The German Flying Corps always remained one step ahead of the Allies in the development of its aircraft and armamentduring the War.

It gained air supremacy in the summer of 1915 with the introduction of its Fokker E.I and E.III fighters equipped with belt-fed machine guns firing through the propeller disc. Because of the Fokker's high ceiling, the German pilot could pick target, then make a diving attack, while fully utilizing the additional advantage of extra ammunition and longer bursts of fire.

The allied Flying Corps regained the edge in fighter supremacy with the introduction of the Nieuport 11 fighter.
But the Germans regained the supremacy when they introduced their Albatros D.1 fighter with its twin Spandau machine guns and its 160 h.p Mercedes engine.

In 1917, the French introduce an excellent aircraft fighter, the Spad XIII with twin belt-fed Vickers machine guns, but the German machine guns proved more efficient. Moreover, the German developed heated flying suits, parachutes and oxygene masks.

In April 1918, the German introduce the best of the First World War fighters :
The Fokker D VII which could outclimb the best Allied planes.


The German pilots were better trained, with a minimum of six months fighter training in two-seater airplanes. They were then examined for three weeks by top German aces.


The French fighter patrols usually employed the « V » shaped wedge formation, whereas, the Germans invariably flew in single-file , with the leader occupying the lowest position. When engaged in fighting, the German single-file formation was more flexible than the French wedge, although it was more vulnerable to attack from above.

Unlike their French counterparts, the German fighter pilots flew no regular patrols, but would be quickly moved about in field tent hangars to any part of the front. This allowed them to confront the small French patrols with large numbers of aircraft. The German pilots would remain on the ground awaiting orders to take to their fighters the instant forward observation posts phoned in information of approaching enemies. Or they would scan the sky with binoculars for approaching enemy fighters. The term « Flying Circus » was created by the Allied pilots to identify the enemy’s usual tactics of flying large numbers of fighters round and round in a great circle like horses in the ring at a fair. The Germans would bait the French pilots into attacking them then would dive toward the interior of the circle which allowed the enemy fighter next in order of the circle to attack the French plane from behind.

Thanks to Osprey Publishing Ltd for giving us permission to present these two Nieuport aircraft.

Profile artwork by Harry Dempsey, from AIRCRAFT OF THE ACES 33, Nieuport Aces of WW1, © Osprey Publishing Ltd.