Das "Feldpilotenabzeichen 1913" - The Field Pilot's Badge 1913

Field Pilots: Feldwebels Leopold Bauer & Franz Wiesmayer of FliK 36As always, the introduction of new ideas and technologies in Austria-Hungary was extremely difficult and slow. Although in the second half of the nineteenth century the use of balloons for military purposes was widely recognized by the other great powers and promoted through both military use and also by the private use of technically gifted young officers, the senior decision makers of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy considered to a large extent the use of balloons as suitable only "for amusement parks" and that "heavier than air" flight if not impossible was nevertheless useless. Diplomatically speaking, the Austro-Hungarian army administration was and remained in respect of this problem rather in the role of an observer. Only when Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf became chief of the General Staff on the 18th of November 1906 was the significance of military flight fully recognized and the development of military aviation continually pointed out. He was supported by the member of Parliament Viktor Silberer, who from 1908 onwards continually demanded the subsidy of civil aviation and also the expansion of military aviation. Both found themselves in complete opposition to the then Minister of War, General der Infanterie von Schönaich (1906-1911) who considered military aviation completely superfluous.

In 1909 the Militäraeronautische Anstalt (military aeronautical institution) under the command of Hauptmann/Major Franz Hinterstoisser was renamed under the authority of the "Allerhöchster Entschliesung (by command of his Majesty) on the 7th of October 1909 as the k.u.k. Luftschifferabteilung (Imperial and Royal airship detachment). Formerly subordinated to Festungsartillerieregiment Nr. 1 (fortress artillery regiment number 1) the detachment was now placed under the direct command of the newly created Verkehrsbrigade (transport brigade) in Vienna. This brigade consisted of the railway and telegraph regiment, the automobile corps and the airship detachment and was commanded by the enthusiastic balloon pilot Generalmajor Leopold Schleyer Edler von Pontemalghera.

Under the productive foursome of Chief of Staff Conrad, Representative Silberer, Generalmajor Schleyer and engineer Igo Etrich, who had moved to Vienna in 1908, military aviation and especially "heavier than air" flight made rapid progress. The genial engineer Etrich who had already in 1906 made glider flights with his assistant Franz Wels, succeeded with his friend Ferdinand Porsche, who at the time was a designer with the Wiener Neustadt firm of Austro-Daimler in constructing several motorized aircraft.

From now on the possibility of "heavier than air" flight  enthused the aviation pioneers. The centre of this field of activity was indisputably Wiener-Neustadt to the south of Vienna with the seat of the Austro-Daimler works and the first airfield. In Hungary the former coronation site at Rakos took form as the centre for the Hungarian aviation pioneers.

Korporal of Aviation Troops with the "Balloon Badge" on collar and cap.However the army administration initially failed to provide a properly regulated course of flight instruction and this was left to the "Österreichischer Aero-Club". This club under the patronage of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the honorary presidency of Max Egon Fürst zu Fürstenburg, Viktor Silberer and Franz Hinterstoisser had been founded in 1901 as the Wiener Aero-Club and subsequently renamed as the Austrian Aero Club in 1908. In line with it's Hungarian counterpart, from 1910 on, it licensed pilots in accordance with the regulations of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) headquartered in Paris. The trainee pilots had to complete three orbital solo flights of at least five kilometres duration and land at a specific position with the machine no more than 150 metres from the specified point.

On the 15th of September 1910 the Chief of the General Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf carried out an inspection of the airfield at Wiener-Neustadt and flew a few circuits as a passenger in a double-decker. Deeply impressed and now totally convinced of the value of military aviation he made a submission to the War Ministry on the 5th of October to elicit support and requested the training of 400 pilots and the employment of 200 aircraft. Initially unsuccessful, this demonstrated the vision of the later Field Marshal. At any rate the War Ministry commenced work on more rigorous training regulations for "field pilots" and dealt with the technical requirements which the aircraft must possess in order to be able to be considered in a future Tender.

On the 18th of September 1910 the Kaiser visited a flying show at Wiener-Neustadt and already a day later with an imperial decree and published in the k.u.k. army gazette of the 8th of November set down that all members of the Luftschifferabteilung, who still wore the uniform of their original branch of service, were to wear as an outward distinction a small stylized balloon behind the rank badges on the collar and as a cap badge. These balloon badges were manufactured in gold-coated metal for officers (in the case of field officers who had gold rank braid, then of silver metal) and for NCOs and men out of silver-coated metal. However as was common with the collar insignia of the rest of the k.u.k. army, the officers preferred contrary to regulations to wear embroidered badges.

1912 - the turning point

In the face of the Balkan crisis of 1912 it was decided by the army administration now had to get the required attention. The focal point of the measures lay in the acceleration of the training of aircrew. For the first time the training could be carried out at two airfields, at Wiener Neustadt and at Görz (Goricia). Additionally facilities at Fischamend were improved. In addition to practical instruction, the graduates of the flying schools were also trained in motor vehicle driving, vehicle mechanics, flight theory, observation and in military subjects.

Through the already noted reorganization, which was completed in the spring of 1912, the balloon detachment was now under the direct command of the fortress artillery whereas the Luftschifferabteilung  took care of the problems of aircraft and dirigibles. In this phase (24th April 1912) the highly technically proficient Oberstleutnant des Geniestabes (engineering staff officer) Emil (Milan) Uzelac assumed command of the Luftschifferabteilung. At the time of this Croatian officer's assumption of the command, besides the balloon and dirigible pilots, only 16 trained pilot officers, 12 aircraft of various origins as well as a few trained technical personnel were available.

Resolutely and energetically the then 45 year old began to develop the capability of his organization. Within four weeks  he himself had received his pilot's certificate and within three months had successfully graduated as a qualified field pilot. He worked untiringly on his own further aeronautical education, personally testing each new piece of equipment  and in the same way resolutely attempted to improve the qualitative and quantitative training of field pilots. At the beginning of 1913 he sent for the young Oberleutnant Alexander Löhr who had just graduated from the Kriegsschule as the general staff officer of the Verkehrstruppen-Brigade. With this summoning, Löhr for the first time came into contact with  military aviation in which he would dedicate his life for the next three decades. Although Löhr produced the first k.u.k. aviation mobilization plan, he would never in contrast to Uzelac graduate from the field pilots' course.

Thanks to the measures taken up to the end of 1912 and Oberst Uzelac's erergy, from 1913 onwards the development of military aviation was able to take a well ordered course. The training was now carried out at four expanded and improved airfields at the field pilots' school at Görz and at the flying schools at Wiener-Neustadt, Fischamend  as well as Ujvidek (Neusatz). Besides the already existing training facilities three further aircraft bases were formed at the end of 1913 - Przemyśl, Ujvidek and at Sarajevo. Aircraft base number 4 in Mostar followed in the spring of 1914 under the command of Hauptmann Deodatus Andrich who was killed in a crash on the 17th of May 1913 just the same as Oberleutnant Eduard Nittner in Fischamend barely three months before.

Despite these and other setbacks the aviation troops were continuously developed. Oberst Uzelac also demanded that NCOs and men be given pilot's training. However this progressive idea only came into being through a lack of trained flight personnel at the beginning of the war. At the end of 1913 in comparison with Germany, Austria-Hungary had just 97 trained pilot officers whereas Germany entered the war with nearly 500 pilots and observers.

In order to give the corresponding incentive to complete field pilot training and to give prominence to these specialists, the "Feldpilotenabzeichen" or field pilot's badge was introduced in January 1913 at the suggestion of Oberst Uzelac. Although there was in some respects a tradition in the k.u.k. army of achievement and proficiency badges, this and all the following aircrew badges were an innovation, in that they could also be awarded to commissioned officers. Perhaps this was the reason for deviating from the normal pattern of a lanyard and cockade and the choice of a coloured and enameled pin back badge. The field pilot badge and the navy pilot badge were by the way, with the exception of the merit cross with and without the crown which had a rather civilian character, the only distinction which could be awarded to both officers as well as NCOs and men.

The Field Pilot's Badge 1913

The introduction of a special badge for the graduates of field pilot training was introduced with the k.u.k. army gazette (Normalverordnungsblatt) Number 2/1913 and published in the circular ordinance of the 4th of January 1913, section 13, Number 2218 (of 1912:) as follows:   

His k.u.k. Apostolic Majesty has graciously approved with the imperial decree of the 11th of September 1912 the introduction of a wearable field pilot's badge to be worn on the right breast in accordance with the following illustration. The award of this badge by the war ministry is consequent to the recommendation of the commander of the Luftschifferabteilung to all active and non active personnel, who have met the corresponding conditions and will be promulgated in the k.u.k. army gazette (Personnel affairs). 

       Ritter von Krobatin m.p.



These badges were manufactured from Tombak (Bronze Alloy) consisting of a dark green enameled oval wreath with an Austrian Kaiser's crown on the upper edge. The lower edge of the wreath was formed by a white enameled shield with the initials of Kaiser Franz Joseph I - "FJI". On this wreath is a gliding eagle finished in blackened Tombak and secured with a rivet through each of the wings. At the reverse of the eagle one will find the manufacturer's mark of the firm Zimbler from Vienna VII.


Regulation Pattern Badge Model 1913 Obverse  Regulation Pattern Badge Model 1913 Reverse


To secure the badge a very thin and sharp steel pin is found at the reverse which runs from the needle block on the rear side of the Kaiser's crown through a loop at the rear side of the initial shield. From the drawing it can be clearly seen that the pin is much longer than the badge, which in reality is rarely to be seen as it would be distinctly unpractical. Notwithstanding, this pin had a design fault, as it was easily broken and during the course of the war many field pilots had the pin replaced with practical hooks.


The firm of Zimbler also supplied cases for these badges. These nearly square cases (97mm x 84mm x 27mm) with a snap closure are covered with bright red fabric and have a gold embossed Kaiser's coat of arms  in the centre of the lid, which one can find also on many of the cases of the officer's long service awards or the military merit medal. The inner side of the lid is lined with white silk, in the centre is the gold printed cipher of the firm of Zimbler. The insert consists of a strong upward curved box which is also coated with white flecked material and a narrow recess for the pin.


The badge was awarded by the war ministry after the successful completion of the field pilot's training and from 1915 after the additional proof of a further 10 operational sorties (Feindflügen). The appointment as a field pilot as well as the award of the badge was published separately in the army gazette (personnel affairs) and aviation troops orders respectively. An award or ownership certificate was not issued. All the available documents seen by the author were produced at unit level and are actually a tribute from the pilot's comrades.





The needle on this particular Badge has been replaced by two hooks. Note also the somewhat distorted shape of the wings and damaged enamel.


From 1916 the field pilot badge was generally (also retrospectively) only awarded for one year's duration. If the field pilot could prove a minimum of 10 operational sorties in the past year the right to continue to wear the badge was granted fro a further year. If the proof was not forthcoming, the badge had to be taken off and returned through service channels as the awarded badge was like all achievement and qualification badges government property. 


A permanent award of the badge occurred only for the following three reasons:


1.)  The field pilot had completed his training before the 31st of December 1913.


2.)  The field pilot had fulfilled the award requirements for four years.


3.)  The field pilot was injured or wounded in the exercise of his duty and additionally honored for bravery before the enemy.


As the shape of the badge had only altered with the imperial decree of the 10th of September 1917 (published on the 6th of October 1917), it is accepted, that at least until the end of the year 1917 that the field badge was awarded in this form. According to the corresponding publications, the following numbers of awards can be shown:


1913:   64 officers including 14 from the navy

1914:   33 officers

1915:   26 officers, 81 NCOs and soldiers

1916:   54 officers, 164 NCOs and soldiers

1917:   95 officers, 199 NCOs and soldiers


For various reasons the field pilot badge was awarded as an honorarium to officers of allied armies on the orders of the commander of the aviation troops, Oberst/Generalmajor Uzelac. Unfortunately only a list made out in November 1916 is available in the files. In this list, the up to then special awards which had occurred are listed: 78 Germans and 3 Bulgarians. For the years 1917 and 1918 there is no documentary evidence of awards to foreigners.


Consequently it can be shown that a total of 797 model 1913 field pilots' badges were awarded!

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