Sunday, 18 January 2009

Manfred von Richthofen - Red Baron

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen was a German fighter ace of the First World War flying in the Luftstreitkräfte who had 80 confirmed combat kills.

The name Freiherr in his name denotes that he is a German aristocrat of the same title as a Baron of other countries. Manfred von Richthofen flew a red plane throughout World War One and it is because of his aristocracy and his planes colour that he gained the infamous nickname "The Red Baron". In Germany Manfred von Richthofen was known as "Der Rote Kampfflieger" which translates as the Red Fighter Pilot but today he is also known as the Red Baron in Germany "Der Rote Baron".

Manfred von Richthofen was born in Kleinburg, near Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) on the 2nd May 1892. At the age of eleven Manfred started military training, after completing training and of age (1911 when he was 19) Manfred joined an Uhlan cavalry unit.

When World War One broke out Manfred was used as a cavalry reconnaissance officer on both war fronts (France and Russia). Cavalry soon became obsolete in battle during World War One because of barbed wire and the use of machine guns so the Uhlan Cavalry units were disbanded and joined the infantry which made Manfred unhappy.

Because of the disbanding of Cavalry units Manfred put in a transfer request to the Luftstreitkräfte which was accepted. The training Manfred took to become a pilot was from October 1915 to March 1916 where he was then transfered to Kampfgeschwader 2 ("No. 2 Bomber Geschwader"). By July 1916 Manfred had flew on both Western and Eastern fronts making kills but none were credited to him as they fell behind allied lines and there was no way of confirming them.

In August 1916 Manfred met fighter pilot Oswald Boelcke who was touring the Eastern front looking for potential fighters to join his new Jagdstaffel, Jasta 2. Oswald Boelcke liked Manfred and selected him to join the new fighter squadron.

Manfred has his first aeriel combat as a fighter pilot on the 17th September 1916 over Cambria in France where he made his first confirmed kill.

Von Richthofen made his most memorable kill when he fought and downed his most famous enemy pilot the British fighter pilot Major Lanoe Hawker VC. Manfred said that Major Lanoe Hawker VC was the "British Boelcke" referring to his patrol leader and renowned flying ace Oswald Boelcke.

By January 1917 Manfred had made 16 confirmed kills, had won the highest German decoration the Pour le Mérite and took command of Jasta 11.

Von Richthofen had all the Jasta 11 planes painted with red markings for each indiviual in the squadron, with his own Fokker Dr.I plane painted fully red, so that they could all distinguish each other during battle. It was this colouration of his plane that led to the nickname The Red Baron.

On 6th July 1917 the Red Baron was badly injuried during combat, this victory was attributed to Briish fighter ace Captain Donald Cunnell. The Red Baron was hit in the head and forced to land in Wervicq, Belgium, the Red Baron did however return to flying combat in October 1917 although after sustaining this injury did suffer with severe headaches and nausea.

The Red Baron met his demise on 21st April 1918 while flying near the Somme River. It is said that he was pursuing a novice Canadian fighter pilot named Lieutenant Wilfrid "Wop" May and during this pursuit he was hit by a single .303 machine gun round to the chest causing substantial lung and heart damage.

The Red Baron was able to make a quick landing in a field near Vaux-sur-Somme where Australian troops were stationed. Australian soldiers who rushed to the field and found him said he was alive for a few moments before passing on when they found him and that his last word before passing was "Kaputt" which translates as finished.

There were many speculations as to who had shot the Red Baron and Canadian pilot Canadian Captain Arthur "Roy" Brown who had tried to intervene when Manfred von Richthofen was chasing Canadian fighter pilot Lieutenant Wilfrid "Wop" May was credited with the kill. Today it is commonly believed after much extensive research that an unknown Australian soldier on the ground firing a machine gun was the cause for the death of Manfred von Richthofen.

Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron died aged 25 years old (just under two weeks before his 26th birthday).


  1. Thought it was the case that it was not confirmed that he actually flew an all red Dr.1? Obviously, I`m wrong. If only I was an expert!

  2. He actually flew 4 different planes through the course of the war, He had the least number of kills in the Fokker D-I , most in the Albatross D.II. Or so I've read....

  3. was manfred von ricthofen ever married ?

  4. No, although it was rumoured he was in a dalliance with his nurse Katie Otersdorf while he was recuperating from his head wound (which incidently was in September 1917, not July, and was shot down by Fl Lt Woodbridge).

    1. Sadly no. But I heard he was engaged, but I don't know to whom.

  5. NB. Manfred was born in Schweidnitz, now Swidnica, near Breslau, which is now Wroclaw. Don't know where Kleinberg comes into it, but I have an original 1917 issue of Der Rote Kampffleiger and it states it in there.