Manfred von Richthofen – The Red Baron

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Card #53, Cigarettenfabrik Basma, German Men: A Collection of Famous Germans series 1934, German-language only issue.

  • Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, born May 2, 1892, Breslau, Province of Silesia, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire (present-day Wrocław, Poland) – April 21, 1918, Vaux-sur-Somme, France.

The above sketch of Manfred von Richthofen aka the Red Baron was issued by the Germany cigarette company Cigarettenfabrik Basma, out of Dresden. Issued in 1934, this card – #53 – is from the series German Men: A Collection of Famous Germans.

Despite being a great looking card, the main problem collectors have with German cards is that despite the popularity of the German cigarette cards prior to WWII, there hasn’t been much success in cataloging exactly what was produced and when. For example, I can’t tell you with any certainty just how many cards there were in this particular series.

The cards are about as tall as a standard tobacco/cigarette card, but are about 25mm (1-inch) wider. Under his name, “Freiherr von Richthofen” on the reverse of the card, it says (translated to English): “airman in the war”.

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Reverse of the Manfred von Richthofen card.

Regardless, this particular blog entry is about Manfred von Richthofen himself, and his equally famous aircraft, the red Fokker Dr.1 triplane.

However… while the famous red Fokker was responsible for the last 17 of his confirmed kills, the Red Baron used other aircraft for the majority of his combat victories. Yes, he did.

The odds are pretty good that you have at least heard of the Red Baron, and know that he was the greatest fighter pilot of WWI because of the number of confirmed kills – 80 over a 19-month combat career. You need five combat flight kills to be called an “Ace”.

But was he just a superior pilot, or the legendary gentleman of the airways as the legend/myth dictates, or was he a savage predator who earned most of his kills by chasing and putting down already damaged aeroplanes – first shot by other German pilots.

And, is there anything actually wrong with that in war… a kill or be killed scenario? Aerial combat was in its infancy, and there was no rule book on how one should act… though by mid-1916, one German flier – Captain Oswald Boelcke – did compile the first eight (8) rules for aviation warfare, his Dicta Boelcke – read about him HERE. However, note that these were his bits of advice on how to win an aerial dogfight, not how to treat the enemy.

Note that #1 is: Secure the upper hand before attacking.

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Manfred von Richthofen in a Fokker Dr.1 triplane. (Credit: Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Let’s start with a song from 1966 by The Royal GuardsmenSnoopy vs the Red Baron, a goofy great song I loved as a kid, and where I first learned about the Red Baron’s prowess in the air (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oxzg_iM-T4E):

So… beyond the song, what do we know about the Manfred himself?

He wasn’t actually a Baron. He wasn’t even German – he was Prussian. About the only thing most people know about Prussia is that it has it’s own brand of blue – Prussian Blue. But briefly, many of the Germanic countries joined together to form the German Empire – under Prussian leadership. Austria and Switzerland deigned NOT to join. In 1918, the Kingdom of Prussia became the Free State of Prussia – a state under Germany. It remained as such until 1933, when the Nazi regime essentially took it over.

Note that this cigarette card is from 1934, and calls Manfred von Richthofen a “German”, not a “Prussian”. After the defeat of the Nazis, Germany territories were divided up and separated and added to Poland and the Soviet Union, meaning Prussia no longer existed… which is why I noted the Red Baron’s birthplace as such, up above.

Although not a Baron – that was just a nickname given to him by the WWI Allies – he was born into a fairly prominent Prussian aristocratic family. His father was Major Albrecht Philipp Karl Julius Freiherr von Richthofen and his mother was Kunigunde von Schickfuss und Neudorff, and he had an elder sister, Ilse, and two younger brothers, Karl Bolko (1903–1971) and Lothar – the latter of whom had 40 confirmed aerial combat kills in WWI.

As a rich kid, Manfred rode horses, hunted boar, elk, deer and various birds, performed well in gymnastics – particularly the parallel bars, and was a very good student, though he was home-schooled for a while, as well as a student at a school in Schweidnitz.

When he was 11, he attended military school completing training in 1911. He then joined a light cavalry unit – the Ulanen-Regiment Kaiser Alexander der III. von Russland (1. Westpreußisches) Nr. 1 (“1st Emperor Alexander III of Russia Uhlan Regiment (1st West Prussian)”) and was assigned to the regiment’s 3. Eskadron (“No. 3 Squadron”).

What? The greatest flying ace was a guy on a horse? Surely things changed when WWI began?

Actually, no. At the onset, he was a cavalry reconnaissance officer in Russia, France and Belgium. But when trench warfare became a thing, standard cavalry usage became … old… so out-dated that our boy’s unit was turned into a non-cavalry regiment where the men were used as telephone operators and message runners.

Now, as mentioned earlier, Manfred was competitive… he liked to hunt… and just relaying messages wasn’t good enough for him. He longed for combat. After being transferred to the army’s supply branch, he applied for a transfer to Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches (Imperial German Army Air Service) after seeing his country’s aircraft behind the lines.

In his written transfer application, he is said to have added the following commentary: “I have not gone to war in order to collect cheese and eggs, but for another purpose.”

Back in those days, just as now, the military would have told him to shut-up and report for duty as ordered, but for whatever reason – his family, perhaps – he was allowed to join the Air Service at the end of May 1915, serving as an observer on reconnaissance missions over the Eastern Front with Feldflieger Abteilung 69 (“No. 69 Flying Squadron”) until August, 1915.

As an observer, sitting in the back seat behind the pilot (some British planes had the unarmed pilot sitting ahead of the pilot), he had his own machine gun to protect his pilot’s aeroplane. On one mission, we think he shot down a French aircraft – a Farman – but since it fell behind Allied lines, the kill could not be confirmed. So… number of kills – zero.

After meeting ace fighter pilot Oswald Boelcke, he began training as a pilot in October of 1915. A few months later in February of 1916, Manfred convinced his brother Lothar to give up training troops to join the German Fliegertruppe (Air Force).

In March of 1916, Manfred was posted to the No. 2 Bomber Squadron, and actually crashed the first time he flew, prompting others to feel he was a below-average pilot. But Manfred being Manfred, he quickly familiarized himself with the controls and got better.

On April 26, 1916, it is reported, that he shot down a France-built Nieuport – but he did not gain an official kill. Number of kills – zero.

Manfred met Boelcke again in August of 1916, who was searching for possible pilots for his newly-formed Jasta 2 division, and was selected.

Still looking for his first confirmed kill, after being a pilot for a year (11 months, actually), Manfred achieved his goal on September 17, 1916. Flying his Albatross D.II aeroplane, he shot down a Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b (Farman Experimental 2) piloted by Second Lieutenant Lionel Morris and observer Captain Tom Rees. The plane was was combination fighter/reconnaissance/night bomber. Ironically for Captain Rees, he had just earned promotion to Captain earlier that day.

Morris and Rees in their F.E.2b, were part of a 14-plane group (eight Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c‘s and six F.E.2b‘s) from the Royal Flying Corps 3rd Brigade. Rees was killed during the dogfight with Manfred, but the mortally wounded Morris still managed to land the aeroplane. By knocking the aircraft out of the sky or rather out of the fight, this was called Manfred’s first official “victory”.

Manfred’s autobiography says: “I honored the fallen enemy by placing a stone on his beautiful grave.”

He also had a jeweler engrave a silver cup he bought with the date and the type of enemy aircraft. This was something he did until he had acquired 60 cups/victories, only stopping as the war created a silver shortage. He was offered the opportunity to have cups made of a less precious metal, but declined. Arrogance? Sure. I mean really, who the hell has trophies made for killing people? A serial killer?

Then again, according to his notes, he “placed a stone upon the grave”… though I’m unsure if he did that for Rees or Morris.

Under the command of Boelcke, Manfred followed the Dicta Boeclke… eight simple rules for aviation warfare created by Boelcke.

While the rules appear to be self-evident, Boelcke was the first to have compiled it and written it down. You can read about Boelcke HERE.

The Dicta Boelcke was published as a pamphlet and given to all German pilots as a training manual on fighting tactics… the first of its kind.

Dicta Boelcke

  1. Secure the benefits of aerial combat (speed, altitude, numerical superiority, position) before attacking. Always attack from the sun;
  2. If you start the attack, bring it to an end;
  3. Fire the machine gun up close and only if you are sure to target your opponent;
  4. Do not lose sight of the enemy;
  5. In any form of attack, an approach to the opponent from behind is required;
  6. If the enemy attacks you in a dive, do not try to dodge the attack, but turn to the attacker;
  7. If you are above the enemy lines, always keep your own retreat in mind;
  8. For squadrons: In principle attack only in groups of four to six. If the fight breaks up in noisy single battles, make sure that not many comrades pounce on an opponent.

The rules stressed a team effort rather than how to win in single contact… rules that would allow the pilot to achieve single combat.

Boelcke ended up with 40 victories when he died after being shot down on October 28, 1916.

The final tally for Manfred’s brother Lothar was also 40 victories, but he survived WWI, only to die on July 4, 1922 at the age of 27, when the aircraft he was piloting suffered engine failure.

Manfred, it should be noted, was not considered to be an aerobatic pilot, nor an aggressive one like his brother Lothar. Rather, by using the Dicta Boelcke, he became WW1’s most accomplished tactical fighter pilot.

Despite the incredibly high number of victories achieved by Manfred, those victories were all accomplished with help. His usual form of attack was to dive at a single enemy plane from above, attacking with the sun directly behind him, so that any defensive pilot looking up, would only see the fiery orb. As well, while performing this dive attack from the rear, he would have other pilots cover his tail and flanks – an effective means of attack.

Manfred’s first 18 confirmed victories were achieved in an Albatros D.II (D.2). Victories 19-24 were done via a Halberstadt D.II (D.2); No. 25 in an Albatross D.II; 26-31 in the Halberstadt; 32-52 in an Albatros D.III (D.3); 53-59 in an Albatros D.V (D.5); 60-61 in a Fokker F.I (F1); 62-63 in the Albatros D.V; 64-80 in the Fokker DR.I (DR. 1).

As you can see, only 17 victories were achieved in the classic Fokker DR.I... while the Albatros D. II had 19 victories. So… which aeroplane should be considered the definitive Red Baron aircraft?

Also… there’s a reason why Manfred went back to the Albatros D.II after using the Halberstadt D.II… check out the answer under the Albatros D.III section below.

And!!!! why did Manfred revert to the Albatros D.V after flying the Fokker F.I? You can find this answer out in the Albatros D.V section (also why he never flew the D.IV).

Let’s take a look at the five different types of fighter aeroplanes (Albatros D.II; Albatross D.III; Albatross D.V; Fokker F.I; and the Fokker DR.I) used by Manfred von Richtofen, aka the Red Baron:

Albatros D.II

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Upon first look above… you’ll notice that the Red Baron’s first fighter aircraft is a biplane. All of his Albatros aircraft were biplanes. Only the Fokker aircraft flown by him were triplanes.

Built by the Albatros-Flugzeugwerke GmbH in Berlin, the company was founded by Enno Walther Huth and Otto Wiener on December 20, 1909. The first planes built under license in 1909, was the France-designed Antoinette monoplane.

They also built several versions of the Etrich Taube monoplane (see HERE), as well the Doppeltaube biplane. The company continued its operation until 1931, when it was merged (because of Germany government “pressure” into Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG.

Designed by Robert Thelen, the Albatros D.II was first flown in 1916, with a final tally of 291 such aircraft built.

As mentioned, Manfred von Richtofen flew this aircraft early in his career. For victory Number 11 on November 23, 1916, he was in a long dogfight with Major Lanoe George Hawker of Great Britain who was flying  a single-seat Airco DH.2 pusher aeroplane (designed by Geoffrey de Havilland). While Hawker’s plane had a tighter turning circle, Manfred’s Albatros D.II was faster, had twin guns, and could maintain its height while executing a turn.

It took approximately 900 rounds of ammunition, but eventually Manfred was able to shoot Hawker in the head causing pilot and plane to crash.

Remember what I said about Manfred and his trophies? Along with having another silver cup made, after shooting down Hawker, he landed his plane nearby and took the Lewis machine gun from the DH.2 as a memento.

I understand that many a fighting person has taken a souvenir from a battlefield… and since I’ve never been in any such war, I will refrain from judging anyone, let alone Manfred von Richtofen. I’m a curious person and a collector of multiple things, so who knows what I would have done.

Albatross D.II Specifications:

  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 7.35 meters (24 feet 1 inch);
  • Upper wingspan: 8.5 meters (27 feet 11 inch);
  • Lower wingspan: 8 meters (26 feet 3 inches);
  • Height: 2.71 meters (8 feet 11 inches);
  • Wing area: 24 square meters (260 square feet);
  • Gross weight: 898 kilograms (1,980 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Austro-Daimler 6-cylinder water-cooled in-line piston engine creating 185 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller;
  • Maximum speed: 170 or 175 kilometers per hour (110/105.6 miles per hour);
  • Cruise Speed: 142 kilometers per hour (88.2 miles per hour);
  • Range: 263 kilometers (163.4 miles);
  • Guns: 2 × 8 mm (0.315 in) Schwarzlose belt-fed machine guns;
  • Time to altitude:
  • 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) in 4 minutes 30 seconds;
  • 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) in 7 minutes;
  • 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 12 minutes 30 seconds.

Halberstadt D.II

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Designed and built by the Halberstädter Flugzeugwerke of Halberstadt, Germany, the Halberstadt D.II was created by Karl Theis, first flying in late 1915, and was introduced in early 1916 and became the first biplane configuration fighter aircraft to serve in combat for the German Empire.

This aeroplane featured staggered wings, and used a wing-mounted radiator, similar to the arrangement that was later used by the Albatros D.III and D.V. The plane also featured a lower wing trailing edge “droop”, and because the pilot sat high to see over the top wings, a dorsal turtleback fairing was incorporated over the rear fuselage to improve aerodynamics.

A total of 65 of this aircraft were built. You’ll notice in the specifications, that the D.II was a good 20/25 kilometers per hour (17/12.6 miles per hour) slower than the Albatros II, and was far less powerful (horsepower). Its climb rate, however, was decidedly quicker, likely aided by the almost 170 kilogram/400 pound difference in gross weight.

Halberstadt D.II Specifications:

  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 7.3 meters (23 feet 11 inches);
  • Wingspan: 8.8 meters (28 feet 10 inches) for the upper and lower wings, individually;
  • Height: 2.66 meters (8 feet 9 inches);
  • Wing area: 23.6 square meters (254 square feet);
  • Empty weight: 519 kilograms (1,144 pounds);
  • Gross weight: 728.5 kilograms (1,606 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Mercedes D.II 6-cylinder water-cooled in-line piston engine producing 120 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed fixed-pitch propeller;
  • Maximum speed: 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour);
  • Range: 250 kilometers (160 miles);
  • Service ceiling: 4,000 meters (13,000 feet);
  • Guns: 1 × forward-firing 7.92 millimeter (.312 inches) lMG 08 Spandau Arsenal machine gun;
  • Time to altitude:
    • 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) in 3 minutes 30 seconds;
    • 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) in 8 minutes 30 seconds;
    • 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 14 minutes 30 seconds;
    • 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) in 22 minutes 30 seconds;
    • 5,000 meters (16,404 feet) in 38 minutes 30 seconds.

Albatros D.III

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Taken by an official German photographer, this is photograph Q 50328 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums. German Albatros D.IIIs of Jagdstaffel 11 and Jagdstaffel 4 parked in a line at La Brayelle near Douai, France. Manfred von Richthofen’s red-painted aircraft is second closest in line (with boarding step ladder in place).

Because both the D.I and D.II aircraft were successful, Albatros-Flugzeugwerke GmbH continued to build the D.III with the semi-monocoque (monocoque is a structural skin aka a structural system where loads are supported through an object’s external skin, similar to an egg shell), plywood-skinned fuselage.

The Idflieg (Inspectorate of Flying Troops), asked that the D.III use a sesquiplane wing arrangement broadly similar to France’s Nieuport 11. This sesquiplane set-up has one wing (usually the lower) smaller than the other. Sesquiplane means “one-and-a-half wings.” The set-up is to reduce drag and weight – but still keeping a biplane’s structural advantages.

So, Albatros-Flugzeuwerke extended the upper wing, and redesigned the lower with reduced chord and a single main spar. V-shaped interplane struts (see photo above) replaced the parallel struts between the upper and lower wings used in the D.II.

Approximately 1,866 D.III aircraft were built.

When the D.III entered squadron service in December of 1916, pilots loved its  maneuverability and rate of climb. However…

Two faults with the D.III were found: 1) Because it featured a Teves und Braun airfoil-shaped radiator in the middle of the upper wing as was used on the D.II, it could scald the pilot if punctured.

So… from the 290th built D.III aircraft onward, the radiator was offset to the right on production machines while others were soon moved to the right as an in-the-field modification by the crews.

2) The bigger problem, however, was the failure of the lower wing ribs and leading edge – this was also a problem with the Nieuport 17.

Amongst others, on January 24, 1917, Manfred von Richthofen suffered a crack in the lower wing of his brand new D.III. It occurred after he secured his 18th victory, and his first in the D.III, shooting down the Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b flown by Lt. John MacLennan and Captain Oscar Greig – who were both taken in as POWs.

A few days later on January 27, 1917, all D.IIIs were grounded until such time as the wing problem could be rectified.

On February 19, after Albatros introduced a reinforced lower wing, the grounding was removed. New production D.IIIs were completed with the strengthened wing while all operational D.IIIs were withdrawn to Armee-Flugparks for modifications, forcing Jastas (and Manfred) to use the Albatros D.II and Halberstadt D.II.

As such, Manfred used the Halberstadt D.II through March 6, 1917 when he got his 24th victory, shooting down a B.E.2e, killing British 2nd Lt. Gerald Maurice Gosset-Bibby, and Canadian Lt. Geoffrey Joseph Ogilvy Brichta.

He switched back to the Albatros D.III in time for his 25th victory on March 9, 1917, shooting down a D.H.2, killing pilot Lt. Arthur John Pearson MC.

Just after this, it was found that the D.III‘s main spar was too far aft, which caused the wings to twist when in a steep or prolonged dive.

While pilots were told NOT to perform such maneuvers, sometimes you need to do them to survive.As such, Manfred, and other pilots, switched aircraft again, with his choice being the Halberstadt D.II.

Even with these issues, the D.III was still considered to be a pretty good aircraft amongst the pilots, as it had improved climb, maneuverability, and downward visibility compared to the D.II.

Here… in case you wish to build your own, here’s the of drawing:

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Note that in 1916, a license to manufacture the aircraft was sold to Austro-Hungary. Rather than use the Mercedes D.IIIa powerplant, they utilized Austro-Daimler built motors: the series 53.2, 153, 253, producing 185, 200, or 225 horsepower, respectively.

It’s quite a difference in horsepower, as the German Mercedes version only produced 175 horsepower. Now… as most people are aware, simply putting in a larger motor into a vehicle can improve performance and speed. But, it can also be heavier, use more fuel, may not climb as fast because of the additional weight, and it could also place greater stress on the overall structure. For the Austro-Hungary aircraft, there were a number of wing failures, which required engineers to provide modifications to the lower wing by using thicker ribs and spar flanges.

Anyhow… below, where possible, I have attempted to supply just the GERMAN-made aircraft specifications… some, however, are from the Austro-Hungary versions of the aircraft.

Albatross D.III Specifications:

  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 7.33 meters (24 feet and one half inch);
  • Width: 9.05 meters (29 feet, 8.3 inches);
  • Upper wingspan: 9 meters (29 feet 6 inches) – from Austro-Hungary version;
  • Lower wingspan: 8.73 meters (28 feet 8 inches) – from Austro-Hungary version;
  • Height: 2.98 meters (9 feet 9.3 inches);
  • Wing area: 20.56 square meters (221.3 square feet) – from Austro-Hungary version;
  • Empty Weight: 710 kilograms (1,565 pounds);
  • Gross weight: 886 kilograms 1,953 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 x Mercedes D.IIIa water-cooled 6-cylinder in-line engine developing 175 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller;
  • Maximum speed: 175 kilometers per hour (109 miles per hour);
  • Ceiling: 5,500 meters (18,045 feet);
  • Range: 350 kilometers (217 miles);
  • Guns: 2 × 7.92 mm (0.315 in) Spandau LMG 08/15 fixed, forward-firing synchronized machine guns;
  • Time to altitude:
  • 270 meters/minute (886 feet/minute);
  •  OR… using Austro-Hungary data:
    • 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) in 2 minutes 35 seconds;
    • 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) in 6 minutes 35 seconds;
    • 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 11 minutes 20 seconds;
    • 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) in 18 minutes 50 seconds;
    • 5,000 meters (16,404 feet) in 33 minutes.

Albatros D.V

DVa2.jpgBuilt by Albatros Flugzeugwerke GmbH, the Albatros D.V was the last of the Albatros D.I series, with approximately 2,500 built, first entering service in May of 1917. The photo above says that one was used by Manfred von Richtofen.

You may be wondering why German pilots didn’t fly an Albatros D.IV (Four) before flying the Albatros D.V (Five)… well, the D.IV was designed to test a geared version of the 160 horsepower Mercedes D.III engine. Three were built, with only one known to have flown.

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The experimental Albatros D.IV fighter, one of three built in 1916.

The one D.IV that flew, was tested with several types of propeller, but engineers found them to have excessive vibration problems, and compounded by only a minor increase in performance, the project was scrapped.

As for the Albatros D.V, it looked a lot like the D.III – even using the same 170 horsepower Mercedes D.IIIa engine.

The D.V, however, used a  new, fully elliptical cross-section fuselage that was 32 kilograms (71 pounds) lighter than the partially flat-sided fuselage of the earlier models. The new fuselage required the placement of an additional longeron on each side of the fuselage and the fin.

It also used the enlarged rudder featured on D.IIIs built by the Ostdeutsche Albatros Werke (OAW), and had a larger spinner and ventral fin. The upper wing was 121 millimeters (4.75 inches) closer to the fuselage, while the lower wings were attached to the fuselage without a fairing.

The D.V wings were almost identical to those of the standard D.III, which had adopted a sesquiplane wing arrangement. The only significant difference between wings of the D.III and D.V was a revised routing of the aileron cables that placed them entirely within the upper wing.

When the D.V first came out, it had a large headrest for the pilot… nothing like comfort, right? Wrong… it was so large that it blocked the rear view of the pilot when they turned their head to look for the enemy behind them! Flight crews removed the headrest, and soon enough, it was removed all together from production.

As mentioned, the D.V continued to have the same lower wing failure when the plane was in a steep dive as the D.III – apparently no one had done stress testing on the new plane’s wings until one month AFTER it had been found to have issues.

What’s worse, is that on the D.V, the sesquiplane wing layout was even more vulnerable than the D.III.

The outboard sections of the D.V upper wing also suffered failures – but flight crews could get around that if they added additional wire bracing. Oh, and on the occasional time there was a rough landing, the fuselage sometimes cracked.

All these issues with the D.V, and performance wasn’t enough for the pilots to say it was a better aeroplane than the D.III. The British tested one of these captured D.V‘s and described it as: slow to man oeuvre, heavy on the controls and tiring to fly.

Manfred von Richthofen complained that the D.V was “so obsolete and so ridiculously inferior to the English that one can’t do anything with this aircraft.” Ouch.

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This beautiful artwork was done by B. Huber, and shows Manfred von Richtofen’s Albatros D.V aeroplane. Huber has more artwork: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:B._Huber

Its reputation on the line, Albatros midstream attempted to rectify the the D.V by modifying the design and calling it the D.Va. The new D.Va had stronger wing spars, heavier wing ribs and a reinforced fuselage – all of which made the aircraft 23 kilograms (51 pounds) heavier than the D.III.

Despite being heavier, performance was recaptured by the aeroplane now incorporating a Mercedes D.IIIaü engine outputting 180 horsepower.

The Mercedes D.IIIaü, was an unofficial designation, (ü for über), for D.IIIa engines that used domed pistons that operated “over-compressed” (at a higher compression ratio).

The D.Va also reverted to the D.III aileron cable linkage, running outwards through the lower wing, then upwards to the ailerons to provide a more positive control response. The wings of the D.III and D.Va were interchangeable.

Manfred did achieve victories 53-59 in the D.V – but did you know, that on July 6, 1917, a few days after shooting down a Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 flown by Sgt. Hubert Arthur Whatley and 2nd Lt. Frank Guy Buckingham Pascoe (both died), the Red Baron was, himself, shot down?

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The Red Baron was shot down on July 6, 1917 – but only suffered serious injuries (as opposed to death).

In the photo above, note that the aircraft is painted red only on the tail, wings, spinner and the nose.

In a dogfight with a British aeroplane, Manfred was hit by a grazing bullet to the skull, suffering a fracture… and was enough for him to be taken out of action for a few weeks.

During the air battle against a formation of Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2d two-seat fighters of No. 20 Squadron RFC, Manfred was hit in the head by a bullet, causing him to partially lose his vision. He regained it quickly enough to bring his aeroplane out of a spin and to land it in friendly territory.

The head injury required multiple operations to remove skull splinters from his cranium.

Manfred returned to active service against his doctor’s orders on July 25, but was forced to remain grounded from September 5 to October 23, 1917.

Despite the quick return from the fractured skull, Manfred later complained about having headaches, and would continue to suffer post-flight nausea.

Manfred had become a hero to the German people, and it was feared that his death would be a demoralizing blow, and so the military attempted to squeeze him into a desk job after his wounding.

Manfred refused, however, believing that “every poor fellow in the trenches must do his duty” and so should he in the air.

By the way… with apologies to Monty Python, a few weeks earlier, Manfred was promoted as a leader of his very own four squadron fighter wing called the Jagdgeschwader I – but because of the its brightly painted aeroplanes, it was nicknamed “the Flying Circus.”

Albatross D.V Specifications:

  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 7.33 meters (24 feet 1 inch);
  • Wingspan: 9.05 meters (29 feet 8 inches);
  • Height: 2.7 meters (8 feet 10 inches);
  • Wing area: 21.2 square meters (228 square feet);
  • Empty weight: 687 kilograms (1,515 pounds);
  • Gross weight: 937 kilograms (2,066 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Mercedes D.IIIaü piston engine, creating 200 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed wooden propeller;
  • Maximum speed: 186 kilometers per hour (116 miles per hour);
  • Ceiling: 5,700 meters (18,700 feet);
  • Range: 350 kilometers;
  • Guns: 2 × 7.92 mm (0.312 in) LMG 08/15 machine guns;
  • Rate of climb: 4.17 meters per second (821 feet per minute);
  • Time to altitude: 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) in 4 minutes.

Fokker F.I

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This, is just a test. There were only three F.I triplanes ever built by Fokker-Flugzeuwerke GmbH – and yes, Manfred von Richtofen was one of the three men to pilot one, along with Werner Voss and Kurt Wolff.

Manfred actually flew Fokker F.I, serial number 102/17, one of two prototypes that actually flew. Wolff was shot down and killed in this same aeroplane on September 15, 1917.

Werner Voss was shot down while flying F.I 103/17 on September 23, 1917.

The F.I 101/17 was tested to destruction in August of 1918, failing at a load factor of 7.75.

Manfred achieved his victory number 60 in the Fokker F.I on September 1, and Number 61 on September 3, 1917… and then decided he preferred the Albatros D.V… for awhile.

The film below may show why he went back to the Albatros D.V (for a while). Now… since this film is purported to have been shot on September 7, 1917, and we know Manfred was still flying the Fokker F.I, as late as four days earlier when he got victory 64, we can assume that the YouTube video is misnamed… that it’s NOT the Red Baron in a Fokker Dr.I, but actually him in his Fokker F.I.

In the movie, you can see what Manfred actually wore when flying, as we get to see him getting dressed!

There is no sound, of course, because “talkies” weren’t a thing until 10 years later with 1927’s The Jazz Singer.

The film shows him taking off, and upon returning, we see him inspecting the F.I‘s cowl where it appears to have suffered gunfire damage. Anyhow… no kills/victories on this flight… but the bullet holes may be why Manfred had to switch to the Albatros D.V. … or maybe he did so because he was awaiting delivery of a new Fokker Dr.I aeroplane? I don’t know why he switched planes…

Anyhow… here’s the film of Manfred von Richtofen in his Fokker F.I on September 3, 1917 (I’m adding the url, in case the movie fails in this blog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIiuyijwKRs):

In the video, Manfred can be seen telling a joke to his Flying Circus:

Manfred: “Mein dog has no nose!”
Flying Circus: “How does he smell?”
Manfred: “Awful!”

Uh… sorry… wrong Flying Circus (and the wrong war). But damn, that’s funny.

The F.I was actually designated by Fokker as V.5 by Fokker, and was, of course, a so-called improvement over the Fokker V.4 prototype triplane.

The F.I aircraft was very much similar to the follow-up aircraft the Fokker Dr.I because, it was essentially the same aeroplane.

After the first three Fokker V.5, aka the F.I, were built, all of the other such planes to follow were then officially called the Fokker Dr.I.

The ONLY difference between the F.I and later-production model Fokker Dr.I aircraft was that the Dr.I aircraft had a subtle convex curve on the outlines of the tailplane’s otherwise diagonal leading edge planform – to provide for a more aerodynamic balancing surface at each elevator tip.

So… aside from the aerodynamic re-balancing, all the F.I planes created after these three F.I’s were known as the Fokker Dr.I. Got it? I think I got it.

Fokker Dr.I

Fokker_Dr1_on_the_groundLater that summer, the Flying Circus got their hands on the Fokker Dr.I triplane, the distinctive, three-winged machine that would become Richthofen’s most famous aircraft.

The Dr.I was actually first off the production line on August 28, 1917, but it took a few days before Manfred got his hands on one. Eventually, a total of 320 Fokker Dr.I were manufactured.

A very maneuverable aircraft, it could climb quickly, and though it did not have the speed of the other planes in the sky, it more than made up for it with its agility, and its ability to almost stop on a dime, and turn.

Fokker_Dr.I_dwg

The main problem it had, however, was that the canvas had a habit of tearing away from the upper wing when the plane was in a long dive, which caused the Dr.I to crash. That doesn’t sound good.

The because planes and pilots were lost, the Dr.I was pulled from active service. It was found that poor construction and a lack of waterproofing (varnishing) by Fokker allowed moisture to damage the wing’s structure causing the wing ribs to disintegrate and the ailerons to break away when in flight.

Although production did begin again in December of 1917 – with more strict demands placed on quality control – it wasn’t until January of 1918 that the aircraft began to re-roll out of the factory and onto the war airfields.

But… despite the efforts of quality control at Fokker, the Dr.I aircraft still suffered from wing issues.

One such pilot was Manfred’s brother Lothar, who on March 18, 1918 saw his Dr.I suffer an upper wing failure during combat, causing him to suffer severe injury upon the crash landing.

This led to the demise of the Dr.I at Fokker with production ending in May of 1918 after only 320 manufactured aircraft.

But Manfred liked the Dr.I. And so, Fokker-Flugzeugwerke (Dutch company) president Anthony Fokker gave Manfred a personalized Dr.I that featured improvements and strengthening.

Fokker_Dr.I_at_Drzeughaus_(museum)

Adding to the caption above, Manfred achieved three of his 17 Dr.I victories in plane 152/17. Shown here in the Zeughaus Museum in Berlin, this aeroplane was destroyed by an Allied bombing raid during WWII. Now… is it just me, or does the cowl cover look like it is painted red?!

Unfortunately, no color images of the actual Red Baron’s Dr.I exist, but here’s a cool technical blueprint that shows the color scheme – note the white tail and cowl cover! Maybe different Dr.I‘s belonging to the Red Baron had differing paint schemes?

The Dr.I is infamous for it being the aircraft in which the Red Baron achieved his last 17 victories. Which is two less than the Albatros D.II (19)… but if the Fokker F.I is essentially the same aeroplane, and he had two victories with that, does that mean Manfred also had 19 victories in the Dr.I?

No. The Dr.I and the F.I are different aircraft. Especially when you consider that Manfred’s Dr.I aeroplanes were “special”.

All 17 of his victories in the Dr.I were achieved during a six-week period between March 12 thru April 20, 1918 during Operation Michael, which was Germany’s last great offensive on the Western Front during what we now call WWI. As mentioned, his final tally was 80 victories… though the victories were only counted, it seems, if the downed aircraft was seen going down in the attacker’s “country”. As such, the Red Baron could actually have over 100 victories, with many such downed aircraft being called “unconfirmed”.

I wish I could provide you with data on what made the Red Baron’s Dr.I so special over other such aeroplanes, but I can’t. I can only provide the standard specs.

Fokker Dr.I Specifications:

  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 5.77 meters (18 feet 11 inches);
  • Upper wingspan: 7.19 meters (23 feet 7 inches);
  • Height: 2.95 meters (9 feet 8 inches);
  • Wing area: 18.7 square meters (201 square feet);
  • Empty weight: 406 kilograms (895 pounds);
  • Gross weight: 586 kilograms (1,291 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Motorenfabrik Oberursel A.G Ur.II 9-cylinder air-cooled rotary piston engine creating 110 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller;
  • Maximum speed: 160 kilometers per hour (99 miles per hour) at 2,600 meters;
  • Stall speed: 72 kilometers per hour (45 miles per hour);
  • Range: 300 kilometers (190 miles);
  • Guns: 2 × 7.92 mm (0.312 in) Maschinengewehr 08 Spandau machine guns;
  • Service ceiling: 6,100 meters (20,000 feet);
  • Rate of climb: 5.7 meters per second (1,120 feet per minute).

Kaputt: Death Of A Killing Machine

NASM-SI-92-16852

The wreckage of Manfred Von Richthofen’s Fokker Dr.I triplane after being shot down  – near Vaux-sur-Somme, France, on April 21, 1918. Photographed at the aerodrome of No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps at Bertangles. Photo taken from: https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/fokker-dri-triplane-fi-richthofen-manfred-von-red-baron-photograph

April 21, 1918 was the date of Wolfram “Ulf” Karl Ludwig Moritz Hermann Freiherr von Richthofen’s (October 10, 1895 – July 12, 1945) first flight along side his cousin Manfred.

Wolfram would eventually grab eight victories before the war ended in November of 1918. He ended his military career as a Field Marshall in the Luftwaffe (Air Force) of Nazi Germany in WWII.

April 21, 1918 – just after 11AM – was also the day Manfred von Richtofen was shot down and killed.

Flying over Morlancourt Ridge in France near the Somme River, Manfred von Richtofen was flying his Fokker Dr.I aeroplane at low-altitude chasing a Sopwith Camel aircraft.

The Sopwith was piloted by Canadian Lt. Wilfrid Reid “Wop” May of the No. 209 Squadron, RAF. I checked… “Wop”, in this case was just what his little sister used to call him when they were very young, as “Wilfrid” was too difficult for her. For whatever reason, he kept the nickname, even while flying for Great Britain many years later during The Great War.

Now, having just seen Lt. May fire upon cousin Wolfram, Manfred flew in to rescue him, firing on May – which caused May to pull away.

Manfred decided to pursue May as he crossed the Somme River.

May’s flight commander, Captain Arthur Roy Brown (also of Canada) saw the chase and dove his Sopwith Camel at very high speed to fire at Manfred von Richtofen, who turned to avoid the attack, but then continued chasing May as Brown had to pull up and climb steeply to avoid crashing into the ground.

Now… did Manfred get hit at this time from one of the bullets fired by Captain Brown or did ground fire from a nearby Aussie barrage hit him?

What we do know, is that while Manfred was chasing May, a single .303 bullet hit him, damaging his heart and lungs to cause death…. eventually.

Apparently, Manfred still had enough in him to regain control of his aircraft to make a rough landing, behind enemy lines in a field north of Vaux-sur-Somme village in France.

The sector just happened to have been defended by the Australian Imperial Force, and the landing was witnessed by many, including Gunners Ernest Twycross and George Ridway, and Sgt. Ted Smout of the Australian Medical Corps.

Each of these three Aussies said that they were the first to reach the Red Baron’s Fokker Dr.I aeroplane, and each said that Manfred’s last words were: “Kaputt” or something similar. He may have said more, but perhaps the witnesses were unfamiliar with the German language. We also have to contend with the “fact”, that each of the three men said he was the first to reach the aircraft and Manfred.

Were they there within seconds of each other, or did they arrive within 10s of seconds of each other? In other words, perhaps only one of them heard the last words of the Red Baron, or two of them did, or they all did. Or maybe no one did. Conjecture. It doesn’t matter, except that the German word  “kaputt” translates to “broken” in English. “Sterben” is the German for “dying”.

After the crash, the actual bullet was found in Manfred von Richtofen’s clothing – recovered but lost – all accounts state that the .303 was a standard ball round, fired by all British rifle-caliber arms, including the Sopwith Camel.

Manfred’s Fokker Dr.I 425/17 was fairly intact when he landed it, but after his death, the aeroplane was taken apart by Aussie souvenir hunters who knew of the Red Baron and his aerial victories.

Because No. 3 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps was the nearest Allied air unit, it assumed official responsibility for the body of Manfred von Richtofen, with Major Blake in charge. His duty here, was to ensure that Manfred’s body was treated with respect, and to organize a full military funeral to be conducted by the personnel of No. 3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. And so he did.

Here’s a video of the funeral (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJUzIKeJJdY):

Manfred von Richtofen – the Red Baron – was buried in the cemetery at the village of Bertangles, near Amiens, on April 22, 1918. Six of No. 3 Squadron’s officers served as pallbearers, and a guard of honor from the squadron’s other ranks fired a salute.

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

What a crazy effin’ war.

Who Shot MvR?

Originally, Captain Brown of Canada became famous after being credited with shooting down the Red Baron.

Wikipedia says that it is: now generally agreed that the bullet which hit Richthofen was fired from the ground.

Proof of that claim comes with medical examiner evidence that shows that the bullet that hit Manfred penetrating from the right armpit and resurfacing next to the left nipple, near his shirt.

Captain Brown’s aerial attack was from behind and above and from Richthofen’s left.

That sounds conclusive.

Even more conclusively, Richthofen could not have continued his pursuit of May for as long as he did (up to two minutes) had this severe wound come from Brown’s guns. That… that is conjecture.

Captain Brown did not talk about the event, only claiming, “There is no point in me commenting, as the evidence is already out there.” Whatever the heck that means.

Wikipedia says that many sources suggest that Australian Sergeant Cedric Popkin was the person most likely to have killed Richthofen, including a 1998 article by Geoffrey Miller, a physician and historian of military medicine, and a 2002 edition of the British Channel 4Secret History” television series.

Sgt. Popkin was an anti-aircraft machine gunner with the Australian 24th Machine Gun Company, and he was using a Vickersgun. He said he fired at Richthofen’s aircraft on two occasions: first as the Baron headed straight at his position, and then again at long range from the plane’s right. Because of Richtofen’s wounds (yes, plural), Popkin may indeed have been in position to fire and kill Manfred as he passed over him a second time.

However, confusion was later caused by a letter that Popkin wrote in 1935 to an Australian official historian that said it was his belief that he had fired the fatal shot as Richthofen flew straight at his position.

If that’s the case, the statement in the letter is wrong, because the bullet which struck Manfred, came from the side.

To be fair, Popkin may have just been speaking “generally” – that when he said the Red Baron flew straight at him, he may really have meant he flew near him. Or maybe his memory was cloudy after 17 years… though he was then only 45 years-old when he wrote the letter.

Wikipedia notes that a 2002 Discovery Channel documentary suggests that Gunner W. J. “Snowy” Evans, a Lewis machine gunner with the 53rd Battery, 14th Field Artillery Brigade with the Royal Australian Artillery was the one who killed Manfred. However, Miller and the Secret History documentary dismiss this theory because of the angle from which Evans claimed to have fired at Manfred.

Other sources, according to Wikipedia, say that Gunner Robert Buie (also of the 53rd Battery) may have fired the fatal shot, but there is little to support this claim. However, in 2007, a municipality in Sydney, Australia, recognized Buie as the man who shot down the Red Baron, and placed a plaque near his former home. Buie died in 1964, and has never been officially recognised in any other way.

Is it more romantic to think that a pilot shot him down? That someone was actually better than him for once? Heck, he was shot down a few times and survived… so maybe it really did take anti-aircraft fire to take him out.

Maybe the Red Baron was shot and hurt by the enemy pilot, and then maybe ground fire took him out. Or maybe it was the other way.

The point, however, is that no one knows for certain who shot down the Red Baron. Canadians, like myself, like to think it was Captain Brown. Australians like to think it was Sergeant Popkin… or Evans… or Buie.

Not knowing exactly who did it, just adds to the story and mystique of the Red Baron, doesn’t it?

Bragging rights aside 102 years later, who gives a flying you-know-what? Everyone involved, who could say with any accuracy is long since passed this mortal coil.

Legacy

There were also unconfirmed victories that would put his actual total as high as 100 or more.

For comparison, the highest-scoring Allied ace, the Frenchman René Fonck, achieved 75 confirmed victories and a further 52 unconfirmed behind enemy lines. So maybe Fonck was the greatest aerial ace ever!

The highest-scoring British Empire fighter pilots were Canadian Billy Bishop (we named the island airport in Toronto after him), who was officially credited with 72 victories (and whop knows how many unconfirmed victories); Edward Mannock of Great Britain with 61 confirmed victories; Raymond Collishaw of Canada with 60, and Great Britain’s James McCudden with 57 confirmed victories.

Germany’s Ernst Udet was credited with 62 victories, and has the country’s second-highest victory total.

But… 80 victories? Aside from WWI buffs, does anyone today really know how many victories the Red Baron had? Could they even tell you that the pilot’s name was Manfred von Richtofen?

But mention the Red Baron moniker, and people “know” all about the red triplane.

Thanks for reading… I recently purchased a series of aviation tobacco cards, and I’m sure I will begin to delve into the history of each card and provide (hopefully) fascinating write-ups on the aeroplanes… as soon as it arrives via air mail.

About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
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