Siemens-Schuckert Werke GmbH

Siemens-Schuckert D.III Serial: 8341/17. Seen here is D.III 8341/17 in ex-works finish of stained fuselage, natural metal cowl and five-colour lozenge on wings, rudder and elevators. The wing lozenge was applied at 45° to the leading edge. The interplane struts were also wrapped in lozenge fabric, possibly as protection against the wood splintering.

Siemens-Schuckert type G (R.I) Serial: G.32/15 (R.1/15). Germany, May-August 1915. The experimental bomber, later it was renamed R.I and reserialled R.1/15. In July 1915 at least one flight made by Hohndorf Walter who was and test-pilot of Siemens-Schuckert Werke.

Although Siemens-Schuckert’s first incursion into the world of aviation was in 1907, the company actually started life back in 1847, when it manufactured telegraph equipment. It was known as Siemens-Halske OH before it merged with the Schuckert Werke and became the famous Siemens-Schuckert Company.

In 1907, the German General Staff approached the company with a view to building a ‘military’ non-rigid airship. The Type-M, as it was called, was completed but was not the success anticipated. This was followed by a much larger version that by all accounts was very successful, but for some unknown reason the project was dropped. Two years later the company was approached again, this time to build three aircraft, all to be powered by the 50-hp Argus four-cylinder water-cooled engine. After two years and three aircraft, which could only be described as mediocre at best, the company went back to its original business of electrical manufacture. During this time, however, the company created a section that investigated the development of aero engines, in particular the rotary model. This resulted in the appearance in 1914 of the Sh.I, a 90-hp, nine-cylinder rotary engine.

Then in 1914, with the outbreak of war, the German Government requested that all companies respond to the war effort. Siemens-Schuckert re-activated the aviation department under the control of Dr Walter Reichel, who was assisted by Dr Hugo Natalis and designer/pilots Franz and Bruno Steffen. The company’s first effort was a single-engined monoplane that had been constructed for Prince Friedrich Sigismund of Prussia, based on a design by Swedish aircraft builder Villehad Forssman. Two of the Siemens-Schuckert Bulldogs, as they were known, were built in 1915 and submitted to the Idflieg for testing. One of the aircraft was fitted with a 100-hp Siemens-Halske Sh.I rotary engine, the other with a 100-hp Mercedes S I. Both the aircraft were rejected on the grounds of poor performance and even worse handling qualities.

Not put off by the rejection, Siemens-Schuckert produced the B model designed by Franz Steffen. Designed and constructed as an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft, the Siemens-Schuckert B was powered by a 100-hp Siemens-Halske Sh.I rotary engine which gave it a top speed of 95 mph. It had a wingspan of 40 ft 8 in and a fuselage length of 20 ft 4½ in. The wing spars were constructed of tubular steel, a new innovation for the time. The one and only model built was delivered to the Brieftauben Abteilung at Ostend (for testing purposes) at the request of the commanding officer. During one of the test flights the aircraft crashed and what was left of the usable parts were returned to the factory.

One of the types of aircraft that had been requested by the Government were bombers. Siemens-Schuckert responded by submitting two R-plane (Riesenflugzeug – giant aircraft) designs. Two of the company’s designers, Villehad Forssman and Bruno Steffen, based their designs on the Sikorsky-built four-engined bomber Ilia Mourumetz. Both men had been in Russia at the time the heavy bomber had been built, Forssman building airships and Steffen as a pilot serving on the Russian Front.

The first design by Forssman, who can best be described as a man of vision and vivid imagination, copied the Sikorsky configuration line for line. The Forssman R, as it was called, had four uncowled 110-hp Mercedes engines mounted on the lower wing, driving two-bladed propellers. The top speed of the aircraft is said to have been 115 mph, but there is a great deal of scepticism regarding this. The pilot’s cabin was enclosed and fitted with ample transparent panels, giving him an excellent view all around. The observer/gunner was not so fortunate: his position in a pulpit fitted on the nose was completely exposed. The 78 ft 9 in wingspan initially had only single struts fitted, but it was soon realised that additional struts, including diagonal ones, were required.

There were a number of continuing problems; when one was solved, more suddenly appeared. The aircraft was underpowered, and the aircraft had only been subjected to a couple of ground runs when the first test pilot refused to fly the aircraft, stating it was unstable. A second pilot, Leutnant Walter Höhndorf, was requested to fly the aircraft. On his first run the aircraft hopped into the air twice then went over on its nose. The aircraft was rebuilt, and despite its glossy, streamlined look it was riddled with structural weaknesses. After the accident no pilot could be found to fly the aircraft and it was placed in a hangar.

In an effort to save the reputation of the company, the Steffen brothers were approached to test fly the aircraft, which they did on condition that they were allowed to make certain modifications. This was agreed. Bruno Steffen was to fly the aircraft and five members of the Idflieg Acceptance Commission were invited to go along. Not surprisingly all five refused, and it was left to Bruno Steffen to fly the aircraft alone. The Idflieg acceptance specifications called for the aircraft to reach a height of 2,000 metres in 30 minutes while carrying a load of 1,000 kg and enough fuel to sustain a 4-hour flight.

The brothers installed a device that allowed all four throttle levers to be operated in unison. After examining the design drawings, Franz Steffen warned his brother that the fuselage was weak behind the cockpit and to be careful on take-off and landings. The flight in October 1915 was relatively uneventful and the Idflieg accepted the aircraft, but only for training purposes. Shortly after acceptance the aircraft broke its back due to vibration while the engines were being run up.

The second of the designs submitted was the Siemens-Schuckert SSW R.I. This had been designed by the Steffen brothers and given the designation SSW R.I 1/15 (the 15 referred to the year of manufacture) and was built at the SSW-Dynamowerk, Berlin. It was powered by three 150-hp Benz Bz.III engines turning two, twin-bladed propellers. Two of the engines were placed in the nose of the aircraft with their crankshafts facing aft; the third engine was mounted behind the gearbox on a lower level and facing forward. Each engine was connected to a common gearbox by means of a combination of leather-cone and centrifugal-key clutches. When the required number of revolutions was reached the centrifugal-key clutch engaged automatically, while the leather-cone clutch was disengaged manually.

The SSW R.I/15 had a wingspan of 91 ft 10 in and a fuselage length of 57 ft 5 in. It had a top speed of 68 mph, an operational range of 320 miles and an endurance of four hours. The evaluation of the aircraft was carried out on the Eastern Front because the threat from the air was considered to be less than that it would face on the Western Front, where the low-performance, low-flying bomber would be extremely vulnerable.

The SSW R.II 2/15 was the next model to appear, just three weeks after the first flight of the R.I. This would later make its appearance over the Western Front. It was the first of six aircraft contracted by Idflieg at a cost of 170,000 marks, without engines. The first model was powered by three 240-hp Maybach HS engines that were supplied by the Government. There were problems right from the outset as the engines were no more than modified airship engines and totally unfit for operational use. Consequently the aircraft were plagued with problems throughout their manufacture and operational time. Eventually common sense prevailed and the engines were replaced, initially by 220-hp Benz Bz.IV types and later by the 260-hp Mercedes D.IVa.

It was decided that the relative success of this new bomber justified the creation of two new units or Riesenflugzeugabteilungens (Rfa 500 & Rfa 501). These units were created, initially as part of an existing unit, and only as and when the aircraft came off the production line, and as can be appreciated, this happened very slowly. Only two of these units were created as there were never enough of the aircraft built to justify any more.

A third model appeared, the SSW R.III, and this was almost immediately sent to Rea at Döberitz together with the SSW R.I and R.II and assigned for training duties. The appearance of the SSW R.IV allowed the replacement of the R.I and R.IIs at Rfa 501.

There followed a number of variations up to SSW R.VII 7/15 with different wingspans and engines. All these models gave sterling service to the German Army and carried out numerous raids.

The fighter aircraft side of the company switched back to the monoplane design and produced the Siemens-Schuckert E.I. Powered by a 100-hp Siemens-Halske Sh.I rotary engine, the E.I had a top speed of 93 mph. It was of conventional construction, the box-type fuselage being covered in plywood with dope-painted fabric wings. With a wingspan of 32 ft 10 in, a fuselage length of 23 ft 3½ in, the aircraft had an endurance of 1½ hours. Armed with a single synchronised, fixed, forward-firing Spandau machine gun, twenty E.Is were ordered by the Army and delivered at the beginning of October 1915.

A second model was built at the beginning of 1916, the E.II. Powered by an in-line, water-cooled 120-hp Argus As.II engine, it was constructed using some of the usable parts recovered from the crashed Siemens-Schuckert B. The only model built crashed during tests while being flown by Franz Steffen, brother of Bruno Steffen, one of the company’s designers. This was followed by the E.III, which was just an E.I fitted with a 100-hp Oberursel rotary engine. Only six examples of this model were built.

A return to the biplane design resulted in the appearance of the Siemens-Schuckert D.D5. Only one model of this single-seater fighter was built. Powered by a 110-hp Siemens-Halske Sh.I rotary engine, the D.D5 bore more than a passing resemblance to the Type B. Passed to the Idflieg for evaluation, the D.D5 was rejected for its lack of handling and the poor visibility from the cockpit. Using the information gained from the evaluation, the Siemens-Schuckert Company set to work to produce another fighter. The Allies were enjoying success with their French Nieuport fighters and whenever one was captured, the aircraft was handed over to the German manufacturing companies to see if they could use any of the refinements built into the aircraft. The Siemens-Schuckert Company had recently received one and set to work copying it; the result was the Siemens-Schuckert D.I. The first test flight of this aircraft was by Bruno Steffen, whose brother Franz Steffen died in the crash of the Siemens-Schuckert B.

The aircraft was then passed to Idflieg for evaluation with the result that an order was placed for 150 of them. In November 1916 production started, but within weeks problems arose. It was nothing to do with the aircraft, but with the supply of the rotary engines, so it was decided to use the 110-hp Siemens-Halske Sh.I engine that had recently been developed by another branch of the company. This was a revolutionary engine, inasmuch as the crankcase rotated in one direction at 900 rpm and the crankshaft in the opposite direction at 900 rpm. This gave an engine speed of 1,800 rpm for a propeller speed of 900 rpm, which resulted in greater efficiency.

The engine was mounted within an open-fronted, horseshoe-shaped cowling with the lower half completely cutaway allowing exhaust fumes to freely escape. The fuselage was of a box-girder construction with four main longerons of spruce with plywood formers. It was covered with slab-sided plywood and doped fabric, with the exception of the foremost section that had metal panels in which large ventilation slits had been cut. Tail surfaces and aileron were made of steel tubing and covered in doped fabric.

The wings were staggered and the original French designed planform retained, although the four centre-section struts were vertical in both side and front views.

The problems with delivery of the engines improved slowly, but by mid-1917 other fighters had improved markedly, leaving the Siemens-Schuckert D.I way behind. So much so, in fact, that only ninety-five of the original order were completed before it was cancelled by the Army. The D.I ended up in training schools, although a number did see action on the Western Front and gave a good account of themselves. There was a D.Ia model that had a slightly larger wing area, and two D.Ibs with an improved Siemens-Halske Sh.I engine, none of which mounted to anything.

At the beginning of 1917, Siemens-Schuckert designers came up with a design for a triplane fighter that was powered by two 120-hp Siemens-Halske Sh.I high-compression engines. This unusual fighter had a nacelle situated between the wings, with ‘push-pull’ engines mounted fore and aft with the pilot sitting in the middle. The tail assembly, with twin rudders, was mounted on tubular outrigger booms. It was fitted with twin, synchronised, forward-firing machine guns. The Siemens-Schuckert D.DrI, as it was called, crashed on its maiden flight and no effort was made to rebuild it.

The natural successor to the D.I was the D.III. There were a number of D.II prototypes, but they only tested some of the ideas and theories that had appeared on the drawing board. Idflieg, impressed with the D.II prototypes and with the relative success of the D.I, made a pre-production order for twenty D.IIIs in December 1916. This was followed by a further order for thirty more in January 1917, but there was a proviso, and this was that there was to be continued development of a D.IV model and three prototypes were ordered.

During the construction of the D.III, two prototypes were built, the first being the Siemens-Schuckert D.III (Short). Each of the two had a tubby, rounded fuselage, but there were distinctive differences. The first model had a wingspan of 27 ft 10½ in and a fuselage length of 19 ft 8 in. The second, the D.III (long), had a wingspan of 29 ft 7 in and a fuselage length of 19 ft 8 in. Both the aircraft were fitted with the Siemens-Halske Sh.III engine. From these two prototypes came the added information that made the Siemens-Schuckert D.III one of the finest single-seat fighter aircraft in the German Army.

The D.III was powered by the eleven-cylinder 160-hp Siemens-Halske Sh.III engine, which was one of the most powerful engines available at the time and had a top speed of 112 mph. There were teething problems with the engine involving piston seizure. This manifested itself when the aircraft was supplied to Jagdstaffel 15 of Jagdgeschwader II. It was commanded by one of Germany’s most experienced pilots, Hauptmann Rudolph Berthold, who, despite the problems he and his fellow pilots were having, continued to support the aircraft. There were also opponents of the aircraft, among them Oberleutnant Hermann Göring, whom, one suspects, was hand-in-glove with his friend Anthony Fokker in trying to get the Idflieg to purchase Fokker aircraft.

An improved engine was fitted into the D.III and one of the aircraft, flown by Siemens test pilot Rodschinka, was taken to an unprecedented 26,586 feet in 36 minutes. The Siemens-Schuckert D.III was now looked upon totally differently and, because of its superb climbing ability, was used by Kampfeinsitzer Staffeln 4a, 4b, 5, 6 and 8 as interceptors. It is recorded that on one sortie, Oberleutnant Fritz Beckhardt shot down two Breguet B 14s while they were on a reconnaissance mission at a height of 23,000 feet.

The Siemens-Schuckert D.IV was produced in March 1918 with a redesigned upper wing, the lower half of the engine cowling cut away and cooling louvres cut into the propeller spinner. The maximum speed was increased to 118 mph and the climb rate increased. A total of 280 D.IVs were ordered, but not all the aircraft would be delivered before the war was over. Production of the aircraft was controlled by the rate of delivery of the engine, and that was at times painfully slow.

The D.IV had a wingspan of 27 ft 4½ in, a fuselage length of 18 ft 8½ in and a height of 9 ft 2½ in. It was armed with two synchronised, fixed, forward-firing Spandau machine guns.

The first deliveries of the Siemens-Schuckert D.IV went to the Marine Jagdgeschwader, which was under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Osterkamp, and Jasta 14. Later Jasta 22 and Kest 2 were to receive a small number of the aircraft, but a number of other Geschwaders, including the famed Richthofen Geschwader, did not.

Then, in March 1918, from the Siemens-Schuckert factory in Berlin came the SSW R.VIII, the largest aircraft in the world at the time. The R.VIII had a wingspan of 157 ft 6 in, a fuselage length of 70 ft 10 in and a height of 24 ft 3 in. It was powered by six 300-hp Bass & Selve BuS.IVa engines, which turned two tractor and two pusher propellers and gave the 35,000 lb aircraft a top speed of 77 mph. With a maximum operating ceiling of 13,124 ft, the SSW R.VIII had a range of 559 miles.

The aircraft was given a new designation of R.23, in line with other R-planes. The cockpit, unlike the previous SSW models, was open, giving the two pilots an excellent all-round view. The aircraft commander/observer had a fully enclosed cabin situated behind the cockpit, which was fully equipped with map table and navigation equipment. It also had a dorsal fin in which a ladder was fixed to enable the upper gunner get to his post. The aircraft was a revolution for the time, but unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your position, the war ended before the aircraft was completed. This also ended the building of the R.24, which was running alongside the R.23 and was three-quarters completed.

One Siemens aircraft that spent a great deal of time as a prototype was the Siemens-Schuckert D.IIe. It had started life as a D.II and was built with dual-girder wing spars and unbraced wings. It was later fitted with ‘I’-type interplane struts with no bracing. On tests it was found that the wings flexed alarmingly, and so it was returned to the factory for bracing cables to be added. After more tests it was returned to the factory for refurbishment to D.IV standards and sent to Geschwader II for evaluation tests. It was returned to the factory for modifications to be made and a new engine, the Siemens-Halske Sh.III, to be fitted. It was returned to Geschwader II in July 1918, where it stayed until the end of the war and is believed never to have seen action.

Three prototypes of the Siemens-Schuckert D.V appeared in August 1918, all with different types of wing bracing. The last of the three competed in the D-Types Competition at Aldershof.

A deviation from the biplane heralded the arrival of the Siemens-Schuckert D.VI. Designed to replace the D.IV, the D.V was a parasol fighter fitted with a jettisonable fuel tank beneath the fuselage. Powered by a Siemens-Halske Sh.IIIa engine which turned a four-bladed propeller, the D.V had a top speed of 137 mph and a climb rate of 1,200 feet per minute. It had a wingspan of 30 ft 9 in and a fuselage length of 21 ft 4 in. Only two of the aircraft were built, neither of which saw action, as they were not ready for testing until after the Armistice.

The Siemens-Schuckert Company was never a household name in aviation like Fokker, Dornier and Rumpler were, but they were, without doubt, one of the most innovative of all the aircraft manufacturers of the First World War. A perfect example of this was that between 1915 and 1918, not only did they build some of the finest aircraft, but they also developed a number of glider bombs that were the forerunner of today’s guided missile programme. In 1918, the company developed a 300 kg and 1,000 kg torpedogleiter (glider bomb) and trials were carried out from the Zeppelin L.35. Thankfully, none of the bombs were launched in anger, but they did give the world an insight of what was to come.

After the war, the company continued to make engines, but under the Treaty of Versailles they were restricted to low-powered engines for sporting aviation. Some years later the Bristol Company granted them a licence to produce the Bristol Jupiter engine, which eventually led to the creation of the Bramo engine. In 1939, the Siemens-Schuckert Company became part of the Bavarian Motorwerke – Flugmotorenwerke Brandenburg GmbH and faded into obscurity.