but he decided to return to his KEK Vaux instead. Although unable to fly because of a stiff knee, he could still command. He resumed flying in second half
of August 1916 although he had to be helped to the cockpit, as the left knee
was still too stiff (it bettered later).
Berthold achieved his sixth victory on August 24, the next day KUK Vaux
became Jagdstaffel 4 (Fighter Squadron 4). Berthold´s eight victory came
on September 26 and, as the Pour le Mérite was usually awarded for eight
victories at this stage of the war, Berthold hung the “Blue Max” on his neck on
September 12 as 10th German pilot.
photo: Grega VanWyngaarden collection via Jörn Leckscheid
With the new honour new task emerged, as he was assigned to lead the new
Jasta 14, based on Fokker Kampfstaffel Falkenhausen, the unit without any
aerial victory so far. Berthold utilized rather calm situation in the Alsace region
for additional training of his pilots, showing both his perfect „killing“ instincts as
well as the combat experience. He also commanded the unit with stern professional attitude and uncompromising demand of discipline.
Ace and the stark commander
At the start on 1916 Berthold was already one of the most experienced
combat pilots within the Luftstreikräte and perceived the need of larger, more
operational units. He made a plea for amassing air power to the headquarters of Armee-Abteilung A (Army Division A) his unit was part of, but without
success. He also continued with training of the pilots of Jasta 14 until the unit
was moved to the Laon area with more combat action at the start of 1917. The
unit also started to receive new Albatros D.IIIs and Berthold picked the one with
serial 2182/16 as his personal mount. He put his personal symbol, the sword
of vengeance on it and later he made it painted in homage to his old infantry
unit, i.e in red and blue colours. By the time also new Pfalz D.IIIs appeared and
Berthold, contrary to many other pilots, preferred this type over the Albatros.
But prior to the arrival of first Pfalz D.IIIs Berthold was wounded again during
the combat with French Caudron R.9. The bullet hit his lower right shin and as
the wound was not serious he joked in his diary that his right arm was the only
one of his four extremities to remain unwounded. He could not anticipate, how
troublesome this one would be…
He got back to his unit after short period of convalescence (from May
5 to June 15) and felt the discipline and combat morale of his pilots declined
during his absence. Eager to get to the action as soon as possible, he wangled
a medical clearance from his physician. He was cleared to fly again but did not
return to lead Jasta 14 as he was moved to the Jasta 18 with base in Harelbek, Belgium. The intention of the move was clear: Berthold was set to “wake
up” the unit with little success so far and he did so. He promptly emphasized
training even though the pilots had to fly combat missions simultaneously. And
he again pitched his idea of using bigger fighter units. Headquarters of the
4th Army finally agreed to group Jagdstaffeln 18, 24, 31, and 36 into Jagdgruppe 7 (JGr. 7) with Berthold in command. He was in his element again and
scored regular victories starting with French SPAD sent down on August 21.
During September he added 14 victories to his account, but the string was to
be interrupted again. He achieved his 28th victory on October 2, but it was
his last for a long time.
Rudolf Berthold (right) with flight instructor Ernst Schlegel in front of Albatros B.II
for her brother to be diverted to the clinic of one of Germany's best surgeons,
Doctor August Bier. Berthold arrived at the clinic on November 2, 1917 and
Bier´s priority was to save the arm from amputation. Secondly, he hoped for
some success with rehabilitation. Berthold stayed on clinic for four months. During this time was promoted to the Hauptmann (Captain) rank and received
many letters from comrades as well as officials, the one of Luftstreikräte commander General Ernst von Hoeppner being among them.
It was a cloudy, misty weather in the area of 4th Army on October 10, 1917.
Low clouds and rain prevented the air units to conduct any operational flying,
but the situation got better in the afternoon and Berthold took off with his pilots
and headed for the area of Roeselare (northeast from Yprés). Jasta 18 took
off at about 16.45. On the other side of the front two flights of 56th Squadron of RFC were set for combat, heading with their S.E.5as to the same area.
Leader of the A Flight Captain Gerard C. Maxwell, the ace with 20 victories at
the time (he added six more till the end of the war) stated in his combat report:
„Crossed lines at 14,000 feet and patrolled area. At about 5 p.m. saw and
attacked about twelve E.A. Scouts, east of Ypres. Dived on several and fired
a drum of Lewis and about 100 rounds of Vickers at very close range. E.A.
went down very steeply and I lost sight of him.“
Ernst Wilhelm Turck took the command of JGr. 7, but Berthold did not give
up the idea of return. The medical reports were in contrary to his wishes.
He learned to write with his left hand ad in his diary he wrote: „If I can write,
I can fly.“ He was receiving regular dosage of Cocaine as anaesthetics and
slightly developed dependence on narcotics. It was changing his behaviour
somehow. He was over euphoric and his activity was raised after the narcotics
were applied. In the middle of February 1918, just eight days after he went
from the bed for first time, he volunteered to return to Jagdgruppe 7. Berthold
was cleared medically on March 1 and returned to command Jagstaffel 18
five days later, although denied permission to fly. Due to that Berthold had
arranged for Hans-Joachim Buddecke's transfer into the unit to lead it in the
air. The Jasta 18 moved meantime on the Avelin base after the battle of Cambrai in November 1917. Berthold was warmly received by his old comrades.
Even he could not fly with them, his presence was something of a much-needed
boost after relatively unsuccessful period. Just two days after his arrival to the
Jagdstaffel, Buddecke was killed in action by Flight Lieutenant Arthur Treloar
Whealy (Sopwith Camel s/n B7220).
It is believed the aircraft Maxwell was firing at, was Berthold´s one. One of
the bullets ricocheted in the cockpit and hit his right arm in odd angle, pulverizing its humerus. With half-severed ailerons of his aircraft (probably Pfalz
D.III No. 4004/17) Berthold managed to return to the base but passed out
just after landing. He was quickly moved to the field hospital in Courtrai, but it
did not have the facilities to heal such a serious injury. It took three weeks for
Berthold to be stable enough to be transported to Saint Vincenzstift Hospital in
Hannover. Meantime his pilot fellows alerted his elder sister Franziska, a nursing supervisor in Viktoria-Lazarett (Victoria Hospital) in Berlin. She arranged
Friend´s death was another big loss for Berthold, but there was no time for
mourning. Five days later was killed leader of JG II Adolf Ritter von Tutschek
and Berthold was promoted to lead the Jagdgeschwader after him. He moved
to the Toulis-et-Attencourt, some 140 km from Avelin and because of his personal ties with most of the Jasta 18 pilots he asked for permission to incorporate
his previous Jagdstaffel into the JG II, consisting from Jasta 12, 13, 15 and 19.
But he asked in vain, as there was no time for such a move just four days prior
to the Spring offensive. Berthold did not give up and made something unprecedented. He used the custom the new leader is allowed to take some of the
INFO Eduard - January 2021