..........We discuss it at base, the mudmovers and the fighter jocks
"look lads we will be ok, we dont want your new P40s bobbing and weaving over our heads. Low and slow thats the 153s motto, leave us to it. Theres HE111s been spotted on rader on thier way to front line. get 1 for me " Says Komdrade Peep, a brave man on a mission to destroy or at least disrupt Enemy HQ.
I stride out to the waiting P40s, they sit rad growling at the skies, somehow unwieldy on the deck. I run my hand over her sleek flanks. Finally we are taking the OKL on on our terms. As I strap on my chute I look to my team. MA_Tumble, the squadron film man waits by his bird, ready to cover my back up in the clear blue skies.
RC are taking up the other 6 birds, new boys, not flown with them before. Well time to dish out the brief. I call them all rd.
"Ok guys heres the gen, the ground pounders are going it alone, feel we would draw the enemy fighters, fair point so we have 10 mins to saddle up and get the Heikenls on thier way in. Be sure they will have an escort, expect the worst G2s, if its F1s then thats a bonus."
"RC Lead we will fly better in units we know, take your boys 340 and climb to 4000m. We will take a heading of 240, keep us in sight, everything but us over 200m is likely to be hostile treat it as such. No red stars take it down."
"Rgrt" He says and turns to give formation instruction to his men.
"Tumble stay right with me, were going to hit em from head on and 1000m up if we can"
"All the way Dak" He says......
Today will be good day. I can feel it
We stride to our planes, strap in and fire them up. A cough and the P40s roars into life, shuddering on her undercart. She doesnt belong here she tells me, take me up I want to soar like an eagle...and strike my prey with talons of fire.
We take off acclerating down the runway the engine growling, and up, gear up, flaps raised, pitch 95, throttle 100, Rad 4.
"Tumble rolling" I glance behind at the dust cloud shreiking accross the runway.
"Sorry to drag you off the IL2s Tumble chap but Hats plane is in the shop and he has been flogging it hard these last few weeks, night off." I call on comms
"NP Dak," right on your 4 wide, always analising his situation, scanning the ground for familier land marks. "Glad you got me out in a P40, hate those Migs of yours "
"RC up and hdg 340 Lead" Says Flight lead RC.
We climb the P40 so ungraciuos on the ground glides in her element, effortless to fly, just be gentle with her and she will pay you back big time. Treat a P40 rough and she will slap you for ungentlemanly conduct. Ive heard say that the Spitfire is better, the RAF us them to great result agaisnt the 109, they have promised us some. But for now the P40 and after Migs its a dream.
We scan the skies.
"Crow to Dak come in" Crow the name of control, hidden in the woods deep under ground near Stalingrad
"Dak here over, call it in over"
"Crow to Dak head vector 240 contact angels 35.....14 +."
"Rgrt keep em peeled lads, call em if you see them.................Suddenly 6 dots loom. The comms crackle "Bombers ahead Dak"
"Rgrt Tumble straight through em flat out and give em hell, watch for escort they will be close"
We are closing fast 1000ms away and Im lining up the lead machine
"Take the right hand 1 Tumble im on the left"
Dam but this is close on text book some days the gods smile
We steam in firing from 500ms to point blank, 540kph and I lift over the top skimming the HE111, the tracer curves after me as I look over my shoulder and zoom away, 2 bombers smoking and Tumble pulling hard to come back on his to finish it. Suddenly the sky is alive with diving 109s shimmering like Barracudas in the sunlight, and just as deadly. Im through them, come on ya buggers but no they are after Tumble I roll from the top of the loop and dive back down towards Tumbles agressors as a HE111 spins down to earth.
"Good Job Tumble"
The adrenaline is pumping, I feel invincible, Im back in the fray and Ive latched onto one closing on Tumble, I scream for Tumble to break at the same time firing to distract Herr 109, it works and he over shoots, diving away.
"Dive from a P40 would ya? Silly man time to walk home" I think, as he pulls up I pull again on the trigger, bullets smack home on his cowling and canopy and smoke pours from his engine. They get home to often these 109s Im gonna make sure of this one, another burst and flames pour from his engine, no chute opens.
"Take a seat" I scream down the radio
"Im hit Dak" calls Tumble calmly
"Head home chap, good job done, Ill cover"
I cicle looking for more prey, the RC chaps are getting stuck into the bombers, another 109 flashs down on me, misses me as I break and continues his dive away, I follow, the P40 shudders at the abuse, the dails are all off the clock. "Soon babe soon Ill cool you, for now we both gotta suffer, stay with me Lady Kittyhawk"
I fire at the 109, good hit and the canopy flies off him. Must have seen his mate going down, didnt want to fry, the chute blosums and the plane dives into the ground, an explosion marking its passing in spectacular style.
I throttle back and open the rad, time for home, ammos gotta be low now. Dam it another 109 chasing a RC P40 on the deck, I latch on again, pull the trigger, a hit then nothing except the dull snap of empty magazines.
"Sorry chap your on your own" I call over radio his position and set out for base.
Yet another 109 is jinking ahead of me, Oh for more ammo.
I cirlce the field once and drop into land a bounce and we are home, not a scratch on her. I stop the engine climb out and stroke the flanks of this beautiful plane.
"Put 2 more red stars on this pls Komrade" I call to my ground crew
He grins back "S!"
I walk over to Tumble and clap him on the back, "Well flown Tumble fancy a transfer, Ill clear it with CO "
"No im ok mate, somebodies gotta shift the mud while you glory boys fizz round in the Hawks"
I laugh..."Well Ill have a beer for that 109 I took off your tail then"
"Will you hell" Comes the reply "Ill have a beer for setting him up for you"
And from Tumbles view
As the engine of the P-40 fires into life, my mind wanders back to the briefing at dispersal that morning. I turn up, and automatically do a head count, and then check the number of machines lined up with fitters and armourers swarming all over them. I quickly check again - yes! Damn! there's one too many pilots. One of us is going to have join the fighter boys today, rather than have an aircrew sitting around doing nothing - everybody has been trained to some extent to do the other's job, and supplies of men and equipment are wanting, so we jump in where ever we can. My flight and I draw lots. Secretly, I'm hoping I draw the short straw, as all our IL2's have either been destroyed or seriously damaged, and there are none available to fly today - all we have are the Chaikas.. old, slow, but reliable and a good turner. I've had a few scares in them though, so the thought of flying one today does not fill me with the best feelings for success.
The draw is announced - sure enough I get ordered over to the other side of the airfield, where the fighters are having their briefing. Although the thought of flying a fighter is not exactly relished, my thoughts are lightened somewhat when I see as I'm walking over (in full flight gear, and today is very warm) that the squadron has finally been re-equipped with the fabulous P-40 Warhawk - a very welcome change from the skittish MiGs..
The time has come to saddle up and we climb the great wings into the realtively comfortable, although imposing cockpit - the metal only comes waist high - the rest is glass. Fabulous view but the exposed feeling is a little unsettling until you get used to it.
I'm awakened from my reverie by Dak - "stay sharp chaps - we're going after those bombers - the GA boys want to be left alone on this one"
"Brave sods..." I think to myself with only thin fabric between them and the 88's and no fighter cover.. at least their machines are painted green.....
the cloud of dust from Dak's propwash evelopes my machine, and for a moment the world is just noise from the engines and beige dust whipping past my canopy, then just as suddenly, it clears, and there's Dak, roaring off down the runway and magically lifting off the ground pulling his wheels up and throwing the aircraft into a tight turn to port. I start my run - the speed of this thing amazes me still, I have only had a scant few hours on this type, and with the throttle barely nudging 80% the tail is lifting and I'm barreling down the bumpy runway. The wheels lift of their own accord. I select "up" on the landing gear controls and feel the wheels bumping into their recesses in the wings - we're flying!
The sensation of flight - even after all these long cold combat hours still fills me with joy and I revel in the feeling of freedom as I scan my horizon and pick up Dak, accelerating off, slighty ahead and to my left. I push on a few more r.p.ms and back the variable pitch airscrew off a little and open up the radiator and on Dak's instruction begin the long climb up to 5000m. I thought it would take a long time, but the warhawk eats the sky up and in no time, we're flat out heading straight for the Nazi bomber formation. I spot 6 contacts dead ahead on our level. I radio over to Dak "6 contacts, 12 o'clock, dead level. Gotta be the bombers, big ones - may be Heinkels"
"Roger that" he radios back, "We're gonna fly right through em, flat out and give em hell on the way through"
"ok..." I think to myself... this could work. We're in a perfect situation, although the sun isn't quite with us and I can't see any escorts.
Dak comes over the radio again "Tumble, take the far right machine, and I'll have the left - don't slow down! Watch out for the escorts - bound to be following somewhere"
We race towards the bombers - what they must think, forced to fly straight and level while 2 angry Russians are flying straight at them, guns blazing. We open up on the bombers for about 500m - the closing speed rapidly mates the bombers with our bullets, and the 2 targeted begin to smoke heavily - then we spot the escorts - 5 109's about 300m higher than us. Dak firewalls his throttle and climbs to meet the attack, while I turn hard to finish off my bomber.
I must have hit the pilot! the bomber, after a VERY short burst from my machine guns has started spiralling out of control - I can't see anyone bailing out.. poor sods - Dak's bomber is still smoking, so I turn gently to starboard to rake it's glasshouse when I hear a frantic "Check six!! Break! Break!"
I hear the characteristic whine of a 109 very close to me, and suddenly red and blue tracer is streaking past my canopy. I throw my machine into a violent spin to evade the chasing German, recover and start turning like a dervish - the 109 has fallen for it! he's turning with me.. a few more turns and I'm on his six - I fire a few bursts and watch as the tracer converges with his wings and tailplane and think "Hope that's scary you son of a bitch" suddenly, he's not in front of me anymore. I twist and turn in my seat, but I can't see him anywhere and then red and blue tracer stitches past my right ear and trhough my starboard wing - I look out at it and with horror realise that I can see through it.. not a terribly good situation to be in. Thankfully Dak's seen me and is punishing the 109, who soon descends earthwards, pouring smoke and flames.
I point the machine at the floor and firewall the throttle.. I don't know if my engine's been hit or how long it'll last at this power setting, but I want to get home, and quickly - I have about 35km to run...
just as the runway hoves into view, I realise I'm going far too quickly, but the fuel light is on, and the engine temperature warning light is on... I'm gonna catch hell from the fitters - their shiny new P-40 is awfully bashed up.. I buzz the runway, and as I go past the tower request permission to land.
The downside to having so much power and speed of course is that it's a job to scrub it off in order to land, so as I'm banking hard to drop into the landing circuit, out come the wheels, full flaps and pitch the prop right back in an effort to slow down.. still not enough and the runway's getting closer. I start to slip the speed off, but it's not happening... I touch down too fast, and bounce... for a horribly long time, and now I only have just enough airspeed to fly, Isaac Newton is in the driving seat now as I plunge earthwards.. finally I settle on the runway and stamp on the brakes. For a moment I think the machine is going to nose over and really make my mechanic's day, but it falls back onto it's tail wheel and all is well.. as I taxi off the runway I catch a gimpse of the ATC's face as I wobble past him, he clearly cannot believe that I landed such a mangled aircraft without it falling to bits underneath me.
I park up, switch off the engine and climb down from the cockpit, utterly drained. I notice that my map, attached to my right knee is in tatters... then I spot the bullet hole in the side of the cockpit - the German round had missed my leg by millimetres..
I'm ok, but the machine is a wreck - the entire starboard wing will have to be replaced, and I just know that the fitters will be up all night and well into tomorrow rebuilding the engine which has almost melted in the mad dash home - the cowling is faintly glowing, popping and creaking as it cools...
As I walk slowly back to the mess, I see Dak landing... always seems to be more graceful than me, and the fitters are already wheeling my aircraft into a blast pen in preparation for it's overhaul. I pour myself and Dak a celebratory Vodka in the mess - celebratory because we have both cheated death again in the hostile skies, and vodka because I'm shaken.. flying fighters is fun, but I can't say as I'm in a hurry to do it again too soon....
And the mission that inspired us