Today in History - April 21
Morlancourt Ridge, Vaux-sur-Somme, France, 1918
On April 21, 1918, the aviator known as “The Red Baron” was fatally wounded over Amiens, France. Probably the most well-known flying ace in history, the Red Baron’s real name was Baron Manfred von Richthofen, and he had the highest official air combat victory tally of any WWI fighter pilot, with the general consensus being 80 planes downed.
When the Great War started, the Red Baron was not involved in flight - indeed, very few people were, as it was a relatively new concept. Initially a cavalry reconnaissance member, barbed wire and machine gun fire prevented any horseback recon from taking place, and the unit became de facto infantry. Wanting to get more involved in battles, Manfred von Richthofen applied to get a transfer to die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches, the Imperial German Army Air Service. That transfer request was granted, and Manfred found his niche.
Rising quickly in skill and rank, the Red Baron eventually led “The Flying Circus” unit, and became something of a combination cult hero, propagandist’s dream boy, and an almost mythological figure to the Germans. But he wasn’t immortal, much to Germany’s dismay, and the populace’s morale.
Von Richthofen had been shot down in another plane prior to his fatal flight, and suffered a fairly serious head wound from that 1917 incident. Despite offers of a ground job, he adamantly refused to stay out of the sky, and went on to rack up several more kills prior to his last take-off. Though there’s still controversy over who exactly shot down the Red Baron (popular lore says it was the Canadian Roy Brown, who did at the least maim him, but the bullet that killed him was from Anti-Aircraft guns down below), what we do know for sure, is that on April 21, 1918, a German legend ground to a halt.
Top Left: 1918 Picture postcard of Manfred von Richthofen, by Nicola Perscheid and Willi Sanke at Sanke Postcards.
Top Right: Last photo of Richthofen, preparing for flight on April 21, 1918.
Bottom: Manfred von Richthofen with the other members of Jasta 11, 1916.