Air service boys in the.., p.18
Air Service Boys in the Big Battle; Or, Silencing the Big Guns, p.18E. J. Craine
CHAPTER XIX. ON PATROL
Aloft with Tom and Jack were several other fighters, for it was not onlyconsidered a great honor to bring down a Zeppelin, but it would savemany lives if one or more of the big gas machines could be preventedfrom dropping bombs on Paris or its environs.
The machines which were used were all of the single type, thoughof different makes and speeds. Each one was equipped with electriclaunching tubes. These were a somewhat new device for use againstcaptive Hun balloons and Zeppelins and were installed in many of thefighting scout craft of the Americans and Allies.
Between the knees of Toni and Jack, as well as each of the other pilots,was a small metal tube. This went completely through the floor of thecockpit, so that, had it been large enough to give good vision, onecould view through it the ground beneath.
In a little rack at the right of each scout were several small bombs ofvarious kinds. Some were intended to set on fire whatever they came incontact with, being of phosphorus. Others were explosive bombs, pure andsimple, while some were flares, intended to light up the scene at nightand make getting a target easier.
Included in the rack of death and destruction was a simple stick; notunlike a walking cane, and this seemed so comparatively harmless that anuninitiated observer would almost invariably ask its use.
At the lower end of the launching tube, through which the bombs weredropped, was a "trip," or sort of catch, that caught on a triggerfastened to each bomb. The trip pulled the trigger, so to speak, and setin operation the firing device.
In the early days, though doubtless the defect was afterwards corrected,the bombs sometimes stuck in the launching tube, and as they were likelyto go off in this position at any moment, it was the custom of thepilots to push them on their way with the cane if the missiles jammed.Hence it was an essential part of each flying machine's armament.
Higher and higher mounted the fighting scouts, with Tom and Jack amongtheir number. It was necessary to mount very high in order to getabove the Zeppelins, as in this position alone was it possible for theaeroplanes to fight them to any advantage. The Zeppelins carried manymachine guns of long range, and for the pigmy planes to attack them onthe same level, meant destruction to the smaller craft.
There were several German machines in the raid toward Paris, but Tomand Jack caught sight of only two. The others were either at too great aheight to be observed, or else were farther off, lost in the haze.
But the two silver shapes, resembling nothing so much as huge, expensivecigars, wrapped in tinfoil, were flying on their way, now and thendropping bombs, which exploded with dull, muffled reports--an earnest ofwhat they would do when they got over Paris. They were traveling fast,under the impulse of their own powerful motors and propellers, and alsoaided by a stiff breeze.
Of course conversation was out of the question among Tom, Jack and theother aviators, but they knew the general plan of the fight. They wereto get above the Zeppelins--as many of them as could--and drop bombson the gas envelope. They were also to attack with machine guns ifpossible, aiming at the rudder controls and machinery. It was the greatdesire of the Allied commanders to have a Zeppelin brought down asnearly intact as possible.
Up and up climbed the speedy scout machines, and it was seen that someof them would never get in a position to do any damage. The German craftwere traveling too speedily. But Tom and Jack managed to get to a heightof about twenty thousand feet, which was above the Zeppelins, though bythis time the Germans were in advance of them, for they had climbed atrather a steep angle. However, they knew their speed was many times thatof the German machine on a straight course.
On and on they went. Then came a mist which hid the enemy from sight.The aviators railed at their luck, and Tom and Jack dropped down a bit,hoping to get through the mist. It lay below them like a great, grayblanket.
Suddenly they fairly plumped through it, and saw, not far away, the twobig silver shapes, shining in the searchlights which were now givinggood illumination. It was a moonlight night, which seemed a favorite fora German bombing expedition.
Far below them, and beneath the Zepplins, Tom and Jack could see thelights of other aeroplanes, which were flying low to observe lanterns onthe ground, set in the shape of arrows, to indicate in which directionthe German craft were traveling. Later, if necessary, these observingmachines could climb aloft and signal to those higher up.
Nearer and nearer Jack and Tom came to one of the Zeppelins. And now, inthe semi-darkness, they became aware that they were being fired at bya long-range gun on the German craft. The bullets sung about them, butthough their machines were hit several times, as they learned later,they escaped injury.
Now the battle of the air was on in grim and deadly earnest. Severalscout planes flew at the big Zeppelin like hornets attacking a bear.They fired their machine guns, and the Germans replied in kind, but withmore terrible effect, for two of the Allied planes were shot down. Itwas a sad loss, but it was the fortune of war, or, rather, misfortune,for the Zeppelin was not engaged in a fair fight, but seeking to bomb anunfortified city.
Now Tom and Jack, though somewhat separated, were close above theZeppelin, and in a position where they could not be fired at. They beganto drop incendiary bombs through the tubes between their knees.
These bombs were fitted with sharp hooks, so that if they touchedthe gas bag they would cling fast, and burn until they had ignited theenvelope and the vapor inside. And as they circled about, dropping bombafter bomb, the two air service boys saw this happen. Some at least oftheir bombs reached their target.
The great craft, now on fire in several places, was twisting and turninglike some wounded snake, endeavoring to escape. Tom glanced towardthe other Zeppelin and saw that this was fairly well surrounded byaeroplanes, but was not, as yet, on fire.
The bees had fatally stung one great German bear, and, a little later,it crashed to the ground where it was nearly all consumed, and of itscrew of thirty men, not one was left alive.
The other plane, though greatly damaged by machine gun fire, was not setablaze, but was forced to turn and sail for the German lines again. Sothat two were prevented from bombing Paris.
Well satisfied with what they had accomplished, Torn, Jack and theothers who had set the Zeppelin on fire, descended. Later they learned,by word from Paris, that on of the German machines was shot down overthat city and some of its crew captured. So that though the Huns didconsiderable damage with their bombs, they paid dearly for that unlawfulexpedition.
This was the beginning of a series of fierce aerial battles betweenthe German forces and the Allied airmen, though for a long dine no moreZeppelins were seen. Sometimes fortune favored the side on which Tom andJack fought, and again they were forced to retire, leaving some of theirfriends in the hands of the enemy.
Once Tom and Tack, keeping close together doing scout work, were cut offfrom their companions. They had ventured too far over the Hun lines,and were in danger of being shot down. But a squadron of airmen fromPershing's forces made a sortie and drove the Germans to cover, rescuingthe two air service boys from an evil fate.
Then followed some weeks of rainy and misty weather, during which therewas very little air work on either side. But the fight on land went on,with attacks and repulses, the Allies continually advancing their lines,though ever so little. Slowly but surely they were forcing the Germansback.
Now and then there were night raids, and once Tom and Jack, who had notflown for a week because of rain, were just back of the lines when acaptured German patrol was brought in, covered with mud and blood. Therehad been lively fighting.
"I wish we were in on that!" exclaimed Tom. "I'm getting tired ofsitting around."'
"So am I!" agreed Jack. "Let's ask if we can't go out on patrol somenight. It will be better than waiting for it to stop raining."
To their delight their request was granted, as it had been in a numberof other cases of airmen. Temporarily they were allowed to go with theinfantry until the weather cleared.
The two air service boys were in the dugout one night, having servedtheir turns at listening post work and general scouting, when an officercame in with a slip of paper. He began reading off some names, and whenhe had finished, having mentioned Tom and Jack, he said:
"Prepare for patrol duty at once."
"Good!" whispered Tom to his chum: "Now there'll be something doing."
He little guessed what it was to be.
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