This Date in History: April 21st.1918
The Death of the 'Red Baron'Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen
(2 May 1892 - 21 April 1918), also widely known as the Red Baron,
was a German fighter pilot with the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte) during World War I.
He is considered the top ace of that war, being officially credited with 80 air combat victories, more than any other pilot.
Originally a cavalryman, Richthofen transferred to the Air Service in 1915, becoming one of the first members of Jasta 2 in 1916.
He quickly distinguished himself as a fighter pilot, and during 1917 became leader of Jasta 11
and then the larger unit Jagdgeschwader 1 (better known as the "Flying Circus").
By 1918, he was regarded as a national hero in Germany, and was very well known by the other side.
Richthofen was a Freiherr (literally "Free Lord"), a title of nobility often translated as Baron.
This is not a given name nor strictly a hereditary title-since all male members of the family
were entitled to it, even during the lifetime of their father.
This title, combined with the fact that he had his aircraft painted red,
led to Richthofen being called "The Red Baron" both inside and outside Germany.
During his flighter pilot career which started with Boelcke's Jasta 2 to end leading Jagdgeschwader 1.
Baron von Richthofen attained his first combat victory with the downing of a FE2b on September 17th.1916
near Villers Plouich to his last two Spowith Camels on April 20th.1918.
He was offically credited with 80 victories although some say it may have been closer to 100.
Richthofen was shot down and killed near Amiens on 21 April 1918.
It was a Sunday morning, 21st April, 1918 when Richthofen led 15 Fokker and Albatros Scouts
against R.E. 8 reconnaissance aircraft of the Australian Flying Corps. Coming upon the scene
were Sopwith Camels from No. 209 Squadron. It would be Lt.W.R. May, on first sortie and the Baron's last.
As this battle unfold, Lt. May left the combat area acting on Brown's instructions.
Richthofen, who had been waiting for someone to withdraw from the dogfight,
went in hot pursuit of May with Capt. Roy Brown following.
This pursuit would eventually draw Richthofen, in his red painted Fokker Dr.1,
two miles inside British lines.
At the time, the Baron had been pursuing (at very low altitude) a Sopwith Camel piloted
by a novice Canadian pilot, Lieutenant Wilfrid "Wop" May of No. 209 Squadron, Royal Air Force.
In turn, the Baron was spotted and briefly attacked by a Camel piloted by a school friend (and flight commander) of May's,
Canadian Captain Arthur "Roy" Brown, who had to dive steeply at very high speed to intervene,
and then had to climb steeply to avoid hitting the ground. Richthofen turned to avoid this attack,
and then resumed his pursuit of May.
It was almost certainly during this final stage in his pursuit of May that Richthofen was hit by a single .303 bullet,
which caused such severe damage to his heart and lungs that it must have produced a very speedy death.
In the last seconds of his life, he managed to make a hasty but controlled landing
in a field on a hill near the Bray-Corbie road, just north of the village of Vaux-sur-Somme,
in a sector controlled by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).
One witness, Gunner George Ridgway, stated that when he and other Australian soldiers
reached the aircraft, Richthofen was still alive but died moments later.
Richthofen was fatally wounded just after 11:00 a.m. on 21 April 1918,
while flying over Morlancourt Ridge, near the Somme River.
His Fokker Dr.I, 425/17, was not badly damaged by the landing, but it was soon taken apart by souvenir hunters.
Thoughtout that evening the Triplane was shredded by extensive looting continued.
The following morning it had been stripped bare which neccessitated the invention
of the 'artillery barrage' stories the explain the damage.
No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, as the nearest Allied air unit,
assumed responsibility for the Baron's remains. In common with most Allied air officers, Major Blake,
who was responsible for Richthofen's remains, regarded the Red Baron with great respect,
and he organised a full military funeral, to be conducted by the personnel of No. 3 Squadron AFC.
Richthofen was buried in the cemetery at the village of Bertangles, near Amiens, on 22 April 1918.
Six airmen with the rank of Captain-the same rank as Richthofen-served as pallbearers,
and a guard of honour from the squadron's other ranks fired a salute.
Allied squadrons stationed nearby presented memorial wreaths,
one of which was inscribed with the words, "To Our Gallant and Worthy Foe".