Successfully used for reconnaissance sorties on the eastern and western fronts and the Balkans, they were then used as bomb carriers against targets in Gt.Britain, primarily London and harbours on the east-coast. But these missions turned out to be a waste of good men and airships compared to the damage caused on the ground, and the hoped-for propaganda value was limited. Of 123 army and navy airships in action, 73 were lost through enemy action, (AA guns and fighter planes), as well as accidents, with a loss of 40% of their crews.
The creation of the Fliegertruppe began in 1910. The first aircraft, locally copied from Wright's Kitty Hawk, did a few hops and crashed. The sorry remains were made into a chandelier for the officers' mess of the unit that initially consisted of six officers and ten other ranks and one French plane. It expanded with the acquisition of more French and also German manufactured aircraft, mostly double-seaters. But pilots were not always taken seriously by the general public, with an insurance agent refusing a pilot's policy by saying that his company did not insure "High-wire artists, racing drivers, lion tamers and airship pilots". Admittedly, flying was not for the faint hearted, it needed a lot of determination and guts to guide these ungainly contraptions made from metal tubes, wire and canvas, powered by unreliable 50 or 60 HP engines through the air. Pilots joked they needed to be cross-eyed, one eye for the plane, the other as a constant look-out for emergency landing spots, and they always had to carry pliers and sticky tape with them. Navigation was another problem. With no proper maps available, pilots used to search for name boards on railway stations or just landed and asked a passer-by.
The manufacture of single-seater aircraft followed, they were fast and safer, and pilots extended distance and altitude of operations all over the country, organised and flew in many air- and endurance tests, competed with civilian pilots and were formed into separate scout- and fighter wings.
The Kaiser and especially his brother, Prince Heinrich, supported the Fliegertruppe, and asked that planes take part in autumn army maneuvers which was done with great success. They were even told to join parade formations, much to the grumbling of senior officers who complained that aircraft spoiled the general picture.
When WW I began, fighter planes entered the air war in great numbers on both sides, especially on the western front and laterly the Balkans and in Palestine. In the east only scout-planes flew deep into enemy territory without meeting any Russian resistance in the air. It seemed as if the Russian army preferred to hoard its few aircraft instead of sending them to work. The deployment of twin-engined bombers, (with pusher propellers), for daylight attacks on the western front produced only fair results. This was due to their slow speed and fast enemy fighters.
However, when they turned to night bombing, they were more effective. Missions on Gt.Britain began from mid 1917 and were hazardous. They depended on favourable weather and cloud cover for protection and the bomb load the planes could carry was restricted. Losses through enemy fighters increased, and when the German high command was unable to supply units with high-altitude planes and also did not want to consider night bombing raids, operations were stopped.
In the final analysis aircraft and their pilots on both sides demonstrated their worth in battles in the sky consistently and with distinction on all fronts.
Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797 5167