The Red Baron

Plate by courtesy of Oliver Wulff

For the German air service, a heavy blow was to be suffered when on 21 April Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen, the legendary ‘Red Baron’, victor of 80 aerial combats, was shot down and killed over the Somme Valley.        At this stage of his stellar career, von Richthofen was the war’s foremost air ace, much decorated and highly experienced, a great deal of his success was due to precision marksmanship. He was supremely confident in his abilities, in 1917 he had written:

            … ‘Everything in the air beneath me, especially if it is a single-seater chaser, alone and if possible over our territory, is lost, for a chaser cannot defend itself from the rear’…

            On that April morning, von Richthofen was close behind an inexperienced Sopwith Camel pilot of No.209 Squadron. Flying at low level and intent on downing his prey, the ‘Baron’ uncharacteristically continued the pursuit over enemy lines. Coming under fire from above by Captain Roy Brown’s Camel and some Australian infantrymen on the ground, von Richthofen was finally struck and the little red triplane made a rough landing in a mangle field, its pilot dead at the controls. Controversy has raged ever since over who killed the ‘Red Baron’ and few aspects of the first air war have been so hotly scrutinized, discussed and obsessed over than the death of this 25-year old fighter pilot. For many, the final word may never be written, but it seems likely ground fire brought him down.