Thursday 28 February 2008 by Leigh Harris. 3 comments
Aircraft 1914 - 1918, News, Aircraft Conservation

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.

E01685 E01685

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.

P00355.012 P00355.012

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.


Stephen Drew

I have been striving for a while to try to find out the dates when this exhibition is planned, but cannot find out more than either "towards the end of the year" or "November I think". Can you clarify the start and finish times of this exhibit for me? Steve Drew

Leigh Harris (AWM)

Hi Steve, Over the front: the Great War in the air opens on 28 November. Thanks for pointing out that it isn't on our website yet - we'll get started on updating that for everyone. You might be intersted in our media releases with news on the aircrafts' conservation progress on 12 August and 12 June. /media/releases/ You can also have a sneak-peek at the aircraft tomorrow (Saturday 16 August) at Big Things in Store. Big Things in Store Saturday 16 August, Noon – 4 pm Treloar Conservation and Storage Annex Callan Street, Mitchell ACT Only open to the general public once or twice a year, this is a limited opportunity to view the Memorial’s storage area of large technology items. Entry is by gold coin donation. Barbecue lunch and refreshments will be available to purchase. No large bags, tripods or monopods. Closed, flat footwear required for entry.

James Oglethorpe

The AWM's Albatross was shot down in quite tragic circumstances. The No.69 Squadron AFC aircraft that shot it down was itself shot down later in the same fight. A single German bullet killed both the Pilot (Sandy) and the Observer (Hughes), but their aircraft kept flying for many kilometres until it ran out of fuel and landed itself in a snowy field. For the full story of the "Ghost RE8" see: