As Prussia started to develop its own aircraft manufacturing empire, so Bavaria looked to achieve the same. The rivalry and friction between the two states in the formative years hampered any form of co-operation within the German empire.
The Bavarian Army Inspectorate of Engineering embarked on training their pilots using private flying schools, whereas the Prussian Army’s pilots were taught to fly by the aircraft manufacturers as part of the purchasing agreement. The problems started when the Bavarian Army needed to expand their aviation section, which inevitably led to the need for more pilots. The Bavarian liaison officer at the Prussian Army’s Research Unit passed on information on flying training and the Prussians’ experience using manufacturers to train pilots. The Albatros Werke offered to train the Bavarian pilots and to supply the Bavarian Army with aircraft. The offer was declined.
At this point General von Brug, the Engineering Corps Inspector, decided that all flying training was to be carried out using a private school run by aircraft manufacturer August Euler. When asked about his choice of training establishments, von Brug remarked that ‘Frankfurt was closer than Berlin-Johannisthal and at least August Euler, if not a Bavarian, was not a Prussian.’ The Bavarian Army bought seven aircraft from the Euler Company and they trained the pilots as part of the agreement.
At the beginning of 1911, financier Gustav Otto founded the Bavarian state’s first aircraft manufacturing plant – Otto-Werke GmbH, Munich. This was not the first aircraft-manufacturing venture that Otto was involved with, as he had recently acquired a financial interest in the Pfalz Werke. By the end of the summer, the Otto-Werke plant employed forty people, much to the delight of General von Brug who was the Bavarian Inspector of Aviation and Motor Vehicles. Von Brug had recently negotiated the purchase of the flying school and renamed it the Bavarian Military Flying School. Von Brug almost immediately coerced Gustav Otto into supplying him with one of his mechanics to train the Army ground personnel.
The friction between the two states raised its head when Gustav Otto asked the Prussian Army to consider a proposal from him for supplying aircraft and pilot training. This was in addition to asking for entry into an aircraft competition that the Prussians had planned for September 1912. Initially, the application was turned down out of hand because the competition was only open to Prussian aircraft manufacturers, but it was decided to admit Otto-built aircraft on the condition that in the event that his aircraft was placed in the competition, the Bavarian Army would award him 60,000 marks and accept two of the award-winning Prussian-built aircraft. This was, in the eyes of the Bavarian Army, a bonus, because not only would they have a Bavarian aircraft participating in a Prussian competition, they would be able to obtain two of the best of Prussian aircraft manufacturers.
As it turned out none of this was needed, because Gustav Otto, being the entrepreneur that he was, founded the Ago Flugzeugwerke in Johannisthal and contracted to handle all the repairs, pilot training and other contracts with the Prussian Army. The Prussian Army also put the date of the competition back until the following year and eventually cancelled it altogether.
The Ago works, a subsidiary of the Otto Werke, Munich, started building Henry Farman aircraft under licence. The Farman was a tried and trusted aircraft, at least as far as any of the very early models could be, and gave them a good foothold into the aircraft-manufacturing world. The first of these aircraft, the Ago C.I, appeared in the summer of 1915. It had a twin-boomed fuselage powered by a 150-hp Benz III engine and was used purely as a reconnaissance aircraft. It was armed with a manually operated machine gun mounted in the nose, but this was just for defensive purposes.
At the beginning of 1913, the Prussian Army had asked for tenders from the German Bristol Works, Rumpler, Albatros, Aviatik, Euler, AEG and Fokker to build an aircraft that was capable of being dismantled and transported on a purpose-built vehicle. The manufacturer selected would win an order for twelve of these aircraft and the vehicles to go with them. On hearing of this competition, General von Brug contacted Gustav Otto and suggested that he put forward a tender, which he duly did. However, the powers that be informed the Bavarian War Ministry that the General Inspectorate of the Prussian Army were only considering aircraft manufacturers that had already built successful aircraft and because the Ago Works and the AEG Werke had not even built any aircraft of their own, they were removed from the list of participants.
The second of the Ago C-models, the C.II, appeared at the end of 1915 and still retained the twin-boomed fuselage configuration, but was fitted with a more powerful 220-hp Benz IV pusher engine. The C.III, however, was a smaller twin-boomed fuselage version and was powered by a 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine. At the beginning of 1916 came the first of the single-fuselage models, the C.IV. The C.IV was the result of a great deal of experimentation with the wing design, which was one of the more unusual features of the aircraft. The wings tapered not only in shape but also in thickness and although extremely efficient, took so long to make that it limited the number of aircraft built. In order to give the observer a forward field of fire, the inner front interplane strut was removed and the outer struts placed closer together to compensate. A total of 260 of these aircraft were ordered, but it is not known exactly how many were delivered, although over seventy were known to be flying between 1917 and 1918.
Meanwhile the company produced a floatplane for the Navy at the end of 1915, the Ago C.I W. It was in reality a C.I fitted with floats and only the one was built, and that was handed over to the Navy for trials. The results from the trials produced two Ago C.II Ws, Nos. 539 and 586. The latter was fitted with a four-bladed propeller and produced excellent results. It is not known how many were built resulting from the trials.
Also in 1915 there appeared a small single-seat aircraft, the Ago DV.3. It was an unarmed reconnaissance model powered by a 100-hp Oberursel U.I rotary engine, but trials of the aircraft were unsatisfactory and only the one was built. Towards the end of the war another version, this time a single-seat fighter, the Ago S.I, was built, but the war ended before it could be tested.
Gustav Otto realised that the Prussians had the monopoly on all the non-Bavarian aircraft manufacturers and that the friction between the two major states was not going away. It was obvious that in the event of a war, and signs of this were becoming more imminent, the Bavarian War Ministry would lay claim to the entire production of his aircraft. He made General von Brug aware of his concerns, and von Brug in turn went to the Bavarian War Ministry to also voice his concerns. He realised that the Bavarian manufacturers should become an integral part of the German aircraft industry and set aside any prejudices that the individual states may have to ensure that a strict level of manufacture was maintained.
The Bavarian War Ministry agreed that there should be some form of uniformity, but would not accept any of Gustav Otto’s aircraft because they considered them to be substandard. The fact that one of his biplane aircraft had crashed on a number of occasions during the Prince Heinrich Flight demonstrations did nothing to encourage confidence in the aircraft. The Prussian Inspectorate of Flying Troops in fact accused the factory of being incapable of building any reliable military aircraft. Strangely enough, Gustav Otto’s Ago factory became one of Germany’s leading manufacturers of seaplanes and supplied large numbers of the aircraft to the German Navy, but was never able to build an aircraft that was accepted by the Prussian Army.
On the night of 5/6 June Bomber Command conducted precision attacks on ten German coastal artillery batteries near the beaches where Allied troops were to land. Each battery was targeted by approximately 100 heavy bombers, and all four Australian heavy bomber squadrons took part in the operation. No. 460 Squadron dispatched 26 aircraft, which were evenly split between attacking the batteries at Fontenay-Crisbecq and St Martin de Varreville. No. 466 Squadron provided 13 aircraft to the raid on batteries at Merville-Franceville Maisy, 14 aircraft from No. 463 Squadron struck Pointe du Hoe and No. 467 Squadron dispatched 14 against batteries at Ouistreham. The RAAF squadrons did not suffer any losses. Many Australian aircrew posted to British units also participated in this attack, and 14.8 percent of the 1,136 Bomber Command aircraft despatched were either part of RAAF squadrons or were flown by Australians.
Australians posted to RAF units also landed paratroopers in Normandy and took part in diversionary operations. On the night of 5/6 June several Australian airmen served in heavy bombers that dropped “window” chaff in patterns that, on German radar, simulated the appearance of convoys headed for the Pas de Calais region of France. Other Australians served in aircraft that dropped dummy paratroopers and jammed German radar. One Australian pilot posted to No. 139 Squadron RAF took part in “intruder” bombing raids against targets in western Germany and the Low Countries that sought to divert German aircraft away from Normandy. Australian aircrew also served aboard the transport aircraft of No. 38 Group RAF and No. 46 Group RAF, which flew the British 6th Airborne Division from the UK to Normandy on the night of 5/6 June. About 14 percent of the transport aircraft in No. 38 Group were piloted by Australians, though the proportion of Australians in No. 46 Group was much lower. There were no completely Australian aircrews in either group.
Australian aircrew supported the fighting on 6 June. No. 453 Squadron was one of 36 Allied squadrons that provided low-altitude air defence for the invasion fleet and landing force. Many of the squadron’s pilots flew several sorties during the day, though they did not encounter any German aircraft. No. 456 Squadron also formed part of the force that provided air defence for the invasion area at night. In addition, about 200 Australian pilots were spread across the dozens of RAF fighter and fighter-bomber units that supported the landings. A small number of Australian aircrew also served in RAF reconnaissance units and 2TAF’s light bomber squadrons, which also saw combat over France on D-Day. The three Australian squadrons assigned to Coastal Command flew only a small number of sorties on 6 June as few German submarines or E-boats put to sea.
About 500 RAN personnel served on board RN ships involved in the operation. While most formed part of the crew of RN warships, several Australian officers led flotillas of landing craft and others commanded individual craft. For instance, Sub-Lieutenant Dean Murray commanded a force of six RN Landing Craft Assault that landed soldiers of the British 3rd Infantry Division at Sword Beach. Hudspeth also took X20 across the channel to mark the edge of Juno Beach during the landings there; he received his third DSC for completing this mission. Some of the warships with Australian crew members that supported the landings were HMS Ajax (which had three RANVR officers on board), Ashanti, Enterprise, Eskimo, Glasgow, Mackay and Scylla. Australian members of the Merchant Navy also participated in the D-Day landings, though the number of sailors involved is not known.
Few of the Australian Army officers attached to British units landed on D-Day. Major Jo Gullett, who was the second in command of an infantry company in the 7th Battalion, Green Howards, came ashore on Gold Beach as part of the invasion force. In his memoirs, Gullett described the landing as “easily the most impressive occasion of my life”. He subsequently led a company of the Royal Scots until he was wounded by German machine gun fire on 17 July. Most of the other Australian officers served in staff positions; for instance Lieutenant Colonel Bill Robertson was the chief of staff of the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division when that unit arrived in Normandy and was later posted to the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division where he served in the same role. Vincent came ashore on 7 June and served with XXX Corps, 7th Armoured and 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Divisions during the campaign.
Due to the lack of a nominal roll or other records listing the Australians who took part in the D-Day landings, it is not possible to determine the exact number involved. However, it has been estimated that about 3,000 Australian military personnel and merchant seamen participated in the operation. The total number of Australians killed on 6 June was 14, of whom 12 were RAAF airmen and two were members of the RAN.
LVG B.I Unit: Bayerische Feldflieger-Abteilung 2 End of 1914.
LVG C.II Unit: Kasta 4, KAGOHL 1 Serial: IV.1 Pilot – Lt.Hans Ulrich von Trotha, observer Lt.Baron von Lernsner.
LVG C.V Unit: Flieger-Abteilung (A)212 Pilot – Flugzeugfuhrer UO Schroder, observer – Lt.August Auer. Early 1918.
LVG C.VI Unit: Flieger-Abteilung? Serial: 4 (C.1510/18) France, circa 1918.
The company was started in 1909 by Arthur Mueller as a small aircraft manufacturer; in 1911, he purchased three Albatros aircraft for 100,000 marks, and by doing so prevented the Albatros Company from collapsing. When LVG approached the Inspectorate of Military Aviation with regard to building aircraft for the military, they discovered that a Colonel Messing from the inspectorate had been persuaded by Otto Weiner, a director of the Albatros Company that Mueller had saved, not to deal with LVG, claiming that the company was merely an agent for Albatros. The head of LVG’s research section, Kapitän de la Roi, formerly of the Research Unit, complained to Colonel Schmiedecke of the War Ministry who upheld his appeal, saying that LVG had shown itself to have considerable financial resources and a potential for expanding its aircraft manufacturing business at a time when there was a dire need for aircraft.
Things came to a head in July 1911 when a pilot from LVG, flying one of the Albatros aircraft purchased by LVG, won the Circuit of German Flight. The prize for the contest was an order from the Army for one of the aircraft. Albatros refused to sell one of its airframes, but Schmeidecke maintained that the aircraft had to come from the winning company and if the Ministry could not get an Albatros type of aircraft from LVG, then the contract would be void. A compromise was reached between the Ministry and LVG when Colonel Schmeidecke stated that the Ministry would accept any aircraft that LVG offered, as long as it met the standard required by the Army. The precedent had been set and the LVG Company was established with the military.
Located at Johannisthal, Berlin, Luft-Verkehrs Gesellschaft was one of the largest German aircraft manufacturers of the First World War. The use of the old Parseval airship hangar at the base gave the company all the room they needed to produce some of Germany’s finest two-seater aircraft. The first aircraft produced in 1912 were of the standard Farman type. Then in 1912 a Swiss aeronautical engineer by the name of Franz Schneider joined LVG from the French Nieuport company and started building aircraft that had been designed by LVG’s own designers. The first of these aircraft, the LVG B.I, an unarmed, two-seat reconnaissance/trainer, was built in 1913. It was a conventional two-bay aircraft, the fuselage being of a simple box-girder construction with wire bracing, made of spruce longerons and plywood cross members covered in doped fabric.
Franz Schneider came up with an invention for firing a machine gun through the blades of the propeller. This was not his first idea; he originally came up with a system whereby the propellers were driven by a gearbox outside the crankcase so that a machine gun could fire through a hollow propeller shaft. On 11 January 1913, the idea was patented by Daimler Motoren-Gesellschaft and given patent No. 290120. Daimler built a four-cylinder engine with an external gearbox. From the onset it became obvious that it wasn’t going to work; the lubrication problems alone were enough to convince the engineers that it wasn’t going to be practical to put the engine into production, and so it was shelved.
It was then that Schneider’s second invention came to the fore. The patent description described the design simply:
The basis of the invention is a mechanism which permits a gun to fire between the propeller blades without damaging them. To this end the gun is mounted immediately in front of the pilot and behind the propeller. In order to avoid damage to the propeller, a blocking mechanism is fitted to the trigger. This mechanism is rotated constantly by the propeller shaft and blocks the gun’s trigger at the moment when the propeller blade is located in front of the muzzle of the machine gun. In consequence the weapon can only be fired between the propeller blades.
When, two years later, Anthony Fokker patented his invention for an interruptor gear mechanism, Schneider was quick to claim that Fokker had stolen his idea, but Fokker stated that his idea was nowhere near the design of Schneider’s and the patent office agreed.
In June 1914, six B.Is took part in the Ostmarkenflug, taking the first four places. With the onset of war the existing B.Is were immediately pressed into service and production lines started. To meet the immediate demand, the Otto-Werke, Münich were licensed to build the B.I. As with all the early aircraft, the pilot sat in the rear cockpit. Powered by a 100-hp Mercedes D.I engine, the B.I had a top speed of 63 mph. It had a wingspan of 47 ft 8½ in, a fuselage length of 25 ft 7½ in and a height of 10 ft 6 in.
The arrival of the improved version of the B.I, the B.II, some months later, showed only minor improvements. A semi-circular cutout in the upper wing intended to improve the pilot’s upward visibility and a small reduction in the wingspan were the only noticeable differences. An improved engine, the 120-hp six-cylinder, in-line, water-cooled Mercedes D.II, gave the aircraft a top speed of 67 mph. The B.II was the main production model and a considerable number were built at the beginning of 1915. They were used mainly for scouting/reconnaissance and training purposes.
As the war intensified the casualty rate of the unarmed reconnaissance and scouting aircraft rose alarmingly, so it was decided to introduce a purpose-built armed reconnaissance aircraft. With the additional weight of guns and ammunition, it became necessary to install more powerful engines. With this in mind Franz Schneider produced a C series of aircraft, the first being the LVG C.I.
In reality, the C.I was no more than a strengthened B.I airframe fitted with a 150-hp Benz Bz.III engine and a ring-mounted manually operated Parabellum machine gun in the observer’s cockpit. Later models were fitted with twin forward-firing fixed Spandau machine guns. A small number of the aircraft were built and shipped to the Front, where they were employed on bombing duties with the Kampfgeschwadern, and scouting and photo-reconnaissance duties with a number of Flieger Abteilung units. In appearance the C.I was almost identical to the B.II, except for a number of minor physical changes and was easily mistaken for that model.
A single-seat derivative of the C.I was built for the German Navy as a torpedo bomber. Experiments were carried out with a mock torpedo mounted beneath the fuselage and in the middle of the undercarriage. No further details are available and no official designation was given to the aircraft.
Early in 1915, Franz Schneider came up with a quite revolutionary two-seat, monoplane fighter. Given the designation of LVG E.I, the aircraft was fitted with both a fixed, forward-firing Spandau machine gun and a manually operated Parabellum machine gun mounted on a ring. Powered by a 120-hp Mercedes D.II engine, the prototype was being flown to the front for operational evaluation by a Leutnant Wentsch when, during the flight, the wings collapsed. The pilot was killed and it was discovered later that the lower wing struts had not been fixed properly. Only one aircraft of that type was built.
There was also an attempt to produce a bomber during 1915: the LVG G.I. Placed in the G series of aircraft, it was powered by two 150-hp Benz Bz.III engines. Greatly underpowered for a bomber, the G.I was not a success and was scrapped.
The C.II, which appeared a few months later, was again almost identical to the C. I, the main difference being the engine, a 160-hp six-cylinder, in-line, water-cooled Mercedes D.III.
The ongoing problem of having the pilot flying the aircraft from the rear cockpit was resolved with an experimental model, the LVG C.III. The aircraft was in effect a C.II with the cockpits changed around and only the one model was built.
Derived from this was the LVG C.IV, which was a slightly enlarged model, powered by a straight eight 220-hp Mercedes D.IV engine. The reduction gearing in the engine turned one of the largest propellers fitted to a single-engine aircraft. It was one of these aircraft that made the first daylight raid on London in November 1916. With a wingspan of 44 ft 7 in, a fuselage length of 27 ft 10½ in and a height of 10 ft 2 in, the C.IV was one of the best two-seat aircraft in the German Army.
One experimental single-seat aircraft, the LVG D.10 was also one of the most unusual. Given the name Walfisch (Whale), it had a wrapped plywood strip fuselage, which was not much longer than the aircraft’s wingspan. This bulbous looking aircraft was powered by a 120-hp Mercedes D.II. Details of its performance are not known and only the one was built.
Probably one of the most successful, and one of the biggest, of the German two-seat reconnaissance/scout aircraft of the First World War, was the LVG C.V. Although overshadowed by the Rumpler C.IV, the LVG C.V came a very close second. The C.V was not as fast as the Rumpler, but what it lacked in speed and power it more than made up for by being a total ‘all-round’ aircraft, sturdy, stable and capable of absorbing punishment. It had a wingspan of 44 ft 8 in, a fuselage length of 26 ft 5½ in, and a height of 10 ft 6 in. Powered by a six-cylinder in-line, water-cooled 200-hp Benz Bz.IV engine, the C.IV had a top speed of 103 mph and an endurance of 3½ hours. It was armed with one fixed, forward-firing Spandau machine gun, and One manually operated Parabellum machine gun in the rear observer’s cockpit.
A second single-seat fighter was built at the end of 1916, the LVG D.II (D 12). It had a monocoque-type fuselage with a headrest behind the pilot and was the second in a series of experimental D types. The D.II was powered by a 160-hp six-cylinder, in-line, water-cooled Mercedes D.III engine. The wings were braced by means of ‘V’ interplane struts.
At the beginning of 1917 an experimental single-seat fighter, the LVG D.III, was produced with semi-rigid bracing in the form of struts. Although the landing wires were removed, the flying wires remained. It retained the monocoque-type fuselage covered in plywood, but the wings were more suited to that of a two-seater reconnaissance than a fighter. The wingspan was 32 ft 10 in, the fuselage 24 ft 8½ in and the height 9 ft 7 in. Powered by a 190-hp NAG III engine, the D.III had a top speed of 109 mph and an endurance of two hours. Only one type was built.
Another fighter appeared out of the LVG stable at the end of 1917, the LVG D.IV. A much smaller model than the D.III, the D.IV had a single-spar lower wing braced with ‘V’ interplane struts. It had a wingspan of 27 ft 11 in, a fuselage length of 20 ft 7½ in, and a height of 8 ft 10½ in. The nose of the aircraft was considerably blunter than previous models and housed the V-8, direct drive, 195-hp Benz Bz.IIIb engine which gave the aircraft a top speed of 110 mph.
After participating in the second of the D-type competitions at Aldershof in June 1918, a small number were built and supplied to the Army. The Armistice arrived before any more could be manufactured.
One of the finest two-seater aircraft to come out of the LVG factory was the LVG C.VI. Over 1,000 examples of this aircraft were built and although physically there was hardly any difference between the C.V and the C.VI, the latter was much lighter and far more compact. The aesthetic look was put aside in favour of serviceability and practicability. The need for this type of aircraft at this stage of the war was desperate and the C.VI fulfilled this role.
Powered by a 200-hp six-cylinder, in-line, water-cooled Benz Bz.IV engine, the aircraft had a top speed of 106 mph, an operating ceiling of 21,350 feet and an endurance of 3½ hours. It was armed with a single fixed, forward-firing Spandau machine gun and a single manually operated Parabellum machine gun mounted in the rear observer’s cockpit.
Among the observers that flew in the LVG C.VI was Hauptmann Paul Freiherr von Pechmann, who flew somewhere between 400 and 500 observation flights as an observer (the exact figure is not known, but some historians have placed it as high as 700). For these exploits he was awarded, among numerous other awards and medals, the Pour le Mérite, one of only two observers to be awarded the highest of all Prussia’s aviation awards.
Toward the end of 1917, the Idflieg had been watching the load-carrying capacity of the Caproni bombers with great interest. With this in mind they instigated a programme of building similar aircraft. The only completed model at this time was the twin-engine LVG G.III triplane designed by Dipl.Ing. Wilhelm Hillmann. Constructed of wood and covered in plywood, it was the largest aircraft ever built by the LVG Company and had a wingspan of 80 ft 4½ in, a fuselage length of 33 ft 7½ in, and a height of 12 ft 9½ in. Powered by two 245-hp Maybach Mb IV engines, it gave the aircraft a top speed of 81 mph and a flight endurance of 5½ hours. Its armament consisted of manually operated Parabellum machine guns mounted in the nose and dorsal positions. It also carried a limited bomb load. The aircraft was given the designation G.III by the factory, but official records list the aircraft as the G.I. Only one was completed.
The final fighter to come from the LVG factory was the LVG D.VI. This was a short fuselage stubby-looking aircraft with a swept lower wing and a chin-type radiator air intake. It was powered by a 195-hp Benz Bz.IIIb engine and had a top speed of 121 mph (195 km/h).
The Luft-Verkehrs Gesellschaft Company made more than a passing contribution to Germany’s war machine and was a major contributor to the world of aviation.
Although firms like Siemens-Schuckert and Luftverkehrsgesellschaft (LVG) had made tremendous inroads into the development of long-range bombers during the First World War, the most successful company by far was Zeppelin-Werke Staaken. It was the Staaken R-planes that bombed Britain during the hostilities and they were the only large bombers to have carried out attacks on the Western Front.
The birth of the Staaken R-planes can be traced back to the dream of one man: Hellmuth Hirth. In 1915, he had planned to build an aircraft that would fly across the Atlantic and appear at the World’s Fair in San Francisco. The financial backing was assured by Gustav Klein, Director of the Robert Bosch Werke, but the arrival of the First World War put paid to his dream. But the concept had not been forgotten, and the airship manufacturer Graf Zeppelin took a long, hard look at the project and saw the potential for a terror weapon.
With the demise of the Naval Zeppelin LZ, the German Naval High Command started to take a long, hard look at Graf Zeppelin’s design of the airship and at Graf Zeppelin himself. Graf Zeppelin, whose relationship with the German Admiral von Tirpitz had never been good and was at this point in time almost non-existent, turned his attention to the building of long-range bombers. Zeppelin approached the Robert Bosch Werke and persuaded them to allow Gustav Klein, thirty of their engineers and assorted other workmen to join him in building bombers.
Large sheds were rented from Gothaer Waggonfabrik AG (Gotha) on the Gotha airfield and work started on the giant bomber. A corporation was set up by the name of Versuchsbau GmbH Gotha-Ost (VGO), which was financed by Bosch and Zeppelin. Among the engineers that were invited to join the company were Claude Dornier and Ernst Heinkel, but only Dornier accepted. Both were later to become famous aircraft manufacturers in their own right. Almost from day one it was decided to use two different types of material in the construction of these giant bombers: wood and metal. Claude Dornier was given a relatively small hangar on Lake Constance, where he carried out experiments in building an all-metal aircraft with considerable success. This section of the company was known as Zeppelin-Werke Lindau GmbH, and the aircraft built there were given the prefix Dornier.
Claude Dornier, working diligently on the side of Lake Constance, started constructing a giant flying boat at the beginning of 1915, the Zeppelin-Lindau (Dornier) Rs.I. Powered by three 240-hp Maybach Mb.IV engines, this gigantic aircraft had a wingspan of 142 ft 8 in, a fuselage length of 95 ft 2 in, and a height of 23 ft 7½ in. The engines were mounted within the fuselage and turned three pusher propellers. On 12 October 1915, the Rs.I was at anchor on Lake Constance, the taxiing trials having been completed; the 22 December was set as the date of the first of the flight trials, but during the night gale-force winds rose up and the aircraft broke its moorings and ran aground. Within hours, the aircraft had been battered into pieces by large waves. Fortunately, a second machine, Dornier Rs.II, was already in production and was powered in exactly the same way. The only main difference was that the wingspan was considerably shorter at 108 ft 11 in and the fuselage length was 78 ft 4 in. On 30 June 1916 the Rs. II took to the air and within weeks the flight test programme was completed, the aircraft was dismantled and the parts used to construct the Zeppelin-Lindau (Dornier) Rs.IIb. This aircraft’s engines were in a four-engined configuration and in a tandem arrangement; this was to become a characteristic of many of Claude Dornier’s designs in later years.
The Rs.III appeared in October 1917 and, after trials, was scheduled to be delivered to the Navy at Norderney on the North Sea. There was concern about the delivery of the aircraft, as no one had ever flown a seaplane such a distance, and about how it would stand up to the heavy seas of the North Sea. On 19 February 1918, the aircraft took off and seven hours later touched down in the sea off Norderney. The flight was uneventful and the aircraft’s response to the large waves of the North Sea was in the Navy’s report:
The aircraft passed the sea test with heavy seas – Beaufort 3 to 4; wind velocities between 33 and 36 feet per second and a payload of 4,400 lbs.
Work on the VGO.I-RML.1 (Versuchsbau-Gotha-Ost Reichs Marine Landflugzeug), as the aircraft was to be called, started in earnest in December 1914 and by the end of January 1915, work had to be halted as the engines were not ready. The 240-hp Maybach HS engines that had been chosen for the aircraft were a modified version of the HSLu airship engine. The aircraft was powered by three engines, one mounted in the nose driving a tractor propeller, the remaining two mounted in nacelles, supported between the wings by inverted struts, driving pusher propellers. The wings were fitted with unbalanced ailerons.
The rectangular fuselage was of the conventional slab-sided structure and constructed with a mixture of spruce longerons and welded steel tubing. With the exception of the plywood-covered top decking, the fuselage was covered in doped fabric. The fuselage narrowed down to a horizontal knife-edge at the biplane tail, which consisted of four small fins with unbalanced rudders along the top. The control cables from the cockpit to the tail rudders passed along the outside of the fuselage to large quadrants situated in the cockpit.
The aircraft had a flight crew of six: two pilots, a commander/observer and three mechanics, one for each engine. The cockpit was a large open one, with the observer in an enclosed section behind. Communications between the crew were relatively crude and were carried out by means of hand signals, blackboards and a series of bells. One wonders how, during a flight in an open cockpit or standing by one of the engines, anyone could have possibly heard any bells!
By the beginning of April 1915 the aircraft was completed, and on 11 April, piloted by Hellmuth Hirth, the VGO.I took to the air on its maiden flight. The success of its initial flight prompted the manufacturers to make plans for a long-distance cross-country flight from Gotha to the Maybach Werke, Friedrichshafen. The reason for the flight was firstly to see how the aircraft responded on long flights, and secondly to obtain improved and more reliable engines from Maybach.
It took almost six months for reliable engines to be installed in the aircraft, but then on the return flight, during a particularly bad snowstorm, disaster struck. Flying over the Thüringen Forest two of the three engines cut out, leaving just the one. It soon became obvious that the aircraft could not stay airborne on the one engine and with tremendous skill the two pilots, Hans Vollmöller and Flugmaat Willy Mann, put the giant aircraft down in a small clearing. The aircraft was severely damaged but the crew were uninjured.
Engineers collected the remains from the site and returned them to the factory at Gotha. There the aircraft was rebuilt, only this time with a number of modifications made. The VGO.I had cowled engines installed with gun positions for what was now the mechanic/gunner in the front of the nacelle. On the top of the centre-section cabane a large, streamlined gravity tank was fitted. The rebuilt VGO.I flew again on 16 February 1916, and after tests was accepted by the Navy and assigned to Navy Kommando LR.1, which was commanded by Leutnant zur See Ferdinand Rasch. On the side of the aircraft were painted the letters RML.1 (Reich Navy Landplane 1). On the trip from Gotha to Alt-Auz, normally a three-day trip, problems arose from day one. The undercarriage collapsed and the engines overheated and had to be replaced, with the end result that it took three months to complete the flight.
Over the next few months the RML.1, as it was now referred to, was involved in a number of raids against Russian troop installations and air stations. Then, in late 1916, it was involved in another crash. On 10 March 1917 the rebuilt VGO.I (RML.1) took off on a test flight with Hans Vollmöller and Leutnant der Reserve Carl Kuring at the controls, together with Gustav Klein acting as observer. Shortly after take-off there was an explosion in the port engine nacelle and the engine stopped. Circling the airfield and preparing to make an emergency landing, the rudder pedals jammed. Vollmöller cut the engines and prepared to land, but the jammed rudders forced the aircraft into a right-hand turn and the aircraft smashed into the doors of the airship shed. All three crew were killed instantly.
While the VGO.I was being rebuilt after its first accident, work had been continuing on the VGO.II. The aircraft was identical in construction and specifications to the VGO.I, although there were a number of modifications made in the tail area. The vertical tail surfaces were reduced to two but the rudder areas were increased.
The aircraft was accepted by Idflieg on 28 November 1915 and given the designation R.9/15. Again the VGO was dogged with problems; this time the aircraft ran out of fuel on one flight after encountering very strong headwinds. The aircraft, flown by Leutnant Lühr and Leutnant Freiherr von Buttlar, had to make an emergency landing in which the undercarriage was ripped off. One experiment to place a rear gunner in the tail failed miserably, when, after the test flight, the gunner was removed from the aircraft more dead than alive. The oscillations experienced in the tail were so violent that the gunner became violently ill soon after take-off and stayed that way throughout the flight. Tests on a gun mounted within the fuselage were carried out, but came to nothing as there were serious problems with its accuracy.
The third in the series of Staaken R-planes, the VGO.III was well under construction in 1915. It had been decided to replace the three 240-hp Maybach HS engines with six 160-hp Mercedes D.III engines. Although lower in individual output, the total horsepower was jumped from 720-hp to 960-hp. Two engines were mounted side-by-side in the nose of the aircraft, driving a twin-blade tractor propeller; the remaining four engines were mounted in pairs in outboard nacelles and drove twin-bladed pusher propellers.
The aircraft was given the designation R.10/15 by Idflieg and assigned to RFa 500. Carrying a crew of seven, including a wireless operator, the aircraft completed seven bombing missions, including the bombing of the railway station at Riga. Then on 24 January 1917, the aircraft was lost, along with five of the crew, when it crashed on landing and burst into flames.
A deviation from building bombers was made in November 1916, when the Zeppelin-Lindau V.1 took to the air. This was an attempt at a single-seat fighter constructed mainly of metal. It had an egg-shaped nacelle constructed of steel struts that were covered in aluminium sheet and attached to open steel tail booms and struts. The tail and wings were covered in doped fabric. Wingspan was 34 ft 5½ in, with a fuselage length of 20 ft 7 in. The aircraft was fitted with a 160-hp Maybach Mb.III pusher engine.
The Allied push meant that an Allied air attack on the Staaken factory became more and more of a possibility. The German High Command decided that the factory should be moved to a place of relative safety, so the whole outfit was moved to Staaken, near Berlin. The first of the Staaken types then came off the production line, the Staaken R.IV.
The aircraft was powered by two 160-hp Mercedes D.III tractor engines that turned twin-bladed propellers of 13 ft 9 in diameter, and four 220-hp Benz Bz.IV pusher engines that turned two four-bladed propellers of 14 ft 1 in diameter. This giant aircraft had a wingspan of 138 ft 5½ in, a fuselage length of 76 ft 1 in, and a height of 22 ft 3½ in. Machine gun positions were built into the upper wings, directly above the engine nacelles. These, together with one ventral, two forward and two dorsal machine gun positions, made it one of the most heavily protected aircraft in the world. The aircraft was involved in a number of bombing missions on the Eastern Front and survived the war only to be broken up in 1919.
The Staaken R.V followed soon after the first test flight of the R.IV. The main difference between the two aircraft was that the outboard engines were reversed, with the result that all the engines were tractors, turning four-bladed propellers. Solving the technical problems that were thrown up by the new positioning of the engines, but eventually the aircraft was assigned to RFa 501 at Ghent and during its eight-month career flew sixteen combat missions. It crashed in October 1918.
The best known of all the German R-planes was the Staaken R.VI. This was the largest aircraft ever to go into production during the First World War and nineteen models were built, including a seaplane version. The first six were built by Zeppelin-Werke Staaken; the remainder were built under licence by Luftschiffbau Schütte-Lanz, Zeeson, Ostdeutsche Alabatroswerke GmbH, Schneidemühl and Automobil & Aviatik AG, Leipzig-Heiterblick. The design was based on the earlier Staaken types, the main difference being that the positioning of the engines was changed to four 260-hp Mercedes D.IVa push-pull engines in tandem, installed in two nacelles in the wings. It had four radiators, two at the front and two at the rear, the rear radiators being mounted slightly higher than those in the front.
Eighteen of the aircraft were built; eleven were destroyed during the war, the remainder fought throughout the last part of the war. A couple of the aircraft were even used commercially after the war.
The Staaken R.VII was similar to the R.IV inasmuch as unlike the R.VI, two of the engines powering a four-bladed tractor propeller were mounted in the nose; the remaining four engines powered two four-bladed pusher propellers. The undercarriage was relatively short and consisted of two sets of four wheels on each side with a two-wheeled nose section.
After tests the aircraft was accepted by Idflieg and assigned to RFa 500 on 14 August 1917. On its way to the front, the aircraft stopped at the airfield of Flieger Ersatabteilung in Halberstadt for emergency repairs. With the repairs completed, the aircraft took off on 19 August 1917 and headed for the front. As the aircraft rose in the air it became obvious that something was not right. The aircraft was at around 70 metres from the ground when the starboard wing dropped and the aircraft was forced into a tight turn. As the R.VII 14/15 reached a wooded hill at the end of the field, the starboard wing lurched downwards suddenly and hooked into one of the trees. The aircraft somersaulted into a rocky ravine on the other side of the hill. Only three of the nine crew-members survived and they were all badly burned.
Claude Dornier’s attention was drawn to the development of a two-seat reconnaissance aircraft, the Zeppelin-Lindau C.I. The fuselage was of an all-metal construction covered in a sheet-metal skin; the wings, however, although constructed of aluminium, were covered in fabric. Powered by a 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine, which gave the aircraft a top speed of 93 mph, the C.I had a wingspan of 34 ft 5½ in, a fuselage length of 24 ft 4 in and a height of 9 ft. It was armed with a forward-firing, fixed, Spandau machine gun and a manually operated Parabellum machine gun. Tested by Idflieg, it failed to meet the requirements and was scrapped. The C.II was almost identical and only differed in the type of radiator used. Only a small number were built.
Another two-seater was constructed by the Zeppelin-Werke at the airship factory at Friedrichshafen. This model was designed by Paul Jarray, and was an entirely wooden machine, covered in doped fabric. The Zeppelin C.I and C.II were almost identical, with the exception of the tail surfaces on the C.II being removed and the tail frame being made of metal.
Powered by 240-hp Maybach Mb.IV engines which gave the aircraft a top speed of 125 mph, they had a wingspan of 39 ft 4½ in, a fuselage length of 26 ft and a height of 11 ft 9 in. Six C.Is and twenty C.IIs were built, none of which saw action. At the end of the war they were sold to the Swiss Air Force, who flew them until 1928.
Work was still continuing on the giant seaplanes, and the Rs.III, which arrived in October 1917, was a monoplane powered by four 245-hp Maybach Mb.IVa engines that gave the aircraft a top speed of 84 mph. It had a wingspan of 121 ft 8 in, a fuselage length of 74 ft 7½ in and a height of 26 ft 11 in. The tail booms that were so prominent in the Rs.II model were removed and were replaced by a fuselage made of steel longerons and alloy frames. The metal fuselage, with its biplane tail, was covered in fabric and mounted on top of the wing. The Rs.III had a short, wide hull that supported the two nacelles that contained the four tandem-mounted engines.
The first flight took place at Friedrichshafen on 21 October 1917 and was so successful that the aircraft was taken to Norderney, a flight of some seven hours. It underwent a series of tests but the Armistice occurred before it could be put into service. The last of the giant flying boats, the Zeppelin-Lindau Rs.IV, made its maiden flight in October 1918. The fuselage had a metal skin and a much-simplified cruciform tail section. It, like the previous model, was powered by four 245-hp Maybach Mb.IV engines which gave the aircraft a top speed of 90 mph.
The Rs.IV had one test flight and was then dismantled. Claude Dornier, who had been spearheading this programme, was able to use a great deal of the information he had gained from the test flights of these giant aircraft and incorporate them into the successful commercial flying boats he created after the war.
One of the most successful of all the Staaken giant bombers was the R.XIV. Three of the models were built: the R.XIV 43/17, 44/17 and 45/17. Four 12-cylinder, 350-hp Austro-Daimler engines initially powered the 43/17, but they proved to be too unreliable. These were replaced by four 300-hp Basse & Selve BuS.IVa, which also proved to be unreliable, so they were replaced by five 245-hp high-compression Maybach Mb.IVa engines. The reason for the sudden switch from four to five engines was that the increased weight of 2,000 kg required additional power. All three aircraft were ready by the early part of 1918.
Each of the aircraft was armed with six machine guns, two in the dorsal and ventral positions and one each in the engine nacelle positions. The cockpit was of the open type, while the bomb-aimer/observer/navigator’s position was in an enclosed cabin situated in the nose.
At beginning of December 1917, the German Navy ordered two Staaken seaplanes. They bore a strong resemblance to the Staaken R.XIV inasmuch as the cockpit area was completely enclosed for both the pilots and the navigator/observer. There were noticeable differences; the fuselage was raised five feet above the lower wing, which in turn raised the tail as well. The reason for this was to protect both the fuselage and tail from spray and rough seas while landing and taking off. The two models, numbered Type 8301 and 8303, carried a crew of five and were armed as the R.XIV with the addition of two 20 mm Becker cannons in the rear position. Powered by four 260-hp Mercedes D.IVa engines, the 8301 and 8303 had a maximum speed of 80 mph, a wingspan of 138 ft 5½ in, a fuselage length of 68 ft 10½ in and a height of 22 ft 3½ in. Neither aircraft ever saw active service.
An improved version of the R.XIV, the R.XIVa, appeared in the middle of 1918 and was the last of the R-planes to be built by Staaken. Four of the aircraft were ordered by Idflieg and given the designation R.69 to R.72. Only the first three were completed and were too late to see any active service. All three aircraft were used by the German Army to fly cargoes up to the end of the war, and afterwards by the Inter-Allied Control Commission.
Also in February 1918, there appeared another version of the Staaken R.VI, the Staaken L Seaplane. The undercarriage was replaced with 39 ft 4½ in duraluminium floats and slightly larger ailerons. During the last of the test flights (carried out by Leutnant Haller) the engines failed while flying over land, and the aircraft crashed, killing all the crew. However, earlier results had convinced the Navy that the aircraft had a great deal going for it, so the Navy placed an initial order for two, followed later by a further four Staaken R-seaplanes based on the design and construction of the Staaken L.
An experimental two-seater seaplane fighter was built in May 1918, the Zeppelin-Lindau CS.I. The aircraft was of an almost all-metal construction with the exception of the wings and tail surfaces, which were covered in doped fabric, and was powered by a V-8 195-hp Benz Bz.IIIb engine which gave the aircraft a top speed of 93 mph. It had a wingspan of 43 ft 3 in and a fuselage length of 36 ft. It was armed with one fixed, forward-firing Spandau machine gun and a manually operated Parabellum machine gun. Only one was built.
The specifications of the Staaken giant bombers only differed in the variety of engines used and some minor modifications. Their contribution to the bomber aspect of the First World War was modest to say the least, and although they had made some impact it was not as great as the German Army had hoped. Nevertheless, they opened a new page in the annals of aviation history.
Germany’s winter campaign of 1941–1942 has commonly been seen as the “first defeat” of the Wehrmacht in the Second World War. Indeed, two of the most recent books about the fighting near Moscow by Robert Forczyk (2006) and Michael Jones (2009) both share the subtitle Hitler’s First Defeat. The most thorough and comprehensive study of the period is actually an earlier work by Klaus Reinhardt, whose pioneering study has remained the standard work in spite of being first published in 1972. Rejecting the accepted view, which saw Stalingrad or Kursk as the classic turning points of Germany’s war, Reinhardt was among the first to argue that the battle of Moscow, especially in the winter of 1941–1942, constituted the decisive event of the war, which represented, as his subtitle claimed, “the failure of Hitler’s strategy.”
For those not familiar with my former studies of German operations in the east, the fighting at Moscow will not be portrayed in this book as Hitler’s “first defeat,” nor even the turning point of the war, because I argue that both already took place in the summer of 1941. Such a proposition may strike some as counterintuitive given that, at the most basic level, the story of Germany’s summer campaign is typically characterized by fast-moving panzer groups, calamitous cauldron battles, and staggering sums of Red Army losses. Perhaps even more conclusive is the fact that, at the end of it all, Hitler’s armies stood deep inside the Soviet Union, ultimately threatening Leningrad, Moscow, and Sevastopol. The logic here appears simple: Germany’s first defeat, whenever that might have been, certainly could not have come before the first winter of the war.
The problem with this logic is that it separates German operations from their strategic context. Battles do not exist in a vacuum, and they should not be seen as ends in themselves. The sheer accumulation of battlefield “victories” in 1941 clearly did not suffice to knock the Soviet Union out of the war, and it was this failure that ultimately proved so ruinous to Germany’s prospects. Heavily restricted access to raw materials, critical production bottlenecks, and bitter policy debates governing the allocation of resources to the armed forces were fundamental to the outcome of a large-scale industrialized war. Indeed, it was Germany’s grim long-term economic prospects that first directed Hitler’s attention toward an eastern campaign, but embarking on it came with huge risks. Either Hitler would secure his long-prophesied Lebensraum (living space) in the east and ensure limitless access to almost any resource Germany might require in its war against Great Britain, or the Wehrmacht’s air and sea war in the west would be disastrously undercut by a parallel, high-intensity land war in the east. Thus, it was absolutely essential for Germany to end any prospective war against the Soviet Union as quickly and as decisively as possible—there was simply no economic or military contingency for anything else. Under these circumstances, some authors have attempted to argue Germany’s dominance by pointing to the far greater problems in the Red Army during the summer campaign. Yet the contexts for the two forces were entirely different; the Wehrmacht had to win outright at all costs, while the Red Army had only to survive as a force in being.
What made German operations in the course of 1941 so important to the war’s ultimate outcome was not just their failure to secure Hitler’s all-important victory, but the cost of so many battles to the Wehrmacht’s panzer groups. In its ruthless pursuit of victory, the German Ostheer (eastern army) became a very blunt instrument, and there was simply no way of reconstituting this offensive power without a very long period of inactivity that the unrelenting warfare in the east would never permit. As the chief of the Army General Staff, Colonel-General Franz Halder, acknowledged in his diary on November 23: “An army, like that of June 1941, will henceforth no longer be available to us.” Accordingly, the summer and fall of 1941 saw the Wehrmacht achieve stunning successes, but from a strategic point of view it failed to do the one thing that really mattered—defeat the Soviet Union before its vital panzer groups were blunted. Once Operation Barbarossa (the code name for the German invasion of the Soviet Union) passed from being a blitzkrieg to a slogging war of matériel, which was already the case by the end of the summer, large-scale economic deficiencies spelled eventual doom for the Nazi state.
If Germany suffered its first and most significant setback in the summer of 1941, what then is the relevance of studying the 1941–1942 winter campaign? Is it simply one of the many stepping-stones in the long decline of Nazi Germany or is there something unique about this period? Indeed, if we no longer consider it Germany’s first defeat, then what kind of defeat was it? If battles need to be placed in a larger context to ascertain their significance, we should not assume that Germany’s winter retreat, any more than its summer advance, is the only indicator of “success,” or in this case “defeat.” If the war in the east was, since the end of the first summer, a battle of attrition, then the relative cost of German and Soviet operations determined their worth, and the outcome of any single encounter cannot be decided simply by asking who held the field at the end of the day. In the vast expanses of the east, ground mattered far less than resources, but both the Nazi and Soviet regimes struggled to understand this. Moreover, because of their shared obsession with prestige as well as their grandiloquent ideological worldviews, surrendering ground, even for a tactical/operational advantage, was consistently viewed as defeatist and cowardly. By the same token, offensive operations were consistently pursued by both sides to the detriment of the attacking forces, which were routinely overextended, lacked adequate supply, and became exposed to enemy counterattack.
By the beginning of December 1941 conditions at the front saw both armies suffering frightful shortages and living in desperate conditions across most of the line. Inevitably therefore the strategic calculus for the success of any operation was how much damage it could inflict upon the enemy and, by the same token, what the corresponding cost of that operation would necessitate. With armies stretched, resources typically inadequate, and mobility for most units limited, avoiding wasteful operations was more significant than the alternative of doing nothing at all. Yet for both the German and Soviet high commands there was little appreciation of this. Time and again positions were to be seized or defended “at any cost,” while success was measured by the acquisition of a set objective and not the sacrifices it entailed. While this remains a by-product of the inexorably ideological nature of the Nazi/Soviet view of war, it should not be accepted as our own standard for determining the value of events. Clearly, the ends did not always justify the means, so we should not simply assume that the most basic indicator of military success—seizing ground from the enemy—was in every instance vindicated.
In 1941 one of the central problems for the Red Army and the Wehrmacht was the lack of alignment between operational planning and strategic reality. Both sides were attempting far too much and expecting more of their forces than they could ever hope to deliver. During Operation Barbarossa, the Ostheer leadership pursued its advance with an almost obsessive determination, oblivious to the exhaustion of their men and the debilitating matériel losses within their mobile formations. This led directly to the dangerous position the Germans found themselves in near Moscow on December 5 when the first Soviet counterattacks began. Initially the Red Army’s offensive capitalized on the overextension of the central part of the German front, where multiple armies, under the direction of Army Group Center, were left dangerously exposed. Soviet success was also aided by the Wehrmacht’s unpreparedness for the cold, but each new Soviet advance encouraged ever more ambitious thinking until soon Stalin and the Stavka (the Soviet high command) were themselves undermining their own potential to strike a major blow.
Making matters worse, the Red Army on the offensive was in no way comparable to the Wehrmacht in 1941. Its hard-won professionalism, training, and experience enabled the German army to cope much better with excessive expectations than could the fledgling Red Army, whose ill-prepared officer corps was barely able to handle the more passive demands of defensive warfare, much less the skills required for a major offensive. Little experience in conducting forward operations and far too few qualified staff officers made functional command and control haphazard at best, leading in many instances to the infantry attacking in isolation without the support of heavy weapons or coordinated movements. A remarkable number of Soviet officers did not even attempt to “soften up” German positions and simply charged the enemy lines in senseless massed attacks. The German records are replete with such examples, and not surprisingly, soon after the offensive began, Soviet orders appeared expressly forbidding these kinds of wasteful charges.
On the other side, December 5 represented the exhaustion of Army Group Center’s own offensive and, at long last, the concentration of remaining resources on the much-neglected defense. While this counted for little in the immediate situation, over time remaining on the defensive wherever possible acted to conserve strength, while fieldworks such as bunkers or fortified villages acted as important force multipliers,7 which in a resource-poor environment greatly aided German forces. Where the front could no longer be held, retreat bought the German armies precious time and allowed them to fall back on their supply lines. This functioned remarkably well for the first two weeks of the offensive until Hitler’s halt order, which forbade any withdrawal unless approved by himself, came into effect. Hitler’s grasp of military principles was heavily colored by ideological precepts that undercut Germany’s defensive war just as Soviet forces were themselves being driven to excess. In this instance, the halt order was Hitler’s blanket solution that immensely complicated Army Group Center’s response.
Far from being the critical element that stiffened the backbone of the German army, Hitler’s halt order was a military disaster, which took no account of local circumstances and proved deeply unpopular among Army Group Center’s hard-pressed commanders. It assumed that the only requirement for holding a position was the requisite “will” to resist, which immediately cast doubt on any commander’s request for a retreat. Just how deeply the generals at the front resented the imposition of Hitler’s new order is one of the revelations of this study, which will demonstrate an orchestrated pattern of coordinated defiance that goes well beyond anything previously understood about the period. The oft-cited postwar claim, even by some former German officers, that the halt order somehow constituted “an immoveable barrier preventing … [the army] from pouring back in wild retreat” could not be further from the truth. From the commander of Army Group Center down, the halt order was typically viewed, like the Red Army, as something to be staunchly opposed and carefully outmaneuvered. Occasionally, this opposition was openly flaunted to the detriment of the protagonist, but more often than not it was carefully “managed” behind the scenes, so that the army high command and Hitler could not oppose what they did not know about—and there was a lot they did not know about.
Such bold “initiative” at the front reflects the fact that the German army’s hallmark system of “mission-oriented tactics” (Auftragstaktik), which historians have previously determined ended, or at the very least was seriously curtailed, from the first winter of the war in the east, was in fact alive and well.9 Commanders operated on their own terms to preserve their forces (and sometimes their own lives) by taking steps that purposely defied Hitler. This was not an act of resistance toward Hitler or his regime; it was motivated by self-preservation and professional instinct, which acted in the service of Nazi Germany, not in opposition to it. The army’s unadulterated support for Hitler and his war aims in the east was never in question, even when the dictator openly spoke of the coming war requiring a ruthless “war of annihilation.”
The real crisis period of the German winter campaign extended from mid-December to mid-January, when Hitler finally relaxed his halt order and allowed three German armies a last-minute withdrawal. Yet even in this period of strategic crisis, the Red Army operated as an unwieldy, blunt instrument smashing itself relentlessly against the German lines. In places this saw German positions being overrun and tactical breakthroughs of the line, but these were the exceptions, not the rule, and the cost to the Red Army was staggering.
This study will consider all six of Army Group Center’s constituent armies (Ninth, Third Panzer, Fourth Panzer, Fourth, Second Panzer, and Second) to present a complete picture of events, rather than one that simply follows the crisis points in the line and offers no comparative context across hundreds of kilometers of front. The idea of a crisis in Army Group Center was more often than not a localized phenomenon: every army experienced one, but at different times and to different degrees, and never all of them at the same time. Ninth and Fourth Armies, for example, were relatively quiet sectors with few retreats for the first two weeks of the Soviet offensive, while later the situation reversed with the panzer armies, especially the Second and Third, generally considered secure.
One method of assessing the winter fighting is to consider its raw cost, and the most basic indicator here is casualties. Grigorii Fedotovich Krivosheev’s landmark study of Soviet casualties estimated that the Red Army’s aggregate daily losses for the initial period of the Moscow counteroffensive (December 5, 1941, to January 7, 1942) were more costly than the Moscow defensive operations (September 30 to December 5, 1941). The former cost 10,910 men (dead and wounded) each day, while the latter exacted a daily average of 9,823 casualties. Even if we compare the Moscow counteroffensive to the Kiev defensive operation (July 7 to September 26, 1941), the average daily losses of the latter came to 8,543, substantially fewer again. This does not mean that the total losses for the Moscow counteroffensive were higher overall because its operational period was shorter, but that the casualties were more concentrated between December 5 and January 7, 1942. More recently, Lev Lopukhovsky and Boris Kavalerchik have persuasively argued that Krivosheev’s figures, which were made up of reports submitted to the Soviet high command, excluded large numbers of losses resulting from German encirclements or other wartime circumstances where no reports could be made. This demonstrates that earlier periods of the war were in fact much more costly to the Red Army, but the evidence provided by Lopukhovsky and Kavalerchik also revises upward the Soviet winter losses. Their detailed analysis of the wartime records reveals as many as 552,000 casualties for the month of December, 558,000 for January and a further 528,000 in February, equaling a winter total of 1,638,000 Soviet losses. This is a figure that surely questions the extent of Stalin’s “victorious” winter campaign, especially when one considers that total German casualties for a slightly longer period (November 26, 1941, to February 28, 1942) came to just 262,524. Soviet losses were more than six times those of the Germans in the winter of 1941–1942, making the argument for Germany’s “defeat” much more relative. The result vindicates John Erickson’s characterization of Soviet infantry in this period as little more than a “mob of riflemen,” which he argued was “thus inviting heavy casualties” until they were supported by more heavy weaponry.
For all the dramatic depictions of Army Group Center’s frozen soldiers and the often-exaggerated parallels with Napoleon’s disastrous retreat, the actual number of German dead compares favorably to the earlier periods of the war. In fact, there were fewer German deaths in December 1941 (40,198) than in the preceding months of July (63,099), August (46,066), September (51,033), and October (41,099). Only in the months of June (25,000 in just nine days of combat) and November (36,000) were fewer German deaths recorded. January (48,164) and February (44,099) 1942 were somewhat higher, but nothing like the death toll resulting from real German disasters, such as that seen in January and February 1943 following the loss of Stalingrad and the German Sixth Army. Here the German death toll for the same two months reached a staggering 248,640.
Finally, the winter of 1941–1942 is unique because it is one of the only times in the war that Germany successfully matched its strategy to its operations. When Hitler issued War Directive 39 on December 8, ordering the Ostheer to “abandon immediately all major offensive operations and go over to the defensive,” the gap between Army Group Center’s means and ends closed to something barely achievable, which was more than could be said of preceding war directives that overestimated Germany’s offensive capabilities and confidently predicted “military mastery of the European continent after the overthrow of Russia.” Such hubris, however, was much less evident by early December as Hitler’s new war directive explained: “The way in which these defensive operations are to be carried out will be decided in accordance with the purpose which they are intended to serve, viz.: To hold areas which are of great operational or economic importance to the enemy.”
Army Group Center held a string of important Russian cities, which facilitated supply, offered shelter, assisted rear area organization, and functioned as valuable transportation nodes. They could also be counted upon as rough indicators of where local Soviet offensives would be directed and thus channeling their forces on the approaches and, if reached, forcing them to assault German strongpoints. These included Kursk, Orel, Briansk, Kaluga, Viaz’ma, Rzhev, Kalinin, and behind them all Smolensk, where Army Group Center had its headquarters. By January 1942 the Stavka’s general offensive sought to execute two major envelopments, a smaller one to close at Viaz’ma and a larger one at Smolensk. Yet neither of these two cities would fall to the Red Army, just as neither of the two encirclements would succeed. German defensive operations, while sometimes desperate, successfully defended all of their major strategic locations except for Kalinin (which was on the front line when the Soviet offensive began) and Kaluga.
The Soviet plan was not just looking to capture population centers, but to encircle and destroy major sections of Army Group Center. In fact, the destruction of the whole army group was sometimes called for in Soviet plans. Yet Germany not only successfully maintained its chain of strategic locations, the army group also endured intact without losing an army, a corps, or even a single division. Of course, some of these formations became so worn down by the fighting that they hardly functioned as corps or divisions, but in spite of being occasionally cut off and subjected to all manner of punishment, no major German formations were lost. The same cannot be said of the Red Army, which became so overextended that, at its worst, one and a half Soviet armies—some 60,000 Soviet troops—became cut off and were mostly destroyed.
German operations, therefore, not only sufficed to preserve their formations and defend their strategic objectives, but also, by doing so, frustrated the Soviet offensive plan and exacted a tremendous toll on the Red Army. It was something of a role reversal from the summer and autumn, when the Red Army had successfully foiled Germany’s strategic intentions, but as already observed, both regimes habitually pursued wildly overblown plans. In the winter, however, Germany proved dominant tactically, operationally, and even strategically. Army Group Center, while terribly battered by the winter fighting, was not destroyed by it, and would go on to maintain a remarkably strong position in the center of the Eastern Front for another two and a half years.
If the present study seeks to reassess one aspect of the winter period, it is to question who benefited the most—or lost the least—from the 1941–1942 winter campaign. Marshal Georgi Zhukov, who commanded the Soviet Western Front during the winter fighting, wrote in a draft of his memoirs (which only came to light much later):
The History of the Great Fatherland War still comes to a generally positive conclusion about the [first] winter offensive of our forces, despite the lack of success. We do not agree with this evaluation. The embellishment of history, one could say, is a sad attempt to paint over failure. If you consider our losses and what results were achieved, it will be clear that it was a Pyrrhic victory.
Identifying the winter period as a Soviet Pyrrhic victory does not ameliorate Germany’s own dire circumstances or exonerate the decisions of Hitler and the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres—OKH) in precipitating the circumstances that led to Army Group Center’s winter crisis. Even many of the leading commanders in the field contributed significantly to the awful state of affairs Germany confronted by early December, although in their subsequent writings they would choose to pin all of their woes on higher authorities. Most important, whatever measure of success Germany’s winter campaign had, it did not change the fundamental point that Field Marshal Ewald von Kleist made after the war: “Everything was based on the hope of a decisive result by the autumn of 1941.” That was not changed by the winter campaign, nor could it ever have been. But Germany certainly lost far fewer men in the fighting, frustrated the Soviet strategic plan, and emerged in the spring unbroken and best placed to recapture the initiative for another major summer offensive.
The need to understand the centrality of the Nazi-Soviet conflict to the outcome of the Second World War cannot be overstated. It was not just one more front in the war against Hitler’s Germany, it was the front. The Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union with almost 150 divisions (over 3 million men), while in North Africa the Western allies engaged Rommel’s famous Afrikakorps with just three German divisions (45,000 men). Even after D-Day, almost three years from the launch of Operation Barbarossa, the Western allies would never face more than 25 percent of the German army in their campaigns across Western Europe. The German army was battered to death in one campaign after another on the Eastern Front. Yet the Wehrmacht’s path to destruction was by no means devoid of major reversals, while Soviet “successes” were often won at a staggering cost, which sometimes hindered rather than helped the Red Army’s final victory. The winter of 1941–1942 is a case in point and a caution against oversimplified conclusions based on a superficial analysis of what was achieved. Stalin’s counteroffensive constitutes one of the clearest examples of Soviet strategic overreach, which underestimated Germany’s enduring tactical and operational dominance and led to horrendous losses. In the final analysis Army Group Center was far from defeated in the winter fighting, Auftragstaktik did not disappear as a result of Hitler’s halt order, and the Wehrmacht’s response was much more offensive than has previously been understood. Moreover, the prevailing historical narrative dominated by Germany’s “crisis and retreat,” while not always incorrect, ignores the fact that Army Group Center’s withdrawals were often operationally successful and strategically necessary. The new line Army Group Center occupied defended valuable Russian cities in highly favorable battles of attrition. As one summative report from the 7th Infantry Division stated two weeks into the Soviet offensive: “In this struggle, there is no armistice, there is only victory or defeat. The task of the German Eastern Army is to force a German victory with all means and under all circumstances.” This task was almost universally understood, and whatever the cost to the German troops and the occupied Russian population, it was Hitler—not Stalin—who achieved his strategic goals for the winter.
By David Stahel from ‘Retreat from Moscow: A New History of Germany’s Winter Campaign, 1941-1942’
In Germany feudalism was established later than in France. The Norsemen only attacked the area of the lower Rhine, and the period of their raids was relatively short. The greater danger came from the Magyars and Slavs along the eastern borders. Although their raids influenced the development of serfdom and the growth of feudalism even before the reforms of Henry the Fowler (919–36), it was not until the civil wars of the reign of Henry IV (1056–1106), the baronial revolts of the twelfth century, and the weakening of the crown by the Investiture Contest that the power of the nobility was greatly strengthened and many of the freemen peasantry were depressed into servility. The traditional German war leader, the duke (Herzog), had survived from tribal times, and his power, together with that of the great church magnates, prevented complete chaos from breaking out, even under weak kings like Ludwig the Child (899–911) and Conrad I (911–18). Although Charlemagne had suppressed the original tribal dukes and replaced them by his own Frankish officials, by the time of Henry the Fowler they had once more become identified with the racial origins of their dukedoms, Franconia, Swabia, Bavaria, and Saxony. The tribal origin of the great dukedoms prevented feudalism becoming as rigid as it did, for instance, in France. The dukes recognized that they held their offices of the king but did not admit to holding their lands from him. Within their dukedoms they coined money, called assemblies, administered justice, and controlled the church, as in Merovingian times.
The nobility always included many who regarded their lands as being allods which they might divide up into fiefs as they liked, without asking leave of the king. These were at first called ‘sun fiefs’ (Sonnenlehen) since they were held free of any earthly overlord, and later ‘banner fiefs’ (Fahnlehen) because investiture was by the gift of a banner. At first only the duchies were of this rank, later margravates, and finally all princely fiefs were conferred in this way. Investiture by means of a banner is illustrated in the manuscript of the Sachsenspiegel of about 1360, as well as investiture by means of a glove, also referred to in the Chanson de Roland. The Sachsenspiegel also illustrates the act of doing homage both singly and in groups, and the subsequent oath on saintly relics (Sächsische Landesbibliothek, Dresden, M. 32).
French-style feudalism, the union of benefice or fief with vassalage and the adoption of the principle of commendation and homage, came later and was always more common in the lands nearest to France. The growth of feudalism was everywhere checked by the existence of the royal officials, dukes, counts, and hundred-men. Otto the Great (936–73) had incorporated into the military hierarchy the bishops and the abbots appointed by the Crown. The Concordat of Worms of 1122 confirmed this by making the princes of the Church princes of Germany with the Pope’s approval. The Church magnates were expected to serve in the army in person, and their forces were one of the mainstays of the king. The feudatories, as opposed to the dukes, were forbidden to wage private wars, and were not allowed to coin money. They had only simple jurisdiction within their lands. Under Otto 1 even the dukes were not immune from the king’s justice. The feudal anarchy prevailing in France was considered to be a scandal and the attempt of Henry II to introduce the ‘Peace of God’ was thought to be an unjust reflection on public law.
Fiefs did not become hereditary until the eleventh century, and although counties had become hereditary by the time of Henry II (1002–24) even the greatest duchies were not absolutely hereditary until the reign of Henry IV. Knights and knighthood were apparently unknown until the twelfth century. The first recorded instance of knighthood being conferred in the German lands is the knighting of the Hungarian king by Conrad III in 1146, possibly in imitation of French practice seen on the Second Crusade.
Very many freemen survived in Germany without dependance on any lord, vassals without fiefs were common until the eleventh century, and the Heerban, the levy of all freemen to defend the realm, survived as a fighting force much later than elsewhere. At Bouvines (1214) there were many Saxon freemen fighting on foot. These freemen (Frîgebur) who were particularly common in Saxony and Bavaria and rather less so in Swabia and Franconia, had the same wergild as a knight (Ritter), acted as jurors as in England, and formed the Heerban.
The main feature distinguishing German feudalism from that of other lands is the ministerialis, the unfree knight. Although in England and France vassals could be sold, given away, or bequeathed by the will of their overlords, they remained free in law, and noble; the ministeriales did not. They appear to have derived from a superior class of serf who rendered service rather than labour, and in Carolingian times they are found as managers and stewards of estates. Originally their service was essentially non-military, and in 789 Charlemagne ruled that a ministerialis who rendered genuine military service was by the very fact made free. As time went on they developed into court officials at both royal and noble courts, because their employment meant that land was not lost by enfeofment, and because of the unreliability of vassals. A serf had the habit of obedience, a free vassal had not. By the twelfth century when the class was fully formed, they are found regularly performing military duties, and their status had become hereditary in fact, if not in law. The Italian expeditions greatly increased the military use of ministeriales since the German feudatories were reluctant to serve so far from home. Among south German contingents sent on these campaigns the proportion of vassals decreased from 71 per cent in the period 1096–1146 to 3 per cent in 1191–1240. The balance were ministeriales. They made up the majority of the army of Conrad III on the Second Crusade. Their term of service is unknown but it may have been longer than that of knights, which was six weeks without pay with a further period of service on demand after an interval of six weeks.
Under Henry IV (1056–1106) almost all the court officials were ministeriales. They were cordially detested for their coarse manners, pride, and petty tyranny. In the twelfth century they began to receive knighthood and to assume titles like nobles from the lands granted to them, and by the end of the century the two classes, the free and unfree nobility, were virtually indistinguishable. In Italy they sometimes held great administrative offices, like Markward of Anweiler who was regent of Sicily and, at the time of his enfranchisement in 1197, was made Duke of Ravenna and Marquis of Ancona.
Society took much longer to stratify in Germany than it did, for instance, in France, partly because of the position of ministeriales bridging all ranks, and partly because of the large number of freemen peasants which prevented the growth of the contempt for the peasantry typical of France. Few of the smaller barons had any vassals, their place being taken by ministeriales, and those that did had rarely enfeofed them. The barons lived on their estates in unfortified manor houses made possible by the peaceful condition of the countryside. Castles were usually only held by royal officials and were often provisioned and garrisoned at the expense of the king. During the reign of Henry IV, on the other hand, many unlicensed castles were built by rebellious barons or self-seeking ministeriales. The long minority of this king and his subsequent quarrel with the Pope over investiture of bishops weakened the royal power, encouraged the centrifugal force of feudalism, and lost him the support of the church so laboriously built up, as a counterweight to the baronage, by Conrad II (1024–39). This king had done what he could to undermine the growing power of the great barons by recognizing the hereditary nature of fiefs held by sub-vassals in Germany and legalising it in Italy. This gained him the sympathy and support of the sub-vassals and weakened the grip on them of the tenants-in-chief, but at the same time encouraged the fragmentation of Germany.
In the late eleventh century Benzo of Alba suggested that Henry IV should replace feudal military service by a tax similar to scutage, and employ a mercenary army. The same suggestion was made after the battle of Bouvines in 1214 but mercenaries never seem to have played a major part in German armies until late in the Middle Ages. Instead, kings like Henry V (1106–25) and Frederick 1 of Hohenstaufen (1152–90) relied on their great personal wealth and family connections to provide themselves with vassals and allies. The fall of Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, in 1181, weakened the traditional power of the ancient dukedoms and allowed the emergence of many small feudal states. The fall of the Hohenstaufen family in the thirteenth century prevented a strong kingship from growing up, as in France and England. The centrifugal forces of feudalism took over. Vassals became independent of their overlords, and the condition of Germany began to resemble that of France under the later Carolingians.
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.
The Albatros Flugzeugwerke produced their first aircraft in 1912, the Albatros L.3, a single-seat scout type. This was followed by the L.9, a single-seat scout type designed by Claude Dornier, who later was to join the Zeppelin Company as their chief designer.
The Albatros company, co-founded and owned by Dr Walter Huth, had been in existence since 1909 and was founded with a capital of 25,000 marks. It was situated, together with other aircraft manufacturers, at the airfield at Johannisthal, near Berlin. As the Prussian Army became more and more interested in aviation, the manufacturers came up with a variety of offers in an attempt to secure contracts from them. On 2 October 1909, Dr Huth approached the War Ministry and offered to buy a French Latham aircraft for the military and supply an instructor to train military pilots, if they would pay for any repairs and maintenance costs. The offer was declined as the Wright Company had offered a similar package – for free. This prompted the Chief of the General Staff, General von Moltke, to put forward a recommendation that the War Minister sanction the training of suitable officers as pilots. At the end of 1909, von Moltke had been well aware that the French were already buying numbers of aircraft in addition to building some of their own, and were training military pilots.
The General Inspectorate of Military Transportation tried to maintain an impartial stance towards the various aircraft manufacturers, or so it was thought. For some unknown reason, they seemed to favour the Albatros Company, but this came to a head in 1911 when Otto Weiner, one of the directors of Albatros, urged Colonel Messing of the Inspectorate not to deal with the Luftverkehrsgesellschaft (LVG), claiming that the company was just a sale agent for Albatros. The LVG Company was owned by Arthur Mueller, and he allegedly persuaded Otto Weiner that the Army would rather deal with him than Albatros. Albatros claimed, however, that they reserved the right to sell directly to the Army and LVG would receive 750 marks for each aircraft sold. The fact that the LVG Company had saved the Albatros Company from collapse in the spring of 1911, after it had had a request for a subsidy from the Army rejected, seems to have been forgotten by Otto Weiner. LVG had purchased four aircraft from Albatros at a cost of 100,000 marks, which enabled the company to continue production.
The War Ministry supported LVG’s complaint of unfair dealing, and ensured that all transactions concerning the contracts issued for the purchase of aircraft from the various companies was done on the basis of ability to provide.
The first of the Albatros reconnaissance/trainers, the B.I, appeared in 1913. The aircraft was initially used as a trainer, but with the outbreak of war it was used both as a trainer and reconnaissance aircraft. Powered by a 100-hp Mercedes D.II engine, the B.I had a top speed of 65 mph and an endurance of 4 hours. Only a small number were built before being replaced by the B.II. The B.II, like the B.I, had an extremely strong, slab-sided fuselage made up of four spruce longerons covered with plywood. As in all the early aircraft, the pilot sat in the rear cockpit, which gave him a very limited view for take-off and landing. Used for training and reconnaissance duties, the B.II was replaced by the B.III with only minor modifications.
The arrival of Allied fighter aircraft prompted the development of a faster reconnaissance aircraft. Albatros produced the (OAW – Ostdeutsche Albatroswerke) C.I, powered by the 150-hp Benz engine, but only two were built. A second Albatros, the (OAW) C.II built in 1916, powered by a straight eight Mercedes D.IV engine was produced. This time only one was built.
Early in 1915, the company embarked on a singularly ambitious project, a four-engined bomber. Designed by Konstr. Grohmann, the Albatros G.I, as it was known, had a wingspan of 89 ft 6½ in (27 metres), a wing area of 1,485 sq ft (138 sq metres) and a fuselage length of 39 ft 4¼ in (12 metres). It was a very large aircraft. On the lower wing, four 120-hp Mercedes D.II engines in nacelles were mounted, driving four tractor propellers. The first flight took place on 31 January 1916, and was flown by a Swiss pilot, Alexander Hipleh. The G.I became the forerunner of the G.II and G.III, although the two latter aircraft were twin-engined bombers.
A completely different design early in 1916 produced the Albatros C.II. Called the Gitterschwanz (Trellis-tail), the design was of the pusher type, looking very similar to the De Havilland DH 2. Powered by a 150-hp Benz Bz III engine, the C.II did not measure up to expectations and only one was built. This was quickly followed by the Albatros C.IV, which reverted back to the original basic design. A 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine was fitted into the C.III fuselage, to which a C.II tail assembly and undercarriage were fixed. Again, only one of these aircraft was made.
A purely experimental model, the Albatros C.V Experimental, was built at the beginning of 1916. This had a wingspan of 41 ft 11½ in, supported by I-struts in an effort to test the inter-plane bracing. Powered by an eight-cylinder 220-hp Mercedes D.IV engine, the C.V Experimental supplied a great deal of information to Albatroswerke. The C.VI followed soon afterwards, and was based on the C.III airframe and powered by a 180-hp Argus As III engine, giving the aircraft a top speed of 90 mph and enabling it to carry enough fuel for a 4½-hour flight duration. In 1917, a night bomber version, the C.VIII N, evolved. Bombs were carried beneath the lower wings, but it was only powered by a 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine. Only one was constructed.
At the same time as the night bomber was being built, a two-seat fighter/reconnaissance aircraft, the Albatros C.IX, was being made. With a straight lower wing and a considerably swept upper wing it presented an unusual aircraft, but only three were built. This was followed by one version of the Albatros C.XIII, and again it was for experimental purposes. A return to the original design of the two-seater reconnaissance produced the Albatros C.XIV. There was one difference: the C.XIV had staggered wings, and again only one was built. The C.XIV was later modified into the C.XV. It was too late for the development of this aircraft in any numbers, as the end of the war came.
The air supremacy of the Imperial German Air Service during 1916 had been gradually eroded by the rapid development of the Allied fighter aircraft. In a desperate attempt to gain control again, the Albatros Werkes was approached to design and build a fighter that would do just that. Looking at the highly manoeuvrable Nieuport that was causing some of the problems, the company’s top designer Robert Thelen set to work and produced a design that combined speed and firepower. If his aircraft couldn’t outmanoeuvre the Nieuport, the Albatros could catch it and blast it out of the sky.
A 160-hp Mercedes engine or the 150-hp Benz, which was enclosed in a semi-monocoque plywood fuselage, powered the first of the Albatros series, the D.I. The cylinder heads and valve gear were left exposed, as this gave assisted cooling and greater ease of access for the engineers who had to work on the engine. Engine cooling was achieved by mounting two Windoff radiators, one on each side of the fuselage and between the wings, and a slim water tank mounted above and toward the rear of the engine, at an offset angle slightly to port. The extra power given to the aircraft enabled the firepower, twin, fixed Spandau machine guns, to be increased without loss of performance.
The fuselage consisted of three-eighths thick plywood formers and six spruce longerons. Screwed to this frame were plywood panels, and the engine was installed with easily removable metal panels for both protection and ease of maintenance. The wings, upper and lower, and the tail surfaces were covered with fabric. The fixed tail surfaces and upper and lower fins were made of plywood. The control surfaces were fabric covered over a welded steel-tube frame with a small triangular balance portion incorporated in the rudder and the one-piece elevator.
The undercarriage, a conventional, streamlined steel-tube V-type chassis, was fixed to the fuselage by means of sockets, and sprung through the wheels with rubber shock cord.
The Albatros was a very satisfactory aircraft to fly, but it was discovered to have a major drawback during combat. The top wing, because of its position to the fuselage, obscured the pilot’s forward field of vision. The problem was solved by cutting out a semi-circular section of the top wing in front of the pilot, and by lowering the wing so that the pilot could see over the top.
The first Jasta to receive the Albatros D.I, on 17 September 1916, was Jasta 2, which was commanded by the legendary Oswald Boelcke. Three weeks later Boelcke was killed when his Albatros was in involved in a mid-air collision with his wingman Erwin Böhme as they both dived into attack the same British aircraft, a DH.2 of No. 24 Squadron RFC.
In the middle of 1916, the German Naval High Command decided that it would be a good idea to have a single-seat fighter floatplane as a defence aircraft. The Albatros D.I was used as the basis of the Albatros W.4, although the latter was considerably larger in overall dimensions. The wingspan was increased by 1 metre.
Late in 1916, the Albatros D.III appeared with subtle, but noticeable changes to previous models. However, by the summer of 1917, this too had been superseded by the Albatros D.V and D.Va, just as the S.E.5s and SPADs (Société Pour Aviation et ses Dériéves) of the Allies started to regain control of the skies. The same problem seemed to dog the Albatros throughout its lifetime: the lower wing had a tendency to break up in a prolonged dive. In one incident, Sergeant Festnter of Jasta 11 carried out a test flight in an Albatros D.III, when at 13,000 feet the port lower wing broke up, and it was only his experience and a great deal of luck that prevented the aircraft crashing into the ground. Even the legendary Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen experienced a similar incident on 24 January 1917, while testing one of the new Albatros D.IIIs that had recently arrived at Jasta 11.
Tests were carried out, and it was discovered that the single spar was positioned too far aft, causing vibration which increased as the dive continued. This eventually resulted in the structure of the wing collapsing under the erratic movement. A temporary stopgap was achieved by fitting a short strut from the V interplane to the leading edge. Instructions were then given to pilots not to carry out long dives in the Albatros, which, as one can imagine, drastically reduced the faith pilots had in the aircraft, especially when under combat conditions.
A large number of the Jagdstaffels (fighter sections) were being supplied with the Albatros III and IV, and once again superiority in the air passed to the Germans. Those pilots rapidly becoming famous as ‘Aces’ were flying the Albatros IIIs and IVs, among them Werner Voss and Prinz Friedrich Carl of Prussia. The latter, who commanded a Flieger-Abteilung unit, kept an Albatros IV with Jasta 2 for his personal use. The superiority of the Albatros IIIs and IVs, however, was short-lived, with the arrival of the Sopwith Triplane and the SPAD S.VII, and later the S.E.5 and Sopwith Camel. The Germans quickly realised that every time they came up with a superior design, the Allies countered it with an even better one. The Allies also had the advantage of being able to turn to a variety of aircraft manufacturers, whereas the Germans were limited in their choice.
The Albatros Werke were pressurised into improving the Albatros, with the result that the Albatros D.V was developed. The D.V had a major change to the shape of the fuselage. The D.III fuselage, with its flat sides, was replaced with an elliptical fuselage. The aileron cables were routed through the top wing instead of the lower wing, but the wing structures were the same. Fitted with a 200-hp Mercedes D.IIIa six-cylinder, in-line water-cooled engine, the increased speed of the D.V started to redress some of the balance of air power, but was not sufficient to make any substantial difference. Even the appearance of the D.Va, although it was a superior aircraft to the D.V, did nothing to improve the German air superiority.
The company was not being idle: the Albatros was being developed, and an experimental model, the D.IV, produced. With the fuselage of a D.Va and the wings of a D.II, the experimental fighter was powered by a specially geared version of the 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine, which allowed the engine to be completely enclosed in the nose. There were a number of insurmountable problems with the engine and the project was scrapped. Two months later, in August 1917, another experimental fighter appeared, the D.VII. It was powered by a V8 195-hp Benz Bz IIIb engine, which gave the aircraft a top speed of 127 mph and a climb rate of almost 1,000 feet per minute. Again only one model was built.
The appearance of the Albatros Dr.I in 1917 was to assess the possibilities of producing a triplane. After many tests, the aircraft was deemed to be no better than the D.V and was not continued. Then at the beginning of 1918 another triplane appeared, the Albatros Dr.II. The heavily staggered triple wings were braced with very wide struts, and ailerons were fitted to all the wingtips. Powered by a V8 195-hp Benz IVb engine with frontal-type radiators that were mounted in the centre section between the upper and middle wings, the speed of the aircraft was affected considerably because of the drag caused by the position of the radiators.
A two-seater reconnaissance/bomber appeared at the beginning of 1918, the Albatros J.II. Powered by a 220-hp Benz IVa engine, which gave the aircraft a top speed of 87 mph, the J.II was armed with twin fixed, downward-firing Spandau machine guns and One manually operated Parabellum machine gun in the rear cockpit. The downward-firing guns protruded through the floor of the fuselage, between the legs of the undercarriage. Four examples were built, but it arrived after the Junkers J.I, and the success of the J.I overshadowed the J.II to the extent that no more were built.
A number of prototypes made their appearance early in 1918, the first being the Albatros D.IX. It was powered by a 180-hp Mercedes D.IIIa engine, giving it a top speed of 96 mph. Only one was built. A second model appeared, the Albatros D.X, powered by a V8 195-hp Benz IIIb engine. This gave the aircraft a top speed of 106 mph. At a fighter competition at Aldershof it initially outperformed all the other competitors, but was unable to sustain the performance throughout. Again, only one model was built. The Albatros D.XI that followed was the first Albatros aircraft to use a rotary engine. Fitted with the Siemens-Halske Sh III of 160-hp, it was installed in a horseshoe-shaped cowling with extensions pointing toward the rear. These extensions assisted in the cooling by sucking air through the cowling. Two prototypes were built; one with a four-bladed propeller, the other was a twin-bladed model.
Two prototype Albatros D.XIIs followed, both fitted with different engines, but fitted with a Bohme undercarriage, which for the first time featured compressed-air shock absorbers. Neither aircraft was considered for production.
The Albatros D.V model was the most famous of all the Albatros aircraft, and was assigned to various Jastas in May 1917. In an attempt to bolster flagging morale, pilots were encouraged to emblazon their aircraft in ways that would personalise them. Baron Manfred von Richthofen had his Albatros D.V 1177/17 painted all red, as was his later version No. 4693/17, hence the name given to him by the Allies, ‘The Red Baron’. Eduard Ritter von Schleich had his Albatros D.V painted all black and became known as the ‘Black Knight’. By May 1918 there were 131 Albatros D.Vs and 928 D.Vas in operational service, but by now it was too late, the war was over.
One other aircraft appeared in 1917 and that was the Albatros G.I. Built by the Ostdeutsche Alabatroswerke GmbH, they had been contracted to build three bombers for the Staaken company. Otto Weiner and Dr Walter Huth had created Ostdeutsche Alabatroswerke GmbH in Schneidemühl on 23 April 1914. The latter had been one of the founders of Albatros Flugzeugwerke GmbH when it had been in Johannisthal. Although bearing the name of Albatros, the company was initially independent, that is until 1917, when it was taken over by the Albatros Flugzeugwerke GmbH.
The Albatros G.I led to the development of the G.II and G.III, and it was this that persuaded the authorities to award the three Staaken aircraft contract to the Albatros Company.