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The St. Charles herald. [volume] (Hahnville, La.) 1873-1993, September 21, 1918, Image 3

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By Lieutenant Pat O'Brien
(Copyright, 1918. by P»t Alv* O'Brien)
Synopsis. —Pat O'Brien, a resident of Momence, 111., after seeing
service in the American flying onrps on the Mexican border in 191«,
joins the British Royal Flying corps in Canada, and affer a brief train
ing period is sent to France. He is assigned to a squadron in active
service on the front. He engages in several hot fights with German
flyers, from which he emerges victorious.
Captured by the Huns.
I shall not easily forget the 17th of
August, 1917. I killed two Huns In
the double-seated machine in the
morning, another in the evening, and
then I was captured myself. I may
have spent more eventful days in my
life, but I can't recall any just now.
That morning, in crossing the line
on early morning patrol, I noticed
two German balloons. I decided that
as soon as my patrol was over I
would go off on my own hook and see
what a German balloon looked like
at close quarters.
These observation balloons are used
by both sides in conjunction with the
artillery. A man sits up in the bal
loon with a wireless apparatus and di
rects the firing of the guns. From his
point of vantage he can follow the
work of his own artillery with a re
markable degree of accuracy and at
the same time he can observe the ene
my's movements and report them.
The Germans are very goofl at this
work, and they use a great number of
Machine O'Brien Was Driving When
He Was Overcome and Captured by
the Huns.
these balloons. It was considered a
very important part of our work to
keep them crut of the sky.
There are two ways of going after a
balloon in a machine. One of them is
to cross the lines at a low altitude, fly
ing so near the ground that the man
with the antiaircraft gun can't bother
you. You fly along until you get to the
level of the balloon and if, in the
meantime, they have not drawn the
balloon down, you open fire on it and
the bullets you use will set it on fire
if they land.
The other way is to fly over where
you know the balloons to be, put your
machine In a spin so that they can't
hit you. get above them, spin over the
balloon and then open fire. In going
back over the line you cross at a few
hundred feet.
This is one of the hardest jobs in
the service. There is less danger In
attacking an enemy's aircraft.
Nevertheless, I had made up my
mind to either get those balloons or
make them descend, and I only hoped
that they would stay on the job until
I had a chance at them.
When our two hours' duty was np,
therefore, I dropped out of the forma
tion as we crossed the lines and turned
back again.
I was at a height of 15,000 feet, con
siderably higher than the balloons.
Shutting my motor off, I dropped down
through the clouds, thinking to find
the balloons at about five or six miles
behind the German lines.
Just as I came out of the cloud
banks I saw below me, about a thou
sand feet, a two-seater hostile ma
chine doing artillery observation and
directing the German guns. This was
at a point about four miles behind the
German lines.
Evidently the German artillery saw
me and put out ground signals to at
tract the Hun machine's attention, for
I saw the observer quit his work and
grab his gun, while their pilot stuck
the nose of his machine straight
But they were too late to escape me.
I was diving toward them at a speed
of probably two hundred miles an
hour, shooting all the time as fast as
possible. Their only chance lay in
the possibility that the force of my
drive might break my wings. I knew
my danger in that direction, but as
soon as I came out of my dive the
Huns would have their chance to get
me, and I knew I had to get them first
and take a chance on my wings hold
ing out.
Fortunately some of my first bullets
found their mark, and I was able to
com* out of my dive at about four
thousand feet. They never came out
ef Chairs !
Bat right then casta the hottest sit
uation in the air I had ever experi
enced up to that time. The depth of
my dive had brought me within reach
of the machine guns from the ground,
and they also put a barrage around me
of shrapnel from antiaircraft guns
and I had an opportunity to "ride the
barrage," as they call it in the R. F. C.
To make the situation more interest
ing, they began shooting "flaming on
ions" at me. "Flaming onions" are
rockets shot from a rocket gun. They
are used to hit a machine when it is
flying low, and they are effective up
to about five thousand feet. Some
times they are shot up one after an
other in strings of about eight, and
they are one of the hardest things to
go through. If they hit the machine,
it is bound to catch fire and then the
jig is up.
All the time, too, I was being at
tacked by "Archie"—the antiaircraft
gun. I escaped the machine guns and
the "flaming onions," but "Archie," the
antinircraft fire, got me four or five
times. Every time a bullet plugged
me, or rather my machine, it made a
loud hang, on account of the tension
on the material covering the wings.
None of their shots hurt me until
I was about a mile from our lines, and
then they hit my motor. Fortunately,
I still had altitude enough to drift on
to our own side of the lines, for my
motor was completely out of commis
sion. They just raised the dickens
with me all the time I was descend
ing. and I began to think I would
strike the ground before crossing the
line, hut there was a slight wind in
my favor, and it carried me two miles
behind our lines. There the balloons
I had gone out to get had the satisfac
tion of "pin-pointing" me. Through
the directions which they were able to
give to their artillery they commenced
shelling my machine where it lay.
This particular work is'to direct the
fire of their artillery, and they are
used just as the artillery observation
airplanes are. Usually two men are
stationed in each balloon. They ascend
to a height of several thousand feet
about five miles behind their own lines
and are equipped with wireless and
signaling apparatus. They watch the
burst of their own artillery, check up
the position, get the range, and direct
the next shot.
When conditions are favorable they
are able to direct the shots so accu
rately that it is quick work destroying
the object of their attack. It was such
a balloon as this that got my position,
marked me out, called for an artillery
shot, and they commenced shelling my
machine where it lay. If I had got
the two balloons instead of the air
plane, I probably would not have lost
my machine, for he would in all proba
bility have gone on home and not both
ered about getting my range and caus
ing the destruction of my machine.
I landed in a part of the country
that was literally covered with shell
holes. Fortunately my machine was
not badly damaged by the forced land
ing. I leisurely got out, walked around
it to see what the damage was, and
concluded that it .could be easily re
paired. In fact, I thought if I could
find a space long enough between shell
holes to get a start before leaving the
ground that I would be able to fly on
from there.
I was still examining my plane and
considering thé matter of a few slight
repairs, without any particular thought
for my own safety in that unprotected
spot, when a shell came whizzing
through the air, knocked me to the
ground and landed a few feet away.
It had no sooner struck than I made
a run for cover and crawled Into a
shell hole. I would have liked to get
farther away, but I didn't know where
the next shell would burst, and I
thought I was fairly safe there, so I
squatted down and let them blaze
The only damage I suffered was
from the mud which splattered up in
my face and over my clothes. That
was my introduction to a shell hole,
and I resolved right there that the in
fantry could have all the shell-hole
fighting they wanted, but it did not
appeal to me, though they live in them
through many a long night and I had
only sought shelter there for a few
After the Germans had completely
demolished my machine and ceased
firing, I waited there a short time,
fearing perhaps they might send over
a lucky shot, hoping to get me after
all. But evidently they concluded
enough shells had been wasted on one
man. I crawled out cautiously, shook
the mnd off, and I looked over in the
direction where my machine had once
been. There wasn't enough left for a
decent souvenir, but nevertheless I got
a few, "such as they were," and read
ily observing that nothing could be
done with what was left. I made my
way back to infantry headquarters,
where I was able to telephone in a
A little later one of our automo
biles came out after me and took me
hack to our airdrome. Most of my
squadron thought I was lost beyond
doubt, and never expected to see me
again ; but my friend, Paul Raney, had
held out that I was ail right, and as
I was afterwards told, said, "Don't
send for another pilot; that Irishman
will be back, if he has to walk." And
he knew that the only thing that kept
me from walking was the fact that our
own automobile had been sent out to
bring me home.
I had lots to think abont that day,
and I had learned many things; one
was not to have too much confidence
in my own ability. One of the men in
the squadron told me that I had bet
tef not take those chances; that it
was going to be a long war and I
would have plenty of opportunities to
be killed without deliberately "wishing
them on" myself. Later I was to learn
the truth of his statement.
That night my "flight"—each squad
ron Is divided into three flights, con
sisting of six men each—got ready to
go out again. As I started to put on
my tunic I noticed that I was not
marked up for duty as usual.
I asked the commanding officer, a
major, what the reason for that was,
and he replied that he thought I had
done enough for one day. However,
I knew that if I did not go, someone
else from another "flight" would have
to take my place, and I insisted upon
going up with my patrol as usual, and
the major reluctantly consented. Hud
he known what was in store for me, I
am sure he wouldn't have changed his
mind so readily.
As it was we had only five machines
for this patrol, anyway, because as we
crossed the lines one of them had to
drop out on account of motor trouble.
Our patrol was up at 8 p. m., and up
to within ten minutes of that hour it
had been entirely uneventful.
At 7:50 p. m., however, while we
were flying at a height of 13,000 feet,
we observed three other English ma
chines which were about 3,000 feet
below us pick a fight with nine Hun
I knew right then that we were in
for it, because I could see over toward
the ocean a whole flock of Hun ma
chines which evidently had escaped
the attention of our scrappy country
men below us.
So we dove down On those nine
At first the fight was fairly even.
There were elghriof us to nine of them.
But soon the otner machines which I
had seen in the distance, and which
were flying even higher than we were,
arrived on the scene, and when they,
in turn, dove down on us, there was
just twenty of them to our eight !
Four of them singled me out. I was
diving, and they dived right down after
me, shooting as they came. Their
tracer bullets were coming closer to
me every moment. These tracer bul
lets are balls of fire which enable the
shooter to follow the course his bul
lets are taking and to correct his aim
accordingly. They do no more harm
to a pilot if he is hit than an ordinary
bullet, but if they hit the petrol tank,
good night! When a machine catches
fire In flight there is no way of put
>•••••••• '
> *v
Lieutenant O'Brien in the First Machine He Used in Active Service. With
Him I« Lieutenant Atkinson.
ting it out. It takes less than a min
ute for the fabric to burn off the wings
and then the machine drops like an
arrow, leaving a trail of smoke like a
As their tracer bullets came closer
and closer to me I realized that my
chances of escape were nil. Their very
next shot, I felt, must hit me. j
Once, some days before, when I was !
flying over the line, I hail watched a !
fight above me. A German machine j
was set on fire, and dived down ■
through our formation in flames on its |
way to tlie ground. The Hun was div- j
ing at such a sharp angle that both
his wings came off. and as he passed
within a few hundred feet of me I saw
the look of horror on his face.
Now, when I expected any moment
to suffer a similar fate, I could not
help thinking of that poor Hun's last
look of agony.
I realized that my only chance lay
In making an Immelman turn. This
maneuver was invented by a German—
one of the greatest who ever flew and
who was killed in action sometime be
fore. This turn, which I made success
fully, brought one of their machines
right in front of me, and as he sailed
along barely ten yards away, I "had
the drop" on him, and he knew it.
His white face and startled eyes I
can still see. He knew beyond ques
tion that his last moment had come,
because his position prevented his tak
ing aim at me, while my gun pointed
straight at him. My first tracer bullet
passed within a yard of his head, the
second looked as if it hit his shoulder,
the third struck him in the neck, and
then I let him have the whole works,
and he went down in a spinning nose
All this time the three other Hun
machines were shooting away at me.
I could hear the bullets striking my
machine one after another. I hadn't
the slightest idea that I could ever
beat off those three Huns, but there
was nothing for me to do but fight, and
my hands were full.
In fighting, your machine is drop
ping, dropping all the time. I glanced
at my Instruments, and my altitude
was between 8,000 and 9,000 feet.
While I was still looking at the in
struments, the whole blamed works
disappeared. A burst of bullets went
into the instrument hoard and blew
it to smithereens, another bullet went
through my upper lip, came out of the
roof of my mouth and lodged in my
throat, and the uext thing I knew was
when I came to in a German hospital
the following morning at live o'clock,
German time.
I was a prisoner of war.
Clipped Wings.
The hospital in which I found my
self on the morning after my capture
was a private house made of brick,
very low and dirty, and not at all
adapted for use as a hospital. It had
evidently been used but a few days on
account of tlie big push that was tak
ing place at that time of the year, and
in -all probability would be abandoned
as soon as they had found a better
In all, the house contained four
rooms and a stable, which was by far
the largest of all. Although I never
looked into this "wing" of the hospital,
I was told that it, too, was filled with
patients lying on beds of straw around
on the ground. I do not know whether
they, too, %vere officers or privates.
The room in which I found myself
contained eight beds, three of which
were occupied by wounded German of
ficers. Tlie other rooms, I imagined,
had about the same number of beds as
mine. There were no Red Cross nurses
in attendance, just orderlies, for this
j was only an emergency hospital and
! too near the firing line for nurses. The
a ! orderlies were not old men nor very
j young boys, as I had expected to find,
■ hut young men in the prime of life,
| who evidently had been medical stu
j dents. One or two of them, I diseov
ered, were able to talk English, hut
for some reason they would not talk.
Perhaps they were forbidden by the
officer in charge to do so.
In addition to the bullet wound in
my mouth I had a swelling from my
forehead to the back of my head al
most as big as my shoe—and that is
saying considerable. I couldn't move
an inch without suffering intense pain,
and when the doctor told me that I
had no bones broken I wondered how
a fellow would feel who had.
German officers visited me that
morning and told me that my machine
went down In a spinning nose dive
from a height of between 8,000 and
9,000 feet, and they had the surprise
of their lives when they discovered
that I had not been dashed to pieces.
They had to cut me out of my machine,
which was riddled with shots and shat
tered to bits.
A German doctor removed the bullet
from my throat, and the first thing lie
said to me when I came to was, "You
are an American !"
There was no denying it, because
the metal identification disk on my
wrist bore the inscription:
"P. O'B.
U. S. A.
R. F. C."
Although I was suffering Intense
agony, the doctor, who spoke perfect
English, insisted upon conversing with
"You may be ail right as a sports
man," he declared, "hut you are a
d-d murderer just the same for be
ing here. You Americans who got into
this thing before America came into
the war are no better than common
murderers and you ought to he treated
the same way!"
The wound in my mouth made it im
possible for me to answer him, and I
was suffering too much pain to he
hurt very much by'anything he could
He asked me if I would like an
apple! I could just as easily have
eaten a brick.
When he got no answers out of me,
hq,walked away disgustedly.
"You don't have to worry any more,"
he declared, as a parting shot. "For
you the war is over."
I was given a little broth later in
the day, and as I began to collect my
thoughts I wondered what hail hap
pened to my comrades In the battle
which had resulted so disastrously to
me. As I began to realize my plight
I worried less about my physical con
dition than the fact that, as the doc
tod had pointed out, for me the war
was practically over. I had been in it
hut a short time, and now I would be
a prisoner for the duration of the war!
The next day some German flying
officers visited me, and I must say they
treated me with great consideration.
They told me of the man I had brought
dowu. They said he was a Bavarian
and a fairly good pilot. They gave me
his hat as a souvenir and compliment
ed me on the fight I had put up.
My helmet, which was of soft
leather, was split from front to hack
by a bullet from a machine gun, and
they examined it with great interest.
When they brought me my uniform I
found that the star of my rank which
had been on my right shoulder strap
had been shot off clean. Tlie one on
my left shoulder strap they asked me
for as a souvenir, as also my R. F. C.
badges, which I gave them. They al
lowed me to keep my "wings," which
I wore on my left breast, because they
were aware that that Is the proudest
possession of a British flying officer.
I think I am right in saying that the
only chivalry in this war on the Ger
man side of the trenches has been dis
played by the officers of the German
flying corps, which comprises the pick
of Germany. They pointed out to me
that I and my comrades were fighting
purely for the love of It, whereas they
were fighting in defense of their coun
try, but still, they said, they admired
us for our sportsmanship. I had a no- j
tion to ask them if dropping bombs on
London and killing so many innocent
people was in defense of their country,
but I was in no position or condition
to pick a quarrel at that time.
That same day a German officer was
brought into the hospital and put in
the bunk next to mine. Of course I
casually looked at him, but did not
pay particular attention to him at that
time. He lay there for three or four
hours before I did take a real good
look at him. I was positive that he
could not speak English, and naturally
I did not say anything to him. Once
when I looked over in his direction his
eyes were on me, and to my surprise
he said, very sarcastically, "What the
h— 1 are you looking at'
and then 1
smiled. At this time I was )>r*t h®*
ginning to say a few word«, as my
wound had prevented me from talking,
hut I said enough to let him know
what I was doing there and how I
happened to lie there. He evidently
had heard my story from some of the
others, though, because he said it was
too bad I had not broken my neck ;
that fie did not have much sympathy
with tlie flying corps anyway. Ho
asked me what part of America I came
from, and 1 told him "California."
After a few more questions lie
learned tiiat I hailed from San Fran
cisco, and then added to my distress
by saying, "How would you like to
have a good, juicy steak right out of
the Hofbrau?" Naturally I told him
it would "hit the spot," but I hardly
thought my mouth was in shape just
then to eat it. I immediately asked,
of course, what he knew about the
Hofbrau, and he replied, "I was con
nected with the place a good many
years, and I ought to know all about
After tiiat this German officer and
I became rather chummy ; that is, as
far as I could be chummy with an
enemy, and we whiled away a good
many long hours talking about the
days we had spent in San Francisco,
and frequently in the conversation ona
of us would mention some prominent
Californian, or some little incident oc
curring there, with which we wero
both familiar.
He told me when war wa3 declared
he was, of course, intensely patriotic
and thought the only thing for him to
do was to go hack and aid In the de
fense of his country. He found that
he could not go directly from San
Francisco, because the water was too
well guarded by the English, so ho
boarded a boat for South America.
There he obtained a forged passport
and in the guise of a Montevidean toot
passage for New York and from thera
to Euglaud.
no passed through England without
any difficulty on his forged passport,
but concluded not to risk going to Hol
land for fear of exciting too much sus
picion, so went down through the
Strait of Gibraltar to Italy, which was
neutral at that time, up to Austria,
Pat O'Brien and Paul Raney.
and thence to Germany. He said when
they put in at Gibraltar, after leaving
England, there were two suspecta
taken off the ship, men that he was
sure were neutral subjects, but much
to his relief his own passport and cre
dentials were examined and passed
O. K.
The Hun spoke of his voyage from
America to England as being excep
tionally pleasant, and said he had a
fine time, because he associated with
the English passengers on hoard, his
fluent English readily admlttlug him
to several spirited arguments on the
subject of the war, which he keenly
enjoyed. One little incident he related
revealed the remarkable tact which
our enemy displayed in his associa
tions at sea, which no doubt resulted
advantageously for him. As he ex
pressed it, he "made a hit" one evening
when the crowd has assembled for a
little music by suggesting that they
sing "God Save the King." -Thereafter
his popularity was assured aud the de
sired effect accomplished, for very
soon a French officer came up to him
and said, "It's too bad that England
and ourselves haven't men in our army
like you." It was too bad, he agreed,
in telling me about it, because he was
confident he could have done a whole
lot more for Germany If he had been
In the English army. In spite of his
apparent loyalty, however, the man
didn't seem very enthusiastic over the
war and frankly admitted one day that
the old political battles waged in Cali
fornia were much more to his liking
than the battles he had gone through,
over here. On second thought he
laughed as though it were a good joke,
but he evidently intended me to infer
that he hud taken a keen interest in
polities in San Francisco.
From his prison, O'Brien wit
nesses a thrilling air battle,
which results in the death of his
chum, who is shot down by a
German flyer. Don't miss the
next installment.
Wives Evidently His Hobby.
Probably the modern world's marry
ing record for men was created by
George Witzoff, the bigamist, whose
marriages have variously been.cstimat
ed at from 200 to 800. It was report
ed that in the space of a single week
he went through marriage ceremonies
with ten women.
Worse'n Boils, Too.
Old Job had his troubles, but nobody
raised the price of ice on him when he
was laying in his winter's coal.—At*
1 lanta Constitution,

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