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Aces of Aviation

Phönix D I of Frank Linke-Crawford

Phönix D I of Frank Linke-Crawford

Phönix D I from the Fliegerkompanie 60J of the Austro-Hungarian Air Service, piloted by Oberleutnant Frank Linke-Crawford, in the front of Piave, in 1918.

Wingspan: 9.80 meters.

Length: 6.59 meters.

Height: 2.79 meters.

Engine[s]: Hiero of 200 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 180 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 6000 meters.

Range: 354 kilometers.

Armament: Two Schwarzlöse 7.7-millimeter machine guns.

On the first months of the First World War, the bulk of the combat forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, supported to a limited extent by a small air force, was aligned against Russia. The 23rd May 1915, when Italy declared the war to Austria, the Austro-Hungarian Air Service was transferred to the Italian Front, where its fighter aircraft were deployed for the first time. The following year seven Fliegerkompanien were in service. These units were initially equipped with airplanes Aviatik D I Berg, of national construction, and Albatros D I, D II and D III, built under German licence.

Following the apparition of British fighter squadrons in Italy, the Austro-Hungarian force was regularly expanded until having thirteen "Fliks" in service. Albeit these were rarely capable of operating against any aircraft which resembled their own effective capacity, a certain number of their pilots achieved remarkable records. At the top of the list was Hauptmann Godwin von Brumowski, native from Poland, who had from 35 to 40 victories, followed by Offizierstellvertreter Julius Arigi, who reached from 26 to 32 victories. However, it was Frank Linke-Crawford who topped the list during almost a year before his death.

At the beginning of the war, Linke-Crawford, born the 18th August 1893 in the old city of Krakow, in Poland, had been incorporated to the Cavalry, before being transferred to the Infantry in February 1916. Two months later he moved to the Air Service and after a training period he was sent to the Flik 41J, based in the front of Trieste and commanded by Von Brumowski; in this unit his record of victories quickly increased while flying on the Albatros D III. In the late 1917 he was granted the command of the Flik 60J, based in the front of Piave. Among the pilots of this winning unit was Julius Arigi, who became the most decorated Non-Commissioned Officer of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the front of Piave, Linke-Crawford faced for the first time the Sopwith Camel, airplane whose prestations matched those of the Phönix D I.

The 31st July 1918 Linke-Crawford's record had reached 30 victories, being then the highest among the pilots of the Fliegerkompanien. That day, early on the morning, Linke-Crawford was flying on a Phönix D I while commanding two inexperienced pilots who flew on Albatros D III, when they intercepted three Sopwith Camel from the 45th Squadron of the Royal Air Force. Lieutenant Jack Cottle abandoned his formation to avoid the attack and directed his airplane towards the sun before turning to strike back the enemy commander. The Phönix D I was hit by several projectiles and disintegrated over Fontana, causing the instant death of Linke-Crawford. The description given by Cottle of his victim's aircraft was not entirely precise, but enough to identify the Phönix D I of Linke-Crawford.