another clue as I will be offline for a while....
I'm looking for a pilot.
1. He started his aviation career as an observer, before becoming a flight instructor then ultimately a fighter pilot.
2. His most famous exploit was a failure that almost cost him his life.
3. He was shot down again towards the end of the war and taken prisoner.
4. Still captive nine months after the end of hostilities he escaped and reach freedom in Switzerland where he lived the rest of his life.
5. On capture he was chagrined to learn that despite being an expert pilot, he was a rookie pilot's first victory.
I must be getting old. As soon as you posted the first couple of clues, I thought "I just read about this guy". Then it took half the day to remember where I read it. Carl Menckhoff, who nearly lost his life trying to help Werner Voss in his epic battle of 23 September, 1917; when he took on seven of Britain's best pilots. "B Flight" of 56 Squadron? Thanks; Ernie P.
Carl Menckhoff (14 April 1883 - 11 January 1948) was a German First World War fighter ace, credited with 39 confirmed victories. Already in his 30s when he learned to fly, he was one of the oldest pilots in the Imperial German Air Service. He transferred from infantry service to aviation as a non-commissioned officer, he succeeded in becoming commissioned as an officer. He won the Blue Max and was given a squadron command.
Having fallen prisoner on 25 June 1918, he languished incarcerated until August 1919; he then escaped into Switzerland. He succeeded in business and remained there for the rest of his life.
Menckhoff was born in Herford, Westphalia, in the Kingdom of Prussia. He reported for his compulsory military service at age 20 in 1903, but was invalided out within six weeks when he contracted appendicitis.
In August 1914, when he was 31, Menckoff enlisted in Infantry Regiment Nr. 106. He was wounded several times and received the Iron Cross First Class and Second Class for gallantry, both by the end of 1914.
Left unfit for infantry service by his injuries, Menckhoff applied for transfer to the Luftstreitkrafte. He was at first an observer on the Eastern Front, where he gained useful flying experience but little experience of combat. In 1916 he became a flight instructor, and the following year, as a Vizefeldwebel (staff sergeant), he was assigned as a fighter pilot to Jagdstaffel 3, stationed in France and equipped with the Albatros D.III.
He scored his first victory on 5 April 1917, downing a Nieuport 17 of No. 29 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, flown by Lieutenant Norman Birks. The victories began to mount rapidly after that, though Menckhoff often returned from victorious flights shaken by his triumphs.
Menckhoff was shot down several times, but always returned to duty. On 23 September 1917, he rushed to the aid of Werner Voss during the latter's battle against an overwhelming force from the Royal Flying Corps. Lieutenant Arthur Rhys Davids turned from engaging Voss and damaged Menckhoff's Albatros so badly that he had to crash land it. Rhys Davids then shot down Voss.
Menckhoff fought planes of No. 56 Squadron again on 28 September, and again had to crash land. Nevertheless, his victories totalled 20 by 4 February 1918. One week later, he was assigned command of Saxon Jagdstaffel 72 as its initial StaffelfĂĽhrer. His leadership style conserved his men's lives and the squadron's subsequent 60 victories were claimed with the loss of only one of its own pilots. The number of aircraft lost by his unit during this time is unknown.
On 23 April 1918, he was awarded Germany's highest decoration for valor, the Pour le Merite, his victory total having reached 25.
On 25 July, however, three days after his thirty-ninth victory, Menckhoff was shot down by Lieutenant Walter Avery of the 95th Aero Squadron, United States Air Service while the German ace was piloting one of his two Fokker D.VIIs. Captured by French troops at the crash site, Menckhoff was chagrined to learn that he was a rookie pilot's first victory. Avery cut the letter "M" from the crashed Fokker, but sportingly refused to deprive him of his Pour le Merite.
Following interrogation, Menckhoff was held as a prisoner of war, along with many other German pilots, at Camp Montoire, near OrlĂ©ans.
Menckhoff remained a prisoner long after the war ended in November 1918. Despairing of his release, he finally escaped on 23 August 1919, and managed to reach Switzerland. He remained there for the rest of his life, becoming a successful businessman. He raised a family, but never talked about the war. Carl Menckhoff died in Switzerland in 1948.