- Category : Military
- Type : PSP
- Profile : 6/3 - Role Model / Martyr
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX The Plane 2
Max Immelmann (21 September 1890 – 18 June 1916) PLM was the first German World War I flying ace. He was a great 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 Merite, and was awarded it at the same time as Oswald Boelcke. 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.
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, 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.
When World War I started, Immelmann was called to active service, transferred to 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 L.V.G. 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.
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 E.I for his own use before the end of July. It was with the lMG 08 machine gun-armed E.13/15 aircraft 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 July 15, 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 crashlanding. The unarmed Immelmann landed nearby, took Reid prisoner, 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). He gained two further victories during September, to become the first German ace.
Immelmann flirted with the position of occasionally being Germany's leading ace, trading that spot off with that other pioneer ace, Oswald Boelcke. Having come second to Boelcke for his sixth victory, and thus 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 ace race.
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 F.E.2b 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 would go unconfirmed.
At 2145 hours that same evening, Immelmann in Fokker E.III, serial 246/16 encountered No. 25 Squadron again, this time near the village of Lentz. Immediately, he got off a burst which hit the pilot of FE.2b pusher serial 6940, killing him instantly. 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 G.R. McCubbin with Corporal J. H. 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.
In fact, damage to the propeller seems unlikely to have been the primary cause of the structural failure evident in accounts of the crash of his aircraft, although it is possible that a sudden stall and spin resulting from the sudden loss of motive power could have caused structural failure. 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, laying 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.
Max had a lonely devotion to his pet dog, Tyras, who often slept within or on his bed. He didn't smoke or drink and wrote daily to his mother. When he flew he wore old velvet trousers but on the ground dressed at his best. He loved having his photo taken whenever he had a new medal.