Within the grand collection of the Polish Aviation Museum in Krakow (Muzeum Lotnictwa Polskiego w Krakowie), you will find a number of very rare and highly desired aircraft of German origin, dating from the pioneering age of aviation through to World War One and World War Two. Many of these are precious museum aircraft formerly from the German Aviation Collection in Berlin at the Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung (German Aviation Museum), which held numerous historic German aircraft alongside those captured from Allied forces during the world wars.
A number of these aircraft were transferred to Czarnków, near Poznań in the occupied territory of Poland around 1942 to 1943. Germany put them into storage there to keep them out of reach of Allied bombers that were pounding Germany at the time. The Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung (German Aviation Museum) was eventually destroyed in the bombing and rare museum aircraft are reported to have been lost in raids on Berlin, such as the last original Fokker DR.I Driedecker triplane which was rebuilt by Fokker in 1932 using parts of remaining airframes and destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943.
Of 320 produced only two other DR.I aircraft survived World War One. Serial Number 528/17 was operated postwar for flight testing by the Deutschen Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (German Aviation Research Institute) between 1919 and 1923 with the Civil Registration of KURIER, then was also on display at the Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung before appearing in the movie Pour le Mérite (1938) but is believed to have crashed following the movie production. Serial Number 152/17 was an aircraft in which Manfred von Richthofen reportedly shot down 3 aircraft – it was on display in the Zeughaus museum in Berlin when destroyed in an Allied air raid during World War Two.
Following the Soviet advance in Poland in 1945, the Germans abandoned the aircraft collection to their fate. Fortunately they were not destroyed and the Polish authorities put them into storage as part of a technical museum collection. In 1963 the aircraft were transferred to the Polish Aviation Museum, where from what I can ascertain were mostly kept in storage until the early 2000’s. Today they are displayed throughout the museum display buildings.
The museum itself is located on the old Kraków-Rakowice-Czyżyny Airport site that was first established in 1912 under the Austro-Hungarian days and was in operation until 1963. The museum was then established on the site and opened in 1964 using four of the original airport hangars. The main purpose-built museum building was added and opened in 2010. I was suitably impressed with the collection during my visit in the summer of 2017!
Over the years the German Museum of Technology has apparently requested (perhaps demanded?) these aircraft back, as they regard them as German property but it seems Poland has basically told them to shove off! Understandable giving the devastation reaped upon the country in World War Two! As such they remain as some of the jewels in the crown of this impressive collection in Krakow. To be honest, I doubt they have space to display them in Germany, so in many ways it is better to have such historic aircraft on public display in Poland, rather than stored away in a warehouse in Germany!
The German Aviation Collection includes the following pioneer and World War One era aircraft, which were dispersed across numerous hangars and display halls within the Polish Aviation Museum, many in a very nostalgic setting. It is a little surreal when you think that these aircraft were 100 years old or more when I saw them in 2017 and they had survived the ravages of two wars across Europe! Lets take a walk through aviation history…
Levavasseur Antoinette an unusual, single seat, boat like aircraft of wooden construction produced in Germany Circa 1910 – one of the oldest within the Polish Aviation Museum collection. This aircraft was licence built by Albatros Flugzeug Werke in Berlin – one of several variants with various engines. The paddle bladed propeller also has a bit of a boat like look about it.
The aircraft is based on the 1908 Antoinette design by Frenchman Leon Levavassuer who produced the type at the Gastambide & Mengin Works in Paris. Being a pioneering aircraft, as production progressed, the design changed slightly and aircraft were fitted with different engines. Steering was aided by either ailerons or substituted with a wing tip twist / wing warping.
European aviators took a liking to the design and in 1909 Englishman Hubert Latham caused a bit of excitement in Germany, when he flew a Levavassuer Antoinette on the first long distance flight between Paris and Berlin. This created interest in that country and resulted in the licence production by Albatros.
That same year Latham also tried to be the first to cross the English Channel. In two attempts he unfortunately ditched on both! His first attempt in an Antoinette IV was on July 19th, 1909. Louis Bleriot beat him to it on July 25th, 1909 – Latham’s second attempt just two days later in an Antoinette VII, found him ditched less than 2 kilometres from the British coast! He at least became the first man to reach a height of 1,000 metres in powered flight in an Antoinette IV.
Geest Möwe IV early German pioneering aircraft from 1913 that was designed by Dr. Waldemar Geest. He developed gliders in the late 1800’s which featured a unique wing design. The bird like wing carried on to his powered aircraft and enabled the Möwe IV to be highly stable in flight, including in poor weather.
In May 1913, during “Aeronautical Week”, Swiss pilot Alberto Colombo was the only one to fly in stormy weather and took the Möwe IV up to 300 feet! This is the only surviving example of an aircraft designed by Geest. It is displayed in an unrestored state.
Geest designed a number of aircraft from 1910 to 1914. They were designated Möwe I-VI. Some of the later variants were used by flight schools in Germany. The Möwe VI which was designed in cooperation with the Aviation Experimental Institute in Adlershof, Germany, was used for military training in 1914.
AEG Wagner Eule (Owl) single engine, two seat, monoplane reconnaissance aircraft. Displayed in an unrestored state, this is the only survivor of two prototypes produced by Allgemeine Electricitäts Gesellschaft (AEG) in 1914 and first flown in 1915 before the project was cancelled.
The first prototype was lost in a fire in Germany during the test flight period. The sole survivor is a rather stubby aircraft with a certain charm to it! The fuselage featured welded steel tubs covered in fabric and the tapered wooden wings had a curved leading edge with a trailing edge not unlike a bat wing.
Scout Fighter, Reconnaissance & Trainer
Albatros C.I (C.197/15) two seat, biplane that first flew as an early fighter aircraft, then as a reconnaissance aircraft in Germany from 1915 to 1917 and as a training aircraft. Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) also operated the C.I during World War One.
The museum Albatros C.I produced in 1915 is displayed in German Imperial Air Service livery and markings. It was operated during World War One in Poland for radio training and later at an air training school in Germany.
The Albatros C.I handled well in flight and a couple of famous German pilots cut their teeth in the aircraft when it was used as a fighter aircraft. Air ace Oswald Boelcke scored the first of his eventual 40 air to air victories in 1915 as a pilot in one, with his observer/gunner Lt. von Wühlisch and Manfred von Richthofen first served as an observer on the Eastern Front in a C.I, before shooting to fame as the “Red Baron“, the leading air ace of World War One with 80 air to air victories.
The observer sat in the rear cockpit of the Albatros C.I that was fitted with a ring-mounted 7.92 mm Parabellum MG14 machine gun. There was no forward machine gun fitted. The aircraft was powered by a 160 hp Benz BZ.III engine and had a top speed of 132 km/h (82.5 mph).
1915 Albatros C.I (C.197/15) two seat, biplane reconnaissance aircraft of the Imperial German Air Service – Polish Aviation Museum, Krakow 2017
The Albatros C.I features replica wooden wheels on its undercarriage, dubbed “workshop wheels”. They represent those used when moving aircraft on the ground to save wear and tear on operational rubber wheels.
49 Albatros C.I were in Polish postwar service – sourced from captured German and Austro-Hungarian examples. They were used in combat in the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1919 to 1920 and then used as a trainer until 1922. The type was also operated postwar by Lithuania and Sweden.
DFW C.V (17077/17) single engine, two seat, biplane reconnaissance aircraft from 1917. The C.V was powered by a 200 hp Benz Bz.IV 6 cylinder inline engine and had a top speed of 155 km/h (96 mph). The type was used widely on the Western and Eastern Front.
Despite being the most produced German aircraft of World War One (2,000 by DFW and 1,250 licence-built by Aviatik between 1916 and 1918), this is the only surviving example of this Deutsche Flugzeug Werke (DFW) type! The wings have long been lost but the fuselage was restored in Poland between 1998 and 1999, as per its appearance in Imperial German Air Service livery and markings in 1918.
Post war 63 were operated by Poland, using examples commandeered in 1919, along with others manufactured from parts and with further examples purchased in 1920. The Polish Air Force operated the type in combat during the Polish-Bolshevik War from 1919 to 1920 and were in use as a trainer until 1923.
LVG B.II (B.350/17) single engine basic training aircraft of the Imperial German Air Service – In 1915 the type was originally used for reconnaissance and training but being no match for newer Allied scout fighters, by 1916 it was relegated solely to the training role. The B.II was powered by a 100 hp Mercedes D.I 6 cylinder inline engine which provided a relatively gentile top speed of 105 km/h (65 mph). The museum example was produced in 1917 at the Schütte-Lanz Luftfahrtzeugbau works in Germany – it seems they have displayed it with a 4 cylinder engine though!
Again this aircraft is the only surviving aircraft of its type. It was preserved with wings believed to be from a 1914 B.I variant (not displayed on the aircraft). Post war, Poland had one in their inventory (Number 47) but it was damaged in 1919 and never repaired.
This is just a fraction of the aircraft and artefacts in this must visit museum. I cannot recommend enough a visit to the Polish Aviation Museum! In my next post I will show the museums World War One combat aircraft from the German Aviation Collection.