then shut ofl the engine, shoved the nose down, and
dived through the clouds for better or worse. The first sight
I had of the ground was from six hundred -feet, but I kept on
down for another hundred feet, as I knew the Hun gunners
•would have the exact range of the clouds. I opened out
the engine and circled round to try to pick up my bearings.
The ground below me, and in fact all round presented a barren,
wasted appearance, with absolutely no signs of life. A few
scattered shell holes spotted the ground underneath me ;
while about half a mile to the east I saw the walls of a wrecked
Any farm-house within about four miles of either side of
the lines usually keeps stores or men inside it. At the
moment 1 spotted the farm I heard the rat-tat-tat of a machine
gun. His chances of hitting me were small, as all the time
I had been looking round, the Camel was dodging about,
first on one wing tip, then on the other. I flew at the farm,
steering a zig-zag course all the way. I did a " split " turn
over the farm.and although I could see no men actually moving
about I knew it was a fortified post, because of trenches and
fortifications which had a knavish look. By this time I
began to feel that the sooner I was rid of my bombs the
better. I flew straight across the farm-house at about five
hundred feet, and pulled my bomb release four times quickly,
immediately afterwards " zooming " up on a climbing turn.
I heard zonc-zonc-zonc; the last bomb I did not hear.
I looked down at the farm and saw a cloud of smoke and debris,
but waited no longer to see any further damage, as things
would shortly be very unhealthy. I got up into the clouds,
and steered south-east for about ten minutes by which time
I judged I should be about eight miles over, and on the southern
section of our front. I came hurtling through the clouds,
straight on top of a main road with trees on either side. I
was almost too far East to 'be troubled by hate, unless
by bad luck I struck a town, and the main road presented
a deserted appearance. I turned and flew north up it, at
about 60 feet from the ground below the trees, as on all low
shows, the lower one flies the safer. Suddenly I met a convoy
of about twenty grey lorries coming
up the road towards me. Most of the lorries had open fronts
with two or three men on the front seats. We came straight
for each other, head to head, when, at about a hundred and
twenty yards range I opened fire with both my Vickers guns.
The lorries stopped all in a hurry. The driver of the Iront
lorry fell down in his seat, while the other two men jumped
down and fled for the ditch.
A few men jumped from the backs of the lorries into the
road, caught sight of the aeroplane flying between the trees
up and down the convoy, hesitated whether to run for it,
lie down or get back from whence they came. Sensible ones
lay down, pretending to be hit, foolish ones ran for the
ditch, presenting a good target as they ran ; while the most
foolish tried to clamber up to the lorries, presenting: a glorious
stationary target for my two Vickers guns. Some dropped
down under the lorries, others in the road, others in the
ditch. They must have had casualties, but to what extent
it was impossible to say as they all lay still, the shot and
Not a man moved, not a car moved within a minute of
my arrival. All the lorries were deserted and stationary in
the middle of the road. As there was no further object in
staying there, I flew up the road again. By bad luck, I only
met a few parties of odd men walking along the road. They
all performed the same antics, of rushing about, hesitating
where to go, in a panic, before lying down in the ditch or road.
Both of these places must have been extraordinarily damp
and cold after all the rain.
After another two miles of road, going in a north-west
direction, I judged that soon I should probably be running
across something unpleasant in the way of " hate," so,
discretion being the better part of valour, I pulled up into
the clouds, steered due west for about fifteen minutes, and
then came out five miles our side of the lines in country
I knew well. I " contour chased " (i.e., flew between trees)
all the way home, made a dud landing, a huge tea and an
enormous dinner. . • H. B.
A FULL DAY.