Eduard Ritter von Schleich
Bayern Oberleutnant (Reserve), Commander Jasta 21, 32, Jagdgeschwader 8
He was awarded the Pour le Mérite in recognition for outstanding leadership and distinguished military planning and successful operations along with his 25th aerial victory.
Born 9 August 1888 Bad Tolz near Munchin, Bayern
Jasta 21, 32 Jagdgeschwader 8
Awards: Iron Cross First Class, Knights Cross of the Bayern Military Max Josef Order and the Pour le Mérite.
PLM: 4 December 1917
Eduard Schleich was born the son of an artist, and did not earn his title of nobility until the presentation of the Military Max-Joseph Order. His initial military service as Cadet in 1908 followed by an assignment with the Bayern Infantry Regiment 11 in November 1910. Before th war broke out he was commissioned as a Leutnant and when his unit went to the front, they went with him as commander. After seriously wounded at the Battle of Lorraine on 20 August 1914, he was transfered upon recovery to the Flying Corps as an Observer at Schneidmuhl. He was assigned to be commanding officer of Defense Squadron 28, then to Jasta 1 as a pilot, and then finally to Jasta 21 as commanding officer. He saw considerable action near Verdun. During an important observation flight, Schleich was wounded in the arm by an exploding anti-aircraft shell. Instead of returning to his base, Schleich, realizing the importance of his mission, made Hans Adam (who later became an ace in Jagdgeschwader I) bandage his wound while in the air and then continued on his course to complete his assignment. Both me were decorated with the Iron Cross First Class for this heroic action.
drawing provided by Geoff Bridger
When Schleich recovered from his wound, he was stuck at a desk job due to the lack of available aircraft. This didn't set well with the Bavarian, so when a French Nieuport was captured in tack, he ordered a black Teutonic Cross painted over the French insignia and decided to fly the plane into combat. This did not set well with High Command and they took the plane away from him. After complaining bitterly about his inactivity, Eduard was sent to Fighter Pilots School where his instructor, Erwin Boehme, passed him in 14 days!
On 25 May 1917, he was engaged in aerial combat with an opponent of considerable skill, which he was victorious. The identity of his worthy opponent was discovered to be the famed Frenchman, Lt. René Dorme. Later Dorme's gold watch was retreived from the wreckage and was later dropped into French lines with a note saying that he had died bravely for France. As credit to his leadership and skill as a pilot, Jasta 21 had a lack luster combat record and low morale, but after Eduard Schleich arrived within a single month the Jasta downed 36 enemy aircraft. Nineteen of those were credited to Schleich himself. An important event in the Jasta 21 occured when Eduard's best friend and fellow pilot was killed in a melee. After recovering the body of his friend, Eduard Schleich was so disturbed that he ordered his plane to be painted all black in memory Leutnant Erich Limpert. The news of the black plane buzzed around the front and the Jasta became known as the "Dead Man Squadron." This new nickname helped the Jasta members morale.
On the lighter side Eduard Schleich, the devil-may-care Bavarian, had a sense of mischeivous humor like the best of the aerial commanders and proceeded to take another flight in a French aircraft. This time it was in a Spad that had German crosses painted upon it. He took off and decided to playfully join up with a French Squardon. He flew with them quite unnoticed until the flight leader figured out that he had too many planes and saw an extra one with the German crosses. Schleich was lucky to escape from this little adventure, but he did not escape the severe reprimand from his superiors. Another incident of interest was when Schleich became ill with dysentery and was ordered to bed by the Jasta medic and required to have a diet of nothing but soup. After a few days of this he became annoyed and ordered his plane to be readied, ate a roast chicken, drank wine, and enjoyed a big cigar and went off flying. He became sick while in the air and despite his condition downed an enemy fighter and was able to return back to his base. Upon his return he was placed under arrest and confined to his quaters with guards posted at his door and windows. After the illness subsided he was ordered on leave for six weeks.
Typical politics of the military caused Schleich to be re-assigned to a new Jasta upon his return. Prussian and Bavarian disagreements of who should command a Prussian flight unit caused a new Bayern Jasta to be developed and Eduard Schliech was re-assigned to Bayern Jasta 32, which later became part of Jagdgeschwader 8.
By mid October the "Black Knight", as he was known as, had his victories had climb and he was recommended for the Pour le Mérite, but due to a dispute between Bayern and Prussia of who would present the highest award it was delayed, but he was given the rank of Oberleutnant. Finally on 4 December 1917 the award was given by the King of Prussia and then a few days later he was awarded the Military Max-Josef Order by the King of Bayern. This is when he received his title of Knight or Ritter von Schleich. He was later promoted to Hauptmann in August 1918. In October of 1918 he was ordered to Berlin to test new aircraft in a fighter plane competition and by time he returned the fighting had ended.
In the 1920's he joined Lufthansa and stayed until 1933 when he became involved with the Nazi Party and worked with the Hitler Youth where he was involved in flight training. He was appointed to the Präsidium of the German Air Sport League and was elected to the Reichstag. He returned to military service upon the creation of the new German Luftwaffe. He fought in the Spanish Civil war as a member of the famed "Legion Condor." Upon his return from Spain, he became the commander of Jasta 132, which was later redesignated Jasta 26 "Schlageter". He fought in WWII and was promoted to the rank of Generalleutnant on 1 September 1943. He took up a post in occupied Denmark before becoming Generalleutnant. He commanded the pilots in Norway and was later taken prisoner at the end of the war by the Allies and was interned in a prisoner of war camp for high ranking officers. It was there that he died of an illness in 1947.