Biography of World War I Captain Von Richthofen the Red Baron Part 3

About the World War I German flying ace Captain Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen aka the Red Baron, his history and biography.

RITTMEISTER (Capt.) MANFRED FREIHERR VON RICHTHOFEN (Germany, W.W. I)

The new group, Jagdstaffel 2, was to fly out of Lagnicourt, France, and Von Richthofen arrived there on September 1, 1916. There were no airplanes immediately available, and the 1st week was spent listening to "The Gospel According to Boelcke," a dissertation that Von Richthofen must have taken seriously, because he scored his 1st victory when the group went out on its initial mission on September 17. He was so excited about drawing blood that he almost crashed his new Albatross when he landed near the wreck of his victim. He got there in time to see the 2 British fliers pulled from the wreckage. One of them died while Von Richthofen watched and the other died before he could reach a field hospital. All in all, it was an exciting day for the young pilot, and to commemorate it he ordered a small silver goblet, a ritual that was to be repeated until his jeweler ran out of silver along about the 60th victory. He also made a practice of collecting souvenirs in the form of bits and pieces from the wrecks. These he sent home to his mother.

By April, 1917, he had surpassed Boelcke's record of 40 victories and became the ranking ace of the war. He was a national hero, and picture postcards of "The Red Knight" were being sold throughout Germany as a boost to a national morale that had already begun to slip. There was also evidence that the strain of the war was beginning to have an effect on Von Richthofen. He became quieter and more withdrawn. Losses in his squadron unnerved him, and he began to question his own future. The German High Command ordered him on a 6-week leave, but he got very little rest, because the leave consisted of a series of audiences with the Kaiser and other national leaders. This was not his cup of tea, and he was anxious to return to the front.

On July 6, Von Richthofen led Jagdstaffel 11 on a morning flight in search of a group of British observation planes that had been reported over the lines. This would ordinarily have been no problem at all for the now-notorious "Red Baron," but this time he ran into a particularly tough adversary who could not be intimidated. As a result, his career was very nearly cut short. The maroon Albatross spun down, out of control, from 12,000', and only at 1,000' did Von Richthofen regain enough of his faculties to level out and make a reasonably safe landing. He had received a deep bullet wound in the head that was to keep him out of action for some time. It was a different Von Richthofen who returned to his men on July 25, 1917.

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