The second encounter of the morning takes place between B Flight of 43 Squadron (4x Sopwith 1-1/2 Strutters) on a photo recon mission (of the road highlighted in green on the map) and the three undamaged Albatros of Jasta 30 (1x DIII and 2x DII) who dealt with the Fe2bs of 25 Squadron earlier (see the AAR for 2 April 17 (a) ). The Jasta 11 patrol is still well to the south (near Arras), but this time it is the British who miss out on sizeable reinforcements as a patrol of four Sopwith Triplanes from 8(N) Squadron failed to spot either the Strutters or the Albatros as they passed each other in the snowy sky.
Spotting rolls were made for the British before the minis were put on the table. The range allowed them to just fit on the table corner-to-corner using 600′ hexes, so that’s how it was set out.
The Germans managed to get to within a mile and a half of the British flight (just as Gerald in the lower ‘craft was setting up his camera for the first exposure) before John – the veteran observer in the back of the formation watching the rear – spotted the Albatros approaching. A little time was spent to get the rest of the team on board (the British models were just moved backwards each turn to represent the decreasing range), and then Flight Leader Stephen wheeled the top Sopwiths around to face the foe while the photo machine kept on to do the work of the mission. The snow lightened a bit, and both groups climbed to the cloud base. Everyone also pushed their throttles forward, but not all were rewarded by the expected increase in power/speed. John’s pilot -the rookie Colin- couldn’t quite make the doings work to make the rotary engine work up to specs, but he hasn’t fallen out of formation…yet? On the German side, Gottfreid has found that his Mercedes is not cooperating at all – even going so far as to start issuing smoke instead of power. He falls behind (and isn’t able to climb with Walter and Bruno) but pushes on – his sense of duty/camaraderie overriding the common sense path of turning for home.
The two groups close to just outside weapon range when Colin (on the left-rear of the Strutter formation), still struggling with his engine, fails to follow his leader who pulls up short in the hope of gaining a bit more speed for the engagement (they were plodding along at ‘best photo speed’ prior to their climb and haven’t gotten up to full speed yet). Colin moves out alone, and in searching for where everyone went spots eager young Bruno, who has also left his leader’s side (though by choice as opposed to mistake) and changed his current job from ‘wingman’ to ‘future ace’ . Unfortunately for Colin, his veteran observer/gunner, John (who is likely Colin’s best hope of surviving the encounter) is busy looking for something to throw-at/hit the misbehaving rookie pilot with and fails to spot the threat from Bruno.
Colin wins the rookie-battle-for-initiative against Bruno and simply moves out/away from the German’s attempts to line up a shot. His luck continues next turn(photo) even with the addition of Gottfreid (whose engine sputters and loses speed) to those hunting him, and he just drives though the whole mess – giving John (his observer) a chance to spot what’s happening. Walter has the opposite luck as the two British pilots he goes up against (Stephen and wingman Christopher) react to his move and take shots at him – no hits, but the German realizes he’s not in a good spot and moves towards his friends. Stephen pursues him, peppering the Albatros with shots, a few of which land, but nothing for Walter to worry about…yet. Christopher has trouble orienting himself and fails to end up within combat range of the others.
The rookies fight. Colin does what he’s been told to do: Maneuver so as to allow John, his veteran observer (and very good shot), do the fighting. Bruno accepts the challenge, and comes at them with no attempt to evade the return fire. The result is no surprise: The Sopwith takes a lot of hits that result in enough damage that Colin will have his inexperienced hands full managing the ‘craft for the rest of the sortie, but he’s better off than poor Bruno who gets his wish to be like his hero, Richthofen, but not in the way he hoped. The steady hand of John ignored the incoming bullets and accurately put return fire where it mattered most: into the German pilot. Bruno will now join Gottfreid (who finally decided that a dogfight wasn’t the place to be with a faulty, sputtering engine) in being out of the fight. That left Walter – who’s managed to put some space between himself and the British – alone.
No fool, Walter dives to get away. Stephen is willing to see him go but Christopher has his blood up and chases the Albatros, firing bursts when opportunity arises as the German jinks and twists but can’t shake the persistent Brit. Nothing vital is hit, but the damage piles up enough to threaten the Albatros’ integrity should Walter put it through too much more. Stephen -with Colin in tow (though always a step behind in noticing where he’s supposed to be going…)- dives after his headstrong ‘follower’ to either rein him in or render aid should things go poorly. Bruno’s plane just cruises along while the wounded German tries to recover from his shock. Gottfreid’s Mercedes finally says ‘enough of this’ and quits trying to be an engine and turns instead into a tool for gravity – he turns north towards the airfield and wonders whether he can manage to glide the 4 miles with only ~1000 meters of air beneath him…
As the diving chase continues Walter finally sees things go his way as Christopher’s shots go wide and the Albatros manages to pull steadily ahead of his pursuers. The German manages to gently ease his ‘craft out of the dive (though not without some nervous moments as things creaked a bit more than he would like). Stephen is not as lucky, and definitely hears a ‘crack!’ and feels a shudder as he pulls out – that convinces him that further pursuit is not worth it, and he corrals his troops and leads them back to their flight-mates so that the reconnaissance mission may continue.
They find them above the road, struggling to see anything through the increasing snow. They are joined by the Triplane patrol of 8(N) so they have strong protection now, but the weather closes down completely, visibility reduces to almost nothing, and the mission is scrubbed – they all head back to base.
Walter and Bruno make it back to Phalempin, but Gottfreid’s glide doesn’t carry him over the woods south of the airfield and he is forced to land in a field – upon landing the ground proves to be more rut-filled than it appeared when he chose it, causing him some nervous seconds of fear that the gear would collapse or he would find himself upside down, but he manages to come to a safe rest.
The British all make it back to base, but the interference of the snow on their ability to spot/photograph the activity along the assigned road means the mission goes in the books as a failure, and they expect to see orders for tomorrow that send them back to try again.