Fokkers and Junkers

A meeting in Berlin on December 16, 1916, between IdFlieg’s Maj. Felix Wagenführ, professor Hugo Junkers, and Fokker. Wagenführ, whose ultimate goal was the founding of one nationwide Reichsflugzeugwerke (state aircraft industry), convened the meeting that brought the two aircraft constructors to one table. His initiative led to a strange amalgamation of industries and personalities.

Hugo Junkers, born in 1859, was thirty-one years older than Fokker. Since the middle of the 1890s, Junkers & Company had made a fortune producing gas heating appliances. He also occupied a professorial chair in mechanical engineering at the University of Aachen. There he had been deeply involved in the development of a metal cantilever wing for aircraft. After years of experimenting, his first plane equipped with such a wing, designated the Junkers J.I, had become ready for testing in December 1915. Lt. Friedrich Mallinckrodt of the air corps made the first flight in the machine on December 20, but this first practical all-metal aircraft design did not go into production as planned in the subsequent months. Instead Junkers, an uncompromising and perfectionist academic, kept changing and improving the design at his factory in Dessau. Wagenführ, who held overall planning responsibility for German aircraft production, began to lose patience with Junkers. What was necessary, in his view, was a fair dose of practical insight, the kind that Fokker excelled in. And thus the theorist Junkers and the practitioner Fokker ended up at the same table. Anthony immediately showed keen interest.

The Junkers J.I, and its derivative, the J.II, were conceptually revolutionary aircraft, years ahead of their time. Knowledge of their construction details was limited to the small circle of Hugo Junker’s staff members and some of his factory workers. He planned to build an armor-plated plane that could be used in close air support over the battlefield to attack targets on the ground. Anthony, test pilot par excellence, instinctively grasped the design’s far-reaching innovations and quickly proposed that he and Junkers join forces to develop the two prototypes into aircraft that could go into series production. Although his company had no experience with all-metal designs, what he could offer was experience with series production, which Junkers lacked.

At the meeting it was decided that Fokker would visit Dessau, seventy miles south of Berlin, to inspect the two Junkers aircraft. The next afternoon he boarded the train for Dessau, arriving there that evening. The next day he was shown around by Junkers’s company director, Kurt Lottmann. Anthony proved himself a keen guest indeed, deeply interested in the specialized construction of the machines. Four days later, on December 22, he was allowed to make a test flight with the J.II from Adlershof near Johannisthal. When he landed about a half hour later, he proclaimed himself most satisfied with the plane’s flying characteristics. Moreover, he proposed to buy the licensing rights for production of the J.II. The base price that Junkers wanted for this, 500,000 marks (approximately $68,700 at the time), posed no problem for Fokker. Nonetheless, an agreement was not forthcoming, since Junkers demanded an additional 15 percent commission per aircraft for the use of his patents. His aeronautical experiments were proving very expensive, and he was in constant need for new funds. His demand, however, was rather steep for Fokker. The two constructors did not reach agreement, and the meeting was adjourned in a prickly atmosphere.

In January Anthony made several telephone calls to the Junkers factory to set a date for a new meeting, but Hugo Junkers wanted none of it and told his spokesmen to relay that he was in bed with a cold. Now Fokker also began to backtrack, indicating that he saw various financial and technical problems with the proposed cooperation. Days went by before the reasons behind Fokker’s sudden reservations became clear in Dessau and started a severe row. On December 18 Fokker had asked Junkers’s engineers to explain nearly everything there was to know about the design and construction of the new aircraft. After consultations with his own people in the Hotel Bristol, he had decided that he preferred to use this information for the further development of the wooden cantilever wing that he and Forssman had been working on, instead of building aircraft for yet another competitor.

Upon learning this, Hugo Junkers almost exploded with rage: he could not find words to describe the depth of his loathing for Fokker’s lack of personal integrity. He immediately went on a search for alternative funding. But the harm was already done. On the insistence of Wagenführ, a second meeting between the two adversaries was scheduled at the Hotel Bristol on February 2, 1917. Now Fokker was the one to play hide-and-seek. He sent a message down to Junkers in the hotel lobby, claiming that he was ill, and left it to his manager, Wilhelm Horter, to calm things down. Horter pretended he did not know what had previously passed between the two men and tried to convince Junkers that the Fokker Works were only interested in acquiring the patent rights for Junkers’s cantilever wing construction.

IdFlieg, where Wagenführ was primarily interested in applying Junkers’s discoveries, supported Fokker in these maneuvers. On strict instructions from Wagenführ, the two entrepreneurs entered into further negotiations. After months of difficult discussions, an agreement was finally reached on June 16, 1917, in which Fokker gained permission to produce and develop aircraft according to Junkers’s designs. The deal included the use of the cantilever wing construction. Fokker agreed to pay the 500,000 marks that he had offered earlier, plus 10 percent of the sales price of every machine that the Fokker Works would turn out under the contract with Junkers until the end of the war—and 7.5 percent for every airplane built after the end of hostilities until February 1, 1925.

On August 24 IdFlieg also managed to have the two parties agree to the foundation of a joint venture, Fokker-Junkers Werke AG Metallflugzeugbau (Fokker-Junkers Works Co. Metal Aircraft Constructions). This was not quite what Anthony wanted. He would have preferred to get a large industrial concern onboard, such as AEG or the steel conglomerate run by industrialist Hugo Stinnes, to obtain a more secure financial footing. But Junkers would agree to none of this. Hence the founding papers that were signed on October 20, 1917, only mentioned Fokker and Junkers. Both invested 1 million marks ($173,300), to which the army added another 630,000 marks ($109,000) in short-term credit, bringing the corporate means to 2,630,000 marks total ($282,300). Junkers paid his share by incorporating all the nonfixed assets of his heating appliances factory, Junkers & Company. Fokker, on the other hand, was able to pay his share in cash. It was indicative of the distribution of power within the new company that Fokker, and not Junkers, became general director. Not surprisingly, the deed was signed at the office of Fokker’s lawyer, Hugo Alexander-Katz, in Berlin.

The stated aim of the Fokker-Junkers Works was to start production of the all-metal aircraft designed by Junkers, for which they would now hold all patent rights. For Junkers the new enterprise meant financial support of his research in aerodynamics. He also retained the right to use his patents outside the joint venture in Junkers & Company. For Fokker the matter was more complicated: apart from the right (or duty) to start up a production line of Junkers aircraft, he received the coveted patent rights for Junkers’s cantilever wing construction. For the sum of 250,000 marks ($43,330) plus 9 percent of the net price of every airplane sold, Fokker Flugzeugwerke in Schwerin could henceforth make use of the knowledge gained from the linkup.

Setting up a production line to build Junkers aircraft in large numbers was no easy matter in a country now suffering from shortages of just about everything. Aluminum was very hard to come by in Germany. Besides, neither Fokker nor Junkers had any experience with series production of all-metal aircraft. (Indeed, no one had at that time.) It demanded machines and tooling for working large and small metal parts and a specialized labor force. The complexity of the Junkers designs was another obstacle. In March 1917 IdFlieg had placed an advance order for fifty armored J.4 aircraft for the Western Front near Kortrijk in Belgium. But the first two aircraft were not delivered until October. Clearly dissatisfied with the delays in getting the J.4 production line up and running, IdFlieg repeatedly threatened to break the sales contract and pay a much lower price per aircraft. Further problems followed after delivery: repairs to aircraft damaged in combat proved difficult and time-consuming. Early in December Fokker and Wagenführ agreed to make an all-out effort to increase production and have eight aircraft ready by the end of that month. In 1918 production was then to expand further. But what was the value of such a promise coming from a company that was marred with trouble at the top? The relationship between Junkers and Fokker was characterized by distrust, ill will, and suspicion. Both entrepreneurs were out to do business with the cantilever wing construction, but on their own terms and at each other’s expense.

Fokker stood to gain the most. Early in 1917 he and Franz Möser had developed their own cantilever wing, made out of wood and both lightweight and strong. The V.17, V.20, V.23, and V.25 prototypes, each borne by a single cantilever wing, were closely related to the Junkers J.7 and J.9. The progress from rough general ideas to an actual wing followed the same pragmatic trial-and-error method that had been used with other Fokker designs and constructions. In the end the various development processes came together in a revolutionary-looking biplane with two cantilever wings and a radically streamlined fuselage, the V.1 (V standing for Versuchsmaschine, or test machine). But continuing problems with the production of powerful aircraft engines meant that Fokker could not locate a suitable engine for the V.1. Poor downward visibility from the cockpit also made the machine difficult to land. Despite its ultramodern features and looks, the V.1 was found unsuitable for military use. But if production orders were not forthcoming, the practical use of the wooden cantilever wing had been proven. Hugo Junkers resented the way in which Fokker had obtained this technology. Despite their forced cooperation, he filed a lawsuit over Fokker’s breach of the patent for this type of wing, which had been granted to him on December 22, 1916, just as the talks with Fokker had begun. The suit would drag on until 1940.

Given the enforced character of their cooperation, there was no stopping Fokker. Neither theory nor practice could remain hidden from his sight. According to the terms of the Fokker-Junkers Works joint venture, Anthony made a test flight with the new J.7 on December 4, 1917, to examine the plane’s handling characteristics. Upon landing, he hit a deep hole in the grass airfield with one of the wheels, cracking the undercarriage. This damage set the development of the J.7 further back. Hugo Junkers, who suspected malicious intent on Fokker’s part, was furious, but he was unable to back out of the cooperative venture. That the 2,000-strong workforce of the Junkers-Fokker Works managed to complete 227 armored ground-attack aircraft in 1917 and 1918, plus 41 ultramodern Junkers D.I fighters, was, in the end, largely due to the organizational talents of Wilhelm Horter, because the two constructors continued to use every opportunity to make life difficult for each other. In March 1918 even Wagenführ had to admit that it might be best to split up the joint venture. To effect this separation became Junkers’s principal mission in the remaining months of the war.

Junkers J.I (2nd series)

Serial: J.845/17

This aircraft was test-flown on the Adlershof airfield in September 1918. Most probably this is was the first airplane which is had full-metal rudder.

 

Serial: 884/17

This aircraft was found by British troops at Bickendorf airfield, near Cologne, in 1919.

Serial: J.586/18

Summer 1918. This aircraft was captured and shipped to Canada in 1919. Since 1969 it was exhibited in Ottawa Air Space museum.

 

Serial: J.594/18

Dessau airfield, before sending to the front-zone in September 1918. Together with many other aircraft of this type it was captured by USA troops at Villers la Chevres ni January 1919.

Junkers J.4 (J.I)

By far the most unique ground support aircraft built during the war was the nearly all-metal Junkers J.I biplane, which entered service in late 1917. Based on early all-metal prototypes developed by Dr. Hugo Junkers, the J.I featured a hexagon-shaped fuselage that was covered primarily with corrugated sheet metal. The nose and crew compartments were protected by .5 mm chrome-nickel sheet steel. Whereas the rear fuselage in early editions were covered in fabric, those built toward the end of the war were covered entirely with metal. The wings relied on steel spars and were covered with corrugated sheet metal. Instead of using cables to control the ailerons, elevator, and rudder, the J.I was one of the first aircraft to feature a direct linkage system of cranks and push-rods, all of which were enclosed to minimize damage from ground fire. The J.I, which was much larger than its Halberstadt and Hannover contemporaries, had a wingspan of 52 ft 6 in., length of 29 ft 10.4 in., and loaded weight of 4,787 lbs. Powered by a 200 hp Benz Bz. IV inline engine, it was capable of 96 mph. Although it took 32 minutes to climb 2,000 m (6,562 ft) and was not as maneuverable as the Halberstadts and Hannovers, the J.I excelled in ground attacks because it could absorb much punishment, while displaying great firepower with its twin forward-firing, synchronized Spandaus and its rearfiring, ring-mounted Parabellum. By war’s end a total of 227 J. Is had entered service. It should be noted that Junkers introduced two other all-metal aircraft at the very end of the war, which were far advanced for their time. The Junkers CL.I was a low-wing monoplane designed for ground support duties and the Junkers D.I was a lowwing monoplane fighter. Although the 47 CL.Is and 41 D.Is came too late to make a difference in the war (the D.I most likely was not used at all), both would see action in 1919 against the Bolsheviks in the Baltic States

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