A conversation about victory 75
Event ID: 549
02 April 1918
Source ID: 43
Newton, the observer, was highly praised, not by name, but by reference, on the afternoon of his death, when Richthofen sat over a late lunch at the squadron’s advance quarters and unofficially related the story of the killing for the benefit of an unexpected guest, Lieutenant Lampel.
The scene was an abandoned English hut of ‘elephant iron’ in which it was just possible to stand. Light poured in through the open doors at either end. Richthofen and his officers sat on all four sides of the long table that occupied the centre and most of the room. The ace, himself, was seated on a wooden box at the head of the table. He was wearing a heavy gray woollen sweater, which, being open in front, exposed a leather vest beneath. He wore a pair of yellowisch-brown riding breeches and leather puttees. Other members of Staffel 11, including Lieutenants Weiss, Wolff, and Gussmann, were wearing the coats of their gray service uniforms. None of them was wearing decorations, and not one of the coats was buttoned. Some of the flyers still had smears of oil on their cheeks. They were all young, and tingling from the last flight over the line.
Lampel, the visitor, met the famous ace for the first time. Lampel was shy in his presence. ‘Take a seat with us’, Manfred invited, with a wave of the hand toward a vacant place at the table. ‘Orderly, another place and some lunch. It’s not much, but you are welcome to the hospitality of our English bungalow. Our hosts left so suddenly, they forgot to leave a full larder.’ Lampel asked what success the squadron had in the air that day. ‘I have just brought down my seventy-fifth enemy plane’, Richthofen replied simply. While Lampel babbled congratulations, Richthofen was looking silently out of the door. The pictures of the burning planes were again in his mind, refreshed by the hour-old memory of Jones and Newton’s plunge earthward in fire.
‘Queer’, he began slowly, ‘but the last ten I shot down all burned. The one I got to-day also burned. I saw it quite well. At the beginning, it was only quite a small flame under the pilot’s seat, but when the machine dived, the tail stood up in the air and I could see that the seat had been burned through. The flames kept on showing as the machine dashed down. It crashed on the ground with a terrible explosion – worse than I have ever witnessed before. It was a two-seater but its occupants defended themselves well.’
‘You almost touched him in the air’, Gussmann interrupted, almost in a tone of reproof. ‘We all saw you fly so close to him that it seemed a collision was inevitable. You scared me stiff.’
‘Yes, it was close’, Richthofen replied with a smile. ‘I had to come up quite close. I believe the observer, whoever he was, was a tough party – a first-class fighting man. He was a devil of courage and energy. I flew within five yards of him, until he had enough, and that in spite of the fact I believe I had hit him before. Even to the very last moment, he kept shooting at me. The slightest mistake, and I should have rammed him in the air.’
The tale was interrupted by the appearance of a slim young officer in the doorway of the hut. He held a telegram in his hand. It was the announcement that the Emperor had conferred on Richthofen the third-class order of the Red Eagle with Crown. There were boisterous congratulations, and Richthofen urged his comrades to do their best.