His unit was having serious morale problems due to the ever changing tactics of the high command. At first they were chasing shipping in the Channel, then their attacks had shifted to British airfields, now they were bombing factories and dockyards. Or so the intel officers told them, but Holweck had seen the truth from the air. They were bombing area targets, typically cities. There may have been a factory in the area his unit had set aflame last night for instance, but for the most part they were bombing civilians in their homes.
They now bombed at night because casualties during the day had grown to such a height that they were unsustainable over the long run. Though Herr Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda claimed that the Royal Air Force was on its last legs, their last daylight mission a few weeks ago had shown that for the lie it was.
As the formation had approached the English coast, the aircraft's navigator - Feldwebel Leo Habicht - had spotted aircraft approaching, English aircraft. They had turned out to be a squadron of Spitfires. Their Bf-109 escorts had peeled away to engage the enemy, keeping them away from the heavily laden bombers.
The Spitfires had the advantage of both altitude and speed, looking aft from his gunner's position, Holweck had seen at least one Bf-109 spinning down out of control, a thick stream of smoke trailing behind. It took time for the escorts to gain the speed and altitude they needed to fight the English aircraft, something which Der Dicke¹ in Berlin had discounted when his fighter commanders had protested the order to provide close escort.
Holweck could see why, if close escort was supposed to improve the bomber crews' morale, what was seeing their escorts cut to ribbons supposed to do?
Oberleutnant Johannes Boden, their pilot, had come on over the intercom, ordering his three crewmen to their gunner's stations. "Looks like the Hurricanes are coming in boys, heads up!"
They never made it to the target, Holweck shuddered as he remembered the screams of Leutnant Scholl. He had been hit by flying debris from the glass nose of the aircraft after one particularly accurate pass by one Hurricane which had bored in nose to nose. Boden had hissed "Scheiße ...," anticipating a head-on collision with the British fighter.
It had been a narrow miss, the Tommie had actually clipped the very top of the vertical stabilizer, tearing away the radio aerial. Holweck had nearly shit himself when the enemy bird had passed over so closely. But he had managed to squeeze off a burst which had crippled the Tommie.
The Tommie had managed to wound Scholl and hit the left engine before Holweck had put a burst into him. That engine had been shot up badly, forcing Boden to drop from the formation and head back to France. There had been some doubt as to their ability to even make the coast. But by the grace of God they had, crash-landing on a fighter base just behind the coastline.
Though they survived, their aircraft was a complete write-off.
Holweck picked up the letter again, most of it was fairly innocuous and should make it past the unit censor, it told Paula almost nothing of what they were going through over England. As he began to finish the letter, Leo Habicht walked in.
"Finish it up Alois, briefing in 15, we're on for England again tonight. My buddy in intel says we're hitting the London dockyards again. What are you doing lad, writing letters to that girl again?"
Holweck blushed, Habicht was from the next village over from his in the Harz Mountains, he knew Paula Braun very well, she lived on a farm between the two villages. She had been very popular. Habicht always referred to her as "that girl," knowing that she was completely out of Holweck's league.
"I'll finish this tomorrow, Leo. Have you heard the news about Leutnant Scholl?"
"Yes, poor bastard is blind in his left eye. The doctor's doubt they can save the right one as well. Oberfeldwebel Jürgens is flying as our bombardier tonight, they say he's good."
"As long as you can find the target Leo."
"Ja, there is that. Maybe we can find our way to Spain instead?"
"Don't even joke about that Leo, the Party has their ears everywhere."
"You worry too much, Junge, now come on, let's go or the Oberleutnant will have our guts for garters!"
Flying Officer Reginald Morley and Assistant Section Leader Janice Worthington were arguing, Morley thought it was a bad idea to even think of getting married when his squadron was about to be posted to North Africa.
"You shouldn't tie yourself down love, you never know what's going to happen, why take the chance of becoming a widow before you're even bloody twenty-one?" Morley desperately wanted Worthington as his wife but he also knew that the odds of him even surviving the war narrowed more and more with each passing day. RAF pilot casualties were appalling, though the switch by the Germans to bombing at night was something of a reprieve for the daylight single-seat pilots.
"Oh, you're going to fight the Italians, Reg. That's their second team, you've survived their best, you'll probably have your own squadron in no time. You'll live through this, I know you will!"
Morley just shook his head, "I wish I had your confidence, Janice."
¹ Literally "The Thick," (German), Reichsmarschall Herman Göring's nickname among the troops. The meaning translates as "the fat man."