Brothers To The End

BROTHERS TO THE END

 BY EDWARD DRAKE

 

Summer, 1940. As a fierce battle rages in the skies of Britain two pilots, brothers, fight to protect their country. As the bombers approach overhead they are thrown into the fray time and again, their fears growing each time as does their exhaustion.

In the carnage of bullets and flames their bonds of brotherhood will be tested like never before.

Britain 1940

‘Cup of tea sir?’ asked the young lad, a member of the RAF ground staff of the airfield. His uniform was too large for him and his hair messily waved in the breeze. The boy was only fifteen years old but wanted to do his part, like everyone.

‘Not now Charlie I was almost asleep,’ sighed the pilot laying on the grass, head leaning back upon his parachute pack. He was a young man, barely out of his twenties. He had thick stubble across his face, scruffy blonde hair and dark rings lining the skin underneath his eyes.

‘Give the lad a break Jimmy,’ said another pilot who sat nearby, resting his back against the wall of the pilots’ ready room. The second man was a few years older than the first pilot but he had similar features and the same scruffy blonde hair. He was taller though and had a small scar just above his right eyebrow.

Jimmy yawned loudly before rising up, shielding his eyes as he did so from the bright sun above. There were a few clouds in the sky but thankfully that was all. Both men knew that it was only a matter of time though before that changed.

‘Cup of tea for me please Charlie,’ asked the second pilot.

‘Coffee for me and make it black,’ said Jimmy as he rubbed his eyes. ‘If I’m not to sleep I might as well wake up properly,’ he muttered under his breath.

‘When was the last time you got any proper sleep?’ asked his comrade.

‘When was the last time any of us got any proper sleep? Don’t be getting all worried about me big brother, save that for when Jerry turn up again!’

Around the two men were several other pilots, all in their flight uniforms, ready if needed. Some slept whilst others read newspapers and books. All could feel it though, the unending and unnerving tension and anticipation. Since the evacuation of Dunkirk only the Squadron Leader and four others, including the two brothers, still served, the others killed, captured or too badly wounded to fly again.  This meant that the rest of the squadron were newer recruits, one of them with only two combat flights to his name, barely eighteen years old.

Only a matter of yards away from them were their planes, Hawker Hurricanes, already fuelled and armed, ready for combat. Eight aircraft awaited them, two undergoing repairs and another pair lost in battle that morning. Nearby were two hangers where repair crews were working hard on making every plane ready that they could. Inside was a chaos of noise, spare parts, tools and oil, the men as filthy as the machines they worked tirelessly on. Other support staff were filling in the last of the bomb craters along the runways, a task that seemed endless as every day the bombs came again, creating more holes to be filled.

‘Christopher,’ Jimmy whispered, getting the attention of his brother whilst speaking quietly enough to not be heard by the other younger recruits. ‘You hear about William?’

‘Died in the hospital,’ replied the elder in a hushed tone. ‘His burns were horrendous. It’s for the best I guess.’

‘Burns,’ Jimmy muttered in anger before pointing to the Hurricanes. ‘Those planes are fire traps.’

‘It’s the same for any aircraft,’ Christopher said. ‘Just make sure at the first sign of trouble you get your cockpit open and get out of there.’

‘William couldn’t,’ argued the younger brother. ‘He couldn’t get the cockpit open. That’s why he burned.’ He spoke with fear in his voice, but all the pilots felt the same. Being killed in combat was fair enough but a long suffering death in flaming agony was far worse.

The telephone rang loudly in the ready room, the Sergeant at the desk picking the receiver up quickly. All eyes fell upon him from the men outside, the pilots’ breath held and the tension heightened even more. Everyone was on edge, Matthews, one of the newest arrivals to the squadron, vomiting horribly as they waited. After what seemed like hours to the waiting men the Sergeant leant out of the window and called out.

‘Sky’s clear lads.’

From the hangers walked over a man in a flight uniform. He was in his thirties, had a thick moustache and thinning ginger hair. He appeared confident and spoke to a few of the pilots, attempting to cheer them up and raise morale, before pacing over towards the brothers. The man was Frank Allen the Squadron Leader.

‘Christopher, Jimmy, how you lads doing?’ he asked after telling them to remain at rest and not salute.

‘Surviving sir,’ replied Christopher.

‘I just heard from Duxford,’ the Squadron Leader explained as he sat beside them. ‘They were hit pretty hard this morning but were thankful for our help.’

‘They better be, in saving those bastards we lost William,’ Jimmy said in dark annoyance.

‘What my little brother means is that we’re happy to provide support, but it did cost us,’ Christopher added quickly.

‘I know,’ replied Frank. ‘William was a good man, a good pilot. He didn’t deserve his fate, nor did any of the guys we’ve lost.’

The three men then fell silent for a moment, each thinking of the friends and comrades they had lost over the past months.

That morning they had gone up as support for the undermanned 310 Squadron. The sortie had turned into hell for William Bardell though as three Messerschmitt 109s soared down from amongst the sun. His wingman was hit but managed to limp away but William, trying to draw the pursuers away, was shot down by the faster 109s. He managed to land, but the flaming Hurricane trapped William before local farmers could prise him free of the wreckage. Their squadron claimed four bombers that morning, but the loss of another comrade made their kills feel worthless.

The telephone rang loudly again and within moments the Sergeant ran outside and started ringing the bell hard whilst another rang a warning siren. The pilots instinctively rose up and ran towards their aircraft as fast as their weary legs could carry them.

‘Be careful up there,’ Christopher shouted to Jimmy as reached the steps up to his cockpit.

‘You too brother,’ called back Jimmy as he ran.

Both men and the rest of the pilots clambered into the cockpits of their Hurricanes and soon the field with filled with the droning of propeller engines. The support crews pulled away the steps and the wheel blocks and soon the field and runways were filled with aircraft trying to take off. All pilots had their eyes already on the skies, on the lookout for any approaching enemy planes.

‘Enemy formations have been spotted a mile south of us,’ called out the Squadron Leader over the radio. ‘Once up I want you to form up with your wingman. By the time we get any altitude Jerry will be right on top of us. Focus on the bombers and leave the fighters to 322 Squadron who are supporting us.’

It was the same instructions that they had been given time and again but Frank knew that the men and recruits needed to hear those words. It was exactly the same scenario as always, in their Hurricanes they would tackle the bombers whilst the other squadrons of Spitfires would tangle with the 109s. That was what was supposed to happen, but the Jerry fighters always found a way through. In the end all you could rely on was your own instincts and your wingman.

 xxxxx

Within minutes the squadron was up but already the bombers almost upon them. Christopher formed up alongside Matthews, the more experienced pilots partnered up with the newer additions. Within moments they zeroed in on their first prey, the first bomber to emerge from the clouds, heading straight for the airfield. Climbing, they fell behind the target, a Heinkel He-111 twin engine bomber.

Christopher led and fired his machine guns in short bursts, knowing the restrictions on the ammunition the Hurricane carried all too well. He weaved through the defensive fire and soon the Heinkel’s right engine began to pour smoke and then burst into flame as bullets tore through it, the aircraft losing height rapidly and veering away from the airfield towards a woodland to the west.

Christopher did not wait to see the crash, looking for their next target. Around them was a chaos of duels and dogfighting, the Hurricanes obliterating the bomber force whilst the Spitfires of 322 Squadron kept the fighter escort at bay. Instructions and warnings were called out over the radio but it was all just noise in the ears of the pilots.

Finding their next target Matthews led and fired a hail of bullets into the next Heinkel they reached. It did little to no damage though, the younger pilot’s aim wild and erratic. He flew in a straight line too, providing a perfect target for the bomber’s gunners. Christopher swore under his breath when the engine of Matthews’ plane began to smoke.

‘Pull out and land Matthews,’ Christopher ordered angrily over the radio, praying that the young man could retreat from the fight safely as he veered away. He had told Matthews repeatedly to not fly straight when in combat but still the rookie had forgotten.

Christopher prepared to open fire on the bomber when he heard a scream of terror deafen the radio. Turning he saw one of his squadron burst into flame as two 109s pounced upon him from above, not giving the pilot a chance. He then saw the two fighters follow the wingman of their kill and to his horror he recognised the insignia across the prey’s Hurricane.

‘Jimmy you’ve two 109s on your tail!!’ Christopher shouted in warning

‘Get them off me!!’ he cried in fear as he turned his plane hard to the right.

Christopher increased his throttle and pulled hard on the controls to give pursuit. He climbed as quickly as he could to reach their altitude and watched in horror as the pair of Jerries fired again and again at his brother. Jimmy was using his head, whilst his hunters were quicker the Hurricane’s advantage over them was that it could turn tighter, and that was exactly what he was doing. There were no clouds nearby to provide cover so all he could do was evade his foes long enough for help to arrive.

Jimmy was doing such a good job that his pursuers did not even see his brother coming. With a burst of gunfire one of the 109s panicked and peeled off, straight into the path of Jimmy who fired round after round into his foe. The enemy fighter suddenly began to descend with increasing speed before exploding as it crashed into a field below. The remaining 109 stayed one target though and continued firing at Jimmy, whose engine began to flame.

‘Get out of there Jimmy!’ ordered Christopher in fear as he saw the fire begin to engulf the Hurricane. ‘Get out!!’

From the damaged aircraft he saw his brother leap before a parachute opened above him and only seconds later his damaged Hurricane disintegrated in a ball of fire. For a moment Christopher was relieved but then he saw the 109 hurtle towards Jimmy, opening fire as he tried to kill the defenceless pilot. In absolute fury Christopher wrenched his controls and veered towards the Jerry, firing wildly and just trying to force him off target. It worked as both flew past Jimmy, missing him just but he seemed unharmed, holding his middle fingers up at the German.

Christopher brought his Hurricane round and saw that the 109 was turning for another run at his brother. The RAF pilot lined up his plane perfectly with the Jerry, making sure that he could be in his path before he could reach Jimmy. When in range he held down the machine guns trigger as both planes hurtled towards each other. The German fired back and Christopher heard the bullets tearing into his plane, one cracking the glass of the cockpit, before another pierced it entirely, the bullet hammering into his left shoulder. He did not pull away though, keeping his Hurricane on course as he fought the agony of his heavily bleeding wound and kept the machine guns firing until the ammunition was entirely spent. Still Christopher kept on target, knowing that if he veered away the Jerry would have a clear shot at his brother. He would rather a mid-air collision that he knew he would not survive than leave Jimmy defenceless. It was only when they were mere meters away that the 109 pulled away.

Looking over his wounded shoulder Christopher saw smoke pour from the enemy fighter’s engine and it turned away from the battle, fleeing for home. Turning, he felt his entire plane begin to tremor horribly and the engine begin to cough and the rotor stutter. Oil and smoke then poured from the engine as it began to stall. The first signs of flames began to flicker and Christopher reached up to the cockpit glass and tried to pull it open so he could parachute down. No matter how hard he tried though, the cockpit would not open.

 xxxxx

The rest of the battle was forgotten as Jimmy watched his brother’s plane lose altitude, a trail of smoke in its wake. He watched in horror as he saw what he thought was flames begin to engulf it before the Hurricane disappeared into the next field. Jimmy landed hard, twisting his knee as he hit the ground, but ignored the pain as he tore off his parachute and limped as fast as could towards Christopher’s landing site.

It was easy to spot in the distance, smoke still rising into the sky and leading the way. Through the long grass he staggered on and quickly saw the ruined Hurricane. Its propellers were bent back, fuselage riddled with gunfire, cockpit cracked and engine aflame, quickly spreading towards the rest of the aircraft.

‘Christopher!’ Jimmy shouted as he clambered onto the wing and tried to pull open the cockpit but it would not budge. His hands burned on the heated metal but still he tried again and again. Through the shattered glass he could see his brother slumped to the side, no signs that he was breathing. The heat was growing and Jimmy knew he had to get his brother out of there before their worst fears were realised and the fires engulfed Christopher.

Jimmy climbed up further and then kicked hard at the cracked and holed glass of the cockpit until a large enough hole was smashed open. Reaching in he grabbed Christopher’s jacket and with all his strength heaved his brother up. It took three attempts but finally Jimmy managed to pull his bloodied brother out of the cockpit and then away from the burning plane, just as the fuel tank ignited, turning the Hurricane into a burning inferno.

‘Wake up Christopher! Wake up!’ cried Jimmy as he tried to rouse his brother. He slapped him hard across the face twice and on the second attempt received a response.

‘The war over yet?’ Christopher asked in a daze, making Jimmy grin broadly and laugh.

‘You’re going to be alright brother,’ the younger sibling said. He then looked up and saw that the battle was still on-going.

‘I couldn’t…let you die…’ Christopher mumbled as he breathed deeply, his eyes closed once again. ‘You’re my little…brother…’

‘I know,’ replied Jimmy as he looked down to his own badly burnt and painfully stinging hands. ‘I know.’

Copyright. Edward Drake. 2011

Comments
  1. JennyBale says:

    Really enjoyed that as could feel the fear and the duty of those young men who fought and gave everything to protect their countries.
    Keep up the good work.

  2. TommyFreeman says:

    Good little action story. Really enjoyed and looking forward to reading your other works.

  3. Big Kev says:

    This has made me really want to watch Battle of Britain. Good work, enjoyed it.

  4. Ray Frazer says:

    Good sense of tension, fear and brotherly honour and quite an exciting actioner. Looking forward to your next one!

  5. Chris says:

    My brother and I have always been close and this story really captures that sort of friendship that goes beyond family.
    Another good read.

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