WWI Albatros D. III as Flown by Josef Kiss
Oeffag/Mickl Type H
At the end of 1913, with the winds of war starting to blow through Europe, the Daimler Motoren AG Company, who were a subsidiary of Skodawerke AG, applied to the council in Wiener-Neustadt to build an aircraft factory. Daimler’s interest in aviation went back some years to when their technical director, Ferdinand Porsche, had designed a lightweight engine for the Etrich Taube aircraft in 1909. Permission was granted and construction of the buildings began at the beginning of 1915. The main investors of the company, Dr Karl Freiherr von Skoda, Ferdinand Porsche and the Austrian Creditbank, with backing from the Government, took control of the company on 3 March 1915. The company was known as the Oesterreichische Flugzeugfabrik AG (Oeffag).
Brought in to manage the new works was Ingenieur Leo Portsch from the Skoda Works; the technical director was Ingenieur Karl Ockermüller, who had been involved in the designs of the early Luft-Fahrzeug-Gesellschaft (Roland) aircraft. The first of the aircraft from the new company, the Oeffag C.I, appeared in March 1915. The designs for the aircraft had been completed in January 1915 and included experimental triple ‘I’ struts with the staggered, sweptback wings in place of the conventional ones. There were problems with this strut design right from the start and so the wing struts reverted back to the conventional design.
The prototype of the production models was delivered on 15 June 1915, powered by a 160-hp Daimler engine. The three-bay biplane was evaluated by LFT and on 17 July 1915, a total of twenty-four were ordered. The first of the production aircraft were assigned to Fliks 25 and 27, the remainder to Fliks 9, 11 and 18. At the end of 1916, the C.I was replaced and twenty-two of the surviving aircraft were turned into trainers.
At the beginning of 1916, the prototype for the Oeffag C.II appeared. This was slightly smaller than the C.I and had a two-bay, shortened wingspan that had no sweepback or stagger. The LFT evaluated the aircraft and informed Oeffag that it failed to meet the performance requirements laid down. Despite this, Oeffag signed a production contract for thirty-two C.II reconnaissance biplanes, but it wasn’t until October 1916 that the first nine of the aircraft were accepted and assigned to the Fliks operating on the Russian Front.
Reports coming back from the various Fliks complained that the observer’s cockpit was far too small to take the kind of equipment required by the observers when they went on a mission, including ammunition, bombs, cameras, map cases, machine guns and flare pistols. The controls were sluggish, visibility was limited, manoeuvrability was not good and the speed too slow. A second order was received at the beginning of December 1916 for a further thirty-two of the second series of Oeffag C.II biplanes, and these too were sent to Fliks on the Russian Front. Within weeks the reports coming back were almost identical to those on the first series of aircraft.
The success of the Oeffag-designed and -constructed aircraft was not the success that had been hoped for, and, in the autumn of 1916, the company obtained the rights to build the German Albatros D.III fighter. There were a number of reasons why Oeffag were able to obtain the rights: the war was by now well under way and the demand for good fighter aircraft was at a premium. The Albatros Company was unable to keep up with demand, so other companies were sought that could build Albatros aircraft under licence. One of these, the Albatros Company (Phönix), belonged to Camilio Castaglioni’s Brandenburg-Phönix-UFAG cartel that was starting to monopolise the aviation market. The War Ministry wanted to put a stop to this and awarded the contract to Oeffag.
This decision turned out to be the saving grace for the Oeffag Company because the Albatros D.III (Oef) that they produced turned out to be the Austro-Hungarian Air Force’s most successful fighter.
The original Albatros D.II appeared at a time when the Brandenburg D.I fighter, which it was to replace, was giving serious cause for concern regarding its stability and manoeuvrability. A contract signed by Oeffag on 4 December 1916 called for fifty aircraft to be built: twenty Albatros D.IIs (only sixteen of which were actually built) and thirty D.IIIs.
The Oeffag-built Albatros D.II was fitted with a 185-hp Daimler engine and the wing chord increased. There were some other minor alterations to the fuselage, and they were fitted with two Bernatzik synchronised machine guns. The completed D.IIs were assigned to Fliks on both the Russian and Italian Fronts. There were very few criticisms to come back from the Fronts, which was a pleasant surprise for Oeffag, who by this time had become used to scathing reports about their aircraft. Because of the relative inactivity on both the Fronts at the time, the Albatros D.II (Oef) was relegated to training duties as it was slowly replaced by the D.III (Oef)
The Albatros D.III (Oef) shared the same fuselage, undercarriage and tail section as the D.II (Oef). Because of reports coming back from the Western Front of wing failure on the Albatros D.II, the wings and airframe were strengthened considerably from the original German design, making it capable of taking increasingly bigger and more powerful engines. The result was the appearance of one of the toughest fighter aircraft of the First World War. The first reports coming back from the LFT vindicated the Oeffag engineers, who had been criticised for not adhering to the original design. The reports stated that Oeffag engineers and designers had made significant improvements, culminating in one of the best fighters of the time.
Production of the aircraft increased rapidly, but once again the problem of obtaining parts not manufactured by Oeffag, like the synchronisation machine gun mechanisms, slowed deliveries down. In an attempt to solve the problem, the company decided to manufacture some of the more precision parts themselves. The first of the Albatros D.III (Oef) arrived at the Russian Front at the beginning of June 1917. The pilots were delighted; they now had an aircraft that could be flown comfortably by any competent pilot and was superior in every way to the Brandenburg D.Is they were currently flying. A number of minor problems were found: poor quality cowling fasteners and a weak tailskid, both of which were quickly resolved without affecting the Fliks’ operational status.
The reputation of the Oeffag Company was further enhanced when the Austro-Hungarian Navy requested that they build the Hansa-Brandenburg W.13 flying boat. Designed by Ernst Heinkel, this single-engine flying boat carried a crew of two and was used for reconnaissance and bombing missions. It was also built under licence by Ufag, but it was the Oeffag-built model that was preferred by the crews. The fuselage was of a simple wooden and fabric construction with a single-step hull. Powered by a 350-hp Daimler pusher engine, cut-outs in the trailing edges of the upper wing provided the clearance for the tips of the propeller. The two-crew positions were in a side-by-side configuration. It is not know how many were built.
The production of the first series of Albatros D.III (Oef) ended in July 1917 and immediately production of the next series, which was powered by a 200-hp Daimler engine, began. This new, more powerful model was fitted without a spinner, because German wind tunnel tests had shown that the spinner was liable to fly off and could damage the airframe. The report from Flars praised the new model, stating that the 200-hp D.III was the first of the fighter aircraft capable of engaging the French Hanriot and the British Sopwith Camel as an equal. A total of 201 Albatros D.III (Oef) of the second series were produced, all of which were assigned to various Fliks on both the Russian and Italian Fronts.
The next series of D.IIIs to appear came from a contract for 230 of the aircraft on 18 May 1918. These were to be powered by the latest 225-hp Daimler engine, all to be delivered by the end of December 1918. The first units to receive the new aircraft were Fliks 61/J and 63/J, whose pilots rated the aircraft the finest they had ever flown. There was virtually nothing to complain about: the aircraft did everything asked of it and never caused them a moment of problem. In July 1918, two of the Albatros D.III (Oef) aircraft from the second series took part in the Fighter Evaluation Trials at Aspern. Of the twenty-four participants in the competition, only three were production models: the two Albatros D.IIIs (Oef) and the Aviatik D.I. The performance of the two Albatros aircraft delighted the War Ministry as the aircraft out-flew all the other participants in every category.
The production lines turned the aircraft out, and by the end of October all but twenty-nine of those ordered had been delivered. The end of the war saw the end of production, but not the sales of the aircraft already built. Poland bought thirty-eight of the aircraft and extolled their virtues in a letter of commendation to the company the following year.
There was even talk of the company building the Friedrichshafen G.IIIa bomber under licence but this came to nothing. The Oeffag Company, from such a relatively disastrous start, produced some of the finest fighter aircraft of the First World War, but was unable to survive the post-war depression that followed.