Channel Choices

Channel Choices 

Banking left to avoid the Me-109 darting down toward me from within the glare of the sun, I almost clip my right wing on Rich’s Spitfire. 

These tight formations look good in flyovers, but are dangerous in combat! 

“Go left; I’ll go right,” Richard declares over the radio, apparently not realizing I’m already headed that direction. 

I push the engine up to full throttle and pull hard against the control column, hoping to turn inside the German before he has a chance to turn on me. The 109, a nimbler aircraft than my Spit, is able to turn faster than I am, setting himself up with a clear shot at me before I can break out of my turn at him. 

Instead of leveling off to give the 109 a clear shot, I keep turning toward the German. 

You’re not going to kill me! 

My Spit’s metal wings begin to vibrate as my sharp turn strains the air attempting to flow over them to keep me airborne. 

Hold on, Old Girl. Hold on. 

As I continue to turn into the 109, I see the pilot of that little fighter start to turn in order to come at me head on. 

We both level off facing each other at about 2,000 meters. 

Al’right, you BASTARD, let’s play a bit. 

“Turn away,” Richard orders over the radio. 

I’m not turning. Jerry will have to turn first. 

Our combined speed of more than900 km/h leaves little time for either of us to act. 

My thumb presses down hard against the firing button, releasing a barrage of machine gun and cannon fire from my two 20mm cannons and four 7.7mm machine guns. 

Bullets begin ripping into my Spit almost immediately after I begin firing my guns. 

Jerry’s of the same mind, ole boy. 

“Turn away, damn it!” Richard orders over the radio. 

Within just a moment, the image of the 109 fills my visual range. He is all I can see. 

I bet I’m all he can see too! 

As our planes approach to within a few meters of each other, I realize we are not heading directly into the same point in space and time. We stare at each other for the eternity that is the possibly one second it takes our primed fighters to meet. His blue eyes lock with mine as a small smile fades from his face. The 109’s wing clips my engine and fuselage. Since I have the longer wingspan, my right wing rips into his engine and cuts through his fuselage, slicing the little fighter in two across the length of the aircraft like a carrot cut from thick end to thin.  

Air rushes through the slashes in the fuselage of my Spit as it falls from the sky. My control column goes limp. Small flames spit toward me through the gaps between the multiple dials and gages on the control panel. 

The engine is on fire! Forget controlling the plane, I have to get out! 

My hands hurriedly scramble from the useless control column up to the latch that releases the canopy above my head. Looking up at it, I cannot see it clearly as the plane violently vibrates against the seemingly random directional changes it keeps making as it falls toward the water of the English Channel. 

I try to grasp the handle to open the latch. I miss. A large flame is now shooting forth from the control panel.  

I have to get that hatch open! 

My shaky hands keep fumbling with the latch. The flames engulf the whole cabin. 

No, no! You will not take me this way! 

Searing heat spreads across my whole frontage, incinerating my clothing, my flesh, my face and skin. 

I cannot die this way! 

The latch finally opens, forcing the canopy to flip back, violently ripping off the plane as the wind gusts carry it away. 

I release my harness. My last ounce of strength forces my burnt frame out of the cockpit. 

I’m free! 

The flames follow me out of the plane, twisting and turning to continue burning me as I slowly fall away from the plummeting aircraft. 

My chute opens on its own when I fall over 50 meters from the burning plane. By this point, the flames on my body have died out, but I can no longer feel my hands, my arms, or my legs. 

How am I going to signal for help without my hands or legs? How am I even going to stay above the water? 

Looking down toward the water, I can see a small boat floating off in the distance.  

I may not need to float for long. 

As my body hits the salt-water, every open wound from the flames burns at the same moment. 


Ten billion knives plunge into every point of surface of my body in one instant as the English Channel’s salt water covers the surface area of what is left of my skin from my hairless head to my exposed toes. My clothes, hair, and most of my skin have burned away. The salt is cauterizing every wound at the same time across the whole of my body. 

I wish I had died!  


My internal struggle with the pain initially keeps me from hearing the approach of the motor launch and the calls of its crew. Yet, once the salt-induced cauterizing of my burned flesh matures enough for it to no longer be incapacitating pain for all of my senses, I begin to make out a faint call from some distance. 

“Who are you – a Jerry or one of ours?” 

My mouth won’t move. 

I try calling out, but can only project one sound. 


“You a Jerry or a Brit, lad?” 

Forcing myself to curve my cauterized facial skin to spit out the salt water in my mouth, through cracked lips I cry out, “Stupid f- - - - - - bastards, pull me out!” 

The boat immediately pulls up alongside me. Strong arms reach out to lift me out of the water. 

“The minute you swore, mate,” one of the crew says, “we knew you was from the RAF.” 

Page BreakEarly in the Battle of Britain, the Royal Air Force (RAF) had only motor launches to pick up their airmen. The official launches were augmented by other small boats, mostly fishing vessels from Channel ports, which proved willing to take considerable risks to rescue British fliers but were known to leave Germans to drown. 

One Spitfire pilot, Geoffrey Page, who was badly burned, when his plane was hit and set afire by a Me-109, managed to open his parachute though his hands were fried to the bone. The flames had destroyed his uniform and scorched his face and body, and he wallowed in the water half-naked and in great pain, simply sensing that a boat was circling him. Finally, through the agony that racked him, Page heard a voice challenging him. Eventually Page convinced the boat he was a British pilot, and should be saved. Had he been the German pilot he confronted, he may have been left in the English Channel to die. Many were. 

Source: The Battle of Britain, Time Life Books, 1980, pg. 87