Thanks Raine Man and Adger - I'll keep it comin' as long as people keep lookin', or until something plays out, matter of time you know. I'm not an immortal but I play one in BHHII. This boil had been festering in my head a long time and it was time to lance it an let all the puss out, hopefully a laudable puss though.
We’re on the ground again by 1430. Berthold is as elated over Jan Klein’s first success as if it had been his own. Everyone has taken some damage from the fight with the SPADs and two machines are having mechanical problems. Paul complains that his kiste isn’t climbing well enough for him to keep formation. His motor needs to be replaced but there’s no time for that now.
Dieter asks “anything to report Vize?” But Beomia is working splendidly, thanks to his and the rigger’s attentions. “Only a few holes, I don’t think anything vital.” I ask him to have the Sattler* look at the left stirrup on my rudder bar, it may be coming loose.
I had leather stirrups attached for each foot on the rudder bar so I can steer with one leg if wounded, an idea I picked up from Julius Buckler when we were at Jagdstaffelschule together.
I go over Beomia, looking to see where the holes are and pointing them out to Heinrich and Georg to patch. Three in the upper wing, two in the lower, four in the upper fuselage. I pat Beomia’s fuselage “Good girl…our friends will fix you up.”
We don’t put patches painted like cockades on our repaired bullet holes in this Staffel as many do. Berthold doesn’t like the way it looks. So these will be patched with caulk now, then painted over this evening.
The Schwarzer Mann will be busy for some time, readying our birds, so we have an early Abdendbrot** at 1730.
The cooks set out a cold collation, bread, butter, ham, cheese, sausages, pickles. A little wine and beer and some of us drink milk from the little farm the Staffel maintains nearby, so as to remain sharp when there’s a lot of action. Certainly, no heavy drinking is countenanced.
Eiserne, as is his habit after a fight, questions everyone relentlessly. He wants to know where everyone was during the actions of today.
He inquires again about the burning aircraft from the morning, specifically asking me, since I had rejoined the formation from that general direction. I simply replied that I had seen something burning but couldn’t tell what or whose it was.
“Then what were you firing at, the Armorer says you used nearly 200 rounds, were you just wasting ammunition…again?”
Offhandedly I reply, “Jawoll Herr Hauptmann, it is a waste, firing at all the Lords who were trying to climb onto the back of a Kugelfanger*** such as yourself.” I smile, knowing that it looks like an evil leer with this scar.
In his present good humor, he agreed and laughed, then went on to question someone else. But I know he still suspects that I had something to do with the RE.
Jan (Johannes Klein) is much celebrated for his first Luftsieg and he beams, especially when der Meister toasts him, praising his fighting spirit. Even though Klein is a seasoned Jagdfllieger who has been flying at the front since early this year, Eiserne calls him mein Jungtier(my cub) therefore placing some of Klein's glory onto his own person.
Klein is an Offizier-Stellvertreter, Offz, a Deputy Officer, a rank used to provide platoon level leadership without admitting a man into the commissioned ranks. They’re treated as officers in the field but are not entitled to all the privileges of a commissioned officer.
He only arrived at this Staffel from Jasta 29 on the 7th of August.
We’ll go up again this evening with as many machines as are serviceable. In the meantime, I enjoy a pipe in a big arm chair in the Kasino.
*Saddle and harness maker, two of which were assigned to all air units in 1915, this may have been reduced to one at this time. ** Evening meal, usually light. Normally served between 6 and 7 pm. *** bullet catcher
Paul, in the next chair asks me, “What are you smokeing? Horse Manure?”
“Kriegs-Tabak mischung,**It is not that bad.”
Paul is reading in an English newspaper and suddenly gets very excited. There’s an aticle about how to recover from a spin. It’s the perceived wisdom that one cannot recover from a spin with an in-line engine aircraft. But this English pilot is saying that it can be done. The trick is, that instead of pulling back on the stick, counterintuitively, you push it forward. He can’t wait to try it.
I wish him luck but have no intention of trying it myself until I see it done.
We’re in our bluebirds again by 2000 (1900 English time).*1 Eiserne leads. There are seven of us, myself, Seppl, Otto (Gerbig), Weinschenk, Schober and Paul, despite his problems keeping up.
We’ll take the same general route as before. Northwest wind, stratus at about 2500 meters. We will fly high, 5,000 meters, so I have bundled myself up and put on beauty cream.** Though it’s still a nice 20 degrees it will be well below zero at that height.
We take off all together again. I take number three position on Berthold’s right, Seppl is on his left. The wind shifts and a cross wind pushes hard. I come very close to der Eiserne as we lift off the ground. I wish he would tire of this foolishness.
Paul struggles to keep up.
As we fly over the flooded areas, the Flak is very heavy and we’re followed from below by a discharge of ammunition that could have been put to a worthier cause. Berthold leads us through, watching the flashes of the shots, then immediately making an unexpected turn or change in elevation. Very nerve-wracking in this close formation.
He always says “You can get through the heaviest anti-aircraft fire without getting hit. You just have to pay attention and think like the artillery crews who are shooting at you from below.”*** I see at least two pieces of shrapnel rip through Beomia’s wings.
Finally, over Wieltje we see four FEs and approach them. They change formation to their typical defensive circle. A formation of ten to a dozen single seaters are now seen above them and we retire. There will be no attack. Even der Eiserne isn’t rash enough for such a roll of the dice. The only action here is long range observer fire from the Gitterschwanz**** directed at poor struggling Strähle .
* German time is one hour ahead of the time used by the Entente forces at this time, so 10 pm. The times used will be the same from 18 Sep to 5 Oct 1917, then back to an hour ahead on 6 October 1917. This is due to a different system for daylight savings time which was introduced in 1916 by Germany to limit conserve energy and provide more daylight hours. The Allied countries followed adopting the same policy shortly thereafter.
**anti-frost ointment, “Memoirs of German Pilots in the First World War, Volume 1,” Adolf Ritter von Tutschek, translated by Jason Crouthamel. Any grease would work just as well.
***Adapted from description written by Adolf Ritter von Tutschek in his memoir. “Memoirs of German Pilots in the First World War, Volume 1,” translated by Jason Crouthamel.
**** Lattice tail; term used for the pusher type aircraft. Gitterrumpf was also used, meaning lattice hull.
It’s 2130 when we land, then while we wait for Paul to make it back on his last drop of fuel, der Eiserne tersely orders “you B@$t@&ds” to be ready to take off by 0700 and stalks off. The elation of the earlier part of the day is gone. It’s obvious that he’s exhausted and in pain, and then when we weren’t able to sink our teeth into the FEs It must have put his nose severely out of joint.
I change into an old set of Drillichanzug* and go out to the hangars. Gerbig and I are often mistaken for mechanics by new arrivals.
We pilots all spend much of rest of the evening refilling our ammunition belts. Most of my ammunition use was from my right gun, which is my aiming gun. I put incendiaries only in this gun, every fourth round. I also partially break down my MGs to clean and oil them as much as possible myself, as is always my custom, leaving them in place so as not to change their sighting. The left MG is set to converge with the aiming gun at 50 meters.
Seppl, obsessed with engines, is pestering poor Gefr. Johann Rief, his fitter and the Hermann Magot who is acting as Werkmeister** about some point of fine tuning. Otto (Gerbig) joins in the discussion, wearing his greasy white work coveralls.
Eiserne comes in to refill his ammunition as well, despite the paperwork war he still has to fight for our Staffel and now the other three Staffels of the Gruppe as well. He expects a great deal of his pilots but nothing that he doesn’t do himself.
He’s very critical of Paul (Strähle) for his straggling and for the broken levers of his MGs, not taking any excuses and takes a bite out of me for trying to “ram” him during our takeoff. “If you want to get rid of me you will have to find a better method you Scherge.”***
He even manages to dampen the spirits of his favorite, our usually good-humored Rheinlander. Still Seppl worships the man.
Thankfully he doesn’t stay long. I help Heinrich and Georg until about 2300 before collapsing on my bed with my clothing still on. I’m tired, but I always dread the night.
*Technical or Engineering officer which can be filled by either an officer on an NCO. ** Drill suit, a prewar work uniform used for drill and working gear made of white canvas. *** Thug
The sirens go off sometime during the night and some bombs evidently fall nearby. I don’t bother to get out of bed.
I often dream of dead comrades, lovers, faithful animals and of the blood and pain and fear I’ve experienced, with the associated guilt, all through these centuries. Waking up in a sweat, to pace about the room for a while, have a little of my remaining Martell (cognac). which helps me manage to eventually achieve a light sleep again, if I’m lucky.
Tonight is different. I dream of the future. I dream of Paul Strähle, but not the one I saw and spoke to today. This is Paul as an old man and I am interviewing him to record his memories, including a detailed description of the personality of many of the members of the Jagdstaffeln in which he served.
He is sitting in his den with the rudder of a French Nieuport 17 behind him, the one which now hangs in the Kasino. He speaks a great deal about Rudolf Berhold, whom he called his old boss and der Eiserne der deutschen Jagdflieger.
“He flew from the beginning of the war, almost to the end, won the Blauer Max, brought down forty-four of the enemy, crashed and was shot down many times and still flew, even with a paralyzed arm.”
Then this old Herr Strähle says, “You know, Felix has returned to Germany.”
“I don’t know very much about him. I did not know he survived the war.”
“Oh yes, he survived, he always survived. That is why his Spitzname* was Glücklicher Felix. He was always the lucky one. He was a bit of a legend among us. He should have died many times.”
“What about him? He was Berthold’s wingman most of the time, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, he was with der Eiserne in FA23, then followed him to Jasta 14, 18 and 15, all through the war. Berthold always wanted him with him when he flew a mission. He believed Felix’s luck multiplied his own. It was on one of the flights Felix could not go on that Berthold crashed and was so badly hurt that last time.”
“So, he left the country after the war?"
“Not right away, he followed Berthold when he started the Eiserne Schar Bertold ** after the war and was with him in 1920 at the end.”
Then he leaned forward and said in a low voice, “After that he was involved with Seppl, you know.”
“Yes…in the arms trade. He vanished sometime in the 1930s, then reappeared in the 1950s. He came to the last meeting of the ‘Alt Adler.’*** I have spoken to him several times in this past year. He cannot be reached by telephone. If he calls it is from a different place each time. He is like that. I have an address he has mail sent to, if you want to try to contact him. He is very secretive and does not like attention. But I think he will talk to you if you tell him you want to know about Berthold. He was a good comrade but a little, shall we say, shady, that’s why Berthold called him mein Scherge. He can seem a little strange sometimes.”
“If I hear from him in the meanwhile, I will speak to him about you.”
“Perhaps, also, send him the Sanke card you showed me of Berthold and one of his dogs. He always had a great fondness for the dogs we all had about us in the Staffeln.”
* nickname, Lucky Felix, earned early in Eber’s flying career as a two-seater pilot in FA23 along with Berthold. This is rather like saying lucky guy. The meaning of the name Felix is lucky.
*** Iron Troop Berthold
*** Gemeinschaft der Alten Adler – Society of the Old Eagles - an association WW1 and pre-war aviators
Paul dissolved and the dream then shifted to another time and place; I’m walking into the Aviation Hall of the Duetches Museum in Munich. I see an elderly man with his back to me, looking at the display of the red Fokker triplane. The man is about medium height, probably he was once a bit taller but now he is stooped. He is wearing an old, ill-fitting gray suit which looks as if the owner whom it had once fit had shrunk, with a hat of the same color, in the style of the 1930s and 40s. He is carrying a cane, which I never see him actually use, in one hand. He has a photo album in the other hand.
Certain that this is my man, although there are no known photographs of him, I approach him. “Herr Eber?”
He turns toward me, greeting me in the Bavarian fashion, “grüss gott.” He does not look like the ninety-three-year-old man I was expecting. He is supposed to have been born in 1883.
Although his face is weather beaten, scarred and deeply tanned, it does not have the wrinkles and spots of an elderly man. Neither is there any of that rheumyness in his eyes which comes with age.
His nose is prominent and has been broken many times. A large, very old scar which runs along his right cheek and cuts across his upper lip giving him an amused, and slightly sinister appearance and there is something unsettling about the gray-blue eyes behind his spectacles.
His close-cropped hair is gray, as is the short beard. This, with his spectacles, and of course, his dress, are the only things that hint at any great age. Perhaps the little information that exists on him is wrong and he’s younger. But he would still have to be at least in his late seventies.
“Grüss gott, Herr Eber.” He puts the cane in the crook of his arm and we shake hands. His grip is firm, and again, although tanned, with knuckles that are very much scarred, his hand, like his face, does not have the look of an old man’s hand.
“Thank you for meeting with me.”
“It is no problem, Paul spoke well of you, I am happy to help you with your project. The birdmen of the war should be remembered.”
His accent is strange, but then there were many old dialects and accents that have disappeared over the last seventy years and he’s been away for some decades.
He turns back to the triplane. “I like to see the old crates now and again. I did not like the DR1, I never liked rotaries. Some of the boys liked them, it was good in a climb but this is an acrobat’s plane and I was never an acrobat.”
“I liked the Albatros and Pfalz, even if it was a bit slow, and of course, the DVII. Despite its reputation and quirks, I liked the Walfisch* as well.” We stroll over to the Rumpler, then to the Fokker DVII display.
He speaks about the various faults and merits of the different types he flew. I simply listen, only asking a few questions from time to time, as is my usual method during the first part of an interview. It’s unfortunate that he refused to allow me to record any of this and walking around while trying to take notes is not an option. The technical aspects of the aircraft were never of a great deal of interest to me but my friend Peter would have been very much interested in what he has to say.
“The old Kahnen (barges) were dangerous, I would not go up in such a thing now, but it was such a relief to be up in the clean air after the trenches with their mud, rats, and lice. We had all the advantages of the Etappenschweine**. One had a roof over one’s head, a bed instead of mudhole to sleep in, plenty of food and Flliegerwetter.***”
“In 1915, when I started flying, it was Spazierenfliegen. **** One got shot at from time to time and there was the Flak, but that was no problem. Then the Baguettes (the French) began to put machine guns on their maschinen and all that changed.”
“Flying was a joy most of the time, no matter the machine, but when I flew the Walfisch, that was when I first formed a personal bond with the machine. I no longer had the feeling I was sitting in a Flugzeug and steering it, but it was as if there were an understanding between us. It is like the bond between a horse and rider if you do not just let yourself be carried by your mount but try to communicate your wishes and so completely merge with the horse that it immediately feels what its’ rider wants. Both have full understanding and trust in each other, they are moved by one will.”
After strolling about and looking at a few other displays, Herr Eber suggests we go to the small coffee shop in the museum and have some coffee and Kuchen (cake).
* Roland CII
** reserve-lines hogs
*** Pilot’s weather – weather too bad for flying – usually time off and sleeping in
The Fokker Dr1 display at the Duetches Museum as it appeared when I visited there as an American service member in the 1970s.
At the table, I take the note pad from my briefcase. He produces a silver flask out of his inside coat pocket and pours a small amount of whiskey into his coffee. He then offers it to me. “Warum nicht?” (why not?) I put a few drops in mine as well. We then raise our cups, “prost.”
The first thing he tells me is very surprising. He says that he has read my articles in the Cross and Cockade and the Cross and Cockade International as well as those of some of my friends. When I contacted him, he knew immediately who I was and had been looking forward to meeting me. Of course, he has also spoken to Herr Strähle about me in a later phone call as well.
Having finished his Kuchen, he lights an R6 cigarette with a gold plated lighter covered with small fleur de lis. There is no restriction on smoking in a restaurant in the 1980s. He offers me one of the cigarettes, which I refused, and he lays the cigarettes and lighter on the table.
He notices me looking at the lighter and says, “Legion Estrangere.” Though I’m curious I don’t inquire further as it may prove to be a diversion from the purpose of our meeting.
He shows me his photographs and I make notes on what he says about them. There were about thirty of them, most of which are duplicates of others I have seen and copied. What is most valuable about them are his notations on the back of these, places, dates, the occasion, names, serial numbers, colors, even the names of the dogs in the pictures. They are as detailed as I would have made them…strange.
The first photo is of a lineup of the Albatros DIII OAW of Jagdstaffel 18. The first Albatros is a familiar one, often seen in pictures of Jastas 15 and 18. It bore a horse shoe and clover leaf painted on its side. The pilot of this aircraft, up to this point, has never been identified. This was the personal marking used by Felix. Herr Strähle had not mentioned this when I showed photographs of aircraft with this marking to him.
This photograph keeps drawing my attention. It’s if there’s something I’m supposed to remember about it and it’s just on the edge of my mind, but I cannot grasp it.
The notations on the back indicated that the photograph was taken on August 16th 1917 at Harlebecke.
I WILL NOT BE POSTING TOMORROW. I WILL RESUME ON SATURDAY
Bart comes through, pounding on the doors of all the NCO’s. We have no Burschen as the officers do, so Berthold sends Bart down to wake us up.
I drift off again and Paul is speaking to me about der Eiserne. Then he looks at me and says “Guadn moing Spezi!”* Awake now I see that it's Bart sticking his ugly head in the door to make sure I’m getting up.
No nice cup of tea and a pitcher of hot water for us. We do for ourselves. I prefer it this way, one can become too soft.
I use my German safety razor , with cold water because I’m too lazy to go fetch hot. The case has a picture of our Kaiser and Gott strafe England (God punish England) emblazoned across the front. I may have to go back to the straight razor soon because it’s difficult to get the blades now.
I have an American Gillette, but the blades needed are different from the German made ones. Occasionally I‘ve gotten some Gillette blades, perhaps next time I’m out shopping for the Offizier zbV I’ll use backdoor methods to see what I can find.
There are Kartoffelpfannkuchen (potato pancakes), scrambled eggs and Bratwurst for breakfast, along with real coffee, thanks to my recent foraging operations. I try to eat sparingly since we will be going up in less than an hour. But it's so very good. What would I be eating if I were still an Frontswein?** I don't wish to think about it.
We’re introduced to two new members of our band, Oblt Harald Auffarth and Ltn Siegfried Keller, fresh from Jagdstaffelschule.
Auffarth seems a serious fellow, he looks older than his twenty-one years. He was an observer in FAA 266 and wears the Eisernes Kreuz erster Klass on his tunic along with his observer’s badge. Neither of them wears the pilot’s badge as it now requires 40 combat flights.
Keller is younger, perhaps twenty. Der Eiserne personally selected them from the latest hatchlings from Valenciennes. He says he can smell a good fighter pilot and his instincts are usually right.
Lack of sleep is starting to take its toll, I linger awhile over my coffee and one of my Turkish cigarettes, losing myself in a revery about many such mornings, mornings before battle. Berthold sits at the end of the table, smoking a cigar and looking at some papers. Paul sits across from me.
I notice with a start that Berthold and Paul are both staring at me. I was muttering to myself and I don’t know what language I was speaking. Probably Latin or Old Saxon, those are the languages in which most of my thoughts are framed. They say nothing as I rise from the table and leave. They probably think little of it, everyone has their odd ticks after they’ve been at the front awhile and both are aware that I speak a number of languages.
* good morning, sweetheart in Bavarian dialect. Spezi is the form for males, Spaztl when addressing a female.
**Frontswein (front swein or hog) a front line soldier usually those with the will to fight somewhat ironic as opposed to Etappenswein (rear swein or hog).
During the night, the English have been bombing in the area. The ones who attacked us missed the airfield entirely. They or the French set fire to the railway station at Kortemarck, east of Dixmude. They’re reported to be out again this morning. It is these we will be hunting.
No clouds, wind Northwest. It’s expected to be 22 degrees today (Celsius, about 72 Fahrenheit). With such good weather we can expect lively aerial activity over the front.
There will be nine of us, Oblts Berthold and Jahns, Ltns Veltjens, Weinschenk, Schober, and Strähle, Otto Gerbig, myself and Jan Klein.
Vater Turck will take the Hasen on a tour of the area to familiarize them with the landmarks and evaluate their flying skills . We take off singly this morning at ten minutes after seven.
Oblt Jahns turns back with mechanical problems almost immediately.
We see the black dots of anti-aircraft bursts as we circle to gain altitude. Der Meister leads us toward the nearest of these groups of black smudges, in the direction of Menen. Poor Paul can’t keep up again and eventually falls out of the formation.
East of Menen three REs are returning home through the shrapnel bursts 1,000 meters below us. Berthold, Veltjens and Klein dive on them head on and I follow der Eiserne in a wild Affenfahrt,* Beomia screaming through her wires like a Valkyrae.
The REs aren’t able to lift their noses enough to fire on their attackers but our red beaked Albatrosn receive warm greetings from Herr Franz as we flash below them. Berthold and one of the Britishers almost collide in the fighting after the initial attack. All three of our intended victims manage to dive away, and so we reform.
Nearer the lines two Sopwith Triplanes can be seen against the pockmarked landscape at low altitude, doubtless returning home after a fight. We have the advantages of height, numbers, the wind is more in our favor and they’re still within our territory, leichte beute .(easy meat) As we attack, they turn and climb to meet us. We’re surprised to find these are some of the tripes mounting two MGs. These boys in blue* are skilled and aggressive frontfliegern and our kisten (crates) are no match for theirs. I smell the castor oil as a brown blur flashes by me, then uses the superior lift of his three wings and powerful rotary to rise out of my reach as if he were on a lift. They put holes in most of us, then simply leave. There is no way for us to catch them.
Eiserne is boiling mad when we touch the grass at 0830 and curses us all, saying it was the worst performance he has ever seen. “Each of you is no more than a Depp,* not good enough to ein Blumentopf gewinnen.* He, of course, has done no better than the rest of us, which is what he is actually angry about.
* derogatory term referring to ineptitude or lack of intelligence
Hello Pol, glad your enjoying. Actually having my coffee while I'm posting. It's 5:45 here.
Pairs of us take our birds up again in turns between flights to either fire at practice targets on the ground or do mock combat with one another. In this way only two aircraft are unavailable for any emergency that may arise.
Usually the more experienced are paired with the less so. The hasen will have three of these practice sessions to one for us alt hasen. This was Berthold’s training method in Jasta 14. He takes his turn with this as with everything else. I pity the poor fool that gets paired with that aggressive B@$!^*d.
This morning it is Runge and Auffarth. We stand around smoking and watching them attack each other.
Paul tells us that, after he dropped out, he fired on a group of two-seaters but had no success. His motor was just not good enough to keep up the pursuit. He received a hole in his tail section for his trouble. Privately, he later told me that his guns jammed again.
This would be a serious problem if der Eiserne were to learn of it. He will accept jammed guns once, maybe twice, but after the third time the offender is out of the Staffel and he’ll try to see to it that the pilot is out of the air service altogether.
This is unlikely with Paul, since he has seven Luftsieg to his credit and has, only this month, received the Hohenzollern, the ribbon of which he wears on his tunic at this moment. But certainly, der feuerspeinde Berg, (the volcano) would make his life as miserable as possible.
I suggested that, since we are, after all, taking such great care with our ammunition, it has to be his guns. He should request they be replaced as they’re probably just worn out.
Strähle and I have become surprisingly fast friends, despite the difference in rank, in the short time since I ‘ve come to the Staffel. He’s a Swabian from Schorndorff in Württemberg, a town in which I’ve spent a certain amount of time in the last few decades or so. Of course he would have been a small child at that time and I have to lie about the date. But there is no one particular thing that we have in common.
It’s a strange thing about the people you meet when you’ve lived as long as I have. There seem to be only a certain number of basic types and almost without exception, people fit into one of these categories. It’s only in the details and their circumstances that they differ. I’m seldom wrong in my judgment.
It often seems as though I meet the same people over and over again, men and women. I feel I know them when I see them for the first time. There’s a sort of mutual Deja vu. This was how it was with Paul and I.
After Beomia was painted blue and red, I helped Paul and his ground crew to finish up his own. It was at my suggestion he overpainted his battle ax personal marking, moving it and giving it the curved handle. This was the design I favored for my throwing axes when I lived and fought with the Sahson* so long ago.
When we were done, I took a picture of Paul and the Brüder mit öligen Fingern (Oily fingered brethren) who were helping him with the painting in front of his beautiful red beaked bluebird.