Hauptmann Oswald Boelcke – The Father of German Air Fighting – Part 4
Boelcke started his squadron in the space vacated by FFA 32 in the Velu woods. As of the 27th of August the fledgling Jasta had on its strength Three Officers and 64 other ranks, but no aircraft. But by the 8th of September there were eight pilots aboard and several aircraft. On the 16th of September the Jasta received five new Albatros D.Is and for Boelcke himself, the new and improved Albatros D.II.
Boelcke promptly put his unit in the air, in the first attempt to gain Air superiority. At 1300hrs on the 16th of September, Boelcke and five of his pilots took off. They intercepted a British Bombing raid on Marcoing Railway Station, while Boelcke watched his trainees bounced a British formation of 14 planes, broke it up and shot down two, Boelcke himself added another. The new Jasta had been blooded.
Boelcke shot down 10 British aircraft in his first month with Jasta 2, He would fly a solo mission in the morning then return to his trainees, who would ask if he had scored again, his reply was, ‘Is my chin black?’ which basically meant if there were cordite stains on his chin he had fired his machine guns, signifying another victory.
Boelcke set out for his sixth sortie of the day with Manfred von Richtofen and Erwin Bohme, his two best pilots and three others. the Patrol eventually became embroiled in a dogfight with British DH2s. A collision that occurred during this fracas was to cause Boelcke’s death.
Erwin Bohme, described the collision, Boelcke and I had one British plane evenly between us, when another opponent chased by Richtofen flew directly in our path, as fast as lightning Boelcke and I both took evasive action. Boelcke suddenly appeared a few metres on the right from me, his machine ducked, I pulled up hard, but nonetheless we touched, me…Only half of the undercarriage torn away, him the outermost part of the left wing. I had to watch as he could no longer set it down evenly and I watched him crash close to a battery position. People rushed to help but he had died on impact.
Bohme was so struck with the enormity of the tragedy, that he wanted to take his own life, but his fellow Officers convinced him not too. Boelcke’s tragic death could have been avoided if he had not broken his own rules: Dicta 8: If attacking in Jasta strength make sure that not many comrades fall on a single enemy. If either he or Bohme had left it to the other there is a good chance the accident wouldn’t have occurred.
Boelcke was buried with full military honours at his Aerodrome in Cambrai. The Royal Flying Corps dropped a wreath over Jasta 2’s Airfield which read To Captain Boelcke, a brave and chivalrous foe. Germany had lost a great airman and leader.
(C) Damian Grange 2018