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My Most Thrilling Sky Fight: Captain William Erwin

Link - Posted by David on September 6, 2017 @ 6:00 am in

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! This time we have American Flyer Captain William Erwin’s most thrilling sky fight!

Captain William Erwin holds a unique record. He was the only accredited American observation ace, and piled up a string of 9 official victories while flying slow ungainly two-seaters. A Texan, William Erwin enlisted for training the day after war was declared. He received his commission as a Lieutenant after a bare forty hours of flight and was immediately sent overseas and assigned to the First Aero Squadron which he joined on its first day at the front. Before his first week he had downed an enemy plane and the French awarded him the Croix de Guerre. He was awarded additional recognition by the French and also received the American Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaves. Through the war safely, without ever having been wounded despite his rare courage and daring, he came to an untimely end while flying the Pacific in a futile search for the missing Dole flyers in 1923. Erwin, himself, recounted the following experience to the compiler of these records on a grey day in the Argonne many years ago.

 

ONE AGAINST THREE

by Captain William Erwin • Sky Fighters, July 1935

I HAVE had plenty of tough moments, but the toughest time I ever had was that day we (Erwin and his observer) were sent out to regulate fire on a Hun ‘77 emplacement that was holding up the advance of the whole 26th Division. Orders came through from G.H.Q. that that emplacement must be destroyed. Our squadron got the order, and the C.O. passed the job on to us. “Three Spads from the 95th will be waiting over Somme-Sous to pick you up and furnish protection.”

Well, we got over Somme-Sous all right. But instead of finding three Spads, we found a soupy sky chock full of wildly flying crates. The three Spads were all mixed up with about a dozen Fokkers, and I saw right away if we were going to regulate fire on that Hun target we would have to do it alone—without any protection.

I managed to duck the Huns in the soupy dripping sky and find the ‘77 emplacement. My observer reeled out his wireless antenna and got in contact with the battery. The first salvo came over—wide. Along with it came three Fokkers. I kept circling. The leader dived and sieved the turtleback behind me with a hot Spandau burst, then swept underneath and poked at my belly with snaky tracer. His mates up above were bent on making a mince-meat sandwich out of us. Bursts came from above and below.

Finally my observer got his corrections wirelessed to the battery and went to work with his Lewis on the top Huns. I split-haired and dived for the Fokker beneath. The second salvo came over—still wide! I could hear a sharp oath from the observer, even above the clatter of his guns. With one hand holding the Lewis, he pounded out corrections with the other. The Spandau pellets rattled like hail through my wings and fuselage.

A quick turn and abrupt stall gave me a chance for a burst at the leader of the Huns, who had zoomed up above when one of the others dived below. I pressed the trigger-trip, saw my tracer eat up the fuselage and bore into the pilot’s back. He maneuvered, cartwheeled into a cloud.

The battery meanwhile had got the range and the next salvo did plenty of damage, but a Hun coming head-on at me with both Spandaus flaming, took my mind off that matter. I replied in kind, without budging the stick, then closed my eyes waiting for the bullet with my name on it.

To my surprise, the other plane exploded in flames and went sliding down, leaving a black smoke trail behind. At the same moment a black shadow loomed above me. I glanced up, stick-handled my crate just in time to get out from underneath. The Fokker of the Hun leader was spinning erratically down. The pilot hung out of the cockpit, dead, held in the pit only by his safety belt. Whether he had died after taking that first burst of mine, or whether my observer had got him, I don’t know. That left only one Fokker. He dallied for a little while, until the battery had completely destroyed the ‘77 emplacement, then turned tail and beat it for safety.