9/23/1917 - Freshly back from leave in Germany, ace Werner Voss, knowing his boss and best friend, Baron Manfred von Richtofen, is still enjoying a stay at the Voss Family hunting lodge, celebrates his 48th aerial victory, the downing of a Airco DH.4 two-seat biplane, by doing a frowned upon victory loop before landing. Down, he is delighted to discover his two brothers (also in the German military), 19-year-old Otto (a lieutenant) and 16-year-old Max Jr. (a sergeant), have stopped by the airfield for lunch with their much loved older hero brother ... a repast of soup, black bread, coffee, and dessert cake. Hunger satisfied, the men have just enough time to pose together for a picture, before Voss has to ready himself for an afternoon patrol over British lines. Changing out of his sweaty morning attire, Voss puts on a civilian silk shirt under his unbuttoned knee length brown leather coat, dons a pair of knee high, highly polished brown boats, then completes his preparations by placing his Pour le Merite, the famous Blue Max medal for valor, around his neck ... ready to go at the English again.
L to R - Voss and von Richtofen
L to R - Voss and Anthony Fokker
Last Picture - Werner at Center
And the English are ready for a go at Voss too! Already over the area Voss is to patrol, flying Royal Aircraft Factory SE5 fighters are elements of the much honored Number 56 Squadron of the Royal Air Force ...Captain James McCudden, Lt. Arthur Rhys-Davids, Captain Keith Muspratt, Lt. V. P. Cronyn, Lt. R. W. Young, Lt. Charles Jeffs, Captain Geoffrey Hilton Bowman, Lt. Reginald Hoidge, Lt. Richard Maybery, Lt. E. A. Taylor, and Lt. S. J. Gardiner. Lots of overcast and low hanging clouds still over the area though morning has turned to afternoon, the British pilots patrol the region near the developing Battle of Passchendaele (a three-month battle that will result in over 500,000 casualties) at an elevation of roughly 8,000 feet.
McCudden & Rhys-Davids
McCudden's Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a
Two afternoon patrols are planned for the pilots of Jasta 10 ... one led by Voss with his two wingmen, Lt. Gustav Bellen and Lt. Friedrich Rudenberg, and another consisting of Oberleutnant Ernst Weigand, Lt. Erich Lowenhardt, Lt. Alois Heldmann, and Lt. Max Kuhn. There is a problem however, Voss is in a new green Fokker Triplane while the other Germans are in much slower Albatros or Pfalz fighters. Taking off first, Voss climbs into the sky, opens up his throttle and is soon gone ... and cut off from assistance when another group of English fighters blocks and then engages the other following German flyers. No matter to Voss, in second place for aerial victories behind von Richtofen's score of 61 (the Red Baron will die as the leading ace of WWI with 80 confirmed kills), he is intent on attacking as many aircraft as he can before running out of either ammo or gasoline.
The Voss Fokker & Engine Cowl Artwork
Flying rearguard to protect 60 Squadron pilots returning to base, Lt. Harold A. Hamersley is the first flyer of the afternoon to get a dose of Voss lead, but he will not be the last. Raked by the fire of the Fokker's Spandau machine guns, Hamersley sends his SE.5 into a spin that goes inverted as his wings and engine cowling are holed, escaping death and limping back to base only because Voss turns away to deal with Lt. Robert L. Chidlaw-Roberts, a 60 Squadron mate who has turned back to help his pal. A helping gesture that also gets his SE.5 hammered by Voss, who shreds the British pilot's rudder bar into a forced landing.
Squadron 60 out of the area, Voss then turns his attentions to the flyers of Squadron 56, McCudden and company ... and they to him ... eight Englishmen, all aces with at least five aerial victories, against a single German ... there are enemy planes above, below, and to both sides of Voss.
And so one of the most famous battles in the history of aerial combat begins as the British pilots attack in pairs, starting with McCudden and Rhys-Davids performing a pincher movement that allows them to drop on Voss (they are 1,000 feet overhead at the start of the fight) from his left and right. And to everyone's surprise, instead of trying to flee, Voss begins throwing his Fokker about the sky, shooting at anything that will pass into his gunsights! Flat spin into a head-on pass, Voss holes McCudden's plane, then riddles Croyn's plane so badly (it will be scrapped once it manages to land and Croyn will suffer a nervous breakdown that gets him sent home) that the pilot is forced out of the fight (he turns into Voss and then throws his plane into a violent spin to escape more bullets from the German). Aerial combat of life-and-death split seconds, for more than eight minutes Voss will dance about the sky, never flying in a straight line for more than a second or two, combat so chaotic that every pilot that makes it back to base has a different story to tell in their after-action reports.
Barrel rows, loops, spins, yaws, zigzagging, bobbing, side slips ... Voss brings all his tricks to bear in a Fokker that is superior to the SE.5s in its ability to climb and slip turn. Muspratt is forced out of the battle when a Voss bullet causes his engine to begin to seize (he will die in 1918 at the age of 20), and Maybery withdraws when his upper fight-hand longeron (a thin strip of material to which the planes skin is attached) is holed in several places (Maybery will perish in December of 1917). Move, fire, attack after attack as if he was a Viking
berserker in the throes of battle fever (he will hit every SE.5 in the patrol at least once), Voss incredibly attains positions that would allow him to flee back to German lines, but each time he is free, he turns back into his English enemies. As Bowman states later (who is holed, but remains in the fight despite black smoke pouring out of his SE.5), "To my amazement he kicked on full rudder, without bank, pulled his nose up slightly, gave me a burst while he was skidding sideways and then kicked on opposite rudder before the results of this amazing stunt appeared to have any effect on the controllability of his machine."
Too many enemy bullets however, eventually Voss' abilities are countered and his luck runs out when McCudden hits the Fokker on a head-on pass, Hoidge fires into his right side, and Rhys-Davids sends a point-blank, end-to-end burst into the plane (Rhys-Davids will perish himself a month later, dead at 20-years-old). Dead man flying from a bullet that ranges slightly upward from right to left through the chest cavity, and two other lead pellets through the abdomen from back to front, the Fokker goes into a steep glide, stalls, flips inverted, and nose first, impacts with the Belgium landscape near the Plum Farm north of the town of Frezenberg, exploding into thousands of pieces (the plane's rudder is the only piece of the Fokker to survive intact).
Body located the next day, Voss is hastily interned in a nearby shell hole until a proper military funeral can be arranged, but in the back and forth of the trench fighting in the area, the grave is lost and the German ace remains somewhere in Belgium to this day. Enemy removed but not forgotten, that night the mess of Squadron 56 drinks a champagne toast to their fallen foe, and later McCudden public acknowledges (20-years-old, he will himself be killed in 1918) his regret that Voss had to die and states, "His flying was wonderful, his courage magnificent and in my opinion he was the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see fight."
Voss is only 20-years-old when he falls on 9/23/1917 and becomes a legend of bravery and aerial combat!
Voss At The Stick
Voss In Flight