Welcome to "Rupp's Skizzenbuch"
This is an on-line serial World War I soldier's journal and sketchbook, brought to you by The Blue Max Project. Over the next eleven months, follow along as Unteroffizier Gerhardt Rupp re-tells the story of "The Blue Max" from his perspective with his own words, sketches and photographs.
And so it begins.....
An aging German immigrant passes away in St. Augustine, Florida. Among her personal effects a soldier's journal and sketchbook from World War I is discovered. The sketchbook is sent on to the Smithsonian's Special Collections Archivist for further study.
Unteroffizier Rupp Gerhardt introduces himself and explains what brought this “old campaigner” to the town of Beauvin and what services he provides to his squadmates at Jasta 77.
Rupp shares a map he drew to show where Jasta 77 is located on the Western Front. He intercepts an American paper and gets some insight into how the other side thinks the war is going.
Rupp’s squad mate takes him for a wild ride in a DFW and ruins his aerial photo shoot of the Aerodrome requested by the Hauptmann. Angry with all of them he settles into some late night sketching and writes about the Aerodrome, the village of Beauvin and his lucrative side businesses.
Rupp’s goal was to survive the war, not to win it and he was willing to do just about anything to make sure he survived. In this chapter, he shares his insights into the strengths and weaknesses of his fellow squad mates and explains how he uses that information to his best advantage.
Bruno Stachel arrives at Jasta 77 and meets Rupp for the first time. Their not so friendly introduction is interrupted by an attack on the base by a group of Sopwith Camels.
Leutnant Bruno Stachel has an immediate impact on Jasta 77 and not in a good way. Hauptmann Heidemann is trying to get to know his newest pilot and Rupp is sure he will either be the next Ace in the squad or dead within three weeks. It could go either way.
Leutnant Stachel, frustrated by his unconfirmed kill a few weeks earlier, makes a point when he drops an RE-8 right on the Hauptmann’s front porch. Bold, skilled and cruel, Stachel begins to make a reputation for himself.
The Big Push begins and Jasta 77 is in the thick of the fight. German pilots like their chances of winning, especially when they hear the new Fokker DVII’s will be delivered soon. Rupp can’t figure out why the Hauptmann is giving Stachel special treatment, but he knows he better figure it out soon.
It has been quite a week for Bruno Stachel. He shot down two more enemy aircraft, had a job offer from the Red Baron and got a nice write up in the Berlin papers. Hauptmann Heidemann seems to be putting Stachel on the fast track.
The Hauptmann sends Wili and Bruno on a road trip to introduce the “Black Angel” to German High Command located in Spa. Along the way they make a stop to visit Wili’s Aunt and Uncle, the Graf and Gräfin. Sparks fly and a fire is ignited between sweet Kaeti and young Bruno. She proves to be more than a match for the Cobra.
The Big Push starts to fizzle out. Von Richthofen is shot down over the Somme Valley. The only good news is the arrival of the first Fokker DVII for test flying. The aggressiveness of this machine is a perfect match for young Stachel, but he is counting heads to decide if he will be assigned one when the rest arrive. Rupp enters into a business arraignment to satisfy Stachel’s drinking habit, but is having second thoughts.
Rupp gets sent in to clean up another crash site, but this time the tragic death is close to home. Wili Klugermann and Bruno Stachel return from a successful sortie in a heavy mist. Stachel gets credited with three more kills, but Wili ends up wrapped around a factory chimney on the edge of town. Just one of those fluke accidents…..or was it?
Stachel’s drinking gets worse, but the kills keep piling up. With the Hauptmann’s support, he demands that his Fokker be painted all black and asks for a unique slogan to be painted in English on the upper wing. Realizing what a good customer Stachel has become, Rupp raises his price. Amid all that Stachel surprises everyone when he risks his life to save a French school girl who falls into an icy stream. Angel or Devil? A little of one, a lot of the other.
Stachel finally achieves his goal of being awarded the Blue Max. While Stachel’s achievements in the air are extraordinary, on the ground his drinking begins to take a toll. Heidemann’s publicity campaign goes into full swing and Stachel is overwhelmed by all the attention.
Heidemann continues his campaign to make Stachel famous and sends the Black Angel on tour. Stachel fits in a stop at Sonnenstrahl to visit with the Gräfin and attempts to blackmail her over Wili’s journal. Things do not go well and Kaeti reaches out to Rupp for protection. Rupp has just what Kaeti needs.
The tide begins to turn against Germany in the Great War and Jasta 77 is forced to relocate to Coucy. A shortage of replacement parts and fuel is making it a struggle to keep aircraft in the air. The Fokker DVII is plagued by engine problems and Leutnant Stachel has a very close call.
Heidemann gets an invite to attend the Johannisthal Trials near Berlin. This event brings the most accomplished aces together to test fly the newest aircraft and is the perfect venue for Heidemann to show off his young rising star. Rupp makes the mistake of getting in the way and Heidemann punishes him severely for it.
Rupp gets sent to the front lines at Bellicourt and discovers what life is like in the underground tunnels of the St. Quentin Canal. Kettering has taken over Rupp’s mail delivery service and sends a messenger to him with an apology, a box of cigars and an update on the continuing adventures of Hauptmann Heidemann and Leutnant Stachel.
A tragic accident, an unwanted promotion, a forced marriage. Poor Bruno….even when he does the right thing he can’t seem to catch a break. Meanwhile, Kaeti sends Rupp a letter with a large cash payment to settle her debt with him. Rupp needs one more lucky break to put his “exit plan” in place. He hopes that break comes soon, he is not sure how much longer he will last in the Tunnels of Bellicourt.
The Americans start making their presence felt on the Western Front and things are heating up at Bellicourt. Rupp’s Hauptmann sends him into harm’s way on a whim to photograph a crash site. Rupp is angry, but the Breguet provides just the lucky break he was looking for.
The Battle of the St Quentin Canal begins and the inexperienced Americans manage to push the Germans back with a lot of help from the more seasoned Australians. Rupp takes advantage of the chaos while retreating through Nauroy and hides away in the belfry of an old church. A giant leap and a bad landing send his “ best made plans” into a tailspin.
Rupp manages to continue his ruse while he recovers from his injuries at the American Hospital in Étretat. There are rumors all around that Germany is ready to surrender. The Americans are in a mood to celebrate, but Rupp only becomes more withdrawn. All the lying and the sleepless nights are taking a toll on him. He needs to find a way out before his luck runs out.
The train breaks down half way to St. Nazaire. Locals invite injured soldiers into their homes overnight while the locomotive is being repaired. Rupp spends a quiet night in a peaceful villa with a house cat and a view of the vineyard. It’s the first time in weeks that he has had time to think in a restful place. He comes to realize that he needs to adjust his plans one more time.
On the Centennial of Armistice Day the Smithsonian confirms the authenticity of Rupp’s sketchbook and informs the family. In St. Augustine ( Jack Hunter’s hometown) the Historical Society underlines this discovery as providing unique insight into the experiences of one German soldier who survived the Great War.
Rupp’s final sketch is discovered in the last sleeve of the journal and it documents both the end of his wartime experience and the beginning of his long road back to home, health and recovery.