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  The Red Baron
Richthofen: The Red Fighter Pilot
Chapter 4 - In the Air

THE next morning at seven o'clock I was to fly for the first time as an observer!-I was naturally very excited, for I had no idea what it would be like. Everyone whom I had asked about his feelings told me a different tale. The night before, I went to bed earlier than usual in order to be thoroughly refreshed the next morning. We drove over to the flying ground, and I got into a flying machine for the first time. The draught from the propeller was a beastly nuisance. I found it quite impossible to make myself understood by the pilot. Everything was carried away by the wind. If I took up a piece of paper it disappeared. My safety helmet slid off. My muffler dropped off. My jacket was not sufficiently buttoned. In short, I felt very uncomfortable. Before I knew what was happening, the pilot went ahead at full speed and the machine started rolling. We went faster and faster. I clutched the sides of the car. Suddenly, the shaking was over, the machine was in the air and the earth dropped away from under me.

I had been told the name of the place to which we were to fly. I was to direct my pilot. At first we flew right ahead, then my pilot turned to the right, then to the left, but I had lost all sense of direction above our own aerodrome. I had not the slightest notion where I was! I began very cautiously to look over the side at the country. The men looked ridiculously small. The houses seemed to come out of' a child's toy box. Everything seemed pretty. Cologne was in the background. The cathedral looked like a a little toy. It was a glorious feeling to be so high above the earth, to be master of the air. I didn't care a bit where I was and I felt extremely sad when my pilot thought it was time to go down again. I should have liked best to start immediately on another flight. I have never had any trouble in the air such as vertigo. The celebrated American swings are to me disgusting. One does not feel secure in them, but in a flying machine one possesses a feeling of complete security. One sits in an aeroplane as in an easy chair. Vertigo is impossible. No man exists who has been turned giddy by flying. At the same time, flying affects one's nerves. When one races full speed through the air, and particularly when one goes down again, when the aeroplane suddenly dips, when the engine stops running, and when the tremendous noise is followed by an equally tremendous silence, then I would frantically clutch the sides and think that I was sure to fall to the ground. However, everything happened in such a matter-of-fact and natural way, and the landing, when we again touched terra firma was so simple, that I could not have such a feeling as fear. I was full of enthusiasm and should have liked to remain in an aeroplane all day long. I counted the hours to the time when we should start out again.

As an Observer with Mackensen

On the 10th of June, 1915 I came to Grossenhain. Thence I was to be sent to the front. I was anxious to go forward as quickly as possible. I feared that I might come too late, that the world-war might be over. I should have had to spend three months to become a pilot. By the time the three months had gone by, peace might have been concluded. Therefore, it never occurred to me to become a pilot. I imagined that, owing to my training as a cavalryman, I might do well as an observer. I was very happy when, after a fortnight's flying experience, I was sent out, especially as I was sent to the only spot where there was still a chance of a war. of movement. I was sent to Russia.

Mackensen was advancing gloriously. He had broken through the Russian position at Gorlice and I joined his army when we were taking Rawa Ruska. I spent a day at the aviation base and then I was sent to the celebrated 69th Squadron. Being quite a beginner I felt very foolish. My pilot was a big gun. First Lieutenant Zeumer. He is now a cripple. Of the other men of the Section, I am the only survivor. Now came my most beautiful time. Life in the Flying Corps is very much like life in the cavalry. Every day, morning and afternoon, I had to fly and to reconnoiter, and I have brought back valuable information many a time.

With Holck in Russia. (Summer, 1915)

DURING June, July and August, 1915, I remained with the Flying Squadron which participated in Mackensen's advance from Gorlice to Brest-Litovsk. I had joined it as quite a juvenile observer and had not the slightest idea of anything.

As a cavalryman my business had consisted in reconnoitering. So the Aeroplane Service as an observer was in my line and it amused me vastly to take part in the gigantic reconnoitering flights which we undertook nearly every day.

For an observer it is important to find a pilot with a strong character. One fine day we were told, "Count Holck will join us." Immediately I thought, "That is the man I want."

Holck made his appearance, not as one would imagine, in a 60 h.p. Mercedes or in a first-class sleeping car. He came on foot. After traveling by railway for days and days he had arrived in the vicinity of Jaroslav. Here he got out of the train for there was once more an unending stoppage. He told his servant to travel on with the luggage while he would go on foot. He marched along and after an hour's walking looked back, but the train did not follow him. So he walked and walked and walked without being overtaken by the train until, after a thirty-mile walk, he arrived in Rawa Ruska, his objective. Twenty-four hours later his orderly appeared with the luggage. His thirty-mile walk proved no difficulty to that sportsman. His body was so well trained that he did not feel the tramp he had undertaken.

Count Holck was not only a sportsman on land. Flying also was to him a sport which gave him the greatest pleasure. He was a pilot of rare talent and particularity, and that is, after all, the principal thing. He towered head and shoulders above the enemy. We went on many a beautiful reconnoitering flight—I do not know how far—into Russia. Although Holck was so young I had never a feeling of insecurity with him. On the contrary he was always a support to me in critical moments. When I looked around and saw his determined face I had always twice as much courage as I had had before.

My last flight with him nearly led to trouble. We had not had definite orders to fly. The glorious thing in the flying service is that one feels that one is a perfectly free man and one's own master as soon as one is up in the air.

We had to change our flying base and we were not quite certain in which meadow we were to land. In order not to expose our machine to too much risk in landing we flew in the direction of Brest-Litovsk. The Russians were retiring everywhere. The whole countryside was burning. It was a terribly beautiful picture. We intended to ascertain the direction of the enemy columns, and in doing so flew over the burning town of Wicznice. A gigantic smoke cloud, which went up to about 6,000 feet, prevented us continuing our flight because we flew at an altitude of only 4,500 feet in order to see better. For a moment Holck reflected. I asked him what he intended to do and advised him to fly around the smoke cloud which would have involved a round-about way of five minutes. Holck did not intend to do this. On the contrary. The greater the danger was the more the thing attracted him. Therefore straight through! I enjoyed it, too, to be together with such a daring fellow. Our venturesomeness nearly cost us dear. As soon as the tail-end of the machine had disappeared in the smoke the aeroplane began to reel. I could not see a thing for the smoke made my eyes water. The air was much warmer and beneath me I saw nothing but a huge sea of fire. Suddenly the machine lost its balance and fell, turning round and round. I managed to grasp a stay and hung on to it. Otherwise I should have been thrown out of the machine. The first thing I did was to look at Holck and immediately I regained my courage for his face showed an iron confidence. The only thought which I had was: "It is stupid, after all, to die so unnecessarily a hero's death."

Later on, I asked Holck what had been his thoughts at the moment. He told me he had never experienced so unpleasant a feeling.

We fell down to an altitude of 1500 feet above the burning town. Either through the skill of my pilot or by a Higher Will, perhaps by both, we suddenly dropped out of the smoke cloud. Our good Albatros found itself again and once more flew straight ahead as if nothing had happened.

We had now had enough of it and instead of going to a new base intended to return to our old quarter as quickly as possible. After all, we were still above the Russians and only at an altitude of 1500 feet. Five minutes later I heard Holck, behind me, exclaiming: "The motor is giving out." I must add that Holck had not as much knowledge of motors as he had of horseflesh and I had not the slightest idea of mechanics. The only thing which I knew was that we should have to land among the Russians if the motor went on strike. So one peril had followed the other.

I convinced myself that the Russians beneath us were still marching with energy. I could see them quite clearly from our low altitude. Besides it was not necessary to look, for the Russians shot at us with machine-guns with the utmost diligence. The firing sounded like chestnuts roasting near a fire.

Presently the motor stopped running altogether, for it had been hit. So we went lower and lower. We just managed to glide over a forest and landed at last in an abandoned artillery position which, the evening before, had still been occupied by Russians, as I had reported.

I told Holck my impressions. We jumped out of our box and tried to rush into the forest nearby, where we might have defended ourselves. I had with me a pistol and six cartridges. Holck had nothing.

When we had reached the wood we stopped and I saw with my glasses that a soldier was running towards our aeroplane. I was horrified to see that he wore not a spiked helmet but a cap. So I felt sure that it was a Russian. When the man came nearer Holck shouted with joy, for he was a Grenadier of the Prussian Guards. Our troops had once more stormed the position at the break of day and had broken through into the enemy batteries.

On that occasion Holck lost his little favorite, his doggie. He took the little animal with him in every flight. The dog would lie always quietly on Holck's fur in the fuselage. He was still with us when we were in the forest. Soon after, when we had talked with the Guardsman, German troops passed us. They were the staffs of the Guards and Prince Eitel Friedrich with his Adjutants and his Orderly Officers. The Prince supplied us with horses so that we two cavalrymen were sitting once more on oat-driven motors. Unfortunately doggie was lost while we were riding. Probably he followed other troops by mistake. Later in the evening we arrived in our old flying base on a cart. The machine was smashed.

Russia—Ostend (From the Two- Seater to the Twin-Engined Fighter)

THE German enterprise in Russia came gradually to a stop and suddenly I was transferred to a large battle-plane at Ostend on the twenty-first of August, 1915. There I met an old acquaintance, friend Zeumer. Besides I was attracted by the tempting name "Large Battle-plane."

I had a very good time during this part of my service. I saw little of the war but my experiences were invaluable to me, for I passed my apprenticeship as a battle-flier. We flew a great deal, we had rarely a fight in the air and we had no successes. We had siezed a hotel on the Ostend shore, and there we bathed every afternoon. Unfortunately the only frequenters of the watering-place were soldiers. Wrapped up in our many-colored bathing gowns we sat on the terraces of Ostend and drank our coffee in the afternoon.

One fine day we were sitting as usual on the shore drinking coffee. Suddenly we heard bugles. We were told that an English squadron was approaching. Of course we did not allow ourselves to be alarmed and to be disturbed, but continued drinking our coffee. Suddenly somebody called out: "There they are!" Indeed we could see on the horizon, though not very distinctly, some smoking- funnels and later on could make out ships. Immediately we fetched our telescopes and observed them. There was indeed quite an imposing number of vessels. It was not quite clear to us what they intended to do, but soon we were to know better. We went up to the roof whence we could see more. Suddenly we heard a whistling in the air; then there came a big bang and a shell hit that part of the beach where a little before we had been bathing. I have never rushed as rapidly into the hero's cellar as I did at that moment. The English squadron shot perhaps three or four times at us and then it began bombarding the harbor and railway station. Of course they hit nothing but they gave a terrible fright to the Belgians. One shell fell right in the beautiful Palace Hotel on the shore. That was the only damage that was done. Happily they destroyed only English capital, for it belonged to Englishmen.

In the evening we flew again with energy. On one of our flights we had gone very far across the sea with our battle-plane. It had two motors and we were experimenting with a new steering gear which, we were told, would enable us to fly in a straight line with only a single motor working. When we were fairly far out I saw beneath us, not on the water but below the surface, a ship. It is a funny thing. If the sea is quiet, one can look down from above to the bottom of the sea. Of course it is not possible where the sea is twenty-five miles deep but one can see clearly through several hundred yards of water. I had not made a mistake in believing that the ship was traveling not on the surface but below the surface. Yet it seemed at first that it was traveling above water. I drew Zeumer's attention to my discovery and we went lower in order to see more clearly. I am too little of a naval expert to say what it was but it was clear to me that it was bound to be a submarine. But of what nationality? That is a difficult question which in my opinion can be solved only by a naval expert, and not always by him. One can scarcely distinguish colors under water and there is no flag. Besides a submarine does not carry such things. We had with us a couple of bombs and I debated with myself whether I should throw them or not. The submarine had not seen us for it was partly submerged. We might have flown above it without danger and we might have waited until it found it necessary to come to the surface for air. Then we could have dropped our eggs. Herein lies, no doubt, a very critical point for our sister arm.

When we had fooled around the apparition beneath us for quite a while I suddenly noticed that the water was gradually disappearing from our cooling apparatus. I did not like that and I drew my colleague's attention to the fact. He pulled a long face and hastened to get home. However, we were approximately twelve miles from the shore and they had to be flown over. The motor began running more slowly and I was quietly preparing myself for a sudden cold immersion. But lo! and behold! we got through! Our giant apple-barge barged along with a single motor and the new steering apparatus and we reached the shore and managed to land in the harbor without any special difficulty.

It is a good thing to be lucky. Had we not tried the new steering apparatus on that day there would not have been any hope for us. We should certainly have been drowned.

A Drop of Blood for the Fatherland

I HAVE never been really wounded. At the critical moment I have probably bent my head or pulled in my chest. Often I have been surprised that they did not hit me. Once a bullet went through both my furlined boots. Another time a bullet went through my muffler. Another time one went along my arm through the fur and the leather jacket; but I have never been touched.

One fine day we started with our large battle-plane in order to delight the English with our bombs. We reached our object. The first bomb fell. It is very interesting to ascertain the effect of a bomb. At least one always likes to see it exploding. Unfortunately my large battle-plane, which was well qualified for carrying bombs, had a stupid peculiarity which prevented me from seeing the effect of a bomb-throw, for immediately after the throw the machine came between my eye and the object and covered it completely with its planes. This always made me wild because one does not like to be deprived of one's amusement. If you hear a bang down below and see the delightful grayish-whitish cloud of the explosion in the neighborhood of the object aimed at, you are always very pleased. Therefore I waved to friend Zeumer that he should bend a little to the side. While waving to him I forgot that the infamous object on which I was traveling, my apple-barge, had two propellers which turned to the right and left of my observer-seat. I meant to show him where approximately the bomb had hit and bang! my finger was caught! I was somewhat surprised when I discovered that my little finger had been damaged. Zeumer did not notice anything.

Having been hit on the hand I did not care to throw any more bombs. I quickly got rid of the lot and we hurried home. My love for the large battle-plane, which after all had not been very great, suffered seriously in consequence of my experience. I had to sit quiet for seven days and was debarred from flying. Only my beauty was slightly damaged, but after all, I can say with pride that I also have been wounded in the war.

My First Fight in the Air. (1st Sept., 1915)

ZEUMER and I were very anxious to have a fight in the air. Of course we flew our large battle-plane. The title of our barge alone gave us so much courage that we thought it impossible for any opponent to escape us.

We flew every day from five to six hours without ever seeing an Englishman. I became quite discouraged, but one fine morning we again went out to hunt. Suddenly I discovered a Farman aeroplane which was reconnoitering without taking notice of us. My heart beat furiously when Zeumer flew towards it. I was curious to see what was going to happen. I had never witnessed a fight in the air and had about as vague an idea of it as it was possible to have.

Before I knew what was happening both the Englishman and I rushed by one another. I had fired four shots at most while the Englishman was suddenly in our rear firing into us like anything. I must say I never had any sense of danger because I had no idea how the final result of such a fight would come about. We turned and turned around one another until at last, to our great surprise the Englishman turned away from us and flew off. I was greatly disappointed and so was my pilot.

Both of us were in very bad spirits when we reached home. He reproached me for having shot badly and I reproached him for not having enabled me to shoot well. In short our aeroplanic relations, which previously had been faultless, suffered severely. We looked at our machine and discovered that it had received quite a respectable number of hits. On the same day we went on the chase for a second time but again we had no success. I felt very sad. I had imagined that things would be very different in a battle squadron. I had always believed that one shot would cause the enemy to fall, but soon I became convinced that a flying machine can stand a great deal of punishment. Finally I felt assured that I should never bring down a hostile aeroplane, however much shooting I did.

We did not lack courage. Zeumer was a wonderful flier and I was quite a good shot. We stood before a riddle. We were not the only ones to be puzzled. Many are nowadays in the same position in which we were then. After all the flying business must really be thoroughly understood.

In the Champagne Battle

OUR pleasant days at Ostend were soon past, for the Champagne battle began and we flew to the front in order to take part in it in our large battle-plane. Soon we discovered that our packing-case was a capacious aeroplane but that it could never be turned into a good battle-plane.

I flew once with Osteroth who had a smaller flier than the apple-barge. About three miles behind the front we encountered a Farman two-seater. He allowed us to approach him and for the first time in my life I saw an aerial opponent from quite close by. Osteroth flew with great skill side by side with the enemy so that I could easily fire at him. Our opponent probably did not notice us, for only when I had trouble with my gun did he begin to shoot at us. When I had exhausted my supply of one hundred bullets I thought I could not trust my eyes when I suddenly noticed that my opponent was going down in curious spirals. I followed him with my eyes and tapped Osteroth's head to draw his attention. Our opponent fell and fell and dropped at last into a large crater. There he was, his machine standing on its head, the tail pointing towards the sky. According to the map he had fallen three miles behind the front. We had therefore brought him down on enemy ground. Otherwise I should have one more victory to my credit. I was very proud of my success. After all, the chief thing is to bring a fellow down. It does not matter at all whether one is credited for it or not.

How I Met Boelcke

FRIEND Zeumer got a Fokker Monoplane. Therefore I had to sail through the world alone. The Champagne battle was raging. The French flying men were coming to the fore. We were to be combined in a battle squadron and took train on the first of October, 1915.

In the dining car, at the table next to me, was sitting a young and insignificant-looking lieutenant. There was no reason to take any note of him except for the fact that he was the only man who had succeeded in shooting down a hostile flying man not once but four times. His name had been mentioned in the dispatches. I thought a great deal of him because of his experience. Although I had taken the greatest trouble, I had not brought an enemy down up to that time. At least I had not been credited with a success.

I would have liked so much to find out how Lieutenant Boelcke managed his business. So I asked him: "Tell me, how do you manage it?" He seemed very amused and laughed, although I had asked him quite seriously. Then he replied: "Well it is quite simple. I fly close to my man, aim well and then of course he falls down." I shook my head and told him that I did the same thing but my opponents unfortunately did not come down. The difference between him and I was that he flew a Fokker and I a large battle-plane.

I took great trouble to get more closely acquainted with that nice modest fellow whom I badly wanted to teach me his business. We often played cards together, went for walks and I asked him questions. At last I formed a resolution that I also would learn to fly a Fokker. Perhaps then my chances would improve.

My whole aim and ambition became now concentrated upon learning how to manipulate the sticks myself. Hitherto I had been nothing but an observer. Happily I soon found an opportunity to learn piloting on an old machine in the Champagne. I threw myself into the work with body and soul and after twenty-five training flights I stood before the examination in flying alone.


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