This blog post is of an historical nature – making a short description of the short life of Oswald Boelcke, and the long legacy of what he did during it. Since he was the father of tactics in a adversarial combat, as is fencing, I consider his life worth describing. Without further ado, the milestones of his life:
- Birth: May 19th, 1891 in Giebichenstein, in what is now the Sachsen-Anhalt bundesland of Germany
- Entrance into military: March 15th, 1911 – entered a telegraph battalion as a cadet officer
- Entrance to military academy: January 1912
- Graduation from military academy: July 1912
- Qualification for the 1916 Olympic games in pentathlon: February 1914
- Flight school: June 2nd – August 15th, 1914
- World War I starts: August 1st, 1914
- First flight in World War I: September 1st, 1914
- End of 1914: 42 sorties over enemy-held ground
- First aerial victory: July 1st, 1915 – flying a two-seater reconnaissance plane
- Ace race starts: September 1915 – Boelcke, Immelmann, and a a few other of the best German pilots compete for the overall Ace title
- End of 1915: 6 aerial victories
- First flier to reach 10 victories: March 12th, 1916
- Promotion to Captain: May 29th, 1916 – almost 5 years younger than minimum regulation age for that promotion
- End of the Ace race: June 18th, 1916 – Immelmann shot down and killed, he had 17 victories at the time, while Boelcke stood at 18.
- Two months grounded: June 29th – August 27th, 1916 – Grounded by the Emperor after the death of Immelmann, trip to Turkey and Eastern Europe, writing the Dicta Boelcke, and called to lead Jasta (fighter squadron) 2
- Appointed commander of Jasta 2: August 30th, 1916
- First flight as Jasta 2 Commander, and 20th victory: September 17th, 1916
- End of September 1916: 30 aerial victories
- Fatal accident: October 28th, 1916 – midair collision with friendly aircraft during dogfight. At the time, he stood at 40 victories.
All in all Oswald Boelcke exceeded in at least three fields: he scored a large number of victories, he created a very successful organization, and he wrote the book on the tactics in his chosen endeavour. All of that in a little over a year, most of it accomplished during his final 4 months.
A few numbers should put that in stark relief: While 9 other German pilots of World War I exceeded his victory count, and 15 non-German pilots did so, his number really stands out in comparison with non-German pilots of other wars. Only 25 non-German pilots exceeded his victory count in World War II, and no pilot has come close in the wars after that. The highest scoring aces in all of post World War II (Yevgeny Pepelyaev and Nikolay Sutyagin, both of Soviet Union) scored 22-23 victories each (sources differ) scored their victories during tours of duty spanning 16 and 10 months, respectively. In contrast, Boelcke scored 21 victories during his 2 months as Jasta 2 commander. The highest scoring fighter ace of the United States, Richard Bong, scored 40 victories during 2 years, and his highest-scoring 2-month period netted him 10 victories.
The fighter squadron created by Boelcke, Jasta 2, was active to the end of the war. In total, it scored 336 victories and sustained only 44 losses, of them 31 killed in action. That is better than 7:1 kill ratio. Among its personnel were 25 flying aces. One of them Boelcke recruited himself as one of his first decisions, despite the fact that this pilot had only gotten mediocre grades from flight school. However, this pilot would take the Dicta Boelcke to heart, and go on to be the most successful fighter ace of the entire war. His name was Manfred Von Richthofen.
That brings us back to the 8 rules that Boelcke stated as a basis for sound tactics of an aerial fighter. I hope that the success numbers cited above should have gotten the reader interested. Here they are:
- Try to secure advantages before attacking. If possible keep the sun behind you.
- Always carry through an attack when you have started it.
- Fire only at close range and only when your opponent is properly in your sights.
- Always keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.
- In any form of attack it is essential to assail your opponent from behind.
- If your opponent dives on you, do not try to evade his onslaught, but fly to meet it.
- When over the enemy’s lines never forget your own line of retreat.
- For the Staffel: Attack on principle in groups of four or six. When the fight breaks up into a series of single combats, take care that several do not go for one opponent.
So what on earth does that have to do with fencing? In my next blog post, I will break them down to their first principles, and discuss those from a fencing perspective.