This is an interesting photo of a Bavarian Air Service pilot. He is wearing a large medal bar with the Military Max Joseph Order Knight’s Cross, a Bavarian Military Merit Order IV Class with Swords, and a Prussian Iron Cross 2nd Class. These awards appeared to have been artistically “added” to the photo, or were enhanced by an artist to add detail. Sometimes artists added awards to a photo to update the photo with the recipient’s most recent awards after the recipient had died and it was therefore not possible to take a new photo. Also, if certain details on a photo were out of focus, artists were sometimes utilized to enhance the image.
The pilot is also wearing his Prussian Iron Cross 1st Class, an Army Wound Badge (Verwundetenabzeichen für die Armee) most likely in “silver” (mattweiß) for three or four wounds, or possibly, but less likely, in “gold” (mattgelb) for five or more wounds, and a Qualification Badge for a Bavarian Pilot (Flugzeugführerabzeichen). The interesting feature of the Pilot’s Badge is that is a badge that is was originally a Prussian-type Pilot’s Badge that had an Imperial Crown. The Imperial Crown was removed and a Bavarian Royal Crown was added by a jeweler. This is believed to have sometimes been done by the recipients who were Bavarian due to a shortage of commercially-produced Bavarian Pilot’s Badges at the time. These awards appear in the photo to not have been artistically enhanced. The presence of a Army Wound Badge indicates that this photo was taken in 1918, or thereafter, as the Army Wound Badge was founded on March 3, 1918. This fact will be very important in determining who the pilot in this photo is.
The pilot is wearing a Bavarian (as indicated by the buttons) field-gray Officer’s uniform. The pilot is also wearing a ring on his left hand which is of a distinctive design.
Now that we have reviewed the awards of this Officer, since he was a recipient of the Military Max Joseph Order Knight’s Cross, and since he was in the Bavarian Air Service, it should be relatively easy to determine who he was. According to Neil O’ Connor: “The Knight’s Cross was given to only 11 fliers during the war, each of whom was serving in a Bavarian aviation unit at the time their actions earned them the award. None of the six Knight’s Crosses given to non-Bavarians went to a flier.”
The eleven (11) Bavarian aviation recipients who received the Military Max Joseph Order Knight’s Cross were (in order of when they were appointed to the Order):
Leutnant Walter Ritter von Lichtenberger (Observer)
Leutnant Maximilian Ritter von Mulzer (Pilot)
Leutnant Hans Ritter von Adam (Pilot)
Oberleutnant Eduard Ritter von Dostler (Pilot)
Oberleutnant Friedrich Ritter von Krausser (Observer)
Leutnant Max Ritter von Müller (Pilot)
Leutnant Friedrich Ritter von Röth (Pilot)
Oberleutnant Eduard Ritter von Schleich (Pilot)
Leutnant Hermann Ritter von Lechner (Observer)
Oberleutnant Robert Ritter von Greim (Pilot)
Leutnant Georg Ritter von Hengl (Observer)
Thus, of the eleven (11) recipients, only seven (7) of them were pilots. On September 26, 1916 Leutnant Mulzer died during a test flight. On August 21, 1917 Oberleutnant Eduard Dostler was killed-in-action. On November 15, 1917 Leutnant Hans Adam was killed-in-action. On January 9, 1918 Leutnant Max Müller was killed-in-action. Since the pilot in the photo is wearing an Army Wound Badge, Leutnant Mulzer, Oberleutnant Dostler, Leutnant Adam, and Leutnant Max Müller can be eliminated from the list of possible Officers.
The five (5) Bavarian Officers who received the Military Max Joseph Order Knight’s Cross while serving in ground combat units and were later transferred to the Air Service (Fliegertruppe) were (in order of when they were appointed to the Order):
Leutnant Karl Ritter von Gruny ex-I.R. 1 (Observer)
Leutnant Maximilian Ritter von Müller* ex-Pionier-Batallion Nr. 1 (Unknown)
Leutnant Reinhold Ritter von Benz ex-I.R. 17 (Pilot)
Leutnant Adolf Ritter von Tutschek ex-I.R. 3 (Pilot)
Leutnant Georg Ritter von Reiner ex-R.I.R. 10 (Pilot)
*Not to be confused with Leutnant Max Ritter von Müller
Thus, there are a total of seven (7) possible matches for the Officer shown in this photo:
Leutnant Reinhold Ritter von Benz
Oberleutnant Robert Ritter von Greim
Leutnant Maximilian Ritter von Müller
Leutnant Georg Ritter von Reiner
Leutnant Friedrich Ritter von Röth
Oberleutnant Eduard Ritter von Schleich
Leutnant Adolf Ritter von Tutschek
Photographs of Ritter von Greim, Ritter von Röth, Ritter von Schleich, and Ritter von Tutschek are often seen. I have never seen photographs of Ritter von Benz, Maximilian Ritter von Müller, and Ritter von Reiner however. So which one of these seven (7) pilots is this a photograph of? Do you know? What are your thoughts?
Thank you for your interest regarding this article. Comments are welcome.
Kramer, Rudolf von, Waldenfels, Otto von, and Pechmann, Dr. Günther Freiherr von. Virtuti Pro Patria, Der königlich bayerische Militär-Max-Joseph-Orden, Kriegstaten und Ehrenbuch 1914-1918. Selbstverlag des königlich bayerischen Militär-Max-Joseph-Ordens, München, 1966.
O’Connor, Neal W., Aviation Awards of Imperial Germany in World War I, Volume I – The Aviation Awards of the Kingdom of Bavaria, Foundation for Aviation World War I, Princeton, New Jersey, USA, 1988.