: Winning A Cause World War Stories
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
road 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
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
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
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