This has been a sad week for the Abteilung. Yesterday, I was returning from yet another photo recon mission to Verdun with Balthazar as my observer and Leutnant Fritz Engel flying another Aviatik with Leutnant Karl Deutschmann as the observer. The mission was uneventful and we saw nobody, either friendly or enemy airplanes.
I landed back at Frescaty and was climbing out of my cockpit when Balthazar said that he thought Engel was coming down much too fast. I turned around and saw Engel's plane approaching the field opposite the Zeppelin hangar. Balthazar was right - Engel's speed was too high. The Aviatik touched the field roughly, bounced up and then came down again even more roughly. Engel tried to make corrections, but it was too late and the plane turned on its nose, the propeller splintered with a loud crash and then the Aviatik was sliding on the field upside down, quickly coming to a halt near our hangars.
Cursing loudly, we left our cockpits and ran towards Engel's plane, hoping to help the men away from the wreck before it caught fire. Some mechanics were also coming, but I reached the plane first with Balthazar. What we saw was very shocking. Deutschmann had been thrown out of the cockpit and his head had been smashed between the upper wing and the field. He was wearing a helmet, but I don't think anything could have saved him from such a blow; his head was completely crushed and there was blood and brains splattered everywhere. The fuselage of the Aviatik was lying a bit on its side and we could see Engel huddled down in the cockpit. Seeing there was nothing we could do to help poor Deutschmann, we went to pull Engel out of the wreck. Miraculously, he appeared to have suffered no serious injuries, just a battered nose and a split lip.
Stretchers were brought and Engel was carried to the mess building. The mechanics stayed to make sure that the wrecked Aviatik would not suddenly caught fire. We were quite shocked by the accident, and had to drink some brandy to steel ourselves. However, our shock was nothing compared to Engel's. The poor man seemed to suffer a nervous breakdown after he realized what had happened to his friend Deutschmann. He was quite beside himself and couldn't stop crying. As nothing seemed to help, Hauptmann Stelzer finally had to sent him by car to the Festungslazarett at Metz. I hope they can aid him there. I can only imagine how he must be feeling! As terrible as it is, the crash was his fault. He came down much too fast.
I can't get Deutschmann's broken face out of my thoughts. Poor man! At least he must have died so quickly that he didn't have time to feel anything.
This war feels so real now.
"Upon my word I've had as much excitement on a car as in the air, especially since the R.F.C. have had women drivers."
James McCudden, Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps