Following his 23rd victory on the 1st of April, Voss fired on the plane and pilot after it had crashed to the ground. On the 6th of April 1917 he staked two victory claims just 15 minutes apart, having bought down a two-seater and a Sopwith Pup near each other on either side of the front lines. The two-seater pilot braved both Voss’s strafing and German Artillery fire to retrieve aerial photography plates for their military intelligence value. The Sopwith Pup, though later seen with Jasta 2 in German markings after its capture, was an unconfirmed victory despite landing behind German lines.
Voss was awarded the Pour le Merite on the 8th of April 1917. It had become the custom to award a month’s leave to a Pour Le Merite recipient, and so Voss immediately left for his vacation, and did not return to combat until the 5th of May. By the time of his leave Voss had gained impressive marksmanship skills and situational awareness.
The timing of his leave gave him both Easter and his Birthday at home. There was a large family reunion; to the family photos he added a sitting for a formal photograph wearing his award. He also tinkered with and roared about upon, his motorcycle. He was thus out of action for Bloody April, the most intensive air fighting of the war, when the planes of the Luftstrietkrafte and its Aces inflicted heavy losses on the Royal Flying Corps. Richtofen who had scored eleven victories before Voss began his own tally, scored a further thirteen while Voss was on vacation. Referring to his dear friend Richtofen stated ‘He was… My most redoubtable competitor.’
Upon his return from leave, Voss was dissatisfied with his Commanding Officer Franz Walz, who he considered insufficiently aggressive. Voss shared this sentiment with another Westphalian Officer, Leutnant Rolf Freiherr von Lersner. Walz had assumed command on the 29th of November 1916, just after Voss joined the Jasta. An older man of 31, he was a pre-war pilot and professional soldier who had flown over 300 combat missions in two-seaters before being appointed to command this squadron of fighter pilots. Lacking a background in fighter tactics, he compensated by allowing his more experienced pilots to follow their own inclinations, including solo excursions in to enemy airspace. the fact that Walz followed two brilliant fighter tacticians, Oswald Boelke and Stefan Kirmaier only exposed his unsuitability as Commander.
To Be Continued……………
(C) Damian Grange 2018