Category: first world war

The Red Baron’s funeral.

The Red Baron’s funeral.

Australian troops present arms for the funeral…

Australian troops present arms for the funeral of Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron.

The Royal Flying Corps official became its own…

The Royal Flying Corps official became its own branch, the Royal Air Force, in 1918. It is the oldest independent air service in the world.

Australian troops examine the Red Baron’s down…

Australian troops examine the Red Baron’s downed plane.

April 21, 1918 – Red Baron Killed

April 21, 1918 – Red Baron Killed

Pictured – Australian troops look at the Red Baron’s wreckage.

On April 21, 1918, a flight of Fokker Triplanes fought an air battle with a patrol of Sopwith Camels high over the Somme. A red Triplane pursued a Camel far over the British lines, becoming isolated and going dangerously low. As it passed over an Australian infantry brigade, the Australians on the ground plastered the red Triplane with rifles and machine-gun fire. At the same time, a Camel flown by Canadian Arthur “Roy” Brown died on the German machine. “I dived on a pure red triplane which was following Lieutenant May. I go a long burst into him and he went down vertical,” reported the Canadian. 

The Australians believed they had got the German aircraft, however. The brigade’s Intelligence Officer recalled that he “saw two aeroplanes approaching flying Westard directly toward the Wood, at a height of about 400 feet directly above the level of [the] River Somme.” As the German machine passed overhead, he heard machine gun fire. Then the enemy craft “swerved North and then Eastwards, rocking a great deal and suddenly dived out of sight, the engine running full open.

The IO and other Australian troops rushed over to see the crash, but the Triplane had landed safely. The pilot, however, was almost dead, pierced by a .303 bullet. Some of the men heard him try and say something was “kaputt,” and then the German died. When they investigated his belongings they saw he was Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, the greatest ace of the First World War.

Who killed the Red Baron? Both the Canadian pilot Brown and the Australians believed they had dealt the final blow. The answer remains inconclusive, but more historians point towards the ground, where an anti-aircraft gunner named Sergeant Cedric Popkin had the draw on Richthofen with a Vickers machine gun. Whoever killed him, the normally cautious Red Baron had engaged in very risky behavior by flying so low over Allied troops. A day before he had scored his 79th and 80th kills which made him the Great War’s ace of aces. The Australians buried him with full military honors the next day.

The Red Baron’s Fokker Triplane. Although the …

The Red Baron’s Fokker Triplane. Although the triplane is more famous, Richthofen actually scored most of his kills in a red Albatross D.III biplane.

The Red Baron’s room, decorated with wreckage …

The Red Baron’s room, decorated with wreckage taken from his kills.

April 20, 1918 – Red Baron Scores his 80th Vic…

April 20, 1918 – Red Baron Scores his 80th Victory

PIctured – Richthofen stands in front of his red Fokker triplane. His 80 victories stand as the highest tally of the war, making him World War One’s “Ace of Aces.”

Manfred von Richthofen entered the cavalry at an early age, like a good Prussian junker. But when the trench war began, the young nobleman found his horse regiment dismounted and used as runners and telephone-cable layers. Bored, he transferred to the Imperial Air Service in 1915.

Originally an observer in a two-seated plane, Richthofen was chosen by German ace Oswald Boelcke to join a new fighter squadron forming for the Western Front called Jasta 2. Along with his brother Lothar, Richthofen began amassing an impressive tally of victories. Boelcke died in the fall of 1916, but soon Richthofen would make his mark as an even more impressive pilot. In January 1917 he became commander of Jasta 2, which British flyers began to call Richthofen’s Flying Circus on account of the bright colors of its planes, and how it seemed always to be moving from place to place.

Richthofen painted his own Albatross D.III fighter bright red. Allied pilots knew him as the “Red Baron,” “the Red Knight,” or the “Diable Rouge.” By April 1917 Jasta 2 had become a feared name and Richthofen had over 50 kills, making him Germany’s top flyer. Unlike his brother Lothar, who achieved 40 victories with risky, aggressive tactics, Manfred fought with a set of conservative principles devised by Boelcke. He was a calculating tacticitian who relied on suprrise and his wingmen, preferring to swoop down on unsuspecting enemies from above. A Prussian nobleman to the core, he had silver trophies made after each of his kills (when Germany ran out of silver, he preferred to stop rather than accept trophies of a base metal). He also collected wreckage from downed enemy pilots, with which he morbidly decorated his room like a hunting lodge.

On April 20, 1918, Richthofen achieved his 79th and 80th kills. Flying with six wingmen in Fokker Triplanes over the Somme, he downed two Sopwith Camels from the RAF’s 3 Squadron. 80 kills was a number no other flyer in the First World War surpassed, making the Red Baron the war’s ace of aces. 

The Coming Army: A Punch cartoon mocks the Bri…

The Coming Army: A Punch cartoon mocks the British government’s new conscription rules. Desperate for manpower Britain has decided that all men up to 56 years of age must serve, and extended conscription to Ireland.

A tank crewman has a shave while his mate keep…

A tank crewman has a shave while his mate keeps watch with a Lewis gun.