Oberleutnant Kurt Wolff (6 February 1895 – 15 September 1917) was one of Imperial Germany's highest scoring fighter aces during World War I. After claiming 33 victories, he was killed in action at the age of 22.
Kurt Wolff was born in Greifswald, Pomerania. He was orphaned as a child and was raised by relatives in Memel, East Prussia.
Wolff enlisted in the army in 1912 at the age of 17, joining a transport unit, Railway Regiment Nr.4. He received a commission on 17 April 1915, and he transferred to the air service in July.
Wolff's first flight was almost his last. The aeroplane crashed, dislocating Wolff's shoulder and killing his pilot instructor. Nevertheless, Wolff received his pilot's badge in late 1915 and was assigned to 2-seater unit Kasta 26 of Kagohl 5, followed by service with Kagohl 7 and KG 40.
On 12 October 1916 he was posted to the then undistinguished Jasta 11. For months, Wolff, like most of his Jasta comrades, had no success in the air. That changed when command was given to Manfred von Richthofen. Under the Red Baron's leadership, Jasta 11 thrived and Wolff became an excellent scout pilot. Like his commanding officer, Wolff soon became an avid collector of souvenirs from the aircraft he shot down. His room at his airfield soon became decorated with serial numbers, parts and guns from his victims.
He first claimed on 6 March 1917, a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2d of No. 16 Squadron RFC. Four more followed during March, and he scored 22 victories during what the RFC termed 'Bloody April', with 4 victories on 13 April 1917, and 3 victories on 29 April 1917, including Major H.D. Harvey-Kelly - commander of No. 19 Squadron.
Like the rest of the Jasta, Wolff's Albatros D.III was painted red, though he added individual markings by painting his elevators and tailplane green.
Wolff's youthful looks and frail physical stature masked his deadly skills as a combat pilot. Karl Bodenschatz, in his Jagd in Flanders Himmel ("War in the Flanders Skies"), said of him:
"Jasta 11: Leutnant Kurt Wolff. At first glance, you could only say 'delicate little flower'. A slender, thin little figure, a very young face, whose entire manner is one of extreme shyness. He looks as if you could tip him backwards with one harsh word. But below this friendly schoolboy's face dangles the order Pour le Mérite. And so far, these modest looking eyes have taken 30 enemy airplanes from the sky over the sights of his machine guns, set them afire, and made them smash to pieces on the ground. This slender youth is already one of the best men of the old Richthofen Staffel 11."
Wolff was awarded the coveted Pour Le Mérite on 4 May and on 6 May was assigned to command Jasta 29, replacing Lt. von Dornheim who had recently been killed. He shot down a French SPAD on 13 May and a No. 60 Squadron Nieuport 17 on 27 June before he returned to command Jasta 11 in July 1917, replacing Leut.Karl Allmenroeder, who had fallen in combat.
He downed a RE-8 of No. 4 Squadron and a Sopwith Triplane of No. 1 Naval Squadron in early July. However, on 11 July Wolff was shot in both his left hand and left shoulder by gunfire from a Sopwith Triplane flown by future ace Flight Sub-Lieutenant H.V. Rowley of No. 1 Naval Squadron RNAS. Wolff crash landed his aircraft on the Courtrai railway line. The crash ripped off the undercarriage and flipped the aircraft over. He then spent significant time in Field Hospital No. 76 in Courtrai with his injured commander, Manfred von Richthofen.
On 11 September 1917 Wolff returned to Jasta 11 from leave to recuperate from his injuries.
The first two Fokker Triplane prototypes had been allocated to Jagdgeschwader 1. On his return, Wolff was eager to fly one of the prototypes in Richthofen's absence. Four days later, on 15 September he found his opportunity. Despite heavily overcast skies, he took off in Fokker Triplane #102/17, accompanied by Leutnant Carl von Schoenebeck flying an Albatros D.V.
Meanwhile, eight Sopwith Camels of No. 10 squadron Royal Naval Air Service, led by Flight Lieutenant Fitzgibbon, were escorting a number of DH-4 bombers back to Allied lines. Somewhere in the vicinity of Moorslede, Belgium, Fitzgibbon spotted a flight of German Albatrosses below them and led half of his men to attack. The remaining Camels stayed with the bombers and were attacked by Wolff and Schoenebeck. The dog fight was intense though brief, and in the confusion the British pilots mistakenly thought that five Albatrosses and four triplanes were involved. As Wolff singled out a Camel, he was suddenly fired on from behind by Flight Sub-Lieutenant Norman MacGregor. MacGregor fired a quick burst, then had to zoom to avoid colliding with the Fokker.
MacGregor reported: "I got into a good position very close on one triplane - within 25 yards - and fired a good burst. I saw my tracers entering his machine. I next saw him going down in a vertical dive, apparently out of control." MacGregor would eventually claim some seven air kills and be awarded the DSC.
In an interview after the war, Schoenebeck gave his own account: "One day we flew both to the front. That was done often because a flight of 2 is harder to spot than a whole squadron. If one was smart enough to use the sun in one's back, the enemy could be easily surprised. Wolff was a smart leader and from the sun we attacked an enemy flight. Wolff was shooting brilliantly but got caught in a dogfight. I flew behind him, as suddenly another Englishman appeared behind me. I only was able to get rid of him with great difficulty. While I was busy shaking off the Englishman, another machine attacked Wolff from behind and before I could help I saw how Wolff was going down into a spin and hit the ground. So was Lt. Wolff, who had me for covering him and who had to protect myself, falling in front of my very eyes. I was deeply shocked. At his funeral I had to carry his cushion of decorations."
It seems probable that Wolff was killed by MacGregor's bullets and was already dead when his Fokker Dr.I crashed and burst into flames north of Wervik at 17.30 hours (German time). Wolff's remains were taken back to Memel for burial.