The Importance Of Anthony Fokker In Aircraft Production Of WWI

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Pilot Anthony Fokker

Noted early 20th century aviation pioneer, Anthony Fokker of Dutch heritage, was born in 1890 in the Dutch East Indies (modern day Indonesia). Anthony is the son of Herman and Anna Fokker. The Fokkers linage can be traced back to Middleburg in Southwest Holland. The Fokkers were wealthy shipowners and merchants who profited from colonial trade in the 19th century. Anthony’s father Herman chose a different path in life than his siblings. Rather than follow in his father’s foot steps he chose to live abroad in the East Indies. In 1888 young Herman returned to Rotterdam in search of a wife. He and Anna soon settled in as coffee plantation owners in Blitar in the region of Batavia (Jakarta) on a sprawling 500-acre estate on the Southern slope of Kelud. Soon Herman and Anna had two additions to the family a son Anthony, and daughter Catharina (Toos). The growing youngsters were in the constant care of their babu (native nurse) as they began to explore their tropical surroundings.

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Anthony Fokker in the Dutch East Indies

Despite the Fokkers best efforts, the plantation proved to be unsuccessful for a variety reason. Leaf disease with which his brand of coffee beans (java) was susceptible to, proved to be disastrous and was too much to overcome. After several crop failures, he and Anna made the decision to return to the Netherlands. When Anthony enrolled in elementary school, it became apparent that he would struggle with education just as his father had done. Anthony would later say “School and I didn’t agree at all.” It didn’t take long for Anthony to discover the talent he would become famous for later in life, his ability tinker and be creative. The one place Anthony could find solace in and live-out his creative fantasies was the attic of their home. It was here that he created and built apparatuses he found interesting. This included an array of toy trains, miniature steam engines, Bunsen burners, and even tinkering with electricity. In one episode his father refused to buy him a boat he wanted. Refusing to give up Anthony built a small canoe, then lowered it from the attic, he then took it to a nearby wharf to be sealed and painted.

Anthony Fokker’s Education Prior to WWI

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Anthony, Anna, Toos

The next chapter of his education would prove to be just as difficult as the first. His parents enrolled him at the Municipal Higher Civilian School, that had a five-year program for secondary education. This required an entrance test for acceptance, and to the surprise of Herman and Anna he passed. Anthony managed to skate-by in his first year, however, his second year was simply miserable. Very unmotivated, Anthony failed classes in geography, history, even Dutch, French and German. Most troubling was his failure in draftsmanship. By this time Anthony was showing an interest in aviation. In 1909 there was very little documentation about the aerodynamics of flight available. Especially to a young boy who had proven to be a poor student. However, Anthony relied on his keen ability to understand technical jargon, so he attempted to find information that was available. It was also at this time that Anthony found a kindred spirit in his former classmate Frits Cremer. Frits was just as rebellious as Anthony. Frits was also from a wealthy family that lived in a large estate outside of Haarlem. With great wealth at their disposal the young lads had the means to finance their experiments. The lads, with their infinite imagination, set out to conquer a perplexing problem automobile drivers faced. In time where roads were porous, tires filled with air would often puncture. The lads came upon an idea of a steel shackle belt that would attach to the wheels, bonded by springs and torsion rods. Something once used in carriage wheels of the day. Anthony’s father gave the lads an assist when he prepared to file a patent only to find out that another patent like theirs was filed in France.

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Young Anthony Fokker

In 1909 the young lads faced another dilemma when they were inducted into military service. Something they were certainly not in favor of. They worked hard to come up with ways to fail the physical exam, to no avail. However, Frits family wealth helped him to avoid service when his father appealed. During the appeal process, Frit’s father sent him to Malaysia. Anthony had no such luck and reported for duty in March 1910 at a garrison station in Naarden This was a disaster for Anthony, and he worked every day to find ways to get a medical dis-charge. One scheme that appeared to work was faking a bad cough that landed him in sick bay. But it would take an ankle injury and a bribe that helped him to obtain a medical dis-charge.

Anthony Fokker Flight Training Prior to WWI

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Anthony Fokker First Airplane

Anthony’s dream was to attend the flying school of Antoinette in Chalons-en-Champagne near Reims, which, at that time, was the hub of French aviation. But again, there was a disagreement with Anthony and his parents about his future. Understandably, his parents were concerned that their son lacked a trade to rely on in life. Herman recalled how he too had been as rebellious as Anthony in his youth. His father (named Anthony) thought it best send him to a boarding school in Germany to help him mature. His father had seen how much Anthony and Frits had enjoyed tinkering with automobiles and thought it best he attends the Technikum in Bengin, a short distance from Mainz, Germany. Here Anthony would pursue studies in automobile technology. To no one’s surprise, Anthony immediately became disenchanted with his new surroundings. And even worse his poor academic past came back to haunt him. The family learned that to pursue his studies he needed a diploma, which he had failed to earn. With the help of a German family friend, Anthony’s parents found a work-a-round by first moving Anthony to another nearby school, the Erste Deutsche Automobil-Fachule and enrolling him in a chauffeur’s course that would license him to be a driver.

Fokker Aviation

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Anthony Fokker - Pilot

Little did Anthony’s parents realize that this move would be the spark that would ignite their son’s future on the road to greatness. Erste Deutsche had an airplane technology course. This is what Anthony had always wanted, all he had to do was convince his parents to pay the addition tuition fees. Herman sensed that this just might be the inspiration his son needed. Another benefit would that for once in Anthony’s educational experience, he found an instructor that inspired him. Bruno Buchner, a recent addition to the school as an instructor, had a background as an engineer, cyclist, and racing driver. Buchner had said he had taken lessons at French aviator Louis Bleriot’s flying school and had worked at the Anzai engine factory. Anthony quickly deduced that Buchner had the experience and technology he wanted.

Anthony Fokker And WWI

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Anthony Fokker and WWI Fighter Plane

Just as the students were making progress, the German military garrison stepped in and forbad any flights with six miles of the fortress of Mainz. The German military was concerned about espionage. In particular, a school where most of the students were foreigners. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, the students worked feverishly to complete their assigned plane project. Bruno Buchner who would later obtain his pilots license, was to take a short hop in the airplane. While landing the airplane it suffered slight damage. After this small success the students focused their attention on another airplane. This time it would be a mono-plane configuration with a single wing. Although they didn’t have exact designs, the students worked off their own design. Here Anthony began to show his acumen. However, on December 20, the German military suspended all flights from the school. Another fallout was the loss Bruno Buchner who decided to leave the school and take a job in private industry. But once again fate would smile on him when fellow student Franz von Daum suggested buying the monoplane from the school and moving it to another location. Franz was an interesting character; in his mid-fifties he was a retired first lieutenant in the German Army. Franz was determined to learn how to fly and had the means to do it. Franz purchased the unfinished airplane and proceeded to setup shop.

The Fokker Scrouge WWI

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Fokker Eindecker Fighter Plane WWI

Franz agreed to accept the aid of young Anthony, but with a stipulation: Anthony would need to a have a financial stake, insuring his sincerity. Again, Anthony turned to his parents for support. Herman eagerly supplied him with 1000 marks to cover his investment. Once the duo had setup shop, they soon realized that didn’t have the necessary knowledge to complete the project. They enlisted the aid of engineer, Jacob Goedecker, who had previously severed as a consultant to the school. Goedecker was a graduate of Aaachen University where he studied under Hugo Junkers. After graduation Goedecker began working on his own construction focusing on wing design. Simultaneously while building his aircraft, he began assisting Franz and Anthony. Part of the deal was that Anthony would serve as his test pilot once he obtained his license.

German Pilots WWI

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Manfred von Richthofen WWI

Between Franz and Anthony it was determined that Anthony would take the wheel in testing and first flight. With Anthony’s absence, Franz use this opportunity take the wheel in taxi tests on the airfield. In one case Franz crashed into a tree and severely damaged the plane. When Franz informed Anthony about the crash, he hurriedly returned to the new location Baden-Baden. Disgusted by what he saw tension between the two soon became an issue. With no other choice the team had to return to Mainz to start over again. It would take six weeks to complete construction on the replacement aircraft. In the test run up Anthony managed to stay airborne for several hundred yards, a milestone for the team. It was at this time that another member joined the group, Bernard de Waal, a children friend from Anthony’s past. The two were very similar in personality and character. The worked together to prepare their airplane ready for the ultimate test flight. May 11, 1911, would be a memorable day for Anthony and the team. During the test flight Anthony made the daring move of turning the plane and circling the airfield several times, reaching a height of 150 feet. A week later Anthony went for his ultimate goal. For him to qualify as a pilot, he had to complete a prescribed course in the air. He would have to complete two flights of over three miles each, at a height of 300 feet. Anthony did this with “flying colors” and was awarded pilot license number 88.

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Fokker Dr.I WWI

The move to Berlin ushered in a new era for Anthony. The next couple of years would be filled exceptional highs, only countered by dark lows. Still in his early 20’s Anthony would find love for the first time. A high-ranking Russian officer who was in Berlin to attend flying demonstrations asked if Anthony would take a young Russian woman for a demonstration ride in his aircraft. Anthony was smitten at first sight when he looked into the blue eyes of Ljubov Alexandandrovna Golantschikova. A singer and revue dancer, the twenty-four-old was also passionate about flight lessons. For women currently, this was a new frontier in a male dominated field. Anthony was impressed in her flight skills, even letting her attempt several landings which could be difficult. But in the end the romance was short lived as Ljubov was find love in a French pilot. At this time Anthony ventured to Czarist Russia in search of foreign business. His aircraft competed against famed Russian designer Igor Sikorski.

Anthony Fokker And WWI

By the end of 1913, Anthony had made significant gains in attracting German Military interest with his newest development in Seaplane construction and reconnaissance aircraft. Then, as with Anthony, an important event would occur in his favor. In 1914 Europe was set ablaze with the outbreak of World War I. Trouble had been brewing for a time between the European powers, alliances built over years came into plan when Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie were assassinated by Serbian Nationalist Gavrilo Princip in June of 1914. The opposing sides were the Central Powers: Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and the Ottam Empire. While the Allies were Russia, Great Britain, France Italy, Japan, and the U.S. joined the last year of the war. At the declaration of war, the German Army moved immediately to take control of aviation companies in Germany, including Fokker. Anthony was maintained as the director of the company, to run the operations.

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Anthony Fokker with fighter plane and automobile

At the beginning of the war aviation was still in its infancy, military leaders were not sure how to apply this new technology. First, it was thought that it would be best utilized as a reconnaissance vehicle to assist ground forces. However, after the initial phase of the conflict it soon developed into static trench-warfare as armies searched for a way to breakout. Overnight, every aircraft Anthony and other manufacturers could produce were now spoken for. The first Fokker aircraft to see action were the agile M.1 (single seat) and M.5 (two-seater) reconnaissance planes. It soon became apparent to both sides that they needed a way to counter-act the reconnaissance aircraft threat. The French were first to come up with a viable solution to solve the problem. Pilot Roland Garos and his mechanic, Jules Hue installed a machine gun on his aircraft. The immediate problem was to prevent the gun from shooting off the propeller and destroying the plane. A temporary fix was to apply a steel wedge to the bottom of the blades of the propeller to deflect the small number of bullets that would hit it. However, Garos was forced make a landing behind German lines, and before he could destroy his plane he was captured.

Now the Germans could examine how the machine gun worked. What they found was the French used a lighter weighted bullet than the Germans, thus, it did lighter damage when striking the propeller. A group of German manufacturers, including Anthony, set about a way to improve this. What was thought was a way to interrupt the firing of the gun when the blade passed in front of the gun. There were several patents already available, but test showed they were not effective. Anthony and his team stepped forward with an idea based on the patent of Swiss engineer, Franz Schneider whose technique involved synchronizing the gun and the propeller granted in 1914. After examining Garos’s plane, Anthony and his team went to work. The first thought was to install a lightweight machine-gun to the plane fuselage. Fokker’s deduced that it would better to have the guns fire consistently once the trigger was pulled. The breakthrough came when they inserted a cam to engine shaft to temporarily interrupt the firing. It worked. Anthony would now change warfare forever.

German authorities wanted to immediately see a demonstration of Anthony’s fighter plane with the machine gun attached. And they wanted it demonstrated at the front lines to pilots who were flying and dying every day. Anthony and his test-plane traveled to Senay in June of 1915, to put on his first demonstration. Another demonstration followed at Douai, closer to the front. Anthony put on a shooting demonstration that astounded all who were watching, including German aces Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelmann. Before Anthony left to return home, he let his aircraft with Boelcke who immediately put it to good use. So dominate was the Eindeckers over the next six months, this period was named the “Fokker Scrouge”. Overnight Anthony had to increase production to turnout his new fighter. The models would be designated by the engine that was installed on the monoplanes, E.I, E.II, and E.III. However, a patent scuffle erupted between Anthony and August Euler. It would take a year for the two to settle on an agreement that would make both wealthy.

German Pilots WWI

One aspect that set Anthony apart from other manufacturers was his ability develop relationships with young front-line pilots. He was barely several years their senior, and many learned to fly at his school. Oswald Boelcke, Max Immelmann, Manfred von Richthofen, Werner Voss, and Hermann Goering (who in the 1930’s would become the leader of the German air force) where in constant contact to give him feedback about their experiences, and feedback on new aircraft. During the war there were many cases where recovering enemy aircraft would lead to the development of new aircraft. Case-in-point obtaining Roland Garos’s airplane. Up to this time, the biplane wing configuration appeared to be the dominate fighter on both sides. Although Fokker’s Eindecker single wing had great success. Then the British Sopwith Company unveiled their triplane (three wings) which had great characteristics in climbing and turning caught the attention of Anthony. After examining the Sopwith, Anthony determined he could improve the top wingb>. With assistance of Villehad Forssman they developed a thick veneer wing that didn’t require bracing. Convinced of their success they selected the Fokker D.VI biplane, which was scheduled for the Austrian air force and added the third wing. The Dr.I became, arguably, Fokker’s greatest plane, piloted by Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the “Red Baron”.

By early 1917 there was a stalemate at the front, then in April of 1917 the equation changed when the United States declared war on Germany. Already angered by German U-boat attacks, a secretive telegram from German leadership to Mexican leadership was the final straw. The telegram outlined a plan for Germany to assist Mexico in a war against America, whereas Mexico could recover lands lost to America. While the U.S. lacked an air force, it did have a viable industry, strong navy, and capability of fielding a strong army. German high command deduced that it would take the U.S. months of training before there Army would be effective. By the end of 1917 it was becoming clear that the Central Powers would be on the losing end of this terrible conflict. Still, Anthony persisted with several new aircraft. The Fokker D.VII was another very good fighter produced by Anthony, however, a joint project with Hugo Junker would lead to groundbreaking monoplane, the Junkers D.I. Developed in 1918 this would be the first all-metal constructed airplane. A limited number were completed before the war ended.

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Junkes D.1

Anthony’s world crumbled the day Germany signed the armistice in November 1918. Thankfully, the disastrous war concluded, at a cost of millions of young lives never fulfilled. But once again, Anthony would demonstrate the ability to land on his feet after a disaster. It began with Anthony devising a way to return to his native Holland. Anthony had sought-out German citizenship to establish his business. The armistice forbid Germans from immigrating, and even worse the Allies singled out his fighter the D.VII for destruction. Undeterred, Anthony found a way to leave Germany, and even take some of his aircraft and parts with him in an undercover way. In 1919, Anthony married his sweetheart Teeta von Morgen, the daughter of a German General. Anthony would re-establish his aircraft business, concentrating of civil passenger aircraft, again making a name for himself. Anthony would later immigrate to the U.S. to establish a division of his company. Anthony would die in 1939 after an illness.

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Anthony Fokker and aircraft