OUR activity before Verdun was disturbed in the summer of
1916 by frequent thunderstorms. Nothing is more disagreeable for flying men
than to have to go through a thunderstorm. In the Battle of the Somme a whole
English flying squadron came down behind our lines and became prisoners of war
because they had been surprised by a thunderstorm.
I had never yet made an attempt to get through thunder
clouds but I could not suppress my desire to make the experiment. During the
whole day thunder was in the air. From my base at Mont I had flown over to the
fortress of Metz, nearby, in order to look after various things. During my
return journey I had an adventure.
I was at the aerodrome of Metz and intended to return to my
own quarters. When I pulled my machine out of the hangar the first signs of an
approaching thunderstorm became noticeable. Clouds which looked like a gigantic
pitch-black wall approached from the north. Old experienced pilots urged me not
to fly. However, I had promised to return and I should have considered myself a
coward if I had failed to come back because of a silly thunderstorm. Therefore
I meant to try.
When I started the rain began falling. I had to throw away
my goggles, otherwise I should not have seen anything. The trouble was that I
had to travel over the mountains of the Moselle where the thunderstorm was just
raging. I said to myself that probably I should be lucky and get through and
rapidly approached the black cloud which reached down to the earth. I flew at
the lowest possible altitude. I was compelled absolutely to leap over houses
and trees with my machine. Very soon I knew no longer where I was. The gale
seized my machine as if it were a piece of paper and drove it along. My heart
sank within me. I could not land among the hills. I was compelled to go on.
I was surrounded by an inky blackness. Beneath me the trees
bent down in the gale. Suddenly I saw right in front of me a wooded height. I
could not avoid it. My Albatros managed to take it. I was able to fly only in a
straight line. Therefore I had to take every obstacle that I encountered. My
flight became a jumping competition purely and simply. I had to jump over
trees, villages, spires and steeples, for I had to keep within a few yards of
the ground, otherwise I should have seen nothing at all. The lightning was
playing around me. At that time I did not yet know that lightning cannot touch
flying machines. I felt certain of my death for it seemed to me inevitable that
the gale would throw me at any moment into a village or a forest. Had the motor
stopped working I should have been done for.
Suddenly I saw that on the horizon the darkness had become
less thick. Over there the thunderstorm had passed. I would be saved if I were
able to get so far. Concentrating all my energy I steered towards the light.
Suddenly I got out of the thunder-cloud. The rain was still falling in
torrents. Still, I felt saved. In pouring rain I landed at my aerodrome.
Everyone was waiting for me, for Metz had reported my start and had told them
that I had been swallowed up by a thunder cloud. I shall never again fly
through a thunderstorm unless the Fatherland should demand this.
Now, when I look back, I realize that it was all very
beautiful. Nothwithstanding the danger during my flight, I experienced glorious
moments which I would not care to have missed.
My First Time In a Fokker
FROM the beginning of my career as a pilot I had only a
single ambition, the ambition to fly in a single-seater battle-plane. After
worrying my commander for a long time I at last obtained permission to mount a
Fokker. The revolving motor was a novelty to me. Besides, it was a strange
feeling to be quite alone during the flight.
The Fokker belonged jointly to a friend of mine who has died
long ago and to myself. I flew in the morning and he in the afternoon. Both he
and I were afraid that the other fellow would smash the box. On the second day
we flew towards the enemy. When I flew in the morning no Frenchman was to be
seen. In the afternoon it was his turn. He started but did not return. There
was no news from him.
Late in the evening the infantry reported an aerial battle
between a Nieuport and a German Fokker, in the course of which the German
machine had apparently landed at the Mort Homme. Evidently the occupant was
friend Reimann for all the other flying men had returned. We regretted the fate
of our brave comrade. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, we heard over the
telephone that a German flying officer had made an unexpected appearance in the
front trenches at the Mort Homme. It appeared that this was Reimann. His motor
had been smashed by a shot. He had been forced to land. As he was not able to
reach our own lines he had come to the ground in No Man's Land. He had rapidly
set fire to the machine and had then quickly hidden himself in a mine crater.
During the night he had slunk into our trenches. Thus ended our joint
enterprise with a Fokker.
A few days later I was given another Fokker. This time I
felt under a moral obligation to attend to its destruction myself. I was flying
for the third time. When starting, the motor suddenly stopped working. I had to
land right away in a field and in a moment the beautiful machine was converted
into a mass of scrap metal. It was a miracle that I was not hurt.
LAST CHAPTER °