Bölcke asks MvR to join Jasta 2 – Burrows’ version
Event ID: 512
01 September 1916
Source ID: 29
One afternoon, Oswald Bölcke appeared. He was on his way back to Germany from a tour of air groups in Turkey. The trip had been arranged by the high command with the double purpose of giving Bölcke a rest after his nineteenth kill and showing the German and Turkish forces fighting the Arabs and the British on the Arabian Peninsula that they had not been forgotten because of the Fatherland’s two other fronts. Bölcke had shot down more airplanes than any other German, and was being touted by Berlin as the world’s greatest combat pilot. He told the awe-struck bomber pilots at dinner that night that he had just dropped in for a few hours to visit with his brother, Wilhelm, who happened to be the commander of Richthofen’s squadron. It was not quite true. The younger Bölcke had been ordered to start an elite mobile scout squadron to grapple with increasingly better and more determined British squadrons on the western front. He was looking for talent. Richthofen was one of the pilots sitting around the dining table who smiled at Bölcke whenever their eyes met. He remained in the group that followed the Bölcke brothers to a lounge after the meal, and listened attentively while Oswald described conditions in France and some of the outstanding Allied pilots the Germans were encountering there. When it was late, the officers of the 2nd Fighting Squadron left in ones and twos, taking respectful leave, as if they sensed they were at an audition, until the brothers were finally alone in a room full of cigarette smoke and empty glasses. Oswald explained to Wilhelm why he had come and added that, judging by what he had seen and heard that evening and previously, Richthofen wanted to become a scout pilot. He knew something of the Prussian’s background, of his wealthy family, and of his renowned passion for hunting and apparent indifference to women and alcohol. What about his temperament? Would he fit into a hunting squadron? Would he have the patience to stalk in the air the way he did on the ground, the obedience to follow instructions as quickly as was necessary in air-to-air fighting? Did he have the eyes and reflexes to be successfully aggressive? Wilhelm told Oswald that Richthofen had had a difficult start in flying, and although he still tended to be ham-fisted, he was working hard to become better. He knew almost nothing about how airplanes worked, or about their machine guns, and showed little inclination to learn. That trait would have to be watched, Wilhelm said, because it was the sure sign of a glory-seeker who did not feel he should be bothered with details. Details won battles, Wilhelm added, which Richthofen should have learned in school. But he was eager, and being hungry for fame – even too hungry – was not a bad thing if the fundamentals could be beaten into his thick skull before he got killed. If he lived through his first patrols, the older Bölcke advised the younger, he would probably make a good scout pilot. And there was one more, named Erwin Böhme, who was an old man of thirty-seven and an exceptionally skilled and courageous pilot. Why not take him, too, asked Wilhelm, and have an old tiger among the cubs. Early the next morning, Bölcke packed his bag and then went to Richthofen’s and Böhme’s quarters. He invited them to join a new group called ‘Jagdstaffel 2’ and if they accepted, to be at Lagnicourt, France, on or about September 1. Jagd is German for ‘hunting’. They accepted.