Josef Mai

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Josef Mai
Josef Mai III.jpg
Birth date 3 March 1887
Place of birth Ottorowo, Kreis Samter, governmental district (Regierungsbezirk) Posen, Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Death date 18 January 1982 (aged 94)
Place of death Nuremberg, Bavaria, West Germany[1]
Allegiance  German Empire
 Weimar Republic
 National Socialist Germany
Service/branch War and service flag of Prussia (1895–1918).png Prussian Army
Iron Cross of the Luftstreitkräfte.png Imperial German Army
Freikorps Flag.jpg Freikorps
War Ensign of Germany (1921–1933).png Reichswehr
Luftwaffe eagle.jpg Luftwaffe Luftwaffe
Rank Major
Battles/wars World War I
World War II (?)
Awards Iron Cross
Golden Military Merit Cross

Josef Mai (3 March 1887 – 18 January 1982) was a German NCO of the Prussian Army as well as officer of the Imperial German Army, the Freikorps and the Reichswehr. Between August 1917 and September 1918, the World War I flying ace of the Luftstreitkräfte shot down 30 enemy planes (Luftsiege), with another 15 unconfirmed, all of them at the Western Front.[2]


Fritz Rumey, Otto Könnecke and Josef Mai (from left)
Josef Mai VI.jpg

After school and the coming of age, Mai joined the Prussian Army as an enlisted man with the Ulanen-Regiment "Prinz August von Württemberg" (Posensches) Nr. 10 in Züllichau on 3 October 1907 (maybe just for his three-year compulsory military service).


When the First World War began, Mai was a participant in the opening offensive aimed at the capture of Paris. He later saw action around Warsaw in Russian Poland. In 1915, Mai campaigned along the Dniester River. The following year, he took part in the battles at Verdun and the Somme.

Like so many from the cavalry, Mai was fascinated with flying, applied for aviation duty and was accepted in 1915. After training at the Fokker plant at Leipzig and completing his exams as a pilot successfully on 28 July 1916, he was transferred to the Kampfstaffel 29 (Kasta 29) where he flew reconnaissance with two-seater fighters (Zweikampfsitzer). He was accepted to one-seater fighter (Kampfeinsitzer) training (Jastaschule) early 1917 and was transferred to Jagdstaffel 5 in March 1917.

Mai flew a variety of aircraft throughout the war including Albatros D.V’s, Fokker Dr.1’s and Fokker D.VIIs. Mai was prone to paint his planes in a "zebra stripe" pattern, with black and white striping on the fuselage angled to the left viewed from the starboard side. His theory being the optical illusion would help to throw off an enemy pilot's aim. Painted on this background was his insignia of a star and crescent. His Albatros and D.VII were known to bear this paint scheme although his Dr.l paint scheme is uncertain. His first victory was on 20 August 1917 against a Sopwith F.1 Camel of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC)

On 19 August 1918, he had his most successful day. He attacked two Bristol F.2B fighters from No. 48 Squadron, Royal Air Force. As he hit one 'Brisfit' with incendiary ammunition, the other swerved away from the incoming fire and collided with his wrecked companion. Mai followed up this double kill by downing a 56 Squadron SE.5a later. On 3 September 1918, he was wounded in action in the left thigh. Nevertheless he scored again two days later, and added five more victories during September.

Mai's 26th victory was a No. 64 Squadron SE5a on 5 September 1918. On 27 September 1918, the day of his 29th official success, Mai was promoted to Leutnant d. R. (2nd Lieutenant of the reserves). His friend Fritz Rumey was also killed in action on that day. Mai claimed his 30th and last score, a Bristol F.2B of 20 Squadron, on 29 September 1918. 15 confirmed victories had been claimed with the Fokker D.VII, 12 with the Albatros and 3 with the Fokker Dr.I.

Leutnant der Reserve Josef Mai was nominated for Germany’s highest military honor: the Pour le Merite, nicknamed the “Blue Max”. But before it could be approved, the armistice was signed at Compiegne on 11 November 1918.[3]

The Golden Triumvirate

The three friends Josef Mai, Fritz Rumey and Otto Könnecke flew together and scored many of the squadron's 250 successes. In addition to Rumey's 45 eventual confirmed victories, Mai was credited with 30 confirmed and 15 unconfirmed, and Könnecke with 35 more. They were known as "The Golden Triumvirate" and ended up claiming 40% of the Jasta's victories between them, and making Jasta 5 the third highest scoring unit of the war.

Among the German Jastas, one of the highest scoring was Jasta 5, with over 250 victories to its credit. Three of its most notable pilots – Ltn d R Fritz Rumey, Ltn d R Josef Mai and Ltn d R Otto Könnecke – gained such a notable reputation that they acquired the nickname “The Golden Triumvirate.” Between them, these three non-commissioned officers scored 110 victories by the war’s end. Like all other German Jastas, Jasta 5 was based at several different aerodromes during the war. However, the unit is usually associated with with the Boistrancourt aerodrome, shown here. Boistrancourt was notable in that it was one of the only German Aerodromes to have hard, fixed hangars rather than the canvas tent hangars which were normally utilized. Behind the aerodrome was a chateau and a sugar refinery which added to its distinctive look.[4]


After serving with the Freikorps, Mai was accepted by the Reichswehr, served with the 1. (Preußische) Kraftfahr-Abteilung in East Prussia and from 1921 to 1924 with the 2. (Preußische) Sanitäts-Abteilung (Kr; motor vehicle personnel) in Stettin, where he was promoted to an active Oberleutnant (1st Lieutenant) and received a retroactive patent from 20 June 1918. In 1925, he served in the staff of the 1. (Preußisches) Reiter-Regiment in Tilsit and served in the 2nd squadron (2. Eskadron) Insterburg from 1926 to 1927. On 1 February 1927, he was promoted to Rittmeister.

From 1928 to 1929/30, he was on the secret flight list (Geheime Fliegerliste) and was commanded to the Lipetsk fighter-pilot school where he commanded one of two training squadrons. 1930, after his return, he was named commander of the 3rd (Prussian) Company (in Kassel) of the 5. Kraftfahr-Abteilung stationed in Stuttgart-Cannstatt. From 1931 to 1932, he commanded the new 4th (Prussian) Company (also in Kassel) of the 5. Kraftfahr-Abteilung. In 1933, he was transferred to the 2. (Preußische) Fahr-Abteilung in Rendsburg.


On 1 October 1933, after he transferred to the not-yet-decloaked Luftwaffe as Hauptmann (Captain), he became group leader (Gruppenleiter) at the Schleissheim Fighter Pilot School, and on 1 September 1934, now Major, he was named commander of the Jagdfliegerschule Schleißheim.

According to the Militärarchiv of the Bundesarchiv in Freiburg, tt seems, he was dismissed from service on 4 October 1935 (Major Gerd von Massow took over), only days before the Reichswehr was officially proclaimed as "Wehrmacht" on 15 October 1935. Mai is, by some sources, believed to have been a flying instructor for the Luftwaffe as well as Fliegerhorst commandant during World War II, but there is no proof whatsoever to this claim.

Awards and decorations