“Fokker Scourge” Begins

Max Immelmann (1890-1916) in his Fokker E.I.

August 1 1915, Douai–Mounting a machine gun on a plane without it destroying the propeller posed a major obstacle to air-to-air combat.  An early French attempt had been to armor the propeller blades to deflect the bullets, a solution of which the Germans had become aware after the capture of Roland Garros and his plane in April.  However, attempts to adapt this for their own use had proven unsatisfactory, and engineers at Fokker instead developed a synchronization gear between the gun and the engine that would only allow the gun to fire between the propeller blades.  Two prototypes were deployed to the front in June and July, and downed a couple of Allied planes that month.

By late July, production models of the Fokker E.I. with the new synchronized machine gun were available, and one of the first to receive one was new pilot Lt. Max Immelmann.  On August 1, nine British B.E.2c aircraft, normally reconnaissance planes, bombed the airfield where Immelmann was stationed.  Two Fokkers (one of them Immelmann’s) quickly scrambled to chase the British planes.  Immelmann recalled:

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…

It was the first time Immelmann had fired at an enemy target.  The British pilot attempted to fire back with a pistol, but it was of no use.  Another 400 rounds from Immelmann’s machine gun wounded the British pilot and damaged his engine, forcing him to land behind German lines, where he was captured.  Immelmann’s victory marked the beginning of the “Fokker Scourge,” a period of German air superiority; the Allies simply had no match for the synchronizer gear, rendering them essentially incapable of fighting back against the Fokkers.

Today in 1914: Germany Mobilizes; Declares War on Russia; Invades, Uninvades, then Invades Luxembourg.

Sources include: Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War; John Howard Morrow, The Great War in the Air.


Kids at War, Paris, 1915.


Rare Color Photographs from the First World War, Paris, August 1915: men are at war and women  are working. Far from their parents, the children of the rue Greneta play at battle.

Equipped with only his camera, Léon Gimpel faced this army of kids. From this encounter in the heart of the Sentier neighbourhood was born a series of staged photographic tableaux, alternating between color (autochrome) and black and white. As the days went by, Gimpel and his army of kids developed a kind of typology in miniature of images of the Great War. Almost all the archetypal scenes are represented. It is not death that Gimpel and the army of the rue Greneta playact, but heroism, courage, and the victory of the children of France. Above all, Gimpel and his ‘little doughboys’ from the heart of Paris reveled in photographing and being photographed.

Anzac Day and Australia.

Today marks 100 years since the landings that marked the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign.

Here in Australia it’s Anzac Day and it’s big. I’m not sure how much of the rest of the world knows about the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, but to Australians and New Zealanders its Important. Like 4th of July Important. It’s tied intimately into the Australian identity and is celebrated with a patriotism that rivals, and for some eclipses the actual national day, Australia day.

Any Australians who follow me will understand how big a deal Anzac Day is here. It’s a mandated part of our primary and secondary school curriculum, is a national public holiday, has dozens of traditional sporting events and contains a spiritual element that borders on the religious. At dawn on the 25th of April every year hundreds of services are held at public war memorials around Australia. These Dawn Services began as private gatherings of returned servicemen from the War who would perform a short ‘stand-to’ with 2 minutes of silence and a lone bugler playing the last post and reveille. From these small gatherings of ex-soldiers the Dawn Service has grown into an elaborate ceremony that regularly pulls crowds in the tens of thousands. The Melbourne Dawn Service in 2014 had an attendance of 60,000 people and this year it’s expected to hit 100,000. The modern dawn services follows a pattern that’s familiar to generations of Australians, and runs generally like so: introduction, hymn, prayer, an address about Anzac history and spirit, laying of wreaths, recitation, the playing of the Last Post, a minute of silence, Reveille, and the playing of the national anthem. After the Dawn Service there’s a ceremonial parade through each of the capitol cities and many towns throughout the country with servicemen and women, veterans and their families marching.

It’s a big event, and it’s popular, but it’s also solemn and reverent and still manages to touch an emotional nerve. It began about Gallipoli but became about all Australian service people. The Dawn Service is one of those cultural events that acts as a right of passage for young Australians, and to attend at least one is a cultural touchstone.With this year marking the Centenary the usual media exploitation of events such as this has hit critical mass and it’s seemed to have misjudge the mood. There have been several big budget TV dramas about Gallipoli come out this year as well as new documentaries with posters and advertisements splashed across every medium and the constant stream of media coverage and exploitation is galling. It’s become trite and seems cynical, even for modern media. It’s so obvious that even major news outlets are reporting the public discontent. That’s not to mention how mytholigised Gallipoli has become and all the anti-British bias (both things worthy of their own wall of text).

I’ve probably gone off on a little tangent here and I’m sure this is probably a bit long for tumblr, but there will probably be a lot of posts about the Gallipoli landings and maybe a few about Anzac Day and I wanted to get something a little more in. Anzac and its relevance to Australian identity is also a contested issue in Australia with a lot of political and ideological criticism that goes along with any debate about national identity and war, but that’s not really what I’m writing this about. This is more about letting non-Australians in on something that is important to Australia and Australians, and despite the seeming Gallipoli fatigue, we still commemorate and respect.

Lest We Forget.