Australian War Memorial: Knights of the Sky – Pfalz D.XII Scout Aircraft

The Pfalz D.XII was a scout aircraft operated by the Imperial German Air Service late in World War One and it does not seem to have had a good reputation with the German pilots who flew it! The first Pfalz D.XII prototype scout aircraft flew in March 1918. Around 750 – 800 were manufactured for the Imperial German Air Service and began to enter service in July 1918 to replace scout aircraft like the Pfalz D.III and Albatros D.V which were produced between 1917 and 1918.

Test pilot Otto August in an early Pfalz D.XII in early 1918
Test pilot Otto August in Pfalz D.XII in early 1918

Nowhere near that number of Pfalz D.XII had entered service before the end of the war though and by October 1918 only around 180 aircraft were in service on the Western Front with Jasta’s 23, 32, 34, 35, 64, 65, 66, 77, 78, and 81 (plus some home defence units). They generally served in these units alongside other types of scout aircraft but some units in quieter sectors only operated the Pfalz D.XII. It was seen by German pilots to be an improvement over the Albatros but inferior to the preferred Fokker D.VII scout which generally performed better in air combat (Pfalz were influenced in their design by the superior Fokker aircraft which first flew in January 1918. Approximately 3,300 D.VII scouts were produced).

Pfalz D.XII in 1918
Pfalz D.XII scout aircraft

Although the Pfalz D.XII climbed at a reasonable rate, was relatively fast at 170 km/h / 106 mph and even faster than the D.VII in a dive due to its sturdy wing, it was slower than the D.VII which flew at 189 km/h / 117 mph in regular flight and was not as maneuverable in a dog fight. The Pfalz D.XII was said to have heavy flight controls and be difficult to land (many accidents occurred due to the weakness of the landing gear and the tendency for the aircraft to “float” on landing). Apparently you sometimes had to use brute strength to get the aircraft to do what you wanted as a pilot and ground crews said it was more complicated to maintain too!

Imperial German Air Service Pflaz D.XII scout fighter in 1918
Imperial German Air Service Pflaz D.XII scout fighter in 1918

Rudolf Stark the commander of Jasta 35b from June 1918 to November 1918 (he first started flying in November 1917) who went on to fly a resplendent looking Fokker D.VII with lilac coloured stripes and achieved 11 confirmed air to air victories plus 5 unconfirmed in various aircraft, wrote of the Pfalz D.XII (VanWyngarden 2006, p. 86):

“No one wanted to fly those Pfalz’s except under compulsion, and those who had to made as much fuss as they could about practicing on them.”

“Those who flew the Pfalz’s did so because there were no other machines for them. But they always gazed enviously at the Fokkers and prayed for the quick chance of an exchange.”

The Fokker D.VII was first flown in January 1918 and quickly became the preferred aircraft of German pilots in World War One (approximately 3,300 were produced)
The Fokker D.VII was first flown in January 1918 and quickly became the preferred aircraft of German pilots in World War One (approximately 3,300 were produced)
The Fokker D.VII of Leutnant Rudolf Stark, Jasta 35b - October 1918
The Fokker D.VII of Leutnant Rudolf Stark, Jasta 35b – October 1918

Anywhere up to 175 Pfalz D.XII aircraft ended up in Allied hands following the November 1918 armistice and some were later used for testing in the United States and Canada. The general Allied verdict on its flight capabilities was much the same as the German pilots. They flew okay but were far inferior to the Fokker D.VII which was regarded as one of the best German aircraft of the war.

A captured Pfalz D.XII in Canada after World War One
A captured Pfalz D.XII in Canada after World War One

Today only 4 original aircraft are on display at museums around the world with one each at the Australian War Memorial, The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington (after the war it was flown in both the 1930 and 1938 versions of the Hollywood movie, The Dawn Patrol), the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC (also used in both Dawn Patrol movies it is painted today as it appeared in the 1938 version of the movie. This airframe was also used in other aviation movies from that period) and the Le Bourget Air and Space Museum in Paris, France (Musée de l’air et de l’espace). Little information is known about the war service of any of these aircraft. I have been lucky enough to see them all in person and as you can see from my photos, the one in Seattle is the most accessible in regards to getting a good close-up view of the aircraft.

Pfalz D.XII Australian War Memorial
Australian War Memorial Pfalz D.XII post restoration and looking brand new! (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial)
Pfalz D.XII at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington
Pfalz D.XII at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington (photo taken in 2011)
Pfalz D.XII scout fighter at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC - painted as it appeared in the 1938 movie The Dawn Patrol
Pfalz D.XII scout fighter at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC – painted as it appeared in the 1938 movie The Dawn Patrol (photo taken in 2013)
Pfalz D.XII at the Air and Space Museum at Le Bourget in Paris, France (Musée de l’air et de l’espace)
Pfalz D.XII at the Le Bourget Air and Space Museum in Paris, France (Musée de l’air et de l’espace – photo taken in 2012)

The Australian War Memorial Pfalz D.XII (Serial 2600/18) was constructed in 1918 and originally was fitted with a Mercedes D.IIIa 180hp engine. Curiously this original engine is actually held in storage today and currently the aircraft has the same type of engine from the war memorial Albatros D.Va in it! The wings are covered in the distinctive printed five colour lozenge camouflage fabric finished with plain dope that was used by the Imperial German Air Service. It was armed with 2 x two MG 08/16 7.92mm machine guns that were synchronized to fire through the propeller arc.

Imperial German Air Service Pfalz D.XII scout aircraft at the Australian War Memorial 1918
Imperial German Air Service Pfalz D.XII scout aircraft at the Australian War Memorial (photo taken during my January 2016 visit to the museum)

The service history of the aircraft is unknown but it is believed to have seen operational service. Taken as a war trophy as part of Allied war reparations, the Pfalz D.XII was shipped from the No. 2 Aircraft Salvage Depot in France to the United Kingdom in late 1919 then shipped to Australia.

Imperial German Air Service Pfalz D.XII scout aircraft at the Australian War Memorial 1918
The Australian War Memorial Pfalz D.XII was shipped to Australia in 1919 (photos taken January 2016)

In the 1920’s the Pfalz D.XII was temporarily exhibited in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. From the 1940’s it was displayed at the war memorial until the aircraft was removed to storage in 2001. After an extensive restoration at the Treloar Technology Centre in Canberra, the aircraft went back on display in 2008 at the Australian War Memorial, ANZAC Hall – Over the Front: The Great War in the Air exhibition. It looks brand new!

 

References:

Australian War Memorial – Pfalz D.XII Scout Aircraft

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – Pfalz D.XII

The Museum of Flight – Pfalz D.XII

Wikipedia – Pfalz D.XII

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