Biography of World War I Captain Von Richthofen the Red Baron Part 4

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


By April 20, 1918, when Von Richthofen claimed his 79th and 80th victories within 3 minutes of each other, his mood matched the gloomy weather that had kept the squadron grounded for days. On the 21st, while a mechanic was preparing his maroon triplane, he was asked to autograph a photograph. "Don't you think I'll come back?" he asked, as he complied with the request. He was also uneasy when someone took a picture of him. Boelcke had also been photographed before his last flight.

Six brightly colored Fokker triplanes took off, with Von Richthofen's maroon machine leading. In the flight was another Von Richthofen, a cousin, who was on his 1st patrol. He had been given instructions by Manfred to avoid a fight at all costs.

At about the same time a flight of Sopwith Camels was taking off from Bertangles. This was No. 209 Squadron, led by Capt. Arthur Roy Brown, who, like Von Richthofen, had a fledgling to take care of. In this case it was Wilfred R. May, a schoolmate of Brown's, and he too had been told to stay out of action.

Inevitably, these 2 groups, which had been joined by other flights, met in a furious melee. May, who could not resist getting into the fight, knocked down a triplane that was also separated from the general fight. This was very likely the younger Von Richthofen. May's guns jammed and he headed for home. His retreat was interrupted by gunfire, and he looked over his shoulder to see a maroon triplane closing on him. And right behind the triplane he saw Brown's Sopwith Camel, guns blazing. The fight had come down to about 200', and at this point, the triplane was seen to falter and glide over a low ridge, under heavy ground fire from Australian troops in the area. Von Richthofen's plane continued its glide, and made a heavy landing, demolishing the landing gear. When the Australians got to the plane, they found the pilot dead, and very shortly it was discovered that it was indeed the notorious Red Baron.

Like the man himself, this last flight has continued to be surrounded by controversy. Credit for his death has been claimed by the RAF as well as the Australians, and a good case can be made for both claimants.

So closed the career of Capt. Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, on April 21, 1918, in his 26th year, and then also began the legend of W. W. I's Ace of Aces, The Red Knight of Germany.

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