Sunday, May 20, 2012

Last Words: Manfred von Richthofen



(Translation: Broken... or Smashed)

-          Manfred von Richtofen

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (1892 – 1918), also known as the Red Baron, was a German fighter pilot in World War 1.  Officially credited with 80 combat victories, more than any other pilot in WW1, he was originally a cavalryman.  His unit was known as the "Flying Circus" and by 1918, he was a national hero in Germany.
Richthofen’s squadron, Richthofen in the cockpit

Richthofen died on 21 April 1918, 7 months before the end of the war on 11 November, 1918.

Whilst pursuing a Sopwith Camel (as flown by Snoopy in Peanuts comic strips) piloted a novice Canadian pilot, at low altitude over France, Richthofen was hit in the chest by a .303 bullet fired by ground troops.  Although the bullet had badly damaged his heart and lungs, he managed to land in a field where he was quickly approached by Australian military personnel.  According to Sergeant Ted Smout of the Australian Medical Corps, Richthofen’s last word was “kaputt”. 

Propaganda painting of Richthofen

Some quick comments:

·         Although there has been ongoing controversy as to who fired the fatal shot, Sergeant Cedric Popkin, an anti-aircraft machine gunner with the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF) is now considered the most likely candidate.

·         Because Richthofen was a sound tactician as well as a skilled and experienced fighter pilot, he was well aware of the risks of ground fire from low altitude flying.  This has led to examination of his lapse in judgment in that regard at the time that he was killed.  Theories advanced include the following:

o   that he had sustained brain damage from a severe head wound sustained in 1917 which affected his judgment and caused target fixation;

o   that he was suffering from cumulative combat stress, causing hime to ignore his usual precautions;

o   that the wind conditions on the day of his death were such that he was travelling at a much faster speed than usual, which inadvertently took him over Australian held territory at a time when the front was fluid.

·         The enemy created nicknames for Richthofen: Le Petit Rouge, the Red Devil, the Red Falcon, Le Diable Rouge, the Jolly Red Baron, the Bloody Baron, and the Red Baron. However, the Germans never called Richthofen the Red Baron; instead, they called him der röte Kampfflieger ("The Red Battle Flier").

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