August – September 1916.

Julius arrived in Berlin on August 3rd. He paid a quick visit to his father in his apartment on Friedrichstrasse, and then dashed off to see her girlfriend Leni von Steinmetz, who lived in a rather expensive apartment owned by her family on Schützenstrasse, close to the Prussian Ministry of War, where she was employed as a secretary. Leni was overjoyed by Julius’s sudden arrival in Berlin and became even happier when she heard that Julius had been posted to the Johannisthal flight school until further notice. He was to report to the commandant of the Flugplatz early next morning. Leni and Julius spent a pleasant evening by taking a walk in the Tiergarten and then eating dinner at a restaurant. The night had already fallen when Julius returned to his father’s apartment on Friedrichstrasse. The old Oberstleutnant had already retired to bed, and Julius followed his example.


The airbase at Johannisthal was bigger than Julius remembered. The field was located next to the Spree River a couple of kilometres southeast of the centre of Berlin. The Zeppelin hangars and workshops had been an impressive sight for a teenager interested in aviation already before the war, but now the field was undergoing a remarkable expansion of its facilities. The war had developed an insatiable demand for new pilots and airplanes, and Flugplatz Johannisthal aimed to satisfy that demand for its part.

Julius presented his papers to the watch at the gate and was then directed to the administrative building, which housed the commandant and his staff. The door to the office was open, so Julius stepped inside and announced his presence to the commandant. A middle-aged man with a neat mustache was sitting behind a big desk, wearing a Major’s uniform with multiple ribbon bars decorating his chest. He was Dr. Alfred Hildebrandt, one of Germany’s pre-war pioneers of aviation. Dr. Hildebrandt had multiple famous contacts all over the world, including the Wright brothers in America.

“Offizierstellvertreter Schreck, welcome to Johannisthal! As a Berliner, this must be a familiar place for you.”

“You are right, Herr Major. I spent a lot of time here before the war, enjoying the frequent air shows. They inspired me to become a pilot myself when the war broke out.”

“Well, I’m happy to hear that! It was one of the reasons why I believed it was so important to promote aviation among the German people years before this current unpleasantness happened. Air power is absolutely crucial to the success of our armies in the field – and this brings us to your presence here.” Hildebrandt had started browsing through the papers in Julius’s service file as he spoke. Julius waited for the commandant to continue.

“You have a fine record, which is why the Feldflugchef chose you as one of the men we will need to train our next generation of combat pilots for our expanding air service. This is a great opportunity for you to impart your knowledge of air combat, and flying in general, on men of lesser experience. And you will also get to fly our latest fighter planes, in order to help evaluate their characteristics before we accept them into service! How does this sound to you, Herr Schreck?” The commandant had an expectant look on his face as he gazed directly into Julius’s eyes. This made Julius somewhat nervous.

“Herr Major, I am greatly honored to have this opportunity. The thought of being able to fly new designs is particularly exciting.” Julius paused for a second, searching for the right words to continue. “However, you must know I have no experience whatsoever as an instructor.”

The commandant kept his gaze locked on Julius for a few seconds before replying.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about that! In war, one must be ready to improvise! You already have more combat experience than most of our instructors, which gives you an excellent starting point for your new job. The rest will come quite naturally, I’m sure.” The commandant spoke with a very convincing tone of voice, almost succeeding at making Julius believe he was indeed the right man for the instructor’s job. Almost. In fact, Julius would have greatly preferred to stay with his old unit at the Somme, but he kept his opinion to himself, fully aware that he had very little control over his fate in these matters.

“Well then, Herr Schreck, I will not keep you waiting. We will have a briefing after lunch at 1200 hours. This leaves you with a couple of hours to get to know your quarters and some of your new comrades too. The corporal will show you around,” the commandant said and nodded to a short but heavily built non-commissioned officer who had quietly appeared in the doorway.

Julius saluted Hildebrandt and gave his bag to the corporal. “This way, Herr Offizierstellvertreter. I will show you around the place.” Julius followed the man obediently out of the commandant’s office, wondering what the future had in store for him.

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"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