THE weather was glorious. We were ready for starting. I had as a visitor a gentleman who had never seen a fight in the air or anything resembling it and he had just assured me that it would tremendously interest him to witness an aerial battle.
We climbed into our machines and laughed heartily at our visitor's eagerness. Friend Schäfer thought that we might give him some fun. We placed him before a telescope and off we went.
The day began well. We had scarcely flown to an altitude of six thousand feet when an English squadron of five machines was seen coming our way. We attacked them by a rush as if we were cavalry and the hostile squadron lay destroyed on the ground. None of our men was even wounded. Of our enemies three had plunged to the ground and two had come down in flames.
The good fellow down below was not a little surprised. He had imagined that the affair would look quite different, that it would be far more dramatic. He thought the whole encounter had looked quite harmless until suddenly some machines came falling down looking like rockets. I have gradually become accustomed to seeing machines falling down, but I must say it impressed me very deeply when I saw the first Englishman fall and I have often seen the event again in my dreams.
As the day had begun so propitiously we sat down and had a decent breakfast. All of us were as hungry as wolves. In the meantime our machines were again made ready for starting. Fresh cartridges were got and then we went off again.
In the evening we could send off the proud report: "Six German machines have destroyed thirteen hostile aeroplanes." Boelcke's Squadron had only once been able to make a similar report. At that time we had shot down eight machines. To-day one of us had brought low four of his opponents. The hero was a Lieutenant Wolff, a delicate-looking little fellow in whom nobody could have suspected a redoubtable hero. My brother had destroyed two, Schäfer two, Festner two and I three.
We went to bed in the evening tremendously proud but also terribly tired. On the following day we read with noisy approval about our deeds of the previous day in the official communique. On the next day we downed eight hostile machines.
A very amusing thing occurred. One of the Englishmen whom we had shot down and whom we had made a prisoner was talking with us. Of course he inquired after the Red Aeroplane. It is not unknown even among the troops in the trenches and is called by them "le diable rouge." In the Squadron to which he belonged there was a rumor that the Red Machine was occupied by a girl, by a kind of Jeanne d'Arc. He was intensely surprised when I assured him that the supposed girl was standing in front of him. He did not intend to make a joke. He was actually convinced that only a girl could sit in the extravagantly painted machine.
THE most beautiful being in all creation is the genuine Danish hound, my little lap-dog, my Moritz. I bought him in Ostend from a brave Belgian for five marks. His mother was a beautiful animal and one of his fathers also was pure-bred. I am convinced of that. I could select one of the litter and I chose the prettiest. Zeumer took another puppy and called it Max. Max came to a sudden end. He was run over by a motor car.
Moritz flourished exceedingly. He slept with me in my bed and received a most excellent education. He never left me while I was in Ostend and obtained my entire affection. Month by month Moritz grew, and gradually my tender little lap-dog became a colossal, big beast.
Once I even took him with me. He was my first observer. He behaved very sensibly. He seemed much interested in everything and looked at the world from above. Only my mechanics were dissatisfied when they had to clean the machine. Afterwards Moritz was very merry.
Moritz is more than a year old and he is still as child-like as if he were still in his teens. He is very fond of playing billiards. In doing this he has destroyed many billiard balls and particularly many a billiard cloth. He has a great passion for the chase. My mechanics are highly satisfied with his sporting inclinations for he has caught for them many a nice hare. I do not much approve of his hunting proclivities. Consequently he gets a whacking if I catch him at it.
He has a silly peculiarity. He likes to accompany the flying machines at the start. Frequently the normal death of a flying- man's dog is death from the propeller. One day he rushed in front of a flying-machine which had been started. The aeroplane caught him up and a beautiful propeller was smashed to bits. Moritz howled terribly and a measure which I had hitherto omitted was taken. I had always refused to have his ears cut. One of his ears was cut off by the propeller. A long ear and a short ear do not go well together.
Moritz has taken a very sensible view of the world-war and of our enemies. When in the summer of 1916 he saw for the first time Russian natives—the train had stopped and Moritz was being taken for a walk—he chased the Russian crowd with loud barking. He has no great opinion of Frenchmen although he is, after all, a Belgian. Once, when I had settled in new quarters, I ordered the people to clean the house. When I came back in the evening nothing had been done. I got angry and asked the Frenchman to come and see me. When he opened the door Moritz greeted him rather brusquely. Immediately I understood why no cleaning had been done.
The English Attack Our Aerodrome
NIGHTS in which the full moon is shining are most suitable for night flying. During the full moon nights of the month of April our English friends were particularly industrious. This was during the Battle of Arras.. Probably they had found out that we had comfortably installed ourselves on a beautiful large flying ground at Douai.
One night when we were in the Officers' Mess the telephone started ringing and we were told: "The English are coming." There was a great hullabaloo. We had bombproof shelters. They had been got ready by our excellent Simon. Simon is our architect, surveyor and builder.
We dived down into shelter and we heard actually, at first a very gentle humming and then the noise of engines. The searchlights had apparently got notice at the same time as we, for they started getting ready. The nearest enemy was still too far away to be attacked. We were colossally merry. The only thing we feared was that the English would not succeed in finding our aerodrome. To find some fixed spot at night is by no means easy. It was particularly difficult to find us because our aerodrome was not situated on an important highway or near water or a railway, by which one can be guided during one's flight at night. The Englishmen were apparently flying at a great altitude. At first they circled around our entire establishment. We began to think that they had given up and were looking for another objective. Suddenly we noticed that the nearest one had switched off his engine. So he was coming lower. Wolff said: "Now the matter is becoming serious."
We had two carbines and began shooting at the Englishman. We could not see him. Still the noise of our shooting was a sedative to our nerves.
Suddenly he was taken up by the search lights. There was shouting all over the flying ground. Our friend was sitting in a prehistoric packing case. We could clearly recognize the type. He was half a mile away from us and was flying straight towards us.
He went lower and lower. At last he had come down to an altitude of about three hundred feet. Then he started his engine again and came straight towards the spot where we were standing. Wolff thought that he took an interest in the other side of our establishment and before long the first bomb fell and it was followed by a number of other missiles.
Our friend amused us with very pretty fireworks. They could have frightened only a coward. Broadly speaking, I find that bomb-throwing at night has only a moral effect. Those who are easily frightened are strongly affected when bombs fall at night. The others don't care.
We were much amused at the Englishman's performance and thought the English would come quite often on a visit. The flying piano dropped its bombs at last from an altitude of one hundred and fifty feet. That was rather impertinent for in a moonlit night I think I can hit a wild pig at one hundred and fifty feet with a rifle. Why then should I not succeed in hitting the Englishman? It would have been a novelty to down an English airman from the ground. From above I had already had the honor of downing a number of Englishmen, but I had never tried to tackle an aviator from below.
When the Englishman had gone we went back to mess and discussed among ourselves how we should receive the English should they pay us another visit on the following night. In the course of the next day our orderlies and other fellows were made to work with great energy. They had to ram into the ground piles which were to be used as a foundation for machine guns during the coming night.
We went to the butts and tried the English machine guns which we had taken from the enemy, arranged the sights for night shooting and were very curious as to what was going to happen. I will not betray the number of our machine guns. Anyhow, they were to be sufficient for the purpose. Every one of my officers was armed with one.
We were again sitting at mess. Of course we were discussing the problem of night fliers. Suddenly an orderly rushed in shouting-: "They are there! They are there!" and disappeared in the next bomb-proof in his scanty attire. We all rushed to our machine guns. Some of the men who were known to be good shots, had also been given a machine gun. All the rest were provided with carbines. The whole squadron was armed to the teeth to give a warm reception to our kindly visitors. The first Englishman arrived, exactly as on the previous evening, at a very great altitude. He went then down to one hundred and fifty feet and to our greatest joy began making for the place where our barracks were. He got into the glare of the searchlight.
When he was only three hundred yards away someone fired the first shot and all the rest of us joined in. A rush of cavalry or of storming troops could not have been met more efficiently than the attack of that single impertinent individual flying at one hundred and fifty feet .
Quick firing from many guns received him. Of course he could not hear the noise of the machine guns. The roar of his motor prevented that. However, he must have seen the flashes of our guns. Therefore I thought it tremendously plucky that our man did not swerve, but continued going straight ahead in accordance with his plan. At the moment he was perpendicularly above us we jumped quickly into our bombproof. It would have been too silly for flying men to die by a rotten bomb. As soon as he had passed over our heads we rushed out again and fired after him with our machine guns and rifles. Friend Schäfer asserted that he had hit the man. Schäfer is quite a good shot. Still, in this case I did not believe him. Besides, everyone of us had as good a chance at making a hit as he had.
We had achieved something, for the enemy had dropped his bombs rather aimlessly owing to our shooting. One of them, it is true, had exploded only a few yards from the "petit rouge," but had not hurt him.
During the night the fun recommenced several times. I was already in bed, fast asleep, when I heard in a dream anti-aircraft firing. I woke up and discovered that the dream was reality. One of the Englishmen flew at so low an altitude over my habitation that in my fright I pulled the blanket over my head. The next moment I heard an incredible bang just outside my window. The panes had fallen a victim to the bomb. I rushed out of my room in my shirt in order to fire a few shots after him. They were firing from everywhere. Unfortunately, I had overslept my opportunity..
The next morning we were extremely surprised and delighted to discover that we had shot down from the ground no fewer than three Englishmen. They had landed not far from our aerodrome and had been made prisoners.
As a rule we had hit the engines and had forced the airmen to come down on our side of the Front. After all , Schäfer was possibly right in his assertion. At any rate, we were very well satisfied with our success. The English were distinctly less satisfied for they preferred avoiding our base. It was a pity that they gave us a wide berth, for they gave us lots of fun. Let us hope that they come back to us next month.