In which is shown how Fokker invented the synchronised machine gun in just a few seconds...

The Fokker scourge

Fokker and Reinhold Platz, brilliant idea to synchronize a machinegun with the rotation of the propeller

Anthony Fokker demonstrates the working of a synchronized machinegun. A wooden circel was mounted to the propellor in order to show that the shots just missed the propellorblades. The aircraft is a D.1.

Manfred von Richthofen

Fokker E.1. with first synchronised machinegun

Fokker E.1 with automatic machineguns

Later Fokker E.4 with two synchronised machineguns

Let the Germans do their own killing...

They say: "the devil takes care of his own".

Fokker, who should have been killed ten times over by his own admission, survived. When the tide of his fortunes turned, it caught him by surprise, for he never expected war.

It turned dramatically. Within hours those same officers of the German army and navy to whom he had endlessly and fruitlessly demonstrated his machines were bidding for them like crazed collectors at a mad auction. (It mattered not to Fokker who bought his services. He was a neutral, and a businessman, not a moralist.)

In a day or two Fokker had sold everything in his shop, whether it flew or not, whether it was his or not, at any price he cared to mention.


Everyone was certain the war would be over in three months; one had to seize opportunities as they presented themselves.

The year before WW-I began, Fokker was only 23 and building airplanes. Germany contracted with him to build ten airplanes, and he went to work. War broke out months later, and Fokker was suddenly Germany's man-of-the-hour. By 1915 his monoplane, the Eindecker, was doing frontline scout work. Three months came and went, and still there was war.

The first airplanes that took to the sky in WW-I had only one purpose -- scouting enemy positions and movements. Still, in no time at all, their pilots looked for ways to shoot each other down. Flyers made the first kills by firing pistols and rifles off to the side. Then backseat observers began operating movable machine guns. But what they clearly needed were forward-firing guns that could bring an enemy down from behind.

German reconnaissance airplanes began mysteriously to disappear, and on April 15, 1915, when a French Morane-Saulnier monoplane was forced to land behind their lines, the Germans found out why. Strapped to the fuselage top was a Lewis gun,

French Morane-Saulnier monoplane

and carefully lined up with it on the propeller blades were heavy steel deflector plates.

In this way the airplane had become a flying gun that could be aimed at its target simply by the pilot moving his flying controls. That worked until crankshafts deformed under the hammering of their own pilots' bullets.

Could Fokker do that with the Eindecker?

Blinkered by the conservatism of their calling, the commanders of the German air service had no thought but to imitate the Morane's gun, and summoned

Fokker, whose airplanes they already liked, to do the job. At five o'clock one Tuesday evening he was given a Parabellum machine gun to experiment with.

Fokker had never even handled a gun before, but he knew at once that deflector plates on the propeller were a poor solution to the problem. Fokker said, "Wait a minute!"

The way around the problem is to let the propeller fire the gun. The propeller turns at 1200 rpm, and the gun fires 600 times a minute. Put a cam on the shaft and let it fire the gun every other turn. Then no bullet will ever hit the prop.

Two days and two nights later, pale from lack of sleep, he had the answer strapped to his car, and set off for Berlin.

The answer was a little Fokker monoplane with a machine gun mounted atop its fuselage just like the French airplane, but with its firing mechanism connected to the propeller by a rod-andcam arrangement so that fire was interrupted whenever a blade of the propeller turned past the gun's muzzle.

The device worked well

Fokker tells what happened next, in his autobiography:

The device worked well enough in tests, but German officers wanted a combat demonstration. They wrapped the Dutch civilian Fokker in a German uniform and hustled him off to the front.

At first the German officers didn't believe it. Fokker started his engine and fired a few shots without one catching the propeller. There must be some trick to it, they thought.
Would Herr Fokker care to fire a belt of one hundred bullets from the air? A target was set up on the turf and Fokker dived on it with his guns blazing. To his contemptuous delight the bullets ricocheted everywhere, as did the German officers, rushing madly for cover and throwing themselves flat on the earth. When they had picked themselves up and dusted off their uniforms their minds at last were clear on what they must do.

They must pass the buck. Would Herr Fokker care to demonstrate his invention to the officers at the front? So Fokker once more lashed the little monoplane to the back of his car and Set off for the front. There the officers didn't believe his synchronizing device, either. Perhaps he would care to demonstrate it to the Crown Prince, who was in residence only a few miles away? Fokker performed a few of his favorite aerobatics, then dived on the field and fired a burst into the stream that bordered it. Even he did not have the gall to make the Crown Prince of Germany run for cover. Very interesting, said the Crown Prince. It was perhaps Herr Fokker's father who invented the device? For Fokker was only a boyish twenty-four. People were always asking him for Herr Direktor or the real Herr Fokker. "You seem to be a real Flying Dutchman," the Crown Prince admitted, asking Fokker back for lunch and some of his special sherry. But Fokker did not drink. His only weakness was candy.

Still no one would make a decision. Perhaps Herr Fokker would care to shoot down a Frenchman to prove that his synchronized gun really works in combat.


So for several weeks Fokker, uncomfortable in a German uniform, patrolled the skies of northeastern France till he stumbled upon a lumbering twoseater Farman observation biplane.He crawled up behind it, took aim, and decided suddenly that the whole job could go to hell. Let them do their own killing! He returned to the German field at Douai.

There was an argument, but in the end it was agreed Lieutenant Oswald Boelcke would take on the job. On his third flight Boeleke, who was later to become the first German ace, scored. The entire German air corps was at once convinced that Fokker was a genius. He was deluged with orders for the gun-synchronizing device and for his monoplane. Lieutenant Max lmmelmann received the second Fokker that was ready, and he too scored at once. Within a week or two, half a dozen Fokkers were in action with devastating effect. The ponderous Allied observation airplanes went down like ninepins.

He took off in his Eindecker and soon spotted a two-seater French scout below him. He put the plane into an attack dive, located the scout in his sights, then realized he was about to kill two people! Fokker turned sick to his stomach and flew back to the aerodrome without firing a shot.

Let the Germans do their own killing, he vowed. So the Army relented. They sent a pilot named Ostwald Boelke up to try it out. Boelke went on to become Germany's first ace. Fokker went back to making the advanced German airplanes that killed thousands of Allied pilots throughout the war.

It was the beginning of the "Fokker Scourge," the "Fokker Terror," the excuse with which the British press, ever alert for incompetence in high places, was to belabor the Allied authorities in general and the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough in particular. With some justification. Fokker's gun gear remained a secret from the Allies for five months, and it was a full year before the first Allied fighter sported an interrupter gear.