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World War I German Air
Born Schweidnitz, Germany*
May 2, 1892April 21, 1918
After completion of Manfred Albrecht Von Richthofen's cadet training in 1911, he joined the Uhlan regiment No. 1 Kaiser Alexander, as a cavalryman. At the outbreak of War he entered the aviation corps in January 1915 and was trained as an aircraft observer. A chance meeting with the great air fighter Oswald Boelcke inspired him to become a pilot himself. After receiving his pilot's badge, Boelcke selected Richthofen to join his elite JASTA II. His first victory occurred over Cambrai, France on September 17, 1916.
Following his sixteenth victory, he was elevated to command of JASSTA II and two days later received the much coveted Pour le Merite Medal, the "Blue Max." Promotion and victories came in rapid succession and under his leadership the squadron became the scourge of the skies over the Western Front. At that time all the squadron's aircraft tails were painted red, with individual distinguishing markings, the Baron's machine was all red. The scheme led to the informal but apt title "Richthofen's Circus" being given to the squadron.
By mid-1917, his squadron was expanded to Fighter Wing One, comprised of four squadrons commanded by the cream of the pilots Richtofen had trained in JASTA 11. The unit grew fourfold under his command and became the most formidable fighter wing on the entire Front. Having achieved eighty confirmed victories in all manner of combat, it is ironic that he himself should be shot down by an Australian anti-aircraft battery** on April 21, 1918, while pursuing a fledgling British pilot near St. Quentin. The British Royal Flying Corps*** rendered full military honors at the burial of the leading ace of World War I.
Invested 1968 in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame
From "These We Honor," The International Hall of Fame; The San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, CA. 1984
* Baron von Richthofen was born in Breslau, Germany (which
is now Wroclaw, Poland) as reported on his gravestone in the South Cemetery in Wiesbaden,
Germany. When he was about 9 years old his family moved to their ancestral home of
Schweidnitz (which is now Swidnica, Poland.)
** There is much debate about who actually shot down the Red Baron. Arthur "Roy" Brown a Canadian pilot is also thought to have shot him down, and not the Australians.
*** On April 1, 1918, the Royal Flying Corps was consolidated with the Royal Naval Air Service (of which Capt. "Roy" Brown was a member) into the Royal Air Force. So technically, it was the RAF that rendered the full military honors at burial, not the RFC. We thank Chris Watson for pointing out this error.
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Updated: October 27, 2004