and the drawl was there again.

“Close formation, and keep it close all the way out. We’re headed for emergency work below the Thames estuary. Junkers Ju 87’s for breakfast.”

The Spitfires closed in and roared away, gaining altitude as they bored into the early morning light. In a very short time the twisting streets, the masses of little squares that were blocks of buildings faded away below them. Allison took them up above the fleecy clouds and into the great, high-piled formations.

“Ought to find them sneaking around up here,” he drawled.

Stan looked out upon the mountains of clouds and the patches of blue sky. The Junkers Ju 87’s were dive bombers, popularly known as Stukas, and their presence meant a raid upon shipping.

“Red Flight, keep west by south. Red Flight, keep west by south.” It was the control room at the field sending them directions from the big room with the table which had a huge map spread on it. On that map were toy planes which the watchers shoved about with wooden rakes.

Ahead, Allison broke out of the feathery edge of a cloud into a great valley of clear blue. Stan sliced through the cloud close beside him. Garret was trailing a little now.

“Three Stukas cruising, four points right,” Allison grated. “Three Stukas. Don’t let one of them get away or he’ll come back again.”

Instantly the Spitfires broke formation and Allison went plummeting down, his Merlin roaring wide open. His twisting flight was an amazing show of cold skill. Stan peeled off and shot after him. He was sure Allison had picked the Stuka on the right so he took the one on the left, leaving the center bomber for Garret, who wasn’t getting in as fast as he should.

“Easy, a cinch!” Allison’s voice roared out of Stan’s headset. “Here’s one for Tommy.”

Stan saw his Spitfire lay over on her side and slice down upon the Stuka, her eight Brownings drilling flame and lead. The startled crew of the bomber immediately came to life. They had been craning their necks, looking for slow crawling freighters headed into port. They sent the Stuka into a nose dive, spewing bombs to lighten their load, but they were not fast enough. Stan saw the right wing of the big raider rise, then whirl away. The Stuka spun out of the square space in his windscreen doing grotesque loops.

Ahead lay Stan’s target and his thumb pressed gently on his gun button as he roared down. His Brownings opened up and he saw the Stuka stagger and swerve as he thundered past in a hissing dive. Coming up he noticed that Garret’s Stuka was streaking away toward the south with Garret making a feeble try at coming up under the big ship.

“Missed a dead target,” Stan said grimly. “He hasn’t fired a single burst.”

Then Allison’s voice cracked in over the air. “Messerschmitts up above in the big cloud. They’re coming down. Seven in all.” His words snapped off in a sputter of crackling static. Stan nosed up and saw the seven fighters diving upon Allison. Then he heard Allison’s voice again.

“Better let me have them. Keep clear!”

Stan yelled into the flap mike. “Coming, Allison.”

He gave the Spitfire all she had and the Merlin wound up beautifully, lifting him up to meet the fighters diving out of the cloud above. As he went up he looked for Garret. At that moment they sure needed all of Red Flight. He spotted Garret diving for a great thunderhead.

“The scum,” Stan snarled. He shot the words into the flap mike without realizing it.

It did not seem possible that Allison could escape from the deathtrap. The Stuka setup had been too easy after all. The Spitfires were twisting upward, straight on to meet the seven diving Messerschmitts, any one of which was near their match. Stan knew the boys at the controls of those ships were good fliers.

Allison’s ship rolled over suddenly and fell away, then hit a steep spiral climb. For a few seconds it knifed along on its back. The maneuver threw the seven fighters off for a moment, giving Stan time to get more lift and more ceiling. Allison laid over in a vertical bank, and, as he swung back his guns, cut a swath across the enemy craft. One Messerschmitt went into a crazy whirl.

After that Stan was busy with his own end. He cut across the path of a streaking fighter and sawed off his tail so neatly it seemed to have vanished by itself. But the next second he had a brace of roaring guns in his face and the hatch cover above his head shattered, showering him with glass and pieces of metal. His engine did not falter as he stalled and slid off after the Nazi, his Brownings ripping away. The fighter dodged and twisted and got away, though it was plainly hit.

As he dived to shake off another red-hot gunner he saw Allison going straight at another Messerschmitt, the only one in his field of vision. He waited for the burst from Allison’s guns that would send the Nazi down, but it did not come and Allison thundered over the enemy ship, taking a ripping hail of lead as he went.

“His guns are out,” Stan groaned as he sent his ship over in a roll and went down after the raider, who was banking to dive upon Allison’s defenseless tail. Stan’s lightning drop carried him down just in time to drive the Messerschmitt away from Allison. The crippled Spitfire ducked into a cloud. Allison’s voice came to Stan, mocking but with his old drawl.

“Thanks, old man.”

“Where’s Garret?” Stan rasped back.

“I’m up here. Just finished off my second bandit.”

“You don’t say,” Allison cut in. “Well, we’re going in, boys, before we meet all of Goering’s gang. If they’re all as active as those Messers we just slipped away from, I don’t care to tackle any more of them.”

They settled into formation and dropped down upon London. The headset began to sputter and a voice from the ground said.

“Red Flight, come in. Red Flight, are you all there?”

“All here,” Allison called back cheerfully. He had recovered his sardonic good humor.

They slid up the Thames and on over the city to their field. Sliding in, Allison and Stan set down on an even glide. Garret slid in with a grandstand flourish. Stan eased in close beside him, clambered out of the cockpit and stepped across to Garret’s Spitfire, giving it a searching look. His lips were twisted with anger as he caught up with Allison.

Allison gave him a wide grin. “Sweet going, Yank,” he said softly.

“What got into your guns?” Stan asked in an effort to let his wrath cool.

“Got a burst through the center section. Those Jerries are liberal with their lead.”

Stan saw that Allison was going to say nothing about Arch Garret’s cowardly trick in cloud-sneaking when his pals were in a tight spot. He hitched along beside Allison, his parachute rapping him behind the knees. Garret had paused to show off before the ground crews. They heard him say, in a loud voice:

“I cut down on one Messer and then laid over just in time to take out another one.”

Stan looked at Allison. He was grinning at Brooks who was chewing on a pencil and staring at him as if he had seen a ghost.

“Mead of Green Flight said seven Messers had you bottled, Allison,” he said.

“Mead needs his eyes fixed,” Allison answered as he slid out of his chute.

Squadron Leader Rainey came in. He had three rings of braid on his sleeve and wished he had only two so that he could be out on flight duty with the boys. In the last war Majors were flying men, but in this one they were just ground officers. His grim face lighted in a thin smile as he looked at Allison.

“Nice work, Red Flight,” he said. “Like to have been up with you.”

“We could have used you, sir,” Allison said and laughed almost directly into Garret’s face.

Garret had strutted to the desk just inside the briefing room. He spoke loudly, paying no attention to the Squadron Leader. He leaned on the desk and fixed the briefing officer with a steady look.

“Chalk up a Stuka and two Messerschmitts for me. And add a note saying it was lucky for two stiffs I was along.”

Stan swung around facing Garret. The gall of the man made his anger flare up and he forgot all about regulations. “Why lie about it,” he said, his lips a tight line. “You didn’t fire a burst, you hid in a cloud. Next time you better unlimber your guns while you’re in the cloud so you’ll have an alibi.”

Arch Garret’s dark face twisted with rage. “So you play that way, lying me out of credit.”

“I checked your guns before I came in. You didn’t fire a shot.” Stan turned upon Allison and the Squadron Commander. As he did so he realized he had made a mistake. They were silently watching, their faces expressionless.

Вы читаете A Yankee Flier with the R.A.F.
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