Actual History Tuesday – The Red Baron

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Building on the post from this morning, we’re going to zoom 3 years into the future of the past.  Today marks the Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron.

Red Baron photo

In case you need a refresher on World War I air history, here it is:

The First World War was naturally, the first time aircraft were used in combat.  The planes were originally modified general purpose planes, not specifically built for fighters, that quickly changed and all sorts of purpose built machines were constructed.  The men who piloted these planes were generally of the upper class.  Wealthy, knowledgeable people.  The most interesting thing however is the respect they had for each other.  When a plane was shot down, all effort was made to make sure the pilot was safe, and if they happened to die, they were treated with dignity, and respect.  Because of the fragile nature of the planes, (and the fact they were using bullets, not missiles), most planes that were shot down were merely disabled, or unable to fly.  Unless the pilot was shot, he usually survived with minimal injuries.  Partly due to the skills needed to fly, and the lack of qualified people, the pilots who were shot down were treated well, and very soon became not friends, but respected equals in each others minds.

Now, back to Manfred.

The Red Baron is the most well known aerial ace in history.  Officially, he is credited with 80 confirmed enemy kills (a kill in this sense is to the aircraft, not the pilot).  Unofficial numbers have him in the low 100s.  No other pilot in the first world war has more kills them him.  His most famous plane was the Fokker Dr. I, a tri-plane that he had painted bright red.  But only a quarter of his kills came from that plane.

On April 21, 1918, The Red Baron was in a dogfight and his plane was hit.  It wasn’t down yet, he was trying to land it safely for he still had some control.  While looking for his landing, he flew over some allied AA guns.  Those AA guns opened fire, one bullet hit him causing fatal injuries to him.  He crashed into the countryside, and his body was recovered.

The final shot that killed Manfred is unknown, the most popular theory is that it was an Australian AA gunner, while a British Air-man is credited with downing the plane.  He he was given a full military funeral with a honor guard and a salute.  Members of other air-squads sent memorial wreaths to his grave.  After the war, his body was eventually transferred to Germany, and over the years of the Nazis, and the Soviets, his body now lies next to his brother, and his sister in Wiesbaden.

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