Help via Ko-Fi

CAPTAIN JIMMIE MILTON Yank Squadron Leader of No. 66 Fighter Squadron, stood on the rudder pedals and sent his Hawker "Hurricane" screaming earthward. Biting, snarling curses ripped from his tight lips. Forgetful of all else, his eyes centered ahead of him on a lone "Hurricane" that was hurtling headlong at two green Heinkel ships.

"Fitch!" screamed Milton into the slipstream. "You damned fool—damned fool—damned fool!" His fist beat a furious tattoo on the cowling. His heart jammed into his throat as he sped to his buddy's rescue.

Then, with the swiftness of light, Fitch's ship half-rolled upward out of the lethal streams—yawed. His eight Browning guns transfixed one of the Nazi pilots in his bucket seat, sent him earthward in a mass of flames.

Milton plunged on the tail of the remaining Nazi like a plummeting falcon. The Brownings came alive under his sure touch and hot lead hosed the green crate from empennage to motor. There was a blinding flash of flame, literally hurling the Nazi pilot into space, and the remaining Heinkel dissolved into shattered bits that rained toward the battle-scarred earth.

A quick glance over his shoulder revealed that the fight was over. The remaining Nazis; formation shattered, were streaking for the safety of their rear areas. He barked terse orders into the mike and tightened up the formation. Then, at the head of the squadron roaring home, he settled into the cockpit rehearsing the tongue lashing he was going to mete out to Fitch.

WHEN they landed, he waited until Fitch legged out of the pit.

"More formation pullout stuff, eh," he snapped. "One more stunt like that and I'll break you back to ferrying ships, even if you are my best friend. If you want to commit suicide, go ahead. But don't use a plane to do it. Use poison!"

Fitch grinned disarmingly. "A good idea," he said. "Let's go over and get a dose right now."

Milton gulped his wrath down, got red in the face, and then followed his buddy, a scowl on his face. He said nothing more until they had a couple of cognacs before them. Then he said, "Son, this war isn't being fought the way it was in 'l8. This is all formation stuff. If I didn't know you better I'd think you were a glory grabber, the way you've been busting out of formation. If that Nazi squadron hadn't been scattered today, you'd be a dead Fitch right now."

Fitch studied the rim of his glass. "Sorry, old man," he muttered. "Go off my nut in a fight. Not built for team work, I guess, Just want to tear hell out of 'em."

Milton leaned on his elbows and looked fixedly at Fitch. "That's not it, you blooming Britisher," he said meaningly. "You had a beautiful case of Nazi hate on when I joined up with the British two years ago and there wasn't any war. Now that the war has come, you go off your bean only when you think we've tangled with Lichter's Jagdstaffel. What the hell have you got against Lichter, anyhow?"

Fitch's eyes narrowed. He tossed off his drink in a gulp. "All right—I'll tell you," he breathed, and his eyes became pin points of flaming hate. "Lichter, damn his soul, killed my father in the last war—twenty-one years ago. He was a youngster then. It made him an ace. He crowed over it. I'll kill that Nazi if it is the last thing I do!"

Milton slapped his glass down on the bar. "Jack, I'm terribly sorry, old man. But don't you think twenty-one years is a long time to hold a hate—and sort of futile, too. He was simply doing what we do ourselves. Fighting under orders. Killing the enemy."

"Are you taking up for a Nazi?" snarled Fitch.

"That's beside the point," retorted Milton. "I don't give a damn about Lichter's hide. I'm not feeling sorry for him. 'It's you I'm feeling sorry for."

"Save your sympathy for someone who needs it," Fitch rasped.

"I wish you'd listen to me a minute," pleaded Milton. "I'm your buddy, you know that. What's worrying me is that you go off half-cocked damn fool crazy things in the air. just daring fate to slap your ears you'll either get killed or courtmartialed, the way you're going." reached out and squeezed Fitch's arm. "Come on, kid; won't you look at it my way? What if I was acting like you? How would you feel? What would you say?"

Jack's face softened. He didn't say anything for a minute, then: "I—I guess maybe you're right," he said. "Sorry, Jimmie. Maybe that Lichter guy isn't worth worrying about. Or maybe he's just like us, another sack of cannon fodder."

Milton poured a couple of drinks. "I'm not trying to make a lily out of Lichter. But I want you to quit thinking about him all the time, hating him with everything you've got. It'll ruin a guy. Hate will cross up your nerves, fog your brain worse than anything in the world. Will you make me a promise?"


"Forget about Lichter. Just go out and fight like you used to. Like the rest of us do. If the Squadron ever meets up with him, I promise we'll try to cut him off from his Jagdstaffel, and I'll keep the rest of the fellows off. He's yours. But forget about him until then. Okay?"

After a moment, Jack replied, "Righto."

THE next morning, Jimmie Milton was able to kill two birds with one stone. A couple of replacements were on hand and he wanted to give them a "dusting off" patrol inside the lines. Secondly, by taking them up, he was able to send the regular morning patrol over the lines in charge of Lt. Fitch, who as Deputy Squadron Leader automatically took over in his absence. In this way there was apparently nothing intentional about it, just an accepted placing of authority in a taken-for-granted way. sort of molding of yesterday's promise before it had a chance to cool off.

When he returned to the drome with the two fledglings, it was after eleven. Scooting in over the trees, he noticed that the squadron had returned. And— his heart skipped a beat—one crate was missing! He taxied recklessly around his slow-moving replacements and roared up on the apron.

Pee Wee Barton and several others were standing at his wing when he legged from the pit.

"Jack met up with Lichter," announced Pee Wee, in answer to Milton's unvoiced question.

"You mean—?"

"No, he wasn't knocked down. Lichter's guns jammed and, believe it or not, Jack let him off. He took a piece of chalk and drew a clock on the fuselage below the cowling. Got the idea across to Lichter that he'd meet him at noon. He's on his way now."

"You mean that Jack and Lichter agreed to get together at noon and fight it out?"

"That's the size of it."

Milton snarled angrily. "Why didn't some of you guys go along with him? Don't you know that solo patrols are forbidden? Don't you know it might be a trap?"

"We wanted to, but Jack ordered us to stay on the ground."

Milton shouted a command at a couple of mechanics to gas up his crate. "And throw in an extra ammo belt," he added. "The rest of you birds get gassed up and follow me."

"We're already gassed up," they shouted in a chorus.

The rendezvous had been arranged for a spot just back of the Siegfried Lines, near Kehl. Milton batted the throttle full across the quadrant and kept it there. He had a queer feeling in the pit of his stomach. Lichter might be on the level but somehow he felt that something was wrong.

Milton snapped on the radio. "L1547, L1547," he chanted tersely into the mike. "L1547, report to Squadron. L1547, report to Squadron." But there was no answer. Fitch was deliberately ignoring the command. Either that; or . . .

As they reached the Siegfried Line, archie began smudging the sky with black bursts. He seemed to have the range this morning. A loud burst coughed almost beside his wing, rocked the "Hurricane." The explosion sounded like a giant clapping his hands, hurt his eardrums. Cursing, he veered off twenty degrees, counted twelve—veered again.

The bursts kept ahead of them. Suddenly a sickening premonition came over Milton. Archie could be seen twice as far as a plane. Was often used for signals. Perhaps the bursts were warnings to an enemy staffel somewhere in the vicinity—back of Kehl, for instance.

Then he saw them! Up ahead and to his right. For a moment he couldn't be sure. But—yes! It was a staffel of Nazis pitted against a lone Hawker "Hurricane."1 Jack had been lured into a trap! He was battling impossible odds—one against six!

1: The Hawker "Hurricane" is a British single-seat fighter. It is a low-wing cantilever monoplane and is powered with a 990-1,050 h.p. Rolls-Royce "Merlin" twelve cylinder, liquid cooled, Vee type engine. The plane has a top speed of 335 m.p.h. and a landing speed of 62 m.p.h. It is armed with eight Browning machine-guns, four in each wing firing outside the propeller area. Each gun fires 1,500 rounds per minute.—Ed.

CURSING, sobbing, praying, pleading, Milton rocked back and forth in the pit, tried to coax an extra mile out of the already overtaxed Rolls-Royce motor. He couldn't be too late! He mustn't be!

He tripped his eight Browning guns in a warming burst. Behind him chattered the Brownings of his mates, as they also warmed their guns eagerly. But all the time his straining eyes never left the scene ahead. Oh, God! Please let him get there in time, please!

But it wasn't to be.

A flaming comet suddenly blazed across the sky, shot downward. It was impossible to tell for sure, but Milton knew in his heart that it was his friend. A moment later his worst fears were confirmed. The Nazi staffel was reforming. The fight was over. They tightened in formation and hightailed for the hinterlands.

It was no use chasing them. Milton nosed down toward the spot where the flaming wreckage had crashed. It was somehow like pulling back the lid of a coffin.

There was nothing but blazing debris rioting over a wide area. The twisted, metal framework of the fused "Hurricane" formed a cross. Tears broke down Milton's cheeks as he turned the squadron toward home. The cremated wreckage, the fiery cross, seemed to ride along in front of him. He could see the tortured, blackened form of Jack Fitch crucified against that cross.

When he got back, he loaded his ammo belts with incendiaries. "An eye for an eye . . ."

THE next two weeks produced a new Captain Milton. His comrades stared wide-eyed and silent at the grim, foreboding spectre of a man they had once known as the jolly Jimmie Milton. One idea possessed his mind—kill Lichter! But the wary Nazi was not to be seen. The days sped by and Milton became more gaunt and red-eyed from endless, fruitless hours in the air, No enemy Jagdstaffel could stand against him. His squadron brushed Heinkels and Messerschmitts into eternity with an impatient gesture and he resumed his ceaseless prowling of the cloud lanes.2

2: The Heinkel He.112 is a German single-seat fighter of low-wing cantilever monoplane design. It is powered with a 660 h.p. Junkers "Jumo 210" engine and has a high speed of 316 m.p.h. Two fixed machine guns are located in the sides of the fuselage and fire through the propeller. Two additional guns are located in the wings and fire outside the propeller arc. The guns are Madsen, firing 1200 rounds per minuLe.—Ed.

Then the gods relented—and laughed. It was on a regular morning patrol. They were returning to the drome when a Heinkel staffel, with more guts than usual, dove out of the clouds and tangled with them. It was an evenly matched scrap at first. Formation smashing at formation in lightning dives too 'swift for the eye to follow. But it was one of the days when No. 66 Fighter Squadron could do no wrong.3

3: Note the difference in air war tactics compared with the scrambled dog-fighting in 1914-18. Today pursuit planes fight in formation as a single unit. If one plane should depart from the formation, he immediately becomes the easy prey of an enemy squadron. When Milton turned command of the squadron over to Deputy Squadron Leader with a brief word into the microphone, and followed his buddy down, he was taking a chance of never returning. The fact that the Nazi staffel had been scattered allowed the play of Fitch and Milton to be completed.-Ed.

The fight had hardly started when two of the Heinkels locked wings and corkscrewed out of the melee. They had not crashed into the mud before a third was following them down, a heavy plume of black smoke trailing it.

Suddenly Milton's heart leaped in his throat. On the Nazi leader's plane there was a forked lightning insignia. It—it was Lichter!

A swift zoom and the squadron was spearing back at the wheeling Nazi formation. Relentlessly Milton drove into the head of the Nazi echelon. Drove in like a mailed fist and separated the leader from his mates. He barked into the microphone and turned command over to the Deputy Squadron Leader. Then he darted from the formation, the two squadrons behind him messing up into a general melee.

Eyes red-rimmed and straining, lips pressed against his teeth, hate showing in every line of his gray face, Jimmie Milton looked like a cadaverous monster as he bored after the Nazi. Recklessly, crudely, intent only upon downing this murderer, thinking nothing of himself.

Lichter was clever, slippery. He was fast. Nazi and Yank maneuvered warily, fighting blackout of vision and consciousness in the gut-ripping turns. Every time Milton got him lined up, he would wriggle nimbly out of the sights. In futile rage, Milton poured several bursts into the space which the Heinkel had just vacated. The incendiary flame burned a trail of hate through the air.

He caught his own share of lead. The Nazi reached in his bag of tricks and came up with several stunts that nearly caught the Yank. But finally his very relentless drive seemed to wear the Nazi down. Milton felt himself getting closer and closer to the moment when he would send the treacherous Lichter writhing down through space to the hell he deserved.

He got in a long burst—straight into the Junkers "Jumo" motor. Smoke and sparks showered from the cowling where his phosphorus slugs smashed home. Lichter turned, almost ruddered into him, then was gone like a flash of light. There had been panic in that last maneuver!

Milton rode the stick and rudder hard, planted his nose back on the target. He pressed his thumb for a finishing burst—suddenly stopped short.

Straight into the line of fire, directly between them, dropped a Hawker "Hurricane!"

MILTON cursed, wept. "Get out of the way, damn you!" he screamed into the mike.

He saw the pilot of the other ship. It was one of the replacements he had just broken in. Little Bunny Ames. He pounded the cowling in blind rage, shook his fist at the other pilot. Ames, now, seemed to realize his blunder. He skidded awkwardly away. But it was too late! The hated Lichter had taken advantage of the momentary screen—was rocketing down the skylanes for home.

Milton streaked after him. But it was useless. His motor pounded unevenly. The Heinkel held its own, kept the "Hurricane" from closing the distance. Hunched in the cockpit, muttering, Milton nosed around, flew back to the tarmac.

His was the last ship to hit the drome. Taxiing up on the line, he legged out of the pit and stalked over to the bar. Ames was standing there, nervously fingering a drink.

"Captain Milton, sir," he began, "I'm sorry—"

The impact of a solid fist halted his words. Blood spurted, streaked down his chin. The youngster made no effort to return the blow.

"I'm sorry—"

Again Milton's fist crashed into his face. This time Ames hit the floor. Milton glared down at him wildly, seemed about to pick the man up and smash him again. Hands grabbed him; arms went around his shoulders.

"That's enough, Milton. The kid said he was sorry. He didn't do it on purpose."

Milton shook off the restraining hands. Grabbing a drink, he gulped it down. He shook his head, poured another. Little Bunny Ames—he wouldn't weigh one-forty soaking wet—got to his feet. His lacerated lips streamed blood. Milton scowled.

"The next guy that pulls a stunt like that gets a bellyful of buckingham," he rasped. "I'm not holding my fire."

After that, if possible, Milton became even more sullen and morose. He snapped when anyone spoke. Growled rather than talked. Pee Wee Barton caught a right on the jaw merely because he cracked a joke trying to cheer him up. The men at first understood how he felt, but now they drew away, kept out of his path. Milton, they said, had cracked. Right down the middle of the seams.

IT was in this state one wet morning that Captain James Milton staggered to the apron. In open defiance of General Orders, he ordered his crate out for a solo patrol and fumbled into the cockpit. Without properly warming up the cold 1000 h.p. Rolls-Royce "Merlin", he shot across the field and thundered into the air. The engine sputtered, missed. The undercarriage of the "Hurricane" nestled into its sleek belly just in time to clear the tops of the trees bordering the drome. Then he was free and in the air.

Earlier patrols had been cancelled because of a persistent ground fog, but now the sun was breaking it up. He pulled the nose around in a steep climbing turn, pushed the throttle open and left it there. His touch on the controls became steadier. The sensitive "Hurricane," like a thoroughbred horse, felt the difference and calmed down. He was over the Maginot line in a matter of minutes.

Milton, too, shook his head, clearing the webs from his brain. He felt more himself this morning than since—since Jack's death. He realized abruptly how badly he'd behaved toward his flying mates, his best friends. He was sorry. He regretted hitting little Bunny Ames. He frowned thoughtfully. The kid hadn't even felt the blows, he'd been so torn up over messing Milton's opportunity.

Then like a bat out of hell it came! Out of nowhere! A grayish blur with vomiting greenish-yellow gun muzzles. Death and destruction dripped from those four wicked orbs. The Junkers motor of the diving plane blatted in a rising whine.

A line of tracer suddenly blasted less than two feet from Milton's head, stitched along the trailing edge of the upper wing. He almost felt the torrid breath on the back of his neck. He cursed at his stupidity. Cruising around like an idiot, caught unawares. Openly defying orders. He was cold meat for the Jagdstaffel. Apparently the Nazi had swooped down, cut in his motor at the last minute.

Snapping the nose of the "Hurricane" over he flung the crate down like a falling star. Through the prop he saw the other plane more clearly. It was black-and-white. A green Heinkel! But the ship was alone! Lichter, the remembrance of the days of 1918 strong in him, had also ventured out alone.

INSTINCTIVELY he knew. Even before he was close enough to see the lightning insignia. Lichter! The knowledge acted like a bucket of ice-water over his head. The nervousness, the excitement, rolled away from him. His hands were steady as he caressed the gun trips.

He cut loose with a warming burst at four hundred yards. Art two hundred, he tripped the Brownings in earnest.

With the methodical sureness of a legal executioner, Milton sprayed the Heinkel as it climbed back up the sky. The line of his fire was in front of the cockpit, it was behind. He touched the stick, and then the German rolled.

Milton could hardly believe the Nazi had escaped the first lethal burst. It had seemed to crash straight through the cockpit. But Lichter was still alive—very much so.

Now, as the "Hurricane" swept past, the Nazi's Madsen guns opened up. The slugs cracked around his ears like whiplashes. They drummed into the doped surfaces of the "Hurricane." A sawing line worked along the wing. The glassed-in hatch over his head shattered. He shoved it back and gulped in the terrific blast.

A thunderbolt crashed inside Milton's head. There was a showering of rioting sparks, a sudden blinding pain. Then he was sliding down the edge of a black precipice. He clawed wildly, desperately. Fought to throw off the shrouds of unconsciousness. He flopped over the cockpit cowling and the blast of the slipstream plucked the black veil away.

Lichter and his Heinkel loomed in his vision. The Nazi was squatting on his tail. The blobs of flame from his four Madsens were so close they hurt his eyes. He was looking into the leering face of Death in that moment. Mechanically, instinctively, his right hand twitched, jerked on the stick. His head was still on the cowling, facing the tail.

The Heinkel was gone.

Milton still looked back. Where was the hated green crate? He didn't realize that the "Hurricane" had snapped over in a loop. He pulled his head around painfully.

There it was! The Heinkel! In front of him! The colors of plane, sky, and earth ran together in a grayish and crimson-tinged river. He felt the blackness tugging at him again. He didn't have the strength to lift his head, to look through the sights.

His fingers tightened on the trips. And as the hateful blackness enveloped him completely, his thumb continued to tighten convulsively. The spewing muzzles of the Brownings were flinging their phosphorus slugs even after the "Hurricane" nosed down in a mad spin.

Down, down; the whirling plane spouting lead; the inert form lolling in the pit. Then the very force of the spin revived him momentarily. He saw the earth through a blood-red haze. He neutralized the stick, kicked opposite rudder, and straightened out in a dive.

Trenches, barbed-wire, domed "pillboxes" of the Maginot Line—he could almost see upturned faces. All rushing, rushing up at him. He was yelling. Yelling at someone. Oh, yes! He was yelling at himself. "Pull back on the stick." "Pull back on the stick!"

Tapping some well of unknown strength, he yanked the stick back. He was conscious of the earth suddenly flattening out, streaming back under his wings. He was conscious, too, that his strength was fast ebbing. He slumped forward, put his head against the crash pad. It was so nice and comfortable and peaceful.

Fire! The thought needled through the blackness. His hand fumbled, cut the switches.

He was vaguely aware of a terrific ripping, slashing, and pounding. The ground at last. But somehow it was all so far away—it didn't seem to concern him.

THE nurse slipped an extra pillow under his head, straightened the covers. "Remember," she cautioned, "your visitors can only stay five minutes."

Captain Jimmie Milton nodded, looked toward the door. Pee Wee Barton and little Bunny Ames. Funny that Bunny should come to see him.

Pee Wee spoke first, awkwardly. "You lucky bloke! Blighty on a little crease in the skull."

Milton smiled at them. "How's everything with you, Pee Wee? Bunny?"


Then Milton came to the point. The point he had been unable to find out from the nurses and doctors.

"Did I get him?"

"He came right down on our tarmac."

"Came down?"

"Landed. Your guns blasted his motor apart."

Milton groaned. "Then—then he's all right?"

"Yeah. We sent him to a prison camp."

"Which prison camp?" Milton's voice rasped in an ugly whisper. He had pulled himself up on one elbow.

Pee Wee had a peculiar sort of grin plastered on his face. He winked at Bunny. "Go on, go on and tell him," he prompted.

Bunny cleared his throat. Opened his mouth then decided not to say anything. He fumbled in his blouse, produced an oblong, leather-bound book. "Here," he said, handing it to Milton.

Jimmie opened the book. "I can't read German," he growled. "What the hell's this—"

Pee Wee interrupted. "Go ahead, read it to him, Bunny."

"It's a diary," explained Bunny. He thumbed the pages. Then he translated, "October 9, 1939. Today I am saddened by the death of an enemy. A gallant enemy who spared my life when my guns jammed. We agreed to return and meet in a duel, but before I could get back another Jugdstaffel encountered my brave opponent. He was shot down in flames. I am consoled by the thought that my gallant enemy, wherever he is, knows that I had nothing to do with his death.

"I have located the wreckage of his plane and will build a little monument with my own hands."

Captain Jimmie Milton had a queer expression on his countenance.

"Lichter's," he whispered. "And-and he was talking about Jack, wasn't he?" He took the leather-bound diary from Bunny's hands with an air of reverence. A thought struck him.

"He's all right?" He was almost yelling. "I didn't hit him with one of those buckinghams, did I?"

Pee Wee nudged Bunny, a disgusted look on his face. "Come on," he snorted, "let's get out of here before this pantywaist has me bawling. What the hell is this war coming to, anyway? Worrying about the hide of a Nazi!"

At the door, the grinning Bunny looked back over his shoulder. He shook his head negatively.