He and Max Immelmann were Germany's first aces and the first to receive the Pour Le Merité ('Blue Max'), Germany's most famous decoration. It was Boelcke who was chosen to test Antony Fokker's interruptor gear, an innovation which allowed a pilot to fire forwards without shooting his own propellor off. This technological breakthrough ushered in the 'Fokker Scourge' of 1915, during which the Fokker E1 with its forward-firing machine guns seemed impossible to defeat and many Allied pilots lost their lives.
Boelcke was the archetypal gentleman flying hero. He respected the Allied pilots, and would visit prisoner-of-war camps to meet and chat with the enemies he had downed. In 1916 he saved a French child from drowning, and received the Lifesaving Medal from the French.
He flew and fought scientifically, and trained the men he commanded in his methods; he was a mentor to many of Germany's greatest pilots. His 'Dikta Boelcke', an aerial tactics manual, contains principles that are still relevant in air combat today.
A chance meeting with the young Manfred von Richthofen inspired the future ace to persevere with his career as a pilot. Later, Boelcke picked von Richthofen to join his elite squadron, Jagdstaffel (Jasta) 2.
He died in October 1916 after his Albatros collided with another German plane during a dogfight. The other pilot felt responsible for the hero's death and allegedly had to be prevented from committing suicide on the day of Boelcke's funeral. Boelcke was buried at Cambrai as tributes poured in from all over the world - including the British squadrons who had flown against him.
At the time of his death Oswald Boelcke had shot down 40 enemy aircraft. When the war ended he ranked as Germany's fourth highest scoring ace (Kanone) after Manfred von Richthofen (who had 80 kills to his credit), Ernst Udet and Lothar von Richthofen.
The Red Baron wrote of his friend and mentor:
It is a strange thing that everybody who met Oswald Boelcke imagined that he alone was his true friend. I have made the acquaintance of about forty men, each of whom imagined that he alone was Boelcke's intimate. Each imagined that he had the monopoly of Boelcke's affections. Men whose names were unknown to Boelcke believed that he was particularly fond of them. This is a curious phenomenon which I have never noticed in anyone else. Boelcke had not a personal enemy. He was equally polite to everybody, making no differences.What a guy!