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) during World War I (1914–1918). 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.


Aerial combat between German Halberstadt CL IV and French Spads
Manfred von Richthofen against planes of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC)

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.[1]

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. Thus, the years 1917 and 1918 saw the creation of Bavarian, 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

(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 D.VIII.
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 and submarines, 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 and civilian targets in France, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

See also


  • 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. 

External links


  1. 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.