Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 91.djvu/96

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��Popular Science Monthly

��It is rarely that German machines — fighters or scouts — appear over the French and British lines; but the machines of the Allies are always over the German lines. That meant much at Arras.

When these fast fighters first made their appearance there were some single-handed combats. A German and British charioteer of the air would wheel about, jockeying for a position in which, for a few fleeting seconds, either might pour in a hundred bullets at his enemy. It was a favorite maneuver of the German flyer to rise very high, to plunge down on an adversary, and to fire as he came. But Boelcke and Im- melmann were about the only flyers on the German side who were either skilful or daring enough to engage in frequent single- handed combats. As a rule, the Germans attacked a single British or French machine in twos and threes. The procedure may be attributed in part to the different tempera- ments of Germans and British and in part to military policy.

Like Flocks of Birds the Squadrons Maneuver

The result has been that fighting in the air is now undertaken, as a rule, only by squadrons. Six machines, sometimes more, constitute an aerial tactical unit. Their pilot-officers live together, sleep together, eat together. They know one another better than if they were brothers. Every mental and emotional characteristic is bared. So it happens that in the air, when the six machines are flying side by side in twos, the men know instinctively what they are to do. Have you not seen flocks of birds on the wing, circling about with a unanimity of understanding that makes it seem as if they were obeying a command? It is so with the air fighters of a squadron. They move as one, like a flock of birds, with never a word of instruction.

An engagement between opposing squad- rons in the air is not like a battle at sea — a fight between fleets. Around and around each other the planes whirr, each team following the leaders with clock-like pre- cision and automaticity.

The opposing squadrons watch and watch each other. Woe betide the man who lags behind for a second, who manipulates his controls a little too carelessly; who is not quite en rapport with the team-mate in the machine beside him! Two machines of the enemy swoop down. He is cut off from his fellows, like a bird from its flock. He

��must fight now for his life. Up and down, in and out, he maneuvers with his foes. He shoots when he can — when a hostile ma- chine is directly in front of him. But his enemies outnumber him. He cannot out- maneuver two machines. One, at least, must sooner or later swing around into a favorable position. Then there is a squirt- ing of bullets. The machine drops, a mass of flame, three miles to the earth — a sicken- ing sight even to those who have been steeled to the horrors of the most horrible of wars. A charred, twisted mass of metal and wood is picked up. Within it is a scorched, torn uniform containing an un- recognizable, mutilated mass, all that re- mains of a brave man who was not quite quick enough, or whose mechanism failed him for a fatal fraction of a second.

How the Airplanes Carry War Into the Atmosphere

Whenever that terrible artillery prepara- tion takes place of which we read in the newspapers (the deadly hail of tons and tons of metal that precedes an attack with the bayonet) the fighting squadrons are high in the air — twenty thousand feet above the ground. Below them, at perhaps ten thou- sand feet, are the two-seated fighters and reconnaissance machines each patrolling a section of the enemy's line, taking hundreds of photographs. And below, at six thou- and feet, are the machines that control the artillery fire — machines that watch each shot as it falls and that wireless back the signal "too short" or "too long." Without the reconnaissance officers the scouts and the fire-controllers could not perform their task; they would be attacked and annihilated by fast airplanes mounting machine-guns. To be sure, they are armed themselves so that they can keep up a running fight. But on the daring, fighting squadrons far, far above the battle line, on them depends the fate of an army; on them depends the possibility of gathering the facts that the heavy artillery in the rear must have to fire at a mark ten miles distant.

To the all-seeing eye in the air, nothing is concealed. It is that eye which has made it utterly impossible for either side to execute a flanking movement that would envelop a whole army and compel a sur- render, that eye which has made it necessary for armies to burrow in the ground and face each other in a nerve-racking, soul- trying struggle.

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