The Red Baron's Last Flight
As the war progressed, Germany's fate looked bleaker. Richthofen, who had been an energetic fighter pilot early in the war, was becoming increasingly distressed about death and battle. By April 1918, Richthofen, the Red Baron, had long ago proven himself a hero. He had far surpassed Boelcke's record for he was nearing his 80th victory. He still had headaches from his wound that bothered him greatly. Though he had grown sullen and slightly depressed, Richthofen still refused his superiors' requests for him to retire.
On April 21, 1918, the day after he had shot down his 80th enemy aircraft, Manfred von Richthofen climbed into his bright red airplane. Around 10:30 a.m., there had been a telephoned report that several British aircraft were near the front and Richthofen was taking a group up to confront them.
The Germans spotted the British planes and a battle ensued. Richthofen noticed a single airplane bolt out of the melee. Richthofen followed him. Inside the British plane sat Canadian Second Lieutenant Wilfred ("Wop") May. This was May's first combat flight and his superior, Canadian Captain Arthur R. Brown, who was also an old friend, ordered him to watch but not participate in the fight. May had followed orders for a little while but then joined in the ruckus. After his guns jammed, May tried to make a dash home.
To Richthofen, May looked like an easy kill so he followed him. Captain Brown noticed a bright red plane follow his friend May; Brown decided to break away from the battle and try to help his old friend.
May had by now noticed he was being followed and was frightened. He was flying over his own territory but couldn't shake the German fighter. May flew close to the ground, skimming over the trees, the over the Morlancourt Ridge. Richthofen anticipated the move and swung around to cut May off.
Brown had now caught up and started firing at Richthofen. And as they passed over the ridge, numerous Australian ground troops fired up at the German plane. Richthofen was hit. Everyone watched as the bright red plane crashed.
Once the soldiers who first reached the downed plane realized who its pilot was, they ravaged the plane, taking pieces as souvenirs. Not much was left when others came to determine exactly what happened to the plane and its famous pilot. It was determined that a single bullet had entered through the right side of Richthofen's back and exited about two inches higher from his left chest. The bullet killed him instantly. He was 25 years old.
There is still a controversy over who was responsible for bringing down the great Red Baron. Was it Captain Brown or was it one of the Australian ground troops? The question may never be fully answered.
Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, was credited with bringing down 80 enemy aircraft. His prowess in the air made him a hero during World War I and a twentieth century legend.
1. Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, Red Baron, Trans. Peter Kilduff (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1969) 24-25.
2. Richthofen, Red Baron 37.
3. Richthofen, Red Baron 37.[/br] 4. Richthofen, Red Baron 37-38.[/br] 5. Manfred von Richthofen as quoted in Peter Kilduff, Richthofen: Beyond the Legend of the Red Baron (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993) 49.
6. Richthofen, Red Baron 53-55.
7. Richthofen, Red Baron 64.
8. Manfred von Richthofen as quoted in Kilduff, Beyond the Legend 133.
Burrows, William E. Richthofen: A True History of the Red Baron. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1969.
Kilduff, Peter. Richthofen: Beyond the Legend of the Red Baron. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993.
Richthofen, Manfred Freiherr von. The Red Baron. Trans. Peter Kilduff. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1969.