Werner Voss

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Werner Voss
Poelcappelle, West Flanders, Belgium
Allegiance German Empire
Years of service1914–1917 
Unit11th Hussar Regiment;
Kampfstaffel 20;
Jagdstaffel 2;
Jagdstaffel 5;
Jagdstaffel 10;
Jagdstaffel 14;
Jagdstaffel 29

Werner Voss (

dyer's son from Krefeld, he was a patriotic young man while still in school. He began his military career in November 1914 as a 17‑year‑old Hussar. After turning to aviation, he proved to be a natural pilot. After flight school and six months in a bomber unit, he joined a newly formed fighter squadron, Jagdstaffel 2 on 21 November 1916. There he befriended Manfred von Richthofen

By 6 April 1917, Voss had scored 24 victories and awarded Germany's highest award, the Pour le Mérite. A month's leave removed Voss from the battlefield during Bloody April; in his absence, Richthofen scored 13 victories. Nevertheless, Richthofen regarded Voss as his only possible rival as top scoring ace of the war.

Soon after Voss returned from leave, he was at odds with his squadron commander. He was detailed from his squadron to evaluate new fighter aircraft and became enthusiastic about the

Fokker Triplane. After transferring through three temporary squadron commands in two months, Voss was given command of Jagdstaffel 10
on 30 July 1917 at Richthofen's request. By now, his victory total was 34.


Fokker Dr.1, he singly fought James McCudden, Keith Muspratt, Harold A. Hamersley, Arthur Rhys-Davids, Robert L. Chidlaw-Roberts, Geoffrey Hilton Bowman, Reginald Hoidge, and Richard Maybery. After he fell in solo opposition to those eight British aces after a dazzling display of aerobatics and gunnery that put bullets in his every opponent, he was described by his preeminent foe, Victoria Cross
winner James McCudden, as "the bravest German airman". The pilot who actually killed Voss, Arthur Rhys-Davids, wished he had brought him down alive. The dogfight remains a subject of debate and controversy among aviation historians and interested parties.

Early life and entry into military service

Werner Voss was born in

Evangelical Lutheran faith. His father Maxmilian owned a dye factory. Werner was soon followed by two brothers; Maxmilian Jr. was born in 1898, and Otto on 22 April 1901. An unusual feature of the Voss household was the presence of two first cousins, Margaret and Katherine. The elder Vosses longed for daughters, so they virtually (if not formally) adopted their nieces. The two nieces were commonly referred to within the family as "daughters" and "sisters".[1]

A 1914 Wanderer motorcycle

The Voss family home at 75 Blumenthalstrasse was a comfortable two-story house with surrounding grounds. Young Werner was expected to carry on the family trade as he grew into his heritage.

Wanderer motorcycle for his 17th birthday.[6][7] He received his "Certificate of Graduation" as a motorcyclist on 2 August 1914.[8] After Germany entered World War I, he spent August and September 1914 as a civilian volunteer driver for the German military.[9] The Militia Ersatz Eskadron 2 had been set up to feed recruits to Westphalia's 11th Hussar Regiment. On 16 November 1914, Werner Voss became one of those recruits despite still being only 17 years old. On 30 November, the hussar regiment was ordered to combat duty on the Eastern Front.[5]

Military service

From cavalry to the clouds

Voss was proficient in his military duties on the Eastern Front. He was promoted to Gefreiter on 27 January 1915, and raised to Unteroffizier, when barely 18 years of age, on 18 May 1915. His service earned him the Iron Cross 2nd Class.[10] He reported to begin officer's training at Camp Beckstadt on 3 June 1915. There he was classified as a reservist because of his flat feet and weak ankles. He graduated on 26 July 1915.[9]

Voss transferred to the

Vizefeldwebel (a senior noncommissioned officer).[10] He was the youngest flight instructor in German service.[11]

Aerial combat

See also World War I - Aerial Victory Standards

On 10 March 1916,[10] Voss was posted to Kampfstaffel 20 (Tactical Bomber Squadron 20) of Kampfgeschwader IV (Tactical Bomber Wing IV), and served as an observer before he was allowed to fly as a pilot. In accordance with German custom, he received his pilot's badge on 28 May 1916 after flying actual combat missions.[12] Finally commissioned as an officer on 9 September 1916, he transferred to single-seater scout aircraft and was posted to Jagdstaffel 2 (Fighter Squadron 2) on 21 November 1916.[13]

Here Voss began a lifelong friendship with another young pilot in the squadron, Manfred von Richthofen, who would soon gain fame as the Red Baron. They would later exchange family visits while on leave,[14] and Richthofen would host the Voss family at his squadron's airfield.[2] The friendship grew from Voss flying as Richthofen's wingman in combat, and disregarded the disparity in their family backgrounds.[15]

Voss, an avid motorcyclist, had a love of machinery that led him to consort with his enlisted mechanics, Karl Timms and Christian Rueser; he was even on a first name basis with them. In time, they would transfer squadrons to accompany him.[16] Voss contravened uniform regulations at times and could often be found in the hangar working on his machine beside the mechanics, dressed in a grubby jacket without insignia.[14] His care extended to his craft's exterior; he adorned his Albatros D.III with both a swastika and a heart for good luck.[17][18] Although he was a casual dresser around his home airfield, when flying he would be well-dressed with a silk shirt beneath his aviation gear. He joked that he wanted to be presentable to the girls of Paris if he were captured. Actually, the shirt's silk collar protected his neck from chafing while he swivelled his head about watching for other aircraft during flight.[19]

Voss scored his first aerial victory on the morning of 26 November 1916 and added a second during his afternoon flight. The two victories meant he was awarded the Iron Cross First Class on 19 December 1916.

deflection shooting. Voss later visited Daly while he was in hospital, twice.[20]

Voss' score rose sharply during February and March 1917; of the 15 victories credited to his Jagdstaffel (Jasta) during March, 11 of them were shot down by him alone.[18] For his feats, he was awarded the Knight's Cross with Swords of the Order of Hohenzollern on 17 March.[13] The following day, Voss downed two British aircraft, doing so in a mere ten minutes. The first one burned; the second managed a crash-landing behind German lines. The second downed aircrew protested to their captors that they had supposedly been strafed at by Voss after landing.[9]

Following his 23rd victory on 1 April, Voss strafed at both the pilot and his plane after he too had crash-landed. On 6 April 1917, he claimed to have scored another two victories 15 minutes apart. Having brought down a two-seater scout plane and a Sopwith Pup who were near one another on either side of the front lines. The two-seater pilot braved both Voss' strafing and incoming German artillery to retrieve aerial photography plates for their military intelligence value. The Sopwith Pup, though later seen with Jasta 2 in German markings after its capture, was marked as an unconfirmed victory despite landing behind German lines.[21]

Voss was awarded the

situational awareness skills during his many hours of combat.[22][23]

The timing of the holiday allowed him to spend both Easter and his birthday at home. There was a large family reunion; to the family photos, he added a formal photo, in which he's sitting wearing his Pour le Mérite. He also tinkered with, and roared about upon, his motorcycle.[5] He was out of action during Bloody April, the most intense air fighting of the war, when the Luftstreitkräfte and its aces inflicted heavy losses on the Royal Flying Corps.[24] Richthofen, who had scored 11 victories before Voss began his own tally, achieved 13 additional victories during his absence.[25] Referring to his "dear friend", Richthofen stated: "He was ... my most redoubtable competitor."[26]

Upon his return from leave, Voss was dissatisfied with his commanding officer, Franz Walz, whom he considered insufficiently aggressive. Voss shared his sentiments with another Westphalian hussar, Leutnant Rolf Freiherr von Lersner. Walz had assumed command on 29 November 1916, just after Voss joined the Jasta. An older man of 31, he was a prewar pilot and professional soldier who had flown over 300 combat missions in reconnaissance two-seaters before being appointed to command this squadron of fighter pilots. Lacking a background in fighter tactics, he compensated by allowing his more experienced pilots to follow their own inclinations, including solo excursions into British territory. The fact that Walz followed two prior brilliant fighter tacticians in his command—Oswald Boelcke and Stefan Kirmaier—only exposed his weaknesses.[27]

Voss disregarded military procedure and went outside the

Flight Commander Voss was sent to Jagdstaffel 5 to assume temporary command.[28]

Voss in command

Voss was bequeathed an Albatros D.III with the squadron's insignia. During his brief spell with Jasta 5, Voss scored a further half dozen victories.[29] On 9 May 1917, he managed to shoot or force down three Allied aircraft, making it the first of two "hat trick" days he would have in his career.[30] However, he was not always successful; being one of the three German fighter pilots who attacked and seriously damaged Captain Keith Caldwell of 60 Squadron on 28 May 1917, just after Voss's 31st victory, but the New Zealander escaped.[31]

Voss was slightly wounded on 6 June 1917 by Flight Sub-Lieutenant Christopher Draper, but soon returned to duty.[32] The Royal Naval Air Service credited Draper with an "out of control" victory; after returning to base, Voss had to trade in his damaged Albatros D.III for a fresh one.[33] Meanwhile, Voss went on leave with Richthofen to Krefeld; surviving photographs portray them exhibiting their aircraft for Voss' relatives. Pater familias Maxmilian Voss, Sr. issued an open invitation for Richthofen's use of the Voss family hunting lodge.[34] After returning from his leave, on June 28, Voss took acting command of Jagdstaffel 29, a mere five days later he was given temporary command of Jagdstaffel 14, a posting which also didn't last long.[35][note 1]

A Pfalz D.IIIa was the ace's third choice in planes.

Voss was one of the test pilots for the F.I. triplane prototype which developed into the Fokker Dr.I. He was summoned to Schwerin, and on 5 July 1917 was one of the first pilots to test fly Fokker F.I. s/n 103/17.[36] Although the Fokker had some drawbacks, such as its low speed and slowness in a dive, Voss loved the new craft. It was easy to fly with light controls, could out-maneuver any previous aircraft, was equipped with forward-firing mounted twin machine guns and had a rapid rate of climb. The same climbing ability which put it at 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) within three minutes of takeoff lent itself well to the combat tactic of quickly rising upwards out of combat to gain the height advantage on opponents. Voss enthusiastically recommended the Fokker's adoption while never progressing to testing the Pfalz Dr.I. He left Schwerin with an assignment to command yet another fighter squadron.[37]

On 30 July, Voss moved to his permanent command of

Jagdgeschwader I (JG I), relieving Ernst Freiherr von Althaus at Richthofen's request.[13] A brand new silvery Pfalz D.III awaited him; Voss deemed it inferior to his green Albatros D.V, although he may have scored four victories with the Pfalz.[38] With his mercurial "loner" personality, Voss was impatient with the paperwork and responsibilities of command.[13] Oberleutnant Ernst Weigand managed the squadron's daily administration and relieved Voss of those chores.[37] Voss left his staff car parked, and made his official rounds of his aerodrome on his motorcycle.[7]

The famous Fokker Triplane of Werner Voss. The aircraft's low wing loading gave it excellent maneuverability and a high climb rate.

In late August 1917, the rotary engine F.I. prototype was assigned to Voss as his personal aircraft. In his childhood, Voss had flown Japanese fighting kites with his cousins in Krefeld; the decorations on the kites gave him the inspiration to paint the nose cowling of his triplane with two eyes, eyebrows and a moustache.[39] The arrival of the new fighter promoted visits from celebrities. On 31 August, Anthony Fokker escorted German Chancellor Georg Michaelis and Major General Ernst von Lossberg to see and film the new triplane. On 9 September, Crown Prince Wilhelm would also visit Jagdstaffel 10.[40]

By 11 September 1917, Voss had raised his victory total to 47, second only to the Red Baron's 61.

Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 blundered between them, nearly colliding with the Camel and breaking off the attack as Voss dived away. Macmillan claimed an "out of control" victory when he returned to base.[42]

The following day, Voss signed himself out on leave on his authority as

Kaiser Wilhelm II from the emperor's own hands. From the 15th to the 17th, he was at the Fokker factory in Schwerin; he was accompanied by his girlfriend Ilse. His leave authorization also cleared him for Düsseldorf and his hometown of Krefeld, but it is not known if he visited them. He returned to duty on 22 September 1917.[43]

Final patrol

Voss returned from leave on 23 September 1917 not yet fully rested; as fellow pilot Leutnant Alois Heldmann observed: "He had the nervous instability of a cat. I think it would be fair to say he was flying on his nerves."[44] Nevertheless, Voss flew a morning mission and shot down an Airco DH.4 from No. 57 Squadron RFC at 09:30 hours. Upon his return to his air base with bullet holes in his Fokker,[45] he took advantage of Richthofen's absence at the Voss family hunting lodge[46] to celebrate with a victory loop before landing. In contrast to Voss's usual tidy flying garb, he was wearing striped gray trousers, a dirty gray sweater, and tall lace-up boots.[45]

Just before Werner landed, brothers Max and Otto Voss arrived at Jagdstaffel 10 for a visit.[45] They were both now in the German military. Otto was a 19-year-old army leutnant bucking for an opportunity to become a flier like his elder brother. Max Jr. was a 16-year-old sergeant.[47] Voss was fatigued and told his brothers he was looking forward to more time off. He ate lunch with his brothers—soup, black bread, coffee, and cake. His brothers noted his haggard appearance, apparent in his final photographs. After the meal, the three posed before Werner Voss's camera, which was equipped with a timed shutter release. Then Voss was scheduled for another patrol.[45]

Even as the brothers were in their photo session, on the other side of the lines No. 56 Squadron RFC[note 2] was mustering for its own afternoon patrols. 'B' Flight was led by Captain James McCudden. In Royal Flying Corps fashion, his Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a serial number B4863 was marked with a large initial G painted upon the side of its fuselage. He would be followed by two other aces: Captain Keith Muspratt in SE5a A8944, designated H; Lieutenant Arthur Rhys-Davids in SE5a number B525, lettered I. Three other pilots were also attached to B Flight for this sortie—Lieutenants V. P. Cronyn in SE5a A4563, as well as R. W. Young, and Charles Jeffs. [45][48]

Also mustering for patrol was the Squadron's 'C' Flight, led by Captain Geoffrey Hilton Bowman. His SE5a was followed by Lieutenant Reginald Hoidge in SE5a B506, lettered J. A third ace, Lieutenant Richard Maybery in SE5a B1 designated K, was also in 'C' Flight. Lieutenants E. A. Taylor and S. J. Gardiner filled out the flight's roster.[45][49]

Both flights of 56 Squadron took off from their side of the trench lines at 1700 hours. They climbed into a sky overhung with a 300-meter-thick (1,000 feet) cloud ceiling[50] at 2,700 meters (8,900 feet) altitude, and crossed the lines over Bixschoote at 2,400 meters (7,900 feet). McCudden later noted there were lower scattered layered skeins of clouds, but horizontal visibility was fair. On the other hand, he saw ground visibility was veiled by haze. He also noted friendly aircraft swarming to the North as his flight approached the Battle of Passchendaele.[50][51] At this time there were elements of at least eight different Royal Flying Corps squadrons waging its offensive campaign over this battlefield area.[52] There was also considerable enemy air activity to the east, where German jagdstaffeln waited for "the customers to come into the shop".[50] The overcast conditions compressed aerial activity to lower levels instead of allowing its usual altitude range to about 6,000 meters (20,000 feet).[51]

German anti-aircraft fire was noted as heavy and accurate, as 'B' and 'C' Flights diverged onto separate patrol routes at Houthoulst Forest. As 'B' Flight's patrol continued, McCudden swooped on a German DFW and shot it down at 18:00 hours; Rhys-Davids giving it a parting burst of machine-gun fire as it fell past him earthbound.[50]

On the German side of the lines, Voss had changed clothing. He wore a colourful civilian silk dress shirt beneath his unbuttoned knee-length brown leather coat. His polished brown boots shone from below the coat's hem. His Pour le Mérite was at his throat. He was to lead one of the two scheduled afternoon patrols. Leutnant Gustav Bellen was his righthand wingman; Leutnant Friedrich Rüdenberg had Voss's other side.

Erich Löwenhardt, Alois Heldmann, and Max Kuhn. None of these Jasta 10 aircraft would ever catch up with their Staffelführer.[45]

The fighting begins

The dogfight developed over

SPADs and Bristol F.2 Fighters patrolling under the overcast. Two flights of the elite 56 Squadron formed a lower layer of British patrols at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) altitude. Below that, Lieutenant Harold A. Hamersley, flying as a rear guard to his squadronmates in 60 Squadron, had a wary eye on a nearby enemy formation of 20 to 25 German aircraft.[54] At about 18:25 hours, he turned to help what he believed to be a Nieuport threatened by a German Albatros, firing a short burst of machine-gun fire to distract the German. The "Nieuport", Voss's misidentified Fokker Triplane, rounded on Hamersley and raked him with Spandau fire. Hamersley flung his Royal Aircraft Factory SE.5a into a spin that went inverted, with Voss continuing to fire at him, holing his wings and engine cowling. Lieutenant Robert L. Chidlaw-Roberts, a squadronmate of Hamersley, rushed to his aid. Within seconds, Voss shredded Chidlaw-Roberts's rudder bar, also driving him out of the fray into a forced landing.[45]

McCudden's upgraded & re-tuned SE.5a. The SE.5a's speed of 205 km/h (127 mph) made it much faster than the Fokker Triplane. McCudden retuned the engine for high altitude performance.

While they fell away seriously shot about, and the rest of 60 Squadron exited the scene, Voss was engaged by 'B' Flight of 56 Squadron, in their SE.5as. Captain McCudden and his wingmen attacked in pairs from 300 meters (980 feet) above Voss. In a pincer movement, McCudden hooked into an assault from the right while his wingman, Lieutenant Arthur Rhys Davids, swooped in from the left. Muspratt trailed them down, while Cronyn brought up the rear. Jeffs and Young held high as top-cover in case Voss climbed. Voss now found himself boxed in from above and below, with assailants pouncing from either side.[54] To further worsen Voss's situation, there was a British fighter patrol beneath him.[45] To the attackers' surprise, Voss did not try to escape the trap. Instead, he flicked his tri-plane about in a flat spin and fired at his attackers in a head-on firing pass, holing McCudden's wings. Voss then riddled Cronyn's SE.5 from close range, putting him out of the dogfight. Cronyn had to turn in under his attacker and throw his aircraft into a spin to escape being killed. His wing-mates then attacked Voss, while Cronyn also limped for home.[55]

At this point 'C' Flight arrived. As it dipped down through the overcast toward the dogfight, Gardiner and Taylor went astray. Maybery was attacked by a green Pfalz D.III. Hoidge's counter-attack foiled the German. Bowman and Maybery remained to join the attack on Voss. Hoidge, having broken off his pursuit of the falling Pfalz, changed the drum magazine in his Lewis gun, and climbed to join battle.[56]

Voss in his tri-plane zigzagged, yawed, and bobbed among his multiple attackers, never holding a straight course for more than seconds, evading British fire and spewing bullets at them all individually. The combat now became so frenetic that the surviving pilots later gave widely varying accounts.[57] However, certain events were commonly related:

Muspratt's engine lost its coolant to a Spandau bullet early on; he glided away from the fight with the engine beginning to seize.[45]

At some point, a red-nosed Albatros D.V. made a short-lived attempt to help Voss, but Rhys-Davids succeeded in putting a bullet through its engine and it dropped out of the fight.[58][note 3] At another point, Voss was caught in a crossfire by at least five of his attackers but appeared to be miraculously unaffected by the fire. At about this point, Maybery withdrew with his aircraft's upper right-hand longeron holed in several places.

Voss and the six remaining British aces swirled down to 600 meters (2,000 feet). At times Voss had altitude advantage over his attackers, but apparently did not attempt to escape the situation, despite the odds against him. Using the tri-plane's superior rate of climb and its ability to

slip turn he managed to evade his opponents, and plunged down back into the melee. He continued to flick turn at high speeds and counter-attack any aircraft pursuing him.[45] As Bowman later noted concerning his only shot at Voss: "'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."[59] Bowman's machine was hit, left slowed and ineffectively trailing dark smoke and steam, though he stayed in the fight.[45]

Death in the sky

Then, after flying at McCudden in a head-on machine-gun firing merge by both pilots, Voss' aircraft was suddenly struck by a starboard broadside burst of machine-gun fire from Hoidge, who was probably unsighted by Voss at that moment, and after this it was noticed that Voss stopped manoeuvring and flew level for the first time in the engagement. At this moment Rhys-Davids, who had pulled aside to change an ammunition drum, rejoined the battle with a 150-meter (490-foot) height advantage over Voss's altitude of 450 meters (1,480 feet), and began a long flat dive on to the tail of Voss' tri-plane, which failed to react. At point-blank range he raked Voss' aircraft with his machine-guns before breaking off. A few seconds on Voss's aircraft wandered into Rhys-Davids line of flight again in a strangely becalmed slow westward glide, Rhys-Davids again fired an extended burst into it causing its engine to stop, the two aircraft missing a mid-air collision by inches. As the tri-plane's glide steepened, Rhys-Davids overran him at about 300 meters (980 feet) altitude and lost sight of Voss's aircraft beneath his own. From above, Bowman saw the Fokker in what could have been a landing glide, right up until it stalled. It then flipped inverted and nose down, dropping directly to earth. The resulting smash left only the rudder intact.[45]

McCudden, watching from 900 meters (3,000 feet), recalled: "I saw him go into a fairly steep dive and so I continued to watch, and then saw the tri-plane hit the ground and disappear into a thousand fragments, for it seemed to me that it literally went into powder."[60][61] There would be debate later whether Voss dropped out of the inverted triplane.[62]

Voss had fought the British aces for around eight minutes,[54][note 4] eluding them and achieving hits on nearly every SE.5a.[63][64] His stricken aircraft crashed near Plum Farm north of Frezenberg, Belgium at about 18:40 hours.[65]


British reaction

Lieutenant Verschoyle Phillip Cronyn later described his harrowing return flight. Being the rare targeted pilot to escape Voss's gun fire, he now had to coax home a failing machine destined for the scrapheap. He lost control of it banking for the landing pattern, and finally performed a desperate high speed landing at 18:40 hours, approximately coincidental with the triplane's impact. His Squadron commander, Major Blomfield, led the shaky-kneed pilot from his machine to a bench and plied him with medicinal brandy. Cronyn's composure broke. After a fit of weeping,[66] he pulled himself together as McCudden landed, followed by Rhys-Davids. The latter exited his machine hyperventilating and stammering. He got his tot of brandy, and uttered an account jumbled by his excitement.[67][68] With the exception of Muspratt, who had landed at the 1 Squadron aerodrome with a seized engine, the rest of 56 Squadron landed back at Estrée-Blanche. Combat reports by the pilots were written and submitted; those from McCudden, Rhys-Davids, Bowman, Maybery, Hoidge, and Gardiner still exist.[69] These fragmentary written documents would be supplemented by McCudden's autobiography, written before his death the following year;[70] contradictory written accounts produced by Chidlaw-Roberts and Bowman in 1942;[71] and Cronyn's war memoirs of 1976.[72] When corresponding with aviation historian Evan Hadingham in 1967, Cronyn offered, "... movements were purely instinctive, and made on such split second action that no impression was recorded." He offered as example that he was unaware he had spent most of his fight with Voss flying inverted until Muspratt mentioned it in the mess the evening of the fight.[73]

The 56 Squadron mess atmosphere that night was muted, with speculation about the identity of their fallen opponent. The names Richthofen, Voss, and Wolff were suggested. Rhys-Davids was besieged with congratulations, which he received modestly with a disclaimer of, "If I only could have brought him down alive." A standing toast was drunk to their gallant fallen foe.[74]

The following day, 24 September 1917, a British patrol reached the crash site. Documents in Voss' pocket identified him. A military doctor cursorily examined the corpse. He noted three bullet wounds. One ranged slightly upward through the chest cavity from right to left, consistent with Hoidge's angle of fire; it would have killed Voss in less than a minute. The other two gunshot wounds pierced Voss's abdomen from rear to front, coinciding with Rhys-Davids's firing angle.[75] Werner Voss was buried like any other dead soldier near Plum Farm, laid in a shell crater without coffin or honors. His grave's location was recorded as Map Sheet 28, coordinates 24.C.8.3.[76] The field grave would subsequently be lost trace of, through the turmoil of ongoing ground fighting.[62]

That same day, Aide de Camp

Hugh Trenchard to gather such military intelligence as he could about the dogfight. Baring interviewed McCudden, Maybery, Hoidge, and Rhys-Davids. McCudden laconically reported his observation of the crash location being near Zonnebeke. Maybery insisted he saw two triplanes in the fight, a grey one and a green one, in addition to a green German scout and a rednosed German scout. Hoidge never saw the rednosed Albatros. Rhys-Davids said the dogfight began when a red-nosed Albatros, a green German scout, and a grey and brown Triplane attacked an SE.5. He also insisted that the triplane mounted four guns, and thought it had a stationary engine instead of a rotary engine. Subsequent accounts of Voss's last stand would partially depend on such "facts" drawn from Baring's inquiries.[77]

Rhys-Davids, in a letter home written on 25 September mentioning his victory claim, did not know the name of his victim. However, another letter of the 28th mentioned Voss by name.[78] Also, on 28 September, after five days as a nonflying orderly officer, V. P. Cronyn was shipped off to another noncombat post with combat fatigue, a belated casualty.[66]

On 1 October 1917, the British Headquarters in France and Belgium finally posted a press release to the Associated Press announcing "... Lieut. Vosse ... has been found within the British lines, and British airmen have already dropped messages behind the German front, giving notification of his death." In conformity with British Army policy, credit was given only to "... a British airman."[79] By 5 October, Rhys-Davids's letter to his mother boasted of his souvenir rudder and compass salvaged from the triplane wreckage.[80]

On 27 October, the same day Rhys-Davids died in action,

Le Rhone engine.[82]

German reaction

Leutnants Rüdenberg and Bellen had returned to base, as had the rest of the Jasta 10 pilots. The only one with news was Heldmann, who reported Voss headed toward British lines while pursued by a British SE.5. Timm and Rueser waited anxiously for his return as the sun set. The fact that Voss was missing in action was communicated to wing headquarters; telephone queries were made of all friendly airfields within range. Late that night, a German frontline unit reported seeing six British machines shoot down a lone German aircraft that fell within the British trenches.[83] Heldmann refused to believe Voss was killed in aerial combat; he claimed Voss had to have been shot after crawling from the wreckage.[84]

On 24 September, Jasta 10 pilots dropped a note inquiring about Voss attached to a black, white, and red streamer over British lines.[85] By 25 September, two days after the fight, the Niederrheinische Volkszeitung ran a notice of Voss's death.[86] That same day, Jasta 10 lost its second commander in three days, when Weigand was killed in action.[87]

On 7 October 1917, the Krefelder Zeitung ran a page of tributes to Werner Voss, including those from

Crown Prince Wilhelm, aviator Anthony Fokker, and Generalleutnant Ernst von Hoeppner.[86]

On 11 October 1917, Bellen was invalided from the ranks of Jasta 10. In November, Rüdenberg was released from active duty to pursue his studies at university. Aviation historians such as Douglas Whetton posited these reassignments were retribution for failure to aid Voss in his dogfight.[88]


When the British aces of 56 Squadron learned their fallen foe's identity, they were quick to pay public tribute to him. The leading British pilot he fought that day, James McCudden VC, expressed sincere regret at Voss' death: "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."[89]

In later years, Voss would not be forgotten. Because his grave site was lost, Werner Voss is one of 44,292 German soldiers memorialized in the Langemark German war cemetery, some six kilometers (3.7 miles) northeast of Ypres, Belgium.[90] During the Nazi regime, Voss' old school in Krefeld was renamed in his honour, but this was later reversed following the German defeat in World War II.[4] A major thoroughfare in Krefeld is still named for him.[91] He is also commemorated by street names in Stuttgart [92] and in Berlin.[93]

Still enduring is the debate as to why Voss chose to fight on against clearly almost impossible odds rather than disengage from the action. However, it is possible that he wanted to close the gap in victories between himself and the Red Baron by shooting down some British aircraft, so he stayed on. Although Voss's apparent refusal to retreat is not mentioned in the contemporary English combat reports, nor in McCudden's autobiography written in June and July 1918, McCudden is credited with the observation that Voss seemingly rejected several opportunities to disengage and withdraw from the tactically grave situation in which he found himself.[50] In 1942 author Hector Bolitho and ace James Ira Thomas Jones received letters from both Chidlaw-Roberts and Bowman concerning their recall of Voss's last stand. Bowman read and savaged the Chidlaw-Roberts account for its inaccuracies, although his own account had obvious errors. At the same time Bowman also stated that he believed Voss had an opportunity to disengage and save himself, but had deliberately chosen instead to fight in spite of the overwhelmingly unequal situation with which he was faced. This is the earliest positively identified historical source for the assertion that Voss rejected chances for a safe retreat that were open to him. The dogfight remains a subject of debate and controversy among combat aviation historians and interested parties.[94]

Voss' victories

Confirmed victories are numbered and listed chronologically. Unconfirmed victories are denoted by "u/c".

When two casualties are listed in the Notes column, the first listed is the pilot, the other the aerial observer/gunner. Conflicting claims are denoted by *, although only one counts as a confirmed victory according to either source.

Doubled horizontal lines mark changes in squadron assignments.

No. Date/time Aircraft Foe Result Location Notes
1 27 November 1916 @ 09:40 hours Albatros Nieuport 17 serial number A281 from 60 Squadron Shot down Miraumont, France Captain George Alec Parker missing in action
2 27 November 1916 @ 14:15 hours Albatros
Royal Aircraft Factory FE.2b s/n 4915 from 18 Squadron
Shot down in flames[95] South of Bapaume, France Lieutenant F. A. George wounded in action;
Air Mechanic 1st Class Oliver Frederick Watts killed in action
3 21 December 1916 @ 11:00 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2d s/n 5782 from 7 Squadron Shot down Miraumont, France Lieutenant D. W. Davis WIA;
Second Lieutenant William Martin Vernon Cotton KIA
4 1 February 1917 @ 16:00 hours Albatros
Airco D.H.2 s/n A2614 from 29 Squadron
Shot down Achiet-le-Petit Captain Albert Peter Vincent Daly WIA, prisoner of war
5 4 February 1917 @ 14:40 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2d s/n 5927 from 16 Squadron Shot down Givenchy, France Second Lieutenant Herbert Martin-Massey WIA;
Second Lieutenant Noel Mark Hodson Vernham KIA
6 10 February 1917 @ 11:15 hours Albatros Airco D.H.2 s/n A2548 from 32 Squadron Damaged Southwest of Serre Captain Leslie Peech Aizlewood returned to base unhurt[96]
7 25 February 1917 @ 14:55 hours Albatros Airco D.H.2 s/n A2557 from 29 Squadron Shot down Arras-Saint Sauveur Lieutenant Reginald[96] J. S. Lund WIA
8 25 February 1917 @ 15:00 hours Albatros Airco D.H.2 s/n 7849 from 29 Squadron Damaged Arras, France Captain H. J. Payn's returned to base unhurt[97]
9 26 February 1917 @ 16:50 hours Halberstadt[98] Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c s/n 2535 from 16 Squadron Shot down Écurie, France Lieutenant H. E. Bagot WIA;
Second Lieutenant Robert Lawrence Munro Jack
died of wounds
10 27 February 1917 @ 10:45 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2e s/n 2530 from 8 Squadron Shot down in flames[98] Blairville, France Second Lieutenants Edwin Albert Pope and
Hubert Alfred Johnson KIA
11 27 February 1917 @ 16:48 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c s/n 7197 from 12 Squadron Shot down West of Arras Captain John McArthur and
Private James Whiteford KIA
12 4 March 1917 @ 11:30 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2d s/n 6252 from 8 Squadron Shot down in flames[99] South of Berneville, France Sergeant Reginald James Moody and
Second Lieutenant Edmund Eric Horn KIA
13 6 March 1917 @ 16:35 hours Albatros Airco D.H.2 s/n 7941 from 32 Squadron Shot down Favreuil, France Captain Herbert Gordon Southon WIA, POW
14 11 March 1917 @ 10:00 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b s/n 7685 from 22 Squadron Shot down Rancourt, France Second Lieutenant Leslie[99] W. Beale and
Air Mechanic 2nd Class F. G. Davis WIA
15 11 March 1917 @ 14:30 hours Albatros Nieuport 17 s/n A279 from 60 Squadron Shot down Bailleul, France Arthur D. Whitehead WIA, POW
16 17 March 1917 @ 12:15 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b s/n 7695 from 11 Squadron Shot down Northeast of Berlencourt-le-Cauroy, France Second Lieutenant Russell[100] W. Cross and
Lieutenant Christopher[100] F. Lodge WIA
17 17 March 1917 @ 12:25 hours Albatros Airco D.H.2 s/n A2583 from 32 Squadron Shot down Northeast of Berlencourt-le-Cauroy Lieutenant Theodore[100] A. Cooch WIA
18 18 March 1917 @ 18:40 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2e s/n 5784 from 8 Squadron Shot down in flames[101] Neuville, France Second Lieutenant Charles R. Dougal WIA;
Second Lieutenant Sydney Harryman POW/WIA/
19 18 March 1917 @ 18:50 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2d s/n 5750 from 13 Squadron Shot down; aircrew and aircraft strafed on ground Boyelles, France Captain Guy Stafford Thorne DOW;
Second Lieutenant Philip Edward Hislop van Baerle POW[102]
20 19 March 1917 @ 09:30 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 s/n A4165 from 59 Squadron Shot down Saint-Léger, France Captain Eldred Wolferstan[19] Bowyer-Bower and
Second Lieutenant Eric Elgey KIA
21 24 March 1917 @ 16:10 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b s/n A5485 from 23 Squadron Shot down Between Vaulx and Morchies Sergeant Edward P. Critchley WIA;
Air Mechanic 1st Class Frank Russell KIA[103]
22 24 March 1917 @ 16:45 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2d s/n 5769 from 8 Squadron Shot down Boileux-Boiry Lieutenant Hugh Norton and
Second Lieutenant Reginald Alfred William Tillett KIA
23 1 April 1917 @ 11:45 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c s/n 2561 from 15 Squadron Shot down; aircraft strafed on ground East of Saint-Léger, France Captain Arthur Meredith Wynne WIA;[21]
Lieutenant Adrian Somerset MacKenzie KIA
24 6 April 1917 @ 09:30 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c s/n A3157 from 15 Squadron Shot down South of Lagnicourt-Marcel, France Second Lieutenants Albert Higgs Vinson and Everard Champion Gwilt crashlanded within British lines[104]
u/c 6 April 1917 @ 09:45 hours Albatros Sopwith Pup s/n A6165 from 54 Squadron Forced to land South of Lagnicourt-Marcel, France Second Lieutenant Robert M. Foster survived[105]
25 7 May 1917 @ 19:25 hours Albatros
Royal Aircraft Factory SE.5 s/n A4867 from 56 Squadron
Shot down Between Étaing and Lecuse Second Lieutenant Roger Michael Chaworth-Musters KIA
26 9 May 1917 @ 14:00 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c s/n 7209 from 52 Squadron Exploded Havrincourt, France Lieutenant Roland Humphrey Coles and
Second Lieutenant John Charles Sigismund[106] Day KIA
27 9 May 1917 @ 16:45 hours Albatros Sopwith Pup s/n A6174 from 54 Squadron Shot down Lesdain, France Lieutenant George Copland Temple Hadrill POW[107]
28 9 May 1917 @ 16:50 hours Albatros Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b s/n 4991 from 22 Squadron Shot down Le Bosquet Second Lieutenants Charles McKenzie Furlonger and
Charles William Lane POW[108]
29 23 May 1917 @ 14:25 hours Albatros D.III Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b s/n A5502 from 18 Squadron Shot down North of Havrincourt Second Lieutenant Wilfred Ferguson MacDonald and
Lieutenant Frank Charles Shackell KIA
30 26 May 1917 @ 15:45 hours Albatros D.III Sopwith Pup s/n A6168 From 54 Squadron Shot down Southwest of Gouzeaucourt, France Second Lieutenant Mortimer George Cole WIA[109]
31 28 May 1917 @ 14:00 hours Albatros D.III Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2d s/n A6378 from 25 Squadron Shot down Southeast of Douai, France Captain
Aubrey de Selincourt
Lieutenant Henry Cotton POW
32 4 June 1917 @ 07:10 hours Albatros D.III Sopwith Pup s/n B2151 from 54 Squadron Shot down Aubencheul-aux-Bois, France Captain Reginald George Hewett Pixley KIA
33 5 June 1917 @ 09:30 hours Albatros D.III Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b s/n A857 from 22 Squadron Shot down North of Vaucelles Captain Francis Percival Don and
Lieutenant Herbert Harris POW
34 6 June 1917 @ 13:10 hours Albatros D.III Nieuport 17 s/n N3204 from 6 Naval Squadron Shot down West of Graincourt-lès-Havrincourt, France Sub-Lieutenant Fabian Pember Reeves of the RNAS KIA
35 10 August 1917 @ 16:25 hours Albatros D.III
Aéronautique Militaire
Shot down South of Diksmuide, Belgium Captain Henri[110] Rousseau MIA
36 15 August 1917 @ 19:10 hours Albatros D.III Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b s/n A5152 from 20 Squadron Shot down Zillebeke Lake Second Lieutenant Charles H. Cameron[110] unhurt;
Private Stanley Edward Pilbrow KIA[110]
37 16 August 1917 @ 21:00 hours Albatros D.III Sopwith Camel s/n B3756 from 70 Squadron Disappeared[111] St. Julien Captain
Noel William Ward Webb
38 23 August 1917 @ 10:10 hours Albatros D.III
Spad VII s/n B3528 from 19 Squadron
Crashlanded at 23 Squadron's airfield Southwest of Diksmuide, Belgium Captain Arthur Lionel Gordon-Kidd WIA/DOW
39 3 September 1917 @ 09:52 hours Fokker Triplane s/n 103/17 Sopwith Camel s/n 3917 from 45 Squadron Shot down North of Houthem Lieutenant Aubrey Talley Heywood KIA
40* 5 September 1917 @ 14:50 hours Fokker Triplane s/n 103/17 Sopwith Pup s/n B1842 from 46 Squadron Crashlanded trailing blue smoke St. Julien Second Lieutenant Charles Walter Odell unharmed
40* 5 September 1917 @ 15:50 hours Fokker Triplane s/n 103/17 Airco DH.5 s/n A9374 from 32 Squadron[112] Crashed into Ypres Canal St. Julien Lieutenant William Edwin Sandys KIA
41 5 September 1917 @ 16:30 hours Fokker Triplane s/n 103/17 Caudron two-seater s/n G.6 from Escadrille 53 Shot down Bixschoote Maréchal des logis Jacques Thabaud-Desthouilieres and
Lieutenant Marcel Mulard KIA
42 6 September 1917 @ 16:35 hours Fokker Triplane s/n 103/17 Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2d s/n B1895 from 20 Squadron Shot down in flames[113] Saint Julien/Boesinghe Lieutenant John Oscar Pilkington and
Air Mechanic 2nd Class Herbert Frederick Matthews KIA
43 10 September 1917 @ 17:50 hours Fokker Triplane s/n 103/17 Sopwith Camel s/n B3927 from 70 Squadron Shot down Between
Second Lieutenant Arthur Jackson Smith Sisley KIA
44 10 September 1917 @ 17:55 hours Fokker Triplane s/n 103/17 Sopwith Camel s/n B3787 from 70 Squadron Shot down Between Passendale and Langemarck 2nd Lt Oliver Charles Pearson[114] MIA
45 10 September 1917 @ 18:15 hours Fokker Triplane s/n 103/17 Spad VII from Escadrille 31 Shot down Paschendaele-Westroosebeke Adjutant Jules Tiberghein KIA
46 11 September 1917 @ 10:30 hours Fokker Triplane s/n 103/17 Bristol F.2 Fighter s/n B1105 from 22 Squadron Shot down Langemarck Second Lieutenant R. de Lacey Stedman WIA;
Second Lieutenant Harry Edward Jones KIA
47 11 September 1917 @ 16:25 hours Fokker Triplane s/n 103/17 Sopwith Camel B6236 from 45 Squadron Shot down East of Saint Julien Lieutenant Oscar Lennox McMaking KIA
48 23 September 1917 @ 09:30 hours Fokker Triplane s/n 103/17
Airco D.H.4 s/n A7643 from 57 Squadron
Shot down in flames[115] Ledegem, Belgium Second Lieutenants Samuel Leslie John Bramley and
John Matthew Delacey KIA[116]



  1. ^ His tenure was so fleeting, the unit histories of both Jasta 29 and Jasta 14 do not list Voss in command.
  2. ^ No. 56 squadron was an elite squadron raised to counter Richthofen's Jagdgeschwader I (someitnes called The Flying Circus).
  3. ^ Until the belated discovery of Carl Menckhoff's memoirs, it was believed that he piloted this Albatros. Cite: Täger 2013, p. 186–87, 252.
  4. ^ While the excited participants over-estimated the fight's duration as half an hour, a British observer overhead timed it at eight minutes.


  1. ^ Crean 2011, pp. 57–59.
  2. ^ a b c "Werner Voss" The Blue Max website, 2012. Retrieved: 18 June 2012.
  3. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 16.
  4. ^ a b "Moltke Gymnasium" School alumni site Retrieved: 28 August 2013.
  5. ^ a b c Diggens 2003, pp. 45–46.
  6. ^ Diggens 2003, second page of photo inserts.
  7. ^ a b Crean 2011, p. 56.
  8. ^ Crean, p. 46
  9. ^ a b c d Crean 2011, p. 46.
  10. ^ a b c d Franks et al. 1993, pp. 223–225.
  11. ^ Crean 2011, p. 40.
  12. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 17–18, 140.
  13. ^ a b c d VanWyngarden 2004, p. 32.
  14. ^ a b Franks and VanWyngarden 2001, p. 13.
  15. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 20–21.
  16. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 55.
  17. ^ Franks 2000, pp. 17, 92.
  18. ^ a b VanWyngarden 2007, pp. 30–31.
  19. ^ a b Diggens 2003, p. 39.
  20. ^ a b Diggens 2003, pp. 28–29.
  21. ^ a b Diggens 2003, pp. 41–42.
  22. ^ Franks, Giblin 1997, p. 65.
  23. ^ Crean 2011, pp. 149–150.
  24. ^ Franks 2000, pp. 16–17.
  25. ^ a b Franks et al. 1993, pp. 187–189.
  26. ^ Richthofen 2007, p. 126.
  27. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 20, 22, 55.
  28. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 55–56.
  29. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 145–146.
  30. ^ Diggens 2003
  31. ^ Crean 2003, p. 213.
  32. ^ Franks 2000, p. 13.
  33. ^ Crean 2011, pp. 51–52.
  34. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 61–62.
  35. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 139–140.
  36. ^ Crean 2011, p. 44.
  37. ^ a b Diggens 2003, p. 64.
  38. ^ Crean 2011, pp. 52–54.
  39. ^ Franks and VanWyngarden 2001, p. 12.
  40. ^ Crean 2011, p. 30.
  41. ^ Shores 1983, p. 14.
  42. ^ Crean 2011, pp. 152–153.
  43. ^ Crean 2010, pp. 44–45.
  44. ^ Guttman 2008, p. 21.
  45. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Crean 2011, pp. 7–13.
  46. ^ Bodenschatz 1996, p. 32.
  47. ^ Crean 2011, pp. 57–58.
  48. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 79–80.
  49. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 80.
  50. ^ a b c d e Diggens 2003, pp. 79–82, 122.
  51. ^ a b McCudden 2009, pp. 198–199.
  52. ^ Crean 2003, p. 161.
  53. ^ Bodenschatz 1996, p. 152.
  54. ^ a b c Diggens 2003, p. 82.
  55. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 84–85.
  56. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 85–86.
  57. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 87.
  58. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 86, 118.
  59. ^ Guttman 2008, p. 22.
  60. ^ Crean 2011, p. 194.
  61. ^ Richthofen 2007, p. 19.
  62. ^ a b Crean 2011, p. 18.
  63. ^ Shores 1983, p. 17.
  64. ^ Franks and VanWyngarden 2001, pp. 16–19.
  65. ^ Franks and VanWyngarden 2001, p. 19.
  66. ^ a b Crean 2011, p. 174.
  67. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 100.
  68. ^ Crean 2011, pp. 173–174.
  69. ^ Diggens 2003, 122–128.
  70. ^ Crean 2011, pp. 193–194.
  71. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 133–136.
  72. ^ Cronyn 1976, entirety.
  73. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 95.
  74. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 90.
  75. ^ Crean 2011, pp. 19–20.
  76. ^ Crean 2011, p. 20.
  77. ^ Crean 2011, pp. 20–21.
  78. ^ Crean 2011, p. 197.
  79. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 100–101.
  80. ^ Crean 2011, p. 22.
  81. ^ Shores et al. 1990, pp. 318–319.
  82. ^ Crean 2003, pp. 18, 22.
  83. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 91.
  84. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 103–104.
  85. ^ Crean 2011, p. 163.
  86. ^ a b Diggens 2003, p. 101.
  87. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 110.
  88. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 105.
  89. ^ McCudden 2009, p. 200.
  90. ^ Langemark Memorial www.findagrave.com, 2013. Retrieved: 19 July 2013.
  91. ^ "Werner-Voss-Strasse." Google maps Germany. Retrieved: 28 August 2013.
  92. ^ "Werner Voß Weg" Google maps Germany. Retrieved: 5 September 2013.
  93. ^ "Werner Voß-Dam" Google maps Germany. Retrieved: 5 September 2013.
  94. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 132–137.
  95. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 27.
  96. ^ a b Diggens 2003, p. 30.
  97. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 30–31.
  98. ^ a b Diggens 2003, p. 31.
  99. ^ a b Diggens 2003, p. 33.
  100. ^ a b c Diggens 2003, p. 34.
  101. ^ a b Diggens 2003, p. 35.
  102. ^ Crean 2011, p. 48.
  103. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 40.
  104. ^ Crean 2011, pp. 48–49.
  105. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 43.
  106. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 49.
  107. ^ Diggens 2003, pp. 49–50.
  108. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 50.
  109. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 56.
  110. ^ a b c Diggens 2003, p. 67.
  111. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 68.
  112. ^ Franks et al. 1993, p. 224.
  113. ^ Diggens 2003, p. 71.
  114. ^ 2nd Lt O.C. Pearson
  115. ^ Diggens 2012, p. 79.
  116. ^ Crean 2011, pp. 428–432.


Further reading

External links