|Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen|
02 May 1892 – 21 April 1918
As they readied themselves another Camel swooped down on the triplane's six o'clock position. The men on the ground could now hear the German's twin machine guns, short bursts aimed at the lead Camel. Abruptly the German pilot stopped firing and jinked his machine to the right.
The trailing Camel applied full throttle and and pulled up sharply, nearly impacting the ridge over which the fight continued. As the Camel piloted by a Captain Brown of the RAF sped straight ahead, building up speed and preparing to pitch back into the fight, the lead Camel, flown by a Lieutenant May, was clear.
Every rifle and machine gun which could be brought to bear opened up on the little red aircraft.
He saw the enemy plane in his peripheral vision pulling off to his left. Now the young German ace, with a twitch of rudder and a brief caress of the control stick, pulled lead on the aircraft to his front. Just as he fired the entire world seemed to light up.
The air was full of tracer fire, and for every round he could see, there would be up to ten others that he couldn't. So he started to make his aircraft "dance," never staying in the same plane for more than a second, jinking, changing altitude, still focused on the prey to his front.
He felt and saw rounds impacting his bird, saw holes appearing in the fabric of the wings. But he could tell nothing vital had been hit, he was still in control...
It felt as if someone had just hit him under the right armpit with a large hammer. He could also feel a burning sensation across his chest.
Why was it so hard to breathe? What, what is that, am I bleeding? I must try to land before I lose consciousness...
Consummate airman that he was, the Red Baron of Germany managed to land his aircraft in a field just south of the Bray-Corbie road overlooking the River Somme. The aircraft was not badly damaged.
As a group of Australian soldiers ran to the downed aircraft, Manfred von Richthofen, Captain of Cavalry in the Imperial German Army Air Service was rapidly bleeding out. The pain was immense, he struggled to remain conscious, he knew to stay still, he could hear footsteps near his aircraft. Was help arriving? Why was he so cold?
As the first Australian climbed up to the cockpit, he could see that the Hun pilot was a goner. He heard the man attempt to speak, then the German's eyes lost focus. Whoever the man was, he was dead...
On the 21st of April, at just after 1100 hours local time, near the small village of Vaux-sur-Somme, Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, top scoring ace of World War I, perished in aerial combat.
For many years Captain Arthur "Roy" Brown of 209 Squadron, Royal Air Force, had been credited with shooting down von Richthofen. Men on the ground, Australians of two separate units of the Australian Imperial Force claimed that ground fire had brought the Baron's red Fokker Dr.I triplane to earth.
Subsequent research showed that von Richthofen had been killed by a single .303 caliber round which hit him on the right side at an angle which indicated that it had been fired from the ground. Not an aircraft.
Regardless of exactly who killed the Red Baron, arguably the best pilot of World War I was dead, at the age of 25, eleven days shy of his birthday.
The Red Baron was credited with 80 confirmed aerial victories, sources indicate that the actual number was well above a hundred. No matter, his reign of terror in the air was at an end. One of the finest fighter pilots to have ever lived, was no more.
I have written of this man before, and will, no doubt, write of him again in the future. He was a brilliant fighter pilot, his like would not be seen again until a later war. Again, it would be a German pilot who would score the highest number of victories in that war.
A reborn Germany in 1959 would name its first jet fighter unit after the Red Baron, Jagdgeschwader 71, "Richthofen." That unit was founded and initially commanded by Oberst Erich Hartmann, the pilot who had had the top "score" in World War II, 352 confirmed aerial victories.
Fitting, in many ways.
|JG 71 Richthofen|
|Fokker Dr.I. Replica of Manfred von Richthofen's triplane. (Source)|
Ruhe in Frieden, Herr Rittmeister...
* Fallen in battle on this day in 1918.