The Red Fighter Pilot - Webpage 24, pages 223-232


that's when the enemy expended the most ammunition, usually firing too low or too high. At high altitude it was difficult to see what the bombs hit. You only saw a tiny puff of smoke where the bomb had exploded. Dropping bombs at night was much more satisfaying. We announced among ourselves the intended targets for our bombs and then went to work at night. This activity was very interesting. Around ten at night you packed as many bombs in the plane as they would hold then flew in the direction of enemy troop and munitions locations. At night you couldn't see the enemy. Once over the target you went down from a hundred to fifty meters. From that altitude you could observe the operation. The explosions would light up the area to daytime brightness. You could truly recognize foreign troop baracks and munition dumps. One time we managed to make a munitions heap spring up in the air. A single bomb had caused the explosion, which spread throughout the entire camp for about a quarter of a kilometer. It looked as though a column of fire reached up into the sky between three and four thousand meters. One munition dump ignited another. The earth shook for about a one kilometer circumference. The entire camp was still burning the next day.


Throwing bombs made us very happy. We barely got back from our first flight when we loaded the fusilage with a new set of bombs and supplies. In the meantime we sat in the casino and refueled our courage with grog. All night long the operation was repeated three times. The last time started around five in the morning. It was dark until eight o'clock. During one of these morning flights we hadn't yet returned to our side of the front when a thick ground fog took away our orientation with the earth. It was only due to the lighting up of the sky with munitions fire that we could figure out where friend and foe were located.

Since the front does not run in a straight line we weren't quite sure if we were headed towards the landing strip. We hovered at ten meters above the place where we wanted to land, exerting great effort in an attempt to see trees, trenches or other barriers in the thick fog. Making an emergency landing under uncertain conditions is extremely dangerous. Such landings mostly end in fatal crashes. We were lucky. We came within a hair's breadth of a tree and the machine stopped one meter before a deep trench. Quickly we put the plane back in a direction to restart. We weren't sure if we had landed near Joffre.


I said to my pilot, Lieutenant Kreutzmann, that we shouldn't return home without a prisoner. To my great regret we established that we had landed near our barracks, thus there would be no prisoners. We had beautifully dreamed about what it would be like to get back to our squadron with a Frenchman. However my joy was just as great when we discovered that we had landed in proximity to my brother, who was celebrating his first victory with the Boelcke Squadron.

A Day with Squadron II

The squadron was divided into two groups which meant that half the squadeon was always flying. As squadron leader my brother flew part time with one group and then the other. Schäfer led my group and along with me flew Wolff, Allmenröder and Lübbert. At the time that was the best number for flying together. Later the entire group had earned the Pour le mérite except for Lübbert who died earlier. Previously with this field flight division he had achieved fabulous deeds. Only death could hinder our beloved comrade from earning his Pour le mérite. The group had early start that day.


That meant that in the gray light of early morning we had to be ready at a moment's notice to take off. This was between four and five in the morning. We sat, having just stood in the waiting area as the phone rang: "Six Bristols going from Arras to Douai." We stood up and darted off. At three thousand meters there was a break in the cloud cover.

As we take off we see the English under the clouds near our air field. My brother's red bird stands ready for takeoff, his mechanic nearby. I don't see my brother. We go after the English but the blighters cleverly fly into the clouds so we can't shoot at them. Whenever someone's behind you within shooting range you disappear either above or below the clouds. It was my first air battle and I was quite proud that I got him with my machine gun fire and he began to trail smoke. I shot his gas tank, however in the next moment he disappeared again into the clouds. Since nearly all aircraft have a reserve gas tanks he must have switched to the other. At best the chap flew on. Naturally I was sad that he hadn't gone down. But like my brother said, that was too much to ask on a first air battle.


None of us had shot down anything and we landed about an hour later at our airfield. My brother's red bird still sat there but you could see the work being done by the mechanic and the condition of the machine. We were also told that the cavalry captain took off about five minutes after us. He was still in bed when the announcement came. Quickly out of pajamas, into the flying clothes and off he went. He returned after twenty minutes having shot down an English plane. By the time we returned he was back in bed and fast asleep as if nothing had happened. Only the few hits to his plane and the reports about downed aircraft rendered proof of his flight. We were all a bit ashamed. There were five of us, we took off earlier, landed later and nothing came of it. As we assembled at eight o'clock for our second takeoff my brother appeared. He insulted the English, those destoyers of the nighttime quiet who force peace-loving people out of their beds in the middle of the night. We heartily congratulated him, told him about our experiences, and he told us about his. He went off directly to the front. A few kilometers ahead of the front an English plane suddenly rose up through the clouds and came directly in front of my brother. In a few seconds the battle was decided.


The English plane went down in flames. The remains of the plane fell onto our side of the earth. By means of a communal breakfast we renewed our courage and donned our flight clothes.

Hunting flights correctly carry the name because they refer to hunting down enemy pilots. The chase may constantly change but ideally it has its unconditional timing. We had no luck this time. The English were still at their breakfast. I tended to fly about fifty meters away from my brother. I told myself that in this way I would be the first one to shoot. I always kept close to him and was happy that things went well. One single English infantry pilot had flown over the front. I still had enough to do with my machine and all the other possible things one encounters the first time out so I hadn't seen the Englishman. All the more for my brother. He suddenly went nose down and quickly got behind the Englishman. In the same moment the English plane broke apart. The machine gun volley sawed the wind right off. The rest of the English plane looked like a sack of small and large paper scraps. I saw this image at a distance of about one thousand meters


despite the fact that I had wanted to remain close to my brother. I had not succeeded. We flew the same machines, that is, the same type of plane with the same engine so the failure must have rested on me.

Rapid flight must at first be properly learned. One can fly slow or fast. One can fly so slowly that he seems to remain in one place. To do that the engine must run slowly so the plane stays in the same position. It barely moves forward. But then the engine stalls and the plane sinks because of the machine's load. This is an unwelcome scenerio because the steering mechanism does not react properly when there is no lift. Such an exercise at low altitude is not recommended for the beginner. This is the slowest flight. One can always fly somewhat faster until reaching normal speed. At normal speed the machine is still climbing. Whenever I now set my plane on its nose with full throttle I can achieve significant acceleration, if not doubled at least greatly increased. Naturally it places a lot of stress on the plane and the engine. This must be learned. It sounds easy but I've known a few who never learned.


I consider this more important that many other aviation feats, like looping for instance. Looping is more something you do for an audience. It looks very pretty but it's worthless in battle. The purpose of looping is to leave the lay people with a sense of wonder so it's mostly performed in the homeland or before an audience.

After the few Englishman who were on the front were shot down, we flew home. After flights we naturally entertain ourselves by recounting the air battles. It's funny to watch someone describing an air battle. Arms flail about and hands do the talking. In order to teach ourselves what we did right and what we did wrong we usually hold discussions afterwards. However my brother also accomplished this task in other ways. For example, when he took over the squadron. Wolff and Allmenröder didn't yet have any experience. Beginners have more fear than love for the fatherland in air battles. In the first days my brother flew with both of them. They attacked many English planes. His plane sustained an enormous number of hits without having any successes since the pair didn't give assistance. My brother came back home quite angry about this but he did not deliver any reprimands to the pair. He didn't say a word. Wolff and Allmenröder, both of whom later received the Pour le mérite, told me


that was more effective than a lecture. For my brother concerns over leading the squadron came after these discussions. At midday a war reporter came to us. I don't know id Manfred was more admired by his comrades or by his layman guest. Usually right after lunch we took a half-hour's afternoon rest provided flight operations didn't dictate otherwise. Sometimes there would be peak periods of operation in which we flew five to seven times a day. In order to get through these times we kept things simple -- eating, sleeping and not a drop of alcohol.

That evening my brother shot down an English two-seater with a lattice fuselage. The plane still maintained glided flight even though the occupants had been killed by so many bullets. The plane glided into the roof of a house and completely disintegrated. Since it was close to our barracks my brother drove us in his auto to the crash zone in order to secure the number of the plane and other items. When we reached the site it didn't offer a pretty sight. Half of the plane still hung from the roof. The other half laid in the road. The English had dropped bombs in the vicinity so many had seen the air battle. Lots of field gray cloth from the English occupants could be seen among the debris.


Once we had gathered everything we went home. In the meantime my brother was recognized by the soldiers and we left the district amid thunderous cheers.

The Last Flight with Manfred

Early in the year 1918 the English conducted a moderate flying campaign. It was a bad time for shooting planes down. The English artillery and infantry pilots had to go in deeper and thus flew many kilometers onto our side. Reconnaissance squadrons seldom came over to us and when they did it was at incredible altitudes, never under five thousand meters. I had just recovered from a middle ear infection. I returned to the field and yearned to shoot down the English. As always, my brother was in fine form. We waited around the airfield for a report on one beautiful morning. We were fully clothed for flight. As good as nothing came of it. Only once in a while was there a report of a single English plane. After waiting a long time for nothing we eventually took off in hopes of having luck and finding the English at the front. We must have had a sixth sense. Arriving at the front we saw at high altitude about ten English planes steering towards our front. They intended to fly over it, apparently in order to


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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks