They were also constantly repairing and improving their aircraft, with the
old Anzani engine being the biggest problem. Maybe that's why they tried to
build gliders as well. Information about these is sporadic, they were supposed
to be four designs called Gabriel P-I to P-IV and probably built during 1913.
Alex Imrie via Greg VanWyngarden
The outbreak of the World War I thwarted plans of many people. Gabriel
brothers were no exception, as they were called for military service. Their
pre-war aviation activities were no secret for the military authorities, so they
were assigned to the German Air Troops (Fliegertruppen). Both brothers completed basic military pilot training at the Aviation Training Unit No. 1 (Flieger
Ersatz Abteilung1) in Döberitz, followed by advanced training in Müncheberg
at the Rumpler training centre.
The twins were lucky, as they were assigned to the same FFA 34 (Feldflieger-Abteilung) unit after the training completion. The unit was operating from
the Cunel base near Verdun, and commanded by Hauptmann (Captain) Hugo
Geyer. Pilots flew their missions with unarmed two-seaters Aviatik B.I and B.II.
The unit stayed defenceless in the air until the mid-1915, when Aviatik C.I
and Albatros C.I with a defensive machine gun operated by observer arrived.
In the spring of 1916, both brothers packed their bags and set out on a long
journey, as they were transferred to FFA 21, the unit operating on the Eastern Front in the area of Bialystok. There they experienced quite different
missions to what they were accustomed to on the western side of the conflict. Pilots flew quite a long observation flights there with their Albatros
C.Is, penetrating the enemy territory much deeper than it was usual on the
Western Front. Such a practice was possible thanks to low threat from Russian fighters. Flights of up to 100 km deep in enemy territory were commonly
used to map the situation and traffic on the main railway lines. During each
flight, about 93mi (150 km) of the railway was observed, so total length of the
mission was about 350 km. Brothers joined the operations of the unit, but,
after some time, their ways parted, because Willi was transferred to FFA 44
operating on the Western Front in the Verdun area.
Gabriel brothers as military pilots. Willi on the left.
New engagement with Schutzstaffel 15
During their service with FFA 34 Gabriel brothers had been witnessing arrival
of first Fokker Eindeckers and both were attracted by these aircraft with
Walter being initially more captivated than Willi. So it was no wonder he
applied for transition to one of the Kampfseinsitzer Komando (one-seaters
fighting group). His desire materialised only after he has returned to the
western area of the war in the spring of 1917. He was assigned to the Jasta
19 (the KEKs were gradually converted to the Jagdstaffeln about this time),
but his spell with fighters was quite short as he reported to the commander
of Flieger-Abteilung (Artillerie) 250 (Artillery-observing aviation unit) shortly
afterwards. There he flew long-range reconnaissance flights with Rumpler
C.IV capitalising on his Eastern Front experience.
Willi was in a similar situation, flying at FA (A) 207 at the time. But, as the
more dynamic and impulsive person of them both, he was gradually getting
more and more bored with the monotonous observation flights. When the
Schutzstaffeln (protective squadrons) began to form in 1917 as the protection
force of the observation aircraft, he did not waver to request reassignment.
His request was approved and Willi became part of the Schusta 15, flying
Halberstadt CL.IIs. These successful airplanes were armed with two machine guns (one moveable for rear gunner and one forward firing synchronized
one) and performed tasks focused primarily on the protection of observation
planes. Although not thoroughbred pursuit aircraft, the CL.II offered Willi
significantly more combat opportunities. He was not scoring any victories however, despite number of combats. Instead, he learned, that his brother had
not returned from a flight over England in August 1917. The Britons reported
INFO Eduard - February 2021
Alex Imrie via Greg VanWyngarden
From West to East and back
Willi Gabriel in front of Halberstadt CL.II together with his gunner
and observer Vzfw. Hilsbein during the service with Schusta 15.
downing of the Rumpler C.VII flying at an altitude of about 18,000 ft (5,500
m) that day. According to the report, the hit of anti-aircraft fire destroyed the
tail of the aircraft, causing it to fall in spiral and crash. Willi was downcast
with the news as he had no hopes his brother might survive. What a relief for
him, when a British plane dropped a mail bag over German territory with an
up-to-date list of prisoners of war and the name Walter Gabriel was there!
Fighter pilot made “easily"
At the beginning of 1918, the protection of observation aircraft was already fully provided by Jagdstaffeln (fighter squadrons), while Schutzstaffeln
were increasingly used for ground attack tasks. Therefore, their designation was changed to Schlachtstaffel, abbreviated Schlasta (attack squadron).
At this time Willi already had a reputation for being an extremely "wild" pilot,
frightening not only the enemy but also his own gunners with violent manoeuvrers. It was more and more evident, the fighter instincts were inherent
to Willi´s personality. But, despite his undeniable piloting skills and courage,
there were still zero kills on his account. He had to wait until March 22, 1918.
That day he finally shot down the French SPAD and his desire to become
a fighter grew to another height. He had been considering application for
transition to fighter unit for some time, but hesitated. The reason was quite
simple and telling: In case of approval, he would have to complete fighter
course with a training unit with rigid discipline. Something Willi was not a fan
of… Now, he was one of the most experienced pilots of two-seaters, he had
a number of fights on his account and he also had problems finding a permanent gunner, as each of them preferred to fly with anybody but him. He therefore took advantage of situation, when his unit shared the air base at Cappy
with the entire Jagdgeschwader I (Fighter Wing No. 1). He went on his own to
the tents on the other side of the airfield and asked for a hearing directly with
Manfred von Richthofen, leader of JG I. Famous ace heard the Schlasta pilot
out, and since he had heard already about him, he agreed to request for his
transfer to JG I. Gabriel informed his commanding officer subsequently about
his visit at JG I, but it was a mistake. His commandant felt like he should not
loose him and so he sent a "counter-request" to the headquarters to keep Gabriel with Schlasta 15. Therefore Willi's first attempt to become fighter pilot
failed. Instead, he earned the Iron Cross of the 1st degree, which he received
in March 1918 for his bravery and achievements.
After von Richthofen's death, Wilhelm Reinhard took command of JG I and
Gabriel decided to repeat his attempt. The story was similar, Reinhard agreed
to his transfer as well. And as Gabriel's commandant have given up further
efforts to keep him with the unit, Willi reported himself with the JG I leader
on May 19, 1918, becoming a member of the famous Jasta 11. However, he
had not won yet.
Reinhard made it clear to Gabriel during the first report, that he knew of his
piloting skills, but his unit was no place for training newcomers or resting on
laurels. That said, Willi had been tasked to achieve at least one victory in
the next four weeks. If case of fail, he would return to where he came from.
It was quite hard requirement, given that Gabriel had not flown single-seat
fighters and had not undergone fighter training until then. He therefore did
not waste time, conducted two training flights with the Dr.I to familiarise
himself with the nimble fighter powered by rotary engine and asked Reinhard
for the place in the evening patrol the same day he had joined the JG I.
Reinhard agreed on condition the newcomer would stay close to him, turning
tail in the event of a clash with the enemy. Well, that was not what Willi had
in mind! When the patrol encountered a formation of DH-9 bombers before
eight o'clock in the evening, Reinhard began to climb and manoeuvre to get
the best position for his men to attack. For all bar Gabriel, who separated
from the formation attacking the rearmost DH-9, shooting it down. Delighted
at his success, he spiralled with his prey watching it to hit the ground and