From: Los Angeles
21 April 1918
Although air warfare was not as important as part of the struggle as it would be in World War II, it got a great deal of publicity. (Very likely this was to distract the public from the appalling conditions in the trenches.) The "Knights of the Air" were celebrated as romantic heroes. And the most famous of them all was the German, Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, the "Red Baron". (Note that he had been born in what is now Poland.) By this time, the 25-year-old von Richthofen had managed to shoot down 80 confirmed Allied aircraft, making him the leading ace on either side.
On this date, von Richthofen had led his Jagdgeschwader (fighter wing) 1, better known as the "flying circus", over Allied-held territory, hunting for enemy aircraft. They found a flight of Sopwith Camels, and engaged. Although the Camels were faster machines than the Red Baron's Fokker Dr.I triplane, von Richthofen managed to get on the tail of a Camel flown by novice Canadian pilot Lieutenant Wilfrid May. This attracted the attention of Captain Roy Brown, May’s flight commander, in another Camel, who attacked in turn. Von Richthofen managed to dodge Brown's dive, but then rashly resumed his pursuit, going to low altitude and in range of Allied ground fire.
Anti-aircraft cannon were not very effective during WWI. No automatic cannons were yet available, and the larger caliber guns did not have sufficiently accurate rangefinders or fuses to explode their shells at close enough altitudes except in rare cases. Ground machine-guns were quite a different story, however. The unarmored biplanes of the war were quite vulnerable to rifle-caliber bullets, and the ground gunners soon learned to "track" low-flying airplanes. Targeting was much easier than it would be in WWII, for an airplane that could reach 130 mph (209 km/hr) in level flight was considered quite fast for the time. Experienced pilots much preferred plane-to plane "dog-fighting " to ground-attack missions. Survival in air-to-air combat was generally a matter of pilot skill, but against ground fire, life or death was almost entirely up to luck.
And now the luck of the Red Baron ran out. A single .303 caliber bullet struck him in the right side of the upper chest, inflicting mortal damage to heart and lungs. With his remaining life now measured in seconds, von Richthofen managed a rough landing in a field. Several Allied infantrymen rushed to the plane, just in time to hear his last words, which apparently included "kaputt".
At first, Captain Brown was given credit for shooting down the Red Baron, and celebrated as a hero. It was, after all, a time when the Allies badly needed the boost in morale that a new hero brings. In later years, however, this idea has been essentially disproved because the fatal bullet came from the side and nearly horizontally, rather than from behind and above as it would have been if fired from Brown's Camel. The man most likely to have shot Von Richthofen is now believed to be Sgt. Cedric Popkin, a gunner with the 24th Machine Gun Company, part of the Australian 4th Division.
Von Richthofen's loss was another step towards the increasing Allied dominance of the air. It would not be complete supremacy, however, for the "Flying Circus" continued to be a potent force, eventually being commanded by Hermann Göring. The Red Baron’s official score of planes shot down was unsurpassed in WWI, though both he and other aces also had a number of unconfirmed "kills". Therefore, the highest scoring pilot of the war will never be definitively known. But the Red Baron was certainly the most famous fighter pilot of his time, and thanks to the comic strip "Peanuts" it is more than likely he will be the most famous of all time.
< Message edited by Capt. Harlock -- 4/21/2018 4:37:52 AM >
Civil war? What does that mean? Is there any foreign war? Isn't every war fought between men, between brothers?