In German military tradition, the edged weapon played a considerable role. The bayonet, the sable and also the dagger of the Navy, the German Voluntary Automobile Corps and of the motorised vehicle units, were all listed as accompaniments to uniform both in and out of service duty.
Being equipped with an edged weapon traditionally meant not more and not less than being armed. The pistol came later and had a merely technical function, even when this was a horrifying one.
This provision of carrying a weapon was, beyond that, the sign of belonging honorably to an armed unit. So it was feared as a form of punishment that the portepee of the weapon could be removed for a certain length of time; it was regarded as defamatory to be seen to have to be reprimanded so badly this way. The phrase `am Portepee packen” (`to take hold of one´s portepee”), whereby the word ‘portepee’ could be replaced by ‘honour’, has remained in the German language to this day. Stronger punishment would have been the taking away of the complete weapon for a certain period of time.
It is important to know that many WW I pilots in Germany, and also other countries, were drawn from normal military units. The famous pilot Manfred von Richthofen came from a cavalry unit, his service rank ‘Rittmeister’ (Uhlan/Cavalry Captain) making this clear. Many pilots came from infantry units and carried their traditional Infantry Officer Degen as side weapons.
There were two groups of pilots who did not belong to classical military units, and who could therefore not carry a traditional edged weapon.
In the first group they were members of the German Voluntary Automobile Corps, and at the same time militarily trained pilots or observers. There were at least six such men, who later served in WW I as fighter pilots or observers. It was not possible for these soldiers to join the Imperial Aero Club, as it did not, in fact, exist. There were plans for it, but a formal inauguration never took place. This is why these pilots quite naturally belonged to the German Voluntary Automobile Corps, and probably carried the Corps dagger, even if there was a propeller on the crossguard instead of the Automobile Corps horn. With this, their exceptional status was clearly visible.
With the more significant second group, from 1913 onwards, a much larger number of civilian pilots were given further training to become military pilots and observers, aided by the resources of the Air Fund. They were ranked as one-year volunteers and under obligation by contract, also subordinate to the Inspection of Air units and motorised transport units, de facto a German Voluntary Aero Corps when not actually juristically so. The surviving lists of names are in the authors’ possession. There are about two hundred civilian pilots who were instructed to become military pilots and observers in the time leading up to the outbreak of war.
At least five original daggers with the unmistakable propeller on the crossguard are known by the authors to be in existence worldwide today. Taking about six Automobile Corps members who were sent into action as volunteer pilots into consideration, the number of daggers available today is too large that only these men could have been entitled to carry them as side weapons.
From this only one conclusion can be drawn:
The members of the German Voluntary Automobile Corps and especially the civilian pilots from the Air Fund carried the dagger of the DFAC (Automobile Corps) and the motorised units, as these civilian military pilots lacked a traditional edged weapon. Particularly these, as they were an attached organisation with the flight units until October 1st, 1913. The only and most significant change was in connection with the organisational emblem on the crossguard, where a propeller is shown instead of an automobile horn.
According to the regulations of the motorised units there must have been a permit required for the pilots carry an edged weapon. Otherwise an officer and an observer on active duty, as in the picture in the next chapter, could never have carried this weapon with his uniform. Analagous to the motorised units, it must be assumed that the dagger was prescribed alongside other edged weapons until the end of the war, also for aviator units. The authors have not yet been able to substantiate or find such a clothing regulation, or corresponding order in any archives. It is doubtful if this is at all possible, after two world wars.