Form of Iron Cross used on
German military aircraft in 1915
|Founded||1910 - 8 May 1920|
|Allegiance||Kaiser Wilhelm II|
2,709 frontline aircraft
186 balloon detachments
About 4,500 flying personnel
|Engagements||World War I|
|Hermann von der Lieth-Thomsen
Ernst von Hoeppner
|1914 - 1915|
|1916 - March 1918|
The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte ("German Air Force"), known before October 1916 as Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches ("Imperial German Flying Corps"), or simply Die Fliegertruppen, was the air arm of the German Army (of which it remained an integral part) during World War I (1914–1918). In English language sources it is usually referred to as the "Imperial German Air Service", although that is not a literal translation of either name. German naval aviators remained an integral part of the Imperial German Navy. Both military branches, the army and navy, operated conventional aircraft, balloons and Zeppelins.
The first military aircraft to be acquired by the German Army entered service in 1910 - forming the nucleus of what was to become the Luftstreitkräfte in October 1916. The duties of such aircraft were initially intended to be reconnaissance and artillery spotting in support of armies on the ground, just as balloons had been used during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 and even as far back as the Napoleonic Wars. For comparison, France's embryonic army air service (Aviation Militaire), which eventually became the Armée de l'Air, was instituted later in 1910 - the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers (later re-organised as the Royal Flying Corps) was not formed until November 1911.
The initial units of the Luftstreitkräfte, dedicated to observation, were known as Feldflieger Abteilungen (Field Flier Detachments), and had an official establishment of six two-seat aircraft apiece, with each "FFA" unit assigned to an army unit in their local area.
The Luftstreitkräfte organisation changed during the war substantially to accommodate the new types of aircraft, doctrine, tactics and the needs of the ground troops, in particularly the artillery. During this time evolved the system of organisation and unit designations that would form the basis of those used in the Luftwaffe in 1933.
During 1916, the German High Command, in response to the then current Allied air superiority, reorganised their forces by creating several types of specialist units, most notably single seat fighter squadrons, or Jastas as the contraction of Jagdstaffel (literally "hunting squadron"), in order to counter the offensive operations of the Royal Flying Corps and the French Aviation Militaire.
Fighter unit organization
The Jagdstaffeln, or hunting squadrons, established by the reorganization that started by the late summer of 1916 were fielded by four kingdoms of the German Empire. The Kingdom of Prussia was predominant, with a force eventually comprising 67 Jastas. However, the Kingdoms of Bavaria, Saxony, and Württemberg had their own fighter squadrons: Bavaria had ten; Saxony, seven; and Württemberg, four.
On 24 June 1917, the Luftstreitkräfte formed its first fighter wing, Royal Prussian Jagdgeschwader I, incorporating Jastas 4, 6, 10, and 11, and set the pattern for using Roman numerals in the Luftstreitkräfte for designating such units. Manfred von Richthofen was moved up from command of Jasta 11 to command JG I. After his death in action, it would be renamed to honor him by order of the Kaiser.
The Prussians would follow up by establishing three more Jagdgeschwaders. On 2 February 1918, JG II formed from Jastas 12, 13, 15, and 19, and placed Adolf Ritter von Tutschek in command. On the same day, JG III consolidated Jasta 2 Boelcke, and Jastas 26, 27, and 36 under Bruno Loerzer. Finally, on 2 September 1918, the Royal Prussian Marine Jagdgeschwader was formed from Marine Feld Jastas I through V, and placed in charge of Gotthard Sachsenberg.
- (AFA) Artillerieflieger-Abteilung: Artillery Flier Detachment
- (AFS) Artillerieflieger-Schule; Artillery Flier School
- AFP - Armee-Flug-Park: Army Flight Park
- BZ - Ballonzug: Balloon Platoon
- BG - Bombengeschwader: Bomber Wing
- Bogohl - the "Bombengeschwader der Oberste Heeresleitung", the bombing wing under direct control by the German Army's High Command in World War I.
- Bosta - Bomberstaffel: Bomber Squadron
- etc - Etappe: Post
- FFA - Feldflieger Abteilung: Field Flier Detachment, the initial flight formations of the German Army in 1914-15
- FLA - Feldluftschiffer-Abteilung: Field Airship Detachment
- FestFA - Festungsflieger-Abteilung: Fortress Flier Detachment
- FA - Flieger-Abteilung: Flier Detachment
- FA(A) - Flieger-Abteilung (Artillerie): Flier Detachment (Artillery)
- FlgBtl - Flieger-Bataillon: Flier Battalion
- FBS - Fliegerbeobachter-Schule: Aerial Observer School
- FEA - Fliegerersatz-Abteilung: Replacement Detachment
- FS - Fliegerschule: Flight School
- JG - Jagdgeschwader: Fighter wing
- Jasta - Jagdstaffel: Hunting group", i.e., Fighter Squadron
- JastaSch - Jagdstaffel-Schule: Fighter Squadron School (also referred to as Jastaschule)
- KEK - Kampfeinsitzerkommando: Combat Single-Seater Command, a predecessor to Jasta units
- Kest - Kampfeinsitzerstaffel: Combat single-seater squadron, a predecessor to Jasta units
- KG - Kampfgeschwader: tactical bomber wing
- Kagohl - the "Kampfgeschwader der Oberste Heeresleitung", the tactical bomber wing under direct control by the German Army's High Command in World War I.
- Kasta - Kampfstaffel: tactical bomber squadron
- Luft - Luftschiff-Truppe: Airship force
- LsBtl - Luftschiffer-Bataillon: Airship battalion
- Marine - Marine-Flieger: Naval pilots
- RBZ - Reihenbildzug: Aerial photography platoon
- Schlasta - Schlachtstaffel: attack squadron
- Schusta - Schutzstaffel: Protection squadron
During the war, the Imperial Army Air Service utilised a wide variety of aircraft, ranging from fighters (such as those manufactured by Albatros-Flugzeugwerke and Fokker), reconnaissance aircraft (Aviatik and DFW) and heavy bombers (Gothaer Waggonfabrik, better known simply as Gotha, and Zeppelin-Staaken) and airships of all types.
Aircraft designation system
During the First World War German aircraft officially adopted for military service were allocated a designation that included (1) the name of the manufacturer, (2) a function or "class" letter, and (3) a Roman numeral. The three-part designation was needed for a unique designation to simplify logistics support of the many types of aircraft in operation - especially as Luftstreitkräfte squadrons more often than not were equipped with several different types.
The designation system evolved during the war. Initially all military aircraft were classed as "A" (monoplane) or "B" (biplane). The new "C" class of armed (two seat) biplane began to replace the "B" class aircraft as reconnaissance machines in 1915, the B's continuing to be built, but as trainers. The "E" class of armed monoplane were also introduced in 1915 - the other classes being added later as new aircraft types were introduced. For most of the war 'D' was only used for biplane fighters, 'E' for monoplane fighters and 'Dr' for triplane fighters. By the end of the war however, the 'D' designation was used for all single-seat fighters, including monoplanes (and, in theory at least, triplanes).
- A - Unarmed reconnaissance monoplane aircraft (for example the Rumpler Taube and Fokker M.5)
- B - Unarmed two-seat biplane, with the observer seated in front of the pilot.
- C - Armed two-seat biplane, with the observer (usually) seated to the rear of the pilot.
- CL - Light two-seater, initially intended as escort fighters - latterly mainly used for ground attack.
- D - Doppeldecker - single-seat, armed biplane, but later any fighter - for instance the Fokker E.V monoplane was redesignated the D.VIII.
- Dr - Dreidecker - triplane fighter (prototype Fokker triplanes initially "F")
- E - Eindecker - armed monoplane - initially included monoplane two-seaters. New monoplane types at the end of the war designated as "D" (single seat) or "CL" (two seat).
- G - Grosskampfflugzeug - Large twin engined types, mainly bombers (initially "K")
- GL - Lighter, faster twin engined bombers, intended for use by day.
- J - Schlachten - Fuel tanks, pilot, and (usually) the engine protected by armour plate, reducing vulnerability to ground fire. Used for low level work, especially ground attack.
- N - "C" type aircraft adapted for night bombing - apart from night flying equipment they were fitted with wings of greater span to increase bomb load.
- R - Riesenflugzeug - "Giant" aircraft - at least three, up to four or five engines - all serviceable in flight.
Most manufacturers also had their own numbering systems quite separate from the official military designations for their products. These sometimes cause confusion - for instance the military "J" series is quite distinct from the Junkers aviation firm's own "J" designations for their airframe designs, always numbered with Arabic numbers (as in the pioneering, all-metal Junkers J 1 demonstrator monoplane of 1915-16) for the designs of Hugo Junkers - the factory designation of the (military) Junkers J.I armored, all-metal sesquiplane was the Junkers J.4. The "M" (for "Militär" or military) and "V" (for "Versuchs" or experimental) designations of the Fokker firm were also internal. The latter has no officially direct connection with the official Third Reich-era German "V" designation, also signifying "versuchs", for prototype aircraft.
The German Naval aviation service used manufacturers' designations rather than the systematic Luftstreitkräfte system described above. For example the landplane Gotha bombers were numbered in an "LD" (for "land biplane") series by their manufacturer, but in the "G" series in the Luftstreitkräfte - while the Gotha seaplanes used by the navy were (and continue to be) known by their manufacturer's "WD" (for Wasserflugzeug-Doppeldecker, or "seaplane biplane") designation.
The fighters, however, received the most attention in the annals of military aviation, since it produced high-scoring "aces" such as Manfred von Richthofen, popularly known in English as "The Red Baron" (in Germany, he was known as "der Rote Kampfflieger" [Red Air Fighter]), Lothar von Richthofen, Ernst Udet, Hermann Göring, Oswald Boelcke, Werner Voss, and Max Immelmann (the first airman to win the Pour le Mérite, Imperial Germany's highest decoration for gallantry, as a result of which the decoration became popularly known as the "Blue Max"). Like the German Navy, the German Army also used Zeppelin airships for bombing military and civilian targets in France, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
Initially all German and Austro-Hungarian military aircraft in service used the Iron Cross insignia. The Balkenkreuz, a black Greek cross on white, officially replaced the earlier marking from late March 1918, although the last order on the subject, fully standardising the new national marking, was dated June 25, 1918.
By the end of the war, the German Army Air Service possessed a total of 2,709 frontline aircraft, 56 airships, 186 balloon detachments and about 4,500 flying personnel.
Casualties totalled 8,604 aircrew killed/missing/prisoner, 7,302 wounded, and 3,126 aircraft, 546 balloons and 26 airships. Some 5,425 Allied aircraft and 614 kite balloons were claimed destroyed.
After the war ended in German defeat, the service was dissolved completely on 8 May 1920 under the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, which demanded that its aeroplanes be completely destroyed.
- Grey and Thetford, P.xxix
- Gray and Thetford, p.154
- p.?, Clark
- Clark, Alan (1973). Ace High: The War in the Air over the Western Front 1914-18. Putnam & Company. ISBN 978-0-399-11103-7.
- Grey & Thetford (1962-70). German Aircraft of the First World War (2nd ed.). Putnam & Company.
- Der Vormarsch der Flieger Abteilung 27 in der Ukraine (The advance of Flight Squadron 27 in the Ukraine). This portfolio, comprising 263 photographs mounted on 48 pages, is a photo-documentary of the German occupation and military advances through the southern Ukraine in the spring and summer of 1918.