My Most Thrilling Sky Fight: Lieutenant Frank Luke
Amidst all the great pulp thrills and features in Sky Fighters, they ran a true story feature collected by Ace Williams wherein famous War Aces would tell actual true accounts of thrilling moments in their fighting lives! The man considered America’s second greatest Ace, Frank Luke tells us about his most thrilling sky fight.
Frank Luke! How much the name means to those few who knew how he fought and died. His front line career was short, hectic and dynamic. He blazed across the war-torn skies of France like a flaming meteor. Very few people ever heard of Luke during his short but Sensational career on the Western Front. His fame and name came after he died. He is recognized now as the most courageous, the most audacious war bird that ever handled a control stick and pressed the Bowden triggers mounted on it. Only Eddie Rickenbacker topped him in the final list of American Aces after the War was ended. Rickenbacker was officially credited with 26 victories. Frank Luke had 21. But the comparison is hardly fair to Luke, for Rickenbacker was on the front for almost six months, while Luke’s front line career lasted only a little over two weeks. Even in that short space of time he had worked up to the top and was the American Ace of Aces when he died. There is no telling what, score he would have run up, if fortune had been more in his favor. The story below he told to Sergeant John Monroe, who was a favorite of his.
by Lieutenant Frank Luke • Sky Fighters, October 1933
Which was my most satisfactory fight? Well, all of them that ended with the other fellow going down to his death were pretty satisfactory. But there is one that stands out above all my victories so far.
That’s the fight in which I got the Hun who knocked down the Englishmen in the crippled De Haviland. I didn’t like the way that Hun waited for the Limey’s motor to go bad before pouncing on them. They didn’t have a chance. One burst was all the Hun needed. Being on the ground myself at the time, I didn’t think I had time to get in my ship and get up there in time to get in on the fight.
But when I saw the D.H.’s wing fall off and the ship go down in a spin, I felt a peculiar feeling inside me. My Spad was ready on the line. I hopped into it and took off. By the time I had gained altitude the Hun was streaking for home. But I was determined to get him. It was a long rear-end chase and getting dark fast.
No matter, I caught the bird about five kilometers inside his own lines and piqued down on his tail with blood in my eye. I held my fire until I was about a hundred meters behind his streaking Fokker, then I let go with both guns.
But the Hun had been watching me, I guess. He jerked up in a screaming zoom and my shots went low. I got mad, threw my Spad into an abrupt chandelle right on his tail. He Immelmanned away. I followed. We went round and round.
He didn’t shoot at me, but was damn successful in keeping away from my bursts. I was getting madder and madder every second, and threw a lot of slugs, uselessly. After a few moments of that going round and round, I got wise to myself. The Hun was making a monkey of me, just playing me out.
Understand, I was plenty far back in the enemy lines and it was getting dark fast. He knew he would get me if he just strung out the fight a little. Within a few more minutes there was bound to be a whole sky full of his mates come to his assistance. He knew that and was just marking time. I sensed that after a while.
It made me mad again, to think I had been such a fool. But I didn’t go off my nut. I kept my head, and circled round and round with him some more, watching from the corner of my eye for other Huns, and keeping my thumbs off the Bowden trips. I didn’t intend wasting any more slugs until I had a sure shot.
That chance came before I expected it. He showed his tail surfaces just momentarily. I pressed the trips. The tracer bored through the fuselage behind his back. That was all there was to it. The Fokker plunged over in an abrupt dive and went roaring into the earth with the motor full on.
I beat it for our advance landing field then with my motor wide open. And good thing they had thrown some gasoline in the sand barrels and lighted it. With the light from those flares I was able to sit down without cracking up.
I won’t get any credit for that victory, though. There weren’t any observers. But what the h—! I got him after he got the crippled Englishmen. That’s reward enough!
It was my most satisfactory fight.