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THE TREATY OF VERSAILLES ended World War I, but had implications far beyond its 1919 signing. Indeed, on a macro level, the treaty planted seeds that were to grow into World War II. And, on a micro level, it gave rise to several aviation tales. One tale already discussed at this website concerns the Zeppelin-Staaken E-4/20 airliner. The others, new to me and maybe you, are the tales of the Fokker D.VII fighter, the F.III transport and Fokker’s post-war scams.
The Zeppelin-Staaken E-4/20 was, in a sense, too good for its time. Briefly, this 1920 monoplane of duralumin was designed as an 18-passenger airliner. However, the Inter-Allied Commission saw it as entirely too adaptable as a bomber and, even worse, much advanced compared with any Allies craft of the time. Thus, the Zeppelin-Staaken was deemed in violation of the Armistice and, on November 21, 1922, was scrapped.
Tales of the Fokker D.VII fighter and F.III transport are more complex, at least in part owing to the nationality of their manufacturer, Anthony Fokker.
Anton Herman Gerard Fokker was born in East Java, the Netherland Indies, now Indonesia, into a coffee plantation family. Tony, his mother, father and sister returned to the Netherlands in 1894 when he was four.
As a kid of 18, Tony was much impressed by Wilbur Wright and his 1908 French exploits. In 1910, while at technical school in Germany, Fokker built his first aircraft, de Spin/the Spider. Two years later, he established an aircraft factory and flying school in Berlin, not moving it to his native Netherlands until 1919.
During WWI, evolving aircraft technology see-sawed between Germany and the Allies. At one point, the Fokker E.III Eindecker (monoplane) displayed fighter superiority known as the Fokker Scourge. Later similarly successful fighters included the Fokker Dr.I Dreidecker (triplane) flown by the Red Baron and the D.VII
The D.VII had several noteworthy technical features. Its biplane wings needed no wire rigging. Its tail was all-metal. Power came from highly efficient Mercedes D.III engines rated at 160 hp and, later, Daimler and BMW engines renowned for their capabilities at high altitude.
The Fokker D.VII’s prowess led to it being the only aircraft in history specifically cited in a treaty document: All D.VIIs were to be confiscated by the Allies.
Tony Fokker, however, had other ideas. Despite owing large sums of German back taxes (including more than 14 million Papiermarks in income tax), he managed to arrange an export permit and move operations across the German-Dutch border. In World Encyclopedia of Aircraft Manufacturers: From the Pioneers to the Present Day(2nd Edition), Bill Gunston writes, “Fokker smuggled to Amsterdam 6 trains of 60 boxcars each packed with D.VII hardware, drawings and material, plus 150 skilled workers!”
Fokker’s Dutch company was named Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek, innocuously enough, the Dutch Aircraft Company. The new company delivered aircraft to Russia, Romania and a clandestine German air force. Not, however, without drama.
One of the Dutch Fokker products was the F.III transport monoplane. Five passengers occupied an enclosed cabin. As was typical of the era, the F.III pilot sat in an open cockpit exposed to the elements (deemed important to be experienced first-hand). Less than optimally, though, he sat next to the engine, reportedly to be “burned on one side, frozen on the other.”
In 1921, the F.III was already in service with KLM, the Dutch national airline, on its Amsterdam-London route. And, for the first time since WWI, Fokker displayed aircraft at an international air show, in this case, Paris. The Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek ploy fooled no one, and Fokker, still regarded as a German, was hounded by the French press.
As reported at Flightglobal’s 100 Years of Paris Air Show Highlights, “As a cheeky farewell gesture to the French, the English pilot of the F.III performed some daring and strictly forbidden stunts over Le Bourget.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015