The Albatros D I was designed as a two-gun fighter. The Germans never did go for the pusher plane in any quantity. The Albatros D I and II fighters were single-seater biplanes, in a tractor design with elegantly curved fuselages, streamlined fronts, square-tipped wings that were of equal size and relatively powerful liquid-cooled engines. The biplane came about as designers and pilots found the monoplanes of the day didn’t have enough lift to enable them to climb quickly. With more powerful engines and large biplane wings, the DI and DII won air superiority back from the Allied D.H.2 and Nieuport 17 fighters. They had, in turn, wrested control of the air over the trenches from the Fokker Eindecker in 1915. Some 50 of the DI model were built before production switched to the D II. It was a development of the DI with improved forward vision. Note the square-tipped wings and the insignia on the tail and fusilage. The well known German crosses weren’t adopted at that time. In 1915, they adopted the curved Maltese cross style, in 1918 they switched to the very plain, straight, black-on-white crosses.
In April, 1917 Germany again regained the upper hand in aerial warfare with the introduction of the Albatros D III. Other factors aided, especially the withdrawal of Russian forces from the war freeing many pilots for the Western Front. Baron Manfred von Richthoven downed 21 Allied aircraft in a DIII in April, 1917 alone. This version was slightly different from the DI and DII versions, most notably in rounding of the wing-tips, and significantly improving the visibility forward and downward. Much of this was accomplished by increasing the size of the cutout in the upper wing, raising the upper wing and using a smaller, narrower lower wing. It also had a new strut arrangment with V-struts instead of the conventional paired struts of the D I and D II. This proved to be premature in design as numerous were lost when the wing structure failed. The beautifully streamlined shape was effected by the use of curved sheets of veneer screwed to longirons, to make a very rigid body. Some 446 DIIIs were built.
The upgrade Albatros DV was introduced by the end of 1917 to try to cope with the new Allied Sopwith Camel and S.E. 5. It wasn’t a significant improvement over the DIII, and many of the front line Jastas had to make do with the DIII for longer than was wise. The DIIIs and DVs were eventually replaced with the superb Fokker DVII, but it was too late in the war for the DVII to make much difference to the outcome.
The pilots of the German Jagdstaffeln or Jastas flying the Albatros tended to paint their aircraft in all manner of gaudy colours, excepting for the upper wing surfaces as they were painted in a tri-colour lozenge camoflage design. The "Red Baron" Manfred von Richtoffen flew an all-red DIII (actually most of his planes whether a DrI or a DIII were painted a dull, rusty red, not the bright and gaudy red now portrayed), his Jasta II pilots developed similar red patterns so that his aircraft would not be the only obviously red Albatros in the air.
The Albatros D I was powered by a 160hp Mercedes D III liquid cooled engine. It had a maximum speed of 109 mph (175km/h) and a service ceiling of 17,000 ft. Endurance in the air was competitive with the Nie 17 at 1h 30min. It came armed with two forward firing, synchronised 7.92 mm machine guns with 500 rounds each. This was a vast improvement over the English planes with their Ni 17s armed with a single Lewis gun mounted over the wing with 97 round magasines, that proved to be difficult to reload under any but the quietest conditions.
The Albatros DIII was originally powered by a 163 hp (120kW) Oberursel U III engine but it was not very reliable. The DV was powered by a 175-180 hp Mercedes DIIIa water-cooled in-line engine. To maintain the streamlined fusilage the radiator was mounted to the right of the pilot in the upper wing. The DIII could reach 103 mph (165 km/h) with a ceiling of 17,000 ft (5500 m). It had an aerial endurance of 2 hours. It came armed with the standard twin forward firing machine guns.
The DV could attain a maximum speed of 109 mph (175 km/h) and had a ceiling of 18,000 ft (5500m). Armament consisted of the standard two synchronised 7.92 mm Spandau machine guns mounted over the engine.
Canadian Aces Home Page
Albatros DII. Image courtesy of Allan Wright.
Albatross DIII. E. Parks, Fighters. The World’s Great Aces and Their Planes. Permission to be requested.
Albatross D5a. Courtesy of the NATIONAL AIR & SPACE MUSEUM (USA) Archives