Pfalz Flugzeug-Werke GmbH

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Pfalz Flugzeug Werke GmbH

Germany, prior to the First World War, was a country made up of a number of minor kingdoms and principalities. Among them was the Kingdom of Bavaria, which, after Prussia, was the second most powerful state in the German Reich. Bavaria enjoyed considerable autonomy and military privileges, and at the onset of the First World War had its own air service, War Ministry and General Staff. There was a bitter underlying rivalry between some of the states, as became apparent when bravery awards were given. There were even Jastas made up of only Bavarians or Prussians in the early stages of the war. Unlike the other states, Bavaria’s armed forces were only under the command of the Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm in time of war.

With the threat of the First World War looming, three brothers, Alfred, Walter and Ernst Eversbusch established an aircraft manufacturing plant with the financial aid of the Bavarian Government. The Government were concerned that unless they contributed to the manufacture of the aircraft they would have no say in the equipment that would be used by the Bavarian pilots. Initially, the intention was to approach the Albatros Company and to acquire the rights to build their aircraft in Bavaria, but negotiations fell through. Then the Bavarian Flying Service stepped in, and at their instigation the Pfalz Company approached Gustav Otto, a financier who helped finance the new company and assisted in the development of the business. They also acquired the rights to build the Otto biplane. The Pfalz Flugzeug-Werke was built at Speyer am Rhein in July 1913. The first aircraft to be produced there was not one of their own designs, but an Otto pusher biplane that was powered by a 100-hp Rapp engine.

Later, Alfred Eversbusch managed to obtain a licence from the French Morane-Saulnier Company to manufacture the ‘L’ type parasol monoplane. The first parasol was built at the end of 1914 and only a few of these were built. It is interesting to note that the cockpit had transparent sides, which, with hindsight, was totally unnecessary because the downward view was excellent without them. The next model was later given the military designation of Pfalz A.I and powered with an 80-hp, seven-cylinder Oberursel U.O rotary engine. Their role was for photo-reconnaissance and scouting missions. There was a Pfalz A.II, which was no more than an A.I with a 100-hp nine-cylinder Oberursel U.I rotary engine fitted.

At the same time as acquiring a licence to build the Morane-Saulnier ‘L’ type, Pfalz also obtained permission to build the ‘H’ type, which was re-designated the Pfalz E.I and fitted with the 80-hp Oberursel U.O seven-cylinder engine. Walter Eversbusch, the youngest of the three brothers, enrolled in the Morane-Saulnier flying school near Paris in the spring of 1914, from where he graduated with his flying licence. He became the company’s test pilot, but was killed on 1 June 1916 when he crashed testing one of the company’s aircraft.

When the war began in August 1914, the company had produced only three Otto biplane pushers, which were immediately dispatched to the Bavarian squadrons. It soon became obvious that the Otto was seriously underpowered, taking fifteen minutes to reach a height of 2,500 ft, and considering they only had an operating ceiling of 3,600 ft, they were not really that suitable for reconnaissance missions. There was also another problem: the Otto bore a strong resemblance to the French pusher aircraft and was often shot at by German infantrymen. It has to be remembered that German soldiers, and Allied soldiers, had rarely, if ever, seen an aircraft, let alone recognised it as one of their own. Fortunately for the pilots of these aircraft, by December, Albatros B and LVG models had replaced the Otto.

As the war progressed, large numbers of the Pfalz E.I were built but very few saw service on the front line as they were assigned to Bavarian flying schools as unarmed trainers. A small number of E.Is saw action in Macedonia, Syria and Palestine.

The Pfalz parasol was in action in Italy before the war between Germany and Italy had actually started. On 31 July 1915 a German aircraft, with simulated Austro-Hungarian markings covering the German crosses and flown by Leutnant Otto Kissenberth of Feldflieger-Abteilung 9b, attacked Italian Alpine positions. He dropped five 10 kg Carbonit bombs on the positions, causing a number of casualties. Because of the high-altitude position of the Italian troops, they were able to subject aircraft to a heavy rate of fire, but fortunately the Pfalz had a good rate of climb and Otto Kissenberth was able to climb his aircraft away and out of danger.

The first ten Pfalz E.Is were unarmed scouts, but with the development of synchronisation gear, the remaining fifty were fitted with a fixed, forward-firing Spandau machine gun. In total, sixty of these aircraft were built and sent to the Front. The Pfalz E.II was produced some months later, but this was just an E.I with the 100-hp Oberursel U.I nine-cylinder rotary engine fitted and with the synchronised Spandau machine gun. The E.II had a wingspan of 33 ft 5 in, which was slightly longer than that of the E.I. Such was the need for aircraft at this time that the E.II was already in service with a number of the Bavarian squadrons before the Idflieg (Inspektion der Fliegentruppen) had finished the Typen-Prufung (Acceptance Test), which wasn’t completed until July 1916.

This was followed by the debut of the Pfalz E.III, which was in fact an armed version of the A.II parasol monoplane. Only six were built, four of which managed to make the front line and see service. It was powered by a 100-hp Oberursel U.I rotary engine, had a wingspan of 36 ft 9 in and a fuselage length of 22 ft 5½ in.

The next in the ‘E’ series of fighters was the Pfalz E.IV. Almost identical to the other E-series fighters, the E.IV was fitted with the 160-hp two-row Oberursel U.III rotary engine. It had a wingspan of 33 ft 5½ in, a fuselage length of 21 ft 8 in, a top speed of 100 mph and a climb rate of 1,300 feet per minute. It carried twin, synchronised forward-firing Spandau machine guns. This feisty little fighter was built, surprisingly, in small numbers as no more than twenty-five were known to have been manufactured.

The last of the E-series fighters was the Pfalz E.V. Constructed on the standard E-type airframe, the E.V was powered by a 100-hp Mercedes D.I engine, giving the aircraft a top speed of 103 mph. This was a deviation from the rotary engines that powered the previous E-series of aircraft. It was armed with a synchronised forward-firing Spandau machine gun and was only slightly different from the other Pfalz monoplanes by means of an enlarged and different shaped rudder.

The more rugged and manoeuvrable biplane fighter was rapidly replacing the monoplane fighter, so in an effort to stay in contention, Pfalz produced the Pfalz D.4. The fuselage of an E.V was taken and broadened, while the rudder assembly came from another of the E-series. The first version produced was an unmitigated disaster and was virtually uncontrollable. The second version had some modifications but couldn’t resolve the main problems. Only one of each was built.

At the end of 1916, with the E-series of monoplane aircraft completed, the Pfalz Company was instructed to build the LFG (Luft-Fahrzeug-Gesellschaft) Roland D.I under licence. Up to this point a total of 300 of the A and E-types had been constructed by Pfalz. The reason that Pfalz had been asked to build the Roland was because the Roland factory had been destroyed by fire and Pfalz had just completed building the last of their E-series of fighter/reconnaissance aircraft.

During the period of constructing the LFG, the Pfalz design office was working on their own design for biplane fighters. Then, at the beginning of 1917, the first of the D-series of Pfalz aircraft appeared. This was a biplane version of the E.V monoplane and was given the name of Walfisch (Whale). This short, tubby little aircraft, thought to have been powered by a 100-hp Mercedes D.I engine with a car-type radiator at the nose, was unusual in that it had almost an enclosed cockpit. From information gathered, it appears that it was never designed as a fighter, but was to be used for reconnaissance missions. It is not known exactly how many were built, but it is thought that there were only two.

Another aircraft appeared at the beginning of 1917, and was designated the Pfalz C.I. It was, in reality, a Rumpler C.IV, built under licence by the Pfalz Company. It had additional bracing struts from the tailplane to the fin and ailerons on all four wingtips. Powered by a 260-hp Mercedes D.IVa engine, this two-seat reconnaissance aircraft was armed with one forward-firing Spandau machine gun and One manually operated Parabellum machine gun mounted in the observer’s cockpit. The designation of the Rumpler C.IV as the Pfalz C.I was a perfect example of the rivalry that existed between the various states and principalities. The Bavarian leaders insisted on purchasing only Bavarian-built aircraft, so when Bavarian companies built aircraft from other states, which were given designations pertaining to Bavarian companies, the leaders felt justified in purchasing them. It was this petty-minded thinking that hampered the flow of materials and aircraft to the front.

By the summer of 1917 the first of the Pfalz fighters had appeared, the Pfalz D.III. The fuselage was of a wooden semi-monocoque construction made up of spruce longerons and oval plywood formers. The fuselage was then wrapped with two layers of plywood strip in a spiral fashion in opposing directions, and then covered in fabric that was then painted with dope. The vertical tail fin was part of the main fuselage and made of fabric covered wood. The rounded rudder, however, was made of welded steel tubes covered in fabric. The aircraft was powered by a six-cylinder, in-line, water-cooled Mercedes D.III engine, which gave the D.III a top speed of 102 mph, a climb rate of almost 1,000 feet per minute and an operating ceiling of 17,000 ft with an endurance of 2½ hours. It was armed with two synchronised, forward-firing Spandau machine guns.

The Pfalz D.VI was the next in the series and was one of the most elegant of Pfalz aircraft. The fuselage was constructed with the now-familiar wrapped strip plywood, which was then covered in fabric and painted with dope. The D.VI was powered by a 110-hp Oberursel U.II rotary engine that was completely enclosed in a metal cowl. It had a wingspan of 23 ft 3 in and a top speed of 110 mph. No actual figures are available as to the number built, but it is believed to have been around twenty.

Shortly after the D.VI model was dispatched to the front, the Pfalz D.VII appeared. There were two versions of this aircraft: one with the 160-hp Siemens-Halske Sh.III geared rotary engine, and the other with a 160-hp Oberursel UR.III rotary engine. A third engine was also tried in the D.VII, the 160-hp Goebel Goe.III. There were some slight differences in the dimension of each aircraft: the wingspan on the first version was 24 ft 8 in and 26 ft 7 in on the second. The fuselage length on the first version was 18 ft 6½ in, and on the second was 18 ft 2½ in. Top speed for both aircraft was 118 mph and both were equipped with twin synchronised forward-firing Spandau machine guns.

At the same time as the D.VII was being constructed, a triplane was being developed. The Pfalz experimental triplane was a D.III conversion and fitted with a six-cylinder, in-line, water-cooled 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine. For some unknown reason it never flew and was scrapped. The information gained, however, was not lost and some months later came another triplane, the Pfalz Dr.I.

The Pfalz Dr.I was a stocky, powerful, little aircraft with a wingspan of 28 ft 1 in and a fuselage length of 18 ft. It was powered with the 160-hp Siemens-Halske Sh.III rotary engine that gave it a top speed of 112 mph and a climb rate of almost 1,500 feet per minute. Despite the powerful engine, its performance rating was not as good as the Fokker Dr.Is and because of this less than ten were manufactured. In an attempt to find an improved version of the Pfalz Dr.I, the Dr.II and Dr.IIa were developed. These two aircraft were powered by the 110-hp Oberursel UR.II and 110-hp Siemens Sh.I respectively. Neither was successful and they were not put into production.

At the beginning of 1918, another single-seat fighter appeared, the Pfalz D.VIII. Three versions of this aircraft existed, each powered by a different engine: a 160-hp Siemens-Halske Sh.III, a 160-hp Oberursel U.III and a Goebel Goe.III. Of the three variants only the Siemens-Halske-engined model was manufactured in any number, forty being built. The aircraft had a wingspan of 24 ft 8 in, a fuselage length of 118 ft 6½ in and a height of 9 ft. The Siemens-Halske-powered model had a top speed of 112 mph and a climb rate of 1,200 feet per minute. Almost identical to the D.VII, the aircraft was sent to the front line for evaluation with Jagdstaffeln 5, 14 and 29. Reports came back saying that, although the aircraft was excellent to fly, its undercarriage had a tendency to collapse on landing. However, nineteen of the aircraft were still in operational service by the end of the year, although it never went into full production. Two modified versions were produced with different engines, but the confidence in the aircraft had gone and neither went into production.

One interesting experiment was carried out with the Pfalz D.VIII, using a Rhemag R.II engine that drove two counter-rotating propellers. On its first flight the aircraft crashed because it was excessively nose-heavy. The engine was then removed and repaired and shipped to Aldershof, Berlin, to be fitted into a Siemens-Schuckert D.IV, but before the tests could begin the war came to an end and the project was scrapped.

Although the Pfalz company had produced a number of excellent aircraft, with the exception of the Pfalz D.III, none of them had been particularly successful. The only other model that came anywhere near the D.III was the Pfalz D.XII. Looking similar to the Fokker D.VII, the D.XII was of a semi-monocoque design, constructed of spruce longerons with plywood formers. The fuselage was then wrapped with two layers of thin plywood strip, applied in opposite directions, then covered in fabric and painted with dope. Powered by a 160-hp six-cylinder, in-line, water-cooled Mercedes D.IIIa engine with a ‘car-type’ radiator mounted on the front, the D.XII had a top speed of 106 mph, a climb rate of almost 1,000 feet per minute and an operating ceiling of 18,500 feet.

The Pfalz D.XII had a wingspan of 29 ft 6½ in, a fuselage length of 20 ft 10 in and a height of 8 ft 10½ in. It was armed with two forward-firing, synchronised Spandau machine guns.

When the first production models were sent to the front to replace the worn out Albatros D.Vas and Pfalz D.IIIs, some of Germany’s top pilots, including Oberleutnant Ernst Udet and Oberleutnant Hans Weiss, flew the aircraft and declared it as good as, if not better in some regards, as the already established Fokker D.VII. The Bavarian Jagdgeschwader IV, commanded by Oberleutnant Eduard Ritter von Schleich, reported that although initially his pilots did not look too favourably on the replacement aircraft, their opinion changed rapidly after they had flown them in combat.

Whether or not their recommendation carried any real weight, more than 300 Pfalz D XIIs were supplied to Jastas 23, 32, 34, 35, 64, 65, 66, 77, 78 and 81. By the end of 1918, over 180 of the aircraft were still in operation on the Western Front.

Later in 1918 an improved model, the Pfalz D.IIIa, appeared. It had an improved engine, the 180-hp Mercedes D.IIIa, the tailplane area had been increased and a modification was made to the wingtips of the lower wing. In all other areas it was the same as the D.III model. In all, over 800 of the Pfalz D.III and D.IIIa were built and according to the Inter-Allied Control Commission’s figures, at least 350 were still operational on the front line at the end of the war. It was, without question, the most successful fighter produced by the Pfalz factory.

While still continuing to upgrade their existing aircraft, Pfalz produced an experimental model, the Pfalz D.XIV. Slightly larger than the D.XII, it had a larger vertical fin and was powered by a 200-hp Benz Bz.IVü engine. This gave the aircraft a top speed of 112.5 mph and a climb rate of just over 1,000 feet per minute. Only the one was built.

The results gained from this aircraft resulted in the production of the last of the single-seat fighters, the Pfalz D.XV. Its first official test flight was on 4 November 1918 and 180 were ordered. It is not known how many were actually built, but it is unlikely to have been the full complement, bearing in mind the Armistice came a week later. The D.XV was powered by a 180-hp Mercedes D.IIIa engine, but there were a number of models that were fitted with the 185-hp BMW IIIa engine that gave the aircraft a top speed of 125 mph. The aircraft had a wingspan of 28 ft 2½ in, a fuselage length of 21 ft 4 in and a height of 8 ft 10 in.

Like a number of German aircraft, the Pfalz became one of the most respected fighter aircraft of the First World War by both its pilots and its opponents.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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