The First Flying Circus
During early 1917 , it became apparent to the German High Command that they would always be outnumbered in air operations over the Western Front. The average Jasta could only muster some 6 or 8 aircraft in total for a patrol, and would often face a succession of Allied patrols. In order to maintain some impact and local command of the air the Jastas began (unofficially) to fly in larger, composite groups. By mid 1917 the first official grouping of Jastas saw JG 1 formed. Its role was to simple; to achieve localized air superiority where ever it was sent and to deny Allied air operations over a location for a specified period. The unit was mobile, and JG 1 and its logistic support traveled by train to whatever part of the front-line where local air superiority was needed, often at short notice.
Jagdgeschwader Nr.I was formed in June of 1917. The unit consisting of Jastas 4, 6, 10 and 11. JG.I was the prototype for the "Flying Circus" concept. The name did not refer to their colorful aircraft. It ws due to the rail operated train car system which provided the unit with the speed to shift from one part of the front to another as needed. The circus could provide aerial superiority over the Allies by concentrating their aircraft on a single sector of the front.
This is Udet's iconic red and white Fokker D.VII. The upper wing was painted with diagonal candy stripes. The lower surface of the wings was covered with lozenge pattern cloth. LO was the nickname of his childhood sweetheart.
Janzen's Fokker Dr.I started with the streaked camoflauge pattern, and then decorated with with white stripes and a black aft section of the fuselage. The original iron cross appears to have been overpainted with a dark circle and the Maltese cross was painted on the black section.
Heldman's Albatros D.V was painted in a yellow scheme which was used by many of this Jasta's aircraft. In some cases the yellow was only applied on the propeller spinner, in other cases the entire aircraft was yellow.
This is an early aircraft of Lothar von Richtofen. The Albatros D.III has red flash and a yellow rudder and a natural varnished finish which would be used in different degrees on his later airplanes. In the late years of the war his Fokker D.VII was painted yellow with a red cowling.
The History of Jagdgeschwader Nr.I
The first commander of Jagdgeschwader Nr.I was the famous ace, Manfred Frhr. von Richthofen. Initially based at Marke ( Jasta 11), Cuene (Jasta 4), Bisseghem (Jasta 6) and Heule (Jasta 10), Richthofen had carte blanche to select his unit commanders and recruit individual pilots into JG 1, and alternately to transfer out any pilots he did not feel were up to standard. Thus 9-kill ace Lt.Eduard von Dostler and the rising Lt.Hans von Adam were soon posted to Jasta 6, and Lt.Werner Voss into Jasta 10. This policy had the effect of making the Jagdgeschwader an elite unit, but by robbing lesser Jastas of their best pilots also reduced the overall standard of the average Jasta. JG 1 itself also suffered a dilution of talent when competent members were posted away to command their own Jastas in late 1917, when the number of Jastas were doubled from 40 to 80.
JG 1 was soon flying intensively over the Flanders battlefield above the Allied offensive started in June 1917.
Richtofen was severely wounded in the head on 6 July, leading elements of JG 1 in an attack on 20 Squadron F.E.2d's. Oblt. Kurt von Doering, CO of Jasta 4, took over temporary command and Jastas 4 and 11 shot down 9 Allied aircraft the next day. Richthofen resumed command on 25 July, until a period of convalescence leave on 6 September.
JG 1 was the first unit to operationally trial the new Fokker Dr.I triplane, the first two examples of which were received on 21 August 1917. Jasta 10's Werner Voss would be the triplane's greatest exponent, scoring 10 victories with it in just 21 days before his death in combat.
Richthofen returned to JG 1 on 23 October, and around this time a number of fatal crashes involving the Fokker Dr.I saw JG 1 Technical Officer Lt. Konstantin Krefft ground the unit's triplanes until modifications were carried out in early December. The unit meantime soldiered on with the Albatros D.V.
JG 1 was rushed from Ypres to Cambrai by 23 November 1917, following the launch of the British offensive, and did much to stabilize the air war over the battlefield when the bad weather permitted.
Poor weather in early 1918 saw little opportunity for JG 1 to score, although the unit were in the forefront of defensive fighter operations during the major German offensive launched on 21 March 1918. By April 1918 the formation was flying from Harbonnieres, the most south westerly airfield they were to ultimately occupy. The newly formed RAF however maintained a degree of air superiority, with heavily escorted artillery observation and reconnaissance two-seaters operating effectively over the rapidly moving ground battle below. Most of JG 1's victims at this time were the low flying fighter bombers, particularly Sopwith Camels.
After von Richthofen's death in April 1918, Hauptmann Wilhelm Reinhard became JG 1 Commanding Officer. On 10 May JG 1 claimed its 300th victory while on 20 May the unit received the honorary title of JG 1 'Richthofen'. Soon after JG 1 moved to the 7th Army front to support the forthcoming Aisne offensive, commencing on 27 May. JG 1 moved to Guise, and then Puiseux Ferme, operating primarily against the French and the newly arrived American Air Forces.
By mid-June JG 1 was fully equipped with the Fokker D.VII, the first having been tested operationally in May. After Reinhard was killed in a flying accident on 3 July 1918, Oberleutnant Hermann Göring became JG 1's third and last commander of the war on 14 July.
The Geschwader moved again on 19 July to Soissons, claiming its 500th victory on 25 July. Yet another move followed on 10 August, to the 2nd Army front west of Saint Quentin. JG 1's then top scorer, 53-kill Lt.Erich Lowenhardt, was killed in an air collision on this day.
Having been subjected to intensive operations over the Amiens battle in August 1918, by mid-September an exhausted JG 1 was withdrawn from the British part of the front, having lost all four Jasta commanders by the end of August; Lowenhardt of Jasta 10 was killed, Jasta 6's Co Lt. Paul Wenzel and Lothar von Richthofen of Jasta 11 both wounded and hospitalized, and Lt. Ernst Udet (Jasta 4) exhausted and sent on leave. JG 1 scored just 17 claims during September, despite the month seeing the highest losses for the Allied Air Forces of the war (The Jasta force claiming some 721 victories for the month). For the next three months the likes of Lt. Friedrich Noltenius in Jasta 11, Jasta 6's CO Ulrich Neckel and Lt. Arthur Laumann (Jasta 10) did the majority of the scoring.
Thereafter until the end of the war shortages of fuel and spares, increasing Allied numerical air superiority and continual retreats in the face of Allied ground advances meant JG 1 struggled to emulate earlier successes.
From June 1917 until November 1918, JG 1 claimed 644 Allied aircraft destroyed, while losing 52 pilots killed in action.
- Jagdgeschwader 1 (World War I). (2011, July 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:16, July 25, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jagdgeschwader_1_(World_War_I)&oldid=437397906
- Peter Kilduff, "Richthofen - Beyond the Legend of the Red Baron" 1993
- Franks, Norman; Frank Bailey, and Russell Guest. "Above the Lines". London: Grub Street, 1998.
- Franks, Norman; Frank Bailey, and Russell Guest. "Bloody April, Black September" 1995