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Baron Manfred von Richthofen was Germany’s greatest WW1 ‘Ace’

Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, World War 1 on Friday, 31 May 2013

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This edited article about Manfred von Richthofen originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 275 published on 22 April 1967.

Red Baron, picture, image, illustration

Baron Manfred von Richthofen by Wilf Hardy

In the First World War, the bravest and most spectacular pilot to fly against the Allies was Baron Manfred von Richthofen, who was known on both sides of the Western Front as the “Red Knight of Germany”. When Richthofen wrote a book on his experiences in 1917, he revealed that one of the men for whom he had the greatest admiration was an English airman named Captain Albert Ball, V.C. Captain Ball had shot down 40 German planes before he was killed in action.

This admiration for an enemy was typical of Richthofen. To him, aerial warfare was some sort of game which had very little to do with the appalling misery suffered by millions of men in the muddy trenches far below.

Born 2nd May, 1892, at Schweidnitz in Germany, Richthofen’s short life was devoted to flying. When he enlisted in the German Air Force after the outbreak of war in 1914, he soon showed his uncanny skill as a pilot. His instructors said he had been born to fly: as soon as he began his operational duties it was clear that he had been born to fight as well. By the time he was 25 years of age he had claimed 20 victims. Then, in February, 1917, he took command of the 11th Chasing Squadron which earned the nickname of “Richthofen’s Flying Circus”. It contained Germany’s top pilots, including a man called Hermann Goering who was in later years to become the head of Hitler’s Luftwaffe.

During the next 14 months the “Red Knight of Germany” shot down Allied planes at the rate of one a week. Then, on 21st April, 1918, Richthofen met the same fate as his English hero Captain Ball. Somewhere near the Somme battlefield, his aircraft was hit, and he died in the blazing, twisted wreckage. During his career as a fighter pilot, it was estimated that he had destroyed 80 Allied planes.

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