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Manfred von Richthofen
Richthofen wears the Pour le Mérite, the "Blue Max", Prussia's highest military order in this official portrait, c. 1917
Birth name Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen
Nickname "Red Baron"
Born (1892-05-02)2 May 1892
Died 21 April 1918(1918-04-21) (aged 25)
Place of birth Breslau, Germany
(now Wrocław, Poland)
Place of death Morlancourt Ridge, near Vaux-sur-Somme, France
Allegiance German Empire German Empire
Service/branch Uhlan (Lancers)
Luftstreitkräfte (Imperial German Army Air Service)
Years of service 1911–1918
Rank Rittmeister (Cavalry Captain)
Unit Jasta 11, Jagdgeschwader 1
Commands held

Jasta 11 (January 1917)

Jagdgeschwader 1 (24 June 1917 – 21 April 1918)
Relations Lothar von Richthofen (brother),
Wolfram von Richthofen (cousin)
see Richthofen for more

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (2 May 1892 – 21 April 1918), also widely known as the Red Baron, was a German fighter pilot with the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte) during World War I. He is considered the ace-of-aces of the war, being officially credited with 80 air combat victories.

Originally a cavalryman, Richthofen transferred to the Air Service in 1915, becoming one of the first members of Jasta 2 in 1916. He quickly distinguished himself as a fighter pilot, and during 1917 became leader of Jasta 11 and then the larger unit Jagdgeschwader 1 (better known as the "Flying Circus"). By 1918, he was regarded as a national hero in Germany, and respected and admired even by his enemies.

Richthofen was shot down and killed near Amiens on 21 April 1918. There has been considerable discussion and debate regarding aspects of his career, especially the circumstances of his death. The "Red Baron" is one of the most famous aviators in history and the subject of numerous representations in music, film and other media. He already received numerous honors and award for his exploits. He has been the subject of many books, films and other media.

Name and nicknames

Richthofen was a Freiherr (literally "Free Lord"), a title of nobility often translated as Baron.[1][2] This is not a given name nor strictly a hereditary title—since all male members of the family were entitled to it, even during the lifetime of their father.[lower-alpha 1] This title, combined with the fact that he had his aircraft painted red, led to Richthofen being called "The Red Baron" (About this sound "der Rote Baron" ) both inside and outside Germany.[1] During his lifetime, however, he was more often described in German as Der Rote Kampfflieger (variously translated as The Red Battle Flyer or The Red Fighter Pilot). This name was used as the title of Richthofen's 1917 autobiography.[3]

Richthofen's other nicknames include "Le Diable Rouge" ("Red Devil") or "Le petit Rouge" ("Little Red") in French, and the "Red Knight" in English.

Early life

Von Richthofen coat of arms.

Manfred von Richthofen was born in Kleinburg, near Breslau, Lower Silesia (now part of the city of Wrocław, Poland), into a prominent Prussian aristocratic family. His father was Major Albrecht Phillip Karl Julius Freiherr von Richthofen and his mother was Kunigunde von Schickfuss und Neudorff. He had an elder sister (Ilse) and two younger brothers.

When he was four years old, Manfred moved with his family to nearby Schweidnitz (now Świdnica). He enjoyed riding horses and hunting as well as gymnastics at school. He excelled at parallel bars and won a number of awards at school.[4] He and his brothers, Lothar and Bolko,[5][lower-alpha 2] hunted wild boar, elk, birds, and deer.[6]

After being educated at home he attended a school at Schweidnitz, before beginning military training when he was 11.[7] After completing cadet training in 1911, he joined an Uhlan cavalry unit, the Ulanen-Regiment Kaiser Alexander der III. von Russland (1. Westpreußisches) Nr. 1 ("1st Uhlan Regiment 'Emperor Alexander III of Russia (1st West Prussia Regiment)' "), and was assigned to the regiment's 3. Eskadron ("Number 3 Squadron").[8]

Early war service

When World War I began, Richthofen served as a cavalry reconnaissance officer on both the Eastern and Western Fronts, seeing action in Russia, France, and Belgium; however, with the advent of trench warfare making traditional cavalry operations outdated and inefficient, Richthofen's regiment were dismounted, serving as dispatch runners and field telephone operators.[9] Disappointed and bored at not being able to directly participate in combat, the last straw for Richthofen was an order to transfer to the army's supply branch. His interest had been aroused by his examination of a German military aircraft behind the lines,[10] and he applied for a transfer to Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches (Imperial German Army Air Service), later to be known as the Luftstreitkräfte. He is supposed to have written in his application for transfer "I have not gone to war in order to collect cheese and eggs, but for another purpose".[lower-alpha 3] In spite of this unmilitary attitude, and to his own surprise, his request was granted,[10] and he joined the flying service at the end of May 1915.[11]

Piloting career

"I had been told the name of the place to which we were to fly and I was to direct the pilot. At first we flew straight ahead, then the pilot turned to the right, then left. I had lost all sense of direction over our own aerodrome!...I didn't care a bit where I was, and when the pilot thought it was time to go down, I was disappointed. Already I was counting down the hours to the time we could start again..."

John Simpson, quoting Richthofen's own description of his first flying experience.[12]

From June to August 1915, Richthofen was an observer on reconnaissance missions over the Eastern Front with Fliegerabteilung 69 ("No. 69 Flying Squadron").[10] On being transferred to the Champagne front, he managed to shoot down an attacking French Farman aircraft with his observer's machine gun in a tense battle over French lines;[13] however, he was not credited with the kill, since it fell behind Allied lines and therefore could not be confirmed.

After a chance meeting of the German ace fighter pilot Oswald Boelcke,[14] Richthofen entered training as a pilot in October 1915.[14] In March 1916, he joined Kampfgeschwader 2 ("No. 2 Bomber Squadron (Geschwader)") flying a two-seater Albatros C.III. Initially he appeared to be a below average pilot, struggling to control his aircraft, and crashing during his first flight at the controls.[14] Despite this poor start, he rapidly became attuned to his aircraft and, as if in confirmation, over Verdun on 26 April 1916, he fired on a French Nieuport, downing it over Fort Douaumont,[14] although once again, he received no official credit. A week later, he decided to ignore more experienced pilots' advice against flying through a thunderstorm, and later noted that he had been "lucky to get through the weather", and vowed never again to fly in such conditions unless ordered to do so.[15]

After another spell flying two-seaters on the Eastern Front, he met Oswald Boelcke again in August 1916. Boelcke, visiting the east in search of candidates for his newly formed fighter unit, selected Richthofen to join Jagdstaffel 2 ("fighter squadron").[16] Richthofen won his first aerial combat with Jasta 2 over Cambrai, France, on 17 September 1916. Boelcke was killed during a midair collision with a friendly aircraft on 28 October 1916, Richthofen witnessing the event himself.[16]

A replica of Manfred von Richthofen's red Fokker Dr.I triplane.

Major Lanoe Hawker VC

After his first confirmed victory, Richthofen ordered a silver cup engraved with the date and the type of enemy machine from a jeweller in Berlin. He continued this until he had 60 cups, by which time the dwindling supply of silver in blockaded Germany meant that silver cups like this could no longer be supplied. Richthofen discontinued his orders at this stage, rather than accept cups made in pewter or other base metal.[lower-alpha 4]

Instead of using risky, aggressive tactics like those of his brother, Lothar (40 victories), Manfred observed a set of maxims (known as the "Dicta Boelcke") to assure success for both the squadron and its pilots.[17] He was not a spectacular or aerobatic pilot, like his brother or the renowned Werner Voss. However, he was a notable tactician and squadron leader and a fine marksman. Typically, he would dive from above to attack with the advantage of the sun behind him, and with other Jasta pilots covering his rear and flanks.

On 23 November 1916, Richthofen downed British ace Major Lanoe Hawker VC, described by Richthofen himself as "the British Boelcke".[18] The victory came while Richthofen was flying an Albatros D.II and Hawker was flying a DH.2. After a long dogfight, Hawker was killed by a bullet in the head as he attempted to escape back to his own lines.[19] After this combat, Richthofen was convinced he needed a fighter aircraft with more agility, even at a loss of speed. He switched to the Albatros D.III in January 1917, scoring two victories before suffering an inflight crack in the spar of the aircraft's lower wing on 24 January. Richthofen reverted to the Albatros D.II or Halberstadt D.II for the next five weeks. He was flying his Halberstadt when, on 6 March, in combat with F.E.8s of 40 Squadron RFC, his aircraft was shot through the petrol tank, probably by Edwin Benbow, who was credited with the victory. Richthofen was able on this occasion to force land without his aircraft catching fire.[20] Richthofen then scored a victory in the Albatros D.II on 9 March, but since his Albatros D.III was grounded for the rest of the month, Richthofen switched again to a Halberstadt D.II.[21]

He returned to his Albatros D.III on 2 April 1917 and scored 22 victories in it before switching to the Albatros D.V in late June.[18] From late July, following his discharge from hospital, Richthofen flew the celebrated Fokker Dr.I triplane, the distinctive three-winged aircraft with which he is most commonly associated, although he did not use the type exclusively until after it was reissued with strengthened wings in November.[22] Despite the popular link between Richthofen and the Fokker Dr. I, only 19 of his 80 kills were made in this type.[23] It was his Albatros D.III Serial No. 789/16 that was first painted bright red, in late January 1917, and in which he first earned his name and reputation.[24]

Richthofen championed the development of the Fokker D.VII with suggestions to overcome the deficiencies of the then current German fighter aircraft.[25] However, he never had an opportunity to fly the new type in combat as he was killed just days before it entered service.

Flying Circus

Manfred von Richthofen with other members of Jasta 11

In January 1917, after his 16th confirmed kill, Richthofen received the Pour le Mérite (informally known as "The Blue Max"[26]), the highest military honour in Germany at the time. That same month, he assumed command of the fighter squadron Jasta 11, which ultimately included some of the élite German pilots, many of whom he trained himself. Several later became leaders of their own squadrons. Ernst Udet (later Colonel-General Udet) belonged to Richthofen's group.

At the time he became a squadron commander, Richthofen took the flamboyant step of having his Albatros painted red. Thereafter he usually flew in red-painted aircraft, although not all of them were entirely red, nor was the "red" necessarily the brilliant scarlet beloved of model- and replica-builders.

Other members of Jasta 11 soon took to painting parts of their aircraft red—their "official" reason seems to have been to make their leader less conspicuous, and to avoid him being singled out in a fight. In practice, red colouration became a unit identification. Other jastas soon adopted their own "squadron colours", and decoration of fighters became general throughout the Luftstreitkräfte. In spite of obvious drawbacks from the point of view of intelligence, the German high command permitted this practice, and German propaganda made much of it—Richthofen being identified as Der Rote Kampfflieger—the "Red Battle-Flyer".

File:Thomsen, von Richthofen and von Hoeppner.jpg

Von Richthofen (centre) with Hermann Thomsen (German Air Service Chief of Staff, shown on the left) and Ernst von Hoeppner (Commanding General of the Air Service, shown on the right) at the Imperial Headquarters at Bad Kreuznach.

Richthofen led his new unit to unparalleled success, peaking during "Bloody April" 1917. In that month alone he downed 22 British aircraft, including four in a single day,[27] raising his official tally to 52. By June he had become the commander of the first of the new larger Jagdgeschwader (wing) formations, leading Jagdgeschwader 1, composed of Jastas 4, 6, 10 and 11. These were highly mobile, combined tactical units that could move at short notice to different parts of the front as required. In this way, JG1 became "The Flying Circus" or "Richthofen Circus", its name coming both from the unit's mobility (including, where appropriate, the use of tents, trains and caravans) and its brightly coloured aircraft.

Richthofen was a brilliant tactician, building on Boelcke's tactics. Unlike Boelcke, he led by example and force of will rather than by inspiration. He was often described[by whom?] as distant, unemotional, and rather humourless, though some colleagues contended otherwise.[28] He circulated to his pilots the basic rule which he wanted them to fight by: "Aim for the man and don't miss him. If you are fighting a two-seater, get the observer first; until you have silenced the gun, don't bother about the pilot".[29]

Although he was now performing the duties of a lieutenant colonel (in modern RAF terms, a wing commander), he remained a captain. The system in the British army would have been for him to have held the rank appropriate to his level of command (if only on a temporary basis) even if he had not been formally promoted. In the German army, it was not unusual for a wartime officer to hold a lower rank than his duties implied, German officers being promoted according to a schedule and not by battlefield promotion. For instance, Erwin Rommel commanded an infantry battalion as a captain in 1917 and 1918. It was also the custom for a son not to hold a higher rank than his father, and Richthofen's father was a reserve major.

Wounded in combat

Richthofen's Albatros D.V after forced landing near Wervicq

On 6 July 1917, during combat with a formation of F.E.2d two seat fighters of No. 20 Squadron RFC, near Wervicq, Richthofen sustained a serious head-wound, causing instant disorientation and temporary partial blindness.[27] He regained consciousness in time to ease the aircraft out of a free-falling spin and executed a forced landing in a field within friendly territory.[30] The injury required multiple surgical operations to remove bone splinters from the impact area.[30] The air victory was credited to Captain Donald Cunnell of No. 20,[31] who was himself shot down and killed a few days later (by anti-aircraft fire).[32] The Red Baron returned to active service (against doctor's orders) on 25 July,[33] but went on convalescent leave from 5 September to 23 October.[34] His wound is thought to have caused lasting damage (he later often suffered from post-flight nausea and headaches) as well as a change in temperament. There is even a theory linking this injury with his eventual death.

Portrait from contemporary German postcard


During his convalescent leave, Richthofen completed an autobiographic sketch, Der rote Kampfflieger (1917). Written on the instructions of the "Press and Intelligence" (i.e. propaganda) section of the Luftstreitkräfte, it was heavily censored and edited.[35] An English translation by J. Ellis Barker was published in 1918 as The Red Battle Flyer.[36] Although Richthofen died before a revised version could be prepared, he is on record as repudiating the book, stating that it was "too insolent" (or "arrogant") and that he was "no longer that kind of person".[37]


Richthofen was respected and admired by Allied pliots. British flying ace Thomas J.C. Martyn stated about how he and fellow pliots respected and admired the famous German flying ace:

Von Richthofen was very well thought of by the British aviators as a clean fighter and a man who did not know what fear was

Martyn also told a story told to him by one of his fellow British Airmen, as Martyn describes:

As an example of Richthofen's fine sportsmanship, Major Patrick told me that he once had a fight with Richthofen and that his ammunition ran out. Richthofen, being in a faster machine, had Patrick at his mercy, but when he knew that Patrick was unable to fire he flew close to him, waved his hand and turned back to his own lines.


By 1918, Richthofen had become such a legend that it was feared that his death would be a blow to the morale of the German people.[39] Richthofen himself refused to accept a ground job after his wound, stating that the average German soldier had no choice in his duties, and he would therefore continue to fly in combat.[40] Certainly he had become part of a cult of hero-worship, assiduously encouraged by official propaganda. German propaganda circulated various false rumours, including that the British had raised squadrons specially to hunt down Richthofen, and had offered large rewards and an automatic Victoria Cross to any Allied pilot who shot him down.[41] Passages from his correspondence indicate he may have at least half-believed some of these stories himself.[42]


Australian soldiers and airmen examine the remnants of Richthofen's triplane

209 Squadron Badge-the red eagle falling symbolizes the fall of the Red Baron

Australian airmen with Richthofen's triplane, 425/17, after it was dismembered by souvenir hunters

Captain Arthur Roy Brown was officially credited by the RAF with shooting down Richthofen.

Richthofen was fatally wounded just after 11:00 am on 21 April 1918, while flying over Morlancourt Ridge, near the Somme River. 49°56′0.60″N 2°32′43.71″E / 49.9335°N 2.545475°E / 49.9335; 2.545475

At the time, the Baron had been pursuing (at very low altitude) a Sopwith Camel piloted by a novice Canadian pilot, Lieutenant Wilfrid "Wop" May of No. 209 Squadron, Royal Air Force.[43] In turn, the Baron was spotted and briefly attacked by a Camel piloted by a school friend (and flight commander) of May's, Canadian Captain Arthur "Roy" Brown, who had to dive steeply at very high speed to intervene, and then had to climb steeply to avoid hitting the ground.[43] Richthofen turned to avoid this attack, and then resumed his pursuit of May.[43]

It was almost certainly during this final stage in his pursuit of May that Richthofen was hit by a single .303 bullet, which caused such severe damage to his heart and lungs that it must have produced a very speedy death.[44][45] In the last seconds of his life, he managed to make a hasty but controlled landing ( 49°55′56″N 2°32′16″E / 49.9321076°N 2.5376701°E / 49.9321076; 2.5376701) in a field on a hill near the Bray-Corbie road, just north of the village of Vaux-sur-Somme, in a sector controlled by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).[43] One witness, Gunner George Ridgway, stated that when he and other Australian soldiers reached the aircraft, Richthofen was still alive but died moments later.[45] Another eye witness, Sergeant Ted Smout of the Australian Medical Corps, reported that Richthofen's last word was "kaputt".[46][lower-alpha 5]

His Fokker Dr.I, 425/17, was not damaged by the landing, but it was soon taken apart by souvenir hunters.

No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, as the nearest Allied air unit, assumed responsibility for the Baron's remains.

In 2009, Richthofen's death certificate was found in the archives in Ostrów Wielkopolski, Poland. Richthofen had briefly been stationed in Ostrów—which was part of Germany until the end of World War I—before going to war. The document, which is a one-page, handwritten form in a 1918 registry book of deaths, misspells Richthofen's name as "Richthoven" and simply states that he has "died 21 April 1918, from wounds sustained in combat".[50]


Controversy and contradictory hypotheses continue to surround the identity of the person who fired the shot that actually killed Richthofen.

The RAF credited Brown with shooting down the Red Baron, but it is now generally agreed that the bullet that hit Richthofen was fired from the ground.[45][51] Richthofen died following an extremely serious and inevitably fatal chest wound from a single bullet, penetrating from the right armpit and resurfacing next to the left nipple. Brown's attack was from behind and above, and from Richthofen's left. Even more conclusively, Richthofen could not have continued his pursuit of May for as long as he did (up to two minutes) had this wound come from Brown's guns.[45] Brown himself never spoke much about what happened that day, claiming, "There is no point in me commenting, as the evidence is already out there".

Group portrait of the officers and NCOs of the 24th Machine Gun Company in March 1918. Sergeant Cedric Popkin is second from the right in the middle row.

Many sources, including a 1998 article by Geoffrey Miller, a physician and historian of military medicine, and a 2003 U.S. Public Broadcasting Service documentary, have suggested that Sergeant Cedric Popkin was the person most likely to have killed Richthofen.[45][51] Popkin was an anti-aircraft (AA) machine gunner with the Australian 24th Machine Gun Company, and was using a Vickers gun. He fired at Richthofen's aircraft on two occasions: first as the Baron was heading straight at his position, and then at long range from the right. Given the nature of Richthofen's wounds, Popkin was in a position to fire the fatal shot, when the pilot passed him for a second time, on the right.[45][51] Some confusion has been caused by a letter that Popkin wrote, in 1935, to an Australian official historian. It stated Popkin's belief that he had fired the fatal shot as Richthofen flew straight at his position. However, in the latter respect, Popkin was incorrect: the bullet that caused the Baron's death came from the side (see above).

A 2002 Discovery Channel documentary suggests that Gunner W. J. "Snowy" Evans, a Lewis machine gunner with the 53rd Battery, 14th Field Artillery Brigade, Royal Australian Artillery is likely to have killed von Richthofen.[46] However, Miller and the PBS documentary dismiss this theory, because of the angle from which Evans fired at Richthofen.[45][51]

Other sources have suggested that Gunner Robert Buie (also of the 53rd Battery) may have fired the fatal shot. There is little support for this theory.[45][51] Nevertheless, in 2007, a municipality in Sydney recognised Buie as the man who shot down Richthofen, placing a plaque near Buie's former home.[52] Buie, who died in 1964, has never been officially recognised in any other way.

The commanding officer of No. 3 Squadron AFC, Major David Blake, initially suggested that Richthofen had been killed by the crew of one of his squadron's R.E.8s, which had also fought members of Richthofen's unit that afternoon. This claim was quickly discounted (if only because of the time factor) and withdrawn. Following an autopsy that he witnessed, Blake became a strong proponent of the view that an AA machine gunner had killed Richthofen.

Theories about last combat

Richthofen was a highly experienced and skilled fighter pilot—fully aware of the risk from ground fire. Furthermore he was very much in accord with his late mentor Boelcke's rules of air fighting, which were strongly against taking foolish risks. In this context, it is universally accepted that Richthofen's judgement during his last combat was uncharacteristically unsound in several respects.[53] Several theories have been proposed to account for his behaviour.

In 1999, a German medical researcher, Henning Allmers, published an article in the British medical journal The Lancet, suggesting it was likely that brain damage from the head wound Richthofen suffered in July 1917 (see above) played a part in the Red Baron's death. This was supported by a 2004 paper by researchers at the University of Texas. Richthofen's behaviour after his injury was noted as consistent with brain-injured patients, and such an injury could account for his perceived lack of judgment on his final flight: flying too low over enemy territory and suffering target fixation.[54]

Richthofen may have been suffering from cumulative combat stress, which made him fail to observe some of his usual precautions. One of the leading British air aces, Major Edward "Mick" Mannock, was killed by ground fire on 26 July 1918 while crossing the lines at low level, an action he had always cautioned his younger pilots against. One of the most popular of the French air aces, Georges Guynemer, went missing on 11 September 1917, probably while attacking a two-seater without realizing several Fokkers were escorting it.[55][56]

There is a suggestion that on the day of Richthofen's death, the prevailing wind was about 25 mph (40 km/h) easterly, rather than the usual 25 mph (40 km/h) westerly. This meant that Richthofen, heading generally westward at an airspeed of about 100 mph (160 km/h), was travelling over the ground at 125 mph (200 km/h) rather than the more typical ground speed of 75 mph (120 km/h). This was 60% faster than normal and he could easily have strayed over enemy lines without realizing it, especially since he was struggling with one jammed gun and another that was firing only short bursts before needing to be re-cocked.[53]

At the time of Richthofen's death the front was in a highly fluid state, following the initial success of the German offensive of March–April 1918. This was part of Germany's last opportunity to win the war. In the face of Allied air superiority, the German air service was having difficulty acquiring vital reconnaissance information, and could do little to prevent Allied squadrons from completing effective reconnaissance and close support of their armies.


No 3 Squadron AFC officers were pallbearers and other ranks from the squadron acted as a guard of honour during the Red Baron's funeral on 22 April 1918.

The funeral of Manfred von Richthofen

In common with most Allied air officers, Major Blake, who was responsible for Richthofen's remains, regarded the Red Baron with great respect, and he organised a full military funeral, to be conducted by the personnel of No. 3 Squadron AFC.

Richthofen was buried in the cemetery at the village of Bertangles, near Amiens, on 22 April 1918. Six of No.3 squadron's officers served as pallbearers, and a guard of honour from the squadron's other ranks fired a salute.[lower-alpha 6] Accounts that the honour guard were Australian infantry are apparently based on the fact that in photographs and film of the event they are wearing AIF uniforms, complete with slouch hats – this is simply because members of the AFC, which was part of the Australian army, wore normal army uniforms.

Allied squadrons stationed nearby presented memorial wreaths, one of which was inscribed with the words, "To Our Gallant and Worthy Foe".

A speculation that his opponents organised a flypast at his funeral, giving rise to the missing man formation,[57] is most unlikely and totally unsupported by any contemporary evidence.

In the early 1920s the French authorities created a military cemetery at Fricourt, in which a very large number of German war dead, including Richthofen, were reinterred. In 1925, Manfred von Richthofen's youngest brother, Bolko, recovered the body from Fricourt and took the Red Baron home to Germany. The family's intention was for Manfred to rest in the Schweidnitz cemetery, next to the graves of his father and his brother Lothar, who had been killed in a post-war air crash in 1922.[58] The German government requested, however, that the final resting place be the Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery in Berlin, where many German military heroes and past leaders were buried and the family agreed, Richthofen receiving a state funeral. Later the Nazi regime held a further grandiose memorial ceremony over this grave, erecting a massive new tombstone with the single word: "Richthofen".[59] During the Cold War, the Invalidenfriedhof was on the boundary of the Soviet zone in Berlin, and the tombstone became pockmarked with bullets fired at attempted escapees to the west. In 1975, the remains were moved to a family plot at the Südfriedhof in Wiesbaden, where he is buried next to his brother Bolko, his sister Elisabeth, and her husband.[60]

Grave in Berlin (1931)

Number of victories

For decades after World War I, some authors questioned whether Richthofen achieved 80 victories, insisting that his record was exaggerated for propaganda purposes. Some claimed that he took credit for aircraft downed by his squadron or wing.

In fact, Richthofen's victories are better documented than those of most aces. A full list of the aircraft the Red Baron was credited with shooting down was published as early as 1958[61]—with documented RFC/RAF squadron details, aircraft serial numbers, and the identities of Allied airmen killed or captured—73 of the 80 are listed as matching recorded British losses. A study conducted by British historian Norman Franks with two colleagues, published in Under the Guns of the Red Baron in 1998, reached the same conclusion about the high degree of accuracy of Richthofen's claimed victories. There were also unconfirmed victories that would put his actual total as high as 100 or more.[62]

For comparison, the highest scoring Allied ace was Frenchman René Fonck, with 75 confirmed victories[63] and a further 52 unconfirmed behind enemy lines.[62] The highest scoring British Empire fighter pilots were Canadian Billy Bishop, who was officially credited with 72 victories;[64] James McCudden, with 57 confirmed kills, and Mick Mannock, with 61 confirmed victories.[65][66]

It is also significant that while Richthofen's early victories and the establishment of his reputation coincided with a period of German air superiority, many of his successes were achieved against a numerically superior enemy, who were flying fighter aircraft that were on the whole better than his own.[61]

Honours, tributes and relics

Memorial in Polish at Richthofen's former home in today's Świdnica (formerly Schweidnitz)


Captain Roy Brown, who was officially credited with shooting down Richthofen, donated the seat of the Fokker triplane in which the German flying ace made his final flight to the Royal Canadian Military Institute in 1920.[67]

Decorations and awards

Tributes At various times, several different German military aviation Geschwader (literally "squadrons"; equivalent to Commonwealth air force "groups", French escadrons or USAF "wings") have been named after the Baron:

In 1941, a newly launched Kriegsmarine (navy) seaplane tender was also named Richthofen.

The engine of Richthofen's DR.I was donated to the Imperial War Museum in London, where it is still on display. The control column (joystick) of Richthofen's aircraft can be seen at the Australian War Memorial, in Canberra. The Royal Canadian Military Institute, in Toronto, holds two parts of the aircraft: its seat and a side panel signed by the pilots of Brown's squadron.

See also



  1. For instance his brother Lothar also used it.
  2. Not to be confused with Bolko von Richthofen the archaeologist, a distant cousin
  3. Richthofen quotes this famous piece of insubordination in his autobiography, but hints that he did not actually write it - claiming that "evil tongues" report that he did
  4. It has been suggested (by Burrows) that he was simply bored with the procedure and that this was an excuse to discontinue it.
  5. The definition of "kaputt" is often in contention.[47][48][49]
  6. The official caption of the photograph on the right reads The funeral of Rittmeister Baron M. Von Richthofen. Firing party presenting arms as the coffin passes into the cemetery, borne on the shoulders of six pilots of No. 3 Squadron A.F.C. Bertangles, France 22nd April, 1918. The Padre is Captain Reverend George H. Marshall, M.A., D.S.O.
  7. For many years, World War I aviation historians believed Richthofen had received the 3rd Class with Crown and Swords of the Bavarian Military Merit Order prior to his submission for the Military Max Joseph Order. However, recent research has proved that he received the usual class of that order common for an officer of his rank: the 4th Class with Swords of the Bavarian Military Merit Order.
  8. No record or photographic evidence has been seen to indicate Richthofen qualified for this badge. However, he successfully completed the training and served for nearly five months as an observer before retraining as a pilot


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kilduff, p. 6.
  2. "Freiherr". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 16 July 2010.
  3. Richthofen, Manfred von. Der Rote Baron (The Red Baron). Norderstedt, Germany: BOD, 2008 (reprint). ISBN 978-3-8370-9217-2.
  4. Wright 1976, p. 31.
  5. Burrows 1970, p. 36.
  6. Burrows 1970, pp. 37–38.
  7. Wright 1976, p. 30.
  8. Preußen 1914, p. 400.
  9. Von Richthofen 2007, pp. 49–51.
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  • Baker, David. Manfred von Richthofen: The Man and the Aircraft He Flew. McGregor, Minnesota: Voyageur Press, 1991. ISBN 1-871547-06-7.
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  • English, Dave. The Air Up There: More Great Quotations on Flight. Chicago, Illinois: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2003. ISBN 0-07-141036-8.
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  • Franks, Norman, Hal Giblin and Nigel McCrery. Under the Guns of the Red Baron: Complete Record of Von Richthofen's Victories and Victims. London: Grub Street, 2007, First edition 1995. ISBN 1-84067-145-9.
  • Grey, Peter and Owen Thetford. German Aircraft of the First World War. London: Putnam, 2nd ed., 1970. ISBN 0-933852-71-1.
  • Guttman, Jon. Pusher Aces of World War 1 (Aircraft of the Aces #88). Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing Co, 2009. ISBN 978-1-84603-417-6.
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  • O’Connor, Neal W. The Aviation Awards of the Grand Duchies of Baden and Oldenburg Foundation of Aviation World War I: Aviation Awards of Imperial Germany in World War I and the Men Who Earned Them – Volume VI. Stratford, Connecticut: Flying Machines Press, 1999. ISBN 0-7643-1626-5.
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  • Robertson, Linda R. The Dream Of Civilized Warfare: World War I Flying Aces and the American Imagination. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University Of Minnesota Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-8166-4271-7.
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  • Von Richthofen, Manfred. Red Fighter Pilot: The Autobiography of the Red Baron. St Petersburg, Florida: Red and Black Publishers, 2007 (reprint). ISBN 978-0-9791813-3-7.
  • Wright, Nicolas. The Red Baron. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1976. ISBN 0-283-98298-5.

Concerning death

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Rudolf Lang
Commanding Officer of Jagdstaffel 11
Succeeded by
Karl Allmenröder
New title
Unit formed
Commanding Officer of Jagdgeschwader 1
Succeeded by
Wilhelm Reinhard

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