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Boelcke's Dicta

"I will be like Boelcke!"  German Pilots' Motto
During the first half of the Great War, pilots and commanders were still sorting out what role aircraft might have in modern warfare. No one had fought a major war with aircraft before. There was no shortage of theories, but there were no established rules nor veterans to guide eager young pilots. Brave men learned their craft by trial and error. Those who made mistakes seldom lived long enough to learn from them, let alone tell anyone else what they had learned.

In 1915, Leutnant Oswald Boelcke was the pilot chosen to test
Anthony Fokker's new machine gun synchronizing device. It was a great success and Boelcke, flying the Fokker Eindecker, used this new invention to become the first German ace.
Oswald Boelcke and Fokker E.III Eindecker
He and Leutnant Max Immelmann were awarded the Orden Pour le Mérite (Blue Max) on January 12th, 1916. They were the first two pilots to receive Prussia's highest award for bravery. By the summer of the same year, Immelmann had been killed and Boelcke had become Germany's top fighter pilot.
Oswald Boelcke wearing Pour le Mérite

Pour le Mérite
Blue Max     Boelcke's Fokker E.I Eindecker

Kaiser Wilhelm II
At the end of June 1916, by order of Kaiser Wilhelm, Boelcke was forbidden to fly. He had become too important to the German Air Service to expose himself to the dangers of aerial combat any longer. Not only because was a hero to the German people, but also, and perhaps more so, because Boelcke had become an outstanding leader and teacher, as well as the foremost authority on aerial tactics.
Naturally Boelcke was displeased at being grounded and in consolation, was sent on an inspection tour of Turkey.
In Charleville, for a few days before leaving, he met with Chef des Feldflugwesens Oberstleutnant Hermann Thomsen of the German High Command and his staff. With Boelcke contributing his experience and knowledge, they discussed the further development of military aviation, the creation of the fighter arm and the organization of Jagdstaffeln; literally translated: hunting echelons.

It was during this meeting that Oberstleutnant Thomsen urged Boelcke to draw up a summary of principles that should govern every air fight. In September 1916, Boelcke published the doctrine of the German Air Service. His list of eight 'rules' for success is often referred to as the 'Dicta Boelcke'.
OberstLtn Hermann Thomsen

  1. Try to secure advantages before attacking. If possible, keep the sun behind you.

  2. Always follow through an attack when you have started it.

  3. Fire only at close range, and only when your opponent is properly in your sights.

  4. Always keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.

  5. In any form of attack it is essential to assail your opponent from behind.

  6. If your opponent dives on you, do not try to evade his onslaught, but fly to meet it.

  7. When over enemy lines, never forget your line of retreat.

  8. For the Staffel: Attack in groups of four or six. When the fight breaks up into a series of single combats, take care that several do not go for one opponent.

Boelcke travelled to Turkey via Austria and on the return journey visited Bulgaria and the Russian Front. It was here he interviewed several pilots with the intent on finding exceptional men to form his new Jagdstaffel on the Western Front. He chose a young Leutnant Manfred von Richthofen and a much older Leutnant Erwin Böhme. Von Richthofen became his most brilliant pupil, Böhme his closest friend.
Böhme and Boelcke at Bertincourt
During his six week absence from the Western Front, the British had gained local air superiority in launching the Battle of the Somme. Boelcke was urgently recalled to re-establish and lead the fighter unit he had been building before his departure.
On August 27th, 1916, Jasta 2 was created from FEA7 in accordance with Chef des Feldflieger West von Nr.22429 Fl. The first aircraft were received on September 1st, two Fokker D.IIIs from Armee Flugpark 1 (AFP1), and an Albatros D.II from Jasta 1. Boelcke scored the unit's first victory, his 20th, on September 2nd, and on the 14th became the first pilot to score five victories with the Jasta.
Before his death, forty-four days later, Hauptmann Boelcke would go on to score a total of 40 aerial victories. A feat which only nine German airmen would surpass before the Great War ended on November 11th, 1918.
Boelcke's final victory

The Demise of Boelcke

"Why did he, the irreplaceable, have to be the victim of this blind fate, and why not I?"
 Erwin Böhme.
On the afternoon of Saturday, October 28, 1916, Boelcke and Jagdstaffel 2 were scrambled to intercept Major Lanoe Hawker’s No.24 Squadron. It was Boelcke's sixth patrol of the day over the Somme, and in his haste to get airborne, had neglected to strap himself securely into the cockpit — a mistake born from exhaustion that would soon prove fatal.
With Erwin Böhme on his wing, the great German tactician led his patrol over Flers and up against two DH2's from Hawker’s Squadron.
Lanoe Hawker
de Havilland Airco DH2
Boelcke attacked Canadian ace Capt. Arthur Knight; Manfred von Richthofen dove on the other DH2, piloted by Lt. Alfred E. Mckay. Soon, a whirlwind dogfight raged, with planes zipping all over the sky. As usual, Böhme stayed close to his leader.
Suddenly, while attempting a practiced manoeuvre of forcing their opponent down by barring his way; Lt. Mckay — being pursued by von Richthofen, cut in front of both Boelcke and Böhme.
Boelcke had to make a hard right turn to avoid colliding with the Canadian flyer. As he did, his wing scuffed the undercarriage of Böhme’s Albatros D.II. It was barely a collision, Böhme recalled later, but it was enough to be Boelcke’s undoing.
Boelcke and Böhme collide 28/10/16
Autographed Boelcke Sanke card
With fabric torn off the upper plane, his Albatros fell out of control toward the front lines below. The master airman fought his plane all the way down fighting the gusting winds and even managed to make a relatively soft crash landing near a German battery, despite eventually losing the entire upper plane. But since he was not properly strapped in, even the modest impact of the crash killed him. Böhme, whose plane was also damaged, managed to make a successful crash-landing.

Later that evening a lone British flyer dropped a wreath while circling the aerodrome of Jasta 2 at Lagnicourt. The inscription read: "To the Memory of Captain Boelcke, our Brave and Chivalrous Opponent. From, the English Royal Flying Corps."

Although historically accurate in terms of characters and events, the legend of Boelke's demise may not be without myth. This commonly accepted account is based solely on Professor Johannes Werner's translation of Erwin Böhme's writings - the only known account of the accident; and has been disputed by many aviation historians. Questions have been raised as to the accuracy of the theory: Had his lap belt been tight, Boelcke would have survived.
Some suggest Albatros D.II 386/16 was completely destroyed on impact and
it is unlikely Böhme ever made a close inspection of the aircraft once on the ground. This belief has been further reinforced with the publishing of misidentified photos of the crash site. (see thumbnails in the gallery below) Even others have remarked that Böhme's recollection of the accident contradict the image of the safe and careful Oswald Boelcke. This controversy will no doubt continue until indisputable evidence is found.

The Great War in the air produced many heroes, but unlike others who took the secrets of their success to their graves, Hauptmann Oswald Boelcke left behind his 'Dicta' and a small group of men he had personally tutored. Several of these men went on to become accomplished aces in their own rights.
Arthur Knight
Boelcke's star pupil, Manfred von Richthofen, claimed Lanoe Hawker VC as his eleventh victory on November 23rd, 1916 and on December 20th, 1916 avenged Boelcke when he shot down and killed Capt. Knight at Monchy au Bois. The Red Baron's 13th victim.

Leutnant Böhme eventually became commander of Jasta 2 and was shot down in flames November 29th, 1917, as he attacked a No.10 Sqdn RFC Armstrong-Whitworth F.K.8 on a photo-reconnaissance mission over Zonnebeke. Just five days earlier he had been awarded the coveted Orden Pour le Mérite.

The other participant in the legendary engagement; Canadian ace Capt. Mckay was killed in action only a month later when on December 28th his SPAD was shot down by Uffz Heinrich Carstens and Vfw Wilhelm Schloer on a Schusta 28b two-seater, between Gheluvelt and Dadizeele, northwest of Tenbrielen.
Von Richthofen eventually carried on Boelcke's role as Germany's top fighter pilot and mentor, with his own additional dicta.
Rittmeister Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen flew his last patrol April 21st, 1918.

"I am only a fighting airman, but Boelcke was a hero."
 Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred von Richthofen

Prototype DH2
de Havilland Airco DH2

Superior to the Fokker E.III, the DH2 helped end the "Fokker Scourge"

Account of the accident by Erwin Böhme
A letter written in Lagnicourt to his love Annamarie on 31.10.1916

Translated by Rod Filan from the original German text in
'Briefe eines deutschen Kampffliegers an ein junges Mädchen', Prof. Dr. Johannes Werner
My Dear Miss Annamarie!

Boelcke is no longer among us now. It could not have hit us pilots any harder.

On Saturday afternoon we were sitting on stand-by alert in our aerodrome blockhouse. I had just begun a chess match with Boelcke – it was then, shortly after 4 o'clock during an infantry attack at the front, that we were called. As usual, Boelcke led us. It wasn't long before we were flying over Flers and started an attack on several English aeroplanes, fast single-seaters, which resisted efficiently.

In the following wild turning-flight combat, which allowed us to take shots only in short bursts, we sought to force down our opponent by alternately cutting him off, as we had already done so often with success. Boelcke and I had the one Englishman evenly between us, when another opponent, hunted by our friend Richthofen, cut directly in our path. As fast as lightning, Boelcke and I took evasive action simultaneously, and for one instant our wings obstructed our view of each other – it was then it occurred.

How I am to describe my feelings to you from that instant on, when Boelcke suddenly emerged a few meters on the right from me, his machine ducked, I pulled up hard, however nevertheless we still touched and we both fell towards the earth! It was only a slight touching, but at the enormous speed this still also meant it was an impact. Fate is usually so senseless in its selection: me, only one side of the undercarriage had torn away, him, the outermost piece of the left wing.
Erwin Böhme
After a few hundred meters I got my machine under control again and could now follow Boelcke's, which I could see was only somewhat downwardly inclined in a gentle glide, heading towards our lines. It was only in a cloud layer at lower regions that violent gusts caused his machine to gradually descended more steeply, and I had to watch as he could no longer set it down evenly, and saw it impact beside a battery position. People immediately hurried to his assistance. My attempts to land beside my friend were made impossible because of the shell craters and trenches. Thus I flew rapidly to our field.
The fact that I had missed the landing, they told me of only the other day – I have no recollection of this at all. I was completely distressed, however I still had hope. But as we arrived in the car, they brought the body to us. He died in the blink of an eye at the moment of the crash. Boelcke never wore a crash helmet and did not strap himself in the Albatros either – otherwise he would have even survived the not at all too powerful of an impact.

Now everything is so empty to us. Only little by little does it come fully to our consciousness, that within the gap which our Boelcke leaves, the soul of the total is missing. He was nevertheless in each relationship our leader and master. He had an irresistible influence on all, even on superiors, which had to do purely with his personality, the all naturalness of his being. He could take us everywhere. We never had the feeling that anything could fail if he were there, and almost everything succeeded as well. In these one and a half months he has been with us we have put over 60 hostile aeroplanes out-of-action and made the dominance of the Englishmen shrink from day to day. Now we all must see that his triumphant spirit does not sink in the Staffel.

This afternoon the funeral service was in Cambrai, from where the parents and brothers escorted their hero for burying at the cemetery of honour in Dessau. His parents are magnificent people – courageously accepting the unalterable with all the pain they feel. This gives me some solace as well, but nothing can be taken away from the sorrow over the loss of this extraordinary human being.

For your last letter with the flower greetings I thank you very much. I was very happy about it, but as to the reply, I must still allow some time – the experience of October 28th rests too heavily upon me.

Faithfully yours,
Erwin Böhme

Albatros D.I

The Albatros D.I re-established German air superiority and made the British "pusher" designs obsolete.

Oswald Boelcke flew an Albatros D.I to achieve 11 victories in 16 days.
Prototype D.I

"Boelcke's Death" extracted from chapter 8 of Manfred von Richthofen's 1917 book Der Rote Kampfflieger
English language version originally translated by J. Ellis Barker and published in 1918 under the name The Red Battle Flyer.
One day we were flying, once more guided by Boelcke against the enemy. We always had a wonderful feeling of security when he was with us. After all he was the one and only. The weather was very gusty and there were many clouds. There were no aeroplanes about except fighting ones.

From a long distance we saw two impertinent Englishmen in the air who actually seemed to enjoy the terrible weather. We were six and they were two. If they had been twenty and if Boelcke had given us the signal to attack we should not have been at all surprised.
Boelcke - Oct. 28, 1916
The struggle began in the usual way. Boelcke tackled the one and I the other. I had to let go because one of the German machines got in my way. I looked around and noticed Boelcke settling his victim about two hundred yards away from me. It was the usual thing. Boelcke would shoot down his opponent and I had to look on. Close to Boelcke flew a good friend of his. It was an interesting struggle. Both men were shooting. It was probable that the Englishman would fall at any moment. Suddenly I noticed an unnatural movement of the two German flying machines. Immediately I thought: Collision. I had not yet seen a collision in the air. I had imagined that it would look quite different. In reality, what happened was not a collision. The two machines merely touched one another. However, if two machines go at the tremendous pace of flying machines, the slightest contact has the effect of a violent concussion.
Boelcke drew away from his victim and descended in large curves. He did not seem to be falling, but when I saw him descending below me I noticed that part of his planes had broken off. I could not see what happened afterwards, but in the clouds he lost an entire plane. Now his machine was no longer steerable. It fell accompanied all the time by Boelcke's faithful friend.
Manfred von Richthofen's Jasta 2 Albatros D.II
When we reached home we found the report "Boelcke is dead!" had already arrived. We could scarcely realize it.

The greatest pain was, of course, felt by the man who had the misfortune to be involved in the accident.

It is a strange thing that everybody who met Boelcke imagined that he alone was his true friend. I have made the acquaintance of about forty men, each of whom imagined that he alone was Boelcke's intimate. Each imagined that he had the monopoly of Boelcke's affections. Men whose names were unknown to Boelcke believed that he was particularly fond of them. This is a curious phenomenon which I have never noticed in anyone else. Boelcke had not a personal enemy. He was equally polite to everybody, making no differences.

The only one who was perhaps more intimate with him than the others was the very man who had the misfortune to be in the accident which caused his death. Nothing happens without God's will. That is the only consolation which any of us can put to our souls during this war.

Hauptmann Oswald Boelcke
* 19 May 1891
28 October 1916

Ehren Friedhof, Heide Strasse, Dessau, Germany
photo courtesy Amy Thornton
"I fly close to my man, aim well and then of course he falls down."  Oswald Boelcke

After his death, at age twenty-five, Boelcke became known as "the father of pursuit aviation" and the "creator of the Flying Circus".
On December 17th, 1916, Jasta 2 was renamed Jasta Boelcke in his honour.

Right: French photo of aerial victory by Boelcke

Enter Gallery to browse clickable thumbnail images

Oswald Boelcke Thumbnail Gallery

I would like to thank the following people for their contributions and assistance in completing this e-bio:
Joseph Fernandez, Hannes Täger, Dan-San Abbott, Thomas Anderson, David Johnson, Thomas Genth,
Amy Thornten, Tobias Gibson, Micheal Shackelford, Gunnar Soderbaum, Charlotte Howard and Mosen

The Origin of Flying Aces