Manfred von Richthofen

From Academic Kids

Portrait of Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (May 2, 1892April 21, 1918) was a German pilot and is still regarded today as the "ace of aces". He was a very successful fighter pilot, military leader and flying ace who won 80 air combats during World War I.

Richthofen was known as der rote Kampfflieger (Red Battle-Flyer) by the Germans, petit rouge (little Red) or le Diable Rouge (Red Devil) by the French, and the Red Knight or the Red Baron by the British.


Early life

Born in Breslau, Silesia, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland), Richthofen moved with his family to Schweidnitz (now Swidnica, Poland), when he was 9 years old. In his youth, Richthofen enjoyed hunting and riding horses and went to study in England at Lincoln College, Oxford. He joined the Uhlan regiment no. 1 – Kaiser Alexander III – as a cavalryman, after completing his cadet training, in 1911.

When the First World War began, he was a cavalry officer and was engaged in duty on both Eastern and Western fronts, as a scout for the German army. Near May, 1915, Richthofen became bored with this duty and he asked to be transferred to the air service. He became an aircraft observer.

Piloting career

Inspired by a chance meeting with the great air fighter Oswald Boelcke, he decided to become a pilot himself. Later, Boelcke selected von Richthofen to join his elite fighter Jagdstaffel (hunting group), Jasta 2. Von Richthofen won his first aerial combat over Cambrai, France on September 17, 1916.

After his first victory, von Richthofen wrote to a friend in Berlin who was a jeweller and ordered a silver cup engraved with the date of the fight and the type of enemy machine. He continued this tradition until he had sixty cups, by which time the supply of silver in blockaded Germany was restricted.

Von Richthofen, like many of his fellow pilots, was very superstitious. He would never depart for combat without receiving a kiss from a loved one. This quickly became a widespread superstition amongst all air fighters.

After his 18th kill, von Richthofen received the Pour le Mrite, the highest military honor in Germany at the time. Earlier, on November 23, 1916 he had downed the British ace Lanoe Hawker, sometimes referred as "the British Boelcke." It happened when von Richthofen was still flying an Albatros D.II. However, after this engagement, he was convinced that he needed a fighter airplane with more agility, although this implied a loss of speed. Unfortunately, the Albatros fighter was the mainstay aircraft of the German air service throughout 1917, and the Baron flew Albatros D.III and D.V models well into 1917. That September von Richthofen was flying the celebrated Fokker Dr.I triplane, the distinctive three-winged aircraft he is most commonly associated with.
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Manfred von Richthofen's Fokker triplane

The Flying Circus

In January of 1917 von Richthofen assumed command of Jasta 11, which ultimately included some of the elite of Germany's pilots, many of whom the Red Baron trained himself. Since April 1918, the pilots in his squadron included Ernst Udet.

Jasta 11's aircraft featured red markings, and some of Richthofen's planes were entirely red. The squadron was usually quartered in tents, in order to get closer to the front and gain mobility to avoid Allied bombing. This way, the Jasta became "The Flying Circus" or "Richthofen's Circus".

Von Richthofen led his new unit to unparalleled success, peaking during "Bloody April" of 1917. In that month alone, he downed 20 British aircraft, raising his tally to 52. However, in July he sustained a head wound that grounded him for several weeks. Nevertheless, he returned to combat, leading Jagdgeschwader I composed of Jastas 4, 6, 10, and 11. This head wound is thought to have caused lasting damage, as after the injury he suffered from post-flight nausea and headaches, a change in temperament, and his single minded pursuit that led to his death was uncharacteristic of his standard method of not becoming fixated on a single target to the exclusion of others.

Richthofen was a brilliant tactician but was not a natural leader. He led by example and force of will rather than by inspiration. He was almost universally described as distant, unemotive, and rather humorless. The effects of the head injury exacerbated these qualities.

Some say that, in 1918, Richthofen had become such a legend that it was feared that his death would be a blow to the morale of the German people. So, his superiors asked him to retire, but he refused considering there were still many troops in the trenches.

After Richthofen's death in April 1918, command of the Flying Circus passed to Hermann Gring who would later go on to infamy as a Nazi war criminal and leader of the Luftwaffe.


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Australian soldiers and airmen with the wreckage of von Richthofen's plane

On April 21, 1918, von Richthofen was shot down and killed over Morlancourt Ridge, near the Somme River. The baron was pursuing a Sopwith Camel piloted by a Canadian, Lieutenant Wilfrid "Wop" May of No. 209 Squadron, Royal Air Force. In turn the baron was chased by a plane piloted by a schoolfriend of May, Captain Arthur "Roy" Brown, the Red Baron turned to check the tail of his plane, that is, in the direction of Brown. He was then caught by a bullet, shot from behind and below, passing diagonally through his chest.

Von Richthofen's plane came to rest in a field on a hill near the Bray-Corbie road just north of the village of Vaux-sur-Somme, in a sector controlled by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Accounts of Richthofen's last moments vary. Some claim he was already dead when his plane came to rest while others say he was still alive when his plane crash landed but died a few moments later and that before he died, von Richthofen pointed to his plane and moaned, "Kaputt" ("broken").

No. 3 Squadron (3 Sqn) of the Australian Flying Corps, being the nearest Allied air unit, assumed responsibility for the Baron's remains.

It is now considered most likely that von Richthofen was killed by an anti-aircraft (AA) machine gunner, possibly Sergeant Cedric Popkin of the Australian 24th Machine Gun Company. A letter from Sergeant Popkin states that he fired only at the front of the triplane, whereas the Red Baron was shot from behind and right side. However, Von Richthofen may have turned to check for Brown's plane, exposing his right side back to Popkin. Many other Australian soldiers were also shooting at the baron at the time, so one of them may well have fired the fatal shot. The Royal Air Force gave official credit to Brown, who had a chance for a very long range shot, when Von Richthofen performed sharp evasive maneuvers after seeing the first tracers fly by. In the end, there are too many variables for a conclusion to be reached.

The commanding officer of 3 Sqn, Major David Blake initially suggested that the baron had been killed by the crew of one of his squadron's RE8s. However, following an autopsy which he witnessed, Blake became a strong proponent of the view that an AA machine gunner had killed the baron.

In common with most Allied air officers, Blake regarded von Richthofen with respect and arranged a full military funeral. The baron was buried in the cemetery at the village of Bertangles near Amiens on April 22, 1918. Six RAF captains acted as pallbearers and an Australian honor guard fired a salute. Allied air squadrons presented memorial wreaths. After the war, the Red Baron's remains were exhumed and reburied in the Richthofen family cemetery in Wiesbaden, Germany.

The Red Baron in popular culture

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Snoopy, WWI flying ace and longtime nemesis of the dastardly Red Baron, at least for the purposes of the Peanuts cartoon strip

The Red Baron has become a symbol for dexterity, daringness and victory, combined with an element of tragedy both as being 'on the other side' and in his ultimate death.

The engine from von Richthofen's aircraft is on display in the Imperial War Museum in London as part of the War in the Air Exhibit. It still bears the damage sustained in that final crash.

Von Richthofen has been the subject of numerous films, both documentary and fictional, including the grossly inaccurate 1971 Roger Corman movie, Von Richthofen and Brown, alternately titled The Red Baron. An American frozen foods manufacturer has adopted his nickname on Red Baron Pizza accompanied by an image that looks nothing like him.

In the comic strip Peanuts, one of Snoopy's favorite fantasies portrays him as a World War I flying ace (Arthur Brown's nickname was Snoopy) who has a personal grudge against the Red Baron. Snoopy can never best the Red Baron, who is never seen. The conflict between Snoopy and the Baron was turned into a video game for the Atari system in the 1980s.

The Royal Guardsmen's debut album was in 1966. Among other popular songs, they recorded the song Snoopy vs. The Red Baron (in which Snoopy actually defeats the Ace) which made it to number two on request charts. The Royal Guardsmen recorded a few other songs featuring Snoopy and the Red Baron.

Corto Maltese, the most famous character of the Italian cartoonist Hugo Pratt, witnesses the defeat of the Red Baron in one of his adventures, where it's speculated that the Baron may have been killed by a single shot fired by a lone Australian gunman, although Corto Maltese himself doesn't believe it was the case.

British comedian Adrian Edmondson played the Baron in the fourth season of Blackadder in an episode entitled "Plan D: Private Plane". The humor of his sole scene was based upon the differences in British and German culture, Edmondson's use of a clichd accent and mannerisms, and his quick, meaningless death at the hands of Lord Flashart (Rick Mayall).

There have also been a number of WWI flight simulators involving Baron von Richthofen. They include "Hunt for the Red Baron," published by Sierra, and, "Red Baron" by Dynamix.

A song entitled "Not the Red Baron" by Tori Amos on her Boys for Pele album contrasts the feeling of shock and sorrow felt by the death of a well-known figure (in this case, the Red Baron) with the unnoticed death of the majority of pilots who were entirely unknown, making the point that a death is really a death, regardless of who it is; it is terrible to consider one death more important than another.

One of the characters in Mobile Suit Gundam, a hugely popular Japanese sci-fi military drama, a saga that spans over thirty years, is believed to be at least partially based on Baron von Richthofen. Char Aznable, nicknamed "The Red Comet" was a legendary pilot for the fictional Principality of Zeon, and pilotted a variety of mobile suits (weapons designed for outer space combat), always painted a trademark red. A variation on this character has existed in every new Gundam series produced, and their red mobile suits pay homage to the real life hero who was recognized as the "Ace of aces".

Relatives of note

He was distant cousins with the German Field Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen, as well as Frieda von Richthofen (18791956), who married the English novelist D.H. Lawrence (18851930) in July 1914. Though their last common ancestor was born in 1661, the Red Baron's infamy nonetheless attached to Frieda's reputation in England. Frieda's sister Else von Richthofen was the first female social scientist in Germany.

His younger brother, Lothar von Richthofen (18941922), was also a flying ace, with 40 victories.

His great-nephew, Baron Dr. Hermann von Richthofen, was German Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1989 to 1993, and his name made him a media favourite.

His uncle, Baron Walter von Richthofen, was a native of Silesia, Richthofen had come to Denver in 1877 after the Franco-Prussian War, started the Denver Chamber of Commerce, and was celebrated locally as the founder of Montclair as "a fount of health and prosperity, and as a model community with enlightened planning and sophisticated architecture." His Richthofen Castle was one of the most sumptuous mansions in the American West. Begun in 1883 and completed in 1887, it was modeled on the original Richthofen Castle in Germany. Located immediately around the Castle are the Baron's mistress's house and his sanitarium/dairy.


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External links

da:Manfred von Richthofen de:Manfred von Richthofen (Der Rote Baron) fr:Manfred von Richthofen fi:Manfred von Richthofen it:Manfred von Richthofen nl:Manfred von Richthofen pl:Manfred von Richthofen pt:Manfred von Richthofen sv:Manfred von Richthofen ja:マンフレート・フォン・リヒトホーフェン


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