'Naked Birds' Land at Memorial

28 February 2008 by Leigh Harris

First World War 'war birds' will have their covers restored ready for display at the Australian War Memorial tomorrow.

A special team of French vintage aircraft experts will tomorrow make the ‘last stitch’ of their conservation work on rare First World War aircraft, or ’war birds’ as the aircraft are affectionately known. The war birds are progressively being ‘clothed’ as part of the restoration process, in preparation for the upcoming exhibition, Over the Front.

The most complex work is fitting new camouflage fabric to the German Albatros and Pfalz war birds, which are both over 90 years old. The specialist French conservators are teaching Australian War Memorial staff the use of original techniques and materials to recreate the original design faithfully over the coming months.

Opening at the Memorial in late 2008, Over the front will include five original First World War aircraft:

  • Three Australian aircraft- Se5a; Avro 504K trainer and Airco DH9.
  • Two rare German fighter planes – an Albatros and a Pfalz

Albatros D.Va. Serial number D5390/17

The Albatros D.Va. was the most numerous and important German fighter aircraft in late 1917 and early 1918. The Albatros held by the Memorial was made in Germany in late 1917. On 17 December 1917 the Albatros was part of a formation that attacked an Australian RE8 observation plane from No.3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (AFC). The battle took place near the front lines at Armentiers, France.


The Albatros was forced down, and the pilot (believed to be Leutnant Rudolf Clausz) was wounded. The Albatros landed in the Australian lines about two kilometres north of Armentieres, near Ploegsteert Wood. It was salvaged by 3 Squadron, and rapidly repaired and test flown. Its capture was a considerable intelligence coup, as the Albatros D. Va was the latest German fighter, and only a couple of months old.

After testing in Britan, the Albatros was reclaimed by Australia and added to the Australian War Memorial's collection. The Albatros has been displayed many times over the years, and is probably the most intact and historically significant surviving example of the Albatros fighter. The only other Albatros is located in the USA, but has no known history.

Pfalz D.XII Serial number 2600/18

The Pflaz D.XII was one of several new German fighter types introduced to service late in the First World War; used operationally in France and Belgium.


The Memorial's Pfalz was manufactured by Pfalz Flugzeug Werke GmbH in late 1918, but the details of its military history remain a mystery. It is not known precisely when and where the aircraft was captured and by whom. Handed over to Australia under the terms of the Armistice at the end of the war, it was displayed at the Memorial's first temporary exhibition in Melbourne.

There are only four original Pfalz D.XII fighters left in the world, and the Memorial's is one of the most intact and well preserved examples.