Everything depends in whether we have for opponents those French rascals, the English. I prefer the English. Frequently their daring can only be described as stupidity. In their eyes it may be pluck and daring.
—Baron Manfred von Richthofen in 1917—
"Today, historians and aviation buffs still celebrate the Red Baron as the ideal fighter pilot. A daring knight of the sky who helped write the book on aerial combat during the world's first air war. For the man behind the myth, however, the real story is a tale of disillusionment; a blood red saga in which ancient ideals of chivalry, honor and duty came crashing down in the fires of modern war."—Introduction to a companion historical documentary.
"a tragic figure, fighting fanatically, remorselessly, in a war that is lost"—German author Joachim Castan.
Manfred Alberecht Freiherr von Richthofen (born May 2nd, 1892 - April 21st 1918 in Breslau), also widely known as the Red Baron, was a German fighter pilot and cavalry officer with the Imperial German Army Air Service during the World War I. He is considered the ace-of-aces of the war, being officially credited with 80 air combat victories.
The "Red Baron" is one of the most famous aviators in history and the subject of numerous representations in music, film and other media. He already received numerous honors and award for his exploits.
He was born into an aristocratic Prussian military family. He began World War I in the cavalry, as trench warfare had little use for mounted cavalry, he joined the aviation. At first he was an observer but then also as a pilot. He made his first solo flight when he was 23 and crashed his plane attempting to land. However that was only the beginning of the greatest Ace in the whole of aviation history.
His first air victory wasn't officially credited because the plane crashed behind enemy lines. By January 1916 he scored his 16th victory and then began the tradition of colouring planes red. People started to call him The Red Baron. Members of his squadron began to display the same red color to show solidarity with him. Even some British airplanes bore red noses, announcing that were hunting for the Baron. In July 1917 Richthofen was forced to land when he was seriously wounded. He survived with a bullet wound in his head. After less than a month in hospital his wound was still two centimeters wide and doctors advised him not fly any more. But to such an Ace you can't just forbid doing what he knows the best. So he sat in a plane and suffered horrible headaches and there was also a danger for him to lose consciousness.
Those who actually knew Manfred would recount how approachable he was to those in the squadron he led, commenting that he was quite friendly and would joke around with his fellow pilots. Richthofen was very reluctant to kill pilots, he only needed the plane to go down to bring up his "score" he talked about how he regretted having to kill a Sopwith pilot, in his autobiography, the pilot pretended to be going for a crash landing, then popped back up behind him and began firing so Richtofen out turned him and shot him down, he wrote that he felt very bad that the pilot had died and wished he had just stuck with the crash landing.
Manfred was an incredibly brave and patrotic man, who fought for his country in some of the darkest days. He never shot down a man outside of battle, and never went out of his way to kill anyone if there wasn't a need. He was beloved by his companions, and greatly respected and admired by his opponents, and vice versa. British flying ace Thomas J.C. Martyn stated about how he and fellow pliots respected and admired the famous German flying ace Von Richthofen was very well thought of by the British aviators as a clean fighter and a man who did not know what fear wasMartyn also told a story told to him by one of his fellow British Airmen, as Martyn describes:
As an example of Richthofen's fine sportsmanship, Major Patrick told me that he once had a fight with Richthofen and that his ammunition ran out. Richthofen, being in a faster machine, had Patrick at his mercy, but when he knew that Patrick was unable to fire he flew close to him, waved his hand and turned back to his own lines.
On April 21st, 1918; Manfred was chasing a enemy plane far into British territory, when a bullet fired by a solider on the ground passed through his chest. He then made a smooth landing, in a field on a hill near the Bray-Corbie road, just north of Vaux-sur-Somme. His Fokker was not damaged by the landing. One witness, Gunner George Ridgway, stated that when he and other Australian soldiers reached the plane, Richthofen was still alive but died moments later. Another eye witness, Sergeant Ted Smout, reported that Richthofen's last word was "kaputt" ("finished") immediately before he died. There has been considerable discussion and debate regarding aspects of his career, especially the circumstances of his death. Upon viewing Richthofen's body the following day, Brown wrote that "there was a lump in my throat. If he had been my dearest friend, I could not have felt greater sorrow". He was immensely respected by friends and foes alike that when he was exhumed and reburied in Wiesbaden he was given full military honors by the British.
The Red Baron has become a symbol for dexterity, daring and victory, combined with an element of tragedy both as being 'on the losing side' and in his ultimate death. The "Red Baron" is one of the most famous aviators in history and the subject of numerous representations in music, film and other media. He already received numerous honors and award for his exploits.
Director Roger Corman who made a 1971 movie about Richthofen felt that the Baron was the last true knight, an aristocratic warrior with a code of honor. Corman wanted to show how the Baron's way of thinking was archaic compared to the wholesale slaughter of World War One.
- Manfred witnessed his mentor, Oswald Boelcke, die in a midair collision with friendly aircraft.
- There is much controversy over who shot the bullet that fatally wounded Manfred von Richthofen. Captain Arthur Roy Brown of the Royal Air Force was officially credited with the kill but it is now generally agreed that the bullet that hit Richthofen was fired from the ground.
- His younger brother Lothar was also a fighter pilot who was credited with 40 victories.
- Historians estimate that if his unconfirmed victories were also included, he shot down over 100 enemy planes.
- He is most famous for flying the three-winged Fokker Dr. I airplane, but he also flew other airplanes such as the Albatros, C.III. and the Albatros D. II.
- The enemy created nicknames for Richthofen: Le Petit Rouge, the Red Devil, the Red Falcon, Le Diable Rouge, the Jolly Red Baron, the Bloody Baron, and the Red Baron. However, the Germans never called Richthofen the Red Baron; instead, they called him der röte Kampfflieger ("The Red Battle Flier").
- Lieutenant Alec S. Paterson of No. 3 Squadron AFC, viewing Richthofen`s body before his burial, wrote: "he was about 5 7 well proportioned, fair hair closely cropped and small hands and feet and although dead, had a smile on his face".