The Devil’s Drop (Part 1 of 2)

Posted by on Oct 14, 2011 in Blog | Comments Off on The Devil’s Drop (Part 1 of 2)

The Devil’s Drop (Part 1 of 2)

Written by Admin | Tags: , ,

This short story was submitted to us by Featured Author Burke Bourne, a Dystopian Wars gamer who was clearly inspired to create this entertaining story. We hope you enjoy reading his work as much as we did:

June 14th, 1871. West of the Bay of Biscay

Volker peered through a break in the clouds, hoping for a glance of the island. They must have still been too far off as all he saw was the endless blue of the sea. He shifted uncomfortably. They had been flying for almost two hours now, and his legs had begun to cramp. He regretted not stretching out before climbing into his Falke dive bomber. The other Falke pilots had made a routine of it before each mission, but he had been too intent on finishing a letter to his brother to participate this time.

“See anything?” Maxwell, his gunner, asked.

“Nothing yet, can’t be far though,” Volker replied. He knew Maxwell would be having an even harder time; the lanky Hungarian was at least 6cm taller, and had only made it into the Aerial Armada by stooping during his entrance physical.

It really couldn’t be far, thought Volker. They had been given the launch order almost 12 hours after passing over the north-west coast of Spain. The Taube fighters had launched first. They had quickly fanned out in front of the 3rd Armada, each squadron a deadly wedge ready to force enemies down or away from the flanks. The dive bombers were next. Each of the four squadrons arrayed itself in a diamond shape, the better to quickly close in on their prey. Floating behind the planes were six Pflicht-class Zeppelins in squads of two. Safely ensconced in the rear were the two massive Sky Fortresses: Volker’s carrier Heinrich der Loewe and her sister, Albrecht der Baer.

All together they were one of the most powerful wings in the Prussian Air Armada, yet here they were practically drifting over the sea, playing nanny to a bunch of troop ships and their escorts. Admittedly, Volker thought to himself, if those troops were able to carry out their mission and capture the Azores, he and the rest of the Armada would have a beautifully located base to play merry havoc among Brit shipping. Even still, it was galling to creep along, leashed to the troop tubs behind them.

“Hey,” Maxwell said, “You have heard the joke about the priest, the pilot and the mayor?”

“No,” Volker responded wearily. He had come to discover that his gunner had a habit, practically a tick, of telling jokes before attack runs. Whether it was to cut the tension or pass the time, Volker hadn’t figured out, but after a couple of hours the jokes became more tedious than funny. It didn’t help that Maxwell’s German was heavily flavoured by his native Hungarian.

“Is very funny. A pilot goes to see the priest before big mission. He knocks on the door but is not answered. So he goes round…”

“Attention all pilots. Attention all pilots” The shortwave radio interrupted Maxwell’s story. Volker recognized the nasal Berliner accent of the Heinrich’s XO, Dietrich Werkheiser. “Our recon plane has spotted the Britannian taskforce.” Volker tightened his grip on the yoke. His cramp suddenly seemed to disappear. “We are retransmitting his report now.”

The radio crackled, and a different voice began addressing them. “Ten kilos north of the fleet, twelve kilos west. Three … of frigates. Four … cruisers. One battleship. Looks like the Prince… or the …George II. One fleet carrier. I repeat, one… and one …eet carrier. Fighters incoming. Repeat, fig…” And there the transmission trailed off.

Volker’s hands went cold. Escorts guarding the battleships were one thing. The Falke was practically designed to get through surface Ack Ack to deliver its payload, but fighters could follow them home biting at their heels. Fighters were faster, more manoeuvrable and had far more guns. Fighters meant death.

Werkheiser’s sharp voice returned. “Now you know what we’re up against. You’ve trained for this scenario and I expect nothing more or less than for you to do your duty. You all know your assignments, now go to it. Godspeed.”

As terse as the XO’s address had been, it did put some steel back in Volker’s spine. They had trained for this. He was not alone out here either. Poor as his Falke was at air-to-air combat, he was surrounded by Prussian fighters and zeppelins.

A third voice interrupted his thoughts. Colonel Silbermann, the squad leader, got straight to the point. “All right you knaves, you know the mission, we’re to destroy or scatter any sort of vanguard. Cruisers are priority number one, followed by escorts. And if we finish our vegetables, then we get dessert – the battleships. Now get on it!”

Volker watched as the lead Falke turned towards the north-west and altered his course to follow suit. Their diamond was speeding up and closing in on itself now. To reach their targets they’d have to pass through the AA curtain the frigates would throw up, as well as any attention the Brit fighters wanted to show them, and the tighter the formation the better the chance they’d all make it. Each dive bomber squadron would now be grouping up behind a fighter escort, but the fighters could only protect one or two sides of the diamond at a time, so they’d have to rely on each other if the Brits came from any other direction.

“Do you see them yet?” Maxwell asked, his tone showing his own nerves.

“Nothing yet, but we’re probably still 20 to 30… hold on.” Volker had been concentrating on keeping in formation, but at Maxwell’s prompting he had scanned the horizon and had spotted something. It was still just a few dark specks in the distance, but at this altitude they were unlikely to be birds. As the shapes grew in size, Volker became increasingly positive a fight was just moments away.

“It’s them, boys!” Silbermann announced over the radio. “When they start firing, we split into heaven and hell.” Volker nodded to himself. They had practiced this plan extensively, but he knew it was far from foolproof.

Tracer rounds bracketed the squad, and an instant later the Taube fighters returned fire at the incoming Brits. Offering up a quick prayer, Volker shouted back, “Hold on!” and yanked back on the yoke. They and six of the other Falkes climbed higher into the sky, as Prussian and Britannian fighters continued their game of chicken below. By the time Volker had levelled off several hundred metres above where they started, the Brits had veered away from the centre of the diamond. “Get ready Max, they’ll be coming back around in a moment.”

As Silberman predicted, after the Britannian fighters passed the squadron they circled back around, but more importantly, they climbed. Maxwell opened up with the Falke’s tail gun, sending burst after burst at the trailing fighters. Though the Brits outgunned them two-to-one, the Prussians had the advantages of firing down and back, which made leading their targets easier. Maxwell cheered immediately preceding the Doppler whine of a downed aircraft, and Volker was about to ask him if it was his mark when he spotted his own target. Less than 5 kilometres away, beneath a long trail of brown smoke, was the plough-like shape of a Britannian cruiser, and to its port side sailed an identical sister ship.

But the Brit fighters had finally caught up and Volker heard the angry staccato of bullets flying past the canopy. He began basic evasive manoeuvres, dipping and swerving the plane, but their formation was too close for him to do much more. A quick succession of four or five bullets ricocheted off the fuselage, gouging deep grooves into their scant armour. Volker grabbed the throttle tight and banged twice on the back of Max’s seat to let him know to brace himself. Another volley like that might find an engine, or their heads, and Volker wasn’t going to give the Limeys that chance.

Just as he was about to throw the Falke into an evasive dive, Maxwell returned his bangs, and Volker realised the Hungarian had stopped firing.

“Is firefight.”

Volker did his best to check behind them, and indeed the Prussian fighters had completed their own circle, and were now scattering the Brits. As he watched one Taube lanced a Brit’s wing clean off, sending the fighter tumbling down into the sea. The rest of their former harassers fled, but due to the pressure from the Prussian fighters were unable to regroup.

A green light flashed on in the cockpit; Silbermann had sent the signal to begin dive preparations, and Volker eagerly complied. He pulled the lever that prepped the dive brakes, two flaps on the underside of each wing, flipped the auto-recovery switch, which would pull the Falke out of the dive if he blacked out, knocked on the back of Max’s seat and peered into the bombsight window. Flak from the cruisers started bursting under them, but the gunners had yet to find their range. Volker focused on the cross-hair in his window, keeping his speed and altitude steady, waiting for his target to slip into view.

He heard the squad leaders begin their dive moments before spotting the cruiser in his own bombsight. He slammed the yoke forward and a half second later and began his 90 degree drop. Prevailing Armada theory directed Falke pilots to aim for the exact centre of their target to increase the chance of hitting it. Volker’s instructor at Hamburg had thrown that book out and told his students when attacking ships, aim just behind a turret. That was the sweet spot where the magazine should be, and a successful hit there could sink a ship in seconds.

Shells burst around the Falke as it raced towards the surface, but leading a plane that was plummeting directly towards them proved too difficult for the gunners of the cruiser. Even as the g-forces of the dive blurred his vision, Volker kept the nose of his plane trained on the back of the cruiser’s bow turret.

The Brit fighters dissipated and, the miniscule Ack Ack gunners still unable to draw a bead on him, Volker gloried in his position. Screaming down to the target, he felt his stomach float free inside his body and his hands and feet grow cold as his blood refused to flow there, but these sensations came as part of the exalted position of a dive bomber pilot. Nowhere else in the Prussian military could one man cause so much destruction, and Volker felt that power most keenly with his back pressed into his seat, staring down at a vessel he was about to blot from existence.

The shells were bursting closer now. Volker was close enough to his target to see that her AA guns were raised to their apogee, but their angle was still too low to threaten him. He reasoned her sister ship must be the one scoring the near misses. “No matter,” he thought to himself, “she was too late now,” as he lifted his thumb from the control stick. That simple gesture began an intricate clockwork dance that ended with a cradle swinging his bomb out beyond the reach of the propeller and towards the ship below.

Simultaneously the dive brakes deployed. The resistance they created slowed the plane down enough so that when Volker pulled back on the yoke the stress didn’t tear the plane apart. However, the combination of deceleration and changing their direction so quickly was something the human body, unlike the Falke, was not designed for. As they regained the horizon and slowed from 500 to 300 km/hr Volker and Maxwell passed through, “the Grey Zone,” a profoundly uncomfortable experience where blood can’t flow normally causing, among other things, throbbing headaches, numbness in the extremities, tinnitus and vision so blurred the sufferer only sees a grey veil. In extreme cases, it would cause pilots to pass out, which was the reason the pull up procedure had been automated.

More by feel than vision, Volker banked the plane around, pointing her back to their carrier.

“You doing all right?” he asked.

“Yah, was not so bad that time. I am thinking I am getting used to the drop.”

Volker smiled. The first time he had asked Max that question after a dive back was in training, and his response had been the sound of the Hungarian retching. Before their first combat mission Max had improved to the point that he could usually hold it in until they landed. And now Volker hadn’t seen him lose it for the past several months, although for that same period he hadn’t seen Max at the mess the night before a mission either.

With his vision coming back into focus Volker took the plane up and away from the cruiser. He juked back and forth to avoid the steady stream of fire following them. He would climb for a few dozen metres before sending the plane into a mini dive to make the Ack Ack gunners’ jobs that much harder.

“How did we do? Can you see where we hit ‘em?”

“Rear part of the turret. Is buckled pretty bad. Maybe out of commission for now.”

“What about the rest of the squad? Were there any other hits?”

“The only other hit I can see is near the bridge. Looks like is partly collapsed.”

Volker grimaced. It was a disappointing run. Attacking at full strength against a cruiser they should have been able to sink it, open up the deck, or at least bust up the torpedo tubes.

“Wait,” Max exclaimed, “one more on attack run. Looks like might be Stephan, but hard to tell from here.”

“How’s his run looking?” Volker asked, trying to crane his head around to get a better look.

“For a man going up against cruiser by himself, he’s doing pretty good.” Max answered. “It almost looks like…yup, he’s trying to thread the needle.”

Volker groaned. Stephan, or “Spinnst Steve,” for his erratic behavior, was famous for this manoeuvre; famous mostly because in all his years of flying, it had never succeeded. Stephan was trying to drop his bomb down the smokestack of the Britannian cruiser. Considering the diameter of the smokestack, the relative speeds of the bomber and the cruiser, and the minimum drop altitude, it was a nigh impossible task. Although, mused Volker, if he got it in, it would almost certainly sink the ship.

“Is it…?”

“The bomb is away.” A pause. “It looks like…no! He missed, but…”

Volker heard the explosion before Maxwell reported the hit. A bomb didn’t have to go down the smokestack to damage a boiler, and given that most boilers were essentially bombs in and of themselves, you didn’t have to hit them very hard to set them off.

“Yup, there she goes,” Maxwell shouted. “Something must have punctured hull, because she’s listing. I am thinking we can cross off one cruiser.”

They cheered together, but were cut off by the familiar and unwelcome sound of bullets passing close by them. Volker immediately sent the Falke into a short, but steep dive.

“What the hell was that?” he shouted back at Maxwell.

The reply was a little while in coming. “Three of them, on top of us.” A burst of machine gun fire interspersed his reply. “Sorry Volker, I was distracted.”

“Just keep firing Max, we’re almost to the Zepps.”

About three kilometres away were two of the Pflicht-class zeppelins, the Ehre and the Treue, a floating safe haven, but only he could get to them.

To be continued.