From Palestine to Bull Creek - The Story of the Capture of Albatros D.III D.636/17 in Palestine, 8 Oct., 1917.

by Mick Mirkovic

This is the story of a piece of wing fabric on display at the Aviation Heritage Museum of W.A., Bull Creek, Western Australia.

As the main researcher and photo librarian at the above museum, I have always been intrigued by this piece of mounted fabric with photo and attached extract from the Diary of Lieutenant F. C. Conrick of 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, whose family donated the artefact to the museum, and I quote from the said extract :

’05.30. Left ground with Ned Kenny, Escort Stew Paul and Bill Weir, Eastern Recco. Madeba - Kastal – Anwar also Muakka. A little movement. Hun alarm 13.00. L (t). Johnny Walker, L. Harold Letch dived on the Hun 2 seater above the drome. A fire broke out in the fuselage and they fired 2 Verrys (sic) lights and pulled out – the fuselage was blown off & Johnnie’s body was found a mile or more away from the wings and engine. – 16.00. Harold not found yet. Capt. Allan Brown and Finlay finished the Hun machine off and forced him to land in our lines both pilot and observer are in the Compound, The pilot has an Iron Cross & has been on three fronts, they said they made their wills today for the first time. Engine O.K. Undercarriage collapsed. German pilot : Lieut. Dittmar was flying the above aircraft, a D5 A. (D.Va)’.

First thing that intrigued me was that the photo was of an Albatros D.III D.636/17, which was forced down in Oct., 1917. A search of the museum’s photo collection, I found a series of photos of it from D. Stewart (Lt. 1 Squadron, AFC) and most of the photos accompanying this article is from that said collection. The action described in the above diary extract, happened on August 22, 1918 in which Lts. J.M. Walker and H.A. Letch were shot down in Bristol F.2b B1222, while in combat with an LVG over Ramleh. This was then shot down by Capts. Brown and Finlay in F.2b B1284. So this is the true story, as far as possible given the time since this happened, of this piece of fabric.

On the morning of October 8, 1917, four Bristol Fighters of 111 Squadron, RFC, were patrolling in pairs over the front lines at Gaza, Palestine. Meanwhile on the other side of the lines, Oberleutnant Dittmar of Flieger Abteilung 300 took off from Samach airfield in Albatros D.III D.636/17 with another Albatros at 7.30 for a patrol over the front. At about 8.00 o’clock they saw the British aircraft and dived out of the sun to attack them. This was their first encounter with Bristol F.2bs and was surprised by the speed and manoeuvres of the Bristols. 2nd. Lt R.C. Steele and Capt. John J.L. Williams in F.2b A7194 fought with Dittmar’s Albatros over Wadi Gaza and after the Albatros was holed in the fuel tank and radiator, ObLt. Dittmar was forced to land between Goz el Basal and Karm. The Albatros was then surrounded by the men from the 9th Light Horse, who were based at Goz el Basal and they stopped Dittmar from destroying his Albatros.

The men from the 9th then got an artillery limber and hooked up the Albatros to it and towed it to Beir el Belah airstrip, where its wings were removed and it was then moved to 67 (Australian) Squadron’s (1 Squadron, AFC) field at Weli Sheikh Nuran. The squadron’s mechanics then repaired and re-assembled the aircraft and it was probably test flown but I haven’t found any documents in the archives that state otherwise. Its was inspected there by General Allenby later that month and later was repainted with RFC roundels and fin flash, which was probably when this piece of wing fabric from the bottom of one of the lower wings was removed.

Later on at a date unknown, probably early in 1918, it was gifted to the Khedive (King) of Egypt and went to Cairo, although some sources say it was sent to Britain but I haven’t found any records saying that it did. From there D.636/17’s fate remains unknown. In 1990 the family of Lt. Conrick donated this memento to the Museum and it’s been on display ever since.

Aircraft details :

Built by Albatros Flugzeugwerke at Johannisthal, Germany during early 1917 and was 36th built of the second production ( D.600 to 649/17). Was fitted with twin radiators in the upperwing for operations in Palestine. Was fitted with 160P Mercedes D.III inline engine and equipped with 2 x IMG 08/15 &.92mm machine guns (Spandaus). Colour scheme was clear lacquered ply fuselage and fin with metal fittings in Grey-Green colours (Similar to RLM 02) with the upper wings and tailplane probably doped in three colour camouflage of Dark Green, Light Green and Venetian Red but could be Lilac and Dark Green (photos aren’t that clear to be definite) with the undersides doped in Light Blue with the Rudder doped White. Serial numbers Black and Iron cross markings are Black with White outline on fuselage sides, upper wings and fin with underwing cross Black only, but the museum’s Cross looks like it was applied to a replacement fabric that was clear doped.

Oberleutnant Gustav Adolf Dittmar

Born Nov. 24, 1890 and disappeared in 1945 (Probably captured by the Russians after W.W.2.) Joined the German Army in 1908 and served in various units until transferring to the Fliegertruppe in August, 1914 and served in Feldfliegerabteilung (FFA) 2 as a Feldwebel. Promoted to Vizefeldwebel on Aug. 15, 1914. In January 1915 went to Offiziers-Stellverteter and then onto FEA 9 for pilot training. Between Sept. 13 and 30, 1915 was with Insp. Der Fliertruppen and on 1 October, 1915 went to Osmanische Fliegertruppe. In April, 1917 joined Fliegerabteilung 300 ‘Pascha’. POW from 8 Oct., 1917 until 18 Dec., 1919. Post-war history unknown, joined the Luftwaffe and was a Major in 1944. Served as political and military representative at the Junkers factory in Madgeburg between 15 Dec., 1941 til 19 May, 1944. Fate unknown.

References :
Bristol F.2 Fighter Aces of World War 1 by Jon Guttman, Osprey Aces #79, Osprey, 2007.
One Airman’s War, Joe Bull’s Personal Diaries 1916-19, edited by Mark Lax, Banner Books, 1997.
Desert Column website (Australian Light Horse Study Centre) and The Aerodrome website.
All photos from Aviation Heritage Museum of W.A ( mostly from the D. Stewart collection (1 Squadron AFC, Lieutenant and pilot).

Mike Mirkovic,
August, 2014.

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Captions for the photos in the table above.

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