Otto Kissenberth was born on 26 February 1893 in Landshut, Bavaria, the son of a local businessman. It was obvious from the start that his interests were in engineering and after his initial schooling he was sent to study engineering at Grenoble University in France, then on to technical college in Munich to complete his degree in mechanical engineering. After graduation Kissenberth went to work for the Gustav Otto Aircraft Works where he took a diploma in aircraft engineering.
At the outbreak of war Kissenberth volunteered for the newly formed German Army Air Service as a pilot. He was posted to FEA.1 at Schliessheim for training where, after graduating, he was awarded his pilot's certificate and badge and posted to FA 8b as a reconnaissance pilot in October 1914. Early in March 1915 he was promoted to Vizefeldwebel, but on 21 March, whilst on a reconnaissance patrol over the Vosges Mountains, he was attacked by Allied fighters. Although seriously wounded he managed to get his aircraft back to base. The injuries put him into hospital for over three months, and when he had recovered he was posted on 8 July to FA 9b which was based in Toblach in the Dolomites.
Otto Kissenberth wearing his Pour le Mérite. Note the glasses worn by Kissenberth, one of only three German pilots to wear glasses during the First World War
His first mission with the squadron was a long range bombing raid on Cortina on 31 July 1915. The raid was a complete success and Kissenberth's status amongst his fellow pilots rose dramatically. Not long afterwards the squadron was moved from Italy to the comparatively quiet front in the Vosges Mountains. The lack of action soon prompted Otto Kissenberth to apply for fighter pilot training and in the early part of 1916 he was accepted and posted to Jastsachule. A number of other reconnaissance pilots from FA 9b had also requested single-seater pilot training and on completion all were posted to Kek Einsisheim which had grown out of FA 9b.
There followed a number of uneventful months until on 12 October 1916, whilst on a bombing raid on Oberdorf (a raid which was later to become famous), Kissenberth shot down three Allied aircraft - two Maurice Farmans from Escadrille F.123 and a Breguet V from No.3 Naval Wing, RNAS. This was even more remarkable considering Kissenberth wore glasses, something virtually unheard of in fighter pilot circles. For his major part in the raid Kissenberth was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class and commissioned Leutnant.
The German air force was expanding and Kek Einsisheim formed part of a new Jasta, Jasta 16. By the beginning of July Kissenberth's tally had risen to six, then on 4 August he was made commander of Jasta 23. He was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class later the same month and continued to increase his tally steadily in his Albatros D.v with his personal insignia, a white and yellow edelweiss, on the fuselage. On 2 October 1917 Kissenberth scored his 18th victory and was awarded the Bavarian Military Merit Order 4th Class with Crown and Swords on 5 December.
On 29 May 1918, with his tally standing at 20, Kissenberth was flying a captured Sopwith Camel, with which he had scored his last victory, when he crashed on landing and was severely injured. So bad were the injuries that he was told that he would not be fit enough to fly again. Whilst in hospital he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Hohenzollern House Order and on 24 July the Pour le Mérite. On 19 August, just two days after being discharged from the hospital, Kissenberth was promoted to Oberleutnant and made commandant of the Schliessheim Flying School, where he stayed until the end of the war. He died whilst mountaineering in the Bavarian Alps in 1919.
Oberleutnant Otto Kissenberth, of Jasta 23, standing in front of a captured Sopwith Camel which subsequently became his own. He was later seriously injured in a crash in this aircraft.
© German Knights of the Air, Brassey's
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