As requested, here is Pyotr Nesterov’s first chapter. As with Patton’s please note that everything is subject to revision. Hope everyone enjoys.
Pyotr Nesterov stared down at war torn Silistra from his VK-2 monoplane. For the second time in sixty years, the Imperial Russian Army was laying siege to the city on the Romanian-Bulgarian border. Bulgaria had declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1908. That hadn’t stopped the Turks from reoccupying the country by force six months earlier when the Tsar had once again declared war on the Sultan. The Ottoman Turks were using Bulgaria as a buffer between the Rodina and the small remnant of the Ottoman Empire’s European territory that surrounded Istanbul.
Constantinople thought Nesterov with reverence. He crossed himself and then brought his hand to the Orthodox crucifix he wore under his thick flight clothes. Once Holy Russia had liberated it from the Mohammedan infidels, the city that had once been the capitol of the ancient Byzantine Empire, and the center of the Orthodox Christian faith, would be under Christian control for the first time in over four-hundred and fifty years. Nesterov reflected that Russia had tried this particular gambit sixty-years earlier. It would no doubt have succeeded had Britain and France not come to the aid of the Turks in what became known as the Crimean War. The British and French had sent an expeditionary force into the black sea. They’d landed on the shores of the Crimea and after a long bloody campaign had put Sevastopol to the flames. Now that the British and French had long since returned to their previous animosities and hostilities (their natural condition thought Nesterov), the two most powerful nations in western Europe were far too preoccupied with one another to do anything against Mother Russia. They hated each other too much to work together, and neither would act unilaterally for fear of driving the Rodina into the other’s camp, and so…
And so Mother Russia is free to do as she pleases. And that’s exactly what she was doing. In particular, she was settling an old score. For all the religious overtones the present war with the Ottoman Empire intoned, the Tsar had a very practical reason for wanting to “liberate” “Constantinople.” It would give Russia control of the Dardanelles giving Russian ships and naval forces free and unrestricted passage between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. It would also give Russia a permanent warm water port, with direct access to the Mediterranean. It had been those practical strategic implications that had set Britain and France against Russia in 1853, far more than any real concern for “poor little Turkey.”
Nesterov stared down at the Ottoman soldiers that manned the defensive works below like ants defending their colony. Britain and France won’t be coming to your aid this time. They’re too busy with each other.
Even in his thick pilot’s jacket and sheepskin flight suit, Nesterov shivered. Like most Russians he was no stranger to the cold. He hailed from the northern region of Novgorod. His first posting as an officer had been to the far east in Siberia. His eyes went to the black and white photograph of a beautiful young woman that he had firmly secured to his control panel. He’d married young. Under normal circumstances officers in the Russian Army were not allowed to marry before the age of twenty-eight. The only exception was for officers who paid a massive fee to the state treasury or who agreed to serve in the far east. As he could not pay the fee he and his young beautiful wife had found themselves in Siberia for four years. The bitter cold he faced a thousand feet in the air reminded him of the frozen wastes and forests he’d seen there. Ironically, he’d been complaining about the incessant Romanian heat only the day before. At his current altitude and travelling at one-hundred kilometers per hour he felt as though he were back in Siberia with his face set against a strong winter wind blowing down from the arctic. Back in Siberia he’d had his wife to warm him most nights. He longed to be with her now, but she was back in Saint Petersburg. That left…
Vodka…I need more vodka… He’d knocked back a glass before takeoff. As far as he was concerned it had done more to keep him warm than all the layers of cloth and sheepskin that encased him.
Down below artillery boomed like thunder as the Russian army shelled the city of Silistra and its surrounding defenses. A few Ottoman guns roared in reply but it was clear to Nesterov that his own side received far less punishment than it was dishing out. From five-hundred feet in the air he could see that the city of Silistra was in ruins. Everywhere he looked below he saw smashed buildings—smashed churches, smashed mosques, smashed houses, smashed everything. Before the bombardment the outskirts of the city had resembled a labyrinth because of the many trenches. Nesterov had in fact helped map them from the air. Now that they were under bombardment, the trenches and fortifications around the city looked as though hell itself was erupting out of the ground beneath them. Explosive shells streaked down on the Ottoman defenders and exploded with tremendous force. From up above, Nesterov could see the fiery heart of each explosion. Black smoke and brown dust rose into the air so thick that it began to conceal the terrain, even from the all-seeing eye of an aerial scout. The only thing missing were the screams of torment, and Nesterov had no doubt that had it not been for the booming artillery, screaming shells, thunderous impacts, and the roar of the aeroplane’s engine he’d have heard those as well. As far as the Russian pilot was concerned, that was just as well. He’d been in battles on the ground before and had heard the sound of wounded and dying men. Nesterov had no desire to ever hear them again. He also didn’t mind the fact that the dust and smoke from the massed bombardment had concealed the Ottoman lines and positions around the city. In the first place it kept the Turks from shooting at him. For another, the Russian Artillery knew perfectly well where to train their guns, as evidenced by the storm of iron they had unleashed upon Silistra. For today, Nesterov had other concerns.
He pushed his control stick to the right, and his VK-2 monoplane banked to the southwest. Black doubled-headed Imperial Eagles set upon roundels of white, blue, red, and gold, were emblazoned upon its wings and fuselage. Nesterov kept a sharp eye on the surrounding skies. Not for the first time, he wished for a second set of eyes. Larger aeroplanes that could carry an additional man were supposed to be in the works. As far as Nesterov was concerned the sooner the better. The Ottomans didn’t have as many aeroplanes as the Russians, but they did have them. Nesterov set a hand on his Mosin-Nagant carbine which was wedged between his seat and the interior of the cloth canvas fuselage, reassuring himself that it was there. If one of the bastards emblazoned with black squares instead of Imperial Eagles came after him he wanted to be ready. He’d traded shots with another aircraft just once before. He didn’t think either he or his opponent had even come close to hitting one another. Still… if someone was shooting at you, you at least wanted the ability to shoot back.
Silistra sat on the southern bank of the Danube. Knowing that the Russians were unlikely to launch a direct assault upon the heap of ruins that had once been Silistra, the Ottomans had begun extending their defenses further down the river bank. Nesterov’s mission was to survey those defenses and any Ottoman deployments that might have been made. It wasn’t long before he spotted signs of enemy activity. A large number of horses, wagons, and trucks were in a field just south of the Danube. On the bank, Ottoman troops were busily digging rifle pits and preparing field works to oppose any Russian crossing. Nesterov pulled out a map from underneath his seat and marked it with a charcoal pencil. Through the roar of the engine a series of popping noises reached his ear. Down below puffs of smoke indicated that the Ottoman troops were firing at him with their rifles.
Nesterov swore profanely. He knew the odds of their hitting him were astronomical, but that didn’t make him like it even one bit. More gunshots reached his ears. Swearing once more he brought his VK-2 about again and set a flight path that would pass directly over the position of the Ottomans whose fire he’d drawn. He knew he was improving their chances of hitting him, but he intended to let them know they couldn’t shoot at him with impunity. If he stood up in the cockpit and shot at them with his rifle he’d have no better chance of hitting his enemies than they did of hitting him. If anything they stood a better chance because they at least had numbers on their side. But the Mosin Nagant was not the only weapon he had at his disposal.
On the opposite side of the cockpit from his rifle were three slots, each of which held a short elongated bomb. They were little more than hand-grenades designed to be dropped from above and to explode on impact. When set beside the explosive force and deadly accuracy of modern artillery they weren’t much more than a nuisance but with luck (a lot of luck) they could kill. In any event he hoped they would at least teach the Turks below that aeroplanes were not things to be trifled with.
More rifle shots came from below. Nesterov wasn’t certain but he thought he heard the passage of lethal bullets through the air. He kept a close eye on his airspeed and the ground below. When he judged himself to be over his targets, Nesterov stood up in the cockpit and one by one dropped the bombs over the side. He watched them fall away and out of sight. A few moments later he saw the blasts. A second later he heard them. They were far less impressive than he’d hoped. He wasn’t sure if he’d killed any of the Ottoman’s but the sound of rifle fire did cease—for about thirty seconds. Then they started all over again, seemingly with renewed vigor.
Nesterov pulled back on the throttle and increased his air speed. Like any sensible army pilot over hostile territory he wanted to conserve his fuel, but he also wanted to get away from those Ottomans on the ground. They seemed a little to earnest about bringing him down. He thought he heard the hiss of more bullets passing through the air. Suddenly he felt a slight vibration just as another sound reached his ears. Above the roar of the engine in front of him and the racket of rifle fire below he thought he heard a tearing sound. A moment later he noticed a hole the size of a small fist in the fabric of his aeroplane’s right wing. At least one of the Ottoman bullets had found its mark. For a moment his heart jumped. A meter more to the left and the bullet would have hit him. The cloth and canvas of the VK-2 would have offered him no protection at all. For one horrid moment he tried to imagine trying to fly back to his airfield with a bullet wound. In all likelihood he’d wouldn’t have been able to manage. His heart rate had just begun to settle down when it abruptly sped up again as he realized that he wasn’t the only vital component of the aeroplane that the bullet could have taken out. He quickly made a check of his rudders and ailerons. He also checked his fuel gauge to make certain that there was no leak. He breathed a sigh of relief when everything checked out. He crossed himself, and then once again brought his hand reverently to the Orthodox cross he wore beneath his flight clothes. He then kissed his hand and applied it to the black and white photograph of his wife.
Don’t worry, my love, I will come back to you again.