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Friedrichshafen G

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Friedrichshafen G
Friedrichshafen G.III
Type Bomber
Manufacturer Flugzeugbau Friedrichshafen GmbH
Designed by Karl Gehlen
Maiden flight 1915
Primary user Luftstreitkräfte
Produced 1915 to 1918

The Friedrichshafen G.I through G.IV were a series of medium bombers designed and manufactured by Friedrichshafen Flugzeugbau. They were used by the German Imperial Air Service (the Luftstreitkräfte) during the First World War for tactical and limited strategic bombing operations. After the war, a number of Friedrichshafen bombers were converted into transport aircraft while a small number also saw service as dedicated airliners.


As the First World War unfolded, aircraft, which had previously been dismissed as having little military value, began to prove their critics wrong. As a result of these initial experiences, the armed forces on both sides began to put considerable thought into concepts for highly specialized types of combat aircraft. Not all of these concepts survived the test of combat. One such concept was that of a "battle-plane": a large, heavily-armed, multi-engined aircraft designed to fulfill the role of a fighter aircraft. The battle-planes proved to be unable to effectively combat more maneuverable single seat fighters such as the German Fokker Eindecker, the British Airco DH.2 ,and the French Nieuport 11 but they did prove highly successful when they were fitted with bomb racks and pressed into service as medium bombers. In Germany these battle-planes were assigned the designation "K" (Kampfflugzeug) but once they had been re-assigned to the bomber role they were assigned the designation "G" (Großflugzeug) to identify them as bombers.


Flugzeugbau Friedrichshafen GmbH was founded by Theodor Kober, who had previously worked for the Zeppelin company. While Friedrichshafen is mainly famous for its series of seaplanes, which it sold to the Imperial German Navy, the company also designed a highly successful series of land based medium bombers under the aegis of head designer Karl Gehlen.

Friedrichshafen G.I

The Friedrichshafen G.I first flew in 1915 and was originally conceived as a battle-plane but the design emphasis was shifted to the bomber role when the battle-plane concept proved unworkable. The G.I was a biplane with a crew of three and armament of a single machine gun mounted on a gun ring in the nose of the aircraft. The front part of the fuselage was covered with plywood while the rear half of the fuselage was fabric covered as were the wings and the tail surfaces. The biplane wings were braced by three pairs of interplane struts on each side of the fuselage while the tail unit was a box-shaped biplane unit with two rudders mounted between the tips of the horizontal stabilizers. The fuselage was attached to the lower wing and the two engine nacelles were suspended between the wings by a system of struts. Each nacelle housed a six-cylinder 150 hp Benz Bz.III engine in a pusher configuration.

Friedrichshafen G.II

While the Friedrichshafen G.I had been a generally successful design it was clear it needed further improvement before it was fit for combat. The G.I was thus developed further into the G.II. The wings now only had two pairs of interplane struts on each side of the fuselage and the box shaped tail unit was replaced by a simple horizontal and vertical stabilizer assembly. Experience with the G.I had shown it to be underpowered and the G.II had more powerful six-cylinder 200 hp Benz Bz IV engines installed which increased the bomb load. The increase in power also enabled the installation of a second defensive machine gun aft of the wings between the propellers which were still mounted in a pusher configuration. The crew still consisted of three men, a rear gunner, a pilot and a bomb aimer who doubled as a nose gunner.

Friedrichshafen G.III

The success of the Friedrichshafen G.II paved the way for the larger and more powerful G.III, which entered service in early 1917. While it looked somewhat similar to the G.II, the G.III was longer and had a greater wingspan which caused its designers to increase the number of inter-plane struts to three pairs on each side of the fuselage. Operational experience with the G.II had revealed a tendency for the aircraft to "nose over" during landings with deadly consequences for the nose gunner and possibly also the pilot. Friedrichshafen engineers solved this problem by equipping the G.III with an auxiliary wheel mounted under the nose gunner's position. The G.III also used the more powerful six-cylinder 260 hp Mercedes D.IVa engines. The extra power increased the bomb carrying capability enabling the aircraft to carry a bomb load of up to 1000 kg, though this severely reduced operational range. In practice the heaviest bomb load rarely exceeded 600 kg. Some of the bomb load could be carried internally but most of it was carried on removable external bomb-racks and usually consisted of streamlined P.u.W bombs but specialized munitions such as air-mines could also be carried. As production continued further modifications were made to the G.III series that resulted in two sub-variants:

Friedrichshafen G.IIIa
Friedrichschafen G.IIIa on display in England after the war

This sub-variant reintroduced a box-shaped biplane unit which improved the aircraft's control response when it was being flown on one engine. Another modification was the installation of a third defensive machine gun to combat British night fighters, which often attacked German bombers from below where they were hard to spot but the bomber's silhouette was easy to see against the night sky. This gun was mounted on a tubular, sliding mounting bolted to the floor of the rear gunner's position and was fired downward through a small sloping gun-tunnel cut into the bottom of the rear fuselage. By the last year of the war the G.IIIa had replaced the G.III in production.

Friedrichshafen G.IIIb

Towards the end of the war, the G.IIIa was further modified by re-designing the rear gunner's position, which was connected to the pilot's cockpit by an open passageway.

Friedrichshafen G.IV

Although the Friedrichshafen G.III series had proven to be successful, Friedrichshafen engineers began to work on a replacement aircraft during 1917. Faced with the fact that any successor would have to be powered by the same 260 hp Mercedes D.IVa engine as the D.III series, engineers decided to increase performance by trying to lighten the aircraft. In part this was achieved by completely removing the nose gunner's position. Another major change was that the twin engines were now arranged in a tractor configuration for the first time. Two basic versions of this bomber were produced; the G.IV which had a similar tail unit as the G.III while the G.IVa had a tail unit similar to that of the G.IIIa and G.IIIb. Other than modifications to the fuselage and tail surfaces to account for the change in the aircraft's center of gravity the G.IV series aircraft were roughly similar to the G.III series aircraft. Little is known of the wartime career of the G.IV and G.IVa. Two batches of these bombers were ordered from Friedrichshafen and Daimler and some of them were delivered before the war ended.

Transport and airliner conversions

After the end of the First World War the German government and at least one commercial airline, Deutsche Luft-Reederei (DLR), operated a fleet of Friedrichshafen G.III series aircraft which were used to transport mail, high priority cargoes and the occasional passenger to and from a variety of destinations including some long distance flights to the Ukraine. For this purpose the standard G.III series bomber, usually a G.IIIa or G.IIIb, was subjected to a set of modifications ranging from the simple disarmament to fitting a rudimentary cargo compartment in place of the rear gunner's position. Some of the aircraft operated by DLR were even more extensively modified by replacing the rear gunner's position with a fully enclosed, glazed passenger cabin. Eventually all these operations were stopped by the Allies in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, but until then the G.III series proved itself to be a reliable and capable transport aircraft.


While the Friedrichshafen G.I remained a prototype the G.II went into production with 35 aircraft being built by Friedrichshafen (18 built) and Daimler (17 built). The G.II saw active service from early 1916 with German bomber units on the Western Front and in Macedonia where it was mostly used for tactical bombing operations. At first these were conducted in daylight but later, as losses mounted, most attacks were conducted at night. The Friedrichshafen G.III series was ordered in large numbers from Friedrichshafen (709 ordered), Daimler (75 ordered) and Hanseatische Flugzeug Werke (280 ordered) and most of these aircraft were delivered before the war ended. A license for the production of the Friedrichshafen G.IIIa was acquired by the Oesterreichische Flugzeugfabrik A.G. (Oeffag) for the Austro-Hungarian Luftfahrttruppe but the project was cut short before production began by the end of the First World War.

In front-line service with the Luftstreitkräfte the G.III series equipped a large portion of the bomber force until the end of the war. The G.III series bombers served mainly on the Western Front where they were used to great effect, mostly in nocturnal attacks, on both tactical targets behind the Allied front-lines as well as for strategic air raids on major urban centers such as Paris. As far as is known no Friedrichshafen bombers of any type ever participated in strategic air raids on Britain because they lacked the range needed. The attacks on Britain were conducted exclusively by Gotha G.IV and G.V medium bombers, Zeppelin Staaken R.IV heavy-bombers and Zeppelin airships. While it is certain that some examples of the improved Friedrichshafen G.IV were delivered it is not clear how many they were or whether they saw service at the front. The Friedrichshafen G series was generally well liked by its military crews for its superior load carrying capability, reliability, robustness and relatively low accident rate. These same qualities also made it popular with commercial operators during its short post-war career as transport aircraft and an airliner.

Specifications (Friedrichshafen G.III)

Template:Aircraft specification

References and Notes

External links

See also

Comparable aircraft

See also
Idflieg aircraft designation system

Template:Idflieg G-class designations