Fighter pilot Von Bertrab shot down on 12 August 1917

On 12 August 1917 2nd Lieutenant Joachim von Bertrab was shot down over the trenches of northern France.

Von Bertrab was a fighter pilot with Jasta 30. Germans are fond of long names, but are also fond of shortening them too. Jagdstaffel or fighter squadron therefore became Jasta. Successful fighter pilots became celebrities with their pictures emblazoned on cigarette cards and the like, and von Bertrab was no exception. A postcard featuring von Bertrab was being advertised for sale as this article was being written.

The photograph (below) features a similar aircraft to von Bertrab’s, an Albatros D.V., but from Jasta 29. Von Bertrab’s single-seater Albatros was black or dark purple in colour and featured a large comet painted onto the side of the fuselage.

THE GERMAN AIR FORCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914-1918  Wrecked Albatros D.III fighter biplane of the German Jasta 29, serial number is D 2061/16, probably of Vizefeldwebel Hans Fritzsche, 1917. Copyright: © IWM (Q 23895)

So who was Joachim von Bertab? Von Bertrab was born in the Harz Mountains in 1894 and lived in a remote forested area about sixty miles to the north of Berlin. He originally served with an artillery regiment, but later retrained as a pilot. His claim to fame is that he was responsible for the loss of four British aircraft in less than three hours on 6 April 1917.

He shot down two British Martinsyde G.100 fighter-bombers shortly after 8.00 a.m. Just over two hours later he attacked a squadron of Sopwith 1½ Strutters causing two of them to collide.

He later claimed a Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2d on 15 May 1917.

While attempting to shoot down an observation balloon, von Bertrab became involved in a dogfight with 2nd Lieutenant ‘Mick’ Mannock of 40 Squadron who was flying a Nieuport Scout.

Mannock was himself a British ‘flying ace’ with 61 victories to his name before his death in July 1918.

Mannock reported that the aerial battle lasted for 5 minutes. The German Albatros fighter was shot down; von Bertrab was seriously wounded in his right arm and slightly wounded in his left thigh. He was captured at Vimy, and admitted to Belmont Hospital in Surrey. He entered Skipton Camp in August 1918.

He was actively involved in dramatic activities within the camp, and appeared in at least four plays including the German officers’ version of Sherlock Holmes.

He was awarded an Iron Cross First Class for his wartime exploits.

He died in July 1922.