German military pilot. September 21, 1890 - June 8, 1916 (KIA)
A skilled aviator from World War I, and one of the first German air aces. He flew out of France's Douai airfield.
In 1915, the first pair of Anthony Fokker's new monoplanes arrived at Douai. These planes were equipped with revolutionary Aircraft Guns: a front mounted machine gun and an synchronizer (a.k.a. 'interrupter') gear that allowed it to fire forward through the propeller without shooting it off. No other planes at the time had this ability, and the Allies would not develop it for another year.
Immelmann and fellow pilot Oswald Boelcke began a friendly competition to see who would score the most success with the planes. Each patrolled alone (this was long before 'wingmen') and Max liked to fly over the town of Lille. His several victories there led to his nickname as "The Eagle of Lille."
On January 12, 1916, Max was awarded "Pour le Mérite"/"The Blue Max" by Kaiser Wilhelm II, along with Oswald Boelcke.
Max was killed in action on June 18, 1916. There are three separate theories about his death:
- The Royal Flying Corps claimed Immelmann was shot down by its pilots.
- Some German authorities claimed that the synchronizer gear failed, resulting in Max shooting his own propeller off. (He was by then flying an advanced Fokker with multiple guns, and had indeed shot himself down this way at least twice while testing the new aircraft.)
- Anthony Fokker examined the wreckage and determined that Max's plane was downed by anti-aircraft fire.
None of these theories was ever proven correct.
The Immelmann turn bears Max's name, but it seems unlikely that his craft would have withstood the forces needed to make this maneuver. Instead Max likely escaped trouble with a steep vertical climb and a near stall turn to drop back down on his opponents. The results of this would have looked similar to an enemy pilot to the Immelmann turn as we know it today.
Numerous online sources, many of whom seem to have cribbed the same notes. Synthesized and rewritten in my own words.