The first afternoon flight was a failure. The second was all the better. Soon after we had come to the front a hostile squadron met us. Unfortunately they occupied a higher altitude so we could not do anything. We tried to climb to their level but did not succeed. We had to let them go.
We flew along the front. My brother was next to me, in front of the others. Suddenly I noticed two hostile artillery fliers approaching our front in the most impertinent and provocative manner. I waved to my brother and he understood my meaning. We flew side by side increasing our speed. Each of us felt certain that he was superior to the enemy. It was a great thing that we could absolutely rely on one another and that was the principal thing. One has to know one's flying partner.
My brother was the first to approach his enemy. He attacked the first and I took care of the second. At the last moment I quickly looked round in order to feel sure that there was no third aeroplane about. We were alone and could see eye to eye. Soon I had got on the favorable side of my opponent. A short spell of quick firing and the enemy machine went to pieces. I never had a more rapid success.
While I was still looking where my enemy's fragments were falling, I noticed my brother. He was scarcely five hundred yards away from me and was still fighting his opponent.
I had time to study the struggle and must say that I myself could not have done any better than he did. He had rushed his man and both were turning around one another. Suddenly, the enemy machine reared. That is a certain indication of a hit. Probably the pilot was shot in the head. The machine fell and the planes of the enemy apparatus went to pieces. They fell quite close to my victim. I flew towards my brother and we congratulated one another by waving. We were highly satisfied with our performance and flew off. It is a splendid thing when one can fly together with one's brother and do so well.
In the meantime, the other fellows of the squadron had drawn near and were watching the spectacle of the fight of the two brothers. Of course they could not help us, for only one man can shoot down an opponent. If one airman has tackled his enemy the others cannot assist. They can only look on and protect his back. Otherwise, he might be attacked in the rear.
We flew on and went to a higher altitude, for there was apparently a meeting somewhere in the air for the members of the Anti- Richthofen Club. They could recognize us from far away. In the powerful sunlight, the beautiful red color of our machines could be seen at a long distance.
We closed our ranks for we knew that our English friends pursued the same business as we. Unfortunately, they were again too high. So we had to wait for their attack. The celebrated triplanes and Spads were perfectly new machines. However, the quality of the box matters little. Success depends upon the man who sits in it. The English airmen played a cautious game but would not bite. We offered to fight them, either on one side of the front or on the other. But they said: No, thank you. What is the good of bringing out a squadron against us and then turning tail?
At last one of the men plucked up courage and dropped down upon our rear machine. Naturally battle was accepted although our position was unfavorable. If you wish to do business you must, after all, adapt yourself to the desires of your customers. Therefore we all turned round. The Englishman noticed what was going on and got away. The battle had begun.
Another Englishman tried a similar trick on me and I greeted him at once with quick fire from my two machine guns. He tried to escape me by dropping down. That was fatal to him. When he got beneath me I remained on top of him. Everything in the air that is beneath me, especially if it is a one-seater, a chaser, is lost, for it cannot shoot to the rear.
My opponent had a very good and very fast machine. However, he did not succeed in reaching the English lines. I began to fire at him when we were above Lens. I started shooting when I was much too far away. That was merely a trick of mine. I did not mean so much to hit him as to frighten him, and I succeeded in catching him. He began flying curves and this enabled me to draw near. I tried the same manoeuver a second and a third time. Every time my foolish friend started making his curves I gradually edged quite close to him.
I approached him almost to touching distance. I aimed very carefully. I waited a moment and when I was at most at a distance of fifty yards from him I started with both the machine guns at the same tine. I heard a slight hissing noise, a certain sign that the benzine tanks had been hit. Then I saw a bright flame and my lord disappeared below.
This was the fourth victim of the day. My brother had bagged two. Apparently, we had invited our father to a treat. His joy was wonderful.
I had invited several gentlemen for the evening. Among these was my dear Wedel who happened to be in the neighborhood. We had a great treat. The two brothers had bagged six Englishmen in a single day. That is a whole flying squadron. I believe the English cease to feel any sympathy for us.
I Fly Home
I HAD shot down fifty aeroplanes. That was a good number but I would have preferred fifty-two. So I went up one day and had another two, although it was against orders.
As a matter of fact I had been allowed to bag only forty-one. Anyone will be able to guess why the number was fixed at forty- one. Just for that reason I wanted to avoid that figure. I am not out for breaking records. Besides, generally speaking, we of the Flying Corps do not think of records at all. We merely think of our duty. Boelcke might have shot down a hundred aeroplanes for his accident, and many others of our dear dead comrades might have vastly increased their bag but for their sudden death. Still, it is some fun to have downed half a hundred aeroplanes. After all, I had succeeded in obtaining permission to bring down fifty machines before going on leave.
I hope that I may live to celebrate a second lot of fifty. In the evening of that particular day the telephone bell was ringing. Headquarters wished to speak to me.
It seemed to me the height of fun to be connected with the holy of holies. Over the wire they gave me the cheerful news that His Majesty had expressed the wish to make my personal acquaintance and had fixed the date for me. I had to make an appearance on the second of May.
The above us. We only knew that they were there and with a little imagination we could hide ourselves in the cool glades of that delightful country.
It had become late. Clouds were gathering below and hid from us the earth. We flew on., taking our direction by means of the sun and the compass. The vicinity of Holland was disagreeable to us. We decided to go lower in order to find out where we were. We went beneath the cloud and discovered that we were above Namur. We then went on to Aix la Chapelle. We left that town to our left and about mid-day we reached Cologne. We both were in high spirits. We had before us a long leave of absence. The weather was beautiful. We had Succeeded in all our undertakings. We had reached Cologne. We could be certain to get to Headquarters in time, whatever might happen.
Our coming had been announced in Cologne by telegram. People were looking out for us. On the previous day the newspapers had reported my fifty-second aerial victory. One can imagine what kind of a reception they had prepared for us.
Having been flying for three hours I had a slight headache. Therefore, I thought I would take forty winks, before going to Headquarters. From Cologne we flew along the Rhine for some distance. I knew the country well. I had often journeyed that way by steamer, by motor car, and .by railway, and now I was traveling by aeroplane. It is difficult to say which of these is the most pleasant form of locomotion. Of course, one can see the details of the landscape better from the steamer. However, the commanding view one gets from an aeroplane has also its attractions. The Rhine is a very beautiful river, from above as well as from any other viewpoint.
We flew rather low in order not to lose the sensation that we were traveling along mountains, for after all the most beautiful part of the Rhine are the tree clad hills and castles. Of course we could not make out individual houses. It is a pity that one cannot fly slowly and quickly. If it had been possible I would have flown quite slowly. The beautiful views which we saw vanished only too quickly. Nevertheless, when one flies high in the air one never has the sensation that one is proceeding at a fast pace. If you are sitting in a motor car or in a fast train you have the impression of tremendous speed. On the other hand, you seem to be advancing slowly when you fly in an aeroplane at a considerable speed. You notice the celerity of your progress only when you have not looked out of your machine for four or five minutes and then try to find out where you are. Then the aspect of the country appears suddenly completely changed The terrain which you passed over a little while ago looks quite different under a different angle, and you do not recognize the scenery you have passed. Herein lies the reason that an airman can easily lose his way if he forgets for a moment to examine the territory.
In the afternoon we arrived at Headquarters and were cordially received by some comrades with whom I was acquainted and who worked at the holiest of holies. I absolutely pitied those poor ink-spillers. They get only half the fun in war. First of all I went to the General commanding the Air Forces.
On the next morning came the great moment when I was to meet Hindenburg and Ludendorf. I had to wait for quite a while.
I should find it difficult to describe my encounter with these Generals. I saw Hindenburg first and then Ludendorf.
It is a weird feeling to be in the room where the fate of the world is decided. I was quite glad when I was again outside the holiest of holies and when I had been commanded to lunch with His Majesty. The day was the day of my birth and somebody had apparently told His Majesty. He congratulated me in the first place on my success, and in the second, on my twenty-fifth birthday. At the same time he handed me a small birthday present.
Formerly I would never have believed it possible that on my twenty-fifth birthday I would be sitting at the right of General Field Marshal von Hindenburg and that I would be mentioned by him in a speech.
On the day following I was to take midday dinner with Her Majesty. And so I went to Homburg. Her Majesty also gave me a birthday present and I had the great pleasure to show her how to start an aeroplane. In the evening I was again invited by General Field Marshal von Hindenburg. The day following I flew to Freiburg to do some shooting. At Freiburg I made use of the flying machine which was going to Berlin by air. In Nuremberg I replenished my tanks with benzine. A thunderstorm was coming on. I was in a great hurry to get to Berlin. Various more or less interesting things awaited me there. So I flew on, the thunderstorm notwithstanding. I enjoyed the clouds and the beastly weather. The rain fell in streams. Sometimes it hailed. Afterwards the propeller had the most extraordinary aspect. The hail stones had damaged it considerably. The blades looked like saws.
Unfortunately I enjoyed the bad weather so much that I quite forgot to look about me. When I remembered that one has to look out it was too late. I had no longer any idea where I was. That was a nice position to be in! I had lost my way in my own country! My people at home would laugh when they knew it! However, there it was and couldn't be helped. I had no idea where I was. Owing to a powerful wind I had been driven out of my course and off my map. Guided by sun and compass I tried to get the direction of Berlin.
Towns, villages, hills and forests were slipping away below me. I did not recognize a thing. I tried in vain to compare the picture beneath with my map. Everything was different. I found it impossible to recognize the country. Later on I discovered the impossibility of finding my way for I was flying about sixty miles outside my map.
After having flown for a couple of hours my guide and I resolved to land somewhere in the open. That is always unpleasant. One cannot tell how the surface of the ground is in reality. If one of the wheels gets into a hole one's box is converted into matchwood.
We tried to read the name written upon a station, but of course that was impossible, it was too small. So we had to land. We did it with a heavy heart for nothing else could be done. We looked for a meadow which appeared suitable from above and tried our luck. Close inspection unfortunately showed that the meadow was not as pleasant as it seemed. The fact was obviously proved by the slightly bent frame of our machine. We had made ourselves gloriously ridiculous. We had first lost our way and then smashed the machine. So we had to continue our journey with the commonplace conveyance, by railway train. Slowly but surely, we reached Berlin. We had landed in the neighborhood of Leipzig. If we had not landed so stupidly, we would certainly have reached Berlin. But sometimes you make a mistake whatever you do.
Some days later I arrived in Schweidnitz, my own town. Although I got there at seven o'clock in the morning, there was a large crowd at the station. I was very cordially received. In the afternoon various demonstrations took place to honor me, among others, one of the local Boy Scouts. It became clear to me that the people at home took a vivid interest in their fighting soldiers after all.