WWI Photographs and Letters
Early German Flying Ace
– Lieutenant Max Immelmann –
Predecessor of Richtofen
Germany, France, 1912-1918. First World War photographs and letters of German participation in the Great War, featuring a personal archive of 34 manuscript letters and 6 postcards penned by leading pioneer fighter aviator German Lieutenant Max Immelmann; 3 photographs printed in postcard format of which two are rare portraits of Immelmann; two albums together containing 260 photographs with manuscript captions and containing at least two photographs of Immelmann’s fatal crash landing and his funeral procession the same day, and many photographs of the war unfolding in France; six war related newspaper clippings of which four comprise a serialized recollection of the Flanders battlefield. An Immelmann family archive, all text is in German. Photographs vary in size, the smaller measuring approximately 4,5 x 4 cm, and the largest 17,5 x 12,5 cm. Letters and notes vary in size, most of which are in manuscript, with leafs measuring between 17 x 13 cm and 22 x 28 cm. Minor age-toning, some wear to album boards, otherwise in Very Good condition, beautifully preserved, a generous WWI archive offering exceedingly scarce photographs and private letters of Max Immelmann.
Lieutenant Max Immelmann (1890-1916) PLM, was one of Germany’s first fighter pilots, a leading pioneer aviator and flying ace of the First World War, during which time he rapidly gained an impressive score of air victories. He died while serving in the German Flying Corps on 18 June 1916, only three months prior to his 26th birthday.
Immelmann’s aviation feats and hero status predates that of the famous Manfred von Richthofen who entered training as a pilot in October 1915 after being inspired by a chance meeting with German ace fighter pilot Oswald Boelcke. By this time, Immelmann already had several air combat victories to his name, and was given the unimaginable mission of being sole pilot to defend the airspace over the city of Lille. Richthofen joined Kampfgeschwader 2 [Bomber Squadron] in March 1916, and on 26 April 1916, he shot a French Nieuport aircraft down over Fort Douaumont, this being his first victory, occuring two months before Immelmann’s fateful encounter in June.
Lieutenant Max Immelmann (1890-1916):
At fifteen years of age, in 1905, Immelmann was enrolled in the Dresden Cadet School. He joined the Eisenbahnregiment No 2 (Railway Regiment) on 4 April 1911, in pursuit of a commission. He was granted a leave from the army in March 1912 to study mechanical engineering in Dresden.
A lesser-known fact about Immelmann, he was a member of the local air force club, where he was employed as an official in the triangular flight 1913-1914 at the Dresden-Kaditz airfield which had been designed for the Zeppelin dirigible airships.
[Inaugurated in the presence of the King of Prussia and thousands of spectators on 26 October 1913, it was also selected as the station for the Royal Prussian Airship Battalion No 3. Until the outbreak of World War I, Kaditz had regular air displays, as well as visiting airships and aircraft. During war the airfield was restricted to military operations. On September 1918 it was returned to the city, but in 1926 it was permanently closed. Today, nothing remains of the former airfield.]
At the outbreak of the Great War, Immelmann was called to active service as a reserve officer candidate and assigned to Eisenbahnregiment No. 1 [Railway Regiment] in August 1914. Within a few months, on 12 November 1914, he was transferred to Die Fliegertruppe [Flying Corps], later known as the Luftstreitkräfte [Air Force], taking his aviation pilot training at Johannisthal Air Field, near Berlin.
After the standard few months of training, a young man with heroic ambition, Immelmann served as a pilot with Feldflieger Abteilung [Field Flying Company] beginning in February, initially stationed in northern France. On several occasions he engaged in combat while flying the L.V.G. two-seaters with which his units were equipped, but never with any success.
On 3 June 1915, he was shot down by a French pilot but managed to land safely behind German lines. Immelmann was decorated with the Iron Cross, Second Class for preserving his aircraft. On 1 August 1915, he gained his first confirmed air victory of the war, with the lMG 08 machine gun-armed E.13/15 aircraft. This was only two weeks after Lieutenant Kurt Wintgens had obtained the very first confirmed German aerial victory on 15 July. During September, three more victories followed. In October 1915, Immelmann became solely responsible for the air defense of the city of Lille, earning him the nickname of “Der Adler von Lille” [The Eagle of Lille].
One of Germany’s two leading ace pilots, his competitor and colleague was Oswald Boelcke. The two repeatedly exchanged the title of “most aerial victories” as the war progressed. Immelmann was the first pilot to be awarded the Pour le Mérite, Germany’s highest military honour, receiving it on the day of his eighth win, 12 January 1916. The medal became unofficially known as the “Blue Max” in the German Air Service in honor of Immelmann. His medal was presented by Kaiser Wilhelm II on 12 January 1916.
In the late afternoon of 18 June 1916, Immelmann led a flight of four Fokker E.III Eindeckers in search of a flight of eight F.E.2b reconnaissance aircraft of 25 Squadron Royal Flying Corps over Sallaumines in northern France. The British flight had just crossed the lines near Arras, with the intent of photographing the German infantry and artillery positions within the area, when Immelmann’s flight intercepted them. After a long-running fight, scattering the participants over an area of some 30 square miles. Still flying late in the evening hours, Immelmann in Fokker E.III, serial 246/16 encountered No. 25 Squadron again, this time being gunned down to a fateful crash.
Many Germans saw Immelmann as invincible and could not conceive the notion that he had fallen to enemy fire. To subside general panic, the German Air Service at the time claimed that the loss was due to “friendly” anti-aircraft fire. His body was recovered by the German 6 Armee from the twisted wreckage. He was given a state funeral and buried in his home of Dresden. His body was later exhumed, however, and cremated at Dresden-Tolkewitz. The present-day Luftwaffe has dubbed Squadron AG-51 the “Immelmann Squadron” in his honour.
The archive includes the following:
A large lot of manuscript signed letters and a scant few postcards written by Max Immelmann, dated as early as 9 October 1911 while in his hometown of Dresden, most penned in 1914, and one as late as 1915, the year before his death, providing an extremely rare opportunity for insight into his life and personality at the dawn of the war. Much of the correspondence is addressed to his fiancé Elsbeth Nenendorf at Finsterwalde, approximately one hour from Dresden. [Elisabeth may be the compiler of this archive, conceivably having a brother of other loved one serving in the war as well, possibly with or near Immelmann.]
Two portrait photographic postcards of Max Immelmann, one of which was made by Berlin photographer Willi Sanke who is best remembered for having produced some 600-700 numbered photo-postcards of German aviators in World War I. The present example being number 340, features Immelmann’s signature and Sanke’s studio trademark ‘Postkartenvertrieb W. Sanke’ embedded within the image.
Large Photograph Album with primary source scenes spanning the duration of the war from 1914 to 1918 headed “Kriegs-Erinnerungen aus den Weltkrieg” [War Memories from the Great War], containing 185 photographs. Scenes include the German Flying Corps in the Vosges Mountains from 1915-1916, in the forests and valley of the Reichackerkopf mountain in Alsace just west of Münster, and also in Aisne in 1917. Devastation at numerous locations in Germany is captured, as well as ruined army vehicles, abandoned canons, and felled aircraft. Exceedingly scarce is an original snapshot photograph of Immelmann’s downed aircraft which is placed next to a photograph of his formal funeral procession held the day of his death, 18 June 1916. Also shown in this album is Fort Douaumont, captioned 1917-18, which is where Manfred von Richthofen made his first successful attack one year before. Six later photographs show a couple visiting a war cemetery and monuments. 4to. string-tied album, red cloth boards, grey cardstock leaves. Album measures approximately 35 x 24 x 3 cm.
This album accompanied by a newsprint four-part publication titled “Auf Flanderns Schlachtfeldern von einem Kriegsteilnehmere” [On the Battlefields of Flanders, by a Participant] being an anonymous firsthand account, loosely placed within.
Album of 72 photographs taken between 1914-1916 which serves as an excellent illustration of the German military uniforms, badges and medals, and features a rare photograph of Generalfeldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg with ground corps, all donning the Pickelhaube helmet. Also shown are base camps and interior of officers’ quarters, aircraft, hangars, a large automatic firing weapon, modes of transportation, and wartime memorials for German aviators made of hand painted aeroplane propellers, erected in forests. Two additional photographs are placed within. 8vo. string-tied album, brown paper boards with the German Iron Cross in black and silver to front, olive-grey cardstock leaves. Album measures approximately 29 x 21 x 0,5 cm.