The Fokker Scourge – Part 1

Anton Herman Gerard Fokker
Anton Herman Gerard Fokker

On April 18th, 1915, the French fighter pilot Roland Garros made an emergency landing with his Morane-Saulnier singleseat fighter aircraft on german territory. The plane could be captured  undamaged and was handed over to the dutch aviation pioneer and aircraft manufacturer Anton Herman Gerard Fokker with an order to analyse and probably copy the plane. Fokker and his emplyee Heinrich Lübbe immediatly started their work and a month later,on Mai 19th, they introduced the new aircraft M5K, a singleseater fighter monoplane with a synchronized LMG 14 Parabellum gun, to the Idflieg at FEA1 airfield, Döberitz near Berlin.

Almost two month before, the German Luftstreitkräfte faced a mystery. On April 1st, 1915, a German Albatros B.I twoseater from FFA40 started from Handzaeme airfield in Flanders for a routine reconaissance flight for the XXIII. Reserve Corps. While the 22 years old Corporal August Spachholz was flying his observer, the 25 years old Second Lieutenant Walter Großkopf, over the frontline, they were attacked by a Morane-Saulnier Parasol singleseater. But that plane doesn’t try to go on a parallel course for shooting with a pistol or carbine – it just stayed direckly behind the Albatros.

Roland Garros at the wreckage of his first airkill on April 1st, 1915
Roland Garros at the wreckage of his first airkill on April 1st, 1915

Short after the German crew faced death near Oudekapelle, the French celebrated their new fighter hero Roland Garros of Escadrille MS26 while German FFA commander Thomsen tried to find the reason for these casulties. The mystery was a provisional mounted Hotchkiss machine gun, firing through the propeller arc of Garros Morane-Saulnier-L. It was the first real singleseat fighter aircraft in history.

The idea was quite simple: Instead of trying to aim on a parallel flying plane for a shot with a pistol or carbin, the pilot aimed on the other with his whole aircraft. Pulling the trigger of the machine gun, it starts firing through the propeller arc where a deflection plate prevents the propeller from being destroyed. Simple, inefficient and dangerous, but effective!

18 days after that first victory of a real fighter aircraft, the mystery was revealed when Germans captuerd Roland Garros and his Morane-Saulnier. However, Fokker and Lübbe were not able to copy that simple idea of a deflection plate mounted on the propeller, because the German machine guns were firing with steel-jacked pojectiles that impact the deflection plate. So they tried out a synchronization mechanism that was invented in 1913 by German engineer Franz Schneider. Sycronized with the crankshaft of the engine, the machine gun only fires when the line of fire was free of the propeller blades. Fokker and Lübbe managed to mount that mechanism, using a LMG 14 Parabellum, on a Fokker monoplane. They dismouted the plane, put it on Fokkers sportscar and drove from Schwerin to Döberitz where they presented the plane and the improvements to the German Idflieg.

Otto Parschau
Otto Parschau
Otto Parschau's Fokker A.III (M5K, Military Id A16/15)
Otto Parschau’s Fokker A.III (M5K, Military Id A16/15)

Short after that meeting in Döberitz, Fokker made a trip to the western front, taking the M5K and later on, in June, when he visited the FFA62 (German 6th Armee) at La Brayelle airfield the prototype Modell M14, with him, introducing the new plane to the front units on June 23rd and 24th of June. In La Brayelle, Fokker met First Lieutenant Otto Parschau who did some demonstrations of the Fokker Eindecker for FFA62. After these demonstrations on July 16th he critized the LMG 14 Parabellum which was already being replaced with a LMG 08/15 Spandau for production. During that time some German pilots of FFA62 were trained on that new aircraft. Two of them were  Second Lieutenant Oswald Boelcke and Ensign Max Immelmann.

Kurt Wintgens
Kurt Wintgens

But it was another fighter pilot who, inofficially, scored the first airkill using a Fokker monoplane with sychronized machine guns: Second Lieutenant Kurt Wintgens.

On July 1st, he shotdown a French Morane-Saulnier Parasol with pilot Captaine Paul du Peuty and observer Sous-Lieutenant de Boutiny. They managed to land their aircraft, heavily wounded, on French territory, so the airkill for Wintgens was not confirmed. The first confirmed airkill on a Fokker E.I was scored a month later, on August 1st by Max Immelmann which marks the begin of the so called Fokker Scourge.

Max Immelmann (right) with Fokker Monoplanes (left: Otto Parschau'S A.III(M5K), right M14)
Max Immelmann (right) with Fokker Monoplanes (left: Otto Parschau’S A.III(M5K), right M14)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons