Jagdstaffel 2 ‘Boelcke’: Von Richthofen’s Mentor
by Greg Van Wyngarden, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, England, 2007, $20.95.
To any scholar of fighter development during World War I, the second German name that comes to mind after Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen is Oswald Boelcke, the pioneering ace who taught him and wrote the first tactical fighter doctrine, which has only been refined since then to adapt to higher-performance aircraft. Having already written about the Red Baron’s Flying Circus and the second fighter wing that emulated it, Jagdgeschwader II, Greg Van Wyngarden focuses on the squadron that Boelcke led in Jagdstaffel 2 ‘Boelcke’: Von Richthofen’s Mentor.
Besides serving as a nursery for the Boelcke Dicta and a generation of German aces using the new, twin-gun Albatros D.II fighter— Richthofen being foremost among them, of course—Jasta 2 went on to score 336 confirmed victories, second only to Richthofen’s Jasta 11 with 350. It was also the only Ger man squadron to be more widely known by a name than a number, honoring the memory of its late first commander as “Jasta Boelcke” or just “Jasta B.”
Van Wyngarden devotes as much space to the extraordinary amount of human drama and tragedy in Jasta B’s history as he does to its combat record. Boelcke was killed on October 28, 1916, following a midair collision with one of his best friends, Reserve 2nd Lt. Erwin Böhme. A disturbing number of his successors held brief commands. First Lieu – tenant Stefan Kirmaier was killed in action on November 22. Captain Franz Walz was transferred on June 9, 1917, at the request of subordinates who skirted the chain of command, throwing a demoralizing pall over the unit. Böhme was killed in action on November 29, Lieutenant Walter von Bülow-Bothkamp died on January 6, 1918, and his acting successor, Lieutenant Max Müller, was killed three days later. After Lieutenant Karl Bolle took charge on February 20, 1918, however, the Staffel, attached to JG.III and equipped with Fokker Dr.Is, began to regain its old élan. When the war ended and Jasta B was required to turn in its fighters to the victorious British, its mechanics defiantly decorated the sides of its Fokker D.VIIs with detailed tallies of all the “Englanders” that each of their respective pilots had shot down.
In addition to his proven abilities as a meticulous researcher, Greg Van Wyngarden’s narrative skills get better with each volume he writes—and this latest effort is a case in point. Any enthusiast of the first air war interested in comparing the facts with the legends will find Jagdstaffel 2 ‘Boelcke’ a compelling as well as an informative read.
Originally published in the May 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.