Austrian Aviation Heritage: Aviatik (Berg) D.I – A Hidden Treasure from World War One!

Aviatik “Berg Scout

When you think of military aircraft operated by the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary during World War One, aircraft manufacturers like Fokker, Albatros and Gotha generally spring to mind. The German Aviatik aircraft company is probably lesser known to most and the aircraft produced by the Austro-Hungarian branch of Aviatek probably even more so!

The Austrian Aviatik aircraft company had started off building German B-type reconnaissance biplane designs but in early 1916 the firms design engineer, Julius von Berg came up with two new scout fighter aircraft designs, the C.I two-seater and the D.I single seat scout that also became known as the “Berg Scout“. Production of this unusual looking aircraft with a deep yet narrow fuselage started in May 1917.

Aviatik (Berg) D.I scout fighter of the Austro-Hungarian Air Service circa 1917/18
Aviatik (Berg) D.I scout fighter of the Austro-Hungarian Air Service circa 1917/18

The “Berg Scout” became the first ever Austrian designed fighter aircraft that entered production and soon joined the inventory of the Austro-Hungarian Air Service known as the Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops (Kaiserliche und Königliche Luftfahrtruppen). To confuse matters the German parent company of Aviatik also built an aircraft named the Aviatik D.I but this was actually a licence-built Halberstadt D.II single seat scout fighter for the German Imperial Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte) which was later redesignated the Halberstadt D.II(Av).

Approximately 700 Aviatik (Berg) D.I scout fighters were produced by Austria Aviatik (Series 38, 138, 238 and 338 aircraft) and also licence-built by five subcontractors: Lohner (Series 115 and 315), Lloyd (Series 48, 248 and 348), MAG (Magyar Általános Gépgyár – General Hungarian Machine Works – Series 84 and 92)), Thöne & Fiala (Series 101), and the Wiener Karosserie Fabrik (Vienna Car Body Factory – Series 184, 284 and 384). There was a lot to like about the aircraft.

The Austro-Daimler 6-cylinder water-cooled in-line 200 hp engine provided a good top speed of up to 197 km/h (122 mph – a faster speed than the Albatros D.III), had good high altitude flight characteristics (service ceiling of 6,150 m / 20,177 ft – compared to 5,500 m / 18,044 ft of the Albatros D.III – handy around the alps and mountainous terrain of the Austro-Hungarian empire and along the border with Italy) and most importantly was highly maneuverable with a  good field of view for the pilot during aerial combat (the pilot would sit quite high in his seat and his eye level would be just below the top wing).

Aviatik (Berg) D.I scout fighter of the Austro-Hungarian Air Service circa 1917/18
Aviatik (Berg) D.I scout fighter of the Austro-Hungarian Air Service circa 1917/18 – the bottom photo gives a good idea of the good visibility afforded the pilot, whose eye level is at the level of the upper wing

There were some issues with the Aviatik (Berg) D.I though, especially in earlier versions which suffered structural problems (Lohner had apparently deviated from the original Berg design and built the 115 series aircraft with thinner wing ribs which were prone to breaking apart!) and strangely had its 2 x 8mm Schwarzlose MG fixed machine guns positioned so they could not be reached by the pilot if they jammed! The airframe was later strengthened and the machine guns were more sensibly positioned to rectify these issues but the one main problem that continued, was an overheating engine. Apparently to overcome this issue the ground crews of frontline units simply removed some of the engine panels to keep it cool in flight! In addition the two ungainly looking side radiators on some of the early Aviatik (Berg) D.I scout fighters were replaced with a single radiator built into the nose above the propeller.

Aviatik (Berg) D.I scout fighter of the Austro-Hungarian Air Service circa 1917/18
Aviatik (Berg) D.I scout fighter of the Austro-Hungarian Air Service circa 1917/18 – note the interesting variations in livery and markings, the top photo is an early variant with the two side mounted engine radiators and the more streamlined engine cowling

During World War One the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops flew the type primarily as an escort for bombers and reconnaissance aircraft on the Eastern, Italian and Balkan fronts. It was in service from Autumn 1917 until the armistice in November 1918 and they seem to have worn a wonderful array of camouflage schemes and livery during that time! It seems the aforementioned issues lead fighter squadrons to prefer to fly the German Albatros D.III for scout missions assigned to maintain air superiority. In late 1918, production of the improved Aviatik (Berg) D.II with a cantilever lower wing (Series 39 and 339) had begun but the war ended before this variant entered service.

Austrian Aviatik-Berg D.I (serial 38.58) of Fliegerkompanie 56J of the Austro-Hungarian Air Service known as the Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops (Kaiserliche und Königliche Luftfahrtruppen) in 1917
Austrian Aviatik-Berg D.I (serial 38.58) of Fliegerkompanie 56J of the Austro-Hungarian Air Service known as the Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops (Kaiserliche und Königliche Luftfahrtruppen) in 1917 – note the ungainly looking side engine radiator (Imperial War Museum photos)

Overwhelmed by Allied forces from France, Great Britain and Italy, Austria-Hungary signed a local armistice on  November 3rd, 1918 and the Austro-Hungarian empire was effectively no more (the armistice to end World War One with Germany was on November 11th, 1918). Postwar the D.I was also operated by countries that were once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire (Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia).

Under the terms of the Peace Treaty of St. Germain (1919) Austria was forced to destroy all military aircraft and aircraft engines. Fortunately from a historical point of view, some people decided this was unfair and not all Aviatik (Berg) D.I aircraft met this fate.

Survivors

The two examples I have seen are the only original Aviatik (Berg) D.I aircraft that survive today. One can be found in the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) in Austria and the other surprisingly in the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington! Both aircraft are series 101 aircraft produced by Thöne and Fiala in Vienna (101.37 in Vienna and 101.40 in Seattle). These aircraft are rare World War One treasures as they are the only original fighter aircraft of Austrian design and manufacture to remain from that conflict and both could not be displayed more differently!

Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) in Austria (101.37) Vienna
Rare Survivor: Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) in Austria (101.37) – October 2015
Rare Survivor: Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington
Rare Survivor: Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington – July 2016

Vienna

The Vienna Aviatik (Berg) D.I (101.37) was produced in 1918 and is a unique one which contains the most original components. It was hidden from Allied inspectors to avoid the conditions of destruction under the 1919 Peace Treaty of St. Germain! The aircraft was preserved but sadly rendered inoperable to meet the arms limitation requirements of the treaty by cutting open the engine, removing the starboard wing covering and plywood fairing of the fuselage; and sawing off the two lower airfoils so it could be exhibited on the first floor gallery of the museum where it has been on display since 1927. Apart from the methods to render it inoperable it is a stunning example of an aircraft as it was at the end of World War One.

Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) in Austria (101.37) Vienna
Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) – October 2015
Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) in Austria (101.37) Vienna
Aviatik (Berg) D.I (101.37) at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) – October 2015
Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) in Austria (101.37) Vienna
Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) – October 2015
Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) in Austria (101.37) Vienna
The port side of the Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) has been left relatively intact following demilitarisation post World War One – October 2015
Austro Daimler Inline Engine Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) in Austria (101.37) Vienna
Austro-Daimler 6-cylinder water-cooled in-line 200 hp engine – Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) October 2015
Austro-Daimler 6-cylinder water-cooled in-line 200 hp engine - Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) October 2015
Austro-Daimler 6-cylinder water-cooled in-line 200 hp engine – Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) October 2015
Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) in Austria (101.37) Vienna
The cockpit layout and pilots high seated position in the Aviatik (Berg) D.I gave the pilot good vision whilst in flight – Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) – October 2015
Cockpit Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) in Austria (101.37) Vienna
Close up of the Aviatik (Berg) D.I cockpit and controls – Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) – October 2015
Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) in Austria (101.37) Vienna
The Aviatik (Berg) D.I (101.37) at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) is one of only two survivors and a proud memorial to the early days of Austrian aviation – Photo taken during my visit to the museum in October 2015
Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) in Austria (101.37) Vienna
Austrian and World War One aviation heritage – Aviatik (Berg) D.I (101.37) at the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien) – October 2015
Ladislaus Almásy the aviator in July 1914 Austria-Hungary
Ladislaus Almásy the aviator in July 1914 (Copyright Alexander and Andrea Almásy – via the Vienna Technical Museum)

“The English Patient”

The Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Vienna Technical Museum (101.37) is said to have been flown by famous Austro-Hungarian aviator Lieutenant Ladislaus Almásy (1895-1951, also referred to as László Almásy), most likely with Fliegerkompagnie 17 on the Italian front from February to March 1918. Ladislaus Almásy was born into an aristocratic family of scientists from Bernstein, Burgenland but of Hungarian descent. He became a pilot in England before the war, but initially served with the Imperial and Royal Hussars cavalry on the Eastern Front. From 1916 he served as a reconnaissance officer in the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops and from March 1918 served out World War One as a flight instructor.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s Almásy found fame as a racing driver and as an explorer of the Sahara Desert and North Africa by both aircraft and car, discovering prehistoric petroglyphs (rock drawings) along the way. By the advent of World War Two he had to leave Egypt and headed to Hungary where he became a member of the Abwehr, German military intelligence service where his experience in North Africa was put to use on covert missions including the infiltration of German spies behind enemy lines in Libya (Operation Salam) before returning to Hungary in 1943 and becoming an author on his adventures. Later escaping the communists he saw out his days in Egypt before becoming ill and passing away in Austria in 1951. He was the loose basis for the 1997 movie, The English Patient.

Seattle

The Seattle Aviatik (Berg) D.I (101.40) was manufactured in 1918 and originally obtained from Europe by a US based owner. It was discovered to have once been owned and operated by the Berg Company. Later acquired by Doug Champlin in 1978, it was restored in Arizona and features a restored hand-built radiator, an original Austro-Daimler engine and rare 8mm Schwarzlose MG machine guns. Now in the hands of the Museum of Flight the aircraft livery is a rather striking one that is reminiscent of some of the period photos I have included above.

Austrian Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington WW1
Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington – October 2016
Austrian Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington
Austro-Hungarian Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington – July 2016 – note the gun ports through the engine cowling radiator vent either side of the propeller
Rare Survivor: Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington
The Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington is a beautiful restoration and looks 1918 factory fresh! Photo taken in July 2016
Austrian Aviatik (Berg) D.I at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington
The Aviatek (Berg) D.I scout fighter served with the Austro-Hungarian Air Service known as the Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops (Kaiserliche und Königliche Luftfahrtruppen) from Autumn 1917 to the end of the war in November 1918 – Museum of Flight, Seattle Washington – July 2016
Earlier variants of the Aviatik (Berg) D.I had two radiators on either side of the engine cowling, these were later replaced by a single radiator at the front of the engine cowl as seen on the example at Seattle's Museum of Flight
Earlier variants of the Aviatik (Berg) D.I had two radiators on either side of the engine cowling, these were later replaced by a single radiator at the front of the engine cowl as seen on the example at Seattle’s Museum of Flight – Photos taken in July and October 2016

 

References:

Museum of Flight Seattle – Aviatik (Berg) D.I

Vienna Technical Museum – Aviatik (Berg) D.I

Wikipedia – Aviatik (Berg) D.I

Wikipedia – László Almásy (Ladislaus Almásy)

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One thought on “Austrian Aviation Heritage: Aviatik (Berg) D.I – A Hidden Treasure from World War One!

  1. I love both display styles…both exquisite. Vienna’s is dynamic and insightful. Seattle’s is emotive as well as transportive. A nice idea to compare the two!

    Liked by 1 person

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