Manfred von Richthofen

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Rittmeister Manfred Freiherr von Richtofen of the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte, known before 1916 as the "Imperial German Flying Troops" (German: Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches), the over-land air arm of the German military during World War I (1914–1918).

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr[1] von Richthofen, also known as The Red Baron (2 May 1892 – 21 April 1918), was a German officer and flying ace who is credited with having 80 known kills during the First World War. This record lasted until the World War II when it was overtaken by Werner Mölders,[2] the first flying ace (Flieger-As) to reach the mark of 80 confirmed victories. He must not be confused with General der Kavallerie Karl Ernst Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen.

Flying ace The Red Baron, the most victorious fighter pilot of the First World War and Knight of the Order "Pour le Mérite"


A colourized black and white photo of von Richthofen's Fokker E. III Triplane 1917

Early Years

Fallen Pour le Mérite Knights of the Fliegertruppe

Von Richthofen was born in 1892 in Breslau, Prussian Province of Silesia to a well to do family of Prussian Nobility. During his childhood he enjoying horseback riding and gymnastics. When he was 11 he formly started his military training which was completed in 1911 and he was transferred to the 1st Regiment of West Prussia. With the outbreak of WWI in 1914, von Richthofen served as a cavalry scout on both the Western Front and Eastern Front. Gradually the Cavalry Scouts were phased out due to the usage of machine guns and barbed wire and the Scouts were newly formed as basic infantry units. Not happy with the amount of action he was seeing, in 1915 he joined up with the newly formed Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte)[3] of the Imperial German Army , which was a forerunner to the Luftwaffe.

World War I

His early flying career was flying basic reconnaissance missions over the Eastern Front where he shot down his first aircraft, a French Farman. He is not credited with this kill, as the enemy's plane fell behind Allied lines. In 1916 he transferred to the Bomber unit, piloting a two seater Albatros C.III. August 1916 saw Richthofen meeting Oswald Boelcke who was in the process of forming a new fighter squadron, Jasta 2 and in September won his first aerial combat over Cambrai, France. This first kill would start a tradition with Richthofen, where he would have a custom made Silver Cup crafted with the names, date and type of aircraft destroyed engraved onto it. He amassed 60 of these Cups until there was blockade of Silver into the German Empire.

Late November 1916, he would meet his renowned adversary, the famed fighter ace, Britain's Major Lanoe Hawker Victoria Cross, in which he shot down Hawker in his Albatros D.II. In early 1917 von Richthofen was able to score a further 22 kills before switching aircraft types, to a Fokker Dr.I,which is Triplane variation. Contrary to popular belief, he only scored 20 kills using a Triplane. In January 1917 he was awarded the highest medal in the German Imperial Army, the Blue Max and by April 1917 his tally for confirmed kills had reached 52. By June of that year, von Richthofen was promoted to Captain, which was not unusual in the German Imperial Army for low ranking officers to be Commanders of units.

On 6 July 1917, he was forced down and landed near Wervicq with a severe wound to the head and was grounded for several weeks. The man who had shot him down was Captain Donald Cunnell who himself was shot down and killed several days later. By 1918, von Richthofen had became such a legend it was feared if he was killed it would be a major blow to the Germany fighting units.


On 21 April 1918, the "Red Baron" was shot down whilst flying over the Somme River. During this battle he was chasing a Sopwith Camel flown by Canadian pilot, Wilfrid "Wop" May of the Royal Air Force. While engaging May he was spotted by fellow Canadian and Royal Air Force pilot,Arthur "Roy" Brown. After shaking off Brown with a great display of machine and tactics, he returned to engage combat with Canadian pilot, May. During this event, von Richthofen was hit with a single bullet, a .303 which penetrated his lung and cause severe damage to his heart. Amazingly Manfred was able to land his aircraft behind Australian lines near Vaux-sur-Somme.

The Red Barons last word was muttered to Australian Medical Sgt.Ted Smout which was "kaputt" (Finished in English). His mainly intact aircraft was soon ripped apart by souvenir hunters and his body was placed in care of the nearest Australian Flying Unit. Hermann Göring eventually became his successor as commander of the unit.


Manfred von Richthofen was buried by a Major Blake, an Australian air officer who had held Manfred with the greatest of respect and organized a full military funeral which was conducted by the 3rd Australian Flying Corps. Six men of the the same rank (Captain) served as pallbearers and he was buried in the cemetary in Bertangles. Like all military funerals, there was wreaths placed and shot fired as a salute to the fallen fighter ace.[4]

After the war, von Richthofen's engine was donated to the Imperial War Museum in London, England where it is still to this day. In 1925 his brother, Bolko went to France and retrieved the body and brought it back to Germany to be buried in the family tomb. With insitance from the German government, the body was to be buried in Berlin in the Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery along side other heroes and military leaders were buried. The body remained there until 1975, when it was moved to the family tomb in Südfriedhof.

Total number of victories

In the decades following World War I some historians questioned whether the Red Baron achieved a total of 80 confirmed kills. In the 1990s, three British historians did an indepth examination of this matter and they came to the conclusion that Richthofen had scored no lower than 73 kills, but also determined the number could be as high as 100. The highest scoring allied ace was Frenchman René Fonck with 75 victories, followed by Canadian Billy Bishop with 72 kills.


  • Spring 1911 Fähnrich (Officer Cadet)
  • 19 November 1912 Leutnant (2nd Lieutenant)
  • 22 March 1917 Oberleutnant (1st Lieutenant)
  • 6 April 1917 Rittmeister

Awards and decorations

German Albatros D.IIIs of Jagdstaffel 11 and Jagdstaffel 4 parked in a line at La Brayelle near Douai, France in March 1917. Manfred von Richthofen's red-painted aircraft is second in line (with boarding step ladder in place).
Manfred von Richthofen against planes of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC)
  • Prussian Iron Cross (1914), 2nd and 1st Class
    • 2nd Class on 12/23 September 1914
    • 1st Class on 10 April 1916
  • German Army Observer’s Badge (Abzeichen für Beobachtungsoffiziere aus Flugzeugen)
  • German Army Pilot’s Badge (Militär-Flugzeugführer-Abzeichen)
  • Ehrenbecher für den Sieger im Luftkampf for his first Luftsieg
  • Prussian Royal Hohenzollern House Order, Knight’s Cross with Swords (HOH3⚔) on 11 November 1916
  • Saxe-Coburg and Gotha Duke Carl Eduard Medal, 2nd Class with Swords (HSCC2⚔/CM2⚔) on 30 December 1916
  • Prussian Pour le Mérite Order on 12 January 1917 (in recognition of his 16th aerial victory) better known also as "Blue Max"
  • Württemberg Military Merit Order, Knight’s Cross (WMV3) on 13 April 1917
  • Saxon Military St. Henry Order, Knight’s Cross (SH3) on 16 April 1917
  • Bavarian Military Merit Order, 4th Class with Swords (BMV4⚔) on 29 April 1917
  • Saxe-Ernestine Ducal House Order (issued by the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha), Knight 1st Class with Swords (HSH3a⚔/EH3a⚔) on 9 May 1917
  • Brunswick War Merit Cross, 2nd Class (BrK2) on 24 September 1917
  • Lippe War Merit Cross (LK)
  • Cross for Faithful Service (Fürstlich Schaumburg-Lippisches Kreuz für treue Dienste 1914; SLK) on 10 October 1917
  • Lippe War Honour Cross for Heroic Deeds (LKEK/LKEKr) on 13 October 1917
  • Hessian Bravery Medal (Hessische Tapferkeitsmedaille; HT)
  • Red Eagle Order (Roter Adlerorden), 3rd Class with Crown and Swords on 6 April 1918 (in recognition of his 70th aerial victory)

Hanseatic League

  • Hanseatic Cross of Hamburg (Hamburgisches Hanseatenkreuz; HH)
  • Lübeck Hanseatic Cross on 22 September 1917
  • Bremen Hanseatic Cross on 25 September 1917


  • Austrian Field Pilot’s Badge (Franz Joseph pattern)
  • Austrian Order of the Iron Crown, 3rd Class with War Decoration (ÖEK3K) on 8 August 1917
  • Austrian Military Merit Cross, 3rd Class with War Decoration (ÖM3K)


  • Bulgarian Bravery Order, 4th Class, 1st Grade in June 1917

Ottoman Empire

  • Turkish Imtiaz Medal in Silver with Sabers (TI2⚔)
  • Turkish Liakat Medal in Silver with Sabers (TL2⚔)
  • Gallipoli Star (Eiserner Halbmond; TH) on 4 November 1917

Also See

External links



  1. Regarding personal names: Freiherr is a title of German nobility (Deutscher Adel), somtetimes translated as Baron, not a first or middle name, but connected with the surname, for example Sigismund Freiherr von Falkenstein, not Freiherr Sigismund von Falkenstein. The female forms are Freifrau, if married, and Freiin, if not.
  2. Werner Mölders (18 March 1913 – 22 November 1941) was a World War II German Air Force pilot and the leading German fighter ace of the Condor Legion. Mölders became the first pilot in aviation history to claim 100 aerial victories—that is, 100 aerial combat encounters resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft, and was highly decorated for his achievements. He was instrumental in the development of new fighter tactics which led to the finger-four formation. He had achieved a total of 101 aerial victories in this war and, combined with his 14 aerial victories in the Spanish campaign, a grand total of 115 aerial victories overall. It is speculated that Mölders unofficially shot down around another 30 Soviet aircraft. At least six of Mölders' unofficial victories are recorded in his fellow pilots' private log books. He died in an air crash in which he was a passenger.
  3. The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte, known before 1916 as the "Imperial German Flying Troops" (German: Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches), was the over-land air arm of the German military during World War I (1914–1918).
  4. The British decided to hold a grand funeral for their late adversary. Laid out on a lorry, covered with flowers, escorted by RAF officers, his body was taken to a hangar, where it lay in state for a day. Hundreds of British soldiers filed past to view the Red Baron. The next day, the burial itself was another military pageant, with six RAF Captains as pallbearers, a fourteen-man firing party with rifles reversed, a flower-draped coffin, a service conducted by a robed chaplain, and a bugler blowing "The Last Post." Photographs were taken of the funeral, and British planes dropped them over his airdrome at Cappy with the message: "TO THE GERMAN FLYING CORPS: Rittmeister Baron Manfred von Richthofen was killed in aerial combat on April 21st, 1918. He was buried with full military honours. From the British Royal Air Force"