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Oswald Boelcke

"I fly close to my man, aim well and then of course he falls down." — Oswald Boelcke

Oswald Boelcke was a blond, good-natured man who at 23 years of age had won the Iron Cross for carrying out more than fourty reconnaissance missions. He would later go on to be one of the first fliers to win the Pour le Mérite.

Boelcke considered himself a loner when it came to his love of flying. He wrote to his parents shortly after receiving his new aircraft, a Fokker E.1., "I believe in the saying that 'the strong man is mightiest alone,' I have attained my ideal with this single seat fighter. Now I can be pilot, observer and fighter all in one." But, when it came to the love of the ladies, that was a different matter. He courted a French girl near Douai and was censured for taking German nurses on joy rides, which was no small accomplishment given the rather small quarters of the Fokker.

Boelcke displayed leadership qualities despite being a self-described loner. While a cadet he wrote, "You can win the men's confidence if you associate with them naturally and do not try to play the high and mighty superior." He went on to become one of the most respected combat leaders of the war. At the presentation of the Knight's Cross of the House of Hohenzollern with Swords, Lt. Colonel von der Lieth-Thomsen told him, " All comrades of the air service look up to you with pride."

Boelke established Jagdstaffel 2 and coached his men in his own rules for air warfare [Boelke's Dicta] (see below). Boelke's "cubs", as they were called, included Manfred von Ricthofen who became the scourge of the Allies.

Not given to "fancy flying", Boelcke was noted for his exacting style of piloting his aircraft. While in flight training he made 130 consecutive smooth landings before his plane "got a nasty jolt from a heap of manure and turned over with me inside." He regarded aerobatics as a last resort to be used only when his foe refused to stand still for a good shot.

Boelcke was indeed the stuff of legends. While in a German-occupied part of France, he rescued a drowning boy after jumping into a canal fully clothed. The boy's parents were so grateful they wanted him to be awarded the Legion d'Honneur.

On the afternoon of October 28, 1916, Boelcke and Jagdstaffel 2 were scrambled to intercept Major Lanoe Hawker’s No. 24 Squadron. It was Boelcke's sixth patrol of the day over the Somme, and in his haste to get airborne, had forgotten to strap himself into the cockpit — a mistake born from exhaustion that would soon prove fatal.

With Erwin Böhme on his wing, the great German tactician led his patrol up against two DH2's from Hawker’s Squadron. Boelcke attacked Canadian ace Capt. Arthur Knight; Manfred von Richthofen dove on the other DH2, piloted by Lt. Alfred E. Mckay. Soon, a whirlwind dogfight raged, with planes zipping all over the sky. As usual, Böhme stayed close to his leader. Suddenly, while attempting a practiced manoeuvre of forcing their opponent down by barring his way; Lt. Mckay— being pursued by von Richthofen, cut in front of both Boelcke and Böhme. Boelcke had to make a hard right turn to avoid colliding with the Canadian flyer. As he did, his wing scuffed the undercarriage of Böhme’s Albatros D.II. It was barely a collision, Böhme recalled later, but it was enough to be Boelcke’s undoing.

With fabric torn off the upper plane, his Albatros fell out of control toward the front lines below. The master airman fought his plane all the way down fighting the gusting winds and even managed to make a relatively soft crash landing dispite eventually losing the entire upper plane. But since he was not strapped in, even the modest impact of the crash killed him. Böhme, whose plane was also damaged, managed to make a successful crash-landing.

Later that evening a lone British flyer dropped a wreath while circling the aerodrome of Jasta 2; the inscription read: "To the Memory of Captain Boelcke, our Brave and Chivalrous Opponent. From, the English Royal Flying Corps." He had 40 victories to his credit.

The legend of Boelke's demise is not without myth. Although historically accurate, this commonly accepted account is based on memory of the participants. Actual documentation, photographic and otherwise, questions the accuracy of the theory; had his lap belt been fastened, Boelcke would have survived the crash. This seems to be an accepted fact based on Erwin Böhme's writings. Boelcke's Albatros was destroyed only the tail was intact and it is unlikely Böhme ever made a close inspection of the accident site once on the ground.

After his death, at age twenty-seven, Boelcke became known as "the father of pursuit aviation" and the "creator of the Flying Circus". Jasta 2 was later renamed Jasta Boelcke in his honor.

Boelcke's star pupil, Manfred von Richthofen, claimed Lanoe Hawker VC as his eleventh victory on November 23rd, 1916 and on December 20th, 1916, he shot down and killed Capt. Knight. The Red Baron's 13th victim.

Leutnant Böhme eventually became commander of Jasta 2 and was shot down in flames November 29th, 1917, as he attacked an Armstrong-Whitworth F.K.8 on a photo-reconnaissance mission over Flanders.

The other participant in the legendary engagement; Canadian ace Capt. Mckay was killed in action a month later when his SPAD was shot down by a German two-seater.

Boelke formulated eight rules of combat for fighter pilots. These rules were used during WWI and were issued to Luftwaffe pilots during WWII. They are known as Boelke's Dicta.

Boelke's Dicta

1. Try to secure advantages before attacking.-If possible, try to keep the sun behind you.

2. Always carry through an attack when you have-started it.

3. Fire only at close range and only when your opponent is-properly in your sights.

4. Always keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.

5. In any form of attack it is essential to assail your opponent from behind.

6. If your opponent dives on you, do not try to evade his onslaught, but fly to meet it.

7. When over the enemy's lines, never forget your own line of retreat.

8. Attack on principle in groups of four or six. When the fight breaks up into a series of single combats, take care that several do not go for one opponent.

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Ernst Udet

As a small boy, Udet was frequently brutalized by his father. He wanted a tough, manly son. Even though Ernst showed a talent for art and an interest in music he was forced into rough sports. He was small and delicate, not unlike René Fonck, and it was necessary for him to prove his manhood, if for no other reason than to survive the wrath of his father.

He continued his art and made some fine drawings of aircraft and people during the war. He hated the physical side of war and spent much time with alcoholic beverages and women.

As a boy, Udet made several attempts at "flying". Once he threw himself off the balcony of the family home using an open umbrella and a pair of roller skates as well as the head of a policeman walking by as shock absorbers to break his fall. Another time he made a zeppelin out of one of his mother's rather large dresses. After filling it with house gas he lit a candle under it not realizing the gas was explosive. The resulting blast didn't kill him but was enough to curb his interest in experimentation.

He learned to fly in 1913 after his father put up the money for the flying club. He did not have a true interest in flying at that time. His interests were centered on good food, drink and women. Just the life his father would disapprove of.

When the war came he was but 18 years old and upon enlisting was assigned as a motorcyclist in the 26th Württemberg Reserves. After being wounded by a French patrol and spending time in the hospital at Strasbourg, he was reassigned as an army mailman. He applied for transfer to a flying group and upon completion of training and earning his wings, was assigned to a scout unit at Heilenkrenz. It wasn't long before Udet showed his flying abilities. While flying and Aviatik with an observer a bracing wire on the right wing snapped and the plane began to dive to the left. The plane became uncontrollable and Udet used all his strength attempting to pull the plane out of the dive but to no avail. His observer left the cockpit and got out onto the right wing in an attempt to balance the plane with his weight but soon returned when that didn't work. The observer then kicked out the panel between him and Udet and together they were able to control the dive. They were over Switzerland at the time and were able to slowly make it back across the border into Germany landing in a hay field. Udet and his observer both received the Iron Cross. Udet crashed two more times before being assigned to single seat fighters. In his first encounter with a French fighter he found he was unable to press the trigger. This nearly cost him his life in that the French flyer didn't hesitate and riddled Udet's plane with bullets shattering his goggles and nearly blinding him. It became clear that the desire to kill did not reside in him so he trained himself to overcome this.

By August of 1917, Udet was commander of Jasta 37 in Flanders and he continued to score victories. In March of 1918 he joined the Richthofen geschwader in Jasta 11(the von Richthofen Flying Circus) at the request of von Richthofen himself. He soon became acting commander of Jasta 2. After a serious ear infection grounded him and he was placed on leave by von Richthofen, he returned to Jasta 11 and began to fly in a manner which would earn him great fame. In 1918 during a single six month period he scored 42 victories. In September of that year he was seriously wounded in a battle with two American aircraft. He did not return to active duty for the remainder of the war. Udet ended the war with 62 victories.

After the war, Udet continued flying as a stunt performer traveling the globe. His act became world famous. At the start of WWII, he joined the Luftwaffe and became a General in charge of aircraft production. He had continued his drinking and womanizing ways and had at times shocked even Berlin. He apparently wasn't very good at his new position and Berlin suspected he was not a very sincere Nazi. He was ultimately used as a scapegoat and wrongfully blamed for the failure of the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. In 1941 he died by his own hand after shooting himself with a pearl handled Luger.

 

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