Designed by Dipl-Ing Robert Thelen, the Albatros Werke's chief designer, the Albatros D.III would provide the German Army's Flying Corps with one of its most widely employed fighters of the Great War.
Even as the D.I and D.II fighters were entering production,Robert Thelen and his colleague Dipl-Ing Schubert were working on the creation of a more advanced single-seat fighter at the request of the Idflieg. This design (having the company designation L.20) would match the semi-monocoque fuselage, tail unit, landing gear and powerplant of the D.II fighter to a single-spar lower wing inspired by that fitted to the French Nieuport Type 11 fighter. The prototype DIII (in fact constructed from one of a batch of 12 airframes ordered in the previous June)made its maiden flight in August 1916,following which, Albatros Werke would receive an order, in October, for the production of 400 machines. Large scale production of these commencing in January 1917.
Powered by a 180 hp Mercedes D.III's water cooled 6 cylinder Inline engine (with the aerofoil shape radiator offset to starboard so that combat damage would not result in the release of scalding water over the pilot) the DIII was swiftly found to offer considerable operational advantages over the earlier D.II, and as so powered the D.III could achieve a maximum speed (at 3280 ft)of 109 mph, with a flight endurace of 2 hours. With an armament of twin synchronised forward firing 7.92mm LMG 08/15 machine guns the new fighter soon began to take a deadly toll of Allied aircraft.
Entering service with Jasta 11, by April of 1917, the D.III was soon equipping all 37 first-line Jagdstaffeln on the Western Front. The types undoubted combat capability soon gave rise to the nickname 'Vee-strutter' from the pilots of the British Royal Flying Corps who accorded this fighter a very high level of respect, particularly after suffering horrific losses when pitted against the Albatros fighters during 'Bloody April' of 1917,
The D.III did have a major fault however. It was found to possess a measure of structural weakness in the lower wing, and in manoeuvring flight and high-speed dives this could often lead to catastrophic wing failure. This defect led to the factory switching production capability to the improved Albatros D.V from July 1917 (which actually offered very little improvement over the D.III), but such was the demand for the DIII fighter that contiunued production was switched to the O.A.W. factory (Ostdeutsche Albatros Werkes //), with others being constructed, under license, for the Austro-Hungarian Air Arm by Oeffag (Oesterreichfabrik a.g.//) at Wiener-Neustadtfrom May 1917. The Austrian machines differing from their German counterparts in being powered by a 185 hp (series 53.2),200 hp (series 153), or 225 hp (series 253) Austro-Daimler inline piston engines, and by being armed with the slightly less reliable 8 mm Schwarzlose machine guns.
Reaching its peak operational strength in november 1917, when there were some 446 of the type in service on the Western Front, the D,III was flown by some of the most famous German fighter aces of the war; including Manfred von Richthofen, Ernst Udet, Erich Löwenhardt, Kurt Wolff, and Karl Emil Schäfer. After the Armistice, Oeffag built D.IIIs would find useful employment in the Air Arms of the newly independent countries of Poland and Czechoslavakia.