“I was shaking with excitement by now. The machine gun was spitting bullets at a fast rate, but on the Hun plane everything remained in order. The two machines were keeping to a parallel course and I was beginning to fear that my aim was too poor to bring down our opponents, who were meanwhile keeping up their fire. Of a sudden the enemy machine lurched forward. Then something detached itself from it. It was the form of a falling man. My excitement reached its height. My aim had been good after all. As I saw the body speed towards the ground, turning over and over again, a sensation of sickness seized me. So intense was this, that I hoped the next enemy would get me, in order that I might not have to go through this agony again.”
Thus American EM “Beanface” Roberts describes the first of his seven victories over enemy aircraft in “A Flying Fighter: An American Above the Lines in France”. This is an extraordinary book in which this modest but adventurous American airman describes the thrills and perils of flying and fighting. Roberts flew a wide variety of aircraft, learning on a Caudron and flying BE2e, SPAD and DH5 machines. He was wounded four times in mid-air and narrowly escaped death during the Somme Offensive. In September 1917, with 38 months of service, he was hospitalised and subsequently sent home, later to write this unique first-hand account of his wartime experiences.