German Army Air Service

Although the German Army began experimenting with airships such as the Zeppelin, it was slow to see the potential of aircraft. The German Army Air Service was only formed in 1912 because the military authorities became concerned about the growth of the Aéronautique Militaire in France.

On the outbreak of the First World War, Germany's aircraft were unarmed and were mainly concerned with artillery observation and reconnaissance. This changed after Roland Garros, added deflector plates to the blades of the propeller of his Morane-Saulnier. Germany responded by producing impressive fighter aircraft such as the Fokker E, Halberstadt, and the Albatros D-II.

In 1916 Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelmann were Germany's two most successful flying aces. Both these benefited from the introduction of the synchronized gear which made it easier for pilots to hit their targets. Later, Manfred von Richthofen (80) and Ernst Udet (62) became the country's leading flying aces.

German superiority over the Allies increased in the autumn of 1916 when then was reinforced by the creation of the Flying Circus (a mobile reserve of elite combat pilots, capable of being transferred in mass to vital points on the Western Front) in 1917.

The German Army Air Service continued to expand and by March 1917 it had 3,668 aircraft on the Western Front. However, with the arrival of the superior Spad S.XIII, the Sopwith Snipe and the Sopwith Camel in the winter of 1917, resulted in heavy German losses. By the spring of 1918 Germany needed about 350 new men a month to maintain its desired fighting strength of 2,500 pilots.

When fighting ceased in November 1918 the German Army Air Service possessed a total of 2,709 frontline aircraft, 56 airships, 186 balloon detachments and about 4,500 flying personnel. It was estimated that 6,840 pilots had been killed and another 1,372 were missing. In accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, the German Army Air Service ceased to exist on 8th May, 1920.

Primary Sources

(1) General Sixt von Armin, comments made in July 1916.

The means for providing the artillery with aerial observation has proved to be insufficient. It has again been shown, as indeed had already been recognized under less difficult conditions, that it would be a great advantage to add a captive balloon and at least two observation aeroplanes to the war establishment of each Field Artillery Brigade (of two regiments).

The numerical superiority of the enemy's airmen and the fact that their machines were better, were made disagreeably apparent to us, particularly in their direction of the enemy's artillery fire and in bomb-dropping.

The number of our battle-planes was also too small. The enemy's airmen were often able to fire successfully on our troops with machine guns by descending to a height of a few hundred metres.