Cadet Cruise #1
Cruiser Mount Olympus
Port of [redacted by ship’s censors]
23 October 1908
I want to you to know that I am well. The events of the last few weeks I am sure have reached you via the newspapers. I hope some of my earlier posts arrived, but if they have not, this letter will attempt to get you up to date. Suffice it to say this is not how I expected to complete my cadet cruise. Do not worry about me. I am well, a little shaken and battered, but doing fine.
The cadet cruise is supposed to be the pinnacle of schooling at the École d’Aviation. We all hope for postings to one of the larger battleships. Cadets with lower grades get assigned to destroyers or even tenders. Those with the highest grades and merit are given duty aboard a battleship. I was assigned to a light cruiser, the Mount Olympus, which gives you an indication of my grades this last year. Once more, advanced mathematics has proven elusive to me.
I was made an officer of the deck on our Atlantic cruise. Justin, my roommate, has been posted to the Mount Olympus as well, as her auxiliary bridge officer. We set off to patrol the warm waters of the southern Atlantic. Many ships have made the passage to South America of late. This is all part of our [redacted by ship’s censors]
On 7 September our meteorologists noticed the barometer dropping sharply and the winds picking up. Wireless traffic with merchant ships at sea told us there was a large tropical storm front extending on our patrol path. We swung northward and cut speed in hopes of eventually shifting west in the wake of the front. The storm picked up the next day to hurricane strength and we struggled to keep our distance. Riding out a storm at sea is one thing, in the air another altogether. I was bruised on my hips and thighs from slamming into the railing while at my post. It was the same for every man on my duty shift. Even going to the facilities was a nightmare. Men were sick constantly. As Justin said, we may be airmen of blue, but we were all green during a hurricane.
As you have no doubt heard, the Mount Olympus picked up a signal from an American Gany, the Richmond. She is one of their newest battle cruisers; she had been caught by the hurricane and was trying to break through toward us in the east. Her course, from what we could tell, was taking her right into the storm. The Richmond was having difficulties just as we were.
Storms play havoc on Ganys. The static discharge of lightning forces the crew to make a number of complicated compensatory efforts to keep us even-keel. The winds also make maneuvering difficult. Our Capitaine, Jean DeGual, maintained contact with the Richmond. Having another ship nearby can sometimes prove useful during such weather conditions, as it was in this case. The Richmond was struck several times by lightning and had been battered badly by the storm. She was having issues with maintaining altitude. On 10 September, on the morning duty shift, we got the word they were issuing a general distress signal.
Our Capitaine was a brave man to respond, the epitome of the Air Service. A lesser man would have left the Amis to their own fate. He did not. He ordered us deeper into the storm front to rendezvous with them before they went down. As deck officer, it was my job to tie us alongside the Richmond once we found her so our engineers could board and assist the Americans.
It took four hours to locate the American vessel. She was badly damaged by the storm. Two of her boilers were out and she was losing altitude slowly but steadily. In the 170 kph winds, it was a deadly maneuver for us to swing in to attempt to assist her, but Capitaine DeGual has ice in his veins. He took us in a low swinging arc, diving us down alongside the ship.
I took my crew out on the deck to effect our boarding. As you know, we wear safety harnesses on-deck and it was this that saved my life. It took three efforts to successfully fire our grapples across to the Amis’ ship. When we began to tie off, the winds buffeted us. The Richmond bumped us alongside, hard. I went right over the edge, head over heels. I am all right, Mother. I hit hard on the hull between the ships as they drifted apart. My shoulder was thrown out of its socket, which was painful, but not as painful as falling to the waters during the storm!
I hung there between the ships for what seemed like forever as my team pulled me up and worked the cranks on the ropes to pull the ships back together. I feared that the Richmond would once more bump us, as I would have been crushed. Fortunately, my crew got me up before the Richmond nudged us again. They propped me by the rail and I directed them to extend the gangway.
I was carried off to sickbay as our crew boarded the Richmond. As you have no doubt read in the papers, we succeeded in getting their boilers fired up, saving their ship and crew. While I am sore from the events that unfolded, the Capitaine has spoken of my bravery during the boarding action, earning me a citation. Such an honor will no doubt assist me in my first duty assignment.
The doctors say I am healing well, though I itch constantly under the plaster cast. I am sending you a copy of the citation I received in a separate letter. Please keep it for me and show it to Papa and Julianne. I have made our family name a revered one, at least aboard the Olympus. Even the American newspapers have spoken of the bravery and daring of our crew in helping them save their newest ship. I enclose copies of some of the articles about us, just in case you have not heard about the incident.
My love to you all.
Cadet Sous-Lieutenant de aérien
To Be Continued…