A pilots' war




Lt Max Immelmann's first victory on 1 August 1915


Lt Immelmann, of Feldflieger Abteilung 62, was awoken at 0445 by a bombing raid on his Douai airfield and saw about ten aircraft attacking.

Immelmann and his fellow pilot Boelcke rushed to the airfield and took off in the Squadron's two new Fokker Eindecker E1 aircraft.

Immelmann described the subsequent encounter in a letter to his mother:

Lt Max Immelmann 1890-1916

"There were at least ten enemy machines in the air. In the distance we saw Boelcke in pursuit of another monoplane. ... I got the other Fokker out of its shed and buzzed off. When I got to 2000 meters, two enemy aircraft passed over me at about 2600 meters. They flew in the direction of Arras, and I in the opposite one. I was glad that they had not attacked me for at 600 meters below them I would have been defenceless. I was up to 2400 meters by the time I was almost over Douai, and then I saw two other opponents and Boelcke. They were at 3200 meters; all three were heading for Arras. I too flew in the direction of Arras in the hope that once I got up there I could help Boelcke, for I heard the rattle of machine-gun fire.

Suddenly, I saw Boelcke going down in a steep dive.  As I learned later, his gun had jammed badly and he could no longer fire. I was just halfway between Douai and Arras when I saw a third flier far ahead of me. We were at about the same altitude. I could not see whether it was an enemy or one of ours. I flew towards him. Then I saw him drop bombs over Vitry. Now it was clear: an enemy. I climbed a bit and flew towards him. I was about 80 to 100 metres higher than him and about 50 metres away in a straight line. I could see the French emblem big and clear: blue, white and red rings. Now there was no longer any doubt. The other two came at me now, although they were still a bit higher. Like a hawk, I dived on the one and fired my machine-gun. For a moment I believed I would fly right into him. I had fired about 60 shots when my gun jammed. That was quite awkward, for to clear this jam I needed both hands, without being able to operate the control column. This was new and strange to me, but it worked. In the course of the flight that happened to me twice.

Meanwhile the enemy headed towards Arras. Quickly, I came up alongside him and cut off his way back, in which he was forced to make a left turn, that is in the direction of Douai. We came down about 400 metres. During my respite from firing, I heard only softly the machine-gun clatter of the enemy still above me. I kept myself constantly perpendicular to my victim because no biplane can fire perpendicularly upwards. After 450 to 500 shots, the battle had lasted about eight to ten minutes, the enemy went down in a steep glide. I followed him. I could no longer fire, the machine-gun had broken. When I saw that he had landed I landed near him immediately."

On landing, Lt Immelmann found that he had captured a British Pilot, Lt William Reid of No.2 Squadron. Immelmann records Lt Reid's BE2 as being unarmed.

[This account is recorded in "Max Immelmann Eagle of Lille" by Franz Immelmann]

Elements of the story may exaggerate the threat to Immelmann from the other aircraft - particularly as the BE2's were unarmed. It is clear from Capt Smith's account that he and Lt Leather had not seen the encounter. It is probable that Boelcke was pursuing an aircraft from No 3 Squadron which was equipped with Morane monoplanes (3 & 16 squadrons had been involved on the Douai raid); RFC Communiqué 3 (below) mentions a related incident that day.

Extract from ROYAL FLYING CORPS 1915 Communiqué No 3

On the 1st August, Capt Barratt and Lt Cleaver, 3 Sqn, in a Morane-Saulnier Parasol, chased and drove off an Aviatik. ..... On the same day these two officers were attacked by a Fokker Monoplane and drove it off.

Immelmann and Boelcke became the first well known German Aces of World War one. See Immelmann's victories.

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