The Two-Headed Eagle

Removed from command of his submarine in mid-1916 on suspicion of having mistakenly torpedoed a German U-Boat off Venice, Ottokar Prohaska is seconded as an observer to the Austro-Hungarian flying service, the K.u.K. Fliegertruppe, on the Italian Front just north of Trieste. It is not expected to be a long posting: the aircraft are primitive and highly dangerous, and the Italians have lately become rather good at shooting them down. But Prohaska and his monoglot Hungarian pilot Sergeant Toth somehow survive, communicating in Latin for want of any other common language and coping with all the problems of flying over the Alps where the ground is often higher than the maximum ceiling of the aircraft and planes are sometimes hit by anti-aircraft fire coming from above them. And not just that, but the paper-obsessed squadron commander of Flik 19F, who has never flown in his entire life and has no intention of ever doing so, plus the hazards of flying in aircraft which are not just flimsy and underpowered but also increasingly ill-maintained as the rickety Habsburg war machine begins its final slide to disaster and everything except official forms is in short supply.

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In the end, after losing his pilot in a crash-landing on an Alpine glacier and narrowly escaping being taken prisoner by the Italians, Prohaska attempts to strangle his commanding officer and is sent to a high-security sanatorium, then transferred surreptitiously to the naval flying service on an Adriatic island. Where he presides over the accidental self-sinking of a French steam-driven submarine, and ends up involved in a naval mutiny.

“Hair-raising and hilarious.” — Mail on Sunday

First published by Secker & Warburg, London in 1993. Mandarin Paperback published in 1993. Published in the U.S. by St. Martin’s Press, New York in 1994. Published again in 2006 by McBooks Press, Ithaca NY.

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