Manfred Albrecht von Richthofen,
the red Baron



anfred Albrecht, Rittmeister Freiherr von Richthofen was born on may 2, 1892 in Breslau, Germany. He was a child of wealthy parents. Following his father, he joined a Pruissian military academy at eleven and became officer in the Cavalry. He was an excellent horseman and hunter.
In the first days of the war he was serving at the eastern front, near the Russian border. After a short period he became scout at the western front. But early in 1915, after he saw more and more airplanes, he decided to ask for transfer to the German air service, to scout from above.
In december 1915 he passed his exams as a scouting pilot. After a period of scouting -sometimes joined with bombers- he was a skilled and, in the German army, a well known pilot. In a period with bad luck with many losses Oswald Boelcke was ordered to reorganize the Air service. Boelcke, together with his friend Max Immelmann were the first pilotes to be awarded with the 'Pour le Merite' in January 1916.

In August 1916 Boelcke became commander of a formation of together operating airplanes; a so called Jagdstaffel "JASTA 2". He had to choose his own pilotes. One of them was Manfred von Richthofen. In September, the first month of action the JASTA shot down 25 enemy planes and lost only 3. Von Richthofen "scored" his first victory in the first action of the JASTA with his new quick Albatross D2. Von Richthofens star was rising rapidly and high and in January 1917 he became commander himself of a Jagdstaffel; "JASTA 11". It was also in these days that he was given the 'Pour le Merite'. He was very proud of this 'The blue Max' that he wore it every day in combat.
After a successfully period of the JASTA's the German army decided to reorganize again and formed larger units of 4 JASTAs (also JASTA 11); the "Jagdgeschwader". On 26 June 1917 Manfred von Richthofen became the first
commander of Jagdgeschwader I. One month later he had 58 victories. He was keen on his success and often he landed near his victim and cut the registration number out of the fuselage. In this period he painted his Albatross III red and, -also known for his born nobility, he was soon named "The red Baron". His pilotes, proud and self confident as they were, painted there planes also in bright colours.

This formation did not fly regularly but was there where needed. His squadron travelled from battlefield to battlefield in very short manoeuvres, sometimes, disassembled, with trucks and trains. This colourful 'Jagdgeschwader' was for these reasons soon famous as "Von Richthofens Flying Circus". In his aim to be better (selling better anyway) than The Albatross company, Antony Fokker build a brand new type of airplane: The "Fokker DR1 Dreidecker". The presentation of this plane, at the end of 1917, was in Berlin. Manfred von Richthofen tested the Triplane and spoke the words " It climbed like a monkey and manoeuvred like the devil". He was sold to the airplane and his Jagdgeschwader was the first to receive Triplanes. Fokker still not happy and searching for success later developed the better flying D-VII. The discussions that Von Richthofen had with Fokker and other aircraft manufacturers resulted in improvement from the quality and performance of fighter planes and started a competition between the aircraft builders. During a presentation of different airplane manufacturers in Berlin Von Richthofen was in first not so enthusiastic about the Fokker D-VII. Fokker corrected in a few days the design and so build probably the best combat biplane. The first D-VII also went to The flying circus of Von Richthofen. The red Baron flew this plane now and then to visit nearby units, but for combat he had lost his heart to the DR-I
During the last year of the war he was often flying in the evening provocative above the front up and down with 20 to 40 of his planes mostly in formation of 3 groups. The difference in the speed and maneuverability of the types of planes needed different altitudes. And in these formation they were always protected against unexpected enemy attacks. When the Germans saw enemy planes they started a dogfight. At one of such fights on 21 April 1918 he was chasing the Canadian pilot Wop May. A friend of May, Roy Brown saw this fight and decided to assist his mate and attacked the Red Baron. Until now Von Richthofen had 80 victories. One shot sounded and the German Ace fell down. But where did that shot came from?
A lot of different stories went around about the bullet. At the same time Australian antiaircraft gunners tried to help the scouts in the air. One of them could have shot him; Gunner Robert Buie, Australian 53rd battery, or Gunner Sgt CB Popkin with the Australian 24th machine gun company. Historians still argue over who fired the single bullet that killed the Red Baron but credit is generally given to Brown.
Von Richthofen was buried the next day in the small village of Bertangles. British and Australian troops gave him full military honors, and a British pilot dropped a note in German territory containing the news. Germany went into deep mourning. In 1925, Manfred von Richthofen's younger brother Bolko recovered his body and took it from Bertangles to Berlin. Manfred had the largest funeral ever seen in that city.



Looking for more information about The red baron and World War I.?
"THE RED FIGHTER PILOT": His own story.
The Red Baron.
Who fired the fatal shot?
The Red Baron's final moments.
Flying Corps.
The Aerodrome.
Trenches on the Web.
The World War I Document Archive.
The early years of flying.
In Flanders fields.
The inheritance of the Great War.