Max entered the Dresden Cadet School when he was 15. Fascinated with mechanical devices and engines, he chose to join the 2nd Railway Battalion as an Ensign in 1912. He was promoted to Leutnant des Reserves in July 1914. When war was declared, Max and his brother Franz applied to become army pilots. Instead, Max received his orders to report to his old unit. Later that year his transfer to the Air Service went through and Max was learning to fly at Johannesthal. At first he was assigned to fly mail planes. In March 1915 he was reassigned to a new front line unit, Feldfliegerabteilung 62 stationed near Douai. There, he flew L.V.G. reconnaissance two-seaters.
The Fokker Scourge In the summer of 1915, FFA 62 received one of Germany's hottest new technological weapons, the Fokker E-1. FFA 62's. C.O. Hauptman Kastner assigned his unit's best pilot, Lt. Oswald Boelcke, to fly the E-1. When FFA 62 received a second Fokker, it went to Max. Oswald and Max then started a friendly scoring rivalry, each hunting the skies alone. Max liked to patrol over the town of Lille, hence the sobriquet "Eagle of Lille." This was the time that the British referred to as the 'Fokker Scourge.'
For his first victory (in August 1915), Max was awarded the Iron Cross. For his fourth, the Military St. Henry Order of Saxony. At his sixth, he received the Hohenzollern House Order. In January 1916, both Immelmann and Boelcke scored their eighth victories and both received the Pour le Meritè , the first pilots to do so. For his twelfth victory, Immelmann was awarded the Commander's Cross of the Military St. Henry Order -- a very high Saxon award.
The Immelmann Turn
Max Immelmann is nearly forgotten today, but his name lives on in the aerial manoeuvre named after him. Today, an 'Immelmann turn' starts with a half loop up, followed by a half-roll. Ironically, this was not a manoeuvre Max used. Fokker Es did not have the power or agility required. Max's real turn consisted of a steep climb with a tight flat turn at the top (near stall speed) to dive down the same direction he had just come.
Max died in a crash on June 18, 1916. The RFC claimed that Lt. McCubbin and Corporal Waller shot down Immelmann and decorated them accordingly. Max's brother, and others, maintained that the synchronizer gear had failed and that Max shot off his own propeller, causing violent vibrations that shook apart his Fokker. Anthony Fokker himself examined the wreckage and, citing severed (rather than stretched/broken) cables and frame members, insisted that Max's plane had been hit by friendly anti-aircraft fire. Proof for any of the three theories was inconclusive.
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Franks, Norman, Above the Lines , 1993.
Bowen, Ezra, Knights of the Air , 1980.
Longstreet, Stephen, The Canvas Falcons , 1970.