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German WWI Aces Kicked it Up

Living fast, but dying for something bigger.

by
Sarah Hoyt

Bio

August 30, 2013 - 9:00 am
WWI German Aces drinking champagne.

WWI German Aces drinking champagne.

Yes, I know, right now you’re wondering what is so surprising about that.  Apparently there has been a myth that German Aces of the Air were disciplined and dignified and only the British side kicked it up.

I am not sure how this myth can subsist, since — having studied the biography of the Red Baron for an eventual book — it is mentioned that Freiherr von Richthofen was unusually disciplined by refusing to unbutton his uniform or behave unseemly while in the officer’s mess.

So, this article from The Telegraph and the pictures (there are more pictures with the original article) did not surprise me at all when it said:

The black and white snaps depict the men in uniform having a roaring and raucous time in their mess, far removed from the hell and misery of the trenches on the Western Front.

The officers of the Imperial German Flying Corps are seen smoking cigars and cigarettes and having a good old knees up.

It did however raise some thoughts.  The Telegraph also says:

It is thought the album was seized as a souvenir by a British serviceman after the Germans surrendered in 1918 and was kept in his family.

It is being sold by Essex auctioneers Reeman Dansie and has a pre-sale estimate of £1,500.

James Grinter, of Reeman Dansie, said: “I have never seen anything like this photo album before.

“If it was a Royal Flying Corps album, then it would be rare but to have a German one from the same period is unheard of.

“The survival rate of these flyers was terrible and it looks like these men lived life to the full while they had the chance.

I beg to differ from James Grinter of Reeman Dansie.  These men were not living life to the full.  They were enjoying themselves as much as they could because they knew most of them would not get to live life to the full.  They’d never get to have spouses or children, or experience the joy of growing old and respected.  The fleeting happiness of champagne and songs were what they could have instead.

Equating revelry with “living life to the full” is what leads to songs about the joys of dying young and with the — sixties — notion of living fast and leaving a beautiful corpse. (All corpses are the same. Dead.)

What is important to remember is that whatever consolations these men — and their British counterparts — sought, they were volunteering to give their lives in service of an ideal each believed bigger than themselves.

And knowing that, I’m glad they got to enjoy a bit of champagne and song along the way.

This image, also from the album shows the grave of a German airman marked with a propeller.

This image, also from the album shows the grave of a German airman marked with a propeller.

Sarah Hoyt lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons and too many cats. She has published Darkship Thieves and 16 other novels, and over 100 short stories. Writing non-fiction is a new, daunting endeavor. For more on Sarah and samples of her writing, look around at Sarah A. Hoyt.com or check out her writing and life blog at According to Hoyt.com.

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All Comments   (11)
All Comments   (11)
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Warner Voss was another German WW1 pilot, his final dogfight was impressive:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Werner_Voss

In other accounts I've read, he was hungover the day of his final flight.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
I often wonder what would have happened had von Richthofen survived the war. Would he have been able to stop a funny looking Austrian corporal?
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
I would expect it would be someone like Boelcke who would have the state of mind to oppose Hitler. But this is all just conjecture.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oswald_Boelcke
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, you assume that he would have wanted to. One would hope so, but it was a confused time post WWI in Germany.

A bit of trivia, Hermann Goering later became the commander of Richtofen's Jagdgeschwader 1 aka "Flying Circus". It was what made him a "hero" post WWI.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Goering's character flaws must have been massive early on. It has been repeatedly noted that, even though he commanded the "Flying Circus" after Von Richtofen, He was the only member NEVER invited to their annual reunion parties.

That should tell you plenty right there.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
During WW2, he favored the bomber pilots over the fighter pilots. The WW2 German airforce was exceptionally disfunctional in large part due to Goering.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Goering wasn't an aristocrat and he ran the squadron with a ruthlessness that did not appear until the WWII. He was what the British would call a bounder.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Goering was a WWI hero. Too bad he got mixed up with bad company. The Red Baron's cousin, Wofram Freiherr rose to rank of Field Marshall in the new German Luftwaffe. Whether he was a Nazi, I do not know. Would Manfred have followed Hitler. Maybe not on ideological level but he probably would have had prominent role in Hitler's military.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Goering didn't just get "mixed up" with bad company. While in captivity awaiting trial at Nurnberg he was given a thorough psychiatric evaluation and was judged a sociopath.

Charming, intelligent, ruthless, coldblooded and relentlessly ambitious. It was no accident that he attached himself to Hitler early on and willingly did anything Hitler wanted. After his repeated failures in the Battle of Britain and the Siege of Stalingrad he was basically sidelined and spent the rest of the war at his castle indulging his notoriously sybaritic tastes.

He was far more able as Hitler's toady than in running a large-scale military enterprise. Read any memoir. His Luftwaffe aces grew utterly disgusted with "Fatty" fairly early on in the war.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
This the third fail in four days. Have you no sense of irony?
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you haven't seen the movie "Flyboys," it is worth the watch. American and French pilots could rowdy pretty well too.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
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