Engine: 160 hp Daimler Mercedes D.III in-line piston
Wingspan: 27 feet 11 inches (upper); 26 feet 3 inches (lower)
Wing area: 254 square feet
Length: 24 feet 3 inches
Height: 9 feet 8 inches
Empty: 1,530 pounds
Loaded: 2,032 pounds
Armament: Two 7.92 mm Maxim LMG 08/15
Maximum speed: 109 mph
Climb rate: 3,281 feet in four minutes
Service ceiling: 18,000 feet
Endurance: Two hours
Amid the escalating quest for air superiority over the Western Front, in June 1916 the German high command, impressed with the agility and excellent downward visibility afforded by the Nieuport 17 sesquiplane, ordered a single-seat fighter incorporating that French counterpart’s narrow, single-spar lower wing—little more than an airfoil brace for its two-spar upper wing. Among other competing manufacturers, Albatros tried applying the “1½ wing” arrangement to its successful D.II biplane, and in December the first Albatros D.IIIs reached Jagdstaffel (or Jasta) 24.
In addition to its superior downward view, the D.III boasted a better climb rate and maneuverability than the D.II. However, the Albatros was also heavier and more powerful than the rotary engine Nieuport, and in January 1917 reports of structural wing failures came in from German pilots. On the 23rd Hauptmann Manfred von Richthofen, the famed “Red Baron,” was forced to set down near his 17th victim when one of his lower wings nearly broke in two. Four days later all D.IIIs were grounded.
Albatros responded by strengthening and bracing the D.III’s lower wing cellule, including the addition of sheet metal braces to the front stringers on the lower wing. The stopgap measures sufficed for D.III deliveries to resume just in time to face French Gen. Robert Nivelle’s spring 1917 offensive. Flown aggressively with tactical skill, the D.III became the terror of the Western Front in a lopsided 4-to-1 slaughter the British came to call “Bloody April.” Richthofen himself scored one-quarter of his 80 victories that month and earned notoriety for his all-red Albatros D.III long before he laid eyes on a Fokker triplane—as did his brother Lothar and numerous other German aces. Built by Albatros and its subsidiary, the Östdeutsche Albatros Werke, as well as the Austrian Österreichische Flugzeugfabrik AG, Albatros D.IIIs served throughout World War I. MH