The Red Fighter Pilot - Webgpage 6, pages 50-58


The enemy had observed us from the beginning, and as the French are prone to do, he attempted to overtake us by ambush.

I was delighted when two days later my orderly stood before me. He was half barefooted because he had left one boot in the stirrup of the horse's saddle. He told me how he escaped. At least two squadrons of French cavalry came out of the woods in order to plunder the fallen horses and Uhlan soldiers. Uninjured, he had jumped up, scaled the rock wall, and thoroughly exhausted dropped down into a bush in a fifty meter-deep hole. About two hours later when the enemy went back to lying in wait, he took flight. After a couple days he was back with me. He had little news of the comrades who had been left behind.

The Reconnaisance Ride with Loen

The Battle of Virton was under way. My comrade Loen and I once again found ourselves attached to a patrol unit in occupied territory. For the entire day we rode behind the enemy,


eventually catching up to him so we could gather information. As evening came the greatest question became, should we ride through the night and return to our troops or conserve our resources and rest up until the next day? The beauty of cavalry patrol is we were given free rein to decide.

We decided to stay with the enemy that night and return the next morning. As a strategic manoeuver, we figured the enemy would be on the reverse march and we could follow him. This way we could spend a quiet night.

Not far from the enemy there was a wonderful monastery with a large stall where Loen, my patrol squadron and I could find shelter. As evening approached the enemy moved in so close to us that they would have been able to see us through their rifle scopes and shot at us through the windows.

The monks were very pleasant. They gave us as much food and drink as we wanted and we ate well. The saddles were taken off the horses and they seemed quite content after three days and nights with eighty kilos of dead weight on their backs. In other words, we arranged things as if we were on manoeuvers and staying at a beloved friend's house. It should also be mentioned that three days later


we hung several of our hosts from the latern posts because they could not resist taking part in the war. However that night they were quite hospitable. We crawled into beds in our nightshirts, posted a sentry, and let the Lord God watch over us.

One night the door suddenly burst open and the sentry's voice announced, "Lieutenant, the French are over there." I was too sleepy to give an answer. Loen's condition was similar but he posed an intelligent question, "How many are there?" Excitedly the sentry answered "We've already shot two dead but we don't know how many more there are because it's pitch black out." I heard Loen sleepily respond, "Wake me up if you see any more." Half a minute later we were both snoring.

The sun stood high in the sky the next morning as we awoke from our solid rest. After a hearty breakfast we recommenced our journey.

Incidentally, each night the French marched by our keep and our sentry released a volley of fire at his position, but since it was so dark no great battled erupted because of it.

We soon arrived in a pleasant valley.


We rode over our division's old battlefield and stared in astonishment as the only people we saw were French combat medics. One only saw a few French soldiers here and there. Their faces were as blank as ours and nobody thought about shooting. But we still went by as quickly as possible. It occurred to us that instead of going forward our men had gone backwards. Fortunately the enemy had gone off to the other side otherwise I'd be sitting in prison right now.

We went through the village of Robelmont, where the day before we had seen our infantry in position. We met a resident and asked him where our soldiers were. He was very happy to assure me that the Germans were "partis" [gone.]

We turned a corner and witnessed a comical sight. Before us swarmed between fifty and a hundred red pants [French cavalry soldiers] busily slamming their weapons against a cornerstone. Next to them were six Grenariers who appeared to be taking this band of brothers prisoner. We helped them transport the French soldiers. We found out from the Grenadiers that our troops had been on the retreat.


Later in the afternoon I reached my regiment and was quite at peace with the passing of the past twenty-four hours.

*

         Beyond Metz, outside Paris at Verdun, September 1914

Many thanks for your last two cards of the 21st and 24th. The post arrives irregularly. I received the card from the 24th 8 days before the other one. I also received the package of sweets. Many thanks. For the past eight days a cavalry division has been outside Paris. I believe Lothar has the good fortune to be part of that. He will certainly experience more there than I will here outside Verdun. The crown prince's army extends from the north to Verdun and we must wait until it quits the area. Verdun is not besieged, merely surrounded. The fortifications are too strong. It would take a tremendous amount of munitions and human lives to storm it. The occupation of Verdun would not be of any advantage to us. It's a shame that we of the First Uhlan are bottled up here and will probably see the end of the war here. There is heavy fighting around Verdun and the daily toll of human lives is high. Yesterday during an assault eight officers of the 7th Grenadiers fell.


         Outside Verdun, September 24, 1914

I have happy news for you. Yesterday I received the Iron Cross.

How are things in Lemberg? Let me give you some advice. If the Russians come, bury everything you want to see again deep in the garden or elsewhere. What you leave behind you'll never see again.

You may wonder why I put so much money aside, but after the war I'll have to buy everything new, What I brought with me is finished — lost, burned, shredded by grenades, etc. including by saddle. If I manage to get out of this war alive it will be more luck than skill.

Boredom outside Verdun

For a restless spirit like me the activity outside Verdun must be termed "boring." At first I stayed in a trench where nothing happened. Then as an ordnance officer I thought I'd experience more action. There I only cut my finger badly. I was degraded from frontline fighter to backline shirker. And it was the farthest back backline I could have possible been stationed — fifteen hundred meters behind the front.


I sat there in the mud for a week in a bomb-secured shelter. I was taken back and forth and that required great physical effort. People went back and forth, crossing and and crisscrossing through and endless number of trenches and mud holes until one finally heard the cracking sounds of battle. In those brief visits near the fighting men my feeling of uselessness went bone deep.

Men began to work underground. It was not made clear to us what it meant to build a tunnel or dig a trench. We knew the terms from a fortification instructions we had learned in war school but now this was pioneer work in which other mortals were glad not to participate. However here near Combes all busily dug. Each man had a trench shovel and a pickaxe and he exerted continual effort to dig as deep as possible. It was rather comical to have the French only five paces from our position. You could hear them talk and see their cigarette smoke. Every once in a while they would throw a piece of paper. We kept ourselves entertained despite the fact that we tossed all manner of hand grenades at each other.

Five hundred meters ahead of and five hundred meters behind the trenches there was a dense forest on the Lorraine coast


mowed back by the ceaseless bullet and grenade volleys. People wouldn't believe that a man could survive. The troops on the front lines didn't think it was as bad as the shirkers in the back.

After the walks I took mostly in the morning hours the boring portion of the day began as I acted as the telephone ordnance officer.

On my free days I busied myself with my favorite pasttime, hunting. The forest at La Chaussée offered me plentiful opportunity. While on a ride I saw sow tracks. I made it my business to find out where they came from. I set out at night. The light of the full moon and the snow aided me. With the help of my orderly in alternating shifts I build an elevated platform, which I climbed into at night. I spent many nights in the trees and looked like an icicle in the morning but in the end it was worth it. There was one particular sow which swan across the lake each night, broke into a specific spot in a potato field then swam back across the lake. I was excited to learn more about this animal so I sat on the bank of this lake. As expected the old aunt appeared around midnight to retrieve her evening meal.


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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks