The Red Fighter Pilot - Wegpage 20, pages 183-192

In the winter of 1915 he went to flight school at my urging and like me, became an observer. A year later he became a pilot. Schooling as an observer is not bad especially for a fighter pilot. In March 1917 he passed his three exams and immediately came to my fighter squadron.

He was still a very green and naive pilot who didn't know about looping and other tricks. He was still happy with ordinary takeoffs and landings. After fourteen days I took him up for the first time against an enemy and told him to fly behind me in order to get a good look at how it was done. After the third flight with him I observed for the first time how he separated from me, engaged and shot down an Englishman. My heart swelled with joy as I watched. Yet again it provided proof just how little shooting is an artform. It's only the personality of the individual, or put otherwise his courage, which determines the event. I'm no Pégoud. There will never be another. I'm merely a soldier performing his duty. Four weeks later my brother had alreay shot down twenty Englishmen. This may stand in the record books of flight that after only fourteen days since completing his third exam one pilot had shot down twenty opponents between his first and fourth weeks.

His twenty-second opponent was the famous Captain Ball, by far the best English flyer. A few months earlier I had defeated Major Hawker, the most famous pilot of his day. I was particularly happy that my brother had dealt with England's second champion. Captain Ball flew a triple decker and singly engaged my brother at the front. Each tried to get the other. Neither gave the other a chance. Each meeting was a brief encounter. One always soared past the other. Neither was lucky enough to get behind the other. Suddenly each decided in the same moment to charge towards each other and fire off some well-aimed shots. Each flew towards the other. Each shot. Each had an engine ahead of him. The chances for a hit were small with their airspeeds twice the normal rate. Even more improbable it would be for each to hit the other. My brother, at a somewhat lower altitude, pulled up hard and rolled over, losing his balance. For a moment he could not steer his machine. He soon recovered but saw that the enemy had shot both his gas tanks. Must land, you would think. If it flames out quickly the fusilage will burn. But his next thought was, Where's my opponent! In the moment when he pulled up he saw that his opponent had also

overcompensated and rolled over. He couldn't be far from him. The thought persisted, is he above or below me? He wasn't above then he saw the triplane beneath him, still pitching forward and diving ever lower. He dove and dove without recovering until he hit the ground. He disintegrated. It was in our territory. Two opponents had faced each other briefly with their chosen weapons. Both my brother's gas tanks were shot up and in the same moment Captain Ball received a shot to the head. He had a few photographs with him and a clipping from his home province newspaper in which he was highly celebrated. He would have been going on leave in a short while. In Boelcke's time Captain Ball had eliminated thirty-six aircraft. Then he too had found his master. Or was it an accident that a great man like him must similarly die a hero's death?

Captain Ball was most certainly the leader of the Anti-Richthoven Squadron, and I believe the Englishman would have preferred to capture me. I'm rather sorry because it takes away a beautiful opportunity to give the English a good thrashing.

If my brother hadn't been wounded on May 5th

I believe after I returned from leave he would have been sent on leave with twenty-five victories.

Lothar - A "Shooter" and not a Hunter

My father makes a distinction between a hunter and a shooter. Shooting is just for fun. Whenever I shot down an Englishman it quieted the hunter's passion in me for a quarter hour. It's not my intention to shoot down one Englishman right after the other. If one of the enemy falls I have this feeling of unconditional satisfaction. It's been only recently that I've conquered myself and retrained myself as a shooter.

For my brother it's different. When he had his fourth and fifth opponents I had the opportunity to observe him. We attacked an enemy squadron. I got there first and soon finished one off. I looked around and saw how my brother sat behind an Englishman even after flames erupted and the engine exploded. A second Englishman flew next to him. Without bothering to confirm that the first one, which was still in the air, had crashed

he turned his guns on the second plane and continued shooting without ever having stopped. This plane crashed too after a brief battle.

At home he proudly asked me, "How many did you shoot down?" I humbly said, "One." He turned his back to me and said, "I got two." After this I sent him to make inquiries. He had to find out what his victim's names were, etc. Later in the afternoon he returned, having only found one of them.

The search went badly as most searches after such shootings usually are. A day later the troops reported finding the other body. We had all seen the crash.

The Aurochs

During a visit to Headquarters Prince Pless invited me to his wisent hunt. A wisent is what the common folk call an aurochs. The aurochs is extinct. The wisent is following the same path. On the entire earth there are only two places where they now exist, in Pless and on the reserve of the former tsars in Bialowiczer Forest.

The Bialowiczer Forest has endured colossal damage due to the war. Many noble wisent, which at one time would only have been shot at by princes and the tsar, have become the targets of musketeers.

Through the kindness of his serene highness I too am allowed to shoot at one of these rare creatures. In about one human generation these beasts will be no more since they will all have been slaughtered.

I arrived in Pless on the afternoon of May 26th. I had to go by train if I wanted to bag a steer that evening. We drove along famous roads through the prince's gigantic wildlife park. These were routes once well traveled by crowned heads. After about an hour we got out and had to run for another half-hour to reach my appointed area. The drivers were already in position waiting for the signal to start. I stood on the platform where, as the supervising wildlife manager reported, many royal leaders had stood waiting for the wisent to come. We waited a long time. Then suddenly I saw in the higher woods a huge, black monster stampeding towards me. I saw it before the forester did and got ready to shoot. I must say I felt the hunter's fever. It was a mighty steer. At about two hundred and fifty paces there was still some hope for him.

Man versus Man

The Deciding Moment

It was still too far to shoot. One might actually hit the beast because it would be difficult to miss such a huge creature but looking for it afterwards could be an unpleasant task. And consider the disgrace if you missed. So I decided to wait until he came closer. He might have caught the scent of the drivers, you can never tell with an animal. He made a quick turn and raced towards me. It was a bad angle for shooting. Then he disappeared behind a grove of thick fir trees. I heard him huffing and stomping. I don't know whether or not he caught my scent but then he was gone. I saw him again from a great distance, then he disappeared.

It may have been the unexpected sight of this beast. Who knows? But in that moment I had the same feeling of hunter's fever that grips me when I sit in an airplane, see and Englishman and fly for about five minuted to catch up to him. The only difference is that the Englishman defends himself. If I hadn't been standing on such a high platform, who knows whether or not other moralistic feelings might have come into play.

It didn't take long for another animal to come.

He was an even mightier beast and he made it much easier for me. He might still be safe at about a hundred paces. He showed me his shoulder blade.The first shot hit. He reacted. The month before Hindenburg had told me, "Take a lot of cartridges with you. Mine took half a dozen before the beast died. His heart is so deep within him that most men shoot past it." And this was true. Even though I had aimed for the heart I had not hit it. I fired another shot. A second, then a third. He remained standing but injured. Perhaps fifty paces from me. Five minutes later the creature was dead. The hunt was discontinued and the horn blasted "Dead Deer." All three bullets went in above his heart.

We drove past the Prince's beautiful hunting lodge and for a while longer through the wildlife park, in which during the annual mating season the Prince's guests shoot red deer, etc. We stopped for a bit and saw the interior of the house in Promintz. It lies on a peninsula with a wonderful view five kilometers away from a living soul. One no longer has the feeling of a wildlife park as one might think when people speak of Prince Pless' hunt. Four-hundred thousand fence posts make more than a wildlife park.

There are deer varieties men have never seen before and foresters cannot identify. These are sometimes killed during mating season. One can run around for a week before spotting a wisent. At certain times of the year you will not see them. They're well hidden, able to move unseen amid the gigantic trees and thick brush. We saw many deer with velvet-covered antlers and many fine bucks.

After about two hours, right before nightfall we arrived back in Pless.

Infantry, Artillery, and Reconnaisance Pilots

If I weren't a battle pilot I believe I would have sought out the Infantry Air Service. There's great satisfaction when one can give direct assistance to our most active fighting troops. The infantry pilot is in a position to do this. He receives thanks for his task. In the Battle of Arras I got to observe many of these capable men as they flew over the enemy in all kinds of weather in every season at low altitudes and tried to unite their efforts with those of our fighting troops. I understand how one can become enthusiastic about this.

I imagine these men have yelled out a hurray whenever they have seen the hordes driven back after an attack and observed our charging infantry rise up from their trenches and fight eye to eye against the enemy. On many occasions after a battle flight I've fired the remainer of my bullets into the enemy trenches. If it helps even a little it's a moral victory.

I've also been an artillery pilot. In my time it was something new to telegraph where the artillery soldiers should aim their weapons. However for that you need a particular talent. I wasn't suited to long-term observation. I much prefer combat. To be an artillery pilot one must also know about the artillery in order to provide the necessary information.

I've also done reconnaisance flying with the mobile fighting units in Russia. It was as if I were a cavalry soldier again but with a steel Pegasus. The days with Holck flying over Russia are among my fondest memories. However I have not retained the images of troop movements.

On the Western Front the reconnaisance pilot views are different than the views to which the cavalry soldier is accustomed. The villages and towns, the railroads and roads look dead and absolutely quiet and despite the fact that they contain an incredible amount of traffic, great effort is taken to make sure the pilot doesn't see it.

Go to pages 193-202

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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks