Biography of World War I Captain Von Richthofen the Red Baron Part 1

About the World War I German flying ace Captain Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen aka the Red Baron, his history and biography.

RITTMEISTER (Capt.) MANFRED FREIHERR VON RICHTHOFEN (Germany, W.W. I)

That Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen would become the highest scoring ace of W.W. I was certainly not viewed as a possibility when he began his flight training. As a matter of fact, it was seen as something of a miracle that he survived his early flight training at all. He was by no means a natural born flier. That he was brave, there was no doubt, and even his mother, when asked about his skill as a horseman, remarked, ". . . he was too brave for his own good. He would try anything, but his skill on a horse did not match his courage."

He was born into an old German family that could be traced back to at least 1543 and was uniquely devoid of military personalities. Mostly his forebears had been people of the soil, farming and raising sheep and dairy herds along the Oder River in Silesia. His father was a retired cavalry captain, but this seems to have been the extent of Manfred's military heritage. The family was moderately well off, and he was raised in an aristocratic atmosphere that put heavy emphasis on riding, hunting, and physical activity. Scholarship was not high on his list of pursuits, and if it had not been for his athletic abilities, his 2 years at the cadet school at Wahlstatt in Berlin would have been colorless. He was not considered bright by his instructors. As it turned out, it was hunter's instinct and not his education that was to work so well to his advantage when he finally mastered the mysteries of the airplane.

After 2 years at Wahlstatt, which he left in 1909, he went on to Lichterfelde for advanced studies. Von Richthofen found the atmosphere here more to his liking, and his scholarship picked up and he became interested in military history.

In 1911, at the age of 20, he joined the 1st Uhlan Regiment, a unit made up of some of the finest horsemen in the world, and although somewhat outclassed, went through the early stages of W.W. I with this group.

The traditional cavalry charge was still considered tactically feasible in 1912, but the early phases of the war demonstrated clearly that changes were taking place in warfare, and when he was blown off his horse by the explosion of a French shell that landed close by, he had had enough. When you couldn't see the man who was trying to kill you, war ceased to be fun.

Also contributing to his disenchantment with the war on the ground was the evident fact that his superiors were not particularly impressed with his abilities. He found himself moving farther to the rear, assigned finally to a position in supply. This triggered a most unmilitary letter to the commanding general requesting a transfer to the flying service, and in May, 1915, his petition was granted. He was sent to Colonge for training.

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