The Red Fighter Pilot - Webpage 13, pages 113-122


He sputtered and crashed close to our air field in Lagnicourt.

At the same time Imelmann was in a fight with an Englishman and has brought that enemy down in the same area. Quickly we flew home in order to inspect our downed planes. We drove a car to the vicinity then had to run through densely covered fields. It was very hot and I unbuttoned by coat and my shirt collar. I took off my jacket and left my cap in the car. I took a knoted staff along with me. My boots were covered to the knees with mud. Everything was destroyed. I approached my prey. Naturally a crowd of people had settled around the scene.

A group of officers stood to the side. I went up and greeted them and asked the first one I met if he could tell me what the battle had looked like from the ground. It's always interesting to learn how others see it. I learned that the other Englishmen had dropped their bombs but this plane still had his. The man took me by the arm, went to the other officers in the group, quickly asked my name them introduced me to the others.


This was not a pleasant experience for, as I have said, my appearance was rather disheveled. Plus these men, with whom I now spoke, were dressed smartly. I was introduced to a man who did not appear so strange to me. A general's trousers, a medal around his neck yet a relatively youthful face for such an honor, undeterminable epaulets — the long and short of it, I sensed something extraordinary. I buttoned up my trousers and collar during the course of the conversation and assumed a military posture. I didn't know who he was. I took my leave and drove back home. That night the telephone rang and I learned that this was his Royal Highness the Duke of Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha. I was assigned to him. It was known that the English intended to bomb his staff headquarters. Thus I had contributed to the assassin's execution. For this I received the Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha medal of valor.

Major Hawker

I was most proud when I heard on one beautiful day that the Englishman I had shot down on November 23, 1916 was the English Immelmann.

After the air battle I might have already considered


that I had been dealing with a deadly fellow.

One fine day I flew quietly satisfied on the hunt and noticed three Englishman who also seemed intent on the hunt. I observed how they had their eyes on me and I had plenty of airspace for a battle so I let myself go. I was lower than the English so I had to wait until one of the fellows climbed down to my altitude. It didn't take long. He sailed past me and wanted to engage me from behind. After the first five shots the punter had to stop because I had banked into a sharp left turn. The Englishman tried to get behind me again while I attempted to get behind him. At an altitude of thirty-five hundred meters the two of us kept turning in circles at full throttle like crazy men. Twenty times to the right; thirty times to the left; each with the intention of coming up behind the other. I soon recognized that I wasn't dealing with a novice and he had no intention of breaking off the battle. He had a very manoeuverable plane but mine climbed better so I was able to get above and behind the Englishman.

After we had descended to two thousand meters without achieving any results it must have occurred to my opponent that it was high time


to push on. I had a favorable wind and I was over our territory close to Bapuame, a few kilometers behind our front line. My opponent gestured to me when we were at an altitude of one thousand meters, seemly quite satisfied and about to say, "Well, well, how do you do?"

The circles were we making around each other became ever tighter to the point where I estimated them to be no more than eight to one hundred meters wide. I had time to observe my opponent. I looked straight into his fusilage and could see every movement of his head. If he hadn't been wearing a cap I believe I could have seen the look on his face.

Gradually it must have dawned on this brave sportsman that he must decide whether he wanted to land with us or fly back to his own line. Naturally he attempted the latter after he had tried a few loops and stunts to escape me. That's when I let loose my first blue beans [bullets] around his ears because before then neither of us could have landed a shot. At an altitude of one hundred meters he attempted to get back to his line by zigzaging, thereby making it difficult for the observer to shoot. That was my moment. I followed him down from an altitude of fifty to thirty meters, shooting continuously.


The Englishman had to crash land. My guns jammed and almost cost me my victory.

My opponent went in nose first about fifty meters behind our line. His machine gun rammed into the earth. It now hangs over the door of my house.

*

                  Boelcke Squadron, November 25, 1916

I send you heartfelt greeting on your birthday and hope that this will be your last wartime birthday. My eleventh Englishman is Major Hawker, twenty-six years old and commander of an English squadron. Prisoners had said that he was the English Boelcke. I had a more difficult battle with him than I had previously experienced right up to the time when I shot him down. Unfortunately three days ago we lost our leader and eight days before that we lost an airplane from our squadron.

The Order of Merit

The sixteenth plane has been shot down. I am first among the fighter pilots. This is the goal I wanted to achieve. About a year ago I had said this half in jest to my friend Lyncker while we were together in flight school. He had asked me, "What is your goal —


What do you want to achieve as a pilot?" I jokingly indicated, "To fly at the head of the fighter squadron. That would be great!" I didn't believe it myself and others didn't believe it of me that this would become fact. Boelcke supposedly once said when asked "Who has the prospects of becoming a good fighter pilot?" — and of course not directly to me but reported to me by somebody else — he pointed a finger at me and said, "That is the man!"

Boelcke and Immelmann received the Order of Merit for shooting down eight planes. I had double that number. What would happen? I was anxious. There were rumors I would become squadron leader. One day a telegram arrived: "Lieutenant v.R. has been appointed leader of Fighter Squadron II." I must say, I was rather upset. I had worked so well with the comrades of Boelcke's Fighter Squadron. I'd have to start all over again. Settling in was boring. Besides which, I would rather have had the Order of Merit.

Two days later we sat pleasantly with Boelcke's fighter squadron and celebrated my leaving when a telegram came from headquarters that His Majesty had graciously deigned to bestow upon me the Order of Merit. Naturally our joy was immense. It was a bandage on the previous sad occurrences.


I never could have imagined how nice it would be to lead a squadron. And I never allowed myself to dream that one day there would be a Richthofen Fighter Squadron.

*

                  Fighter Squadron II, January 27, 1917

You certainly must be wondering why I haven't written. Much has happened in the interval and I wasn't sure I should write about it. I have become leader of Fighter Squadron II in Douai. I was not happy to leave my beloved Boelcke Fighter Squadron. All my balking did me no good. Squadron II came into being at the same time as my old squadron but to that point it had downed no planes. Operations here previously gave me little joy. My staff of subordinate officers consists of twelve men. — I had luck. On my first day I shot down number 17 and on the second day number 18. As I shot down my eightteenth my wing broke off in battle at an altitude of three hundred meters. It was a miracle I reached the earth without getting killed. On the same day the Boelcke Squadron lost three aircraft along with nice little Imelmann — What sorrow! It's not out of the question that the same thing happened to him as to me. Unfortunately I cannot take leave to come and see you. I would have been pleased to show you my Order of Merit.


The Little Red One

There were specific reasons why I came up with the idea of painting my plane bright red. The result was that my red bird truly drew the attention of all. And it did not leave me anonymous to my enemies.

On the occasion of one fight which was played out on a different part of the front I saw and shot at a Vickers two seater, which was casually photographing our artillery positions. The enemy hadn't bothered to defend himself and had to quickly descend since he began to show signs of a fire. We call that a stinker. As it turned out it was exactly then that as the plane got close to the ground bright flames erupted.

I felt sympathy for my enemy and decided I would not make him crash but rather force him to land. I also thought he might be wounded since he hadn't shot back.

At an altitude of about five hundred meters I too was forced to land due to a defect in my machine. While in normal gliding flight I was unable to turn.


Now something comical happened. My enemy safely landed his burning plane while I, the victor, went down into the wire relays behind the trenches of our reserve station.

The two Englishmen greeted me in a sportsmanlike manner. They were astonished at my breakdown because, as I had mentioned, they had not fired a shot at me and could not imagine the reason for my emergency landing. These were the first Englishmen that I had brought down alive. It thus gave me great pleasure to converse with them. Among other things I asked them if they had ever seen my machine before in the air? "Oh yes," one of them said. "I know you quite well. We call you 'le petit rouge'." [The little red one]

Now came a typically English — and in my eyes — snide comment. He asked me why I had conducted myself so carelessly before the landing. The reason for that was because I couldn't do anything else. Then the blackguard said he would have attempted to shoot at me during the final three hundred meters but his gun had jammed. I said I was sorry to him — he accepted and repaid me by apologizing for the invasion.

Since then I have not been able to speak with any of my opponents for obvious reasons.

*


                     Fighter Squadron II

Yesterday I shot down my thirty-first plane, the day before yesterday my thirtieth. Three days ago by cabinet order I gained the rank of first lieutenant. — I've had a victorious half a year. My squadron is performing. I'm pleased with them. Lothar had his first air battle yesterday. He was very happy that his opponent was shot down. We called it a stinker because he left a trail of black smoke behind him. Of course he didn't follow it down since there would have been too many swine circling about. Lothar is a very orderly man and he will make his way. How is Papa, and what do you have to say about the other day's army report?

English and French Aviation

(February 1917)

At this time I'm trying to make us competitive with Boelcke's fighter squadron.Every evening we compare our records. But they're such devilish fellows in the air. We can't beat them. At best we might match them. They've already outscored us by one hundred downs. I'll have to give them this advantage. Much depends upon which enemy you're facing, the tricky French or the daring English. I prefer the English.


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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks