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German Air Service / Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte [German Air Force]

The Imperial German Army Air Service, the Army Air Service of the German Empire or the Imperial German Flying Troops [Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches] was founded in 1910 and was the fore-runner of the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte [literally "Air dispute power" or "Air Fight Forces", translated as German Air Force], which was formed in 1916.

The aeroplane tests in the French autumn maneuvers in Picardy in 1910 first aroused the Germans from their illusions that lighter-than-air machines would solve aerial navigation. After these maneuvers, they could no longer concentrate their undivided efforts on their airships, for the French tests showed conclusively the superiority of the aeroplane as an instrument of war. From thence they set to work vigorously to make up for lost time and develop an aeroplane industry, tho they did not abandon the further development of their airships.

The rapid progress in German aviation since 1910 is shown by the following. In the Imperial Maneuvers of 1911 it was with difficulty that Germany could produce eight aeroplanes; in 1912 she produced eight squadrons; at the end of that year, 230 certificates had been granted to pilots by the German Aero Club; in 1913, the number was 600; in 1912 the number of flying machine manufacturing firms was twenty, while there were fifty in 1913. But when they took to manufacturing aeroplanes in 1910 there was not time to invent largely for themselves. They therefore drew their inspirations from the country that was obviously ahead in practical aeroplane accomplishment, France, relying on their own methodical reputation for working out details to make their borrowed designs worthy of what to the Prussian mind is the Art of Arts, War.

Germany was best prepared in the matter of heavier-than-air service machines in spite of the German faith in the dirigible. The Germans came into the field with well over 600 aeroplanes, mainly two-seaters of standardised design, and with factories back in the Fatherland turning out sufficient new machines to make good the losses. There were a few single-seater scouts built for speed, and the two-seater machines were all fitted with cameras and bombdropping gear.

The necessities of war soon weeded out the unfittest and modified the details of those types which were allowed to survive. The Germans put forth a large number of the Taubes at the beginning of the war, as they considered them simple, strong and stable. The latter quality they certainly possessed, but they were found wanting for reconnaissance uses, and were ill-adapted to be weapons of offense. They soon came to the same conclusion as other nations, that for military use biplanes are superior to monoplanes and now rely chiefly on the former, tho exception is made in the frequent use of the fighting Fokkers. Tractor biplanes, those which have the screw in front, are now almost universally used by them, and these are provided with fuselages so covered in that every source of extra resistance can be eliminated.

The French Staff in its summary of results of Allied aerial warfare for 1916 announced that 900 aeroplanes had been destroyed, 81 kite balloons burned, and 754 bombardments had taken place. The German Staff was not slow to profit by the lessons of the Somme campaign and began a thorough over-hauling of its aeronautical service. In September, 1916, the German staff, based on the lessons of the Somme campaign during which its aviation forces had been so terribly scourged, resolved upon an almost complete reorganization of its aeronautical service. Hindenburg's program arranged for a rehandling of both the direction and the technical services.

At the Somme in 1916, in weight as well as in number of guns, the Allied artillery were able to establish a predominance over the Germans. This was largely due to the success with which the Royal Flying Corps was at the time contending against the German aircraft; the mastery of the air which it had established ensured to the Allies — when weather conditions permitted—observation of artillery fire and denied to the enemy this important advantage and the opportunity of gaining information of movements behind the lines.

In consequence of this poor performance, the aerial forces were separated from the other forces of Communications. The Imperial German Army Air Service, or Imperial German Flying Troops [Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches] was redesignated as the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte [German Air Force]. An Imperial decree dated 08 October 1916, announced the separation from the other services of the Air Fight Forces (Luftstreitkrafte), which were to be placed under a staff officer, the Kommandeur der Luftstreitkrafte. The centralized improvement, preparation, and employmentof this means of warfare was assigned to a “Commanding General of the Air Forces,” who was directly subordinate to the Chief of the General Staff. The “Chief of Field Aviation,” with the dissolution of that post, becomes “Chief of Staff to the Commanding General of the Air Forces.”

The new Kommandeur, who was to superintend the building of the machines as well as the training of the pilots, was Lieutenant General von Hoeppner, with Lieutenant Colonel Tjomsen as an assistant. The squadrons, numbering more than 270, were divided into bombing, chasing, patrolling and field escadrilles, these last being entrusted with scouting, photographing, and artillery work, in constant touch with the infantry. Most of these novelties were servilely copied from French aviation. The Germans had borrowed the details of liaison service, as well as those for the regulation of artillery fire, from the French regulations.

The reorganization of the German aerial forces took the form of creating four principal divisions into which the fliers were placed, roughly as follows:

  1. Army squadrillas, or "army fliers' division," which are directly under the command of the army chief of aviation and the work of which consists mainly of expeditions far to the rear of the lines. They also are employed for bombardments, night flights, photographic work, and the airplanes employed are of the most varied type, according to the character of the work they are to do.
  2. Corps squadrillas, or "troop fliers," which are attached to the staff headquarters of the various German armies and which are commanded by captains. These generally remain within the sector of the armies to which they are attached, and are used in general for reconnaissances, photographing trenches, batteries and making patrol flights.
  3. Hunting squadrillas were the main attacking instruments of the German air forces, and for chasing enemy machines which venture over their lines. They were charged with the destruction of the stationary balloons. On the west front, it was estimated, there were about forty of these squadrillas, with about a dozen machines to each. Others in the same category have as their duty the protection of the large German cities that lie within airplane flight of the French and English.
  4. Battle squadrillas or "flotillas" are under the direction of great headquarters, and shift from army to army to carry out bombardments on military establishments behind the front, as well as now and then on open towns. There were three of these squadrillas - formerly there were more, but the others had been dismembered and their units attached to other arms of the aerial service. Squadrillas one and two were generally transported by train from place to place, wherever they are most needed. There are from forty to fifty machines in each squadrilla, which when complete and ready for action is divided into four or five sections.
The Luftstreitkrafte was an effective air defense organization during the War. It shot down opponents at better than a two-to-one ratio. These efforts were oriented to homeland defense as well as to the battlefield. The 1918 Allied strategic bombing campaign suffered greatly due to the defensive efforts of the German air defenders, losing 352 British aircraft and 264 aircrew dead or missing, or one aircraft for every 1.54 tons of bombs dropped. The British loss in aircraft and equipment was more monetarily damaging to Great Britain than the damage they inflicted on Germany.

Between Christmas Day, 1914, when a German aeroplane flew over Sheemess, and the end of the war there were 62 German aeroplane raids on England (not including airship raids). Most of these raids were quite trivial and harmless, but at one period they threatened to become formidable. Germany first sent aeroplanes by night on January 23, 1916, during a bright moon. Not until November 28th of that year did a German aviator drop bombs on London. He did very little damage, and was brought down during his return journey. Aeroplane raids assumed a serious aspect in May, 1917, the enemy still choosing moonlight nights. The bombs killed and wounded many civilians, but seldom effected damage of importance.

Formation flying was first developed by the Germans, who made use of it in the daylight raids against England in 1917. Its value was very soon realised, and the V formation of wild geese was adopted, the leader taking the point of the V and his squadron following on either side at different heights. As many as 20 machines, on some occasions, visited London and the South-East of England; and during good weather and favorable phases of the moon parties came on four or five successive nights. The first "dark night" raid was on March 8, 1918; but it is probable that the light from a fine display of the Aurora Borealis was good enough to enable the raiders to pick up the Thames Estuary. There was a brief period of daylight raids in the middle of 1917, and Londoners will not soon forget the spectacle of the two large formations of big bombing machines which flew over the city on the morning of Saturday, July 7th.

The balloon "aprons," which were first employed towards the end of 1917, were useful not so much for entrapping German raiders as in compelling them to approach London at an altitude of not less than 9,000 or 10,000 feet. The balloons employed were the familiar kite-balloons without the baskets. The wires were quite slender ones of high tensile steel. Searchlights, as an aid to anti-aircraft artillery, towards the end of the war suffered a certain depreciation. This was partly due to the success obtained with sound-ranging. The German aeroplanes could not come in absolute silence and the noise of the motors enabled British listening posts to locate them with sufficient accuracy to direct the barrage fire.

In the course of two years the German Navy Zeppelin airships had bombed London and other British cities, dropping 175 tons of bombs and killing 500 Britons. The German Luftstreitkräfte mounted a much more serious campaign against London, with heavy Gotha and Riesen bombers capable of carrying up to a ton of bombs each. By May 1918, the Germans bombers had inflicted 835 deaths and 1,935 injured British civilians and caused 1.5 million pounds sterling damage. Aside from some minor panics set off in London during the early period of the bombing raids and some absenteeism in the factories, the English population and economy were scarcely affected.

Aircraft were designated a letter to show the type of class the plane was as shown below.

  • A - Unarmed reconnaissance monoplane aircraft
  • B - Unarmed two-seat biplane, with the observer in front of the pilot.
  • C - Armed two-seat biplane, with the observer to the rear of the pilot.
  • CL - Light two-seater, initially escort fighters - latter ground attack.
  • D - Doppeldecker - single-seat, armed biplane, but later any fighter
  • E - Eindecker - armed monoplane - initially included monoplane two-seaters.
  • Dr - Dreidecker - triplane fighter
  • G - Grosskampfflugzeug - Large twin engined types, mainly bombers
  • J - Schlachten - Armoured ground-attack aircraft
  • N - "C" type aircraft adapted for night bombing
  • R - Riesenflugzeug - "Giant" aircraft - at least three, up five engines

For most of the war Luftstreitkräfte planes had the Iron Cross insignia on the side although from March 1918 this changed to a black cross on a white background. At the end of World War One the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte had 2709 aircraft, 56 airships and 180 balloons. The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte also reported 3,126 aircraft, 546 balloons and 26 airships lost to Allied forces. On 08 May 1920 the Luftstreitkräfte was dissolved as part of the Treaty of Versailles which also saw all aircraft destroyed. The first Luftwaffe was founded in 1935 with many of its leaders having served in the National Socialist Flyers Corps, which continued to exist after the Luftwaffe was founded, but to a much smaller degree.




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