No Man Should Do Such Things…

Dash Fire Diaries
26 min readApr 29, 2024

When you come home

Use Henry’s Suds

To cleanse your face

Of Flemish mud

— From a WWI advert

Disassembled Titan-Gigaten being transported to the Western Front near Belgium

Editor’s Note: July 28th, 1917 Battle of Verbrande Molen, Flanders (Second Battle of the Bärenvolk). Elements of the X Corps Special Command Battle Group, the 4th Bavarian Titan-Giganten Battalion, also known as “Ludwig’s Stompers” and the 7th Pomeranian Titan-Giganten Battalion (“Fighting Nippers”) coordinated an ambush of the 2nd Olympian Saysquack. After the 2nd Olympian was field deployed and in the heart of No Man’s Land, hidden trenches and pits were opened, cutting off any chance of retreat or reinforcement. Despite air support from the #52 Squadron of the British Royal Flying Corps the saysquack soldiers were no match for the titans. There were no survivors. War crimes tribunals were initiated at the conclusion of the war, but eventually all charges were dropped.

Insignia of the German Imperial Titan-Giganten. Their motto: “Man and Machine.”

Excerpt from Titanium Tempest, Britain’s Noble Stand at Verbrande Molen by Lieutenant Trevor Norditch, №52 Squadron “Spitting Sparrows” Royal Flying Corps

…It was all up for us very quickly. Some people think battles are fought for days, weeks, or months. It was over in less than an hour. All the forces of Hell were arrayed against us that day. All the might of the Hun concentrated on a single point, at Verbrande Molen. It began almost as soon as I was aloft in my camel. I was gaining altitude when the first shock wave struck, with more reverberations to follow. Later on, I would find out that I was the last one in the air before the aerodrome was struck by a direct hit from German artillery. Several other explosions followed, leaving the airfield a useless mass of cratered wreckage, grounding the remaining fighters. About half the squadron made it into the air. I saw the desperate attempts to put out the burning aircraft and buildings as I vectored towards No Man’s Land.

Our duty was to provide air support to the 2nd Olympian Saysquack as they conducted an infantry assault against German positions. In those days, Archie (anti-aircraft resistance) was slipshod and haphazard. We were not sure what to expect by way of counter measures. After the aerodrome was hit, I expected to see chaos in the field, but there was no sign of the enemy in No Man’s Land, nor did we detect any unusual build up behind the lines. The saysquack shock troops plunged ahead with the indifference to self-preservation that marked all of these suicidal assaults. Yet there was reason to be hopeful, for the saysquacks had obtained complete victory in their prior action. Oddly, the enemy seemed to be offering no resistance whatever.

We saw the trick that was played before they did. A series of coordinated explosions occurred; it was obvious that these explosions did not occur from the air. German engineers had spent considerable time tunneling and laying gelignite charges parallel to our lines, and laying other insidious booby traps. After the dust settled from the explosions, a new set of trenches could be seen, all lined with sharpened sticks and God knows what else. This would make retreat back to the safety of Allied lines quite difficult. Seeing the trap for what it was, the squadron commander and myself buzzed the forward sections of the advancing saysquack infantry, firing flares and trying to wave them off. The warnings went unheeded. Indeed, there was no time to heed them.

I scanned the curiously empty skies for signs of enemy fighter planes. Then a cluster of black dots grew on the horizon. Silent as ghosts, they descended towards us, flapping massive, thick-veined wings, like bats. Flecks of sunshine drifted through the clouds, glinting off of the polished chrome helmets of the flying unicorns and the shock troops who rode them. There were perhaps a hundred or more bogies to our thirty-odd camels. I broke into a cold sweat. We knew that the hides of these creatures resisted the rounds fired by our Vickers guns. Successive waves of attack were needed to eliminate them; there was no such thing as a kill shot. The pilots, being human, were easier prey, but we soon found out that eliminating them did not make their mounts any less of a threat, just less predictable.

There was nothing in our training that prepared us for aerial combat against a foe of this nature. One must understand that our fighting vehicle, the Sopwith Camel, was an excellent tool in expert hands, but they were even more lethal to us than to our enemies. Any pilot will tell you that flying them was a visceral experience, more instinctive than scientific — at least for those who lived. Due to extreme gyroscopic effect caused by excess engine torque, the craft always overcompensated to the right. It was like riding an unbroken stallion; we constantly fought with the stick to keep the bloody things from going into a terminal spin. Many mechanical features of aircraft that pilots take for granted today were unknown to us then. These primitive, first generation rotary engines had no carburetors, no sound method of deceleration.

№52 Squadron, “Spitting Sparrows” Royal Flying Corps. Verbrande Molen Aerodrome

Pilots managed the fuel oil mixture by hand, thinning it with altitude. It required constant adjustment. The slightest mistake in paying out the oil would cause a stall, and in any stall, you were as good as dead. The only way to control the speed was by means of a blip switch, which slowed the craft by selectively killing the engine, but if it was pressed for too long, the engine would completely shut down. The camel’s instruments gave crude approximations. We laughed at freshly-trained pilots who dared rely on them for accuracy.

One of my dear friends, Captain Henry Ransom, was a clever chap — Oxford educated. One day when we were drunk in the officers’ mess, he wrote a smashing poem, more of a dance hall song, actually — unfit to print I’m afraid — about all the ways one could die in a camel. He was my best friend. I knew him for a total of seven days before he went down in a flamer…and that was but one of the many ways you could die in a camel that he wrote about in his song. During the war, the average lifespan of pilots was less than two weeks. We lived years in the span of days, back then, forced to by dire necessity.

Bury me in clouds

Above the icy blue

Wisps of vapor for my shroud

‘Midst the dragons that I slew

— Henry Ransom, №52 Squadron, “Spitting Sparrows” Royal Flying Corps

You see these old photos of us wrapped up in our leathers and you’d think we were snug as bugs, but all the aeroplanes of our era had an open cockpit design, and we froze even in summer. I knew one chap who rubbed chili oil into his hands before every sortie, just so he could retain feeling in them. Speaking of oil, we poured bucketloads of castor oil into every crack and crevice of our camels — no different than the stuff doting mothers force down the unwilling throats of many an ungrateful, ailing child. It required gallons of oil because it leaked from every hole and crevice you could see, and many you couldn’t. By the end of a mission, the entire cockpit was covered in it, including the pilot, his goggles, the windscreen, the control surfaces, and the instruments. This provided a spot of hazard. At any given time, we surveyed our surroundings through a greasy, ever present film on our goggles. Now that I am diabetic and my eyes are going, I see about as well as I did over Flemish fields — albeit not as far as I did then.

On top of swimming in castor oil, fuel leaks were common, and engine sparks often traveled into the cockpit. Fires were frequent, and we had no means to put them out whilst aloft. It was common knowledge that pilots often carried a pistol with them so they could put an end to it quickly, should they catch flame, though no one ever spoke of this or many of the other horrors besides. It wouldn’t do to speak of it, and it certainly wouldn’t have changed a thing. Safety checks and regular maintenance could prevent none but the most basic calamities. I saw aircraft in better condition than mine flame out. Parachutes? They had just been invented, were difficult to use, and the brass said they would encourage cowardice, so we were not allowed them.

These were the basic flying conditions and hazards we labored under, ever present with or without wind, weather, or Bosh fighters to contend with. On the day we flew our missions over Verbrande Molen, we had all those and more.

…As the swarm of flying unicorns approached, it was plain to see that their kits were far more sophisticated than ours. They wore masks fitted to their helmets, with rubber tubing extending over the shoulders to metal tanks that we later learned was supplemental oxygen. Together with tinted goggles, the masks worn by the winged unicorn pilots gave the impression of a ghostly visage. Seeing the black wings of their mounts and their overall gothic appearance, it looked like we were being attacked by dozens of angels of death.

As they drew near, the dense cluster spread out and began firing at us with light machine guns. Our squadron picked our marks and made to pounce on them. Shooting them out of the sky was like trying to swat a mosquito with a howitzer. The winged warcorns were far too slow to catch us, but we were too fast to outmaneuver them. Their agility was unmatched by anything mechanical. They were able to remain stationary, hovering in midair, just by casually flapping their wings. Even helicopters, once they were invented almost half a century later, could not match the agility of the winged warcorn. For a few moments, we took turns diving at them, but they always managed to get clear just seconds before they were within range and marked out in our crosshairs. It was like watching a matador during a well-staged bullfight — and we in our loud, fast, angry camels — were the bulls. And just like the matador who toys with the bull to entertain their audience, these first flirtations had a kind of playful joie de vivre, but then began to turn deadly as the Einhornwaffe pilots got down to business.

We soon understood the reason why our adversaries were suited up so tightly. It wasn’t for warmth and it wasn’t because of the altitude, as the entire drama was carried out just a few hundred feet above ground. The sky all round us began to erupt in dense, concentrated clouds of purple smoke, accompanied by a very low “pop” or a “whumph” sound. Of course, we had heard the reports of the unicorn’s toxic flatulence (a trait we had heard was nurtured by German scientists), but none of us had actually witnessed it until now. At first, the clouds were easy enough to avoid, but with so many aeroplanes to’ing and fro’ing about, it wasn’t long before our propellers stirred the ensuing miasmas all about, making it quite difficult to identify and avoid them. There were a few pilots who survived a whiff of these sulphur dioxide fumes, but as I say, we were in open cockpits and one, normal breath was all it usually took to send a poor lad west.

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remember’d;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother

— William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act IV, Scene III

But that was not the only weapon at their disposal. Whilst the hindquarters of the Hun’s aerodynamic steeds were spewing toxic vapors, their mouths were spitting plumes of rather potent acid at us. These could not reach far enough to be a direct threat, but they prevented us from getting beneath them, as their acid spit remained a serious threat until it touched earth. In fact, much of it harried the poor saysquacks on the ground, corroding their shields and burning off their hair and skin wherever it touched them.

The winged warcorns also had other weapons. The pilots had machine guns to fire at us and strafe the massed saysquacks down below. They often dive bombed the infantry troops, goring them with their powerful horns, biting with sets of overlapping teeth which they could extend and retract from their mouths, while the pilots fired pistols and threw hand bombs when their machine guns ran out of ammunition. We were able to pick off a few of the pilots, but inevitably this sent the riderless warcorn into a wrathful frenzy, attacking anything that moved.

Ten minutes into the engagement, we saw that the stalemate we had with the warcorns was simply a diversion to goad us into exhausting our limited supply of ammunition. Each of our camels were outfitted with two Vickers machine guns, each loaded with 250 rounds of ammunition. This gave us about thirty seconds of firing on each gun before they were depleted. Loading the ammunition was a cumbersome task which was impossible to perform whilst in flight, even if we had the ability to carry any extra (and we didn’t). We also carried four Cooper Bombs (loaded with high-explosive Amatol), but those were useless against the nimble warcorns, who could easily dodge them.

The reason for the diversion became horrifyingly clear as three dust clouds emerged from German lines. As they drew into sharp relief, we saw the profiles of three mechanical juggernauts, their powerful engines belching forth black clouds of diesel exhaust, the roar of their machinery audible above the din of firing. These were the devilish titanium giants that had heretofore been rumored to exist, but never seen on the battlefield. The Germans called these models “Death Kings.” They were bipedal, with two arms and two legs, standing one hundred feet tall, and cut a profile that looked like the bastard child of a tank and a giant human. Their arms contained all manner of beastliness: toxic gas jets, flame projectors, Maxim machine guns, and even light artillery. And if any of these weapons failed, they also carried two massive javelins stowed in holsters behind the shoulders.

The moment we saw them, I realized our situation was now infinitely worse. The German engineers saw to it that there was no path of retreat. The saysquacks could go forward into the teeth of the advancing Titans and, supposing they bested these, straight into the reinforced German lines, or fall back against the booby-trapped entrenchments. Their only hope was a lateral movement parallel to both lines, but these avenues of retreat were being quickly clapped shut by the winged warcorns. The effect was the creation of a box-like kill zone measuring perhaps half a mile in each direction, with each path brooking no retreat from the certain death awaiting all.

Unit insignia, 2nd Olympian Saysquack. Motto: “Actions not words.”

The 2nd Olympian in their thousands were being harried from the air by murderous flatulence, acid mist, and the horns of dive-bombing warcorns. Our efforts to relieve them of this pressure were, I am forced to admit, ineffectual. As soon as the lumbering titans hove into view, we all knew that if we failed to stop the advance of the Death Kings, they would force a wholesale surrender within minutes of engaging the saysquack infantry. Unfortunately, it was far worse than that.

We had lost several pilots already to the insidious weapons of the winged warcorns. Their aircraft lay in smoking heaps in the mud of No Man’s Land. Some succumbed directly to the fumes. Others were caught in the acid spray, which did not always touch the pilot themselves, but corroded the fragile propellers or wings of our camels, stripping them of their airworthiness almost immediately and thus causing uncontrolled crashes.

Those of us who were still alive ignored the warcorns, leaving the poor saysquacks to deal with them as best they could. As I sped forward, I caught a glimpse of the scene below: groups of saysquacks were formed into infantry squares by their human officers, who had little more to defend with than pistols and whistles. I saw several of the saysquacks’ heavy, iron shields pierced by warcorn horns. I saw one wounded, furry fellow on his knees take a plume of acid spit directly to the face at point-blank range. I heard only a second of his pained howl, but could imagine the rest. Despite the most able attempts by the warcorns, the saysquacks were putting up a disciplined and dogged resistance. Some were firing their Lewis guns; others swung heavy maces, axes and pikes as the devils pecked away at them from just over their heads. I wished I could do or say something to give them greater hope, but in the air, we were overwhelmed too, and had to remain steadfastly focused on the rapidly deteriorating situation, determined to perform our duty to the very best of our limited means, making Fritz pay dearly for our lives.

We raced towards the Titans at full throttle. The titans’ massive size made their step appear cumbersome. They could not move with the agility of their demonic winged brethren, but they were far quicker and more light-footed than they appeared. I guessed we had perhaps two minutes to stop them before they reached the 2nd Olympian. After sighting us, all three Death Kings paused to take our measure. Then, something bizarre happened. Extremely loud classical music began to blast from metal amplification horns that sprouted from the lead titan’s “head.” Apparently, in addition to all their other equipage, the damnable things also carried gramophones! And this one was playing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

Ludwig Von Beethoven, a German composer

It became immediately clear that this was intended as a kind of perverse war cry, for as soon as the music started, all three behemoths opened up on us, firing with machine guns, howitzers, and the occasional plume of flame. Their pilots and gunners had great flexibility and freedom of movement. The torsos of the titans could rotate a full 360 degrees on their axis, which allowed the gunners to track us even after we passed over them. This forced us to deploy extreme dogfighting maneuvers just to stay ahead of the lead and white-hot phosphorous tracer rounds arcing towards us.

As I came into position for my first attack run, I tried to stay above the lead titan and out of its sights until the last possible moment. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins. Time seemed to slow down, with events happening in freeze-frame flashes like a moving picture reel slowed until one could make out each individual image. All of my senses were heightened. Sweat stung my eyes. I smelled the burning oil of my engine as I pressed it to its maximum operational limit. The images I saw were made hazy and spectral by the film of castor oil covering my goggles. A strange kind of peace washed over me, for although my intellect understood the truth, my whole body and spirit had not until now accepted the fact that this would likely be the end. The acceptance of my inevitable death became an island of peace, an anchor, the axis around which the chaos all about me revolved.

I stiffened my resolve, turned, and spit out the blood which had accumulated in my mouth from biting my lip. At a distance of 100 yards, I dove at him, centered him in my crosshairs, opening up with a five-second burst, rolling to the right just as the left arm gunner squeezed off his shots at me. His missed. Mine found their mark, but the rounds merely sparked helplessly off the titan’s thick carapace of plate armor. I could see several of the boys do the same, with similar results. These attack runs against the titans had a Medieval quality to them, like knights jousting, except that, unlike knights, there was no chivalry attached to our endeavors, no rules, no quarter asked and none given. We were meant to keep at each other unto the last breath of our opponent, or ours.

Several of us tried to catch them from behind, but it was impossible. The torsos rotated so quickly, that the only effective means of strafing them was to catch one in a crossfire, an extremely unforgiving tactic that nearly resulted in friendly fire casualties each time it was performed. Normally, experienced pilots are far more conservative about risk than you might think — that’s how they live long enough to become experienced. But these were desperate measures for a desperate situation.

A “soft” hard landing

After making two more passes at the monsters, my shots landed again, but without result. I decided to try to take out a titan with my Cooper Bombs. Our hope that the titans would have to pause in order to deal with us was unrealized. They continued plodding forward through the muck of No Man’s Land even as they sighted and fired back at us. I realized that one bomb was very unlikely to hit the mark. There was opportunity for only one further, last-ditch pass before the titans were in range of the 2nd Olympian, so I opted to go for broke, dropping all four of my bombs in rapid succession. As I did so, just a few dozen feet above the head of my target, the resultant shockwave lifted the aeroplane, causing her to buck. For a second, I felt I was losing control and done for, but then I outran the blast wave, leveled out and circled back to review the results of my work.

As I completed my circle, it was apparent that other pilots had the same idea. One of the titans was prostrate on the ground, covered in flames, but slowly and shakily it got to its feet and continued as though nothing had happened. Another was completely covered in mud, giving it the appearance of a mountain of earth and clay come to life. The one I hit was on fire at the left shoulder, but a nozzle protruded, spewing some sort of white, fire retardant powder over itself, quickly extinguishing the blaze. Their armor was scorched and dented, but otherwise intact. The arm of one of the titans ceased to function, probably because its gunner or operator was dead, but all three continued forward without demonstrably slackening their pace.

That was when I saw Turnup (so-called because he always “turned up” for inspections or dress parades before any of the other fellows, even on hangover days) earn his posthumous VC. He dove straight for one of the giants, corkscrewing through the air and hitting it square in the mid-torso. Afterwards, we said he was hit and lost control, but his craft was operable before he went in, and his guns were silent — all our guns were at this point, for we were out of ammunition. We knew it was a suicide run. Any of us would have done the same thing if we’d been in position, because we knew our lives were forfeit. The red tabs of High Command were fond of their notion of heroism, but those of us who fought their battles knew the truth: death is death. You may gild a rubbish pile all you wish, but at the end of the day, it still stinks. I have seen many a misadventure and a reckless, wanton death dressed up as gallantry in hindsight, but poor Turnup was anything but reckless; he simply played the only card he had left, and what he did was gallant. Really gallant, and not simply because his deed got mentioned in dispatches. Sent west at only twenty-two, he was an old soul, a canny pilot, and surely the sanest of us all.

As Turnup made contact, the wings of his craft broke apart. The left wing summersaulted high in the air over the titan’s shoulder whilst the other shot like a bolt, landing upright into the muddy earth below while the fuselage crumpled and disintegrated in a massive ball of flame. The blast from the impact threw the titan backwards, with one arm severed completely. Though crippled and staggering, the titan limped back to its feet and continued on.

The titans, now set upon the hard-pressed saysquacks below, along with the winged warcorns, who were already there. In addition to the machine guns, there were bursts of flame fired from jets protruding at the titans’ wrists. Those bastards were torching the saysquacks like kabobs! The tidy infantry squares were obliterated and it was every quack for himself. A few small groups threw down their arms and waved the white flag of surrender, but they were set upon with all the fury of Hell. We knew the saysquacks were tough, tougher by far than even the most hardened human soldier, but they were made of flesh and blood too. I saw an officer, probably the famed Branwell Browntrout, try to rally the survivors. When last I saw him, he was in a shell crater in front of his troops, defiantly aiming his pistol while standing in the long shadow of a looming titan.

As I came around for another pass, I heard a popping, shredding noise. I was hit by machine gun fire from a titan! My left wing was in tatters. Smoke billowed from my engine. I tried to keep level as I went down, but my aircraft rolled to the left. She wouldn’t respond to the stick. The wind screamed and the engine sputtered and whined as I made an uncontrolled descent. I could smell engine oil and petrol streaming into the air about me. The next thing I knew, I touched earth with a jolt unlike anything I have ever felt. A geyser of thick mud hit me in the face and sprayed into the air. The fuselage made the most awful sounds as it cracked and splintered. The propellers knifed into the mud of No Man’s Land, violently and instantly cracking and flying off of the craft in different directions. There were several more shudders and shocks as the fuselage and I skidded through the mud on my left side.

I knew I was still alive, because I was injured. I did not know a man could feel such pain. I was gasping for breath. Broken ribs? It was hard to say. I brought my right arm up and removed my goggles, which, like the rest of me, were completely covered in mud, oil, petrol, and God knows what else. With my vision clear, I looked through the smoke rising from the ruin of my craft. I was at the feet of a titan. I tilted my head at an awkward angle to see the shadow of enormous wings flapping. I could hear the screeching of enraged warcorns, the screams of saysquacks meeting their terrible ends at their hands, the pitiless firing of the titans’ Maxim guns.

I tried to wiggle and squirm my way free of the wreck. As I attempted to move, lightning bolts of pain coursed through my chest. I reached in front of me. The handle of my left Vickers had been shoved further into the cockpit by the force of the impact. It had me pinned like a fork skewering a kipper on a dinner plate. A strange whimper emerged from nearby, like a kicked puppy. I realized with horror that it was my own voice that was producing these sounds. I was totally unmanned by the crash. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a saysquack race towards me. He was just a few feet away when he became totally engulfed in a burst of flame, as though a dragon from the annals of Arthurian legend had come to life to take its revenge upon us. I choked and gagged on the stench of burning fur and flesh as I watched my would-be rescuer burn alive. Despite the terrific agony, I reached down to my right to try to unholster my revolver. I pined for death, but my Webley was out of reach and I could not feel my hands or feet anyway. A stream of mud, blood and vomit exited my mouth.

I looked up. The titan turned to me, raising a weapon-laden arm. I decided to look my death in the face. It would be my last voluntary act. My determination was all that kept my eyes open. They were clouding over. Then, I saw something extraordinary. Several saysquacks were climbing up the sides of the titan, tearing at its armor, flailing away at it with their Medieval weapons. It seemed utterly futile, but the titan’s operators did not think so, for the giant became distracted by this menace, turning this way and that in an effort to shake them off. Soon, the titan crew forgot about me altogether, stomping away to deal with its new set of troubles. I closed my eyes, impatient for death. Just as I was losing consciousness, I felt a series of violent jolts. My camel and I were being lifted out of the mud. I heard a grunt, a crack, then another crack. A pair of furry hands were pulling me, seat and all, out of the back of the aircraft. There were several rough tugs, accompanied by grunts, and I was free of the wreck. I was still unable to move. I felt a sharp jab in my left buttock, straight through my trousers, and then the most blissful sensation that I was floating. I was over the shoulder of my rescuer, draped like a useless sack of potatoes, limp as a dead hare.

I recall trying to apologize for drooling and vomiting down the back of my new friend, but only a low moan escaped my lips. I could only see the muddy earth passing beneath us as we sped towards the safety of our lines. I heard the horrible whine of several more aeroplanes crashing and exploding, and the persistent percussions of machine gun fire. Eventually these sounds receded in the distance. At length, I felt my body being gently lowered to the ground on my back. The last thing I distinctly recall, was seeing the unit insignia of the 2nd Olympian on the shoulder of the saysquack’s jacket. Delirious, I reached up with my right hand. The saysquack took it, squeezed it. “Mother? Mother?” I said. He folded my hand across my chest, turned, and bolted back towards his comrades in battle. Later on, they told me that a few other pilots were brought to the edge of our forward operating post in the same manner. No pilot made it back to the lines under his own power. Every aircraft in our squadron were destroyed, and almost all the pilots of the Spitting Sparrows were dead. And for that, we still came out of it better than the 2nd Olympian, who lost every soul of their outfit. Less than thirty minutes passed from the moment we were airborne until now.

I only lay there for a few seconds before more hands, human hands, whisked me to the proximate casualty clearing station as a “rush case.” I could swear I heard singing, not human words, but one, harmonious note of every combined voice of every being in the universe. I felt myself drifting up into the sky. The singing grew louder and louder until suddenly all went completely black.

When I awoke, I was under a sheet in a soft bed, my left arm was missing at the elbow, my legs were broken, as were several ribs — including the one that punctured my lung. They said I was the last — the very last — to see anyone from the 2nd Olympian Saysquack alive.

Unit Insignia of the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Flying Unicorn Brigades (k.u.k. Tiroler Fliegend Einhornwaffe I Corps)

Excerpt from Metallhelden Rosten Nie [Metal Heroes Never Rust] by Dieter Haas

…The British pilots attacked us in echelon formation. We were untested. We were all young and inexperienced — even me, and I was titanenkommandant. As the planes approached, I leaned into the speaking tube and said, “Here they come, boys! Remember your training. Trust in our armor. Do not be afraid! Arm gunners, find range five-zero-zero meters. Set weapons to attack positions. Prepare for anti-aircraft measures. Hold for my command!”

My navigator was watching them through the periscope. He said, “Thirty-five marks bearing two-zero-two, range five-seven-five meters and closing.”

As the British came within range, I gave the order to open fire, weapons free. The pings of their Vickers rounds increased but was lost in the din of our own firing. As the navigator called out the range and positions, I manipulated the gyroscopes that moved the torso of the titan to give the gunners the ability to track the aircraft. In our testing runs, it was not clear that we would be fleet or flexible enough to track aircraft, but here in our first trial combat, the gunners were having no difficulty staying ahead of the British pilots and taking them down.

The flying warcorns of the Einhornwaffe had done an excellent job as the vanguard force in sowing chaos and confusion among the British. Resistance to our advance became stubborn as we approached the massed bärenvolk infantry. As we neared them, the pilots began their bombing runs. I yelled, “Bombs! Evasive maneuvers! Brace for impact!” Two of their high explosive bombs struck us at once. The temperature inside the titan — stifling already — became oppressive. My left gunner yelled, “I’m hit! We’re on fire.” I ordered him to deploy the fire retardant. He did, and later I learned that his left arm had fused to the cockpit in the explosion. It was amputated after the sortie, and after several weeks, he died of an infection from his injury.

We fared better than the Toter König from the 4th Pomeranian Titan-Giganten, one of whose arm gunners was lost when the arm was severed in an explosion. As we neared the bärenvolk, we saw the havoc the Einhornwaffe was inflicting them, the effects of their acid spray and toxic flatulence from above. The best thing we could do was eliminate them as quickly as possible in order to limit their suffering. They soon saw the hopelessness of their situation and began swarming us and starting to climb upon us. Our hatches were secure, but we knew that the strength of the bärenvolk was legendary. I ordered the gunners to sweep the ground with the flame projectors. I can still hear the screams that issued from them, in my nightmares of this time. And the smell, it was unforgettable. No man should do such things to another. But we thought our survival depended on it, that it was us or them. And we had our orders directly from Generaleutnant Knobelsdorf: “…The Imperial Engineers have taken much trouble to prepare your table. Leave nothing left upon your plate.” When battle hardened bärenvolk — those who escaped the flames climbed up our sides, I ordered, “All points titan: seal hatches!” The men complied, but a few determined bärenvolk somehow managed to climb 30 meters to the left gunner’s cockpit hatch, and together they tore it open. The gunner aimed his pistol at them and fired several times. The bärenvolk were too big to climb down into the entry shaft, but their long, powerful arms easily grabbed Hans, the gunner. They pulled him out and tossed him off the side like a piece of rubbish.

Through my scope I saw something similar happen to the Toter König from the 4th Pomeranian. But several warcorns swooped in, spitting streams of acid in the bärenvolks’ faces, blinding them, and causing them to pitch off the sides to their deaths. Unfortunately, some of their acid got into the hatch, burning their gunner, but he lived and fought in other battles.

About 25 minutes after we took to the field, there was nothing but the bodies of the bärenvolk a few human officers, and wisps of smoke spiraling silently into the air. We later learned that three of the British pilots were saved, but that was all. The three titans that took to the field were heavily damaged and scarred, but intact. After the Einhornwaffe cleared off, we fired a salute in honor of the enemy dead. We were shocked at the carnage we created, but we were expected to act as triumphant heroes when we returned. Only in private, years later, at a reunion of titan crews, and only after more than one bottle of schnapps had gone around, did we ever speak of how we really felt about what we did at Verbrande Molen.

Your Camel Wants to Kill You

By Henry Ransom

Our friend the Sopwith Camel

She is a cruel mistress

She’ll lift you up to Heaven

Put out your lights

And send you west

Oh, your camel wants to kill you

Let me count the ways

She will surprise in death’s disguise

And end your earthly days.

She will buck to the right

When you wish to go left

And if you don’t

Then say goodnight!

If you drop to 45

You’ll spin and then lose power.

But go too fast

She’ll break in two

And fling you from your tower!

Our mothers gave us castor oil

The camel spits it in your eyes

But light it up, your skin will boil

Without a soul to hear your desperate cries

And if she doesn’t catch on fire

Her paper frame, piano wire

Just cut one cord, or play her false

And you will find

It’s your last Waltz

‘Till you join the angels’ choir

Oh, the Vickers in her bosoms

Will save you, this is true

But when they’re jammed,

They aren’t worth a damn

When Fritzy gets the drop on you!

Oh, your camel wants to kill you

Let me count the ways

That she will surprise in death’s disguise

And end your earthly days.

She’s a tiger with arthritic bones

A feral horse without a saddle

And if you fail to check her rage

You’re up shit creek without a paddle

Bury me in clouds

Above the icy blue

Wisps of vapor for my shroud

‘Midst the dragons that I slew

Oh, your camel wants to kill you

Let me count the ways

That she will surprise in death’s disguise

And end your earthly days.

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Dash Fire Diaries

Envisioning a past that never was. Step through a surreal portal where objective truth, imagined history and satirical fiction coexist.