There can be little doubt that the most iconic fighter pilot of the First World War on the Western Front was the aristocratic German ‘ace of aces,’ Baron Manfred von Richtohofen. Known universally, due to his particularly conspicuous bright-red coloured Fokker Albatros triplane, as the ‘Red Baron,’ he and the equally gaudy aircraft of his comrades of the ‘Flying Circus’ were no mere publicity stunt as their counterparts among the French and British squadrons who opposed them could attest, often to their fatal cost. In fact, Richtohofen’s personal kill record was 80—more than any pilot in the conflict. Just twenty six years old when he was eventually killed in 1918, he might justifiably be described as the most famous fighter pilot of all time. Fortunately for posterity, Richtohofen found the time to write a book of his experiences, the well regarded The Red Battle Flyer. It will be a familiar text to many of those interested in the Great War in the air. It is accompanied in this special Leonaur edition by the account of another incredibly significant German fighter pilot of the period, Oswald Boelcke. Boelcke was nothing less than the Red Baron’s mentor and Richtohofen’s admiration for him was significant. Certainly, Boelcke was responsible for defining the craft of aerial combat and his leadership and tactical skills are regarded as original and highly influential. He was particularly concerned with the benefits and capabilities of formation fighting. An ace in his own right, he had 40 victories to his credit before he too was killed at the tragically young age of twenty five in 1916, whilst on patrol with Richtohofen himself.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Nights in which the full moon is shining are most suitable for night flying.<br>
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.<br>
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 bomb-proof shelters. They had been got ready by our excellent Simon. Simon is our architect, surveyor and builder.<br>
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.<br>
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.”<br>
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.<br>
Suddenly he was taken up by the searchlights. 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.<br>
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.<br>
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.<br>
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.<br>
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.<br>
From above I had already had the honour of downing a number of Englishmen, but I had never tried to tackle an aviator from below.<br>
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.<br>
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. Everyone of my officers was armed with one.<br>
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.