Werner Voss (centre) with brothers Otto and Max
Having just returned from leave, early this morning Leutnant Werner Voss from Jasta 10 shot down a DH4 (A76433) from 57 Squadron which was bombing Hooglede. The crew 2nd Lieutenant S L J Bramley and 2nd Lieutenant John Matthew De Lacey were both killed in the crash. It was to be his last confirmed victory.
During the afternoon he met his brothers Otto and Max and posed for a photo. This evening he was on patrol when his wingmate was fired on by Lieutenant Harold A. Hamersley, from 60 Squadron RFC who had mistaken Voss’s Triplane for a Nieuport. Voss attacked and Hmersley went into a spin to escape with his wings and engine holed. His wingmate Lieutenant Robert L. Chidlaw-Roberts, rushed to his aid, but within seconds, Voss shredded his rudder bar and foced him out of the fight too.
At this point, six SE5a’s from B Flight of 56 Squadron moved in to attack. Captain James McCudden and his wingmen attacked from 300 meters above Voss. McCudden came from the right while Lieutenant Arthur Rhys Davids, swooped in from the left. Captain Keith Muspratt (A8944) trailed them down, while Lieutenant Verschoyle Philip Cronyn (A4563) brought up the rear. Lieutenant Charles Hubert Jeffs and Lieutenant Ralph William Young held high as top cover in case Voss climbed. He was now boxed in from above and below, with assailants pouncing from either side. To further worsen Voss’s situation, there was a British fighter patrol beneath him.
At this point, instead of attempting to flee, which may have been impossible in any case given the slow speed of the Fokker against the SE5s. He flicked his triplane about in a flat spin and fired at his attackers in a headon firing pass, holing McCudden’s wings. Voss riddled Cronyn’s SE5 from close range, putting him out of the dogfight. Cronyn had to turn in under his attacker and throw his aircraft into a spin to escape being killed. His wingmates attacked Voss while Cronyn also limped for home.
At this time, Captain Geoffrey Hilton Bowman and Lieutenant Richard Mayberry from 56 Squadron, C Flight arrived. Another C Flight, Lieutenant Reginald Hoidge fought off an Albatross attempting to assist Voss.
The combat now became so chaotic that the surviving pilots later gave widely varying accounts. Muspratt’s engine was holed, lost its coolant to and he glided away with his engine beginning to seize. At some point, a rednosed Albatros D.V made a short-lived attempt to help Voss; Rhys-Davids put a bullet through its engine, and it dropped away.
At another point, Voss was caught in a crossfire by at least five of his attackers but seemed unhurt. At about this point, Maybery withdrew with his aircraft’s upper right-hand longeron holed in several places.
Voss and the six remaining British aces swirled down to 600 meters (2,000 feet). At times, Voss had the altitude advantage over his foes, but did not try to escape the fight. Using the triplane’s superior rate of climb and its ability to slip turn, Voss managed to evade his opponents and return to battle. He continued to flick turn at high speeds and attack those behind him. As Bowman later noted concerning his only shot at Voss:
“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.”
Bowman’s machine was left slowed and ineffectively trailing dark smoke and steam, though he stayed in the fight.
Then, after flying past McCudden in a head-on firing pass, Voss’s Fokker was hit with bullets on the starboard side by Hoidge. Meantime, Rhys Davids had pulled aside to change an ammunition drum; he rejoined combat with a 150 meter (500 foot) height advantage over Voss’s altitude of 450 meters (1,500 feet), and began a long flat dive onto the tail of Voss’ triplane. At point-blank range, he holed the German aircraft end to end with his machine guns before turning. It wandered into his line of flight again, in a gentle westward glide; Rhys Davids again ripped the German plane as its engine quit. The aircraft missed a mid-air collision by inches. The British ace fired again. As the triplane’s glide steepened, Rhys Davids overran him at about 1,000 feet altitude and lost sight of his opponent. From above, Bowman saw the Fokker in what could have been a landing glide, right up until it stalled. It then flipped inverted and nose down, dropping directly to earth. The resulting smash left only the rudder intact.
McCudden, watching from 3,000 feet recalled:
“I saw him go into a fairly steep dive and so I continued to watch, and then saw the triplane hit the ground and disappear into a thousand fragments, for it seemed to me that it literally went into powder.”
McCudden would later write of the fight:
As long as I live I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot, who single-handed fought seven of us for ten minutes and also put some bullets through all our machines. 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’s identity was not compnformed until the next day, and eventually Rhys Davies was credited with the victory, although as was British practice at the time, his name was not made known to the press.