|"I will be like Boelcke!" German Pilots' Motto|
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.
|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.|
|Blue Max||Boelcke's Fokker E.I Eindecker|
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.
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'.
|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.|
|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.||
|The Demise of Boelcke
"Why did he, the irreplaceable, have to be the victim of this blind fate, and why not I?"
|On the afternoon
of Saturday, October 28, 1916, Boelcke and Jagdstaffel 2
were scrambled to intercept Major
Lanoe Hawkers 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 Hawkers Squadron.
|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.|
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
Boelcke had to make a hard right turn to avoid colliding with the Canadian flyer. As he did, his wing scuffed the undercarriage of Böhmes Albatros D.II. It was barely a collision, Böhme recalled later, but it was enough to be Boelckes undoing.
|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
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
Werner's translation of Erwin
Böhme's writings - the only known account of the
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.
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.
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.
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.
Havilland Airco DH2
Superior to the Fokker E.III, the DH2 helped end the "Fokker Scourge"
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
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.
|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.
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
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.
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.
Death" extracted from chapter
8 of Manfred von Richthofen's 1917 book Der Rote
English language version originally translated by J. Ellis Barker and published in 1918 under the name The Red Battle Flyer.
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.
|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.|
we reached home we found the report "Boelcke is
dead!" had already arrived. We could scarcely
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.
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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