South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


The talk given on 9th February was primarily about the emergence of the German Air Force in 1910, and a serving officer's personal involvement and experience in the new unit. It was called the Fliegertruppe, and it had a difficult birth because military experts did not believe in aircraft, and those who did wanted to use them as a sort of cavalry of the air and the pilot was called a driver.

In order to design and build the first military aircraft, the Kaiser gave permission for a government architect to waste 5O.OOO marks on a bad copy of the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk which the Kaiser had observed flying in Berlin in 1909. But the plane hardly left the ground and crashed. The officer-pilot was bruised and what was left of the plane the mechanics fashioned into an attractive chandelier for the officer's mess.

The unit's complement was 6 officers, 2 N.C.O. and 8 other ranks, one small hangar, two large tents and a French Farman aircraft on loan.. Flying took place early in the morning or late in the afternoon when there was no turbulence. An aircraft could not survive strain, rain, fog or wind. The standard flying course, training included, was a figure eight around two clumps of birch trees at an altitude of 10 - 20 m..

Later the Fliegerkommando received two more aircraft, but the war ministry labelled attempts to enlarge the small unit as too early, only to change its mind when it became known that the French and British air forces were expanding rapidly.

During cross country flights aircraft had to remain in visual contact with the station in case the engine seized or any of a dozen malfunctions occurred. Then the plane could still glide to safety and be attended to by the mechanics of the pursuit car following on the ground. One was lucky if the French 5O HP Gnome engine performed for longer than one hour. The pilots joked that they had to be cross-eyed: one eye for the plane, the other searching for an emergency landing spot. Flying was a fight with the elements, crashes were frequent. A favourite joke concerned the reply given by a life insurance director to the father of a young pilot who wished to insure his son:

"My dear sir. We do not insure high wire artists, racing drivers, lion tamers and airship pilots."

Originally, the observer sat in the front cockpit, the pilot behind him. He complained that he could not see forward properly, while the observer grumbled that he was the first to be injured in case the pilot crashed the plane. Fortunately, the seating arrangements were reversed to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Pilots' daily routines were very different from that of any other army unit, a fact criticized by some ranking officers. They complained that pilots maintained irregular duty hours, their aircraft frightened the horses, and they interfered with proper parade formations when they parked in line with army units to be reviewed by the Kaiser.

However, aircraft took part for the first time in the Kaiser's autumn maneuvers in 1911 and flew for periods of between 3O to 5O minutes at an altitude of 5OO m in almost all weather conditions. Their reconnaissance results were so impressive, they even convinced hardened critics of their usefulness despite forced landings and crashes.

Testing new aircraft types was a haphazard affair at best. Manufacturers tested their planes before delivery and that was that. Pilots just had to hope that the manufacturer's pilots knew what they were doing. New guide lines and manuals for testing aircraft were devised and for the evaluation of new instruments, propellers and the many other parts an aircraft was made of.

It was vitally important that the German Air Force became more competitive, as they were sadly lagging behind the French and the British. The French were already using planes for artillery spotting, aerial photography and bombing.

In April 1912 the unit was given its final name: Koeniglich Preussische Fliegertruppe, Royal Prussian Air Force.

During World War One German aircraft operated on all fronts as has been documented widely. However, relatively little has been written about a German Air Force unit called Flieger-abteilung Pascha No. 300.

Turkey, who had been an ally of Germany and Austria, entered the war and fought the British troops in Palestine, not very successfully, though, because they immediately asked for assistance and an expeditionary force was sent from Germany to help them. This force was soon augmented by the addition of 25 aircraft late in 1915. They defended the Dardanelles and were then incorporated into the Turkish army and blockaded the Suez Canal.

But the supply position was a tremendous headache. The units had to fight some 4.000 km away from Germany and everything they required in arms, ammunition etc. had to be sent by rail and camel transport across an unforgiving territory, always in danger of attacks from bands of irregulars. As a result the expeditionary force was withdrawn from the canal zone, leaving a thin screen, while dissipating its strength trying to contain British inspired and led uprising by the Arabs. In order to increase the fighting capability of the German expeditionary force, more aircraft were sent to them but they also failed to stop the allied advance, and eventually the German troops were withdrawn suffering severe losses. "Lawrence of Arabia" wrote about this episode in his book "Seven Pillars of Wisdom".

After the war the German air force was broken up "never to rise again". However, with Russian clandestine assistance a small number of pilots were trained in that country to become a part of the future Luftwaffe after 1933.

Depending on requests from members, further talks about the Luftwaffe could be arranged covering the years from 1933 to 1939 and from 1939 to 1945. Those wishing to hear more may kindly contact the Scribe.


Forthcoming Lectures:

9th March:
My years as Naval Chaplain in Simon's Town and my service to the Army National Servicemen at Youngsfield.
Speaker: Bishop Reginald Cawcutt MMM:

13th April:

A study of military Operations in order to present the big picture of the night bombing raids of the RAF.
An illustrated Talk by Brigadier-General R.S. "Dick" Lord


Jochen (John) O.E.O. Mahncke, Vice-Chairman/Scribe,
Tel.: 021-797-5167

South African Military History Society /