Rupp’s Sketchbook

The year is 1974.  Richard Nixon has been subpoenaed to hand over the Watergate tapes,  Patty Hearst has been kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and Disco music is beginning to dominate the airwaves on our cassette decks.   It has been ten years since the novel The Blue Max was published, thirty years since the end of World War II and almost sixty years since Baron Von Richthofen terrorized the skies with his Flying Circus.

Towards the back pages of the New York Times, this small article appeared….

“The Federal Goverment releases today thousands of  documents recently “de-classified” from World War II.  Among those documents is information never previously released about a number of secret operations including “Operation Nursery”.  This operation conducted on German soil  was focused on capturing Nazis attempting to leave the country as the war was winding down.  Information about this effort was originally leaked in 1945, but this newest release is much broader, including records and artifacts gathered in Germany during its execution.  Some of these artifacts are considered historically significant and have been released to the archivists at the Smithsonian Institution for further study.

Current Smithsonian Secretary Dillon Ripley commented, ” Our archivists are thrilled to have been given these materials by the government.  They give us direct insight into the Nazi leadership in Germany and what happened during the waining days of the Regime.  Suprisingly some of the items provided may give us insight into World War I as well.  One item we are particularly interested in is a simple journal labelled “Rupp’s Sketchbook”.  This appears to be the detailed rememberances of Unteroffizier Gerhardt Rupp a staff officer and clerk for a German Jasta located near Cambrai.  This journal is packed full of written text, photos, reports and sketches that should  give us unique insight into life in the German Luftstreitkräfte.

Pic1 Journal

What Ripley did not comment on, that is raising controversy about this release, is that Gerhardt Rupp has the same name as a character in the book and film The Blue Max  written by Jack D. Hunter.  This book focused on the life of Bruno Stachel, a WWI Ace flying for Germany in 1918 and lead to a marginally successful film starring George Peppard in 1965.  Mr. Hunter served during World War II as an intelligence officer and actually participated in “Operation Nursery”.  His involvement and the surfacing of this journal is raising a lot of questions among World War I historians regarding the details of his novel and the possibility that it includes more fact than fiction.

Mr. Hunter was not available for comment, but the Smithsonian has promised to make the sketchbook available to the public once they have reviewed its condition and properly preserved it.”

So that’s the set up for The Blue Max Project art project.

My plan is to develop “Rupp’s Sketchbook”, a graphic journal that retells The Blue Max story from Gerhardt Rupp’s perspective.  Rupp was the squads informant, smuggler, pornographer and general troublemaker.  The Hauptmann relied on him for “insider” info on his squad, Bruno relied on him for black market alcohol, Willi and others relied on him for an underground mail service outside of the censors.  He has a presence in the novel from beginning to end and will provide a unique perspective on the story.  He was also a survivor that collected information on others to protect himself, so it makes sense that his journal is packed with detailed information never shared before regarding this story.   War time sketches, photographs, copies of reports, correspondence, you would have expected Rupp to collect whatever he needed to have the dirt on everyone else.






I intend to issue pages of the sketchbook on a serial basis, so folks can read along week by week.  I won’t start releasing them until enough is developed that the story can unfold on a regular basis.  My guess is this may be a year out.  I don’t want to give up the details of the story ahead of time, but will likely leak images of some of the artwork as it develops.

I guess the first step is knowing what you want to do…….so the journey begins!

The Blue Max Timeline and other Goodies

Manfred Von Richthofen recorded his first kill in September 1916 and his last in April 1918.  He was 25 years old when he died and over those 17 months he shot down 80 planes.  He was arguably the most successful World War I flying ace and a rarity in this early age of military aviation.  Over 14,000 pilots died on the Allied side during WWI.  More than half of those were accidents.   The life expectancy of a WWI pilot depending on the period during the war.  Early the statistics showed about 5 months, late closer to 4 weeks.  Some claim that during the period of time referred to as “Bloody April” it was less than an hour.

I have finally reached the end of my “research” stage of The Blue Max Project, so I thought I would share some of the resources I put together over the last four months.  Most of these will be listed in the “story” tab of the blog.  The following is simple list of the Chapters in the book and a description of what happened.  I thought it would be interesting to put them over a historical timeline to show what was going on while Bruno Stachel made his way from a new Leutnant to the Hauptmann of his squad.  A brief seven months and during that time most of Stachel’s flying mates are killed off one by one.  Historically accurate, but chilling none the less.  Stachel like Richthofen was a rarity for  his success and longevity.





The following is my “cliff notes” for the book itself.  It is an excel file with every chapter outlines.  The excel file is available at the bottom of this post, but her is what a typical page looks like.  It is a summary of the chapter plus a description of any sorties that occur.



And finally, started long ago, the promised German to English Glossary.



Finally below is the excel work book that has all the data I’ve gathered.  All of this is a bit dry, but its the resources I need to start work on my project!  I will post next week in greater detail on exactly what that project will be.

Book Outline_12-24

The Thirteenth Plane of The Blue Max


Chilling image.  Where does evil come from?  How did that innocent young man become Hermann Göring the notorious nazi war criminal, the founder of the Gestapo, second in command to Adolf Hitler and the leader of the Luftwaffe in World War II?

Many feel answering that question  is what drove Jack Hunter to write The Blue Max.  He had seen evil first hand during World War II as an American intelligence officer attempting to capture Nazis fleeing Germany at the end of the war. Some feel this novel was his attempt to reconcile what he saw.

Writing a novel in the 1960’s set during World War 1  from the perspective of a flawed and obsessive German fighter pilot was a unique choice to say the least.   The very factual description of the planes and sorties described in the novel still resonate with aviation enthusiasts today.  Fact and fiction intertwine in the novel and never so strongly as in the final chapters of the book where the Thirteenth Plane is introduced.

It is August of 1918 and Hauptmann Heidemann  has invited Bruno Stachel to the air trails in Johannisthal outside Berlin.


They are slated to fly the Adler D-11 designed by Heinrich Stolz.  Bruno was not too impressed with this prototype fighter.

The Adler offering was a biplane, conventional in appearance except for it cabane and interplane struts, which were of the single “I” configuration that Tony Fokker had used in the outer bay of his 1917 triplane.  Stachel did not like those struts; they seemed flimsy and inadequate for the stress he knew combat flying would generate.  Nor did he approve of the smallish, spade-shaped vertical fin and rudder; he was no engineer, but it was apparent even to him that this component’s area was insufficient to guarantee lateral stability.  As he and Heidemann stood beside the idling machine and listened to the Aircraft Production Directorate’s technical representative explain various features, he became intuitively convinced that the Adler D-11 would prove to be a waste of time for everyone, from its designer to those who would fly it today.

Bruno’s intuition was on the money, in his test flight when the plane went into a spin, the flying wires sagged and the interplane strut moved in its socket.

The Adler, he knew, would kill at any moment.

This discovery lead to one the most dramatic moments in the novel, where Bruno struggles with the good and evil inside himself and initially decides not to tell Heidemann that the plane is flawed.  At the last minute he changes his mind and blocks Heidemann’s route before he takes off to warn him.  This act by Bruno is seen as his salvation, but his past sins and Heidemann’s own weaknesses affect the outcome.  A drunk major at the demonstration spilled a brandy on Bruno’s uniform so he smells of alcohol.  Heidemann is sure Bruno is drunk ( and surely he has been through most of the novel)  and just trying to embarrass him.   Blinded by his own confidence, he waves Bruno away.  Barely 50 meters off the ground disaster strikes.

There was a thundering, and the sun was blotted out by the upper wing, which inexplicably hung above and to one side, billowing and snapping like a wind-torn sheet.  A vicious twanging sounded as the flying wires tore loose, and there was a horrid shrieking.  The horizon began an eccentric whirling, and his head slammed forward against the machine-gun butts.

plane on fire

Hauptmann Heidemenn was killed as the plane crashed to the ground.  Bruno was selected by the Kogenluft to take his place as the new Hauptmann for his squad.

You won’t find anything about the Adler D-11 in the history of World War I aviation.  It is completely fictional.  The event however is not.  It is commonly believed that the disaster described in these final chapters where based on an actual historical event that intertwines the story of Bruno Stachel with Herman Göring

Wilhelm Reinhard was a 20 victory German ace who became the Commanding Officer of Jasta 6 in November of 1917.  He was promoted to Hauptmann in March 1918. Following the death of Manfred Von Richtohfen in April of the same year, Reinhard assumed command of JG1.  In July 1918, he attended aircraft trials near Adlershof.  Hermann Göring of Jasta 27 also attended the trails.


Both Wilhelm Reinhard and Hermann Göring were scheduled to fly a radical new airplane at the competition,  the all-metal Dornier Zeppelin D.I  which was one of the first planes of the era with a metal stressed-skin.   The revolutionary Dornier fighter had not passed the official construction and delivery regulations, yet its testing was still permitted.


Hermann Göring flew the plane first, but it had problems and  was supposed to have been grounded pending structural upgrades.  For reasons unknown, Reinhard was allowed to take the plane up later on during the trails and was killed when the top wing broke free while pulling out of a dive. JG1 had lost its second commander in just five weeks!   Following Reinhard’s death, in July of 1918, Göring was transferred from JG III to JG1 to assume command.  This lineage in JG1 as the second successor of Manfred Von Richtohfen helped Göring build his post war success that put him in a position of power and infamy during World War II

Fact, Fiction…..Fate?  Bruno was so close to salvation, but failed in the end. This failure lead to him accepting his fate as a fundamentally flawed man.  In Goring’s case he used someone else’s tragedy to launch his own infamous career.  What if Göring had flown after Reinhard? How would history have been different?

These two stories mix and blur together in the final chapter of  The Blue Max,  Stachel and Göring  cross paths in a bar where Göring is lecturing a group of men about the future leadership in Germany, foreshadowing the coming of the Nazi regime.  Stachel refers to Göring as “Squareface” and comments to him that he gave “quite a speech”.  Göring responds.

“I fell very deeply about those things.  Germany’s future will be in the hands of men like you and me.”

Stachel raised a finger to the barman.  Giving Squareface his most sincere gaze, he said:

“I’ll drink to that.”

And with that..I add the Thirteenth Plane to my plane set, mixing the fictional Adler D-III with the factual Dornier Zeppelin D.I, their history intertwined much like that of Stachel and Göring.


The Planes of The Blue Max

How do you spend your time?  What are you passionate about?  What are you an expert at?

Over the last four months this journey that is “The Blue Max Project” has shown me that World War 1 Aviation History surfaces in many different mediums and with different groups of people. There are model makers, radio control pilots, artists, historians, mechanics, computer programmers that have embraced this part of history and spend thousands of hours trying to capture some part of it.  When Jack Hunter wrote The Blue Max that same passion came thru his work and it still resonates today with many of these same people.

With that in mind I have hit one of the research milestones I wanted to complete to prepare for the art project.  I  wanted to create a visual resource archive for the planes represented in The Blue Max.  Under the Sources tab I have added “The Planes of The Blue Max” and I tried to represent  each plane with a mix of information that represents this wide ranging community.  You will find Flight Sim plan and elevation views combined with both vintage and current era photographic images.  In some cases I included images from physical and computer animated models.   I added plane specifications as well as a brief description of what role these planes played in Jack Hunter’s novel.  The planes are arranged in the order they occur in the novel.

The images are combined in the”poster” view below, but if you follow this link you can view the high resolution versions where you can read the commentary.

I also want to thank all those folks at the Wing Walkers, The Black Haze and The Aerodrome have provided commentary and support along the way in 2013!