Excerpted from Eric Hammel's Aces Against Germany .

Hammel's book (and its companion, Aces Against Japan) are filled with crisp first-person accounts like this one. I recommend them strongly. This excerpt in particular demonstrates the elements of air combat which are so compelling to people who play Warbirds, in that it simulates an exciting time which placed people in extraordinarily trying circumstances. Like a crucible, these circumstances allow you to see something more about who we are. In particular, seeing people react to sudden dangers shows as clearly as ever what really matters to them. Sometimes the result is one of spontaneous selflessness.

Captain Newell Roberts of the 94th Fighter Squadron of the 1st Fighter Group offers this exciting account of an armed reconnaissance mission he flew against German targets in Tunisia on December 2nd, 1942.

Captain Roberts' account also tells us, as armchair pilot-warriors, that we are just pretenders. We salute these pilots for the trials they endured.



...this ME-109 pilot tried to evade, but there was no escape. Again, I was not more than fifty yards - or maybe only fifty feet - from him when I fired. I was something like twenty to fifty feet away when he also blew up in midair. This airplane just disintegrated.

The battle was on. After I shot down two of the Me-109s, two of the others tried to attack me head on. As I took snap shots at these, and at other Me-109s that were pulling around in front of me, I noticed that one Me-109 had climbed up to about 1000 to 2000 feet above us and was just circling. Before I could go up to get him however, the flak batteries at the airdrome open fired. They cut loose with everything they had, firing at all of us, including the Me-109s. The bursting flak filled the air with a huge cloud of smoke, so extreme that it became necessary for me to fly on instruments when going through it, which I did two or three times while looking for more enemy airplanes.

Suddenly I heard a screaming blood curdling voice come over the intercom. It was Jack Ilfrey. "Robbie, I've been hit!" I did not know if Jack meant he himself had been hit, or if his airplane had been hit. I told him to get on the deck, which to us meant three feet off the ground, and head back to our base at Youks-les-Bains. Jack flew out of the cloud of bursting flak, and headed in the direction of Youks with only one engine running. Jack's P-38 had been hit in the right engine, and the propeller was feathered, but he had full power on the left engine. I went down to escort him home, flying approximately 3 feet off his right wingtip and matching his speed of about 275 miles per hour. We were just 3 to 4 feet off the ground, with the propellers not quite hitting the vegetation.

To us, flying low was not a bad risk. In fact, it was the only maneuver in a case like this. Our being so low made it difficult for an enemy fighter to come down and shoot at us because the attacker would be in danger of running his own nose into the ground while he was trying to get his sights on one of us. Flying low for Jack Ilfrey and myself had never been a problem. We could strafe targets accurately with our props clicking over only a few feet off the ground. At that point in time, Jack Ilfrey was one of the Army Air Force's best combat pilots.

I was keeping my eye on the Me-109 that I had spotted circling above the airdrome as Jack and I began our race toward home, I glanced toward the German again, just in time to see him execute a half-roll. He pulled his nose through, and, when he rolled out, he was right on Jack's tail.

I wanted to get a deflection shot at the Me-109, which was flying some 10 to 20 feet to my left. I ended up about 20 feet in back of the Me-109. I wanted to shoot the pilot. I had the Me-109's nose in my sight, but when I pressed the firing solenoid nothing happened.

I was out of ammunition.

I was helpless. I could see the German's bullets going into Jack's airplane, peeling up the metal as they penetrated. I could also see the German sitting in his Me-109. He looked around at me and LAUGHED! I was so close that I could see his eyes were blue, he had blondish hair, and he had a light complexion.

You do things in combat on the spur of the moment, without thinking. You act instinctively. You don't wait, or concentrate, or try and make up your mind. It is instilled in a combat pilot to act automatically to save a comrade's life. In combat life you have a devotion to comradeship that very few people ever achieve at any other time in their lives. Anyway, it is impossible to think about the things you are going to do in intense combat - you just do them.

What I did was start to ram the German airplane with my left propeller. When the German saw me coming, he immediately turned to the left. As he did, his tail hit my left wingtip. The collision demolished the Me-109's tail assembly, the pilot lost control, and the Me-109 dived into the ground.

I looked around, but there were no more Me-109s in the air. As Jack and I continued on to Youks-les-Bains, I flew close formation with him. After we landed, 268 bullet holes were counted in Jack's P-38.

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