Fokker's design for the M.5 was very closely based on that of the French Morane-Saulnier H shoulder-wing monoplane - although instead of the wooden wire-braced box girder structure of the Type H, Fokker used a welded steel tube frame.
The powerplant was a 60 kW (80 hp) Gnome Lambda 7-cylinder rotary engine (built under licence by Oberursel as the U.0). As in the Morane original, the tail and elevators were fully movable, having no fixed section. There were two versions of the M.5: the long-span 'M.5L' and the short-span 'M.5K' ("K" for kurz meaning "short" in German). The M.5 was light, strong and manoeuvrable, capable of aerobatics (although, like all aircraft relying on the early style of Morane balanced elevators, it had very sensitive fore-and-aft control) - Fokker himself performed in the M.5 at Johannisthal in May and June 1914, winning a number of awards.
The German army adopted the militarised long-span M.5L, manufactured by Halberstadt, designated the 'A.II'. A two-seat version, known as the 'M.8' also entered service as the 'A.I' which was built by Fokker. These aircraft were used on the Western and Eastern Fronts in the early stages of the war. In early 1915, 10 M.5Ks were ordered, designated the 'A.III', but before delivery five were modified, being equipped with a single 7.92 mm (.312 in) Parabellum MG14machine gun, becoming the five Fokker 'M.5K/MG' production prototypes of the Fokker E.I.