Rudolf Berthold

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Rudolf Berthold
Rudolf Berthold.jpg
Rudolf Berthold c. 1918. The clutched gloves conceal his paralyzed hand.
Nickname(s) Iron Knight
Born 24 March 1891
Ditterswind, German Empire
Died 15 March 1920(1920-03-15) (aged 28)
Harburg, Hamburg, Germany
Buried Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery, Berlin, Germany
Allegiance German Empire
Service/branch Luftstreitkräfte
Years of service 1910–1919
Rank Hauptmann
Unit FFA 23,
KEK Vaux,
Jagdstaffel 4,
Jagdstaffel 14,
Jagdstaffel 18,
Jagdgeschwader II,
Awards -Prussia: Pour le Mérite;
Iron Cross: 2nd class;
Iron Cross: 1st class
-Saxonia: Military Order of St. Henry, Class: Knight's Cross
-Bavaria: Order of Military Merit: 4th class
Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords

Hauptmann Oskar Gustav Rudolf Berthold (24 March 1891 – 15 March 1920), commonly known as Rudolf Berthold, was a German flying ace of World War I. Between 1916 and 1918, he shot down 44 enemy planes—16 of them while flying one-handed. Berthold had a reputation as a ruthless, fearless and, above all, patriotic fighter. His perseverance, bravery, and willingness to return to combat while still wounded made him one of the most famous German pilots of World War I.

Berthold joined the German Imperial Army in 1909, and paid for his own piloting lessons, qualifying in September 1913. He was one of the pioneer aviators of World War I, flying crucial reconnaissance missions during his nation's 1914 invasion of France. His reported observations affected the German troop dispositions at the First Battle of the Aisne. During 1915, he became one of the first flying aces. He rose to command one of the first dedicated fighter units in August 1916; he scored five victories before suffering severe injuries in a crash and being dosed with narcotics while hospitalized for four months. Decamping from hospital, he returned to duty while still unwell to successively command two of Germany's original fighter squadrons. By 24 April 1917, when he was wounded again, he had brought his tally to 12 and won Germany's greatest honor, the Pour le Merite. On 18 August, he once again bolted from medical care to return to battle.

Over the next few weeks, he would score 16 more victories before being crippled by a British bullet on 10 October 1917. With an arm at hazard of amputation, Berthold was rescued by his sister Franziska, who had the medical connections to gain him care by a specialist. Berthold was bedridden until February 1918, only to return to duty to command one of the world's first fighter wings. On 28 May, he began once again to fly combat, though flying one-handed and under the influence of narcotics; he shot down 14 more enemy airplanes by 8 August 1918. On 10 August, he shot down his final two victims on his final flight before being downed. After two days in the hospital, he would once again flee treatment and return to combat. Only a direct order from Kaiser Wilhelm II returned him to medical care for the rest of the war.

In postwar Germany, Rudolf Berthold organized a Freikorps and fought the Bolsheviks in Latvia. He was killed in political street fighting in Hamburg on 15 March 1920.

Early life and entry into military[edit]

Oskar Gustav Rudolf Berthold entered the world at about 18:00 hours on 24 March 1891. He was born in Ditterswind, Kingdom of Bavaria in the German Empire, the sixth child of Oberförster (Head Forester) Oskar Berthold. The young child, who became familiarly known as simply Rudolf, was the first born to Helene Stief Berthold, Oskar's second wife. Oskar's first wife, Ida Anne Hoffmann Berthold, died in childbirth, leaving as survivors a daughter and three sons. Rudolf was followed by three younger brothers, two of whom survived to adulthood.[1]

Rudolf's father was employed by a local nobleman, Oskar Freiherr von Deuster; Rudolf grew up roving the baron's great estate. Early in September 1897, Rudolf began his education. By the time he had completed his studies at the Humanistische Neue Gymnasium (New Secondary School for the Humanities) in nearby Bamberg at age 14, he had adopted a personal motto from Horace: "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's Fatherland."[2]

Rudolf moved to Schweinfurt's Königliches Humanistische Gymnasium (Royal Secondary School for Humanities) in September 1906 to begin sixth level classes. Winter of 1909 saw him transfer to the Altes Gymnasium (Old Secondary School) in Bamberg to better fit himself for a military career. He graduated on 14 July 1910, with a reputation for being fearless, cheerful, and studious.[3]

Berthold's military career began when he joined the 3rd Brandenberg Infantry Regiment[4] in Wittenberg. He was required to serve a year and a half's training as a Fähnrich (Officer Candidate) before being voted upon by officers of the regiment. On 27 January 1912, they accepted Berthold and he was commissioned as a leutnant. Toward the end of Berthold's training, the Jungdeutschland-Bund (Young Germany Federation) was founded. He became the leader of the Wittenberg branch of this patriotic society that was mobilizing German youth for national service.[5]

Der Fliegertruppe (The Flying Troop) became an official part of the German Imperial Army on 1 October 1912.[6] Berthold learned to fly at his own expense in 1913, qualifying as a pilot in September.[4] He trained at the Halberstädter Flugzeugwerke (Halberstadt Aircraft Factory) on dual-control Bristol types; one of his fellow students was Oswald Boelcke. After informing his family he had a "special assignment" to a flying school, Berthold underwent military flight training during July 1914.[7]

World War I[edit]


The outbreak of World War I disrupted the young aviator's progress. On 1 July 1914, Berthold was recalled from his schooling to rejoin his infantry regiment; once there, he ruefully discovered his marching skills had deteriorated during his aviation sojourn. After a fortnight's refresher course in soldierly skills, he was returned to flying training. On 17 July 1914, he was officially transferred out of the 3rd Brandenbergers to aerial service. His infantry refresher course had aborted his pilot training, and he had to settle for aerial observer duty. On 1 August, he shipped out on a train for the Royal Saxon Air Base at Grossenhain.[8]

By 7 August 1914, Berthold had been assigned to Feldflieger-Abteilung 23 (Field Flier Detachment 23), which was assigned to the German 2nd Army. By 9 August, FFA 23 was encamped at Monschau near the Belgian border. On 15 August, Berthold was chosen for the unit's first reconnaissance mission. Two days later, his pilot strayed off-course; Bertholdt and his pilot landed lost. They evaded French cavalry, to direct retrieval of their DFW biplane. In his diary, Berthold angrily noted his decision to complete pilot's training.[9]

An Iron Cross from 1914

Berthold was also the observer on flights on 1 and 3 September. He saw French troops retreating across the Marne River, and giving way to panic. However, later in the month, he discovered the French counter-thrust between the German 1st and 2nd Armies. German staff officers' disbelief led to Berthold personally briefing Generaloberst Karl von Bülow on the situation. Bülow moved his troops to higher ground; the First Battle of the Aisne began. On 13 September 1914, the young aviator was presented with the Iron Cross, Second Class for his efforts. General Bülow had received the initial Iron Cross for the 2nd Army; he personally awarded the second one to Berthold.[10]

On 4 October, he was called away from rebuilding his machine's engine to report to Army High Command Headquarters. There he was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class by General Bülow. Again, Berthold received his award second only to Bülow.[11]

As winter weather shut down combat flying in November, Berthold arranged to continue his pilot's training at a nearby flight park. He became friends with a fellow student, Hans Joachim Buddecke.[12]


Rudolf Berthold finally qualified as a military pilot on 18 January. At about the same time, he arranged Buddecke's transfer into FFA 223.[13] Berthold now being a pilot, he was assigned an observer, Leutnant Josef Grüner for flying reconnaissance sorties; they quickly became friends. In June, they were finally supplied with machine guns for their aircraft; Berthold could give up his futile assaults on enemy aircraft with his pistol. At about the same time, Berthold was laid up for a fortnight with dysentery, possibly provoked by nervous worry.[14]

FFA 223 re-equipped with AEG G.II bombers in August. The twin-engined giant was manned by a pilot, two or three observers, and two swiveling machine guns. Even as the new bombers came on board, the unit also received its first single-seat fighter with a synchronized gun, a Fokker Eindekker.[15]

Berthold fought his first aerial combats in an AEG G.II bomber such as this.

Berthold took command of the big bomber. He left the Eindekker to Buddecke; this decision sped Buddecke on his way to being a member of the first wave of German aces that included Oswald Boelcke, Max Immelmann, and Kurt Wintgens.[16] Berthold knew he could cross the lines searching for opponents in the AEG G.II, while the Eindekker was ordered to patrol only behind German lines. However, Berthold damaged his original G.II in a landing accident on 15 September, and had to return to piloting an old two-seater. On 21 September, Rudolf Berthold was promoted to Oberleutnant. Shortly thereafter, he returned to Germany to pick up a replacement G.II. By 1 October, he was using it as a gunship for air defense missions, as well as for bombing.[17] On 6 November, one of those missions turned deadly; a British Vickers F.B.5 gunner mortally wounded Grüner. Berthold was depressed by his friend's death, and sent on home leave, vowing vengeance for Grüner's death.[18]

In early December, Buddecke was seconded to the Turkish Air Force and Berthold fell heir to his Eindekker. He accompanied Ernst Freiherr von Althaus when the latter shot down enemy planes on both 5 and 28 December 1915.[19]


As the Germans pioneered use of aircraft with synchronized guns, they began to group the new aerial weapons into ad hoc units to protect reconnaissance and bombing aircraft. These new units were dubbed Kampfseinsitzer Kommando (Single-seater fighter detachment), abbreviated KEK. On 11 January, KEK Vaux formed near FFA 223; because of his experience, Berthold was placed in charge. Even as the pioneering fighter units formed, on 14 January Royal Flying Corps (RFC) Headquarters directed that any reconnaissance craft crossing into German-held territory be escorted by at least three protective aircraft.[20]

On 2 February, Berthold and Althaus dodged through spotty cloud coverage and sporadic rain, set upon a pair of French Voisin LA bomber/ground attack two-seater pusher biplanes, and shot down one apiece. It was Berthold's first aerial victory. He would score another three days later. Then, on 10 February, Berthold was himself downed, with a holed fuel tank and a slight wound to his left hand. He was rewarded with the Military Merit Order, 4th class on 29 February; one of only 12 Military Merit Orders awarded to aviators during the war.[21]

Berthold continued flying bombing missions as well as patrolling in his fighter. After he scored another victory, he was again honored by his native Kingdom of Bavaria, this time with the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Saint Henry on 15 April.[22][23]

On 25 April, Berthold lost a dogfight. He made an emergency landing after enemy bullets crippled his Fokker's engine. He took off again in a Pfalz E.IV. Its engine quit as he climbed to about 100 meters altitude, and he crashed. When his limp body was pulled from the wreckage, he was believed dead until he revived momentarily with a fit of cursing. After a passing faint, Berthold awoke to find himself blind. He begged bystanders to shoot him, then again swooned. He reawakened two days later in Kriegslazarett 7 (Military Hospital 7) in Saint Quentin, in a room next to a British observer he had downed. Besides a badly broken left leg, Berthold had suffered a broken nose and upper jaw, with attendant damage to his optic nerves.[24] He was prescribed narcotic painkillers for chronic pain. At that time, German military doctors used three narcotics as remedies—opium, morphine, and codeine. Cocaine was used to counteract the somnolence of these three depressant drugs. Berthold's exact prescription is unknown.[25]

Eventually, Berthold's eyesight returned. He was unable to fly for four months, but remained in charge of KEK Vaux. Between the message traffic brought to him, and the accounts of his visiting subordinates, he learned of ongoing casualties. His brother Wolfram had been killed in action as an infantryman on 29 April. Max Immelmann perished in battle on 18 June. After Immelmann's death, Germany's highest scoring ace, Oswald Boelcke, was removed from flying for fear that his loss in action would be disastrous to morale. In the meantime, Berthold was scheduled to be evacuated back to Germany, away from the front. Instead, in late July, he commandeered a car and returned to his unit. Although unable to fly because of a stiff knee, he could still command. He made his orderly help him bend his knee and flex strength back into his withered leg.[26]

Rudolf Berthold was awarded the Blue Max on 12 October 1916.

On 24 August, Berthold scored his sixth victory, although he had to be helped into his fighter.[27] The next day, KEK Vaux became Jagdstaffel 4 (Fighter Squadron 4) under Berthold's command; the new unit started with a starred roster—Wilhelm Frankl, Walter Höhndorf, and Ernst Freiherr von Althaus were early members and all future aces.[28] On 27 August, Berthold received the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern.[29] As the Pour le Merite was customarily awarded for eight victories at this stage of the war, Berthold was very near attaining it. On 19 September, he was denied credit for a Royal Aircraft Factory BE.12 that fell behind German lines. On 24 September, two French Nieuport 17s collided and crashed while dogfighting him. Again, no credit. On 26 September, Berthold was finally credited with his eighth victory. He received his Blue Max, Imperial Germany's supreme award for valor, on 12 October 1916. His was only the tenth award for aviators. Five of the other living recipients attended the 16 October celebration of the award, including Buddecke, Althaus, Frankl, Höhndorf, and Kurt Wintgens. The following day,[30] Buddecke and a wingman circled overhead as Berthold's train bore him away to his new assignment[31] as Staffelführer (commander) of Jagdstaffel 14 (Fighter Squadron 14).[32]

Jagdstaffel 14 was newly formed when Berthold took command at Sarrebourg, France. Its motley assortment of fighters included two Fokker E.IIIs, a Halberstadt D.II, and seven Fokker D.IIs, and had no success when it was still the ad hoc Fokker Kampstaffel Falkenhausen. Berthold took advantage of being in a quiet sector, and trained his troops hard. He brought in new Albatros D.I and Albatros D.II replacement fighter aircraft, and renovated the officers' mess. In mid-December, just after the unit's first victory, they were visited on an inspection tour by Kaiser Wilhelm II and Crown Prince Wilhelm.[33]


In January Berthold and his squadron were subordinated to Armee-Abteilung A (Army Division A). With the reorganization in aviation came the installation of aviation staff officer Hauptmann Bruno Volkmann at army headquarters. Foreseeing the future, Berthold made an unheeded plea for amassing air power into larger units, and supported his proposal with detailed professional analysis.[34]

In February, Jasta 14 scored only two victories. However, it was slated to move to more active duty in Laon, and began to rearm with Albatros D.III fighters. Berthold flew to Laon to find there were no quarters for his men. He was adamant that he would not move his squadron until quarters were furnished. In mid-March, a convoy of trucks hauled the Jasta 200 kilometers (125 miles) to Marchais, France. They began operations on 17 March.[35]

Berthold had an Albatros D.III prepared as his assigned aircraft. Its guns were test-fired to check its synchronization gear. It was painted with his personal insignia of a white winged sword of vengeance on either side of the fuselage. It is not known if he had yet adopted an aircraft paint scheme of dark blue fuselage and scarlet cowling in homage to his old infantry unit's uniforms. By September, his entire squadron adopted his basic scheme and added their personal insignia.[36]

On 24 March Berthold resumed his victory string and was credited with four more victories by mid-April. On 24 April he fiercely engaged a French Caudron R.9 until driven back to base by a bullet through his lower right shin. He joked in his diary that this minor wound left his right arm as his only unwounded limb. The shin wound caused him to be shipped from the hospital to convalesce at home from 23 May to 15 June. As an aftereffect, this wound added more chronic pain to his miseries. By now, his narcotics addiction was an open secret to his pilots.[37]

Berthold believed that squadron performance was declining because of lack of in-air leadership. In early August, he returned to his old training facility in Grossenhain and wangled a medical clearance from its doctor. Berthold returned to his unit to await the paperwork, to discover that he was being transferred to command Jagdstaffel 18 (Fighter Squadron 18) in Harelbeke, Belgium, on 12 August. On 18 August, Berthold was finally certified to resume flying. Two days later, he was one of the aviation troops being reviewed by the Kaiser at Courtrai.[38]

Before Berthold's arrival, Jasta 18 had had little success; their new commander promptly emphasized training even as they flew combat missions. Shortly after assuming command, Berthold again pitched his idea of using fighters en masse; 4th Armee headquarters responded by grouping Jagdstaffelen 18, 24, 31, and 36 into Jagdgruppe 7 with Berthold in command.[39]

He shot down a SPAD on 21 August, raising his tally to 13. It was the beginning of a string of 16 aerial victories. During September he scored 14 victories, bringing his tally to 27. On 2 October he scored his 28th victory–his final one of the year.[4][40]

Berthold's Fokker D.VII would have been painted with scarlet cowling and a royal blue fuselage bearing a winged sword emblem.

During a dogfight on 10 October a bullet crippled Rudolf Berthold's right upper arm.[31] While fighting No. 56 Squadron RFC, a British bullet ricocheted within the cockpit of Berthold's aircraft and entered his arm at an angle that pulverized his right humerus. He was probably hit by Captain Gerald Maxwell, though the latter did not receive credit for a victory. Berthold overcame the handicap of half-severed ailerons and remained conscious long enough to make a smooth one-handed landing at Jasta 18's home airfield. He passed out after his safe arrival. Berthold's unconscious form was lifted from his Fokker and rushed five kilometers (three miles) to the field hospital in Courtrai.[41] Regardless of wounding, Berthold was promoted to Hauptmann on 26 October.[31]

The field hospital lacked the facilities to heal such a complex injury; however, it sufficed to keep him alive. It was three weeks before the wounded ace was stable enough to be transferred. On 31 October, he shipped out, slated for Saint Vincenzstift Hospital in Hannover. However, his squadronmates alerted his elder sister Franziska. She was a nursing supervisor in Viktoria-Lazarett (Victoria Hospital), Berlin. She arranged for her brother to be diverted to the Berlin clinic of one of Germany's pre-eminent surgeons, Doctor August Bier, who pioneered use of cocaine in spinal anesthesia. Berthold entered the clinic on 2 November 1917. Berthold was there for four months as Doctor Bier labored to save his arm from amputation. Meantime, counter to Berthold's wishes, Oberleutnant Ernst Wilhelm Turck assumed Berthold's dual commands of Jagdstaffel 18 and Jagdgruppe 7. Berthold spent his convalescent leave learning to write with his left hand. He believed, "If I can write, I can fly." Meantime, his right arm remained paralyzed as it slowly healed. He remained dependent on narcotics.[42]


By February, Berthold could get out of bed. In mid-month, he volunteered to return to command of Jagdgruppe 7. On 1 March, he reported to the medical office of Flieger-Ersatz-Abteilung 5 (Replacement Detachment 5) in Hannover. He was passed to return to command of Jagstaffel 18, but denied permission to fly. On 6 March, with his arm in a sling, he rejoined his old squadron at its new duty station. Within two days, on 8 March, Berthold had arranged for Hans-Joachim Buddecke's transfer into the unit to lead it in the air. Two days later, Buddecke was killed in action by Flight Lieutenant Arthur Whealy of the Royal Naval Air Service flying a Sopwith Camel.[43]

On 16 March, Rudolf Berthold was transferred to Jagdgeschwader II (Fighter Wing 2) to replace Hauptmann Adolf Ritter von Tutschek, killed in action the previous day. The German Spring Offensive was to be launched on 21 March. Berthold was in a tenuous and stressful situation. He had suffered the loss of his best friend, left his old squadron in the lurch, was taking command of an unfamiliar larger unit, and was not on flight status. His partial solution to his dilemma was to take advantage of a loophole. Customarily, a Luftstreitkräfte commander being transferred swapped a cadre of his unit into his new assignment. Berthold designated Jasta 15 the wing's Stab Staffel (command squadron). Then he effected a wholesale exchange of Jasta 18 people and aircraft into Jagdstaffel 15. Jasta 15 personnel moved to Jasta 18, completing the trade. Berthold then departed for Buddecke's funeral in Berlin on 22 March to give a eulogy. He returned to his new assignment two days into the new German offensive, to find that the infantry divisions his wing was supposed to support were complaining about their lack of air cover. Jagdgeschwader 2's performance improved under its grounded commander's guidance, as the Germans advanced 65 kilometers (40 miles) in eight days.[44]

The avidly awaited but disappointing Siemens-Schuckert D.III

On 6 April, nine Siemens-Schuckert D.III fighters began to arrive. Despite high expectations for the craft because of its superior performance, it suffered engine failures at only seven to ten hours usage. The type was rapidly withdrawn from the wing.[45] Meanwhile, Berthold had his men begin repainting the wing's aircraft with a common background marking. The wing's craft had standard dark blue paint applied to the fuselage, a la Jasta 15. However, instead of also copying a scarlet nose from them, the other squadrons each sported their own hue on the cowlings. Jagdstaffel 12 had white cowlings; Jagdstaffel 13 had dark green ones; Jagdstaffel 19 settled on yellow. To these markings, pilots added their own personal insignia.[46]

At about 22:30 hours, on the night of 12 April, French artillery directed by a reconnaissance aircraft, began shelling the Jagdgeschwader 2 airfield. By 05:00 the following morning the airfield and its equipment had been hit over 200 times by shellbursts. Though no one was killed, the fighter wing had had 25 aircraft destroyed or damaged, along with much of the aerodrome's buildings and gear, and was essentially out of action for the next three weeks as it changed airfields and re-equipped.[47]

In the meantime, Berthold fretted, "And I will fly again…even if they must carry me to the airplane." He kept his sister apprised of his medical condition. On 25 April, he wrote, "…a bone splinter protruded from my lower wound. My very capable medical orderly came immediately with a pair of tweezers, and with much skill and force, he removed it…. I passed out during this violent procedure. The pains were horrific. But the lower wound is beginning to close. Only the upper wound still festers very heavily. When the bone fragment was being withdrawn it broke into pieces, as the opening was too small and the splinter was snagged in the flesh, and so he had to probe and extract each piece."[48] Franziska Berthold wrote of her brother, "…his vigor was gone. The constant discharge from his wounds and the nerve pain wore down the body more and more. In order to work…he had to be given drugs."[49]

During this inactive stretch, Berthold outlined his intended use of the wing in a memorandum to headquarters. He outlined an air defense warning net posted forward to alert his wing, and he pleaded for a transport column to maintain the unit's mobility. Aside from this memo, he planned personnel changes in his new wing. He felt that the squadron commanders were plotting to have him replaced. By 18 May, the last of them had been replaced. The wing's score improved for that month, totaling 19 victories.[50]

Berthold had often flown a Pfalz D.III in preference to the Albatros D.V. In May 1918, the new Fokker D.VII entered service.[4] Berthold borrowed one of the new machines from Jagdgeschwader 1 for a surreptitious test flight. He liked its lightness on the controls, remarking hopefully that he could even fly it with his damaged right arm. On the morning of 28 May, he mounted a brand-new Fokker D.VII and for the first time, led his air wing into combat. Although it was a ground-support mission, he took the opportunity to score his 29th victory. The following day, he downed two more enemy aircraft, despite a malfunctioning gun synchronizer that nearly shot away his own propeller and caused a crash-landing. Berthold's drug addiction did not handicap him in the air. Georg von Hantelmann, one of his pilots, noted that despite his undiminished martial skills, his morphine addiction made him temperamentally erratic.[51] Nevertheless, his subordinates remained loyal to him.[52]

Berthold's victory tally gained half a dozen victories during June. Meantime, on 18 June, Berthold again advised his sister of his ongoing medical problems. "My arm has gotten worse. It is rather swollen and infected underneath the open wound. I believe the bone splinters are forcibly pushing themselves out, because the swollen area is very hard. The pain is terrific. During my air battle yesterday…I screamed loudly in pain."[53] He took a break until 28 June, when he scored his 37th victory. That night, he wrote his sister, "The arm is still not good. Since the lower wound has opened up again, the pain has subsided a bit and the swelling has gone down. I have screamed in pain, sometimes frantically. It seems to have been only a bone splinter…"[54] " got stuck in the old, scarred wound, then the fun began for the scar popped open...the pus sprayed out in a high arc...."[55]

His festering wound was not his only stressor. As summer's heat came on, the Fokker Triplanes of Jasta 12 began to experience engine overheating problems aggravated by the lack of genuine castor oil for lubrication. Occasionally, the lack of replacement triplanes grounded the squadron, and hampered its sister squadron, Jasta 13. New Fokker D.VIIs arrived in the wing, but only sufficed to re-equip Jasta 15. By mid-June, the triplanes of Jasta 12 were deemed unserviceable. Jasta 19 had only partially rearmed with new Fokker D.VIIs. The understrength wing also suffered fuel shortages. To remain operational, fuel and lubricants were channeled to the most useful craft, the D.VIIs. On 19 June, Jasta 12 and Jasta 19 had no usable aircraft, and the wing was reduced to half strength or below. The bereft squadrons would slowly restock with D.VIIs after the Triplanes were removed from the wing. Relief finally came on 28 June, when a shipment of 14 Fokker D.VIIs arrived and were divided between Jasta 12 and Jasta 19.[56]

Berthold fought on, scoring two more victories in July. However, now that he had re-equipped his fighter wing, influenza grounded all but three pilots from Jasta 19 by 6 July. Berthold scored three more victories in early August, raising his tally to 42. On 10 August, he led 12 of his pilots into battle against a vastly superior force of British aircraft. He shot down a Royal Aircraft Factory SE.5a fighter for his 43rd victory and an Airco DH.9 bomber for his 44th. When he tried to pull away from the DH.9 at 800 meters (2,500 feet) altitude, his shotaway controls came loose in his hand. His attempt to use a parachute failed because it required the use of both hands. His Fokker impacted a house in Ablaincourt with such force that its engine fell into the cellar. German infantrymen plucked him from the rubble and rushed him to hospital. His right arm was rebroken at its previous fracture. Rudolf Berthold would never fly again.[57]

On 12 August, Berthold once again checked himself out of a hospital. He arrived at the Jasta 15 officers' mess coincidentally with the newly appointed wing commander. Berthold stared down Rittmeister Heinz Freiherr von Brederlow, who was senior to him, and announced, "Here I am the boss." Once Brederlow departed, Berthold took to bed, stating he would run the fighter wing from there. The following day, he was feverish and writhing in pain. The doctor who was called to Berthold's bedside ordered Berthold back to the hospital. On the 14th, Kaiser Wilhelm II personally ordered the ace to take sick leave, and appointed Berthold's deputy commander, Leutnant Josef Veltjens, to take command of the wing. On 16 August, Veltjens saw Berthold off to the rear on a train.[58]

Berthold returned to Doctor Bier's clinic, being treated there through early October. Once his pains were alleviated, he went home to recuperate. He still craved a return to combat, but the war ended while he was convalescing.[59] The patriotic ace who had shot down 16 of 44 enemy airplanes while flying one handed could but watch as his beloved fatherland fell into defeat and chaos.[60]


In early 1919, Berthold was medically cleared to return to duty. On 24 February, he assumed the command of Döberitz Airfield in Berlin. He soon had the airfield functioning smoothly, only to have to shut it down.[61]

Berthold then put out a call for volunteers to form a Freikorps militia to stave off the Spartakists. His renown sufficed to attract 1,200 men, mostly from his native Franconia. He founded the Fränkische Bauern-Detachment Eiserne Schar Berthold (Franconian Farmer's Detachment: Iron Troop Berthold) in April 1919. They were trained by late May. His troopers were bound to him solely by personal loyalty, as they had not sworn an oath of allegiance. One of them was Hans Wittmann.[62]

In August, Berthold's Freikorps moved to the Baltic states to fight Bolsheviks. In September, the Freikorps became part of the Iron Division in Lithuania. They engaged leftist forces in Latvia at Klaipėda and Riga, and fought on into a bitter winter. The last three weeks of 1919 were spent bivouacked on the German-Lithuanian border before their return to Germany.[62]

On 1 January 1920, Berthold and his troops entrained at Memel for Stade. They arrived with 800 men with 300 rifles and a handful of machine guns. They were scheduled to disarm on 15 March 1920. However, on 13 March, the military attempted the Kapp Putsch. Wolfgang Kapp and General Walther von Lüttwitz called on all Freikorps and Reichswehr (Army) units to maintain public order. Chancellor Friedrich Ebert countered by calling a general strike. The Freikorps voted to join the putsch, so Berthold's men commandeered a train and crew from striking rail workers and moved to join the coup. Slowed by darkened signals along the rail line, they got as far as Harburg, Hamburg on the evening of 14 March; there they bivouacked in Heimfelder Middle School.[63]

Commemorative plaque at the school Woellmerstrasse in Hamburg Heimfeld.[Tr 1]

The Independent Socialist government of Harburg anticipated the Freikorps imminent arrival by arresting the commander of local Pionier-Bataillon 9 (Pioneer Battalion 9), leaving its 900 trained soldiers leaderless. On the morning of 15 March 1920, trade union leaders tried to talk the pioneers into disarming the Freikorps, to no avail. Union workers were then armed to face the Freikorps. At midday, parties of union men converged on the middle school.[64]

Meanwhile, Burgomaster (Mayor) Heinrich Denicke offered safe passage out of town to the Freikorps if they would disarm. Berthold refused it. Past noon, when the workers had gathered, a machine gun fired over their heads to clear an exit passage out of the school. Instead of fleeing, the union men shot back. In the ensuing firefight, 13 workers and three Freikorps combatants were killed. An additional eight Freikorps fighters were summarily executed after capture by the laborers. The school grounds were encircled. The Freikorps was besieged.[65]

By late afternoon, Freikorps ammunition was running low. Calling truce, Berthold negotiated a safe passage for those of his men who would disarm. At about 18:00 hours, the Freikorps filed out of the schoolhouse to disarm. A crowd of onlookers that had not been part of the negotiations were outraged by the civilian casualties, and they mobbed the Freikorps.[65]

There is a widespread legend that Rudolf Berthold was throttled to death with the ribbon of his Pour le Merite as ligature. The truth is more prosaic and more brutal. Berthold doubled back through the school when the mob attacked. As he exited the back door his Pour le Merite was spotted. The war cry was sounded. A swarm of people overpowered Berthold. His handgun was taken from him and used to shoot him twice in the head and four times in the body as the mob mauled him.[65]

Hans Wittmann retrieved Berthold's body. As he described it:

In the dirt of the street lay, lifeless, Hauptmann Berthold, his shoes and his overcoat robbed from him, his face crushed into a formless mass by the mob's feet, his paralyzed arm torn out of its socket, his bloody body punctured by gunshot wounds...

Berthold's remains were taken to the Wandsbeke hospital, in a Hamburg suburb. Two of his old fliers, former Leutnants Tiedje and Lohmann, lived in Hamburg. When they heard of Berthold's death, they rushed to the hospital. They stayed with Berthold until Franziska arrived from Berlin. Berthold's Pour le Merite, Iron Cross First Class, and Pilot's Badge were rescued from a garbage dump in Harburg before she arrived.[65]

Funeral and aftermath[edit]

Rudolf Berthold was buried at about 15:00 hours on 30 March 1920. Although pallbearers were customarily of Berthold's rank, his family requested that instead they be sergeants from his Freikorps. Berthold was buried next to Buddecke in Berlin's cemetery of heroes, the Invalidenfriedhof. Their mutual friend, Olivier Freiherr von Beaulieu-Marconnay lays next to them in a triangular arrangement.[66] On Berthold's first gravestone, since destroyed, was allegedly the memorial: "Honored by his enemies, killed by his German brethren". However, a literal translation of the inscription is "slain in the brother fight for the freedom of the German lands", as can be seen.[67]

After receiving complaints about lynch law justice, the Stade police investigated Berthold's murder. In February 1921, two men were tried and acquitted of the killing.[68]


The new grave stone on the Invalids' Cemetery.

When the Nazis rose to power, they exploited Berthold's name for propaganda purposes. They ignored his monarchist beliefs, and trumpeted his nationalist fervor. City streets were named for him in Bamberg and Wittenberg, among others. However, when the Nazis lost World War II, the streets lost the Berthold name.[68]

The Invalidenfriedhof lay near the dividing line between East Berlin and West Berlin. Tombstones were removed from many graves in 1960, including Berthold's, so that communist border guards preventing escapes from East Berlin had a better view of the boundary. Berthold's stone disappeared. However, after Germany's reunification, private donors raised the funds for a simple marker to be placed on his grave in 2003.[68]

Honors and awards[edit]

Translation notes[edit]

  1. ^ Am 15. März 1920 wurde die Schule in der Woellmerstraße Schauplatz der einzigen bewaffneten Auseinandersetzung, die sich im Zuge des Kapp-Putsches vom 13. März 1920 im Hamburger Raum ereignete. Der Kampf in Harburg richtete sich gegen ein bewaffnetes Freicorps, das unter Führung des Putschisten Rudolf Berthold am Sturz der Weimar Republik in Berlin mitwirken sollte. Eine spontan gebildete Allianz aus Mitgliedern der Harburger Einwohnerwehr, Harburger Pionieren und einer großen Zahl bewaffneter Arbeiter stellte sich den Putschisten erfolgreich entgegen. Im Verlauf des Kampfes starben insgesamt 25 Menschen und mehr als 50 Personen wurden teilweise schwer verwundet.—On 15 March 1920 the school in the Woellmer street was the scene of the only armed conflict which occurred in the course of the Kapp Putsch of 13 to March 1920 in the Hamburg area. The fight in Harburg was targeted against an armed Freicorps, which participated under the leadership of the rebel Rudolf Berthold in an attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic in Berlin. A spontaneously formed alliance of members of the military population Harburg, Harburg pioneers and a large number of armed workers successfully turned against the rebels. During the course of the battle a total of 25 people died and more than 50 people were wounded, some seriously.


  1. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 19, 174.
  2. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 19–20, 174.
  3. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 20–21.
  4. ^ a b c d e Franks et al. 1993, p. 71.
  5. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 22, 24.
  6. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 24–25.
  7. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 25.
  8. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 26–28.
  9. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 30–34.
  10. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 35–36.
  11. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 38.
  12. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 39–40.
  13. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 40, 45–46.
  14. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 46–48.
  15. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 48–50.
  16. ^ VanWyngarden 2005, pp. 18–19.
  17. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 49–52.
  18. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 14–16, 54–55.
  19. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 55.
  20. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 56–57.
  21. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 58–60.
  22. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 61.
  23. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 59, 61.
  24. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 63–67.
  25. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 94–95.
  26. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 64–67.
  27. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 68–69.
  28. ^ VanWyngarden 2005, p. 77.
  29. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 69.
  30. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 69–70, 72–74.
  31. ^ a b c VanWyngarden 2005, p. 80.
  32. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 73.
  33. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 74–75, 77.
  34. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 80.
  35. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 82.
  36. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 83, 93.
  37. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 85–87, 94.
  38. ^ Kilduff pp. 88–90.
  39. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 89.
  40. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 139–140.
  41. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 103–104.
  42. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 104–107.
  43. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 107–110.
  44. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 110–112.
  45. ^ VanWyngarden 2005, pp. 30, 33, 43.
  46. ^ VanWyngarden 2005, pp. 39–40, 55–60, 62–64.
  47. ^ VanWyngarden 2005, pp. 30–32.
  48. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 112–113.
  49. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 115.
  50. ^ VanWyngarden 2005, pp. 35–36.
  51. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 115–116.
  52. ^ Franks, pp. 52-53.
  53. ^ VanWyngarden 2005, p. 71.
  54. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 120.
  55. ^ Franks, p. 52.
  56. ^ VanWyngarden 2005, pp. 45–46, 50, 65, 71–72, 74.
  57. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 76, 121–125.
  58. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 125–126.
  59. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 127–129.
  60. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 127–129, 140.
  61. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 129–130.
  62. ^ a b Kilduff 2012, pp. 130–132.
  63. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 132–133.
  64. ^ Kilduff 2012, pp. 133–134.
  65. ^ a b c d Kilduff 2012, p. 134.
  66. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 135.
  67. ^ Kilduff 2012, p. 136.
  68. ^ a b c Kilduff 2012, p. 137.


  • Franks, Norman (2003). Fokker D VII Aces of World War 1: Part 1. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-729-1. 
  • Franks, Norman; Bailey, Frank W.; Guest, Russell (1993). Above the Lines: The Aces and Fighter Units of the German Air Service, Naval Air Service and Flanders Marine Corps, 1914–1918. Oxford: Grub Street. ISBN 978-0-948817-73-1. 
  • Kilduff, Peter (2012). Iron Man: Rudolf Berthold: Germany's Indomitable Fighter Ace of World War I. Oxford: Grub Street. ISBN 978-1-908117-37-3. 
  • VanWyngarden, Greg (2005). Jagdgeschwader Nr II: Geschwader Berthold. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-727-7. 

Further reading[edit]

  • VanWyngarden, Greg (2006). Early German Aces of World War I. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-997-4. 
  • — (2007). Albatros Aces of World War I. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84603-179-3. 

External links[edit]