Bombing Metz





ADAPTED FROM THE ACCOUNT WRITTEN BY RAOUL LUFBERY



In January, 1916, I belonged to the Bombing Escadrille 102. One fair

day a little after one o'clock, we were ordered to get ready for an

expedition. Naturally, we were curious about where we were to go, but

it is not usual to name the objective until ready to leave. From the

amount of gasoline we were ordered to carry, we all guessed it would be

the railroad station at Metz.



Forty planes were to take part in the raid, twenty from my Escadrille

102 and twenty from Escadrille 101, led by brave Commander Roisin.



At one end of the aviation field, the planes stand in a row facing the

wind. The engines are carefully gone over by the machinists, the

gunners examine the guns, the bombs are placed in their racks. I carry

six bombs, others take eight, nine, and even ten, depending upon the

size and condition of the airplane and its engine.



We stand ready and wait for the final orders. We are given maps on

which the route we are to take is indicated. We all set our watches by

that of the commander of the expedition. Fifty minutes after the first

plane leaves, we must all be over Nichola-du-port and at an altitude of

at least 6000 feet. From there, following the signals which would be

given us by the commander, we were to go on; or return to the aviation

field, if the weather, the wind, the clouds, or poor grouping of our

machines made it necessary.



[Illustration: The heroic American ace, Raoul Lufbery, wearing his

well-earned decorations just after an official presentation. Behind

him stands a member of the French Cabinet.]



An engine at the end of the line on our left is purring. The plane

starts and rolls along the ground and then takes to the air. A second

follows it, and then a third. My machine is number seven. I ask my

observer, Allard, if he is ready. He answers, Yes. I start the

engine, give it all the gas, like the others roll along the ground for

a few seconds, and then take the air.



Just before leaving, Allard informs me that he will try to get a little

sleep while I am reaching the proper elevation. He says he will be

ready to study the map when we get beyond our trenches. As he can be

of no service whatever to me in helping the machine rise, I see no

reason to object to his going to sleep if he desires. I turn around

and look at him several times while we are climbing up. His eyes are

closed, but I doubt his sleeping. He surely has a perfect right to,

for very soon he will need all his coolness and strength.



2:20 P.M. I am at the place named, exactly on time. I recognize the

commander's machine by the little red flags at the ends of the wings.

I get the signal to go on, and I proceed with the group.



After the trenches are crossed, the faster planes make a few spirals to

allow the slower ones to catch up. The group is now more compact and

we go on with the shrapnel bursting now and then around us. This

troubles no one of us, however, for only by luck or chance would we be

injured. A few or even many holes in the fabric do little or no harm.



I watch the country as it spreads out beneath my feet. To my right is

the Seille River, its banks washed away by floods so that it looks like

a great necklace of ponds. To my left is the Moselle and the canal

beside it. They look like two beautiful silver lines which disappear

at the north in a cloud of mist. And now I see that that which I call

a cloud of mist is only the smoke from the chimneys of Metz.



As I get nearer, I can see through this smoke the houses and churches

and the long buildings with red tile roofs, which are probably the

barracks. A circle of green surrounds the whole. These are the forts;

from above they seem quite harmless.



In a few minutes I shall be over my objective, the small freight house.

The machines in the lead make a half turn so that those behind may

overtake them. As my machine is a slow one, I make directly for my

objective. I am the first to arrive.



The enemy must have expected us, for many of their machines are in the

air moving around at different altitudes ready to attack us. One of

them is coming to welcome me. I turn quickly to see if Allard, the

observer, is wide awake. His machine gun is pointed at the enemy, his

fingers are on the trigger. Good. All is ready.



At 150 yards, the boche biplane suddenly turns its right flank toward

us to allow the gunner to fire. Today such a turn is not necessary,

for such machines carry two guns, one fixed and one behind mounted on a

pivot so as to fire in any direction. I keep my eyes on the enemy.

The black iron crosses are very plainly seen on the rudder and the

fuselage. The fight begins.



The machine guns spit fire, and the boche dives, seeming to have had

enough. I do not follow him, for the way ahead is clear, and I have an

important duty to perform. Through the opening in the floor at my feet

I see the railroad junction, some trains moving and others standing. I

can also see the depots for the freight and munitions.



[Illustration: A two-passenger tractor biplane flying near the

seashore. The oblong black speck directly under the airplane is an

aerial bomb, with guiding fins like a torpedo's, which the bomber, who

is sitting in the rear seat, has just released from the rack under him.

On most planes a machine gun on a swivel is mounted behind the man in

the rear seat. If the plane is a single-seater, the machine gun is

stationary, mounted in front of the pilot, and synchronized, or

timed, to fire so that the bullets pass between the blades of the

propeller, which is making about 1600 revolutions a minute. In the

lower left-hand corner can be seen the wing tip of the plane from which

the photograph was taken.]



Allard touches my left shoulder and signs for me to keep straight

ahead. Another touch and I know he has dropped the bombs. It is done,

and I have nothing to do but to turn about and make for home.



But now the boches seem to be thick about us. We must be very careful.

But in spite of all, we are surprised and attacked by a Fokker fighting

plane. He fires a volley into us and is gone before we can get a shot

at him. Two or three short spats tell me that his aim was good and

our machine has been hit.



The engine is certainly not injured for it roars on. Allard examines

the gasoline tank, but it does not seem to have been struck.



The wind is blowing from the north and helps us get home quickly. In a

short time, we are back above our trenches. I laugh aloud. Why, I do

not know. I look around and see that Allard is also laughing. We are

beaming and happy. Now that we are out of danger, we want to talk

about it, but the roar of the engine drowns our voices. We have to be

patient and wait until we land.



Slowing down as we descend, the plane glides sweetly over the Meurthe

valley. We volplane gently toward the earth. Little by little things

begin to look real. The beautiful green moss changes into forests, the

black ribbons into railways, and the white ribbons into highways. What

I had thought from a distance to be a huge curtain of black smoke,

becomes the beautiful city of Nancy. We are only 800 feet above the

field. One more spiral and we land.



I examine the machine at once. The fabric of the planes is full of

bullet holes.



Many of the planes that went with us have not returned. We are told

that some of them will not, for they were seen dropping into enemy

territory.



But one by one, the white specks in the sky come in. At last all of

our squadron have returned and the grave and worried look leaves the

commander's face. He is indeed pleased and does not hide it.



But alas! It is not the same with all the squadrons. There is still

time, of course, to find that we are mistaken. The missing planes may

appear, but it is to be feared that this night at some of the messes,

black bread will be eaten.



*******************



The British parliament recognized the brave work of the aviators in the

following words:



Far above the squalor and the mud, so high up in the firmament as to

be invisible from the earth, they fight the eternal issues of right and

wrong. Every fight is a romance, every report is an epic. They are

the knighthood of this war. Without fear and without reproach, they

have fought, for they have brought back the legendary days of chivalry,

not merely by the daring of their exploits, but by the nobility of

their spirit.





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