1i]Vater[/i] Turck leads this flight, der Eiserne has other matters he must attend to.
As Kommandeur of the Jagdgruppe, as soon as Berthold returns from a flight, he has to be in his office, fighting the paperwork war. At times he must go directly to the Staffel or Headquarters with which he's having a problem to settle the matter in person. Even without his constant pain he would be under severe strain.
Runge and Paul are finished with their training exercise in time to have their machines ready, so we are Nine in the, Vater Turck, Seppl, Paul, Weinschenk, Jan, Runge, Otto, Keller and myself, flying Jahn's machine with the Hakenkreuz insignia, another good luck symbol.
j Jahns is not featured as an ace by WOFF. For his skin I used a Personal skin from my Mod; off_Ald_DIII_OAW_ace_t_Jasta 18 1917_Personal_Hakenkreuz
The wind is from the southwest, cumulus clouds are developing but it’s still clear in our area.
As we leave the ground at 1140 we look like a string of brightly colored beads, taking off singly but forming up in the tight formation [b]der Eiserne[/b] requires. Vater will catch hell otherwise.
There are bombers over Kortrijk (Courtrai) but they're too high for us to reach.
There’s much less Flak over Ypres this time and less air activity. We pursue a lone SPAD in the direction of Ypres but our birds are no match for the speed of its 150 horse power V8.
Paul and Runge only managed to throw away a few of their bullets at it. They’ll hear about that from der Eiserne, I have no doubt.
There’s time for two more pairs to practice air fighting and target shooting before the next combat flight. Berthold comes out to watch the Oberleutnants Auffarth and Vater Turck. When they land, he has complementary things to say to Auffarth but says nothing to Vater.
After looking over Beomia with Georg and Heinrich, I pat her and tell her I will see her again this evening. I should exercise, but I simply have to sleep. It’s easier for me to rest during the day, when there’s activity around me. Nothing haunts me as it does in the quiet of the night. I’m completely unconscious for nearly two hours and wake up much better for the rest.
Abendbrot is at 1730. I eat very little and drink only milk to avoid the discomfort and possible problems a full stomach can produce in the air. Berhold is particularly charming to the new birds, his medication must be working well.
We are to be ready to fly again at 1900. This time der Eiserne will lead..
Available for this flight are der Eiserne, Oblt Turck, Ltns Veltjens, Schober, Wienschenk, Klein, Offz Gerbig, myself and our newest members Oblt Auffarth and Ltn Keller, taking their first combat flight as a Jagdflieger. They’re to stay out of any fighting, and Vater Turck will watch over our häschen,or as der Eiserne says in his Franconian dialect, Hosn.
Berthold is worked up and angry now, and as usual cursing at everyone and everything. “Remember that accomplishment is born only out of inner joy! God is with us, trust in him! It is sweet and honorable to die for the fatherland!” And more of his, sometimes inane, exhortations. He really is quite worked up this evening. He hasn’t added to his tally in some time, perhaps this is eating at him, or it’s the drugs.*
Strong southwest wind that shifts around quite a bit, we will take off singly rather than as a group because of the shifting wind. Stratus clouds at 3,000 meters and hazy.
We’re in the air at 1930 and forming up.
* Berthold was in constant pain at this point from his frequent crashes and wounds. It has been said that he was being given morphine and that was the cause of his towering rages over a nothing and then in the next instant, ecstatic over something equally trivial. It was actually cocaine that he was using. He became more and more unpredictable as time went on, one never knew whether he would find him elated or encounter an outburst of temper and fits of loud swearing. The men respected him still but it was much harder for them to love him.
North of Houthulst Wood, a group of REs are harassing our forward positions, protected by a half dozen Napoleons (Nieuports). I and the others occupy the Napoleons while der Eiserne attacks the REs, Schober and Klein with him. Their only achievement is to receive a number of holes in their machines. But the REs did leave the infantry alone and go home. This is the most important thing.
Near Staden der Meister allows Paul and Seppl to drop out of the formation to attack five SPADs below us. Then we were surprised by another ten to twelve single seaters who came down on us from above, Nieuports and Nauticals.*
Paul becomes involved in a single combat with an Englishman who is so good that he believes himself engaged with Captain Bishop, the English Richthofen.
Realizing he was outmatched; Paul tries his spin. He goes down vertically at full throttle to escape the Englishman’s accurate fire.
Seppl sees him going down and thinks he has been hit, The machine is going end over end, completely out of control.
It’s nearly 2300 when we land with our last drop of fuel. Seppl reports seeing Paul go down and believes him shot down. But no more than ten minutes later we hear an Albatros sputtering, running on fuel vapor, coming straight in without circling the field.
His machine comes to a stop halfway down the field and everyone who has legs run to the scene, thinking he’s injured, but he jumps out laughing, hopping up and down and yelling, telling us that he has “performed the first trudeln* in an Albatros.”
He tells us “I must have been going 265 kilometers per hour!** I thought the wings would break off! All controls were completely slack! I pushed the stick to the right and forward, and my bird came out! It came right out of the spin, completely undamaged!”
“The SPAD pursued me again at once when he saw me recover, but I was too far ahead and it was getting dark, he gave up.”
We go to the hangars to refill our ammunition, discuss our machines and MGs with the Schwarzer Mann and the armorer.
** 165 mph. According to the editors of Cross and Cockade Vol 11 Number 4 the speed of 165 mph would have to be incorrect, although it was probably his perception that he was going at greater speed than he was. In a spin the aircraft is stalled and the speed will not build up above the stalling speed. The fact that the controls were slack confirms that the aircraft was indeed in a spin and not in a spiral dive.
In the Kasino this evening, everyone is excited and talking endlessly about Paul’s spin. They cannot wait to attempt it themselves. Berthold is particularly interested in it as it’s a new tactic. He questions Paul intensely and asks to see the article about it. He’ll write up a report to Kofl 4.* for distribution throughout the air service. A new tactic, originating from his Jagdgruppe will be quite a feather in his already heavily plumed cap. He’ll try it himself before he sends the report, of course.
I tease Paul, calling him Herr schwindelig** but I’m very pleased for him. He took a tremendous chance with his life and came out the winner…this time.
I sit in an armchair with a colorful floral pattern and have a pipe, half listening to the same record playing over and over on the gramophone, while reading the Kregszeitung der 4. Armee*** It’s full of articles on our duty to sacrifice ourselves for the Heimat**** and how God’s fondest wish is that Germany wins this war against the perfidious French and British and the uncivilized Russians.
* Kommandeur der Fliegertuppe 4. Armee
** Mr dizzy
*** 4th Army newspaper
***** Heimat – literally, home town, used to refer to the home front. More familiar than saying the Fatherland. It means the people you want to protect, parents, wives, children, your own home town.
Evidently the Kaiser and God have a very special and intimate relationship. Jehovah is the god of the Germans it seems and he will continue to prefer a German victory as long as front soldiers as well as civilians at home display the prescribed faith and piety.
We are instructed that, although hatred is not pleasing to God, heiliger Hass (holy hatred) of the enemy is perfectly justified in his eyes.
There are some tips for the men in the trenches and a few cartoons, the relevance of which I don’t fully understand or care about. The paper will be good for cleaning glass or soaking up oil, or perhaps packing material and is always good for starting a fire.
Der Kregszeitung, is quite wrong, no God cares who wins any war. War is, in fact, the real god men worship. On the one hand, war is really just organized murder for the profit, vanity and glory of those who rule. On the other, it entertains the gods and bloats Mars on the blood of its sacrificial victims. He must be truly drunk on blood by now, what a feast the last few years have been for him.
It’s always been the fate of humanity that the son cannot draw on his father’s experience. He has to gather his own experiences, and so he must suffer in person all the disillusionments and heartbreaks, all the injuries and losses. He is acquainted with only his own contemporary affairs; of the past he knows but little, of the future nothing.
And so, I have seen generation after generation go to war. They all believe they will win and they all, individually believe they will survive no matter how many others perish.
Optimists believe in progress. I wish they were right, but since the beginning of the world there have always been wars. As the technology improves, each war assumes more horrible form and as the world is more thickly populated than in olden times, Mars demands a larger number of victims.
Vater, in his dashing Hussar uniform, comes in with his shaggy black Newfoundland, Max.* The dog comes over to me and sniffs in his usual proper and dignified manner to see if I have something for him. I always do. He takes his Brötchen gingerly in his teeth and goes off to a corner with it.
Keller is quiet among us alte hasen,** but Auffarth, due to his rank and experience is more comfortable. He makes an effort to treat us NCO pilots as equals, but it doesn’t come off well. This is the custom in most Staffels and Berthold’s policy is that all the pilots are equals no matter what their rank.
In actual practice this is the case on the flight line and in the air, but in all other matters, rank and military discipline is adhered to. We may be on a first name basis in the Kasino but there is always a certain restraint. Outside of the confines of the flight line and Kasino, we are expected to salute and address our officers in the proper manner, and we NCOs, of course, do not have the same privileges as the officers.
In my opinion, it would be better to maintain a separate Kasino for the non-commissioned pilots or allow them to use the one provided for the other NCOs, though they wouldn’t quite fit in there either.
I have found that; even if the officers overlook the existing differences in rank, the NCOs have difficulty getting over their social insecurity and lesser education. In a Jagdstaffel, the NCOs are usually heavily outnumbered by the commissioned officers and this causes them to have difficulty being themselves. They would feel freer and more at ease if they were left to themselves and not drawn into relations, which, instead of offering then relaxation, imposes unaccustomed and tedious reserve.
My own difficulty, whether with those of my own rank or above it is to keep from revealing my age, experience and level of knowledge through careless remarks. I’m always acting, no matter what the company I must stay in character. It’s the reason I avoid becoming drunk. For this reason, among others, I often seek the company of animals, rather than my own species, with them I can simply be.
Seppl serves as a welcome and almost indispensable connecting link between the commissioned and non-commissioned pilots. He, like most of the reserve officers came up from the ranks, but is of the middle class. But he has an open, easy good nature, always in high spirits and with an abundance of common sense he eliminates a good deal of the unease and misunderstanding.
I like to think that I contribute to this cause as well, but I also have a rather wide mean streak that I can’t always resist exercising.
As is usual with the new ones, Keller asks most everyone what they think are the best tactics when attacked and what are our preferred methods of attacking the enemy.
When I ask him, Auffarth says he has decided on a symbol for his Albatros and has drawn it out, a very striking Komet (comet) with eight points and three tails. It will look well on the blue fuselage. To me his choice of marking along with his manner, indicates burning ambition. Not unusual in a Jagdflieger, but he’s especially so. May he live long enough to finish painting it.
“Let me know when you are done and I will take a picture of you with your new steed.”
* no specific canine is known to be associated with Truck. This fictitious one is to be part of a story at a later time.
** old hares – expression used for experienced veterans of all branches of service.
I’m thinking of leaving but Paul comes and sits opposite me. He asks me, You’ve been with der Eiserne from the beginning of the war, haven’t you?
“Not from the very beginning, no. But we served together in Feldflieger-Abteilung 23, where I was assigned after Fliegerschule at Liepzig-Lindenthal.”
“I knew Berthold by reputation, he was a big hero and wore der Eisernes Kreuz erser und zweiter Klasse for catching the French sneaking around behind us in 1914. This was much more prestigious at that time than now.”
“I first met him a few days after my arrival, in March, I think, back in 1915. I had been introduced to all the other pilots and observers but he had been away, picking up some new aircraft.”
Berthold as an observer in 1916
“I was simply minding my own business when he left his Observer friend, Leutnant Grüner, came rushing up to me and began a rant over some minor infraction of mine. I cannot even remember what it was now. Probably something to do with a cigarette.”
“He did not like the Non-Commissioned fliers because they often had their own ideas about how a mission should be conducted and how much they were willing to risk their necks. That is, in part, why he became a pilot himself…he wanted full control.”
“One expects this sort of tantrum from a Prussian but it surprised me to see this in a Frank. I judged him as a typical martinet, And, he was so foul mouthed! Even in my experience.”
“As you know, I am sure, there is a way of standing at attention, snapping a salute, replying briskly, that is perfectly correct, but unmistakably insolent. I could enrage him to the point of frothing at the mouth.”
“As I stood there, he screamed at me, angry that I was not cowed by him, ‘Do you find me amusing you son of a französische Hure (French wh*re)?!’”
“This was, of course, because of my face as you have probably noticed. It gives me a certain…devilish look, yes.”
“At your orders Herr Leutnant, not at all and with respect, she was not French!”
Paul laughed at this.
I go on, “He was still furious, but let out an enormous guffaw, sending small drops of spittle into my face as he was so close. When he got control of himself again, he said in an ominous tone, “Get out of here Vizefeldwebel.”
“I snapped a very smart salute, which he did not return, so I held it, forcing him to do so, as required by the service. Then, just as smartly, I executed a perfect about face and marched away. To my back he took the predictable, ineffectual last shot.” “I have my eye on you Vizefeldwebel Schwien.”*
“Of course, in the old days, someone like him could have had me flogged to death, or worse. But, in these more lenient times they do not have so much power, even in war.”
I catch myself and look at Paul. I was speaking as if I had lived during those harsher times. But he doesn’t seem to have noticed anything unusual in the comment.
I continue quickly, “We stayed out of each other’s way for some time after that. Even though the NCO pilots were welcome in the officer’s mess as they are here. I ate with the others of my rank so there was little interaction between us. He was flying the big G-type bombers during most of this time.”
* A play on Eber’s name, which translates as Boar.
“Then a situation arose that changed my opinion of him. It was in the late summer of the year 15, not long before he started flying the little Fokkers with Buddecke and Althaus. He had by that time been promoted to [i]Oberleutnant.[/i]”
“There was a series of incidents in which my observers were killed. First, Ltn. Amann was killed when our Aviatik was hit by Flak. We crashed within our own lines. He was killed on impact, but I was thrown out of the aircraft and suffered only severe bruising and a broken nose.”
I laughed and touched my nose. “One of many, schön, ja.”* (Pretty, yes?)
“Then Ltn. Deitz was chopped up by the propeller of another Kahn (Barge) when it ran up on us during a landing. I suffered no injuries whatever.”
“The Observers began to get the idea that I was verhexen, ein unglücksbringer* and became nervous about being assigned to fly with me and trying to avoid it.
“In a bit of dark humor, one of them started referring to me as glücklicher Felix** and the name stuck, or at least Felix did.”
* jinx or Johah, bad luck bringer
* lucky Felix, rather like saying lucky, the fortunate one
“Finally, there was a third incident. Ltn. Schmid was fatally wounded when we were attacked by a Baguette.* I was hit by one bullet only and was able to put the Kahn down in a field near our Feldflieger-Abteilung at Roupy. It was not a serious wound and I recovered quickly.”
* Derogatory slang term for the French
“Now they began clamoring for me to be reassigned to the rear area, or anywhere.”
“To my surprise, Berthold stood up for me. He used that foul Franconian mouth of his, ridiculing them, right in front of the Abteilungführer for their ridiculous superstition.”
“So ein Misthaufen!* I will fly with Herr Felix and you will see.”
“So, with Hauptmann Seber’s permission, we embarked on a short Fliegerehe* Franz and Emil for about a month. He continued to fly his own aircraft as well, which was a considerable amount of extra strain for him.”
“I expressed, before our first flight, that I was grateful, and I was. I was concerned that I might be sent back to the trenches.”
He dismissed it, “Nonsense, the Fatherland needs trained pilots. I will not have a useful pilot wasted because of a bunch of foolishness, not even a Schwein like you. But he did smile.“
“I also have luck. Perhaps we will see who has more.” He always said something similar before each flight. Perhaps it became another superstitious ritual for him.
“We flew about ten missions and worked well together. There was less tension between us, but we, as you would expect, did not become friends.”
“He insisted that I go to the officers Kasino after our flights. After one such flight, he sat opposite me and assessed the flight and our mission. He could be charming when he wished to be.”
“I notice no uncertainty in you as you fly the plane and you follow my instructions. I think you are on good behavior but I can still see what you are capable of.”
I have been packing another pipe and now pause to light and draw on it, “One problem I had with flying with Berthold was that he was less interested in the mission than in getting into a fight. I did not try to curb his enthusiasm. He could get himself killed if he wished and I would be alright.” This statement makes me pause again, I’m tired and not watching what I say as closely as I should, I add, “Of course, I mean I was still young enough to trust that my own luck would hold whatever happened to Berthold.”
“I gave him two real fights and he was crazy enough to enjoy it. Well, I must admit that I enjoyed it as well and we always dropped a few bombs when we went over the lines. We both had time to evaluate the other and developed a certain grudging respect for one another. I believe he thought he had found a kindred spirit.”
“Perhaps he had, but only to a certain extent and without his burning ambition.”
“We did not shoot either of the Frenchmen down, but we put some holes in them. They were not keen for more after that and got away from these crazy Boche as quickly as they could. He is always, as you have seen, in good spirits after a fight.”
“Another thing he said to me as we were sitting with drinks after a flight,” “I wonder what sort of criminal you are Felix?”
I replied, “The best sort, of course, Herr Leutnant.”
“He began to call me that, Scherge or der Verbrecher (thug, criminal). This was picked up by others but no one else called me these things to my face.”
“He truly did believe that the reason I did not wish to draw attention to myself was that I had a criminal past or perhaps was involved in such things. He was not that far from wrong really, I think you are already aware that I have some rather shady connections. They come in handy for our supply situation on occasion.”
“Even after this, many of the observers were not keen on flying with me, but they stopped trying to get me transferred. I got a new fellow for my Franz, Ltn. Eduard Edel and we got along splendidly. We were a team, up until around the middle of the Summer of 1916. After we started flying our Roland, we even managed to shoot down a Frenchman, but it was not confirmed.”
“I enjoyed flying the Walfisch. Many did not. Did you ever fly one?”
Paul, “No, I did not. I only spent about two months on Aviatiks with FAA 213 before I went to Jagdlfliegerschule at Cologne.”
“ Just so. The Walfisch required a light touch. It needed to be treated with tenderness and understanding. The mere suggestion of a turn sufficed. If one forced it, the way one must force and guide other, heavier Kisten (crates), then it became stubborn and would do almost the opposite of what one wanted.”
“It behaved the same way when landing. While flattening out close above the ground, it suddenly thrust its upper wing before your eyes and denied you any view of the ground, as if it wanted to say to me: I do not need you for this…I can do it all on my own. I was superfluous at that point, because every time it settled gently onto the grass without bouncing.”* “I was, eventually, transferred. Hauptmann Palmer sent me to a Flugpark to be sidelined. I spent this time at the aircraft depot at Valenciennes flying replacement aircraft to front line units and returning with worn out or obsolete machines, if they would fly.
The Hauptmann had no problem with my performance and I was not demoted. This would have required some sort of evidence. However, he was suspicious of my “extra” activities. And” I couldn’t resist a sidelong leer at Paul, “my morals were questionable and set a bad example.”
Paul laughs at this. “Yes, You do set a rather bad example for us children…go on.”
“He could prove none of this but it is not necessary for a commanding officer to do so. Nit Wahr.”**
“I was not allowed to see what was in the report, I was simply notified that I was transferred…immediately, with no reason given, as so often happens.”
“It is possible also that the Hauptmann may have had pressure from above.”
“I was often an object of curiosity when I delivered aircraft to front line units. Why was an obviously experienced Visefeldwebel pilot with the Eiserners Kreutz zweiter Klasse and the Friedrich August Medal, in silver,*** on his tunic ferrying aircraft. Probably they thought I was no longer master of my nerves.”
“The whole incident was unnecessary and ludicrous but I did not mind the quiet assignment, though I did hate to leave my Franz. He was killed about a year later. It was a bit of a rest and I met some very usuful people at Valenciennes.”
“Berthold was given command of the Kampfeinsitzer Kommando****at Voux after our short time of flying together, until he crashed a Pfalz Eindecker. Afterward, when he had recovered enough, he took over Jasta 4 and then Jasta 14. He obtained the blauer Vogel *# he wanted so much, along with some more holes in himself and more broken bones.”
“After finding out where I was, der Eiserne was able to have me transferred to Jagdstaffel 14 in September of 1916, despite the bad report in my record. He was attempting to get others from FA 23…Sepple, of course, and other old comrades.”
“He brought two pilots with him when he took command; Leutnant Alfred Lens who took over as Offizier zur besonderen Verwendung**# but would also fly and Margot, who was an Unteroffizier then yet to act as Werkmeister, just as he does here.” “When I reported to Eiserne for duty, he had the report before him. He opened it, smirked at me, and walked out of the room saying, “I am going to visit the Donnerbalken latrine), you inspire me” leaving me standing at attention.”
* adaptation of Otto Fuchs comments on flying the Roland CII from his book Wir Flieger, translated with commentary by Adam M. Wait and published by Shiffer as “Flying Fox.”
** an abbreviated form of Nicht Wahr, which is loosely, is it not so.
***Saxon award given to enlisted men, Feldwebel and below for meritorious achievements. In this case, 300 combat missions against the enemies of the Fatherland. The medal was given in two grades, Bronze and Silver.
**** fighter detachment
*$ blue bird, slang for the Blue Max, which was itself slang for the Pour le Merite.
“I, of course, read the report. It was quite correct, but all just suspicions.”
“When he came back he outlined my duties in the Staffel.”
“For me he had several plans. First and foremost, he would train me to be his Flügelmann, (wingman) to watch his back when he attacked. That was my primary function in the air, just as it is in this Staffel.”
“On the ground, he instructed me to assist Lens as Ozbv, since he knew I had connections and ‘talents’ that would help him obtain things that were difficult or impossible to obtain through official channels.”
“At the end of my interview, he swept the report onto the floor as he said, “How clumsy of me, would you be so good as to take that rubbish with you and dispose of it?”
As I left he said, “You really are a Schwein, Nit Wahr?’”
“He was still recovering from his crash in April. He had difficulty walking and his eyes watered and hurt. This did nothing to improve his disposition.”
“We were in Lorraine, a quiet sector, which did not please him. But he used the time for very rigorous training of his pilots. He was rather disappointed when he found out that he would have to leave 14 behind and begin training another batch of Dummköpfe.”
Paul says, ‘Why thank you, that is very kind.”
“Well…so that is how I got from there to here. Time for bed mein Junge.”
It‘s close to one in the morning before I lay down to try to sleep, wondering what dreams will come. But I have a deep and apparently dreamless sleep, as I am exhausted.
The sky is clear again with a strong southwest wind. It’s already 20 degrees and should get to 23 today (75 degrees Fahrenheit).
Vater Turck, Jahns, Auffarth, Weinschenk, Otto Gerbig and Strähle fly the upper patrol. Seppl leads the lower, with Jan Klein, myself and Keller in tow. I am to watch over the Hase. He is to stick to me like glue.
We begin in the tight formation der Eiserne requires but gradually loosen it up and Vater doesn’t protest.
] We fly to the north of Ypres, toward the ruined Houthulst Forest and Staden. We turn south, in the direction of Passchendaele, then east. Over Moorslede, or at least what the map calls Moorslede, it’s jut a heap of stones and bricks now, one of our aircraft above, which I assume to be Auffarth, detaches itself from our formation and streaks to the southeast, toward home. Vater has sent his hase home.
Now the upper patrol attacks five SE 5s with red markings.*
From below, I see a plane with cockades go down, out of control and, closer to our level, another, I can’t tell whose, dives away from the fight, apparently damaged or with a wounded pilot. It must be one of ours as it turns southeast.
*Historian Russ Gannon has determined that these SE 5s were from A flight, No. 56 Squadron, who had recently been indulged in red markings for their aircraft. These were sometimes referred to by the German pilots as Pups, though they look nothing like them. There were Pups being flown by some Squadrons in the area so possibly Gannon is incorrect.
Above, they disengage after about five minutes and reform, going their separate ways.
On our level we see an Artilleriehaschen* and chase him away. We only pursue him long enough to see that he’s really going home. Wisely, he does.
Keller is a good pilot; he mirrors my every move perfectly and keeps his station.
Upon landing, at about 0815, we find Albrecht Weinschenk’s Albatros being pushed toward the hangar by the Schwarzer Mann. Auffarth, who was ordered home when the action began, tells us Albrecht has been wounded in the leg and is being taken away in a Sanka. ** The Sanitätsunteroffizier (medical orderly, usually a Gefreiter) says it appear that the bone was broken.***
* artillery hare, slang for an artillery spotting aircraft.
** acronym for a military ambulance.
***The record is not clear as to whether he rejoins the Staffel. A wound of this type usually requires about two months in a hospital followed by a leave and a period of light duty.**