Leutnant Werner Voss – German Ace 1897 / 1917 Part 7
He was to lead one of the two scheduled afternoon patrols. Leutnant Gustav Bellen was his right hand wingman; Leutant Friedich Rudenberg flew on his opposite side. After take-off at 18.05 hrs, Voss in his new Triplane, advanceds its throttle and soon outdistanced his two wingmen flying Pfalz D.III’s.
A few minutes later, Oberleutnant Ernst Weigand in an Albatros D.V led a second flight skywards, three Pfalz D.III’s followed him piloted by Leutnants Erich Lowenhardt, Alois Heldmann and Max Kuhn. None of the Jasta 10 aircraft would catch their Staffelfuhrer.
The dogfight developed over Poelcapelle at about 18.30hrs. The Germans chasing Voss found themselves stalemated by British Sopwith Camels, as well as some Spads and Bristol Fighters patrolling over the overcast. Two flights of the elite 56 Squadron formed a lower layer of British patrols at 18,000ft.
Below then Lt. Harold A. Hamersly, flying as a rear-guard to his squadron mates in 60 squadron, had a wary eye on an enemy formation of 20 to 25 aircraft. At about 18.28hrs he turned to help what he believed was a Nieuport being threatened by a Albatros, firing a short burst of machine gun fire to distract the attacker. The “Nieuport” Voss’s misidentified Fokker Triplane, rounded on Hamersly and raked him with his Spandaus. Hamersly flung his S.E.5a into a spin that went inverted with Voss still continuing to fire raking his wings and engine cowling. Lt. Robert Chidlaw – Roberts, A squadron mate of Hamersly, rushed to his aid, within seconds Voss had shredded his rudder bar, also driving him out of the fray and in to a forced landing.
While they fell away seriously shot up, the remainder of 60 squadron excited the scene, Voss was engaged by ‘B’ flight 56 squadron, in their S.E.5a’s. Capt. James Mc Cudden and his wingmen attacked in pairs from 300 metres above Voss. In a pincer movement, Mc Cudden hooked in to an assault from the right, whilst his wingman Lt. Arthur Rhys -Davids, swooped in from the left. Muspratt trailed them down, while Cronyn bought up the rear. Jeffs and Young held high as top cover in case Voss climbed. He was now boxed in from above and below, with assailants pouncing from either side. To further worsen Voss’s situation there was a further British patrol below him.
To the attacker’s surprise, Voss didn’t try to escape the aerial trap. Instead he flicked his triplane about in a flat spin and fired at his attacker’s in a head on firing pass, holing Mc Cudden’s wings. Voss riddled Cronyn’s S.E.5a from close range, putting him out of the dogfight. Cronyn had to turn in under his attacker and throw his aircraft in to a spin to avoid being killed. His wingmates attacked Voss, while Cronyn also limped for home.
At this time ‘C’ flight arrived, as it dipped down through the overcast toward the dogfight, Gardiner and Taylor went astray. Maybery was attacked by a green Pfalz D.III. Hoidge’s counter attack foiled the German. Bowman and Maybery remained to join the attack on Voss. Hoidge having broken off his pursuit of the Pfalz, changed the drum magazine in his Lewis gun, and climbed to join battle.
Voss in his triplane zigzagged, yawed and bobbed among his enemies, never holding a straight course for more than seconds, evading British fire and spewing bullets at them all. The combat had now become so chaotic that the surviving pilots gave widely differing accounts, however certain events were commonly related.
Muspratt’s engine lost its coolant to a Spandau bullet early on in the combat; he glided away with his engine beginning to seize. At some point a red nosed Albatros attempted to come to Voss’s aid, Rhys – Davids put a bullet through its engine and it dived away.
At another point Voss was caught in a cross fire by at least five of his attacker’s but he appeared unhurt. At about this point Maybery withdrew with his upper right hand longeron holed in several places.
Voss and the six remaining British aces swirled down to 2,000feet. At times Voss had the altitude advantage over his foes, but did not try to escape the fight. Using the triplane’s superior rate of climb and its ability to slip turn, Voss managed to evade his opponents and return to battle. As Bowman noted concerning his only shot at Voss; “To my amazement he kicked on full rudder, without bank, pulled his nose up slightly, gave me a burst while he was skidding sideways and then kicked an opposite rudder before the results of this amazing stunt appeared to have any affect on the controllability of his aircraft” Bowman’s aircraft was left slowed and ineffectively trailing dark smoke and steam, though he stayed in the fight.
Then, after flying past Mc Cudden, in a head-on firing pass, Voss’s triplane was hit by bullets on the starboard side by Hoidge. Meantime Rhys-Davids had pulled aside to change an ammunition drum, he rejoined combat with a 150metre height advantage over Voss and began a long flat dive on to the tail of Voss’s triplane, at point blank range he holed the German aircraft end to end with his machine guns before turning. It wandered in to his line of flight again, in a gentle westward glide, again ripped the German plane as its engine failed. The aircraft missed a mid-air collision by inches. Voss’s aircraft went into a steep dive, then the engine stalled and it crashed in to the ground.
Voss had fought off the British aces for at least eight minutes, which in some way goes to show his skills as a combat pilot. Voss scored a total of 48 victories had he lived this would no doubt have been much higher. He could have broken away from his last fight but he chose to stay until the bitter end, what higher tribute could you pay a pilot.
(C) Damian Grange 2018