Erich von Salzmann: the man behind the ‘Red Air Fighter’
Born in Stettin on 22 July 1876, Erich von Salzmann was the son of a Prussian Generalleutnant, Paul von Salzmann. After schooling, he followed his father to become an army officer. Commissioned as Leutnant in August 1894, he served in the Lowersilesian Feldartillerie-regiment Nr. 5. In 1900, he was with the Ostasiatisches (East Asian) Feldartillerie-regiment, taking part in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion around Beijing.
Remaining in China with the Ostasiatische Besatzungsbrigade (East-asian Occupation Brigade) until 1903, he transferred to German South-west Africa in 1904. As an Oberleutnant, he participated in the war against the Herero and was ambushed and severely wounded. He left Africa for Germany where surgery left Salzmann with one leg 5cm shorter than the other.
In 1906, he was honourably discharged with a pension but with civilian employment and a right to continue wearing uniform. He had been decorated with the Prussian Order of the Crown, 4th Class with Swords, and Russian Order of St. Stanislaus, 3rd Class.
Salzmann worked as author and journalist, and in 1903 his ‘Im Sattel durch Zentralasien: 6,000 Kilometer in 176 Tagen’ was published. In it, he describes an adventurous 6,000 km journey in 1903 from Tientsin, China, to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on a pony and accompanied by his Chinese batman, an adventure which included crossing the Gobi Desert. In 1905, ‘Im Kampf gegen die Herero’ covered his experiences in the German ‘South West’.
From 1908, Salzmann lived in Tokyo and Beijing as correspondent for the August-scherl publishing house, Berlin, and in July 1914 he was in South America but returned to Germany to successfully re-enlist, being given command of the 2nd Battery of Reserve-feldartillerieregiment
On 15 January 1915, during fighting on the Yser River, Flanders, one of the guns of Salzmann’s battery received a direct hit and a shell splinter hit him in the head, leaving him partially blind. Decorated with both classes of Iron Cross, Salzmann’s military career had ended, and he went back to work as a journalist and author.
Among other clients, he was war correspondent for the ‘Vossische Zeitung’ in Berlin and in 1915 published: ‘Über die Weltmeere zur deutschen Front in Flandern. Eine Kriegsodyssee’.
With the growing popularity of Manfred von Richthofen, Salzmann took an interest in the man but only met him during the Spring of 1917 in Douai. A recent suggestion that Salzmann was Manfred’s teacher at the cadet academy in Wahlstatt or Großlichterfelde has no credibility. No evidence exists that he taught at either academy.
As ghostwriter, he wrote ‘Der rote Kampfflieger‘ and ‘Richthofen. Ein Heldenleben‘, without it being acknowledged publicly. How long Salzmann remained in Germany after 1920 is unknown, but he was a member of the ‘Stahlhelm’ and later joined the NSDAP. He seems to have gone back to the Far East soon afterwards.
Between 1925 and 1932, he wrote six books about China. In addition, he remained a correspondent for several German newspapers.
He died in Shanghai on 1 December 1941.