combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 01 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2003

The Courage Factor

Ich Heiße Wolfgang ... that is, my name is Wolfgang Schwarz, and I am a BF-109 pilot. I would like to say willingly, but alas I cannot; and personally I do not want anything to do with this war ... this war that has taken my whole family away from me once the bombing of our country commenced. Sadly I now see the unadulterated destruction of war everyday. The cause of it is that Nazi bastard who stands around and orders my friends and my people to their deaths. There are rumors that a few of our own officers attempted to assassinate him, however, we must be very careful who and what we talk about; the political and morale officers seem to be everywhere at once, like a gang of rats.

I have lost everything, and have gained nothing from this war. Petra, my older sister, used to say that my pride would catch up with me someday. I cannot help but smile thinking about her; she used to annoy me beyond the point of insanity, but now I find myself missing her. Knowing that I would gladly trade my life to bring her back, for that matter, to bring my whole family back. After the memories comes the guilt that makes my heart heavy and eyes damp, because I am alive when they deserve these flustering breaths of tormented air more than I do.

Never have I been shot down, and that is what frightens me more than the pits of hell. It is like I am flying with God, yet it still feels that Satan himself has control of the plane. I feel that I am now a liability to my unit; every time I go up, I am flying against the ghost that is my soul. Waiting for the moment that I am run through with the twenty-millimeters of a Spitfire V or worse, from the cannons of those new American planes that have been flying cover for their bombers. It is fascinating how they do it. The first time I saw them they dropped what looked like external fuel tanks off their wings to engage us.

I have two kills to my name; but I do not dishonor the bomber crews by counting them as kills, regardless of what my commanders say. My first kill on a plane was a stray Hurricane II that I found by luck during what they call the Battle of Britain. In this game of air combat, the first one that sees the other will get the kill. I feel guilty, because I swooped right down on that slower flying plane, wingman in tow, lit him up and then pulled away to get back into the clouds. There was no parachute seen and that poor pilot went into the cold Atlantic waters in his burning wreck of a plane.

Had that Hurricane pilot seen me, he could have easily performed a Split-S maneuver, or rolled and then turn sharply to the right. The 109-E4 series, that I just happened to fly at that time, had a horrible turn rate due to a fault in the wing's design. If I would have tried to follow him, I would have probably passed out from the G-Forces. The Hurricane is a deadly plane in a turn style fight, and even more so is the Hurricane II; with those twenty-millimeter cannons that would tear a 109 up in a heartbeat. The main advantage for us is that the English planes hold hardly any ammunition; maybe nine seconds at the most. We would joke with each other by saying that they had to make room for their tea.

But then again nine seconds can feel like eternity when hot lead is aimed at you ... you simply do not have the luxury of counting timeless moments while lethal rounds are passing by. My second kill was by pure luck with a frontal pass on a new American P-51 long-range escort somewhere over eastern France. I am pretty certain that is the name of that new plane. Well, it all happened so fast that it is extremely hazy in my memory, just like a dream. I was covering my wingman and turned long, only to see the plane coming right at me. Everything stopped like a photograph lost in time, but somehow I was able to put the hammer down while we both tried to avoid colliding. I hit his engine with a couple of shots of twenty-millimeter in the process, and our engagement passed swiftly.

The plane's engine flamed up and, strangely, I found myself concerned for this fellow pilot, this flier who had just tried to kill me. Even though we survive in this arena by attempting to kill each other without thought, I could not evade my basic humanity. Now I was thinking of him as a man, and not like he was just an enemy plane. So in the middle of combat I matched speed until I saw him jump out of the plane. Now relieved that the man was alright, I circled around him, just above stalling speed, so I could get a good look. He was just as I still was after these terrible few years ... young on the outside, and scared as hell on the inside. On my final turn, I saluted him as I passed by, and considering his circumstances, he generously returned it. I just hope those SS bastards did not get a hold of him.

In retrospect, the scariest thing for me is that they have scored a couple of cockpit hits on my plane, and believe me, I am lucky to be here to speak about that story. My nickname is Glücksplitz, or Lucky Dog, if you would have it. At the beginning, most of my flights would leave me shivering once I landed; but now that has evaporated, and I am the one comforting the replacements when they are shivering from fright. When I "joined", and I use that term very loosely, because I had no choice, we had excellent pilots due to excellent training. Now, their real training was to live or die in the skies over the Fatherland. Sooner or later we will run out of planes or men, whichever comes first.

The Allies are wearing us down to nothing; even I can see that. With the Americans continuously bombing in the daylight, and the British at nighttime, we have no respite. The daytime raids are either brilliantly bold, or extremely suicidal on their part, and I honestly think that it is a little bit of both. But I firmly believe that their true objective is to destroy our air power before the inevitable Atlantic Wall assault. And, what is worse yet, everyone can see that objective except our glorious commanders.

Our commanders, their commanders, what is the difference? On each side we are only pawns and numbers to them; because they are not the people who make the sacrifices ... those who fight are. I feel so guilty for those that I have killed. While most of the other gentlemen would sit around watching their gun-camera films of American daytime bombers bursting into flames, I would sit back in the farthest corner and honestly feel sorry for those poor men who are making the sacrifices. Then I would count how many of our men who were gone, having made their own sacrifice, and realized more each day that it was not worth the exchange. Our lives for their lives, their lives for ours; a never-ending cycle. Perhaps I would think differently if things had been different ... if our great country triumphed over all, like the propaganda told us. But that was before I saw war firsthand.

Unfortunately, wars happen. In a world where neighbors cannot even get along, it will continue to occur. All that we would have left at the end of such a war would be captured land and battered soldaten; but after this war, we shall have even less ... lost women and children, complete families utterly destroyed. I have a gut feeling that, when it is all through, when all of the debris is sifted, everyone will see exactly how bad it really was. Pulling the issued blankets tighter around myself, I can feel that point between vague consciousness and exhausted sleep, a feeling so good, yet painfully hard to explain. Tears were in my eyes for all of those who had fallen, especially those that died by me.

Sometimes, the guilt was too much for me to take. I had killed, and yet I had the consolation of not having to witness what the bodies looked like afterwards. Still I felt like a vile murderous man, without anything but my courage, and my hope for the changing of this world. Hope, that is what keeps us going when everything else turns against us in life. What is truly dangerous is when we let that hope lead us down a false path ... a promise of right from wrongs, a good effect from bad acts. I let out one last yawn, shifted around once more, and with eyes wide open, caught myself again looking into the blackness of the night inside our bunker.

Before sleep took me, I heard a few fitful coughs from my men struggling to sleep. Nothing is more stressful than trying to rest for tomorrow's flight, knowing that the next burning wreck could be yours. Of course, the constant sound and feel of the rumbling bombs being dropped did not help either. Like the impersonal flak and the anonymous bullets, those bombs are dropping death that is searching for you. There was nothing but courage to go on now in this deadly game, and that would be the deciding factor.

by Ryan A. Forbus
... who is a former United States Marine, and now writes freelance.