The story

Max Immelmann

Max Immelmann

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Max Immelmann was born in Germany in 1890. He joined the German Army Air Service in November 1914 and served under Oswald Boelcke. In August, 1915, Immelmann won the Iron Cross: First Class, after a bombing raid on a Royal Flying Corps aerodrome.

Immelmann was the inventor of the 'Immelmann Turn', a simultaneous loop and roll that became a standard dogfight manoeuvre. On 12th January 1916, Immelmann was awarded the Orsre Pour le Merite (Blue Max), Prussia's highest award for bravery.

By June 1916 Immelmann had achieved fifteen victories. Soon afterwards he was killed during a dogfight with the pilot of a FE.2b. The British credited the pilot with the kill but the Germans argued that Immelmann's Fokker E malfunctioned and he shot his own propeller off during the battle.

On 18th June, 1916, Max Immelmann met his death for his country in an aerial combat. Holder of the Iron Cross his glory and his name are his country's. In the annals of the German Flying Corps his memory will live as that of a bold flyer, fighter and conqueror.

1915: Max Immelmann Gets First Kill in Flying Ace Career

It didn’t take long for Ensign Max Immelmann of the Imperial German Flying Corps, piloting unarmed two seater reconnaissance planes over the Western Front, to learn that the enemy was shooting more than photographs. The Farman MF.11 diving at him during a June 1915 mission was already obsolete. Immelmann’s LVG B.I was a generation ahead—sleeker, faster, more powerful, higher flying. But the Farman had one thing the LVG didn’t: a machine gun.

“Suddenly I heard the familiar tack tack tack tack…and saw little holes appear in our right wing,” recalled Immelmann, who held course for his observer to finish his photography until the enemy’s bullets began striking metal. “If the brute shoots up my engine, there is nothing more to be done!”

Diving away, the German pilot nursed the LVG home to Douai. Squadron mates found one round had gone completely through its engine bed and another had nicked the main fuselage spar had it broken, the whole plane would have folded up in midair. For saving his aircraft, Immelmann received the Iron Cross 2nd Class. He had also learned an important lesson: “It is a horrible feeling to have to wait until one is perhaps hit, without being able to fire a shot oneself!”

Ensign Max Immelmann (left) and his observer/gunner von Teuben with their LVG, after barely surviving their first air fight.

Max Immelmann was used to learning the hard way.

His father, a Dresden manufacturer, died when he was just 7. His mother raised him to be a vegetarian, nonsmoking teetotaler. A squadron mate later recalled that “in the field he did eat meat, although his real love was ‘mountains of excellent cake’ which he bit into each afternoon.” Such habits did not necessarily endear Immelmann to military comrades. His best friend may have been his gray German mastiff Tyras, who slept in his master’s bed. “Of course the brave doggie must go to war with me, and he’s already delighted with the idea!” he wrote home in the first weeks of the war. “He has got a label on his collar, inscribed: ‘War Dog.’”

His letters also show an early affinity for a fellow Saxon in Feldflieger Abteilung (Flying Section) 62. Eight months younger than Immelmann, 24-year-old Lieutenant Oswald Boelcke was by that time a veteran of more than 50 missions who had already received the Iron Cross 2nd Class. “We suit one another very well,” Immelmann wrote. “[Neither] of us smoke, and we practically never touch alcohol….He has been flying since the beginning of the war and spent a long time at the front.”

In July 1915, when FFA 62 got its first armed two seater, an LVG C.I with a parabellum MG14 for the observer, it was assigned to Boelcke. Immelmann and his backseater mounted a captured French machine gun on their LVG. “Although my ‘auxiliary fighter’ is only a makeshift, at least my observer can rattle away with his gun, and that makes a permanent impression on the French,” he wrote. “Things are going to be different now.”

On July 4, Boelcke and his observer scored the section’s first kill, a Morane Saulnier L two seat Parasol monoplane. Later that month, however, the squadron took delivery of a pair of new Fokker E.I Eindecker single seat scouts. No mere weapon-hauler, the Fokker had a machine gun fixed to the cowling and synchronized to fire between the prop blades. “These little craft absorb my entire interest,” Immelmann enthused. “They are pretty machines, and they are light, speedy and nimble. The pilot flies alone. The machine is designed solely for fighting enemy airmen, and not reconnaissance work.”

Immelman’s First Kill

He practiced his gunnery using ground targets until August 1, when British B.E.2c bombers hit Douai at dawn. Boelcke was first to take off in pursuit, with Immelmann hot on his tail. “There were at least ten enemy machines in the air,” Immelmann recalled. “Suddenly I saw Boelcke go down in a steep dive. As I learnt later, he had a bad gun stoppage, so that he couldn’t fire a shot.”

Boelcke could only return to Douai, where he warned everyone, “They will shoot our Immelmann dead!”

But Immelmann had caught up with a B.E.2c halfway back to Arras. “I dived on him and fired my machine gun,” he recounted. “For a moment I thought I was going to fly right into him.” Canadian pilot Lieutenant William Reid had used his observer’s seat to store bombs, and had only a handgun to defend himself. Immelmann’s machine gun repeatedly jammed, and he had to use both hands to clear it, even as he maneuvered to cut off Reid’s escape and dodge enemy fire. The men at Douai watched the whole thing. Immelmann said they later told him that “my turns and glides and my flying in general looked as if I had been in a Fokker for weeks instead of three days.”

After some 10 minutes and 500 rounds, Immelmann’s gun either failed completely or simply ran dry. Reid, wounded, coasted down behind German lines. Immelmann landed to take him prisoner. Awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class, he took advantage of his newly won prestige to write Tony Fokker, claiming precedence over Boelcke in receiving the first new Eindecker E.II. The two friends had become rivals.

Immelmann in the cockpit of an Eindecker E.I, probably #13/15, in which he scored his first five victories. Powder burns at the top of the cowling indictate the gun has been fired. Of interest are the white/black fuselage stripes denoting FFA 62, the squadron insignia on the airman’s sleeve and, on the prop, the insignia of the manufacturer Garuda.

It took Boelcke more than two weeks to get his second kill, but Immelmann needed only a week after that to catch up. The two were flying an evening patrol over the lines on August 26. “Suddenly I saw an Allied biplane attack Boelcke from behind,” Immelmann wrote. “Boelcke did not seem to have seen him.”

Immelmann broke up the enemy’s pass, and Boelcke came around. “First he came into Boelcke’s sights, and then into mine, and finally we both went for him….Boelcke’s gun appeared to have jammed, but I fired 300 rounds.” The enemy pilot threw up both arms and Immelmann saw his helmet come off, just before the plane plummeted 7,200 feet to the ground.

Boelcke returned the favor on September 9, shooting a Morane Saulnier off Immelmann’s tail for his third victory. In those early days of aerial combat, these were likely the first recorded instances of leader/wingman tactics. But who was the leader, and who was the wingman?

Immelmann with remains of his third kill, a B.E.2. Sept. 21, 1915.

By the end of October, Immelmann had scored his fifth victory, a Vickers F.B.5 “Gun Bus,” and had received mention in military communiqués. “Now I shall no longer object to being written up in the papers, since I have seen how everyone at home follows my successes,” he wrote. His newfound fame was spoiled only by the fact that Boelcke still ran neck and neck with him. “He claims to have shot down five enemy machines, but one of them landed on its own territory,” groused Immelmann. “If I counted all those, I should have at least seven.”

By January 1916, Immelmann had seven victories confirmed. On the morning of the 12th he dived head on at a Gun Bus about 9,000 feet above Bapaume. The initial pass devolved into a turning fight in which the Eindecker had the upper hand. Immelmann put more than 100 rounds into the Vickers. “All of a sudden a reddish yellow flame shot out from his engine, leaving a long trail of smoke behind him.”

7th victory. Morane-Saulnier L “Parasol” #5087 of No. 3 Sqn., shot down near Valenciennes on the morning of 15 Dec 1915. Lt. Alan Victor Hobbs and Lt. Charles Edward Tudor-Jones were killed.

Though he was wounded and his observer dead, British pilot 2nd Lt. Herbert Thomas Kemp managed to land his blazing ship and jump clear. Immelmann set down nearby, and the two of them watched the Vickers burn. “You are Immelmann?” Kemp asked him. “You are well known to us. Your victory today is another fine sporting success for you.”

If Immelmann then fancied himself the top German ace, it was only until his return to Douai, where he learned Boelcke had also scored his eighth shootdown at almost the same hour. Nonetheless, he commented, “I was never so pleased at one of Boelcke’s victories as I was that day.”

At mess the section commander announced, “His Majesty the Emperor has been graciously pleased to confer the highest war order, the ‘Pour le Mérite,’ on the two victors in aerial warfare.” Later in the war, as dogfights became more common, winning the Order required up to 20 victories, but Immelmann and Boelcke were the first aviators and junior officers so honored, and on the same day. (The story goes that Immelmann was decorated first, which is why the Pour le Mérite isn’t nicknamed the “Blue Oswald.”) To top it off, a few days later Immelmann received a new Eindecker E.IV—bigger and heavier, with a twin row 160-hp Oberursel radial engine and twin machine guns. He was now one of the world’s top scoring fighter pilots, flying the world’s top combat aircraft.

Boelcke, whose fame would eventually rest on his Dicta, the rules of air combat and unit tactics that he authored, would subsequently do much of his fighting against the French over Metz and Verdun. The air war against the British, over Lille, would be led by Immelmann and his Eindecker. More of a loner, he gained fame because he was feared, even though he seems to have been an indifferent shot and, in a dogfight, not so much skilled as persistent. He once wrote, “I do not employ any tricks when I attack,” and never claimed to have performed the “Immelmann Turn,” much less ever took credit for it. A climbing half loop with a roll out at the top (but in the low powered planes of the day, probably more of a wingover), the maneuver may have been named after Immelmann by British pilots, as a means of escaping him. He and Boelcke led the “Fokker Scourge,” making “Fokker Fodder” of Allied airmen, but since he scored no confirmed kills from early January through early March 1916, it could be said that Immelmann, the “Eagle of Lille,” owned his piece of the sky largely by reputation.

“[Enemy airplanes] never come to Douai now, except sometimes in formations of ten,” he wrote in early February. “It has been said in the House of Commons and in a French meeting that the supremacy of the air is no longer in the hands of the French or English.”

“Until the Royal Flying Corps is in possession of a machine as good or better as the Fokker,” proclaimed British headquarters, “it seems a change in the tactics employed becomes necessary.” Meanwhile, however, Immelmann and Boelcke were discovering that the Fokker E.IV was, if more robust, inferior overall to the E.III. Twice the cylinders meant twice the weight, twice the unreliability and twice the torque effect on maneuverability, but not twice the performance.

Fokker E.IV #189/16, the aircraft most often claimed to have been flown by Immelmann with the full three-gun mount, shown here with the E.IV standard two-gun mount. As #189 was rolled out late in the E.IV production run (and may even have been the last one built) it’s thought that the three-gun experiment had already been discarded.

Flying above the lines on March 2, Immelmann had to dive away from an attacking Morane Saulnier L two seater, which was escorted by a Morane Saulnier N monoplane with its own forward-firing synchronized gun, flown by Sergeant Toné P.H. Bayetto. Unable to overtake them as they flew uncontested right over Douai, the Eagle of Lille “considered whether it would not be better for me to land, for I could simply do nothing with my engine.” He settled on cutting off the enemy’s retreat. As he put it, “Then the fun began.” The monoplane plunged to the attack. Dodging, Immelmann forced the two-seater down, but reported: “I could not make up the lost 500 meters of height with my bad engine and secondly I had a gun jam. So I let the monoplane buzz off in the direction of Lille and went home.”

The Eagle of Lille’s Best Month

Nevertheless, that March was the Eagle’s best month. He scored five victories, including a Bristol Scout around noon on the 13th and a B.E.2C that evening, his first double victory. A fellow pilot recalled, “At first, he was not pretentious. Later, after receiving many orders, he became a bit vain….He loved to have himself photographed each time he got a new medal.” Immelmann’s squadron mates began addressing him as “your exalted Majesty.” Still Boelcke kept pace. By month’s end their scores stood even, at 13.

Two days after Easter Immelmann took on a pair of the new Airco DH.2 pusher biplanes of No. 24 Squadron, the Royal Flying Corps’ first all-fighter unit. He started out with a height advantage, but quickly found himself hard pressed: “The two worked splendidly together in the course of the fight and put eleven shots into my machine. The petrol tank, the struts on the fuselage, the undercarriage and the propeller were hit. I could only save myself by a nose dive of 1,000 meters. Then at last the two left me alone. It was not a nice business.”

Fellow pilots noted their ace had by this time lost some of the spring in his step, one writing he’d become “a bundle of nerves lately.” Immelmann also fell behind in his letter writing, and only second hand accounts survive of his final weeks.

On the last day of May, leading three Eindeckers against seven Vickers between Bapaume and Cambrai, Immelmann had let off a long burst of fire when his E.IV began vibrating, almost out of control. He cut the fuel and ignition and, as the 14 cylinder rotary spun down, saw that his synchronizer gear had malfunctioned. Half a propeller blade was gone, sawed off by his own guns, and the lopsided prop had shaken the Oberursel almost out of its nacelle. Nose heavy, the Fokker started down. Immelmann barely managed to crash land beside the Cambrai–Douai road.

It was no isolated incident while test flying a three-gun E.IV, Tony Fokker himself almost shot off his own prop. But with the Allies deploying dedicated fighter units, Immelmann and Boelcke undertook—against opposition from their superiors—to have Germany follow suit. Immelmann, now a triple ace, was tapped to lead one of the first Jagdstaffeln (fighter squadrons), but it was not to be.

Late on the afternoon of Sunday, June 18, Immelmann led four Eindeckers in pursuit of four British F.E.2b two-seat pushers of No. 25 Squadron. With one machine gun firing forward and another mounted high to fire backward over the upper wing and prop, the “Fee” was no easy prey. Immelmann succeeded in forcing one down near Arras, but only after his E.IV took serious hits to its struts and wings. It was still undergoing repairs at dusk when 25 Squadron sent another flight over the lines. In a fateful decision, Immelmann followed his men up in a reserve E.III, arriving late to the battle.

A major dogfight had developed a mile or more above Loos. Four of Immelmann’s squadron mates were mixing it with four Fees. To the northeast, two Fokkers were tangling with four British planes, with two more Eindeckers hurrying toward them to even things up. Adding to the confusion, German flak batteries were pumping shells up into the melee.

Shooting off a white flare to signal the anti-aircraft guns to hold fire, the Eagle of Lille plunged to attack an F.E.2b, rattling off a long stream of shots. His 17th victory fell away in a steep dive, to land behind German lines with its pilot mortally wounded.

Last victory. FE2b #4909 of No 25 Sqn, Immelmann’s 17th victory. (Initially credited to Lt. Max Mulzer as his fourth victory. On many lists Immelmann is not credited with his last two victories, both claimed on 18 June 1916.)

Another Fee came down behind Immelmann. Pilot 2nd Lt. G.R. McCubbin reported: “By this time I was very close to the Fokker and he apparently realized we were on his tail, and he immediately started to do what I expect was the beginning of an ‘Immelmann’ turn. As he started to turn we opened fire.” Observer Corporal J.H. Waller let go a burst from his forward Lewis gun as Immelmann’s Eindecker crossed their nose. “The Fokker immediately got out of control,” reported McCubbin, “and went down to earth.”

One of Immelmann’s squadron mates testified that his leader attempted to climb as if to rejoin the fight, but something clearly wasn’t right. The Fokker pitched up and stalled over its left wing, bucking and flapping. Witnesses saw its fuselage break off behind the cockpit. As it began its death dive, both wings tore away as well. The engine and cockpit fell more than a mile. Immelmann’s remains were recognized only by his monogrammed kerchief and the Blue Max at his throat.

He was one of the first great aces to die in combat. Germany struggled to come to grips with his loss. Experts claimed his Eindecker had been hit by friendly anti-aircraft fire, or that his synchronizer gear had malfunctioned again (one of the prop blades appeared to be sawed off), that the less-sturdy E.III had been unable to withstand the resultant shaking—anything but admit their hero had fallen to the enemy. For their part, the British simply credited the kill to McCubbin and Waller, who said, “It is quite on the cards that our bullets not only got him, but his prop as well.

“Immelmann lost his life by a silly chance,” declared Boelcke, who was transferred to the Eastern Front to spare his country another such loss. Within the year he would raise his score to 40, only to die in a midair collision with one of his own men.

E.III #246/16, the Eindecker in which Immelmann was fatally shot down.

Even more than Boelcke, Immelmann has come to be identified with the Fokker Eindecker, in which he rose and fell. Perhaps he had just been lucky to fly it during its brief supremacy, but then so did many men, without achieving as much.

“He had it much more difficult than later fighter pilots,” a fellow pilot recalled of Max Immelmann after the war, “…because in 1915–16 there was much less aerial activity. His number of victories was not as large…but they were harder earned.”

Originally published in the November 2013 issue of Aviation History magazine.


He was born on 21 September 1890 in Dresden to an industrialist father, who died when Max was young. In 1905, Immelmann was enrolled in the Dresden Cadet School. He joined the Eisenbahnregiment (Railway Regiment) Nr. 2 in 1911 as an Ensign, ΐ] in pursuit of a commission. He left the army in March 1912 to study mechanical engineering in Dresden. He returned to service on the outbreak of war, as a reserve officer candidate. He was assigned to Eisenbahnregiment Nr. 1, but soon transferred to aviation. Α]

Airplanes in the skies + FAF history

Max Immelmann (21 September 1890 – 18 June 1916) PLM was the first German World War I flying ace. He was a pioneer in fighter aviation and is often mistakenly credited with the first aerial victory using a synchronized gun. He was the first aviator to win the Pour le Mérite, and was awarded it at the same time as Oswald Boelck. His name has become attached to a common flying tactic, the Immelmann turn, and remains a byword in aviation. He is credited with 15 aerial victories.

Lt Max Immelmann ja Fokker E2.37/15 (1915)

When World War I started, Immelmann was called to active service, transferred to Die Fliegertruppe (later known as the Luftstreitkräfte ) and was sent for pilot training at Johannisthal Air Field in November 1914. He was initially stationed in northern France .

Immelmann served as a pilot with Feldflieger Abteilung (Field Flier Detachment) 10 from February to April 1915, and then in FFA 62 by early May 1915. On several occasions he engaged in combat while flying the LVG two-seaters with which his units were equipped, but never with any success. On 3 June 1915, he was shot down by a French pilot but managed to land safely behind German lines. Immelmann was decorated with the Iron Cross, Second Class for preserving his aircraft.

Silver beaker given to Immelmann, Bundeswehr Military History Museum

Two very early examples of the Fokker Eindeckers were delivered to the unit, one Fokker M.5K/MG production prototype numbered E.3/15 for Oswald Boelcke 's use, with Immelmann later in July receiving E.13/15 as a production Fokker E1 for his own use before the end of July. It was with the E.13/15 aircraft, armed with the synchronized lMG 08 machine gun, that he gained his first confirmed air victory of the war on 1 August 1915, a fortnight after Leutnant Kurt Wintgens obtained the very first confirmed German aerial victory on 15 July 1915 with his own Fokker M.5K/MG production prototype E.5/15 Eindecker, one of five built, following two unconfirmed ones on July 1 and 4, all before Immelmann.

"Like a hawk, I dived. 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 awkward, for to clear the jam I needed both hands - I had to fly completely without hands"

Lieutenant William Reid fought back valiantly, flying with his left hand and firing a pistol with his right. Nonetheless, the 450 bullets fired at him took their effect Reid suffered four wounds in his left arm, and his airplane's engine quit, causing a crash landing. The unarmed Immelmann landed nearby, and approached Reid they shook hands and Immelmann said to the British pilot "You are my prisoner" and pulled Reid out of the wreckage and rendered first aid.

Immelmann became one of the first German fighter pilots, quickly building an impressive score of air victories. During September, three more victories followed, and then in October he became solely responsible for the air defense of the city of Lille. Immelmann became known as The Eagle of Lille (Der Adler von Lille).

Immelmann flirted with the position of Germany's leading ace, trading that spot off with another pioneer ace, Oswald Boelcke. Having come second to Boelcke for his sixth victory, he was second to be awarded the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern for this feat. On 15 December, Immelmann shot down his seventh British plane and moved into an unchallenged lead in the competition to be Germany's leading ace.

Max Immelmann's Fokker E.II in late October 1915

Immelmann was the first pilot to be awarded the Pour le Mérite , Germany's highest military honour, receiving it on the day of his eighth win, 12 January 1916 The medal became unofficially known as the "Blue Max" in the German Air Service in honor of Immelmann. His medal was presented by Kaiser Wilhelm II on 12 January 1916. Oswald Boelcke received his medal at the same time.

Boelcke scored again two days later. Immelmann would chase him in the ace race for the next four months, drawing even on 13 March at 11 each, losing the lead on the 19th, regaining it on Easter Sunday (23 April) 14 to 13, losing it again forever on 1 May. It was about this time, on 25 April, that Immelmann received a salutary lesson in the improvement of British aircraft. As the German ace himself described his attack on two Airco DH.2s , "The two worked splendidly together. and put 11 shots into my machine. The petrol tank, the struts on the fuselage, the undercarriage and the propeller were hit. It was not a nice business."

On 31 May, Immelmann, Max von Mulzer , and another German pilot attacked a formation of seven British aircraft. Immelmann was flying a two-gun Fokker E.IV , and when he opened fire, the synchronizing gear malfunctioned. A stream of bullets cut off the tip of a propeller blade. The thrashing of the unbalanced air screw nearly shook the aircraft's Oberursel engine loose from its mounts before he could cut the ignition and glide to a dead-stick landing.

In the late afternoon of 18 June 1916, Immelmann led a flight of four Fokker E.III Eindeckers in search of a flight of eight FE2b reconnaissance aircraft of 25 Squadron Royal Flying Corps over Sallaumines in northern France. The British flight had just crossed the lines near Arras, with the intent of photographing the German infantry and artillery positions within the area, when Immelmann's flight intercepted them. After a long-running fight, scattering the participants over an area of some 30 square miles, Immelmann brought down one of the enemy aircraft, wounding both the pilot and observer. This was his 16th victory claim, though it was to go unconfirmed.

At 21:45 that same evening, Immelmann in Fokker E.III, serial 246/16 encountered No. 25 Squadron again, this time near the village of Lens. Immediately, he got off a burst which hit RFC Lt. JRB Savage, pilot of FE.2b pusher serial 4909, mortally wounding him. This was his 17th victory claim, though Max Mulzer was later credited with the victory. The crew of the second aircraft he closed on was piloted by Second Lieutenant GR McCubbin with Corporal JH Waller as gunner/observer, and was credited by the British with shooting Immelmann down. On the German side, many had seen Immelmann as invincible and could not conceive the notion that he had fallen to enemy fire. Meanwhile, British authorities awarded McCubbin the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Service Medal and sergeant's stripes for Waller.

The German Air Service at the time claimed the loss was due to (friendly) anti-aircraft fire. Others, including Immelmann's brother, believed his aircraft's gun synchronisation (designed to enable his machine gun to fire between the whirling propeller blades without damaging them) had malfunctioned with catastrophic results. This is not in itself unreasonable, as early versions of such gears frequently malfunctioned in this way. Indeed, this had already happened to Immelmann twice before (while testing two- and three-machine gun installations), although on each occasion, he had been able to land safely. McCubbin, in a 1935 interview, claimed that immediately after Immelmann shot down McCubbin's squadron mate, the German ace began an Immelmann turn, McCubbin and Waller swooped down from a greater altitude and opened fire, and the pioneer German ace fell out of the sky. Waller also pointed out later that the British bullets could have hit Immelmann's propeller.

Damage to the propeller resulting in the loss of one blade could have been the primary cause of the structural failure evident in accounts of the crash of his aircraft. The resultant vibration of an engine at full throttle spinning half a propeller could have shaken the fragile craft to pieces. At 2,000 meters, the tail was seen to break away from the rest of Immelmann's Fokker, the wings detached or folded, and what remained of the fuselage fell straight down, carrying the 25-year-old Oberleutnant to his death. His body was recovered by the German 6 Armee from the twisted wreckage, lying smashed and lifeless over what was left of the surprisingly intact Oberursel engine (sometimes cited as under it), but was only identified because he had his initials embroidered on his handkerchief.

Immelmann was given a state funeral and buried in his home of Dresden . His body was later exhumed, however, and cremated in the Dresden-Tolkewitz Crematorium.

The present-day Luftwaffe has dubbed Squadron AG-51 the "Immelmann Squadron" in his honour.

Flight Stories

“It was 9 in the evening, when the rat-tat of aerial machine guns lured me out of my quarters, and I saw at a height of several thousand yards five aeroplanes in a hot fight two Fokkers and three English and French biplanes.”

Max Immelmann, “Der Adler von Lille” — one of Germany’s first great aces.

On June 18, 1916, Max Immelmann, the famous German ace known as the “Eagle of Lille” (German: “Der Adler von Lille”) met his end in aerial combat. His final flight was over the village of Sallaumines in the Arras Sector, located in northern France. The Royal Flying Corps awarded the victory to Second Lieutenant George R. McCubbin, who received both the the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Service Medal for his work.

Today, almost exactly 100 years later, a controversy still remains on what happened.

Three Main Versions of Events

There are three versions of events that are often told. The first is that Immelmann’s guns shot off his own propeller, causing his Fokker Eindecker E.III to shake itself to pieces in midair. The second claim is that Immelmann was shot down by McCubbin’s fire at the very top of his trademark maneuver, the Immelmann Turn, which is today well-known as a half-loop with a half-roll at the top to return the attacking plane upright. A third version persists in some circles, that Immelmann was killed by ground fire, though few still adhere to that theory.

All of these explanations are wrong in varying degrees. First, Lt. McCubbin himself never fired a single shot in the fight — though his observer did, so the victory should be credited where credit is due. And second, about that part involving the Immelmann Turn? We’ve got that completely wrong too.

A Fokker Eindecker, similar to the one flown by Max Immelmann on his last flight — note that Immelmann’s plane sported two machine guns.

What Actually Happened (Most Probably)

At 9:45 pm, Max Immelmann, flying a Fokker E.III, serial 246/16, lead a flight of four E.IIIs in an attack on three British reconnaissance airplanes of 25 Squadron. The British planes of 25 Squadron were F.E.2b two-seat biplanes. They had a simple mission — to photograph German infantry positions and artillery along the front lines near Arras, and then quickly return to base. The British planes were vastly outclassed by the German Fokker Eindecker E.III types and the odds were extreme — four German fighters against three British recon planes.

In fact, the E.IIIs were faster, more powerful, better armed, and more maneuverable than the F.E.2bs. Where the British recon planes could only pull around slowly in a turn, the E.IIIs were quick and could be seen darting in and making high speed firing passes into the enemy formation.

One of the No. 25 Sqn RFC FE2b, serial number 6341, “Zanzibar No.1” after captured by the Germans when forced down by Lt. Heinrich Gontermann of Jasta 5 (16 May 1916).

A contemporary German eyewitness described it this way:

“The tiny, swift Fokkers were like swallows compared with the big, lumbering, sure flying double-deckers. There was an increased liveliness aloft as the Fokkers overtook the biplanes and swooped down upon them with frightful speed. Amid a mad rattle of five machine guns our hearts stood still. Now the Fokkers have reached the enemy, and they have turned themselves loose again. Then they pounce with fresh strength on the [British ] biplanes, which are now flying in confused circles. One of the Fokkers singled out his prey and he doesn’t leave him. While the big biplane only seeks to fly lower or higher, the Fokker cuts off the escape each time. Suddenly the big machine reels. ‘Hurrah he’s hit!’ is roared from a thousand throats.”

As the four German planes descended on the hapless British F.E.2bs, the RFC pilots pulled into a defensive circle, hoping to cover each other — this was what would later be called a Lufbery Circle. A first pass, then a second came as Immelmann opened fire at one of the planes in the formation. True to form, this time his aim was true and his single burst of fire hit the pilot. RFC Lt. J.R.B. Savage, in his F.E.2b pusher, serial number 4909, was mortally wounded and his plane fell out of formation and crashed to the earth.

Surprisingly, Immelmann’s wingman, Max Mulzer, was later credited with the victory, though that was eventually overturned.

This time, however, Immelmann did not fly past the first F.E.2b and once again pull around in a wide arc at a safe distance. Instead, he pulled up vertically into his trademark maneuver, the “Immelmann Turn”. His goal was to quickly dispatch a second F.E.2b, as the British reconnaissance planes were so inferior and such easy targets for the attacking ace.

The Real Immelmann Turn

Whereas many today credit Immelmann with inventing a half-loop maneuver with a roll at the top back upright, in actual fact, the original Immelmann Turn was anything but that. Immelmann’s actual maneuver was a vertical pull-up into an extreme version of a chandelle, but with kicking the rudder hard at the top to pull the nose back around and down, thus allowing the plane to fall nearly vertically back into the enemy formation for a second attack. Immelmann’s favored maneuver, if anything, resembles what we now consider a hammerhead stall. His maneuver would have put him directly behind and above his next target — none other than the F.E.2b of Second Lieutenant George R. McCubbin.

At the top of the maneuver, as Immelmann’s plane was at its slowest, the unthinkable happened. On board the second RFC F.E.2b piloted by Second Lieutenant G.R. McCubbin, was in the circle behind Lt. Savage’s now stricken plane, the McCubbin’s gunner, Corporal James H. Waller, who sat in front of the pilot, stood up and pointed his single machine gun backward and up at Immelmann’s airplane. Immelmann’s Eindecker was just reaching the top of its arc and was flying at its slowest point as Immelmann kicked the rudder to begin his descent into the next attack. Corporal Waller fired at the nearly stationary target. His bullets struck home.

Immelmann’s plane was severely damaged. Corporal Waller would years later claim that his fire had hit Immelmann’s prop and forward fuselage. In any case, with the damage sustained, the E.III fell off the top of the maneuver and began its plunge downward, the engine violently shaking the fuselage. Immelmann, who had experienced two prop failures (he had indeed twice shot off his own propeller in the past) perhaps struggled at the controls — or perhaps he was shot and unconscious. At least twice, Immelmann’s plane apparently leveled before stalling again and pitching downward. Then, the tail broke away.

Second Lieutenant G.R. McCubbin, RFC

News Reports Afterward

The German publication, Tägliche Rundschau, printed an eyewitness letter that described the scene:

“Immelmann didn’t make it easy for his enemies. He had already shot down three enemy fliers, and at the time of his death plunge he was engaged in a fight with two enemy machines. While he was pursuing and firing at the one his Fokker was hit by the other. Probably a steel truss was broken, but Immelmann had bitten himself so firmly into his enemy that he didn’t notice it. He continued to pursue his victim until suddenly the tail broke off, and Immelmann and his rudderless Fokker plunged to his death. His half-annihilated enemy was then brought down by Immelmann’s comrades, also in Fokkers.”

Another German publication was quoted in the New York Times (remember that it would be another year before the USA entered into World War I, and the thus the Times was representing a neutral country). In that, an eyewitness’s letter was quoted at length, including this passage:

“I was watching closely, and noticed that the Fokker, too, was making curious tumbling motions, righting itself like an animal mortally wounded, then fluttering down, first slowly, then faster. A sudden jerk brings the machine again to a horizontal position. Thank God, I think, and breathe easier, when suddenly the Fokker overturns completely, the tail falls away, one of the wings flutters off, and, with an uncanny whistling sound, the machine precipitates from 6,000 feet earthward and strikes with a dull thud.”

Controversy over Immelmann’s Death

In the wake of Immelmann’s loss, the Germans dispatched investigators to determine how their most brilliant ace of aces could have been shot down. Anthony Fokker himself examined the wreckage. Aided by propaganda, rumors abounded that Immelmann’s aircraft had been shot down by ground fire from the German army itself, rather than as a result of enemy action. Others claimed that by his own firing at the British aircraft, he had shot off his propeller, causing his own plane to crash. Few on the German side were willing to admit that the British had prevailed and shot Immelmann from the skies. Anthony Fokker declared that Immelmann’s plane had been hit by friendly fire, thus crediting the loss to the expertise of the German Army’s own.

What did actually happen is still unclear, though the evidence points clearly that Second Lieutenant G.R. McCubbin’s gunner, Corporal J. H. Waller, did fire off his one shot at Immelmann’s Eindecker E.III and score the victory. Perhaps Corporal Waller’s fire struck the Eindecker’s prop and sheered it away, as Waller later recalled. Perhaps his fire also struck critical parts of the air frame, causing the fuselage to fail and tear away. Perhaps his bullets struck Immelmann, wounding him and knocking him unconscious.

There was no evidence that Immelmann’s plane was shot down by ground fire. The combat was a 6,000 feet of altitude — it would only have been heavy anti-aircraft guns that could have reached that high, where the later “experts” declared the damage to be from small arms fire.

The wreckage of Immelmann’s Fokker Eindecker E.III.

The only evidence supporting a possible malfunction of the E.III’s interrupter gear, which would have meant that Immelmann had shot off his own propeller, was that the prop was indeed found shattered near the hub (whether from impact with the ground, fire from the British airplane, or Immelmann’s own shooting, is unclear. At the point in the combat where he was supposedly shot down, Immelmann was not in a position to fire — it is possible, however, that he had shot off his own propeller, or damaged it, while making his attack just before pulling up. It is worth noting that for Corporal Waller, Immelmann’s Eindecker had posed a perfect target, without any significant deflection and hanging there in a nearly vertical position directly behind. Another question that perhaps could be asked is simply — How could he have missed?

Regardless, what is certain is that Immelmann’s stricken plane fell out of the combat in a fatal dive. As the plane exceeded its maximum speed, the rear fuselage broke off. Without the counterbalancing effect of the tail planes, the rest of the E.III plunged vertically into the ground at high speed. If Immelmann was still alive at that point, he was killed on impact anyway.

Aftermath and Death

After the impact, German ground forces ran to the downed machine. Quickly, they pulled the crushed body of the pilot from the wreckage. When they saw that the pilot wore the Pour le Merit medal at his neck, they knew he was one of their two greatest aces — it could only be Boelcke or Immelmann, the only two pilots to have received the famous award. On the pilot’s collar they saw the initials “M.I.”, and knew then it was Max Immelmann. The “Eagle of Lille”, was dead.

As for Corporal Waller, whose aim had brought down one of the Germany’s top aces, he would watch as the pilot, Second Lt. McCubbin, was awarded with two medals for his flying. Rank Has Its Privileges, as they say For his part, Corporal Waller would receive his sergeant’s stripes as a thank you — well enough deserved for an enlisted man in the Royal Flying Corps, of course. Shortly afterward, correcting the wrong, the RFC awarded him the Distinguished Conduct Medal.


A wonderful piece of history! Keep them coming!
The “immelman Turn” was my favorite maneuver during acrobatics phase of Navy flight training in SNJ-4’s and 5’s at Whiting Field in Pensacola in 1954. SNJ engines would quit after a few seconds of inverted flying, so it was important to complete the roll at the top pretty quickly.

The legend of the last picture is probably not correct.
The german text means: ” French Bristol biplane shot down by Lt. Immelmann on 7. Nov. 1915 near Arras”
The same picture is here 𔄞th victory. A BE2C #1715, shot down west of Lille…”
A picture of the wreck of Immelmanns Fokker is on the same page.

René Fonck

The most successful allied air ace of the conflict, French pilot Colonel René Fonck began the war as a combat engineer, digging trenches and building bridges. He had always been fascinated by flight, but was initially rejected when he asked to transfer to the air service, and had to wait until February 1915 before beginning his training.

Fonck quickly earned the respect of his peers for his skill in the air. Bringing mathematical precision and engineering knowledge to the air, he understood the planes and how they worked like few others. Patient, careful and calculating, he preferred merciless ambushes to dogfights, and used very little ammunition due to his precise deflection shooting.

Socially withdrawn and prone to self-promotion, Fonck was never popular with other pilots or the public. He survived the war with a total of 75 confirmed kills and many more claimed, second only to the Red Baron.

Flight Stories

On this date in aviation history, Max Immelmann, the German ace whose reputation had spawned the “Fokker Scourge,” was killed in France. Before his death, Immelmann was officially credited with shooting down 15 aircraft (and non-official records are conclusive that he brought down at least 17 enemy airplanes). Yet his lasting legacy was not that he had become an ace, but rather for a maneuver that was named in his honor — the Immelmann Turn.

At the beginning of the Great War (later known as World War I), airplanes were still in their infancy. By 1915, however, they had improved considerably and had become deadly tools of war. No longer were amateur pilots flying alongside one another and shooting pistols or rifles at one another. The once unarmed, lumbering observation planes that could barely carry the weight of a pilot were now mounted with multiple machine guns in the hands of a second crew member and flew at nearly 100 mph. Likewise, the first generation of the true fighter plane had a forward facing guns that shot through the propeller arc with the aid of an interrupter gear. The pilot aimed the entire airplane at the enemy and pulled the trigger — it was a deadly innovation. The sky was painted red with blood.

Heroes of the Air

Amidst the senseless slaughter of the ground war, both sides needed a personalized story of heroism and chivalry to retain public support. On the German side, Max Immelmann rose to become the first celebrity fighter pilot, a “knight of the air” who hunted the enemy with his airplane (a metaphor for the knight’s warhorse of old). Immelmann, with his fellow German fighter pilots at the dawn of 1915, were equipped with the new Fokker Eindecker — an aircraft that outclassed anything the British or French had in the air. It wasn’t long before German newspapers dubbed him “Der Adler von Lille” (the Eagle of Lille) for his exploits and many victories.

The Fokker Eindecker E.III

Like the others in his squadron, Immelmann was developing nascent air combat techniques based on personal experiences day by day. Pilots soon learned that approaching from above and behind meant that the enemy observer could fire back — so they tried new tactics, flying out of the sun, attacking from underneath or diving from above with great speed. New ways of fighting were developed — if the attacker approached from the side, pilots were taught to turn into the enemy if a plane was closing from behind, “on your tail”, you went into a tight turn or pointed the nose down and dove away, perhaps dodging back and forth and so forth. New tactics also emerged for hunting together as a squadron.

In this time of rapid advancement, Immelmann’s innovation was simple. It was a high angle reversal that allowed him to make two passes at his opponent in quick succession. Immelmann appears to be the first to grasp that air combat required maneuver in all three dimensions — climbing, diving and turning simultaneously for advantage. While most aviators today are taught that the “Immelmann Turn” is a half loop with a roll at the top, historically, this probably wasn’t anything that Immelmann ever tried. His Fokker Eindecker didn’t have ailerons, rather it used wing warping and thus a half loop with a roll at the top would have been unlikely, difficult and even risky.

Diagram of the Immelmann Turn, pitting an Eindecker E.III against an RAF Be-2c — click to enlarge.

The Immelmann Turn Examined

So just what was Immelmann’s high angle reversal? The best guess from reports of RAF pilots who survived is that Immelmann would make an initial pass at the enemy aircraft from the side, shooting as he closed the distance. Typically, the RAF or French pilot would then start a turn toward him or would attempt to dive away. Immelmann would pitch his Eindecker’s nose up at a high angle, causing the speed bled off. Then he would kick over the rudder and the plane would drop around into an extreme form of a tight turning “chandelle” that placed him above and behind his opponent in a position to fire again within scant seconds of his first attack. Although some debate whether Immelmann actually used the maneuver, eyewitnesses in the RAF reported it enough times that the case is fairly strong that what is described here is what he did. Sadly, confirmation is elusive since Immelmann himself never documented the maneuver in any way.

On June 18, 1916, Max Immelmann died in his beloved Fokker Eindecker over Sallaumines in northern France. His aircraft plummeted vertically into the ground, shedding its wings and tail as it went down. Whether he was shot down, as the British Royal Air Force contended, or perished when a malfunctioning machine gun shot off his own propeller, as the Germans claimed, may never be known. In an era before the invention of the parachute, Immelmann had no chance of survival. His body was recovered and buried with honors. The Fokker Scourge had come to an end, though perhaps more fittingly not due to the death of a single enemy pilot, but by the advent of a new generation of British and French fighters that could match the performance of the Fokkers in the air. In any case, Immelmann’s legacy lives on. Every generation of fighter pilots since has faced new challenges — yet the one thing that has never changed is the personal spirit of innovation and skill as a hunter — like Immelmann, today’s fighter pilots are still knights of the air.

One More Bit of Aviation Trivia

Like many of the other German aces of World War I, Max Immelmann flew with the pioneering fighter pilot strategist Oswald Boelcke. Whereas Immelmann developed personal tactics for his own aircraft, Boelcke concentrated on how to coordinate flights of multiple aircraft in attack and defense. As a result, Boelcke ultimately became the most influential tactician in the ways of air combat. The greatest ace of World War I, Manfred von Richthofen, known as the “Red Baron,” was one of Boelcke’s proteges. Even today, the “Dicta Boelcke,” a code of fighting principles, is still studied by fighter pilots. The lesson is clear — while individual greatness is exemplary, to truly make a difference requires an organization that trains and fights together.

Oberleutnant Max Immelmann

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All Rights Reserved except for Fair Dealing exceptions otherwise permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, as amended and revised.

Accepted Non-commercial Use

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If you are interested in the full range of licenses available for this material, please contact one of our collections sales and licensing teams.

HistoryPorn | Image | "Max Immelmann, a German flying ace in WW1, and was the first aviator to win the Pour le Mérite, which was nicknamed the Blue Max, 1916 [500 x 819]"

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Is max immelmann good or not?

It's quite an interesting CV.
Your planes are paper but fast and you have quite a few of them. You use skip bombers at a long range and can avoid close range AA. Torps are okay with 4 drops but too slow for DDs most of the time. Skip bombers are good for setting fires on bigger ships, but require practice, a broadside and open water. They won't skip over Islands, nor can you make them skip if your planes fly at a higher altitude. Hunting DDs is tricky, you either need something to spot them for a long range skip drop or you get closer and suffer from inaccuracy of your first skip line.

I like it a lot, I have around 70% wr, 2100 pr and 130k average, damage in it. Its major weakness is that it cant really kill DDs that possess a brain, though that is only a small portion of the DD population so dont worry about it too much.

The planes regenerate insanely fast and you lose very little of them, so even at the end you will have full squadrons of everything and your attack power will stay intact the entire game, you are the bane of any and all battleships, as well as all cruisers with low mobility.

Its definitely a extremely fun CV and I recommend it.

How does one dodge Immelmann bombs consistently? I constantly get shat on in my DD despite turning in or out, or trying to speed juke.

I just got it recently and enjoy it a good bit, but it’s definitely had the longest learning curve of any CV I’ve played (which is all of them but FDR, Enterprise, and GZ).

It’s a true big game hunter built for randoms and the only CV where I have found myself actively avoiding DDs unless absolutely necessary (I’ve killed DDs with both skip bombs and torps, but neither are nearly effective enough to waste planes on at the beginning, and the planes are so paper that you can’t really loiter over anything with half decent AA).

It’s kind of like Indomitable in that you can basically prevent any skip bomber losses by predropping down to one flight and recalling as soon as bombs are away (and if you do lose a plane, it will regenerate in 60 seconds, so no real sweat). The torps often have a really wonky drop pattern, but they’re fast and can hit for a chunk if you’re good or lucky.

The only “negative” is that because the skip bombs can delete other CVs, I’ve found way more people want to challenge you to CV duels from the start of the match.

Watch the video: Макс u0026 Катя и слайм истории (July 2022).


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