My Kite, My Rules
An Excerpt From My Novel, 'Bomber's Moon'
In 1944, Flying Officer David "Gnat" Royce, RCAF, is gambling that his last few missions over Germany will be uneventful ones. But no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy...
ASSIGNED: 8 GROUP, 3 GROUP, 6 GROUP
Egan was usually quiet on the run out to dispersal. Not tonight.
"Listen, fellas. I know you guys are worried about Topper calling the shots up there. But don't worry. This is my kite now, and when it's my kite, it's my rules. Got it?"
"Hey, don't take any chances on our account." Stroud ventured, to sceptical looks. "It's not worth an RTU."
"We'll see." Egan's eyes narrowed. Suddenly, he hopped to his feet and reached over to slam on the roof of the cab. "Stop her here, will ya Maeve?"
A deep-voiced woman responded. "Anything you want, handsome."
"Woo hoo!" Heath mocked. I looked around. We were right next to L-Lucky. Topper was waiting for the crew as their Bedford pulled up. He had his customary Browning Hi-Power holstered. He was a squat, muscular man, dark hair and Edwardian moustache, combing with the pistol to lend him the air of a pirate. An image he certainly cultivated.
"Like to see him shoot his way out of a Kraut ambush with that peashooter." Stroud opined.
"Sssh! I wanna hear this." Egan stared at Lucky as he walked up to Topper with his crew.
"Bonne soir, Francois."
"Bonne soir, skip." Lucky pointed at the pistol. "Are we hitting the Spanish Main tonight, old chap?"
"No engine failure this time, Francois. Understand me?"
The rest of L for Lucky's crew had hurried into the Lanc, forgoing the ritual piss. "Well, she was fine on the test flight..."
"And she stay fine. See you in the morning." Topper took no notice of us, hopping in his staff car and peeling away. Lucky stared at us nervously.
"See you in Germany, Lucky!" Heath hooted.
"Okay Maeve, let's go." Egan slapped on the cab again.
"Anything you say, hero."
"Well," I ventured, "Not like he doesn't deserve that speech."
Egan sighed. "Yeah, he does. But what a bloody-minded bastard."
Russelsheim is a small city at the south end of the Ruhr. It's main claim to fame, and the reason we were hitting it tonight, is an Opel car and truck factory. Its defences aren't terribly thick, but the problem is what's around it.
Mainz and Wiesbaden on one side, Frankfurt on the other. Brutal flak. 50 miles from target, and I could see the first wrecks on the ground, well ahead of the Main Force arrival. "Flames on the ground, skip. I count two."
"Yeah, I see 'em."
"Fuck." Egan stepped up the altitude to give us a little protection against the light stuff. But soon we were bracketed by 88s, and searchlight beams were lighting up the fuselage. "Jesus Christ, we're coned! Hang on!"
Fucking Germany. I was cursing the whole damned country when the first chunk of shrapnel punched through the fuselage just under my boots. Instinctively, I began to lift my feet up. "We're hit. Just under my position."
"And just under my nuts!" Lumby shouted. "Bloody hell!"
"Alright calm down. There's a guy on fire at 3 o'clock. Gonna slide over there."
Everyone was quiet now. All I could hear was the occasional close burst, the humming of the Merlins, the patter of shrapnel on the fuselage.
Everyone knew what Egan was doing. It was distasteful, but I 'd seen Shyster and Pecker do it too. See a bomber on fire, get close, let the beams pick on him. The gunners would confuse the two bombers and think they'd hit you, instead of him. Then drift away into the night.
Needless to say, that never made it into the logbooks. I looked to starboard. It was a Halifax, both port engines on fire, and it didn't have long. Men were dropping out. Obviously, the captain was keeping it level to ensure his crew made it.
This was how so many captains died. Especially in the Lanc. Once you let go, there was no way you were getting out, g-forces pinning you to the seat.
"Brave bastard." Egan breathed quietly. "Let's give him a second."
"Come on, skip." I didn't know if Heath was talking to Egan, or the captain of the Hally. But soon, the wing root caught fire, the wing detached from the plane, and we were rolling away sharply.
We left the searchlights behind, and the flak levelled off.
"Christ, that was awful." Mac sounded distraught. I tried to imagine myself doing this at 19 years old, and failed.
"Shut it. We're almost there."
"We're too high, skip." Heath called out. "Sorry."
"Okay, I'll get you in position."
"Skip, Topper wants to know why you're so high."
"Tell him so we could keep our testicles."
"Don't tell him that." Stroud interjects.
"We'll get in position."
"Boy, he's making Lucky go around again. Third time."
"That's Lucky's problem. Just relay what he tells me, for Christ's sake."
"Still too high. 5 miles out. Correct 10 left."
More searchlights now. Flak, following close. "Goddamn it, Heath, how is it now?"
"Good, hold course. Bomb doors open."
"Uh, Topper says you're too high."
"Fuck it. Hold on, boys!"
The kite lurched into a dive, then levelled off. The wing of a Lancaster was ten feet over my head, then receded. "How's that, Lumb?"
"Uh, he says go."
"Bombs gone." The Lanc lifted. We were tipping to port before the photo flash had even gone off. "Skip, the flash!" Heath scolded.
"Well, since Topper was paying such close attention..."
"Skip?" Lumby was solemn. "Skip?"
"He can't raise Lucky on VHF. Everyone keep their eyes open."
"Well, either Francois had another malfunction, or the third time was the charm." Stroud mused. "Should've watered the tail wheel."
"Shut up you rabble. Watch for fighters."
I was wondering about Lucky the whole way home. But I knew what had happened. So, I guess "wondering" isn't the right word.