Friday, August 17, 2007

Duel with Heinz

Two missions. Daylight. Clear. High scattered clouds. Flying a P38 'Lightning' with rockets on seek/destroy ground attack missions over Italy.

Morning: Skies to myself. Flew up to about 8000 feet over Bay of Naples on direct route to what is reported as an active enemy airfield a few miles east of Limone. Spot it from far away, enter controlled descent to attack run. Airfield appears pretty well wrecked by previous raids against it by others. I fly towards largest group of enemy plane silhouettes, and unload all twelve rockets over it in one attack run. Do a hammerhead turn nearby, returning with to strafe with cannons as i head south towards home. Throughout, notice several AA explosions in the sky, none of them near enough my looping diving plane to cause any worry. I fly a beeline to Palermo, use that as a IP for final turn into descent towards home base in long approach glide. Land in regulation fashion. Mission over in less than half an hour.

Early Afternoon: After checking the squadron notice board I observe that the enemy is destroying more ground targets than we are. So I decide to fly back to Venosa to try my luck again at finding the alleged vehicular targets in the vicinity. After a fairly thorough but frutitless search of the area, I enter a long climbing turn towards Limone.

As I do so I am sent a report of Enemy bomber heading off from either Naples of Milan, heading South. I know that I won't be able to intercept it before it strikes its target, but I might be able to catch it on its return journey if I am canny. I set up a patrol across what I believe will be its return route, flying large circles around an island out of AA range of Naples, covering the seaward approaches of the bomber to its base.

Within five minutes my plan pays off. In the distance I can just make out the black speck of the enemy plane as it returns from its mission. I am flying at maybe 6000 feet (above clouds), roughly level with the enemy. As he approaches, I climb and fly on a course that will bring me onto his tail. I come in from a highish angle, opening fire at a couple hundred metres. Streams of tracer pour out of his tail gun. One of his shells causes a minor fuel leak in my plane. I don't think I hit him.

He continues towards his base. I loop around and try again, braving the fire of his tail gunner. This causes me some more structural damage. Angered at this, I unleash six rockets in his direction, again from about 200-300 metres. They all miss. Taking hits all the time, I close on his rear, pouring MG and cannon fire into his right wing area. And see debris fly off but no smoke. I loop around for another attack run, noting that my fuel leak has grown worse. I am now pouring out a trail of fuel vapour, making me easily visible against the white clouds. I note he is diving away for cloud cover, so I pursue.

Spotting him a couple kilometres away and a thousand feet below, I try for a boom and zoom attack, diving beneath him and pulling up into his belly. Realising what I am upto, the German pilot slips down and into my turn, as I pull up beneath, exposing me to another of his gunners. More hits in my fuel tanks. Some minor damage to him.

I am considering whether to call it quits at this time and head for home while I still have some fuel and altitude (I am still 50 miles over enemy territory) when my plane decides for me. My right engine starts making terrible grating noises. I decide to try and get home.

I peel off from my present attack run and set course for home. Curious, I look behind. There in the distance is my friend Heinz, following me from a safe distance. I am wondering why he doesn't either attack me or fly home when my right engine gives up entirely. I am now flying on one engine.

Throttling down, I take my bearings on the coast and divide my concentration between making an approach run for home and where Heinz is. He seems to be content hovering a few hundred feet above, about half a mile behind. So, nursing my sole straining engine, I enter approach run towards runway.

I have committed myself for a landing and am only a couple dozen feet off the ground when I hear Heinz fly directly over me. Looking up, I watch him pull up his nose so that his tail gunner can hose me with fire. In dodging out from his bullets I lose my alignment with the ground and am forced to retract my undercarriage and pour on the throttle. Thinking 'bugger it,' I start climbing towards his own lumbering machine.

Sadly, I forgot that I had slowed right down to land, and thus find my airspeed less than is needed. Stalling my plane at only a couple hundred feet above the ground, I lose control and crash my machine with fatal results. It is cold comfort that Heinz crashes a couple minutes later, victim of a late arriving spitfire. This mission took about an hour to fly.

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