25/5/1916 The end of the Fokker scourge

At the start of the war, aircraft were used solely for observation. Over time though each side’s aeroplanes began to shoot at each other, trying to prevent aerial observation of their ground forces. On the Western Front the Germans gained an early advantage when they deployed the Fokker Eindecker. This monoplane had a machine-gun synchronised with the engine, meaning that it could fire directly forward through the propeller blades. This gave the Fokker a considerable advantage over British and French aircraft.

But now the Fokker’s dominance is coming to an end. The Allies have better aeroplanes deployed, ones that can successfully challenge the Eindecker. One is the British F.E. 2 is a “pusher”, with the engine at the rear. This allows a gunner to fire forward without having to worry about shooting off his own propeller blades. Pushers have limited performance compared to aeroplanes with propellers at the front, but the F.E. 2 is still able to give the Eindecker a run for its money. What really cooks the Fokker’s goose however is the French Nieuport 11. This has the engine at the front and gets around the propeller problem by having the gun mounted to fire over the blades. In speed and manoeuvrability it outclasses the Fokker Eindecker in all respects. The Nieuport is deployed in increasing numbers by both French and British air forces.
And now a new British aeroplane arrives on the Western Front, the Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter. Like the Eindecker, this aeroplane has a forward firing gun synchronised with the engine to avoid shooting the propeller blades. This two-seater has a second gun firing from the rear cockpit.

The Eindecker’s ace card was its forward firing gun. Now that Allied planes have similar capabilities its limitations are revealed. Control of the skies begins to revert to the British and French.

image sources:

Fokker Eindecker (Wikipedia)

Repica Nieuport 11 (Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome)

Replica Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter (Wikipedia)

See also airwar19141918, a live blog of the British war in the air.

3 thoughts on “25/5/1916 The end of the Fokker scourge

  1. Thanks Ian. Also worth a mention is of course the deHavilland DH2 which was also a pusher but as a single seater reasonably manoevrable and fast for the time. In fact the Fokker was considered to be a mediocre aircraft even at the time, it’s only real advantage being the ability to fire though the propellor.

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  2. I have often read that the Eindecker was a pretty rubbish plane with one handy feature and the Fokker Scourge wasn’t all that, being largely talked up in retrospect by Noel Pemberton Billing, the eccentric Conservative MP, for political reasons.

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  3. I think that is partially right. If the Fokker had been employed in a more concentrated way, as fighters were later, instead of piecemeal to various units they could have done more damage. It was a pretty terrible aircraft, and recognised as such by allied pilots.

    Cecil Lewis in Sattitarius Rising describes a test on a captured Fokker against a Morane N “Bullet”, in itself a pretty poor and difficult to fly aircraft, “it climbed quicker, was faster on the level, and when the machines began a mock fight over the aerodrome, the Morane had everything its own way. ” That said this did not happen until 10 April.

    The machinations of Bemberton-Billing and others no doubt did much to add to the drama around the situation. Again between October 1915, when the Fokker arrived in numbers, and May 1916, the British lost 127 aircraft, around 4 a week, so I guess this seemed like a lot at the time. Though this as much due to increased numbers of aircraft, more aggressive patrolling by the British, the the prevailing Westerlies which made life difficult for aeroplanes that could only do 80 miles an hour.

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