1915 was a very successful year for the Kaiser's
aviation. The arrival of the first true fighter, Fokker's E.III
Eindecker, enabled the Germans to prevail for a long time in the
skies of the Western Front. However, the nations of the Entente
Cordiale soon began preparing for Germany a small but potent surprise
in reply: the legendary Nieuport 11 Bébé, which appeared
in 1916. This tiny biplane soon achieved dominance in its air battles
and completely forced out Fokker's monoplanes from the sky.
During that period, when the main zone of aerial combat was at a
height of 3,000 to 4,000 meters, the newest Fokker fighter the E.IV
lost its advantage and became an easy victim for the Nieuports in
spite of its powerful armament of two synchronised LMG.08 machine
guns. At the same time, Idflieg (Inspectorate of Flying Troops)
was talking to all the leading aircraft manufacturers, because of
the urgent necessity of developing more advanced fighters. The success
of the Nieuport convinced everybody that the biplane fighter design
was the most promising, taking into account the relative power of
the available engines, and also what was equired for tight maneuvering
in a duel at close quarters. By the spring of 1916, the first prototypes
from the Fokker and Halberstadt firms were ready for testing. They
greatly surpassed the performance of existing monoplanes; however,
they still came up short in comparison with the Nieuport 11 Bébé.
Around that time, in April 1916 a radically new type was introduced
by the Albatros Flugzeugwerke GmbH, which up until then had only
produced two-seat multi-purpose airplanes (mostly reconnaissance
and light bombing types). One of the main differences from the other
competing designs was the powerful 160 hp engine of the Albatros
D.I, while the Fokker and Halberstadt machines had 100 and 120 hp
engines. Another innovation of the design was its fuselage. While
other contemporary types had truss frames covered with linen, the
Albatros D.I had a streamlined plywood construction (so-called "semi-monocoque"),
which managed to be simple and strong at the same time. The powerful
specification of the machine was completed by two synchronised Spandau
machine guns, hidden under the smooth lines of the top panels.
The Albatros D.I reached a height of 4,000 meters during testing,
in only 22 minutes, quicker than any other fighter. The speed and
maneuverability of the new machine were more than satisfactory and
it is not surprising that this development by designer Robert Thelen
was viewed by the military as a great encouragement. In July of
1916 Idflieg recommended that the Albatros D.I be put into production.
The order was for 50 machines, which was then the normal practice
for the German Army; any new development was ordered in limited
quantity (20-50 units), and its initial operational experience,
and any failures, gave some guidance to the constructor as to the
necessity for any improvement of the design, or else led to an increased
order for the existing design.
Series production Albatros D.I's were given the serial numbers D.422/16-471/16.
Taking into account the obvious success of the fighter, Idflieg
issued an order for a second batch with the following numbers: D.472/16-521/16.
However, production of the Albatros D.I remained in number only
50 machines, because a more modern version was ready; the Albatros
D.II, which replaced it in the second batch.
The appearance of the Albatros D.I at the end of the summer of 1916
was a nasty surprise for the British and it was clear that their
de Havilland DH2 had immediately lost its advantage. Allied aces
such as James McCudden noted the outstanding capability of the Albatros
D.I and gave due respect to its fighting prowess in the air.
In the fall of 1916, Jasta 2 under the command of famed ace Oswald
Boelcke forced the air arms of the opposition to set about improving
their own equipment. The active service of the Albatros D.I was
quite short, because already at the end of 1916 it was being supplanted
by the more modern Albatros D.II. However, some of the machines
from the 50 produced in total, survived to the last year of the
Great War as training planes.