Hauptmann Rudolf Berthold – Germany’s Iron Knight 1891/1920 Pt.8
He returned to his new assignment two days in to the new German offensive, to find that the Infantry Divisions his wing were supposed to support were complaining about their lack of air cover. Jagdgescwader II’s performance improved under its grounded commander’s guidance as the Germans advanced 65 Kilometres in eight days. On the night of the 12th of April, French artillery directed by a reconnaissance aircraft began shelling the Jagdgescwader II airfield. By the following morning the airfield and its equipment had been hit over 200times by shell bursts. Although there were no casualties, damage was such that the wing was essentially out of action for the next three weeks, as it changed airfields and re-equipped. In the meantime Berthold fretted, “And I will fly again….even if they must carry me to the airplane.”
During this inactive stretch, Berthold outlined his intended use of the wing in a memo to Headquarters. He outlined an air defence warning net posted forward to alert his wing, and he pleaded for a transport column to maintain the units mobility. Aside from his memo, he planned personnel changes within his new wing. He felt that the squadron commanders were plotting to have him replaced. By the 18th of May the last of them had been replaced. The wing’s score improved for that month, with a total of 19 victories.
Berthold had often flown a Pfalz D.III in preference to the Albatros D.V. In May 1918 the new Fokker D.VII entered service. Berthold borrowed one of the new machines from JagdgescwaderI for a surreptitious test flight. He liked its lightness on the controls, remarking hopefully that he could fly it even with a damaged right arm. On the morning of the 28th of May 1918 Berthold flew a brand new Fokker DVII and for the first time led his air wing in to combat. Although it was a ground support mission, he took the opportunity to score his 29th victory. The following day he downed two more aircraft, despite a malfunctioning gun synchroniser that nearly shot away his own propeller and caused a crash landing. Berthold’s drug addiction didn’t appear to hamper him in the air. Georg Von Hantelmann, one of his pilots, noted that despite his undiminished martial skills, his morphine addiction made him temperamentally erratic, nevertheless his subordinates remained loyal to him. Berthold’s victory tally by half a dozen victories during the month of June.
Berthold fought on, scoring two more victories in July, he scored three more victories in early August raising his tally to 42. On the 10th of August he led 12 pilots in to battle against a vastly superior force of British aircraft. He shot down a British S.E.5a fighter for his 43rd victory and a D.H.9 bomber for his 44th. when he tried to pull away from the D.H.9 at 8oo metres his controls came loose in his hands, he tried to use his parachute but failed because it needed both hands. he crashed in to a house in Ablaincourt with such force that his engine ended up in the cellar. German infantry men plucked him from the rubble and rushed him to hospital. His right arm was re-broken at its previous fracture. He would never fly again! Rudolf Berthold had a tally of 44 victories, many of these whilst flying one- handed. He survived to see the end of the war, although still bed-ridden from his injuries. After the war, in 1919, Berthold formed a Freikorps in his native Franconia, he attracted 1200 men, mostly bound to him by personal loyalty. Initially formed to fight communist insurrectionists, whilst trying to keep order against striking workers in Hamburg against overwhelming odds, the mob overpowered and disarmed him, he was shot twice in the head and four times in the body and left in the gutter. An ignoble end for a great patriot.
(C) Damian Grange 2019