The Red Fighter Pilot - Webpage 10, pages 83-91


I have been ordered to a jumbo aircraft flight school but unfortunately arrangements are not yet in place. My pilot, Mr. v. Osteroth, and I must go to Berlin in the near future to make friends with a giant tub. It can carry almost as many bombs as a zeppelin. Five to six crewmen fly it: a mechanic, a machine gunner, two pilots and an observer. I'm very apprehensive of the old crate. Hopefully we will see each other afterwards quite often. You should come to Berlin too.

My Training Time in Döberitz

In order to take my exams I had to go to Berlin. I used the opportunity to set myself up in Berlin as an observer on a jumbo aircraft. To that end I received orders to go to Döberitz (November 15, 1915.) In the beginning I had great interest in large aircraft. It's funny but it became clear to me while learning about them that only small aircraft would fulfill my goal to become a fighter pilot. Those large apple crates are too unmanoeuverable for battle and that is the main focus of my interest.

The difference between a large battle plane and a jumbo aircraft is that the jumbo plane


is significantly larger and more suited to the purpose of bombing than fighting. I took my tests in Döberitz along with a beloved fellow, First Lieutenant v. Lyncker. We both conducted ourselves successfully and had the same passions and proclivities towards aviation. It was our goal to become Fokker pilots and join the fighter squadrons in the west. A year later we achieved this and worked together for a short time because my good friend was mortally wounded by a bullet on this third fighter mission.

We had enjoyed many happy hours together in Döberitz. I remember one special case, landing somewhere other than our appointed landing field.

Under these circumstances I blended the necessary with the enjoyable. For my outside landing zone I searched in an area known to me, the Buchow Estate. I was invited to a sow hunt there but things didn't mesh with my duties since I preferred flying on beautiful evenings to hunting. So I planned my outside landing there and was thus able to comfortably fit in hunting activities.

I took a second pilot with me as observer and sent him back with the plane in the evening. That evening I went on the sow hunt and the next morning the pilot came back for me.


If I hadn't arranged to be picked up I would have been left high and dry since it would have meant a foot march of about ten kilometers. I needed someone to get me in any kind of weather from my hunting perch. It's not everyone's inclination to fly regardless of the weather but I managed to find a sensible and capable pilot.

One morning after I had spent the night before outside, a dreadful snow storm developed. You couldn't see fifty meters ahead of yourself. Already it was eight o'clock, the appointed time for the pilot to fetch me. Silently I hoped he would leave me there this time. But in a few minutes I heard the buzz — even though I couldn't see a thing — and five minutes later my beautiful little bird laid in a twisted heap before me.

The First Time as a Pilot

On Christmas Day 1915 I took my third exam. I hopped on a plane to Schwerin and saw the Fokker factory there. As an observer I took my mechanic with me and later flew with him from Berlin to Breslau, from Breslau to Schweidnitz, from Schweidnitz to Lüben, from Lüben to Berlin, all over the country in search of friends and relatives.


As an old observer finding my way was not difficult.

In March I was assigned to fighter Squadron 2 near Verdun and now learned air battle strategies as a pilot. That meant I learned to control the aircraft in battle. At the time I flew a two-seater.

*

In the military report of April 26, 1916 I was mentioned not in person but by my deeds. I had mounted a machine gun between the wings on the fusilage in a manner similar to the Nieuport. I was very proud of this design and its construction. Some people laughed because it seemed so primitive. However I swore by it and soon after had the opportunity to test it out.

I encountered a Nieuport seemingly piloted by a beginner since his manoeuvers were erratic. I flew towards him and he banked away. Apparently his gun had jammed. I questioned whether or not I should fight him. "What would happen if I shot at him now?" I flew towards him and got really close for the first time. I pushed the button on the machine gun. A short burst of well-aimed shots and the Nieuport did a nose dive and tailspinned down. At first my observer and I believed


it was one of the fancy manoeuvers the French used to perform. But then the manoeuver didn't end; it just kept descending farther and farther down. My copilot tapped me on the head and said to me, "Congratulations, he crashed!" He crashed into a forest behind Fort Douaumont and disappeared between the trees. "You shot him down," that much was clear to me, but where? I flew home and merely reported, "An air fight. A Nieuport shot down." A day later I read of my heroic deed in the military report. I wasn't terribly proud of it though because it didn't count towards my fifty-two downed planes.

Military Report of April 26, 1916

Two enemy aircraft over Fleury, south and west of Douaumont, were shot down in air battles.

Holck †

(April 30, 1916)

As a junior pilot I flew a hunting mission over Fort Douaumont where a huge drum fire raged. I saw a German Fokker attack three Caudrons. Unfortunately for me


there was a strong westerly wind, very unfavorable. In the course of the battle the Fokker was driven over the city of Verdun. I made my observer aware of this because it meant this must be an especially spirited fellow. We wondered if it could be Boelcke and decided we would find out later. However to my horror I witnessed an attacker become a defender. The German was being constantly pushed back by the Frenchmen, who by this time had increased to at least ten fighters. I couldn't go to help him. I was too far away from the fighters and my heavy machine couldn't make headway against the wind. The Fokker defended itself dubiously. Now the enemies had him down at least six hundred meters. Suddenly he was attacked anew by one of his pursuers. He disappeared by diving into a cumulus cloud. I took a breath because I figured the cloud had saved him.

I went home and related what I had seen then found out that it was Holck, my old fighting companion from the East. He had become a fighter pilot near Verdun shortly before.

Count Holck had been shot in the head and he plummeted straight down. For me he was not just a symbol of courage but a man of character like few others.


A Flight in a Thunderstorm

Our operations near Verdun were disrupted in the summer of 1916 by massive thunderstorms. There's nothing less desirable for a pilot than having to fly through storms. For example, during the Battle of the Somme an entire English squadron landed behind our lines because it was surprised by a violent storm. The squadron was escorted to prison.

I had never attempted to fly through a thunderstorm but couldn't deny myself the opportunity to experience it just once. The atmosphere was ripe for a violent storm the entire day. I flew from my base in Mont to the region near Metz in order to investigate. On my return trip I experienced the following:

I was at the air base in Metz and wanted to return to my landing field. As I pulled my machine out of the hangar the first signs of an approaching storm became evident. The wind kicked up the sand and a dark wall of clouds came out of the north. Old, experienced pilots urgently advised me not to fly. But I had promised to return and I would have appeared scared if I had stayed due to some stupid weather. Thus I gave the plane gas and went out to investigate. Just as I started it began to rain. I had to take off my glasses


in order to see. The problem was I had to go over the Moselle Hills through the valley which at the time raged with the storm. I thought to myself, "Now you'll get to find out" as I got closer and closer to the black clouds, which seemed to descend right down to earth. I flew as low as possible, sometimes ascending to avoid rows of houses and trees. I no longer knew where I was. The storm attached itself to my plane like a piece of paper fastened in front of me. My heart sank in my chest. I couldn't land in the hills. I had to keep going.

Around me things were black. Beneath me the trees bent in the storm. Suddenly an elevated region of forest loomed before me. I had to climb above it. My trusty albatross managed it and I flew straight over the woods. I could only fly straight. Any obstacle I met had to be tackled. The flight became a jumping competition over trees, villages, church steeples and chimneys all at an altitude of five meters so I could see amid the black storm clouds. Lightning flashed around me. I didn't know at the time that lightning couldn't hit the plane. I believed I was staring death in the eyes, that at its next opporunity the storm would hurl me into the next village or forest. If the motor had conked out I would have been done for.


Then I saw a bright star on the horizon. The storm subsided and I reached a point where I was safe. Mustering all the energy a giddy young man has, I steered to the clearing.

As through ripped from it, I suddenly came out of the storm cloud and flew through the torrents of rain. I felt I had been saved.

While still in the pouring rain I landed at my home airfield where everyone was waiting for me. A report had been sent from Metz stating that while on course I had disappeared into a storm cloud.

Unless my fatherland required it of me I would never again fly through a thunder storm.

In memory everything seems wonderful but there were certain moments I would rather omit from my flying career.

The First Time in a Fokker

Since the beginning of my career as a pilot I have had but one goal, to fly in a one-seater battle plane. After long debates with my commander I finally gained permission


to pilot a Fokker. It was a new thing for me to turn over the motor myself. It felt strange sitting alone in a small aircraft.

I possessed this plane along with a friend of mine who is long since dead. I flew it in the morning; he flew it in the afternoon. Each feared the other might smash up the fusilage. On the second day we flew against the enemy. I didn't encounter any French in the morning. It was the other fellow's turn in the afternoon. He did not come back; there was no report, nothing. Late in the evening the infantry reported an air battle between a Nieuport and a German Fokker during which the German seemed to have landed on the mountain peak name the Toter Mann [Dead Man.] It could only have been Reimann because all the others had returned. We mourned our brave comrade then suddenly a telephone report came in that a German Air Force officer had arrived at the farthest outpost of the infantry installation on Toter Mann. He identified himself as Reimann. His engine had been shot up and he had to make an emergency landing. He couldn't reach our lines so he went down between the enemy and us. He quickly set the plane on fire and then hid himself in a mine shaft several hundred meters away. In the middle of the night he appeared to our camouflaged patrol in the trenches.


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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks