Imperial German Air Service

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Form of Iron Cross used on German and Austrian-Hungarian military aircraft and armoured vehicles in 1915. German Air Force size in 1918: 2,709 frontline aircraft, 56 airships, 186 balloon detachments, and about 4,500 flying personnel.

The Imperial German Air Service or correctly translated German Air Force (German: Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte meaning literally German air battle forces), known before October 1916 as Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches ("Imperial German Flying Troops"), or simply Die Fliegertruppen, was the air arm of the German Army (of which it remained an integral part) since 1912 and during World War I.

In English language sources it is usually referred to as the "Imperial German Air Service", although that is not a literal translation of either name. German naval aviators (See- or Marineflieger) remained an integral part of the Imperial German Navy. Both military branches, the army inspectorate and navy, operated conventional aircraft, balloons and Zeppelins.

Rumpler Eindecker, between 1910 and 1914 one of the best-known trainer aircraft of the Fliegertruppe



Alte Adler Oberleutnant Barends and Oberleutnant Albrecht (picture #2, May 1912)
The first officers of the new Prussian Fliegertruppe, which was officially established on 1 October 1912 under commander Major (finally Generalmajor) Willy Richard Lehmann (1864–1948).
Gustav Boehl flying a Halberstadt CL.II in 1917.[1]
Manfred von Richthofen against planes of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC)
Due to the extraordinarily increased area of ​​work, the previous inspection of the traffic troops (Inspektion der Verkehrstruppen) was raised to a general inspection of military traffic (General-Inspektion des Militär-Verkehrswesens) on 1 April 1911. It was subordinate to the railway troops or Eisenbahntruppen (founded in 1899 as the Inspectorate of Traffic Troops or Inspektion der Verkehrstruppen at the Guard Corps), the Inspectorate of Field Telegraphy (existing since 1877) with the 1st and 2nd Inspectorate of the Telegraph Troops and the newly established Inspectorate of Military Aviation and Motor Vehicles (Inspektion des Militär-Luft- und Kraftfahrwesens ; Iluk) with the Luftschiffer battalions (Feldluftschiffer) and the motor vehicle battalion (Kraftfahr-Bataillon) as well as the training and experimental institute for military aviation or Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für das Militär-Flugwesen ("Provisional Aviation School"), which emerged from the Aviation Command Döberitz and was to be expanded, and which was ultimately to be expanded to become the Fliegertruppe (1 October 1912).[2]


Leutnant Carl Degelow, Royal Saxon Jagdstaffel Nr. 40 (Jasta 40), in his Fokker D.VII.

Germany began organizing an aviation service during the last few years of peace prior to the outbreak of World War I. At the beginning, there were two types of units making up the Luftfahrtruppe (Aviation Troops): the Feldflieger Abteilung (FFA) (Field Flying Section), a mobile unit equipped with two-seat aircraft, and the Festungsflieger-Abteilung (Fortress Flying Section), a similar force attached to a fortress. Each unit had six aircraft.

The Festungs Flieger-Abteilung quickly disappeared from the German order of battle, but the Feld Flieger- Abteilung remained, the number expanding over the years, but the mission remaining the provision of the entire range of aviation services.

By 1916, it was clear that the self-contained air force approach in vogue at the beginning of the war was not an efficient way to run military aviation. The situation had been evolving gradually, with such innovations as the spinoff of single-seaters into independent staffeln (squadrons) previewing the coming reorganization of units around their intended mission.

During the Battle of the Somme, the Luftfahrtruppe was reorganized and became the Luftstreitkräfte (Air Service) under the command of a former cavalry officer, General Ernst von Hoeppner and his Chief of Staff Hermann von der Lieth-Thomsen.[3]

Two other features distinguish the German service from that of the Allies; one was political, the other doctrinal. On the political level, Germany was made up previously independent and still semiautonomous states, and the larger of those other entities had to be accommodated by the creation of their own units; Bavarian (founded 1912), Saxon, and Württemburg units.

On the doctrinal level, the Germans adopted a defensive posture. Having to conserve assets in consideration of a two-front war and the British blockade, such a policy made sense. Occasionally, it cost opportunities—notably at Verdun, where an aggressive approach against the voie sacre (sacred road) may have proven a tactical advantage.

The Luftstreitkräfte continued as an effective force until the end of the war despite the fuel and equipment shortages that plagued its final months.

Unit designations

The nucleus of the Bavarian air force of the Royal Bavarian Army was stationed at the Oberschleißheim military air station (today Schleißheim airfield) which was created in 1912, under the direction of Luitpold Graf Wolffskeel von Reichenberg (1879-1964). The first standard machines of the newly formed Bavarian air force were the two-seat Otto double-deckers supplied by Gustav Otto. The Bavartian Flying Corps also had a training station at Gersthofen, near Augsburg. In addition, an aviation detachment was stationed in Ottoman controlled Palestine in 1917. By the end of the First World War, the Bavarian Air Force suffered 933 dead and missing from crashes. On 8 May 1920, the Bavarian Air Force was officially dissolved as a result of the Versailles Treaty.
(AFA) Artillerieflieger-Abteilung: Artillery Flier Detachment
(AFS) Artillerieflieger-Schule; Artillery Flier School
AFP - Armee-Flug-Park: Army Flight Park
BZ - Ballonzug: Balloon Platoon
BG - Bombengeschwader: Bomber Wing
Bogohl - the "Bombengeschwader der Oberste Heeresleitung", the bombing wing under direct control by the German Army's High Command in World War I.
Bosta - Bomberstaffel: Bomber Squadron
etc - Etappe: Post
FFA - Feldflieger Abteilung: Field Flier Detachment, the initial flight formations of the German Army in 1914-15
FLA - Feldluftschiffer-Abteilung: Field Airship Detachment
FestFA - Festungsflieger-Abteilung: Fortress Flier Detachment
FA - Flieger-Abteilung: Flier Detachment
FA(A) - Flieger-Abteilung (Artillerie): Flier Detachment (Artillery)
FlgBtl - Flieger-Bataillon: Flier Battalion
FBS - Fliegerbeobachter-Schule: Aerial Observer School
FEA - Fliegerersatz-Abteilung: Replacement Detachment
FS - Fliegerschule: Flight School
JG - Jagdgeschwader: Fighter wing
Jasta - Jagdstaffel: Hunting group", i.e., Fighter Squadron
JastaSch - Jagdstaffel-Schule: Fighter Squadron School (also referred to as Jastaschule)
KEK - Kampfeinsitzerkommando: Combat Single-Seater Command, a predecessor to Jasta units
Kest - Kampfeinsitzerstaffel: Combat single-seater squadron, a predecessor to Jasta units
KG - Kampfgeschwader: tactical bomber wing
Kagohl - the "Kampfgeschwader der Oberste Heeresleitung", the tactical bomber wing under direct control by the German Army's High Command in World War I.
Kasta - Kampfstaffel: tactical bomber squadron
Luft - Luftschiff-Truppe: Airship force
LsBtl - Luftschiffer-Bataillon: Airship battalion
Marine - Marine-Flieger: Naval pilots
RBZ - Reihenbildzug: Aerial photography platoon
Schlasta - Schlachtstaffel: attack squadron
Schusta - Schutzstaffel: Protection squadron

Aircraft designation system

During the First World War German aircraft officially adopted for military service were allocated a designation that included (1) the name of the manufacturer, (2) a function or "class" letter, and (3) a Roman numeral. The three-part designation was needed for a unique designation to simplify logistics support of the many types of aircraft in operation - especially as Luftstreitkräfte squadrons more often than not were equipped with several different types.

The designation system evolved during the war. Initially all military aircraft were classed as "A" (monoplane) or "B" (biplane). The new "C" class of armed (two seat) biplane began to replace the "B" class aircraft as reconnaissance machines in 1915, the B's continuing to be built, but as trainers.

The "E" class of armed monoplane were also introduced in 1915 – the other classes being added later as new aircraft types were introduced. For most of the war 'D' was only used for biplane fighters, 'E' for monoplane fighters and 'Dr' for triplane fighters. By the end of the war however, the 'D' designation was used for all single-seat fighters, including monoplanes (and, in theory at least, triplanes).

A - Unarmed reconnaissance monoplane aircraft (for example the Rumpler Taube and Fokker M.5)
B - Unarmed two-seat biplane, with the observer seated in front of the pilot.
C - Armed two-seat biplane, with the observer (usually) seated to the rear of the pilot.
CL - Light two-seater, initially intended as escort fighters - latterly mainly used for ground attack.
D - Doppeldecker - single-seat, armed biplane, but later any fighter - for instance the Fokker E.V monoplane was redesignated the Hochdecker (high-wing) D.VIII.[4]
Dr - Dreidecker - triplane fighter (prototype Fokker triplanes initially "F")
E - Eindecker - armed monoplane - initially included monoplane two-seaters. New monoplane types at the end of the war designated as "D" (single seat) or "CL" (two seat).
G - Grosskampfflugzeug - Large twin engined types, mainly bombers (initially "K")
GL - Lighter, faster twin engined bombers, intended for use by day.
J - Schlachten - Fuel tanks, pilot, and (usually) the engine protected by armour plate, reducing vulnerability to ground fire. Used for low level work, especially ground attack.
N - "C" type aircraft adapted for night bombing - apart from night flying equipment they were fitted with wings of greater span to increase bomb load.
R - Riesenflugzeug - "Giant" aircraft - at least three, up to four or five engines - all serviceable in flight.

Most manufacturers also had their own numbering systems quite separate from the official military designations for their products. These sometimes cause confusion - for instance the military "J" series is quite distinct from the "J" designations (as in the pioneering, all-metal Junkers J 1 demonstrator monoplane of 1915-16) for the designs of Hugo Junkers - the factory designation of the (military) Junkers J.I armored, all-metal sesquiplane was the Junkers J.4.

The "M" (for "Militär" or military) and "V" (for "Versuchs" or experimental) designations of the Fokker firm were also internal. The latter has no direct connection with the official Third Reich-era German "V" designation, also signifying "versuchs", for prototype aircraft.

The German Naval aviation used manufacturers' designations rather than the systematic Luftstreitkräfte system described above. For example the landplane Gotha bombers were numbered in an "LD" (for "land biplane") series by their manufacturer, but in the "G" series in the Luftstreitkräfte - while the Gotha seaplanes used by the navy were (and continue to be) known by their manufacturer's "WD" (for Wasserflugzeug-Doppeldecker, or "seaplane biplane") designation.

Army and Navy airships were individually numbered, in the same way as contemporary German destroyers (Zerstörer) and submarines (U-Boote), and were outside any system of "type" designation.


The fighters, however, received the most attention in the annals of military aviation, since it produced high-scoring "aces" such as Manfred von Richthofen, popularly known in English as "The Red Baron" (in Germany, he was known as "der Rote Kampfflieger" [Red Air Fighter]), Lothar von Richthofen, Ernst Udet, Hermann Göring, Oswald Boelcke, Werner Voss, and Max Immelmann (the first airman to win the Pour le Mérite, Imperial Germany's highest decoration for gallantry, as a result of which the decoration became popularly known as the "Blue Max").

Like the Imperial German Navy, the German Army also used Zeppelin airships for bombing military targets in France, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

See also


  • Magazine Flugsport, 1909–1944
  • Clark, Alan (1973). Ace High: The War in the Air over the Western Front 1914-18. Putnam & Company. ISBN 978-0-399-11103-7. 
  • Grey & Thetford (1962-70). German Aircraft of the First World War (2nd ed.). Putnam & Company. 


  1. The artist Heinz Krebs writes: High above the trenches on the Western Front, German aviator Gustav Boehl and his gunner are engaged in mortal combat as their Halberstadt CL.II comes under attack from French Spads. It’s the dawn of a new age in military history, and a new weapon is being forged, the aerial force. In the late stages of World War One German military commanders recognized a growing necessity for the close protection of reconnaissance and artillery control aircraft. As a result the so-called “Schutzstaffeln” (protection units) came into beingThe typical aircraft model used by such units were “C” type aircraft which were subsequently replaced by lighter machines known as “CL” type aeroplanes. Popular manufacturers of CL types were the “Hannoversche Waggonfabrik” and the “Halberstaedter Flugzeugwerke” as well as, later in the war, the Junkers aircraft company.Although aircraft made by the “Hannoversche Waggonfabrik” were designed by German aviation pioneer Claude Dornier, they weren’t near as popular with German combat crews as the aircraft made by the “Halberstaedter Flugzeugwerke”. Due to their agility and speed, their airplanes, only slightly larger dimensioned than single seat fighters, were especially well suited for use with the “Schutzstaffeln”. On October 13th, 1917 Gustav Boehl was transferred from the military flight training unit “Armeeflugpark 4” to the front line unit “Schutzstaffel 19”, where he served as a combat pilot in the rank of a Sergeant. “Schutzstaffel 19” was renamed “Schlachtstaffel 19” (Schlasta 19) on March 27th, 1918. The “Schlachtstaffeln” are commonly regarded as the forerunner of the fighter bomber units in later years of military aviation history.In the spring of 1918 such a “Schlachtstaffel” would have typically consisted of six aircraft, mostly either Halberstadt CL IIs or CL IVs. The units were commanded by a Lieutenant or First Lieutenant, himself not necessarily a pilot. The pilots were routinely non-commissioned officers, the gunners normally being corporals or privates. These gunners were often able to master more than just their close support routine. This was impressively demonstrated by one of their ranks, Gottfried Ehmann, who managed to down a total of 12 attacking fighter aircraft during the course of his military carreer.
  2. Inspektion des Flugzeugwesens der Preußischen Armee
  3. General Hermann von der Lieth-Thomsen (10 March 1867 – 5 May 1942) was a German military aviation pioneer, a senior air commander in the Imperial German Army Air Service during World War I and a founding father of the German military aviation.
  4. A total of 381 aircraft were produced, but only some 85 aircraft reached frontline service before the Armistice. Some reached Italy, Japan, the United States, and England as trophies.