Extract 1 from a War Novel

They had first got into difficulties as they’d turned for home.  Lagging somewhere toward the rear of the bomber stream, their aeroplane had drawn the attention of a particularly dogged Focke-Wulf.  The fighter had made its first approach as they’d been pulling away from the target, coming up from aft on the bomber’s port quarter.  In common with Pilot Officer Finnegan, Percy Jackman had sprouted a few whiskers on his chin in lieu of a beard.  The rear gunner had been running his fingers superstitiously over this growth as he’d daydreamed about leave in his house of Perspex.  Thus the fighter’s cannon had caught him unawares, killing him instantly as the turret imploded.  The bullets from the tail guns had spiralled harmlessly away into space.  Pilot Officer Pygott-Clarke had placed P for Porker into a steep dive, apparently putting their pursuer off the scent.  But now they were carrying a handicap.  They had no rear gunner and their tailplane was in tatters.

The pilot had switched on the intercom and checked on his crew.  Only the rear gunner had failed to respond.

“Flight Sergeant Trotter?” he’d said.

“Sir?”

“Take a stroll around and check for damage.”

“I’m going now, sir.”

After a minute or so, they’d heard the wireless operator’s voice in their headsets.

“There seem to be a few holes and what-have-you, sir, but nothing too serious.”

“Excellent.  Hoggy?”

“I’m checking now, skipper,” the flight engineer had replied.  “Everything looks to be in working order.”

“Good.  Let’s press on for home, then.”

They’d flown on in silence for half an hour or so.  And then, as they’d been flying south of Maastricht, the Focke-Wulf had tracked them down once more.  Mid-upper gunner, Alfred Pinkney had been sitting in his house of Plexiglas, perched on the hog’s back, gazing out at the stars.  The fighter had come at him from above and so by the time he’d seen it, it had been too late.  Its cannon ripped into his turret and scored a direct hit on the bomber’s No.2 fuel tank.  Pygott-Clarke had banked the bomber steeply to starboard, apparently shaking off the fighter a second time.  And now the pilot had sent his navigator, Major to investigate.

“Well, sergeant?” he’d asked.

“Nothing there to report, sir.”

“Good.”

“No, I mean there’s nothing there.”

“In what sense, man?”

“The mid-upper turret’s gone.”

“Fucking hell.  And what about Pinkney?”

“He would appear to have gone with it, sir.”

The navigator’s analysis had been correct.  The force of the night fighter’s cannon had blasted the dorsal turret off its mountings, blowing the gunner out with it into the night sky over Belgium.

And now the crippled plane was losing height and speed.  For all that, Pygott-Clarke might still have remained safe inside his house of armour plating, had not the fighter mounted its third and final attack head on.  Somewhere in the region of Liege – or Leuven, to give it its Flemish name – the enemy aeroplane had caught up with them again.  Flying Officer Gammon had spotted the Focke-Wulf as he’d been lying prone in the snout of the bomber and had turned his guns on it as it had closed on them from the starboard bow.  The enemy pilot huffed and puffed, lifting his aeroplane out of the line of fire.  Returning head on, the fighter had been invisible until the last moment.  There’d be no fairy-tale ending.  Nothing now would save Pygott-Clarke’s bacon.

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“I’ll huff and I’ll puff…”

Text and image © PSR

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