The story of the most famous plane of the First
World War, the Fokker Dr.1, outstanding creation of the famous and
talented Dutch designer Antony Fokker, would be incomplete without
the story of its pre-production model, the Fokker F.I. Although
only three were built, it left an indelible trace in the history
of air fighting in the Great War.
Hugely impressed by the capabilities of the new British Sopwith
Triplane, Antony Fokker decided to create a similar plane at all
cost with even better performance. Having taken as a basis the British
design, without any doubt it is possible to consider the plane Fokker
produced as one of the best created at that time. After successful
testing of the V.4 prototype, the authorities issued an order for
20 planes, the first three receiving the individual numbers F.I
101/17, F.I 102/17, F.I 103/17. 101/17 was retained at the factory
for full-scale tests (it was lost on August 11th, 1917), and the
other two were delivered to the Front for assessment under fighting
conditions. In general, new planes were tried out with the best
aces. The most elite unit was Jagdgeschwader Nr. I (The 'Flying
Circus'), commanded by the renowned ace Manfred von Richtofen, and
which included a particular unit, Jasta10, led by Werner Voss. They
received the two new triplanes. Straightaway, on August 28th, Voss
carried out his first test flight.
September 1st, 1917 saw the fighting debut of the Fokker F.1. Von
Richtofen and Voss under the cover of other pilots of the 'Flying
Circus' proceeded on air patrol above the front line in the Zonnebeke
area and soon intercepted a single British R.E.8 two seater. Von
Richtofen destroyed it without any problem. The British pilots had
had no idea that there existed any such machine except for the Sopwith
Triplane, and had not shown any resistance. So began this excellent
German triplane's combat victories. On the 3rd September von Richtofen
shot down a Sopwith Pup, but after that was compelled to leave the
Front until October 23rd. So Triplane 102/17 was passed on to Kurt
von Döring, then it was tested by Hans Adam, and on September
11th it gained a new pilot, Kurt Wolff. However, on September 15th
in a severe skirmish with the pilots of 10 Squadron Royal Naval
Air Service it was lost.
The other machine, 103/17, which was received by Werner Voss, was
successfully used by him for less than a month. On the morning of
September 23rd Voss achieved his 48th victory (on September 11th
he had managed to shoot three enemy planes in the same fight!) and
he also hoped during the same day to notch up at least two more
planes, however this ambition was not allowed to be carried out.
In the afternoon he took off on patrol and came up against some
British S.E.5a's from 56 Squadron. This was the elite squadron of
the Royal Flying Corps and included some of the most successful
and most skilled pilots. Voss did not hesitate; he had met a formidable
enemy, but he courageously accepted the fight - one against seven.
Voss was up against James McCudden, Arthur Rhys Davids and Richard
Mayberry, aces of aces for the British Empire.
This legendary fight has become part of the history of the First
World War, as a remarkable display of heroism and selflessness.
James McCudden reported that at one point he watched five S.E.5a's
simultaneously shoot tracers at Voss's plane. It was the very definition
of a dogfight, planes flying around one another at distances of
a few meters, but a happy outcome was not to befall the Germans
on this day. Clearly Voss's was badly wounded - his plane lost control
and started to plummet to the ground, its propeller stopped. The
end for the triplane in this vicious and bloody struggle was delivered
by Arthur Rhys Davids - he came onto the tail of the German and
shot it with his last remaining rounds. The plane fell near Plum
Farm, north of Frezenburg, and there the brave German ace came to
his final rest.
The loss of two leading aces - Voss and Wolff - during one week
had not been fatal to the fighting career of Fokker's triplane.
The doubts disappeared when the details of Voss's epic fight with
the English became known. The military issued Fokker with an order
for 300 triplanes under the designation Dr.I, and soon this small
three winged machine would become historic as the plane flown by
the most famous German aces and, thanks to the Red Baron, one of
the symbols of the First World War.