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World War I: Lieutenant Werner Voss

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World War I: Lieutenant Werner Voss

Werner Voss

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Werner Voss - Early Life & Career:

Born at Krefeld, Germany on April 13, 1897, Werner Voss was the son of an industrial dyer. Educated locally, Voss was the youngest of five children. Completing his schooling in 1914, Voss volunteered for the Krefeld militia as war seemed inevitable. In November, three months after the beginning of World War I, Voss was transferred to the 2nd Westphalian Hussar Regiment. Serving on the Eastern Front, Voss proved a capable horse-soldier and earned the Iron Cross. When his regiment disbanded the following year, Voss, tired of the ground war, asked for a transfer to the Luftstreitkräfte (German Air Service).

Werner Voss - Learning to Fly:

Granted in August 1915, Voss received orders to report to Cologne to commence training. Assigned to Fliegerersatz-Abteilung 7 (FEA 7), he traveled to Egelsburg a month later for flying lessons. A natural pilot, Voss excelled and after graduating from training in February 1916, he was returned to FEA 7 as an instructor. Desiring service at the front, he accepted an assignment as an observer with Kampfstaffel 20. Receiving his pilot's certificate in May, he began flying for the unit until requesting a transfer to a fighter unit in September.

Werner Voss - Boelcke & Richthofen:

Promoted to lieutenant, Voss was able to join Captain Oswald Boelcke's elite Jasta 2 in November. Germany's foremost ace, Boelcke had assembled a formidable and talented unit that included Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron). Scoring his first two kills on November 27, Voss quickly proved a skilled fighter pilot. Flying for Boelcke, he rapidly added to his tally through the spring of 1917 and received the prestigious Pour le Merite in April with his score at 24. Despite his young age, Voss was appointed to command Jasta 5 on May 20, 1917.

Werner Voss - Flying for Richthofen:

This was soon followed by stints as the leader of Jastas 29 and 14. Wounded on June 6 during an engagement with 6 Naval Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service, he soon recovered. On July 30, Richthofen, who now led Jagdgeschwader 1, had Voss moved to his command and appointed him to lead Jasta 10. Openly acknowledged by Richthofen as his closest rival, Voss had 34 kills when he arrived while his commander had 57. Voss opened his account with Jasta 10 on August 10 when he downed a SPAD XIII south of Dixmude. A skilled engineer, Voss enjoyed altering and enhancing his Albatross D.III as well as tinkering with motorcycles.

Werner Voss - A New Aircraft:

In August 1917, Voss received one of two early model Fokker Dr.I triplanes that were sent to the front for testing (Richthofen received the other). Exceptionally pleased with the new aircraft's maneuverability and handling, he adopted the type for combat use. Personalizing the new fighter, he painted a face on the cowling. While leading Jasta 10, Voss added an additional fourteen kills to his total, the last being a D.H.4 south of Roulers on September 23, 1917. Returning to the skies later that day, Voss stood second behind Richthofen (61) in terms of kills.

Werner Voss - A Career Cut Short:

Commencing his patrol, Voss encountered B Flight of the elite No. 56 Squadron near Poelkapelle. Comprised of seven RAF S.E.5 fighters, B Flight was led by Captain James McCudden and consisted almost entirely of ace pilots. As the dogfight developed, Lieutenant Karl Menckhoff attempted to aid Voss but was downed by Lieutenant Arthur Rhys-Davids. Engaging McCudden's flight for ten minutes, Voss inflicted damage on each of the British aircraft while eluding their fire.

As the action continued, Captain Reginald Hoidge may have severely wounded Voss during an attack from the right. Most likely wounded, Voss flew straight for several moments allowing Rhys-Davids to attack from behind and inflict heavy damage. Critically hit, the Dr.I plummeted to the ground and crashed behind British lines near Frezenberg. Returning to base, the pilots of B Flight later marveled over Voss' performance. The skill Voss displayed led Rhys-Davids to comment, "If I could only have brought him down alive." Recovering Voss' body, it was later buried at the German war cemetery at Langemark.

Recalling the action, McCudden later commented:

"I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot, who single handed, fought seven of us for ten minutes. 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."

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