"Der rote Baron", kgl. preuß. Rittmeister im Ulanen-Rgt. Nr. 1, Führer des Jagdgeschwader "Frhr. v. Richthofen", Ritter des Ordens "Pour le Mérite", Ehrenritter des Johanniter-Ordens
Rittmeister; "Roten Kampfflieger"
"The Red Baron"
The name Richthofen means "court of judgement" and was bestowed by the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I.
He was called der rote Kampfflieger (The Red Battle-Flyer) by his own people, le petit rouge by the French, and the Red Baron by the English. In a time of wooden and fabric aircraft, when twenty air victories insured a pilot legendary status and the coveted Pour Le Mérite, Richthofen had eighty victories, and is regarded to this day as the ace of aces.
Manfred was the eldest of three sons. He was enrolled at age 11 at the military school at Wahlstatt, and then attended the Royal Military Academy at Lichterfelde. Manfred was a far better athlete than he was a scholar, and applied his horseback riding skills to become a cavalry officer. He was commissined in April, 1911 in the 1st Regiment of Uhlans Kaiser Alexander III. He was promoted to Leutnant in 1912.
Unfortunately, twentieth century warfare had little use for mounted cavalry. The invention of the machine gun had led to the need for combat operations to be carried out from trenches dug into the country side. When war broke out in August, 1914, Richthofen looked to the air service for a new challenge. He initially joined the Fliegertruppe (air service) in 1915 as an observer because the training course was shorter and would get him to combat faster. After meeting Oswald Boelcke, who would remain his hero and idol, Manfred was committed to becoming a pilot. After only 24 hours of flight training from his friend, Oberleutnant Georg Zeumer, he made his first solo flight on October 10, 1915. (He crashed his plane attempting to land.)
September - In his second air combat (still as an observer), Richthofen exchanges fire with a French plane. The Allied plane dropped away and crashed, but Richthofen was not credited with the victory as the enemy plane crashed behind French lines (and could therefore not be confirmed). Later in his career, Richthofen would not be held to this restriction: he was taken at his word for his kills.
Apr 24 - Richthofen shoots down his first plane as a pilot. The craft, a French Nieuport, crashed behind enemy lines, and again the victory was not officially credited to Richthofen.
Sep 1 - At Oswald Boelcke's invitation, Richthofen reports for duty on the Western Front. He begins his career with Jagdstaffel 2 in an Albatros D.II biplane. Although it was the Fokker Dr.I triplane with which Richthofen is remembered, he spend the vast majority of his time flying biplanes like the Albatros D.II and D.III. Sep 17 - Richthofen scores his first confirmed air victory.
October: After 40 victories, Oswald Boelcke is killed in a mid-air collision during combat. Some accounts blame Richthofen's enthusiasm for the collision which caused pilot Erwin Böhme's undercarriage to collide with Boelcke's upper wing. Others place the blame on Böhme, or simply an accident not attributable to anyone.
Nov 23 -- Richthofen, with the help of a superior aircraft, makes British ace Major Lanoe Hawker his eleventh victim.
Jan 4 -- Richthofen scores his 16th air victory, making him the top living German ace. On January 12th, Richthofen receives the Orden Pour le Mérite (aka the "Blue Max"). He is given command of Jasta 11. Richthofen decides to paint parts of his aircraft red, in part to identify himself easily to his allies on the ground (whom he feared would otherwise shoot at him). It has been suggested that he chose red because it was the color of his old Uhlan cavalry regiment. This begins a series of traditions: each plane in his squadron begins to display some red coloring to show solidarity. Later in the war, some British planes bore red noses, announcing their intentions of hunting down the red baron.
Jan 24 -- The lower wing of Richthofen's Albatros D.III breaks off in flight (a common problem for that type).
Mar 9 -- Richthofen is shot down over Oppy, but was flying again the same day.
Apr 7 -- Richthofen is promoted to Rittmeister (Cavalry Captain)
Apr 8 -- The lower wing of the Albatros D.III flown by another member of Jasta III breaks off in flight. Richthofen writes an angry letter to Berlin, and is visited by aircraft designer Anthony Fokker, who literally goes to the trenches to observe aircraft. The result of this visit (in which he was able to observe the British Sopwith Triplane) led to Fokker's development of the Dr.I triplane.
Apr 29 -- Richthofen shoots down four planes in one day, a personal best. April, 1917 is known as "Bloody April".
Britain lost 912 pilots and observers during the month, while Richthofen scored an incredible 21 victories during the same period. After his 41st victory, Richthofen was ordered on leave. Turning command over to his brother Lothar, Manfred left the front on May 1st and did not return until early June. He spent his vacation hunting in his home town, on propoganda tours, and meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm.
Jun 24 -- Jagdgeschwader 1 (Fighter Wing 1) is formed, with Manfred von Richthofen in command. The wing would later be renamed "Jagdgeschwader Frieherr von Richthofen" in his honor.
July: Richthofen is shot down by Capt. Douglas Cunnel and 2nd Lt. Albert Woodbridge. Though he lands safely, he has suffered a serious bullet wound to the head. Manfred would suffer from terrible headaches until the end of his life, but there were other ramifications. German command, recognizing the propaganda value to the enemy of Richthofen's loss, begins to pressure him to retire from air combat, going so far as to forbid him from flying unless absolutely necessary (a loophole Richthofen exploited at every opportunity).
Richthofen began to spend more and more of his time in more administrative and public relations roles. Eventually he returned to the front full-time when Germany's leaders realized that no matter the risks, they could not afford not to let Richthofen do what he did better than anyone else.
August: The first Fokker triplanes are delivered to Jagdgeschwader 1.
September 1 -- Richthofen scores his 60th victory, his first in the Dr.I triplane. On September 6th, he took a leave of convalescence, and when he returned in the next month he went back to flying the Albatros D.V.
April: Richthofen achieves two victories flying Fokker Dr.1 triplane (number 425/17). Though he flew biplanes for nearly all of his career, and most of these were only partly painted red, it is the Dr.1 triplane, blood-red from cowl to tail, which is commonly associated with the Red Baron.
On April 21, Richthofen followed the Sopwith Camel of Wilfred May far into British territory. The end of the war was only months off by this time, and the Germain air command faced both ever-improving British airplanes and their own dwindling numbers. The thrill of the hunt was all but gone for Baron von Richthofen, as most of his peers had already been killed and his own wounds agonized him. Though the German air doctrine he himself wrote stated that "one should never obstinately stay with an opponent which, through bad shooting or skillful turning, he has been unable to shoot down while the battle lasts until it is far on the other side", he chased his British quarry far deeper into enemy territory and far lower to the ground than his own doctrine permitted. May later said that it was only his erratic, untrained piloting which saved him. He followed the erratic path of the novice pilot until a single bullet, shot from behind him, passed diagonally through his chest. The shot is commonly believed to have come from Australian gunners on the ground, but might have also come from the guns of Canadian flier Arthur "Roy" Brown who was coming to May's aid. Manfred von Richthofen crashed into a field alongside the road from Corbie to Bray. His body was recovered by British forces, and he was buried with full military honors.
Manfred's brother, Lothar (also a Pour le Mérite recipient) was himself recovering from being shot down when his older brother was killed in combat. He returned to Jagdgeschwader 1 and carried on the Richthofen tradition of fearlessness in combat in a blood-red fighter. Lothar was shot down again on August 13th, 1918, and forced into retirement with 40 kills. Manfred's eventual successor was Hermann Göring, who chose to paint his aircraft all-white, ending the reign of the blood-red German fighers.
Career Air Victories by Month
SEP OCT NOV DEC
3 3 5 4
JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
3 3 10 21 0 4 1 2 2 0 0 0
JAN FEB MAR APR
0 0 11 6
As a young cadet Manfred von Richthofen climbed a church steeple at Wahlstatt and tied his handkerchief to its lighting rod, just for fun. He loved risk. He came from a wealthy Junker family and in his youth enjoyed hunting and riding horses. When the war broke out Manfred was a cavalry officer and saw duty on both the Eastern and Western fronts scouting for the German Army. By May of 1915 he was bored with scouting and asked to be transferred to the Flying service.
On September 17, 1916, Richthofen recorded his first aerial combat victory. Before his career was over he shot down eighty allied aircraft and was the leading ace of the war. As his success increased so did his popularity with the German people. He was showered with military decorations and treated like a hero by the Germans. His flaming red Fokker airplane became infamous to the troops in the trenches. In the air he embodied deadly grace and his experience as a hunter helped him as a pilot. By 1918 he had become such a legend that it was feared that his death would be a blow to the morale of the German people. His superiors asked him to retire, but he refused as long as there were still troops in the trenches. He began to get more depressed and the emotional weight of being responsible for so many deaths began to press on him. On April 21, 1918, his career ended when he was shot down over enemy lines by Roy Brown of Canada. His opponents had so much respect for the noble flyer, that he was given a hero’s funeral.
""I think of this war as it really is, not as the people at home imagine, with a hoorah! and a roar. It is very serious, very grim" Manfred von Richthofen
"What the youthful leader accomplished in aerial combat will never be forgotten by Me, My army and the German people." Kaiser Wilhelm II
Source: Ulanoff, Stanley M., The Red Baron: The Autobiography of Manfred von Richthofen, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1969.
[S5811] Ausgewählte Ahnentafeln der EDDA, Bd. 2, Buchungshauptstelle des Deutschen Adels (Arbeitsabteilung VI der Deutsche Adelsgenossenschaft) (Herausgeber), (Justus Perthes, Gotha 1929), 113 (Reliability: 2).