Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Heard: Fighting the Flying Circus" by Eddie Rickebacker

Heard: Fighting the Flying Circus by Eddie Rickenbacker, 1919 (2012 audio), download.

Written by Rickenbacker right after the war.  Rickenbacker was the leading US ace of WWI and a celebrity at home.  I'm not sure how old I was when I received a copy of [title I cannot recall]  I read through that quite a bit and still recall several of the stories.   I was looking for the title of the previous book and ran across this.  We used to have this game, I'm not sure I ever played that with my brother or not.  Well, I suppose if the game was printed in 1980 I must have been about 10 or so when we got it.  I imagine the book was about the same time.

My fondness of [title I cannot recall] encouraged me to try this one out.  It was interesting but ran on too long for me.  Rickenbacker seemed to cover just about every one of his air battles and near battles and the battles of other pilots in his unit.  The recording ran 10'36".  Here are some notes I too while listening.

1. Much of his unit's time seems like amateur hour. They were still enthralled with the enthusiastic start of the war.  Their time at the front lasted less than a year.2.  The pilots saw combat as full of honor and proper manners. Some kept with this throughout their fighting.  The stories of a pilot flying over an enemy's airfield and dropping, literally, the gauntlet.  Well, maybe not literally literally, after all, a glove would be a poor gauntlet.  But the pilots were aggressive and wanting to down the enemy
3.  Rickenbacker wrote how awful combat was and the constant stress. Death was faced from mechanical failure, weather, and getting lost.  That danger is true but at a couple points he was comparing trench warfare versus air combat. Rickenbacker was arguing that dry barracks at the airfield and YMCA entertainment did not make much of a difference in comparison to the infantry at the front lines. Baloney. At one point they go to the front lines to recover a downed German plane and witness artillery attacks and convoying through the mud.
4.  Machine guns would often jam. I wonder how they cleared the stoppages. At one point both of Rickenbacker's guns jammed and he had to clear them while letting the plane coast along. Another pilot was so frustrated at his jammed guns during an attack on a balloon that he threw the hammer-like device used to clear jams down at the balloon's ground crew.
5.  Observation balloons were widely used by both sides.  I was surprised about how difficult it could be to shoot down the balloons.  Morning attacks would leave dew on the balloon fabric and the incendiary rounds were going so fast anyway that they might not ignite the gas. Downing a balloon counts the same as a plane towards a pilot's victory totals.
6.  Americans flew leftover planes for the first few months. Tactics and skills were developed during the previous years but were not so complicated the American pilots did not quickly learn.
7.  Pilots would fly several times a day. Flights were limited to about two hours max because of fuel limits. Pilots would to turn off their engines for stealth and whenever landing.  Damaged planes escaping the enemy would try to glide back to their own lines or friendly airfields.
8.  No radios. Lead pilots would dip the plane's nose and wag the wings to instruct a flight.
9.  AA fire was called Archie and was mostly ineffective. Pilots would fly through and do acrobatics to mock the AA gunners.  The most effective use of AA was by the Germans who used aerial bursts as a way to communicate with their own pilots.  The artillery bursts would ordered and at certain altitudes to notify defending German aircraft of Allied aircraft in the area.
10.  There was a lot of feinting and ambushing. 
11.  The wing fabric on the Nieuport's flown by U.S. pilots were prone to tear when diving too fast.  A pilot would be the heat of attack and pursuit and lose the fabric on top of his wing.
12. A couple days ago I read a review of a recent Rickenbacker biography.  Enduring Courage.   Low and behold that sucker is on display in the World War One book display here at work.  I liked seeing the photos of the people and planes Rickenbacker wrote about.  One photo is of a Nieuport wing with missing fabric.

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