Legends about the Red Baron, Germany’s most prolific fighter ace of World War I, are so pervasive in popular culture that some people may believe the man and his exploits were nothing more than a myth. But do you know what happened to the Red Baron?
On April 21, 1918, in the heavily trafficked skies above the Somme River in France, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the notorious German flying ace known as the “Red Baron,” is killed by Allied forces.
Who is the Red Baron?
Baron Manfred von Richthofen was born on May 2, 1892, into an affluent family of Prussian nobles in what is now Poland.
A German fighter pilot was the deadliest flying ace of World War I. Between 1916 and 1918, the Prussian aristocrat shot down 80 Allied planes and gained widespread fame for his scarlet-colored planes and ruthlessly effective flying style. Richthofen’s legend grew even more after he took command of the Flying Circus, a German fighter wing. (Source: History)
The Unstoppable Red Baron
Despite his growing legend, Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen was still just Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen. He was a wealthy aristocrat and a national hero, but behind the trophies, bravado, and the stick of his plane sat a man made of flesh and blood. Richthofen received a polite reminder of this on July 6, 1917, at the hands of a British F.E.2 biplane.
Richthofen’s plane was pierced by a single bullet, grazing his head and shattering his skull. The round’s impact rendered him temporarily blind and paralyzed, but before the aircraft crashed into the ground, the seasoned pilot regained consciousness and managed a rough landing behind the German line after a month.
Richthofen suffered from severe headaches, nausea, and bouts of depression due to the injury, but it wasn’t enough to keep him from fighting. Despite doctors’ orders not to return to active duty, the Red Baron was back in the skies the following month.
Soon after his return to duty, Richthofen upgraded to a more acrobatic Fokker Dr.1 triplane–the plane that became synonymous with the Red Baron legend. Despite. After recovering from his injuries, he returned to the fight with renewed vigor, quickly racking up kills in his new fighter. By April of 1918, the Red Baron had amassed 80 kills. (Source: History)
The Fall of the Red Baron
The Red Baron’s final flight took place on April 21, 1918, over Vaux-sur-Somme, France, when pilots from his Flying Circus engaged a group of British planes. Richthofen came under fire from Australian machine gunners on the ground and a plane piloted by Canadian ace Arthur Roy Brown. He swooped low in pursuit of an enemy fighter.
Richthofen was hit in the torso by a bullet unlike the last time, he was unable to recover the aircraft. He was still strapped to his seat when he crashed in a nearby beet field, where he would bleed out and die. Canadian Captain Arthur Roy Brown was given official credit for the victory, but whether he or the Australian foot soldiers fired the fatal shot is still debated.