Paris Air Agreement and the Age of Sport Flying

While stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, I took a World War II college class through University of Maryland. Professor Paul Rose was also working with Garland Publishing on a two-volume encyclopedia on World War II. He allowed us students to write articles for the encyclopedia. Of the three articles I submitted, this is one of two that were subsequently published.

The Paris Air Agreement of 1926 relaxed the restrictions on German aviation placed on it after World War I. The Treaty of Versailles banned German military aviation and restricted the manufacture of civilian planes for six months. In 1922 and again in 1924, however, the Allied nations placed further restrictions on the manufacture of civil aircraft, as well as broadening the definitions for military aircraft as spelled out in the treaty.

Worldwide, rapid advances in aeronautical science during the period resulted in a great passion of the general public for flying. The German people, however, found they were not allowed access to the new technology with the same freedom as the rest of the world. Since Germany’s civilian aircraft were limited to a flying range of fewer than 200 miles, it was common to see superior planes from the other European countries racing past the smaller German aircraft. Germany responded by setting up subsidiary companies in neutral countries. German aeronautical factories could be found in the Soviet Union, Sweden, Turkey, Denmark, Italy and Switzerland.

As the sport of gliding became popular, the German government began to subsidize it heavily. Gliding was permissible under the provisions of the Versailles Treaty. Germany began covertly using sport gliding as a means of training future military pilots in current aviation technology. Germany was also allowed to stay abreast academically with aeronautical developments, and they organized several agencies to track the new technology. Aviation enthusiasts flocked to these agencies, which later became the nucleus of a new German air force.

Germany bought 100 Fokker D-XIII aircraft to try to counter France’s occupation of the Ruhr in 1923. The planes arrived too late. As a result, half were sold to Romania and the other half were taken to Lipetsk in the Soviet Union to be used as trainers. The Germans and Soviets made an alliance which, ironically, resulted in the buildup of the Soviet military with German aid. The Soviets offered the use of airfields and labor, which allowed Germany to test aircraft and related equipment. Germany reciprocated by sharing the technology gained through the tests. The Allied nations complained bitterly of the suspected secret agreements between the two.

Article 314 of the Versailles Treaty stipulated that Allied countries could use German airspace enroute to another country, but they were not allowed to land on German soil. By January 1923, the aerial navigation clauses of the treaty were no longer in effect, and Germany once again controlled its own airspace. France ignored the new situation by repeatedly violating German airspace. Mechanical problems were a recurring feature in these early aircraft, and France had 13 of its aircraft confiscated by Germany after making emergency landings on German soil.

Since Germany would not allow Allied planes to land, several countries were ready to come to an agreement of some sort. Great Britain regularly flew to India and wanted landing rights in Germany for fuel and maintenance. But since the Versailles Treaty still limited Germany to aircraft with a 200-mile range limit, Germany continued to demand that Allied planes adhere to the same standards. This, of course, would severely hamper the operations and profitability of Allied aviation. Thus the World War I Allies were eventually forced to return to the negotiating tables with Germany.

In May 1926, the Paris Air Agreement was signed. It canceled all restrictions on the quality of German commercial aircraft, lifted all of the technological restrictions and allowed the Germans to construct dirigibles. In return, Germany agreed to stop subsidizing sport flying. The effect of the new treaty was to restore a large measure of Germany’s air sovereignty. Although the Paris Air Agreement did not lift the ban on German military aviation, it did allow some in the military to take up sport flying. By chipping away at the restrictions, the stage was thus set for the rapid military buildup that later occurred during the 1930s under Adolph Hitler.

Bibliography: Barnes, Tony D. “Paris Air Agreement”, Vol. I: World War II in Europe, An Encyclopedia. New York: (New York: Garland Publishing, 1999).

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