September 23

This Day in History

World War I

Sep 23, 1917:

German pilot Werner Voss shot down over Western Front

On this day in 1917, the German flying ace Werner Voss is shot down and killed during a dogfight with British pilots in the skies over Belgium, on the Western Front during World War I.

Voss, born in 1887, enlisted as a cavalry soldier in 1914, but soon transferred to the Luftstreitkrafte or German Air Service, where he was posted to the Jasta 2 squadron, commanded by the renowned pilot Oswald Boelcke. After serving as a wingman to Manfred von Richthofen—the ace pilot later known as the Red Baron—Voss quickly established a reputation as a leading pilot in his own right, and a rival to Richthofen. By May 1917, Voss had amassed 28 victories in the air, earning the prestigious Pour le Merite award.

At Richthofen’s request, Voss was attached to his own squadron, Jasta 10—known as the "Flying Circus." He earned another 14 victories there before September 23, 1917, when he was involved in a dogfight with the renowned British 56 Squadron "B" Flight—including the ace pilots James McCudden and Arthur Rhys Davids—above the Western Front in Belgium. Though Voss skillfully eluded his pursuers for some 10 minutes in his silver-grey Fokker triplane, he was shot down by a British attack and crashed north of Frezenburg. As McCudden later observed: "I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot, who single handed, fought seven of us for ten minutes.  I saw him go into a fairly steep dive and so I continued to watch, and then saw the triplane hit the ground and disappear into a thousand fragments, for it seemed to me that it literally went into powder."

The attack was generally credited to Davids, who also shot down the German pilot Carl Menckhoff when the latter came to Voss’ aid. Menckhoff survived the fight—one of the best-known aerial dogfights of World War I—to lead his own squadron throughout the end of the war. As for Voss, his bravery and skill was celebrated posthumously on both sides of the line. In James McCudden’s words: "His flying is wonderful, his courage magnificent and in my opinion he was the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see."

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