Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Man with the Dragon Tatoo

In early 1914 at the German colony of Tsingtau in China two large objects were unloaded from their freighters. These were a pair of Taube monoplanes. Although both unarmed, they were there to assist the German forces in the colony. However, the weeks of storage in heat and humidity higher than would be expected in Europe had taken their toll. For example, five of the laminated wooden propellers supplied with the aircraft were warped and damaged. Along with this shipment came two pilots, Lieutenants Friedrich Müllerskowsky and Gunther Plüschow. Things started going badly for this fledgling German colonial air force, when on the 31st of July the first Taube was assembled and Lt Müllerskowsky took to the sky. Almost immediately the Taube crashed, although it is not clear if this was down to the poor maintenance or the winds on the day. Either way Lt Müllerskowsky was badly injured and hospitalised with multiple broken bones. This accident came at a critical time, as the following day Germany declared war on Russia, within weeks the Great War had burst into life, including on the 15th of August the declaration of War by Japan against Germany.

One of Japan's first targets was of course Tsingtau, and a blockade was set up, and an invasion planned. The invasion was to mirror the Port Arthur battle, with forces landed outside the city and siege guns brought in followed by assaults. One of the ships in the blockade was the Wakamiya, this was a seaplane tender, and was carrying four Farman M.7 float planes. On the 5th of September one of the Farman's flew a reconnaissance mission, with another mission flown the following morning. On this second mission the crew of the M.7 spotted an old protected cruiser, the SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth, and a gun boat firing onto the Japanese forces besieging Tsingtau. In the cockpit of the plane the observer had a few naval artillery shells that had been modified by attaching fins to them. The crew attempted to hit the two German ships with these primitive bombs, by simply dumping them over the side of the fuselage at what seemed to be the right moment. Although these all missed it became the first bombing run ever carried out.

The SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth
As the siege progressed the Germans also started dropping bombs. Lt Plüschow in the remaining Taube carried out multiple reconnaissance flights, and occasionally dropped improvised bombs on targets, occasionally scoring some successes against infantry columns. As he was the sole reconnaissance asset belonging to the Germans, Lt Plüschow was ordered to avoid the putting his craft in danger. This meant mostly avoiding the Japanese Farman's. However, in his diary Lt Plüschow did note one occasion when he shot down a Farman with his pistol, after firing some thirty rounds at the Japanese plane. This, if true would be the first ever recorded air to air victory. However, there is no official confirmation. One historian has found that only one Japanese airman was killed in 1914, Lt Midori Shigematsu, and has attempted to link that to Lt Plüschow's claim. The only record I can find for that officer gives the date of his demise as 26th of April when his engine failed, and he died in the subsequent crash.
A Farman being launched from the Wakamiya.

The Japanese forces, with some British support started their siege at the end of October and began to wear down the German defences. Eventually, by the 6th of November the Germans had run out of artillery ammunition. Thus, it was decided to surrender the following morning. Lt Plüschow was given the Governor’s final dispatches and told to fly to safety. Thus, on the morning of the 7th he took off never to return.

A picture of the underside of a Taube monoplane. The translation of Taube is Dove or Pigeon. One wonders if the name preceded the shape of the plane, or the other way round.
His plane crashed in a rice paddy, and Lt Plüschow set fire to it and walked to a nearby settlement. From here he travelled across China, until he finally reached Shanghai, where he was given papers for a Swiss businessman by the German diplomatic mission. From there he travelled across the pacific and through the US. Here he met a colleague who arranged for him to travel to Italy. On the crossing the ship was forced into harbour by bad weather, unfortunately the port chosen was Gibraltar, and Lt Plüschow was detained, and eventually identified. From there he was sent to the UK as a POW.

The POW camp he was sent too was Donington Hall. The story goes that one day while there he saw a deer inside the wire and realised if the deer could make it through then he could too. During a storm on the 4th of July 1915 Lt Plüschow escaped. He ended up in London, where he spent some three weeks living, even for some of the period using the British Museum as a hide out. His description was circulated in the papers, these included description of the oriental tattoo he had on his arm, showing a large dragon. After three weeks disguised as a dock worker Lt Plüschow managed to board a ferry heading to Holland, and from there return to Germany. He was kept away from the fighting for the rest of the war as too much of a celebrity to be risked in combat. After the war he began to travel exploring both Patagonia and the Tierra del Fuego by air. On a return trip in 1931 his plane crashed into a lake and he was killed.

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