World War I: Oswald Boelcke

Oswald Boelcke during World War I
Oswald Boelcke. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Oswald Boelcke - Childhood:

The fourth child of a schoolteacher, Oswald Boelcke was born May 19, 1891, in Halle, Germany. A rabid nationalist and militarist, Boelcke's father instilled these viewpoints in his sons. The family moved to Dessau when Boelcke was a young boy and he soon suffered from a severe case of whooping cough. Encouraged to participate in sports as part of his recovery, he proved a gifted athlete taking part in swimming, gymnastics, rowing, and tennis. Upon turning thirteen, he desired to pursue a military career.

Oswald Boelcke - Getting His Wings:

Lacking political connections, the family took the audacious step of writing directly to Kaiser Wilhelm II with the goal of seeking a military appointment for Oswald. This gamble paid dividends and he was admitted to the Cadets School. Graduating, he was assigned to Koblenz as a cadet officer in March 1911, with his full commission arriving a year later. Boelcke was first exposed to aviation while at Darmstadt and soon applied for a transfer to the Fliegertruppe. Granted, he took flight training during the summer of 1914, passing his final exam on August 15, just days after the beginning of World War I.

Oswald Boelcke - Breaking New Ground:

Immediately sent to the front, his older brother, Hauptmann Wilhelm Boelcke, secured him a position in Fliegerabteilung 13 (Aviation Section 13) so that they could serve together. A gifted observer, Wilhelm routinely flew with his younger brother. Forming a strong team, the younger Boelcke soon won an Iron Cross, Second Class for completing fifty missions. Though effective, the brothers' relationship caused issues within the section and Oswald was transferred out. After recovering from a bronchial illness, he was assigned to Fliegerabteilung 62 in April 1915.

Flying from Douai, Boelcke's new unit operated two-seat observation aircraft and was tasked with artillery spotting and reconnaissance. At the beginning of July, Boelcke was selected as one of five pilots to receive a prototype of the new Fokker E.I fighter. A revolutionary aircraft, the E.I featured a fixed Parabellum machine gun which fired through the propeller with the use of an interrupter gear. With the new aircraft entering service, Boelcke scored his first victory in a two-seater when his observer downed a British plane on July 4.

Switching to the E.I, Boelcke and Max Immelmann began attacking Allied bombers and observation aircraft. While Immelmann opened his score sheet on August 1, Boelcke had to wait until August 19 for his first individual kill. On August 28, Boelcke distinguished himself on the ground when he rescued a French boy, Albert DePlace, from drowning in a canal. Though DePlace's parents recommended him for the French Legion d'Honneur, Boelcke instead received the German life-saving badge. Returning to the skies, Boelcke and Immelmann began a scoring competition which saw them both tied with six kills by the end of the year.

Downing three more in January 1916, Boelcke was awarded Germany's highest military honor, the Pour le Mérite. Given command of Fliegerabteilung Sivery, Boelcke led the unit in combat over Verdun. By this time, the "Fokker Scourge" that had begun with the arrival of the E.I was coming to a close as new Allied fighters such as the Nieuport 11 and Airco DH.2 were reaching the front. To combat these new aircraft, Boelcke's men received new aircraft while their leader stressed team tactics and accurate gunnery.

Passing Immelmann by May 1, Boelcke became Germany's preeminent ace after the former's death in June 1916. A hero to the public, Boelcke was withdrawn from the front for a month on the Kaiser's orders. While on the ground, he was detailed to share his experiences with German leaders and aid in the reorganization of the Luftstreitkräfte (German Air Force). An avid student of tactics, he codified his rules of aerial combat, the Dicta Boelcke, and shared them with other pilots. Approaching the Aviation Chief of Staff, Oberstleutnant Hermann von der Lieth-Thomsen, Boelcke was given permission to form his own unit.

Oswald Boelcke - The Final Months:

With his request granted, Boelcke began a tour of the Balkans, Turkey, and the Eastern Front recruiting pilots. Among his recruits was the young Manfred von Richthofen who would later become the famed "Red Baron." Dubbed Jagdstaffel 2 (Jasta 2), Boelcke took command of his new unit on August 30. Relentlessly drilling Jasta 2 in his dicta, Boelcke downed ten enemy aircraft in September. Though achieving great personal success, he continued to advocate for tight formations and a team approach to aerial combat.

Understanding the importance of Boelcke's methods, he was permitted to travel to other airfields to discuss tactics and share his approaches with German fliers. By the end of October, Boelcke had run his total to 40 kills. On October 28, Boelcke took off on his sixth sortie of the day with Richthofen, Erwin Böhme, and three others. Attacking a formation of DH.2s, the landing gear of Böhme's aircraft scraped along the upper wing of Boelcke's Albatros D.II severing the struts. This led the upper wing to detach and Boelcke fell from the sky.

Though able to make a relatively controlled landing, Boelcke's lap belt failed and he was killed by the impact. Suicidal as a result of his role in Boelcke's death, Böhme was prevented from killing himself and went on to become an ace before his death in 1917. Revered by his men for his understanding of aerial combat, Richthofen later said of Boelcke, "I am after all only a combat pilot, but Boelcke, he was a hero."

Dicta Boelcke

  • Try to secure the upper hand before attacking. If possible, keep the sun behind you.
  • Always continue with an attack you have begun.
  • Only fire at close range, and then only when the opponent is properly in your sights.
  • You should always try to keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.
  • In any type of attack, it is essential to assail your opponent from behind.
  • If your opponent dives on you, do not try to get around his attack, but fly to meet it.
  • When over the enemy's lines, never forget your own line of retreat.
  • Tip for Squadrons: In principle, it is better to attack in groups of four or six. Avoid two aircraft attacking the same opponent.

Selected Sources

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War I: Oswald Boelcke." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, July 31). World War I: Oswald Boelcke. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War I: Oswald Boelcke." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).