The Jagdstaffeln were specialized fighter
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

 squadrons in the Luftstreitkräfte
The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte , known before October 1916 as Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches , or simply Die Fliegertruppen, was the air arm of the Imperial German Army during World War I...

 during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...



Before April 1916, the German Military Aviation Service, (Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches) which had existed since 1912, was largely organised in small general purpose units (Feldfliegerabteilung
Feldflieger Abteilung
Feldflieger Abteilung or Field Flying Companies were the pioneering field aviation units of the Luftstreitkräfte in World War I.-Composition:...

) - although the formation of the first specialised bombing and close support units had begun during 1915. The Feldfliegerabteilung were completely subservient to the Army command to which they were attached.

As a result of the superior performance of the Royal Flying Corps
Royal Flying Corps
The Royal Flying Corps was the over-land air arm of the British military during most of the First World War. During the early part of the war, the RFC's responsibilities were centred on support of the British Army, via artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance...

 during the Battle of the Somme, a complete reorganisation of the German flying service took place. It was greatly expanded, renamed the Deutschen Luftstreitkräfte (reflecting a far greater degree of autonomy, although it remained an integral part of the army), and acquired a far greater number and variety of specialist units, including the first single-seater fighter units in German service, the Jagdstaffeln (literally, "hunting squadrons").


Fighter aircraft in German service had initially been issued in small numbers to various ordinary Feldfliegerabteilungen for escort duties. Such pioneering pilots as Kurt Wintgens
Kurt Wintgens
Leutnant Kurt Wintgens was a German World War I fighter ace. He was the first military fighter pilot to score a victory over an opposing aircraft in an aircraft armed with a synchronized machine gun. Wintgens was the recipient of the Iron Cross and the Blue Max.-Background:Wintgens was born into a...

, Max Immelmann
Max Immelmann
Max Immelmann was the first German World War I flying ace. He was a great pioneer in fighter aviation and is often mistakenly credited with the first aerial victory using a synchronized gun...

 and Oswald Boelcke
Oswald Boelcke
Oswald Boelcke was a German flying ace of the First World War and one of the most influential patrol leaders and tacticians of the early years of air combat. Boelcke is considered the father of the German fighter air force, as well as the "Father of Air Fighting Tactics"; he was the first to...

 pioneered the more aggressive use of the early Fokker Eindecker
Fokker Eindecker
The Fokker Eindecker was a German World War I monoplane single-seat fighter aircraft designed by Dutch engineer Anthony Fokker. Developed in April 1915, the Eindecker was the first purpose-built German fighter aircraft and the first aircraft to be fitted with synchronizer gear, enabling the pilot...

 fighters, but there were no actual fighter units. By April 1916, the air superiority established by the Eindecker pilots had long evaporated, and a target was set to establish 37 new squadrons in the next 12 months - entirely equipped with single seat fighters, and manned by specially selected and trained pilots, to counter the fighter squadrons already successfully operated by the Royal Flying Corps
Royal Flying Corps
The Royal Flying Corps was the over-land air arm of the British military during most of the First World War. During the early part of the war, the RFC's responsibilities were centred on support of the British Army, via artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance...

 and the French Aéronautique Militaire.

Boelcke, as the leading fighter pilot of the day, was called on to organise the manning, equipment and training, of the prototype for these new squadrons. This was Jasta 2
Jasta 2
Jasta 2 was one of the best-known German Luftstreitkräfte Squadrons in World War I. It was founded by the great aerial tactician Oswald Boelcke, and was the incubator of several notable aviation careers.-Formation:...

 - the second of the first seven Jagdstaffeln to be established (on paper). Initially Jasta 2 was equipped with a motley collection of fighters, including the various early Fokker
Fokker D.III
-Bibliography:* Gray, Peter and Owen Thetford. German Aircraft of the First World War. London: Putnam, 1962. ISBN 0-93385-271-1*Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. The Complete Book of Fighters. New York: Smithmark, 1994. ISBN 0-8317-3939-8....

 and Halberstadt
Halberstadt D.II
The Halberstadt D.II was a biplane fighter aircraft of the Luftstreitkräfte that served through the period of Allied air superiority in early 1916, but had begun to be superseded in the Jagdstaffeln by the superior Albatros fighters by the autumn of that year.-Design and development:The D.II was...

 "D" types. In September Jasta 2 began to receive the first of the superior Albatros
Albatros D.I
|-See also:...

 fighters that would enable the German fighter squadrons to re-establish German air superiority in the following year. Boelcke himself was killed in an air collision on October 28 - but his tactics, especially formation flying and a combination of aggressiveness and prudence known as the Dicta Boelcke
Dicta Boelcke
The Dicta Boelcke is a list of fundamental aerial maneuvers of aerial combat formulated by the first great German flying ace of the First World War, Oswald Boelcke.-1. Try to secure the upper hand before attacking...

, remained the core of Jagdstaffel practice throughout the Luftstreitkräfte fighter arm for the rest of the war. Several of the pilots of Jasta 2, trained by Boelcke, became noted fighter leaders in their own right - most notably, of course, Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen , also widely known as the Red Baron, was a German fighter pilot with the Imperial German Army Air Service during World War I...


By April 1917 the 37 Jastas projected a year before were in service, and had established German air superiority on the Western Front - in fact April 1917 (known ever since as Bloody April
Bloody April
During the First World War, the month of April 1917 was known as Bloody April by the Royal Flying Corps . The RFC suffered particularly severe losses — about three times as many as the Imperial German Army Air Service over the same period — but continued its primary role in support of the ground...

) is still regarded as the most disastrous period in the history of British military aviation. This ascendency was not to last, as new allied fighters (most famously, the S.E.5a
Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5
The Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 was a British biplane fighter aircraft of the First World War. Although the first examples reached the Western Front before the Sopwith Camel and it had a much better overall performance, problems with its Hispano-Suiza engine, particularly the geared-output H-S...

, the Sopwith Camel
Sopwith Camel
The Sopwith Camel was a British First World War single-seat biplane fighter introduced on the Western Front in 1917. Manufactured by Sopwith Aviation Company, it had a short-coupled fuselage, heavy, powerful rotary engine, and concentrated fire from twin synchronized machine guns. Though difficult...

, and the SPAD S.XIII
|-See also:-Bibliography:* Bruce, J.M. The Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps . London: Putnam, 1982. ISBN 0-370-30084-X.* Sharpe, Michael. Biplanes, Triplanes, and Seaplanes. London: Friedman/Fairfax Books, 2000. ISBN 1-58663-300-7....

) were already starting to come into service, all of which more than matched the last of the Albatros fighters to see squadron service - the disappointing D.V/D.Va
Albatros D.V
|-See also:-Bibliography:*Bennett, Leon. Gunning for the Red Baron. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2006. ISBN 1-58544-507-X....


By this time, if not earlier, employment of the jagdstaffeln had become concentrated on the task of hindering the work of the Allied two-seater Corps, reconnaissance and bombing squadrons over the front itself, and German held territory. Offensive incursions by fighters any distance behind Allied lines were generally avoided, as risking a war of attrition that Germany was unlikely to win.

Publicity surrounding the successful pilots of the jagdstaffeln rapidly established their status as elite units, and the various squadrons became associated with the different kingdoms of the German Empire. Most Jastas (eventually about 67 of them) were considered to be specifically Prussian; however other jastas were associated with the kingdoms of Bavaria, Saxony, and Wuerttemberg. The Bavarian units in particular were associated for organisational and supply purposes with the (theoretically independent) Bavarian army, which did not add to overall efficiency in these departments.

In order to obtain a local and temporary air superiority larger fighter units were established, composed of several Jastas - and called Jagdgeschwader and Jagdgruppen. These units were moved from one section of the front to another, as the tactical situation demanded. The most famous of these units was Jagdgeschwader 1
Jagdgeschwader 1 (World War 1)
The Jagdgeschwader 1 of World War I, was a fighter unit comprising four Jastas or 'fighter squadrons', originally raised by combining Jastas 4, 6, 10 and 11, on 24 June 1917 with Manfred von Richthofen as commodore...

- composed of Jastas 4, 6, 10 and 11, and commanded until his death by Richthofen.

By March 1918 there were 80 Jagdstaffeln in the Luftstreitkräfte - most of them still entirely or partially equipped with Albatros D.Vs. Shortly after this, long overdue re-equipment with new types, most notably the Fokker D.VII
Fokker D.VII
The Fokker D.VII was a German World War I fighter aircraft designed by Reinhold Platz of the Fokker-Flugzeugwerke. Germany produced around 3,300 D.VII aircraft in the summer and autumn of 1918. In service, the D.VII quickly proved itself to be a formidable aircraft...

, began - which for the first time since mid 1917 gave the Jastas equipment that matched their opponents'.

Personal colour schemes

German aircraft left the factory in a standard finish - although this differed from one manufacturer to another. Initial clear varnish on both fabric and wooden surfaces had changed by 1916 to various camouflage schemes. In the Jagdstaffeln, however, this gave way to a riot of colour, as individual pilots took to repainting their machines to their own personal preferences.

In January 1917, when he took over Jasta 11 as its new commander, Richthofen celebrated by painting his Albatros red. His squadron followed suit - all painting at least part of their machines red - while reserving to their commander the distinction of an all-red machine.

Other Jastas soon adopted the same fashion - until few German fighters flew entirely in the original manufacturers' finish - their fuselages in particular at least sporting their pilots' personal monogram, or perhaps his favourite colour(s) - even if the wings remained in camouflage. A squadron theme was sometimes followed, with all or most machines decorated in similar colours, or with similar motifs - but generally personal fancy seems to have been the order of the day.

More than one pilot (on both sides) recorded that the resulting contrast with the plain khaki brown of the RFC fighters was helpful to all involved in rapidly distinguishing friend from foe in the hurly burly of a dogfight. It also may well have visually aided the accreditation of air victories claimed by individual German fighter pilots.

External links

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