Jagdgeschwader I was an elite unit under command of famous Manfred von
Richthofen. After his death on April 21, 1918, Reinhard respected the legacy
of the “Red Baron” and led the unit in similar way as von Richthofen did, giving his pilots relatively large degree of freedom, including the possibility to
fly "free hunts." That was a blessing for the indomitable Gabriel, as independent flights suited him much more than disciplined group operations. But the
“free hunts” were also dangerous adventures, as Willi learned soon.
He took off for lone hunt on June 13, hoping to achieve his fifth victory, which
would grant him the status of an ace. After spotting formation of Spads, he
sneaked up from behind and gave the rearmost plane of the formation burst
of his machine guns. The victim fell and remaining eight enemy pilots pounced on him wildly. Gabriel not only had to use all his strength and skill, but
also had to hope for luck. He zigzagged at the height of the treetops, while
number of hits increased, luckily with no bullet hitting him or anything important on the plane. The hope of getting out of the mess was diminishing, but
then one of the pilots of overflying formation of Jasta 41 Albatroses spotted
his “dance of death” and rushed to help. All but one of the Spad pilots decided to call it a day than and Gabriel managed to shoot down the importunate
opponent. The Spad pilot made an emergency landing at the German territory and Willi together with his saviour headed to the base. After landing, Willi
found it was Josef Schwendemann, who, like Gabriel, had four victories on his
account so far. Grateful for his rescue, Willi offered one of his two victories
of the day to Schwendemann and adjusted his report accordingly. Both pilots
became aces that day…2)
Alex Imrie via Greg VanWyngarden
Walter Gabriel from the time of his service with FFA 21 on the Eastern Front.
when he “awakened” and looked back and over he saw the rest of the squadron circling above him. If it were not his comrades defended him, he would
be done, as the French Spads were above the German patrol to protect the
bombers… However, he achieved his mandatory victory on the first day at the
JG I and so he could unpack definitely… 1)
Two aces by one combat
Willi didn't do much flying with Triplane, as Jasta 11 replaced these aircraft
with new Fokker D.VIIs during the second half of May. One of them, the example of the early production from the Schwerin factory, was assigned to Gabriel. It was a well-known 286/18 with a Mercedes D.IIIa engine. This aircraft got
the marking of the unit (red nose) and personal marking, consisting of orange
and light blue stripes on the fuselage and elevator added gradually.
Leaving one victory to another pilot was not anything new to Gabriel, but
it was for the first time he did so voluntarily. He has been “forced” to do it
not once, but two times before. The day before his abovementioned fight he
claimed the same victory as Reinhard. It would be twentieth victory for his
commander, meaning he would reach the limit for the Pour le Mérite award.
In rather unusual manner adjutant of JG I, Lieutenant Bodenschatz, approached Gabriel with request to waive his claim. But Gabriel refused, because
a few days earlier he had been dealing with the same situation occurring with
another pilot. In that case he agreed on condition he would be awarded the
next disputed victory.3) More to it, in the case of the dispute with Reinhard,
Gabriel was striving for his fifth victory, and thus the ace status. No wonder
he insisted on the victory. However, Reinhard was scheduled to test the new
Zeppelin-Lindau D.I fighter at Adlershof Airport near Berlin in a few days and
would like to leave his unit with the valuable award virtually "in his pocket".
Bodenschatz therefore asked Gabriel again and offered that not one, but two
subsequent disputed victories would be automatically awarded to Gabriel.
Considering it fair, Willi finally agreed. No one could have guessed that there
would be no more disputes with Reinhard…
During the tests at Adlershof on July 3, Hermann Göring tried out the new
type first, followed by Reinhard. During the dive one of the wing struts tore
off and Reinhard was killed in the subsequent crash.4)
Gabriel recorded his seventh victory three days before Reinhard´s death.
His victim was Sopwith Dolphin, and it was a special event, as it was also
the 300th victory of Jasta 11. Willi therefore went to celebrate with his old
comrades-in-arms from Schlasta 15, using his new D.VII F for the trip. It was
BMW IIIa powered aircraft and so very valuable, as it was more powerful and
better performing than Daimler-powered ones.
The party at Schlasta 15 was a bit longer, than expected. Because it was
a clear and “light” summer night, Gabriel decided to fly back home shortly after midnight, but from the air the ground looked much darker, and he
Fokker D.VII Early, 286/18, Vzfw. Willi Gabriel,
Jasta 11, Cappy, France, May 1918
INFO Eduard - February 2021