Text: Richard Plos
Illustration: Adam Tooby
Cat. No. 8136
He’s still in bed when the phone rings. “Sir, north of the forest at Villers-Cotterets , a French Breguet is directing enemy artillery fire. Its effects are devastating!” He quickly notes the area on the map and then replies curtly into the phone, “We’ll be there in a minute!”
Off duty, he should have been allowed to sleep, but needs must. He looks at his watch. It’s not even 0730! But all the other pilots have left for the morning patrol, so it’s up to him. In five minutes, he’s ready. The mechanic is fluttering about his new Fokker D.VII. Jasta 4, which he leads now, was the last of the whole JG I to get these beasts on June 13, just a fortnight ago. He picked one of them, had its fuselage, upper wing and elevator painted red, while the nose was painted black and, following the example of Kirschstein’s Fokker Dr.I, which he also used for a short time, the upper wing was decorated with white stripes. After the letters “Lo”, accompanied by an exclamation mark, had been painted on the sides of the fuselage as usual, the work was almost complete. But something was still missing. A short message to anyone who might want to get him down. He had already made up his mind and the words “Du doch nicht!!” were added on the elevator.
He jumps into the cockpit, settles in, sprays fuel, turns on the magneto, moves the stick to check the controls clearance. The mechanic turns the propeller twice, and by the third time the whole plane shakes with the first revs of the nose engine. A minute later, he takes off.
He heads for the front, his eyes searching for the enemy. It doesn’t take long. There it is! North of the forest, about 600 meters up. He doesn’t waste time and immediately attacks from behind. He’s got to be careful, the twin machine-guns of the Breguet could really mess him up. He’s keeping level and sits right behind. The French observer would shoot his own rudder off if he tried anything! He pulls the breeches of his machine guns and fires a short burst. The head behind the machine guns disappears. Did he hit him? Looks like it. But the French pilot is not about to give his skin cheap and maneuvers violently. He takes a sharp descend turn and tries to escape towards friendly territory.
Now, he’s attacking from the side, which would normally be risky. But now there’s nobody behind the Breguet’s guns. He is perhaps only twenty meters from the French aircraft when suddenly the observer reappears behind them! And it’s bad! The first flashes come from the guns, and he can literally feel the projectiles passing close by. Then his Fokker jolts upwards and there is an abrupt drop in the feedback of the control stick. The rods, leading to the elevator, were cut by enemy shots and the aircraft gets out of control within second. Worse still, the rudder was also hit and badly damaged! The Fokker turns and circles while the Breguet escapes.
The combat took him over the enemy positions. He must make it back to friendly territory! But how? An idea emerges. Whenever the nose begins to turn in the direction of friendly positions, he pushes the throttle. More power widens the turn and that takes him a little bit further in the desired direction. He repeats this over and over again. The progress is slow, but he keeps it. The German positions are within reach already, when suddenly the Fokker banks sharply and goes violently into a dive. There’s no time to lose! He crouches, pushes his feet on the edge of the seat and hurls himself from the cockpit.
A blast of air hits him in the chest and throws him straight into the damaged rudder, which catches on a loose strap of the parachute harness. He is trapped in the wildest ride of his life! He’s trying to get rid of the half-shot rudder, but in vain, the ground is closing. His beloved Lo in tears flashes through his mind ... Snap! The rudder loosens and the strap slips from its grasp. “It’s too late,” he thinks. But then something jerks him upwards. The parachute has opened! A second flies by, maybe two, and he hits the ground hard.
Pain shoots from ankle of Ernst Udet to his entire leg. He lies there, breathing deeply. Artillery fire rumbles around him and one shell explodes so close that a lump of dirt falls on him. He must get out! Struggling for a moment with the pile of white silk, he is finally free. His heart skipping, he makes his way to the nearby firing positions of the German artillery. It’s not over, he’s escaped death again. Du doch nicht!!!