This is something I put together some time ago. It started out as an entry for a writing contest, with the requirements being it had to be 4000 words or less, as well as going with the theme (Out of Place). After it was over, I felt I could do so much more. Here is the revamped work in its current setting. Critiques on how I can further improve on this would be appreciated.
Clash of Generations
February 25th, 1945
It was another typical evening at the camp of the 450th fighter squadron. It had been an uneventful week in England, with no scheduled missions or warnings of enemy attack. The steady rainfall didn’t exactly add to the atmosphere, either. Those who had been performing routine maintenance on their fighter aircraft earlier that afternoon were shivering and sneezing, gripping the shoulders of their coats. Those fortunate enough to stay relatively dry in their tents simply looked tired and bored. The call to the briefing tent was a change of pace, at least.
Airman Kyle Evans, the Number Three pilot in the squadron’s first flight of four, gave a yawn as he entered the tent. Other pilots were already inside, chatting away about what the briefing might be about. Truthfully, Evans didn’t really give a hoot at the moment. Without being able to fly his plane for a good part of six days, boredom had set in. He had gone through the issued magazines three times already, and they weren’t getting any better with each reread. Taking an empty seat, he was ready to fall asleep right then and there.
A whack on the shoulder made him jump.
“Eyes open, Evans!” A sharp voice rang out. The young pilot’s gaze shot up to his superior, Staff Sergeant Henry Smith.
“Come on,” Evans sighed, rubbing his shoulder, “it’s just going to be another ‘milk run’ talk, nothing we haven’t heard before. Give me a break.”
“This isn’t the time for a break!” Smith barked. “You can get some sleep after the briefing!” He took the seat to Evans’s right, perhaps to ensure he wouldn’t fall asleep again. As commander of the squadron, Smith was the natural-born leader. From what Evans had heard about him before joining up, Smith had started out in the P-47 Thunderbolt. With it, he became an Ace, having shot down 5 German aircraft in less than two months of combat. Soon after he switched over to the P-51 Mustang, he became a Double-Ace. It was one of the few things Evans liked about him; Smith was everything he wasn’t, what he wished he could be. On the negative side, Smith reminded Evans of the ‘mean old boss’ archetype, to the point where he did almost nothing but order everyone around. Tonight was certainly no exception.
“Jesus, what’s got your long-johns in a knot? You’re a bit crankier than normal.”
“None of your business,” Smith replied, crossing his arms. “Just focus on the meeting.”
“Don’t mind him,” a new voice said from behind. “He’s just as edgy as the rest of us.” Both men turned to see who it was. It was Duncan Dupree, Airman First Class and Smith’s wingman, or ‘partner in crime’ as some liked to call him. When he wasn’t shooting away at Me-109s or Fw-190s, he was skimming through the various books provided by the Air Force. He was preparing to go to Yale for the spring ’42 semester before the U.S. entered the war. Dupree ended up getting drafted, and while he didn’t like it at first, he zipped through the ranks faster than most, earning his wings with flying colors.
Dupree took the seat on the other side of Smith, mildly flipping through the pages of a book he had brought with him.
“Says you,” Smith grunted. “I just hate it when I don’t get respect, that’s all. If people can take things seriously around here, we wouldn’t have these problems.” He jerked his head to look at the young and brash pilot next to him. “That goes for you, kid.”
“But being an ass is how I give you respect, sir,” Evans piped, faking a salute. “If I didn’t want to give it, I’d just ignore you.”
Smith sighed. “Why do I even bother...?” As these words escaped his lips, another pilot rushed into the tent, sitting down on the other side of Evans.
“Sorry I’m late,” the younger pilot said in a panting voice. “What’d I miss?”
“Nothing, Logan,” Evans replied. “The meeting hasn’t even started, yet. Relax.”
Keith Logan breathed a sigh of relief as he eased back in his chair. The resident comedian, Logan was Evan’s wingman, although their chemistry still needed work. After all, he had joined the squadron just a few months before. No one really knew who he was or where he came from, just that he had transferred from the Pacific. What they did know about him was that he was a born F4F Wildcat pilot, and had plenty of experience in the air. While he never shot down any Japanese planes while on the other side of the world, he was telling everyone that his time would soon come. The adjustment to the P-51 wasn’t easy, but everyone knew he would manage. “So, what’s the hubbub about this time around?”
“Protect the bombers, don’t expect heavy resistance, blah, blah, blah,” Evans replied. “This is getting really old really fast.”
“Can it!” Smith snapped. “This is exactly why you don’t get respect around here!”
“Well excuse me for living, jackass,” Evans said under his breath.
Smith seemed to have heard the remark. “What did you say?!”
On command, the assembled pilots stood up, saluting the commanding officer as he stepped forward to the front of the tent. “As you were,” he said in a gruff voice. The pilots took their seats as the commander took out a pointer.
“Alright, men, listen up. I know you’ve been bored out of your minds, but we finally have an assignment from the higher-ups. Hopefully it’ll help you shake the cobwebs out of those skulls of yours.” He pointed to the map of Germany behind him. “Now, the 400th bomber group is going to be hitting a tank assembly plant here, a few miles west of Berlin. But there’s a problem.” He pointed to another location on the map. “An airbase is located here, a short distance away from this factory. We have reason to believe that the Germans have plenty of fighters there that can give the 400th trouble. That’s where the 280th comes in.”
“The 280th?” Smith asked. “But sir, isn’t that the group that uses B-24s?”
“That’s correct,” the commander replied.
“But why use Liberators?” Dupree asked. “Wouldn’t this task go more towards B-17s? They can better defend themselves, after all.”
“Perhaps, but they’re also more likely to draw attention. It’s not often that Liberators are used for raids these days, so we thought we could catch the Germans by surprise. Now then, the 280th will be performing its own bombing run, hopefully leveling that airfield. If they succeed, they’ll make way for the 400th, which will commence its attack on the factory two hours later. Your job is to ensure that the 280th gets there in one piece. Full details will be given to you in the morning. Have your planes prepped for takeoff by 0600 hours.” A chorus of groans filled the tent, but they were quickly silenced when the commander whacked the map with his pointer. “Alright alright, that’s enough.”
“Now, before I let you boys out for the evening, there’s something else you need to hear. We only have bits and pieces of information, but supposedly there’s a new German plane out there. Supposedly, mind you. It’s most likely a few drunken airmen seeing things, as usual.” This got a laugh from the pilots present. But still, I want you all to be careful tomorrow. Most likely you’ll be meeting stiff resistance regardless. Good luck and god-speed. Dismissed.”
As the pilots rose to their feet to leave, Logan looked nervous. “New Nazi planes? That doesn’t sound good at all.”
“Nothing we can’t handle,” Evans replied. “Remember that mission we flew a few months back? Those Germans thought they could catch us by surprise by painting their 190s white to match the cloud cover. But the sky was filled with black storm clouds, and they stuck out like sore thumbs.”
“You can say that again,” Dupree said, grinning. “Bringing them out of the sky couldn’t have been easier.”
“They still caught you by surprise,” Smith said to Evans. “You were so focused on shooting down that white 190 that you never saw the other bogey behind you.”
“Says you!” Evans snapped. “I had everything under control! I’d be an Ace right now if you didn’t distract me!”
“If I didn’t distract you and warn you when that 190 showed up, you’d also be dead!” Smith snapped back. “You ought to be thanking me for saving your sad excuse for a hide!”
“This does not bode well,” Dupree thought to himself, stepping away with his nose in his book.
“Sure doesn’t,” Logan agreed, following suit. By this time, the rest of the pilots still present had taken notice of the argument.
“Screw you!” Evans shouted. “All you’ve done since getting promoted is boss us around like we’re little kids!”
“That seems pretty accurate, especially for you!” Smith replied. “You’re nothing but a child who won’t be able to do anything without someone holding your hand!”
“That’s it! Forget what I said about giving you respect. You’ll never get it. Hell, you don’t deserve it! Not mine, not anyone’s!”
This was the last straw. In a fit of rage, Smith gave Evans a right hook. The younger pilot lost it, himself, and a fight ensued. The resulting brawl got the other pilots going, cheering for the person they wanted to win.
The excitement was short-lived.
“ENOUGH! Damn it, what the hell is going on here?!” The other pilots stood to attention as the commander approached the scene. Had he not been near the tent, things might have turned out uglier. “Sergeant, explain this!”
Smith saluted, although his eyes were turned away. “Sorry, sir,” he began, rubbing a bruised left chin. “I…had some steam that needed to be vented.”
The commander gave him a look. “Well you chose one hell of a way to do it.” His gaze turned to Evans, who was currently on the ground. His right eye was black, and he was spitting up some blood.
“If I may speak, sir,” Dupree said, getting the commander’s attention, “we’ve all been a bit anxious to get back in the air. This week hasn’t been forgiving for anyone, and there isn’t much in terms of ways to take out this built-up frustration.”
“He does have a point, sir,” Logan piped in. Other pilots added their own thoughts on the matter, which got the commander to lower his head in a sigh.
“Alright, I’ll let it slide this time. Sergeant, watch that temper of yours. Save your energy for the Germans tomorrow.” He turned to Evans, who slowly but surely got back to his feet. “If something like this happens again, there will be serious repercussions. Understood?”
Both pilots saluted. “Yes sir!”
The commander’s gaze was stern, but he nodded. “Dismissed.” With that, he exited the tent, his advisor following behind.
The crowd dispersed as Smith cracked his knuckles. “This isn’t over,” he snarled. He spat on the ground in front of Evans before leaving the tent.
“Damn, he’s got it in for you good,” Logan commented.
“Tell me about it,” Evans replied, wiping blood off of his bottom lip.
“You know how temperamental he can get,” Dupree mused, putting a hand on the Airman’s shoulder. “Give him a chance to cool off, and hopefully things will return to normal.”
Evans sighed. “That’s easy for you to say. There’s no such thing as ‘normal’ around here. You know, with what just happened, it kind of makes me hope the Germans do come up to attack tomorrow. I could use a distraction or two.”
“Don’t you dare jinx it!” Dupree said. “That’s the last thing we need!”
“Hey, come on,” Logan said as the three pilots left the tent. “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Northwest Berlin was unusually calm for this late February morning. Unlike England had been for the last few days, the weather in Germany was practically perfect. The sun was shining brightly, and only a few clouds were dancing across the sky, leaving a spectacular birds-eye view of the countryside from above. If it wasn’t for the war, this place would be perfect for anyone looking for peace and quiet.
The serenity was short-lived, as the droning sound of piston engines filled the air. Fifteen-thousand feet above, a sight that had become grossly familiar to any German soldier or citizen appeared. It was a formation of American bombers. If someone was able to stop time and count every bomber in the formation, they would have been able to identify 300 separate aircraft, all of them B-24 Liberators. This was the 280th bomber division; it was a relatively small group, considering that most formations had at least twice that many bombers.
5000 feet above the B-24s, the 450th fighter squadron was keeping watch. The group was using the fighter that had become mainstay for this sort of mission, the P-51D Mustang. It was another familiar sight for anyone who was able to see them from the ground. Ever since its introduction to the Allied bombing campaign, the Mustang had become invaluable. Thanks to its incredible range of 1650 miles with external fuel tanks, it was able to escort bombers from bases in England, to targets as far as Eastern Germany, and back again. With a top speed of over 400 miles per hour, and being equipped with six .50 caliber Browning machine guns, it could both outrun and outgun most adversaries. At this stage of the campaign, the whole ‘escort mission’ idea had become far more than routine, to the point where pilots and bomber crews alike began to call them ‘milk runs’.
Such was what Evans was thinking. Sure, he always wanted to fly aircraft and do his part in the war effort, but the missions he had flown as of late had been quite a bore. He gave a yawn as he stretched his body as much as he could. The events of the previous night were still lingering in his thoughts, and he could still feel the sting from Smith’s right hook. The two had not said a word to each other since then. Someone had to break the ice eventually, and he wanted it to be himself rather than his ‘tormentor’.
“Damn it all, I’m getting sick of this,” he blurted out to no one in particular. “When is this war ever going to end?” He was half-expecting Smith to say something to shut him up, but he didn’t hear a word from him.
Dupree was the one to respond this time around, perhaps to prevent another argument from happening. “Quit your whining, Evans,” he replied. “You knew what you were signing up for when you chose to fly with us, so deal with it.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Logan chimed in. “We’ll be there soon enough. Once the bombers have done their job, we can go off and do our own thing.” By that, he meant attacking separate targets - such as railroad lines or fuel and ammunition dumps - before returning to base.
Evans shook his head and groaned. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, Dupree was right. He loved the way the Mustang looked; from its unique airframe to the way its bubble-like canopy gave him a near 360-degree view of everything around him. He also liked the way the cockpit felt; it was as if everything he needed was easily accessible, right at his fingertips. There were two other things that made him love this aircraft. First, he had been able to shoot down four enemy planes so far while flying it. Second, he had recently gotten permission from the commander to paint the sides and wings of his P-51. His plane was now sporting black racing stripes to go along with the standard checkered flag design on its tail. It’d be the closest thing he had to a race car until after the war ended.
But as much as he loved his Mustang, there were things about it he didn’t like. The droning of the engine sounded like a chainsaw ready to conk out and die. Without a heating system of its own, the cockpit was freezing at the high altitudes required for these kinds of missions. In addition, thanks to overextended periods of radio silence, he couldn’t even hum to himself to keep his mind distracted. The missions themselves were taking a serious toll on his body as well as his mind. It was all more than enough to make things maddening. The other members of his flight weren’t exactly help in this situation, either.
The formation of planes was edging closer to its target, but Evans didn’t care. He wanted some action, anything to take his mind off of the argument. Unfortunately, that was something a ‘milk run’ was not likely going to provide. He sighed, trying his best to tune out the background noise and focus on the skies ahead of him. It was by this time that something came to him. “Hey, something’s not right here…”
“What’s wrong this time?” Dupree called.
“I don’t know,” Evans said. “It’s just that…something doesn’t feel right. Usually we’d hear warnings of German planes in the air by now.”
Having a look himself, Smith could see what he meant, and immediately got a hold of the lead bomber on his radio. “Messenger One, do you see anything on your end of things?” He asked.
“Negative,” the bomber pilot replied. “There’s nothing but clear-blue skies ahead, and a trail of bombers following behind.” Other bombers in the formation gave the same report.
“This is strange,” Dupree said. “Where the heck are they?”
“Maybe we have the element of surprise, for once,” Logan suggested.
“I doubt it,” Smith said bluntly. “They ought to know by now that they should expect bombings at this time of day.”
“Maybe their aircraft are spread thinner than usual,” Evans said. “With the beatings we’ve been handing the Luftwaffe lately, they may not have the resources or planes to actually counter us.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Dupree thought out loud. “Maybe we should scout ahead and…”
“We’ve got objects approaching from 11 o’clock!” The lead bomber called. The Mustang pilots had to squint because of the sunlight, but they were able to spot several objects a few miles away. They looked like aircraft, but not German Me-109s or Fw-190s. White smoke trailed behind them.
“What are those things?” Logan exclaimed.
“Whatever they are,” Smith said, “they’re coming straight for us. Drop tanks and intercept them!” On command, the other pilots jettisoned their external fuel tanks and moved their throttles forward, and the Mustangs took off for the aircraft ahead. A second flight of P-51s followed behind them, ready to give support.
It took a minute or two to reach the merge, and the American pilots got their first look at their adversaries. There were sixteen aircraft in all, and they were roughly the same size as the P-51s, but that was where the similarities ended. These planes were painted camouflage green, with black leopard spot patterns on the sides. Their nearly streamlined fuselages made them look almost like sharks. Their wings were swept back, and pod-like structures protruded out from underneath them. It turned out that the trails of smoke were coming out of these ‘pods.’ But that wasn’t the only unusual thing about them…
“What the hell?” Logan exclaimed. “Those things don’t have propellers!”
There was no time to react to that statement, as cannon rounds belched out of the mystery crafts. Logan had his left wing sheared off and his cockpit blown apart. The Mustang went into a flaming death spiral, disappearing from view.
“LOGAN!” Evans cried.
Even as the other Mustangs tried to take evasive action, the propeller-less aircraft zipped past them like they weren’t important at all.
“Goddamn, those things are fast!” The lead Mustang from the other flight exclaimed.
“After them!” Smith barked. “They’re going after the bombers!”
At this stage of the war, no one among the Allies had expected the Germans to pull a possible winning weapon out of their hats, especially considering the disadvantage the Axis nation was at.
But these new planes weren’t magic - they were a quantum leap in technology.
They were Messerschmitt 262s, the world’s first operational jet fighters. The Germans had these aircraft in development for years; but because Hitler believed that the war was already won during the Battle of Britain, and advanced aircraft were deemed unnecessary, plans to actually put them into full-scale production and use them in combat were shelved until late 1944, when the tide had already turned against them. It had a top speed of over 500 miles per hour, which was well over 100 miles per hour faster than the fastest aircraft the Allies had at their disposal. Equipped with four 30-millimeter MK 108 cannons, a well-placed burst could blow any plane out of the sky.
It seemed that the Allies’ worst fears had finally been realized.
While the Mustangs were still turning around, the Liberators at the head of the bomber train opened fire on the 262s with their forward-facing guns, but to no avail. The jets split into groups of four, heading to the outskirts of the sky on either side of the formation. When they were far enough away, the fighters on the left side turned around, preparing to attack from above and to the side. 30-millimeter cannon rounds rained down on the bomber formation. Most of them missed, while others had better luck. Several bombers took minor hits, but the leading Liberator was not so fortunate. The pilots and crew of the B-24 cried out in horror as the bomber was shot to hell by the strike. It fell out of formation, spinning downwards several hundred feet before exploding in a ball of fire.
“Evasive maneuvers!” The second-leading B-24 pilot yelled. “I repeat! Evasive maneuvers!”
Outside the swarm of Allied aircraft, the 262s on the right side of the formation began their attack. Going full-throttle, they rushed in like a pack of ravenous wolves, strafing the bombers with cannon fire. Two more Liberators fell to the attack, while the others fired back frantically. But the 262s were too fast for the gunners to accurately track, and they whizzed away as quickly as they appeared.
“Where did they go?” A Liberator pilot asked. “Damn, they’re going so fast, I’ve lost them!”
By this time, the Mustangs had finally reached the bombers.
“Since when have the Germans gained an edge over us?” Evans asked.
“They haven’t!” Smith snapped. “They just took us by surprise, that’s all! Messenger Two, can you identify what these things are?”
“Negative,” the second Liberator replied, “I’ve never seen anything like them before! They’re moving too fast for us to shoot down!”
“Heads up!” Another bomber pilot called out. “They’re coming around again!”
Evans, while a pure fighter by nature, was shaking in his boots. Sweat was running down his face at the thought of facing the same fate as Logan. Based on what had just happened, it looked like he wouldn’t last very long.
But this was not the time to think about odds. The bombers needed all the help they could get.
“Coordinate fire!” Smith ordered. “We’ve got to split them up and bring them down!”
The P-51s charged the jets head-on, letting loose with their .50 caliber machine guns. The 262s scattered, easily avoiding damage.
“Watch it! You’ve got one on your tail!” Dupree yelled out to a fellow Mustang. The P-51 pilot was doing everything he could to dislodge the enemy fighter behind him, but to no avail. The 262 opened fire, cannon rounds slicing through the Mustang. Everyone could hear the pilot’s screams before his radio cut out.
In another part of the sky, two warring adversaries were circling each other violently. In this turning fight, the Mustang was actually winning, as the pilot was edging his plane closer and closer to a good firing angle.
“Got you now, you little sonuvabitch,” he chuckled as he got a good angle on his target. Just before he fired, the 262 broke out of the turning fight and began to climb higher into the sky. The Mustang chased after him. Things went into the vertical as the Mustang let loose. Because of poor deflection, the machine gun rounds passed harmlessly underneath the jet.
The 262 wasn’t just a faster aircraft - it also had an excellent rate of climb, although this fact wouldn’t be confirmed until later on.
The same could not be said for the Mustang, as it stalled out at the top of its climb, spiraling out of control. In the meantime, a nearby Me-262 was able to make easy pickings out of the helpless P-51. The pilot cried out for help as he was shot to pieces.
Meanwhile, Smith was gritting his teeth as he dived, focusing on a 262 making another pass on the bombers. The jet unleashed a long volley, but was unable to connect with any of its targets. For some reason, the pilot became careless; as he pulled out of his attack, he turned too tightly, something any pilot would have difficulty getting out of. As he tried to right himself, he fell under the guns of the tested combat pilot.
“Hammer down!” The Mustang’s six machine guns fired simultaneously, striking the 262. One of its engines belched out black smoke as it caught on fire. The jet rose into the air as its pilot opened the canopy and bailed out.
One down, fifteen to go…
The dogfight raged on, with no side getting a clear advantage over the other. Many bombers had taken serious damage, but they managed to stay in the air. At the rate things were going, it felt like a plane was being knocked out of the sky every minute. One B-24 gunner scored a lucky hit on one of the attackers. Before he could celebrate his possible victory, the bomber he was in was ripped to shreds by a 262 that had attacked from above.
“Damn it, I hate this!” Evans moaned, as he fired burst after burst against any enemy plane that got into his sights. “These are not like the 109s I’m used to!”
“Step up and get used to it!” Smith snapped as he was barely able to get out of another 262’s sights. “If you don’t do your job, you’re going to get shot down by these things!” Evans growled, refocusing his attention on a 262 that zipped past him.
One jet went for another strafing pass, riddling a Liberator’s rear sections with cannon fire. As he pulled out of the run, he didn’t realize that Dupree was right underneath him. Dupree opened fire at near point-blank range, igniting the jet’s fuel tank. The resulting explosion was enough to shake up the Mustang, but Dupree was able to keep it relatively leveled off.
“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!” The pilot called out, entering a climb.
“Dupree, look out behind you!” Smith yelled. Dupree instinctively broke right, but it wasn’t enough to prevent another 262 from pummeling him with cannon fire. The Mustang was coughing up smoke from its engine thanks to the jet’s attack.
“Damn it, I’ve been hit!” Dupree cried, doing everything possible to maintain control. For some reason, the enemy didn’t come around and finish the job. He had disappeared from sight.
“Dupree, are you alright?” Evans asked, trying to split his attention between the skies around him and the wounded P-51.
“Does it look like I’m alright?” Dupree replied. “I’m heading to the rear. You and Smith keep an eye on things here.”
“What the hell are you saying? We need you over here!” Before Dupree could reply, his radio went to static. His Mustang disappeared into the nearest set of clouds.
Evans was taking all of this in, dozens of thoughts running through his mind. In the three years he had been piloting planes like the P-51, he had never been involved in a dogfight like this before. He was so used to taking on prop-driven planes like the Me-109 - not to mention having the superior aircraft - that the mere thought of being at a disadvantage was near impossible. He felt out of place, like a fish out of water. Something had to give; otherwise things were going to get much worse…
“I can’t shake him! Someone give me a hand here!”
Evans snapped out of it, hearing the voice of Smith. Looking down and to his right, he saw his leader’s Mustang dodging and weaving to avoid the gunfire of a Me-262 right behind him. The P-51 was taking hits, but it was refusing to get shot down at a time like this.
“Come on, Dupree, where the hell are you?” Evans said to himself. There was no point trying to reach him on the radio. With the way things were at the moment, one could only fear the worse.
The Airman was forced to take responsibility. “Hang on, I’ll be right there!” he called.
“Hurry!” Smith yelled. “I can’t keep this up!”
Just before Evans could act on his proclamation, he gasped as white projectiles the size of golf balls flew over his canopy. Looking back, he saw another 262 on his tail, lobbing cannon shells at him.
His mind seemed to freeze at this point. This situation was one of the many things he dreaded. He was so sure of his abilities that he didn’t think an enemy fighter would actually get behind him and try to shoot him down. He had been living in a dream world, where everything would go his way sooner or later. As a result, he had never shown any real responsibility for anyone or anything. With this attack from behind, Evans realized that the dream was over. It was high-time for him to take action and step back into the real world before his life was taken.
Evans may have been a fighter, but he was also a gambler. Well, I guess it’s time to go for broke, he thought to himself.
He forced the control stick forward and to the right, causing the Mustang to flip upside-down and go into a steep and sudden dive. The trailing 262 chased after him. As Evans’ speed increased dramatically, he kept track of the 262 chasing Smith, trying to time his next move just right. As he went to right himself, the other jet opened fire.
Evans felt a few rounds impact his plane as he pulled out of the dive, but he didn’t let that stop him. The quick maneuver caused the pursuing 262 to overshoot and forced it to continue its downward flight, leaving Evans the perfect opportunity to latch on to his target. Because of the dive, the P-51 was going much faster than normal, but he wasn’t paying attention. He lined up the 262 and fired all six of his machine guns. .50 caliber rounds slammed into the jet, wounding its pilot. The smoking remains of the jet fighter disappeared into the clouds; there was no sign of a bailout.
It was a long time coming, but this was kill number five for Evans. He could now officially call himself an Ace.
Smith breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks for the assist, Evans,” he commented.
Evans gave a chuckle. “Guess that makes us even.” He was so busy celebrating the moment, he failed to notice that the 262 that had been chasing him was quickly and viciously approaching from underneath.
By the time he realized it, it was too late…
…or so he thought, as the jet was suddenly engulfed in flames as a result of a stream of bullets.
Jesus Christ, Evans thought as he saw the flashes of the fires. His heart raced when he realized he was almost blown out of the sky.
As the felled 262 nosed over into its final dive, a familiar P-51 emerged out of the trail of smoke, falling into formation next to Evans.
“Dupree!” Evans exclaimed.
“Thank god you’re alright!” Smith shouted happily.
“Sorry about that,” Dupree called. “That last attack on me shook me up pretty bad, and my radio has been on the fritz. It seems to be working okay now, though. Would have come back sooner, but I had some business of my own to take care of.”
Evans smirked. “You mean bringing down the bastard that shot you up, eh?”
Dupree laughed. “Perhaps.”
“We have the airfield in sight!” Messenger Two announced. “Steady…steady…bombs away!” Moving like a group of synchronized swimmers, one by one the Liberators opened their bomb bay doors and delivered their payloads. Thousands of 1600-pound bombs fell to earth, impacting on and around the airfield’s runways and hangars. Whatever aircraft were at that base wouldn’t be taking off, and any plane in the air wouldn’t be landing there again.
“We’ve got confirmation from the rest of the bomber train,” Messenger Two called. “The remaining enemy aircraft are retreating. We should be safe, now.”
“Either they ran out of ammo,” Dupree commented, “or they ran out of confidence.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Smith replied, “We need to be wary, regardless. If whatever those are becomes the new standard in bomber interception, we may not have many more ‘milk runs’…”
Hours later, the 450th had returned to their base in England. The encounter was unlike any the squadron had ever been in. Six of their own were lost in the engagement, as well as eight B-24s from the 280th. They would later learn that four enemy aircraft were confirmed shot down, with two others probable. With the German airfield put out of commission, the 400th bomber group was cleared to go in. Needless to say, the tank assembly plant was reduced to rubble.
The mission was deemed a success, but it came at a hefty price, especially for those with friends in the aircraft lost.
As Evans climbed out of his P-51, his thoughts were still on Logan. Even if he knew he had shot down the very Me-262 that killed his fellow pilot, it wouldn’t bring him back. Becoming an Ace didn’t make things better, either. In fact, he felt terrible.
“Good job out there, Evans,” Dupree said as he approached the younger pilot. “We certainly made an impact, today.”
“Not really,” Evans said solemnly. “Why did Logan have to get shot down? He said his time was coming, but he meant getting his first victory, not getting himself killed!”
“Kid, calm down,” Dupree ordered. “Look, I know you’re taking this pretty hard. We all are. It’s a miracle we weren’t all shot down by those things…whatever they are. The way I see it, there’s no way to control when your time is at hand. It’s a fact of warfare all need to keep in mind. At any place or time, in any situation, the heavens above can cut you down. We just have to do as much as we can before then. But Logan would want us to keep going no matter what happens, right?”
Evans sighed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Hey, let’s all give a toast to him when we hit the bar tonight. He deserves at least that much.”
“Couldn’t agree more,” Dupree replied.
Both pilots turned to see Smith standing before them. Deep down, the Airman was expecting the squadron leader to finish what he started the night before.
“What you did out there…was uncharacteristic of you. I never thought I’d live to see the day you stood on your own two feet and take action when it was needed the most. You not only helped protect the 280th from serious losses… you also saved my life. For that…I thank you. I put in a recommendation to the commander to award you the Distinguished Flying Cross.”
Evans wiped his brow, and then hung his head as he shrugged. “I…don’t know what to say, sir. So much has happened in the last few hours…no, the last few days…” There was a brief period of silence before he continued, his gaze still fixated on the ground. “…About last night…I need to apologize for…what I said. I know you’re just trying to look out for all of us, and being a leader for so many is a burden no one takes lightly. I was in no position to argue or complain in the ways I have been…”
When he felt a firm grip on his shoulder, Evans looked up again to see Smith with a somber look on his face. “I know what you’ve been going through. And you’re right. Being a leader is not all it’s cracked up to be. We lost six good men today, and there’s no way to get them back. War is never kind to anyone, and it’ll take a toll regardless of who is winning or losing. My actions last night are a prime example. I’m just as tired of this goddamn war as the next man, and I shouldn’t have let that control my actions. If anyone, I’m the one who should be apologizing.”
Evans wasn’t sure where this was going. “So…are we on speaking terms again?”
Smith extended a hand. “Definitely.”
With a smile, Evans took the handshake. “Forget what I said to you last night. You have my respect, now.”
“And you have mine,” Smith replied. “Listen, I need to file a report for the commander. I’ll see you two at the bar tonight.”
Evans and Dupree saluted. “Will do, sir.” Smith returned the salute before going on his way. The younger pilot breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank god things have been cleared out. Now if we can just win the war…”
“Agreed,” Dupree said. “But if there are more of those things out there, the end may not be any time soon.”
From that point on, Allied aircraft would have to do tread through Europe with great care. These new jets, if they were deployed in large numbers, could easily take control of the skies. In order to counter this new threat, aerial combat strategies would have to be rewritten. Fighter pilots and bomber crews alike would have to train harder and better prepare themselves. If they didn’t, the tide could easily turn in favor of the Germans…
No one knew it at the time, but the Me-262 would never be a war winner. By war’s end, of the 1,400 or so jets produced, it was estimated that less than 300 ever saw combat. Also, they arrived on the battlefield too little, too late to make a difference in the war’s outcome. What they did do, however, was create a new benchmark for future aircraft to follow. The era of propeller-driven fighter planes was coming to an end, and the Jet Age would soon begin.
What felt out of place then would eventually - and inevitably - become commonplace.