Max Ritter von Müller (1 January 1887 – 9 January 1918) Orden Pour le Mérite, Iron Cross, Military Order of Max Joseph was a German World War I fighter ace credited with 38 victories. He was the highest scoring Bavarian pilot of the war.
Max Müller was one of eight children born in Rottenburg an der Laaber, Bavaria, Germany, to Max Müller and his wife Margarethe Wiesmüller. The senior Max Müller was a merchant.
The younger Max Müller completed primary school and was apprenticed to a locksmith. When he finished his apprenticeship, he became a journeyman locksmith. He moved several times to pursue his trade. For recreation, he was a gymnast. Physically Müller was small in stature, being only 5 foot one inch tall.
He joined the army on 18 October 1907. He originally served with 6 Kompanie, 1 Königlich Bayrisches Infanterieregiment (Company 6, First Royal Bavarian Infantry Regiment). On 1 October 1911, he transferred to the motorized company of the regiment as a driver. It was soon discovered that he had a natural mechanical aptitude, and coming to the notice of his superiors, he was then assigned as chauffeur to the Bavarian War Minister. He used this opportunity to repeatedly importune the Minister for transfer to the Luftstreitkräfte. In the meantime, he had been promoted to Feldwebel on 18 April 1913.
He was posted to the army flying school at Schleißheim on 1 December 1913, and after four months of training he became a fully qualified pilot on 20 April 1914. He started flying missions immediately.
World War I
Müller was assigned to Feldflieger Abteilung 1b on 2 August 1914. When the war broke out, Müller was flying with FA 1b as a reconnaissance pilot and carried out several missions. On 18 August 1914 however, he crashed taking off when his engine failed; both Müller's legs were broken. However, he overcame his injuries to pull his unconscious observer from the wreckage.
He returned to FA 1b and flying on 9 October. On 31 March 1915, flying an Otto CI 'pusher' biplane, he barely survived a hard dogfight against a French-flown Farman. Despite badly damaged elevators and a dozen bullets in his plane, he returned safely to his base.
On 13 December 1915, Müller flew a dangerous and daring mission behind enemy lines, photographing enemy positions. Upon his return, he was the first officer (and one of only seventeen soldiers) to be awarded the Silver Bavarian Medal for Bravery.
Müller underwent single-seat fighter training and then served with Feldflieger Abteilung 32, beginning on 17 May 1916. As a two-seater pilot, Müller had flown over 160 missions, and had also earned the Iron Cross First Class and the Iron Cross Second Class. Already noted as an aggressive and skilled airman, Müller was one of the first pilots to fly the Fokker Eindecker in action.
Müller was posted to Kampfeinsitzer Kommando B, which in May 1916 becvame Abwehrkommando Nord of FAA 32. He then was posted to the newly mobilized Prussian Jasta 2 on 1 September 1916, to serve under Oswald Boelcke.
On 10 October of that same year, he scored his first victory: a DH.2 of No. 24 Squadron, RFC, the pilot being captured. On 27 November, he became an ace.
A transfer to the Kingdom of Württemberg's newly formed Jasta 28 followed, in January 1917. On 7 April 1917 he opened their victory roll when he shot down an F.E.2d of 20 Squadron. On the 30th, he shot down the 45 Squadron Sopwith Strutter of 8-kill ace Captain William Wright, who survived; it was Müller's seventh win.
Müller's tally quickly rose throughout 1917, with six in May. He was also promoted to Leutnant on 26 May, in the regular army, rather than the Reserve, the first time such a commission had been awarded.
He scored five more times in June 1917. He was quickly rising among the recognized German flying aces, and his skill formed the cutting edge of Jasta 28. His native Bavaria recognized him with the Bavarian Golden Medal for Bravery. He also was awarded the Württembergian Order of Military Merit and the Member's Cross with Swords of the Royal Hohenzollern House Order, not to be confused with the more usual Royal House Order of Hohenzollern. The Members' Cross (Kreuz der Inhaber) was a lower order exclusively for non-commissioned officers or civilians and, especially with swords, was a rare distinction.
On 28 July, he shot up a Sopwith 1½ Strutter containing 10-kill 'ace' Captain Matthew Brown Frew and 7-kill 'ace' gunner Lieutenant George Al Brooke. With a damaged undercarriage and two bullets through the propeller, Frew managed to get the Sopwith back to its home aerodrome, but was written off and credited as Müller's 19th victory.
August 1917 was Müller's highest scoring month, with seven victories, and he added another in September, and two in October. Exactly a year after Müller had joined Jasta 2, he had gotten an impressive score of 27 victories and had already earned the Pour le Merite. The Blue Max, as it was nicknamed, was awarded on 3 September 1917. With the several other distinguished medals that had been awarded to him, he was one of the most highly decorated aces in the entire German air service, second only to Manfred von Richthofen.
After a transfer back to Jasta 2 on 29 October, he shot down number 30 on 6 November. On 11 November 1917, Müller shot down future 7-kill ace Captain Arthur Claydon of No 32 Squadron as his 31st claim. Müller also shot down an unidentified aircraft down on the 29th. With the death of Heinrich Gontermann in late October, Müller (with 29 claims) was second only to Manfred von Richthofen as the highest scoring ace still at the front.
On 29 October 1917, Müller was then posted to Jasta 2, opening his account with his new unit on 6 November, when he claimed a SPAD, possibly of 19 Squadron. On 11 November he downed a DH-5 of No.32 Squadron, piloted by future 7-kill ace Lt. Arthur Claydon, who force landed.
Müller shot down four aircraft in December 1917. The last of these, on 16 December 1917, was his fifth over a fellow or future ace, 70 Squadron's Lieutenant Kenneth A. Seth-Smith (7 kills), who survived.
When Jasta 2's leader, Walter von Bülow-Bothkamp, was killed on 6 January, Müller became the commander of the Jasta.
Killed in Action
Just three days later, on 9 January 1918, while on a patrol over Moorslede, Müller's flight came across an RE.8 of No. 21 Squadron flown by Capt.G.F.W. Zimmer and Lt.H.A. Somerville, and two SE5a fighters of No 60 Squadron, flown by Captain Frank O. Soden and Captain R. L. Childlaw-Roberts. Müller engaged the fighters and after a lengthy battle, he was taken down, although there is some speculation as to who was responsible. Somerville also claimed the Albatros.
What is known is that bullets struck his fuel tank, and his Albatros D.Va had begun to go into a spiral several thousand feet up. With fire quickly burning through the interior panel of the cockpit, Müller, who wasn't wearing a parachute, jumped to his death.
Müller's final victory toll included 22 enemy fighter planes among his 36 victims. He was also an ace over aces, having downed five aces himself.
Müller's body and some personal effects were returned to his home town on 11 January 1918. His belongings are in the keeping of the mayor; his diary has been translated into modern German for the benefit of researchers.
After the war, Müller was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph which conferred a knighthood on him, backdated to 11 November 1917. Thus in death, he became Max, Ritter von Müller.
Decorations and awards
- 20 April 1914 - Military Pilot Flying Badge
- 13 September 1914 - Iron Cross of 1914, 2nd class
- 14 January 1915 - Military Service Cross third Class with Crown and Swords
- 31 March 1915 - Iron Cross of 1914, 1st class
- 18 February 1916 - Bavarian Military Service Medal in Silver
- 30 March 1916 - Service Decoration Third Class
- 28 June 1917 - Württemberg Bravery Medal in Gold
- 20 July 1917 - Member's Cross (Kreuz der Inhaber) of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords
- 3 September 1917 - Pour le Mérite
- 16 September 1917 - Bavarian Military Service Medal in Gold
- 18 December 1917 - Military Service Order Fourth Class
- 7 November 1918 - Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph (posthumous)