by Ralph Oppenheim
, December, 1933
An Auto Racer Takes to the Sky and Finds That He Has a Lot to
LearnBut . . . .
LIVID sparks belching from exhausts, the Spad was roaring down the
moonlit tarmac of the Twenty-second Pursuit Squadron. Already it had
traversed fully half the length of the field and, headed into the wind,
had gathered flying speed. Yet, like some bird reluctant to fly, it
still clung with its wheels to the ground.
Lieutenant Steve Bentley, his whole body tensed like a spring ready
to snap as he sat at the controls, cursed himself with a half sob
beneath the yammering roar of the motor.
Damn it, why couldn't he let go? Why did he hold the stick back, keep
the tail down, making the speeding plane hug the earth? Could he never
get it through his head that a Spad didn't have to go ninety miles an
hour to take off, that flying speed was no more than seventy?
Besides, every moment was precious nowalready his best friend, Jim
Allen, was way out in the night sky, flying to certain doom! Jim Allen
who had bunked with him for months, become his inseparable buddyand
for whom Bentley was now defying orders, desperately determined to go
out and try, at least, to help Allen in his fatal mission. Defying
As the Spad hurtled along the moonlit ground, Bentley still holding
back that stick with a stubborn instinct stronger than his will, he
caught a vague glimpse of pilots surging from the messhall, rushing out
into the moonlight, among them the familiar, tall figure of Major
Greaves, the C. O. All were waving toward the Spad, signaling it to
stopgesturing that Bentley was crazy.
He must get off, Bentley repeated to himself with growing frenzy. The
Spad was moving with the speed of a missile now, but, with the stick
kept back, the tail could not lift. The ship vibrated from nose to
tall, straining as if to snap from its impotent efforts to fly, and
Bentley felt a cold dread that the twenty-pound bombs tucked under his
fuselage would be shaken loose, and blow him to atoms.
And then, still more dire peril, he saw the dark blur of trees
loomingthe end of the tarmac! His earthbound plane was rushing toward
those oncoming trees hell bent, head-on. Desperately, gritting his
teeth, Bentley managed to master his muscles at last. He forced his
unwilling hand to push the stick forward, to neutral.
Instantly the Spad, its terrific pent-up energy released, popped into
the air like a cork out of a soda bottle. Upward it shot, high over the
trees. A gasp of heartfelt relief escaped Bentley as he zoomed into the
starry sky, heading easttoward Hunland.
He was in the air, and once in the air he could fly with the best of
them. He opened the throttle wide, hurtled forward, steering by compass
while his eyes strained from behind their goggles to peer through the
darkness ahead, searching for signs of Allen's crateAllen's crate
which all this time must have been speeding toward its objective,
toward the German power plant at Brenz.
That power plant had to be destroyed tonight. Two weeks ago G. H. Q.
had ordered it to be wiped out. Its destruction was the sole means of
thwarting the German offensive which was to be launched tomorrow. The
Germans had managed to cripple the Allied supply bases; the only
retaliation was to cripple their powerstop their mills, their
factories, their electric transportation and war machinery. And the
burden of this power was supplied by the huge Brenz plant.
THE Twenty-second Pursuit had been given the job, and the
Twenty-second had failedutterly. Night after night the best aces had
gone out in the hope of sneaking throughfor it would take the bombs
of only one plane to set fire to the whole plant, if properly placed.
But none of those flyers had reached their objectiveall had been
gotten before they were near the place. For the Germans had been wily
enough to protect their one huge source of power with an impregnable
Not only was the plant situated in a strategic locationon a spot of
land surrounded by jagged ravinesbut the approaches to it were
fortified by a solid mass of anti-aircrafts and searchlights. To get to
it one had to fly through this deadly gauntletand thus far none had
And then tonight, with the deadline drawing close, Major Greaves, the
Twenty-second's C. O., had asked for another volunteer. And Steve
Bentley had been the first to speak up, to ask for the mission. But he
had not gotten it. Jim Allen, who had spoken second, was chosen.
WHITE-FACED with anger, Bentley had burst into the C. O.'s office
shortly after Allen, having received orders, had left to get his Spad.
Yes, the C. O.'s voice had rasped, and the lines in his stern face
were hard. I knew you volunteered, Bentley. But I had to choose the
one man left who could fly. He gave the word a grim emphasis
which made Bentley wince. Allen is the only real flyer we have left;
if he can't perform the mission no one can. Why, it's no wonder we've
failed with a squadron like this. Flyers you call yourselves, when half
of you can't make a decent bank or keep a formation.
Take yourself: you can't get over the fact that you were an auto
racer before the war. You think you're in a racing car when you get
into your plane. And because an auto goes ninety miles an hour without
leaving the ground, you're afraid a plane won't take off unless it goes
faster. Twice you've crashed because of those delayed take-offs of
yours. I'm not denying it takes guts to be an auto racer, Bentleybut
you've got to know how to fly to be a good pilot.
Humiliated, Bentley had been stung to fierce self-defense. Eddie
Rickenbacker was an auto racer, he had protested.
Yes, and I know you used to race with him at Indianapolis. But
Rickenbacker had the good sense to forget his autosand learn about
planes. That's why he's an ace where you'll never be one.
And despite Bentley's further protests, his pleas not to have Allen
sent on that fatal mission, the C. O. had remained adamant.
Allen had taken off.
But now, some ten minutes later, Bentley was following the trail he
knew Allen must have taken toward Brenz. It had been a simple matter to
sneak out a Spad, load it with bombs, and rev up on the far end of the
tarmac. And, although he had made just such a delayed take-off as the
C. O. had attributed to his habits as a former auto racer, Bentley had
gotten safely into the air.
HE opened his throttle still wider. He was streaking like a missile
through the night sky nowalready the livid line of the battlefront
was sweeping toward him out of the murk below and ahead.
But though his eyes were still straining he saw no sign of Allen yet.
God, he must hurry; he must catch up to Allen. Perhaps then, between
the two of them, they could get through that hell of defenses which
protected Brenz. The twisting battlefront swept belowin the darkness
he could just see the calcium zigzags of the German trenches. In enemy
skies nowstill hurtling toward Brenz. Still straining his eyes for
sight of Allen's Spad.
And then, at last, he discovered a tiny flickering dot of red in the
sky aheadthe flame of a plane's exhaust! His heart leaped, as,
goading his Spad to another furious spurt of speed, he saw the outlines
of bird-like wings gradually appear where that red exhaust flame
showed. Allen's crate! Still speeding toward its objective, but not yet
in the defense area. Bentley could still catch up to him, join him.
HE fought to get still more speed out of his hurtling, roaring ship,
fought to close the gap between himself and the plane ahead. And
steadily he gained, gained. Only about half a mile now and
A cry of sudden alarm tore from Bentley's throat. For even then the
thing happened. Even then, the dark earth beneath Allen's Spad seemed
to awake from its sleep with horrible abruptness.
From every part of the ground giant searchlights came on like so many
opening eyes. They sent their stabbing beams into the dark sky, until
the sky looked like some carnival, with streamers of white waving and
criss-crossing each other. There must have been hundreds of those
lights; never before had Bentley seen so many.
And though Bentley, speeding on, was still beyond the fringe of the
area of waving lightsthe Spad of Allen, ahead, was right in their
midst! With anguished horror Bentley saw that other Spad suddenly come
into glaring relief; like the deadly tentacles of some huge monster,
those waving bands of light fastened on its flanks, held it. Futilely
the plane dipped and dived and zoomeda dancing moth in the blinding
In a frenzy Bentley was hurtling his own Spad on toward that area,
his only thought being to get to his friend, though he knew Allen was
beyond help now. And before he himself reached the fringe of the
tentacles of light
Boom! B-room! B-r-r-room!
From the ground came livid flashes of redas a whole score of
anti-aircraft guns cut loose, hurling up a barrage at the Spad which
was so neatly framed for them in the searchlights. A barrage so thick,
so solid, that nothing could possibly have escaped it.
A seething eruption of shells which spotted the dark sky with lurid
sheets of flame.
And the cry which broke from Bentley then came from his very soul,
wrenching his heart with it. For there, before his eyes, he saw one of
those bursting flashes break directly beside Allen's plane. He saw a
wing break off in shattering debris, to fall like some amputated limb
from the glare- illumined Spad. He saw the Spad thena stumpy fuselage
with up-bent lower wing, threatening to crackspinning giddily down,
down, until it was lost in the darknesswhile the tentacles of the
searchlights still continued to wave, as if lusting for another victim.
Jim! Bentley was sobbing hoarsely, hysterically. Jimdamn
themthey got you!
BLIND with his frenzy, he was still hurtling his own Spad toward
those waving beams of light. And in another instant he would have gone
to his own doomonly the instinct of self- preservation made him bank
away just beyond the fringe of the area, made him realize that to
commit suicide would not help the situation in the least. He banked in
a slow circle.
Allen had failedthe C. O.'s last hope. And unless Brenz was
destroyed by tomorrow
At the edge of the lighted sky, coming around in another circle,
Bentley strained his eyes over the defense area. Through it, miles
ahead, he saw the dark drop of a ravine; beyond that, on a rise, a
squatting cluster of buildings which he knew to be the Brenz plant. The
plant itself had no defense at all; it lay openif only he could read1
BUT how could one reach it when all around was this field of
searchlights and anti-aircrafts? And the only approach was by plane;
one had to fly to get over the ravine which surrounded the factory
drop the fatal bombs. One had to fly, and anything that did fly would
be shot to hell by the anti-aircrafts.
Bentley let his Spad lose altitude, still keeping beyond the fringe
of lights now. He was leaning over the fuselage, scanning the terrain
with its dots of searchlights. He noticed that the terrain was wooded
with heavy, tall treeshe could see their dark foliage. And then
Across the ground below, cutting through the wooded section, was a
narrow band, lighter than the rest of the dark earth. A road. It led
directly through the anti-aircraft and searchlight area, all the way
through, and emerged near the ravine before the power plant.
A wild, reckless plan took shape in Bentley's head then, grew on him.
That road was wide and straight. There were no anti-aircrafts on it,
and it was lined by trees on either side. And though the anti-aircrafts and searchlights could be trained on anything in the airit
was obvious they couldn't very well be trained on the road amid the
trees; the trunks and foliage would prevent that.
SuicidalBentley tried to tell himself. Yet the more he thought of
it, the more it obsessed him. In his mind he heard the acrid voice of
his C. O.: . . . an auto racerbut you've got to know how to fly.
An auto racer! By God, his teeth suddenly gritted, maybe an auto
racer could yet be of good use to the air service! Maybe the very habit
which had made him a washout as a flyer would now enable him to attempt
the mission which flyers had found impossiblewhich had cost Jim Allen
And even while his mind cogitated, his muscles had already come to
decision: he was pushing his joystick forwardhis Spad was swooping
downward. Cutting his engine, half-gliding, as unobtrusively as he
could. The dark landscape, still outside the fringe of searchlights,
loomed swiftly toward him.
He saw the widening band of road where it entered here in front of
the defense boundaries. He headed for it, banking to get his ship
parallel with it. In this portion it was deserted, he was grateful to
Lower, lowera ticklish flying job, yet he did it confidently, for
as long as he was in the air he could do anything with a plane. The
road loomed, and on either side, rising like fatal shoals, loomed the
stretch of tall trees. He maneuvered between themhe saw them rise on
either side of his wings, and the space between them and his wingtips
seemed only inches.
HE was directly over the road now, his lower wings between the trees,
his Spad moving forwardtoward the boundaries of the defense area. But
he could not stay, in the air like thiseven at this low height the
anti-aircrafts could still get him over the trees.
Teeth clenched, he cut his motor a little more, keeping the stick in
neutral now. The Spad settled.
The habit which made him delay his take-offs worked just the opposite
when he landed: he landed fast, almost as soon as he lost flying speed.
His wheels bounced on the road, then held. His Spad was on the road,
between the crowded trees.
AND directly ahead on either side was the defense area with its
searchlights and anti-aircrafts.
A reckless gleam came into Bentley's goggled eyes. With a fierce,
gritted oath, he pulled back his joystick, opened the throttle almost
Roaring, the Spad shot forward, its propeller whirling, making the
leaves and dust fly on the highway. Down the road it hurtled, faster,
faster, yet not taking off because its tail could not lift with Bentley
holding back the stick. Holding back the stick, and keeping his feet
rigid as iron bars against the rudder pads, keeping the wings between
the tree-trunks which rushed by.
Faster and still fasteruntil the plane was streaking down that road
like a missile, rushing straight into the defense areawith the
searchlights and anti- aircrafts on both sides beyond the trees.
The Germans became aware of this mad earthbound Yank then. Several
searchlights swung their tremendous beams down from the sky, tried to
turn them on the road. But just as Bentley had shrewdly figured, the
heavy foliage of trees placed a solid screen before their glare-and
also prevented the anti-aircrafts from swinging on him.
Coal-scuttle helmeted figures rushed out to the road ahead from both
sides then, leveling rifles wildly as the plane, wheels on the ground,
came tearing by in a roaring rush. Crack! Crack! The rifles
blazedbullets began to whistle past Bentleyone or two ripped
through fabric and wood.
But Bentley ignored them. There was an almost savage exultation in
his heart as he sent his earthbound Spad careening on, on. He almost
forgot that he was in a plane, though mechanically he was still careful
to keep his wings from hitting the trees. Mentally he was back on the
racetrack in Indianapolis; in a high-powered racing cargiving her all
she would take, chewing up the road, striving for the goalthe finish!
He was in his element at last!
On, on he hurtledat a speed which strained every fiber of the ship
and made it struggle to lurch into the air. But he held it down,
knowing that to fly meant to expose himself to the deadly searchlights
and anti- aircrafts.
And then, suddenly, he could not ignore the Boche trying to stop him
on the road any longerfor suddenly now he saw peril looming ahead!
A group of coal-scuttle helmeted Boche soldiers had dragged a light
machine-gun to the center of the road, were training it on the oncoming
JAGGED flame spat from that gun, and even though he was not yet in
range Bentley could hear the terrific head-on whine of the bullets.
God, they'd get himshoot him to ribbons if he went on in their midst.
If only he could use his own gunsbut his own guns, being fixed on the
engine, were pointed upwards as was the fuselage of his earthbound
Again the gun ahead blazedthis time he heard the tick of
bullets through his shipfelt it shiver; then, out of sheer
desperation, Bentley suddenly cut his throttleand as the Spad slowed
a trifle in its mad speed, he forced himself to inch the joy-stick
momentarily forward. Instantly the tail of the plane flipped up its
nose came down. Only for a few seconds did he hold it that waybut in
those few seconds he pressed his stick- triggers, pressed them and
HIS twin Vickers vibrated and spat. The Germans on the open road were
caught in his fire, mowed down like wheat. The Boche gun was silenced.
Luckily, though, there was sufficient space around the gun of the
sprawled Jerries for Bentley to guide his wheels throughhis wings
were high enough to pass over the cluttered part of the road. Tail down
again, he was streaking on once more. Going on, hell-bent, striving to
get through the anti- aircraft areato get past, where it would be
safe to take off and fly, reach the Brenz plant.
But now the Boche resistance was becoming more and more serious.
Germans were pouring through the trees ahead on both sides of the road,
bringing machine-guns and rifles. The night became rent with the
staccato clatter of the shrill cracks. The air around Bentley grew
dense with flying, screaming lead.
But recklessly he ducked low beneath his cockpit cowl, and drove
onon toward that finish line. And he was making it, he saw with
fierce exultation. Not far nowjust another good stretch and he'd be
beyond the searchlights, able to take off. And then they couldn't stop
himfrom there to the Brenz factory would be clear, easy sailing.
His blood froze, and a cry of horrified alarm broke from him. For
now, directly ahead, he saw a new obstacle. A whole crowd of Boche had
dragged some heavy logs across the road, had formed a barricade behind
which they crouched with rifles and machine-guns. Godpanic swept
Bentleyhe couldn't get through he was going to crash into that
barricade head-onsomersault to certain destruction.
Swiftly now the obstacle grew in his line of visionalready the
string of German guns behind it flashed in blazing reports. And then
Bentley did the only thing there was left to do. He opened his throttle
fullagain was forcing his joystick forward. Again the tail lifted
and this time the whole plane lifted with it. In a soaring sweep it was
whisking right over the barricade.
And even in that instant, as the ship soared above the road, Bentley
was blinded by searchlight glareshis ears were deafened by the
terrific detonation of an anti-aircraft shell which seemed to burst
right in front of him. Madly he cut the engine, to settle back down on
the roadget down before he was shot to hell.
He heard a rending crackle thenin horror he saw that his right
wing-tip had grazed one of the treeswood and fabric was ripped, but
fortunately the aileron was undamaged. And his wheels were on the road
again then, once more he was safe from the anti-aircrafts, driving
forward between the trees.
AND with sudden joyous relief he realized that the Boche rifle and
machine-gun fire came from behind him no longer from in front. The
searchlights rose behind him, too. He was through! He had gotten
through the area! Ahead was an unfortified stretchthen the ravine,
beyond which was the unprotected power plant! Take off nowtake off!
But it was then that the trait which had seen him through this hectic
stunt once more turned itself against him. He had lost some speed, and
with his right wing damaged, he was afraid to let the stick go forward
just yet. Must get up more speed first. He opened the throttle wide.
The Spad dashed on. A moment or so more now and he could make the
A cry of horrified alarm burst from him then, and instinctively he
started to close the throttle. God, he had hesitated too long. Now the
road, directly ahead, came to an end. And it ended in a sheer,
precipitous drop into the deep ravine between here and the plant!
Before he could possibly take off his plane would slew over the side of
that ravineinto that sheer drop.
EVEN in that instant beads of sweat broke out on his goggled face.
God, it would take a born flyer to make a Spad with a damaged wing take
off over a cliffrisk letting her go into that sheer drop of space
which doubtless contained treacherous wind currents and pockets. And
Bentley was not a born flyer. He was an earthbound auto racer. The C.
O. had been rightterribly right.
Sight of the looming cliff had made him cut his engine almost down to
half, which, he realized now with a curse of fury against himself, only
made the thing more impossible. Behind him now he could hear the Boche
who were still giving chase, hear their rifles almost in range again.
And then, once more turning his eyes ahead, he saw a sight which
brought his panic to a frenzied pitch.
Streaking down from the dark sky swooping like a giant bird of prey,
was a dark winged shape. Even in the darkness Bentley could identify
its tapering outlines. A Fokker D-7deadly German scout! It was coming
for him, diving toward his Spad which was on the ground. And he knew
that on the ground his plane would be totally at the mercy of the
Fokker, for his Spad could move only in two directions where the Fokker
moved in three. Unless he got into the air so he could fight back
Desperately he drove on for the cliff now. But still his fear would
not allow him to open the throttle wide. And then
A rain of tracer slewed down from in front of him, whining like a
death-song in his ears. Darker than the night itself was the shadow of
the Fokker, roaring right down over himwith two streaks of brilliant
flame snaking from its forward muzzles.
The Spad on the road shivered and vibrated from the impact of the
bullets flying bits of glass stung his cheeks like hornets. Helpless,
he saw the Fokker pivot its dark wings in a breathless Immelmannsaw
it coming again from behind, and knew it was the end. The Jerry pilot
was diving for the killand even before Bentley could make the cliff
at allthat kill could be accomplished, he'd be shot to ribbons as he
sat in the cockpit!
HE heard the yammering roar of the diving German planethe wild
shrill of wires.
The staccato clatter deafened him, seemed so close in his ears he
wondered that he lived even to hear it. And it was then he realized,
with incredulous amaze, that the clatter did not come from the Fokker
at allbut from the ground itself, from the side of the road! A
machinegun, just outside the border of trees was blazing and
And, with even more wide-eyed amazement, Bentley saw the Fokker stop
in mid-air, like a bird surprised by a sudden wound. For a second it
flew queerly, crazily. Then, as if a giant hand had picked it up and
hurled it through spaceit slid on one wing into the mass of trees to
one side of the road-and a column of smoke and livid flame proclaimed
AND at the same time the incredulous Bentley saw a figure rushing
from that gun at the roadside, rushing toward his Spadwhich he had
already slowed almost to a snail's pace.
And a shout of wild, frenzied glee broke from him.
Jim! he yelled. Jim Allen! God, how on earth!
Almost sobbing with joy he brought the Spad practically to a stop.
And Jim Allen, his buddy and squadron mate, was reaching the
fuselagehe felt Allen's hand patting his shoulder, heard Allen's
voice above the throttled engine:
Good boy, Steve! It was a grand show! And what luck! My own crate
crashed bad near this side of the anti- aircraft areaI glided it over
while it was falling. I got out safe and sound, was trying to go on
foot toward Brenza crazy idea, because you couldn't get near that
factory on foot. Then I saw this crate of yours coming along the
roadknew it was you because who else does his flying on the ground?
Jim laughed, but his laugh was affectionate. Now just give me those
controlsit's a cinch to get off the cliff and sail over the factory,
provided you stretch out on the good wing to balance the other smashed
Bentley was all too eager. He wouldn't have to take this damaged
crate off the cliff nowAllen, a born flyer, one of the best, would
attend to all thatand even the prospect of riding the take-off into
the ravine. Gratefully Bentley started to unstrap himself and
There was a furious rush of running footstepsaccompanied by
guttural shouts and the clink of raising rifles. And right on
the road behind the Spad came a whole horde of BocheBoche who had
caught up to the plane at last.
Dazedly Bentley heard Jim Allen's voice shouting: Take her off,
Steve! No time to change now! I'll stretch on the wing! Get
Bentley's heart went cold. He hesitated, even as Allen sprawled on
the good wing, getting support with feet and arms on flying wires and
The Germans came on, closer closer holding their fire now and
yelling for the Americans to surrender.
Hurry! Allen yelled from the wing. For God's sake, manhurry!
Don't ruin it now! Steer for the cliffI'll tell you just what to do!
ND then, even as the Boche were almost at the tail of the ship,
Bentley gritted his teeth and ripped open the throttle lever. The Spad
leaped forward, Allen lying stretched on its wing.
The German rifles blazed at the shrinking tail of the plane
bullets whizzed after the ship. Then the cliff-edge loomedand Bentley
felt his heart constricting in his throat. His fingers itched to turn
down the throttlehis feet longed to slew around the rudder to avoid
that oncoming chasm of space; but Allen, clinging to the wing, yelled
above the roaring motor: Keep going! All the speed you can make!
And then, in one breathless rush, the brink of the cliff camethere
was a sickening drop which seemed to leave Bentley's stomach in the
His face was like parchment as he gripped the stick, as the
Spadstill without flying speedstarted to flounder.
Dive! Allen yelled from the wing. Dive straight down! Hurry, or
you'll lose us both!
Bentley, feeling dizzy, plunged the stick forward with all his might.
He felt the furious rush of windsaw jagged rocks at the bottom of the
ravine rising like sharp, hungry teeth to engulf them. Allen clung to
the wing valiantlyso valiantly that Bentley was ashamed of his own
ALL rightpull up! You just have flying speedyou can make it!
Allen's voice seemed to come from miles awaythrough a wall of
shrieking wind. Then, with sudden wild alarm: Nowait! Keep diving!
And simultaneous with that last shrill shout, Bentley heard a
yammering roar above the roar of his own engine. Wildly he jerked up
his headand his heart stopped. Two of themtwo swooping,
coffin-nosed Fokkers! Both of them diving right on top of the Spad,
with spitting guns.
Confused, Bentley started to pull back the stick. But immediately
came Allen's frantic yell: Don't pull up nowyou have no speed to
zoom, and they'll shoot us to blazes! Keep divingthe only hope!
And again Bentley forced his muscles to keep down the stick. Headlong
the Spad was plunging like a plummet toward the depths of the
ravinewith Allen clinging on the wing for dear life now. Sweat
covered Bentley's body. The rocks below were rushing toward him,
And all the time he heard the Fokkers aboveglimpsed one of them
following on his tail. Down, downuntil the rocks were so close now
that he thought surely it was the endthe crash must come. And then
Pull up! came Allen's voice. Pull into a zoom! Quickand let's
pray that the bad wing holds!
And with his whole body Bentley was pulling back the joy-stick,
pulling it back to his very chest. He saw the rocks below suddenly
swing down, as if they were all on some downward folding trap-door. He
heard the terrific smash of his own wings against the airthe almost
solid impact made the Spad lurch in every fiber. There came a deafening
crasha crash of wood, metal and fabric against rock. But dazedly
Bentley knew it was not his Spadfor his Spad was climbinghe saw the
stray starry sky before it.
Good boy! Allen's voice came from the wing. You bluffed one of
those Jerries into diving too lowhe crashed! And our plane is
okaymy weight's keeping it balanced! My
HE broke off, as the shrill clatter of Spandaus rose overhead. The
remaining Fokker, enraged by the fall of its comrade, was attacking now
like an infuriated vulture. But then a reckless oath broke from Steve
BentleySteve Bentley who felt a new, glorious confidence now. And
with a firm hand he sent the Spad zooming straight underneath that
Fokkersent it zooming while his fingers pressed the stick-triggers.
The Fokker was caught dead in that withering burst. It slewed over. A
tongue of flame leaped from its fuel line, licked greedily along the
fuselage. And then, bursting into flame, the last Jerry plane crashed
like a fiery torch into the ravine.
AND Bentley, eyes gleaming, zoomed his Spad safely out of the
ravine zoomed her, with Allen shouting encouragement from the wing,
clear over the rise beyondover the cluster of squatting buildings,
the steel towers, which were the Brenz power plant. On all sides the
searchlights reached their tentacles out in vain nowthe Spad was
within the unprotected area.
And as the Spad swooped over the vulnerable power plantand Bentley
found the bomb release, he jerked it once, twice. And from the Spad's
rack, two pear-shaped missiles of steel detached themselves went
shrieking down through space.
Geysers of flame and livid smoke shot up amid the buildings below.
One of the towers tottered, felland simultaneously there was a
blazing blue flash, as of lightningas the live, high-tension wires
were short-circuited. And again and again the Spad swoopeda
determined Yank at its controls, with another Yank who shouted
encouragement on its wings. Bomb after bomb was released, and each
further completed the devastation of that power plant.
With a hissing roar a whole section of buildings burst into flames
now, apparently from another short-circuit. Swiftly the holocaust
spreadthe whole place became a shambles, covered with roaring flame
and billowing smoke.
And up above, the Spad banked like a victorious eagle, while Allen,
still sprawled on the wing, yelled: The best damn show I've ever seen,
guy! It was worth it! Worth the prison camp we're due for nowif we're
not shot to hell first.
Bentley, hearing this last, thought that Allen was jokingand he
even began to laugh heartily. But the laugh froze in his throat, as
suddenly, with a shock, he saw that Allen was stating the bare truth!
Death or prison camp was their inevitable fate now!
All around the, devastated plant, on all sides of the ravine, there
still remained the waving searchlightsthe impregnable defense area.
And though, by a reckless stunt, Bentley had come here through that
area, he knew he could never go back the same way; even if the Spad had
enough fuel and strengththe Jerries would have the road blocked by
nowhave all other possible routes blocked, too, after what had
happened. No, they could not go back by land. And even more certainly,
they could not return by airno one could fly through those
searchlights and live!
They were maroonedmarooned over the plant they had
destroyedmarooned and surrounded with death or prison camp awaiting
A CHILL panic grew upon Bentley. God, why hadn't he thought of this
hitch? Why hadn't he realized that, though he could get to the plant,
he could never get away again? Why
It was worth itwe've ruined the German offensive, came Allen's
voice from the winga voice cheerful and without a tinge of fear. And
now what do we do? Commit suicide in the anti- aircrafts or land and
fight it out when they come to get us? Take your pick!
And the cheerful coolness of Allen brought shame to Bentley, shame
for his own fears. For he realized that Allen must have known all along
that this was a suicidal stuntyet, without hesitation, he had ridden
that wing, encouraged Bentley. And if Allen could face itso must he;
they must face it together, like the comrades they were.
AND suddenly Bentley's panic was gone, and in its place was a calm
coolness. His voice rose gamely, vibrantly:
We've still one more bomband just to make a perfect job I'm gonna
drop it on the only building I see standingthat small one down there
which the fire hasn't touched. And thenby Godwe'll at least go down
And with a grin Bentley once more sent the Spad swooping downdown
over the sole remaining building. And once more his finger pulled the
In one terrific upheaval of flame and debris the last building was
blown to atomsto scattered ruin. And zooming once more, Bentley
That makes it thorough. And now to fight it out until they get us
He broke off, as Allen gave a shout of wild incredulous glee. Look,
feller! Look what's happened! Look! The searchlights
And Bentley, looking, felt momentarily all the awe that one feels in
the presence of a miracle.
For the sky on all sides of the devastated plant had suddenly become
dark; every single searchlight had gone out. And then, with a dazed
shock, Bentley realizedrealized what must have happened.
That last building! It was the power house which supplied those
searchlights! When we bombed it we blew 'em all out!
And, peacefully he headed the Spad straight for Allied territory.
Peacefully they soared over the anti-aircraft area absolutely safe
now, for without the lights to frame them, the anti-aircrafts were as
harmless as if they contained blank charges.
And just as the first streaks of dawn were in the air, the two Yank
friends, tired but happy, stood before the desk of an equally tired but
happy C. O. in his headquarters.
I tell you it was the most clever and nervy stunt anyone ever
pulled, Allen was enthusing. I wish you had been there, sir, to see
BENTLEY broke in angrily. How many times must I tell you that if it
weren't for you, Jim, the whole thing would have flopped? If you hadn't
been on the wing, telling me how to make that take-offthat divethe
power plant would still be functioning! But that flying lesson was all
I needed, he added confidently. In that one take-off I learned enough
to make my brain a flying encyclopaedia.
Bunk! Allen retorted. Why, no one but a born flyer could have done
any of the things you've done! Gosh, Colonel, you may not know it, but
you've got a real ace in this guy Bentley.
The C. O. beamed. And then he said with warm pride: Well, it's only
natural; he used to be an auto racer. You know like Rickenbacker.