Boelcke, Oswald (1891-1916)
With 40 victories to his name at the time of his death, Hauptmann Boelcke was Germany's greatest fighter pilot and air unit commander.
Boelcke was born in Giebichstein, (near Halle, Saxony) the fourth child of six in a schoolteacher's family. Ever an active youth, he excelled at gymnastics, swimming and mountain climbing. In 1911, he joined the Prussian Cadet Corps and was later posted to a Telegraph battalion, gaining his commission in 1912. Attracted to the flying corps, Oswald passed his pilot's exams just days before the outbreak of war.
He started the war flying two-seater reconnaissance aircraft -- often with his brother Wilhelm as observer. In May 1915 he was transferred to a unit near Douai, France, Feldfliegerabteilung No. 62 . It was at FFA 62 that Boelcke met another rising star: Max Immelmann. The two began a friendly scoring rivalry flying Fokker E-types. Both men had each downed eight enemy planes and were awarded the Pour le Merite in January 1916 -- the first pilots to do so.
It was while stationed with FFA 62 that Boelcke saved a French boy from drowning. The grateful villagers wanted the French government to award him the Legion of Honor. This was not likely. Boelcke did receive the Prussian Life Saving Medal, which he valued as highly as his more famous awards.
Boelcke advocated re-organizing German air units to concentrate fighter strength. The German High Command agreed. Starting in August 1916, new all-fighter units Jagdstaffeln were formed. Boelcke was given command of Jasta 2 and allowed to select his own pilots. Among his disciples were future aces as Max Muller, Erwin Boehme, and Manfred von Richtofen. Boelcke not only fought, raising his own score into the thirties, he also taught his men the elements of and keys to successful air fighting. His rules, the 'Dicta Boelcke,' remained valid until the modern era of 'fly by wire.'
Oswald died in a crash landing on 28 October 1916, after a minor mid-air bump damaged the upper wing of his Albatros aircraft. Even his English adversaries honored him by dropping a wreath and a note that read, 'to the memory of Captain Boelke (sic), our brave and chivalrous opponent.' Jasta 2 was later renamed Jasta Boelcke in his honor.