23/9/1917 German fighter ace Werner Voss shot down over Ypres #1917Live

Against doctor’s orders, Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, came back to active service in late July after being wounded earlier that month. Since then he has managed to shoot down several enemy aeroplanes but is still suffering the after effects of his head injury. He is currently once more on sick leave but hopes to be back in action soon.

Richthofen is not Germany’s only star pilot. Another flier who has made a name for himself is Werner Voss, a subordinate commander of the Red Baron’s Flying Circus. Voss is now flying the new Fokker Triplane, a highly manoeuvrable and fast climbing aircraft. He has shot down some 47 enemy aircraft since his first kill in November 1916.

Voss’s squadron has been deployed to Flanders, where it is contesting Allied control of the skies above Ypres. Voss returned from leave yesterday and this morning he returns to the skies and shoots down a British bomber. On returning to his base he celebrates by looping the loop. Nevertheless his colleagues note that he appears unusually tense, with one reporting “He had the nervous instability of a cat”.

In the evening Voss and his comrades set off again. This time they find themselves caught in a battle royale with a large number of enemy aircraft. In the confused dogfight that develops, Voss finds himself being targeted by six British aircraft, all flown by ace fighter pilots. Accounts vary but he appears not to try to evade his pursuers, instead taking every opportunity to turn the tables on his opponents. He scores hits on most of the British aeroplanes but does not bring any down.

The uneven battle can have only one end. British bullets strike Voss and his aeroplane smashes into the ground on the British side of the line. That evening the British pilots drink a toast to the brave flier they have killed. Voss was 20 years of age.

See also: “Lives of the Aces in Pictures – Part 14: Lieutenant Werner Voss” by Eugene Frandzen

image sources:

Werner Voss (Wikipedia)

Werner Voss’s Fokker Triplane (Aerodrome: Roden 1:72 model kit cover) The model kit is for sale, priced €7.99

11/9/1917 French ace Georges Guynemer disappears #1917Live

Germany has Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, but the Allies have their own star pilots. For the French, Georges Guynemer has become a national hero after has shot down over 50 enemy aeroplanes. Today he sets off on patrol near Poelkapelle in Flanders. His wingman sees him attack a German aircraft but is then distracted by some German fighters. When the wingman shakes off his pursuers there is no sign of Guynemer.

Unlike his wingman, Guynemer does not return from his mission. Reports emerge of his aircraft having been shot down behind enemy lines but with Allied shelling scaring away the Germans before his body can be retrieved. These reports are inconclusive; Guynemer’s final fate and resting place remain unknown.

image source:

Georges Guynemer, by “Lucien” (Wikipedia)

19/8/1917 11th Isonzo: Italy smashes Austria-Hungary #1917Live

Italian artillery has been blasting the Austro-Hungarians on the Isonzo since the start of the month. Now the infantry attacks, launching the Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo. Italy’s Cadorna hopes that this time his men will finally smash through the defences of the enemy and win the decisive victory of which he has long dreamed. He is confident of success. The Italians outnumber the Austro-Hungarians by the same margin as in every other Isonzo battle, but this time their superiority in artillery is overwhelming. Italian aircraft also control the skies.

Italian troops attack all along the Isonzo line. On the Carso plateau, near the coast, gains are modest and in many cases lost to determined counter-attacks. But around Gorizia the situation is different. Here the Austro-Hungarian defenders are heavily outnumbered and stunned by the weight of the bombardment they have had to endure. They find themselves unable to resist the Italian onslaught. Capello, the local commander, sends more men forward to exploit the breakthrough, ordering them to press on regardless of whether they outrun their supply lines. The day of victory appears to be at hand: this is not a time for holding back.

image source:

Italian infantry attack (Wikipedia; image is from the Ninth Battle but they’re all the same)

6/7/1917 The Red Baron shot down #1917Live

Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, has been leading his Flying Circus over the Western Front, striking terror into Allied airmen wherever he goes. By now he has personally shot down as many as 57 Allied aircraft, sending dozens of mostly British fliers to their graves. In Germany he is starting to become famous, portrayed in propaganda as a knight of the air.

Combat flying is a dangerous business. One mistake or an instance of bad luck can prove fatal. Richthofen had a brush with death in March, when an enemy bullet knocked out the engine of his aeroplane. Today the Grim Reaper’s scythe swings closer. In combat with two British F.E. 2d fighters Richthofen suffers a head wound, disorienting and temporarily blinding him. Fortunately for him, he recovers enough to be able to bring his plane down safely in a field on the German side of the line. Richthofen survives, but it will be some time before the wounded Red Baron can to return to the skies.

image sources:

Richthofen’s aeroplane after his forced landing (Wikipedia)

Richthofen recovering under the care of Nurse Kätie Otersdorf (Bliss from Bygone Days: The Red Baron)

24/6/1917 The Red Baron’s Flying Circus

Over the Western Front fliers contend in the skies in support of their comrades on the ground. A problem for the Germans is that they have less considerably aircraft than the Allies: in the skies they will always be outnumbered. Now they try a new tactic to ensure that they are able to achieve aerial dominance in key sectors. Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, is given the command of four fighter squadrons, with the new super-unit given the name Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1). The idea is that this unit will be quickly deployable anywhere along the front to achieve local air superiority. Richthofen is authorised to recruit the best fighter pilots on the Western Front and to expel any who underperform.

JG 1 soon acquires a new nickname: the Flying Circus. Many of the aeroplanes are brightly coloured, with fliers emulating the red of Richthofen’s own aeroplane. The unit also travels from place to place by train, quickly setting up to take on the Allies before moving on to their next engagement, like a troupe of wandering entertainers. The cheerful connotations of the nickname are of course at odds with the murderous intent of the Flying Circus.

image source:

Manfred von Richthofen (Wikipedia)

13/6/1917 Panic on the streets of London

Germany has for some time been sending Zeppelins to attack England by night but these inaccurate and ineffective attacks have failed to bring the British to their knees. Now though the advance of technology brings a new menace to the English skies. Germany’s gigantic Gotha bomber planes have a range far surpassing that of previous aeroplanes. Now the Germans commence a campaign of daylight bombing raids on London itself.

Previous attempts by the Gothas to bomb London failed but today they hit the city in earnest. Londoners have not previously had any reason to fear German aeroplanes. Many crowd into the streets to gaze curiously at the new presence in the sky. This may contribute to the loss of life inflicted by the bombers, with some 160 people killed and several hundred wounded. In one terrible incident a bomb falls on a school in Poplar, killing a large number of children.

This is the most destructive bombing attack on England yet. The raid shocks the British, who now begin planning some kind of air defence system for their capital.

image source (Military History Now: Operation Türkenkreuz – Remembering the Kaiser’s 1917 ‘Blitz’ on Great Britain)

7/5/1917 The last flight of Albert Ball

Fighting at Arras continues. The British have deployed a large number of aircraft to the sector, to observe enemy positions so that the artillery can better target them. The Germans in turn have deployed a considerable number of fighter planes, including Jasta 11, the Red Baron‘s squadron.

The British have sent their own fighter pilots to Arras, including Albert Ball, one of their star pilots. He only seems to have joined the battle late in April, but since then has managed to shoot down some 12 German aircraft. With the Canadian pilot Billy Bishop he hatches a daring plan to attack Jasta 11’s airfield at dawn, hopefully catching Richthofen’s squadron on the ground. The attack is to take place at the end of the month, when Bishop returns from leave.

Ball is not able to put his plan into effect. In the evening today his squadron encounters aeroplanes of Jasta 11 and a dogfight ensues. Ball is observed chasing the red aircraft of Lothar von Richthofen, younger brother of the Red Baron. Ball pursues the younger Richthofen into a cloud, perhaps thinking he is on the tail of the Red Baron himself. What happens next is unclear, but an observer on the ground sees Ball’s aeroplane fall from the skies. Ball is dead when Germans reach the crash site.

The night before his death Ball had written to his father, saying: “I do get tired of always living to kill, and am really beginning to feel like a murderer. Shall be so pleased when I have finished”. In his short career he has shot down some 44 German aircraft. The Germans bury him with full military honours, a few months short of his 21st birthday.

image sources:

Albert Ball (Wikipedia)

The Last Fight of Captain Ball, VC, DSO and 2 Bars, MC, 7 May 1917 by Norman Arnold (Wikipedia)