Oswald Boelcke

Oswald Boelcke
Hauptmann Boelcke.jpg
Oswald Boelcke in 1916 with the Pour le Mérite at his neck.
Born19 May 1891
Giebichenstein, Kingdom of Saxony; near Halle (Saale)
Died28 October 1916(1916-10-28) (aged 25)
Near Douai, France
Allegiance German Empire
Service/branchTelegraphen-Bataillon Nr. 3; Luftstreitkräfte
Years of service1911–1916
RankHauptmann
UnitJagdstaffel 2
AwardsPour le Mérite,
Royal House Order of Hohenzollern, Knight’s Cross with Swords,
Iron Cross, First and Second Class,
Lifesaving Medal,
Plus eight lesser decorations

Oswald Boelcke (German: [ˈbœlkə]; 19 May 1891 – 28 October 1916) was a German flying ace of the First World War credited with 40 victories; he was one of the most influential patrol leaders and tacticians of the early years of air combat. Boelcke is honored as the father of the German fighter air force, as well as considered the "Father of Air Fighting Tactics".

Boelcke fulfilled his childhood dream of a military career by joining the Imperial German Army in July 1912. He followed his interest in aviation, learning to fly as World War I began. After duty as an observer during 1914, he became one of the original fighter pilots during 1915. He and Max Immelmann were the first German fighter pilots awarded the Pour le Merite. When Immelmann was killed in combat in June 1916, the German high command grounded Boelcke after his 19th victory. During his month's forced grounding, he was tasked to help transform the Fliegertruppe (Flying Troops) into the Luftstreitkräfte (Air Force). His innovative turn of mind codified his combat experiences into the first ever manual of fighter tactics distributed to an air force, the Dicta Boelcke. The Dicta promulgated axioms for individual pilot success, as well as a requirement for teamwork directed by a formation's leader. Present day tactics manuals stem from the Dicta.

After a month's holiday leave spent on a military inspection tour of Turkish facilities, Boelcke was picked to lead one of Germany's first fighter squadrons, Jagdstaffel 2 (Fighter Squadron 2). By war's end, this squadron Boelcke so strictly trained had had 25 aces in its ranks, and four of its members became generals during World War II. During the short time before his death, Oswald Boelcke became the world's leading fighter pilot, scoring 21 more victories while commanding Jagdstaffel 2. He was killed in a crash following a midair collision on 28 October 1916.

Early years

Oswald Boelcke was born on 19 May 1891, in Giebichenstein, the Kingdom of Saxony as the son of a schoolmaster. The Boelcke family had returned to the German Empire from Argentina six months before Oswald's birth.[1][2] His family name was originally spelt Bölcke, but Oswald and his elder brother Wilhelm dispensed with the umlaut and adopted the Latin spelling in place of the German. The pronunciation is the same for both spellings.[3][4]

Oswald Boelcke caught whooping cough at age three, which resulted in lifelong asthma. In his fourth year, his father moved the family to Dessau near the Junkers factory in pursuit of professional advancement. There, as Oswald grew, he turned to athletics.[2]

Boelcke's family was a conservative one; they realized that a military career could move its adherent up the social ladder. Under this influence, while in the third or fourth form, the young Oswald Boelcke had the audacity to write a personal letter to the Kaiser requesting an appointment to military school. His wish was granted when he was 13, but once his parents were apprised of the opportunity by the belated reply letter, they objected and he did not attend Cadet School. Instead he attended Herzog Friedrichs-Gymnasium (Duke Frederick's Gymnasium).[5][6]

His interest in a military career seemed undiminished. At age 17, for an elocution class, he chose three subjects—General Gerhard von Scharnhorst's military reforms, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin's life before his aeronautical experiments, and the first airship flights. Despite his principal's reservations about his scholarship, Oswald Boelcke was awarded his Abitur honors degree on 11 February 1911.[7][8]

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