Red Baron

Manfred von Richthofen remains
one of the greatest legends of
aviation. Born in a part of Germany
that is now Poland, Richthofen was
the son of an aristocratic Prussian
family. A far better athlete than
scholar, he wanted to become a
calvary officer, but the changing
nature of war had eliminated the
need for calvary, so, he turned to
the “new calvary,” aviation. When
World War I began, Richthofen
joined the Fliegertruppe as an
observer in order to get into combat
more quickly. After just 24 hours of flight training, he made his
first solo flight. He crashed trying to land. By 1916, he was a
combat pilot, and scored his first confirmed victory on
September 17. On November 23 of the same year, he shot down
the British ace Major Lanoe Hawker, his eleventh kill. On
January 4, 1917, Richthofen shot down his 16th plane, making
him the top living German ace at the time. He recieved the
Orden Pour le Mrite (a.k.a. the “Blue Max”), one of
Germany’s highest honors. Given command of Jasta 11, he began
to paint his aircraft red, so that he could be easily identified.

However, it was also said he did this because of the color of his
old Uhlan calvary regiment. To show solidarity with their
commander, the pilots of Jasta 11 begin to put some red on their
planes. Later, British pilots would paint the noses of their
planes red, to show they were hunting this “Red Baron.” In April
1916, Richthofen wrote an angry letter to Berlin, complaining
about the tendency of a biplane’s lower wing to break off during
flight. This resulted in a visit from the legendary plane designer
Anthony Fokker, and his design of the Dr.I triplane, which the
Red Baron became famous for flying. After “Bloody April,” in
which Richthofen shot down 21 Allied planes, he was ordered
on leave, during which time he left command of Jasta 11 to his
brother Lothar and met with Kaiser Wilhelm II. When he
returned, it was in command of a new squadron, the elite
Jagdgeschwader 1 (Fighter Wing 1), also known as JG1, which
gathered some of Germany’s best aces, including Hermann
Gring and Lothar von Richthofen. The next month, he was
wounded in combat, and the German government, realizing the
propaganda boost his death would give to the Allies, forbade
him to fly unless absolutely neccessary (a loophole he used
often). On April 21, 1918, a disheartened Manfred von
Richthofen who had watched so many of his comrades and
friends die followed a Sopwith Camel deep into enemy
territory, even though he himself had wrote in the German air
doctrine that “one should never obstinately stay with an
opponent which, through bad shooting or skillful turning, he has
been unable to shoot down while the battle lasts until it is far on
the other side.” Wilfred May, the pilot of the Camel, said it was
his erratic, untrained piloting which saved him, until the Red
Baron was killed by a bullet fired either by Australian gunners
on the ground or by the Canadian pilot Arthur “Roy” Brown. His
body was recovered by the British, and buried with full military
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