The Devil’s Drop (Part 2 of 2)

Posted by on Oct 17, 2011 in Blog | Comments Off on The Devil’s Drop (Part 2 of 2)

The Devil’s Drop (Part 2 of 2)

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Volker swung the bomber drunkenly side to side, and when the fighters matched his rhythm, he sent the plane into another steep dive, but the Brits were tenacious and kept on his six. With Maxwell spraying bullets at the trailing fighters, Volker grabbed the radio and hailed the nearest zeppelin.

“Attention Ehre, this is Captain Becker. We’re having a bit of trouble out here, think you can help?”

“Absolutely.” The zeppelin Commander replied, “ We’ve been watching your very entertaining acrobatic displays, but we understand you might want a break. Can you draw them in any further?”

“Affirmative,” Volker said, as a stream of bullets chewed off the end of his right wing. “These chaps seem to be mighty hot for me. I think I could even get them into the gauntlet.”

“We’ll let the Treue know. Just make sure you get to us.”

The two zeppelins altered their course slowly to align their noses with the running dogfight. Volker twisted the plane to the right, before sending her into another dive and juking back to the left. By the time that little gambit was finished the Zepps were only about a kilo off, and bracketing him perfectly. Making a beeline for them Volker appreciated that for giant gas bags they were pretty nimble.

“What is ghomblet?” Max shouted back in between his own gun’s burst and the clatter of bullets ricocheting off the fuselage.

“It’s a real fun time,” Volker shot back. “Just hold on, and we’ll be fine.”

The fighter pilots seemed to have figured out all of Volker’s tricks, and their superior maneuverability was truly telling now. The fighters were matching two out every three moves, and his rudder was practically shredded, to say nothing of his port elevator, but the Zepps were practically overhead, and the fighters were about to get a taste of their own medicine.

Volker flew in between the two airships about 200 metres below their gondolas. The fighters, close on his heels, were either too intent on knocking this stubborn kraut out of the sky or legitimately didn’t know what they were flying into, because they stayed close on his tail, sending streams of machine gun fire at the Falke. The moment the fighters crossed the zeppelins’ bows, both airships opened up with a cruiser’s worth of Ack Ack apiece, tearing into the fighters.

One of the Brits exploded instantly and Volker watched in horror as the shrapnel from his plane flew past his own bomber. A second fighter dived towards the ocean, but a lance of fire caught his tail, severing it from the rest of the plane, and the dive ended in the waves. The last fighter tried climbing, perhaps hoping that the zeppelin gunners wouldn’t risk hitting their sister ship, and perhaps he was right, but with a triumphant shout Maxwell sent a burst through the plane’s engine, ending the pilot’s escape attempt.

Volker took his hands off the yoke just long enough to wipe the sweat from his face. He wagged his wings as a sign of appreciation, and pulled the Falke into the climb necessary to reach his carrier.

A short time later Volker and Max skidded to a sharp halt aboard the deck of the Heinrich. The deck crew rushed to rearm, repair and refuel the battered dive bomber and Volker was relieved to see that most of his squad was there waiting for him. He was especially surprised to see Colonel Silbermann running towards him. Volker threw open the canopy and called out his leader, “What are you doing out Herr Colonel? Toilet break?”

“Very funny Becker. My radio’s got a new 18mm hole right through it, so I have to tell you goons the mission details in person. The Limeys have spotted the troop tubs and their battleship is raining hell down on them. We’re to ignore the rest of the cruisers and do our best to knock out the battleship’s primaries. Got it?”

“Got it, sir!”

“Good,” said Silbermann, and with a perfunctory salute went dashing back to his own plane. By then the deck crew had topped off his fuel, slung a bomb under his belly and done their best to patch the myriad holes in his wings and tail with small sheets of Sturginium/aluminium alloy. They ran off none too soon either, because almost as soon as Volker restarted his engine Colonel Silbermann was roaring across the flight deck, followed closely by the rest of the squad.

The trip back to the enemy seemed to take no time at all, at least compared to the last time. The Colonel kept them in the clouds, occasionally dipping down to see if they’d passed over the cruisers. After his third trip down, he waggled his wings and cut to the right, the prearranged signal to descend. Volker followed his leader and dove out of the cloud cover. What he saw when he was in the clear was madness.

4,000 metres below them was chaos incarnate. Huge gouts of water plumed up around the battleship every few seconds, obviously fire from the Prussian fleet. One shell found its target, but a blue shimmer surrounded her and it exploded fairly harmlessly against the hull. The battleship was leaking oil though, it had pooled off her starboard and caught fire, sending greasy plumes of smoke heavenward. Planes spiralled around each other, spitting fire almost indiscriminately. Several frigates were heavily damaged; one was almost perfectly horizontal on its port side, as though it was laying down for a nap. Silbermann sped into this maelstrom of fire and iron, followed closely by Volker and the rest of the squad.

As soon as they had broken out of the clouds Silbermann steered towards the leaking battleship, no doubt intent on using the rising smoke from the oil fire to their advantage. But before they could reach the protective greasy black clouds, the squad was spotted and set upon by fighters. Silbermann’s Falke was criss-crossed by four lines of fire and burst into a smoky black cloud of its own. And with that, the squad scattered.

Determined to make it to the target, Volker set his plane into a slow rolling dive. The trick had saved him once before; by making it look like he was already going down he hoped that the fighters would ignore him. Unfortunately these Brits were cleverer than that last bunch because two of them broke off their own squad and began hammering him.

Still kilometres from the battleship Volker pulled out of his dive and tried some of the basic evasive manoeuvres. Perhaps surprised at the sudden pull up, the fighters lost their bead on him, but only momentarily because he was buffeted by bullets seconds later. Volker pondered his next move when Maxwell began shouting at him over the crack of machine gun fire.

“Volker, they are getting awfully close. You are having a plan, right?”

Volker didn’t. The fighters were too manoeuvrable to lose, too fast to outrun and their pilots were too canny for him to trick. His range of options seemed pitifully small. Looking around the cockpit, he realised he did have one ace left to play.

“Maxwell, where are they?”

“Just above us, about 100 metres back.”

“Perfect, brace yourself.”

And with no more warning than that Volker reached below his seat, yanked the emergency release bar and thumbed the dive brake button. Their bomb dropped away, and considerably lightened, the Falke jumped up above the fighters. The dive brakes deployed simultaneously, slowing them down considerably. The trailing Brits avoided collision by veering to either side of the dive bomber, but they still passed so close Volker could make out the designs painted near their engines: a shark’s toothy grin to the right, a blonde bombshell to the left.

Volker heard a thump behind him and called back to his gunner.

“All right back there?”

“Just a bump on head. Was very good trick.”

But Volker was worried it wasn’t good enough. He watched as the fighters, their wings perpendicular to the ocean, circled back around and disappeared behind him. Furthermore, despite their momentary loss of speed, they were still rapidly approaching the battleship and, leak or no leak, her Ack Ack seemed to be intact.

“I’m going to take us home,” Volker informed Maxwell as he began to turn the plane. “Without our payload there doesn’t seem to be much we can do here.”

“You’d best do it quick, our pale friends have returned.”

Volker twisted his neck around, and sure enough, Sharky and Sexy had completed their circle and were closing in on them.

Fearing that any extended turn would present too large a target to the Brits, Volker pulled up, hoping against hope that without their bomb they could beat them to the clouds. Two bursts of fire disabused him of that notion, and he levelled off and tried zig-zagging. He did not really expect that one to work, and he was not disappointed. A hail of bullets tore into his right wing, jarring the plane.

“Not our lucky day,” he cursed to himself, but Maxwell must have heard him, or at least picked up the gist.

“Eh, we are simply outmatched. Is not your fault Volker, but for this situation, Brit plane is best plane.”

Grinding his teeth, Volker knew instinctually that wasn’t absolutely true. “We can do one thing better than them,” Volker shouted over the sound of bullets firing past them.

“And that is what?” Maxwell asked. “Die?”

“Dive!” Volker yelled, and slammed the yoke all the way forward, sending their plane into its characteristic vertical drop. As their Falke sped towards the battleship Volker looked over the right wing and was relieved to see that despite the damage they had suffered the dive-brakes seemed to be intact. He flipped the auto-recovery switch and prayed it wouldn’t be necessary.

“Are they on us?”

The staccato metal clang of bullets glancing off of, or penetrating the aircraft’s fuselage answered him faster than Maxwell could.

“I am thinking so!”

Volker pulled back just a little, to ease the plane from a 90 degree angle to the battleship, to a gentler, but still extreme 75 degree attack. If they were going to get back alive, those fighters had to follow them to the end. The fighters continued their pursuit. To them it looked as though Volker was trying to crash his plane into the battleship, an act that even robbed of his bomb would cause tremendous damage to the vessel. Maxwell goaded them on, firing first at Sharky, then at Sexy. They responded in kind, sending streamers of red hot lead towards the Prussians.

“Get ready for this!” Volker shouted, “This one’s gonna be a blackout.” At 500 metres the battleship’s Ack Ack opened up, but hesitantly. Her gunners must have noticed the fighters close on the Falke’s tail, and were reluctant to shoot down their own planes. Closer and closer they got to the big ship. The speedometer was climbing and Volker’s vision was beginning to gray. They passed the minimum drop altitude and still they sped on.

Volker watched through his blurring vision as the altimeter dropped from 450 meters to 400, 350, and then to 300, the drop-dead distance. His thumb slipped off the control stick and the Falke went through the motions of dropping its bomb before leveling off. The sudden change in direction pushed Volker down and back into his seat at eight times the force of gravity; he could just began to feel a tingly sensation before he lost consciousness. The Falke’s nose found the horizon just as something unique happened behind it.

Before war had broken out Volker’s brother had explained to him how shield generators worked in his characteristic over-eager way. The shield works by stealing an attack’s momentum, the missile’s kinetic force is dissipated over the shield’s surface. When it became obvious Volker didn’t understand his brother analogised. The shield generator is not a knight’s plate armor that deflects or stops the sword; rather it is the conscript’s layers of leather and wool, it slows the sword down enough so that it doesn’t have enough energy left to cut the man.

When a small, dense object like a naval shell impacts the shield, it is simply slowed down so that it explodes against the hull, rather than punching through the ship. When a long, delicate object, like a fighter plane, encounters the shield, something rather more interesting happens.

The fighters, lacking the Falke’s dive breaks, were not able to pull up in time, and crashed into the hazy blue shield of the battleship they were supposed to be protecting. Being rather longer than a shell, the nose of the fighter planes suffered the effects of the shield significantly before their tails. The first few feet of the planes slowed from 500 km/h to a more stately 50. The cockpits, however, maintained their previous velocity for another two or so metres. The difference in speed between these two parts of the planes was more stress than their fuselages could bear by several orders of magnitude. Ultimately, what occurred was that the rear two thirds of each fighter slammed into its front third at about half the speed of sound. It made a mess.

The metal and glass that were the fighters crashed down on the battleship. This shrapnel wounded a few gunners and broke some portholes, but nothing serious. No, the real cause for consternation among her crew was the hundreds of gallons of burning fuel that rained down, setting anything combustible alight. Burning deckhands threw themselves into the ocean to extinguish themselves. Racks of Ack Ack ammunition that had been brought up in preparation for a drawn out fight cooked off causing more destruction. And the burning plane fuel mixed with the leaking oil, igniting the substance as it poured out of her hull. The flames raced back along the sticky black wick and ignited the large reservoir of oil still within the ship. The tank was no longer under pressure, so no explosion occurred, but the lake of fire now burning within her was more than enough to critically wound the battleship.

The Falke flew on of its own accord. Once it levelled off at 200 metres the auto-recovery system locked the controls. Maxwell snapped awake moments later and banged on the back of the seat until Volker woke up. Shaking off the haze caused by their daredevil drop, Volker took back the controls, checked the compass, and began to turn towards the Heinrich.

“How’d we do?” he inquired.

A long pause, and then guttural laughter. “It looks like we did a pretty good job. Battleship is on fire, so I’d say mission accomplished.”

Volker turned back around and was just able to see a gout of flame rising out of their erstwhile target. Unable to comprehend how that had happened, or their part in it he decided to concentrate on getting them home.

“Say,” Maxwell exclaimed, “you want to hear rest of joke?”

Volker rubbed his temples and grimaced.

“Sure, just finish before we land.”

“Alright, so no one answers at church, so the pilot figures the priest might be with the mayor. He walks over to the mayor’s house and lo and behold there is priest…”