Sometimes, an aircraft arises that so dominates the battlefield, that it changes the conflict it is involved in for a period of time. Examples of this include the Fokker E.III Eindecker of the early part of WWI, and the North American P-51 Mustang (in its Rolls-Royce Merlin-engined form) from the middle of WW2. Another aircraft which was dominant – in this case over the Western Front in the last few months of World War One – was the Fokker D.VII fighter of the Imperial German Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte). By 1918, there was a chance that Germany could achieve a break-through on the Western Front. A separate peace had been made by the Germans with Russia, and manpower was being transferred from the East as fast as possible. With the Allied sea blockade taking an ever-greater toll, the Germans realized they had to force the issue, before the American forces arrived in large numbers.
Antony Fokker was a Dutch national – a native of a neutral country – but he had chosen to live and work in Germany. His company – Fokker Flugzeugwerke G.m.b.H. – produced some of the most potent fighter aircraft of WWI, and the D.VII, after some structural changes, including the lengthening of the fuselage, was probably the best. The D.VII used welded steel tubes to form the main structure, a technique which saved time during building, and was very advanced for the time. The winner of a competitive ‘fly-off’ of new fighter designs at Adlershof, Berlin in January, 1918, the D.VII started to reach frontline units in May, 1918, with Jasta 10 being the first to equip. Maximum speed was only 115 mph (the engine of initial production batches was a Mercedes D.III of 170 hp) but manoeuverability was outstanding, the aircraft seemingly able to ‘hang on its prop’ for long enough to get off a killing burst from its twin LMG 08/15 7.92 mm ‘Spandau’ machineguns. This aircraft, on display in the Royal Air Force Museum’s ‘Milestones of Flight’ gallery at Hendon, was licence-built by Ostdeutsche Albatros Werke G.m.b.H. (O.A.W.) at Schneidemühl, Pomerania (now the town of Pia, in Poland). It was ‘inherited’ by the Belgian Air Force (Aviation Militaire) as part of the general surrender of ALL Fokker D.VII aircraft demanded under the terms of the Armistice Agreement which ended the fighting in WWI – “In erster Linie alle Apparate D.VII ” (..especially all first line D.VII aircraft). Antony Fokker managed to secretly crate many components for D.VII and other aircraft, and send them on six trains to his native Holland (Kaiser Wilhelm II had fled there, also); these were later sold by the post-war Fokker concern.
The D.VII you can see here served with the Belgian Air Force, and was eventually disposed of to a civilian buyer (possibly on the Belgian Civil Register as OO-UPP). It was acquired in 1938 by the enthusiast Richard G. J. Nash – to form part of the renowned Nash Collection – and it was displayed at several locations, including the Science Museum, South Kensington. After the Second World War, the aircraft appeared at many events before it was bought (along with other aircraft) by the Royal Aeronautical Society. The Nash Collection was stored for a time at No 15 Maintenance Unit, RAF Wroughton, and then the RAF Museum Reserve Collection and Restoration Centre, RAF Cardington, Bedfordshire. The D.VII and the rest of the Nash Collection was sold by the RAeS to the Ministry of Defence, acting on behalf of the Royal Air Force Museum, in 1992, and a full restoration programme begun. The camouflage pattern you can see here is the correct, late-war, 5-colour lozenge, printed linen, “Flugzeugstoff“, with the mauve and green pattern that all O.A.W. – built aircraft had on their noses!
The Fokker D.VII was a difficult aircraft to meet in combat, even in the hands of an average pilot. For example, Hermann Goering had no less than 22 kills - the last whilst flying the D.VII. In December, 1918 Goering was commander of Jagdgeschwader 1, and when ordered to surrender his D.VIIs to the Allies, he and his pilots deliberately damaged them on landing. The Allies were fortunate, indeed, that the Fokker D.VII did not arrive earlier in the war.