Unteroffizier Ernst Udet shot down his first aircraft today. He had scrambled to attack two French aircraft, but found himself faced with a formation of 23 enemy aircraft. He dived from above and behind, giving his Fokker EIII full throttle, and opened fire on a Farman F.40 from close range. Udet describes the scene:
“The fuselage of the Farman dives down past me like a giant torch… A man, his arms and legs spread out like a frog’s, falls past–the observer. At the moment, I don’t think of them as human beings. I feel only one thing–victory, triumph, victory.”
Udet had been turned down by the Army in August 1914 as he was too short. He spent some time with a volunteer motorcycle unit before training as a pilot at his own expense as he would then be accepted into the German Army Air Service. Before the war, he had previously built and flown model airplanes and helped to found the Munich Aero-Club in 1909. He also hung out at the Otto Flying Machine Works to watch airplanes being built and tested.
He passed his civilian pilot’s license in April 1915 and immediately was accepted by the German Army Air Service. He joined FFA206 as an Unteroffizier. Pilot. He and his observer Leutnant Justinius won the Iron Cross (2nd class for Udet and 1st class for his lieutenant) for nursing their damaged Aviatik B.I two-seater back to German lines after a shackle on a wing-cable snapped. Justinius had climbed out to hold the wing and balance it rather than landing behind the enemy lines and being captured. The Aviatik B was retired from active service shortly afterwards
Later, Udet was court-martialed for losing an aircraft in an incident the flying corps considered a result of bad judgment. Overloaded with fuel and bombs, the aircraft stalled after a sharp bank and plunged to the ground. Miraculously, both Udet and Justinius survived with only minor injuries. Udet was placed under arrest in the guardhouse for seven days. On his way out of the guardhouse, he was asked to fly Leutnant Hartmann to observe a bombing raid on Belfort. A bomb thrown by hand by the leutnant became stuck in the landing gear, but Udet performed aerobatics and managed to shake it loose. As soon as the Air Staff Officer heard about that, he ordered Udet transferred to the fighter command. He then joined FFA68 flying the Fokker monoplane in early 1916.
The outcome of this combat was a change from his first encounter. On that occasion he had flown head on at an oncoming French Caudron GIV, but as the two planes came within point-blank range of each other, he froze. A second later, he heard popping noises and felt his Fokker shudder. Something slapped hard against his cheek and his goggles flew off. His face was sprayed with broken glass, and blood trickled down his cheek. With the French observer still firing, the German dived into a nearby cloud and limped back to his airfield.