Oberleutnant Fritz Otto Bernert (6 March 1893 – 18 October 1918) was a leading German fighter ace of World War I. He scored 27 victories despite being essentially one-armed.
Early life and infantry service
Fritz Otto Bernert was the son of a Bürgermeister (mayor). He was born in Ratibor, Silesia, which now is Racibórz, Poland. At the time of his birth, Ratibor was German and part of the Kingdom of Prussia.
Bernert was commissioned into the 173rd Infantry Regiment in 1912. He was serving with them when World War I began. He was wounded in ground combat in both November and December 1914; his fourth wound, inflicted by a bayonet, severed the major nerve in his left arm. Upon recovery, it became apparent his left arm was essentially useless, and he was invalided out of the infantry.
"Otto" Bernert then applied to the Luftstreitkräfte and trained to be an aerial observer. Upon graduation, he flew reconnaissance missions for Feldflieger Abteilung 27 from February through July 1915. He then transferred to FFA 71, where he served through November. He then applied for pilot's training; he hid his disability successfully and was accepted. The fact that he wore glasses also did not bar him from service.
He transferred to Kampfeinsitzerkommando Metz, a temporary grouping of pilots mostly from FFA 71, for his initial assignment to a fighter unit. By March, 1916, he had his pilot's license and was assigned to KEK Vaux. On 17 April 1916, he scored his first victory while flying a Fokker Eindecker, over a Nieuport fighter.
Because KEK Vaux was an ad hoc fighter unit, it was equipped with Halberstadt D.II planes and reorganized into a full-fledged Prussian fighter squadron. It became Jagdstaffel 4 on 25 August 1916. On 6 September, Bernert scored the new squadron's first victory. He became an ace on 9 November 1916, scoring his fifth, sixth, and seventh triumphs.
On 1 March 1917, he was transferred to Jagdstaffel 2. This squadron was named in honor of Oswald Boelcke, the founder of fighter aviation tactics and strategy, and was considered the premier unit of the German Air Service. Bernert scored his first victory in this unit on 19 March; on 1 April, he achieved the status of double ace with his tenth win.
He scored 14 more times in April, including a record five victories on 24 April, all in a twenty-minute span, to run his total to 24. He was awarded the Pour le Merite on 24 April.
On 1 May, Bernert was appointed to command Jagdstaffel 6. His final three victories came in May, with an unconfirmed 28th on 19 May. In mid-May, Bernert crashlanded behind German lines after his engine quit in mid-combat. A few days later, he landed long, ran out of airfield, and crashed next to his home aerodrome, breaking his jaw and bruising himself severely. Although unable to fly, Bernert did not give up his command. However, he did host some pilots from Austria-Hungary.
On 9 June 1917, Bernert was transferred back to Jasta 2, and would command it to the end of his flying career. The previous commanding officer had scored no victories to inspire his pilots; as it turned out, because of his injuries, Bernert could do no better.
However, he once again hosted several pilots from Austro-Hungary during his tenure, and thus influenced the fighter tactics of Germany's allies. He also took some leave during June and July.
Bernert was severely wounded again on 18 August 1917. This wound removed him from command and kept him in the hospital for three months. It took him off flight status. He was promoted to Oberleutnant upon release from the hospital, and was transferred to Berlin as Inspector of Air.
He died of the Spanish flu in his home town on 18 October 1918.
Decorations and awards
- Prussian military pilot badge
- Iron Cross (1914), 1st and 2nd class
- Knight's Cross of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords
- Pour le Mérite (23 April 1917)