Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Barron)

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (2 May 1892 – 21 April 1918),

known in English as Baron von Richthofen, and most famously as the "Red Baron", was a fighter pilot with the German Air Force during World War I.

He is considered the ace-of-aces of the war, being officially credited with 80 air combat victories.

Originally a cavalryman, Richthofen transferred to the Air Service in 1915, becoming one of the first members of fighter squadron Jagdstaffel 2 in 1916.

He quickly distinguished himself as a fighter pilot, and during 1917 became leader of Jasta 11 and then the larger fighter wing unit Jagdgeschwader 1, better known as "The Flying Circus" or "Richthofen's Circus" because of the bright colours of its aircraft, and perhaps also because of the way the unit was transferred from one area of allied air activity to another – moving like a travelling circus, and frequently setting up in tents on improvised airfields. By 1918,

Richthofen was regarded as a national hero in Germany, and respected by his enemies.

Richthofen was shot down and killed near Vaux-sur-Somme on 21 April 1918.

There has been considerable discussion and debate regarding aspects of his career, especially the circumstances of his death.

He remains one of the most widely known fighter pilots of all time, and has been the subject of many books, films and other media.

Manfred von Richthofen had a chance meeting with German ace fighter pilot Oswald Boelcke which led him to enter training as a pilot in October 1915.

In February 1916, Manfred "rescued" his brother Lothar from the boredom of training new troops in Luben and encouraged him to transfer to the Fliegertruppe.

The following month, Manfred joined Kampfgeschwader 2 ("No. 2 Bomber Squadron") flying a two-seater Albatros C.III.

Initially, he appeared to be a below-average pilot. He struggled to control his aircraft, and he crashed during his first flight at the controls.

Despite this poor start, he rapidly became attuned to his aircraft. He was over Verdun on 26 April 1916 and fired on a French Nieuport, shooting it down over Fort Douaumont—although he received no official credit.

A week later, he decided to ignore more experienced pilots' advice against flying through a thunderstorm.

He later noted that he had been "lucky to get through the weather" and vowed never again to fly in such conditions unless ordered to do so.

Richthofen met Oswald Boelcke again in August 1916, after another spell flying two-seaters on the Eastern Front.

Boelcke was visiting the east in search of candidates for his newly formed Jasta 2, and he selected Richthofen to join this unit, one of the first German fighter squadrons.

Boelcke was killed during a midair collision with a friendly aircraft on 28 October 1916, and Richthofen witnessed the event.

Richthofen scored his first confirmed aerial victory in the skies over Cambrai, France, on 17 September 1916.

His autobiography states, "I honoured the fallen enemy by placing a stone on his beautiful grave."

He contacted a jeweller in Berlin and ordered a silver cup engraved with the date and the type of enemy aircraft.

He continued to celebrate each of his victories in the same manner until he had 60 cups, by which time the dwindling supply of silver in blockaded Germany meant that silver cups could no longer be supplied.

Richthofen discontinued his orders at this stage, rather than accept cups made from base metal.

His brother Lothar (40 victories) used risky, aggressive tactics, but Manfred observed a set of maxims known as the "Dicta Boelcke" to assure success for both the squadron and its pilots.

He was not a spectacular or aerobatic pilot like his brother or Werner Voss; however, he was a noted tactician and squadron leader and a fine marksman.

Typically, he would dive from above to attack with the advantage of the sun behind him, with other pilots of his squadron covering his rear and flanks.

Major Lanoe Hawker VC On 23 November 1916, Richthofen shot down his most famous adversary, British ace Major Lanoe Hawker VC, described by Richthofen as "the British Boelcke".

The victory came while Richthofen was flying an Albatros D.II and Hawker was flying the older DH.2.

After a long dogfight, Hawker was shot in the back of the head as he attempted to escape back to his own lines.

After this combat, Richthofen was convinced that he needed a fighter aircraft with more agility, even with a loss of speed. He switched to the Albatros D.III in January 1917, scoring two victories before suffering an in-flight crack in the spar of the aircraft's lower wing on 24 January, and he reverted to the Albatros D.II or Halberstadt D.II for the next five weeks.

Richthofen was flying his Halberstadt on 6 March in combat with F.E.8s of 40 Squadron RFC when his aircraft was shot through the fuel tank, quite possibly by Edwin Benbow, who was credited with a victory from this fight.

Richthofen was able to force land without his aircraft catching fire on this occasion.

He then scored a victory in the Albatros D.II on 9 March, but his Albatros D.III was grounded for the rest of the month so he switched again to a Halberstadt D.II.

He returned to his Albatros D.III on 2 April 1917 and scored 22 victories in it before switching to the Albatros D.V in late June.

Richthofen's all-red Fokker Dr.I Richthofen flew the celebrated Fokker Dr.I triplane from late July 1917, the distinctive three-winged aircraft with which he is most commonly associated—although he did not use the type exclusively until after it was reissued with strengthened wings in November.

Only 19 of his 80 kills were made in this type of aircraft, despite the popular link between Richthofen and the Fokker Dr. I.

It was his Albatros D.III Serial No. 789/16 that was first painted bright red, in late January 1917, and in which he first earned his name and reputation.

Richthofen championed the development of the Fokker D.VII with suggestions to overcome the deficiencies of the current German fighter aircraft.

He never had an opportunity to fly the new type in combat, as he was killed before it entered service.

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