The German Air Force during the First World War

The air forces of the German Empire were formed from the introduction of aircraft for military use, which were developed only a few years before the First World War. In addition to the still used airships and reconnaissance balloons, the aircraft were gradually becoming the most important weapon in the air.




Beginning of military aviation in the German Empire:

At the beginning of the 20th century, the German military leadership relied on the newly developed airships from Zeppelin, which saw greater military benefits. With the construction of the first Zeppelin airship on 2 July 1900, the previously exclusively used observation balloons were to be supported and duties in the reconnaissance and the artillery support be carried.

With the development of aviation aircraft pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright flew for the first time on December 17, 1903, neither the German military leadership nor any other European countries could do anything. It was not until 1909, the two brothers the US Signal Corps a newly developed machine that handed over flyers in 1909 and on the French military maneuver of 1909 successfully presented a military use of aircraft, the German military leadership began at the urging of the Prussian General Staff for use to interest in aircraft.

On May 1, 1910, a provisional aviation school was then set up in Döberitz near Berlin, which was converted a few months later into the "aviation command of the Luftschifferabteilung the traffic troops". Since there was no own aircraft in Germany, a Farman double-decker was first bought from France, where the first pilots were trained. But already in 1911, four Etrich-Rumpler-type aircraft and four Albatros-Farman were delivered. By the end of the year, the stock of aircraft could be expanded to 22 machines of various types.




The foundation for the construction of a German Air Force was thus laid, but by the end of 1911 there had been no significant progress in the military use of the aircraft.

Only when news came from France that an independent airborne inspection had already been established there and the air force already had more than 170 aircraft there, which more than clearly illustrated its capabilities in interaction with the artillery, was the General Staff directly involved in development aircraft in Germany. Especially Prince Henry of Prussia sat down in 1912 for the establishment of a German Air Force. To spend the missing funds, began under his leadership in 1912 the call for a national flight donation. By the end of the year, about 7.5 million Reichsmark were collected and immediately put into development.

Since the aircraft performed such good reconnaissance work during the Imperial maneuver, the military leadership decided to put the reconnaissance work of the airships only on the strategic enlightenment.

1912 was also the year in which the Ministry of War ordered the establishment of the Royal Prussian Air Force. These were also assigned to the Saxon and Württemberg sections. As the actual birth of the German Air Force, however, counts only October 1, 1913 as the inspection of the airship troops (Idluft) and the inspection of the flying troops (Idflieg) was formed.

The airships and the aircraft were under the army and were at that time not an independent troop part. The Navy, however, had their own airships and aircraft that were not under the army.




Structure and Organization:

Shortly before and after the outbreak of the First World War, the organization of the air force was commenced according to the requirements.

For this purpose, a basic classification of the aircraft was introduced:


Designation: Task:
Fighter pilot
KEK Kampfeinsitzerkommando
(Combat sit-in squad)
Hunting and escort protection
Jasta Jagdstaffel
(Fighter squadron)
Hunting and escort protection
Kesta Kampfeinsitzerstaffel
(Single-seater squadron)
Interceptor (homeland security)
Reconnaissance pilot
FFA, later FA Feldfliegerabteilung / Fliegerabteilung
(Field Pilot Department / Flyer Department)
Enlightenment work
FstFA Festungsfliegerabteilung Enlightenment work
AFA, later FA (A) Fliegerabteilung (Artillerie)
(Air department (artillery))
Artillery observation
Schusta Schutzstaffel
(Protection Squadron)
Close air support, escort protection
Schlasta Schlachtstaffel
(Battle squadron)
Battle operations (close air support)
BA „Brieftaubenabteilung“ (Tarnbezeichnung!)
"carrier pigeon department"
(camouflage name!)
Tactical bombers
Kasta Kampfstaffel
(Combat squadron)
Tactical fighter-bombers
Kagohl Kampfgeschwader der Obersten Heeresleitung
(Combat Wing of the Supreme Army Command)
Tactical fighter-bombers
Bogohl Bombengeschwader der Obersten Heeresleitung
(Bomb squadron of the Supreme Army Command)
Strategic long-range bombers
RFA Riesenflugzeugabteilung
(Giant aircraft division)
Strategic long-range bombers


At the beginning of the First World War, the German Luftwaffe consisted mainly of monoplanes and Zweidecker who had no armament. After a short time and due to the rapid technical progress these aircraft were no longer to be used for the war effort. However, since there were too many different types of aircraft, the Army Command decided to introduce an outline of the aircraft:


Typ: Classification: Description:
A Reconnaissance plane Unarmed monoplane, after 1914 used only as a school aircraft
B Reconnaissance plane Unarmed biplane, after 1915 used only as a school aircraft
C Reconnaissance plane Armed, single-engine, two-seat biplane, from 1915 in the front line as a multi-purpose aircraft
CI Attack aircraft Lighter version of the C-aircraft, from 1917 in the front line as escort fighter and attack aircraft
D Biplane fighters Armed, single-engine, single-seat biplane, from 1916 in the front line
DJ (also PE) Attack aircraft Mixture D- and J-Type, single-engine, single-seated double-decker melee for antitank defense
Dr (F) Hunting triplane especially Fokker Dr.I
E Hunting triplane especially Fokker and Pfalz
CIS Attack aircraft Mix between J and Cl aircraft, only Halberstadt CLS.I
S Attack aircraft just Ago S.I
J Attack aircraft Armored infantry aircraft, especially Junkers J.I, AEG J.I and AEG J.II
G (also K) Big airplane Armed, twin-engined, multi-seat bombers
GI Big airplane Lighter version of the G-plane
R (VGO) Giant aircraft Armed, multi-engine, heavy bombers, from 1916 in use
N Night bomber Modified C-aircraft, especially Sablatnig N.I.




Description Type A + B aircraft:

Among the aircraft of type A and B were mainly the first German aircraft type Etrich-Rumpler-Taube and most of the civilian aircraft were drafted in the course of mobilization by the military. These aircraft achieved during the first weeks of the war outstanding results in the reconnaissance work, which accelerated the detachment of the cavalry as reconnaissance unit significantly. The big disadvantage, however, was the lack of armor as well as the non-existent armament of the aircraft. When the movement war in the end of 1914 went into the war of positions, the reconnaissance aircraft were brought to operate in a much smaller area reconnaissance. There were more and more contacts between enemy airmen and the first aerial battles that were carried out with the handguns of the pilots. Here, the French machines were superior to those of the German quickly, so that the army command was forced to quickly develop new aircraft that could cope with the new requirements.


Description Type C aircraft:

From 1915, the Type C aircraft gradually replaced Type A and Type B aircraft at the front. For the new aircraft, the position of the observer was moved to the rear. There, a machine gun was also mounted on a turntable to defend against enemy planes. With more than 25,000 aircraft built, type C was the most used type, but technical superiority could not be achieved.


Description Type D, DJ, Dr and E aircraft:

These aircraft types refer to the German fighter pilots. At the beginning of the war, it was still monoplane, with the appearance of the French Nieuport 11 double-decker, the German fighter aircraft came quickly on the defensive. After the German Air Force had developed biplanes and used, could be brought about a compensation.

Already in early 1917, however, came on the Allied side new aircraft, so that the German airmen were again put on the defensive and could only catch up with the development of three-decks again.

The type DJ is a ground attack aircraft that should be used against the emerging tanks of the British. A special aluminum armor should protect the engine, tank and pilot from enemy fire. The capitulation in 1918, this type could not be built.


Description Type G and R aircraft:

The types G and R are bombers that were marked as large aircraft. The development of these aircraft began in 1915, with these types two engines were used and mounted on the wings and on the fuselage suspensions for bombs.


Construction of a Fokker airplane 1915/16

1 = Oberursel U 1 100 hp Wankel engine
2 = wooden propeller
3 = fuel tank
4 = suspension rod
5 = primer pump
6 = main landing gear
7 = wire spoke wheels
8 = ribs
9 = main column
10 = leather torsion strips
11 = rear of the chassis structure
12 = wicker pilot's seat
13 = hull tension wires
14 = wooden fin and lift without solid surfaces
15 = tailspur
16 = welded tubular steel hull structure
17 = doped linen cover
18 = fuel tank
19 = pylon for the landing wires
20 = 7,92mm light machine gun 08/15




Tasks of the Air Forces:

Before and at the beginning of the First World War, the main or the only task of the aircraft was in the Enlightenment. These were initially only to support the cavalry, the hitherto (in addition to the balloons and airships) conducted most of the educational work. When at the beginning of the war the troops were still moving forward (movement war), the military leaders of Germany saw no reason to renounce the cavalry as a reconnaissance unit, especially as the communication between the aircraft and the army command was far from stable. Only after the end of 1914, the fronts hardened, the movement war came to a standstill and the troops entrenched in trenches, had to be renounced inevitably the cavalry as reconnaissance. It was partly still trying to spy on the opponent with horses, but since the losses were too high, the leadership had no choice but to put on the aircraft.

Thus, the aircraft took over more and more the tasks of tactical and strategic reconnaissance. However, the rigid front line also had some disadvantages for the aircraft. The biggest of these was the more frequent encounter with enemy aircraft. The Type A and B aircraft were unarmed at the beginning of the war. The combat of enemy aircraft was initially conducted with the pilot's handguns and the observers' handguns. Only a little later, fixed machine guns were used on the machines. The military leadership quickly became aware that the tasks of the air force are now no longer just the Enlightenment, but also the prevention of enemy reconnaissance. This led to the development and formation of the first fighter squadrons, whose task was to shoot down enemy reconnaissance aircraft.


The Immelmann maneuver (Immelmann role)



Another task of the aircraft was the bombardment of targets. This task was initially undertaken in the German Empire, the airships, as they were equipped for the bombing much better than the first aircraft. Although some of these were bombed with them, strategic bombardments were not yet possible. This was mainly due to the fact that the aircraft had no devices with which bombs could be transported and dropped. The first attacks were carried out with flying arrows and 5 or 10Kg bombs, but these had to be thrown by the crew by hand. Only when the French began bombing German cities in the hinterland in the autumn of 1914 did the German army command develop their own bombers. The first bomber squadron was set up under the cover designation "Ostende Passenger Division" (BAO). Its first deployment was in January 1915 with the bombing of Dunkirk. After their success, more squadrons were set up and the aircraft continued to develop, so eventually large and giant aircraft of the type G and R were produced.


Easy attachment of a 10kg bomb


Bombing by hand


Attachment of bombs to a German large aircraft





With the advent of the first battles in the air, it was inevitable that the planes themselves had to be armed. However, the machine guns already used in the army proved to be too heavy and too unwieldy to be mounted on airplanes. The manufacturers built therefore first from 1915 the miner machine gun (IMG 15), then the Parabellum MG 14th

The breakthrough came with the mounting of a rigid machine gun, which was coupled to the engine of the aircraft. Due to the brief suspension of the engine during firing, the propellers remained out of the field of fire. This construction was already known since 15 July 1913, when the Swiss engineer Franz Schneider secured a patent to use it for combat aircraft but took over in the spring of 1915, the German engineer Anton Fokker. From May 1915, the first German aircraft could be equipped with this and brought, at least for a while, a decisive advantage. Only when a German plane crashed and French engineers rebuilt the procedure, the technical relationship was restored.


Parabellum MG 14


Lightweight German machine gun 08/15


A German observer with his parabellum MG 14




Painting and national insignia:

A striking feature of the aircraft from the First World War were the colorful paints. At the beginning of the war, the planes were predominantly painted beige or field-gray, but in the course of the war, the own livery of each season prevailed.

The reason for this was, on the one hand, that the pilots wanted to be recognized by their own squad members so as not to be shot down by them in the turmoil of the battle. On the other hand, it should be clear to the enemy through the painting, with whom this one gets into a fight and possibly withdraws before.

The best known example of such a painting is the plane of Manfred von Richthofen, who painted his plane in red and thus received the nickname "Red Baron". The other aircraft of his squadron had a red paint.


A German Hannover CL with colorful camouflage



Another sign to identify the affiliation was the sovereign badge, which was clearly visible attached to the aircraft. On the German side a black cross was used until 1917 (iron cross), then the bar cross.


Iron Cross


Beam cross

Beam cross




Use of the air forces in the First World War:

You find the article about the air war in the first world war here:  Hier klicken!




The German Air Forces after the First World War:

During the First World War, the German Air Force lost 4,578 airmen, 299 ground crew and 1,962 men, who were killed in accidents in Germany.

The loss of aircraft was 3,128 machines.

After the capitulation of the German Reich and the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles Germany was banned an air force. The remaining aircraft either had to be delivered to the victorious powers or scrapped.






You can find the right literature here:


The German Airforce I Knew 1914-1918

The German Airforce I Knew 1914-1918 Hardcover – July 3, 2014

Major Georg Paul Neumann was a former German Air Force officer who had served in the Great War. He produced his outstanding survey of the German Air Force in 1920 while the events were still recent history. He was able to draw on his own experience and his contacts to compile a large number of personal accounts from officers and men who had so recently fought in the cause. The result is an accurate, faithful and comprehensive review of the aircraft, personnel and organization of the force which began life in 1910 as the Imperial German Army Air Service and ended the war as the Luftstreitkräfte.

This comprehensive and compelling review includes a series of primary sources dealing with some of the unusual and lesser known aspects of the Luftstreitkräfte including a gripping account of defending a Zeppelin against attack by British fighters.

Major Neumann’s indispensable work has never been surpassed and this English language translation is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the realities of the war in the air in the Great War.

Click here!



Above Ypres: The German Air Force in Flanders 1914-1918

Above Ypres: The German Air Force in Flanders 1914-1918 Hardcover – December 15, 2015

An exciting new survey on the air war over Flanders’ fields, Above Ypres offers a definitive account of the costly battles waged above the Ypres Salient during the First World War. The simultaneous misery and bravery that occurred on Belgian battlefields, such as Hill 60, Messines, Yser, Mount Kemmel, Passchendaele, and Ypres, has been thoroughly documented and examined over time. Yet, not until now has the air force received their proper due for their significant role in the battles: for five years, the air force battled intensely in the sky as their comrades waged war in the trenches below.

Written from a German perspective, Above Ypres provides a detailed history of the German Air Service and the Naval Air Arm and examines the roles of particular planes, airfields, tactics, and major battles that contributed to their airpower growth. With many never before published photographs and military information, no student of air warfare or World War I history will want to miss it.

Click here!



The Luftwaffe's Way of War: German Air Force Doctrine, 1911-1945

The Luftwaffe's Way of War: German Air Force Doctrine, 1911-1945 Hardcover – May 1, 1998

Click here!



Zeppelin vs British Home Defence 1915-18 (Duel)

Zeppelin vs British Home Defence 1915-18 (Duel) Paperback – March 20, 2018

When Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin's rigid airship LZ 1 flew over Lake Constance in 1900, it was the most advanced and impressive flying machine in the world: a colossal, lighter-than-air craft capable of controlled flight. In World War I, Zeppelins were first used in a reconnaissance role, but on January 19, 1915 Kaiser Wilhelm II authorized their use in bombing strategic targets in England.

From then on, "Zeppelin" became synonymous with terror to the British, and indeed the airship's effectiveness was more psychological than material. Still, their raids compelled the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service to embark on a program of modernizing their aerial defenses, accelerating a process that would ultimately make the airplane, rather than the airship, the paramount flying machine of the war. Using specially commissioned artwork, contemporary photographs, and first-hand accounts, this book tells the fascinating story of Britain's first Blitz, from the airships who terrorized the public to the men who sought to defend the skies.

Click here!






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