Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Remembering a Veteran: Godwin Brumowski, Ace of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

Contributed by Brian Cleary

Austria-Hungary is not well known for its fighter pilots. The largely rural, agrarian economy was not sufficient to meet the demands of a modern, mechanized war. The Allied blockade was especially severe in Austria-Hungary and shortages were everywhere, especially of rolled steel and coal. Her industries were only able to produce 5,000 aircraft and 4,000 engines during the entire course of the war. Italy, by comparison, even with a year less fighting, was able to produce 20,000 aircraft and 38,000 engines. Austria had generally only 500 planes in operation, spread out over the Russian, Balkan, and Italian fronts in both the Austrian Army Air Force and the naval forces.

Godwin Brumowski
It's amazing that Austria-Hungary was able to field a Luftfaehrt-truppen, (LFT), Army Air Force, at all. But the boys did remarkably well. The top Austro-Hungarian ace, Godwin Brumowski, is credited with 35 official "kills" and eight more "unofficial” because the aircraft went down behind Allied lines. 

Brumowski was born in Wadowice, Austrian Galicia, 26 July 1889, the same year as Crown Prince Rudolf's supposed suicide at Mayerling. (Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, would also be born in Wadowice, in 1920.) Brumowski was born into a military family. He later attended the Technical Military Academy in Moedling, near Vienna, graduating 10 August 1910. Upon graduation he was commissioned a Leutnant (second lieutenant) in the KuK Armee, field artillery, regiment #29. By the outbreak of the war, Brumowski had been promoted to Oberleutnant (first lieutenant), as regimental adjutant with the 6th Artillery Division, serving on the Russian Front until July, 1915.

In July 1915, he transferred to the newly formed LFT Fliegerkompagnie I (FLIK I), stationed at Czernowitz. FLIK I was commanded by Hauptmann (captain) Otto Jinda. Brumowski was assigned to be a flight observer on the Russian Front.

On 12 April 1916 Brumowski and Jinda participated in an audacious bombing raid on the Russian city of Chotin. Tsar Nicholas II and General Brusilov were there for a military review. Jinda and Brumowski in their Knoller-Albatros bomber were able to shoot down two of the seven Russian Morane-Saulnier Parasols sent after the seven Austrian bombers. These were Brumowski's first two kills.

Brumowski received pilot's training in late spring and early summer 1916 at FLIK I. On 3 July he was given the title of Feldpilot (field pilot). Five days later, after completing the requisite number of combat missions, he received his pilot's badge. 

In late April 1915 Italy entered the war on the side of the Allied Powers against Austria-Hungary, her former partner in the triple alliance. Brumowski was transferred to FLIK XII on the Italian (Isonzo) Front in November 1916. FLIK XII was under the command of Hauptmann  Ápad Gruber. On 3 December 1916 Brumowski achieved his fourth kill when, along with Linienschiffsleutnant (naval lieutenant commander) Gottfried Banfield of the Trieste Naval Air Station and Zugsfuehrer (sergeant) Carl Cislaghi of FLIK XXVIII, he shot down an Italian Caproni bomber near the town of Mavinje. 

On 2 January 1917 Brumowski got his fifth kill, thereby becoming an ace when he downed an Italian Farman two-seater in the vicinity of Lake Doberdo. Brumowski and his observer, Oberleutnant Julius Goerffy von Telekes, were flying Hansa-Brandenburg C 168.24.

February 1917 saw the establishment of FLIK 41J, the first purely fighter squadron of the LFT. Brumowski was offered command of the new squadron. First he asked for a posting to the German Jasta 24, located on the Western Front. He wanted to observe firsthand German unit organization and fighter tactics. While there, 19–27 March 1917, Brumowski flew four combat missions and made the acquaintance of Manfred von Richthofen, who impressed him with the red paint scheme of his aircraft.

Brumowski assumed command of FLIK 41J in April 1917. During his tenure some of the best fighter pilots of the LFT passed through its ranks, including Kurt Gruber, Josef Novak, Karl Kaszala, and Julius Arigi. FLIK 41J was the finest fighter squadron in the whole LFT. 

Brumowski scored a number of "kills" during May and June, but during the 19 days of 10–28 August he achieved a series of 18 victories. Most of these occurred during the increased air activity accompanying the Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo (18 August–15 September 1917). On 19 August he got his fifteenth kill, achieving triple ace status by shooting down, in flames, an Italian two-seater Caudron. This was his first victory in an Albatros fighter.

Godwin Brumowski in Front of His Albatros DIII
On 23 August Brumowski combined with a plane flown by Oberleutnant Frank Linke-Crawford and Korporal Heinrich Mayrbaeurl forced down an Italian Savoia-Pomilio two-seater from the Forty-fifth Italian Reconnaissance Squadron. This was his twentieth kill. Kill number 22 was on 9 October 1917 against an Italian observation balloon moored near the Isola Morosina. The balloon collapsed and burst into flames, but the crewmen were able to save themselves by jumping out with parachutes. This was the first time Brumowski used his Albatros D.III (Oef) 153.45, which he had had painted scarlet overall with black shrouded skulls on both sides of the fuselage and on the top decking behind the cockpit in imitation of the Red Baron's color scheme. It was the first of several planes he would have painted in that design. 

A double kill occurred 23 November 1917 when Brumowski and Linke-Crawford combined again to down two Italian Nieuport fighters near the village of Cortelazzo at the mouth of the Piave River.

After a relatively quiet winter 1917/18, February 1918 had a lot of action. On 1 February while flying his red Albatros D.III Brumowski became involved in an aerial duel with seven or eight Italian fighters. His Albatros was struck by at least 26 bullets, causing gasoline to pour out of his punctured fuel tank. It ignited and set both the upper and lower right wing on fire. Brumowski was able to disengage from the fight and headed for his airfield, where he was able to land the plane without serious personal injury. Three days later he was surrounded by what he described as "eight English fighter aircraft." His Albatros was again shot full of holes, the fabric ripping off his lower wing and the main spar of his lower wing shattering. He was able to break away from his adversaries and set his plane down at the nearby Passerella village airstrip, but upon landing the plane flipped over, resting on its back. Brumowski once again escaped without serious injury. 

Brumowski's Albatros fighter resting on its back after the crash landing of 4 February 1918

By June 1918 Brumowski had t31 confirmed kills. His final four kills would be achieved during the last Austro-Hungarian offensive of the war, the battle of the Piave River, taking place 15–23 June 1918. His first kill of the battle was an Italian observation balloon near Spresiano on 16 June while flying his Albatros D.III (Oef) 153.209. Three days later he scored his last double of the war when he shot down another Italian observation balloon near the village of Passerella, sending it plunging to the ground in a huge fireball. Later that afternoon, he downed an Italian reconnaissance two-seater near Comtee, south of Candelu. The next day he achieved his final kill, number 35. He was flying his Albatros, guarding the last intact bridge over the Piave, when an Italian Ansaldo SAV-5 attempted to bomb the bridge. After a fierce dogfight, Brumowski was able to shoot it down over the Montello. On 23 June 1918 Brumowski enjoyed a relatively uneventful flight in his Albatros D.III (Oef) 153-209. This flight, his 439th against the enemy, was his last combat flight of the war. On 25 June he was ordered to take an extended leave. He did no more wartime flying.

Brumowski received many medals and decorations, almost all of the awards an Austro-Hungarian officer could have, including the Knights Cross of the Order of Leopold with war decorations and swords; the Order of the Iron Crown, third class, with war decorations; the Gold Bravery Medal for officers (one of only nine awarded to LFT officers); but he did not receive the Empire's highest award — the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa, because he refused to request it, a stipulation of the bylaws of the Order. Generaloberst (colonel-general, roughly a four-star general) Erzherzog (archduke) Josef Ferdinand, the inspector general of the LFT, had written to Brumowski in June 1918, praising Brumowski's many accomplishments and inviting him to apply for the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa. Brumowski replied that "if I have earned this award by my service, then it should be cause enough for the Commander-in-Chief to present it to me. It is not my duty to ask or demand it." He never received the award, which would have made a difference after the war, when the successor states squabbled among themselves about paying pensions to the former KuK officers. The Order paid out a small pension to its members, which helped many former officers, including former Feldmarschall (field marshal or five-star general)  Boroević, get by in the postwar years.

On 11 October 1918 with less than a month to go before Austria's capitulation in the Armistice of Villa Giusti, Brumowski was appointed to the command of all of the fighter squadrons of the Austrian Army of the Isonzo. 

Mrs. Ingeborg Sulkowski, Brumowski's daughter from his first marriage recalled that "the defeat of the Empire was very hard for him. He was admired, loved, held in high esteem by his leaders, including the emperor, and suddenly his whole world collapsed around him. There was no more use for a pilot. My mother and father lived in Vienna for a while but then decided to move to Transylvania where the family estate of my widowed grandmother was located. My grandmother [her mother's mother] wanted my father to manage this estate. Here was my father — a military man, not speaking Hungarian, raised in the city with no knowledge of agriculture whatsoever, suddenly in a small town where everybody knew everybody else. It was a disaster. His virtues as a flier were not needed and his failures as a farmer exasperating. His surplus energy combined with his intense love of life drove him to all kinds of activities which people around him could not understand. He hunted restlessly in the mountains. He rode horses often to exhaustion. He raced his automobiles to shambles on the bad roads. He was the first into a burning house and the last out of it. He jumped into rivers during floods to rescue animals. He loved parties and entertained his friends with his very good piano playing. He was an excellent swimmer, ice skater, dancer, etc. There was almost nothing my father could not do if he wanted to, only as the manager of the estate he was a disaster. He finally left, probably because he could not stand it anymore...He remarried in Austria and started a flying school. Here he was in his element."  

Brumowski returned to Vienna in 1930 and with Hans Low started a flying school in Aspern. On 3 June 1936 Brumowski was teaching an Austrian student how to land at the Schiphol airport near Amsterdam when the plane they were in crashed, fatally injuring Brumowski. He was not quite 47 years old. His body was returned to Vienna, where it lies today, in the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery).  

10 comments:

  1. Indeed. I had no idea of this man's spectacular career.

    I wonder just how much AH history we miss when reading western accounts of the war, which emphasize the war in France above all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. Although fiction, my first real exposure to the kuk history was from the novels of John Biggins. Wish he'd write some more.

      Delete
    2. Where should one start with Biggins, A Sailor of Austria?

      Delete
    3. No, although I think that's the best of the four. Chronologically the last is the first, Tomorrow the World. All are available as e-books, or at least used to be, as I have them.

      Delete
    4. I'll start with that one. Thanks.

      Delete
  2. My grandfather, Alios Erlach,Lt. flew as an observer/photographer with Flieger 12 at the Isonzo front during that time and I am privileged to have an engraved, silver cigarette case from Weihnach 1916. the silver is engraved on the back with the signatures of the members of the squadron, and the front has the squadron insignia and air service emblem. the inside cover simply states Isonzo front. Additionally I had maps and aerial photographs of the Isonzo front replete with colored demarcation of the opposing front/trenches that were donated to the WW1 museum as they could best display them. thank you for an informative and welcome bit of information regarding an obscure part of military history

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you also for your sharing your story as well; I can well imagine the ceremony of him receiving it and maybe even using through the years, as well as your intrigue when first seeing and handling it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. While Brumowski's 35 kills hardly begin to compare with von Richtofen's 80, they beat Goering's 17 probable kills. I think that Brumowski's story is less well known because of being on the losing side and the emphasis on the Western Front of most Scholarship. But that may change: Ivan Berryman has written and illustrated a biography of Hauptmann Godwin von Brumowski, available through his website ivanberrymandirect.com. This volume should make Brumowski better known.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I had a relative, Secondino Carlo Temperino who became a flying instructor and aviation officer with Italian AF and flew the S.I.A. 7B biplane. He took part in numerous actions before being gravely wounded while flying over San Dona del Piave in WW I. Maybe they met in the air over the Piave. Interestingly, he was born in Terry South Dakota but returned to Italy to fly.

    ReplyDelete