The history of the Albatros begins in Spring 1916 when the German Air Force (Luftstreitkräfte) HQ ordered several factories to design a new single seater biplane capable to compete with the new Entente scouts such as Nieuport 11.c1, Nieuport 17.c1 and the D.H.2. The new Allied designs combined with the new tactics managed to completely wipe from the air the monoplane-type Fokker E.III and to create air superiority over the Western Front. New planes were desperately needed and the Fokker, Halberstadt and Albatros soon presented new scout planes such as Fokker D.II, Halberstadt D.II and Albatros D.I. The last one was especially well designed. Powered by the 160HP Mercedes D.III inline engine and heavily armed with the twin Spandau machine guns, the Albatros quickly earned the reputation of a very good scout. The HQ quickly ordered a series of 50 D.I’s which were pushed into newly created Jastas (Jagdstaffelns) in September 1916. The Albatros Werke soon released another version, the Albatros D.II which had a smaller gap between the upper and lower wing and few other improvements. This version gave the German Air Force some breathing room and their squadrons started to become very effective.
The successful Albatros D.II was quickly noted in the allied Austro-Hungary. In the Fall of 1916, Austrian company Österreichische Flugzeugfabrik AG (Oeffag) in Wiener Neustadt purchased a license from the Albatros Werke and managed to introduce the own version in January 1917. The prototype, marked 50.01, differed from the original design. First of all, it was powered by the more powerful, 185HP Austro-Daimler Dm 185 inline engine. The cylinders were covered and the wing chord was enlarged from 1,60 meter to 1,70 meter. The armament was also different. Apart from the twin 7,92mm Spandau machine guns, one 8mm Schwarzlose machine gun was mounted inside of the fuselage, much lower than in the German Albatros. It improved forward visibility, but made reloading the gun problematic.
The Austro-Hungarian Army ordered 50 Oeffag D.II’s, but after completing 15 planes (numbers from 53.02 to 53.16), the factory cancelled production and switched to the new design, marked as D.III. This version was inspired by the new design from the German Albatros Werke – the Albatros D.III which was introduced in December 1916 and became a deadly adversary to the Entente planes in the Spring 1917. The plane received a completely new wing, inspired by the French Nieuport 17.c1 sesquiplane design. This improved the climb and turn ratio over the older D.I and D.II versions.
The licensed-built Albatros D.III prototype, marked as 53.20, was constructed in February 1917. Again, the design differed from the original model from the Albatros Werke. The engine was covered, and the fin under the fuselage was enlarged. The gravity tank was fitted into the upper wing along with the radiator which was in the center position, while the tank was moved to the left. The armament was redesigned, too. A second 8mm Schwarzlose machine gun was installed, which gave the plane much better firepower. The upper wing could be regulated and the incidence could be adjusted.
The Oeffag D.II’s and D.III’s appeared on the Italian Front in June 1917 after being certified by the Fliegerarsenal a month before. At the beginning, they served in the general – purpose Fliegerkompanie (Flik) units which were responsible for various tasks. But very soon the new scout units, marked as Flik/J, were introduced because the front needed specialized fighter units. The Oeffag scouts received a good input from their pilots. The planes were easy to fly, well armed and durable. There were no accidents of losing a lower wing, just like in the German Albatros D.III, because the Oeffag engineers strengthened the construction by using thicker wing spars and wing ribs. The root wing was mounted to the fuselage using an additional metal brace.
While German engineers at Albatros Werke wanted to decrease the weight of their next scout, their Austrian colleagues at Oeffag did the opposite thing. Their next designs known as Bauart 153 and 253 (series 153 and 253) were heavier and powered by the stronger engines. The production of the 153 series was launched in July 1917. Apart from the new 200HP Austro-Daimler Dm 200 six-cylinder inline engine, the upper wing was slightly moved forward. The planes after 153.111 had redesigned forward fuselage, because the propeller cowling was removed. The Austro-Hungarian Army ordered 280 Oeffag 153’s. The model had much better parameters than the earlier Oeffag series, and the new German Albatros D.V which had appeared on the Western Front in the late Spring 1917.
After the new Austro-Daimler Dm 225 was designed by Ferdinand Porsche, the engineers at Oeffag started to adjust the existing design to the new engine. The new version, known as Bauart 253 (Series 253) was introduced in May 1918. There were 230 planes ordered, but only 201 were delivered until the Armistice. The production was however continued after World War I.
The Oeffag Ba.253 was the final version of the successful series. It was said to be the best Austro-Hungarian fighter plane, which possessed reasonable level speed close to 200 kph (120mph) and a very good climb ratio. The plane could reach 5000 meters in 20 minutes, while the 153 series did the same in 13 minutes more. Because of the more powerful (and heavier) engine, the construction was again strengthened. The fuselage and outer wings received additional plywood bracing. The wing’s trailing edge was made of wire rather than a steel tubes. Some planes (253.31, 253.64, 253.116-120) had machine guns moved up, so the pilot had full access to them.
The Oeffag scouts were popular among the Austro-Hungarian Aces, including Godwin Brumowski, Frank Linke-Crawford, Benno Fiala or Franz Rudorfer.
After the war the Oeffag planes were used by the Air forces of Poland and Czechoslovakia. One was used in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes as a trainer. Some were used in civil aviation. Sadly, no Oeffag-built Albatros survived to the present times, however two Oeffag Ba.253 replicas have been constructed by Mr. Koloman Mayrhofer, one of which is on display in the Aviaticum Museum in Wiener Neustadt near Vienna, Austria. Both planes use many original parts, such as gauges and Austro-Daimler engines.