Author R.G. Head took some time to talk to us about what inspired him to write his new book Oswald Boelcke: Germany’s First Fighter Ace and Father of Air Combat.
Oswald Boelcke : Germany’s First Fighter Ace and Father of Air Combat is the result of a three-step aviation adventure. I had a 31-year career in the US Air Force and had been retired for a few years when I was elected Commodore of the Coronado Cays Yacht Club. The Club was having its 40th anniversary, so I adopted the theme of red and planned to have a Red Baron Ball. One of our members suggested I build a model of the Red Baron’s Fokker Dr. I, and I did. It had a six-foot wingspan and hung over the middle of the dance floor. Then I donated it to the Coronado, California, public library. Looking around for another project, I was determined that this one was going to be of museum quality. The six-foot wingspan of the Dr. I fascinated me because that was the largest model I could make in my garage. I was also intrigued by World War I models since one could duplicate their building materials of wood and fabric. After consultation with some friends we settled on an Albatros D. II.
Building the Albatros D. II was an adventure, with incremental progress as I scoured hardware shop looking for small parts that could resemble WW I parts. The size of the model is quarter scale, that is ¼ inch to the inch. Thus, the 28-foot wingspan of the full scale Albatros contracts to seven feet for the model. The fuselage is approximately six feet long.
Upon learning that the Luftwaffe’s 31st Tactical Air Force Wing is officially named after Oswald Boelcke, I wrote the Wing Commander and introduced myself and the project. Soon I got a reply from a German historian, Heinz-Michael Rabe, who is a prominent member of the “Boelcke Tradition Association.” Michael was unbelievably helpful in research for the model and the subsequent book.
On Armistice Day, 11 November 2014, my wife, Carole, and I invited about 50 friends to the museum and officially presented model. The event included a champagne toast and a 45-minute briefing titled, “The Albatros D. II and its Famous Pilot.” The briefing was well received, the audience was enthusiastic, and there were many questions and answers. James Kitrick, President and CEO of SDASM, accepted the model and prepared to have it displayed. Looking at all the research material I had collected, my wife suggested I write a book about Boelcke, because she had become fascinated by this youthful hero. Subsequent trips to Europe provided opportunities to continue my research at the RAF Museum’s archives at Hendon and at the Luftwaffe’s 31st Wing at Nörvenich, where their Boelcke Tradition Room houses a host of original artifacts. I asked a former USAF Chief of Staff, Ron Fogleman, to write the Foreword and a former Boelcke Wing Commander, Gert Overhoff, to write the Afterword. Both of these officers and several of my other colleagues were very helpful in providing advice and assistance. Finally, with a draft manuscript in hand I had the good fortune to ask the advice of Norman Franks, the noted and prolific British author of WWI military aviation books. He recommended the work to John Davies at Grub Street Publishers in London, and he offered me a contract within three weeks.
I believe the book is important for several reasons: 1) World War I changed everything in Western Culture; we often need to be reminded of its importance and major participants. 2) Oswald Boelcke deserves more recognition for his role as the first German Ace, the first winner (with Max Immelmann) of the Pour le Merite, the “Blue Max,” the writer of the first air combat tactics, the “Boelcke Dicta,” the first pilot on either side to achieve 40 victories, the instructor, mentor and squadron commander of Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, and a person of such high character, selflessness and chivalry that the Royal Flying Corps dropped a wreath on his funeral with a letter that read, in part “We all pay tribute to his bravery. IN COMMEMORATION OF CAPTAIN BOELCKE, OUR BRAVE AND CHIVALROUS OPPONENT.” When asked of what he was most proud, he said, Not the promotions, the number of victories, or the public adulation, but the opportunity to save a French boy from drowning!
Oswald Boelcke : Germany’s First Fighter Ace and Father of Air Combat is available at www.casematepublishers.com and everywhere fine books are sold