Today was a black day for the Luftstreitkräfte and for me personally. I had just returned to my office from our afternoon patrol when my telephone began to ring. I answered and was surprised to hear that it was OberstLeutnant von der Lieth-Thomsen. Without any small talk he said just three words that would forever change my life and quite possibly the Luftstreitkräfte as well. He said, "Boelcke is dead!" Forgetting myself, I exclaimed, "what did you say?" He asked me to calm myself and this time he described in detail what had happened to the great Boelcke. He went on to say, "that I was to gather my belongings and get over to Lagnicourt as quick as possible and take command of Jasta 2. Apparently, Leutnant Böhme was under suicide watch and the other men are completely devastated." I told him I would move with all haste and hung up the telephone.
The men had already gathered for the evening mess, so that saved me the trouble of having to gather them together. The noise and general rowdiness of our mess quieted as soon as I entered, I guess the men could tell by my countenance that something terrible had occurred. Manfred called from across the room, "My God man, what has happened?" I told the men to find a seat and quiet down, I have bad news to share with them. As the men settled, I took the opportunity of drinking a small brandy in hopes that it would calm my frayed nerves. Finally, the men were settled and patiently waiting for me to share my news. I came right to the point and explained how this afternoon Boelcke had fallen in a aerial engagement, but that it was caused by a collision with another pilot. I then went on to tell that I was also leaving tonight to take command of Jasta 2 because it is in disarray due to this terrible shock. I turned to Manfred and told him that as of now he was in command of Jasta 1. Manfred deserves to command a Jasta and will do a fine job, but it is a shame that it would have to happen in this manner. I said my farewells and went to pack my belongings. As I was driven away, I realized that between the time I received the call and leaving only two and half hours had passed.
As I reflect on today's horrible event, I can't help but feel that if Boelcke could fall then what hope is there for any of us. Sure, I have more victories that Boelcke but I always felt he was the better tactician. I hope that I will lead the Jasta in a manner that would have pleased him. My first task will be to help the men respond and deal with the tragedy of today and then we can work on making Jasta 2 even better.
Member and provider of banjo music for the Illustrious BOC