Now the Huns began to hang smaller balloons on steel cables, all around their Fat Hildas. This would entangle any flier trying to reach the central observation balloon. And they also surrounded the balloons with big kites, with wires stretched between. These small wires were almost invisible. With a pilot diving full speed, they would be almost impossible to detect or avoid. On October 14, 1918, Lt. Willy's luck finally ran out. At dawn, he left the Les Moeres Belgium airfield where he was stationed. This airfield was one of the movable bases located up and down the entire length of the Western front lines. Most of them were little more than collections of quickly constructed huts, tents, and hangers huddled near open fields. At some of them, herds of cattle grazed undisturbed among the airplanes. Few of them were permanent, or in constant use. On the other side of the front, the Huns had about the same number of airfields. Many times a Hun plane would fly over a particular allied airfield, to drop a note, challenging a selected pilot to a duel in the air, but this time Lt. Willy is answering a request from allied artillery. "Please destroy some Fat Hildas above the town of Thoorout, Belgium. There are several balloons swaying and hanging at about 1,000 feet."
"I shot down one balloon." he said, "and turned to attack a second one while heavy anti-aircraft fire was bursting all over. Suddenly I felt a terrible blow on my left leg. A tracer bullet came through the floor and struck my shinbone. It smashed everything in it's path, and inflicted a very painful wound. And the bullet was hollow, so it flattened out and became a "dumdum" bullet." (A dumdum bullet has a soft head, or is cut across the tip, which causes it to expand on impact and tear a gaping wound. These bullets were first made in the town of Dumdum, India, that is why the funny name.) "My leg muscles were torn apart, the bones shattered, and the artery cut in half." The pain was so great, his right leg stretched out and became rigid. This kicked the right rudder bar violently forward, and of course his left leg was completely useless. This caused Lt. Willy's fighter plane to swing around and go into a spin. But he still had the satisfaction of "Flaming" this second Fat Hilda. The rudder bar was fitted with straps at each end, and his feet passed under these straps. This kept his left leg from jamming the bar. And it allowed Lt. Willy to work the rudder with only his right foot. "Therefore, after three revolutions, I was able to bring my plane out of the spin," he said proudly.
Now he must return to his lines quickly before he passes out. (With his leg artery cut in two, he was losing too much blood.) A bullet also went through one inlet pipe on his engine, so his speed was greatly reduced. And he still had to fly six more miles before he could reach his lines. He took off his goggles, fur-lined cap, and his silk muffler. He needed the ice cold air to blow in his face, to keep him from fainting. He could feel his strength forsaking him, so he fought desperately to stay awake. He wanted to keep from falling into the hands of the hated Huns. At last he was on his side of the battle front, so he began to land. He found a small field by the roadside near the little town of Essen, Belgium. The field was too small, and hemmed in with hedges, so he crash landed. His undercarriage was badly shot up by machine-gun fire and collapsed when it hit the ground. In fact, his Hanriot HD 1 was riddled with bullet holes from one end to the other. As soon as he stopped, he could see stretcher-bearers forcing their way through the hedges. They started ripping open the fuselage of his plane to extract his mangled body. They had trouble releasing his left foot from the rudder strap. There was a large pool of blood in the bottom of his cockpit. Then he passed out. When he woke up, he only had one leg.
The hated Huns had finally silenced the guns of their arch enemy, Lieutenant William "Willy" Coppens de Houthulst: Belgium's top ace, who just loved to chase Fat Hildas. And he had succeeded in flaming twenty eight.
The Canvas Falcons by Stephen Longstreet
Aces and Aircraft of World War One by Christopher Campbell
Fighter by Bryan Cooper and John Batchelor
Knights of the Air by Ezra Bowen