Fokker E.III

Fokker E.III
Max Immelmann in front of an E.III

This is the airplane that ushered in fighter combat. Before Tony Fokker fashioned his famous synchronizing gear to a machine gun so that it could fire through the prop, aerial combat was a hit-or-miss proposition. After his E.III swept the skies in 1915, air fighting developed into a deadly serious skill.

[ad#ad-1]The earliest planes of World War One had no means of firing through the propeller, which, being in the pilot’s line of sight and the plane’s forward direction, was the most effective place for a machine gun. There were two-seaters with a gun in the back. The British were working on their F.E. series of pusher biplanes with forward-mounted guns. The French were experimenting with high wing-mounted guns. Etc. But all these concepts had their drawbacks.

Until Roland Garros, a famous French aviator who had been the first to cross the Mediterranean, hit upon a simple solution. Since most of the bullets would pass through the prop blades, why not simply reinforce or armor the spot of the blades where some bullets would hit? While ricochets were a problem, Garros’ idea worked quite well. His Morane-Saulnier L monoplane, so equipped, shocked the German pilots, and briefly ruled the skies. Unfortunately (for him, at least), Garros was forced down behind German lines, and was captured before he could destroy his top-secret aeroplane.

The Germans delivered the craft to Anthony Fokker, a young Dutch engineer in their employ, and asked him to design a comparably equipped machine. Fokker studied the airplane as well as Garros’ rather crude deflection plates. While the airplane itself was good enough (the resemblance of the E.III to the Morane-Saulnier H is unmistakable and not coincidental), his precise engineer’s mind was repulsed by the idea of bullets blindly smacking into the propeller and hopefully not knocking it out of whack nor bouncing back to kill the pilot.

After some contemplation (and most likely reference to the work of a Swiss engineer Schneider who had been working on the problem) he devised a way of connecting the propeller shaft to the machine gun’s firing mechanism, and interrupting the gun whenever the propeller blade was in front of the muzzle. Actually, to be technically accurate, his synchronization gear allowed the gun to be turned on whenever the blades were out of the way. So the common term, “interrupter gear,” is inaccurate.

It was astonishingly successful, and in mid-1915 began the so-called “Fokker Scourge” when the German Eindekkers bested all their adversaries.

The airplane itself was basically Fokker’s M.5.K monoplane, based on the Morane-Saulnier. The first model with the synchronization gear was the E.I, appearing at the front in June, 1915. The first recorded aerial victory for the type occurred on July 15.

Specs for Fokker E.III:

Top Speed: 87.5 m.p.h.

Manufacturer: Fokker Flugzeug-Werke GmbH

Year: 1915

Engine: 100 h.p. Oberursel 9-cylinder rotary

Wingspan: 30 feet 10 inches

Weight: 1,342 lb.

Armament: 1 MG08 7.92mm machine gun

Germany’s great early-war aces, Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke, flew Eindekkers.

The Eindecker went through five variants:
1. Fokker M.5K/MG (A.III) – 5 built
2. Fokker E.I – 68 built
3. Fokker E.II – 49 built
4. Fokker E.III – 249 built
5. Fokker E.IV – 49 built

Photo from Rosebud’s WWI Archive.