Oswald Boelcke

Oswald Boelcke

Oswald Boelcke was born in Germany on 19th May 1891. A member of the German Army Air Service , Boelcke was chosen to test out the synchronized machine-gun that had been devised by Anton Fokker. Boelcke used the devise to become Germany's first war ace.

Boelcke was an important figure in the development of air combat and became a strong advocate of fighter units working in formation. He was also responsible for training outstanding German pilots such as Manfred von Richthofen and Max Immelmann.

On 12th January 1916, Boelcke was awarded the Orsre Pour le Merite (Blue Max), Prussia's highest award for bravery. His reputation was further advanced by his actions during the Verdun offensive.

In early October 1916, Boelcke shot down his fortieth victim. Soon afterwards, while flying an infantry support mission, Boelcke's Albatros D-II collided with that of a fellow German pilot, Edwin Boehm and crashed to the ground. Boehm survived but Oswald Boelcke was killed.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Manfred von Richthofen, Red Air Fighter (1918)

It is a strange thing that everybody who met Oswald Boelcke imagined that he alone was his true friend. I have made the acquaintance of about forty men, each of whom imagined that he alone was Boelcke's intimate. Each imagined that he had the monopoly of Boelcke's affections. Men whose names were unknown to Boelcke believed that he was particularly fond of them. This is a curious phenomenon which I have never noticed in anyone else. Boelcke had not a personal enemy. He was equally polite to everybody, making no differences.

We were all at the butts trying our machine guns. On the previous day we had received our new aeroplanes and the next morning Boelcke was to fly with us. We were all beginners. None of us had had a success so far. Consequently everything that Boelcke told us was to us gospel truth. Every day, during the last few days, he had, as he said, shot one or two Englishmen for breakfast.

The next morning, the seventeenth of September, was a gloriously fine day. It was therefore only to be expected that the English would be very active. Before we started Boelcke repeated to us his instructions and for the first time we flew as a squadron commanded by the great man whom we followed blindly.

We had just arrived at the Front when we recognized a hostile flying squadron that was proceeding in the direction of Cambrai. Boelcke was of course the first to see it, for he saw a great deal more than ordinary mortals. Soon we understood the position and everyone of us strove to follow Boelcke closely. It was clear to all of us that we should pass our first examination under the eyes of our beloved leader.

(2) Oswald Boelcke, Germany's leading flying ace in 1916, gave instructions on how to attack enemy aircraft.

(1) Always try to secure an advantageous position before attacking. Climb before and during approach in order to surprise the enemy from above, and dive on him swiftly from the rear when the moment to attack is at hand.

(2) Try to place yourself between the sun and the enemy. This puts the glare of the sun in the enemy's eyes and makes it difficult to see you and impossible for him to shoot with any accuracy.

(3) Do not fire the machine guns until the enemy is within range and you have him squarely within your sights.

(4) Attack when the enemy least expects it or when he is preoccupied with other duties such as observation, photography or bombing.

(5) Never turn your back and try to run away from an enemy fighter. If you are surprised by an attack on your tail, turn and face the enemy with your guns.

(6) Keep your eyes on the enemy and do not let him deceive you with tricks. If your opponent appears damaged, follow him down until he crashes to be sure he is not faking.

(3) Manfred von Richthofen was with Oswald Boelcke when he was killed in October, 1916.

One day we were flying, once more guided by Oswald Boelcke against the enemy. We always had a wonderful feeling of security when he was with us. After all he was the one and only. The weather was very gusty and there were many clouds. There were no aeroplanes about except fighting ones.

From a long distance we saw two impertinent Englishmen in the air who actually seemed to enjoy the terrible weather. We were six and they were two. If they had been twenty and if Boelcke had given us the signal to attack we should not have been at all surprised.

The struggle began in the usual way. Boelcke tackled the one and I the other. I had to let go because one of the German machines got in my way. I looked around and noticed Boelcke settling his victim about two hundred yards away from me. It was the usual thing. Boelcke would shoot down his opponent and I had to look on. Close to Boelcke flew a good friend of his. It was an interesting struggle. Both men were shooting. It was probable that the Englishman would fall at any moment. Suddenly I noticed an unnatural movement of the two German flying machines. Immediately I thought: Collision. I had not yet seen a collision in the air. I had imagined that it would look quite different. In reality, what happened was not a collision. The two machines merely touched one another. However, if two machines go at the tremendous pace of flying machines, the slightest contact has the effect of a violent concussion.

Boelcke drew away from his victim and descended in large curves. He did not seem to be falling, but when I saw him descending below me I noticed that part of his planes had broken off. I could not see what happened afterwards, but in the clouds he lost an entire plane. Now his machine was no longer steerable. It fell accompanied all the time by Boelcke's faithful friend.

It is a strange thing that everybody who met Boelcke imagined that he alone was his true friend. I have made the acquaintance of about forty men, each of whom imagined that he alone was Boelcke's intimate. Each imagined that he had the monopoly of Boelcke's affections. Men whose names were unknown to Boelcke believed that he was particularly fond of them. This is a curious phenomenon which I have never noticed in anyone else. Boelcke had not a personal enemy. He was equally polite to everybody, making no differences.