The “Red Baron” – The Adelaide Connection!

The “Red Baron” – The Adelaide Connection!

Idea & research by David Chantrell

Information & photos courtesy of Wikipedia & the Australian War Memorial

April 2017 marks the 99th Anniversary of the passing of what is undoubtedly one of the greatest and well known air aces of all time, the “Red Baron”. His legendary reputation has encapsulated the imagination of generations and has echoed through time across all ages. As I child I for one keenly saved all my pocket money and after many weeks I was finally able to buy the Revel plastic kit from the heavenly Toy Department of John Martins at West Lakes. I made the plastic model of a Fokker DR1 Triplane, painted it bright red and proudly displayed my completed 1:48 scale “Red Baron” to my family.

That model proudly “flew” numerous successful missions and safely landed on my chest of drawers for many years to come…

The “Red Baron” was born Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen in Kleinburg, near Breslau, Lower Silesia, (now part of the city of Wroclaw, Poland), on 2 May 1892 into a prominent Prussian aristocratic family. At the age of 11 he began his military training and joined the cavalry.

At the outbreak of WW1, Richthofen served as a cavalry reconnaissance officer on both the Eastern and Western Fronts, seeing action in Russia, France, and Belgium. With the advent of trench warfare making traditional cavalry operations outdated and inefficient, Richthofen’s regiment was dismounted, serving as dispatch runners and field telephone operators. Von Richthofen was disappointed and bored at not being able to directly participate in combat. With his patience being tested for the last time, he was ordered to transfer to the army’s supply branch. His interest in the Air Service had been aroused by his examination of a German military aircraft behind the lines and he applied for a transfer to Die Fliegertruppen des Deutschen Kaiserreiches (Imperial German Army Air Service), later to be known as the Luftstreitkräfte. Manfred joined the flying service at the end of May 1915.

From June to August 1915, Richthofen served as an observer on reconnaissance missions over the Eastern Front. His start was not as auspicious as one would have hoped. Operating in the Champagne Sector he is believed to have shot down an attacking French Farman aircraft with his observer’s machine gun in a tense battle over French lines. He was not credited with the kill, since it fell behind Allied lines and therefore could not be confirmed.

After a chance meeting with the German ace fighter pilot Oswald Boelcke, Richthofen entered training as a pilot in October 1915. In March 1916 Manfred joined Kampfgeschwader 2 (“No. 2 Bomber Squadron”) flying a two-seater Albotros C.111. Initially he appeared to be a below average pilot, struggled to control his aircraft and crashed during his first flight at the controls. Despite this poor start, he rapidly became attuned to his aircraft. Over Verdun on 26th April 1916, he fired on a French Nieuport, downing it over Fort Douaumont, although once again he received no official credit.

After another spell flying two-seaters on the Eastern Front, he met Oswald Boelcke again in August 1916. Boelcke, visiting the east in search of candidates for his newly formed fighter unit, selected Richthofen to join one of the first German fighter squadrons, Jagdstaffel 2 (No. 2 Fighter Squadron). Boelcke was killed during a midair collision with a friendly aircraft on 28th October 1916 and Richthofen witnessed the event.

Richthofen scored his first confirmed aerial victory in the skies over Cambrai, France on 17th September 1916. Richthofen’s later autobiography states:

“I honoured the fallen enemy by placing a stone on his beautiful grave.”

He contacted a jeweller in Berlin and ordered a silver cup engraved with the date and the type of enemy aircraft. He continued to celebrate each of his victories in the same manner, until he had 60 cups, by which time the dwindling supply of silver in blockaded Germany meant that silver cups like this could no longer be supplied. Richthofen discontinued his orders at this stage, rather than accept cups made from base metal.

Instead of using risky, aggressive tactics like his brother Lothar (40 victories), Manfred observed a set of maxims, known as the “Dicta Boelcke“, to assure success for both the squadron and its pilots. He was not a spectacular or aerobatic pilot, like his brother or Werner Voss; however, he was a noted tactician and squadron leader and a fine marksman. Typically, he would dive from above to attack with the advantage of the sun behind him, with other pilots of his Jagdstaffel (or Jasta) covering his rear and flanks.

On 23rd November 1916, Richthofen downed his most famous adversary, British ace Major Lanoe Hawker VC, described by Richthofen himself as “the British Boelcke”. The victory came while Richthofen was flying an Albatros D.II and Hawker was flying the older De Havilland DH.2. After a long dogfight, Hawker was shot in the back of the head as he attempted to escape back to his own lines. After this combat, Richthofen was convinced he needed a fighter aircraft with more agility, even with a loss of speed. He switched to the Albatros D.III in January 1917, scoring two victories before suffering an in-flight crack in the spar of the aircraft’s lower wing on 24th January. Richthofen reverted to the Albatros D.II or Halberstadt D.II for the next five weeks. He was flying his Halberstadt when, on 6th March, in combat with F.E.8s of 40 Squadron RFC (Royal Flying Corps), his aircraft was shot through the fuel tank. Richthofen was able on this occasion to force land without his aircraft catching fire. Richthofen then scored a victory in the Albatros D.II on 9th March, but since his Albatros D.III was grounded for the rest of the month, Richthofen switched again to a Halberstadt D.II.

He returned to his Albatros D.III on 2nd April 1917 and scored 22 victories in it before switching to the Albatros D.V in late June. From late July, following his discharge from hospital, Richthofen flew the celebrated Fokker Dr.I Triplane the distinctive three-winged aircraft with which he is most commonly associated, although he did not use the type exclusively until after it was reissued with strengthened wings in November. Despite the popular link between Richthofen and the Fokker Dr. I, only 19 of his 80 kills was made in this type of aircraft. It was his Albatros D.III Serial No. 789/16 that was first painted bright red, in late January 1917, and in which he first earned his name and reputation.

Richthofen championed the development of the Fokker D.VII with suggestions to overcome the deficiencies of the then current German fighter aircraft. He never had an opportunity to fly the new type in combat as he was killed before it entered service.

In January 1917, after his 16th confirmed kill, Richthofen received the “Pour le Mérite”, informally known as “The Blue Max”, the highest military honour in Germany at the time. That same month, he assumed command of the fighter squadron Jasta 11, which ultimately included some of the elite German pilots, many of whom he trained himself. Several later became leaders of their own squadrons. When Manfred’s brother Lothar joined, the German high command appreciated the propaganda value of two Richthofen’s fighting together to defeat the enemy in the air.

At the time he became a squadron commander, Richthofen took the flamboyant step of having his Albatros painted red. He wrote:

“For whatever reasons, one fine day I came upon the idea of having my crate painted glaring red. The result was that absolutely everyone could not help but notice my red bird. In fact, my opponents also seemed to be not entirely unaware of it.”

Thereafter he usually flew in red-painted aircraft, although not all of them were entirely red, nor was the “red” necessarily the brilliant scarlet beloved of model- and replica-builders.

Other members of Jasta 11 soon took to painting parts of their aircraft red—their “official” reason seems to have been to make their leader less conspicuous, and to avoid him being singled out in a fight. In practice, red colouration became a unit identification. Other units soon adopted their own “squadron colours”, and the decoration of fighters became general throughout the Luftstreitkräfte. In spite of obvious drawbacks from the point of view of intelligence, the German high command permitted this practice, and German propaganda made much of it. Richthofen himself being identified as “Der Rote Kampfflieger”— the “Red Fighter Pilot”.

Richthofen led his new unit to unparalleled success, peaking during “Bloody April” 1917. In that month alone he downed 22 British aircraft, including four in a single day, raising his official tally to 52. By June he had become the commander of the first of the new larger “fighter wing” formations: these were highly mobile, combined tactical units that could move at short notice to different parts of the front as required. Jagdgeschwader 1, Richthofen’s new command, was composed of Jagdstaffeln (Jasta’s) 4, 6, 10 and 11. Jagdgeschwader 1, or J.G. 1 became widely known as “The Flying Circus” this coming both from the unit’s mobility including, where appropriate, the use of tents, trains and caravans and its brightly coloured aircraft.

Richthofen was a brilliant tactician, building on Boelcke’s tactics. Unlike Boelcke, he led by example and force of will rather than by inspiration. He was often described as distant, unemotional, and rather humourless, though some colleagues contended otherwise. He circulated to his pilots the basic rule which he wanted them to fight by:

“Aim for the man and don’t miss him. If you are fighting a two-seater, get the observer first; until you have silenced the gun, don’t bother about the pilot”.

On 6th July 1917, during combat with a formation of F.E.2d two seat fighters of No. 20 Squadron RFC, near Wervicq, Richthofen sustained a serious head wound, causing instant disorientation and temporary partial blindness. He regained his vision in time to ease the aircraft out of a spin and executed a forced landing in a field in friendly territory. The injury required multiple operations to remove bone splinters from the impact area. The air victory was credited to Captain Donald Cunnell of No. 20, who was killed by German anti-aircraft fire a few days later on 12th July 1917, near Wervicq, Belgium; his observer, Lt. A. G. Bill, successfully flew his fighter back to base.

The Red Baron returned to active service (against doctor’s orders) on 25th July, but went on convalescent leave from 5th September to 23rd October. His wound is thought to have caused lasting damage (he later often suffered from post-flight nausea and headaches) as well as a change in temperament. There is even a theory linking this injury with his eventual death.

By 1918, Richthofen had become such a legend that it was feared that his death would be a blow to the morale of the German people. He refused to accept a ground job after his wound, stating that “every poor fellow in the trenches endures his duty” and that he would therefore continue to fly in combat. Certainly he had become part of a cult of officially encouraged hero-worship. German propaganda circulated various false rumours, including that the British had raised squadrons specially to hunt Richthofen and had offered large rewards and an automatic Victoria Cross medal to any Allied pilot who shot him down. By 20th April 1918 his official tally was 80 aircraft shot down.

Richthofen received a fatal wound just after 11:00 am on 21st April 1918, while flying over Morlancourt Ridge, near the Somme River.

At the time, the Baron had been pursuing (at very low altitude) a Sopwith Camel piloted by a novice Canadian pilot, Lieutenant Wilfrid “Wop” May of No. 209 Squadron, Royal Air Force. May had just fired on the Red Baron’s cousin, Lt. Wolfram von Richthofen; May attacked Wolfram. On seeing his cousin being attacked, Manfred flew to his rescue and started to chase May causing him to pull out of the dogfight. In turn, the Baron was spotted and briefly attacked by a Camel piloted by a school friend (and flight commander) of May’s, Canadian Captain Arthur “Roy” Brown, who had to dive steeply at very high speed to intervene, and then had to climb steeply to avoid hitting the ground. Richthofen turned to avoid this attack, and then resumed his pursuit of May. Against his own “dicta Boelcke”, he followed the enemy down to near ground level and with range of the soldier’s in the trenches.

It was almost certainly during this final stage in his pursuit of May that a single .303 bullet hit Richthofen, damaging his heart and lungs so severely that it must have caused a quick death. In the last seconds of his life, he managed to retain sufficient control to make a rough landing in a field on a hill near the Bray-Corbie Road, just north of the village of Vaux-sur-Somme, in a sector controlled by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Several witnesses, including Gunner Ernest W. Twycross, Gunner George Ridgway, and Sergeant Ted Smout of the Australian Medical Corps, all later claimed to have been the first man to reach the Triplane and reported various versions of Richthofen’s last words, generally including the word “kaputt”.

The Adelaide Connection

George Ford Bond had married Ellen Jessie Duncan, the oldest daughter of James Duncan in 1887. George had joined Duncan & Fraser around this period, but later left and by 1907 had formed Bond’s Bus Tours using Argyll’s purchased from the family business of Duncan & Fraser. George Albert “Bert” Bond joined his farther aged 14 in 1910, but later joined Duncan & Fraser at some stage where he worked on engines, probably as an apprentice.

Bert is listed in Duncan & Fraser Ltd.’s Honour Roll as an employee that enlisted for military service.

Bert enlisted on 17th May 1915 to fight in the war and was wounded late in the Gallipoli Campaign. After hospitalisation in Egypt he joined the Australian Flying Corps based in France as an aircraft mechanic attached the 3 Squadron. When the “Red Baron” was shot down and landed in “No Man’s Land”, Bert crawled out under heavy German machine gun fire, tied a rope around the tail of the fuselage and crawled back to his lines. The Australians carefully pulled the wreckage about 50 yards towards their trenches where Von Richthofen’s body could be removed in relative safety. Bert’s act of chivalry under fire was mentioned in AFC dispatches.

After Being Shot Down

Von Richthofen’s Fokker Dr.I, Triplane 425/17, was not badly damaged by the landing but it was soon taken apart by souvenir hunters.

No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, as the nearest Allied air unit, assumed responsibility for the Baron Von Richthofen’s remains.

In common with most Allied air officers, Major Blake, who was responsible for Richthofen’s body, regarded the Red Baron with great respect, and he organised a full military funeral, to be conducted by the personnel of No. 3 Squadron AFC.

The body was buried in the cemetery at the village of Bertangles, near Amiens, on 22 April 1918. Six of No. 3 Squadron’s officers served as pallbearers, and a guard of honour from the squadron’s other ranks fired a salute. Accounts that the guard of honour were Australian infantry are apparently based on the fact that in photographs and film of the event they are wearing AIF uniforms, complete with slouch hats – this is simply because members of the AFC, which was part of the Australian army, wore normal army uniforms.

Allied squadrons stationed nearby presented memorial wreaths, one of which was inscribed with the words, “To Our Gallant and Worthy Foe”.

Note; original burial footage can be found courtesy of the Australian War Memorial: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJUzIKeJJdY

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