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Aerial Combat Ace: Werner Voss

Werner Voss

Had Werner Voss survived the legendary dogfight on September 23, 1917 he could have gone on to rival his friend and colleague Richthofen as the greatest of all German World War One combat aces. As it was, this son of a dyer from Krefeld would claim 48 aerial victories in his short but glorious combat career.

Born on April 12, 1897 Werner Voss was born into the family fabric business and was almost certainly assured of a career had he wanted to enter the business like his siblings. Aged seventeen, however, the young man wanted nothing to do with fabrics as his mind was full of adventure and excitement. He joined the 11th Westphalian Hussars as the army offered just such opportunities. The year was 1914 and within months the world was thrown into total war and Werner Voss was soon posted to the Eastern Front where he would serve with distinction and bravery earning himself an Iron Cross 2nd Class.

With his feet firmly on the ground his eyes looked skywards to towards daring aerial battles and he knew that was where he wanted to be. On August 1, 1915 Voss was selected to initial aerial training which was undertaken at Flieger Ersatz Abteilung (FEA) Nr 7 at Cologne. From there he progressed swiftly to flying school at Krefeld before rejoining FEA 7 on February 12, 1916. Aged just eighteen he was the youngest air instructor in the entire German air service at the time.

The air service was in desperate need of pilots for their bomber aircraft and Werner Voss was in March 1916 dispatched to join Kampstaffel 20, before receiving his commission on September 9. During his tenure flying bombers his flying skills were noted and it was not long before his talents were requested for front line fighter flying. On November 21, 1916 he was posted to join the crack unit Jasta 2, which was under the command of Oblt Stephen Kirmaier. Kirmaier had assumed command of Jasta 2 following the death of the unit’s legendary leader Oswald Boelcke. Having barely got his bearings Voss was woken the next day to learn that Kirmaier had also been killed in action.

On November 27, Werner Voss opened his scorecard with a double aerial victory and added a third to his tally on December 21. To honour the memory of Boelcke, the Jasta had changed its name to Jasta Boelcke and had a high reputation to maintain. Werner Voss settled in well within the Jasta although he felt the leadership of Franz Walz was lacklustre. There was, however, nothing lacklustre with Voss’s work in the air having achieved 28 kills by mid May 1917.

Voss’s contempt for the leadership of Walz grew steadily and in direct defiance of military rules went over Walz’s head and asked the authorities to remove him from his command. This act of insubordination would have been unacceptable for anyone other than a man with national hero status such as Voss. The authorities, however, saw this act for what it was, a desire to get the right leadership in place for the Jasta; but for Voss it meant leaving Jasta Boelcke and temporary commands of Jasta 14. His friend and fellow combat ace Baron Von Richthofen on July 30 invited Voss to command Jasta 10, one of four squadrons that formed Jagdgeschwader Nr 1. At this time Werner Voss was aged just 20 and had already scored 34 victories.

Voss was a very mercurial character but also paid a great deal of attention to the small details. Often found in the hangers and workshops in oily overalls he enjoyed tinkering with the aircraft in an effort to maintain their effectiveness and perhaps improve their performance.

Werner Voss added his 35th victory on August 10. Soon thereafter, he traded in his old aircraft for the first of three Fokker Dr I triplanes. These aircraft were much easier to fly and throw around the skies and complemented Voss’s natural abilities as a pilot. In the Fokker’s another eleven enemy aircraft would succumb to Voss’s guns within the space of just three weeks.

His 48th victory came on September 23, 1917, but it also marked one of the most momentous air combats of the entire First World War. Werner Voss was flying in his bright yellow painted Dr I triplane with a face painted on it when he came across a flight of SE.5a’s of No 56 Royal Flying Corps. In the English machines were the cream of the British flyers including such names as Maybery, Rhys Davids, Muspratt, Chidlaw-Roberts and James McCudden VC. The single German aircraft was outnumbered but Voss was a tenacious and skilled fighter. He managed somehow to hit all the attacking aircraft and severely damaging four of them. The fight lasted eight minutes but eventually the odds proved too much for Voss when the SE-5A piloted by Rhys-Davids overwhelmed him.

Werner Voss’s aircraft was seen to enter a dive as James McCudden later reported. "I saw him go into a fairly steep dive and so I continued to watch, and then saw the triplane hit the ground and disappear into a thousand fragments, for it seemed to me that it literally went into powder."

Voss crashed near Plum Farm north of Frezenberg in Belgium at 18.40 and was buried with full military honours nearby.


Quotes:

“To my amazement he kicked on full rudder, without bank, pulled his nose up slightly, gave me a burst while he was skidding sideways and then kicked on opposite rudder before the results of this amazing stunt appeared to have any effect on the controllability of his machine." Geoffrey Hilton Bowman

"His flying was wonderful, his courage magnificent and in my opinion he was the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see fight." James McCudden VC

"Strangely, I was the only pilot who saw the triple-decker shatter on the ground. Even Rhys-Davids, who delivered the last shots, did not see him crash. As long as I live, my admiration for this flyer shall never cease. For ten minutes he alone held seven of us at bay, and kept hitting all of us. The flying skills of the German were masterly, his boldness extraordinary. We all agreed this evening that the enemy flyer must have been one of the best. Was it Richthofen, Wolff, or Voss? He fell within our lines. Through radio we heard that he was salvage from the crash.” James McCudden

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