Keeping Up with the Yanks

After the United States of America entered World War One in mid-1917, the resource-stretched German aeronautical industry found itself in an even more parlous state. Unable to keep pace with the massive aircraft and engine output of Britain and France and with crucial supplies severely limited due to Allied Naval blockades, the crisis deepened. With supreme determination, the German Army Air Service inaugurated their ‘Amerika Program’ to substantially increase their aeroplane and motor production, recruit thousands more airmen and speed up development of high performance aircraft designs. It was von Richthofen himself who lobbied the authorities to stage a fighter competition and encourage a kind of ‘indigenous arms race’ in a quest for the ultimate fighter aeroplane to meet the Allies on equal terms. Entries would be test-flown by experienced Front-line pilots to assess the respective attributes of each participating design and reach a consensus as to which would be best-suited for operational service. Three of these contests were held and although many radical designs fell by the wayside, a handful progressed from successful competing prototypes to emerge as serious front-runners in the air war. Among those few participants that went into series production were the Pfalz D.XII, Siemens Schuckert D.III and Fokker’s D.VII biplane and E.V parasol monoplane. Even when powered by the faithful Mercedes in-line engine, the Fokker D.VII with its innovative thick, high-lift wing design – making it exceptionally manoeuvrable and easy to fly even for average pilots – stood head and shoulders above the rest and would become the standard German fighter at the Front.