ORDERS, DECORATIONS AND AWARDS
The rather beautiful and artistic German flying qualification badges of the First World War are described in detail by Marc Garlasco, one of our team of resident subject specialists.
In our regular series, Marc Garlasco looks at the beautifully designed and artistic creations that were the German flying qualification badges of the First World War.
Aviation-crazed Germans flocked to aerial competitions during the pre-war days. There were festivals in towns and generous prizes for victorious fliers from important benefactors. On 17 May 1913, Leutnant Ernst Canter received the ‘Kaiser Prize’ from Prince Heinrich of Prussia, brother of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Canter had just won the first ‘Prinzheinrich-flug’ as the overall victor of the week-long competition. The contest consisted of a multi-city flight, spanning Wiesbaden-kassel-koblenzkarlsruhe-stuttgart and ending in Strasbourg and was used to test various German military aircraft under practical conditions. This culminated in a reconnaissance segment from Strasbourg to Freiburg.
With the birth of aviation – and especially military flying – it was inevitable that Germany and her Kingdoms would introduce flying qualification badges for issue to fliers so as to mark out their individual aeronautical role.
UNDER TWO CROWNS
There were three flight badges which could be earned by German flying personnel based on their role in the aircraft: pilot, observer, and air gunner. There was also a badge for retired pilots and observers called the Commemorative Fliers Badge: four badges in all.
The first badges were instituted in 1913 and eventually authorised for wear through to the end of the Second World War. Imperial German and Bavarian badges were identical, except for the crowns atop the badges. Thus, there were eight aircrew badge types in total awarded during the First World War.
The Versailles Treaty of 18 January 1871 created a unified German Empire consisting of many Kingdoms. Of these, Bavaria, Saxony and Wurttemberg all considered issuing their own pilot badges for military flying personnel of their respective countries. This was after the Kaiser instituted a badge for pilots in January 1913 for men of the Imperial German Air Service (officially Fliegertruppen des Desutschen Keiserreiches until 1916, when the name changed to Deutsche Luftstreitskraefte).
Only the fiercely independent Bavaria would go forward with its own flight badges; it had secured the privilege of maintaining its own military after Versailles, including separate war ministries, justice systems and decorations.
The Royal Bavarian Air Service supplied one company of fliers to the Air Service in 1913 (comprising 45 pilots and observers), each with distinct Bavarian badges. So began a tradition of two separate badge designs: Bavarian for that kingdom, and Imperial German for the bulk of German fliers. For purposes of interoperability, the training of fliers in the two kingdoms was basically the same.
The Imperial German badges bore the state crown of the new German Empire, and although these badges are often referred to as Prussian, this is not accurate. The Prussian Crown is on display at Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin, and Wilhelm II’S at Schloss Hohenzollern near Hechingen – a location well worth visiting to see Wilhelm II’S medals, regalia and crown.
However, this crown was for the
King of Prussia, a lower status than Emperor of the German Empire. While the Kaiser bore no crown, a model of the Imperial Crown based on that of the Holy Roman Empire was constructed and used as a heraldic device by Imperial Germany. The original model was kept in Berlin and disappeared during the Second World War. Yet we can see it today as the crown used on badges of the Imperial German Air Service.
Flight badges of the Royal Bavarian Air Service, then, bore the crown of the King of Bavaria, designed after Napoleon raised Bavaria to an independent Kingdom in 1806. Inspired by the crown of Loius XV of France, it was originally topped with the 31 carat Wittelsbach diamond. While the crown is on display at the Residenz Palace in Munich, the diamond has been sold numerous times. This was most recently in 2008, for £16.4 million.
Regulations initially required all German flight badges from the First World War to be manufactured from silver. Most silver badges are marked 800, though some private purchase examples were produced in 935 silver. As the war dragged on, material shortages and financial problems meant silver was no longer available for badge production. In 1916, silver-plated brass was substituted, though production methods were unchanged.
All flight badges were die-stamped from sheets of silver (or silver-plated brass) onto die blocks with positive and negative forms of the badge. The sheet metal was stamped into form, trimmed, had the reverse hardware attached and then polished. All badges are approximately 72mm high and 45mm wide, though weights vary considerably depending on material and construction.
There were at least seven companies confirmed as manufacturers of these flight badges, with B H Meyer and Wilhelm Deumer producing these badges only during the 1930s & 1940s for veterans of the war to replace lost or damaged badges. The primary manufacturer of Imperial German flight badges was C E Juncker of Berlin. Founded in 1851 by Carl Eduard Juncker, the firm was a behemoth in the world of military badge manufacturing, producing massive numbers of military
decorations during both wars.
Meanwhile, Carl Poellath of Schrobenhausen, north of Munich, was the main provider of flight badges for Bavaria. A major manufacturer of crucifixes and religious iconography, Poellath produced stunning and highquality awards.
The Imperial German pilot’s badge was instituted by Kaiser Wilhelm II on his 54th birthday in a terse order highlighting the unproven military promise of the airplane:
‘Introduction of a Badge for Military Pilots: Following the report received by me, I agree to the following trial of a badge for military pilots. The Ministry of War will be prevailed upon to take any further necessary steps. Berlin, 27 January 1913’
The Bavarian pilot’s badge was instituted by Prince Ludwig, Regent of the Kingdom of Bavaria, shortly afterwards, the order published on 14 February 1913:
‘In the Name of His Majesty the King: His Royal Highness Prinz Ludwig, Regent of the Kingdom of Bavaria, has deigned, through his most Excellent Resolution of 4 February 1913, to approve a badge for military pilots of all ranks and has instructed the Kriegsministerium to issue a decree of further regulations in the following manner.’
The regulations for award of the badge were initially vague, leaving specifics to the military. Both orders stated the badges would be made from silver and worn on the left breast, below decorations, and fastened by a pin. The badge was to be awarded to officers, NCOS and enlisted men after passing a series of competency exams resulting in the award of two certificates of competency and a final Besitzzeugnis, a certificate of possession allowing the recipient to wear the badge. Finally, recipients could wear the badge so long as they were active military pilots but had to surrender the badge if they stopped active flight service. In 1914, the regulations were amended to allow the badge to be traded for a Commemorative Fliers Badge.
Requirements for the Pilot’s Badge changed over the years. The clearest regulations published on 10 March 1916 required:
1) Detailed knowledge in engine construction and operation, aircraft theory, flight theory, arming and disarming the aircraft, map reading, direction finding, flight systems, compass theory, instrument theory, health and safety knowledge, legal, police, and service regulation. 2) Passing the tests. 3) Exercises in take-off and landing on night flights without observers. 4) Skill in handling and operation of synchronised machineguns on solid ground and in flight, and in clearing stoppages. 5) Execution of flights over the enemy. The training required for
the pilot’s badge was rigorous and extensive. There were three successive major examinations a pilot had to complete, with multiple mandatory practical exercises in between. They had to weed out the chaff. During the war, these men were drawn from the infantry, artillery, cavalry and other disciplines where extreme hardship was a daily reality. Muddy trenches with poor rations and massed charges into machine guns could be traded for living in style in the rear echelons, clean clothes, and fresh air. While the life expectancy of a frontline pilot was poor, many were willing to take their chances. Reports indicate as few as 10 – 15% of applicants were accepted for training. Fewer passed. Manfred von Richthofen failed his first exam but soloed after only 25 training flights, Boelke needed 30 and Immelman 54. After 60, they were washed out of training.
The first step was medical screening by a field surgeon (if coming from an active-duty ground unit) followed by a comprehensive medical exam by a flight surgeon at the air park. Pilots had to be younger than 30, maximum 166lb, have sharp eyesight and be mentally fit. A concern that the army was only sending men in poor health so as to retain fit fighters led the Inspektion der Fliegertruppen to issue a statement in 1916 regarding the need for healthy officers and men. Interestingly, leg injuries were not considered a problem for prospective pilots.
Training began before sunrise and lasted well into the night with prospective pilots training in a variety of theoretical and practical disciplines, the first test being the pilot examination leading to a ‘Certificate of Competence as Pilot.’ This was identical to the civilian pilot license exam, requiring the flying of figure eights over a short course. This is the test the Red Baron failed. Boelke similarly needed a retest.
The second test was the Field Pilot exam, leading to the ‘Certificate for Overland Flights.’ This culminated in an hour-long flight at 2000m, with a glide from 800m altitude.
The third and final test was the Flight Master Examination resulting in the award of the pilot badge, the coveted Flugzeugfuhrerabzeichen. This exam required practical flight tests that were expanded in a 5
February 1916 order, adding the requirement of the ‘feindflug’: flights over enemy territory. The receipt of the badge now made one a military pilot.
there was a high casualty rate in training due to accidents from pilot error, and photo albums of pilot training are filled with images of crashes. A full 30% of all German pilot fatalities during the war were due to training accidents.
The foregoing is a massively condensed look at what was required to qualify and does not go into the details of the dozens upon dozens of takeoffs, landings, flights, mock aerial combat with photographic proof and other work needed to become a pilot. This was all to get the badge which served as a visible pilot’s license.
Additional training was based on the types of aircraft to be flown, such as at the fighter unit school for frontline fighters, artillery school for artillery spotting units etc. This took an average of six months at the beginning of the war and produced well-trained pilots. As the war dragged on, and the need for replacement pilots grew, so training time was halved.
OBSERVER’S BADGE AND FLIER’S COMMEMORATIVE BADGE
Both the Observers Badge for officers and the Fliers Commemorative Badge were instituted together by Kaiser Wilhelm II on 27 January 1914, his 55th birthday, with the following decree:
‘In respect of the recommendations submitted to me, I approve the accompanying sample of a badge for observer officers on aircraft. Furthermore, I authorise that such officers, NCOS and men, who are no longer considered for service in the air force in the event of mobilization, may wear a commemorative badge in accordance with the submitted sample. The War Ministry will arrange further matters.’
The Bavarian versions were both instituted on 3 March 1914, in an order from the Kriegsministerium in Munich on 14 March 1914:
‘His Majesty the King, by his most Excellent resolution of 3 March 1914, has deigned to approve a badge for Observer Officers in aircraft and a commemorative badge for such Officers, NCOS and Men, whose service in the Air Force is not anticipated to be required in case of mobilisation, and has authorised the War Ministry to issue a decree of further regulations.’
To receive the badge and award document, an individual was required to: 1) Cover a minimum of 1000km of
overland flights in an aircraft. 2) Successfully pass an examination in
technical support of the aircraft. 3) Successfully complete at least one
refresher training exercise. 4) Achieve success in the execution of reconnaissance missions in cooperation with troops from all branches. 5) Earn a certificate of competency as an observer officer in an aircraft, issued from the Inspectorate of Military, Air and Vehicle Transport. While the requirements look simple enough, the steps to get to the exams listed were many and arduous. Observers could only be officers, and at the beginning of the war they were the most important person in the aircraft. The air ministry initially had to work hard to make the pilot not thought of as a glorified chauffer for the observer whose information gleaned during reconnaissance missions was vital to the war effort. In the early days, many pilots were enlisted - and this was an area where class distinctions were less important than teamwork. Once dogfighting became commonplace, the roles became reversed and it was the pilots who were glorified.
Some of the tasks required for observer training for two-seat aircraft published in 1916 were navigation, use of map and compass, scouting and reconnaissance with hand drawn sketches or photographs, dropping bombs and defence of the aircraft with a self-loading rifle or machine gun. To learn all this, the prospective observer went through three phases of training.
In Observer preschool, the trainee took six weeks of flight instruction, aircraft familiarisation, weapon training and navigation. At Observer school, the trainee had theoretical and practical instruction in observation, tactics, artillery shooting, infantry support, radio telegraphy, aerial photography, bombing, air to air combat, machine gun operation, engines, use of the compass and meteorology. Finally, the trainee attended aviation gunnery school for two weeks. The trainee then had to attend specialised training in their area at the school for artillery aviation, bombing instruction command, the inspectorate for photography or ground support school. As the war intensified, further requirements were
added in 1916 ensuring each observer officer was exceptionally proficient in his sphere.
The Fliers Commemorative badge was instituted for wear by pilots and observers who completed three years of active flying service or had to leave the flying service due to injury. As they were required to surrender their badge at the end of their service, this replaced it as a memento. The hope had been that with the swift end of the war, veterans could eventually trade flight badges for commemorative badges honouring their service. However, the war did not conclude as imagined when instituted in 1914, and thus few ever qualified. Few would have met the criteria of three years active service unless they started flying early in the war, although survival rates meant these men would be the lucky few. Since most crashes resulted in death, there were also few survivors removed from service due to injury.
This badge was rare during the war, and few wartime photos of it being worn exist; in fact, it is far more common to see these badges being worn during the Third Reich when
veterans of the Great War served in staff positions and could wear their decorations from 1914 -18.
The central motif features a bird in flight over the same fields seen on the pilot badge. The metal around the bird was cut out, making a striking contrast in colour, the wearer’s uniform showing through. The aircraft was replaced by a bird, soaring over Germany in the opposite direction as he remembers his days of flying in the military. The Bavarian regulations read: ‘As replacements for the confiscated badge for pilots or for observer officers, permanent possession of the Commemorative Badge may be awarded to those military pilots and observer officers who are no longer included in the list of military pilots or observer officers, but have been active as such for a minimum of three consecutive years by the General Inspectorate of Military Transport on exhibition of a Besitzzeugnis. The fulfillment of these conditions may be waived if the holder of a badge has lost his suitability as a military pilot or observer officer following an accident whilst on active service. In such cases, the General Inspectorate of Military Transport is to be notified of the deletion from the list by the Inspectorate of Military Air and Motor Transport.’
Genuine wartime silver pieces manufactured by Juncker are exceptionally rare and most of these Commemorative Badges are silver plated brass. Very few were awarded during the war, the vast majority issued during the Weimar period of 1919-1920. While Weimar period award numbers are unknown, photographic evidence shows it to be significant. It is far more common to find badges produced during the Third Reich for veterans of the First World War than actual wartime produced badges.
Very few award documents have survived, with the author knowing of them only in single digits.
It is important to note that while badges for pilots and observers had to be surrendered at the end of service, the Commemorative Badge could be kept by the family in case of death of the airman.
AIR GUNNER BADGE
In the final year of the war, the badge for air gunners was instituted. It is curious that it took so long to provide for the clear need to distinguish the deeds of these aircrew. All gunners were enlisted men or NCOS, and with some bombers carrying three gunners the need was great. But few ever received these badges.
Imperial German versions are incredibly rare because of the late date of introduction and since they only existed for some ten months. Bavarian Air Gunner badges are rare
in the extreme but were instituted even later and thus existed for perhaps eight months. With only 240 Bavarian versions awarded, for a collector able to find an original it is a daunting task.
The Imperial German Badge for Air Gunners was instituted by Kaiser Wilhelm on his 59th birthday on 27 January 1918, with the following order:
‘In regard to the recommendation submitted to me, I approve the accompanying sample of a Badge for Air Gunners. The War Ministry will arrange further matters.’
The Bavarian Badge for Air Gunners was instituted in an order published on 13 April 1918:
‘His Majesty the King has, with his most excellent Resolution of 5 April 1918, deigned to approve an insignia for Air Gunners and authorised the War Department to adopt further regulations as follows.’
The central motif of the badge for air gunners features an eagle perched on a stylized gun reticle with crosshairs. The eagle is attached to a backplate with rivets. The rest of the badge is identical to its predecessors.
To earn the badge the gunner trainee was required to: 1) Have detailed knowledge of engine construction and operation, aircraft theory, flight theory, arming and disarming an aircraft, map reading, direction finding, flight systems, compass theory, cooperation between the air corps and other service branches, air combat tactics, squadron exercises, instrument knowledge including telescopic sights, and breathing apparatus, bomb dropping, handling of air dropped munitions, control of signal lamp apparatus, skill in the handling of machine guns on the ground and in aircraft, elimination of stoppages, meteorology, hygiene, police and service regulations. 2) Minimum of 2000 km of overland flights with at least three different pilots and aircraft types. 3) Aerial combat exercises in accordance with the conditions specified for flight students. 4) Execution of a number of flights over the enemy with live bomb dropping outside the range of their artillery and expertly executed escort or ground attack missions.
5) Participation in night flying with trained pilots. These night flights should not be carried out over home territory. Air gunner training was four weeks long, unsurprisingly focusing on weapons and marksmanship. Weapon maintenance was stressed, with instruction on cleaning, clearing jams and loading while airborne. Halfway through the course, the gunners practiced marksmanship under steadily more realistic conditions. They began firing from a moving vehicle, then stationary aircraft and finally firing blanks while aloft. The introduction of Schlachtstaffeln for close air support increased the need for air gunners, and live ammunition was used to train against ground targets and balloons.
Note: In respect of the wearing of the metal flying badges described above, these were heavy and could easily catch on instruments etc. in a tight cockpit. It is completely understandable why cloth badges were available, and yet we do not know why so few fliers wore them. Period photographs clearly show that metal badges were worn by aircrew as everyday wear. That so few cloth
badges have survived is a testament to their rarity.
Flight badges were also available as miniatures that were used on various devices. Stickpins were available to be worn on civilian lapels and smaller ‘Prinzen’ sized badges were available along with tiny versions worn on chains. Flight badges also adorned keyfobs, watches and cigarette cases and were used in all manner of decorations and advertisements.
Leutnant Ernst Canter gained fame during the war as the “Flieger von Tannenberg” when on August 30, 1914, he and his observer, Lt. Mertens, flying in a Rumpler Taube, discovered the Russian army had split, with the 1st Corps preparing an attack that would spell doom for Germany. Canter acted quickly and flew to the German HQ, personally briefing Hindenberg and Ludendorff, leading to the destruction of the Russian forces. Hindenberg was quoted as saying, “Without flyers, no Tennenberg!” The unarmed Taube, forever memorialized on the pilot’s badge, lasted only six months into the war before it had to be withdrawn due to obsolescence. It continued in service as a trainer, helping Germany produce more pilots who bore the Taube image on their badges.
Canter survived the war and went on to work for Deutsche Flugzeug-werke and Daimler-benz-werke. As a pre-war pilot, he was one of Germany’s aviation pioneers who were immortalised in the ‘Old Eagles’ association, comprising 817 veterans who had received their badges before the war. Amazingly, he revived the association in 1951 and brought 70 veterans together. Though he died in 1956, the association lives on as the Traditionsgemeinschaft Alte Adler, dedicated to promoting aviation.
These new knights of the sky rode flying steeds, and instead of silver armour they wore a silver disc showing their station. Though the pilots, observers and gunners of the Great War have all passed away, their badges remain to remind us of the days when, for the first time, young men took to the skies in combat.
The archives of the Imperial German air service were held in Berlin and unfortunately destroyed in air raids between 1944-1945. Fortunately, master archives for the Royal Bavarian air service were stored in Munich and survived. Thus, we have accurate numbers for the awarding of those badges.
In his groundbreaking work, ‘Aircrew Badges and Honor Prizes of the Flying Troops from 1913-1920,’ researcher Carsten Baldes published production numbers based on these archives and worked out estimates for Imperial German badges resulting in the following chart.
Note: most commemorative badges were awarded between 1919-1920, and so these wartime numbers do not represent the full number awarded.