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SPITFIRE SQUADRON

By Arch Whithouse

Illustration by Julian S. Krupa

"HERE we go again! said Whitey Trail, standing beside his own Spitfire. "Always a madhouse of noise, then no enemy!"

The Spitfires of No. 65 Squadron, with their brand-new squadron crests emblazoned on their cowlings, stood in line on the tarmac at Arbroth a few miles northeast of Edinburgh. The squadron crest was a circular garter design, surmounted with a royal crown. In the center a black lion stood in a challenging attitude before a palisade of flared-out broadswords. Below on the ribbon were boldly lettered the words: "Vi Et Armis."

Ever since he had joined this strange outfit, Whitford "Whitey" Trail had wondered what that "Vi Et Armis could mean. He had no intention of asking these Englishmen. Most of them had been to Oxford or Cambridge, whereas Whitey Trail had never gone much further than his Freshman year in high school. He'd forgotten the most elementary rules of Latin. (Vi Et Armis—With force of arms. See page 50.)

Somehow he hated that squadron crest. The flared-out broadswords reminded him of a row of racing pylons. Anything that stuck up in the air reminded him of racing pylons, and he cursed every pylon in the world to perdition. There was a reason for that, too.

But they were tightening their highspeed belts1 and snapping 'chute harness snaffles. A scrawnching siren raged and ranted over the brick building that was serving as a Recording Office. Spitfire props were snarling as they snapped into glinting rhythm. Men in white coveralls with the squadron crest embroidered on their breast pockets, threw long legs over the cockpit coamings and dropped inside, their arms and hands held high as they wriggled their rumps into the confined quarters.

1: All pilots in British high-speed squadrons are compelled to wear a broad belt to support their stomach muscles in fast dives and tight maneuvers.-Author.

Squadron Leader "Chunk" Hartney, a guy with a monocle who had a row of ribbons nine inches long across his chest, was running along the tarmac with his batman attempting to fasten his coverall at the gallop. Hartney had won those ribbons more than twenty years before with the same outfit, when it was flying Camels outside Baieulle. He was still in there punching—and flying Spitfires,2 and everyone wondered how he did it.

2: The Supermarine "Spitfire I," manufactured by Vickers-Armstrongs, Ltd., at Southampton, England, is said to be the fastest military airplane in the world. It is by and large the outcome of the Schneider Trophy Contests held for a number of years in England, the lessons from these races having been incorporated in this particular warplane.—Ed.

The siren scrawnched and Flight Lieutenant Meredith Pawl, the skipper of "C" Flight, raised himself on his elbows and glanced along the third row of Spitfires and got the signal.

Whitey Trail, the only American in the outfit, gave his impression of a salute as he got the office from his flight leader. Already Squadron Leader Hartney was clambering up a small ladder to get aboard as he blazed out orders over his shoulder.

"A madhouse," repeated Trail as he made himself comfortable and waited. "Well, I hope we see some action this time. I'm getting sick of air raid warnings."

A flight sergeant, braving the whip of the slipstream, climbed up on the wing and wrenched the cockpit cowling back.

"'C' Flight will take the southern tangent, sir. From Arbroth to Fife Ness and down as far as Berwick."

He pronounced "Berwick" as though it had been spelled "Berrick," which was just another reason Whitey Trail felt uncomfortable here—at least when he was on the ground. Chunk Hartney, the squadron leader, the guy with the monocle, seemed like the only bird he could talk to, and there was a reason for that.

The flight sergeant disappeared while Whitey Trail glanced at the strip map. He plugged in his earphone jack and snapped the radio switch, caught the test sentences coming from Pawl, leader of his flight.

"—stay together all the time. You can't risk being lost out there," Pawl was saying crisply. "Some of you new men are not acquainted with this area, so stick together. Reports are that a scouting formation has passed over Dogger Bank. That's all."

TRAIL snapped the cockpit hatch A above and the small fold-down door at his left elbow. He checked the oxygen bottle, saw that "A" Flight was already whanging away down the field that a few months before had been a crolf course fairway. Three weeks before Whitey Trail had hardly known there was a war on, and yet here he was in the sky-blue uniform of the British Royal Air Force, a single ring of silver braid on his sleeve and the embroidered wings of a pilot officer on his breast.

"All because of that damned pylon at Cleveland," Trail said at least ten times a day.

"B" Flight was rolling away to take position now. These Spitfire birds simply planted their ships out there on the grass as tight as they could get them; then, on signal from the leader, who had narrow red wingtips, all let the Rolls-Royce engines out and stood on each other's propwash and raced away.

"And I used to think those High Hat guys at the races used to put on a show," Whitey Trail husked every time he watched this mad performance. "But here I am doing it too, and somehow I hke it. I like this guy Hartney too, even' though he does wear a monocle. The guy sure can fly."

And that was all that mattered in Whitey Trail's book. He didn't care who they were, where they went to school, what accent they seemed to affect or how many rings they had on their sleeves—as long as they could fly. That was his creed, morning, noon and night.

There was only one thing wrong with flying—but that was all past now. It was those damned pylons at Cleveland, Ohio, back in the States. Every time Trail looked up at the wind-sock, it reminded him of a pylon. A radio mast back of the little village two miles away gave him the willies, too.

But there was no time for further reflection. Skipper Pawl was fanning his rudder around and they were rolling out for position. "A" and "B" were already away and hammering through the skies for their areas to stop the raiders. The six Spitfires wheeled into position on the tarmac and stood there, panting and anxious for action. Their pilots got a questioning order from the leader, and one by one they reported as ready for flight. Pawl's hand went up and six hands began to move the throttles up gently. The recognition light behind Pawl's head blinked twice, held it and then snapped again. The brakes came off, the throttles went up again and the Spitfire tails stiffened out. They trembled a trifle at the trailing edges and then they were away.

Spitfire Squadron!

They turned in blanket formation as they approached the leaden coastline, turned back for the field and one by one retracted their landing gears. Then they huddled back and warped in closer as they turned again and began their climb for position, before carrying out their patrol over the specified territory.

Presently—"All guns loaded and oxygen gear handy?" demanded Pawl from up front.

The order rasped through Whitey Trail's head-set, and he always cringed somehow at inter-plane radio communication. It seemed to cut off all privacy and the dignity of single-seater flight. Always, when he was glorying in flight and the soul-satisfying beauty of command, that damned radio would blare out and bring him back to earthly things again.

But Whitey Trail checked his eight Browning machine guns, ran his eyes over the bank of instruments again and tried to' become accustomed to reading the word "Petrol" for fuel. It was all so different and screwy at times, and yet—there was no pylon business connected with it.

The Spitfires of "C" Flight turned south and huddled together at 8,000 feet and raced toward the tip of Fife Ness. Below them rimmed the Scottish coastline, the Firth of Tay, Bell Rock Light; Carnoustie, the birthplace of many Scottish golfers; Leuchars, training station for the Fleet Air Arm, where Navy fighters were taught to take the thud of catapult effect. The great St. Andrews golf course, and then the grim spire of the light on the Isle of May.

Then they got what they'd come out to intercept.

CHAPTER II
Pylon Fright

OUT of nowhere came a formation of black Heinkel 111s,3 their nose turrets twinkling with gunfire. A Spitfire to the left of Whitey Trail twisted hard and almost swerved into him. The American gasped, reacted like a bull-fighter and yanked his mount away. The swerving Spitfire shook its head, nosed up and blew itself apart.

3: Heinkel 111s are light German fighter-bombers, capable of about 261 m.p.h.-Author.

Whitey Trail let out a wholesome scream and lost position. There were Heinkels all around them now. Pawl was screeching into the radio somewhere but his words meant nothing to Trail. He was trying to discover a manner of staying alive. That explosion had burned a hole clean through him, and he felt that someone had jabbed a long icicle into his vitals.

But some of the Spitfires were in the thick of it now. Trail saw Pawl calmly lead two others smack into the center of the turning Heinkels. The three Spitfires together released their spume of death, and a Heinkel disintegrated in mid-air, It threw a motor nacelle clean across the sky, Its tail came up and over, to beat a mad drumfire on the metal fuselage.

It swirled savagely and rammed itself full into another Heinkel and the two locked wings, hung there with a tangle of dural fluttering away and then, nodding their metal heads in ...

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