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Oswald Boelcke

Oswald Boelcke in 1916
Oswald Boelcke in 1916

Oswald Boelcke (19 May, 189128 October, 1916) was a German flying ace of the First World War and one of the most influential patrol leaders and tacticians of the early years of air combat. Boelcke is considered the father of the German fighter air force; he was the first to formalise the rules of air fighting, which he presented as the Dicta Boelcke. Germany's premier ace, Manfred von Richthofen, had been taught by Boelcke and continued to idolise his late mentor long after he had surpassed Boelcke's tally of victories.

"I am after all only a combat pilot but Boelcke, he was a hero." (Manfred von Richthofen, September 1917)

Boelcke was born in Giebichenstein , the son of a schoolmaster recently returned from Argentina. His family name was originally spelt Bölcke however Oswald, along with his elder brother Wilhelm, dispensed with the umlaut and adopted the Latin spelling in place of the German. The pronunciation is the same for both spellings.

After leaving school he joined Telegraphen-Bataillon Nr. 3 in Koblenz as a Fahnenjunker (cadet officer). In mid-1914 he transferred to the Fliegertruppe. His training took from May to August at the Halberstädter Fliegerschule, and he was then immediately posted to active duty.

He was initially posted to Fliegerabteilung 13. He transferred to Fliegerabteilung 62 in April 1915, based at Douai. The observer in Boelcke's crew shot down the first enemy aircraft on July 4, 1915. In the same month, Boelcke and Max Immelmann became the first German fighter pilots, being given the first two Fokker E.I aircraft, fitted with a synchronized forward-firing machinegun. Boelcke won his first aerial combat on August 19, 1915, downed four more enemy aircraft before the end of the year and had four more 'kills' in January 1916. Also in January 1916 he and Immelmann were the first German fliers to be awarded the Pour le Merite. After Immelmann was killed in June 1916, Boelcke became the top German ace. In March 1916 Boelcke was made leader of the newly formed Fliegerabteilung Sivery and led them in action over Verdun.

The German air force (Luftstreitkräfte) was reorganized in mid-1916 and Boelcke was appointed commander of his hand-picked group of Jagdstaffel Nr. 2, usually called Jasta 2, in September. Of his first choice pilots were Manfred von Richthofen, Erwin Böhme and Hans Reimann . Initially flying the new biplane Albatros D.II over the Somme, Boelcke shot down eleven Royal Flying Corps planes in his first month with Jasta 2. His command always flew in large disciplined formations and he repeatedly drilled them in tactics.

Boelcke was killed when his Albatros D.II collided with that of Böhme during a dog fight with DH.2s flown by No. 24 Squadron RFC. He had forty successes to his credit. Böhme survived the collision but was horrified and had to be restrained from committing suicide.

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Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13