Lewis recalls his fight with MvR
Event ID: 593
20 April 1918
Source ID: 44
Lewis and P.J. Carisella have been correspondents for years. In a most recent letter, Lewis noted that “over the past years there appears to have been a revival of interest in Baron von Richthofen, a gentleman for whom I had the highest regard – not only for his personal qualities but naturally for his powers as a fighter pilot.”
As for his own scrap with the Baron, Lewis told Carisella that “nobody can dispute the fact that I was the last man shot down by Richthofen for I know that Major Raymond Barker went first in flames for I saw him out of the corner of my eyes when heavily engaged with a German. I followed also in flames and Richthofen’s official report confirms the two events…”
In their extensive correspondence, Lewis summarized his fight in the following account: “I only had a total of twenty-five flying hours in my logbook when I arrived in France and was posted to No. 3 Squadron, RFC. Poor flying weather prevailed most of the day on April 20, 1918, but at six o’clock in the evening it cleared sufficiently for two flights of planes, twelve in all, to take off. Some four miles behind enemy lines, at ten thousand feet, we sighted an enemy formation of fifteen Fokker triplanes. They were flying at right angles and above us. When we flew past them and turned to choose our opponents, I knew we had encountered Richthofen’s famed Circus. The Huns were painted every possible colour. Richthofen was out in front of the formation in his brilliant red Fokker. The fight had barely begun when I saw Major Barker’s Camel explode on my left. An incendiary bullet must have hit his petrol tank. I went down on the tail of a bright blue triplane which crossed directly ahead of me. I was about to try for a shot when I heard machine-guns firing behind me. Bullets splintered the carbane struts in front of my head. I quickly forgot about the blue triplane and began evasive tactics. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw that my adversary was Richthofen in his all-red triplane.
I knew I couldn’t compete with him so I concentrated on keeping out of his line of fire. At that moment, Captain Douglas Bell, my flight commander, chased Richthofen off my tail. The tripe slipped down below me and I found myself in a good attacking position. For a few seconds I even had visions of bringing him down. He had become fixed in my sights and I opened fire. My tracers seemed to hit several portions of his tripe. But Richthofen was a wily devil and gave me the slip by pulling up in a steep right-hand climbing turn. Once again I was the target.
He quickly squeezed off a concentrated burst and set one of my petrol tanks afire. I switched the engine off just before the Camel started to fall to earth. I fought for control but couldn’t bring the plane back on an even keel. All the time sheets of flames alternately billowed up from my feet and over my body. But I was too late. The Camel slammed into the ground and I was flung about sixty feet from the wreckage by the impact. I was severely stunned but lucky to escape without any broken bones. major Barker’s plane was blazing fiercely some fifty yards distant. I stumbled over to it but there was nothing I could do for him. He must have died in the air when the craft exploded. I went back to my own flaming bus and was watching it when Richthofen dived down to within hundred yards of the ground. He waved at me and I waved back. I then walked over to some German soldiers and surrendered myself. I was nineteen at the time and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.”