World War I Flying Ace. 44 victories. Holder of the Pour le Merite (Blue Max). One of Germany's highest scoring aces in World War I, he survived the war only to fall victim to a mob while he was negotiating the surrender of his Freikorps that participated in the attempted coups of 1920. Born Gustav Otto Rudolf Berthold to a forester's family, he entered the military upon completion of his studies at a university preparatory high school. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 3rd Brandenburg Infantry Regiment in 1912. He learned to fly on his own, earning a pilot's license in 1913 and was seconded to a military flying school in 1914. He joined FFA (Feldflieger Abteilung) 23 in August as an observer. As an observer, he discovered the French counterattack that led to the First Battle of the Aisne in September 1914 and as a result was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class. He became a pilot in January of 1915, flying a large twin-engined bomber/observer (AEG G2) and flew this aircraft for most of 1915. He was shot down in November, killing his best friend and observer, for which he swore vengeance. Upon his return from leave, he was given command of the newly-formed KEK Vaux, which was formed to fly single seat fighters. Flying the Fokker Eindecker, he achieved his first victory in February, followed by two more. In April he was shot down but not hurt but then almost immediately crashed his replacement aircraft and was badly wounded, being blind for a time. He recuperated for four months, remaining in command of KEK Vaux, and against doctors orders returned to flying in August. During this time he became dependent on narcotics to ease his pain. Having scored his eighth victory in September, the prerequisite for the award, in October he was awarded the Pour le Merite. He then was given command of the new Jagdstaffel 14. He again was injured in April and after recovery was assigned to command Jagdstaffel 18 in August 1916. He has been promoting the use of aircraft in larger formations and was finally given the chance to put this into practice as Jagdstaffel 18, 24, 31, and 36 were combined into Jagdgruppe 7, which he commanded. From August through October, he was very successful, earning victories 13-28. But he was again badly wounded in October, having been shot in the right arm and losing the use of that arm. He was in the hospital until February 1918. Still grounded, he was allowed to retake command of Jagdgruppe 7 and then was assigned as commander of Jagdgeschwader 2 in March. He relearned to fly with his left hand and tried out the new Fokker VII when it was given to his unit in May. He put himself back on flight status, though his right arm had not healed. In August, after scoring his final two victories, he was shot down again, re-breaking his right arm. This permanently grounded him and he spent the last months of the war recuperating. After the war, he formed a Freikorps to fight communism in Latvia. On the return of the Freikorps to Germany, the Kapp Putsch broke out and his Freikorps attempted to take part. They were stopped in Harburg and fighting broke out. As he attempted to surrender his force, shots broke out and the mob overwhelmed his troops and he was trampled and shot. The legend that he was strangled with the ribbon of his "Blue Max" is unfounded. His original memorial was destroyed by the building of the Berlin Wall, but a replacement marker has been placed. He was tied for seventh in the list of German aces of World War I. He is the subject of the 2012 biography "Iron Man: Rudolf Berthold: Germany's Indomitable Fighter Ace of World War I", by Peter Kilduff.∼German flying ace of World War I. Between 1916 and 1918, he shot down 44 enemy planes—16 of them while flying one-handed. Berthold's perseverance, bravery, and willingness to return to combat while still wounded made him one of the most famous German pilots of World War I. He died of gunshot wounds during political street fighting in Hamburg on 15 March 1920. On Berthold's first gravestone, since destroyed, was allegedly the memorial: "Honored by his enemies, killed by his German brethren". However, a literal translation of the inscription is "slain in the brother fight for the freedom of the German lands".
Bio by: Kenneth Gilbert