1624: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 22:
Woody paused and pointed to a spot on the map he had made of the Luebeck area.
“One other thing, Colonel. During our last reconnaissance a couple of days ago, we noticed some activity in this grove to the south of the Denny encampment. Right about here. We’d already expended our rockets and we didn’t get too close. Don’t know what it is, but it looked like tents and buildings of some sort. I recommend we give it another look this afternoon. Maybe one of us can make a low pass, while the other flies cover. No telling when we’ll have two aircraft here, again.”
The idea was tempting, but…
Jesse hesitated, glancing at Mike. This was already a somewhat risky enterprise, flying the USE’s Prime Minister into a city under siege. Adding into the bargain getting him involved in an actual combat operation…
But Mike just grinned. “Sure, Jesse, go ahead. Don’t mind me. Actually, I’d like to see how it works. Give me a much better sense of what ‘air power’ does or doesn’t mean in the here and now.”
There was always that about Stearns. He was a politician, sure enough, and had most if not all the vices of the breed. But you couldn’t ever accuse the man of lacking balls. Even brass ones, in his case.
Jesse finished replaying the briefing in his mind. The flight from Wismar to Luebeck hadn’t taken more than twenty-five minutes and he could see they were nearing the city. The radio crackled and Woody’s steady voice came out of the speaker.
“Two, this is Lead. Approaching Luebeck and descending to one thousand feet. Luebeck Radio should be listening.” A pause, then: “Luebeck, Luebeck, this is the Richter Express, five minutes out.”
Whoever was manning the radio for Gustavus Adolphus was on the ball.
“Guten Tag, Richter Express, Luebeck here. Have you brought presents for the Dennies, today? They’ve been getting lonely this past day or so.”
“Roger that, Luebeck,” Woodsill confirmed. He sounded amused. “And some visitors. Better send for His Majesty.”
“Roger, Express. Einen moment, bitte.”
The Swedish king must have been nearby. The sound of someone fumbling with a microphone and a muffled, “Closer to your mouth, Your Majesty” was followed by the unmistakable voice of command.
“Hallå där, Lieutenant Woodsill. Do you have Colonel Wood with you?”
“Yes, sir. Standby, please. Go ahead, Two.”
Jesse was ready. “Good afternoon sir. Colonel Wood here. As promised, we have your mail and will deliver it shortly.”
They didn’t think anyone had sold the Danes a radio yet, but communications security was always a good idea. The Danes would soon know there were two aircraft in the area, but there was no sense in letting anyone, even the radio operator, know who Jesse’s passenger was. Word had already been passed to Gustav Adolf by coded message the day before.
“Very good, Colonel,” the bemused sounding monarch replied. “All is in waiting for you.”
“Yes, sir, thank you. But first, we must deliver some gifts to your neighbors. We will call again in fifteen minutes.”
“We will be ready for you, Colonel.”
Jesse clicked the mike. He looked over to see Mike Stearns give a thumbs up and gave one in return. Time to get to work.
“Lead, this is Two.”
“It’s your show, Lieutenant. Call the shots.”
The Richter Express, flight of two, flew low over the besieged battlements of Luebeck. As they passed, Jesse paid close attention to the flat green just outside the city’s east wall. Thousands of faces craned upward, mouths open, cheering wildly. Most of those cheering people, whether noblemen, soldiers, and peasants, had never seen an aircraft until two months ago. Waggling their wings, the aircraft flew the length of the city and then turned westward towards a decidedly less friendly audience.
As had been briefed, the aircraft overflew the enemy encampment, the pilots taking careful note of potential targets. From high above, the camp looked like a disturbed ants’ nest, as men scattered or ran to their posts. Jesse could see no tent city, no large horse herd, no grouping of flags and standards. Siege cannon facing the city were thoroughly dug in, even from the rear and, all around, men were jumping in holes dug into the frozen earth. A large train of wagons was hurriedly pulling off the road leading into the camp from the west. By now, traders and camp followers knew the danger as well as any soldier. As the aircraft passed the camp, Woody gave his first order.
“Two, maintain a thousand foot orbit just south of camp. Rejoin on command.”
Jesse merely clicked the mike and dipped his left wing, turning back over the Danish camp. Blocks of men had begun to form on the ground below. Woodsill and Weissenbach continued westward passing from view of the enemy. Jesse continued to circle, just over the southern edge of the camp. Once, smoke erupted from a regiment formed up in a square below. Though no sound reached him, Jesse unconsciously edged upward two hundred feet.
Come on, come on, Jesse thought. Let’s get going, Woody.
As if reading his mind, Woodsill called. “Two, Lead has you in sight, beginning run. We’ll take a left climb out.”
Jesse wracked the aircraft around and immediately spotted the other Belle, which, having circled well to the south, was now at no more than three hundred feet, hurtling at full power. The lower aircraft passed directly over the trees where the suspected Danish activity had been spotted. Just as he reached the edge of the trees, Woody turned energy into altitude, zoom climbing to the left. A group of soldiers sent a futile volley into the sky, far behind the climbing aircraft.
Keeping the lead aircraft in sight, Jesse put the stick over and pushed left rudder, putting his nose inside of Woodsill’s turn. Performing a three dimensional aerial ballet, the two Belles continued turning, with Jesse sliding his aircraft “up the line” until the two were once again a rejoined flight.
The Richter Express once again flew over the enemy camp. People on the ground a thousand feet below hugged the dirt in their holes, fearing what might come. Woody reported what they had found.
“Two, target is a hidden gun park under trees. Tents, wagons, guns, and what appear to be unfinished bunkers. Lots of people down there. We might catch a loaded caisson or two.”
Jesse’s jaw tightened into a hunter’s grin as Woodsill rapidly went on.
“We’ll racetrack north and south, right hand turns, ten second spacing. Aimpoint is just inside the tree line. Fire at six hundred feet, four rockets per pass, and watch for secondaries. Copy, Two?”
Jesse replied. “Roger. Two copies all. Right racetrack, ten seconds.”