Air Aces of World War One

Oberleutnant Max Immelmann – German Ace – 1890 / 1916

Max Immelmann was born on the 21st of September 1890, in Dresden, to a Industrialist father who died when Max was young. In 1905 he was enrolled in the Dresden Cadet School. He joined the Eisenbahnregiment ( Railway Regiment ) in 1911 as an ensign, in pursuit of a commission. He left the army in 1912 to study mechanical engineering in Dresden. He returned to service on the outbreak of war, as a reserve officer candidate. He was assigned to Eisenbahnregiment Nr.1, but soon transferred to aviation.

When World War One started, Immelmann was called to active service, he transferred to the German Army’s Air Arm Die Fliegertruppe des Deutschen Kaiserreiches later known as the Luftstreitkrafte and was sent for pilot training to Johannisthal Air Field. In November 1914, He was initially stationed in Northern France. Immelmann served as a pilot with Feldflieger Abtielung Nr. 10 ( Field Flier Detachment 10 ) from February to April 1915, and then in FFA 62 by early May 1915.On several occasions he engaged in combat whilst flying the LVG two – seaters with which his unit was equipped, but never with any success. On the 3rd of June 1915, he was shot down by a French pilot, but managed to land safely behind the German lines. Immelmann was decorated with the Iron Cross Second Class for preserving his aircraft.

Two very early examples of the Fokker Eindecker fighters were delivered to his unit. One Fokker M5 / Mg Production Prototype numbered E.3 /15 for Oswald Boelcke’s use, with Immelmann receiving later in July E.13 /15 as a production Fokker E,1 for his own use before the end of July. It was with this E.13 /15 aircraft, armed with the synchronised IMG 08 Spandau machine gun, that he gained his first confirmed air victory of the war on the 1st of August 1915. a fortnight after Leutnant Kurt Wintgens on the 15th of July 1915 obtained the very first confirmed German air victory with his own Fokker M5/ MG Production Prototype E.5 /15 Eindecker, one of only 5 built, following two unconfirmed victories on the 1st and 4th of July. All before Immelmann.

‘Like a hawk, I dived……and fired my machine gun. For a moment I believed I would fly right into him. I had fired ab out 60 rounds when my gun jammed. That was awkward, for to clear the jam, I needed both hands – I had to fly completely without hands.’ Lieutenant William Reid fought back valiantly, flying with his left hand and firing a pistol with his right. Nonetheless the 450 bullets fired at him took their effect. Reid suffered four wounds in his left arm, and his aircraft’s engine quit causing him to crash land. The unarmed Immelmann landed nearby and approached Reid, they shook hands and Immelmann said to the British pilot, ‘You are my prisoner,’ then pulled Reid free of the wreckage and rendered first aid.

Immelmann became one of the first German fighter pilots, quickly building an impressive score of air victories. During September three more victories followed, and then in October he became solely responsible for the air defence of the city of Lille. Immelmann became known as the Eagle of Lille ( Der Adler von Lille ) Immelmann flirted with the position of becoming Germany’s leading ace, trading that spot off with Oswald Boelcke, another pioneer ace. Having come second to Boelcke in gaining his sixth victory, he was second to be awarded the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern for this feat. On the 15th of December, Immelmann shot down his seventh British aircraft and moved into an unchallenged lead to become Germany’s leading ace. Immelmann was the first pilot to be awarded The Pour le Merite, Germany’s highest Military honour, receiving it on the day of his eighth victory, the 12th of January 1916. The medal became unofficially known as the Blue Max, in honour of Immelmann. His medal was presented by Kaiser Wilhelm 11, Oswald Boelcke was presented with his medal at the same time.

Boelcke scored again two days later, Immelmann would chase him in the ace race for the next four months, finally drawing even on the 13th of March with 11 each, he lost the lead on the 19th then re-gaining it on Easter Sunday, his 14 to Boelcke’s 13, losing it again forever on the 1st of May. It was around this time, the 25th of April to be exact, That Immelmann received a salutary lesson in the improvement of British aircraft. As the German ace described his attack on two D.H.2’s, ‘The two worked splendidly together….. and put 11 shots into my machine. The petrol tank, the struts on the fuselage, the undercarriage and the propellor were hit….It was not a nice business.’ On the 31st of May, Immelmann, Max von Mulzer and another German pilot attacked a formation of seven British aircraft. Immelmann was flying a two – gun Fokker E.IV, and when he opened fire, the synchronising gear malfunctioned. A stream of bullets cut off the tip of a propeller blade: The thrashing of the unbalanced airscrew nearly shook the aircraft’s twin-row Oberursel U.III engine loose from its mounts before he could cut the ignition and glide to a dead-stick landing.

In the late afternoon of the 18th of June 1916, Immelmann led a flight of four Fokker E.III Eindecker’s in search of a flight of eight FE2d fighter / reconnaissance aircraft of No,25 Squadron RFC over Sallaumines in Northern France. The British flight had just crossed the lines near Arras, with the intention of photographing the German infantry and artillery positions within the area, when Immelmann’s flight intercepted them. After a long running fight, scattering the participants over an area of some thirty square miles, Immelmann bought down one of the aircraft., wounding both the pilot and observer. This was his 16th victory claim, although it was to go unconfirmed. At 21:45 that same evening, Immelmann in Fokker E.III, serial 246 /16 encountered No,25 Squadron again, this time near the village of Lens. He immediately got of a burst which hit RFC Lieutenant J.R.B. Savage, pilot of FE2b pusher serial 4909, mortally wounding him, this was Immelmann’s seventeenth victory claim, though Max von Mulzer was later credited with the victory. The second aircraft he closed on was piloted by Second Lieutenant G.R. McCubbin with Corporal J.H.Waller as Gunner / Observer, and was credited with shooting Immelmann down. On the German side many had seen Immelmann as invincible and could not conceive the notion that he had fallen to enemy fire. Meanwhile the British authorities awarded McCubbin the Distinguished Service Order and for Waller the Distinguished Service Medal and promotion to Sergeant.

The German Air Service at the time claimed the loss was due to friendly fire ( German anti – aircraft fire) Other’s including Immelmann’s brother his aircrafts gun synchronisation had malfunctioned with disastrous results. This was not unreasonable, as earlier versions of the Synchronising mechanism had often malfunctioned, this had already happened to Immelmann on two previous occasions, whilst testing two and three gun installations, although on each occasion he had managed to land safely. McCubbin in a post war interview claimed, that after Immelmann had shot down his Squadron mate, the German ace began an Immelmann turn, McCubbin and Waller swooped down from a greater altitude and opened fire, and the German ace fell out of the sky, Waller also pointed out that the British bullets could have damaged Immelmann’s propeller. Immelmann scored all of his 15 victories flying The Fokker Eindecker and along with Max von Mulzer he was the leading exponent of this type.

(C) Damian Grange 2021

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