Deutsch-Amerika v.3 no. 9, March 3, 1917 : Aviator Special Issue
Caption: A German Flight Officer (according to a painting by Erich Godbersen)
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Caption under photograph at top: Naval Lieutenant Banfield, one the the most successful battle pilots in conversation with Admiral Koudelka, regional commander of Triest. English text reads Leut. Banfield, the celebrated Austrian aviator.
Caption under photograph at bottom: Funeral for the victims of a British Air Raid in Brussels.
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Higher, ever higher he forged his path. Brighter, ever brighter the stars illuminated his glory. The people enjoined the slim flight captain to the select list of war heroes they would extol. The people no longer ask about the social status, rank and service age of its heroes. Field marshal generals stand in line with young aviators. The admiral stands next to the U-boat commander. The man and his deed make the determination. The important thing is the deed which hides nothing and bears all. But how often does such quality of individual character come sharp and clear to the awareness of the people! How quickly does it fade, forgotten and replaced by new images of war. How many thousand German warriors maintained their dauntlessness as much as Boelcke? How many have been faced with the notion for the hundredth time: Today I seize my fate. All these silent and fiery heros acknowledge their duty and disappear within the masses of the battling troops. It is you who make this army unconquerable and immortal. It was and remains this fallen aviator's greatest glory that he wanted nothing more than you do. He did not want his name mentioned in army reports any more often than any other officer. He didn't want people to know about his extraordinary personal achievements. He simply wanted to fulfill his duty. To him it was not right that he was in the spotlight of the public's admiration. The deed may have deserved it but not the person. In the end like every other darling of the masses he accepted the difficulties brought on by fame but he did this with a sense of embarassment. This in itself is an admirable trait because this type of fame is more familiar within the knightly ranks of young men. He had the strongest nerves in the world but he experienced an innate shyness and anxiety concerning his public persona brought on by his military success.
I first met him at the beginning of June this year near Verdun while making an official enquiry. I sensed his discomfort as he must of realized that through me he was speaking to a hundred thousand people and that he was relying on the discretion of an unknown visitor. I made the effort to relieve him of his discomfort and after looking into his steel gray eyes for a quarter of an hour we began to chat like old acquaintances. In the course of the conversation we came upon the topic of the combative character of individual pilots. They say the pilot's heart must be abnormally strong. Few pilots can perform a nose dive of several thousand meters without experiencing momentary light-headedness. For many seconds the stress placed on the heart disturbs clarity and decisiveness of thought. However in the second when the Fokker engages his enemy he needs to be decisive. To take advantage of the element of surprise not only must the nerves be strong but also the heart must be almost superhumanly healthy. Boelcke was somewhat dubious of this theory. He simply declined and stated, "I never paid attention to my heart." It's certain that a purely physiological explanation clarifies nothing. Even in this latest revision of the warrior's duel between personal courage and personal character what remains is the caution exercised in the handling of the volatile aerial weapon. Unification and mastery of these elements are the reason for the success of pilots like Boelcke. He doesn't just rest on his laurels, he practices for his missions. He knows that practice bring mastery. When one speaks with experienced pilots about losses, things go like this: "Oh yes, the young people! They always think they have to ride the storm. They lack patience and that brings misfortune." So say the experienced fliers after two years of war.
Such experience is still in its infancy. And is it possible to impart it to fellow comrades? Boelcke tried between battle flights to give instructional lectures. He had the ability to teach. When he had defeated his twentieth opponent and Immelmann had just died they wanted to keep him from a similar fate and preserve his precious experiences for the next generation. [Continued on page 5.]
Caption under photograph at center: Captain Oswald Boelcke, the Master Aviator.
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(After a drawing by Alexander Kircher.)
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It was reported that from then on the Kaiser wanted Boelcke involved only in organizational duties. He travelled to our allies in the Balkans and visited airports and airplane manufacturers in the homeland. He seemed to have settled in and no one begrudged it to him. Then came the Battle of the Somme. Swarms of enemy pilots came over and behind our lines. The enemy had spent lots of money for air battle personnel and materials. War on two fronts had left us no time to accumulate funds or personnel so we had to call up the reserves. Eventually our pilots were sent to the Somme in tight formations. They were there day after day like the men in the trenches. Is it any wonder that Boelcke did not want to remain behind? He felt compelled to go out and soar through the air. Hunting the overconfident enemy must have been more important than expounding theories on air battles and creating practice fields. The call to duty on the front was crucial for Boelcke. He quickly assembled his fighter squadron and quicker still he engaged the enemy. He downed twenty planes in two months, exceeding his previous record. He seemed immune to all adversity. His injuries were minor, he was untiring and the enemy paid dreadfully because of him.
What had to come, came. Boelcke died like so many other young knights fearlessly and without shame. Death in the air is a proud death. The song which will extols its gruesomeness and unique beauty shall someday be written.
Well the German's heart may beat,
A flight officer writes:
Then a comrade comes in. He's pale and remarkably subdued. We think that his nerves must be on edge at the thought of an air adventure. He quietly steps towards us and says in a shaky voice, "Boelcke is dead!" All jump silently from their chairs.A map drops from someone's fingers onto the ground. No one says anything. The messenger of these sad tidings shouts loudly across the room, "I don't want to believe it. They just reported it officially over the telephone." This raises a chorus of competing voices. "I don't believe it either. Our Boelcke was invincible. We've just seen how he can dive with lightning quickness. And now he's no longer with us. We just saw him quietly smiling as he climbed out of his airplane. It was supposed to always be that way. Death has been horrible to our greatest air hero and has taken him away."
We went down to the streets and attempted to free ourselves from this fearful uncertainty.
Caption under photograph at top: Flight Lieutenant Mutschler and Flight Captain Boelcke. (Shortly thereafter both were killed on the Western Front.)
Caption under photograph at bottom: Public viewing of Boelcke's body in St. John's Church in Dessau. At the foot of the coffin where the soldier's orders are displayed on a black cushion lies the Kaiser's wreath. Soldiers of the Flight division form the honor guard.
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The news had spread that an Englishman may have shot down our master aviator. That's not possible, someone said. No enemy can force our hero from this course. Even the wind cannot force him because he knows how to control it. Finally a comrade came from the environs of Bapaume. He climbed out of his plane, shook a few people's hands and stated, "It's terrible, I saw it myself." We took him back with us to the large hall. We forgot to close the door and the night wind blasted through the room with a ghostly rattle. Sparks flew from the wood on the fire. Here the new arrival told us about the greatest aviator's final hour.
"Boelcke was with his capable fighter squadron waiting for the signal to attack. They went off in swift pursuit of the enemy. Surprised, the enemy broke off the attack and fled. With increased acceleration Boelcke circled at an altitude of about 3000 meters. There were two English planes beneath him. He dove down. At the same time there was another squadron airplane soaring down on the enemy. Boelcke flew a little lower than his companion and didn't see him because the wings of his plane obscured the view. Both planes came close together, only at the last moment recognizing the danger. They attempted to change course but they couldn't quite avoid the collision. The landing gear on the higher plane scrapped Boelcke's wing and tore off part of it. He lost control of the steering mechanism and immediately went into a spiral descent down to an altitude of about 500 meters. At Bapaume he tried to land but a crosswind kept him from finding a place to land. His damaged plane no longer obeyed its pilot. He had to go down in a dirt clearing where his wheels couldn't roll. The machine flipped over and Boelcke sustained fatal injury to the back of his head. He's only slightly disfigured. The peaceful look on his face was the same as that of every other dead person."
So Boelcke was dead. No more doubt! But he left the world undefeated. This was a comfort to us in our pain. A miserable acciedent had cut down our awesome leader. An emergency landing with damaged steering is not always life-threatening. Boelcke and many others often come out of such situations undamaged of with only a few scrapes. The measure of our sadness was so great because not only was Boelcke a hero and a man who set records. He was also a fine man and our friend. To us all he remains a comrade standing at the peak of glory. The accident in no way detracts from his talent. (continued on p.19) [Translator's note: page 19 not imaged.]
Caption under photograph at top: Boelcke's interment - The final blessing before lowering the coffin into the grave.
Caption under photograph at bottom: Boelcke's Burial - The funeral procession through the main street of Dessau to the cemetery.
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By Fr. Hildenbrandt.
I hadn't seen him before. I never saw a card with his name on it at the guest table, and I don't have a cousin among the aviators who had an acquaintance who had ever spoken to him. And I'm totally ignorant of whether his family tree has any branch connected with an acquaintance of mine.
However in my classroom hangs a picture of him. It's a good picture which portrays him when he was Lieutenant Boelcke without the band on his second button and the first class medal on the side.
And each time when a daily report showed his name and his higher number the eyes of forty children looked with affection towards his photograph. In the end is it worth anything if he didn't know about it? But he would have been pleased if he had seen it even once.
The boys push past and jostle their heads with unhidden and limitless envy and the boundless wondrament of youth.
The girls are somewhat quieter and quicker with intelligent eyes which seem to see more than the mere flight lieutenant with two stars on his shoulders and a blue corner cross on his collar. Perhaps they see beyond the basic heroics into the unconscious bit of chivalry in the man and his work. Children had a remarkable instinct about this.
As we recently heard the beloved old fairytale of Sleeping Beauty in the classroom. I questioned whether after a hundred years the time had finally come for a prince who was untroubled by the bitter end of previous men attempting to cross the thorny path. I asked if today there would be anyone daring to try?
A tentative finger raised up from behind. In the steady voice of one totally convinced a girl softly said, "Captain Boelcke." I did not contradict her. One should refrain from raising a pedagogical finger against such form of childhood gospel. A youthful and honest face, a tremendously strong deed behind it, thus the god of youth is set.
Childhood logic creates sharp limits on the notion of chivalry: boldness whereby a young man recues a princess.
We also have a large picture of Hindenburg hanging on the wall. But I get the feeling that the overbearing greatness of this man is too much for the mental capacities of boys and girls. They know what he did over there on the eastern front and even sense what he means to us and to our history as leader of the German army but they have no understanding of the actual value of his utterly enormous work.
Thus I understand why the picture of the great field general maintains its untouched color purity while the photograph of the young flight captain shows signs of dullness with the smudges of several dozen fingerprints.
We grownups sense it too. The wisp of chivarly swirling around the man as he acquires mastery over the unromantic machinery of destruction. His dazzling successes aren't the only reason why the mere mention of his name resounds with a particular clarity throughout the German countryside. There's something else about him that defies description. Perhaps its purest form of acknowledgement comes from the naive adoration of children. The bell tolls a hundred thousand times for the dead and Boelcke is but one of them. However for us he has become a symbol, a source of strength and joy. The more somber the talk about him, the more he sustains us and the more he becomes intimate to us. He is like a strong and peaceful melody amid the pervasive discord of horrible events.
German, brave. and good.
Caption under photograph at top: Revolver canon for defense against aircraft.
Caption under photograph at center: Lieutenant-Colonel Thomsen, chief of staff of the German Air Force
Caption under photograph at bottom: A pilot's grave - The last restng place of two German aviators.
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Caption under photograph at top: Greetings in the air. A German reconnaissance plane photographed by another German airplane. One sees how the observer waves to the photographing plane.
Caption under photograph at bottom: A German airplane takes a picture of another plane from a very close distance.
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Caption at top of page: Pictures taken by German battle pilots.
Caption under photograph at top left: Attack on the Russian harbor at Reval
Caption under photograph at top right: The Russian battleships in the harbor at Reval
Caption under photograph at bottom left: Air attack on Bucharest. The circled locations indicate where bombs fell on the train tracks leading to a large, newly developed provisional depot. The depot is identified by a sharply defined black line.
Caption under photograph at bottom left: Air attack on Medjidia. View from a German fighter plane over Medjidia. The pinpointed location indicates a large airport. The circled location indicates where a bomb hit. In the right corner there's smoke from exploded bombs.