THE FIRST OF MANY
Just two years before his own death, Manfred von Richthofen achieved his first ever ‘kill’. And it was never even counted in his official total...
Red Battle Flyer
According to his autobiography, The Red Battle Flyer, von Richthofen worked out a primitive way of fitting a machine gun to his plane (based on the arrangement of French Nieuports).
At the time he was a very junior pilot flying two-seater observation types with the German Army’s Second Battle Squadron at Verdun. He’d only been with the Squadron, his first as a pilot, for a few weeks, and he reports how amused his comrades were by the machine gun installation.
But on April 25th, it proved its worth.
Over Fort Douaumont, Von Richthofen and his observer encountered a Nieuport, which promptly turned tail. The Germans followed with no real thought of a kill but von Richthofen, ever the hunter, thought ‘What will happen if I now start shooting?’ He loosed a series of short bursts and the French machine reared then started flick rolling towards the ground. Von Richthofen followed until his observer leaned forward and shouted ‘I congratulate you. He is falling.’
20 bloody months
The man who would go on to become the feared Red Baron flew home and reported the victory, but never claimed it in his personal tally. In fact, he was sent to the Eastern Front as a bomber pilot until Germany’s leading ace Oswald Boelcke personally recruited him for his new Jasta 2 fighter squadron four months later.
Von Richthofen’s first official kill didn’t come until 17th September 1916, over the Somme. So, incredibly, he amassed his extraordinary total of 80 enemy aircraft destroyed in less than 20 months – before being killed himself on 21st April 1918.
Read The Red Battle Flyer for yourself
The TAVAS Great War Flying Display at Caboolture on Saturday 21st April and Sunday 22nd April 2018 will mark the centenary of The Red Baron’s death in 1918.
He was shot down by an Australian gunner near the Somme River, France, and buried by No.3 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps – making this a fitting memorial to WW1's most famous ace, as well as the generations of Australian airmen and women who've followed in war and peace.
Ticket sales are now open and when you buy tickets online you’ll also get a free PDF copy of The Red Battle Flyer from TAVAS.
Book now to own this significant book and be part of a truly unique aviation weekend.
An All-Australian Victory
On 21st April 1918, World War One’s deadliest ace was shot down, retrieved, autopsied, honoured and laid to rest – all by Australians…
Death of The Red Baron
Manfred von Richthofen was chasing his 81st victory that day, when he flew past positions of the Australian 4th Division at about 11am that morning.
Countless Diggers fired on the famous red triplane, including trained anti-aircraft gunner Sergeant Cedric Bassett Popkin, who’d enlisted in Brisbane in 1916. With his 450-rounds-per-minute Vickers gun, Popkin is widely agreed to have been the Aussie who killed The Red Baron – with just one telling bullet.
von Richthofen managed to land nearby and at least three other Australian soldiers reached him in time to hear him breathe something like Alle ist kaput (‘it’s all over’) before he died.
Honouring the enemy
Responsibility for The Red Baron’s remains also fell to Australians. No.3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps, under Australian Army Major David Blake, was the nearest Allied air unit so squadron personnel carried the body and famous red triplane to their base at Bertangles. The Fokker was quickly ‘souvenired’ – the guns, control stick, propeller, fabric and more being removed until little more than the steel frame remained.
Meanwhile Major Blake organised and witnessed an autopsy, then arranged for personnel of No.3 Sqn to provide a full military funeral for the German ace. Australian officers carried the coffin to the local cemetery, while other ranks formed an honour guard and fired a salute in those distinctive Aussie slouch hats.
Those magnificent men
In the months and years that followed, members of No.3 Squadron and their colleagues from other AFC squadrons would form the backbone of Australian aviation. They’d be behind everything from QANTAS to the RAAF, airmail to CASA, and England-Australia air routes to the Royal Flying Doctors.
No.3 Squadron itself continued to serve through WW1, WW2, the Cold War, and most recently over Iraq with F/A-18 Hornets. And No.3 is set to continue its proud history by becoming the first RAAF unit to operate the new Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II.
The TAVAS Great War Flying Display 2018 (at Caboolture Aerodrome on Saturday April 21st and Sunday April 22nd) salutes those incredibly bold and important pioneers, their gallant foes, and all who followed in their footsteps.