Fokker D.VII


The Fokker D.VII in Lithuanian service

The first Fokker D.VII for Lithuania were purchased during the autumn of 1919. The exact date can not be found in the military archives because these purchases from Germany were not official and not legal since, after WWI, Germany was not allowed to sell military aircraft.
From later documents, found at the Military Aviation Depot, it has been determined that two aircraft were obtained. Both were built by Albatros (Schneidemuel) with Mercedes 160-hp engines: Fok D.VII (C)AW) 8397/18 and Fok D.VII (OAW) 8497/18. Other documents mention an unspecified number with the more powerful BMW 185-hp engines, Fok D.VII 6508/18 also with a BMW 185-hp engine, Fok D.VII 9397/18 with a 160-hp Mercedes, and the fuselage of Fok D.VII 508/18. All these aircraft were in need of major repair. Also, in the depots on Lithuanian territory, there were wings, tail surfaces, radiators, and other parts, most of which were not in very good condition.
In a photo taken in October 1919 at Kaunas airfield, there is visible one Fokker D.VII still with German insignia. If old pilots are not mistaken in their memories, this Fok D.VII was constructed from spare parts by the top cadet of Aviation School, V. Rauba. For a long time, it was not flown.
There was no urgency to assemble the other Fokkers. Lithuania's enemies during War for Independence were not very active in the air and they attempted no air raids against aviation bases or other important targets. Therefore, there was no need to use the fighters which had been purchased. On the front lines, the Lithuanians used two-seat reconnaissance planes such as the LVG C.VI, Albatros C.III, Halberstadt C.V, and Albatros J.II. They used machine guns and bombs to attack the enemy in his trenches, on the roads and railways, and in the stations. For such missions, the Fokker D.VII was not necessary.
The newly organized Military Aviation Workshop began to assemble the Fokkers only late in 1920. Because these aircraft were assembled from parts from different aircraft, and with many parts having to be manufactured, they were given new Lithuanian serial numbers (which were also their construction numbers).
Fokker D.VII Nr.2 made its first flight on 20.09.1920. (Aircraft Nr.l was an Albatros D.III which, because of minor damage, did not fly until 23.01.1921.) The second D.VII, Nr.3, made its first flight on 15.01.1921 and the third, Nr.5, on 7.10.1921. (Aircraft Nr.4. was a LVG C.VI that first flew on 12.03.1921.) The fourth D.VII, Nr.6, made its first night on 21.09.1921.
The first extended flight of a Lithuanian Fokker was made on 2.10.1920 when J. Dobkevicius flew from Kaunas to Vilnius, returning to Kaunas the next day. It was about at this time that the Poles began their offensive on the Vilnius front in an effort to occupy all of Lithuania.
The first combat mission was flown by Fokker D.VII Nr.2, on 6.10.1920, when Kaunas airfield was attacked by two Polish aircraft. Lt. Jurgis Dobkevicius rose in defence, but the Poles headed for home before he could climb to meet them. One of the Poles, in his haste to escape, dropped all his bombs without removing the safety fuses.
On 25.05.1922, the first group of Lithuanian pilots began to practice aerobatics on D.VII Nr.6. They learned to make loops, helixes, Immelmans, vertical turns, Ranversmans, spins, barrel rolls, falling leaves, etc.
The excellent flight properties off the Fokker D.VII insured its long service in Lithuanian military aviation. Even when faster fighters were available, the Fokkers continued to be used to train pilots in aerobatics, even up to 1940.

Production of Fokker D.VII in Lithuania

After the War for Independence, the budget for the Ministry of Defence was greatly reduced. So much so that, until 1928, only two batches of aircraft were purchased: ten SVA-10 in 1923 and eight Czech S20L in 1925.
By this time, the large fleet of ex-German aircraft in Lithuanian service had been greatly reduced by eager, young pilots. Since there were a large number of ex-German 200-hp Benz and 160-hp Mercedes engines on hand, the Military Aviation Workshop, starting in 1923, began to built a few new Halberstadt C.V, Albatros B.II, and Albatros C.III yearly. No licenses were procured, since our engineers were able to copy existing aircraft and, in any case, Germany was in no position to demand payment for military aircraft and Lithuania had no plans to sell these aircraft on the foreign market.
From 1921 to 1929, the technical aspects of the Military Aviation Workshop were under the direction of Chief Engineer Adolfas Bliumentalis who had graduated from the Darmstadt Technical School in 1913. He was the only academically-trained engineering in Lithuania at that time. (J. Dobkevicius studied in Paris in 1923-25 (and died in 1926) and A. Gustaitis studied in Paris in 1925-28.)
By 1927, it was obvious that service life of the engines in the SVA-10 was coming to an end and the engines would need to be replaced. Six 240-hp Siddeley Puma were bought at a bargain price. These late-WWI English engines were a little old, but were 40 hp more powerful than SPA-6A used in the Italian-built SVA-10.
After reengining five SVA-10 with Pumas, the sixth engine was mounted in a Fokker D.VII. Since there was little difference in weight between the 160-hp Mercedes (270 kg) or the 185-hp BMW-lIIa (288 kg) and 240-hp Puma (288 kg), the only change to the airframe was a 0.2-m increase in the height of the cowling.
This conversion was begun early in 1928. By July, the Fokker D.VII, given c/n Nr.17, was finished. On 20 July, a test board was appointed, and, on 27 July, the aircraft was tested by two members of the board, Sr. Lt. J. Garolis and chairman of the board, Capt. A. Stašaitis. The aircraft was accepted for service. The Fokker of Lithuanian construction was noticeable different from German-built Lithuanian Fokkers. The front of the fuselage was considerable higher, almost filling the space under the top wing; the propeller had large spinner; and the water radiator was mounted, not in front of engine, but under the fuselage (the standard radiator had too small a capacity for the Puma engine).
Powered by the Puma, this Fokker D.VII achieved 200 km/hr speed at sea level compared to 180 km/hr with the 160-hp Mercedes and 190 km/hr at 3 km altitude with the BMW-IIIa. Therefore. Nr.27 was the fastest Fokker D.VII in Lithuanian service. However, the efficiency of the rudder and elevator were greatly decreased by the larger aerodynamic shadow from the fuselage and radiator. In addition, the forward visibility during landing was greatly reduced. Because Nr.27 was slow compared to fighters then in Lithuanian service, it was considered for use as trainer, but the defects were so great that Nr.27 was not used very much.
With the arrival of new aircraft (Italian Fiat CR.20 and A.120) in 1928-29, the Training Squadron (Mokomoji eskadrile) began training 20 pilots and observers. These new pilots needed an aircraft on which to practice aerobatics. Because the Fokker D.VII was the best aircraft for this purpose, it was decided to built two more D.VII, but without an exotic engine. The old, reliable 160-hp Mercedes was considered sufficient for such purposes.
These aircraft were finished early in 1930, but test flights had to wait until spring after the airfield had time to dry out. On 17.04.1930, a test board was appointed to test Fokker D.VII Nr.37 (Chairman V. Šenbergas). On 7 May, it was tested by A. Gustaitis and the aircraft was accepted for service. On 26 May 1930, the test board was appointed to test Fokker D.VII Nr.38 (Chairman A. Stašaitis). On 5 June, the aircraft was tested by S. Januškevicius and accepted for service.
While undergoing repairs in 1928, Fokker D.VII Nr.3 and Nr.5 were reconstructed in the "Lithuanian manner", so they appeared similar to Nrs. 27, 37, and 38: The fuselage behind the cockpit was raised, a head rest added, and ground-adjustable trim tabs fitted to the elevators. For gunnery training, one machine gun was mounted. The undercarriage did not have the small wing-shaped fuel tank between the wheels, but, instead, it had two axles; one rigidly joined to the "V" struts and the second carrying the wheels and mounted with rubber shock cords to the first axel.
It was not until 1937, with the purchase Avro 626, and later Anbo-51 and especially the Bucker 133 Jungmeister were the old Fokker D.VII no longer needed.
While in Lithuanian service, there were only three crashed of the Fokker D.VII resulting in one fatality.
(1) During forced landing, in 1921, Nr.2 was seriously damaged and not repaired.
(2) A second Lithuanian Fokker (supposedly Nr.3) was lost in 1932 when, during aerobatics, the upper wing failed and the aircraft crashed at Kaunas airfield. The pilot, L. Miliunas, escaped by parachute.
(3) On 13.07.1933, pilot-instructor A. Stukas perished when, during his landing approach, Nr.5 fell into spin and crashed at Kaunas airfield.

Camouflage and Markings of the Lithuanian Fokker D.VII

The Lithuanian Fokkers carried several different paint schemes and national markings during their service life.
The first D.VII, Nr.2, was entirely covered with a brown (ochre) fabric. The national insignia was of the second type: a red shield with white Vytis cross. This was carried on the white fin and rudder and on wings within 2-m wide white bands. The type designator and c/n was carried on the side of the fuselage in black.
During its early years, Fokkcr D.VII Nr.3 was named "The White Fokker" becasue of its overall silver (actually ccllone with aluminium dope) scheme. The national insignia was of the third type: a white Vytis cross (with a black outline on light painted surfaces). This insignia was introduced on 12.04.1921.
In 1921-26, the fuselages of Fokker D.VII Nr.5 and Nr.6 were painted ochre with the engine cover of Nr.5 painted and that of Nr.6 in natural aluminium color. The fin and rudder of Nr.5 were ochre with a white Vytis cross, and on Nr.6 they were white with a black outlined cross. The wings of Nr.5 were ochre with white Vytis crosses and those of Nr.6 were silver (aluminium) with black-outlines crosses.
The Letov Š-20L fighters purchased in 1925 from Czechoslovakia arrived in a three-color camouflage. Later, other Lithuanian military aircraft were painted in a similar scheme. After overhaul, Fokker D.VII Nr.3 and Nr.5 were painted in a three-color camouflage (dark sand, green, and brown) as was the new-built D.VII, Nr.27. The bottom surfaces of Nr.5 and Nr.27 were painted silver.
Since Fokker Nr.37 and Nr.38 were built only for training, they were not painted in multicolor camouflage, but in solid colors. Their fuselages were green and the wings were silver.

Photos :

Fokker D.VII Nr.2 with Lithuanian insignia of second type. Kaunas, 1921.

Fokker D.VII Nr.2 with Lithuanian insignia of second type. Kaunas, 1921.

Fokker D.VII under repair at Kaunas airfield. About 1921.

Dobkevičius in cockpit of Fokker D.VII Nr.3. Kaunas, 1921.

Silver painted Fokker D.VII Nr.3 before the insignia had been painted). 1921

Fokker D.VII Nr.3, after reconstruction, flying over Kaunas. About 1926.

Fokker D.VII Nr. 5 on summer airfield. 1924.

A. Gustaitis beside Fokker D.VII Nr. 6. 1922

Lithuanian pilots beside Fokker D.VII Nr. 3, 1925.

Crash of A. Stukas Fokker D.VII Nr.5 13.07.1933. During an attempted landing, the aircraft fell into spin and crashed on the border of Kaunas airfield. The pilot perished.

Fokker D.VII Nr. 3 (?) with skis during winter flying (about 1930). Axles of undercarriage covered with smaller than original Fokker wing that were sometimes used on Lithuanian D.VII.

Pilot J. Garolis in cockpit of Fokker D.VII Nr. 27. Summer 1928.

The author wishes to thank Dutch aviation historian Frits Gerdessen for information about construction of early Fokker D.VII.

Translated by Saulius Štulas , Lithuanian Aviation Museum, Veiveriu 132, Kaunas, Lithuania.

Source: Small air forces observer (SAFO) 1995 No.2


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