combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2005

Fifteen Minutes of Chess

          With sleep still battling to stay in his eyes the veteran Messcherschmitt pilot looked onward to the tentative October sunrise. It was predicted by intelligence that this partly cloudy day would saturate the target area as well. Weather mattered not to this squadron commander; his only concern was this growing cloud that began to hang over is heart from the pitiless stalemate.

          His icy blue-gray eyes focused intensely upon an invisible nothing as he silently reprimanded himself by sipping more of the tar-like substance that vaguely resembled coffee. The eyes this man possessed were devoid of emotion, they had to be; or he would end up being the next casualty. On the other hand though, seeing his men not making it back was like a dagger twisting like a snake through his heart.

          This rigid man went by one of two names he had earned through pure respect. The first being the obvious due to his rank, Colonel Griffenburg. The second due to his skills; Hexen, because this man was like a warlock in the skies. Almost hypnotizing the enemy and friends alike with his skills, while being completely unforgiving, but at the same time having an unmatched professionalism.

          Skills that he unfortunately did not have the time to pass on to the replacements due to mission load. Statistically from his experience he could quote with a deadly macabre that on average the British would lose three planes and that three of his own would not make it back either on this coming mission. On a personal level that meant that the colonel had to force himself into not being close to anyone; that would just make their deaths only that much worse.

          The stress fatigued everyone to the point where no one could sleep well; all they could think or talk about was flying and more importantly about the tactics that would keep them all alive. Colonel Griffenburg mused at the thought of the English pilots doing the same exact thing, for those souls were in the same position as his pilots. In actuality those brave Englishmen were in a position of do or die in a bitter battle for their own land.

          The worst part for German pilots was how they all knew that they only had enough fuel to fly over England for fifteen minutes, at the most, once arriving over it. It was a very short time to accomplish your mission; worse if you were mixing it up with a Spitfire only to have that red light come on right when you were about to get that kill. That horrible fact led to many German deaths either being shot down when they broke off to fly home or having to ditch their plane in France. All you could do when a Spitfire jumped you on the way home was either hope you came across the next flight group that was twenty minutes after your takeoff or dive so steeply that the Spitfire would stall.

          Those same Englishmen also had some advantage in location, all they had to do was wait for German planes, and then both sides could fly themselves into the meat grinder. It was becoming a stalemate; and both sides knew it. For the colonel and other German pilots it was a morale buster, because everyday they were losing good men and really not gaining anything.

          Good men they were. With families who would see those men earn either an Iron Cross or a wooden cross, depending on if they survived all these missions or perished in the process. Griffenburg heard rumors that now some Bf-109's would be fitted with bombs; a task for which none was really designed. Because not only would it slow you down considerably, but also it would drastically change the flight characteristics. Something that many replacements would have a hard time adapting to after putting all their being into trying to stay alive.

          On top of that, if bandits jumped you before reaching the target you would have to jettison that bomb so you could maneuver. Making the whole trip across that channel for nothing. This jaded German commander knew that somewhere in the chain of command there was an incredible flaw, but due to the rigidity of that chain no one would ever say anything to change it. The only duty of the German male was to die for the Reich; and that in itself was flawed. You never want to die for your country; you want to make your enemy die for his.

          There were no illusions on either side about being better than the other; because the Bf-109 and Spitfire were so evenly matched in the sky. Both planes had flaws; the 109-E4 with the wing design that would make you turn slower to the left and at higher speeds contributes to you passing out. The Spitfire with its carburetor that would flood the engine with fuel when a negative gravity force was upon it, that is if the plane went into a hard dive the engine would stall or stop.

          What it really came down to was the skill of the pilot in each plane, both sides knew that was the factor. Which made you wonder every time there was a dogfight who you were going up against. Would it be a green replacement or a hardened warrior of the sky? Or if you were an experienced pilot, you could not help but think about the probability you witnessed from every other air battle. Would you get in a serious dogfight and burn up your return fuel or would it be your time to go by someone over your caliber of flying?

          The English did not have a concern about fuel, but of ammunition; it was well known that their planes carried only about nine seconds of firing. Every German pilot knew this, but within that nine-second window it only took a half-second of that to be within a Spitfire's line of fire and to get blown out of the sky. The colonel saw everyone trapped within this divine tragedy of war, and even more trapped within their own fears.

          This ongoing battle had no end in sight to the colonel; it was a vicious fifteen minutes of chess over England that was played only with pawns on both sides daily. Staring with eyes that looked deceptively old, eyes that bore the burden of only what a soldier experienced in war. The colonel noted that the sun was just gracefully peaking over the horizon, and with a deep breath he finished the rest of the tary coffee. It was time to brief his men for their upcoming mission; with a short prayer for those same men he turned sharply and headed back.

by Ryan A. Forbus
... who is a former United States Marine, working toward a career in writing.