I wish that you could have sat with me in Ernst Udet's apartment at 14 Hohenzollernstrasse, Berlin, on one of my many visits and learned to know the man as have I.
A small chap with lazy blue eyes and a happy-go-lucky grin, he was, and still is, a veritable giant in the air, a master of aerial tactics. War robbed the man of his youth. He was only 18 when he got his first victory. Today he is 33 and looks it.
Benjamin's coat was a pale pink alongside the color that is jammed into Udet's short career. The first to descend safely with a parachute when his plane was shot out from under him, he landed smack in the middle of a heavy barrage. He fought the highest battle of the war. Seven Spads tackled him once but his superior flying tactics won him a victory. As far as is known, he is the only man to have rammed another plane in midair and lived to tell it. His best card for a single day was four planes, on another day he got three.
It is small wonder after those experiences, that Udet lives today for but one thing: to shake hands with death in his hazardous occupation of stunt flying daredevil. Experts say he is the best stunt flier in Europe.
He'll kill himself at it some day. I suggested as much to him after watching one of his performances at Tempelhof Field in Berlin. He just laughed.
“Why not?” he asked. “I can't think of a better way out. Can you?”
One of his favorite stunts is to scatter pieces of white bunting over a flying field, then swoop down in a series of breathtaking dives, picking the bunting from the ground with a small spear attached to the under part of a wing. Looping both backwards and forwards with a dead engine, and at less than 150 feet up, is another favorite stunt.
In between his regular stunt engagements, Udet does all sorts of odd flying jobs for the movies. One of his most spectacular pictures is called “The White Hell of Pitz Palu.” It has been showing in this country.
“You'll have to make it clear that I'm giving you this stuff under protest,” said Udet firmly when he had finally consented to give me his story . “All of us in the war, German, French, English, American, Canadian, or any other nationality, had jobs to do and we did them. None of us liked it.”
As I left Udet he was firm on one point.
“If you make me out a braggart,” he threatened, “I promise to fly over your house and drop ten tons of T.N.T.”
I have no desire to see Udet's red stunt plane come zooming over me with a load of T.N.T. I know that he would not miss. Neither have I any desire to give more than Udet's straight-forward story as he gave it to me from his combat reports and war log.