|Wings of War: Ernst Udet
Written by Andrea Angiolino and Pier Giorgio Paglia
|Wings of War | Published 28 October 2008|
Ernst Udet was one of the youngest German flying aces, second only to the mythical Red Baron as to the number of kills. Udet was born at Frankfurt am Main, on April 26th 1896 to a family of the wealthy industrial bourgeoisie.
He attempted to enroll in the army at the beginning of 1914 but with a height of only 1.6 meters (5.2 feet), he was initially refused. In August of that same year he responded to an appeal by the Allgemeine Deutsche Automobil Klub, looking for motor cycle pilots to use as messengers: he arrived with the motor cycle his father had given him as a gift, and was accepted. Having been wounded in an accident, Udet was transferred to the vehicle depot located in Namur where he met many pilots and aereonautical engineers of the Chauny sector, and realized his future lay in aviation. Thanks to the efforts of a family friend called Gustav Otto, who owned a factory of aereonautical parts, Udet privately followed a piloting course, and obtained his license as a civil air pilot in April of 1915, and was thus immediately enrolled in the Air Force.
Serving in the Flieger-Abteilung 206, a scouting unit, he enjoyed mixed success: at first he earned the Iron Cross for saving his plane in critical conditions, only to be jailed seven days later for negligence, for crashing immediately after takeoff, and barely escaping with his life. A few days after leaving prison, during a raid on Belfort he distinguished himself for his great ability in acrobatic flight and was transferred to Fighter command: this was the start of 1916.
His first experiences as a fighter pilot were far from being an unqualified success: at first he crashed in a defective Fokker Dr.I, then was wounded in the face by the observer of a French Caudron plane. He recovered and quickly returned to the front, and promptly became the most aggressive and efficient pilot of his unit, shooting down his first enemy in March. He was transferred to Jasta 15 scoring other five victories before being transferred once again, this time to Jasta 37, in June 1917.
In November of that year, Udet could already boast a total of 15 kills, and had thus been promoted Jastaführer. Udet specialized in a highly effective technique of attack: he would fly downwards, with the sun behind him, tackling his enemies before they even sensed the danger. For this, and for his excellent manoeuvering capacities, he was chosen over a host of much older pilots to take the place of Jasta commander Grashoff, when the latter was transferred.
Having scored his twentieth kill, his fame ensured he was invited to the Flying Circus, Jagdgeschwader 1, led by Manfred von Richthofen. He there immediately distinguished himself and obtained command of Jasta 11.
The Red Baron and Udet were on excellent terms, and demonstrated this by exchanging many reciprocal tokens of esteem. Udet did not feel the same towards Hermann Goering, with whom he would frequently argue or quarrel. When Richthofen was killed in April of 1918, Udet was not at the front, as he was suffering from an ear infection. On learning of the death of his companion and friend, Udet declared: "He was the least complicated man I ever knew. Entirely Prussian and the greatest of soldiers." Having returned to JG.I against the doctors’ advice, on June 28th 1918 he was forced involuntarily to try out one of the first parachutes issued to German pilots: after a collision with a French Breguet airplane, he jumped, having been forced to detach the stick, which was in his way. The parachute only opened when he was 90 meters from the ground, and Udet’s ankles were both dislocated because of this. In spite of this accident, Udet returned to active service.
During his time leading Jasta 4 he was able to shoot down twenty enemy planes within the month of August of 1918, earning the acclaim of a national hero, with 62 recognized victories.
After the war Udet remained in the German aereonautical circles, as an acrobatic pilot and plane tester, and his name is lined to much of the aereonautical production of the 20s and 30s.
In 1935 he once again enlisted with the Luftwaffe with the rank of Generaloberst, but never could accept the Nazi régime. He was involved in a scandal regarding a contract for supplying airplanes, which some believe was actually designed by Goering to deflect public opinion’s attention from German defeat at the Battle of Britain. Udet took his own life on November 17th 1941.
The Albatros D.V we show here is the one Udet used in the winter of 1917-18, while serving with Jasta 37. On this plane too he had had the fuselage painted with the word “Lo”, the nickname of is girlfriend, Lola Zink, who later became his wife.