The Technology Wheel Turns

Albatros DII

Now that the Fokker threat in France had been nullified, German air reconnaissance units were hard-pressed by Allied fighters appearing in ever-increasing numbers. German aircraft manufacturers, such as Fokker and Halberstadt, were introducing new series of single-gunned biplane fighters to keep pace with developments, however, they did not represent a quantum leap forward. Fokker’s rotary-powered doppeldeckers were inferior to the Nieuport; the Halberstadt D-types with their stationary in-line engines were at least on a par with their enemy counterparts but it was not enough. Leading German fighter pilots such as Oswald Boelcke clamoured for more potent designs. It fell to Albatros, the largest German aeroplane manufacturer, to come up with the goods. Their Albatros D.I and D.II designs combined a semi-streamlined ply-clad fuselage with the 160-hp Mercedes six cylinder motor and two fixed forward-firing synchronised machine guns. These fighters were appreciably faster than both Nieuport and DH2 and with double the firepower packed a real punch. Blessed with this fresh technical advantage, the Germans began to form their own Front-line fighter units – the Jagdstaffeln (hunting squadrons). The redoubtable and experienced master technician Oswald Boelcke would lead one of the first and recruited several promising young pilots, among them a young ex-cavalry leutnant – Manfred von Richthofen.