Founded in 1909, the Berlin based Albatros aircraft works produced a range of capable and respected aircraft designs until they were merged with Focke-Wulf in 1931.
The name Albatros will forever be associated with some of the finest aircraft Germany and their allies flew into battle during the First World War. Of the many types designed by Albatros, it was the B Series that brought them to prominence as a manufacturer in international circles.
The B Series started in 1913, prior to the outbreak of the war, with the B.I. Working for Albatros at the time was Ernst Heinkel (1888-1958). Heinkel would famously go on to establish his own company in 1922 and become known for a series of pre WWII floatplanes and a variety of German WWII combat aircraft.
Ernst Heinkel claimed that he had designed the aircraft of the B Series. However, many aviation historians give that credit to Robert Thelen (1884-1968) who was the chief designer for Albatros at the time. Heinkel had moved on from Albatros to become chief designer at Hansa-Brandenburg by the time the B.II first flew and entered service.
A Sentinel On High
The primary role of the B Series was reconnaissance, or scouting as the role was known at the time. Many military people of the day were skeptical or outright dismissive of the value of aircraft to military missions. Aircraft like the Albatros B Series and the valuable information they gathered about enemy movements were instrumental in changing many minds about the contributions aviation could provide to a military.
The B Series was built in three basic variants: B.I, B.II and B.III. The B.II was the major production variant and considered the most important member of the B Series. All members of the B Series were unarmed, though often were modified in the field with mounts for defensive machine guns.
The B.II first flew in 1914 and was based on the B.I but featured shortened wings and a variety of different engines covering the 100 to 120 horsepower range. The Albatros B.II is notable for being the first airplane in history to drop a bomb on British soil in anger, an event that took place in April of 1915 in the county of Kent.
A significant B.II subvariant was the B.IIa, a dedicated training aircraft. The B.IIa saw significant production in Sweden and became the nation’s first military training aircraft. In Swedish military service, it was known as the Sk.1. The type flew in Swedish service until 1935.
The B.II also served as the basis for a modestly produced floatplane variation known as B.II-W or W.I.
The B.III, which appeared in 1915, was destined for a very short front line service life as it was that year when the remaining B Series aircraft were replaced on the front lines with the armed and improved C Series.
The B Series would continue to serve as trainers through the remainder of the conflict and did enjoy post war service in Finland, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden.
The First World War would not be the only combat the B Series would see. The Polish air force made use of the B.II, as well as other First World War types they had in service, during the Polish-Soviet War which lasted from 1919 to 1921.
What Remains and Learning more
There are three intact original examples of B Series aircraft known to be preserved in museums today:
The only surviving example of a B.I, and the subject of the photos in this article, belongs to the Museum of Military History in Vienna, Austria. It was on temporary display at the museum’s aviation collection in Zeltweg at the time I photographed it.
Two examples of the B.IIa are known to exist; one at the Swedish Air Force Museum in Linkoping and the other at the Polish Aviation Museum in Krakow.
A flying replica of a B.II was built in Germany in 2000 and spent the early part of the decade on the European airshow circuit. By 2006, it had been purchased by Sir Peter Jackson and relocated to New Zealand to be made part of Jackson’s collection of WWI aircraft in his 14-18 Aviation Heritage Trust.
Jackson loaned the aircraft to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre where it was a debut exhibit when that museum opened their “Knights of the Sky” display in late 2006. The aircraft remained on public display at Omaka for six years until it was returned to Jackson’s collection.
I would like to extend thanks to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in New Zealand for providing me with details of the current ownership and disposition of the Albatros B.II replica mentioned in the last section of this article.