The Snail

Alice looked around; the blue sky contrasted starkly with the battle-scarred ground far below. This assignment was different. Normally the Women’s Air Transport Auxiliary pilots delivered factory fresh planes to airfields well behind the front but a German attack had pushed the Allied lines back and planes were desperately needed close to the fighting.
Alice went through her checklist: altitude, airspeed, fuel and bearing – everything was in order and she relaxed a little. Her senior officer had assured her that the German Air Force had virtually ceased to exist after D-Day, so she had volunteered for this delivery. Despite his confidence she would still be glad when the mission was over.
As she checked the trim, the Spitfire violently shook. Twisting around she saw the black swastika of a Messerschmitt BF109 behind her. A line of holes along her port wing sprung her into action.
Hard to starboard, Alice manhandled the aeroplane into manoeuvres it was just not meant to do – twisting and turning, she dived and rolled, then throttle open she pulled up till the g-forces made her light headed. All the while the German stayed with her.
Alice slipped sideways, changed speed, rolled and jigged, desperately trying to shake the terrier latched onto her ankle. Then she remembered – her plane had an advantage, a superior turning circle. Her only hope was to turn inside the German and get behind him.
She needed him close. Flying relatively straight and keeping her eyes fixed in the rear-view mirror, the enemy plane closed in. At 250 yards, the German was in the perfect firing position, Alice banked hard to port, her slight body flung to starboard.
Fighting gravity, her aircraft roared past the German and for an instant their eyes met. The turn placed her directly behind the Messerschmitt and she pushed hard on the fire button. Her plane bucked and shuddered as a hail of bullets streamed out of her 8 Browning 50 caliber machine guns.
Tracer bullets sprayed everywhere but the target before the enemy plane abruptly vanished. Before she fully comprehended what had happened, she was flying right next to the German, and looking directly into his eyes.
***
Max Stoltz knew the war was going horribly wrong. Allied planes and anti-aircraft fire made venturing into the battle zone almost suicidal, but the big push was on and so he flew. Altitude, luck and ability would give him the prospect of getting safely back to base.
Scanning the sky, Max used the skills he had learnt from years on the Eastern Front. It was not all due to chance he had shot down 189 enemy aircraft. Now transferred west, he would match talent with the British and American fighters.
Spotting the unmistakable smooth lines and curved wings, Max’s heart pumped. “Spitfire”, he thought. The enemy seemed oblivious to his presence. “New pilots,” he muttered. His own replacements were just as bad; never looking around enough, never thinking the enemy might appear from nowhere.
With the sun behind him, Max got into the perfect firing position. As he started to squeeze the trigger, he saw a flash of long blond hair, the distraction throwing off his aim. Alerted, the Spitfire banked hard. Damn it! Opportunity wasted.
Max stayed with the twisting, rolling enemy plane. This pilot was good, Max would give him that, but it wouldn’t change the outcome as their planes threw themselves about the French sky.
The English plane slowed, suddenly growing larger in his gun sight. “Amateur,” he thought.  He knew perfectly well the Spitfire could out turn him, and this fellow was luring him in to the oldest trap in the book. The Spitfire sprung the already sprung trap, turning sharply. “So be it,” Max thought.
As they passed, Max saw the pilot flashing by. No, couldn’t be, was it? Surely not. His momentary shock had allowed the Spitfire to break free of his grip, he had planned to loop up and over the enemy, using his planes’ advantage - superior power and climbing. He should have been coming down almost vertically at the turning Spitfire, guns blazing, but instead the shock had left him in front of the enemy.
An undisciplined spray of fire jolted Max into action. Flipping up and over the wildly shooting enemy, he caught another glimpse of the pilot. “A woman” he exclaimed. What was she doing in the battle zone? As his plane came down, he skillfully settled it at the Spitfire’s wing tip. He looked over, barely 40 feet from a wide-eyed young girl.
Max studied her for a moment. Damaged maybe, but chivalry was not quite dead in the German Air Force, and with a salute, he broke off and headed for home. He would gladly kill British and American men, but a woman was not on his menu.
***
Alice was stunned. One second firing at him, she had no idea how the German had suddenly appeared next to her. She was a superb pilot, but had been totally out flown. Expecting the worst, Alice stared at the German, who instead saluted and peeled off.
The women transport pilots back home would be playing backgammon, making eyes at handsome flyboys or complaining of the boredom. They would fall over when they heard about her mid-air meeting with a German ace. The closeness of death had never made her feel more alive. Alice laughed as adrenalin surged through her. Savouring the thrill of survival Alice failed to notice her fuel gauge, sitting on empty.

Nadia Smith

 

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