The Red Fighter Pilot - Webpage 14, pages 123-132


The Frenchman dodges, the Englishman seldom does. Here one can often speak of stupidity. They consider it bravado.

Here's the beauty of fighter piloting. Stunts don't count, only personal ability. One can be a wonderful stunt and loop pilot but he won't be able to shoot anyone down. In my opinion, getting on with business is everything.

It's in the French character to sneak up from behind and ambush the opponent. That's a bad thing to let happen in the air. Only novices allow themselves to be taken by surprise. He shouldn't be able to sneak up because he can't hide himself and the invisible plane hasn't been invented yet. But sooner or later the gallic blood rises up in him and he begins the attack. However that blood is more like bubbling lemonade. For a moment there's dreadful courage which rapidly evaporates. He lacks the ability to follow through.

On the other hand, one notices the traces of Germanic blood in the Englishman. Sportsmanship lies deep within aviation but the English loose themselves too easily in sportmanship. They're perfectly content performing loops, spirals, upside-down flying and similar stunts to amuse our people in the trenches. This made quite an impression during sports week in the Johannisthal


but those in the trenches weren't as amused as the general public.

*

                               Fighter Squadron II

I intend to come home the beginning of May but before that I want to go on a grouse hunt. I've already been invited and I'm looking forward to it. Then I've been invited to have breakfast with the Kaiser. I've just reached 44 planes shot down and I will stop at fifty. Lothar has reached his tenth air victory and since I have been here the squadron has reached its one hundredth.

Shot Myself Down

(Middle of March 1917)

Shot down is perhaps an inaccurate expression for what happened to me today. In general I call something shot down only if I have forced it down but today I merely captured myself and brought myself down unharmed.

I am in the squadron and see an enemy who's also flying with a squadron. We're somewhere above our artillery position in the region of Lens. I still have a leg to fly before I reach the region. There's a nerve-wrenching moment when encountering the enemy


Victory!

A Plane shot down by von Richthofen.


Crashed it Himself!

Richthofen was not injured.


and then a few minutes until battle ensues. I believe my face is always pale but I've never had a mirror with me. I think these moments are great. The jitters disappear and everything is fine. You observe the enemy from afar, recognized the enemy squadron, count the number of enemy planes, weigh the favorable and unfavorable factors. For example, wind plays an important role. Is it slowing me down from reaching my side of the front or propelling me towards it? I once fired the fatal shot at an Englishman on his side of the front but the wind propelled him down by our tethered balloons.

There were five of us and three times as many of the enemy. The English were like a swarm of flies flitting about. It's not easy to bring down any member of a swarm which flies so well and it's especially difficult when the numbers are not in our favor. But one believes he can outwit the enemy and he never doubts he'll have a successful outcome. The intention to attack, to go on the offensive, is the important thing and it applies to everything including the air strike. And the enemy thinks the same way. I must admit that. As soon as he sees us,


he turns around and attacks us. It turns us into five mannekins: Pay attention! If one hangs on your tail, things can go bad for you. We closed ranks and let the English gentlemen get closer. I made sure that none of these brethren broke away from the others. Aha, one of them is so stupid. I can get him. "You are a lost child." I go roaring after him. Have I reached him or he me? He begins to shoot immediately so he's nervous. I thought to myself, "Keep shooting; you're not going to hit anything." He fired his tracer shells, which flew right by me. It looked like sprinkles from a watering can. Not pleasant, but the English seem to use this ammunition all the time so you just have to get used to it. The human being is a creature of habit and in this case I believe I laughed. Soon after I was taught better.

I'm nearly there, about a hundred meters away. I release the safety on the gun, test the aim, fire off a few shots; the weapon is working. It can't wait any longer. In my mind I see the enemy already plummeting. The excitement is over. Your thoughts are calm and logical. You assess the possibility of his hitting you and your hitting him. The battle itself can be a bit exciting but whoever succumbs to the excitement makes a mistake.


He'll never shoot anything. The necessity of staying calm is common knowledge. I've never made that mistake. Now I'm fifty meters away from him, good targeting range. Success can not elude me. Or so I thought. Just then there's a loud bang. I've scarcely gotten ten shots off and there's another bang coming from the engine. It's clear to me I've been hit. At least it's my plane and not me. At the same time there's the horrid reek of gasoline and the motor is dying. The Englishman notices this and shoots at me some more. I must land immediately.

It goes straight down. Against my will I have to feather the engine. It's just in the knick of time. When the gas tank is perforated and the fuel sprays around your legs the risk of fire is very high. Right in front of you, you have a hundred and fifty horsepower engine that's highly explosive and burning hot. Just one drop of gasoline and the whole machine goes up in flames. I'm leaving a trail of white smoke in the air behind me. I see the enemy has one too. It is the sign of imminent explosion. I'm still at three thousand meters and still have a long way to go to reach the ground. Thank God the engine stops running. I can't determine the airplanes's speed. It's too fast for me


to stick out my head without being pushed back by the force of the wind.

Soon after I loose the enemy and still have time before I reach the ground to see what my four other men are doing. They're still fighting. You hear the repeat of the machine guns from us and from the enemy. Suddenly there's a rocket. Is that a light signal from the enemy? No, it's too big for that. And it's getting even bigger. Someone is on fire, but who? The machine looks a lot like ours, but thank God, it's the enemy. Who shot him? Almost simultaneously another plane drops from the squadron, similar to the way I did, nose first down, spiralling, spiralling — then it rights itself. Flies towards me. Another albatross. In the same situation I'm in.

I'm at an altitude of one hundred meters and I need to look around for someplace to land. In most cases such a landing comes with breakage, and breakage isn't always good, so — pay attention. I find a meadow not very large but it'll do if I'm careful. Besides, the position is favorable directly on the Hénin-Liétard road. I'll land there. Everything goes smoothly and my next thought is, where's the other plane? He landed a few kilometers away from me.


I now have time to inspect the damage. There are several bullet holes but the one which caused me to break off the fight is one which perforated both gas tanks. There's not a drop of gasoline left and the engine is also shot up. It's a shame because it had worked so well.

I let my legs dangle out of the machine and probably have a foolish look on my face. Immediately a large group of soldiers assemble around me. Here comes an officer. He's quite out of breath. Very excited! Apparently something awful has happened to him. He runs up to me, gasps for air and asks. "I hope nothing happened to you. I saw the whole business and am very upset! Dear God, it looked so terrible!." I assured him that nothing was wrong with me, sprang down, and introduced myself. Understandibly he didn't hear my name. However he offered to take me in his car to nearby Hénin-Liétard where his headquarters is located. He was an engineering officer.

We get in the car and drive away. My host still hasn't calmed down. Suddenly my host gasps and asks, "Good God, where's your driver?" At first I didn't know what he meant. He looked at me with crazed eyes. Then it became clear that he thought I was the observer in a two-seater plane and he was asking for my pilot.


I quickly recovered myself and dryly replied, "I drive alone." The word "drive" is strictly forbidden among aviator groups. One doesn't "drive," one "flies." His esteem for me had fallen due to the fact that I "drive" alone. The conversation diminished.

We arrived at his headquarters. I was still wearing my dirty and oily leather jacket with a thick scarf wrapped around my neck. On the way there he had barraged me with a continual series of questions. The gentleman was significantly more upset than I was. He forced me to lie down on a sofa whether or not I wanted to because I must be totally stressed out by the battle. I assured him that I had experienced many air battles but he couldn't seem to get this through his head. I certainly didn't look like a warrior.

After another conversation he naturally asked the popular question, "Have you ever shot at one?" As I had said, he hadn't heard my name. "Oh yes," I replied, "Shot at then followed down." — "So, well, have you shot at a second one yet?" "No, but I've shot at twenty-four." He smiled and repeated his question, explaining that by shot at he meant not just shooting but causing to go down and stay down. I assured him that was my understanding of the term. Now I certainly fell short in his estimation because he must have thought I


was a dreadful liar. He would leave me to rest, telling me that food would be served in an hour and if I was feeling alright I could eat with him. I took advantage of his offer and slept for an hour. Then we went to the Officer's Mess. I peeled off my jacket and by luck I was wearing my Order of Merit medal. Unfortunately I didn't have a uniform jacket on but I did have a vest. I apologized for not being better dressed. After a while my fine officer noticed my medal. He was speechless with awe and assured me that he did not know my name. I told him my name once more. It finally dawned on him that he had already heard about me. Then I received oysters and champagne and lived well until eventually Schäfer arrived with my car and took me back to base. From him I learned that Lübbert had lived up to his nickname. Among us he was known as "bullet stopper" because in every air battle his plane was seriously hit. Once he had taken sixty-four hits without being wounded. This time his chest was grazed and he was lying in the field hospital. I flew his plane back to port. Unfortunately this excellent officer, who had the potential to become another Boelcke, died a hero's death for the Fatherland a few weeks later.


This evening I am able to give my host from Hénin-Liétard the news that today I complete my twenty-fifth hit.

*

                                                      In the Field

Arrived back; have been working diligently. Have shot down Number 53. In Kreuzweg, on the return trip, I was again invited to S.M. There I met the King of Bulgaria, who bestowed on me the Cross of Bravery. It is worn like the Iron Cross, First Class and it looks great. I have personally met the Reich Chancellor, Count Dohna and several ministers.

I could only determine with probability that von Oskar is dead since he either fell out of or jumped from his plane in its last five hundred meters. He landed near the front but on the other side. I've dropped some inquiries over the English to try and ascertain whether someone might have found him. In this circumstance the Royal Flying Corps is very accommodating.

I attended Schäfer's burial. It took three hours to fly from Berlin to Krefeld. By train it takes eight hours. Unfortunately Zeumer died in battle yesterday. Perhaps this was best for him because he knew that the end of his life was near at hand. This excellent and fine human being! He would have had to suffer a long time before he died.


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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks