The Western Front Association

Contributed Articles

 

 

 

 

The Military Aircraft Used By The Germans On The Western Front In The Great War.

Second in a series of three covering British, French and German aircraft.

N.B.: In attempting to replicate the simple format of the WFA website article entitled THE MILITARY AIRCRAFT USED BY THE BRITISH EMPIRE ON THE WESTERN FRONT IN THE GREAT WAR' the writer was somewhat thwarted by the large number of German Marques and the plethora of Types, and/or Marks. For example, if we take the Marque Albatros Werke, it produced the following Types and Marks from 1914 to 1918: BI to BII, CI to CXII, DI to DVIII, JI to JII and W4 - in all five Types and 26 Marks. To add to this complexity, the production of many of these aircraft was spread across a maze of interwoven production and operational schedules that ran from 1914 to 1918. Accordingly, in an attempt to meet the principal objective of this article - detailing the flow of operational aircraft onto the Western Front battlefield - the aircraft Types are shown by the date of introduction into active service. And, where known, the date of the introduction of the last of the additional Marks is indicated. Other relevant information - such as optional or different aero-engines - is included as available. However, to the contrary, it should be noted that in the case of aero-engines, the majority used in the German aircraft of the Great War were mainly produced by just two manufacturers - Benz and Mercedes. The power plants produced by the other 6 Marques played a distinctly minor role.

If detailed information is required about a specific Marque, Type or Mark of German or Austrian aircraft, the reader is strongly advised to refer to the more detailed authoritative sources such as those listed in the References.

Introduction

The German State began its interest in lighter-than-air flight with the construction of the first Zeppelin airship in 1900. In March 1909 the first military Zeppelin airship entered into service with the German Army as the LZ1 (Zeppelin Luftschiff 1).

Accordingly, for some years the attention of the German military was largely diverted away from heavier-than- air flight. (There was no separate German Airforce throughout the Great War. Until October 1916, the German Army Air Service [GAAS] was considered part of the communications set-up of the Army. Thereafter the airforce element in the Army - The German Flying Corps - was established and became effective in 1917).

It was not until 1912, when the German Army learned of French plans for the development of a strong unit of heavier-than-air craft (L'Aèronautique Militaire), that plans were made to provide aircraft for attachment to each army, corps headquarters and fortress for reconnaissance purposes. In all, around 220 German aircraft were available at the outbreak of war in 1914. In addition there were seven military Zeppelins and three seconded civilian craft.

The annual budget for Army aviation in 1914 was 80 million Marks (�400,000) plus a good share of the annual general military budget of 800 million Marks.

Somewhat surprisingly, the technical quality of the early German heavier-than-air aircraft was not as good as the French, or the significantly less numerous British, and, in fact, many German aircraft were direct copies of French models.

Nearly all the remaining German and Austrian aircraft were versions of a centre-wing monoplane first designed by Igo Etrich in 1910. Etrich revoked his patent rights in 1914 to permit unfettered production of his design. This latter group of clones became known as the Taube type, and in the early part of the war all monoplane German military aircraft became known to the Allied troops as 'Taubes'.

All of the new mono- and biplane aircraft ordered in1914/15 - nominally 1,000 - had to comply with strict criteria:

  • Be entirely of German (or Austrian) manufacture.
  • Include attachments for bomb carrying and photographic equipment.
  • Maximum speed to be at least 90kpm and flying endurance of at least 4 hours.
  • Dimensions not to exceed: Span 14.5m; Length 12m; Height 3.5m; Power of engine 100hp.

However, once the German aviation industry got into its stride. the range of products was extraordinary. Over 50 aircraft construction companies were registered by the end of the war; although some were principally sub-contractors. Of these 50+ Marques only 18 played a significant role, and only these will be considered in detail here.

In 1914, the German aero-industry produced 1,348 military aircraft.

The roll call of the early German and Austrian aircraft on the Western Front

Though Germany and Austria had rather more aircraft available for service on the Western Front than their French and British counter parts (Germany 220, France 164 and Great Britain 63), the German air-fleet in 1914 was also a rather ad hoc lot.

Many of the aircraft were of the Taube (= The Dove) monoplane type made by several different German manufacturers, or direct copies of French aircraft. These early Taube aircraft can be represented by:

  • Kondor II. German. Type: Monoplane - centre wing - reconnaissance. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 100/120hp Mercedes 115kph max. MOA: 3,000m. Arms: Pistol/rifle and small hand bombs. Total built: 500.

Other marques were:

  • Albatros BI-III(1915). German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 100/120hp Mercedes 105kph max. MOA: 3,000m. Arms: Pistol/rifle. Total built: Not known.
  • Aviatik BI-III. German and Austrian. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance. Seater: two. Engine: Tractor, 100/160hp Mercedes 160kph max. MOA: Not known: Arms: Pistol/rifle. Total built: Not known.
  • Fokker AI-II. German. Type: Monoplane, reconnaissance. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 80hp Oberusel rotary 80kph. MOA: Unknown. Arms: Pistol/rifle: Total built: Small numbers.
  • Luft-Verkehrs Gellschaft LVG BI-II(1915). German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 100/120hp Mercedes 110kph max. MOA: Not known. Arms: Pistol/rifle. Total built: Not known.
  • Otto II, see LVG B
  • Pfalz AI-II. German (Bavarian) - copy of the French Morane-Saulnier L. Type: Monoplane, reconnaissance. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 80/100hp Oberursel rotary 100kph max. MOA: Not known. Arms: Pistol/rifle. Total built: Not known.
  • Rumpler BI. German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 100hp Mercedes 100kph max. MOA: Not known. Arms: Pistol/rifle. Total built: 200.

1915

The expectations that the GAAS had for their rigid airships* (eg. the Zeppelins) on the battlefield of the Western Front proved to be over optimistic.

*N.B.: There were other marques of operational rigid airships although all tended to fall under the generic name Zeppelin. Those supplied to the GAAS were: Zeppelin = 43; Schutte-Lanz = 10; Parseval = 6 and Gross-Basenach = 1. Not all were used operationally on the Western Front.

Despite further investment in, and the development of, these expensive and long production time machines, it soon became clear they were not well suited to a reconnaissance and bombing role over the trenches of the Western Front. The operational drawbacks being: their increased vulnerability to attack from the technically improved aircraft that were arriving on the Western Front; the increasing accuracy of enemy ground fire; and, by no means least, the problems presented by bad weather.

The role of the heavier-than-air German aircraft on the Western Front in 1914 and early 1915 was largely defensive. This German posture was greatly facilitated by the categorical intention of the British Royal Flying Corps, and to a lesser extent the French L'Aéronautique Militaire, to undertake constant offensive action into enemy territory. This strategy was subsequently formalised by the stated position of both the British Commanders, General Sir Douglas Haig, BEF and General Hugh Trenchard, RFC, who concurred that the air offensive should be "relentless and incessant".

Combined with the disadvantage of the prevailing wind from the West, this meant most aerial interaction took place over the German lines and base areas. Accordingly, the fighting generally took place under conditions more advantageous to the GAAS; not least of these advantages was that the German aircraft needed to carry less fuel, and that made them lighter and faster, and more agile in aerial combat.

As the skies became more crowded over the concentrations of the combattant armies locked in their trenches, personal confrontations with the enemy aviators became more frequent. So, both the Germans and the Allies took to taking into the air personal small arms such as a pistol, rifle, or small hand bombs; the latter to drop on enemy aircraft or to deter enemy ground-fire.

Also, like the British, the Germans developed two lighter, air-cooled, machine gun types for air combat - the Spandau and Parabellum - both of 7.92mm calibre and with more compact and robust magazines to better resist the buffeting of the air-stream during flight.

Aircraft first operational in 1915.

  • Aerowerke Gustav Otto AGO CI -III(1917). German. Type: Biplane - twin boomed tail - reconnaissance. Seater: Two. Engine: Pusher, 220hp Benz 136kph max. MOA: 4,500m. Arms: One Machinengenwehr 08, 7.92mm mg (known by Allies as 'The Spandau' - see Glossary). Total built. Not known, but small numbers.
  • Albatros CI and III(1916). German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 160/180hp Mercedes 140kph max. MOA: 3,380m. Arms: One Parabellum ring mounted or Spandau synchronised 0.792mm mg. Light bombs 90kg max. (CIII). Total built: Not known.
  • Aviatik CI-III(1916). German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance/artillery spotting/light bomber (CIII). Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 160hp/200hp Mercedes 140kph max. MOA: 3,500m. Arms: Rail mounted Parabellum 0.792mm mg. Total built: Not known, but large numbers.
  • Deutsche Flugzeug Werke DFW CI-V(1916). German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance. (CV). Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 150/200hp Benz 155kph max. MOA: 5,000m. Arms: Two Parabellum 7.92mm mgs. Bombs, 100kg max. Total built: More than 750.
  • Flugzeugbau Friedrichshafen FF33a-l(1915). German. Type: Biplane - seaplane with floats - fighter/ reconnaissance/ light bomber. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 150hp Benz 120kph max. MOA: Not known. Arms. Early versions pistol/rifle, later versions Spandau synchronised and Parabellum 7.92mm mgs. Light hand bombs. Total built: 500.
  • Fokker EI-IV(1916) German. Type: Monoplane, fighter (world's first). Engine: Tractor, 100/160hp Oberursel rotary 140kph max. MOA: 3,600m. Arms: One, later two, Spandau synchronised 07.92mm mgs. Total built: Over 300, including 20 supplied to Austria.
  • Gotha GI-V(1917). German. Type: Biplane - twin-finned tailplane - heavy bomber. Air crew: Three. Engine: Pusher, twin 200/260hp Mercedes 140kph max. MOA: 6,500m. Arms: Two Parabellum 7.92mm mgs. Later three, two on ring mounts in the front cockpit and on top of the fuselage, and one on the fuselage floor to fire underneath, to the sides and to the rear. Bombs, 14 of total 600kg. Total built: 230.
  • Luftfahrzeug Gelleschaft LFG Roland CII-IIa (1916) a.k.a. Walfisch [Whale] and to the BEF as 'The Slug'. German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 160hp Mercedes 165kph max. MOA: 4,000m. Arms: One Parabellum 7.92mm mg., later an additional Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mg. Total built: 300.
  • Luftfahrzeug Gelleschaft LFG Roland DI-III(1917) and VI-VIb(1918) a.k.a. Haifisch [Shark]). German. Type: Biplane, fighter. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 160hp Mercedes or 200hp Benz 183kph max. MOA: 5,800m. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 475.
  • Luft-Verkehrs Gelleschaft LVG CI-VI(1918), German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance/artillery spotting/light bomber. Seater Two: Engine: Tractor, 160/200 Benz 190kmp max. MOA: 5,000m. Arms: First German operational aircraft to be officially armed - Parabellum 7.92mm mg. on ring mount. Later versions had one Spandau synchronised and one Parabellum 7.92mm mgs. on ring mounts. Light bombs, 113kg max. Total built: Over 1,250.
  • Pfalz EI-V(1915), German. Type: Monoplane - mid-wing - reconnaissance. Seater: Single, later two (EIII). Engine: 80/100hp Oberusel rotary or 160hp Mercedes 145 kph max. MOA: 3,050m. Arms: One Parabellum 7.92mm mg. Later one Spandau synchronised 7.92mm. Total built: 100.
  • Rumpler CI-Ia, CIV(1916), CVII (1917) and CVIIR(1917), German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance - later radio (CVIIR) and photography/light bomber. Seater: Two. Engine: 100/160/240/260hp Mercedes 170kph max. MOA: 7,000m. Arms: One Spandau synchronised and one ring mounted Parabellum 7.72mm mgs. Bombs 100kg max. Total built: More than 250.

In April 1915, came the event that transformed the defensive stance of the German Army Air Service into a formidable fighting machine. This was the discovery that a French L'Aéronautique Militaire pilot, Roland Garros, had modified the propeller of his Morane-Saulnier L monoplane by attaching metal wedges to the blades. These safely deflected the forward fired machine gun bullets that hit the revolving blades allowing the remaining stream of bullets to pass unimpeded to the target. With this device Garros achieved some success.

Immediately, the German commanders asked Anthony Fokker, a renowned Dutch aircraft designer and manufacturer, who was in their employ, to come up with an effective counter-device. Using existing patent designs, Fokker quickly produced an interrupter gear which timed the bullets of a forward firing mounted machine gun to pass unimpeded through the blades of the revolving propeller. Mounted on a new design of aircraft - the Fokker E1 - the combination quickly became a stable and agile gun platform that dominated the air over the battlefield of the Western Front from the Winter of 1915 into the Spring of early 1916. This period was the first of the German scourges to decimate the Allied airforces and became known to the Allies as the 'Fokker Scourge'.

The production of German military aircraft had grown to 4,532 by the end of 1915.

1916

The dominance of the heavier-than-air aircraft in reconnaissance and bombing became more certain when the operational failure of the Zeppelins on the Western Front reached such a pitch that the German Army began to seriously reconsider their role. After several rigid airship losses in 1915 - only six were still operational in January 1916 - came the disaster on the Verdun Front, when the four rigid airships deployed there in February were quickly lost. From the Autumn of 1916, the German Army virtually lost all interest in rigid airships and by June 1917 most of the GAAS Zeppelin airships had been scrapped, with just a small complement of three transferred to the German Navy. However, the German High Command considered the other aspects of the Zeppelin campaign, such as coastal raids and attacks on mainland Britain, to be both effective and morale boosting on the Home Front. These attacks continued right through to the Armistice with 115 Zeppelins being used in these military operations.

Aircraft first operational in 1916

  • Albatros CV-XII(1918). German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance/light bomber. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 200/220/260hp Mercedes 175kph max. MOA: 5,000m. Arms: One Parabellum on ring mount and one Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Light bombs. Total built: Over 750.
  • Albatros DI-III(1917). German, some built by LGV. Type: Biplane, fighter. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 160/176hp Mercedes 176kph max. MOA: 5,500m.. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built: Unknown, but large numbers of DI's and DII's and more than 500 DIII's.
  • Albatros W4. German. Type: Biplane - float seaplane - fighter. Seater: Single: Engine: Tractor, 160hp Mercedes 161kph max. MOA: 3,000m. Arms: One or two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built. 108.
  • Allgemeine Elektricitats Gesellschaft AEG CII-IVa(1916). German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance/light bomber. Seater: Two, Engine: Tractor, 160/180hp Mercedes 160kph max. MOA: 5,000m. Arms: Two, 7.92mm Parabellum mgs. Bombs 90kg max. Total built: 658.
  • Allgemeine Elektricitats Gesellschaft AEG GI-IV(1917). German. Type: Biplane, bomber/reconnaissance/fighter. Crew: Three-four. Engine: Tractor, twin 260hp Mercedes 165kph max. MOA: 4,000m Arms: Two 7.92 mm Parabellum flexible mounted mgs, one in front cockpit, one in rear. Facility for firing under tail. Bombs 500kg max. Total built: 542.
  • Flugzeugbau Friedrichshafen GII-IIIa(1918). German. Type: Biplane, medium-heavy bomber. Air crew: Three. Engine: Pusher, twin 260hp Mercedes 141kph max. MOA: 4,510 Arms: Two to four Parabellum 7.92mm mgs. Bombs, 1,000kg max.(GII), 1,400kg max.(GIII). Total built: Large numbers with 338+ under licence by Hansa and Daimler..
  • Fokker DI-IV(1916). German. Type: Biplane, fighter. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 100/120hp Mercedes or 160 hp Oberusel rotary 175kph max. MOA: 5100m. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built. Unknown. 20 produced in Austria.
  • Halberstadt DI-V(1916). German. Type: Biplane, fighter. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 120hp Argus or 160hp Mercedes 145kph max. MOA: 4,000m. Arms: One, later two, Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 110 Mark I and II, smaller numbers of later Marks.
  • Hansa-Brandenburg CI, Austria, under licence. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance/artillery spotting/light bombing. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 160-230hp Austro-Daimler 140kph. MOA: 5,750m. Arms: One or two 8mm synchronised mgs. Light bombs. Total built. 68.
  • Hans-Brandenburg KDW11-12. German. Type: Monoplane - seaplane with floats - fighter. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 150/160hp Benz 170kph max. MOA: Not known: Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 60.
  • Rumpler 6B1-2(1917). German. Type: Biplane - seaplane with floats - fighter. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 160hp Mercedes 153kph max. MOA: 5.000m Arms: One Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mg. Total built: 88.

In October 1916, General Ernst von Hoeppner was appointed Kommandierender-General of the air force and undertook a radical reorganisation separating the various types of aircraft into battle units e.g. Jasters for fighters and Kagohls for bombers. Further reorganisation into Fighter and Pursuit units took place in December 1917

The production figure for German military aircraft in 1916 was 8,182.

1917

The second 'calvary' of the RFC occurred mainly in and around the Arras Sector in the Spring of 1917 with 'Bloody April': 151 British aircraft, and 316 aircrew, were lost against a German toll of only 66 and 119 respectively. The balance began to turn in the Allies favour in May 1917 when new, more technically advanced, Allied aircraft reached the Western Front in sufficient numbers.

In June 1917, the first (of four) German so-called 'Flying Circuses' was formed on the Western Front. The Fighter Group (Jagdgeschwader 1) of 48 highly skilled 'Chaser Formation' pilots was formed into four squadrons of 12 single seat fighter aircraft. It was led by the soon to be famous (or infamous) Rittmeister (Cavalry Captain) Manfred von Richthofen. Highly mobile, and under the direct control of GAAS Headquarters, the units quickly moved to crucial hot spots and had an immediate impact on the Allied air forces.

There was also a trend toward the development of special aircraft, some heavily gunned and armoured, for supporting the infantry in the trenches, e.g. Halberstadt CL. But the tide had turned and the German aircraft industry was unable to cope with the Allied production figures and the comparable German losses were increasingly heavy.

None-the-less, in anticipation of the entry of the United States into the war, the reorganisation of the air force continued apace - the America Programme - with both fighter and bomber strength being considerably augmented.

Aircraft first operational in 1917

  • Albatross DV and Va(1918). German. Type: Biplane, fighter. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 180hp Mercedes187kph max. MOA: 6,250m. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 1,512.
  • Albatross JI-II(1918). German. Type: Biplane, armoured ground strafer. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 200hp Benz 140kph max. MOA: Not known. Arms: Three Parabellum 0.792mm mgs. mounted to fire forwards and downwards through the fuselage. Total built: Not known, but only small numbers.
  • Allgemeine Elektricitats AEG JI-II. German. Type: Biplane, armoured ground strafer. Seater: Two, pilot and gunner. Engine: Tractor, 200hp Benz 150kph max. MOA: 3000m. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised and one ring mounted Parabellum 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 600.
  • Flugzeugbau Friedrichshafen FF49a-b. German. Type: Biplane - seaplane with floats - reconnaissance. Engine: Tractor, 200hp Benz 150kph max. MOA: Not known. Arms: One Parabellum on ring mount and one Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. In 49b version, light bombs in lieu of mgs. Total built: 218.
  • Fokker DVI. German. Type: Biplane, fighter. Seater: One. Engine: Tractor, 110hp Oberursel rotary 170mph max. MOA: 4,000m. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92 mgs. Total built: 59.
  • Fokker Dr1. German. Type: Triplane, fighter. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 110hp Oberusel rotary or 110hp Le Rhone rotary or 160hp Goebel Goe or 160hp Siemens Halkse185kph max. MOA: 6,000m: Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 318.
  • Gotha WD-XIV. German. Type: Biplane, torpedo bomber, later long distance reconnaissance. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, twin 220bhp Benz 170kph max. MOA: 3,000m. Arms: Two Parabellum 7.92mm mgs., one torpedo. Total built: 69.
  • Halberstadt CIII-V(1918). German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance/photo-reconnaissance (1918). Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 220hp Benz 165kph max. MOA: 7,500m. Arms: One Spandau synchronised, one ring mounted Parabellum 7.92 mgs. Total built: Unknown, but large numbers.
  • Haberstadt CLII-IV(1918). German, Type: Biplane, reconnaissance/ground strafer. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 160hp Mercedes or 185hp BMW 170mph max. MOA: 5,100m. Arms: One Spandau synchronised, one or two ring mounted Parabellum mgs. Bombs, 50kg max. Total built: Not known
  • Hansa-Brandenburg CC-A. German/Austrian by Phonix. Type: Biplane - seaplane with floats - fighter, Seater: Single. Engine: Pusher, 150hp Benz or 185hp Austro Daimler 175kph max. MOA: 6,400m. Arms: One or two Spandau synchronised 7.92 mgs. Total built: 39 by Germans, much greater numbers by Austrians.
  • Hansa-Brandenburg W12. German. Type: Monoplane - seaplane with floats -reconnaissance. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 150hp Mercedes 161kph. MOA: 5,100m. Arms: One or two Spandau synchronised and one Parabellum ring mounted 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 145.
  • Hansa-Brandenburg W29 and 33(1918). German. Type: Monoplane - low winged - seaplane with floats - ship attacker. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 185/260hp Benz 165kph max. MOA: Not known. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built: W29 = 70 and W33 = 30.
  • Junkers J1 (Mobelwagen = Furniture van). German. Type: Biplane, radio reconnaissance/ infantry support/ground strafer. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 200hp Benz 155kph max. MOA: Not known. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised or two Parabellum 7.92mm mgs. the latter mounted for ground attack. Total built: 227.
  • Pfalz DIII-IIIa(1918). German. Type: Biplane, fighter. Seater: Single: Engine: Tractor, 160/180hp Mercedes 165kph max. MOA: 4,500m. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 1,000.
  • Pfalz Dr1. German. Type: Triplane, fighter. Seater: One. Engine: 160hp Siemens Halske rotary 201kph max. MOA: 5,180. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.93mm. Total built: 10.
  • Siemens-Schuckert Werke SSW DI/III. German. Copy of French Nieuport 17. Type: Biplane, fighter. Engine: Tractor, 110hp Siemens Halske 173kph max. MOA: 5,300/8,080m. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mg. Total built: 94.

At the end of 1917, German aircraft production still lagged beyond the monthly projected target of 2,000. The total production of military aircraft for the year 1917 was 19,746.

The Germans were beginning to lose the air munitions war.

1918

Despite the evident superiority of the Allies in the air, General Ludendorff and his mentor Field Marshal Hindenburg decided to launch what we would today call a Blitzkreig. The attack began on March 31st along the east of the former Somme battlefield in Northern France. The GAAS had an important role to play, not least with its new armoured fighters called 'Ground strafers' or 'Contour Fighters'. The die was cast for the definitive battles of the war.

Aircraft first operational in 1918

  • Fokker DVII (Also manufactured by Albatros). German. Type: Biplane, fighter. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 180hp Mercedes and 185hp BMW 200kph max. MOA: 6,000m: Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 760.
  • Fokker DVIII, German. Type: Monoplane - high-winged - fighter: Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 110hp Oberusel rotary 185kph max. MOA: 6,200m. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 85 in service at Armistice
  • Hannoversche, CLII-IIIc. German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance/ground strafer. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 160/180hp Argus 165kph max. MOA: 7,500m. Arms: One Spandau synchronised, one ring mounted Parabellum 7.92mm mgs. Total build: Over 1,000.
  • Junkers D1 a.k.a J9. German. Type: Monoplane, fighter; first all metal aircraft. Seater: Two. Engine: Tractor, 180hp Mercedes or 185hp BMW 185kph max. MOA: 6,000m. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 47; 41 assigned to the Western Front, a few on Eastern Front.
  • Junkers CLI. German. Type: Biplane, reconnaissance. Seater: Two: Engine: Tractor, 180hp Mercedes 170kph max. MOA: Not known. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised and one Parabellum 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 47.
  • Pfalz, DXII. German. Type: Biplane, fighter. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 180hp Mercedes or 185 BMW 180kph max. MOA: 5,610m. Arms: Two Spandau synchronised 7.92 mgs. Total built. 800.
  • Siemens Schuckert DIV. German. Type: Biplane, fighter. Seater: Single. Engine: Tractor, 200hp Siemens Halske 190kph max. MOA: 6,400m. Arms: Two Spandau 7.92mm mgs. Total built: 119.

On 21st March 1918, despite the debilitating effect of the Allied naval and economic blockade, the German High Command still had the power and organisation to launch 3,668 aircraft into the Kaiserschlacht Offensive. Although Allied losses in men and aircraft in the ensuing weeks were considerably greater than those of the Germans, the Allies' reserves of manpower and machines were infinitely superior, with that superiority increasing every day, thanks to the enormous American contribution. By May 1918 the Allied squadrons, were virtually dominant in the air. And by July the progressive collapse of the German Air War Machine was clear to everyone.

From August 1918 the GAAS was forced into a purely defensive role

Production of German military aircraft in 1918 declined considerably. By the Armistice in November, it had only reached 14,123, making a total for the duration of 48,537, representing a huge investment of manpower and resources.

However, at the Armistice, Germany still had, overall, 2,700 operational aircraft against 22,000 British and 15,000 French; another 15,000 American aircraft were in the pipeline.

Conclusions

After a slow start, mainly due to the pre-occupation of the GAAS with lighter-than-air, rigid airships, the Germans quickly learned the value of the heavier-than-air aircraft for reconnaissance and artillery spotting. They also realised that to seize control of the air, by dint of technological advances, gave them a considerable degree of domination of the battlefield itself. Over two extended periods, they did exactly that. Firstly, in late 1915 to April 1916, and again in 1917 when squadrons of new innovative German aircraft wreaked a terrible toll of Allied aviators and aircraft. The month of April 1917 was particularly costly for the Allies, and became known as 'Bloody April'.

The Germans also realised the morale boosting and propaganda value of publicising the successes of their aviators by emulating the French and establishing their own 'Ace' system (five, later 10, confirmed victories). Also there were generous numbers of awards of the highest military decoration - Pour le Mérite or 'Blue Max'. If the five-victory criterion is used for comparative purposes, 364 German pilots achieved the status of 'Ace'.

The operational strength of the GAAS rose from 220 in August 1914 to 3,500 in November 1918, with an overall total of 47,000 aircraft being deployed during the war; a tremendous investment in men and material. About German 3,000 aircraft ( = 6%) were lost in action. In the process, almost equal numbers of their aviators were killed or injured; 6,840 and 7,350 respectively.

Most commentators agree that, after a mediocre start, the GAAS fielded an exceptional quality of military aircraft. Along with the British, they were the prime innovators of technology, strategy and tactics only to run out of both ingenuity and reserves in the end.

Glossary

Monoplane = Aircraft with one set of wings.

Biplane = Aircraft with two sets of wings, ranged one above the other.

Triplane = Aircraft with three sets of wings, ranged one above the other. Famously used by Manfred von Richthofen in his 'Flying Circus'.

Pusher = Aircraft driven by engine(s) with the propeller(s) behind the engine and usually mounted behind the pilot. Gave uninterrupted forward view for pilot/observer/gunner.

Tractor = Aircraft driven by engine(s) behind the propeller(s) and usually mounted in front of the pilot.

Single seater = Pilot only.

Two seater = Pilot and observer/gunner.

Air crew = Three or more crew members, i.e. pilot, observer(s), gunner(s) and bomb aimer. Some German accounts mention 'passengers'.

hp = Horsepower = traction power of engine

kph = Kilometres per hour = airspeed.

MOA = Maximum operation altitude. Also known as ceiling.

mg = Maschinengewehr = machine gun; mgs = machine guns.

7.92mm = German standard calibre of bullet used in machine guns and rifles.

Spandau mg = Allied misnomer for standard German Maschinengewehr 08 mg that was modified in 1915 for use with synchronised interrupter gear. Produced by the Spandau arsenal, Berlin and clearly franked as such, hence the name.

Parabellum mg = Specially adopted by GAAS for aerial warfare and in use from late 1914. Not suitable for synchronisation with propeller interrupter gear. Usually mounted on a metal ring, or rail, to give a better all-round field of fire.

Synchronised = The use of an interrupter gear to time a forward firing machine gun(s) so that the bullets pass through the revolving propeller without hitting the blades.

Radial engine = The cylinders were arranged like the arms of a star-fish around the central shaft that rotated the propeller.

Rotary engine = The entire engine block, including the cylinders, rotated around a central shaft. The propeller was fixed to the engine block and rotated with it.

In-line and V engines: The cylinders in an in-line engine were aligned in a straight line. In a V engine there were two parallel rows of in-line cylinders that joined at the base to form a V shaped engine block . If not stated other wise in the text, the aero-engines may be assumed to be single in-line row of cylinders and liquid-cooled as opposed to air-cooled. Usually there were six, eight or twelve cylinders in a V engine.

References

The detailed references available to the non-specialist reader on German aircraft in the Great War are quite limited and, naturally, many are written in German.

In particular the author made wide use of two English language in-print sources:

  • The first was the monochrome illustrated volume Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War I, (2001) Random House Group, London. ISBN 1 851 70 347 0.

This book is a montage of the contents of the 1914-1919 editions of Jane's All the World Aircraft. This current volume has 1,000 illustrations (of which 195 concern German aircraft) and has many technical drawings. It gives in detail the then available technical information about most of the German Marques. However, full details are not always given of the full range of operational Types and Marks, and specific minutiae, such as operational height and armaments, are by no means uniformly given. Accordingly, it can be a bit frustrating at times if the details of one specific Type and Mark of aircraft are sought.

  • The second is the more general reference, The Macmillan Dictionary of the First World War'. It provides a surprising amount of detailed technical information about all the warplanes of the Great War, and is highly recommended. Of course, being a dictionary, the itemised information is organised alphabetically by individual aircraft Marque and is not collated in an analytical way.

An out-of-print Italian reference, in French, was also used by the author. It gives

in considerable detail technical descriptions, and illustrations,of many German aircraft. The original publication is entitled Guida agli aerplani di tutto mondi. 1.Dalle origini alla prima guerra mondiale,by Enzo Angelucci and Paulo Matricardi, published in 1975 by Europa Verlag and Aldo Mondadori Editori. The French edition is Les avions 1./ des origins à la première guerre mondiale published in 1978 by Elsevier Séquoia, Bruxelles, Belgique. ISBN 2 8003 0243 7.

(Edited December 2004)

Dr David Payne

  Back to the top