It is the summer of 1917 and the scene is a British airfield close to the enemy lines, somewhere in France. The time is 1pm and there is little happening since this is the hottest part of the day. Machines damaged during the dawn patrol have been repaired or cannibalised for useful parts and it will soon be time to prepare for the afternoon sortie.
Suddenly, there is the sound of an approaching aircraft. From the direction of the lines there appears a single Fokker Triplane which drops a streamer, with a message attached, in the middle of the 'drome and immediately performs a steeply banked turn and disappears back towards the Hun trenches.
A fitter retrieves the message and presents it to the CO, who had arrived hotfoot accompanied by most of his pilots. "Crikey!" he yelped, "Listen to this chaps." With that, he proceeded to read the following:
"Be warned Englander dogs that I, Baron Schtoppe von Minuten will be patrolling alone over the lines at dawn tomorrow. I am completely invincible and can defeat all Englander schwine with one hand tied behind my back."
For a moment, there was a stunned silence, "We can't let the blighter get away with this," declared the CO, "I want our three best men to be there waiting for him tomorrow."
At first light the next day, the squadrons three top scoring aces took off and headed for the lines in tight formation. At 10am it became quite clear that they were not going to return. The CO called a meeting at noon to decide just what to do about the situation.
Before he could utter one word, there was the sound of an approaching aircraft and a Fokker Triplane appeared at full throttle. Once again, a message was dropped and the aircraft disappeared whence it came. This time the message had an even more superior tone:
"So, you thought to defeat me with a handful of novices. you will have to do better than that tomorrow!"
"We can't have this, chaps," cried the CO, "tomorrow we'll send a dozen kites to intercept him."
Next morning twelve machines took off and set out towards the enemy lines - they were never seen again! Around 11am, panic was about to set in and the CO - who was both glad and sorry that he had not led the flight himself - called another meeting.
As he surveyed the glum faces before him and wondered what to say, he was saved from further thought by the sound of an approaching aircraft. Could it be a survivor - no it was too late for that. Sure enough a lone Fokker Triplane appeared and, surprise, dropped a message pennant.
"Your schtupidity is amazing," it read, "a mere dozen machines is nothing to my superior ability. One hundred such incompetents could not possibly defeat one such as I. Let us see what insignificant force you can mount tomorrow."
By now, news of the situation had spread and meetings of all the CO's of squadrons in the area went on until very late that night. Clearly, something drastic had to be done.
Well before first light the following morning, aircraft began arriving at the aerodrome from all the neighbouring flying fields. Just before dawn, no less than 183 aircraft of various types took off and headed for the trenches. In no time, there was the sound of aerial combat taking place.
The sounds gradually died and the waiting groundcrew expected to see returning aircraft at any minute. The minutes became hours and the awful truth began to penetrate. Surely not all destroyed?
At last, there was the sound of an approaching engine. The cynical were half expecting a Fokker Triplane to appear, but no, the sound was unmistakably that of a le Rhone rotary. Eventually a lone Sopwith appeared, so badly damaged that it was impossible to distinguish the type.
The landing was more of a crash and it was immediately clear that the pilot was mortally wounded. He was made as comfortable as possible, made to drink some brandy and urged to speak.
With much painful coughing the words eventually came out.
"It was a trap - there were two of them!"