Richthofen’s Eleven Jasta 11


Initially it was presumed that, as in the morning on that occasion, the adversaries of the Jasta’s 11 Fokkers were also the Americans, but it quickly became apparent that the SPADs belonged to the French Air Force. Analyzing available sources allows us now to establish that the 31st kill of Lothar von Richthofen was Corporal Georges Perrin, pilot of Escadrille Spa 73, conducting only his second combat mission. Victim number 32 who, according to the account of the victor managed to live a bit longer, was a French formation leader, Adjutant Chef Jean Raszewski.
Jagdstaffel elf

The early arrival of typically autumn weather at the end of September 1916 was disconcerting enough. A maze of fortifications of the Somme frontline became obscured under a curtain of rain. Over the moonlike landscape of the mutilated Flanders soil, a strong westerly wind was carrying heavy, low-lying black clouds. The infantry, again, began to sink in the mud at the bottom of their trenches, which was rose as the day went by. The gunners were struggling with malfunctioning mechanisms, supply lines were frequently broken, but most of all the worsening conditions were affecting the flyers. The era of triumphs of the German fighters in the air was becoming history. In current atmospherical conditions, climbing new aerial victories was hard even for such virtuosos of the Luftstreitkräfte like Jagdstaffel II, led by famous Oswald Boelcke. Forced by the weather, interruptions in operations were used by the Germans for reorganisation. Created so far ad hoc, German aviation units (Fliegertruppen) from now on were reformed according to a new and clearer structure. Leading the reformed Luftstreitkräfte was now the energetic General Ernst von Hoepner, who was preoccupied with the operational introduction of twenty-two newly created Jagdstaffel. The number of those units grew between September and October 1916, from fifteen to thirty-seven. The new fighters were supposed to be ready for action at the time of the spring offensive.

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One of the six units, called into existence on the 28th of September 1916, was Jasta 11. Drawing personnel from dissolved squadrons of the army air force, the unit wasn’t like any other – it formed a part of the Kingdom of Prussia air force. Despite being forty years since the reunification of Germany, the country was still far from homogenous. Independent kingdoms of Saxony, Bayern, and Wittemberg, had used at the front their own air services; differentiated from each other by the letters after the number. For example, Jasta 32b, meant Bavarian. The letter ‘p’ after Prussian air service Jagdstaffel numbers was usually omitted for the simple reason of the sheer number of air units of this particular nationality.
Under the command of the of the first Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Rudolf Lang, Jasta 11 reached operational readiness on the 11th of October 1916, at Douai airbase. The operations were initiated on the Flanders front of the German Sixth Army. Missions flown were usually reconnaissance, and escort operations, conducted by the book, but without going above and behind the call of duty – a fact proven by a lack of aerial victories, or even confrontations with the enemy in the air. Among three fighter units assigned to the German sixth army, Jasta 11 was then considered the least aggressive. In the unanimous opinion of German staff, they were definitely not ‘ace’ material. The atrocious autumn weather was also not ideal to improve fighting skills. Instead of typical combat flying, attention was momentarily switched to training around the base of Roucourt. The emphasis was placed on big formation flying. It was considered helpful to prepare German ­pilots for the enemies’ numerical superiority. In that manner it was supposed, rightly, how the combat conditions of the incoming spring would look. At the moment, not much less ­dangerous from confronting allied foes, were the training flights themselves. A victim of one of them was none other than the German fighter pilots mentor, Oswald Boelcke. That painful loss caused the renaming of Jasta 2, to Jasta Boelcke.
There also came a new urge to create new aces. In those circumstances, after Rudolf Lang, Jasta 11 was to be led by Manfred von Richthofen. For him this change was a sad, and even degrading experience.

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In Jasta 2, in which he claimed sixteen aerial victories, his position was privileged and reassured. In new conditions, he supposed that reaching the same heights would be very difficult.