Hptm Wilhelm Reinhard RHOH, IC

The triplane pilots of Jasta 11 had returned to an airfield full of dread and uncertainty. Soon, reports came in from ground observers that the red triplane had come to earth northwest of Corbie. Despite thorough searches of the area by JG I airmen, no traces of the Dr I or its pilot were discovered. The next day Maj Hachnelt visited Cappy to inform the stunned pilots that it was now certain that Richthofen had disappeared behind enemy lines, although his fate was still uncertain (the next day a Reuters news dispatch confirmed the Rittmeister's death).

Richthofen had left written orders that Hptm Wilhelm Reinhard, Jasta 6 commander, should take over leadership of the Geschwader if he should fail to return. These wishes were followed immediately on the 21st, and the appointment became official on the 27th. Johann Janzen was glad to leave Jasta 4 to return to command Jasta 6. Reinhard had a 'mere' 12 victories to his credit at this time, but he was a hauptmann in the regular army, and had proven himself as leader of both Jastas 11 and 6. He was a commander in the Richthofen mould who led by example, scoring eight more victories in seven weeks. Also like the Rittmeister, he maintained high standards for his pilots. When Vfw Willi Gabriel arrived at the Jasta on 19 May, Reinhard told him, 'This is no rest-camp. If you have no victories within four weeks you may remove yourself back to your (two-seater) unit'.

As early as 10 March 1918, Oblt (later Hptm) Wilhelm Reinhard, leader of Jasta 6, had been selected by Richthofen to succeed him in the post of Jagdgeschwader Kommandeur if and when Richthofen failed to return. 'Willi' Reinhard was born in Dusseldorf on 12 March 1891, and had served in a Bavarian Foot Artillery regiment before transferring to aviation. He joined Jasta 11 on 24 June 1917, and later took command of Jasta 6 on 26 November. He is seen here with a Jasta 6 Fokker Dr I. Although Reinhard eventually scored 20 victories, and won the Knight's Cross with Swords of the Royal Hohenzollern House Order, his accidental death prevented him from receiving the Pour le Merited

On 12 June Reinhard claimed a SPAD XI that would bring his tally to the significant 20 mark. However, Jasta 11 pilot Willi Gabriel put in a competing claim for the same machine. In a highly unusual circumstance, JG 1's group adjutant Oblt Bodenschatz asked Gabriel to relinquish his victory claim, thereby allowing the Geschwader leader Reinhard to be put forward for the Pour le Merite. As a mere vizefeldwebel with four victories, Gabriel agreed to this request, as Bodenschatz promised that if such a dispute between the two occurred again Gabriel would receive the credit. As it turned out, Gabriel never had the opportunity. On 18 June Reinhard left the Geschwader to attend the trials of the new fighter types at Adlershof, near Berlin. These evaluations of fighter prototypes by experienced frontline pilots had been a brainchild of Richthofen's, thus it was fitting that JG I be represented. Other JG I members who attended these trials were Ltn Hans Kirschstein (who was nonetheless back at the Front by 24 June, when he achieved his 27th victory) and Geschwader technical officer Fw Ltn Fritz Schubert. The diminutive and high-spirited Kirschstein was finally awarded his own overdue Pour le Merite and proudly wore the order at Adlershof. In Reinhard's absence, the question of who would take temporary command of the Geschwader seemed to rest between two highly qualified, and competitive Pour le Merite aces - Ltn d R Ernst Udet, commander of Jasta 4 with 30 victories, and Jasta 10 leader Ltn Erich Löwenhardt with 27 at that point. On 18 June the acting command was given to Udet, but for some reason the very next day Löwenhardt was given the post. No reason was given, but Löwenhardt was a regular army officer with Prussian Cadet Corps training. At any rate, this did not seem to affect the friendship between the two, nor their deadly scoring streaks which continued unabated.

While Udet and other pilots were making the most of their powerful new Fokkers, a tragic development took place in Berlin. On 3 July Hptm Wilhelm Reinhard flew a radical new design at the Adlershof fighter competition - the all-metal Dornier Zeppelin-Lindau D I (D.1751/18), which had a stressed-skin structure of duralumin. He had previously watched as Constantin Krefft, Hptm Schwarzenberger of ldflieg and one Oblt Hermann Goring, Jasta 27 commander, flew the D I. The revolutionary Dornier fighter had not passed the official construction and delivery regulations, yet its testing was still permitted. After Goring landed, he handed the D I over to Reinhard. In an ironic turn of events, the top wing broke away when Reinhard was pulling out of a dive, and JG I lost its second commander in five weeks. His place would be filled by the same Oblt Goring, who would ride his fame as the last commander of the Richthofen Geschwader to post-war political success, and eternal infamy. One can hardly refrain from wondering how the history of the Jagdgeshwader, and indeed the 20th century, would have differed if the fates of Reinhard and Goring had been switched.

©2004 Osprey Publishing Limited

Back to Homepage