9TREVOR TORKINGTON – ‘Lives of the first World War’ remote volunteer
Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen – the ‘Red Baron’ – is credited with shooting down 80 enemy aircraft during his career with Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (the Imperial German Flying Corps).
These were both single and twin seat machines and so approximately 84 airmen were killed, 19 wounded and about 22 survived unhurt.
All told, 125 men (A) (some of the names are in dispute) were shot down by von Richthofen (1)
On 21 April 1918, Second Lieutenant Wilfred Reid May, Royal Flying Corps (RFC) (B) probably considered himself the luckiest man on the Western Front. He’d been pursued in aerial combat by von Richthofen and survived.
He would have been the Baron’s 81st victim but that day it was von Richthofen who had flown his final mission.
ACES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR AND THEIR AIRCRAFT (Q 107381) Formal half-length portrait of newly-promoted Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen wearing the Pour le Merité (‘The Blue Max’) awarded to him by Kaiser Wilhelm I on 1 May 1917. Richthofen took command of Jagdgeschwader 1 the following month. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205021567
Originally a cavalry officer, von Richthofen became bored with the duties he was assigned, and joined the flying service at the end of May 1915. He started training as a pilot in October and by March 1916 he’d been assigned to Kampfgeschwader 2 – a bomber squadron.
It was with this squadron that he shot down his first plane on 26 April, believed to be a French Nieuport 11 French Air Force single-seat fighter of Escadrille n.23, piloted by Maréchal des Logis Jean Casale.
Casale (who was wounded) was the only Nieuport pilot on the casualty lists for the day in question.
However, as the plane crashed within French lines and there was no independent witness, the claim was not officially recognised. Casale would be the only French pilot shot down by von Richthofen. (2) (C)
On 1 September 1916, von Richthofen joined Jagstaffel (Jasta) 2 – a fighter squadron under the leadership of the air ace Oswald Boelcke. Sixteen days later he claimed his first official victory by shooting down a Royal Aircraft Factory FE2B of No. 11 Squadron piloted by Second Lieutenant Lionel Bertram Frank Morris (D) with his observer Captain Tom Rees (E) (he was promoted to Captain that day).
Von Richthofen reported that Morris was an experienced pilot and did his best to prevent the Baron from getting behind him, but eventually the FE2B’s engine was hit and the propeller stopped. As the plane glided to the ground, Rees continued to fire his machine gun until he was shot and killed. Badly wounded, Morris managed to land the plane at Fesquireres, northern France but he too died later the same day. (3)
Richthofen celebrated his success by purchasing a silver cup engraved with the date and type of aircraft he had shot down.
The Baron shot down a further 14 aircraft in 1916 including Major Lanoe George Hawker. (F)
Hawker was a national hero who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for bombing a Zeppelin shed, and the Victoria Cross or VC for attacking three enemy aircraft in succession on the same day. His loss in combat was a major blow to the morale of the British armed forces and public.
The identity of the 15th victim is under dispute. Some sources suggest that it was an Royal Aircraft Factory FE2B flown by Captain John Bowley Quested, Military Cross (MC) (G) and his observer, Lieutenant Harold John Hugh Dicksee. (H)
However, in the book ‘Under the Guns of the Red Baron’ it’s suggested that it was actually the Airco DH2 of James Thomas Byford McCudden (I) (who would later go on to be awarded the Victoria Cross in March 1918).
Having seen his opponent go into an ‘uncontrolled spin’, von Richthofen followed until the plane had fallen to 1,000 metres.
Assuming it would then crash, von Richthofen rejoined his squadron. This coincides with McCudden’s report which states that, to avoid the enemy closing with him, he turned the plane on its back and dived vertically in a slow spin.
At around 800 feet the hostile aircraft left him, McCudden recovered from the spin and flew back to his squadron. (4)
On 12 January 1917, von Richthofen was awarded the Pour le Mérite, one of Germany’s highest honours (known informally as the Blue Max), and two days later was transferred to take command of Jasta 11. He arrived at his squadron at La Brayelle in a new improved Albatross D.III aircraft which, to make an impression on his new subordinates, he immediately painted bright red.
A few days later, on 23 January, von Richthofen claimed his 17th victim. Second Lieutenant John Hay, (I) an Australian from New South Wales, was flying an escort mission when attacked. Von Richthofen flew to within 50 metres and fired around 120 bullets into Hay’s Royal Aircraft Factory FE8 fighter which immediately caught fire.
Rather than burn to death, witnesses saw Hay jump from his aircraft. (5) Sadly, since RFC aircrew weren’t issued with parachutes, this wasn’t uncommon.
From this point on von Richthofen was dubbed the ‘Red Baron’ or ‘Le Petit Rouge’.
One pilot to survive a crash was the Baron’s 31st victim. Lieutenant Christopher Guy Gilbert (J) was also tasked to act as an escort on a reconnaissance mission. He crash landed in enemy territory following the Baron’s attack and was pulled from the wreckage by what must have been slightly bemused German troops. As it was an early morning ‘short’ mission, Gilbert hadn’t got dressed so was taken prisoner in his pyjamas. (6)
On 1 September 1917, von Richthofen flew, for the first time, the plane he is most commonly associated with, the Fokker Dr.1 Triplane. Flying near Zonnebeke, he came across a RE8 of No. 8 Squadron, flown by Lieutenant John Bristow Culley Madge (K) and Second Lieutenant Walter Kember.(L)
It appears the British flyers were unaware that the Germans had a triplane and may have confused it with the Sopwith Triplane design flown by the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS – the Royal Navy’s air arm at the time)
Whatever the case, von Richthofen approached to a distance of 50 metres unopposed – he could see Kember standing upright without making a move for his machine gun – and fired 20 shots. The Royal Aircraft Factory RE8 reconnaissance aircraft fell out of control and crashed within German lines. Madge was badly wounded, surviving the war in German hospitals, but Kember was killed. (7)
Madge and Kember were the Baron’s 60th victory – the last to be celebrated by the purchase of a silver cup. Silver was scarce in Germany following blockades and von Richthofen wasn’t prepared to have cups made from base metal.
Seven months later, on 1 April 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged to become the Royal Air Force. The next day, Second Lieutenant Ernest David Jones (M) and Second Lieutenant Robert Francis Newton (N) became the Baron’s 75th victims and the first RAF crew to be shot down by him.
Their bodies were never recovered, and they weren’t recorded as missing until the next day. They are commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing.
By coincidence, Jones attended the same school, Brecon Grammar School, as one of the Baron’s first victims – Tom Rees. (8)
The Baron’s 79th and 80th victories (the penulimate and last repectively ) were both Sopwith Camels flown by Major Richard Raymond-Barker (O) and Second Lieutenant David Greswolde Lewis (P) on 20 April 1918.
Lewis’ plane was also in flames by the time it hit the ground, but he managed to escape from the wreckage and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp.
One pilot believed that Raymond-Barker was killed instantly, his plane falling from the sky in flames where it continued to burn on the ground. Lewis’ plane was also in flames by the time it hit the ground, but he managed to escape from the wreckage and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp. Lewis was from Bulawayo in what was then Rhodesia, and returned to Africa after the war.
During the Rhodesian War of Independence he had another lucky escape when his car was ambushed and riddled with bullets. Despite this he managed to walk away unharmed. He died in 1978. (9)
Von Richthofen’s last flight was the very next day and the question of who shot the Red Baron is still a matter of debate. (Q)
The Royal Air Force claimed that Captain Arthur ‘Roy’ Brown (R) of No. 209 Squadron was responsible for shooting him down (and this was subsequently immortalised on the squadron badge which has an emblem of a red eagle falling).
Many believe that Sergeant Cedric Popkin (S) an anti – aircraft gunner with the Australian 24th Machine Gun Company as the person most likely to have killed the Baron. (10)
Whatever the case, the Baron’s plane made a relatively smooth descent and landed in a beet field where the undercarriage collapsed.
DEATH OF RITTMEISTER MANFRED VON RICHTHOFEN, APRIL 1918 (Q 10929) Officers and NCOs of No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps examine the battered remains of Baron Manfred von Richthofen’s aircraft at Poulainville aerodrome in April 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205213461
The Baron’s body was recovered by Australian troops and transferred to Poulainville airfield. An enquiry into Von Richtofen’s death was carried out by Colonel George W Barber of the Australian Army and Air Force Medical Services. (11) By a strange coincidence he had attended Whitgift School in Croydon, Surrey, England – the same school that Second Lieutenant Lionel Morris also studied at. (12)
On 22 April 1918 he was given a full military funeral in a cemetery at the village of Bertangles, near Amiens. Six officers from No. 3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps acted as pallbearers while a guard of honour from the squadron’s other ranks fired a salute.
A number of memorial wreaths were presented at the funeral, one of which simply read ‘To Our Gallant and Worthy Foe’. (13)
THE FUNERAL OF RITTMEISTER MANFRED VON RICHTHOFEN, APRIL 1918 (Q 10918) Chaplain of the Forces 4th Class, George Herbert Marshall leads the coffin of Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen past the saluting party as it enters the cemetery at Bertangles, France. The coffin is carried by six pilots of No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps. The funeral service was held on 22 April 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205213462
(1) Commonwealth War Graves Commission Newsletter March 2012
(2) ‘Red Baron – The Life and Death of an Ace’ Peter Kilduff published David & Charles (2007) Page13
(3) Ibid Pages 72-73
(4) ‘Under the Guns of the Red Baron’ Norman Franks, Hal Giblin and Nigel McCrery
published by Grub Street; (1998) Pages 46-48
(5) Ibid Page 53
(6) Ibid Page 87
(7) Ibid Page 156
(8) Brecon Grammar School Old Boys’ Association Newsletter WW1 Memorial Edition
September 2014 http://www.brecongrammar.org/newsletters/BreconGrammarOBA_Newsletter_September_2014_WWI_Edition.pdf – Page 16. Retrieved 14 March 2018
(9) ‘Under the Guns of the Red Baron’ Norman Franks, Hal Giblin and Nigel McCrery
published by Grub Street; (1998) Page 203
(10) ‘Red Baron – The Life and Death of an Ace’ Peter Kilduff published David & Charles (2007)
(11) The Red Baron and the Croydon Connection –
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35807062 Retrieved 14 March 2018
(12) The Death of Manfred von Richthofen: Who fired the fatal shot? by Dr M. Geoffrey Miller
First published in ‘Sabretache’, the Journal and Proceedings of the Military History Society of Australia, Vol. XXXIX, No. 2, June 1998, and © 1998, M. Geoffrey Miller http://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/comment/richt.htm Retrieved 14 March 2018
(13) ‘The Independent’ newspaper 18 October 2015 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/world-history/world-war-one-flying-ace-the-red-baron-was-shot-down-from-the-ground-not-by-another-plane-a6699251.html Retrieved 14 March 2018
During the Second World War Wing Commander John Heagerty RAF served in the Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms.
He is the subject of the ‘ The Wing Commander’s Sugar, The Red Baron and ‘Our Little War in the Middle East’ ‘ post on this site and was also shot down by Rittmeister von Richtofen.
For details of the men featured in the post please click on the relevant ‘Lives of the First World War’ or other web link. All information retrieved 17 March 2018.
(A) The aircrew shot down by the Red Baron https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/community/2702
(B) Second Lieutenant Wilfred Reid May https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/6865689
(C) Jean Casele would finish the First World War with 12 victories to his credit. He would die in a flying accident on 23 June 1923 while flying a four-engined Bleriot commercial biplane.
Information about a memorial to him can be viewed at:
(D) Second Lieutenant Lionel Bertram Frank Morris https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/3134337 . Morris was a pupil at Whitgift School in Croydon, London where a major exhibition entitled ‘Remembering 1916’ was held. http://www.remembering1916.co.uk/news.aspx?SubCatID=256&PageID=569
(E) Captain Tom Rees https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/3688415
(F) Major Lanoe George Hawker https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/1620320
(G) Captain John Bowley Quested https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/6872698
(H) Lieutenant Harold John Hugh Dicksee https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/5229439
(I) Second Lieutenant John Hay https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/2767068
(J) Lieutenant Christopher Guy Gilbert https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/1346997
(K) Lieutenant John Bristow Culley Madge https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/2875583
(L) Second Lieutenant Walter Kember https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/2223273
(M) Second Lieutenant Ernest David Jones https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/6700948
(N) Second Lieutenant Robert Francis Newton https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/6868499
(O) Major Richard Raymond-Barker https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/4144194
(P) Second Lieutenant David Greswolde Lewis https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/6861558
(Q) Who shot the Red Baron? https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/community/1913
(R) Captain Arthur ‘Roy’ Brown https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/6837211
(S) Sergeant Cedric Popkin https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/7551020
(T) Chaplain of the Forces 4th Class, George Herbert Marshall https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/2931749
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