Das Luftfahrerabzeichen - The Aircrew Badge

Shortly after the start of the war it became clear how important the observer was, whether in a balloon or aircraft, for reconnaissance in general or especially for the control of artillery fire and the authorities began to concern themselves with the concept of distinguishing these deserving officers with their own individual badge, similar to that of the field pilots. Although the introduction of the aircrew badge seemed relatively effortless and quick from a bureaucratic point of view, it was still a lengthy path until the first awards. Since the materialization of awards and badges can not always be clearly documented, the long and bureaucratic process will be reconstructed in detail here. Already by resolution number 331 of the 18th of September 1915 Oberst Uzelac had placed the proposal for the standardization of an aircrew badge. However, the bureaucratic machinery only started into motion with an handwritten letter from Hauptmann Vallo to the Luftfahrtruppenkommando (Aviation Troops Command) on the 14th of April 1916:

Designs I and II    "I  report, that I submit two drafts for the observer's badge. The drafts were executed by the cartographic designer assigned to me,  Korporal Tretzmüller, with regard to the given specifications. The comments of the observers assigned to the Aisovizza aviation group are enclosed.".

On the 17th of May 1916 this letter and two enclosed draft drawings were forwarded from the Luftfahrtruppenkommando to department 5/L at the war ministry with the following covering letter:

    "Pursuant to the report Exh.Nr. 92 of the 13th of February 1915 to the High Command (Abtl. 5M Nr. 3081) and Res.Nr. 331 of the 18th of September 1915 I enclose draft (II) of an aircrew badge, in which the new regulations regarding the common coat of arms is already taken into account.

   I request the classification of this badge, which on the grounds of the above mentioned Res.Nr. 331 describes as a necessity.

   The draft of the conditions for the appointment of aircraft observer officers is in progress and will be submitted immediately on completion (approximately four days)".

Nevertheless things did not proceed quite so fast. It was not until the 3rd of July 1916 that the Luftfahrtruppenkommando wrote again to department 5/L regarding this matter:

     "......I enclose in the attachment the conditions for the nomination as an observer-officer of aircraft and for balloon pilots and simultaneously the changed requirements for the nomination as a field pilot with consideration for the previously gained experience in this war.


     As findings are as yet not available,  the conditions for the award of the aircrew badge  to gunners and non commissioned officer aircrew will be submitted at a later time."

On the 24th of July 1916 department 5/L of the war ministry (responsible for aviation matters) turned to department 13 (responsible for new insignia) with the following letter:

       "In the submission are enclosed grounds for intervention by the headquarters of the Luftfahrtruppen concerning the creation of an aircrew badge. The proposed conditions in the enclosure for the attainment of the field pilots and the aircrew badge were processed here."

As announced, these regulations were swiftly implemented and published, however department 13 appeared to prevaricate and thus once again on the16th of September 1916 department 5/L endeavored with the matter:

      "...The conditions for the nomination as an aircraft observer or balloon pilot respectively are already decided and were announced in supplement number 45/16 of 5/L number 2133 of 1916. Numerous officers of the Luftfahrtruppen are awaiting nomination long after they have fulfilled the conditions. It is therefore requested that the creation of an aircrew badge as proposed by the headquarters of the Luftfahrtruppen is implemented as soon as possible."

Only now did it appear that department 13 sprang into action and on the 11th of October 1916 asked department 5/L and the Presidential Bureau, with the remark "very urgent" about the provision, requests and style for the proposed badge and the conditions for nomination of observer officers.

Department 5 immediately replied on the same date as follows:

       "....Department 5/L agrees to pattern II with the addition, that the crown is dropped as corresponds to  the remarks of the presidential bureau to department 13 -60.000/15. 

       The aircrew badge is to be awarded to nominated aircraft observers and balloon pilots according to the announced regulations in the war ministry decree department 5/L, Nr. 2133/1916 in supplement 45/16. Gradually further categories of aircrew will develop, like air gunners, crew chiefs, machinists of large aircraft etc., then some airship pilots. These may have to receive the same badge in the future....

       In view of the large numbers, special insignia for all of the named categories are not recommended. On the other hand, the award of a separate badge to field pilots corresponds to the circumstances that only they personally affect the control of an aircraft while all other aircrew only serve the various aircraft weapons and systems depending on the pilot."

On the 13th of October 1916 department 5 of the war ministry stated it's position:

        "Department 5 agrees with the remarks of department 5/L.  It should be included in the regulations concerning the creation of the observer and balloon pilot's badges that only one of these badges may be allowed to be worn. This means that when an observer or balloon pilot is appointed as a field pilot, he must remove the observer's badge. The field pilot badge ranks above the observer badge. Furthermore it is to be considered, whether pilots of guided balloons, in case the army leadership decides to introduce them, should not likewise receive the field pilot badge. The small shield with the initials A.H. could be manufactured in an oval form."

The position of the presidential bureau came on the 28th of October 1916 and was short and to the point:

        "The introduction of a aircrew badge according to pattern II is agreed. The small shield with the cipher of His Majesty needs another form as the the crown must in any case be omitted. The comments of departments 5/L and 5 are agreed."

Up to now, it seemed that the creation of the aircrew badge despite small obstacles was moving swiftly forward and would appear, when yet another spanner was thrown in the works! On the 7th of November 1916 the 13th department required further details from departments 5 and 5/L regarding the exact designation of the badge, the personnel entitled to the award and a decision, whether to proceed with pattern II or an already produced pattern in the submission for approval. Department 5 promptly replied that the badge should carry the title "Luftfahrerabzeichen" and furthermore stated:


           3.) Whether pattern II (with corrections), or an already produced badge should be presented cannot be assessed from here. In any case department 5 requests to choose the way that leads to the speediest introduction of the newly created badge. Department 5/L agrees to the main comments of the presidential bureau and department 5. The award of the field pilot badge to the pilots of captive balloons  is not under discussion: Our dirigible  pilots provide balloon service, and are now therefore considered as balloon pilots and consequently to be presented with the aircrew badge. Should it come to the introduction of dirigibles in our army, the question can be brought up again."


Despite the pressure of department 5/L for the rapid introduction, suddenly department 5 still had objections:


          "In my view the badge should be called the "observer badge" as the essential activity of the aircraft observer is just observing. Also the pilots of the captive balloons do not pilot the balloon because this is presumably done from the ground, their primary mission is observation. Flying for the observer is just the means to accomplish his task. Although the question of the award of the pilot's badge to dirigible pilots has not yet arisen, it could be immediately solved now as department 5 is aware, that an Austro-Hungarian officer has taken part in Zeppelin sorties. As in my view, the piloting of a dirigible makes the same demands as the piloting of an aircraft, so the pilot of a dirigible should be awarded the pilot's badge after a determined number of sorties against the enemy and the fulfillment of other conditions."


Suddenly the question also arose, why the wreath of leaves should actually be in white enamel and over and above that, following the Kaiser's death a change to the initials was made necessary and in this regard department 5 initiated an enquiry on the 25th of November 1916 to the presidential office. This office decided on the 27th of November 1916:


         "..The new badge would be designated the "Luftfahrerabzeichen" because it, in the expert opinion of department 5/L of the 10/11th November  should not only be awarded to aircraft observers or balloon pilots but also to other categories of aircrew like machine gunners, crew chiefs, machinists of large aircraft etc. The initial of His Majesty "K" should be fixed to the shield."


On the 17th of December 1916 the remarks of the headquarters of the aviation troops regarding the white enameled wreath finally arrived at the war ministry and department 5/L sided with  their argument as follows:


         "The white colour of the wreath was proposed in order to clearly differentiate the aircrew badge from that of the field pilot. The other, smaller differences are of little significance and will almost vanish as soon as the constitutional adjustments of the field pilot's badge are effected. It should should also be noted, that the analogous German badges are pressed from white metal and that also with numerous decorations and badges the leaves occur in other colours than green, for example the war decoration of the military merit cross 3rd class). Department 5 therefore requests, anyway that the wreath of the aircrew badge is not executed in green and proposes that it is left, as desired by the officers of aviation troops, in a plain, attractive white colour."


Department 5 agreed to these arguments but did not want their request concerning the dirigible pilots simply disregarded and requested the presidential bureau to take a position on the 18th of December 1916. The presidential bureau made the final decision on the the 28th of December 1916:


          "The presidential bureau agrees to the implementation of the wreath in white. The suggestion of department 5 regarding the award of the field pilot badge to the pilots of dirigibles is not yet ripe for a decision. In any case, the view of department 5/L and the headquarters of the aviation troops should be heard before a final decision."


A concept was therefore developed before the submission to the Emperor and sent to the two national ministers of defence for their appraisal. There appear to have been further delays as the file cover bears the hand written note of defence minister, Feldmarschalleutnant Szurmay, the remarks that because of "manipulations" in department 13, he only received it on the 12th of April 1917. On the 21st of February 1917, department 13 received the personally signed position of the Austrian Landwehr minister of defence - Generaloberst Georgi:


          "The form of all badges for special skill, then badges for special branches of training and employment, were formerly and should continue to be so, the same for both the Landwehr and the common army. The ministry for defence is therefore of the opinion that the mounting of the common coat of arms should be avoided on the aircrew badge. It is added, that even if the Landwehr does not form aviation forces, it is still possible that k.k. Landwehr officers may claim the award of the aircrew badge, just as k.k. Landwehr officers already possess the field pilot badge."


This fundamental calling into question of the design naturally caused a heavy setback. All the more surprising it seemed, that of all people, the Royal Hungarian Honvéd minister, Feldmarschalleutnant Szurmay took a positive in his letter to department 13 on the 14th of April 1917.


           "I am in agreement with the planned form of the aircrew badge as well as the mounting of his Majesty's initials and the common coat of arms on this badge. Since the purpose of the  award of this badge is to exclusively mark the performance of especially dangerous service with the aviation troops and that this badge can also be awarded to officers of the Royal Hungarian Landwehr/k.k. Landwehr as proof of their achievements in the case of their attachment to the imperial aviation troops and consequently it denotes in no way affiliation to the common army, I can find no objections against the mounting of the common coat of arms. If however, should the Royal Hungarian Landwehr succeed in forming it's own aviation troops and accordingly this insignia would be properly established, then consequently the common coat of arms  on this special Landwehr badge will be avoided."


As much as this attitude surprises in view of the constant quest for independence of the Hungarian ministry of defence, it is not further remarkable that this approval followed a page long treatise in that, indeed, fundamentally agreed to the equality of insignia and badges in the common army and Royal Hungarian Honvéd, but introduced in detail why at all costs the Royal Hungarian Honvéd must take it's own course with achievement and qualification badges, with all brassards, collar and cap insignia etc and every utilization of the imperial colours black and gold, the double crown and of course above all the Austrian Emperor's crown should not be tolerated. 15 years earlier, these and other attitudes to matters of awards would have been regarded as high treason, yet now they were signs of the forces of nationalism which would finally tear the Danubian monarchy.

 Through the comments of the two ministries of defence, departments 13 and 5 now saw the possibility of the introduction of the aircrew badge and if not blocking  put off further the introduction and expressed to both the need for a complete restyling of the badge. This time however, department 5/L would not be put off and formulated a rather sharp position on the 23rd of April 1917 in which they demanded the rapid introduction of the badge:

          "Department 5/L......requests the matter to be concluded in the most rapid manner.... In the meantime all armies have received such a badge, only the observers of the k.u.k. aviation troops still wait for the fulfillment of their dearest wish. Just as the observer, who provides the most important part of the service in reconnaissance and battle, who therefore is always an officer, lacks a badge, while the pilot, in most cases a non commissioned officer, wears a badge with pride. It is a matter therefore which obviously has effect on the conceptions and happiness of the two groups . Department 5/L therefore requests in contrast to the hitherto tempo of the processing, which can be drawn from the data in the files, to urgently treat the matter.

           In order to to prepare the submission, department 5 now presumes to attach their opinion on the question of the appearance of the aircrew badge: The badge is, as stated by the Royal Hungarian defence minister solely a mark of service with the aviation troops and not that of any affiliation to the aviation troops. In the same way as allied officers wear our pilot's badge and our officers wear foreign aircrew badges (on which marks of the respective sovereigns are embodied), without getting into constitutional difficulties, the common coat of arms would hardly cause any difficulties to the officers of the two Landwehrs.

           No similar badge is known to this department, that does not embody a crown, coat of arms or colours which does not characterize an affiliation. This is also necessary because of the fact, that while performing their duty, the wearers are fully wrapped in leather and through the lack of distinctive badges are unable to be identified as members of a defined armed force except through the wear of a special badge on the leather jacket. The k.u.k. naval pilots have the colours red-white-red  on their badge, the German pilots the German Emperor's crown etc. Now the colours red-white-red are like previously the mark of affiliation to the k.u.k. navy, while the present mark of affiliation to the common army (lacking a colour), is the common coat of arms. This was the reason, from which the common coat of arms was adopted for the aircrew badge. The creation of aviation troops with the two Landwehrs is considered by this department to be improbable as in the same way the future creation of independent navies. Should it however later come about, the members of the k.k. Landwehr aviation troops could wear the Austrian coat of arms as opposed to the common version and those of the Royal Hungarian Honvéd aviation troops, the Hungarian coat of arms. Through this, both clearly would be identified as airmen of the monarchy and as members of their respective Landwehrs . Finally this department adds that it, in the interest of the final settling of the matter, in no way insists on the retention of the coat of arms, but requests the competent offices to create a badge that clearly allows the recognition of the members of our armed forces."

Department 5/L now finally succeeded through this determined performance after a meeting on a submission concept that was accepted by all participants and it was finally followed by the comments of the k.k. ministry of defence:

"During the discussion of officials under the chairmanship of Oberstleutnant Lieber of the presidential bureau on the 1st of May 1917 concerning the newly established aircrew badge, it was decided to stick with the already proposed pattern. Only a different form of His Majesty's initials need be considered and namely those which have already been approved by His Majesty for wear on types of clothing. A completely new design is not foreseen especially in consideration of the repeated delay that would result through this. Additionally, the wearing of the common coat of arms offers no kind of constitutional difficulties which opinion was also expressed in the remarks of the Royal Hungarian ministry of defence. ...In the case that the k.k. ministry of defence has objections of a constitutional nature and insists on a standpoint of rejection, the production of a new design would be necessary."

Fortunately the ministry did not and the following submission finally led after two years of delay to the introduction of the aircrew badge:

          "Submission of the war ministry regarding the introduction of the aircrew badge.

Vienna, 6th May 1917.


Name of the badge:

Aircrew badge


Entitled personnel:

      Aircraft observers and balloon crews


War Minister's request:

      The most loyal war minister requests the gracious approval for an aircrew badge as per the attached design and the authorization for the k.u.k. war ministry to decide the form of conferral and any future modifications as these appear, necessitated in each case through rapidly changing aviation conditions.


Supplement 1:

Design drawing II


Supplement 2:

Introductory Remarks


      A field pilot badge exists for the pilots appointed as field pilots, "however for all other personnel active in the aviation service such as aircraft observers and balloon crews no insignia has yet been arranged although taking into consideration their dangerous service these personnel also seem worthy of the award of a special distinction. The possibility of attaining of such a badge will be for many an incentive to turn to this important branch of the military. The k.k. ministry of defence and the Royal Hungarian ministry of defence are in agreement with the mounting of the common coat of arms.


Award conditions:


As already noted in the preceding section, the training requirements in the k.u.k. army for flying personnel at the beginning of the war had been successively adapted. For the first time, the exact training regulations for the appointment as a field pilot, aircraft observer and balloon pilot as well as the implementation regulations for the acquisition of the field pilot badge were published with the decrees of the 2nd of November 1916, department 5/L Number 2133 and number 3212. These two decrees naturally also corresponded for the somewhat later introduced aircrew badge which was thought to apply for observers and balloon pilots. Furthermore, the relevant provisions and regulations only for observers and balloon pilots are summarized here:


Training requirements for aircraft observers and balloon pilots:



Aircraft Observer:


       Ten sorties over enemy territory (valid as a sortie over enemy territory are such as those which as a minimum cross the enemy artillery positions) of at least two hours flight duration and with a properly completed mission. Of the ten completed sorties at least five must include secondary photographic tasks. A total of 20 bombs must be successfully dropped during the flights.


Balloon Pilots:


       50 captive or free balloon ascents before the enemy, the former with a duration of at least two hours each. (Shorter flights with a duration of less than two hours may only then be counted if especial success or performance is achieved.) Six free balloon sorties including two under independent command. Understanding of the relationship between aircraft observation and balloon observation.



Aircraft Observer:


Complete mastery of all operations coming into observer service.


Balloon Pilot:


Complete mastery of the entire service operation of a balloon detachment and thorough knowledge of all technical equipment. Transport matters: General knowledge of combustion engines.


Aircraft (Balloon) Theory:

Aircraft Observer:


Understanding of aircraft construction. Detailed knowledge of the range of own aircraft types. Dependable knowledge of the profiles of enemy aircraft.


Balloon Pilot:


Basic principles of balloon construction. Characteristics and performance of introduced balloons. Knowledge of all technical equipment with a balloon detachment. Knowledge of the profiles of own and enemy aircraft.


Aero Navigation:

Aircraft Observer:


Compass theory, construction, maintenance and compensation of the compass, wind triangulation, course deduction by four different methods. 

Balloon Pilot:

Sufficient knowledge in gas technology and its application in the balloon service.

Battle Means:

Aircraft Observers:

Complete mastery of all introduced firearms, bomb release equipment and affiliated munitions (construction, effect, maintenance, rectifying stoppages). Complete mastery in firing, dropping and targeting and the use of Adler munitions.


The most important characteristics in so far as they are necessary for airmen (balloon crews).

Knowledge in observation



Complete familiarity in map reading, ability to find one's way.



Aircraft Observer:

Reporting, long and short range reconnaissance, production of dropped messages (written and sketches).


Balloon Pilot:

Reporting, production of sketches, drawing of plans.



Aircraft Observer:

Complete practical mastery of air photography, photo evaluation.

Balloon Pilot:

Complete mastery of balloon photography, photo evaluation for target reconnaissance.


Communications and fire control:

Aircraft Observer:

Complete practical mastery of radio equipment, knowledge of artillery fire control with radio observation.


Balloon Pilot:

Complete mastery of observation for artillery purposes. Knowledge of artillery gun control procedure and artillery methods.



Knowledge of the organization of own and enemy forces as far as this is necessary for the observer.



Full understanding of battle procedures. Characteristics of air fighting tactics.


     So far then, the training regulations for aircraft observers and balloon pilots. The implementation provisions which have already been published in part 2 applied  equally for the aircrew badge.


The Aircrew Badge


      The introduction of an aircrew badge was published on the 16th of June 1917 in the k.u.k. army official order, number 27/1917:


Circular Order of the 9th of June 1917, department 13, number 25089


       His k.u.k. Apostolic Majesty has graciously approved with the highest decree of the 13th of May 1917 the introduction of an aircrew badge to be worn on the right breast according to the following pattern (Drawing). The badge is to be secured by two horizontal pins, under the initials shield and the coat of arms shield respectively. The insignia is to awarded on the recommendation of the headquarters of air troops to the war ministry to all active and reserve personnel who meet the determined conditions for aircraft observers and balloon pilots. The awards will be announced in the personnel announcements section of the k.u.k. official gazette. Personnel who also receive in addition to the aircrew badge, the field pilot badge will only wear the latter.

         To be noted in the record of service A-28, 1st part, page 6.

         (All subunits of the army in the field were also recipients of this circular ordinance.)


signed: von Stöger-Steiner

General der Infanterie




    The badge was produced from tombak consisting of a white enameled laurel wreath which bore on the upper edge a decorated shield with the initial "K" on a ground of white enamel and on the lower edge the coloured enameled double arms of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy introduced in 1916. Placed on the wreath was an embossed hollow eagle with a bundle of lightening rods of blackened tombak. The eagle was brightly polished by the wearers so it took on a slightly gold look. Because of the hollow finish, the manufacturer's mark of the Zimbler firm in Vienna cannot be found on the rear side of the eagle as with the field pilot badge but next to the retaining hook on the rear side of the coat of arms shield.


Noteworthy is the fact that the introduced badge never had the two securing pins. The securing of the badge through two pins was rejected as too unpractical and expensive and already by the introduction of the new type of field pilot's badge in September 1917, the aircrew badge was secured by "...two carbine hooks," which were positioned under the initial and coat of arms shield respectively. Also interesting in this context is that apparently by the middle of September 1917 still no badges had been produced or distributed. However the first awards were already publicized on the 30th of June 1917.



Aircrew badge case were also delivered by the Zimbler firm similar to the cases for the field pilot's badge. These almost square cases with a snap close lid are covered with bright red cloth on the outside and carry a gold embossed stylized Kaiser's coat of arms in the centre of the cover. The interior of the cover is lined with white silk and in the middle is to be found the gold printed name of of the Zimbler firm. The insert consists of a strongly upward bowed carton coated with a dark blue flecked material and a recess for the carbine hooks.

Oberleutnant Richard Hess of Reitendes Schützen Regiment Nr.5. Initially Hess served as an observer with Flieger-Kompanie 36. He later graduated as a field pilot and was awarded the field pilot's badge on the 17th of December 1917. 

As in the view of the army administration, the observer service was so difficult and important, that it could only be done by a commissioned officer, the aircrew badge was the first and only qualification badge of the k.u.k. army that was reserved exclusively for officers. However no rule is without an exception! On account of their deployment in wartime conditions and their outstanding service as balloon pilots, Offiziersstellvertreter Franz Hawlik of balloon company 16 and Stabsfeldwebel Emmerich Veigl of balloon company 2 were decorated with the aircrew badge on the 3rd of November 1917 as was Offiziersstellvertreter Franz Janazek of balloon company 7 on the 19th of June 1918!


As already stated in part 2 of this article, the awards were to be published in the personnel affairs section of the k.u.k. official army gazette. However, for reasons of space at the end of January 1918 all announcements of the war ministry (service badges, iron merit crosses etc) were abolished and therefore one must rely on the announcements in the air troops orders (LFT-Befehl). The last LFT-Befehl was published on the 30th of September 1918. As a consequence of the collapse, the files of the air troops were taken over by the "chief of the aviation service", whose last publication is dated the 19th of October 1918. Consequently, the following number of awards of the aircrew badge are shown:


1917:   602 persons

1918:   235 persons


837 total awards. (Award to foreigners are not known).


Since in most cases some time elapsed between the nomination to be an aircraft observer/balloon pilot and the award of the aircrew badge, it is accepted, that the 7 observers who were published in the last LFT-Befehl number 53 of the 30th of September 1918 and those 13 observers and 1 balloon pilot, who were nominated in the last three orders of the chief of aviation services did not receive the badge officially. It is however quite probable that these 21 persons purchased the badge for themselves later from the manufacturer - with more right than many others!


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