Biography of World War I Captain Von Richthofen the Red Baron Part 2

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)

His enthusiasm grew to the point where he persuaded his pilot to give him flying lessons. They managed to borrow a dual-controlled trainer, and on days when they were not out on missions, they tried to make a pilot out of von Richthofen. They worked together for 25 hours, an extraordinarily long time in those days, before Zeumer, the instructor, decided to let the future ace of aces try landing the plane. The 1st attempt was a disaster. So was the 2nd. But Prussian perserverance being what it is, he managed to set the plane down in one piece on his 3rd try, this on Christmas Day, 1915. At last he was a pilot, at least by definition.

Single-seaters were still his goal, but still eluded him, and he had to continue as an observer. Finally, however, he was assigned to single-seaters, and in 2 weeks had destroyed 2 of them--but for the wrong side. He was transferred back to 2-seaters, but at least he was a pilot. He was flying bombing missions on the Russian Front, which satisfied some of his killer instinct as letters to his mother bear out, but he was still sportsman enough to want a quarry that would fight back.

For many months he worked on his fighter technique in borrowed Fokker single-seaters. He petitioned again for transfer to a fighter group, and was again turned down, and it was only through a stroke of luck that he met Oswald Boelcke, Germany's leading ace, who was recruiting men for his squadron. This was in August, 1916, and it was the training with this man, who has been called "the father of pursuit aviation," that turned Von Richthofen into the killing machine that he finally became.

From the outset, Boelcke was wary of Von Richthofen. He had heard of his early flying troubles, and he was also aware of the fact that Von Richthofen knew little or nothing of the mechanical side of flying. Worse, he was not inclined to learn. But to counter this, Boelcke saw in his new recruit an eagerness for the hunt, an indifference to alcohol and women, and a single-minded purpose that indicated to him that if Von Richthofen survived the 1st few missions with the new squadron, he might very well become a great fighter. It's too bad that Boelcke didn't live long enough to see what he really created. He died a few months later in a mid-air collision with one of his best friends.

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