Early in 1918, in the fast fading light of early evening, five Albatros fighters of German Jagdstaffel 50 cruise just above a low cloud deck. Shark-like among the clouds, the sleek Albatroses created havoc all along the western front when introduced in 1917. But by the early months of 1918, they were badly outclassed by the French SPAD and English SE-5 and Sopwith Camel fighters.
Formed at Bromberg, Germany at FeldFlieger Ersatz Abteilung (FEA) 13 on 23 December 1917, Jasta 50 initially came under the command of Lt. Heinrich Arntzen. The unit was formed as part of the Amerika Programme, an attempt to counter the increasingly aggressive American Squadrons then arriving in France. Equipped with the Albatros D.3 (OAW), the unit was moved to Autremencourt on the German 7th Army front in early January 1918. The OAW variant produced by the Ostdeustche Albatros Werke featured the beautifully streamlined fuselage of the family line, the excellent 160 HP in-line 6 cylinder water-cooled Mercedes engine and was armed with two forward firing .303 caliber ďSpandauĒ machines guns. The Albatros D.3 and nominally improved D.5ís equipped virtually every German Fighter Squadron at some time during the war.
Jasta 50 chose the white tail markings with diagonal black bands as the unit insignia and carried this marking from itís inception to the armistice. Dynamic black and white markings just aft of the cockpit were added by the individual pilots and these bold markings against the already attractive varnished plywood fuselage, made for a striking aircraft. The wings were finished in the standard polygonal camouflage fabric peculiar to German aircraft of the period. Working from near to far, these five Albatroses were flown by Uffz. Fritz Liese, Ltn. Buddeberg, Vizefeldwebel Wittenfeld, Vzfw. Steinstratter and Ltn. Hilmar Glocklen.
On 25 January, Ltn. Arntzen burned a French observation balloon near Pontevert for the unitís first confirmed victory. Arntzen would continue to score regularly until badly wounded during an attack on another balloon in May. On June 11th, Ltn. Hans von Freden, a career soldier already credited with four victories, assumed command of the unit.
Stationed in the same sector as the newly arrived American First Pursuit Group, Jasta 50ís boldly marked Albatros fighters became a regular participant in the struggles for aerial superiority along the front. On July 14th, 1918, a mixed flight of Jasta 50 Fokker D.7ís and Albatroses attacked a flight of American Nieuport 28ís from the 95th Aero Squadron. Among the Americans was Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, youngest son of former President Teddy Roosevelt. Young Quentin was just 20 years old and having scored his first kill just 4 days before, he was hailed at home by the press and his parents, an icon to the world of the US resolve to throw itís best into the conflict.
In the ensuing fight, Roosevelt was separated from his flight and closely pursued by two Germans. Last seen beneath the formation and under attack, he failed to rejoin his squadron by days end. A few days later, the German Air Service dropped a note stating simply Roosevelt had been killed in action and had been buried with military honors on the spot where he fell. Post war stories credited Roosevelt to Ltn. Karl Thom, a 27 victory ace. Although it made for good press, it simply was not true. Like many fliers who lost their lives in defense of the nation, Roosevelt was shot down by one of the legion of unknown pilots. Unteroffizier (Corporal) Karl Emil Graper, an average pilot in an average unit claimed Roosevelt as his first - and only - victory of the war. After Quentins grave was liberated by advancing American troops, his father was asked if his sons remains should be shipped home for reburial. ďLet the tree lie where it fellĒ he replied and so Quentin rests to this day in France.
Ltn. Arntzen continued to lead Jasta 50 through the tumultuous retreats in the summer and fall months adding 16 more confimred kills to cap his score at 20. Although unboken in spirit and equipped with the excellent Fokker D.7, the unit suffered the same travails as other units in the German Air Service. Shortages of fuel, ammunition, replacement parts for their aircraft and most importantly replacement pilots, the unit scored only 45 victories before wars end but suffered only 9 casualties.
- American Society of Aviation Artists International Juried Exhibition, 1997, Boeing Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington.
- James V. Roy Award, (Best in Show), at 1997 ASAA Exhitbiion
- Award of Merit, 1997 ASAA Exhibtiion
- 1998 CAE Simuflite Aviation Art Exhibition and Competition
- Cover art for Over the Front, Volume 12, #3, Fall 1997.