I HAD brought down my sixteenth victim, and I had come to
the head of the list of all the flying chasers. I had obtained the aim which I
had set myself. In the previous year my friend Lynker, with whom I was
training, had asked me: "What is your object? What will you obtain by flying?"
I replied, jokingly, "I would like to be the first of the chasers. That must be
very fine." That I should succeed in this I did not believe myself. Other
people also did not expect my success. Boelcke is supposed to have said, not to
me personallyI have only heard the reportwhen asked: "Which of the
fellows is likely to become a good chaser?""That is the man!" pointing
his finger in my direction.
Boelcke and Immelman were given the Ordre pour le Merite
when they had brought down their eighth aeroplane. I had downed twice that
number. The question was, what would happen to me? I was very curious. It was
rumored that I was to be given command of a chasing squadron.
One fine day a telegram arrived, which stated: "Lieutenant
von Richthofen is appointed Commander of the Eleventh Chasing Squadron."
I must say I was annoyed. I had learnt to work so well with
my comrades of Boelcke's Squadron and now I had to begin all over again working
hand in hand with different people. It was a beastly nuisance. Besides I should
have preferred the Ordre pour le Merite.
Two days later, when we were sitting sociably together, we
men of Boelcke's Squadron, celebrating my departure, a telegram from
Headquarters arrived. It stated that His Majesty had graciously condescended to
give me the Ordre pour le Merite. Of course my joy was tremendous.
I had never imagined that it would be so delightful to
command a chasing squadron. Even in my dreams I had not imagined that there
would ever be a Richthofen's squadron of aeroplanes.
Le Petit Rouge
It occurred to me to have my packing case painted all over
in staring red. The result was that everyone got to know my red bird. My
opponents also seemed to have heard of the color transformation.
During a fight on quite a different section of the Front I
had the good fortune to shoot into a Vickers' two-seater which peacefully
photographed the German artillery position. My friend, the photographer, had
not the time to defend himself. He had to make haste to get down upon firm
ground for his machine began to give suspicious indications of fire. When we
airmen notice that phenomenon in an enemy plane, we say: "He stinks!" As it
turned out it was really so. When the machine was coming to earth it burst into
I felt some human pity for my opponent and had resolved not
to cause him to fall down but merely to compel him to land. I did so
particularly because I had the impression that my opponent was wounded for he
did not fire a single shot.
When I had got down to an altitude of about fifteen hundred
feet engine trouble compelled me to land without making any curves. The result
was very comical. My enemy with his burning machine landed smoothly while I,
his victor, came down next to him in the barbed wire of our trenches and my
The two Englishmen who were not a little surprised at my
collapse, greeted me like sportsmen. As mentioned before, they had not fired a
shot and they could not understand why I had landed so clumsily. They were the
first two Englishmen whom I had brought down alive. Consequently, it gave me
particular pleasure to talk to them. I asked them whether they had previously
seen my machine in the air, and one of them replied, "Oh, yes. I know your
machine very well. We call it 'Le Petit Rouge'."
English and French Flying. (February, 1917)
I WAS trying to compete with Boelcke's squadron. Every
evening we compared our bags. However, Boelcke's pupils are smart rascals. I
cannot get ahead of them. The utmost one can do is to draw level with them. The
Boelcke section has an advantage over my squadron of one hundred aeroplanes
downed. I must not allow them to retain it. Everything depends on whether we
have for opponents those French tricksters or those daring rascals, the
English. I prefer the English. Frequently their daring can only be described as
stupidity. In their eyes it may be pluck and daring.
The great thing in air fighting is that the decisive factor
does not lie in trick flying but solely in the personal ability and energy of
the aviator. A flying man may be able to loop and do all the stunts imaginable
and yet he may not succeed in shooting down a single enemy. In my opinion the
aggressive spirit is everything and that spirit is very strong in us Germans.
Hence we shall always retain the domination of the air.
The French have a different character. They like to put
traps and to attack their opponents unawares. That cannot easily be done in the
air. Only a beginner can be caught and one cannot set traps because an
aeroplane cannot hide itself. The invisible aeroplane has not yet been
discovered. Sometimes, however, the Gaelic blood asserts itself. The Frenchmen
will then attack. But the French attacking spirit is like bottled lemonade. It
The Englishmen, on the other hand, one notices that they are
of Germanic blood. Sportsmen easily take to flying, and Englishmen see in
flying nothing but a sport. They take a perfect delight in looping the loop,
flying on their back, and indulging in other stunts for the benefit of our
soldiers in the trenches. All these tricks may impress people who attend a
Sports Meeting, but the public at the battle-front is not as appreciative of
these things. It demands higher qualifications than trick flying. Therefore,
the blood of English pilots will have to flow in streams.
I Am Shot Down. (Middle of March,
I HAVE had an experience which might perhaps be described
as being shot down. At the same time, I call shot down only when one falls
down. To-day I got into trouble but I escaped with a whole skin.
I was flying with the squadron and noticed an opponent who
also was flying in a squadron. It happened above the German artillery position
in the neighborhood of Lens. I had to fly quite a distance to get there. It
tickles one's nerves to fly towards the enemy, especially when one can see him
from a long distance and when several minutes must elapse before one can start
fighting. I imagine that at such a moment my face turns a little pale, but
unfortunately I have never had a mirror with me. I like that feeling for it is
a wonderful nerve stimulant. One observes the enemy from afar. One has
recognized that his squadron is really an enemy formation. One counts the
number of the hostile machines and considers whether the conditions are
favorable or unfavorable. A factor of enormous importance is whether the wind
forces me away from or towards our Front. For instance, I once shot down an
Englishman. I fired the fatal shot above the English position. However, the
wind was so strong that his machine came down close to the German captive
We Germans had five machines. Our opponents were three times
as numerous. The English flew about like midges. It is not easy to disperse a
swarm of machines which fly together in good order. It is impossible for a
single machine to do it. It is extremely difficult for several aeroplanes,
particularly if the difference in number is as great as it was in this case.
However, one feels such a superiority over the enemy that one does not doubt of
success for a moment.
The aggressive spirit, the offensive, is the chief thing
everywhere in war, and the air is no exception. However, the enemy had the same
idea. I noticed that at once. As soon as they observed us they turned round and
attacked us. Now we five had to look sharp. If one of them should fall there
might be a lot of trouble for all of us. We went closer together and allowed
the foreign gentlemen to approach us.
I watched whether one of the fellows would hurriedly take
leave of his colleagues. There! One of them is stupid enough to depart alone. I
can reach him and I say to myself, "That man is lost." Shouting aloud, I am
after him. I have come up to him or at least am getting very near him. He
starts shooting prematurely, which shows that he is nervous. So I say to
myself, "Go on shooting. You won't hit me." He shot with a kind of ammunition
which ignites. So I could see his shots passing me. I felt as if I were sitting
in front of a gigantic watering pot. The sensation was not pleasant. Still, the
English usually shoot with their beastly stuff, and so we must try and get
accustomed to it. One can get accustomed to anything. At the moment I think I
laughed aloud. But soon I got a lesson. When I had approached the Englishman
quite closely, when I had come to a distance of about three hundred feet, I got
ready for firing, aimed and gave a few trial shots. The machine guns were in
order. The decision would be there before long. In my mind's eye I saw my enemy
My former excitement was gone. In such a position one thinks
quite calmly and collectedly and weighs the probabilities of hitting and of
being hit. Altogether the fight itself is the least exciting part of the
business as a rule. He who gets excited in fighting is sure to make mistakes.
He will never get his enemy down. Besides calmness is, after all, a matter of
habit. At any rate in this case I did not make a mistake. I approached my man
up to fifty yards. Then I fired some well aimed shots and thought that I was
bound to be successful. That was my idea. But suddenly I heard a tremendous
bang, when I had scarcely fired ten cartridges. Presently again something hit
my machine. It became clear to me that I had been hit or rather my machine. At
the same time I noticed a fearful benzine stench and I observed that the motor
was running slack. The Englishman noticed it, too, for he started shooting with
redoubled energy while I had to stop it.
I went right down. Instinctively I switched off the engine
and indeed it was high time to do this. When a pilot's benzine tank has been
perforated, and when the infernal liquid is squirting around his legs, the
danger of fire is very great. In front is an explosion engine of more than 150
h. p. which is red hot. If a single drop of benzine should fall on it the whole
machine would be in flames.
I left in the air a thin white cloud. I knew its meaning
from my enemies. Its appearance is the first sign of a coming explosion. I was
at an altitude of nine thousand feet and had to travel a long distance to get
down. By the kindness of Providence my engine stopped running. I have no idea
with what rapidity I went downward. At any rate the speed was so great that I
could not put my head out of the machine without being pressed back by the rush
Soon I lost sight of my enemy. I had only time to see what
my four comrades were doing while I was dropping to the ground. They were still
fighting. Their machine-guns and those of their opponents could be heard.
Suddenly I notice a rocket. Is it a signal of the enemy? No, it cannot be. The
light is too great for a rocket. Evidently a machine is on fire. What machine ?
The burning machine looks exactly as if it were one of our own. No! Praise the
Lord, it is one of the enemy's! Who can have shot him down? Immediately
afterwards a second machine drops out and falls perpendicularly to the ground,
turning, turning, turning exactly as I did, but suddenly it recovers its
balance. It flies straight towards me. It also is an Albatros. No doubt it had
the same experience as I had.
I had fallen to an altitude of perhaps one thousand feet and
had to look out for a landing. Now such a sudden landing usually leads to
breakages and as these are occasionally serious it was time to look out. I
found a meadow. It was not very large but it just sufficed if I used due
caution. Besides it was favorably situated on the high road near Henin-Lietard.
There I meant to land.
Everything went as desired and my first thought was, "What
has become of the other fellow?" He landed a few kilometers from the spot where
I had come to the ground.
I had ample time to inspect the damage. My machine had been
hit a number of times. The shot which caused me to give up the fight had gone
through both benzine tanks. I had not a drop of benzine left and the engine
itself had also been damaged by shots. It was a pity for it had worked so well.
I let my legs dangle out of the machine and probably made a
very silly face. In a moment I was surrounded by a large crowd of soldiers.
Then came an officer. He was quite out of breath. He was terribly excited ! No
doubt something fearful had happened to him. He rushed towards me, gasped for
air and asked: "I hope that nothing has happened to you. I have followed the
whole affair and am terribly excited! Good Lord, it looked awful!" I assured
him that I felt quite well, jumped down from the side of my machine and
introduced myself to him. Of course he did not understand a particle of my
name. However, he invited me to go in his motor car to Henin- Lietard where he
was quartered. He was an Engineer Officer.
We were sitting in the motor and were commencing our ride.
My host was still extraordinarily excited. Suddenly he jumped up and asked:
"Good Lord, but where is your chauffeur?" At first I did not quite understand
what he "meant. Probably I looked puzzled. Then it dawned upon me that he
thought that I was the observer of a two- seater and that he asked after the
fate of my pilot. I pulled myself together and said in the dryest tones: "I
always drive myself." Of course the word "drive" is absolutely taboo among the
An aviator does not drive, he flies. In the eyes of the kind
gentleman I had obviously lost caste when he discovered that I "drove" my own
aeroplane. The conversation began to slacken.
We arrived in his quarters. I was still dressed in my dirty
and oily leather jacket and had round my neck a thick wrap. On our journey he
had of course asked me a tremendous number of questions. Altogether he was far
more excited than I was. When we got to his diggings he forced me to lie down
on the sofa, or at least he tried to force me because, he argued, I was bound
to be terribly done up through my fight. I assured him that this was not my
first aerial battle but he did not, apparently, give me much credence. Probably
I did not look very martial.
After we had been talking for some time he asked me of
course the celebrated question: "Have you ever brought down a machine?" As I
said before he had probably not understood my name. So I answered nonchalantly:
"Oh, yes! I have done so now and then." He replied: "Indeed! Perhaps you have
shot down two?" I answered: "No. Not two but twenty-four." He smiled, repeated
his question and gave me to understand that, when he was speaking about
shooting down an aeroplane, he meant not shooting at an aeroplane but shooting
into an aeroplane in such a manner that it would fall to the ground and remain
there. I immediately assured him that I entirely shared his conception of the
meaning of the words "shooting down."
Now I had completely lost caste with him. He was convinced
that I was a fearful liar. He left me sitting where I was and told me that a
meal would be served in an hour. If I liked I could join in. I accepted his
invitation and slept soundly for an hour. Then we went to the Officers' Club.
Arrived at the club I was glad to find that I was wearing the Ordre pour le
Unfortunately I had no uniform jacket underneath my greasy
leather coat but only a waistcoat. I apologized for being so badly dressed.
Suddenly my good chief discovered on me the Ordre pour le Merite. He was
speechless with surprise and assured me that he did not know my name. I gave
him my name once more. Now it seemed to dawn upon him that he had heard my name
before. He feasted me with oysters and champagne and I did gloriously until at
last my orderly arrived and fetched me with my car. I learned from him that
comrade Lubbert had once more justified his nickname. He was generally called
"the bullet-catcher" for his machine suffered badly in every fight. Once it was
hit sixty-four times. Yet he had not been wounded. This time he had received a
glancing shot on the chest and he was by this time in hospital. I flew his
machine to port. Unfortunately this excellent officer, who promised to become
another Boelcke, died a few weeks latera hero's death for the Fatherland.
In the evening I could assure my kind host of Henin-Lietard
that I had increased my "bag" to twenty-five.
LAST CHAPTER °