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Better to Follow the Red Baron Than Lead Another Squadron

ernst udet red baron

Then You Would Actually Seem Ripe for Us

Ernst Udet was known for many accomplishments, especially being the highest-scoring German ace to survive the war, and being the "Du Doch Nicht!!" ace.  

Ernst UdetA couple years after Udet's first victory, he was already an ace, in fact almost four times over an ace, as well as the squadron commander of Jasta 37. Everyone knew there was a big offensive coming, and on March 15th the squadron was told to load up for it. It was a rainy gray day as Udet helped the mechanics set up tents for the aircraft alongside a highway.

A car comes rattling along the road. Many cars pass this way, so we have ceased paying any attention to them. We continue to work in grim silence.

Remember, this was a generation to which cars were almost as strange as airplanes. So, who would be traveling, in wartime, in a car?

Someone pats me on the back and I jump around.
Richthofen. The rain is seeping down from his cap, running into his face.
"Hello, Udet," says the captain, and he tips his cap. "Nice rotten weather today."
I salute in silence and look at him. A quiet, self-controlled face, large, cold eyes, half covered by heavy lids. This is the man who has already brought down sixty-seven, the best of us all. His car stands on the highway below. He has clambered up the slope through the rain. I am waiting.
"How many have you brought down, Udet?"
"Nineteen confirmed, one pending," I answer.
His cane pokes around in the wet leaves.
"Hm, twenty then," he repeats. He looks up and gives me a searching glance. 
"Then you would actually seem ripe for us. Would you like to?"
Would I like to? I most certainly would! If I had my way, I would pack up right now and go along with him. There are many good squadrons in the Army, and Jasta 37 is far from the worst. But there is only one Richthofen group.
"Yes, Herr Rittmeister," I reply, and we shake hands.
I look after him as his spare and slender shape clambers down the slope, climbs into the car, and disappears around the next bend behind a curtain of rain.
"Well, you could say we have it made now," says Behrend as I bend down beside him to continue driving the tent peg into the ground.

Read more on Udet in his autobiography Ace of the Iron Cross. Also, see a video of Udet's aerobatics near the end of this article on Udet - he picks a cloth off the ground with his wingtip.

Richthofen and Udet as heroes of Germany sort of symbolized the change WWI made in Europe in general but in Germany in particular. This change is suggested in the movie the Blue Max, which shows the kind of conflict Richthofen's class would have had with Udet's class, though there is no indication there was any antagonism between the actual Richthofen and Udet. They can be seen as archetypes of the old German hero (noble in rank, gentlemanly in conduct, an attitude that died in WWI) and the new Germany (class is unimportant; winning is important, an attitude that produced WWII). (Note that the Blue Max is not a family movie, as the heroine's apparently anti-gravity towel is an unnecessary distraction from some of the most interesting discussion in the movie.) 



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