At a famous Air Force base in the Midwest, there sits a silent guardian near one of the gates. She has faithfully stood watch there for as long as I can remember. Built from the wreckage of two B-17's, she has never flown as she is. But her heart, her very soul, has been through the fire that was World War II. The fire returned her remnants to the earth that gave her birth. The reverence of good men returned those remnants to what they once were. It is time for her to fly among the clouds once more.
Angel Among the Clouds - Missions #7 & 8
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sorry for the long break between segments. Real life has intruded; work, family, and computer problems have kept me away. But now I'm back.
Once again the butcherbird crossed below us. Both of Angel's turrets blazed away as well as her starboard waist gun, but to no avail. The butcherbird's guns ran a line of holes down Angel's starboard wing. I gasped as I saw fire blossom from the outboard fuel tank, but it mercifully went out a moment later. I let out the breath I'd been holding.
"That was lucky, Joe," I sighed in relief, "how bad's it look over there? Joe? Joe!"
As I grabbed Joe and turned him towards me, I could see the hole in his right side. Blood was pouring down the side of his seat and beginning to cover the floor. I grabbed for the rabbit's foot in my pocket, but it was gone. Then I remembered the fire going out. "No, not like this!"
I awoke screaming again. I wasn't sure how much longer I could go on like this. After Joe's death, we were given a week off. Then we were sent on an easy run. A quick hop to bomb the Abbeville airfield yet again. Getting there was easy, but the Germans sent everything they had at us on the way out. The men were great; two of them scored their first kills. I was trying hard not to let my hands shake. Then a bullet blew out my side window. I was scared to death I was going to lose another one, or even worse, fail my men. When it was over, both John and Butterfield were wounded, but neither badly.
We were going up again today. No way I'd get back to sleep now. I got cleaned up, dressed, and went looking for some coffee.
I sat alone, watching the sunrise over the fields of England. My hands weren't shaking too bad after the three pots of coffee that were now holding me together. As Alan came across the field, I drew in a deep breath and put my mask in place. Time to go to work.
The briefing sounded better than usual. We were going after the Aircraft Factory at Meaulte today. Then we were told that minimal fighter cover was available. As always, if it sounds too good, watch out! After the briefing, Alan and I headed out to the field. The men had finished their pre-flight checks when we arrived.
"Gentlemen," I said, "May our Angel watch over us." We climbed aboard and prepared for another trip through hell.
As the squadron formed up, I looked out over the green hills of England. I had a bad feeling about this run. I knew better than to ignore that feeling, but all I could do was be there for the others when the time came. The poor fighter cover our raid was assigned made me even more certain we were going to get pounded.
The Luftwaffe caught us halfway across the channel.
"109's inbound!" shouted Ben from the top turret. "12:00, 12:00 High, 1:30, looks nasty out there Capin'"
Our fighter escorts engaged, but were badly outnumbered. Tracers filled the skies and soon men and burning machines were making ripples in the water far below like stones tossed carelessly into a pond.
"I'm on the 12:00," called Butterfield.
"I've got the high one," said Ben.
"That leaves the last one for me," added Dean.
A line of fire from Angel's nose reached out and struck one her attackers. The wounded 109 dove away quickly.
"Mine's runnin," shouted Butterfield.
"The other two are following him," added Ben, "looks like we're clear."
It was a quiet flight the rest of the way to France. As we neared the target zone, they came after us again.
"Two110's inbound!" shouted Glen from the ball turret, "9:00 Low and on our Six!"
"One of our little friends is on the Six," called John, "he won't be troubling us today."
A stream of tracers swept across Angel. I heard Dean shout, but could tell he wasn't hit too badly from his cursing afterward. My brand new side window blew out again as I nearly bought it yet again. I could feel the shakes starting. Then I heard it, one of the engines revving up. I squinted out my broken side window through the frigid wind to see the #2 engine running wild. Alan and I both grabbed for the engine controls, but somehow I beat him to them. I flipped the cutoff switches and feathered the engine. It coughed as it spun down, then went silent.
"Head's up John!" called Glen, "he's going after our Six."
"I'm on him," John said. "I'm pounding him, but he's still coming!"
Tracers swept across Angel's other wing. The engine housing of the outbound engine disintegrated into fragments and black smoke. I hit the bottle on #4 while Alan flipped the cutoffs this time. Another of Angel's props slowed to a stop. With two engines out, and a full bomb load she was too heavy to stay in the air. We started dropping.
"Abort the mission!" I yelled as Alan and I both pulled back hard on the wheel. "Butterfield, jettison the bomb load! Repeat jettison the bomb load now! Now! Now damn it!!" I felt Angel start to shudder. Her decent began to slow as we shed tons of dead weight.
"Bombs jettisoned Capin!" called Butterfield.
"He's coming around again!" shouted Glen, "1:30 level, get on him Dean!"
"I'm trying," Dean replied, "can't get lined up on him!"
The 110's tracers hit the remains of the #4 engine again. I held my breath, but fortunately nothing else let go.
"He's breaking off!" said Glen, "looks like we're clear."
We continued our decent. With two engines out, it was going to be a long slow trip home. I managed to level Angel off at 9000 feet. Alan looked at me.
"We're a straggler now. They'll be coming after us in packs," he said.
I hit my intercom switch, "All stations, pick up your visual search. They'll be on us soon."
Black flowers of smoke blossomed ahead as anti-aircraft batteries below took pot shots at us. When the flak stopped, I knew they were coming. "They stopped shooting at us, look for inbound fighters," I warned.
"190 at 12:00 Low!" yelled Glen from the ball turret.
"109's inbound, two at 12:00, 12:00 High, and 10:30," called Ben from the top turret.
"I missed the 190!" warned Glen.
"I winged him, but he's still coming," added Butterfield from the nose.
"The high one's good, I can't hit him," warned Ben.
"Same for the 10:30!" yelled Dean from up front.
The butcherbird's claws raked angel's belly. Rounds blew through the floor and into the cabin. Alan jerked as he took a round through each leg. He screamed once and passed out. The butcherbird's fire walked its way back to the ball turret. I heard Glen cry out as rounds punched through his turret.
"Tom, Alan's hit bad, get up here and take care of him!" I ordered. "Glen, are you still there?" I asked, praying he'd answer.
"I'm OK Capin!" Glen replied. I let go of the breath I didn't realize I was holding. "My suit heater's gone and it's a little breezy in here with all the windows that guy opened. I'm glad we're down low already, but please get us home fast before I turn into a Popsicle!"
Before I could answer, the 109 above us stitched our tail as he zoomed past. I gave my controls a quick check and they seemed OK.
"Hang in there Glen," I said, "I'll make it as quick as I can."
"Two're coming round again," warned Ben, "190 at 9:00 and 109 at 3:00!"
"Not this time you son of a bitch!" yelled Glen as the ball turret guns opened up on the 190. Suddenly dark black smoke erupted from the butcherbird's engine and it veered off. "I got him! Look at him burn!" crowed Glen.
"I see it too," called James from the port waist gun, "that's a confirmed kill for Glen!"
"The 109's breaking off too," said Ben.
"Looks like we were too much for him," added Taylor from the starboard waist gun.
"The flak's starting up again," warned Glen. Looks like were OK for now.
For the next five minutes, we watched the dark black blossoms appear around us. Tom and Ben got Alan settled in the radio room. When they came back, Tom took the right seat for the first time. Then, a suddenly as they had started, they stopped again.
"Here we go again," yelled Glen, "190 at 12:00 Low!"
"109's inbound, two at 12:00, 12:00 High, and 10:30," Ben called, "same pattern as before."
Once again the ball turret guns opened up on a butcherbird. Glen pounded the 190's tail until it suddenly snapped off. The butcherbird began tumbling towards the French countryside below. "I blew his tail clean off!" cried Glen, "that's two for me today!"
"I'm on the high one," called Ben.
"I've got one of the 12's," said Butterfield.
"I'm on the 10:30," added Dean.
The 109's pounded us as they passed. One of the 12:00's chewed up my port aileron, but it was still working. The others just put more holes in Angel's skin.
"They're coming back!" warned Ben, "12:00, 1:30, 9:00, and 10:30."
"I've got the 10:30," called Dean.
"I'm on the 12:00," added Butterfield.
"So am I," said Glen.
"I'll take the 9:00," said James.
"Me too," added Ben.
The 109 at 9:00 dodged James' gun, only to run into Ben's. It exploded in a black ball of fire that hurled past and arced towards the French fields below. "That's one for me," cried Ben triumphantly.
"I winged the 12:00, but he's still coming," warned Butterfield.
The other 109's came at us fast and furious. One blasted the starboard wing, destroying the flaps on that side. Another stitched holes down the fuselage, but missed anything vital.
"One's coming back," announced Ben, "9:00 High."
"I see him," called James.
Three lines of fire reached for the 109 as it came at Angel. It's pilot was good. He dodged our fire and rained his own line of fire along the wings, hitting the #2 engine again. Once again nothing broke loose on the dead engine. I prayed it would stay that way until we got home.
"He's breaking off Capin," Glen's cold sounding voice said. "Can we get home now?"
"As fast as she'll go," I told him.
As we got out over the channel, I slowly lost altitude. It would help keep Glen warmer, and keep our speed up while reducing the stress on Angel's battered body. It was a slow, but very much welcome uneventful trip back to base. I radioed ahead the urgent need for an ambulance to meet us on the field.
Once we were down, Tom and I hit the ground while the boys handed Alan down to us. He was still out from the morphine Tom had given him. We loaded him onto the waiting ambulance and they took off for the hospital as quick as they could go. The boys passed Glen down to us next. Tom and I helped him stand. Despite his protests that he was fine through his chattering teeth, we all marched him to the mess tent and got him a pot of hot coffee.
Once I knew Glen was OK for now, I headed to the Hospital. After I found out Alan was out of surgery, I hunted down his Doc and asked him how Alan was.
"Both of his femurs were shattered," he said. "He'll be a long time recovering, but I'm afraid he'll probably never fly again. I'm sorry."
As he walked away, I looked at my hands. They weren't shaking any more. I hadn't lost anybody. I got my crippled ship home and my men with it. We had all made it back from hell yet again. I went to my bunk and fell into it. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
GAME SUMMARY #7
Target: Abbeville Airfield
B-17 Formation Position: Middle
B-17 Squadron Position: Low
Zone: 2 3
Out: F G
Back: F G
Zone: 2(-2) Out: 26 Back: 33
Zone: 3(+1) Out: 66 Back: 14/61/14
Zone2(Out)Wave(26) Driven off by other B-17's
Zone3(Out)Wave(66) Event 1:30 Bad Luftwaffe Communications
Flak: Medium: Miss, Miss, Miss
Bomb Run: Weather Good: On Target: 20%
Zone3(Back)Wave(14)109:12H/109:10:30H/109:12:00 - Fighter Cover Gets 12 & 10:30
109: Waste & Nose: Tail(Miss)
109: returns 9:00 TT(Kill!)
Zone3(Back)Wave(61) 109:Vertical Dive - Fighter Cover Blows It
Zone3(Back)Wave(14)109:12H/109:10:30H/109:12:00 - Fighter Cover Gets 12H & 10:30
109: Pilot: Tail(Miss)
109: 10:30H: PortCheek(Kill!)
109 12H: Waist, Nose
109 VD: Tail
109 12: Pilot
109 12H: Waist: SD Nose: Bombardier: LW
109 VD: Tail: Tail Gunner: LW
109 12: Pilot: Window
Landing: Weather Good: Successful Landing!
GAME SUMMARY #8
Target: Meaulte Aircraft Factory
B-17 Formation Position: Middle
B-17 Squadron Position: High
Zone: 2 3
Out: P F
Back: P P
Zone: 2(-2W) Out: 33 Back: None + None
Zone: 3(0F) Out: 52 Back: 55 + 55
109:12:00 Nose(Miss) 109(Miss) Tail(Miss)
109:12:00H Top(Miss) 109(Miss)
109:1:30 PC(Miss) 109(Miss)
110:6:00 Fighter Cover Takes Out
110:9:00L Ball(Miss)/PW(Miss) - 110(Hits)
110 returns:6:00 Tail(Miss) - 110 (Hits)
110 returns:1:30 SC(Miss) - 110 (Miss)
190:12:00L Ball(Miss)/ Nose(Hit:FDCA) - 190Hit)
190 returns 3:00: Ball(Hit:Kill!)
109: 12:00H Top(Miss) - 109 (Hit)
109 returns 9:00: Top(Miss)/PW(Miss) - 109(Miss)
109: 10:30 PC(Miss) - 109 (Miss)
109: 12:00 Nose(Miss) - 109(Miss)
109: 12:00H Top(Miss) - 109 (Hits)
109: 10:30 PC(Miss) - 109 (Hits)
109: 12:00 Ball(Miss) - 109(Hit)
109: 1:30 SC(Hit:FDABO) - 109(Miss)
109: 9:00 Top(Hit:Kill!)
109: 10:30 PC(Miss) - 109(Hit)
109: 9:00H Top(Miss)/PW(Miss) - 109(Hit)
109: 1:30 SC(Miss)
110: 9:00L: Nose, Pilot, Port Wing
110: 6:00: Starboard Wing, SD
109: 12:00H: Tail
190: 12:00L: Pilot, Waist
109: 12:00: Port Wing, SD
109: 10:30: SD, SD
109: 10:30: Starboard Wing
109: 12:00: SD
109: 9:00H: Port Wing, Starboard Wing, Starboard Wing
110: 9:00L: Nose: Navigator: LW, Pilot: Window, Port Wing: Engine #2 runaway, feathered, engine out!
110: 6:00: Starboard Wing: Engine #4, feathered, engine out! Mission Aborted!
109: 12:00H: Tail: Oxygen Supply Hit (first hit)
109: 12:00L: Pilot: CoPilot:SW, Waist:Ball Turret Gunner Heat Out!
109: 12:00: Port Wing: Aileron: NE
109: 10:30: Starboard Wing: Wing Flap: Flap Inoperable
109: 9:00H: Port Wing: Engine #2 again, Starboard Wing: SD, Starboard Wing: SD
Landing: Weather Good: Successful Landing!
TALES of TRIVIA
The current crew of the Homesick Angel:
Bombardier: John Butterfield - Designer of R.A.F.
Navigator: Dean Essig- Designer of The Bloody Beach of Omaha
Pilot: Mike Spoto - A real Iowa Farm Boy
Co-Pilot: Alan Moon - Master Game Designer
Engineer: Ben Knight - Designer of London's Burning
Radio Operator: Tom Vasel - Podcast Superstar
Ball Gunner: Glen Frank - Designer of B-17 Queen of the Skies
Port Waist Gunner: James Dunnigan - Designer of Panzer Blitz
Starboard Waist Gunner: S. Craig Taylor - Designer of Air Force
Tail Gunner: John Hill - Designer of Squad Leader