Monday, February 11, 2008

Victorian Notables: Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron"



Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron", March 1918, by Chris Collinwood

Born 1892; Died 1918
Age 25, 145 lbs; An athletic German with pale eyes and close-cropped dark hair, usually waring an avator’s cap at a jaunty angle, the "Blue Max" (Ordre Pour le Merite) over a scarf, and a grey uniform.

Advantages: Acute vision, attractive, combat reflexes, military rank (captain), Reputation (Ace of Aces, amoung both sides of the front), Wealthy

Disadvantages: Code of Honor (Knights of the Air), Duty, Migranes, Overconfidence

Equipment: The Red Baron will usually be somewhere near an Albatross III biplane or Fokker triplane. In combat,he wears a heavy leather flying jacket.

This is Richthofen shortly before his death. His code of honor is a varient of the Gentleman’s Code, incorporating a dash of old-fashioned battlefield chivalry.

Seeing Red, by Ivan Barryman

Biography

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen was born on April 2nd, 1982, to Major Albrecht von Richthofen. At 11, he was sent to military school, emerging from the Prussian military academy in 1911 as a cavalry lieutenant. He was very much a playboy, spending his spare time in hunting and steeplechases.

When WW1 came, he was posted as a scout in his native Silesia and Polish Russia, acquitting himself adequately, if amateurishly. In September 1914, he was transferred to France. It was quickly discovered that horses shouldn’t go near machine guns, and von Richthofen was sidelined as a messenger. This chafed him, so he asked to be reassigned to the Flight Corps as an obserserver (which fitted with his previous scout work; he also believed that it would get him into action sooner than flight training). In 1915, his request was accepted.

Dawn Dog Fight, by Graeme Lothian

Richthofen spent the summer in Russia. At the end of August, he was transferred to an experiemntal twin-engined bomber. He was slightly wounded while bombing a British submarine in the Baltic. On September 1, 1915, his plane was engaged by a British fighter, and it was later discovered how poor the big biplane was at maneuvering. The Large Battle Plane project was soon abandoned.

Knights of the Sky, by Nicolas Trudgian

In October 1915, Richthofen was transferred to pilot training. He did his first solo after 25 training flights, but didn’t land successfully. In November, he was posted to fly the new, very large Gotha bombers. Richthofen wanted to fly small craft after his experience in the Large Battle Plane, and undertook further training. He passed his tests, and was posted to the front in March, 1916.

Manfred von Richthofen, 1917, by Chris Collingwood

In April, he rigged one of the first machine guns set up to be fired by a pilot, rather than by an observer. On the 26th, he shot down his first plane (though it was unconfirmed because it fell far behind British lines). Thus began the career of Germany’s best WW1 pilot.
After shooting down 16 planes, in November 1916, he was granted his own squadron. Almost all the pilots were aces, and everyone painted their craft in wild colors; Richthoften’s was red. It was a roving unit, moving whenever observation plane activity was its highest. Richthofen’s squadron was nicknamed "The Flying Circus" by the British. Richthofen gained the nom de guerre, "The Red Baron".

On March of 1917, Richthofen was shot down, but survived. April was an incredible month for him, with 21 confirmed victories, incluiding four in one day. It would be called "Bloody April" by the British who lost 912 pilots and observers.

The Red Baron, by Tim Fischer

On May 1st, Richthofen was called home. At this point, he had 52 kills, more than anyone else on either side. He met top commanders, was the guest of the Kaiser, was promoted to captain, and toured Germany as a celebrity. During this time, he wrote his autobiography. He returned to the front at the end of June. His squadron was enlarged, and renamed the Richtofen Squadron.

In July he was shot down again by two British pilots; though he landed safely, he received a head wound. He recovered, but suffered severe headaches for the rest of his life. The High Command, recognizing the morale boost his death would give the Allies, pressured him to leave front-line service, assigning him to administration and publicity tours. Eventually, the apparently realized they had to let him do what he did best.

In September, with 63 kills, he took an extended leave of absence. Returning in March of 1918, he brought a score of 80. On April 21st, he pursued Wiilfred May’s Sopwith Camel far behind British lines. Flying low, he was hit in the chest, either by gunners on the ground or by a Canadian flying to May’s aid, and crashed. The British buried him with full military honors. In the 1920’s, his coffin was disinterred and transported to Germany for reburial, again with full military honors.

In for the kill, by Ivan Barryman

Encountered
In combat, Richthofen will try to out-think an opponent, and then go for the kill. (This assumes comparable aircraft; faced with an evidently superior foe, even he may know when to retreat). On the ground, he is a military gentleman, slightly cocky, but willing to give any worthy flyer a slap on the back, a smile, and a drink. He could be the model for a dashing pilot in any number of settings.

Richthofen and Avaition
The Red Baron was an excellent shot, but not such a great pilot. He received little training, as was typical of the day, but neither did the pilot on the other side. His tactics, helped define much of the machine-gun era of air-to-air combat. Attacking from out of the sun, the advantage of higher altitude, and his adage "the quality of the box matters little. Success depends upon the man who sits in it", are ideas familiar to fighter pilots to this day.

He was not the first person to try mounting machine guns where the pilot could shoot, creating the modern fighter, but he was close. He epitomizes the dashing, romantic pilot of the First World War, the very image of the War in the Air, as a "gentlemanly" flight.
He was hardly infallible: he crashed a number of undamaged aircraft, was shot down three times, and made some very foolish mistakes in his final encounter. Good press and a high number of kills establiehsd much of his retputation.

Furhter Reading:
Kilduff, Peter: Richthofen: Beyond the Legend of the Red Baron
von Richthofen, Manfred: The Red Fighter Pilot, trans. By J. Ellis Barker

And fantastic military artwork, including WW1 fighter battles, at…
First World War Military Art Prints
Stoddard (1999) - Gurps Who's Who II, pg. 116-117, SJG:Austin
[edited for removal of game specific content]

1 comment:

Skusting Dagger said...

I still have my ancient 45rpm record of the Royal Guardsmen doing Snoopy versus The Red Baron!
Not only, that, but I have even played it recently!