Austro-Hungarian Web Site

Flyers of the First World War

© by Felix G. Game

When attempting to write our family histories we tend to run out of things to report. This often happens not because there is really nothing to report, but because we just have not looked hard enough, or not in the right places. There are usually additonal sources where information is waiting to be discovered. Almost any identifiable group of people will be engaged in record-keeping of some kind. Flyers were not only an identifiable group, they were a very special group.

Today I am addressing those Austrian and Hungarian family researchers who know, or suspect that one of their men were among the early flyers during the First World War (1914-1918) and who find it difficult to find information about their activities during that period. Such researchers may have inquired at the War Branch of the Austrian National Archives (Österreichisches Staatsarchiv - Kriegsarchiv) but may not have tried to find existing literature, or  works of art produced in the field during WW1 by a large number of writers and graphic artists in the pay of the government.

What could be more exciting for a family historian than to walk into a museum and come face to face with a portrait of grandfather in uniform leaning against his fragile biplane? Many of the books written, and pictures produced deal with events at a very personal level and they describe or depict  the individuals, providing not only their likeness but also showing us the conditions they had to endure. The family historian will usually find individuals positively identified by name,  rank, unit, and often find that the precise date of birth and, too often, the date on which they died for their country.

I am looking at the partial copy of a catalog from the Austrian  Museum of Military History in Vienna (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum) which discusses in detail the paintings and sketches which were used in one of their past exhibits. The implication seems to be that many such pictorial records exist (there were about 50 artists dedicated to painting air force related motives and personnel). Some of the artists had a flying background, but all of them traveled to where their subjects lived and died and were able to observe and describe the conditions under which the flyers carried out their daily assignments.

Because I only have a black and white photocopy, the pictures are not quite as exciting as the originals would be, yet most are of a quality I would definitely treasure if the people depicted were of my own family. If you have one of these early flyers in your tree, as I do, and especially if he was killed in action, as mine was, reading anything at all about their daily bravery and frustration in the face of failing engines and lacking supplies will become a very personal experience for you. Just consider the following brief passage from the introduction to the catalog:

They fly in open seats, often alone, seldom in pairs, without contact with the ground below, exposed to storms, rain, sun, bullets from enemy machine guns. All that is between their skin and the atmosphere is a leather jacket, cap and a pair of goggles ... supported by a nut shell, fragile, light structure made of wood and canvass and of a tangle of wires. They are literally grabbing at air.

To put the above even more into its proper perspective, Astronaut James Lovell of Apollo 13 fame, is quoted as saying when he looked at one of these early flying machines during his visit of the Museum of Military History in 1971 : "I would not like to sit in one of these, I think that would be a dangerous assignment".

Some of the flyers who appear in war-time art works.
(The catalog implies that the museum has many more.)

BanfieldGottfried, Freiherr von, Linienschiffsleutnant
BernáthMatthias, Hauptmann, Feldpilot (b. 23 Nov 1883 Németságh)
CavalarFerdinand, Ritter von Grabensprung, Hauptmann, Feldpilot (b. 15 Mar 1886 Aussig/Elbe)
DeutelmoserFerdinand, Oberstleutnant, Feldpilot (b. 6 Mar 1875 Pilsen, d. 14 Jan 1941 Wien)
Eccher Ab Echo Alfred, Edler von Marienberg, Hauptmann, Feldpilot (b.1878 Innsbruck d.1937 Wien)
KenzianGeorg, Edler von Kenzianhausen, Oberleutnant, Feldpilot (b. 1894 Linz)
KlasingGustav, Linienschiffsleutnant (b. 1884 Triest)
KrugHauptmann, et al - Fliegerkompanie Nr.30 at Czernowicz 1917
LanglOtto, Oberleutnant i.d.Res. (b. 28 Jun 1882 Mondsee)
LindnerPaul, Leutnant i.d.Res. (b. 29 Mar 1895 Wien)
MaierJosef von, Captain (b. 1889 Preßburg)
MaurigRichard, von Sarnfeld, Leutnant, Feldpilot (b. 21 Feb 1894, d. 5 Aug 1918)
MikuleczkyFranz, Linienschiffsleutnant, Feldpilot (b. 29 Sep 1884 Miskolc)
NiedermayerJosef, Seefähnrich i.d.Res des Matrosenkorps (b. 1893 Hermagor, d. 5 May 1918)
SchamburekAnton, Leutnant i.d.Res., Feldpilot (b. 1894 Wien)
StangerRudolf, Leutnant, Feldpilot (b. 1887 Mostar, d. 16 Nov 1916 Fasana Canal)
StellaOtto, Fähnrich, Feldpilot (b. 12 Apr 1894 Wien, d. 16 Jun 1918 Cismon)
UmlauffHans, Ritter von Frankwell, Oberst, Feldpilot (b. 1866 Braunschweig
WehoferOtto, Oberleutnant, Feldpilot (b. 21 Jul 1890 Wien)
WelkerFriedrich, Seefähnrich i.d.Res des Matrosenkorps (b.1890 Bácsfeketehegy, d.23 Feb 1918)

To Table of Contents meter
Last changed 2 Jul 2005