Best known for: The top ranking fighter pilot of World War I
Manfred von Richthofen by Nicola Perscheid
What is the Red Baron's real name?
The Red Baron was born Manfred von Richthofen. He earned the nickname, the Red Baron, during World War I because he flew a red plane and was the top rated fighter pilot during the war. The Red Baron was actually the nickname the British called him. He had other nicknames as well including "Le Petit Rouge" in France (which means "Little Red") and "Der Rote Kampfflieger" in Germany (which means "the Red Battle Flyer").
Where did the Red Baron grow up?
Manfred von Richthofen was born on May 2, 1892 in Breslau, Germany (note: this city is now Wroclaw, Poland). Manfred's father was a major in the German army and it was understood since Manfred was a boy that he would also enter the army. As a child, Manfred loved all sorts of athletics and hunting. He excelled in sports far more than schoolwork.
When Manfred was eleven years old he entered the Wahlstatt military school in Berlin, Germany. There he trained to be an officer in the German army. He was an excellent horseman and, when he graduated, he joined the German cavalry in 1911. Within a year Manfred was promoted to lieutenant.
World War I
Manfred von Richthofen was twenty-two years old when World War I began in 1914. His first job during the war was running reconnaissance patrols on the western front. However, soon the fighting in the western front deteriorated into trench warfare. There was little use for cavalry in the trenches and Manfred was soon delivering messages behind the lines.
Manfred was eager to be more involved in the war, so he volunteered to work as an observer on airplane reconnaissance missions. He flew along with pilots spotting enemy troops, reading maps, and using his machine gun to shoot at enemy planes.
Becoming a Pilot
After a chance meeting with the famous fighter pilot Oswald Boelcke on a train, Manfred decided to train to become a fighter pilot. He trained hard and took his first solo flight on October 10, 1915. By the end of the year he was certified as a fighter pilot. Throughout 1916, Manfred flew missions against enemy aircraft. He soon joined an elite group of fighter pilots called the Fighter Squadron led by Oswald Boelcke. Boelcke taught Manfred all about being a fighter pilot. He won his first official victory on September 17, 1916. A victory is when a pilot shoots down an enemy plane. The victory has to be confirmed by witnesses, so many wins over enemy territory did not end up counting as official victories.
Manfred soon became one of the most decorated fighter pilots in Germany. He wasn't necessarily a great pilot, but he was a very accurate shooter, took few risks, and used excellent tactics. He often used the sun to hide from view while attacking an enemy from above. He also made use of other pilots and planes to protect him from being attacked from behind or from the side while he went on the attack.
The Red Baron's Plane by Unknown
The Red Plane
In January of 1917, Manfred began to paint his plane red. Soon his squadron was painting part of their planes red as well. He became the commander of the Flying Circus, a group of the top fighter pilots in Germany. They moved about the western front and fought in key battles. Manfred became the top fighter pilot in World War I with 80 confirmed kills. He was shot down once in July of 1917, but survived and returned to battle later that year.
Manfred became very famous on both sides of the war and was one of the top war heroes in Germany. The British called him the Red Baron and he is still most widely known by this name. The Allies wanted to shoot down the Red Baron in order to help break the morale of the German people.
Manfred von Richthofen was shot down and killed on April 21, 1918. He was only 25 years old. He had been chasing a British fighter pilot when he was hit by a bullet. He managed to land the plane, but soon died from the bullet. He was buried in France by the Allies with a full military funeral.
Interesting Facts about the Red Baron
Manfred witnessed his hero, Oswald Boelcke, die in a midair collision with friendly aircraft.
There is much controversy over who shot the bullet that brought down the Red Baron. Captain Arthur Roy Brown of the Royal Air Force was officially credited with the kill.
His younger brother Lothar was also a fighter pilot who was credited with 40 victories.
Historians estimate that if his unconfirmed victories were also included, he shot down over 100 enemy planes.
He is most famous for flying the three-winged Fokker Dr. I airplane, but he also flew other airplanes such as the Albatros, C.III. and the Albatros D. II.