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Aces of Aviation

Fokker D VII of Rudolf Berthold

Fokker D VII of Rudolf Berthold

Fokker D VII piloted by Hauptmann Rudolf Berthold, commander of the Jagdgeschwader 2, in 1918.

Wingspan: 8.90 meters.

Length: 7.00 meters.

Height: 2.75 meters.

Engine[s]: Mercedes D III of 160 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 190 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 6980 meters.

Range: 1.5 hours.

Armament: Two Spandau 7.92-millimeter machine guns.

Rudolf Berthold was born the 24th March 1891 as son of a forest guard, in Ditterswind, southern Germany. He was an infantryman when he was transferred to the German Air Service before the First World War. At the beginning of the war he was a reconnaissance pilot in the Feldfliegerabteilung 23, and was downed by the first time onboard an AEG airplane the 15th September, fortunately without suffering any harm. In January 1916 the Feldfliegerabteilung 23 received the new Fokker E III monoplane fighter and Berthold received one of the first during that month.

Berthold achieved his first five victories on the E III before being downed again. This time he was seriously injured, but nobody could convince him to return home to recover; after spending a very brief time in a field hospital he returned to combat, saying that if necessary they should carry him to his aircraft. After his tenth victory he was awarded the Cross "Pour Le Mérite", and during the following year, between October 1916 and September 1917, he destroyed at least 18 enemy aircraft. However, he had been downed several times and his right arm, fractured by British bullets, became virtually useless and dry. However, Berthold insisted that he was fully capable of continuing flying and fighting.

In March 1918 he was granted the command of the Jagdgeschwader 2 which was equipped with the Siemens-Schuckert D III and Fokker D VII. His own airplane was specially adapted to allow him to pilot it regardless of his physical disabilities. During the last months of the war he destroyed another 16 enemy aircraft, but that period was extremely painful and demanded great integrity from him, because the old wound opened and, being subject to the coldness of an open cockpit, inflicted terrible suffering to him. Rejecting medical care again and again, Berthold only allowed to have the bone splinters extracted from his arm from time to time while he insisted on continuing flying. After his 44th victory he was so hindered by pain that he crashed against a building when trying to land; as a result he was so severely wounded that he had to be interned in an hospital and no longer took part in the conflict.

As the summit of it all, Berthold's death in 1920 was truly macabre. As a fanatical anti-Communist he formed a paramilitary unit, the Berthold's Iron Troop, for the Communists were then putting up a rebellion in Germany. After being knocked down in Harburg he was mobbed and shot several times with his own sidearm. A widespread myth tells that he was strangled with the cord of his Cross "Pour Le Mérite"; however it is true that this element attracted the attention of the mob towards him. He lies buried in the Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery in North Berlin, near the tombs of Von Richthofen and Ernst Udet.