The Red Fighter Pilot - Webpage 18, pages 163-172

Each feels secure that he can prevail over the enemy, especially if we separate. This is the main thing. One must know with whom one flies. My brother reaches the enemy first and he's the first to engage an opponent, the plane next to him. I take the second.

I quickly look around me to make sure there isn't a third nearby. We are alone, eye to eye. I manoeuver my opponent to favorable position and let off a short volley of gun fire. The enemy plane splits in two. I never before won such a fast battle.

As I watched the debris from the enemy plane crash I looked around for my brother. He was scarcely five hundred meters away in battle with his opponent.

I had time to sufficiently observe this scene and I must say that I couldn't have done better myself. He had caught up with the enemy and now each was circling around the other. Then suddenly the enemy plane jerked — a definite sign of being hit. The pilot had most certainly been shot in the head or something similar. — The plane shuddered and the wings of the enemy plane folded. The debris crashed near that of my victim. I fly over to my brother and congratulate him, that is, we winked to each other. We were happy and

flew onward. It's great when one is able to fly with his brother.

Other enemy planes had shown up in the interval and had seen the drama performed by the two brothers but they were not able to help. Only one can shoot at a time and engage an opponent. Others can merely observe and cover his tail so a third plane can't sneak up from behind.

We fly onward and climb to a higher altitude. Above we see a member of the Anti-Richthofen Club. We were easy to recognize. Sunshine from the west lit our machines revealing the beautiful red paint. We knit together closely so everyone knew they were dealing with brothers using the same successful tactics. Unfortunately we are higher up and have to wait for their assault. They have famous three wingers and Spads, entirely new machines. However it's not the cockpit but who sits inside it that matters. The English brethren were crafty but lacked guts. Why would they show off their squadron and come out to shoot at me but not have the heart to follow through?

Finally one of them drew up the courage and pulled up on our last plane.

Naturally battle ensued although conditions were not in our favor since whoever is at a higher altitude has the advantage. However if the customer won't dicker anymore you have to deal with him as he is. Everyone changes position. One Englishman notices this and backs off but this is just the beginning. Another Englishman does the same. He sought me out as an opponent and I returned his greeting with a salvo from both my machine guns. This doesn't seem to impress him. He tries to draw me off by diving. That was his mistake. He goes below me. I remain above. The plane below me, woefully alone and in our territory, is as good as lost, especially since it's a one seater, a fighter plane, which can't shoot behind itself. The opponent has an excellent machine which was very fast but he won't be lucky enough to make it back to his own lines. Over Lens I began firing upon him. I shoot too wide. It was a trick of mine I used to unnerve the opponent. He crawled away haphazardly and banked into curves. I used the opportunity to get closer to him. I quickly attempted the same tactic for a second and third time. My adversary fell for it each time. I had him within range. By now I was quite close to him. Primed for a clean shot, I waited a moment until he was at most fifty meters from me.

I pressed the machine gun trigger. First there was a gentle whooshing, then the certain signs of a hit fuel tank. There were bright flames, and then his lordship disappeared into the depths.

This was my fourth hit of the day. My brother had two. As if this were the reason we had invited the old man. Our joy was immense. In the evening we had invited a few gentlemen including my good friend Wedel who happened to be in the area. The entire evening was a pleasant, conversation filled event. The two brothers had shot down six Englishmen in one day. That's an entire flight division. I believed the English would not have kindly feelings towards us.

Flying Home

Fifty planes had been shot down. I thought fifty-two would be better, so in one day I shot down two more even though it was against orders.

I was only allowed forty-one. I'm not sure why that number was chosen but I wanted to avoid it. I don't work to break records. It's the nature of flight troops to distance themselves from records. We're merely fulfilling our duty. Boelcke could have shot down a hundred

if his luck hadn't run out. And many other honorably fallen comrades could have reached a different number if sudden death hadn't hindered them. Still half a hundred made me happy. I had made up my mind that I would be credited with fifty before going on leave.

Hopefully I'll live to celebrate a second fifty count.

On the evening of the same day the phone rang and strangely enough it was the "Main Headquarters" wishing to speak with me. It tickled me to be associated with the "big brass." Among other things I received the joyous news that His Majesty had expressed the desire to speak with me personally. The date was set for May 2nd. This news arrived at 9 PM on the night of April 30th. It wouldn't have been possible going by train to satisfy the wish of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, so I decided it would be better to travel by air. The next morning I took off, not in my little one-seater, "Le petit rouge" but in a big, fat two-seater.

I sat in the back seat, that is, I wasn't doing the flying. In this case Lieutenant Krefft did the work. He was one of the men in my squadron. He was going off on recovery leave so this suited him quite well.

He'd get home sooner so he was happy.

My departure of somewhat of a mad rush. I couldn't take anything with me on the plane but my toothbrush. I had to dress in what I imagined would be appropriate at the main headquarters. Soldiers in the field didn't have much fine clothing with them but none were poorly dressed frontline swine like I was.

My brother took over leadership of the squadron. I departed quickly and hoped I would return soon to my duties within the circle of these beloved men.

The flight would take us over Lüttich, Namur to Aachen then Cologne. It was wonderful to soar through the air without thoughts of war. The weather was better than we had had in a long time. There would certainly be lots of activity at the front today. The chained balloons were no longer in sight. We were far away from the thunder of battles coming from Arras. Below us were images of peace. Sailing steamships. A D-Train dashed through the countryside. We playfully flew past it. We had a favorable wind. The earth seemed as flat as a barn floor. We couldn't make out the beautiful mountains on the Meuse. They were completely in shadow because the sun was directly above us. We only knew they were at hand.

In such a fantasy one can creep up to their cool ravines.

It was getting late and we approached midday. A wall of clouds closed beneath us and completely covered the ground. We continued flying by sun and compass. The approach to Holland was nearby yet unappealing, nevertheless we chose to remain in visual contact with the ground. We descended below the clouds and found ourselves over Namur, then on to Aachen. Veering left at Aachen we reached Cologne in the afternoon. Our moods were elevated in the plane. Before us was a long vacation, beautiful weather, success just in reaching Cologne, and the certainty that even if something went wrong we would reach Central Headquarters.

We received a telegram in Cologne saying we were expected. The day before my fifty-second flight victory was in the newspaper. There would be a reception later.

During the three-hour flight I experienced some buzzing in my head so I decided to take a short midday nap before going to Headquarters. We then flew quite a ways along the Rhine from Cologne. I knew this stretch. I had traveled it often by steamship, by auto and by train.

Now I flew in a plane. Which was the most beautiful? It's hard to say. One sees certain things better on the steamship. But the total vista from an airplane is not to be dismissed. The Rhine has particular attractions even from above. We didn't flight very high so as not to lose the full impact of the mountains. This is the best feature on the Rhine, the colossal, forested heights, the castles, etc. Naturally we couldn't see the individual houses. Too bad that one can't fly slow and fast. I certainly would have liked to take the slowest route.

All too quickly one beautiful scene is replaced by another. At a higher altitude one doesn't have the feeling that he is travelling very quickly. In a car or in the D-Train you realize your speed but in an airplane it always seems slower once you reach a certain altitude. One only notices it when he doesn't look down for five minutes. Then you have to reorient yourself. The view one has in his mind fully changes in a minute. What you saw below you disappears quickly, never to be recaptured. For this reason one can quickly become disoriented if he doesn't pay attention.

We arrived at the main headquarters in the afternoon. We were greeted by a comrade known to me who worked in the "Big Gallery." I feel sorry for these pencil pushers. They only enjoy half the pleasure of war. Next I reported to the Commanding General of the Air Strikeforce. The next morning the great moment arrived when I was supposed to be introduced to Hindenburg and Ludendorff. I had to wait a long time. I can't quite write down how the greetings went. First I spoke with Hindenburg and then with Ludendorff.

It's a strange feeling to be in the room in which the fate of the world is decided. I was happy to have the "Big Gallery" behind me. At midday I received orders to brunch with His Majesty. This day was my birthday and someone had told His Majesty and he congratulated me, once for my air successes and then for my twenty-fifth birthday. A small birthday present was a surprise for me.

Earlier I never would have dreamt that I would sit to the right of Hindenburg on my twenty-fifth birthday and be mentioned in an address by the Field Marshal General.

The day after I was invited to Her Majesty's at midday so I drove to Homburg. There I breakfasted with her and was graced with a birthday gift. I had the great pleasure of showing Her Majesty how to start an airplane. In the evening I was invited the Field Marshal General von Hindenburg's.

The day after I flew to Freiburg to shoot grouse. I used an airplane to fly from Freiburg to Berlin. I refueled in Nuremberg. Then a storm blew in but I hastened to Berlin. Several more or less interesting things awaited me there. I flew despite the bad weather. Clouds and foul weather make me happy. It poured buckets and there was even some hail. Afterwards the propeller looked pretty bad because it had been chewed up by the hail pellets like a saw. Unfortunately I had so much fun with the weather that I forgot to pay attention to my location. By the time I reoriented myself I had no idea where I was. What a mess! Lost in my own homeland! It had to happen to me. If they knew this at home they'd be well amused. But there was no way to change things. I didn't know where I was. A strong wind and lower altitude had taken me off course and off the charts.

Squadron chasing squadron -- From the Cockburn-Lange Collection

Photographs of air battles on pages 172, 173, 188,189,204,205,221 come from the remains of a fallen British fighter pilot.

Go to pages 173-182

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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks