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“Five-Minute Escape”

short adventure story.



TIME: April 21, 1918. PLACE: The Western Front, France

Copyright Terofil Gizelbach, 2013

The Englishman’s luck…it is bad today…

Flying high cover on the arms of a strong easterly wind, Rittmeister Manfred Von Richthofen banked his Fokker Triplane and charged his twin Spandau machine guns. Beneath him and in his sights, a lone Sopwith Camel. The plane had broken from a dogfight and now bounced along the Somme Valley towards the English lines and home. Why the man had fled was clear: Richthofen watched as the Camel’s pilot worked frantically to free his jammed guns.

The Rittmeister weighed the risks. The flyer had surrendered altitude and was yet unmissed. Little danger, then, of enemy intervention. It would be a simple matter to dive, intercept, destroy. This morning—the twenty-first of April, 1918—would mark his eighty-first kill…if the Englishman could be downed before crossing the German lines.

There is time, he thought, rechecking his machine guns and nudging the red Triplane after the fleeing Camel.  A quick victory. Then back to base for a shave, a moment of solitude in his “dugout” amidst his “trophies.” A walk, perhaps, with his Danish hound Moritz—who of late had been strangely subdued.

His eighty-first kill. But would there be an eighty-two? Already Headquarters was hinting that the Rittmeister should accept a safer position out of harm’s way.  He had declined, citing his duty to the soldiers in the trenches. But the Rittmeister was a practical man.  It was only a matter of time before he was grounded and some other youngster—his brother Lothar perhaps—rose to equal or surpass his score.

But there was yet today. Eighty-one!  More than twice Boelcke; fifty more than Lothar; sixty more than Udet. Perhaps he would finally be awarded the oak leaves to his Pour le Merite. It was such a pretty medal. He knew it was wrong to covet such things, but….

I am due.

Beneath him, the Camel continued to bounce awkwardly over the river valley.  Richthofen closed quickly, watching as the plane filled his wire cross-hairs. It came to him that the Englishman would burn. Nine of his last ten kills had burned—including his seventy-fifth—a bitter fight in which the pilot and observer had died in flames.  The incident had affected Richthofen strongly, and he hesitated–his old “joy of the hunt” replaced by feelings of regret, duty, and the compulsion to score.

Hunched over his guns, Richthofen opened fire. His twin spandaus clattered. Tracers arched towards the Englishman’s plane, causing the pilot to crane his head rearwards. White-faced, goggles glinting, the Englishman turned, dropped altitude, and began juking at 100 miles per hour.

An amateur, thought Richthoven. Green to allow a pursuer to close unseen to within thirty yards…

Richthofen pulled high and to the right of the fleeing machine, trailing as Sailly Laurette neared in a gray, pocked wound. Trees scrolled by ninety feet below. He saw “No Man’s Land,” acres of shell holes filled with muddy water. Watched as his tracers zipped by the Englishman’s struts. And yet, no kill.

Concentrate, Richthofen willed himself, angling in behind the camel’s tail and firing short, controlled bursts. The Englishman fluttered his plane, sidestepping, jigging. The river Somme rose and dipped at their left wingtips, thrown into geysers by the occasional wild round.

Eighty silver cups so far; a trophy for each victim. You, Englishman, will be my eighty-first–

But the camel zigged safely just ahead. Eighty feet above the valley floor now, crossing and recrossing Richthofen’s sights, miraculously evading the Rittmeister’s tracers. Sailly Laurette flashed by on the right.  German and Australian rifle fire flared from the trenches. The village of Vaux appeared, ahead and across the riverbank. A shell-pocked crossroad  showed beneath, then was gone. A stand of hemlocks whizzed past. The town of Sailly-le-Sec came, went in a gray blur.

Over the engine’s roar, Richthofen heard the distant chatter of machine guns.  A second Camel, attacking!  Richthofen bent as tracers slammed into the Triplane and walked towards the cockpit.  He pulled the stick up and sharply right, judging that–at his tremendous rate of speed–this new Englishman must overshoot him. Giving the Rittmeister time to finish off his intended victim, who was proving surprisingly difficult to kill.

The attacking Englishman zoomed past and climbed sharply to the left—apparently convinced that at the very least, the Triplane had been seriously damaged by the attack.  Meanwhile, Richthofen, who was unharmed, settled back on the fleeing Englishman’s tail. Again the German opened fire, willing the plane to drop, his frustration and fear mounting.

Turn back. Leave him before it is too late. No! Fall! You must fall!

The ruins of Vaux-sur-Somme sped by ninety feet below. The planes roared over the village. Startled Australian soldiers ran from their billets to see the commotion. Spent shell casings from Richthofen’s guns clattered to the streets.

More speed. No! No, throttle back! Aim. Aim well–

They contour-hopped over a rise and turned away from the river, the planes flying barely twenty meters above the ground. Richthofen’s sense of urgency grew. He anticipated the attacking camel’s return, a second strafing pass. I’m running out of time. Fall! FALL!

Richthofen saw khaki uniforms, a flicker of light below and to the left. Heard the whine of Lewis gun bullets whipping past. Heavy ground fire! The English!  Somehow, in the heat of battle, he had passed over the German lines. The English! Heavens above, the English!

His machine shuddered with hits. Breaking off pursuit, Richthofen banked the Triplane sharply right, and held the turn until he faced the German lines. Quickly! Must gain altitude— 

A wheel-mounted Lewis gun flashed. A bullet passed through the canvass walls of the cockpit, catching Richthofen below the right armpit and tearing through his heart.

Richthofen’s head snapped over and he clawed off his flight goggles. The oxygen left his brain as he fought the plane to the ground. Dying, a final thought came to him: what will come of poor old Moritz…

Somersaulting on impact, the Fokker hung like a cross in a tree.





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ABOUT THIS BLOG… Each “Five-Minute Escape” short adventure story in this blog series will be kept under 1500 words. Most will clock in at about 1000. The “Five-Minute Escape” short adventure story will allow you to log on, take a fast trip, and get back quick to what you should have been doing in the first place…though hopefully the experience will stay with you long after you have moved on to something else. Subscribe to the “Five-Minute Escape” short adventure story blog and take a weekly “Five-Minute Escape!” “Five-Minute Escape short adventure story: 81st Kill copyrighted Terofil Gizelbach, 2013


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