The Age of Chivalry
by Michael Turner
|- Ernst Udet -|
A typical scene at a German aerodrome close to the front in the spring of 1917. A victorious German pilot makes a triumphant low pass in his beautifully streamlined Albatros D III fighter plane.
Aviation art prints signed by World War One pilots are quite rare, but this piece is unique, being the only such item ever to be signed by a First World War German pilot.
|Overall size: 23⅜" x 27¾"|
|2||Archive Presentation||with original Ernst Udet signature and replica WWI German pilot badge.||$975|
Udet at first flew in an observation unit as an Unteroffizier pilot with observer Leutnant Bruno
Justinius. He and his observer won the Iron Cross (2nd class for Udet and 1st class for his
lieutenant) for nursing their damaged Aviatik B.I two-seater back to German lines after a shackle
on a wing-cable snapped. Justinius had climbed out to hold the wing and balance it rather than
landing behind the enemy lines and being captured.
Udet was assigned a new Fokker to fly to his new fighter unit - FFA 68 - at Habsheim. Mechanically defective, the plane crashed into a hangar when he took off, so he was then given an older Fokker to fly. In this aircraft, he experienced his first aerial combat, which almost ended in disaster. While lining up on a French Caudron, Udet found he could not bring himself to fire on another person and was subsequently fired on by the Frenchman. A bullet grazed his cheek and smashed his flying goggles. Udet survived the encounter, but from then on learned to attack aggressively and began scoring victories, downing his first French opponent on 18 March 1916.
That year, FFA 68 was renamed Kampfeinsitzer Kommando Habsheim before becoming Jagdstaffel 15 on 28 September 1916. In January 1917, Udet was commissioned as a Leutnant der Reserve (lieutenant of reserves). The same month, Jasta 15 re-equipped with the Albatros D.III. Udet claimed five more victories, before transferring to Jasta 37 in June 1917.
During his service with Jasta 15, Udet later wrote he had encountered Georges Guynemer, a notable French ace, in single combat at 16,000 ft. Guynemer, who preferred to hunt enemy planes alone, was by this time the leading French ace with more than 30 victories. Udet saw Guynemer and they circled each other, looking for an opening and testing each other's turning abilities. They were close enough for Udet to read the "Vieux" of "Vieux Charles" written on Guynemer's Spad S.VII. The opponents tried every aerobatic trick they knew and Guynemer fired a burst through Udet's upper wing, however maneuvered for advantage. Once Udet had Guynemer in his sights, his machine guns jammed and while pretending to dogfight he pounded on them with his fists, desperate to unjam them. Guynemer realized his predicament and instead of taking advantage of it, simply waved a farewell and flew away. Udet wrote of the fight, "For seconds, I forgot that the man across from me was Guynemer, my enemy. It seems as though I were sparring with an older comrade over our own airfield." Udet felt that Guynemer had spared him because he wanted a fair fight, while others have suggested that Guynemer had a gun jam himself, feared that Udet would ram him in desperation, or the French ace was so impressed with Udet's skills that he hoped they might meet again on equal terms.
Eventually, every pilot in Jasta 15 was killed except Udet and his commander, Heinrich Gontermann, who said to Udet: "The bullets fall from the hand of God ... Sooner or later they will hit us." Udet applied for a transfer to Jasta 37, and Gontermann was killed three months later when the upper wing of his new Fokker Dr. 1 tore off as he was flying it for the first time. Gontermann lingered for twenty four hours without awakening and Udet later remarked, "It was a good death." By late November, Udet was a triple ace and Jastaführer, modelling his attacks after those of Guynemer, coming in high out of the sun to pick off the rear aircraft in a squadron before the others knew what was happening. Having witnessed one of these attacks, his commander in Jasta 37 Kurt Grasshoff, on being transferred, selected Udet for command over more senior men. Udet's ascension to command on 7 November 1917, was followed six days later by award of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern. Despite his seemingly frivolous nature, drinking late into the night, and womanizing lifestyle, Udet proved an excellent squadron commander.
Udet's success attracted attention, earning him an invitation to join the "Flying Circus", Jagdgeschwader 1 under the command of Manfred von Richthofen. After watching Udet shoot down an artillery spotter by frontal attack, Richthofen gave him command of Jasta 11, von Richthofen's former squadron command. The group commanded by Richthofen also contained Jastas 4, 6 and 10. Udet's enthusiasm for Richthofen was unbounded, who demanded total loyalty and dedication from his pilots, immediately cashiering anyone who fell out of line. At the same time, Richthofen treated them with every consideration and when it came time to requisition supplies he traded favors for autographed photos of himself that read: "Dedicated to my esteemed fighting companion." Udet remarked that because of the signed photographs, " ... sausage and ham never ran out." One night, the squadron invited a captured English flyer for dinner, treating him as a guest. When he excused himself for the bathroom, the Germans secretly watched to see if he would try to escape. On his return the Englishman said, "I would never forgive myself for disappointing such hosts"; the English flyer did escape later from another unit.
Richthofen was killed in April 1918 in France, when Udet was not at the front as he had been
sent on leave due to a painful ear infection which he avoided having treated as long as he could.
Udet said about Richthofen: "He was the least complicated man I ever knew. Entirely Prussian
and the greatest of soldiers." before returning to JG 1 against the doctor's advice, he remained
there to the end of the war, commanding Jasta 4. Udet scored 20 victories in August 1918 alone,
mainly against British aircraft and became a national hero with 62 confirmed victories to his
credit by the end of hostilities.
As the war drew on Boehl eventually managed to obtain a place in pilot training and graduated
|signature & badge included in the mount|