“This war, like the next war, is a war to end war.”
- David Lloyd George (1916)
Early February, 1916.
Julius and the other pilots and observers of Feldflieger-Abteilung 32 were sitting in the living room of the brick building which was used to house the flying crews at Bertincourt. It was already dark outside and all the flights of the day had been completed successfully without casualties. Now the men could relax a little before retiring to their beds. The room was somewhat cramped for so many people, but it was comfortably furnished with sofas and a big table in the middle, suitable for playing cards, which was one of their most popular hobbies. Julius had received a letter from Leni, and was trying to read it among the rather noisy crowd. His attempt was suddenly interrupted by Offizierstellvertreter Martin Zander who had noticed the opened envelope and picked it up to look at the names written on it.
“Leni von Steinmetz, Berlin… She wouldn’t happen to be of the Steinmetz family? The one with more than a few generals in their ranks?” Zander held the envelope and gave a curious look at Julius.
“Well, yes, as a matter of fact, she is. Her father is a general in the Prussian army.” Julius lowered the letter he was reading, mildly annoyed by Zander’s question.
Zander slapped his thigh and let out a shrill whistle. “The general’s daughter! Boys, Julius is moving up in life! That’s quite the catch! Is she pretty?”
Now Julius felt even more annoyed. “She’s not a catch, and yes, she’s pretty. Please don’t talk of her like that.”
Zander grinned and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Don’t take it so seriously, Julius. I had no idea you were such a ladies’ man! I bet you could teach us valuable lessons on how to court the daughters of Prussian generals!”
Feeling insulted, Julius was about to say something uncharacteristically nasty to Zander, but their argument was then nipped in the bud by the good-mannered Leutnant Leffers. “Don’t push your luck too far, Martin. Otherwise Julius will probably challenge you to a duel and then Hauptmann Viebig will have to find another pilot to fly your Fokker.” Zander laughed and patted Julius on the shoulder. Julius rolled his eyes and returned to his letter.
Oberleutnant Weber, who often flew as Julius’s observer, then spoke. “I heard from my cousin serving in the General Staff’s transport section at Metz that there’s been a remarkable increase in heavy traffic down there in Elsass. Big guns and ammunition are being transported in numbers he hasn’t seen since the summer of 1914! What else could it mean but a new offensive in the West?”
“It could mean your cousin talks too much”, Leffers said with a wry smile. “I suppose a new push is possible, but personally I think the war will be decided in the East. Hindenburg is driving the Russians back there. No such movement has happened in the West in over a year now.”
Weber turned to Julius. “Your father works in the War Ministry. Do you know anything about a new offensive in the West?”
Julius looked up from his letter. “No, I don’t. Besides, my father would never tell me anything like that. He takes the rules very seriously.”
“Smart man! Army rumours are army rumours, no use worrying about them too much.” Leffers leaned forward in his chair and lit his pipe. Tasting the smoke, he continued. “If there is going to be a push, we will know soon enough. No modern military offensive can be carried out without air support!”
The conversation then drifted on to other matters and Julius was finally able to finish reading Leni’s letter. It was business as usual in the capital, with Julius’s father cracking the whip at the Ministry. Leni was worried about the food situation in the city, though the Ministry employees were in a better place than ordinary Berliners.
Julius would have welcomed an offensive, if it meant a quicker end to the war.
"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