My father discriminates between a sportsman and a butcher. The latter shoots for fun. When I have shot down an Englishman my hunting passion is satisfied for a quarter of an hour. Therefore I do not succeed in shooting two Englishmen in succession. If one of them comes down I have the feeling of complete satisfaction. Only much, much later I have overcome my instinct and have become a butcher.
My brother is differently constituted. I had an opportunity of observing him when he was shooting down his fourth and fifth opponents. We were attacking in a squadron. I started the dance. I had settled my opponent very quickly. When I looked around I noticed my brother rushing after an English machine which was bursting into flames, and exploded. Next to it was another Englishman. My brother, though following number one, immediately directed his machine gun against number two, although his first opponent was still in the air and had not yet fallen. His second victim also fell after a short struggle.
When we met at home he asked me proudly, "How many have you shot down?" I said quite modestly, "One." He turned his back upon me and said, "I did two." There upon I sent him forward to make inquiries. He was to find out the names of his victims, etc. He returned late in the afternoon having been able to find only a single Englishman.
He had looked carelessly, as is usual amongst such butchers. Only on the following day I received a report as to the place where the second had come down. We all had seen his fall.
I Shoot a Bison
WHEN visiting Headquarters I met the Prince von Pless. He permitted me to shoot a bison on his estate. The bison has died out. On the whole earth there are only two spots where bisons may be found. These are the Pless Estate and in the Bialowicz estate of the ex-Czar. The Bialowicz forest has, of course, suffered terribly through the war. Many a magnificent bison which ought to have been shot either by the Czar or by some other monarch has been eaten by German musketeers.
Through the kindness of the Prince I was permitted to shoot so rare an animal. In a few decades none will be left. I arrived at Pless on the afternoon of the twenty-sixth of May and had to start immediately from the station if I wished to kill a bull the same evening.
We drove along the celebrated road, through the giant preserve of the Prince, which has been frequented by many crowned heads. After about an hour, we got out and had to walk half an hour to come to the shooting place. The drivers had already been placed in position. The signal was given to them and they began the drive.
I stood at an elevated spot which had been occupied, according to the head forester, by His Majesty, who from thence had shot many a bison. We waited some considerable time. Suddenly I saw among the timber a gigantic black monster, rolling along. It came straight in my direction. I noticed it before the head forester had. I got ready for firing and must say that I felt somewhat feverish.
It was a mighty bull. When he was at a distance of two hundred yards there was still some hope for him. I thought it was too far for a shot. Of course I could have hit the monster because it was impossible to miss such a huge beast. However, it would have been unpleasant to search for him. Besides it would have been ridiculous had I missed him, so I thought I would wait until he came nearer.
Probably he noticed the drivers for he suddenly turned and came rushing towards me at a sharp angle and at a speed which seemed to me incredible. It was a bad position for a shot, and in a moment he disappeared behind a group of stout trees. I heard him snorting and stamping. I lost sight of him. I have no idea whether he smelt me or not. At any rate, he had disappeared. I caught another glimpse of him at a long distance and he was gone.
I do not know whether it was the unaccustomed aspect of the animal or whether something else affected me. At any rate, at the moment when the bull came near I had the same feeling, the same feverishness which seizes me when I am sitting in my aeroplane and notice an Englishman at so great a distance that I have to fly perhaps five minutes in order to get near him. The only difference is that the Englishman defends himself. Possibly, different feelings would have moved me had I been standing on level ground and not on an elevated position.
Before long, a second bison came near. He was also a huge fellow. He made it easier for me to fire my shot. At a distance of eighty yards I fired at him but I had missed my opportunity to shoot him in the shoulder. A month before, Hindenburg had told me when talking of bison: "You must take a lot of cartridges with you. I have spent on such a fellow half a dozen for he does not die easily. His heart lies so deep that one misses it as a rule." That was really so. Although I knew exactly where the bison's heart was I had missed it. I fired a second shot and a third. Hit for the third time the bull stopped perhaps fifty yards from me.
Five minutes later the beast was dead. The shooting was finished. All three bullets had hit him close above the heart. We drove now, past the beautiful hunting box of the Prince through the forest, in which the guests of Prince Pless shoot every year, deer, and other animals. Then we looked at the interior of the house in Promnitz. It is situated on a peninsula. It commands beautiful views and for three miles around there is no human being. One has no longer the feeling that one is in a preserve of the ordinary kind when one visits the estate of Prince Pless, for the preserve extends to a million acres. It contains glorious stags which have never been seen by man. No forester knows them. Occasionally they are shot. One can tramp about for weeks without seeing a bison. During certain times of the year it is impossible to find one. They like quietude and they can hide themselves in the gigantic forests and tangled woods. We saw many beautiful deer.
After about two hours we arrived at Pless, just before it became dark.
Infantry Fliers, Artillery Fliers and Reconnoitring Machines
HAD I not become a professional chaser I should have turned an infantry flier. After all, it must be a very satisfactory feeling to be able to aid those troops whose work is hardest. The infantry flier can do a great deal to assist the man on foot. For that reason his is a very grateful task. In the course of the Battle of Arras I observed many of these splendid fellows. They flew in any weather and at any time at a low altitude over the enemy and tried to act as connecting links with our hard-pressed troops. I can understand that one can fight with enthusiasm when one is given such a task. I dare say many an airman has shouted Hurrah! when, after an assault he saw the hostile masses stream back or when our smart infantry leaped from the trenches and fought the aggressors eye to eye. Many a time, after a chasing expedition, I have fired my remaining cartridges into the enemy trenches. Although I may have done little practical good, such firing affects the enemy's morale.
I have also been an artillery flier. In my time it was a novelty to regulate the firing of one's own artillery by wireless telegraphy. To do this well an airman requires special talent. I could not do the work for long. I prefer fighting. Very likely, artillery officers make the best artillery fliers. At least, they have the necessary knowledge of the arm which they serve.
I have done a lot of reconnoitering by aeroplane, particularly in Russia during the war of movement. Then I acted once more as a cavalryman. The only difference was that I rode a Pegasus made of steel. My days spent with friend Holck among the Russians were among the finest in my life.
In the Western theater the eye of the reconnaissance flier sees things which are very different from those to which the cavalrymen get accustomed. Villages and towns, railways and roads seem lifeless and dead. Yet there is a colossal traffic going on all the time, but it is hidden from the flying men with great skill. Only a wonderfully trained practised and observant eye can see anything definite when one is traveling at a great height and at a terrific speed. I have excellent eyes but it seems doubtful to me whether there is anyone who can see anything definite when he looks down upon a road from an altitude of fifteen thousand feet. As the eye is an imperfect object for observation one replaces it by the photographic apparatus. Everything that seems important to one must be photographed. Besides, one must photograph those things which one is told to photograph. If one comes home and if the plates have gone wrong, the whole flight has been for nothing.
It often happens to flying men who do reconnoitering that they get involved in a fight. However, their task is more important than fighting. Frequently a photographic plate is more valuable than the shooting down of a squadron. Hence the flying photographer should, as a rule, not take a hand in fighting. Nowadays it is a difficult task to reconnoiter efficiently in the West.
The German Flying Machines
IN the course of the War the German flying machines have experienced great changes. That is probably generally known. There is a colossal difference between a giant plane and a chaser plane.
The chaser plane is small, fast, quick at: turning. It carries nothing apart from the pilot except machine guns and cartridges. The giant plane is a colossus. Its only duty is to carry as much weight as possible and it is able to do this owing to the huge surface of its planes. It is worth while to look at the gigantic English plane which landed smoothly on the German side of the front. The giant plane can carry an unbelievable weight. It will easily fly away dragging from three to five tons. Its benzine tanks look as large as railroad cars. In going about in such a colossus one has no longer the sensation that one is flying. One is driving. In going about in a giant plane the direction depends no longer on one's instinct but on the technical instruments which one carries.
A giant plane has a huge number of horse powers. I do not know exactly how many, but they are many thousand. The greater the horse power is, the better. It seems not impossible that the day may come when a whole division will be transported in such a thing. In its body one can go for a walk. In one of its corners there is an indescribable something. It contains an apparatus for wireless telephony by means of which one can converse with the people down below. In another corner are hanging the most attractive liver sausages which one can imagine. They are the famous bombs which cause such a fright to the good people down below. At every corner is a gun. The whole thing is a flying fortress, and the planes with their stays and supports look like arcades. I have never been able to feel enthusiasm for these giant barges. I find them horrible, unsportsmanlike, boring and clumsy. I rather like a machine of the type of "le petit rouge."
If one is in a small chaser-plane it is quite immaterial whether one flies on one's back, whether one flies up or down, stands on one's head, etc. One can play any tricks one likes, for in such a machine one can fly like a bird. The only difference is that one does not fly with wings, as does the bird albatross. The thing is, after all, merely a flying engine. I think things will come to this, that we shall be able to buy a flying suit for half-a-crown. One gets into it. On the one end there is a little engine, and a little propeller. You stick your arms into planes and your legs into the tail. Then you will do a few leaps in order to start and away you will go up into the air like a bird.
My dear reader, I hear you laughing at my story. But we do not know yet whether our children will laugh at it. Everyone would have laughed fifty years ago if somebody had spoken about flying above Berlin. I remember the sensation which was caused, when, in 1910, Zeppelin came for the first time to Berlin. Now no Berlin street man looks up into the air when an airship is coming along.
Besides giant planes and little chaser planes, there are innumerable other types of flying machines and they are of all sizes. Inventiveness has not yet come to an end. Who can tell what machine we shall employ a year hence in order to perforate the atmosphere ?