Splendid reports everybody! It's going to take a while to read them all properly.
Here's the latest from Julius Schreck...
15. A NEW OPPORTUNITY
High Noon, 21 July 1916. Southeast of Arras.
The Blériot two-seater was desperately trying to get away from Julius’s Fokker E.IV, but it was too slow even for the now obsolete Eindecker. The British pilot attempted to maneuver his machine to give his awkwardly placed observer a chance to shoot at Julius, but the young German aviator was not so easily fooled. He waited until the two-seater filled up his gunsight and then opened fire. The twin Spandaus barked mercilessly, shooting bullet after bullet at the helpless two-seater. Then the nose of the British plane suddenly burst into flames. The fire quickly spread along the fuselage, engulfing first the observer and then the pilot. The Blériot went into a deep dive, which was too much for its wings to bear. Julius saw the enemy machine disintegrate in the air. Flaming debris rained down on a field near Arras. Among the falling pieces, Julius could see the ragdoll-like bodies of the British airmen.
It was his victory number four.
Bertincourt field, Midnight, 21 July, 1916.
The pilots of KEK Bertincourt had gathered in the living room of the chateau that served as both their home and headquarters. Despite the confirmation of Julius’s victory earlier in the day, the mood among the aviators was now glum. Hauptmann Bohnstedt, the commanding officer of FFA 32, the parent unit of KEK Bertincourt, had just delivered them devastating news about two of their pilots.
“The information I have is still sketchy, but this is what we know right now. Earlier this evening, Leutnant Parschau engaged a formation of English machines near Grévillers. Unfortunately, he was wounded in the chest by a bullet but still managed to land his Halberstadt safely on a field. He was then taken to a field hospital at Bapaume, where he perished on the operating table a few hours ago.”
Bohnstedt paused for a moment before continuing. The room was completely silent.
“Sadly, this was not all. The crashed plane of Leutnant Schramm was found near Grévillers. Schramm had been killed in the crash. We do not know whether he was shot down by the English or got hit by anti-aircraft fire.” Bohnstedt sighed. “I don’t have to tell you that this has been a grim day for all of us. But we all know these things happen in war. We must now redouble our efforts and avenge the deaths of our comrades by shooting down even more enemy machines – just like Offizierstellvertreter Schreck already did today!” Bohnstedt tried hard to sound inspiring, but he didn’t quite succeed. Nobody spoke a word, and Bohnstedt fell silent himself.
As Julius retired to his room in the early hours of July 22nd, he was still stunned by the day’s events.
From triumph to despair in a matter of hours! Otto Parschau, the mentor of Boelcke and Immelmann! And Otto’s friend Schramm, both on the same day! Good God, will any of us make it through this bloody war alive?!
There was no answer to that question. Thankfully, Julius was so exhausted that the oblivion of sleep came quickly.
The war did not care about the deaths of two men. It went on according to the schedule of the generals, business as usual. So did the pilots of KEK Bertincourt, with a grim determination to triumph against the odds of superior enemy numbers. However, the German Fliegertruppen simply did not have enough modern planes available to them to put a stop to the combined Anglo-French air operations supporting the Somme offensive on the ground. By August 1916, it had become evident that the Entente powers had won air superiority on the Western Front.
On August 1st, Julius was ordered to see Hauptmann Bohnstedt. As he entered the commander’s office, he had no idea what to expect from this sudden briefing.
Bohnstedt was standing next to the window with hands behind his back. He had a tired look on his face. He always looks exhausted now, Julius thought.
“Offizierstellvertreter Schreck, I will get straight to the point. According to an order by Chef des Feldflugwesens, you are hereby transferred to Flugplatz Johannisthal in Berlin, effective immediately. You will depart as soon as we get the paperwork in order.”
Julius was taken aback by this sudden news. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.
Bohnstedt gave Julius a friendly smile. “You look like a fish on dry land! I know this is unexpected, but orders are orders. Major Thomsen personally chose you for this duty. I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do about it, as much as I’d like to keep you here with us.”
Julius had recovered from the shock. “Herr Hauptmann, but why? We need all the pilots here on the Somme! Surely the headquarters must know how difficult our situation is!”
“They have assured me that they are fully aware of it and are making preparations for a change. New airplanes – very promising airplanes – are about to be introduced to our service soon. And we also need to form new units to counter the growing enemy strength. Undoubtedly, they took us by surprise on the Somme. We mustn’t let that happen ever again!” Bohnstedt paused for a while to let his words sink in. Then he continued.
“This will be a great opportunity for you. Not every pilot gets a chance to fly our latest designs at Johannisthal! You will also share your combat experience there for the benefit of other, less experienced pilots. This is vital work in support of our war effort, and I expect you will not disappoint your comrades!”
Julius pondered the words of Bohnstedt before he answered. “Herr Hauptmann, I understand. I will do my best at Johannisthal.”
“Excellent! You have my full confidence.” Bohnstedt approached Julius and then shook his hand.
“Things may be looking desperate for now, but that will soon change. Mark my words!”
Later that day, an Aviatik two-seater was assigned to transport Julius to the army aviation park from which he would continue to Berlin by train. Gustav Leffers, Julius’s old comrade, volunteered to fly the Aviatik. As the old two-seater slowly climbed higher in the warm summer air, Julius watched the familiar fields of Bertincourt disappear in the distance. He thought about that day in January when he had first arrived at Bertincourt. It felt like it had happened to somebody else entirely, in another time and place. Without a doubt the months he had spent at Bertincourt had changed him forever.
Julius was convinced another major change was about to take place in his life.
"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