The Red Fighter Pilot - Webpage 23, pages 213-222

I hear the distant rattle of machine gun fire behind me. I utter my fondest wish: Just wait, if you keep this up you'll run out of ammunition or jam the gun. Suddenly there is a snapping sound in my machine! A primary tension wire is shot. Now I can't make any sharp turns and my wings are vacillating. Even without an Englishman breathing down my neck I probably should have crashed. I was still three kilometers on his side. However aviators do not know desperation. In most situations people aren't fully aware of danger. I merely think, Quietly withdraw from battle!

Meanwhile the Englishman gets into closer range. The machine gun rattling is dreadfully loud. It's tracer ammunition, fire-causing shells, which are flying around me. I'm right in the line of fire. Dreadful! I still can't shoot with the Englishman above me. Despite the danger that the wings could fly apart I make a sharp turn to get behind the Englishman. I well know that my machine can't withstand the stress. The plane is a wreck. I imagine myself on fire within the next few seconds. I hang almost motionless like a stationary target below the Englishman. But then what do I see!

The English plane is ablaze and behind it is a German airplane. It was Schäfer! I recognized the color of his tail. Thank God! I'd bet that in the next half a minute I would have been shot down or that my wings would have come off. Upon arriving home I shook Schäfer's hand and invited him to an evening of champagne. It was the least I could do. In shooting down their tenth plane pilots received from staff headquarters an autographed picture of my brother. I had earned and received mine three days prior to this event. In the afternoon as a sign that the day's misadventure was the result of mechanical failure, I shot down Number 11 near Vimy.

A Bluff

A superb, hot April morning! We stand before our birds and wait for the report. The telephone jingles. Extreme flight activity south of Arras! A wink from the runway corporal, the sound of the alarm bell and suddenly the hangar comes alive. The mechanics rush out from every corner and go to their assigned machines in order to get them started. Even the pilots rush about. Which is the lead aircraft?

My brother's! We're off! South of Arras at an altitude of about three thousand meters! Nothing to see! Then there are 3 English planes. We stare. The three come after us because they can soar down from the higher altitude. My brother takes the first plane, Wolff the second, and I take the third. As long as he's above me the Englishman shoots. I have to wait until he reaches my altitude in order to shoot. Then he's on me and just as I'm about to shoot he tricks me and rolls away. I think, you can do that too! I roll off ten meters to the side. Now he's flying level. I'm behind him. Then I notice he's starting to turn about in wild spirals. We have a westerly wind and the fight have gone from the front to behind our line. I follow him. As soon as he tries to level off I let off a few warning shots. Eventually this becomes boring. I try getting him to spiral. I'm shooting and shooting.

In the meantime we're about five hundred meters high and behind our foremost line. I force the Englishman to spiral down. In an air battle you spiral downard until you are forced to land but there always remains the possibility of straightening out and flying home. My Englishman decided on the latter. With lightning quickness I thought, poor devil, your hour has come!

I get behind him. At the necessary distance of around fifty meters I aim and push the machine gun button. Nanu! [Oops!] No bullets come out. I think, gun jammed. Reload, push the trigger again, no bullets. Dispair! Success was so close! I inspect my machine gun again. Nuts! I had shot right down to the last bullet. I have the empty ammunition belt in my hand. A thousand shots! I had never used so many before.

My only thought was, under no circumstances are you going to get away. Fight with a red machine for nearly a quarter of an hour and then run home. That would be a triumph for the Englishman!

I fly closer and closer. The distance between my propeller and his aileron is minimal. I estimate: ten meters, five meters, three, now down to two. Then I have a desperate thought: Should I hit his aileron with my propeller? He'd go down then, but probably so would I. Another theory: what would happen if in the moment I hit him the motor stops? My Englishman looks around and stares directly at me. He throws me a horrofied look, turns off his motor and crash lands at about our third position.

On the ground he lets the motor run for a while.

When one has to land in enemy territory he tries to destroy his plane by setting it on fire. To prevent the enemy from doing this, the pursuer usually fires a few shots near the landed craft until the occupant runs from it. I flew closely around his head so he would notice me as I passed. The Englishman jumped from his plane, gave me a wink, raised his hands high and let the infantrymen rushing towards him take him into custody.

In another case I saw how I certainly would have crashed if I made propeller contact with an Englishman in mid air. In the way of apology I must admit that he couldn't have known that I was out of ammunition. One round would have been enough to hit him from that close distance. Then again all he had to do is turn around and I would have flown on. At most he had fired fifty shots at me and without ammunition I was totally defenseless. But matters turned out differently and that's the main thing. The next day I flew to the division where the plane, a Spad had been taken. It was a very good, English one-seater battle plane. I inspected it for bullet holes. With a thousand shots I must have hit him at least once! I asked if the pilot was wounded.

I received the prompt reply, "No." There wasn't a single hole in the entire plane. The axel wasn't twisted even a little as will happen with a bad landing or contact with rough terrain. I had to laugh. It had to be the Englishman landed because he feared me.

In my list of victories it stands today: On April 29, 1917 before noon near Izel a Spad one-seater, occupied by an English officer." I did not speak to him since our landing field is a great distance from his landing spot. He never found out that I had no more ammunition and that he only landed out of fear. Getting home to my squadron I said to myself, you can't tell anyone that you fired a thousand shots and didn't hit anything!

My brother and Wolff shot down their planes. I don't know whether I should tell someone in the squadron. I'm ashamed of my bad marksmanship. On this occasion it might be interesting to mention how many shots it takes to shoot down an Englishman. The first time I flew with my brother and watched him I didn't notice that as soon as he began to shoot the Englishman went down. In general my brother didn't need more than twenty bullets.

But one shouldn't take that for the norm. One attacks an Englishman mostly from behind so he's facing the right direction to shoot. If an English pilot flies steady and has a good shooter gets behind him then he's going down with the first shots. But if the enemy starts to turn and he's not straight in front of you, you either miss him or just catch him by accident.


March 13th! On the front there is no difference between Sunday and a weekday. Sometimes you don't even know the date, so I didn't think about it that the thirteenth is my unlucky day. The squadron flew towards the front under the leadership of my brother. Many reports had prepared us for flight operations. Scarcely at the front we encounter a group of Englishmen. Each of us, including me takes one plane. I force my opponent to crash. Then there's a cracking sound in my machine! It had been hit. I soon noticed what was wrong. I was flying a triple decker. It suddenly became a double decker. It's a dreadful feeling to lose a wing at four thousand meters.

I quickly distanced myself from the Englishman. He was just as stupid as me and did not follow. Nothing would have been easier than shooting me down while I was in this predicament. I could maintain normal gliding flight with two wings but only level flight since the steering didn't work and I could only find a location on that glidepath. I descended. A large open space laid before me. I would land there. Normally one can estimate the altitude from which one will land his machine. I had calculated this. When I reached an altitude of five hundred meters I suddenly saw a high tension wire ahead of me. I couldn't rise above it and I also couldn't get beneath it because there were two intersecting columns. I didn't want to hit other people so I had to turn. But that was no longer possible!

Imminent disaster again! You lie in bed. Four blank, white walls. The nurse at your bedside. Must be a hospital! Head completely bandaged, can't move. Okay. Then it dawns on me: You wanted to land and turn. In attempting to turn you crashed and immediately lost consciousness. I was only hit in the head and legs.

Going down in flames.

A horrid image! Opponents collided.

My hands were still steering. Like my comrades had told me, they thought the impact was fatal.

Dropping Bombs while acting as the Observer

Before they thought of the one-seater fighter plane, the two-seater was the accepted fighter plane. At the time we had so-called fighter squadrons. When I went into aviation I thought air battles were the greatest and I was pleased when I was assigned to a fighter squadron. I practiced air battles daily with my brave pilots. Despite numerous air battles we had little success. Our operations were not satisfying so we thought we'd try dropping bombs.

Herein lies a cute little story. At that time in our fighter squadron we had a near-sighted professor as an observer. We had laid out a white cloth for a target. Each man flew over it and dropped his eggs. The professor was up next. He steered off course and suddenly saw something white beneath him. The bomb dropped and landed in the middle of a herd of cows.

At the center of the herd was a white cow. Seven cows laid out on the path. It was the pride of our fighter squadron! Now we had to eat beef for a whole week. The brave professor was thereafter called the cow killer.

Cow Killer accomplished other feats. After his first flight with the enemy he came home breathless and claimed the air battle was a colossally stenuous activity. His face was crab-red and the powerful, broad shouldered man appeared to be exhausted despite the fact that air battles are not particularly grueling. We couldn't figure out this conundrum. Eventually the following information came out. An observer has a rim-mounted machine gun as a weapon. Cow Killer had detached his machine gun, stood up, manually aimed and shot, thus exercising during battle. Now we understood his reasoning. With the exceptional airflow during flight it is indeed a superhuman task to hold and fire a machine gun.

After an exhaustive number of practices we threw out bombs over the enemy. You shot up three to four thousand meters, crossed over the front and steered to the assigned target. We flew in huge groups so there was less chance of being bothered by enemy planes. For the most part we were happy when flying over the flack because

Go to pages 223-232

Return to Index

Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks