The Red Fighter Pilot - Webpage 22, pages 203-212


Thoughts in a Shelter

A lamp hangs from the roof of my shelter which came from an airplane engine. It comes from a plane I shot down. I've mounted lamps inside the cylinder so when I lay awake at night and leave the light on it shines on the roof in a God-only-knows fantastic and strange fashion. When I lay awake like that I have much to think about. I write it down without knowing if anyone other than my next of kin will ever see what I wrote. I toy with the idea of writing a sequel to the "Red Fighter Pilot" for a very specific reason. There's a battle being played out on all fronts and its become devilishly serious. Nothing truly remains of the clean and happy war which people thought we were conducting at first. Now we must defend ourselves most desperately lest our enemy break into our country. I have the dark impression that people perceive a totally different von Richthofen because of the "Red Fighter Pilot." When I looked at myself in the book I used to grin boldly. Now I'm no longer in the mood to be brazen. Not so much because I imagine how it will be the day death grabs me by the scruff of the neck


and certainly not because I'm so often reminded that death comes up on you just that suddenly. From high places I've heard it said that I should give up flying because things could suddenly catch up with me. It seems to me that would be a miserable thing if now that I am covered in fame and glory I were to swallow my dignity and retire just to preserve my life while other poor bastards, who acknowledge their duty just as I do, persevere in the trenches.

I'm in a dreadful mood after each air battle, however that comes as a result of the shot I took to the head. Once I step foot on the ground I make sure I head for my own four walls where I won't hear or see anybody. It's not the way people in the homeland imagine it to be, all cheers and bravado. It's much more serious, more miserable - - -


Victory!

The English airplane breaks up in midair.


Defeat!

A German airplane is shot down.


The Report of Brother Lothar, Baron von Richthofen


Page 206 is blank.


The Color Red

It's become known that the English placed a bounty on my brother's head. Every pilot knew him because he alone flew an airplane painted red. For this reason it was the squadron's wish to have all our planes painted red and for a long time we begged my brother for permission so he wouldn't stand out so prominently. The request was granted and since then we have proven ourselves worthy by shooting down many planes. The color red implies arrogance. Everyone knows that. It's obvious. Consequently one must achieve something. In the end we looked upon our red birds with pride. My brother's fuselage was bright red. The rest of us had a few markings in other colors. Since you can't see someone face to face in the air we chose these colors as signifiers. For example, Schäfer had elevators, flaps and part of his tail painted black. Allmenröder had his in white. Wolff's were green and mine were yellow. As a yellow dragoon this was


for me the assigned color. Thus each plane is different but when seen in the sky or from the ground by the enemy they all appear red since only small portions of the planes are dissimilar. Whoever participated in the Defensive at Arras saw a satisfying number of red birds and their work.

Now many would ask, What would have prompted Cavalry Captain Richthofen to paint his fuselage red? In an article the French called this childish. The motivation is somewhat different. When Manfred first joined the Boelcke Fighter Squadron and attempted to make his first hit he was vexed that the enemy saw him far too early. He attempted to make himself invisible using various colors. He tried earth tones. From above one wouldn't see this color provided the object didn't move. To his disappointment Manfred noted that color didn't solve the problem. There's no helmut of invisibility for a pilot. So to assure that his comrades could recognize him as their flight leader he chose bright red. Later the red machine was known to the English as well. "Le petit rouge" and other names were added. It was asserted that Joan of Arc or a similar woman sat within.


Friend and foe knew who sat in the red machine. It created incredible enthusiasm among our troops at the front, less so for the enemy. What came to mind for me was the similarity to the red cloth bull fighters waved before the bull in order to provoke a mindless attack. But the similarity did not apply as soon as the English saw the red machine. They peeled off like sheepskin. During the Battle of Arras all the red machine had to do was approach the front in order to see the English flee immediately back to their own lines.

Cut Off

In time one goes to many front lines. What I relate here happened in Cambrai. My brother and I flew alone to the front in beautiful weather.

To the north one could see explosions. As we got closer a single Englishman fled over the front. Otherwise there was nothing to see. We flew over the English line without being fired upon. There is a easterly wind, very unfavorable for an air battle since one can be pushed deeper into the battle zone by the wind. A one-seater has an advantage in a forward attack. It's because of the weaponry. When one is driven by the wind during an air battle


he goes deeper into enemy territory and the moment must come when he must fly back, that is, he must go on the defensive. For a one-seater, which can only shoot ahead of itself, it can be a very dangerous time frought with disaster. Suddenly my brother and I see five English aircraft coming down on us from extremly high altitude. In flight I've never had such a sense of superiority as I have had when I fly with my brother and so it was this time.

The five lords did not come directly after us but remained above us and had their shooting practice on our two German planes. Then one got bolder and dove below me. A quick turn and I'm sitting behind him. The attacker becomes the pursued. The Englishman tried to save himself with a hard turn to the west. By zigzagging he offered me an uncertain target. He didn't offer any other defense. The pilot seemed to be wounded. The Englishman "stank," an aviator's expression for a trail of smoke coming from a bullet hole in the gas or oil tank. I would grant the Englishman leave since my gun was jammed. Sadly I dropped back and turned. In the course of battle I had strayed about four kilometers from our front. Suddenly I had a fearful thought: Where are the other four Englishmen and where is my brother? Then I see a


frighteningly beautiful sight. My brother in a wild battle with the four Englishmen. My heart stopped in terror for Manfred. My gun was jammed and I couldn't shoot! It makes no difference, I have to help. My brother had kept the four Englishmen busy for a long time. They had blocked the way so he couldn't follow me. Now it was my turn to help. I placed myself in the middle of the fighters. The four Englishmen, who engaged in battle with one opponent, now broke off the fight and flew home even though they had twice our number. Besides which, they couldn't have known that my gun was jammed. As my brother later said, he didn't have to pay more for both our lives.

Schäfer Saves My Life

In peace time you would get a medal for saving someone's life. In wartime I invited Schäfer to dinner and served champagne. Great weather, blue sky! We took to the air after a report that enemy aircraft were at the front. Schäfer, I and two other men went up. At the front we didn't see anything at first but then the English came. They flew in five


large-bodied biplanes, two seaters which unfortunately were very high above us. We flew back and forth over the front. The five English planes stayed well on their own side. It began to be boring since the English didn't want to come anywhere near the front. Then I noticed — we were flying at an altitude of about three thousand meters — a single English plane about a thousand meters lower. Nothing to do but go after it! Unfortunately just as I began my descent towards him the Englishman recognized the danger and fled. I still tried to catch him but he was several kilometers on his side. Now we were about fifteen hundred meters high. The lower he got the greater the Englishman's peril. Eventually we were five kilometers from the front. It would not have been advantageous for me to fight. I broke it off since a single shot would have sufficed to force a landing.

Deeply disappointed I flew back in the direction of the front when I suddenly saw one of the five English planes from before. It broke formation and came down after me. I was still far away, about five kilometers at an altitude of one thousand meters but for a one-seater which can only shoot forward you can image the disadvantage. I kept flying towards the front. At a thousand meters the Englishman started to shoot. I said to myself, Thankfully it's in my favor. At this distance he can't hit anything. I peacefully flew away.


Go to pages 213-222

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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks