The Red Fighter Pilot - Webpage 25, pages 233-242


perform their own aerial reconnaissance. Since we were at their altitude, five thousand, five hundred meters, we went on the attack. As always, my brother was in front. He attacked one of the planes and exercised with it into the lower altitudes. The Englishman attempted to escape his opponent with nosedives and spirals. My brother stayed behind him. After several hits to the fuselage he forced the enemy to land at our field.

I had observed the beginning of the battle and saw that my brother only had one opponent. In such a case one does not need assistance, so I went after my own victim. I chose an opponent about one hundred meters below from amid the English squadron. I attacked him. He shouldn't have made it so easy. I had advanced beyond my squadron, which was only half was strong as the English squadron. I wanted to get behind my foe and swat him down when I suddenly saw myself surrounded by airplanes with English insignias. They were crawling all over me. Not a pretty sight. The English didn't want to leave their comrade in the lurch so they attacked me. I dove down about one hundred meters to extract myself from this unpleasant company. One of their brethren found his courage and followed me. The others left me.


Now the fight was even. We flew towards each other at the same altitude. We neared each other at a speed of around four hundred kilometers. The opponent flew a two seater. I was alone. The Englishman had the advantage because his observer could shoot at me whenever I flew past him. I on the other hand would have to turn and chase after him because in my one-seater battle craft I could only shoot in the direction in which I was flying. Plus you have to have a clean shot, otherwise you're at a disadvantage. — These thoughts are going off in my head. We're not even two hundred meters away from each other and there's not much time left for shooting. Both case scenarios often lead to fatal collisions. If I don't break off from my opponent before he's on me then we'll both have to bank away. That's the moment when I'm at a disadvantage. We naturally shoot slowly at each other. A single bullet can be sufficient. In the last moment you figure that you'll bank your plane away from the enemy and he'll bank off in the opposite direction. But if I've met this opponent before, previous experience may prompt him to make an unexpected change in course. In such a circumstance it's impossible for me to know to which side I should turn. More often I've already shot down any opponent I've met before. In swerving fashion


we near each other and shoot. At the last moment I notice that I've hit him. I pull the machine and make such a sharp turn that I'm three-quarters of the way upside down. The English plane's sea of flames comes within a hair's breadth of me. The observer stands up and stares at the fire. The English plane, fully engulfed by flames, still manages a turn. The two occupants climb out along the way. The plane's remains flutter in the air.

This battle went so fast that I had time to shoot down another plane in that squadron and help with a third. In the second fight I wounded both occupants. They had to land on our side. At an altitude of about fifty meters the chap spiraled down with his two-seater and landed. Spiraling down is a form of crashing due to lack of steering control. One might do it intentionally to deceive his opponent who usually thinks that the plane is done for. In this case the pilot tries to trick his opponent in order to avoid endless imprisonment. Occupants of the planes my brother and I forced to land said under interrogation that they would have recognized the Richthofen brothers by their style of fighting. Neither my brother nor I have ever seen them.


Congratulations on the Fiftieth.

Telegraph message from Kaiser Wilhelm,
Received April 30, 1917, 4:20 AM:

To Cavalry Captain Baron von Richthofen
                             Richthofen Squadron

It has just been reported to me that today you have been the victor in air battle for the fiftieth time. I heartily congratulate you on this stunning achievement and wish to express my appreciation. The fatherland looks upon its bravest aviator with admiration and gratitude. May God continue to be with you.

                                        Wilhelm, Ruler of the Empire


Before the Last Flight


April 21, 1918


page238 is blank


Army Report of April 24, 1918

Cavalry Captain Baron von Richthofen has not returned after being pursued by an opponent over the battlefield at Somme. According to an English report he is dead.


Major Baron von Richthofen, District Commandant in ...

To my great sorrow I have just received word from the Commanding General of the Air Force that your brave son, Cavalry Captain Baron von Richthofen has died. What the young leader in air battles has accomplished will never be forgotten by me, my army, and the German people. I share deeply in your loss. May God send you the balsam of his soothing comfort.

                                        Wilhelm

*

So often with every report of your son's victory I have feared for his life, which he dedicated to the King and his fatherland. Now God has ordained that the course of his heroic life be closed to you and all of us who were pround of him. I still see your son in his modest simplicity as he was when I had the pleasure of greeting him in May of last year. I could not deny myself the opportunity to see him lift off from the airfield into the sky. May the Lord be with you and your family in your time of great pain. I hope that the situation for your second son is a pleasant one.

                                        A. Victoria [Augusta Victoria, first wife of Kaiser Wilhelm II]

*


Painfully moved by the report that your son has given up his life for the fatherland, I extend to you and your wife my deepest sympathies. He will live on in the memories of the German people as a master of the German Air Force and as a model for all German men. This may be a comfort to you in your time of pain.

                                        von Hindenburg

*

The Commanding General sent the following message to Fighter Squadron I on the occasion of Cavalry Captain Baron Manfred von Richthofen's death:

The hope we all nurtured that Richthofen would stay with us forever has not come to pass. He has fallen. Stronger than our words are his deeds. It was his pleasure to be recognized and respected as a leader and to be loved by his comrades. Our eyes will not see ahead to what he might have become but will look back towards what he was. Let us summon an animating force to keep his memory alive. I warmly commend myself to his fighter squadron and especially his Division II.

                                        The Commanding General

                                        signed, v. Hoeppner.

*


The Last Battle

A. Roy Brown, Canadian Flight Captain, whose bullet killed Manfred von Richthofen, has related the following about the air battle he had with Manfred von Richthofen in which the German died:

"I had a school friend who at the time was in the same squadron as I. He was Captain May, and the two of us were really good friends. On Sunday morning, April 21, 1918, we were in the air together. On the way home we came upon a number of enemy aviators. We went into battle and I will admit from the outset that I had given up any hope of coming out of this battle alive after only a few seconds. I constantly looked towards my friend, Captain May, and my heart beat with joy despite our dire circumstances when I saw that May had managed to shoot down a German plane. May immediately turned after his victory in order to fly home. I had impressed upon him the fact that he was a novice and he may be forced to engage in battle,


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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks