“Straight at him.”
The engines snorted and snored, the propellers began to move, the machines rolled along, and suddenly were seen climbing almost vertically. Up above the fight was beginning, and it seemed as if the three starting airplanes could never reach in time the altitude of four or five thousand meters at which it was taking place.
The attacking Spad was obviously trying to get its opponent within firing range, but the German was a first-rate pilot and dodged without losing height, banking, looping, taking advantage of the Frenchman’s dead angles, and striving to get him under his machine-gun. Round and round the two airplanes circled, when suddenly the German bolted in the direction of the Aisne cliffs. But the Spad partly caught up with him and the aerial circling began anew, while two other Spads appeared—a pack after a deer. The German cleverly took advantage now of the sun, now of the evening vapors, but he was within range, and the tack-tack of a machine-gun was heard. Guynemer and the other two were coming nearer, when the Spad dropped beneath its adversary and fired upwards. The German plunged, and we expected would sink, but he righted himself and was off in an instant. However, this was Guynemer’s chance: three shots, not more, from his gun, and the German airplane crashed down somewhere near Muizon, on the banks of the Vesle.
[Footnote 23: This victory was not put down to Guynemer’s account, because another airman had shot first—which gives an idea of the French controlling board’s severity.]
One after another, the victorious birds came back to cover from every part of the violet and rosy sky. But joy over their success must show itself, and they indulged in all the fanciful caprioles of acrobatic aviation, spinning down in quick spirals, turning somersaults, looping or plunging in a glorious sky-dance. Last of these young gods, Guynemer landed after one final circle, and took off his helmet, offering to the setting sun his illuminated face, still full of the spirit of battle.
On the Somme Guynemer was one of the great French champions; on the Aisne he became their king. No enemy could resist him, and his daring appeared without bounds. On May 27 he attacked alone a squadron of six two-seaters above Auberive at an altitude of 5000 meters, and compelled them to go down to an altitude of 3600 meters. Before landing, he pounced on another group of eight, scattering them and bringing down one, completely smashed, with its fuselage linen in rags, among the shell-holes in a field. He was like the Cid Campeador, to whom the Sheik Jabias said: