Early military developments

Support for the Air Force, also from the State, began early. The War Ministry supported the Berlin Aviation Association (Verein für Luftfahrt) and the Imperial Aero Club in 1900 with Reichsmark 18,000. Military administration stepped forward energetically for the establishment of an airfield, and brought about a cheap takeover (by pointing out the military interests) of the State area at Johannisthal, where the first German airfield came into being. A yearly subsidy of Reichsmark 20,000 was paid by the military administration to the airfield company in Johannisthal. [2]

At the beginning of 1910 the German armed forces began to consider making more military use of motor-driven aircraft. The available flying aircraft at that time were seen first of all as reconnaissance and observation machines. This lay on their – from today´s viewpoint – lack of technical perfection. It was not until the development of the truly longterm suitability of machines that the military forces changed their assessment. At the beginning the airship was ranked as being militarily and potentially more useful. This was based largely on the dominance of its creator, Graf Zeppelin, as well as on its tried and tested longterm flight performances. It was believed that German airships had an advantage over the French ones. This alleged belief was not easy to shake off.

The first four prussian military pilots and instructor

The first military flying school was set up in Döberitz, near Berlin, by May 1910. An ‘Albatross’, a copy of the French Farman III, was the first military machine installed there. This very early German military airplane, which was strongly influenced by those of the Wright brothers, can also be seen on the blade decoration of the aviator dagger – introduced for the first time to the public in this article. As a gesture, the Albatross company placed an Albatross machine and a flying instructor named Simon Brunnhuber at its disposal. There were merely four flying cadets of officer rank on duty at the beginning, apart from seven soldiers as maintenance personnel.

The first four prussian military pilots and instructor.  Lieutenant Mackenthun, First Lieutenant Geerdtz, Captain de le Roi, Lieutenant v.Tarnoczy and instructor Brunnhuber at Döberiz 1910. Pongratz Collection

These first four military pilots were First Lieutenant Mackenthun, Lieutenant von Tarnoszy, Cap-tain de le Roi and First Lieutenant Geerdtz, who applied for their military pilot´s licenses in August and September 1910.
Wolfram de le Roi was an enthusiastic patron of the military air force in Germany, he and Geerdtz were members of the Aero Club.
Tarnoszy was a well-known artist, he painted the small woodland area near the Döberitz Airfield, which the cadets had to circle three times in order to pass their flying certificate.

Tarnoszy painting of the Döberitz wood.
Tarnoszy painting of the Döberitz wood.
Pongratz Collection

In this context Franz Geerdtz must not be left out.
Born in 1877, he initially started off in the Imperial Navy, which he left after a few years in 1897. In the following year he joined the Fusilliers. He was transferred to the airships in 1904, whereby he joined a volunteer group in 1910 who would fly the apparatus which were in principle ‘heavier than air’. Enormous courage was shown at that time, as the technology was truly in its infancy. These ships were neither safe in their handling nor was their military use proven. After gaining his own pilot´s license, Franz Geerdtz became a pilot instructor himself.

Beautiful and extremely rare heavy navy dagger.
Fokker wearing Geerdtz uniform tunic when ..
Beautiful and extremely rare heavy navy dagger.
Worn by Franz Geerdtz in 1896. hh.
Fokker wearing Geerdtz uniform tunic when
introducing his machin-gun.

Photo Clemens Pongratz Collection

In May and June 1914 he travelled to France for holidays and photographed airfields. It is reported that he was subsequently received by the German Kaiser.

During the war he served as Leader of the Field Detachment 21, firstly on the western Front, later in the Mackensen military Division in eastern Europe. Here he took active part in the launching of the machine-gun which shoots through the rotating propeller. Fokker, a Dutchman, introduced this revolutionary feature over enemy territory himself, as it was feared that he would shatter the propeller. Belonging to a neutral country, he borrowed the uniform jacket of Captain Geerdtz for this mission, in order not to be recognized as a civilian if he should have to make an emergency landing.

After an injury in 1916 Geerdtz became Chief of Staff of the air forces, responsible for the supply of their raw material resources. In 1917 he became Commander of the Reserve Aicraft Detachment 14. Under Allied supervision after WW I he was involved in the dissolution of the armed forces.

Returning to duty in 1938 he took part in WW II, amongst other positions, also as Commander of the airbase in Obertraubling. At this base the first jet-propulsion airplanes were tried out.

With advancing years, at 67, he retired in 1944.

Geerdtz was a soldier who served as balloon leader, airship and aircraft pilot and who both experienced and contributed to the related technical upheaval in military aviation.

Other officers on active duty, discharged or those on holiday leave went into training at their own expense, to become aircraft leaders. In this capacity they offered their services to the armed forces.

These volunteers were: Retired Lieutenant von Gorisson, Reserve First Lieutenant von Tiedemann, First Lieutenant Grade, Reserve Lieutenant Hoff, Lieutenant von Hiddensen and First Landwehr Lieutenant Hoos. Wilhelm Grade and Wilhelm Hoff are also registered as members of the Aero Club in 1914.

Rare photo of a non-commissioning officer who is probably wearing a black leather tunic of themotorised units, which the pilots also wore

On April 1st 1911 the `Inspection of Military Air and Motorised Automobile-Service` (Inspektion des Militär-Luft und Kraftfahrwesens) was founded. A military institution, whose duty was to utilize the new technologies of motor-car and aircraft engines for military purposes. It must be added, however, that the new formation of aircraft forces, like the motorised units and even the railroad sector, were placed under the command of the transportation unit. One of the reasons for this was certainly the inability of higher departments at that time to visualise the potential development, at all, of motor-engined flight in the future.
So there were sometimes uniforms which showed the insignia of the motorised units - and that of the pilots. One of the most rare photographs, in the sense of uniform, shows a non-commissioned officer of the early Fliegertruppen, who is wearing both insignias.

Rare photo of a non-commissioning officer who is probably wearing a black leather tunic of themotorised units, which the pilots also wore. His collar shows an automobile which proves him to be such a member, and his lapels show the winged propeller of the air unit. The `1´ means that he served in the 1st Battalion in Dalgow-Döberitz.hh

The inferior position of the automobile and air forces under the protectorate of a military organisation of transport units had serious disadvantages. Both sectors used a technical instrument to fulfil their tasks, but this was all that they had in common. There were, for example, various opinions about the allocation of soldiers and requirements. Each unit of forces considered itself the more important, a competitive situation, which made any well-chosen solution extremely difficult to achieve. With the advance of rapid technical developments, especially before and during the war,it was necessary to separate these units so that further progress could be made. This splitting occurred on October 1st, 1913, with the founding of an independent subdivision of the armed forces, the `Inspection Of The Aircraft Units´. One of the reasons for the meteoric rise of the newest German air force was based largely on this organisation and other processes of pilots’ independence in the course of the war.

In the Imperial manoeuvres in 1911 eight aircraft took part, amongst them the first Rumpler bird shaped `Taube´ aeroplane.

Rumper `Taube´ (`Dove´) – Presentation on an unique Imperial aviation dagger
Rumper `Taube´ (`Dove´) – Presentation on an unique Imperial aviation dagger. Perhaps the most important aircraft of early military flying in Germany . The same motif appears above the village on the Imperial pilot´s badge.

Up til the end of the year, the number of aircraft increased to 22. The Imperial Navy began in 1911 to create sea-plane bases on the Northsea and Baltic coasts, a year later they succeeded in starting from and landing on the water with a Farman `swim” double-decker.

In 1912 the German Kaiser started up an Air Fund (the proceeds: 7,5 million gold Marks) which would serve for the building-up of the air combat force as well as an efficient aircraft industry. For this purpose special postage stamps and postcards were issued and sold.

Rumpler `Taube” bombarding Paris . Patriotic postcard from 1914
Rumpler `Taube” bombarding Paris . Patriotic postcard from 1914.hh

Through this fund-raising, the German Research Institute for Aviation was founded, which still exists today. From the files we can note that there is another, perhaps even more important aim of this funding event. As in England in 1940, the most pressing problem was not the manufacture of aircraft – it was the training of military pilots. For this reason a meeting was held under the Chairmanship of the Ministry Director Dr Lewald on November 18th , 1912 where representa-tives of the military forces and Government attended. It was laid down that the prime objective of the Air Fund was for pilots to receive training instruction for military purposes. As the funds should not flow into the general military finances, this training was meant for civilian pilots who would be reporting voluntarily. A `Voluntary Flying Corps” was, in effect, formed at this time.

Fund raising coins with Rumpler Taube depiction und-raising postcard of the fund-raising initiative
Fund raising coins with Rumpler Taube depiction. hh
Fund-raising postcard of the fund-raising initiative.
The machines in the skies show likewise
Albatross and `Dove”.hh

[2] Denkschrift zum Immetiatsvortrag vom 19 Jan.1911 Hauptmann Sachs


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The Early Prussian Aviators and their Daggers - By Vic Diehl and H.Hampe