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How I Shot Down 62 Planes
How I Shot Down 62 Planes
Ernst Udet
Published by Alan
9 April 2004
Page 2

How I Shot Down 62 Planes

From the War Log of Ernst Udet

Compiled by David B. Rogers

Transcribed for The Aerodrome by Alan B. Pechman

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“Bring them down burning! Get the plane you are after and make it burn.” Those are the words and the code of my former commander, Baron Freiherr von Richthofen, the Red Knight of Germany, the super birdman of all times, who brought down eighty Allied planes, most of them flamers. Throughout the war, Richthofen lived for only one thing—relentless conflict. Only once in all the times I flew with him did I see an enemy plane escape his deadly guns.

It was because of Richthofen's prejudice for flamers that I rather hated to report my 22nd victory. Mine had been a clear-cut win, and all that; still, my man did not come down in flames. As to the fight, you may judge for yourself.

My opponent was an Australian, Lieut. C. R. Maasdorp of Squadron 47 R.F.C., and the date was sometime in March, 1918. The action took place in the morning above a road leading from Albert to Raume. Maasdorp was flying a Sopwith Camel and I had my Fokker DR-1 (149-17). The fight started at an altitude of 1600 feet.

Both of us apparently decided to attack at the same time, but I managed to get slightly the better position and went at a him from a downward curve which forced him gradually lower. At 600 feet, we both a leveled out and went at each other full speed ahead, with both of our guns spitting bullets. Each of us held to our course. I knew one of us was going to get it. Down below I could see Courcelette and Thiepval.

Several shots tore through the wings of my machine and I could hear others singing through the air around me.

Shooting head-on at a plane is tricky business. The thing is to get the other man to waver to one side or the other and then you can get him. Maasdorp must have known that. I could tell that he was an experienced flier. He kept right on coming.

Flying is largely a matter of nerve. The man who can stick it out the longest wins. This scrap was really a duel of nerves. In the end I won; Maasdorp shifted his course ever so slightly. In the same instant I got him. His Camel turned completely over and with her engines still roaring in defiance, dove squarely into the middle of a big shell crater.

I descended several minutes later and went up to inspect the crash. I found that one of my bullets had gone cleanly through his head, killing him instantly. That's why his machine somersaulted so suddenly. There was a dead man at the controls.

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Richthofen took the report of the victory as he took everything else, calmly and coolly; but there was not even the barest flicker of appreciation which might have been won had the Australian gone to a flaming death.

I'll never forget the day I received an invitation to dine with the Baron. I was with another squadron then, and the ambition of every aviator on the front was to fly with Freiherr von Richthofen. I had met him before in a formal sort of way, but we had never really become acquainted. I did not think myself fortunate enough to have fallen under his notice through my own paltry victories.

It was a long drive to his headquarters. I was so happy, I could hardly keep my car on the road. Finally we came to a tiny, dilapidated hut. Before the door was a shield bearing these words: Rittmeister Freiherr von Richthofen, Kommander des Jagdgeschwaders. Richthofen, himself, met me at the door. He welcomed me heartily and then we sat down to one of the finest meals I have ever eaten. After dinner we pushed back our chairs and started to smoke. It was then that he told me he needed another pilot to complete his unit's strength. He asked me if I would care to make the transfer. What a glorious invitation! What a magnificent opportunity! For months I had been burning with the desire to work with him. And now it had come to pass. I don't remember what I said to him. Most likely I made a fool of myself. In three days the transfer had gone through. At last I could fly the front with this man whom all Germany admired and marveled at.

I soon learned that his life in the field was confined to three activities—flying, eating and sleeping. “The only factors that count are calm nerves and a cool head,” he once said to me. Nerve control, in his opinion, was vastly more important than extraordinary flying ability. In this, I heartily agreed with him.

The only time I ever saw Richthofen the slightest bit ruffled was when he was unable to get good things to eat. His table was always the finest on the front. His theory was that nerve control depended in the first place on a satisfied stomach and, in the second place, on adequate sleep.

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