April 21, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of the death of the Red Baron. Manfred von Richthofen (1892-1918) was one of the most feared German fighter pilots during World War 1. During an era when twenty victories made a man a legend, Richthofen scored 80 in a 19-month period.
Originally enrolled in military school at age 11, he was commissioned as a cavalry officer. In mid-1915 he transferred to the German air force. Richthofen crashed during his first solo flight, but on September 17, 1916, he scored his first confirmed kill. By January 1917 he was made captain of the German squadron Jasta 11, which was known as the "Flying Circus." In celebration, he painted his Albatross biplane red, resulting in the Allies referring to him as the "Red Baron."
He was known for his lethal fighting style. Rather than engaging in dog fights or daring acrobatics, he flew high above his opponents before swooping down, seemingly out of the sun, and firing on them with his machine gun. In his autobiography Richthofen wrote, "There is no art in shooting down an aeroplane. The thing is done by the personality or by the fighting determination of the airman.”
He was wounded on July 6, 1917, when a bullet fractured his skull, temporarily blinding and paralyzing him. Against doctors orders, he was flying again by mid August. However, on the morning of April 21, 2018, he was shot down. There is some uncertainty about whether he was shot down by Australian ground troops or by Canadian Captain Arthur Roy Brown.
Richthofen was given a full military funeral by the Allies that included a guard of honor and six Royal Flying Corps pallbearers. A wreath was placed on his grave that read "To Our Gallant and Worthy Foe."
If you are interested in learning more about the Red Baron and World War 1 air battles, check out one of the titles below:
Also, the Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies is preparing for a large exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the war on November 11, 2018. They are collecting World War 1 memorabilia, including uniforms, photographs, diaries, letters. For more information, please contact a reference librarian.
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