Godwin von Brumowski (26 July 1889 – 3 June 1936) was the most successful fighter ace of the Austro-Hungarian Air Force during World War I. He was officially credited with 35 air victories, (including 12 shared with other pilots) with 8 others unconfirmed because they fell behind Allied lines. Just before the war ended, von Brumowski rose to command of all his country’s fighter aviation fighting Italy on the Isonzo front.
Life before entry into air service
On 26 July 1889, Godwin von Brumowski was born into a military family in Wadowice, Galicia, in Poland. He attended the Technical Military Academy in Vienna and graduated as a lieutenant commissioned into the 29th Field Artillery Regiment on 18 August 1910. He was serving in the 6th Artillery Division and had just turned 25 years of age when war was declared against Serbia on 28 July 1914. He served on the Eastern front against Russia, winning both a Bronze and Silver Military Medal for Bravery before transferring to air service in der kaiserliche und königliche Luftfahrtruppen (the Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops).
He was posted to Fliegerkompagnie 1 (Flik 1) at Czernowitz, commanded by Hauptmann Otto Jindra, in July 1915; von Brumowski was thus initially assigned as an aerial observer on the Russian Front. His flight log describes him as 1.77 meters (5 feet 10 inches) tall, with blue eyes and light blond hair.
On 12 April 1916 Jindra and von Brumowski crewed one of the seven Austro-Hungarian planes that participated in bombing a military review attended by Czar Nicholas II. In the process, they shot down two of the seven Russian Morane-Saulnier Parasol two-seaters that attempted to drive them off.
On 3 July 1916 von Brumowski became a pilot with Flik 1, despite the defective vision in his right eye that he corrected with a monocle. In November, he transferred to Flik 12 on the Italian Front. He helped down an Italian Caproni bomber on 3 December. On 2 January he became an ace when he was victorious over an Italian Farman two-seater while piloting a Hansa-Brandenburg C.I. It is notable that von Brumowski became an ace while still flying two-seater craft basically unsuited for air-to-air combat.
The next month, when Flik 41J was established on the Italian Front as Austro-Hungary’s first dedicated fighter squadron, von Brumowski was chosen to command it. He spent nine days in March flying four sorties with the Germans of Jagdstaffel 24 to learn German fighter tactics, before assuming his command. While here he met the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen; von Brumowski would later copy the baron's aircraft paint scheme for his own plane.
Brumowski continued amassing victories through May, ending the month with a total of eight. By now, he was flying a single-seat fighter, the Hansa-Brandenburg D.I. Although better suited for air-to-air combat than the C.1, it still suffered three major disadvantages: the pilot's vision was partially obstructed; the single machine gun was not synchronized to fire through the propeller arc, and it was a difficult craft to fly because it was easy to spin at any altitude. Aiming and firing a gun mounted above and ahead of the pilot was more difficult than simply aiming the airplane at the enemy and firing a synchronized gun.
As was customary with Austro-Hungarian units, Flik 41j had an assortment of aircraft types available. In June 1917 von Brumowski flew an Aviatik D.I with no combat success. The Austro-Hungarian Fliks were also hampered by a doctrine that tied them to escort of reconnaissance aircraft instead of freeing them to rove and hunt in the German fashion.
In July 1917 Flik 41J lost eleven of the D.I fighters in accidents; the Hansa-Brandenburg's nickname became "the flying coffin".
In August 1917 von Brumowski scored a remarkable streak of victories, being credited with 12 confirmed and 6 unconfirmed kills between the 10 and 28 August. Two of these victories, on the 19th and 20th, were the result of a partial transition to a newer fighter plane, a German Albatros D.III with twin synchronized guns. On the 20th he scored once with the Albatros and twice with the Hansa-Brandenburg D.I. By the end of August the transition was complete; he would use the Albatros to score the rest of his victories.
On 9 October 1917 he shot down and burned an observation balloon for his 22nd victory; it was the first of five balloons he would down. His Albatros that day was painted all red, in emulation of von Richthofen, with the addition of mustard colored skulls on either side of the fuselage. This paint scheme would become characteristic of his aircraft until war’s end.
On 1 February 1918 von Brumowski became involved in a fight with eight enemy fighters. Some of the 26 bullets striking his Albatros ignited the fuel tank built into the upper wing. He managed to land at his home field without serious injury, becoming a rare survivor of an in-craft fire. The fire ate the fabric off the upper wing and the inboard portions of the lower one, leaving only the scorched bare spars and struts of the wing roots.
Three days later, while flying another Albatros he fought eight English fighters and took multiple machine gun hits. With his wings breaking up he still managed to land, though the Albatros flipped over and was totally destroyed.
Brumowski fought on until 23 June 1918, when he was ordered on extended leave. His last successful fight was on 19 June; he scored his 35th victory and suffered 37 hits in his plane. He had flown 439 combat sorties, but his combat career was ended.
Also on 23 June he was invited by Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Ferdinand to make the customary mandatory application for Austria-Hungary's highest decoration, the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa. Brumowski's reply:
"If I have earned this award through 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."
Austria-Hungary's leading fighter ace never received his nation's highest award.
On 11 October even though he was still only a Hauptmann (Captain), he was named to command all Austro-Hungarian fighter squadrons on the Isonzo Front. World War I ended a month later.
Post war career
The end of the war left von Brumowski at loose ends. After a spell in Vienna, he farmed his widowed mother-in-law’s land in Transylvania for ten years. As a city dweller lacking the Hungarian language skills to communicate with his farm workers, he bore serious handicaps. He had little success.
Brumowski took the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire very hard. He indulged in hazardous pursuits, seeking the thrill of danger by racing automobiles about on the poor local roads, riding horses into exhaustion, hunting in the mountains. He threw parties, danced, swam, ice skated to distract himself. He finally left his wife and daughter and began a flying school in Vienna in 1930, and remarried.
During the early 1930s von Brumowski piloted aircraft on behalf of the conservative Heimwehr militia. During the brief Austrian Civil War in 1934 he flew several reconnaissance missions as well as a single combat sortie.
On 3 June 1936, he died in a plane crash while instructing an Austrian student at Schiphol Airfield, in the Netherlands. His life was summarized thus by his daughter: "He was a very unique and interesting person either very much loved, or hated, and even considered crazy by many."
Awards and decorations
- Order of the Iron Crown, 3rd class, with War Decoration
- Knight’s Cross of the Order of Leopold with War Decorations and Swords
- Gold and Silver Bravery Medal for Officers
- Silver Military Merit Medal
- Bronze Military Merit Medal
- Iron Cross of 1914, 2nd class
List of aerial victories
See also Aerial victory standards of World War I
Confirmed victories are numbered. Victories marked "u/c" were unconfirmed.
|1||12 April 1916||Albatros B.I serial number 22.23||Morane-Saulnier Parasol of the Imperial Russian Air Service||Destroyed in crash; pilot seriously wounded||Iszkowcy, north of Chotin||Brumowski's pilot: Otto Jindra|
|2||12 April 1916||Albatros B.I s/n 22.23||Morane-Saulnier Parasol of the Imperial Russian Air Service||Destroyed in crash; pilot injured||West of Chotin||Brumowski's pilot: Otto Jindra|
|3||2 May 1916 at 0945 hours||Albatros B.I s/n 22.30||Morane-Saulnier Parasol of the IRAS||Crew seriously injured in crash landing||Lysskowcy||Victory shared with Kurt Gruber|
|4||3 December 1916 in the afternoon||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 65.53||Italian Caproni Ca.1 s/n 1233||Driven down behind Austro-Hungarian lines; 4 aircrew captured||East of Mavhinje||Victory shared with Gottfried Freiherr von Banfield and another pilot|
|5||2 January 1917 in the afternoon||Hansa-Brandenburg C.I s/n 68.24||Italian Farman||Forced to land||Vicinity of Lago di Doberdò||Brumowski's observer: J. G. Telekes|
|6||10 May 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.10||Voisin||Forced to land in enemy territory||Monfalcone|
|u/c||12 May 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.10||Italian Farman||Forced down in enemy territory|
|7||12 May 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.10||Italian Nieuport scout||Crashed||"Enemy territory"|
|u/c||13 May 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.11||Twin engine Voisin two-seater|
|8||20 May 1917 @ 1030 hours||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.10||French Spad two-seater||Forced to land; pilot wounded in action||Monte Santo||Victory shared with Karl Kaszala|
|9||17 July 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.57||Twin-engine Voisin||Crashed into the river in flames; observer WIA||Isonzo River||Victory shared with two other pilots|
|10||10 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Italian Nieuport scout||Landed with stopped engine||Chiapovano|
|11||11 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.57||Italian Caudron two-seater||Set afire||Plava||Victory shared with another pilot|
|12||11 August 1917 @ 2000 hours||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Caudron two-seater||Set afire||West of Plava|
|13||14 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Italian single-seater sea plane||Set afire||Vicinity of Grado|
|u/c||14 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Italian single-seater seaplane||Forced to land||Vicinity of Grado|
|u/c||18 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Italian two-seater Savoia-Pomilio SP.3||Forced to land||Monte Santo|
|14||18 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Caudron||Forced to land||Monte Santo|
|u/c||19 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Italian single-seater seaplane||Forced to land|
|u/c||19 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Italian single-seater seaplane||Forced to land|
|15||19 August 1917||Albatros D.III s/n 153.06||Two-seater Caudron||Crashed in flames||Between Karinë and Ivangrad|
|16||20 August 1917||Albatros D.III s/n 153.06||Italian two-seater Caudron||San Giovanni-Monfalcone||Victory shared with two other pilots|
|17||20 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Two-seater Caudron||Vicinity of Vrtojba|
|18||21 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Enemy airplane||Monte Santo||Victory shared with Frank Linke-Crawford|
|19||22 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Savoia-Pomilio||Forced to land||Gorizia||Victory shared with Frank Linke-Crawford|
|20||23 August 1917 @ 1040 hours||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Italian Savoia-Pomilio SP.3 two-seater||Forced to land; captured||Báté||Victory shared with Frank Linke-Crawford and another pilot. Italian pilot and observer captured|
|u/c||25 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Sopwith two-seater||Enemy observer wounded or dead||Enemy territory||Also claimed by Frank Linke-Crawford|
|21||26 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Italian Spad single-seater||Monte San Gabriele||Victory shared with Frank Linke-Crawford|
|u/c||28 August 1917||Hansa-Brandenburg Star-Strutter s/n 28.69||Savoia-Pomilio two-seater||Forced to land||Enemy territory|
|22||9 October 1917 @ 1700 hours||Albatros D.III s/n 153.45||Italian Observation balloon||Set afire; observer parachuted||Isola Morosini, in the Shobba Estuary||Victory shared with Frank Linke-Crawford, Kurt Gruber|
|23||5 November 1917||Albatros D.III s/n 153.45||Macchi L.3 two-seater flying boat||Forced down and destroyed; crew KIA||West of Latisana||Victory shared with Frank Linke-Crawford, Rudolf Szepessy-Sokoll|
|24||5 November 1917||Albatros D.III s/n 153.45||Macchi L3 two-seater flying boat||Crashed into a canal||Baseleghe, west of Latisana||Victory shared with Frank Linke-Crawford, Rudolf Szepessy-Sokoll|
|25||17 November 1917||Albatros D.III s/n 153.45||Observation balloon||Piave River Estuary|
|26||23 November 1917||Albatros D.III s/n 153.45||Nieuport scout||Forced to land||Mouth of the Piave River, near Cortelazzo||Victory shared with Frank Linke-Crawford|
|27||23 November 1917||Albatros D.III s/n 153.45||Nieuport scout||Forced to land||Mouth of the Piave River, near Cortelazzo||Victory shared with Frank Linke-Crawford|
|28||28 November 1917||Albatros D.III s/n 153.52||Savoia-Pomilio two-seater||Casa Serpo||Victory shared with Karl Kaszala|
|29||13 December 1917||Albatros D.III s/n 153.52||Observation balloon||Set afire||In the vicinity of Meolo||Victory shared with Karl Kaszala, Frank Linke-Crawford|
|30||25 March 1918||Albatros D.III s/n 153.45||SIA 7b two-seater||Set afire; Pilot and observer KIA;||South of Oderzo|
|31||17 April 1918||Albatros D.III s/n 153.45||Sopwith Camel||Arcade, Italy||Victory shared with Miroslav Navratil|
|32||16 June 1918||Albatros D.III s/n 153.209||Observation balloon||Set afire||Spresiano|
|33||19 June 1918 @ 1545 hours||Albatros D.III s/n 153.209||Observation balloon||Set afire||In the vicinity of Passarella|
|34||19 June 1918||Albatros D.III s/n 153.209||Italian two-seater||Set afire; Pilot and observer KIA;||Comtee, south of Candelu||Victory shared with another pilot|
|35||19 June 1918||Albatros D.III s/n 153.209||Ansaldo SVA.5||Montello|