“Anyone else get anything?”
“Woody’s claimed a Heinkel; Donohue claimed a damaged 110. Eton’s claimed a Messerschmitt, but it doesn’t sound credible to me.”
“You think he’s lying?”
“No, just over-excited. It would appear from the accounts of the others that the Messerschmitts were engaged at a higher altitude by Spitfires – presumably 602. Eton fired at a Messerschmitt that he says was diving and that he then saw go in. But the others claim several Messerschmitts fell out of the sky already in trouble. Eton admits he only got in a short burst, and his ground crews say he fired less than 50 rounds.”
“All right, I’ll try to sort him out. Anything else I ought to know?”
Allars hesitated, then remarked dryly, “Sounded a bit dodgy – not to say daft – what you just did.”
“Stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I won’t do it again.”
Allars nodded. “that covers it for the moment, then.”
Priestman pushed himself upright from the trailing edge of the wing and started for the dispersal with great effort. His sleepless night was catching up with him now. All he wanted to do was lie down and sleep. Maybe he could catch a nap while waiting for the next scramble…..
As he approached the dispersal, something strange happened: The pilots were all lounging about in front of the dispersal in deck chairs or spread out on the grass. Donohue, Needham and Sutton were playing cards at a rickety table. MacLeod was sleeping off his hangover and the others were reading. Green glanced up, saw Priestman approaching, and called out in obvious amazement, “It’s the CO!”
Ware glanced up from his newspaper and got to his feet. Suddenly they were all getting to their feet. By the time he reached the little group, they were all standing up to face him.
“We thought you’d bought it, sir.” Woody admitted. He sounded more stunned than gratified.
“Not yet, so you’ll have to postpone the party. Is there tea anywhere?”
“I’ll get you some, sir,” Ginger offered, ducking back into the dispersal.
The others were still staring. “I understand you got a Heinkel, Woody.”
“Well done. I saw you put one engine on fire on your first pass. Did you go back around for it?”
“Ah. No. Actually, I didn’t even see that. It was afterwards. I broke left and chased after another one. It spun out of control and I saw two of the crew jump.”
“Well done. Donohue?”
“I got in some good bursts at a 110 and saw the starboard engine catch fire, but I didn’t see him go in. Got distracted by a Messerschmitt.”
“There was a bloody great free-for-all after you – I mean – we came out the other side of the bomber formation and got jumped on by a horde of Messerschmitts. It can’t have been the ones that had been following us. They had to come from somewhere else. F/O Ware tried to climb into them like you said, but they were already coming down, and one cut in front of me. I got in a good squirt and when I looked back, there he was streaking down with a long tail of smoke. I know he went in.”
“Very likely, but the 109s were coming down because they’d been engaged by Spitfires at higher altitude,” Priestman pointed out. “You probably shot at an already dead pilot.”
Eton frowned. “But, sir, he passed right through my sights.”
“What speed do you think he was going?”
“400 mph at least, sir!”
“And how far away was he?”
“Maybe three hundred yards – four hundred at the most.” The others just burst out laughing.
Priestman waited for them to quiet down. “Eton, do you want to step inside and let me give you a short lesson on the Browning machine gun.” It was not a question, and the boy looked decidedly disheartened as he stepped into the comparatively dim light of the dispersal hut.
“Trigonometry wouldn’t hurt either, sir,” Sutton called after them.
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