Sample chapter of Press On Regardless
The modified Spitfire sped along at three hundred and fifty miles per hour, the thin air of thirty-three thousand feet sliding easily around it. Flight Lieutenant Roger Attwater sat calmly in the cockpit, guiding the sleek aircraft over the rolling green landscape of western Germany far below.
He yawned and glanced at his watch. Just after four in the afternoon. He had been airborne since three, and in enemy airspace for more than forty-five minutes. Attwater smiled. When he’d responded to a poster looking for volunteers to fly something fast, he’d never imagined it would be photographic reconnaissance. He’d flown recce missions many times in his old bomber squadron, but this was something else entirely. He’d quickly come to crave the thrill of flying higher and faster than any other pilot, protected only by his speed and altitude.
He yawned again and frowned. Snap out of it, man. Shaking his head, he glanced at the map on his knee and then peered down over the side of his aircraft. His run was complete, but he gave it a few more seconds to make certain he captured the photos that Wing Command needed, then turned off the cameras. He looked at his map again, confirming his course back to the airfield in north eastern France. He yawned again and began a gentle turn. His head swam dizzily.
“What the devil?” He’d flown these missions many times before, never bothered by the higher G-forces generated by such high speed. He loosened the turn, but the dizziness worsened. Black spots appeared in front of him, quickly spreading across his field of vision. Oxygen! His eyes flicked towards the oxygen gauge, but his vision suddenly blurred. “Oh… dear,” Attwater slurred. He slumped against the side wall of the cockpit, unconscious.
His hand fell away, his thumb snagging the Spitfire’s control column and pulling it slightly back, tilting the aircraft into a gentle climb. His head flopped back against the headrest as the climb steepened. Several seconds later the Spitfire passed through its critical angle of attack and stalled. The wings lost lift, and the Spitfire started to fall towards the ground, its engine still roaring at full throttle. The torque of the big V12 pushed one wing downwards, and the aircraft flipped over onto its back. It accelerated towards the ground and began to spin as it fell.
The two ton aircraft plummeted past twenty thousand feet, juddering violently as it whirled towards the ground in a tight corkscrew. The force of the spin pressed Attwater’s limp body into the side of the seat. At fifteen thousand feet his head moved.
He fought to open his eyes. Black spots flickered across his field of view. Precious seconds ticked by. Nausea gripped his stomach, and he gagged.
The Spitfire fell past ten thousand feet. The engine screamed. Attwater gagged again and stomach contents surged into his mouth. Bacon and eggs. He grimaced and swallowed.
He turned his head and looked up through the canopy. The German countryside filled his vision, spinning wildly. A wave of dizziness washed over him. He took a deep breath and looked down into the cockpit, blinking.
He looked at his instruments. The RPM gauge pressed against the red line. The needle on the altimeter spun anticlockwise, the thousand feet indicator ticking down menacingly. Attwater swallowed and reached for the throttle, his arm still weak. His finger tips fumbled against the handle. He bellowed and pushed harder against the force of the spin. He grasped the handle and yanked the throttle back to idle, quieting the roaring engine.
Attwater blinked as his head cleared more. He looked at the turn indicator, its needle pinned to the right. He stomped on the left rudder pedal. The Spitfire whipped around again. He gritted his teeth and held down the pedal. The altimeter whirred past seven and a half thousand feet. The aircraft twirled again, then straightened out of the spin. Attwater exhaled deeply and released the rudder pedal.
Nose down, the Spitfire shook as it flashed earthwards in a steep dive. Attwater glanced at his instruments. Almost four hundred and seventy five miles per hour. He grimaced and flicked his head to each side. Both wings shuddered violently. Just a little longer. He yanked the control column back between his legs.
“Come on lovely,” he whispered, “come on.” The aircraft’s nose slowly came up, the controls sluggish against the force of so much speed. The Spitfire plummeted past two and a half thousand feet, still diving hard. Attwater leant further back on the stick, hoping it wouldn’t break off and send him ploughing into a Rhineland farm.
“Come along now, you salty old cow!” Attwater’s heart pounded in his chest. The Spitfire’s nose continued to come up, but the green farmland still rushed towards him. He glanced at his instruments again. Four hundred feet. Oh, dear. He squeezed his eyes closed and pulled with everything he had. Several agonising seconds later the Spitfire levelled out.
Attwater centred the stick and opened his eyes. A wooded rise loomed in front of the Spitfire. His heart leapt, and he yanked the stick back again. The aircraft climbed, the tall trees on top of the hill rushing towards his canopy. He held the stick back, willing the dense wall of green down. The patch of blue sky above the trees grew larger as the nose came up. The trees dropped out of sight at the last moment, and his propeller sheared the tips off the uppermost branches with a dull thud. Attwater glanced at his altimeter. Eighty five feet! He kept the nose up, bringing the aircraft up past one thousand feet.
“Well, I say…” He breathed out heavily. “That was delightful.” He levelled the aircraft out at two and a half thousand feet and glanced down at his compass. East. He shook his head. “Away from the Fatherland, you silly sod.” He pulled the Spitfire around in a one hundred and eighty degree turn. He flicked the lever to release his harness, allowing him to lean forward to search for his map, thrown off his lap during the spin.
Why the Ministry of Aircraft Production saw fit to leave their aircraft without a solid cockpit floor had always baffled him. Now he cursed them, his map having vanished somewhere into the fuselage beneath him. Attwater groped around under his seat. A deep boom erupted outside the aircraft. Several pings and a louder clang rang out as something banged against the Spitfire’s fuselage. Attwater’s stomach clenched, and he sat bolt upright. An angry black cloud appeared beside him, the orange glow of an explosion inside it. Another appeared nearby moments later. Flak!
Too low to escape above the anti-aircraft cannon fire, Attwater pushed the stick forward and dove for the ground. More black tufts appeared around the Spitfire. Fragments of shrapnel thumped against the airframe. He yanked the boost knob out and the big Rolls Royce engine surged, his airspeed rushing past four hundred miles per hour.
Another fragment thumped into the Spitfire. Attwater ducked, gasping as his head stopped inches from the instrument panel. He sat back up and quickly relocked his harness. He glanced at his altimeter and levelled the Spitfire off less than a hundred feet off the ground. The flak stopped as the gunners rushed to adjust their fuses. He glanced down over the side of the cockpit. Green countryside rushed by beneath him. Where on earth am I? Ahead, studded lines of concrete tank traps stretched off into the distance. The Siegfried Line. The border! Attwater sped clear of the German defences into the relative safety of France. He pushed the boost knob back in and pulled back on the stick, gaining altitude. He craned his neck to see beneath the aircraft. Before long he recognised the Moselle River and turned south.
Twenty minutes later, Attwater circled around the village of Burey-la-Côte. He slid the Spitfire’s Plexiglas canopy back and locked it open for landing, breathing deeply as the warm afternoon air rushed into the cockpit. Turning onto his final approach, he throttled back and cruised down onto the grass airfield, bouncing once before dropping the Spitfire firmly onto the turf.
As he taxied over to the hangar, the unit’s crew chief Warrant Officer William Bellamy and their rigger Corporal Archie Pike emerged from the mess. Attwater turned the rumbling aircraft around in front of the hangar, his propeller wash buffeting the two ground crewmen as they approached the huge shed. He pulled to a stop in front of the open doors, turned off the fuel and flicked the master engine switch. The big V12 engine quickly ran down, and the propeller came to a halt.
Attwater dropped his head onto his chest and sighed deeply. After a moment he lifted his head and looked at the oxygen regulator. Three quarters of a tank remained. Attwater frowned as Bellamy appeared on the wing next to the open cockpit.
“Welcome back, Sir!” Bellamy said cheerily. He leaned into the cockpit to help Attwater with his safety harness. “How’d you go then?”
Attwater took a deep breath and smiled. “Thrilling run, Bells. I believe I have the photos we need, too.” He climbed out of the cockpit onto the wing next to Bellamy.
“Wonderful!” Bellamy said. “Pike will take your films to be developed straight away. The C.O. is keen to see what you captured this afternoon. He’s been in with that Secret Intelligence Service fellow, Winterbotham, most of the afternoon.” Bellamy raised an eyebrow. “If he’s involved, I imagine trouble is brewing.”
“About time, I’d say.” Attwater flicked his head towards the cockpit and lowered his voice. “Have a look at the oxygen system for me, would you? I had a bit of a blackout up there this afternoon.”
“Good Lord!” Bellamy’s face paled. “I’m very sorry, Sir, I’ll—”
“Not to worry,” Attwater interrupted, raising his hand, “I made it back in one piece. It needs to be fixed though.”
“Of course, Sir! I’ll get on it right away!”
“You’d better check her over thoroughly too. The Hun’s triple A gunners took a few shots at me. I heard a couple of strikes.”
“Oh, dear,” Bellamy said. “I’ll go over her inch by inch, Sir.”
“Cheers Bells.” Attwater walked to the edge of the wing and dropped down onto the ground. Pike approached from inside the hangar, pushing a small trolley. “Bonjour Archie! Comment est votre niveau de français?”
“Cripes, Roger, I’ve only just started learning it!” Pike paused and took a breath. “Je ne le parle…” He looked down at the ground for a moment. “qu’ un petit peu!”
“Ah! Très bien! Very good!” Attwater said. “C’est dommage que vous soyez si laid, car votre français quant à lui est très bon!”
A blank look fell over Pike’s face. “What did you say, Roger?”
Attwater grinned. “Je suis désolé, je ne parle que le français.” He turned away and waved farewell. “Au revoir, Archie.”
Pike looked up at Bellamy on the wing. “What did he say, Chiefy?”
Bellamy smiled weakly and stepped down off the wing. “I think he said your French is beautiful. Of course, with my French, he might have said you look like a mule’s behind. I can’t be certain, lad. You’d better keep up the lessons.” Pike groaned theatrically. Attwater laughed as he walked away.
Bellamy trotted after him. “Sir?” he said quietly. “I really am very sorry, Sir. I don’t know what could’ve happened.”
Attwater smiled. “No need to apologise, Bells. You have always kept the Spit in sterling condition. These things just happen sometimes.” Attwater shrugged. “I may have inadvertently caused the problem myself. I’m not concerned with blame, but I suspect I’ll have to go up again first thing in the morning. Let’s just figure out what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again, shall we?”
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