The Red Fighter Pilot - Webpage 9, pages 75-82

This always angered me. One gains so little pleasure from it. When you hear the explosion and see the gray-white cloud and realize you got close to the target it makes you so happy. I gestured to good Zeumer, indicating he should bank to the side a little. Meanwhile I forgot that this little apple tub had two propellers, one to the right and one to the left of my observers seat. I pointed to the approximate location where the bomb had hit — and splat! I caught my finger. Perplexed at first I then realized I had injured my little finger. Zeumer hadn't noticed.

The bomb drop had been spoiled for me. Quickly I dropped the last one and we made our way back home.

My love for the large fighter plane, which to that point had been rather mild, was seriously damaged by this bomb drop. I had to stay inside for eight days and could not fly. It was only a scratch but at least I could say with pride, "I sustained a war wound."

My First Air Battle

(September 1, 1915)

Zeumer and I would have welcomed an air battle. After all, we flew a large fighter plane. Just the name of this boat gave us such courage that we felt cheated that an enemy had not engaged us.

We flew between five and six hours a day without ever seeing an Englishman. Feeling dejected we went up one morning to resume the hunt. All at once I discovered a Farman aircraft which made its intentions clear. My heart beat in my chest as Zeumer headed towards him. I was apprehensive about how things would play out. I had never seen an air battle before and I imagined dark outcomes, as you might be imagining now, dear reader.

Before I knew it the Englishman and I were flying right past each other. At most I let off four shots but then the Englishman was suddenly behind us shooting his full ammunition load. I must say I did not sense danger because I could not imagine the end result of such a battle. We turned several times around each other until finally to our great astonishment the Englishman appeared satisfied, banked then flew off.

Past Master Boelcke, Richthofen's Instructor.

Ready for Takeoff.

I was thoroughly disappointed. So was Zeumer.

Arriving home we were in bad moods. He suggested I had shot poorly. I suggested he had not pointed me in the right direction. The long and short of it, our flight marriage, which to that point had been happy, was now on the rocks.

We examined our fuselage and established that we had been hit quite a few times.

On the same day we undertook a second flight but it occurred without event. I was very sad because I imagined things would be different in a battle squadron. I also believed that when I started to shoot the other guy would fall. I soon came to the realization that an airplance can withstand a lot and I eventually concluded that I could fire many shots and not bring down a plane.

We had never lacked in courage. Zeumer could fly as few others, and I was a fair shot. Thus we stood in a quandry. Things weren't just this way for me; they were the same for many others. The history will eventually be understood.

In the Battle of Champagne

The beautiful days in Ostend were short-lived. Soon after the Battle in Champagne blazed and we flew to the front to participate in battle with the large fighter plane. We soon noticed that our old crate really was a large airplane but not a fighter plane.

Once I flew with Osteroth, who had a smaller plane that our apple tub (the large fighter plane.) About five kilometers behind the front we encountered a Farman two-seater. He let us pass by peacefully and I saw an enemy in the air close up for the first time. Osteroth flew so closely near him that I could shoot him. The enemy had not noticed us. My guns jammed when he began to return fire. After I had emptied a hundred cartridges from my guns I couldn't believe my eyes. The enemy started spiraling down. I followed his descent and tapped Osteroth on the head. He fell, he fell and crashed into a large crater. The front of the plane stood on end with its tail in the air. I checked the map. He was five kilometers behind the current front. We had shot him down behind enemy lines.

In those days planes shot down behind enemy lines were not counted, otherwise today I would have one more on my list. But I was very pround of my success and the main thing is, the fellow was brought down. It doesn't matter if it was counted.

How I met Boelcke

At this time Zeumer got a Fokker single wing plane and I could only observe how he soared through the world alone. The Battle of Champagne raged on. The French pilots made themselves noticable. We were assigned to a fighter squadron and took the train to join it October 1, 1915. A young, unimpressive-looking young lieutenant sat at the next table in the dining car. There was no reason to notice him except for the fact that he was the only one of us to have shot down an enemy flyer. And not just one pilot but four. His name had appeared in the military report. I thought a great deal of him because of his achievements. I couldn't credit myself with having brought down an enemy yet, at least not one which was acknowledged. I wanted to find out how this Lieutenant Boelcke had done it.

So I posed the question to him, "Tell me now, how did you do it?" He laughed heartily even though I had sincerely meant it. Then he answered me, "Good God, quite easily. I fly level, aim right at him and he crashes to the ground." I shook my head and indicate that I did that too but the enemy didn't crash. The difference was he flew a Fokker and I flew a large fighter plane.

I put forth the effort to get to know this modest fellow, who seemed so crazy to me, a little better. We often played cards together, we went out for walks, and I asked him questions. Thus I came to a decision. "You must learn to fly a Fokker yourself. Things will go better for you then."

It became my intention and goal to learn how to carry the cudgel myself rather than remain an observer. Soon after I had the opportunity to go back to my old school in Champagne. After exerting great effort after twenty-five flight hours I completed my solo flight.

The First Solo flight

(October 10, 1915)

There are certain moments in life which give a unique thrill, for example, one's first solo flight.

My teacher Zeumer exclaimed to me one evening, "So, now you're going to fly off alone." I must admit it would have been best for me to answer, "I'm deeply apprehensive." However such words should never pass the lips of a defender of the fatherland. For better or worse I shrank down into the cockpit.

Once more he explained how all the controls worked in theory. I only half listend, firm in the conviction that you always forget at least half.

I taxied to the takeoff spot and gave the engine the gas. The plane reached a certain speed and without even knowing it I began to ascend. There was no scarry feeling, just a sense of daring. I was carefree. Let come what may, nothing could surprise me. Scorning death I banked deep left, cut the gas at the designated tree and waited for what would happen next. Now came the hardest part, the landing. I remembered the necessary manual operations.

I performed them mechanically and the engine reacted much differently from when Zeumer sat in the pilot's seat. I lost balance, made some false moves, and went in nose first and turned my plane into a school prop. Sadly I looked at the damage, which was soon after easily fixed. However I had to put up with the kidding for a while.

With burning passion I went up in my plane two days later and things went marvelously.

After fourteen days I could take my first test. Mr. v.T. was my examiner. I flew the prescribed course and made the required landings, which boosted my sense of pride. To my great astonishment I heard that I had failed. The only thing I could do was retake my first test later.


                              Réthel, November 2, 1915

The new aviator gloves just arrived. I can barely thank you enough for how much they please me. I am truly grateful. As you know, I have thankfully gone through a lot of changes so you certainly won't be surprised when I tell you that I intend to leave beautiful Champagne in the near future.

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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks