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'Everything in the air belongs to me' – Red Baron Claims his First Kill

Manfred Von Richthofen (1)

<![CDATA[On 17th September, 1916, five German fighter planes tracked a squadron of British planes over the First World War battlefields of France. The German aircraft waited for the perfect moment to strike, to annihilate the British planes and then retreat before Allied reinforcements could arrive. At the controls of an Albatros D.11 biplane, one of the German pilots was looking to make his first official kill. He selected a single British plane and started to home in on it. In a blaze of gun fire the German planes launched the attack with the sun behind them. Through the chaos, the German pilot stuck to his intended target. Ducking and diving, the planes chased each other through the sky. Eventually, the German had the British plane in his sights. He opened fire, killing the British pilot and sending the aircraft crashing to the ground. The pilot of the German plane had made his first confirmed kill. His name was Manfred von Richthofen, but he would go on to have a host of other titles: der Rote Kampfflieger in Germany, Le Petit Rouge in France, and the Red Baron in Britain. By 10th October 1916, Manfred von Richthofen had registered five kills against Allied aircraft, joining the ranks of German aces. By the end of the Autumn fifteen Allied pilots had fallen victim to the Red Baron. Remarkably, the pilot had only had five months of combat training before embarking on his first mission. Von Richthofen was born on 2nd May 1892. He was the eldest son of Major Albrecht von Richthofen, a Prussian nobleman, and his wife Kunigunde. Quickly it became apparent that he was destined for a career in the armed forces. At just eleven years old he enrolled in military school, and a few years later he joined the prestigious Royal Military Academy at Lichterfelde. At the academy von Richthofen swiftly established himself as a formidable athlete, with a particular talent for horse riding. Determined to become a cavalry officer he joined the Berlin War Academy. In 1911, at just nineteen years old, he received his first commission. When the First World War broke out in 1914, von Richthofen was swiftly deployed to the frontlines; however, it soon became clear that the cavalry forces von Richthofen had spent years training to join had been rendered redundant by modern warfare. As trenches were dug on the Western Front, and soldiers became confined to the muddy fields, he became disillusioned with the grim reality of ground war and applied for a transfer to the air service. Von Richthofen's career as a fighter pilot was a short one, but he quickly became a living legend, the name Red Baron coming from the distinctive bright red paint that covered his biplane. Between 17th September 1916 and 21st April 1918 he flew regular missions over the Western front, racking up eighty official kills. (some sources claim German authorities may have awarded the kills a little too generously however, to boost the image of their new hero of the skies). "Everything in the air belongs to me", von Richthofen is quoted as boasting. A cunning hunter, the Red Baron would often station his plane above dogfights before mercilessly swooping down to claim vulnerable targets. He became the dashing face of aerial warfare in Germany, and a deadly prowler of the skies for the Allied forces. The German propaganda machine started to print postcards and news stories about the der Rote Kampfflieger, the pilot who was devastating the Allies. To his enemies. the Red Baron's exploits had made him a highly prized target, the red plane that every Allied pilot wanted to shoot out of the skies. On 21 April, 1918, the Red Baron's career, life and legend were brought to an end, bringing into clarity the high costs behind the glamour of aerial warfare. Chasing an aircraft beyond British lines, the red biplane was shot down, records claiming von Richthofen took a bullet to the heart. Exactly who killed the Red Baron however, is still shrouded in mystery. At the time, Canadian pilot Captain Arthur 'Roy' Brown was given credit; a morale boosting victory for the airforce. Since then however, this portrayal of events has been widely contested by claims the Red Baron was taken down by either ground fire, or perhaps even friendly fire from another German fighter pilot. ]]>

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