Max Immelmann

Max Immelmann
Max Immelmann
Max Immelmann and his dog Tyras. Note Immelmann's many decorations.
Nickname Der Adler von Lille (The Eagle of Lille)
Born 21 September 1890
Died 18 June 1916 (aged 25)
Allegiance German Empire German Empire
Service/branch Imperial German Army
Luftstreitkräfte (Imperial German Army Air Service)
Years of service 1911 - 1912 (Army)
1914 - 1916 (Army Air Service)
Rank Oberleutnant
Unit Eisenbahnregiment Nr. 2, Eisenbahnregiment Nr. 1, FEA 2, FFA 10, FAA 62

Max Immelmann (21 September 1890 – 18 June 1916) was the first German World War I flying ace.[1] He was a great pioneer in fighter aviation and is often mistakenly credited with the first aerial victory using a synchronized gun. His name has become attached to common flying tactics, and remains a byword in aviation.


Early life

He was born in Dresden to an industrialist father, who died when Max was young. After leaving school, he joined the Eisenbahnregiment Nr. 2 in 1911, 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.[2]

Wartime career

When World War I started, Immelmann was recalled to active service, transferred to the Luftstreitkräfte and was sent for pilot training at Johannisthal Air Field[2] in November 1914.[citation needed] He was initially stationed in northern France.

Immelmann served as a pilot with Fliegerabteilung 10 from February to April 1915, and then in Flg Abt 62. 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.[1] 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.[2]

When two very early versions 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 receiving E.13/15 as a production Fokker E.I, it was with the 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,[3] one of five built, following two unconfirmed ones on July 1 and 4, all before Immelmann.[1]:

"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... " [4]

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.[5]

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.[1] 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.[1]

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.[6]

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.[7] The medal became unofficially known as the "Blue Max" in the German Air Service in honor of Immelmann.[8] His medal was presented by Kaiser Wilhelm II on 12 January 1916. Oswald Boelcke received his medal at the same time.[7][9]

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.[10] 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."[11][12]

On 31 May, Immelmann, Max Ritter 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.[13]


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.

Later 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 one of the pushers, killing him instantly. This was his 17th victory. The crew of the second aircraft he closed on, which Max Ritter von Mulzer downed a few minutes later, 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.[14]

The German Air Service at the time claimed the loss was due to (friendly) anti-aircraft fire.[15] 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.[16] 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.[15] 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 Wall swooped down from a greater altitude and opened fire, and the pioneer German ace fell out of the sky. Wall also pointed out later that the British bullets could have hit Immelmann's propeller.[17]

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.[18]

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

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


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.

Promotion Record and Regimental Assignments

  • Cadet, Dresden Cadet School, 1908–1911
  • Fähnrich mit Portepee (Swordknot Ensign), Eisenbahn-Regiment Nr 2 (2nd Railway Regiment), 4 April 1911 [19]
  • Pilot in training, Aviation Replacements Section, 12 November 1914 – 31 March 1915; received Imperial German Pilot’s Badge
  • Assigned, FA (Flieger-Abteilung) 10, Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches (Flying Section 10, Imperial German Flying Corps), February - 28 April 1915 [20]
  • Assigned, FA 62, 28 April 1915 - 1916 [21]
  • Leutnant (Second Lieutenant), Royal Saxony Army Reserves, 14 July 1915 [22]
  • ("Full") Leutnant, Royal Saxon Army (active list), April 1916 [N 1]

Orders and Medals

Kingdom of Saxony

Kingdom of Prussia / Imperial German

  • Pour le Mérite, 12 January 1916, after his eighth victory [28]
  • Iron Cross, First Class, 1 August 1915,[29] after his first victory
  • Iron Cross, Second Class, 3 June 1915,[30] after flying a successful reconnaissance mission with Lt. von Teubern (observer)
  • Royal House Order of Hohenzollern, Knight's Cross with Swords, November 1915 [31]

Kingdom of Bavaria

Miscellaneous German

  • Hanseatic Cross (Hamburg), 15 March 1916, after flying aerial defense for the Mayor of Hamburg [33]


Fokker Eindecker

Max Immelman Fokker EI

Immelmann will forever be associated with the Fokker Eindecker, Germany's first fighter aircraft, and the first such aircraft to be armed with a machine gun synchronised to fire forward, through the propeller arc. Immelmann, along with Oswald Boelcke and other pilots, was one of the main exponents of the Fokker Eindecker, resulting in the Fokker Scourge which inflicted heavy loses upon British and French aircrews during 1915.

The machine he flew during his first five victories had a seven-cylinder 80 horsepower Oberursel U.0 rotary engine, and bore the serial number E.13/15 on its fuselage. According to Immelmann, it was retired and shipped off to Berlin for display at the Zeughaus Museum, in March 1916.,[35] but was wrecked in the first bombing raids of the Royal Air Force in 1940, during World War II.

The Immelmann turn

This refers to two quite different aerobatic maneuvers. The first of these is the one now known as an "Immelmann" (also frequently spelled "Immelman", in literature and media).

  1. A half loop followed by a half roll on top, used to rapidly reverse the direction of flight. This maneuver would not have been practical in the primitive, underpowered fighters of 1915–1916, and its connection with the German fighter ace is most doubtful. [N 4]
  2. During World War I, an "Immelmann turn" was actually a sharp rudder turn off a vertical zoom climb (almost to a full stall) or modified chandelle followed by a steep dive.[4] Immelmann may very well have originated this maneuver, or at least used it in combat, although this cannot be authenticated.

See also


  1. ^ In a letter to his mother, dated 24 April 1916, Immelmann described his regular army commission as "a promotion from subaltern to full lieutenant."[23]
  2. ^ In his last letter to his mother, dated 18 May 1916, the Turkish War Medal of 1915 was also known as the “Gallipoli Star” among Commonwealth nations and in Germany, it was frequently referred to as the “Eiserner Halbmond” (“Iron Crescent”) as it functioned as the Ottoman equivalent to the Iron Cross.[34]
  3. ^ In his last letter to his mother, dated 18 May 1916, Immelmann mistakenly referred to it as the “Imbias Medal in Silver”, due either to a simple misspelling or misinterpretation of language. The medal bears no western verbiage, and he was likely attempting to decipher the award document (also mentioned in his letter) that were, of course, written in the Turkish language.[34]
  4. ^ Among other characteristics required for the performance of an "Immelmann" in the modern aerobatic sense is very precice lateral (roll) control - see Wheeler (especially Chapter IV, pp 27-35) for a discussion of the lack of this degree of control in early aircraft, especially wire-braced monoplanes.
  1. ^ a b c d e Shores 1983, p. 10.
  2. ^ a b c van Wyngarden 2006, p. 13.
  3. ^ VanWyngarden, pg.12
  4. ^ a b Thompson and Smith 2008, p. 59.
  5. ^ van Wyngarden 2006, pp. 14–15.
  6. ^ van Wyngarden 2006, pp. 28–29.
  7. ^ a b van Wyngarden 2006, p. 30.
  8. ^ "A Brief History of the Pour le Merite (The Blue Max)." Retrieved: 11 October 2010.
  9. ^ "Pour le Merite." Retrieved: 23 April 2010.
  10. ^ van Wyngarden 2006, p. 37.
  11. ^ van Wyngarden 2006, p. 51.
  12. ^ Guttman 1983, p. 32.
  13. ^ van Wyngarden 2006, p. 56.
  14. ^ Guttman 1983, pp. 27–29.
  15. ^ a b "Max Immelmann." Retrieved: 10 October 2010.
  16. ^ Guttman 1983, p. 28.
  17. ^ Guttman 1983, pp. 28–29.
  18. ^ "Max Immelmann." Retrieved: 10 October 2010.
  19. ^ Immelmann 2009. p. 34.
  20. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 65; described by his brother, Franz, as “a ‘guest performance’ of only 13 days.”
  21. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 70, letter to his mother, dated 6 May 1915.
  22. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 101, telegram mentioned in letter to mother, dated 31 July 1915.
  23. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 173–174.
  24. ^ Immelmann, p. 170, letter to his mother dated 8 April 1916
  25. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 127, letter to mother, dated 28 October 1915.
  26. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 172, mentioned in a list of his awards he enumerated for his mother in his letter dated 8 April 1916.
  27. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 99, letter to mother, dated 31 July 1915.
  28. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 148, excerpted official military communiqué, dated 13 January 1916.
  29. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 105, message from General der Infanterie Kurt von Pritzelwitz, commander of the VI Armee-Korps, mentioned in letter to his mother, dated 3 August 1915.
  30. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 88, letter to mother from Douai, dated 3 June 1915.
  31. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 137, citing a telegram from Minister of War Falkenhayn, in a letter to his mother, dated 17 November 1915.
  32. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 143, letter to his mother dated 20 December 1915.
  33. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 165, letter to his mother, dated 8 April 1916.
  34. ^ a b Immelmann 2009, p. 179.
  35. ^ Immelmann 2009, p. 163, letter to his mother dated 16 March 1916.
  • Guttman, Jon. Pusher Aces of World War 1. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing Co, 2009. ISBN 978-1846034176.
  • Immelmann, Frantz. Der Adler von Lille. Liepzig: K.F. Koehler Verlag, 1934, reprinted as Immelmann: The Eagle of Lille. Havertown, PA: Casemate, 2009. ISBN 978-1932033984.
  • Shores, Christopher, Air Aces. Greenwich, CT, Bison Books, 1983. ISBN 0-86124-104-4.
  • Thompson, J. Steve with Peter C. Smith. Air Combat Manoeuvres: The Technique and History of Air Fighting for Flight Simulation. Hersham, Surrey, UK: Ian Allan Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-903223-98-7.
  • van Wyngarden, G. Early German Aces of World War I. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 2006. ISBN 1-841-76997-5.
  • Wheeler, Allen. Building Aeroplanes for Those Magnificent Men London:Foulis, 1965

External links

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