The Red Fighter Pilot - Webpage 176, pages 153-162

The first shots ring out and we all start at the same time. We couldn't have been better armed for an assault than we are for this attack by the brave individual at fifty meters. Brisk shots fired at him. He wouldn't hear the machine guns because of the noise from his engine but he would be able to see the muzzle flashes. I consider this fellow very brave because he continued forward on his mission rather than turning back. He flew away from us at sufficient altitude. In the moment that he flew away we naturally jumped up and went to a bomb shelter. It would be pretty foolish to be hit by a bomb. For a fighter pilot this would not be a hero's death. He flies past us and we go back to the guns and fire at him. Naturally Schäfer claims, "I hit him." The fellow shoots quite well. But in this case I don't believe him. Each of us has just a good a chance.

At the very least we succeed in making the enemy drop his bombs in an unplanned part of the area. One got within a couple meters of my Petit Rouge but it didn't do any damage. This game went on for several nights. I was already in bed and sleeping soundly when I heard in my dreams anti-aircraft fire coming from an observation balloon. I woke from my dream and discovered the sound was real.

One plane flew so low over my quarters that I pulled the covers over my head in fear. In the next minute there was a dreadful booming near my windows. Several panes were victims of the bomb. In my nightshirt I ran out and fired a few shots at him. However he had already been severely shot up. I was disappointed because I wanted to put him to bed.

On the next morning we were amazed and overjoyed to learn that we had shot down no fewer than three Englishmen. They had landed not far from our airfield and had been taken prisoner. Mostly we had hit their engines and thus forced them to come down on our side. Perhaps Schäfer hadn't been wrong. In any event we were pleased with our results. The English less so because they chose not to attack our place any more.

Schäfer's Emergency Landing between the Lines

In the evening we go hunting. We come home late and have lost Schäfer along the way. Naturally everyone hopes that he'll make it back before nightfall. It's nine o'clock, then ten o'clock and no Schäfer. He can't have any fuel left

so he must have made an emergency landing. No one wants to think that he may have been shot down. No one says it but everyone silently fears it. The telephone network has been set to work in order to investigate where a pilot may have landed. No one can give us any information. No division or brigade has seen him. It's an uncomfortable situation. Eventually we go to sleep. We are all firmly convinced he will turn up. That night around 2 AM I suddenly wake up. The telphone ordnance office tells me briefly "Schäfer is in village Y and asks to be picked up."

The next morning at breakfast the door opens and my brave pilot stands before me in a mud-covered outfit looking like an infantry man who's been in the Battle of Arras for fourteen days. A grand hello! Schäfer is perky and must give a full accounting of his experiences. He's as hungry as a bear. After he has breakfast he relates the following to us:

"I'm flying home along the front and from a relatively low altitude I see below me an infantry pilot. I engage him, shoot at him and will fly back when the English in their trenches spot me and soundly shell me. My salvation was the speed of my airplane because the fellows won't anticipate that they have to shoot ahead of me.

"I'm at an altitude of about two hundred meters and I'm pretty sure I took a hard hit to the fuselage. A minute later I hear a bang and my motor stalls. I have to land. Will I make it beyond the enemy lines or not? That was the all important question. The English have noticed and they're beginning to shoot at me like crazy. I hear each and every shot because my motor isn't running and the propeller isn't moving. What a painful situation. I descend, land. The plane hasn't even stopped moving yet when they shoot at me with machine guns in a hedge near the village of Monchy near Arras. Bullets pepper the plane. I jump out of the cockpit and into the nearest grenade hole. Then I realize where I am. I'm over the line but damned close to it. Thank God it's late at night. That is my salvation.

"It's not long before the first grenade comes. Of course, it's a gas grenade and understandibly I don't have a gas mask with me. My eyes begin to tear up unmercifully. Before dark the English had fired at my landing spot with their machine guns. One machine gun now aims at my airplane and the other aims for the grenade hole. Bullets fly above my head.

"I crouched down. To settle my nerves I have a cigarette, took off my thick fur coat and get ready to jump up and march off. Each minute seemed like an hour.

"Gradually it got dark. Partridges fly around me. As a hunter I knew that these birds were contented thus there was no danger of my hiding place being overrun. Eventually it got dark. Suddenly in my proximity a pair of partridges took flight, then a second pair. From this I recognized that danger approached. It's probably a patrol coming to say good night to me. It's high time I get out of the dirt. At first I carefully crept along on my belly from shell hole to shell hole. After about half an hour of careful creeping I encountered the first men. Were they English or German? They came closer and I almost jumped upon their muskets when I recognize them. It was one of our patrols scouting about between the lines. One of the men took me to his company commander. Here I learned that the evening before I had landed about fifty paces behind the enemy lines and our infantry had given me up for lost.

"First I had a good meal and then started the march back.

"Behind me there was more shooting than before. Every path, every trench, every bush, and every narrow pass was blanketed with enemy fire. The next morning the Enlgish began their assault so the night before they had prepared their artillery. I had chosen the wrong day for my adventure. At two o'clock in the morning I reached the first telephone and connected with my division."

We were all happy to have our Schäfer back. He went to bed. Anyone else would have forgone the joy of air battle for the next twenty-four hours, but my Schäfer was ready for the attack on a low-flying B.E. over Monchy at noon the same day.

The Anti-Richthofen Squadron

The English had thought up a fantastic plan to capture me or shoot me down. For this purpose they appointed a special squadron which flew in the same airspace as we patrolled most of the time. We figured out

that this group was mainly on the hunt for our red airplanes. I must report that we had painted our entire squadron red since our enemy brethren had made it clear that they knew I flew a bright red plane. Since all of us were red now the English had to look really closely to see who sat in each of the dozen planes. But that didn't stop them from attacking us. I much prefer that the customers come to me rather than my having to go to them.

We flew to the front in hopes of finding our opponents. After about twenty minutes the first ones came and assailed us. For a long time nothing happened. The English had limited their famous offensive tactics since the cost for these had become too dear. There were three Spad one-seater pilots who believed that they could overtake us with their fine equipment.

Wolff, my brother and I flew together. It was three against three. That would suffice. From the outset the assault became the defensive. We had the upper hand. I played tag with my opponent and quickly noticed that my brother and Wollf each chose one. The usual dance commenced. One plane circled the other.

A favorable wind assisted, driving us fighters away from the front and towards Germany.

My opponent was the first to crash. I had completely shot up his engine. He had decided to land in our territory. I no longer give pardon so I attacked him a second time. His plane fell apart due to my bullet spray. The wings fell like pieces of paper. The fuselage dropped like a burning boulder. It crashed into a marsh and could not be retrieved. I never saw who this fighter was. He vanished. Only a portion of the burnt-out tail indicated the spot which became his grave.

At the same time Wolff and my brother attacked their opponents, who were forced to land near my victim.

We flew back to our base fully satisfied. "We hoped the Anti-Richthofen Squadron would come back often."

The "Old Man" pays us a visit

The "old man" had indicated he wanted to pay his sons a visit. My father is district Commandant of a town near Lille.

It's not far from us. I can often see it from above. He would arrive by train around nine o'clock. By half past ten he was at our place. We had just come back from a hunting flight. My brother was first to climb out of the cockpit and greet the old man. "Good day, Papa. I just shot down an Englishman." After that I climbed out of my plane and said, "Good day, Papa. I just shot down an Englishman." The old man was happy. We could see he was pleased. He is not the type of father to fear for his sons. He would rather get in a plane himself and do his own shooting. — At least that's what I think. We had breakfast with him then took flight again.

In the interval an air battle has taking place over our air field, which interested my father a great deal. However we were not participants. We stayed below and observed. An English squadron had broken through the lines and was assailing some of our reconnaisance pilots over our air field. Suddenly one of the planes took a nose dive, recovered itself and descended at normal attitude. With regret we recognized that it was a German plane. The English fighters flew on. The German plane appeared to have been shot up but it descended gently and attempted to land in our air field. The airstrip was rather

small for such a large craft and the pilot was in unfamiliar territory. Thus the landing was not smooth. We hastened over and noted with regret that one of the airmen, the machine gunner, had been killed. This was a new experience for my father and he took it very seriously.

Nevertheless the day would bring good fortune to us. Wonderful, clear weather. There was the sound of prolonged gun fire and plane engines. After midday we were in the air again. Once again I had luck and shot down my second Englishman of the day. After lunch a brief nap and then up in the heavens again. Wolff stayed with his group against the enemy and finished one off. Schäfer did too. Later in the day my brother and I went off with Schäfer, Festner and Allmenröder a second time. We weren't at the front long when we encountered an enemy squadron. Unfortunately they were at a higher altitude than we were, so we weren't able to do anything. We attempted to get up to their altitude but were not successful. We had to let them go and fly to the front. My brother is close to me and the others are a ways off. I see two enemy artillery planes approaching our front. A quick wink from my brother indicates that we understood each other. We fly side by side and increase our airspeed.

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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks