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  The Red Baron
Richthofen: The Red Fighter Pilot
Chapter 5 - My First Solo-Flight, (10th October, 1915)

THERE are some moments in one's life which tickle one's nerves particularly and the first solo-flight is among them.

One fine evening my teacher, Zeumer, told me: "Now go and fly by yourself." I must say I felt like replying "I am afraid." But this is a word which should never be used by a man who defends his country. Therefore, whether I liked it or not, I had to make the best of it and get into my machine.

Zeumer explained to me once more every movement in theory. I scarcely listened to his explanations for I was firmly convinced that I should forget half of what he was telling me.

I started the machine. The aeroplane went at the prescribed speed and I could not help noticing that I was actually flying. After all I did not feel timorous but rather elated. I did not care for anything. I should not have been frightened no matter what happened. With contempt of death I made a large curve to the left, stopped the machine near a tree, exactly where I had been ordered to, and looked forward to see what would happen. Now came the most difficult thing, the landing. I remembered exactly what movements I had to make. I acted mechanically and the machine moved quite differently from what I had expected. I lost my balance, made some wrong movements, stood on my head and I succeeded in converting my aeroplane into a battered school 'bus. I was very sad, looked at the damage which I had done to the machine, which after all was not very great, and had to suffer from other people's jokes.

Two days later I went with passion at the flying and suddenly I could handle the apparatus.

A fortnight later I had to take my first examination. Herr von T— was my examiner. I described the figure eight several times, exactly as I had been told to do, landed several times with success, in accordance with orders received and felt very proud of my achievements. However, to my great surprise I was told that I had not passed. There was nothing to be done but to try once more to pass the initial examination.

My Training Time at Doberitz

IN order to pass my examinations I had — to go to Berlin. I made use of the opportunity to go to Berlin as observer in a giant plane. I was ordered to go by aeroplane to Doberitz near Berlin on the fifteenth of November, 1915. In the beginning I took a great interest in the giant-plane. But funnily enough the gigantic machine made it clear to me that only the smallest aeroplane would be of any use for me in battle. A big aerial barge is too clumsy for fighting. Agility is needed and, after all, fighting is my business.

The difference between a large battle- plane and a giant-plane is that a giant-plane is considerably larger than a large battle- plane and that it is more suitable for use as a bomb-carrier than as a fighter.

I went through my examinations in Doberitz together with a dear fellow. First Lieutenant von Lyncker. We got on very well with one another, had the same inclinations and the same ideas as to our future activity. Our aim was to fly Fokkers and to be included in a battle squadron on the Western front. A year later we succeeded in working together for a short time. A deadly bullet hit my dear friend when bringing down his third aeroplane.

We passed many merry hours in Doberitz. One of the things which we had to do was to land in strange quarters. I used the opportunity to combine the necessary with the agreeable. My favorable landing place outside of our aerodrome was the Buchow Estate where I was well known. I was there invited to shoot wild pigs. The matter could be combined only with difficulty with the service, for on fine evenings I wished both to fly and to shoot pigs. So I arranged for a place of landing in the neighborhood of Buchow whence I could easily reach my friends. I took with me a second pilot, who served as an observer, and sent him back in the evening. During the night I shot pigs and on the next morning was fetched by my pilot.

If I had not been fetched with the aeroplane I should have been in a hole for I should have had to march on foot a distance of about six miles. So I required a man who would fetch me in any weather. It is not easy to find a man who will fetch you under any circumstances.

Once, when I had passed the night trying to shoot pigs, a tremendous snowfall set in. One could not see fifty yards ahead. My pilot was to fetch me at eight sharp. I hoped that for once he would not come. But suddenly I heard a humming noise—one could not see a thing—and five minutes later my beloved bird was squatting before me on the ground. Unfortunately some of his bones had got bent.

I Become a Pilot

ON Christmas Day, 1915, I passed my third examination. In connection with it I flew to Schwerin, where the Fokker works are situated, and had a look at them. As observer I took with me my mechanic, and from Schwerin I flew with him to Breslau, from Breslau to Schweidnitz, from thence to Luben and then returned to Berlin. During my tour I landed in lots of different places in between, visiting relatives and friends. Being a trained observer, I did not find it difficult to find my way.

In March, 1916, I joined the Second Battle Squadron before Verdun and learned airfighting as a pilot. I learned how to handle a fighting aeroplane. I flew then a twoseater.

In the official communique of the twenty- sixth of April, 1916, I am referred to for the first time, although my name is not mentioned. Only my deeds appear in it. I had had built into my machine a machine gun, which I had arranged very much in the way in which it is done in the Nieuport machines. I was very proud of my idea. People laughed at the way I had fitted it up because the whole thing looked very primitive. Of course I swore by my new arrangement and very soon I had an opportunity of ascertaining its practical value.

I encountered a hostile Nieuport machine which was apparently guided by a man who also was a beginner, for he acted extremely foolishly. When I flew towards him he ran away. Apparently he had trouble with his gun. I had no idea of fighting him but thought: "What will happen if I now start shooting?" I flew after him, approached him as closely as possible and then began firing a short series of well-aimed shots with my machine gun. The Nieuport reared up in the air and turned over and over.

At first both my observer and I believed that this was one of the numerous tricks which French fliers habitually indulge in. However, his tricks did not cease. Turning over and over, the machine went lower and lower. At last my observer patted me on the head and called out to me: "I congratulate you. He is falling." As a matter of fact he fell into a forest behind Fort Douaumont and disappeared among the trees. It became clear to me that I had shot him down, but on the other side of the Front. I flew home and reported merely: "I had an aerial fight and have shot down a Nieuport." The next day I read of my action in the official communique. Of course I was very proud of my success, but that Nieuport does not figure among the fifty-two aeroplanes which I have brought down.

The communique of the 26th of April stated: "Two hostile flying machines have been shot down by aerial fighting above Fleury, south and west of Douaumont."

Holck's Death. (30th of April, 1916)

AS a young pilot I once flew over Fort Douaumont at a moment when it was exposed to a violent drum-fire. I noticed that a German Fokker was attacking three Caudron machines. It was my misfortune that a strong west wind was blowing. That was not favorable to me. The Fokker was driven over the town of Verdun in the course of the fight. I drew the attention of my observer to the struggle. He thought that the German fighting man must be a very smart fellow. We wondered whether it could be Boelcke and intended to inquire when we came down. Suddenly, I saw to my horror that the German machine, which previously had attacked, had fallen back upon the defensive. The strength of the French fighting men had been increased to at least ten and their combined assaults forced the German machine to go lower and lower.

I could not fly to the German's aid. I was too far away from the battle. Besides, my heavy machine could not overcome the strong wind against me. The Fokker fought with despair. His opponents had rushed him down to an altitude of only about eighteen hundred feet. Suddenly, he was once more attacked by his opponents and he disappeared, plunging into a small cloud. I breathed more easily, for in my opinion the cloud had saved him.

When I arrived at the aerodrome, I reported what I had seen and was told that the Fokker man was Count Holck, my old comrade in the Eastern Theater of war. Count Holck had dropped straight down, shot through the head. His death deeply affected me for he was my model. I tried to imitate his energy and he was a man among men also as a character.


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