CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: The Beginning of the End
10th August 1918
Our beloved Jastaführer just stepped out to check in on Leutnant Stachel. Heidemann’s plans rely on Stachel’s continued success and his near miss almost ruined it all.
Stachel isn’t the only one who needs to be checked in on. The whole Jasta is on edge. Tommies have started a large offensive at Amiens, just a few hours west of us. We continue to run short of food and fuel and now there are rumors of large groups of our soldiers surrendering to the other side.
Our “office” at Coucy is much humbler than Beauvin. We share a single canvas tent fit up with make-shift desks, lanterns and supplies.
I suppose I shouldn’t complain. With how this war is going, we shouldn’t be here too much longer.
Kettering just dropped a copy of a wire he received on my desk. It’s urgent so he is going to go find Heidemann.
He mutters on his way out, “Looks like the boys get to go on a road trip.”
The message is from the Idflieg and they have invited Heidemann and a guest to the Johannisthal Trials near Berlin. At the Trails, manufacturers like Fokker and Albatros put on an exhibition to convince the government what aircraft to put into production. The most respected Aces are invited to test the aircraft and are treated like royalty. Such vanity when you consider we are losing the war and don’t have enough spare parts to keep our current aircraft in the air!
Berlin is buzzing with parties and the press is everywhere for this event. The perfect venue for Heidemann to show off his rising star.
The past Trials have had their highs and lows.
The first competition produced the Fokker DVII, the current star of the German Air Force. The second came with tragedy. Wilhelm Reinhard was the Hauptmann for JG1 who took over for Richthofen after his death. Wilhelm was test flying the newest Zeppelin biplane when he was killed in a crash.
This was an instant promotion for that chubby wind bag Hermann Göring who was also at the event. Göring is such a ladder climber that some suspect he had something to do with the accident. With Göring anything is possible.
Speaking of ladder climbers, Heidemann is back and it is my turn to pay Stachel a visit. He may have stopped drinking, but he still owes me 200 Marks and is late with his payments.
God damn Bruno Stachel!
Sure, I’m just a gray haired clerk who dabbles in the black market, but he benefits from my services like everyone else in the Jasta . I am still an Unteroffizier and a veteran of two campaigns. I deserve better than this.
He balked at paying the 200 marcs, and offered 100 marcs instead. I gave him lip about it but I would have accepted. Next thing I know the madman leaps across the room, grabs my face and gives me a quick knee in the privates. I am flat on my back seeing stars, staring up at Stachel’s face . He wads up the bills and shoves them in my mouth. What the hell?
I have the dirt on Stachel and it’s time to use it. He doesn’t know what I saw back in Beauvin. When I talk to Heidemann this shooting star will go down in flames.
11th August 1918
Well, that didn’t go how I expected it to.
I was rousted from my bed at dawn and never even given a chance to see Heidemann. Kettering gave me 15 minutes to pack up my kit and get into the ambulance wagon that was waiting outside my tent. I demanded to see Heidemann but Kettering wouldn’t even look me in the face as two young recruits forced me into the back of the wagon. I caught a glimpse of a sealed envelope being handed by Kettering to the driver. All I heard was “Get him to the Replacement Center in St. Quentin”. I’m not sure what Heidemann put in that envelope, but I will have plenty of time to think about it during this slow, dusty horse drawn ride to the Replacement Center.
Jail or the front lines? At this point, if I had a choice I would take jail over the front.