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Oswald Boelcke, German: [ˈbœlkə]; 19 May 1891 – 28 October 1916, was a German flying ace of the First World War and one of the most influential patrol leaders and tacticians of the early years of air combat. Boelcke is considered the father of the German fighter air force, as well as the Father of Air Fighting Tactics. He was the first to formalize the tactics of air fighting, which he presented as the Dicta Boelcke. While he promulgated rules for the individual pilot, his main concern was the use of formation fighting rather than single effort.
The German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron), had been taught by Boelcke and continued to idolize his late mentor long after he had surpassed Boelcke’s tally of victories.
Max Immelmann, 21 September 1890 – 18 June 1916, PLM was the first German World War I flying ace. He was a pioneer in fighter aviation and is often mistakenly credited with the first aerial victory using a synchronized gun. He was the first aviator to win the Pour le Mérite and was awarded it at the same time as Oswald Boelcke. His name has become attached to a common flying tactic, the Immelmann turn, and remains a byword in aviation. He is credited with 15 aerial victories.
Kapitanleutnant Heinrich Mathy
Heinrich Mathy, born 4 April 1883 at Mannheim, Germany – 2 January 1916 at Potters Bar, England.
Kapitanleutnant Heinrich Mathy achieved a rare accolade during the Great War; he was one of very few Germans whose names were household words in Britain. During the “Zeppelin Scourge” of 1915 and 1916, Mathy was known and feared as the most daring and audacious of all the Zeppelin raiders.
Born on 4 April 1883 in Mannheim, Mathy decided, while still a boy, that he wished to make his career in the German Navy. He was an exceptional cadet and achieved command of his own ship earlier than was usual in those days.
Having been selected for a possible Naval Staff role, he spent two years at the Marine Akademie and it was during his two summers there, 1913 and 1914, that he was able to fly in Count Fedinand von Zeppelin’s dirigible airships.
At the beginning of 1915, Mathy was transferred to airships at the insistence of Peter Strasser, ( Fuhrer der Luftschiffer – Leader of airships) and took part in his first raid on England a few days later, on 13th January, being forced to turn back on this occasion because of bad weather. Later, however, he flew on several raids over England, usually over Northern England. On 8th September 1915, Mathy’s L13 italic) caused great damage by fire to the central area of London itself, and further damage was caused when Mathy returned to the capital on the night of 13th/14th October.
By the following Summer, Mathy, in command of the new ship, L31 was ready for more attacks on London. He attacked the night of 24th/25th August 1916, again causing considerable damage. The L31 was damaged on landing on this occasion and while it was grounded for repairs, news came in that the British had, for the first time, managed to shoot down an airship by using incendiary bullets.
As more airships crashed to earth in flames in the following weeks, Mathy must have known that the days of the airship as a terror-weapon were numbered. He wrote:
“It is only a question of time before we join the rest. Everyone admits that they feel it. Our nerves are ruined by mistreatment. If anyone should say that he was not haunted by visions of burning airships, then he would be a braggart.”
Mathy and his crew “joined the rest” when L31 attacked London for the last time on the night of 1st/2nd October 1916, to be shot down in flames by 2/Lieut. W. J. Tempest. The ship fell just outside Potters Bar, to the North of London. Mathy’s body was found some way from the wreckage of the ship, half-embedded in the corner of a field. Obviously, his last act had been to leap clear of the falling inferno rather than wait for the crash. According to some accounts, he lived for a few minutes after striking the earth.
Originally buried at Potters Bar, the bodies of Mathy and his crew were moved in the early 60s to Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, where a new cemetery had been constructed for the burial of all Germans from both World Wars who died on British soil. He lies buried there with his crew, near the entrance, along with the commanders and crews of the other three airships which were shot down over England.
Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, 2 May 1892 – 21 April 1918, also known as the Red Baron, was a fighter pilot with the German Air Force during World War I. He is considered the ace-of-aces of the war, being officially credited with 80 air combat victories.
Originally a cavalryman, Richthofen transferred to the Air Service in 1915, becoming one of the first members of Jasta (fighter squadron) 2 in 1916. He quickly distinguished himself as a fighter pilot, and during 1917 became leader of Jasta 11 and then the larger unit Jagdgeschwader (fighter wing) 1, better known as “The Flying Circus” or “Richthofen’s Circus” because of the bright colours of its aircraft, and perhaps also because of the way the unit was transferred from one area of allied air activity to another – moving like a traveling circus, and frequently setting up in tents on improvised airfields. By 1918, Richthofen was regarded as a national hero in Germany, and respected by his enemies.
Richthofen was shot down and killed near Vaux-sur-Somme on 21 April 1918. There has been considerable discussion and debate regarding aspects of his career, especially the circumstances of his death. He remains one of the most widely known fighter pilots of all time and has been the subject of many books, films, and other media.