The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






Bizarre, Fascinating, and Wacky World War I & ll Secrets.

The Red Baron

by Cecil Owen

The Red Baron lives on today in a comic strip called Charley Brown. He is the adversary of an air-minded dog named Snoopy. Because of that cartoon character, the Red Baron is a household name in the United States. Then if you are hungry, you can order a Red Baron pizza!! But very few people today know where the name "Red Baron" comes from. Was he a real person, or did he ever even exist?

As we go back in time, it is Saturday April 20, 1918. It is a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky. Suddenly, an airplane whizzed by at the fantastic speed of 115 mph. This was one of the fastest airplanes of World War One. For some of the two seater reconnaissance airplanes, 87 mph was top speed. (In fact, two models of these had a top speed of only 62 mph!)

But this airplane was also outstanding in two other ways. It was painted a bright red, and it had three Wings!! One wing was attached to the bottom of the fuselage, the second wing to the top of the fuselage, and the top wing was suspended in the air on struts! It was a Fokker  DR. 1 built by the Anthony H.G. Fokker Aircraft Factory in Schwerin, Germany. It was very maneuverable,  with a powerful 110 hp engine and two fixed forward-firing machine guns. As with most fighter planes of World War One, the pilot had to aim the plane instead of the machine guns.

Most of the Allied fighter pilots were deathly afraid of this bright red airplane. It was called Le Diable Rogue, which means the Red Devil. Many of the Allied pilots would not do battle with it, and called themselves Fokker Fodder! The number of this German Fokker DR. 1 was 425/17. For this was the plane of

Cecil Owen

the leader of "The Flying Circus"!! The most feared fighter wing in the entire War, on either side.

His name was Rittmeister Manfred Freiherr Von Richthofen, the famous and feared "Red Baron"! Rittmeister is German for Cavalry Captain, for he was in the Cavalry when he first entered the military. Freiherr is German for Baron, because he was of noble blood. Manfred was commander of an entire Fighter Wing which was made up of four squadrons, Jagdstafel four, six, ten, and eleven.

The reason the Allies called them the Flying Circus was the way their airplanes were painted. By this time every pilot with the Red Baron had Fokker DR. 1 Dreidecker

Manfred Freiherr Von Richthofen the Red Baron

airplanes, all which were painted red! But the tail assembly on each plane was painted a different color for identification purposes. With all these bright and giddy colors, blue, green, yellow, maybe it did resemble a flying circus ... but what a deadly circus it was!!

The British Royal Flying Corps had a bounty on the head of the Red Baron. A special squadron of volunteer flyers had been formed to hunt him down and destroy him. The pilot who shoots him down would receive England's highest award, the Victoria Cross, be given his own airplane along with 5000 pounds sterling ($8016.00 U.S. Dollars), and a special prize from the aircraft factory whose airplane the pilot used. Also, a motion-picture cameraman to record the historic event.

When Manfred Von Richthofen was told of this endeavor he just laughed and said, that will never happen, for I will shoot down the cameraman's plane first! The Red Baron was Germany's most famous and popular hero of World War 1. The Propaganda Ministry even had picture post cards with his photo and autographed wherever he went, one of his post cards was better than money.

Manfred was a very nice looking young man and May 2nd would be his 26th birthday. With blue eyes, blond hair and very clean cut, all the German Freuleins (young women) adored him. One young Nun even had his picture on her wall. Her Mother Superior

ordered her to take it down, as no men were allowed. So the young lady took a picture of another Nun, cut out the face, and put his face there. (So the Red Baron became a Nun!) But he was not very good looking when he climbed into his red airplane, he looked like an Eskimo. He wore, over his flying uniform, a large fur coat, a fur hat and fur boots. For you must remember that all the airplanes of World War 1 had open cockpits. It was difficult for the pilots to try and stay warm. Strangely enough, the pilots of World War 1 did not have seat belts, nor were they issued parachutes! Therefore, when a pilot engaged in a "Dog Fight" and was shot down, he had to go down with his airplane. If his airplane caught on fire, he just burnt up also.

When the Red Baron would shoot down a British Plane, he would follow it down to the ground. Then he would land and check on the pilot. If the pilot was alive, he would take him captive and give him first aid if necessary. He would also take a souvenir from the plane. Richthofen's war trophies were set up in a room in the family home in Schweidnitz. The chandelier was made from a captured airplane rotary engine. The walls were covered with fabric bearing serial numbers taken from planes he had shot down. Manfred was awarded nineteen different medals, including the Pour le Merite (Blue Max), Germany's highest award. He had indeed earned every one of these, for he was a fantastic pilot. In the month of April 1917, he performed a feat that no one else could come close to. He shot down 21 British airplanes! In only 20 months of aerial combat, the Red Baron was officially credited with 80 "Kills"! He was not given credit for all of the planes he shot down, which was around 90.

On July 6, 1917, Manfred was shot down, with a serious head wound. He had a gapping hole in his skull that required an operation. He was in the hospital for twenty days. When he returned to flying, he still wore a large bandage around his head. He had barely escaped death. His brother, two years younger, Oberleutnant (1st Lieutenant) Lother Seigfried Freiherr Von Richthofen, was also his wingman for around a year. He was credited with forty "Kills"! They flew and fought well as a team. Lother Von Richthofen survived the entire war, although shot down and wounded twice. But he was killed while piloting a commercial airliner which crashed in 1922.

By now the German airforce believed that the Red Baron was invincible. He was so good that no one had the ability to even get close enough to shoot him down. The British Airforce was beginning to believe the same thing. But when he began to believe the same thing also, that was his downfall! He had not completely recovered from his operation, and his head wound refused to heal. Manfred was also flying five to seven times a day, so he was exhausted and became careless. The very next day he was chasing a British  Sopwith Camel fighter over the Somme river valley near the town of Corbie. They passed over the German front lines and then the British-Australian lines. He flew so low that ground soldiers began shooting at him also.

Suddenly the Red Baron's red Fokker triplane did a spin and a half, and crashed into the ground! He was dead when Australian ground troops reached his plane. And actually his death remains a mystery even today. For three different people claimed that they shot him down. The infantry machine gunners in the trenches, the anti-aircraft gunners, and an Australian airplane all claimed the victory. Credit was finally given to Capt. Roy A. Brown of squadron 209, but this is debatable. The Red Baron was buried with full Military honors behind enemy lines, by the pilots that he had fought against. It would be many years before the Red Baron could be brought back to his beloved Germany.