Air Aces of World War One

Leutnant Franz Buchner – German Ace -1898 / 1920

Buchner was born in Leipzig, in the Kingdom of Saxony, the son of a businessman. He volunteered for the Army in 1914, aged 16. He served in the Royal Saxon 7th Infantry Regiment No.106. After surviving a bout of typhoid fever, he fought on both the Western and Eastern fronts. He was subsequently commissioned in 1916, shortly after his 18th birthday. He was wounded in combat in France on the 3rd of April 1916. After his recovery he transferred to the German Army Air Service, or Luftstreitkrafte, and was assigned as an observation pilot with Feldflieger Abtielung 270.

In March 1917, Buchner became a fighter pilot, joining the Prussian Jagdstaffel, where he scored his first and only victory with them on the 17th of August. Upon his transfer to Jagdstaffel 13, he found his niche serving under Rudolph Berthold, one of Germany’s most dedicated fliers. However it was several months before he scored again, on the 15th of October. With the introduction of the Fokker D.VII in 1918, Buchner came in to his own; He flew at least three different machines during his career, he scored three victories in June and became Commanding Officer of the Squadron on June the 15th. It was after his fifth victory that he landed and announced to his colleagues that he had now learned how to win in aerial combat. It was a prescient statement.

On the 2nd of July, he shot down and killed the ‘Mad Major’ the Irish ace Major Joseph Callahan, the Commander of No.87 Squadron R.A.F. who was flying a Sopwith Dolphin on a solo attack on Jagdstaffel 13. Five days later he followed up with Canadian ace Lieutenant Merrill Taylor killed in a Sopwith Camel of No. 209 Squadron R.A.F. On the 29th of July, Buchner shot down an American Sopwith Camel down in flames with just 14 rounds. His wingman, Leutnant Werner Niethammer, cited this combat as an illustration of Buchner’s prowess as a marksman; according to Niethammer’s account, Buchner had no sooner spotted the American than he had set the enemy aircraft on fire. This would be the last of his seven victories in July.

On the 10th of August, Buchner’s career nearly ended. While attacking and shooting down a two-seater in bad flying weather, his planes fuel tank was hit. Drenched in gasoline he landed in no man’s land and tagged along with two retreating German machine- gunners. The incident does not seem to have slowed him down, it was the second of his eight victories in August.

In September, scored 17 victories, the highest scoring German pilot for the month. On the 10th of October, Buchner survived a mid-air collision with one of his squadron mates, both of them parachuted to safety. He bought his tally to 40 victories by the 22nd of October 1918. Three days later he was awarded the Pour le Merite on the 25th of October 1918, one of the last awards before the Kaiser’s abdication. Having downed 38 of his 40 victories whilst flying the Fokker DVII in a span of five months, he was the most successful flier of this aircraft.

As well as the Pour le Merite, ( The Blue Max ) Buchner received the highest miliary honour of his home state, Saxony’s Military Order of St. Henry on the 7th of October 1918. Buchner’s other decorations included the Prussian Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, The Knight’s Cross with Swords of Prussia’s Royal House Order of Hohenzollern, the Knight’s Cross with Swords of Saxony’s Merit Order and the Knight’s Cross with Swords of Saxony’s Albert Order.

(C) Damian Grange 2021

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