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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 4

My first encounter with a Yank was enlightening but not very satisfactory. I managed to eke out a victory but the pilot neither went down in flames nor to his death. It was like this: I'd had a stiff time of it and was sleeping late. A little before noon I was suddenly awakened by the sound of shrapnel—a rotten way to get disturbed. I went to the window and saw Archies bursting high in the air between our front line and the aerodrome. I knew the Frenchies must becoming over. My job was to keep them in their own back yard.

Without bothering to change from my pajamas, I ran over to where my machine was parked. The mechanics had it all ready to go. I pulled on a flying suit over my pajamas, donned a helmet, and hopped in. But when I looked up again, there was no sign of the Frenchmen.

I was pretty sore then because they had spoiled a perfectly good sleep, so I decided to go up and have a look around anyway. When I got up about 4000 meters, I began to feel cold. I thought I'd head for home. But at that moment a bunch of planes showed up through the clouds about a thousand meters below me.

I dropped 500 meters and then saw that about ten French machines were making life very miserable for five of our chaps. Off to one side, I recognized Lowenhardt, fighting it out with a French Nieuport. Lowenhardt was one of my best pals and as I hovered above the melee, I noticed another French machine barging into position on Lowenhardt's tail to shoot him down. Lowenhardt was apparently so intent on the other plane that he didn't realize what was about to happen in his rear.

It was obviously my move. I dove like a bullet and before that second plane knew I was anywhere in the vicinity, I was so close to him I could see him getting ready to empty his gun at Lowenhardt. But I beat him to it. My first burst put his motor out of commission and my second went squarely into his fuselage.

His plane immediately started earthward in a spin. I figured I had killed the pilot. But I hadn't; because the next moment his plane straightened out into a glide and veered abruptly off in the direction of the French lines.

I went after him again. I knew his engine was dead but with gliding control and a cool head, he might be able to get safely across the river that separated our lines at that point. I went at him again. I hated to shoot at a disabled machine and most likely the pilot was also wounded but I couldn't afford to lose him, so I let my gun off at him again and headed him back towards our lines.

He was losing altitude rapidly. I thought he was licked and was following him from behind at a leisurely pace when all of a sudden the cheeky beggar veered around again and had the pluck to try and ram me. Of course, he didn't have a chance, with only gliding speed.

When he missed, he shook his fist at me. I yelled out in French that he'd better concentrate on landing or he'd crash, because we were getting pretty well down by then, but I don't think he heard me. Anyway, he misjudged the distance and although he did his best to avoid trouble, a few moments later he cracked up on a rough piece of land five kilometers behind our lines. His machine turned completely over three times and then disappeared in a cloud of dust, a tumbled heap of wreckage.

By the time I had landed myself, a group of our infantrymen had reached the wrecked plane. I didn't see how he could possibly have survived but wanted to have a look at his plane. It was one of the new French Nieuports that were causing us a lot of worry about then. Imagine my surprise on reaching the scene to find the pilot still alive and conscious. The soldiers had pulled him out of the debris and he was stretched out on the ground with a broken left thigh and some severe cuts and bruises.

When he saw me, he sat up with a smile and we shook hands. I said: “Sorry, old man,” in French.

He answered me in English. He said: “Howdy, old top. I'd smoke if I had a fag to use this match on.”

I gave him one and then I asked him how it happened that an Englishman was flying in a French plane. He said: “Guess again. I'm not English. I'm American. Straight from Akron, Ohio.”

He wanted to know how the battle had gone. When I told him that besides himself, we had brought down three other French planes, he said: “It was a swell morning for us.” After that he lost consciousness. Later on I learned that his name was W. B. Wanamaker.

Several years after the war I got a letter from him. He was back in Akron, Ohio, having some difficulty about his pension, I think. Anyway, he asked me if I would write him a letter setting forth the exact nature of his injuries and some of the details of the scrap. I did, but I haven't heard from him since. I hope he got all that was coming to him in the way of a pension because he was a sportsman through and through.

So far as I know, that is the only time I bucked up against an American aviator. If they were all like him I'm just as glad I didn't. I might not be here now to tell the tale.

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