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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 3

During the early days of our great offensive, the weather was wet and thick. The ceiling was for the most part limited to 400 meters. On that account aerial conflicts were restricted to low altitudes. They were short and fierce affairs, often fought out less than a hundred meters up. We had been carefully drilled in low altitude fighting by Richthofen. The trick was to force the enemy to crash. The English, who were opposite us at the time, fought gallantly. Occasionally they succeeded but most of the victories were ours.

I remember one day when six of us flew low along the front with Richthofen at our head. We were 300 meters up and going south when we spied three English two-seaters flying 50 meters above a roadway along which our troops were trying to move up. The planes were using both machine guns and bombs and our infantry was suffering heavily. We went at them. Two of them at once turned and fled. The third was so busy dropping bombs that he did not see us coming. He had dropped four devastating charges before we reached him. The next moment he was shot down burning by Richthofen. Hitting the ground, his Armstrong two-seater blew up with a mighty explosion, our soldiers scattering speedily in every direction.

As we circled the spot before moving on, the troops formed up again, and at a command from their officer, all started waving their arms thankfully at us.

No sooner had we started back for our base when five English machines roared out of the ceiling about 200 meters above us. At once we turned on them. Four of them quickly sped back into the clouds and escaped; but one, a Bristol two-seater, with remarkable courage stood his ground. He must have known that Richthofen was at our head and felt that he had a score to settle with him. On a fast, clean curve he flew straight for the Baron and started firing with his fixed guns at almost point-blank range. But he missed. Richthofen never wavered. In exactly four seconds the picture had changed. Within 200 meters of the point where a few minutes before he had brought down the other Englander, Richthofen sent him burning to the ground.

That same afternoon, we went up again and Richthofen sent a third enemy craft to the earth in flames.

It was not long after that I was witness to one of the narrowest escapes Richthofen had previous to his final defeat by the Canadian, Brown. The two of us had been fighting it out with a group of English single-seaters above the Somme crater field. Richthofen was pursuing one of the enemy. He was flying close behind and apparently had his guns lined up. At any moment I expected to see the Englishman begin to smoke. Instead, Richthofen suddenly abandoned the chase and turning sharply, flew back toward our lines, going rapidly lower as he went.

It was immediately clear to me that something had gone radically wrong with his motor or else his guns were jammed. I looked down and saw that the ground below us was nothing but a mass of jagged craters. It seemed an impossible area in which to hope to make a safe landing. Yet Richthofen was still going down.

All at once he turned sharply into the wind, banked, dropped, straightened out and disappeared from view behind a low ridge. When I got over him, I found that he had made a perfect landing on a 20 meter long bit of level ground. It was the only landing possibility within an area of more than a square mile and so small at that, that only a miracle-man could have successfully negotiated it.

Richthofen immediately jumped out of his machine and tied a white handkerchief around his propeller. At the same time, waving to me, he pointed at it. I gathered from this that he had been forced to land on account of a damaged prop and furthermore, that he wanted to have repairs made without delay. I flew back to our base and ordered two mechanics to move up quickly with a new prop. In exactly two hours, Richthofen flew back scowling with his triplane.

We learned then that one of the Englishmen had got in a hit which put the turning gear of the baron's machine gun out of commission in such a way that when Richthofen had attempted to use it, he had shot away a piece of his own propeller. The increased oscillation of his motor had indicated to his alert mind what had happened. He didn't know at what moment his propeller might crack up entirely, spelling an inevitable crash. In a flash, his eye had swept over the crater strewn field. He had landed on the one spot where a landing might be possible. With uncanny cool-headedness he had decided to risk the landing rather than take a chance on the propeller.

As soon as the new prop had been installed, he ordered a detachment of soldiers who had come up, to haul his machine back to the extreme edge of the area he had landed on. After that he ordered a group men to hold on to each wing until given the signal to let go. Then he started his motor and gave it every drop of gas it would take. With a nod from Richthofen, the soldiers released their hold. The triplane let out a roar and literally leaped perpendicularly into the air after a run of not more than five meters. I doubt if any aviator from that day to this had ever made a more brilliant landing or a more extraordinary take-off.

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