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Victory 32 – Lieutenant Peter Warren’s account

Event ID: 537

02 April 1917

50.34799222106521, 2.82653662595119

Source ID: 43

The Red Knight of Germany, the story of Baron von Richthofen, Floyd Gibbons, 1927, 1959 Bantam Books

But now comes the third account of the affair, and this one is from Lieutenant Peter Warren, who was the pilot of the plane Richthofen shot down. His observer was Sergeant R. Dunn, and Dunn died shortly after the plane landed.  Death came as the result of a bullet through his abdomen, but it was a bullet which he received at 12.000 feet in the air and not after he was on the ground. “Really, I am afraid Richthofen in his report on his fight with Dunn and me must have mixed us up with somebody else”, says Peter Warren. “I certainly wish Dunn and I had been able to put up as much resistance as the Baron credits us with, but actually it was rather a one-sided affair almost entirely in Richthofen’s favour. Poor Dunn was hit early in the fight and was unconscious through most of it. It was the first time I had ever taken Dunn up, although he was a veteran observer with, I believe, three Hun machines to his credit. My regular observer, an infantry officer who had been in the air about three months, had fallen off a horse the day before and broken his knee. Dunn was assigned as a substitute. The fact that we had never flown together before would be a disadvantage if we were attacked. We left the airdrome at ten-thirty in the morning. The weather was bad – rain and hail, with almost a gale blowing in the direction of the German lines. Our faces were covered with whale oil to prevent frostbite. So many flyers had been laid up with frostbitten faces that the use of the grease was compulsory, and a case of frostbite became an offence calling for a court martial. Our flight consisted of six machines from the Forty-third Squadron, with Major Dore as patrol leader. Our planes were Sopwith two-seaters armed with Lewis and Vickers machine guns, firing fore and aft. Our job was to photograph a section of the Second Hindenburg Line, east of Vimy Ridge, which, as you remember, was attacked just a week later. My plane and one other carried the cameras. The other four were escort. We were flying in a V at about twelve thousand feet, and our direction was northerly. I was flying at the end of the V, in the last position, which made me the highest. Richthofen dove down out of the sun and took Dunn by surprise. The first notice I had of the attack was when I heard Dunn from his seat behind me shout something at me, and at the same time a spray of bullets went over my shoulder from behind and splintered the dashboard almost in front of my face. I kicked over the rudder and dived instantly, and just got a glance at the red machine passing under me to the rear. I did not know it was Richthofen’s. I looked back over my shoulder, and Dunn was not in sight. I did not know whether he had been thrown out of the plane in my quick dive or was lying dead at the bottom of his cockpit. I realized that he was out of action, however, and that i was quite defenceless from the rear. I endeavoured to get my forward machine gun on the red plane, but Richthofen was too wise a pilot, and his machine was too speedy for mine. He zoomed up again and was on my tail in less than half a minute. Another burst of lead came over my shoulder, and the glass faces of the instruments on the dashboard popped up in my face. I dived again, but he followed my every move. I had lost several thousand feet, but still below me at about nine thousand feet was a layer of clouds. I dove for it, hoping to pull up in it and shake him off in the vapour. Bad luck again. The clouds were only a thin layer, you know, and instead of remaining in them, I went completely through them, came out below, and found that the red Albatross with those two sputtering machine guns had come through with me. Another burst of lead from behind, and the bullets spattered in the breech of my own machine gun, cutting the cartridge belt. At the same time, my engine stopped, and I knew that the fuel tanks had been hit. There were more clouds below me at about six thousand feet. I dove for them and tried to pull up in them as soon as I reached them. No luck! My elevators didn’t answer the stick. The control wires had been shot away. There was nothing to do but go down and hope to keep out of a spin as best as I could. I side-slipped and then went into a dive which fast became a spiral. I don’t know how I got out of it. I was busy with the useless controls all the time, and going down at a frightful speed, but the red machine seemed to be able to keep itself poised just above and behind me all the time, and its machine gus were working every minute. I found later that bullets had gone through both of my sleeves and both of my boot legs, but in all of the firing, not one of them touched me, although they came uncomfortably close. I managed to flatten out somehow in the landing and piled up with an awful crash. As I hit the ground, the red machine swooped over me, but I don’t remember him firing on me when I was on the ground. I looked into what was left of the observer’s cockpit and saw poor old Dunn crumpled up on the bottom. He was quite heavy, and I had some difficulty in lifting him out. He was unconscious. I laid him down on the ground and tore open his coat. He had been plugged through the stomach, apparently from the back. I lifted his head and spoke to him. “I think I am done”, he mumbled, and then became unconscious. German infantrymen rushed out from dugouts near by; some of them brought a stretcher. We carried Dunn to a dressing station in a stone hut. I was kept outside under guard. The doctor came out and told me Dunn was alive but would not last much longer. I never saw him again. Later, they told me that he died six hours afterward. He was a stout fellow. My guards marched me back some distance to a headquarters, where I was put into a car and taken to Douai. There I was placed in a room in the old French military barracks. The dirty plaster walls were covered with many names, so I presume a lot of prisoners had preceded me there. In one corner there was a bed with a blanket on it. An electric light bulb hung down from the centre of the ceiling. There was a high barred window in one wall and a small wood stove stood by one of the side walls. The German sentry, who frequently looked at me through a wicket in the door, came in twice and relighted the fire in the wood stove, which I allowed to go out. I sat on a wooden stool in front of the stove and felt pretty miserable. I presume it was my nerves. I couldn’t get my mind off poor old Dunn. I felt completely dejected. About six o’clock in the evening, when it had become rather dark, I heard someone unlocking the door. I looked up as it was opened. An enormous great Dane dog – biggest one I ever saw – walked into the room and right across to me. He wagged his tail and, putting his nose up in my face, started licking the whale grease which I still had on my cheeks. We were friends at once. I needed a wash badly, anyhow. The electric light flashed on, and in its yellow light I saw the dog’s master standing in the doorway smiling at me. He was a thin dark man of medium height, thin intelligent face, pince-nez glasses, well -trimmed moustache. He wore a very smart and dapper uniform with highly polished boots and looked to be about fifty years of age. “Good-evening”, he said in flawless English. “I am Captain Baron von Karg Bebenburg. It is needless to tell you that I am from the intelligence section. I have come to talk with you and ask you if there is anything I can do for you. I am sorry to tell you that your comrade, Sergeant Dunn, is dead.” There was nothing I could say. I remained silent. He offered me a cigar, which I accepted, and repeated his offer to do anything for my comfort within his power. I told him that I could make good use of some soap and water and a towel. He sent these up late during the night, together with a packet of cigarettes and a French novel. Of course, I would answer none of his questions about the number of my squadron, its strength, location of its airdrome, and the reason for our renewed air activity during the last week. “I appreciate your reticence”, he said, “but as a matter of fact, we have most of that information. Our intelligence system is working quite well on this front. I have just perfected a new organization of charts and telephone communications whereby our airdromes are notified whenever your squadrons start on a mission over the lines. I know, from my charts of your past performances, almost what your destination is and just about what time you will arrive there. Your flying corps operates so closely on schedule and with such regularity that we are now able to recognize your intentions before you have time to execute them.” I told him this was all very interesting, but I offered no opinion on it. He told me that he was a Bavarian and had been a professor of history in the University of Munich. He was a most interesting talker, and conversation with him became almost a temptation. “What the world needs to-day”, he said, “is two good strong nations to divide it and run it as it should be run. Germany and Great Britain are the only nations that could do this. France – Paris – they could be just a common playground for all of us. What do you think?” I told him I had never thought of it. “How do you think the war is doing?” he asked. Very favourably for the Allies, I replied, it seems almost certain that America is coming in with us. It seems strange, as I recall that conversation to-day, to realize that America did enter the war just four days afterward. My opinion at the time, however, did not shock or seem to disturb my interrogator. “Yes”, he said, “we recognize such an eventuality, and have made our dispositions accordingly. Our intensive submarine campaign will neutralize any effects the United States might have.” He smiled, but just continued petting the dog. He left me, and I never saw him again. I was moved the next day to the prison camp at Karlsruhe, and later to Schwarmstadt, where I attempted an escape but was caught. I spent the rest of the war caged up.

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