he wrote this story, Ernst Udet was just a rookie. But this novice was
on his way to become, with 62 victories, the n°2 ace of his country's
There was some activity along the lines and rumor had it that the other
side was preparing a big offensive. Every day we could observe, silhouetted
against the summer sky, long series of fixed balloons, like a string of
monstruous sausages. These balloons were dangerous for our troops and
it was decided to do something about them.
I started my job early, so I would have the sun in my back while attacking
the balloons. I was flying at high altitude, higher than ever before.
The altimeter indicated 4500m ; the air was thin and glacial.
Down below, the world looked like an enormous aquarium. Right over Lierval,
where Reinhold was brought down, I observed an enemy plane wich, from
far away, could have been taken for a dragonfly.
Next I saw a bobbing black dot coming from the West. It rapidly took shape
and I could identify it as a SPAD, probably looking for intruders like
me. I fastened my braces and immediately sensed a dogged struggle. We
were at the same altitude, a sun ray on the hull of my adversary revealed
its light brown paint. At once we engaged in circling combat, each one
watching for the right moment. Seen from below we were probably taken
for birds in spring courting, but we both knew it was a matter of life
or death. The first of us to get at other's tail would be victorious.
That's the law of the singleseaters ; you can only fire ahead, taken from
the back you're lost.
During the fight, we sometimes came so close to one another that I could
observe in detail the face of my adversary, or in any case what was visible
under his casque. At the side of the plane was a stork and two words in
white paint. At the fifth pass, he came so close that I felt the air of
his propeller, and I could read the letters of the word V-I-E-U-X. Everybody
knew then that the "Vieux Charles" was the plane of Guynemer.
I should have noticed : there weren't two allied pilots handling a plane
with such dexterity. Like most predators, this man loved go hunting alone.
It was Guynemer who effected the tactic of attacking with the sun. That's
the way he had downed my buddy Puz. At the times he was already credited
with 30 victories, and I sensed this would be the combat of my life.
I tried an "Immelmann" to get him from
above, but he grasped at once my intention and escaped with a half roll.
I ventured another trick and Guynemer foiled it immediately. The hide-and-seek
game dragged on.
At one moment, while comming out of a turn, he got the advantage for a
fraction of a second and a hail of bullets surrounded my cockpit. I went
all out, anything I could do,turns, loops, rolls, glides, but he stuck
to the slightest movements with incredibly fast and precise reactions.
Little by little I realized I didn't measure up to him. Not only was his
plane superior, but the pilot was a peerless fighter. However, I had no
choice but to fight ; breaking off the combat and turn my back would mean
my death sentence.
I got into a sharp turn and for a split second I had him within range.
I pulled the trigger and... nothing. My machine gun misfired ! Holding
the stick with my left hand, I shock the gun vigorously with the right
one. In vain...
For a second I felt tempted to escape in a nose dive, but with such an
adversary the manúuvre was hopeless. In four seconds at my tail he would
have downed me without trouble. Hence, the circling combat continued.
For me it was the most extraordinary flying lesson - the risk aside of
course - and I admit momentary forgetting that my partner was Guynemer,
and that he was my enemy. It occured to me I was training with a friend
over a field. But this impression didn't last. We were circling for 8
minutes already, the longest 8 minutes of my flyer career. Suddenly, Guynemer
turned over and in inverted flight passed by head down. Immediately I
released the stick beating the damned gun with two hands. The approach
was primitive but sometimes it worked.
Guynemer had watched me doing and knew for now I was his defenseless victim
: he made another pass just over my head in almost inverted flight and
to my amazement made a sign with his hand and left westward.
Startled I got to the field. Afterwards some people suggested that Guynemer's
machine gun had the same problem while others thought he was afraid of
me hitting him in my distress. But I don't buy that. For me, Guynemer
displayed some perennial element of old chivalry that oulasted modern
Therefore, I feel committed to contribute this personal testimony as a
homage to the unknow tomb where he rests...
back to the top
story : "The big Show"
flames in the dusk
on the picture and
the action !
The action pictured by Serge Stone
The action pictured by Benjamin Freudenthal
Guynemer turned over and in inverted flight passed by head down. Immediately
I released the stick beating the damned gun with two hands. The approach
was primitive but sometimes it worked".