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Leaflet Bombing, Fighter Pilots, and Removing the Hun

eddie rickenbacker ernst udet roscoe turner

Propaganda is not an effective weapon to throw at another airplane

Delayed Leaflet Bombing

Ernst UdetErnst Udet told of leaflets dropped on German trenches by two Sopwith Camels every evening between eight and nine. The leaflets, written (possibly) by deserters, encouraged their fellow soldiers to desert.

So the obvious response for Udet, who had only been out on two sorties yet that day, was to try to shoot down the Camels. One fled, while the other, a Canadian, threw leaflets at Udet and at first tried to fight. With Udet staying right on him, the Camel changed his mind and tried to get away by starting a loop from barely 100 meters up. Udet, in close pursuit but with a wider turning radius, accidentally rammed the Camel's upper wing with his undercarriage, downing the aircraft and scoring a victory. The Camel pilot survived and when Udet visited him in the hospital, "As a return favor for his leaflets, I bring him a box of cigars made from beech leaves." 

Udet made many friends of his enemies between the wars, and this one sent him a gift fifteen years later, through the famous interwar aviator Roscoe Turner. It was one of the leaflets, "the last of his supply, and he forgot to throw it at me in 1918."

The Image of a Fighter Pilot

Roscoe Turner, by the way, is probably responsible for much of the popular image of WWI aviators. He was of the WWI generation, and wanted to fly, but didn't get to during the war because he wasn't college-educated. (So goes the explanation, although since famous Lafayette Escadrille names such as Raoul Lufbery and Bert Hall, not to mention American Ace of Aces Eddie Rickenbacker, weren't college-educated either, one wonders how that policy survived.) Between the wars he was an air racer and barnstormer along with Jimmy Doolittle. Perhaps partly in imitation of Raoul Lufbery, he had a pet lion cub, and certainly in imitation of the Red Baron, he led a group named Roscoe Turner's Flying Circus. 

What Do You Think?

Maybe Roscoe Turner explains why people thought our Red Baron re-enactor should have a black mustache. It seems the real Red Baron didn't look dastardly enough for pizza PR purposes. Does the Red Baron Pizza guy look more like the actual Red Baron or a this villainous-looking man with a waxed mustache?

What Makes a Fighter Pilot?

Ernst Udet was clear about the difference between being good at aerobatics - that was for the folks back home - and being good at hunting. (Udet happened to be good at both - and knew which skill to use when.) The Red Baron doesn't seem to have been an exceptionally talented pilot but rather a great hunter who could also fly. Eddie Rickenbacker noted that the courage necessary to fly was not necessarily the same as the courage needed for combat. This is a strong statement, considering what it took to get into an open cockpit and go up a couple miles in the air with little training and without a parachute. Aircraft accidents and influenza killed far more aviators than combat did. 

It may seem strange that a man who had gone through flight training and had flown patrols in wartime would be leery of combat. Fighting, however, requires a different kind of bravery from that involved in flying. The combat pilot must be mentally prepared to shoot to kill and to be shot at in return. Some pilots had sufficient motivation and bravery to learn to fly, but going out to kill or be killed over the lines required a different type of courage. Some did not have it.

And for the one who did not have it,

None of us felt any rancor. It was obvious that he was not emotionally qualified to be a fighter pilot, and driving him into combat would be tantamount to killing him.

How Many Trees Died to Standardize Procedures?

Eddie Rickenbacker, now an ace, was back in the hospital after suffering a fever over the past month that wouldn't go away. But air battle was still on his mind, and he spent the time thinking about how best to get around the deficiencies of their outdated aircraft and constantly jamming guns. In a nod to generations of future USAF policies, procedures, and instructions, he concluded, "A man should periodically examine and test all the elements that keep him ticking."

Still, the incredible number of pages of instructions to come over the next century would never be able to anticipate every situation. "But procedures do not make the man. Only the man himself can make himself what he is, by taking full advantage of the excellent raw material supplied him by God."


One never knows the end result of a simple statement...

One letter I wrote had repercussions permanently affecting every member of my family. Winding up a letter to a friend in Detroit, I happened to sign my name "Eddie Rickenbacker" and put a little bracket around the second 'k' to call attention to it. My friend, eager to use any gimmick to help the war effort, promptly called in the wire services and showed them the letter. Papers all over the country printed stories headed "Eddie Rickenbacker has taken the Hun out of his name!" From then on most Rickenbachers were practically forced to spell their name in the way I had written it on impulse that night on the western front.

Otherwise, it could have been the Rickenbacher guitar for which the name is most famous today.

In Other News

The Romanov dynasty, in place since 1613, has about two weeks to live.

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