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The Story Behind The Cover


“The Lone Eagle, August 1934″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

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Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of The Lone Eagle from its first issue in September 1933 until the June 1937 issue when Rudolph Belarski took over with the August issue of that year. At the start of the run, Frandzen painted covers of general air action much like his Sky Fighters covers. Here, for the August 1934 cover, Frandzen has a couple of S.V.A. biplanes and an Austrian Lohner flying boat!

The Story of the Cover

ITALY, a country producing no th_LE_3408 steel or coal and an insufficient amount of foodstuffs, took a mighty walloping from Austria for over two of her three years in the Great War. But during that time, in the face of defeat after defeat, they put up a mighty sweet scrap against the Austrians.

Caught without sufficient airplanes, they tore into the job and produced some of the finest made by any country. During the war they were even supplying their allies with engines and planes.

The Adriatic does not appear to be much of a puddle when compared to other seas and oceans but it took all the ingenuity and vigilance of every available Italian flyer to patrol it.

Lurking Perils

German and Austrian submarines were lurking beneath its surface, laying in wait for cargo ships laden with iron ore and coal enroute to Italy’s foundries. Austrian airplanes roared down on seacoast cities; left a trail of ruins in their wake. Brandenburg and Lohner flying boats were continually a menace.

Gradually the speed and reliability of the Italian airplanes, seaplanes and flying boats increased. Outstanding among these were the S.V.A. types of planes. One of these, the S.V.A. biplane fitted either with pontoons or wheels, was a flying killer which the Austrians dreaded to meet.

On the cover two S.V.A. biplanes have caught an Austrian Lohner flying boat as it has finished dumping its load of bombs into a cargo ship laden with coal bound for the Italian coast.

A Devastating Bomb

One after another the bombs slipped from their racks and smashed through the steamer’s deck, down into the hold. The crew were mowed down with machine-gun fire from the Lohner’s front cockpit. Fire, the dreaded foe of all at sea, burst through the shattered deck. Dense masses of greasy opaque smoke billowed upwards. A bomb had ripped plates from the side of the ship below the water-line.

The gunner in the Lohner grins, points to the listing, stricken ship. His pilot laughs, shrugs his shoulders and looks at his gas indicator. It is low, just enough to reach home. Still smiling, he kicks his ship around to scram.

No Smile Now

The smile of victory is wiped from his lips. He yanks at his controls like a novice, nearly pitching his gunner into the briny. Bearing down on the Lohner are two S.V.A.’s tearing across the skies at a hundred and thirty-five mile clip, their 220 h.p. motors roaring. With hardly enough gas to see him home the Austrian pilot is forced to fight. To try to escape with his slower ship would be suicide.

A hail of bullets blast at the Austrian plane. Up flips the flying boat’s nose. The gunner in the bow, crouching over his gun, sends a stream of lead back at the S.V.A. The range is great but a lucky shot damages an aileron control.

The other S.V.A. coming up from below rakes the gunner and pilot of the Lohner with deadly effect. The bulky flying boat flutters, noses over and dives straight into the Adriatic, carrying a dead crew and a heavy 300 h.p. Austro-Daimler engine to use as a sinker.

The Story of The Cover
The Lone Eagle, August 1934 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Story of The Cover Page)

“Sky Fighters, May 1936″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

Link - Posted by David on January 21, 2019 @ 6:00 am in

Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of Sky Fighters from its first issue in 1932 until he moved on from the pulps in 1939. At this point in the run, the covers were about the planes featured on the cover more than the story depicted. Mr. Frandzen features A.E.G. on the May 1936 cover!

The Ships on the Cover

BEFORE the World War airplanes th_SF_3605were more scoffed at than praised as a possible military weapon. Capitalists invariably put an extra knot in their purse strings when approached by optimistic promoters or inventors.

Firms that did any manufacturing to speak of were those who built airplanes as a side line, having large established plants already at their disposal. Such was the Allgemeine Elektricitats Gesellschaft, A.E.G. for short. This firm was one of Germany’s big electrical manufacturers. Their first entry into aircraft was naturally engines. They secured the option for building Wright motors and made some of their own design. Later when they branched into airplane design and manufacture they stuck rigidly to military planes principally of metal construction and some armour plating.

The ship on the cover smacking the water, is an A.E.G. of 1917 and ‘18 vintage. It has armour plating protecting the under-part of the fuselage and sides of the cockpits. But the A.E.G. firm was up against a tough proposition. Heavy armour plate protected the pilots perfectly but the engines were not fine enough to carry this added weight satisfactorily. Light armour had very little satisfactory results, but could be lifted okay. Therefore the pilots kidded themselves that they were pretty safe from enemy bullets with the light armour till a few rounds of Allied ammunition tore through and made more jagged wounds than a clean sharp bullet.

Used for Trench Strafing

A Benz 200 h.p. motor was up front and managed to yank the ship along at around 100 m.p.h. with favorable wind conditions. Primarily used for trench strafing it was fairly successful if protected by fast scouts, but for any other type of work it couldn’t take any first prizes.

The German lines ran from a chicken wire fence backed up against Switzerland all the way to the North Sea. Now any place along that line the A.E.G. could have got in some good licks. But when it stuck its nose straight out over the water and ambitiously went about a little job of work in conjunction with a German submarine it just didn’t make the grade.

An Allied Freighter in Sight

Through a series of prisms a clear image of an Allied freighter loomed before the periscope observer in the submerged submarine. He ran his periscope up another foot, got a better view and barked the information into the stifling air. The commanding officer leaped to the instrument. He grinned in anticipation, as he saw thr flag of the merchantman. “Verdammter Amerikaner.”

Terse orders snapped to the crew. Engines whirred into added power, down to within a foot of the water came the protruding periscope. The sleek underwater raider slipped through the water toward its victim. Ten torpedo tubes were available to sink the plodding ship carrying supplies to the American forces. Grins wreathed the faces of the crew as they learned the freighter’s nationality. The U-Boat steadied, slowed up, pointed its nose then it flattened out. A shudder raced through the ship as a torpedo was shot by compressed air out through its tube. Another shudder of greater volume caught the undersea craft. A detonation shook the boat. A wreath of smoke hovered over the freighter’s 3-inch gun. It had made a direct hit.

hen the torpedo smashed into the Yank vessel. It listed and began to sink. Up came the sub, its wireless calling for help. The message picked up on the German shore was given to the A.E.G. crew. Up soared the plane, the only one available. “Kill all survivors of the freighter,” were their orders.

Wildcat, Do Your Stuff!

One Yank in the bow of the freighter’s lifeboat was a crack shot with anything from a bean shooter to a siege gun. He unhurriedly unlimbered a machine-gun. “Wildcat,” he crooned to his pet gun of guns, “do your stuff.”

He waited till the German plane had hailed them with bullets. And then at just the right moment “Wildcat” started spitting.

One burst was enough. It tore jagged holes through the thin protecting armour. The German pilot sagged, the plane nosed down and smacked the water. Armour plate in addition to the heavy Benz pulled the crate down into Davy Jones’ checkroom in fifteen seconds.

The Yank patted “Wildcat” affectionately. He looked longingly back at the spot where his 3-inch gun had sunk with the freighter.

“Cheer up,” chided one of his companions, “we’ll take up a purse and buy you a Skoda howitzer for your next birthday.”

The Ships on The Cover
Sky Fighters, May 1936 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Ships on The Cover Page)

“Lufbery Becomes an Ace” by Paul Bissell

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THIS week we present “Niebling’s Phenomenal Feat”—The story behind Paul Bissell’s April 1933 cover for Flying Aces! Bissell is mainly known for doing the covers of Flying Aces from 1931 through 1934 when C.B. Mayshark took over duties. For the May 1932 cover Bissell presents the moment in the battle of Mauser raid where Raoul Lufbery became an ace!

Lufbery Becomes an Ace

th_FA_3205“PROCEED to their objective, the Mauser Munition Works at Oberndorf; there drop their bombs at points most destructive to the enemy positions; and then return to their home airdromes.”

So read the orders for October 12, 1916, at all Allied airdromes located back of the front line and south of Verdun. Orders of Brass Hats, “—and then return”! What a chance! With the objective one hundred and fifty kilometers inside the enemy lines and the sky filled with Boche. Well, anyway, it would be a great show, and at least one pilot smiled, thinking that tomorrow might bring death, but most surely would bring the opportunity of becoming an Ace.

This was Sous-Lieutenant Raoul Lufbery, of the Lafayette Escadrille, with four official victories to his credit, who, with three companions, Lieutenants Masson, de Laage and Prince, had been ordered to fly guard patrol for the bombing planes and protect them from attack.

Arriving at the appointed rendezvous, they saw a sight then strange to any eye. Perhaps the largest concentration of air forces the world had yet seen was spread below them. Farnums, Breguets, Caudrons, Sopwiths and Nieuports, almost every type of plane yet developed by the Allies for work at the Front, was in this huge flying armada, which would strike desperately at one of the main centers of German munition supplies.

Turning east, the whole group passed through a terrific archie bombardment, but it was not until they neared Oberndorf that the real show began. Here the Germans seemed to come from all directions. A general alarm had been spread, and every available German ship had been pressed into service.” Single-seated scouts, double-seaters, and even big three-placers, planes seldom seen on the Front at that time, were massed ahead of the advancing bombers.

The larger enemy ships would charge in, boldly maneuvering to bring their swivel guns into play, only to find the sky suddenly raining lead as Nieuports and Sopwiths dived headlong from the blue, their guns blazing in defense of their bombers. Then flashes of crimson and black, as Albatrosses and Fokkers and Pfalzes attacked fiercely, striving to gain that deadly blind spot underneath the tail of the slow-moving bomber, or twisting and squirming to evade the fire of some Nieuport, and, by some quick renversement, bring the tri-colored cocarde full in their sights.

IT WAS from such a mêlée that Lufbery, pulling out for an instant to clear a jam of his gun, saw a German go down in flames before the withering fire of Norman Prince.

“Yeow! Number one for the Lafayettes! Good old Nimmie! Now for number two!” And he pushed his stick over. But that dive was never to be finished. At that instant a sudden impact in his cockpit told him that a German was on his tail. Instinctively he yanked his stick back hard against his chest. Up he zoomed, his head twisted around to find his enemy.

There it was, a huge three-place Aviatik, with three guns, and all of them’ blazing at him. A flip of his ailerons—a kick of his rudder—then down hard on his stick, and in an instant he was away from the fire of the Boche. A sharp climbing bank would, he thought, bring him back under the tail of the larger ship, but here the German pilot, an old hand at the game, was too crafty to be caught. Banking up sharply on his right wing he exposed Lufbery again to the open fire of his three gunners.

This was entirely too hot a spot to stay in, and Lufbery turned the nose of his little Nieuport sharply away, out of the line of fire, climbing rapidly to gain altitude, from which he might dive down on the larger machine. As he turned, a flash of red went by, followed by a streak of silver—de Laage on the tail of a Boche!

Now, below him, Lufbery could see the three-seated Aviatik, the gunners all set for his attack. Over he nosed his ship and hurled down at the enemy, but at the same instant the big plane banked around and he overshot his mark. In a fury he twisted back in a sharp renversement, this time approaching the plane from the most dangerous position, open to the fire of the gunners.

But the Germans were square in his sights, and straight on he flew, feeling a thrill as the pulsing guns answered to the squeeze of his hand on the stick. He could feel the German bullets spattering his plane. Another instant, and he turned to avoid a crash, just as the huge Aviatik, the pilot dead, slipped crazily off on one wing. A telltale whisper of smoke, and then a burst of flame as it headed down to where falling chimneys and bursting roofs showed that the Allied bombers had
found their objective with fearful accuracy.

THAT was one hundred and fifty kilometers inside the German lines, and it meant one hundred and fifty kilometers of scrapping to win their way back through. The Germans took their toll. However, it had been a great show, and very successful from the Allied viewpoint. Much havoc had been wrought to the munitions center, and the Allies, too, had taken their toll in German ships. Three more victories were to the credit of the Lafayette Escadrille, for de Laage had brought down his German also.

A happy reunion awaited them, had not Fate here taken a hand. The four pilots, blown slightly off their course, and running short of gasoline, were forced to land at the French field of Corcieux, a field strange to all of them. It was almost dark as they eased their ships down, and Prince, unaware of some high tension wires strung across one end of the field, crashed into them as he glided in. With characteristic courage he refused to have his comrades move him until flares had been lighted to prevent some other pilot crashing as he had done.

Two days later he died in the hospital. The famous Mauser raid was history. Lufbery was an Ace, and Norman Prince an international hero.

The Ships on The Cover
“Lufbery Becomes an Ace”
Flying Aces, May 1932 by Paul J. Bissell

“Niebling’s Phenomenal Feat” by Paul Bissell

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THIS week we present “Niebling’s Phenomenal Feat”—The story behind Paul Bissell’s April 1933 cover for Flying Aces! Bissell is mainly known for doing the covers of Flying Aces from 1931 through 1934 when C.B. Mayshark took over duties. For the April 1933 cover Bissell put us right in the action as Lt. Paul H. Niebling shoots his Colt .45 at an oncoming Fokker while parachuting to the ground!

Niebling’s Phenomenal Feat

th_FA_3304UNSWERVING and terrifying, like a messenger from hell, the red plane, its guns blazing, bore down on the hapless young American swinging dizzily in his parachute harness. He heard the whine of the German bullets as they whizzed by, cutting another of his shroud cords. He clutched desperately at one of the loose ends as the wind began to spill out of his chute, at the same time twisting in his leg straps to empty the rest of his magazine into the red machine as it roared by him in a wild zoom.

Five times the Colt .45 spoke sharply, and then the mechanism jammed . . . .

Less than two minutes before, this young American, Lieutenant Niebling, and his companion observer, Lieutenant Carroll, had been quietly watching the enemy positions from their basket, some two thousand feet above Maixc. Not a plane had bepn in sight. The clouds hung low. Then, without warning, nosing out of a cloud, its motor picking up with a full-throated roar, had come this red devil, spitting flaming bullets into the big silken bag above.

At Niebling’s command, Carroll had jumped. But Niebling, an old hand at the game, had decided to stick to the last minute. Three times before this, he had gone overboard as the balloon above him went up in flames. He was sick of just going over and putting up no fight. So this time he had swung out of the basket that he might be in the clear if he felt the whole balloon give suddenly, as it does when it finally explodes. He was determined to get in a few shots at the Boche before he let go.

So, as the red plane had banked up sharply and came back for another go at him, Niebling had freed his automatic. If only he could put a bullet in that damned red nose, that came on relentlessly, shooting flaming darts which bit into the silken folds above! Damn him! And Niebling’s automatic had pulsed as he squeezed the trigger. Like a trip-hammer he felt it kick in his hand. The plane, apparently untouched, had nosed up and put a last fierce burst into the big bag. “Great God, how futile!” had thought Niebling, and in anger almost threw the partly empty automatic at the German plane. A sudden return of caution, however, had warned him that he had hung on as long as he dared. He released his hold and dropped like a stone, turning over and over in his plunge down.

The first seconds of a jump, even to the most experienced old jumpers, are seconds in which life seems suspended. Whether or not it will go on depends on the chute. If it opens—good! If not—well, c’est la guerre. So with Niebling, for a few seconds life stopped.

He himself, when first at the Front, had seen a French lieutenant carefully tuck the parachute into its carrier, demonstrating just how it should be done, had seen the parachute attached to sand-bags placed in the balloon basket, had seen the balloon ascend three thousand feet. Then, from the ground, he had seen the bags pushed over the basket’s edge, drop and rip the chute from its container—had watched breathlessly and vainly for the chute to open, only to see those bags plunge three thousand feet down, to crash in a cloud of dust with the folded chute trailing hopelessly behind. Yes, sometimes it didn’t open.

But this time it did, and with a rush and a snap, life was on again for the young lieutenant, and he found himself floating gently earthward, still gripping his automatic. Above him, and to one side, his balloon, now a mass of flames, was falling slowly to pieces. The Fokker had swung off and was attacking the other balloons. Even as he watched, Niebling saw the second, third and fourth bag explode, and then the German banked up in a sharp turn and headed back toward him.

ONCE before when Niebling had been shot down, the enemy had returned to the attack and passed so close that the American had made some excellent snapshots of the German plane with a tiny vest-pocket kodak. This time, however, Niebling longed not for pictures, but for blood. So he had waited for the German to get closer. Already the fixed gun, shooting through the Fokker’s prop, flashed steadily. What a chance! Just a service .45 against a Spandau.

Yes, but if only he could get one bullet in the right place—one, just one! And Niebling’s teeth gritted as he squeezed the trigger and butt of his Colt. Five times the automatic spoke, square into the red body, so close now that Niebling could almost have touched it with a fishing pole.

That was the moment when the mechanism jammed. The plane, apparently untouched, turned and headed back toward Germany, while the American, cursing with rage, worked feverishly to clear his gun. Watching the fast-retreating Fokker, he saw something suddenly go wrong.

Slowly at first, then more rapidly, the plane headed downward. Quickly it was apparent that the headlong dive was uncontrolled, as if death’s hand were on the stick. The motor roared, pulling the ship into a tight spin from which it never came out. Twisting faster and faster, it finally crashed, burying its nose deep in a hillside.

Yes, Niebling got down. With the wind still spilling out of his chute, he landed fast but safely. Modest always, he says that he was never able to prove positively that his bullet brought down the German. But evidently America and France thought that he had done a good job, for First Lieutenant Paul H. Niebling, 1st Minnesota Field Artillery, A.E.F., attached to the 73rd Company, French Balloon Corps, today wears a D.S.C. and Croix de Guerre, with Palm for exceptional valor, and is, we believe, the only man of the war who, in a head-on duel in the air, with only a sendee automatic against a Spandau, came away the victor.

The Ships on The Cover
“Niebling’s Phenomenal Feat”
Flying Aces,April 1933 by Paul Bissell

“Sky Fighters, March 1936″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

Link - Posted by David on December 10, 2018 @ 6:00 am in

Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of Sky Fighters from its first issue in 1932 until he moved on from the pulps in 1939. At this point in the run, the covers were about the planes featured on the cover more than the story depicted. Mr. Frandzen features a battle between a De Haviland Pusher and a German D.F.W. C4 on the March 1936 cover!

The Ships on the Cover

THE R.E.8 had the title th_SF_3603“Reconnaissance Experimental” but there was not so much experimental in her as good old fighting spirit. Since the line of R.E.s preceding the 8 had worked out most of the defects in actual combat flying rather than in the brain of designers, the old girl had been pretty well refined when she made her debut. The British Royal Aircraft Factory was responsible for some lesser lights in their production but the S.E.5 came out on their wartime stage to end the show in a round of applause from the aviators who flew them. But even when the S.E.s were starring at the front the R.E.8s were holding up their end of the show patrolling the sky lanes dropping bombs In the darkness of night to the end of the war.

Backstage at the training schools the R.E. put the young novices through the groundwork, in this case groundwork of the sky of fancy turns, pauses for leveling out between steep dives, pirouettes, all maneuvers to make sky hoofers for the chorus of war.

Never a Has Been

The R.E.8 did her work so well carrying on in any job that she could never have the slurring title of “Has been.” A ship that could look back on the glories of such a career need never slink away when the applause was for newcomers. It had the quiet reserve to serve gracefully, giving of its experience while treasuring in the heart of its big engine the memory of such days as the one when it flew back in 1918, the scene pictured on the cover.

An army is said to march on its belly. That’s a good old bromide and gets past first base, but marching never brought in a home run. The same can be said for a plane with only gas to feed it. It can go places but it can’t do things. The one thing needed above all others to ground or air forces is ammunition.

Silencing a pair of machine-guns in a bombproof hillside dugout commanding a pass was the problem confronting “Crackup” Jones of Texas and points West. Now “Crackup” came by his name because he had smashed more planes in landing and taking off than any other three living flyers in the A.E.F. He’d cracked his way through two schools and left a trail of splinters that ran up the national debt considerably. But that didn’t bother Mr. Jones for he and every one else who had seen him fly knew that once he got into the air no other two-legged mortal could swap lead with him and live to tell the story.

Wotta Man!

One guy swore he’d seen Jones crack a Nieuport full speed into a hangar roof. Thrown clear he sailed through the air a hundred feet and landed gracefully on the top of a grounded captive balloon. When they finally got him down he’d written a thousand-word account of the experience with diagrams for the “Stars and Stripes.” Wotta man!

“Crackup” is in the pilot’s pit of the old R.E.8 he borrowed from the British. He’d dropped all his bombs on the bombproof dugout at the head of a narrow pass just in front of his own lines. He’d sprayed every round from his machine-guns. His gas was nearly exhausted when he spied three Boche lugging up ammunition to the machine-gun nest. If those men got their cargo to the guns safely it meant the Yanks couldn’t push through.

“Crackup” Thinks—and Acts

“Crackup” thought fast. A narrow river was below the cliff. If he could smash his plane into those Germans and his luck held out he’d be catapulted into the water safe on the Allied side. Having thought, “Crackup” acted. Down he swooped, gave the last drop of gas to his coughing engine and smacked his enemies and their dangerous ammunition over the edge of the cliff with his empennage.

His tailless plane leaped through the air like a ski jumper, cleared the river and smashed head on into a jagged mass of rocks. “Crackup’s” luck had deserted him at last. When they pulled him out of the wreckage it was found that the wind had been knocked completely out of him and he had suffered a severe fracture of the left little finger.

The Ships on The Cover
Sky Fighters, March 1936 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Ships on The Cover Page)

Full specifications of the R.E.8 were featured in the LIBRARY OF WAR PLANES in this issue.

“Downing the L-22″ by Paul Bissell

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THIS week we present “Downing the L-22″—The story behind the cover of Paul Bissell’s June 1933 cover for Flying Aces! Bissell is mainly known for doing the covers of Flying Aces from 1931 through 1934 when C.B. Mayshark took over duties. For the June 1933 cover Bissell put us right in the action As Galpin and Leckie’s Phoenix Cork flying boat is caught in the searchlights of the mighty L-22 Zeppelin!

Downing the L-22

th_FA_3306 FROM the very outbreak of the World War it was apparent to the British that with an aggressive foe only a comparatively few miles across the water from them, England would be subjected to constant and continued air raids. With this in mind the Air Ministry attempted to build up an adequate defense, but with aviation in its infancy, and no past experience to help them, this task proved much more difficult than was at first apparent. The inadequacy of the defense first built up was quickly evident when the Germans began seriously to raid England in the early summer of 1915.

Almost every dark night one or more of the huge Zeppelins would slip through the blackness, drop its bombs, and disappear again—untouched. To be sure, the alarm would have been given, and plane after plane would be up searching for the enemy, while the night would be pierced by hundreds of bright beams trying vainly to find the giant ships. Often the huge shapes of the Zeps, silhouetted against the lighted sky above, would be clearly visible to those on the ground, but quite invisible to those high in the air, groping vainly for them.

And even if spotted, the Zep was by no means an easy prey. It had a flying speed almost equal to most of the planes of that time, while its ceiling was higher than could be obtained by the majority of them. And, even if caught at lower altitudes, merely by dropping its water ballast it could rise with a rapidity that made pursuit almost hopeless.

It was well-armed, too. Machine guns were mounted in each gondola, and in the main cabin, while on top; of the envelope at either end was a gun platform.

To be sure, not every raid was carried out successfully, or without serious losses. The difficulties offered to the defenders of the British coast only served to increase the determination of the British pilots, and more than one story of dare-devil bravery and achievement crowned with victory was written in flames against the night skies above England, as some huge Zeppelin hurtled down through space to destruction, the victim of one of Britain’s air heroes—Robinson, Warneford, Tempest, Brandon, Cadbury — just to mention a few of them.

There was probably not a pilot who, no matter what his individual mission might be, did not hope that some time, slipping out of a blinding fog bank, he might find himself face to face with a Zeppelin. They perhaps said little about it, and daily carried out whatever job was assigned to them. But they quietly longed and waited for that day when fate would be kind and give them their big chance.

AND so it was with the crew of the Phoenix Cork flying boat, H12-8666, of the Great Yarmouth station. They had gone out to drop a few eggs on the enemy hangars over in Belgium, but on the way high adventure overtook them.

With Flight Lieutenant Galpin as navigator, and Sub-Lieutenant Leckie as pilot, they left Great Yarmouth station at three o’clock on the morning of May 14, 1917. Four one-hundred-pound bombs were strapped beneath their wings, and they carried three Lewis machine guns—a double one mounted in the forward cockpit, and one aft in the side door.

They had proceeded about eighty miles toward their objective and gained about six thousand feet of altitude when they plunged suddenly into a dense fog bank. Until now the. trip had been uneventful, just a careful watch out as they sped along, searching the scarcely visible horizon for the first suggestion of daylight. Now, however, there was no horizon, no top, no bottom—above, below, to either side—just a dark mass of nothingness through which they winged their way, guiding themselves only by their instruments.

Lieutenant Leckie kept the plane climbing gradually until he had finally reached an elevation of ten thousand feet, and figured that he must be nearing the Belgian coast. He cursed the thick fog that made him as helpless as a blind man. The blackness around had faded to a dirty gray, heralding the approach of day. Then suddenly, like slipping from a dark room, they shot out into the clear air. Off in the east, dawn pushed its long fingers up into the heavens. Below were the waters of the channel, still black as seen between other fog banks and huge cloud formations which extended interminably, billow on billow, off into the distance.

But straight ahead, and some six thousand feet below them, was a shape that sent the hearts of the Britishers into their throats. Scarcely visible in the early light, but with each second making their hope more and more certain, was the silvery shape of a German Zeppelin.

Instantly all thought of their objective was forgotten. Their big chance was here. Without need of a command, the pilot altered his course, and headed directly for the big ship. Galpin manned the forward twin gun, while Whatling, the wireless operator, manned the aft gun. With throttle wide open and nosing over slightly to gain speed, the flying boat tore ahead. Had the Zep seen them? Would she turn and run for it? Or would she ascend rapidly and wireless for help? Quickly they crept up. Only a mile separated them—then only half a mile.

On the side of the Zep the numerals L-22 and the Black Cross now stood out boldly. Then the Zep seemed suddenly to come to life. She changed her direction, at the same time dropping volumes of water as she discharged her ballast, and her nose shot violently upward. But Leckie had anticipated just this maneuver, and though he had sacrificed some of his altitude, he was still some five hundred feet above the Zep. Without hesitation Galpin dropped three of his four bombs. Every pound counted. Now they must have every bit of speed that was possible.

Already the Germans from the top platform were raking them with machine-gun fire. Then Leckie turned her over in one last headlong dive, pulling her up just under the rear fin and not forty yards from the back gondola. Immediately they were met by a terrific fire from the two gondolas. Bullets whizzed by, tearing pieces of fabric from their wings.

But now Galpin’s guns were also in action. Burst after burst of incendiary bullets he saw bury themselves in the rear end of the big envelope. Leckie piloted the machine skilfully, swinging from one side to another under the big dirigible, offering as difficult a target as possible and at the same time tipping up on one wing so as to give Whatling a chance to bring the rear gun into action.

The Zep was climbing rapidly, and Leckie strove desperately to hold his position in spite of the backwash from the German’s five propellers. Another burst of fire from Galpin, and then his guns jammed. Now they were in a perilous position. Scarcely twenty yards separated them from the German gondolas from which a withering machine-gun fire was pouring.

Leckie turned away to starboard to give Galpin time to fix his guns, intending to sweep around and come up under her again when the jam was cleared. But this was not necessary. Already a faint red glow was discernible in the rear of the huge silver envelope, where Galpin’s bullets had buried themselves—a glow which quickly increased as tongues of flame leapt out and swept upward.

For a few seconds the great ship hung quivering, then, like a meteor, rushed flaming down to the sea. Her engines, burned out of their fittings, dropped ahead of her, sending up great columns of water as they crashed. Then, with a hissing scream, the great burning mass plunged out of sight into the dark waters below. All that remained of the L-22 and its crew of twenty-five men was a patch of oil and black ash upon the restless surface of the channel.

The Ships on The Cover
“Downing the L-22″
Flying Aces, June 1933 by Paul Bissell

“Collishaw’s Black Hawks” by Paul Bissell

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THIS week we present “Collishaw’s Black Hawks”—The story behind the cover of Paul Bissell’s March 1933 cover for Flying Aces! Bissell is mainly known for doing the covers of Flying Aces from 1931 through 1934 when C.B. Mayshark took over duties. For the March 1933 cover Bissell put us right in the action on that June day in 1917 as Canadian Ace Raymond Collishaw and his Black Flight tangle in a deadly dogfight with Richthofen’s Flying Circus—now lead by his deputy, German Ace Karl Allmenroeder who already had 30 victories to his name!

Collishaw’s Black Hawks

th_FA_3303 DOWN from the blue sky like four black hawks they dropped, diving recklessly into the rant midst of the famous red squadron of Richthofen himself. Sopwith tripes they were, all black, and one red ship went down before the fury of their first attack. Then, an instant later, all eleven planes were in a mad dogfight.

To the watching Tommies below this was now almost a daily occurrence for, though this British flight had for the first time appeared over the Ypres sector less than ten days before, it was already famous. Those ten days had been crowded with battles. With the other flights in Squadron 10, this one had been ordered to clear the sky of German planes so that the British troops might be concentrated for the final drive on Messines Ridge. In seven days twenty-four German planes had been accounted for.

The Black Flight had done its full share, and in weeks to come was to hang up a record unchallenged by any other flight in the squadrons of any air force. In two months this all-Canadian flight brought down 87 enemy aircraft, and lost but one of its own members.

The leader, Lieutenant Collishaw, was a naval flyer who had found time to become an ace outside of his routine duty of protecting warships. When help was needed over Ypres, he was selected by the high command and formed his own squadron, choosing four other Canadians as pilots, and Sopwith tripes as their ships. These they painted all black. Collishaw flew “Black Maria”—Reid, sub flight commander, flew “Black Roger”—Shaman, “Black Death”—Nash, “Black Sheep”—and Alexander, “Black Prince.”

These five ships were soon known to the Tommies of this whole sector, and it was with a feeling of consternation that the watching lads in the trenches saw that on this day only four flew to the attack. One must have gone West. Perhaps that was why the attack seemed fiercer than usual, and a cheer rose from the trenches as another German, caught at the top of a loop by the deadly fire of Reid, slipped off on a wing and crashed in flames.

But from the main dogfight two planes had pulled off to one side, and were fighting each other with that relentlessness that would end only in death for one or both. One was an Albatross scout, red with green stripes and black crosses—the other, a Sop tripe, all black with British circles.

In the former was a German ace, Allmenroeder, striving to add o»e more name to his already long list of victims—a list which had only the day before been increased by the name of the missing member of the Black Flight. In the other was Collishaw, whose face, usually ready with a bright winning smile, was today grim, his jaw set. Today he was an ace who sought not just a victory, but a victory which might help to erase the memory of yesterday, when he had seen this same green-striped Albatross send Nash in “Black Sheep” crashing to earth.

Furiously, yet with caution, they fought for an advantage, a caution not apparent to the watching Tommies because of the dexterity, sureness and ease with which these two masters of air fighting executed breath-taking maneuvers. Banking, looping, and sideslipping, they doubled and twisted high up in the sky. One instant the red plane seemed to be chasing the black one, and the next the black would seem to have the advantage. Burst after burst came from their guns as for a brief instant a near chance offered itself, but not until they were over Lille did the break come.

HERE the powerfully engined Albatross, coming out of a steep climbing vrille, found itself in that one deadly position above and over the black tripe’s tail. With motor on, Allmenroeder dived for the kill. His guns spat, and for an instant death was less than half a hand’s breadth from the young Canadian.

But Collishaw had one more trick in his bag. A push of his stick sent his little tripe square up on her wing tips where, with nose down and slipping violently off to the side, he offered small target for the German’s fire.

For a brief eternity they hung thus. Bullets spattered around Collishaw, and then the terrific power-dive of the German took his Albatross beyond and below the British plane. In a split second the little tripe had righted itself, and now it was the black plane that rode like death behind and above the red Albatross. Tracers shot out from the twin Vickers. They were to the left. Another burst was nearer in, and then came the steady rat-a-tat as the two guns pulsed to the grip of the young Canuck.

A strut splintered as a bullet cut through. Then the windshield shattered. The red ship staggered; its tail shot straight up, then kicked around violently, and the “green-striper” started on its last spin.

And so Nash was avenged, though months later it was learned that he had not been killed, but was a prisoner in Germany.

The Black Flight went on to pile up its astounding score, while Collishaw was made a squadron commander, gaining sixty official victories before he was recalled to London to help in the formation of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and made a Lieutenant-Colonel.

Collishaw still lives. After the World War he fought with the “White” troops of the old Czarist cause against the Bolshevists—then in Poland, Persia, Mesopotamia, and against the Arabs in Palestine. He has risen to Flight Commander. Besides his D.S.O. and bar, D.S.C., and D.F.C., he has been awarded the order of “Commander of the British Empire.”

He was a sailor, and as he himself once said, after coming out unhurt from a crash in No-Man’s Land, “Sailors die at sea.” May he stay always on land—or in the air!

The Ships on The Cover
“Collishaw’s Black Hawks”
Flying Aces, March 1933 by Paul Bissell

“The Lone Eagle, June 1934″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

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Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of The Lone Eagle from its first issue in September 1933 until the June 1937 issue when Rudolph Belarski took over with the August issue of that year. At the start of the run, Frandzen painted covers of general air action much like his Sky Fighters covers. Here, for the June 1934 cover, Frandzen has a couple Sopwith Camelss in a scrap with a D.F.W. Aviatik type C.V.!

The Story of the Cover

THE scrap depicted on the cover this th_LE_3406 month is between two Sopwith Camels and a D.F.W. Aviatik, type C.V. The initials “D.F.W.” stand for quite a mouthful; Deutsche Fregzeug Werke. This company, formed before the war, carried on with contracts from the government through the World War. This model of the D.F.W. is often confused with the L.V.G. It is an easy mistake to make, for they both have many of the same characteristics of construction. It carried a 228 h.p. Benz motor in its nose. It needed all this power for its forty-three foot wing span.

The Sopwith Camel was manufactured by the Sopwith Aviation Co., Ltd., founded in 1911 by Mr. T.O.M. Sopwith, a well-known aviator. Even before the war the Sopwith planes were famous, one of them, a seaplane, similar to the later Sopwith “Baby” seaplane which did such fine work for the R.N.A.S., having the distinction of winning the Schneider cup races.

It Delivered the Goods

The Camel was designed for extreme maneuverability and high performance. It made its appearance at the end of 1916, and during 1917 it was the outstanding single-seater of the British. Its high rate of climb made it particularly good for defense against Zeppelin raids. In the hands of a competent pilot it could out-maneuver any ship of its class on the front, but put a pilot used to a sluggish-controlled ship at the stick of a Camel and he was lost. The Camel was tricky to fly, but once used to the controls veritable wonders could be performed by a pilot who knew all the tricks of sailing the sky lanes.

This ship delivered the goods from the time it made its appearance right up to the end of the war, and that is something that cannot be said for many ships that were used during the Big scrap.

A Technique of Their Own

Two Anzacs who had done considerable cattle-herding in their beloved Australia had changed their mounts from shaggy ponies to “Camels.” But in the cockpits of their Camels their old habit of cutting out one animal from a herd was not forgotten. They developed a technique of their own of cutting an enemy plane from a flight and harassing it with cross-fire. Anticipating every move of the enemy plane they would gradually work it toward the Allied lines, then over the lines and finally force the unhappy German pilot, whom they had flattered with their undivided attention, to land on their own airdrome.

Now look at the picture on the cover again and you’ll get the drift of the situation. That D.F.W. Aviatik has been picked by our friends in the Camels as a hostage and they are herding him off the range into the corral. And it won’t be long now till all three planes will be making a landing. The back gunner of the D.F.W. is shy his Parabellum gun. He unhooked it from its swivel mount and pitched it overboard at the request of the Camel pilots delivered in sign language and punctuated with a drizzle of Vickers slugs that literally wrote their initials in the side of the Boche ship.

Following the Leader

As the home drome looms ahead the closest Camel pilot sends a short burst across the tail of the German ship. He points down, identifying the drome on which the unhappy Germans must land or be blasted out of the sky. As he flips his Camel under the bulky two-seater the German gunner raises bis hands high above his head, signifying his willingness to play follow the leader.

All three ships nose downward. The Anzacs have brought home the bacon again; just another stray cut out of the sky pastures and jriven private grazing ground for the duration of the emergency.

The Story of The Cover
The Lone Eagle, June 1934 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Story of The Cover Page)

“Sky Fighters, February 1936″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

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Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of Sky Fighters from its first issue in 1932 until he moved on from the pulps in 1939. At this point in the run, the covers were about the planes featured on the cover more than the story depicted. Mr. Frandzen features a battle between a De Haviland Pusher and a German D.F.W. C4 on the February 1936 cover!

The Ships on the Cover

THE De Haviland planes will always th_SF_3602 be remembered in the United States by the number of D.H.s this country ordered on such a grand scale when we entered the war. The early D.H.s are not given the credit they deserve because Capt. Geoffrey De Haviland might never have had a chance to build later models if his early one had not been so good. It combatted the Fokker menace back in 1916 when the Germans had things their own way in the air. When these D.H. Pusher biplanes came along the Allied airmen began to take heart. At last they had a machine that could outfly the Fokker which was the scourge of the Front. The D.H. Pusher was similar to the earlier F.E.s but much superior in speed. They had only two bays of struts and were simplified considerably in the tail boom construction.

The British airmen in the bucket seat of the D.H. Pusher on the cover had confidence in their machine when it proudly paraded its course through the skies. They had a speedy ship with a front gun to blaze the Germans from the air when those hitherto superior, overconfident airmen darted across Allied territory for a looksee at all the preparations being made on the ground.

On this occasion they met not one of Mr. Fokker’s products but a German D.F.W. C4 (Deutsche Flugzeug Werke). This two-seater carried a 200 h.p. Benz motor. The C4 had radiators on the sides of the fuselage directly in the slipstream which made it possible to use a small radiator to run a big engine, by which trick the Germans gained efficiency. The wings were not swept back but had dihedral.

Funny-Looking, But—

Funny-looking crates, those old flying bird cages, but some pilots who flew them still brag about them and swear that it was a wonderful sensation to fly a pusher. Of course, there was the uncomfortable feeling of having a heavy engine nestling behind your seat to squash you flatter than a pancake in a crackup.

When the tractors replaced the pushers all but a few aviation experts predicted that pushers would never more waddle through the air. But along toward the end of the war the British Vickers Co. came out with a single-seater Pusher with two front guns. It was powered with a better engine than the old Pushers used and could tick off over 120 miles per hour low down; and low down was the place it did its job, right over the German trenches. It was built for ground strafing and it was a honey to fly. Again the anti-pusher crowd said “It’s a freak, a last try using an obsolete principle. There ain’t no such thing as a good pusher.”

That old Vickers Vampire was just about 
the swan song of the pushers for many 
years. And then, nearly fifteen years after
 the end of the World War the French 
Hanriot Company brought out one of the
speediest, slickest-looking fighters of the
 year, the Hanriot H-110-C1. And believe it
 or not, it was a PUSHER that could slice
 through the air at the very nice speed of
 220 m.p.h.

Lightning-Quick Action

The German D.F.W. on the cover had a pilot who had knocked down several of the earlier slower moving pushers. He saw an easy kill and got careless. One moment the D.H. Pusher was in front of him. The next it had pulled a lightning-like maneuver which no ship other than a tractor had hitherto been capable of Lewis slugs cracked and rattled into the German ship, knocking the front gun’s firing mechanism cock-eyed. Then the stream of lead slid back and ripped a section of canvas from the observer’s pit. That worthy never got in a shot, his hands were too high in the air clawing at the clouds.

The British gunner pointed towards the Allied rear lines. The German pilot nodded his head and slanted his ship down, swearing solemnly that if he ever escaped and got into the air again he’d be mighty careful to keep out of the way of pushers.

The Ships on The Cover
Sky Fighters, February 1936 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Ships on The Cover Page)

“The Lone Eagle, May 1934″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

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Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of The Lone Eagle from its first issue in September 1933 until the June 1937 issue when Rudolph Belarski took over with the August issue of that year. At the start of the run, Frandzen painted covers of general air action much like his Sky Fighters covers. Here, for the May 1934 cover, Frandzen has a couple British S.E.5As in a battle of wits with a pair of German Fokker D.8s!

The Story of the Cover

FEATURED on this month’s cover are two th_LE_3405 types of ships that were swapping lead during the last year of the war. The ship in the foreground and the one in the background losing its right wing are Fokker D.8s. The British planes, the one skidding over the Fokker with the cracked wing and the one coming up to attack the leading Fokker, are S.E.5As.

The Fokker D.8 was Mr. Fokker’s last contribution to the numerous fighting and experimental line of ships he designed for the Central Powers during the little argument “Over There.” This parasol monoplane was a sleek stream-lined Job of pretty proportions. In its flying tests it went through every stunting maneuver with speed and precision. It outflew all competitive planes submitted by other manufacturers and the Aces from the front who tried out the plane all clamored for one to use against the Allies.

Why They Shed Their Wings

As the D.8 had withstood all the flying tests and sand bag tests Fokker knew that he had a good plane: but the German scientific testing organization discovered that Fokker had omitted certain bracing of the rear spar near the wing tirs which they always specified for a biplane. Fokker argued that the monoplane wing did not need this bracing. The scientific boys were not to be swayed from their decision so the extra bracing was installed, and thereby lies the reason for several of these speedy ships which actually saw service at the front shedding their wings in a dogfight. It caused the wing to take more load at its wing tips than in the middle part, torsion causing the wing to collapse when unduly strained.

Although the D.8 didn’t show up at the front till 1918 you would have heard plenty about it if the ships had not been grounded during the controversy between Fokker and the Big Bugs of the German testing division. When Fokker was finally allowed to build the wing as in his original design the plane withstood all strains, but by the time delivery was made at the front the war was over.

The British S.E.5A was also a product of the last year of the World War, It was speedy and could be depended on to give a good account of itself against any of the German scouts, including the Fokker D.8.

Those two S.E.5’s on the cover have tangled with two D.8’s that have attacked two Allied sausage balloons, successfully igniting one. The archie guns opened up from the ground but the flitting monoplanes seem to anticipate the arrival of the bursting shells and are not harmed. The shells from the ground did not get them, but two prowling S.E.5A’s swooped down and the fight was on. The British pilots had never swapped lead with the fleet little monoplanes of this type and were at a disadvantage as the German pilots knew most of the S.E.5A’s tricks.

A Burst of Vickers Lead

The planes howl down the sky lanes, twisting, writhing in and out of each others ring-sights. Suddenly a burst of Vickers lead laces the foremost Fokker.

The German pilot stiffens, slumps. His stick is pulled back and his left foot shoved forward on the rudder bar, A dead man is driving his plane up into the heavens on his last ride. Unnerved at seeing his partner killed the second German pilot goes haywire with his sticks, skids under an S.E.5A and touches his wing tip against a speeding wheel. The Englishman’s axle sheers off the pi op on the sleek monoplane. Horrified the Allied pilot sees his left wings buckling, cracking. If that back strut holds till he can nurse his ship into a favorable glide he may get down. But the Fokker D.8 is doomed. Its ticket reads: One way. To earth. No stopovers.

The Story of The Cover
The Lone Eagle, May 1934 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Story of The Cover Page)

“Sky Fighters, January 1936″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

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Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of Sky Fighters from its first issue in 1932 until he moved on from the pulps in 1939. At this point in the run, the covers were about the planes featured on the cover more than the story depicted. Mr. Frandzen features the trusty Sopwith 1½ Strutter whose pilot has been injured in a battle with a couple of German Rumpler C1’s on the January 1936 cover!

The Ships on the Cover

THE British Sopwith 1½ Strutter was th_SF_3601 one of those ships that rated so high early in the war that all the Allied governments were scrambling to get them for their own air forces. T.O.M. Sopwith began making planes that did things back in 1912. His seaplane scout won the Schneider Cup at Monoca. His “Bat boat” was so good that the Germans bought them before the war.

The amphibian “bat boat” had wheels which could be raised or lowered long before the days of modern retractable landing gear. Then came the Sop Tabloid which so revolutionized airplane design in 1913 that it became the grandpa of all fighting scout machines of the war. All the best features of former Sopwith models had been incorporated in the Tabloid.

In 1915 the Sop 1½ Strutters came out with the goods. They carried a synchronized gun firing through the propeller. The gun and the plane were a Sopwith team as the Sopwith Aviation Co. developed the synchronization gear which made the teamwork possible. The 1½ Strutter was a two-seater, although they manufactured a singe seat version later.

The name 1½ Strutter came from the peculiar bracing job. The top wing was in two parts joined to a center section. To support these, short struts ran from the top of the fuselage at an angle to quite a distance out on the top wing.

Another Two-Seater

The Rumpler C1 was a two-seater also. It wasn’t much of an original idea in design as it was so directly related to the old Taube which the Rumpler Co. had manufactured under license from its originator, the Austrian Etrich. The C1 had the backswept fish-like tail of the Taube monoplanes. An exposed radiator hung in the breezes at the center part of the leading edge of the top wing.

One day back in 1916 these two-seaters, the Sop and the Rumpler got in a scrap. That is where we find them on the cover. Two Rumplers have ganged up on the Sop, which wouldn’t place the 1½ Strutter in such a bad position as it was a much superior ship and welcomed a chance to show off to the challenging Germans. The Britishers were cocky and allowed the German observer to get in a burst.

The pilot of the land 1½ Strutter suddenly groaned in an agonized breath. The observer busy swinging his Lewis on the German ship couldn’t hear the startled cry from the front pit. The ship lurched and nearly threw the amazed gunner from his cockpit. He turned his head. “What the—” he shouted and was suddenly silent. The pilot was bent over the instrument panel. With no dual controls the ship seemed doomed. There was only one thing to do.

“Hold Her Steady!”

The observer shouted “Hold her steady!” He swung out of his pit and muscled slowly up over the turtleback and grabbed a center section strut as the ship shuddered from the enemy’s fire. It rocked and swayed dangerously. Holding onto the fuselage the observer got on the left wing and inched his way to his comrade’s side. German bullets had put both the plucky pilot’s arms out of commission. He was trying to fly the plane with his legs and feet alone. His face was chalk-like, his teeth clamped tight in pain. The observer grabbed the stick and pulled up the nose. Then, as the Rumplers came in for the kill, their guns churning a drizzle of slugs into the Allied ship, he shoved the slick against the firewall. The Sop nosed over.

As the gap widened between the diving Sop and the surprised German pilots, the British anti-aircraft gunners on the ground below who had been waiting for just such a break smacked upward a curtain of screaming steel. The Rumplers’ pilots quickly turned back across their own lines.

The 1½ Strutter pulled drunkenly out 
of her dive, wobbled and did a bellyflop 
in an abandoned potato patch behind the 
lines. It took two to land her, a pilot and 
a backseat driver who said little but did
much.

The Ships on The Cover
Sky Fighters, January 1936 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Ships on The Cover Page)

“Last Flight” told by Eddie Rickenbacker, O.B. Myers and Harold Hartney

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TO COMMEMORATE the fourth of July this year, we bring you the story behind Lt. Wilbert Wallace White’s final flight. White was a flight commander with the 147th Aero Squadron, part of the 1st Pursuit Group, First United States Army. The squadron was assigned as a Day Pursuit (Fighter) Squadron and White was the leader of C Flight. At 30, White was the oldest pilot at the 147th and the only one who was married with children. He was to be reassigned stateside, but set off on one final flight before he was to leave—sadly, it was a flight from which he didn’t return. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this same story was featured several months earlier on Frederick Blakeslee’s cover for the January 1932 issue of Battle Aces and the following year as the July 1933 cover of Flying Aces as imagined by Paul Bissell. From the pages of the June 1932 issue of War Aces, it’s Lt. White’s “Last Flight” as told by Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, Col. Harold Hartley and our own, Lt. O.B. Myers!

 

More than thirteen years have passed since Lieutenant Wilbert White gave his life for a friend. His body lies buried in France, but the broken joystick with which he drove his Spad head-on into a German Fokker rests on a mantel in the fatherless home of his widow and two children in New York City.

A daughter, now sixteen, and a son, fourteen, treasure the joystick, along with other splintered parts of the wrecked Spad, salvaged from the bank of the Meuse by Lieutenant White’s father, The Reverend Dr. W.W. White, of the Biblical Seminary in New York. The children are both in private schools now and their mother is engaged in scientific research for which she prepared after her husband’s death.

 

LAST FLIGHT

WITH A REPRIEVE FROM DEATH IN HIS POCKET, LIEUT. WHITE GAVE HIS LIFE THAT A COMRADE MIGHT LIVE
THE TRUE STORY OF ONE OF THE WAR’S GREATEST HEROES

as told by Eddie Rickenbacker, O.B. Myers and Harold Hartney
to James Martindale • War Aces, June 1932


LIEUT. WILBERT WALLACE WHITE
147th Aero Squadron

WA_3206THIS is the story of Lieutenant Wilbert White, of the 147th Pursuit Squadron. It is the story of his last flight. Whitey died on the last flight—he dove head-on into a Fokker to save the life of a youngster whom he had promised to protect on the youth’s first flight over the lines.

Eddie Rickenbacker, diving from above to join him, saw him die. The picture still haunts him, and he remembers Whitey as “the bravest man of the war.” Reed Chambers saw it, Jimmy Meissner and a half dozen others, but not one of them can talk of it without tears filling his eyes.

The War Department lists Lieutenant Wilbert W. White as “killed in action,” and on the records at Washington is a second citation, bestowing an oak leaf cluster for a previously awarded Distinguished Service Cross. The citation says:

“In command of a patrol of four planes which was attacked by a large flight of German Fokkers, Lieutenant White attacked the enemy plane which was hard pressing a new pilot. The German Fokker had gotten at the tail of the American plane and was overtaking it. Lieutenant White’s guns having jammed, he drove his plane head-on into the Fokker, both crashing to earth 500 meters below.”

There are similar citations in the archives of the British and French War Offices. But none of them tell, as do the words of Rickenbacker, Colonel Harry Hartney and others who know, the real facts behind that last flight, the facts which make Whitey’s death one of the greatest sacrifices of the war.

Why did he do it?

Rickenbacker answers, “If you had known Whitey as we knew him you would understand.”
In the first place Whitey was a minister’s son and when he enlisted, killing Huns became his religion. War was no game to him—it was a war between right and wrong, and with God and right on the side of the Allies Whitey regarded his guns as weapons of the Lord. Strangely, for all of his six feet or more of bone and muscle and the tinge of red in his hair, he had little use for violence. In the recollection of his pals, he used his fists only once, and on that occasion—an excellent portrayal of his character—to strike a bunkmate for ridiculing a young cadet flyer on his knees in prayer.

In the second place, and this fact probably had a lot to do with his actions, Whitey was thirty years old, an old man in the eyes of his companions just out of their ‘teens. He was the oldest man in the squadron and its only married man. He left a wife and two small children to make the world a safe place to live in and when he reached the Front he immediately wrote his minister-father that at last he felt he had “something to live for, and, if necessary, to die for.”

Whitey died October 10, 1918, while the 147th, a unit of Colonel Hartney’s First Pursuit Group that included Rickenbacker and his famous 94th, was stationed at Rembercourt behind Verdun. Dawn of that same morning found Whitey, already a wearer of the Distinguished Service Cross and the leader of 147’s C Flight, in the midst of an attack on a German observation plane over the lines.

THE stream of lead from Whitey’s Vickers was ripping up the tail of the slow-moving Halberstadt. Another burst from the diving Spad and the German gunner slumped in his cockpit. An incendiary found its way into the Halberstadt’s gas tank and the Hun burst into flames.

The American victor straightened out as the flaming mass crashed into the ridges behind Montfaucon, and with a beckoning wave of the hand reformed with his four companions. A flip of the tail of his Spad and the early morning patrol of C Flight turned for home and breakfast. It was Whitey’s seventh Hun. He signed the combat report with a sense of satisfaction, as of a duty well done, and with the rest of his flight—Ken Porter, O.B. Myers, Billy Brotherton and Pat Herron—trekked down the muddy road from the hangars to the mess hut. There usually, Whitey shared doughnuts and coffee with Rick and Jimmy Meissner, his own commander in the 147th; but this morning Rick and Jimmy were in conference with Colonel Hartney at Group Headquarters. Captain “Ack” Grant of the 27th and Johnny Mitchell of the 95th were there too, for the group commander had called in all four of his squadron leaders.

“I don’t get the idea of the job, colonel,” Rickenbacker was objecting. “And why Whitey?”

“It’s this way, Rick,” Hartney answered. “General Kenly wants an accredited ace to serve on the staff of the Chief of Air Service in Washington. He Wants an inspirational type, a man who can stand as a model to younger men; he wants to send him over the country making speeches, to stir up a little patriotism, I guess. Of course, he will serve in a technical advisory capacity as well.”

“But why do they have to take White?” persisted Rickenbacker. “That crowd of generals-”

“I know, Rick,” Hartney temporized. “You can’t deny though—Whitey fits the bill.”

“He’ll never do it,” broke in Meissner.

“He’ll have to,” responded the commander. “The orders came through from General Patrick at Tours this morning.” Hartney hesitated a moment, then added, “You’re forgetting, fellows, Whitey has a wife and two kids back there. That’s not the reason he’s going back, but his wife probably will be glad even if we are reluctant to lose him.”

“She won’t if she’s anything like Whitey,” interjected the 94th’s leader. “You’ll have a swell time convincing Whitey that that’s not the reason he was picked, and I for one don’t want to be here when you tell him. Is there anything else, colonel?”

Hartney shook his head. The four squadron commanders filed out, and after them went Captain Cunningham, operations officer, to summon Whitey to headquarters. The pilot returned with him and found Hartney standing beside bis desk, tapping a pencil.

“Whitey,” he began. “I’ve some good news for you—”

“Yes, I know, colonel, Meissner told me. Young Charley Cox is coming up with us. I’m glad, colonel.” Then more seriously he added, “You see, I sort of feel it a duty to take care of that kid. I knew him you know, and his father and mother. That’s why I asked you to help me in getting him here with us. I just got a letter from his dad this morning.”

Hartney’s face clouded; he walked behind his desk.

“Yes, Whitey,” he said. “Cox will be up sometime to-day, and he’ll be assigned to the 147th. But that’s not what I called you over for.” The commander hesitated as a look of doubt spread over the pilot’s browned and wind-burned face. “It’s this, Whitey—there’s no use trying to put it in softer words—General Patrick has ordered you back to the States for special duty on the staff of General Kenly, Chief of the Air Service at Washington.”

THE orders left the younger man speechless. The amazed, hurt look in his eyes caused Hartney to turn away and to finish his order in short, staccato sentences.

“Your new duties will be varied—advisory work partly and other special stuff. You can take my word for it you weren’t picked at random. You were chosen because of your excellent record. It’s an important job. I’m sorry, more sorry than I can say, to lose you. We all are, but it comes from above me, and I haven’t anything to say about it.”

Hartney tried to end it there. It wasn’t easy, nor pleasant, ordering a fellow like Whitey back to the States; ordering anyone, for that matter, from that reckless crowd of fighting youths. He couldn’t refuse to listen as the amazed flyer regained his tongue.

“I—I don’t understand, colonel.” The good-natured smile was gone now. In its place was a look of doubt, as if he questioned the truth of Hartney’s explanation.

“I can’t leave, colonel—not now anyway. You’re sure” —he spoke more quickly as the thought occurred to him— “You’re sure the fact that I have a family has nothing to do with it? ”

There was only one way for Hartney to deal with the situation. That was to be brusque. As difficult as that was, Hartney spoke sharply.

“I can’t help it, White. Orders are orders. Here they are.” He handed over a sealed envelope. “They date from to-morrow. Better get packed up. The boys, I understand, want to throw a little party for you to-night, and you can leave early in the morning for Paris.”

Hartney turned away, indicating dismissal, but as the bewildered pilot walked slowly toward the entrance of the hut there came one more command from his senior officer.

“Just one more thing, Whitey. I’ve instructed Meissner to take you off the regular patrols for the rest of the day. I—I’d stay on the ground if I were you. That’s all. I’ll see you again before you leave for Paris.”

Whitey did not answer. He walked out slowly, the sealed orders in his hand unopened, and wandered unseeing in a circuitous journey that finally led him to 147’s barracks across the Sacra Via that ran from Rembercourt to Verdun.

He was sitting on his cot, staring at the floor, when Ken Porter and “Obie” Myers, his companions of the morning patrol, found him. They walked up quietly, and both cleared their throats significantly before they uttered a word. Porter spoke first.

“What’s the use of our trying to say anything, Whitey? It’s a lousy trick to play on any man, especially you.”

Whitey seemed not to hear. He sat unmoved, his head pressed tightly between his hands, his elbows on his knees. Porter continued.

“There is this about it, though, old fellow. You’ve got to think of the wife and kids. You’re the oldest man in the squadron, you know, and the only one with a family. This suicide club is no place for a fellow like you; it doesn’t matter about the rest of us bums.”

The mention of the word “family” brought the first response from the flight leader.

“That’s just it, Ken.” He dropped his hands from his head. “If I thought—if I thought for one minute that that was the only reason, I’d never go back.” The flash of anger faded then, and more soberly he continued, “It isn’t that I don’t care about my family—God knows I do. It’s just that this is my duty; this is what I’m trained for, this is something that I can do to help. Why, then, why should they keep me from doing it?”

Porter, the youngster of the 147th, whose youthfulness had won him the fatherly protection of the older man, had no answer, and with Myers stood glumly silent as their flight leader searched his mind for some answer, some explanation. Suddenly Whitey leaped to his feet. The set of his jaw startled his two listeners.

“Listen to me, you two!” Whitey’s voice rose almost to a shout. “Orders are orders, Hartney said. All right, there’s no way out that I can see. But if I’ve got to go back, I’m going to finish up my job here first. I’ve got seven Huns now, haven’t I? Alright, I’m not going back without another crack at them, and you two have got to help me?”

Myers spoke now for the first time. There was a pleading note in his voice.

“But Whitey, don’t be a damned fool.
You’ve got your orders in your pocket. 
You’re alive now, you’re all whole. 
Stay that way. You’re only asking for 
it if you—”

“Are you going to help me or do I have to go out alone? ” demanded Whitey.

There was only one answer when Whitey spoke like that. And Porter and Myers knew that if they didn’t go along to help and protect this Hun hater, that he would go alone, and that he probably wouldn’t come back alive. They promised, although reluctantly.

“Fine,” Whitey responded, his spirits reviving. “We’ll do a reconnaissance patrol. Meissner won’t keep me down. I’ll notify him and we’ll meet at the hangar in twenty minutes.”

MEISSNER argued for fifteen of those twenty minutes before he gave up trying to dissuade his flight leader from going’aloft. Rickenbacker, too, pleaded. It was all to no avail.

“You’d feel the same way, Rick, in my place.”

“Yeah? I’d stay right on the ground!”

“No you wouldn’t,” and Whitey smiled and walked away.

There was, of course, Hartney. Hartney could have stopped him with an authoritative command had he known. But who was there in all that group who would have cheated the pilot of his wish? He had said, had insisted, that he’d rather die than go back without one more journey over the lines, and there was in the refusal of his fellows to notify the commander almost the resignation of allowing a dying man his last wish. No, Whitey could go if he must; putting themselves in his place they all felt they probably would have wanted to do the same thing. Nevertheless they all watched his take-off with dubious shakes of their heads.

The trio of Spads, Porter on the left and Myers on the right of their flight leader, cleared the wooded slopes at the north end of the muddy field and followed the ravine toward Dun-sur-Meuse. Over Montfaucon again, and the hill that had been the quarters of the German Crown Prince before the Americans broke the Hindenburg Line, and the woods where only the week before Whittlesey and his famous “Lost Battalion” had stood off the surrounding Huns for five days.

Whitey led his companions on a steep climb over Bantheville as they flew into enemy territory. Above and below him the sky was clear of the enemy, as far as the eye could penetrate the mist and fog. Where were they? Why didn’t they come out and fight, the rats! Didn’t they know this was his last day at the Front?

He fondled the triggers on his joystick. It was almost a caress. The States! What was the “special duty?” Why? What for? Even thinking of it was enough to drive a man mad! And why, of the whole lot, did he have to draw the assignment? Whitey could have unleashed a few bursts of his Vickers just to relieve his pent-up anger.

Behind him, to the left and right, flew Ken and Obie, their minds also burdened with their thoughts, too burdened and preoccupied in fact for the safety of the tiny flight of Spads.

It was Ken, not Whitey whose eye and sense of the enemy’s presence usually was so keen, who first saw the Fokkers; and even he did not see them until the red-nosed biplanes were well into their dive out of the protective rays of the sun that was poking its way through the clouds. Ken grabbed his triggers, gave one short burst as a signal of warning to Whitey and Obie and sideslipped away from the dive of one Fokker and caught a quick burst at a second Hun that swept across his bow.

They were seven, the Fokkers, Stenay Fokkers from the late Baron’s own circus and they dove through the trio of Spads with their twin Spandaus spurting flame.

Whitey turned at Ken’s warning burst. Damn! Caught asleep! He jerked at his stick and strained his Spad into a roll that saved him from the opening fire of the Hun leader. He saw two of the enemy tearing at Obie and two others at Ken as he climbed with the Fokker leader on his tail.

Spandau tracer was licking at his tail. His motor! Hit! It was missing. He rolled over instinctively as the whizzing bullets reached out for his cockpit. Something was wrong with him—he couldn’t shake this Hun. Another burst of Spandau lead. A worthy opponent. It was time to start fighting, if he wanted to live.

WHITEY was climbing now, seeking a cloud, and from it he dove for the Hun. For the moment he had him in line of fire. But no, his guns jammed. Was everything against him to-day? A balky motor—now a jam! Whitey dove for safety as he struggled to repair his weapons.

But escape was not so easy. Not that he wanted escape, but the Hun was on him again now. Lead was streaking over his head. Another roll, another loop? Where was Ken? Obie? He had lost them; no, he had deserted them, deserted the two who had come out to protect him, abandoned them to the mercy of six other Fokkers. Two against six.

Fool! Selfish fool! Whitey’s jaw set. He slapped the obstreperous Vickers, and turned on his opponent with a vengeance that was not to be denied. It was an aroused, red-haired Yankee at the stick of the Spad now, a pilot whose fingers fairly itched at the triggers of his joystick. The old Whitey.

They were some distance apart now, coming at each other head-on. The German triggered first. His bullets were wasted. “The fool,” muttered Whitey. The Vickers were silent. The Hun was getting scared. The rat! He was wavering now, too. “Turn out, you Heinie! Turn out and die!” Whitey held his course, straight for the red nose of the Fokker. It was turn out or die in collision. “Make ‘em turn out,” was Whitey’s motto; “they’ll turn.” And the Fokker’s master turned, turned out to avoid collision and he died in the first burst of Whitey’s deadly aim.

Triumphant, the Spad leader grinned with satisfaction as he watched the Fokker slowly circle into its last spin, its pilot dead at the stick. But the grin faded suddenly with the thought of Ken and Obie. Where were they? Whitey cursed himself, and with a shameful sense of desertion sought for the Spads of his companions. In vain he scanned the sky above and below. He covered the lines with the same result. Fokkers or Spads, there were none to be seen. With a sinking heart he started for home.

He circled the drome twice before landing. His heart leaped as he saw a Spad being pulled into the hangar. But was it Ken’s, or Obie’s? He swept down to a sloppy, dangerous landing on the muddy field.
His first words were to the mechanic who helped him out.

“Porter—Myers! Are they back?”

The mechanic seemed not to hear.

“My God, tell me, you fool! Porter and Myers—did they get back?”

The mechanic looked up.

“Porter? Myers? Oh, yeah, they got back. But there ain’t enough left of their two ships to make one good training crate.”

The mechanic’s lightly given assurance left Whitey weak in the knees. He felt a little sick.

“Thanks,” he mumbled, and with his helmet dangling in his right hand, he stumbled toward barracks, not even waiting to make out a combat report.

He found them drinking coffee. Their cheerful greeting was lost on him. He walked straight up to them, his eyes filling up with tears.

“Ken,” he mumbled, putting his hand on the younger pilot’s shoulder. “Ken, I ought to be shot. And you, Obie, I can’t tell you how I feel. It was rotten, just plain selfishness. I should have been killed; I deserved to be, for running out on you like that. And when the two of you came along just to help me with my silly pride—”

Words failed him then, and he sank down on a bench, his head in his hands. Porter and Myers exchanged glances, and nodded. Porter spoke up first. His words came in pseudo-sarcasm.

“What’s the matter with you, Whitey? Gone haywire or something?” He slapped his flight leader on the back and pushed a cup of black coffee at him.

” Come on now, come out of it. We’re all here, aren’t we? All alive? What the hell does it matter? It wasn’t your fault because the damned Hun leader happened to pick on you. We managed it okey. We just ran around until we saw you were on top, then we tore for home. That’s all there was to it. Forget it!”

The play-acting had its hoped-for effect. Whitey shook his head, uttered another apology and then relaxed with a sigh of relief and drank his coffee with a lighter heart.

“Okay, Ken,” he said finally. “I guess I was a little worked up about it. But I’m sorry, anyway, and that apology goes to you too, Obie.”

“Forget it, Whitey,”responded Myers with a reassuring shove. “Now let’s do a little serious thinking about this party to-night—it’s a farewell party, Whitey, and we ought to make it a good one. This crowd needs a party. There’s been too damned much thinking going on around here.”

“Madame Mourot’s, huh?” suggested Porter.

“Now wait a minute, fellows,” in
terrupted Whitey. “You know, hon
estly, I’d just as soon pack up my stuff
and then sort of drop around quietly 
and shake hands with everybody. This 
dinner and party stuff—”

“Too late, son,” cut in Myers, rising to his feet. “You’re overruled. Mr. Porter and Mr. Myers of the committee on arrangements are already on their way to Erize la Petite to negotiate. So long, Whitey, see you hence.”

THE two pilots left immediately for the village. It was nearly 2:30 when Porter returned alone. He found Whitey in barracks, finishing a letter to his wife telling of his orders home.

“Everything is set, Whitey,” he said and started off for his own bunk, but the other pilot, rising from the floor, called him back.

“What’s the hurry?”

“Got a little work to do, sir,” Porter answered, picking up his flying togs. “Hartney detailed A Flight to stick a balloon over at Dun-sur-Meuse, same one you took a crack at the other day, I think. But A Flight hasn’t any balloon gun in working order, so Billy Brotherton drew the job, and he prefers C Flight men for company.”

“Who’s going?”

“Well, you’re not down.”

“Who’s going, I said,” Whitey repeated.

“Well, Meissner, Pat Herron, myself and this Cox kid that just came up.”

Whitey scowled, more with disbelief than surprise.

“Not Charley Cox, the kid ”

“Well,” responded Porter with a shrug, “he’s down on the list. Meissner said the kid insisted on going along, and that he didn’t have the heart to refuse him.”

Without another word Whitey turned and reached for his own flying clothes. He had started changing before Porter noticed.

“Now what?” Porter demanded.

“I’m going along,” said Whitey, slipping on a heavy shirt.

Porter slammed his heavy gloves to the floor and strode over with his hands on his hips.

“For God’s sake, Whitey! We’ll take care of the kid, if that’s what’s worrying you. You’ve had enough. I thought we settled all that a while ago.”

The older pilot shook his head. “I know, Ken, but—well, I got the kid up here, and I want to see him over the lines for the first time. I promised his people that, and I want to do it, that’s all.”

Ken started to argue but he gave up in exasperation as Whitey calmly finished changing.

“What’s the use of my arguing with you, Whitey? All I hope is that Meissner or Hartney keeps you on the ground. I can’t,” and he strode out of barracks.

But Meissner’s argument was no more successful than it had been earlier in the morning, and when three o’clock came around Whitey was ready to lead his flight. He greeted Cox for the first time out on the field, took him aside for a brief chat and a bit of advice and then returned to the corner of the hangar where he waited with Porter and Brotherton while mechanics warmed up their Spads.

The assignment was more extensive than Porter had described. It called for simultaneous attacks on two balloons, the one at Dun-sur-Meuse and another near Bantheville. Brotherton, C Flight’s balloon strafer, was to stick the balloon at Dun-sur-Meuse under Whitey’s protecting flight; Reed Chambers, guarded by another flight, was to tackle the other bag while his teammate, Rickenbacker, with a flight from the 94th, was detailed to cover both flights from above and rendezvous with them over the line at four o’clock.

Porter and Brotherton chafed impatiently as the Spads warmed up, but Whitey was silent. He leaned against the corner of the hangar, drawing slowly and deeply of his cigarette, his eyes scanning the clouds above. His thoughts seemed far away. Not until the signal from the mechanics came did he speak, and then it was only a parting word of instruction to Porter.

“My adieu to the Huns, Ken,” he said. “I’m glad you’re along. Keep an eye on the kid, keep him in close.”
They parted on the line, the three of them, but the flight leader was the last to climb into his ship. First, he walked clear around the plane, surveyed each patched spot on wing and tail, each nicked strut or repaired brace. He came around to the side of the cockpit and was ready to climb in when Rickenbacker came up.

“Whitey, for God’s sake listen—”

“It’s okay, Rick, this is the last trip. We’d better get going.”

The 94th’s leader was reluctant to leave. Whitey climbed in the cockpit smiling and reached up for Rick’s hand.

“All right, Whitey. Lots of luck. I’ll be upstairs looking out for you.”

“Thanks, Rick.”

The five Hispanos of C Flight roared in unison. Whitey took off first from the emergency sod runway laid on top the soggy field. Cox followed, then Herron, Porter, Meissner and Brotherton, but Porter’s Spad faltered as it was clearing the trees at the edge of the field and he barely made it back to the drome with the high-speed jet on his left bank of cylinders clogged by an aluminum shaving.

ALOFT the five Spads moved into formation with Brotherton underneath as the grounded Porter climbed into another ship to rejoin them. But they waited in vain, for as Porter sent his new mount over the soggy runway a clod of mud splintered his prop and both Spad and pilot landed nose up “in the soup.” Whitey gave the signal now to move on, but he gave it reluctantly. He wanted Ken along this last trip, might need him; somehow it was comforting to know that Porter was back there on his left. Ken could catch up, though, maybe, before they hit the lines. But Ken never caught up—an overheated motor turned him back for the third and last time as his companions passed out of sight.

They crossed the lines and pointed for Dun-sur-Meuse with the sun over their left shoulders. Brotherton flew at about four hundred meters, ready to snag the balloon with his 11-millimeter guns. Six or seven hundred higher, and slightly back, came the others, Whitey leading with his newly arrived protege in the rear between Meissner and Herron.

The air was fairly clear of the enemy as they went in, but the Huns were not idle; even as the flight of Spads crossed the lines eleven Fokkers were moving in from Stenay behind the youthful Lieutenant Pfaffenritter who carried in his pocket a leave that was to take him home to Berlin that night for a visit.

Rickenbacker, wide of his own flight, saw them first, and he tackled the rear of their formation as they swung out of the rays of the protecting sun.

Whitey saw them, ahead and above. He turned toward them, the best tactical move to cover up Billy down below. For a moment nothing happened. It looked as if there was to be no scrap, except that single duel which had taken the rearmost German and Rickenbacker a mile to the west. Then Brotherton, his heavy balloon guns spitting out their streams of incendiaries, dove through the rain of Jerry fire for the descending bag below. His attack was the signal for the attack of the Fokkers.

The watchful Spad leader turned again to meet them but the red-nosed Fokkers swerved for the rear of the Spad formation and, avoiding its leader, swarmed over Meissner, Herron and Cox with the German leader singling out the inexperienced Cox for his victim.

Whitey looked over his shoulder. Meissner was deftly rolling out of the path of one German; Herron, both guns blazing was tangling with two of the enemy. Whitey challenged one of them, and avoiding his opponent’s initial swoop, turned to meet him at closer quarters.

The German was too hasty. His Spandaus were blazing wildly. Whitey grinned confidently, withholding his own fire. His Spad strained and bent as he twisted and came out of a roll on the Hun’s tail. Whitey gripped his triggers, ready for the kill. A short burst of Vickers tracer caught the Fokker cockpit; another burst now and it would be over. But the Vickers jammed! Whitey cursed as he fought with the stubborn gun.

A Spad screamed past overhead. It was Cox, and on his tail was the Fokker leader with both guns spitting flame.

Whitey forgot his jammed guns; he forgot his own opponent and allowed him to slip away to safety. He came about on a wing-tip, his eyes glued on the red-nosed plane that was dropping into deadly position on Charley Cox’s rudder. Spandau lead was eating up the fuselage of Cox’s Spad. It was a matter of split seconds now and Cox would be gone. Whitey tore in head-on, his Spad with its useless guns pointed straight for the Fokker leader.

The move succeeded. The breathless Cox, so close to death an instant before, climbed to safety as the Hun leader turned to meet the onrush of his new enemy. Twice his Spandaus barked out. The Vickers of Whitey’s Spad were silent but the bulletlike directness of his drive never varied. Head-on they
raced, Whitey and the youthful German.

Rickenbacker, tearing in from victory over his opponent, saw it. Reed Chambers, fleeing from his successful attack on the other balloon, saw it. They watched with bated breath. They could almost hear the Spad leader’s chant, “Never turn out for a Hun—make him turn out!” Whitey was holding his fire, they thought, for the German to turn out. But the Hun never wavered; nor did Whitey. Two of a kind, they were—the same methods of combat, equally matched in nerve and skill, except that Whitey’s guns were useless. A brave determined Yankee, a brave determined German. Turn out and die. Neither turned out. Both died.

THE Spad and Fokker struck head-on. There wasn’t much of a crash. Their wings just seemed to melt together, and they locked in one crazy tangle. There was no fire; no smoke. It was just a floundering mass of splintered wood and fabric that fell swiftly down and down. A few splinters of wood, a few shreds of canvas fluttered around as if lost. That was all.

Somehow there was no combat after that. Not a trigger was pressed from the moment that Whitey swept into that headlong drive to force the Hun from his protege’s rudder. The stark tragedy of it all took everybody by the throat, Boche and Yankee alike. Two brave men had gone to their end in that brief moment that had encompassed one of the most supreme sacrifices of the war. No taste for fighting remained, and the leaderless formations of Spads and Fokkers turned for home.

Rickenbacker was the first to reach Hartney’s office with the news. He staggered into the headquarters hut, his eyes blinded by tears.

“Whitey—” he mumbled, and sank weakly into a chair. It was several minutes before he found his voice.

“A Hun got on young Cox’s tail— Whitey went to his rescue—his guns jammed and he drove head-on into the Hun. They fell together just east of the river. I tried—I tried to get down, but too late.”

Hartney swallowed hard and walking to the pilot’s side, shook him roughly.

“Brace up, Rick. Get yourself a drink.”

“I—I can’t, colonel, I’m sick,” and Rickenbacker staggered out the doorway.

Meissner came in next; then Chambers and all the rest except young Billy Brotherton who never came out of his dive on the balloon. Young Cox, whose life had been spared by Whitey’s sacrifice, couldn’t tell his story until the next day. And he told it while virtually every patrol sought through low, dangerous flying, to find where Whitey had fallen. They hunted for days but not until next April, months after the Armistice, was the search successful.

Reed Chambers, who remained in command of the 94th after Rickenbacker returned to the States, found the body on the east bank of the Meuse near Dun. With Whitey’s father and two members of the Graves Registration Department, he searched for three days along the bank where he had seen the interlocked Spad and Fokker crash. A shred of Spad fabric, caught on the remains of a stretch of barbed wire, led him to a spot where beneath a shallow layer of earth the heroic American pilot had been hastily buried by villagers. Not far away was another grave bearing only the marking, “An Unidentified German Aviator.”

Ironically, the two bodies were identified by papers found in the pockets of their uniforms, and the papers in both instances were orders for home—for Whitey, his orders back to the States; for Lieutenant Pfaffenritter his leave for a visit with his mother in Berlin.

 

The 147th
The 147th Aero Squadron They are, standing, from left to right, 1Lt Oscar B Meyers, 2Lt Arthur H Jones, 2Lt Edward H Clouser (adjutant), 2Lt Ralph A O’Neill (five victories), ILt James A Healy (five victories), 2Lt Charles P Porter, Maj Harold E Hartney, commander 1st Pursuit Group (seven victories), Capt James A Meissner, commander 147th Aero Squadron (eight victories), 1Lt Heywood E Cutting, 1Lt James P Herron, 2Lt Francis M Simonds (five victories), 1Lt George H Brew, 2Lt G Gale Willard, 2Lt Cleveland W McDermott and 1Lt Collier C Olive. Squatting, from left to right, ILt Walter P Muther, 2Lt Frank C Ennis, 2Lt Louis C Simon Jr, 1Lt G A S Robertson, 2Lt Stuart T Purcell, 2Lt Thomas J Abernethy, 1Lt Horace A Anderson (supply officer), 1Lt Josiah P Rowe Jr, 2Lt James C McEvoy and 2Lt John W Havey (armament officer)

AS A bonus, we present “Lieutenant White’s Supreme Sacrifice”—The story behind the cover of Paul Bissell’s July 1933 cover for Flying Aces! Bissell is mainly known for doing the covers of Flying Aces from 1931 through 1934 when C.B. Mayshark took over duties. For the July 1933 cover Bissell recreates Lt. White’s headlong dive into a German plane to save a young pilot he was looking out for on his squadron—The spectacular crash captured in a freeze-frame. The story behind it is Lt. Reed Chamber’s account of events.

Lieutenant White’s Supreme Sacrifice

th_FA_3307“SO THIS was the stick he used to guide his plane! It’s hard to realize that my boy’s live hands once held it as I hold it now.” And the man dressed in clerical garb revolved the broken joystick slowly in his hand as he turned sadly to the young lieutenant with him.

The speaker was Dr. W.W. White of the Biblical Seminary in New York. He had come to France to search for the body of his son, Lieutenant Wilbert Wallace White of the 147th Squadron who, on October the tenth, 1918, in one of the most dramatic sacrifices of the war, had crashed head on with an enemy ship high above the lines. The Doctor’s companion was Lieutenant Reed Chambers, American ace, who had taken charge of the 94th Squadron when Captain Rickenbacker had returned to America.

Now, six months after Lieutenant White’s death, these two sat in a little pension near the village of Dun on the banks of the Meuse. For three days they had searched up and down the banks of the river for some sign of the wrecked ship which Reed Chambers himself had seen fall, twisted and tangled with the German plane.

Only this afternoon had their search been rewarded by their finding the scant remains of the wrecked planes half-buried in the muddy banks of the Meuse. From peasants in the neighborhood they learned that the two aviators had been buried in a near-by field, and, in the morning, with two members of the Grave Registration Department present, the bodies were to be disinterred for identification.

“I’m sure it is his stick, sir,” Chambers answered, “and to me, too, it hardly seems possible that that useless bit of wood still remains much as it was, while Whitey, with all that he could and would have done, is no longer with us.

“You see,” he continued, “that’s where you who have faith have it over the rest of us. To you, it is all a part of some plan, even if you don’t understand it completely. We at the Front soon became fatalistic, feeling, as the French would say, ’C’est la guerre,’ or else we feel like blaming some one in some way or other for it all.”

“Certainly there is no one to blame in this case,” the older man replied.

“No, I don’t think there is, really, but we all felt a little bit to blame, sir. Perhaps particularly Colonel Hartney and Jimmy Meissner. Either of them could have ordered Whitey to stay on the ground, but you know how he was. To begin with, when first he heard of the orders sending him back home, he was stunned and angry. He knew that all of you back there felt as he did, that he belonged here where he was best able to serve. He resented what appeared as perhaps a choice, granting him safety and life, while other chaps were sent out to be bumped off.”

“Yes, I can understand that,” replied White’s father.

“God knows he had already done his duty,” said Chambers. “He had seven Germans to his credit already, and had been in a hundred scraps. That was what we all tried to get over to him—that he had done his bit here, and that real work was awaiting him back in Washington. It took a lot of talking, but he was convinced at last, and keen on getting back to see all of you. He had no intention of making that last flight. It wasn’t a foolhardy gesture, I’m sure of that, sir. But you know, he was somewhat older than a lot of the kids that came up and he liked to look after them, not only in the air, but on the ground.

“And, you see, he had looked forward to Cox’s coming. In fact, he had helped get Cox assigned to the 147th. Only that morning he had heard from the boy’s parents, and so, when he learned that Cox had been assigned to immediate patrol, he wanted to go over with the youngster on his first flight.

“YOU, too, were on the patrol, were you not?” asked the Doctor.

“Yes,” replied Chambers. “I had a crack at a balloon just below here at Bantheville. Whitey, with Meissner, Pat Herron, Cox, and Porter were to keep the Germans off Brotherton’s tail, while he went at a sausage just above this village here. Rickenbacker, with a flight from the 94th, was upstairs, keeping an eye on both of us. Ken—that’s Porter, you know—didn’t finally fly the patrol at all. Three engines went bad on him in succession. “So, after waiting a short time for him to join the formation, we all headed over in this direction, Whitey leading his flight, with Brotherton below and Meissner and Herron behind, riding their planes on either side of Cox.

“As we came over the lines, things were pretty clear, but just as we got a short distance from here, eleven Heinies came flying in from Stenay. This bunch was part of Richthofen’s old crowd, you know. Whitey turned to meet them, which was the only thing to do in order to cover up Brotherton below, who was then all set and ready for his dive on the balloon.

“The Germans did not attack at once, though Rickenbacker up above slipped in on the rear of their formation and after a short scrap got the last one of the crowd. Just then Brotherton dived on the balloon and, as if this were a signal, the whole flight of Germans dropped on Whitey and his crowd. I was pretty busy over Bantheville at this minute, but Jimmy tells me that the Jerries swung off, avoiding Whitey’s head on attack, then turned quickly and came at them from behind, the German leader apparently singling out Cox for his victim.

“Jimmy and Herron both had their hands full, what with the enemy outnumbering them about three to one, and Cox got separated from them. Whitey, it seems, turned and had just rolled himself into a swell position on one of the German’s tails when his guns jammed. I guess that’s what did the trick, sir.

“Having his guns jammed was no new experience for Whitey, and ordinarily, even against the odds, he could have slipped out of the fight, fixed his guns, and been back at it in a minute. But just when his guns jammed, he caught sight of Cox, tipped up on one wing, heading toward him, striving desperately to get away from the red-nosed machine on his tail.

“The kid was putting up a swell fight, but he was up against old hands at the game, and the odds were against him. Whitey had no time to clear his guns now. In another moment it would be all over. No one knew that better than Whitey, and as quick as a flash he had left his own German and was diving headlong at Cox’s opponent.

“Maybe he forgot his guns were Jammed. Maybe he thought the German would turn out. He used to say, ‘Never turn out for a Hun. Make him do the turning out.’ But if you ask me, I don’t think it was that either, he was responsible for the kid, and the kid must be saved, let the cost be what it would. And there was only be way, since his guns were jammed, and that was to make the German turn.

“Well, I had finished my job and was just heading back, trying to get into the scrap, when I saw Whitey go for the red machine. I didn’t know his guns were jammed. I thought he was holding his fire, holding it till the Jerry turned out and he could give him a burst.”

Chambers looked up at the older man, who stared fixedly at the broken stick in his hands. Then the lieutenant rose to his feet and, putting his hand on his companion’s shoulder, continued.

“Well, the German didn’t turn out, sir. And this I’m sure of—if it had to be done over, there would be no hesitation on Whitey’s part, and he would again crash any German that ever flew if that was necessary to save a comrade in trouble.”

NEXT morning the sun shone down from a clear April sky. A soft spring breeze stirred the new-sprung blades of grass in the small field just at the river’s edge. To the right a row of tall poplars lined a road that wound over a hill to the small village beyond, hidden except for the thrust of its church spire, above the trees.

In the corner of the field the earth had been thrown back from two shallow graves, and here a small group of men were gathered.

“There can be no doubt about it, sir. These are the orders we found in his pocket. You can see that they are papers ordering Lieutenant Wilbert Wallace White to return to Washington for special duty on the staff of General Kenly, Chief of Air Service.”

There was a hush as the elderly civilian, taking the crumpled and worn papers from the officer, read them through slowly and carefully. In the distance the soft peal of the church bells could be heard.

“Yes,” he said, finally, “I am sure there is no question about it. It is my boy. And what of the other lad?”

“His name was Pfaffenritter,” they answered. “We identified him also by his orders.”

But they did not go on to say that this lad, too, held in his pocket a reprieve from death. On the following morning he was to have gone on leave to Berlin to see his mother.

The Ships on The Cover
“Lieutenant White’s Supreme Sacrifice”
Flying Aces, July 1933 by Paul Bissell

 

“The Lone Eagle, April 1934″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

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Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of The Lone Eagle from its first issue in September 1933 until the June 1937 issue when Rudolph Belarski took over with the August issue of that year. At the start of the run, Frandzen painted covers of general air action much like his Sky Fighters covers. Here, for the April 1934 cover, Frandzen has a Salmson 2-A 2 in a backseat battle with a Hannover!

The Story of the Cover

THE planes pictured on this month’s cover th_LE_3404 are the Salmson 2-A 2 and the Hannover (or Hannoveraner). The Salmson was manufactured by the French firm Societe des Moteurs Salmson. It was one of the most reliable observation ships used during the war by the Allies. It was flown extensively by the French and the Americans, and the Italians also used it to good advantage. Its power plant was a Salmson Z9 radial motor developing about 1S00 r.p.ms.

The Hannover was used extensively by the Germans and did its stuff in a reliable manner. It wasn’t as fast as the Salmson zipping by on its back and pouring hot slugs through the muzzles of its twin Lewis guns, but this is one fight where there are no odds in favor of the fastest ship.

How come? Well, this is a back seat battle. Both pilots, the Heinie and the gentleman flipping the rudder and ailerons on the Salmson have run out of ammunition. Therefore it isn’t a matter of getting on the opponent’s tail. It is an even break for the back gunners unless one happens to be the prize trap-shooter of his home town.

At the start of the fight it looked like curtains for the Hannover when the faster Salmson hopped it and another Hannover which can be seen far in the background swirling crazily, a flaming coffin for its two occupants, straight for the hills far below. When both pilots ran out of ammunition the German waved his hand at his foes and kicked his plane around toward home. As far as he was concerned the battle was over and no hard feelings.

The Fight Goes On

But not to be done out of a kill the Salmson pilot tailed the German, being careful to keep out of range of the Parabellum gun in the rear pit of the German ship. Then suddenly the cylinders in the Salmson throbbed, pounded flaming exhaust through nine tubes into the collector ring on the nose of the ship; a streak of flame spurted out of the exhaust stack and the Allied ship dove underneath the German.
Up flipped the two Lewis guns, gloved fingers pressed the triggers. A ragged line of bullet holes appeared just back of the observer in the German ship. The belly fabric was in a shaved part of a split second perforated all the way back to the tail.

The Hannover whipped around—no more hand waving, no more thoughts of running for home. There was only one chance to get out of a difficult situation and that was to stage a back seat fight.

In Opposite Directions

The Salmson pilot kept herding the German toward the Allied lines as much as he could without giving his opponents any chance for a sure shot. Time and again the two planes whipped past each other going in opposite directions. Gun muzzles blasted a few bullets wildly at fleeting shadows of the other ship. A thousand to one chance of doing any damage this way for the combined speed of the planes was over two hundred miles per hour. That is the reason there were so few casualties in the early years of the war when the boys blasted away at each other with shot guns and rifles over the cockpit edges.

And then when there was only a few more rounds of ammunition in his pancake drums the Salmson pilot flipped his ship over on its back and barged straight at the Hannover which dipped quickly underneath. That is the point illustrated on the cover. It is the last blazing exchange of shots between a couple of brave back seat gunners who will be mighty thankful when their respective pilots turn the noses of their ships toward home—and keep them there.

The Story of The Cover
The Lone Eagle, April 1934 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Story of The Cover Page)

“Sky Fighters, December 1935″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

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Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of Sky Fighters from its first issue in 1932 until he moved on from the pulps in 1939. At this point in the run, the covers were about the planes featured on the cover more than the story depicted. For the December 1935 cover, Mr. Frandzen features the Italian S.V.A. bringing loaves of bread to the troops high in the mountain passes!

The Ships on the Cover

BREAD! The mainstay of mankind. th_SF_3512 And when the army is the mainstay of nations, bread for the army ranks higher than Roman Emperors.

Who said an army fights on its stomach? Someone who did plenty of fighting in the old days and knew his armies. Of what importance were guns, bombs, and shells piled up ready for combat when the human bodies to man these weapons of war have no fuel to stoke the human engine!

The chuck wagon was greeted by loud cheers when it put in its appearance in “any man’s army.” Runners with food supplies strapped to their backs dodged bullets through a maze of communication trenches to get to the front line doughboys. Dogs pulling small carts of food got through to scattered outposts.

The Alpine Heights

Italy has a wonderful northern barrier which nature has seemingly bestowed upon that sunny boot projecting into the Mediterranean. When Italy declared war on the Austrian Empire in May, 1915, she looked hopefully at those lofty Alpine heights to keep her enemy in check.

The Italian advance of early days was halted. The Austrian counter-attack regained their positions but in 1917 when Italy finally declared war on Germany also, the Italians resumed their offensive and captured fourteen fortified mountains.

It is a different problem to fight on mountain sides than on the fields of the lowlands. The ordinary labor of warfare is made a hundredfold more difficult. Dragging heavy guns up rocky mountain sides by sheer nerve-racking will power—pulling shells on sleds over icy passes—stringing communication lines from crag to crag, where one well-placed shell would damage the patient work of days of laying the wires.

The contact, broken in some out of the way pass, impossible to mend without disastrous delay. All these had to be done on the ground. The only savior of these lonely mountain outposts was the new weapon of the world war—the airplane.

Italy, from poor beginnings, progressed Steadily forward in the aviation branch of her service despite her ground army’s advances or retreats. Planes could fly from their bases on flat ground to the besieged mountain country to drop messages keeping the army in touch with headquarters no matter how many communication lines on the ground were destroyed.

Flying high over such a wide expanse of territory they observed the enemy positions, often saving their own forces from being bottled up by enemy flanking movements.

But as important as any message to the morale of these men high in snow-covered fastnesses was the sight which is shown on the cover picture. Planes bringing the white-clad figures on the mountain side that which they could obtain by no other means—Bread! Big round, crispy loaves of the life-giving food.

The pass through which the guns and ammunition have been hauled was later completely buried under an avalanche, tons of snow and rock blocked the narrow road.

When Men Hunger

Days, weeks, months might elapse before that impassable barrier could be surmounted to transport food to the men cut off from their fellows. But four planes received their orders and cargo. They were in sight of the desperate little group in a few hours time. Sleek S.V.A.’s that could climb high above the loftiest peaks, their powerful Ansaldo engines overcoming the barrier that nature had created against the Italians as well as in their favor.

Shouts of “Bravo” from the snow. Shouts that would warm the heart of an opera star at the Milan Opera House. These cheers were for something better than music when men are hungry. They were for contents of the rope bags falling from the planes, the golden brown loaves of bread.

The Ships on The Cover
Sky Fighters, Deecmber 1935 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Ships on The Cover Page)

“Sky Birds, November 1934″ by C.B. Mayshark

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THIS May we’re celebrating the genius that is C.B. Mayshark! Mayshark took over the covers duties for Sky Birds with the July 1934 and would paint all the remaining covers until it’s last issue in December 1935. At the start of his run, Sky Birds started featuring a different combat maneuver of the war-time pilots. The lower corner presenting a play-by-play of that month’s maneuver with the remainder of the cover illustrating it. For November 1934 issue Mayshark gives us “Armored Audacity!”

Combat Maneuvers of War-Time Pilots:
Armored Audacity

WITH one or two exceptions, th_SB_3411 all metal planes were uncommon during the war. The ships which saw service on the Front were of fabric construction, with wooden spars, longerons and ribs used throughout.

On planes of 1917 and 1918 design, however, metal was employed for hoods on the water-cooled jobs, as well as for the cowlings of radials and rotaries. Metal was not used further than this, except on ships of rare design, most of which never got into active service. In the hectic days of the war, manufacturers were reluctant to depart from time-proven standards and pitch headlong into the mass production of a design which had not established its worth over the blood-stained battlefields of France.

However, there is always some one a step ahead of the rest of the world—some one with courage and foresight enough to make a radical departure from conventional design. Such a step was taken by the engineers of the Bristol Works in England during 1918. The result of their efforts is the Bristol M-1, an all-metal adaptation of the famous Bristol Fighter.

The main object in building the M-1 was to produce a ship capable of resisting the climatic variations of hot countries such as Egypt and India. However, several M-1’s found their way across the Channel and into France. The M-1 was very similar in appearance to the Bristol Fighter, the important changes in design occurring in the center-section of the lower plane, which is entirely cut away, with only the two main spars remaining intact, and in the tail assembly, which carries a larger fin and a smaller tailskid than the Fighter.

Steel is employed throughout the fuselage construction, a light-weight composition metal being used on the outer covering. The spars and ribs of the wings are steel, fabric being used for a covering. The M-1 carries a 200-h.p. Sunbeam “Arab” in its nose, and Is capable of making about 124 miles per hour. The regulation Scarff mounting is used over the observer’s cockpit, on which either single or double Lewis gun units can be fitted. Twin Vickers are carried beneath the engine hood, and are equipped with an interrupter gear for firing through the prop.

The other ship pictured on this month’s cover is a single-seater German “Kondor.” It will be observed that the center-section on the upper plane is entirely cut away, even the main spars being eliminated. The ship is powered with a 140-h.p. Goebels rotary with air-cooling being accomplished by means of holes bored through the front turn of the cowling.

The maneuver executed by the pilot of the Bristol is quite appropriately termed audacious. With the Kondor on his tail, the Bristol pilot exposes himself and his observer to great apparent danger. As he fakes a dive, he hoiks the ship up and thunders before the German, directly in the line of a deadly fire. But the Spandau tracers cannot find a vital spot beneath the Bristol armor, and as the German pilot frantically fights for altitude, the Bristol observer, well in the German’s blind spot, lines up the best target he has ever seen through his Lewis sights.

As he trips the trigger, one burst of fire is emitted. The Kondor staggers, with prop spinning madly. The German plane levels off. Its nose begins to sink, and as it begins a long, wide, uncontrolled spiral, it sets itself to its last task—its last descent.

The Story of The Cover
Sky Birds, November 1934 by C.B. Mayshark
(Combat Maneuvers of War-Time Pilots: The Story Behind This Month’s Cover)

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