The war in the air has a touch of glamour that trench warfare lacks. Fighter pilots are fêted as knights of the industrial age. Aerial warfare can be as lethal as combat on the ground, but without the squalor of the trenches it is easier to see it as chivalrous and even exciting.
One star of the air war is the German fighter pilot Max Immelmann. Flying the Fokker Eindecker he has brought down a series of enemy aircraft. His impressive rate of kills has led to him being the first German aviator to be awarded the Pour La Mérite, Germany’s highest military honour.
Today has been a busy day for Immelmann. In a dogfight during the afternoon he brought down a British aircraft, his 16th victory. Then in the light of the long summer evening he is on patrol again. With other German pilots he attacks a British patrol. One enemy plane is shot down, but when Immelmann attacks a second British aeroplane something goes wrong. It is unclear whether his aeroplane is hit by enemy fire or a malfunctioning synchroniser gear means he shoots out his own propeller. Either way, Immelmann crashes to the ground and his killed.
Immelmann’s death shocks his German comrades, who had seen him as invincible. Now they realise that sudden death can come to even the greatest aviator.
For German pilots, the Pour La Mérite now becomes known unofficially as the Blue Max in Immelmann’s honour. His name is also attached to the Immelmann turn, a daring aerial manoeuvre that he is believed to have originated.
Max Immelmann (Wikipedia)
Immelmann’s wrecked aircraft (Rosebud’s WW1 and Early Aviation Image Archive)