CHAPTER FOUR - The People
26th January 1918
It’s not surprising that the finest home in the village was taken over as the officer’s mess. This three-story mansion belonged to the factory manager. He and his family left in the dark of night before the occupation.
An aviation officer spends most his time doing three things…flying, sleeping and rabble-rousing. This is where the third thing happens. Drinking, singing, card playing and on a good night, furniture smashing. As Unteroffizier I have reasons to visit the mess, to deliver a message, to find a pilot who has gone missing, but I never stand out. You might see me at a back table in a dark corner, filling out a report or sketching something in my sketchbook. The officers don’t notice me.
What they don’t realize is what I am really doing is gathering information on them.
Hauptmann Otto Heidemann
Heidemann is the one true Kanone in the squad with forty-some kills. You would not guess his skills by looking at him, a skinny little guy. He considers himself an excellent judge of character and spends a lot of time ( perhaps too much time ) analyzing and testing the character of his men.
He has several key weaknesses. He is so focused on analysis that he sometimes misses the obvious. He is a lousy politician. Any ace of his stature should have lobbied for a better commission, but he won’t work at it like our friend Mr. Göring sitting at Richthofen’s side in Jasta 11.
His biggest weakness is his dear wife Elfi. He is so heartsick for her that he even turns to me now and then for help getting his letters through without being seen by the censors.
That’s a weakness I can take advantage of.
Oberleutnant Karl-Heinz Kettering
Heidemann’s right-hand man, but more of a den mother than a taskmaster for the squad. He is bell-shaped with a bald head and a quick smile. Another failed pilot behind a desk with a wooden leg to prove it.
Kettering is a man of few pretensions, he observes but doesn’t get involved if he doesn’t have too. He is a lover of American culture and can read and write in English as well, so I am careful to keep my Skizzenbuch out of his reach. He is good friends with Ziegal and they talk a lot. I try not to attract their attention.
Biggest weakness? A soft spot for pornography. He pedals it around the Aerodrome to the young pilots. I do my best to keep him well supplied.
The lead mechanic of our Jasta, a swarthy Bavarian with dark brown eyes. A man of few words but with a hot temper. His whole life is focused on keeping these fragile crates in the air.
He is not above tampering with an aircraft if our Hauptmann asks him to. One of Heidemann’s favorite “tests” for new pilots is to assign them an aircraft that has been intentionally made schwanzlästig or tail heavy to see how they deal with adversity (strange man, eh?).
He has two key weaknesses. One is that he is a Jew, which has never been easy in my homeland and it is getting harder every day.
The other one is obvious, he cares more about machines than people. A few smuggled replacement parts from the other Jasta’s and he stays out of my way.
Leutnant Wilhelm Von Klugermann
At first glance you would not assume that Wili is much of a pilot. Born an aristocrat with relatives in high places, chubby and arrogant, a permanent pout on his face, he lets you know that he thinks he’s better than all of us.
I didn’t give him more than two weeks when I first signed him into the duty book. Surprisingly he appears to have some natural flying ability and has been one of the better performer’s after Heidemann.
Von Klugermann’s biggest strength is his biggest weakness, the Graf and Gräfin Von Klugerman. Hugo is his uncle,a physician and an expert on addiction. But Auntie Kaeti….ahhh sweet Kaeti. Half the Graf’s age and more secrets than I dare write here.
How did I learn about them? Let’s just say it is one of the privileges of being in charge of the mail.
And here they are all together.
Yes, I am the squad photographer as well. Comes in handy when I get the local girls to pose for pictures.
This shot was taken in the mess in front of the trophy wall. A rare shot to get our Hauptmann to pose with the rest of the squad. He can be a stickler for propriety.
And the pilot sitting on the far right with the blank stare? Why that’s Leutnant Bruno Stachel. He is a newly commissioned officer that just arrived this week.
He and I have already tangled and that exchange requires its own chapter.