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Chapter 12 - Schäfer Lands Between the Lines

WE went on a shooting expedition on the twentieth of April. We came home very late and lost Schäfer on the way.

Of course everyone hoped that he would come to hand before dark. It struck nine, it struck ten, but no Schäfer was visible. His benzine could not last so long. Consequently, he had landed somewhere, for no one was willing to admit that he had been shot down. No one dared to mention the possibility. Still, everyone was afraid for him.

The ubiquitous telephone was set in motion in order to find out whether a flying man had come down anywhere. Nobody could give us information. No Division and no Brigade had seen anything of him. We felt very uncomfortable. At last we went to bed. All of us were perfectly convinced that he would turn up in the end. At two o'clock, after midnight, I was suddenly awakened. The telephone orderly, beaming with pleasure, reported to me: "Schäfer is in the Village of Y. and would like to be fetched home."

The next morning when we were sitting at breakfast the door opened and my dear pilot stood before me. His clothes were as filthy as those of an infantryman who has fought at Arras for a fortnight. He was greeted with a general Hurrah! Schäfer was tremendously happy and elated and tremendously excited about his adventure. When he had finished his breakfast he told us the following tale:

"I was flying along the front intending to return home. Suddenly I noticed far below me something that looked like an infantry flier. I attacked him, shot him down, and meant to fly back. However, the English in the trenches did not mean me to get away and started peppering me like anything. My salvation lay in the rapidity of my machine, for those rascals, of course, would forget that they had to aim far in front of me if they wished to hit me.

"I was at an altitude of perhaps six hundred feet. Suddenly, I heard a smash and my engine stopper running. There was nothing to do but to land. I asked myself whether I should be able to get away from the English position. It seemed very questionable. The English noticed my predicament and started shooting like mad.

"As my engine was no longer running I could hear every single shot.

"The position became awkward. I came down and landed. Before my machine had come to a standstill they squirted upon me heaps of bullets from machine guns in the hedge of the village of Monchy near Arras. My machine became splashed with bullets.

"I jumped out of it and down into the first shell hole. Squatting there I reflected and tried to realize exactly where I was. Gradually it became clear to me that I had landed outside the English lines, but cursedly near them. Happily it was rather late in the evening and that was my salvation.

"Before long the first shell came along. Of course they were gas shells and I had no mask with me. My eyes started watering like anything. Before darkness set in the English ascertained the distance of the spot where I had landed with machine guns. Part of them aimed at my machine and part at my shell crater. The bullets constantly hit its rim. "In order to quiet my nerves I lit a cigarette. Then I took off my heavy fur coat and prepared everything for a leap and a run. Every minute seemed to me an hour. "Gradually it became dark, but only very gradually. Around me I heard partridges giving a concert. As an experienced shot I recognized from their voices that they felt quite happy and contented, that there was no danger of my being surprised in my hiding place.

"At last it became quite dark. Suddenly and quite close to me a couple of partridges flew up. A second couple followed. It was obvious that danger was approaching. No doubt a patrol was on the way to wish me a happy evening.

"I had no time to lose. Now or never. First I crept very cautiously on my chest from shell hole to shell hole. After creeping- industriously for about an hour and a half I noticed I was nearing humans. Were they English or were they Germans ? They came nearer and I could almost have fallen round their necks, when I discovered our own musketeers. They were a German patrol who were nosing about in No Man's Land.

"One of the men conducted me to the Commander of his Company. I was told that in the evening I had landed about fifty yards in front of the enemy lines and that our infantry had given me up for lost. I had a good supper and then I started on my way home. Behind me there was far more shooting than in front of me. Every path, every trench, every bush, every hollow, was under enemy fire. The English attacked on the next morning, and consequently, they had to begin their artillery preparation the evening before. So I had chosen an unfavorable day for my enterprise. I reached the first telephone only at two o'clock in the morning when I phoned to the Squadron."

We were all very happy to have our Schäfer again with us. He went to bed. Any other man would have taken a rest from flying for twenty-four hours. But on the afternoon of this very day friend Schäfer attacked a low flying B. E. above Monchy.

The Anti-Richthofen Squadron

THE English had hit upon a splendid joke. They intended to catch me or to bring me down. For that purpose they had actually organized a special squadron which flew about in that part which we frequented as a rule. We discovered its particular aim by the fact that its aggressive activity was principally directed against our red machines.

I would say that all the machines of the squadron had been painted red because our English friends had by-and-by perceived that I was sitting in a blood-red band-box. Suddenly there were quite a lot of red machines and the English opened their eyes wide when one fine day they saw a dozen red barges steaming along instead of a single one. Our new trick did not prevent them from making an attempt at attacking us. I preferred their new tactics. It is better that one's customers come to one's shop than to have to look for them abroad.

We flew to the front hoping to find our enemy. After about twenty minutes the first arrived and attacked us. That had not happened to us for a long time. The English had abandoned their celebrated offensive tactics to some extent. They had found them somewhat too expensive.

Our aggressors were three Spad one- seater machines. Their occupants thought themselves very superior to us because of the excellence of their apparatus. Wolff, my brother and I, were flying together. We were three against three. That was as it ought to be.

Immediately at the beginning of the encounter the aggressive became a defensive. Our superiority became clear. I tackled my opponent and could see how my brother and Wolff handled each his own enemy. The usual waltzing began. We were circling around one another. A favorable wind came to our aid. It drove us, fighting, away from the front in the direction of Germany.

My man was the first who fell down. I suppose I had smashed up his engine. At any rate, he made up his mind to land. I no longer gave pardon to him. Therefore, I attacked him a second time and the consequence was that his whole machine went to pieces. His planes dropped off like pieces of paper and the body of the machine fell like a stone, burning fiercely. It dropped into a morass. It was impossible to dig it out and I have never discovered the name of my opponent. He had disappeared. Only the end of the tail was visible and marked the place where he had dug his own grave.

Simultaneously with me, Wolff and my brother had attacked their opponents and had forced them to land not far from my victim. We were very happy and flew home and hoped that the anti-Richthofen Squadron would often return to the fray.

We Are Visited By My Father

MY father had announced that he would visit his two sons on the twenty- ninth of April. My father is commander of a little town in the vicinity of Lille. Therefore he does not live very far away from us. I have occasionally seen him on my flights.

He intended to arrive by train at nine o'clock. At half past nine he came to our aerodrome. We just happened to have returned from an expedition. My brother was the first to climb out of his machine, and he greeted the old gentleman with the words: "Good day. Father. I have just shot down an Englishman." Immediately after, I also climbed out of my machine and greeted him "Good day. Father, I have just shot down an Englishman." The old gentleman felt very happy and he was delighted. That was obvious. He is not one of those fathers who are afraid for their sons. I think he would like best to get into a machine himself and help us shoot. We breakfasted with him and then we went flying again.

In the meantime, an aerial fight took place above our aerodrome. My father looked on and was greatly interested. We did not take a hand in the fight for we were standing on the ground and looked on ourselves.

An English squadron had broken through and was being attacked above our aerodrome by some of our own reconnoitering aeroplanes. Suddenly one of the machines started turning over and over. Then it recovered itself and came gliding down normally. We saw, with regret this time, that it was a German machine.

The Englishman flew on. The German aeroplane had apparently been damaged. It was quite correctly handled. It came down and tried to land on our flying ground. The room was rather narrow for the large machine. Besides, the ground was unfamiliar to the pilot. Hence, the landing was not quite smooth. We ran towards the aeroplane and discovered with regret that one of the occupants of the machine, the machine gunner, had been killed. The spectacle was new to my father. It made him serious.

The day promised to be a favorable one for us. The weather was wonderfully clear. The anti-aircraft guns were constantly audible. Obviously, there was much aircraft about.

Towards mid-day we flew once more. This time, I was again lucky and shot down my second Englishman of the day. The Governor recovered his good spirits.

After the mid-day dinner I slept a little. I was again quite fresh. Wolff had fought the enemy in the meantime with his group of machines and had himself bagged an enemy. Schäfer also had eaten one. In the afternoon my brother and I accompanied by Schäfer, Festner and Allmenroder flew twice more.

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.


Chapter 13