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The Red Baron – The World’s Greatest Pilot?

Who was the Red Baron

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The Red Baron was born as Manfred Albrecht Baron von Richthofen on May 2, 1892 in Breslau, Silesia. He was born into a noble German family.

He was an amazing fighter pilot who fought for Germany in World War 1.

According to rumors, by the beginning of 1918, Richthofen had become so legendary that the command feared that if he died, the fighting spirit of the Germans would be dealt a heavy blow.

How the Red Baron started his career

Richthofen decided to become a pilot after a chance meeting with the famous ace Oswald Bölke.

Richtofen later wrote in his diary that this meeting became crucial in his life.

Richthofen then served with Bölke in the Jasta 2 squadron.

He won his first air match on September 17, 1916 in the Cambrai region.

After that, he ordered a friend’s jeweler silver cup engraved with the date of the battle and the type of shot down airplane.

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When blockages with silver began in besieged Germany, Richthofen had 60 such cups.

On November 23, 1916, he shot down his 11th plane, English ace Lano Hawker, on Airco DH2, which was then called the “British Bölke.”

Despite the victory, he decided that his Albatros D.II fighter was not good enough and needed a plane with better maneuverability, even if it was less fast.

At that time, the Albatrosses were the main fighters of the German Empire Air Force.

Richthofen flew on the D.III and DV models for a significant part of 1917, until he received the Fokker Dr.I triplane in September.

This plane, painted in bright red color, is considered its symbol, although there are still doubts whether the baron ever flew on a completely red triplane, or if only a few details of the plane were painted red.

the red baron

The Squadron Air Circus

In January 1917, the Baron shot down his 16th opponent and was awarded the highest military award of Prussia – the Order of “ Pour le Mérite ”.

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In February, he was entrusted with the command of the squadron of Jasta 11.

Many German aces flew in it, including Ernst Udet.

In order to simplify the recognition of each other in battle, the color of all the planes of this unit was red, and some, including the Richthofen fighter were completely red.

Jasta 11 personnel were usually housed in tents, which allowed them to be closer to the front line and provided the mobility necessary to avoid the Allied bombing.

Because of this, the squadron was called the ” air circus.”

Under the command of Richthofen, the squadron operated very successfully: in the most successful month – April 1917, called by the British pilots ” Bloody April “, Manfred alone shot down 22 enemy aircraft.

On July 6, he was seriously injured and out of action for several weeks.

A head wound led to grave consequences – Richthofen suffered from headaches and nausea, his character also changed.

It is believed that before the injury he did not tend to stubbornly follow one goal, forgetting about others.

Later, this quality played a role in his death. After returning to service, Richthofen was entrusted with the command of the 1st Fighter Regiment, consisting of Jasta 4, 6, 10, and 11 squadrons.

According to rumors, by the beginning of 1918, Richthofen had become so legendary that the command feared that if he died, the fighting spirit of the Germans would be dealt a heavy blow.

He was offered to resign, but he refused, saying that his duty was to provide air support to soldiers on earth who did not have such a choice.

After the death of Richthofen, the command of the “air circus” passed to the successor of his choice – Wilhelm Reinhard, who commanded the unit until his death in a plane crash on July 3, 1918 during the flight of a new fighter.

After this, the command passed to Hermann Goering.

How did the Red Baron die?

On April 21, 1918, Manfred von Richthofen was mortally wounded in a battle over the hills of Morlancour, in the Somme River region, while pursuing a Canadian Lieutenant Wilfred May’s Sopwith Camel plane.

In turn, the Red Baron was pursued by the commander of the Canadian squadron, Captain Arthur Roy Brown.

Also on the red “Fokker” by Richthofen machine gunners fired and the arrows of the Australian infantry division.

Richthofen was injured by a.303 British caliber bullet, standard for the British Empire’s small arms, which hit the chest from below from behind and went through.

He immediately landed on a hill near the Brae Carby road, north of the village of Vaux-sur-Somme.

His Fokker was not damaged during landing.

It is currently believed that Richthofen was killed from an anti-aircraft machine gun, possibly by sergeant Cedric Popkin of the 24th machine gun company.

The 3rd Squadron of the Australian Air Force, the closest unit of the Entente forces, buried Richthofen with military honors in the cemetery of the village of Bertangl near Amiens on April 22, 1918.

Three years later, by order of the French authorities, he was reburied in a cemetery for German soldiers.

On November 20, 1925, the remains of Richthofen were transported to Berlin and again in the presence of thousands of citizens, military officials, members of the government and Hindenburg themselves again buried in a Berlin cemetery.

In 1975, the ashes of the Red Baron were again disturbed, and now he rests in the family cemetery in Wiesbaden.


Nikolai Georgievich Bodrikhin. The best aces of the 20th century.

Cite this article as: Hayden Chakra, "The Red Baron – The World’s Greatest Pilot?," in About History, May 5, 2020, https://about-history.com/the-red-baron/.

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